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The Ruler of this World – John 12:29-36

This post is part of an ongoing series in the study of John we are doing during January. Subscribe to the blog for daily updates in the Bible Study posts. Subscribe to the podcasts to hear our discussion of the book of John throughout this month. Join us in your daily devotions as we travel through this fascinating account of the life of Christ.

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As Jesus discussed the nature of glory in the Kingdom of God compared to perspectives of glory in this world, a unique event occurred.

Then a voice came from heaven, saying, “I have both glorified it and will glorify it again.” Therefore the people who stood by and heard it said that it had thundered. Others said, “An angel has spoken to Him.”Jesus answered and said, “This voice did not come because of Me, but for your sake. John 12:28-30 (NKJV)

This truth regarding the nature of glory and the principle of death bringing forth life was so significant that an audible voice from heaven confirmed it in the presence of the people who listened to Jesus that day. Understanding the context of true glory versus the glory of this world is important for understanding the next words spoken by Jesus.

Now is the judgment of this world; now the ruler of this world will be cast out. And I, if I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all peoples to Myself.” John 12:31-32 (NKJV)

The ultimate issue discussed here is glory. Who is worthy of glory? Who is owed glory? Who will receive glory? But beneath these words about glory is an implication about the nature and design of this world (from the Greek word kosmos) that Jesus is confronting. When He speaks of the rulers of this world, Jesus is providing insight upon an invisible reality that He must face.

Who Is the Ruler of this World?

Way back at the beginning of the Bible, in the book of Genesis, we find God placing man in charge of the earth. Of course, God was ultimately in charge, but man was His steward, His representative on the earth entrusted to rule, manage, and develop the creation God had completed.

Then the LORD God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to tend [the original Hebrew means to bring it into bondage] and keep it [watch over, preserve, protect]. And the LORD God commanded the man, saying, “Of every tree of the garden you may freely eat; but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.” Genesis 2:15-17 (NKJV)

Man was put in charge of God’s creation but notice the linkage to that role with the command and design of God. Alongside the authority came the responsibility to obey God’s command and adhere to God’s design.

Tragically, we know that Adam disobeyed the command, and when he disobeyed, he forfeited his role as God’s steward of the earth. When the curse is pronounced upon Adam, we find him subjected to the forces of the earth rather than its ruler.

Then to Adam He said, “Because you have heeded the voice of your wife, and have eaten from the tree of which I commanded you, saying, ‘You shall not eat of it’:

“Cursed is the ground for your sake;

In toil you shall eat of it

All the days of your life.

Both thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you,

And you shall eat the herb of the field.

In the sweat of your face you shall eat bread

Till you return to the ground,

For out of it you were taken;

For dust you are,

And to dust you shall return.”

Genesis 3:17-19 (NKJV)

So who was the ruler of the earth now? Adam disqualified himself because he did not maintain the design and command of God. Ever since that time, human beings have been subjected to the consequences of Adam’s disobedience and the curse.

A new systemic reality ruled over the earth after the fall of man. That systemic reality fostered oppression, misery, death, and darkness. The authority of that new system came by way of the same values which Adam and Eve yielded to in Genesis 3 when tempted. Just as self-will and self-centeredness became the driving forces that drove Adam and Eve to sin, they also became the driving forces that drove the human race and the curse of darkness ever since.

The word Satan literally means adversary or opposer. Satan, the opposer and adversary to God, came to rule over the world in place of Adam because Adam forfeited his authority. The Satanic system generates darkness, oppression, and misery through the values of self-will, self-preservation, and self-centeredness that Adam embraced when he disobeyed.  Every time we yield to the self over the will of God, we empower the darkness to rule over our lives and in the earth.

When Jesus went into the wilderness in Matthew 4 and Luke 4, we find that Satan tempted Him. Notice that not only did Satan have the apparent power to hand over kingdoms of this world to Jesus (because he was the ruler of the earth), but also notice what the adversary tempted Jesus during His time in the wilderness in those passages.

Satan tempted Jesus with a shortcut to the ultimate mission. Rather than going through the process of death and the cross, Jesus could preserve Himself and attain personal glory by choosing a route separate from what God ordained. Satan tempted Jesus with the same thing he tempted Adam with – self-will, self-preservation, and self-centeredness.

(Other verses in the New Testament reference the adversary as the god of this world, sometimes called the god of this age. These include 2 Corinthians 4:4, Ephesians 2:2.)

A Spiritual War

Ultimately Jesus is discussing a spiritual war unfolding as He stood and spoke among the people in John 12. Since the fall of man, the adversary has been glorified in this world. Every time a human being bowed to the values of self over obedience to God, they empowered and glorified the adversary and the darkness that ruled over the earth.

The declaration of Jesus that the glory of God was found through death to self represented a declaration of revolution over the dark ruler of this world. Rather than bowing to self, Jesus would bow to the design and will of God even though it cost Him His own life. Jesus planned to surrender His will to the will and design of God freely, and He would not yield to the temptations of self-preservation. In doing that, He neutralized the power of darkness that the ruler of this world exercised over the earth.

…for the ruler of this world is coming, and he has nothing in Me. John 14:30

Further, through the pathway of death to self and obedience to God, even though Jesus would meet death, He would upend the authority and power in this world. He would find true glory through the cross, even though it cost Him everything. And that glory would topple the ruler of this world, giving humanity a new route to life and freedom from the darkness.

And I, if I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all peoples to Myself.” This He said, signifying by what death He would die. John 12:32-33 (NKJV)

 

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JB Shreve

JB Shreve is the host of the JB Shreve podcast and the End of History podcast channels. He is the author of multiple books.

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