Jesus heard that they had cast him out, and having found him he said, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?” He answered, “And who is he, sir, that I may believe in him?” Jesus said to him, “You have seen him, and it is he who is speaking to you.” He said, “Lord, I believe,” and he worshiped him. Jesus said, “For judgment I came into this world, that those who do not see may see, and those who see may become blind.” Some of the Pharisees near him heard these things, and said to him, “Are we also blind?” Jesus said to them, “If you were blind, you would have no guilt; but now that you say, ‘We see,’ your guilt remains.”
It continually amazes me that the Gospel of John, even though it has the reputation for being the simplest Gospel, nevertheless, again and again, tackles some of the hardest and most complex issues in life and doctrine, even in philosophy. These are always issues that really matter. And the Gospel does that again today in John 9:39–41.
One of the issues that troubles us when we start to take the sovereignty of God seriously — which this Gospel does, perhaps more bluntly than any of the others, especially in regard to our salvation — is that human beings seem less responsible, less accountable for what we feel and know and do. The more complete and the more extensive the sovereign power of God over our lives and our hearts, the more we start to wonder if we really can have any accountability for our own actions. If we sin are we really responsible for our sinning? That’s what these verses are about when you scratch just a little beneath the surface.
God’s Sovereignty in Our Salvation
Here’s a glimpse of what I mean by this Gospel’s emphasis on the sovereignty of God in our salvation. In John 3:3, Jesus says, “Unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” And then he says in verse 8, “The wind blows where it wills, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.” The Spirit gives life and sight where he wills. When we are aware of being awake spiritually, we have already been awakened. God did it before we did it.
God Goes Before
In John 6:37, Jesus says, “All that the Father gives me will come to me.” And in verse 44, he says, “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him.” And in verse 65, he says, “No one can come to me unless it is granted him by the Father.” So coming to Jesus is a gift. We don’t do it on our own then get the gift. Our coming is the gift.
Or in John 10:26, Jesus says, “You do not believe because you are not part of my flock.” And in John 8:47, he says, “The reason why you do not hear [my words] is that you are not of God.” And in John 18:37, he says, “Everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice.” So our listening to his voice and our hearing his words and our believing on him are all owing to something that went before. Something God did.
Then How Are We Accountable?
That is what I mean by the sovereignty of God in this Gospel of John. And the more you see it and the more seriously you take it, the more urgent becomes the issue raised in John 9:39–41 — the issue of human accountability, human responsibility. If God must act first and decisively to give me life and sight and faith, how am I accountable to act? Let’s read these three verses again. John 9:39–41:
“The Spirit gives life and sight where he wills.”
Jesus said, “For judgment I came into this world, that those who do not see may see, and those who see may become blind.” Some of the Pharisees near him heard these things, and said to him, “Are we also blind?” Jesus said to them, “If you were blind, you would have no guilt [literally, sin]; but now that you say, ‘We see,’ your guilt [literally, sin]; remains.”
Blindness as a Spiritual Picture
This chapter began with Jesus healing a man born blind. A physical miracle happened. Jesus did it on the Sabbath, and he did it by making mud (which the Pharisees said was against the Sabbath law). And so a conflict is unleashed. And as the conflict progresses, it becomes plain that the blind beggar is seeing reality more and more clearly, and the Pharisees are seeing reality less and less clearly.
The beggar moves from seeing Jesus as a man (verse 11), to seeing him as a prophet (verse 17) to worshiping him (verse 38). But the Pharisees move the opposite direction. Verse 16: “This man [Jesus] is not from God.” Verse 22: “If anyone should confess Jesus to be Christ, he was to be put out of the synagogue.” Verse 24: “This man [Jesus] is a sinner.” Verse 34, to the beggar: “You were born in utter sin, and would you teach us?”
And what becomes plain as we come to the last three verses is that what began as a miracle of healing physical blindness has become (as so often in this Gospel) a picture of healing spiritual blindness. And that’s what raises the question. If we are spiritually blind, how can we be responsible to see? How can we be judged for not seeing if we are blind? That’s where Jesus is going in verses 39–41.
Did Jesus Come to Judge or Not?
Verse 39: “Jesus said, ‘For judgment I came into this world, that those who do not see may see, and those who see may become blind.’” This is at first jarring because Jesus said in two other places that he did not come to judge the world. In John 3:17, he says, “God did not send his Son into the world to judge the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.” And in John 12:47, he says, “I did not come to judge the world but to save the world.”
“The mission of Jesus was not to condemn. It was to save.”
But the contradiction is only apparent. It’s not real. When Jesus says that he did not come to judge, he means that condemnation is not his first or his direct purpose. He is coming to save. When he says, “For judgment I came into the world,” he means that inevitably, as I save people by truth and love and righteousness, a division happens and rebellion is revealed and people are confirmed in their unbelief.
It’s like a doctor being called to amputate a man’s arm, because of a horrible infection, in order to save his life. Just before the sick man goes under the anesthesia, he asks the doctor, “Did you come to cut off my arm,” and the doctor answers: “I didn’t come to cut off your arm, I came to save your life.” And we would all know what he meant.
Or it’s like a military special forces team being airlifted behind enemy lines to rescue of POW from certain death. They have grenades and guns and knives, but the commander says, “Your mission is not to kill. Your mission is to get the prisoner out. Do what you have to do.”
Jesus’s Ministry That Saves — and Condemns
The mission of Jesus was not to condemn. It was to save. But he saves by being the truth and speaking the truth and doing the truth. And those who are not “of the truth” (John 18:37) refuse to embrace him as Savior, and therefore are condemned. The ministry of Jesus, which aims to save, inevitably reveals and confirms the blindness and unbelief that condemns.
So in the second half of verse 39, Jesus explains how he has come for judgment. He has come for judgment “that those who do not see may see, and those who see may become blind.” On the one hand, the judging sword (or scalpel) of Jesus is going to cut away the blinding calluses of the heart, and the blind will see. But on the other hand, there is a blinding effect of this saving work. Verse 39 at the end: “and those who see may become blind.”
The Blinding Effect of Jesus’s Saving Work
What does that mean? That’s what the next two verses explain. And that’s how the issue of our accountability is raised. Verse 40: “Some of the Pharisees near him heard these things, and said to him, “‘Are we also blind?’” At this point, Jesus sees straight through to where their minds are going. And we know what he sees because of the way he responds in verse 41.
The Pharisees are thinking (and Jesus sees through it), “Well, if we are blind, then we don’t really have any sin or guilt. You can’t judge a blind person for not seeing.” That’s where their minds are going. They are raising our objection for us―not that I like the idea of a Pharisee raising my objections for me.
We know this is what Jesus sees in their minds because here is the way he responds. Verse 41: “Jesus said to them, ‘If you were blind, you would have no guilt [sin]; but now that you say, “We see,” your guilt [sin] remains.’”
What the Pharisees Mean by Blindness
I will try to make this simple, but it is very subtle. In the first half of verse 41, Jesus is using the word blind in the sense that they just used it in verse 40. We have to do this many times when talking to people. Figure out the definitions they are using and then answer with those definitions.
Their definition goes something like this: blindness is a condition of the mind that if you have it, you are not guilty of sin. And Jesus says, “Okay, I see where you are going. Using that definition, no, you are not blind.” The first part of verse 41: you’re right, given your definition of blindness, “If you were blind [using your definition], you would have no guilt [sin].” So you are not blind in that sense.
And, of course, the reason he says this is because they really are guilty of sin — unrelieved, unforgiven sin. Sin that will condemn them if they do not turn to Jesus for forgiveness.
Jesus’s Unexpected Response
He’s about to say that in the last part of verse 41. And what we expect him to say is this: “But now that you see, your guilt remains.” But that’s not what he said. He could have said that: given your definition of blindness (that it removes accountability), it’s plain that you are not blind; you see; and because you see, you are guilty, and no such blindness removes your accountability.
“Sin will condemn you if you do not turn to Jesus for forgiveness.”
But that’s not what he said. What he said was, “But now that you say, ‘We see,’ your guilt [sin] remains.’” In other words, according to what you say — according to your definition of blindness (as taking away responsibility), you’re right; you are not blind. You see.
Another Kind of Blindness
But, in fact, you don’t see. You are blind. And your guilt remains. Behind that little phrase, “you say that you see,” is the profound statement of Jesus about our accountability: In reality, they do not see. In reality, they are blind. And their guilt remains. And they are accountable.
Which means that there is a kind of blindness — a blindness rooted in willful rebellion against the light of God. It is a moral, spiritual blindness, not a physical one. We are blind because we love the darkness (John 3:19). We are blind because we don’t want to see the light or be guided by the light or have to confess our works to be works of darkness. And this blindness does not diminish our guilt or remove our accountability. It is part of our guilt.
The Fork in the Road
To close, return with me to verse 39: “Jesus said, ‘For judgment, I came into this world, that those who do not see may see, and those who see may become blind.’”
There’s the fork in the road at the end of this message. We all walk down one path or the other. What does he mean, “He came that those who see may become blind?” Now we know from verse 41.
I take him to mean: Those who have perfectly good eyes in their heads, who can think and reason, who can see the evidences, and hear the sermons, and read the Bible, and get acquainted with Jesus, but who will not admit they are blind and need to be born again with spiritual life and light, they “become” blind — that is, their blindness is revealed and the more light that they resist, the harder and deeper becomes their blindness.
Let it not be so with you. Lay hold of the first half of verse 39, and believe in Jesus. “For judgment I came into this world, that those who do not see may see.” He came to give you sight.