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John 12

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John 12:0 Jesus Is Anointed And Enters Jerusalem In Triumph.

The crisis resulting from the raising of Lazarus moves the narrative into its final stage. That miracle is mentioned here twice, once in John 12:1 and again in John 12:9, and there is a reminder of it in John 12:2; John 12:17. And the final end of Jesus was so important in John’s eyes that he devotes nearly half His Gospel to it. In it he will present Jesus as the suffering Son of Man and Messiah, and as the pure Lamb of God being offered for the sins of the world.

Verse 1

‘Six days therefore before the Passover Jesus came to Bethany where Lazarus was, whom Jesus had raised from the dead’.

It was clearly now still ‘day’ (John 11:9). But His time had come and He did not hesitate to put Himself in danger. The visit to Bethany, only two miles from Jerusalem, and to Lazarus, (although He was staying at the house of Simon the Leper - Mark 14:3) drew the attention of His enemies to Him for it re-aroused the interest in what had happened there (John 12:9). But Jesus knew that the time for prudence was past. The Passover, again mentioned here, receives constant mention in John’s Gospel and we must see in this an indication that John was portraying Jesus as, in the final analysis, the Passover Lamb of God. And the Passover at which He would be offered was approaching.

Verses 1-8

Jesus Is Anointed (John 12:1-8 ).

This incident is significant in that it is unintentionally prophetic. By her action in anointing Jesus, Mary is intending to proclaim her gratitude and love, but what she does not know, although the readers are intended to recognise it, is that she is anointing Him both as Messiah and for His burial.

Verse 2

‘So there they made him a supper and Martha served, while Lazarus was one of those at the table with him’.

He was welcome here in Bethany, as He always was, and the scene was one of quiet neighbourly activity. It was the calm before the storm. Possibly Jesus stayed here for a few days for Mark tells us that this happened later in that week (Mark 14:1-9). Alternately it may be that Mark is fitting this incident in, outside its chronological framework, with a view to its significance. (Chronology was of secondary importance to the Gospel writers. More important was the need to bring out the significance of the various happenings). As always Martha was very active and John draws our attention to her presence ‘serving’ at the supper, as well as to the presence of Lazarus.

Verse 3

‘Mary therefore took a pound of very costly fragrant oil of pure nard and anointed the feet of Jesus, and wiped his feet with her hair, and the house was filled with the fragrance of the aromatic oil.’

The fragrant oil was nard or spikenard, an import from North India which came from the roots (i.e. spikes, therefore "spikenard") of the nard plant. It was pure oil and therefore of a high quality as well as imported and consequently very expensive. Matthew and Mark point out that the liquid was in an alabaster flask, the neck of which Mary broke to pour it out on Jesus (Matthew 26:7; Mark 14:2). Many such alabaster flasks for oils have been discovered in Palestine.

Mary then poured the oil lavishly on His feet and presumably rubbed it in, removing the excess with her hair. All this was expressive of her great love for Him, especially the removal with her hair. She, as it were, wanted a part of Him. Reaching His feet would be simple because Jesus would be reclining at table with His feet stretched backwards.

Mark tells us that she also broke the jar and poured it over His head (Mark 14:3). Clearly she first anointed his feet and then finally broke the jar and poured what was left over His head. Mark was struck by the anointing of the head for it symbolised Jesus as the Messiah, while John, more struck by the humility and loving ministration of Mary, stressed the anointing of the feet, which paralleled the later washing of the feet of the disciples by Jesus (John 13:0). Each wanted to bring out their own lesson. These were acts of pure love. Mary was ever the impractical one, but she was the one who gave of herself in deeply emotional response. Martha mainly gave of herself in service (compare Luke 10:38-42). Both are necessary in the service of Christ. Without Martha the work would not go on. Without Mary it would lose something of its spiritual nature.

It was customary when a guest was received into the house that his feet should be washed, often by a servant. This had no doubt already happened. But Mary was so filled with love for Jesus that she determined to go one better. She came to cover His feet with precious fragrant oil, and, having lavished on too much, wiped it off with the hair of her head. Then, no doubt overflowing with spiritual love, and determined to lose none of the perfume, she broke the jar and poured the remnants over His head. The oil was very expensive and the amount she had was large, but she held nothing back from her Lord, so much so that the whole place was filled with the fragrance of the aromatic oil (the words of an eyewitness). The picture is of one whole, extravagant act of love.

The incident remarkably brings out the accuracy of the Gospels. This was no fiction. Mary and Martha are always seen to be consistent with their respective characters, and the combination of anointing of feet and head, which we only know of by combining both Gospel accounts, was far more like the tender Mary than just a symbolic anointing of the head.

Verses 4-6

‘But Jesus Iscariot, one of his disciples, the one who would betray him, said, “Why wasn’t this perfume sold for 300 denarii, and given to the poor?” He said this, not because he cared for the poor, but because he was a thief, and as he held the communal purse he used to take money from it’.

It is natural for a Christian to deplore waste, but here we have a reminder that some things which at first appear wasteful, are rather of great value. Mary’s expression of love would have lost its meaning if the oil had not been valuable. ‘300 denarii’ was almost a year’s wages for the average worker.

Into that fragrant atmosphere came muttered voices of dissension. Mark tells us that Judas was not the only one who murmured. It is clear that Jesus’ teaching on the wise use of possessions had sunk in, but as can often happen, a certain hardness had also crept into the thinking of some of the disciples. Jesus would remind them that a balance needs to be struck. Their hardness contrasted with Mary’s generosity of spirit.

In one sense both were right. The general principle is a wise use of possessions, but there are occasions when an exceptional situation justifies extravagance. (However this does not justify extravagance in general, nor the spending on huge, ornate cathedrals and expensive vestments, as suggested by some. Those who truly give of themselves in the building of such things, because of their love for Christ, do well, but such buildings and accoutrements are usually for man’s glory rather than God’s. The motive for them is often as unlike Mary’s as can be).

John, however, draws out that Judas, the treasurer of the group, was the one who voiced their grievance as they muttered together. He is also aware that Judas was especially guilty, for unlike some of the others, Judas had a deeper motive for his grievance. He wanted a full purse so that he would be able to dip into it more easily without being found out. Possibly John had reason to know something that was not common knowledge, even though the final proof was lacking. John is contrasting the mind of one who loved Jesus with purity and overflowing generosity, and wanted to give Him everything, with the mind of one who had become so consumed with a love of money that it would finally destroy both him and Jesus.

Verses 7-8

‘Jesus therefore said, “Leave her alone, that she may keep it for the day of my burial. You always have the poor with you, but you do not always have me with you’.

This is a brief summary of what Jesus actually said. Mark’s clarification makes it easier to understand. John knows that his readers have the background of the tradition behind Mark’s Gospel, but because he wants to emphasise the contrast between Mary and Judas rather than the significance of the anointing, he keeps the speech as short as possible.

Interestingly Jesus’ comment both approves of their general attitude while at the same time gently rebuking their lack of insight. ‘Let her keep it for the day of my burial’. Mark says ‘she has done what she could, she has anointed my body beforehand for burial’. What Jesus therefore intended them to understand was that this moment must not be spoiled by arguments. As with the High Priest earlier (John 11:49-51) her act was unconsciously a prophetic action (although possibly subconsciously it held within it a hint of prophecy - it is such as Mary who sometimes have a presentiment of doom, and she would know of His earlier teaching about His future suffering at the hands of the Jewish leaders, and she would be well aware of the threats that were going around) . She had by it anointed Him for His burial in advance. So He means ‘let her keep what she has done for the day of my burial’ - when that day came and He was buried unanointed, she would say to herself ‘I anointed Him in readiness for this’ and be comforted. What seemed like extravagance would be seen to have been a necessity.

We need to recognise that the writers of the Gospels do not try to tell us everything that Jesus said to its fullest extent. They do not see themselves as simply doing an interview and repeating everything word for word. Rather they are men putting over a message. Possibly what Jesus actually said in full was, ‘Leave her alone. Why do you trouble her? She has done a beautiful thing for me, let her keep it for the day of my burial. You always have the poor with you, and whenever you are willing you can do good to them, but you do not always have me with you. She has done what she could. She has anointed my body beforehand for burying. And truly I say to you, wherever the Good News is preached in the whole world, what she has done will be described in memory of her’.

Verses 9-11

Many Show Interest in Jesus and Lazarus (John 12:9-11 ).

‘When the great crowd of the Judaisers learned that he was there, they came, not only because of Jesus, but also in order to see Lazarus whom he had raised from the dead. So the chief priests planned to put Lazarus also to death because, on account of him, many of the Jews were leaving and believing in Jesus’.

Once again John speaks of ‘the Judaisers’. Here now He is back in Judea and Jerusalem. Earlier ‘the Judaisers’ had represented those who were antagonistic to Jesus, whether in Judea or in Galilee, but the expression has expanded gradually to include those of Judea who, while sceptical, were willing to give Him a hearing. They thus represented the more educated Jews, the intelligentsia, those who were or had been sceptical of Him.

The disciples were mainly Galileans and the Galileans looked on the Judeans as contemptuously as the Judeans looked on them. John, however, does not call the Judeans as a whole ‘the Judaisers’, but rather the more prominent people whom he saw as being suspicious of Jesus. On them he directed some of what was once his feeling against the Judeans.

Jesus had been absent from Jerusalem and now the news filtered through that He had arrived at Bethany. The fact that crowds thronged to Bethany when they learned that He was there, both in order to see Jesus and in order to see Lazarus, demonstrates how powerfully what had happened to Lazarus had affected people. It was something of a sensation.

The ‘Judaisers’ who came were not necessarily directly believers, but they were interested. They had heard of the miracle of the raising of Lazarus, and other stories about Jesus, and they had come to see for themselves, and even possibly to question Lazarus. And by this some of them were becoming convinced. This angered the authorities, especially the chief priests who would be Sadducees and rejected belief in the resurrection. This was hitting at one of their firmly held tenets and weakening their position. Thus they decide they must somehow get rid of Lazarus as well. It would not be easy. The Romans jealously retained the right to use the death penalty for themselves except in cases of open blasphemy. (In contrast to the Sadducees the Pharisees, who firmly believed in the general resurrection, are not mentioned here. It was the Chief Priests who were acting).

What a contrast there is between the coming of Mary and the coming of the Judaisers. On the one hand pure love, on the other questioning, curiosity and even some enmity. And that is how the world will ever be until the final regeneration.

Verses 12-15

‘The next day a great crowd who had come to the Feast, when they heard that Jesus was coming to Jerusalem, took branches of palm trees and went out to meet him crying, “Hosanna (save now)! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord, even the king of Israel”. And Jesus having found a young ass, sat on it, even as it is written, ‘Do not be afraid, daughter of Zion, behold your king is coming, sitting on an ass’s colt’.’

The next day Jesus rode into Jerusalem on an ass’s colt, to be greeted by the festive crowds waving palm branches who, with nothing better to do, regularly welcomed Passover visitors in this way. Many weary travellers would have been greeted in this way on arrival and would have found cheer and strength from the words as they reminded them of their future hopes. This explains why the Romans took little notice.

But while this was a regular greeting to pilgrims to the Feast (see Psalms 118:25-26 from which the words were taken), it was no doubt intensified because Jesus was a popular teacher, and because what had happened to Lazarus had increased Jesus’ reputation. They were cries of expectancy for the future David, but not necessarily directly related to the one they were shouting to. When a large crowd are shouting out in fervour there are many renderings of the same theme, so we may expect that one or other of the Gospel writers will refer to the ones specifically remembered by their sources. John here draws out the reference to the King of Israel. Jesus was indeed entering as King and Messiah, even though the crowds were not necessarily all aware of it. We have already learned of their uncertainties (John 7:12; John 7:26-27; John 7:31; John 7:40-43; John 10:24). Had the Romans actually seen in these greetings the public ascription of Messiahship to Jesus they would soon have stepped in. Their numbers were heavily increased at Passover time and they were always on the watch for any hint of insurrection.

The waving of date palm branches was a common practise at national celebrations in Israel (see Leviticus 23:40). Palm branches had become a national symbol (compare the Jewish histories 1Ma 13:51 ; 2Ma 10:7 ), and they appeared on coins that the Jewish nationalists produced during the war with the Romans in 66-70 AD.

John only mentions the ass so as to draw attention to the fulfilment of prophecy. The prophecy itself is illuminating. ‘Rejoice greatly, Oh daughter of Zion, shout, Oh daughter of Jerusalem, behold your king comes to you. He is just and bringing deliverance, lowly, and riding on an ass, even on a colt the foal of an ass. And I will cut off the chariot from Ephraim, and the horse from Jerusalem, and the battle bow shall be cut off, and he will speak peace to the nations, and his dominion will be from sea to sea and from the River to the ends of the earth’ (Zechariah 9:9-10).

Here was not a picture of the great insurrectionist, but one of the humble bringer of peace and deliverance to the world. And that is how Jesus wanted people to see Him.

Verses 12-19

Jesus Enters Jerusalem in Triumph (John 12:12-19 ).

John deals with this subject very succintly. Again he knows that his readers are aware of the facts from the tradition behind the other Gospels, so he concentrates on the significance of what happened.

We know that annually when the people gathered at Jerusalem for the Passover every year they would be in an excited and festive mood, and they would regularly greet other pilgrims ecstatically, waving palm branches and crying out with words from the Old Testament ‘Save us (hosanna), we beseech you, Oh Lord, --- Blessed is he who enters in the name of the Lord’ (Psalms 118:25-26), and similar phrases. Enthusiasm would abound and extravagant things be said as people arrived.

However it is also clear that Jesus was given special treatment because He was seen by many as a great prophet. Thus He was welcomed rapturously by a people riding on a tide of emotion. Perhaps some did see Him as the potential Messiah (in the wrong sense of a leader against the Romans), but mainly, in their excitement and ‘holiday’ mood, they welcomed Him as the great teacher and healer, the man of God.

The other Gospels make clear that Jesus had a deliberate purpose in His actions (compare Luke 19:40). He went out of His way to enter Jerusalem on an ass, not as a warlike leader, but as a king of peace. This was a deliberate enacting of the prophecy in Zechariah 9:9 to reveal once and for all that He was the promised King. But He did not try to capitalise on the event. The message was intended to be absorbed, not to be flaunted. He wanted all to ponder on what He had done and see by this in their hearts that He was indeed the One who had come from God to save His people. He also wanted them to know what kind of a Saviour He had come to be, not one of warlike action, but One Who came in humility and peace.

It was a never to be forgotten scene and many would later ponder it in their hearts, as John tells us. But there is no suggestion that the crowds made any attempt to use it as a means of insurrection. By most it was soon over and forgotten. They did not really recognise Who He was. They were carried along by the emotion of the moment. Even the disciples did not grasp its significance at the time. To every Christian, of course, its meaning is crystal clear. Here was the King Messiah entering Jerusalem to face His rejection and triumph.

Verse 16

‘His disciples did not understand this at first, but when Jesus was glorified they then remembered that these things had been written about him and had been done to him’.

Even the disciples did not get the point about His action immediately, an important fact to note. Only Jesus really knew what He was doing. For we must remember that they were used to such welcomes by the crowds at Passover time and they were still not fully clear as to Who and What Jesus was even though they recognised His Messiahship, a Messiahship that He had warned them would tinged with suffering (Mark 8:28-31). But once Jesus was glorified (crucified, and raised to God’s right hand) they would remember what had happened. Later, the Holy Spirit drew their attention to the Scriptures, to what ‘was written about Him’, and they realised the significance of the event. They recognised that there Jesus had made His claim to be the coming King and unconsciously the crowd had welcomed their triumphant king.

John constantly draws attention to these unconscious prophecies. First Caiaphas (John 11:49-51), then Mary (John 12:1-9) and now the crowds. God was at work in men’s subconscious, emphasising the importance of what was taking place before men’s eyes.

Verses 17-18

‘The crowd therefore who were with him when he called Lazarus out of the tomb and raised him from the dead, bore witness. This was why the great crowd also went and met him, because they heard he had done this sign.’

John then connects the enthusiasm of the crowds with the raising of Lazarus. This was one of the main reasons for their enthusiasm. The crowd that had been with Him when he called Lazarus out of the tomb had inevitably testified about what they had seen, and the reason the crowd went to meet Him was that they had heard ‘that He had done this sign’. So the testimony of eyewitnesses was passed on and helped to result in this great welcome of the raiser of the dead.

Verse 19

‘The Pharisees then said to one another, “You observe that you cannot do anything. See, the world has gone after him’.

The Pharisees watched all these events with cynical eyes. They, who should have been at the forefront of His welcome, were too hidebound to recognise the truth before their eyes. Instead of responding to Him they grumbled at His success.

They recognised that even their influence could not persuade the people generally that Jesus was not a prophet. The crowds went after Jesus regardless of what they said. ‘The world’ is a slight exaggeration, even though the crowd would include people from many parts of the world who had come to the Passover, but it was a further typical unconscious prophecy.

There are none quite so bigoted as the deeply religious, something we must all beware of lest we also be found wanting when God begins to work. It is one thing to have deeply cherished convictions, it is another to allow those to prevent the truth breaking through. How different it might have been if He had supported them and their teachings. Then they would have cheered for Him. But He could not because they had become false with the result that He had had to strip away cherished beliefs, which were in point of fact wrong, and that was something that they could not abide.

Verses 20-21

Life Comes through His Death (John 12:20-33 ).

‘Now among those who went up to worship at the Feast were some Greeks. So these came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, and said to him, “Sir, we want to see Jesus”.’

At this stage some Greeks approached Philip in order to meet with Jesus. ‘Greeks’ simply means Gentiles. It is doubtful if they were proselytes (circumcised converts) to Judaism for then they would not have been seen as Gentiles. They were probably rather ‘God-fearers’, (those Gentiles who looked to the God of Israel without being circumcised and becoming proselytes, having thus only restricted access to the synagogues and being limited in the Temple to the court of the Gentiles). Many such God-fearers came to Jerusalem at the great feasts, attracted by the monotheism and morality of the Jewish teaching. They were permitted to participate in synagogue worship in a limited fashion and to take part in the general festivities, and they could worship in the court of the Gentiles in the Temple. Their approach was possibly in order to discover whether this prophet welcomed such as them. Perhaps they were spurred on by the way in which Jesus had dealt with those who were hindering their worship in the Temple.

These God-fearing non-Jews were in direct contrast with the Pharisees. They saw what the majority of Pharisees refused to see. Their desire to see Jesus was certainly not academic but in order to learn from Him and receive assurance that they could be accepted by His God. We are not told whether they met Jesus, although we may assume that they did, but their very approach, with a significance that only He could know as it brought home to Him the future, spurred Him into words about His coming death, a death which would pave the way for the full acceptance of the Gentiles. John, of course, was concerned that his readers, who were themselves Greeks, would align themselves with these men of faith.

Verse 22

‘Philip went and told Andrew, and Andrew went with Philip and they told Jesus’.

It is indicative of how uncertain the disciples were about things that Philip felt that he needed help in broaching the matter with Jesus. The question in his mind was, would Jesus be willing to give time to these Gentiles, even though they were God-fearers? (God-fearers were those Gentiles who were responsive to the teaching of Judaism without actually being willing to be circumcised and become proselytes). Or were they outside the scope of His ministry? This in itself confirms that Jesus’ teaching had stressed first His responsibility to Israel, as Matthew 10:15; Matthew 15:24 make clear, even though it had then expanded towards Gentiles in Sidon and Decapolis. The following verses were the assurance of their acceptance.

Verses 23-24

‘And Jesus answered them, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. With great emphasis (truly, truly) I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the ground and dies, it remains alone, but if it dies it bears much fruit”.’

‘The hour has come.’ Previously we were told that His hour was not yet come (John 7:30; John 8:20). But this approach of the Gentiles had reminded Him that the time of suffering now approached on the horizon and He was ready to face it within the timing of God. The Passover Lamb, the Lamb of God (John 1:29; John 1:36), must die at the Passover. Like a grain of wheat He must fall into the ground and die.

The idea of the ‘glorifying’ of the Son of Man takes us back directly to Daniel (John 9:13-14) where ‘one like a son of man’ comes before God to receive His kingdom, coming out from a background of suffering and death (Daniel 9:21). The Son of Man is a title Jesus took for Himself because it represented both humility and glory. In one sense it represented weak, mortal man over against God and the heavenly beings (Psalms 8:4; Ezekiel 2:1 and often), on the other it represented the one who after suffering represented Israel before God and received authority in Heaven over God’s kingdom (Daniel 9:13-14).

In John’s Gospel ‘glorifying’ includes the death on the cross and the glory that follows, which results in the new age of the Spirit (John 7:39; John 12:32-33). Here the stress is on the cross. As a grain of wheat He must fall into the ground and die. But just as the wheat then springs into new life so by His resurrection He will produce fruit. The age of the Spirit, which has already begun through the ministry of Jesus, will come with power, even reaching out to the Gentiles. Thus His suffering is not an unfortunate, unexpected event but a necessity. It is that which will produce the fruitfulness (compare Isaiah 53:10).

The mention of the seeking Greeks prior to this word was because John wants us to see in this verse that the ‘much fruit’ in mind is not limited to Palestine but reaches out to the Gentile world as well. God so loves the world that He is giving His Son for the whole world (John 3:16). No doubt this was personally brought home to these Gentiles who had approached Him.

Verses 25-26

‘He who loves his life loses it, but he who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life. If anyone serves me he must follow me, and where I am there will my servant be as well. If anyone serves me the Father will honour him.’

Jesus then applies a similar thought to His followers. Like Jesus His followers must count their lives as nothing so that they may do the will of God. We must choose, as He did, between a life of self-gratification, and a life of obedience to God, even if this leads to a cross, as in one way or another it will in the crucifixion of self (Galatians 2:20). Those who would enjoy eternal life must first, like a grain of wheat fall into the ground and die. They must turn their backs on their own lives, hating them and dying to their old ways, and begin to live a life approved to God, letting Christ live out His life through them.

To be a servant of Christ means to walk the way of the cross. Only if we share with Christ in His humiliation will we share in His glory. There is no place for self-gratification in the Christian life. Only then will we be fitted to be with Him where He was going. But those who do serve Him in this way will be honoured by the Father. However, that this will not be easy comes out in His next words.

Verses 27-28

“Now is my soul troubled, and what shall I say? Father, save me from this hour? No, for this purpose have I come to this hour. Father, glorify your name!”

The coming of these earnest Greeks had brought home to Him the closeness of His hour, and He shuddered as He considered what lay before Him. ‘Father, save me from this hour’. The statement was both a question and a prayer. It was not a mere academic query. Even as He asked, He prayed, ‘Father, may I ask this question?’ His inner soul shrank from facing the consequences. There was no shame in that. But His cry must not be to be saved from it at any cost, for it is the purpose for which He has come. However much He would shrink from it He was determined to face it boldly. Rather does He long for His Father to be glorified through what He must face. And glorified He will be.

Verse 28

‘Then a voice came from Heaven, “I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again”.’

The very coming of Jesus, and His powerful ministry, have glorified the Father’s name. We beheld His glory, glory as of the only son of the Father, full of grace and truth (John 1:14). His signs and wonders have revealed the Father’s glory (John 11:4). But what was to come would bring, if possible, even greater glory, for it would be glory achieved through suffering. So Jesus need not be over-concerned about whether it will glorify God’s Name (i.e. God Himself), for God assures Him that He has already glorified it through His presence on earth, and that through what is to come the glory of God would be accomplished in even greater measure.

The Gospels record three instances of God responding with a voice from Heaven. The other two were at Jesus' baptism (Matthew 3:17; Mark 1:11; Luke 3:21-22) and at the transfiguration (Matthew 17:5; Mark 9:7; Luke 9:35), thus a voice from Heaven came at the commencement of the revelation of His glory, at its fullest manifestation, and here as a divine seal on the revelation of His glory in death and resurrection.

Verse 29

‘The crowd standing around, heard it and were saying it thundered. Others were saying, “an angel spoke to him”.

The actual words of the thunderous cry from Heaven were not understood by the crowd, although Jesus understood them. But the crowd were moved by the roar. Some ‘were saying’ - there were awed discussions among the crowd. All had heard something, but not all were willing to accept what it was. Some, the sceptical, claimed it was thunder, others, the half-believing, were convinced it was the voice of an angel. But all had heard it and none was unmoved. We can compare with this how the multitude at Sinai heard the thunder of God’s voice but did not discern the words (Exodus 20:18-21; Exodus 24:3). John may well have intended the comparison. A new covenant was being enacted (Matthew 26:28; Luke 22:20).

Verse 30

‘Jesus answered and said, “This voice occurred not for my sake, but for your sake”.’

Jesus then explained to them the purpose of the voice from Heaven. It was true that His Father had spoken to Him for His comfort and in response to His yearning, but that could have been said in His heart. It came in the way that it did so that the crowd might recognise that God had spoken to Him. It was important that they should understand the importance of the hour. Compare how in John 11:42 He had prayed aloud for their sakes. All this was preparing the ground for the ministry of the disciples after the resurrection. The hearts of men were being prepared.

Verses 31-33

‘ “Now is the judgment of this world, now shall the ruler of this world be cast out, and I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to myself”. (He said this to show by what death he would die).’

The cross would declare that God had passed judgment, not on Jesus, but on the world. As He died there for men it would be because of God’s sentence of death on the world. It was proof that apart from Him the world was rejected. He was suffering what they should have been suffering. Furthermore it was a sentence on the rulers of the world. They too were cast out as a result of their act and would be replaced. They were no longer to be listened to, for their words had resulted in the cross. Rather must men look to the crucified One, lifted up to death and glory, Who will draw all men to Himself.

But the ruler of this world is not only to be seen as each physical ruler. There is one who lies behind them, and he too will be cast out. (Compare John 14:30; John 16:11. The constant use of the singular must surely hold this meaning). His forces would be defeated and degraded, and his power would be broken. (See Matthew 12:29; Mark 3:27; Luke 10:18; Luke 11:20-22; 2 Corinthians 4:4; Ephesians 2:2; Colossians 2:15). Thus the world which kept men in ignorance of the truth, and the ruler of this world who tried to hold them in his sway, blinding men to the truth (2 Corinthians 4:4), will be defeated as men are drawn to the crucified one. The Strong Man will be defeated by the Stronger Than he, and the weak who respond to Jesus will be set free (Matthew 12:29 and parallels).

‘Will draw all men to myself’. Men of every type and race will be drawn to Him through the cross. While ‘draw’ could theoretically mean simply that all men would feel the urge to respond, this could only be true if there were a universal revelation, and it is therefore apparent that ‘all men’ here must indicate all types and races (compare Acts 2:17). This is thus the effectual drawing power of the Father (compare John 6:44).

Verse 34

The Response of the Crowds (John 12:34-43 ).

‘The crowd answered him, “We have heard from the Law that the Messiah remains for ever. How can you say that the Son of Man must be lifted up. Who is this Son of Man?”

The crowds were puzzled by His words, which raise a number of questions. We must ask firstly whether this is to be looked on as one question, with the Messiah equated with the Son of Man, or whether the crowd were yelling out a number of questions with the questions about the Messiah and the Son of Man being two or three selected out of many? Either way they are selected by John as illustrating the following words of Jesus. And they emphasise to the reader both His Messiahship and His future triumph at God’s right hand.

Furthermore we then have to ask whether when they spoke of the Son of Man the crowds themselves had Jesus in mind, or whether they were just speaking of a theological figure spoken of in current thought and literature. The impression given by the third question is that they had not related the Son of Man directly to Jesus.

In John’s use of the questions the answer to these questions is not too important, for Jesus does not answer the questions directly. What He does do is refer them to Himself as the Light of the world (compare John 8:12; John 9:5) Who is now about to be with them for only a short time so that response to Him is urgent. John clearly therefore sees this reply as in some way answering the questions. John’s purpose in selecting the questions is thus to bring out to his readers that what mattered was not speculation about Messiahs and Sons of Men, both of which Jesus was (there was no point in bringing them up if He was not), but response to Him as the Light shining out of darkness.

It also stresses that at this stage Jesus was not prepared to enter into such theological questions. His main concern was on the fact that He was about to die, and that it was urgent that they face up to the truth. There had been times when He was prepared to deal with such questions in detail, but not now when His departure was just around the corner. Theological titles are of secondary importance when the Light of the world is there before them. That being said, for the sake of completeness, we will look at the questions more deeply.

The crowds said that they had been taught from ‘the Law’ that Messiah, their great expected leader, would remain for ever. They used the term Law loosely (compare John 10:34). They really meant that they had had it from the teachers of the Law who had so interpreted the Scriptures. The verses utilised may have included Psalms 89:36; Psalms 110:4; Isaiah 9:7; Ezekiel 37:25; Daniel 7:14 taken literally. Psalms 89:36, for example, speaks of David's "seed" remaining forever, and later in the same Psalm, in Psalms 89:51, mention is made of the "anointed one" (Messiah). This Psalm was interpreted messianically in both the New Testament (Acts 13:22; Revelation 1:5; Revelation 3:14) and in the later rabbinic literature (Midrash Rabbah 97 on Genesis). But if this was so, they asked, how could Jesus be the Messiah if He was to be ‘lifted up’?

The inference is that they recognised that by being lifted up He was referring to His own death of which He has been speaking clearly. In this case Jesus’ reply stresses that the time is now urgent because the Light will soon be taken from them. It is therefore essential that they respond immediately. It is confirming that such a question about the Messiah has no simple answer if related to Him because He is about to die. (He still preferred to leave in the air the question as to whether He was the Messiah).

With regard to the second question(s) there are two ways of looking at them. Firstly that they equated the term Son of Man with the Messiah. (‘How can you say that the Son of Man must be lifted up if the Messiah remains for ever’). This is quite possible. Writings about the Son of Man as a heavenly figure are known around the time of Jesus, and there may well have been others, and some may well have seen him as a ‘Messianic’ figure.

Alternately the questions about the Son of Man might have been from a different section of the crowd and have been totally unrelated to that about the Messiah. They may have referred back to what Jesus had earlier taught in John 8:28; John 3:14. And they may or may not have associated the Son of man with Jesus.

Either way Jesus replies by pointing to Himself as the Light of the world. Thus with His death soon approaching He is not prepared to discuss theological niceties and speculation, but preferred to face them with the challenge of why He was here. Immediate response was required. He was here in order that they might come to the Light and not walk in darkness, and might do it urgently while He was still here, with the warning that darkness might soon overtake them. He leaves it to be implied that He Himself is this Son of Man.

By ‘who is this Son of Man?’ they may basically have meant ‘of what nature is the One described by the title?’. It is at least clear that they are now being made to think. Jesus reply answers their question. Let them now look to the Light of the world, that is, to Himself.

Verses 35-36

‘Jesus said to them, “The light is with you for a little while longer. Walk while you have the light lest the darkness overtakes you, for he who walks in the darkness does not know where he is going. While you have the light, believe in the light so that you may become the sons of light”.’

As we have seen Jesus did not answer directly. He was not concerned with theological discussion but with genuine response from those in the crowd. Let them rather consider their present position. There is One among them Who is revealing God’s truth, revealing the light. While He is with them they need to take full advantage of the situation, otherwise there will come a time when He has gone and they will be left only in darkness.

Then they will be left wandering around blindly not knowing where they were going (perhaps Deuteronomy 28:65 was in Jesus’ mind here). Instead of having the light they will be left with the blind leaders of the blind. So now while He is still here they must seize their chance. They can respond now to His truth in full faith, thus becoming sons of light, those who are the product of the shining Light, or the alternative will be to be left in darkness. They must stop arguing about the niceties of the Son of Man and the Messiah, and concentrate on His present light. Then all else will begin to fall into place.

‘The light is with you for a little while longer’. The first reference was to Jesus and His soon departure. But the words may include the thought that that light would continue to shine on them through His disciples until darkness descended on Jerusalem through its final destruction in 70 AD. It also reminds us that we too have but ‘a little while longer.’

‘Walk while you have the light.’ Light will not always be there. Men must respond when it shines otherwise their hearts may become hardened with the result that they find themselves in darkness. Then they will become lost and unable to find the way.

‘Sons of light.’ Let them be born again through the light that shines on them and thus go on to reveal the light through their lives, demonstrating that they are truly sons of light, the seed of Him Who is the Light of the world (John 8:12). The term ‘sons of light’ was in current circulation in Palestine at the time and is evidenced at Qumran. But different parties gave it different emphases. To Jesus it meant those who followed Him as the light of the world. To the Qumranis it indicated those who brought themselves within the community covenant and obeyed their teaching.

Verse 36

‘These things Jesus spoke, and he departed and hid himself from them’.

He had given them their opportunity and now that opportunity was over earlier than they might have thought. That His action was deliberate is stressed - He hid Himself. It may well have been that He was very tired with the pressures that were building up on Him and could endure the crowds no longer, or it may be that there were ideas building up among the crowds which could be dangerous before His time was come, or it may simply indicate that He did not want to be betrayed before His time. Whichever way it was many had had their last opportunity, for they had failed to believe. They probably thought that they would have many more chances, but they were wrong. We never know when our last chance may come.

Verses 37-38

‘Though he had done so many signs before them still they did not believe in him. This was in order that the word spoken by the prophet Isaiah might be fulfilled, “Lord, who has believed our report, and to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?” (Isaiah 53:1 LXX)’

John stresses here the people’s blindness. They had heard Jesus’ words, they had seen remarkable signs, and yet they refused to respond and believe. But He was not surprised for so the Scripture warned. The wondrous Servant of God spoken of in Isaiah 53:0 had come, but like the men of old they had failed to discern the hand of God in it. (Of course there had been those who had responded (John 12:11) but here the stress is on the majority who continued to be blind). Indeed John sees in this a vindication of Scripture. It was ‘in order that the Scripture might be fulfilled’. There was a divine necessity in it. Afterwards ‘they could not believe’ (v. 39). God was not taken by surprise for He had warned of the situation beforehand.

This is the second time that a decisive rejection of Jesus is spoken of. The first was when many of His disciples would no longer walk with Him (John 6:66), even though He is 'the way' (John 14:6). This one tells us that many in the crowds would not believe in Him, even though He is 'the truth.' The third will come in John 19:15 when, even though He is 'the life,' the Jewish leaders will arrange for Him to be crucified and will rather choose Caesar.

Verses 39-41

‘Therefore they could not believe, for Isaiah again said, “He has blinded their eyes and hardened their heart, lest they should see with their eyes and perceive with their heart, and turn for me to heal them”. Isaiah said this because he saw his glory and spoke of him.’

When does God blind men’s eyes and harden men’s hearts? It is when they have first closed their own eyes and deliberately hardened their own hearts. Compare the example of Pharaoh in Exodus. He first hardened his own heart, and then later on it was God Who hardened his heart. Thus having refused to respond such people become in danger of permanent blindness, for God’s actions from then on will only further blind and harden them. It is dangerous to play with God’s truth.

What a contrast there was between Isaiah and the people. Isaiah opened his eyes and saw the glory of God when God revealed His glory. (John may well have had in mind that in the same way Jesus was the revealer of the glory of God (John 1:14)). But the people closed their eyes to that revelation of God. The people here too were closing their eyes in the light of this new revelation of the glory of God (‘we beheld His glory’ - John 1:14) and may also become blinded by God. This was what those who had seen Jesus’ signs and failed to respond were in danger of doing.

‘Isaiah said this because he saw his glory and spoke of him.’ In context the pronouns here refer to Jesus. The writer is thus stating that when Isaiah saw the glory of the Lord, it was the glory of the Lord Jesus that he saw. To him the Lord God and the Lord Jesus were inextricably linked. Once again we have the emphasis that Jesus is the ‘true Son of God’.

Verses 42-43

‘Nevertheless many, even of the authorities, believed in (eis) him, but because they were afraid of the Pharisees they did not confess it in case they were put out of the synagogue, for they loved the praise of men more than the praise of God’.

The use of eis usually, but not always, signifies genuine faith in John’s Gospel. There is therefore every reason to think that these were genuine believers, who would later reveal themselves. Yet at this point they were secret believers because they feared exclusion from the synagogue. Note that they included even some of those who were in authority. It sometimes takes time for believers to be willing to declare their position openly, but if they are true believers eventually they will.

‘They loved the praise of men more than the praise of God’. They could not bear to be unpopular or to be despised, or to be degraded or criticised by the Pharisees. Before we condemn them let us look at ourselves. Whose praise is most important to us? How glibly we can answer this question, but are we really sure?

Verses 44-45

‘And Jesus cried out and said, “He who believes in me believes not (only) in me but in him who sent me. And he who closely observes me sees him who sent me’.

This then was the essence of Jesus’ proclamation. He was the One sent from God, and in Whom God could be seen. To believe in Jesus was to believe in the Father. To observe Jesus closely was to see the Father (and as John 14:7-9 evidences this meant literally). For He revealed the glory of God. And that included the fact that He and the Father are essentially One. (See John 7:16; John 8:19; John 8:42; John 10:30; John 10:38; John 13:20; John 14:7-9)

Verses 44-50

A Final Summary of His Teaching (John 12:44-50 ).

John is now concerned that the last that we hear of Jesus before the hours leading up to His crucifixion will be the essence of His message, a message that has been constantly repeated. It is for this that He will be put to death, and John wants it to be quite clear.

Verse 46

‘I have come as light into the world so that whoever believes in me may not remain in darkness.’

With the coming of Jesus light has come into the world (compare John 1:5-9), a light that reveals the glory of God (John 1:14; John 1:18), a light that reveals man’s sinfulness (John 3:17-21), a light that enables men to walk in it and results from receiving life (John 8:12). God is revealed fully in His Son. Through Him the light shines so that men may see the glory of God. Men now have no excuse for not understanding the truth about God for God has revealed Himself clearly. Prior to this they were in darkness, groping feebly for the truth. But now the Light has come, and through His radiance all may be seen clearly. (See John 1:4-5; John 1:9; John 8:12). And as with Isaiah to see God is to be aware of one’s own sinfulness (Isaiah 6:1-7). For the idea of ‘remaining in darkness’ compare Isaiah 9:2. To eject the One Whose light has shone in them is to remain in darkness.

Verses 47-48

‘If anyone hears my words and does not keep them, I do not judge him, for I did not come to judge the world but to save the world. He who rejects me and does not receive my words has a judge, the word that I have spoken will be his judge in the last day’.

Believing in Jesus also means hearing His words and ‘keeping’ them, i.e. considering them carefully and living in accordance with them. ‘He who says I know Him and does not keep what He commanded is a liar and the truth is not in him’ (1 John 2:4). Jesus will not judge such people now. He is intent on providing salvation for them. That is why He had come, to offer salvation to the world. But they will have a judge, for His very spoken word will act as their judge in the last day. (See John 3:17; John 5:24; John 5:45-47; John 8:15-16; John 8:31; John 8:37; John 8:51). The whole import of these verses is on the Saviour Who has come into the world and Whose word will be the final arbiter of men’s destinies. He is both Messiah and Son of God.

Verses 49-50

‘For I have not spoken on my own authority, but the Father who sent me, he has instructed me what I should say and speak. And I know that his instruction is eternal life’.

And this is because His words are God’s words in a unique sense, and carry a unique authority. He was sent by the Father, and His words carry the Father’s authority, for He is being carefully instructed by His Father, and will continue to be so. And when men receive that instruction it results for them in eternal life, for it is God’s word which illuminates their hearts and transforms them. Thus He is here to offer eternal life to all who will receive it. (See John 3:11; John 3:16; John 6:63; John 7:16; John 8:26; John 8:28; John 8:38).

Verse 50

‘And what I say, therefore, I say as the Father has told me I must’.

Jesus confirms that all He has said has been because God has instructed Him in what to say and has made Him say it under the divine necessity. He is God’s mouthpiece, God’s voice.

So John stresses at the end of this section which began with John 1:1, and ends here, both the Messiahship and Sonship of Jesus, and the essence of His teaching, along with the certainty that it has come directly from the Father, and is in accordance with His Father’s instruction. This is the message for which He will die, and now His ministry is complete He can go on to the preparation of His disciples for His final act.

Bibliographical Information
Pett, Peter. "Commentary on John 12". "Pett's Commentary on the Bible ". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/pet/john-12.html. 2013.
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