Crisis, Chapter 12

By now, the hostility of the religious authorities had reached a fever pitch; it had been steadily increasing because they had been unable to trap Jesus either by compromising His teachings or by defeating Him in public debate.   Also by now, Jesus’ popularity among the common folk had fallen off largely due to the fact that He refused to become involved in a political coup (6:15) and that some of His teaching had become admittedly difficult for His listeners to grasp (6:52—66).  Still, our Lord had a considerable and loyal following and many Jews remained quite taken with Him.  These “interested” Jews liked Jesus’ miracles and were hopefull that He would use His miraculous powers on their behalf, becoming the political messiah they longed for.

As far as Jesus was concerned, this concluding period of His ministry must have been tension filled.  The forces for and against Him were defining themselves and making their stances known so that Jesus now had to make decisions as to which way He would turn.  He had been adhering to His Heavenly Father’ will, without deviating from it even though there were doubtless many temptations to do so.  Now, as His life and ministry were coming to an end, temptations abounded.

In John 12, the Gospel-writer shows a series that each, in their  own way, foreshadows the end.

1.   The anointing at Bethany, 12:1—11

At this point in his Gospel, John becomes very definite about time:  it was only a short time after Lazarus’ resurrection and a mere six days before the Passover that Jesus returned to Bethany; His end is near.   He was there because Lazarus’ family was having a dinner in His honor.  It seemed that Lazarus had become a sort of local folk hero, so it is likely that Lazarus was now living a very private life—

Meanwhile a large crowd of Jews found out that Jesus was there and came, not only because of him but also to see Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead.  (verse 9)

Jesus had become such a lightening rod that even association with Him could cause problems—

So the chief priests made plans to kill Lazarus as well, for on account of him many of the Jews were going over to Jesus and putting their faith in him.  (verse 10, 11)

There was a large group of people invited for dinner, and even though Mary is mentioned last, it was her act of loving devotion that is the central theme of this whole incident.

Then Mary took about a pint of pure nard, an expensive perfume; she poured it on Jesus’ feet and wiped his feet with her hair. And the house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume.  (verse 3)

This “12 ounces” of perfume was very costly.  It would have cost about a year’s wages, representing her “life savings.”   The main ingredient of this perfume was something called a “nard.”  You probably never heard of a “nard” before, but “nard” is a very fragrant herb that grows in the high pasture-lands of the Himalayas, between Tibet and India.  No wonder this imported perfume was so expensive and so treasured by those who were fortunate enough to  own some!  In fact, Mary’s nard wasn’t the ordinary nard that one could find being sold by street vendors in Israel; John points out that this was “pure” nard, or nard of the finest quality.  It was the very best Mary had to offer.

She anointed His feet as an offering of love and gratitude, probably because Jesus had just raised her brother to life, but also for all that Jesus meant to her and her family, and for other reasons.  Wiping His feet with her hair was a gesture of the greatest humility and reverence.  So great were Mary’s actions, that its fragrance wafted throughout the whole house and everybody knew what she had done without her saying a word.  Whatever the other guests may have thought about Jesus, one word best describes Mary’s feelings—love.

Not everybody was impressed with Mary’s act of devotion.  Judas Iscariot seemed put out with what she did—

“Why wasn’t this perfume sold and the money given to the poor? It was worth a year’s wages. ”  (verse 5)

The last time we saw Judas was back in 6:70, where Jesus had this to say about His friend—

Have I not chosen you, the Twelve?  Yet one of you is a devil.

The contrast between the generosity of Mary and the selfishness of Judas is stark.  Barclay comments,

Mary in her devotion unconsciously provides for the honor of the dead.  Judas in his selfishness unconsciously brings about the death itself.

Judas was the kind of person who had money on his mind all the time, for all the wrong reasons.  He was the kind of person who viewed everything from the aspect of its monetary worth; notice that he had mentally calculated the worth of Mary’s perfume.  He hadn’t been moved a centimeter by Mary’s demonstration of love.  He was moved by what he thought was a waste of money.  Writing in hindsight, many years after Judas was dead and gone, John mentions almost offhandedly that Judas was really a thief.

Jesus’ response to Judas is very enlightening—

“Leave her alone,” Jesus replied. ” It was intended that she should save this perfume for the day of my burial. You will always have the poor among you, but you will not always have me.”  (verses 7, 8)

First, we note that Jesus truly appreciated and understood what Mary did and why she did it.  He knew this woman’s heart, just as He knew Judas’.  His words also reveal that He knew His end was near; His death was literally days away.  Finally, Jesus’ comment about the poor should not be taken as a justification for not helping them, but rather it was rebuke to Judas:  if he was truly concerned about helping the poor, he should use his own resources to do so.  Also, Jesus’ time was very limited, His opportunities to teach the disciples would be scant from now on, so being in Jesus’ presence, paying attention, and learning should have been the disciple’s top priority.  They could help poor people any time.

But we also see something of the depth of spirituality Mary had.  Mary knew exactly what she was doing, because Jesus stated it.  That perfume, which cost Mary her life savings, was going to be used exclusively to anoint HIS dead body.  Unlike His disciples, Mary knew that Jesus was going to die.  Apparently she, like Jesus, knew the time was very near for her Lord to be put to death by His enemies.  Not knowing if she would be given the opportunity later, she took the opportunity now, while He was still alive, to anoint Him.

2.  The arrival in Jerusalem, verses 12—19

Jesus arrives in Jerusalem

Jesus’ “Triumphal Entry” is recorded in the three synoptics as well as here, in John’s Gospel.  All these accounts differ in some details, but they all tell essentially the same story:  Jesus entered Jerusalem and the crowd was thrilled to see Him.

The Triumphal Entry is significant for a number of reasons:

  • Entering Jerusalem the way He did, Jesus demonstrated that He was in complete control:  He was the One who was about to lay down His life. Nobody was taking it away from Him.  As He had done before, Jesus could have sneaked into Jerusalem, but by entering in broad daylight to a celebrity’s welcome, our Lord was forcing an issue:  now the religious leaders would be forced to do something about Jesus.
  • Entering Jerusalem the way He did, Jesus forced the religious leaders to change their plans to match His plans. The Sanhedrin had never planned on harming Jesus at this particular time.   All the excitement generated at His coming to town forced the Sanhedrin to move up their timetable.
  • Entering Jerusalem the way He did, Jesus demonstrated to all that He was the Messiah because He was fulfilling the clearly Messianic prophecy of Zechariah 9:9.  Many in the crowd, in fact, hailed Him as “Messiah” as Jesus rode into town; Jesus did not deny it.
  • Entering Jerusalem the way He did, Jesus showed everybody that while He was indeed the Messiah, He was not the Messiah of their dreams.  He rode into town, not on a white horse accompanied by hosts of angels, but on a donkey, not an animal associated with royalty or war, but with humility and peace.  Jesus demonstrated that He was the Messiah of Peace.

3.  Arrival of the Greeks, verses 20—36

Now John turns his attention from the Jews to some Greeks for a moment.  There were apparently Greek converts to Judaism who had given up the worship of many gods.  But these men had a burning quest that had nothing to do with Judaism—

They came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, with a request. “Sir,” they said, “we would like to see Jesus.”  (verse 21)

All they wanted was to see Jesus; to have an audience with Him.  This must have aggravated the already aggravated Jewish religious leaders!  Curiously, we are never told if the Greeks ever actually met with Jesus!  Jesus’ great teaching of the next few verses was given to Philip and Andrew.

Even though Jesus had spoken of “His hour,” this is the first time He said, “The hour has come.”  This leads us to ask, the hour for what; not His death, but rather for His glorification.   The glorification of Jesus Christ includes all the events that we refer to as His “passion,” all the events leading up to and including His crucifixion.

Helping Philip and Andrew understand what He meant by His glorification, Jesus told them a brief parable—

I tell you the truth, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds.  (verse 24)

There could be no clearer allusion to His own death, burial, and resurrection than this one verse.  As Hoskyns noted,

He was saying that the true disciples of the Son of God do not cling to life with passionate affection—this is unproductive and permanent death; rather, they hate life in this world, and, by the paradox law of God, they preserve it forever.

Had the disciples fully grasped the significance of what was happening, verse 26 would have been startling—

Whoever serves me must follow me; and where I am, my servant also will be. My Father will honor the one who serves me.

The Cross would involve the followers of Jesus in the same way it would involve Him; He was warning them that what was happening to Him could very well happen to them.  He had implied this earlier—

When he has brought out all his own, he goes on ahead of them, and his sheep follow him because they know his voice.  (John 10:4)

“Going on ahead of them” suggests that Jesus is about to do what He expects them to do later.  Jesus faced the enemy before they would.  Jesus confronted the danger before they would.  Serving Christ means serving Him; it implies an obligation.   The obligation is both positive and negative; negatively, followers of Jesus could face the same fate He is about face, positively, true followers of Jesus will share in His glory.

4.  More Unbelief, verses 37—50

Using the broadest of strokes, John explains the significance to his Gospel up to this point.  John’s indictment of the religious Jews was scathing.  Why had Jesus apparently failed in His work in Israel?  John gives the following reasons:

  • Their unbelief was inexcusable.  In verse 37, John suggests that Jesus performed many more miracles than he recorded in his Gospel.  None of these signs was done in secret, but out in the open, right in front of everybody.  The Jews had no excuse for not believing in Jesus, given the many signs they saw.
  • Their unbelief was predicted.  Verse 38 makes it clear.  Generations before Jesus came, the prophets of the Old Testament foretold of His rejection.
  • The true cause of their unbelief is outlined in verses 39 and 40.  God, in judgment, gave the Jews over to their sin and unbelief.  It is an immutable law that power disused destroys itself.  The continued disregard for the Word of God and outright rebellion against it makes it all the more difficult to believe.

The implication of verse 41 often escapes the casual reader, but it is important—

Isaiah said this because he saw Jesus’ glory and spoke about him.

The only passage John could have been referring to was Isaiah 6, in which Isaiah recounts his vision of God in the Temple.

My eyes have seen the King, the LORD Almighty.  (Isaiah 6:5)

When Isaiah wrote that, he was witnessing the glory of God.  Here, John states unequivocally that Isaiah saw Jesus Christ and wrote of that.  In other words, he identified Jesus with Jehovah!

And yet, some Jewish leaders did in fact believe in Jesus!  Probably John had in mind men like Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus.  It is no mystery, however, why most of the Jews wanted nothing to do with Jesus—

They loved praise from men more than praise from God.  (verse 43)

Imagine forfeiting a home in heaven so you may enjoy the goodwill of people on earth!  William Barclay comments:

Again and again men have failed to support some great cause because it interfered with some lesser interest.  When Joan of Arc realized that she stood forsaken and alone, she said, ‘Yes, I am alone on earth: I have always been alone.  My father told my brothers to drown me if I would not stay to mind his sheep while France was bleeding to death.  France might perish if only our lambs were safe.’

The last few verses of chapter 12 serve as a kind of summary and restatement of the major themes in this Gospel.  We don’t know when Jesus made these statements or to whom they were made; John inserted them here to wrap up his thoughts.

And so we come to the end of what Bible scholars often refer to as the “Book of the Signs,” comprising the first 12 chapter of John’s Gospel.

(c)  2010 WitzEnd

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