One of the best ways to persuade others with an argument is to answer their strongest objections. If you can provide a reasonable explanation for someone’s biggest challenge, you can “take the wind out of their sails” and maybe win the day. This approach follows the logic of the familar parable: “The best offense is a good defense.”
John seems to take the same approach at times in His Gospel, which is aimed at converting unbelievers into believers (John 20:30-31). In John 12:37-50, He tackles the potentially embarrassing issue of Christ’s rejection. Why believe in Jesus Christ as the Jewish Messiah and Savior of the World if so many of His own people rejected Him during His earthly ministry? Doesn’t that prove or at least weaken His claim of being sent by God?
Instead of shying away from this objection, John leans into it in the closing verses of John chapter 12. He uses Isaiah 5:31 and 6:10 to point out that God’s messengers haven’t always been well received. Moses, Elijah, Ezekial, and Isaiah all faced signifcant opposition in their day and Jesus experienced the same.
In addition, John reveals the motivation behind much of Israel’s rejection of Jesus. The “rulers” would have been members of the Sanherin, the Jewish “Supreme Court” of its time. Many of these rulers had a private respect and admiration for Jesus, but they refused that share it publically for fear that they would loose the respect of their peers. The problem wasn’t with Jesus and His teaching or miracles, it was with the hard-heartedness of His audience.
John helps us to see that Christ’s rejection was a sign of His failure, but instead, it was a sign of His success. Jesus was faithful to His mission, even if He wasn’t hailed as hero by all of His peers. Popularity can be a poor measure of success and it’s an even worse measure of the truth.