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II. JESUS’ PUBLIC MINISTRY 1:19-12:50
The first part of the body of John’s Gospel records Jesus’ public ministry to the multitudes in Palestine, who were primarily Jewish. Some writers have called this section of the Gospel "the book of signs" because it features seven miracles that signify various things about Jesus.
"Signs are miraculous works performed or mentioned to illustrate spiritual principles." [Note: Tenney, "The Symphonic . . .," p. 119. See also idem, "Topics from the Gospel of John," Bibliotheca Sacra 132:526 (April-June 1975):145-60, for a discussion of the seven signs in John’s Gospel.]
Often John recorded a lengthy discourse that followed the miracle, in which Jesus explained its significance to the crowds. This section also contains two extended conversations that Jesus had with two individuals (chs. 3 and 4).
"The opening of the narrative proper might well be understood as the account of the happenings of one momentous week. John does not stress the point, but he does give notes of time that seem to indicate this. The first day is taken up with a deputation from Jerusalem that interrogates the Baptist. ’The next day’ we have John’s public pointing out of Jesus (John 1:29-34). Day 3 tells of two disciples of the Baptist who followed Jesus (John 1:35-40). It seems probable that John 1:41 takes us to day 4 . . . It tells of Andrew’s bringing of Peter to Jesus. Day 5 is the day when Philip and Nathanael come to him (John 1:43-51). The marriage in Cana is two days after the previous incident (i.e., the sixth and seventh days, John 2:1-11). If we are correct in thus seeing the happenings of one momentous week set forth at the beginning of this Gospel, we must go on to ask what significance is attached to this beginning. The parallel with the days of creation in Genesis 1 suggests itself, and is reinforced by the ’In the beginning’ that opens both chapters. Just as the opening words of this chapter recall Genesis 1, so it is with the framework. Jesus is to engage in a new creation. The framework unobtrusively suggests creative activity." [Note: Morris, p. 114.]
The day when Jesus arrived in Bethany was evidently Saturday. [Note: Ibid., p. 91.] As noted before, John frequently grouped the events he recorded around the Jewish feasts and related them to those feasts. At this Passover the Lamb of God would die as a sacrifice for the sins of the world. John’s reference to Lazarus helps the reader identify which of the two Bethanys that John mentioned is in view here. It also shows that Lazarus was still alive, another testimony to the reality of the resurrection miracle that Jesus had performed.
3. Mary’s anointing of Jesus 12:1-8 (cf. Matthew 26:6-13; Mark 14:3-9)
In contrast to the hatred that the religious leaders manifested stands the love that Mary demonstrated toward the One she had come to believe in. Her act of sacrificial devotion is a model for all true disciples. This is the climax of belief in this section of the Gospel that records Jesus’ public ministry (John 1:19 to John 12:50). Chapter 12 records Jesus’ last teaching before the general public.
The dinner (Gr. deipnon) was evidently the evening meal on Saturday. Those who hosted it must have included Martha, Mary, Lazarus, and Simon, the former leper in whose house the meal took place (Matthew 26:6; Mark 14:3). John’s reference to Lazarus implies that he was of special interest, undoubtedly because of his recent resurrection. Lazarus had become something of a celebrity (John 12:9). He appears to have retreated from the public spotlight following his resurrection but made this uncommon appearance to honor Jesus (cf. John 12:9). [Note: Tenney, "John," p. 124.]
Mary anointed Jesus with a litre of ointment. The Greek litre equaled about 11 ounces and was a lavish amount to pour out on someone. Its quantity indicates Mary’s great love and high regard for Jesus. The ointment was nard or spikenard, an Indian oil that came from the roots (i.e., spikes, therefore "spikenard") of the nard plant. [Note: Zondervan Pictorial Encyclopedia of the Bible, s.v. "Spikenard," by W. E. Shewell-Cooper, 5:502.] It was pure ointment and therefore of a high quality as well as imported and consequently very expensive (cf. John 12:5). Matthew and Mark noted that the liquid was in an alabaster flask the neck of which Mary broke to pour it out on Jesus (Matthew 26:7; Mark 14:3).
John wrote that Mary proceeded to anoint Jesus’ feet with the ointment. The Synoptic accounts say that she anointed His head (Matthew 26:7; Mark 14:3). Probably she did both. There was enough ointment to anoint not only Jesus’ head and feet but also other parts of His body as well (cf. Matthew 26:12; Mark 14:8). Perhaps Matthew and Mark mentioned Jesus’ head to present this act as one that honored Jesus. John could have mentioned Jesus’ feet to stress Mary’s humility in contrast to the Sanhedrin’s pride and the disciples’ pride (cf. John 13:1-17). [Note: Carson, The Gospel . . ., pp. 427, 428.]
Only John noted that Mary wiped Jesus’ feet with her hair, another act of humility. Normally Jewish women never unbound their hair in public since loose hair was a sign of loose morals. Evidently Mary’s love for Jesus overrode her sense of propriety. She probably wiped the ointment in and the excess off with her hair. It would have been easy for Mary to anoint Jesus’ feet. The guests undoubtedly reclined on mats on the floor with their heads and hands close to the table and their feet extending out in the opposite direction.
The fact that the fragrance of the perfume filled the house shows again how lavish Mary’s display of love was. In that culture when the male head of a household died and left only female survivors, the women usually had great difficulty making ends meet and often became destitute. If this was the situation that Lazarus’ death created for Mary and Martha, we can appreciate how grateful they must have been to Jesus for restoring their brother to them. Even if they were rich, and the cost of Mary’s ointment suggests that they may have been, the restoration of a loved brother was reason enough for great gratitude and festivity.
Judas, as well as some other disciples who were present (Matthew 26:8; Mark 14:4), objected to what seemed to be an extravagant waste. Three hundred denarii was a full year’s wages for a working man in that culture. Mary would not give to the Lord what cost her nothing (cf. 2 Samuel 24:24). Real worship always costs the worshipper; it always involves a sacrifice.
"When she came to the feet of Jesus, Mary took the place of a slave. When she undid her hair (something Jewish women did not do in public), she humbled herself and laid her glory at His feet (see 1 Corinthians 11:15). Of course, she was misunderstood and criticized; but that is what usually happens when somebody gives his or her best to the Lord." [Note: Wiersbe, 1:339.]
John knew Judas’ real motive for objecting (cf. John 10:13). Judas’ selfish materialism helps us understand why He was willing to betray Jesus for 30 pieces of silver.
"His remonstrance over the gift of the ointment revealed that he had a sharp sense of financial values and no appreciation of human values." [Note: Tenney, "John," p. 125.]
Evidently the other disciples learned of their treasurer’s larcenous behavior after He betrayed Jesus.
Probably Jesus meant that the disciples should permit Mary to keep the custom of anointing for burial since Jesus’ burial was not far away. There is no indication that Mary realized that Jesus would die soon any more than the other disciples did. However she was anointing Jesus out of love, as mourners anointed the bodies of loved ones who had died. It was not uncommon to do this at lavish expense. Jesus viewed her act as a pre-anointing for His death, though Mary may not have viewed it as such (cf. John 11:51). If she did, perhaps this is why she did not go to Jesus’ tomb with the other women to anoint His body.
It is a good idea to express our love for people we appreciate to them before they die. Flowers at a funeral are nice, but flowers before the funeral are even better.
Unless Jesus was the Son of God who was due the same honor as His Father (John 5:23) this statement would have manifested supreme arrogance. Jesus was not encouraging the disciples to regard poverty as inevitable and, therefore, to avoid doing anything to help those in need. He was comparing the unique opportunity that His impending death presented with the continual need that the poverty of some will always present (cf. Mark 14:7).
John’s Gospel has been contrasting the growing belief of some people and the growing unbelief of others. This incident contrasts the great love of one disciple with the great apathy of another disciple.
"Mary of Bethany is in fact another of the timeless, representative figures so wonderfully portrayed in this Gospel. She is a type of the true Christian worshipper, even as the sinful woman in the very different anointing story in Luke vii. 36-50 is a type of the true Christian penitent." [Note: Tasker, p. 144.]
Jesus had disappeared after Lazarus’ resurrection and had not yet showed Himself in Jerusalem for Passover (John 11:54-57), but now the news was that He was in Bethany. The appearance of the resurrected Lazarus intensified the curiosity of many Jerusalem residents and pilgrims who traveled to Bethany hoping to see both men. They were the subjects of much controversy.
Martha had worked for the Lord by serving the supper (John 12:2), Mary had worshipped Him (John 12:3), and Lazarus witnessed for Him (John 12:9). These secondary characters in John’s story are model disciples.
4. The official antagonism toward Lazarus 12:9-11
To make the contrast between belief and unbelief even more striking, John returned from Mary’s love to the chief priests’ hatred (cf. John 11:47-57).
The huge numbers of people that were heading for Bethany to see Jesus and Lazarus made the Sanhedrin members conclude that they would have to terminate Lazarus as well as Jesus. Many of the Jews believed on Jesus when they heard about Lazarus’ resurrection and or saw him. The man born blind whom Jesus had healed had also become a problem for the Sanhedrin earlier. They had dealt with him differently because Jesus’ popularity was not as great earlier (John 9:34).
The hatred of the Sanhedrin contrasts with Mary’s love for Jesus. The intensity of both feelings, shared by many other people, pointed to the inevitability of a major conflict soon.
The next day would have been Sunday (cf. John 12:1). The great multitude that had come to Jerusalem for the Passover undoubtedly included many pilgrims from Galilee, where Jesus had His greatest following. The crowd evidently surrounded Jesus since Matthew and Mark wrote that there were many people in front of Jesus and many behind Him (Matthew 21:9; Mark 11:9).
5. Jesus’ triumphal entry 12:12-19 (cf. Matthew 21:1-11; Mark 11:1-11; Luke 19:29-40)
The importance of this incident in Jesus’ ministry is evident from the fact that all four Gospel evangelists recorded it. Matthew and Mark placed this event before Mary’s anointing of Jesus in Simon’s house (John 12:1-8). However, John’s order is probably the chronological one in view of his time references and the fact that Matthew and Mark frequently altered the chronological sequence for thematic purposes.
The scene now shifts from a quiet dinner with a few close friends in the small town of Bethany. We see next a noisy public parade through the streets of Jerusalem. This was the only public demonstration that Jesus allowed during His earthly ministry.
The waving of date palm fronds (i.e., branches) had become a common practice at national celebrations in Israel (Leviticus 23:40). Palm fronds had become a national symbol (cf. 1 Maccabees 13:51; 2 Maccabees 10:7). They appear on the coins that the Jewish nationalists produced during the war with the Romans in A.D. 66-70. [Note: Carson, The Gospel . . ., p. 432.] Used on this occasion they probably signaled popular belief that Israel’s Messiah had appeared (cf. Revelation 7:9).
"Hosanna" is the transliteration of a Hebrew phrase that means "give salvation now." The Jews commonly used this word in their praise at the feasts of Tabernacles, Dedication, and Passover. It was part of the Hallel (Psalms 113-118) that the temple choir sang at these feasts (Psalms 118:25). [Note: Ibid.] "Blessed is He . . ." is the very next statement in Psalms 118 (Psalms 118:26). The Jews of Jesus’ day regarded the phrase "He who comes in the name of the Lord" as referring to Messiah (cf. John 11:27). Originally it referred to pilgrims who went to Jerusalem for the feasts and, perhaps in the first instance, to the Davidic king whose coronation the psalmist wrote the psalm to honor. "Even the King of Israel" is not in Psalms 118. It was the people’s identification of Jesus as the Messiah (cf. Luke 19:38; John 1:49; John 18:37; John 19:19).
"I imagine that some of the Roman soldiers must have smiled at the ’Triumphal Entry,’ because it was nothing like their own ’Roman triumph’ celebrations in the city of Rome.
"Whenever a Roman general was victorious on foreign soil, killing at least 5,000 of the enemy, and gaining new territory, he was given a ’Roman triumph’ when he returned to the city. It was the Roman equivalent of the American ’ticker-tape parade,’ only with much more splendor. The victor would be permitted to display the trophies he had won and the enemy leaders he had captured. The parade ended at the arena where some of the captives entertained the people by fighting wild beasts. Compared to a ’Roman triumph,’ our Lord’s entry into Jerusalem was nothing." [Note: Wiersbe, 1:340.]
The Synoptic writers gave more detail about Jesus securing the young donkey. John simply reported that He entered Jerusalem riding on it and thereby fulfilled Zechariah’s prophecy about how Messiah would present Himself to the nation (Zechariah 9:9). "Fear not" comes from Isaiah 40:9, which addresses those to whom good news about Zion comes. "Daughter of Zion" is a common Old Testament description of the people of Jerusalem as the oppressed people of God (cf. Isaiah 1:8; Jeremiah 4:31; Lamentations 2:4; Micah 4:8; Zephaniah 3:14; Zechariah 2:10; et al.). The context of Zechariah 9:9 is worthy of examination since it describes more about Messiah’s reign. Even though Messiah had appeared, His reign would not begin then. He would not "give salvation now" because of Israel’s rejection of her King.
Jesus’ disciples did not realize all the implications of Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem at this time. After Jesus’ resurrection and ascension they did (cf. John 2:17; John 2:22). Obviously they and the crowd realized that Jesus was the Messiah, as they conceived of the Messiah. However they did not understand the nature of His messiahship, the necessity of His death, or the plan for His kingdom then. For example, they may have not understand the significance of His riding a donkey’s colt rather than a war-horse. John’s statement here helps the reader understand the difference between the disciples’ understanding and comments before the Cross and their conduct and teaching after that event.
"The Passion and the Resurrection were keys in unlocking the mystery of Jesus’ person." [Note: Tenney, "John," p. 127.]
John noted another witness to Jesus’ person, namely, the crowd that had observed Jesus’ healing of Lazarus and had accompanied Jesus from Bethany to Jerusalem. The multitude that had come out of Jerusalem to welcome Jesus joined the other people physically and as witnesses to Jesus’ true identity. The raising of Lazarus was a miracle that very many people regarded as a sign that Jesus was the Messiah.
Yet many other people did not believe. The Pharisees looked on in unbelief frustrated by Jesus’ popularity and unable to do anything to stop Him at the moment. Hyperbolically they said the whole world had gone after Jesus. This is another ironic comment that John recorded for His readers’ instruction. Really relatively few people had truly believed on Jesus (John 12:37-43), but the whole world would go after Jesus as the Savior of the world to a greater degree than the Pharisees believed then (cf. John 3:16-17). Their unconscious prophecy (cf. Caiaphas’ unconscious prophecy in John 11:50) received a partial fulfillment almost immediately in the request of some Greeks to see Jesus (John 12:20-22). The Pharisees later found it just as impossible to curtail the spread of Christianity as they did to restrict Jesus personally (cf. Acts 3-4).
The New Testament writers frequently referred to any Gentiles who came from the Greek-speaking world as Greeks (cf. John 7:35; et al.). We do not know where the Gentiles in this incident came from. They could have lived in one of the predominantly Gentile areas of Palestine such as northeastern Galilee or the Decapolis, or they could have come from farther away (cf. Matthew 2:1-12). These were God-fearing Gentiles who worshipped Yahweh along with the Jews (cf. the Ethiopian eunuch, Acts 8:27). They may or may not have been Jewish proselytes (i.e., full-fledged converts to Judaism). They could participate in synagogue worship and the annual feasts, and they would have worshipped in the temple court of the Gentiles.
The kernel of wheat teaching 12:20-26
6. Jesus’ announcement of His death 12:20-36
One example that Jesus was attracting people from other parts of the world follows. These individuals contrast with the Pharisees.
"This rather curious incident is rather peculiar to John. I say ’rather curious’ because it is unusual that we encounter Greeks in a narrative of events at Jerusalem, because the other Evangelists do not mention the incident, and because the Greeks simply say, ’Sir, we would like to see Jesus’ and then disappear from the narrative. Clearly John regards their coming as significant but he does not treat their presence as important. Jesus recognizes in their coming an indication that the climax of his mission has arrived. Immediately when he hears of them he says, ’The hour has come,’ and goes on to speak of his glorification and of death. In this Gospel we see Jesus as the world’s Savior, and evidently John means us to understand that this contact with the Greeks ushered in the climax. The fact that the Greeks had reached the point of wanting to meet Jesus showed that the time had come for him to die for the world. He no longer belongs to Judaism, which in any case has rejected him. But the world, whose Savior he is, awaits him and seeks for him." [Note: Morris, p. 524.]
It may have been Philip’s Gentile name or the fact that he was from Bethsaida in a Gentile area of Galilee, specifically Gaulanitis, that attracted these Gentiles to him. Philip, who was a Jew, appears to have had some hesitation about introducing them to Jesus at first (cf. Matthew 10:5-6; Luke 18:15-16). Andrew favored bringing them to Jesus for an interview (cf. John 1:40-42). The important revelation of this verse is that the disciples continued to bring people to Jesus, which continues to be the responsibility of Jesus’ disciples.
Jesus’ interview with these Gentiles was the occasion of His revelation that the time for His death, resurrection, and ascension was at hand (cf. John 12:27; John 13:1; John 17:1). Until now, that hour had not been near (cf. John 2:4; John 4:21; John 4:23; John 7:30; John 8:20). As mentioned earlier, Jesus’ references to His glorification in the fourth Gospel are references to His death, resurrection, and ascension.
The title "Son of Man" was Jesus’ favorite title for Himself. It connoted suffering and glorification, and it avoided the misunderstanding that the use of some other messianic titles entailed.
John mentioned nothing more about these Greeks. Evidently he referred to them at all because they represented Gentiles who were expressing interest in Jesus and because their interview was the occasion for Jesus’ revelation. Their presence at the announcement of Jesus’ impending death hints at the union of Jews and Gentiles in the benefits of that death and in the body of believers after that death.
Jesus announced another important revelation with His characteristic introductory clause. He described His body as a kernel of wheat that someone sows in the ground. By dying He would produce a great harvest. His death was necessary for that harvest. The illustration also implies the humility of Jesus’ death. Jesus’ sacrificial death would result in eternal life for many other people.
Jesus now applied the principle in the illustration for His followers. This was a principle that He had taught them on at least three separate occasions previously (cf. Matthew 10:39; Mark 8:36; Luke 14:26). Obviously it was very important.
Anyone who selfishly lives for himself or herself loses his or her life in the sense that he or she wastes it. Nothing really good comes from it. Conversely anyone who hates his or her life in the sense of disregarding one’s own desires to pursue the welfare of another will gain something for that sacrifice. He or she will gain true life for self and blessing for the other person. Jesus contrasted the worthlessness of what one sacrifices now with the value of what one gains by describing the sacrifice as something temporal and the gain as something eternal.
"People whose priorities are right have such an attitude of love for the things of God that all interest in the affairs of this life appear by comparison as hatred." [Note: Ibid., p. 527.]
Obviously Jesus did not mean that we gain justification by living sacrificial lives. The Bible describes eternal life in some places as a gift (e.g., John 3:16; John 5:24; John 6:40) and in other places as a reward (e.g., Matthew 19:29; Mark 10:30; Luke 18:30; Romans 2:7; Romans 6:22; Galatians 6:8). It is the life of God, but we can experience that life to a greater or lesser degree depending on our obedience to God (cf. John 10:10; John 17:3). [Note: See Dillow, pp. 135-36.]
On one level Jesus was talking about how eternal life comes to people: through the sacrifice of the Son of Man (John 12:24). On another level He was speaking of how to gain the most from life now: by living sacrificially rather than selfishly (John 12:25). The general principle is a paradox. Death leads to life.
Over the centuries the church has observed that the blood of Christian martyrs has indeed been the seed of the church. Their literal deaths have led to the salvation of many other people. Even more disciples have discovered that any sacrifice for Jesus yields blessings for others and for them that far exceed the sacrifice.
For disciples of Jesus, self-sacrifice does not just mean putting others before themselves. It also means putting Jesus first (cf. John 10:4). The disciple who wants to serve Jesus must follow Him. He or she must go where Jesus goes and do what He does. True servants stay close to their masters.
Jesus said these words on the way to the Cross and His glorification. Likewise His servants who follow Him could and can count on death, figuratively if not literally, but beyond that they can anticipate glory from the Father (cf. John 17:24). The true disciple’s life will essentially duplicate the experiences of his or her Lord.
Anticipation of the death that had to precede the glory troubled Jesus deeply (Gr. tataraktai, cf. John 11:33; John 14:1; Mark 14:32-42). It troubled Him because His death would involve separation from His Father and bearing God’s wrath for the sins of the world.
The sentence following, "What shall I say?" could be a question (NASB, NIV) or a prayer. The Greek text permits either translation. In either case the meaning is almost the same. If Jesus meant it as a question, He resolved the difficulty at once. [Note: Morris, pp. 528-29.] If He meant it as a prayer, it is the expression of His agony (cf. Mark 14:36). Immediately Jesus voiced His continuing commitment to His Father’s will. We see here the conflict that Jesus felt between His desire to avoid the Cross and His desire to obey the Father completely.
"Jesus instructed His disciples on the cost of commitment to the Father’s will by disclosing His emotions." [Note: Blum, pp. 317-18.]
John did not record Jesus’ struggle with God’s will in Gethsemane, as the Synoptics did (Matthew 26:39; Mark 14:36; Luke 22:42). He narrated that struggle on this occasion instead.
The importance of believing now 12:27-36
More than deliverance from the hour of the Cross Jesus wanted God’s glory (cf. John 7:18; John 8:29; John 8:50; Matthew 26:39).
"The whole of his life’s dedication is concentrated in this statement." [Note: Tenney, "John," p. 130.]
"In the hour of suffering and surrender, there are only two prayers we can pray, either ’Father, save me!’ or ’Father, glorify Thy name!’" [Note: Wiersbe, 1:342.]
The Father answered Jesus’ petition from heaven audibly. The Gospels record three instances of God doing this. The other two were at Jesus’ baptism (Matthew 3:17; Mark 1:11; Luke 3:21-22) and transfiguration (Matthew 17:5; Mark 9:7; Luke 9:35). The Synoptics record those events, and only John recorded this one. In all cases the purpose of the voice was to authenticate Jesus as God’s Son in a dramatic way. However it was a veiled revelation, as were all of God’s revelations about Jesus. The people present could not understand the words clearly, though Jesus could (cf. Acts 9:7; Acts 22:9). God had already glorified Himself through the Incarnation and Jesus’ ministry. He would glorify Himself through Jesus’ death, resurrection, and ascension.
Jesus explained that the heavenly voice had sounded for the people’s benefit more than for His. In that the voice assured Jesus, who was to die for their sins, it was for their sake. They probably did not appreciate that it was a confirmation of Jesus until after the Resurrection. The more spiritually sensitive among them must have sensed that it signaled something important. Jesus proceeded to explain the implications of what God had said in the next two verses.
Jesus’ passion would constitute a judgment on the world. The Jews thought they were judging Jesus when they decided to believe or disbelieve on Him. Really their decisions brought divine judgment on themselves. By crucifying Jesus they were condemning themselves. Jesus was not saying that this would be the last judgment on the world. He meant that because of humankind’s rejection of Him God was about to pass judgment on the world for rejecting His Son (cf. Acts 17:30-31).
Jesus’ passion would also result in the casting out of the ruler of this world. This is a title for Satan (John 14:30; John 16:11; cf. Matthew 4:8-9; Luke 4:6-7; 2 Corinthians 4:4; Ephesians 2:2; Ephesians 6:12). The death of Jesus might appear to be a victory for Satan, but really it signaled his doom. The Cross defeated Satan. He only functions as he does now because God permits Him to do so. His eternal destruction is sure even though it is still future (Revelation 20:10). God will cast him out of His presence and out of the earth into the lake of fire forever (cf. Matthew 8:12; Matthew 22:13; Matthew 25:30).
Jesus’ passion would involve His enemies lifting Him up on a cross but also His exaltation to God’s presence. The Cross would bring people to faith in Him, and His exaltation would involve others coming into God’s presence around Him. Jesus’ death, resurrection, and ascension would draw all people without distinction, not all without exception, to Himself.
"Jesus is not affirming that the whole world will be saved; he is affirming that all who are saved are saved in this way. And he is speaking of a universal rather than a narrowly nationalistic religion." [Note: Morris, pp. 531-32.]
All these things would happen "now," not in the eschatological future. They are all the immediate consequences of Jesus’ work on the cross.
John explained that Jesus was speaking of His death by crucifixion so his readers would not think only of His exaltation to heaven.
Jesus’ prediction of His death puzzled His listeners. They were probably thinking of the passages in the Old Testament that spoke of Messiah and or His kingdom enduring forever (e.g., 2 Samuel 7:12-13; 2 Samuel 7:16; Psalms 89:26-29; Psalms 89:35-37; Daniel 7:13-14). Jesus had been speaking of His dying. How could Jesus be the Messiah and die? What kind of Son of Man was Jesus talking about?
"We should not overlook the fact that this is the last mention of the crowd in Jesus’ ministry. To the end they remain confused and perplexed, totally unable to appreciate the magnitude of the gift offered to them and the significance of the Person who offers it." [Note: Ibid., p. 533.]
Jesus did not answer their question. He already had done so when He explained that He and the Father were One (cf. John 5:18). The paradox of His dying and living forever would become clear with His resurrection.
Instead of answering, Jesus urged His hearers to walk in the light as long as they had it. If they would do that, the darkness would not overpower them when the light departed (cf. Isaiah 50:10). If they did not do that, they would be lost. They needed to believe in Him then, before the Cross. After the Cross, when the Light was no longer present with them, it would be harder for them to believe. If they believed, they would become sons of light, namely, people who display the ethical qualities of light (cf. Ephesians 5:8; 1 Thessalonians 5:5).
"The Semitic idiom ’sons of’ describes men who possess the characteristics of what is said to be their ’father’. In our idiom, we should probably say ’men of light’, cf. our expression ’a man of integrity’." [Note: Tasker, p. 153.]
Jesus had just told His hearers that the Light would not be with them much longer. He withdrew from them again giving them a foretaste of what He had just predicted (cf. John 8:59; John 11:54). His departure should have motivated them to believe on Him. So ends John’s account of Jesus’ public ministry.
The majority of the Jews did not believe on Jesus despite the many miracles that He performed that indicated His messiahship (cf. John 1:11). John again attributed Israel’s unbelief to God’s will, though he balanced that again with the Jew’s human responsibility in John 12:43. He viewed Isaiah 53:1 as predicting Israel’s rejection of her Messiah. The verse originally referred to the Gentiles’ rejection of Israel, the servant of the Lord. However in another sense it predicted Israel’s rejection of the Servant of the Lord whom He would send. The report or message that the people had rejected was Jesus’ teaching, and the evidence of the Lord’s arm or power was Jesus’ miracles.
"John 12 records the second major crisis in the ministry of our Lord as seen by John the apostle. The first occurred when many of His disciples would no longer walk with Him (John 6:66), even though He is ’the way’ (John 14:6). In this chapter, John tells us that many would not believe in Him (John 12:37 ff), even though He is ’the truth.’ The third crisis will come in John 19 : even though he is ’the life,’ the leaders crucified Him." [Note: Wiersbe, 1:338.]
The explanation of Israel’s unbelief 12:37-43
7. The unbelief of Israel 12:37-50
This section of the Gospel contains the writer’s explanation of the significance of the events so far in Jesus’ ministry. John first explained the conflict between belief and unbelief, and then He recorded Jesus’ final appeal for decision. This is the final climax of the decision theme before Jesus’ passion. The key word in this section is "believe," which appears six times.
John again affirmed that most of the Jews did not believe on Jesus because they could not. God had judicially hardened their hearts because they had refused to believe Him previously (cf. Exodus 9:12; cf. 2 Thessalonians 2:8-12).
Isaiah 6:10 is the prophecy that predicted this hardening (cf. Acts 28:26-27). Originally God had told Isaiah that the people to whom he ministered would not welcome his ministry because God would harden their hearts. Now John explained that this verse also revealed the reason for the Jews’ rejection of Jesus’ ministry. Prophecy not only described Israel’s unbelief (John 12:38), but it also explained it.
The apostle Paul gave the definitive answer to the problem of God’s fairness that His predestination poses in Romans 9-11.
In the vision that Isaiah recorded in Isaiah 6, the prophet wrote that he saw God’s glory (Isaiah 6:3). Now John wrote that Isaiah saw Jesus’ glory and spoke of Jesus. Obviously John regarded Jesus as God (cf. John 1:18; John 10:30; John 20:28; Colossians 2:9). Isaiah had spoken of Jesus in that he had revealed many messianic prophecies. Earlier Jesus had claimed that Moses had written about Him (John 5:46).
These quotations justify interpreting the Old Testament servant of the Lord passages as referring to the Messiah. There has long been a debate within Judaism and liberal Christianity about whether these passages refer to a personal Messiah or only to Israel.
Even though most of the Jews rejected Jesus, some believed on Him (cf. John 1:10-13). Even some of the rulers did, though the content of their faith doubtless varied. Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea seem to have been such people (cf. John 7:50-52; John 19:38-39). Most of them did not admit that they believed in Him, however, because of fear of exclusion from synagogue worship (cf. John 9:22).
Public confession of faith in Jesus is the normal expression of belief in Him (Romans 10:9-10). However public confession is not a condition for salvation. Obviously mutes and other people can believe but for one reason or another may not be able to confess their faith publicly with their mouths.
The fact that Jesus cried these words out shows their importance. Jesus again claimed to be God’s agent and so closely connected with God that to believe on Jesus constituted believing on God. There is both a distinction between the Son and the Father in their subsistence and a unity between them in their essence (cf. ch. 5).
The final exhortation to believe 12:44-50
John added Jesus’ words that follow as a climactic appeal to his readers to believe on Jesus. This exhortation summarizes and restates some of the major points that John recorded Jesus teaching earlier. These themes include faith, Jesus as the One sent by the Father, light and darkness, judgment now and later, and eternal life. Jesus evidently gave it to the crowd as a final challenge. He probably delivered it during His week of teaching in the temple during the Passover season.
Jesus again claimed to have come to dispel darkness. He did this by revealing God (cf. John 1:18).
Disobedience to Jesus’ words may indicate the absence of saving faith (cf. John 3:36). The same message that brings life to those who believe it will result in condemnation for those who reject it. The last day is the day unbelievers will stand before God in judgment, namely, at the great white throne judgment (Revelation 20:11-15). God’s purpose in the Incarnation was essentially positive, however. He wanted people to believe and experience salvation, not condemnation.
Jesus did not speak a message that He had devised but one that He had received from the Father (cf. Deuteronomy 18:18-19). What God had commanded Him to say resulted in eternal life for those who believed it. Consequently Jesus was careful to convey this message exactly as He had received it.
This exhortation explains what John recorded of Jesus’ public ministry.
"The great subject of chap. 12 is the meaning of the death and resurrection of Jesus." [Note: Beasley-Murray, p. 218.]
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Constable, Thomas. DD. "Commentary on John 12". "Dr. Constable's Expository Notes". https://www.studylight.org/
the Second Week of Advent