STUDY 16: JOHN 12 - THE FINAL PUBLIC CHALLENGE

© Rosemary Bardsley 2009

Chapter 12 throbs with anticipation. Here we see the events of Jesus ministry, indeed all the events of his incarnation, drawing to their inevitable climax. But he is not the helpless victim in this process; rather he is in control of this process. It is he, not ‘fate’ or ‘chance’ or ‘bad luck’ or even the wicked unbelief of the Jews that has locked in this chain of events. Jesus is about to do what he said he would in 10:17 -18 – he is about to deliberately lay down his life to make atonement for the sin of the world.

But before he does that he confronts the unbelieving public with a final challenge to believe in him and a final warning of the consequences of rejecting him.

 

A. ANTICIPATION OF HIS DEATH AND BURIAL [12:1-11]

Before reporting on those final challenges John tells us about a dinner party given by Lazarus, Martha and Mary [12:1-11]. The party was given to honour Jesus [2]; during the party Mary gives him additional honour by pouring extremely expensive perfume over his feet [3]. Yet even here in reporting this honour the immanent death of Jesus is in John’s mind:

      • The reference to Judas ‘who was later to betray him’ brings Christ’s death into focus [4].
      • Jesus’ understands Mary’s action in relation to his immanent death [7,8] – the anointing of his body occurring here before his death.
      • The reported plot to kill Lazarus assumes the already existing plot to kill Jesus [9-11].

 

B. THE TRIUMPHAL ENTRY [ 12:12 -19]

When Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a young donkey he did so to deliberately identify himself as the King.

The crowd escorting Jesus into Jerusalem shouted words from Psalm 118:25-26:

‘O L ORD , save us [= ‘Hosanna’] …
Blessed is he who comes in the name of the L ORD .’ [John 12: 13]

A look at the original context of these words is very instructive. From our post-resurrection, New Testament perspective, when we look back into Psalm 118 we find the following significant points:

      • This one coming in the name of the Lord [verse 26] opens the ‘gates of righteousness’ and also is ‘the gate of the LORD through which the righteous may enter’ [verse 19,20].
      • The one coming in the name of the Lord is our salvation [verse 20].
      • This one coming in the name of the Lord is actually the one who was rejected – ‘the stone the builders rejected’, the most important stone of all - ‘the capstone’ [verse 22].
      • This day on which he comes is ‘the day the L ORD has made’ [verse 24]; that is, it is the long anticipated day of salvation.
      • In the coming of this one, God ‘has made his light shine upon us’ [verse 27].
      • The point to which this jubilant procession leads is ‘up to the horns of the altar’ [verse 27].

 

It is not inappropriate, after all of this, to ascribe the next verse also [verse 28], to Jesus Christ:

      • ‘You are my God, and I will give you thanks; you are my God, and I will exalt you.’ [28]

 

John 12:15 quotes from Zechariah 9:9 ‘Do not be afraid, O Daughter of Zion ; see, your king is coming, seated on a donkey’s colt.’

As with Psalm 118, a look at the context of this prophecy is instructive. We learn from Zechariah 9 that:

      • The Hebrew original can just as readily be translated ‘Rejoice greatly’ as ‘do not be afraid.’ [verse 9]
      • This king is ‘righteous’ and brings salvation [verse 9]
      • He is ‘gentle’ – the Hebrew means ‘bowed down with suffering’ [verse 9]
      • He proclaims peace to the nations [verse 10]
      • His rule extends to the ends of the earth [verse 10]
      • He brings liberation ‘from the waterless pit’ [verse 11]

 

The cheering, welcoming crowd anticipated a Messianic revolution in which the occupying Roman forces would be overthrown and a Davidic king restored to the throne of Israel . But Jesus knew that his entry into Jerusalem was ushering in a far different revolution, a far greater overthrow of far greater occupying forces. The whole world is his Kingdom, not just Israel ; the peace he establishes is eternal peace between man and God; the salvation and liberation he brings is salvation from all that separates all mankind from their God-ordained inheritance; the enemy he vanquishes is Satan, sin and death.

The people rejoice. But Jesus is ‘the stone the builders rejected’; he comes ‘bowed down with suffering’. This ‘righteous’ King is about to establish and provide in himself a way of righteousness, a way of justification, a way of acquittal for the sinner. Thus the prophets call him ‘the L ORD our Righteousness’ [Jeremiah 23:6]. They also call him the ‘man of sorrows, acquainted with grief’ [Isaiah 53:3 KJV]. These prophetic anticipations, reflected here in the shouts and the actions of the crowds, express acknowledgement the Messiah. Yet, as indicated above, in their original context they include the suffering of the Messiah, they include that substitutionary death by which righteousness/acquittal is obtained. This procession leads ‘up to the horns of the altar’ – up to the place of sacrifice, up to the place where forgiveness is obtained by the blood of a substitute. [Both the brazen altar and the altar of incense had four ‘horns’ at each top corner. Sacrificial blood was sprinkled on these in the process of atonement and forgiveness. See, for example, Leviticus 4:7.]

The ever-increasing crowd is ignorant of this. They are caught up in excited Messianic fervour. This Jesus has conquered death – there can only be one conclusion: he is the Messiah.

The disciples seem confused [ 12:16 ]. Jesus, who to this point has avoided public display, seems here to be encouraging it, or, at least, not stopping it as he has done so many times previously. They could not understand what was going on. They could not, until after his resurrection, understand the application of these scriptures.

The Pharisees [ 12:19 ] express their anxiety with the words ‘See, this is getting us nowhere. Look how the whole world has gone after him.’ Even their determination to excommunicate anyone who acknowledged Jesus as the Messiah [ 9:23 ], and their orders that anyone knowing Jesus’ whereabouts should report him so they could arrest him [ 11:57 ] have failed at this point to intimidate the crowds.

Yet Jesus himself rides on into Jerusalem knowing that the glory to which he is riding is not the Messiah’s throne but the greater glory that will come to him only through his death, a glory which will be acknowledged and expressed by people saved by his blood from every tribe and nation. Such is his purpose. Such is the eternal plan of his Father, decreed before the creation of the world.

Having deliberately to this point avoided anything that would bring about his premature death, he now deliberately rides towards Jerusalem and towards death. The time has come.

In all of this not one word of Jesus is reported by John. The Scriptures shouted by the enthusiastic but superficial crowd say all that needs to be said.

Extra study: Read Psalm 24:7-10. How does this depict Christ’s entry into Jerusalem ?

 

 

 

 

 

C. JESUS TOLD THEM HE WAS GOING TO DIE [12:20-36]

When Jesus finally speaks it is not of a Messianic kingdom in which Rome will be overthrown and the sovereignty of Israel restored. Nor does he speak to the crowd that would have urged him on towards the Messianic throne. He speaks of the necessity of his death [23-36]. He speaks to ‘some Greeks’ brought to him by Andrew and Philip [ 12:20 -22], though what he says is also heard by a surrounding, undefined ‘crowd’.

Although his listeners had no accurate idea of the meaning of his words Jesus told them that:

C.1 The hour has come

The hour to which his whole life had purposefully progressed, indeed the hour to which all of history progressed, had now come. God’s eternal plan is about to reach its culmination. That event to which the Old Testament pointed in prophetic historical narrative, in symbolic ritual, in predictive word, is about to occur. That mystery into which kings and prophets and angels have desired to look and which they have yearned to understand [see Luke 10:23 ,24; 1Peter 1:10 -12] is about to be uncovered. That reality of which even the nation of Israel is but a prophetic anticipation is about to be inaugurated. The hour has come. God is about to do something so amazing that the very heavens will darken and the very earth will shake with the enormity of it.

How does Jesus refer to this?

[23]

 

[27]

 

[31]

 

C.2 This hour means his death

That this hour, this time of fulfilment, means his death is evident:

      • He has to die for that is the only way to save us so that we can be with him. If he does not die he will ‘stand alone’; if he dies he will by that death give life to many. If he dies, he will bring into the presence of the Father all those he redeems by his death. If he does not die, he alone will live in the presence of the Father. His death is thus necessary to bring life to many [24,32,33].
      • He is troubled by the prospect of the death this hour will bring, but he is committed to face this hour and this death. This hour, this death, is the very reason he came [27].
      • His talk of his death confused the crowd [34]
      • His words in 35-36 indicate that he will not be with them much longer.

 

Compare Christ’s statement about his death in verses 24 and 27 with these sections of Hebrews:

Hebrews 2:10-18

 

Hebrews 10:5-10

 

C.3 This hour of his greatest abasement is the hour of his greatest glory [23,28]

The abasement of Christ is described in Philippians 2:6-8; its deepest expression in the words ‘even death on a cross!’ The specific details of his treatment during the trial are described in some of the Psalms and prophets as well as in the gospels, treatment that is demeaning even for mere human victims. Here in this death, where he, the Son of God, the Creator of the universe, the King of kings and Lord of lords, is abused and abased, we see the depth to which man will go in rejection of his Maker. Here also in this degradation we see the depth to which God will go to bring us sinners back to himself, to redeem us from our inescapable bondage. Here in this ugly thing we see the immeasurable and indescribable beauty and power of the love of God. Here in this death, by this death, we see his glory.

He is King here still: even in this greatest humiliation.
He is the Almighty here still: even in this greatest weakness.
He is still the ever-living One, the I AM, even here: even in this death.
He is the Light of the world here still: even in this deepest darkness.
He is God here still: even here where he most vulnerable, most human.
He is the Victor here: even here where he is most obviously the victim.
He is the Lord of glory here still: even here in this greatest ignominy.

Here in this death he works, unseen, his greatest miracle. Here by this death:

      • He turns sinners into saints
      • He turns bondage into freedom
      • He turns enmity into reconciliation
      • He turns guilt into peace
      • He turns accusation into forgiveness
      • He turns condemnation into acquittal
      • He turns rebellion into repentance
      • He turns unbelief into faith
      • He turns spiritual death into eternal life
      • He turns exile from God into access to God

This death is not a passive thing: it is the Son of God doing his greatest work. And because of this death, through this death, comes his greatest glory [ 12:23 ].

Thus he cries out to the Father: ‘Father, glorify your name!’ [ 12:28 ] And the Father replies ‘I have glorified it, and will glorify it again’ [ 12:28 ].

His glory continues to resound in and through the church [Ephesians 3:21 ], around the earth [Isaiah 40:5] and in the courts of heaven [Revelation 5:11 -14].

Because of this death.

C.4 His death would be by crucifixion

In the grand sovereign power and purpose of God the Romans were in charge at this appointed hour. The Jews executed by stoning; the Romans by crucifixion. Humanly speaking, had the Jews been in charge of their own nation Jesus would have been stoned to death. But Jesus’ death must be a death that incurs a curse for he must take the curse of God on our behalf. Jesus [32,33] refers to his death as being ‘lifted up’, indicating that his death would be by crucifixion.

Study Galatians 3:10 -14 for further on the necessity of Christ’s death being by crucifixion.

 

 

 

 

Refer back to these texts. What does Jesus say about his being ‘lifted up’ and its impact?

John 3:14

 

John 8:28

 

C.5 His death is God’s judgment on the world

Now, in this hour, in this death, God’s final verdict on the world is expressed [31]. Here in this substitutionary death we see with absolute clarity that all sin and all rebellion against God, all rejection of his word, is utterly wrong. This death is God’s verdict on our sin. This death reveals the utter abhorrence with which God regards sin. This death declares what would and should happen to each of us if Christ had not taken our place here. This death affirms what will with absolute certainty happen to all who do not acknowledge him and receive from him the salvation gained through this death. How much does God hate sin? This much! How real is the fact of God’s judgment? This real! How great is God’s judgment on sin? This great! How inevitable and certain is that judgment? This certain! As great, as real, as certain and as inevitable as this death.

C.6 His death is the overthrow of Satan

Now in this hour, in this death, God’s supremacy over Satan is demonstrated [31]. We do not have to wait until the return of Christ to know that Christ is the Victor. We do not have to wait until the ‘end of the world’ to know that Satan is a defeated foe. Here, in this death, even before the resurrection [though verified and validated by the resurrection], Satan is ‘driven out’. It is this death that robs him of his usurped dominion. It is this death that delivers his slaves from his dominion. It is this death that disempowers all the accusations he levels against God’s children. It is this death that achieves for God’s children an armour of complete protection against the deceits and destructive intentions of the enemy [Ephesians 6:13 -17 where most of the items of the armour are aspects of the salvation obtained through the death of Christ.]

Check out these references to Christ’s defeat of Satan by the cross:

Colossians 1:13

Colossians 2:15

Hebrews 2:14-15

1John 3:8

C.7 His death will be the cause of worldwide acceptance of him

The leaders of the Jews plotted Jesus’ death to prevent the people giving him their allegiance [see 11:45 -53,57; 12:10 ,19]. Yet that very thing by which they planned to prevent such allegiance, this very death that is the result of their rejection of him, is the one thing by which he will draw not just Jews but people from every tribe and nation to himself [12:32].

Study these verses to learn about this trans-national affect of Jesus’ death:

John 10:15,16

Ephes 2:11-13

Revelation 5:9,10

Revelation 7:9,14

C.8 His death is a divine necessity

What was said in C.1 above about ‘the hour has come’ indicates the divine necessity of this death. It has been planned and anticipated since before the world began. It has been embedded in prophetic word and symbol since the third chapter of the Bible. The ‘must’ Jesus used in John 3:14 is repeated here by the puzzled crowd [ 12:34 ]. They cannot understand this ‘must’, but Jesus does. It is because of this divine necessity that he commits himself to this death [27]. If he is not lifted up on that cross, if he does not die, then no one can be saved. He must die this death.

Identify the divine necessity for the death of Christ in these verses:

Genesis 3:15

Isaiah 53:4-6

2Timothy 1:9

Revelation 13:8

C.9 Summary

By plotting his death the Jews thought that they would be rid of him and the threat that he was to the status quo. Yet it is through his death that all men, not just the Jews, will acknowledge him; it is through his death that he will rise in the glory of the resurrection, validating all of his claims. It is also through his death that the status quo, which they so dearly wish to preserve, is revealed as a mere temporary shadow of a far greater and eternal reality.

Although the arrest, trial and crucifixion of Jesus seemed like an unfortunate end, a horrible travesty of justice, an example of men gone mad with hatred, fear and jealousy, something way out of control, in which Jesus is the helpless victim at the mercy of a conspiracy of evil, this is far from the case.

It is Jesus who is in control here. He chose to walk towards this death by which the eternal purpose of God will be implemented. It is they, not him, who are in peril.

Thus he warns them in 12:35 -36:

      • He, the light, will be with them only a little longer
      • When he goes ‘darkness’ will overtake them
      • As long as they remain in the dark they do not know where they are going
      • They should put their trust in the light while they have it
      • Only then will they become ‘sons of light’.

 

D. JESUS TOLD THEM THAT THEIR RESPONSE TO HIM WAS ACTUALLY THEIR RESPONSE TO GOD [ 12:37 -50]

While some of the leaders of the Jews did secretly believe [ 12:42 -43], as a whole the Jews continued in their unbelief [ 12:37 ]. John sees this as direct fulfilment of Isaiah 6:10 and 53:1. Then, in a remarkable statement, so easily missed as we read over it, John says: ‘Isaiah … saw Jesus’ glory and spoke about him’ [ 12:41 ]. He is referring to Isaiah’s vision of the Lord in the temple [Isaiah 6]. This is in itself an affirmation that Jesus is God for that is clearly God whom Isaiah saw in his vision.

Read Isaiah 6:1-7 and list everything that makes it certain that this is a vision of God.

 

 

 

 

This, says John, was Jesus. The glory of God in that vision which Isaiah saw and reported, was the glory of Jesus.

Having himself amazed us with this amazing statement, John records Jesus’ final challenge to the Jews in which he makes the choice confronting them as clear as he possibly can; he leaves them with no room to misunderstand his meaning. He says to them:

      • When you believe in me you are believing in God [verse 44]
      • When you look at me, you are seeing God [verse 45].

He came into the world as light [verse 46; refer back to John 3:19 -21; 8:12 ; 9:5]. To believe in him, to believe the claims he made about his true identity, is to finally see and believe in God. The deep darkness of separation from God and ignorance of God is here dispersed. The age-long, world-wide questions about who or what God is are here answered. No one who believes in Jesus remains in darkness.

His miracles identified him as God [John 5:36; 10:24 -26, 37-38; 14:10b-11]. They should have believed on the basis of the miracles alone [ 12:37 ]. His words have identified him as God, and, he says, it will be those very words, which they have rejected, that will condemn them, for in rejecting his words they have rejected the words of God [John 12:47-50; read also 3:34; 6:63-68; 8:45-47; 14:10; 17:8].

In refusing to accept his words [variously referred to as ‘believing’ his words, ‘obeying’ his words, ‘keeping’ his words] they have rejected God. His words which could have brought them light and life, will, if they are rejected, bring them only judgment and darkness. To reject the offer of light is to choose the darkness. To reject the offer of salvation is to choose judgment [ 12:38 -40, 47-50].

This is his final public message.