Jesus was in Jerusalem. The day of his arrest and crucifixion, the day when the Son of Man would be “lifted up” (John 12:32-34), was fast approaching. The crowd balked at his suggestion that he, the one many hoped would be the long-awaited Messiah, would die. Still, he invited them one more time to walk in the light and become children of light.
Then he hid himself away for a while (vs. 36).
Jesus had one last invitation to give before the final, climactic chapter of his life. We don’t know exactly when it was said; John doesn’t tell us. He merely reports that Jesus cried out:
Whoever believes in me believes not in me but in him who sent me. And whoever sees me sees him who sent me. I have come as light into the world, so that everyone who believes in me should not remain in the darkness. I do not judge anyone who hears my words and does not keep them, for I came not to judge the world, but to save the world. The one who rejects me and does not receive my word has a judge; on the last day the word that I have spoken will serve as judge, for I have not spoken on my own, but the Father who sent me has himself given me a commandment about what to say and what to speak. And I know that his commandment is eternal life. What I speak, therefore, I speak just as the Father has told me. (John 12:44-50, NRSV)
Right from the beginning of the gospel, we have been told that Jesus is the True Light, sent by the Father to bring life to a world shrouded in darkness. His mission is not to judge, but to save.
Yet people will still be judged according to how they responded to the Light. Jesus’ opponents have repeatedly questioned his identity: Where did he come from? Who does he think he is? They’ve accused him of blasphemy for daring to claim a unique relationship with God — even claiming to be God. They’ve unsuccessfully tried to arrest or kill him, and haven’t given up.
And far from skirting controversy, in his final words to the crowds, Jesus again emphasizes his unique identity. If you believe in me, you believe in the Father. If you’ve seen me, you’ve seen the Father. The Father sent me, and I haven’t said anything but what he’s told me to say. And thus by implication: If you reject me and what I say, you reject the Father. Count on it: the day will come when the Father will hold you accountable, and the word I spoke will stand over you in judgment.
Ominous words, yes. But what must one say to those who are stumbling in the dark and don’t even know it? These are words of invitation: Come out of the darkness; come into the light.
It’s his final plea, before the darkness will seem to get the upper hand.