From:  Busy Person’s Guide to John 11 to 21                                  Return to Home 

By Roland H. Worth, Jr.  © 2019


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Busy Person’s Guide to the New Testament:


Quickly Understanding John


(Volume 1:  Chapters 11 to 21)




Roland H. Worth, Jr.


Copyright © 2019 by author







Chapter Eleven




Because His Friend Lazarus Had Died, Jesus Returns to Bethany—Only Two Miles From Jerusalem—In Spite of the Danger from the Religious Leaders (John 11:1-16):  1 Now a certain man named Lazarus was sick. He was from Bethany, the village where Mary and her sister Martha lived.  (Now it was Mary who anointed the Lord with perfumed oil and wiped his feet dry with her hair, whose brother Lazarus was sick.)  So the sisters sent a message to Jesus, “Lord, look, the one you love is sick.” 

When Jesus heard this, he said, “This sickness will not lead to death, but to God’s glory, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it.”  (Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus.)

So when he heard that Lazarus was sick, he remained in the place where he was for two more days.  Then after this, he said to his disciples, “Let us go to Judea again.” 

The disciples replied, “Rabbi, the Jewish leaders were just now trying to stone you to death!  Are you going there again?” Jesus replied, “Are there not twelve hours in a day?  If anyone walks around in the daytime, he does not stumble, because he sees the light of this world.  10 But if anyone walks around at night, he stumbles, because the light is not in him.”

11 After he said this, he added, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep.  But I am going there to awaken him.” 12 Then the disciples replied, “Lord, if he has fallen asleep, he will recover.”  13 (Now Jesus had been talking about his death, but they thought he had been talking about real sleep.)

14 Then Jesus told them plainly, “Lazarus has died, 15 and I am glad for your sake that I was not there, so that you may believe.  But let us go to him.”  16 So Thomas (called Didymus) said to his fellow disciples, “Let us go too, so that we may die with him.”     --New English Translation (for comparison)



            11:1     Now a certain man was sick, Lazarus of Bethany, the town of Mary and her sister Martha.  At almost the end of the previous chapter we read of the religious leaders in Jerusalem:  “They sought again to seize Him” (verse 39).  Hence one would naturally wonder what had brought Him again into this most dangerous region.  John himself tells us that it was a dangerously short two miles from Bethany into Jerusalem (verse 18).

            The translation “town” is technically correct--it is a community in contrast with the countryside--but it normally refers to a smaller one.  Hence the term used here (κώμης) is nearly always rendered “village” by new translations and this is done to contrast them with cities and towns (for example, in Matthew 9:35 and 10:11).

            Sidebar--The socioeconomic status of the family:  They would seem to have been people of position from the village being described as their abode (to distinguish it from the other Bethany in Peraea, to which Christ had just gone).  The guests at the funeral (John 11:31, 45), the feast, the family burying-place (John 11:38), and Mary’s costly offering (John 12:2-3), point in the same direction.”  (Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges)


            11:2     It was that Mary who anointed the Lord with fragrant oil and wiped His feet with her hair, whose brother Lazarus was sick.  This was the same Mary but John hasn’t told that story yet and won’t until the first verses of chapter 12.  The text reads as if saying to Christians who had read the earlier gospel by Matthew (26:6-13), “Yes, that Mary.”

            Sidebar--Efforts to identify this Mary with a different one:  The efforts made by Bunyan . . . and by Hengstenberg, to defend the pre-Reformation identification of ‘Mary’ with the ‘Magdalene,’ and the Magdalene with the woman that was a sinner (cf. Luke 7:37 with Luke 8:2), rest on insufficient grounds.  The identification of the two anointings with each other is without justification.  All the circumstances are different - the time, the place, the obvious reason, the motive assigned by our Lord, the conversations which followed.  If a woman who was a sinner had taken such a step, and this expression of her gratitude had been accepted by Jesus, [then] Mary of Bethany found more ample reason for following her example).”  (Pulpit Commentary) 


            11:3     Therefore the sisters sent to Him, saying, “Lord, behold, he whom You love is sick.”  Because of the close friendship between the two men, the sisters sent a message to Jesus warning Him of Lazarus’ extremely serious ill health.  If it were anything short of that level, there would have been no perceived need to make Him aware of it in the first place--minor ailments are simply part of the annoyances of living.  When it came to a matter this desperate, requesting Jesus’ help was a quite natural act since they knew full well that He could miraculously heal their brother (verse 21). 


            11:4     When Jesus heard that, He said, “This sickness is not unto death, but for the glory of God, that the Son of God may be glorified through it.”  Jesus’ response to those with Him was that the illness would not actually produce the feared death but would be the means whereby Jesus gained respect and honor (“be glorified”).  Here the expression “not unto death” is used in a dramatically different sense than it would normally:  Instead of “He will not die at all,” it carries the connotation (in post event perspective) that “death will not be the ultimate victor” or “death will only have a temporary victory,” i.e., that Jesus will resurrect Him--something far more awesome than even keeping him from dying in the first place.  The listeners don’t know this and were undoubtedly shocked to be later told by Jesus that the friend had, indeed, died (verses 11-15). 


            11:5     Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus.  Jesus had a deep affection for the entire family and not just one or two of them.  The “conceptual freight” here is that the temporary death was not due to any lack of good will or good intentions.  What was even more important than that was that the situation would demonstrate His power at its utmost.  And if He could do this much for physical death, could He possibly lack the power to forgive sin and save us from spiritual death as well?  

            Sidebar on the words translated love in this narrative about Lazarus and his sisters:  The English Version loses much here, and still more in John 21:15-17, by using the same word ‘love’ to translate two different Greek words: nor can the loss be remedied satisfactorily.  The word used in John 11:3, philein (Latin, amare), denotes a passionate, emotional warmth, which loves and cares not to ask why; the affection of lovers, parents, and the like.  The word used here agapân, (Latin, diligere), denotes a calm, discriminating attachment, which loves because of the excellence of the loved object; the affection of friends.  Philein is the stronger, but less reasoning; agapân the more earnest, but less intense.  The sisters naturally use the more emotional word, describing their own feeling towards their brother; the Evangelist equally naturally uses the loftier and less impulsive word.  The fact that the sisters are here included is not the reason for the change of expression.”  (Cambridge Bible For Schools and Colleges)    


            11:6     So, when He heard that he was sick, He stayed two more days in the place where He was.  Jesus intentionally remained not just for a few hours to get ready to leave, but for two additional days above and beyond that.  It wasn’t for lack of information since He already had it in His hands.  Hence His course was intentional and not accidental.  At this time He was abiding “at Bethabara” (KJV; “Bethany on the other side of the Jordan,” ISV) (John 1:28; 10:40).  Roughly thirty miles separated the two locations.

            Sidebar on the reason for the delay:  It is usual to explain this delay as caused by His wish to test the faith of the sisters, or by the nature of the work which He was then doing, and was unwilling to leave.  But the first reason passes over the fact that their faith had been shown in their message to Him; and the second postulates His presence at Bethany as necessary for the restoration of Lazarus.  (Compare John 4:49-50.)  A juster view is that which remembers the principle which He had taught at the first miracle (John 2:4), that the hours of His work were marked out by signs that He alone could read, but that every hour had its work, and every work its hour.  (Compare John 11:4, 11:9, and 9:3-4.  A comparison with John 11:1 makes it certain that Lazarus was dead before they set out for Judæa, but he was living when the words of John 11:4 were spoken.  The fact of death may have determined the hour of their departure.  (Ellicott’s Commentary for English Readers)  Compare Ecclesiastes 3:1:  To everything there is a season, a time for every purpose under heaven.”


            11:7    Then after this He said to the disciples, “Let us go to Judea again.”  What He did during those two days we are not told but it was only afterwards that He informed His disciples that it was now time to return to Judea where so many of His enemies were. 


            11:8     The disciples said to Him, “Rabbi, lately the Jews sought to stone You, and are You going there again?”  The disciples were far from enthusiastic about the decision as indicated by their reminder of what had happened the last time.  Quite understandably they discouraged Him from repeating the danger.  There is no reason to believe that on most travel plans they would have had much to say at all--only the “practicalities” perhaps and not the “should we.”  In this case, however, hostility had been so strong they clearly felt the need to caution Him lest this be a decision He regretted--and them as well (verse 16).


            11:9     Jesus answered, “Are there not twelve hours in the day?  If anyone walks in the day, he does not stumble, because he sees the light of this world.  If you go into a situation with your eyes open and perceptively “see” (= recognize) what is happening and what is needed, then you are not going to stumble and hurt yourself.  Implication:  I fully understand what I am doing even if you don’t yet.  I know where the safety is and where the danger is.  

            Edging up to nearly the same conceptual conclusion is the approach of the Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges:  The meaning seems to be, ‘Are there not twelve working-hours in which a man may labor without fear of stumbling?  I have not yet reached the end of My working-day, and so can safely continue the work I came to do.  ‘The night cometh, when I can no longer work; but it has not yet come.’  Compare John 9:4.” 

            Sidebar:  The Jews always divided the space from sunrise to sunset, whether the days were longer or shorter, into twelve parts, so that the hours of their day were all the year the same in number, though much shorter in winter than in summer.”  (Benson Commentary)  Hence the “day” varied “from fourteen hours to nine” in duration.  (Pulpit Commentary)


            11:10   But if one walks in the night, he stumbles, because the light is not in him.”  If one walked in the darkness of “night” (= lack of comprehension of what is happening around him and what is needed to be done), one is inevitably going to stumble with all the embarrassment and pain that comes from it.  The “light” of good judgment and comprehension of what is at play is lacking within.


            11:11   These things He said, and after that He said to them, “Our friend Lazarus sleeps, but I go that I may wake him up.”  Finally, He explained the reason for the risk of returning in more easily understood terms:  Lazarus “sleeps” and the Lord is needed to “wake him up.”  Note the “our:  He is your friend as well as mine.  That would be an additional reason for undertaking the journey.

            The euphemism of “sleep” was a long established one and Jesus had used it previously (Matthew 9:24), but the apostles immediately think in terms of its more common usage. . . .


            11:12   Then His disciples said, “Lord, if he sleeps he will get well.”  Jesus is being more literal, but not quite literal enough for them to grasp His point.  If Lazarus was merely sleeping, then he would get well and eventually awaken.  Hence their protest is quite understandable:  there was no need for them to go at all.  Indeed, rabbinic traditions speak of how sleeping at the end of a severe illness was a good sign pointing toward recovery.


            11:13   However, Jesus spoke of his death, but they thought that He was speaking about taking rest in sleep.  14 Then Jesus said to them plainly, “Lazarus is dead. They did not grasp that Jesus was using “sleep” as a euphemism for death so Jesus had to finally come right out and explain that “Lazarus is dead.” 

            The question is natural:  Why didn’t Jesus come out and say this explicitly in the first place?  When the first report of Lazarus’ condition had arrived, if He had explicitly explained the fact that He was going to delay even though His friend was in bad shape, would they not have been horrified?  To make delay palatable, He needed to avoid being explicit.

          At this point two days later though, why still not saying things explicitly to begin with instead of talking about sleeping?  Probably as an emphatic lesson to them to look beneath the surface level of other “odd” teachings He sometimes gives in this gospel--to make them realize that there is another meaning intended . . . but that they have to work and tease out what is being said.  In other words, if a teaching is so much not clear cut that one might be tempted to call it “mystical” in contrast with His other teachings, they needed to “think out” the spiritual implications that the language is intended to convey.    


            11:15   And I am glad for your sakes that I was not there, that you may believe.  Nevertheless let us go to him.”  By waiting till now they would be able to “believe” more profoundly and deeply than if He had been present at the time and simply cured Lazarus of his illness.  The personal sorrow Jesus felt was compensated for by this great blessing. 

            And what was to happen would be a powerful testimony to the Lord’s unlimited power.  Raising the dead when compared with healing the sick is rather parallel to the difference in warfare between a nuclear warhead and a hand grenade.  You have entered into an entirely different level of raw power.  Enhanced even further by the fact that He had power not merely to raise from the dead--awesome in its own right--but to raise someone all of four days dead.    


            11:16   Then Thomas, who is called the Twin, said to his fellow disciples, “Let us also go, that we may die with Him.”  Thomas summed up the skepticism and concern as to how this would turn out.  Indeed, one can’t help but suspect he was merely saying what were the thoughts of all of them. 

            He perceives clearly how this journey to Judea will end, as respects his Master, and not only sees in it peril to themselves, as they all did, but feels as if he could not and cared not to survive his Master’s sacrifice to the fury of His enemies.  It was that kind of affection which, living only in the light of its Object, cannot contemplate, or has no heart for life, without it.”  (Jamieson-Fausset-Brown Bible Commentary)       

            In their minds the “worst case scenario” would almost certainly become the grim reality.  Yet even in fear of personal death, they still had the willingness to make the trip with Him.  Clearly their faith had grown and set down deep roots in these years of working closely with Jesus.



Mary and Martha—the Sisters of Lazarus—Are Both Convinced That Jesus Could Have Saved Their Brother If He Had Just Been Present (John 11:17-37):  17 When Jesus arrived, he found that Lazarus had been in the tomb four days already. 1 8 (Now Bethany was less than two miles from Jerusalem, 19 so many of the Jewish people of the region had come to Martha and Mary to console them over the loss of their brother.)

20 So when Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went out to meet him, but Mary was sitting in the house.  21 Martha said to Jesus, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.  22 But even now I know that whatever you ask from God, God will grant you.”

23 Jesus replied, “Your brother will come back to life again.”  24 Martha said, “I know that he will come back to life again in the resurrection at the last day.”  25 Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life.  The one who believes in me will live even if he dies, 26 and the one who lives and believes in me will never die.  Do you believe this?”  27 She replied, “Yes, Lord, I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God who comes into the world.”

28 And when she had said this, Martha went and called her sister Mary, saying privately, “The Teacher is here and is asking for you.”  29 So when Mary heard this, she got up quickly and went to him.

30 (Now Jesus had not yet entered the village, but was still in the place where Martha had come out to meet him.)  31 Then the people who were with Mary in the house consoling her saw her get up quickly and go out.  They followed her, because they thought she was going to the tomb to weep there.

32 Now when Mary came to the place where Jesus was and saw him, she fell at his feet and said to him, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.”  33 When Jesus saw her weeping, and the people who had come with her weeping, he was intensely moved in spirit and greatly distressed. 

34 He asked, “Where have you laid him?”  They replied, “Lord, come and see.”  35 Jesus wept.  36 Thus the people who had come to mourn said, “Look how much he loved him!”  37 But some of them said, “This is the man who caused the blind man to see! Couldn’t he have done something to keep Lazarus from dying?”     --New English Translation (for comparison)



            11:17   So when Jesus came, He found that he had already been in the tomb four days.  Since burials were on the day of death (as in Acts 5:6-10), Lazarus being in the tomb for four days by the time they arrived showed that his death had been four days earlier.  Hence there could be no way to question whether he had really died.  In addition to the family, there were also the many mourners involved--still going through the customary lamentation rituals at this date (verses 19, 33, 36).  Just as Jesus being in the tomb three days meant part of the first, all of the second, and part of the third, Lazarus spent one more full day in the grave than the Lord did. 

            Sidebar on Jesus’ discovery of the time of the death after arriving and what it tells of how His supernatural power of foreknowledge worked:  he found, i.e. on enquiry.  It would seem as if Christ’s miraculous power of knowing without the ordinary means of information was not in constant activity, but like His other miraculous powers was employed only on fitting occasions.  It was necessary to His work that He should know of Lazarus’ death; it was not necessary that He should know how long he had been buried, nor where he had been buried (John 11:34).  Compare John 1:48; John 4:18.  Similarly, Peter’s prison-gate opens ‘of its own accord;’ Mary’s house-door does not (Acts 12:10-16).  (Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges)   


            11:18   Now Bethany was near Jerusalem, about two miles away.  We have here implied the reason for the apostles’ fear of death for both their Leader and themselves:  Going to Bethany was almost as bad as going to Jerusalem itself--the core center of opposition to Him--since they were only two miles apart.


            11:19   And many of the Jews had joined the women around Martha and Mary, to comfort them concerning their brother.  They would have started going there as quickly as news of the death spread.  Even now they were still about providing comfort and encouragement to the two sisters concerning their deceased brother.  The fact that the mourners were “many” shows how well known the family was and that was typically linked with worldly prosperity. 

            The fact that “Jews” would visit a fellow Jewish mourner would be the kind of “taken for granted” idea that one would rarely feel the need to add.  Hence the identification probably indicates that they a goodly number were aligned with the faction that scorned Jesus--a common but not fully uniform connotation of the term throughout this gospel.  Whether they knew much of the family’s connection with Jesus or not, they were still willing to go through the social interactions customary at such a time.  Some of them, however, recognized that Jesus was capable of working miracles to prevent death (verse 37)--friends, foes, or some of both?

            Sidebar on Jewish mourning customs:  As one rabbinic source summed up the anticipated procedure:  We must not weep for the dead beyond the measure.  The three first days are for weeping; seven days for lamentation: thirty days [total] for the intermission from washing their clothes, and shaving themselves.”  (John Lightfoot’s Commentary on the Four Gospels; on John 11:19)  There was no Biblically prescribed duration however.  The patriarch Jacob was mourned for seventy days and then seven (Genesis 50:3, 10).  Both Aaron (Numbers 20:29) and Moses (Deuteronomy 34:8), however, were mourned for thirty days.  In the apocryphal literature we read of mourning for seven days (Sirach 22:12; 2 Esdras 5:20).       


            11:20   Now Martha, as soon as she heard that Jesus was coming, went and met Him, but Mary was sitting in the house.  Presumably someone from Jesus’ travel group went ahead to inform her or else some friend of the family recognized the Galilean travelers and hurried word back.  Rather than wait she rushed out to meet Him, perhaps even at His request since this would give them some time for talking before He had to face the entire party of mourners.  Judging from the account of an earlier event in their home, Martha appeared to have been the dominant personality in the household:  In Luke 10:38-39 there is a  reference to “Martha welcomed Him into her house” and then we see how she seems clearly in charge (verse 40). 

            Sidebar:  Sitting while mourning was quite typical in Jewish families--as in the cases in Job 2:8, 13 and Ezekiel 8:14.


            11:21   Now Martha said to Jesus, “Lord, if You had been here, my brother would not have died.  Jesus’ miracle working powers were well known to her and she had absolutely no doubt what He would have done had He been present:  If He had saved from pain, discomfort, and death those He did not know--the norm in His healings--was it likely He would decline to do so for those He counted as friends? 

            Since the sisters had sent word of Lazarus’ severe condition (verse 3), the logical next question would be, “Why weren’t you able to come?”  Instead something different crosses her lips. . . . 


            11:22   But even now I know that whatever You ask of God, God will give You.”  Her faith in Jesus was not shaken.  She was convinced that whatever He requested of His Father, He would still receive.  This was a noble expression of faith for she had three reasons or excuses for depression and rejection:  1) even though Jesus had been a family friend; 2) and Jesus could have healed Lazarus; 3) Jesus had not come.  Yet rather than blame Jesus for His failure to avert the tragedy, she recognized that Jesus remained exactly the same Person she had believed on in the past. 

            This may well be simply an indication of how deeply she remained convinced that Jesus had the full trust of the heavenly Father; what had happened had not compromised that.  However she could also be hinting that He might raise him from the dead.  But if she might wish it, she has avoided actually asking it--perhaps on the basis that there is such a thing as imposing on friends especially since so many days had passed since the death.  


            11:23   Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.”  In reassurance, Jesus assured her that Lazarus would rise from the dead.  Unlike the Sadducees, Jesus knew full well that death did not end one’s existence.  The Jewish consensus was strongly on Jesus’ side of the argument as Paul pointed out to Felix, “I have hope in God, which they themselves also accept, that there will be a resurrection of the dead, both of the just and the unjust” (Acts 24:15).


            11:24   Martha said to Him, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day.”  Martha had no problem with this assertion.  She was confident that in the bodily resurrection “at the last day” that Lazarus would be among those arising.  Her current sorrow was no rejection of that conviction; rather it was one that would provide ongoing comfort when the immediate sorrowing was over. 


            11:25   Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life.  He who believes in Me, though he may die, he shall live.  26 And whoever lives and believes in Me shall never die.  Do you believe this?”  In what follows, the first part shows how He is the Resurrection, the second how He is the Life. ‘He that believeth in Me, even if he shall have died (physically), shall live (eternally).  And every one that liveth (physically) and believeth in Me, shall never die (eternally).’”  (Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges)

            In the most literal sense everyone will be resurrected--the good and the bad.  But the only ones who will regard that as a blessing rather than a curse when it occurs will be those who have embraced Jesus.  He is the one who makes eternal happiness available through the shedding of His blood on the cross. 

            Hence if one wishes to have a blessed resurrection, they have to embrace Jesus by belief in Him and the accompanying loyalty and obedience that flow out of that faith.  As in James 2:  faith and the works produced by faith are irrevocably linked together.  Or as Jesus conveys the sentiment in John 8:51, “Most assuredly, I say to you, if anyone keeps My word (obeys My teaching, NET) he shall never see death.”


            11:27   She said to Him, “Yes, Lord, I believe that You are the Christ, the Son of God, who is to come into the world.”  She 1) expresses confidence in His role as Messiah--“You are the Christ;” 2) embraces that He is “the Son of God” in the special sense that being Messiah had to include; 3) embraces the fact that the Old Testament had spoken of this time and of Him (“who is to come into the world”)--for example Deuteronomy 18:15-22.  Literally it would be “I have believed” (as in NASB), i.e., “I continue to believe about You what I had previously.  What has happened to my brother does not affect it in any way.”    


            11:28   And when she had said these things, she went her way and secretly called Mary her sister, saying, “The Teacher has come and is calling for you.”  Having confirmed Jesus had arrived, Martha discretely provided word--by note? by whispering the message in her ear?--that Jesus wanted to see her.  Since Jesus only mentioned Martha in particular and had arranged for her to be told in a way that the crowd would not be aware of what was going on, that should have conveyed the message “see privately” and “away from the crowd.”  Like Martha, she also was undergoing a time of intense pain and sorrow and some private time speaking with Jesus might well help her in her sorrow.  Furthermore some of them were unquestionably hostile to the Lord.  Even some who were more ambivalent might react with annoyance at His presence:  “What in the world is he doing here now?” (i.e., too late to do anything to help.)


            11:29   As soon as she heard that, she arose quickly and came to Him.  She wasted no time in responding to the summons.  Undermining the intent of the request, she makes no effort to present an excuse for having some time away from the other mourners.  Probably she is so interested in seeing Jesus again that the thought has not even occurred to her.  


            11:30   Now Jesus had not yet come into the town, but was in the place where Martha met Him.  The crowd at large did not know of His presence since He had met Martha outside the town.  This assured the maximum opportunity of having some privacy.  Even in a small community like Bethany--perhaps especially in a small community--people notice things that are happening that might be missed or ignored in a heavily populated city.


            11:31   Then the Jews who were with her in the house, and comforting her, when they saw that Mary rose up quickly and went out, followed her, saying, “She is going to the tomb to weep there.”  Those who were in the house interpreted Mary’s quick departure in a very natural and reasonable way:  She was leaving to mourn at the tomb of her brother.  There might be no spoken words that they could speak to assuage her sorrow, but they could at least try to comfort her by their continued presence.

            Sidebar:  The word rendered ‘weep’ here and in John 11:33, as distinct from the one used in John 11:35 [‘Jesus wept’], indicates a loud expression of grief; wailing and crying, not merely shedding of tears.”  (Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges)  “The word κλαίω is to be carefully distinguished from δακρύω of verse 35; it denotes the loud expressive wailing and manifestation of grief of which so many instances occur (Matthew 2:18; Mark 5:38; Luke 7:13; Luke 8:52; Acts 9:39), while the latter word means the shedding of tears.  Wailing’ is often the regulated expression of professional grief; ‘weeping’ the irresistible burst of personal sorrow.  The first may be violent and obtrusive, the other silent and pathetic.”  (Pulpit Commentary)  


            11:32   Then, when Mary came where Jesus was, and saw Him, she fell down at His feet, saying to Him, “Lord, if You had been here, my brother would not have died.”  Mary’s emotions are so intense she does not even have the strength to stand.  In sorrowful despair she laments His absence for she knew Jesus’ vast healing powers; she clearly had no doubt that He would have used them.  The sentiment and words are exactly the same as used by Martha (verse 21) though no mention is made of the latter having “collapsed” the way her sister does here. 


            11:33   Therefore, when Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who came with her weeping, He groaned in the spirit and was troubled.  Seeing the amount and intensity of the sorrow in her--not to mention those who were with her--there were simply no words that seemed appropriate.  All He could do was to “groan” inwardly and be deeply disturbed.  The simple reality even today is that there are times when there simply aren’t words that can be comforting when kin and close friends have passed on.   


            11:34   And He said, “Where have you laid him?”  They said to Him, “Lord, come and see.”  Rather than attempt to offer immediate comfort, He inquired where the burial site was.  They (Mary and Martha both) knew it all too well and led the way.


            11:35   Jesus wept.  This shows the degree of emotional linkage He felt with their family.  Both for the survivors and for Lazarus himself. 

            They are on the way to the sepulcher, near to which they have now arrived.  He is conscious of the power which He is about to exercise, and that the first result will be the glory of God (John 11:4); but He is conscious also of the suffering hearts near Him, and the sympathy with human sorrow is no less part of His nature than the union with divine strength.”  (Ellicott’s Commentary for English Readers) 

            “ ‘The very Gospel in which the deity of Jesus is most clearly asserted, is also that which makes us best acquainted with the profoundly human side of His life’ (Godet).  How far such a conception of deity is removed from the pagan ideal, may be seen by even a superficial study of the classics.  Homer’s gods and goddesses weep and bellow when wounded, but are not touched with the feeling of human infirmity.”  (Vincent’s Word Studies) 


            11:36   Then the Jews said, “See how He loved him!”  This wordless display of deep affection even impressed the bystanders who were not His disciples but were among the many unbelieving “Jews” in the area.  They seem to wonder He should have so strong an affection for one to whom he was not related, and with whom He had not had a long acquaintance, having spent most of his time in Galilee, at a great distance from Bethany.  It becomes us, according to this example of Christ, to show our love to our friends, both living and dying.”  (Benson Commentary)    


            11:37   And some of them said, “Could not this Man, who opened the eyes of the blind, also have kept this man from dying?”  Some of them, not unnaturally, wondered why Jesus could not have used those powers that restored the sight of the blind to stop death from overcoming Lazarus.  Two types of people could say these words.  The first are those who are well on the way to faith for they concede the genuineness and reality of His miracles and deem it praiseworthy to have done one nearby in Jerusalem as well (John 9:1-34)--restoring sight to the man born blind.  But they see a problem:  if He is really that important in the Divine scheme of things, why was Lazarus permitted to die? 

            Then there are those hostile to the Lord.  Note the “could not” nature of the argument:  If He could do such a miracle surely He would have!  These certainly aren’t suggesting He could raise the dead, but they are suggesting that He could have stopped death occurring in the first place. . . .  if He genuinely had miraculous powers.  If Jesus did not heal Lazarus, He surely could not have healed that man either--no matter how clear the evidence was that He had!  They wanted an excuse to disbelieve His miracles and they thought they had just found it.  People with weak cases covet further “confirmation” for it--especially if, in their more candid moments, they feel wary that their arguments might be weaker than they want them to be.     



Still Wrapped in His Burial Wrappings, the Resurrected Lazarus Makes His Way Out of the Tomb at Jesus’ Call (John 11:38-44):  38 Jesus, intensely moved again, came to the tomb.  (Now it was a cave, and a stone was placed across it.)  39 Jesus said, “Take away the stone.”  Martha, the sister of the deceased, replied, “Lord, by this time the body will have a bad smell, because he has been buried four days.”  40 Jesus responded, “Didn’t I tell you that if you believe, you would see the glory of God?” 

41 So they took away the stone. Jesus looked upward and said, “Father, I thank you that you have listened to me.  42 I knew that you always listen to me, but I said this for the sake of the crowd standing around here, that they may believe that you sent me.” 

43 When he had said this, he shouted in a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!”  44 The one who had died came out, his feet and hands tied up with strips of cloth, and a cloth wrapped around his face.  Jesus said to them, “Unwrap him and let him go.”     --New English Translation (for comparison)  



            11:38   Then Jesus, again groaning in Himself, came to the tomb.  It was a cave, and a stone lay against it.  Probably by the look on His face, John and other onlookers could tell that He was still in anguish.  Use of a naturally formed cave as a tomb to bury a person reduced construction costs to that of installing a large stone that could be rolled to block the entrance.  Caves represented a traditional place for burial:  Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the Old Testament had all been buried in the same one (Genesis 49:29-33).  However the term for “cave” in the current verse is also broad enough to cover tombs excavated for the specific purpose of burial.  The fact that they had their own family burial site and that a grateful Mary could later anoint the Lord’s feet with “a pound of very costly oil of spikenard” (12:3) both point to the prosperity of the family.    


            11:39   Jesus said, “Take away the stone.”  Martha, the sister of him who was dead, said to Him, “Lord, by this time there is a stench, for he has been dead four days.”  Great as Martha’s faith was, this request was inexplicable to her:  after four days the body would unquestionably stench.  Why in the world go through all this?  Jesus could have miraculously removed the stone but it would have been needless dramatics when He wanted all minds to be on the miraculous removal of death.  


            11:40   Jesus said to her, “Did I not say to you that if you would believe you would see the glory of God?”  Jesus reminded her of His earlier promise that “the glory of God” would be exhibited.  Now it was up to her to do her part--to have the stone rolled away so that it could be done.  To be large enough to fully block the entrance would require a large object and the strong male hands to carry out the removal would be available through their servants or friends.  


            11:41   Then they took away the stone from the place where the dead man was lying.  And Jesus lifted up His eyes and said, “Father, I thank You that You have heard Me.  An utterly unexpected request or not, the stone was removed and Jesus lifted His eyes visibly to heaven and prayed out loud.  This way everyone would hear and understand why He was doing what He was doing.  He first thanked God for hearing His prayer—thereby establishing a cause-effect relationship between His words and what was about to happen.  Also that what He was doing was fully acceptable and backed by the Father’s own power.  In other words:  If a dead body comes out alive then you know with certainty that God accepts and endorses My words and action.


            11:42   And I know that You always hear Me, but because of the people who are standing by I said this, that they may believe that You sent Me.”  Jesus spoke this not out of self-doubt—since He recognized that the Father always heard His prayer—but so that those standing around might “believe” in His divine mission on earth.  In other words, though they were friends of the family they did not necessarily share the family’s faith in Jesus.  And this also makes explicit the reason for seeking a public and blatantly obvious indication of God’s full backing:  Jesus wants such unquestionable proof of His Divine endorsement to encourage onlookers to lay aside their hesitancy and embrace His cause.


            11:43   Now when He had said these things, He cried with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come forth!”  Why cry out “loud[ly]”?  For one thing they were outside the tomb and Lazarus was still wrapped in his burial clothes.  The loudness would assure that Lazarus would hear Him in the surely startling (to him) restoration to life and he would know what needed to be done next.  It also provided additional explicit assurance to the onlookers that Jesus was behind what was happening.  The Lord’s own strong emotions behind ordering it to happen should not be overlooked either. 


            11:44   And he who had died came out bound hand and foot with grave clothes, and his face was wrapped with a cloth.  Jesus said to them, “Loose him, and let him go.”  Though still bound head to toe in the burial garments, he was able to make his way out of the tomb.  Surely with some difficulty--which would explain Jesus instructing the bystanders to loosen them so Lazarus could freely move about and help them in removing them entirely.

            Sidebar:  The word rendered ‘grave-clothes’ is used nowhere in the New Testament except in this passage.  It means properly the bands or straps by which the linen sheet was fastened to the body, and which kept the spice from falling out.  (Compare John 19:40.)  We find it used elsewhere for straps and thongs generally.  They were made of rushes, linen,, and other materials.  The word is used once in the Greek of the Old Testament, where it means the belts by which beds are girded (Proverbs 7:16).”  (Ellicott’s Commentary for English Readers)  



When the Sanhedrin in Jerusalem Hears the Reports, They Are Horrified and Convince Themselves That Unless Jesus Is Killed, He Will Ultimately Cause Both the Temple and the People To Be Destroyed by the Romans (John 11:45-57):  45 Then many of the people, who had come with Mary and had seen the things Jesus did, believed in him.  46 But some of them went to the Pharisees and reported to them what Jesus had done. 

47 So the chief priests and the Pharisees called the council together and said, “What are we doing?  For this man is performing many miraculous signs.  48 If we allow him to go on in this way, everyone will believe in him, and the Romans will come and take away our sanctuary and our nation.”

49 Then one of them, Caiaphas, who was high priest that year, said, “You know nothing at all!  50 You do not realize that it is more to your advantage to have one man die for the people than for the whole nation to perish.” 

51 (Now he did not say this on his own, but because he was high priest that year, he prophesied that Jesus was going to die for the Jewish nation, 52 and not for the Jewish nation only, but to gather together into one the children of God who are scattered.)  53 So from that day they planned together to kill him.

54 Thus Jesus no longer went around publicly among the Judeans, but went away from there to the region near the wilderness, to a town called Ephraim, and stayed there with his disciples.  55 Now the Jewish feast of Passover was near, and many people went up to Jerusalem from the rural areas before the Passover to cleanse themselves ritually.  

56 Thus they were looking for Jesus, and saying to one another as they stood in the temple courts, “What do you think? That he won’t come to the feast?”  57 (Now the chief priests and the Pharisees had given orders that anyone who knew where Jesus was should report it, so that they could arrest him.)       

--New English Translation (for comparison)



            11:45  Then many of the Jews who had come to Mary, and had seen the things Jesus did, believed in Him.  This unexpected wonder, being not only over death but over death four days previously--so astounded the onlookers that “many” of them began to believe on Jesus.  This was not only a case of resurrection but one that was so long afterwards that there could be no credible way for anyone hostile to Jesus to claim that Lazarus had been simply hiding out of sight within the tomb for four days:  But . . . surviving with no food, no fresh air, complete darkness . . . not to mention the ability to affect utter lack of muscle control while your burial spices and such like are applied.  It simply wasn’t going to happen.

            Of course even accepting the physical reality of a miracle is not necessarily going to get you to embrace the cause of the One doing it--not if you are hostile enough:  “Miracles or not, he is still a false teacher!”  No amount of evidence will change some people.  And there may well have been those who fell back on the attribution of His power to Beelzebub (Matthew 12:24).  Whatever their rationalization, they felt the urgency to share the alarming miracle news with those of like mind. . . .  


            11:46   But some of them went away to the Pharisees and told them the things Jesus did.  This is something that surely happened after a number of Jesus’ healings--reports going out by writing or verbally presented by leading Pharisees in the region and/or the Sadducees who dominated the Sanhedrin. 

            But at this point we must point out that “believe” can carry multiple connotations.  In a sense, they certainly did “believe.”  Judging from their report they clearly believed that this incredible miracle had happened but refused to believe that meant He was an authoritative teacher and religious expert with far greater authority than they could ever dream of having.  To concede that would require that His teaching be the authoritative norm for their teaching and they considered that intolerable.  (In light of the apparently well known hostility of the religious authorities to Jesus, I find it totally improbable that these observers went out of enthusiasm and good will--though a good number judge otherwise.)

            Sidebar on the public nature and knowledge of Jesus’ raisings from the dead.  Webster and Wilkinson are quoted by the Jamieson-Fausset-Brown Bible Commentary:  It is remarkable that on each of the three occasions on which our Lord raised the dead, a large number of persons was assembled.   In two instances, the resurrection of the widow’s son and of Lazarus, these were all witnesses of the miracle; in the third (of Jairus’ daughter) they were necessarily cognizant of it [since they were outside waiting to see what would happen].  Yet this important circumstance is in each case only incidentally noticed by the historians, not put forward or appealed to as a proof of their veracity.  In regard to this miracle, we observe a greater degree of preparation, both in the provident arrangement of events, and in our Lord’s actions and words than in any other.  The preceding miracle (cure of the man born blind) is distinguished from all others by the open and formal investigation of its facts.  And both these miracles, the most public and best attested of all, are related by John, who wrote long after the other Evangelists.” 


            11:47   Then the chief priests and the Pharisees gathered a council and said, “What shall we do?  For this Man works many signs.  However much the Pharisees differed with the Sadducees in the Sanhedrin, key members of both groups recognized that something had to be done about this disturber of the religious status quo.  They recognized He worked “many” miracles and not just this most recent one that so shocked them.  If they were rattled by this, what would the reaction be of the general population when word spread?

            Sidebar on how the Greek makes their dilemma even more emphatic:  The question is asked in the present tense; it is not a matter for future action:  ‘What are we doing, seeing what this Man is doing?’  They feel that they have been inactive but too long, while He has been daily gaining influence.  The form of their question is a strange contradiction; they cannot but admit that He doeth many signs, and yet their pride will call Him by no name but the contemptuous ‘this Man!’ ” (Ellicott’s Commentary for English Readers)


            11:48   If we let Him alone like this, everyone will believe in Him, and the Romans will come and take away both our place and nation.”  If Jesus proceeded unstopped, the entire nation could be brought to faith in Him and that could--in their minds--only end in an insurrection against the Romans.  And that would inevitably result in them “taking away both our place and nation.” 

            If country and worship are in mind, the “place” is best interpreted in terms of the Temple.  If the Romans did attack this heavily, there was little way that its destruction could be avoided.  The expression probably does double duty here since there is a corollary to such a disaster:  All of this would result in these religious rulers in the  Sanhedrin being removed from leadership as well.  Furthermore mass deportation of the population into exile had happened to the nation in the past and could happen again.  If you couch the decisions they face in national terms--Temple and exile--then anything they do to prevent it is actually virtuous and praiseworthy is it not? 

            If you admit that it is really almost as much concern about losing their own position, it’s nowhere near as credible.  Blend Temple and nation together and you can claim doing good by your country and its religion when your decision is really about preserving your own role in it.  Indeed, at that point, the words might easily be glossed:  “taking away both our place of leadership over the nation and the nation itself.”  If we fall the nation must!

            So which is it:  Did fear for the welfare of religion and country dominate . . . or did fear for their own position?  Or were the dominate religio-political “players” capable of making a distinction anymore?   


            11:49   And one of them, Caiaphas, being high priest that year, said to them, “You know nothing at all,    Caiaphas was high priest “that year.”  The idea that the holder was changed yearly is not in mind.  This is likely simply a reference to the fact that he occupied the position the year Jesus was murdered.  However it could also contain a derogatory reference to the fact that the Romans felt free to depose lawful high priests and substitute someone else whenever they wanted--in defiance of the life-time tenure established by the Law of Moses.  Hence the Romans were already interfering regularly in their religious life and had set the precedent for proceeding against the entire Sanhedrin at any time they chose. 

            Caiaphas is clearly convinced that the others were thoroughly ignorant of just how bad the situation actually was.  They see a horrible danger; he sees them as blinded to the one and only course that could solve their dilemma. . . .

            Sidebar on Caiaphas:  This was a surname; ‘who was called Caiaphas’ Matthew 26:3.  His original name was Joseph.  Caiaphas is either the Syriac form of Cephas, a ‘rock,’ or, according to another derivation, means ‘depression.’  The high priesthood had long since ceased to descend from father to son.  Pilate’s predecessor, Valerius Gratus, had deposed Annas and set up in succession Ismael, Eleazar (son of Annas), Simon, and Joseph Caiaphas (son-in-law of Annas); Caiaphas held the office from A.D. 18 to 36, when he was deposed by Vitellius.  Annas in spite of his deposition was still regarded as in some sense high-priest (John 18:13; Luke 3:2; Acts 4:6).  There had been some twenty or thirty high-priests in John’s lifetime.”  (Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges)


            11:50   nor do you consider that it is expedient for us that one man should die for the people, and not that the whole nation should perish.”  In an insurrection the “whole nation” would perish--note the careful omission of losing his own post!  The death of a single man was a minor price to pay to avoid that tragedy.  Jesus’ truth claims are irrelevant and ruled out of order.  The personal, political and national costs are all that matters rather than spiritual and moral truth.


            11:51   Now this he did not say on his own authority; but being high priest that year he prophesied that Jesus would die for the nation,   Although he was thinking in purely political terms, he unknowingly but accurately “prophesied” the fact that Jesus would “die for the nation” in a very different sense.  In other words, he spoke a profound truth but not in the sense that he had consciously in mind.  It was actually a death for the spiritual souls in the nation rather than a death to assure its survival as a nation--Hebrews 9:11-14. 

            Sidebar:  Caiaphas “prophesied” but not knowingly.  He uttered words which proved to be prophetic; or he expressed at that time a sentiment which turned out to be true.  It does not mean that he was inspired, or that he deserved to be ranked among the true prophets; but his words were such that they accurately expressed a future event.  The word ‘prophecy’ is to be taken here not in the strict sense, but in a sense which is not uncommon in the sacred writers.  Acts 21:9:  ‘and the same man had four daughters, virgins, which did prophesy.’   (Barnes’ Notes)


            11:52   and not for that nation only, but also that He would gather together in one the children of God who were scattered abroad.  Because of that death not only could the nation be saved but all “children of God” who were in the world could be reintegrated into the nation.  In a strictly Jewish context this would mean the full spiritual integration of the diaspora.  But--in light of the Great Commission, Peter’s commission to take the gospel to the Gentiles, and Paul’s appointment to be an apostle especially to them--we surely find it fair to apply this in a more radical direction:  that the very definition of what the spiritual “nation” was would be drastically redefined through the gospel. 


            11:53   Then, from that day on, they plotted to put Him to death.  This was the decisive day when occasional outbursts of fury turned into an ongoing plot to eliminate Jesus.  We are not told how many constituted this hard core cadre who were willing to bull their way through and accomplish their goal either by not informing reluctant individuals or outright ignoring them as much as they could. 

            But this cadre of extremists were determined that by “hook or crook” they were going to steam roll their most dangerous opponent into the ground.  Evidence was now irrelevant.  Credibility was irrelevant.  Only victory at any and all costs.  And with Jesus safely out of the way, where else could the people go for religious leadership but them?     


            11:54   Therefore Jesus no longer walked openly among the Jews, but went from there into the country near the wilderness, to a city called Ephraim, and there remained with His disciples.  Jesus avoided appearing “openly among” the people but went into an area safely away from His worst enemies.  This could be because word quickly spread around by rumor and important people like the Sanhedrin conspirators are often oblivious that “unimportant” servants are hearing their words as well.  Another possibility can find the reason in Jesus Himself.  Either because of His supernatural knowledge of what had happened or through astute perception that the contest of wills had been carried to the highest level of dangerousness.  The salvation of a dear friend’s life had become a dangerous threat to His own.  Only two miles from Jerusalem was hardly a wise place to stay!

            Sidebar:  Obviously Jesus was around ethnic “Jews” when He went to Ephraim!  This vividly illustrates how John often isn’t using the term in an ethnic sense but as a euphemism for “Jewish opponents” or “powerful Jewish opponents.”

            Sidebar on the location of Ephraim:  The position of this ‘city’ is not known.  The manuscripts spell it variously as Ephraim, Ephrem, Ephram, and Ephratha. Eusebius and Jerome both assumed it to be the same place as Ephron, but differed as to its position, the former fixing it at eight, and the latter at twenty miles, north-east from Jerusalem.  Both would place it, therefore, in Judæa; and this agrees with its position ‘near to the wilderness,’ for the desert of Judæa extended nearly as far as Jericho.  In 2 Chronicles 13:19, we have an Ephrain or Ephron . . . in connection with the neighborhood of Bethel.  This is mentioned by Josephus (Wars, iv. 9, § 9), and is near to the wilderness of Bethaven.  It is possibly the place named here; but a Jew would naturally use the phrase, ‘the wilderness,’ to mean the desert of Judæa.”  (Ellicott’s Commentary for English Readers)  


            11:55   And the Passover of the Jews was near, and many went from the country up to Jerusalem before the Passover, to purify themselves.  In preparation for the Passover large numbers traveled to Jerusalem beforehand to ritually “purify themselves” for the event.  However there are no specific purification requirements established in the Old Testament as prerequisites for partaking of the Passover.  Though this does not rule out the possibility that contemporary religious traditions had established some, the reference is strongly likely to refer to them being counted as still in their sin from earlier prohibited actions.

            Different periods were necessary in order to be cleansed from ceremonial pollution.  For example, one who had been polluted by the touch of a dead body, of a sepulcher, or by the bones of the dead, was sprinkled on the third and seventh days, by a clean person, with hyssop dipped in water mixed in the ashes of the red heifer.  After washing his body and clothes he was then clean. These persons who went up before the Passover were doubtless those who had in some manner been ceremonially polluted.”  (Barnes’ Notes)  These, naturally, needed to be removed before participating.            

            Sidebar:  For examples of the kind of problems such a situation could produce at its most extreme, consider the frustration of the returned exiles in the days of Hezekiah (2 Chronicles 30:13-20).               


            11:56   Then they sought Jesus, and spoke among themselves as they stood in the temple, “What do you think—that He will not come to the feast?”  When in the temple, the anti-Jesus clique looked about and discussed among themselves whether Jesus would be brave enough--foolhardy enough?--to continue His policy of attending the various yearly feasts.  (In light of the next verse and its emphasis on the plot to arrest Him, these folk are the most likely subject here as well.)  However, it would be hard not to believe that curious members of the public would also be wondering the same thing.  By rumor and pure logic they would wonder whether One who had so clearly and deeply annoyed the religious leadership would again risk their rage.


            11:57   Now both the chief priests and the Pharisees had given a command, that if anyone knew where He was, he should report it, that they might seize Him.  Key “chief priests” and leaders of the Pharisees had both spread word that if anyone came across knowledge of Jesus’ location they should promptly report it to them.  Though their motive was so that He could be seized, whether they shared that fact with those they were instructing is unknown.  In light of the controversies that had raged around Jesus--and their own intellectual jousts with Him--it would be far from unnatural for the religious leaders to seek knowledge of His arrival even if they hadn’t been contemplating such severe action against Him.  At the minimum, silence on the matter would be a useful “fig leaf” to hide evil intentions from the public at large.








Chapter Twelve



At Bethany Six Days Before the Passover, a Dinner by Lazarus’ Sisters Is the Occasion for the Anointing of Jesus’ Feet with Expensive Ointment (John 12:1-11):  1 Then, six days before the Passover, Jesus came to Bethany, where Lazarus lived, whom he had raised from the dead.  So they prepared a dinner for Jesus there. Martha was serving, and Lazarus was among those present at the table with him. 

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

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

So Jesus said, “Leave her alone. She has kept it for the day of my burial.  For you will always have the poor with you, but you will not always have me!”

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



            12:1     Then, six days before the Passover, Jesus came to Bethany, where Lazarus was who had been dead, whom He had raised from the dead.  Since locals were already speculating whether Jesus would be attending the Feast (11:55:  “the Passover of the Jews was near”), this verse’s time reference tells us that discussion of the topic began at least a week before it began.  Now it would be a question not of what to do about Jesus, but how to do it and its specific timing.


            12:2     There they made Him a supper; and Martha served, but Lazarus was one of those who sat at the table with Him.  Lazarus remained in good health and participated in this meal with their Visitor.  In light of what He had done in raising Lazarus from the dead, it is hard to avoid the conclusion that--so far as the family was concerned--He was very much the “guest of honor.” 

            And not just in the mind of Lazarus’ family either.  Assuming that this is the same anointing as referred to in the two anointing stories in Matthew 26:6-13 and Mark 14:3-9--and the similarities are so strong that this seems certain--then the meal is actually held in the home of “Simon the leper.”  Martha’s role of “serve[r]” of the food is strange in that context unless Simon is some type of kin or she had volunteered to play the role.  As a former “leper,” one suspects that few marriage prospects came his way to have someone in his own household to play that role of hostess.         


            12:3     Then Mary took a pound of very costly oil of spikenard, anointed the feet of Jesus, and wiped His feet with her hair.  And the house was filled with the fragrance of the oil.  Mary’s action of anointing Jesus’ feet with extremely expensive oil is usually cast as an indication of great faith in Jesus because the passage is considered in isolation.  When interpreted in light of Jesus’ raising of Lazarus at an earlier date, the anointing becomes not only an indication of great faith but also of great gratitude as well.

            Sidebar:  The anointing of the head with some type of oil (usually far more modest in cost!) was a well recognized social custom based on the imagery of God doing the same for the one He especially respected:  You love righteousness and hate wickedness; therefore God, Your God, has anointed You with the oil of gladness more than Your companions (Psalms 45:7; quoted in Hebrews 1:9 in application to Christ).  Anointment was especially important when done to mark the appointment of chief priests (Leviticus 8:12) and rulers (1 Samuel 16:13; Psalms 89:20). 


            12:4     But one of His disciples, Judas Iscariot, Simon’s son, who would betray Him, said,   The description “Judas Iscariot, Simon’s son” would identify to many readers the betrayer as the son of the Simon currently under discussion--the leper.  In John 6:71, however, there is a similar identification but with the substitution of “son of Simon Iscariot”--which makes far greater sense.  (Very few translations preserve the KJV’s reading here.)     


            12:5     “Why was this fragrant oil not sold for three hundred denarii and given to the poor?”  Judas was indignant that oil with the purchasing power of about a year’s wages should be used for such a purpose:  there were poor about who could have been benefited.  At least that was what he claimed in his “pious” indignation.  Judas was not the only one, however, who was upset at the time:  “And they [i.e., more than one; not just Judas alone] criticized her sharply” (Mark 14:6).

            Sidebar:  The value of this ointment is another minute indication that there is no connection between the Lazarus of John and the Lazarus of the parable”--who was utterly destitute and begging (Luke 16:20).  (Pulpit Commentary)   


            12:6     This he said, not that he cared for the poor, but because he was a thief, and had the money box; and he used to take what was put in it.  Whatever sentiments Judas may have felt toward the poor--he may even have thought that they really did deserve help--the fundamental reason for the objection lay unspoken and hidden elsewhere:  He was used to stealing from the collective treasury of the group and he would not now be able to arrange the sale of the spikenard . . . and remove from the proceeds whatever part he wished for himself.

            Sidebar on a translation of glōssokomon as “bag” or “money bag” that is still frequently used:  Better, the box, the cash-box in which the funds of the small company were kept.  The word means literally ‘a case for mouthpieces’ of musical instruments, and hence any portable chest.  It occurs in the LXX of 2 Chronicles 24:8, 11, but nowhere in [the] New Testament excepting here and John 13:29.”  (Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges)    


            12:7     But Jesus said, “Let her alone; she has kept this for the day of My burial.  Recognizing His quickly approaching death, Jesus insisted that Judas stop harassing Mary for she--however inadvertently--had kept the oil for the time Jesus Himself would die.  This was not the kind of practice Jesus encouraged or demanded but having given it out of a good heart and the death being less than a week away, she did not deserve a rebuke of any kind.


            12:8     For the poor you have with you always, but Me you do not have always.”  If one wished to argue from the standpoint of the needs of the poor, there would be abundant opportunity to help them in the future.  However much a society tries, there are always those who stand in need.  Curse it to your ideological heart’s contentment but it still doesn’t change the reality one bit.  This isn’t to “condone” poverty or to “want” people to be poor, but simply to be realistic about the fact that it isn’t going to be fully eradicated.  As far back as the days of Moses the Lawgiver, this was recognized:  For the poor will never cease from the land; therefore I command you, saying, ‘You shall open your hand wide to your brother, to your poor and your needy, in your land’ ” (Deuteronomy 15:11). 


            12:9     Now a great many of the Jews knew that He was there; and they came, not for Jesus’ sake only, but that they might also see Lazarus, whom He had raised from the dead.  Two very different motives lay behind the attenders.  Some (probably most) came to congratulate Lazarus on his escape from death.  They came to verify with their own eyes that Lazarus was indeed now alive again.  Many or all would have heard of his severe ill health and even seen him in that condition--and attended at least part of the interment and mourning.  To personally verify his restoration to good health would be fascinating and intriguing in itself.  And more than a few surely wondered, “How in the world does a dead man act?  Especially one that we ourselves knew.”

            Others came to see Jesus for this strange Galilean had done the impossible with Lazarus.  They wanted to see what He looked like and what He had to say--again sincere interest.  Others came with a hostile agenda however:  they had already made their decisions about Jesus.  They might well be polite (out of courtesy toward Lazarus) but it was simply an insincere veneer. . . .     


            12:10   But the chief priests plotted to put Lazarus to death also,  Evidence that could not be denied could be removed—literally.  To them, his resurrection was nothing to cause joy but to add a new person to hate to the top of their list.  He had committed the unforgivable offense of making Jesus’ claims even more credible.  (And disproved the Sadducian denial that God would ever resurrect anyone.)  This blazing hostility may well explain why the Synoptic gospels--written far closer to the events--do not mention this particular healing.  Agitation of “old wounds” was not advisable until Lazarus died physically once again and was safely removed from their savage reach.    


            12:11   because on account of him many of the Jews went away and believed in Jesus.  Lazarus became a target because of his obvious good health and how public knowledge of this had caused “many” of those who attended the feast to believe in Jesus.  They came wondering or skeptical; but now they were convinced.

            It was bad enough that Jesus was still alive.  But that His cause would prosper where they decreed the criteria for religious acceptance was bitterly unacceptable.  This was a dagger not only into egos but also into their theology as well.  Not only was Lazarus a living rebuttal of their denial that a resurrection could or would occur, but he also disproved their denial that there was something within that could survive death.    



Joyous Crowds Escort Jesus into Jerusalem (John 12:12-19):  12 The next day the large crowd that had come to the feast heard that Jesus was coming to Jerusalem.  13 So they took branches of palm trees and went out to meet him.  They began to shout, “Hosanna! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord! Blessed is the king of Israel!” 14 Jesus found a young donkey and sat on it, just as it is written, 15 Do not be afraid, people of Zion; look, your king is coming, seated on a donkey’s colt! 

16 (His disciples did not understand these things when they first happened, but when Jesus was glorified, then they remembered that these things were written about him and that these things had happened to him.)

17 So the crowd who had been with him when he called Lazarus out of the tomb and raised him from the dead were continuing to testify about it.  18 Because they had heard that Jesus had performed this miraculous sign, the crowd went out to meet him.  19 Thus the Pharisees said to one another, “You see that you can do nothing.  Look, the world has run off after him!”

--New English Translation (for comparison)



            12:12   The next day a great multitude that had come to the feast, when they heard that Jesus was coming to Jerusalem,  As the most important Feast of the year it was common for huge numbers such as this to be attending.  In light of what they immediately do (verse 13), this could not be some vague report that He is still approaching from a distance.  It must mean that He was so close by that He would be coming that very day. 

            This argues that they had heard reports from or about Bethany, proving that He was just two miles away.  Where else then could He possibly go on a Feast day when He was close?  He wasn’t about “to stay home on Sunday”--as the modern phrase goes. 


            12:13   took branches of palm trees and went out to meet Him, and cried out:  “Hosanna!  ‘Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!’  The King of Israel!”  They cut off palm tree branches and escorted Him into the city of Jerusalem with loud praises to God and words from the Old Testament, “Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord’ [Psalms 118:26].  The King of Israel.” 

            The words could be interpreted by listeners--especially the Roman soldiers who were little familiar if at all with the text of the Torah and the prophets--as meaning “Blessed is Jesus who comes in the name of the Lord because the Lord is the King of Israel who has sent Him.”    

            However they were directly motivated in their behavior, as verse 18 tells us, by hearing reports of the resurrection of Lazarus.  Hence, to the extent that they are consciously invoking the Psalms text--or even without an intentional reference at all--they would hear it as meaning “Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord to become the King of Israel!”  In other words Jesus is about to be made King of His people . . . presumably during the Feast.  Whatever the religious leadership’s knowledge of Jesus’ earlier quashing of the effort to forcefully make Him such, these were words to reinforce their worst fears. 

            Sidebar:  For a Jewish King entering the city with palm branches consider Simon during the Maccabees’ revolt capturing the city and the massive jubilation that followed it:  “. . . The Jews entered it with praise and palm branches, and with harps and cymbals and stringed instruments, and with hymns and songs, because a great enemy had been crushed and removed from Israel (1 Maccabees 13:51).  The palm tree was a sacred symbol for Israel.  ‘Tamar,’ a palm tree, was a favorite name for a woman.  The Maccabaean coins were decorated with the palm and vine.  The medal struck by Titus represented a captive sitting under a palm.  Throughout their history, in their gorgeous temple ritual, it continually reappears, and at the last the Apocalypse represents the victorious songs of triumphant elders accompanied by the waving of the palm [Revelation 7:9].”  (Pulpit Commentary)           


            12:14   Then Jesus, when He had found a young donkey, sat on it; as it is written:  How He came to have access to the animal is a story not recorded here but in the Synoptic gospel accounts--Matthew 21:1-9 for example.


            12:15   “Fear not, daughter of Zion; Behold, your King is coming, / Sitting on a donkey’s colt.”  Entering the city this way would match that written of in Zechariah 9:9.  Here the author makes a conscious linkage to a prophetic text--note the “it is written,” which is not used of the Psalms text in verse 13.

            To us, you would expect any half way important King to be approaching town on a fine stead.  But it is said that those in the ancient Mideast viewed such as unrestrained arrogance and conceit--that of a ruler obsessed with his own status and “superiority” over others.  Riding a donkey was the act of the everyday citizen and manifested a humility of self-evaluation:  the kind of ruler that would rule not to “feather his own nest” but to assure the well being of the people he ruled--i.e., the ideal and perfect ruler as exemplified in the Old Testament Messianic prophecies.    


            12:16   His disciples did not understand these things at first; but when Jesus was glorified, then they remembered that these things were written about Him and that they had done these things to Him.  Although the apostles witnessed these events, they did not recognize the connection between them and the Old Testament prophecy until after Jesus was resurrected.  Like so many things in life, they made far more sense afterwards than they did at the time they occurred.  (The reference to not understanding what had happened probably reaches all the way back to the resurrection of Lazarus in the previous chapter, since this is mentioned again in verses 17-18.  That, in a way, “foreshadowed” the even more dramatic resurrection of the Lord.)


            12:17   Therefore the people, who were with Him when He called Lazarus out of his tomb and raised him from the dead, bore witness.  In spite of opposition, those who personally saw Lazarus’ resurrection did not keep their mouths shut.  It was such a spectacular and undeniable exercise of Divine power that there was no way they could honorably avoid sharing it with others in their awe and amazement.  They probably took care to avoid doing it within hearing of Jesus’ obvious foes lest there be dangerous personal repercussions . . . but out of their earshot was a very much different matter.  


            12:18   For this reason the people also met Him, because they heard that He had done this sign.  And the report--in the midst of the greatest Feast of the year!--had so enthused the locals that they intentionally sought Him out in order to give Him a joyous escort into the city.  Note the “met Him:”  Not only did people escort Him into the city who were new arrivals, but crowds went out of the city as well--to join in escorting Him the rest of the distance.


            12:19   The Pharisees therefore said among themselves, “You see that you are accomplishing nothing.  Look, the world has gone after Him!”  The Pharisees who were anti-Jesus were shocked by the large, public display of enthusiasm and criticized each other for “accomplishing nothing” in their efforts to rein in the enthusiasm.  To those hostile to Jesus it seemed as if the entire “world has gone after Him!”  The disgruntlement of those who have been fighting a battle—and losing it.  May there also be here a rhetorical knife into the egos of opponents of Jesus (19:47-49, 53-54) who were not as willing to kill Him as Caiaphas?  “The non-violent way has simply not worked!”    



Although Jesus Must Be “Glorified” By God, It Is Not Only Immediately Through the Heavenly Voice That Then Speaks, But Also Through His Resurrection from Death (John 12:20-36):  20 Now some Greeks were among those who had gone up to worship at the feast.  21 So these approached Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, and requested, “Sir, we would like to see Jesus.”   22 Philip went and told Andrew, and they both went and told Jesus. 

23 Jesus replied, “The time has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.  24 I tell you the solemn truth, unless a kernel of wheat falls into the ground and dies, it remains by itself alone. But if it dies, it produces much grain.  25 The one who loves his life destroys it, and the one who hates his life in this world guards it for eternal life.  26 If anyone wants to serve me, he must follow me, and where I am, my servant will be too. If anyone serves me, the Father will honor him.

27 “Now my soul is greatly distressed.  And what should I say? ‘Father, deliver me from this hour’?  No, but for this very reason I have come to this hour.  28 Father, glorify your name.” Then a voice came from heaven, “I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again.” 29 The crowd that stood there and heard the voice said that it had thundered.  Others said that an angel had spoken to him. 

30 Jesus said, “This voice has not come for my benefit but for yours.  31 Now is the judgment of this world; now the ruler of this world will be driven out.  32 And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.”  33 (Now he said this to indicate clearly what kind of death he was going to die.)

34 Then the crowd responded, “We have heard from the law that the Christ will remain forever.  How can you say, ‘The Son of Man must be lifted up’?  Who is this Son of Man?” 

35 Jesus replied, “The light is with you for a little while longer. Walk while you have the light, so that the darkness may not overtake you.  The one who walks in the darkness does not know where he is going.  36 While you have the light, believe in the light, so that you may become sons of light.”  When Jesus had said these things, he went away and hid himself from them.

--New English Translation (for comparison)



            12:20   Now there were certain Greeks among those who came up to worship at the feast.  The fact that they came up to Jerusalem not only “to worship” but specifically for Passover (“the feast”) argues that these Greeks were what were called “proselytes of the Gate”--uncircumcised Greeks who respected and revered the Jewish religion and its moral and spiritual tenets.  The Ethiopian Eunuch (Acts 8:27) would be one example.  Certain burnt and thank offerings were permitted to be purchased by them and offered in the Temple on their behalf.


            12:21   Then they came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida of Galilee, and asked him, saying, “Sir, we wish to see Jesus.”  Why this apostle was selected we do not know.  It could simply have been happenstance . . . that they learned that he was one of the innermost disciples and sought his intervention.  The city was overrun with celebrants so they went with the first person readily available.  The fact that they wished to meet Jesus shows that they had heard enough of His reputation to recognize that He was--in some significant sense--at least a prophet of God.  We see here a foreshadowing of the Gentile potential for the gospel that was developed only after the reception of Cornelius into the movement.      


            12:22   Philip came and told Andrew, and in turn Andrew and Philip told Jesus.  Perhaps feeling a lack of confidence in broaching the matter of meeting with “mere” proselytes, he raised the matter with Andrew.  Andrew was Peter’s brother (John 6:7-8) and through that relationship he probably felt he was talking with someone who could give sound advice as to what to do next.  They had earlier heard Jesus embrace the Old Testament teaching, “My house shall be called a house of prayer for all nations” (Mark 11:17, quoting Isaiah 56:7).  This would provide quality guidance that Jesus would not be upset with their action.


            12:23   But Jesus answered them, saying, “The hour has come that the Son of Man should be glorified.  To begin with, Jesus emphasized that the time was upon them when He “should be glorified.”  That is an expression that fits superbly well with the hopes that He would be crowned earthly temporal ruler.  But it fits even more powerfully with the honor due Him when He triumphantly overpowered the forces of death itself (cf. the mention of death in the next verse). 

            Although strictly speaking, the introductory words “Jesus answered them” would make us suspect that He was responding strictly to the apostles, the mention of “the people who stood by and heard” (verse 29) proves that others were present as well.  The difficulty of being sure they could find Him later in the vast crowd argues that the Greeks would have followed the two apostles as they sought word from Jesus whether He would speak with them in particular.  This argues that, whether directly addressed or not,  the words were spoken where they could hear the words as well--and learn from them. 


            12:24   Most assuredly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the ground and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it produces much grain.  That was a strange remark, but He immediately gave a hint that He was referring to His own upcoming death:  even a grain of wheat has to “die” (so to speak) so that it can produce more grain.  Similarly He had to die in order to produce more followers and converts.  Rather than bringing His mission to an end, His death would actually lay the groundwork for even greater success. 


            12:25   He who loves his life will lose it, and he who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life.  The lesson for them was that anyone who loves life more that doing right will ultimately “lose” the life he cherishes.  He will have traded mere years of peace for untold centuries of joy in heaven.  When the choice is between principle and life one must “hate his life in this world” in order to obtain the life that is eternal.  It is not that life on earth is inherently evil.  It is that it is worthless in comparison with the life they will have in the next world.


            12:26   If anyone serves Me, let him follow Me; and where I am, there My servant will be also.  If anyone serves Me, him My Father will honor.  Hence they were not to permit any obstacles to keep them from following Him--His example and His teachings.  Where Jesus was going, there they would also come.  He wasn’t going “to use them for His own success and then leave them behind to their own problems”--like many a successful ruler does.  Instead they will share in the blessings of the heavenly world where Jesus will be.  In remaining steadfast, the Father Himself would give them “honor” for their perseverance.  Hence their recognition and praise would go beyond even Jesus Himself.


            12:27   “Now My soul is troubled, and what shall I say?  ‘Father, save Me from this hour’?  But for this purpose I came to this hour.  The thought of the upcoming death disturbed (“troubled”) Jesus.  Although it was tempting to pray to God for delivery from it--as He ultimately did in the Garden of Gethsemane--the fact remained that He had been born into the world for this destiny.  Death was to be the “final curtain” in His earthly ministry and the “encore” of His triumph could only come afterwards.  There could be no short cut to that triumph however much He wished it were possible.


            12:28   Father, glorify Your name.”  Then a voice came from heaven, saying, “I have both glorified it and will glorify it again.”  Jesus’ guiding principle was that the Father’s “name” (as expressed in His will, intent, and purpose) receive honor and respect.  A heavenly voice responded that God had already “glorified” His own name (through the miracles and teaching of Jesus) and would do so again (i.e., by resurrecting Jesus and by the international missionary work of the apostles).

            Sidebar:  Was it a thunderous sound that was interpreted as God’s speaking or was it God speaking in such a manner that many interpreted it as mere thunder?  There can be no doubt what John wishes us to understand;—that a voice was heard speaking articulate words, that some could distinguish the words, others could not, while some mistook the sounds for thunder.  To make the thunder the reality, and the voice and the words mere imagination, is to substitute an arbitrary explanation for the Evangelist’s plain meaning.  For similar voices [speaking] compare that heard by Elijah (1 Kings 19:12-13); by Nebuchadnezzar (Daniel 4:31); at Christ’s Baptism (Mark 1:11) and Transfiguration (Mark 9:7); and at Paul’s conversion (Acts 9:4, 7; Acts 22:9), where it would seem that  Paul alone could distinguish the words, while his companions merely heard a sound.  One of the conditions on which power to distinguish what is said depends is sympathy with the speaker.”  (Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges)    


            12:29   Therefore the people who stood by and heard it said that it had thundered.  Others said, “An angel has spoken to Him.”  The onlookers were perplexed by what they heard.  Some dismissed the sound as mere thunder.  Others heard a distinct enough voice that they attributed it to an angel.  And even if all had recognized that it was truly a voice, there were numerous individuals whose grim determination to destroy Jesus would have sought one excuse or another to dismiss the testimony as well.  After all, this was their demonstrated track record--think how far they went in regard to the man born blind in John 9:1-34!

            Sidebar on angelic revelations:  Many Jews believed that God spoke routinely through angels rather than doing so directly.  Although that was not a uniform pattern, unquestionably the means was used.  We read of an angel repeatedly speaking to the earthly father of Jesus in his sleep (Matthew 1:20, 24; 2:13, 19).  Paul warned the Galatians that even if they thought an “angel from heaven” were teaching a different gospel than the apostle had delivered, that was not enough evidence--they were to consider that angel “accursed” by God (1:8).  However genuine angelic revelation was given as well:  The author of Hebrews speaks of “the word spoken through angels” and how humans will be judged by their conformity to it (2:1-4).  


            12:30   Jesus answered and said, “This voice did not come because of Me, but for your sake.  Jesus emphasized that the voice did not speak for His own benefit but in order to teach them.  He doesn’t specifically teach what, but to teach that “Jesus has My support and endorsement” would surely be one of the things high on any list that was composed!

            The additional lesson is that Jesus personally testifies that it was a genuine “voice” speaking and not merely inanimate thunder as some thought.


            12:31   Now is the judgment of this world; now the ruler of this world will be cast out.  In a very real sense, God’s judgment on the world was not some future, far distant event.  It’s hour had (virtually) already arrived.  Its rejection of Jesus would mark it as collectively under Divine condemnation--as deserving and receiving rejection by the Father.  The personal and individual “trial” of humanity, however, would not come until much later at the time of the physical ending of this cosmos. 

            At the same time the one who claimed to be “the ruler of this world” would be cast out by God.  Stripped of any pretense of genuine authority.  Now will begin the “exorcism” via resurrection of that plague on the human race.

            Although the “ruler of this world”--language also used in John 14:30 and 16:11--is routinely applied to Satan, it strikes me as having a valid application as well to those through whom he was acting:  In particular to the religious leaders who ramroded through Jesus’ death; these would also be repudiated by the resurrection.  As would Pilate as representative of the temporal “ruler of this world” since he had more than enough reason to acquit Him.  Both the Devil and his earthly tools would be repudiated.


            12:32   And I, if I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all peoples to Myself.”  If Jesus was indeed “lifted up” (= crucified, verse 33), then they could be assured that He would act to “draw all peoples to Myself.”  This world-wide expansion of Jesus’ target audience would be especially of interest to the Greeks who were listening and who had sought Him out.  He was speaking of their part of the world, a place where His message had not yet been taken.  

            Although the event specifically in mind is that of the crucifixion (verse 33)--He would be “lifted up” on the cross to die--we surely should not forget the other and far more glorious “lifting up” of His ascension into heaven since it is from there that He rules over His kingdom.  As Acts 1:9 puts it:  “While they watched, He was taken up”--“lifted up” (NASB, NET); “carried up” (Weymouth).     


            12:33   This He said, signifying by what death He would die.  This promise was specifically spoken in connection with Jesus’ coming crucifixion.  This was the brutal injustice--the hideous crime aimed at the Father as well--without which His redemptive purpose would have gone unfulfilled.  One of the great ironies is that in their very “triumph” over Jesus (through death) they also laid the groundwork without which Jesus’ own triumph (over death) would not have occurred.  Hence the cross-centeredness of the teaching.

            Jesus had spoken of it to Nicodemus, comparing it to an event during the Exodus:  And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:14-15).  John repeats his linkage of the “lifting up” to being punished by death / crucifixion in John 18:31-32. 


            12:34   The people answered Him, “We have heard from the law that the Christ remains forever; and how can You say, ‘The Son of Man must be lifted up’?  Who is this Son of Man?”  The teaching represented an obvious problem, no matter how the listener interpreted the meaning of Jesus’ language that He would be “lifted up” in some sense (verse 32), i.e., it still required His being removed from the scene of geographic Palestine.  One repercussion would be that it ruled out any claim of His to truly being the Messiah.  How could He possibly be such if that happens since the “Christ remains forever?”  He’s never going to be killed or go anywhere else! 

            A secondary problem in their minds:  if “the Son of Man” is to be distinguished from the Christ, what in the world does the expression mean and refer to?  Since the Messiah could not possibly be one who would suffer death or ever depart from the region, the “Son of Man” must be a distinct figure with different responsibilities.  What are they?  What role does he play in the Divine scheme of things?

            Sidebar:  The Messianic kingdom was pictured as eternal, i.e., He would never cease to reign over it:  Then to Him was given dominion and glory and a kingdom, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve Him.  His dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and His kingdom the one which shall not be destroyed” (Daniel 7:14).  Similarly the promise in Isaiah 9:7:  Of the increase of His government and peace there will be no end, upon the throne of David and over His kingdom, to order it and establish it with judgment and justice from that time forward, even forever.  The zeal of the Lord of hosts will perform this.”   


            12:35   Then Jesus said to them, “A little while longer the light is with you.  Walk while you have the light, lest darkness overtake you; he who walks in darkness does not know where he is going.  The closest Jesus comes to answering any of this is to describe Himself as “the light” that is temporarily with them.  They must spiritually grow (“walk” = explore, investigate, and embrace what is said) while that light is present lest the darkness of their self-imposed ignorance overwhelm them.  The “light” will soon no longer be there to personally challenge them and offer them a way out. 

           The person who walks in the “darkness” that is outside of Jesus and His teaching “does not know where he is [really] going,” even though he may think he does.  This is an allusion to the fact that the enemies of the Lord had a rationale for what they were doing, but they were “in darkness” as to its injustice and the consequences of it.  They rationalized that it was for the ultimate good of the nation.  The horrifying (to them) result, however, would be the expansion of Jesus’ movement to the entire human race and--in order to do that--the removing of the distinctive limitations imposed by the very Mosaical Law they claimed to champion.  Not to mention the destruction of the Temple itself.   


            12:36   While you have the light, believe in the light, that you may become sons of light.”  These things Jesus spoke, and departed, and was hidden from them.  While they had the “light” of Jesus and the wisdom His words imparted still with them, they should believe in Him so that they might become “sons of [the] light” being revealed--implementing and living by the insights He provided.  An analogy:  Picture Jesus as a bonfire and the individual as a torch that gives light if it is lit from that bonfire.   

            Sidebar:  Jesus had earlier stressed that because He is the “light of the world,” anyone who follows His teaching “shall not walk in darkness but have the light of life” (John 8:12).  Paul referred to how Gentiles had become children of “light” by their conversion to the truth available about and from the Lord (Ephesians 5:8).  In such symbolism “darkness” functions as the negative symbol of Satan and “light” as that of embracing God:  Only by doing so is salvation possible (Acts 26:18). 



Though Jesus Had Performed Many Miracles to Vindicate His Authority and Teaching, It Was Vastly Different From What The Dominant Religious Leaders Wanted or Expected.  The Result of Their Prejudice Was That Their Eyes and Hearts Were Blinded to the Truth (John 12:37-43):  37 Although Jesus had performed so many miraculous signs before them, they still refused to believe in him, 38 so that the word of Isaiah the prophet would be fulfilled.  He said, “Lord, who has believed our message, and to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed? 

39 For this reason they could not believe, because again Isaiah said, 40 He has blinded their eyes and hardened their heart, so that they would not see with their eyes and understand with their heart, and turn to me, and I would heal them.”

41 Isaiah said these things because he saw Christ’s glory, and spoke about him.  42 Nevertheless, even among the rulers many believed in him, but because of the Pharisees they would not confess Jesus to be the Christ, so that they would not be put out of the synagogue.  43 For they loved praise from men more than praise from God.    



            12:37   But although He had done so many signs before them, they did not believe in Him,  In spite of the “many signs”--note the emphasis on the extremely large number that was provided over several years--nothing convinced those who were in the key positions of power where they could manipulate Jesus’ arrest and conviction.  Nothing had or would change their minds.  John himself only narrates six but the reference to “many” argues that knowledge of others had been widely circulated as well.  Hence the gospels provide us with only a small sampling of what He did and nowhere near the entirety--as John 21:25 reminds us.  


            12:38   that the word of Isaiah the prophet might be fulfilled, which he spoke:  “Lord, who has believed our report?  And to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?”  Without realizing it themselves, they were fulfilling the role of disbelief that Isaiah 53:1 had spoken of:  No one had accepted the logical consequences of what they were seeing even though the power of God (“the arm of the Lord”) had been publicly manifested in their sight and in that of those they received reports from.  The horrible irony is that these were the very “theologians” and “experts” in the religious law--men who were both expected to understand religious truth and were sure that they did!  These weren’t the “book unlearned” masses who--again a paradox--tended to be far more receptive. 


            12:39   Therefore they could not believe, because Isaiah said again:  Their opposition to the truth they witnessed was so intense that they had destroyed their ability to believe at all (“could not believe”):  Their hardness of heart and self-centeredness had destroyed their capacity.  It wasn’t done to them; they had done it themselves.  The same ancient prophet had also described it in the next text John appeals to as well. 

            Furthermore Jeremiah described people of this mentality in his day in these words,  Can an Ethiopian change his skin or a leopard its spots?  Neither can you do good who are accustomed to doing evil” (ESV).  The Proverbist hit on the same point of the self-created inability/refusal to change in a proper manner, “Though you grind a fool in a mortar with a pestle along with crushed grain, yet his foolishness will not depart from him” (27:22, NKJV).     


            12:40   “He has blinded their eyes and hardened their hearts, lest they should see with their eyes, lest they should understand with their hearts and turn, so that I should heal them.”  Isaiah 6:9-10 had described his earlier generation as one whose sin had caused God to “blind” their eyesight and “harden” their hearts and this description also fits the way Jesus was being treated.  They did not wish to respect God and seek His healing, so the Father was going to assure they reaped the folly of the seeds they themselves had planted and grown to maturity:  He gave them something so diametrically opposed to their wishes and preferences that they refused to embrace it.  Yes, God blinded them--but only through their own prejudices that they had developed and cherished.  Or as ancient Chrysostom put it, “They could not because they would not.” 


            12:41   These things Isaiah said when he saw His glory and spoke of Him.  The context of Isaiah’s writing of their blindness:  He had written this text when he had beheld the “glory” of God and spoken of Him (described in Isaiah 6:1-8).  In its original setting, one would assume that he was observing the Heavenly Father and that John is applying this language to the unique Son who fully reflected the same essence and nature--the One who came to earth on mankind’s behalf.  This might be called the “minimalist” interpretation of the Isaiah description.

            The common view is to argue that it was, indeed, the future Jesus Himself who was observed by Isaiah:  “The glory of the Son before the Incarnation, when He was ‘in the form of God’ (Philippians 2:6), is to be understood.”  (Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges)  By this reference to the theophany of Isaiah 6:1-2 the evangelist here identifies Christ with the Adonai whom the prophet saw in his vision, and thus expresses his conception of the Christ (compare 1 Corinthians 10:4; Philippians 2:6).  Because the prophet saw the glory of Christ, the unutterable majesty of the ‘Word of God,’ he delivered, as we know, this tremendous [revelation].  Few utterances of the New Testament convey in more startling form the conviction of the apostles touching the pre-existence of the Lord, and the identification of the Divine Personality of the Christ, with the highest conception that the Hebrew prophet entertained of the Almighty One, of the eternal Godhead.”  (Pulpit Commentary)      


            12:42   Nevertheless even among the rulers many believed in Him, but because of the Pharisees they did not confess Him, lest they should be put out of the synagogue;   John admits that official hostility to Jesus was not as universal as the ultimate outcome might indicate.  A large number of officials (“many”) “believed” in Jesus but because of hostility by those who dominated the Pharisee movement refused to risk the threatened exclusion from the synagogue by publicly defending Him.  (See John 9:20-23 for a case of how this danger shaped what people would say publicly about Jesus in Jerusalem.)  

            How many of these were in the Sanhedrin itself we do not know, but it is significant that no mention is made of Sadducee believers in Jesus.  These were the ones that dominated and controlled that institution.  Pharisee opposition to Jesus would provide them “cover” from censure from the more pious element and assure that organized opposition and recriminations would be minimal or nonexistent.


            12:43   for they loved the praise of men more than the praise of God.  However they rationalized their silence—and personal dignity required it be done in some form—the root reason for it was that they preferred the currently available approval from others of their socio-religious level to the approval they would receive from God.  God they would only hear from in the final judgment Day, but their earthly spiritual comrades they would have to hear from both immediately and every day as well.



Jesus’ Final Public Plea:  Accept the Authority of My Teaching—Or Be Judged By it (John 12:44-50):  44 But Jesus shouted out, “The one who believes in me does not believe in me, but in the one who sent me, 45 and the one who sees me sees the one who sent me.  46 I have come as a light into the world, so that everyone who believes in me should not remain in darkness. 

47 “If anyone hears my words and does not obey them, I do not judge him.  For I have not come to judge the world, but to save the world.  48 The one who rejects me and does not accept my words has a judge; the word I have spoken will judge him at the last day. 

49 “For I have not spoken from my own authority, but the Father himself who sent me has commanded me what I should say and what I should speak.  50 And I know that his commandment is eternal life.  Thus the things I say, I say just as the Father has told me.”     --New English Translation (for comparison)



            12:44   Then Jesus cried out and said, “He who believes in Me, believes not in Me but in Him who sent Me.  The root reality, insisted Jesus, was that the one who believed in Him was not really believing just in Him; it was really belief in God as well.  Since Jesus had been sent from heaven by God what else could be the case?  He was, if you will, “the Divine Ambassador to earth.”


            12:45   And he who sees Me sees Him who sent Me.  In a very fundamental sense the one who observed Jesus and His behavior, actions, and teaching was also seeing God’s for He perfectly reflected the Father’s attitude and doctrine while on this mission to earth.  In light of the prologue to the gospel, He also refers to their shared essence (1:1-5), but without that context His current listeners would only take His words in this more restricted sense.  Much that truly encompassed, even standing by itself!


            12:46   I have come as a light into the world, that whoever believes in Me should not abide in darkness.  Jesus’ mission during His ministry was to provide the “light” of Divine truth to a world haunted by the “darkness” of immorality (among the non-religious) and humanly invented religious tradition (among the religiously inclined).  All had something to escape from and His teaching would provide the means.


            12:47   And if anyone hears My words and does not believe, I do not judge him; for I did not come to judge the world but to save the world.  Anyone who rejected the message of Jesus and refused to believe in it and the Jesus who taught it, need not fear judgment from Jesus personally.  The reason is that His central role in coming into the world was redemptive rather than judicial.  That does not mean, however, that such judgment will be forever escaped from.  “Now” was neither the time or place for it.


            12:48   He who rejects Me, and does not receive My words, has that which judges him—the word that I have spoken will judge him in the last day.  Although they would not have to answer to Jesus—as if He were personally offended—they would have to answer to the authority of His teaching.  That would serve as their ultimate judge “in the last day.”  Although other passages picture Jesus as administering this judgment--for example John 5:22, 27-29 in the gospel we are currently studying--this verse shows that the standard will be His word.  It won’t be Him making an independent judgment on their eternal destiny.  It will be the word He revealed that will be the “law book” by which that decision is made.  We have that law in our hands in the New Testament.  Hence we know the criteria by which we also will be judged.


            12:49   For I have not spoken on My own authority; but the Father who sent Me gave Me a command, what I should say and what I should speak.  The reason Jesus’ teaching could be the judge is that He spoke strictly what He had been commissioned to speak.  Nothing else left His mouth.  He did not alter it by making it either more stringent or easier.

            Sidebar:  If we are to make a distinction between “say” and “speak” at all, “ ‘Say’ probably refers to the doctrine [that is spoken], ‘speak’ to the form in which it is expressed.”  (Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges)  


            12:50   And I know that His command is everlasting life.  Therefore, whatever I speak, just as the Father has told Me, so I speak.”  This is the way things had to be:  Since God’s “command is everlasting life,” Jesus had to faithfully teach that and that alone.  Without it, eternal redemption would not be available to the human race.