Here are the study notes for John 12:31-26
12:31-33 Now is the judgment of this world; now will the ruler of this world be cast out.  And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.”  He said this to show by what kind of death he was going to die.
God rest ye merry Gentlemen let nothing you dismay,
Remember Christ our Savior was born on Christmas day,
To save us all from Satan’s power when we had gone astray,
Oh tidings of comfort and joy, comfort and joy, oh tidings of comfort and joy!
An Answer to the Greeks?
Verse 31 is a crucial verse for understanding Christ’s mission here on earth. His whole flow of thought here is really interesting. He sees the Jews hailing Him, but for the wrong reasons, then the Greeks come to seek Him and this sets off a red flag in His mind, so He tells those around Him that His time has come to be glorified, to be die so that many will live (the seed image), and to be lifted up and glorified on the cross, and that He will crush the head of the serpent (Gen. 3:15). So while He doesn’t seem to answer Andrew and Philip who have come to Him with this report of the Greeks seeking Him, in a way He does. Their message kicks off a series of theological points here in these verses that all have to do with the salvation of humanity – note that He wraps up by saying that He “will draw all people to myself.” Not just Jews, but “all people” from every tribe tongue and nation!
The Judgment of this World
The first thing Jesus says in verse 31 would be odd if we hadn’t already looked at this in chapter three a little bit. He says that “Now is the judgment of this world.” Well what does He mean by “judgment” is “now”? As Ryle points out, this in undoubtedly a difficult saying, and I think there is perhaps some nuance to it that can easily be missed. But in order to understand it we must understand the context. If we don’t see that Christ is talking about several things during this short discourse, including the salvation of men from outside of the Jewish race, the triumph and shame of the cross, the difficulty of the task of the cross and the anguish of Christ’s soul, and the glory of the Lord Jesus Christ and His desire for the glory of God.
Because of this context and the fact that the discourse has been set off originally by some gentiles wishing to Jesus, it is thought by some that “judgment” refers to the fact that Christ has judged the Jews and found them unfaithful and is therefore offering salvation to “all men.” But this also misses a larger plot line, and the close tie to Christ’s declaration of coming victory of Satan and his power over all mankind (we will see how this relates to the larger redemptive plotline in a moment). And so because of the fact that he is talking about a much larger plotline here, referring to Satan, to “all men”, and because the conversation could be seen as His reaction to the Gentiles seeking to talk with Him in the first place, I think it is reasonable to say that He is here referring to all men/mankind and their enslavement to sin. It is worth looking at Carson’s comments on how this is so:
Judgment is in one sense reserved for the end of the age, for the ‘last judgment’. But the texts just cited also show that judgment begins with the first coming of Christ, climaxing in his passion. As the light of the world, Jesus forces a division between those whose evil deeds are exposed by his brilliance, and those whose deeds prompt them to embrace the light in order to testify that what they have done ‘has been done through God’ (3:19-21).
Perhaps the greatest example of an earlier text in which the metaphor of the light and darkness is given is indeed that passage Carson cites from chapter three:
And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil.  For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed.  But whoever does what is true comes to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that his works have been carried out in God.” (John 3:19-21 ESV)
This is a passage that I’ve referred back to probably more often than any other passage we’ve studied thus far in this gospel. I think the reason for this is that it explains so much of who we are, and who He is in contrast. We are creatures who love the darkness, and when the light shines into the world, we scurry away like cockroaches. We not only hate the light, we love the darkness. We love our sin. But there is more to the analogy than simply who we are. There is also who He is. He is the light. And the light has immediate and unavoidable consequences when it enters a place of darkness. Separation occurs immediately, and that is the judgment. It is apparent and obvious and unavoidable. It simply occurs because of His presence on this earth: His light separates the good from the evil, but on the final day of judgment it will be God’s voice booming from the throne and His holy angels who will conduct that final separation between the “sheep and the goats.”
Crushing the Head of the Serpent
Now we need to continue on and examine the second part of verse 31 that states that the “ruler of this world” and his defeat. Ryle says that, “there can be no doubt that Satan is meant by the ‘prince of this world.’”
First we assume by this comment that, at least in a certain sense, Satan’s work had been largely unhindered. He had been roaming freely on the world and deceiving the nations as he pleased. When Christ came is signaled the beginning of the end of his kingdom. In a recent book by Alistair Begg and Sinclair Ferguson the noted theologians say that one of the manifestations of the plotline of history thickening and Satan getting ready for a final fight was the presence of so many demons on earth tormenting people (which we read about in the gospels). Whether or not this is so, it is evident that Scripture tells us that when Christ came and died He won a significant victory – a victory that had been anticipated for thousands of years.
We see the first proclamation of this victory in Genesis 3:15:
I will put enmity between you and the woman,
and between your offspring and her offspring;
he shall bruise your head,
and you shall bruise his heel.
These words were spoken to Satan. The prediction here is that one day in the future the seed of Eve will land a death blow to Satan. That day that God foretold and Moses recorded is the same day Christ here has His eyes fixed upon. Jesus knew that He would be the seed of Eve that dies in order to bear much fruit and in order to bruise the head of the Serpent.
Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. (John 12:24)
In so doing, Christ is gaining the victory. Paul explains further in Colossians, as does the author of Hebrews:
And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross. He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him. (Colossians 2:13-15 ESV)
Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery. (Hebrews 2:14-15 ESV)
When Christ died on the cross He did so in order that “he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil.” This devil has been “cast out” and has been “disarmed” and “put to open shame.”
The irony of it all must not have been too enjoyable for Satan. Carson’s comments are insightful:
Although the cross might seem like Satan’s triumph, it is in fact his defeat. In one sense Satan was defeated by the outbreaking power of the kingdom of God even within the ministry of Jesus (Luke 10:18). But the fundamental smashing of his reign of tyranny takes place in the death/exaltation of Jesus.
But What Does this Mean For Us Today?
Well what does this all mean in light of the fact that we still battle the Evil One, and that we still live in a fallen world?
It means that when Christ died and rose again He began the death sentence on Satan. The same way in which God told Adam that the day he ate of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil he would surely die (Gen. 2:17). Did Adam die on that day? No he didn’t die directly, but it he was as good as dead on that day because from that day onward his doom was sealed. He would no longer live out his days in peace with God, he would no longer walk in the cool of the garden, and he would one day see the deterioration of his physical body. In this same way, Satan’s doom was sealed the day Christ rose from the grave.
As D.A. Carson remarks, “When Jesus was glorified, ‘lifted up’ to heaven by means of the cross, enthroned, then too was Satan dethroned. What residual power the prince of this world enjoys is further curtailed by the Holy Spirit, the Counselor.”
We live in times where Satan’s death and final destruction have been assured. While he is still a great danger to us, he is also a man marked for death. His time is waning.
In the latter part of verse 32 Christ tells us that He will draw “all people” to Himself if He is lifted up. And so here again we have that mysterious word “all.” We must look at the context once again to understand what Christ is saying, and to look at all of Scripture’s teaching on salvation.
If we believe that “all” mean includes every man anywhere for all time, then we are Universalists and not gospel believing Christians. Nor is this “drawing” here of an ineffective kind, as some would say – those who might use the word “woo” for the behavior of Christ toward His elect. Does Christ “woo” all people to Himself? Well obviously no. There are many men and women who have not heard the gospel and are not drawn to Christ, and many others who hear and reject the gospel. And therefore Christ’s words “draw” and “all people” are not compatible with the Armenian viewpoint of “wooing.”
But if we understand the word “all people” in the context of Christ’s response to the gentiles (as well as the Jews who were listening to Him), as well as the larger context of the redemptive metanarrative Jesus has been addressing in His pronouncement of judgment on the world, and on Satan, then we will see that “all people” is meant to be “all people from every tribe tongue and nation” (as in Rev. 7:9).
12:34-36 So the crowd answered him, “We have heard from the Law that the Christ remains forever. How can you say that the Son of Man must be lifted up? Who is this Son of Man?”  So Jesus said to them, “The light is among you for a little while longer. Walk while you have the light, lest darkness overtake you. The one who walks in the darkness does not know where he is going.  While you have the light, believe in the light, that you may become sons of light.” When Jesus had said these things, he departed and hid himself from them.
Who is this Son of Man?
What the crowd was really saying here is not “who is this Son of Man” but “what kind of person is this Son of Man?” They were confused about the role of the Messiah, as we’ve discussed before. They had an odd conglomerate of ideas as to what the Messiah would be and do, but interestingly none of those ideas included the sacrificial death of their great hope!
Now, as we look at the crowd’s reaction to Christ’s sayings we ought to note that earlier in John’s gospel Jesus has mentioned being “lifted up” – it’s during His discourse with Nicodemus (chapter 3). After telling Nicodemus that he must be “born again” in order to see the kingdom of God, He goes on to tell him “heavenly things”:
If I have told you earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you heavenly things?  No one has ascended into heaven except he who descended from heaven, the Son of Man.  And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up,  that whoever believes in him may have eternal life. (John 3:12-15 ESV)
The moment in history Jesus was making reference to is recounted for us in Numbers:
From Mount Hor they set out by the way to the Red Sea, to go around the land of Edom. And the people became impatient on the way.  And the people spoke against God and against Moses, “Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? For there is no food and no water, and we loathe this worthless food.”  Then the LORD sent fiery serpents among the people, and they bit the people, so that many people of Israel died.  And the people came to Moses and said, “We have sinned, for we have spoken against the LORD and against you. Pray to the LORD, that he take away the serpents from us.” So Moses prayed for the people.  And the LORD said to Moses, “Make a fiery serpent and set it on a pole, and everyone who is bitten, when he sees it, shall live.”  So Moses made a bronze serpent and set it on a pole. And if a serpent bit anyone, he would look at the bronze serpent and live. (Numbers 21:4-9 ESV)
Interesting that when the people were being bitten by serpents they thought it was a decent idea to look up at the bronze serpent, but by the time we arrive at this moment in history God’s chosen people were so hardened in their hearts that the serpent was no longer simply an enemy but their leader (see John 8)! Besides, they didn’t need to look up to heaven for help, they had their laws and their moralism and they were just fine working things out on their own. Sound familiar? We often don’t deign to lift our eyes to heaven for help and beg for mercy, nor do we trust that it is through the spectacle of the crucified Christ that we find our hope and strength. We would much rather work things out on our own, we would much rather plunge into Canaan on our own. But God will not be with us that way. Only through surrender is there safety for our souls.
Walk in the Light or Darkness will Close in…
During the time that Christ walked upon the earth, people from all over had the opportunity to listen to Him and repent, but few did that. Not until His resurrection and the sending of the Spirit and proclamation of the gospel did many millions of souls come to faith in Him.
Yet His call is not simply for those within earshot but for us as well. We all can guess at what it means to walk in the light, but we may easily miss what Jesus says in verse 35, “Walk while you have the light, lest darkness overtake you.” The presumption here is that without the help of Christ, there is no hope. When the light is gone we cannot manufacture light on our own! No amount of moralism or good deeds will bring you safely across the threshold of eternity. No amount of self-generated piety will create light enough for you to see your way through the darkness of the death that surrounds you.
In short, without Jesus’ light you are damned to the darkness of this world, and of Hell after you die. Outside of Jesus there is no light and there is no life.
Look how Paul describes people who are searching for God during his discourse at Mars Hill:
And he made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place, that they should seek God, and perhaps feel their way toward him and find him. Yet he is actually not far from each one of us, (Acts 17:26-27 ESV)
These people were searching around, feeling with their hands for the light switch. But it was not far from them…
Listen to what Christ stated in chapter eight of John’s gospel:
“Again Jesus spoke to them, saying, ‘I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.’” (John 8:12)
And so let us not presume that we can generate a life outside of the life Christ gives us that is worth living. All “life” outside of Christ is darkness and a life of living death. It is a life of darkness, insecurity and eternal peril. Furthermore, if we have been given this light, why would we seek to turn off the light switch and live in darkness? Let us walk as people who can actually see their steps, and not trip over things we see very well but others do not. Let us walk in a manner worthy of our calling. As Paul says:
Only let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or am absent, I may hear of you that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving side by side for the faith of the gospel, (Phil. 1:27)