Now when He was in Jerusalem at the Passover, during the feast, many believed in His name when they saw the signs He did. But Jesus did not commit Himself to them, because He knew all men, and had no need that anyone should testify of man, for He knew what was in man. (John 2:23-25, N.K.J.V.)
This passage doesn’t seem to align with the rest of the New Testament’s teaching. It seems to be an exception, an outlier, an anomaly. The Greek verb translated as “believed” in the description of what these people did is pisteuo. That’s the classic Greek word that is used over 200 times in the New Testament’s original Greek in reference to how a person gets saved. It’s even the word that is used in the next chapter, John 3:16, in the Bible’s most famous verse on the subject. Despite this, however, the indication is that these people did not experience salvation.
John, the writer of the gospel, provides us with the reason. He says that Jesus didn’t commit Himself to these people because He knew what was inside them. That means that Jesus knew their belief was the product of them being impressed by His miracles rather than His message. They were all aboard for giving their lives to a miracle-working Messiah. Giving them to a Messiah who was going to die on a cross and ask them to pick up their own crosses each day (Luke 9:23) and stick with Him during times of persecution, sickness, and struggle was a different matter entirely. Interestingly, the Greek word translated in the passage as “commit” — “Jesus did not commit Himself to them — is also pisteuo. This has led many commentators to correctly assert, “These people believed in Jesus, but He did not believe in them.”
I will admit that there are some commentators who interpret the passage to mean that those people did actually experience salvation. The majority of commentators, however, do not read the passage that way. For example, Warren Wiersbe calls the people “unsaved believers.” Likewise, Matthew Henry calls them “false coverts.” J. Vernon McGee says their faith was not a saving faith, and Alfred Martin calls their belief, “only a superficial acquiescence in what they saw, not the true belief of wholehearted acceptance.” Herschel Hobbs compares those peoples’ belief to the false belief of Simon the sorcerer (Acts 8:9-25).
Actually, John records a similar story in chapter 6 of his gospel. After Jesus had miraculously fed a crowd of 5,000 men (plus an unreported number of women and children) with five barley loaves and two small fish (6:1-14), that large crowd was ready to take Him by force and make Him their king (6:15). Jesus escaped that foolish attempt at a coronation by commanding His chosen 12 apostles to take a boat to the opposite shore of the Sea of Galilee while He went up to a mountainside to pray (6:15-17). Later that night, after a great windstorm had prevented the apostles from reaching the opposite shore, Jesus came walking on the water to them (6:18-21).
The following day many of the same crowd from the previous day made their way once again to where Jesus was. But Jesus wasn’t impressed by their determination to follow Him wherever He went. Instead, He said to them, “You seek Me because I filled your stomachs” (6:22-27). He also told them, “You have seen Me, and yet you do not believe” (6:36). He then launched into a strange teaching in which He said to them, “Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in you” (6:53). In the wake of that difficult teaching, many of those followers left Him and followed Him no more (6:66).
Did those people lose their salvation? No, they had never had any to lose. They wanted Jesus as an earthly king, not an eternal Savior. They wanted a miracle worker who could keep them fed, not a God who required their deepest commitment. In this sense, they were the same type of “believers” that John describes at the close of chapter 2 of his gospel.
Our takeaway from all this is that we can’t fool Jesus. He knows whose belief in Him is the right kind, and He knows who is just giving Him lip service. He knows whose faith in Him can get them into heaven, and He knows whose faith in Him can only get them into church. He knows who has an inner relationship with Him, and He knows who merely has an outward religion about Him. Therefore, let each of us make sure that our belief/faith in Him is the genuine article, the kind that produces salvation. In other words, let’s make sure that He believes in us as much as we believe in Him.