John 12


‘Six days before the Passover, Jesus came to Bethany, where Lazarus lived, whom Jesus had raised from the dead. Here a dinner was given in Jesus’ honour. Martha served, while Lazarus was among those reclining at the table with him. Then Mary took about a pint of pure nard, an expensive perfume; she poured it on Jesus’ feet and wiped his feet with her hair. And the house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume. But one of his disciples, Judas Iscariot, who was later to betray him, objected, “Why wasn’t this perfume sold and the money given to the poor? It was worth a year’s wages.” He did not say this because he cared about the poor but because he was a thief; as keeper of the money bag, he used to help himself to what was put into it. “Leave her alone,” Jesus replied. “It was intended that she should save this perfume for the day of my burial. You will always have the poor among you, but you will not always have me.” Meanwhile a large crowd of Jews found out that Jesus was there and came, not only because of him but also to see Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead. So, the chief priests made plans to kill Lazarus as well, for on account of him many of the Jews were going over to Jesus and believing in him.’ John 12:1-11

There has been a lot of activity, between John 11:54-55, none of which is mentioned by John. I think it would be useful to highlight some of those missing events.

1. Healing of the ten lepers, Luke 17:11-17.

2. The parables of the widow and the judge and the Pharisee and the tax collector, Luke 18:1-14.

3. Teaching on divorce, Matthew 19:1-12 / Mark 10:1-12.

4. Blessing little children, Matthew 19;13-15.

5. The rich young ruler, Matthew 19:16-30.

6. The parable of the wicked tenants, Matthew 21:33-46.

7. The healing of Bartimaeus and another, Matthew 20:29-34.

8. Meeting with Zacchaeus, the parable of the pounds, journey to Jerusalem, Luke 19:1-28.

Here in John 12, we have the last public words and deeds of Jesus, in John 13-17 we read about Jesus’ private conversations with the apostles and in John 18 we read about His betrayal, arrest and trials.

In John 12:1-11 we find the same incident recorded in Matthew 26:6-13 / Mark 14:3-9. Please remember that Luke 7:36-50 is a different incident.

Here in John 12, we find some confusion over the timing, Matthew 26:2 and Mark 16:1 suggest that this occurred at different times. It may have been that Jesus arrived on Friday but the dinner took place on Tuesday.

Jesus returns from Ephraim to Bethany after spending some time there. This coming Passover would occur after His death on the cross but before His resurrection. Jesus was walking into danger and the rulers were determined to kill Him, John 11:53.

He was going deliberately to His death, Mark 10:32-34. The rulers didn’t want to arrest Him during the feast, Matthew 26:4-5, but He over-ruled their plans.

Now the ‘supper’ is the main meal, usually in the evening and it was a dinner in Jesus’ honour. It was in the house of Simon the leper, Matthew 26:6 / Mark 14:1, probably one whom. Jesus had healed. Assuming Simon was host, there were 15 men present, Simon, Jesus, the Twelve and Lazarus, Martha ‘served’, Luke 10:40.

Jesus has the opportunity to spend some last moments with the people He loves, His good friends Lazarus and the sisters. These must have been very precious moments for the Lord as He knew His time was drawing closer. It seems likely that a four-day gap occurred between verses one and two.

Mary is mentioned but in Matthew and Mark she isn’t named, she took ‘a pint of pure nard, an expensive perfume,’ its value was around 300 denarii which is equal to 300 days’ wages for a working man, Matthew 20:2.

The nard that Mary used is better known as spikenard, an expensive perfume imported from India. It was far more expensive than the ordinary man in the street could ever hope to be able to afford, and it is possible that this had been a much-prized possession of the woman. It was highly scented and was normally used on the hair as a perfume and oil together.

She ‘anointed the feet of Jesus’, Matthew 26:7 and Mark 14:3 tell that she anointed His head also. Anointing the head was a way of honouring a special guest, Psalm 23:5 / Luke 7:46.

John recalls that Mary’s loving act went beyond the customary practice. A respectable Jewish woman wouldn’t let down her hair in public because in doing so she might be regarded as a woman of loose morality but Mary was forgetful of propriety under the compulsion of love.

This was the second time something such as this had happened to the Lord, and it was a great act of humility for Mary to wipe Jesus’ feet with her hair as the washing of feet was normally done by a servant.

The fact that John was present is proven by him remembering the strong scent filling the house. Note that each time we meet Mary in the narrative we find her at the feet of Jesus, we see that here, and in Luke 10:39 / John 11:32.

In John 12:4-6 we see Judas Iscariot objects to the ‘wasting’ of this expensive perfume. At first glance we may even have some sympathy for Judas, the poor of the region would have benefited greatly from the money to be made by selling the perfume.

However, Mary’s act is an act of love towards her master and Mary had her priorities right she could have sold it and given the money to the poor, she chose instead to use it to anoint Jesus, she seized an opportunity she would never have again.

It was a personal expression of her true feelings and her thanks for the raising of her brother Lazarus just a few weeks earlier. When we examine the motive behind Judas’ apparent indignation, one sees a rather sad picture.

John the author explains that Judas was the treasurer of the group and was guilty of stealing the pennies. He wanted the money in the bag so he could help himself to a portion of it.

Jesus demands total honesty from His followers and here, amid the group of believers is this thief. Judas, the man who was to sell the Lord for thirty pieces of silver was already guilty.

The lesson to be learnt here is interesting, any man, given the responsibility of keeping the ‘church finds’ needs to calculate the spending without error. He must keep unquestionable account of all entrusted to him and he must be unscrupulously honest, ready to give account at all times.

A hint toward balance is given in the next verse. We must balance our giving as individuals as well as a church and we need to ensure we don’t squander the Lord’s money on trivialities such as expensive gardens and excessive buildings and decorations while people around the building are starving either physically or spiritually. Balance in all things is always demanded of the Christian.

Mary was being criticized by Judas, and if we seek the parallel account in the Gospels, by the other disciples present, Jesus comes to her rescue.

‘It was intended that she should save this perfume for the day of my burial’, Mary believed that Jesus was soon to meet His end and she knew she wouldn’t have the opportunity to show her love by being involved with the preparation of His body, so symbolically she did it now.

Nothing can take away from the great love that this act expressed to our Lord. Mary had taken her opportunity to express her love. Jesus was soon to depart, the poor were always present to give an expression of love, but alas, Jesus did not. Jesus said that this act of love would be her memorial wherever the Gospel was preached, Matthew 26:13 / Mark 14:9.

‘The great crowd’ refers to those mentioned in John 11:55-56. Hearing of His arrival in Bethany obviously, His is coming to the feast, they go to see Jesus and Lazarus. The latter is living proof of the power of Jesus, and not surprisingly ‘many were going away and believing in Jesus’, John 12:11.

The chief priests saw a developing mass movement in support of Jesus, John 1:45 and so, they plotted ‘to put Lazarus also to death’. He was a double embarrassment to the Sadduceean Chief Priests. He was a living demonstration of Jesus’ divine power, and a demonstration of the falsity of Sadduceean teaching, Acts 4:1ff. The triumphal entry is recorded in all four Gospels, Matthew 21:1-11 / Mark 11:1-11 / Luke 19:24-44 and here and John’s account is the briefest.

The fact that Jesus had raised Lazarus from the dead was well known by now and the people of Jerusalem and other surrounding villages heard that both Jesus and Lazarus were to be seen together so typically they flocked to see this ‘show’.

The chief priests realised that Lazarus’s presence now also constitutes a threat to their power, so in their ruthlessness, they decide to rid themselves of this problem.

The fact that Lazarus had died and then had been resurrected was now a great source of embarrassment to the Pharisees and other Jews of high religious standing.

They wanted to put Him to death in order to prove, to themselves, that they were greater than Jesus.

‘The next day the great crowd that had come for the festival heard that Jesus was on his way to Jerusalem. They took palm branches and went out to meet him, shouting, “Hosanna!” “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” “Blessed is the king of Israel!” Jesus found a young donkey and sat on it, as it is written: “Do not be afraid, Daughter Zion; see, your king is coming, seated on a donkey’s colt.” At first his disciples did not understand all this. Only after Jesus was glorified did they realize that these things had been written about him and that these things had been done to him’. John 12:12-16

‘A great crowd’ in Jerusalem crowded with Passover pilgrims, many of who would be disciples of Jesus. As He approached the city, a crowd accompanied Him and another crowd went out to meet him, Matthew 21:9, ‘the crowds that went before him and followed him.’ Luke 19:37, ‘the whole multitude of the disciples.

The ‘next day’ we know from the Gospels that this was the first day of the week. The crowd, already excited at his potential arrival, John 11:56 now hear that Jesus is on His way to the feast. Great excitement overtakes them, they have heard of the raising of Lazarus and all the other miracles He had done before. Many must have believed that He was the Messiah and was about to restore the Kingdom to that which was in David’s time.

A welcome for a king is being written of here, as they, ‘spread their garments on the road, also spread leafy branches before Him, Matthew 21:8 / Mark 11:8.

Many carried branches of palm which are symbols of victory, Revelation 7:9 and of the righteousness and vigorous spirituality of God’s children, Psalm 92:12. They point to the joy of victory, the feeling that everything will now be better. The people were expecting something to change.

‘Hosanna!’ they cry, this was a joyous call meaning ‘save’ or ‘save us now’, it hadn’t become a simple exclamation of surprise such as we use ‘hurrah’ today. The call had a great deal of meaning to it.

‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!’ is an extract from Psalm 118:25-26. The context of the Psalm is of a Messianic tone, indicating that they considered Jesus the Messiah, still expecting Him to establish some sort of earthly kingdom. The balance of the call that rang out seems to confirm this idea, ‘Blessed is the King of Israel.’

John 12:14 tells us that ‘Jesus found a young donkey,’ Matthew 21:1-2 tells that He sent two disciples to find and bring an ass and colt. Luke 19:30 says ‘a colt on which no one has ever yet sat’.

The donkey was traditionally ridden by Kings who came in peace, if He had come on a horse instead, that would have reflected a more aggressive tone. The Gospels tell us that this was a young donkey, not yet ridden by any man. Jesus was the first on the back of this donkey.

Jesus’ claim to be the Messiah, His so coming is in fulfilment of Zechariah 9:9 / Matthew 21:4-5. The crowd of disciples wanted Him to assert publicly that He was the Messiah and He did but in such a way as to assert the peaceful nature of his kingdom, Zechariah 9:10.

The horse was the symbol of war and conquest and the donkey was the symbol of peace. The disciples only made this connection between Jesus the king of peace, the donkey and the Scriptural quotation after Jesus had ascended and they had received the Holy Spirit. Much became obvious to them at that time.

Their words in John 12:13 are quotes from Psalm 118;25-26. This psalm was part of the ‘Great Hallel’, Psalms 113-118 recited at the Feast of Tabernacles. They now acclaim Jesus as the Messiah, ‘He who comes in the name of the Lord, even the King of Israel’. Matthew 21:9 / Mark 11:9-10 / Luke 19:38.

Luke 19:41-44 tells that as He drew near to the city and He wept over it, He foresaw and described the disaster coming to a people who rejected the Messiah.

Look at the reactions to all of this, Matthew 21:10-11 ‘All the city was stirred’, ‘agitated’, ‘went wild with excitement.’ Luke 19:39-40 the Pharisees objected, ‘Teacher, rebuke your disciples.’ Jesus, ‘I tell you, if these were silent, the very stones would cry out!’ The crowd who had seen Lazarus raised ‘bore witness’ John 12:17.

‘Now the crowd that was with him when he called Lazarus from the tomb and raised him from the dead continued to spread the word. Many people, because they had heard that he had performed this sign, went out to meet him. So, the Pharisees said to one another, “See, this is getting us nowhere. Look how the whole world has gone after him!” Now there were some Greeks among those who went up to worship at the festival. They came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, with a request. “Sir,” they said, “we would like to see Jesus.” Philip went to tell Andrew; Andrew and Philip in turn told Jesus. Jesus replied, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. Very truly I tell you, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds. Anyone who loves their life will lose it, while anyone who hates their life in this world will keep it for eternal life. Whoever serves me must follow me; and where I am, my servant also will be. My Father will honour the one who serves me. “Now my soul is troubled, and what shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’? No, it was for this very reason I came to this hour. Father, glorify your name!” Then a voice came from heaven, “I have glorified it, and will glorify it again.” The crowd that was there and heard it said it had thundered; others said an angel had spoken to him. Jesus said, “This voice was for your benefit, not mine. Now is the time for judgment on this world; now the prince of this world will be driven out. And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” He said this to show the kind of death he was going to die. The crowd spoke up, “We have heard from the Law that the Messiah will remain forever, so how can you say, ‘The Son of Man must be lifted up’? Who is this ‘Son of Man’?” Then Jesus told them, “You are going to have the light just a little while longer. Walk while you have the light, before darkness overtakes you. Whoever walks in the dark does not know where they are going. Believe in the light while you have the light, so that you may become children of light.” When he had finished speaking, Jesus left and hid himself from them’. John 12:17-36

As Jesus approached, the whole town became more and more excited. News of the Messiah approaching spread around the city and the people eagerly waited to hear what the Lord was to say, how He would instruct them on the road to re-establishing David’s throne, all eyes were pointing to Jesus.

Once again, the Pharisees didn’t greet the arrival of Jesus with all that much enthusiasm and they wanted Jesus dead, this crowd would make it all the more difficult. They seem somewhat frustrated by this goings-on, and their difficulty in finding Jesus in a quiet, dark alley where that could finish all this ‘foolishness’.

The Pharisees saw Jesus as a serious threat to their position as leaders in the religious community, even if they did have some idea that He was the Messiah, it was now too late to acknowledge Him, that would lose too much.

The ‘Pharisees’, Sanhedrin officials, were extremely worried, John 12:19 and they had reason to be because huge crowds were involved. People were continually shouting that Jesus was the Messiah, the King of Israel. Jerusalem was packed with Passover pilgrims, ‘was thrown into confusion’, Matthew 21:10

A popular uprising looked possible and that would bring savage reprisals from the Romans, John 11:48.

In John 12:20 we see the Greeks getting involved, the Greeks, Hellenes, and Greeks as to nationality but converts to Judaism, they were people who had given up their worship of foreign gods and idols and had turned to the one true God. They belonged to the large group of people called proselyte Jews or ‘God fearers’.

They weren’t allowed any farther than the court of the Gentiles in the temple, but Isaiah 56:7 teaches that they were allowed to render religious service in the temple. but they didn’t like nationalism or circumcision.

These Greeks wanted to have an interview with Jesus but weren’t keen to approach Him directly, so they go through the disciples, thereby proving that the disciples were well known to be Jesus’ disciples at this time.

Strangely, Philip couldn’t deal with this request on his own, so he goes and seeks Andrew’s advice, both then approach Jesus.

In reply, almost as if He knows the question the Greeks intended to put to Him, Jesus enters a discourse on the cost and reward of following Himself. He tells the people listening that his hour has come, probably re-enforcing the idea held by the crowd that the revolution against Rome was about to start.

Jesus declares His death as a way of producing life and encourages those around to give up the normal life and live as one dedicated to Jesus. The reward? Honour from the Father.

In John 12:24-25 we see a metaphor of the seed which has two applications, His death was necessary to bring people of all nations to God. As for the Lord, so for the disciple, he must die to live.

The word, ‘troubled’, ‘tarasso’, ‘agitated, distressed’ is the same word used in John 11:33 / John 14:1 / John 12:27. Some translations make ‘Father, save me from this hour’ a question as RSV. Others make it an actual prayer, as KJV.

But we can be certain that here the Saviour’s humanity is revealed, He is ‘troubled’ as He sees the cross before Him. His human reaction is to avoid it if possible, Matthew 26:39, but how can He make such a request when His purpose in coming is to die for humanity?

‘No, for this purpose I have come to this hour’. Jesus explains to the listeners that he came for the things soon to take place, this was the whole purpose of His visit. He will not ask for freedom from His task but desires to let it be done. He pleads to God the Father to glorify His own name, the result of which was a voice from heaven the very voice of God, ‘I have glorified it and will glorify it again.’

‘A voice from heaven’ three recorded occasions of the Father speaking to Jesus, here, His baptism, Matthew 3:16ff, transfiguration, ‘I have glorified it’. In Jesus’ signs, John 2:11 / John 5:36 / John 11:40.

‘I will glorify it again’, in death, resurrection, glorification etc. The people around weren’t sure what they had heard, some said it was the voice of an angel, others the sound of thunder, Jesus said the voice was for their sake. The crowd thought, ‘it thundered’, others thought, ‘an angel spoke to Him.’

Perhaps what people heard depended on spiritual attitude and capacity. Ezekiel among exiles in Babylon saw visions of God, but there is no evidence that others there saw them. But the voice was heard but not exclusively for Jesus’ sake but also for the sake of those present. John 4:21 / John 12:44.

In John 12:31 we see that the Cross will be ‘judgement’, ‘krisis’ for the world, ‘kosmos’. In rejecting Jesus, the world condemned itself, John 3:18. ‘The ruler’, ‘archon’ of this world is Satan, John 14:30 / John 16:11 / 2 Corinthians 4:4. What appeared to be Satan’s triumph, the death of Jesus, was, in fact, his defeat, Hebrews 2:14-15 / Genesis 3:15.

Jesus tells the people not only of His impending departure but also of the nature of His death. He uses the term, ‘When I am lifted up’, the crowd knew this referred to crucifixion and verse thirty-three tells us that the Lord wanted the people to know what type of death He was to experience.

‘Lifted up’ means crucified, John 3:14 / John 8:28, ‘will draw all men to myself’, they looked for a nationalistic kingdom. The cross would be the magnet by which He would attract to Himself people of all nations, He is the saviour of the whole world, John 4:42 / John 11:51 / John 10:16.

In John 12:34-36 we see the crowd were expecting an eternal Messiah, now Jesus, who they were sure was the Messiah, was telling them that He was soon to be crucified. They point out this apparent error to Jesus and ask for an explanation of the idea of the Son of Man. They understood from the ‘law’, Scriptures, that the Messiah would be an invincible leader, who would establish an endless kingdom and reign forever.

This is how they interpreted Old Testament predictions, e.g. Psalm 39:3-4 / Psalm 110:4 / Isaiah 9:7 / Ezekiel 37:25 / Daniel 7:14. They ask, ‘what do you mean by saying that the Son of Man must be lifted up? What Son of Man is this?’

He doesn’t answer their question but deals with the attitude, He, the Light, will be among them a little while longer, John 7:33. They would overtake them. Those who did believe in Him would become ‘Sons of light’, truly enlightened people. He encourages those listening to seek the light and walk in it.

The danger of getting lost in the dark is made clear, and the urgency of putting their trust in the light while it is still available is emphasised. Jesus doesn’t say that it isn’t possible to put one’s trust in the light after the resurrection, but that it is better to do so now.

Jesus then hid, possibly because He needed rest from the crowds, or to escape the encroaching Pharisees, this was predicted by Isaiah. His public ministry now ends, ‘he departed and hid himself from them’. He has come to Jerusalem to die, but His death will be when He chooses.

‘Even after Jesus had performed so many signs in their presence, they still would not believe in him. This was to fulfil the word of Isaiah the prophet: “Lord, who has believed our message and to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?” For this reason, they could not believe, because, as Isaiah says elsewhere: “He has blinded their eyes and hardened their hearts, so they can neither see with their eyes, nor understand with their hearts, nor turn—and I would heal them.” Isaiah said this because he saw Jesus’ glory and spoke about him. Yet at the same time many even among the leaders believed in him. But because of the Pharisees they would not openly acknowledge their faith for fear they would be put out of the synagogue; for they loved human praise more than praise from God.’ John 12:37-43

This is John’s summary of the whole ministry of Jesus, not merely an observation of what happened on that occasion in Jerusalem. The terrible truth is revealed, Jesus worked for three years and in that time, He covered many miles, spent many hours with people, healing the sick, raising the dead and doing many other miracles.

He was well known, he had spent time talking to people, teaching and encouraging them, He had always expressed in a very practical way, His love and concern for mankind.

But still, regardless of all this, many, even most wouldn’t accept Jesus as the Messiah. As a result, many still watch for the arrival today of the one who has come, done His task, and left. He will come again, but in a way causing fear in the hearts of those who didn’t recognise Him when He first came.

In John 12:38 we find Isaiah 53:1 and Isaiah 6:10, which saw the glory of the coming Christ and foretold of the many that would not receive Him, just as He told so much else of the Saviour’s life, people didn’t believe.

Isaiah’s message was rejected and He was killed, so with the Messiah, His own people rejected and killed Him, John 1:11. This wasn’t a result of Isaiah’s prophecy, but the prophecy as a result of this unbelief. Isaiah, had it revealed to him as if it had already occurred.

In this quote from Isaiah 6:9-10, God didn’t mean that those to whom Isaiah spoke couldn’t believe the message, nor did John mean that Jesus’ hearers were predestined to be unbelievers, Matthew 13:14-15. In each case, hearers hardened their hearts against the truth.

The ‘authorities’ were the rulers, leading men, among them ‘many’ believed, including Nicodemus, Joseph of Arimathea and others, John 3:1-2 / John 19:33. Perhaps this was even more saddening to the people, when even leaders who did believe in Jesus, those who saw the light but were intimidated into not proclaiming it.

The Pharisees had said that all believing in Jesus would be put out of their local synagogues and would not be able to worship at the temple. Nothing could be worse and so these people chose the recognition of man rather than that of God.

‘Then Jesus cried out, “Whoever believes in me does not believe in me only, but in the one who sent me. The one who looks at me is seeing the one who sent me. I have come into the world as a light, so that no one who believes in me should stay in darkness. “If anyone hears my words but does not keep them, I do not judge that person. For I did not come to judge the world, but to save the world. There is a judge for the one who rejects me and does not accept my words; the very words I have spoken will condemn them at the last day. For I did not speak on my own, but the Father who sent me commanded me to say all that I have spoken. I know that his command leads to eternal life. So, whatever I say is just what the Father has told me to say.’ John 12:44-50

These verses represent Jesus’ summary of His claims, it was a public declaration, but John doesn’t say when or where made it was made. Jesus gels His claims in reference to belief, light, judgment, and eternal life.

This was the last time that Jesus addressed the crowds before being arrested and so, He makes one last, almost desperate plea to the people to accept Him as the Light and He refers to His authority.

He emphasises that His task isn’t to judge but to bring light and salvation. Take Jesus and escape judgement, which comes not only from the Son but from the Father as well. He is the Father’s ambassador, to believe in Him is to believe in the Father.

‘To see’ means to observe, contemplate Him is to see, observe, contemplate the Father, John 1:18 / John 13:20 / John 14:9. He came as the divine light to dispel spiritual darkness, John 8:12. He came to save, not to judge the world, John 3:16-17.

One who rejects Jesus’ teaching will finally be judged by that teaching. His teaching isn’t of human origin, it is the Father’s commandment, bringing eternal life to the believer.

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