Believing is an essential concept in John’s Gospel.
John uses the verb or action word for “believing” (pisteuō) ninety-eight times, far more than any other book in the New Testament. Not once does he use the noun “faith” or “belief” (pistis)—it is always the activity of believing or not believing.
In the aftermath of the resurrection of Lazarus (John 11:1-44), the populace was polarized—some believing and others not believing.
Why do some people believe in Jesus Christ while others do not?
Let’s take a closer look at John 11:45-12:50. As you take a few moments to read this portion, identify instances where people did not believe in Jesus Christ.
As mentioned, the events we will consider happened in the immediate aftermath of Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead (see: “When Death Comes Knocking”).
The eyewitnesses—including our author, the apostle John—saw what they saw. Not one voice questions the historical truthfulness of the account in John 11:1-44.
All agreed that this miraculous sign occurred, including the opponents of Jesus. Here is a sampling of some of the comments:
Based on the testimony of the crowd who witnessed Lazarus being raised from the dead, as well as John, Mary, and Martha—and let’s not forget Lazarus himself—the historical reality of this miraculous sign was incontrovertible and uncontested, even by the opponents of Jesus.
So, how did people respond?
As a result of this miraculous sign, many people (including leaders of the Jews) put their faith in Jesus Christ (see 11:45; 12:11, 42). This was the desired result of the signs according to John 20:30-31:
Jesus did many other miraculous signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.
And yet, despite having seen the miraculous sign of Lazarus being raised from the dead, and hearing the many eyewitnesses, some—perhaps many—of the Jewish people did not believe and did not put their faith in Jesus Christ.
What was the difference between those two groups of people: those who believed and those who did not believe? Despite the undeniable evidence, why did people choose not to believe in Jesus Christ?
From our text, I have identified five barriers to believing. There is some overlap among them, and the list is probably incomplete.
Here is what we read in 11:47-48, 53:
The chief priests and the Pharisees acknowledged that “Then the chief priests and the Pharisees called a meeting of the Sanhedrin [the Jewish ruling council]. “What are we accomplishing?” they asked. “Here is this man performing many miraculous signs. If we let him go on like this, everyone will believe in him, and then the Romans will come and take away both our place and our nation. … So from that day on they plotted to take his life.”
These religious leaders discerned that Jesus was displacing their position as leaders, including the Temple and the status and power they possessed in Israel. Their choice was to grasp tightly to their power, a power allowed to them by the imperial forces of Rome. Little did they know they would be stripped of this power by 70 A.D.
Even today, some people will believe and do anything to hold on to their positions within imperial structures, whether that structure is political, military, corporate, or religious. They will not give up their position of power and prestige to believe in Jesus Christ.
Let’s consider the response of the chief priests in 12:9-11:
Meanwhile a large crowd of Jews found out that Jesus was there and came, not only because of him but also to see Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead. So the chief priests made plans to kill Lazarus as well, for on account of him many of the Jews were going over to Jesus and putting their faith in him.
The chief priests held sway over the Temple and its rituals. All, or most of them, belonged to the Jewish sect called the Sadducees.
During one of their confrontations with Jesus, we learn that the Sadducees “say there is no resurrection.” (Matthew 22:23; Mark 12:18; Luke 20:27). How maddening it must have been to discover that Jesus resurrected Lazarus. This miraculous event completely contradicted one of their cherished beliefs.
Instead of recognizing and abandoning a severely defective belief, they doubled down. Again, too much was at stake. They responded with the equivalent of “don’t confuse me with the facts.”
In our modern world, you probably know people who tenaciously defend a belief system that contradicts well-attested facts.
We will pause here until the next post, where we will consider three more barriers to believing in Jesus.
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Image credit: The Raising of Lazarus, by Duccio, 1310–11
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