The Anointing at Bethany (John 12:1-11)
A few days after Jesus arrived in Bethany, not long before his arrest and execution, he was in the home of Simon the leper (Matt. 26:6; Mark 14:3). Since lepers were not allowed to intermingle with the general public (Lev. 13:45-46), Simon may have been a former leper whom Jesus or one of his disciples had healed (cf. Matt. 10:8; 11:5; Mark 1:40-42; Luke 17:11-19). According to John, Lazarus and his sisters were also present, and Mary is identified as the one who anointed the Lord (John 12:1-8). Mary is unnamed in Matthew and Mark’s recounting of this event,1 perhaps to provide anonymity and privacy for Lazarus’ family (cf. John 12:9-11). It was not until much later that John reveals her name (cf. 11:2).
Mary had an alabaster flask (stone jar?) of a lipta (Roman pound = about 12 ounces or less than ½ liter) of very costly spikenard oil,2 worth more than 300 denarii. Seeing that a denarius was equivalent to one-day’s payment for a manual laborer (cf. Matt. 20:2), this would be worth nearly ten months wages! Mary used the fragrant oil to anoint Jesus’ head (according to Matthew and Mark) and feet (according to John).
The disciples, prompted or led by the devious Judas Iscariot (John 12:4-6), objected because of the perceived waste. But the Lord reminds them that Mary was simply expressing her love and gratitude and was anointing his body for burial (v. 7). She was apparently among the few who understood that Jesus was about to die. The Lord did not anticipate a time in the future when poverty would be eradicated, so he enjoins on his followers their benevolent responsibility (v. 8; cf. Acts 20:35). Because Mary “did a good work” and “did what she could” (Mark 14:6, 8),3 her unselfish, gracious act was to be recorded in the written gospel (by Matthew, Mark and John) to be proclaimed throughout the world (Mark 14:9; cf. 16:15).
While the Jewish authorities were plotting to kill Jesus (Matt. 26:1-4), they also wanted to murder Lazarus. Lazarus, whom the Lord had raised from the dead (John 11:1-44), was living proof of Jesus’ claims that caused many to accept him as the Christ (v. 45; 12:9-11, 17-19). This demonstrates the purpose of first-century miracles to confirm the Lord’s message and authority in order to produce faith (cf. 20:30-31). It also illustrates his prophetic observation that the unreceptive are blinded to the most compelling evidence, “even if one should rise from the dead” (Luke 16:31). An unwilling soul will not be convinced.
The Triumphal Entry (John 12:12-19)
This account is also reported, with additional information, in Matt. 21:1-11; Mark 11:1-11; and Luke 19:29-44. It fulfills the messianic prophecy of Zechariah 9:9. Bethphage and Bethany were villages close to one another on the eastern side of the Mount of Olives. It is possible that Jesus had prearranged the use of the donkey and her colt (Matt. 21:1-7), thus no resistance from the owners. The procession on the carpet of clothes and palm branches (John 12:13) reached all the way to Jerusalem, a distance of about two miles or three kilometers (John 11:18).
Jesus is hailed King, a direct descendent of the great military hero David, with cries of Hosanna, meaning “please save” or “save now!” (Matt. 21:9; Mark 11:9-10; Luke 19:38; John 12:13).4 The Jews had long anticipated a messianic figure “to redeem Israel” from foreign oppression (Luke 24:21) and to restore the kingdom to Israel (Acts 1:6), contrary to the Lord’s intended purpose (cf. John 18:36).
The shouts of “King” during Christ’s triumphal entry were within earshot of the Pharisees (Luke 19:38-39; cf. John 12:19), who went on to accuse Jesus of making this claim himself (Luke 23:2-3; John 19:21). No doubt their ploy was to give the impression that Jesus was challenging the authority of Rome (John 19:12, 15) – a clear case of insurrection demanding the death penalty under Roman law.5 When Pontius Pilate later gave the Jewish crowds the choice of which prisoner to be released – the humble Galilean preacher (Jesus) or the defiant patriotic militant (Barabbas) – their decision was likely influenced by their misconceived messianic expectations. Consequently, Barabbas’ death sentence was repealed, while Jesus was condemned to be crucified.
Jesus’ Suffering and Death Predicted (John 12:20-36)
Certain Greeks (perhaps proselytes, cf. 7:35) wanted to see Jesus, and their intermediaries were Philip and Andrew – Christ’s only apostles with Greek names (John 12:20-22). This follows the Lord having disrupted the business-dealings of profiteers in the temple’s Court of the Gentiles (Mark 11:11-17), the only part of the temple where Greeks were permitted. Jesus would not allow the temple compound to be a measly thoroughfare or revenue facilitator, and the two passages he quoted (Isa. 56:7; Jer. 7:11) pronounce salvation for all nations (inclusive of Gentiles) and the hypocrisy of false religion. No wonder these Greeks were drawn to the Lord, knocking on the door of his kingdom.
Jesus uses this as an opportunity to speak of his impending suffering and death (John 12:22-36), which he had repeatedly foretold throughout his ministry.6 Humiliation, sacrifice, and subsequent glory were anticipated as part of the divine plan. His hour had come (v. 23; cf. 13:1; 17:1). Being lifted up on the cross would draw all peoples (Jews and Gentiles alike) to himself (vv. 32-33; cf. 3:14; 8:28), fulfilling what he had stated earlier: “… I lay down my life for the sheep. And I have other sheep that are not of this fold; these also I must bring, and they will hear my voice, and there will be one flock with one shepherd” (John 10:15b-16; cf. Eph. 2:11-16).
Those given the chance to receive the Lord’s personal instruction were tremendously blessed: “the light is with you” (John 12:35a). But they were expected to heed what they were learning: “walk while you have the light …. believe in the light, that you may become sons of light” (vv. 35b-36). Unfortunately, many did not avail themselves of the opportunity graciously afforded (v. 37).
Lessons to Learn
· From Mary’s humble act of anointing Jesus, we learn that whatever one has can be used in service to the Lord, and anything done for him is not in vain (1 Cor. 15:58). Mary “did what she could.” May each of us do the same.
· From the antagonistic Jewish authorities we learn that prejudice, ignorance, and selfish pride adversely affect one’s response to the Lord. God has effectively revealed himself through his creation, through his Son, and through his written word (Rom. 1:1-4, 16-21). While the evidence is powerful, it will not convince those who are dishonest and unwilling.
· From the Lord’s triumphal entry we learn that some might give the appearance of loyalty to Christ but can easily be persuaded to turn away from and even against him if not sufficiently grounded in truth. Preconceived misconceptions, misinformation, and peer pressure often hinder or thwart genuine faith (cf. Matt. 13:18-23).
· From the Greeks who searched for Jesus, we learn the importance of a truth-seeking heart. They were not among the privileged Jews to whom Jesus was initially sent (Matt. 15:24) or given the law with knowledge of the divine will (Rom. 2:17-20; 3:1-2; 9:4-5). Nevertheless, they “came up to worship” and they sought out Jesus (John 12:20-21), exemplifying the divine promise that all who seek the Lord will surely find him (Matt. 7:7; Acts 15:17; 17:27).
· From those who heard Jesus and were given the opportunity to obey him, we learn of the enormous blessing of having access to the Lord’s revealed word and the great tragedy of rejecting it. May we be among the receptive and obedient.
--Kevin L. Moore
1 The similar event recorded in Luke 7:36-50 appears to have involved a different woman on a different occasion.
2 Cf. Song of Solomon 1:12. Spikenard is a root with hairy spikes that grows on the Himalaya mountains; the aroma calms the nerves and promotes alertness, and is used today as incense.
3 Unless otherwise indicated, scripture quotations are the author’s own translation.
4 Cf. Psa. 118:25-26; also 2 Sam. 14:4; 2 Kings 6:26; 9:13.
5 See also Matt. 27:11, 29, 37, 42; Mark 15:2, 9, 12, 18, 26, 32; Luke 23:2, 3, 5, 14, 37, 38; John 18:33, 39; 19:3, 14, 15.
6 Matt. 16:21; 17:12, 22-23; 20:18-19; [21:37-39]; 26:2; Mark 8:31; 9:9-12, 31; 10:32-34, 45; [12:6-12; 14:1]; 14:8, 27-28; Luke 9:22, 44; 18:31-34; [22:2]; John 3:14; 8:28, 37, 40; 12:22-36.
*Prepared for the 2016 Spanish-English workshop at North Jackson Church of Christ in Jackson, TN.
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