1.  Then, six days before the Passover, Jesus came to Bethany, where Lazarus was who had been dead, whom He had raised from the dead.

Here we read that the Passover was approaching, and was now six days away.  At this point, our Lord leaves His retreat in Ephraim near the wilderness.  Remember, He had gone there because the Jews, the religious leaders and ruling class in Israel, were seeking to kill Him, as we read back in chapter 11 verse 54.  Now, however, He returns to Bethany, the city where Lazarus, who had been dead, and whom He had raised from the dead, was.  And notice this: he had been dead.  There is simply no doubt about that.  If the Lord had not raised him, he would have still been dead.  This was a resurrection our Lord had worked, and the most powerful of His eight signs in the book of John.

2.  There they made Him a supper; and Martha served, but Lazarus was one of those who sat at the table with Him.

Here we read that they made Him a supper.  This was probably, for the time, a very lavish feast indeed.  Remember, Mary, Martha, and Lazarus were members of the rich class in Israel, and thus could probably have put on quite a feast.  Nothing like what we have available to us today, but quite impressive for the time.  This was quite an honor they were affording Him, and indeed we would expect nothing less, considering what He had done for them!  We notice that Lazarus is with Him at the feast, and Martha is serving the meal.  Where Mary is we find out in the next verse.

3.  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.

Here Mary enters the scene, and she honors the Lord in a very significant way.  Now this might seem a strange thing to us, but remember that we are looking at it through our modern eyes and our modern culture.  Many of our cultural traditions and ways of showing respect and honor would have seemed perhaps even more strange to the people of that culture and that day.

Mary takes a pound of spikenard.  In Greek, this is a litra, which in our modern measurements would be about 12 ounces.  Now this “spikenard” was actually pure nard.  Making this “nard,” which was really an oil (sometime called “oil of attar,”) was one of the few things a woman could do at that time to earn herself money, there being very little in the way of employment available to women.  What the women would do would be to gather the petals of flowers and boil them down to produce a perfume.  From perhaps a bushel of rose petals you might get one drop of this nard once you were finished boiling it down.  This oil would then be collected in a jar, and over time the woman would begin to collect a significant amount of this very costly perfume.  Then, they would wait for a trader to happen by, as would often occur at that time in the East.  They were always looking for things like this, and so the woman would be able to trade this oil and make some money, perhaps fairly significant money if she had been working on the oil for several years time.  This oil was very precious and hard to make, and twelve ounces of it probably represented a great amount of work on Mary’s part.

Once Mary has anointed the Lord’s feet with the oil, she wipes His feet with her hair.  This may be because this precious oil needed to be “broken” in order to release the fragrance, rather like the oil used in “scratch and sniffs” today.  This wiping of His feet with her hair was also a sign of the greatest humility and subservience on her part.

There are actually three anointings like this in the Word of God.  The first took place in the home of Simon the Pharisee a long time before this event, all the way back in Luke 7:36-50.  This is the second such event.  A third such event took place in the home of Simon the Leper a few days after this, as is recorded in Matthew 26:6-13 and Mark 14:3-9.  Some might argue that there is a contradiction here, but we might point out the old saying that “emulation is the sincerest form of flattery,” and say that if one woman honored the Lord in this way and the story got around of her doing it, it is quite natural that other women who felt the same way about Him would decide to make the same sacrifice of a perfume they had worked so hard to make and use it to honor and anoint Him.  Also, since this oil was the most valuable thing that many of these women had in their homes, it seems natural that their thoughts would turn to it when it came time to honor the Lord.  This seems the most natural thing in the world, and it is foolish to insist that it could not be so and that this must be a “contradiction”!

4.  Then one of His disciples, Judas Iscariot, Simon’s son, who would betray Him, said,

Now Judas the betrayer speaks up, his greed arising to interrupt this sacred moment of love and sacrifice on the part of Mary.  We would certainly expect an attitude like this from someone like Judas, but the sad thing is that it seems that the other disciples listened to Judas rather than to the Lord, and when a similar event happened again a few days later, as is recorded in Matthew and Mark, the other disciples joined Judas in condemning the woman who did the Lord this honor rather than commending it as Christ had done!  We must use care who we listen to and whose example we follow, even if that person seems to be a follower of Christ.  That is particularly so if that example contradicts something that the Lord has said.

5.  “Why was this fragrant oil not sold for three hundred denarii and given to the poor?”

This was Judas’ argument, and his problem with what Mary had done.  Here we learn the value of this ointment that Mary had poured upon the Lord’s feet.  We know that a denarius was a day’s wages, and Judas estimates the value of this oil at three hundred denarii.  If we took perhaps an average wage in the United States as being about $100 a day, that would make this oil worth in our day about $30,000 dollars.  This was a costly gesture indeed, and a magnificent gift that Mary had poured out on the Lord’s feet!

6.  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.

Here we learn why Judas was so concerned that Mary had done this act to honor the Lord Jesus.  It was not really that he wanted this money to go to the poor, as he pretended.  Rather, we learn, it was because he was a thief, and of the worst sort, for he had been entrusted with the funds given to the Lord, and used his position to embezzle from Him.  We might imagine that all the Lord’s gracious and wonderful acts had earned him the heartfelt thanks and appreciation of many.  No doubt by this point in His ministry He had many grateful benefactors who were ready and eager to give of their wealth to support and honor His work.  Yet how sad that some of these funds, given with a heart of thankfulness and praise, were being stolen by this petty man and used by him to further his own selfish ends!

Thus, in this action of Mary’s, Judas saw a wasted opportunity to have even more money to embezzle from.  Yet his accusation was a clever one.  Mary, remember, was part of the rich class in Israel.  Thus, by claiming this, he could make it seem as if she, a member of the rich class, was not showing the proper concern for the poor by failing to donate the proceeds from this oil to them.  In this way, he cleverly made her look bad for what had been on her part a selfless, thoughtful, and meaningful sacrifice to honor her Lord and Savior.  Judas, by this attitude, showed how little value he placed on Jesus Christ, and how little he thought of any sacrificial act to honor and worship Him.  Yet, while doing it, he made himself look to those around him as if he was generous-hearted and concerned for the needs of those less fortunate.  Indeed, his duplicity was so cleverly-done and so effective that, as I pointed out above, it convinced the other disciples, and they joined him in protesting when another woman did the same thing to honor the Lord at a later time.  Yet the disciples sinned by doing so, for they took faulty advice and wicked council.  Sadly, there are many in our day who, like Judas, use the plight of the poor to try to get people on their side and to join with them in their wicked endeavors.  Alas, many of them succeed even today.  Let us never allow words of jealousy and self-righteousness to distract us from what is good and right!

What are we to say of a man like Judas?  I Corinthians 6:9-10 has this to say.

9.  Know ye not that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? Be not deceived: neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with mankind,
10.  Nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners, shall inherit the kingdom of God.

Thus there can be no doubt what Judas’ judgment from the Lord will be in that coming day!  He was a thief, and thieves have no inheritance in the kingdom of God.  By his sinful and selfish embezzlement, Judas forfeited his position and even his own life.

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

The Lord Jesus quickly speaks up on Mary’s behalf and justifies her sacrifice before this wicked man who would have condemned it.  In the same way, we know that the Lord justifies our actions for Him before any who would seek to accuse us.  And when the Lord justifies someone, then he is justified indeed!  Yet sadly, as I said above, the disciples did not listen to the Lord’s justification of Mary’s action, but rather to the accusing and jealous words of Judas.  How good it is that our actions are not judged by how they are received by men, but rather by how they are received in God’s sight!

It is strange that the Lord mentions that Mary had kept this for the day of His burial.  It seems that Mary had heard the Lord’s words regarding His upcoming death, and had learned from them of the necessity of it.  She showed herself a better listener and one possessing of more faith than the Lord’s twelve disciples by doing so, for they never did accept His teaching of the necessity for His death, at least, not until after His resurrection.  Yet Mary believed it, and she was already preparing for it, storing up this precious oil to honor Him with on that day.  What a tender thought!  How it demonstrates for us the love she had for the Lord!  Yet it seems that, upon His gracious healing of her brother, Mary could no longer wait until His death to honor Him, but rather took this oil and anointed Him with it at this supper to honor and thank Him for what He had done for her family.  Perhaps she had more oil left over that she could use for His burial.  At any rate, this was a generous act, and was received by the Lord as the truly heartfelt gesture it was.  He knew that she had been storing up this ointment for Him all along, and not for the poor, and He accepted this gift from her hands.

8.  “For the poor you have with you always, but Me you do not have always.”

As long as the situation in Israel continued, there would always be those among them who were poor.  And, indeed, in our world there will always be poor, for even in the richest of countries there are always those who will not work, or those who will not save, or those who waste their money on drink or on gambling and leave none left over to supply the needs of their families.  There are some who view the very highest form of Christian service that can be done as doing something to help the poor.  And yet that is not a Biblical view of the situation!  Rather, the highest service that we can perform as believers in the Lord Jesus Christ is to do something for Him.  It is not that service for the poor is not good, but rather that service for the Lord is even better.  We can always find poor people and ways to help them, but often times it is hard even to find something that we can do to truly honor the Lord Jesus.  Yet Mary had found a way and had chosen to honor Him, and He valued that service above service given to the poor.

9.  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.

In spite of the earlier caution by Mary and Martha not to give the Lord’s presence away to His enemies, it seems that word that He was there spread far and wide among the Jews, the rich and ruling class in Israel.  This was not just because of His presence, but because of what He had done in raising Lazarus from the dead.  Thus, these important and influential people flocked to Bethany, not only to see the Lord, but also to see the one whom He had raised from the dead after the wisdom of the day said he was beyond all hope.  These Jews saw Him and Lazarus, and thus they lend by their witness further credence to this greatest of signs that the Lord Jesus was God indeed.

10.  But the chief priests plotted to put Lazarus to death also,

This causes the chief priests to determine that Lazarus must be slain as well.  The word here in Greek indicates that they wanted to kill him, and likely not by judicial decree, but merely by violently doing away with him.  This explains to us the passage in Mark 14:51-52 which so often stumps expositors.  This passage reads,

51.  Now a certain young man followed Him, having a linen cloth thrown around his naked body. And the young men laid hold of him,
52.  and he left the linen cloth and fled from them naked.

Many expositors cannot understand the significance of the young man here.  Yet from this passage we learn who it must have been.  For notice that, in spite of the fact that Peter attacked them with a sword, the soldiers who were sent to arrest the Lord Jesus never tried to arrest any of His disciples, but let them flee away unhindered.  That is because none of the disciples were wanted by the chief priests.  Yet Lazarus was wanted, and thus he must have been the young man they tried to take, and who fled from them naked.  Why then, some might ask, was Lazarus not mentioned by Mark as the young man who fled?  This is again easily explained, for it is likely that Lazarus was still alive when Mark was writing his gospel, and any reference to him made unnecessarily in his gospel could have resulted in further persecution of him by those who hated all who gave evidence to the legitimacy of the Lord and His claims.  Indeed, if what I claim is correct and John was written before Mark, it may be that this book and its testimony to the resurrection of Lazarus had already stirred up hatred and persecution against him.  Thus, in writing Mark, the Holy Spirit did not wish to bring further misery upon the head of this one whom the Lord loved.  Thus, his name was not mentioned, although the attempt to arrest him by the soldiers was recorded for our edification and learning.

11.  Because on account of him many of the Jews went away and believed in Jesus.

It is likely that the Lord’s enemies were even more incensed by this than they had been before, for now it was their own rich class of people who were flocking to the Lord and believing in Him.  That is why they determined that not only the Lord must die, but also Lazarus, who gave such stunning testimony to the Lord’s divine power in resurrection.

Notice that this passage tells us that “many of the Jews went away and believed in Jesus.”  There are many in our day who like to make the claim that “the Jews rejected Jesus Christ,” and use this claim to justify the idea that God is angry with them now, or that they are “Christ-killers,” or that their blessings have been taken from them and passed on to us.  Yet notice the testimony of this passage.  Not just a few, but MANY of them went away and believed in Him.  In Acts 21:20b we read a similar testimony, for there James and the elders at Jerusalem testify the following to Paul.   “And they said to him, “You see, brother, how many myriads of Jews there are who have believed, and they are all zealous for the law.””  If there were myriads, literally tens of thousands, of Jews who believed, then how can we rightly say they rejected Him?  And if so many did accept Him, then to claim that “the Jews rejected Jesus” is nothing more than a slander and a lie.  The Jews did not reject Jesus Christ.  Rather, they flocked to Him, and many believed.

12.  The next day a great multitude that had come to the feast, when they heard that Jesus was coming to Jerusalem,

This would have been the day after the supper mentioned above.  The Lord is now coming to Jerusalem, and a great multitude hears of it.  Does this multitude, Israelites every one, demonstrate acceptance or rejection?

13.  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!”

It was customary at that time, when a great king would ride down the street, that his subjects would spread fine velvet garments and the like in the streets before him so that his steed would not have to ride on the dusty street.  This was a sign of the highest reverence and honor for the one who was thus arriving.  Yet these people of Jerusalem were poor, and had no fine garments with which to cover His path.  Thus, they did the best they could do, and they took the fronds of palm trees that grew so prevalently in the area, and spread them in the street to form a leafy carpet for Him to ride on.  Then, as He rides past, they cry out in acceptance and praise and faith, “Hosanna!”  This means “save now!” and is quoted from Psalm 118:25.  This expressed their heartfelt desire that their Messiah and King would save them from all the trouble and poverty and servitude that they were then subjected to.  Then they proceed to quote Psalm 118:26, “Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!”  And lastly, they confirmed their belief in Him, calling Him as He was, the King of Israel!

14.  Then Jesus, when He had found a young donkey, sat on it; as it is written:

The Lord finds this young donkey and sits on it for His ride into Jerusalem over this leafy carpet and among this cheering crowd.  Not the most spectacular animal to choose, yet how appropriate for a king coming to such a poor and downtrodden people who were nevertheless honoring Him in every way they could.

15.  “Fear not, daughter of Zion; Behold, your King is coming, Sitting on a donkey’s colt.”

This is quoted from Zechariah 9:9.  Although the Lord forbade Israel’s king to “multiply horses” (Deuteronomy 17:16,) he was allowed one horse for himself.  Indeed, in the future return of Christ, He comes riding a white horse (Revelation 19:11.)  Yet the Lord did not avail Himself of this privilege at this time, but rather came to them riding a lowly donkey’s colt, thus fulfilling this prophecy of Him to the letter.  And yet there are those who claim that the Lord only loosely fulfilled the prophecies of the Messiah in the Old Testament!

16.  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.

The disciples, although they no doubt appreciated this hearty welcome, did not understand at this time that what they were doing fulfilled prophecy.  Yet we read here that later, after the Lord Jesus was glorified, they remembered these things and matched them up with the Word of God, and came to understand that all these things were fulfilled and that they had done these things to Him that had been prophesied.  Indeed, the Lord did not come sneaking in or in secret.  Rather, as He claimed in John 10:2, He came in as prophesied of Him.  He came in through the door of the sheepfold, and thus proved that He alone is the true Shepherd of the sheep!

17.  Therefore the people, who were with Him when He called Lazarus out of his tomb and raised him from the dead, bore witness.

It seems that this crowd of adoring worshippers had been addressed by those who saw the Lord’s miraculous resurrection of Lazarus.  Remember, these people were all Jews, leaders and respected among the people, and their testimony must have had great weight with the crowds indeed.  Thus the people gladly heard this witness of Him, and believed all the more that this is the Christ, the One Whom God had sent to save them.  And remember the great purpose of the book of John: that we might believe this truth about Him as well!

18.  For this reason the people also met Him, because they heard that He had done this sign.

We learn that it was not just coincidence that these people met Him in this way so soon after He had worked this great sign.  Rather, it was because of this sign that they met Him, and that so many now wholeheartedly believed.

19.  The Pharisees therefore said among themselves, “You see that you are accomplishing nothing.  Look, the world has gone after Him!”

Unlike the people who heard the testimony of these Jews gladly, the Pharisees are all the more incensed by it.  They take it as further evidence that the whole world is going after the Lord Jesus, and that all their opposition to Him up until this time has accomplished nothing.  Indeed, what they said was true, for the Lord was gaining followers beyond what they could control.

The word “world” here is the Greek word kosmos, which means an orderly system or arrangement.  They, of course, were referring to the world or system that existed in Israel at that time.  They no doubt made this conclusion based on the fact that not only were the poor people believing in Him, but also many of their own rich class of people were also believing in Him and enthusiastically encouraging others to do so as well.  Thus, their resentment is increased, and their resolve to defeat Him becomes all the greater.  How sad that they reacted in this way to such a great and wonderful sign!  Yet those who are set in their unbelief will not respond, even to such a great proof as this.  Let us never be like these men, but rather always be ready to respond to the Lord in faith!