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The chapter we have now begun, finishes a most important division of John’s Gospel. Our Lord’s public addresses to the unbelieving Jews of Jerusalem are here brought to an end. After this chapter, John records nothing but what was said in private to the disciples.
We see, for one thing, in this passage, what abounding proofs exist of the truth of our Lord’s greatest miracles.
We read of a supper at Bethany, where Lazarus "sat at the table" among the guests,—Lazarus, who had been publicly raised from the dead, after lying four days in the grave. No one could pretend to say that his resurrection was a mere optical delusion, and that the eyes of the bystanders must have been deceived by a ghost or vision. Here was the very same Lazarus, after several weeks, sitting among his fellow-men with a real material body, and eating and drinking real material food. It is hard to understand what stronger evidence of a fact could be supplied. He that is not convinced by such evidence as this may as well say that he is determined to believe nothing at all.
It is a comfortable thought, that the very same proofs which exist about the resurrection of Lazarus, are the proofs which surround that still mightier fact, the resurrection of Christ from the dead. Was Lazarus seen for several weeks by the people of Bethany, going in and coming out among them? So was the Lord Jesus seen by His disciples.—Did Lazarus take material food before the eyes of his friends? So did the Lord Jesus eat and drink before His ascension.—No one in his sober senses, who saw Jesus take "broiled fish and a honeycomb," and eat it before several witnesses, would doubt that He had a real body. (Luke 24:42.)
We shall do well to remember this. In an age of abounding unbelief and scepticism, we shall find that the resurrection of Christ will bear any weight that we can lay upon it. Just as He placed beyond reasonable doubt the rising again of a beloved disciple within two miles of Jerusalem, so in a very few weeks He placed beyond doubt His own victory over the grave. If we believe that Lazarus rose again, we need not doubt that Jesus rose again also. If we believe that Jesus rose again, we need not doubt the truth of His Messiahship, the reality of His acceptance as our Mediator, and the certainty of our own resurrection. Christ has risen indeed, and wicked men may well tremble. Christ has risen from the dead, and believers may well rejoice.
We see, for another thing, in this passage, what unkindness and discouragement Christ’s friends sometimes meet with from man.
We read that at the supper in Bethany, Mary, the sister of Lazarus, anointed the feet of Jesus with precious ointment, and wiped them with the hair of her head. Nor was this ointment poured on with a niggardly hand. She did it so liberally and profusely that "the house was filled with the odor of the ointment." She did it under the influence of a heart full of love and gratitude. She thought nothing too great and good to bestow on such a Savior. Sitting at His feet in days gone by, and hearing His words, she had found peace for her conscience, and pardon for her sins. At this very moment she saw Lazarus alive and well, sitting by her Master’s side,—her own brother Lazarus, whom He had brought back to her from the grave. Greatly loved, she thought she could not show too much love in return. Having freely received, she freely gave.
But there were some present who found fault with Mary’s conduct, and blamed her as guilty of wasteful extravagance. One especially, an apostle, a man of whom better things might have been expected, declared openly that the ointment would have been better employed if it had been sold, and the price "given to the poor." The heart which could conceive such thoughts must have had low views of the dignity of Christ’s person, and still lower views of our obligations to Him. A cold heart and a stingy hand will generally go together.
There are only too many professing Christians of a like spirit, in the present day. Myriads of baptized people cannot understand zeal of any sort for the honor of Christ. Tell them of any vast outlay of money to push trade or to advance the cause of science, and they approve of it as right and wise. Tell them of any expense incurred for the preaching of the Gospel at home or abroad, for spreading God’s Word, for extending the knowledge of Christ on earth, and they tell you plainly that they think it "waste." They never give a farthing to such objects as these, and count those people fools who do. Worst of all, they often cover over their own backwardness to help purely Christian objects, by a pretended concern for the poor at home. Yet they find it convenient to forget the notorious fact that those who do most for the cause of Christ, are precisely those who do most for the poor.
We must never allow ourselves to be moved from "patient continuance in well-doing," by the unkind remarks of such persons. It is vain to expect a man to do much for Christ, when he has no sense of debt to Christ. We must pity the blindness of our unkind critics, and work on. He who pleaded the cause of loving Mary, and said, "Let her alone," is sitting at the right hand of God, and keeps a book of remembrance. A day is soon coming when a wondering world will see that every cup of cold water given for Christ’s sake, as well as every box of precious ointment, was recorded in heaven, and has its rewards. In that great day those who thought that anyone could give too much to Christ, will find they had better never have been born.
We see, lastly, in this passage, what desperate hardness and unbelief there is in the heart of man.
Unbelief appears in the chief priests, who "consulted that they might put Lazarus to death." They could not deny the fact of his having been raised again. Living, and moving, and eating, and drinking within two miles of Jerusalem, after lying four days in the grave, Lazarus was a witness to the truth of Christ’s Messiahship, whom they could not possibly answer or put to silence. Yet these proud men would not give way. They would rather commit a murder than throw down the arms of rebellion, and confess themselves in the wrong. No wonder that the Lord Jesus in a certain place "marveled" at unbelief. Well might He say, in a well-known parable, "If they believe not Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be persuaded though one rose from the dead." (Mark 6:6; Luke 16:31.)
Hardness especially appears in Judas Iscariot, who, after being a chosen Apostle and a preacher of the kingdom of heaven, turns out at last a thief and a traitor. So long as the world stands, this unhappy man will be a lasting proof of the depth of human corruption. That anyone could follow Christ as a disciple for three years, see all His miracles, hear all His teaching, receive at His hand repeated kindnesses, be counted an Apostle, and yet prove rotten at heart in the end, all this at first sight appears incredible and impossible! Yet the case of Judas shows plainly that the thing can be. Few things, perhaps, are so little realized as the extent of what desperate hardness and unbelief there is in the heart of man.
Let us thank God if we know anything of faith, and can say, with all our sense of weakness and infirmity, "I believe." Let us pray that our faith may be real, true, genuine, and sincere, and not a mere temporary impression, like the morning cloud and the early dew. Not least, let us watch and pray against the love of the world. It ruined one who basked in the full sunshine of privileges, and heard Christ Himself teaching every day. Then "let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall." (1 Corinthians 10:12.)
v1.—[Then Jesus six days...passover...Bethany.] Every intelligent reader of the Gospel will see that John purposely omits at this point certain events which are recorded by Matthew, Mark, and Luke. He passes at once from our Lord’s retirement to the city called Ephraim to His return to Bethany for the last time. In this interval will be found the things related in Matthew 20:17-34; Mark 10:32-52; Luke 18:31 to Luke 19:1-28. In whatever part of Palestine this city Ephraim was, it is almost certain that between it and Bethany Jesus passed through Jericho, healed two blind men there, converted the publican Zacchæus, and spoke the parable of the nobleman who went into a far country, after giving to his ten servants ten pounds.
Why John did not record these facts we do not know, and it is mere waste of time to inquire. A reverent mind will be content to remember that John wrote by inspiration of God, and was guided by infallible direction, both as to what he recorded and what he did not record. Reason and common sense, moreover, tell us that if the four Evangelists had all narrated exactly the same things, their value as independent witnesses would have been greatly damaged. Their variations and diversities are a strong indirect proof of their credibility. Too close an agreement would raise a suspicion of collusion, and look like an attempt to deceive.
The expression, "six days before the passover," is remarkable, because at first sight it seems to contradict Mark’s narrative of the anointing, which Mark expressly says was "two days before the passover." (Mark 14:1.) Hence some maintain that the Greek words should be translated, "before the six days of the passover feast," leaving the precise day indefinite and uncertain. To this, however, it is reasonably objected that the passover feast was more than six days, and that the proposed translation is not a probable rendering of the Greek words.—To this I must add, that in my opinion there seems no necessity for departing from the English version. It is not only possible, but probable, as Lightfoot maintains, that there were two distinct anointings of our Lord, one six days before the passover, and the other two days before. [The reader is requested to refer back to the notes on John 11:2, where he will find this point fully discussed.]
The passover was slain on the Thursday evening. At this rate our Lord must have arrived at Bethany on Friday, the afternoon or evening before the Sabbath. Thus he must have spent His last earthly Sabbath with Mary, Martha, and Lazarus, at Bethany.
That the disciples must have journeyed to Bethany with a full impression that a great crisis was at hand, and the end of their Master’s ministry approaching, one can hardly doubt, after reading the plain warnings recorded in Matthew, Mark, and Luke. But whether they really thought their Master would be put to death, or whether they did not secretly expect He would soon manifest His Divine power, take His kingdom and reign, is more than questionable.
A more deliberate, voluntary, calm walking up to death than our Lord’s last journey into Judæa, it is impossible to conceive.
[Where Lazarus...been dead...raised from the dead.] These words seem to show that Lazarus lived at Bethany, and was not merely a visitor or lodger there. They also show the immense importance of the miracle wrought on him. Within two miles of Jerusalem and the temple, there lived for weeks, if not months, a man well known to many Jews, who had been actually raised from his grave after being four days buried. He had not been raised only, and then had disappeared from public notice, but he lived where he was raised.
Lightfoot draws out the following interesting scheme of our Lord’s disposal of time during the last six days before His crucifixion:—(1) On Saturday He supped with Lazarus. (2) On Sunday He rode into Jerusalem publicly on an ass. This was the day when the Jews used to take out a lamb from the flock, for each family, and to keep it separate for the passover. On this day the Lamb of God publicly presented Himself in Zion. (3) On Monday He went to Jerusalem again, and cursed the barren fig-tree on the way. (4) On Tuesday He went again to Jerusalem, and spoke for the last time to the people. Returning, He sat on the Mount of Olives and delivered the famous prophecy of Matthew 24:1-51; Matthew 25:1-46, and supped that night with Simon the leper. (5) On Wednesday He tarried in Bethany. (6) On Thursday He went to Jerusalem, ate the passover, appointed the Lord’s Supper, and the same night was taken before the priests as a prisoner. (7) On Friday He was crucified.
v2.—[There they made him a supper.] These words show the joyful hospitality with which the Master was received by the disciples. The expression, "they," may perhaps be used indefinitely, according to a common Hebraism. (Compare Matthew 5:15, Matthew 10:10, Matthew 13:48, and John 15:6.) It then simply means, "a supper was made." If not so used, it evidently can apply to none but Mary, Martha, and Lazarus.—Whether the supper was on Friday evening, when our Lord arrived, after the Sabbath began, or on the Saturday, or the Sabbath Day, is immaterial. It is evident that hospitality was thought no breach of the Sabbath among the Jews.
Lightfoot says the feast of the Jews, on this particular day, six days before the passover, was always peculiarly liberal and sumptuous.
Hutcheson observes, "It is not unlawful at some times to enjoy the liberal use of the creatures in a sober manner. Christ does not decline this supper; sometimes He went to the feasts of Pharisees, and sometimes of Publicans." (Luke 7:36; Matthew 9:11.)
[And Martha served.] The natural temperament of this good woman comes out here as elsewhere. She could not sit still and do nothing while her Lord was in her house. She must be actively stirring and trying to do something. Grace does not take away our peculiar characteristics.
[But Lazarus...sat at the table with him.] This appears to most commentators, from Chrysostom downwards, to be purposely mentioned, in order to show the reality of Lazarus’ resurrection. He was not a ghost or a spirit. He had really been raised to life with a real body, and flesh and bones, and all the wants and conditions of a body. Thus we are practically taught that though a man’s body dies, it may yet live again.
Is not this feast a faint type of the Marriage Supper of the Lamb? Jesus Christ will be there; those believers who died and are raised again at His second advent will be there; and those who never died, but are found alive and believing when He comes, will be there. Then the number of guests will be complete.
v3.—[Then took Mary...ointment...anointed...feet...Jesus, etc., etc.] This remarkable action of Mary, which according to our Lord’s saying in Matthew and Mark, is related all over the world, deserves our special consideration.
The action itself was not an uncommon one in Eastern countries, where the heat is very great, and where the feet exposed to it by wearing sandals are liable to suffer much from dryness and scorching. There was nothing, moreover, out of the common way in a woman doing this service. To "wash the saints’ feet," Paul names among the good works of a Christian widow. (1 Timothy 5:10.)
The motive of Mary, in doing what she did, was evidently strong and grateful love to her Lord and Savior. Not only from what she had learned from Him for her own spiritual benefit, but also for what He had done for her brother Lazarus, she felt there was nothing too great or too good to do for Him. Her feelings made her anxious to do her Master the highest honor, regardless of expense, and indifferent to any remark that witnesses might make.
The extent of her gratitude is shown by the lavish profuseness with which she used the ointment on this occasion, although it was very costly. This seems indicated by her "wiping our Lord’s feet with her hair," having poured on them so much ointment that they needed wiping; and also by the "house being filled with the odour of the ointment." She poured out so much ointment that the scent of it filled the whole apartment and the whole house where the guests were. Anyone who knows the powerful odor of otto of roses, in the present day, will easily understand this.
What this "ointment of spikenard" was has puzzled the commentators in every age, as the Greek word throws no certain light on the question. Some think that it means "potable" ointment, that might be drunk; some that it means perfectly "pure" ointment, that might be trusted as genuine and unadulterated. Augustine thinks that the expression denotes the place from which the ointment came. The question is of no importance, and must be left unexplained for want of materials to explain it. Enough for us to know that it was something very valuable and costly. How costly an ointment might be, any one can guess who knows the value of pure otto of roses.
I can only repeat the opinion already expressed, that this anointing was certainly not the anointing which is described in Luke 7:1-50.; and most probably was not the anointing of Mark 14:1-72. The anointing in Mark was two days before the passover, while this was six. In Mark the ointment was poured on the head, and here it was poured on the feet. In Matthew and Mark several "disciples" murmured, but here only Judas is named. These discrepancies, in my judgment, are insuperable, and make it necessary to believe that there were two distinct anointings at Bethany during the last six days preceding the crucifixion. I grant that it is a choice between difficulties, and that there are difficulties in the view I maintain. But I do not think them so weighty as those of the other view. At any rate, I am supported by the great authority of Chrysostom, Chemnitius, Lightfoot, Whitby, and Henry.
What the significance of Mary’s wiping our Lord’s feet with the hairs of her head may be, is a difficult question. Perhaps, from our ignorance of Eastern customs in the days of our Lord’s earthly ministry, we are hardly qualified to give an opinion about it now. On points like these, where we are ignorant, it is wisest not to conjecture.
Calvin says, "The usual practice was to anoint the head, and on this account Pliny reckons it an instance of excessive luxury that some anointed the ankles. What John says about the feet amounts to this,—that the whole body of Christ, down to the feet, was anointed."
Rollock observes that at this time Mary seems to have had a deeper and more intimate perception of what there was in Christ, and of the real dignity of His person, than any of His disciples.
v4.—[Then said...Judas Iscariot, Simon’s son.] We know nothing of this Simon, who he was, or why he is specially mentioned here. It is worth notice, that hardly any name occurs so frequently in the New Testament as this. We have the following:—
1. The Apostle Simon, called also Peter.
2. The Apostle Simon, called also Zelotes, and the Canaanite.
3. Simon the brother of our Lord, mentioned with James and Joses. (Matthew 13:55.)
4. Simon the leper, in whose house the anointing took place. (Matthew 26:6.)
5. Simon the Cyrenian, who carried the cross. (Matthew 27:32.)
6. Simon the Pharisee. (Luke 7:40.)
7. Simon the sorcerer at Samaria. (Acts 8:9.)
8. Simon the tanner. (Acts 9:43.)
It would of course be interesting to know if Judas Iscariot was son of any of these. But we have no clue to guide us.
Wordsworth sees in the mention of Judas by name a strong internal evidence of the late date of John’s Gospel. Compare with this the fact that John alone mentions Peter and Malchus by name (John 18:10.)
[Which should betray him.] These words would be more literally rendered, "the one who was about to betray Him."
On the occasion of the anointing related in Matthew 26:1-75 and Mark 14:1-72, it is worth noticing, that "some of the disciples," and not Judas only, found fault with the action. It rather adds probability to the theory that there were two anointings at Bethany.
Chrysostom remarks that Jesus knew from the beginning that Judas was a traitor, and rebuked him with such words as, "One of you is a devil." (John 6:64.) Augustine also remarks that we must not suppose Judas never fell till he received money from the Jews. He was false from the beginning. He also says that he was present at the institution of the Lord’s Supper, and was a communicant.
v5.—[Why was not this ointment sold for three hundred pence...poor?] This carping question is a specimen of the way in which wicked men often try to depreciate a good action, and specially in the matter of giving money. When the deed is done they do not say downright that it ought not to have been done, but suggest that something better might have been done! Those who do good must be prepared to find their actions carped at and their motives depreciated, and themselves charged with neglecting one class of duties in over-zeal for doing others. If we do nothing until everybody commends and praises us, we shall never do any good in the world.
We may learn from this verse the costly nature of Mary’s ointment. If workman’s wages were "a penny a day" (Matthew 20:2), about 7½ d. of our money, this holy woman must have poured on our Lord’s feet what was worth between £9 and £10 of our money, according to the estimate of Judas. But allowances must perhaps be made for an exaggerated statement being made by an envious and wicked man.
We may note here that giving to the poor was evidently assumed to be a part of every Christian’s duty. Compare this with Galatians 2:10. In a country like England, where there is a poor law, Christians are sadly apt to forget this. The duty of "giving to the poor," and not merely paying rates in obedience to law, is just as obligatory now as it was 1800 years ago.
Ecolampadius remarks that the more wicked and graceless people are, the more ready they are to find fault with and blame others, and to see no beauty in what they do.
Quesnel remarks, that Judas made a great ado about 300 pence (viz., £10) and a little ointment, when he was about to sell the Son of God for 30 pieces of silver: viz., £3 15s.
Henry observes, "Coldness of love to Christ, and a secret contempt of serious piety, when they appear in professors of religion, are sad presages of final apostasy."
Stier remarks, "We have in the words of Judas an example of those judgments which have their foundation in the favorite principles of utilitarianism, and which may too often be applied falsely, to the wounding of pious hearts."—"This lays bare the root of that suspicion with which Missionary offerings for the extension of Christ’s kingdom are looked at, because of the poor whom we have at home."—"We have here, furthermore, an example of all cold judgments passed on the virtuous emotions of warm hearts, of all more or less conscious or unconscious censures of the artless outgoings and acts of honest feelings, and of all narrow-hearted criticism of others according to our own mind and temper."
v6.—[This he said, not...cared for the poor.] This is one of those parenthetical explanations or glosses, which are so frequent in John’s Gospel. The Evangelist tells us the true character of Judas, and the reason he said what he did. He did not really care about the poor, but put their interest forward as a special and plausible argument for depreciating Mary’s action, and discouraging such actions in others.
There is something very instructive in this. The argument of Judas is frequently reproduced in the present day. Hundreds of people excuse themselves from one class of duties by pretended zeal for others, and compensate for neglecting Christ’s cause by affecting great concern for the poor. Yet in reality they care nothing for the poor, and only want to save their own money, and to be spared contributing to religious objects.
Some, for instance, will never give money to benefit the souls of their fellow-countrymen, and tell us we must first relieve their poverty and feed their bodies.—Some again will give nothing to help Missions abroad, and tell us we must first mind the poor at home.—Even the shareholders of some great joint-stock companies have been known to express great concern for the poor and working classes, as an excuse for carrying on their business on Sundays.—The language of John about Judas Iscariot shows us that this apparent zeal for the poor should always be regarded with suspicion, and submitted to close analysis and cross-examination. He talked brave words about the poor, as if he cared more for them than anyone! Yet there is not the slightest proof in the Gospels that he cared more for them than others. Above all the conclusion of the verse lets out the truth, and the unerring pen of inspiration reveals the man’s true motives. These things are written for our learning. There are few greater impostors in the world than some of those who are pretending perpetually to care about the poor. The truest and best friends of the working classes and the poor, the people who give most and do most for them, will always be found among those who do most for Christ. It is the successors of Mary of Bethany, and not of Judas Iscariot, who really "care for the poor." But they do not talk about it. While others talk and profess, they act.
[But because he was a thief.] This is strong language, and a very heavy accusation. It seems to indicate that this was the habitual character of Judas. He always had been, and always was a dishonest man. So says an inspired Apostle. In the face of this expression, it appears to me impossible to prove that Judas ever had the grace of God at any time, and that he only fell away at last. He was inwardly wrong at heart all the way through. Again, I find it impossible to believe that Judas was a high-souled and noble-minded, though greatly erring, man, and that his motive in betraying his Lord was to hasten His kingdom, and to cut short the period of his humiliation. I cannot reconcile this with the word "thief."
Let us note here how far a man may go in Christian profession without any inward grace. There is no evidence that Judas up to this time was unlike other Apostles. Like them he had seen all Christ’s miracles, heard Christ’s teaching, lived in Christ’s company, and had himself preached the kingdom of God. Yet he was at bottom a graceless man. Privileges alone convert nobody.
Ferus remarks, "Let us never put confidence in man, or in any sanctity of position, office, or dress. If apostleship did not make Judas a saint, neither will position, office, or dress make thee a saint. In fact, unless you first have inward holiness, and have sought it from God, it may be that your office may render you more wicked."
Let us note the amazing power of the love of money. No besetting sin seems so thoroughly to wither up and blight and harden the heart. No wonder it is called "the root of all evil." (1 Timothy 6:10.) However many the faults and infirmities recorded of saints in the Bible, we have not a single example of one that was covetous.
Chrysostom observes, "A dreadful thing is the love of money! It disables both eyes and ears, and makes men worse to deal with than a wild beast, allowing a man to consider neither conscience, nor friendship, nor fellowship, nor salvation."
Quesnel observes that "Christ allows His money to be taken from Him, but never His sheep."
[And had the bag.] The Greek word rendered "bag" is a curious one. The original idea is that of a bag in which musicians kept the mouthpieces or reeds of their instruments. From that, the idea evidently was attached to it of a bag carried about by any member of a company, such as that of the disciples, on behalf of his companions. Whether the common stock of provisions as well as of money was not kept in this bag, perhaps admits of a question.
Theophylact says, that some think that Judas was trusted with the care of the money as one of the meanest and most inferior of Christian duties. Thus in Acts, the Apostles would not "serve tables." (Acts 6:2.)
[And bare what was put therein.] The last words would be more literally rendered, "the things put therein." Some, as Origen, Theophylact, Pearce, Lampe, Tittman, Bloomfield, and Clarke, have thought that the word "bare" means "took away, carried off, stole, secreted, or set apart for himself."—I doubt this. I prefer the simple idea of "carrying about." It was the office of Judas to be the purse-keeper of the little company of disciples. The contributions in money and provisions of those friends who ministered to our Lord, such as "Joanna, Susanna, and many others" (Luke 8:3), were probably meant by the things here mentioned. It is clear that our Lord had no earthly wealth, nor His disciples. It is equally clear that His friends, scattered all over Palestine, must have thought it a privilege, whenever He came among them, to contribute to His maintenance and support. Of these contributions in all probability Judas was treasurer.
Let professing Christians note that to have money passing through their hands, is a snare and a temptation. It is a snare by which many in every age have been cast down.
v7.—[Then said Jesus, Let her alone.] This is unquestionably a rebuke to Judas, and a somewhat sharp one. It shows how jealously our Lord regards any attempt to hinder, check, or discourage the zeal of His own people. Even now, when some of His weak disciples undertake work which calls forth enmity and opposition, He can make all difficulties vanish, and say, "Let them alone."
[Against the day...burying...kept this.] The first word here would be more literally rendered, "for" the day. I believe we must not interpret this sentence as if our Lord meant that Mary really knew that our Lord’s burial was at hand. I think it rather signifies, "The ointment which Mary has poured on my feet, though she meant it only as a mark of honor, happens to be a most suitable thing, as my death and burial are approaching. She little knew, in doing what she did, the nearness of my death; but as it happens, her action is most seasonable."
Some, as Chrysostom, think that our Lord intended to prick the conscience and soften the feelings of Judas by talking of His "burial," and by the language of the next verse, "Me ye have not always." It may possibly be so. But I rather think that in both instances He intended to direct the minds of all around Him, as He had evidently been doing for some weeks, to His approaching death and the conclusion of His ministry. He brings that conclusion in at every turn now.
Some think that the word "kept" refers to the ointment having been originally got by Mary for her brother Lazarus, and that there had been a long hoarding up of it from the day when Lazarus died, and that Judas blamed Mary for having "kept" it so long, and not having sold it. But this is purely conjectural.
May we not learn from our Lord’s words here, that Christians do not always know the full meaning of what they do? God uses them as His instruments, without their being aware of it at the time. (Compare John 12:16.)
Calvin says, "Those are absurd interpreters who infer from Christ’s reply, that costly and magnificent worship is pleasing to God. He rather excuses Mary, on the ground of her having rendered an extraordinary service, which ought not to be regarded as a perpetual rule for the worship of God."
v8.—[For the poor always...with you.] It is clear from these words that poverty will always exist; and we need not wonder. So long as human nature is what it is, some will always be rich and some poor, because some are diligent and some idle, some are strong and some weak, some are wise and some foolish. We need never dream that by any arrangement, either civil or ecclesiastical, poverty can ever be entirely prevented. The existence of pauperism is no proof whatever that states are ill governed, or that churches are not doing their duty.
Ecolampadius thinks that our Lord here refers to the poor as being His members, and that there is a latent reference to the language of the twenty-fifth chapter of Matthew, about works of mercy being regarded as works done to Christ’s brethren and to Christ Himself. (Matthew 25:40.)
It is noteworthy that in this sentence Jesus passes from a singular verb to a plural one, and seems to address not Judas only, but all present.
[But Me ye have not always.] These words show, for one thing, that our Lord’s bodily presence on earth was a great and miraculous event, and as such deserved to be marked with peculiar honor; and for another thing, that His departure was at hand, so that the opportunities for doing Him honor were becoming very few. Moreover, if words mean anything, the sentence completely overthrows the whole theory of Christ’ body being present under the forms of bread and wine, in the Lord’s Supper. That favorite Romish doctrine can never be reconciled with "Me ye have not always."
We may surely learn from this verse, that relieving the poor, however good a work, is not so important a work as doing honor to Christ. In times like these it is well to remember this. Not a few seem to think all religion consists in giving temporal help to the poor. Yet there are evidently occasions when the relief of the poor must not be allowed to supersede the direct work of honoring Christ. Doubtless it is well to feed, clothe, and nurse the poor; but it is never to be forgotten, that to glorify Christ among them is far better. Moreover, it is much easier to give temporal than spiritual help, for we have our reward in thanks, and gratitude, and the praise of man. To honor Christ is far harder, and gets us no praise at all.
Augustine remarks, "In respect of the presence of His Majesty, we have Christ always; in respect to the presence of the flesh, it was rightly said, ’Me ye will not have always.’ The Church had Him in respect of the flesh for a few days; but now by faith it holds, not with eyes beholds Him."
Zwingle observes that this sentence "excludes Christ’s corporal presence from the Lord’s Supper. According to His Divine nature, Christ is always present with His people. According to His human nature, He is in one place in heaven, at the right hand of God." Most of the other reformers make the same comment.
Rollock remarks, that our Lord’s defense of Mary in this passage must not be alleged as a warrant for extravagant and profuse expenditure in the public worship of Christians. Jesus Himself points out that the occasion was extraordinary and singular: viz., on the eve almost of His burial,—an occasion which could only happen once. This seems to imply that on ordinary occasions such an expenditure as that of Mary would not have been justifiable.
v9.—[Much people...knew...there.] We need not doubt that the news of our Lord’s arrival at Bethany would soon spread, like lightning, partly because Bethany was so near Jerusalem, partly because of the recent miracle wrought there, partly because of the order of the rulers to give information where Christ was, partly because of the approach of the Passover, and the crowds assembling all around Jerusalem.
[They came...not...Jesus’ sake...see Lazarus...dead.] This sentence is a genuine exhibition of human nature. Curiosity is one of the most common and powerful motives in man. The love of seeing something sensational and out of the common way, is almost universal. When people could see at once both the subject of the miracle and Him that worked the miracle, we need not wonder that they resorted in crowds to Bethany. Yet within ten days a far greater miracle was to take place, viz., our Lord’s own resurrection.
v10.—[But the chief priests consulted.] It admits of doubt whether the word rendered "consulted" would not be better rendered "purposed" or "determined," as in Acts 15:37, Acts 27:39; 2 Corinthians 1:17. This is the view of Schleusner and Parkhurst.
[That they might put Lazarus...death.] It is difficult to conceive a greater proof of hardened and incorrigible wickedness of heart than this sentence exhibits. The chief priests could not possibly deny the fact of Lazarus having been raised, or explain it away. He was a witness whose testimony against their unbelief was overwhelming. They must therefore stop his mouth by killing him. And these were the chief ecclesiastical leaders of Israel!—Moreover Lazarus had done them no harm. Though a disciple, there is no proof that he was a leading follower of Christ, much less a preacher of the Gospel. But he was an inconvenient standing evidence, and so he must be removed!
v11.—[Because...many...Jews went away.] This sentence shows the immense effect that the raising of Lazarus had on the public mind, in spite of all the priests could do to prevent it. In every age people will think for themselves, when God’s truth comes into a land. Prisons and threats and penalties cannot prevent men thinking. Mind and thought cannot be chained. When ecclesiastical tyrants burn martyrs, and destroy Bibles, and silence preachers, they forget their is one thing they cannot do. They cannot stop the inward machinery of people’s thoughts.
The expression "went away" will hardly bear the sense put on it by Pearce, of "withdrawing themselves from the service of the synagogue." It probably only means "went to Bethany." Bloomfield says, "it denotes their ceasing to pay that regard to the teaching of the Scribes which they formerly had done."
[And believed in Jesus.] I dare not think that this "believing" means more than an intellectual conviction that Jesus must be the Messiah. I see no evidence that it means the faith of the heart. Yet it is probable this was exactly the state of mind in which many hundreds or thousands of Jews were before the crucifixion, the resurrection, and the day of Pentecost; convinced but not converted, persuaded that Jesus was the Christ of God but afraid to confess Him. Hence on the day of Pentecost we cannot doubt that many hundreds of Peter’s hearers were prepared to believe. The stony ground of prejudice and ignorant adhesion to Judaism had been broken to pieces, and the seed fell into soil prepared for it.
Poole thinks that Lazarus after his marvelous resurrection, "possibly spake of it, to the honor and glory of God," and that this excited the special anger of the priests.
A careful reader of the Gospels can hardly fail to observe that our Lord Jesus Christ’s conduct, at this stage of His earthly ministry, is very peculiar. It is unlike anything else recorded of Him in the New Testament. Hitherto we have seen Him withdrawing as much as possible from public notice, retiring into the wilderness, and checking those who would have brought Him forward and made Him a king. As a rule He did not court popular attention. He did not "cry or strive, or cause His voice to be heard in the streets." (Matthew 12:19.) Here, on the contrary, we see Him making a public entry into Jerusalem, attended by an immense crowd of people, and causing even the Pharisees to say, "Behold, the world is gone after Him."
The explanation of this apparent inconsistency is not hard to find out. The time had come at last when Christ was to die for the sins of the world. The time had come when the true passover Lamb was to be slain, when the true blood of atonement was to be shed, when Messiah was to be "cut off" according to prophecy (Daniel 9:26), when the way into the holiest was to be opened by the true High Priest to all mankind. Knowing all this, our Lord purposely drew attention to Himself. Knowing this, He placed Himself prominently under the notice of the whole Jewish nation. It was only meet and right that this thing should not be "done in a corner." (Acts 26:26.) If ever there was a transaction in our Lord’s earthly ministry which was public, it was the sacrifice which He offered up on the cross of Calvary. He died at the time of year when all the tribes were assembled at Jerusalem for the passover feast. Nor was this all. He died in a week when by His remarkable public entry into Jerusalem He had caused the eyes of all Israel to be specially fixed upon Himself.
We learn, for one thing, in these verses, how entirely voluntary the sufferings of Christ were.
It is impossible not to see in the history before us that our Lord had a mysterious influence over the minds and wills of all around Him, whenever He thought fit to use it. Nothing else can account for the effect which His approach to Jerusalem had on the multitudes which accompanied Him. They seem to have been carried forward by a secret constraining power, which they were obliged to obey, in spite of the disapproval of the leaders of the nation. In short, just as our Lord was able to make winds, and waves, and diseases, and devils obey Him, so was He able, when it pleased Him, to turn, the minds of men according to His will.
For the case before us does not stand alone. The men of Nazareth could not hold Him when He chose to "pass through the midst of them and go His way." (Luke 4:30.) The angry Jews of Jerusalem could not detain him when they would have laid violent hands on Him in the Temple; but, "going through the midst of them, He passed by." (John 8:59.) Above all, the very soldiers who apprehended Him in the garden, at first "went backward and fell to the ground." (John 18:6.) In each of these instances there is but one explanation. A Divine influence was put forth. There was about our Lord during His whole earthly ministry a mysterious "hiding of His power." (Habakkuk 3:4.) But He had almighty power when He was pleased to use it.
Why then did He not resist His enemies at last? Why did He not scatter the band of soldiers who came to seize Him, like chaff before the wind? There is but one answer. He was a willing Sufferer in order to procure redemption for a lost and ruined soul. He had undertaken to give His own life as a ransom, that we might live for ever, and He laid it down on the cross with all the desire of His heart. He did not bleed, and suffer, and die, because He was vanquished by superior force, and could not help Himself, but because He loved us, and rejoiced to give Himself for us as our Substitute. He did not die because He could not avoid death, but because He was willing with all His heart to make His soul an offering for sin.
For ever let us rest our hearts on this most comfortable thought. We have a most willing and loving Savior. It was His delight to do His Father’s will, and to make a way for lost and guilty man to draw near to God in peace. He loved the work He had taken in hand, and the poor sinful world which He came to save. Never then let us give way to the unworthy thought that our Savior does not love to see sinners coming to Him, and does not rejoice to save them. He who was a most willing Sacrifice on the cross, is also a most willing Savior at the right hand of God. He is just as willing to receive sinners who come to Him now for peace, as He was to die for sinners, when He held back His power, and willingly suffered on Calvary.
We learn, for another thing, in these verses, how minutely the prophecies concerning Christ’s first coming were fulfilled.
The riding into Jerusalem on an ass, which is here recorded, might seem at first sight a simple action and in no way remarkable. But when we turn to the Old Testament, we find that this very thing had been predicted by the Prophet Zechariah five hundred years before. (Zechariah 9:9.) We find that the coming of a Redeemer some day, was not the only thing which the Holy Ghost had revealed to the Fathers but that even the least particulars of His earthly career were predicted and written down with precise accuracy.
Such fulfillments of prophecy as this deserve the special attention of all who love the Bible and read it with reverence. They show us that every word of Holy Scripture was given by inspiration of God. They teach us to beware of the mischievous practice of spiritualizing and explaining away the language of Scripture. We must settle it in our minds that the plain, literal meaning of the Bible is generally the true and correct meaning. Here is a prediction of Zechariah literally and exactly fulfilled. Our Lord was not merely a very humble person, as some spiritualizing interpreters would have explained Zechariah’s words to mean, but He literally rode into Jerusalem on an ass. Above all, such fulfillments teach us what we may expect in looking forward to the second advent of Jesus Christ. They show us that we must look for a literal accomplishment of the prophecies concerning that second coming, and not for a figurative and a spiritual one. For ever let us hold fast this great principle. Happy is that Bible-reader who believes the words of the Bible to mean exactly what they seem to mean. Such a man has got the true key of knowledge in looking forward to things to come. To know that predictions about the second advent of Christ will be fulfilled literally, just as predictions about the first advent of Christ were fulfilled literally, is the first step towards a right understanding of unfulfilled prophecy.
v12.—[On the next day.] This day must have been the Sunday before Easter, which is commonly known in England as "Palm Sunday," from the circumstance here related.
[Much people...come to the feast.] This must include many of the Jews who had come up to the passover from Galilee, and were doubtless well acquainted with our Lord’s ministry and the numerous miracles He had wrought in Galilee. Some of them in all human probability had formed part of the multitude whom He fed with a few loaves in the wilderness.
[When they heard that Jesus was coming to Jerusalem.] We must suppose that by some means our Lord’s intention of coming to Jerusalem must have become known, either by Himself communicating it, or by His disciples learning it and telling others. This information would be carried back to the city by those who came from thence to Bethany on Saturday. Bethany however was on the direct road from Jericho to Jerusalem, and the tidings of our Lord’s approach may have traveled before Him for some days.
Rollock thinks this multitude must have been chiefly composed of Jews not residing in Jerusalem. The Jerusalem Jews, he thinks, are an instance of the old proverb, which he quotes, "the nearer the Church the further from God."
v13.—[Took branches of palm trees, and went...meet him.] The precise motive of this action we are left to conjecture. Palm branches were carried by processions attending kings or victorious generals on public occasions. The triumphant host in heaven, which John saw in vision, was composed of persons having "palms in their hands." (Revelation 7:9.) It may be that some of the crowd on this occasion believed that Jesus was the Messiah. Others, we may be sure, did what the rest did, without any special motive at all. At most, we can only suppose that the multitude had a vague idea that Jesus was somebody very remarkable,—a prophet, or some one raised up by God,—and as such did Him honor.
Rollock thinks the custom of carrying branches at the feast of tabernacles, as the expression of joy, was the motive of the crowd here.
[And cried, Hosanna.] This Hebrew word is taken from Psalms 118:25, and signifies "save now, we beseech Thee."
Calvin thinks this phrase testified that they acknowledged Christ to be the Messiah, and considers that Psalms 118:1-29 had special reference to Messiah’s coming.
[Blessed...King of Israel that cometh...name...Lord.] This sentence would be more literally rendered, "Blessed is He that cometh in the name of the Lord, the king of Israel." It is partly taken from Psalms 118:26; but there the words are simply "Blessed be He that cometh in the name of the LORD," and no mention is made of "the king."—We can only conjecture that some of the multitude had a vague idea that Jesus had come to be a temporal King, and a conquering Messiah, who would set Israel free from all foreign dominion. These few caught up the words of the Psalm, and their cry was taken up by the many around them, perhaps without knowing distinctly what they did or said. Nothing is so soon caught up as a popular cry. From "Hosanna" to "Crucify Him" there was only an interval of a very few days! Nothing is so worthless as popular applause.
Theophylact holds decidedly that the multitude honored our Lord as God. But I cannot think it.
v14.—[And Jesus...found...ass, sat thereon.] That there was no chance or accident in the ass being found, we know from Matthew’s Gospel, where we read that the disciples were sent to get the ass ready. (Matthew 21:7.) Every step of this triumphal progress into Jerusalem was pre-arranged.
To ride upon an ass, we must always remember, was not so low and ignominious a mode of traveling as it may seem to us. The Eastern ass is a very different creature to the English ass,—larger, stronger, and far more valuable. Asses are specially named as part of the wealth of Abraham, Jacob, and Job. (Genesis 12:16; Genesis 30:43; Job 42:12.) Solomon had an officer specially over the asses. (1 Chronicles 27:30.) Abraham, Balaam, Achsah, Abigail, and the Shunamite rich woman, all rode on asses. To ride on white asses was a mark of great men in the days of the Judges. (Judges 5:10.) The idea therefore of anything degrading in riding on an ass must be entirely dismissed from our minds.
On the other hand, it is undeniable that the ass is not the animal that a king or ruler, in any age, has ever chosen to use on public occasions, in heading a procession. The horse has always been preferred. The use of an ass, we cannot doubt, was meant to show that our Lord’s kingdom was utterly unlike the kingdoms of this world. No Roman soldier in the garrison of Jerusalem, who, standing at his post or sitting in his barrack-window, saw our Lord riding on an ass, could report to his centurion that He looked like one who came to wrest the kingdom of Judæa out of the hand of the Romans, drive out Pontius Pilate and his legions from the tower of Antonia, and achieve independence for the Jews with the sword!
The Greek word rendered "young ass" here, is a diminutive, and seems used intentionally to show that it was a very young or small ass.
[As it is written.] By riding on an ass our Lord had fulfilled the prophecy of Zechariah, in which, 500 years before, the prophet had foretold that the King of Zion would one day appear "riding upon an ass." At the time when he prophesied this, there were no kings in Jerusalem. The kingdom had ceased at the captivity. We cannot doubt that this prophecy was well known among the Scribes and Pharisees, and taken together with the fact that Daniel’s 70 weeks were expiring, our Lord’s entry into Jerusalem in this fashion must have raised many thoughts in their hearts.
Let it be noted that many like events in our Lord’s earthly ministry were foreknown and foretold long before they happened, and with increasing minuteness and particularity as the roll of prophecy drew near to an end.
v15.—[Fear not, daughter of Sion, etc.] It will be observed, of course, that John does not quote literally and exactly all that Zechariah said. He omits several words. The explanation is simple. He did not quote from memory only, and so forget part, but he purposely only quoted that part of the prediction which was now specially fulfilled: viz., "the riding on the ass." The object of the prophecy, when it was first delivered, was to comfort the Jews in their low and decayed state, after their return from Babylon, by a promise of Messiah. Therefore Zechariah was taught by the Holy Ghost to say things which may be paraphrased as follows: "Fear not; be not cast down or depressed, O daughter of Sion, or inhabitants of Jerusalem. Low and depressed as your condition may be now, there will be a day when you shall have a King again. There shall come One who will ride on a certain public occasion into thy gates,—a King on an ass’s colt; not as a warrior, with a sword in hand, but as a peaceful Prince, a just and holy King, better even than David, Solomon, Hezekiah, or Josiah, and bringing with Him salvation for souls. Therefore think not thyself forsaken, because thou art poor now, and have no King. Look forward to thy coming King."
Let it be noted that Christ’s coming, first or second, is always the great topic of comfort in prophetical writings.
v16.—[These things understood not...disciples...first.] It is clear from this and other kindred passages, that our Lord’s own immediate followers had a very imperfect knowledge of our Lord’s Person and work, and of the fulfillment of Scripture which was going on around them. Brought up amidst Jewish notions of a glorious temporal Messiah, they failed to see the full meaning of many of our Lord’s doings.
Let us never forget that men may be true Christians, and right hearted, and yet be very ignorant on some points. "Faith," says Zwingle, on this verse, "admits of degrees and increase." In estimating others, we must make great allowance for early training and associations.
[But when Jesus was glorified.] This must mean, as Theophylact says, our Lord’s ascension. After that time, and the day of Pentecost, the minds of the disciples were greatly enlightened. Compare John 7:39—"The Holy Ghost was not yet given, because Jesus was not yet glorified."
[Then remembered...these things...written of Him.] The power of memory to see things long after they happen, in a new light, and then to recollect them vividly, is very remarkable. In no case does it appear more curiously than in the rising again in our minds of texts and sermons heard long ago, which at the time apparently left no impression on us. Preachers and teachers may take comfort in this. All is not lost that they say, although their hearers and scholars may seem at the time to pay no attention. Their words in many cases shall have a resurrection. One great cause of this, is that it is part of the Holy Ghost’s office "to bring things to remembrance." (John 14:26.)
[And...they...done these things...Him.] The disciples found, long after the triumphant entry into Jerusalem, that they had been unconscious actors in a mighty accomplishment of Scripture. This is a thought for us all. We have not the least idea, during the greater part of our lives, how much of God’s great purposes on earth are being carried on through us and by us, without our being conscious of it. The full extent to which they are carried on we shall never know till we wake up in another world. We shall then discern with wonder and amazement the full meaning of many a thing in which we were unconscious agents during our lives.
Calvin remarks, "Then, after the ascension, did it occur to the disciples that Christ did not do these things rashly, and that these men were not employed in idle amusement, but that the whole transaction had been regulated by the providence of God."
Poole observes, that here John "confesseth his own ignorance." He was present, and saw all that was done, but did not understand it at the time.
v17.—[The people therefore...Lazarus...bare record.] I feel no doubt that this verse describes one part of the multitude which met our Lord, and the following verse describes another part. One part, and of course a small one, consisted of those who had seen the raising of Lazarus. The other, and a much larger one, consisted of those who had only heard the report.
That there must have been a very large number of persons present at the miracle of Bethany, is, I think, indirectly proved by the expression here used, "people that were with Him."
The words "bare record," must mean that they testified that a great miracle really had been wrought, and that this same Jesus, now riding on an ass before the eyes of the people, was that very Person who had wrought it. I do not see that we can possibly get more out of the expression, and I cannot suppose that these people testified their belief in Christ’s Messiahship.
The double expression, "called out of his grave," and "raised from the dead," deserves notice. It is doubtless meant to keep before our minds the mighty simplicity of the means used by our Lord. He spoke, and it was done. He "called" to Lazarus to come forth, and he was "raised" at once.
v18.—[For this cause...people met Him, etc.] This verse describes the state of mind of the larger part of the multitude which surrounded our Lord at His entry into Jerusalem. It consisted of those who had heard the report of His raising Lazarus,—a story magnified, no doubt, in the telling. Strong curiosity to see the Person who had done such a miracle, would call forth an immense crowd in any city. But among Jews, familiar with Old Testament miracles, assembled in enormous numbers for the Passover, excited by the rumor of Messiah coming,—among such we may well believe that the report of Jesus coming in from Bethany, would draw together many myriads of spectators to meet Him.
The Greek words, "for this cause," here seem to refer forward to the latter part of the verse, and not backward to the preceding verse. Compare John 10:17, where the same form of language is used.
v19.—[The Pharisees...said...prevail nothing.] This is the language of men baffled, angry, and at their wits’ end from vexation, to see their plans defeated. Instead of finding people willing to lay hands on Jesus as a malefactor, and to deliver Him up into their power, they beheld a large multitude surrounding Him with joyful acclamations, and saluting Him as a King! Of course they could do nothing but sit still and see it. The least attempt to use violence against our Lord would have raised a tumult, and endangered their own lives. So that they were obliged to see their most hated enemy entering Jerusalem in triumph, like Mordecai led by Haman. (Esther 6:11.)
"Perceive ye," I believe, should be taken as an imperative, and not as an interrogative indicative. It sounds like the language of men looking on from the city walls or the temple courts, as the huge procession wound slowly through the gates of the city. "Behold this sight! Behold how you do nothing effectual to stop this fellow’s course! Your order to denounce Him, and have Him apprehended, is utterly useless and unprofitable."
Chrysostom and Theophylact think that those who said this had some faith and felt rightly, but had not courage enough to confess Christ. But I cannot agree with them. Calvin and other reformers think, on the contrary, that it was the language of Christ’s enemies.
Bullinger observes that wicked men show their wickedness especially by their dislike of true religion, and their annoyance when, as in the case before us, it seems to enjoy a temporary popularity. For neglect and contempt of religion, they show no concern at all.
[Behold...world...gone after Him.] Some allowance must of course be made for the exaggerated language which angry and disappointed men use under the influence of passion. Nevertheless the word "world" may not be really so extravagant as it appears at first, when we consider the immense number of Jews who attended the passover feast. According to a computation made by Josephus there were nearly three millions of people assembled on such occasions at Jerusalem. At this rate we can understand that the crowd drawn together by our Lord’s public entry might well be so large as to warrant the saying, "The world is gone after Him." Most of the crowd, it may be remembered, were not dwellers in Jerusalem, but strangers, who were only visitors or sojourners, absent from home, and would materially swell a crowd.
In leaving this passage it is impossible not to feel that there must have been an overruling, constraining influence on the minds of the Jewish people on the occasion of our Lord’s triumphant entry into Jerusalem. This no doubt was an influence miraculously exercised by our Lord in order to draw all men’s attention to Himself, and to make His approaching Sacrifice on the cross as public an event as possible.
Rollock observes, "A secret power of royal authority stirred up the minds of the multitude to receive Christ as a king." He also observes that it is the same power which Christ will put forth when He comes at the last day to judge the world.
There is more going on in some people’s minds than we are aware of. The case of the Greeks before us is a remarkable proof of this. Who would have thought when Christ was on earth, that foreigners from a distant land would have come forward in Jerusalem, and said, "Sir, we would see Jesus"? Who these Greeks were, what they meant, why they desired to see Jesus, what their inward motives were,—all these are questions we cannot answer. Like Zacchæus, they may have been influenced by curiosity. Like the wise men from the East, they may have surmised that Jesus was the promised King of the Jews, whom all the Eastern world was expecting. Enough for us to know that they showed more interest in Christ than Caiaphas and all his companions. Enough to know that they drew from our Lord’s lips sayings which are still read in one hundred and fifty languages, from one end of the world to the other.
We learn, for one thing, from our Lord’s words in this passage, that death is the way to spiritual life and glory. "Except a corn of wheat fall into the ground, it abideth alone; but if it die, it bringeth forth much fruit."
This sentence was primarily meant to teach the wondering Greeks the true nature of Messiah’s kingdom. If they thought to see a King like the kings of this world, they were greatly mistaken. Our Lord would have them know that He came to carry a cross, and not to wear a crown. He came not to live a life of honor, ease, and magnificence, but to die a shameful and dishonored death. The kingdom He came to set up was to begin with a crucifixion, and not with a coronation. Its glory was to take its rise not from victories won by the sword, and from accumulated treasures of gold and silver, but from the death of its King.
But this sentence was also meant to teach a wider and broader lesson still. It revealed, under a striking figure, the mighty foundation-truth, that Christ’s death was to be the source of spiritual life to the world. From His cross and passion was to spring up a mighty harvest of benefit to all mankind. His death, like a grain of seed-corn, was to be the root of blessings and mercies to countless millions of immortal souls. In short the great principle of the Gospel was once more exhibited,—that Christ’s vicarious death (not His life, or miracles, or teaching, but His death) was to bring forth fruit to the praise of God, and to provide redemption for a lost world.
This deep and mighty sentence was followed by a practical application, which closely concerns ourselves. "He that hateth his life shall keep it." He that would be saved must be ready to give up life itself, if necessary, in order to obtain salvation. He must bury his love of the world, with its riches, honors, pleasures, and rewards, with a full belief that in so doing he will reap a better harvest, both here and hereafter. He who loves the life that now is so much that he cannot deny himself anything for the sake of his soul, will find at length that he has lost everything. He, on the contrary, who is ready to cast away everything most dear to him in this life, if it stands in the way of his soul, and to crucify the flesh with its affections, and lusts, will find at length that he is no loser. In a word, his losses will prove nothing in comparison to his gains.
Truths such as these should sink deeply into our hearts, and stir up self-inquiry. It is as true of Christians as it is of Christ,—there can be no life without death, there can be no sweet without bitter, there can be no crown without a cross. Without Christ’s death there would have been no life for the world. Unless we are willing to die to sin, and crucify all that is most dear to flesh and blood, we cannot expect any benefit from Christ’s death. Let us remember these things, and take up our cross daily, like men. Let us for the joy set before us endure the cross and despise the shame, and in the end we shall sit down with our Master at God’s right hand. The way of self-crucifixion and sanctification may seem foolishness and waste to the world, just as burying good seed-corn seems wasteful to the child and the fool. But there never lived the man who did not find that by sowing to the Spirit, he reaped life everlasting. (Galatians 6:8.)
We learn, for another thing, from our Lord’s words, that if we profess to serve Christ, we must follow Him. "If any man serve Me," is the saying, "let him follow Me."
That expression, "following," is one of wide signification, and brings before our minds many familiar ideas. As the soldier follows his general, as the servant follows his master, as the scholar follows his teacher; as the sheep follows its shepherd, just so ought the professing Christian to follow Christ. Faith and obedience are the leading marks of real followers, and will always be seen in true believing Christians. Their knowledge may be very small, and their infirmities very great; their grace very weak, and their hope very dim. But they believe what Christ says, and strive to do what Christ commands. And of such Christ declares, "They serve Me: they are mine."
Christianity like this, receives little praise from man. It is too thorough, too decided, too strong, too real. To serve Christ in name and form is easy work, and satisfies most people; but to follow Him in faith and life demands more trouble than the generality of men will take about their souls. Laughter, ridicule, opposition, persecution, are often the only reward which Christ’s followers get from the world. Their religion is one, "whose praise is not of men but of God." (Romans 2:29.)
Yet to him who followeth, let us never forget, the Lord Jesus holds out abundant encouragement: "Where I am," He declares, "there also shall my servant be: if any man serve Me, him will my Father honor." Let us lay to heart these comfortable promises, and go forward in the narrow way without fear. The world may cast out our name as evil, and turn us out of its society; but when we dwell with Christ in glory, we shall have a home from which we can never be ejected.—The world may pour contempt on our religion, and laugh us and our Christianity to scorn; but when the Father honors us at the last day, before the assembly of angels and men, we shall find that His praise makes amends for all.
v20.—[And there were certain Greeks, etc., etc.] Who these Greeks were has exercised the conjectural ingenuity of commentators. They were not downright heathens, it is clear, from the expression that they were of those "that came to worship" at the feast. No heathen would be admitted to the Passover.—They were not, in my judgment, Jews who had lived among Greeks until they were more Grecian than Jewish in their language. The word we have rendered "Greeks" seems to me to make that impossible.—I believe they were men who were by birth heathens, but had become proselytes to Judaism, and as such were regular attendants on the Jewish feasts. That there were many such proselytes wherever Jews lived, is a simple matter of fact. So in Acts 17:4, we read of "devout" or "worshipping" Greeks. The leavening influence of Judaism, in every part of the heathen world where the scattered Jews dwelt, before the coming of Christ, was probably very considerable. It is worth notice that as Gentiles, the wise men from the East, were among the first to honor our Lord when He was born, so Gentiles were among the first to show interest in Him just before His crucifixion.
Whether the circumstance recorded in the passage before us took place the same day that our Lord rode in triumph into Jerusalem, or whether there was not a break or interval of a day or two, admits of question. Judging from the inquiry of the Greeks, "We would see Jesus," it seems unlikely that it happened the same day. It stands to reason that our Lord, at a time when He was riding into Jerusalem on an ass, and was the object of popular enthusiasm, would easily have been distinguished and recognized by the Greeks. Moreover one cannot suppose that the words spoken in the following verse, and the miracle of the voice from heaven, belong to a time of noise, shouting and popular acclamation, such as there must have been during the procession. For these reasons I incline to the opinion that we must suppose an interval of a day or two between this verse and the preceding one.
v21.—[The same came...Philip...Bethsaida...Galilee.] Why the Greeks came to Philip more than any other disciple we do not know. It is conjectured that Philip, being an inhabitant of a town in North Galilee, was more likely than the other disciples to be acquainted with Greeks, from nearby Tyre and Sidon. But this reason applies quite as much to Andrew, Peter, James, and John, who were all Galilæans, as it does to Philip.—Is it not worth noticing that Philip’s name is a more purely Greek name than that of any of the apostles? Does not this indicate that he probably had Greek relatives and connections?
The mention of Bethsaida accounts for Philip speaking to Andrew, in the next verse. Bethsaida was the native place of Andrew and Peter, and Philip therefore was their fellow-townsman.
[And desired him, saying, Sir.] The Greek word rendered "desired" is more frequently translated, "asked," "besought," "prayed." It implies the desire of an inquirer who expresses a wish for a thing, and asks whether it is possible for him to have it.
The word we render "sir" is almost always rendered "lord." When rendered "sir" it is addressed by an inferior to a superior. Thus the servant of the householder says, "Sir, didst thou not sow good seed?" (Matthew 13:27.) The Pharisees said to Pilate, "Sir, we remember that deceiver said." (Matthew 27:63.) The Samaritan woman says to Jesus three times, "Sir." (John 4:11, John 4:15, John 4:19.) Here the use of the word marks the respect of the Greeks for our Lord and His apostles.
[We would see Jesus.] The English here fails to express the Greek fully. It is literally, "we wish: we desire to see."
Concerning the motive of the Greeks in asking to see our Lord, we know nothing certain. It may have been nothing but curiosity, like that of Zacchæus, aroused by hearing rumors about Jesus, and sharpened by seeing the procession of the palm-bearing multitude at His entry into the city. This alone was enough to excite the attention of Greeks accustomed to the demonstrations of their own countrymen on public occasions.—It may possibly be that, like the Canaanitish woman, the Centurion of Capernaum, and Cornelius, they had as proselytes, got hold of the great truths which underlaid Judaism, and were actually looking for a Redeemer. But we do not know.
Bengel thinks that at this moment "Jesus was engaged in the inner part of the temple, to which an entrance was not open to the Greeks," and for this reason the Greeks could not get at Him, and have a personal interview.
These Greeks, we should note, sought to see Jesus at the very time when the Jews sought to kill Him.
v22.—[Philip cometh and telleth Andrew.] This expression seems to favor the idea that this whole transaction was not on the same day that Jesus entered Jerusalem. On such a day there would hardly be an opportunity for one disciple coming quietly and telling a thing to another. Why Philip chose to tell Andrew we have seen. He was his fellow-townsman.
[And again Andrew and Philip tell Jesus.] This expression seems to imply that the two Apostles consulted together before they told our Lord. Perhaps, as thorough Jews, they did not feel sure that our Lord would care to give an interview to Gentiles, and at first hesitated about telling Him. They remembered that at one time Jesus had said, "Go not into the way of the Gentiles." (Matthew 10:5.) On reflection they probably remembered our Lord’s kindness to the Canaanitish mother, and Roman centurion, and resolved to tell Him.
Of course it is possible that the Greeks only wanted to look at our Lord and see what He was like, and not to converse with Him. If this was all, the disciples may have doubted whether it was worth mentioning to Jesus.
v23.—[And Jesus answered them, saying.] It is doubtful whether this was spoken to the two disciples only,—or to them and the Greeks before mentioned,—or to the twelve alone. I incline to think it must mean to the twelve, and specially to Andrew and Philip.
[The hour is come...Son of man...glorified.] The true key-note to this verse, and the two which follow, is probably this. Our Lord saw the state of mind in which His followers were. He saw them excited by His triumphant entry into Jerusalem, and the desire of strangers like the Greeks to see their Master. He saw they were secretly expecting a glorious kingdom to be immediately set up, in which they would have chief places, power, and authority. He proceeds to rectify their conceptions, and to remind them of what He had repeatedly told them, His own death:—
"The hour has certainly arrived for my being glorified. I am about to leave the world, ascend up to my Father, finish the work I came to do, and be highly exalted. My earthly ministry of humiliation is ending, and my time of glory is drawing nigh. But all this is to be brought about in a way very different from that which you are thinking about. I am going to a cross first, and not a throne. I am going first to be condemned, crucified, and slain."
That "glorified" means "to be crucified," I cannot admit, with such texts as John 7:39 and John 12:16 before me. That the cross led to glory, and that through the crucifixion came the glorification, I believe firmly. But the glory came after the suffering (Luke 24:26.)
Let us note that "the hour" or season for Christ to finish His ministry was fixed and appointed. Till it came the Jews could do nothing to stop His preaching or harm His person. Just so it is with His people in one sense. Each is immortal till his work is done.
Does it not seem that the inquiry of the Greeks has much to do with our Lord’s opening words?—"The Gentiles are beginning to inquire after Me. Thus the hour is manifestly come that my work should be finished, and my kingdom fully set up in the world, by my crucifixion, resurrection, and ascension."
v24.—[Verily, verily I say unto you.] This is one of those solemn prefaces which are so frequent in John’s Gospel, and indicate some very weighty truth coming. I think "unto you" must surely include not only Andrew and Philip, but all the company around our Lord.
[Except a corn of wheat, etc., etc.] Our Lord here illustrates a great Scriptural truth by a very familiar fact in nature. That fact is, that in plants and seeds life comes by death. The seed must be put into the ground, must rot, decay, and die, if we want it to bear fruit and produce a crop. If we refuse to bury the seed, and will keep it without sowing it, we shall never reap any harvest. We must be content to let it die if we want corn.
The wealth of spiritual truth which this beautiful figure unfolds is very great. The death of Christ was the life of the world. From it, as a most prolific seed, was to spring an enormous harvest of blessing to souls, and of glory to God. His substitution on the cross, His atoning death, were to be the beginning of untold blessings to a lost world. To wish Him not to die, to dislike the idea of His death (as the disciples evidently did), was as foolish as to keep seed-corn locked up in the granary, and to refuse to sow it. "I am the corn of wheat," Jesus seems to say. "Unless I die, whatever you in your private opinion may think, my purpose in coming into the world will not be accomplished. But if I die, multitudes of souls will be saved."
Let us carefully mark here the immense importance which our Lord attaches to His death. Nothing can explain this but the old foundation-doctrine of the Bible, that Christ’s sacrificial death on the cross is the only Satisfaction and Atonement for the sin of the world. A passage like this can never be thoroughly explained by those who regard Christ’s death as nothing more than a martyrdom or an example of self-denial. It was something far greater and more important than this. It was the dying of a corn of wheat, in order that out of its death should spring up an enormous spiritual harvest. Christ’s vicarious death is the world’s life.
Let us notice here, as elsewhere, the Divine wisdom with which our Master illustrated spiritual truth by earthly figures. Illustrations fitly chosen, strike men much more than abstract arguments. Ministers and teachers of religion should study to "use similitudes."
Theophylact thinks our Lord meant by this beautiful figure, to encourage His disciples not to be offended and shaken in mind by His coming death. In His case, as in the natural world, they must remember life comes through death.
Zwingle thinks that as with the corn, when sown, so it is with the body of Christ. It does us good by dying for us, and not by our eating it.
Gill remarks, that by "abiding alone," in this simile, Christ meant that if He did not die, He would be "alone" in heaven with the Father and the elect angels, but without any of the sons of men. Scott says the same.
v25.—[He that loveth his life, etc.] There are few of our Lord’s sayings more frequently recorded by the Holy Ghost, than this pair of paradoxes. The repetition shows its great importance. It will be found in Matthew 10:39; Matthew 16:25; Mark 8:35; Luke 9:24; Luke 17:33; as well as here.
The meaning is plain. "He that loves his life, or thinks more of the life that now is than that which is to come, shall lose that which is the best part of his life, his soul. He that hateth his life, or cares little for it compared to the life to come, shall preserve to eternal glory that which is the best part of his life, to wit, his soul."
One object of our Lord in saying these words, was evidently to prevent His disciples looking for good things in this life, if they followed Him. They must give up their Jewish ideas about temporal rewards and honors in Messiah’s service. They must understand that His kingdom was entirely spiritual, and that if they were His disciples they must be content to lose much in this life, in order to gain the glory of the life to come. So far from promising them temporal rewards, He would have them distinctly know that they must give up much and sacrifice much, if they wanted to be saved.
The other object our Lord had in view in saying these words, was to teach all Christians in every age, that like Him, they must make up their minds to sacrifice much, and to die to the world, in the hope of a harvest of glory in a world to come. Through death we must seek life. Eternal life must be the great end a Christian looks to. To attain it he must be willing to give up everything.
The practical condemnation which this verse passes on the life lived by many, should never be overlooked. How few hate their lives here! How many love them, and care for nothing but how to make them comfortable and happy! The eternal loss or the eternal gain are often entirely forgotten.
Augustine gives a wise caution: "Take heed lest there steal upon thee a will to make away with thyself, while thou takest in the sense that it is a duty to hate thine own life in this world. Hence certain malignant and perverse men give themselves to the flames, choke themselves in the water, dash themselves in pieces, and so perish. Christ taught not this. Not by himself, but by another, must that man be put to death who would follow in Christ’s footsteps."
The word "hate" here must be taken comparatively. It is a Hebraism, like "Jacob have I loved, and Esau have I hated."—"Your appointed feasts my soul hateth." (Romans 9:13; Isaiah 1:14.)
Scott thinks this verse was meant to teach the Greeks and all the disciples to arm themselves with a mind like their Master’s, if they wanted to follow Him.
v26.—[If any man serve Me...follow Me.] This verse seems spoken for the benefit and information of the Greeks who sought to see Jesus, and of all who desired to become His disciples. If any man desires to serve Christ, and be a Christian, he must be content to follow His Master, walk in His footsteps, share His lot, do as He did, and partake of His Master’s inheritance in this world. He must not look for good things here,—for crowns, kingdoms, riches, honors, wealth, and dignity. Like His Master, he must be content with a cross. He must, in a word, "take up his cross and follow Me." (Matthew 16:24.) As Paul says, "We are heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ; if so be that we suffer with Him, that we may be also glorified together." (Romans 8:17.)
[And where I am, there...my servant be.] This is the first thing that Christ promises to those who follow Him. They shall be with Christ wherever He is, in paradise, and in His glorious kingdom. He and His servant shall not be parted. Whatever the Master has, the servant shall have also.
It is a comfortable thought, that however little we know of the life to come and the state after death, we do know that we shall be "with Christ, which is far better." (Philippians 1:23.)
[If any man serve me...my Father honor.] This is the second thing which Jesus promises to His disciples. The Father shall give to those who love Christ such honor as eye hath not seen nor ear heard. Honor from the men of this world they may not have. Honor from the Father shall make amends for all.
It is impossible not to see throughout this verse that our Lord’s intention is to discourage the carnal and earthly expectation of His Jewish followers, and yet to encourage them by showing what they might confidently look for. They must follow in His steps if they were His true servants, and in so following they would find a cross and not a crown, whatever they might be thinking, at that moment, while the Hosannas of an excited crowd were sounding in their ears. But though they had a cross, they should not miss a reward finally, which would make amends for all. They would be with Christ in glory. They would be honored by God the Father.
The words, "him will my Father honor," of course admit of being applied to this life in a certain sense: "Them that honor Me I will honor." (1 Samuel 2:30.) But it is much more agreeable to the context, I think, to apply them to the honor which shall be given in another world.
The clearest conception we can form of heaven, is that which is here stated. It is being with Christ, and receiving honor from God. Heaven is generally described by negatives. This is, however, an exceptional positive. It is being "with Christ." (Compare John 14:3; John 17:24; 1 Thessalonians 4:17.)
Let us note how wisely and mercifully our Lord always damped and checked the unscriptural expectations of His disciples. Never on any occasion do we find Him keeping back the cross, or bribing men to follow Him, as Mahomet did, by promising temporal comfort and happiness.
THESE verses show us what Peter meant, when he said, "There are some things hard to be understood" in Scripture. (2 Peter 3:16.) There are depths here which we have no line to fathom thoroughly. This need not surprise us, or shake our faith. The Bible would not be a book "given by inspiration of God," if it did not contain many things which pass man’s finite understanding. With all its difficulties it contains thousands of passages which the most unlearned may easily comprehend. Even here, if we look steadily at these verses, we may gather from them lessons of no mean importance.
We have, first, in these verses, a great doctrine indirectly proved. That doctrine is the imputation of man’s sin to Christ.
We see the Savior of the world, the eternal Son of God troubled and disturbed in mind: "Now is my soul troubled." We see Him who could heal diseases with a touch, cast out devils with a word, and command the waves and winds to obey Him, in great agony and conflict of spirit. Now how can this be explained?
To say, as some do, that the only cause of our Lord’s trouble was the prospect of His own painful death on the cross, is a very unsatisfactory explanation. At this rate it might justly be said that many a martyr has shown more calmness and courage than the Son of God. Such a conclusion is, to say the least, most revolting. Yet this is the conclusion to which men are driven if they adopt the modern notion, that Christ’s death was only a great example of self-sacrifice.
Nothing can ever explain our Lord’s trouble of soul, both here and in Gethsemane, except the old doctrine, that He felt the burden of man’s sin pressing Him down. It was the mighty weight of a world’s guilt imputed to Him and meeting on his head, which made Him groan and agonize, and cry, "Now is my soul troubled." Forever let us cling to that doctrine, not only as untying the knot of the passage before us, but as the only ground of solid comfort for the heart of a Christian. That our sins have been really laid on our Divine Substitute, and borne by Him, and that His righteousness is really imputed to us and accounted ours,—this is the real warrant for Christian peace. And if any man asks how we know that our sins were laid on Christ, we bid him read such passages as that which is before us, and explain them on any other principle if he can. Christ has borne our sins, carried our sins, groaned under the burden of our sins, been "troubled" in soul by the weight of our sins, and really taken away our sins. This, we may rest assured, is sound doctrine: this is Scriptural theology.
We have, secondly, in these verses, a great mystery unfolded. That mystery is the possibility of much inward conflict of soul without sin.
We cannot fail to see in the passage before us, a mighty mental struggle in our blessed Savior. Of its depth and intensity we can probably form very little conception. But the agonizing cry, "My soul is troubled,"—the solemn question, "What shall I say?"—the prayer of suffering flesh and blood, "Father, save Me from this hour,"—the meek confession, "For this cause came I unto this hour,"—the petition of a perfectly submissive will, "Father, glorify Thy name,"—what does all this mean? Surely there can be only one answer. These sentences tell of a struggle within our Savior’s breast, a struggle arising from the natural feelings of one who was perfect man, and as man could suffer all that man is capable of suffering. Yet He in whom this struggle took place was the Holy Son of God, "In Him is no sin." (1 John 3:5.)
There is a fountain of comfort here for all true servants of Christ, which ought never to be overlooked. Let them learn from their Lord’s example that inward conflict of soul is not necessarily in itself a sinful thing. Too many, we believe, from not understanding this point, go heavily all their days on their way to heaven. They fancy they have no grace, because they find a fight in their own hearts. They refuse to take comfort in the Gospel, because they feel a battle between the flesh and the Spirit. Let them mark the experience of their Lord and Master, and lay aside their desponding fears. Let them study the experience of His saints in every age, from Paul downwards, and understand that as Christ had inward conflicts so must Christians expect to have them also. To give way to doubts and unbelief, is certainly wrong, and robs us of our peace. There is a faithless despondency, unquestionably, which is blameworthy, and must be resisted, repented of, and brought to the fountain for all sin, that it may be pardoned. But the mere presence of fight and strife and conflict in our hearts, is in itself no sin. The believer may be known by his inward warfare as well as by his inward peace.
We have, thirdly, in these verses, a great miracle exhibited. That miracle is the heavenly Voice described in this passage—a voice which was heard so plainly that people said "it thundered,"—proclaiming, "I have glorified my name, and will glorify it again."
This wondrous Voice was heard three times during our Lord’s earthly ministry. Once it was heard at His baptism, when the heavens were opened and the Holy Ghost descended on Him.—Once it was heard at His transfiguration, when Moses and Elias appeared for a season with Him, before Peter, James, and John.—Once it was heard here at Jerusalem, in the midst of a mixed crowd of disciples and unbelieving Jews. On each occasion we know that it was the Voice of God the Father. But why and wherefore this Voice was only heard on these occasions, we are left to conjecture. The thing was a deep mystery, and we cannot now speak particularly of it.
Let it suffice us to believe that this miracle was meant to show the intimate relations and unbroken union of God the Father and God the Son, throughout the period of the Son’s earthly ministry. At no period during His incarnation was there a time when the eternal Father was not close to Him, though unseen by man.—Let us also believe that this miracle was meant to signify to bystanders the entire approval of the Son by the Father, as the Messiah, the Redeemer, and the Savior of man. That approval the Father was pleased to signify by voice three times, as well as to declare by signs and mighty deeds, performed by the Son in His name. These things we may well believe. But when we have said all, we must confess that the Voice was a mystery. We may read of it with wonder and awe, but we cannot explain it.
We have, lastly, in these verses, a great prophecy delivered. The Lord Jesus declared, "I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto Me."
Concerning the true meaning of these words there can be but one opinion in any candid mind. They do not mean, as is often supposed, that if the doctrine of Christ crucified is lifted up and exalted by ministers and teachers, it will have a drawing effect on hearers. This is undeniably a truth, but it is not the truth of the text. They simply mean that the death of Christ on the cross would have a drawing effect on all mankind. His death as our Substitute, and the Sacrifice for our sins, would draw multitudes out of every nation to believe on Him and receive Him as their Savior. By being crucified for us, and not by ascending a temporal throne, He would set up a kingdom in the world, and gather subjects to Himself.
How thoroughly this prophecy has been fulfilled for eighteen centuries, the history of the Church is an abundant proof. Whenever Christ crucified has been preached, and the story of the cross fully told, souls have been converted and drawn to Christ, just as iron-filings are drawn to a magnet, in every part of the world. No truth so exactly suits the wants of all children of Adam, of every color, climate, and language, as the truth about Christ crucified.
And the prophecy is not yet exhausted. It shall yet receive a more complete accomplishment. A day shall come when every knee shall bow before the Lamb that was slain, and every tongue confess that He is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (Philippians 2:10-11.) He that was "lifted up" on the cross shall yet sit on the throne of glory, and before Him shall be gathered all nations. Friends and foes, each in their own order, shall be "drawn" from their graves, and appear before the judgment-seat of Christ. Let us take heed in that day that we are found on His right hand!
v27.—[Now is my soul troubled, etc., etc.] This remarkable verse comes in somewhat abruptly. Yet the connection is not hard to trace. Our Lord had just been speaking of His own atoning death. The thought and prospect of that death appears to draw from Him the expressions of this verse, which I will now examine in order.
[Now is my soul troubled.] This sentence implies a sudden, strong mental agony, which came over our Lord, troubling, distressing, and harassing Him.—What was it from? Not from the mere foresight of a painful death on the cross, and the bodily suffering attending it. No doubt human nature, even when sinless, naturally revolts from pain and suffering. Yet mere bodily pain has been endured for weeks by many a martyr, and even by heathen fanatics in India, without a groan or a murmur.—No: it was the weight of the world’s imputed sin laid upon our Lord’s head, which pressed Him downward, and made Him cry, "Now is my soul troubled." It was the sense of the whole burden of man’s transgression imputed to Him, which, as He drew near to the cross, weighed Him down so tremendously. It was not His bodily sufferings, either anticipated or felt, but our sins, which here, at Gethsemane, and at Calvary, agonized and racked His soul.
Let us notice here the reality of Christ’s substitution for us. He was made "a curse" for us, and "sin" for us, and He felt it for a time most deeply. (Galatians 3:13; 2 Corinthians 5:21.) Those who deny the doctrine of substitution, imputation, and atonement, can never explain the expressions before us satisfactorily.
Poole remarks, "There is a vast difference between this trouble of spirit in Christ, and that which is in us. Our troubles are upon reflection for our own sins, and the wrath of God due to us therefore; His troubles were for the wrath of God due to us for our sins.—Our troubles are because we have personally grieved God; His were because those given to Him had offended God.—We are afraid of our eternal condemnation; He was only afraid by a natural fear of death, which naturally rises higher according to the kind of death we die.—Our troubles have a mixture of despair, distrust, sinful horror: there was no such thing in His trouble.—Our troubles, in their natural tendency, are killing and destroying: only by accident and the wise ordering of Divine providence do they prove advantageous, and lead us to Him. His trouble, in the very nature of it, was pure, and clean, and sanative, and healing.—But that He was truly troubled, and that such a trouble did truly agree to His office as Mediator, and is a great foundation of peace, quiet, and satisfaction to us, is out of question. By some of these stripes we are healed."
We should remember and admire the prayer in the Litany of the Greek Church: "By Thine unknown sufferings, good Lord deliver us."
Rollock observes here, "If you ask me what the Divine nature in Christ was doing when He said, ’My soul is troubled,’ and whether it was divided asunder from His human nature? I reply that it was not divided, but contained itself, or held itself passive, while the human nature was suffering. If it had exercised itself in its full power and glory, our Lord could not possibly have suffered."
(The whole of Rollock’s remarks on this difficult verse are singularly good, and deserve close study.)
Hutcheson observes, "The rise and cause of this trouble was thus: the Godhead hiding itself from the humanity’s sense, and the Father letting out not only an apprehension of sufferings to come, but a present taste of the horror of His wrath due to man for sin. Christ was amazed, perplexed, and overwhelmed with it in His humanity. And no wonder, since He had the sins of all the elect laid upon Him, by imputation, to suffer for."
Hengstenberg remarks, "The only solution of this extreme trouble is the vicarious significance of the sufferings and death of Christ. If our chastisement was upon Him, in order that we might have peace, then in Him must have been concentrated all the horror of death. He bore the sin of the world, and the wages of that sin was death. Death therefore must to Him assume its most frightful form. The physical suffering was nothing compared to the immeasurable suffering of soul which impended over the Redeemer, and the full greatness and depth of which He clearly perceives. Therefore, in Hebrews 5:7, "a fear" is described as that which pressed with such awful weight upon our Lord. When God freed Him from that He saved Him from death. Thus, when the suffering of Christ is apprehended as vicarious and voluntary, all the accompanying circumstances can be easily understood."
Let us note the exceeding guilt and sinfulness of sin. The thing which made even God’s own Son, who had power to work works that none else did beside Him, groan, and cry, "My soul is troubled," can be no light thing. He that would know the full measure of sin and guilt should mark attentively this verse, and the expressions used by our Lord at Gethsemane and Calvary.
It is worth noticing that this verse, Matthew 26:38, and Mark 14:34, are the only three places in the Gospels where our Lord speaks of "My soul."
The word "now," I suspect, is emphatic: "Now, at this special time, my soul has begun to be specially troubled."
[And what shall I say?] These words are thought by some, as Theophylact, Grotius, Bloomfield, and Barnes, to be wrongly translated in our English version. They would render them, "And what? What is my duty? What does the hour require of Me? Shall I say, Save Me," etc., etc.—I much prefer our English version as it is. I believe the question is strongly significant of the agony and conflict through which our Lord’s soul was passing.—"What shall I say under this sense of pressing, overwhelming trouble? My human nature bids me say one thing,—acting alone and urging me alone. My knowledge of the purpose for which I came into the world bids me say another thing. What then shall I say?" Such a question as this is a strong proof of our Lord’s real, true humanity.
Rollock observes, " ’What shall I say?’ is the language of the highest perplexity and anxiety of mind. In the height of anguish is the height of perplexity, so that a man knows not what to say or do. The Lord found deliverance in prayer. But the perpetual cry of the lost will be, ’What shall I say? What shall I do?’ From that perplexity and anguish they will never be delivered."
Bengel remarks, "Jesus says, ’What shall I say?’ not, ’What shall I choose?’ Compare with this the different expression of Paul, ’What I shall choose I wist not, for I am in a strait betwixt two, having a desire to depart.’ " (Philippians 1:22-23.)
Ecolampadius thinks the question means, "In what words shall I unfold my pain, or the bitterness and ingratitude of the Jews?" I prefer taking it as the language of perplexity and distress.
The presence of two natures in our Lord Jesus Christ’s person seems clearly taught when we compare the language used by our Lord in this verse, with the language of the fifth and seventeenth chapters of this Gospel. Here we see unmistakably our Lord’s true humanity. There, on the other hand, we see no less plainly His divinity. Here He speaks as man: there as God.
[Father, save Me from this hour.] This is undoubtedly a prayer to be saved from, or delivered from the agony and suffering of this hour. It is the language of a human nature which, though sinless, could suffer, and instinctively shrank from suffering. It would not have been real human nature if it had not so shrunk and recoiled.
The idea of the prayer is just the same as that of the prayer in Gethsemane: "Let this cup pass from Me." (Matthew 26:39.)
Let us learn from our Lord’s example that there is nothing sinful in praying to be delivered from suffering, so long as we do it in submission to the will of God. There is nothing wrong in a sick person’s saying, "Father, make me well," so long as the prayer is offered with proper qualification.
Rollock observes, "In agony there is a certain forgetfulness of all things except present pain. This seems the case of our Lord here. Yet even here He turns to His Father, showing that He never loses the sense of the Father’s love. The lost in hell will never turn to the Father."
It is worth noticing that our Lord speaks of "the Father" and "My Father" at least 110 times in John’s Gospel.
[But for this cause came I unto this hour.] This sentence is an elliptical way of declaring our Lord’s entire submission to His Father’s will, in the matter of the prayer He had just prayed. "But I know that for this cause I came into the world and have reached this hour, to suffer as I am now suffering, and to agonize as I am now agonizing. I do not refuse the cup. If it be Thy will, I am willing to drink it. Only I tell Thee my feelings, with entire submission to Thy will."
We may surely learn from the whole verse that Christians have no cause to despair because they feel trouble of soul,—because they feel perplexed, and know not what to say in the agony of inward conflict,—because their nature shrinks from pain, and cries to God to take it away. In all this there is nothing wicked or sinful. It was the expression of the human nature of our Lord Jesus Christ Himself. And in Him was no sin.
Rollock says, "This is the language of one recollecting himself, and collecting his thoughts to remember something besides his agony and pain."
v28.—[Father, glorify Thy name.] This passage seems the conclusion of the strife and agony of soul which came over our Lord at this particular period. It is as though He said, "I leave the matter in Thy hand, O My Father: do what Thou seest best. Glorify Thy name and Thy attributes in Me: do what is meet for setting forth Thy glory in the world. If it be for Thy glory that I should suffer, I am willing to suffer even unto the bearing of the world’s sins."
I see in the whole event here described, a short summary of what took place afterwards more fully at Gethsemane. There is a remarkable parallelism at every step.
(a) Does our Lord say here, "My soul is troubled"? Just so He said in Gethsemane: "My soul is exceeding sorrowful, even unto death." (Matthew 26:38.)
(b) Does our Lord say here, "Father, save Me from this hour"? Just so he says in Gethsemane: "O My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from Me." (Matthew 26:39.)
(c) Does our Lord say here, "For this cause came I unto this hour"? Just so he says in Gethsemane: "If this cup may not pass away from Me except I drink it, Thy will be done." (Matthew 26:42.)
(d) Does our Lord say, finally, "Father, glorify Thy name"? Just so our Lord says, lastly, "The cup which my Father hath given Me, shall I not drink it?" (John 18:11.)
The brief prayer which our Lord here offers, we should remember, is the highest, greatest thing that we can ask God to do. The utmost reach of the renewed will of a believer, is to be able to say always, "Father, glorify Thy name in Me. Do with Me what Thou wilt, only glorify Thy name." The glory of God after all is the end for which all things were created. Paul’s joyful hope, he told the Philippians, when a prisoner at Rome, was "that in all things, by life or by death, Christ might be magnified in his body." (Philippians 1:20.)
Rollock says, "This is the language of one who now forgets the agony and pain, remembers only His Father’s glory, and desires it even together with His own passion and death."—He also remarks that the experience of God’s saints in great trouble, is in a sense much the same. For a time they forget everything but present pain. By and by they rise above their sufferings, and remember only God’s glory.
[Then came there a voice from heaven.] This voice was undoubtedly a great miracle. God the Father was heard speaking audibly with man’s voice to the Son. Three times in our Lord’s ministry this miracle took place: first, at His baptism; secondly, at His transfiguration; thirdly, just before His crucifixion. Rarely has the voice of God been heard by large crowds of unconverted men. Here, at Mount Sinai, and perhaps at our Lord’s baptism, are the only three occasions on record.
Of course we can no more explain this wonderful miracle, than any other miracle in God’s Word. We can only reverently believe and admire it. The intimate nearness of the Father to the Son, all through His ministry, is one of the many thoughts which may occur to our minds as we consider the miracle. Our Lord was never left alone. His Father was alway with Him, though men knew it not. How could it indeed be otherwise? So far as concerned His Divine nature, He and the Father were "one."
How anyone in the face of this passage can deny that the Father and the Son are two distinct Persons, it is very hard to understand. When one person is heard speaking to another, common sense seems to point out that there are two persons, and not one.
Hammond maintains that there really was a loud clap of thunder, as well as a voice from heaven. Burkitt also seems to think the same, and compares it to the thunder which accompanied the giving of the law at Sinai.
[I have both glorified it and will glorify it again.] This solemn sentence,—far more solemn in the pithy and expressive Greek language than it can possibly be made in our translation,—admits, as Augustine says, of being interpreted two ways.
(a) It may be applied solely and entirely to the Lord Jesus Christ Himself. It would then be a special declaration of the Father to the Son. "I have glorified my name in Thy incarnation, Thy miracles, Thy words, Thy works; I will yet glorify it again in Thy voluntary suffering for mankind, Thy death, Thy resurrection, and Thy ascension."
Lightfoot thinks there is a special reference to our Lord’s conflict with the devil. "I have glorified my name in the victory Thou formerly didst obtain over Satan’s temptation in the wilderness. I will glorify my name again, in the victory Thou shalt have in this conflict also."
(b) It may be applied to the whole course of God’s dealings with creation from the beginning. It would then be a declaration of the Father: "I have continually glorified my name in all the dispensations which have been,—before the flood, in the days of the Patriarchs, in the time of Moses, under the Law, under the Judges, under the Kings. I will yet glorify it once more at the end of this dispensation, by finishing up the types and figures, and accomplishing the work of man’s redemption."
Which of these views is the true one, I cannot pretend to decide. Either makes excellent divinity, and is reasonable and consistent. But we have no means of ascertaining which is correct. If I have any opinion on the point I lean to the second view.
v29.—[The people therefore, etc.] This verse apparently is meant to describe the various opinions of the crowd which stood around our Lord, about the voice which spoke to Him.—Some who were standing at some little distance, and were not listening very attentively, said it thundered. Others, who were standing close by, and paying great attention, declared that an invisible being, an angel, must have spoken.—Both parties entirely agreed on one point: something uncommon had happened. An extraordinary noise had been heard, which to some sounded like thunder, and to others like words. But nobody said they heard nothing at all.
That the voice must have been very loud, seems proved by the supposition that it was "thunder." That the reality and existence of angels formed part of the popular creed of the Jews, seems proved by the readiness of some to take up the idea that an angel had spoken.
Some think that the Greeks before mentioned, not knowing the Hebrew language, in which probably the voice spoke, fancied the voice was thunder, and the Jews of the crowd thought it an angel’s voice.
v30.—[Jesus answered...This voice...not...Me...your sakes.] In this verse our Lord tells the Jews the purpose of this miraculous voice. It was not for His sake,—to comfort Him and help Him; but for their sakes,—to be a sign and a witness to them. The voice could tell Him nothing that He did not know. It was meant to show them what they did not know or doubted.—The sentence would be more literally rendered, "Not on account of Me was this voice, but on account of you." It was just one more public miraculous evidence of His Divine mission, and apparently the last that was given. The first evidence was a voice at His baptism, and the last a voice just before His crucifixion.
Augustine remarks, "Here Christ shows that this voice was not to make known to Him what He already knew, but to them to whom it was meet to be made known."
v31.—[Now is the judgment of this world.] This is undeniably a difficult saying. The difficulty lies principally in the meaning of the word "judgment."
(a) Some, as Barnes, think that it means, "This is the crisis, or most important time in the world’s history." I cannot receive this. I doubt whether the Greek word used here will ever bear the signification of our word "crisis." That our Lord’s atoning death was a crisis in the world’s history, is undoubtedly true. But that is not the question. The question is, What do the Greek words mean?
(b) Some, as Theophylact, and Euthymius, think it means "Now is the vengeance of this world."—"I will cast out him by whom the world has been enslaved."—I doubt this also.
(c) Some, as Zwingle, think that "judgment" means the discrimination or separation between the believing and the unbelieving in the world. (Compare John 9:39.)
(d) Some, as Calvin, Brentius, Beza, Bucer, Hutcheson, Flacius, and Gualter, think that "judgment" means the reformation, or setting in right order of the world.
(e) Some, as Grotius, Gerhard, Poole, Toletus, and â Lapide, think "judgment" means the deliverance, and setting free from bondage, of this world.
(f) Some, as Pearce, think it means, "Now is the Jewish world or nation about to be judged or condemned for rejecting Me."
(g) Some, as Bengel, think it means, "Now is the judgment concerning this world, as to who is hereafter to be the rightful possessor of it."
I take it that the word we render "judgment," can only mean condemnation, and that the meaning of the sentence is this: "Now has arrived the season when a sentence of condemnation shall be passed by my death on the whole order of things which has prevailed in the world since the creation. The world shall no longer be let alone, and left to the devil and the powers of darkness. I am about to spoil them of their dominion by my redeeming work, and to condemn and set aside the dark, godless order of things which has so long prevailed upon earth. It has been long winked at and tolerated by my Father. The time has come when it will be tolerated no longer. This very week, by my crucifixion, the religious systems of the world shall receive a sentence of condemnation." This seems the view of Bullinger and Rollock, and I agree with it.
In order to realize the full meaning of this sentence, we must call to mind the extraordinary condition of all the world with the exception of Palestine, before Christ’s death. To an extent of which now we can form no conception, it was a world without God, plunged in idolatry, worshipping devils,—in open rebellion against God. (Compare 1 Corinthians 10:20.) When Christ died, this order of things received its sentence of condemnation.
Rollock says, "I understand by this judgment, the condemnation of that sin of which the world was so full when Christ came, and which had reigned from Adam to Moses." Of this undisturbed reign of idolatry Christ’s advent made an end.
Augustine, on this verse, says: "The devil kept possession of mankind, holding men as criminals bound over to punishment by the handwriting of their sins, having dominion in the hearts of the unbelieving, dragging them, deceived and captive, to the worship of the creature, for which they had deserted the Creator. But by the faith of Christ, confirmed by His death and resurrection, through His blood shed for the remission of sins, thousands of believing persons obtain deliverance from the dominion of the devil, are joined to the body of Christ, and quickened by His Spirit, as faithful members under so great a Head. This it was that He called judgment."
[Now shall...prince of this world...cast out.] In this remarkable sentence there can be no doubt that Satan is meant by the "prince of this world." Up to the time of our Lord’s redeeming work, the entire world was in a certain sense completely under his dominion. When Christ came and died for sinners, Satan’s usurped power was broken, and received a deadly blow. Heathenism and idolatry and devil worship no longer governed all the earth, except Palestine, as they had done for four thousand years, because undisturbed. In a wonderful and mysterious manner Christ on the cross "spoiled principalities and powers, and made a show of them openly, triumphing over them." (Colossians 2:15.) To this victory our Lord clearly refers. "Now in this week, by my vicarious death as man’s Redeemer on the cross, Satan, the Prince of this world, shall receive a deadly blow, and be dethroned from his supremacy over man, and cast out. The head of the serpent shall be bruised."
Of course our Lord did not mean that Satan would be "cast out" of this world entirely, and tempt it no more. That will be done at the second advent, we know from Revelation 20:1-15; but it was not done at the first. It only means that he should be cast out of a large portion of the dominion, and power, and undisturbed authority he had hitherto exercised over men’s souls.—The result of the change which took place in this respect, when Christ died, is perhaps not enough considered by Christians. We probably have a very inadequate idea of the awful extent to which Satan carried his dominion over men’s souls, before the "kingdom of heaven" was set up. Bodily possession, familiar spirits, wizards, heathen oracles, heathen mysteries,—all these are things which before the crucifixion of Christ were much more real and powerful than we suppose. And why? Because the "prince of this world" had not yet been cast out. He had a power over men’s bodies and minds far greater than he has now. When Christ came to the cross He did battle with Satan, won a victory over him, stripped him of a large portion of his authority, and cast him out of a large portion of his dominion. Does not the whole of the vision in Revelation 12:7-17, point to this? This view is supported by Lightfoot.
This sentence shows clearly the reality and power of the devil. How anyone can say there is no devil, in the face of such expressions as "the prince of this world," is strange. How anyone can scoff and think lightly of a being of such mighty power, is stranger still. The true Christian, however, may always take comfort in the thought that Satan is a vanquished enemy. He was stripped of a large part of his dominion at Christ’s first advent. He is still "going to and fro," seeking whom he may devour; but he shall be completely bound at the second advent. (1 Peter 5:8; Romans 16:20; Revelation 20:2.)
The whole verse appears to me inexplicable, unless we receive and hold the doctrine of Christ’s death being an atonement and satisfaction for man’s sin, and a payment of man’s debt to God. That thought underlies the deep statement here made of the mighty work about to be done by our Lord, in the week of His crucifixion, against the prince of this world. Once adopt the modern notion that Christ’s death was only a beautiful example of self-sacrifice and martyrdom for truth, like that of Socrates, and you can make nothing of this verse. Hold, on the other hand, the old doctrine that Christ’s death was the payment of man’s debt, and the redemption of man’s soul from the power of sin and the devil, and the whole verse is lighted up and made comparatively clear.
Augustine observes, "The Lord in this verse was foretelling that which He knew,—that after His passion and glorifying, throughout the whole world many a people would believe, within whose hearts the devil once was, whom when by faith they renounce, then is he cast out." He also says that what formerly took place in a few hearts, like those of the patriarchs and prophets, or very few individuals, is now foretold as about to take place in many a great people.
Euthymius remarks, that as the first Adam by eating of the tree was cast out of Paradise, so the Second Adam by dying on the tree cast the devil out of his usurped dominion in the world.
Bucer thinks there is a latent reference to our Lord’s former words about the "strong man armed keeping his house," till a stronger comes upon him and spoils him. (Luke 11:21-22.)
v32.—[And I...lifted up...draw all men unto Me.] In this remarkable verse our Lord plainly points to His own crucifixion, or being lifted up on the cross. It is the same expression that He used with Nicodemus: "As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up." (John 3:14.)
The promise, "I will draw all men unto Me," must, I think, mean that our Lord after His crucifixion would draw men of all nations and kindreds and tongues to Himself, to believe on Him and be His disciples. Once crucified, He would become a great center of attraction, and draw to Himself, and release from the devil’s usurped power, vast multitudes of all peoples and countries, to be His servants and followers. Up to this time all the world had blindly hastened after Satan and followed him. After Christ’s crucifixion great numbers would turn away from the power of Satan and become Christians.
The promise doubtless looks even further than this. It points to a time when every knee shall bow to the crucified Son of God, and every tongue confess that Jesus is the Lord. The whole world shall finally become the kingdom of our God and of His Christ.
Of course the words must not be pressed too far. We must not think that they support the deadly heresy of universal salvation. We must not suppose them to mean that all men shall be actually saved by Christ’s crucifixion, any more than we must suppose that Christ actually "lights" everyone in the world. (See John 1:9.) The analogy of other texts shows plainly that the only reasonable sense is, that Christ’s crucifixion would have a "drawing" influence on men of all nations, Gentiles as well as Jews. Scripture and facts under our eyes, both show us that all persons are not actually drawn to Christ. Many live and die and are lost in unbelief.
The word "draw" is precisely the same that is used in John 6:44—"No man can come to Me except the Father draw him." Yet I doubt whether the meaning is precisely the same. In the one case it is the drawing of election, when the Father chooses and draws souls. In the other case, it is the drawing influence which Christ exercises on laboring and heavy-laden sinners, when He draws them by His spirit to come to Him and believe. The subjects of either "drawing" are the same men and women, and the drawing in either case is irresistible. All who are drawn to believe are drawn both by the Father and the Son. Without this drawing no one would ever come to Christ.
The idea of some, that the verse may be applied to the "lifting up" or exalting of Christ by ministers in their preaching, is utterly baseless, and a mere play upon words. That the preaching of Christ will always do good, more or less, and draw souls to Christ by God’s blessing, is no doubt true. But it is not the doctrine of this text, and ought to be dismissed as an unfair accommodation of Scriptural language.
Euthymius observes that the mission of Christ began to draw souls at once, as in the case of the penitent thief and the centurion.
v33.—[This He said...what death...die.] This explanatory comment of John on our Lord’s words is evidently intended to make His meaning plain. He spoke of "being lifted up" with a special reference to His being lifted up on the cross.—Of course it is just possible that the reference is to the drawing all men, and that it means, "He spoke of drawing all men, with a reference to His death being a sacrificial and atoning death, which would affect the position of all men." But I doubt this being so correct a view as the other.
"He should die," is literally, He was "about to die."
It is curious that, in the face of this verse, some, as Bucer and Diodati, maintain that our Lord by "being lifted up," refers to His exaltation into heaven after His resurrection. They think that then, and not till then, could He be said to "draw" men. I cannot see anything in this. Our Lord appears to me to teach plainly, that after His crucifixion, and through the virtue of His crucifixion, He would draw men. That "lifting up" means crucifixion is, in my judgment, plainly taught by John 3:14.
We may learn, from these verses, the duty of using present opportunities. The Lord Jesus says to us all, "Yet a little while is the light with you. Walk while ye have the light, lest darkness come upon you.—While ye have the light believe in the light." Let us not think that these things were only spoken for the sake of the Jews. They were written for us also, upon whom the ends of the world are come.
The lesson of the words is generally applicable to the whole professing Church of Christ. Its time for doing good in the world is short and limited. The throne of grace will not always be standing: it will be removed one day, and the throne of judgment will be set up in its place. The door of salvation by faith in Christ will not always be open: it will be shut one day for ever, and the number of God’s elect will be completed. The fountain for all sin and uncleanness will not always be accessible: the way to it will one day be barred, and there will remain nothing but the lake that burns with fire and brimstone.
These are solemn thoughts: but they are true. They cry aloud to sleeping Churchmen and drowsy congregations, and ought to arouse great searchings of heart. "Can nothing more be done to spread the Gospel at home and abroad? Has every means been tried for extending the knowledge of Christ crucified? Can we lay our hands on our hearts, and say that the Churches have left nothing undone in the matter of missions? Can we look forward to the Second Advent with no feelings of humiliation, and say that the talents of wealth and influence and opportunities have not been buried in the ground?"—Such questions may well humble us, when we look, on one side, at the state of professing Christendom, and, on the other, at the state of the heathen world. We must confess with shame that the Church is not walking worthy of its light.
But the lesson of the words is specially applicable to ourselves as individuals. Our own time for getting good is short and limited; let us take heed that we make good use of it. Let us "walk while we have the light." Have we Bibles? Let us not neglect to read them.—Have we the preached Gospel? Let us not linger halting between two opinions, but believe to the saving of our souls.—Have we Sabbaths? Let us not waste them in idleness, carelessness, and indifference, but throw our whole hearts into their sacred employments, and turn them to good account.—Light is about us and around us and near us on every side. Let us each resolve to walk in the light while we have it, lest we find ourselves at length cast out into outer darkness for ever. It is a true saying of an old divine, that the recollection of lost and mis-spent opportunities will be the very essence of hell.
We may learn, secondly, from these verses, the desperate hardness of the human heart. It is written of our Lord’s hearers at Jerusalem, that, "though he had done so many miracles before them, yet they believed not on Him."
We err greatly if we suppose that seeing wonderful things will ever convert souls. Thousands live and die in this delusion. They fancy if they saw some miraculous sight, or witnessed some supernatural exercise of Divine grace, they would lay aside their doubts, and at once become decided Christians. It is a total mistake. Nothing short of a new heart and a new nature implanted in us by the Holy Ghost, will ever make us real disciples of Christ. Without this, a miracle might raise within us a little temporary excitement; but, the novelty once gone, we should find ourselves just as cold and unbelieving as the Jews.
The prevalence of unbelief and indifference in the present day ought not to surprise us. It is just one of the evidences of that mighty foundation doctrine, the total corruption and fall of man. How feebly we grasp and realize that doctrine is proved by our surprise at human incredulity. We only half believe the heart’s deceitfulness. Let us read our Bibles more attentively, and search their contents more carefully. Even when Christ wrought miracles and preached sermons, there were numbers of His hearers who remained utterly unmoved. What right have we to wonder if the hearers of modern sermons in countless instances remain unbelieving? "The disciple is not greater than his Master." If even the hearers of Christ did not believe, how much more should we expect to find unbelief among the hearers of His ministers. Let the truth be spoken and confessed. Man’s obstinate unbelief is one among many indirect proofs that the Bible is true. The clearest prophecy in Isaiah begins with the solemn question, "Who hath believed?" (Isaiah 53:1.)
We may learn, thirdly, from these verses, the amazing power which the love of the world has over men. We read that "among the chief rulers many believed on Christ: but because of the Pharisees they did not confess Him, lest they should be put out of the synagogue. For they loved the praise of men more than the praise of God."
These unhappy men were evidently convinced that Jesus was the true Messiah. Reason, and intellect, and mind, and conscience, obliged them secretly to admit that no one could do the miracles which He did, unless God was with Him, and that the preacher of Nazareth really was the Christ of God. But they had not courage to confess it. They dared not face the storm of ridicule, if not of persecution, which confession would have entailed. And so, like cowards, they held their peace, and kept their convictions to themselves.
Their case, it may be feared, is a sadly common one. There are thousands of people who know far more in religion then they act up to. They know they ought to come forward as decided Christians. They know that they are not living up to their light. But the fear of man keeps them back. They are afraid of being laughed at, jeered at, and despised by the world. They dread losing the good opinion of society, and the favorable judgment of men and women like themselves. And so they go on from year to year, secretly ill at ease and dissatisfied with themselves,—knowing too much of religion to be happy in the world, and clinging too much to the world to enjoy any religion.
Faith is the only cure for soul ailments like this. A believing view of an unseen God, an unseen Christ, an unseen heaven, and an unseen judgment-day,—this is the grand secret of overcoming the fear of man. The expulsive power of a new principle is required to heal the disease. "This is the victory that overcometh the world, even our faith." (1 John 5:4.) Let us pray for faith, if we would conquer those deadly enemies of souls, the fear of man and the love of man’s praise. And if we have any faith, let us pray for more. Let our daily cry be, "Lord, increase our faith." We may easily have too much money, or too much worldly prosperity; but we can never have too much faith.
v34.—[The people answered, etc.] This verse supplies a remarkable instance of the perverse and hardened blindness of the Jews in our Lord’s time. They pretended to be unable to reconcile the Lord’s language about being "lifted up," with the Old Testament prophecies about the eternity and never dying of Christ.—That "lifted up" meant being put to death on the cross, they seem to have understood. That our Lord, or the Son of man, as He called Himself, claimed to be the Christ, they quite understood. What they stumbled at was the idea of the eternal Christ being put to death. They had got hold of the idea of a glorious, eternal Messiah. They had not got hold of the idea of a suffering, dying Messiah.
Of course they were right in holding that "Christ abideth forever." It is the universal doctrine of the Old Testament. (Compare Isaiah 9:7; Psalms 110:4; Ezekiel 37:25; Daniel 7:14; Micah 4:7.) Our Lord had never for a moment denied this. He was the promised Savior, who as Gabriel said to Mary, was to "reign over the house of Jacob for ever." (Luke 1:33.)
On the other hand, they were entirely wrong in not understanding that Christ had to suffer before He reigned, and to go to the cross before He wore the crown. They were wrong in not seeing that His sacrifice as our Substitute and our Passover, was the very corner-stone of revealed religion, and that the very "law" of which they made so much, pointed to His sacrifice as clearly as to His eternal glory. They forgot that Isaiah says that Messiah is to be "brought as a lamb to the slaughter," and that Daniel speaks of His being "cut off." (Isaiah 53:7; Daniel 9:26.)
The words "we" and "thou," in this verse, in the Greek are emphatic. "WE Jews have always been taught to believe the eternity of Messiah. THOU, on the other hand, sayest that Messiah must be put to death, and lifted up on the cross. How is this? How are we to understand it?"
"The law," in this verse, must evidently be taken for the whole of the Old Testament Scriptures.
It is worthy of remark that the Jews charge our Lord with saying "the Son of Man must be lifted up." Yet our Lord in the last verse but one had not mentioned the Son of man, but had only said, "I, if I be lifted up."—It is also singular that our Lord nowhere uses the expression "lifted up" except in His conversation with Nicodemus, in John 3:14. We must therefore either suppose that the Jews referred to the saying of Christ when He spoke to Nicodemus (which is very unlikely); or else that the expression "The Son of man must be lifted up" was so frequently on our Lord’s lips, that the Jews caught it up and pressed it on Him here; or else that our Lord so frequently spoke of Himself as the Son of man, that when He said, "If I be lifted up," the Jews thought it equivalent to saying "If the Son of man be lifted up."
The question,"Who is this Son of man?" can hardly imply that the Jews did not know that Christ was speaking of Himself. Does it not rather mean, "Who, and what kind of a Person dost Thou claim to be, calling Thyself the Son of man, and yet talking of being lifted up on the cross? Dost Thou really mean that one and the same person can be a dying person, and yet also the eternal Christ? Dost Thou claim to be the eternal Christ, and yet talk of being lifted up on a cross? Explain this apparent contradiction, for we cannot understand it."—It is just the old story over again. The Jews could not and would not understand that Messiah was to suffer as well as to reign, to die as a Sacrifice as well as to appear in glory. They could not and would not see that the two things could be reconciled, and could meet in one person. Hence their perplexity exhibited in the question of the text.
The title, "Son of man," is first found applied to Messiah in Daniel 7:13. We cannot doubt that the Jews understood and remembered that passage.
Let us note that a half knowledge of Scripture, a suppression of some texts, and a misapplication of other texts, will account for a large portion of mistakes in religion. In this way people get a heresy or a crotchet into their heads on some doctrinal point, and seem blind to the truth. No heresies are so obstinately defended, and so difficult to meet, as those which are based on a perverted view of some portion of Scripture. In reading our Bibles, we must be careful to give every part and portion its due weight.
Let us remember, before we judge the blindness of the Jews too severely in this place, that many Christians are just as slow to see the whole truth about the second advent of Christ and His coming glory, as the Jews were to see the whole truth about the first advent and the cross. Multitudes apply texts to the first advent which only belong to the second advent, and are just as much prejudiced against the second personal coming of Christ to reign, as the Jews were against the first personal advent to suffer. Not a few Christians, I fear, are ready to say, "We have heard out of the Scriptures that Christ was to come in humiliation to be crucified; and how say ye, then, that Christ must come in power to reign?"
The expression, "this," is rather emphatic, and has something contemptuous about it. "We have heard of a Son of man who is eternal. Who is THIS Son of man about to be lifted up on the cross, of whom you speak?"
v35.—[Then Jesus said unto them...light with you.] It is noteworthy, that our Lord makes no direct answer to the question of the Jews. He only warns them in a very solemn manner, of the danger they were in of letting their day of grace slip away unimproved. He draws a figure from the light of day, and the acknowledged importance of walking and journeying while we have the light. By "the light" He evidently means Himself. "I, the Light of the world, am only going to be with you a very little longer. My day is drawing to a close. The sun will soon set." (Compare Jeremiah 13:16.)
Here, as elsewhere, we see how clearly and distinctly our Lord saw His own approaching death and withdrawal from the world.
Ecolampadius thinks that there is a latent connection between this verse and the question of the Jews. "You ask who is this Son of man? I reply that He is the Light of the world, as I have often told you. Like the sun, He is about to be eclipsed, or withdrawn from your eyes very shortly. Make haste, and delay not to believe on Him."
Gerhard justly remarks on this sentence, how far from infallibility the best of the Fathers were. Even Augustine, from his slight acquaintance with Greek, renders the sense, "There is yet a little light in your hearts!"
A German commentator remarks, that Christ seems here to rebuke this quibbling and questioning about phrases. "There was no time now for sophistry and circumlocution. It was a solemn matter. How differently ought they to demean themselves in their little residue of time, and not to fritter it away with affected contradictions! How earnestly they ought to seek at once for refuge to the light, and shield themselves against coming darkness?"
[Walk while ye have the light.] This solemn exhortation was meant to urge the Jews to do for their souls’ safety what a wise traveler would do to get safely to his journey’s end. "Enter in at the strait gate: walk in the narrow way: flee from the city of destruction: set out on your journey towards eternal life: rise, and be moving, while I and my Gospel are close to you, shining on you, and within your reach."
Hengstenberg remarks, that "walking here denotes activity, and stands opposed to an idle and indifferent rest."
[Lest darkness come upon you.] Our Lord here warns the Jews of the things to be feared, if they neglected His advice. Darkness would overtake, catch, and come upon them. He would leave the world, and return to His Father. They would be left in a state of judicial darkness and blindness as a nation, and with the exception of an election, would be given over to untold calamities, scattering, and misery. How true these words were we know from the history of the Jews written by Josephus, after our Lord left the world. His account of the extraordinary state of the inhabitants of Jerusalem, during the siege of the city by Titus, is the best commentary on the text before us. The state of the Jews, as a nation, during the last days of Jerusalem, can only be described as "darkness that might be felt."
[For he...darkness...knoweth not...goeth.] This is an argument drawn from the acknowledged helplessness of one who attempts a difficult journey in a dark night. He cannot see his way. He only gets into trouble, and perhaps loses his life. This was exactly the case of the Jewish nation, after our Lord left the world. Up to the time of the destruction of the temple, they seemed like a nation of madmen, and a people judicially blinded,—conscious that they were in a wrong position, struggling furiously to get out of it, and yet only plunging deeper into the mire of hopeless misery, till Titus took the city, and carried the whole race into captivity. They had put out their own eyes by rejecting Christ, and were like a strong man blinded, maddened by a sense of his own misery, and yet impotent to get out of it.
v36.—[While light...believe...children of light.] This sentence would have been more accurately rendered, "While ye have THE Light;" that is, "while ye have ME, the Light of the world, with you." It is a final, affectionate entreaty to the Jews, repeating in more plain words the exhortation of the last verse, "To walk in the light." It is as though our Lord said, "Once more I beseech you to believe in Me as the Light of the world, while I am with you." The end and object for which they are to believe is also added, "That ye may become my children, have light in your hearts, light in your consciences, light in your lives, light on your present path, light in your future prospects." There can be no doubt that the expression "children of light" is a Hebraism, signifying, "to be brought in close connection with or under the full influence of light."
Let us note that here, as elsewhere, believing is the first step,—the one thing needful. The exhortation is still to be offered to every sinner, directly and personally: "Believe, that thou mayest be a child of light."
[These things...spake...departed...hide...them.] We know not exactly on what day in the last week of our Lord’s life the words just recorded had been spoken. The sentence before us certainly seems to mark a break and interval, and we can hardly suppose that the short address from the forty-fourth verse to the end of the chapter was spoken the same day, or was continuously connected with the discourse ending in this verse.
To me it seems probable that our Lord "departed" to Bethany after the miracle of the Voice from the heavens, and the commotion that followed it.—The words of our English version "Did hide Himself," seem to me rather stronger than the Greek warrants. It would be more literally, "Was concealed from them." Whether this was by miracle, as on other occasions, is not clear.
Calvin seems to think that our Lord only departed from the hearers immediately round Him, and went to the temple, where He met with another audience of a more believing kind. Flacius, too, thinks it was only a short and temporary withdrawal. Poole on the contrary takes the view that I adopt, and says that our Lord withdrew to Bethany.
v37.—[But though...so many miracles...them.] This verse begins a long parenthetical comment which John was inspired to make at this point, on the peculiar unbelief of the Jerusalem Jews. He remarks on the singular hardness of this section of the nation, in the face of the singularly strong evidence which they enjoyed of Christ’s Messiahship.
The expression, "So many miracles," seems to point out that the miracles recorded by John are by no means all the miracles that our Lord performed in and near Jerusalem. Beside the purifying of the temple, John only records three,—the healing of the impotent man, the healing of the blind, and the raising of Lazarus. (John 5., 9., 11.) Yet John expressly speaks of miracles (both here, and in John 2:23); and the Pharisees say, "This Man doeth many miracles." (John 11:47.)
The Greek word rendered "before," is very strong. It is the same that is "In the sight of," in 1 Thessalonians 1:3; and "In the presence of," in 1 Thessalonians 2:19.
[Yet they believed not on Him.] In estimating the peculiar hardness and unbelief of the Jews at Jerusalem, it is worth remembering that all experience proves that where there is the greatest quantity of the form of religion, there is often the greatest proportion of formality and unbelief. The places where men become most familiar with the outside and ceremonial of Christianity are precisely the places where the heart seems to become most hard. Witness the state of Rome at this day. Witness too often the state of cathedral cities in our own land. We need not wonder that the city in which was the temple, the daily sacrifice, and the priesthood, was the most unbelieving place in Palestine.
v38.—[That...saying...Esaias...fulfilled...spake.] We must not suppose this means that the Jews did not believe in order that the prophecy of Isaiah might be fulfilled. This would be teaching sheer fatalism, and would destroy man’s responsibility. The true meaning is, "So that by this unbelief the saying of Isaiah was fulfilled." (See John 5:20; Romans 5:20; 2 Corinthians 1:17.)
Chrysostom observes, "It was not because Isaiah spake that they believed not, but because they were not about to believe, that he spake."
Augustine says, "The Lord, by the Prophet, did predict the unbelief of the Jews,—predict, however, not cause. It does not follow that the Lord compels any man to sin because He knows men’s future sins."
Theophylact and Euthymius say much the same.
[Lord, who...believed our report.] This question begins the well-known fifty-third chapter of Isaiah, which describes with such extraordinary accuracy our Lord’s sufferings. It is certainly a most singular fact, that the very chapter which the Jews in every age have been most obstinately unwilling to believe, should begin with this question. It is a Hebraism tantamount to saying, "Nobody believes our report." The unbelief of the Jews was a thing as clearly foretold in Scripture as the sufferings of Christ. If they had not been unbelieving, the Scriptures would have been untrue.
[To whom...arm of...Lord revealed.] The expression, "arm of the Lord," is thought by Augustine to mean Christ Himself. It may be so. If not, it must mean, "To whom is the Lord’s power in raising up a Redeemer and an atoning sacrifice revealed?" That is, the Lord’s power is revealed to and received by none. The question here again is a Hebraism, equivalent to an assertion.
Bullinger observes, that "some might perhaps wonder that the Jews did not believe Jesus to be the Messiah. To this John replies, that Isaiah long ago foretold that they would prove an unreasonable and unbelieving nation."
The quotation of Isaiah in this place is strong evidence that the fifty-third chapter of this prophecy applies to Christ, and none else.
v39.—[Therefore they could not believe, because, etc.] This is undeniably a difficult verse. It cannot of course mean that the Jews were unable to believe, although really desirous to do so, and were prevented by the prophecy of Isaiah. What then can it mean? The following paraphrase is offered: "This was the cause why they could not believe: they were in that state of judicial blindness and hardness which Isaiah had described; they were justly given over to this state because of their many sins: and for this cause they had no power to believe."
"Therefore," is literally, "on account of this." It cannot, I think, look backward, but forward. (Compare John 10:17, and John 12:18.)
"They could not," is literally, "they were not able." It precisely describes the moral inability of a thoroughly hardened and wicked man to believe. He is thoroughly under the mastery of a hardened and seared conscience, and has, as it were, lost the power of believing.—They had no will to believe, and so they had no power. They could have believed if they would, but they would not, and so they could not.—The expression is parallel to the well-known words, "No man can come to Me, except the Father which hath sent Me draw him." There the meaning is, "No man has any will to come unless he is drawn, and so no man can come."
Even in our own English language the expression, "could not," is sometimes used in the sense of "would not." Thus the brethren of Joseph "hated him, and could not speak peaceably unto him." (Genesis 37:4.)
The word "because" is a needlessly strong rendering of the Greek. It would be just as correctly translated, "for."
Chrysostom observes, "In many places Christ is wont to term choice, power. So, ’The world cannot hate you, but Me it hateth.’ So in common conversation a man says, ’I cannot love this or that person," calling the force of his will, power.
Augustine says, "If I be asked why they could not believe, I answer in a word, Because they would not."—He also says, "It is said of the Omnipotent, He cannot deny Himself: and this is the power of the Divine will. So ’they could not believe’ is the fault of the human will."
Zwingle also says that "could not" means "would not."
Ecolampadius observes, "They would not, and therefore they could not believe. God is wont to punish those who commit some sin by giving them up to other sins." This, he remarks is the heaviest judgment to which we can be given up,—to have sins punished by sins; that is, by being let alone to commit them.
Bishop Hall says, "They could not believe because, as Isaiah says, in a just punishment for their maliciousness and contempt, God had stricken them with a reprobate sense, so that their eyes were blinded."
Quesnel says here, "Let us bewail this inability of will, with which by means of Adam’s sin we are all born, and which by our own sins we daily increase. Let us continually have recourse to Him who said, ’Without Me ye can do nothing,’ and, ’No man can come to Me, unless the Father draw him.’ "
v40.—[He hath blinded their eyes, etc.] This quotation is a free paraphrase of the general view of a verse in Isaiah 6:9-10. I think it can only have one meaning. That meaning is, that "God had given over the Jews to judicial blindness, as a punishment for their long-continued and obstinate rejection of His warnings." That God does in some cases give people over, as a punishment for obstinate unbelief, and that He may be justly termed the cause of such unbelief, is I think quite plain in Scripture. Pharaoh is a case in point. He obstinately refused God’s warnings, and so at last He was given over, and God is said to have "hardened his heart." Compare Joshua 11:20—"It was of the LORD to harden their hearts, that they should come against Israel in battle, that He might destroy them." (So Deuteronomy 2:30; 1 Samuel 2:25; Romans 9:18.)
This is no doubt a very solemn and awful subject. It seems at first sight to make God the author of man’s destruction. But surely a moment’s reflection will show us that God is a Sovereign in punishing, and may punish in any way he pleases. Some He cuts off suddenly the moment they sin. Others He gives over to judicial blindness, and ceases to strive with their consciences. "The Judge of all the earth will certainly do right." Those whom He is said to "harden and blind" will always be found to be persons whom He had previously warned, exhorted, and constantly summoned to repent. And never is He said to harden and blind, and give men up to judicial hardness and blindness, till after a long course of warnings. This was certainly the case with Pharaoh and with the Jews.
The consequence of God blinding and hardening a person, is that he does not "see" his danger with his eyes, or "understand" his position with his heart. The result is that he holds on his way unconverted, and dies without his soul’s disease being healed. "Seeing" and "understanding" are essential parts of conversion. No simpler reason can be given why myriads of church-goers continue careless, unaffected, unmoved, and unconverted: they neither "see" nor "understand." God alone can give them seeing eyes and understanding hearts, and ministers cannot. And one solemn reason why many live and die in this state is, that they have resisted God’s warnings, and are justly punished already with a judicial blindness and hardness, by Him whom they have resisted.
The key to the whole difficulty, after all, lies in the answer we are prepared to give to the question, "Is God just in punishing the sinner?"—The true Christian and honest Bible reader will find no difficulty in answering that question in the affirmative. Once grant that God is just in punishing the ungodly, and there is an end of the problem. God may punish by giving over the obstinate sinner to a reprobate mind, as really as by sentencing him to everlasting fire at the last day.
One thing only must never be forgotten. God "willeth not the death of any sinner." He is willing to soften the hardest heart, and to open the blind eyes of the greatest sinner. In dealing with men about their soul, we must never forget this. We may well remind them that by hardened impenitence they may provoke God to give them up. But we must also press on them that God’s mercies in Christ are infinite, and that, if they are finally lost, they will have none but themselves to blame.
Burgon thinks that the nominative to "blinded" at the beginning of the verse is not God, but "the Jewish people;" and that the meaning is, "This people hath blinded their own eyes." But I cannot see that this idea can be supported by reference to Isaiah, and though it smooths over difficulties, I dare not receive it.
Calvin thinks that the passage applies to the hardness by which God punishes the wickedness of an ungrateful people. They are given over justly to an unbelieving and judicially blinded state of mind.
Poole observes, "We have this text, than which there is none more terrible, no less than six times quoted in the New Testament. In all places it is quoted and given as a reason for the Jews’ unbelief in Christ. (Matthew 13:14-15; Mark 4:12; Luke 8:10; Acts 28:26-27; Romans 11:8.) It is not quoted alike in all places, but for substance it is the same. In the original, Isaiah is made the instrumental cause. Matthew and Luke, in Acts, mention the people themselves as the cause. All the other texts speak of it as God’s act. The thing is easily reconciled."—He then says "The Jews first shut their own eyes, and hardened their own hearts. Thus behaving themselves, God judicially gave them up to their own lusts, permitted their hearts to harden, and suffered them to close their own eyes, so that they could not repent, believe, or return. God did not infuse any malice into their hearts, but withdrew His grace from them."
Rollock makes the wise and deep remark, that "Darkness does not blind men so much as light, unless God renews their minds by His Spirit."
It is of course noteworthy that this quotation is not given literally and exactly as it stands in the Old Testament. But it is particularly mentioned by Surenhusius, in his book upon the quotations in the New Testament, that it was a common thing with the Hebrew doctors to abbreviate texts in quoting them, and to be content with giving the general sense. The abbreviation, therefore, in the text quoted before us, would not strike John’s contemporaries as at all extraordinary.
Let us not fail to remark how "seeing, understanding, being converted, and being healed," are linked together.
v41.—[These things...Esaias...his glory...him.] To see the full force of this verse we should read the sixth chapter of Isaiah in its entirety. We should there see a magnificent description of the Lord’s glory, before which even the seraphim veiled their faces. We should observe their cry, "Holy, holy, holy, is the LORD of Hosts." We should mark how Isaiah says, "Mine eyes have seen the King, the LORD of Hosts." And then let us remember that John says, "Esaias saw Christ’s glory, and spake of Christ"!—How any one, in the face of this evidence, can say that Jesus Christ is not very God, it seems hard to understand.
Lightfoot thinks that Isaiah in this chapter had a view of the glory which our Lord would have when He came to punish the Jewish nation. He thinks this is pointed out by "the posts of the door being shaken;" by "the temple being filled with smoke;" and by "the cities being wasted." (See Isaiah 6:1-13.)
v42.—[Nevertheless...rulers...many believed Him.] Here John mentions a fact which he would have us take together with his account of the hardened unbelief of most of the Jews. There were some who were not so utterly hardened as the rest. They were in a different state of mind: not blind but convinced; not hardened against our Lord, but secretly persuaded that He was the Christ. Many even of the chief people at Jerusalem believed, in their own secret minds, that Jesus was the Christ. This faith no doubt was only the faith of the head, and not of the heart. But they did believe.
Let us note that there is often far more going on in people’s minds than preachers are aware of. There is much secret conviction.
[But because...Pharisees...not confess Him.] They dared not openly confess their faith in our Lord, for fear of the persecution of the Pharisees. They were cowards, and influenced by the fear of man. No wonder that our Lord spoke so strongly in other places about the duty of confessing Him.
[Lest...put out of...synagogue.] The thing that they feared was excommunication. We can have little idea perhaps of the extreme dread with which a Jew regarded exclusion from the visible Jewish Church. Unlike ourselves, he knew no other Church in the whole world. To be shut out of this Church was equivalent to being shut out of heaven. The dread of excommunication in the Irish Catholic Church is perhaps the nearest thing to it in our days.
v43.—[For...loved...praise...man more...God.] John here tells us plainly the prevailing motive in the minds of the cowardly Jews. They loved above everything to be well thought of by their fellow-men. They thought more of having the good opinion of man than the praise of God. They could not bear the idea of being laughed at, ridiculed, reviled, or persecuted by their fellow-men. To keep in with them and have their praise, they sacrificed their own convictions, and acted contrary to their conscience. How much this feeling injures the soul, is shown by our Lord’s words in a former place: "How can ye believe which received honor one from another?" (John 5:44.)
Let us remember that all over the world the same miserable motive is still ruining myriads of souls. "The fear of man bringeth a snare." (Proverbs 29:25.) Nothing seems so difficult to overcome as the desire of pleasing man, keeping in with man, and retaining man’s praise. Nothing will overcome it but thorough faith. "This is the victory that overcometh the world, even our faith." (1 John 5:4.) The expulsive power of a new principle, that makes us see God, Christ, heaven, hell, judgment, eternity, as realities, is the grand secret of getting the victory over the fear of man.
Poole says, "They were not willing to part with their great places in the magistracy, which brought them respect, honor, and applause from men. They valued this more than God’s praise."
These verses throw light on two subjects which we can never understand too well. Our daily peace and our practice of daily watchfulness over ourselves, are closely connected with a clear knowledge of these two subjects.
One thing shown in these verses is, the dignity of our Lord Jesus Christ. We find Him saying, "He that seeth Me, seeth Him that sent Me. I am come as a Light into the world, that whosoever believeth on Me should not abide in darkness." Christ’s oneness with the Father, and Christ’s office, are clearly exhibited in these words.
Concerning the unity of the Father and the Son, we must be content to believe reverently what we cannot grasp mentally or explain distinctly. Let it suffice us to know that our Savior was not like the prophets and patriarchs, a man sent by God the Father, a friend of God, and a witness for God. He was something far higher and greater than this. He was in His Divine nature essentially one with the Father; and in seeing Him, men saw the Father that sent Him. This is a great mystery, but a truth of vast importance to our souls. He that casts His sins on Jesus Christ by faith is building on a rock. Believing on Christ, he believes not merely on Him, but on Him that sent Him.
Concerning the office of Christ, there can be little doubt that in this place He compares Himself to the sun. Like the sun, He has risen on this sin-darkened world with healing on His wings, and shines for the common benefit of all mankind. Like the sun, He is the great source and center of all spiritual life, comfort, and fertility. Like the sun, He illuminates the whole earth, and no one need miss the way to heaven, if he will only use the light offered for his acceptance.
Forever let us make much of Christ in all our religion. We can never trust Him too much, follow Him too closely, or commune with Him too unreservedly. He has all power in heaven and earth. He is able to save to the uttermost all who come to God by Him. None can pluck us out of the hand of Him who is one with the Father. He can make all our way to heaven bright and plain and cheerful; like the morning sun cheering the traveler. Looking unto Him, we shall find light in our understandings, see light on the path of life we have to travel, feel light in our hearts, and find the days of darkness which will come sometimes, stripped of half their gloom. Only let us abide in Him, and look to Him with a single eye. There is a mine of meaning in His words, "If thine eye be single, thy whole body shall be full of light." (Matthew 6:22.)
Another thing shown in these verses is, the certainty of a judgment to come. We find our Lord saying, "He that rejecteth Me, and receiveth not my words, hath One that judgeth him: the word that I have spoken, the same shall judge him in the last day."
There is a last day! The world shall not always go on as it does now. Buying and selling, sowing and reaping, planting and building, marrying and giving in marriage,—all this shall come to an end at last. There is a time appointed by the Father when the whole machinery of creation shall stop, and the present dispensation shall be changed for another. It had a beginning, and it shall also have an end. Banks shall at length close their doors forever. Stock exchanges shall be shut. Parliaments shall be dissolved. The very sun, which since Noah’s flood has done his daily work so faithfully, shall rise and set no more. Well would it be if we thought more of this day! Rent days, birth days, wedding days, are often regarded as days of absorbing interest; but they are nothing compared to the last day.
There is a judgment coming! Men have their reckoning days, and God will at last have His. The trumpet shall sound. The dead shall be raised incorruptible. The living shall be changed. All, of every name and nation, and people and tongue, shall stand before the judgment-seat of Christ. The books shall be opened, and the evidence brought forth. Our true character will come out before the world. There will be no concealment, no evasion, no false coloring. Every one shall give account of himself to God, and all shall be judged according to their works. The wicked shall go away into everlasting fire, and the righteous into life eternal.
These are awful truths! But they are truths, and ought to be told. No wonder that the Roman governor Felix trembled when Paul the prisoner discoursed about "righteousness, temperance, and judgment to come." (Acts 24:25.) Yet the believer in the Lord Jesus Christ has no cause to be afraid. For him, at any rate, there is no condemnation, and the last assize need have no terrors. The bias of his life shall witness for him; while the shortcomings of his life shall not condemn him. It is the man who rejects Christ, and will not hear His call to repentance,—he is the man who in the judgment-day will have reason to be cast down and afraid.
Let the thought of judgment to come have a practical effect on our religion. Let us daily judge ourselves with righteous judgment, that we may not be judged and condemned of the Lord. Let us so speak and so act as men who will be judged by the law of liberty. (James 2:12.) Let us make conscience of all our hourly conduct, and never forget that for every idle word we must give account at the last day. In a word, let us live like those who believe in the truth of judgment, heaven, and hell. So living, we shall be Christians indeed and in truth, and have boldness in the day of Christ’s appearing.
Let the judgment day be the Christian’s answer and apology when men ridicule him as too strict, too precise, and too particular in his religion. Irreligion may do tolerably well for a season, so long as a man is in health and prosperous, and looks at nothing but this world. But he who believes that he must give account to the Judge of quick and dead, at His appearing and kingdom, will never be content with an ungodly life. He will say, "There is a judgment. I can never serve God too much. Christ died for me. I can never do too much for Him."
v44.—[Jesus cried and said.] The connection between the address which begins here and the preceding verse, is not very plain or easy to understand.
Some think that it is a continuation of the address which ended at John 12:36, and that John’s comment and explanation in the last seven verses [John 12:37-43] must be regarded entirely as a parenthesis. This is rather an awkward supposition, when we look at John 12:36, and see at the end, "These words spake Jesus and departed, and did hide Himself." Unless we suppose that as He was walking away, "He cried and said, He that believeth on Me," etc., the connection seems incapable of proof. Yet it appears most unlikely that our Lord would have said such things as he was departing.
Others, as Theophylact, think that the address before us is an entirely new and distinct one, and delivered on a different day from that ending at the thirty-sixth verse: viz., on the Tuesday, Wednesday, or Thursday, in Passion Week. This certainly appears to me the least difficult view of the subject. It would then mean that the day after the miracle of the voice from heaven, Jesus appeared again publicly in Jerusalem, and "cried and said."
However, it is useless to deny that the abrupt manner in which the verse before us and the following verses come in is a difficulty, and one which we know not exactly how to explain. One thing only is very clear: this was probably one of the last public discourses which our Lord delivered in Jerusalem, and forms a kind of conclusion to His ministry in that city. It is a short but solemn winding up of all His public testimony to the Jews.
It deserves notice, that some, as Tittman, Stier, Olshausen, Tholuck, Bloomfield, and Alford, consider the whole of the passage, from verse 44 to the end of the chapter, to be not the words of Jesus Christ, but a statement of John the Evangelist himself, concerning the doctrine Jesus taught throughout His ministry, and specially at Jerusalem. From this view, however, I strongly dissent. The beginning, "Jesus cried," etc., seems utterly inconsistent with the theory. There seems no special necessity for adopting it. A plain reader of the chapter would never dream of it.
It is worth remarking that the Greek expression, "He cried," is very seldom applied to our Lord in the New Testament. It is found in Matthew 27:50; Mark 15:39; John 7:28-37, and here. In every instance it means a loud cry, such as anyone uses to call attention to what he has to say.
Flacius thinks that the address beginning here is a kind of peroration and summing up of all our Lord’s public teaching to the Jews. In it He repeats the proclamation of His own Divine office and dignity,—the purpose for which He came, to be a "light,"—the danger of neglecting His testimony,—the certainty of a final judgment,—and the direct procession of His doctrine from the Father.
[He that believeth...Me...Him that sent Me.] This remarkable expression seems meant to proclaim for the last time, the great truth so often insisted on by our Lord,—the entire unity between Himself and the Father. Once more Jesus declares that there is such a complete and mysterious oneness between Himself and the Father, that he who believes on Him, believes not only on Him, but on Him that sent Him.—Of course the sentence cannot literally mean that the man who believes on Christ, does not believe on Christ. But according to a mode of speech not uncommon in the New Testament, our Lord taught that all who in obedience to His call put their trust in Him, would find that they were not trusting in the Son only, but in the Father also.—In short, to trust in the Son, the sent Savior of sinners, is to trust also in the Father, who sent Him to save. The Son and the Father cannot be divided, though they are distinct Persons in the Trinity; and faith in the Son gives an interest in the Father. (Compare John 5:24—"He that heareth my word, and believeth on Him that sent Me." And 1 Peter 1:21—"Who by Him do believe in God.")
To draw a wide line of separation between the Father and the Son, as some do, and to represent the Father as an angry Being whom the Son appeases, is very poor theology, and the high road to Tritheism. The true doctrine is that the Godhead of Father, Son, and Holy Ghost is one, and that in the unity of the Godhead there are three Persons, and yet that there is such entire unity between the Persons that He who believes in the Son believes also in the Father.
Zwingle thinks the latent idea is, "Do not think it is a small and insignificant thing to believe on Me. To believe on Me is the same thing as believing on God the Father, and to know Me is to know the Father."
Bucer seems to think that the address in this verse was meant to encourage those who believed Christ to be the Messiah, but were afraid of confessing Him, to come forward boldly, and acknowledge their belief.
Poole says, that in like manner God says to Samuel, "They have not rejected thee, but have rejected Me," meaning not thee alone. (1 Samuel 8:7.)
v45—[And he...seeth Me seeth Him that sent Me.] This deep and mysterious verse proclaims even more distinctly than the last verse, the unity of the Father and the Son. It cannot mean that any one who saw Christ with his bodily eyes, did, in so seeing, behold the First Person in the Trinity. Such beholding we are distinctly told is impossible. He is one "whom no man hath seen or can see." (1 Timothy 6:16.) What our Lord seems to mean is this: "He that seeth Me seeth not Me only, as an ordinary man or a Prophet, like John the Baptist. In seeing Me he beholds One who is one with the Father, the brightness of His glory, and the express image of His Person." (Hebrews 1:3.) Of course our Lord did not literally mean, "He that sees Me does not see Me." But He meant, "He that sees Me sees not only Me, but through Me and by Me he sees Him that sent Me, for we cannot be divided."
The divinity of Jesus Christ seems incontrovertibly proved by this verse and the preceding one. If to believe in Christ is to believe in the Father, and to see Christ is to see the Father, then Jesus Christ must be equal with the Father,—very and eternal God.
The supposition of some, that the first "seeth" in this verse means nothing more than "seeth by faith," appears rather incredible. At this rate the verse would be only a repetition of the one preceding it. I prefer the idea that "seeth" means literally, "Seeth with his bodily eyes." Yet Bengel says that "seeth" refers to that vision which faith accompanies, and compares it to John 6:40.
The object our Lord had in view in this and the preceding verse, appears to have been twofold. It was partly to proclaim once more the unity of Himself and the Father. It was partly to encourage all believers in Himself, for the last time, before He was crucified. Let them know that in resting their souls on Him, they were resting not on Him alone who was about to die on Calvary, but on One who was one with the Father, and therefore were resting on the Father.
Chrysostom observes on the expression, "seeth Him that sent me,"—"What then? Is God a body? By no means. The seeing of which Jesus here speaks is that of the mind, thence showing the consubstantiality."
Barnes observes, that this language could not have been used about any mere man. To say it of Paul or Isaiah would have been blasphemy.
v46.—[I am come a light into the world, etc.] In this sentence our Lord proclaims once more the great end and object of His coming into the world. He does it by using His favorite figure of light, and comparing Himself to the sun.—"I have come into a world full of darkness and sin, to be the source and center of life, peace, holiness, happiness to mankind; so that every one who receives and believes in Me, may be delivered from darkness and walk in full light."
Let us note that the form of language used here seems to teach that our Lord existed before He entered the world. The saints "are the light of the world," but they do not "come a light into the world." This could only be said of Christ, who was light before His incarnation, just as the sun exists and shines before it rises above the eastern horizon.
Let us note that our Lord’s language seems to teach that He came to be a common Savior and Messiah for all mankind, just as the sun shines for the good of all. It is as though He said, "I have arisen on the world like the sun in the firmament of heaven, in order that every one who is willing to believe in Me should be delivered from spiritual darkness, and be enabled to walk in the light of spiritual life."
Once more we may remember that none could give such a majestic description of His mission, but one who knew and felt that He was very God. We never find Moses, or John the Baptist, or Paul, or Peter using such language as this.
The quantity of precious truth taught and implied in this verse is very note-worthy.—The world is in darkness.—Christ is the only light.—Faith is the only way to have interest in Christ.—He that believeth no longer abides in darkness, but has spiritual light.—He that does not believe remains and continues in a state of darkness, the prelude to hell.
The expression, "not abide in darkness," seems to have a latent reference to those Jews who were convinced of Christ’s Messiahship, but were afraid to confess Him openly. Such persons are here exhorted not to remain, stick fast, and continue in darkness.
Burgon remarks on this verse, "This verse shows that (1) Christ existed before His incarnation, even as the sun exists before it appears above the eastern hills; (2) that Christ is the one Savior of the world, even as there is only one sun; (3) that He came not for one nation, but for all, as the sun shines for all the world."
v47.—[And if any...hear...believe not.] Having shown the privilege of those who believe in Him, our Lord now shows the danger and ruin of those who hear His teaching and yet believe not.
[I judge him not.] These words can only mean, "I judge him not now." To put more on them would contradict the teaching of other places, where Christ is spoken of as the Judge of all at the last day. Our Lord’s meaning evidently is to teach that His First Advent was not for judgment, but for salvation, not to punish and smite as a conqueror, but to heal and save as a physician.
[For I am not...judge...save the world.] These words are an expansion and explanation of the preceding sentence, "I judge him not." They are evidently meant to correct the Jewish impression that Messiah was to come only to judge, to execute vengeance, to smite down His enemies, and to punish His adversaries. This impression arose from misapplied views of the Second Advent and the judgment yet to come. Our Lord, for the last time, declares that He came for no such purpose. Wicked as unbelief was, He did not come to punish it now. He came not as a judge at His First Advent, but as a Savior.
We must take care, however, that we do not misinterpret this sentence. It affords no countenance to the dangerous doctrine of universal salvation. It does not mean that Christ came in order to actually save from hell all the inhabitants of the whole world. Such a meaning would flatly contradict many other plain passages of Scripture. What then does it mean?
It means that our Lord came at His First Advent not to be a judge, but a Savior, not to inflict punishment, but to provide mercy. He came to provide salvation for all the world, so that anyone in the world may be saved. But no one gets any benefit from this salvation excepting those that believe.—The true key to the meaning of the sentence is the contrast between Christ’s first coming and His second one. The first was to set up a throne of grace; the second will be to set up a throne of judgment. The expression in John 3:17 is precisely parallel: "God sent not His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved." If it were lawful to coin a word, the true exposition of the sentence would be, "I came that the world might be salvable."
But while I say all this, I am unable to see how such expressions as this, and John 3:16-17, can possibly be reconciled with an extreme view of particular redemption. To say, on the one hand, that Christ’s death is efficacious to none but the elect and believers, is strictly true. Not all men are finally saved by Christ. There is a hell, and unbelievers and impenitent people will be found there.—But to say, on the other hand, that in no sense did Christ do anything at all for the whole world, but that He did everything for the elect alone, seems to me utterly irreconcilable with this text. Surely Christ came to provide a salvation sufficient for the whole "world."
I am aware that the advocates of an extreme view of particular redemption say that "the world" here does not mean "the world," but the elect of all nations, as compared to the Jews. But this view is not satisfactory, and looks very [much] like an evasion of the plain meaning of words.
Why the same Greek word is rendered by our English translators, "judge" in this verse, and "condemn" in the parallel place in John 3:17, it is not easy to see.
v48.—[He that rejecteth Me...receiveth not my words...judgeth him.] In this verse our Lord declares positively the future judgment and condemnation of those who reject Him, and refuse to believe His teaching.—The word we render "rejecteth," is only used here in John’s Gospel. The idea is that of "despising: setting at naught." (See Luke 10:16.) The person described is one who despises and sets at naught Christ Himself, after seeing Him, and deliberately refuses to acknowledge Him as the Messiah, in spite of all the evidence of His miracles. He is also one who will not receive and take into his heart the doctrines preached by Christ. In short, he despises His person, and refuses to believe His teaching. "Such a man will find at last, though I punish him not now, that there is a judgment and condemnation of him. He will not find that his rejection of Me, and his unbelief, will go unpunished. He has a Judge prepared already. There is one already, though he knows it not, who will witness against him and condemn him."
[The word...I have spoken...judge him...last day.] Our Lord here declares that the things He publicly preached to the Jews while He was upon earth, would witness finally against those who did not believe, at the last day, and be their condemnation. They will not then be able to deny that they were words of wisdom, words of mercy, words subversive of their false views, words fully explaining Christ’s kingdom, words entirely in accordance with the Scriptures. And the result will be that they will be speechless. The witness of Christ’s words will be unanswerable, and in consequence of that witness they will be condemned.
We see here that the words of those who speak for God are not thrown away because they seem not believed at the time. Christ’s words, though despised and rejected by the Jews, did not fall to the ground. Those whom they did not save they will condemn. There will be a resurrection of all faithful sermons at the last day.—Great is the responsibility of preachers! Their words are always doing good, or adding to the condemnation of the lost. They are a savor of life to some, and of death to others. Great is the responsibility of hearers! They may ridicule and despise sermons, but they will find to their cost at last, that they must give account of all they hear. The very sermons they now despise may be witnesses against them to their eternal ruin. Let us note that our Lord speaks of judgment and the last day as great realities. Let us take care that we always account them such, and live accordingly. The Christian’s best answer to those who ridicule his religion is to say, "I believe in a judgment and a last day."
Let us note that condemnation is taken for granted, if not directly expressed, as the portion of some at the last day. Then let us not listen to those who say that there is no future punishment, and that all persons of all characters, both good and bad, are at last going to heaven.
Zwingle remarks that the expression, "My word shall judge," is parallel to such expressions as, "The law puts a man to death," though it is not actually the law, but the executioner that does it. The law only shows him to be worthy of death. So the works and words of Christ will show the unbelieving to be worthy of judgment and condemnation.
v49.—[For I have not spoken of myself.] In these words our Lord once more, as if for the last time, declares that mighty truth which we find so often in John,—the intimate union between Himself and His Father. "I have not spoken of myself, of my own independent mind, and without concert with my Father in heaven."
The object of saying this is evident. Our Lord would have the Jews know what a serious sin it was to refuse His words, and not believe them. In so doing men did not refuse the words of a mere man, or a prophet, like Moses or John the Baptist. They were refusing the words of Him who never spake alone, but always in closest union with the Father. To refuse to receive the words of Christ, was to reject not merely His words, but the words of God the Father.
Here, as in many other places in John’s Gospel, the Greek does not mean, "I have not spoken concerning myself, but out of or from myself."
[But the Father...gave...commandment...speak.] Here our Lord explains and enforces more fully what He said of "not speaking from Himself." He declares that when He came into the world, the Father gave Him a "commandment," or a commission, as to what He should say and speak to men. The things that He had spoken were the result of the eternal counsels of the ever blessed Trinity. The works that He had done were works which the Father gave Him to do. The words which He spoke were words which the Father gave Him to speak. Both in His doing and speaking nothing was left to chance, unforeseen, unprovided, or unpremeditated. All was arranged by perfect wisdom, both His words and His works.
When we read of the Father "sending" Christ, and giving Christ a "commandment," we must carefully dismiss from our minds all idea of any inferiority to God the Father on the part of God the Son. The expressions are used in condescension to our weak faculties, to convey the idea of perfect oneness. We are not speaking of the relation that exists between two human beings like ourselves, but between the Persons in the Divine Trinity.—The "sending" of the Son was the result of the eternal counsel of that blessed Trinity, in which Father, Son, and Holy Ghost are co-equal and co-eternal. The eternal Son was as willing to be "sent" as the eternal Father was to "send" Him.—The "commandment" given by the Father to the Son as to what He should teach and do, was not a commandment in which the Son had no part but to obey. It was simply the charge or commission arranged in the covenant of redemption, by all three Persons in the Trinity, which the Son was as willing to execute as the Father was willing to give.
The distinction between "say" and "speak" in the Greek is not very clear. Burgon thinks the phrase is meant to include "every class of discourse; as well the words of familiar intercourse, as the grave and solemn addresses." But I am not satisfied that this can be proved.—À. Lapide says that "to say is to teach and publish a thing gravely, and to speak is to utter a thing familiarly." Bengel, however, distinguishes them in precisely the contrary way!
There certainly seems to be an intention in the verse to refer the Jews to the well-known words of Deuteronomy, concerning the Prophet like unto Moses. "I will raise up a Prophet from among their brethren, like unto thee, and will put my words into His mouth, and he shall speak unto them all that I shall command Him." Our Lord’s hearers, familiar from their infancy with Scripture, would see at once that Jesus claimed to be the promised Prophet. The Father’s words were in His mouth. He spoke what was commanded Him. (See Deuteronomy 18:18.)
v50.—[And I know...His commandment...life everlasting.] The meaning of this sentence seems to be: "I know, whether you like to believe it or not, that this message, commandment, or commission, which I have from my Father, is life everlasting to all who receive it, and believe. You, in your blindness, see no beauty or excellence in the message I bring, and the doctrine I preach. But I know that in rejecting it you are rejecting life everlasting."—Thus Peter says to our Lord, "Thou hast the words of eternal life" (John 6:68): that is, we know Thou hast a commission to proclaim and publish eternal life.—Thus our Lord says, "The words that I speak are spirit and life." (John 6:63.)
Poole and others say this sentence means, "I know that the way to life everlasting is to keep His commandments." But I cannot think this is the meaning.
Hall paraphrases the sentence, "The doctrine which by His commandment I preach unto you, is that which will surely bring you to everlasting life."
[Whatsoever I speak...as Father...so I speak.] This sentence seems intended to wind up our Lord’s public discourses to the unbelieving Jews at Jerusalem. "Whatsoever things I am teaching now, or have spoken to you all through my ministry, are things which the Father gave to Me to speak to you. I am only speaking to you what the Father said to Me. If therefore you reject or refuse my message, know once more, for the last time, that you are rejecting a message from God the Father Himself. I speak nothing but what the Father said to Me. If you despise it, you are despising the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob."
Let us remember that the holy boldness of this last verse should be a pattern to every minister and preacher of the Gospel. Such a man ought to be able to say confidently, "I know, and am persuaded, that the message I bring is life everlasting to all who believe it; and that, in saying what I do, I say nothing but what God has showed me in His Word."
END OF VOL. II.
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Ryle, J. C. "Commentary on John 12". "J. C. Ryle's Expository Thoughts on the Gospels". https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 12 / Ordinary 17