Hosanna!

Reading: John 12:1-19

Background:   Zechariah 9,   Psalm 118,
Cross references:   Matthew 21,   Matthew 26,   Mark 11,   Mark 14,   Luke 7,   Luke 19,
Other references:   Isaiah 62,   Revelation 19   Genesis 22,   Genesis 49,   Judges 10,   Judges 12,   Samuel 16,   Jeremiah 22

The scene unfolds as Jesus returns to Bethany, the place where Mary, Martha and Lazarus live.  Bethany and Bethphage are villages on the south flank of the Mount of Olives.  There is a road which goes through these villages, a road leading to Jericho.   The Mount of Olives is about 1 km east of the Temple Mount, across  the Kidron Valley.    Other events in which the Mount of Olives provides the setting are, the arrest of Jesus prior to his crucifixion, and also his ascension.

The name Bethphage means house of the unripe figs, and Bethany means the house of the poor.

The events described in this passage occur some six days before the Passover.  They seem to be at the home of the three, as it says that they made him a supper;  Martha is serving, Lazarus reclines with Jesus at the table, while Mary rubs an expensive perfume on Jesus feet using her hair.  This event seems distinct from other similar ones described in the other gospels.  The perfume could possibly be indicative of the affluence of the family.  In any case, it seems that Mary would have been saving the ointment for her own funeral, as was common at that time.   The fact that Jesus seemed touched by this act seems to be indicative of several things:  firstly, that it represented a great selfless sacrifice on the part of Mary towards Jesus;  secondly, it almost seems that Mary has some insight which singles her out among the disciples.

Judas reveals his character, underscored perhaps by the author's ancillary comment on his financial habits.  Nevertheless, Jesus puts charity into perspective:  first and foremost worship God and make your sacrifice towards Him; after that, do not neglect the poor.

Many Jews would have been on their way to Jerusalem for the upcoming feast; this feast was mandatory  for all Jewish men, if you recall from our Old Testament study.  Many of them would have heard what had happened some time earlier with respect to the raising of Lazarus from the dead, there would have been a fair number of curiosity seekers, one might imagine.

The leaders of the Jewish religion at that time had special sanction from Rome to carry out their rituals.  The fact that Jesus had no such governmental allegiance, made the priests and also Herod, quite nervous.  It was quite common in that era of Jewish history, i.e. post Seleucid period, to purchase the rights of leadership in the Temple from the occupying  powers.  Jesus had made no such payment, and neither was answerable to these earthly rulers.  Many people were leaving their Rabbis to follow Jesus, even moreso now that Lazarus had been dead and brought back to life.

Modern Judaism records an ancient tradition that a tomb be monitored for three days before a final verdict of death would be given.  The fact that Lazarus was in the tomb for four days, puts the death beyond dispute according to this tradition.  Note, that none of the authors of the Gospels records any denial of the resurrection.  This fact, is corroborated by extrabiblical sourcs, also.

The following day, Jesus heads into Jerusalem in what is termed his 'triumphal entry'.    He rides on a donkey's colt, young and never been ridden before.  By contrast Revelation, also written by the same author as this Gospel, has him on a white  horse.   The donkey was a common mode of transport in that land, at that time.  Those who could afford one, rode such.  Jesus up to this point in his ministry, has walked wherever he went.   The horse was not commonly used except in battle.  The disciples later realize that  Zechariah  prophesied  some four centuries earlier, that the Messiah would ride in on the colt of a donkey.

The people who greet Jesus on the way to Jerusalem, are shouting 'God Save'.   Interestingly, this is transliterated as Hosanna in the Gospels, but is translated when it appears in Psalm 118.  This cry was typically reserved for the Passover and the high feasts in fall.  The context of these festivals as well as the Psalm are messianic.  The people clearly are regarding Jesus as the Messiah, while he rides into Jerusalem.   Probably, most would not have had the specific insights of the prophecies in mind, since not even the disciples latched on to it until later, rather they would have been hoping for liberation from Roman oppression.    The chief priests and leaders of the Jews feel threatened by this popularity, their hatred reaching new heights as they witness the procession.

Read the entire account found in John 12. Then answer the following questions on verses 1-19.


  1. Verses one through 19 contain four small vignettes. Delineate these and summarize why you think John includes them here.


  2. Why did Mary take the pint of expensive perfume, pour in onto Jesus' feet, and wipe his feet with her hair?


  3. What has gotten a hold on the Chief Priests (and Pharisees) that they want to kill Lazarus as well as Jesus (verse 10)?


  4. In the triumphal entry (verse 13), give references to Old Testament scripture as to where the crowds were getting these acclamations. What does the word "Hosanna" mean? What is the meaning behind these, i.e. what are they saying? Is there any significance to the palm branches?


  5. Give the Old Testament reference for the verse quoted in verse 15. What is the original context of the verse, i.e. in the Old Testament? How is it applied here, i.e. relate verse 13 and 15.


  6. The triumphal entry of Jesus into Jerusalem is in stark contrast to the events that will unfold in the next six days of Jesus' life. Do you think the crowds understood what they were saying at this time? What is it that the disciples understood after Jesus had been glorified (see verse 16)? Do you think it is important for you to understand what is happening here? Why or why not?




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