The Apostle John had a unique relationship with Jesus, often referring to himself as the disciple “whom Jesus loved” (John 13:23; 19:26; 20:2; 21:7, 20). Among the many disciples Jesus had, He specifically chose 12 men to be His closest followers (Matthew 10:1-4). Of the 12, John was among Jesus’ inner circle: Peter, and the sons of Zebedee, James and John (Mark 5:37; 9:2; 13:3; 14:33).
As an extension of his unique relationship with Jesus, John’s Gospel is also unique among the four gospels. While Mathew, Mark, and Luke focus on what Jesus did, John focused more on Who Jesus is. From his opening sentence, John wanted his readers to know Jesus is God.
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. (John 1:1 ESV)
John wasn’t contradicting Matthew’s testimony of Jesus being the Son of God, as witnessed at Jesus’ baptism (Matthew 3:17) or during the transfiguration (Matthew 17:5). John simply wanted his readers to have a more complete understanding of Jesus’ role throughout history as the messenger of God the Father in both the Old Testament and New Testament.
In Chapter 12, John described the events surrounding Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem, including another confirmation of God the Father speaking from Heaven, in addition to those mentioned by Matthew, Mark, and Luke in reference to Jesus’ baptism and transfiguration.
“Now is my soul troubled. And what shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’? But for this purpose I have come to this hour. Father, glorify your name.” Then a voice came from heaven: “I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again.” The crowd that stood there and heard it said that it had thundered. Others said, “An angel has spoken to him.” Jesus answered, “This voice has come for your sake, not mine.” (John 12:27-30 ESV)
John clearly identified Jesus as both the Son of God (above) and God Himself (John 1:1). A few verses later in Chapter 12, however, John made a very distinct declaration regarding Jesus.
When Jesus had said these things, he departed and hid himself from them. Though he had done so many signs before them, they still did not believe in him, so that the word spoken by the prophet Isaiah might be fulfilled: “Lord, who has believed what he heard from us, and to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?” Therefore they could not believe. For again Isaiah said, “He has blinded their eyes and hardened their heart, lest they see with their eyes, and understand with their heart, and turn, and I would heal them.” Isaiah said these things because he saw his glory and spoke of him. (John 12:36-41 ESV – emphasis mine)
When John said, “Isaiah said these things because he saw his glory and spoke of him” what did he mean?
John was clearly trying to convey that people did not “believe in” Jesus, and as a result, Isaiah’s prophecies were fulfilled. To completely understand what John meant, however, we must understand the prophecies John quoted, along with their context.
John indicated “they could not believe” in Jesus, and that their unbelief was the fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy that the Lord “blinded their eyes and hardened their hearts.” That prophecy is found in Isaiah 6 just after Isaiah encountered the glory of the Lord.
In the year that King Uzziah died I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up; and the train of his robe filled the temple. Above him stood the seraphim. Each had six wings: with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. And one called to another and said: “Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory!”
And the foundations of the thresholds shook at the voice of him who called, and the house was filled with smoke. And I said: “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts!”
Then one of the seraphim flew to me, having in his hand a burning coal that he had taken with tongs from the altar. And he touched my mouth and said: “Behold, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away, and your sin atoned for.”
And I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” Then I said, “Here I am! Send me.” And he said, “Go, and say to this people: “‘Keep on hearing, but do not understand; keep on seeing, but do not perceive.’ Make the heart of this people dull, and their ears heavy, and blind their eyes; lest they see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and understand with their hearts, and turn and be healed.” (Isaiah 6:1-10 ESV – emphasis mine)
In this passage from Isaiah, there are two uses of “the Lord” in Hebrew: The Lord (Adonay – אֲדֹנָי), and the LORD (Jehovah – יהוה). From the greater context, it’s clear that Isaiah saw “the King, the LORD (Jehovah – יהוה) of hosts,” sitting on His “throne, high and lifted up; and the train of his robe filled the temple.” Despite the dual descriptives, Isaiah was equating the two uses as the same LORD.
The first prophecy John quoted is found in Isaiah 53, which is a continuation of a prophecy found in Isaiah 52.
“…he shall be high and lifted up, and shall be exalted…his appearance was so marred, beyond human semblance, and his form beyond that of the children of mankind…” Isaiah 52:13-14 (ESV)
Now, compare Jesus description of His death with Isaiah’s prophecy concerning the coming Messiah from Chapter 52.
Jesus answered, “This voice has come for your sake, not mine. 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. (John 12:30-33 ESV)
Isaiah prophesied that Messiah would be lifted up and exalted, and Jesus said, “when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” Both quotes depict being lifted up and exalted. The portion of Isaiah 53 John quoted (in bold below) continues with a description of Messiah, which fits Jesus perfectly.
Who has believed what he has heard from us? And to whom has the arm of the LORD been revealed? For he grew up before him like a young plant, and like a root out of dry ground; he had no form or majesty that we should look at him, and no beauty that we should desire him. He was despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not.
Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all.
He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth; like a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent, so he opened not his mouth. By oppression and judgment he was taken away; and as for his generation, who considered that he was cut off out of the land of the living, stricken for the transgression of my people? And they made his grave with the wicked and with a rich man in his death, although he had done no violence, and there was no deceit in his mouth. (Isaiah 53:1-9 ESV – emphasis mine)
John made a twofold statement as he quoted Isaiah. First, he confirmed Jesus’ role as Messiah, the suffering servant, but he also made a far bolder claim. John said Isaiah saw Jesus sitting on His throne as the King, the LORD (Jehovah – יהוה) of hosts: “Isaiah said these things because he saw his glory and spoke of him.” That puts the entirety of John 1 in proper perspective, specifically John 1:10-11.
He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. (John 1:10-11 ESV)
Interestingly, the Apostle Paul reinforces John’s claim, equating the same prophecies from Isaiah 52 and 53 to “the word of Christ.”
How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!” [Isaiah 52:7] But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Isaiah says, “Lord, who has believed what he has heard from us?” [Isaiah 53:1] So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ. (Romans 10:14-17 ESV – brackets and emphasis mine)
In fact, Paul’s reference to Isaiah 52 and 53 holds specific significance, given his opening question: “How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed?”
For thus says the LORD: “…Therefore my people shall know my name. Therefore in that day they shall know that it is I who speak; here I am.” How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him who brings good news, who publishes peace, who brings good news of happiness, who publishes salvation, who says to Zion, “Your God reigns.” The voice of your watchmen—they lift up their voice; together they sing for joy; for eye to eye they see the return of the LORD to Zion. (Isaiah 52:3-8 ESV – emphasis mine)
If we are careful and diligent, allowing scripture to interpret scripture, the Holy Spirit will elucidate the scriptures, leading us into all truth.
When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. He will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you. (John 16:13-14 ESV)
Jesus is LORD (Jehovah – יהוה), the redeemer of Israel.
For I know that my Redeemer lives, and at the last he will stand upon the earth. (Job 19:25 ESV)
For a deeper dive into biblical proofs regarding Jesus being the LORD (Jehovah – יהוה), please check out the I AM series.