Seven Voices of Calvary

A look at the testimonies of different people and groups at Calvary, and of the Father and Christ.

In the study of any passage in John’s Gospel, we first look at the verses in order to determine the dominant theme. That is always our first step. The way the apostle John works, by the inspiration of the Spirit of God, is to follow themes. There is not a single run of verses that does not have an identifiable topic or principle to which all the verses relate.

As we come to the narrative beginning at John 12.12 and continuing to verse 29, we see a number of events and statements recorded, and we ask what they have in common. What unites them? At first we may think the verses cover important but unconnected observations, but then as we look, and look, it suddenly dawns on us that there is an unmistakable uniting factor. It is the fact that in most of these verses John is tracking the statements of seven different parties about Christ.

These include the Saviour’s own statement, and also the words of God the Father. But there are seven views or ‘voices’ about the Messiah through the passage. There is the voice of the people, first of all. Then the voice of prophecy, then there is the voice of the witnesses to the raising of Lazarus, then the voice of the enemies, the Pharisees, then the voice of the Gentiles, then the voice of Christ speaking of his own death, and finally the voice of God the Father speaking from Heaven. So it is a passage of seven contributors or seven voices. Once we see it, it is obvious and it dominates the passage.

1 The Voice of the People

It is our privilege to consider these testimonies to Messiah, and we begin with the first – the voice of the people.

‘On the next day much people that were come to the feast, when they heard that Jesus was coming to Jerusalem, took branches of palm trees, and went forth to meet him, and cried, Hosanna: Blessed is the King of Israel that cometh in the name of the Lord’ (John 12.12-13).

The people were repeating Psalm 118, much loved and sung at Passover season, the word ‘Hosanna’, being more than an exclamation of praise, meaning, ‘Save now’. The Passover commemorated the deliverance of the people centuries before from slavery in Egypt, and their minds were full of longed-for liberation from Roman occupation. They believed rightly that Jesus of Nazareth was the Messiah, but wrongly that he would be a political deliverer from Rome. They had not been listening to him. Though amazed at his preaching (‘Never man spake like this man’), they failed to take in his calling of them to repentance and spiritual change, and his description of himself as their spiritual Messiah.

..they failed to take in his calling of them to repentance and spiritual change

Now he is entering Jerusalem against all expectation. The authorities thought he would never return, and spread that opinion around. But now he returns, having determined the timing of his voluntary death and atonement for all who would be saved. So now they take branches of palm trees and proclaim him, crying out, ‘This is surely our Messiah.’ It is a vast throng, people having come from towns and cities near and far, joined by the permanent residents of Jerusalem. They are sure that Christ honours all the signs of their Messiah. He has the character, he heals thousands, never fails and no healing ever reverts. He receives their unqualified attestation as One sent by God to be their deliverer. Despite all this, their understanding of what he would do was earthly, carnal, wrong, and out of line with all they should have known. But their recognition of him was right and powerful. (More of the triumphal entry into Jerusalem may be read in Matthew 21 and the other Gospels also.)

2 The Voice of Prophecy

The second voice in the passage is in verses 14-15 – ‘And Jesus, when he had found a young ass, sat thereon; as it is written, Fear not, daughter of Sion: behold, thy King cometh, sitting on an ass’s colt.’ The second voice is the voice of prophecy, the quotation coming from Zechariah 9.9.

Christ rides along the road from Bethany not on a warhorse, a noble charger, but on an animal of peacetime and peace, a lowly beast, a donkey. He rides in as one who will suffer humiliation and make an atoning death for the sins of the redeemed. Zechariah went on to say, ‘In that day there shall be a fountain opened to the house of David…for sin and for uncleanness’ (Zechariah 13.1).

If the disciples had known or remembered these Zechariah ­scriptures they would have said: ‘He is fulfilling prophecy. He is accepting the mantle of Messiah as prophesied. The great moment has come of which he has spoken.’

But they did not remember the words of the prophet, and John recalls, ‘These things understood not his disciples at the first: but when Jesus was glorified, then remembered they that these things were written of him, and that they had done these things unto him’ (verse 16). Prophecy nevertheless gave voice to the occasion, the image proclaimed by Zechariah being held before their view for that final journey into the city where the Object of all prophecy should die.

3 The Voice of Witnesses

The third voice, identified in verse 17, is that of the witnesses to the raising of Lazarus, and it was these people who gave rise to excited crowds surging out from Jerusalem. These were ‘the people therefore that was with him when he called Lazarus out of his grave’. Many if not most of them had been doubters. Some were probably members of the Sanhedrin council. They had observed close up the miracle of life to the dead, and some had even assisted in removing the grave clothes from Lazarus. At that time they could speak of nothing else, and they ‘bare record’, or more exactly, they went on bearing record to all they had seen. They went on telling people until the surge to the Bethany road was irresistible. ‘For this cause,’ John says, ‘the people also met him.’ So now the Jerusalemites join the procession for the triumphal entry.

Matthew gives details that John passes over, because by the time John writes his Gospel he is aware that people are familiar with the synoptics. Matthew says (Matthew 21.12) – ‘And Jesus went into the temple of God, and cast out all them that sold and bought in the temple, and overthrew the tables of the moneychangers, and the seats of them that sold doves.’ (This is the second time he cleared the Temple, the first being at the beginning of his ministry.) Then in verse 14 of Matthew 21 we read, ‘And the blind and the lame came to him in the temple; and he healed them.’

Immediately after the triumphal entry, the Lord heals people in the Temple, the blind and the lame. But instead of being delighted, ‘when the chief priests and scribes saw the wonderful things that he did, and the children crying in the temple, and saying, Hosanna to the Son of David; they were sore displeased.’ Their response is seen in the next voice.

4 The Voice of Opponents

The fourth voice, the voice of opponents, is recorded in John 12.19: ‘The Pharisees therefore said among themselves, Perceive ye how ye prevail nothing? behold, the world is gone after him.’ The Pharisees speak, but it becomes clear that the chief priests and the scribes, or most of them (who were Pharisees), are involved. They are against Christ; they hate him. They do not believe he is the Messiah. They hate him because he calls for repentance and cleansing of hearts, and they are hypocrites and do not want that message. But look carefully at what they say, and their words show their unwitting endorsement of him.

In effect, they say: ‘This Jesus of Nazareth has power to heal thousands and even to raise the dead, and no one else can do these things. In four hundred years, our nation has seen no prophet performing wonders, and now he exceeds them all, in numbers and significance of miracles. These signs are invincible, and we cannot disqualify him. We cannot say they are fraudulent. We have looked closely and can find no falsehood. But we do not believe in him; we do not want him and he threatens to destroy our office and standing.’

Their prejudice was so great that evidence counted for nothing. Nevertheless, they inadvertently endorse him as authentic and qualified.

Their prejudice was so great that evidence counted for nothing. Nevertheless, they inadvertently endorse him as authentic and qualified. Execution is their only solution. They will in due course seize him and deliver him to crucifixion, but they are driven by having no answer to his authenticity. Now they say among themselves – ‘Perceive ye how ye prevail nothing?’ Our decisions until now have not worked, ‘Behold the world is gone after him.’

By the world, they clearly mean all the Jews, but they say more than they realise, because in the very next verse, we see how foreigners are also seeking after Christ.

5 The Voice of the Gentiles

The fifth voice, named in verse 20, is the voice of the Gentiles. It is only briefly stated by the apostle John but it is of immense significance. ‘And there were certain Greeks.’ This is not referring to Greek-speaking Jews, or Hellenists; it is speaking of ethnic Greeks that came up to worship at the feast, proselytes, tired of polytheism who had turned to the one true and living God. These said (I enlarge their words), ‘We have come to believe in the God of Israel and we want to worship as they do, but what is this about a Messiah, the suffering servant? Who is the one who will come, and who will redeem, and through whom foreign nations will also be blessed? Is it Jesus of Nazareth, of whom we have heard so much? We long to see him and to hear him and to know more of him.’

What a contrast is this voice from that of the opponents, the chief priests, the scribes, and the Pharisees! The Greeks ‘came therefore to Philip, which was of Bethsaida of Galilee, and desired him, saying, Sir, we would see Jesus.’ Philip did not know what to do. He did not expect foreigners, and in all probability he shared his nation’s disdain for them, for he did not yet understand. He tells Andrew, but neither knew how to respond to enquiring Greeks. But Christ gives a message for the Greeks and for Jews. Tell them, he says, and tell everyone, that I have come as a Saviour to suffer and to die on a cross. That is in essence the message.

6 The Voice of Christ

This brings us to verse 23, the voice of Christ, the sixth voice. ‘And Jesus answered them, saying, The hour is come.’ That mysterious hour that we have read about. Previously when they have tried to attack or arrest him, they have been unable to do it because his hour had not yet come. Somehow, by an act of divine power he would pass through the midst of them. But now ‘the hour is come, that the Son of man should be glorified,’ or revealed as glorious, and shown to be the one to be worshipped and esteemed. To the eye of faith he was glorified in his death. To all eyes he was glorified in his resurrection.

Only God could do it. Only the love of God would be willing to do it. Only the power of God could survive it.

A playwright with no understanding wrote a play about Christ, in the form of a comic-tragedy. He saw one who was a superstar, whose life came to nothing on Calvary’s cross. But when you look at the cross with the eye of faith, understanding the Scriptures, it glorifies him. There he accomplished what no other person in history could have done, taking upon himself the guilt of all who would be saved. There he took the eternal weight of punishment for millions and millions of sinners, paying the greatest price imaginable to purchase and save all who would be redeemed. On Calvary he suffered as a man, and survived as God. His Godhead sustained his manhood as he drank the cup of woe fully. What a glorious and godlike act! Only God could do it. Only the love of God would be willing to do it. Only the power of God could survive it. Here the attributes of God, his eternity, his love, his holiness (because only a pure and perfect substitute could atone for others) were all so evidently revealed. But while the revelation of his glory on Calvary is unappreciated by unbelievers, his entire glory is visible to all in the resurrection. His resurrection and ascension manifest all the divine attributes, leaving unbelievers without excuse.

The Lord’s message to Greeks and Jews continues (verse 24): ‘Verily, verily [truly, truly], I say unto you, Except a corn of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abideth alone: but if it die, it bringeth forth much fruit.’ What a picture of the purpose of his coming — I must die in order to save.

Then he speaks of his followers (verse 26). In a measure, these words may also apply to him, but chiefly to his disciples in all ages: ‘If any man [any individual, man or woman] serve me, let him follow me.’ To serve means to obey, revere and worship, but this is not our whole duty. ‘If any man serve me, let him follow me’ — into the mission of redemption. Christ is going to Calvary to make an atonement to save sinners, and we must follow him in that mission of redemption. Here is a definition of the Christian life. Have we repented, yielded our lives to him, and truly been converted? If we have, we will be not only worshippers, but followers in the vast mission. Our lives will be dedicated to making him known, corporately and personally. Ultimately, we follow him to glory, for he says, ‘Where I am, there shall also my servant be.’

Our lifelong priority is the mission of Christ, the Saviour’s promise ringing in our ears — ‘If any man serve me, him will my Father honour.’

But then the Lord declares: ‘Now is my soul troubled,’ meaning that he is fully, completely, and deeply troubled. He is troubled because he can see what the redeemed would have to suffer if he does not go to Calvary. He must deliver them. He is troubled because it is going to be an indescribably terrible ordeal.

We are tempted to say that he is troubled in his manhood, his human nature, that shrinks with horror at Calvary. But this is not enough. Even the divine nature shrank from Calvary. All of Christ, human and divine inextricably joined, shrank from the darkness of the cross. How could the divine nature be frightened of physical sufferings? Because it had to be clothed with the foulness of the guilt of our sin, to wear that polluted clothing, and to feel the rejection and wrath of God. An experience so offensive to Christ’s great purity and holiness cannot be grasped. He who never sinned became sin for us, and the anguish of his soul, at the very prospect of it, is beyond human language to describe.

‘And what shall I say?’ he asks in verse 27. (Here is the double question.) ‘Father, save me from this hour?’ No, he says. ‘For this cause came I unto this hour.’ And he yielded entirely to Calvary for us, with a prayer simple in form, but enormous in scope — ‘Father, glorify thy name.’

7 The Voice of the Father

Then comes the seventh, the final voice (verse 28), the voice of the Father, the climax of voices — ‘a voice from heaven, saying, I have both glorified it, and will glorify it again.’ The Father had already glorified the Son — showed his divine attributes — when his voice was heard at his baptism and at the transfiguration. He glorified him through the miracles, recently through the raising of Lazarus, and now through the voice from Heaven. We know the disciples heard it because the people who thought it thundered or that it must be an angel were the people ‘that stood by’, or non-disciples.

The voice was for the disciples, to strengthen and help them through the ordeal to come. They heard the voice of the Father. Three had heard it before at the transfiguration, now they all heard it. The people that stood by said they heard a voice coming most certainly from Heaven, and although they could not make out what it said, only unbelief would fail to be impacted and awed.

Calvary, when it was eventually understood, would show that God’s holiness and justice must be satisfied for salvation. It would show the love of Christ, that he should go so far to save his people. It would show his divine power, to endure the terrors of atonement to defeat Satan and secure salvation for the redeemed. And the resurrection would display Christ as the prince of life, sealing the revelation of God’s glory in Christ Jesus, our Lord.

The seven voices affirming the Messianic office of Christ, now on the way to Calvary, reach their climax in the Father’s endorsement and undertaking to glorify the Godhead through the Son.

The apostle John magnificently shows the superintending, overruling, sovereign hand of God in even the ‘incidental’ events of the great drama of redemption. Friends and foes, enlightened and ignorant, human and divine, all authenticate and attest the Messianic office and glory of Christ Jesus our Lord.