John (Part 42): Triumphal Entry (ch 12)
The short section of John’s Gospel from the start of chapter 11 through verse 11 of chapter 12 covers Part 2 called Jesus is the Truth. This truth brings out the idea that the means of Messiah’s rescue is by his death. We saw the concern of death for life in the story of Lazarus’s resurrection and the impact on Martha and Mary. But since verse 45 of chapter 11, we have seen the confusion of death for life first in Caiaphas for wanting to use death to end life rather than, as the Messiah would, use it to provide life. In the anointing scene, although an important point is to shows Mary’s grasp of the lesson Jesus had taught her earlier, a major impact is the revealing of Jesus’ own disciples' confusion. They did not link the anointing with the lessons of Jesus’ coming death until Jesus laid it out for them. And even then, as evidenced by their further questions in passages to come, they still did not fully understand.
The last three verses of this section show additional confusion by the Jewish leaders and give background for the confusion of the people presented in the triumphal entry and beyond. Passover is quickly approaching. We learned that in 11:55. Passover was one of the three festival times of the year when all Jewish men were required to come to Jerusalem. That made for quite a crowd considering the normal population of Jerusalem, all the men of Palestine, Jews that made the trip from other countries, and proselytes—Gentile converts to Judaism. The news of Jesus’ miracle regarding Lazarus had spread, starting from the Jerusalem crowd that had seen it for themselves. And Jerusalem was bubbling with wonder about it and about Jesus (11:56).
In verse 9, upon learning that Jesus was at Bethany (only two miles from Jerusalem), a large portion of the festival crowd decide to walk over to see Jesus and to see Lazarus, the one raised from the dead. Excited talk that Jesus could be the Messiah filled the air. But the people’s understanding of Messiah was not quite in line with God’s revelation in the Old Testament. The people believed the Messiah was to be a God-appointed leader to throw off the bonds of oppression from other nations and to elevate Israel to world dominance. Therefore, the expectation was that the Messiah was to be a military and/or political leader.
That activity made the Jewish leaders nervous. Pilate was in town. If Pilate started to believe that a massive unrest was beginning behind a leader figure whom the people believed would triumph over Rome, he surely would come down on Palestine, and Jerusalem in particular, with a heavy hand, perhaps taking away what control the Sanhedrin did still have over Jewish life. The leaders, then, having already decided to kill Jesus (11:50-53), decide to kill Lazarus as well.
If one believed that Jesus really did raise Lazarus from the dead, the killing of Lazarus would not make much sense. Jesus could simply raise him again. But these chief priests didn’t believe Jesus had performed the miracle. They were, after all, Sadducees—that group whose religious views did not include resurrection. They, therefore, thought that if they actually did what was rumored to have happened—cause the death of Lazarus, it would both remove the wonder about Lazarus and show Jesus to be a fraud when he couldn’t repeat the act. And so they so decide.
Upon that note, the second part of the Gospel concludes, and we are ready for the third and final major division—Jesus is the LIFE (12:12-20:31). We must pause here as the part gets underway to ensure our understanding of the divisions. Of course the divisions of Jesus as the Way, Jesus as the Truth, and now Jesus as the Life take their names from Jesus’ statement in 14:6: “I am the way, the truth, and the life.” We must be careful to understand this statement completely. To think that Jesus being the way is merely for the individual thought to escape hell and enjoy everlasting comfort and blessing focuses the activity on selfish pursuit—the particular fault of humankind in and since the fall. While belief in Jesus does move us from the torment of death to the blessing of eternal life, we must understand what exactly is meant by God in giving life.
Life is relationship. We see that in a purely secular sense as we may talk of the life a married couple shares. As we refer to their life in that sense, we are talking about their relationship. But it is emphasized even more through the Bible. God’s purpose for creation was to establish an everlasting lover relationship with his created image bearers. Of course he created for his own glory. But glory is the emanation of the truth, goodness, and beauty of God; therefore, everything that God does is for glory. Glory is not the the motivation behind—the reason or purpose for creation as distinct from anything else he does or would do. Why he created as opposed to doing something else, then, cannot be answered by saying “for his glory.” God’s purpose in creating LIFE was for RELATIONSHIP.
Immediately upon creating we see the terms of that relationship. In Genesis 1 and 2 God shows that he obligates himself to care for that relationship while requiring his image bearers to trust him for that care (Gen 1:30; 2:8). And we see emphasized by the placement of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden (pleasure), the placement of these image bearers within his own care for relational pleasure.
But sin ends that. Adam’s and Eve’s sins of removing trust from God and placing it in themselves results in death (the opposite of life)—broken relationship. The are removed from relationship with God. They are removed from the Garden, and their way to the Tree of LIFE (relationship) is blocked.
Through Gods restitution plan, as image bearers trust in him for LIFE, they receive RELATIONSHIP with him. That is pictured for us in Revelation 21 and 22 as the community of God is imaged as a city—the New Jerusalem (new peace with God). And in the middle of the New Jerusalem—the middle of community with God—is found the Tree of Life (relationship with him).
So, when we speak of Jesus being the way to life, we speak of him being the way to relationship with God. How does Jesus qualify to be the way to relationship with God? It is based on his begottenness. Jesus is the only begotten son of God. That means he is the only human who was born already in relationship with God because he came from God. His ancestry—his heritage is from God and not from Adam. He was born righteous. (Righteousness, remember, means being faithful to the covenant.) Jesus’ status was righteous because he was faithful in the image bearing covenant obligation of trusting completely in God for provision. We’ve seen that throughout Part 1 of John as Jesus constantly acted and spoke according to his Father’s direction (5:30). And so, as we trust in Jesus—which is trusting that God’s provision for rescue is through Jesus—we share in Jesus’ offering of death, thus dying to our heritage of broken relationship in Adam and are born again to newness of life (relationship) as, now, a child of Christ, inheriting his righteousness—that status of covenant faithfulness.
This relationship of life is spoken of throughout John as being in one another. We are in Christ, meaning we have life relationship with him. We are in God. Jesus is in God, and the Father is in him. God is in us. We, who are together the community of God, are in each other. And it is God himself as Trinity that is in himself (or themselves). Here we see the three-in-one in action. And it was precisely for this thought that our creation as being “like God” is first spoken of in Scripture. In Genesis 1:26, God does not say, “Let Me make man in My image.” He says, “Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness.” His plurality as one God is shown not only as the Creator but in the image that will be humankind. The creature was made a multiple-in-one, which is shown first as God separates apart the woman from the man (2:21-23), and then as he brings them back together in union (2:24). That union pictured in verse 24 is a marriage union of man and woman whose spirits entwine and whose very bodies entwine (in sex—showing the being IN the other), imaging relationship. That total picture (marriage union culminating in sexual ecstasy) is THE image of all those intimate relationships of joy – God in God, God in Christ, Christ in God, Christ in us, us in Christ, and us in each other. That is why sexual sin outside marriage is wrong. It violates God’s image of spiritual and physical unity among the multiple. Sex outside marriage (pre-marital sex, adultery, bestiality) violates the picture of the spiritual union. Homosexuality violates the picture of the physical union (being in the other).
As we begin this Part 3 of the Gospel, we see in the introduction (12:12 through the chapter’s end) certain elements that remind us of the beginning of Part 1 of the Gospel. In 1:19-23, we saw confusion of the Messiah in the people’s and Pharisees’ consideration of John the Baptist. We also see confusion of Messiah purpose as the people are hailing Jesus as a political leader in 12:12-13a. We saw Jesus hailed as being Messiah in 1:29. Likewise, he is hailed as Messiah in 12:13b. We saw Jews seeking and finding Messiah in Philip’s discussion with Nathaniel in 1:44-45, and we see non-Jews approaching Philip to see the Messiah in 12:20-22. And we saw Jesus declared to be Messiah in 1:49, just as we Jesus declared Messiah in mission activity by God in 12:28.
These elements marched us in one direction initially. In Part 1, they took us to the conclusion that the hour was not yet (2:4). However, in Part 3, we see them lead to Jesus declaring that his hour has come.
The section opens with the triumphal entry. It is interesting that we have quoted passages from Psalm 118 and Zechariah 9 in this scene. Both those passages, read at only surface level, would lead to the conclusion that the Messiah would be a type of military/political leader. However, through the progressive revelation of God throughout the OT, we know that that is not the intent. Yet the Jews of Jesus’ time, hailing him as Messiah, did understand these passages in that literal (and limited) connotation. They were wrong to not interpret fully and more deeply. Yet in the same sense that they were wrong, we have interpreters today who insist that Scripture should be interpreted only literally unless directly told in the passage to understand some figurative element. These interpreters make the same mistake of the Jews in Jesus’ time.