Live Selflessly

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. There was yet one sign and they would continue their deceitful plots even at that (Matthew 27:62-66; 28:11-15).

The Value of Jesus  12:1-11

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.

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.

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.

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

Chief Priests pot to kill Lazarus also on account of his witness to the status of Jesus 9-11.

Justified Confession from a Wrong Perception  12-19

Verse 12 – 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. The crowd, however, jumped ahead of them. Celebration of the Messiah in hope of personal delivery [see Zechariah 9:8-10] The prophecy collapses this event 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 “ (”As  for you also, because of the blood of my covenant with you, I will set your prisoners free from the waterless pit” 11)

Jesus receives 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, and the crowd misunderstood all that was involved, it was entirely appropriate that Jesus prompt this reaction in conjunction with an obvious messianic action.

The influence of Lazarus’s sign continues to influence people17, 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)

Pharisees 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.

Triumph Begins with a Glorious and Fruitful Death  20-36

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. This Greek desire to know the Messiah is not exactly the way their conquering was perceived by the Jewish leadership.

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 and would be the source of eternal praise and  unending unfolding of the glory of the Father and the Son.

His death will certainly bear fruit  24  [What fruit is he speaking of?] Certainly he is shows his confidence, spoken with clarity in chapter 10. The Father has given to the Son a great host of person to redeem by his dying. They will come, all of his own will certainly come, and none for whom he has been planted in the ground will fail to be borne in the resultant new life.

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 and to follow Christ in his judgment of this world.  25, 26

The Glory of the Father

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).

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, and, as consistently shown, misunderstanding ensues.

Judgment on the world – How is his death judgment on the World?

Edenic promise to Satan 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.”

Draw all men – This is the reason that the Greek’s 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, and 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.”

A Question of the Son of Man

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?

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]

Jesus urged them to believe while he is yet here in spite of their confusion [cf. 16]. 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 al 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.

Unbelief and Judgment 37-50

In spite of the signs and in spite of Jesus’ admonition to believe in him, they did not. 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.

Prophecy of unbelief  (38)  Isaiah 53:1  [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.

Source of Unbelief

“He has blinded their eyes” – God give 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.

Even this glorifies God 41  [Romans 9:19-24]. It shows the pure justice of his sovereign disposition of all things. 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) and justice for the reprobate for he has endured their hardness with patience and of their won will and hardness of heart they have reviled the mercies that God demonstrates both in his providences and in the gospel (Romans 2:2-5; 9:22, 23)

Historical belief (42, 43) but not consistent with verses 25, 26  

Aspects 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)

Judgment by the words of Jesus 47-50

Rejection of Jesus for salvation results in staying under and inflaming condemnation

Jesus words will judge – examine his claims and see how they will witness against unbelievers

His words and the way he said them are from the Father


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.

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?

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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