Mary anoints Jesus at Bethany. A plot is hatched to kill Lazarus. Jesus enters Jerusalem triumphantly. Some Greeks seek Jesus. The Son of Man must be lifted up. The unbelief of the people is stated. Jesus came to save the world, not judge it.
As I write in every introduction:
This translation and commentary are for everyone who needs an online reference, but the commentary is mainly for readers in developing and persecuting countries, where Christians cannot afford or do not have access to excellent printed Study Bibles or commentaries. The main goal is missional.
The translation is mine. I offer it only to learn what the Greek says. It tends to be literal, but complete literalness and readability are impossible, so I had to make adjustments.
Readers can go to biblehub.com and use the interlinear link to look up every Greek word, and then the links go to every occurrence of the word. They can also visit biblegateway.com for many translations.
A GrowApp section is offered after every passage of Scripture, which asks challenging questions for deeper discipleship.
Links are provided for further study.
Mary Anoints Jesus’ Feet (John 12:1-8)
1 Then Jesus, six days before Passover, went to Bethany where Lazarus was and whom Jesus raised from the dead. 2 Then they made a supper for him there. Martha was serving, but Lazarus was one of the reclining guests with him. 3 Then Mary, taking three quarters of a pound of pure and costly nard, anointed the feet of Jesus and wiped his feet with her hair. The house was filled with the aroma of the myrrh. 4 But Judas Iscariot, one of his disciples (the one about to hand him over) said, 5 “Why was this myrrh not sold for three hundred denarii and given to the poor?” 6 But he said this not because he cared for the poor but because he was a thief, and having the moneybag, he was lifting what was tossed in. 7 Then Jesus said, “Let her be. She kept it for the day of my burial. 8 You always have the poor with you, but you do not always have me.”
Since the verb believe and the noun faith are so important in John’s Gospel, I would like to plant word studies at the beginning of each chapter. Then you can scroll back up here to read what the terms mean. I keep repasting the same word study in nearly each chapter because I don’t have to worry about cost per printed page.
The verb believe (verb is pisteuō, pronounced pih-stew-oh) and the noun faith have to penetrate one’s whole being. Now let’s study them more formally. The noun faith is pistis (pronounced peace-teace or pis-tiss), and it is used 243 times. Its basic meaning is the “belief, trust, confidence,” and it can also mean “faithfulness” and “trustworthy” (Mounce p. 232). It is directional, and the best direction is faith in God (Mark 11:22; 1 Thess. 1:8; 1 Pet. 1:21; Heb. 6:1) and faith in Jesus (Acts 3:16; 20:21; 24:24; Gal. 3:26; Eph. 1:15; Col. 1:4; 1 Tim. 3:13). Believing (verb) and faith (noun) is very important to God. It is the language of heaven. We live on earth and by faith see the invisible world where God is. We must believe he exists; then we must exercise our faith to believe he loves us and intends to save us.
A true acronym:
Forsaking All, I Trust Him
One has to surrender to the Lordship of Jesus.
The bottom line is that for John’s Gospel believing and faith must not get stuck in an intellectual assent. “I believe that God exists and Jesus lived.” This may be a good start, but everyone who believes or has faith must put their complete trust in God’s Son.
Now let’s move on.
Two little historical tidbits: A Roman pound was 325 grams or 12 ounces or half a liter. The price of the ointment was three hundred denarii, about a working man’s yearly wage if he got steady work throughout the year, which often did not happen. The dollar amount would be huge.
Now let’s cover the differences between John and Matt. 26:6-13 and Mark 14:3-9. Let’s allow Carson to sort out the differences (pp. 426-27).
First, as to John saying the ointment was poured out on the feet and Mark saying on his head, the jar was full and the quantity was too large to have been poured out only on either area. It was poured out on both the head and feet.
Second, in Matt. 26:12 and Mark 14:8, the ointment was said to be poured out on his body in anticipation of his burial, so it was applied to his whole body. Mary must have begun at his head and poured it out the length of his body to his feet. Remember: in this world, people ate lying on their side with their feet sticking out.
Third, Matthew and Mark say the ointment was poured out on Jesus’s head for the theme of his royal anointing, important in their Gospels. John mentions the feet to reveal Mary’s unworthiness. Jesus will soon teach his disciples to wash each other’s feet in the next chapter.
Thus, Mark and Matthew and John, when combined, present a comprehensive account.
Jesus was not yet in Jerusalem. Recall from the previous chapter that Bethany was about two miles or three kilometers from Jerusalem, on the road leading to Jericho (eastward). Jesus left there after the miraculous resuscitation of his good friend Lazarus. We will learn in v. 11 that many Jews believed in Jesus because of the miracle.
Why six days before Passover. A chronological problem? John, along with Matthew, Mark and Luke (the Synoptic Gospels), believe that this Passover began Thursday evening (i.e. the onset of Friday by Jewish counting of days). So six days before Passover must refer to the preceding Saturday, which began Friday evening. So if Jesus arrived at Bethany that evening, when the Sabbath began, the dinner, the dinner (v. 2) was held on the Sabbath, Saturday evening. When the Sabbath officially ended at sundown on Saturday, the large crowd of Jews gathered. On the next day, Sunday, the Triumphal entry took place (see Carson, comments on v. 1).
Let’s discuss Passover and the seven days of feasting immediately afterwards.
Passover comes from the noun pascha (pronounced pah-skha, for the -ch- is hard). This is one of three festivals required by law (Tabernacles or Booths and Pentecost are the other two). Let’s define Passover. BDAG is considered by many to be the authoritative lexicon of the Greek NT. It says: (1) An annual Israelite festival commemorating Israel’s exodus from Egypt, the Passover, celebrated on the 14th of the month Nisan and continuing into the early hours of the 15th … Ex 12-13 … This was followed immediately by the Feast of Unleavened Bread on the 15th to 21st. Popular usage merged the two festivals and treated them as a unity, as they were for practical purposes (see Lk 22:1 and Mk 14:12)”…. (2) “the lamb sacrificed for observance of the Passover, Passover lamb …figurative of Christ and his bloody death 1 Cor. 5:7 … eat the Passover Mt 26:17; Mk 14:12b, 14; Lk 22:11, 15; J 18:28.” (3) “The Passover meal Mt 26:19; Mk 14:16; Lk 22:8” …. (4) “in later Christian usage the Easter festival.”
The key points in that definition: popular usage merged Passover and Unleavened Bread for practical reasons; the Greek can be translated as the lamb itself, so the figurative usage is easy to apply to Christ’s sacrifice (1 Cor. 5:7). (To this day, modern Greeks celebrate the pascha by eating a lamb.) The latter usage of the term “Easter” is the church’s choice to take over a pagan festival. You can certainly skip the term if it bothers your conscience and biblical values.
Here are the basic facts about the two festivals:
Time of year in OT: First Month: Aviv / Nisan 14th day (for one day)
Time of Year in Modern Calendar: March / April (second Passover is one month later according to Num. 9:10-11)
How to celebrate it:
(1) A whole lamb by the number of people in household, being ready to share with nearest neighbor; (2) one-year-old males without defects, taken from sheep and goats; (3) take care of them until the fourteenth day; (4) then all the community is to slaughter it at twilight; (5) put the blood on the tops and sides of the doorframes of the houses where the lambs are eaten, with bitter herbs and bread without yeast; (6) that night eat the lambs roasted over fire, with the head, legs and internal organs, not raw or boiled (7) do not leave any of it until morning; if there is any leftover, burn it; (8) the cloak must be tucked into belt; sandals on feet and staff in hand; (9) eat in haste in order to leave Egypt soon (Exod. 12:4-11).
Purpose: Exodus from Egypt and Protection from Judgment:
“The blood will be a sign for you on the houses where you are, and when I see the blood, I will pass over you. No destructive plague will touch you when I strike Egypt” (Exod. 12:13).
Other Scriptures: Exod. 12:4-14; Num. 28:16
(2).. Unleavened Bread
Time of Year in OT: Same month, 15th to 21st days, for seven days
Time of Year in Modern Calendar: Same month, on the fifteenth day, which lasts for seven days
How to celebrate it:
Exod. 12:14-20 says that the Israelites were to eat bread without yeast for seven days, from the fourteenth day to the twenty-first day. On the first day they were to remove the yeast from their houses. If they eat anything with yeast from the first to the seventh days they shall be cut off (excommunicated), and this was true for foreigner or native-born. They must not do work on those days, except to prepare to prepare the food for everyone to eat. On the first days they are to hold a sacred assembly (meet at the tabernacle) and another one on the seventh day.
Other Scriptures: Exod. 12:14-20; Num. 28:16
Purpose: see the previous section “Passover.”
Paul writes in 1 Cor. 5:6-8:
Don’t you know that a little yeast leavens the whole batch of dough? 7 Get rid of the old yeast, so that you may be a new unleavened batch—as you really are. For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed. 8 Therefore let us keep the Festival, not with the old bread leavened with malice and wickedness, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth. (1 Cor. 5:6-8)
The ancient Israelites were not supposed to eat leavened bread during this time. They were in such a hurry to leave Egypt that they could not wait for the yeast to raise the lump of dough. In this context yeast symbolized sin and hindrance. We are to keep the Passover, but only in a spiritual sense: “with sincerity and faith.” We are to get rid of the old yeast or moral corruption in our lives and the life of the church. Christ is our Passover lamb, and he protects us from God judicial wrath or judgment, when we are in union with him.
As we saw in vv. 1-2 and 1 Cor. 5:6-8, Jesus is our Passover lamb. And so, John draws the comparison between Jesus and the Passover lamb (John 1:29). His blood smeared on the door of your heart protects you from God’s judgment at the final judgment. However, please be aware that God is judging / evaluating you every minute of every day. Sometimes he likes what he sees, and at other times he tells you that you need an attitude adjustment.
See Heb. 12: 5-11, which talks about the discipline of the Lord out of his love. And 1 Peter 4:17 says that judgment begins with the household of God—now, here on earth.
For another intimate view of this family, see Luke 10:38-42.
38 And while they were going along, he entered a particular village, and a woman named Martha welcomed him. 39 She had a sister named Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and began listening to his message. 40 Martha was distracted by all the serving. She stood over him and said, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me alone to serve? So tell her to help me!” 41 The Lord replied and told her, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and troubled by many things, 42 but one thing is necessary. Obviously, Mary has chosen the right part, which shall not be taken from her.” (Luke 10:38-42)
It is remarkable how John’s account here matches up with Luke’s in terms of Martha serving and Mary doing something spiritual.
Caring for the feet was the work of a slave, yet the act also symbolized the anointing of royalty (e.g. Exod. 28:41; 1 Sam. 10:1-13; 16:12-13). Yet this king is no ordinary king. He has to die first before his ascension and enthronement. He was first to be enthroned on the cross (Klink, comment on v. 3).
Her action would have scandalized the first-century Jewish culture, particularly when she uncovered and unbound her hair. Imagine it happening today! However, please note that reclining in the Middle East at that time meant that people did not sit at table (sorry, Davinci), but their heads were towards the low table, and their feet farthest away from the table. So she walked around and got to his feet which were sticking out, behind.
The money bag was for donations—those who tossed money into it, as the Greek literally reads. Yes, Jesus took donations. Recall that women helped to finance his ministry: “… Joanna, wife of Chuza, estate manager of Herod, and Susanna. And many other women were supporting them from their resources” (Luke 8:3). No doubt men contributed to his ministry, as well.
“Lift” works in both Greek and English to denote stealing money or “lifting” the things tossed into the moneybag.
Whenever Judas is mentioned in the four Gospels, he is labeled as “the one who was to betray him” or “hand him over.” Awful legacy. See my commentary on Matthew 27:3-10 for a small glimmer of hope for his repentance at the last minute.
Mounce writes of Judas: “Life is the arena in which we demonstrate by our conduct the reality of our commitment to God. Judas simply proved openly what he had always been secretly” (comment on. v. 6).
“We give to the poor because they are in need; we give to Jesus because we are in need. It is only by means of the latter that we can rightly see ourselves as slaves of Christ and not as fellow royalty” (Klink, comment on v. 8).
Novakovic suggests v. 7 be translated as: “Leave her alone. (She bought it) that she may keep it for the day of my burial” or “Leave her alone in order that she may keep it for the day of my burial” (p. 48). The other Gospels say that women approached the tomb to put ointment and other spices on his body (Mark 16:1-2; Luke 23:56-24:1), while Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus brought ointment (John 19:38-40). It could be that they contributed ointment for the same purpose.
Here is half of Mark’s account:
6 But Jesus said, “Let her be. Why do you cause trouble for her? She has done a good work for me. 7 For you always have the poor with you, and whenever you want, you can do something good for them. But you always have me. 8 She did what she could with what she had. She acted ahead to anoint my body for burial. 9 I tell you the truth: wherever the gospel is preached to the whole world, what she did will be remembered as her memorial offering.” (Mark 14:6-9)
Yes, the poor will always exist, and the disciples can help them whenever they can. But the disciples will not always have Jesus with them, and his death will be a one-time act and once and for all. Therefore, her anointing was perfectly thought through and perfectly done. Don’t scold her. Leave her alone.
See Mark 14:3-9 for a plausible harmonization of Mark’s and John’s accounts.
Don’t allow your faith to be so brittle that it snaps in two when these differences emerge. Don’t allow postmodern hypercritics who read these two-thousand-year-old accounts in bad faith and uncharitably to bother you. Here is a link that has a huge list of similarities between John’s Gospels and the Synoptics.
Celebrate the similarities; don’t obsess over these tiny differences.
Remember, a difference ≠ contradiction.
GrowApp for John 12:1-8
A.. Mary risked social shame and embarrassment to anoint his feet and wipe them with her hair. Has your devotion to Christ caused you embarrassment but you followed him anyway? Tell your story.
The Plot to Kill Lazarus (John 12:9-11)
9 A huge crowd of Jews learned that he was there and came not because of Jesus alone but so that they might see Lazarus whom he raised from the dead. 10 The chief priests planned to kill Lazarus also 11 because many of the Jews left because of him and believed in Jesus.
The huge crowd came from Jerusalem because the news of Lazarus’s resuscitation three or four months earlier spread like wildfire. They not only wanted to see Jesus but also Lazarus. So the religious establishment struck back. They also planned to kill Lazarus because official Judaism and their place in it were threatened. Many Jews departed from Judaism and believed in Jesus.
As we have discussed before, faith or believing is more than just intellectual assent. It has to be directed towards someone, in this case, Jesus. It encompasses your entire being and devotion.
Apparently, many Judeans expressed true faith in him. Recall that many Jerusalemites converted to the Messiah after Pentecost (Acts 2:41; 4:4; 6:7 [large number of priests]; 20:21). No doubt the miracle which Jesus performed for Lazarus helped them across the threshold from disbelief to faith.
Carson: What is clear is the raising of Lazarus prompts many Jews …. To ‘go over’ to Jesus and put their faith in him: the expressions assume a self-conscious conversion, a move away from the religion practiced by the authorities and a move toward genuine trust in Jesus (Carson, comments on v. 9).
Please see this post and a short write up about them.
GrowApp for John 12:9-11
A.. The religious establishment of Jerusalem went on the attack against Lazarus. After your miracle, whatever it may be, have people or the devil attacked you?
The Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem (John 12:12-19)
12 The next day, the huge crowd that had come in for the Feast, and hearing that Jesus came to Jerusalem, 13 took the palm branches of the date palm and went out to meet him and were shouting,
Hosanna! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord,
The king of Israel! [Ps. 118:25-26]
14 After Jesus had found a donkey, he sat on it, just as it had been written:
15 Do not fear, daughter Zion!
Look! Your king is coming,
Sitting on the foal of a donkey! [Zech. 9:9]
16 His disciples did not know these things at the first, but when Jesus was glorified, then they remembered that these things were written about him and they did these things to him. 17 So the crowd who was with him when he called Lazarus out of the tomb and raised him from the dead, testified. 18 Because of this even the crowd met him because they heard that he did this sign. 19 So the Pharisees said to one another, “You perceive that you are accomplishing nothing! See, the world is leaving to follow him!”
“Next day”: Probably Sunday of Passion week. See Chapter 13 for a table detailing the events.
Date palm branches can be procured around Jerusalem. However, Borchert reminds us that maybe the palms cannot be found around Jerusalem. He replies to this objection:
The valley east of Jerusalem (around Jericho) has always been fruitful with various palms. Those who have lived there realize that Jerusalem can get quite cold and that palms might have at times difficulty growing there. But we must not assume that we know what it was like two thousand years ago. The problem is not simply one of weather. It is a problem of the history and geography of Jerusalem involving its many wars, its battered landscape, and the cutting of trees over the centuries. Nevertheless, the text does not demand that the palms grew in Jerusalem. (comment on vv. 13-15)
Further, palms were not part of Passover, so why lift them up to welcome Jesus? Lev. 23:40 says that at the feast of Tabernacles the people were to rejoice for seven days with the branches of palm trees. In reply, Bruce points out that since the days of the Maccabees (second century B.C.) palm branches were a national symbol and figured in the procession which celebrated the rededication of the temple in 164 B.C (2 Macc. 10:7). Palms were struck on coins by the Jewish insurgents during the first and second revolts against Rome (AD 66-70) and 132-35). Romans in turn struck their coins with the palm branches in celebration of crushing the revolts. In these people’s mind, the palm branch may have indicated national liberation (comment on vv. 12-13).
Mark’s Gospel says “leafy branches” (11:8). The NIV says “branches from the fields” (11:8). Matthew’s Gospel says that others cut branches from the trees (21:8). (Luke’s Gospel is silent.) So we can conclude that some pilgrims brought palm branches from Jericho (available year round because it is at a lower elevation than Jerusalem), while others got branches here and there, like the Garden of Gethsemane. Also, we are not required to believe that “a huge crowd” = thousands who lifted up branches. A few hundred (if that many), some from Galilee and others from Judea, are enough to send the message that the king is coming.
The crowd shouted Hosanna, which means literally means “help!” or “Save, I pray!” (Decker). It comes from Ps. 118, part of the Hallel psalms (Pss. 113-118) sung during this season. The crowds connected these psalms to Passover.
25 Save us, we pray, O Lord!
O Lord, we pray, give us success!
26 Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!
We bless you from the house of the Lord. (Ps. 118:25-26, ESV)
Originally, the people celebrated the psalmist entering the Lord’s temple. He is blessed when he comes in the name of the Lord. Now this verse is applied to and fulfilled in the Messiah.
Son of David was a popular Messianic title; it reflects the future age when the eyes of the blind would be opened and the ears of the deaf would be unstopped and the lame would leap like a deer (Is. 35:5:5-6).
John added the clause: “the king of Israel” because the Psalm was Messianic and royal. It may refer to a descendant of David, a prince. Now Jesus fulfills it.
That link has a table of quoted verses, but he fulfills more than individual verses. He also fulfills concepts and patterns of the OT, like God’s covenant to David and being seated on his throne.
“name”: Believing in his name means to believe in him, his person, his character, and his being—who he is, the Lord, the Son of God and the Messiah. The noun name stands in for the person—a living, real person. Let’s develop this thought, so it can apply to you.
What’s in a name?
You carry your earthly father’s name. If he is dysfunctional, his name is a disadvantage. If he is functional and impacting society for the better, then his name is an advantage. In Jesus’s case, he has the highest status in the universe, next to the Father (Col. 1:15-20). He is exalted above every principality and power (Matt. 28:18; Eph. 1:20-23; Heb. 2:14; 1 John 3:8). His character is perfection itself. His authority and power are absolute, under the Father. In his name you are seated in the heavenly places with Christ (Eph. 2:6; Col. 3:1). Now down here on earth you walk and live as an ambassador in his name, in his stead, for he is no longer living on earth, so you have to represent him down here. We are his ambassadors who stand in for his name (2 Cor. 5:20). The good news is that he did not leave you without power and authority. He gave you his. Now you represent him in his name—his person, power and authority. Therefore under his authority we have his full authority to preach the gospel and set people free from bondages and satanic spirits and heal them of diseases.
Remember that believing in his name is more than just intellectual assent or agreement with a doctrine. Belief has to go from the head to the heart (1:6-8), or so says the entirety of the Gospel of John.
The whole episode refers to Zechariah’s prophecy:
Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold, your king is coming to you; righteous and having salvation is he, humble and mounted on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey. (Zech. 9:9, ESV)
Once again, see my post on Messianic prophecies:
As noted, Jesus not only fulfils individual verses in the OT, he also fulfills the types and shadows and patterns throughout the OT. Here, he fulfils Zech. 9:9.
The clause “do not fear” does not appear in Zech. 9:9, but it is common for NT writers to combine elements from different parts of the Hebrew Bible (e.g. Matt. 27:9-10; Mark 1:2-3). The clause is drawn from Is. 40:9. And Daughter Zion commonly refers to the people of Jerusalem. The rest of the quotation from Zech. 9:9 is an abridgement (Carson, comment on vv. 14-15). Once again, Jesus fulfils themes of Scripture, not just quoted verses. He even fulfills the promises not to fear.
In Israel’s history, donkeys were the mounts of kings; in addition to Gen. 49:10-11, also see 2 Sam. 15:30; 16:1-2; 17:23; 19:26. It refers to the kingship of Jesus, as the son of David. For a long time, it was the Mercedes Benz of the biblical world (Klink, comment on v. 14). Shhh! Don’t tell the Word of Faith teachers about it. We would never hear the end of it. They would omit the data points that Jesus momentarily borrowed it to demonstrate a larger point of his kingship. He did not own it. They may buy many luxury cars and extravagant things, like private jets, and then brag about how they are “doing all right,” as I heard one Word of Faith pastor boast in front of his congregation who could never afford, individually, his luxury items.
“disciples”: Let’s discuss what a disciple is.
The noun is mathētēs (pronounced mah-they-tayss). and it is used 261 times in the NT, though many of them are duplicates in the three synoptic Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke. BDAG is considered by many to be the authoritative Greek lexicon of the NT, and it says of the noun (1) “one who engages in learning through instruction from another, pupil, apprentice”; (2) “one who is rather constantly associated with someone who has a pedagogical reputation or a particular set of views, disciple, adherent.”
They look retrospectively and learned the OT verses that covered the Messiahship of Jesus, and Ps. 118:25-26 and Zech. 9:9 were just a few of those verses. Right now, however, they were unclear about any of it. Recall what John recorded about the disciples, after Jesus cleared out part of the temple and said that if they tear down this temple, he will raise it up on the third day. “So when he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he said this, and they believed the Scripture and the statement which Jesus spoke” (John 2:22).
Some commentators see a contradiction because the crowds proclaim him as king, yet John says here that the disciple understood these after he was glorified (resurrected and ascended). However, neither the crowd nor the disciples understood the full extent of what the kingly Messiah actually was (Morris, comment on v. 16). The disciples got a fuller revelation later than the crowds ever did, unless they converted, as thousands did (Acts 2:41; 4:4; 6:7; 20:21).
The huge crowd made the Pharisees nervous because they were testifying about the things Jesus did, specifically the sign of raising Lazarus from the dead. They also “bore witness” (another way of translating “testified”) that he was the coming king.
See this link for a short write-up about them.
They were the Watchdogs of Theology and Behavior (David E. Garland, Luke: Zondervan Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament [Zondervan, 2011], p. 243). The problem which Jesus had with them can be summed up in Eccl. 7:16: “Be not overly righteous.” He did not quote that verse, but to him they were much too enamored with the finer points of the law, while neglecting its spirit (Luke 11:37-52; Matt. 23:1-36). Instead, he quoted this verse from Hos. 6:6: “Go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.’ For I came not to call the righteous, but sinners” (Matt. 9:13; 12:7, ESV). Overdoing righteousness damages one’s relationship with God and others.
They were angry at each other because they had not taken action to arrest Jesus and stop the leakage of ordinary citizens from their version of Judaism to their Messiah. People flocked to Jesus, and the Pharisees were nervous about it (see vv. 10-11). For them the kosmos meant the world of Jerusalem, which they exaggerated to mean the whole world. However, John has a deeper meaning, the world or kosmos which God loves and to which God sent his Son to save (John 3:16-17). It was the place of darkness, but God invaded it with the light of his Son (see vv. 35-36, 46-47).
GrowApp for John 12:12-19
A.. Have you ever celebrated the kingship of Jesus in your life? How do his subjects behave? What does his kingship mean in your life?
Greeks Ask to See Jesus and He Answers Them (John 12:20-36)
20 Now there were certain Greeks who went up to worship at the Feast. 21 Then they approached Philip from Bethsaida of Galilee and asked him, saying, “Sir, we want to see Jesus.” 22 Philip went and told Andrew, and Andrew and Philip told Jesus.
23 Jesus replied to them, saying, “My hour has come so that the Son of Man may be glorified. 24 I tell you the firm truth: unless a grain of wheat falls into the ground and dies, it remains by itself alone. But if it dies, it produces a lot of grain. 25 The one who loves his life loses it, and the one who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life. 26 If anyone serves me, let him follow me and where I am there, the one who serves me will also be. If anyone serves me, the Father will honor him. 27 Now my soul is troubled, and what should I say? Father, rescue me from this hour? But for this reason, I have come to this hour.
28 “Father, glorify your name.” Then a voice from heaven came: “I have glorified it and I will glorify it again.” 29 Then the crowd who were standing by and heard it were saying, “It was thunder.” Others were saying, “An angel spoke to him.” 30 In reply, Jesus said, “The voice did not come for me but for you. 31 Now is the judgment of this world; now the ruler of this world will be thrown out. 32 And if I be lifted up from this earth, I will draw everyone to myself. 33 (He said this, signifying what kind of death he was about to die.”)
34 Then the crowd replied to him, “We have heard from the law that the Christ remains forever, and how do you say that the Son of Man will be lifted up? Who is this Son of Man?”
35 So Jesus told them, “For still a brief time the light is among you. Walk while you have the light, so that the darkness may not overtake you. And the one who walks in the darkness does not know where he is going. 36 While you have the light, believe in the light, so that you may become children of the light.”
Jesus said these things, and after he departed, he hid himself from them.
Jesus is in the temple courts, and probably a day or two has elapsed between v. 19 and 20. Gentiles were allowed in the court of Gentiles, a place specially designated for them, but they were not allowed in the inner court. So there is an ethnic barrier built into the temple. Recall that the Ethiopian eunuch went to Jerusalem to worship at one of the festivals (Acts 8:27). No doubt these Greeks were doing the same. These Greek were Gentile God-fearers, like Cornelius in Acts 10 and the Gentile centurion who loved the Jewish people and built a synagogue for them (Luke 7:5). They may have heard about Jesus because of all the “buzz” about the resurrection of Lazarus and Jesus himself.
“asked”: it is in the imperfect tense, indicating they kept on asking (Mounce, comment on v. 21). The Greeks apparently intensely wanted to talk with Jesus.
Further, Jesus had expelled the merchants and moneychangers from the outer court, probably the court of the Gentiles, and in Mark 11:15-17, where he said the temple should be a house of prayer for all nations. Maybe these Greeks heard this proclamation and took it seriously. They believed that Jesus was tearing down the ethnic barriers.
Bruce cites the case of the governor of Syria, Vitellius, who went to Jerusalem to sacrifice to God right at the time when Tiberius died on 16 March, AD 37. Vitellius, though hosted by Herod Antipas, had to worship in the outer court.
These Greeks approached Philip, possibly because of his Greek name and he spoke Greek, or possibly because they came from the same area; hence John brought up Philip’s hometown. Many Gentiles lived in Galilee.
By the way many Jews of the time took Greek or Latin names, just to fit in.
Believe it or not, Jesus is now answering the request of the Greeks. How? Let’s find out.
“I tell you the firm truth”: it literally read, “amen, amen, I tell you.” Truth” comes from the word amēn (pronounced ah-main and comes into English as amen). In the Synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark and Luke) Jesus says amen only once (“amen, I tell you”), but in John he very often says the word twice, so I translate the double word as “firm truth.” It expresses the authority of the one who utters it. The Hebrew root ’mn means faithfulness, reliability and certainty. It could be translated as “Truly, truly I tell you” or “I tell you with utmost certainty.” (Bruce has “indeed and truly I tell you”). Jesus’s faith in his own words is remarkable and points to his unique calling. It means we must pay attention to it, for it is authoritative. He is about to declare an important and solemn message or statement. The clause appears only on the lips of Jesus in the NT.
Jesus introduces the next illustration or symbol with the above solemn statement. It is important because Jesus knows he is about to surrender his life to the Father and the cross.
“Son of Man”: It both means the powerful, divine Son of Man (Dan. 7:13-14) and the human son of man—Ezekiel himself—in the book of Ezekiel (numerous references). Jesus was and still is in heaven both divine and human.
Jesus had said that his hour or time had not yet come (2:4; 7:6, 8, 30; 8:20), but now his hour has come. He had refused to seek his own glory or renown in an earthly sense or even in a heavenly sense. If he had sought his own glory, he would have lost out. Here he speaks in the passive voice “to be glorified.” We should consider this to be the divine passive. Who is the one who glorifies the Son of Man? Himself? No, God is the one who is about to glorify his Son. Jesus surrenders his life to the Father and goes through the suffering, and then the Father will raise him up and welcome him back into the courts of heaven at his ascension.
But first he must suffer and die.
The grain of wheat symbolizes Jesus and his death. The fruit-through-his-death includes the Gentiles.
So let’s once again look at the diagram.
2.. What Does It or He Symbolize?
1.. Physical Object or Person
Now let’s fill it in:
2.. Jesus’s Death, Burial, Resurrection
1.. Grain of Wheat Symbolically Dying in Ground and then Sprouting
Jesus must sacrifice his own life so that eternal life can be imparted to everyone, both converted Jews and converted Gentiles. Feasting on the bread of heaven brings eternal life (John 6:33-58). “I am the living bread coming down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever, and the bread which I will give is my flesh, on behalf of the life of the world” (John 6:51). Paul says the seed is an image of the resurrection (1 Cor. 15:36-38).
So how is Jesus answering the Gentiles’ request to see him?
In effect, Jesus tells the Greeks who seek him to wait just a little while longer, because after his death, burial, resurrection, ascension and the outpouring of the Spirit, they will be invited into the New Covenant people of God (Acts 10). He will promise them that he will draw everyone—Jew and Gentile—after his crucifixion and ascension (v. 32).
Loving one’s life … hating one’s life. In Jewish idiom, to “hate” one and “love” the other is to say, “I prefer A over B.” Here we have a case of hyperbole (rhetorical exaggeration to startle the listener). Carson: “the one who hates his life (the love / hate contrast reflects a semitic idiom that articulates fundamental preference, not hatred on some absolute scale; cf. Gn. 29:31, 33; Dt. 21:15 … will keep it for eternal life” (Carson, comment on v. 25). But on the other hand, let’s not sugarcoat this startling statement. Jesus is about to die. There is no more time to waste. If Jesus were to prefer his life over death by crucifixion and were to live to old age, he would have failed in his mission. No fruit of conversions for everyone who responds in faith. No outpouring of the Spirit. No salvation. So in effect, Jesus must hate the life instinct or renounce it and willingly go to the cross. His hour has come. Now is the time. Mounce points out that the verb for “lose” can mean “destroy,” and he says it has the nuance here. “Thus, Jesus is saying that self-love leads to self-destruction” (comment on v. 25). Morris: “Jesus is saying that anyone who loves his life is destroying it right now” (comment on v. 25).
“eternal life”: this is more than mere existence. This is life of the next age, that age, which has broken into this age or right now. In other words, eternal life happens now, but we must be careful not to believe that everything in the new age, in everlasting life, is happening now. This is called over-realized eschatology (study of ends times and new ages). Not every new-age blessing becomes realized or accomplished right now. But let’s not remain negative. We get some benefits of the next age or new age right now. We get some benefits of eternal life, right now.
Let’s look at life by the book—by the prominent Greek lexicon.
It is the noun zoē (pronounced zoh-ay, and girls are named after it, e.g. Zoey). BDAG says that it has two senses, depending on the context: a physical life (e.g. life and breath) and a transcendent life. By physical life the editors mean the period from birth to death, human activity, a way or manner of living, a period of usefulness, earning a living. By transcendent life the lexicographers mean these four elements: first, God himself is life and offers us everlasting life. Second, Christ is life, who received life from God, and now we can receive life from Christ. Third, it is new life of holiness and righteousness and grace. God’s life filling us through Christ changes our behavior. Fourth, zoē means life in the age to come, or eschatological life. So our new life now will continue into the next age, which God fully and finally ushers in when Christ returns. We will never experience mere existence or death, but we will be fully and eternally alive in God.
Clearly, John means the fourth definition.
“To love one’s life here means to give it priority over the interests of God’s kingdom; similarly, to hate one’s life is to give it priority over it to the interests of God’s kingdom. The Kingdom of God and ‘eternal life’ are in practice interchangeable terms, since eternal life is the life of the age to come, when God’s kingdom is established on earth, but in this Gospel especially eternal life is something that can be received and enjoyed here and now through faith-union with Christ” (Bruce comment on vv. 25-26).
Carson: “The person who loves his life will lose it: it could not be otherwise, for to love one’s life is a fundamental denial of God’s sovereignty, of God’s rights, and a brazen elevation of self to the apogee of one’s perception, and therefore an idolatrous focus on self, which is the heart of sin. Such a person loses his life, i.e. causes his own perdition” (comments on v. 25).
These two verses remind me of the passage in Mark 8:34-38:
34 Then he called for the crowd, with his disciples, and said to them, “If anyone wants to follow after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. 35 For anyone who wants to preserve his life shall lose it. Whoever shall lose his life for my sake and the gospel shall preserve it. 36 What does it profit a person to gain the whole world and suffer damage to his soul? 37 What will a man give in exchange for his soul? 38 For whoever shall be ashamed of me and my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man shall be ashamed of him when he comes in the glory of his Father and with the holy angels. (Mark 8:34-38)
Any follower of Jesus must renounce his old life instinct and die to it. He may not be crucified literally, particularly in the comfortable West, but he will have to suffer social stigma, which may add up to a social death. In nations that persecute Christians, particularly communist and Islamic nations, believers may have to give up their lives, literally, physically.
This passage corresponds to the suffering of Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane, which internal suffering John omits. Here in v. 27, his soul is troubled. What shall he say? He has a choice. Should he walk away and ask the Father to rescue him? In Matt. 26:53 he says that during the arrest, he could have called on the Father, who would have sent twelve legions of angels.
The Son once again looks to his Father’s glory. In glorifying the Father’s name Jesus is saying that it is hallowing it or rendering it holy, as in the Lord’s Model Prayer (Bruce, comment on vv. 27-28).
So how did the Father already glorify it and then will glorify it again? In the first instance, his name was glorified in the ministry and signs of the Incarnate Word, if people could see below the surface and the Father’s backing of his Son. Glorifying it again means the completion of the mission of his Son when he died on the cross and was buried, resurrected, and ascended. The ascension is the vindication of the Son and completion of the mission of both the Father and the Son. Mission accomplished, at the ascension.
“name”: for more comments on this noun, see v. 13.
The bystanders heard something, but they did not know how to interpret it. Was it thunder? An angel? Here we have an example of irony, thinking you know more than you actually know. Example: Job and his friends knew a little of the ways of God interacting with humanity. They spoke great poetry. But when God showed up on the scene and gave a long speech with rhetorical questions about creation, they realized they did not know as much as they had first believed. The crowd here did not know what the sound meant. God spoke to his Son for the crowd’s benefit, but they were spiritually dull. In his ministry, he spoke about division (7:43; 10:19), but this dullness separates them finally. Soon Jesus will speak in close intimacy with his disciples alone (Chapters 13-17).
This failure to perceive a voice from heaven reminds me of Paul and heavenly voice he heard:
3 While he was travelling, it happened. As he neared Damascus, a light from heaven unexpectedly flashed around him. 4 And falling to the ground, he heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul! Why are you persecuting me?” 5 He replied, “Who are you, sir?” “I am Jesus whom you are persecuting! 6 But get up and enter the city, and it shall be told you what you must do!” 7 And the men caravanning with him had been standing speechless, hearing the voice but seeing no one. (Acts 9:3-7)
Then Paul seems to say that no one “heard” the voice:
6 It happened to me as I was going and nearing Damascus, at midday, suddenly a very bright light from heaven shone around me. 7 I fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to me, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” 8 I answered, “Who are you, lord?” He said to me, “I am Jesus the Nazarene whom you are persecuting” 9 And those who were with me saw the light, but did not hear the voice of the one speaking. (Acts 22:6-9)
But the point Paul is making is that they did not “comprehend” what had happened and what the sound meant. People hear and understand different things when God communicates directly. This explains why some demand that God skywrite a word like “repent!”, but we all know that some would worship the words in the sky; many would ignore it, and some scientists would explain it away.
“The ruler of this world”: it is John’s term for Satan (14:30; 16:11). “His time had come, and in the cross and resurrection he would meet his ultimate defeat (cf. Rev. 12). From this point on he is a defeated foe (Col. 2:13-15). Satan may have been the prince of the world, but his kingdom is about to come tumbling down” (Mounce, comment on v. 31).
This decisive division between him and the world has a spiritual dimension. The ruler of the world order and a spiritual-demonic kingdom will be thrown out or dethroned; now universal authority and judgment will have been handed over to the Son on the cross and resurrection and ascension (3:35; 5:19-29). The ruler of this world has no accusation to bring against the Son (14:30). His followers will also be accused but they will receive help from the Paraclete, who will be the evidence that the ruler of this world is judged (16:11). “The ruler of this world is judged.” Jesus will discredit the ruler of the world. Jesus said he saw Satan fall from heaven (Luke 10:18); and Jesus said he was binding the strong man (Satan) (Matt. 12:29 // Mark 3:27 // Luke 8:21-22). The cross, seemingly expressing defeat, was actually the victory and vindication of the Son and defeat of Satan.
I like Beasley-Murray on vv. 31-32: “The sentence of judgment passed on this world is endured by the One whom this world murders. This turns the awful news of judgment on sin at the cross into good news of deliverance from condemnation through the cross. It is an eschatological event in the fullest sense of the term: God acting in sovereign power to declare judgement, both negatively and positively, and to bring salvation through the Son of Man crucified and exalted to heaven” (emphasis original).
The next verses explain the great turn of event and the reversal of Satan’s apparent dominion to his biggest defeat.
He forgave us all our sins, 14 having canceled the charge of our legal indebtedness, which stood against us and condemned us; he has taken it away, nailing it to the cross. 15 And having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross. (Col. 2:13b-18)
Jesus canceled the records of debt against us by nailing the writ or decree on the cross. Satan used to have permission to accuse us, but our sin-debt no longer applies. It is finished (John 19:30).
The ruler of the world will be cast out. The verb is future passive, and I believe we have another example of the divine passive, which means the subject of the verb is not expressed, but in this context God is the one working behind the verb, expelling the world-ruler. But casting him out of what? Where? John reshapes this idea in apocalyptic language: “The great dragon was hurled down—that ancient serpent called the devil, or Satan, who leads the whole world astray. He was hurled to the earth, and his angels with him” (Rev. 12:9, NIV).
Bruce cites the Odes of Solomon, a Christian document written around the time the Gospel of John was written, which reads, Christ speaking of the Father as: “the one who overthrew by my hands the seven-headed dragon, and set me over his roots that I might destroy his seed” (22.5).
The Greek verb for “lift up” appears in Phil. 2:9 which says, “Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name.” (The Septuagint, pronounced sep-TOO-ah-gent, is the third to second century Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible. In Is. 52:13 the prophet says that the suffering servant shall be exalted.” So in v. 32 Jesus, in his being lifted up, speaks mainly of his crucifixion, which he also alluded to in 3:14 and 8:28. But he also speaks of his exaltation to the highest rank.
When he is lifted up, he will draw all people to him like a magnet. The word draw needs to be interpreted.
As I did in 6:44, first let’s look at a lexicon. It is the verb helkō (pronounced hehl-koh). BDAG is considered by many to be the most authoritative lexicon of the Greek NT, and the verb means, depending on the context:
(1).. “to move an object from one area to another in pulling motion, draw.” This is done in a physical sense: Draw a sword (John 18:10); haul a net (John 21:6); dragging or hauling Paul and Silas before the authorities (Acts 16:19); haling people into court (Jas. 2:6).
(2).. “to draw a person in the direction of values for inner life, draw, attract.” BDAG recommends this second definition for 6:44; and the editors recommend this definition in the context of when Jesus is lifted up, he will draw all people to himself (John 12:32).
(3).. “to appear to be pulled in a certain direction, flow”; however, there is no reference to this meaning in the NT.
I believe that we would misinterpret the verses in John 12:32 (and 6:44), if we conclude that the drawing or attracting is actually dragging or hauling in the first definition. The first definition is about drawing physical things or dragging people into court against their will and unjustly. The second definition in context is a wooing of the will, not a raping of the will. So let’s not over-interpret the verb here in v. 44 by imposing the first definition. John’s Gospel is all about people believing or having faith in Jesus by their seeing him and hearing his message, not about being dragged or pulled against their will from area to another or one belief to the next.
The Lord appeared to us in the past, saying:
“I have loved you with an everlasting love;
I have drawn you with unfailing kindness. (Jer. 31:3, NIV)
Now Jesus once again, as he did in v. 24, answers the Greeks directly. When he is lifted up and exalted, he will draw the Greeks to himself—including these Greeks. So they must be patient and wait a little longer. Bottom line: he put them off for a brief time (v. 35), but when he is ascended, he will accept them.
I like what Bruce says: “His being glorified is not a reward or recompense for his crucifixion; it inheres in his crucifixion. And when he has thus been lifted up, exalted and glorified, he will (like a spiritual magnet) draw to himself Gentiles as well as Jews, all without distinction. This has been alluded to previously in the ‘other sheep’ who are brought to join those whom the Shepherd of Israel has called out from the Jewish fold (John 10:16) and in the ‘children of God who are scattered abroad’ (11:52) … His death will obliterate all racial and religious barriers” (comments on vv. 29-33).
This verse reminds me of an earlier one at the Feast of Dedication less than four months earlier: “Then the Jews encircled him and were saying to him, ‘How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Christ, tell us plainly” (John 10:24). Apparently the crowd distinguished various figures of eschatological expectation. John 6:14 which says the crowds believed that Jesus may be the Prophet came into the world, while 7:40 says that Jesus may be the Prophet or the Christ, yet can either one come from Galilee? In other words, the people were confused.
What does the term Christ or Messiah mean? The term means the Anointed One. In Hebrew it is Messiah, and in Greek it is Christ. It means that the Father through the Spirit equipped Jesus with his special calling and the fulness of power to preach and minister to people, healing their diseases and expelling demons (though demon expulsion is not mentioned in John’s Gospel). The Messiah / Christ ushered in the kingdom of God by kingdom preaching and kingdom works.
The law stands in for the entire Hebrew Bible. Is. 9:7 says that the prince of the house of David is established forever. Ezek. 37:35 says that God’s servant David will be Israel’s prince forever. And Ps. 72:17 says that the Messiah’s name will endure forever. From these verses they “heard” that the Messiah or Christ will endure forever. They say “heard” because it is not clear that the crowds were scholars and took the time to study these texts. The texts had to be explained to them.
But I really like how the crowd asks, “Who is this Son of Man.” Entire sermons can be built on the question. A journey through the biblical text can go along way to edifying and educating them.
While you have the light, believe in the light, so that you may become children of the light.”
Jesus is saying here that he is the light which they have right now. Believe in him now, so they can become children of the light (his children). The Greek literally says the “sons of light,” but since the context is “everyone” I chose “children.” Bruce reminds us that the expression “sons of light” means the “ethical qualities of the person or persons thus described” (comment on 35-36a).
Now we circle back around to the light-darkness opposites. So let’s explore this symbol, as we did in 8:12 and 9:5.
Let’s again set up our two-level diagram, reading from the bottom up.
2.. What Does It or He Symbolize?
1.. Physical Object or Person
Now let’s fill it in:
2.. Jesus’s divine nature and truth
Now what is light, and how does Jesus signify it? First, God is light (1 John 1:5). It reflects his divine nature, and it speaks of truth. It illuminates the soul and spirit of humanity, after they repent and surrender to Jesus. Yet, light can shine on the path that leads to their repentance and surrender (BDAG). Light speaks of truth over error; knowledge over ignorance; wisdom over foolishness.
Jesus is the light coming into the world, and darkness does not extinguish it:
4 In him was life, and this life was the light of people. 5 And the light shines in darkness, and the darkness did not put it out. … 9 The true light, which shines on every person, was coming into the world. 10 He was in the world, and the world through him was made and the world did not recognize him. 11 He came to his own people, but his own people did not receive him. 12 But to all who received him, to the ones who believe in his name, he gave the authority to become children of God … (John 1:4-5, 9-12).
People who are perceptive enough to see the light can become children of God. But generally speaking his own people did not receive him.
Jesus said in 8:12:
12 So then Jesus again spoke to them, saying, “I am the light of the world. The one following me in no way walks in darkness but will have the light of life.”
Jesus said in 9:4-5:
4 We must work the works of the one who sent me while it is day; the night comes when no one can work. 5 While I am in the world, I am the light of the world.” (John 9:4-5)
He also said in 11:9-10:
9 Jesus replied, “Are there not twelve hours in a day? If someone walks around in the daytime, he does not trip because he sees the light to this world. 10 But if anyone walks around at night, he trips because the light is not in him.”
The light-darkness metaphor is found elsewhere in the NT. The one following Jesus will be a bright light and experience the life which he shines on them. Jesus said in the Sermon on the Mount:
14 You are the light of the world the light of the world. A town sitting above on a mountain cannot be hidden. 15 Neither do they light a lamp and place it under a container, but on a lampstand, and it shines on everyone in the house. 16 In this way, let your light shine before people, so that they see your good works and glorify your Father who is in heaven. (Matt. 5:14-16)
Jesus is the source of our light, after we enter the kingdom. Then our (his) light shines in our good works.
12 The night is nearly over; the day is almost here. So let us put aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light. (Rom. 13:12, NIV)
8 For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light 9 (for the fruit of the light consists in all goodness, righteousness and truth) 10 and find out what pleases the Lord. 11 Have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather expose them. 12 It is shameful even to mention what the disobedient do in secret. 13 But everything exposed by the light becomes visible—and everything that is illuminated becomes a light. 14 This is why it is said:
“Wake up, sleeper,
rise from the dead,
and Christ will shine on you.” (Eph. 5:8-14, NIV)
… and giving joyful thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of his holy people in the kingdom of light. 13 For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, 14 in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins. (Col. 1:12-14, NIV)
In the Thessalonian correspondence:
4 But you, brothers and sisters, are not in darkness so that this day should surprise you like a thief. 5 You are all children of the light and children of the day. We do not belong to the night or to the darkness. 6 So then, let us not be like others, who are asleep, but let us be awake and sober. 7 For those who sleep, sleep at night, and those who get drunk, get drunk at night. 8 But since we belong to the day, let us be sober, putting on faith and love as a breastplate, and the hope of salvation as a helmet. (1 Thess. 5:4-8, NIV)
Old Testament background (NIV):
The Lord is my light and my salvation—
whom shall I fear? (Ps. 27:1)
8 They feast on the abundance of your house;
you give them drink from your river of delights.
9 For with you is the fountain of life;
in your light we see light. (Ps. 36:8-9)
105 Your word is a lamp for my feet,
a light on my path. (Ps. 119:105)
19 The sun will no more be your light by day,
nor will the brightness of the moon shine on you,
for the Lord will be your everlasting light,
and your God will be your glory. (Is. 60:19)
The Essenes, living in Qumran, saw a conflict between light and darkness (Mounce, referencing 1 QS 3:20-21).
But throughout the Mediterranean world the word light meant “truth” and “the right way,” “ethical living.”
Just go to biblegateway.com and search for light. Amazing hits.
Darkness: Let’s set up the two-level diagram again:
2.. Moral and worldly degradation
People who walk or live in darkness live degraded moral lives. They cannot perceive the truth of God and walk in righteousness and holiness, after they enter the kingdom of God by first being born again.
12 The night is nearly over; the day is almost here. So let us put aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light. (Rom. 13:12)
This is the judgment: light has come into the world and people loved darkness rather than light, for their works are evil. 20 Every person practicing bad things hates the light and does not come to the light, so that his works may not be exposed. 21 The one who practices the truth comes to the light, so that his works may be manifest, namely, that they are done in God. (John 3:19-21)
12 So then Jesus again spoke to them, saying, “I am the light of the world. The one following me in no way walks in darkness but will have the light of life.” (John 8:12)
GrowApp for John 12:20-35
A.. The outsider Greeks said, “Sir, we want to see Jesus.” When did you, an outsider to the things of God, thirst to see Jesus?
B.. How do you walk (live) in the light in your corner of the dark world?
Many Jews Did Not Believe (John 12:37-43)
37 Even though he did so many signs in front of them, they did not believe in him, 38 in order that the word of Isaiah the prophet might be fulfilled, who said:
Lord, who has believed our report?
And to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed? [Is. 53:1]
39 For this reason they were unable to believe, because Isaiah again said:
40 He has blinded their eyes
And hardened their hearts,
So that they may not see with their eyes
And understand with their heart and turn
And I will heal them. [Is. 6:10]
41 Isaiah said these things because he saw his glory and spoke about him.
42 Nevertheless, indeed, many even of the rulers believed in him but because of the Pharisees did not profess him so that they might not become desynagogued, 43 for they loved the glory of people more than the glory of God.
John wrote his Gospel so that the Jews (and Gentiles) would believe. Here is the purpose of the signs, without a complicated commentary:
30 So then Jesus performed many other signs in front of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. 31 These were written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name. (John 20:30-31)
The signs are for us to believe that he is the Messiah (or Christ), the Son of God. They are signposts, which point to Jesus and his glory.
Jesus says the same thing in the Synoptic Gospels of Matthew and Mark. I quote from Matthew’s version:
13 For this reason I speak to them in parables, because even though they ‘see,’ they do not see, and even though they ‘hear,’ they do not hear, nor do they understand. 14 Then this prophecy of Isaiah shall be fulfilled about them, saying:
You shall ‘hear’ with the act of ‘hearing,’ and you shall not understand,
And even though you ‘see’ carefully, you shall ‘see’ and not perceive.
15 For the heart of this people has become dull,
And the ears have become hard of hearing,
And their eyes have shut,
In case they might hear with their ears,
And with their hearts they might understand and might turn
And I would heal them. [Is. 6:9-10]
16 But your eyes are blessed because they see, and your ears are blessed because they hear. 17 I tell you the truth that many prophets and righteous people yearned to see what you see and did not see it, and to hear what you hear and did not hear it.
These two passages explain to the earliest church why the Jews refused to believe. Paul quotes similar verses to the Jewish leaders in Rome.
“Well has the Holy Spirit spoken through Isaiah the prophet to your ancestors,
Go to this people and say:
You ever hear and do not understand;
You ever see and do not perceive;
27 For the heart of this people has become dull,
And they hear with ears hard of hearing,
And they close their eyes,
Otherwise, they might see with their eyes,
hear with their ears,
understand with their heart
And turn, and I would heal them. [Is. 6:9-10]
28 Therefore let it be known to you that this salvation of God has been sent to the Gentiles, and they shall listen.” (Acts 28:25-28)
In Rom. 11:17-25 Paul writes of the temporary and partial hardening which has overtaken Israel.
When Isaiah received his prophetic commission, he was warned that the people would not receive his message. The kings of Israel and Judah before Isaiah lived and afterwards drove the country into the ground, and the people contributed to their own downfall, as well. Their rebellion against his ways was not God’s original plan, but God could foresee it happening. So the blinding of eyes and hardening of hearts comes in the context of judgment on hearts that were predisposed to be hard and eyes predisposed to be blind. This is a passage of judgment. Bruce: “This Hebraic fashion of expressing result as though it were purpose has influenced John’s wording—both in the introductory formula ‘in order that they saying of Isaiah might be fulfilled’ in verse 38 and again in the words ‘This is the reason they were unable to believe’ in v. 39” (comment on vv. 39-41). What Bruce says here is that in Hebrew idiom what appears to be caused by God and purposed by God is actually just the result of the people’s own condition of their eyes and heart.
Jesus was called to proclaim the good news, but judgment is coming, for Jesus was destined to be rejected by the Jerusalem establishment and then judgement would fall.
Beasley-Murray is right. Verse 39 could seem like naked predestinarianism but it was not intended as such, nor would the verse been read in this way. He refers to the hardening of Pharaoh’s heart in Exod. 4:21, yet the Pharaoh himself is said to harden his own heart (e.g. 8:15, 32). God will never reject anyone who earnestly seeks him. The inability of these Jews comes in the context of salvation history. As I will note in vv. 42-43, thousands of Jews did convert.
Morris: About blinding their eyes, “he does not mean that the blinding takes place without the will or against the will of these people. So with the hardening of their hearts. These people chose evil. It is their own deliberate choice, their own fault … Throughout the Gospel, John has insisted on the seriousness of the decision forced on the Jews by the presence of Jesus, on their responsibility and on their guilt” (comment on vv. 39-40). Then he goes on to state the mysteriousness of God’s will and human will.
Carson: “Philosophically, like every major author in the canon, John is a compatibilist” (Carson, comment on v. 38). That is, John, like every NT writer, places God’s sovereignty next to human free will and believes they are compatible. Maybe so, but I like Bruce’s explanation.
The problem for us is to sort it all out. So we have to take each verse as they come.
Isaiah marvelously foresaw the glory of Jesus, just as Abraham did. “Your father Abraham rejoiced that he would see my day, and he saw it and rejoiced” (John 8:56). Peter repeats the same idea:
10 Concerning this salvation, the prophets, who spoke of the grace that was to come to you, searched intently and with the greatest care, 11 trying to find out the time and circumstances to which the Spirit of Christ in them was pointing when he predicted the sufferings of the Messiah and the glories that would follow. 12 It was revealed to them that they were not serving themselves but you, when they spoke of the things that have now been told you by those who have preached the gospel to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven. Even angels long to look into these things. (1 Peter 1:10-12, NIV)
The prophets of old caught glimpses of Jesus, but how they did, whether in vision or by another kind of revelation, is an open question.
Now let’s look at the noun glory, more generally, just to get our bearings on the term in the bigger Gospel of John.
“glory” means, in many contexts, the light of God, shining to all the world. This brightness is the glory of God.
Moses experienced the glory of God:
18 Then Moses said, “Now show me your glory.”
19 And the Lord said, “I will cause all my goodness to pass in front of you, and I will proclaim my name, the Lord, in your presence. I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion. 20 But,” he said, “you cannot see my face, for no one may see me and live.” 21 Then the Lord said, “There is a place near me where you may stand on a rock. 22 When my glory passes by, I will put you in a cleft in the rock and cover you with my hand until I have passed by. 23 Then I will remove my hand and you will see my back; but my face must not be seen.” (Exod. 33:18-22, NIV).
Commentator Bruce also sees this connection between the glory which Moses saw and the surpassing glory of Jesus. Further, he connects the glory of the old tabernacle with God pitching his tabernacle through his Son (comment on 1:14). “Then have them make a sanctuary for me, and I will dwell among them” (Exod. 25:8, NIV). When the tabernacle was completed, we read: “34 Then the cloud covered the tent of meeting, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle. 35 Moses could not enter the tent of meeting because the cloud had settled on it, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle” (Exod. 40:34-35, NIV).
But Paul, writing under the inspiration of the Spirit, says that the glory which Moses experienced, soon faded away.
7 Now if the ministry that brought death, which was engraved in letters on stone, came with glory, so that the Israelites could not look steadily at the face of Moses because of its glory, transitory though it was, 8 will not the ministry of the Spirit be even more glorious? 9 If the ministry that brought condemnation was glorious, how much more glorious is the ministry that brings righteousness! 10 For what was glorious has no glory now in comparison with the surpassing glory. 11 And if what was transitory came with glory, how much greater is the glory of that which lasts! (2 Cor. 3:7-11, NIV)
The glory of the New Covenant, initiated by Jesus, will last forever.
In more general terms, Carson says that Jesus’s glory was displayed in his signs (2:11; 11:4, 40); he was supremely glorified in his death and exaltation (7:39: 12:16, 23: 13:31-32), Yes, he also had glory before he began his public ministry, for in fact he enjoyed glory with his Father before his incarnation and returned to his Father to receive the fulness of glory (15:5, 24). While other men seek their own glory, Jesus’s relationship with his Father meant that he did not need to seek his own glory; he was secure in his relationship with his Father. He sought only God’s glory (5:41; 7:18; 8:50). (comment on 1:14).
Keener also brings focus to John’s definition of glory:
Jesus, in contrast to his opponents, accepts this only from the Father (5:41, 33; 7:18; 8:50, 54; 9:24; 12:41, 43; 16:14; 17:12). The Fourth Gospel applies Jesus’ “glory” to various acts of self-revelation (his signs–2:11; 11:4, 40), but the ultimate expression of glory is the complex including Jesus’ death (12:16, 23, 28; 13:31-32; cf. 21:9), resurrection and exaltation (cf. 7:39; 12:16; 17:1, 5). This glory thus becomes the ultimate revelation of “grace and truth”: where the world’s hatred for God comes to its ultimate expression, so also does God’s love for the world (3:16). If the Johannine [adjective for John] community’s opponents regarded the cross as proof that Jesus was not the Messiah, John regards Jesus’ humiliation as the very revelation of God; his whole enfleshment, and especially his mortality and death, continue the ultimate revelation of God’s grace and truth revealed to Moses (p. 411)
The rulers believed, but they were frightened of being “desynagogued” or kicked out of the synagogue. I decided to go with a literal translation (“desynagogued”). Only those who were hungry and perceptive would escape judgment.
Many “regular” Jews followed him during his ministry, but would they be insightful and perceptive enough to grasp the gospel told through parables? We know that thousands converted to the Messiah after Pentecost (Acts 2:41; 4:4; 21:20). They were the insightful and perceptive ones. Acts 6:7 says a large number of priests believed in their Messiah.
The glory of the Lord is a circumlocution for the name of God, but John carried the term to its fullest extent: Jesus himself.
For more about faith, scroll up to vv. 9-11.
GrowApp for John 12:37-43
A.. How did your heart become softened and your eyes sighted to that you believed in the glory of Jesus and convert to him?
B.. Did your faith in Christ require you to leave an old religious group without fear?
Jesus’s Word Judges People (John 12:44-50)
44 Jesus shouted and said, “The one believing in me does not believe in me but in the one who sent me. 45 And the one seeing me sees the one who sent me. 46 I, as light, have come into the world, so that everyone believing in me does not stay in darkness. 47 If anyone hears my words and does not keep them, I do not judge him, for I did not come to judge the world but to save the world. 48 The one rejecting me and not receiving my word has one who judges him: the message which I have spoken judges him on the last day 49 because I have not spoken on my own, but the one who sent me, the Father himself; he has given me a commandment as to what I should say and what I should speak. 50 And I know that his commandment is eternal life. Therefore, the things which I speak, just as the Father has spoken to me, in that manner, I speak.”
Jesus is not absolutely excluding himself as the one who is the object of faith, since he says that he is, in other verses (e.g. vv. 11 and 42). Rather, Jesus is proclaiming his union with the Father. Believing in Jesus is to believe in the Father, the one who sent him. For more about faith, scroll up to vv. 9-11.
Jesus is so united with the Father that if you see him—his life and teaching and demeanor and signs or miracles—you see the Father. We may not match up to Jesus’s standard, but recall Matt. 5:48: “Therefore, you shall be perfect as your Father in heaven is perfect” (Matt. 5:48).
One more time, we circle back around to light and darkness. Jesus is the light, and the world is dark. He entered the dark world, and the darkness does not extinguish it. Please see vv. 35-36 for more comments.
Jesus repeats what he said—or John wrote—in 3:17-18: “For God did not send the Son into the world in order to condemn it, but that the world may be saved through him. 18 The one who believes in him is not condemned; but the one who does not believe is condemned already because he has not believed in the name of the unique Son of God” (John 3:17-18)
Jesus does not have the ultimate mission to judge or condemn the world because the world, in rejecting him and his teaching places itself in the peril of judgment. When the day of judgment comes, on the last day, he will sit as judge, and he will know those who believed his word.
The verb for save is sōzō: Since the theology of salvation (soteriology) is so critical for our lives, let’s look more closely at the noun salvation, which is sōtēria (pronounced soh-tay-ree-ah and used 46 times) and at the verb sōzō (pronounced soh-zoh and used 106 times)
Greek is the language of the NT. BDAG defines the noun sōtēria as follows, depending on the context: (1) “deliverance, preservation” … (2) “salvation.”
The verb sōzō means “save, rescue, heal” in a variety of contexts, but mostly it is used of saving the soul. BDAG says that the verb means, depending on the context: (1) “to preserve or rescue from natural dangers and afflictions, save, keep from harm, preserve,” and the sub-definitions under no. 1 are as follows: save from death; bring out safely; save from disease; keep, preserve in good condition; thrive, prosper, get on well; (2) “to save or preserve from transcendent danger or destruction, save or preserve from ‘eternal’ death … “bring Messianic salvation, bring to salvation,” and in the passive it means “be saved, attain salvation”; (3) some passages in the NT say we fit under the first and second definition at the same time (Mark 8:5; Luke 9:24; Rom. 9:27; 1 Cor. 3:15).
As noted throughout this commentary, the noun salvation and the verb save go a lot farther than just preparing the soul to go on to heaven. Together, they have additional benefits: keeping and preserving and rescuing from harm and dangers; saving or freeing from diseases and demonic oppression; and saving or rescuing from sin dominating us; ushering into heaven and rescuing us from final judgment. What is our response to the gift of salvation? You are grateful and then you are moved to act. When you help or rescue one man from homelessness or an orphan from his oppression, you have moved one giant step towards salvation of his soul. Sometimes feeding a hungry man and giving clothes to the naked or taking him to a medical clinic come before saving his soul.
All of it is a package called salvation and saved.
Here Jesus saves us from the dark world, an in believing in him, we have eternal life, which means we can receive the life of the future kingdom right now. See vv. 25-26 for more comments.
Verse 48 reminds me of these verses in Matt. 7:24-27:
24 “Therefore, everyone who hears these words of mine and does them shall be like a prudent man who built his house on the rock. 25 The rain came down and the flood came and the winds blew and beat upon that house. And it did not fall, for it was founded on the rock. 26 And everyone hearing these teachings of mine and does not do them shall be like the foolish man who built his house on the sand. 27 And the rain came down and the floods came and the winds blew and beat on that house, and it fell. And great was its collapse!”
A man’s life collapses on its own, by his refusal to obey the teaching of Jesus. His life is self-judged to be fool’s gold, when compared to the pure gold standard.
“The idea is that the same message that proclaims life and forgiveness to the believers proclaims condemnation and wrath to the unbeliever, and this judgment on the world (v. 31) is now impending” (Carson, comments on vv. 47-48).
“last day”: The resurrection of the righteous and wicked happen at the same time, on the last day. Then after judgement, the new Messianic Age is fully ushered in and implemented. This is not complicated, despite the best efforts of (usually) American Bible teachers to (wrongly) turn it into a massive, complicated teaching.
Here is a diagram of simplicity itself:
First Coming → Church Age ——————→ Second Coming
The first coming is his birth and ministry and life. You could swap out “Church Age” and insert “This Age,” as distinct from the New Messianic Age, which is ushered in right after the Second Coming and the judgement of the righteous and the wicked at the same time, which Jesus clearly teaches here. When Jesus came the first time and was in the process of inaugurating the kingdom of God, the kingdom came subtly and mysteriously. When he comes a second time, his inaugurated kingdom will be fully accomplished.
First Coming → This Age ————→ Second Coming → Judgment → Messianic Age
During the time of This Age, the kingdom is working behind the scenes and in people’s hearts and wherever the gospel of the kingdom is preached. At the Second Coming, That Age begins.
So now we can take out one term and replace it with another one:
First Coming → This Age ————→ Second Coming → Judgment → Messianic Age / That Age
The Messianic Age and That Age are the same reality.
Or we can swap out Messianic Age and insert Kingdom Age:
First Coming → This Age ————→ Second Coming → Judgment → Kingdom Age / That Age
In short: Messianic Age = Kingdom Age = That Age
Then the Kingdom which Jesus inaugurated at his first coming will have been fully realized and accomplished.
So now let’s add two more elements. The Bible in its fullness teaches this flow chart:
First Coming → This Age / Inaugurated Kingdom ———→ Second Coming → Judgment → Fully Realized Kingdom Age
So we now live in the conflict and battle between This Age and the Inaugurated Kingdom, proclaimed by Jesus during his ministry. (They are not the same things but are at war with each other!) We are in the process of binding Satan and his demonic hordes, by expelling demons from people’s lives but mainly by preaching the gospel, so people surrender to the Son’s Lordship, and then Satan is pushed back and people experience victory in their lives. The gospel and life in the Spirit are so powerful that saved and redeemed people can experience victory over the power of sin in their lives. The presence of sin in their lives is not removed until they get their new resurrected and transformed bodies.
In John 5:28-29 and Matt. 13:41-43 and 25:31-46 Jesus talks about judgment in the above diagrams.
How does the rapture fit in? When people are snatched out of their tombs, they will be snatched or caught up (the rapture) and meet the Lord in the air. Then they will descend to a new heaven and new earth, which will have been recreated at the same time. Then they will be judged, and wicked will be sent away to punishment (though vv. 28-29 do not say this), and the righteous will be welcomed into the Messianic / Kingdom Age. In other words, the rapture and the Second Coming happen at the same time and are the same event.
Please see my post:
There is no reason, biblically, to over-think and complicate these verses and insert a separate rapture that comes before the Second Coming. Just because a teaching is popular does not make it right.
Personally, I am now rapidly trending towards amillennialism because it is streamlined, and I don’t believe the NT teaches convoluted theories. The entire NT fits together if we adopt amillennialism, from Matt. 1 to Rev. 22. I cannot allow, in my own Bible interpretation, a few contested verses in Rev. 20 to confuse the clear teaching of Jesus in the Gospels and the apostolic teaching in the Epistles. That is, I don’t believe we should allow Rev. 20 (the only few verses where one thousand years are mentioned) or the entire book of the Revelation (after chapter 3), the most symbolic book of the Bible, to guide our interpretation of these clear teachings in the Gospels and the Epistles. Instead, we should allow the clear, straightforward, nonsymbolic teachings in the Gospels and Epistles to guide our interpretations of the most symbolic book in the Bible, in which even the numbers may be symbolic and probably are. To see everything fit together, all we have to do is turn the kaleidoscope one notch or click and adopt amillennialism. I am willing to do that. And after much study (and more to come) I have become an amillennialist.
Clarity guides the unclear portions. My main point: keep the plain thing the main thing in hermeneutics (science of interpretation), and let the clear verses guide the unclear ones.
This interpretation enjoys the beauty of simplicity by eliminating all the complications that popular end-time Bible prophecy teachers have been imposing on the Gospels and Epistles for decades—over a century. Since this tradition has deep roots—not to say entrenched—in the conservative sectors of American Evangelicalism (broadly defined to incorporate the Renewal Movements), these teachers won’t give up their interpretation easily. So I hope to reach and teach the younger church generations and all other openminded people of all generations. They need to prepare for tough times ahead. I’m not a pastor, but I can still have a teacher’s pastoral heart.
But in these eschatological (end-time) discussions:
“In essentials, unity; in nonessentials, liberty; in all things, charity (love).”
We should not lose fellowship with those with whom we differ in eschatological matters.
The commandment that the Father gave him is the message he brought up in v. 48. The Greek word for message is logos, and we learned in John 1:1 that Jesus is the Logos, God’s self-expression. To believe in the Logos (Jesus himself) and logos (his message from the Father) is to receive eternal life.
The Son’s message is the commandment of eternal life; as the Father’s commandment is the commandment of eternal life, so the Son’s message is the message of eternal life. To obey the Father’s commandment, to believe the Son’s message, is to have eternal life; conversely, to disobey the Father’s commandment, to refuse credence to the Son’s message, is to forfeit life and enter into judgment. The light of life has as its counterpart the darkness of judgment.” (comments on vv. 49-50)
Now let’s look more deeply at the noun “word” or “message,” as I do in this entire commentary series. First, recall that the Logos became flesh (John 1:1-4, 14). But here it refers to the message or teaching of Jesus.
The noun logos is rich and full of meaning. It always has built into it rationality and reason. It has spawned all sorts of English words that end in –log-, like theology or biology, or have the log– stem in them, like logic.
Though certain Renewalists may not like to hear it, there is a rational side to the Word of God, and a moment’s thought proves it. The words you’re reading right now are placed in meaningful and logical and rational order. The Bible is also written in that way. If it weren’t, then it would be nonsense and confusing, and we couldn’t understand the gibberish. (Even your prophecies have to make logical and rational sense on some level.) Your Bible studies and Sunday morning sermons have to make sense, also. Jesus’s words also have Bible-based logic and rational argumentation built into it. People need to be ministered to in this way. God gave us minds and brains and expects us to use them. Your preaching cannot always be flashy and shrieky and so outlandishly entertaining that people are not fed in the long term. Movements like that don’t last over the years without the Word. I have observed this from firsthand experience in certain sectors of the Renewal Movement.
People have the deepest need to receive solid teaching. Never become so outlandishly supernatural and entertaining that you neglect the reasonable and rational side of preaching the gospel and teaching the Bible. Yes, the Gospels are very charismatic, but they are also very orderly and rational and logical.
On the other side of the word logos, people get so intellectual that they build up an exclusive Christian caste of intelligentsia that believe they alone can teach and understand the Word. Not true. Just study Scripture with Bible helps and walk in the Spirit, as they did in Acts. Combining Word and Spirit is the balanced life.
It should be pointed out that Jesus often uses another noun for word: rhēma (pronounced rhay-mah). In John’s Gospel, synonyms are used often, so let’s not make a big thing of the nuanced differences. In any case, I wanted to point out for today’s Bible teacher in my corner of the church world that we must have better teaching or doctrine whether it is the logos or the rhēma.
“eternal life”: please scroll back up to v. 25 for more comments.
To conclude this chapter, this summary passage is a perfect transition from the discourses with the world and sometimes friendly but often hostile crowds and “Jews” (mostly the religious establishment of Jerusalem) to the gospel of love and intimacy with the inner core of disciples.
GrowApp for John 12:44-50
A.. Can you contrast your old life in darkness with your new eternal life in the light?
B.. Jesus spoke what the Father did. Study Ps. 19:14. How are your words and meditations of the heart?
Beasley-Murray George R. John. Word Biblical Commentary. Rev. ed. Zondervan, 1999.
Borchert, Gerald L. John 12-21. New American Commentary. Vol. 25b. Broadman and Holman, 1996.
Bruce, F. F. The Gospel of John: Introduction, Exposition, and Notes. Eerdmans, 1983.
Carson, D. A. The Gospel according to John. The Pillar New Testament Commentary. Eerdmans, 1991.
The Greek New Testament. Fifth Revised Edition by Barbara Aland, Kurt Aland, Johannes Karavidopoulos, Carlo M. Martini, Bruce M. Metzger (United Bible Society, 2014).
Keener, Craig S. The Gospel of John: A Commentary. Vol. 1. Baker Academic, 2003.
Novakovic, Lidija. John 11-21: A Handbook on the Greek Text. A Handbook on the Greek Text. Baylor UP, 2020.
Klink, Edward W. John. Zondervan Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament. Zondervan, 2016.
Morris, Leon. The Gospel according to John. Rev. ed. Eerdmans, 1995.
Mounce, Robert H. John. The Expositor’s Bible Commentary. Rev. ed. Zondervan, 2007.