Gospel of John 12:12-36
12 The next day the large crowd that had come to the feast heard that Jesus was coming to Jerusalem. 13 So they took branches of palm trees and went out to meet him, crying out, “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord, even the King of Israel!” 14 And Jesus found a young donkey and sat on it, just as it is written,
15 “Fear not, daughter of Zion;
behold, your king is coming,
sitting on a donkey’s colt!” ESV
The next day means five days to Passover. It would also be the first day of the week, Sunday as we call it. Then, the practice was to call days by number, except the seventh day, which Jews always call Shabbat.
Given that a crowd was in Bethany the day before to see Jesus and Lazarus, it seems likely they made up part of this new crowd. If so, they would have carried the news that Jesus was on his way.
John tells us that they waved palm branches. He alone provides that detail. Matthew records that they cut branches from the trees. Mark writes, spread leafy branches. RSV And Luke never mentions plants at all. All three Synoptics record the crowd throwing their garments on the road, while John does not. All Three include that the disciples throw their garments on the donkey, but John does not.
We will see many differences among the Gospels in this Passion week. It is wrong to guess who was right and who was wrong. They are each writing with different goals in mind. John considers Jesus riding the donkey passé, so three decades ago.
The crowd is shouting part of Psalm 118. 25 Save us, we pray, O Lord! O Lord, we pray, give us success! 26 Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! We bless you from the house of the Lord. ESV The Hosanna is a Jewish expression meaning Save.
John often provides the details of a man who saw it in person. Now he goes bare bones by having Jesus find a donkey and hop on for the ride into Jerusalem.
He does include the quotation from Zechariah 9:9. Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold, your king is coming to you; righteous and having salvation is he, humble and mounted on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey. ESV
16 (His disciples did not understand these things when they first happened, but when Jesus was glorified, then they remembered that these things were written about him and that these things had happened to him.) NET
The fifty days between Passover and Pentecost was a valuable time of reflection and discussion about all the things Jesus taught them. It helped that he could speak with them in person during part of that time. They still had unanswered questions at Pentecost, but the Holy Spirit helped fill in some gaps. None of the disciples ever had it all figured out. I see John writing this Gospel and puzzling over details. Two thousand years later, we still do not have all the answers.
17 So the crowd who had been with him when he called Lazarus out of the tomb and raised him from the dead were continuing to testify about it. 18 Because they had heard that Jesus had performed this miraculous sign, the crowd went out to meet him. 19 Thus the Pharisees said to one another, “You see that you can do nothing. Look, the world has run off after him!” NET
Envision the people from Bethany mingling with others in Jerusalem, telling them about Lazarus. People had been making the pilgrimage to Passover every year, ever hopeful that the Messiah would arrive this time. The excitement would build and spread like a small explosion.
The authorities and Pharisees did not join in the excitement. They had a plan to kill both Jesus and Lazarus, but now everyone in Jerusalem knew of the resurrection. They had to draw up another plan, this one for Jesus alone. If they could get him out of the way, the crowd would forget about Lazarus.
20 Now there were some Greeks among those who went up to worship at the festival. 21 They came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, with a request. “Sir,” they said, “we would like to see Jesus.” 22 Philip went to tell Andrew; Andrew and Philip in turn told Jesus. NIV
This passage should remind us that John wrote the Gospel especially for Greek Christians struggling with Jesus as both God and man. This is hardly the only portion aimed at them, but it is the most direct.
There were two kinds of Greeks in the city for Passover, Jews living in Greek lands and Gentile Greeks seeking more knowledge about Judaism. The Jews often spoke no Aramaic or Hebrew, so they would always seek a local to translate for them. Many of them had distant families living locally to call on. The Gentiles needed the most help.
A mix of Greeks likely approached Phillip, thinking his Greek name meant he spoke Greek. Because he grew up in Bethsaida, he probably did, which is why John mentions the town again. Probably all of the Twelve spoke some Greek, enough at least to sell their fish. Galilee had a sizeable Greek influence, with many Greek traders coming and going.
What we see in verse 22 is that Phillip needed help from Andrew and the two of them went to Jesus. We will see in the next verse that Jesus begins to talk with no mention of the Greeks. They were almost certainly there, having trailed along after the two disciples.
23 And Jesus answered them, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. ESV
Before moving on, we need to stop at the phrase, Son of Man. In his excellent book, Jesus As They Saw Him, William Barclay writes that Jesus calls himself that name eighty times in the Gospels. It is only used two more times in the NT by anyone else, one of them in this section of John.
The first detail is that the Aramaic bar nasha translates human being. We believe that Jesus spoke Aramaic, as did most Jews of the day, so he would have called himself bar nasha. The Hebrew would be ben adam, translated as human being. Most Christian translations of the OT use the phrase son of man instead, but Jewish translations use human being.
But there is OT presidence for son of man. In Ezekiel, God calls Ezekiel son of man ninety times. At least our Christian translations use that phrase. The Hebrew two-word combination refers to a son-child, more of the beginning of a new family. Jewish translations generally go with human or mortal. Still, as far as I can understand the meaning, son of man is accurate.
Daniel 7 has this: 13 “In my vision at night I looked, and there before me was one like a son of man,[a] coming with the clouds of heaven. He approached the Ancient of Days and was led into his presence. ESV Here is the footnote that goes with the phrase. The Aramaic phrase bar enash means human being. The phrase son of man is retained here because of its use in the New Testament as a title of Jesus, probably based largely on this verse.
Bottom line: the OT speaks of human being, but Jesus used the phrase son of man to describe himself. With Daniel, if not Ezekiel, the human being, or human, came to be associated with the long-promised Messiah. Jesus took all those OT human beings and slightly changed the phrase to son of man, then Son of Man. He meant that he was the Son of God who entered the world to be that promised Son of Man, the Messiah.
One more note. In the first century, a popular book called The Book of Enoch spoke at great length about the son of man. God would send him, and he existed before creation. Enoch really expanded the Son of Man idea. It was never accepted as Jewish scripture but was used in the early church, until it led to Gnosticism. It was popular with Christians because of the Son of Man.
24 “Listen carefully: Unless a grain of wheat is buried in the ground, dead to the world, it is never any more than a grain of wheat. But if it is buried, it sprouts and reproduces itself many times over. 25 In the same way, anyone who holds on to life just as it is destroys that life. But if you let it go, reckless in your love, you’ll have it forever, real and eternal. MSG
Who is Jesus talking to? I take it to be the disciples and the Greeks who came seeking Jesus. Not only does it seem odd that he would be giving this great lesson to Andrew and Philip, but as we go through it, we get the sense that Jesus is touching on the church’s upcoming ministry with the Greeks.
Verse 24 is awkward in having a grain die in the ground but give life. Once we read it in the sense of the upcoming resurrection of Jesus, it makes perfect sense.
Verse 25 is also an awkward phrasing of what reads much easier in the Synoptics. All three use almost the same word-for-word phrasing; two times in Matthew, once in Mark, and two in Luke. Here is Mark’s version.
Mark 8:35. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me and for the gospel will save it. NIV
26 “If any of you wants to serve me, then follow me. Then you’ll be where I am, ready to serve at a moment’s notice. The Father will honor and reward anyone who serves me. MSG
Matthew 10 has it this way. 40 “Anyone who welcomes you welcomes me, and anyone who welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me. 41 Whoever welcomes a prophet as a prophet will receive a prophet’s reward, and whoever welcomes a righteous person as a righteous person will receive a righteous person’s reward. 42 And if anyone gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones who is my disciple, truly I tell you, that person will certainly not lose their reward.” NIV
The Greek word translated here as honor is also correctly translated as glory, or glorify.
The Greek, translated as heart-break here, is soul agitated. My hour is not literal. Jesus means he is entering his last week. His three years of teaching, healing, witnessing, wrestling with the authorities is coming to an end. Everything that happened was God-led, and God intended. It was all good, but now there is no escape from a torturous death. We cannot forget that Jesus lived the perfect life, the life all of us were supposed to live. He enjoyed being human, likely more than any of us ever have. Now it is time to give it up.
God spoke at the baptism of Jesus (Matthew 3:17), and he speaks here again. As with the Word at the baptism, this Word is not really for Jesus. As Karen Jobes puts it, glory is the manifestation of God’s character.
John does not record Jesus in agony in Gethsemane (Mark 14:32 and Matthew 26:36). He places the agony—though much milder—here, or possibly chooses to put it here to build on it in the following week’s events.
29 When the crowd of bystanders heard this, they said it thundered, but some of them said, “An angel spoke to him.” 30 Then Jesus said, “That voice came for your sake, not for mine. 31 Now is the time for the judgment of this world to begin, and now will the spirit that rules this world be driven out. 32 As for me, if I am lifted up from the earth I will draw all men to myself.” 33 (He said this to show the kind of death he was going to die.)
Apparently, the people around Jesus did not understand the words, but it sounded enough like speech for them to assume God had spoken. Most likely, the people with at least some faith heard words or mumbling. Those without faith only heard thunder in a clear sky.
It did not matter what Jesus did, there were those who did not believe. Even when God spoke out loud, many called it thunder. A person who stood outside Lazarus’ grave watching and listening to Jesus, then seeing a four-day-dead Lazarus walk out of the tomb and still does not believe in Jesus, that person never will.
Verse 31 is one of those stumbling block statements for many people. Taking the statement literally seems to leave us with an unfilled promise. Now is the time to judge the good and the bad. Now is the time for the Devil to leave the world. Two thousand years have passed, yet evil is all around us.
That thinking ignores the spiritual realm where the real war between God and the King of Lies occurs. The battle is what Isiah has in mind in 65:17. See, I will create new heavens and a new earth. The former things will not be remembered, nor will they come to mind. NIV The message is repeated in Revelation 12:1. Then I saw “a new heaven and a new earth,” for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. NIV
As we stand on earth, the promises are in the future. But for God, it is a ‘done deal.’
‘If I am lifted up,’ is Jesus’ way of pointing to the cross. He knows it will happen in a matter of days, but not even his closest disciples—including John—realize it.
34 The crowd spoke up, “We have heard from the Law that the Messiah will remain forever, so how can you say, ‘The Son of Man must be lifted up’? Who is this ‘Son of Man’?” NIV
Many in the crowd lacked faith, but they learned the lesson from the Book of Enoch that the Son of Man and the Messiah were connected. If the Messiah would live for eternity, how could he be killed on the cross? It seems likely to me that his Twelve would have shared that view.
35 Jesus replied, “The light is with you for a little while longer. Walk while you have the light, so that the darkness may not overtake you. The one who walks in the darkness does not know where he is going. 36 While you have the light, believe in the light, so that you may become sons of light.” When Jesus had said these things, he went away and hid himself from them. NET
The crowd asked, ‘who is the Son of Man.’ Jesus does not answer but does answer a more important if unstated question; ‘is the Son of Man the Light?’ He has already claimed to be both. Jesus takes us back to chapter one of the Gospel and chapter one of Genesis.
1 When God began to create heaven and earth—2 the earth being unformed and void, with darkness over the surface of the deep and a wind from God sweeping over the water—3 God said, “Let there be light”; and there was light. JPS Torah Commentary
1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was with God in the beginning. 3 Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. 4 In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. 5 The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. NIV
The light God ‘created’ in Genesis is His presence in the universe. The phrase ‘let there be’ is the translation of the Hebrew yehi. It is used again in verses six and fourteen; all three are used to create the sky and heavens.
The Near Eastern religions before the Hebrew writings described various gods in a constant state of conflict, most of them trying to get what they wanted by any means fair or foul. Genesis shows the universe created in perfection, in the full light of the Creator.
Jesus has all that and more in mind as he urges each of us to walk only in the light. The darkness he refers to is spiritual, not physical. And the only way to walk in the light is to believe in and follow Jesus.
Be Righteous and do Good