20 Now among those who went up to worship at the feast were some Greeks. 21 So these came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, and asked him, “Sir, we wish to see Jesus.” 22 Philip went and told Andrew; Andrew and Philip went and told Jesus. 23 And Jesus answered them, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. 24 Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. 25 Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life. 26 If anyone serves me, he must follow me; and where I am, there will my servant be also. If anyone serves me, the Father will honor him.
27 “Now is my soul troubled. And what shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’? But for this purpose I have come to this hour.” – John 12:20-27 ESV
Back in chapter 10, John records Jesus’ revealing of Himself as the “Good Shepherd.” In doing so, He presented Himself as the model leader, one who selflessly cares for those under His care, even to the point of laying down His life for them.
“I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep. And I have other sheep that are not of this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd.” – John 10:14-16 ESV
As part of this discourse, He made a surprising revelation that His flock would contain sheep from outside the fold of Israel. Even to His disciples, who were all Jews, this would have been a shocking disclosure. And although they had been eyewitnesses to His ministry among the Samaritans, they would have had a difficult time accepting the fact that their long-awaited Messiah would include Gentiles in His Kingdom.
But as Jesus makes His triumphal entry into Jerusalem, John records a brief and seemingly unimportant scene involving “some Greeks.” These were likely Gentiles who were recognized as being Greek for their appearance or accents. John indicates that they were there to worship at the feast. So, they were likely proselytes to Judaism who had come to participate in the celebration of Passover. But upon seeing all the commotion surrounding Jesus’ entry into the city, they approached Philip, one of Jesus’ disciples, and said, “Sir, we wish to see Jesus.” (John 12:21 ESV). And then, mysteriously, they disappear from John’s record, never to seen or heard from again.
Yet, their simple request speaks volumes and sets up a short, but significant pronouncement from Jesus regarding His pending death.
“Now the time has come for the Son of Man to enter into his glory. I tell you the truth, unless a kernel of wheat is planted in the soil and dies, it remains alone. But its death will produce many new kernels—a plentiful harvest of new lives.” – John 12:23-24 NLT
These unidentified “Greeks” expressed their desire to see Jesus. And while John never reveals whether they got their wish or not, their request indicates that they had been drawn to Jesus. Even as Gentiles, they found themselves mysteriously attracted to this Jewish Rabbi from Nazareth. And when Jesus was told that the Greeks wished to see Him, He disclosed it as further proof that His hour had come.
It was time. His death was fast approaching. And it would usher in a remarkable paradigm shift that would forever alter the spiritual landscape of the world. He had told the Samaritan woman, “the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him” (John 4:23 ESV). Jesus had come to offer His life as a ransom for many, preparing the way for Jews and Gentiles to be restored to a right relationship with God the Father through faith in Him.
And when the Greeks expressed their desire to see Jesus, He saw it as a simple sign of a significant change to the status quo. His death would turn the religious world on its ear. No longer would Gentiles have to seek the God of Israel through the practice of Judaism. They would find access to Him through Jesus, His Son. The sacrificial death of Jesus would level the playing field, making salvation available to all, regardless of their ethnicity, religious background, gender, or economic status. The apostle Paul would rejoice in the homogeneous nature of God’s redemptive plan made possible through Jesus’ sacrificial death.
There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. – Galatians 3:28 ESV
Or is God the God of Jews only? Is he not the God of Gentiles also? Yes, of Gentiles also, since God is one—who will justify the circumcised by faith and the uncircumcised through faith. – Romans 3:29-30 ESV
It is interesting to note how Jesus described what was awaiting Him. He saw His pending death as the pathway to glorification.
“The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.” – John 12:23 ESV
Jesus was not just referring to His resurrection and ascension. Because those two events would be impossible without His death. The cross was the means by which His future glorification would take place. The cross was intended to be the focal point of the redemptive plan of God. It was only by willingly sacrificing His sinless life on behalf of sinful mankind that Jesus could experience glorification. Paul put it this way:
He humbled himself, by becoming obedient to the point of death—even death on a cross! As a result God highly exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee will bow—in heaven and on earth and under the earth—and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father. – Philippians 2:8-11 NLT
The death of Jesus would be the greatest expression of God’s love for mankind. It would be on the cross that Jesus revealed God the Father with the greatest clarity. Jesus would glorify the Father by expressing His love in the starkest of terms. And John would later write of this remarkable manifestation of God’s love in his first letter.
By this the love of God is revealed in us: that God has sent his one and only Son into the world so that we may live through him. In this is love: not that we have loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins. – 1 John 4:9-10 NLT
And Jesus explains the seeming incongruity of His death as an expression of God’s love.
“Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.” – John 12:24 ESV
Even within the natural realm, death plays an essential role in the creation of life. And so, His own death would serve a vital and necessary role in producing new life among the spiritually dead. Jesus was expressing His willingness to sacrifice His life so that others might live. He was fully confident that His death would be efficacious, resulting in abundant fruit – the transformed lives of countless individuals.
But Jesus was also using His death as a model for those who would enjoy the fruit of His labors. It would be His willing obedience to give up His earthly life that would result in eternal life for others. Even His future glorification and return to His Father’s side was dependent upon His giving up of His earthly life. So, He tells His disciples that they too will be expected to follow His example of divine prioritization.
“Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life.” – John 12:25 ESV
The Greek word translated as “life” is psyché rather than the more common word zoe. It refers to far more than just physical life. It encompasses the entire nature of man, and was often used to describe the soul or heart, including the feelings, desires, and affections. Jesus was letting His disciples know that there would be a sacrifice required for all those who chose to follow Him. There is no place in the life of a Christ-follower for love of self. Had Jesus modeled self-love, He would never have gone to the cross. But rather than focusing on self-preservation, Jesus committed Himself to selfless oblation, the sacrifice of Himself for the good of others. And He expected His followers to do the same. A point He made perfectly clear.
“If anyone serves me, he must follow me; and where I am, there will my servant be also. If anyone serves me, the Father will honor him.” – John 12:26 ESV
As usual, this disclosure went over the heads of His disciples. They were not yet able to grasp the meaning or significance of His words. But in time, they would. Most of the disciples would eventually follow Him by giving their lives for the cause. It is believed that most of the disciples ended up being martyred for their faith. They too would become grains of wheat that fell to the earth and died, resulting in much fruit. And, in death, they would follow Jesus in glorification, being honored by God for their faithful service and enjoying fellowship with He and the Son for eternity.
But the knowledge of how His death would result in fruitfulness did not prevent Jesus from wrestling with the reality of the suffering He was about to face. With His next statement, Jesus reveals the human side of His nature, providing us with a glimpse into the battle going on between His desire to obey His Father and the natural desire to avoid the pain and suffering that awaited Him.
“Now is my soul troubled. And what shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’? But for this purpose I have come to this hour.” – John 12:27 ESV
His humanity was expressing its natural desire to preserve self. But Jesus’ divinity would not allow Him to give in to the temptation. It would have been the height of rebellion for Jesus to attempt to escape what God the Father had planned. And Jesus knew that the entire purpose behind His incarnation had been the cross and all the suffering and pain it entailed. It was for this reason He had come. And it was for this reason He would overcome His fear with faithful obedience to His Father’s will. Because He understood all that His death would accomplish
But he was pierced for our transgressions;
he was crushed for our iniquities;
upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace,
and with his wounds we are healed.
All we like sheep have gone astray;
we have turned—every one—to his own way;
and the Lord has laid on him
the iniquity of us all. – Isaiah 53:5-6 ESV
English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.
New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.