Honor to Whom Honor; Glory to Whom Glory

John 12

Chapter 11 closed with a notation of different attitudes toward Jesus as the Passover approached. He had retired briefly from any public view but during the Passover week would make his most aggressive manifestation of Himself, a triumphal entry at the beginning and a personal resurrection from the dead at the end. The raising of Lazarus had been the ultimate offense to the Jewish leaders. They had let it be known that any that knew his whereabouts should inform them that they might arrest him. The increasing manifestation of power in the signs only served to give a greater determination on the part of the Jewish leaders to kill him. Increasingly strong revelations of our sinful irrationality do not diminish our spirit of rebellion but only intensify our hatred. There was yet one sign and they would continue their deceitful plots even at that (Matthew 27:62-66; 28:11-15).

I. The Value of Jesus (12:1-11).

A. Martha served at a meal in honor of Jesus (2). – We have seen Martha’s intense energy on the gift of hospitality before (Luke 10:38-40) as well as Mary’s humble devotion. 

B. Mary anointed him with expensive ointment (3) – Is there christological meaning here? This seems to be John’s intent in pointing out the extravagance of this anointing. He was the Messiah, the anointed one; Mary recognizes this and confirms her own faith in his unique status and probably is anticipating the climax of his priestly office in becoming the sacrificial offering, the altar, and the offerer. 

C. Judas is offended by the apparent waste, puts his covetousness above the value of Jesus and hides it behind a veil of philanthropy (4-6). Like Judas in this extravagant way, we also seek to put a gilding of virtue on our sinfulness. John consistently reminds the reader of the devious character of Judas (6:70, 71). Not only is he a betrayer, he is a thief. He sells Jesus for the price of a slave, and Jesus called him a devil. In John 8:44 Jesus gave a graphic description of the nature of the demonic when persons are compliant with Satan’s intent and nature.

D. Jesus accepts the anointing as consistent with his Person and Work and places his value above the feigned mercy of Judas. 

    1. In 9:24, the Pharisees had sounded pious in saying to the now-seeing formerly-blind man, “Give glory to God, this man is a sinner.” Jesus was clear that those who truly saw would not think one could sidestep honoring him in preference to, that is, under the guise of, honoring the Father. In this case, nothing more true and virtuous could be done than to surrender all that was gain for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus. Honoring him as he entered the final week and anticipated a brutal death at the hands of men, and a sacrificial death under the holy wrath of his eternal Father is to be preferred as an act of true piety even above giving to the poor (8).
    2. Jesus used the occasion to refer to his coming death and burial. Jesus’ reference to an anointing on the day of his burial is a direct statement that as Messiah, the anointed one, he must suffer death. Had the disciples picked up on these clues they would not have seemed so clueless during his arrest, trial, and execution.

E. The chief priests plot to kill Lazarus also on account of his witness to the status of Jesus (9-11). John observed that a “large crowd” had gathered. This is exactly the kind of phenomenon the Pharisees feared and sought to eliminate. Even in the face of his doing many miracles, we see their fear stated in John 11:47, 48.

    1. Not only was Jesus the focus of intense curiosity, but Lazarus multiplied the problem for the Pharisees and the priests. If the testimony of the blind man concerning his blindness and his gaining sight by the power of Jesus presented a problem, how much more would the testimony of a four-days-dead man present irrefutable evidence for the truth of the claims of Jesus.
    2. Not only had he been dead, but he had been with “God the Judge of all” and among the “spirits of just men made perfect” (Hebrews 12:23) and could verify by heavenly testimony that Jesus is the eternal Son of the Father and the One sent by the Father into the world to give life to whom he wills (John 5:17, 21, 23. 36-38; 6:38-40; 7:28, 29; 8:16-18, 42; 10:17, 18 etc.).
    3. “On account of him” (11) refers both to his very presence and the eye-witness testimony that he gave.

II. The crowd gave a justified confession from a wrong perception (12-19).

A. Verses 12-16 – Now we learn that the buzz about the crowd in 11:56 contained this messianic excitement. The Pharisees had detected this and knew that they must cut it short. 

    1. The crowd, however, jumped ahead of them and were engaging in a celebration of the Messiah in hope of personal delivery [see Zechariah 9:8-10]. His humble entrance was a prophecy of his certain victory in which all the implements of oppression of Israel would be eliminated. This Messiah will have dominion “from sea to sea.”
    2. The prophecy, however, includes a freedom based on the “blood of the covenant.” (”As  for you also, because of the blood of my covenant with you, I will set your prisoners free from the waterless pit” 11). There would be triumph over the most deadly of foes apart from the blood of the covenant (See Hebrews 13:20). 
    3. The prophecy collapses this event of blood-bought deliverance into scenes of political deliverance (Zechariah 9:13). This they understood more, and desired more, than the necessity of spiritual redemption, the forgiveness of sins.

B. Jesus received the exuberance for his person as a legitimate fulfillment of prophecy and as a joyful obeisance consistent with his Person (14-16).  John’s account does not intend to be a perfect chronological alignment of this event; according to Mark, Jesus had his disciples obtain the animal and began the ride. Then the people began to shout. As John says that the disciples’ knowledge of this as specifically a fulfillment of prophecy only came later (16), and the crowd misunderstood all that was involved, it was entirely appropriate that Jesus prompt this reaction in conjunction with an obvious messianic action.  

C. The influence of Lazarus’s sign continues to influence people (17, 18). Those that were there, rallied the people to this excited reception. John’s narrative indicates that some in the crowd knew this to be a sign (18). 

D. Pharisees become even more antagonized and give another unwitting prophecy (19). “Look, the world has gone after him.” Indeed, this would be the case. John uses this as a segue into the report of the desire of the Greeks to see him. 

III. Jesus’ triumph over his adversaries begins with a glorious and fruitful death (20-36).

A. The coming of the Greeks provides a transition from the celebration and the “whole world” statement to a discussion of the place of his death in his messiahship  (20-22). If we linger a bit over the prophecy in Zechariah, we see that the Greeks are mentioned as the direct target when Jehovah stirs up the Sons of Zion to conquer them (Zechariah 9:13). This Greek desire to know the Messiah is not exactly the way their conquering was perceived by the Jewish leadership. Their coming to the Messiah would amount to a mighty overthrow of their religious mythology and their speculative philosophy.

B. The Glory of the Son of Man  (23) – Though in its external trappings, the most abysmal manifestation of an inglorious event, within the coming passion would be the culmination of the purpose for which the Messiah had come. A bloody death at the hands of brutal pagans does not seem a good way to inaugurate a kingdom. It would be, however, the source of eternal praise and  an eternal unfolding of the glory of the Father and the Son.

    1. His death will certainly bear fruit (24).  [What fruit is he speaking of?] Certainly he shows his confidence, spoken with clarity in chapter 10. The Father has given to the Son a great host of persons to redeem by his dying. They will come, all his own certainly will come, and none for whom he has been planted in the ground will fail to be born into the resultant new life. 
    2. “He who loves his life loses it” (25). The fruit he bears in his death will have this “flavor” of loving the glory of Heaven more than his life in this present world. Like Mary in her anointing of the feet of Jesus, those that grow from his death will share his character of being willing to lose their life for the glory of God. 
    3. They will follow Christ in his judgment of this world, that is, rejecting the glory of this present evil age in exchange for gaining eternal life. (25, 26). The one who follows Jesus in losing all for the sake of redemption wil find honor from the Father.

C. The Glory of the Father

    1. Verses 27, 28 – The nature of his death troubles him, but the purpose of his death strengthens him. We see this dark cloud hanging over Jesus in an intensified way in Gethsemane (Matthew 26:36-46; Mark 14:32-42; Luke 22:39-46). The hour of which he spoke would be the hour of greatest darkness for the entire span of years from creation to the coming of the New Heavens and the New Earth. The sinless Son of God would be the recipient of his Father’s wrath, separated from all common mercies, spiritual comforts, and Fatherly pleasure. The shame of eternal punishment would descend on his innocent brow.
    2. When the people heard the voice, some believed it was merely a natural phenomenon (“thundered”), others believed it was some kind of supernatural response (“an angel”). Jesus said that it was for their sake that his prayer evoked the response. (cf. 11:42) As in each of the signs, these things were done that they might believe (30) and, as consistently shown, misunderstanding ensues. 

3. Judgment on the world (31) – How is his death judgment on the world?

      • The Edenic promise to Satan now will be brought to a certain culmination (see Gen 3:14, 15). In John 16 Jesus said that the Holy Spirit would convict the world of judgment because the “ruler of this world is judged.”
      • By his death, he will draw all men – This is the reason that the Greeks’ seeking him prompted this reflection; Satan has been overcome in that the judgment that was to fall on all men due to their sin has fallen on Christ, for the sake of his sheep. For those arising out of every tongue and tribe and people, redemption has come. None of those whose sins have been taken by Christ can suffer. “Payment God cannot twice demand, first at my bleeding Surety’s hand, and then again at mine” (Toplady: “Whence This Fear and Unbelief?”)

D. A Question of the Son of Man

    1. Verse 34 – The “Son of Man” is Christ – this they had been taught and believed. When he said that the Son of Man must be lifted up, they knew that he meant that the Messiah (“Christ”) would die. But he is supposed to remain forever, so how can he die?
    2. His being “lifted up” puzzled them. He had spoken in these terms before, once in a private conversation and again in a very public venue.  [cf. John 3:14 and 8:28]
    3. Jesus urged them to believe while he is yet here in spite of their confusion (cf. 16). “While you have the light, believe in the light” (36). Though many things about his speech puzzled them, sufficient signs and commensurate claims had been made for them to believe. Some did believe, and they did not fully understand all that Jesus indicated was to happen to him; so, those that did not fully understand still should believe for there was sufficient content for them to commit themselves to the Lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world “Walk while you have the light, so that darkness will not overtake you” (35).

IV. Unbelief and Judgment 37-50

A. In spite of the signs and in spite of Jesus’ admonition to believe in him, they did not (37). Men’s unbelief, and their reprobation, does not arise from their being prohibited to do a thing that they desire to do. No; Jesus has urged these to believe even though they are confused. In spite of the overwhelming evidence of his status as Messiah, and the blind and dead seeing and living by his power, they embraced the confusion more than the clarity.

B. Prophecy of unbelief  (38)  Isaiah 53:1, “Lord who has believed our report?” This prophecy of unbelief relates precisely to the very question of the Son of Man being “lifted up.” Isaiah 53 gives an extended prophecy of the Messiah’s substitutionary reception of divine wrath for sinners. 

C. Source of Unbelief

    1. “He has blinded their eyes” – God gives some over to the deception of their unbelieving heart (2 Thess 2:9-12; 1 Peter 2:7-9). Even as the elect are individually set apart for belief of the truth by the special operation of the Holy Spirit, so are the reprobate individually left in their unbelief and even given a judicial hardening to resist the truth with an intensified hatred. 
    2. Even this glorifies God (41), as Isaiah had prophesied (Romans 9:19-24). It shows the pure justice of his sovereign disposition of all things. We observe justice in the salvation of the elect, for Christ has died for them and taken all their justice on his own shoulders (Romans 8:32-34). We observe justice for the reprobate, for he has endured their hardness with patience, and of their own will and hardness of heart they have reviled the mercies that God has displayed to sinners in a fallen world. Those that were in the presence of Jesus at this time did so in spite of an expression of urgency to do otherwise (35, 36). Such responses demonstrate his justice both in his providences and in the gospel (Romans 2:2-5; 9:22, 23).

D. The clarity of Jesus’ words and works convinces many of the rulers of what may be called historical belief (42, 43). With their minds they could not reject the evidence of what he claimed in the light of what he did. They stopped short, however, of the kind of belief indicated in verses 25, 26.   

E. Again Jesus gives a public call for and description of true belief (44-46) – Believe in me and you will truly know the Father. And you will know the Father as the one who “sent” Jesus. This sending was for the purpose that he might be lifted up; and in dying for sin and reconciling sinners to God, the darkness would be dispelled. He who sees all of this in the Son, also sees the Father, and walks in the light and will not remain in darkness but will escape darkness. (1 John 1:5-7; Colossians 1:12-14) 

F. Judgment by the words of Jesus 47-50

    1. Rejection of Jesus for salvation results in staying under and inflaming condemnation. Already under judgment for sin, the world’s condemnation does not have its inception in its rejection of Jesus. It does, however, increase its condemnation as sin creates even greater antagonism to the goodness and glory of God. 
    2. Jesus’ words will judge (48). Examine his claims and see how they will witness against unbelievers. 
    3. His words and the way he said them are from the Father – “I speak just as the Father has told me.”

V. Contemplations

A. Is our perception of Jesus’ Person and Work sufficiently pure that we realize that no amount of gratitude, praise, wonder and worship is too much?  It is impossible to embellish his worth or exaggerate the honor due to Him. 

B. Do we couch our resistance to His will and his honor in pious terms [“I have prayed about this”  “I feel peace about this”] and rationalize away our discipleship? Do we create a religious wall about us so that we cannot hear the words of Jesus? 

C. Have we so submitted to His Person, His teachings, and His atoning work, that we are willing to be judged by His words and obtain benefit only from His work of obedience, death, and intercession?

Tom has most recently served as the Professor of Historical Theology at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He previously taught at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School where he was Professor of Church History and Chair of the Department of Church History. Prior to that, he taught at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and Mid-America Baptist Theological Seminary. Along with numerous journal articles and scholarly papers, Dr. Nettles is the author and editor of fifteen books. Among his books are By His Grace and For His Glory; Baptists and the Bible, James Petigru Boyce: A Southern Baptist Statesman, and Living by Revealed Truth: The Life and Pastoral Theology of Charles H. Spurgeon.
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