“Nevertheless, many even of the authorities believed in him, but for fear of the Pharisees they did not confess it, so that they would not be put out of the synagogue; for they loved the glory that comes from man more than the glory that comes from God.” (John 12:42-43)
In spite of the widespread unbelief towards Jesus’ person and work (John 12:37), John records that many people trusted in, committed to, began to depend upon and worshiped Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord. John takes special note that of these many people some of them belonged to positions of authority within Israel. The word authorities (ἄρχων; archon) refers to officials, rulers and leaders. While this could refer strictly to governmental rulers, it could also refer to the spiritual rulers at that time in Israel (John 3:1).
However genuine their belief was, these who believed in Jesus were also frightened by the Pharisees. The word “fear” is implied in the text. There were two reasons why the people would not confess their faith but chose to give in to their fear.
First, it was because of their fear of the Pharisees putting them out of the synagogue that the people did not confess Christ (John 9:22; 12:42). The word confess (ὁμολογέω; homologeo) means to acknowledge, profess, admit or declare something to be true. The people in question would not admit they became disciples of Jesus because they were afraid the Pharisees would kick them out of the synagogue. Along with their fear of the Pharisees, the people were also afraid of the consequences of following Jesus.
Jesus had just said in this context, “If anyone serves me, he must follow me; and where I am, there will my servant be also. If anyone serves me, the Father will honor him.” (John 12:26). Matthew 16:24-26 says, “Then Jesus told his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what shall a man give in return for his soul?” (See Mark 8:34-37; Luke 9:23-25; James 2:14-26).
The 16h century Protestant Reformers explained that saving faith involved not only knowing the basic facts concerning Jesus Christ (notitia), but also belief that those facts were true (assensus). Finally, saving faith involved a personal act of the will of trusting in Jesus to save (fiducia) based upon that prior knowledge and agreement that the facts surrounding Jesus Christ’s person and work were true.
The Bible says that true, or authentic faith (knowledge; assent; trust), will reveal itself in good works done for Jesus Christ. One of the most basic of good works done for Christ is to admit and to acknowledge to others that one is indeed a follower of Christ. If a person is not willing to admit that they are Jesus’ disciple, then it remains suspect as to whether they are a true disciple of Jesus.
Jesus said, in Luke 9:26, “For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words, of him will the Son of Man be ashamed when he comes in his glory and the glory of the Father and of the holy angels.”
The people mentioned in today’s text would not confess Jesus publicly. They were afraid of the consequences from such a confession. However, there was a second reason they would not confess Christ. John 12:43 says, “For they loved the glory that comes from man more than the glory that comes from God.” Rather than take pleasure in their relationship in Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord, they preferred the pleasure of man’s glory or praise.
Dr. R. C. Sproul explains that, “John is not necessarily saying that all of the authorities he describes fell into the category of those who “loved the glory that comes from man more than the glory that comes from God” (v. 43). It could well be that some of these authorities later made a public declaration of faith, for we know that religious leaders such as Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea finally publicly identified themselves with Jesus by taking His body for burial (19:38–42). Still, John’s comment is an implicit warning and a call to commitment. It is not enough merely to say that we believe in Jesus; those who have actually received and rested on Christ alone for salvation will confess their faith before others.”
Do you publicly inform people that you encounter that you are a follower of Jesus Christ? While we are saved by grace alone, through faith alone in the person and work of Jesus Christ alone, we do not have a faith which is separated from good works. While good works, including public confession of our faith, do not save us, they are a biblical evidence that we are saved.
May you seek the praise of God today rather than the praise of man. Soli deo Gloria!