John 12:1-26.

Jesus, The Lord of All

         November 23, 2002                       © 2002, J.W. Carter
     www.biblicaltheology.com              Scripture quotes from KJV


In John's gospel, chapter 11, we find Jesus' arrival in Bethany, a small village near Jerusalem, where he came to the sisters Mary and Martha who are grieving the death of their brother Lazarus that took place four days prior.  Jesus had delayed his arrival in Bethany so that His raising of Lazarus from the dead would serve to glorify God and reveal who He was.  The time is now getting critical in Jesus' ministry.  For three years he has taught God's purpose throughout the region of Judea.  Though Jesus' ministry was centered around Capernaum, Jesus visited Jerusalem during the feasts.  His close proximity with the Jewish leadership engendered conflict on each of these visits as Jesus taught a gospel of love and grace that refuted the legalistic and condemning practice of the Jewish leaders.  These leaders saw Jesus as an uneducated cult leader who was leading people away from the Jewish law and out from under their authority.  They interpreted his theology as capital blasphemy worthy of death.  Consequently, each time we see an encounter between Jesus and the Jewish leadership we see such conflict, and the leadership retreats and rebuilds their capital case against Him.  

Chapter 12 finds Jesus still in the home of his friends Lazarus, Mary, and Martha in Bethany.  Jesus is making preparations for his last entrance in to Jerusalem as He will be taking part in another Passover feast.  

John 12:1-2.

Then Jesus six days before the Passover came to Bethany, where Lazarus was which had been dead, whom he raised from the dead. 2There they made him a supper; and Martha served: but Lazarus was one of them that sat at the table with him. 

The scripture does not record any of the conversations between Jesus and Lazarus' family in the days following the raising of Lazarus from the dead, but one can only imagine the joy that was felt by Mary and Martha as the grief of their brother's death and the hopelessness of their future instantly vanished at his resurrection.  As Mary and Martha saw their future restored and were thinking about the things that they would do, Lazarus had the unusual opportunity to do the same.  As each is sharing about their future, Jesus knew clearly what the nature of His future on earth would be:  He would be captured by the religious leadership that sought Him, and he would suffer a tortuous death.  The range of emotions present at this time would be extreme. 

John 12:3.

Then took Mary a pound of ointment of spikenard, very costly, and anointed the feet of Jesus, and wiped his feet with her hair: and the house was filled with the odor of the ointment. 

Mary's gesture of love is curious.  The imported oil that Mary used would have cost about 300 denarii, about a year's wages for an average workman.  Because of its value and small size, many kept such oils as an investment that could be sold quickly when cash is needed.  As Jesus was reclined at the table, in the manner of first-century custom, His feet would be quite accessible.  Mary wanted to show her love and gratitude to Jesus for His part in the restoration of the life of her brother, so she took her vial of oil, opened it, and anointed Jesus' feet with it.  Foot washing was a common practice in their culture, as people wore sandals as they traveled in the dusty streets.  The lowest servant would draw the task of washing the feet of guests.  Mary's gesture goes far beyond even this ritual in its humility and expression of love.  Jesus' feet would have already have been washed as He entered the home.  Now, Mary uses this every expensive oil to cleanse His feet.  The aroma of the oil would fill the entire room, and all who were present would witness this act of love and humility.  

The oil that Mary applied to Jesus' feet is also used to anoint the body of one who had died as they prepare it for burial.  It is unclear if Mary yet knew that Jesus was about to die, and within the context of her witness of the raising of her brother, it is quite doubtful that the idea entered her mind.  Mary would not have known the significance of her anointing of Jesus in the context of His coming death on the cross of Calvary.  Still, her expression of love was profoundly generous, and would have been noticed by all who were in the house.

John 12:4-6.

Then saith one of his disciples, Judas Iscariot, Simonís son, which should betray him, 5Why was not this ointment sold for three hundred pence, and given to the poor? 6This he said, not that he cared for the poor; but because he was a thief, and had the bag, and bare what was put therein. 

Not everyone in the room was appreciative of Mary's gesture.  Jesus knew Judas' nature, and his upcoming act of betrayal (John 6:70).  What Judas lacked in an appreciation for human need he gained in his desire for financial success.  His interest in things financial gained him the task of holding and managing the treasury of Jesus and the apostles.  This close proximity to their money was a temptation that Judas was not wanton to overcome:  he helped himself to the contents of the bag at his own pleasure.  This act characterized Judas as a thief.  Judas' concern for the expenditure of the oil was not related to its application to help the poor.  If the spikenard were to be sold, it would have added a year's wages to his moneybag, providing him with more funds from which to pilfer.

John 12:7-8.

Then said Jesus, Let her alone: against the day of my burying hath she kept this. 8For the poor always ye have with you; but me ye have not always.

Jesus' statement clearly delineates the contrast between Mary's devotion to Jesus and that of Judas.  Jesus' statement may have even surprised Mary as He stated that what Mary had just done served a specific purpose:  to prepare Him for His upcoming death.  There is little question that with the cross of Calvary looming so near, Jesus' mind was focused on it.  As Mary anointed Jesus' feet He would have immediately recognized the appropriateness of her act, and at this first opportunity to speak, Jesus shared this with others.  Jesus' was not making a disparaging statement about the poor, but rather than pointing out to Judas that if he really wanted to help the poor he could have been doing so at any time before, and will be able to continue doing so for as long as he walks the earth.  Judas' lack of concern for the poor is clearly exposed.  Jesus then reveals the brevity of His own presence.  Though the poor will always be around, He will not.  Jesus told the people in the room that He would be dying sooner than they.  Little did they understand at this point, that Jesus was speaking of the events that would take place within a week, and little did Judas know that he would survive little longer when the consequences of his greed would devour him.

John 12:9-11.

 Much people of the Jews therefore knew that he was there: and they came not for Jesusí sake only, but that they might see Lazarus also, whom he had raised from the dead. 10But the chief priests consulted that they might put Lazarus also to death; 11Because that by reason of him many of the Jews went away, and believed on Jesus.

The crowd that gathered at this time at this home in Bethany had come, not only to see Jesus, but to see Lazarus.  People had heard and witnessed Jesus' power to heal, and many came to meet and speak to Lazarus.  Even today, if one were to return from the dead as some claim to have done, people will seek to learn through that experience and the survivor will be afforded a lot of attention.  This further inflamed the crisis that was brewing in the Jewish leadership.  They were witnessing more and more people coming to Jesus and his 'blasphemous" doctrine.  Before Jesus came they were the proud carriers of the faith and were in total control of Jewish religion, culture, and teaching.  they were the center of their religious universe.  Jesus had severely eroded that position of power, and this event in Bethany only served to turn more people away from them.  At the rate that they saw their influence eroding and it was only a matter of time before they felt they would be completely overthrown.  Now they were faced with this man, Lazarus, who was giving a powerful testimony in support of Jesus, and he was bringing as many followers to Jesus this day, as Jesus was attaining Himself!  The religious leaders realized that the only way to quiet Lazarus would be to kill him, so they conspired amongst themselves as to how they would go about it.  One can only imagine the conversation among these religious leaders as they tried to figure out how to kill someone who had already died once before!  Surely, Jesus would just raise him from the dead again.  Certainly, they faced a most unusual dilemma, one for which they would shortly find a solution.

John 12:12-13.

On the next day much people that were come to the feast, when they heard that Jesus was coming to Jerusalem, 13Took branches of palm trees, and went forth to meet him, and cried, Hosanna: Blessed is the King of Israel that cometh in the name of the Lord.

As Jesus entered Jerusalem for the feast of the Passover, he was accompanied by a large crowd that was made up of two groups.  When we observe the record made by the writers of the other three gospels (Matt 21, Mark 11, Luke 19), we find that one group were those Jews who had made the pilgrimage to Jerusalem to observe the Passover.  Travel was difficult in the first century, so typically, most of the people who came would have originated from the nearby region, including Capernaum where Jesus spent the large part of his three-year ministry.  These would have previously heard of Jesus, and many would respond positively to the knowledge of his presence among them.  The larger group that honored Jesus at the gate, however, was that which came with him from Bethany, the group that had either witnessed the raising of Lazarus, or those who joined shortly thereafter.  Consequently, the praise that was afforded to Jesus did not start at the gates of Jerusalem, but rather at the grave of Lazarus.  One can envision the town of Bethany emptying out to accompany Jesus and Lazarus to the City of Jerusalem.  Nothing like this had ever occurred before, and the leaders of the City were well-aware of this dangerous situation.

Jesus' previous entrances to Jerusalem were wither quiet or almost secretive because, as we find in previous chapters, Jesus' time had not yet come.  However, in Bethany Jesus stated that it was now His time, so there was no such need for secrecy.  However, the riotous nature of the crowd's response at this point adds a new factor to the equation:  the power of the Roman leadership.  Rome was successful in holding many lands far from Rome due to the governmental structure that was in place.  Local communities were allowed to rule themselves under Roman supervision as long as the taxes were paid to Rome and the people were kept under control.   The presence of so many Jews in Jerusalem during the Passover had been considered dangerous without this new controversy.  Because of this, all of the local Roman leadership was in the city during the Passover, and the Roman guards were on alert for any problems.  Therefore, when this crowd entered Jerusalem with a controversial message, the the King of Israel (Psalm 118:25-26), or the "King of the Jews" is entering, the leadership that was responsible to Rome saw their future to be bleak indeed.  The chant made by the people was clearly a call for the Messiah.  They were shouting, "Hosanna", which means literally, "Save us!"  In order to keep their positions, the Jerusalem leadership, both Jew and Roman, had to keep the peace, and now a crowd was advocating a new King over Herod.  This situation was exceedingly dangerous.

John 12:14-19.

And Jesus, when he had found a young ass, sat thereon; as it is written, 15Fear not, daughter of Zion: behold, thy King cometh, sitting on an assís colt. 16These things understood not his disciples at the first: but when Jesus was glorified, then remembered they that these things were written of him, and that they had done these things unto him. 17The people therefore that was with him when he called Lazarus out of his grave, and raised him from the dead, bare record. 18For this cause the people also met him, for that they heard that he had done this miracle. 19The Pharisees therefore said among themselves, Perceive ye how ye prevail nothing? behold, the world is gone after him.

The synoptic gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke provide more details concerning the procurement and use of the donkey upon which Jesus rode into Jerusalem.  First, this form of entry fulfilled the prophesy of  Zechariah 9:9.  A king who would come to power would enter the gates on a horse, a "mighty steed," and would be surrounded by his army.  Though we can see parallels in this entry, the steed was a simple donkey, and because of its youth, a small one at that.  The donkey was used by the poorest people, and a horse by the richest.  Jesus' entrance on a donkey is an illustration of his humble roots, and also serves to dissuade any thought that His entrance is one that is militant in nature.  Jesus' army is not bent on overtaking Jerusalem, it is simply focused on the person of Jesus as their Lord, and their King.  Jesus attained that position with the people, not from military junta, but by winning their hearts with his love and caring nature.  This was not the type of King that was expected by the Jews.  Still, however, this did not lessen the danger that the crowd presented to the religious leaders.  For three years they had observed the growth of Jesus' following, and their inability to thwart it.  Verse 19 shows how they felt that in spite of all of their desires to stop this movement, and against all of their efforts to take action against it, they had gained nothing.  In their view they can see that the entire community, the "world," is going to follow Jesus, and their future is about to radically change, and in their opinion, it is certainly not for the better.

Even as all of these events were transpiring, the disciples were so caught up in them that they did not quite realize the significance of them at the time.  Those who were most focused on the details of this event were those who witnessed the raising of Lazarus, and they kept a detailed record of these events.  It would be from this record that the disciples and others would later realize that they had witness the fulfillment of prophesy.  At the time, the disciples lacked the spiritual discernment that they would attain after Pentecost when the record of all of these events would come together in their memory to validate even more the nature, calling, and purpose of Jesus, the Christ, the Messiah.  Through that record, their confidence and faith would be affirmed all the more.

John 12:20-22.

And there were certain Greeks among them that came up to worship at the feast: 21The same came therefore to Philip, which was of Bethsaida of Galilee, and desired him, saying, Sir, we would see Jesus. 22Philip cometh and telleth Andrew: and again Andrew and Philip tell Jesus. 

The group that entered with Jesus included many pilgrims, and including among them were Greeks (or Gentiles), non-Jews who came to Jerusalem to worship God.  Their presence would only serve to inflame the already dangerous situation since they held no allegiance to the religious leadership of Jerusalem, or to anyone else for that matter.  Gentiles were summarily rejected by the religious leaders and were forbidden from entering the inner areas of the court because they were considered "unclean."  The riot in the temple that resulted in Paul's imprisonment was started by the rumor that he had taken a Gentile into the inner court.  The type of leadership that the Gentiles saw in Jesus was quite different.  Jesus took his message of grace to the Gentiles without hesitation.  After Jesus healed the Gentile demoniac of Gadara, His message spread throughout the Decapolis, the ten-city cluster that was East and Northwest of the Sea of Galilee.  It is possible that some of these cities were represented in this group.  These gentiles sought an audience with Jesus, and rather than go to Him directly, they went to Philip, who like a few other disciples, had a Greek name.  Philip went to Andrew, another Greek-named Jew, and together they went to tell Jesus of their request to see Him.   

John 12:23.

And Jesus answered them, saying, The hour is come, that the Son of man should be glorified.  

It is not clear whether Jesus' response to the request for an audience was directed to Philip and Andrew, or if the Greeks were also included.  However, Jesus' response is clearly directed to a Greek audience that had heretofore been somewhat limited in their contact with Jesus.  So, Jesus gives to the Greeks a clear and unveiled answer:  the time has now come that the Son of Man, referring to himself, should be glorified, or lifted up.  Jesus announced to the Gentiles that now was the time for Him to fulfill His purpose, a purpose which involved merging both Jews and Gentiles together under His Lordship.  Unlike the rest of the Jews who had rejected the Gentiles, Jesus had never done so and in His last statement to the Gentile community, He announces His purpose, and by so doing, includes them in it.  Now the religious leadership find themselves up against a following that not only includes the pilgrims and the village of Bethany, but the Gentiles too!  To add insult to blasphemy, this Jesus is opening his fellowship to Gentiles!  When one observes the dynamics of what is taking place at the gates of Jerusalem, it is easy to see why the religious leadership worked so hard and so quickly to diffuse this growing situation by killing Jesus.  At this point, they would stop at nothing to quell the impending "disaster."

John 12:24-26.

Verily, verily, I say unto you, Except a corn of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abideth alone: but if it die, it bringeth forth much fruit. 25He that loveth his life shall lose it; and he that hateth his life in this world shall keep it unto life eternal. 26If any man serve me, let him follow me; and where I am, there shall also my servant be: if any man serve me, him will my Father honor.

Jesus repeats to the Gentiles a statement that he had repeatedly taught the Jews.  It is recorded in Matthew (10:39) as spoken to the disciples, and in Mark (8:36) to the disciples and a crowd, and in Luke (14:26) only recently to a mixed audience (Merrill, p. 129).  When looked at within this context, we see that Jesus' message of salvation is extended just as clearly and openly to the Gentiles as it was to the Jews.   In explaining the teaching to the Gentiles, Jesus uses the metaphor of a seed of wheat.  As one witnesses the life of living wheat, it grows and goes to seed.  However, it is at an appropriate time that the wheat dies, and its seed falls to the ground.  However, this death is necessary so that the seed can be empowered.  The dead seed will, at its appointed time, spring back to life, and bring forth much more fruit.  Jesus' death is like that of the wheat stalk.  It is necessary for Him to die, so that through that death, fruition can be found in new life that is afforded to Jews and Gentiles alike.  This cannot take place without the atoning death of Jesus on the cross.

Consequently, as Jesus opens His arms to both Jews and Gentiles, all must make a decision to follow Him or reject Him.  Verse 25 is very familiar to many Christians.  Three different words for "life" are used here, and understanding them might help us to appropriate a deeper knowledge of Jesus' statement.  The first, psyche, from which English gets the word, "psychology," refers to the individual's personality and all that its expression achieves.  To love one's life is to place himself at the center of his world, to make all of life's priorities center around himself.  All of the achievements of this life will be lost at death, and the person who clings to this has no hope.  The second word for life is zoe, refers to the spiritual life that we experience, and all that its expression achieves.  God created all people in His image, as beings who are not only physical and psychological, but also spiritual.  It is this nature in man that separates him from all of creation.   We choose the foundation upon which we build our spirituality.  One can build it based upon the nature of this world, under the dominion of Satan, or one can build it based upon the nature of God.  The word that is rendered, "hateth," is a hate that results in rejection.  Once can replace the word in the scripture and keep the meaning:  He who rejects the Prince of this World shall overcome it, and be rewarded with eternal life.  

Jesus then states that it is only through following Him that one can make that distinction.  Following Jesus is demonstrated by rejecting the nature of this world and following Him as Lord.  Those who follow Jesus do so by submitting themselves to His Lordship, and by so doing, become His Servants.  It is these servants of Jesus Christ that God will honor on the last day.

Again, it is very interesting to note that this last opportunity that Jesus has to teach this truth is given to the Gentiles who asked for an audience with Him.  Likewise, as God revealed Himself to this lost and wicked world, He did so first through the Jews, His chosen people.  However, at the appointed time, God chose to extend his message of salvation to Gentiles as well, and bring under His Lordship all people without regard to their worldly affiliation, as one body of believers, under One Holy Spirit.

By including both Jew and Gentile in His plan of salvation, Jesus is, indeed, Lord of All.  There is no distinction in the mind of Christ when He lavishes His love upon us.  Likewise, those who number themselves among His servants, should draw no distinctions when it comes to inviting others to find the light and life of the gospel.  Jesus is Lord of All, and it is the mission and ministry of the Church to bring all men to Him.


References.

George R. (1999). John, 2ed. Word Biblical Commentary, Volume 36.  Dallas, TX:  Word Books.  Pages 208-212.

Hull, William. (1970).  John, Broadman Bible Commentary, Vol. 9.  Nashville, TN: Broadman Press.  Page 318-321.

Martin, Mike. (2002).  Serve God, Explore the Bible: Adult Commentary, Fall 2002.  Nashville, TN:  Lifeway Church Resources.  Pages 130-138.

Simmons, Bob (2002). Serve God, Explore the Bible: Adult Leader Guide, Fall 2002.  Nashville, TN:  Lifeway Church Resources.  Pages 139-146.

Tenney, Merrill C. (1981).  John, The Expositor's Bible Commentary, Volume 9.  Grand Rapids, MI:  Zondervan Publishing House.  Pages 124-132.