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Print Version Main Index : Commentaries : JFB Commentary : John Index : Chapter 12

John, Chapter 12
Chapter 11 | Chapter 13
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Matthew Henry
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      Joh 12:1-11. THE ANOINTING AT BETHANY.

      (See on Mt 26:6-13).

      1-8. six days before the passover--that is, on the sixth day before it; probably after sunset on Friday evening, or the commencement of the Jewish sabbath preceding the passover.

      2. Martha served--This, with what is afterwards said of Mary's way of honoring her Lord, is so true to the character in which those two women appear in Lu 10:38-42, as to constitute one of the strongest and most delightful confirmations of the truth of both narratives. (See also on Joh 11:20).
      Lazarus . . . sat at the table--"Between the raised Lazarus and the healed leper (Simon, Mr 14:3), the Lord probably sits as between two trophies of His glory" [STIER].

      3. spikenard--or pure nard, a celebrated aromatic (So 1:12).
      anointed the feet of Jesus--and "poured it on His head" (Mt 26:7 Mr 14:3). The only use of this was to refresh and exhilarate--a grateful compliment in the East, amidst the closeness of a heated atmosphere, with many guests at a feast. Such was the form in which Mary's love to Christ, at so much cost to herself, poured itself out.

      4. Judas . . . who should betray him--For the reason why this is here mentioned, see on Mr 14:11.

      5. three hundred pence--about $50.

      6. had the bag--the purse.
      bare what was put therein--not, bare it off by theft, though that he did; but simply, had charge of its contents, was treasurer to Jesus and the Twelve. How worthy of notice is this arrangement, by which an avaricious and dishonest person was not only taken into the number of the Twelve, but entrusted with the custody of their little property! The purposes which this served are obvious enough; but it is further noticeable, that the remotest hint was never given to the eleven of His true character, nor did the disciples most favored with the intimacy of Jesus ever suspect him, till a few minutes before he voluntarily separated himself from their company--for ever!

      7. said Jesus, Let her alone, against the day of my burying hath she done this--not that she thought of His burial, much less reserved any of her nard to anoint her dead Lord. But as the time was so near at hand when that office would have to be performed, and she was not to have that privilege even alter the spices were brought for the purpose (Mr 16:1), He lovingly regards it as done now.

      8. the poor always . . . with you--referring to De 15:11.
      but me . . . not always--a gentle hint of His approaching departure. He adds (Mr 14:8), "She hath done what she could," a noble testimony, embodying a principle of immense importance. "Verily, I say unto you, Wheresoever this Gospel shall be preached in the whole world, there shall also this, that this woman hath done, be told for a memorial of her" (Mt 26:13 Mr 14:9). "In the act of love done to Him she had erected to herself an eternal monument, as lasting as the Gospel, the eternal word of God. From generation to generation this remarkable prophecy of the Lord has been fulfilled; and even we, in explaining this saying of the Redeemer, of necessity contribute to its accomplishment" [OLSHAUSEN]. "Who but Himself had the power to ensure to any work of man, even if resounding in his own time through the whole earth, an imperishable remembrance in the stream of history? Behold once more here, the majesty of His royal judicial supremacy in the government of the world, in this, Verily I say unto you" [STIER]. Beautiful are the lessons here: (1) Love to Christ transfigures the humblest services. All, indeed, who have themselves a heart value its least outgoings beyond the most costly mechanical performances; but how does it endear the Saviour to us to find Him endorsing the principle as His own standard in judging of character and deeds!

What though in poor and humble guise
    Thou here didst sojourn, cottage-born,
Yet from Thy glory in the skies
    Our earthly gold Thou didst not scorn.
For Love delights to bring her best,
And where Love is, that offering evermore is blest.
Love on the Saviour's dying head
    Her spikenard drops unblam'd may pour,
May mount His cross, and wrap Him dead
    In spices from the golden shore.
(2) Works of utility should never be set in opposition to the promptings of self-sacrificing love, and the sincerity of those who do so is to be suspected. Under the mask of concern for the poor at home, how many excuse themselves from all care of the perishing heathen abroad. (3) Amidst conflicting duties, that which our "hand (presently) findeth to do" is to be preferred, and even a less duty only to be done now to a greater that can be done at any time. (4) "If there be first a willing mind, it is accepted according to that a man hath, and not according to that he hath not" (2Co 8:12).--"She hath done what she could" (Mr 14:8). (5) As Jesus beheld in spirit the universal diffusion of His Gospel, while His lowest depth of humiliation was only approaching, so He regards the facts of His earthly history as constituting the substance of this Gospel, and the relation of them as just the "preaching of this Gospel." Not that preachers are to confine themselves to a bare narration of these facts, but that they are to make their whole preaching turn upon them as its grand center, and derive from them its proper vitality; all that goes before this in the Bible being but the preparation for them, and all that follows but the sequel.

      9-11. Crowds of the Jerusalem Jews hastened to Bethany, not so much to see Jesus, whom they knew to be there, as to see dead Lazarus alive; and this, issuing in their accession to Christ, led to a plot against the life of Lazarus also, as the only means of arresting the triumphs of Jesus (see Joh 12:19)--to such a pitch had these chief priests come of diabolical determination to shut out the light from themselves, and quench it from the earth!


      (See on Mt 21:1-9; and Lu 19:29-36).

      12. On the next day--the Lord's day, or Sunday (see on Joh 12:1); the tenth day of the Jewish month Nisan, on which the paschal lamb was set apart to be "kept up until the fourteenth day of the same month, when the whole assembly of the congregation of Israel were to kill it in the evening" (Ex 12:3,6). Even so, from the day of this solemn entry into Jerusalem, "Christ our Passover" was virtually set apart to be "sacrificed for us" (1Co 5:7).

      16. when Jesus was glorified, then remembered they that these things were written of him, &c.--The Spirit, descending on them from the glorified Saviour at Pentecost, opened their eyes suddenly to the true sense of the Old Testament, brought vividly to their recollection this and other Messianic predictions, and to their unspeakable astonishment showed them that they, and all the actors in these scenes, had been unconsciously fulfilling those predictions.


      20-22. Greeks--Not Grecian Jews, but Greek proselytes to the Jewish faith, who were wont to attend the annual festivals, particularly this primary one, the Passover.
      The same came therefore to Philip . . . of Bethsaida--possibly as being from the same quarter.
      saying, Sir, we would see Jesus--certainly in a far better sense than Zaccheus (Lu 19:3). Perhaps He was then in that part of the temple court to which Gentile proselytes had no access. "These men from the west represent, at the end of Christ's life, what the wise men from the east represented at its beginning; but those come to the cross of the King, even as these to His manger" [STIER].

      22. Philip . . . telleth Andrew--As follow townsmen of Bethsaida (Joh 1:44), these two seem to have drawn to each other.
      Andrew and Philip tell Jesus--The minuteness of these details, while they add to the graphic force of the narrative, serves to prepare us for something important to come out of this introduction.

      23-26. Jesus answered them, The hour is come that the Son of man should be glorified--that is, They would see Jesus, would they? Yet a little moment, and they shall see Him so as now they dream not of. The middle wall of partition that keeps them out from the commonwealth of Israel is on the eve of breaking down, "and I, if I be lifted up from the earth, shall draw all men unto Me"; I see them "flying as a cloud, and as doves to their cotes"--a glorious event that will be for the Son of man, by which this is to be brought about. It is His death He thus sublimely and delicately alluded to. Lost in the scenes of triumph which this desire of the Greeks to see Him called up before His view, He gives no direct answer to their petition for an interview, but sees the cross which was to bring them gilded with glory.

      24. Except a corn of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abideth alone; but if it die, it bringeth forth much fruit--The necessity of His death is here brightly expressed, and its proper operation and fruit--life springing forth out of death--imaged forth by a beautiful and deeply significant law of the vegetable kingdom. For a double reason, no doubt, this was uttered--to explain what he had said of His death, as the hour of His own glorification, and to sustain His own Spirit under the agitation which was mysteriously coming over it in the view of that death.

      25. He that loveth his life shall lose it; and he that hateth his life in this world shall keep it unto life eternal--(See on Lu 9:24). Did our Lord mean to exclude Himself from the operation of the great principle here expressed--self-renunciation, the law of self-preservation; and its converse, self-preservation, the law of self-destruction? On the contrary, as He became Man to exemplify this fundamental law of the Kingdom of God in its most sublime form, so the very utterance of it on this occasion served to sustain His own Spirit in the double prospect to which He had just alluded.

      26. If any man serve me, let him follow me; and where I am, there shall also my servant be: If any man serve me, him will my Father honour--Jesus here claims the same absolute subjection to Himself, as the law of men's exaltation to honor, as He yielded to the Father.

      27, 28. Now is my soul troubled--He means at the prospect of His death, just alluded to. Strange view of the Cross this, immediately after representing it as the hour of His glory! (Joh 12:23). But the two views naturally meet, and blend into one. It was the Greeks, one might say, that troubled Him. Ah! they shall see Jesus, but to Him it shall be a costly sight.
      and what shall I say?--He is in a strait betwixt two. The death of the cross was, and could not but be, appalling to His spirit. But to shrink from absolute subjection to the Father, was worse still. In asking Himself, "What shall I say?" He seems as if thinking aloud, feeling His way between two dread alternatives, looking both of them sternly in the face, measuring, weighing them, in order that the choice actually made might be seen, and even by himself the more vividly felt, to be a profound, deliberate, spontaneous election.
      Father, save me from this hour--To take this as a question--"Shall I say, Father, save me," &c.--as some eminent editors and interpreters do, is unnatural and jejune. It is a real petition, like that in Gethsemane, "Let this cup pass from Me"; only whereas there He prefaces the prayer with an "If it be possible," here He follows it up with what is tantamount to that--"Nevertheless for this cause came I unto this hour." The sentiment conveyed, then, by the prayer, in both cases, is twofold: (1) that only one thing could reconcile Him to the death of the cross--its being His Father's will He should endure it--and (2) that in this view of it He yielded Himself freely to it. What He recoils from is not subjection to His Father's will: but to show how tremendous a self-sacrifice that obedience involved, He first asks the Father to save Him from it, and then signifies how perfectly He knows that He is there for the very purpose of enduring it. Only by letting these mysterious words speak their full meaning do they become intelligible and consistent. As for those who see no bitter elements in the death of Christ--nothing beyond mere dying--what can they make of such a scene? and when they place it over against the feelings with which thousands of His adoring followers have welcomed death for His sake, how can they hold Him up to the admiration of men?

      28. Father, glorify thy name--by a present testimony.
      I have both glorified it--referring specially to the voice from heaven at His baptism, and again at His transfiguration.
      and will glorify it again--that is, in the yet future scenes of His still deeper necessity; although this promise was a present and sublime testimony, which would irradiate the clouded spirit of the Son of man.

      29-33. The people therefore that stood by, said, It thundered; others, An angel spake to him--some hearing only a sound, others an articulate, but to them unintelligible voice.

      30. Jesus . . . said, This voice came not because of me, but for your sakes--that is, probably, to correct the unfavorable impressions which His momentary agitation and mysterious prayer for deliverance may have produced on the by-standers.

      31. Now is the judgment of this world--the world that "crucified the Lord of glory" (1Co 2:8), considered as a vast and complicated kingdom of Satan, breathing his spirit, doing his work, and involved in his doom, which Christ's death by its hands irrevocably sealed.
      now shall the prince of this world be cast out--How differently is that fast-approaching "hour" regarded in the kingdoms of darkness and of light! "The hour of relief; from the dread Troubler of our peace--how near it is! Yet a little moment, and the day is ours!" So it was calculated and felt in the one region. "Now shall the prince of this world be cast out," is a somewhat different view of the same event. We know who was right. Though yet under a veil, He sees the triumphs of the Cross in unclouded and transporting light.

      32. And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto me--The "I" here is emphatic--I, taking the place of the world's ejected prince. "If lifted up," means not only after that I have been lifted up, but, through the virtue of that uplifting. And truly, the death of the Cross, in all its significance, revealed in the light, and borne in upon the heart, by the power of the Holy Ghost, possesses an attraction over the wide world--to civilized and savage, learned and illiterate, alike--which breaks down all opposition, assimilates all to itself, and forms out of the most heterogeneous and discordant materials a kingdom of surpassing glory, whose uniting principle is adoring subjection "to Him that loved them." "Will draw all men 'UNTO ME,'" says He. What lips could venture to utter such a word but His, which "dropt as an honeycomb," whose manner of speaking was evermore in the same spirit of conscious equality with the Father?

      33. This he said, signifying what death he should die--that is, "by being lifted up from the earth" on "the accursed tree" (Joh 3:14 8:28).

      34. We have heard out of the law--the scriptures of the Old Testament (referring to such places as Ps 89:28,29 110:4 Da 2:44 7:13,14).
      that Christ--the Christ "endureth for ever."
      and how sayest thou, The Son of Man must be lifted up, &c.--How can that consist with this "uplifting?" They saw very well both that He was holding Himself up as the Christ and a Christ to die a violent death; and as that ran counter to all their ideas of the Messianic prophecies, they were glad to get this seeming advantage to justify their unyielding attitude.

      35, 36. Yet a little while is the light with you. Walk while ye have the light, &c.--Instead of answering their question, He warns them, with mingled majesty and tenderness, against trifling with their last brief opportunity, and entreats them to let in the Light while they have it in the midst of them, that they themselves might be "light in the Lord." In this case, all the clouds which hung around His Person and Mission would speedily be dispelled, while if they continued to hate the light, bootless were all His answers to their merely speculative or captious questions. (See on Lu 13:23).

      36. These things spake Jesus, and departed, and did hide himself from them--He who spake as never man spake, and immediately after words fraught with unspeakable dignity and love, had to "hide Himself" from His auditors! What then must they have been? He retired, probably to Bethany. (The parallels are: Mt 21:17 Lu 21:37).

      37-41. It is the manner of this Evangelist alone to record his own reflections on the scenes he describes; but here, having arrived at what was virtually the close of our Lord's public ministry, he casts an affecting glance over the fruitlessness of His whole ministry on the bulk of the now doomed people.
      though he had done so many miracles--The word used suggests their nature as well as number.

      38. That the saying of Esaias . . . might be fulfilled--This unbelief did not at all set aside the purposes of God, but, on the contrary, fulfilled them.

      39-40. Therefore they could not believe, because Esaias said again, He hath blinded their eyes, that they should not see, &c.--That this expresses a positive divine act, by which those who wilfully close their eyes and harden their hearts against the truth are judicially shut up in their unbelief and impenitence, is admitted by all candid critics [as OLSHAUSEN], though many of them think it necessary to contend that this is in no way inconsistent with the liberty of the human will, which of course it is not.

      41. These things said Esaias, when he saw his glory, and spake of him--a key of immense importance to the opening of Isaiah's vision (Isa 6:1-13), and all similar Old Testament representations. "THE SON is the King Jehovah who rules in the Old Testament and appears to the elect, as in the New Testament THE SPIRIT, the invisible Minister of the Son, is the Director of the Church and the Revealer in the sanctuary of the heart" [OLSHAUSEN].

      42, 43. among the chief rulers also--rather, "even of the rulers"; such as Nicodemus and Joseph.
      because of the Pharisees--that is, the leaders of the sects; for they were of it themselves.
      put out of the synagogue--See Joh 9:22,34.

      43. they loved the praise of men more than the praise of God--"a severe remark, considering that several at least of these persons afterwards boldly confessed Christ. It indicates the displeasure with which God regarded their conduct at this time, and with which He continues to regard similar conduct" [WEBSTER and WILKINSON].

      44-50. Jesus cried--in a loud tone, and with peculiar solemnity. (Compare Joh 7:37).
      and said, He that believeth on me, &c.--This seems to be a supplementary record of some weighty proclamations, for which there had been found no natural place before, and introduced here as a sort of summary and winding up of His whole testimony.

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