Friday, June 2nd, 2023
the Week of Proper 3 / Ordinary 8
the Week of Proper 3 / Ordinary 8
Schaff's Popular Commentary on the New Testament Schaff's NT Commentary
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These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
Schaff, Philip. "Commentary on John 12". "Schaff's Popular Commentary on the New Testament". https://www.studylight.org/
commentaries/ eng/ scn/ john-12.html. 1879-90.
Schaff, Philip. "Commentary on John 12". "Schaff's Popular Commentary on the New Testament". https://www.studylight.org/
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John 12:1. Jesus therefore, six days before the passover, came to Bethany, where Lazarus was, whom Jesus had raised from the dead. The word therefore marks a close connection with the preceding chapter, not however with its concluding words. The 56 th and 57 th verses of chap. 11 , describing how the thought of both friends and foes was intently fixed on Jesus and His possible presence at the festival, form a very natural introduction to the narrative of this chapter, but in strict historical sequence the verse before us connects itself with the general statement of chap. John 11:55. As to the particular date here spoken of there has been much difference of opinion, but it does not seem difficult to arrive at the most probable meaning. The point from which the Evangelist reckons is beyond doubt, we think, the 14 th day of Nisan or Abib, the first month in the Jewish sacred year. ‘In the fourteenth day of the first month at even is the Lord’s Passover’ (Leviticus 23:5). On this fourteenth day, ‘between the evenings’ (Exodus 12:6), that is (probably) between sunset and the time when darkness came on, the Paschal lamb was to be slain. With the evening of the fourteenth day however (using day in its ordinary sense) began according to Jewish reckoning the fifteenth day of the month, which, lasting until the following sunset, was the first of the seven days of unleavened bread. The Paschal meal, therefore, was eaten at the close of the fourteenth natural day, but at the beginning of the fifteenth day according to the computation of the Jews. Starting then from the 14 th of Nisan, the ‘six days’ will most probably bring us to the 8 th; and if, as is generally believed, the 15 th of Nisan fell on Friday in this year, the 8 th will coincide with the same day in the preceding week. The only doubt respecting the correctness of this view arises from a peculiarity sometimes found in Jewish notes of time, both the first day and the last in an interval being included in the reckoning, so that ‘six days before’ might really mean ‘the sixth day before,’ that is ‘five days before:’ but as it is certain that the Jews themselves could speak of ‘one day before the Passover’ (using this very form of expression), words to which only one meaning can possibly be given, it seems perfectly certain that the reckoning in this verse must be taken in its exact and natural sense, as we have taken it above. It was therefore on the 8 th of Nisan, at some part of the day which we should call the Friday before the Passover, that Jesus arrived in Bethany. This day, as we learn from Josephus, was often chosen by the bands of pilgrims for their arrival in Jerusalem: those referred to in John 11:55 had come earlier than others to the holy city for a special reason. As the sabbath commenced on the evening of this day, we may most naturally assume that Jesus reached Bethany before sunset. In adding to the name of this place the words, ‘where Lazarus was whom Jesus raised from the dead,’ the Evangelist in part intends to prepare the way for the narrative that follows, but also seeks to connect his narrative with the wonderful record of chap. 11 , and to place the glory of Jesus as the Prince and Giver of Life in contrast with the designs of His enemies to seize Him and put Him to death (chap. John 11:53).
Jesus has been doomed to death (John 11:53; John 11:57), and the hour is at hand when He shall be seized, and the sentence executed. But the malice of man cannot interfere with the purposes of God. In the midst of dangers, under sentence of death, the redeemer pursues His path of glory. Three pictures illustrating this are presented in the section of the twelfth chapter now before us. The subordinate parts of this section are ( 1 ) John 12:1-11, the anointing in Bethany; ( 2 ) John 12:12-19, the triumphal entry into Jerusalem; ( 3 ) John 12:20-36, the homage of the Greeks to Jesus.
John 12:2. There therefore they made him a supper; and Martha served: but Lazarus was one of them that sat at the table with him. Two points only are mentioned by John, that a feast was given in honour of Jesus, and that every member of the family so signally blessed was present. By whom, when, and where, the feast was given, are questions to which he returns no answer. Different conclusions may be drawn from the words of this verse; but they seem most naturally to imply that the entertainment was not given in the house or by the family of Lazarus. It is true that ‘Martha served,’ yet we may well suppose that, wherever the feast took place, this was an office she would claim; and the insertion of the clause relating to Lazarus is hardly to be accounted for if Jesus were a guest in his house. As to the question of time, John 12:12 seems to show that the evening of the feast must have been that following the sabbath rather than the evening with which the sabbath commenced. Between this verse therefore and John 12:1 we must interpose the rest of the sabbath. We are now at liberty to turn to the account of the Synoptists. Luke relates nothing (in connection with this period) that is similar to the narrative before us; but the other two Evangelists describe a supper and an anointing which manifestly are identical with what John records here. Some slight differences in detail will be called up as the narrative proceeds: the only serious question is one relating to time. In Matthew 26:2 we are brought to a date two days before the Passover, whereas the feast in question is related in later verses (John 12:6-13). (Compare also the parallel section in Mark 14:0) But there is nothing whatever in Matthew’s account to fix the time of the feast; and both the structure of his gospel and the apparent links of connection in this particular narrative are consistent with the view ordinarily taken, that at John 12:6 he goes back to relate an earlier event, which furnished occasion to Judas for furthering the design of the rulers, as recorded in the first verses of the chapter. If then there is no doubt of the identity of the events mentioned by the Synoptists and by John, we learn that the feast was given in the house of Simon the leper, a person of whom we know nothing more.
John 12:3. Mary therefore took a pound of ointment of spikenard, very precious. By ointment we are to understand rather a liquid perfume than what we commonly know as ointment. The precise description of ointment or perfume that is here indicated is a question that has been much controverted. The words, which literally mean ointment of nard ‘pistic,’ are the same as those employed by Mark (chap. Mark 14:3): in each place our English Version has ‘spikenard,’ a word suggested by the rendering of the Vulgate in Mark ( nardus spicatus), and used by our translators in three passages of the Old Testament (Song of Solomon 1:12-14). In the passages last named the word that stands in the Hebrew text is nerd, evidently identical with the nardos used here by John: the word is said to be really of Persian origin, denoting a perfume brought from India by Persian traders. It will be seen that our translation has practically passed over the epithet ‘pistic,’ as to the meaning of which there exists the greatest uncertainty. By some it is explained as potable (the fine nard-oil being sometimes drunk); others refer the word to a root meaning to press or pound (the oil being obtained by pressure); whilst others maintain that the word is not descriptive of any species of nard, but denotes its genuineness. The most probable opinion is that pistic is a geographical term which was at the time familiarly associated with the name of the perfume as an article of commerce, though now the exact significance is lost. From the parallel narratives (Matthew 26:7; Mark 14:3) we learn that, as a fluid, it was kept in a flask (for this is the truer rendering of the Greek word translated alabaster box) hermetically sealed; and the contents would be extracted by breaking off the neck. As the ointment was a fluid, and the neck of the flask was broken off, we seem entitled to infer that the whole was used. The quantity which Mary had bought was very large, for the ‘pound’ here spoken of was equivalent to about 12 ounces avoirdupois. Its preciousness is best illustrated by a later verse (John 12:5), where we find 300 denarii (in Mark 14:5, more than 300 denarii) mentioned as its probable value. If we take the denarius at 8 1 / 2 d., the value ordinarily assigned, this sum amounts to £10 , 12 s. 6 d. The truer principle of calculation, however, is that the sum be estimated according to the power of purchase which it represents; and it would be easy to show that 300 denarii would ordinarily purchase a larger quantity of wheat (for example) than could now be obtained for £20 of our money.
And anointed the feet of Jesus, and she wiped his feet with her hair: and the house was filled with the odour of the ointment. With this precious perfume, then, Mary anointed the feet of her Lord. The other Evangelists speak of ‘the head’ not ‘the feet,’ and of the ointment as poured down over the head. There is of course no discrepancy between the accounts. Both feet and head were anointed: John speaks of the former because the words which he is about to add refer to the feet alone; and though the other narratives mention no more than the anointing of the head, yet the words of Jesus related by both Evangelists speak of the ointment as poured upon His ‘body,’ and as designed to prepare Him for His burial. Perhaps, in a writer like John, who seizes so powerfully the symbolism (the real symbolism, not a possible subjective application) of the various events in his Master’s life, we ought also to connect this anointing of the feet of Jesus ( twice mentioned, here and in chap. John 11:2) with His washing of the disciples’ feet to be related in the chapter which follows. Over against cleansing of their feet soiled by the day’s travel is set the honour due to the very feet of Him to whom contact with earthly life brought not even a transient stain. Be this as it may, Mary’s action as here described, her use of the most precious ointment, whose odour filled the whole house (a fact which is far more than a mere historical reminiscence), and the devotion of that which is a woman’s chief ornament to the purpose of wiping the feet which she had anointed, picture to us most impressively her gratitude and humble reverence.
John 12:4. But Judas Iscariot, one of his disciples, he that was about to betray him, saith. After the picture of the highest loving homage to Him whom the Jewish rulers had adjudged to death, the Evangelist gives the contrasted view of an apostle, who, apostle as he was, would shortly be seeking to betray his Lord, and who showed the present workings of his heart by grudging the lavish expression of Mary’s faith and love.
John 12:5. Why was not this ointment sold for three hundred pence and given to the poor? Care for the poor is the mask which the murmuring protest of Judas wears. Thus sin, that it may the better extinguish the virtue by which at the moment it is offended, is wont to pay reverence to some other virtue, some virtue which may be thought of without trouble, because it is not really present and in question. But the Evangelist in recording the words strips off the mask.
John 12:6. But this he said, not because he cared for the poor; but because he was a thief, and, having the bag, bare away what was put therein. Matthew mentions the murmuring on the part of some of the disciples: evidently, therefore, the plausible remonstrance of Judas led more honest and guileless minds than his to share in the wonder which his words expressed. John speaks of Judas only, as he alone reveals the real motive of the complaint. But though Matthew says nothing at this point of Judas or his covetousness, it is very significant that, immediately after relating the answer of Jesus, he tells us that Judas went to the rulers and said, ‘What will ye give me?’ The somewhat remarkable word rendered ‘bag’ is found twice only in the New Testament, here and in Matthew 13:29: in the Septuagint it occurs in 2 Chronicles 24:0 only (2 Chronicles 24:8; 2 Chronicles 24:10-11). The last quoted passages will show the meaning of the word more clearly: it was not a bag, but rather a small box or chest. As in the only passages of the Old Testament in which the word occurs it denotes a receptacle for offerings made to the temple, it is perhaps more than a coincidence that it is here chosen by John when he would speak of the small store of money possessed by Jesus (the True temple) and His disciples, money derived from the voluntary offerings of the few who had recognised His glory and consecrated their substance to the supply of His wants. Another word in this verse requires remark, that which in the Authorised Version appears as ‘bare,’ but which we have rendered ‘bare away.’ The former is the more common meaning of the word both in classical Greek and in the New Testament; but the latter (which often occurs in later Greek) is certainly intended by John in a later verse of the Gospel (chap. John 20:15, ‘if thou have borne him away’). It seems all but impossible that the word can have the neutral meaning here: partly because, after the mention of the .dishonesty of Judas, the statement that he carried that which was cast into the common chest would be a strange anti-climax; and partly because it would be difficult to see why John should write such a sentence as this, ‘and, having the bag, carried what was put therein.’
John 12:7. Jesus therefore said, Let her alone, that for the day of the preparation for my burial she may keep it. The meaning of the word which in the Authorised Version is rendered ‘burial’ is made clear by chap. John 19:40 (where substantially the same word is used); ‘they took the body of Jesus and wrapped it in linen cloths with the spices, as the manner of the Jews is to prepare for burial.’ The true reading of the Greek text, that which our rendering represents, undoubtedly presents a difficulty, as we, knowing that our Lord is speaking of the day then present, cannot understand how Jesus can say ‘that . . . she may keep it.’ The simplest solution of the difficulty, were it admissible, is afforded by the rendering, ‘Suffer that she may have kept it;’ but it is very doubtful whether the Greek words can admit of this translation. Another suggestion is that, as the quantity of nard was so great, our Lord in saying ‘that she may keep it refers to the portion still remaining in the flask. The objection to this is found in what has been said of the mode of opening the flask and in the ‘pouring’ described by the other Evangelists: it is not easy to see that any portion worth speaking of could still remain. Hence we must probably seek for an explanation of a different kind. We must not forget that these words were enigmatical, and intentionally so. Our Lord was not distinctly affirming that this day was, so to speak, the day on which He was prepared for entombment: it was His wont to use language which but partially revealed the approaching event, which seemed to unenlightened hearers to contain only some dark hint of trouble impending, but which stood forth in luminous significance when the implied prophecy was ready to be fulfilled. Hence here, in speaking of the (unconscious or half-unconscious) purpose of Mary, He uses words which leave the time of the conception and fulfilment of the purpose altogether doubtful. His answer amounts to this: Meddle not with the intention that she has had to keep this for the day on which I must be prepared for the tomb. It is possible that the sentence is left incomplete, and that there is a break between the two parts: ‘Let her alone;’ ‘that she may keep it unto the day,’ etc. Such an elliptic use of a clause of purpose is not uncommon in this Gospel. If we may assume that we have an example of this usage here, the meaning will be, It is, or, It was, or, She hath bought this ointment, that she might keep it, etc. The meaning is almost the same as that previously given.
The word which our Lord uses in this verse shows in what light this section is to be viewed. It is not so much the living Saviour that we have before us as the Saviour on whom sentence of death has been passed. At the feet of Him whom ‘the Jews’ are seeking to kill, and whom false friends are betraying, faith pours her richest treasures. Mary thought only of showing her reverence and love: Jesus sees in it a prophetic recognition of the impending event which crowned His humiliation and became His exaltation. The Evangelist relates an unconscious prophecy on the part of a disciple, as he has related a prophecy by an enemy who ‘spake not of himself’ (chap. John 11:51).
John 12:8. For the poor always ye have with you, but me ye have not always. The duty of giving to the poor is fully recognised: it must never be forgotten. But there are moments when what may seem lavish waste upon objects visible only to the eye of faith are to be commended for the faith that is present in them. How often has the history of the world borne testimony to the truth thus declared by Jesus! The very charity that cares for the poor whom we see has been kept alive by faith in, and devotion to, the crucified Redeemer whom we cannot see.
John 12:9. The common people of the Jews therefore learned that he was there: and they came, not for Jesus’ sake only, but that they might see Lazarus also, whom he had raised from the dead. Faith and unbelief have revealed them selves in the case of the friends and the enemies of Jesus, and especially in the deed of Mary and the words of Judas. But the sifting process which accompanies every manifestation of Jesus extends to a wider circle. Once more (comp. chap. John 11:45-46), and much more clearly than before, the Evangelist records the division amongst ‘the Jews’ themselves; for we have no right whatever to take this term in any other than that sense which is so firmly established in this Gospel. That very circle of Jewish influence and power in which till lately the spirit of narrow bigotry and fanaticism had found its expression in determined hostility to Jesus is divided into two classes, ‘the common people of the Jews,’ and the rulers in this ruling faction, ‘the high priests.’
John 12:10-11. But the chief priests consulted that they might put Lazarus also to death; because that by reason of him many of the Jews went away, and believed in Jesus. When the rulers found that even their own adherents were deserting them (comp. chap. John 11:48), their rage knew no bounds. Lazarus had not incurred their displeasure, but everything that ministered to the success of the cause of Jesus must be swept out of the way. It is easy to see that the conflict of Jesus with the Jews is continually growing in intensity, and has well-nigh reached its climax. The effect produced by the recent miracle has been great beyond all previous example. Yet we cannot but feel that to the Evangelist himself the miracle would be most precious as a ‘sign;’ and that what he intends us to feel most deeply is the contrast between the rulers bent on His death and the calm majesty of Him who is ‘the Resurrection and the Life,’ in whose presence are Lazarus, the trophy and emblem of His power over life physical, and believers come from the very ranks of His adversaries to receive life spiritual through believing in Him.
John 12:12. The next day, that is, the day following the feast in Bethany (see on John 12:2), and therefore our Sunday; the day, it may be observed, fixed in the tradition of the Church for the triumphal entry, tradition thus confirming the exegesis of the text, and finding in the latter support for its own correctness. This first day of the Jewish week was the 10 th Nisan, the clay on which the typical Paschal lamb was selected and set apart for sacrifice (Exodus 12:3).
The common people that were come to the feast, when they heard that Jesus was coming to Jerusalem. ‘The common people’ here spoken of are not ‘the Jews’ (John 12:9), but the multitude that had assembled at Jerusalem at the time in order to celebrate the Passover. It would seem that this crowd was afterwards joined by those belonging to Jerusalem itself who had gone out previously to Bethany to see Jesus (John 12:17). Of the impression produced upon the latter we have already heard. The feelings animating the former appear both in their actions and in their words.
John 12:13. Took the branches of the palm trees. The word rendered ‘branches’ occurs only here in the New Testament. It is the top of a palm tree where the fruit is produced. We are to understand by the word, therefore, not branches only, but fruit-bearing branches, those from which in due season the fruit would hang. Hence it is not palms of victory that we have before us, but the palm branches of the feast of Tabernacles, the most characteristic feature of that greatest festival of the year, when the last fruits, ‘the wine and the oil’ as well as ‘the corn,’ were ripe, and when the Messiah was expected to come to His temple. Hence also the articles before ‘branches’ and ‘palm trees,’ not to mark palm trees growing by the wayside, but the well-known palm branches so closely connected with the feast. With the idea of this feast the Jews had been accustomed to associate the highest blessings of Messianic times, and at the moment, therefore, when they hail Jesus as the long expected Messiah and King, the thoughts of it naturally fill their minds.
And went forth to meet him, and they cried out, Hosanna: Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord, and, The King of Israel. The words, thus uttered with loud shouts of joy, correspond to the action of which we have spoken. Those in the first clause of the quotation are taken from Psalms 118:26, and are words which were undoubtedly used at the feast of Tabernacles. Whether we consider them in connection with their place in the psalm or with the typical meaning of the feast, they were peculiarly appropriate to the present moment. The psalm was acknowledged to be Messianic, and both psalm and feast celebrate the triumphant coming of Messiah to His house and people, when the gates of righteousness are opened and Israel goes in and praises the Lord (Psalms 118:19). The Lord, too, appears in the psalm in precisely the same character as that in which we have Him here before us, that of one who has suffered and overcome (John 12:22). The appellation given to Jesus in the second clause, and probably to be regarded as a second cry, points onward to the prophecy of Zechariah (chap. John 9:9) quoted in John 12:15. Hosanna is a rendering into Greek letters of the Hebrew words, ‘Save, we pray’ (Psalms 118:25).
John 12:14-15. And Jesus, when he had found a young ass, sat thereon: as it is written, Fear not, daughter of Sion, behold, thy King cometh, sitting on an ass’s colt. Jesus ‘found’ the ass, having taken means to find it (comp. Matthew 21:2; Mark 11:1; Luke 19:30; comp. also chap. John 1:43 ). It is a ‘young’ ass, expression being thus given to the fact that it had not been previously used for any burden (Mark 11:2). The whole passage brings out a view of Jesus in this entry into Jerusalem that we may readily forget. We see at once the glory of the Saviour. He who thus approaches Jerusalem is a King, the King of Israel (John 12:14) , the King of Zion (John 12:15): the pi ogress is royal: the entry is triumphant. But the main thought of the Evangelist is that humiliation, suffering, and death characterize this King: He is a sacrifice: and in being a sacrifice His true glory lies. The change from ‘Rejoice greatly’ to ‘Fear not’ (no doubt made by the Evangelist himself, see chap. John 2:17 ) is remarkable. It may spring from his profound sense of the majesty of Jesus (Revelation 1:17): there is fear to be dispelled before the joy of His presence can be felt. The context in Zechariah, however, suggests another sense. The King comes to defend His people; He comes ‘having salvation:’ let Zion fear no more. So understood, John’s words contain the meaning of the whole passage quoted. The prayer ‘Hosanna’ is answered.
John 12:16. These things understood not his disciples at the first. What was it that the disciples did not understand at the time? The true application of the prophecy of Zechariah now pointed out? Certainly not. It was the events themselves now occurring that were dark to them. They were not seen in their true light as a magni fying, as a prefigurative glorifying, of a suffering Messiah, were not seen to contain within them the great mystery of exaltation through and in the midst of suffering. For similar want of appreciation by the disciples of what was passing before them, comp. chap. John 2:22, and note there.
But when Jesus was glorified, then remembered they that these things were written of him, and that they did these things unto him. The ignorance of the disciples was corrected by experience. What they did not understand now, they understood when the resurrection and ascension had taken place. The light of that glorification shed light alike upon the sufferings and the partial glorifications of Jesus that had gone before.
John 12:17-18. The multitude therefore that was with him when he called Lazarus out of the tomb and raised him from the dead, bare witness. For this cause also the multitude went to meet him, because they heard that he had done this sign. These verses are not a returning to the story after a digression in John 12:16, nor a continuation of the narrative, as if the picture had not yet been complete. They are a recapitulation of two leading facts already mentioned, the first of which seems to be closely connected with the second (1) that many of ‘the Jews,’ led to believe in Jesus by the miracle which they had seen (John 11:45), became now, like the disciples, themselves His witnesses; (2) that ‘the multitude,’ although they had not seen the miracle, yet hearing of it, had also been led to faith and homage (John 12:12-15). At the same time, however, there is an important and instructive difference between the two acts thus referred to. The first proceeds from those who had been ‘with Him when He raised Lazarus from the dead;’ the second from those who had not themselves been witnesses of the miracle, but had ‘ heard that He had done this sign.’ The difference corresponds precisely to that alluded to in chap. John 20:29; and it thus forms an interesting illustration of the manner in which, throughout all this Gospel, the Evangelist seizes upon those aspects of events that bring out the great principles of which his mind is full. The correspondence appears still further in this, that the homage of those who 'did not see' is that of the second picture which, as always, is climactic to the first (comp. John 20:29); for the impression produced upon the mind of John by the second act of homage is not due to the simple circumstance that this multitude ‘went to meet’ Jesus. It is due to the titles which they had ascribed to Him at John 12:13, the one expressing His peculiar Messianic distinction, the other rising to the highest point of Old Testament prophecy (comp. on John 1:49). It has only further to be noticed that the effects allude! to are connected with the miracle as a 'sign.' As such, embodying life in the midst of death, life triumphant over death, it draws out faith to a spectacle so glorious, to a Worker accomplishing so mighty a work.
John 12:19. The Pharisees therefore said among themselves, Behold how that ye prevail nothing. Lo, the world is gone away after him. The exaggeration of their words illustrates the alarm and hopelessness of the Pharisees. The impression made is too great to permit them to look at the facts only as they are. The danger of the situation is enhanced by their fears, and they speak more strongly than even the occasion, striking as it was, demanded. It is at the same time highly probable that the Evangelist sees in their language one of those unconscious prophecies so frequently noticed in his Gospel. The second act of the twelfth chapter is over, and the humbled Redeemer is still the conqueror. The third act presents the same lesson in a still more striking light.
John 12:20. And there were some Greeks from among them that came up to worship at the feast. A third illustration of the homage paid to Jesus. The account is given by John alone, and the time is left by him indeterminate. From John 12:36 we may perhaps infer that it was considerably later in the week than the event last recorded; but the want of any definite statement on the point, and the fact that the issue of the request is not recorded, show that the Evangelist occupies himself only with the idea of the scene. The persons spoken of are Greeks (not Greek-speaking Jews), therefore Gentile by birth, probably proselytes, certainly (as appears by ‘from among’ not ‘among’) sharers in the faith and purposes of the other pilgrims at the feast. They are part of those referred to in chap. John 7:35 and John 10:16. Still more, they are the earnest and first-fruits of that ‘world’ which the Pharisees have just spoken of as ‘going after’ Jesus.
John 12:21. These came therefore to Philip, which was of Bethsaida of Galilee, and asked him saying, Sir, we would see Jesus. To suppose that their object is to ask Jesus to institute a mission to the Gentiles, or to come to them Himself, is to misapprehend the nature of the situation. It is their own personal faith that John desires to bring out.
John 12:22. Philip cometh and telleth Andrew: Andrew cometh, and Philip, and they tell Jesus. Why these Greeks should particularly address themselves to Philip; why Philip should be here described as ‘from Bethsaida of Galilee;’ why Philip should tell Andrew; and why Andrew, as appears from the peculiar mode in which the communication is mentioned, should have been the spokesman of the pair, are questions to which it is not easy to give a satisfactory reply. It may be that Philip was the first disciple whom they met; that the mention of his place of residence is simply for more complete identification of the man; that the bond of companionship between him and Andrew may have been close (a circumstance that may also throw light on their proximity to each other at John 6:7-8); and that Andrew, always one of the first four apostles mentioned in the apostolic lists, may have stood in nearer relation to Jesus than Philip, or perhaps have been the more ready speaker of the two. The more, however, the Gospel of John is studied, the less shall we be disposed to be content with these explanations, or to think that there was nothing further in the mind of a writer so much accustomed to see even in apparently accidental and trifling circumstances deeper meanings than those which at first strike the eye. Such a meaning he may have seen in the facts which he now, after so long an interval, recalls. It is at least worthy of notice that in chap. 6 at the feeding of the 5000 , which has undoubtedly a symbolical as well as a literal meaning, not only are Philip and Andrew the only two disciples named, but they there play exactly the same part as in the present instance; for Philip is first appealed to but is perplexed, while Andrew draws from Jesus the solution of the difficulty. Thus also in the incident before us, John may have beheld an analogy to the same scene, an illustration of the fact that both Jews and Gentiles shall be conducted by the same path to the ‘bread of life.’ These hungering Greeks are like the hungering Jews when the loaves were multiplied, and those whose difficulties in the way of satisfying the latter were removed by the word of Jesus, are also those whose difficulties in the way of satisfying the former are removed by the same word.
John 12:23. And Jesus answereth them, saying; The hour is come, that the son of man should be glorified. The glorification here spoken of must be that of chap. John 13:31-32, and John 17:1; John 17:5, the latter of which also follows a moment designated exactly as the present one, ‘The hour is come.’ But the ‘glorification’ of these passages consists in the full manifestation of Jesus when, all His labours and sufferings over, He shall be elevated, with the Father, to the possession and exercise of that power to carry out His work upon its widest scale which was now limited by the conditions of His earthly lot. Hence the bringing in of the Gentiles, though it does not constitute that glory, is immediately connected with it.
John 12:24. Verily, verily, I say unto you. There is a general principle lying at the root of the glorification of the ‘ Son of man,’ This is now to be explained and illustrated.
Except the corn of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abideth itself alone; but if it die, it bringeth forth much fruit. Absolute death, destruction of the principle of life, is not implied. The seed does not actually die: its old covering dies that the germ of life within may spring up in higher forms of beauty, and with many grains instead of one. Such is the law of nature, and to this great law Jesus as ‘Son of man’ must conform: He does not simply lay down a rule for others; as representative of our humanity the rule must first find its application in Himself.
John 12:25. He that loveth his soul loseth it; and he that hateth his soul in this world shall keep it unto life eternal. The law of the physical world just spoken of illustrates the law of the moral and spiritual world. ‘Soul’ is here the personality, the self, in man: yet not the self in the sense of selfishness, for selfishness must be destroyed not ‘ kept.’ It is rather that which constitutes the man himself with his likings and dislikings, his loves and hatreds, his affections and desires. It is a law of the moral world then that he who so loves his soul loses it. By simply living for himself and without thought of others, he ‘loses’ that very thing which he desires to preserve and make happy. On the other hand, he that in this world ‘hateth his soul,’ his soul not brought into subjection to that law of love which is the law of God, and, so hating, denies and crucifies it in order that love may gain the mastery in him, that man shall ‘keep’ it, shall keep it too unto the higher life which is not merely future, but which is even now filled with the Divine and deathless (comp. Luke 14:26).
John 12:26. If any one serve me, let him follow me. The words apply the law just spoken of as the law of nature and of man, and therefore also as the law of Jesus, to every individual. The ‘following’ is neither general nor outward, but specific and inward, a following in that path of suffering and sacrifice even to the cross, the thought of which was at the moment peculiarly present to the mind of Jesus (comp. John 13:36), and it supposes the possession of His spirit (comp. 12 ). A special emphasis lies upon the first ‘Me,’ as if our Lord would say, ‘If it be Me that any man would serve’
And where I am, there shall also my servant be, in that glory to which I am immediately to be exalted (John 17:24).
If any one serve me, him will the Father honour. ‘ Any one,’ Jesus says, for the thought of the universality of His salvation now fills His breast; and ‘ the Father,’ even He who will be to all His sons what he is to the Son. We ought not to pass these last two clauses without observing how, amidst all that equality of sonship which-runs through this part of the Gospel, the wide distinction between the Son and the sons is still preserved. In that future home of which Jesus speaks He is, it corresponds to His nature to be there; they shall only be brought to share it: He, too, is the Master, they ‘serve.’
John 12:27. Now is my soul troubled. There is no want of connection between these words and the immediately preceding verses. The connection, on the contrary, is of the closest kind. Because this is the moment of highest exaltation in the contemplation of the universal triumph symbolized in the coming of the Greeks, it is also that when all the intensity of suffering by which the triumph is procured is most present to the mind of Jesus. The verb ‘troubled’ is the same as in John 11:33, ‘He troubled Himself,’
And what shall I say? Not, What feelings shall I cherish at this hour, What mood of mind becomes the circumstances in which I am placed? but, How shall I find utterance for the emotions that now fill my heart?
Father, save me out of this hour. To understand these words interrogatively, ‘Shall I say, Father, save me from this hour?’ as is done by many commentators, is to introduce a hesitation into the mind of Jesus which we may well believe never had place in it, and is almost, if we may venture to say so, to give the utterance a sentimental turn at variance with the solemn scene; on the other hand, viewed as a direct prayer to His Heavenly Father, they are the exemplification in His own case of the law of John 12:25. It is usually thought that Jesus prays that He may be spared the bitterness of this hour. Matthew 26:39 shows that Jesus had the feeling one perfectly free from sin that would lead Him to escape suffering and death; but the higher law immediately comes in. He has the Father’s will to do. To it He must yield His life, His self. Therefore He adds, But for this cause (that the Father’s name may be glorified, John 12:28) came I unto this hour. This prayer, however, is not ‘save me from,’ but ‘save me out of this hour,’ not for freedom from suffering, but (comp. Hebrews 5:7; Acts 2:31) for deliverance out of it. Such a prayer is as consistent with His knowledge of ‘the glory that should follow ’ as is Matthew 26:39 with Matthew 16:21. But the very prayer for deliverance is checked. ‘For this cause’ (that He may be delivered out of the hour) ‘came I unto this hour:’ the object of the hour of suffering is to bring triumph. We must not miss the emphasis on the word ‘Father;’ it is not simply God’s but the Father’s glory that he desires.
John 12:28. Father, glorify thy name. ‘Let Thy glory shine forth in Thy name, in Thy character, as Father and in all that is involved in establishing Thy fatherly relation to men.’
There came therefore a voice out of heaven, saying, I have both glorified it, and will glorify it again. The answer is a voice from heaven which is supposed (John 12:29) by some to be thunder, by others to be that of an angel. Both these suppositions disclose the character of the voice. It was loud and terrible, a voice of awe and majesty. Such is always the meaning of thunder both in the Old Testament and the New (Exodus 19:16; Job 26:14; Psalms 104:7; Revelation 4:5; Revelation 8:5; Revelation 11:19; Revelation 14:2; Revelation 19:6). Such also is the voice of an angel (Matthew 24:31; 1 Thessalonians 4:16; Revelation 5:2). The mixed ‘thunderings and voices,’ too, of the Apocalypse are an instructive comment on this voice, while the connection that it has with judgment is clearly indicated by our Lord Himself in John 12:30-31. If this was the manner of the voice, its contents must correspond, and it seems therefore altogether inappropriate to refer the first part of the words to the ministry of Jesus in Israel now drawing to its close, the second part to the approaching proclamation of salvation to the Gentiles. In reality these two things are one, and both of them are already ideally complete. The words rather express the unchangeableness of the purpose of Him ‘which is and which was and is to come,’ and intimate that the great work whereby God’s name was to be especially glorified would certainly, as resolved on in eternity, be accomplished.
John 12:29. The multitude therefore, that stood by, and heard it, said that it had thundered: others said, An angel hath spoken to him. That a real voice had been heard is obvious from the fact that the words are actually given by the Evangelist in John 12:28, and that some at least of the multitude imagined that an angel had spoken. It had not, however, been understood by all: and John’s object in stating this appears to be his desire to bring still more clearly out the mysterious nature of the voice, one the apprehension of which belonged to the higher regions of the spiritual life, and which was necessarily dark to those who had not entered into the Father’s plans. Jesus understood it. The Evangelist did so too. But ‘the multitude’ felt only that God was there.
John 12:30. Jesus answered and said, Not for my sake hath this voice come, but for your sakes. He needed not the voice, for he knew that He was one with the Father, and that He was carrying out the Father’s will. But they might not comprehend His sufferings, the agony of soul they now beheld, the death immediately impending; and, therefore, to show them that in all this there was no defeat on His part, but only the carrying out of the eternal purpose of the Father, the words were spoken. Then Jesus rises to the thought of that victory which, at this the very moment of His deepest humiliation and suffering, He beheld accomplished.
John 12:31. Now is there judgment of this world. The ‘now’ is the ‘now’ of John 12:27, the ‘hour’ of John 12:23; and the primary thought to be taken into it is that of the suffering and death in the midst of which Jesus stood, and which in the purpose of God, and to the eye of faith, were so different from what they were to the eye of sense.
Now shall the Prince of this world be cast out. Again we have the ‘now’ that we have already had. The moment is the same; the cause producing the effect the same. ‘This world’ culminates in its prince. The title meets us again in John 16:11, and, although with omission of the ‘this,’ in chap. John 14:30. By it can only be understood Satan, whom, indeed, the Jews knew as the ‘prince of the world’ excluding Israel. Here there is no such exclusion; the ‘world’ is again used in the widest sense of the term. In its prince are concentrated the powers that come between man and God. But he ‘shall be cast out,’ that is, out of the world which he has ruled, so that ideally he shall have no more power in it. The expression ‘cast out’ is very remarkable when compared with its use in other parts of this Gospel (John 6:37, John 9:34-35). It is excommunication from a holy community, or scene, or synagogue, or world, which is, and is to be, God’s alone. The negative side of the victory of Jesus has been declared; we have now the positive.
John 12:32-33. And I, if I be lifted on high out of the earth, will draw all men unto myself. But this he said, signifying by what manner of death he should die. ‘Myself’ is used in emphatic contrast with, and opposition to, the ‘prince of this world.’ To Himself Jesus will ‘draw’ men; and any difficulty connected with this is not to be met by weakening the force of the word ‘draw,’ but by taking into account the limitations implied in the context, and in the nature of the case. The lesson alike of the whole Gospel and of experience is that some will not be drawn. They resist and quench the light. They love and choose the darkness. In the same way the force of ‘all men’ must not be weakened, although we ought to keep in view the two thoughts which the context shows us to be prominent ( 1 ) that not ‘the prince of this world,’ but Jesus Himself shall have the empire of the world; ( 2 ) that not Jews alone but Gentiles, some of whom had already been seeking Him, shall be drawn. ‘All men,’ however, is universal in its meaning. Jesus would not merely draw some, He would draw all; and if some are not saved, it is because they deliberately refuse to submit themselves to His influence.
The condition and means of this drawing are the ‘lifting on high of Jesus out of the earth.’ What is this ‘lifting on high’? The word has already met us in John 3:14 and John 8:28; and in the first of these passages in particular we have seen that it must be referred to the crucifixion. The whole context of this verse demands, primarily at least, a similar reference. The thought of the death of Jesus is prominent throughout. Even when He receives the homage of Mary, of the multitude, of the Greeks, He has upon Him the stamp of death. It is thus too that in John 12:33 the Evangelist explains the expression; and his explanation is confirmed by the remarkable use of the preposition ‘out of’ instead of ‘from.’ That preposition is much more applicable to the crucifixion than the ascension, and its use seems to imply that simple separation from the earth satisfies the conditions that are in the mind of Jesus. At the same time the thought of glorification must surely be included in the ‘lifting on high.’ In the teaching of this Gospel, indeed, the facts of crucifixion and glorification go together, and cannot be separated from each other. The dying Redeemer is glorified through death: the glorified Redeemer died that He might be glorified. The crucifixion is the complete breaking of the bond to earth: it is the introduction of the full reign of spiritual and heavenly power.
John 12:34. The multitude therefore answered him, We have heard out of the law that the Christ abideth for ever: and how sayest thou, The Son of man must be lifted on high? The ‘multitude,’ who are Jews not Greeks, have rightly understood the words of Jesus in John 12:32 to mean a lifting on high by death. But they have learned from the Scriptures (here, as in chap. John 10:34, called ‘the law’) probably from such passages as Sam. John 7:13-15; Psalms 72, 89, 110; Isaiah 6:7; Daniel 7:14 that ‘the Christ abideth for ever,’ that, according to their interpretation, He should have a glorious and eternal reign on earth. There is thus an irreconcilable contradiction between the fate expected by Jesus and the claims which they might perhaps have otherwise allowed.
Who is this Son of man? The words are not an honest inquiry who this Son of man can be, and how he can be the Christ. They are really a rejection of the claims of Jesus. ‘Who is this? We have nothing and shall have nothing to do with Him.’ The interpretation thus given is greatly confirmed by the fact that the words are immediately followed not by explanation, but by solemn warning on the part of Jesus (John 12:35-36), and by the Evangelist’s own reflections on the hardness and perversity of man (John 12:37-41); while, at the same time, it is in a high degree suitable to the place occupied by them in the Gospel. ‘Son of man’ had been the favourite designation by Jesus of Himself. How appropriate is it that, when finally rejected, He should be rejected in that character! Have we not here also another illustration of the Evangelist’s love of commemorating instances when, against themselves and as if under the guidance of an irresistible power, men were compelled to ascribe to Jesus in contempt epithets which, rightly understood, were His highest glory?
John 12:35. Jesus therefore said unto them, Yet a little while is the light among you. Not so much words of pity and tenderness in order to clear away the doubts of a sincere desire to learn, as words of solemn warning that they had a day of grace granted them, but that it was now drawing to a close, and that, if they did not pass beyond all doubts to faith, they would be overtaken by darkness.
Walk as ye have the light, that darkness overtake you not. That is, ‘Walk in accordance with the fact that the light now shines around you.’
And he that walketh in the darkness knoweth not whither he goeth. If they do not thus walk, thus come to the light (chap. John 3:21), the darkness will overtake them; and instead of going to the glory to which Jesus ‘goeth,’ they will go blindly to destruction.
John 12:36. As ye have the light, believe in the light. Nay, not only let them come to the light, but let them take a higher step and ‘believe in’ the light, that is, commit in trust their whole being to the light.
That ye may become sons of light, light your father, the element of your being, and no darkness at all in you. Such are the last words of Jesus which the Evangelist, in describing His active ministry, has thought fit to record. How strikingly do they remind us of the opening of the Gospel, and, after the manner of our Evangelist, bind apparently far distant parts of His work into one! In the Prologue we read of the Word that ‘it shineth in the darkness, and the darkness overcame it not (John 12:5). Now that Word has become incarnate, has lived, has suffered, has been condemned to die, and for what? that we believing in Him, embracing Him in a true communion, taking His life, His light, into ourselves, may also become sons of light, shining in the darkness, and the darkness overcoming us not.
These things spake Jesus, and having gone away he was hidden from them. In chap. John 8:59 we were told that ‘Jesus hid Himself, and went out of the temple.’ Here, as became the moment that closed His public ministry, the departure is more complete, marked by a finality which had no existence then. It is supposed by many commentators that He went to Bethany, and it may have been so. But the fact to be mainly observed is the fresh illustrations supplied by John’s silence of the manner in which, to his mind, the ideal surpasses the historic interest. The departure itself and the consequent close of Israel’s probation is the main point. All else passes out of view before sad reflection upon the unbelief which Israel has exhibited.
John 12:37. But though he had done so many signs before them, they believed not in him. The words of chap. John 1:10-11 seem to echo in our cars, ‘He was in the world, and the world came into being through Him, and the world knew Him not He came unto His own home, and His own accepted Him not.’ All the particulars of the statement heighten the effect. In the original there is a certain degree of emphasis on ‘He,’ One so full of power and grace, so divine in majesty, so human in tenderness. Then it was ‘signs’ that He had wrought, not mere miracles, but things that were the very expression of the Son and in Him of the Father. . These signs, too, had been ‘so many’ (see note on chap. John 6:2); for it is number, not greatness, that in our Gospel is always referred to in this word (chaps, John 6:9, John 14:9, John 21:11). And, once more, the signs had been wrought ‘before them,’ so that they could not be mistaken (comp. chap. John 10:4). Yet, notwithstanding all this, their unbelief had been continued, wilful, as constant as the call addressed to them .
The public ministry of Jesus has been brought to a close, and the moment has been marked by words the melancholy pathos of which can hardly be mistaken, ‘Having gone away, He was hidden from then’ (John 12:36). These words, applied in the first instance to the outward circumstances of the Saviour, receive now at the hands of the Evangelist all the depth of their meaning, when he gives us his last reflections on the hardness and unbelief displayed by Israel in rejecting the glorious self-manifestation of its Lord (John 12:37-43). After this we have in the second part of the section, closing the fourth and leading division of the Gospel, a short summary of that teaching of Jesus to which Israel had refused to listen (John 12:44-50).
John 12:38. That the word of Isaiah the prophet might be fulfilled, which he said, Lord, who believed our report? and to whom was the arm of the lord revealed. I The quotation is from Isaiah 53:1; and one or two expressions in it require notice before we endeavour to ascertain its exact force and meaning, either as originally spoken by the prophet or as now applied by the Evangelist. By ‘report’ we are to understand the burden of the prophet’s message, the word as heard rather than as spoken (comp. 2 Samuel 4:4 in the Hebrew; Romans 10:16; 1 Thessalonians 2:13); and by ‘arm of the Lord,’ the manifestation of His power alike in the deliverance of His people and in the destruction of His enemies (Deuteronomy 5:15; Isaiah 63:5). The words ‘that it might be fulfilled,’ so frequently used by Matthew as he points but the harmony of each successive event with the Divine plan and counsel, here meet us for the first time in this Gospel. More is meant than what we commonly understand by the fulfilment of a prediction. That which in its principle and its partial realisation connected itself with the events of which the inspired prophet directly spoke is here declared to be ‘filled up,’ to have received its complete accomplishment. By whom then, and in what circumstances, were the words of Isaiah originally spoken? We answer, By repentant Israel; by Israel after it has come to faith, and when it looks back sorrowfully upon the fact that the message of Jehovah’s love, and the manifestations of His power, had been disregarded by the great body of the nation. In a similar spirit the Evangelist now looks back, seeing in the unbelief which rejected the Messiah Himself the ‘fulfilment’ of that unbelief which had long before rejected the Messianic message of the prophet. Israel was ever the same: ‘As their fathers did, so did they’ (Acts 7:51); they ‘filled up’ the measure of their fathers (Matthew 23:32). This is the explanation of what caused John so much astonishment and sorrow. But it is not all.
John 12:39-40 . For this cause they could not believe, because Isaiah said again, He hath blinded their eyes, and he hardened their heart, that they should not see with their eyes and perceive with their heart, and be turned, and I should heal them. ‘For this cause’ does not refer so much to the words themselves of the preceding verse, as to that Divine plan which John sees that they express, and whose further progress, involving a judicial hardening of those who, as we have seen, had first hardened themselves, is expressed in the words that follow. The quotation is from Isaiah 6:9-10, and the changes, especially in that from the commanding to the narrative form, are only such as the prophet himself would have made had he taken up the position of our Evangelist and, at the close of his prophetic ministry, related what he had been made the instrument of effecting. Israel was so wilfully rejecting God in the prophet’s days, that the moment for God’s judicial treatment of His people had come. By him, therefore, God sent them a new message, that by their rejection of it the blinding of their eyes and the hardening of their hearts might be complete; that they might finally and conclusively reject the tidings through which, otherwise, Isaiah would have ‘healed’ them. Was not this exactly what had happened now? He in whom all the prophets of Israel were ‘fulfilled’ had come; and John sees Him uttering His mournful complaint over that wilful obstinacy of Israel which had provoked the judicial dealings of God, in the same language as that in which His servant of old, had he been speaking in the narrative form, would have spoken. Thus the words of the Lord to Isaiah (in chap. John 6:9-10), now quoted, describe the radical and unchanging condition of carnal Israel; and, as applied here, they mean that God had made the self-manifestation of Jesus the instrument of blinding and hardening those who had chosen unbelief. Thus also, it will be observed, God is the subject of ‘hath blinded’ and of ‘hardened:’ and ‘I should heal them’ must be understood of Jesus Himself. Hence, accordingly, the remarkable words of the next verse.
John 12:41. These things said Isaiah, because he saw his glory; and he spake concerning him. When we remember that the chapter of Isaiah from which the quotation of John 12:39-40 is taken is that in which the prophet sees the glory of the Lord, it may appear at first sight as if it were only the glorious vision there beheld by him that is here referred to. Yet it is impossible not to feel that this 41 st verse, connected as it is in the closest manner with the words immediately preceding it, must really refer to that work of Christ to which the Evangelist had applied the prophet’s words; and that ‘His glory’ must point to the glory of the self-manifestation of Jesus by means of the ‘signs’ of John 12:37 (comp. chap. John 2:11). It is clear, therefore, that John intentionally unites that Jesus who is the ‘I’ in ‘I shall heal them’ with ‘the Lord’ spoken of in Isaiah 6:1, etc. unites, in short, the Incarnate Word as Messiah and Prophet and the Divine Word in His glory, ‘sitting on a throne high and lifted up, and His train filling the temple.’ But that is precisely the lesson of his whole Gospel; and it is this truth, so deeply imbedded in it, that gives unity and force to the passage we have been considering.
One point must still be briefly noticed in connection with these verses. If the Jews were thus doomed to unbelief, where was their guilt? The answer is, that they are supposed to have wilfully rejected the revelation and grace of God before that point of their history is reached which is now in the eye both of prophet and Evangelist. Their whole previous training ought to have prepared them for receiving the claims of Jesus. They abused that training; they ceased to be ‘of the truth;’ they blinded themselves; and judicial blindness followed. It is only necessary to add that what we have spoken of as a ‘previous’ training may belong to the order of thought rather than to that of time. Almost at the very instant when the Almighty appeals to me by the presentation of Jesus, He may be appealing to me by His providence, His grace, the general working of His Spirit, so as to make me ready to receive Jesus; these dealings I may so use that the bent of my character may at once appear, and if I am judicially doomed to darkness, the very sentence that dooms me is the consequence of my own folly and sin.
John 12:42. Nevertheless, even from among the rulers many believed in him. The language which John has used is general: as a nation Israel has rejected Jesus. But His mission has not been without effect on many individuals (comp. chaps. John 1:11-12, John 3:32-33): even from among the members of the Sanhedrin (see chap. John 7:48) many believed in Him. Persons believed, belonging to a body in which the bitterest foes of Jesus bore rule; and greatness of unbelief is thus in some degree counterbalanced by greatness of faith.
But because of the Pharisees they did not confess him, lest they should be put out of the synagogue. We can hardly suppose that these words are added in order to show that the faith spoken of on the part of many of the rulers formed no real exception to the general statement of Israel’s unbelief. They simply tell us that, although that faith was genuine, it needed strength and growth. It was not powerful enough to surmount the obstacles placed in its way by the resolution of chap. John 9:22; and it had not reached the point at which alone it could be said that, in ‘leading out’ its possessors after the true Shepherd, its complete victory was gained (chap. 3 , 4 ). On the prominence now given to the Pharisees among the enemies of Jesus, see note on chap. John 7:32.
John 12:43. Because they loved the glory of men more than the glory of God. It may seem at first sight as if these words were inconsistent with those of chap. John 5:44, and the apparent inconsistency is not to be removed either by giving to the word translated ‘glory’ its etymological signification ‘opinion,’ or by supposing that the faith of these rulers was not true. The solution of the difficulty is to be found in observing ( 1 ) that the ‘glory’ here referred to is that of John 12:23; John 12:41, a glory involving the unity of Jesus and His people. Let the latter identify themselves with the former, take up His cross, have part in His sufferings and death, ‘confess’ Him, and they shall also be partakers of His ‘glory.’ This is not exactly the same glory as that of chap. John 5:44. ( 2 ) That the form of expression is not the same, here ‘of God,’ ‘of men’ there ‘from God,’ the preposition used in the latter case leading more directly to the thought of glory offered by God, and deliberately rejected. The reflections of the Evangelist are at an end, and once more Jesus is introduced to us.
John 12:44. But Jesus cried and said. In what sense are we to understand the cry and utterance about to be mentioned? Was it public or private? Or is it strictly speaking no utterance of Jesus at all, but only a summary by the Evangelist himself of the main points of that teaching of Jesus which he had recorded in the previous part of his Gospel? That it was not public is clear from the fact that the ministry had closed at John 12:36; and it is impossible to meet this difficulty by the supposition that the cry is merely a continuation of the first words of that verse. That it was not private is equally clear, partly from the use of ‘cried’ (comp. John 7:28; John 7:37), partly because the nature and tone of the words themselves are such as to suggest that Jesus is speaking to ‘the Jews,’ not to His disciples. The only supposition therefore is, that the passage contains an epitome or summary of the words of Jesus to the Jews. The words ‘cried and said’ are therefore equivalent to, This was the teaching of Jesus when He spake openly to the world. The Evangelist, however, does not give the summary in his own words, but (we can hardly doubt) makes use of actual sayings uttered by his Master at various times, sayings which for the most part combine and give forcible expression to truths which we have found stated in the discourses of this Gospel. There is in this section but little that is new; on the other hand, there is very little actual repetition of verses from earlier chapters. If our view of the passage is correct, the words were spoken by Jesus; the selection is made by John.
He that believeth in me, believeth not in me, but in him that sent me. This is the first and almost the only place in this Gospel (see chap. 1 ) in which the words ‘believe in,’ so constantly associated with our Lord (see chap. John 2:11), are used in reference to the Father. Once indeed, in chap. John 5:24, the Authorised Version reads ‘believeth on Him that sent me,’ but, as we have seen, this is a mistranslation. No words could more strikingly express what Jesus had accomplished for those who received Him: He had led them to the Father, and through Jesus they are now believers in God (1 Peter 1:21), ‘throwing themselves with absolute trust’ on God revealed in Christ. Hence the appropriateness of the words in this place, where the full effect of the mission of Jesus upon the many (John 12:40) and upon the few is traced. The form of expression here recalls chap. John 7:16: as there Jesus declares that the words which He speaks are words received from God, so here that the faith He has awakened and rendered possible is faith in God. In each relation He is Mediator between God and men.
John 12:45. And he that beholdeth me, beholdeth him that sent me. In chap. John 6:40 (see note) we have the same combination as in these verses: ‘He that beholdeth the Son and believeth in Him.’ A little later the same thought finds fuller expression in words addressed to disciples (chap. John 14:9). Compare chap. John 1:18, John 15:24.
John 12:46. As light I have come into the world, that every one that believeth in me may not abide in the darkness. Here we have the substance of the Saviour’s last words to the multitude (John 12:35-36) and the earlier sayings of chap. 2 John 1:9; 2 John 1:9:5 ; but nowhere has it been as clearly taught that all are ‘in the darkness’ until by faith in Jesus they receive light. Comp. chap. John 3:19 (Acts 26:18; Colossians 1:13), and especially John 12:4-5, in the Prologue. It is easy to trace a certain connection of thought in these verses, though from the nature of the case the connection is not always very close. The first two (John 12:4; John 12:45) are occupied with the relation between the disciples of Jesus and the Father who sent Him; the next three (John 12:46-48), with the relation of Jesus to the world; the last two, with His relation to the Father. From beholding (John 12:45) to light is a natural transition; from this point each verse directly leads the way to that which follows it. The thought is at first expressed in the language of figure (John 12:46 ), then with studious plainness and simplicity.
John 12:47. And if any one shall have heard my sayings and have guarded them not. It is necessary here to introduce an unusual word in the translation. To ‘keep’ the sayings or words of Jesus is a phrase which often meets us in this Gospel (chap. John 8:51, etc.): ‘guard’ is an un common word with the Evangelist, found only here and in John 12:25, and (in conjunction with ‘keep’) in chap. John 17:12. That the sayings may be kept and not lost from memory and life, they must be guarded with all care, and watchfully observed. Comp. Matthew 7:26; Luke 6:49.
I judge him not: for I came not to judge the world, but to save the world. Comp. chap. John 3:17; John 8:15.
John 12:48. He that rejecteth me, and receiveth not my sayings, hath one that judgeth him: the word that I spake, the same shall judge him in the last day. From the ‘forgetful hearer’ whose carelessness or indifference has let slip the words he should have ‘guarded,’ Jesus passes to the man who sets at nought both His word and Himself. Even to him that word shall come, but as a judge. As Moses was the accuser of the people (John 5:45) because his word, though honoured in profession, was disregarded in its spirit and design, so the very word of Jesus which they have rejected shall declare their doom. The word bore with it evidence that it was God’s word: they heard not because they were not of God (chap. John 8:14; John 8:47).
John 12:49. Because I spake not of myself; but the Father which sent me, he hath given me a commandment, what I should say, and what I should speak. With the first words compare chap. John 3:34, John 5:19, John 7:16-17, John 8:28, John 14:24. Of receiving a ‘commandment’ from the Father Jesus has spoken once only (chap. John 10:18), but in later chapters we have the same thought (John 14:31, John 15:10), which indeed is implied wherever He has spoken of Himself as sent by the Father into the world. This commandment is the expression of the Divine plan for the salvation of the world (chap. John 3:14-16). The combination of ‘say’ and ‘speak’ in the last clause is remarkable: see the note on chap. John 8:43.
John 12:50. And I know that his commandment is eternal life: whatsoever I speak therefore, even as the Father hath said unto me, so I speak. The substance of the Divine commandment is contained in the word of Jesus, and His word gives life eternal, His word is life (chap. John 5:24, John 6:63; John 6:68).