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John chapter 12

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What does John chapter 12 mean?

When John wrote this gospel, the other three accounts of Jesus' life—Matthew, Mark, and Luke—had already been established and distributed. Partly for that reason, it seems, he focuses on details which the other Gospels do not include. That's especially true of meanings behind Jesus' miracles and parables. It's also why John focuses so much time and energy on what Jesus said to His disciples. John uses several groups of sevens, including seven unique miracles, seven overt witnesses to Jesus, and seven "I Am" statements. This chapter is only about halfway through John's text, but he has already offered all those items, but for two "I Am" remarks (John 14:6; 15:1).

Here, in chapter 12, we find the last of Jesus' public teachings prior to the crucifixion. Chapters 13—17 will contain only private instruction given by Christ in the hours before He is arrested. This will be followed by His arrest, sentencing, death, and resurrection.

Jesus has just resurrected Lazarus from death, after the man was dead for four days (John 11:38–44). In response, local religious leaders have solidified their plans to have Jesus killed (John 11:53). Chapter 12 begins as Jesus is being treated to a celebratory dinner in Bethany (John 12:1–2).

At this dinner, Mary anoints Jesus with an extremely expensive oil. This is probably the same incident as described in Mark 14:3–9. However, this is not the same woman or the same moment as depicted in Luke 7:36–50. Filling in details from other Gospels, we know that Judas and a few others complain about the "waste" of this resource. In theory, they are claiming it would be better to spend that money on the poor, rather than on luxurious honor for Christ. Truthfully, Judas is upset to see an opportunity for embezzlement slip through his hands. Jesus' response is not a dismissal of charity, at all. Rather, His comment is a statement of fact: not all opportunities are equal, and some will not be repeated (John 12:3–8).

The raising of Lazarus has generated a lot of attention. It also seems to have brought additional visitors to see the once-dead man for themselves. Again, Jesus' religious critics prove how hard-hearted and cruel they really are. Not only have they responded to Jesus' miracle by plotting His death (John 11:53), they are even willing to assassinate Lazarus, whose very existence threatens to prove them wrong (John 12:9–11).

The perspective of these religious leaders is cold and cowardly, but it's not entirely irrational. Part of their fear is that Jesus' popularity with the people might instigate another rebellion against the Roman Empire. That might well result in the full might of the Empire's military falling on the Jewish people and on Jerusalem. The day after the celebratory dinner, Jesus is cheered by a crowd shouting kingly blessings in fulfillment of prophecy. This confirms, in some sense, what the chief priests fear: that Jesus is "too popular" for their good (John 12:12–19).

Jesus is in Jerusalem for one of several festivals which compel local Jewish men to come into the city. Also in attendance are "Greeks," a term often used for non-Jewish people: Gentiles. Based on the not-so-hidden hatred of the Pharisees and priests (John 11:8), it seems Jesus' disciples are screening His visitors. When they bring this group of Greeks to Jesus, He explains once again that His impending death is part of God's plan and His greater purpose (John 12:20–26).

While speaking, Jesus is answered by a voice from heaven. These are audible sounds, forming coherent words. Many skeptics, even today, suggest that this is exactly the kind of miracle which would inspire them to believe. However, many in the crowd around Jesus dismiss what they hear as thunder. In response, Jesus explains that God is giving people these signs so they'll believe; their time to make the right decision is rapidly running out (John 12:27–36).

John's gospel also explains how some people seem to be excessively hardened to the truth. Those who persistently reject God—whether as a culture or as individuals—may find that God "hardens" them as a form of judgment. Much like God punished Pharaoh by hardening him (Exodus 9:12), but only after Pharaoh hardened himself (Exodus 7:13, 22; 8:15, 19, 32), God can do the same to others. Those who stubbornly refuse to accept Christ may find themselves in a state where they cannot accept Him, because they would not accept Him (John 12:37–43).

The last words of Jesus recorded in this chapter are not given any definite context. John indicates that Jesus "cried out," using similar Greek words as Jesus' "calling out" to Lazarus in the tomb (John 11:43). This message summarizes the idea that to reject Jesus Christ is to reject God. Jesus' first coming was to live and die as a man, establishing the means by which mankind can be saved. Actual "judgment" for those who reject Him will come later, in the form of an eternal separation. As Jesus has pointed out before, His words and His will are identical to those of God the Father (John 12:44–50).

This marks the end of Jesus' public ministry, as included in the gospel of John. The next chapters are focused on His last-minute preparation of the disciples, leading up to His arrest and execution.
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