Formations 04.09.2017: Jesus’ Death Foreshadowed

John 12:12-28

By Kreative Verma [CC BY-SA 4.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

Jesus enters Jerusalem amid cheering crowds inspired by hope in “the one who comes in the name of the Lord” (v. 13). They came out to meet Jesus because they had heard about the raising of Lazarus (vv. 17-18). Ironically, it was this same sign that led to Jesus’ death, as the Pharisees took stock of the size of his following.

Jesus’ death is also foreshadowed in his words about a seed that falls to the ground, dies, and only then bears much fruit (v. 24). Indeed, it was for this that Jesus came, and through his death God’s name will be glorified (vv. 27-28).

On this Palm Sunday, it is appropriate to remember not only Jesus’ triumphal entry but also his impending death. What do these verses say about how Jesus faced his death? What did he expect his death would accomplish?


• Do you think the crowd was sincere in their praise of Jesus? Explain.
• Where do you suppose these adoring crowds were when Jesus was sentenced to death? Why did they not cry out in support of him then?
• When have you observed something “falling to the ground” before “bearing much fruit”? Is this a common phenomenon?
• How has the rhythm of death and resurrection been evident in your spiritual life?

Reference Shelf

A Peaceful Animal

The ass or donkey was used for riding by both men and women (Num 22:22; Judg 1:14; Josh 15:18; 2 Sam 17:23), as a beast of burden (Gen 42:26; 1 Sam 16:20; 25:18), and in agricultural work (Isa 30:24). In addition, the ass was used widely by trade caravans as they crossed the deserts. People of prestige (Judg 10:3-4; 12:13-14), rich people (1 Sam 25:20), and kings (2 Sam 16:2) rode the ass….

While the horse was often associated with war, the ass was considered a peaceful animal. In Zech 9:9 the messianic king comes riding on an ass (or colt of an ass as in Matthew), an image used in the Gospels to describe the coming of Jesus to Jerusalem (Matt 21:1-11; John 12:12-15).

Claude F. Mariottini, “Ass,” Mercer Dictionary of the Bible, ed. Watson E. Mills et al. (Macon GA: Mercer University Press, 1990), 70.

“The World Has Gone After Him”

The next day (v. 12) a great crowd who had come to the feast heard Jesus was coming to Jerusalem. “They took branches of palm trees and went out to meet him, crying, ‘Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord, even the King of Israel!’” (v. 13). The crowd’s initiative reflects Jewish nationalism. (1) The palms would have this meaning: e.g., when Judas rededicated the temple (164 BC), the Jews brought palms to the temple (2 Macc 10:7); when Simon conquered the Jerusalem citadel (142 BC) the Jews took possession carrying palms (1 Macc 13:51); in the Testament of Naphtali 5:4, palms are given to Levi as a symbol of his power over all Israel; the palm appears on coins of the second revolt of the Jews against Rome (AD 132–35). So the palms signal a welcome to Jesus as a national liberator. (b) The expression they “came out to meet him” reflects the normal Greek practice involved in the joyful reception of Hellenistic sovereigns into a city (Josephus, War 7.5.2 § 100 103). (c) The exclamation “Hosanna” (= Save/deliver us now) was used in addressing kings (2 Sam 14:4; 2 Kings 6:26). The crowd’s initiative, therefore, is an appeal for Jesus to accept the role of a nationalistic deliverer.

Only after the crowd has expressed its nationalistic conceptions does Jesus react by getting the donkey and sitting on it (v. 14). Verse 15’s quotation from Scripture tells the hearer the meaning of Jesus’ reaction. The first line is probably from Zephaniah 3:16, a passage whose context is universalistic (to Jerusalem will stream people from all over the earth to seek refuge, 3:9-10); the second line is from Zechariah 9:9, a passage emphasizing universalism and peace (a colt was ridden by a monarch when he came on an errand of peace; a horse was used in time of war, 1 Kings 4:26; Isa 31:1-3). Jesus’ entering Jerusalem on a donkey, then, is an act of prophetic symbolism designed to counteract the crowd’s nationalism (remember 6:15) with a message of universal kingship (12:32) and peace (18:36). The Evangelist notes that the reason the crowd went to meet Jesus was because they had heard about the raising of Lazarus (cf. 2:23; 4:45; 6:14; 10:21). The note of universalism continues with the Pharisees’ response: “the world has gone after him” (v. 19).

Charles H. Talbert, Reading John, (Macon GA: Smyth & Helwys, 2005), 191–92.

Darrell Pursiful is the editor of Formations. He is an adjunct professor at Mercer University and an active member of the First Baptist Church of Christ in Macon, Georgia.


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