12 The next day the great crowd that had come for the festival heard that Jesus was on his way to Jerusalem. 13 They took palm branches and went out to meet him, shouting,
“Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!”
“Blessed is the king of Israel!”
14 Jesus found a young donkey and sat on it, as it is written:
15 “Do not be afraid, Daughter Zion;
see, your king is coming,
seated on a donkey’s colt.”
16 At first his disciples did not understand all this. Only after Jesus was glorified did they realize that these things had been written about him and that these things had been done to him.
17 Now the crowd that was with him when he called Lazarus from the tomb and raised him from the dead continued to spread the word.18 Many people, because they had heard that he had performed this sign,went out to meet him. 19 So the Pharisees said to one another, “See, this is getting us nowhere. Look how the whole world has gone after him!”
(John 12:12-19 NIV)
John begins today’s passage with another specific timeframe – “the next day”. Jesus had attended a dinner party in His honor the night before. From yesterday’s reading, the word had spread that Jesus was in Bethany to see Lazarus (v. 9). There was only one reason Jesus was back in the area – to attend the Passover festival (v. 1).
Today’s passage is all behind-the-scenes commentary by John. He fills us in on what was happening and why – the story behind the story.
The first note John records is about the crowd. Scholars believe that the city of Jerusalem grew approximately four times its normal size when everyone showed up for Passover. John is careful to note that even the out-of-towners had heard about Jesus and came out to catch a glimpse of Him as He entered into Jerusalem.
John records the celebrity’s welcome that the crowd gave Jesus. The crowd was repeating three phrases to Jesus as He rode into town.
The first phrase, “Hosanna”, literally means “save us.” The “Hosanna” exclamation is not a cry for help, but a song of praise and trust in God’s protection of His people. This phrase is taken from Psalm 118:25, a psalm used during the Feasts of the Tabernacles and the Passover.
The second phrase, “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!”, was also taken from Psalm 118 (Psalm 118:26). The Jews shared this standard greeting with one another, friend and stranger alike, as they prepared for Passover.
The third phrase, “Blessed is the king of Israel!”, was added on by the crowd to honor Jesus.
Verses 14 – 16 all go together. John first gives us the event (riding into town on a donkey), followed by the background information that no one, not even Jesus’ disciples, understood the prophetic ties of this event to Zechariah’s words so long ago (Zechariah 9:9).
John records (vv. 17-18) that talk about Jesus and Lazarus is spreading fast. Everyone wants to see this man who can heal the blind and raise the dead to life.
The Pharisees are having a fit about Jesus’ popularity and acceptance by the crowd (v. 19). The Pharisees’ response is typical childish jealousy and over-exaggeration: “Look how the whole world has gone after Him!” Years later, a similar phrase would be leveled at Christ followers when Paul and his team arrive at Thessalonica and begin preaching (Acts 17:6).
John gives us a quick glimpse of what it will be like to worship Jesus when He returns. Paul captures a similar thought in his letter to the Philippians:
9 Therefore God exalted him [Jesus] to the highest place
and gave him the name that is above every name,
10 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
11 and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.
(Philippians 2:9-11 NIV, bracketed text mine)
I am having a little worship practice this morning – anyone care to join me?