Jesus Anointed At Bethany


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.

‘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.’ John 12:1-3

Here in John 12:1, we find some confusion over the timing, Matthew 26:2 and Mark 14:1 suggest that this occurred at a different time. 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’ the main meal, usually in the evening 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 the host, there were 17 people present, Simon, Jesus, the Twelve, Lazarus, Mary and 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 John 12:1-2.

The Anointing

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’s 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 us 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 respectability under the compulsion of love.

This was the second time something such as this had happened to the Lord, Luke 7:38, 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.

The Objection

‘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.’ John 12:4-6

Here 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, but 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.

The Lesson From Judas

Jesus demands total honesty from His followers and here, in the midst of the group of believers is this thief. Judas, the man who was to sell the Lord for thirty pieces of silver was already guilty, Matthew 26:15. The lesson to be learnt here is interesting, any man, given the responsibility of keeping the ‘church funds’ needs to calculate the spending without error. He must keep an unquestionable account of all entrusted to him and he must be unscrupulously honest, ready to give account at all times.

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.

‘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.’ John 12:7-8

Mary was being criticised by Judas, and if we seek the parallel account in the Gospels, we see that Jesus comes to her rescue, Matthew 26:13 / Mark 14:8. 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, and 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.

‘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 12:9-11

‘The large 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 11:45 and so, they plotted ‘to kill Lazarus as well’. 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 / Acts 24:8.

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.


When Mary anointed Jesus, it was a beautiful act of love in service for her Master, and just as Christ said, we still speak about her act of love today. This is just one of the things she will be always remembered for, but what about us today? What will people remember about us when we go to be with the Lord?

I’ve often said and believe this with all my heart that I could preach a hundred of the best sermons you’ve ever heard preached and most people would forget them within a few days or weeks or months.

But if I were to do one act of kindness for someone, Matthew 10:42, they would remember that one act of kindness all the days of their lives.

Some people will be remembered for their Bible knowledge, some will be remembered because they were great preachers of God’s Word, some will be remembered as great cooks or bakers, some as great singers, great hosts but then there will always be some Mary’s around, who lovingly serve the Lord without making a song and dance about it. Those little acts of love speak louder than words.

What will you be remembered for doing!