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(1) Then Jesus six days before the Passover came to Bethany.—The whole question of the arrangement of days during this last great week depends upon the conclusion which we adopt with regard to the day on which our Lord was crucified. The discussion of this is reserved for a separate Note, where it may be fully dealt with. (Comp. Excursus F: The Day of the Crucifixion of our Lord.)
(2) There they made him a supper.—Comp. Notes on Matthew 26:6 et seq., and Mark 14:3 et seq., which are clearly accounts of the same supper. Here the details peculiar to St. John, who was an eyewitness, will be noted. St. Matthew gives no indication of the day. St. Mark seems to place it two days before the Passover; but comp. Notes on Mark 16:1-2. Both the other accounts tell us that the supper was in the house of Simon the leper. St. John docs not define the place more definitely than to say that it was in Bethany; but he alone adds the facts that Martha was still serving, and that Lazarus was present as a guest.
And Martha served.—The tense of this verb differs from that of the others in the verse, and implies the continued act of serving, whilst “made a feast” is the statement of the fact as a whole. (Comp. Luke 10:40.)
Lazarus was one of them that sat at the table with him.—This is a natural touch answering to the impression that the fact made. It is closely connected with the statement of the preceding verse, “Lazarus had been dead, whom he raised from the dead.” Here was one sitting at meat with them who had lain in the sepulchre four days. The meal is in his case, as afterwards in that of our Lord Himself (Luke 24:41-43), a physical proof of the Resurrection; and his presence by the side of our Lord calls forth from Mary the anointing, which testifies to her gratitude and love.
(3) Then took Mary a pound of ointment of spikenard.—Here, again, St. John alone gives the name of her whom St. Matthew and St. Mark call “a woman,” and here, too, she is true to the earlier character as we have it drawn in St. Luke (Luke 10:40; Luke 10:42). From this passage also we know that it was a “pound” of ointment which she took. The other accounts tell us that it was an “alabaster box.” This pound was the Greek litra, the Latin “libra,” the pound of twelve ounces.
For the “ointment of spikenard,” see Mark 14:3. It may perhaps mean “Nard Pistik,” or Pistik ointment, the word Pistik being a local name. The fact that this peculiar word occurs only in these two passages points to this as the probable explanation.
And anointed the feet of Jesus, and wiped his feet with her hair.—St. Matthew and St. Mark both state that she anointed His head. This was the usual custom (comp. Note on Luke 7:46, and Psalms 23:5); but St. John remembers that the act of love went beyond that of common esteem, in the depth of its gratitude and reverence, and anointed the feet, and wiped them with her own hair.
And the house was filled with the odour of the ointment.—The ointment was imported from the East in sealed flasks, which were broken when it was used. The strong perfume then escaped, and spread through the house (Mark 14:3).
(4) Then saith one of his disciples, Judas Iscariot.—Comp. Notes on John 6:70-71. St. Matthew tells us that the question was asked by “the disciples;” St. Mark, that it was asked by “certain persons;” St. John remembers that it was Judas who spoke, and he remembers that his words were characteristic of the man (John 12:6). He implies by the form in which he relates these words, that he spoke for himself, and that the others did not join in his feeling.
(5) Why was not this ointment sold for three hundred pence?—Both the earlier Gospels preface this estimate by a reference to the use which was made of the ointment as actual waste. St. Matthew says only “that it might have been sold for much.” St. Mark, “that it might have been sold for more than three hundred pence,” that is, in actual value, for the yearly wage of a working man, and for the food therefore which would have maintained a poor man’s household for a whole year. (Comp. Note on John 6:7.) St. Mark adds, “and they were angry at her.” (Comp. Note on John 11:33.)
(6) This verse which follows from the reference to Judas is of course, like it, peculiar to St. John.
But because he was a thief, and had the bag.—Comp. Notes on John 13:29 and Luke 8:1-3. We have to think of Judas as treasurer of the common fund which supplied the wants of the little band, and from which gifts to the poor were made. The word rendered “bag” here, the only passage where it occurs in the New Testament, and “chest,” in 2 Chronicles 24:8-11, means literally the “key-chest,” in which musicians carried their flute-keys. Hence it was applied to a chest in the wider sense, and especially, as here, to a small and portable chest.
And bare what was put therein.—This is but to say over again, if we take the ordinary sense of the words, what is already implied in the fact that he kept the bag. The form of the word expresses continuance of the act, and may refer to the recurring opportunities of fraud as distinct from the mere fact of carrying the chest with a known sum in it. But we may certainly render the word “bare away,” for St. John himself uses it in this sense in John 20:15; and this clause would then mean “and purloined what was put therein.”
(7) Against the day of my burying hath she kept this.—The majority of the better MSS. read, “that she keep this against the day of My burying.” Comp. Matthew 26:12 and Mark 14:8. The thought here differs from that in the earlier Gospels, and the common reading has therefore been adapted to harmonise with it. Taking the better text, the meaning here is, “Let her alone, that she may keep this for the day of My embalmment.” She had taken a pound of ointment (John 12:3) and had anointed His feet. This reminds Him of the embalmment of the dead, which had been but lately in that very place, and in the person of one sitting with them, present to their minds. Her act is significant of the future which is approaching. Let them not stay that deed of love. Before the week ends His body will be carried to the sepulchre. The preparations for the grave have already been begun.
(8) This verse occurs word for word in both of the first two Gospels. (See Notes there.)
(9) Much people of the Jews therefore knew that he was there.—Some of the pilgrims who had come from Jericho would have told this in Jerusalem, where those who had previously come up from the country were earnestly asking about Him (John 11:55). They go forth, then, in large numbers to Bethany to see Him; and this reminds the writer that many of them went not for this purpose only, but also that they might see Lazarus.
(10) But the chief priests consulted.—The chief priests were for the most part Sadducees (Acts 5:17). They have been acting with the Pharisees from John 11:47 onwards. Their animus is shown in that, while no charge is brought against Lazarus, his life is a witness to the divinity of Him whom they have condemned to death, and a denial of their own doctrine that there is no resurrection (Acts 23:8). The words do not mean that they came to a final decision to put him to death, but that they took counsel on the matter, and watched their opportunity.
(11) Many of the Jews went away, and believed on Jesus.—Better, were going away, and believing on Jesus. The tenses mark the continuance of the secession, and the two words mark the two acts by which on the one hand they were going away from the authority of the priests and, on the other hand, were believing on Jesus. (Comp. John 12:18.)
(12) In the section which follows (John 12:12-19), we again meet with matter which is common to St. John and the earlier Gospels. The Entry into Jerusalem is described by each of the evangelists, and the outer incidents are told more briefly by St. John than by any one of the others. (Comp. Notes on Matthew 21:1-11; Mark 11:1-11; Luke 19:29-44.)
On the next day.—See Note on John 12:1. St. John only gives us this definite note of time, connecting the Entry with the previous sojourn at Bethany. The Synoptic narrative is more general, describing the approach from Jericho, and naming Bethphage (Matt. and Luke) and Bethany (Mark and Luke) as stages in the journey, but not connecting the Supper at Bethany with the Entry.
When they heard that Jesus was coming.—They heard probably from those of the Jews (John 12:9) who had gone to Bethany. Note that these multitudes are not called Jews, though, of course, in the ordinary sense they were so. They were not “Jews” in the sense in which St. John uses the word, and he describes them as “much people that were come to the feast.” (Comp. John 11:54.)
(13) Took branches of palm trees.—Better, took branches of the palm trees. Literally, the Greek means “the palm branches of the palm trees.” They were branches of the palms growing on the spot, or possibly such as were in general use at festivities. For the word rendered “branches,” comp. 1Ma. 13:51 (“branches of palm trees”), and for that rendered “palm trees,” comp. Revelation 7:9. Neither word occurs elsewhere in the New Testament. Again, the fuller Synoptic narrative includes but does not state this particular.
Hosanna: Blessed is the King of Israel that cometh in the name of the Lord.—The better reading is, Blessed is He that cometh in the name of the Lord, and the King of Israel. These words of their cry are peculiar to St. John. The fullest report is St. Matthew’s (see Note on John 12:9). That all the accounts differ is natural, and they have all preserved to us some distinctive acclamation with which the crowds welcomed Him whom they received as the Messiah. The 118th Psalm, from which these acclamations are taken (see John 12:25-26), was currently interpreted as Messianic, and formed part of the Hallel chanted at Tabernacles and Passover. (Comp. Note on John 7:37.)
It is important to observe that St. John, like St. Matthew, does not follow the Greek of the LXX. in translating the Hebrew word “Hosanna,” but preserves the Hebrew sound in Greek letters. Comp. Revelation 19:6, where the word “Alleluia” is transliterated in the same way.
(14) And Jesus, when he had found a young ass, sat thereon.—St. John simply mentions this to introduce the prophecy. The others all give the incidents in detail. “Having found,” does not imply that the colt was found without the search which the other Evangelists record. (Comp. the same word in John 9:35.) It has been noted, as illustrating the fact, that the word “found” includes the sending the disciples to look for the colt, that it is the same Greek word which Archimedes used when he found the object of his search, and cried, Eureka! Eureka!
(15) Fear not, daughter of Sion.—The quotation is made freely, and in an abbreviated form. (Comp. the fuller form in Matthew 21:5, and Note upon it there.) It is in the two Hebrew Gospels only that the connection of the fact with the prophecy is mentioned.
Sitting on an ass’s colt.—The Greek (LXX.) has “a young ass.” St. John’s translation is nearer to the Hebrew. (Comp. Introduction, p. 374).
(16) These things understood not his disciples at the first . . .—Comp. Notes on John 2:22; John 20:9. It is a touch peculiar to St. John, and exactly in his manner. He remembers the difference between the spiritual receptivity, before and after Pentecost, in the Apostolic band itself. He remembers how the Old Testament Scriptures became filled with a new life and meaning, as the Spirit brought to the memory their words, and the words of Him of whom they told.
When Jesus was glorified.—Comp. Note on John 7:39.
They had done these things unto Him.—The narrative implies, these, the incidents which the others state. The phrase “these things” occurs three times, referring emphatically to the correspondence between the prophecy and the actual incidents.
(17) When he called Lazarus . . . . bare record.—Several MSS. and some of the oldest versions read, “bare record that He called Lazarus out of the grave, and raised him from the dead.” The difference in the texts is only that of one letter (ὅτε and ὅτι). If we take the reading which was adopted by our translators, and which is best supported, we must distinguish between the multitude mentioned in this verse, and that mentioned in John 12:18. The meaning of this text is that the Jews of John 12:9; John 12:11, and those of John 11:45, with the people of Bethany, bear witness of the event, the recurrence of which they had themselves seen; and that this testimony was received by the multitude of pilgrims who went forth therefore to receive Jesus as the Messiah. (Comp. especially Luke 19:37.) This interpretation makes the Jews of Jerusalem themselves the witnesses whose testimony leads the multitude to receive our Lord as the Christ.
If we take the alternative, but less probable text, the multitude in both verses will be one and the same.
(18) For this cause the people—i.e. (see last verse), the multitude of John 12:12.
For that they heard . . . this miracle.—The emphatic form of the sentence points out that the raising of Lazarus was the miracle which carried the entire conviction of the multitude. They had heard of and in some eases seen the miracles, but this stood by itself, as witness which could not be gainsaid.
(19) Perceive ye how ye prevail nothing?—The words may be also read, “Look how ye profit nothing” (imperative); or, Ye perceive how ye profit nothing (indicative). Upon the whole this last is to be preferred. They blame each other for the failure of all their plans (comp. John 11:47), and prepare themselves to accept the counsel of Caiaphas.
Behold, the world is gone after him.—They use terms which express the bitterness of their despair. They who had asked in scorn, “Have any of the rulers or of the Pharisees believed on him?” who called “cursed” “this people who knoweth not the law” who followed Him (John 7:48-49), have heard Jews of Jerusalem express their belief in Him; and now, see Him whom they are seeking to kill, borne as the Messiah at the head of a throng of pilgrims.
The words rendered “gone after him” apply that they had gone away from themselves, and rejected their authority; and had then gone after Him. (Comp. Note on John 12:11.)
(20) And there were certain Greeks.—Comp. Note on John 7:35, where we have the same word in the original, and Acts 6:1; Acts 9:29; and Acts 11:20. They were not Hellenists, i.e., Greek Jews, but Hellenes, i.e., Gentiles.
Among them that came up to worship at the feast.—The words imply that they were in the habit of going up to Jerusalem at the feasts, i.e., that though Greeks by birth, they had been admitted to the privileges of Judaism. They belonged to the class known as “Proselytes of the Gate.” (Comp. Notes on Matthew 23:15 and Acts 8:27.)
(21) The same came therefore to Philip.—We have no indication of the time when, or of the place where, these words were spoken. St. John alone gives us this incident, and he gives us this incident only, of all that occurred, as we know from the earlier I Gospels, between the entry into Jerusalem and the Last Supper; and he relates this coming of the Greeks not for the sake of the fact itself, but for that of the discourse which followed upon it. He is careful, therefore, only to mention it, and is not concerned, for the purpose he has in view, with any of the historic details. The last words of the discourse (John 12:36) do, however, intimate that they were followed by a retirement from public teaching, and from public appearance in Jerusalem. They would, then,-be among the last words spoken in the Temple before the retirement to-Bethany, on the evening of what we call Wednesday. (Comp. Luke 21:37.) They were uttered, probably, in the Court of the Gentiles, as He passed from the Court of the Women, which, as the most public place for Jewish assemblies, was the frequent scene of His teaching. On the previous day, the Court of the Gentiles had been cleansed from the traffic and merchandise which had been customary in it, and the temple had been declared to be “a house of prayer for all nations.” The court of the Gentiles was divided from the inner square of the Temple by a stone fence, bearing upon pillars, placed at regular distances, the following words in Greek and Latin:—“No alien must pass within the fence round the Temple and the court. If any one be caught doing so, he must blame himself for the death that will follow.” This prohibition was known before, from Josephus (Ant. xv. 11, 5); but in our own day one of the very slabs, bearing the exact words, has been discovered by M. Ganneau during the excavations of the Palestine Exploration Fund. (Comp. Note on Acts 22:28-29, and especially the Note on Mark 11:17.) The events and the words of these days must have brought strange thoughts to the minds of proselytes, men who were worshippers of the one God by personal conviction, and not because of the faith of their ancestors; and with hearts filled with wonder as to what these things meant—half-grasping, it may be, the truth that this middle wall of partition should be broken down—they ask for a special interview with Jesus. (Comp. Ephesians 2:12 et seq.)
Which was of Bethsaida of Galilee.—The mention of this place again here seems to intend that it should be told as explaining why these Greeks came to Philip. They may have themselves come from the neighbourhood of Bethsaida, or from one of the Greek cities of Decapolis.
(22) Philip cometh and telleth Andrew.—It is a striking coincidence, and perhaps more than this, that the Greeks thus came into connection with the only Apostles who bear Greek names; and may themselves have had some special connection by birth, or residence, or culture with Greek civilisation. The names have occurred together before (John 1:44; John 6:7-8): they were fellow-townsmen and friends. But Andrew was also brother of Simon Peter, and is one of the first group of four in the apostolic band. (Comp. Mark 13:3.) The Greeks then naturally come to Philip, and Philip consults his friend Andrew, who is in a position of greater intimacy with the Lord than he himself is, and they come together and tell Jesus.
(23) And Jesus answered them, saying.—The words are rather the utterance of the thoughts of His own mind, which this visit of the Greeks suggests, than an answer. They are spoken to the Apostles, but the narrative is too compressed for us to know whether any answer was given to the Greeks apart from this. The explanation which is most probable is that the Greeks heard this discourse, and that it is in reality an answer to the thoughts of their hearts, and to the words they wished to have spoken to Him.
The hour is come.—This approach of men from outside the limits of Judaism who have been admitted within its pale, and who now, when priests and rulers are seeking to kill Him, are seeking to render Him homage, brings back again the thought of the scattered sheep, for whose gathering the Shepherd’s life must be laid down (John 10:16-19). They are the first-fruits of the great flocks of humanity, and their presence is as the first stroke of the bell which sounds the fatal but glorious hour. That hour marked out in the counsels of God, and ever present in His own thoughts, has now come.
That the Son of man should be glorified.—This is to be accomplished in His ascension and return to the glory of Heaven. (Comp. Notes on John 17:1-2; John 17:5.) But the immediate connection implies that He regards the extension of his Messianic work, and the acceptance of His truth by the nations of the earth, as part of the glory of the Son of man. The connection implies also that He regards His own death as the dark path which must be trodden before the path of glory can be entered.
(24) Verily, verily, I say unto you.—He is passing to the deeper truth which underlies His words, and calls attention to what He is about to say by the usual and solemn “Verily, verily.” (Comp. Note on John 1:51.)
Except a corn of wheat fall into the ground and die.—The truth is one of those of the spirit-world, lying beyond the ordinary language of men. He prepares them for it by what we call the analogy of a physical law, but what is really an instance of the working of the great law of life, which God has given to the moral and physical worlds alike. All knew that a grain of wheat, though containing in itself the germs of life, would remain alone, and not really live unless it fell to the earth. Then the life-germs would burst forth, and the single grain, in its own death, would give life to blade, and stalk, and ear of corn. Its death then was the true life, for it released the inner life-power which the husk before held captive; and this life-power multiplying itself in successive grains would clothe the whole field with a harvest of much fruit.
This law Christ now teaches to be a law also of the moral world, and one to which His own life is subject. Here too life issues from death. The moral power which is the life of the world finds its source in the death of the Son of man. “He is life.” “In Him is life.” “He quickens whom He will.” “Whosoever believeth in Him hath eternal life.” These truths this Gospel has told us again and again: but Christ now tells that while He is still on earth this life exists, but in its germs; and that in His death it will burst forth, and grow up, and multiply itself in the great spiritual harvest of the world. Such was the prophecy. The history of all that is best, and truest, and noblest in the life of eighteen centuries comes to us as the fulfilment. Hearts hardened, sinful, dead, that have been led to think of His death, and in thoughts of it have felt germs of life springing up and bursting the husks of their former prison, and growing up into living powers which have changed their whole being; this is the individual fulfilment that has come to many and may come to all.
(25) He that loveth his life shall lose it.—The reading here is uncertain, and may be, perhaps with slightly more probability is, He that loveth his life loses it—i.e., that the loss of life is not in the future only, but that in the present, in every moment when a man loves and seeks to save his own life, he is then, and by that very seeking, actually losing it.
The words of this verse are familiar to us from the earlier Gospels, and have been explained in Notes on Matthew 10:39; Matthew 16:25; Mark 8:35; Luke 9:24; Luke 17:33. The disciples had heard them laid down as the law of their own life and work. They now hear the mysterious words again, and they are asserted as the law to which even His life is submitted. There is even in His human nature a physical and emotional life which would shrink from sacrifice and death (John 12:27; comp. Note on Matthew 26:39), but in self-sacrifice and death is His own glory and the life of the world. There is in all human nature a principle which would seek as the highest good the life of the body and of the soul, as distinct from the higher life of the spirit, and would shrink from sacrifice and death; but the true principle of life is of the spirit, and only in the sacrifice of the desires of the lower physical and emotional life is that spiritual life realised.
(26) If any man serve me, let him follow me.—The close connection of John 12:23-25 make it certain that the spiritual law of sacrifice is there applied to the life of our Lord Himself. This verse makes it equally certain that the law is applied to those who follow Him. The point of the whole teaching is missed unless we think of the Greeks as present. They had come as volunteer disciples. Did they know what the discipleship was? Were they prepared to follow Him in self-sacrifice, that through sacrifice they may obtain eternal life? It had been the condition of earlier discipleship. It is laid down for the new disciples, but in the presence of the older ones who in the dark days that have now come were to learn what sacrifice meant. The Greeks needed no less than the Hebrews to learn it; the men of a wider civilisation and more philosophic thought no less than the fishermen of Galilee and the scribes of Jerusalem. All self-seeking, whether in the coarser forms of pleasure and power or in the more refined forms of emotion and thought, is self-loving; all self-sacrifice, whether in the daily round of duty to man or in the devotion of the whole self to God, is self-saving. Self-seeking is always akin to, and ofttimes one with, hatred of others; and hatred is death. Self-sacrifice is akin to, and one with, love to others; and love is life.
And where I am, there shall also my servant be.—This is an anticipation of the glory of the Son of man for which the hour had already come. (Comp. Note on John 17:24.)
If any man serve me, him will my Father honour.—The condition is the same as in the first clause of the verse, the difference of that which follows upon the condition again bringing out in the fulness of its meaning the law of life through sacrifice:
“If any man serve Me,”
“let him follow Me” . . .
“he that hateth his life in this world”
“him will my Father honour” . . .
“shall keep it unto life eternal.”
The honour of the servant after his work is done is in the same relation to that work as the glory of the Son of man is to His work. This honour will consist in his being where the Son of man is; and this will be the Father’s gift (John 17:24).
(27) Now is my soul troubled; and what shall I say?—The word rendered “soul” is the same word as that rendered “life” in John 12:25. (Comp. especially Matthew 16:25-26.) It is the seat of the natural feelings and emotions, and, as the fatal hour approaches, our Lord is in that region of His human life troubled. There is a real shrinking from the darkness of the death which is at hand. The conflict exists but for a moment, but in all its fearfulness is real, and then the cup of the world’s woe is seized and drunk to its bitter dregs. Men have sometimes wondered that St. John passes over the agony of the garden of Gethsemane, but the agony of Gethsemane is here, and the very words of Matthew 26:39 are echoed. Men have wondered, too, that in the life of the Son of man a struggle such as this could have had even a moment’s place. Not a few, indeed, would at any cost read the words otherwise. But they cannot be read otherwise, either on the written page or in the hearts of men. That troubled soul asked, “What shall I say?” Blessed reality! In that struggle humanity struggled, and in that victory humanity won.
Father, save me from this hour: but for this cause came I unto this hour.—It is uncertain whether the first words of this sentence are a prayer, or whether they should be read as a question. In the latter case the meaning would be, “What shall I say? Shall I say, Father save Me from this hour? But no: for this cause came I unto this hour. I cannot shrink back or seek to be delivered from it.” As a prayer the meaning would be—“Father, save Me from this hour; but for this cause, that I may be saved from it, came I unto this hour. The moment of agony is the moment of victory.”
The real difficulty of the verse lies in the words “for this cause,” for which a meaning must be sought in the context. No interpretation of them is free from objection, but that which seems to have, upon the whole most probability, understands them as referring to the words which follow, and reads the clause, “Father, glorify Thy name,” as part of this verse. The sense of the whole passage would therefore be, “Father, save Me from this hour; but Thy will, not Mine, be done; for this cause came I unto this hour, that Thy name be glorified; Father, glorify Thy name.” (Comp. Note on Luke 12:49-50.)
(28) Father, glorify thy name.—The pronoun “Thy” is emphatic. The Son’s will is one with that of the Father; the Son’s glory is in the glorifying the Father’s name. Comp. the opening clause of the Lord’s Prayer (Note on Matthew 6:9 et seq.) and in this context Note on John 12:23.
Then came there a voice from heaven.—The words mean, not that a sound came from heaven, but that there was heard an articulate voice (comp. Note on John 3:8); and that St. John intended his readers to understand this cannot be questioned. He records here a fact parallel to those recorded by the other Evangelists at the Baptism (Matthew 3:17; Mark 1:11; Luke 4:22), and at the Transfiguration (Matthew 17:5; Mark 9:7; Luke 9:35), and parallel to that to which St. Luke and St. Paul have testified (Acts 9:4; Acts 22:9; Acts 26:14).
I have both glorified it, and will glorify it again.—The words are without limit, extending to the whole past and to the whole future of God’s revelation of Himself to man. The only limit in the context is that this revelation is thought of as in the person of Christ. His words, His works. His life revealing the mercy and love and majesty of the Father, had to many hearts glorified the Father’s name. The wider future is at hand. The death and resurrection are to reveal God’s character, and therefore glorify the Father’s name to all the world. (Comp. Exodus 33:18-19; Exodus 34:5-7.)
(29) The people . . . . said that it thundered.—Better, the multitude. Nothing could be stronger testimony to the fact that this narrative was written by one who was present at the events of which he tells, than the way in which these thoughts of the people at the time are preserved to us. Their insertion by a later hand is all but impossible; and they are, moreover, opposed to what must be assumed as the object of a later writer. In a treatise to prove the divinity of Christ there could be no place for them. In a Gospel which assumes the truth that He is divine, and does not seek to prove it, but to bear witness to the life which carries its own proof (comp. Notes on John 1:7; John 20:30-31), they are evidence that the witness is true. The fact that St. John clearly means us to understand (John 12:28) that a distinct voice spake from heaven does not forbid our understanding also that this voice was heard more or less distinctly, or was as a voice not heard at all, in proportion as the hearts of the hearers were or were not receptive of the voice of God. To some it seemed but as natural thunder, but their own Scripture had taught again and again “God thundereth marvellously with His voice: great things doeth He which we cannot comprehend,” and the religious interpretation of nature hears everywhere the voice of God. Others, and these must have been Pharisees (comp. Acts 23:8-9), recognise a voice which is more than that of nature or of man, and think that an angel hath spoken. (Comp. Note on John 5:4.)
(30) This voice came not because of me, but for your sakes.—More exactly, not for My sake did this voice come, but for your sakes. These words are an answer to the thoughts, spoken and unspoken, of the multitude. Jesus Himself knew that the Father heareth Him always, but this answer is a sign to others. (Comp. John 11:41-42.) He calls it a voice in answer to those who said it thundered, or that an angel had spoken. There was that, then, which seemed to them but the thunder’s sound or an angel’s word, which, coming in answer to His prayer and after His teaching. should have been, to ears ready to hear and minds willing to receive, the voice of God witnessing to the mission of His Son.
(31) Now is the judgment of this world.—For the word “judgment” comp. Notes on John 3:17-19; John 16:11. There is here, following on the coming of the Greeks, which He reads as a sign, and upon the voice from heaven, which was a sign for the multitude, the thought of the Messianic kingdom, of which the first members were then present, and which was to comprehend all men. This thought includes—(1) the judgment (condemnatory) of this world; (2) the casting out of the prince of this world; (3) the establishment of His spiritual kingdom (John 12:32).
Now shall the prince of this world be cast out.—The title “prince of this world” was the regular Rabbinic title for Satan, whom they regarded as the ruler of the Gentiles, the Jews not being included in his kingdom. The reign of the true Messiah is over the Gentile and Jewish world alike; Gentiles as well as Jews are at this moment in the temple listening to Him; Jews as well as Gentiles have been subjects of the prince of this world (John 8:44; Romans 2:0). The world itself, as opposed to Christ, is condemned, for its unbelief crucifies Jesus Christ; but the Resurrection and Ascension are Heaven’s witness that He is the Son of God. The world’s condemnation is followed by the casting out of its ruler.
The whole future is present to the mind of Christ, and in the confidence of victory He uses the emphatic “now” of both the judgment of the world and the dethronement of its prince. It should be noted, however, that the tenses differ. The one is thought of as the immediate result of His death; the other is the gradual victory of truth, and is spoken of in the same future as the drawing all men of the following verse.
(32) And I, if I be lifted up from the earth.—The pronoun is strongly emphatic. “And I,” in opposition to the prince of this world; the conqueror in opposition to the vanquished foe. The conditional form, “If I be lifted up,” answers to the “troubled soul” of John 12:27. He knows that it will be so, but He leaves the future to declare its own truths. Comp. the phrases, “If it be possible,” “If this may not pass away from Me” (Matthew 26:39; Matthew 26:42), and Note on John 14:3. The words “lifted up” have occurred before in John 3:14; John 8:28; but the context here shows that they include the thought of the ascension into heaven. It is from the heavenly throne that the Messiah will rule over His spiritual kingdom.
Will draw all men unto me.—Better, . . . unto Myself. The words “all men” are not to be limited by interpretations which refer them to nations, or to elect persons within nations; but are to be taken in all the fulness of their width as meaning simply what they say—“all.” The drawing unto Himself is the assertion of His reign over the world, from which the prince of evil shall be cast out. He will Himself be the centre of the new kingdom, from which none shall be shut out. These Greeks who are drawn to Him now are the first-fruits of the harvest of which the whole world is the field, and of which the last day is to be the great ingathering. The word “draw” occurs once in the New Testament, besides this passage, in a moral sense (John 6:44; comp. Note on it there). It is accomplished in the work of the Holy Spirit, whose mission to the Church was dependent on the ascension of our Lord (John 7:39; John 16:7); and the promise is fulfilled even in the case of those who resist the Holy Spirit’s influence. They are drawn by the moral power of the life and death and resurrection of Christ brought home to them by the Holy Ghost; but no moral power can compel a will which is free. (Comp. Note on John 6:37.) The whole mission-work of the Church and every effort which Christianity brings to bear upon the evil of the world implies this moral drawing; and implies, too, the power of man to reject it. But we may not say this moral power is not leading men to Christ, where we can least trace it, and we may not say that there is any limit where its influence ends. (Comp. Note on 1 Peter 3:19.)
(33) By what death he should die.—Better, by what manner of death . . . (Comp. John 18:32.) The words are the Apostle’s interpretation of the saying of our Lord. He remembers it as he has recorded it twice before (John 3:14; John 8:28), but he adds here words (“from the earth”) which supply another thought, though the two thoughts are not inconsistent. The words bear the double sense, and looking back upon the fact of the Crucifixion, he sees in that a lifting up which was part of the great moral victory over the world, and in the very cross of shame he sees the throne of glory.
(34) we have heard out of the law that Christ abideth for ever.. . . . .—The term “law” refers to the whole of the Old Testament Scripture, as we have seen in John 10:34. (Comp. Note there.) They may have referred to such passages as Psalms 89:36; Psalms 110:4; Isaiah 9:6; Daniel 7:13-14. This remark is an instance of the knowledge of Rabbinic theology which interpreted such passages of a temporal Messianic reign. They had witnessed His triumphal entry into the royal city, and had joined in the acclamations which hailed Him as their King. They expected Him to free them from Roman bondage, and to rule over them in an earthly paradise to which there should be no end. The Christ they thought was to abide for ever.
How sayest thou, The Son of man must be lifted up?—His words have conveyed to them the idea of His death, and we find “lifted up” used not unfrequently in the Rabbinical writings in this sense; but they do not understand more than this. It contradicts all their visions of a Messianic reign. The Son of man to be lifted up! What meant, then, such words as these—“And there was given him dominion, and glory, and a kingdom, that all people, nations, and languages should serve him: his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom that which shall not be destroyed” (Daniel 7:14)? They cannot reconcile these things, and they ask Him to explain them.
He had not at this time used the exact words they quote, if St. John has given to us the conversation in full, but they occur in John 3:14, and the title “Son of man” occurs in this context in John 12:23. It was, moreover, present to their thoughts from the passage in Daniel, and must have been familiarly known as used by Christ of Himself. (Comp. Note on John 1:51.)
Who is this Son of man?—“Who is this Son of man?” they would say. “We know who is the Son of man who is to abide for ever, but this Son of man who is to die we know not.” The words express that they are wavering in their attachment to Him. The question was asked probably on the Wednesday. It came midway between the “Hosanna” of the entry into Jerusalem and the “Crucify him!” of the trial.
The words are remarkable as throwing light upon the sudden changes of feeling which swayed the multitude from the pole of faith to that of rejection. They heard words from Christ or saw works done by Him which carried conviction to all minds; but then there came some technical interpretation of an Old Testament passage declaring what the Messiah was to be, and in the cooler moments, when no word was speaking to the ear and no work presented itself to the eye, this test seemed fatal to the claim, and disbelief took the place of belief, and hatred that of love. We have met this again and again in the case of the priests and Pharisees. They did not, we may well believe, during the last days, leave any means untried by which they might move the fickle minds of the masses. (Comp. Matthew 27:20.)
(35) Then Jesus said unto them, Yet a little while is the light with you.—It is better, as we have often seen, to read Therefore for “Then.” The word connects what follows closely with what has gone before. It was because of their question that Jesus said this. And yet it is not said that “He answered them,” because what He said was not a direct answer. They are asking questions in which we may trace the spirit, if not the very words, of the formal, literal objectors who had, with like technicalities, stifled the truth whenever it was springing up in their minds. Such questions cannot be really answered, because they are not really questions. And now the day has gone, and the night is at hand. The old thought comes back to Him (John 9:4; John 11:9). The last rays of light are shining. It is but a little while, and He warns them with all the solemnity of this thought.
Walk while ye have the light, lest darkness come upon you.—The better reading is, Walk according as ye have the light—i.e., “Walk as men who are conscious that the light is among them, use your opportunities; do not ask questions to raise objections, but ask them in order that you may know the truth.” The man who thus used the light would by no means walk in darkness, but would have the light of life (John 8:12). For him that neglected to use the means and faculty he had, both would cease to exist. (Comp. Note on Romans 1:21.)
The words “come upon,” or “overtake,” is used of some sudden seizure. There are two parallels in Biblical Greek, “But ye, brethren, are not in darkness that the day should overtake you as a thief” (1 Thessalonians 5:4), and “Be sure your sin will find you out” (Numbers 32:23).
He that walketh in darkness.—Comp. Notes in John 8:12; John 9:4; John 11:9; and 1 John 2:11.
Knoweth not whither he goeth.—The last word means “goeth away,” “departeth.” The frequent use of the word by St. John to express departure to the other world suggests that meaning here. He was going away. They ask, “Who is this Son of man who is lifted up,” “who goes away?” He warns them lest darkness seize them, and they go away into darkness. In the next four chapters the same word is used twelve times of Christ’s departure. (Comp. e.g. John 13:3; John 13:33; John 13:36.)
(36) While ye have light, believe in the light.—Better, as above, According as ye have the light. The words are repeated and placed in the most emphatic position in the sentence.
That ye may be the children of light.—Better, that ye may become sons of light. (Comp. for this phrase Notes on John 17:12; Luke 10:6; Luke 16:8; also Ephesians 5:8.) The thought here is the one familiar in St. John, that the believer should become like unto Him in whom he believed. Those who believed in the light should receive light, and become themselves centres whence light should radiate to others and illumine their own paths.
These things spake Jesus, and departed.—(Comp. Note on Luke 21:37.) He retired probably to Bethany.
(37) But though he had done so many miracles before them.—The words “before them” mean “in their presence,” “before their eyes.” They refer to the multitude (John 12:34). St. John’s narrative implies, therefore, that the “signs” of the earlier Gospels were well known. He has himself recorded but six miracles, and all these, with the exception of the feeding the five thousand, belong to the Judæan ministry. (Comp. Note on John 2:11.)
Yet they believed not on him.—This is the writer’s comment on the general result of Christ’s work at the close of His public teaching. This too is said of the multitude, the people as a whole. There were, of course, not a few who were then walking according as they had light, but it was not so with the many. Rejection and not acceptance was the result of Christ’s personal work on earth; yet rejection accompanied, as on this day, by signs which pointed to a world-wide acceptance. “He came unto His own, and His own received Him not. But as many as received Him, to them gave He power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on His name” (John 1:11-12).
(38) That the saying of Esaias the prophet might be fulfilled.—This is the first instance in this Gospel of a phrase familiar to us already from its frequent occurrence in St. Matthew. We shall find it again in John 13:18; John 15:25; John 17:12; John 18:9; John 18:32; John 19:24; John 19:36. Its frequency is one of the characteristics of the two Gospels which are most allied to Hebrew modes of thought. St. Matthew and St. John both regard the events of our Lord’s life as fulfilling the prophecies of the Old Testament Scriptures. These prophecies foretold what in the divine plan was destined to occur, and therefore the events are regarded as occurring, in order that the will of God, as expressed in the prophecy, may be fulfilled. (Comp. Note on Matthew 1:22.)
Lord, who hath believed our report? . . .—The quotation is from the Greek version of Isaiah 53:1. That prophecy was by all understood of the Messiah. The prophet’s lamentation of the neglect of the prophetic message by the people is here placed by the Evangelist, in his interpretation of it, in the lips of the Messiah Himself, as He, in the fuller meaning, addresses the Father with the words, “Who hath believed our report?” (Comp. the words as quoted by St. Paul in Romans 10:16.) Here the “our report” means the “truth which we have declared unto them.” (So Jeremiah 10:22, Galatians 3:2.)
And to whom hath the arm of the Lord been revealed?—Comp. Notes on Luke 1:51, and Acts 13:17. The phrase was used, as in Isaiah 51:9; Isaiah 52:10, to express the power of the Lord, and here refers especially to the power of the Lord manifested in the whole life of Christ. The signs which were revelations of this power are, of course, prominent in the thought, and the question strongly expresses the negative of the previous verse.
(39) Therefore they could not believe, because.—The words refer to those which have gone before, not to those which follow, and then by an addition give the reason more fully. “It was on account of the divine will expressed in Isaiah’s prophecy.” “It was therefore, namely, because Isaiah said again.”
The words, “they could not believe,” must be taken in their plain meaning as expressing impossibility. The Apostle is looking back upon the national rejection of Christ, and seeks a reason for it. He remembers how our Lord Himself had explained His method of teaching by parables, and has based it upon this prophecy of Isaiah (Matthew 13:14). The principle was that which has been repeated in His last public words (John 12:35-36); that power used is increased, and power neglected destroys itself. Here, then, in these prophetic words was the reason they could not believe. Wilful rejection had been followed by rejection which was no longer within the power of the will. With this statement of St. John’s should be compared our Lord’s words on the same subject in John 5:40; John 6:37, Notes, and St. Paul’s arguments in Romans 9-11.
(40) He hath blinded their eyes, and hardened their heart. . . .—These words are quoted three times in the New Testament. Our Lord, as we have seen, quotes them as explaining His own teaching (Matthew 13:14); St. John quotes them here to explain the rejection of that teaching; St. Paul quotes them in Acts 28:26, to explain the rejection of the Gospel by the Jews at Rome. Yet we are to remember that the prophet and those who quote him are all witnesses that within Israel there were eyes which were not blinded and hearts which were not hardened. Isaiah, and John, and Paul, were all Jews; and our Lord Himself was, in His human nature, of the seed of Abraham. Isaiah’s prophecy is accompanied by the promise of a holy seed (John 12:13); St. John quotes these words, and adds that “even of the rulers many believed” (John 12:42); St. Paul quotes them when “some believed the things which were spoken and some believed not” (John 12:24); our Lord quotes them, and immediately says, “But blessed are your eyes, for they see, and your ears, for they hear.” There is, indeed, a judicial blinding and a judicial hardening—let no man therefore presume; but these come only to eyes that will not to see, and to hearts that will not to hear—let no man therefore despair. The quotation in this place does not follow exactly either the Hebrew or the Greek of the passage in Isaiah. In the Hebrew text, as in the Authorised version, the prophet is commanded to “make the heart of this people fat.” . . . The Greek text says simply, “The heart of this people was hardened.” . . . St. John represents the action which God commanded to be done as done by Himself, and speaks of it in the past tense.
And I should heal them.—The pronoun here refers to Christ. St. John in his interpretation of the prophecy has made God (“He”) the author of the judicial blindness and hardness, and represents Christ as the physician. This clause is, however, not to be taken separately, but is governed by “that not” which precedes, The effect of their not turning was that Christ could not heal them.
On the whole verse comp. Note on Matthew 13:14, and Acts 28:26.
(41) These things said Esaias, when he saw his glory.—The better text is, . . . because he saw His glory. (Comp. Note on the reading in John 12:17.) The result of seeing His glory was that he spake of Him. This is St. John’s interpretation of the prophecy. Isaiah himself tells us, “I saw also the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up, and his train filled the temple” (John 6:1). But no man hath seen God at any time. The Word is the express image of His Person. This glory was of the pre-incarnate Word, who was in the beginning with God, and was God.
(42) Nevertheless among the chief rulers also many believed on him.—This is strongly asserted in opposition to the spiritual blindness of the nation. There were, notwithstanding, many even in the Sanhedrin itself who believed on Him.
But because of the Pharisees they did not confess.—Comp. Note on John 9:22. It seems from the present passage that the Pharisees were the most determined foes of Christ, and that even the rulers were kept in awe by their threat of excommunication. This submission to the Pharisees’ yoke which kept them from Christ was itself blinding their eyes and hardening their hearts. They are at once, therefore, the exception to, and the illustration of, the principle of which St. John was speaking. They had the power to see the truth, but they had not the will to face boldly the results of their own convictions, and the unused power ceased to exist. (Comp. Romans 10:10.)
(43) For they loved the praise of men more than the praise of God.—For “praise” read in both instances glory. “The glory which comes from men more than the glory which came from God.” Comp. Note on John 5:44, where the truth is put in the form of a question by our Lord. Here it explains the fact that there were men who believed, and yet did not publicly confess their faith. There our Lord’s question goes deeper, and asserts that the seeking of the glory which comes from men is inconsistent with the existence of any true belief in God.
(44) Jesus cried and said.—Comp. Notes on John 7:28; John 7:37. This forbids our understanding these words of any private discourse addressed to the disciples. The phrase implies public teaching addressed to the multitude, and it may be inferred that there was some such teaching after John 12:36.
(45) And he that seeth me seeth him that sent me.—The word means to see, in the sense of “behold, contemplate, gaze upon.” Better, therefore, And he that beholdeth Me beholdeth Him that sent Me. The form of the expression is different from that of the previous verse, passing from the negative to the positive, in accord with the difference of thought. He that beholdeth Christ doth behold Him, and in Him beholds the impression of the substance of God. The same thought has occurred in the words of the Evangelist in John 1:14, and occurs in the words of our Lord in John 14:9.
(46) I am come a light into the world . . .—(Comp. Note on John 12:35 and John 3:19; John 8:12; John 9:5; John 9:39; John 12:35-36.)
Should not abide in darkness.—But should by walking according as they had the light become sons of light (John 12:36).
(47) And if any man hear my words, and believe not.—The better reading is, . . . and keep them not. (Comp., for the words “hear” and “keep,” Notes on Luke 11:28; Luke 18:21.) For the thought of the verse comp. in this Gospel, Notes on John 3:17 et seq.; 5:24, 45 et seq.; 8:15 ei seq.; and the apparently opposite assertion in John 9:39.
(48) He that rejecteth me . . .—The word rendered “rejecteth” (more exactly nullifieth) occurs only here in St. John. (Comp. Luke 7:30, “The Pharisees and lawyers rejected the counsel of God against themselves”; and John 10:16, “He that despiseth you despiseth Me.)
Hath one that judgeth him.—Comp. John 3:18; John 5:45 et seq.; John 8:50; and also Hebrews 4:12.
The word that I have spoken.—The very fact that He was so rejected was itself the judgment of those who rejected it.
(49) For I have not spoken of myself.—Comp. John 5:30; John 7:16-17; John 7:28-29; John 8:26; John 8:28; John 8:38. The word “for” connects this by way of reason with the condemnatory power of His word.
The Father which sent me, he gave me a commandment.—Comp. Note on John 10:18. The reference is to the commission of His Messianic life.
What I should say, and what I should speak.—It is clear that our Lord intends a distinction here between “saying” and “speaking.” We have had the same distinction in John 8:43. That which He should say was the matter of the revelation which He made; that which He should speak was rather the method in which He made it. He claims for all the authority and commission of the Father. Every truth uttered by Him, and every work and word by which it was uttered, was ordained by the Father’s will. He was Himself the Word of God. Every tone and accent in which that Word spoke was divine.
(50) And I know that his commandment is life everlasting.—i.e., the commission of the Messianic work. It is better to read here, as before, eternal life. (Comp. John 3:15, et al.) The Son speaks not of Himself, but He speaks as executing this commission, which brings spiritual and eternal life to the world. It could not be otherwise. This commandment being eternal life, the whole teaching of the Messiah must simply be an utterance of it.
As the Father said unto me, so I speak.—This clause answers to “what I should say and what I should speak” in the last verse. The external revelation is regarded as the work of the Son. That which the Father says is the truth revealed, and the matter and form are here identified.
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Ellicott, Charles John. "Commentary on John 12". "Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers". https://www.studylight.org/
the Fourth Sunday after Epiphany