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Bible Commentaries

Pink's Commentary on John and Hebrews

John 12

Verses 1-11

Exposition of the Gospel of John


Christ Anointed at Bethany

John 12:1-11

Below is an Analysis of the passage which we are about to study:

1. Jesus at Bethany again, verse 1.

2. The supper, verse 2.

3. Mary’s devotion, verse 3.

4. Judas’ criticism, verses 4-6.

5. Christ’s vindication of Mary, verses 7, 8.

6. The curiosity of the crowd, verse 9.

7. The enmity of the priests, verses 10, 11.

What is recorded in John 12:0 occurred during the last week before our Lord’s death. In it are gathered up what men would term the "results" of His public ministry. For three years the unvarying and manifold perfections of His blessed Person had been manifested both in public and in private. Two things are here emphasized: there was a deepening appreciation on the part of His own; but a steady hardening of unbelief and increasing hostility in His enemies. Three most striking incidents in the chapter illustrate the former: first, Christ is seen in the midst of a circle of His most intimate friends in whose love He was permanently embalmed; second, we behold how that a striking, if transient, effect, had been made on the popular mind: the multitude hailed Him as "king"; third, a hint is given of the wider influence He was yet to wield, even then at work, beyond the bounds of Judaism: illustrated by the "Greeks" coming and saying, "We would see Jesus." But on the other hand, we also behold in this same chapter the workings of that awful enmity which would not be appeased until He had been put to death. The hatred of Christ’s enemies had even penetrated the inner circle of His chosen apostles, for one of them was so utterly lacking in appreciation of His person that he openly expressed his resentment against the attribute of love which Mary paid to his Master. And at the close of the first section of this chapter we are told, "But the chief priests consulted that they might put Lazarus also to death." "In this hour there meet a ripeness of love which Jesus has won for Himself in the hearts of men, and a maturity of alienation which forebodes that His end cannot be far distant" (Dr. Dods).

In a most remarkable way and in numerous details John 12:0 abounds in contrasts. What could be more exquisitely blessed than its opening scene: Love preparing a feast for its Beloved; Martha serving, now in His presence; Lazarus seated with perfect composure and in joyous fellowship with the One who had called him out of the grave; Mary freely pouring out her affection by anointing with costly spikenard Him at whose feet she had learned so much. And yet what can be more solemn than the death-shades which fall across this very scene: the Lord Himself saying, "Against the day of my burying hath she kept this,’ so soon to be followed by those heart-moving words, Now is my soul troubled" (John 12:27 ). His own death was now in full view, present, no doubt, to His heart as He had walked with Mary to the tomb of Lazarus. As we have seen in John 11:0 , He felt deeply the groaning and travailing of that creation which once had come so fair from His own hands. It was sin which had brought in desolation and death, and soon He was to be "made sin" and endure in infinite depths of anguish the judgment of God which was due it. He was about to yield Himself up to death for the glory of God (John 12:27 , John 12:28 ), for only in the Cross could be laid that foundation for the accomplishment of God’s eternal counsels.

Christ had ever been the Object of the Father’s complacency. "When he appointed the foundations of the earth: then I was by him, as one brought up with him and I was daily his delight" (Proverbs 8:29 , Proverbs 8:30 ). So too at the beginning of His public ministry, the Father had declared, "This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased"

(Matthew 3:17 ). But now He was about to give the Father new ground for delight: "Therefore doth my Father love me, because I lay down my life, that I might take it again" (John 10:17 ). Here then was the deepest character of His glory, and the Father saw to it that a fitting testimony should be borne to this very fact. His grace prepared one to enter, in some measure at least, into what was on the eve of transpiring. Mary’s heart anticipated what lay deepest in His, even before it found expression in words (John 13:31 ). She not only knew that He would die, but she apprehended the infinite preciousness and value of that death. And how more fittingly could she have expressed this than by anointing His body "to the burying" (Mark 14:8 )!

The link between John 11:0 and 12 is very precious. There we have, in figure, one of God’s elect passing from death unto life; here we are shown that into which the new birth introduces us: Lazarus sitting at meat with the Lord Jesus. "But now, in Christ Jesus, ye who some times were far off, are made nigh by the blood of Christ" (Ephesians 2:13 ). This is the marvel of grace. Redemption brings the sinner into the presence of the Lord, not as a trembling culprit, but as one who is at perfect ease in that Presence, yea, as a joyful worshipper. It is this which Lazarus sitting at "the table" with Christ so sweetly speaks of. And yet the opening scene of John 12:0 looks forward to that which is still more blessed.

The opening verses of John 12:0 give us the sequel to what is central in the preceding chapter. Here we are upon resurrection ground. That which is foreshadowed in this happy gathering at Bethany is what awaits believers in the Glory. It is that which shall follow the complete manifestation of Christ as the resurrection and the life. Three aspects of our glorified state and our future activities in Heaven are here made known. First, in Lazarus seated at the table with Christ we learn of both our future position and portion. To be where Christ is, will be the place we shall occupy: "That where I am, there ye may be also" (John 14:3 ). To share with Christ His inherited reward will be our portion. And how blessedly this comes out here: "They made him a supper... Lazarus was one of them that sat at the table with him." This will find its realization when Christ shall say, "The glory which thou gavest me I have given them" (John 17:22 )! "And Martha served." As to our future occupation in the endless ages yet to come Scripture says very little, yet this we do know, "his servants shall serve him" (Revelation 22:4 ). Finally, in Mary’s loving devotion, we behold the unstinted worship which we shall then render unto Him who sought and bought and brought us to Himself.

"Then Jesus six days before the passover came to Bethany, where Lazarus was which had been dead, whom he raised from the dead" (John 12:1 ). This verse has long presented a difficulty to the commentators. A few have demurred, but by far the greater number in each age have considered that Matthew (Matthew 26:0 ) and Mark (Mark 14:0 ) record the same incident that is found in John 12:0 . But both Matthew and Mark introduce the anointing at Bethany by a brief mention of that which occurred only "two days" before the passover; whereas John tells us it transpired "six days" before the passover (see Matthew 26:2 ; Mark 14:1 ; John 12:1 ). But the difficulty is self created, and there is no need whatever to imagine, as a few have done, that Christ was anointed twice at Bethany, with costly ointment, by a different woman during His last week. The fact is, that, excepting the order of events, there is nothing whatever in the Synoptists which in any wise conflicts with what John tells us. How could there be when the Holy Spirit inspired every word in each narrative? Both Matthew and Mark begin by telling us of the decision of the Sanhedrin to have Christ put to death, and then follows the account of His anointing at Bethany. But it is to be carefully noted that after recording the decision of the Council "two days" before the passover, Matthew does not use his characteristic term and say "Then when Jesus was in Bethany, he was anointed"; nor does Mark employ his customary word and say, "And immediately" or "straightway Jesus was anointed." But how are we to explain Matthew’s and Mark’s description of the "anointing" out of its chronological order?

We believe the answer is as follows: The conspiracy of Israel’s leaders to seize the Lord Jesus is followed by a retrospective glance at the "anointing" because what happened at Bethany provided them with an instrument which thus enabled them to carry out their vile desires. The plot of the priests was successful through the instrumentality of Judas, and that which followed Mary’s expression of love shows us what immediately occasioned the treachery of the betrayer. Judas protested against Mary’s extravagance, and the Lord rebuked him, and it was immediately afterward that the traitor went and made his awful pact with the priests. Both Matthew and Mark are very definite on this point. The one tells us that immediately following the Lord’s reply "Then one of the twelve called Judas Iscariot, went unto the chief priests" (Matthew 26:14 ); Mark linking together without a break, the rebuke of Christ and the betrayer’s act by the word "and" (Mark 14:10 ). John mentions the "supper" at Bethany in its historical order, Matthew and Mark treat of the events rising out of the supper, bringing it in to show us that the rebuke of Christ rankled in the mind of Judas and caused him to go at once and bargain with the priests.

But how are we to explain the discrepancies in the different accounts? We answer, There are none. Variations there are, but nothing is inconsistent. The one supplements the other, not contradicts. When John describes any event recorded in the Synoptists, he rarely repeats all the circumstances and details specified by his predecessors, rather does he dwell upon other features not mentioned by them. Much has been made of the fact that both Matthew and Mark tell us that the anointing took place in the house of Simon the leper, whereas John is silent on the point. To this it is sufficient to reply, the fact that the supper was in Simon’s house explains why Jesus tells us Lazarus "sat at the table with him": if the supper had been in Lazarus’ house, such a notice would have been superfluous. Admire then the silent harmony of the Gospel narratives. [1]

"Then Jesus six days before the passover came to Bethany" (John 12:1 ). The R.V. more correctly renders this, "Jesus therefore six days before the passover came to Bethany." But what is the force of the "therefore"? with what in the context is it connected? We believe the answer is found in John 11:51 : Caiaphas "prophesied that Jesus should die for that nation" etc. "Jesus therefore six days before the passover came to Bethany." He was the true paschal Lamb that was to be sacrificed for His people, therefore did He come to Bethany, which was within easy walking distance of Jerusalem, where He was to be slain. It is very striking to note that the very ones who thirsted so greedily for His blood said, "Not on the feast day, lest there be an uproar among the people" (Matthew 26:5 repeated by Mark 14:2 ). But God’s counsels could not be thwarted, and at the very hour the lambs were being slain, the true passover was sacrificed. But why "six days before the passover"? Perhaps God designed that in this interval man should fully show forth what he was.

"Then Jesus six days before the passover came to Bethany." The memories of Bethany cannot fail to touch a chord in the heart of any one who loves the Lord Jesus. His blood-bought people delight to dwell upon anything which is associated with His blessed name. But what makes Bethany so attractive is that He seemed to find in the little company there a resting-place in His toilsome path. It is blessed to know that there was one oasis in the desert, one little spot where He who "endured the contradiction of sinners against himself" could retire from the hatred and antagonism of His enemies. There was one sheltered nook where He could find those who, although they knew but little, were truly attracted to Him. It was to this "Elim" in the wilderness (Exodus 15:27 ) that the Savior now turned on His last journey to Jerusalem.

"Where Lazarus was which had been dead, whom he raised from the dead." This is very blessed as an introduction to what follows. The Lord Jesus interpreted the devotion of Mary as "against the day of my burying hath she kept this" (John 12:7 ). The Father ordered it that His beloved Son should be "anointed" here in this home at Bethany in the presence of Lazarus whom Christ had raised from the dead: it attested the power of His own resurrection!

"There they made him a supper" (John 12:2 ). This evening meal took place not at the home of Martha, but, as we learn from the other Evangelists, in the house of Simon, who also dwelt at Bethany. He is called "the leper" (as Matthew is still named the "tax-gatherer" after Christ had called him) in remembrance of that fearful disease from which the Lord, most probably, had healed him. It is quite likely that he was a relative or an intimate friend of Martha and Mary, for the elder sister is here seen ministering to his guests as her own, superintending the entertainment, doing the honors, for so the original word may here imply compare the conduct of the mother of Jesus at the marriage in Cana: John 2:0 . It is blessed to observe that this "supper" was made for Christ, not in honor of Lazarus!

"There they made him a supper." Note the use of the plural pronoun. Though this supper was held in the house of "Simon the leper" it is evident that Martha and Mary had no small part in the arranging of it. This, together with the whole context, leads us to the conclusion that a feast was here made as an expression of deep gratitude and praise for the raising of Lazarus. Christ was there to share their happiness. In the previous chapter we have seen Him weeping with those who wept, here we behold Him rejoicing with those who rejoice! When He restored to life the daughter of Jairus, He gave the child to her parents and then withdrew. When He raised the widow’s son at Nain, He restored him to his mother and then retired. And why? because so far as the record informs us He was a stranger to them. But here, after He had raised Lazarus, He returned to Bethany and partook of their loving hospitality. It was His joy to behold their joy, and share in the delight which His restoration of the link which death had severed, had naturally produced. That is His "recompense": to rejoice in the joy of His people. Mark another contrast: when He raised Jairus’ daughter He said "Give her to eat"; here after the raising of Lazarus, they gave Him to eat!

"There they made him a supper." This points another of the numerous contrasts in which our passage abounds. Almost at the very beginning of His ministry, just before He performed His first public "sign," we see the Lord Jesus invited to a marriage-feast; here, almost at the very close of His public ministry, just after His last public "sign," a supper is made for Him. But how marked the antithesis! At Cana He turned the water into wine-emblem of the joy of life; here at Bethany He is anointed in view of His own burial!

"And Martha served." This is most blessed. This was her characteristic method of showing her affection. On a former occasion the Lord had gently reproved her for being "cumbered with much serving," and because she was anxious and troubled about many things. But she did not peevishly leave off serving altogether. No; she still served: served not the less attentively, but more wisely. Love is unselfish. We are not to feast on our own blessings in the midst of a groaning creation, rather are we to be channels of blessing to those around: John 7:38 , John 7:39 . But mark here that Martha’s service is connected with the Lord: "They made him a supper and Martha served." This alone is true service. We must not seek to imitate others, still less, work for the sake of building up a reputation for zeal. It must be done to and for Christ: "Always abounding in the work of the Lord"

(1 Corinthians 15:58 ).

"And Martha served": no longer outside the presence of Christ, as on a former occasion note her "serve alone" in Luke 10:40 . "In Martha’s ‘serving’ now we do not find her being ‘cumbered’, but something that is acceptable, as in the joy of resurrection, the new life, unto Him who has given it. Service is in its true place when we have first received all from Him, and the joy of it as begotten by Himself sweetly ministers to Him" (Malachi Taylor).

"But Lazarus was one of them that sat at the table with him" (John 12:2 ). This illustrated the true Christian position. Lazarus had been dead, but now alive from the dead, he is seated in the company of the Savior. So it is (positionally) with the believer: "when we are dead in sins, hath quickened us together with Christ... And hath raised us up together, and made us sit together in the heavenlies in Christ Jesus" (Ephesians 2:5 , Ephesians 2:6 ). We have been "made meet to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in light" (Colossians 1:12 ). Such is our perfect standing before God, and there can be no lasting peace of heart until it be apprehended by faith.

"But Lazarus was one of them that sat at the table with him." This supplies more than a vague hint of our condition in the resurrected state. In this age of rationalism the vaguest views are entertained on this subject. Many seem to imagine that Christians will be little better than disembodied ghosts throughout eternity. Much is made of the fact that Scripture tells us "flesh and blood shall not inherit the kingdom of God," and the expression "spiritual body" is regarded as little more than a phantasm. While no doubt the Scriptures leave much unsaid on the subject, yet they reveal not a little about the nature of our future bodies. The body of the saint will be "fashioned like unto" the glorious body of the resurrected Christ (Philippians 3:21 ). It will therefore be a glorified body, yet not a non-material one. There was no blood in Christ’s body after He rose from the dead, but He had "flesh and bones" (Luke 24:39 ). True, our bodies will not be subject to their present limitations: sown in weakness, they shall be "raised in power.’’ A "spiritual body" we understand (in part) to signify a body controlled by the spirit the highest part of our beings. In our glorified bodies we shall eat. The daughter of Jairus needed food after she was restored to life. Lazarus is here seen at the table. The Lord Jesus ate food after He had risen from the dead.

"But Lazarus was one of them that sat at the table with him." "A happy company it must have been. For if Simon was healed by the Lord at some previous time, as has been supposed, full to overflowing must his heart have been for the mercy vouchsafed. And Lazarus, there raised from the dead, what proofs were two of that company of the Lord’s power and goodness! God only could heal the leper; God only could raise the dead. A leper healed, a dead man raised, and the Son of God who had healed the one, and had raised the other, here also at the table never before we may say without fear of contradiction had a supper taken place under such circumstances" (C. E. Stuart).

"Then took Mary a pound of ointment of spikenard, very costly, and anointed the feet of Jesus" (John 12:3 ). Mary had often heard the gracious words which proceeded out of His mouth: the Lord of glory had sat at their humble board in Bethany, and she had sat at His feet to be instructed. In the hour of her deep sorrow He had wept with her, and then had He delivered her brother from the dead, crowning them with lovingkindness and tender mercy. And how could she show some token of her love to Him who had first loved her? She had by her a cruse of precious ointment, too costly for her own use, but not too costly for Him. She took and broke it and poured it on Him as a testimony of her deep affection, her unutterable attachment, her worshipful devotion. We learn from John 12:5 that the value of her ointment was the equivalent of a whole year’s wages of a laboring man (cf. Matthew 20:2 )! And let it be carefully noted, this devotion of Mary was prompted by no sudden impulse: "against the day of my burying hath she kept this" (John 12:7 ) the word means "diligently preserved," used in John 17:12 , John 17:15 !

"Then took Mary a pound of ointment of spikenard, very costly, and anointed the feet of Jesus." Mary’s act occupies the central place in this happy scene. The ointment was "very costly," but not too costly to lavish upon the Son of God. Not only did Mary here express her own love, but she bore witness to the inestimable value of the person of Christ. She entered into what was about to be done to and by Him: she anointed Him for burial. He was despised and rejected of men, and they were about to put Him to a most ignominious death. But before any enemy’s hand is laid upon Him, love’s hands first anoint Him! Thus another striking and beautiful contrast is here suggested.

"Then took Mary a pound of ointment of spikenard, very costly, and anointed the feet of Jesus." Mark tells us she "broke the box" before she poured it on the Savior. This, in figure, spoke of the breaking of His body, of which the broken bread in the Lord’s Supper is the lasting memorial. Both Matthew and Mark tell us that she anointed the head of Christ. This is no discrepancy. Evidently, Mary anointed both His head and feet, but most appropriately was John led to notice only the latter, for as the Son of God it was fitting that this disciple should take her place in the dust before Him!

"And wiped his feet with her hair" (John 12:3 ). How the Holy Spirit delights in recording that which is done out of love to and for the glory of Christ! How many little details has He preserved for us in connection with Mary’s devotion. He has told us of the kind of ointment it was, the box in which it was contained, the weight of it, and its value; and now He tells us something which brings out, most blessedly, Mary’s discernment of the glory of Christ. She recognized something of what was due Him, therefore after anointing Him she wiped His feet with her "hair" her "glory" (1 Corinthians 11:15 )! Her silent act spread around the savor of Christ as One infinitely precious. Before the treachery of Judas, Christ receives the testimony of Mary’s affection. It was the Father putting this seal of deepest devotion upon the One who was about to be betrayed.

"And the house was filled with the odour of the ointment" (John 12:3 ). This is most significant, a detail not supplied in the Synoptics, but most appropriate here. Matthew and Mark tell us how Christ gave orders that "Wheresoever this gospel shall be preached throughout the whole world, this also that she hath done shall be spoken of for a memorial of her" (Mark 14:9 ). This John omits. In its place he tells us, "And the house was filled with the odour of the ointment." In the other Gospels the "memorial" goes forth: here the fragrance of Christ’s person abides in "the house." There is much suggested here: not simply the "room" but "the house" was filled with the sweet fragrance of the person of Christ anointed by the spikenard. Sooner or later, all would know what had been done to the Lord. The people on the housetop would perceive that something sweet had been offered below. And do not the angels above know what we below are now rendering unto Christ (cf. 1 Corinthians 11:10 , etc.)!

"Mary came not to hear a sermon, although the first of Teachers was there; to sit at His feet and hear His word, was not now her purpose, blessed as that was in its proper place. She came not to make known her requests to Him. Time was when in deepest submission to His will she had fallen at His feet, saying, ‘Lord, if thou hadst been here, my brother had not died’; but to pour out her supplications to Him as her only resource was not now her thought, for her brother was seated at the table. She came not to meet the saints, though precious saints were there, for it says ‘Jesus loved Martha and Mary and Lazarus.’ Fellowship with them was blessed likewise and doubtless of frequent occurrence; but fellowship was not her object now. She came not after the weariness and toil of a week’s battling with the world, to be refreshed from Him, though surely she, like every saint, had learned the trials of the wilderness; and none more than she, probably, knew the blessed springs of refreshment that were in Him. But she came, and that too at the moment when the world was expressing its deepest hatred of Him, to pour out what she had long treasured up (John 12:7 ), that which was most valuable to her, all she had upon earth, upon the person of the One who had made her heart captive, and absorbed her affections. She thought not of Simon the leper she passed the disciples by her brother and her sister in the flesh and in the Lord engaged not her attention then ‘Jesus only’ filled her soul her eyes were upon Him. Adoration, homage, worship, blessing, was her one thought, and that in honor of the One who was ‘all in all’ to her, and surely such worship was most refreshing to Him" (Simple Testimony).

"Then saith one of His disciples, Judas Iscariot, Simon’s son, which should betray him, Why was not this ointment sold for three hundred pence, and given to the poor?" (John 12:4 , John 12:5 ). What a contrast was this from the affectionate homage of Mary! But how could he who had no heart for Christ appreciate her devotion! There is a most striking series of contrasts here between these two characters. She gave freely what was worth three hundred pence; right afterwards Judas sold Christ for thirty pieces of silver. She was in a "Simon’s" house; He was a "Simon’s son." Her "box" (Mark 14:3 ); his "bag" (John 12:6 ). She a worshipper; he a thief. Mary drew the attention of all to the Lord; Judas would turn away the thoughts of all from Christ to "the poor." At the very time Satan was goading on the heart of Judas to do the worst against Christ, the Holy Spirit mightily moved the heart of Mary to pour out her love for Him. Mary’s devotion has given her a place in the hearts of all who have received the Gospel; Judas by his act of perfidy went to "his own place" the Pit!

Everything is traced to its source in this Gospel. Matthew 26:8 tells us that "When his disciples saw it [Mary’s tribute of love], they had indignation, saying, To what purpose is this waste?" But John shows us who was the one that had injected the poison into their minds. Judas was the original protester, and his evil example affected the other apostles. What a solemn case is this of evil communications corrupting good manners (1 Corinthians 15:33 )! Everything comes out into the light here. Just as John is the only one who gives us the name of the woman who anointed the Lord, so he alone tells us who it was that started the criticizing of Mary.

In John 12:3 we have witnessed the devotedness of faith and love never surpassed in a believer. But behind the rosebush lurked the serpent. It reminds us very much of Psalms 23:5 : "Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil"! The murmuring of Judas right after the worship of Mary is most solemnly significant. True valuation of Christ always brings out the hatred of those who are of Satan. No sooner was He worshiped as an infant by the wise men from the East, then Herod sought to slay Him. Immediately after the Father proclaimed Him as His "beloved Son," the Devil assailed Him for forty days. The apostles were seized and thrown into prison because the leaders of Israel were incensed that they "taught the people and preached through Jesus the resurrection from the dead" (Acts 4:2 , Acts 4:3 ). So in a coming day many will be beheaded "for the testimony of Jesus" (Revelation 20:4 ).

"Why was not this ointment sold for three hundred pence, and given to the poor?" (John 12:5 ). This was the criticism of a covetous soul. How petty his range of vision! How sordid his conception! He argued that the precious unguent which had been lavished upon Christ ought to have been sold. He considered it had been wasted (Mark 14:4 ). His notion of "waste" was crude and material in the extreme. Love is never "wasted." Generosity is never "wasted." Sacrifice is never "wasted." Love grudges nothing to the Lord of love! Love esteems its costliest nard all inferior to His worth. Love cannot give Him too much. And where it is given out of love to Christ we cannot give too much for His servants and His people. How beautifully this is expressed in Philippians 4:18 : "having received of Epaphroditus the things which were sent from you, an odour of a sweet smelt, a sacrifice acceptable, well-pleasing to God."

Judas had no love for Christ, hence it was impossible that he should appreciate what had been done for Him. Very solemn is this: he had been in the closest contact with the redeemed for three years, and yet the love of money still ruled his heart. Cold-heartedness toward Christ and stinginess toward His cause always go together. "To whom little is forgiven, the same loveth little" (Luke 7:47 ). There are many professing Christians today infested with a Judas-like spirit. They are quite unable to understand true zeal and devotedness to the Lord. They look upon it all as fanaticism. Worst of all, such people seek to cloak their miserliness in giving to Christian objects by a pretended love for the poor: ‘charity begins at home’ expresses the same spirit. The truth is, and it had been abundantly demonstrated all through these centuries, that those who do the most for the poor are the very ones who are most liberal in supporting the cause of Christ. Let not Christians be moved from a patient continuance in well doing by harsh criticisms from those who understand not. We must not expect professors to do anything for Christ when they have no sense of indebtedness to Christ.

"Why was not this ointment sold for three hundred pence and given to the poor?" These are the first words of Judas recorded in the Gospels; and how they reveal his heart! He sought to conceal his base covetousness under the guise of benevolence. He posed as a friend of the poor, when in reality his soul was dominated by cupidity. It reminds us of his hypocritical "kiss." It is solemn to contrast his last words, "I have betrayed innocent blood" (Matthew 27:4 ).

"This he said, not that he cared for the poor; but because he was a thief, and had the bag, and bare what was put therein" (John 12:6 ). It is good to care for the root, but at that moment the whole mind of God was centered on the Person and work of His Son, evidenced by His moving Mary to anoint the Savior for His burial. Opportunities for relieving the poor they always had, and it was right to do so. But to put them in comparison with the Lord Jesus at such a time, was to put them out of their place, and to lose sight of Him who was supremely precious to God.

Judas evidently acted as treasurer for the apostolic company (cf. John 13:29 ), having charge of the gifts which the Lord and His disciples received: Luke 8:2 , Luke 8:3 . But the Holy Spirit here tells us that he was a "thief." We believe this intimates that the "field" (or "estate") which he purchased (Acts 1:18 ) "with the reward of iniquity" (or, "price of wrong doing") had been obtained by the money which he pilfered from the same "bag." Usually this "field" is confounded with the "field" that was bought with the thirty pieces of silver which he received for the betrayal of His Master. But that money he returned to the chief priests and elders (Matthew 27:3 , Matthew 27:5 ), and with it they bought "the potter’s field to bury strangers in" (Matthew 27:7 ).

"Then said Jesus, Let her alone" (John 12:7 ). How blessed! Christ is ever ready to defend His own! It was the Good Shepherd protecting His sheep from the wolf. Judas condemned Mary, and others of the apostles echoed his criticism. But the Lord approved of her gift. Probably others of the guests misunderstood her action: it would seem an extravagance, and a neglect of duty towards the needy. But Christ knew her motive and commended her deed. So in a coming day He will reward even a cup of water which has been given in His name. "Let her alone": did not this foreshadow His work on high as our Advocate repelling the attacks of the enemy, who accuses the brethren before God day and night (Revelation 12:10 )!

"Against the day of my burying hath she kept this" (John 12:7 ). This points still another contrast. Other women "brought sweet spices, that they might come and anoint him" (Mark 16:1 ), after He was dead; Mary anointed Him "for his burial" (Matthew 26:12 ) six days before He died! Her faith had laid hold of the fact that He was going to die the apostles did not believe this (see Luke 24:21 etc.). She had learned much at His feet! How much we miss through our failure at this point!

Matthew and Mark add a word here which is appropriately omitted by John. "Verily I say unto you, Wheresoever this gospel shall be preached throughout the whole world, this also that she hath done shall be spoken of for a memorial of her" (Mark 14:9 ). He whose Name is "as ointment poured forth" (Song of Solomon 1:3 ), commended her who, all unconsciously, fulfilled the prophecy, "While the king sitteth at his table my spikenard sendeth forth the sweet smell thereof" (Song of Solomon 1:12 ). In embalming Him, she embalmed herself: her love being the marble on which her name and deed were sculptured. Note another contrast: Mary gave Christ a momentary embalming; He embalmed her memory forever in the sweet incense of His praise. What a witness is this that Christ will never forget that deed, however small, which is done wholeheartedly in His name and for Himself!

"Hereupon we would further remark that while this can not diminish the sin of Judas, by making his covetousness any thing but covetousness, yet but for his mean remonstrance, we might not have known the prodigality of her love. But for the objection of Judas, we might not have had the commendation of Mary. But for his evil eve, we should have been without the full instruction of her lavish hand. Surely ‘The wrath of man shall praise thee’!" (Dr. John Brown).

"For the poor always ye have with you: but me ye have not always" (verse 8). There is a little point here in the Greek which is most significant, bringing out, as it does, the minute accuracy of Scripture. In the previous verse "Let alone (aphes) her" is in the singular number, whereas, "The poor always ye have (exete) with you" is in the plural number. Let her alone was Christ’s rebuke to Judas, who was the first to condemn Mary; here in verse 8 the Lord addresses Himself to the Twelve, a number of whom had been influenced by the traitor’s words. Remarkably does this show the entire consistency and supplementary character of the several narratives of this incident. Let us admire the silent harmonies of Scripture!

"For the poor always ye have with you: but me ye have not always" (John 12:8 ). There is a very searching message for our hearts in these words. Mary had fellowship with His sufferings, and her opportunity for this was brief and soon passed. If Mary had failed to seize her chance to render love’s adoring testimony to the preciousness of Christ’s person at that time, she could never have recalled it throughout eternity. How exquisitely suited to the moment was her witness to the fragrance of Christ’s death before God, when men deemed Him worthy only of a malefactor’s cross. She came beforehand to anoint Him "for his burial." But how soon would such an opportunity pass! In like manner we are privileged today to render a testimony to Him in this scene of His rejection. We too are permitted to have fellowship with His sufferings. But soon this opportunity will pass from us forever! There is a real sense in which these words of Christ to Mary, "me ye have not always" apply to us. Soon shall we enter into the fellowship of His glory. O that we may be constrained by His love to deeper devotedness, a more faithful testimony to His infinite worth, and a fuller entering into His sufferings in the present hour of His rejection by the world.

"For the poor always ye have with you: but me ye have not always." One other thought on this verse before we leave it. These words of our Lord’s "me ye have not always" completely overthrow the Papist figment of transubstantiation. If language means anything, this explicit statement of Christ’s positively repudiates the dogma of His "real presence," under the forms of bread and wine at the Lord’s Supper. It is impossible to harmonize that blasphemous Romish doctrine with this clear-cut utterance of the Savior. The "poor always ye have with you" in like manner disposes of an idle dream of Socialism.

"Much people of the Jews therefore knew that he was there; and they came not for Jesus’ sake only, but that they might see Lazarus also, whom he had raised from the dead" (John 12:9 ). "This sentence is a genuine exhibition of human nature. Curiosity is one of the most common and powerful motives in man. The love of seeing something sensational and out of the ordinary is almost universal. When people could see at once both the subject of the miracle and Him that worked the miracle we need not wonder that they resorted in crowds to Bethany" (Bishop Ryle).

"But the chief priests consulted that they might put Lazarus also to death; because that by reason of him many of the Jews went away, and believed on Jesus" (John 12:10 , John 12:11 ). "Lazarus is mentioned throughout this incident as forming an element in the unfolding of the hatred of the Jews which issued in the Lord’s death: notice the climax, from the mere connecting mention in verse 1, then nearer connection in verse 2, to his being the cause of the Jews flocking to Bethany in verse 9, and the joint object with Jesus of the enmity of the chief priests in verse 10" (Alford). Mark it was not the Pharisees but the "chief priests," who were Sadducees, (cf. Acts 5:17 ), that "consulted that they might also put Lazarus to death": They would, if possible, kill him, because he was a striking witness against them, denying as they did the truth of resurrection. But how fearful the state of their hearts: they had rather commit murder than acknowledge they were wrong.

Let the thoughtful student ponder carefully the following questions:

1. What does verse 13 teach us about prophecy?

2. Why a "young ass," verse 14?

3. Verse 15 (cf. Zechariah 9:9 ); why are some of its words omitted here?

4. In what sense did Christ then "come" as King, verse 15?

5. Why did not the disciples "understand," verse 16?

6. Why does verse 17 come in just here?


[1] Other points which have occasioned difficulty to some will be dealt with in the course of this exposition.

Verses 12-20

Exposition of the Gospel of John


Christ’s Entry Into Jerusalem

John 12:12-20

The following is an Analysis of the passage which is to be before us:

1. The crowd going forth to meet Jesus, verse 12.

2. The joyous acclamations of the people, verse 13.

3. The Savior mounted on an ass, verse 14.

4. The king’s presentation of Himself to Israel, verse 15.

5. The dullness of the disciples, verse 16.

6. The cause why the people sought Jesus, verses 17, 18.

7. The chagrin of the Pharisees, verse 19.

The passage which is to be before us brings to our notice one of the most remarkable events in our Lord’s earthly career. The very fact that it is recorded by all the four Evangelists at once indicates something of uncommon moment. The incident here treated of is remarkable because of its unusual character. It; is quite unlike anything else recorded of the Lord Jesus in the Gospels. Hitherto we have seen Him withdrawing Himself as much as possible from public notice, retiring into the wilderness, avoiding anything that savoured of display. He did not court attraction: He did not "cry nor strive, nor cause his voice to be heard in the streets" (Matthew 12:19 ). He charged His disciples they should "tell no man that he was Jesus the Christ" (Matthew 16:20 ). When He raised the daughter of Jairus, He "straitly charged them that no man should know of it" (Mark 5:43 ). When He came down from the Mount of Transfiguration He gave orders to His disciples that "they should tell no man what things they had seen, till the Son of man was risen from the dead" (Mark 9:9 ).

We wish to press upon the reader the uniqueness of this action of Christ entering Jerusalem in the way that He did, for the more this arrests us the more shall we appreciate the motive which prompted Him. "When Jesus therefore perceived that they (the multitude which He had fed) would come and take him by force, to make him a king, he departed again into a mount himself alone" (John 6:15 ). When His brethren urged, "show thyself to the world" (John 7:4 ), He answered, "My time is not yet come." Here, on the contrary, we see Him making a public entry into Jerusalem, attended by an immense crowd of people, causing even the Pharisees to say, "Behold, the world has gone after him." And let it be carefully noted that Christ Himself took the initiative here at every point. It was not the multitude who brought to Him an animal richly caparisoned, nor did the disciples furnish the colt and ask Him to mount it. It was the Lord who sent two of the disciples to the entrance of Bethphage to get it, and the Lord moved the owner of the ass to give it up (Luke 19:33 ). And when some of the Pharisees asked Him to rebuke His disciples, He replied, "I tell you, that, if these should hold their peace, the stones would immediately cry out" (Luke 19:40 ).

How, then, are we to account for this startling change of policy on the part of Christ? What is the true explanation of His conduct? In seeking an answer to this question, men have indulged in the wildest conjectures, most of which have been grossly dishonoring to our Lord. The best of the commentators see in the joyous acclamations of the crowds an evidence of the power of Christ. He moved them to own Him as their "king," though as to why He should here do so they are not at all clear, nor do they explain why His moving their hearts produced such a transient effect, for four days later the same crowds shouted "Crucify him." We are therefore obliged to look elsewhere for the key to this incident.

We need hardly say that here, as everywhere, the perfections of the Lord Jesus are blessedly displayed. Two things are incontrovertible: the Lord Jesus ever acted with the Father’s glory before Him, and ever walked in full accord with His Father’s Word. "In the volume of the book" it was written of Him, and when He became incarnate He declared "I come to do thy will, O God." These important considerations must be kept in mind as we seek a solution to the difficulty before us. Furthermore, we need to remember that the counsel of the Father always had in view the glory of the Son. It is by the application of these fundamental principles to the remarkable entry into Jerusalem that light will be shed upon its interpretation.

Why, then, did the Lord Jesus send for the ass, mount it, and ride into the royal city? Why did He suffer the crowds, unrebuked, to hail Him with their "Hosannas"? Why did He permit them to proclaim Him their king, when in less than a week He was to lay down His life as a sacrifice for sin? The answer, in a word, is, because the Scriptures so required! Here, as ever, it was submission to His Father’s Word that prompted Him. Loving obedience to the One who sent Him was always the spring of His actions. His cleansing of the temple was the fulfillment of Psalms 69:9 . The testimony which He bore to Himself was the same as the Old Testament Scriptures announced (John 5:39 ). When on the cruel Cross He cried, "I thirst," it was not in order for His sufferings to be alleviated, but "that the scripture might be fulfilled" (John 19:28 ). So here, He entered Jerusalem in the way that He did in order that the Scriptures might be fulfilled.

What scriptures? The answer to this question takes us back, first of all, to the prophecy which dying Jacob made, a prophecy which related what was to befall his descendants in "the last days" an Old Testament expression referring to the times of the Messiah: begun at His first advent, completed at His second. In the course of His Divine pronouncement, the aged patriarch declared, "the scepter shall not depart from Judah, nor a lawgiver from between his feet until Shiloh come; and unto him shall the gathering of the people he. Binding his foal unto the vine, and his ass’s colt unto the choice vine" (Genesis 49:9-11 ). The word "scepter" here signifies tribal rod. Judah was to preserve the separate independency of his tribe until the Messiah came. The fulfillment of this is seen in the Gospels. Though the ten tribes had long before been carried into captivity, from which they never returned, Judah (the "Jews"), were still in Palestine when the Son of God became incarnate and tabernacled among men. Continuing his prophecy, Jacob announced, "And unto him [Shiloh the Peacemaker cf. ‘thy peace’ in Luke 19:42 ], shall the gathering of the people be." This received its first fulfillment at Christ’s official entry into Jerusalem. But mark the next words, "Binding his foal unto the vine, and his ass’s colt unto the choice vine." The "vine" was Israel (Isaiah 5:0 , etc); the "choice vine" was Christ Himself (John 15:1 ). Here, then, was the fact itself prophetically announced. But this by no means exhausts the scriptural answer to our question.

We turn next to that remarkable prophecy given through Daniel respecting the "seventy weeks." This prophecy is found in Daniel 9:24-27 . We cannot now attempt an exposition of it, [1] though it is needful to make reference to it. This prophecy was given while Israel were captives in Babylon. In it God made known the length of time which was to elapse from then till the day when Israel’s transgressions should be finished, and everlasting righteousness be brought in. "Seventy weeks" were to span this interval. The Hebrew word for "weeks" is "hebdomads," and simply means septenaries; "Seventy sevens" gives the true meaning. Each of the "hebdomads" equals seven years. The "seventy sevens," therefore, stood for four hundred and ninety years.

The "seventy sevens" are divided into three unequal parts. Seven "sevens" were to be spent in the rebuilding of Jerusalem: the books of Ezra and Nehemiah record the fulfillment of this. After Jerusalem had been restored, sixty-two more "sevens" were to run their course "unto the Messiah the Prince." And then we are told, "After-threescore and two sevens (added to the previous seven ‘sevens’, making sixty-nine in all), shall Messiah be cut off." Here, then, is a definite computation, and a remarkable and most important Messianic prophecy. "Messiah the Prince" (cf. Revelation 1:5 ), was to present Himself to Jerusalem (note "thy holy city" in Daniel 9:24 ), after the expiration of the sixty-ninth "seven," or more specifically, precisely four hundred and eighty-three years after God gave this prophecy to His beloved servant.

Now, it is this prophecy which received its fulfillment and supplies the needed key to what is before us in John 12:0 . The entry of the Lord Jesus into Jerusalem in such an auspicious manner, was the Messiah formally and officially presenting Himself to Israel as their "Prince." In his most excellent book "The Coming Prince," the late Sir Robert Anderson marshalled conclusive proofs to show that our Savior entered Jerusalem on the very day which marked the completion of the sixty-ninth "hebdomad" of Daniel 9:0 . We make here a brief quotation from his masterly work.

"No student of the Gospel-narrative can fail to see that the Lord’s last visit to Jerusalem was not only in fact, but in the purpose of it, the crisis of His ministry, the goal towards which it had been directed. After the first tokens had been given that the Nation would reject His Messianic claims, He had shunned all public recognition of them. But now the twofold testimony of His words and works had been fully tendered. His entrance into the Holy City was to proclaim His Messiah-ship, and to receive His doom. Again and again His apostles even had been charged that they should not make Him known. But now He accepted the acclamations of ‘the whole multitude of the disciples,’ and silenced the remonstrance of the Pharisees with indignation.

"The full significance of the words which follow in the Gospel of Luke is concealed by a slight interpolation in the text. As the shouts broke forth from His disciples, ‘Hosanna to the Son of David, blessed is the King of Israel that cometh in the name of the Lord,’ He looketh off toward the Holy City and exclaimed, ‘If thou also hadst known, even on this day, the things which belong to thy peace! but now they are hid from thine eyes’ (Luke 19:42 ). The time of Jerusalem’s visit had come, and she knew it not. Long ere this, the Nation had rejected Him, but this was the predestined day when their choice must be irrevocable."

One other prophecy remains to be considered, in some respects the most wonderful of the three. If God announced through Jacob the simple fact of the gathering of the people unto the Peacemaker, if by Daniel He made known the very year and day when Israel’s Messiah should officially present himself as their Prince, through Zechariah He also made known the very manner of His entry into Jerusalem. In Zechariah 9:9 we read: "Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion, shout, O daughter of Jerusalem; behold, thy king cometh unto thee: He is just, and having salvation; lowly and riding upon an ass, and upon a colt, the foal of an ass." As we shall see, several words in this prophecy are not quoted in the Gospels, therefore this prediction (like all prophecy) will receive another fulfillment; it will be completely realized when the Lord Jesus returns to this earth.

Before we come to the detailed exposition, let us offer a brief comment upon what has just been before us. At least three prophecies were fulfilled by Christ on His official entry into Jerusalem, prophecies which had been given hundreds of years before, prophecies which entered into such minute details that only one explanation of them is possible, and that is God Himself must have given them. This is the most incontrovertible and conclusive of all the proofs for the Divine inspiration of the Scriptures. Only He who knows the end from the beginning is capable of making accurate forecasts of what shall happen many generations afterwards. How the recorded accomplishment of these (and many other) prophecies guarantees the fulfillment of those which are still future!

"On the next day much people that were to come to the feast, when they heard that Jesus was coming to Jerusalem, took branches of palm trees, and went forth to meet him, and cried: 'Hosanna! Blessed is the King of Israel that cometh in the name of the Lord'" (John 12:12 , John 12:13 ). It is important to note the opening words of this quotation. What we have here is the sequel to the first verse of our chapter. "Then Jesus six days before the passover came to Bethany." During the week preceding the passover Jerusalem was crowded with Jews, who came in companies from every section of Palestine. They came early in order that they might be ceremonially qualified to partake of the feast (John 11:55 ). Already we have learned that the main topic of conversation among those who thronged the temple at this time was whether or not Jesus would come up to the feast (John 11:56 ). Now, when the tidings reached them that He was on the way to Jerusalem, they at once set out to meet Him.

In view of what we read of in John 11:57 , some have experienced a difficulty here. "Both the chief priests and the Pharisees had given a commandment, that, if any man knew where he were, he should show it, that they might take him." How came it then that we now read of "much people... took palm branches and went forth to meet him?" The difficulty is quickly removed if only close attention be paid to what the Holy Spirit has said. First, note that in John 11:57 the past tense is used, "had given commandment": this was before the Lord Jesus retired to Ephraim (John 11:54 ). Second, observe that John 11:55 tells us "many went out of the country up to Jerusalem" (John 11:55 ). It is evident therefore that many (if not all) of those who now sallied forth with palm branches to greet the Lord were men of Galilee, pilgrims, who had come up to the metropolis from the places where most of His mighty works were done. It was the Galileans who on a previous occasion sought to make Him "a king" (John 6:15 , cf. 7:1). They were not only far less prejudiced against Him than were those of Judea, but they were also much less under the influence of the chief priests and Pharisees of Jerusalem. Marvelously accurate is Scripture. The more minutely it is examined the more will its flawless perfections be uncovered to us. How this instance shows us, once more, that our ‘difficulties’ in the Word are due to our negligence in carefully noting exactly what it says, and all it says on any given subject!

"Took branches of palm trees, and went forth to meet him" (verse 13). This was a sign of joy, a festival token. In connection with the feast of tabernacles God instructed Moses to tell Israel, "And ye shall take you on the first day the boughs of goodly trees, branches of palm trees... and ye shall rejoice before the Lord your God" (Leviticus 23:40 ). In Revelation 7:9 , where we behold the "innumerable multitude before the throne and before the Lamb," they have "palms in their hands."

"And cried, Hosanna! Blessed is the King of Israel that cometh in the name of the Lord." The word Hosanna means "Save now!" It is a cry of triumph, not of petition. As to how far these people entered into the meaning of the words which they here uttered, perhaps it is not for us to say. The sequel would indicate they were only said under the excitement of the moment. But looking beyond their intelligent design, to Him whose overruling hand directs everything, we see here the Father causing a public testimony to be borne to the glory of His Son. At His birth He sent the angels to say to the Bethlehem shepherds, "Unto you is born this day in the city of David, a Savior, which is Christ the Lord," and now He suffered this multitude to hail Him as the Blessed One come in the Name of the Lord. Again; before the public ministry of Christ commenced, the wise men from the East were led to Jerusalem to announce that the king of the Jews had been born; and now that His public ministry was over, it is again testified to that He is "the King of Israel."

"And Jesus, when he had found a young ass, sat thereon; as it is written" (John 12:14 ). This is simply a comprehensive statement, gathering up in a word the results of the details supplied by the other Evangelists, and which John takes for granted we are familiar with. The fullest account of the obtaining of the young ass is furnished by Luke, and very striking is it to note what occurred see Luke 19:29-35 . There is nothing in his account which conflicts with the shorter statement which John has given us. "And Jesus, when he had found a young ass, sat thereon." He "found" it because He directed the disciples where to find it! It is another of those incidental allusions to the Deity of Christ, for in an unmistakable way it evidenced His omniscience; He knew the precise spot where the ass was tethered!

"Fear not, daughter of Sion; behold, thy King cometh, sitting on an ass’s colt" (John 12:15 ). Emphasis is here laid on the age of the animal which Christ rode. It was a "young" one; Luke tells us that it was one "whereon yet never man sat" (John 19:30 ). This is not without deep significance. Under the Mosaic economy only those beasts which had never been worked were to be used for sacrificial purposes (see Numbers 19:2 ; Deuteronomy 21:3 ). Very striking is this. Like His birth of a virgin, like His burial in a new sepulcher, "wherein was never man yet laid" (John 19:41 ); so here, on the only occasion when He assumed anything like majesty, He selected a colt which had never previously been ridden. How blessedly this points to the dignity, yea, the uniqueness of His person hardly needs to be dwelt upon.

"Sat thereon, as it is written." How this confirms what we said at the beginning. It was in order to fulfill the prophetic Word that the Lord Jesus here acted as He did. That which was "written" was what ever controlled Him. He lived by every word which proceeded out of the mouth of the Lord. The incarnate Word and the written Word never conflicted. What ground then had He to say, "I do always those things that please him"! O that we might have more of His spirit!

"Fear not, daughter of Sion: behold, thy King cometh, sitting on an ass’s colt." Momentous hour was this. Israel’s true king, David’s Son and Lord, now officially presented Himself to the nation. Various have been the attempts made to interpret this. In recent years the view which has had most prominence among students of prophetic truth is, that Christ was here offering the kingdom to Israel, and that had Israel received Him the millennial reign would have been speedily inaugurated. It is worse than idle to speculate about what would have happened if the nation had acted differently from what they did; idle, because "secret things belong unto the Lord." Our duty is to search diligently and study prayerfully "those things which are revealed" (Deuteronomy 29:29 ), knowing that whatever difficulties may be presented, Israel’s rejection and crucifixion of the Lord Jesus were according to what God’s hand and counsel "determined before to be done" (Acts 4:28 ).

What then was Christ’s purpose in presenting Himself to Israel as their King? The immediate answer is, To meet the requirements of God’s prophetic Word. But this only takes the inquiry back another step. What was God’s purpose in requiring Israel’s Messiah to so act on this occasion? In seeking an answer to this, careful attention must be paid to the setting. As we turn to the context we are at once impressed by the fact that one thing there is made unmistakably prominent the death of Christ looms forward with tragic vividness. At the close of John 11:0 we find the leaders of the nation "took counsel together for to put him to death" and the Council issued a decree that, "If any man knew where he was, he should show it, that they might take him" (John 11:53 , John 11:57 ). The 12th chapter opens with the solemn intimation that it now lacked but six days to the passover. The all-important "hour" for the slaying of the true Lamb drew on apace. Then we have the anointing of Christ by Mary, and the Savior interpreted her act by saying, "Against the day of my burying hath she kept this."

Here, then, is the key, hanging, as usual, right on the door. The Lord of glory was about to lay down His life, but before doing so the dignity of His person must first be publicly manifested. Moreover, wicked hands were about to be laid on Him, therefore the guilt of Israel must be rendered the more inexcusable by them now learning who it was they would shortly crucify. The Lord therefore purposely drew the attention of the great crowds to Himself by placing Himself prominently before the eyes of the nation. What we have here is, Christ pressing Himself upon the responsibility of the Jews. None could now complain that they knew not who He was. On a former occasion they had said to Him, "How long dost thou make us to doubt? If thou be the Christ, tell us plainly" (John 10:24 ). But now all ground for ignorance was removed; by fulfilling the prophecies of Jacob, of Daniel, and of Zechariah, the Lord Jesus demonstrated that He was none other than Israel’s true king. It was His last public testimony to the nation! He was their "King," and in fulfillment of the plain declarations of their own Scriptures He here presented Himself before them.

The prophecy of Zechariah is not quoted in its entirety by any of the Evangelists, and it is most significant to mark the different words in it which they omit. First of all, none record the opening words, "Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion; shout, O daughter of Jerusalem." The reason for this is obvious; Israel could not be called upon to "rejoice" while she was rejecting her King! That part of the prophecy awaits its realization in a future day. Not until she has first "mourned" as one mourneth for his only son (Zechariah 12:10 ), not until Israel "acknowledge their offense" (Hosea 5:15 ), not until they "repent" (Acts 3:19 ), not until they say, "Come, and let us return unto the Lord: for he hath torn, and he will heal us; he hath smitten, and he will bind us up" (Hosea 6:1 ); in short, not until their sins are put away, will the spirit of joy and gladness be given unto them.

In the second place, the words "just and having salvation" are omitted from each of the Gospels. This also is noteworthy, and is a striking proof of the verbal inspiration of the Scriptures. It was not in justice, but in grace, that the Lord Jesus came to Israel the first time. He came "to seek and to save that which was lost." He appeared "to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself." But when He comes the second time, God’s word through Jeremiah shall receive its fulfillment "Behold, the days come, saith the Lord, that I will raise unto David a righteous branch, and a king shall reign and prosper, and shall execute judgment and justice in the earth." But why the omission of "having salvation?’’ Because Israel as a nation would not have salvation. Ofttimes would He have gathered her children together, but they "would not."

One other omission remains to be noticed: the smallest, but by no means the least significant. Zechariah foretold that Israel’s king should come "lowly, and riding upon an ass." Matthew mentions the lowliness of Christ, though in the A. V. it is rendered "meek" (John 21:5 ). But this word is left out by John. And why? Because it is the central design of the fourth Gospel to emphasize the glory of Christ. (See John 1:14 ; John 2:11 ; John 11:4 , etc.)

"Fear not, daughter of Sion; behold, thy King cometh, sitting on an ass’s colt" (John 12:15 ). The fact that the Lord Jesus was seated upon "an ass" brings out His mortal glory. As the Son of David according to the flesh, He was "made under the law" (Galatians 4:4 ), and perfectly did He fulfill it at every point. Now, one thing that marked out Israel as God’s peculiar people was the absence of the horse, in their midst. The "ox" was used in plowing, and the "ass" for riding upon, or carrying burdens. An express decree was made forbidding the king to multiply horses to himself: "But he shall not multiply horses to himself, nor cause the people to return to Egypt, to the end that he should multiply horses" (Deuteronomy 17:16 ). Thus the king of God’s separated people was to be sharply distinguished from the monarchs of the Gentiles note how Pharaoh (Exodus 14:23 ; Exodus 15:1 ), the kings of Canaan (Joshua 11:4 ), Naaman (2 Kings 5:9 ), the king of Assyria (Isaiah 37:8 ), are each mentioned as the possessors of many horses and chariots. But the true Israelites could say, "Some trust in chariots, and some in horses: but we will remember the name of the Lord our God" (Psalms 20:7 ). It is remarkable that the first recorded sin of Solomon was concerning this very thing: "And Solomon had forty thousand stalls of horses for his chariots, and twelve thousand horsemen" (1 Kings 4:26 ). It was, therefore, as One obedient to the Law, that Christ purposely selected an "ass"!

"Fear not, daughter of Sion: behold, thy King cometh, sitting on an ass’s colt." How evident it is that Christ had laid aside His glory (John 17:5 ). He who was in the form of God, and thought it not robbery to be equal with God, made Himself of no reputation," and took upon Him the form of a servant. Not only does this action of our wonderful Savior mark His perfect subjection to the law of Moses, but it also brings out His gracious lowliness. When He formally presented Himself to Israel as their king, He rode not in a golden chariot, drawn by powerful stallions, but instead He came seated upon the colt of an ass. Neither was the beast harnessed with any goodlier trappings than the garments which His disciples had spread thereon. And even the ass was not His own, but borrowed! Truly the things which are "highly esteemed among men are abomination in the sight of God" (Luke 16:15 ). "No Roman soldier in the garrison of Jerusalem, who, standing at his post or sitting in his barrack-window, saw our Lord riding on an ass, could report to his centurion that He looked like one who came to wrest the kingdom of Judea out of the hands of the Romans, drive out Pontius Pilate and his legions from the tower of Antonia, and achieve independence for the Jews with the sword" (Bishop Ryle). How evident it was that His kingdom was "not of this world!" What an example for us to "Be not conformed to this world" (Romans 12:2 )!

Perhaps some may be inclined to object: But does not Revelation 19:11 conflict with what has just been said? In no wise. It is true that there we read, "And I saw heaven open, and behold a white horse; and he that sat upon him was called Faithful and True." There is no room to doubt that the Rider of this "white horse" is any other than the Lord Jesus Christ. But He will appear thus at His second advent. Then everything shall be changed. He who came before in humiliation and shame shall return in power and majesty. He who once had not where to lay His head shall then sit on the throne of His glory (Matthew 25:31 ). He who was nailed to a malefactor’s Cross shall, in that day, wield the scepter of imperial dominion. Just as the "ass" was well suited to the One who had laid aside His glory, so the white "war-horse" of Revelation 19:0 is in perfect keeping with the fact that He is now "crowned with glory and honor."

"These things understood not his disciples" (John 12:16 ). How ingenuous such a confession by one of their number! No impostor would have deprecated himself like this. How confidently may we depend upon the veracity of such honest chroniclers! Like us, the apostles apprehended Divine things but slowly. Like us, they had to "grow in grace and in the knowledge of our Lord and Savior jesus Christ." But mark, it does not say "these things believed not his disciples." It is our privilege, as well as our bounden duty, to believe all God has said, whether we "understand" it or not. The more implicitly we believe, the more likely will God be pleased to honor our faith by giving us understanding (Hebrews 11:3 ).

"But when Jesus was glorified, then remembered they that these things were written of him, and that they had done these things unto him" (John 12:16 ). From the fact that the plural number is twice used here "these things" and from the very similar statement in John 2:22 we believe that the entire incident of our Lord’s entry into Jerusalem, with all its various accompaniments, are here included. Probably that which most puzzled the disciples is what Luke has recorded: "And when he was come near, he beheld the city, and wept over it" (John 19:41 ). In view of this verse it would be more accurate to speak of our Lord’s tearful entry into Jerusalem, rather than His triumphant entry. Christ was not misled by the exalted cries of the people. He knew that the hour of His crucifixion, rather than His coronation, was near at hand. He knew that in only a few days’ time the "Hosannas" of the multitudes would give place to their "Away with him? He knew that the nation would shortly consummate its guilt by giving Him a convict’s gibbet instead of David’s throne.

But why should the disciples have been so puzzled and unable to understand "these things?" It was because they were so reluctant to think that this One who had power to Work such mighty miracles should be put to a shameful death. To the very end, they had hoped He would restore the kingdom and establish His throne at Jerusalem. The honors of the kingdom attracted, the shame of the Cross repelled them: It was because of this that on the resurrection-morning He said to the two disciples, "O fools, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken; ought not Christ to have suffered these things and to enter into his glory?" (Luke 24:25 , Luke 24:26 ). Yes, there had to be the sufferings before the glory, the Cross before the Crown (cf. 1 Peter 1:11 ). But when Jesus was "glorified," that is, when He had ascended to heaven and the Holy Spirit had been given to guide them into all truth, then "remembered they that these things were written of him."

"The people therefore that were with him when he called Lazarus out of his grave and raised him from the dead, bare record. For this cause the people also met him, for that they heard that he had done this miracle" (John 12:17 , John 12:18 ). This line in the picture is supplied only by John, and suitably so, for it was in the raising of Lazarus that the glory of the Son of God had been manifested (John 11:4 ). They who had witnessed that notable miracle had reported it in Jerusalem, and now it was known that He who had power to restore the dead to life was nearing the Capital, many came forth to meet Him. Doubtless one reason why this is brought in here is to emphasize the deep guilt of the nation for rejecting Him whose credentials were so unimpeachable.

"The Pharisees therefore said among themselves, Perceive ye how ye prevail nothing? behold, the world is gone after him" (John 12:19 ). Here is one of the many evidences of the truthful consistency of the independent accounts which the different Evange lists have given us of this incident. Luke tells us: "And some of the Pharisees from among the multitude said unto him, Master, rebuke thy disciples" (John 19:39 ), and the Lord had answered them, "I tell you that, if these should hold their peace, the stones would immediately cry out." Here we are shown their chagrin. They were envious of His popularity; they feared for their own hold over the people.

But here a difficulty confronts us, and one which we have seen no real effort to solve. The majority of the commentators suppose that the joyous greetings which the Lord Jesus received from the crowds on this occasion were the result of a secret putting forth of His Divine power, attracting their hearts to Himself. But how shall we explain the evanescent effect which it had upon them? how account for the fact that less than a week later the same crowds cried, "Crucify him"? To affirm that this only illustrates the fickleness of human nature is no doubt to say what is sadly too true. But if both of their cries were simply expressions of "human nature," where does the influencing of their heart by Divine power come in? We believe the difficulty is self-created, made by attributing the first cry to a wrong cause.

Two things are very conspicuous in God’s dealings with men: His constraining power and His restraining power. As illustrations of the former, take the following examples. It was God who gave Joseph favor in the sight of the keeper of the prison (Genesis 39:22 ), who moved Balaam to bless Israel when he was hired to curse them (Numbers 23:20 ), who stirred up the spirit of Cyrus to make a proclamation giving the Jews the right to return to Palestine (Ezra 1:1 , Ezra 1:2 ). As illustrations of the latter, mark the following cases. It was God who "withheld" Abimelech from sinning (Genesis 20:6 ); the brethren of Joseph "conspired against him to slay him" (Genesis 37:18 ), but God did not allow them to carry out their evil intentions.

Now, these same two things are given a prominent place in the Gospels in connection with the Lord Jesus. At His bidding the leper was cleansed, the blind saw, the dead were raised. At His word the disciples forsook their nets, Matthew left the seat of custom, Zaccheus came down from his leafy perch and received Him into his house. At His command the apostles went forth without bread or money (Luke 9:3 ); made the hungry multitudes sit down for a meal, when all that was in sight were five small loaves and two little fishes. Yes, a mighty constraining power did He wield. But equally mighty, if not so evident, was the restraining power that He exerted. At Nazareth His rejectors "led him into the brow of the hill... that they might cast him down headlong. But he, passing through the midst of them, went his way" (Luke 4:29 , Luke 4:30 ). In John 10:39 we are told "They sought again to take him, but he went forth out of their hands." When the officers came to arrest Him in the Garden, and He said, "I am," they "went backward and fell to the ground" (John 18:6 )!

But the restraining power of Christ was exercised in another way than in the above instances. He also checked the fleshly enthusiasm of those who were ready to welcome Him as an Emancipator from the Roman yoke. When they would "come and take him by force, to make him a king, he departed" (John 6:15 ). All through His ministry He discouraged all public tokens of honor from the people, lest (humanly speaking) the envy of His enemies should bring His preaching to an untimely end. But His public ministry was over, so He now removes the restraint and allows the multitudes to hail Him with their glad Hosannas, and this, not that He now craved pomp, but in order that the Scriptures might be fulfilled. These transports of joy from the Galileans were raised because they imagined that He would there and then set up His temporal kingdom. Hence, when their hopes were disappointed, their transports were turned into rage and therefore did they join in the cry of "crucify him"!

Ponder the following questions as a preparation for our next chapter:

1. Why did the Greeks seek out Philip, verse 21?

2. Why did Philip first tell Andrew, not Christ, verse 22?

3. What is meant by "glorified" in verse 23?

4. Why did Christ say verse 24 at this time?

5. What is meant by verse 31?

6. What is meant by "draw," verse 32?

7. Why did Jesus "hide" Himself, verse 36?


[1] This wonderful and important prophecy is carefully, interestingly, and most helpfully dealt with in the Seventy Weeks and the Great Tribulation by Mr. Philip Mauro.

Verses 21-36

Exposition of the Gospel of John


Christ Sought by Gentiles

John 12:20-36

The following is a suggested Analysis of the passage which is to be before us:

1. The desire of the Greeks to see Jesus, verses 20-23.

2. Christ’s response, verses 24-26.

3. Christ’s prayer and the Father’s answer, verses 27, 28.

4. The people’s dullness, verses 29, 30.

5. Christ’s prediction, verses 31-33.

6. The people’s query, verse 34.

7. Christ’s warning, verses 35, 36.

The end of our Lord’s public ministry had almost been reached. Less than a week remained till He should be crucified. But before He lays down His life His varied glories must be witnessed to. In John 11:0 we have seen a remarkable proof that He was the Son of God: evidenced by His raising of Lazarus. Next, we beheld a signal acknowledgment of Him as the Son of David: testified to by the jubilant Hosannas of the multitudes as the king of Israel rode into Jerusalem. What is before us now concerns Him more especially as the Son of man. As the Son of David He is related only to Israel, but His Son of man title brings in a wider connection. It is as "the Son of man" He comes to the Ancient of days, and as such there is "given him dominion and glory, and a kingdom, that all people, nations, and languages, should serve him" (Daniel 7:14 ). In perfect keeping with this, our present passage shows us Gentiles seeking Him, saving, "We would see," not "the Christ," but "Jesus." Thus the Father saw to it that His blessed Son should receive this threefold witness ere He suffered the ignominy of the Cross.

It is both instructive and blessed to trace the links which unite passage to passage. There is an intimate connection between this third section of John 12:0 and what has preceded it. Again and again in the course of these expositions we have called attention to the progressive unfolding of truth in this Gospel, and here, too, we would observe, briefly, the striking order followed by Christ in His several references to His own death and resurrection. In John 10:0 the Lord Jesus is before us as the Shepherd, leading God’s elect out of Judaism and bringing them into the place of liberty, and in order to do this He lays down His life that He may possess these sheep (verses 11, 15, 17, 18). In John 11:0 He is seen as the resurrection and the life, as the Conqueror of death, with power in Himself to raise His own a decided advance on the subject of the previous chapter. But in John 12:0 He speaks of Himself as "the corn of wheat" that falls into the ground and dies, that it may bear "much fruit." This speaks both of union and communion, blessedly illustrated in the first section of the chapter, where we have the happy gathering at Bethany suppling with Him.

If the Lord Jesus is to be to others the "resurrection" and the "life", we now learn what this involved for Him. He should be glorified by being the firstborn among many brethren. But how? Through death: "Except a corn of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abideth alone: but if it die, it bringeth forth much fruit" (John 12:24 ). Life could not come to us but through His death; resurrection life out of death accomplished. Except a man be born again he cannot enter the kingdom of God; and except Christ had died none could be born again. The new birth is the impartation of a new life, and that life none other than the life of a resurrected Savior, a life which has passed through death, and, therefore, forever beyond the reach of judgment. "The gift of God is eternal life in Jesus Christ our Lord" (Romans 6:23 Greek).

Some have experienced a difficulty here: If the Divine life in the believer is the life of the risen Christ, then what of the Old Testament saints. But the difficulty is more fanciful than real. It is equally true that there could be no salvation for any one, no putting away of sins, until the great Sacrifice had been offered to God. But surely none will infer from this that no one was saved before the Cross. The fact is that both life and salvation flowed backwards as well as forwards from the Cross and the empty sepulcher. It is a significant thing, however, that nowhere in the Old Testament are we expressly told of believers then possessing "eternal life," and no doubt the reason for this is stated in 2 Timothy 1:10 , "But is now made manifest by the appearing of our Savior Jesus Christ, who hath abolished death, and hath brought life and immortality to light through the gospel."

It is very striking to observe that our Lord did not speak of the union and communion of believers with Himself until the Gentiles here sought Him. It is a higher truth altogether than any which He ever addressed to Israel. His Messiahship resulted from a fleshly relationship, the being "Son of David," and it is on this ground that He was to sit upon the throne of His father David and "reign over the house of Jacob" (Luke 1:32 , Luke 1:33 ). But this was not the goal before Him when He came to earth the first time: to bring a people to His own place in the glory was the set purpose of His heart (John 14:2 , John 14:3 ). But a heavenly people must be related to Him by something higher than fleshly ties: they must be joined to Him in spirit, and this is possible only on the resurrection side of death. Hence that word; "Wherefore henceforth know we no man after the flesh: yea, though we have known Christ after the flesh, yet now henceforth know we him no more" (2 Corinthians 5:16 ). It is the One who has been "lifted up" (above this earth) that now draws all elect Gentiles as well as Jews unto Himself.

"And there were certain Greeks among them that came up to worship at the feast: The same came therefore to Philip, which was of Bethsaida of Galilee, and desired him, saying, Sir, we would see Jesus" (John 12:20 , John 12:21 ). This is very striking. The rejection of Christ by Israel was soon to be publicly evidenced by them delivering Him up to the Romans. As Daniel had announced centuries before, after sixty-nine weeks "shall Messiah be cut off" (John 9:26 ). Following His rejection by the Jews, God would visit the Gentiles "to take out of them a people for his name" (Acts 15:14 ). This is what was here foreshadowed by "the Greeks" supplicating Him. The connection is very striking: in verse 19 we find the envious Pharisees saying, "The world is gone after him," here, "And... certain Greeks... saying, We would see Jesus." It was a "first-fruit," as it were, of a coming harvest. It was the pledge of the "gathering together into one the children of God that were scattered abroad" (John 11:52 ). It was another evidence of the fields being "white already to harvest’’ (John 4:35 ). These "Greeks" pointed in the direction of those other "sheep" which the Good Shepherd must also bring. It is also significant to note that just as Gentiles (the wise men from the East) had sought Him soon after His birth, so now these "Greeks" came to Him shortly before His death.

Exactly who these "Greeks" were we cannot say for certain. But there are two things which incline us to think that very likely they were Syro-Phoenicians. First, in Mark 7:26 , we are told that the woman who came to Christ on behalf of her obsessed daughter, was "a Greek, a Syro-Phoenician by nation." Second, the fact that these men sought out Philip, of whom it is expressly said that he "was of Bethsaida of Galilee" a city on the borders of Syro-Phoenicia. The fact that Philip sought. the counsel of Andrew, who also came from Bethsaida in Galilee (see John 1:44 ), and who would therefore be the one most likely to know most about these neighboring people, provides further confirmation. That these "Greeks" were not idolatrous heathen is evidenced by the fact that they "came up to worship at the feast," the verb showing they were in the habit of so doing!

These "Greeks" took a lowly place. They "desired" Philip: the Greek word is variously rendered "asked," "besought," "prayed." They supplicated Philip, making known their wish, and asking if it were possible to have it granted; saying, "Sir, we would see Jesus," or more literally, "Jesus, we desire to see." At the very time the leaders of Israel sought to kill Him, the Greeks desired to see Him. This was the first voice from the outside world which gave a hint of the awakening consciousness that Jesus was about to be the Savior of the Gentiles as well as the Jews. Of old it had been said, "And the Desire of all nations shall come" (Haggai 2:7 ). That it was more than an idle curiosity which prompted these Greeks we cannot doubt, for if it were only a physical sight of Him which they desired, that could have been easily obtained as He passed in and out of the temple or along the street of Jerusalem, without them interviewing Philip. It was a personal and intimate acquaintance with Him that their souls craved. The form in which they stated their request was prophetically significant. It was not "We would hear him," or "We desire to witness one of his mighty works," but "We would see Jesus." It is so to-day. He is no longer here in the flesh: He can no longer be handled or heard. But He can be seen, seen by the eye of faith!

"Philip cometh and telleth Andrew" (John 12:22 ). At first sight this may strike us as strange. Why did not Philip go at once and present this request of the Greeks to the Savior? Is his tardiness to be attributed to a lack of love for souls? We do not think so. The first reference to him in this Gospel pictures a man of true evangelical zeal. No sooner did Philip become a follower of Christ than he "findeth Nathanael, and saith unto him, We have found him, of whom Moses in the law, and the prophets did write, Jesus of Nazareth" (John 1:45 ). How, then, shall we account for his now seeking out Andrew instead of the Lord? Does not Matthew 10:5 help us? When Christ had sent forth the Twelve on their first preaching tour, He expressly commanded them, "Go not into the way of the Gentiles, and into any city of the Samaritans enter ye not." Furthermore, the disciples had heard Him say to the Canaanitish woman, "I am not sent but unto the lost sheep of the house of Israel" (Matthew 15:24 ). Most probably it was because these definite statements were in Philip’s mind that he now sought out Andrew and asked his advice.

"And again Andrew and Philip tell Jesus" (John 12:22 ). In the light of what has just been before us, how are we to explain this action of the two disciples? Why did they not go to the "Greeks" and politely tell them that it was impossible to grant their request? Why not have said plainly to them, Jesus is the Messiah of Israel, and has no dealings with the Gentiles? We believe that what had happened just before, had made a deep impression upon the apostles. The Savior mounting the ass, the acclamations of the multitudes which He had accepted without a protest, His auspicious entrance into Jerusalem, His cleansing of the temple immediately afterwards (Matthew 21:12 , Matthew 21:13 ), no doubt raised their hopes to the highest point. Was the hour of His ardently desired exaltation really at hand? Would "the world" now go after Him (John 12:19 ) in very truth? Was this request of the "Greeks" a further indication that He was about to take the kingdom and be "a light to lighten the Gentiles" as well as "the glory of his people Israel?" In all probability these were the very thoughts which filled the minds of Andrew and Philip as they came and told Jesus.

"And Jesus answered them, saying, The hour is come, that the Son of man should be glorified" (John 12:23 ). Now, for the first time, the Lord declared that His "hour" had come. At Cana He had said to His mother, "Mine hour is not yet come" (John 2:5 ), and about the midst of His public ministry we read, "No man laid hands on him because his hour was not yet come" (John 7:30 ). But here He announced that His hour had arrived, the hour when He, as Son of man, would be "glorified." But what is here meant by Him being "glorified?" We believe there is a double reference. In view of the connection here, the occasion when the Lord Jesus uttered these words, their first meaning evidently was: the time has arrived when the Son of man should be glorified by receiving the worshipful homage of the Gentiles. He intimated that the hour was ripe for the blessing of all the families of the earth through Abraham’s seed. But, linking this verse with the one that immediately follows, it is equally clear that He referred to His approaching death. To His followers, the Cross must appear as the lowest depths of humiliation, but the Savior regarded it (also) as His glorification. John 13:30 , John 13:31 fully bears this out: "He then having received the sop went immediately out: and it was night. Therefore, when he was gone out, Jesus said, Now is the Son of man glorified, and God is glorified in him." The two things are intimately related: salvation could not come to the Gentiles except through His death.

"And Jesus answered them, saving, The hour is come, that the Son of man should be glorified" (John 12:23 ). It is by no means easy to determine to whom Christ uttered these words. We strongly incline to the view that they were said to the disciples. The record is silent as to whether or not the Lord here granted these "Greeks" an interview; that is, whether He left the temple-enclosure where He then was, and went into the outer court, beyond which Gentiles were not permitted to pass. Personally, we think, everything considered, it is most unlikely that He suffered them to enter His presence. If the wish of these "Greeks" was not granted, it would teach them that salvation was not through His perfect life or His wondrous works, but by faith in Him as the crucified One. They must be taught to look upon Him not as the Messiah of Israel, but as "the lamb of God which taketh away the sin of the world."

"Verily, verily, I say unto you, Except a corn of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abideth alone: but if it die, it bringeth forth much fruit" (John 12:24 ). Very different were the thoughts of Christ from those which, most probably, filled the minds of His disciples on this occasion. He looked, no doubt, to the distant future, but He also contemplated the near future. Death lay in His path, and this engaged His attention at the very time when His disciples were most jubilant and hopeful. There must be the suffering before the glory: the Cross before the Crown. Outwardly all was ready for His earthly glory. The multitudes had proclaimed Him king; the Romans were silent, offering no opposition (a thing most remarkable); the Greeks sought Him. But the Savior knew that before He could set up His royal kingdom He must first accomplish the work of God. None could be with Him in glory except He died.

"Except a corn of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abideth alone, but if it die, it bringeth forth much fruit.’! "Nature is summoned here to show the law of increase which is stamped upon her; and that creative law is made an argument for the necessity of the death that is before Him. What an exaltation of the analogies in Nature to exhibit and use them in such a way as this! And what a means of interpreting Nature itself is here given us! How it shows that Christ, ignored by the so-called ‘natural’ theology, is the true key to the interpretation of Nature, and that the Cross is stamped ineffacably upon it! Nature is thus invested with the robe of a primeval prophet, and that the Word, who is God, the Creator of all things, becomes not merely the announcement of Scripture, but a plainly demonstrated fact before our eyes today.

"The grain of wheat falls into the ground and dies: it has life in it, and carries it with it through death itself. The death which it undergoes is in the interest even of the life, which it sets free from its encasement from the limitations which hedge it in to lay hold of and assimilate the surrounding material, by which it expands into the plant which is its resurrection, and thus at last into the many grains which are its resurrection-fruit. How plain it is that this is no accidental likeness which the Lord here seizes for illustration of His point. It is as real a prediction as ever came from the lips of an Old Testament prophet: every seed sown in the ground to produce a harvest is a positive prediction that the Giver of life must die. The union of Christ with men is not in incarnation, though that, of course, was a necessary step towards it. But the blessed man, so come into the world, was a new, a Second Man, who could not unite with the old race, and the life was the light of men; but if that were all, the history would be summed up in the words that follow: ‘And the light shineth in darkness and the darkness comprehended it not. He was in the world... and the world knew him not.’ To the dead, life must be communicated that there may be eyes to see. Men can only be born again into the family of God, of which the Son of God as Man is the beginning.

"Yet the life cannot simply communicate the life. Around Him are the bands of eternal righteousness, which has pronounced condemnation upon the guilty, and only by the satisfaction of righteousness in the penalty incurred can these bands be removed. Death death as He endured it alone can set Him free from these limitations: He is ‘straitened till it be accomplished.’ In resurrection He is enlarged and becomes the Head of a new creation; and ‘if any man be in Christ, it is new creation’ (2 Corinthians 5:17 ). In those redeemed by His blood the tree of life has come to its precious fruitage" (Numerical Bible).

"He that loveth his life shall lose it; and he that hateth his life in this world shall keep it unto life eternal" (John 12:25 ). First of all, this was a word of warning for the beloved disciples. They had just witnessed the palms of victory waving in His path: soon they should see Him numbered with the transgressors. The echoes of the people’s "Hosannas" were still sounding in their ears: in four days’ time they should hear them cry, "Crucify him." Then they would enter into the followship of His sufferings. But these things must not move them. They must not, any more than He, count their life dear unto them. He warns them against selfishness, against cowardice, against shrinking from a martyr’s cross. But the principle here is of wider application.

There is no link of connection between the natural man and God. In the man Christ Jesus there was a life in perfect harmony with God, but because of the condition of those He came to save He must lay it down. And He has left us an example that we should follow His steps. If we would save our natural life, we must lay it down: the one who loves his life in this world must necessarily lose it, for it is "alienated" from God; but if by the grace of God a man separates himself in heart from that which is at enmity with God (James 4:4 ), and devotes all his energies to God, then shall he have it again in the eternal state.

"If any man serve me, let him follow me; and where I am, there shall also my servant be: if any man serve me, him will my Father honor" (John 12:26 ). If the previous verse was a warning to the disciples, this was spoken for their encouragement. "Each grain of wheat that is found on the parent stem follows of necessity by the law of its own nature the pattern of the grain from which it came. His people, too, must be prepared to follow Him upon the road on which He was going. Here is the rule, here is the reward of service: to be with Christ where He is, is such reward as love itself would seek, crowned with the honor which the Father puts upon such loving service. The way of attainment is by the path which He had trodden, and what that was, in its general character at least, is unmistakably plain" (Mr. F. W. Grant).

"Now is my soul troubled: and what shall I say?" (John 12:27 ). That was the beginning of the Savior’s travail ere the new creation could be born. He was seized by an affrighting apprehension of that dying of which He had just spoken. His holy soul was moved to its very depths by the horror of that coming "hour." It was the prelude to Gethsemane. It reveals to us something of His inward sufferings. His anguish was extreme; His heart was suffering torture horror, grief, dejection, are all included in the word "troubled." And what occasioned this? The insults and sufferings which He was to receive at the hands of men? The wounding of His heel by the Serpent.> No, indeed. It was the prospect of being "made a curse for us," of suffering the righteous wrath of a sin-hating God. "What shall I say?" He asks, not "What shall I choose?" There was no wavering in purpose, no indecision of will. Though His holy nature shrank from being "made sin," it only marked His perfections to ask that such a cup might pass from Him. Nevertheless, He bowed, unhesitatingly, to the Father’s will, saying, "But for this cause came I unto this hour." The bitter cup was accepted.

"Father, glorify thy name" (John 12:28 ). Christ had just looked death, in all its awfulness as the wages of sin, fully in the face, and He had bowed to it, and that, that the Father might be glorified. This it was which was ever before Him. Prompt was the Father’s response. "Then came there a voice from heaven, saying, I have both glorified, and will glorify again" (John 12:28 ). The Son of God had been glorified at the grave of Lazarus as Quickener of the dead, and now He is glorified as Son of man by this voice from heaven. But there is more than this here: the Father uses the future tense "I will glorify again." This He would do in bringing again from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great Shepherd of the sheep: "raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father" (Romans 6:4 ).

"The people therefore, that stood by, and heard, said that it thundered: others said, An angel spake to him" (John 12:29 ). What a proof was this that the natural man is incapable of entering into Divine things. A similar instance is furnished in the Lord speaking from heaven to Saul of Tarsus at the time of his conversion. In Acts 9:4 we read that a voice spoke unto him, saying, "Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me?" In Acts 22:9 we are told by Paul, "They that were with me saw indeed the light, and were afraid; but they heard not the voice of him that spake to me." They perceived not what He said. As the Savior had declared on a former occasion, "Why do ye not understand my speech? Even because ye cannot hear my word" (John 8:43 ). How the failure of these Jews to recognize the Father’s voice emphasized the absolute necessity of the Cross!

"Jesus answered and said, This voice came not because of me, but for your sakes" (John 12:30 ). Three times the Father spoke audibly unto the Son: at the beginning, in the middle, and at the end of His Messianic career, and in each case it was in view of His death. At the Jordan Christ went down, symbolically, into the place of death; on the Holy Mount Moses and Elijah had talked with Him "of his decease" (Luke 9:31 ); and here, Christ had just announced that His "hour" was at hand. It is also to be observed that the first time the Father’s voice was heard was at Christ’s consecration to His prophetic office; the second time it was in connection with His forthcoming decease, His priestly work, the offering Himself as a Sacrifice for sin; here, it followed right on His being hailed as king, and who was about to be invested (though in mockery) with all the insignia of royalty, and wear His title, "The king of the Jews," even upon the Cross itself. Mark also the increasing publicity of these three audible speakings of the Father. The first was heard, we believe, only by John the Baptist; the second by three of His disciples; but the third by those who thronged the temple. "For your sakes": to strengthen the faith to the disciples; to remove all excuse from unbelievers.

"Now is the judgment of this world" (John 12:31 ). How this brings out the importance and the value of the great work which He was about to do! In this and the following verse, three consequences of His death are stated. First, the world was "judged": its crisis had come: its probation was over: its doom was sealed by the casting forth of the Son of God. Henceforth, God would save His people from the world. Second, the world’s Prince here received his sentence, though its complete execution is yet future. Third. God’s elect would be drawn by irresistible vower to the One whom the world rejected.

"Now shall the prince of this world be cast out" (John 12:31 ). The tense of the verb here denotes that the "casting out" of Satan would be as gradual as the "drawing" in the next verse (Alford). The Lord here anticipates His victory, and points out the way in which it should be accomplished: a way that would have never entered into the heart of men to conceive, for it should be by shame and pain and death; a way that seemed an actual triumph for the enemy. Not only was life to come out of death, but victory out of apparent defeat. The Savior crucified is, in fact, the Savior glorified!

"Now shall the prince of this world be cast out." As pointed out above, the casting out of Satan was to be a gradual process. In the light of this verse, and other passages (e.g., Hebrews 2:14 , Hebrews 2:15 ), we believe that Satan’s hold over this world was broken at the Cross. The apostle tells us that Christ "spoiled principalities and powers, having made a show of them openly; triumphing over them" (Colossians 2:15 ), and this statement, be it noted, is linked with His Cross! We believe, then, the first stage in the "casting out" of Satan occurred at the Cross, the next will be when he is "cast out" of heaven into the earth (Revelation 12:10 ); the next, when he is "cast into the bottomless pit" (Revelation 20:3 ); the final when he is "cast into the lake of fire and brimstone" (Revelation 20:10 ).

"And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all unto me. This he said, signifying what death he should die" (John 12:32 , John 12:33 ). A truly wonderful and precious word is this. It is Christ’s own declaration concerning His death and resurrection. "I, if I be lifted up from the earth" referred to His crucifixion; but "will draw all unto me" looked to the resurrection-side of the Cross, for a dead Savior could "draw" nobody. Yet the two things are most intimately connected. It is not simply that Christ is the magnet; it is the crucified Christ. "It is crucifixion which has imparted to Him His attractive power; just as it is death which has given Him His life-giving power. It is not Christ without the Cross; nor is it the Cross without Christ; it is both of them together" (H. Bonar). And wherein lies the attraction? "Because of the love which it embodies. Herein is love the love that passeth knowledge! What so magnetic as love? Because of the righteousness which it exhibits. It is the Cross of righteousness. It is righteousness combining with love taking the sinner’s side against law and judgment. How attractive is righteousness like this! Because of the truth which it proclaims. All God’s truth is connected with the Cross. Divine wisdom is concentrated there. How can it but be magnetic? Because of the reconciliation which it publishes. It proclaims peace to the sinner, for it has made peace. Here is the meeting-place between men and God" (Ibid).

But what is meant by "I will draw"? Ah, notice the sentence does not end there! "I will draw all unto me." The word "men" is not in the original. The "all" plainly refers to all of God’s elect. The scope of the word "all" here is precisely the same as in John 6:45 "And they shall be all taught of God." It is the same "all" as that which the Father has given to Christ (John 6:37 ). "The promise, ‘I will draw all unto me must, I think, mean that our Lord after His crucifixion would draw men of all nations and kindreds and tongues to Himself, to believe in Him and be His disciples. Once crucified, He would become a great center of attraction, and draw to Himself; re]easing from the Devil’s usurped power, vast multitudes of all peoples and countries, to be His servants and followers. Up to this time all the world had blindly hastened after Satan and followed him. After Christ’s crucifixion great numbers would turn away from the power of Satan and become Christians" (Bishop Ryle). Christ’s design was to show that His grace would not be confined to Israel.

The Greek word here used for "draw" is a very striking one. Its first occurrence is in John 6:44 , "No man can come to me, except the Father which hath sent me draw him." Here it is the power of God overcoming the enmity of the carnal mind. It occurs again in John 18:10 , "Then Simon Peter having a sword drew it, and smote the high priest’s servant." Here the term signifies that Peter laid firm hold of his sword and pulled it out of its sheath. It is found again in John 21:6 , John 21:11 , "Simon Peter went up and drew the net to land full of great fishes." Here it signifies the putting forth of strength so as to drag an inanimate and heavy object. It is used (in a slightly different form) in James 2:6 , "Do not rich men oppress you and draw you before the judgment seats?" Here it has reference to the impelling of unwilling subjects. From its usage in the New Testament we are therefore obliged to understand Christ here intimated that, following His crucifixion, He would put forth an invincible power so as to effectually draw unto Himself all of God’s elect, which His omniscient foresight then saw scattered among the Gentiles. A very striking example of the Divine drawing-power is found in Judges 4:7 , "And I will draw unto thee to the river Kishon, Sisera, the captain of Jabin’s army, with his chariots and his multitude; and I will deliver him into thine hands." In like manner Christ draws us unto Himself.

"Thus it is His heart relieves itself. The glory of God, the overthrow of evil, the redemption and reconciliation of men is to be accomplished by that, the cost of which is to be for Him so much. He weighs the gain against the purchase-price for him, and is content" (Mr. Grant).

"The people answered him, We have heard out of the law that Christ abideth for ever: and how sayest thou, The Son of man must be lifted up? who is this Son of man?" (John 12:34 ). It seems exceedingly strange that men acquainted with the Old Testament should have been stumbled when their Messiah announced that He must die. Isaiah 53:0 , Daniel’s prophecy that He should be "cut off" (Daniel 9:26 ), and that solemn word through Zechariah, "Awake, O sword, against my shepherd, and against the man that is my fellow, saith the Lord of hosts: smite the shepherd" (Zechariah 13:7 ), should have shown them that His exaltation could be only after His sufferings.

"Then Jesus said unto them, Yet a little while is the light with you. Walk while ye have the light, lest darkness come upon you: for he that walketh in darkness knoweth not whither he goeth" (John 12:35 ). His questioners, most probably, in their malignant self-conceit, flattered themselves that they had completely puzzled Him. But He next spoke as though He had not heard their cavil. They were not seeking the truth, and He knew it. Instead of answering directly, He therefore gave them a solemn warning, reminding them that only for a short space longer would they enjoy the great privilege then theirs, and stating what would be the inevitable consequence if they continued to despise it.

"While ye have light, believe in the light, that ye may be the children of light. These things spake Jesus, and departed, and did hide himself from them" (John 12:36 ). "Christ had spoken. Introduced at the commencement of the Gospel as the Light of men (John 1:4 ), He had proclaimed Himself to be the Light of the world, that whosoever should follow Him should not walk in darkness, but have the light of life (John 8:12 ). He had also said that, as long as He was in the world, He was the light of it (John 9:5 ). Soon would the Light be withdrawn, His death being near at hand. Is there not, then, something awfully solemn in these few words of our chapter (John 12:35 , John 12:36 )? He had preached among them. He had wrought miracles among them. He had kept, too, in His ministry to the land which God had promised to Abraham. He had never ministered outside of it. The people in it had enjoyed opportunities granted to none others. What, now, was the result, as His public ministry was thus terminating? ‘He departed, and did hide himself from them.’ Who of them all mourned over His departure? or sought where to find Him?" (Mr. C. E. Stuart)

Study the following questions on our next lesson:

1. What is the central design of this passage, John 12:37-50 ?

2. Why is Isaiah 53:0 quoted here, verse 38?

3. Why was it "they could not believe" verse 39?

4. Whose "glory" is referred to in verse 41?

5. Had those mentioned in verse 42 saving faith?

6. When and where did Jesus say what is found in verses 44-50?

7. What is the "commandment" of verses 49, 50?

Verses 37-50

Exposition of the Gospel of John


Christ’s Ministry Reviewed

John 12:37-50

The following is an Analysis of the closing section of John 12:

1. The nation’s response to Christ’s ministry, verse 37.

2. The forecast of Israel’s unbelief by Isaiah, verses 38-41.

3. The condition of those who had been impressed by Christ, verses 42, 43.

4. Christ’s teaching about His relation to the Father, verses 44, 45.

5. Christ’s teaching concerning the design of His ministry, verses 46, 47.

6. Christ’s teaching concerning the doom of all who despised Him, verses 48, 49.

7. Christ’s teaching concerning the way of life, verse 50.

The passage before us is by no means an easy one to understand. The previous section closes as follows:

"These things spake Jesus, and departed, and did hide himself from them" (John 12:36 ).

Many have thought, and we believe rightly so, that this statement brings the public ministry of Christ to a close in this Gospel. When we enter the thirteenth chapter it is very evident that a new section there begins, for from the beginning of 13 to the end of 17 the Lord is alone with His apostles; while in the 18th He is arrested and led to judgment. But if John 12:36 marks the ending of Christ’s public ministry, how are we to understand the verses which follow to the end of the chapter? especially in view of what is said in verse 44: "Jesus cried and said," etc.

Now, we believe the answer to this question has been well stated by Dr. John Brown: "The paragraph itself (John 12:37-50 ) is of a peculiar, I had almost said unique, structure and character. The history of our Lord’s public ministry is closed. It terminates in the verse immediately preceding. The account of His private interview with His friends, previous to His passion, is about to commence. It begins with the first verse of the following chapter. One scene in the eventful history is closed; another is about to open. The curtain is, as it were, falling upon the theater in which the public acts of Jesus were performed, and the Evangelist is about to conduct us into the sacred circle of His disciples, and communicate to us the sublime and consoling conversations which the Redeemer, full of love, had with them before His final departure. But before He does this he makes a pause in the narrative, and, as it were, looks back and around; and, in the paragraph before us, presents us in a few sentences with a brief but comprehensive view of all the Lord had taught and done during the course of His public ministry, and of the effects which His discourses and miracles had produced on the great body of His countrymen.

John here gives us a resume of Christ’s public ministry, mentioning His miracles and recapitulating His teaching. The closing section of John 12:0 forms an epilogue to that chapter of our Lord’s life which had just been brought to a close in John 12:36 . Four vital truths which had occupied a prominent place in Christ’s oral ministry are here singled out: His appeal to the Father which sent Him (John 12:44 , John 12:45 , John 12:49 ); Himself the Light of the world (John 12:46 ); the danger of unbelief (John 12:47-49 ); the end of faith (John 12:50 ). The Holy Spirit’s design in moving John to pen this section was, we believe, at least two-fold: to explain the seeming failure of Christ’s public ministry, and to show that the guilt of unbelief rested inexcusably upon Israel.

"The rejection of Jesus Christ by the great body of His fellow-countrymen, the Jews, is a fact which, at first view, may seem to throw suspicion on the greatness of His claims to a Divine mission, as indicating the evidence adduced in their support did not serve its purpose with those to whom it was originally presented, and who, in some points of view, were placed in circumstances peculiarly favorable for forming a correct estimate of its validity. It may be supposed that had the proofs of His Divine mission and Messiahship been as strong and striking as the friends of Christianity represent them, the prejudices of the Jews, powerful as they unquestionably were, must have given way before them; and the believers of His doctrine must have been as numerous as the witnesses of His miracles. Such a supposition, though plausible, argues on the part of its supporters, imperfect and incorrect views of the human constitution, intellectually and morally" (Ibid). In other words, it ignores the total depravity of man!

Now, in the closing section of John 12:0 the Holy Spirit has most effectively disposed of the above objection. He has done so by directing our attention to Old Testament predictions which accurately forecast the very reception which the Messiah met with from the Jews. First, Isaiah 53:0 is referred to, for in this chapter it was plainly foretold that He should be "despised and rejected of men." And then Isaiah 6:0 is quoted, a passage which tells of God judicially blinding His people because of their inveterate unbelief. Thus the very objection made against Christianity is turned into a most conclusive argument in its favor. The very fact that the Lord Jesus was put to death by His countrymen demonstrates that He is their Messiah! Thus has God, once more, made "the wrath of man to praise him."

"But though he had done so many miracles before them, yet they believed not on him" (John 12:37 ). Fearful proof was this of the depravity of the human heart. The miracles of Christ were neither few in number nor unimpressive in nature. The Lord Jesus performed prodigies of power of almost every conceivable kind. He healed the sick, expelled demons, controlled the winds, walked on the sea, turned water into wine, revealed to men their secret thoughts, raised the dead. His miracles were wrought openly, in the light of day, before numerous witnesses. Nevertheless "they" the nation at large "believed not on him." Altogether inexcusable was their hardness of heart. All who heard His teaching and witnessed His works, ought, without doubt, to have received Him as their Divinely-accredited Messiah and Savior. But the great majority of His countrymen refused to acknowledge His claims.

"The prevalence of unbelief and indifference in the present day ought not to surprise us. It is just one of the evidences of that mighty foundation-doctrine, the total corruption and fall of man. How feebly we grasp and realize that doctrine is proved by our surprise at human incredulity. We only half believe the heart’s deceitfulness. Let us read our Bibles more attentively, and search their contents more carefully. Even when Christ wrought miracles and preached sermons there were numbers of His hearers who remained utterly unmoved. What right have we to wonder if the hearers of modern sermons in countless instances remain unbelieving? ‘The disciple is not greater than his Master.’ If even the hearers of Christ did not believe, how much more should we expect to find unbelief among the hearers of His ministers? Let the truth be spoken and confessed: man’s obstinate unbelief is one among many of the indirect proofs that the Bible is true" (Bishop Ryle).

"That the saying of Isaiah the prophet might be fulfilled which he spake, Lord, who hath believed our report? and to whom hath the arm of the Lord been revealed?" (John 12:38 ). This does not mean that the Jews continued in unbelief with the conscious design of fulfilling Old Testament prophecy. Nor does the Holy Spirit here teach that God exercised a secret influence upon the hearts of the Jews, which prevented them from believing, in order that the prophecy of Isaiah might not fail of accomplishment. The Jews did fulfill the predictions of Isaiah, but it was ignorantly and unwittingly, As one able expositor has well said, "The true interpretation here depends on the fact, that the participle rendered that, in the sense of in order that, sometimes signifies so that, pointing out, not the connection of cause and effect, but that of antecedent and consequence, prediction and accomplishment. For example, in the question of the disciples, ‘Who did sin, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?’ the meaning plainly is, ‘Is this man’s blindness the consequence of his parents’ sin, or of his own in some preexistent state?’" We believe it had been better to render it thus: "They believed not, consequently the saying of Isaiah was fulfilled." God does not have to put forth any power to cause any sinner not to believe: if He leaves him to himself, he never will believe.

It is highly significant that Isaiah 53:0 opens in the way it does. That remarkable chapter tells of the treatment which the Savior met with from Israel when He was here the first time. As is well known, the Jews will not own it as a prophecy concerning the Messiah: some of them have attempted to apply it to Jeremiah, others to the nation. How striking then that the Triune-God has opened it with the question, "Who hath believed our report?" Most suitably does John apply it to the unbelieving nation in his day. "And to whom is the arm of the Lord revealed?" The "arm of the Lord" signifies the power of God as it had been manifested by the Messiah. There are therefore two things here: "Who hath believed our report?" points to Christ’s oral ministry; "to whom is the arm of the Lord revealed?" to His miracles.

"Therefore they could not believe, because that Isaiah said again" (John 12:39 ). This is exceedingly solemn. It is explained in the next verse. In consequence of their rejection of Christ, the nation as a whole was judicially blinded of Cod, that is, they were left to the darkness and hardness of their own evil hearts. But it is most important to mark the order of these two statements: in John 12:37 they did not believe; here in John 12:39 , they could not believe. The most attractive appeals had been made: the most indubitable evidence had been presented: yet they despised and rejected the Redeemer. They would not believe; in consequence, God gave them up, and now they could not believe. The harvest was vast, the summer was ended, and they were not saved. But the fault was entirely theirs, and now they must suffer the just consequences of their wickedness.

"He hath blinded their eyes, and hardened their heart; that they should not see with their eyes, nor understand with their heart, and be converted, and I should heal them" (John 12:40 ). This was God’s response to the wicked treatment which Israel had meted out to His beloved Son. They had refused the light, now darkness shall be their dreadful portion. They had rejected the truth, now a heart which loved error should be the terrible harvest. Blinded eyes and a hardened heart have belonged to Israel ever since; only thus can we account for their continued unbelief all through these nineteen centuries; only thus can we explain Israel’s attitude toward Christ to-day.

"All through His Divine ministry in this Gospel, the Lord had been acting in grace, as the ‘son of the Father’ and as ‘the light of the world.’ His presence was day-time in the land of Israel. He had been shining there, if haply the darkness might comprehend Him, and here, at the close of His ministry (John 12:35 , John 12:36 ) we see Him still as the light casting forth His last beams upon the land and the people. He can but shine, whether they will comprehend Him or not. While His presence is there it is still day-time. The night cannot come till He is gone. ‘As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world’! But here, He ‘departed and did hide himself from them’ (John 12:36 ); and then God, by His prophet, brings the night upon the land: John 12:40 " (Mr. J. G. Bellett).

Fearfully solemn is it to remember that what God did here unto Israel He will shortly do with the whole of unbelieving Christendom: "And for this cause God shall send them strong delusion, that they should believe a lie: that they all might be damned who believe not the truth, but had pleasure in unrighteousness" (2 Thessalonians 2:11 , 2 Thessalonians 2:12 ). Just as in the days of Nimrod God "gave up" the entire Gentile world because they despised and rejected the revelation which He had given them (Romans 1:0 ); just as He abandoned Israel to their unbelief, through the rejection of His Son; so in a soon-coming day He will cause unfaithful Christendom to receive the Antichrist because "they received not the love of the truth, that they might be saved" (2 Thessalonians 2:10 ). Oh, dear reader, be warned by this. It is an unspeakably solemn thing to trifle with the overtures of God’s grace. It is written, "How shall we escape if we neglect so great salvation?" (Hebrews 2:3 ). Then "Seek ye the Lord while he may be found, call ye upon him while he is near" (Isaiah 55:6 ).

"These things said Isaiah, when he saw his glory, and spake of him" (John 12:41 ). A striking testimony is this to the absolute Deity of Christ. The prediction quoted in the previous verse is found in Isaiah 6:0 . At the beginning of that chapter the prophet sees "Jehovah sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up, and his train filled the temple." Above the throne stood the seraphim, with veiled face, crying, "Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord of hosts." The sight was too much for Isaiah, and he cried, "Woe is me! for I am undone." Then a live coal was taken from off the altar and laid upon his mouth, and thus cleansed, he is commissioned to go forth as God’s messenger. And here the Holy Spirit tells us in John 12:0 , "These things said Isaiah, when he saw his glory, and spake of him" the context makes it unmistakably plain that the reference is to the Lord Jesus. One of the sublimest descriptions of the manifested Deity found in all the Old Testament is here applied to Christ. That One born in Bethlehem’s manger was none other than the Throne-Sitter before whom the seraphim worship.

"Nevertheless among the chief rulers also many believed on him; but because of the Pharisees they did not confess him, lest they should be put out of the synagogue" (John 12:42 ). Here is a statement which affords help on such verses as John 2:23 ; John 7:31 ; John 8:30 ; John 10:42 ; John 11:45 ; John 12:11 . In each of these passages we read of many "believing" on the Lord Jesus, concerning whom there is nothing to show that they had saving faith. In the light of the verse now before us it would seem that John, all through his Gospel, divides the unbelieving into two classes: the hardened mass who were altogether unmoved by the wondrous works of Christ; and a company, evidently by no means small, upon whom a temporary impression was made, but yet who failed to yield their hearts captive to the Savior the fear of man, and loving the praise of man, holding them back. And do we not find the same two classes in Christendom to-day? By far the greater number of those who come under the sound of the Gospel remain unmoved, heeding neither its imperative authority nor being touched by its winsome tidings. They are impervious to every appeal. But there is another class, and its representatives are to be found, perhaps, in every congregation; a class who are affected in some measure by the Word of the Cross. They do not despise its contents, yet, neither are their hearts won by it. On the one hand, they are not openly antagonistic; on the other, they are not out and out Christians.

"Nevertheless among the chief rulers also many believed on him; but because of the Pharisees they did not confess him, lest they should be put out of the synagogue." This points a most solemn warning to the class we have just mentioned above. A faith which does not confess Christ is not a saving faith. The New Testament is very explicit on this. Said the Lord Jesus, "Whosoever shall confess me before men, him shall the Son of man also confess before the angels of God: But he that denieth me before men shall be denied before the angels of God" (Luke 12:8 , Luke 12:9 ). And in the Epistle to the Romans we are told, "If thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved" (John 10:9 ). These Jews referred to in our text were satisfied that Christ was neither an impostor nor a fanatic, yet were they not prepared to forsake all and follow Him. They feared the consequences of such a course, for the Jews had agreed already that if any man did confess that he was Christ, he should be put out of the synagogue" (John 9:22 ). These men then deemed it wisest to conceal their convictions and wait until the Messiah should place Himself in such a position that it would be safe and advantageous for them to avow themselves His disciples. They were governed by self-interest, and they have had many successors. If any should read these lines who are attempting to be secret disciples of the Lord Jesus, fearing to come out into the open and acknowledge by lip and life that He is their Lord and Savior, let them beware. Remember that the first of the eight classes mentioned in Revelation 21:8 who are cast into the lake of fire are the "fearful"!

"For they loved the praise of men more than the praise of God" (John 12:43 ). These men, whose minds were convinced but whose hearts remained unmoved, not only feared the religious authorities, but they also desired the approbation of their fellows. They were determined to retain their good opinion, even though at the expense of an uneasy conscience. They preferred the good will of other sinners above the approval of God. O the shortsighted folly of these wretched men! O the madness of their miserable choice! Of what avail would the good opinion of the Pharisees be when the hour of death overtook them? In what stead will it stand them when they appear before the judgment-throne of God? "What shall it profit a man if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?" How we are reminded of our Savior’s words, "How can ye believe which receive honor one of another, and seek not the honor that cometh from God only?" (John 5:44 ). Let us remember that we cannot have both the good-will of sinners and the good-will of God: "Know ye not that the friendship of the world is enmity with God? whosoever therefore will be a friend of the world is the enemy of God" (James 4:4 ).

"Jesus cried and said, He that believeth on me, believeth not on me, but on him that sent me" (John 12:44 ). Notice that nothing whatever is said about either the time or the place where the Savior made this utterance. We believe that John still continues his epilogue, giving us in John 12:44-50 a summary, of Christ’s teaching. The substance of what he here says plainly indicates this. "How strange that this supposed discourse of Jesus should to an extent of which there is no previous example, consist of repetitions alone, and, moreover, of only such words as are already found in John’s Gospel. Did the Lord ever recapitulate in this style, uttering connectedly so long a discourse without any new thoughts and distinct sayings? but, when for once St. John recapitulates, seeming (though only seeming) to put his words into the Lord’s lips, what an instructive example he gives us, not venturing to add anything of his own! Yea, verily, all this the Lord had said, each saying in its season; but St John unites them all retrospectively together" (Stier). The tense of the verbs here, "Jesus cried and said," signify, as Stier and Alford have pointed out, that Christ was wont to, that it was His customary course of repeated action.

"And he that seeth me seeth him that sent me" (John 12:45 ). That John is giving us in these verses a summary of the teachings of Christ is evidenced by a comparison of them with earlier statements in this Gospel. For example: compare "He that believeth on me, believeth not on me, but on him that sent me" (John 12:44 ) with John 5:24 "He that heareth my word and believeth on him that sent me." So here: "He that seeth me seeth him that sent me." Compare with this John 8:19 , "If ye had known me, ye should have known my Father also;" and John 10:38 , "That ye may know and believe that the Father is in me, and I in him." This was one of the vital truths which occupied a prominent place in our Lord’s teachings. No man had seen God at any time, but the only begotten Son had come here to "declare" Him (John 1:18 ). What we have here in John 12:45 is a reference to the frequent mention made by Christ to that mysterious and Divine union which existed between Himself and the Father.

"I am come a light into the world, that whosoever believeth on me should not abide in darkness" (John 12:46 ). Clearly this is parallel with John 8:12 and John 9:5 : "I am the light of the world: he that followeth me shall not walk in darkness... As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world." "I am come a light into the world": upon this verse Dr. John Brown has the following helpful comments: "This proves, first, that Christ existed before His incarnation, even as the sun exists before it appears above the eastern hills; second, it is implied that He is the one Savior of the world, as there is but one sun; third, that He came, not for one nation only, but for all; even as the sun’s going forth is from the end of the heaven, and his circuit unto the ends of it; and there is nothing hid from the heat therof." This verse continues John’s reference to the general teaching of Christ concerning the character and tendency of His mission. He had come here into this world as a light-revealing God and exposing man and this, in order that all who believed on Him should be delivered from the darkness, that is, from the power of Satan (Colossians 1:13 ) and the ruin of sin (Ephesians 4:18 ).

"And if any man hear my words, and believe not, I judge him not: for I came not to judge the world but to save the world" (John 12:47 ). Here the Evangelist calls attention to another truth which had held a prominent place in our Lord’s teachings. It respected His repeated announcement concerning the character and design of His mission and ministry. It tells of the lowly place which He had taken, and of the patient grace which marked Him during the time that He tabernacled among men. It brings into sharp contrast the purpose and nature of His two advents. When He returns to this earth it will be in another character and with a different object from what was true of Him when He was here the first time. Before, He was here as a lowly servant; then, He shall appear as the exalted Sovereign. Before, He came to woo and win men; then, He shall rule over them with a rod of iron.

"And if any man hear my words, and believe not, I judge him not." With this compare verse 45, "Do not think that I will accuse you to the Father. For I came not to judge the world, but to save the world," compare with this John 3:17 , "For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved," and note our original comments upon John 3:17 . "He that rejecteth me, and receiveth not my words, hath one that judgeth him: the word that I have spoken, the same shall judge him in the last day" (John 12:48 ). This solemn utterance of Christ corrects an erroneous conclusion which has been drawn by some Calvinists, who deny the responsibility of unregenerate souls in connection with the Gospel. They argue that because the natural man is devoid of spiritual life, he cannot believe; a dead man, they say, cannot receive Christ. To this it might be replied, A dead man cannot reject Christ. But many do! It is true that a dead man cannot believe, yet he ought to. His inability lies not in the absence of necessary faculties, but in the wilful perversion of his faculties. When Adam died spiritually, nothing in him was annihilated; instead, he became "alienated from the life of God" (Ephesians 4:18 ). Every man who hears the Gospel ought to believe in Christ, and those who do not will yet be punished for this unbelief, see 2 Thessalonians 1:7 . As Christ here teaches, the rejector of Him will be judged for his sin. Let any unsaved one who reads these lines thoughtfully ponder this solemn word of the Lord. Jesus.

"He that rejecteth me, and receiveth not my words, hath one that judgeth him." The first part of this verse is almost identical with what we read of in John 3:18 : "But he that believeth not is condemned already, because he hath not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God." "The words that I have spoken, the same shall judge him in the last. day." This takes us back to Deuteronomy 18:19 , where, of the great Prophet God promised to raise up unto Israel He declared, "And it shall come to pass, that whosoever will not hearken unto my words which he shall speak in my name, I will require it of him."

"The word that I have spoken, the same shall judge him in the last day." Very solemn indeed is this, for its application is to all who have heard the Gospel. It tells us three things.

First, there is to be a "last day." This world will not remain forever. The bounds of its history, the length of its existence are Divinely determined, and when the appointed limit is reached, "The day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night; in the which the heavens shall pass away with a great noise, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat, the earth also and the works that are therein shall be burned up" (2 Peter 3:10 ).

Second, this last day will be one of judgment: "Because he hath appointed a day, in the which he will judge the world in righteousness by that man whom he hath ordained" (Acts 17:31 ). Then shall hidden things be brought to light: the righteous vindicated, and the unrighteous sentenced. Then shall God’s broken law be magnified, and His holy justice honored. Then shall all His enemies be subjugated and God shall demonstrate that He is GOD. Then shall every proud rebel be made to bow in subjection before that Name which is above every name, and confess that Jesus is Lord to the glory of God the Father.

Third, Christ’s Word will judge sinners in that Day. His Word was a true Word, a Divine Word, a Word suited to men. Yet men have slighted it, attacked it, denied it, made its holy contents the subject of blasphemous jesting. But in the last great Day it shall judge them. First and foremost among the "books" which shall be opened and out of which sinners shall be "judged" (Revelation 20:12 ) will be, we believe, the written Word of God "In the day when God shall judge the secrets of men by Jesus Christ according to my gospel" (Romans 2:16 ).

"For I have not spoken of myself; but the Father which sent me, he gave me a commandment, what I should say, and what I should speak" (John 12:49 ). This was something which Christ had affirmed repeatedly, see John 5:30 ; John 7:16 ; John 8:26-28 , etc. It expressed that intimate and mysterious union which existed between the Father and Himself. His purpose was to impress upon the Jews the awfulness of their sin in refusing His words: in so doing, they affronted the Father Himself, for His were the very words which the Son had spoken to them. In like manner, to-day, "he that believeth not God hath made him a liar; because he believeth not the record that God gave of his Son" (1 John 5:10 ). How terrible then is the sin of despising the testimony of Christ!

"And I know that his commandment is life everlasting: whatsoever I speak therefore, even as the Father said unto me, so I speak" (John 12:50 ). This is an abstract of what we read of in John 3:11 ; John 5:32 ; John 8:55 . It brings out once more the perfections of the incarnate Son. He acted not in independency, but in perfect oneness of heart, mind, and will, with the Father. Whether the Jews believed them or not, the messages which Christ had delivered were Divinely true, and therefore were they words of life to all who receive them by simple faith. This closing sentence in John’s summary of Christ’s teachings is very comprehensive: "whatsoever" He had spoken, was that which He had received of the Father. Therefore in refusing to heed the teaching of Christ, the Jews had despised the God of their fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.

"And I know that his commandment is life everlasting: whatsoever I speak therefore, even as the Father said unto me, so I speak" (John 12:50 ). Once more we have a declaration which is not confined to its local application. This verse speaks in clarion tones to all who come under the sound of the Gospel to-day. God has given not an "invitation" for men to act on at their pleasure, but a "commandment" which they disobey at their imminent peril. That commandment is "that we should believe on the name of his Son Jesus Christ" (1 John 3:23 ), hence at the beginning of the Epistle to the Romans, where Paul refers to the Gospel of God, he says, "By whom we have received grace and apostleship, for faith obedience among all nations" (John 1:5 ). This commandment is "life everlasting" to all who receive it by the obedience of faith. Adam brought death upon him by disobeying God’s commandment: we receive life by obeying God’ commandment. Then "see that ye refuse not him that speaketh. For if they escaped not who refused him that spake on earth, much more shall not we escape, if we turn away from him that speaketh from heaven" (Hebrews 12:25 ).

Study the following questions in view of our next lesson:

1. What is meant by the last clause of verse 1?

2. What "supper" is referred to in verse 2?

3. What is the symbolic significance of Christ’s actions in verse 4?

4. What is signified by the washing of the disciples’ feet, verse 5?

5. Why is Peter so prominent in verses 6-9?

6. What is meant by "no part with Me" verse 8?

7. What is the meaning of verse 10?

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Bibliographical Information
Pink, A.W. "Commentary on John 12". "Pink's Commentary on John and Hebrews".