“And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” (John 12:32 – ESV)
For a long while, I have been much troubled with this verse as KJV, along with NASB, a highly literal translation of the Bible, and some other versions use ‘if’ instead of ‘when’ for the opening sentence. As I understand, the word used in the original manuscripts can be translated either way. Translated as ‘if’, does it mean that there were doubts in our Lord’s mind if indeed He was going to finish what He started out to do, ending up being lifted up on the cross? Was He entertaining a rethink that He may change His mind?
I consulted a friend who helpfully gave me all the Greek nuances as to how it has been translated by the various translators, using the different available manuscripts. What was most helpful to me was his comment that the ‘If’ is not used as a question (e.g. if you are able, can you help?), but a condition (e.g. if you pay, I will go).
Looking at the verse in its context, we can safely come to the conclusion that what our Lord said was not a question of doubt (whether He will or will not), but that of stating a condition of fact that in being lifted up on the cross, He will, through this means, draw people to Himself.
Commenting on this verse, John Gill, a Bible-expositor writes, ‘ . . . “if” here does not suppose that his death, and the manner of it, were uncertain, for it was determined by God, agreed to by himself, predicted in the Scriptures, signified by types, and foretold by himself, and was necessary for the salvation of his people; . . . .’
My personal reflection of what he said is that it is not just a nice quote concerning the death of our Lord. These are facts supported by various portions of the Bible. Our Lord’s death was:
Determined by God: Jesus said in John 6:38, ‘For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will but the will of him who sent me.’ In Peter’s lengthy sermon, he said in Acts 2:23, ‘this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men.’
Agreed to by Himself (Jesus): In the Christological hymn in Phil. 2, Paul records concerning Jesus in vvs. 6-8, ‘6 who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, 7 but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. 8 And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.’
Predicted in the Scriptures: Written between 701 and 681 B.C., Isaiah 53:7 records the prophetic words, ‘He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth; like a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent, so he opened not his mouth.’
Signified by types: Seen as a type of Christ, we read God saying to Abraham in Gen. 22:2, ‘Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains of which I shall tell you.’
Foretold by Himself: Jesus said to His disciples in Matt. 17:22,23 – ‘. . . The Son of Man is about to be delivered into the hands of men, 23 and they will kill him, and he will be raised on the third day. . .’
As we gather for worship today (be it in Batam) or (Lorong Melayu), we are mindful that the death of our Lord was also ‘necessary for the salvation of His people’. Our Lord Himself said, ‘ . . . I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.’ Thank God that what our Lord went through in His death was the salvation plan of God, enabling us to experience peace with God.
Elder Richard Lai