John 12:20-36

The Hour to be Glorified

Jesus understood his kingship in terms of its universality. His disconcerting gesture of entering Jerusalem on the back of a donkey cryptically conveyed that message. As well, the Pharisees had just commented, unknowingly, that the whole world is following him. The following incident is to be seen as illustration of that universal outreach of Jesus.

John 12:20-26     Hellenists Seek Jesus

20 There were some Hellenists
among those who came up to worship at the festival.

Throughout the Diaspora, many Jews whose families had lived out of their country for generations were not always conversant with Aramaic. They were classified under the general category of Hellenists. The category also extended to non-Jews who had been impressed by the monotheism and the strict moral code observed by Jews. Some of these had accepted Jewish faith, but few actually became Jews (largely because of the complications arising from circumcision and kosher food regulations). It was not uncommon for such non-Jews to celebrate the Jewish festivals as far as they were permitted. 

21 So they approached Philip,
who came from Bethsaida in Galilee,
and asked him, “Sir, we would like to see Jesus.”
22 Philip went and told Andrew,
and both Andrew and Philip then went and told Jesus.

Bethsaida, a cosmopolitan town on the Sea of Galilee, at the entrance point of the Jordan River, would have had a number of non-Jewish residents. Indeed, Philip is a Greek name. The Greeks approached Philip because, presumably, he spoke Greek fluently. Philip and Andrew had been long-time friends, both disciples of John (the Baptist). The request made by the Greeks: We would like to see Jesus, connected with the invitation made by Jesus to Andrew and his companion at the beginning of the Gospel narrative, Come and see [1:39]. Their seeing had been the beginning of their long journey of discipleship. These Hellenist visitors to Jerusalem represented the first of the many future Hellenist disciples who would come to see Jesus.

23 Jesus then answered them,
“The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.

The signal that Jesus’ hour had finally arrived was the presence on the scene of the Hellenists representing the first-fruits of Jesus’ universal saving action.

Jesus spoke of himself as the Son of Man, the judge of the world. People’s eternal destiny, whether they were Jews or Gentiles, would be determined according to the criterion of Jesus’ personal integrity, and their acceptance of the truth that, in fact, he revealed God to the world.

Death as Prelude to Life

24 I tell you clearly,
unless a grain of wheat fall into the ground and dies,
it stays a single grain.  
But if it dies, it bears a full head of grain. 

Universal salvation – a full head of grain – would come at the price of Jesus’ death. What would be true in the case of Jesus would be true also for every disciple: Christian community would happen only to the extent that self-interest dies and is replaced by love.

25 Those who love their life lose it;
those who hate their life in this world safeguard it for eternal life.

In the context, life in this world is to be understood as self-interest and unbridled ego, under the influence of the world’s dynamics. It is to be contrasted with eternal life, which speaks of the person open to self-surrender in trust and loving service. Jesus chose that way – as would all those who see the truth of Jesus. 

26 If people want to serve me, let them follow me;

Those who opt for discipleship must follow the way of Jesus in order to follow him into eternal life.

… wherever I am, there my servants will be.

The Gospel had begun with Andrew and his unnamed companion asking Jesus: Where do you live? and their being invited to Come and see [1:38-39]. What they came to see was not a residential address but the inner world inhabited by Jesus – his experience of oneness with the Father, his reality as I am. The destiny of all true servants/disciples of Jesus, stripped of all self-love to become truly (and only) their true selves, will be to enter into Jesus’ experience of oneness with God.

Whoever serve me, my father will honour.

In the contemporary realm, servants had no honour. In the kingdom of Jesus, servant/disciples would be honoured by none less than the Father. But the honour granted by God would not involve status, esteem or “one-up-manship”, but the gifts of life and love and intimacy with God.

John 12:27-36     Jesus will be "Lifted up"

The Way to Glory

27 Now my soul is disturbed.

Jesus’ comment reflected a line from Psalm 42:

Why are you cast down, O my soul, 
and why are you disquieted within me? [Psalm 42:5]

In the context of the Psalm, however, the being troubled was the experience of separation from God and profound longing for God. The Psalm was a beautiful expression of impatient trust in God. The author would seem to be portraying Jesus, not recoiling from the prospect of dying, but impatient that his hour be fulfilled.

What shall I say?
Father, save me from this hour?
Yet I came to this hour because of this.
28 Father, glorify your name.” 

For Jesus, his death would be his profoundest moment of oneness with his Father, the moment when his love for humanity, learnt from his Father’s heart, would express itself totally. His death would most vividly reveal to the world the unbounded extent of his love for the world. Yet, perhaps more resoundingly, it would reveal, to those with eyes to see, the clearest possible vision of the infinite love of the Father. That was what Jesus, in his love for the Father, wanted more than anything else: that his Father’s heart be known, that his Father’s name be glorified.

A voice came from heaven,
“I have glorified it,
and I shall glorify it once more.”

God’s loving graciousness and faithfulness had already been revealed in the life of Jesus. The Prologue had proclaimed: The Word became flesh and pitched his tent among us, and we beheld his glory, his glory as only son of his Father, full of love and truth [1:14]. Jesus’ imminent death would show love and truth, originating in the Father, at their clearest.

29 The crowd that was standing around and listening
remarked that it was a clap of thunder.  
Others said that an angel had spoken to him.

Within the tradition, thunder had accompanied revelations of God. Similarly, angels were believed to be messengers of God.

30 But answering them, Jesus said,
“This voice has not come for my sake
but for yours.

Though the crowd did not understand the voice of God, some, at least, seemed to have recognised the presence of God. Whether they understood it as God’s affirmation of the person and role of Jesus was not clear.

31 Now is the moment for the world’s judgment.

Through the clear revelation of God’s love expressed in the death of Jesus, people would be enabled to choose whether to align their lives with love as the way of life, or not. People would judge themselves on the basis of their choice.

Now the ruler of the world will be cast out.

The ruler of this world was the devil, the very embodiment of evil. Through the profound love shown in the death of Jesus, the world would be saved from the lie of hopelessness. Love would be seen to express the essence of God, and the self-interest and violence of empires and kingdoms, under the power of the ruler of the world, would be shown for what they were.

Later in the narrative, Jesus would explain that the work of the Spirit would be to make obvious the points that Jesus had made, and to convince the world of sin, of righteousness and of judgment [16:8].

Invitation to the World

32 For my part, if I am lifted up from the earth,
I shall draw everyone to myself.”
33 He said this indicating the kind of death by which he would die.

Jesus had already referred twice to his being lifted up [3:14; 8:28]. The context here made it clear that what was referred to was his being lifted up on the cross. 

From Jesus’ point of view, his judgment would be a unifying judgment – he would draw everyone to himself. Yet, their free cooperation with his saving will, or their ignoring of it, would determine their individual destiny.

34 The crowd answered him, “We have heard from the law
that the Christ would remain forever,
so how can you say that the Son of Man must be lifted up?  
Who is this Son of Man?”

The crowd understood the meaning of lifted up as death by crucifixion. But Jesus’ execution did not fit in with their sense that the Christ/Messiah would remain forever. Their problem arose, possibly, from the hopes enkindled by their Scriptures, such as that expressed in Psalm 89:

Once and for all I have sworn by my holiness;

I will not lie to David.
His line shall continue forever,
and his throne endure before me like the sun [Psalm 89:35-36].

Jesus had begun to speak of himself in “third-person” terms of the Son of Man back in verse 23, though he had not explicitly identified himself as that Son of Man. Without that understanding, obviously enough, his message must have been quite beyond the grasp of the crowd. Jesus ignored their question. He had said enough – he had shed enough light – for anyone open to truth to recognise what he was saying and who he was.

35 So Jesus said to them, “The light is in you for a little while still.  
Behave as though you have the light,
so that the darkness does not have hold of you.  
Those who live in darkness do not know where they are going.
36 While you have the light, believe in the light,
so that you might become children of light.”  

Jesus had earlier identified himself as the light [8:12; 9:5]. He would not be with them for long. Yet, their choice was urgent. Time was running out; his hour had come. Insistently, he urged them to listen to him in the time that was left.

Jesus said all this, and then went off and hid from them.

Next >> John 12:37-43