Warren W. Wiersbe
CHRIST AND THE CRISIS
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
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
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
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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
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
“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
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.
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