Back to Jerusalem and to the Temple (Matthew 21:12-19; Mark 11:12-19; Luke 19:45-48; John 12:20-50)

With his apostles, Jesus left Bethany early the next morning, and he was hungry. On the way, he noticed a fig tree that already had leaves, which would have been early for that time of the year. In the spring, the tree produces the first figs on the previous season’s growth and before it is in full leaf. Therefore, though it was not the season for figs, the leaves on the tree suggested that there would be fruit on it. Therefore, Jesus approached the tree but found no fruit, indicating that it was a barren tree. In the hearing of the disciples, he then said, “May no one ever again eat fruit from you.” (Matthew 21:18, 19; Mark 11:12-14; see the Notes section for additional comments.)

Upon arriving in Jerusalem, Jesus went to the temple with his apostles. He then put a stop to the commercial activity being carried out in the temple precincts. This would have been in the Court of the Gentiles. Jesus drove out all who were buying and selling, and overturned the tables of the money changers and the seats of those who were selling doves. He also did not permit anyone to carry a vessel through the area, thereby preventing people from using the temple courtyard as a shortcut when engaged in common daily activities. To all those who disregarded the sanctity of the temple area, he said, “It is written [in Isaiah 56:7, LXX], ‘My house will be called a house of prayer,’ but you are making it a ‘cave of bandits’ [Jeremiah 7:11, LXX].” (Matthew 21:12, 13; Mark 11:15-17; Luke 19:45, 46; see the Notes section for additional comments.)

When the chief priests and scribes heard what Jesus had done, they were highly displeased and wanted to kill him. (Mark 11:18) This suggests that they may have profited from the exchanging of money and the buying and selling.

According to ancient Jewish sources, there were times when those who sold sacrificial animals charged exorbitant prices. One example of this was when pairs of doves were sold for 25 times above the regular price. (Mishnah, Keritot 1:7) Money changers profited from exchanging coins that could not be used for the payment of the temple tax, contributions for the support of the temple, and perhaps also for the purchase of sacrificial animals.

While Jesus was in the temple precincts, the blind and the lame came to him, and he healed them. Youths in the temple area cried out, “Hosanna to the Son of David,” either meaning “Praise to the Son of David” (NCV) or “Save, please, the Son of David.” The designation “Son of David” identified Jesus as the promised Messiah. It is likely that the children imitated their parents and other adults who had earlier thus expressed themselves. (Matthew 21:14, 15)

When the chief priests and the scribes saw the marvelous things Jesus did, restoring sight to the blind and curing the lame, and heard him being acknowledged as the “Son of David,” they became indignant. They challengingly asked Jesus whether he did not hear what the youths were saying, indicating thereby that they wanted him to stop them. He replied, “Yes,” and then asked them whether they had never read, “Out of the mouth of babes and sucklings you have prepared praise [Psalm 8:3, LXX].” (Matthew 21:15, 16; see Psalm 8, in the Commentary section, for additional information.)

The unbelieving leaders of the nation regarded Jesus as a threat, fearing a potential conflict with Rome. They wanted him dead but were afraid to act, for he astounded the multitude with his teaching. With the crowds being eager to hear Jesus, the influential members of the nation could not find a way to destroy him without precipitating an uprising among the people. (Mark 11:18; 14:2; Luke 19:47, 48; John 11:48)

Among those who had come to the festival to worship were some Greeks. Their not being referred to as proselytes may indicate that they were not such but had come to believe in the one true God. Either on this or another day, these God-fearing non-Jews approached Philip, the apostle from Bethsaida in Galilee, and expressed their desire to see Jesus. Possibly they chose to speak to Philip because of his Greek name, meaning “fond of horses.” It appears that Philip was unsure about what he should do and so first spoke to Andrew about the desire of the Greeks. Then both of them went to Jesus and informed him about this. (John 12:20-22)

Against the backdrop of the desire of the Greeks to see him, Jesus foretold that there would be even greater response to him after his death and subsequent glorification, which would have included his resurrection and ascension to heaven as the one to whom all authority in heaven and on earth had been entrusted. He then said that the “hour” or time had come for the “Son of Man to be glorified.” Illustrating that his death would result in an increase in disciples, he referred to a grain of wheat as dying (or ceasing to exist as just one grain) and thereafter bearing much fruit. If it did not fall on the ground (being sown), it would remain just a single grain. Indicating that he was conveying an important truth, Jesus prefaced his statement with a repetition of a solemn “amen” (truly). (John 12:23, 24)

Suggesting that the resulting increase after his death would be through the activity of his disciples, Jesus called attention to the need for courage. Intense opposition to their activity could even lead to their death. Therefore, the one who loved his “soul” (life), failing to remain loyal to Jesus out of fear, would lose it. The unfaithful one would forfeit his relationship with the Son of God and his Father and thus lose out on the real or eternal life. On the other hand, the person who “hates his soul in this world” or does not make the preservation of his present life more important than loyalty to Christ would be safeguarding it “for eternal life.” Even though the faithful individual may be put to death, he would retain his eternal relationship with the Son of God and his Father. For the loyal disciple, life in the age to come would be certain. (John 12:25)

Those who would serve the Lord Jesus Christ would follow him, heeding his teaching and imitating his example. With reference to the blessing awaiting the faithful servant, Jesus said, “My servant will also be there where I am. If anyone serves me, [my] Father will honor him.” As Jesus returned to the realm above, his faithful disciples would come to be there with him and be honored by the Father as his approved children. (John 12:26)

Seemingly, as Jesus considered what lay ahead for his disciples, he began to think about the suffering and excruciating death he would shortly face. Within himself he sensed a disturbing upheaval, prompting him to say, “My soul is troubled,” and causing him to wonder just what expression he should make. Greatly distressed in spirit, he prayed, “Father, save me from this hour.” If the possibility of being delivered from a dreadful end had been an option, Jesus would have wanted to be rescued. He realized, however, that submission to his Father’s will mattered most. So he immediately added, “But therefore I have come to this hour.” The culminating purpose for his coming to the earth had been to make possible the rescue of the world of mankind from sin and death through his own sacrificial death. As the obedient Son who delighted to do his Father’s will, Jesus turned his attention away from himself and prayed, “Father, glorify your name.” (John 12:27, 28) It was his Father’s will for him to lay down his life, and Jesus’ prayer was that doing it would glorify his Father’s name (or his Father, the bearer of the name). The glorification consisted of the ultimate revelation of his Father’s love and compassion for humankind. (John 3:16; Romans 5:8-11; 1 John 4:9, 10)

In response to his prayer, a voice resounded from heaven, “And I have glorified [my name] and will again glorify [my name].” (John 12:28) Through the miracles and works of power he enabled his Son to perform, the Father had glorified himself, with many expressing praise to him for the marvelous deeds that brought relief to the afflicted. Then, through his Son’s death and subsequent resurrection, he would once again glorify his name or bring glory to himself. In increasing numbers, believers would thank and praise him.

A crowd of people heard the voice from heaven but they appear not to have understood the words. Some concluded that it had thundered, whereas others thought that an angel had spoken to Jesus. He, however, told them that the voice had resounded for them or their benefit and not for him. (John 12:29, 30)

Through his death in faithfulness, Jesus would triumph over the powers of darkness, ending the tyranny of the ruler of the world who would be unable to restrain anyone from transferring to the realm where God rules through his Son. Therefore, Jesus spoke of the judging or condemning of the world (exposing the world of mankind to be alienated from his Father) and the ejection of Satan, the ruler of this world. (John 12:31)

The effect of Jesus’ being “lifted up” from the earth would be his drawing “all” to him, indicating that people from everywhere would respond to him in faith and accept his having died for them. The expression “lifted up” indicated that he would be lifted up on the implement on which he would be crucified. Understanding Jesus as having referred to his experiencing the kind of death associated with being “lifted up,” certain ones in the crowd expressed the view that the “law” or their holy writings indicated that the Christ would remain forever. So they asked Jesus why he said the Son of Man would be lifted up and who this one is. (John 12:32-34)

No specific part of the Hebrew Scriptures says that the Messiah would remain forever. Possibly based on what they had heard about the coming Messiah, they came to this conclusion. Psalm 89:36(37) did point to the permanence of rule in the line of David, and Daniel 7:13, 14 portrays someone “like a son of man” being granted eternal dominion, and it may be that such passages provided a basis for the belief that the Messiah or Christ would remain forever.

The Son of God did not answer their question directly. His words, however, should have made it possible for them to recognize that he was the promised Messiah, the one through whom true enlightenment was available. It would only be a little while longer that the “light” (he as the one through whom the light was available) would be among them. Jesus admonished the people to “walk” while they had the light, conforming their ways to what the light revealed, and avoiding the hazards of walking in darkness or without the dependable guidance he provided. Persons who walked in darkness would not know where they were going, placing themselves in danger. At this point, the Son of God clarified that faith in him was essential. “While you have the light, believe in the light, that you may become sons of light.” (John 12:35, 36)

All who put faith in Jesus came into possession of true light, for acting in harmony with his example and teaching made it possible for them to have his Father’s approval and to conduct themselves aright. As persons fully enlightened and conducting themselves accordingly, they would be able to testify concerning God’s Son, imparting light or enlightenment to others. Thus, through their conduct and testimony, they would prove to be “sons of light.”

At this point, Jesus left and concealed himself from the unbelieving people. This suggests that he recognized that his life was in danger, but it was then not the time for him to give up his life. (John 12:36)

Although Jesus had performed many “signs” or miracles, the people did not believe in him. In their case, the words of prophet Isaiah were fulfilled, for they manifested the same unresponsiveness to Jesus as did their forefathers to Isaiah and the message he proclaimed. “Lord [LXX, but not in the extant Hebrew text], who has believed our message? And to whom has the arm of the Lord [YHWH, Hebrew text] been revealed?” (Isaiah 53:1, LXX; John 12:36-38)

The implied answer is that the message (or the word of which the Most High was the source and, therefore, of what Isaiah and Jesus had heard from him) was not believed. Although God had revealed his “arm” or his activity and power, the contemporaries of Isaiah and of Jesus generally remained blind to it. The reason for their unbelief is set forth in Isaiah 6:10, “He has blinded their eyes and hardened their heart [mind], that they may not see with their eyes and perceive with their heart [mind], and they change [literally, turn], and I would heal them.” (John 12:39, 40; see the Notes section for additional comments.)

According to John 12:41, “Isaiah said these things because he saw his glory and spoke about it.” The prophet did have a vision of the glory of God after which he said, “My eyes have seen the King, YHWH of hosts.” (Isaiah 6:1-5) Being the perfect reflection of the Father or his very image, the Son possessed the glory that Isaiah saw in vision. (John 1:14; Colossians 1:15; Hebrews 1:3) Isaiah also spoke prophetically concerning him. (Isaiah 9:6, 7; 53:1-12) Accordingly, the words of Isaiah could be represented as spoken by one who saw Christ’s glory and whose experience with unbelief to the message from the Most High found its exact parallel or fulfillment in the case of Jesus. The Father did not prevent the people from choosing to remain blind and refusing to believe and change. Consequently, he is represented as blinding their eyes and hardening their heart.

Nevertheless, not all of the people remained unresponsive. Even among the prominent ones (“rulers”) of the nation, there were those who believed. But, at the time, because of the unbelieving Pharisees, they did not openly acknowledge him as the Christ, not wanting to be cast out of the synagogue. They were more concerned about maintaining their honorable standing in the Jewish community (“the glory of men”) than about glorifying God by honoring his Son. Thus they revealed themselves to be persons who loved “the glory of men more than the glory of God.” (John 12:42, 43; see the Notes section for additional comments.) The expression “glory of God” could (as commonly rendered) mean the glory he bestows on those who put faith in his Son, accepting them as his beloved children.

It appears that before Jesus went into hiding he raised his voice, telling the people of the need to put faith in him. Anyone who believed in him would also be believing in the one who had sent him. Likewise, whoever saw him, recognizing him as the unique Son of God, would see the one who had sent him, for Jesus perfectly reflected his Father. No one who believed in him would remain in darkness, for Jesus had come as “light into the world,” making it possible for individuals to have his Father’s approval and to have the essential guidance for conducting themselves aright as his children. (John 12:44-46)

Jesus did not come to judge or condemn those who heard his words but did not heed them. His mission was to save the world of mankind, not to condemn it, opening up the opportunity for all to change their ways, become his disciples and his Father’s beloved children, and be liberated from sin and thus saved from condemnation. There would, however, be a basis for judgment or condemnation in case of individuals who disregarded Jesus and refused to accept what he said. “On the last day” or at the time of judgment, the “word” he had spoken would serve as judge, condemning those who deliberately rejected it. This would be because the Father was the source of Jesus’ teaching. The Son did not speak of his own but spoke only what his Father had commanded him to speak. Regarding his Father’s commandment, Jesus said, “I know that his commandment is eternal life.” (John 12:47-50) Obedience to that “commandment,” which included putting faith in the Son, would result in having an approved relationship with him and his Father, and that enduring relationship constitutes the real or eternal life. (John 17:3)

Because of what he knew about his Father’s commandment, Jesus did not in any way depart from it in his teaching. He expressed only what his Father had told him. (John 12:50)

In the evening, Jesus left Jerusalem. He and the apostles then stayed in Bethany for the night. (Matthew 21:17; Mark 11:19)


In Matthew 21:19, Jesus is represented as saying that the fig tree should never again bear fruit. Mark 11:14 conveys the same basic thought but focuses on no one’s ever again eating from its fruit. While the wording is different (being expressed in a language other than the one Jesus spoke), both passages are in agreement that the fig tree should never again bear fruit.

According to Matthew 21:19, the fig tree withered instantly. Mark 11:20, however, indicates that it was early the next morning that the apostles saw that the fig tree had already withered. So it appears that Matthew 21:19 either means that the fig tree immediately started to wither but that the process could not initially be seen or that the withering occurred in such a short time that it could be spoken of as having taken place at once.

In Mark 11:17, the quotation from Isaiah 56:7 is longer, “My house will be called a house of prayer for all the nations.”

The words in John 12:40 are not an exact quotation from the extant Septuagint text of Isaiah 6:10 nor from the extant Hebrew text. The Septuagint reading represents the unresponsiveness of the people as being their choice (“they have shut their eyes”). In the Masoretic Text and also the Dead Sea Scroll of Isaiah, the words are a directive to Isaiah (“shut their eyes”). In the Scriptures, whatever takes place by God’s permission is commonly attributed to him. Therefore, the way in which Isaiah 6:10 is quoted in John 12:40 and applied preserves the basic meaning.

Possibly the “rulers” mentioned in John 12:42 included Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus who later did identify themselves as disciples.