Jesus’ Anointing, 1-11

Burge remarks that the present chapter cannot be fully appreciated without an awareness of what has led up to it, from John’s initial statement about the struggle between light and dark (Jn 1:1-18) onwards: ‘The light is shining with brilliance in the world, calling people to join its ranks. At the same time, the forces of darkness are working to extinguish it. Men and women are being forced to choose which side is theirs, and Jesus is passionately urging them to join with God. “Put your trust in the light while you have it, so that you may become sons of light” (Jn 12:36).’

Here we have the first of two events in which Jesus is honoured, even though many do not appreciate the significance of their own actions.  The first (the anointing by Mary) has been described as ‘implicit and private’, the second (the triumphal entry) as ‘explicit and public’.

12:1 Then, six days before the Passover, Jesus came to Bethany, where Lazarus lived, whom he had raised from the dead.

Six days before the Passover – Probably the Sabbath evening before Palm Sunday.  Mark and Matthew place the event after the Triumphal Entry, but that is readily explainable in terms of the sometimes topical arrangements of the events recorded in the Synoptics.

This is probably the same event that is recorded in Mk 14:3-9 (=Mt 26:6-13).  But Lk 7:36-50 has few points of overlap, and is best seen as recording a different event (Blomberg).

There is a slight problem of chronology, in that Mk 14:1ff seems to imply that the event took place ‘two days before the Passover’.  The opinion of Ryle (following Lightfoot, Henry and some others), that there were probably two anointings within a few days of each other, seems rather desperate, given the similarities between the account of Matthew, Mark, and John.  It may be that Mark has located it thematically, whereas John has placed it chronologically.  As Carson remarks, ‘the time indicators in Matthew/Mark are notoriously loose’; and, long before, Hutcheson had noted that Matthew ‘doth not observe the order of time’ in respect of the supper, the triumphal entry, and so on.  So it it is possible that John has given a more precise time indicator than Mark, but he also ties the event closely to the raising of Lazarus and to the plot to kill Jesus.

Alternatively, it is also possible read John as saying that whereas Jesus came to Bethany six days before the Passover, the anointing took place at some indeterminate time after this.

Jonathan McClatchie, while regarding the historicity of the Gospels as highly reliable, nevertheless is unpersuaded by attempts at harmonisation:

‘John implies that it took place shortly after Jesus’ arrival in Bethany (before the triumphal entry into Jerusalem), while Mark implies that it took place after the triumphal entry. Craig Blomberg proposes that Mark is deliberately narrating events a-chronologically for thematic reasons since Jesus says that the anointing is for his burial (Mk 14:8; Jn 12:7). He notes that “Mark 14:3…is linked with verse 2 merely by a kai (and) and goes on to describe an incident that takes place at some unspecified time while Jesus ‘was in Bethany’. Once we observe that both Mark and John have Jesus interpreting the anointing as preparation for his burial, one can understand why Mark would insert the story immediately preceding a description of other foreshadowings of his death, including his last meal with the Twelve.”  Another idea, which also involves appealing to a-chronological narration, has been proposed by the late Steve Hays, namely, that Mark may have composed 14:1-2 and subsequently broken off his writing before returning to write concerning the anointing at Bethany as another episode that occurred during the Passion week (though not intending to connect it to verses 1-2 which state that the Passover was two days away).  However, on the hypothesis of a-chronological narration, one might have expected Mark to supply more information concerning what happened on Wednesday, prior to the discussion of the anointing at Bethany. Instead, there is almost no narrative in Mark between that careful chronological marker and the anointing at Bethany. All Mark tells us concerning that day is that “the chief priests and the scribes were seeking how to arrest him by stealth and kill him, for they said, ‘Not during the feast, lest there be an uproar from the people,’” (Mk 14:1-2), but Mark has already indicated in 12:12 that “they were seeking to arrest him but feared the people, for they perceived that he had told the parable against them. So they left him and went away.”’

McClatchie quotes Lydia McGrew:

‘Since Mark introduces the day in 14.1, he presumably intends to narrate some substantial events that happened on that day. Why would he make such an explicit time reference in 14.1, narrate only the decision of the Jewish leaders on that day, break off abruptly to tell about something that happened several days earlier, and then return in verse 10 to the narrative of events on Wednesday? This would be an extremely choppy composition process indeed, almost as if he did not even read what he had last written when he began narrating the dinner at Bethany. And even if that were the case, why would he not have some better time indicator when returning to Wednesday in verse 10? Mark has been indicating the days in his narrative of Passion Week from Sunday to Wednesday fairly clearly (Mark 11.11-12, 19-20, 13.1-3, 14.1). It would be surprising if he suddenly began narrating achronologically in 14.3, even as an artifact of breaking off and resuming writing. It is far simpler to take it that Mark intends all of the events at the beginning of Chapter 14 to occur on Wednesday.’

Bethany is situated less than two miles from Jerusalem.

MHC comments that Jesus’ coming to Bethany may be considered as (a) ‘a preface to the passover he intended to celebrate’; (b) ‘a voluntary exposing of himself to the fury of his enemies’; (c) ‘an instance of his kindness to his friends at Bethany, whom he loved’.

12:2 So they prepared a dinner for Jesus there. Martha was serving, and Lazarus was among those present at the table with him.

We would assume, from this account, that this dinner took place in the home of Lazarus, Martha and Mary.  Mt 26:6–13 and Mk 14:3–9, however, place it in the home of Simon the Leper.  In this case, Martha was enlisted to help serving the meal that was held in Simon’s house.  As Carson remarks, the theory that Simon the Leper was father of Lazarus, Martha and Mary is neat, but without clear evidence to support it.  The theory that Simon, who as a leper would not have been allowed to live within the village, let his house to Martha and her siblings, is also plausible, but far from certain.

They prepared a dinner for Jesus – ‘They’ may mean the people of the village, or the family.  Or it may be indeterminate (as in NIV – ‘a dinner was given’).

This dinner might originally have been planned as a funeral banquet following Lazarus’ death (cf. Jer 16:5-9; Amos 6:4-7).  But the deceased is an honoured guest instead, with his Saviour present as the most honoured guest!

Martha was serving – This picture of Martha, and her sister worshiping (v3) is consistent with the picture presented in the Synoptic Gospels. Cf. Lk 10:38-42.

MHC observes: ‘Christ had formerly reproved Martha for being troubled with much serving. But she did not therefore leave off serving, as some, who, when they are reproved for one extreme, peevishly run into another; no, still she served.’

On the assumption that the meal was held in the house of Simon the Leper, Blomberg comments that ‘Simon’s past or present leprosy may have prevented him from marrying: in a culture defined by traditional gender roles we should not be surprised that a female neighbour like Martha helps to serve the meal.’

Lazarus was among those reclining – Providing visible, bodily proof of his own resurrection.  ‘He was not a ghost or a spirit. He had really been raised to life with a real body, and flesh and bones, and all the wants and conditions of a body. Thus we are practically taught that though a man’s body dies, it may yet live again.’ (Ryle)

This statement would support the view that Lazarus was not the host at this supper, but a guest.  As previously noted, according to Mk 14:3 the meal took place at the home of Simon the Leper (and the Dead Sea Scrolls confirm that there was a leper colony near Bethany).

We may suppose that the intensity of Mary’s devotion to Jesus was due in no small measure to the fact that her brother, whose body recently lay cold and lifeless in the tomb, was now fully restored to life and health.

Milne’s comment is evocative:

‘Thus Jesus’ public ministry, which began for John at the wedding feast in Cana, moves to its close with another social occasion at Bethany. The mood, however, is strikingly different. At Cana, Jesus and the disciples had attended in the anticipation of their newly launched mission, the bringing of the sparkling new wine of the kingdom to the tired, insipid waters of Judaism. The mood was buoyant, even exuberant. Here the tone is significantly different. Dark, heavy clouds are massing on the horizon; there is a burden in the heart of Jesus. The celebration is muted. The talk is of burial rather than renewal.’

Yet, as Milne also notes, the atmosphere is not completely dark.  This very gathering for a meal reminds us ‘the coming day when those from north and south, east and west will sit down together in the kingdom of God.’  Moreover, the very presence of Lazarus is a sign of hopefulness.

12:3 Then Mary took three quarters of a pound of expensive aromatic oil from pure nard and anointed the feet of Jesus. She then wiped his feet dry with her hair. (Now the house was filled with the fragrance of the perfumed oil.)

A pound of…pure nard – about 326 grams, a large quantity.  The perfume was extracted from a Himalayan plant, Nardostachys jatamansi, and therefore very expensive to produce and import.  As Milne remarks, it was definitely not one of your cheap brands from the local supermarket!  Today, 10ml would cost around £15.00.  Nard was red, and sweet-smelling.

We do not know how Mary came but this hugely expensive perfume.  We can conjecture that her family was wealthy, or that the item was a family heirloom.

Mary…anointed the feet of Jesus – Possible because, as the guests reclined, they would be leaning towards the central table, with their feet pointing away.  Given this posture, it would have been possible for any part (or all parts – see the following discussion) of the body to be anointed.

Matthew and Mark say that she anointed his head.  Certainly, the head was the usual site for an anointing, it being regarded as the most honourable part of the body.  Anointing of the feet was much rarer, and any care given to the feet was considered a menial task, usually delegated to servants.  Carson points out the quantity of nard was considerable, and so the anointing would probably have extended beyond the head or the feet anyway.  Both Matthew (Mt 26:12) and Mark (Mk 14:8) record Jesus as referring to his ‘body’ having been anointed.  Calvin agrees that the reference to the feet implies that the whole body was anointed.

‘It is possible that Matthew and Mark refer specifically to Jesus’ head in order to emphasize that he is being honored as king, an emphasis that would fit well within their Gospels. Conversely, while John’s account does not ignore royal overtones (the next event is Jesus’ triumphal entry), John is likely mentioning Jesus’ feet to highlight the woman’s humility before Jesus.’ (Holman Apologetics Commentary)

Kluck says that in the OT anointing was particularly associated with royalty or priesthood (Ex 28:41; 1 Sam 10:1–13; 16:12–13).  Jesus’ kingship is prominent in the Fourth Gospel (Jn 1:49; 6:15; 12:13–15; 18:33–19:3; 19:13–22).  Indeed,

‘the full picture of the enthronement of Jesus is the Son of Man “lifted up” on the cross (Jn 3:14; 12:32).’  In the present passage, his kingship is ‘implicit and private’, while in the next (Jn 12:12-19) it is ‘explicit and public’.  But, of course, the whole thing is fraught with irony, ‘For just as he is being anointed for his burial (v. 7), so also will he be enthroned as king not with honor but with shame (Jn 19:2–3) and not on a throne but on a cross (Jn 19:19).’

Lincoln, however, thinks that the fact that the anointing is of Jesus’ feet, and not his head, precludes the idea of a royal or messianic anointing.  But the text does not say that she did not anoint his head, but only that she did anoint his feet.

Lincoln remarks that

‘Mary’s anointing of Jesus’ feet completes this narrative’s positive characterization of the two sisters. While Martha’s Christological insights are primarily in the context of issues of resurrection, Mary’s special perception is associated with concerns about death.’

She then wiped his feet dry with her hair – An act of great devotion, since a woman’s hair was considered to be her crowning glory (1 Cor 11:15; 1 Pet 3:3).  This detail is also mentioned in Jn 11:2 (cf. Lk 7:44).

Klink says that such an action would have been viewed as scandalous, but ‘a sign of extreme gratitude and an expression of humility.’

She kneels face down at his feet, anointing him with fragrant oil at great expense, using her own soft hair in an act of adoration and homage.  She treats him as the King he is:

‘In sharp contrast to what King Jesus would receive by the Jewish authorities and Roman guards in John 19, here Mary opens herself to shame to magnify the honor rightly due her Lord.’ (Klink)

Wright comments on Mary’s

‘apparently outrageous gesture of anointing Jesus’ feet and wiping them with her hair. She would need to let it down for the purpose; that’s roughly the equivalent, at a modern polite dinner party, of a woman hitching up a long skirt to the top of her thighs. You can imagine the onlookers’ reaction. Had she no shame? What was she trying to say—to Jesus, to the onlookers?’

Mary adopts the only appropriate posture for a disciple:

‘Drenched in the fragrance of Christ, Mary performed what Paul preached: “We are to God the pleasing aroma of Christ” (2 Cor 2:15).’ (Klink)

Morris remarks that anointing would normally be associated with festivity, rather than with funerals.  Burge points out that the very quantity of oil used would be suggestive of embalming, and therefore anticipating what Jesus is about to say about preparation for burial:

‘Embalming spices were commonplace in the first century (Jn 12:7; 19:39), and the quantity of Mary’s perfume evokes images of an embalmed body. While the men surrounding Jesus will ask questions in the Upper Room and will find Jesus’ decision to die incomprehensible (Jn 13:36ff.), here is the image of Mary who asks no questions but gently begins to prepare her Lord for the grave. She has accepted Jesus’ humble mission long before Jesus’ leading disciples have understood it.’

Following Matthew Henry, we may characterise Mary’s love for Christ as

(a) generous – sparing no expense;

(b) humble – applying her own hands and hair to Jesus’ feet;

(c) believing – demonstrating ‘faith in Jesus as the Messiah, the Christ, the Anointed, who, being both priest and king, was anointed as Aaron and David were.’

The house was filled with the fragrance of the perfumeThis would seem to be a eyewitness (nosewitness??) touch (Morris).  Lincoln contrasts this fragrance with the stench that was assumed to have been produced by Lazarus’ body, which had been dead for four days (Jn 11:39).

Lincoln also associates Mary’s action with the footwashing episode recorded in Jn 13:1-20 –

‘In the account of the footwashing Jesus will command the disciples to wash one another’s feet. Without being asked and ahead of time, Mary performs an act that is a distinguishing mark of the community of disciples. Just as her sister, Martha, has been the first to anticipate the full Johannine confession of faith in Jesus’ identity, so now Mary, another female follower of Jesus, is the first to anticipate the full Johannine model of costly loving discipleship.’

Lincoln adds:

‘This female follower has already done this for Jesus himself, and the way she did it—not with water but with an extravagant amount of extremely expensive ointment, not with a towel but with her hair—makes unmistakably clear that this is an act of costly love, the sort of devotion to Jesus that in future is also to express itself in his followers’ love for one another (cf. Jn 14:15; 15:12–13).’

Some (Carson, for example, but not Klink or Michaels) think that this should be taken as suggesting the spread of the gospel (which is referred to more directly in Mk 14:9//Mt 26:13).  But it should be understood, first and foremost, as another indication of the extravagance of Mary’s acts, and then as a connection between fragrance and royalty (in the ancient world generally, and also in Song 1:2).

Not only did the fragrance fill the entire house, but, as Burge suggests, probably remained on his body throughout the following week.  Even as he died in agony, there was a tangible reminder of Mary’s devotion.

Role reversal.  ‘In another Gospel, Jesus claims that “the Son of man came not to be served but to serve” (Mk 10:45). In John’s account we see Jesus first being served (by both Martha and Mary; see v. 2), and then serving. First we are shown the “normal” scene of a disciple at the feet of her teacher (although the extravagance of a whole pound of costly perfume was hardly “normal”!), and later we will witness the striking reversal of that procedure in Jesus’ unforgettable act of washing his disciples’ feet.’ (Michaels)
We read here, according to Milne, of Mary’s:-

  1. humble spirit, adopting a posture of subservience at Jesus’ feet (as in Lk 10:39; Jn 11:32);
  2. perceptive heart, having listened carefully to Jesus teaching (Lk 10:39 again);
  3. timely act, having kept the perfume for this moment, and used it while she had opportunity (cf. Jn 9:4; James 4:13; Gal 6:10);
  4. hostile criticism, for while Jesus may approve, others do not;
  5. great extravagance, pouring an expensive item away, out of love and generosity.
  6. fruitful service, the whole house being filled with the aroma, and (according to Mk 14:9), leaving an act of devotion that would be pondered throughout all future generations.  Nothing we do for Jesus is unrewarded (Mk 9:41) or wasted (1 Cor 15:58).

12:4 But Judas Iscariot, one of his disciples (the one who was going to betray him) said, 12:5 “Why wasn’t this oil sold for three hundred silver coins and the money given to the poor?” 12:6 (Now Judas said this not because he was concerned about the poor, but because he was a thief. As keeper of the money box, he used to steal what was put into it.)

Judas Iscariot – ‘The type of man who has money on his mind all the while’ (Hendriksen).

The one who was going to betray him – As Carson remarks, this comment does not come from any prescience on the part of the disciples, but from ‘the shocking force of hindsight.  It is as if they cannot recollect anything he said and did without also remembering that he was the one who ultimately betrayed the Lord of Glory for thirty pieces of silver.’  It is the same today: ‘celebrities’ who have had a great moral lapse find that this colours the public perception of their entire public life (think Bill Clinton, for example).

“Why wasn’t this oil sold for three hundred silver coins and the money given to the poor? – This seems very reasonable.  Would we not have agreed?  The Synoptic record indicates that Judas was at this point merely voicing the indignation of all the disciples.  But the intimation that Judas was about to betray Jesus, and that he was a thief, says enough about the hostile and hypocritical nature of his objection.

‘Incensed by the waste of a year’s wages, he went and sold Jesus for barely a third that amount.’ (Stott, The Cross of Christ, p61)

‘Judas’ disapproval of Mary’s action related not to loss of opportunity to do more for the poor but to his own loss of opportunity to steal from the common purse.’ (Kruse)

Jesus’ ‘comment on the poor was not a justification for tolerating unnecessary poverty; but it was a hint to Judas that if he were really concerned about the poor, he would never lack opportunity to aid them.’ (EBC)

‘If self-righteous piety sometimes snuffs out genuine compassion, it must also be admitted, with shame, that social activism, even that which meets real needs, sometimes masks a spirit that knows nothing of worship and adoration.’ (Ryle)

‘This carping question is a specimen of the way in which wicked men often try to depreciate a good action, and specially in the matter of giving money. When the deed is done they do not say downright that it ought not to have been done, but suggest that something better might have been done! Those who do good must be prepared to find their actions carped at and their motives depreciated, and themselves charged with neglecting one class of duties in over-zeal for doing others. If we do nothing until everybody commends and praises us, we shall never do any good in the world.’ (Ryle)

The worst may be disguised as the best.  Judas’ objection was greed masquerading as altruism (Carson).

‘It is possible for the worst of men to lurk under the disguise of the best profession; and there are many who pretend to stand in relation to Christ who really have no kindness for him. Judas was an apostle, a preacher of the gospel, and yet one that discouraged and checked this instance of pious affection and devotion.’ (MHC)

Three hundred silver coins – lit. ’33 denarii’ – a year’s wage.

Judas thought only in economic terms.  Mary judged the worth of the perfume by the worth of the One anointed with it.

He was a thief – Another detail, according to Lincoln, which suggests that the authors expects his readers to be aware of the Synoptic tradition.  Mk 14:10f makes it clear that Judas betrayed the Lord for money, and Mt 26:14-16 specifies the amount.

‘Before John sets down Christ’s answer, he doth first take off Judas’ mask.’ (Hutcheson)

As MHC pungently notes, here is:-

  1. a foul iniquity gilded over with a specious and plausible pretence, for Satan transforms himself into an angel of light.
  2. worldly wisdom passing a censure upon pious zeal, as guilty of imprudence and mismanagement…
  3. charity to the poor made a colour for opposing a piece of piety to Christ, and secretly made a cloak for covetousness.

Money bag – Likely to hold money given by Jesus’ supporters (cf. Lk 8:2f), and used to support his ministry and his disciples.

Lincoln thinks that

‘John’s additional note [about Judas being a thief] seems unlikely to be reliable historical tradition, because it raises the obvious question of why Judas was left in charge of the money-box if it was known that he was in fact stealing from it.’

It is not difficult to reconstruct plausible explanations of these events, while accepting John’s historical accuracy.  And, as Carson remarks, the charge is perfectly believable in the light of his subsequent betrayal of his Master for 30 pieces of silver.

Milne comments on Judas’ betrayal of Jesus:

‘Before ever there was a betrayal of Jesus’ person there was a betrayal of Jesus’ trust. Judas’ acting as treasurer would certainly have been with the approval of Jesus, if not by his direct appointment. Presumably he had some aptitude in this area, since clearly others might have been chosen, like Matthew, with a proven experience of monetary affairs behind them. Possibly because ‘Temptation commonly comes to us through that for which we are naturally fitted’ [Westcott], the task was given to Judas, and with it the trust of his colleagues and above all that of Jesus. And he woefully, and wickedly, betrayed it.’

What privileges Judas had enjoyed! –

‘That any one could follow Christ as a disciple for three years, see all His miracles, hear all His teaching, receive at His hand repeated kindnesses, be counted an Apostle, and yet prove rotten at heart in the end, all this at first sight appears incredible and impossible! Yet the case of Judas shows plainly that the thing can be.’
Outward profession may mask total gracelessness.  ‘Let us note here how far a man may go in Christian profession without any inward grace. There is no evidence that Judas up to this time was unlike other Apostles. Like them he had seen all Christ’s miracles, heard Christ’s teaching, lived in Christ’s company, and had himself preached the kingdom of God. Yet he was at bottom a graceless man.’ (Ryle)
12:7 So Jesus said, “Leave her alone. She has kept it for the day of my burial. 12:8 For you will always have the poor with you, but you will not always have me!”

“Leave her alone” – At the very least, her error (if error it is) is an error of love.  ‘Christ would not have those censured nor discouraged who sincerely design to please him, though in their honest endeavours there be not all the discretion that may be, Rom. 14:3. Though we would not do as they do, yet let them alone.’ (MHC)

“She has kept if for the day of my burial” – Carson favours the following sense: ‘She has kept the perfume for just such a day as this, rather than selling it and giving the proceeds to the poor.’

Lincoln insists that the translation ‘burial’ makes Jesus’ saying more difficult than necessary.  The word means ‘preparation for burial’.  In raising Lazarus, Jesus has made his own death more certain; so certain, in fact, that preparations can already be made for his burial.  Cf. Mt 26:12.

Hendriksen’s interpretation (which is also, in essence, that of Michaels) is simplest of all: ‘she had kept it in anticipation of my burial’.

For Michaels, the question then is how Mary’s action correlates with the equally extravagant anointing of Jesus’ body that took place just before his actual burial (Jn 19:39-42):

‘Quite possibly the apparent repetition is not a difficulty but the whole point, in that Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus carry out literally (and just as extravagantly!) what Mary has acted out symbolically and in advance. But that story must be told in its own context.’

As Milne remarks, the atmosphere would have chilled significantly at this point.

Lincoln points out that ‘as a result of the raising of Lazarus and the ensuing meeting of the Sanhedrin, Jesus is already under a death sentence as the anointing takes place.’

Working from the timing mentioned in v1, it is clear that in exactly one week’s time Jesus’ body would be lying, cold and lifeless, in the tomb.


‘suggests that Mary had been keeping this expensive perfume to anoint his body after death. In other words, she like Caiaphas may be saying (in her action) more than she knows. Her act of love is a prophetic statement about the fact that before too long Jesus is going to be buried—and buried so hastily that there might not be time for proper anointing, so he’d better have it right away.’ (Wright)

Wright thinks that Jesus’ words also suggest that Mary should now keep the ointment (any of it that was left) for his actual burial.  This is more conjectural.

Carson, along with a number of other commentators, thinks it unnecessary to argue that Mary consciously anticipated Jesus’ death.  Her action – intended as an act of devotion – spoke more than she knew.  On this, see also Jn 11:50f.

The actual anointing anticipated:

‘When Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea actually anointed Jesus’ body for burial after the crucifixion (Jn 19:38–42), she would know her act of devotion had preceded and foreshadowed theirs.’ (Kruse)

The King dies!  And his

‘obedience unto death’ death is God’s way – the only way – his exaltation (Phil 2:8f).  It is on the cross that he will be ‘lifted up’, and it is by his wounds that we find healing.  ‘Jesus is the Son of Man and the Suffering Servant, the Sovereign Lord and the slain Lamb (Rev 5:6); he is both King and corpse.’ (Klink)

‘The grace of Christ puts kind comments upon the pious words and actions of good people, and not only makes the best of what is amiss, but makes the most of what is good.’ (MHC)

“You will always have the poor with you” – Or, as Mk 14:7 puts it, more fully: ‘The poor you will always have with you, and you can [and should] help them any time you want.’  Cf. Deut 15:10.

Giving to the poor is a continuing responsibility

As Milne says,

‘Jesus is not teaching that giving to the poor has no place in a disciple’s financial obligations. The very existence of the alms bag among a group whose leader professed to have “nowhere to lay his head” (Lk. 9:58), and whose material legacy was only the clothes he wore to execution, speaks powerfully to every follower of Jesus of the obligation of sacrificial giving to the less fortunate.’

But Jesus, and his death, are central.  Central not only in our devotions, but as a motive and rationale for our acts of kindness and mercy.  Milne quotes Newbigin:

‘Devotion to Jesus and gratitude for his sacrifice will lead in fact to a service of the poor (which will always be needed) in a manner quite different from a legally required almsgiving. It will be in fact part of the fragrance of the gospel which is destined to fill the whole world.’

Lincoln comments:

‘The saying assumes the continuing validity of traditional Jewish obligation to the poor; cf. esp. Deut. 15:11—‘Since there will never cease to be some in need on the earth, I therefore command you, “Open your hand to the poor and needy neighbour in your land.” ’ It draws attention, however, to the significance of Mary’s deed by underlining the urgency and brevity of the time left for responding appropriately to the presence of the incarnate Logos, who is on the earth for a brief span and now approaches his imminent death.’

Klink observes:

‘What is being communicated is that the primary, even sole, object of devotion is always Jesus Christ. The poor are never an object onto themselves, but in light of God’s character and commands are ideally suited as symptomatic expressions of devotion to Christ. Just as Mary had not considered the perfume on its own but had viewed it through the lens of the worth of Jesus (in contrast to Judas; see v. 6), so also must the disciple of Jesus give full devotion to the one who deserves it above any other—Jesus Christ, our King.’

Ryle says: ‘It is clear from these words that poverty will always exist; and we need not wonder. So long as human nature is what it is, some will always be rich and some poor, because some are diligent and some idle, some are strong and some weak, some are wise and some foolish. We need never dream that by any arrangement, either civil or ecclesiastical, poverty can ever be entirely prevented. The existence of pauperism is no proof whatever that States are ill governed, or that churches are not doing their duty.’  We think that, on this occasion, the good bishop (as he was to become) could not raise himself above the social laissez-faire that also blights the (in)famous words of Mrs Alexander: ‘The rich man in his castle/The poor man at his gate/God made them, high or lowly/And ordered their estate.’

“You will not always have me” – ‘Were a mere mortal to claim such priority, he would be very ill or unspeakably arrogant. Jesus speaks this way as a matter of course, not only because he sees his cross and burial on the near horizon, but also because he knows he is to receive the same honour that is due the Father (Jn 5:23).’ (Carson)

Who are you in this story?

Wright encourages us to think about whom we most closely identify in this account:-

‘Are you with the shameless Mary, worshipping Jesus with everything she’s got, risking the wrath of her sister who’s doing all the hard work, the anger of the men who perhaps don’t quite trust their own feelings when a woman lets her hair down in public, and the sneer of the person who knows the price of everything and the value of nothing?’

‘Or are you with the cautious, prudent, reliable Judas (as he must have seemed to most of them), looking after the meagre resources of a group without steady or settled income, anxious to provide for their needs and still have something left to give to the poor? (This last was a regular preoccupation. When Judas went out at the supper (13:29), the others guessed he might have been going to give something to the poor, even at that solemn moment.) Put aside your natural inclination to distance yourself from Judas. After all, even at that last moment none of the other disciples had suspected him of treachery. Can you see just a glimpse of him as you look in the mirror?’

‘Or are you back in the kitchen with Martha? If so, how do you feel about both Mary and Judas? And how do you feel about Jesus, and what he said?’

12:9 Now a large crowd of Judeans learned that Jesus was there, and so they came not only because of him but also to see Lazarus whom he had raised from the dead. 12:10 So the chief priests planned to kill Lazarus too, 12:11 for on account of him many of the Jewish people from Jerusalem were going away and believing in Jesus.

A large crowd of Judeans – The population of Jerusalem – around 50,000 at the time – would have doubled at Passover time.  Many would have found lodging in the surrounding towns and villages.  As Burge notes: ‘The crowds brought tension to the leadership of the city (Jn 12:19), who knew that any social disruption that began at a festival could explode violently.’

The chief priests planned to kill Lazarus too – Sin, as Milne remarks, has a habit if escalating dreadfully.  Not only must Jesus be killed, but also Lazarus.  And then Stephen, and then also James.

Lincoln remarks that ‘the episode serves…as a sharp reminder that Lazarus’ resurrection is only temporary. He could die again, not peacefully but violently, and after only a relatively brief experience of new life…All this ensures that readers will not miss the force of the earlier account of the raising of Lazarus. It has not been told simply for the sake of this miracle that can so easily be reversed. It is a sign, but only a sign.’

‘If they had feared God, they would not have done such an act of defiance to him. God will have Lazarus to live by miracle, and they will have him to die by malice…If they had regarded man, they would not have done such an act of injustice to Lazarus, an innocent man, to whose charge they could not pretend to lay any crime.’ (MHC)

Going away – i.e. ‘changing their allegiance’.

Antisemitic?  No, this cannot be written off as a case of Johannine antisemitism that has no basis in history.  ‘The charge of anti-Semitism is false. John, himself a Jew, was recounting the chief priests’ plot against a particular Jew, Jesus, because other Jews believed in Jesus.’  (Holman Apologetics Commentary).  Additionally, this very passage notes that ‘many of the Jewish people from Jerusalem’ were believing in Jesus.

Milne (in his comments at the end of his section on chapter 18) adds that ‘it is not difficult to see why this charge has arisen, as the gospel portrays in stark terms the heightening conflict between Jesus and ‘the Jews’, climaxing in his accusation at their instigation (18:31f.; 19:7–16).’  But, notes Milne, in addition to the fact that Jesus himself was a Jew, there are over 70 references to ‘the Jews’ that are neutral (e.g. Jn 2:6), along with others that are actually positive (e.g. Jn 4:9,22).  The opposition to Jesus comes, not from the nation as a whole, but from its leaders, and especially those in Jerusalem (cf. Jn 1:19; 7:32; 9:22; 11:45–53; 12:42; 19:6, 15).  John actually omits the Sanhedrin trial (Mk 14:53-65) and the cry, “Let his blood be on us and our children” (Mt 27:25).  Milne cites J.A.T. Robinson’s conclusion: ‘Writing as a Jew for other Jews he is concerned to present the condemnation of Jesus, the true king of Israel, as the great betrayal of the nation by its own leadership.’

Why was the story of Lazarus not told by the Synoptists?  Sceptics sometimes claim that if Jesus had really raised Lazarus from the dead, so notable an event would certainly not have been omitted by the Synoptists.  But the present verse amply demonstrates, if any demonstration were needed, of the dangerous position Lazarus found himself in.  His situation was rather different than others in which an event is described, but a leading character is protectively anonymised.  As Bauckham (Jesus and the Eyewitnesses) says, ‘Lazarus could not have been protected in the early period of the Jerusalem church’s life by telling his story but not naming him. His story was too well known locally not to be easily identifiable as his however it was told. For Lazarus “protective anonymity” had to take the form of his total absence from the story as it was publicly told.’

The Triumphal Entry, 12-19

12:12 The next day the large crowd that had come to the feast heard that Jesus was coming to Jerusalem. 12:13 So they took branches of palm trees and went out to meet him. They began to shout, “Hosanna! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord! Blessed is the king of Israel!”

The triumphal entry into Jerusalem is recorded in all four Gospels – Mt 21:1-9; Mark 11:1-10; Luke 19:29-38 and John 12:12-15.

The large crowd that had come to the feast – At Passover, the number of people in Jerusalem swelled very considerably.  (Josephus reports a figure of 2.7 million, although that seems incredible).

Palm branches – ‘The law provided that palms should be used at the Feast of Tabernacles. (Lev 23:40) Later they were used on other festal occasions also. In keeping with this we read in Revelation of a multitude before the throne with palms in their hands. (Rev 7:9) Palms were an emblem of victory, and in John’s mention of them here we must detect a reference to the triumph of Christ.’ (Leon Morris)

12:14 Jesus found a young donkey and sat on it, just as it is written, 12:15 “Do not be afraid, people of Zion; look, your king is coming, seated on a donkey’s colt!”

The quotation is from Zech 9:9, ‘where the Lord is portrayed not in a militaristic fashion mounted on a war-horse but as a king of peace sitting on a donkey’ (Kruse)

12:16 (His disciples did not understand these things when they first happened, but when Jesus was glorified, then they remembered that these things were written about him and that these things had happened to him.)
12:17 So the crowd who had been with him when he called Lazarus out of the tomb and raised him from the dead were continuing to testify about it. 12:18 Because they had heard that Jesus had performed this miraculous sign, the crowd went out to meet him. 12:19 Thus the Pharisees said to one another, “You see that you can do nothing. Look, the world has run off after him!”

Two crowds seem to be distinguished here: those who had witnessed the raising of Lazarus and those who had only heard about it.  This should caution us against assuming that the same crowd(s) who honoured Jesus on Palm Sunday also called for his crucifixion later in the week.

Seekers, 20-36

12:20 Now some Greeks were among those who had gone up to worship at the feast. 12:21 So these approached Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, and requested, “Sir, we would like to see Jesus.” 12:22 Philip went and told Andrew, and they both went and told Jesus.

A key theme of this section is that Jesus, through his death, will deal a fatal blow to Satan and his evil kingdom, signalling the world-wide reach of the gospel.

‘As these men had come up to worship it is likely that they were “God-fearers.” They may have been proselytes but if so they would scarcely have been described simply as “Greeks.” The “God-fearers” were men who were attracted by the lofty morality and the monotheism of Judaism, but did not care to become full proselytes by circumcision. They might visit Jerusalem for the great feasts, but they could not pass beyond the court of the Gentiles when they went to the temple. These men would not necessarily have come from Greece itself. There were many Greeks in Decapolis, for example, and they could have come from there.’ (Leon Morris)

‘In this Gospel we see Jesus as the world’s Saviour, and evidently John means us to understand that this contact with the Greeks ushered in the climax. The fact that the Greeks had reached the point of wanting to meet Jesus showed that the time had come for him to die for the world. He no longer belongs to Jerusalem, which in any case has rejected him. But the world whose Saviour he is, awaits him and seeks for him.’  By his death he will, indeed, ‘draw all men to himself’.

They came to Philip – Social contact between Jews and Gentiles was generally restricted, and the Jewish rabbis tended to keep ordinary people at a distance. Hence the Greeks did not approach the great Teacher directly, but via one of his disciples.

Perhaps they approached Philip because of his Greek-sounding name.

“We would like to see Jesus” means more than ‘look at him’ – anyone could have done that. They wanted to meet him; to talk with him. Did they wish to meet him out of curiosity, like Zacchaeus, or because they thought that he was the promised King of the Jews, like the Wise Men? At any rate, they did not demand to see signs, as the Jews often did, Matt. 12:38; 1 Cor. 1:22.

Do we desire to meet with Jesus?  Remember that Jesus is really present in our meetings. May our own desire to ‘see him’ be sincere and whole-hearted! Cf Psa 27:4.

Would Jesus wish to meet with these people?  Philip and Andrew may have doubted whether Jesus would wish to see these Gentiles. Perhaps, as good Jews, they did not feel sure that our Lord would care to give an interview to Gentiles, and at first hesitated about telling him, cf Mt 10:5-6.  On reflection, they perhaps remembered our Lord’s kindness to the Syro-Pheonician woman, Mk 7:24-30, and to the Roman centurion, Luke 7:1-10, and resolved to tell him. Do we sometimes allow ourselves to think, “Jesus wouldn’t be interested in that person”? But see Jn 6:37.

12:23 Jesus replied, “The time has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.

It is not clear whether Jesus is addressing Philip and Andrew only, or all the disciples, or the Greeks also. V29 implies that a crowd was standing around at the time.

This is one of a series of references to Jesus to his ‘hour’.  Se Jn 2:4; 7:6,30; 8:20.  The ‘hour’ or ‘time’ of Christ’s death was fixed and appointed.  He was ‘immortal till his work was done’.  So too are his followers.

Glorified by the world-wide spread of the gospel.  ‘The period was at hand, when our Lord was to be glorified by his sufferings; when the transcendent excellence of his character – his entire devotedness to God – his love of righteousness – his hatred of iniquity – his compassion for men – were to be most illustriously displayed; and when the great design of his mission, in the satisfactory expiation of the sins of men, was to be accomplished, in a manner reflecting the highest honour on him. The hour was at hand, when our Lord was to be glorified for his sufferings, – in being raised from the dust of death, and being taken up into heaven, and set at the right hand of God, and having all things put under his feet. But the glory to which our Lord especially refers, obviously is the glory to be derived from vast multitudes of men – Gentiles as well as Jews – submitting to his authority, and sharing his salvation’ (John Brown). See Psa 2:7-8; 22:27; Isa 55:4-5.

The positive response which Jesus gives to this approach by Gentiles prepares us for the world-wide expansion of the gospel after his death and resurrection, Acts 1:8.

12:24 I tell you the solemn truth, unless a kernel of wheat falls into the ground and dies, it remains by itself alone. But if it dies, it produces much grain.

A kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies – It is, of course excessive literalism to maintain, with the Sceptic’s Annotated Bible, that ‘Jesus was wrong about seeds. If a seed dies, it dies. It only produces a new plant if it stays alive (in a dormant stage) until it germinates. Dead seeds bring forth no fruit.’  We are meant, rather, to compare the fate of seed which is harvested and gets turned into food with that which falls to the ground, is buried, and disappears.  It is the latter which brings forth much life.

Jesus knew that expectations had been raised by his triumphant entry into Jerusalem, and that some would be hoping that a glorious kingdom would now be set up. Cf v19. Jesus reminds them once again that glory must be preceded by death. He asserts here the true nature of his kingdom. ‘Our Lord would have them know that he came to carry a cross, and not to wear a crown. He came not to live a life of honour, ease, and magnificence, but to die a shameful and dishonoured death. The kingdom he came to set up was to begin with a crucifixion, and not with a coronation. Its glory was to take its rise not from victories won by the sword, and from accumulated treasures of gold and silver, but from the death of its King’ (Ryle).

Jesus declares that it is by his death (not by his life, miracles, teaching or example on their own) that a great harvest will be reaped. The death of the one means life for the many.  What then is the connection between the death of Christ and this great harvest of souls? The fact is, of course, that those he came to save were lost, condemned, dead. Jesus died in their place as the appointed method of obtaining for them deliverance from their sentence of death. And being raised from the dead, he became the ‘life-giving Spirit’, who gives life to a multitude of spiritual children. Had he not died, he would have entered heaven alone; because he died, he has a great retinue following him into glory.

12:25 The one who loves his life destroys it, and the one who hates his life in this world guards it for eternal life.

“The man who loves his life will lose it” – Our plight without Christ is so terrible, and our hope with Christ so thrilling, that we must be willing to give up all that we love in this life in order to secure our part in the life to come, Phil 3:7ff. Let us examine our hearts. Do we allow our homes, our work, our studies, our hobbies, our money, our health, our friends, to be the most important things in our lives? If so, we risk losing everything.

The word translated ‘lose’ often means ‘destroy’: loving this life is a self-defeating, self-destroying process. But if, however, we seek God’s kingdom, and his righteousness, above all things, then we shall gain far more than we can ever lose.

‘One hour’s life in that world to which death conveys him who haslaid down his life in the cause of Christ, is worth millions of ages in this world, so polluted with sin, so darkened with sorrow.’ (John Brown)

12:26 If anyone wants to serve me, he must follow me, and where I am, my servant will be too. If anyone serves me, the Father will honor him.

“Whoever serves me must follow me” – ‘As the soldier follows his general, as the servant follows his master, as the scholar follows his teacher, as the sheep follows its shepherd, just so ought the professing Christian to follow Christ. Faith and obedience are the leading marks of real followers, and will always be seen in true believing Christians.’ (Ryle)

‘To follow Christ, is a term which often includes all the duties of disciples – embracing the Saviour’s doctrines, obeying the Saviour’s laws, promoting the Saviour’s interests, imitating the Saviour’s example.’ (John Brown) Especially – in following the Saviour’s example in not loving this life, but giving it up in order to secure a greater reward.

“Where I am, my servant will be too” – We know but little about heaven and the life to come; but believers are here reminded that they will be ‘with Christ’, Phil 1:23. Jesus knew that, before the end of the week, his soul would be in paradise. He knew that, soon after that, he would ascend into glory, and sit down at the right hand of the Father, high over all angels, principalities, authorities and powers. So certain was this prospect, that he speaks as though he has already reached his destination.

And there, he adds, ‘my servant also will be.’ ‘He shall rest from his labours; he shall enter into my joy, he shall reign with me.’ 2 Tim 2:11. ‘I have found this promise so full of sweetness, that I value it above all the riches of the world.’ (Baxter)

12:27 “Now my soul is greatly distressed. And what should I say? ‘Father, deliver me from this hour’? No, but for this very reason I have come to this hour.

“Now my heart is troubled” – Jesus faces two dreadful alternatives. On the one hand, is the appalling prospect of death on the cross. On the other, the possibility of shrinking back from complete subjection to his Father’s will. ‘In asking himself, “What shall I say?” he seems as if thinking aloud, feeling his way between two dread alternatives, looking both of them sternly in the face, measuring, weighing them, in order that the choice actually might be seen, and even by himself be the more vividly felt, to be a profound, deliberate, spontaneous election.’ (David Brown)

Why was our Lord so troubled in his heart? He was not yet exposed to the physical torture of the cross. And in any case, many a martyr has endured such suffering with patience and calmness. Would Christ sink below many of his followers? Nor was he suffering because of rejection by the multitudes, for this was his moment of success – albeit short-lived – with the crowds.

Here we have a precursor of what later took place in Gethsemane, Mt 26:38ff. Here is a glimpse of that pain which he suffered in carrying the burden of our sin. He never complained or groaned at any physical or mental suffering although he knew both kinds. No, he felt far more keenly the weight of his Father’s wrath against human transgression, Isa 53:6,10. He was troubled and hurt by the crushing weight of the sins of those he loved; he was troubled by the awesome wrath of his Father against those sins; he was troubled because he must himself bear the awful penalty. He must bear all that sin deserved, and be cut off from the felt presence of the Father he had loved since before the world began. Such distress would find its most bitter expression in the cry of dereliction from the cross. Cf 2 Cor 5:21.

‘As for those who see no bitter elements in the death of Christ – nothing beyond mere dying – what can they make of such a scene? And when they place it over against the feelings with which thousands of his adoring followers have welcomed death for his sake, how can they hold him up to the admiration of men?’ (David Brown)

Here is a lesson for all those who remain in their sins; who obstinately refuse the offer of forgiveness in Christ. How will you face God at his judgement-seat, unprotected by the atonement of Christ? For here, in the agony which Christ endured, is a foretaste of that eternal dereliction which all impenitent sinners will experience on that day.

Christian, see here the ground of your hope and assurance. The cup of wrath, which our sins deserved, has been drunk by the divine Saviour, and in our hand has been placed the cup of salvation. It was for this reason that he came to this hour. 1 Tim 1:15 (NIV) Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the worst.

And here, also, is a great example for us to follow. Christ does not ask to be delivered from this hour; it was for this hour that he came. Jesus submits entirely to the will of his Father. How we should admire his love and obedience. And how we should strive to develop that same quality of self-giving love and humility, Phil 2:5f.

12:28 Father, glorify your name.” Then a voice came from heaven, “I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again”

“Father, glorify your name!” – Having faced up to the awesome alternatives which lay before him, Jesus seems here to express aloud his determined choice: ‘Father, I will tread the path which brings you the greatest honour! Not my will, but yours!’ Mark 14:36 (NIV) “Abba, Father,” he said, “everything is possible for you. Take this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will.”

A voice came from heaven – Such a voice had also been heard at the time of Christ’s baptism, and at the time of his transfiguration. Here is demonstrated the unbroken union of Father and Son during Jesus’ earthly ministry, and the complete approval of the Son by the Father, as Messiah, Redeemer, and Saviour of men.

“I have glorified it” – The Father had (already) glorified his name, in the coming of Christ to earth; for the incarnation was a revelation of the name (character) of God, John 1:18 (NIV) ‘No one has ever seen God, but God the One and Only, who is at the Father’s side, has made him known.’

“And will glorify it” – But the Father was to glorify his own name again. The cross of Jesus is an unparalleled manifestation of God’s glory. ‘Here shine spotless justice, incomprehensible wisdom, and infinite love, all at once…nowhere does justice appear so terribly awful, mercy to sweetly amiable, or wisdom so unfathomably profound.’ (McLaurin)

Then again, the Father would glorify his name in the results of Christ’s atoning death. The Father is saying to the Son, “I will glorify my name as I fulfil my covenant promises towards you,” Psal 16:10 ‘because you will not abandon me to the grave, nor will you let your Holy One see decay.’ In the resurrection, ascension, and glorification of our Lord, in the pouring out of the Holy Spirit, in the overthrow of the kingdom of Satan, in the worldwide spread of the gospel, in the salvation of a multitude of sinners, – in all these ways, the Father would glorify his name.

Here, by the way, is the simple yet profound solution to all of our questions about guidance. We too, when we come to the various crossroads of our lives, should deliberately face up to the choices, be they attractive or repellant to us, and cry: ‘Father, glorify your name!’. And the right road to take will always be the one which along which God can bring himself the greatest glory. See 1 Cor 10:31 – ‘Whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God’; Eph 1:6 – ‘to the praise of his glorious grace’; Jn 1:12 – ‘in order that we, who were the first to hope in Christ, might be for the praise of his glory’; Jn 1:14 – ‘to the praise of his glory’.

12:29 The crowd that stood there and heard the voice said that it had thundered. Others said that an angel had spoken to him. 12:30 Jesus said, “This voice has not come for my benefit but for yours.

Interesting that all heard the sound, but interpreted in three different ways: (a) some thought it was thunder; (b) others supposed it was the voice of an angel; (c) Jesus alone understood who the voice belonged to, and what it had said, and why v30.

We are reminded of the heavenly voice that spoke to Saul, and the fact that Saul’s companions heard a sound, but did not understand what it said.

Jesus did not need to be audibly reassured by his Father, but the Father wished to affirm his approval of his Son, even though some would lack the spiritual perception to understand it.

12:31 Now is the judgment of this world; now the ruler of this world will be driven out.

“Now is the judgment (’krisis’) of this world” – This is clearly a reference to his approaching death, and not, therefore, directly connected with final judgement. After all, Jesus repeatedly stated that he did not come to judge the world, Jn 12:47; 8:15.

Ryle reviews various opinions on the meaning of the word ‘judgement’ in this verse.  the deliverance, and setting free from bondage, of this world.

  • Some think it means ‘the crisis, or most important time in the world’s history’.  So Barnes.
  • Some think it means ‘the reformation, or setting in right order of the world’.  So Calvin, Hutcheson, and others.
  • Some think it means ‘the deliverance, and setting free from bondage, of this world.’  So Poole and others.

Ryle himself, in agreement with the opinion of Bullinger and Rollock, think that our Lord means that ‘now, by my death, the world, which for so long has been in the thrall of the Devil and the powers of darkness, will be condemned.  Its godless state will no longer be tolerated by my Father, and that whole order of things will be swept away.’ (My paraphrase)

Hendriksen holds a similar view, but understands ‘the world’ as having a particular reference to ‘the Jewish people who rejected him, their leaders who condemned him, Judas who betrayed him, the soldiers who mocked him, Pilate who sentenced him.’

Carson says: ‘Judgment (krisis; cf. Jn 3:17, 19–21; 5:22–30; 7:24; 8:16) is in one sense reserved for the end of the age, for the ‘last judgment’. But the texts just cited also show that judgment begins with the first coming of Christ, climaxing in his passion…’The world thought it was passing judgment on Jesus, not only as it perpetually debated who he was (e.g. Jn 6:14, 42, 60; 7:15; 8:48, 52–53; 9:29; 10:19; 11:37), but climactically in the cross. In reality, the cross was passing judgment on them.’

The world will be self-condemned on account of its treatment of Jesus.

“Now the prince of this world will be driven out” – See also Jn 14:30; 16:11; 2 Cor 4:4; Eph 2:2; 6:12.  Satan ‘is described as “the prince of this world” because human beings, since they fell into sin, have been under his power.’ (Kruse).  But now he will be dealt the fatal blow that was predicted back in Gen 3:15.

‘Although the cross might seem like Satan’s triumph, it is in fact his defeat…When Jesus was glorified, ‘lifted up’ to heaven by means of the cross, enthroned, then too was Satan dethroned. What residual power the prince of this world enjoys is further curtailed by the Holy Spirit, the Counsellor (Jn 16:11).’ (Carson)

This ‘driving out’ of Satan was decisive, but not complete.  He remains mortally wounded, but still, like many a wounded beast, dangerous (1 Pet 5:8).  His final destruction is anticipated in Rev 20:1-15.

This ‘driving out’ of Satan is one side of the coin: the other side is the replacement of his kingdom of evil and death by God’s kingdom of goodness and life.  Accordingly, we read here of two great achievements of the cross: (a) the driving out of the prince of this world: the instrument Satan had designed to defeat Jesus became his own undoing; (b) the drawing in of all men to Jesus, v32.

12:32 And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” 12:33 (Now he said this to indicate clearly what kind of death he was going to die.)

The NIV’s ‘But’ has no basis in the text.

“When I am lifted up from the earth” – Ramsey Michaels links this verse (“lifted up from the earth”) with v24 (“falls to the earth”).  ‘It appears that Jesus has applied a parable of growth, similar to those found in the synoptic Gospels, to his own Passion and resurrection.’

For Milne, this expression speaks of the Saviour world-wide embrace:

‘These words probably have in mind not simply the elevated posture which enables the crucified to be seen by distant watchers, but the spreadeagling of the arms of the crucified (cf. 21:18) which poignantly expresses his embrace of the world.’

If this is correct, it provides some support for the (otherwise somewhat fanciful) notion that, as expressed in some Holy Communion liturgies,

“He opened wide his arms for us on the cross”
Does this refer to the crucifixion, or the resurrection?
On their own, these words might be understood as referring to his resurrection.  But v33 determines that they refer to Jesus’ death (but ‘followed and completed by resurrection, to be sure’ [Ramsey Michaels]).  See also Jn 3:14.  Carson says that the word is deliberately ambiguous.  Jesus is not only ‘lifted up’ on the cross to die, but he is also ‘lifted up’ to glory (on which, cf. Isa 52:13).

‘Because [the Gospel writer] knows and believes that Jesus was raised from the dead, he is able to interpret Jesus’ death on the cross as a victory, a “glorification.” He superimposes the contours of the resurrection, and its significance, on the crucifixion. Seen in this way, a dark tragedy becomes a glorious victory. The gruesome “lifting up” of Jesus on a cross becomes his exaltation to a place of honor in God’s presence (cf. Acts 2:33; 5:31) and his vindication before the whole world.’ (Ramsey Michaels)

‘The verb “lifted up” (ὑψωθῶ) evokes a rich duality of meaning. In the context of the cross (the historical strand of the plot) it speaks of death, suffering, and defeat; but in its larger context (the cosmological strand of the plot), it simultaneously speaks of exaltation in majesty and glorification (cf. Acts 2:33). In this one word the message of the gospel is presented. It is only in his humiliation that Jesus can be exalted and glorified. The verb creates a paradoxical “impression.” In the very same statement Jesus combines the most humiliating and cruel act the ancient world could devise (crucifixion) with a title that incorporates all the power, glory, and authority of God himself (the Son of Man). Interpreters are right, therefore, to see in this one word not only a picture of the cross but also of the resurrection and ascension—the full effect of “the hour” and the glorification of the Son of Man (v. 23).’ (Klink)

Ryle remarks that these words have often been understood to mean that if Christ is lifted up in the preaching of his preachers and teachers, this will have a drawing effect on the hearers.   This is a truth, says Ryle, but not the truth of this passage.  No: these words mean,

‘that the death of Christ on the cross would have a drawing effect on all mankind. His death as our Substitute, and the Sacrifice for our sins, would draw multitudes out of every nation to believe on Him and receive Him as their Savior. By being crucified for us, and not by ascending a temporal throne, He would set up a kingdom in the world, and gather subjects to Himself.’
Tragedy becomes victory

‘Because [the writer] knows and believes that Jesus was raised from the dead, he is able to interpret Jesus’ death on the cross as a victory, a “glorification.” He superimposes the contours of the resurrection, and its significance, on the crucifixion. Seen in this way, a dark tragedy becomes a glorious victory. The gruesome “lifting up” of Jesus on a cross becomes his exaltation to a place of honor in God’s presence (cf. Acts 2:33; 5:31) and his vindication before the whole world.’ (Ramsey Michaels)

“I…will draw all men to myself” – Hendriksen says that this should be understood in connection with the desire of certain Greeks to ‘see Jesus’: ‘These Greeks represented the nations—elect from every nation—that would come to accept Christ by living faith, through the sovereign grace of God. Hence, through the death of Christ the power of satan over the nations of the world is broken. During the old dispensation these nations had been under the thraldom of satan… With the coming of Christ a tremendous change takes place. On and after Pentecost we begin to see the gathering of a church from among all the nations of the world (cf. Rev. 20:3).

Study of ‘me’ in John’s Gospel

  1. To meattraction, Jn 12:32
  2. Against metreason, Jn 13:18
  3. Through meaccess, Jn 14:6
  4. Without mefailure, Jn 15:5
  5. In mepeace, Jn 16:33
  6. With meglory, Jn 17:24

(Picking, 1,000 Subjects, slightly adapted)

This saying cannot be understood to teach universalism, for that is flatly denied in Jn 5:29.

Kruse: ‘This does not mean that all people without exception would put their faith in him, for clearly some did not. It means people of all ethnic backgrounds would put their faith in him, one example of this being the Greeks seeking Jesus (20–22).’  Kruse adds that the same truth is taught in Jn 10:16.

Carson: ‘Here, ‘all men’ reminds the reader of what triggered these statements, viz. the arrival of the Greeks, and means ‘all people without distinction, Jews and Gentiles alike’, not all individuals without exception, since the surrounding context has just established judgment as a major theme (v. 31), a time for distinguishing between those who love their lives (and therefore lose them) and those who hate their lives (and therefore keep them for eternal life, v. 25).’

12:34 Then the crowd responded, “We have heard from the law that the Christ will remain forever. How can you say, ‘The Son of Man must be lifted up’? Who is this Son of Man?” 12:35 Jesus replied, “The light is with you for a little while longer. Walk while you have the light, so that the darkness may not overtake you. The one who walks in the darkness does not know where he is going. 12:36 While you have the light, believe in the light, so that you may become sons of light.”

‘If you do not obey the light, it will turn to darkness. If you do not put into action what you know to do, you begin to get dry rot. The golden rule for understanding spiritually is not intellect, but obedience. If a man wants scientific knowledge, intellectual curiosity is his guide; if he wants insight into what Jesus Christ teaches, he can only get it by obedience. If things are dark to me, then I may be sure there is something I will not do. Intellectual darkness comes through ignorance; spiritual darkness comes because of something I do not intend to obey.’ (Oswald Chambers) Cf. Jn 7:17.

When Jesus had said these things, he went away and hid himself from them.

The Outcome of Jesus’ Public Ministry Foretold, 37-43

12:37 Although Jesus had performed so many miraculous signs before them, they still refused to believe in him, 12:38 so that the word of Isaiah the prophet would be fulfilled. He said, “Lord, who has believed our message, and to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?” 12:39 For this reason they could not believe, because again Isaiah said,
12:40 “He has blinded their eyes
and hardened their heart,
so that they would not see with their eyes
and understand with their heart,
and turn to me, and I would heal them.”
12:41 Isaiah said these things because he saw Christ’s glory, and spoke about him.

As Isaiah says elsewhere – The quotation in v38 comes from Isa 53; that in v40 is taken from Isa 6.  Of course, many scholars think that the book of Isaiah is of composite authorship.  Does this mean that John is mistaken (which would call into question a doctrine of biblical inerrancy)?  Possibilities include (a) since John says both passages were penned by Isaiah, that settles it; (b) John must have been mistaken; (c) John is writing ad hominem and is not making a statement about authorship either way.

For this reason they could not believe – Many (most?) modern commentators recognise here an ‘unambiguous predestinarianism’ (Carson).  So Barrett.

Ryle differs, citing a range of older writers in support of the view that their unbelief, while predicted by the prophet, was in no sense foreordained by God.  But this fails to give due weight to v39.

However, human responsibility is by no means ignored: clear culpability is taught in v37 and v43.  John is a ‘compatibalist’.


‘Here, as in the narrative as a whole, God’s sovereignty and human responsibility are held together. Unbelieving blindness to the signs is wilful and culpable but not beyond the realm of God’s sovereignty over the world and indeed can be seen as part of God’s overall purposes’

Michaels (UBCS) comments:

‘Never in this Gospel does the notion of God’s choice or nonchoice of individuals for eternal life foreclose an appeal to their free will. Election, especially negative election, is always introduced after the fact, as an explanation of why someone did or did not believe. It is never a judgment, or an impossibility, declared in advance.’

“He has blinded their eyes and deadened their hearts…” – Isa 6:10, quoted by Jesus himself in Mark 4:12; Matt. 13:13–15; Luke 8:10.  See also Deut 29:2-4.

We talk sometimes of a ‘judicial hardening’; just as the self-hardening of Pharaoh’s heart was followed eventually by divine hardening (Rom 9:17), so those who refuse to see the truth will find that, in the end, they cannot see.  This is an outworking of the divine wrath, as Paul expounds it in Rom 1,2.

I prefer the ‘compatibalist’ explanation to the following, from the 19th-century commentator Albert Barnes, who argues for a sort of ‘mid-way’ position:

‘He states that God did it—that is, he did it in the manner mentioned in Isaiah, for we are limited to that in our interpretation of the passage. In that case it is clear that the mode specified is not a direct agency on the part of God in blinding the mind—which we cannot reconcile with any just notions of the divine character—but in suffering the truth to produce a regular effect on sinful minds, without putting forth any positive supernatural influence to prevent it. The effect of truth on such minds is to irritate, to enrage, and to harden, unless counteracted by the grace of God. See Rom 7:8, 9, 11; 2 Cor 2:15, 16. And as God knew this, and, knowing it, still sent the message, and suffered it to produce the regular effect, the evangelist says “he hath blinded their minds.”’

Isaiah…saw Christ’s glory, and spoke about himCf. v38.  ‘John probably has in mind the Suffering Servant of Isaiah as pointing to Christ himself. What he saw was the glory of the one who was to come.’ (Guthrie, NBC)

John never mentions repentance?

A sceptic, eager to stress the differences between John’s Gospel and the Synoptics, might ask: If repentance is so important in the Synoptic Gospels, why does it seem that there is no reference to it in John’s Gospel?  But although the word may not occur, the concept does – see, for example, Jn 3:19-21; 5:14.  In fact, a less usual word for repentance (‘strepho‘) does occur in Jn 12:40 (in a paraphrase of Isa 6:9f).

12:42 Nevertheless, even among the rulers many believed in him, but because of the Pharisees they would not confess Jesus to be the Christ, so that they would not be put out of the synagogue. 12:43 For they loved praise from men more than praise from God.
Whose glory? We must choose

‘Ultimately there are only two controlling ambitions, to which all others may be reduced. One is our own glory, and the other God’s. The fourth evangelist set them in irreconcilable opposition to each other, and in doing so disclosed Christ’s fundamental quarrel with the Pharisees: “they loved the glory of men,” he wrote, “more than the glory of God”.’

(John Stott, Authentic Christianity, 250)

Jesus’ Final Public Words, 44-50

12:44 But Jesus shouted out, “The one who believes in me does not believe in me, but in the one who sent me, 12:45 and the one who sees me sees the one who sent me.

Then Jesus cried out – ‘John does not say where or when this was; it is probable, however, that it was a continuation of the discourse recorded in Jn 12:30-36. Jesus saw their unbelief, and proceeded to state the consequence of believing on him, and of rejecting him and his message.’ (Barnes)

‘The raising of his voice and crying intimate,

1. His boldness in speaking. Though they had not courage openly to profess faith in his doctrine, he had courage openly to publish it; if they were ashamed of it, he was not, but set his face as a flint, Isa. 50:7.

2. His earnestness in speaking. He cried as one that was serious and importunate, and in good earnest in what he said, and was willing to impart to them, not only the gospel of God, but even his own soul.

3. It denotes his desire that all might take notice of it. This being the last time of the publication of his gospel by himself in person, he makes proclamation, “Whoever will hear me, let them come now.’” (MHC)

‘Jesus uniformly represents the union between himself and God as so intimate that there could not be faith in him unless there was also faith in God. He did the same works (Jn 5:17, 20, 36; 10:25, 37), and taught the very doctrine which God had commissioned him to do, Jn 8:38; 5:30; 20-23.’ (Barnes)

‘The close relationship of Jesus with the Father (cf. Jn 17:21-23) is stressed in three respects: to believe in Christ is to believe in the Father; to see Christ is to see the Father (v. 45); to hear Christ is to hear the Father (v. 50). On the other hand, rejection of Christ and His words is also a rejection of the Father and His words. This rejection results in judgment, although the leading purpose of Christ’s incarnation was the salvation of His own and not the condemnation of those who do not believe.’ (New Geneva)

‘God makes himself known in the face of Christ (2 Cor 4:6), who is the express image of his person, Heb. 1:3.’ (MHC)

‘This verse is a strong confirmation of his equality with God. In no other way can it be true that he who saw Jesus saw him that sent him, unless he were the same in essence. Of no man could it be affirmed that he who saw him saw God. To say this of Paul or Isaiah would have been blasphemy. And yet Jesus uses this language familiarly and constantly. It shows that he had a consciousness that he was divine and that it was the natural and proper way of speaking when speaking of himself.’ (Barnes)

12:46 I have come as a light into the world, so that everyone who believes in me should not remain in darkness.

“Darkness” – Figuratively used in Scripture for dullness, depravity and despair (Hendriksen).

It has been written that…

  • Darkness stands for the Christless life
  • Darkness is hostile to the Light
  • Darkness stands for the ignorance of life apart from Christ
  • Darkness stands for the chaos of life without God
  • Darkness stands for the immorality of the Christless life.
  • Darkness is characteristically unfruitful.
  • Darkness is connected with lovelessness and hate
  • Darkness is the abode of the enemies of Christ and the final goal of those who will not accept him.
12:47 If anyone hears my words and does not obey them, I do not judge him. For I have not come to judge the world, but to save the world. 12:48 The one who rejects me and does not accept my words has a judge; the word I have spoken will judge him at the last day.

“I did not come to judge the world, but to save it”Cf. Jn 3:17.

‘Note, Christ was not quick or hasty to take advantage against those who refused the first offers of his grace, but continued waiting to be gracious. He did not strike those dumb or dead who contradicted him, never made intercession against Israel, as Elias did; though he had authority to judge, he suspended the execution of it, because he had work of another nature to do first, and that was to save the world.’ (MHC)

“That very word which I spoke will condemn him at the last day” – ‘An old eighteenth century divine wrote a kind of catechism of the Christian faith for ordinary people. At the end there was a question which asked what would happen to a person if he disregarded the Christian message. The answer was that condemnation would follow, “and so much the more because thou hast read this book.”’ (DSB)

The thought of this verse is similar to that of Mark 8:38.

‘We read of the opening of the books. Rev 20:12. One book which God will open is the book of the Scripture, and will judge men out of it. He will say, “Have you lived according to the rule of this word?” The word has a double work – to teach, and to judge.’ (Thomas Watson)

“The last day” – See Heb 1:2n.

12:49 For I have not spoken from my own authority, but the Father himself who sent me has commanded me what I should say and what I should speak. 12:50 And I know that his commandment is eternal life. Thus the things I say, I say just as the Father has told me.”

As recorded in this Gospel, Jesus frequently declared his doctrine to be that of the Father, Jn 8:26,28; 12:49,50; 14:10,24; 15:15; 17:8,16.

This verse marks the close of Jesus’ public teaching as recorded in this Gospel.