“Now when He was in Jerusalem at the Passover, during the feast, many believed in His name when they saw the signs which He did. But Jesus did not commit Himself to them, because He knew all men, and had no need that anyone should testify of man, for He knew what was in man.”-John 2:23-25
There is a theme throughout (at least) the gospel of John that comes up again and again until the cross, and that theme is loyalty to the Father’s will. It is a highlight of the ministry period of Jesus: whether it is temptation in the wilderness, a call for miracles, friends forbidding Him from following through on the predetermined plan of the cross, or even being mocked to prove His supreme abilities by saving Himself on that cross, each day was faced with pressures to abandon His loyalty to the Father’s will.
The last verses of the section of John 2 show Jesus going into the temple. It’s a scene of overturning tables and chasing out money-changers with whips. It’s a scene of the zeal of Christ for the glory of the Father in His worship. Perhaps to shed more light on how Christ felt about worship, we should look at a passage such as His conversation with Samaritan woman at the well in John 4:21-24:
“Woman, believe Me, the hour is coming when you will neither on this mountain, nor in Jerusalem, worship the Father. You worship what you do not know; we know what we worship, for salvation is of the Jews. But the hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for the Father is seeking such to worship Him. God is Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth.”
Jesus said those words to the woman, whose Samaritan faith would have been a composite of Jewish beliefs and other beliefs (syncretism). Jesus spoke of true worship, and the nature of worship being both in spirit and truth. The temple scene of John 2 (and we would see it at Palm Sunday and the following Monday) is a sight of true worship being lost as it was both corrupted and confused. Godless men led people in what they thought worship to be, and the gospel of Jesus would turn everything they said upon its head.
The wording is a bit peculiar in vv. 23-24. Many believed in His name. The word for belief is pisteuo (pist-oo-oh) and here it is in past tense. One of the key elements of salvation is not that one has simply believed as though it was a one-time issue as related to the Christian life; rather, belief is an ongoing hallmark of being a Christian and it will be tested and proven time and time again. This isn’t to negate the belief these people had, but there is a point to be made, for sure: belief that is born of God in a person is not limited to a moment, but to a lifetime.
Whether all who believed continued on in the faith is not always clear in the Scripture. Paul would say to those from the church in Corinth in 1 Corinthians 15:1-2: “Moreover, brethren, I declare to you the gospel which I preached to you, which also you received and in which you stand, by which also you are saved, if you hold fast that word which I preached to you—unless you believed in vain.” The word vain as used here literally means “mindlessly.” Contrast that with the word “repent” in Scripture, which means “with the mind” (metanoia) and there is a complete contrast between two forms of belief, mindless versus with the mind. Paul would also challenge this same group of people at Corinth in his second letter to them by saying “Examine yourselves as to whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Do you not know yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you?—unless indeed you are disqualified” (2 Cor. 13:5).
The peculiarity mentioned between v. 23 and v. 24 is that while many believed (to entrust one’s self) in His name, Jesus would not reciprocate that trust. It says it like this: “But Jesus did not commit Himself to them, because He knew all men, and had no need that anyone should testify of man, for He knew what was in man.” The root word for commit is pisteuo, the same word used in v. 23 for many believed in His name. He would not entrust Himself to them, “them” being the ones believing in His name. It says “because He knew all men” is the reason He would not entrust Himself to them. The word “know” here means that He intimately knew what was in their hearts. Nathanael would ask Jesus, “How do you know me?” in John 1, and this was what he meant. This verse tells us that Jesus didn’t just know Nathanael intimately, but all men. He knew exactly what people needed to hear, even when He knew how some would rage against the words He would say. He knew the hearts of men. He knew also what those men (people) would do if He were to entrust Himself to them. We see quite clearly how the people of His day all had an agenda for Him and His will was to completely submit to the Father’s will.
Knowing the hearts of men, this is a great place to insert a passage you may already be familiar with, Jermemiah 17:9-10:
“The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked; who can know it? I, the LORD, search the heart, I test the mind, even to give every man according to his ways, according to the fruit of his doings.
These two verses are very much in line with John 2:24-25. Jesus knows the limitations of people, as well as the sinfulness and deception of their own hearts, so deceiving that even they themselves fall prey to the deceptions of their own hearts! Who can know the heart? A perfect, holy God who is omniscient and who is not deceived by sin the way sinful humanity is. Jesus Christ is God the Son, a member of the Trinity.
Beyond John 2:24, verse 25 says that “He did not need anyone to testify concerning man, for He Himself knew what was in man.” It was not necessary for anyone to “confirm or attest something on the basis of personal knowledge or belief” (BDAG Lexicon, Bibleworks) regarding people. The word for testify is martureo, from whence we get the word martyr. In the vein of such a thought, look at Romans 8:16: “The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God.” This is interesting because the Spirit testifies (summartureo), meaning as it says, “to bear witness with.” The Holy Spirit testifies to the believer that he or she is a child of God, because God knows it intimately, wants to make it known to His child, and because do not know God’s heart without His disclosure to us. Nevertheless, Jesus does not need anyone to testify to what is in man, because He knows intimately what is in man.
Given the context of the passage we’ve looked at today, it probably doesn’t mean that those who believed in His name were unbelievers for being known in heart, but rather that they in their obliviousness did not see the problem of what their hearts may have desired for Christ. Multiple times even disciples such as Peter had an agenda for Jesus that was not God’s plan for Jesus (such as dying on the cross).
So let’s see a very possible parallel to ourselves today: just because we want God to do something for us does not mean that He inevitably will. Not only does He know what is best for us and for everyone else, but He also knows what is in our hearts and while He calls us to trust in Christ, He doesn’t necessarily entrust Himself to us. He is faithful to us and loves us like no one else ever could. He is perfectly patient with us and cares about our concerns. Does He simply entrust Himself to us, though? No, and we should be glad for that. Jesus would only entrust Himself to the Father because only the Father could be fully and rightly trusted. This is very likely one of the reasons Jesus marveled at people’s doubts throughout His ministry.
A God who knows us intimately and perfectly knows that the only hope we have in following Him is embedded into His power to save, to change, and to bring us unto Himself. The religious views of many people who call themselves “Christians” often reflect a subtle view of God trusting them to make things right, to stay on the straight and narrow, and to persevere as though it is a matter of willpower. Man-centered gospel messages give man credit where it is not due and fail to see how central God is to our redemption.
The gospel of Jesus takes into account exactly who the sinner is that Jesus saves. Jesus knows exactly the depths of the depravity of all people, including believers, and how they will fail not only in the past, but also the present and the future even after they’re forgiven. Belief is a one-way street when it comes to Christ: we believe in Him. The security of the gospel really comes down to a Savior that knows us better than anyone else could and knows what He will do not only to bring us to faith but also to transform us and to welcome us into His arms one day. Our only hope today still rests in Christ, and never ourselves.
Lord, help us to rest in being known by You. Help us to commit ourselves unto You again in this day. Tomorrow is uncertain and yesterday is gone, but we have this time with You, so help us to use it purposefully and intentionally in line with Your desires. We pray for our country and our world yet again, for those ministering the gospel around the world, and for all the health care workers with their needs. I pray this in Jesus’ name, Amen.