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Bible Commentaries

Expository Notes with Practical Observations on the New Testament
John 12

 

 

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Verse 1

The latter end of the foregoing chapter acquainted us with the prudential care of Christ in withdrawing from the fury of his enemies in and about Jerusalem, who were consulting his destruction: his time not being fully come, he gets out of the way of his persecutors: but now the passover being at hand, which was the time that this Lamb of God was to die as a sacrifice for the sin of the world, our Lord comes forth, first to Bethany, and then to Jerusalem, not fearing the teeth of his enemies, but with a fixed resolution to encounter death and danger for the salvation of his people.

His example teacheth us, That although we are bound by all lawful means and prudential methods to preserve ourselves from the unjust violence of our persecutors yet when God's time for our sufferings is come, and we evidently see that it is his will that we suffer for his sake, we ought to set our faces very cheerfully towards it, and resign up ourselves to the wisdom and will of God.

Thus did Christ here, John 11:54, we find he withdrew from suffering, his hour not being then come: but now when the passover was nigh at hand, which was the time when he was to suffer, he sets his face towards Jerusalem, and withdraws no more.


Verse 2

In these verses, an account is given of our Saviour's entertainment at Bethany after he had raised Lazarus. A supper is made for him, at which Martha served, and Lazarus sat with him, but Mary anoints Christ with precious ointment.

Where note, 1. The action which this holy woman performed, she pours a box of precious ointment upon our Saviour's head, as he sat at meat, according the the custom of the eastern countries at their feasts. I do not find that any of the apostles were at thus much charge and cost to put honour upon our Saviour as this poor woman was.

From whence learn, 1. That where strong love prevails in the heart, nothing is adjudged too dear for Christ, neither will it suffer itself to be out-shined by any examples. The weakest woman that strongly loves her Saviour will vie with the greatest apostle, and piously strive to express the fervour of her affection towards him.

Observe, 2. How this action was resented and reflected upon by murmuring Judas, who valued this ointment at three hundred pence, and grudged the bestowing of it upon Christ. He accused this holy woman of needless prodigality.

Lord! how doth a covetous heart think every thing too good for thee? He that sees a pious action performed, and seeks to lessen or undervalue it, shews himself possessed with a spirit of envy. Judas, his invidious spirit makes him censure an action, which Christ highly approved.

Hence learn, That men, who know not our hearts, may through ignorance or prejudice, censure and condemn those actions which God doth commend, and will graciously reward. Happy was it for this poor woman, that she had a more righteous judge to pass sentence upon her action than wicked Judas.

Observe, 3. How readily our holy Lord vindicates this poor woman: she says nothing for herself, nor needs she, having such an advocate who gives the reason for her action; she did it for my burial. As kings and great persons were in wont in those eastern countries, at their funerals, to be embalmed with odours and sweet perfumes, so, saith our Saviour, this woman, to declare her faith in me, as her King and Lord, doth with this box of ointment, as it were beforehand, embalm my body for its burial. True faith will put honour upon a crucified, as a glorified Saviour. This holy woman accounts Christ worthy of all honour in his death, believing it would be a sweet smelling sacrifice unto God, and savour of life unto his people.


Verse 9

Observe here, It was not zeal, but curiousity, which brought these persons at this time to Christ; they had an itching desire to see Lazarus, to inquire after the truth of his death, and possibly after the state of the dead, and the condition that separated souls are in after death. Thus the miracles of Christ drew many followers after his person, who were never converted by his doctrine. It was the sin of many, when Christ was here upon earth, that they flocked after him, rather to gaze upon his works, than to fall in love with the worker. The multitude here came to Bethany, not for Jesus's sake only, but that they might see Lazarus also.


Verse 10

Observe here, 1. The unreasonableness of that rage and madness, which was found in the chief priests against Lazarus. They consulted together how they might put Lazarus to death. But supposing that Christ had spoken blasphemy, in making himself equal with God, supposing that he had broken the sabbath, by curing the man that was born blind, on that day; yet what had Lazarus done, that he must be put to death?

But from hence we learn, That such as have received special mercy and favour from Christ, or are made the instruments of his glory, must expect to be made the mark and the butt of malacious enemies. Christ had highly honoured Lazarus, by raising him from the grave: and here there is a resolution against his life, whom Christ had thus highly honoured: The chief priests consulted that they might put Lazarus to death also.

Observe, 2. The cause why the chief priests consulted that they might put Lazarus to death; namely, Because that by reason of him many of the Jews went away and believed on Jesus. That is, many of the Jews, seeing the miracle of Christ's raising Lazarus from the grave, were drawn thereby to believe in Jesus Christ; and this so enraged the chief priests against Lazarus, that they sought to put him to death.

Learn hence, That nothing so enrages the enemies of Christ, as the enlargement of his kingdom, and the sight of the number of believers daily increasing. This provokes the devil's wrath, and his servants rage.


Verse 12

Here, we have recorded the carriage of the multitude towards our Saviour, when he came near the city of Jerusalem: they take palms in their hands, and go forth to meet him, and cast their garments on the ground before him to ride upon: yea, they do not only disrobe their backs, but expend their breath in joyful acclamations, and loud hosannas, wishing all manner of prosperity to their meek but mighty King.

In this prince-like, yet poor and dispicable pomp, doth our Saviour enter the famous city of Jerusalem.

Lord! how far wast thou from affecting worldly greatness and grandeur? Thou despisest that glory which our hearts fondly admire: yet because Christ was a King, he would be proclaimed such, and have his kingdom confessed, and applauded, and blessed: yet, that it might appear that his kingdom was not of this world, he abandons all worldly magnificence.


Verse 17

Observe here, 1. How the multitude at Jerusalem came forth to meet Christ, when he was making his public entry into the city, hearing the fame of his miracles; For this cause the people also met him, for that they had heard that he had done this miracle.

Observe, 2. How amongst others who came forth to meet our Saviour, certain Greeks, or Gentile proselytes, who came up to worship in the outward court of the temple, apply themselves to Philip, that he would help them to a sight of Jesus. Sir, we would see Jesus. It is probable that this desire to see Christ, in these persons, proceeded from curiosity only.

But if it did produce true faith in them, we may hence infer, that a spiritual sight of Christ, by the discerning eye of a believer's faith, is the most glorious and consequently the most desirable sight in the world; and so must needs be, for it is a soul-ravishing, a soul-satisfying, a soul-transforming, and a soul-saving sight. This sight of Christ by faith will constrain a soul highly to admire, and greatly to commend him. It will incline a soul to chuse him, and cleave unto him, and will set a soul a longing for the full fruition and final enjoyment of him, Mine eyes have seen thy salvation; now let thy servant depart. Luke 2:29.

Observe lastly, How the envious Pharisees were galled, and cut to the heart, to see such a multitude both of Jews and Greeks, crowding out of the city, to meet Jesus in his triumphant entrance into the city. The Pharisees said, behold the world is gone after him.

Learn hence, That in the day of Christ's greatest solemnity and triumph, there will not be wanting some persons of such a cankered disposition, that they will neither rejoice themselves, nor can they endure that others should. This was the case of the wicked Pharisees here.


Verse 23

Observe here, 1. How our blessed Saviour entertains his followers with a discourse concerning his approaching death and sufferings: The hour is coming that the Son of man shall be glorified.

Observe, 2. How he arms his disciples against the scandal of the cross, by shewing them the great benefit that would redound by his death unto all mankind: and this by a similitude taken for grain, Except a corn of wheat fall into the ground, and die, it abideth alone.

That is, as corn unsown, lodged in the barn, or laid up in the chamber, never multiples nor increases: but sow it in the field, and bury it in the earth, and it multilplies and increases, and brings forth a plentiful crop; so if Christ had not died, he had remained what he was, the eternal Son of God, but he had had no church in the world; whereas his death and sufferings made him fructify: that brought a plentiful increase of exaltation to himself, and salvation to his people.

Observe, 3. How plainly our Saviour dealt with his followers; he did not deceive them with a vain hope and expectation of temporal happiness, but tells them plainly, that all that will be his disciples must prepare for sufferings, and not think their temporal life too dear to lay down for him when he calls them to it, this being the surest way to secure unto themselves life everlasting. He that loveth his life shall lose it, but he that hateth his life in this world, shall keep it unto life eternal.

Learn hence, That the surest way to attain eternal life is cheerfully to lay down our temporal life, when the glory of Christ, and the honour of religion, requires it at our hand.


Verse 26

That is, "If any man assumes the title, and enters into the sacred engagement of being Christ's servant, let his conversation correspond with his profession, and let him be willing to follow me in the thorny path of affliction and sufferings from this assurance, That all his grievous sufferings shall end in eternal joys; Where I am, there shall my servant be, and him will my Father honour.

Learn hence, 1. That all that will be Christ's servants, must be his followers: they must obey his doctrine, and imitate his example.

2. That Christ's servants must not expect better usage at the hand of an unknown world, than he their master met with before them.

3. That such as serve Christ by following of him, shall at death see him as he is, and be with him where he is: Where I am, there shall also my servant be.

4. That God will crown the fidelity and constancy of Christ's servants, with the highest dignity and honour: If any man serve me, him will my Father honour.


Verse 27

Whilst our Saviour was thus preaching of his own death and sufferings, a natural horror of his approaching passion (though such as was without sin) seizes upon him; his Father giving him a taste of that wrath which he was to undergo upon the cross for our sins.

Hereupon he takes himself to prayer, Father, save me from this hour; this was the harmless inclination of his sinless nature, which abhorred laying under wrath, and therefore prays again unto his Father to dispose of him as may most and best conduce to the purposes of his glory; Father, glorify thy name.

Learn hence, 1. That mere trouble is no sin; Christ's soul was troubled; Christianity doth not make men senseless; grace introduceth no stoical stupidity.

2. That fear of death, especially when accompanied with apprehensions of the wrath of God, is most perplexing, and soul amazing. My soul is troubled, and what shall I say?

3. No extremity of sufferings ought to discourage us from laying claim to that relation, which God stands in to us as a Father; Our Saviour, in the midst of his distress, calls God Father: Father, save me from this hour.

4. In the extremity of our sufferings, we may be importunate, but must not be preemptory in our prayers; as Christ in his agony prayed more earnestly, so may we in ours, but always submissively; Father, save me from this hour: but for this cause came I unto this hour.

5. That our exemption from suffering may sometimes be inconsistent with the glory of God. Father, save me from this hour; Father glorify thy name.

Observe lastly, The Father's answer to the Son's prayer: There came a voice from heaven, saying, I have glorified it, and will glorify it again. That is, as God the Father had been already glorified in his Son's life, doctrine, and miracles: so he would farther glorify himself in his death, resurrection, and ascension; as also by the mission of the Holy Ghost, and the preaching of the gospel for the conversion of the Gentiles to the ends of the earth;

Learn hence, That the whole work of Christ, from the lowest degree of his humiliation, to the hightest degree of his exaltation, was a glorifying of his Father: he glorified his Father by the doctrine which he taught, he glorified his Father by the miracles which he wrought, by the unspotted innocency of his life, and by his unparalleled sufferings at his death; by his victorious resurrection from the grave, and by his triumphant ascension into heaven.


Verse 29

Observe here, 1. The way of God in speaking to his people by a voice in thunder for the greater declaration of his glory and majesty. Thunderings and lightnings usually attended the voice of God, even in consolations, and when he spake comfortably to his own servants.

Oh! how dreadful and terrible then must the voice of God be to his enemies, when he shall come in flaming fire, to render vengeance to them! If there was such dread and terror, such thunderings and lightnings at the giving of the law: Lord! what will there be another day, when thou comest to punish the violation of that law!

Observe, 2. The end why God the Father now spake with an audible voice to Christ his Son: it was for his consolation, and the people's confirmation. His soul being troubled, he stood in need, as Mediator, of comfort from his Father: and the people had here a farther and fuller confirmation of his being the promised and true Messias, that so they might believe in him, This voice came not because of me: that is, not only or chiefly because of me, but to confirm your faith in the belief of this great truth, that I am the Son of God, by whom the Father hath glorified, and will further glorify, his name.

Observe, 3. Our Saviour declares a double effect and fruit of his death and passion.

1. The judgment of this world; Now is the judgment of this world; now shall the prince of this world be cast out.

That is, my death will be the devil's overthrow; will bring down sin, and deliver the world from the tyranny and dominion of sin and Satan.

Thence learn, 1. That Satan is the prince and ruler of all those who live in sin; not a prince by legal right, but by tyrannical usurpation.

2. That this usurper, Satan, will not quit his possession, unless he be cast out.

3. That Christ by his death has cast out Satan, dethroned him, and deprived him of his tyrannical usurpation. Now is the prince of this world cast out; that is, I will shortly by my death deliver the world from the slavery of sin, and dominion of Satan, and particularly from that idolatry, which the greatest part of the world were then in slavery under.

The second effect and fruit of Christ's death which is here declared, is his drawing all men unto him: When I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw all men unto me.

There is a twofold lifting up of Christ:

the first ignominious, when he was hung upon the cross;

the second glorious, in the preaching of the gospel:

by this he draws all men unto him; that is, by the preaching of the gospel, he calls and invites all persons to himself;

he offers the benefits of his death to all, and gathereth a church to himself out of the Gentile as well as the Jewish world.

Learn, 1. That all persons are naturally unwilling to come to Christ, they must be drawn.

2. That Christ meritoriously by his death, and instrumentally by the preaching of the gospel, draws sinners unto himself.

3. That it is not a few, or small number, but a very great number, consisting both of Jews and Gentiles, bond and free, persons of all nations, all are effectually drawn to Christ, so as savingly to believe in him: but, by the preaching of the gospel, they are called and invited to him, and the benefits of his death are offered to them.

Thus Christ being lifted up upon his cross, and on the pole of his gospel, draws all men unto him; that is, doth what is sufficient to prevail with all men to believe on him, and to render those that do not so, everlastingly inexcusable.


Verse 34

Observe here, 1. The objection which the Jews make against our Saviour's being the true Messias. Their argument runs thus: " It was foretold under the law, that Christ or the Messias abideth for ever; but thou sayest, the Son of man must be lifted up and die. How then canst thou be the promised Messias?" The answer is, " In his state of humiliation unto death, he was lifted up: but, in his state of exaltation, he abideth for ever."

Learn hence, that Christ's lifting up by death, and his abiding for ever, do very well consist together; for both are true of him, the one in his state of humiliation, the other in his state of exaltation.

Observe, 2. Our Saviour returns no answer to their cavilling objection, nor doth he undertake to demonstrate how his sufferings and his abiding for ever, are consistent: but gives them intimations that he was the light of the world, and advises them, whilst they had, the light with them, to prize it highly, and improve it faithfully. Yet a little while is the light with you, walk whilst ye have the light, lest darkness come upon you.

Note here, 1. A choice and singular privilege enjoyed; the light is with you, a personal light, Christ; a doctrinal light, the gospel: both these brought with them a light of knowledge, answering our darkness of ignorance; a light of grace and holiness, answering our darkness of sin, which we had brought upon ourselves; and a light of joy and comfort, answering the darkness of misery and horror, which we lay under by reason of our guilt.

Note, 2. The time of enjoying this privilege limited: yet a little while is the light with you. The time of a people's enjoying the light and liberty of the gospel, it is a limited time, it is a short time.

Note, 3. A duty enjoined by Christ answerable to the privilege enjoyed by us; Walk whilst ye have the light. An uniform and constant course of holy walking, according to the rule of the gospel, is the indispensible duty and obligation of all those that enjoy the light and liberty of the gospel; namely, to walk according to the precepts and commands of the gospel, answerable to the privileges and prerogatives of the gospel, answerable to the helps and supplies of grace which the gospel affords, and answerable to the glorious hope and expectation which the gospel raises us unto.

Note, 4. A danger threatened to the neglecters of this duty; lest darkness come upon you; namely, a darkness of ignorance and judicial blindness, a darkness of error and seduction, a darkness of horror and despair, and the fatal and final darkness of death and hell; for all contemners of gospel-light, there is reserved the blackness of darkness for ever. Where sin and torment run parallel, their torment makes them sin, and their sin feeds their torment.


Verse 37

The place which our Evangelist alludes to, is, Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord of hosts, the whole earth is full of his glory. Isaiah 6:3

From whence, a clear argument for Christ's divinity may be thus drawn. He whom Isaiah saw environed with seraphims, and praised as most holy by them, was the true and eternal God; for such acclamations belong to none but the great Jehovah, God blessed for evermore. But says St. John, it was the glory of Christ that Isaiah saw in his vision, it was Christ whom he called, Holy, holy, holy, Lord God of hosts: therefore Christ is undoubtedly God, blessed for evermore. For the Evangelist was not speaking of the Father, but the Son, and cites these words out of Isaiah saw and spake of, if the words of the Evangelist be of any credit. Besides, the angels are too holy to give acclamations belonging to God, to any but him that is God.

Observe here, 1. The astonishing infidelity and unbelief of the Jews, who heard our Saviour's doctrine, and were eye-witnesses of his miracles; though he had done so many miracles before them, yet they believed not on him. Let not the faithful minister of Christ be discouraged, and overmuch dejected, at their want of success in dispensing of the gospel, when they observe and consider the small success of our Saviour's own ministry in the hearts and lives of his hearers: yea, though his minstry was accompanied with miracles, and though his miracles were many in number, mighty in nature, clear and obvious to sense, being wrought before their eyes, yet his ministry succeeded not, and his miracles prevailed not: Lord, what little success has the offer of Christ in the gospel met with, from the first original tender to this day! Obstinate infidelity, and cursed hypocrisy, draw more souls to hell than all the devils in hell.

Observe, 2. How the present infidelity of these unbelieving Jews was long before foretold, and prophesied of, by the prophet Esaias, Lord, who hath believed our report? Isaiah 53:1 That is, our preaching.

Where note, That Isaiah's complaint of the small success of his preaching, was a prophesy and prediction of the like success that Christ and his ministers should have under the gospel.

Learn hence, That the gospel in all ages have met with more that have rejected it by unbelief, than have savingly entertained it by faith. Isaiah complained before Christ, and his apostles and minsters in every age since, that few have believed their reports.

Observe, 3. That though the present unbelief of the obstinate Jews was long foretold by the prophets of God, yet the prophet's prediction was no cause of their unbelief, or that which laid them under an impossibility of believing; but the fault lay in their own obstinate wills, with respect to which, by the just judgment of God, they were blinded and hardened, for their contempt of Christ, the promised Messias. When men close their eyes wilfully, and say, they will not see, it is just with God to close their eyes judicially, and say, they shall not see. He hath blinded their eyes, and hardened their hearts, &c.

Learn hence, That the infidelity of the people is to be resolved into the perverseness of their own wills, and the evil disposition of their own hearts, not to any judicial blindness or obduration wrought by God upon them, antecedent to their own sin: God's act of hardening was consequential upon their sinning.

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Verse 42

Observe, 1. That though the generality of the Jews were thus hardened under Christ's ministry and miracles, yet there were some, and those of the chief rank, even rulers, that did believe on him; that is, they were under strong and powerful convictions, that he was the true and expected Messias. Even in times and places where obstinacy and infidelity most prevails, the ministry of the word shall not be altogether without its fruit; Christ here had some, and those of the rulers too, who believed on him, when others under the same word were hardened; Nevertheless, among the chief rulers also, many believed on him.

Observe, 2. That though many of the chief rulers had a secret belief, or an inward persuasion, that Christ was the promised and expected Messias, yet it was not sufficient to make them openly own, confess, and avow, him to be such, for fear of excommunication from the Pharisees: They did not confess him, lest they should be put out of the synagogue. Slavish fear of men, and suffering by them, has hindered many from believing on Christ, and kept more from an open owning and confessing of him. Because of the Pharisees, they did not confess him.

Observe, 3. As the fear of suffering on the one hand, so the love of reputation on the other, kept them from owning and confessing Jesus to be the Christ; They loved the praise of men more than the praise of God; that is, they valued honour and applause from men, more than God's honouring and approving them. There is no greater snare to draw persons from their duty, than inordinate love and affection to their own credit and reputation. Oh! how often is the applause and commendation of men preferred before the testimony and approbation of God! Here was their snare: They loved the praise of men more than the praise of God.


Verse 44

In these verses we have our Saviour's farewell sermon to the Jews, concerning his person, office, and doctrine; as touching his person, he acquaints them with his divine nature, his oneness and equality with the Father; and accordingly challenges not only the assent, but also the obedience and adoration, of their faith. Jesus cried, saying, He that believeth on me, believeth not on me, but on him that sent me. That is, he that believeth on me, doth not believe on a mere man, but on him that is truly and really God, as well as man; and therefore he being true God, one in essence, and equal in power and glory, with the Father, their believing in him was believing in God the Father that sent him.

Observe, 2. The argument which our Saviour uses, to prove that believers in Christ do believe in the Father: He that seeth me, seeth in me him that sent me.

Learn, 2. That the Father is not to be seen but in the Son; nor can believers know what the Father is, but by seeing what the Son is; and what they see the Son to be, that the Father is in him; For he that seeth me, seeth him that sent me.

Observe, 3. The dreadful judgment which Christ denounces against all unbelievers, and such as reject him, by rejecting of his gospel; for though, at Christ's first coming, his errand was not to to judge the world, but to save the world, that is, to offer the tenders of salvation to lost sinners; yet at his second coming he would judge them at the last day; when the word preached to them, and rejected by them, will give a judicial testimony against them.

Learn hence, 1. That Christ and his doctrine are inseparable: to receive his doctrine, is to receive him; and to reject his doctrine is to reject him.

2. That such rejecters of Christ and the doctrine of the gospel, shall not escape the judgment of Christ at the great day.

3. That at the great day, were there not other witness against the rejecters of Christ and his gospel, but the word preached, yet that alone will be sufficient both for their conviction and condemnation. The word that I have spoken, the same shall judge him the last day. The word is now the rule of living, and it shall be hereafter the rule of judging: now it is the rule by which we must live to Christ, then it shall be the rule by which we shall be judged of Christ.

Observe, 4. The argument and reason which our Saviour produces, to prove that the word of God, and the doctrine of the gospel, slighted and rejected, should condemn sinners at the great day; namely, from the divine authority of his doctrine; for albeit his doctrine was his own, as he was true God, yet as man, and as Mediator, it was not his own, but the Father's which sent him; so that his word and doctrine being divine, and the Father's as well as his (or he did not speak of himself; that is, of himself and alone without the Father) it despisers of it.

Learn thence, 1. That though the doctrine of the gospel be Christ's own, as he is truly and really God, yet it was not his own as mere man, exclusive of the Father, who is one God with him, and who gave him a commission and instruction, as Mediator, to preach and publish the glad tidings of the gospel; For, says he, I have not spoken of myself, but the Father which sent me gave me a commandment.

2. That the doctrine which Christ delivered by command from the Father, doth point out the way to eternal life, and will bring lost sinners thereunto, if they sincerely believe it and obey it: I know that his commandment is life everlasting.

3. That therefore sinners who rejected the doctrine of Christ contained in the gospel, do highly dishonour, offend, and affront both the Father and the Son, and bring upon themselves a just and righteous judgment; and expose themselves to unutterable and inevitable condemnation. The word that I have spoken, the same shall judge him in the last day.

 


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Bibliography Information
Burkitt, William. "Commentary on John 12:4". Expository Notes with Practical Observations on the New Testament. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/wbc/john-12.html. 1700-1703.

Lectionary Calendar
Sunday, October 20th, 2019
the Week of Proper 24 / Ordinary 29
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