Warren W. Wiersbe

John 12


John 12 records the second major crisis in the ministry

of our Lord as seen by John the apostle. The

first occurred when many of His disciples would

no longer walk with Him (John 6:66), even though He

is “the way” (John 14:6). In this chapter, John tells us

that many would not believe in Him (John 12:37ff.),

even though He is “the truth.” The third crisis will

come in John 19: even though He is “the life,” the leaders

crucified Him.

John opened his book by telling us that Jesus “came

unto his own [world], and his own [people] received

him not” (John 1:11). In the first twelve chapters, John

presented one witness after another, and one proof

after another, to convince us that Jesus is indeed the

Christ, the Son of God. All of this evidence was seen

firsthand by the leaders of the nation, and yet they

rejected His claims. Having been rejected by “His own”

nation, Jesus then retired with “his own” disciples

(John 13:1), whom he loved to the uttermost.

We see in John 12 the Lord Jesus Christ as He

relates to four different groups of people, and there are

lessons that we can learn as we study this section.

Jesus and His Friends (John 12:1–11)

Our Lord knew that the Jewish leaders were out to

arrest Him and kill Him (John 11:53, 57), but He still

returned to Bethany, only two miles from the very

citadel of His enemies. Why? So that He might spend

a quiet time with His dear friends Mary, Martha, and

Lazarus. True to their personalities, Martha busily

served and Mary worshipped at the feet of Jesus (see

Luke 10:38–42).

The account of Mary’s anointing of her Lord is

found also in Matthew 26:6–13 and Mark 14:3–9. But

it must not be confused with the account given in Luke

7:36–50, where a former harlot anointed Jesus in the

house of Simon the Pharisee. Mary was a virtuous

woman, and she anointed Jesus in the house of Simon

the (former) leper (Mark 14:3). The Luke 7 event took

place in Galilee, while the account we are now considering

occurred in Judea. The fact that there are two

“Simons” involved should not surprise us, for Simon

was a common name in that day.

When you combine all three accounts, you learn

that Mary anointed both His head and His feet. It was

an act of pure love on her part, for she knew her Lord

was about to endure suffering and death. Because she

sat at Jesus’ feet and listened to Him speak, she knew

what He was going to do. It is significant that Mary of

Bethany was not one of the women who went to the

tomb to anoint the body of Jesus (Mark 16:1).

In a sense, Mary was showing her devotion to Jesus

before it was too late. She was “giving the roses” while

He was yet alive, and not bringing them to the funeral!

Her act of love and worship was public, spontaneous,

sacrificial, lavish, personal, and unembarrassed. Jesus

called it “a good work” (Matt. 26:10; Mark 14:6) and

both commended her and defended her.

It would have required a year’s wages from a common

laborer to purchase that ointment. Like David,

Mary would not give to the Lord that which cost her

nothing (2 Sam. 24:24). Her beautiful act of worship

brought a fragrance to the very house in which they

were dining, and the blessing of her deed has spread

around the world (Matt. 26:13; Mark 14:9). Little did

Mary realize that night that her love for Christ would

be a blessing to believers around the world for centuries

to come!

When she came to the feet of Jesus, Mary took the

place of a slave. When she undid her hair (something

Jewish women did not do in public), she humbled herself

and laid her glory at His feet (see 1 Cor. 11:15). Of

course, she was misunderstood and criticized, but that

is what usually happens when somebody gives his or

her best to the Lord.

It was Judas who started the criticism, and, sad to

say, the other disciples took it up. They did not know

that Judas was a devil (John 6:70), and they admired

him for his concern for the poor. After all, he was the

treasurer, and especially at Passover season, he would

want to share with those who were less fortunate (see

John 13:21–30). Until the very end, the disciples

believed that Judas was a devoted follower of the Lord.

John 12:4 records Judas’s first words found anywhere

in the four gospels. His last words are found in

Matthew 27:4. Judas was a thief and was in the habit

of stealing money from the money box that he carried.

(The Greek word translated “bag” meant originally a

small case in which mouthpieces were kept for wind

instruments. Then it came to mean any small box, and

especially a money box. The Greek version of the Old

Testament uses this word in 2 Chron. 24:8–10 for

King Joash’s money chest.) No doubt Judas had already

decided to abandon Jesus, and he wanted to get what

he could out of what he considered a bad situation.

John 12


Perhaps he had hoped that Jesus would defeat Rome

and set up the kingdom; in which case, Judas would

have been treasurer of the kingdom!

What Mary did was a blessing to Jesus and a blessing

to her own life. She was also a blessing to the home,

filling it with fragrance (see Phil. 4:18), and today, she

is a blessing to the church around the world. Her one

act of devotion in the little village of Bethany still sends

“ripples of blessing.”

But not so Judas! We call our daughters “Mary,” but

no parent would call a son “Judas.” His very name is

listed in the dictionary as a synonym for treachery.

Mary and Judas are seen in contrast in Proverbs 10:7—

“The memory of the just is blessed, but the name of the

wicked shall rot.” “A good name is better than precious

ointment,” says Ecclesiastes 7:1, and Mary had both.

Matthew 26:14 gives the impression that immediately

after this rebuke, Judas went to the priests and

bargained to deliver Jesus into their hands. But it is

likely that the events recorded in Matthew 21—25

took place first. No doubt the Lord’s rebuke of Judas at

Bethany played an important part in his decision actually

to betray Jesus. Also, the fact that Jesus once again

openly announced His death would motivate Judas to

escape while the opportunity was there.

As we look at this event, we see some “representative

people” who are examples to us. Martha represents

work as she served the dinner she had prepared for the

Lord. This was just as much a “fragrant offering” as was

Mary’s ointment (see Heb. 13:16). Mary represents

worship, and Lazarus represents witness (John

11:9–11). People went to Bethany just to be able to see

this man who had been raised from the dead!

As mentioned we have no recorded words from

Lazarus in the New Testament, but his miraculous life

was an effective witness for Jesus Christ. (In contrast,

John the Baptist did no miracles, yet his words brought

people to Jesus. See John 10:40–42.) We today ought

to “walk in newness of life” (Rom. 6:4) because we have

been “raised from the dead” (Eph. 2:1–10; Col. 3:1ff.).

Actually, the Christian life ought to be a beautiful balance

of worship, work, and witness.

But the fact that Lazarus was a walking miracle put

him into a place of danger: the Jewish leaders wanted

to kill him as well as Jesus! Our Lord was right when

He called them children of the devil, for they were

murderers indeed (John 8:42–44). They threw the

healed blind man out of the synagogue rather than permit

him to bear witness to Christ every Sabbath, and

they tried to put Lazarus back into the tomb because he

was leading people to faith in Christ. If you will not

accept the evidence, you must try to get rid of it!

This quiet evening of fellowship—in spite of the

cruel way the disciples treated Mary—must have

brought special encouragement and strength to the

Savior’s heart as He faced the demands of that last week

before the cross. We should examine our own hearts

and homes to ask whether we are bringing joy to His

heart by our worship, work, and witness.

Jesus and the Passover Pilgrims (12:12–19)

John shifted the scene from a quiet dinner in Bethany

to a noisy public parade in Jerusalem. All four gospels

record this event, and their accounts should be compared.

This was the only “public demonstration” that

our Lord allowed while He was ministering on earth.

His purpose was to fulfill the Old Testament prophecy

(Zech. 9:9). The result was a growing animosity on the

part of the religious leaders, leading eventually to the

crucifixion of the Savior.

There were three different groups in the crowd that

day: (1) the Passover visitors from outside Judea (John

12:12, 18); (2) the local people who had witnessed the

raising of Lazarus (John 12:17); and (3) the religious

leaders who were greatly concerned about what Jesus

might do at the feast (John 12:19). At each of the different

feasts, the people were in keen expectation,

wondering if Jesus would be there and what He would

do. It looked as though Jesus was actually seeking to

incite a revolution and establish Himself as king, but

that was not what He had in mind.

What did this event mean to Jesus? For one thing,

it was a part of His obedience to the Father’s will. The

prophet Zechariah (Zech. 9:9) prophesied that the

Messiah would enter Jerusalem in that manner, and He

fulfilled the prophecy. “Daughter of Zion” is another

name for the city of Jerusalem (Jer. 4:31; Lam. 2:4, 8,

10). Certainly Jesus was openly announcing to the people

that He indeed is the King of Israel (John 1:49), the

promised Messiah. No doubt many of the pilgrims

hoped that now He would defeat the Romans and set

the nation of Israel free.

What did this demonstration mean to the Romans?

Nothing is recorded about the Roman viewpoint, but

it is certain that they kept a close watch that day.

During the annual Passover feast, it was not uncommon

for some of the Jewish nationalists to try to arouse

the people, and perhaps they thought this parade was

that kind of an event. I imagine that some of the

Roman soldiers must have smiled at the “triumphal

entry,” because it was nothing like their own “Roman

triumph” celebrations in the city of Rome.

Whenever a Roman general was victorious on foreign

soil, killing at least five thousand of the enemy,

and gaining new territory, he was given a “Roman triumph”

when he returned to the city. It was the Roman

equivalent of the American “ticker-tape parade,” only

with much more splendor. The victor would be permitted

to display the trophies he had won and the enemy

leaders he had captured. The parade ended at the arena,

where some of the captives entertained the people by

fighting wild beasts. Compared to a “Roman triumph,”

our Lord’s entry into Jerusalem was nothing.

What did the “triumphal entry” mean to the people

of Israel? The pilgrims welcomed Jesus, spread their

garments before Him, and waved palm branches as

symbols of peace and victory (Rev. 7:9). They quoted

from Psalm 118:26, which is a messianic psalm, and

they proclaimed Him the “King of Israel.” But while

John 12


they were doing this, Jesus was weeping (Luke


The name Jerusalem means “city of peace” or “foundation

of peace,” and the people were hoping that Jesus

would bring them the peace that they needed.

However, He wept because He saw what lay ahead of

the nation—war, suffering, destruction, and a scattered

people. At His birth, the angels announced “peace on

earth” (Luke 2:13–14), but in His ministry Jesus

announced “war on earth” (Luke 12:51ff.). It is significant

that the crowds shouted “peace in heaven” (Luke

19:38), because that is the only place where there is

peace today!

The nation had wasted its opportunities; their leaders

did not know the time of God’s visitation. They

were ignorant of their own Scriptures. The next time

Israel sees the King, the scene will be radically different

(Rev. 19:11ff.)! He will come in glory, not in humility,

and the armies of heaven will accompany Him. It will

be a scene of victory as He comes to defeat His enemies

and establish His kingdom.

It is a repeated theme in Scripture that there can be

no glory unless first there is suffering. Jesus knew that

He must die on the cross before He could enter into

His glory (Luke 24:26). The Jewish theologians were

not clear in their minds concerning the sufferings of

the Messiah and the glorious kingdom that the

prophets announced. Some teachers held that there

were two Messiahs, one who would suffer and one who

would reign. Even our Lord’s own disciples were not

clear as to what was going on (see John 11:16).

How did the Jewish leaders respond to the

“Triumphal Entry” of the Lord? As they watched the

great crowd gather and honor Jesus, the Pharisees were

quite sure that Jesus had won the day. They were anticipating

some kind of general revolt during the Passover

season. Perhaps Jesus would perform a great miracle

and in that way capture the minds and hearts of the

restless people. How little they really understood the

mind and heart of the Master! What they did not realize

was that Jesus was “forcing their hand” so that the

Sanhedrin would act during the feast. The Lamb of

God had to give His life when the Passover lambs were

being slain.

The statement, “Behold, the world is gone after

him!” (John 12:19) was both an exaggeration and a

prophecy. In the next section, we meet some visitors

from outside Israel.

Jesus and the Gentile Visitors (12:20–36)

Following His entry into Jerusalem, our Lord cleansed

the temple for the second time. He quoted Isaiah 56:7

and Jeremiah 7:11: “Is it not written, my house shall be

called of all nations the house of prayer? but ye have

made it a den of thieves” (Mark 11:17). Perhaps these

Greeks heard that word and were encouraged by it.

One of John’s major themes is that Jesus is the

Savior of the world, not simply the Redeemer of

Israel. He is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin

of the world (John 1:29). “For God so loved the

world” (John 3:16). The Samaritans rightly identified

Him as “the Savior of the world” (John 4:42). He

gave His life for the world and He gives life to the

world (John 6:33). He is the Light of the World (John

8:12). The universal emphasis of John’s gospel is too

obvious to miss. Jesus will bring the “other sheep”

who are outside the Jewish fold (John 10:16; and see


The original text indicates that these Greeks “were

accustomed to come and worship at the feast.” They

were not curious visitors or one-time investigators.

No doubt they were “God-fearers,” Gentiles who

attended the Jewish synagogue and sought the truth,

but who had not yet become proselytes. Gentiles

came to see Jesus when He was a young child (Matt.

2), and now Gentiles came to see Him just before His


These men “kept asking” Philip for the privilege of

an interview with Jesus. Philip finally told Andrew

(who was often bringing people to Jesus), and Andrew

gave the request to the Lord. No doubt there were

many people who wanted private interviews with the

Lord, but they were afraid of the Pharisees (John 9:22).

Being from out of the country, the Gentile visitors

either did not know about the danger, or did not fear

the consequences.

We can commend these Greeks for wanting to see

Jesus. The Jews would say, “We would see a sign!”

(Matt. 12:38; 1 Cor. 1:22) but these men said, “We

would see [have an interview with] Jesus.” There is no

record that Jesus did talk with these men, but the message

that He gave in response contains truths that all of

us need.

The central theme of this message is the glory of

God (John 12:23, 28). We would have expected Jesus

to say, “The hour is come, that the Son of man should

be crucified.” But Jesus saw beyond the cross to the

glory that would follow (see Luke 24:26; Heb. 12:2).

In fact, the glory of God is an important theme in the

remaining chapters of John’s gospel (see John

13:31–32; 14:13; 17:1, 4–5, 22, 24).

Jesus used the image of a seed to illustrate the great

spiritual truth that there can be no glory without suffering,

no fruitful life without death, no victory

without surrender. Of itself, a seed is weak and useless,

but when it is planted, it “dies” and becomes fruitful.

There is both beauty and bounty when a seed “dies”

and fulfills its purpose. If a seed could talk, it would no

doubt complain about being put into the cold, dark

earth. But the only way it can achieve its goal is by

being planted.

God’s children are like seeds. They are small and

insignificant, but they have life in them, God’s life.

However, that life can never be fulfilled unless we yield

ourselves to God and permit Him to “plant us.” We

must die to self so that we may live unto God (Rom. 6;

Gal. 2:20). The only way to have a fruitful life is to follow

Jesus Christ in death, burial, and resurrection.

John 12


E.They would not believe on Him—12:37–50

In these words, Jesus challenges us today to surrender

our lives to Him. Note the contrasts: loneliness or

fruitfulness; losing your life or keeping your life; serving

self or serving Christ; pleasing self or receiving

God’s honor.

I read about some Christians who visited a remote

mission station to see how the ministry was going. As

they watched the dedicated missionary team at work,

they were impressed with their ministry, but admitted

that they missed “civilization.”

“You certainly have buried yourself out here!” one

of the visitors exclaimed.

“We haven’t buried ourselves,” the missionary

replied. “We were planted!”

Our Lord knew that He was facing suffering and

death, and His humanity responded to this ordeal. His

soul was troubled, not because He was questioning the

Father’s will, but because He was fully conscious of all

that the cross involved. Note that Jesus did not say,

“What shall I do?” because He knew what He was

ordained to do. He said, “What shall I say?” In the

hour of suffering and surrender, there are only two

prayers we can pray, either “Father, save me!” or

“Father, glorify Thy name!”

In one of my radio messages, I made the statement,

“God does not expect us to be comfortable, but He

does expect us to be conformable.” No sooner had the

program ended than my office phone rang and an

anonymous listener wanted to argue with me about

that statement.

“Conformable to what?” the voice thundered.

“Haven’t you read Romans 12:2—‘Be not conformed

to this world’?”

“Sure I’ve read Romans 12:2,” I replied. “Have you

read Romans 8:29? God has predestined us ‘to be conformed

to the image of his Son.’”

After a long pause (I was glad he was paying the

phone bill), he grunted and said, “OK.”

Comfortable or conformable: that is the question. If

we are looking for comfortable lives, then we will protect

our plans and desires, save our lives, and never be

planted. But if we yield our lives and let God plant us,

we will never be alone but will have the joy of being

fruitful to the glory of God. “If any man [Jew or

Greek] serve me, let him follow me.” This is the equivalent

of Matthew 10:39 and Mark 8:36.

The prayer, “Father, glorify thy name!” received a

reply from heaven! God the Father spoke to His Son

and gave Him a double assurance: the Son’s past life

and ministry had glorified the Father, and the Son’s

future suffering and death would glorify the Father. It

is significant that the Father spoke to the Son at the

beginning of the Son’s ministry (Matt. 3:17), as the

Son began His journey to Jerusalem (Matt. 17:5), and

now as the Son entered the last days before the cross.

God always gives that word of assurance to those who

willingly suffer for His sake.

The people heard a sound but did not know the

message that had been conveyed. Yet if the voice was

for their sakes and they could not understand it, what

good was it? In that the voice assured Jesus, who was to

die for their sakes, the voice was for their good. They

heard Him pray and they heard a sound from heaven

in response to that prayer. That should have convinced

them that Jesus was in touch with the Father. We might

translate John 12:30, “That voice came more for your

sake than for Mine.”

Jesus then openly spoke about the cross. It was an

hour of judgment for the world and for Satan, the

prince of the world. The death of Jesus Christ would

seem like a victory for the wicked world, but it would

really be a judgment of the world. On the cross, Jesus

would defeat Satan and his world system (Gal. 6:14).

Even though he is permitted to go to and fro on the

earth, Satan is a defeated enemy. As we serve the Lord,

we overcome the wicked one (Luke 10:17–19). One

day Satan shall be cast out of heaven (Rev. 12:10), and

eventually he will be judged and imprisoned forever

(Rev. 20:10).

We have met the phrase “lifted up” before (John

3:14; 8:28). Its basic meaning is crucifixion (note John

12:33), but it also carries the idea of glorification.

“Behold, My servant will prosper. He will be high and

lifted up, and greatly exalted” (Isa. 52:13 nasb). The

Son of Man was glorified by being crucified!

The phrase “all men” does not suggest universal salvation.

It means “all people without distinction,” that

is, Jews and Gentiles. He does not force them; He

draws them (see John 6:44–45). He was “lifted up”

that men might find the way (John 12:32), know the

truth (John 8:28), and receive the life (John 3:14). The

cross reminds us that God loves a whole world and that

the task of the church is to take the gospel to the whole


The people did not understand what He was teaching.

They knew that “Son of man” was a title for

Messiah, but they could not understand why Messiah

would be crucified! Did not the Old Testament teach

that the Messiah would live forever? (See Ps. 72:17;

89:36; 110:4; Isa. 9:7.)

But that was no time to be discussing the fine

points of theology! It was an hour of crisis (see John

12:31, where the Greek word krisis means judgment)

and an hour of opportunity. The light was shining and

they had better take advantage of their opportunity to

be saved! We have met this image of light and darkness

before (John 1:4–9; 3:17–20; 8:12; 9:39–41). By a

simple step of faith, these people could have passed out

of spiritual darkness and into the light of salvation.

This marked the end of our Lord’s public ministry

as far as John’s record is concerned. Jesus departed and

hid Himself. It was judgment on the nation that saw

His miracles, heard His messages, and scrutinized His

ministry, and yet refused to believe on Him.

Jesus and Unbelieving Jews (12:37–49)

The key word in this section is believe; it is used eight

times. First, John explained the unbelief of the people.

John 12


III. OUTCOME (13—21)

A.The faith of the disciples—13—17

They would not believe (John 12:37–38, with a quotation

from Isa. 53:1); they could not believe (John

12:39); and they should not believe (John 12:40–41,

with a quotation from Isa. 6:9–10).

In spite of all the clear evidence that was presented

to them, the nation would not believe. The “arm of the

Lord” had been revealed to them in great power, yet

they closed their eyes to the truth. They had heard the

message (“report”) and seen the miracles, and yet

would not believe.

When a person starts to resist the light, something

begins to change within him, and he comes to the place

where he cannot believe. There is “judicial blindness”

that God permits to come over the eyes of people who

do not take the truth seriously. (This quotation is found

in a number of places in the New Testament. See Matt.

13:14–15; Mark 4:12; Luke 8:10; Acts 28:25–27; Rom.

11:8.) It is a serious thing to treat God’s truth lightly, for

a person could well miss his opportunity to be saved.

“Seek ye the Lord while he may be found, call ye upon

him while he is near” (Isa. 55:6).

There were those who would not believe, and there

were those who would not openly confess Christ even

though they had believed (John 12:42–43).

Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea belonged to this

group initially, but eventually came out openly in their

confession of Christ (John 19:38ff.). In the early

church, there were numbers of Pharisees (Acts 15:5)

and even priests (Acts 6:7). It was the old struggle

between the glory of God and the praise of men (John

12:25–26). It was a costly thing to be excommunicated

(John 9:22), and these “secret believers” wanted the

best of both worlds. Note John 5:44 in this regard.

In John 12:44–50 we have our Lord’s last message

before He “hid himself ” from the people. Again, the

emphasis was on faith. A number of the basic themes in

John’s gospel run through this message: God sent the

Son; to see the Son means to see the Father; Jesus is the

Light of the World; His words are the very words of

God; faith in Him brings salvation; to reject Him is to

face eternal judgment. In fact, the very Word that He

spoke will judge those who have rejected it and Him!

It is an awesome thought that the unbeliever will

face at the judgment every bit of Scripture he has ever

read or heard. The very Word that he rejects becomes

his judge! Why? Because the written Word points to

the Living Word, Jesus Christ (John 1:14).

Many people reject the truth simply because of the

fear of man (John 12:42–43). Among those who will

be in hell are “the fearful” (Rev. 21:8). Better to fear

God and go to heaven than to fear men and go to hell!

The word judge is repeated four times in the closing

words of this message, and a solemn word it is. Jesus

did not come to judge; He came to save (John 3:18;

8:15). But if the sinner will not trust the Savior, the

Savior must become the Judge. The sinner is actually

passing judgment on himself, not on the Lord!

As you have studied these twelve chapters of the

gospel of John, you have seen Jesus Christ in His life,

His ministry, His miracles, His message, and His desire

to save lost sinners.

You have considered the evidence. Have you come

to the conviction that Jesus Christ is indeed the Son of

God, the Savior of the world?

Have you trusted Him and received everlasting life?

“While you have the light, believe in the light, that

you may become sons of light” (John 12:36 nkjv).

Categories: Studiu biblic

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