Bible Commentaries
John 12

Grant's Commentary on the BibleGrant's Commentary

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Verses 1-50



Six days before the Passover He returned to the area of Jerusalem, coming by way of Jericho, as Luke shows us (Luke 19:1-28). These days He spent in ministering mainly in the temple (Luke 21:37); yet the enmity of the Jews could do nothing until God's appointed Passover Day.

At Bethany a supper is made for Him (in the house of Simon the leper -- Matthew 26:6), for there has been much affection awakened toward Him in this village. We may be sure He valued the comfort of this love of His disciples in view of His imminent suffering and death. Special notice is given of Martha, Lazarus and Mary (vs.2-3). Martha served in evident thankful devotion. Lazarus, in communion with Him, sat at the table. Mary, in adoring worship, anointed His feet with costly ointment, wiping them with her hair.

Here are characteristics that should be true of every believer. For though one may have more outstanding ability for service, another more attracted by communion, or fellowship, another specially delighting in worship, yet all should be true of every child of God in some measure at least. The house being filled with the odor of the ointment pictures for us what should be true of the house of God, the assembly.

At this, however, the greed of Judas cannot be silent, though he deceitfully speaks about the poor to cover his true motives. We are told now that, being treasurer for the disciples, he was stealing from that fund. Certainly the Lord knew this; but the case of Judas is a solemn warning that deceptions can too easily creep in among saints of God. He is a warning also to all who would dare to imitate his wretched example.

The Lord defends Mary with simple, gentle words. She had done this in view of His burial (v.7). They had the poor always with them, but not the Lord. Who was most important? Other woman came too late to anoint His body, for He had risen then (Mark 16:1-4).



News of the Lord's coming to Bethany reaches Jerusalem, and many Jews came to Bethany, not only because He was there, but also to see Lazarus because of the wonder of his being raised.

Yet how true are the words of the Lord Jesus in Luke 16:31: "If they hear not Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded though one rose from the dead." The chief priests are so incensed against the truth and against the Son of God, that they plot, not only to put Him to death, but Lazarus also, because the reality of his resurrection had influenced many Jews to believe on the Lord Jesus (vs.10-11). Did they not consider that, if the Lord had once raised Lazarus, He could do so again? In that case the results would be most humiliating for them. But unbelief is blind.



The Lord goes to Jerusalem, for His time is about to come: He will accomplish that for which He was sent, yet with some days first of fullest testimony to the glory of His Father, which all the efforts of the Jews could not thwart.

He is by no means hidden. The Jews ordered that anyone who knew where He was should report it. Yet here everyone knows where He is, and the Jews have no power to take Him. Many come to meet Him with palm branches, the symbol of victory and prosperity, and acclaim Him as the King of Israel come in the name of Jehovah (vs.12-13). Fulfilling prophecy, He rides into Jerusalem on a donkey's colt, coming in lowliness and in peace, rather than on a war-horse of powerful conquest, as He will in the day of His glory (Revelation 19:1-21). No doubt it would seem out of keeping for the Messiah to come in so lowly a way, and the prophecy itself ought to have occasioned such interest as to have prepared Israel for this unusual event.

It is the common people whom God prepares to give honor to His true King, a witness from many lips that ought to have shamed the leaders to a realization of their own willful blindness.

Verse 16 shows the sovereignty of God in the fact of the people being so moved at this time: the disciples themselves did not understand why they acted in this way, but realized after the ascension of the Lord Jesus the great import of this, together with the fact that these things were prophesied in the Old Testament.

But at this time there was the testimony of those who had witnessed the raising of Lazarus, a confirming assurance that Christ was entitled to the honor given Him. Indeed the miracle was proof of His being the Son of God (Romans 1:4).

The Pharisees were nonplused and afraid of popular opinion, which they saw as favoring the Lord. This infuriated them, and served to bring out all the more fully the wickedness of their hearts (v.19), for they had to wait for the treachery of a false disciple, and for darkness in which to arrest Him.



Greeks, strangers to Israel, were more discerning of the glory of the Messiah: they desired to see Jesus, and seek the mediation of Philip to this end, for they show a respectful recognition that the Jews had the nearer place to the Messiah (vs.20-21). Philip is evidently cautious as regards whether the request is in order: he enlists Andrew, and together they tell the Lord.

However, He answers that His being glorified is close at hand (v.23). It is really only on this basis that Gentiles can approach Him, for the promises had not been made to them, but to Israel. All this however shows us that God had prepared Gentiles to receive Christ at the very time that Israel was plotting His death. Yet the blessing of Gentiles must wait for the accomplishment of this, and His resurrection and ascension. He uses the title "Son of Man" as indicating His far wider work than that of the Messiah of Israel; for "Son of Man" involves His relationship to all mankind.

Verse 24, with another "most assuredly" is of vital importance here. The Lord Jesus must, as the grain of wheat, fall into the ground and die before He could bring forth "much fruit." This embraces far more than the borders of Israel, but the field of the world. In resurrection He is Himself the first fruits, the promise of an abundant harvest. So the Greeks must wait, but not for long, as the book of Acts shows, to have a real sight of the Lord Jesus.

Deeply involved in this is the question of whether one thinks more of his life in this world than he does of eternal life. Christ was perfectly willing to give up His life in this world in view of infinitely greater blessing. Jewish leaders were not: they loved their own lives, but would only lose them. Here is a test of the reality of faith. The expression "hates his life" is intended to be strong, in contrast to loving one's life. It is a question of which life is of vital importance. Are we not gladly willing to leave this present life at any time, when we have that which is eternal and pure?

If one therefore would serve the Lord, he is told, "let him follow Me" (v.26). True service is in taking the same path of rejection as the Lord Jesus did, and giving up life in this world. But it is in view of being where He is, on the other side of death, in resurrection life. Would we shrink from such discipleship? Let us think of the wonderful recompense of being where He is; and besides that, having the Father honor us for our devotion to His Son!



Yet certainly this means deeply felt sacrifice. For Him, how much deeper than for all others! Anticipating His death, His soul was troubled. He could say to His own, "Let not your heart be troubled" (John 14:1); but it is because He has taken voluntarily the trouble into His own soul, and has borne the judgment that we could not bear. The hour before Him He knew would be unspeakable agony (v.27): would He pray that He might be spared from it? No, for He had come this far with the settled, sublime purpose of facing this hour in the infinitely great sacrifice of Himself. He would unfailingly perform the most marvelous work that the universe has ever known. For He came to do the Father's will, and therefore His prayer is simply, "Father, glorify Thy name."

Immediately, just as God had spoken at His baptism, so He speaks again, and so resonantly that some said it was thunder; yet so clearly that others said an angel spoke to Him. Why will they not believe in the Father's direct approval of His Son? Yet the Father says that He had already glorified His name, no doubt in the incarnation and devoted life of the Lord Jesus. He would glorify His name again in His matchless death and resurrection (v.28).

The voice was plain, the proof was clear, and the Lord declares that this voice was not for His sake, for He knew perfectly the truth of these words; but for the people. Yet in only a few brief days they joined in crying out for His crucifixion!

That solemn event of the cross is the judgment of this world: by it all the power of Satan, the prince of this world, has been annulled. The Lord announced it as "now" (v.31). The world is therefore no longer under probation, but under sentence of judgment. The cross has ended the world's trial: it has been there manifested as criminally guilty; and by the cross of Christ, the strong man (Satan) has been bound, the blessed Lord triumphing over him in the very thing in which Satan thought to have destroyed Christ.

By this He has drawn all men to Himself (v.32). He does not speak of salvation but of judgment: His death brings all under His authoritative judgment: He has the right to judge as regards all: none can escape having to do with Him.

Though the Lord had spoken so plainly, not leaving the least question as to the fact that He Himself is "the Son of Man," and that He would be lifted up, yet the people were bewildered. They wonder whether He is speaking of Himself or of another. If He is the Messiah, as the evidence seems to indicate, then how is it possible that He would die? For at least they had understood that the scriptures had prophesied of Christ as abiding forever. They had totally missed the many scriptures that spoke of His death, as for example Isaiah 53:8; Isaiah 53:12 (this in fact also including His resurrection).

The Lord does not answer their questions, for it was not merely their intellect that needed correction. If they needed enlightening, they must realize that He Himself was the light, and put their confidence in Him rather than in their own understanding, which left them only in confusion. Let them walk, that is, follow Him, instead of settling down in the morass of their own rationalizing. While light was there, make use of it, or they would be plunged in deeper darkness than before, ignorant of where they were going (vs.35-36). All they really needed was to believe in Him, the true Light, in order to be children of light. If they refuse this, then they are not ready for teaching. So leaves them, hiding Himself from them.



Solemn is the divine comment that His many miracles did not persuade them to believe Him personally, asIsaiah 53:1; Isaiah 53:1 had prophesied. No doubt many knew this prophecy, but blindly fulfilled it in refusing Him. More solemnly still we are told "they could not believe," because God had blinded their eyes and hardened their heart. (vs.39-40). But we must not suppose that God did this without reason. Just as Pharaoh first hardened his own heart against God before we read of God's hardening his heart (Exodus 5:1-2; Exodus 7:3), 50 when the Jews hardened themselves against the Lord Jesus, then God confirmed their blindness by His judicially blinding them. Let men dare to go too far in opposition to God, and this may be the awful result.



Many among the chief rulers however did believe on the Lord Jesus, but fear of the Pharisees hindered a frank confession of Him, for their reputation before men was more important to them than God's approval (v.42). Whether these were true believers or not, they, together with all the Jews, required the warning of this last message of John's Gospel to any who were not decidedly for Him. This is given in verses 45 to 50. The Lord cried with a loud voice, intended for all. One who believed on Him was also believing on God the Father, who had sent Him. For in the midst of darkness He had come, shining with the light of God's glory, in order that every one who believed on Him would no longer be part of the surrounding darkness.

Yet, though He was the Light that exposed evil, if men refused to believe on Him, He was not here to judge them (as He will in a future day); for He had come in pure grace, not to judge, but to save the world. Of course grace despised will bring eventual judgment, but salvation has been offered now to the world for nearly two thousand years, showing the great heart of this blessed Savior.

Nevertheless, one who rejected Him and His words is forewarned that the same word He has spoken will judge that person in the last day. For His word is absolute truth that cannot be frustrated; it will triumph.

He had not spoken from Himself, that is, independently, but at the commandment of the Father Whether in the general import of His words, or in the finest details of every word, He spoke precisely what was given Him from His Father.

More than this: the Father's commandment is life everlasting, not as the ten commandments which brought condemnation and death; but bringing eternal life for the vital blessing of mankind. Then He ends this earnest appeal with a firm confirmation of His having perfectly communicated the words of the Father in all that He spoke (vs.45-50).

Bibliographical Information
Grant, L. M. "Commentary on John 12". Grant's Commentary on the Bible. 1897-1910.