Jesus’s interpretation of Mary’s anointing dramatically sets the stage for the subsequent chapters. Now six days before the passover, death looms large. The extravagance of the gift surely has its basis in the resurrection of Lazarus, as an expression of gratitude for the life of a loved one. Just as Jesus saw the act as more than was intended, we may also note that expense was worthy of royalty and so quite fitting.
The importance of Lazarus’s resurrection as a “sign” was apparent in ch. 11, but now we see that the walking, talking Lazarus is a spectacle that continues to generate faith in Jesus. “So the chief priests planned to put Lazarus to death as well, since it was on account of him that many of the Jew were deserting and were believing in Jesus” (12:10-11). Then after the so-called triumphal entry, John notes, “So the crowed that had been with him when he called Lazarus out of the tomb and raised him from the dead continued to testify. It was also because they heard that he had performed this sign that the crowed went to meet him” (12:17-18). The situation looks grim for the Pharisees, who, in a moment of despair, say, “Look, the world has gone after him” (12:19)!
Again, there is a kind of accidental foreshadowing in the word choice. The following verses point toward the future world-wide implications of Jesus, as John informs us that some Greek believers were present and looking for Jesus. Jesus’s peculiar answer to being told this only heightens the sense that coming to this moment, with gentiles seeking him out, is in some way a culmination of his purpose. “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified” (12:23). Jesus quickly gives the followers another teaching on the cost of discipleship, as we have come to call it. These words are very reminiscent of the more well-known discourse on taking up one’s cross, with the added flavor of the agricultural metaphor Jesus so often employs.
The glorification language is important for the rest of the chapter. The inner conflict that Jesus shares is one of the most moving moments in the Gospels, parallel to the Gethsemane scene. “Now my soul is troubled. And what should I sayFather, save me from this hour? No, it is for this reason that I have come to this hour. Father, glorify your name” (12:27-28a). The resonance with the concern for the glory of God’s name throughout the OT rounds out the “not my will but yours” idea found in the Synoptics with a very biblical notion of God’s will. God’s response, “I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again,” is explained to have been for the benefit of the listeners (12:30). Those who heard it, and we who read it, may take comfort in God’s faithfulness to his purpose, which is stated in shorthand as “the glory of his name.”
12:32 is one of my favorite quotations of Jesus, for both its evocative poetic beauty and its promise. “And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” John explains that this referred to the kind of death he would die. In the midst of so much glorification language, I tend to read the statement as a double entendre, for both his death and his glorification are the essence of the message that draws people to him.
In the face of such a bold claim, the irony of the crowd’s response is obvious. More questions (12:34), the insinuation of blindness (12:35), lack of belief (12:37), prophetic condemnation (12:40), and belief overwhelmed by fear (12:42) all overshadow the “triumphal entry.” The chapter ends with Jesus “crying out” rather than just speaking, suggesting strong emotion. Once more, he proclaims the continuity between himself and “the one who sent” him, with the primary implication being the condemnation of those who do not listen to him.