Editor’s note: The purpose of this series is to help our readers think through what the deity of Christ and it’s importance to the Christian faith.
- Dave opened our series by looking at Jesus the Divine Word.
- Today Dave writes on seeing but not believing.
Powerful as Jesus’ teaching about Himself was, most people reacted in unbelief. A remarkable instance of this took place in the aftermath of His miraculous feeding. Jesus had rebuked the crowd for seeking only material blessing and urged them in John 6:27, “Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you. For on him God the Father has set his seal.” The people therefore asked what they should, and Jesus taught them in John 6:29, “Jesus answered them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.”
Having witnessed this miracle and having been called to faith by Jesus in person, the crowd, remarkably, responded by demanding another sign. John 6:30, “So they said to him, “Then what sign do you do, that we may see and believe you? What work do you perform?” It would be hard to imagine a more vivid testimonial to the depravity of the human heart than this. Even after Jesus replies with the first of his I am sayings, he ends up stating in John 6:36, “I said to you that you have seen me and yet do not believe.” How are we to account for this astonishing unbelief?
First according to the Bible, a reason that people do not believe is the spiritual inability arising from their sinful condition. 1 Corinthians 2:14, “The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned.” Here, man’s inability is ascribed to spiritual deadness. In another place in Romans 8:7, Paul says, “For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot.” Here, unbelief is explained by man’s rebellious hostility to God and His ways. Until they are born again, all people are spiritually dead and hostile to God.
The second of these reasons is on display in John 6. The people asked for a sign not because the miraculous feeding was insufficiently revealing. They asked because they didn’t like what Jesus was saying; their demand for another sign was just a way of putting him off. Jesus had called on them to change their attitude. Since they did not want to do that, they justified their unbelief. How often this happens today! People spend their entire living in a world that manifestly displays the glory of God. And they receive testimonies both from Christians and from the bible sufficient to persuade them about any other matter. Yet they respond to the gospel with one objection after another.
At its root, man’s unwillingness to accept Jesus is really and moral and spiritual inability. People love their sin, they love their pride, and they especially love their won lordship over their lives. Like fallen Lucifer in Milton’s Paradise Lost, they hard-heartedly declare, “Better to reign in Hell, than serve in Heav’n.”[i] Cornelius Van Til states the truth about both this crowd and the persistent skeptic today: “These men are sinners. They have ‘an axe to grind.’ They want to suppress the truth in unrighteousness. They will employ their reason for that purpose.”[ii] Determined to be their own god, their own savior, and their own lord, the find reason after reason to reject Jesus Christ.
This unbelieving crowd proves that the adage “Seeing is believing” is not true. They had seen proof positive of Christ’s deity, but still would not believe. The reality is that when it comes to spiritual matters, we need to reverse the principle: we must believe in order to see. This is as important to the believer as to the unbeliever. How many Christians doubt God’s loving care whenever a trial comes, despite having seen abundant proofs of his faithfulness. Like the unbelieving crowd, we demand for God to give a sign, despite knowing that he has sent his own Son to die for our sin and innumerable other mercies. O you of little faith!” Jesus often told his disciples. If we will believe his Word and trust him at all times, our eyes will be open to see the sovereign hands that uphold us in every affliction.
Faith comes not from seeing but from believing the Word of God. It is through God’s Word that we are born again (1 Peter 1:23), and the result of being born again is that we believe and understand God’s Word. But if we will not believe the Word of Christ, then no multitude of signs, evidence, or reasons will ever penetrate our foolish hearts.
[i] John Milton, Paradise Lost, 1.263
[ii] Cornelius Van Til, Christian Apologetics (Nutley, NK: Presbyterian and Reformed, 175), 50.