Zechariah 9:9–13 speaks of the Messiah as one who enters Jerusalem on a donkey but then speaks “peace to the nations” and sets prisoners free by the blood of the covenant with Israel. While this text has reference to peace on an earthly level, it cannot be limited to the kind of peace between nations and between individuals that consists of a cessation of physical warfare. The peace in view cannot be achieved before a more fundamental war ends, namely, the war between God and human beings. When Adam and Eve fell, they were set against God and even against each other, and this enmity with our Creator and thus also with each other has characterized the world ever since (Gen. 3; Rom. 5:12–21).
We learn in John 12:12–15 that Jesus fulfills Zechariah’s prophecy. Jesus in His atonement secures peace with God for all those who have been justified by faith alone in Christ (Rom. 5:1). And now His church preaches the gospel as the only means of finding peace with God, looking to the day when Christ will return and consummate His kingdom of peace on the earth (Rev. 19:11–21:27).
In today’s passage, we read that the disciples of Jesus did not understand the nature of Jesus’ rule and the peace He brings until after Jesus was glorified (John 12:16). Only after the death, resurrection, and ascension of our Lord did they fully comprehend Him and His mission. Here we note that their misunderstanding was not the fault of Jesus, for the Gospels tell us that He often spoke to them about the nature of His work (for example, see Mark 8:31). When people misunderstand our Lord, it is because of their sin, their ignorance, and their failure to believe His Word.
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.