Today’s passage begins Jesus’ final comments to the crowds that had probably been following him for close to three years now. And in this section we see Jesus predict his death, once again, and we see the continuing theme that has run throughout John’s Gospel of light vs darkness. In this passage we also Jesus interacting with two groups of people: (1) Greeks who had been converted to Judaism and (2) the crowd of ethnic Jews that had gathered for Passover week.
Now there were some Greeks among those who went up to worship at the festival. They came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, with a request. “Sir,” they said, “we would like to see Jesus.” Philip went to tell Andrew; Andrew and Philip in turn told Jesus.
Jesus replied, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. Very truly I tell you, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds. Anyone who loves their life will lose it, while anyone who hates their life in this world will keep it for eternal life. Whoever serves me must follow me; and where I am, my servant also will be. My Father will honor the one who serves me.—12:20-26
These verses begin Jesus’ final comments to the crowds. The mention of the Greeks (or Gentiles) who were interested in seeing Jesus likely increased the Pharisees’ frustration and proved that many were following Jesus. The Greeks’ interest foreshadows the church’s outreach to the Gentiles and their status as heirs of God’s promises. Jesus seemingly ignored Philip and Andrew’s request by the Greeks to speak to him and instead announced the arrival of his hour. Jesus’ death would not merely be the pathway to glory but would be glory itself. Jesus explained the significance of the hour’s arrival in a parable describing the result of his death (v. 24). The parable’s point is that the death of a single seed (Jesus) bears much fruit (salvation of sinners). Therefore, Jesus’ death would bring much glory and fruit to God. Jesus then goes on to explain to his followers that death is the pathway to life. The choice is clear: love this world and lose your soul, or reject its worldliness for Christ’s sake and experience eternal life.
“Now my soul is troubled, and what shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’? No, it was for this very reason I came to this hour. Father, glorify your name!”
Then a voice came from heaven, “I have glorified it, and will glorify it again.” The crowd that was there and heard it said it had thundered; others said an angel had spoken to him.—12:27-29
John now returns the focus to Jesus’ “hour” (v. 27). Aware of his impending crucifixion, Jesus was deeply troubled. The agony was not a fear of dying but the contemplation of the sinless Son of God bearing the sins of the world. Jesus’ passion, however, was ultimately for the Father’s glory. Everything Jesus said and did, he did to glorify his Father. The thunder from heaven was God’s response to Jesus’ prayer. And some in the crowd clearly thought the thunder was an angel speaking.
Jesus said, “This voice was for your benefit, not mine. Now is the time for judgment on this world; now the prince of this world will be driven out. And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” He said this to show the kind of death he was going to die.—12:30-33
Jesus now explains that what they had heard was God’s voice, and it was meant for them and not for Jesus. The cross was God’s judgement on the world. And if one looks at the cross from a worldly perspective, it looks like the defeat of Jesus; but in reality it was Satan’s defeat, as God had already made perfectly in Genesis 3:15. It was not only the overthrow of Satan but also the means of salvation for sinners. The result of Jesus being “lifted up” means that all kinds of people without regard to nationality or status would be drawn to him (v. 32).
The crowd spoke up, “We have heard from the Law that the Messiah will remain forever, so how can you say, ‘The Son of Man must be lifted up’? Who is this ‘Son of Man’?”
Then Jesus told them, “You are going to have the light just a little while longer. Walk while you have the light, before darkness overtakes you. Whoever walks in the dark does not know where they are going. Believe in the light while you have the light, so that you may become children of light.” When he had finished speaking, Jesus left and hid himself from them.—12:34-36
The crowd thought that Jesus’ teaching contradicted the Scriptures concerning the Messiah. They believed in a triumphant and conquering Messiah, but Jesus spoke of death. Jesus did answer their question directly. Rather, he concluded his discourse by making in impassioned appeal for faith. They had to believe while they had the opportunity. After he finished speaking to the crowd, he hid himself from public view and he did not appear publicly again until his arrest.
Now that we have covered the basics of this passage it is time to dig deeper by answering the burning questions that have arisen out of this passage. And we are going to focus on answering three questions that arise of this passage. And those three questions are: (1) why wouldn’t Jesus meet with the Greeks; (2) who is the prince of this world; and (3) why did Jesus hide?
- Why wouldn’t Jesus meet with the Greeks?
Why did Jesus seem to evade the issue and begin another teaching discourse? There are two possible explanations:
- Greeks were known for their interest in exploring novel philosophies and new ideas. It is possible their desire to see Jesus was motivated more by intellectual curiosity than spiritual hunger.
- Jesus, more likely, saw this request from Gentiles as a signal. The “hour” of his mission as the Savior of the world was coming to a climax. And he would now devote his full attention to the task ahead—dying for the sins of the world.
- Who is the “prince of this world”?
This is a title for Satan that suggests he currently hold limited power over the people of this world. However, anticipating his death and resurrection, Jesus was preparing to dethrone Satan. And in the age to come Satan will be powerless and confined forever under judgement.
- Why did Jesus hide?
As Jesus’ public ministry drew to a close, so did the opportunity for the Jews to accept him as their Messiah. He may have hidden from them to underscore what he had just told them—that soon the light would be taken from them. But more likely Jesus left the public eye because his ministry on earth was finished. And we will pick up from here tomorrow as we see how John describes the end of Jesus’ earthly ministry.
Tomorrow’s Bible Readings:
2 Samuel 23:24-24:25, Acts 3, Psalm 123:1-4 and Proverbs 16:21-23
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