John 12 Study Notes
12:1-11 The anointing by Mary of Bethany foreshadowed Jesus’s imminent arrest, trial, condemnation, crucifixion, and burial (vv. 7-8). The account is closely linked with the raising of Lazarus, whose presence served as proof of Jesus’s miracle-working power and thus fueled the Jewish leaders’ hostility toward Jesus. What is more, the anointing also revealed Judas’s antagonism toward Jesus (vv. 4-8). While only v. 3 is devoted to Mary’s act of devotion, five verses speak of Judas’s objection and Jesus’s rebuke of Judas (vv. 4-8).
12:1 On this Passover, see notes at 2:13; 11:55. Six days before the Passover most likely refers to Saturday, which began Friday evening at sundown.
12:2 Dinner (Gk deipnon) refers to the main meal of the day, which was usually held toward evening (Lk 14:12). The term may also refer to a festive banquet (Mt 23:6; Mk 6:21). It is used later of the Last Supper (Jn 13:2,4; 21:20). Reclining at the table may imply a banquet rather than a regular meal (13:2-5,23).
12:3 A pound or half a liter was a large amount of perfume (11:2). Pure and expensive nard was imported from northern India and used by the Romans for anointing the head. The Synoptic Gospels indicate that the perfume was kept in an alabaster jar (Mt 26:7; Mk 14:3). Attending to the feet of a guest was the work of servants (1:27; 13:5), so Mary’s actions showed humility and devotion. Her wiping of Jesus’s feet with her hair is remarkable since Jewish women rarely unbound their hair in public.
12:4-5 Three hundred denarii was a lot of money for a jar of perfume and a lot of money to “waste” by breaking the jar, as Judas Iscariot observed.
12:6 Judas’s motivation was impure. Before he betrayed Jesus, he was already a thief.
12:8 Jesus’s response may have been an allusion to Dt 15:11.
12:9-11 The Synoptic Gospels tell us that the religious leaders demanded a sign from Jesus (e.g., Mt 12:38). John tells us the leaders admitted he had performed “many signs” (11:47), including raising Lazarus from the dead. But rather than believe in Jesus, they “plotted to kill him” (11:53) and had decided to kill Lazarus also.
12:12-19 Jesus’s triumphal entry, with people waving palm branches to greet him, is celebrated in Christian tradition as Palm Sunday. Jesus’s riding into Jerusalem on a donkey fulfilled OT Scripture (Zch 9:9; see Ps 118:25-26). The waving of palm branches, a symbolic act celebrating victory over one’s enemy and/or reception of a king, may indicate that the people thought Jesus would take Israel’s vacant throne and deliver the nation from Roman occupation and suppression. Yet Jesus’s popular acclaim would not last; some people who now hailed him as victor called for his crucifixion only a few days later.
12:12 The next day probably refers to Sunday of Passion Week, now known as Palm Sunday. The festival was the Passover celebration.
12:13 Palm branches were a Jewish national symbol. The people hailed Jesus as the Davidic king of Ps 118:26 (cp. Mt 21:4-9). Psalm 118 was part of the Hallel (Pss 113-118), sung by the temple choir at major Jewish festivals.
12:15 Jesus is depicted as the humble Shepherd-King of Zch 9:9 who came to the Holy City to take his rightful place. An early messianic prophecy spoke of a ruler from Judah who would command the obedience of nations and would ride on a donkey (Gn 49:10-11). Do not be afraid may be taken from Is 40:9, which refers to one who brings good tidings to Zion (Is 44:2).
12:19 The world was an obvious exaggeration, highlighting the Pharisees’ frustration (Ac 17:6).
12:20-50 This section concludes the first major unit of John’s Gospel, which narrates Jesus’s mission to the Jews. The approach of some Greeks signaled that Jesus’s mission was approaching the climax in which he would die and thus reach all nations. His “hour” was now at hand (vv. 23-26; see note at 2:4); the Son of Man would shortly be “lifted up” (crucified) by men and highly exalted by God the Father (12:32; see note at 3:14-15). After these things Jesus would be able to draw people (Jews and non-Jews) to himself (12:32). Further, the Jewish nation would suffer judgment for rejecting Messiah, who had performed so many signs among them (vv. 37-40).
12:20 Greeks likely refers to Gentiles, not necessarily Grecians (see note at 7:35-36). They were “God-fearers” who came to Jerusalem to worship at the Passover festival.
12:21-22 On Andrew and Philip, see notes at 1:44; 6:5-6. The Greeks may have singled out Philip (who in turn went to get Andrew) because he and Andrew were the only two members of the Twelve with Greek names.
12:23,27 On Jesus’s hour, see note at 2:4.
12:24 The principle of life through death is illustrated by an agricultural example.
12:25 Following Christ involves self-sacrifice, shown supremely at the cross.
12:26 This truth extends beyond a disciple’s earthly life to his eternal destiny (7:34,36; 14:3; 17:24).
12:27 Jesus’s expression of anguish may invoke Davidic psalms such as Ps 6:3 or 42:5,11.
12:28 This is one of only three times during Jesus’s earthly ministry when a heavenly voice attested to his identity (cp. his baptism and his transfiguration, Mt 3:13-17; 17:1-13 and parallels).
12:29 God’s revelation through thunder and angels is well documented in the OT. Thunder was part of God’s appearance at Mount Sinai (Ex 19:16,19). Angels (or the angel of God) spoke to Hagar (Gn 21:17), Abraham (Gn 22:11), Moses (Ac 7:38), Elijah (2Kg 1:15), and Daniel (see Dn 10:4-11).
12:30-31 The ruler of this world in its fallen, sinful state is Satan (14:30; 16:11; 1Jn 5:19). Now, at the cross, the devil would be cast out, or decisively defeated (Lk 10:18; Col 2:14-15).
12:32 This most explicit lifted up saying completes the earlier references in 3:14-15 (see note there) and 8:28. Very likely, the terminology echoes Is 52:13. All people, in the present context, means “all kinds of people”—both Jews and Gentiles (10:16; 11:52; cp. 12:20-21).
12:33 On the kind of death Jesus was about to die, see note at 21:19.
12:34 This is the final of several messianic misunderstandings featured in John’s Gospel (cp. 7:27,31,41-42; see note at 7:25-44). This reference may find its basis in passages such as Ps 89:4,36-37 (which in turn is grounded in 2Sm 7:12-16); Ps 110:1; Is 9:7; and Dn 7:14.
12:35-36 Jesus’s answer was indirect (see v. 46). In light of the fact that the light would be with people only a little longer, his crucifixion was near (7:33; 16:16-19). He urged that they believe in the light (9:4; 11:10; see note at 8:12) while there was still time.
12:36 When Jesus hid from them, he illustrated God’s imminent judgment and completed his revelatory work to the people of Israel (1:18).
12:37-50 This indictment identified Israel’s wilderness generation with the unbelieving Jews in Jesus’s day. Just as the ancient Jews saw God’s power (performed through Moses) at the exodus (Dt 29:2-4) and turned away, so the Jews in Jesus’s day watched miraculous signs (performed by Jesus) and responded with grumbling (Jn 6:41,61; cp. Ex 17:3; Nm 11:1) and unbelief (Jn 12:39).
12:38-40 John cited Is 53:1 and 6:10 to indicate that the Jewish rejection of Jesus was predicted by Scripture and thus served to confirm rather than thwart God’s plan. Is 53:1 referred to the Servant of the Lord who was rejected by the people but exalted by God. Is 6:10 attributed people’s hardening ultimately to God himself (similar to Pharaoh’s; see notes at Rm 9:17,18). These verses are the first in a series of fulfillment quotations in the second half of John’s Gospel.
12:41 The reference to Isaiah seeing his (Jesus’s) glory may indicate that Isaiah foresaw that God would be pleased with a Suffering Servant who would be “raised and lifted up and greatly exalted” (Is 52:13). Like Abraham, Isaiah saw “Jesus’s day” (cp. Jn 8:58).
12:42-43 Among the rulers who believed in Jesus were Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus (see 7:50-57; 19:38-42). On fear of the Pharisees and the Sanhedrin, see note at 7:13.
12:44-50 This section summarizes Jesus’s message and conveys his final appeal, bringing closure to the first major section of John’s Gospel. Sent me presupposes the Jewish idea of representation, according to which a messenger’s identity is inseparable from that of the one who sent him. Verses 48-50 echo Deuteronomy (Dt 18:19; 31:19,26).