In our last chapter we saw Jesus perform His last public miracle. I mentioned then that in these final 10 chapters John will compress time and describe the events in the last few weeks of Jesus' life. These last few weeks mainly comprise of Jesus' final moments with His Apostles and close friends, a section many Bible commentators refer to as "the Passion."
Before John describes these, however, he will give us a view of how different individuals and groups react to Jesus' great miracle in raising Lazarus from the dead. John will show us five different reactions to Jesus' final miracle.
1. Mary, the sister of Lazarus and Martha
Vs. 1-3 – Jesus, therefore, six days before the Passover, came to Bethany where Lazarus was, whom Jesus had raised from the dead. So they made Him a supper there, and Martha was serving; but Lazarus was one of those reclining at the table with Him. Mary then took a pound of very costly perfume of pure nard, and anointed the feet of Jesus and wiped His feet with her hair; and the house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume.
It was Jesus' custom to stay with His friends in Bethany when He travelled to Jerusalem for feasts in order to preach and teach the people. His home was 80 miles north in Capernaum near the Sea of Galilee.
The Passover was the most important and best attended feast in the Jewish calendar, but Jesus was there for not only these reasons. He knew it was His appointed time and was there because of this.
Martha, true to her nature, was organizing the supper (this time with no complaint about her sister) and Lazarus, a walking miracle and witness, was at the table. In Matthew and Mark's accounts of this episode, they mention that Mary anointed the head of Jesus; John merely adds the fact that she also anointed His feet.
The wiping of His feet with her hair is significant in that a woman of that culture would not display her hair in public and certainly not to a group of men (there were only men at the supper because men and women did not recline to eat in mixed company). Her action demonstrated that she was laying her honor at her master's feet. The complete use of expensive ointment (nard is the plant from India that provides the essence for the perfume) and the way it was done was a perfect act of humility, devotion and honor to the Lord. Humility in that her head was at the Lord's feet. Devotion in that all the ointment was used. Honor in that Jesus was the total focus of this action (she did not anoint the others). Mary's reaction demonstrated her faith in Jesus, not as a friend or a teacher but as the divine Lord toward whom she directed her worship and love.
2. Judas Iscariot
Vs. 4-8 – But Judas Iscariot, one of His disciples, who was intending to betray Him, said, "Why was this perfume not sold for three hundred denarii and given to poor people?" Now he said this, not because he was concerned about the poor, but because he was a thief, and as he had the money box, he used to pilfer what
was put into it. Therefore Jesus said, "Let her alone, so that she may keep it for the day of My burial. For you always have the poor with you, but you do not always have Me."
Judas could have objected on several grounds. That such a show was too lavish for a prophet of God, too showy for a simple rabbi from Galilee. He could have remarked that it was improper for a woman to be so forward in mixed company. These might have been legitimate complaints if Jesus were an ordinary man and rabbi. But Judas, revealing his nature, zeroes in on the value of the ointment and complains about the waste that the action caused. The perfume was worth several months of wages in those days. His accusation is that Jesus is wasting money on self-glorification instead of taking care of the poor.
John, in an editorial comment, reveals his true motivation, greed and the dishonesty that blinded him from seeing the truth before his very eyes. Judas sat with the resurrected Lazarus and still continued in his evil ways, even now accusing Jesus of sin and waste. Judas' reaction to Lazarus' resurrection was a hard heart. He swept away this chance to change his mind by continuing to reinforce his sinful ways.
Jesus does not let his accusation slip by however. He defends Mary's actions in consideration of several reasons. Her faith and devotion were well placed in Him. He is special and this was a worthy act. The poor are always there and this was not the only resource they had, they had helped in the past and would do so in the future but for now this was the best thing to do with this resource. His death was at hand and this action provided an opportunity to refer to it as well as prepare for it.
Jesus in His response provides a rebuke to Judas and a commendation to Mary.
3. The Jewish leaders
Vs. 9-11 – The large crowd of the Jews then learned that He was there; and they came, not for Jesus' sake only, but that they might also see Lazarus, whom He raised from the dead. But the chief priests planned to put Lazarus to death also; because on account of him many of the Jews were going away and were believing in Jesus.
The situation is now critical for the Jewish leaders because it is becoming evident that they are on the wrong side of the fence. Lazarus' resurrection has electrified the people and the word has spread. The leaders are in charge in principle but are quickly losing control of their authority over the people. Their plot to arrest and kill Jesus now includes Lazarus because he is causing as much of a stir as Jesus because of what has happened to him. The leaders react with the same disbelief and fear that they have consistently shown from the beginning except now they are resolved to take action, no turning back.
4. The multitudes
Vs. 12-19 – On the next day the large crowd who had come to the feast, when they heard that Jesus was coming to Jerusalem, took the branches of the palm trees and went out to meet Him, and began to shout, "Hosanna! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord, even the King of Israel." Jesus, finding a young donkey, sat on it; as it is written, "Fear not, daughter of Zion; behold, your King is coming, seated on a donkey's colt." These things His disciples did not understand at the first; but when Jesus was glorified, then they remembered that these things were written of Him, and that they had done these things to Him.
So the people, who were with Him when He called Lazarus out of the tomb and raised him from the dead, continued to testify about Him. For this reason also the people went and met Him, because they heard that He had performed this sign. So the Pharisees said to one another, "You see that you are not doing any good; look, the world has gone after Him."
After the miracle in Bethany and the word of it spread, a large crowd formed around Jesus and accompanied Him to Jerusalem. They were blessing and praising His name and bringing Him into the city as a king, a victorious leader.
The words they use are phrases from different Psalms that indicate their belief in Him as the Messiah. The palm tree branches represented life and salvation to the Jews. Riding on a donkey was a direct fulfillment of the prophecy by Zechariah (Zechariah 9:9) concerning the manner that the Messiah would enter the city. Jesus came in meekness and grace riding on a lowly type of animal (a donkey), not a horse or chariot that worldly kings used.
John notes that after His resurrection the Apostles would realize the prophetic importance and rightness of this moment. John also notes that the miraculous raising of Lazarus is what galvanized His followers for this triumphant and enthusiastic entry into the Holy City for Passover.
John uses the comments of the Pharisees who watched helplessly. They say that the whole world (meaning their whole world) had gone over to Jesus (for the moment) and there was nothing they could do about it.
5. The Gentiles (Greeks)
Vs. 20-26 – Now there were some Greeks among those who were going up to worship at the feast; these then came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida of Galilee, and began to ask him, saying, "Sir, we wish to see Jesus." Philip came and told Andrew; Andrew and Philip came and told Jesus. And Jesus answered them, saying, "The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. He who loves his life loses it, and he who hates his life in this world will keep it to life eternal. If anyone serves Me, he must follow Me; and where I am, there My servant will be also; if anyone serves Me, the Father will honor him.
There was only one thing worse for the Jewish leaders than having the people go over to Jesus and losing their position. That was if non-Jews were also allowed to follow Jesus and both groups became one. This passage makes a faint illusion to this. It will only happen in the future once the gospel is preached beyond Judea and Paul brings the Gentiles into the church.
But Jesus sets the stage for this future event here. The Greeks were Gentile converts allowed to participate in the feasts and worship, but only from the outer court of the Gentiles. Jesus was probably in the court of men separated from them and they (knowing Phillip) requested that He come to them for a personal meeting. Phillip confers with Andrew (inner circle) perhaps because of the trouble Jesus speaking with Gentiles in the area of the temple might cause.
They finally pass on the request to Jesus who responds not by meeting with them but by making a general declaration that would affect them far into the future. He uses this request to declare two events:
- The beginning of His Passion was at hand. His suffering, death and resurrection were going to happen soon, not next year or next decade but now. This showed in advance that He knew it, declared it and accepted it. He was the grain of wheat sown into the ground of death who would produce a great harvest of souls.
- Those who would follow Him would need to make a difficult choice. This life, this world or the life and world to come, no halfway measures, one or the other. And you lived accordingly.
These declarations were good news for the Greeks who had asked for a private meeting. Jesus said publicly, not privately, that anyone (not just Jews) who wanted to serve Him could do so by following Him.
The Greeks reacted with a desire for access to Jesus and the Lord offers them (and all who would follow Him, Jew or Greek) the opportunity to have full access to not only Himself but to the Father also on an eternal basis.
The Cycle Continues
John shifts gears at this point and reverts back to the familiar cycle where Jesus makes a declaration and there is a reaction of belief or disbelief.
Vs. 27-43 – "Now My soul has become troubled; and what shall I say, 'Father, save Me from this hour'? But for this purpose I came to this hour. Father, glorify Your name." Then a voice came out of heaven: "I have both glorified it, and will glorify it again." So the crowd of people who stood by and heard it were saying that it
had thundered; others were saying, "An angel has spoken to Him." Jesus answered and said, "This voice has not come for My sake, but for your sakes. Now judgment is upon this world; now the ruler of this world will be cast out. And I, if I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to Myself." But He was saying this to indicate the kind of death by which He was to die. The crowd then answered Him, "We have heard out of the Law that the Christ is to remain forever; and how can You say, 'The Son of Man must be lifted up'?
Who is this Son of Man?" So Jesus said to them, "For a little while longer the Light is among you. Walk while you have the Light, so that darkness will not overtake you; he who walks in the darkness does not know where he goes. While you have the Light, believe in the Light, so that you may become sons of Light." These things Jesus spoke, and He went away and hid Himself from them. But though He had performed so many signs before them, yet they were not believing in Him. This was to fulfill the word of Isaiah the prophet which he spoke: "Lord, who has believed our report? And to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?" For this reason they could not believe, for Isaiah said again, "He has blinded their eyes and He hardened their heart, so that they would not see with their eyes and perceive with their heart, and be converted and I heal them." These things Isaiah said because he saw His glory, and he spoke of Him. Nevertheless many even of the rulers believed in Him, but because of the Pharisees they were not confessing Him, for fear that they would be put out of the synagogue; for they loved the approval of men rather than the approval of God.
Here we have four voices mingled in the dialogue.
- Jesus declares that the hour (meaning the "time") of His death is at hand and by it He will both fulfill His reason for being here and be glorified (honored) by it. In other words, demonstrate who He really is. He also declares that by this death He will defeat Satan and take away his power to condemn mankind because of their sins. There will now be forgiveness of sin and fulfillment of the requirements of the Law through His cross.
- He will also draw all mankind to Himself through this action because the preaching of the gospel to all the world will point all mankind to the cross for salvation. He encourages them to believe while the time for faith is ripe.
- God the Father confirms what He has just declared by revealing Himself in a voice. He has done this before at Jesus' baptism and at the transfiguration, and does so again to the multitudes as a witness of Jesus' declarations.
- The multitudes, the same ones who were praising Him as He entered the city, now begin to express their doubt. They do not like the idea of a tortured or dead Messiah; they interpret the Scripture to mean that the Messiah will never die. This is true, He is eternal and for this reason He is the only One who can offer His life as a sacrifice for sin, because He has the power to both lay down and take up His life again. The crowd does not understand this. They end up questioning and doubting who Jesus declares He really is. In other words they are saying "This is not the Son of Man (Messiah) we are looking for, one who dies. We do not want one like this."
- John takes over at this point as the fourth voice and explains Jesus' response to the doubts of the multitude. He explains that their reaction to Him was exactly what the prophets predicted about how the people would react to the Messiah, even with the signs and miracles performed. Their centuries of stubbornness and disobedience have made them unable to see, even when the plain proof was there.
The section ends with the usual description by John of various individuals and groups who either believed or disbelieved and why (fear, greed, pride, etc.).
Vs. 44-50 – And Jesus cried out and said, "He who believes in Me, does not believe in Me but in Him who sent Me. He who sees Me sees the One who sent Me. I have come as Light into the world, so that everyone who believes in Me will not remain in darkness. If anyone hears My sayings and does not keep them, I do not judge him; for I did not come to judge the world, but to save the world. He who rejects Me and does not receive My sayings, has one who judges him; the word I spoke is what will judge him at the last day.
For I did not speak on My own initiative, but the Father Himself who sent Me has given Me a commandment as to what to say and what to speak. I know that His commandment is eternal life; therefore the things I speak, I speak just as the Father has told Me."
In this last section Jesus offers a warning to all those who have heard His words and seen His miracles. Basically His warning is twofold:
1. Reject Me and you reject God.
By declaring that all He says and does comes directly from God the Father, He puts the burden on His hearers. You reject one, you reject the other; you accept one, you accept the other.
2. The basis for judgment will be My words.
Light and darkness refers to truth, knowledge, salvation and good versus lies, ignorance, condemnation and evil. His words were God's words and believing and obeying them would be the basis for judgment and salvation.
This is Jesus' final public appearance and teaching so He uses it to draw a line in the sand as it were. You are with Me or against Me; you believe or you do not; you are in light or in darkness, saved or unsaved. Whatever category, the dividing line will be how you feel and what you believe about Jesus Christ. You have heard the words, seen the miracles, deal with it!
As it was then, so it continues today. We preach and teach about His words and miracles, His death, burial and resurrection, and all mankind has to choose whether they believe or not. We have the same decision with the same consequences today.