John 12:1-50

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Six days before the Passover, Jesus and the apostles arrived in Bethany. This village, situated about two miles (c. 3 kilometers) from Jerusalem, was the home of Lazarus (whom he had raised from the dead), Martha, and Mary. (12:1)

Sometime during their stay, Jesus and his disciples were guests in the home of “Simon the leper.” Simon doubtless was a believer whom Jesus had cured of his leprosy, but the designation “Simon the leper” served to distinguish him from the other disciples with the same name. Lazarus was among those partaking of the meal, and his sister Martha served the guests. Their sister Mary had brought with her an alabaster container of costly ointment, one pound (Roman pound [c. 11.5 ounces; c. 327 grams]) of genuine nard. While Jesus and the other guests were reclining at the table to eat, Mary approached Jesus and began pouring the perfumed ointment on his head. After applying it to his feet, she wiped them with her hair. The entire house became permeated with the aroma of the fragrant ointment. (12:2, 3; see also Matthew 26:6, 7; Mark 14:3.)

There is uncertainty about when Jesus and the apostles were guests in the home of Simon the leper. The mention of Jesus’ anointing with costly ointment, the objections raised regarding it, and his response provide the basis for concluding that Matthew 26:6-13, Mark 14:3-9, and John 12:2-8 relate to the same event. The account in John 12:2-8 (though unique in identifying Mary as the woman and Judas as the one who raised the objection) does not refer to the house of Simon the leper nor specifically say when in relation to the six days after his arrival in Bethany Jesus and the apostles were guests in the home. In Matthew 26 and Mark 14, the incident is narrated after the mention of “two days” until the Passover. (Matthew 26:2; Mark 14:1)

Judas, who would later betray Jesus, appears to have been first to object to what Mary had done, raising the question as to why the ointment had not been sold for 300 denarii and the proceeds given to the poor. In indignation, other disciples then similarly expressed themselves. They could not understand why the nard had been wasted instead of sold and the money given to the poor. (12:4, 5; see also Matthew 26:8, 9; Mark 14:4, 5.)

Mary’s act was an expression of deep love and appreciation for Jesus and what he had done for her and her sister and brother. No words, acts, or gifts could have fully expressed the depth of gratitude Mary must have felt in having her brother brought back to life. The costly ointment, with a value of about a year’s wages (300 denarii, with a denarius being the daily pay for a common laborer), likely was the most precious item that Mary possessed. Whether she had obtained it to anoint Jesus with it or initially bought it for another purpose is not revealed in the account. Jesus’ words indicate that Mary’s use of the ointment was an expression of the full limit of what she was able to do for him in view of his imminent death and burial. (12:3, 5, 7)

It is generally believed that the source of the nard or spikenard is Nardostachys jatamansi, a plant that grows in the Himalayas. If the nard did come from distant India, this would explain why the ointment had a very high value. (12:3)

In his Natural History, first-century Roman scholar Pliny the Elder wrote concerning nard: “Of the leaf, which is that of the nard, it is only right to speak somewhat more at length, as it holds the principal place among our unguents. The nard is a shrub with a heavy, thick root, but short, black, brittle, and yet unctuous as well; it has a musty smell, too, very much like that of the cyperus, with a sharp, acrid taste, the leaves being small, and growing in tufts. The heads of the nard spread out into ears; hence it is that nard is so famous for its two-fold production, the spike or ear, and the leaf. There is another kind, again, that grows on the banks of the Ganges, but is altogether condemned, as being good for nothing; it bears the name of ozænitis, and emits a fetid odour. Nard is adulterated with a sort of plant called pseudo-nard, which is found growing everywhere, and is known by its thick, broad leaf, and its sickly colour, which inclines to white. It is sophisticated, also, by being mixed with the root of the genuine nard, which adds very considerably to its weight. Gum is also used for the same purpose, antimony, and cyperus; or, at least, the outer coat of the cyperus. Its genuineness is tested by its lightness, the redness of its colour, its sweet smell, and the taste more particularly, which parches the mouth, and leaves a pleasant flavour behind it; the price of spikenard is one hundred denarii per pound.” (English translation edited by John Bostock and H. T. Riley)

While others doubtless were sincere in their expressions about giving the proceeds from the sale of the nard to the poor, Judas had ulterior motives. He had been entrusted with the bag or box for keeping the common fund and had been stealing from it. (12:6)

Jesus came to Mary’s defense, telling those who objected to leave her alone and not to make trouble for her. He went on to say that she had done a good deed, one that had been undertaken prior to his burial. While there would always be the poor whom they would be able to assist, the disciples would not always have Jesus personally with them. (12:7, 8; see also Matthew 26:10-12; Mark 14:6-8.)

When the news spread that Jesus was in Bethany, many came to see, not only him but also Lazarus whom he had resurrected. Quite a number became believers because of what had happened to Lazarus. Therefore, in an effort to prevent more Jews from believing in Jesus, the chief priests determined to kill Lazarus. (12:9-11)

According to John 12:12-15, the “next day” Jesus, seated on a donkey’s colt, headed for Jerusalem. This could be the day after Mary used the costly ointment. In Matthew and Mark, however, the narrative about the entry into Jerusalem precedes the account concerning the meal in Simon’s home. (Matthew 21:1-11; Mark 11:1-11)

In view of the mention of “six days” (12:1) and then the “next day” in John 12:12, it would appear that a chronological sequence is being followed, which would mean that the words in Matthew 26:6-13 and Mark 14:3-9 are not in chronological order. On the other hand, there is a possibility that the “next day” refers only to the day after the chief priests planned to kill Lazarus (12:10, 11) and that the incident involving the meal is not in chronological sequence. In that case, the meal in Simon’s home should be regarded as having taken place after Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem.

As Jesus headed for Jerusalem, an increasing number of people began to accompany him. Many placed their outer garments on the road ahead of him, and others laid down leafy branches they had cut from nearby trees. (Matthew 21:8; Mark 11:8; Luke 19:36) When word reached Jerusalem that Jesus was coming, a large crowd, with palm branches in their hands, went out to meet him. One of the reasons for doing so was their having heard about his having resurrected Lazarus. (12:12, 13, 17, 18)

When Jesus reached the location where the road began to descend over the western slope of the Mount of Olives, his disciples and many others joyfully shouted, “Hosanna,” and acknowledged Jesus as one who came in God’s name (or as representing the Most High) and as being the king of Israel. Among the expressions the extant accounts represent as coming from the lips of those who walked ahead of him and those who followed were, “Hosanna to the Son of David,” “Blessed [be] the one coming in the Lord’s name,” “Blessed [be] the coming kingdom of our father David,” “Blessed [be] the king coming in the Lord’s name,” “Hosanna in the [highest] heights,” and “In heaven peace, and glory in the [highest] heights.” (12:13; see also Matthew 21:9; Mark 11:9, 10; Luke 19:37, 38.)

“Hosanna” means “help, I pray,” “save, I pray,” or “save, please.” If regarded as an exclamation of praise, the words “hosanna in the [highest] heights” may denote “praise be to the Most High.” Luke 19:38, when introducing the expressions of the disciples, does refer to their joyfully praising God concerning all the works of power they had seen. Another possibility is that the words “hosanna in the [highest] heights” serve as an appeal for the angelic hosts to share in joyfully crying out, “Hosanna!” In that case, “hosanna” (linked, as it is, to Jesus) could convey a meaning comparable to “God save the Son of David.” (12:13)

When Jesus rode on a young donkey to Jerusalem, this fulfilled the prophecy of Zechariah 9:9, “Fear not, daughter of Zion. Look! Your king is coming, sitting on a donkey’s colt.” At the time, the disciples did not understand that this prophecy was then being fulfilled. After Jesus was “glorified,” or after his death and resurrection as the one who had conquered the world and had been granted all authority in heaven and on earth, they recalled what had been written in the Scriptures and what had been done when Jesus rode to Jerusalem. (12:14-16)

Upon seeing Jesus ride into Jerusalem, the inhabitants of the city were stirred up, and they asked, “Who is this?” “The prophet Jesus from Nazareth of Galilee,” came back the reply from the crowd that had accompanied him. (Matthew 21:10, 11) Among them were persons who had been present when Jesus resurrected Lazarus, and they added their testimony about what they had witnessed. News about the resurrection of Lazarus prompted many others to meet Jesus. Observing the multitude around Jesus, the unbelieving Pharisees were greatly disturbed. They apparently recognized that they had failed in their efforts to stop fellow Jews from following Jesus. Their efforts had been of no use, and they were at a loss about what they could do. Numerous modern translations are more specific than is the Greek text when quoting what the Pharisees said to one another. “You see? You’ve accomplished nothing. Look ― the world has gone after Him!” (HCSB) “You see, we are not succeeding at all! Look, the whole world is following him.” (TEV) “There’s nothing we can do. Look, everyone has gone after him.” (NLT) “There is nothing that can be done! Everyone in the world is following Jesus.” (CEV) (12:17-19)

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. (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). (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. (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. (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. (Compare Luke 22:42 regarding Jesus’ prayer shortly before his arrest.) The Nestle-Aland Greek text (twenty-seventh edition), however, punctuates Jesus’ expression about being saved “from this hour” as a question and not as a prayerful request that ends with a period. Numerous modern translations likewise render the words as a question that has “no” as the answer or as the implied answer. “And what should I say — ‘Father, save me from this hour’? No, it is for this reason that I have come to this hour.” (NRSV) “Now my heart is troubled — and what shall I say? Shall I say, ‘Father, do not let this hour come upon me’? But that is why I came — so that I might go through this hour of suffering.” (TEV) “Now I am deeply troubled, and I don’t know what to say. But I must not ask my Father to keep me from this time of suffering. In fact, I came into the world to suffer.” (CEV) (12:27)

Jesus recognized that submission to his Father’s will mattered most, motivating him to say, “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.” 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. (12:27, 28; see also 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 glorify [my name] again.” 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. (12:28)

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. (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. (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. (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. (12:34)

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.” (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.” (12:36)

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. (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 the heart [mind], and they change [literally, turn], and I would heal them.” (12:39, 40)

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.

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. (12:40, 41)

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.” 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. Possibly the rulers included Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus who later chose the right course, identifying themselves as disciples. (12:42, 43)

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 believe 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. (12:36, 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.” 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. (12:47-50; 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. (12:50)