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John 2:23-25 says,
23 Now when He was in Jerusalem at the Passover, during the feast, many believed in His name, observing His signs which He was doing.
It appears that Jesus did more than one miracle-sign (semeion) in Jerusalem at that Passover wherein He cleansed the temple. It was enough to cause many to believe in His name on some level. It is likely that they believed He was the last messenger of the covenant described in Malachi 3:1,
1 “Behold, I am going to send My messenger [John the Baptist], and he will clear the way before Me. And the Lord [ha Adon], whom you seek, will suddenly come to His temple; and the messenger of the covenant [Jesus], in whom you delight, behold, He is coming,” says the Lord of hosts.
We know that John the Baptist fulfilled the first part of the verse above, because Jesus stated this clearly in Matthew 11:10. Hence, John was a “messenger” of Christ. The second “messenger” was Jesus Himself, the ha Adon in whom the presence of God resided. His “covenant,” of course, was the New Covenant, not the old (Hebrews 12:24).
Malachi himself was “God’s messenger,” for his name means “My messenger.” As I showed in my commentary, Malachi: God’s Messenger, he spoke of four messengers in his writing, two of which were John and Jesus in Malachi 3:1. This being the final book of the Old Scriptures, Malachi was laying the groundwork for the coming of the Messiah, giving us the signs and evidence by which the people would recognize Him.
Cleansing the temple was perhaps the foremost of those signs insofar as the Messiah Himself was concerned. But John tells us that Jesus performed “signs,” indicating multiple signs that he did not see fit to record in his gospel. As usual, these signs divided the people, for some did not believe, while “many” others did.
Even though “many believed on His name,” Jesus knew that their faith (pistis) was still shaky.
24 But Jesus, on His part, was not entrusting [pisteuo] Himself to them, for He knew all men, 25 and because He did not need anyone to bear witness concerning man, for He Himself knew what was in man.
Faith (pistis) is a noun in Greek. In its verb form, the people “believed” (episteusan) in His name. However, Jesus “was not entrusting (pisteuo) Himself to them.” In other words, Jesus did not have faith in them, because “He knew all men.” He understood that faith can be shaky until it is grounded in the word and has had a chance to mature and bear good fruit.
By telling us this, John forewarns the reader that the people would be induced to turn against Jesus at the end of the story. In other words, even though the people knew that many of the priests were corrupt and that the temple needed to be cleansed from the spirit of the golden calf, in the end, they would place their faith in the word of those priests who condemned Jesus. Verse 25 explains the reason why Jesus could not trust the faith of the people. Jesus “knew what was in (the) man” (tous anthropo).
Who was “the man”? He was the people’s common ancestor, Adam.
In Genesis 1:26 “God said, Let Us make man [awdawm, or adam, “mankind”] in Our image.” The word awdawm has no definite article, and Dr. Bullinger tells us in his notes that it means “mankind,” or men in general. However, in the next verse, Genesis 1:27 says that “God created man (ha awdawm, “the Adam”) in His own image.” Bullinger’s notes on this verse read:
“man. Here the Heb. adam has the article and the demonstrative Heb. ‘eth to indicate that the man created in 2:7 was the “man” here purposed.
In other words, when the Hebrew word awdawm has no definite article (ha, “the”), it should be rendered as “man” in a generic sense; whereas when it reads ha awdawm, it refers to the individual man, Adam himself. This is seen throughout the Hebrew text of the Old Testament.
This principle carries over when translating the words from Hebrew to Greek. John 2:24 does not use the term “all men,” as the NASB renders it. It simply reads “all” (pantas), and the word “men” is merely implied. The Emphatic Diaglott reads,
24 But Jesus did not trust himself to them, because he knew them all [pantas].
The next verse, John 2:25, is rendered by The Emphatic Diaglott,
25 and required not that any one should testify concerning man [tou anthropou]; for he knew what was in man [to anthropo].
In both cases, it is “the man,” which, by looking at it through Hebrew lens, is a reference to Adam in particular. Adam’s sin brought death (mortality) to all men (Romans 5:12), which became the incurable disease of all men thereafter, causing them to sin individually. John says that Jesus knew fully the root problem in all men that was traceable back to Adam himself. He did not need anyone to provide Him with a double witness to know the problem brought about by the original sin.
Jesus also knew that His own destiny would lead Him to the cross. Hence, He understood that He would be betrayed by those who had earlier professed faith in Him.
Soulish and Spiritual Faith
When John tells us that many believed (i.e., had faith) in His name, we see that their faith was of Adamic quality. Adam was made a living soul, while Christ was made a life-giving Spirit (1 Corinthians 15:45. Those professing faith in Christ in John 2:23 possessed soul-based faith, because they had not yet been begotten from above. In other words, their “faith” was an expression of the natural (“soulish”) man, traceable back to Adam.
Such faith cannot be trusted. Soul-based faith comes when the soul (mind) of a man studies a matter and is then convinced or persuaded by physical evidence. This is not bad in itself, but it is inadequate when it becomes the basis of our relationship with God. God requires greater faith, faith that is a “gift from God” (Ephesians 2:8). Such faith originates with God, not with man, and man’s response to that gift is the expression of true spirit-based faith that alone can save.
The question is how to tell the difference between soulish and spiritual faith. This is difficult, because they look alike until the test of time distinguishes them. Soul-based faith always fails in the end, whereas Spiritual faith never fails. Yet one must wait for time to fulfill its calling in order to confirm which type of faith a man has.
Peter made a great confession of faith in Matthew 16:16, and Jesus commended him. But a short time later, Peter rebuked Jesus for saying He would soon have to die (Matthew 16:22), and Jesus called him “Satan” (Matthew 16:23). This was but a preview of Peter’s threefold betrayal of Jesus at His trial (Matthew 26:34, 75).
Peter “wept bitterly” when his lack of faith was exposed to him, but it also changed his life forever in a positive way. In that moment he lost all faith in his natural man, which prepared him for the gift of faith that was yet to come. One must lose confidence in the flesh in order to replace it with spiritual faith. Peter’s new faith was unshakable and stood the test of time, even when the moment of his own crucifixion in Rome took place in 67 A.D.
In my own experience, I was a believer from my early childhood. I cannot remember a time that I was not a believer. Sincere as I was, it was not until a crisis in 1981-1982 that God exposed the inadequacy of my faith. It took a full year to break down my faith, but in the end, my efforts to stand firm failed, and I entered a short “death” experience, after which time, God “raised me from the dead” and began to rebuild my life on a foundation of true spiritual faith that would remain unshakable.
Even then, that new faith had to be forged in the crucible and matured through discipline for another 10 years (1983-1993) before I was allowed to re-enter the ministry and lead people into spiritual warfare. My story is recorded (in part) in my book, The Wars of the Lord.
The point is that my understanding of soulish and spiritual faith comes not only through the study of the word but also through long and hard experience. I have seen firsthand the fickle nature of the flesh and how easy it is to be led by hidden idols of the heart. Yet I also know that our sovereign God is fully capable of overcoming our flesh, even as it resists His will.
Further, the love of God constrains Him to work in our lives until His purpose is fulfilled in us. The outcome does not depend upon the will of man, for His will is stronger than our will. The only relevant question is WHEN He chooses to do this in our lives. He does not overrule our will per se but instead He leads us through experiences that change our will to conform to His. In this way, we are brought into agreement with His will, not because we are forced but because we finally see things His way.
God’s methods give many the impression that man has “free will,” when in fact man’s will is subordinate to God’s will. Man does indeed have a will, but God’s ownership of that which He has created gives Him the lawful right to change men’s will. He does not exercise that right with everyone during their lifetime, but in the end, as Paul tells us in Philippians 2:10, 11, every knee will bow when they see His glory and every tongue will profess Him openly and joyfully (exomologeo).
Hence, when John informs us that Jesus knew what was in men, we understand that Jesus knew the deficiency of men’s soulish faith. Though John does not take the time to expound further on this at this time, we know from his words in John 1:13 that he was referring to being begotten by the Spirit through the will of God, as opposed to one’s soulish descent from Adam by whom we received the will of man.
The transformation from soulish faith to spiritual faith is also part of the transformation seen in Jesus’ first sign, where He turned water into wine. Our temples are being cleansed and purified, as He drives all soulish motives out of our hearts, so that we may worship Him in spirit and in truth.