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Exegetical Commentary on John 12


    [3 A The Book of the Seven Signs (2:1 - 12:50)]

      [3 B Days of Preparation: Jesus advances toward the hour of death and glory (11:1-12:36)]

        3 C Final preparations for the hour of death and glory (12:1-36)

          1 D Jesus is anointed for burial at Bethany (12:1-8)

          2 D The Jewish leaders plot to kill Lazarus (12:9-11)

          3 D Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem (12:12-19)

          4 D The coming of the Gentiles (Greeks) marks the coming of the hour (12:20-26)

          5 D Jesus predicts his upcoming death by crucifixion (12:27-36)

      4 B Conclusion to the Book of Signs (12:37-50)

        1 C The response to Jesus by his own people (12:37-43)

        2 C Jesus summarizes his mission and message (12:44-50)


Barksdale, J. O., “Victory of Light. II: Joh 12, 20-36,” Japanese Christian Quarterly 28 (1962): 48-54.

Borgen, P., “The Use of Tradition in John 12.44-50,” New Testament Studies 26 (1979/80): 18-35.

Bruns, J. E., “A Note on Jn 12, 3,” Catholic Biblical Quarterly 28 (1966): 219-22.

Caird, G. B., “Judgment and Salvation: An Exposition of John 12, 31-32,” Canadian Journal of Theology 2 (1956): 231-37.

Derrett, J. D. M., “The Anointings at Bethany,” Studia Evangelica 2 [= Texte und Untersuchungen zur Geschichte der altchristlichen Literatur 87] (Berlin: Akademie-Verlag, 1964): 174-82.

Farmer, W. R., “The Palm Branches in John 12, 13,” Journal of Theological Studies 3 (1952): 62-66.

Freed, E. D., “The Entry into Jerusalem in the Gospel of John,” Journal of Biblical Literature 80 (1961): 329-38.

Kleist, J. A., “A Note on the Greek Text of St. John 12, 7,” Classic Journal 21 (1925): 46-48.

Kossen, H. B., “Who were the Greeks of John XII 20?” in Studies in John Presented to J. N. Sevenster on the Occasion of his Seventieth Birthday (Leiden: Brill, 1970): 97-110.

Moore, W. E., “‘Sir, We wish to See Jesus’—Was this an Occasion of Temptation?” Scottish Journal of Theology 20 (1967): 75-93.

Nicholson, G. C., Death as Departure: The Johannine Descent-Ascent Schema, SBL Dissertation Series 63 (Chico, CA: Scholars Press, 1983), esp. 124-44.

Smith, D. M., “John 12, 12 ff. and the Question of John’s Use of the Synoptics,” Journal of Biblical Literature 82 (1963): 58-64.

Unnik, W. C. van, “The Quotation from the Old Testament in John 12:34,” Novum Testamentum 3 (1959): 174-79.


        3 C Final preparations for the hour of death and glory (12:1-36)

A Note on the Place in the Narrative of the Incidents in Chapter 12:

We have now come to the end of Jesus’ public ministry. Notice the temporal reference in 12:1: we are told that Jesus came to Bethany, where he had raised Lazarus from the dead, “6 days before the Passover.” Of the final events of that public ministry before the Passion week, the Evangelist has selected three: (1) Mary’s anointing of Jesus at Bethany, (2) the triumphal entry into Jerusalem, and (3) the coming of some Greeks to visit Jesus. Each has significance within the narrative. The ‘Book of Signs’ then concludes with an appeal to Isaiah 53 to explain why some did not believe, followed by a summarization of the mission and message of Jesus in his own words. The events of chapters 13-17 which follow are not public but private, intended for Jesus’ disciples.

          1 D Jesus is anointed for burial at Bethany (12:1-8)

12:1-2 proV e}x hJmerw'n tou' pavsca The scene is set in these two verses. Jesus, acting precisely according to his own timetable, which is to say according to the Father’s timetable, arrives back in Bethany six days prior to the Passover. This village of Bethany was located about 1.75 miles (2.75 km) from Jerusalem (cf. 11:18), near enough to bring Jesus into danger from the religious authorities there. But Jesus knew exactly what he was doing.

o{pou h Lavzaro" We are reminded in verse 1 that Bethany was the village of Lazarus, whom Jesus raised from the dead—recalling the last of the seven Signs, the miraculous resurrection of ch. 11. This is significant because 11:47-53 gave the response of the religious authorities in Jerusalem to this miracle: unbelief leading to the plan to put Jesus to death. In contrast to their response, we have the response of Mary’s faith in 12:1-8. Both events foreshadow Jesus’ death in the week ahead.

We find Martha in her usual capacity of serving in 12:2 (cf. Luke 10:40). Lazarus is present as well.

12:3 livtran muvrou navrdou pistikh'" This is actually when the incident mentioned previously at 11:2 takes place. Muvron is usually made of myrrh (from whence the word derives) but here John uses it in the sense of ointment or perfume, since he tells us this muvron was made of nard. Nard or spikenard is a fragrant oil from the root and spike of the nard plant of northern India. The adjective pistikh'" is difficult with regard to its exact meaning; some have taken it to derive from pivsti" and relate to the purity of the oil of nard. More probably it is something like a brand name, “pistic nard,” the exact significance of which has not been discovered.

The Evangelist also goes out of his way to indicate the quantity and the cost. Livtra is a Latin loan-word, libra , the word for a Roman pound, which weighed 12 ounces (327.45 grams). The word also occurs in rabbinic literature. This was a large amount of ointment.

ejxevmaxen tai'" qrixiVn aujth'"touV" povda" tou' =Ihsou' Wiping Jesus’ feet with her hair is probably indicative of Mary’s abject humility and personal commitment. It would be a bit unusual for the oil to be wiped off, but we are given no explanation for this by the Evangelist.

hJ deV oijkiva ejplhrwvqh ejk th'" ojsmh'" tou' muvrou With a note characteristic of someone who was there and remembered, the Evangelist adds that the house was filled with the fragrance of the oil. In the later rabbinic literature, Ecclesiastes Rabbah 7.1.1 states “The fragrance of good oil is diffused from the bedroom to the dining hall, but a good name is diffused from one end of the world to the other.” If such a saying were known in the first century, this might be John’s way of indicating that Mary’s act of devotion would be spoken of throughout the entire world (compare Mark 14:9).

12:4-5 oJ mevllwn aujtoVn paradidovnai: We are told in verse 4 that Judas Iscariot, one of Jesus’ disciples, was the one who was about to betray him. Again we see John using the “omniscient author” convention, writing from the perspective of one who knows the end from the beginning, and having access to information that he as an eyewitness on the scene would not have known.

triakosivwn dhnarivwn The cost of the oil was 300 denarii—very costly indeed! This amounted to almost a year’s wages for an average laborer of the time.

12:6 klevpth" h The Evangelist now gives a parenthetical note concerning the character of Judas. This is one of the indications in the gospels that Judas was of bad character before the betrayal of Jesus. John tells us that he was a “thief” and had responsibility for the finances of the group. More than being simply a derogatory note about Judas’ character, the inclusion of this note at this particular point in the narrative may be intended to link the frustrated greed of Judas here with his subsequent decision to betray Jesus for money. The parallel accounts in Matthew and Mark seem to indicate that after this incident Judas went away immediately and made his deal with the Jewish authorities to deliver up Jesus. Losing out on one source of sordid gain, he immediately went out and set up another.

12:7-8 eij" thVn hJmevran tou' ejntafiasmou' mou This incident, along with the interwoven references to Judas, forms part of the foreshadowing of the passion narrative to follow in chapters 18-19. Mary’s action in anointing Jesus’ feet is interpreted by Jesus as preparation for his burial. In this regard it is interesting that John is careful to point out in verse 3 that it was Jesus feet that she anointed. Normally one would not anoint the feet of a living person (rather the head—cf. Mk 14:3) but one could anoint the feet of a corpse while preparing it for burial. Thus Mary performed (unconsciously) a prophetic or symbolic action—one which Jesus understood but which the disciples almost certainly did not at the time.

          2 D The Jewish leaders plot to kill Lazarus (12:9-11)

12:9 oJ o[clo" This could be the crowd who witnessed the raising of Lazarus in chapter 11, but more likely includes others who had merely heard about it. The implication is that Lazarus had become something of a celebrity, and those who had heard about the miracle were eager to get a look at him.

12:10-11 oiJ ajrcierei'"polloivtw'n =Ioudaivwn On account of the raising of Lazarus many of “the Jews”—the Evangelist’s usual description for those who were opposed to Jesus—were going over to Jesus and believing in (ejpivsteuon eij") him. This provokes the “high priests” (oiJ ajrcierei'") to plan drastic action (notice that the Pharisees are not mentioned in regard to this particular decision). Not only did they want to put Jesus to death, but they plotted that they might also (kaiv) have Lazarus killed. This plot against Lazarus apparently never got beyond the planning stage, however, since no further mention is made of it by the Evangelist.

          3 D Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem (12:12-19)

12:12 Th'/ ejpauvrion is a typical Johannine note of time; it refers to the previous note in 12:1. When the crowd of pilgrims who were coming to Jerusalem for the passover (cf. 11:55) heard that Jesus was coming to Jerusalem, they hurried out to meet him. By this time Jesus’ reputation was well known.

12:13 taV bai?a tw'n foinivkwn The Mosaic law stated (Lev 23:40) that palm branches were to be used to celebrate the Feast of Tabernacles. Later on they came to be used to celebrate other feasts as well (1 Macc. 13:51, 2 Macc. 10:7).

'Wsannav in the quotation from Ps 118:25-26 was probably by this time a familiar liturgical expression of praise, on the order of “Hail to the king,” although the underlying Aramaic expression (aN uvw)h) and the Hebrew (aN huyvw)h) meant “O Lord, save us.” As in Mark 11:9 the introductory wJsannav is followed by the words of Ps 118:25, eujloghmevno" oJ ejrcovmeno" ejn ojnovmati kurivou, although in the Fourth Gospel the Evangelist adds for good measure kaiV oJ basileuV" tou' =Israhvl. In words familiar to every Jew the Evangelist is indicating that at this point every messianic expectation is now at the point of realization.

It is clear from the words of the Psalm shouted by the crowd that Jesus is being proclaimed as messianic King.104

12:14-15 euJrwVn deV oJ =Ihsou'" ojnavrion The Evangelist does not repeat the detailed accounts of the finding of the donkey recorded in the synoptic gospels. He does, however, see the event as a fulfillment of Scripture, which he indicates by quoting Zech 9:9. For the significance of the quotation, see the discussion below of the significance of the triumphal entry in the narrative.

12:16 tau'ta oujk e[gnwsan aujtou' oiJ maqhtaiV toV prw'ton Here we have another note by the Evangelist to inform us that Jesus’ disciples did not at first associate the prophecy from Zechariah with the events as they happened. This came with the later (post-resurrection) insight which the Holy Spirit would provide after Jesus’ resurrection and return to the Father. Note the similarity with John 2:22, which according to our understanding follows another allusion to a prophecy in Zechariah (14:21).

12:17-18 ejmartuvrei ou oJ o[clo" Now a different segment of the crowd is mentioned. At this point those people from Jerusalem who had been in Bethany mourning the death of Lazarus and had seen Jesus perform the miracle speak up, testifying to what they had seen (note the use of marturevw). The testimony of this group of eyewitnesses appears to provoke further people to go out to meet Jesus as he enters the city. This latter group, referred to as oJ o[clo" in verse 18, are probably not the pilgrims mentioned in verse 12, but residents of Jerusalem itself.

12:19 i[de oJ kovsmo" ojpivsw aujtou' ajph'lqen The response of the religious authorities (in this case the Pharisees) is one of pessimism. Their statement, while an exaggeration, is warranted by the diverse groups of people who have joined in the multitudes welcoming Jesus at the triumphal entry, as indicated in verses 12, 17, and 18.

The Significance of the Triumphal Entry in the Narrative:

Note that many of the details given by the synoptic gospels—such as the sending of the disciples to find the donkey—are omitted by John. John does not mention the crowd casting their garments before him, or the casting of the palm-fronds—apparently they just hold them in hand. This suggests, however, the procession at the Feast of Tabernacles where the worshippers carried the lulabs as they went up to the temple—a very appropriate (and suggestive) setting!

This leads to the next question: what does the triumphal entry signify for John? The coming of Messiah, yes, but not the nationalistic Messiah the people expected! It is instructive to look at Zech 9:9-11 (NASB, note that Zech 9:9 is quoted in verse 15):

“Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion!

Shout [in triumph], O daughter of Jerusalem!

Behold, your king is coming to you;

He is just and endowed with salvation,

Humble, and mounted on a donkey,

Even on a colt, the foal of a donkey.

And I will cut off the chariot from Ephraim,

And the horse from Jerusalem;

And the bow of war will be cut off.

And he will speak peace to the Gentiles [or, nations];

And his dominion will be from sea to sea,

And from the River to the ends of the earth.

As for you also, because of the blood of [my] covenant with you,

I have set your prisoners free from the waterless pit.”

Notice that in 9:10 the king who comes proclaims peace to the Gentiles, and his dominion is from sea to sea. The next section of chapter 12 (vss. 20-26) deals with the coming of the Gentiles!. One of the major emphases of John’s Gospel is that Jesus came on a mission of salvation not to the Jewish people only, but to the entire world (from sea to sea; to the ends of the earth). Zech 9:11 goes on to relate this to the blood of the covenant, which suggests the blood of the new covenant. And the prisoners are set free from a waterless pit—just as Jesus offers the ‘living water’ of the Spirit which flows freely from himself (7:38-39). Recall that the Evangelist has alluded to messianic prophecies in Zechariah before (Zech 14:20-21 with John 2:16) and note that he will do so again (Zech 13:7 with John 16:32, Zech 12:10 with John 19:37).

Finally, compare Rev 7:9-10: “After these things I looked, and behold, a great multitude, which no one could count, from every nation and tribes and peoples and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, and palm branches in their hands; and they cry out with a loud voice saying, ‘Salvation to our God who sits on the throne and to the Lamb’.”

          4 D The coming of the Gentiles (Greeks) marks the coming of the hour (12:20-26)

John’s use of Zech 9:9 is suggestive in light of this incident which immediately follows and the way Jesus responds to it. According to Zech 9:10, Messiah would proclaim peace to the Gentiles—and here they come (representatively, of course). Jesus has said that he would lay down his life (10:17) and that he had other sheep not of the fold (10:16). The appearance of these Gentiles wishing to see Jesus indicate that it is time for him to lay down his life—the hour of his glory has come (i.e., his return to the Father through death, resurrection, and exaltation). This point is so important for the Evangelist that we are never actually told if the Greeks get to see Jesus or not!

12:20 ”Ellhnev" tine" These Greeks who had come up to worship at the feast were probably “God-fearers” rather than proselytes in the strict sense. Had they been true proselytes, they would probably not have been referred to as Greeks any longer. Many came to worship at the major Jewish festivals without being Jewish proselytes, for example, the Ethiopian eunuch in Acts 8:27, who could not have been a proselyte if he were physically a eunuch.

12:21 ou|toi ou prosh'lqon Filivppw/ These Greeks approached Philip, although it is not clear why they did so. Perhaps they identified with his Greek name (although a number of Jews from border areas had Hellenistic names at this period). By “see” it is clear they meant “speak with,” since anyone could “see” Jesus moving through the crowd. We are not told what they wanted to speak with Jesus about.

12:22 tw'/ =Andreva/ Philip appears to have been uncertain how to handle their request, so he approached Andrew. Together they both spoke to Jesus.

12:23 ejlhvluqen hJ w{ra i{na doxasqh'/ oJ uiJoV" tou' ajnqrwvpou Jesus’ reply is a bit puzzling. As far as the Evangelist’s account is concerned, Jesus totally ignores these Greeks and makes no further reference to them whatsoever. It appears that his words are addressed to Andrew and Philip, but in fact they must have had a wider audience, including possibly the Greeks who had wished to see him in the first place. The words ejlhvvluqen hJ w{ra recall all the previous references to “the hour” throughout the Fourth Gospel (see the notes on 2:4). There is no doubt, in light of the following verse, that Jesus refers to his death here. On his pathway to glorification lies the cross, and it is just ahead.

12:24 ejaVn mhV oJ kovkko" tou' sivtou peswVn eij" thVn gh'n ajpoqavnh/ As Augustine stated, “He spoke of himself. He himself was the grain that had to die, and be multiplied; to suffer death through the unbelief of the Jews, and to be multiplied in the faith of many nations.”105

12:25 oJ filw'n thVn yuchVn aujtou' ajpolluvei aujthvnJesus himself is the supreme example of the person who does not “love his own life” but “hates it in this world.” The saying itself has broader application, however, to everyone. Note the use of ajpolluvei (usually translated “loses”): the person who loves his life, seeking to retain it, really destroys it. Self-interest and self-preservation are ultimately self-defeating. The harder one tries to live for self, the less of life one really has, until at the end there is nothing left of it at all, and one has nothing to show for it. As C. S. Lewis well stated,

There is no safe investment. To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything, and your heart will certainly be wrung and possibly be broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact, you must give your heart to no one, not even to an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements; lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket—safe, dark, motionless, airless—it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. The alternative to tragedy, or at least to the risk of tragedy, is damnation. The only place outside Heaven where you can be perfectly safe from all the dangers and perturbations of love is Hell.106

12:26 ejaVn ejmoiv ti" diakonh'/, ejmoiV ajkolouqeivtw This is really the point of the saying in 12:24-25. The one who serves Jesus is the one who gives up his claim to life in the present world out of love for and allegiance to Jesus: to serve Jesus is in effect to “hate” one’s own life. In the latter part of verse 26 Jesus makes it clear that such a person will be where he is, participating in his glory, and will receive honor from the Father. This is what Jesus’ servants will receive for following him.

          5 D Jesus predicts his upcoming death by crucifixion (12:27-36)

12:27 sw'sovn me ejk th'" w{ra" tauvth" We are now told that Jesus’ hour has come—the hour of his return to the Father through crucifixion, death, resurrection, and ascension (see 12:23). This will be reiterated in 13:1 and 17:1. Jesus states (employing words similar to those of Ps 6:4) that his soul is troubled. What shall his response to his imminent death be? A prayer to the Father to deliver him from that hour? No, because it is on account of this very hour that Jesus has come. His sacrificial death has always remained the primary purpose of his mission into the world. Now, faced with the completion of that mission, shall he ask the Father to spare him from it? The expected answer is no.

12:28 hlqen ou fwnhV ejk tou' oujranou' In response to Jesus’ prayer that the Father glorify his name came the Voice from heaven. It was the very Voice of God himself. Why are both the aorist and the future tenses together used for the two occurrences of doxavzw? Some have suggested a reference to Jesus’ baptism by John, or to the transfiguration. In both of these instances the synoptics record a voice from heaven, as here. The problem is that John records neither event. I would suggest the aorist refers to the entire earthly ministry of Jesus, including the coming of the hour,” which has just taken place. Everything Jesus did and said while on earth glorified the Father—cf. the Prologue, 1:14. The future glory will be accomplished by the death, resurrection, and exaltation of Jesus—that part of his earthly ministry which still lies ahead at this point.

12:31a nu'n krivsi" ejstiVn tou' kovsmou touvtou What is the judgment of this world which Jesus says is at hand? Compare 3:19-21. As it is the response of men to the Light which has come into the world that provokes judgment, so the actions of men in crucifying him who was that Light constitute the judgment of this world. What they are about to do to him will confirm their judgment.

12:31b nu'n oJ a[rcwn tou' kovsmou touvtou ejkblhqhvsetai e[xw This must refer to Satan’s loss of authority over this world. This must be in principle rather than in immediate fact, since 1 John 5:19 states that the whole world (still) lies in the power of the evil one. In an absolute sense the reference is proleptic. The coming of Jesus’ hour (his crucifixion, death, resurrection, and exaltation to the Father) marks the end of Satan’s domain and brings about his defeat, even though that defeat has not been ultimately worked out in history yet and awaits the consummation of the age.

12:32 pavnta" eJlkuvsw proV" ejmautovn This verse must be taken with 6:44. There no one comes unless the Father draws them; here, Jesus says he will draw all men (but of course, not all will come). What are we to make of the statement? In what sense does Jesus draw all men, since not all come? It seems there are two possibilities:

(1) “all” does not really mean “all,” but only “those who are to be drawn by the Father” (6:44);

(2) “all” means “all men” but since not all come to Jesus, then not all respond to the “drawing” which Jesus speaks of here. In this latter case the “drawing” does not correspond to the efficacious call, but rather speaks of a “potential” open to anyone who will.

Which of these is the more probable? I am inclined to prefer the former view, because I see the “all” as a reference not to every single individual person (as in Rom 8:29-30), but as a reference to “all classes of men”—men from “every nation and tribe and people and tongue” (cf. Rev 7:9-10). See also the notes on the significance of the triumphal entry at 12:19 and 4 D The coming of the Gentiles (Greeks) (12:20-26), both of which suggest that it is classes of individuals that are responding to Jesus. Note how this interpretation fits with the mention in 12:23 of the coming of Jesus’ hour, which was also the subject of 12:27, 28, 29, 30, 31, and the present verse.

12:33 shmaivnwn poivw/ qanavtw/ This is an explanatory note by the Evangelist. The words uJywqw' ejk th'" gh'" in the previous verse are explained as a reference to Jesus’ crucifixion.

12:34 hJmei'" hjkouvsamen ejk tou' novmouIn contrast to what Jesus has just said, we have the answer of the crowd in verse 34. The force of their statements is along these lines: “You have just said…but we have heard…”. It is difficult to pinpoint the passage in the Mosaic law to which the crowd refers. The ones most often suggested are Ps 89:36, Ps 110:4, Isa 9:7, Ezek 37:25, and Dan 7:14. None of these passages are in the Pentateuch per se, but “law” could in common usage refer to the entire OT (compare Jesus’ use in 10:34). Of the passages mentioned, Ps 89:36 is the most likely candidate. This verse speaks of David’s “seed” remaining forever. Later in the same Psalm verse 51 speaks of the “anointed” (Messiah), and the Psalm was interpreted messianically in both the NT (Acts 13:22, Rev 1:5, 3:14) and in the rabbinic literature (Midrash Rabbah 97 on Genesis).

What the crowd made of Jesus’ reference to being “lifted up” is not entirely clear either. They may have understood it to refer to his death, which would of course be an obvious contradiction to the teaching in the law that Messiah was to remain forever. But I am not sure it is necessary that they understood the reference to being “lifted up” as a reference to death; they may have taken it as an ascension to heaven of some sort, like Elijah or Enoch. This would still create a contradiction with the idea that Messiah was to remain forever.

The last question, “Who is this Son of Man?,” presents the crowd’s dilemma. If Jesus (whom they believe to be the Messiah—recall that this occurs just after the triumphal entry) identifies himself with this Son of Man who is to be taken up or taken away, how can this be reconciled with their belief that Messiah, when he comes, remains forever? Notice how the Son of Man imagery corresponds to the Son of Man in Daniel 7 who is taken up in the clouds and presented before the Ancient of Days (an exaltation/enthronement motif) and given a kingdom. This Jesus is about to fulfill through his glorification/exaltation on the cross.

12:35 toV fw'" ejn uJmi'n ejstin Notice the stress on “light” in verses 35-36. The noun fw'" occurs five times in these two verses. The phrase e[ti mikroVn crovnon recalls 7:33, and the ideas are similar, since Jesus is speaking here (as he was there) of his physical presence in the world. The reference to light recalls 8:12, where Jesus identified himself as the Light of the world, and especially 3:19-21, where the judgment consists of the Light coming into the world and provoking a response from men, who either come to the light or shrink back into the darkness. Here that same imagery is amplified, because we are now reminded that the Light is in the world only for a limited time (i.e., there is a limited time in which to respond by coming to the light, or as here, by walking in that light). Those who refuse or delay will be overtaken by the darkness which is coming after the light is taken away. The person who tries to walk in the darkness is unable to see and thus does not know where he is going.

This warning operates on at least two different levels. (1) To the Jewish people in Jerusalem to whom Jesus spoke, the warning is a reminder that there is only a little time left for them to accept him as their Messiah. (2) To those later individuals to whom the Fourth Gospel was written, and to every person since, the words of Jesus are also a warning: there is a finite, limited time in which each individual has opportunity to respond to the Light of the world (i.e., Jesus); after that comes darkness. One’s response to the Light decisively determines one’s judgment for eternity.

12:36 pisteuvete eij" toV fw'" Here it becomes even clearer that Jesus is speaking of himself under the imagery of the previous verse. Now his hearers are exhorted to “believe in the light” which is a reference to trusting in him. Those who do will become “sons of light” (cf. Luke 16:8, Eph 5:8, and 1 Thess 5:5). The phrase is a semitic idiom for someone who is characterized by the quality in question (cf. the explanation of Barnabas’ name in Acts 4:36).

The final part of verse 36 mentions that when Jesus had spoken these things he departed and was hidden from them. It is clear from this that the response of those whom Jesus had just addressed was unbelief—the people Jesus had addressed chose to remain in the darkness, and the Light was withdrawn from them. The Evangelist will see in the following section the reason for that response.

      4 B Conclusion to the Book of Signs (12:37-50)

        1 C The response to Jesus by his own people (12:37-43)

The unbelief of the Jews is here seen to be predicted by the prophet Isaiah (53:1, 6:10). This response of unbelief resulting in the rejection of Jesus has been a recurring theme throughout the Fourth Gospel, as foreshadowed in 1:11 of the Prologue.

12:37 oujk ejpivsteuon eij" aujtovn In spite of the many sign-miracles (shmei'a) which Jesus had performed before them, the response of the Jews is still hardened unbelief. They were not believing in him (note the progressive, continuing aspect of the imperfect tense here: they were continuing in their unbelief).

12:38 i{na oJ lovgo" =Hsai?ou tou' profhvtou plhrwqh'/ This response of unbelief is interpreted by the Evangelist as a fulfillment of the prophetic words of Isaiah (Is. 53:1). The phrase oJ bracivwn kurivou is a figurative reference to Gods activity and power which has been revealed in the sign-miracles which Jesus has performed (compare the previous verse).

12:39-40 diaV tou'to oujk hjduvnanto pisteuvein The Evangelist explicitly states here that the Jews were not able to believe, and quotes Isaiah 6:10 to show that God had in fact blinded their eyes and hardened their hearts. This OT passage was used elsewhere in the NT to explain Jewish unbelief: Paul’s final words in Acts (28:26-27) are a quotation of this same passage, which he uses to explain why the Jewish people have not accepted the gospel he has preached. A similar passage (Is. 29:10) is quoted in a similar context in Rom 11:8.

12:41 eiden thVn dovxan aujtou' The glory which Isaiah saw in 6:3 was the glory of Yahweh. Here John speaks of the prophet seeing the glory of Jesus since the next clause “and he [Isaiah] spoke concerning him” can hardly refer to Yahweh, but must refer to Jesus. On the basis of statements like 1:14 in the Prologue, the Evangelist probably puts no great distinction between the two. Since for the Evangelist Jesus is fully God, it presents no problem to him to take words originally spoken by Isaiah of Yahweh himself and apply them to Jesus.

12:42-43 polloiV ejpivsteusan eij" aujtovn Having said that the Jews persisted in their unbelief, the Evangelist now adds as a clarification that some of them did in fact believe: o{mw" mevntoi functions as a strong adversative (“nevertheless”). These were ajrcovntwn which probably indicates members of the Sanhedrin (cf. Nicodemus in 3:1 and 7:50; according to Mark 15:43, Joseph of Arimathea was also a member, and Luke 18:18 probably refers to another). On account of the Pharisees these were not willing to admit their faith in Jesus publicly.

hjgavphsan gaVr th'n dovxan tw'n ajnqrwvtwn The Evangelist’s evaluation of these men is given in verse 43: the reason they would not confess their belief in Jesus publicly was because they loved the glory of men rather than the glory of God. Here “glory” has the meaning “praise”—these members of the Sanhedrin were more interested getting praise from men than getting praise from God—but there is also in the context the reference to Jesus’ own glory (vs. 41) and its connection with God’s glory. This is a case of truly mistaken priorities.

        2 C Jesus summarizes his mission and message (12:44-50)

12:44-45 eij" toVn pevmyantav me To believe in Jesus, to place one’s trust in him, is also to place one’s trust in the Father who sent him. Likewise, to look upon the Son is to look upon the Father who sent him (cf. 1:18 of the Prologue and Jesus’ reply to Philip in 14:9).

12:46 ejgwV fw'" eij" toVn kovsmon hjjlhvluqa Once again we have the contrasting imagery of light and darkness. For Jesus’ identification of himself as the Light of the world see 8:12, 9:5, and 12:46. The contrasting imagery goes back to 1:4-5 in the Prologue. And there are links in the context to the passage which is to some extent the key to the entire Fourth Gospel, 3:16-21. Jesus as the Light has come into the world, and this provokes judgment, because the way a person responds to him determines the person’s destiny. But as here, the purpose of Jesus as the Light in coming into the world was not to judge the world but to save it (here, “that everyone who trusts in me should not remain in darkness”).

12:47 ouj gaVr hlqon i{na krivnw toVn kovsmonHere we find even further analogies to 3:16-21. The mission of Jesus in coming into the world is the same: he did not come to judge (i.e., condemn) the world, but to save it.

tw'n rJhmavtwn is a reference to the spoken sayings of Jesus, including the “I am” statements of the Fourth Gospel, “I am the Bread of Life,” “I am the Light of the world,” “I am the Good Shepherd,” “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life,” etc.

12:48 oJ ajqetw'n ejmeV This is a strong expression, referring to the one who “rejects” or “refuses to recognize” Jesus deliberately. Again we see the polarizing emphasis of the Evangelist in his recounting of these words—a person either accepts Jesus, trusting in him, or a person rejects him utterly, leading to eternal ruin.

12:49 ejgwV ejx ejmautou' oujk ejlavlhsa Jesus states that he is not the originator of the message. he is on a mission from the Father and it is the Father’s words he speaks.

12:50 hJ ejntolhV aujtou' zwh aijwvniov" ejstin Note that Jesus does not say here that keeping the Father’s commandment leads to eternal life, but that the commandment itself is eternal life. This is the commandment concerning what he is to say (verse 49) that the Father has given to Jesus. The words and works of Jesus that result from the commandment the Father has given him are the source of eternal life in the world.

This brings to a close the public ministry of Jesus. Nothing more is said in the Fourth Gospel of anything spoken by Jesus to the people at large. The majority of the remainder of the Gospel concerns Jesus’ words to his disciples in the Upper Room in preparation for his departure and return to the Father and the account of his arrest, trials, crucifixion, and resurrection.

104 See E. Lohse, “wJsanna,” TDNT 9:682-84.

105 Homilies on the Gospel of John 51.9.

106 C. S. Lewis, The Four Loves (New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1960), 169.

Related Topics: Christology, Miracles