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Bible Commentaries

F. B. Hole's Old and New Testament Commentary

John 12



Other Authors
Verses 1-50

FOR THE THIRD time in this Gospel a Passover feast is mentioned. In Leviticus 23:1-44, it is spoken of as one of the “feasts of the Lord,” but in John’s Gospel it is always a feast of the Jews, in keeping with the fact that Jesus is regarded as refused by His people from the outset, and consequently they and their feasts are disowned by God. The religious leaders were now about to crown their infamy by using the Passover as an occasion for encompassing the death of the Son of God. Their guilt was not lessened by the fact that God overruled their action to the fulfilling of the type, and that thereby “Christ our Passover is sacrificed for us.”

Six days before the Passover Jesus came to Bethany, so that all recorded between John 12:1 and John 20:25 falls into a brief period of seven or eight days—surely the most wonderful week in the world’s history. In the home at Bethany dwelt the three who were objects of His love and who loved Him in return. A suitable opportunity had now arrived for them to testify of this. Behind them lay the death of Lazarus and His calling to life by the voice of the Son of God. Just ahead lay the death and resurrection of the Son of God Himself.

At the close of Luke 10:1-42 we see this household marked by some measure of disorder and complaint; but here, after the display of the Lord’s resurrection power, all is found in order and harmonious. The simple proceedings of that evening centred in Christ. He was the honoured Object of each and all, for, “they made HIM a supper.” We may indeed see a parable in this. When Christ is the supreme Object and His resurrection power is known, everything falls into its right place.

Martha was hostess and served Him. Lazarus had his part with Him at the supper table. Mary expressed her heart’s devotion to Him by expending upon Him her costly ointment. Thus we see how the knowledge of Him and of His resurrection power led to service, to communion, and to worship. All was happily in order, and, just because it was, the voice of hostile criticism was heard, centred upon Mary’s action. It originated with Judas Iscariot, though the other disciples echoed his words, as Matthew’s Gospel shows.

The world is incapable of appreciating true worship, and in spite of his fair exterior Judas was wholly of the world. Ruled by covetousness Judas had become a thief; and not only a thief but a hypocrite, masking his self-seeking by the profession of care for the poor. He posed as an eminently practical man, fully alive to the value of solid, material benefits for the poor, whilst Mary was in his view squandering valuable substance, moved by silly sentiment. The world is exactly of that opinion today. The religion which suits its taste is one which lays all the emphasis upon material and earthly benefits for mankind. And today, as much as then, carnally minded believers are very prone to be in agreement with the world and echo its opinions.

In saying, “Let her alone,” Jesus silenced the hostile criticism. The three words may well be written upon our memories. True worship lies between the soul of the believer and the Lord, and no other may interfere. In Romans 14:1-23 the believer is viewed as a servant and the spirit of that chapter again is, “Let him alone.” Further, the Lord knew how to interpret her action. He gave, no doubt, a fuller explanation of it than Mary herself could have offered; though she knew the hatred of the leaders and intuitively perceived His death approaching. It is significant too that Mary of Bethany did not join the other women in visiting His grave with the spices they had prepared.

Of Mary we may say that what she did, was done “for Jesus’ sake only.” With Judas it was “the poor,” and even with the other disciples, it was “Jesus and the poor.” With many of the Jews who flocked to Bethany at this time it was “Jesus and Lazarus,” for they were curious to see a man who had been raised from the dead. The Bethany household had concentrated upon Jesus their true affection. In contrast therewith the chief priests concentrated upon Him the deadliest hatred, which so blinded them that they contemplated slaying Lazarus, the witness to His power. They were most religious but most unscrupulous. They forgot the warning of Psalms 82:1-5.

The next day Jesus presented Himself to Jerusalem as Israel’s King, just as Zechariah the prophet had said. No mere Sovereign of earth could afford to formally present himself to his capital city in such humble fashion; but to Him who was the Word made flesh all such glory, as was possible then, would have been loss, not gain. This occasion is recorded in each of the four Gospels, but John records two special details. First, there is the contrast between the disciples and their Master, who ever knew exactly what He would do (see John 6:6). They took part without any understanding of what they were doing. The significance of it all only dawned upon them when they had received the Holy Spirit, consequent upon the glorification of Jesus. Second, there is the fact that the measure of popular enthusiasm manifested had been stirred by the raising of Lazarus, wherein His glory as the Son of God had been displayed.

We are next permitted to see the effect of all this in three directions. The Pharisees were bitterly mortified, attributing to the demonstration of the people a depth of conviction which was non-existent. But among certain Greeks who had come up to the feast there was a spirit of enquiry and their desire to see Jesus was the pledge of a day when “the Gentiles shall come to Thy light, and king’s to the brightness of Thy rising” (Isaiah 60:3). And indeed now was the moment when He should have been received and acclaimed by His own people. The hour had struck when as the Son of Man He should have been glorified. As regards the Lord Himself, He knew well that as the rejected One nothing but death lay before Him—the death which would be the foundation of all the glory in days to come. Of that death therefore He proceeded to speak.

In verse John 12:24 we find another of His great statements introduced with special emphasis. The life that abides and blossoms forth into much fruit is only reached through death. If fruit for God is to be ingathered—fruit which will be of the same order as Himself—He must die. Emmanuel was here, the Word made flesh, and His intrinsic worth and beauty is beyond all words; but only through death will He “be fruitful and multiply,” so that a multitude of others “after His kind” may be found to the glory of God. This was what filled His thoughts while others were still thinking of earthly glory.

Fruit for God, then, is the first result of His death which He mentioned. The second was the new order of life on earth, which thereby would be entailed upon His disciples. He was about to lay down His life in this world, all perfect as it was. Life in this world is for us wholly marred by sin, and under judgment. If we love it we shall only lose it. Seeing it in its true light we learn to hate it, and thereby we keep life—the only life worth having— unto life eternal. This is for us an hard saying, but of extreme importance, as we may glean from the fact that Jesus uttered words of similar import on three other occasions, and these four sayings are recorded six times in the four Gospels. No other saying of our Lord is repeated for us like this. It is not too much to say that our spiritual stature and prosperity are determined by the measure in which this saying leaves its impress on our hearts and lives.

Verse John 12:26 springs naturally out of verse 25. We can only really serve the Lord as we follow Him, and we only really follow Him as our attitude to life is the same as His. He did not love His life in this world when as the grain of wheat He fell into the ground and died. The Apostle Paul entered into the spirit of this, as we can see by such scriptures as 2 Corinthians 4:10-18 and Galatians 2:20; Galatians 6:14. And as a servant of Christ he greatly surpasses us all. The servant’s reward is to be with his Master, and to be honoured of the Father.

On another occasion Jesus had said that every servant when perfected is to be “AS his Master” (Luke 6:40). Here we find he is to be WITH his Master. And there is yet something more. “If any man serve Me”—who is this ME? The humbled and rejected Son of God! Who serves Him in the hour of His unpopularity and rejection? Such are honoured of the Father, and the honours will be publicly theirs when the day of the great review arrives. The highest honours of the world are but tinsel compared with this.

John’s Gospel makes no mention of the sorrows of Gethsemane, but we are permitted to see here how the weight of His approaching death lay upon His soul. His Deity did not mitigate His trouble; it rather gave Him an infinite capacity to feel it. He could not desire the hour that drew near: His perfect knowledge and infinite holiness caused Him of necessity to shrink from it, yet to be saved from it was not His prayer, but rather that the Father’s name should be glorified in it. This desire was so perfect, so wholly delightful to the Father, that a voice was heard from heaven. The other Gospels have told us how the Father’s voice was heard at His baptism and His transfiguration. These were more private occasions, and there seems to have been no difficulty in understanding what was said. Here in view of His death the voice was more public and intended for the ears of the people; yet they did not receive it, and explained the sound they heard either as the voice of an angel or a peal of thunder. God spoke to men audibly and directly, yet they made nothing of it! In man’s fallen condition it would ever be thus.

The Father’s response was that His name had already been glorified in the whole pathway of Jesus down here, and more particularly in the raising of Lazarus; and He would glorify it again in the death and resurrection of His Son. This then is another great result of the dying of the single “corn of wheat.” There is the production of much fruit; which involves the entrance upon a new kind of life and service by the disciple: there is the glorifying of the Father’s name. And there is yet more, for verse John 12:31 brings both the world and its prince into view.

At the cross was the judgment of this world. Our language has appropriated both the Greek words used here. There came to pass the crisis of this cosmos at the cross. Cosmos signifies an ordered scene in contrast with chaos, but alas! this cosmos has fallen under the leadership of the devil. Now the death of Christ exposed the world in its true character, thus bringing it under righteous condemnation. It also broke the power and legally dispossessed the usurper, who had become its prince. It appeared to be his greatest triumph: it was really his utter defeat.

This wonderful unfolding of the results of His death came from the lips of the Lord, and characteristically He placed last its result as regards Himself. In mentioning this He signified crucifixion as the manner of his death. Now this was the Roman way of executing the death sentence, but seeing that all the animosity against Him was in the breast of the Jew, it signified that He would die a death of utmost shame, repudiated by both Jew and Gentile. He was lifted up from the earth in order that He might be contemptuously dismissed—the extinguisher dropped, so to speak, upon His cause and His Name. And the result to be attained is precisely the opposite. He who once was crucified is to be the universal and everlasting Object of attraction! All who are drawn into God’s mighty circle of blessing will be drawn by Him and to Him. Here we have in germinal form what is more fully expounded in Ephesians 1:9-14. Far from extinguishing His glory the cross becomes the foundation upon which it rests, the basis for its most perfect display, as is so movingly witnessed by Revelation 5:5-14.

The opening words of Jesus spoke of the Son of Man being glorified, and the closing words of His being lifted up. The Jews knew that the Messiah was to abide when He came, and the title “Son of Man” was not unknown to them for it is found in the Old Testament. The Son of Man who was to receive the kingdom according to Daniel 7:1-28, they knew, but who was this Son of Man who was to suffer? They had overlooked the Son of Man made a little lower than the angels, according to Psalms 8:1-9. This humbled Son of Man was the light of men. Except they believed in the light and became children of light, utter darkness would come upon them and they would be lost. With this warning Jesus withdrew Himself from them.

A summary of the situation up to this point is furnished by the Evangelist in verses John 12:37-43. Jesus had done many signs before them, yet they did not believe on Him. The fact was this: their eyes were blinded. The blinding of the eyes of men is the work of the god of this age, as we learn from 2 Corinthians 4:4. Yet there are times when God specially permits it to take place in governmental retribution, and so it can be attributed to Him. Such was the case here; such it had been in the days of Isaiah; and such it was again some 35 years later, when the testimony to the glorified Christ was refused (see Acts 28:25-27). The unbelieving generation persists, and will still be found when the final judgment falls at the end of the age.

In Isaiah 6:1-13 the prophet records how he saw the King, Jehovah of Hosts. John tells us, however, that Isaiah “saw His glory and spake of Him;” evidently referring to Jesus. Again, verse John 12:40 of our chapter is recorded in Isaiah 6:1-13 as “the voice of the Lord.” In Acts 28:1-31 Paul quotes it as that which was said by the Holy Ghost. This casts a helpful light on the unity of the Divine Persons. We may not divide, though we may distinguish.

The effect of this blinding was that “they could not believe.” Their minds were so befogged that faith had become a moral impossibility. No matter how brightly the light shone before them, they had no eyes to perceive it. There were, however, some—and these among the chief rulers—who were not completely blinded in this way. Their minds were open to evidence and the signs displayed wrought intellectual conviction in them. Now intellectual conviction, though an essential ingredient of living faith, is non-living, if by itself alone. It does not fructify in works but it is “as the body without spirit” (James 2:26). Living faith conducts the soul to God through Christ. This was unknown by these rulers for had they experienced it they would not have loved the praise of men more than the praise of God. The same test applies today. He who really believes in his heart that God has raised Christ from the dead, will not fail to confess Him with the mouth as Lord. If men do not confess, they do not really believe.

In verses John 12:44-50 we get the Lord’s own summing up of the situation as He brought to a close His testimony to the world. In John 3:1-36; John 4:1-54; John 5:1-47; John 6:1-71; John 7:1-53 the prominent thought is life, and Jesus is seen as the Life-giver. From John 8:1-59 to this point light has been a great theme, and Jesus is seen as the Light-bearer. John 8:12 gives the Lord’s opening pronouncement as to this, and verse John 12:46 of our chapter the closing word. We only emerge from the darkness as we come into the light of Christ. But the light that shone in Him was the full revelation of God so that he who comes into His light believes on, and sees, Him that sent Him. Being the Word made flesh He was not less than the Father whom He revealed, yet He had come into the place of subjection in order to make Him known and carry out His every commandment.

At that moment the Father’s commandment was not judgment but life everlasting, hence He had hidden Himself from His adversaries instead of breaking them by His power. Still judgment will come in due season; the Judge is appointed, and on the basis of the revelation He had brought will they be judged. The Lord now addressed Himself to the work immediately before Him, to “save the world,” and to bring in “life everlasting.” So He still continued to speak after the Father’s commandment and also, as He declares in chapter John 14:31, to do His commandment, which involved the cross as the necessary basis of both salvation and life. The immediate thing before Him was the gathering together of His disciples for the last time, that He might fully communicate to them the present purposes of the Father’s love.


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Bibliography Information
Hole, Frank Binford. "Commentary on John 12:4". "F. B. Hole's Old and New Testament Commentary". 1947.

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