The people therefore, that stood by, and heard it, said that it thundered: others said, An angel spake to him. Jesus answered and said, This voice came not because of me, but for your sakes. Now is the judgment of this world: now shall the prince of this world be cast out. And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto me. This he said, signifying what death he should die. The people answered him, We have heard out of the law that Christ abideth for ever: and how sayest thou, The Son of man must be lifted up? who is this Son of man? Then Jesus said unto them, Yet a little while is the light with you. Walk while ye have the light, lest darkness come upon you: for he that walketh in darkness knoweth not whither he goeth. While ye have light, believe in the light, that ye may be the children of light. These things spake Jesus, and departed, and did hide himself from them.
As we closed the previous address we were considering those words of the Savior recorded in Joh_12:24-28 : “Except a corn of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abideth alone: but if it die, it bringeth forth much fruit” (Joh_12:24). He was speaking of Himself, for He came into this world, the incarnate Son of God, a Man of a different order to any other, absolutely sinless, holy, and without blame. Had it not been that in grace He went to the cross and died for us, He must have remained alone as Man for eternity. But as a result of His death there is now a glorious harvest of redeemed men and women. The corn of wheat fell into the ground and died, and millions have been saved through His death.
To those who are saved there comes the challenge, “If any man serve me, let him follow me” (Joh_12:26). Then our Lord, realizing that the cross was just before Him and that on that cross He was to drink the cup of judgment that our sins had filled, said, “Now is my soul troubled; and what shall I say? Father, save me from this hour?” (Joh_12:27). No, He did not ask that. He said, “But for this cause came I unto this hour. Father, glorify thy name. Then came there a voice from heaven [in immediate response], saying, I have both glorified it, and will glorify it again” (Joh_12:28). God was glorified in the perfect life of the Lord Jesus Christ. He would be glorified in His sacrificial death and in His wondrous resurrection.
The people heard the noise of the voice, but they could not make out the words, and so they said it thundered. There are only a very few who have an ear for the voice of God. It is just the same today as it was then. When God is speaking in power, possibly through one of His servants in some great gathering where the message is gripping individuals who are in earnest about spiritual realities, the great majority say, “It’s only a noise, just thunder; nothing to it.” They don’t hear the voice of God. Other people rise a little higher. There were those who said, “An angel spake to him” (Joh_12:29). But it was neither thunder nor an angel; it was the Father Himself.
Long before this, after His baptism in Jordan, the Father’s voice was heard, saying, “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased; hear ye him” (Mat_3:17; Mar_1:11; Luk_3:22). And again on the Mount of Transfiguration that same voice may be heard authenticating the works and the message and the perfection of the Son, in almost the same words: “This is my beloved Son: hear ye him” (Mat_17:5; Mar_9:7; Luk_9:35). And now He speaks of Jesus in connection with the glory of His name, and says, “I have both glorified it, and will glorify it again” (Joh_12:28), that is, through the work that He was about to accomplish on the cross. Jesus answered and said, “This voice came not because of me, but for your sakes” (Joh_12:30). And then He made the tremendous statement, “Now is the judgment of this world: now shall the prince of this world be cast out. And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto me” (Joh_12:31-32).
There are really four parts to this great statement of His. He speaks of a judged world, a vanquished prince, a lifted-up Savior, and a coming Judge. The first thing is, “Now is the judgment of this world.” What was He referring to? The judgment of this world was expressed in the cross of Christ. The world said of the Lord Jesus, “We don’t want Him.” He came and presented Himself as the King who would have set everything right if men would have received Him, but they cried, “We have no king but Caesar” (Joh_19:15), so they refused Him, and in refusing Him they brought judgment upon themselves, and the entire world has been under judgment ever since.
Do you wonder sometimes why God permits certain dreadful things to happen in this world? It is because people rejected the Prince of Peace. Think how different it might have been if Jesus had been received, had the men of His day accepted Him, had He set up His kingdom in power and glory. Then wars would long since have disappeared from the earth, sorrow and sighing and sickness would be done away with, and millennial blessings would have been enjoyed during these past centuries. By rejecting Christ men brought judgment on themselves, and so no one need be surprised at the dire things that are coming on the world. The surprise, rather is, that God holds back His wrath and does not deal in summary judgment with men because of their sins. The world is like one condemned to die, but still permitted to live on until that sentence will be executed. Soon the day of God’s red heavens will come; soon the vials of the wrath of God will be poured out upon this world, and then indeed will men know its judgment to the full.
But now grace is mingled with judgment. God is sending out a message of mercy. He is calling upon people to repent and to receive the Savior they once rejected. Have you done that? Have you accepted the Lord Jesus? Do you remember those striking words of the apostle Peter to the Jews: “Save yourselves from this untoward generation” (Act_2:40)? What does he mean? Somebody might well ask, “We cannot save ourselves, can we?” No, we cannot save ourselves, so far as salvation from hell is concerned. We can only be saved from that through the finished work of Christ on the cross. “For there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved” (Act_4:12). What, then, did Peter mean when he said, “Save yourselves from this untoward generation”? It is just another way of saying, “Break with the world that is under judgment, step out from that world and take sides with the One who is now rejected. If you do that, then you are secure from the judgment that is coming upon the world.”
One often grieves to see Christians who seem to enter so feebly into this. Why is it that some Christians are not interested in separation from the world? It is because they have never realized that the world is a judged scene, that all that men delight in will soon be burned up in the day of Jehovah’s wrath, and that God is calling His people to walk in separation from the world. Sometimes our dear young people think their godly pastors and teachers and parents are too severe and strait-laced because they try to warn them against things that are of a worldly character. Remember, from this blessed Book of God they have learned the end of all these things, and it is in order that youth may be spared the sorrows of the coming judgment that they call upon them now to separate themselves from the world. “Save yourselves from this untoward generation.” One thing I know, in that day when the seven vials of the wrath of God will be poured out upon this world, nobody will be sorry that he lived a separated life and that he walked apart from the world that God is going to judge. “Now is the judgment of this world.” It is already judged, but the judgment is not yet executed.
The second thing the Savior says is, “Now shall the prince of this world be cast out” (Joh_12:31). Who is the prince of this world? Satan. How did he become the prince of this world? He is a usurper. God put this world under the charge of our first parents. He said to Adam, “Have authority over the world; I have given it all to you, and you are to take charge of it for Me.” But Adam gambled away his title as prince of this world to the Devil, and ever since then Satan has been the prince, and not only the prince but the god of this world.
But you remember the promise when the Lord said, in pronouncing judgment upon the serpent, “The Seed of the woman shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise His heel” (see Gen_3:15). In the cross of Christ the heel of Jesus, the Seed of the woman, was bruised, but in that same cross the head of the serpent was bruised. And so Satan is now a vanquished prince, and yet there are still thousands and millions of people who own his authority. In the coming day when he is to be cast down from heaven into the bottomless pit, and at last into the lake of fire, God’s full judgment will be carried out upon him.
Now notice the third thing. “And I, if I be lifted up from the earth” (Joh_12:32). What was the Lord referring to there? The sentence as a whole reads like this: “And I, if I be lifted up…, will draw all men unto Me.” I think this verse is often entirely misapplied. I have frequently heard it used in this way: “If the preacher lifts up Jesus, all men will be drawn unto Him.” We all believe that the only way to draw men to Christ is to preach the gospel, and that is our mission-to preach the gospel. But did one ever know all men to be drawn to Jesus through the preaching of the gospel? I have had a continual sorrow in my heart for fifty years because men are not all drawn when I lift up Jesus in preaching.
I remember over fifty years ago when I accepted Christ on my knees in my own room in Los Angeles, and how three nights later I stepped out with a group in the open air to give my first testimony for Christ. Some way or another as I began to speak I forgot all circumstances. I hadn’t studied any sermon, but I found I had preached a half-hour when the leader of the meeting stopped me and said we should have been in the hall twenty minutes ago.
I had to stop, but my heart was full. I thought, “These people only need to know about Jesus, and they will all be saved.” I remember my text as though it was yesterday: “He was wounded for our transgressions; he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed” (Isa_53:5). Oh, how I preached with all the fervor of my young heart, and I thought, “They only need to know, and they will come to Jesus.” But they didn’t come. There was a great crowd gathered around and some of them looked on curiously and said, “What’s that youngster talking about? What does a lad of fourteen know about this?” And they turned and went away and only one came to me and said, “My boy, you seem to have found something that I have been looking for all my life and never been able to get.” He was an aged black man with snow-white hair crowning his face, and I led him to Christ-my first convert. But the rest passed on and seemed totally indifferent, and for fifty years I have been trying to lift up Jesus. I hope I can say before God I have had no other message. I recognize there are a great many different lines of truth in this blessed Word, and my commission is not merely to preach the gospel but to preach the Word, for all these different lines of truth center in Jesus. I hope I can say with Paul, “Whom we preach” (Col_1:28).
I trust the day will never come when I will be found preaching “what” instead of “whom.” But I testify to this, that after fifty years of trying to lift up Jesus in preaching, I haven’t seen all men drawn unto Him. Sometimes as I look out over the audience here on Sunday night with thirty-five hundred to four thousand people present, my heart trembles. I say to myself, “What an opportunity!” And again I think that in that great multitude there are only about two hundred or three hundred who do not believe in Jesus-the great majority are already Christians. But the others, where are they?. The people you would like to reach. They are on the streets, in the theaters, in other places of worldly amusement, and don’t care. Lift up Jesus? Yes. But that does not draw all men to Him. You say, “Well, then, is the Bible wrong?” No, but sometimes our interpretation of it is wrong. It does not say here that if the preacher lifts up Jesus all men will be drawn unto Him. Note carefully what it does say, “And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto me.” And then look at the Holy Spirit’s explanation in Joh_12:33 : “This he said, signifying what death he should die.”
There you have it. The lifting up here is not referring to preaching. That lifting up is a reference to Calvary. It’s the same thing as that which was brought before Nicodemus when Jesus said, “And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up: that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have eternal life” (Joh_3:14). When the people of Israel were bitten by the fiery serpents in the wilderness, God said to Moses, “Make thee a fiery serpent, and set it upon a pole: and it shall come to pass, that every one that is bitten, when he looketh upon it, shall live” (Num_21:8). And Jesus practically says to Nicodemus, “That serpent of brass is a picture of Myself.” A writhing, twisting serpent a picture of Jesus? Yes, of Jesus made “sin for us,… that we might become the righteousness of God in him” (2Co_5:21). You see, it was the serpent that caused the trouble. They were bitten by the fiery serpent, and the serpent is the recognized symbol in the Bible of Satan and sin, and that is how all the trouble began in the world. We are all infected by the poison of sin, the poison of asps is under our lips. Every one of us has been infected by the serpents poison, but Jesus came and when He was lifted up on the cross He was made sin for us.
He took the guilty’s sinner’s place,
And suffered in our stead;
For man-oh, miracle of grace!-
For man the Saviour bled!
The serpent in the wilderness was made of brass, and brass is the symbol of judgment. It spoke of Christ bearing our judgment. It was a serpent that had no poison in it. It could not injure anyone, and Jesus-holy, harmless, and undefiled-has been lifted up. He says, “And I, if I be lifted up from the earth [that is, on the cross], will draw all men unto me.”
Jesus is the uplifted Savior. Of course, the preacher is to tell all men that Jesus died for them. Of course, he is to point to the crucified One.
There is life in a look at the Crucified One,
There is life at this moment for thee;
Then look, sinner, look, unto Him and be saved.
Unto Him who was nailed to the tree.
Oh, why was He there as the Bearer of sin,
If on Jesus thy guilt was not laid?
Oh, why from His side flowed the sin-cleansing blood,
If His dying thy debt has not paid?
And I, if I be lifted up…, will draw all men unto me.” But it is not now that all men are drawn to Him. The great majority pass on their way unheeding. The Son of God seems to cry, as it were, to mankind: “Is it nothing to you, all ye that pass by? behold, and see if there be any sorrow like unto my sorrow, which is done unto me, wherewith the LORD hath afflicted me in the day of his fierce anger” (Lam_1:12). What is your answer? Do you go on your way, saying, “It’s nothing to me.”
I’ll live for myself, for myself alone,
For myself and none beside-
Just as if Jesus had never lived,
And as if He had never died.
You can turn away from Him if you desire. You can refuse His grace and spurn His love and trample on His gospel, if that’s what you want to do. Nobody is ever going to force you to accept Christ. You can go on in your sins and be lost forever. But one thing you can’t do-you can’t evade Him at the end.
“If I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto me.” Some day the One who was lifted up on the cross will sit on the throne of judgment. Some day the One who took our place in grace on the tree will be the occupant of the Great White Throne, and then all men will be drawn to Him. The word translated “drawn” here suggests compelling power. It’s exactly the same word that is used in the last chapter of this gospel, where it speaks of the net enclosing one hundred and fifty-three great fishes, and they came, we are told, dragging the net to the land. You see, the fish were helpless; they were dragged in the net to land. “I, if I be lifted up…, will draw [drag] all men unto me.” Men may say, “But I don’t want to come to Him. I don’t want to face Him. I don’t want to give an account to Him.” But you will not be asked if you want to or not. You will have to face Him and stand in the presence of Him who says, “If I be lifted up…, I will draw all men unto me.”
Oh, how much better to be drawn by love divine and come to Him in the day of His grace, than to wait to be drawn to Him in judgment when it will be too late to be saved!
But now we must notice our responsibility in view of all this. We read, in Joh_12:34 : “The people answered him, We have heard out of the law that Christ abideth for ever: and how sayest thou, The Son of man must be lifted up? who is this Son of man?” They practically say, “We don’t know what you are talking about. We are looking for a Messiah who is coming on earth to destroy our enemies, and the one you are talking about is the Son of Man. We don’t understand that. You speak of the Son of Man. Who is this Son of Man?” It is Jesus, who is “God over all, blessed forevermore,” who became man in grace for our redemption. Jesus said to them, “Yet a little while is the light with you” (Joh_12:35 a). He had told them before, “I am the light of the world. I am only going to be here a little while and then I am going out to die. ‘Walk while ye have the light, lest darkness come upon you: for he that walketh in darkness knoweth not whither he goeth. While ye have light, believe in the light, that ye may be the children of light. These things spake Jesus, and departed, and did hide himself from them” (Joh_12:35-36).
These words should come home to our hearts today. We have every evidence that we are getting near the close of the present dispensation of the grace of God to be succeeded by the darkest night this world has ever known. Our Lord’s words may well have a special message for all of us. “Walk while ye have the light.” Accept the truth of God while you have the opportunity. Believe the message while it is still being proclaimed, for darkness is coming, and “he that walketh in darkness knoweth not whither he goeth. While ye have light, believe in the light, that ye may be the children of light.” We are told that “thy word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path” (Psa_119:105), and again, “the entrance of thy words giveth light” (Psa_119:130). And so the light is shining today, and all men who will may walk in the light. “If we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship one with another, and the blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from all sin” (1Jn_1:7).
Come to the light, ’tis shining for thee,
Sweetly the light has dawned upon me;
Once I was blind, but now I can see,
The light of the world is Jesus!
But it is not only to men outside that the message comes: “Walk while ye have the light,” but oh, Christians, this Word was given to shed light on your path. Yet how many believers there are who are opposing the light, who are going on in ways of their own devices, refusing to submit to the truth of the Word of God. We only have a little while longer in which to be faithful to the Lord who saved us. Let us yield ourselves wholly to Him to walk in the light while we have the light. “The night cometh, when no man can work” (Joh_9:4).