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Bible Commentaries

Whedon's Commentary on the Bible
John 12

 

 

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Verse 1

§ 110.ARRIVAL AT BETHANY, John 12:1.

1. Then—After leaving Ephraim. See John 11:54. He went from Ephraim, on the border land between Samaria and Galilee, to join the caravans going down by the Jordan, through Jericho, to the Passover at Jerusalem. See Harmony, p. 101.

Six days—The Passion week. See note on Matthew 20:34.


Verses 2-11

§ 120.SUPPER AND ANOINTING AT BETHANY, John 12:2-11.

See notes on Matthew 26:6-16; Mark 14:3-9.


Verse 4

4. Should betray him—Which was about to betray him.


Verse 5

5. Given to the poor—Covetousness and irreverence are here covered under the cloak of benevolence. The poor are, indeed, as the Scriptures abundantly teach, a prominent object of Christian duty. Yet poverty is no merit, but is very often the due penalty of idleness and unthrift. The due expenditures of art and taste are right, as tending to civilize and elevate mankind; the wealth laid out in awakening the sentiment of worship is still more right, as contributing to spiritualize the heart of man.


Verse 6

6. Had the bag—At this time it seems a common purse was kept for the twelve, with Judas for bursar. Charity to the poor, as well as necessary expenses, was its object.


Verses 12-50

§ 111.TRIUMPHAL ENTRY INTO JERUSALEM, vv. AND TRANSACT1ONS THERE, John 12:12-50.

See notes on Matthew 21:1-17; Mark 11:1-11; Luke 19:29-44.


Verse 16

16. Understood not his disciples at the first—Of the triumphal entry John gives but slight description; but the language of this verse indicates that he fully realized its significance, and shows that his record is brief because he knows that the detail by the other Evangelists is full. While the miracle, the triumph, and the cross are passing in rapid succession before their eyes, they are confused in their perceptions. But when all are past and rise up as one whole before them, when they see the accordance of prophecy and event, as taught by the voice of the risen Jesus (Luke 24:25-35) and by the refreshing power of the quickening Spirit, (John 14:26,) they comprehend the entire symmetrical plan. Then they understand the CHRIST, and thenceforward are competent to herald him forth to the world.


Verse 19

19. The world is gone after him—The raising of Lazarus was the summit of the climax of his divine works, and, occurring at the time of the approaching Passover, it roused an enthusiasm before which the authorities were for a while paralyzed. Hence, as already remarked, the great excitement of the people at this moment requires the miracle to account for its existence.


Verse 20

20. Certain Greeks—Men of Hellenic blood, who rejected idolatry and habitually came to the Passover, not indeed fully to participate in the Jewish ritual, but to worship the Supreme. They were monotheists, who saw in Israel’s Jehovah the God of the universe.


Verses 20-36

The Lord’s address before the Greeks, John 12:20-36.

Writing mainly for Greeks, John alone reports this remarkable transaction and discourse. It brings up, dimly but significantly, the anxiety of those representatives of Greece, and the premonitions which their presence drew from Jesus, that his death was to result in the spiritual conquest of the world.


Verse 21

21. To Philip—Philip’s name being (Greek, (as well as Andrew’s,) indicates Grecian connection, and accounts for their appeal to him. Jesus was doubtless in the Court of the Women, into which no Gentile might enter. These Greeks, who have probably heard of the wonders that Jesus has performed, have seen his regal entrance into Jerusalem, and heard, perhaps, some faint report of his wonderful teachings, have a desire to be introduced to him. Whether Jesus gave them audience or not is not said, and is doubted by some eminent scholars. But to suppose that Jesus declined their request is to deprive the narrative of all significance. Plainly John furnishes the fact in order to account for the discourse that follows. John omits, because he assumes, the little details of the introduction and the incidental conversation. As the Lord rises into momentous discourse John begins to record.

As these Greeks had seen his triumph, but were soon to see his humiliation, Jesus seizes the moment to show that his very sufferings are a glorification. He dies that he may produce new life, as all his followers must renounce life that they may live, 23-26. A pang of sorrow for a moment overwhelms his soul, to be succeeded by a glorification, a voice from the Father, audibly testifying in his behalf, 27-29. Jesus, thus sustained by the divine Voice, pictures the overthrow of the prince of darkness in the world, 30-33. To the querying people Jesus gives his last admonition to realize the Light while it shines before them, 34-36.


Verse 23

23. Them—Namely, the Greeks and his disciples in united audience. His answer was in reply to preliminary conversation not reported by the Evangelist.

The hour—The long-expected hour of his crucifixion, ideally held to be present. See note on John 2:4.

Glorified—The entire passion terminating in glory is here presented by him to these Greeks as itself gilded with glory and entirely a glorification. So the cross is soon to be held forth to the Gentile world, not as a dishonour, but a glory.


Verse 24

24. Except… wheat… die—In the natural creation death is the prelude and source of life. In the vegetable world the seed expires by giving its life, and more than its life, to the germ. So Christ, the seed of all humanity, expires to give life to humanity. Let not, then, these philosophic Greeks who have come to see Jesus, despise that shameful death they are soon to see, which is to be the life of the race. Nor let them contemn the dying Victim who even in death is to conquer the world.


Verse 25

25. Loveth… life… lose it—The same law of death resulting in life which the Lord obeys his followers must also accept. A virtual death must be by us undergone in order that we may spiritually and eternally live. If we perversely maintain a worldly life and refuse martyrdom in spirit or in reality, that life we can never attain. But he that hateth his life in this world, who abhors and renounces the selfish love of life, shall keep it unto life eternal. Thus are lord and servant under the same law of death and life.


Verse 26

26. There shall… servant be—The Lord’s follower in humiliation and death shall be his follower unto life eternal, shall overtake him in glory, and there forever shall both together be.


Verse 27

27. My soul troubled—The term soul here, in contrast with the word spirit, designates the lower sensitive part of the human nature. As at Gethsemane, so here, the conceptions of sin and hell, which are to be exemplified in the cross, fill his vision with amazement. By the punctuation which we should adopt, an interrogation point should be placed after the word hour. In his amazement therefore, the Lord exclaims, What shall I say? Shall I say, Father, save me from this hour? But no, he would add, For this cause, for the endurance of this agony, came I unto this hour. His sensitive nature would have cried for exemption; his higher spirit realized the greatness and the necessity of his mission. Between the two the great struggle results in the persistence in the path of suffering and glory.


Verses 27-33

27-33. A drop of his humiliation thus described, a moment of anticipated agony, is, in the presence of these Greeks, experienced by Jesus. It is as it were a premonitory pang of Gethsemane. But instantly the glorification follows. A voice from God the Father endorses the Son, and he responsively predicts before these Greeks his triumph over the prince of this world. Thus vividly is enacted before them in quick succession the Redeemer’s cross and coronation.


Verse 28

28. Father, glorify thy name—His spirit now rises, in the greatness of its victory, into glorious sympathy with the Father, and the voice of the Father answers. The voice declares that as the Father has glorified him in the past, so will he glorify him in the future. Not only in the past eternity of the Son with the Father, and in his past life of human suffering, has there been a true glorification, but there shall be no cessation here on the brink of death. On the cross, through the valley of death, through the resurrection even, the shame shall be glory, and all shall redound to a glory eternal.


Verse 29

29. People… said that it thundered—The deep majesty of the divine voice suggests to those who distinguished not the articulation, the idea of thunder. Others, who recognized the utterance, yet saw no speaker, said an angel spake to him.


Verse 30

30. Not because of me—It was an authentication of me, but not for my sake, who well knew my Sonship of the Father.

For your sakes—It was for their sakes, that they might believe in his humiliation and share in his glory.


Verses 30-33

30-33. Jesus announces that this voice is an omen, not for his sake, who well knew the future, but for their sakes; as a proclamation that he was authenticated, as Son of God, to triumph over the prince of this world. To their cavils, therefore, in John 12:34, he furnishes no further confirmation of his mission, but warns them to beware (35, 36) how they rejected the light while the light was in their midst.


Verse 31

31. Now—During this period of passion and of resurrection. For be it specially noted, that during this passage the entire future of death and resurrection is held as conceptually present.

Judgment of this world—The cross is the test and the discriminator of the responsible character and final destiny of the race. Thus, as it were, the very cross becomes a throne of judgment.

Prince of this world—Satan, whom the fall has enthroned on earth, and whom the hearts of men so willingly obey, is here pronounced to be, not de jure, by right, but de facto, in fact, prince of this world.

Cast out—Here, by another wonderful concentration, all the results of the crucifixion are condensed into the crucifixion. The Seed of the woman shall bruise the serpent’s head now. For now the great blow is given. Satan cast out of heaven at first, shall be cast down from the supremacy over earth, and shall be cast down to hell. All this is done by the cross, and it is done now.


Verse 32

32. If I be lifted up—This lifted up is beautifully ambiguous. It is at once the humiliation and the exaltation. It is the shame and the glory. For, lifted on the cross, he is the central object, the divine magnet, attracting by its secret power the spirits of all men unto him. He draws, not drags. He exhibits an element of affinity for all his brethren of the human race. To him they all experience a secret gravitation, which, would they but obey, would make them one with him. Yet they are not pieces of iron but living agents. The magnetic attraction is divinely natural, but not physically necessitating. Its strongest attractions may be rejected; its gentlest drawings may be obeyed. All, of every age and every land, have sufficient to enable them to come, and to render them responsible for the great rejection. “I will draw them unto me; and this means ultimately, away from the earth into heavenly places; yet only through the cross, and, therefore, first of all, to Me on the cross. This is the sense of where I am, John 12:26.”—Stier.


Verse 33

33. What death he should die—The words lifted up signified the exaltation upon the cross. But the Evangelist also means that our Lord’s wonderful words signify the stupendous import contained in the very nature of his death.

Here clearly terminates the address of our Lord before the Greeks. At its beginning they are evidently included in the them of John 12:23, with the disciples; in John 12:29, when the people speak, they fall into the background; and at the present verse all reference to them in the topic disappears, and the people are all. What impression was made upon these Greeks by the solemn language and manner of the mysterious being before them, we are vainly curious to know. But it is a remarkable point of contact between the Jew and the Greek, being the offer of salvation from one to the other. Japhet is here invited into the tents of Shem. Perhaps he comes not now, but our Lord’s very discourse predicts that he yet will come, in fulfilment of ancient prophecy, when the fulness of the Gentiles shall come in.


Verse 34

34. The people answered high—At the clear intimations by Jesus of his approaching death, the same people who, in John 12:29, had interpreted the voice of God into thunder now cavil at the thought of a dying Messiah. They had witnessed his triumphal entry into Jerusalem, amid the acclamations of what we might call the entire nation assembled at the Passover, and had hoped that now was the time for the announcement of a hero-Messiah. They cannot away with the thought of a martyr instead of a conqueror.

Christ abideth for everChrist is but the Greek form of the Jewish word Messiah; and these people had cherished the interpretation of the law, that is, of the Old Testament, that the Messiah should come, establish a kingdom, and reign forever.

Lifted up—This people rightly interpret the phrase lifted up to indicate death. And, as this death is affirmed of the Son of man, namely himself, they instantly assume that he is not the Messiah, and abruptly demand, who is this Son of man?


Verses 34-36

34-36. From chapter 13 to chapter 17, inclusive, the Evangelist narrates the discourse of our Lord to the circle of his disciples after the close of his public ministry to the world, preparatory to his death. Previous to that John occupies the remainder of this chapter in giving the Lord’s closing utterances to the Jews. So that in fact nearly half the Gospel of John is occupied with the scenes of passion week. In this paragraph we have their final cavil and his final admonition. In paragraph 37-43 John gives a summary of the unbelieving rejection of Jesus by the people. In paragraph 44-50, he gives a summary of the general preaching of Jesus, which was by them rejected.


Verse 36

36. While ye have light—The period for explanation is past. This people, though the light is beaming upon them, wilfully preferring their own corrupt prepossessions, shut out the light, and choose to walk in their own loved darkness. Jesus therefore gives them not interpretation but admonition.

Departed—Abandoned them forever.

Did hide himself from them—He retired to the privacy of his apostolic college.


Verse 37

37. Though he had done so many miracles—Though the proofs of his divine mission were so many, and were performed before them, yet, John plaintively declares, their rejection of him was positive.


Verses 37-43

General summary of Jewish unbelief and rejection of Christ, John 12:37-43.

The great body of the people, in spite of miraculous evidence, rejected Jesus; yet a small minority believed without the courage to avow their faith.


Verse 38

38. The saying of Esaias might be fulfilledIsaiah 6:10. See note on Matthew 1:22. Says St. Chrysostom: “It was not because Isaiah said so that they did not believe, but because they would not believe, Isaiah said this.” And then, inasmuch as it was predicted, the Evangelist takes the view as if they so acted in order to make the prediction true. The passage quoted will be found in Isaiah 53:1.


Verse 39

39. Therefore they could not believe—For the reason assigned in our note on John 5:44, that they had intrenched themselves in the opposite error; so long as they would hold fast that error, the reception of truth was impossible—they could not believe.


Verse 40

40. He hath blinded their eyes—They had shut themselves in, and the harder He pushed the tighter the door was pressed. They had made their choice; and the more he would persuade, the more firmly they braced themselves against him. They fitted their eyes to the darkness; and, like owls, the clearer the light the more total their blindness. So that although God, according to the prophet, was the unwilling cause of their blindness, yet it was their wicked will that gave to the cause its effect.

And be converted—Which was the desired result on the part of God. But their perverse will transformed his mercy into judgment; his means of softening into results of hardening. Thus does the same sun that melts the wax harden the clay. But the clay is inanimate and blameless; these living agents, hardened by the divine softenings, were free and responsible. The Evangelist has no idea of the modern argument, that because the Jews did not believe the miracles were not real. On the contrary, their unbelief, being a fulfilment of prophecy, was an actual proof of their supernatural reality. That unbelief was by God foreseen, and by him provided for and predicted. Knowing what the Jews would freely do, God had accordingly adjusted his plans, plans contingent indeed upon their doing, yet certain because that doing was freely certain and foreseen Jewish rejection, according to prophecy, is good proof of the reality of Jesus’s Messiahship.


Verse 41

41. Saw his glory—Saw whose glory? Plainly, according to the passage in the prophet Isaiah 6:1-10, Jehovah’s glory; the term Lord in capitals standing in our Old Testament translation. And this Jehovah is the proper incommunicable name of the God of Israel. And here the Evangelist tells us that this glory of Jehovah was the glory of Jesus—of Jehovah-Jesus. He assumes this as being of course the belief of his contemporaneous readers. And this accords with the fact that the earliest Christian Fathers, as Justin Martyr, as well as the biblical scholars of all ages, have held that the Jehovah of the Old Testament, manifesting himself in various ways to the Old Testament saints, was no other than the God manifest in the flesh of the new dispensation.


Verse 42

42. Many believed… did not confess—Besides this class of persistent unbelievers, there was a many who were secretly convinced, like Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea, but who, fearful of loss of position, concealed their convictions. Thus it often is that men intrenched in power, and predominating in society political, literary, ecclesiastical, are conservative of old errors and hoary iniquity; leaving the cause of reform, and the maintenance of truth, to the weaker, humbler, more ignorant, but more disinterested and less sophisticated classes. Thus is this rejection of Jesus a type fulfilled in nearly every age of advancement and beneficent revolution.


Verse 43

43. Loved the praise of men—And hence, according to John 5:44, while this love filled their hearts, they could not believe. This was, properly speaking, no so-called “moral inability.” It was simply an incompatibility between the two things. Whilst they retained that worldly love, which they could and ought to have cast out from their hearts, belief in Christ was in itself impossible. The two opposites could not unite in the same mind. Thus does our Evangelist, in the spirit of sober sadness, account for the final unbelief of his race and nation. For that unbelief he had seen their downfall and their rejection of God. He had accepted those awful facts in pensive calmness, yet was cheered by the glorious future opened before his view in the Lord’s discourse before the Greeks, describing the overthrow of the prince of darkness in the heathen world, and the opening of an age of Christian triumph. He now proceeds to give a recapitulation of the great mission of Jesus by the Jews rejected.

Closing summary of Jesus’s public testimony to the Jews, John 12:44-50. This final summary consists mainly of memoranda collected from the various teachings of Jesus. We have, John 12:44-46, Christ identified with God as Testifier and Light; John 12:47-50, the rejection of him, being a rejection of the Father, shall be judged not by him now personally, but by his uttered word reproduced at the last day, being authenticated by the Father himself, by whose command and upon whose divine authority it is spoken.


Verse 44

44. Believeth not on me—Not on me simply as man, but as the incarnation of Jehovah, of the Jehovah seen in vision by Isaiah.


Verse 45

45. Seeth him that sent me—He that seeth my outward shape seeth the manifest person of God himself.


Verse 47

47. I judge him not—Not as a simple human person am I his judge.


Verse 48

48. Hath one that judgeth him—It is Christ in himself that is properly teacher and Saviour; it is God the Father in Christ who is properly the judge.

The word… shall judge him—The living judge pronounces the word, but it is the word itself, the law, which discriminates and judges.

The last day—The closing day of earth’s history; the day of final judgment; which is also the day of the resurrection. John 11:24; John 6:39-40; John 6:44; John 6:54.


Verse 49

49. The Father… gave me a commandment—The Father is the background and original; the Son is the manifestation. The Son is Deity manifest, declaring, sent, obedient; the Father is primitive, declared, sending, commanding. Yet are both mysteriously One.


Verse 50

50. Commandment is life everlasting—God’s divine, authoritative word implanted within our soul is eternal life in its very element and essence.

As the Father said… so I speak—And therefore rejecting my words is rejecting God’s words, and rejecting me is rejecting God. When Israel therefore rejected Christ she rejected the ancient Israel’s God; and all history since proclaims that she is of God rejected. And this thus far concludes our Evangelist’s history of the public ministry of Jesus to his countrymen and the world. It is a conclusion for weeping, and yet he is solemnly calm.

Through the remainder of this entire Gospel, (John 12:13-21,) being nearly half of the whole, we have Jesus’s private ministry within his apostolic college, until he comes forth for the sacrifice, with the consummation.

 


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Bibliography Information
Whedon, Daniel. "Commentary on John 12:4". "Whedon's Commentary on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/whe/john-12.html. 1874-1909.

Lectionary Calendar
Thursday, September 19th, 2019
the Week of Proper 19 / Ordinary 24
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