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JOHN 12:12-20 The following is an Analysis of the passage which is to be before us: — 1. The crowd going forth to meet Jesus, verse 12. 2. The joyous acclamations of the people, verse 13. 3. The Savior mounted on an ass, verse 14. 4. The king’s presentation of Himself to Israel, verse 15. 5. The dullness of the disciples, verse 16. 6. The cause why the people sought Jesus, verses 17, 18. 7. The chagrin of the Pharisees, verse 19.
The passage which is to be before us brings to our notice one of the most remarkable events in our Lord’s earthly career. The very fact that it is recorded by all the four Evangelists at once indicates something of uncommon moment. The incident here treated of is remarkable because of its unusual character. It; is quite unlike anything else recorded of the Lord Jesus in the Gospels. Hitherto we have seen Him withdrawing Himself as much as possible from public notice, retiring into the wilderness, avoiding anything that savoured of display. He did not court attraction: He did not “cry nor strive, nor cause his voice to be heard in the streets” ( Matthew 12:19).
He charged His disciples they should “tell no man that he was Jesus the Christ” ( Matthew 16:20). When He raised the daughter of Jairus, He “straitly charged them that no man should know of it” ( Mark 5:43).
We wish to press upon the reader the uniqueness of this action of Christ entering Jerusalem in the way that He did, for the more this arrests us the more shall we appreciate the motive which prompted Him. “When Jesus therefore perceived that they (the multitude which He had fed) would come and take him by force, to make him a king, he departed again into a mount himself alone” ( John 6:15).
When His brethren urged, “show thyself to the world” ( John 7:4), He answered, “My time is not yet come.” Here, on the contrary, we see Him making a public entry into Jerusalem, attended by an immense crowd of people, causing even the Pharisees to say, “Behold, the world has gone after him.” And let it be carefully noted that Christ Himself took the initiative here at every point. It was not the multitude who brought to Him an animal richly caparisoned, nor did the disciples furnish the colt and ask Him to mount it. It was the Lord who sent two of the disciples to the entrance of Bethphage to get it, and the Lord moved the owner of the ass to give it up ( Luke 19:33). And when some of the Pharisees asked Him to rebuke His disciples, He replied, “I tell you, that, if these should hold their peace, the stones would immediately cry out” ( Luke 19:40).
How, then, are we to account for this startling change of policy on the part of Christ? What is the true explanation of His conduct? In seeking an answer to this question, men have indulged in the wildest conjectures, most of which have been grossly dishonoring to our Lord. The best of the commentators see in the joyous acclamations of the crowds an evidence of the power of Christ. He moved them to own Him as their “king,” though as to why He should here do so they are not at all clear, nor do they explain why His moving their hearts produced such a transient effect, for four days later the same crowds shouted “Crucify him.” We are therefore obliged to look elsewhere for the key to this incident.
We need hardly say that here, as everywhere, the perfections of the Lord Jesus are blessedly displayed. Two things are incontrovertible: the Lord Jesus ever acted with the Father’s glory before Him, and ever walked in full accord with His Father’s Word. “In the volume of the book” it was written of Him, and when He became incarnate He declared “I come to do thy will, O God.” These important considerations must be kept in mind as we seek a solution to the difficulty before us. Furthermore, we need to remember that the counsel of the Father always had in view the glory of the Son . It is by the application of these fundamental principles to the remarkable entry into Jerusalem that light will be shed upon its interpretation.
Why, then, did the Lord Jesus send for the ass, mount it, and ride into the royal city? Why did He suffer the crowds, unrebuked, to hail Him with their “Hosannas”? Why did He permit them to proclaim Him their king, when in less than a week He was to lay down His life as a sacrifice for sin?
The answer, in a word, is, because the Scriptures so required ! Here, as ever, it was submission to His Father’s Word that prompted Him. Loving obedience to the One who sent Him was always the spring of His actions.
His cleansing of the temple was the fulfillment of Psalm 69:9. The testimony which He bore to Himself was the same as the Old Testament Scriptures announced ( John 5:39). When on the cruel Cross He cried, “I thirst,” it was not in order for His sufferings to be alleviated, but “that the scripture might be fulfilled” ( John 19:28). So here, He entered Jerusalem in the way that 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 which related 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. In the course of His Divine pronouncement, the aged patriarch declared, “the scepter shall not depart from Judah, nor a lawgiver from between his feet until Shiloh come; and unto him shall the gathering of the people he. Binding his foal unto the vine, and his ass’s colt unto the choice vine” ( Genesis 49:9-11). 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 unto 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 (Isaiah 5, etc); the “choice vine” was Christ Himself ( John 15:1). Here, then, was the fact itself prophetically announced. But this by no means exhausts the scriptural answer to our question.
We turn next to that remarkable prophecy given through Daniel respecting the “seventy weeks.” This prophecy is found in Daniel 9:24-27. We cannot now attempt an exposition of it, though it is needful to make reference to it. This prophecy was given while Israel were captives in Babylon. In it God made known the length of time which was to elapse from then till the day when Israel’s transgressions should be finished, and everlasting righteousness be brought in. “Seventy weeks” were to span this interval. The Hebrew word for “weeks” is “hebdomads,” and simply means septenaries ; “Seventy sevens” gives the true meaning. Each of the “hebdomads” equals seven years. The “seventy sevens,” therefore, stood for four hundred and ninety years.
The “seventy sevens” are divided into three unequal parts. Seven “sevens” were to be spent in the rebuilding of Jerusalem: the books of Ezra and Nehemiah record the fulfillment of this. After Jerusalem had been restored, sixty-two more “sevens” were to run their course “unto the Messiah the Prince.” And then we are told, “After-threescore and two sevens (added to the previous seven ‘sevens’, making sixty-nine in all), shall Messiah be cut off.” Here, then, is a definite computation, and a remarkable and most important Messianic prophecy. “Messiah the Prince ” (cf. Revelation 1:5), was to present Himself to Jerusalem (note “thy holy city” in Daniel 9:24), after the expiration of the sixty-ninth “seven,” or more specifically, precisely four hundred and eighty-three years after God gave this prophecy to His beloved servant.
Now, it is this prophecy which received its fulfillment and supplies the needed key to what is before us in John 12. The entry of the Lord Jesus into Jerusalem in such an auspicious manner, was the Messiah formally and officially presenting Himself to Israel as their “Prince .” In his most excellent book “The Coming Prince,” the late Sir Robert Anderson marshalled conclusive proofs to show that our Savior entered Jerusalem on the very day which marked the completion of the sixty-ninth “hebdomad” of Daniel 9. We make here a brief quotation from his masterly work. “No student of the Gospel-narrative can fail to see that the Lord’s last visit to Jerusalem was not only in fact, but in the purpose of it, the crisis of His ministry, the goal towards which it had been directed. After the first tokens had been given that the Nation would reject His Messianic claims, He had shunned all public recognition of them. But now the twofold testimony of His words and works had been fully tendered. His entrance into the Holy City was to proclaim His Messiah-ship, and to receive His doom. Again and again His apostles even had been charged that they should not make Him known. But now He accepted the acclamations of ‘the whole multitude of the disciples,’ and silenced the remonstrance of the Pharisees with indignation. “The full significance of the words which follow in the Gospel of Luke is concealed by a slight interpolation in the text. As the shouts broke forth from His disciples, ‘Hosanna to the Son of David, blessed is the King of Israel that cometh in the name of the Lord,’ He looketh off toward the Holy City and exclaimed, ‘If thou also hadst known, even on this day , the things which belong to thy peace! but now they are hid from thine eyes’ ( Luke 19:42). The time of Jerusalem’s visit had come, and she knew it not. Long ere this, the Nation had rejected Him, but this was the predestined day when their choice must be irrevocable.”
One other prophecy remains to be considered, in some respects the most wonderful of the three. If God announced through Jacob the simple fact of the gathering of the people unto the Peacemaker, if by Daniel He made known the very year and day when Israel’s Messiah should officially present himself as their Prince, through Zechariah He also made known the very manner of His entry into Jerusalem. In Zechariah 9:9 we read: “Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion, shout, O daughter of Jerusalem; behold, thy king cometh unto thee: He is just, and having salvation; lowly and riding upon an ass, and upon a colt, the foal of an ass.” As we shall see, several words in this prophecy are not quoted in the Gospels, therefore this prediction (like all prophecy) will receive another fulfillment; it will be completely realized when the Lord Jesus returns to this earth.
Before we come to the detailed exposition, let us offer a brief comment upon what has just been before us. At least three prophecies were fulfilled by Christ on His official entry into Jerusalem, prophecies which had been given hundreds of years before, prophecies which entered into such minute details that only one explanation of them is possible, and that is God Himself must have given them. This is the most incontrovertible and conclusive of all the proofs for the Divine inspiration of the Scriptures.
Only He who knows the end from the beginning is capable of making accurate forecasts of what shall happen many generations afterwards. How the recorded accomplishment of these (and many other) prophecies guarantees the fulfillment of those which are still future! “On the next day much people that were to come to the feast, when they heard that Jesus was coming to Jerusalem, 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 Lordí” ( John 12:12,13).
It is important to note the opening words of this quotation. What we have here is the sequel to the first verse of our chapter. “Then Jesus six days before the passover came to Bethany.” During the week preceding the passover Jerusalem was crowded with Jews, who came in companies from every section of Palestine. They came early in order that they might be ceremonially qualified to partake of the feast ( John 11:55). Already we have learned that the main topic of conversation among those who thronged the temple at this time was whether or not Jesus would come up to the feast ( John 11:56). Now, when the tidings reached them that He was on the way to Jerusalem, they at once set out to meet Him.
In view of what we read of in John 11:57, some have experienced a difficulty here. “Both the chief priests and the Pharisees had given a commandment, that, if any man knew where he were, he should show it, that they might take him.” How came it then that we now read of “much people... took palm branches and went forth to meet him?” The difficulty is quickly removed if only close attention be paid to what the Holy Spirit has said.
Second , observe that John 11:55 tells us “many went out of the country up to Jerusalem” ( John 11:55). It is evident therefore that many (if not all) of those who now sallied forth with palm branches to greet the Lord were men of Galilee, pilgrims, who had come up to the metropolis from the places where most of His mighty works were done. It was the Galileans who on a previous occasion sought to make Him “a king” ( John 6:15, cf. 7:1). They were not only far less prejudiced against Him than were those of Judea, but they were also much less under the influence of the chief priests and Pharisees of Jerusalem. Marvelously accurate is Scripture. The more minutely it is examined the more will its flawless perfections be uncovered to us.
How this instance shows us, once more, that our ‘difficulties’ in the Word are due to our negligence in carefully noting exactly what it says, and all it says on any given subject! “Took branches of palm trees, and went forth to meet him” (verse 13).
This was a sign of joy, a festival token. In connection with the feast of tabernacles God instructed Moses to tell Israel, “And ye shall take you on the first day the boughs of goodly trees, branches of palm trees... and ye shall rejoice before the Lord your God” ( Leviticus 23:40).
In Revelation 7:9, where we behold the “innumerable multitude before the throne and before the Lamb,” they have “palms in their hands.” “And cried, Hosanna! Blessed is the King of Israel that cometh in the name of the Lord.” The word Hosanna means “Save now!” It is a cry of triumph, not of petition. As to how far these people entered into the meaning of the words which they here uttered, perhaps it is not for us to say. The sequel would indicate they were only said under the excitement of the moment.
But looking beyond their intelligent design, to Him whose overruling hand directs everything, we see here the Father causing a public testimony to be borne to the glory of His Son. At His birth He sent the angels to say to the Bethlehem shepherds, “Unto you is born this day in the city of David, a Savior, which is Christ the Lord,” and now He suffered this multitude to hail Him as the Blessed One come in the Name of the Lord. Again; before the public ministry of Christ commenced, the wise men from the East were led to Jerusalem to announce that the king of the Jews had been born; and now that His public ministry was over, it is again testified to that He is “the King of Israel.” “And Jesus, when he had found a young ass, sat thereon; as it is written” ( John 12:14).
This is simply a comprehensive statement, gathering up in a word the results of the details supplied by the other Evangelists, and which John takes for granted we are familiar with. The fullest account of the obtaining of the young ass is furnished by Luke, and very striking is it to note what occurred — see Luke 19:29-35. There is nothing in his account which conflicts with the shorter statement which John has given us. “And Jesus, when he had found a young ass, sat thereon.” He “found” it because He directed the disciples where to find it! It is another of those incidental allusions to the Deity of Christ, for in an unmistakable way it evidenced His omniscience; He knew the precise spot where the ass was tethered! “Fear not, daughter of Sion; behold, thy King cometh, sitting on an ass’s colt” ( John 12:15).
Emphasis is here laid on the age of the animal which Christ rode. It was a “young” one; Luke tells us that it was one “whereon yet never man sat” ( John 19:30). This is not without deep significance. Under the Mosaic economy only those beasts which had never been worked were to be used for sacrificial purposes (see Numbers 19:2; Deuteronomy 21:3).
Very striking is this. Like His birth of a virgin, like His burial in a new sepulcher, “wherein was never man yet laid” ( John 19:41); so here, on the only occasion when He assumed anything like majesty, He selected a colt which had never previously been ridden. How blessedly this points to the dignity, yea, the uniqueness of His person hardly needs to be dwelt upon. “Sat thereon, as it is written .” How this confirms what we said at the beginning. It was in order to fulfill the prophetic Word that the Lord Jesus here acted as He did. That which was “written” was what ever controlled Him. He lived by every word which proceeded out of the mouth of the Lord. The incarnate Word and the written Word never conflicted. What ground then had He to say, “I do always those things that please him”! O that we might have more of His spirit! “Fear not, daughter of Sion: behold, thy King cometh, sitting on an ass’s colt.” Momentous hour was this. Israel’s true king, David’s Son and Lord, now officially presented Himself to the nation. Various have been the attempts made to interpret this. In recent years the view which has had most prominence among students of prophetic truth is, that Christ was here offering the kingdom to Israel, and that had Israel received Him the millennial reign would have been speedily inaugurated. It is worse than idle to speculate about what would have happened if the nation had acted differently from what they did; idle, because “secret things belong unto the Lord.” Our duty is to search diligently and study prayerfully “those things which are revealed” ( Deuteronomy 29:29), knowing that whatever difficulties may be presented, Israel’s rejection and crucifixion of the Lord Jesus were according to what God’s hand and counsel “determined before to be done” ( Acts 4:28).
What then was Christ’s purpose in presenting Himself to Israel as their King? The immediate answer is, To meet the requirements of God’s prophetic Word. But this only takes the inquiry back another step. What was God’s purpose in requiring Israel’s Messiah to so act on this occasion?
In seeking an answer to this, careful attention must be paid to the setting.
As we turn to the context we are at once impressed by the fact that one thing there is made unmistakably prominent — the death of Christ looms forward with tragic vividness. At the close of John 11 we find the leaders of the nation “took counsel together for to put him to death” and the Council issued a decree that, “If any man knew where he was, he should show it, that they might take him” ( John 11:53,57).
The 12th chapter opens with the solemn intimation that it now lacked but six days to the passover. The all-important “hour” for the slaying of the true Lamb drew on apace. Then we have the anointing of Christ by Mary, and the Savior interpreted her act by saying, “Against the day of my burying hath she kept this.”
Here, then, is the key, hanging, as usual, right on the door. The Lord of glory was about to lay down His life, but before doing so the dignity of His person must first be publicly manifested. Moreover, wicked hands were about to be laid on Him, therefore the guilt of Israel must be rendered the more inexcusable by them now learning who it was they would shortly crucify. The Lord therefore purposely drew the attention of the great crowds to Himself by placing Himself prominently before the eyes of the nation. What we have here is, Christ pressing Himself upon the responsibility of the Jews. None could now complain that they knew not who He was. On a former occasion they had said to Him, “How long dost thou make us to doubt? If thou be the Christ, tell us plainly” ( John 10:24).
But now all ground for ignorance was removed; by fulfilling the prophecies of Jacob, of Daniel, and of Zechariah, the Lord Jesus demonstrated that He was none other than Israel’s true king. It was His last public testimony to the nation! He was their “King,” and in fulfillment of the plain declarations of their own Scriptures He here presented Himself before them.
The prophecy of Zechariah is not quoted in its entirety by any of the Evangelists, and it is most significant to mark the different words in it which they omit. First of all, none record the opening words, “Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion; shout, O daughter of Jerusalem.” The reason for this is obvious; Israel could not be called upon to “rejoice” while she was rejecting her King! That part of the prophecy awaits its realization in a future day. Not until she has first “mourned” as one mourneth for his only son ( Zechariah 12:10), not until Israel “acknowledge their offense” ( Hosea 5:15), not until they “repent” ( Acts 3:19), not until they say, “Come, and let us return unto the Lord: for he hath torn, and he will heal us; he hath smitten, and he will bind us up” ( Hosea 6:1); in short, not until their sins are put away, will the spirit of joy and gladness be given unto them.
In the second place, the words “just and having salvation” are omitted from each of the Gospels. This also is noteworthy, and is a striking proof of the verbal inspiration of the Scriptures. It was not in justice, but in grace, that the Lord Jesus came to Israel the first time. He came “to seek and to save that which was lost.” He appeared “to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself.” But when He comes the second time, God’s word through Jeremiah shall receive its fulfillment — “Behold, the days come, saith the Lord, that I will raise unto David a righteous branch, and a king shall reign and prosper, and shall execute judgment and justice in the earth.” But why the omission of “having salvation?’’ Because Israel as a nation would not have salvation. Ofttimes would He have gathered her children together, but they “would not.”
One other omission remains to be noticed: the smallest, but by no means the least significant. Zechariah foretold that Israel’s king should come “lowly, and riding upon an ass.” Matthew mentions the lowliness of Christ, though in the A. V. it is rendered “meek” ( John 21:5). But this word is left out by John . And why? Because it is the central design of the fourth Gospel to emphasize the glory of Christ. (See John 1:14; 2:11; 11:4, etc.) “Fear not, daughter of Sion; behold, thy King cometh, sitting on an ass’s colt” ( John 12:15).
The fact that the Lord Jesus was seated upon “an ass” brings out His mortal glory. As the Son of David according to the flesh, He was “made under the law” ( Galatians 4:4), and perfectly did He fulfill it at every point. Now, one thing that marked out Israel as God’s peculiar people was the absence of the horse, in their midst. The “ox” was used in plowing, and the “ass” for riding upon, or carrying burdens. An express decree was made forbidding the king to multiply horses to himself: “But he shall not multiply horses to himself, nor cause the people to return to Egypt, to the end that he should multiply horses” ( Deuteronomy 17:16).
Thus the king of God’s separated people was to be sharply distinguished from the monarchs of the Gentiles — note how Pharaoh ( Exodus 14:23; 15:1), the kings of Canaan ( Joshua 11:4), Naaman ( 2 Kings 5:9), the king of Assyria ( Isaiah 37:8), are each mentioned as the possessors of many horses and chariots. But the true Israelites could say, “Some trust in chariots, and some in horses: but we will remember the name of the Lord our God” ( Psalm 20:7).
It is remarkable that the first recorded sin of Solomon was concerning this very thing: “And Solomon had forty thousand stalls of horses for his chariots, and twelve thousand horsemen” ( 1 Kings 4:26).
It was, therefore, as One obedient to the Law, that Christ purposely selected an “ass”! “Fear not, daughter of Sion: behold, thy King cometh, sitting on an ass’s colt.” How evident it is that Christ had laid aside His glory ( John 17:5).
He who was in the form of God, and thought it not robbery to be equal with God, made Himself of no reputation,” and took upon Him the form of a servant. Not only does this action of our wonderful Savior mark His perfect subjection to the law of Moses, but it also brings out His gracious lowliness. When He formally presented Himself to Israel as their king, He rode not in a golden chariot, drawn by powerful stallions, but instead He came seated upon the colt of an ass. Neither was the beast harnessed with any goodlier trappings than the garments which His disciples had spread thereon. And even the ass was not His own, but borrowed! Truly the things which are “highly esteemed among men are abomination in the sight of God” ( Luke 16:15). “No Roman soldier in the garrison of Jerusalem, who, standing at his post or sitting in his barrack-window, saw our Lord riding on an ass, could report to his centurion that He looked like one who came to wrest the kingdom of Judea out of the hands of the Romans, drive out Pontius Pilate and his legions from the tower of Antonia, and achieve independence for the Jews with the sword” (Bishop Ryle).
How evident it was that His kingdom was “not of this world!” What an example for us to “Be not conformed to this world” ( Romans 12:2)!
Perhaps some may be inclined to object: But does not Revelation 19:11 conflict with what has just been said? In no wise. It is true that there we read, “And I saw heaven open, and behold a white horse; and he that sat upon him was called Faithful and True.” There is no room to doubt that the Rider of this “white horse” is any other than the Lord Jesus Christ. But He will appear thus at His second advent. Then everything shall be changed. He who came before in humiliation and shame shall return in power and majesty. He who once had not where to lay His head shall then sit on the throne of His glory ( Matthew 25:31). He who was nailed to a malefactor’s Cross shall, in that day, wield the scepter of imperial dominion. Just as the “ass” was well suited to the One who had laid aside His glory, so the white “war-horse” of Revelation 19 is in perfect keeping with the fact that He is now “crowned with glory and honor.” “These things understood not his disciples” ( John 12:16).
How ingenuous such a confession by one of their number! No impostor would have deprecated himself like this. How confidently may we depend upon the veracity of such honest chroniclers! Like us, the apostles apprehended Divine things but slowly. Like us, they had to “grow in grace and in the knowledge of our Lord and Savior jesus Christ.” But mark, it does not say “these things believed not his disciples.” It is our privilege, as well as our bounden duty, to believe all God has said, whether we “understand” it or not. The more implicitly we believe, the more likely will God be pleased to honor our faith by giving us understanding ( Hebrews 11:3). “But when Jesus was glorified, then remembered they that these things were written of him, and that they had done these things unto him” ( John 12:16).
From the fact that the plural number is twice used here — “these things” — and from the very similar statement in John 2:22 we believe that the entire incident of our Lord’s entry into Jerusalem, with all its various accompaniments, are here included. Probably that which most puzzled the disciples is what Luke has recorded: “And when he was come near, he beheld the city, and wept over it ” ( John 19:41).
In view of this verse it would be more accurate to speak of our Lord’s tearful entry into Jerusalem, rather than His triumphant entry. Christ was not misled by the exalted cries of the people. He knew that the hour of His crucifixion, rather than His coronation, was near at hand. He knew that in only a few days’ time the “Hosannas” of the multitudes would give place to their “Away with him? He knew that the nation would shortly consummate its guilt by giving Him a convict’s gibbet instead of David’s throne.
But why should the disciples have been so puzzled and unable to understand “these things?” It was because they were so reluctant to think that this One who had power to Work such mighty miracles should be put to a shameful death. To the very end, they had hoped He would restore the kingdom and establish His throne at Jerusalem. The honors of the kingdom attracted, the shame of the Cross repelled them: It was because of this that on the resurrection-morning He said to the two disciples, “O fools, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken; ought not Christ to have suffered these things and to enter into his glory?” ( Luke 24:25,26).
Yes, there had to be the sufferings before the glory, the Cross before the Crown (cf. 1 Peter 1:11). But when Jesus was “glorified,” that is, when He had ascended to heaven and the Holy Spirit had been given to guide them into all truth, then “remembered they that these things were written of him.” “The people therefore that were with him when he called Lazarus out of his grave and raised him from the dead, bare record. For this cause the people also met him, for that they heard that he had done this miracle” ( John 12:17,18).
This line in the picture is supplied only by John, and suitably so, for it was in the raising of Lazarus that the glory of the Son of God had been manifested ( John 11:4). They who had witnessed that notable miracle had reported it in Jerusalem, and now it was known that He who had power to restore the dead to life was nearing the Capital, many came forth to meet Him. Doubtless one reason why this is brought in here is to emphasize the deep guilt of the nation for rejecting Him whose credentials were so unimpeachable. “The Pharisees therefore said among themselves, Perceive ye how ye prevail nothing? behold, the world is gone after him” ( John 12:19).
Here is one of the many evidences of the truthful consistency of the independent accounts which the different Evange lists have given us of this incident. Luke tells us: “And some of the Pharisees from among the multitude said unto him, Master, rebuke thy disciples” ( John 19:39), and the Lord had answered them, “I tell you that, if these should hold their peace, the stones would immediately cry out.” Here we are shown their chagrin. They were envious of His popularity; they feared for their own hold over the people.
But here a difficulty confronts us, and one which we have seen no real effort to solve. The majority of the commentators suppose that the joyous greetings which the Lord Jesus received from the crowds on this occasion were the result of a secret putting forth of His Divine power, attracting their hearts to Himself. But how shall we explain the evanescent effect which it had upon them? how account for the fact that less than a week later the same crowds cried, “Crucify him”? To affirm that this only illustrates the fickleness of human nature is no doubt to say what is sadly too true. But if both of their cries were simply expressions of “human nature,” where does the influencing of their heart by Divine power come in? We believe the difficulty is self-created, made by attributing the first cry to a wrong cause.
Two things are very conspicuous in God’s dealings with men: His constraining power and His restraining power. As illustrations of the former, take the following examples. It was God who gave Joseph favor in the sight of the keeper of the prison ( Genesis 39:22), who moved Balaam to bless Israel when he was hired to curse them ( Numbers 23:20), who stirred up the spirit of Cyrus to make a proclamation giving the Jews the right to return to Palestine ( Ezra 1:1,2). As illustrations of the latter, mark the following cases. It was God who “withheld” Abimelech from sinning ( Genesis 20:6); the brethren of Joseph “conspired against him to slay him” ( Genesis 37:18), but God did not allow them to carry out their evil intentions.
Now, these same two things are given a prominent place in the Gospels in connection with the Lord Jesus. At His bidding the leper was cleansed, the blind saw, the dead were raised. At His word the disciples forsook their nets, Matthew left the seat of custom, Zaccheus came down from his leafy perch and received Him into his house. At His command the apostles went forth without bread or money ( Luke 9:3); made the hungry multitudes sit down for a meal, when all that was in sight were five small loaves and two little fishes. Yes, a mighty constraining power did He wield. But equally mighty, if not so evident, was the restraining power that He exerted. At Nazareth His rejectors “led him into the brow of the hill... that they might cast him down headlong. But he, passing through the midst of them , went his way” ( Luke 4:29,30). In John 10:39 we are told “They sought again to take him, but he went forth out of their hands .”
But the restraining power of Christ was exercised in another way than in the above instances. He also checked the fleshly enthusiasm of those who were ready to welcome Him as an Emancipator from the Roman yoke.
When they would “come and take him by force, to make him a king, he departed” ( John 6:15).
All through His ministry He discouraged all public tokens of honor from the people, lest (humanly speaking) the envy of His enemies should bring His preaching to an untimely end. But His public ministry was over, so He now removes the restraint and allows the multitudes to hail Him with their glad Hosannas, and this, not that He now craved pomp, but in order that the Scriptures might be fulfilled. These transports of joy from the Galileans were raised because they imagined that He would there and then set up His temporal kingdom. Hence, when their hopes were disappointed, their transports were turned into rage and therefore did they join in the cry of “crucify him”!
Ponder the following questions as a preparation for our next chapter: — 1. Why did the Greeks seek out Philip, verse 21? 2. Why did Philip first tell Andrew, not Christ, verse 22? 3. What is meant by “glorified” in verse 23? 4. Why did Christ say verse 24 at this time? 5. What is meant by verse 31? 6. What is meant by “draw,” verse 32? 7. Why did Jesus “hide” Himself, verse 36?