(1) Then Jesus six days before the Passover came to Bethany.—The whole question of the arrangement of days during this last great week depends upon the conclusion which we adopt with regard to the day on which our Lord was crucified. The discussion of this is reserved for a separate Note, where it may be fully dealt with. (Comp. Excursus F: The Day of the Crucifixion of our Lord.)
And Martha served.—The tense of this verb differs from that of the others in the verse, and implies the continued act of serving, whilst “made a feast” is the statement of the fact as a whole. (Comp. Luke 10:40.)
Lazarus was one of them that sat at the table with him.—This is a natural touch answering to the impression that the fact made. It is closely connected with the statement of the preceding verse, “Lazarus had been dead, whom he raised from the dead.” Here was one sitting at meat with them who had lain in the sepulchre four days. The meal is in his case, as afterwards in that of our Lord Himself (Luke 24:41-43), a physical proof of the Resurrection; and his presence by the side of our Lord calls forth from Mary the anointing, which testifies to her gratitude and love.
For the “ointment of spikenard,” see Mark 14:3. It may perhaps mean “Nard Pistik,” or Pistik ointment, the word Pistik being a local name. The fact that this peculiar word occurs only in these two passages points to this as the probable explanation.
And anointed the feet of Jesus, and wiped his feet with her hair.—St. Matthew and St. Mark both state that she anointed His head. This was the usual custom (comp. Note on Luke 7:46, and Psalm 23:5); but St. John remembers that the act of love went beyond that of common esteem, in the depth of its gratitude and reverence, and anointed the feet, and wiped them with her own hair.
And the house was filled with the odour of the ointment.—The ointment was imported from the East in sealed flasks, which were broken when it was used. The strong perfume then escaped, and spread through the house (Mark 14:3).
But because he was a thief, and had the bag.—Comp. Notes on John 13:29 and Luke 8:1-3. We have to think of Judas as treasurer of the common fund which supplied the wants of the little band, and from which gifts to the poor were made. The word rendered “bag” here, the only passage where it occurs in the New Testament, and “chest,” in 2 Chronicles 24:8-11, means literally the “key-chest,” in which musicians carried their flute-keys. Hence it was applied to a chest in the wider sense, and especially, as here, to a small and portable chest.
And bare what was put therein.—This is but to say over again, if we take the ordinary sense of the words, what is already implied in the fact that he kept the bag. The form of the word expresses continuance of the act, and may refer to the recurring opportunities of fraud as distinct from the mere fact of carrying the chest with a known sum in it. But we may certainly render the word “bare away,” for St. John himself uses it in this sense in John 20:15; and this clause would then mean “and purloined what was put therein.”
On the next day.—See Note on John 12:1. St. John only gives us this definite note of time, connecting the Entry with the previous sojourn at Bethany. The Synoptic narrative is more general, describing the approach from Jericho, and naming Bethphage (Matt. and Luke) and Bethany (Mark and Luke) as stages in the journey, but not connecting the Supper at Bethany with the Entry.
When they heard that Jesus was coming.—They heard probably from those of the Jews (John 12:9) who had gone to Bethany. Note that these multitudes are not called Jews, though, of course, in the ordinary sense they were so. They were not “Jews” in the sense in which St. John uses the word, and he describes them as “much people that were come to the feast.” (Comp. John 11:54.)
Hosanna: Blessed is the King of Israel that cometh in the name of the Lord.—The better reading is, Blessed is He that cometh in the name of the Lord, and the King of Israel. These words of their cry are peculiar to St. John. The fullest report is St. Matthew’s (see Note on John 12:9). That all the accounts differ is natural, and they have all preserved to us some distinctive acclamation with which the crowds welcomed Him whom they received as the Messiah. The 118th Psalm, from which these acclamations are taken (see John 12:25-26), was currently interpreted as Messianic, and formed part of the Hallel chanted at Tabernacles and Passover. (Comp. Note on John 7:37.)
It is important to observe that St. John, like St. Matthew, does not follow the Greek of the LXX. in translating the Hebrew word “Hosanna,” but preserves the Hebrew sound in Greek letters. Comp. Revelation 19:6, where the word “Alleluia” is transliterated in the same way.
Sitting on an ass’s colt.—The Greek (LXX.) has “a young ass.” St. John’s translation is nearer to the Hebrew. (Comp. Introduction, p. 374).
When Jesus was glorified.—Comp. Note on John 7:39.
They had done these things unto Him.—The narrative implies, these, the incidents which the others state. The phrase “these things” occurs three times, referring emphatically to the correspondence between the prophecy and the actual incidents.
If we take the alternative, but less probable text, the multitude in both verses will be one and the same.
For that they heard . . . this miracle.—The emphatic form of the sentence points out that the raising of Lazarus was the miracle which carried the entire conviction of the multitude. They had heard of and in some eases seen the miracles, but this stood by itself, as witness which could not be gainsaid.
Behold, the world is gone after him.—They use terms which express the bitterness of their despair. They who had asked in scorn, “Have any of the rulers or of the Pharisees believed on him?” who called “cursed” “this people who knoweth not the law” who followed Him (John 7:48-49), have heard Jews of Jerusalem express their belief in Him; and now, see Him whom they are seeking to kill, borne as the Messiah at the head of a throng of pilgrims.
The words rendered “gone after him” apply that they had gone away from themselves, and rejected their authority; and had then gone after Him. (Comp. Note on John 12:11.)
Among them that came up to worship at the feast.—The words imply that they were in the habit of going up to Jerusalem at the feasts, i.e., that though Greeks by birth, they had been admitted to the privileges of Judaism. They belonged to the class known as “Proselytes of the Gate.” (Comp. Notes on Matthew 23:15 and Acts 8:27.)
Which was of Bethsaida of Galilee.—The mention of this place again here seems to intend that it should be told as explaining why these Greeks came to Philip. They may have themselves come from the neighbourhood of Bethsaida, or from one of the Greek cities of Decapolis.
The hour is come.—This approach of men from outside the limits of Judaism who have been admitted within its pale, and who now, when priests and rulers are seeking to kill Him, are seeking to render Him homage, brings back again the thought of the scattered sheep, for whose gathering the Shepherd’s life must be laid down (John 10:16-19). They are the first-fruits of the great flocks of humanity, and their presence is as the first stroke of the bell which sounds the fatal but glorious hour. That hour marked out in the counsels of God, and ever present in His own thoughts, has now come.
That the Son of man should be glorified.—This is to be accomplished in His ascension and return to the glory of Heaven. (Comp. Notes on John 17:1-2; John 17:5.) But the immediate connection implies that He regards the extension of his Messianic work, and the acceptance of His truth by the nations of the earth, as part of the glory of the Son of man. The connection implies also that He regards His own death as the dark path which must be trodden before the path of glory can be entered.
Except a corn of wheat fall into the ground and die.—The truth is one of those of the spirit-world, lying beyond the ordinary language of men. He prepares them for it by what we call the analogy of a physical law, but what is really an instance of the working of the great law of life, which God has given to the moral and physical worlds alike. All knew that a grain of wheat, though containing in itself the germs of life, would remain alone, and not really live unless it fell to the earth. Then the life-germs would burst forth, and the single grain, in its own death, would give life to blade, and stalk, and ear of corn. Its death then was the true life, for it released the inner life-power which the husk before held captive; and this life-power multiplying itself in successive grains would clothe the whole field with a harvest of much fruit.
This law Christ now teaches to be a law also of the moral world, and one to which His own life is subject. Here too life issues from death. The moral power which is the life of the world finds its source in the death of the Son of man. “He is life.” “In Him is life.” “He quickens whom He will.” “Whosoever believeth in Him hath eternal life.” These truths this Gospel has told us again and again: but Christ now tells that while He is still on earth this life exists, but in its germs; and that in His death it will burst forth, and grow up, and multiply itself in the great spiritual harvest of the world. Such was the prophecy. The history of all that is best, and truest, and noblest in the life of eighteen centuries comes to us as the fulfilment. Hearts hardened, sinful, dead, that have been led to think of His death, and in thoughts of it have felt germs of life springing up and bursting the husks of their former prison, and growing up into living powers which have changed their whole being; this is the individual fulfilment that has come to many and may come to all.
The words of this verse are familiar to us from the earlier Gospels, and have been explained in Notes on Matthew 10:39; Matthew 16:25; Mark 8:35; Luke 9:24; Luke 17:33. The disciples had heard them laid down as the law of their own life and work. They now hear the mysterious words again, and they are asserted as the law to which even His life is submitted. There is even in His human nature a physical and emotional life which would shrink from sacrifice and death (John 12:27; comp. Note on Matthew 26:39), but in self-sacrifice and death is His own glory and the life of the world. There is in all human nature a principle which would seek as the highest good the life of the body and of the soul, as distinct from the higher life of the spirit, and would shrink from sacrifice and death; but the true principle of life is of the spirit, and only in the sacrifice of the desires of the lower physical and emotional life is that spiritual life realised.
And where I am, there shall also my servant be.—This is an anticipation of the glory of the Son of man for which the hour had already come. (Comp. Note on John 17:24.)
If any man serve me, him will my Father honour.—The condition is the same as in the first clause of the verse, the difference of that which follows upon the condition again bringing out in the fulness of its meaning the law of life through sacrifice:
“If any man serve Me,”
“let him follow Me” . . .
“he that hateth his life in this world”
“him will my Father honour” . . .
“shall keep it unto life eternal.”
The honour of the servant after his work is done is in the same relation to that work as the glory of the Son of man is to His work. This honour will consist in his being where the Son of man is; and this will be the Father’s gift (John 17:24).
Father, save me from this hour: but for this cause came I unto this hour.—It is uncertain whether the first words of this sentence are a prayer, or whether they should be read as a question. In the latter case the meaning would be, “What shall I say? Shall I say, Father save Me from this hour? But no: for this cause came I unto this hour. I cannot shrink back or seek to be delivered from it.” As a prayer the meaning would be—“Father, save Me from this hour; but for this cause, that I may be saved from it, came I unto this hour. The moment of agony is the moment of victory.”
The real difficulty of the verse lies in the words “for this cause,” for which a meaning must be sought in the context. No interpretation of them is free from objection, but that which seems to have, upon the whole most probability, understands them as referring to the words which follow, and reads the clause, “Father, glorify Thy name,” as part of this verse. The sense of the whole passage would therefore be, “Father, save Me from this hour; but Thy will, not Mine, be done; for this cause came I unto this hour, that Thy name be glorified; Father, glorify Thy name.” (Comp. Note on Luke 12:49-50.)
Then came there a voice from heaven.—The words mean, not that a sound came from heaven, but that there was heard an articulate voice (comp. Note on John 3:8); and that St. John intended his readers to understand this cannot be questioned. He records here a fact parallel to those recorded by the other Evangelists at the Baptism (Matthew 3:17; Mark 1:11; Luke 4:22), and at the Transfiguration (Matthew 17:5; Mark 9:7; Luke 9:35), and parallel to that to which St. Luke and St. Paul have testified (Acts 9:4; Acts 22:9; Acts 26:14).
I have both glorified it, and will glorify it again.—The words are without limit, extending to the whole past and to the whole future of God’s revelation of Himself to man. The only limit in the context is that this revelation is thought of as in the person of Christ. His words, His works. His life revealing the mercy and love and majesty of the Father, had to many hearts glorified the Father’s name. The wider future is at hand. The death and resurrection are to reveal God’s character, and therefore glorify the Father’s name to all the world. (Comp. Exodus 33:18-19; Exodus 34:5-7.)
Now shall the prince of this world be cast out.—The title “prince of this world” was the regular Rabbinic title for Satan, whom they regarded as the ruler of the Gentiles, the Jews not being included in his kingdom. The reign of the true Messiah is over the Gentile and Jewish world alike; Gentiles as well as Jews are at this moment in the temple listening to Him; Jews as well as Gentiles have been subjects of the prince of this world (John 8:44; Romans 2). The world itself, as opposed to Christ, is condemned, for its unbelief crucifies Jesus Christ; but the Resurrection and Ascension are Heaven’s witness that He is the Son of God. The world’s condemnation is followed by the casting out of its ruler.
The whole future is present to the mind of Christ, and in the confidence of victory He uses the emphatic “now” of both the judgment of the world and the dethronement of its prince. It should be noted, however, that the tenses differ. The one is thought of as the immediate result of His death; the other is the gradual victory of truth, and is spoken of in the same future as the drawing all men of the following verse.
Will draw all men unto me.—Better, . . . unto Myself. The words “all men” are not to be limited by interpretations which refer them to nations, or to elect persons within nations; but are to be taken in all the fulness of their width as meaning simply what they say—“all.” The drawing unto Himself is the assertion of His reign over the world, from which the prince of evil shall be cast out. He will Himself be the centre of the new kingdom, from which none shall be shut out. These Greeks who are drawn to Him now are the first-fruits of the harvest of which the whole world is the field, and of which the last day is to be the great ingathering. The word “draw” occurs once in the New Testament, besides this passage, in a moral sense (John 6:44; comp. Note on it there). It is accomplished in the work of the Holy Spirit, whose mission to the Church was dependent on the ascension of our Lord (John 7:39; John 16:7); and the promise is fulfilled even in the case of those who resist the Holy Spirit’s influence. They are drawn by the moral power of the life and death and resurrection of Christ brought home to them by the Holy Ghost; but no moral power can compel a will which is free. (Comp. Note on John 6:37.) The whole mission-work of the Church and every effort which Christianity brings to bear upon the evil of the world implies this moral drawing; and implies, too, the power of man to reject it. But we may not say this moral power is not leading men to Christ, where we can least trace it, and we may not say that there is any limit where its influence ends. (Comp. Note on 1 Peter 3:19.)
How sayest thou, The Son of man must be lifted up?—His words have conveyed to them the idea of His death, and we find “lifted up” used not unfrequently in the Rabbinical writings in this sense; but they do not understand more than this. It contradicts all their visions of a Messianic reign. The Son of man to be lifted up! What meant, then, such words as these—“And there was given him dominion, and glory, and a kingdom, that all people, nations, and languages should serve him: his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom that which shall not be destroyed” (Daniel 7:14)? They cannot reconcile these things, and they ask Him to explain them.
He had not at this time used the exact words they quote, if St. John has given to us the conversation in full, but they occur in John 3:14, and the title “Son of man” occurs in this context in John 12:23. It was, moreover, present to their thoughts from the passage in Daniel, and must have been familiarly known as used by Christ of Himself. (Comp. Note on John 1:51.)
Who is this Son of man?—“Who is this Son of man?” they would say. “We know who is the Son of man who is to abide for ever, but this Son of man who is to die we know not.” The words express that they are wavering in their attachment to Him. The question was asked probably on the Wednesday. It came midway between the “Hosanna” of the entry into Jerusalem and the “Crucify him!” of the trial.
The words are remarkable as throwing light upon the sudden changes of feeling which swayed the multitude from the pole of faith to that of rejection. They heard words from Christ or saw works done by Him which carried conviction to all minds; but then there came some technical interpretation of an Old Testament passage declaring what the Messiah was to be, and in the cooler moments, when no word was speaking to the ear and no work presented itself to the eye, this test seemed fatal to the claim, and disbelief took the place of belief, and hatred that of love. We have met this again and again in the case of the priests and Pharisees. They did not, we may well believe, during the last days, leave any means untried by which they might move the fickle minds of the masses. (Comp. Matthew 27:20.)
Walk while ye have the light, lest darkness come upon you.—The better reading is, Walk according as ye have the light—i.e., “Walk as men who are conscious that the light is among them, use your opportunities; do not ask questions to raise objections, but ask them in order that you may know the truth.” The man who thus used the light would by no means walk in darkness, but would have the light of life (John 8:12). For him that neglected to use the means and faculty he had, both would cease to exist. (Comp. Note on Romans 1:21.)
The words “come upon,” or “overtake,” is used of some sudden seizure. There are two parallels in Biblical Greek, “But ye, brethren, are not in darkness that the day should overtake you as a thief” (1 Thessalonians 5:4), and “Be sure your sin will find you out” (Numbers 32:23).
He that walketh in darkness.—Comp. Notes in John 8:12; John 9:4; John 11:9; and 1 John 2:11.
Knoweth not whither he goeth.—The last word means “goeth away,” “departeth.” The frequent use of the word by St. John to express departure to the other world suggests that meaning here. He was going away. They ask, “Who is this Son of man who is lifted up,” “who goes away?” He warns them lest darkness seize them, and they go away into darkness. In the next four chapters the same word is used twelve times of Christ’s departure. (Comp. e.g. John 13:3; John 13:33; John 13:36.)
That ye may be the children of light.—Better, that ye may become sons of light. (Comp. for this phrase Notes on John 17:12; Luke 10:6; Luke 16:8; also Ephesians 5:8.) The thought here is the one familiar in St. John, that the believer should become like unto Him in whom he believed. Those who believed in the light should receive light, and become themselves centres whence light should radiate to others and illumine their own paths.
These things spake Jesus, and departed.—(Comp. Note on Luke 21:37.) He retired probably to Bethany.
Yet they believed not on him.—This is the writer’s comment on the general result of Christ’s work at the close of His public teaching. This too is said of the multitude, the people as a whole. There were, of course, not a few who were then walking according as they had light, but it was not so with the many. Rejection and not acceptance was the result of Christ’s personal work on earth; yet rejection accompanied, as on this day, by signs which pointed to a world-wide acceptance. “He came unto His own, and His own received Him not. But as many as received Him, to them gave He power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on His name” (John 1:11-12).
Lord, who hath believed our report? . . .—The quotation is from the Greek version of Isaiah 53:1. That prophecy was by all understood of the Messiah. The prophet’s lamentation of the neglect of the prophetic message by the people is here placed by the Evangelist, in his interpretation of it, in the lips of the Messiah Himself, as He, in the fuller meaning, addresses the Father with the words, “Who hath believed our report?” (Comp. the words as quoted by St. Paul in Romans 10:16.) Here the “our report” means the “truth which we have declared unto them.” (So Jeremiah 10:22, Galatians 3:2.)
And to whom hath the arm of the Lord been revealed?—Comp. Notes on Luke 1:51, and Acts 13:17. The phrase was used, as in Isaiah 51:9; Isaiah 52:10, to express the power of the Lord, and here refers especially to the power of the Lord manifested in the whole life of Christ. The signs which were revelations of this power are, of course, prominent in the thought, and the question strongly expresses the negative of the previous verse.
The words, “they could not believe,” must be taken in their plain meaning as expressing impossibility. The Apostle is looking back upon the national rejection of Christ, and seeks a reason for it. He remembers how our Lord Himself had explained His method of teaching by parables, and has based it upon this prophecy of Isaiah (Matthew 13:14). The principle was that which has been repeated in His last public words (John 12:35-36); that power used is increased, and power neglected destroys itself. Here, then, in these prophetic words was the reason they could not believe. Wilful rejection had been followed by rejection which was no longer within the power of the will. With this statement of St. John’s should be compared our Lord’s words on the same subject in John 5:40; John 6:37, Notes, and St. Paul’s arguments in Romans 9-11.
And I should heal them.—The pronoun here refers to Christ. St. John in his interpretation of the prophecy has made God (“He”) the author of the judicial blindness and hardness, and represents Christ as the physician. This clause is, however, not to be taken separately, but is governed by “that not” which precedes, The effect of their not turning was that Christ could not heal them.
On the whole verse comp. Note on Matthew 13:14, and Acts 28:26.
But because of the Pharisees they did not confess.—Comp. Note on John 9:22. It seems from the present passage that the Pharisees were the most determined foes of Christ, and that even the rulers were kept in awe by their threat of excommunication. This submission to the Pharisees’ yoke which kept them from Christ was itself blinding their eyes and hardening their hearts. They are at once, therefore, the exception to, and the illustration of, the principle of which St. John was speaking. They had the power to see the truth, but they had not the will to face boldly the results of their own convictions, and the unused power ceased to exist. (Comp. Romans 10:10.)
(44) Jesus cried and said.—Comp. Notes on John 7:28; John 7:37. This forbids our understanding these words of any private discourse addressed to the disciples. The phrase implies public teaching addressed to the multitude, and it may be inferred that there was some such teaching after John 12:36.
(45) And he that seeth me seeth him that sent me.—The word means to see, in the sense of “behold, contemplate, gaze upon.” Better, therefore, And he that beholdeth Me beholdeth Him that sent Me. The form of the expression is different from that of the previous verse, passing from the negative to the positive, in accord with the difference of thought. He that beholdeth Christ doth behold Him, and in Him beholds the impression of the substance of God. The same thought has occurred in the words of the Evangelist in John 1:14, and occurs in the words of our Lord in John 14:9.
Should not abide in darkness.—But should by walking according as they had the light become sons of light (John 12:36).
Hath one that judgeth him.—Comp. John 3:18; John 5:45 et seq.; John 8:50; and also Hebrews 4:12.
The word that I have spoken.—The very fact that He was so rejected was itself the judgment of those who rejected it.
The Father which sent me, he gave me a commandment.—Comp. Note on John 10:18. The reference is to the commission of His Messianic life.
What I should say, and what I should speak.—It is clear that our Lord intends a distinction here between “saying” and “speaking.” We have had the same distinction in John 8:43. That which He should say was the matter of the revelation which He made; that which He should speak was rather the method in which He made it. He claims for all the authority and commission of the Father. Every truth uttered by Him, and every work and word by which it was uttered, was ordained by the Father’s will. He was Himself the Word of God. Every tone and accent in which that Word spoke was divine.
As the Father said unto me, so I speak.—This clause answers to “what I should say and what I should speak” in the last verse. The external revelation is regarded as the work of the Son. That which the Father says is the truth revealed, and the matter and form are here identified.