Faithless Faith

John 2:23-25 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.


We’re able to see in these few verses that there’s a way to believe in Jesus that is of no benefit at all. There is a kind of faithless faith. More tragically still, this passage suggests that many can have benefitless belief without realizing it.

I hope you remember that the overall purpose for which John wrote his Gospel is to convince his readers that Jesus is the Christ, in order that we might believe in Him as the Christ, and therein find everlasting life. To those ends, as we continue to move further into John’s Gospel we’ll see that John often forces us to ask why some people see Jesus, hear His teaching, or witness His signs and have their whole lives changed, while others are indifferent, angry, or even entertained for a moment before walking away unmoved. That is, as a means of bringing his readers to genuine belief in Jesus Christ he continually includes passages like this to make us wonder where genuine belief comes from.

While John’s Gospel has already raised some of these types of questions, it hasn’t provided much in the way of answers. Beginning with our passage for this morning, that begins to change. In this brief commentary, John plainly states the answer that will show up in Jesus teaching over and over again throughout the Gospel.

The big ideas of this passage are that (1) only genuine trust in Jesus connects us with the saving grace of God and (2) that genuine trust in Jesus comes only from Jesus entrusting Himself to us. In addition, we also catch a glimpse of the interplay between Jesus’ human and divine natures. And the main takeaways from all of this are (1) a fresh reminder of our dependence on God and (2) a fresh call to be people of unceasing prayer.

Let’s pray that God would help us see and apply this text in every way He means us to.


Our passage for this morning is interesting on a number of levels. One interesting aspect is in the fact that for these three verses John steps away from his narration of Jesus’ life and provides a bit of commentary. He briefly moves from telling the story of Jesus to explaining the implications of the story.

As you probably remember, the previous passage in the Gospel told of Jesus going to Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover. Tragically, He arrived to find the Temple polluted with people attempting to make money by exploiting others. Worse still, they did so with the approval of the religious leaders. Consumed with zeal for God’s honor, Jesus cleared the temple of all of the swindlers who were making a mockery of God and one of Israel’s most important celebrations.

In v.23 we find out that in addition to all of that, during His time in Jerusalem, Jesus also performed a number of unrecorded miraculous signs.

And the key to all of this is the fact that the crowds who witnessed all of this would have been forced to decide what to do about it and what to do about Him. You can’t see the kinds of things done by Jesus and hear the kinds of claims made by Jesus and not make a decision about Him.

If you were to walk through Forest Lake and hear a man claiming to be the prince of Egypt while levitating above ground, you’d quickly need to decide what to make of that. Is he a crazy illusionist, telling the truth, or something else entirely. You can’t just ignore that kind of thing. You have to decide what to make of him and what you decide makes a big difference.

In many ways, John 2:23-25 really is as simple as that. In it John provided a bit of 10,000′ commentary on what happened as a result of Jesus’ words and actions during the Passover Feast in Jerusalem. In v.23 he tells how the people responded to Jesus and in v.24 how Jesus responded to their response.

How the People Responded – Many Trusted Him (23)

Zeal for God, fearlessly standing up to corrupt religious leaders, violently putting a temporary stop to exploitation, teaching with authority, and performing miraculous signs. How would those who saw/heard such things respond? Before we get to the response of those present, let me ask you explicitly: if you had never heard of Jesus, how do you imagine you’d respond? What do you think you’d do if you had been there to witness these aspects of Jesus’ ministry?

For reasons that will soon become clear, this is an important question for all of us to settle on right now. And this is especially import to consider if you aren’t sure what to do with Jesus. Again, how do you think you’d react if you could experience these things for yourself?

Well, as you’re settling on that in your own mind, let’s consider what those who were present did.

23 Now when he was in Jerusalem at the Passover Feast, many believed in his name when they saw the signs that he was doing.

On the surface, this sounds about right, doesn’t it? In simplest terms, this seems like what should happen. It is probably what we all imagine would happen if we were there.

Isn’t this just what most skeptics think it would take for them to actually believe? Many reason, “The Bible is interesting, but so are a lot of other stories from the past. Everyone was a lot more superstitious and naïve back then. I have a hard time believing most of the miraculous stories in the Bible, just like I have a hard time believing Greek myths and Roman legends. I’m sure that Jesus was a decent enough guy. I’m sure He said and did some interesting and profound things. But I’d probably have to see Him and witness a miracle myself before I could ever believe in that stuff.”

What was the result of Jesus actions at the Passover Feast recorded in John 2:13-22? Jesus said and did great things and those who heard and saw “believed in his name.” When we combine this with John 1:12 (“to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God”), it appears that lots of people were saved that day.

If that were the end of the story, this would certainly seem to be good news. As you know, however, this is not the end of the story. This passage does not end at v.23. 23 tells us one aspect of how the crowds responded, but that leaves us with the question of how Jesus would respond (which will give us a better sense of the true nature of their response).

How Jesus Responded – Not Entrusted to Many (24)

As you already know, the story quickly takes an interesting and dramatic turn. Rather than recording Jesus as responding with joy at their belief (as we might expect), John describes Jesus going in an entirely different direction.

24 But Jesus on his part did not entrust himself to them…

Lost in translation is a key feature of this verse. For reasons I don’t really understand, the ESV translates the same word differently in v.23 and v.24. By doing so, they disguise something important that would have been obvious to the original hearers and readers. In v.23 it says that “many believed in his name.” In v.24 it says, Jesus “did not entrust himself to them”. The words believed and entrust have the same root in Greek. It’s the same word translated “faith” in all the key texts. A more literal and helpful translation would be something like, “Many trusted in His name…[but] Jesus did not entrust Himself to them.” Or, “Many believed in His name…[but] Jesus did not believe in them”.

The point of this brief translation lesson is simply to highlight the fact that there was something off in the belief of the “many” mentioned in v.23. It really is true that all who believe in Jesus will be saved. But it is also really true that there are different kinds of belief and not all have the same effect.

Let me try to explain what this means a bit more.

Imagine having a container of natural gas that is 2 miles away from the homes that need it. For the gas to be of benefit to the people, some type of conduit is needed. Under ordinary circumstances, a pipe would be the best solution. Now imagine the townspeople looking all around for a pipe and one man excitedly announcing that he’d found one. The people begin digging a trench, burying the pipe, connecting it to the container and the homes, and then opening up the valve. Everything sounds good, right? The people excitedly and expectantly turn on their furnaces and hot water heaters, but nothing happens. They wait a bit longer, but still, nothing happens. A pipe was needed to get the gas from where it was to where it needed to be and a pipe they had. What’s the problem? The problem is that the pipe they installed was a drainage pipe—the kind filled with holes designed for a very different purpose. They had a pipe, but it was the wrong kind of pipe, and in this case, it was a worse-than-useless kind.

I think that’s a pretty good illustration for how salvation works. God has an unlimited reservoir of grace produced by Jesus suffering, death and resurrection. We have an unlimited debt of death produced by our sinful nature and choices. We need a conduit sufficient to carry the grace from God to us. That sufficient conduit, by God’s design, is faith/belief/trust. That’s exactly what passages like Ephesians 2:8 teach, “by grace you have been saved through faith.” But like our illustration above points out, not all kinds of faith/belief/trust are the same. There is a kind that sufficiently carries grace and a kind that does not. In some ways, the entire history of humanity is about experimenting with conduits other than that which God has given. One of the most consistent NT themes is that good works is an insufficient conduit (Romans 6:23). Likewise, there is an insufficient kind that even demons possess (James 2:19). And, evidently, there is an insufficient kind that many of the people who witnessed Jesus at the Passover had.

Again, this means that there is a kind of faithless faith, an unbelieving belief, and a trustless trust. That is, I believe, what I grew up with. I never didn’t believe in God. I always thought of myself as a Christian. I don’t know that I consciously disagreed with anything true of the gospel. I believed, but it was a kind of insufficient belief filled with holes. It was a kind that was unable to carry the grace of God to me. It was a belief that was bored with God and burdened by the things of God. It was a kind of belief that didn’t want to go to hell but wasn’t very impressed with heaven. It was a kind of belief that preferred sin even with a basic realization that I shouldn’t. It was a kind of belief that imagined that if I could actually see Jesus or hear Him or see one of His miracles, I would be a much better Christian.

All of this leads naturally to a few questions: (1) How do we know the people of v.23 had insufficient faith?, (2) How did Jesus know they had insufficient faith? (3) What kind of faith/belief/trust is sufficient?, (4) Where does sufficient faith/belief/trust come from?, and (5) Who does Jesus entrust Himself to?

How do we know the people of v.23 had insufficient faith?

We know because Jesus receives all who believe in His name and He didn’t receive these people. That’s the thrust of v.24.

23 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…

The point is that whatever the people believed about their belief in Jesus (maybe they knew that their belief was superficial and maybe they didn’t), it wasn’t genuine belief or Jesus would have entrusted himself to them. That’s a promise God’s Word and John’s Gospel repeatedly makes (John 1:12).

How did Jesus know the people of v.23 had insufficient faith?

That leads us to another question. How did Jesus know the people didn’t really believe? Did He overhear something they said? Did He get some kind of report from His disciples (maybe they knew some in the crowd)?

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.

I’ll come back to how this was possible briefly at the end, but the simple fact is Jesus knew their hearts. He knew that their belief was not genuine because He knew better than they did even what they really thought, felt, and believed. He knew perfectly what was really in them.

What kind of belief/trust/faith is sufficient?

Well, if whatever kind of belief these people had was insufficient, what kind is? This passage doesn’t directly give us the answer to this question, but it does imply it. We’re told that Jesus did not entrust himself to the many who believed because He knew their hearts, because He knew what was in them. And the implication is that what was in them was counterfeit, fake, phony. Therefore, the implied answer to this question is that sufficient belief/trust/faith is authentic belief/trust/faith.

Where does that kind of faith come from?

The next question, of course, is where does the authentic variety come from? The whole point of the next section in John’s Gospel is to answer that question explicitly. While this passage only indirectly answers the question, its main contribution is to help us see where it does not come from. Contrary to popular belief, faithful faith, believing belief, trusting trust does not come from….

  1. Seeing Jesus was not enough to produce genuine belief. How many people have thought that this is all they need? “If only I could see Jesus with my own eyes (and maybe touch Him with my own hands), I’d believe.” The crowd had that, but it did not lead to genuine belief.
  2. Hearing Jesus teach was not enough to produce genuine belief. Or maybe you know someone who has thought, “I’m glad for the Bible, but I know I would obey better if I’d actually heard Jesus give His commands.” The crowds had that but still didn’t believe.
  3. Seeing Jesus perform miracles was not enough to produce genuine belief. There are others still who know that merely seeing and hearing Jesus probably isn’t enough. “By all accounts Jesus wasn’t much to look at and anyone can say the things He said. What would really make all the difference—what would really make me believe—is to see Him perform a miracle; to do something impossible.” This too the crowds had but still did not believe.

Again, one of the most significant aspects of John’s commentary in these few verses is that it dispels the lie that any of these things by themselves is enough to produce genuine belief.

All of this is hinted at even in v.23. If coming to saving faith in Jesus were as simple as seeing Him in person, hearing His teaching, and witnessing a miracle, the text wouldn’t say, “many” believed in His name. It would say “everyone” believed in His name. As v.23 indicates, and v.24 makes explicit, something more than simply seeing and hearing these things for ourselves is necessary for genuine belief.

If we’ll slow down enough to really consider this, it’s pretty staggering. I invite you to ask God to properly impress you with this. It will keep you from chasing the wind and cause you to turn to God. And it will help you truly appreciate the story of Nicodemus next week.

Well, if not from these places, where then, does faithful faith, believing belief, trusting trust come from?

It comes from Jesus. It’s a remarkable thing to realize that it is the grace of Jesus to die in our place on the cross and the grace of Jesus that allows us to trust in that grace. In simplest terms, the kind of faith sufficient to carry the grace of God is the kind of faith that results from Jesus entrusting Himself to us.

Who does Jesus entrust Himself to?

Finally, who does Jesus entrust Himself to? Because this passage doesn’t answer this question at all I won’t say much. I mainly included it because it’s an obvious question in light of everything else we’ve covered, and I want us all to acknowledge the need to answer it. I also included it to make sure you have it in the back of your mind throughout our time in John’s Gospel. If you do, you’ll see different aspects of the answer all over the place. For instance, just this morning in my quiet time I read John 14. In it we see that Jesus entrusts Himself to those who believe that He is in the Father and the Father is in Him. He entrusts Himself to those who love Him and obey His commands. On a deeper level still, next week, in John 3, we’ll see that Jesus entrusts Himself to those who are born again. And ultimately, we learn in John 6 that Jesus entrusts Himself to all that the Father has given Him. There is mystery and many more questions in these things, but I think you will see that (1) John/Jesus teaches them and (2) they are both fine with mystery and unanswered questions.

Grace, (1) only genuine trust in Jesus connects us with the saving grace of God and (2) that genuine trust in Jesus comes only from Jesus entrusting Himself to us. The main practical implication of these things is prayer. Let us be people who recognizes this and goes quickly to our knees and turns quickly to pray with others. Make it a habit to come to prayer on Wednesdays if you can. Make it a habit to come to DG with prayer requests ready to share. Keep a list of the people in your life who do not believe in Jesus and plead with Jesus to entrust Himself to them. Our job is to proclaim the good news that all people can be reconciled to God through faith in Jesus, and then pray earnestly that God would grant that faith.


I want to close by briefly drawing your attention to another question that the Gospels (John’s in particular) cause us wrestle with: What is the relationship between Jesus’ divine and human natures? He is truly God and truly man, but how exactly do those twin natures relate to one another.

Clearly, by taking on flesh, some of His divine nature is not fully expressed (God is omni-present and spirit). Likewise, there are times in which Jesus plainly states that some of His omniscience is set aside (Matthew 24:36).

At the same time, however, there are passages like the second half of v.24 and 25 that show Jesus as expressing aspects of His divinity.

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.

Jesus knew all people. He didn’t need anyone to tell Him about themselves or anyone else. He knew their hearts better than they did even. But how did He know that but seemingly not other things like it? How could He be God, but still die? How could He be holy in His divine nature, but tempted in His human nature? Again, we’ll see the answer with increasing clarity as we move through the Gospel, and in that we’ll find a great deal of help to live as God means us to.

For now, let us praise God—Father, Son, and Spirit. Let’s praise each person of the godhead for granting us life and salvation. Let’s praise the Father for His love and willingness to send the Son. Let’s praise the Son for humbling Himself by taking on flesh in order to be our example and then suffer, die, and rise from the dead on our behalf. And let’s praise the Spirit for giving us eyes to see, granting us genuine belief in Jesus, and holding us fast in faith.