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Bible Commentaries
John 12

Mahan's Commentary on Selected Books of the New TestamentMahan's Commentary

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Verses 1-13

Worshipping at his feet

John 12:1-13

John 12:1-2 . Six days before the final Passover our Lord Jesus came again to Bethany, the town of Martha, Mary, and Lazarus. They made a special supper for him. Martha, who was always a busy, active woman, served the Lord and the guests. Lazarus, who had been raised from the dead, sat at the table with Christ and the others.

John 12:3 . Then Mary, who was usually at the feet of Christ (Luke 10:39), took a pound of very costly and fragrant ointment, anointed his feet, and wiped them with her hair. The house was literally filled with the fragrance of the ointment. Several things about Mary stand out strongly:

1. Her love and devotion for Christ,

2. Her gratitude to him for raising her brother,

3. Her humility in wiping his feet with her hair, and

4. Her generosity in anointing his feet with the entire box of ointment.

Her love and gratitude produced her humility and generosity! To whom much is given and forgiven, he will give, forgive, and love much.

John 12:4-6 . Then Judas Iscariot, who had no love for Christ, but rather was a hypocrite and a covetous person, said, ‘Why was not this ointment sold for three hundred pence and given to the poor?’ Judas did not care for the poor; he was interested in money and material things. What he really had in mind was that Mary should sell the ointment and give the money to him as the treasurer of the twelve. Of course, he could not suggest his real thoughts; so he tried to impress the Lord and the others with his piety and concern for the poor.

John 12:7 . Our Lord came to Mary's defense. ‘Leave her alone; she has anointed my body in advance or to prepare me for burial.’ Mary was perhaps our Lord's best listener. She often sat at his feet and heard his words. She listened and said very little. She felt that his death was near; and she took this opportunity to anoint him for that day, fearing that if the Pharisees laid hold on Him, she would never be able to anoint him (Matthew 26:12; Mark 16:1-3). If, as some suggest, Mary did not know what she did, then the Spirit of God led her to do it; for Christ added a beautiful promise (Matthew 26:13; Mark 14:9).

John 12:8 . ‘There will always be poor people in the church and in the world for you to care and provide for; but in the flesh I will not be with you very long, and you will not have these opportunities to show your love and devotion to me so directly.’ However, in these days it is clear that what we do for others in the name of Christ is as if we did it unto him (Matthew 25:34-40).

John 12:9 . Multitudes of people who were coming to Jerusalem for the Passover journeyed to Bethany, which was only two miles from Jerusalem. It was reported that Jesus was there; but they came to Bethany not so much to see Christ as to see Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead. How dull and dark is the understanding of the natural man, who is more interested in the curious than in the Creator, more interested in Lazarus than in the one who gave him life. How true that while miracles are a witness of the deity and power of Christ, they do not begat saving faith. This comes only by the Spirit of God and the word of God (Luke 16:29-31). While it is said that many of these people believed, they were like those in John 2:23-25 who were impressed by the miracles which he performed (John 12:37-40).

John 12:10-11 . The chief priests were not impressed but rather angered because of the notoriety that Jesus had received and because the people were flocking to him. They took counsel that they might not only put Christ to death but Lazarus also! Their hearts were totally hardened, and they wanted to remove him and every trace of his ministry. If Christ and Lazarus were both dead, all of this would soon be forgotten or be more easily denied.

John 12:12-13 . On the next day, when the people who had gathered there for the Passover heard that Jesus was on his way into the city, they took palm branches and went forth to meet him. Palm branches were a sign of great joy and victory; so they carried these branches to spread before the King Messiah, who was about to make his public entrance into Jerusalem. This is what they had in mind as they shouted, ‘Hosanna, blessed is the King of Israel that cometh in the name of the Lord.’ The Passover was at hand, in commemoration of the deliverance from the bondage of Egypt. These Jews wanted to be delivered from the Roman rule, which would take a mighty deliverer like Moses. Jesus of Nazareth had demonstrated his extraordinary power in raising Lazarus from the dead; therefore, it appeared that their deliverer had come and the reestablishment of David's kingdom would now become a reality.

They had no understanding at all of his true Person and work, no understanding of the spiritual meaning of the Passover or the true kingdom of the Messiah. They knew nothing of sin, salvation, or substitution but were only concerned with earthly expectations and the reestablishment of Israel as a nation of power and prominence. It was not freedom from sin and acceptance by God, which they wanted, but freedom from Rome and worldly position. This was what they saw in Jesus and why they believed. This same crowd, which cried, ‘Hosanna,’ later cried, ‘Crucify him; we have no king but Caesar; we will not have this man reign over us!’ Much of today's religion follows the same pattern and program earthly ease, position, and possessions.

Verses 14-26

Behold, thy king cometh

John 12:14-26

John 12:14-15 . John simply states that Christ found a young ass on which to ride into Jerusalem. ‘He found it’ because he directed his disciples where to find it (Luke 19:29-35). What he did was a clear fulfillment of the prophecy of Zechariah 9:9, and the people and their leaders should have understood it. The daughter of Zion (people of Jerusalem) is told that their spiritual Messiah, the one who will open a fountain for sin and uncleanness (Zechariah 13:1), has come. To emphasize the peaceful character of his coming and his reign, he is mounted on the colt of an ass. He comes as the Lamb of God, the Prince of Peace, not as a war-lord. The King is meek, lowly, gentle; and he brings salvation (Luke 19:10; 1 Timothy 1:15). The Lord publicly placed himself prominently before the people of Israel by fulfilling all of the Old Testament prophecies. He demonstrated that he was none other than Israel's true King. They rejected him (Isaiah 53:1-3; John 1:11)! He was making it perfectly clear that he was the Messiah but that his kingdom was ‘not of this world.’

John 12:16 . John confesses his own ignorance and that of the other disciples. They saw Christ riding into Jerusalem on the ass, the people scattering the palm branches and their clothes before Him, crying, ‘Hosanna to the King of Israel;’ but to what purpose this was done and what prophecies were fulfilled they understood not; for, like the others, they thought of the Messiah as a Jewish ruler. But after Christ died and rose again, they began to remember his words concerning these things and why they were done, as Peter clearly preached at Pentecost (Acts 2:32-36).

John 12:17-18 . The chief reason for all this acclaim and great welcome by the people in Jerusalem was that they had heard directly from a number of witnesses (who were with him when he raised Lazarus) that he had indeed raised a man who had been dead four days. Jarius' daughter had just died, and the widow's son was not yet buried when he was raised; but Lazarus they knew had been buried for four days! It made a strong impact on the people, so they were ready to make him King.

John 12:19 . The more radical Pharisees said to the reluctant party, ‘You gain nothing by your delays and by suffering this man Jesus to continue. Something must be done now or it will be too late. The world (or the public in general) has gone (away from us) after him.’ It is not enough just to turn his followers out of the synagogue; he must be killed.

John 12:20-22 . There were certain Greeks or Gentiles, who were commonly called proselytes (uncircumcised converts to the religion of the Jews), who came to Jerusalem to worship at the feast (Acts 8:27). These Gentiles had given up their idols and worshipped the one God the God of Israel. These people were allowed to come to the temple as far as the court of the Gentiles (Isaiah 56:6-7; 1 Kings 8:41-42). These men, being Gentiles, did not feel at liberty to approach the Lord Jesus; so they told Phillip that they wished to see the Lord. This request presented problems to Phillip. Would not the Lord invite not only the wrath of the Pharisees but also the wrath of all the Jewish people if he visited with these Gentiles? But has not the Lord spoken of ‘other sheep, which were not of this fold’? The problem being too great for Phillip, he consulted with Andrew; and they both placed the request before the Lord Jesus.

John 12:23 . It would seem to most that the Lord Jesus did not reveal to the disciples whether the Greeks should be given an audience with him or not. But he most certainly declared that the only way that any man, Jew or Greek, may approach Him, be accepted, and see his glory is for the Son of Man ‘to be glorified.’ He must die, rise from the dead, ascend to heaven, and serve as our Mediator. His gospel would be preached to Gentiles as well as to Jews, and all nations would come to God by him. The Gentiles must, ‘see Him’ as Redeemer of sinners, not as this curious multitude saw Him, a Jewish King Messiah.

John 12:24 . Consider ordinary farming. The grain of wheat must first be buried and lose its form before it springs up again and bears fruit. So it is with the Son of Man. He must be crucified for sin, buried, and rise again that the law might be honored, the justice of God might be satisfied, and there might be a gospel of life. If he does not die (like the corn of wheat), he abides alone with no people, no fruit! Without his blood and death, there is no remission of sin. But his death will be productive of much fruit from every tribe, kindred, and nation.

John 12:25 . So it is with those who would be disciples of Christ. If we hold to, protect, and shield this life from being crucified and buried with Christ, if we refuse to be identified with him in truth, suffering for the gospel even to death, we shall lose our souls. But if (like the farmer who in faith cast his wheat into the ground, believing in the future harvest) we cast our lives, hope, and future to Christ, with Christ, and for Christ (caring not for worldly security, comfort, nor praise), we shall live forever! (2 Timothy 1:8-12.)

John 12:26 . ‘If any man is willing to be my disciple (bondslave), let him follow me all the way! When the issue is between me and my gospel on the one hand, and whatever has been nearest and dearest to him (father, mother, family, the world, his own life) on the other hand, my servant will follow me’ (Matthew 10:37-39; Matthew 16:24-26). ‘Where I am,’ in the love of the Father, accepted and exalted, seated at his right hand, ‘there shall my servant be.’ ‘The Father who loves me will honor those who honor me.’

Verses 27-36

Now is the judgment of this world

John 12:27-36

John 12:27 . ‘Now is my soul troubled.’ The scriptures say, ‘He made his soul an offering for sin’ (Isaiah 53:10). Our Lord was in a human body, and his human soul was troubled at the judgment for sin and the wrath of God that was about to fall upon him for the sins of his people, which he bore. This agony and conflict was fully experienced and expressed in the garden (Luke 22:42-44). ‘What shall I say? Father, save me from this hour’? This question was posed in order to declare and confirm again his purpose in coming to earth and his eternal will to redeem a people. Shall I put forth a petition to my Father to deliver me from the suffering, shame, and judgment of the cross? Certainly not! For this cause he came to the earth; for this cause he came to this hour; it was fixed in the covenant of grace; and Christ, as our surety, agreed to it. He will lay down his life willingly; and rather than seek to avoid the cross, he will put forth the following petition, ‘Father, glorify thy name!’

John 12:28 . ‘Father, glorify thy name.’ Glorify thy attributes in me and the work of redemption I have undertaken according to thy will. In purposing to save a people from Adam's fallen race, in giving the beloved Son to be made of a woman and made under the law, in bruising him on the tree, the eternal God glorifies the perfections of his nature. His love, his mercy, his truth, his justice and righteousness, and his power and wisdom are all manifested and glorified (Romans 3:23-26; Romans 1:16-17; Psalms 85:10). Again the voice came from heaven (as at his baptism and transfiguration) saying, ‘I have both glorified it’ in the incarnation of the Son, in the Son's ministry and perfect obedience, and ‘I will glorify it again,’ by supporting the Son in death, by raising him from the dead and exalting him at my right hand, and in calling out a people for his glory (Philippians 2:6-11).

John 12:29 . Just as in the case of Paul's experience on the road to Damascus, those who were with Him, though hearing a sound, failed to hear the distinct words (Acts 9:7; Acts 22:9). Many of the people who stood near Christ when the Father spoke said, ‘It thundered.’ Others, however, were willing to admit that they heard a voice and said, ‘An angel spoke to him.’

John 12:30 . Our Lord said to the people that stood by and were disputing over what they had just heard from heaven (whether thunder, the voice of God, or the voice of an angel), ‘This voice came not for my sake only, but for your sakes.’ Not only extraordinary miracles and been performed before their eyes, such as blind men seeing and dead men brought to life, but with their ears they had heard the voice of God speaking to him. Yet natural men do not see, hear, nor understand the grace of God nor the person and work of Christ (John 5:40-44; 1 Corinthians 2:9-10; Matthew 13:13-16).

John 12:31 . Our Lord says, ‘now is the judgment of this world’ (Acts 17:30-31). The Jewish nation, having the law, the prophets, and the types, nevertheless rejected their Messiah and are brought under judgment and their place removed. The world knew him not and, consenting to his death, have this sin laid upon all unbelievers (John 3:36). The sins of all believers of all generations are judged and paid for by Christ (Romans 8:1; Romans 8:33-34), and the prince of this world (Satan) is cast down. Satan had a dominion over mankind by the fall of Adam, keeping the greater part of the world in idolatry and darkness (Ephesians 2:2-3). He is not by any right the prince of this world, but by God's permission he exercises his evil power and boasts himself to be a king (Luke 4:6-7). His doom, destruction, and defeat are now accomplished (Genesis 3:15). Men and women of all nations, tongues, and tribes are redeemed in Christ.

John 12:32-33 . Our Lord is revealing that he would be ‘lifted up from the earth’ on a cross, ‘as Moses lifted up the brazen serpent.’ His death would be public, violent, and expressive of his mediation between God and men, being lifted up between heaven and earth (1 Timothy 2:5-6). By means, of his crucifixion, resurrection, ascension, and exaltation the Lord Jesus redeems, justifies, and calls to himself all of God's elect from every age and nation. He redeems them to God by his blood and draws them to himself by his Spirit and word. Our Lord is not the Saviour of the Jews only, but the Saviour of the world (John 10:16; John 1:29; 1 John 2:2).

John 12:34 . The people referred to prophecies in the Old Testament which said that the Christ is a Priest forever (Psalms 110:4), Christ is King over an everlasting kingdom which shall not be destroyed (Daniel 7:14), and, as the son of David, he would reign upon David's throne. They could not reconcile these things with Christ's talk of rejection, shame, and death. The reason was they were talking of and looking for an earthly kingdom with a Jewish king. They knew nothing of the Messiah's spiritual work of redemption nor of his eternal kingdom in the new heaven and upon a new earth. They had no understanding of their priesthood, tabernacle, or sacrifices. They knew nothing of the character of God nor their own sinfulness (John 8:19; John 8:41-44). They asked, ‘Who is this son of man you say must be lifted up?’ The true Messiah will live and reign, so who is this son of man that you say must die? The term ‘son of man’ occurs at least eighty times in the gospels.

John 12:35-36 . Christ is the light; the gospel he preached is the light; the revelation of his divine person and work is the light. ‘Yet a little while the light is with you.’ Soon he would be gone back to the Father, judicial blindness would come upon Israel, and physical death would soon come to them all. Walk in the light of revelation, receive the word preached, believe the Messiah, and seek the Lord in truth, that you may be children of God. Days of grace, light, and the preaching of Christ come to many in this world who ought to take advantage of this blessing. The darkness of old age, senility, gospel-hardening, false religion, and false refuges leave a man only to stumble about in confusion. Our Lord then departed from them and did hide himself, leaving them to their thoughts. ‘He that hath ears to hear, let him hear.’

Verses 37-50

Israel's unbelief

John 12:37-50

John 12:37 . The response of the people to Christ was unbelief! Though he openly performed the most convincing miracles before them (such as feeding thousands miraculously, giving sight to the blind, raising the dead), the great majority did not believe him to be the Messiah. This clearly indicates the nature of man's sin; it is so complete and deeply rooted that the most convincing arguments and miracles will not bring a person to believe in Christ without the regenerating and efficacious work of the Holy Spirit and the word of God (Luke 16:27-31).

John 12:38 . Israel's rejection of Christ did not defeat God's purpose (Romans 3:1-3). Their unbelief fulfilled what was written of them in Isaiah 53:0. While the guilt and responsibility for their unbelief lay entirely upon them, their rejection of Christ led to the cross and the fulfillment of God's eternal purpose (Acts 2:22-23; Acts 4:26-28). Isaiah's complaint was delivered against the people of his time; but he chiefly wrote concerning the people of the days of the Messiah, for the whole chapter is a prophecy of the Messiah. The ‘arm of the Lord’ is the Lord Jesus Christ who is the gospel and the power of God unto salvation (1 Corinthians 2:8-14).

John 12:39-41 . This quotation is from Isaiah 6:9-10 and is quoted five other times in the New Testament (Matthew 13:14-15; Mark 4:12; Luke 8:10; Acts 28:26-27; Romans 11:8). Any effort to change the clear meaning of this text in order to bring it into harmony with one's own theology is inexcusable. God determined to leave them to the blindness and hardness of their hearts and to deny them his grace, which alone can bring men to repentance and faith (Romans 9:11-18). Whether one says, ‘They would not believe,’ or, ‘They could not believe,’ makes no difference; for men by nature will not come to Christ (John 5:40); and they cannot come to Christ unless God is pleased in grace to call them, teach them, and reveal to them his redemptive glory in Christ (John 6:44-45). In withholding light, truth, and heart illumination, it is said that ‘He hath blinded their eyes and hardened their hearts’ (Isaiah 45:5-7). Isaiah's sight of God's glory is described in Isaiah 6:1. It was Jehovah whom Isaiah saw, who is Christ Jesus. He recorded faithfully what he saw.

John 12:42-43 . When it is said that these men believed on Him, we must not understand that they believed with true saving faith; for had they truly believed in heart that Jesus was the Christ, they would have confessed Him, followed Him, and been willing to suffer with him (1 Thessalonians 1:4-10; Romans 10:9-10). Evidently, like Nicodemus, they were impressed by the miracles, which he did and by the words which he spoke; for many of these men were well versed in the scriptures. But they feared excommunication from the religious community; and they loved the respect, honor, and praise which their offices brought to them. They were not concerned for the glory, honor, and praise of God.

John 12:44 . ‘He who believes in me,’ Christ said, ‘does not exclusively believe in me, but believes also in the Father who sent me.’ Receiving Christ means receiving the Father (John 13:20). Knowing Christ means knowing the Father (John 17:3; Matthew 11:27). Loving Christ and coming to Christ means loving and coming to the Father (John 14:6). Christ and the Father are one (John 10:30).

John 12:45 . Many saw Christ who never saw the Father, for they saw Christ as a mere man. But whoever sees Christ with an eye of faith as surety of the covenant, as the righteousness of God in obedience, and as the perfect sacrifice and sin offering (which enables God to be both just and justifier of them that believe, Romans 3:24-26) sees the Father. He sees the glory of God, the wisdom and power of God, and he sees the redemptive will of God all in Christ (Hebrews 10:9-17).

John 12:46 . The elect of God, while in a state of unbelief, are in darkness even as others (Ephesians 2:1-3). When God is pleased to reveal Christ to them, they are enlightened (2 Corinthians 4:3-6); they are no longer in darkness, for Christ is the light. In Christ and by Christ they see the glory, the grace, and the invisible realities of redemption.

John 12:47 . Men may hear the gospel of Christ and understand what is being said, yet not believe it. Though faith comes by hearing, it does not come to all who hear with the natural ear. Some receive no profit by hearing, but rather reject and deny truth. ‘I do not judge the unbeliever now’ (he will later), for Christ came not to condemn the world (it was already condemned, John 3:17-18); but he came at this time to save sinners. Christ will leave them to another day when righteous judgment will take place (John 5:22).

John 12:48 . Those who reject Christ as the Messiah and who refuse the truth of the gospel of his grace will be judged. Though Christ does not judge him now, let none think that he will escape; for the words of Christ declared by the prophets, by Christ himself, and by the apostles and other faithful ministers shall rise up in the judgment against all who did not believe (Mark 16:15-16).

John 12:49 . He spoke not as a man separate from the Father. His gospel was not human, but divine. He came from the Father and spoke the words of the Father (John 14:10). Therefore, a rejection of his words is a rejection of God.

John 12:50 . His commandment here is not the law, which cannot give life, but the gospel, which is the power of God unto salvation. The way to life is to hear and believe his gospel. Therefore, ‘as the Father said to me I have spoken.’ You will do well to hear the gospel, believe, and live (John 5:24).

Bibliographical Information
Mahan, Henry. "Commentary on John 12". Mahan's Commentary on Selected Books of the New Testament. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/hms/john-12.html. 2013.
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