Now when he was in Jerusalem at the Passover Feast, many believed in his name when they saw the signs that he was doing. 24 But Jesus on his part did not entrust himself to them, because he knew all people 25 and needed no one to bear witness about man, for he himself knew what was in man.
Remember that the aim of John’s Gospel is that people might believe in Jesus. John 20:31: “These are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.” This has been underlined several times in chapters 1 and 2.
John’s Task: Belief in Jesus
In John 1:12, John says, “To all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God.” After the miracle of turning water into wine at the wedding in Cana, John says, “This, the first of his signs, Jesus did at Cana in Galilee, and manifested his glory. And his disciples believed in him” (John 2:11). Then after he drove the moneychangers out of the Temple and said, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up,” John comments, “His disciples remembered that he had said this, and they believed the Scripture and the word that Jesus had spoken” (John 2:22).
So John is on task. He is writing with a view to helping people see the glory of the Son of God, experience his grace, and believe on him as the Son of God and supreme treasure of their lives and have eternal life.
Some Belief Is Not Saving
In view of this, John 2:23–25 has an unsettling effect. What it says, in essence, is that Jesus knows what is in every heart, and so he can see when someone believes in a way that is not really believing. In other words, Jesus’ ability to know every heart perfectly leads to the unsettling truth that some belief is not the kind of belief that obtains fellowship with Jesus and eternal life. Some belief is not saving belief.
So there are two things to focus on here. First is the glory of the omniscience of Jesus. And the second is the discovery that there is a kind of faith in Jesus that he does not approve and does not accept.
1) The Glory of Jesus’ Omniscience
First, then, we focus on the glory of Christ in his omniscience. Remember we are being guided by John 1:14 and 16—“The Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. . . . And from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace.” This is what John wants us to see—the glory of the only Son from the Father and how, coming down that laser beam of spiritual sight, grace upon grace comes into our lives.
What glory of the Son of God do we see in today’s text? We see it at the end of verse 24 and in all of verse 25: “But Jesus on his part did not entrust himself to them, because he knew all people and needed no one to bear witness about man, for he himself knew what was in man.”
Three statements. First, the sweeping general statement in 2:24: “he knew all people.” Second, the specific application of that statement to people’s private, inner life in 2:25: “he himself knew what was in man.” Third, the implication of that in 2:25: “he needed no one to bear witness about him.”
Jesus Knows All About All People
So the doctrine we may draw from this is that Jesus knows all about all people. No person is excluded from his knowledge, and no part of our life is excluded from his knowledge. He knows everybody—and everything about everybody. Here’s what Jesus will say in John 6:64: “There are some of you who do not believe.” And John adds, “For Jesus knew from the beginning who those were who did not believe, and who it was who would betray him.” The heart of Judas was open before Jesus. Jesus was not surprised when his betrayal came.
Let this truth about Jesus sink into your heart. If you have ever been impressed with any man’ knowledge about people or wisdom in discerning motives and explaining actions and predicting behaviors—if any character in fiction or person in history or living counselor or scholar has ever impressed you, the knowledge of Jesus should be infinitely more impressive.
No Secrets from Jesus
Perhaps the glory of his omniscience will come home to us more fully if we draw out a few personal implications. It means that there are no complete secrets in your life. You may have succeeded in hiding something all your life from everyone on this earth. But you have not hidden it from Jesus. The person who matters most knows most. The person whose judgment about you is all important knows all. Let that sink in. You are totally known. Totally. There is not the slightest part of your heart unknown to Jesus, at this hour, and every hour.
Therefore, there is always at least one person you must relate to who knows everything about you. You may be able to look at others in the face and know that they do not know certain things about you. This shapes your relationship. But there is one who when you look him in the face sees totally through you. If you relate to him at all, you relate as one utterly laid bare. Utterly known. What an amazing relationship! There is one, and only one, who actually and totally knows you. Nobody else even comes close. Your spouse’s knowledge of you, or your best friend’s knowledge of you, compares to Jesus’ knowledge of you like first-grade math to quantum mechanics. You are fully known by one person, Jesus Christ.
One Human Who Knows
Therefore, you always have someone to go to for help in knowing who you are. One of the great longings of the human soul is to understand ourselves. Who are we? What is our nature? What sort of being are we? What is our deepest thought and feeling? What are our true and deepest motives? What are the relationships deep inside of me between knowing and feeling and willing and doing?
There is one human who knows the complete answer to all these questions: Jesus Christ. Do you recall Peter’s three answers to Jesus’ question after the resurrection, “Do you love me?” Jesus asked him three times, probably because Peter had denied Jesus three times. Peter said the first time, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” He said the second time, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” He said the third time, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you” (John 21:15–17). There is always one person who knows your heart perfectly. Knows it better than you do. Jesus Christ.
One Who Is Always Willing to Love You
Therefore, you always have a person who is willing to love you, knowing absolutely everything about you. The reason I say he is “willing to love you” is that Jesus has a special covenant love for those who trust him. He doesn’t love everybody in the same way. Listen to the way he prays in John 17:9, “I am praying for them. I am not praying for the world but for those whom you have given me, for they are yours.” In other words, Jesus intercedes for those whom the Father has given him. These are his friends. These are his disciples. These are his sheep. These are the children of God. These are those who are born again. These are those who believe. And are you in that number?
“To all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God” (John 1:12). If you receive him, there will always be one person who will love you knowing everything, absolutely everything about you. You will say with the disciples in John 16:30, “We know that you know all things and do not need anyone to question you; this is why we believe that you came from God.”
I pray that this glimpse of the glory of the omniscience of the only Son of the Father will move you to admire him more than anyone, and love and trust him and follow him.
2) Faith That Jesus Doesn’t Accept
We said there are two things we should focus on in this today’s text: The first is the glory of the omniscience of Jesus. Now the second is the discovery that there is a kind of faith in Jesus that he does not approve. This is the implication of his omniscience that John focuses on. He draws out the implication that when Jesus looks into the heart of those who believed, he sees something other than the kind of faith that makes you a child of God.
Remember John 1:12 says, “To all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God” (John 1:12). And here in John 2:23 it says, “Many believed in his name when they saw the signs that he was doing.” It seems Jesus should be thrilled. But he’s not. Verse 24 says, “But Jesus on his part did not entrust himself to them, because he knew all people.” This is not the way he treats his own sheep whom he calls by name, his own disciples. When Jesus withholds himself from them, he is saying that they are not believing in a saving way. They are not the children of God. They are not doing John 1:12. Whatever their faith is, Jesus does not approve.
Not All That Looks Like Faith Is Really Faith
John is still on task here. The aim of his book is “that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name” (John 20:31). So it’s crucial that John clarify that not all that looks like faith is really faith. It is unsettling. But that’s the way life is. Better to have Jesus point this out, and help us come to terms with it, than discover it on our own when it may be too late.
What’s wrong with their faith? Are there clues here? Yes, there are. The first clue is the reference to signs and what Jesus says about this elsewhere. And the second clue is that this incident is mentioned as an introduction to the story of Nicodemus that comes next. Nicodemus is probably supposed to represent the people (of John 2:23) who believe in one sense but not in the way Jesus approves.
The Faith of Nicodemus
Take the clue of Nicodemus first. Remember chapter divisions are added later. Don’t pay much attention to them. John 2:25 ends, “For [Jesus] himself knew what was in man.” And the next verses say, “Now there was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews. This man came to Jesus by night and said to him, ‘Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher come from God, for no one can do these signs that you do unless God is with him’” (John 2:25–3:2).
I think this is the kind of faith Jesus sees in the people: “We know that you are a teacher come from God, for no one can do these signs that you do unless God is with him” (3:2). This is a great statement of faith. It’s what some pious Jews believe about Jesus. It’s what Muslims believe. It is a very high view of Jesus. He is “from God.” God is “with him.” What he does are “signs” of God’s power in him. This is significant faith.
Signs Meant to Point to Jesus
But it is not saving faith. Nicodemus was not born again. That is the point of John 3:1–8. Nicodemus, with all his faith, needed to be born again. Nicodemus had no spiritual life. What he had seen was entirely natural, not spiritual. He was still spiritually blind. He did not see through the signs to the glory of the only Son of God. He only saw the signs, and they were so impressive that the natural mind drew the conclusion they must involve God.
Notice the reference to signs in John 2:23—this is now the second clue about what’s wrong with the faith of John 2:23—“Many believed in his name when they saw the signs that he was doing.” They believed when they saw the signs. Signs were meant to point people to the true Son of God and what he stood for. But many saw the signs and did not see what they stood for.
The Faith of Jesus’ Brothers
Take Jesus’ brothers as an example in John 7:3–5. “So his brothers said to him, ‘Leave here and go to Judea, that your disciples also may see the works you are doing. For no one works in secret if he seeks to be known openly. If you do these things, show yourself to the world.’ For not even his brothers believed in him” (John 7:3–5).
That is totally surprising! Verse 5 is given as the reason his bothers wanted him to go do his miracles to get some attention in Judea! It was because they did not believe in him. They knew he worked miracles. They believed that. They were excited about it, and they wanted him to go public and get the attention he deserved. That, John says, is unbelief. Why?
The Humility of Saving Faith
The explanation is found in John 5:44: “How can you believe, when you receive glory from one another and do not seek the glory that comes from the only God?” Deep down inside—where Jesus could see and no one else could—his brothers loved the glory of man. And they saw Jesus, the miracle worker, as their chance for a day in the sun. They would ride on his coattails into the limelight of human admiration.
In other words, real, saving faith in Jesus is a humble thing. It’s what broken people do. Not what power-lovers do, or popularity-lovers, or sign-and-wonder-lovers.
The Danger of Sign-Seeking
O how precarious it is to be a sign-seeker. So many people today run from one set of signs and wonders to the next. They crave the spectacular. They follow the latest sign worker. Till he leaves his wife. Or flies away in his jet with everybody’s money. Jesus is warning against this. Here is what he said in Matthew 24:24: “False christs and false prophets will arise and perform great signs and wonders, so as to lead astray, if possible, even the elect.”
They will do real signs. Stunning miracles. And what will the sign-seekers do then? They will fall away from following Christ. But did they not have faith? A kind of faith. That is what Jesus is warning us against here for our own souls.
Attracted Only to Signs and Wonders?
Let’s let the apostle Paul have the last word of Scripture. He describes the end times like this in 2 Thessalonians 2:9–10: “The coming of the lawless one is by the activity of Satan with all power and lying1 signs and wonders, and with all wicked deception for those who are perishing, because they refused to love the truth and so be saved.” There will be signs and wonders in the last days before Jesus comes. They will be real. And they will be lying—full of deception. And many who profess faith in Christ—a kind of faith, and unreal faith, a faith that does not love the truth—will switch that faith from Jesus, the sign-worker (as they view him) to another sign-worker who seems more impressive. And they will perish.
So the issue today (as we bring the two halves of the sermon together) is: Is your faith based on a spiritual sight of the glory of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth? Do you see Christ and his cross as compellingly glorious? Or are you only attracted to signs and wonders?
The Cross as His Greatest Glory
Let me close with one word about the cross of Christ—the death of Christ. You would think that a man who can see perfectly into the heart of every soul and know what everyone is thinking and feeling and planning—you would think that such a man could move through life by avoiding all human danger. He can simply see all thoughts of ill-will and get out of reach. That’s true. He could. If that was his plan.
But it wasn’t Jesus’ plan. He knew what was in man—including Judas (John 6:64). And so he chose when and where and how and why he would die. And he did it for you. If you see him and his cross as the greatest glory and believe on him, the Lamb of God takes away all your sins, you will have eternal life. He is a glorious Savior. Amen.
1 The ESV’s “false signs and wonders” gives the impression that they are tricks and not real miracles. That’s not the meaning behind the phrase “of lies” in the original (Greek pseudous). The meaning is that they are real but that they lie. They deceive. They lead people astray.