John 12 Bible Commentary

John Lightfoot’s Bible Commentary

(Read all of John 12)
2. There they made him a supper; and Martha served: but Lazarus was one of them that sat at the table with him.

[They made him a supper.] If we count the days back from the Passover, and take notice that Christ suffered the next day after the eating of the Passover, which is our Friday; it will appear that this supper was on the evening of the sabbath, that is, the sabbath now going out.

Let us measure the time in this scheme:

Nisan 9. The sabbath.--Six days before the Passover Jesus sups with Lazarus at the going out of the sabbath, when, according to the custom of that country, their suppers were more liberal.

10. Sunday.--Five days before the Passover Jesus goes to Jerusalem, sitting on an ass; and on the evening returns to Bethany, Mark 11:11. On this day the lamb was taken and kept till the Passover, Exodus 12; on which day this Lamb of God presented himself, which was the antitype of that rite.

11. Monday.--Four days before the Passover he goes to Jerusalem again; curseth the unfruitful fig tree, Matthew 21:18; Mark 11:12: in the evening he returns again to Bethany, Mark 11:19.

12. Tuesday.--Three days before the Passover he goes again to Jerusalem. His disciples observe how the fig tree was withered, Mark 11:20. In the evening, going back to Bethany, and sitting on the mount of Olives, he foretelleth the destruction of the Temple and city, Matthew 24, and discourses those things which are contained in Matthew 25.

This night he sups with 'Simon the leper,' Matthew 26:1, &c.; John 13.

13. Wednesday.--This day he passeth away in Bethany. At the coming in of this night the whole nation apply themselves to put away all leaven.

14. Thursday.--He sends two of his disciples to get ready the Passover. He himself enters Jerusalem in the afternoon; in the evening eats the Passover, institutes the eucharist; is taken, and almost all the night had before the courts of judicature.

15. Friday.--Afternoon, he is crucified.

16. Saturday.--He keeps the sabbath in the grave.

17. The Lord's day.--He riseth again.

3. Then took Mary a pound of ointment of spikenard, very costly, and anointed the feet of Jesus, and wiped his feet with her hair: and the house was filled with the odour of the ointment.

[Then Mary, &c.] In that contest, whether Mary the sister of Lazarus was the same with Mary Magdalene, this passage will help a little towards the affirmative, that there was a town called Magdala very near Jerusalem.

"A clerk or scribe at Magdala set his candles in order every evening of the sabbath, went up to Jerusalem, prayed there, returned and lighted up his candles when the sabbath was now coming in."

It seems plain by this, that Magdala and Jerusalem were not very far distant from one another, when all this was done so quickly, and in so short a space of time. Only we may learn this from the Gloss, that that Magdala was Magdala Zebaim: concerning which that sad and direful passage is related, that "it was destroyed for its adulteries."

"There were three cities whose customs were carried to Jerusalem": Gloss: "In wagons, because of their great weight. The names of these three cities were Cabul, Sichin, and Magdala. Why was Cabul destroyed? Because of their discords. Why was Sichin destroyed? Because of the magic arts they used. And why was Magdala destroyed? Because of their whoredoms." The Hierosol. say it was Magdala Zabaaia. To this place it was that R. Jonathan once betook himself for some cure to his baldness.

Now therefore what should hinder but that Mary the sister of Lazarus of Bethany might be called Magdalene, both for the nearness of the town, where perhaps she was married, and also for the lascivious manners of the townsfolks, with which spot it is commonly believed Mary Magdalene had been tainted?

[Anointed the feet of Jesus.] In this passage there were two things very unusual:

I. It was indeed a very common thing to anoint the feet with oil; but to do it with aromatical ointment, this was more rarely done. And it is charged by the Gemarists as a great crime, that the Jerusalem women of old anointed their shoes with perfumed ointment, to entice the young men to wantonness.

"Make a tinkling with their feet, Isaiah 3:16. R. Isaac saith, that by this is intimated that they put myrrh and balsam in their shoes; and when they met the young men of Israel, they kicked with their feet, and so stirred up in them evil and loose affections."

II. It was accounted an immodest thing for women to dishevel and unloose their hair publicly: The priest unlooseth the hairs of the women suspected of adultery, when she was to be tried by the bitter water, which was done for greater disgrace.

"Kamitha had seven sons, who all performed the office of high priest: they ask of he how she came to this honour? She answered, 'The rafters of my house never saw the hairs of my head.'"

[And wiped them with her hair.] Did she not wash his feet before she anointed them? I do not ask whether she did not wash them with her tears, as before, Luke 7: for as to that, the evangelist is silent; but did she not wash his feet at all? I ask this, because the custom of the country seems to persuade she should do so.

"The maid brought him a little vessel of warm water, with which he washed his hands and his feet: then she brought a golden vessel of oil, in which he dipped his hands and his feet." There was first washing, then anointing.

Either therefore this word she wiped must relate to some previous washing of his feet: or if it ought to refer to the ointment, it scarcely would suppose wiping off the ointment now laid on; but rather, that with the hairs of her head she rubbed and chafed it. Which brings to mind that passage, "If a woman in labour should have need of oil [on the sabbath day], let her neighbour bring it her in the hollow of her hand; but if that should not be sufficient, let her bring it in the hairs of her head." The Gloss is, "Let her dip her own hair in oil, and when she comes to the woman in travail, let her rub it upon her, and by that action she doth not break the sabbath."

[And the house was filled with the odour of the ointment.] "A good name is better than precious ointment. Good ointment [by its smell] passeth out of the bed into the dining room; but a good name, from one end of the world unto the other."

6. This he said, not that he cared for the poor; but because he was a thief, and had the bag, and bare what was put therein.

[The bag.] We meet with this word in the Greek interpreters, 2 Chronicles 24; and it is set there for a chest or corban box, verse 8: let a purse or bag be made. The Hebrew is, they shall make a chest. So verses 10, 11, &c. Amongst the Talmudists we meet with gloskema [that is the word the Syriac useth in this place], and dloskema. For as the Aruch, gloskema is the same with dloskema, and is a Greek word. It is used commonly for a coffin.

"As Phrynichus writes it, a case of wood to keep relics in; a coffin, a chest, a box, a purse, or rather a coffer (note that) in which they used to lay up their money. It is used, John 12, to signify a purse." And why may it not be read there also for a chest or coffer? for Judas is not said to carry the bag; but that he had the bag, and bare what was put therein. So that nothing hinders but that, even in this place, may signify a chest or coffer of money, fixed at home; the keys of which were in Judas' keeping, and he carried the gifts that were to be put into it.

7. Then said Jesus, Let her alone: against the day of my burying hath she kept this.

[Against the day of my burying hath she kept this.] Baronius proves from this place that this Mary was Mary Magdalene, because she is named amongst those that anointed Christ for his interment; and Christ saith in this place, that she reserved some of this ointment for this use: which I have had occasion to mention elsewhere. If this exposition do not take, then add this clause, "Let her alone": for this may be an argument and sign that she hath not done this vainly, luxuriously, or spent so costly an ointment upon me upon any delicacy; because she hath reserved it for this time, wherein I am so near my grave and funeral, and poured it not on me before.

12. On the next day much people that were come to the feast, when they heard that Jesus was coming to Jerusalem,

[Much people that were come to the feast.] It is not greatly to our present purpose to enlarge in counting the multitude that flocked to the Passover. However, let the reader take this story in his way, and judge of it as he thinks fit:

"King Agrippa, desirous to know how great a multitude was at Jerusalem at the Passover, commanded the priests, saying, 'Lay me aside one kidney of every lamb.' They laid him aside six hundred thousand pair of kidneys: double the number to those that went out of Egypt. Now there was not any paschal lamb but was divided among more than ten persons. R. Chaija saith, 'Forty, nay fifty persons.' One time they went into the Mountain of the Temple, and it could not contain them. But there was a certain old man amongst them whom they trod under their feet. Wherefore they called that Passover the Crowded Passover."

Although this be an account (according to the loose Rabbinical way of talking) that exceeds all belief or modesty, yet might the reader, without a monitor, take notice of something in it not unworthy observation. It is true, indeed, that the multitude of those that celebrated the Passover at every feast could hardly be numbered, it was so great; yet had Jerusalem hardly ever seen such a conflux of people as was at this very feast which we are now upon, they being gathered thither from all nations of the world, Acts 2: for that they were at the Passover as well as at Pentecost, there are hardly any, I believe, but will suppose.

13. Took branches of palm trees, and went forth to meet him, and cried, Hosanna: Blessed is the King of Israel that cometh in the name of the Lord.

[Took branches of palm trees.] We have made our notes upon this part of the story in Matthew 21: but because here is mention of branches of palm trees, let us add only in this place, what is discoursed by the Rabbins concerning the 'ivy of the palm trees,' much used in the Passover. "I have heard from him that they perform their service by Arkablin. But what is Arkablin? Resh Lachish saith, A twig twined about." Gloss: "A thick sprig that grows up about the palm tree, folds about it, and runs upon it." I could not tell better how to render this than by the 'ivy of the palm tree.' They used, as it should seem, the leaves of that frequently amongst, or instead of, the bitter herbs which they were to eat with the paschal lamb. So far they had to do with the palm tree in all other Passovers, viz. to crop the ivy off of them: but here they use the palm branches themselves, as in the feast of Tabernacles. A matter not to be passed over without wonder, and cannot but bring to mind Zechariah 14:16, and John 7:8.

19. The Pharisees therefore said among themselves, Perceive ye how ye prevail nothing? behold, the world is gone after him.

[The world is gone after him.] The Talmudists would say, All the world is gone after him.

20. And there were certain Greeks among them that came up to worship at the feast:

[There were certain Greeks.] That these Greeks were Gentiles, as the Vulgar renders it, I do not question; and perhaps they were Syro-Grecians; and those either of Decapolis, or Gadara, or Hippo: the reason of this conjecture is, partly, that they apply themselves to Philip of Bethsaida, as known to them, because of his neighbourhood; partly, which is more probable, that those Greeks that bordered upon Galilee and the places where Christ wrought his miracles, might seem more prone both to embrace the Jewish religion, and also to see Jesus, than those that lived further off.

However be they other Gentiles, and not Greeks; or be they Greeks come from more remote countries, what had the one or the other to do with the feast, or the religion of the Jews? As to this, let the Jewish writers inform us.

I. "If a heathen send a burnt offering out of his own country, and withal send drink offerings, the drink offerings are offered: but if he send no drink offerings, drink offerings are offered at the charge of the congregation." Observe that. We have the same elsewhere. And it is every where added, that this is one of the seven things that were ordained by the great council; and that the sacrifice of a Gentile is only a whole burnt offering, The thank offerings of a Gentile are whole burnt offerings. And the reason is given, The mind of that Gentile is towards heaven. Gloss: "He had rather that his sacrifice should be wholly consumed by fire to God, than [as his thank offerings] be eaten by men."

That of Josephus is observable; "Eleazar, the son of Ananias, the high priest, a bold young man, persuaded those that ministered in holy things, that they should accept of no sacrifice at the hands of a stranger. This was the foundation of the war with the Romans." For they refused a sacrifice for Caesar.

The elders, that they might take off Eleazar and his followers from this resolution of theirs, making a speech to them, among other things, say this, "That their forefathers had greatly beautified and adorned the Temple, from things devoted by the Gentiles: always receiving the gifts from foreign nations, not having ever made any difference in the sacrifices of any whomsoever; for that would be irreligious," &c. When they had spoken this and many more things to this purpose, "they produced several priests skilled in the ancient customs of their forefathers, who shewed that all their ancestors received offerings from the Gentiles."

II. Nor did the Gentiles only send their gifts and sacrifices, but came themselves personally sometimes to the Temple, and there worshipped. Hence the outward court of the Temple was called the Court of the Gentiles, and the Common Court; to which that in the Book of the Revelation alludes, chapter 11:2, "But the court which is without the Temple leave out, and measure it not; for it is given unto the Gentiles." And of those there shall innumerable numbers come and worship. "And the holy city shall they tread forty and two months." It is not they shall tread it under foot as enemies and spoilers, but they shall tread it as worshippers. So Isaiah 1:12.

The Syrians, and those that are unclean by the touch of a dead body, entered into the Mountain of the Temple.

"Rabban Gamaliel, walking in the Court of the Gentiles, saw a heathen woman, and blessed concerning her."

"They would provoke the Roman arms, espouse a war with them, introduce a new worship, and persuade an impiety with the hazard of the city, if not stranger, but the Jews only, may be allowed to sacrifice or worship."

Hence that suspicion about Trophimus being brought by Paul into the Temple, is not to be supposed to have been with reference to this court, but to the Court of the Women, in which Paul was purifying himself.

There is a story of a certain Gentile that ate the Passover at Jerusalem; but when they found him out to be a heathen, they slew him; for the Passover ought not to be eaten by any one that is uncircumcised. But there was no such danger that an uncircumcised person could run by coming into the Court of the Gentiles, and worshipping there.

24. Verily, verily, I say unto you, Except a corn of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abideth alone: but if it die, it bringeth forth much fruit.

[Except a corn of wheat.] How doth this answer of our Saviour's agree with the matter propounded? Thus: "Is it so indeed? do the Gentiles desire to see me? The time draws on wherein I must be glorified in the conversion of the Gentiles; but as a corn of wheat doth not bring forth fruit, except it be first thrown into the ground and there die; but if it die it will bring forth much fruit; so I must die first and be thrown into the earth: and then a mighty harvest of the Gentile world will grow up, and be the product of that death of mine."

Isaiah 26:19: "Thy dead men shall live, together with my dead body shall they arise": so our translation, with which also the French agrees, They shall rise with my body. But it is properly, They shall arise my body: so the Interlineary version. "The Gentiles being dead in their sins shall, with my dead body, when it rises again, rise again also from their death: nay, they shall rise again my body, that is, as part of myself, and my body mystical."

28. Father, glorify thy name. Then came there a voice from heaven, saying, I have both glorified it, and will glorify it again.

[I have both glorified it, and will glorify it again.] This petition of our Saviour's, "Father, glorify thy name," was of no light consequence, when it had such an answer from heaven by an audible voice: and what it did indeed mean we must guess by the context. Christ, upon the Greeks' desire to see him, takes that occasion to discourse about his death, and to exhort his followers, that from his example they would not love their life, but by losing it preserve it to life eternal. Now by how much the deeper he proceeds in the discourse and thoughts of his approaching death, by so much the more is his mind disturbed, as himself acknowledgeth, verse 27.

But whence comes this disturbance? It was from the apprehended rage and assault of the devil. Whether our Lord Christ, in his agony and passion, had to grapple with an angry God, I question: but I am certain he had to do with an angry devil. When he stood, and stood firmly, in the highest and most eminent point and degree of obedience, as he did in his sufferings, it doth not seem agreeable that he should then be groaning under the pressures of divine wrath; but it is most agreeable he should under the rage and fury of the devil. For,

I. The fight was now to begin between the serpent and the seed of the woman, mentioned Genesis 3:15, about the glory of God and the salvation of man. In which strife and contest we need not doubt but the devil would exert all his malice and force to the very uttermost.

II. God loosed all the reins, and suffered the devil without any kind of restraint upon him to exercise his power and strength to the utmost of what he either could or would, because he knew his champion Christ was strong enough, not only to bear his assaults, but to overcome them.

III. He was to overcome, not by his divine power, for how easy a matter were it for an omnipotent God to conquer the most potent created being; but his victory must be obtained by his obedience, his righteousness, his holiness.

IV. Here then was the rise of that trouble and agony of Christ's soul, that he was presently to grapple with the utmost rage of the devil; the divine power in the mean time suspending its activity, and leaving him to manage the conflict with those weapons of obedience and righteousness only.

It was about this, therefore, that that petition of our Saviour and the answer from heaven was concerned: which may be gathered from what follows, verse 31, "Now shall the prince of this world be cast out."

"Now is my soul troubled (saith he), and what shall i say? It is not convenient for me to desire to be saved from this hour; for this very purpose did I come: that therefore which I would beg of thee, O Father, is, that thou wouldst glorify thy name, thy promise, thy decree, against the devil, lest he should boast and insult."

The answer from heaven to this prayer is, "I have already glorified my name in that victory thou formerly obtaindest over his temptations in the wilderness; and I will glorify my name again in the victory thou shalt have in this combat also."

Luke 4:13; "When the devil had ended all the temptations, he departed from him for a season." He went away baffled then: but now he returns more insolent, and much more to be conquered.

And thus now, the third time, by a witness and voice from heaven, was the Messiah honoured according to his kingly office; as he had been according to his priestly office when he entered upon his ministry at his baptism, Matthew 3:17; and according to his prophetic office when he was declared to be he that was to be heard, Matthew 17:5, compared with Deuteronomy 18:15.

31. Now is the judgment of this world: now shall the prince of this world be cast out.

[The prince of this world.] The prince of this world: a sort of phrase much used by the Jewish writers; and what they mean by it we may gather from such passages as these: "When God was about to make Hezekiah the Messiah, saith the prince of the world to him, 'O eternal Lord, perform the desire of this just one.'" Where this Gloss is; "The prince of this world is the angel into whose hands the whole world is delivered."

Who this should be, the masters tell out: "When the law was delivered, God brought the angel of death, and said unto him, The whole world is in thy power, excepting this nation only [the Israelites], which I have chosen for myself. R. Eliezer, the son of R. Jose the Galilean, saith, 'The angel of death said before the holy blessed God, I am made in the world in vain. The holy blessed God answered and said, I have created thee that thou shouldst overlook the nations of the world, excepting this nation over which thou hast no power.'"

"If the nations of the world should conspire against Israel the holy blessed God saith to them, Your prince could not stand before Jacob," &c.

Now the name of the angel of death amongst them is Samael. "And the women saw Samael, the angel of death, and she was afraid," &c. The places are infinite where this name occurs amongst the Rabbins, and they account him the prince of the devils.

The wicked angel Samael is the prince of all Satans. The angel of death, he that hath the power of death, that is, the devil, Hebrews 2:14. They call indeed Beelzebul the prince of the devils, Matthew 12; but that is under a very peculiar notion, as I have shewn in that place.

They conceive it to be Samael that deceived Eve. So the Targumist before. And so Pirke R. Eliezer: "The serpent, what things soever he did, and what words soever he uttered, he did and uttered all from the suggestion of Samael."

Some of them conceive that it is he that wrestled with Jacob. Hence that which we have quoted already: "The holy blessed God saith to the nations of the world, Your prince could not stand before him." Your prince, that is, the prince of the nations, whom the Rabbins talk of as appearing to Jacob in the shape of Archilatro, or a chief robber. And R. Chaninah Bar Chama saith, he was the prince of Esau, i.e. the prince of Edom. Now "the prince of Edom was Samael."

They have a fiction that the seventy nations of the world were committed to the government of so many angels [they will hardly allow the Gentiles any good ones]: which opinion the Greek version favours in Deuteronomy 32:8; "When the Most High divided the nations" [into seventy, say they], "when he separated the sons of Adam, he set the bounds of the nations according to the number of the angels of God." Over these princes they conceive one monarch above them all, and that is Samael, the angel of death, the arch-devil.

Our Saviour therefore speaks after their common way when he calls the devil the prince of this world: and the meaning of the phrase is made the more plain, if we set it in opposition to that Prince 'whose kingdom is not of this world,' that is, the Prince of the world to come. Consult Hebrews 2:5.

How far that prince of the nations of the world had exercised his tyranny amongst the Gentiles, leading them captive into sin and perdition, needs no explaining. Our Saviour therefore observing at this time some of the Greeks, that is, the Gentiles, pressing hard to see him, he joyfully declares, that the time is coming on apace wherein this prince must be unseated from his throne and tyranny: "And I, when I shall be lifted up upon the cross, and by my death shall destroy him who hath the power of death, then will I draw all nations out of his dominion and power after me."

34. The people answered him, We have heard out of the law that Christ abideth for ever: and how sayest thou, The Son of man must be lifted up? who is this Son of man?

[We have heard out of the law.] Out of the law; that is, as the phrase is opposed to the words of the scribes. So we often meet with This is out of the law, or Scripture, to which is opposed This is out of the Rabbins.

"That Christ abideth for ever." How then came the Rabbins to determine his time and years? some to the space of forty years, some to seventy, and others to three generations? After the days of Messiah, they expected that eternity should follow.

39. Therefore they could not believe, because that Esaias said again,

[Therefore they could not believe, &c.] They were not constrained in their infidelity, because Isaiah had said, "Their heart is waxen gross," &c.; but because those things were true which that prophet had foretold concerning them: which prophecy, if I understand them aright, they throw off from themselves, and pervert the sense of it altogether.

"R. Jochanan saith, Repentance is a great thing; for it rescinds the decree of judgment determined against man: as it is written, 'The heart of this people is made fat, their ears heavy, and their eyes are closed, lest they should see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and understand with their heart: but they shall be converted and healed,'" For to that sense do they render these last words, diametrically contrary to the mind of the prophet.

They have a conceit that Isaiah was cut in two, either by the saw or the axe, by Manasseh the king, principally for this very vision and prophecy:

"It is a tradition. Simeon Ben Azzai saith, I found a book at which was written how Manasses slew Isaiah. Rabba saith he condemned and put him to death upon this occasion: he saith to him, Thy master Moses saith, 'No man can see God and live': but thou sayest, 'I have seen the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up.' Thy master Moses saith, 'Who is like our God in all things that we call upon him for?' Deuteronomy 4:7: but thou sayest, 'Seek ye the Lord while he may be found,' Isaiah 55:6. Moses thy master saith, 'The number of thy days I will fulfil,' Exodus 13:26: but thou sayest, 'I will add unto thy days fifteen years,' Isaiah 38:5. Isaiah answered and said, 'I know he will not hearken to me in any thing I can say to him: if I should say any thing to the reconciling of the Scriptures, I know he will deal contemptuously in it.' He said therefore, 'I will shut myself up in this cedar.' They brought the cedar, and sawed it asunder. And when the saw touched his mouth, he gave up the ghost. This happened to him because he said, 'I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips.'"

Manasseh slew Isaiah, and, as it should seem, the Gemarists do not dislike the fact, because he had accused Israel for the uncleanness of their lips. No touching upon Israel by any means!

41. These things said Esaias, when he saw his glory, and spake of him.

[When he saw his glory.] Isaiah 6:1: "I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne." Where the Targum, I saw the Lord's glory, &c. So Exodus 24:10: "They saw the God of Israel." Targum, "They saw the glory of the God of Israel." And verse 11; "And they saw God." Targum, "And they saw the glory of God." So the Targumists elsewhere very often: commended therefore by their followers for so rendering it, Because no man could see God.

It might be therefore thought that our evangelist speaks with the Targumist and the nation when he saith, that "Isaiah saw his glory"; whereas the prophet himself saith, "He saw the Lord."

But there is a deeper meaning in it: nor do I doubt but this glory of our Saviour which Isaiah saw was that kind of glory by which he is described when he was to come to avenge himself and punish the Jewish nation. As when he is said, "to come in his kingdom," and "in his glory," and "in the clouds," &c. viz. in his vindictive glory. For observe,

1. The prophet saw "the posts of the door shaken and removed," as hastening to ruin. 2. "The Temple itself filled with smoke": not with the cloud as formerly, the token of the divine presence, but with smoke, the forerunner and prognostic of that fire that should burn and consume it. 3. He saw the seraphim, angels of fire, because of the predetermined burning. 4. He heard the decree about blinding and hardening the people till the cities be wasted, and the land desolate.