On the Gospel of John 12

John 12  •  19 min. read  •  grade level: 9
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But the solemn hour of the Lord's death was approaching, and six days before the Passover of which He was to be the real Lamb, Jesus comes back to Bethany (chap. 12: 1), and what a wonderful scene unfolds itself there! Seated at the same table, there was Lazarus risen, come back from hades, and He who had brought him back, the Son of God. Martha, according to her ordinary practice, is occupied with service; Mary, completing the moral picture, is occupied with Jesus. Mary had tasted the word of the Lord: that word, full of love and of light, had penetrated her heart. Jesus had given her back her beloved brother. She saw the hatred of the Jews rise against Him whom she loved, and who had introduced into her heart the feeling of divine love; in proportion as the hatred rose, her affection for the Savior rose too, and gave it courage to show itself. It was the instinct of affection which felt that death was casting its shadow over Him who was the life, as Jesus felt it also;-the only case in which Jesus found sympathy on earth. The Lord gives to Mary's act, instinctive fruit of affection and of devotedness, a voice that came from His divine intelligence: what she had done she had done for His burial. He knew that He was going away; Mary had spent all for Him; Jesus was worthy of it, for her heart. As I have said, her affection rose in the measure in which the hatred of the Jews increased. The shadow of His approaching rejection reached her already. Indeed, everything was centered, everything assumed its form, in Him and around Him; in Him, the power of life, and devotedness unto death; in Mary, affection which made of Jesus everything for her heart; in Judas, the spirit of lying and of treachery; in the Jews, hatred against that which was divine, even to wishing to put Lazarus himself to death- inconceivable malice and hardness that would not have the light! On the occasion of the remark of Judas, the Lord expresses the consciousness He had of His approaching departure from this world, but with striking patience and gentleness.
This brief history contained in the first verses of this chapter, has a special character, introduced, as it is, in the midst of the testimony that God caused to be borne to the personal glory of His Son, at the moment of His rejection. But, at this very moment, and in the midst of the increasing hatred of the heads of the nation, this little flock gathers together, a witness to the divine power of which one amongst them had been the object, a power which led many of the Jews to believe in Jesus (v. 11). Jesus must go away, He must die; but before He dies, there are men who are witnesses of the quickening power of the Son of God, and see in it the glory of God, witnesses of what He was already, of what He was in His Person. The verses which follow show what He was going to be in His position-that which belonged to Him, but which He did not appropriate to Himself, and which, in one way, He could not so appropriate before He died.
The first two titles to which testimony is borne here, belonged to the Lord while He was alive, but the first was connected with His Person, was inherent in Him; He was Son of God, He was the Resurrection and the Life, so that the little assembly that surrounded Him, was gathered about Him on a principle with which eternal life was connected, and upon which the Christian position (not yet developed nor known, it is true, either as a principle or as a fact) was founded by anticipation-Christ, Son of God, Resurrection and Life, going away to the Father, by the way of the shadow of death, and His rejection down here. In fine, the three characters of Christ, of which the two first are found in the second Psalm, and are recognized by Nathanael at the beginning of our Gospel, and of which the third, contained in Psa. 8, is reproduced in the answer of the Savior to Nathanael, are found again here; only there is this difference with Psa. 2, that the first of these names is presented here not only as by right of birth in this world, but as the exercise of divine power that raises and quickens. As to the two others, we are about to pursue the manifestation of them as it is given us in our chapter.
Before going further, I wish to draw attention once more to this solemn bringing together of the power of death over man's heart, over the first Adam, and the power of divine life in the Son of God, present in a man in the very heart of the dominion of death, destroying this dominion, and He who possessed it in His Person, giving Himself up to death, in order to deliver from it those that were subject to it. That Jesus had this in view is apparent: (See chap. 10: 31, 40; ch. 11: 16, 53, 54; ch. 12: 7.) He had it on His spirit when He came back to Jerusalem, and when He spoke with Martha and Mary; He must Himself undergo death for us.
The next day (ver. 12, etc.) the people, having learned that Jesus was coming to Jerusalem, struck by this great miracle of the resurrection of Lazarus, go forth to meet Him with branches of palm-trees, and salute Him as the King of Israel that cometh in the name of Jehovah, according to Psa. 118 It is the second character in which God would have Jesus recognized, notwithstanding His rejection. The resurrection of Lazarus had shown Him as Son of God; now He is owned Son of David. Here the event is in direct connection with the resurrection of Lazarus, and the title of Son of God; in Luke, and even in Matthew and Mark, this circumstance is connected rather with the title of Lord, and we find there the details of the manner in which Jesus found the ass's colt. In these three Gospels too, although this difference is less striking in Matthew, the disciples are put forward, whilst here it is more the people, moved by the noise which the resurrection of Lazarus had caused. It is the prophecy of Zechariah, but leaving out that which, in the prophet, refers to the deliverance of Israel. John and Matthew mention it, for it was only after that Jesus was glorified, that the disciples could connect the prophecy with that which they had themselves done to honor Him, and to cause Him to enter in triumph into Jerusalem, Jesus, however, having given the order about the ass's colt.
Such are, beside the divine power that quickens, the two titles that belonged to Jesus, as the Christ manifested upon earth, the titles of Psa. 2.
After this the Greeks, from amongst those who had gone up to worship during the feast, arrive and desire to see Jesus. They come to Philip, who tells Andrew, and then Andrew and Philip tell Jesus. Although coming to worship at Jerusalem, they were strangers to the covenants of promise; an entirely new order of things was needed to introduce them into it. They had no right to the promises; Jesus must die to lay the foundation for this new order of things. Jesus is here, not the promised Messiah, but the second Man, head of all things that God had created, that He had Himself created: but He must receive them by redemption, and especially His co-heirs. " Except a grain of wheat fall into the ground and die, it remains alone; but if it die, it bears much fruit " (v. 24). He must redeem the co-heirs in order to have them with Himself. If He were King of Israel and Son of God according to Psa. 2, He was, as Son of man, Lord of the whole creation; only He must die that His co-heirs should have part in the inheritance that He had acquired. " The hour is come," said He, " that the Son of man should be glorified " (v. 23).
It is well to remember the testimonies that the Old and New Testament furnish on the bearing of this title of Son of Man. The Psalms and Daniel speak of it. We find it in Psalm 80: 17, where the point is, the blessing of the Jews, when they will return to Jehovah; in Psa. 8, after having been rejected in Psa. 2 as Son of God and King of Israel, the Son of man appears as Lord of all; it is still here, when the name of Jehovah, the God of the Jews, is " excellent in all the earth," but His glory exalted also above the heavens, that Man, at the same time the Son of man, is set over all the works of God. This Psa. 8 is quoted by the Lord to justify the cries of the children when He entered into Jerusalem (v. 2); and by the apostle Paul (Eph. 1: 21, 22; 1 Cor. 15:2727For he hath put all things under his feet. But when he saith all things are put under him, it is manifest that he is excepted, which did put all things under him. (1 Corinthians 15:27)), in view of Christ's position as Head over all after His resurrection; and in Heb. 2, to show His glory in this position above angels (chap. 1 of this epistle having presented this position as a consequence of His divinity), but when this human supremacy had not yet taken place, although He was crowned with glory and honor. These three passages develop clearly the position of Jesus as Son of man; one other (Dan. 7:13, 1413I saw in the night visions, and, behold, one like the Son of man came with the clouds of heaven, and came to the Ancient of days, and they brought him near before him. 14And there was given him dominion, and glory, and a kingdom, that all people, nations, and languages, should serve him: his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom that which shall not be destroyed. (Daniel 7:13‑14)) completes the picture of the place of the Son of man in the government of God. In this passage the Son of man is brought to the Ancient of Days in order to take up the government, not of the Jews only, but of all kingdoms, exercising from on high, from heaven, the universal dominion of which He holds the reins, by it replacing all the powers that have held a more or less universal sway after that the throne of God had left Jerusalem on the Babylonish captivity.
Now to take this position of dominion not only over Israel and over the nations, but over all the works of God, over all that He Himself had created, Jesus must die, not to have right to everything, but to possess on the ground of redemption, all things reconciled to God, and then to have co-heirs, according to the counsels of God, He being the Firstborn among many brethren. This death is the first thought that comes to the mind of the Lord when the arrival of the Greeks brings forward His dignity as Son of man. Death and the curse were man's inheritance; Jesus must undergo them, to raise man from the state in which he was found, and to place him in the lordship which had been destined for him according to the counsels of God. He was the second Man, the last Adam; but sin having entered into the world, He must redeem the co-heirs, purify them, that they might have a place with Him; He must take away all right from the enemy, so as to deprive him later on of his power over the heritage that he had acquired by man's sin, and even by the judgment of God, and to reconcile all things to God having made peace by the blood of the cross. In this path of death, for it was indeed the death of the cross, if any one serve Him, he must follow Him. Whosoever loves his life shall lose it, and he that hateth his life in this world shall keep it unto life eternal. Solemn word! But we have already seen that His rejection must, according to Psa. 2, be associated with His character of Messiah and Son of God: He should be no more of this world. His position as Son of man, Head over all things, only comes afterward in Psa. 8
From the tenth chapter, we find ourselves historically in the shadow of His death, which made thus an absolute breach between Him and the world, and was also death in all its terror as the judgment of God. He has borne the judgment in our place; but it was there the judgment of a world that should see Him no more. The friendship of the world henceforth would be enmity against God; it had been always so ih reality, but now the fact was publicly manifested; it is the rejected Lord who is the Savior. It is He whom man has crucified, that God has raised to His right hand. He had fully revealed the Father, and they had seen and hated both Him and the Father, as He says (chap. 15: 24), and in appealing to the judgment of God, " Righteous Father, the world hath not known thee." To be a Savior, He had to be lifted up from the earth; the Son of man had to suffer and die; a living Christ was for the Jews. The shadow of death only grew thicker up to Gethsemane, where its deepest shades enveloped the soul of Jesus, and where He took in His hand the cup which contained that which had thrown its shadow on His soul all along the way, but which now penetrated it with its most profound darkness. One only thing remained to Him up to the cross, and even in the sufferings of perfect obedience- communion with His Father; at the cross, obedience was accomplished, and the communion was lost, to make His obedience and His perfection shine the more. It was man's hour and the power of darkness which only drove Him on towards the judgment of God, more terrible than the subordinate instruments that darkened the path of obedience and of sufferings, in which He perfectly glorified God, there where He has been made sin for us, and has blotted out our sins forever.
The Lord speaks in an abstract way, as of a rule or principle, the ground of which He Himself was going to lay for all; only He was giving Himself that others might have eternal life; and He could have delivered Himself, or have obtained twelve legions of angels; but then, how would the scriptures have been fulfilled? The thing could not be; He had not come to deliver Himself. He would have remained in heaven, and have left us exposed to God's righteous judgment; but that could not be either: His love did not allow Him to do this. He had also too much at heart the accomplishment of the counsels of God, and the glory of God His Father, which should thus be made evident in a remarkable and perfect manner. The Savior's rejection on the part of the world has been the rejection of the world on the part of God. The last effort to find or arouse good in man's heart had been made, and they had " seen and hated both me and my Father." God could save out of this world, in grace; but the world was lost, it was in a state of enmity against God. He therefore who attaches himself to this world, who seeks his life in it, or who keeps it as a life to which he clings, in contrast with the rejected Christ, loses it. We are not always called upon to sacrifice our lives outwardly, although this might take place, and has often happened; but morally this applies always: he who loves his life, who cleaves to it as if it belonged to this world, loses it. It is a life of vanity, alienated from God as the world itself to which it attaches itself, a life which ends only in death; for here Jesus does not speak of judgment.
The Lord adds, to that which precedes, a most important principle of conduct: " If any man serve me, let him follow me" (v. 26). It will be in principle, through death, that we must follow Him-death to sin and to the world; but the consequence of such a path is simple; where the Savior is, there shall His servant be. Stich an one follows Him through death into the heavenly glory where He has entered, and " If any man serve me, him will my Father honor."
But the heart of the Lord, if He exhorted others to take the narrow road in which one was to deny oneself, and the world that was enmity against God, whilst losing a life identified with the world which rejected the light when it had come into it in grace-His heart, I say, realized what was before Himself, for He was going to meet death, death armed with its sting- the judgment of God against sin, and the power of Satan-but a death in which we find all the more the perfection of Jesus. " Now," He says, " is my soul troubled; and what shall I say? Father, save me from this hour; but for this cause came I unto this hour "; it was for this that I came into the world. Then the Savior goes back to the true motive of everything, a motive always present to His heart: " Father, glorify thy name! " Cost what it might, this was what He desired always. There was no delay in the answer of the Father: " I have both glorified it, and I will glorify it again." I have no doubt that this " I will glorify it again " was to be accomplished in resurrection. The Father had glorified His name in the resurrection of Lazarus, a resurrection in this world; He was going to do it again in Christ Himself, in a better resurrection, a true answer to death, where the sovereign power of God in grace, and towards Christ in righteousness, has been manifested; a new state in which man had never been, but which was, according to God's counsels, the expression of what He is in Himself, and perfect blessing for man: " Christ (says the apostle) was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father."
The multitude did not know what to think of this voice that it had heard; they said it was a clap of thunder; others, that an angel had spoken to Him. Jesus answers: " This voice came not because of me, but for your sakes "; the Father's voice was in His heart; for the people, it was necessary to have that which was sensible; grace gave it to them. But the Lord explains this solemn sign, by that which was in His heart, and that He knew to be taking place at that moment: " Now is the judgment of this world." Then, indeed, took place the judgment of the world, which is condemned absolutely and finally in rejecting the Lord; but in this also is accomplished the work that has broken forever the power of Satan, prince of this world; and, on the other hand, a Savior has been manifested, point of attraction for all men, instead and in place of a Messiah of the Jews, for these things He said to signify by what death He should die. The multitude (ver. 34) oppose to Him that which was written of the Messiah, and ask: " How sayest thou that the Son of man must be lifted up [from the earth]? Who is this Son of man? " The Lord answers by warning them that the moment was approaching when the light, He Himself, would be put out for them, and when they would lose it forever: they would walk in darkness, not knowing whither they went; for them, wisdom was to believe in the light before it went away, that they might be sons of light; then He went away.
Remark also here, a very important expression. The Lord says, " And I, if I be lifted up out of the earth, will draw all men unto me " (v. 32). He is no longer at all of this world, nor in heaven either. It is a Savior rejected, suffering, dying, who has left the world forever, a Savior ignominiously rejected, driven away, cast out by the world; it is He who, being no longer on the earth, nor in heaven either, I repeat, exposed to the gaze of men, lifted up from the earth and not yet in heaven, but alone between the one and the other with God, like the altar that was neither in the camp nor in the tabernacle-it is He who is the attractive refuge of those who would flee from the world that has rejected Him to enter heaven, to which He thus opens the way for us.
The rest of the chapter is a summing up of the position. In the first part, it is the evangelist who records the obstinate incredulity of the people, and the sad motives that governed their minds, preoccupied with the approbation of men, rather than looking to God. In the second part, Jesus Himself shows two things; first of all, that in rejecting Him thus, those that did it, rejected the light itself, come into the world, that those who believed on God should not remain in darkness; then, that in rejecting Him, they rejected the Father, for what He said were the Father's words. Thus He did not judge him that heard His word, but did not keep it, for He was not come to judge the world, but to save it; His words would judge them at the last day. Now, that which He said was the Father's commandment, and this commandment (He knew it, He had faith in it, the certain consciousness in Himself) was eternal life. All that He said then, He " spoke " it, as the Father had spoken to Him.
This summing up of the rejection of Him of whom the prophets had spoken, of the light, and of the words of the Father, closes the history, properly so called, of the Savior's life. That which follows refers to His departure, to the gift of the Holy Ghost, as well as to the ministry of those whom He left down here as witnesses in His place. But before entering into this new portion of our Gospel, I would remind you that the 41St verse, quoting Isa. 6, and applying it to Christ, shows that Jesus was the Jehovah of the Old Testament. I would point out too, how the fear of man and the pursuit of his approbation, obscures the testimony of God in the heart, and stifles the conscience. If the eye be single, the whole body is full of light.