Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold, your king is coming to you; righteous and having salvation is he, humble and mounted on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey (Zechariah 9:9 ESV).
What kind of Messiah is Jesus?
Messiah is a Hebrew word that means anointed one. John is the only New Testament author to use it and he equates it with the Greek word, Christ (John 1:41; 4:25). Three offices were anointed: prophets, priests, and kings. Two events in John 12 point specifically to the interpretation that Jesus is a Messianic king: his anointing by Mary (vv 1-8) and his entry into Jerusalem on the back of a donkey (vv 12-19). Mary’s anointing of Jesus’ feet and Jesus’ choice of a donkey to ride into Jerusalem both point to humility—Jesus is a king coming in peace.
It is interesting that both events—the anointing and the entry into Jerusalem—appear in all four Gospel accounts. But the Gospels disagree on details of the anointing. John’s account, for example, is the only one to place Lazarus at the event and to name, Mary, as the woman anointing Jesus. Mark and Matthew have Jesus anointed on the head; Luke and John have Jesus’ feet anointed.
All four Gospels have Jesus anointed by a woman—this is a shocking event for a Jewish king. The expectation is that a king is anointed by a prophet. For example, the Prophet Samuel anoints both King Saul and King David (1 Samuel 10:1, 16:13).
John 12 marks a transition from Jesus’ ministry into his arrest, trial, crucifixion, and resurrection. The ESV translation suggests these divisions: Mary anoints Jesus at Bethany (vv 1-8), the plot to kill Lazarus (vv 9-10), the triumphal entry (vv 12-19), some Greeks seek Jesus (vv 20-26), the Son of Man must be lifted up (vv 27-36), the unbelief of the people (vv 37-43), and Jesus came to save the world (vv 44-50).
The nature of Jesus’ messianic role clearly divides people in John 12. Judas Iscariot disagrees with Jesus about the perfume used to anoint Jesus supposedly because of the cost. But female anointment must also have weighed on his mind (vv 4-8)—Jews had trouble seeing Jesus as messiah. The crowd that gathered at Bethany is clearly interested as much in Lazarus as in Jesus (v 9). Lazarus must have reminded them of 1 Kings 17:23 when Elijah raised a young man from the dead—a comparison suggesting a prophetic messiah. By contrast, the crowd that gathered the morning waved palm branches and chanted words from Psalm 118:25 (hosanna means save us in Hebrew) suggesting that they expected a kingly messiah (v 13).
The appearance of gentiles (Greeks) in verses 20-26 curiously moves Jesus to remark: The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified (v 23). Jesus frequently mentions sheep in John’s Gospel, but in Matthew’s Gospel he twice says that: I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel (Matthew 15:24 also 10:6). As Jesus enters Jerusalem, his mission to the lost sheep of Israel is drawing to a close.