The crowd that had been with him when he called Lazarus out of the tomb and raised him from the dead continued to bear witness. The reason why the crowd went to meet him was that they heard he had done this sign. So the Pharisees said to one another, “You see that you are gaining nothing. Look, the world has gone after him.” (John 12:17-19)
The word “world” as it appears in today’s text comes from the Greek word κόσμος (kosmos) and has three particular meanings. First, kosmos, or cosmos, may refer to the physical universal and the world as a specific planet within this galaxy known as the Milky Way. Second, the word may refer to the people living on planet earth. Third, the word world may refer to the fallen rebellious and God hating system of thought and behavior found to be so prevalent on this planet.
Within the literary context of John 12:17-19, the word appears as an exaggerated evaluation of the number of people who were greeting Jesus as He endeavored to enter Jerusalem on what has come to be known as Palm Sunday.
Dr. John Macarthur writes, “The world” means the people in general, as opposed to everyone in particular. Clearly, most people in the world did not even know of Jesus at that time, and many in Israel did not believe in him. Often, “world” is used in this general sense (v. 47; 1:29; 3:17; 4:42; 14:22; 17:9, 21).”
It must have been quite a sight to see this vast number of people shouting and waving palm branches as Jesus approached the city. One can only imagine the sheer excitement of the moment as the people wondered if Jesus would be the Messiah they so hoped for. However, Dr. R. C. Sproul explains that “when people misunderstand our Lord, it is because of their sin, their ignorance, and their failure to believe His Word.”
Dr. Sproul continues by stating, “John also tells us that the crowd who had seen Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem and Lazarus’ resurrection bore witness to the deeds of Jesus despite not understanding His mission (John 12:17–18). This troubled the Pharisees, who complained that their plots to get rid of Jesus were not working (see 11:45–53). He was not becoming less popular but rather “the world” was going after Him (12:19), jeopardizing the position of the religious authorities and perhaps even causing them to fear that an uprising would break out under Jesus’ influence and bring the Romans down hard on the Jews. In saying that the world was going to Jesus, however, the Pharisees said more than they realized. They were speaking only of large crowds of Jews, but people from around the world would soon be coming to Jesus in faith.”
So how do we today overcome our ignorance and misunderstandings about Jesus: His person and His work? By diligently studying the Word of God on a daily basis. The example of colonial pastor Jonathan Edwards comes to mind. True, God may not have called you to serve as a pastor but even a lay person can cultivate daily disciplines which will have an important impact on one’s life.
As one biographer of Edwards writes, “He was dedicated when it came to daily communion with God. “Throughout the day, his goal was to remain constantly with a sense of living in the presence of God.” Edwards believed that his labors as a minister would be no better than his own fellowship with Christ. He spent most of every weekday absorbing the Bible, pondering its truths, making notations in his notebooks, and praying. From his days as a young intern in New York City, “a new master-interest possessed him: it was to enjoy the Word of God.” Because of the abundance of time Edwards spent in the Bible, he “saturated almost every sermon, from text to doctrine to application, with scripture.” Edwards wanted to know God personally and deeply so that in turn he might live with all his might to the glory of God. Consequently, he experienced a level of intimacy with God that few in our fast-paced, pragmatic world understand. He describes this intimacy in his “Personal Narrative”: “The sense I had of divine things would often of a sudden kindle up, as it were, a sweet burning in my heart; an ardor of soul I know not how to express.”
May we strive to live with a sense of living in the presence of God.
Soli deo Gloria!