The Week leading to the Cross (12:1-19)

Study Series: The Gospel of John

Larger Context: The Week leading to the Cross (12:1-50) 

This Study:
The Anointing at Bethany (12:1-11)
The Triumphal Entry (12:12-19)

Murray McLellan

The Anointing at Bethany (12:1-11)

For three years the manifold perfections of the blessed Lord Jesus had been manifested both in public and in private. We observe that there was a deepening appreciation on the part of His own (even as find true in our own heart); but a steady hardening of unbelief and increasing hostility in His enemies. His own death was but a week away. Soon He was to be “made sin” and endure, in infinite depths of anguish, the judgment of God which was due it. He was about to yield Himself up to death for the glory of God (John 12:27, 28), for only in the Cross could be laid that foundation for the accomplishment of God’s eternal counsels.

V. 1-3 Then, six days before the Passover, Jesus came to Bethany, where Lazarus was who had been dead, whom He had raised from the dead. There they made Him a supper; and Martha served, but Lazarus was one of those who sat at the table with Him. Then Mary took a pound of very costly oil of spikenard, anointed the feet of Jesus, and wiped His feet with her hair. And the house was filled with the fragrance of the oil.

This scene seems to closely parallel that given in Matt. 26:6-13 and Mark 14:3-9.

The “seeming” discrepancies are minimal, and there are far too many similarities to quickly brush off the events as separate. Remember we are dealing with summary accounts. Also, Matthew and Mark are not always written in chronological order. They at times order their accounts according to topic.

One problem to some is the mention of the chief priest and scribes plotting 2 days before the Passover in both Matthew and Mark’s account. It then follows with the account of the anointing. However, it may simply be that the conspiracy of Israel’s leaders to seize the Lord Jesus is followed by a retrospective glance at the “anointing” because what happened at Bethany provided them with an instrument which thus enabled them to carry out their vile desires. The plot of the priests was successful through the instrumentality of Judas. Judas protested against Mary’s extravagance, and the Lord rebuked him, and it was immediately afterward that the traitor went and made his awful pact with the priests.

This seems to me a more simple explanation than trying to fit in 2 or 3 different times of anointing.

The link between John 11 and 12 is very precious.

There we have, in figure, one of God’s elect passing from death unto life; here we are shown that into which the new birth introduces us: Lazarus sitting to eat in communion with the Lord Jesus. A leper healed (Matt. 26:6, Mark 14:3), a dead man raised, and the Son of God who had healed the one, and had raised the other, together at the table.

Jesus was the true Passover Lamb that was to be sacrificed for His people. It was for this reason He came to Bethany, which was within easy walking distance of Jerusalem, where He was to be slain. It is a delight to see the power and rule of our God over the whole situation. The very ones who thirsted so greedily for His blood purposed that it would not be on the feast day, lest there be an uproar among the people” (Matthew 26:5 and Mark 14:2). But God’s counsels could not be thwarted, and at the very hour the lambs were being slain, the true Passover was sacrificed. “There are many plans in a man’s heart, nevertheless the Lord’s counsel – that will stand” (Prov. 19:21).

V. 4-6 Then one of His disciples, Judas Iscariot, Simon’s son, who would betray Him, said, “Why was this fragrant oil not sold for three hundred denarii and given to the poor?” This he said, not that he cared for the poor, but because he was a thief, and had the money box; and he used to take what was put in it.

What a contrast was this from the affectionate devotion of Mary! It is this incident that sets in motion Judas’ decision to betray his master. Judas had no love for Christ, hence it was impossible that he should appreciate what had been done for Him. Though he had been in the closest contact with the Redeemer for three years, yet the love of money still ruled his heart. Cold-heartedness toward Christ and stinginess toward His cause always go together. “To whom little is forgiven, the same loves little” (Luke 7:47).

V. 7 But Jesus said, “Let her alone; she has kept this for the day of My burial.

Other women “brought spices, that they might come and anoint him” (Mark 16:1), after He was dead. Mary anointed Him “for his burial” (Matthew 26:12) six days before He died! It appears her faith had laid hold of the fact that He was going to die—the apostles did not believe this (see Luke 24:21 etc.). She had learned much at His feet!

V. 8 – 11 For the poor you have with you always, but Me you do not have always.” Now a great many of the Jews knew that He was there; and they came, not for Jesus’ sake only, but that they might also see Lazarus, whom He had raised from the dead. But the chief priests plotted to put Lazarus to death also, because on account of him many of the Jews went away and believed in Jesus.

What a fearful state their hearts were in. They would rather commit murder than acknowledge they were wrong.

The Triumphal Entry (12:12-19)

V. 12-13 The next day a great multitude that had come to the feast, when they heard that Jesus was coming to Jerusalem, took branches of palm trees and went out to meet Him, and cried out: “Hosanna! ‘Blessed is He who comes in the name of the LORD!’ The King of Israel!”

The very fact that this is recorded by all the four Evangelists indicates this is an important moment. Josephus describes a Passover around 66-70 A.D., just before the Jewish War when 2,700,000 people took part, not counting the defiled and foreigners present. I only bring this out to give us understanding of the kind of numbers we are looking at.

When Simon the Maccabee drove out the Syrian forces from Jerusalem about two centuries earlier, he was honored with the waving of palm branches. Perhaps this may have signaled nationalized hope that a messianic liberator was arriving on the scene. Hosanna literally means, “give salvation now!” “Save now, I pray, O Lord; O Lord, I pray now send prosperity. Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord” (Ps. 118:25-26). The one who would come in the name of the Lord is the messiah-king of Israel. However, the following verse (v. 27) talks about sacrifice. New Testament eyes enable us to see that Messiah Jesus would deliver and save His people, but He would do it through the sacrifice of Himself.

In Revelation 7:9, where we behold the “innumerable multitude before the throne and before the Lamb,” they have “palms in their hand.

V. 14-16 Then Jesus, when He had found a young donkey, sat on it; as it is written: “Fear not, daughter of Zion; Behold, your King is coming, Sitting on a donkey’s colt.” His disciples did not understand these things at first; but when Jesus was glorified, then they remembered that these things were written about Him and that they had done these things to Him.

Jesus entered Jerusalem in the way He did in order that the Scriptures might be fulfilled.

What scriptures? The answer to this question takes us back, first of all, to the prophecy which dying Jacob made, a prophecy spoke about what was to befall his descendants in “the last days”—an Old Testament expression referring to the times of the Messiah: begun at His first advent, completed at His second. The aged patriarch declared, “the scepter shall not depart from Judah, nor a lawgiver from between his feet until Shiloh come; and to him shall be the obedience of the people. Binding his donkey to the vine, and his donkey’s colt to the choice vine” (Gen. 49:9-11). A.W. Pink writes: “The word “scepter” here signifies tribal rod. Judah was to preserve the separate independency of his tribe until the Messiah came. The fulfillment of this is seen in the Gospels. Though the ten tribes had long before been carried into captivity, from which they never returned, Judah (the “Jews”), were still in Palestine when the Son of God became incarnate and tabernacled among men. Continuing his prophecy, Jacob announced, “And to him [Shiloh—the Peacemaker—cf. ‘thy peace’ in Luke 19:42], shall the gathering of the people be.” This received its first fulfillment at Christ’s official entry into Jerusalem. But mark the next words, “Binding his foal unto the vine, and his ass’s colt unto the choice vine.” The “vine” was Israel (Isa. 5, etc); the “choice vine” was Christ Himself (John 15:1). Here, then, was the fact itself prophetically announced.”

Verse 15 itself comes from Zechariah 9:9. Like many New Testament quotations from the Old, the entire Old Testament context must be borne in mind if the full force of the words is to be recognized. (In addition, often references are derived from two or more passages).

In Zech. 9:10-11, we note three points:

  • 1)  The coming of the gentle king is associated with the cessation of war – “peace.” We have the OC physical language, but it is portraying NC reality.
  • 2)  The coming of the gentle king is associated with the proclamation of peace to the nations – extending his reign to the ends of the earth (i.e. the latter half of Zech. 9:10 is a quote from Ps. 72:8, which promises a worldwide reign for Zion’s king, a son of David).
  • 3)  The coming of the gentle king is associated with the blood of God’s covenant that spells release for prisoners (clearly a Passover theme!).

V. 17-19 Therefore the people, who were with Him when He called Lazarus out of his tomb and raised him from the dead, bore witness. For this reason the people also met Him, because they heard that He had done this sign. The Pharisees therefore said among themselves, “You see that you are accomplishing nothing. Look, the world has gone after Him!”

Once again we see great irony; this time in the use of the term “world.” That indeed is to be the case, and we see the Greeks seeking Jesus in the very next verse.

~ Murray

About Murray McLellan
Murray is the lead church planter and Bible teacher at Grace Fellowship Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada. He and his wife Cheryl have labored in the Gospel for many years despite the many discouragements along the way. Our brother is associated with “InDepth Studies”, the Acts 29 network of church planters, and more recently the uniquely Canadian C2C church planting network. In new covenant circles Murray is a long time contributor to new covenant thought and discussion.