Summary: Sometimes an expected answer is not the best one.
Some Mysterious Answers
Have you even asked a question and gotten an entirely off-the-wall answer? You expect a simple answer and get something which doesn’t seem to answer the question you asked? This seems to be the case today. Jesus gets asked questions, and the answers He gives are quite mysterious. But He really does answer them.
It was Passover time in Jerusalem. This feast was kind of what July 4th means to Americans with an additional religious emphasis. The Israelites were expected to assemble yearly for this feast in Jerusalem. The scattering of the Jews around the empire made the cost impossible for many to take this trip, but even so, every Jew tried to come to the feast at least once. The population of the city increased vastly for that week as pilgrims came to the city. Some would come up from the coast road from Caesarea and others like Jesus came on the Jericho road from the east.
It was a time of joy and excitement for the Jews. In the chaos of people, they had to make their way to the shops to purchase a Passover lamb as well as pay their Temple tax. Lodging was also hard to find. Jesus and his disciples seemed to have sheltered in a garden clled Gethsemane at the foot of the Mount of Olives where there was an underground olive press. Others rented upper guest rooms. Food had to be purchased, and shops and vendors were busy.
But for the Romans, it was a time of great concern. Pilate, who hated the Jews and Jerusalem felt obligated to come up from the coeast city of Caesarea with two cohorts of crack legionnaires to make sure a riot did not break out with the intention of overthrowing the Roman occupiers. So close watch was made from the Roman garrison fortress of Anthony for any sign of trouble. The found at least one incident where a man named Barabbas tried to start an uprising and killed someone in the process. He was arrested with two other men. Crucifixion awaited them, as this horrific public execution served as a deterrent from others attempting the same thing.
They probably kept close eyes on another assembly gathering with great excitement on the east. Jesus was coming to town on a donkey in fulfilment of prophecy. People were strawing their garments on the road before Him as a kind of red carpet. Palm branches, the symbol of the last time Israel was free were waving. The Palm branches were the symbol of the zealots, and at least one of Jesus’ disciples was a zealot. But there was no violence. People who were already in Jerusalem ran out to greet Jesus and those who were following. Everyone was chanting the Psalms of Ascents (112-118), especially the 118th which says. “Hosanna! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord.
The Jewish leaders were also watching and sent a message to Jesus to shut the crowd up. They were afraid the Romans at any moment would come down from the fortress and start shedding blood. Pilate was no stranger to violence. But Jesus rebuked the delegation saying that even if He silenced them, the tomb rocks in the cemeteries on both sides of the road would start shouting. It was the beginning of a bizarre day. Jesus starts weeping and wailing over Jerusalem. It was His party, and He was crying. The disruption would soon continue as Jesus would proceed and cleanse the Temple, overthrowing the tables of the moneychangers and releasing the doves. The result would even be more chaos, with some of the crowd rejoicing that the crooks in the Temple got what they deserved and others beginning to plot to destroy Jesus.
We don’t know at this point in John 12 whether this incident occurs before or after the cleansing of the Temple. John mentions a cleansing of the Temple, but it is at the beginning of the gospel. Whether it is the same cleansing or a different one is hard to tell as John uses time in a highly original way. At any rate, the commotion got the attention of certain Greeks who had come u to the feast. What we know about them is that they were not Greek speaking Jews from far away as another term would have been used. They were ethnically not Jews, but the fact they had come up to the feast indicates some relation to Judaism. They were probably what is called “God-fearers” who were attracted to the Jewish religion but had not submitted to circumcision. They could come to the outermost Temple court, but no farther under pain of death.
These Greeks drew near and found Phillip. As Phillip had a Greek name, He may have spoken Greek. Phillip and Andrew were always bringing people to Jesus, so they brought the request of these Greeks to see Jesus. These Greeks had more than a casual desire to meet someone famous. They were willing to assume the expense of the journey to come to Jerusalem. They earnestly desired to know more.