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. 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.
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. 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 (John 12:20-36).
John’s writings–his Gospel as well as his letters–make it clear that Jesus was to be the Savior of the world, not just of the Jews. He often includes details such as this conversation involving some Greeks just for that purpose. The conversation, however, doesn’t go like the disciples thought it would–or we might think it would.
To paint a broad picture, Jesus has just entered Jerusalem in what is often known as the Triumphal Entry. This is at the very height of Jesus’ popularity. The people had heard of the miracles He had performed–including raising Lazarus from the dead. Of course the religious leaders were outraged by His popularity. John tells us, “Many people, because they had heard that he had performed this sign, went out to meet him. So the Pharisees said to one another, ‘See, this is getting us nowhere. Look how the whole world has gone after him'” (12:18-19). They were more determined than ever to kill Him.
The Request by the Greeks
John tells us that while Jesus was in Jerusalem, some Greeks wanted to see Him. These Greeks would likely have worshiped the God of the Jews, and were often admitted to synagogues as “God-fearers” (Acts 13:26; 17:4, 17), yet had not submitted to the full demands of Jewish law, such as circumcision. These Greeks made a simple request to Philip: “Sir, we would like to see Jesus.” (It’s likely that they sought out Philip because of his Greek-sounding name, and possibly because he was from Bethsaida, which had many Hellenistic cities around the area.)
At first glance, Jesus’ reply seems to ignore the request altogether. Yet, it seems that the request itself signaled to Jesus that his hour had come to be glorified (v. 23). He had promised to bring other sheep into the fold (10:16), and the time had finally come to accomplish that. Though it may seem strange to speak of His death as glorification, this was the very reason He came to His people–to die for them and set them free. And thus, because He is fulfilling the Father’s will, He will be glorified along with the Father.
Verse 24 lays down the principle by which He has lived His life. Jesus has laid down His life voluntarily, seeking nothing but the Father’s will–and shortly will literally lay down His life. And in doing so, there will be a great harvest. He takes that same principle and extends it to those who would be His disciples: “Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life” (v. 25). The idea that a disciple must “hate” his life does not mean actual moral hatred. Rather it means that the disciple of Jesus will abandon all for Him, even his very life. This is a common theme in Jesus’ teaching about salvation and discipleship. Those who do so, Jesus promises, will have two rewards: First, they will be with Jesus, where He is–by the Father’s side in heaven. Second, those who serve Him will be honored by the Father (v. 26).
Jesus then lets His disciples know that such a life, such a choice of dying to self-will is not always easy. “My soul is in anguish,” He says, “What shall I say, ‘Father save me from this hour’” (v. 27a)? At this moment He is at a crisis point–the same point that Adam was at in the Garden of Eden. The point of decision, whether to abandon what the Father has called Him to, or press ahead, continuing to live in dependence and surrender. He decides forcefully on the latter. “But for His purpose I have come to this hour. Father, glorify Your Name” (vv. 27b-28a). More than any other scene, this shows Jesus’ full humanity. We have seen indignation, anger, and sorrow. Now we see a struggle to follow God’s will and purpose no matter what the cost. This shows us that temptation itself is not sin, for Jesus was indeed tempted to abandon the plan. Yet, He resisted temptation, whereas Adam gave into the temptation.
The Unbelief of the Jews
The test having been passed, the Father once again speaks on behalf of His Son. His voice came from heaven and declared, “I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again” (v. 28b). As usual, there was a division. Some said that it thundered (the rationalists of the group; they probably did not understand the words that were spoken). Some admitted that perhaps an angel spoke to Jesus (v. 29). Jesus quickly corrects that statement, telling the crowd that the voice came for their benefit, not for His. The voice came for their sake because Jesus knew the Father and knew that He was fulfilling the Father’s plan; therefore, He did not need the audible voice to reassure Him. For the Jews, however, the voice could serve as confirmation of all that Jesus had said up to this point, if only they had the ears to hear.
Now the hour has come, judgment has come to the world–all sin will be judged in the death of Christ. Not only will all sins be judged by the cross, but also the ruler of the earth (Satan) will be defeated. Finally, not only will Satan be defeated, when Christ is lifted up (speaking of His crucifixion), all men will be drawn to Him (vv. 31-32).
The Jews of course do not understand His statement at all. They seize on the last statement and ask, “The Law of Moses says that the Messiah will remain forever! How then can the Son of Man be lifted up? Who is the ‘Son of Man’” (v. 34). Though He in this instance did not mention “the Son of Man,” many in the crowd would have heard Him teach about the Son of Man, and it is clear in His teaching that He is referring to Himself. The Jews ask Him once again for a clear statement of His identity, which He has given them on numerous occasions (such as in John 8:58).
The Final Word on the Ministry
This time, Jesus gives them no answer to their question. Instead He exhorts them to believe and walk in the light, meaning His teachings that He had given up to this point. He had given them all the instruction and information He could. For if they reject the Light that was given to them, they will have no more light. Jesus thus closes His public ministry on the same themes with which He opened it: a command to “Follow Me” (1:43; 12:26) and a command to believe and walk in the light (3:19-21; 12:35-36). His teaching now over, Jesus now departs in preparation for the days ahead.
Takeaways from the Passage
The first and primary takeaway from this passage is what we identified earlier: Jesus is the Savior of all who place their trust in Him. Continuing along that path, the second takeaway is that the disciple of Jesus is called to abandon all for the sake of Christ–even his very life if need be. The disciple’s attitude is to be one of “I have nothing; You have everything. Apart from You, I am nothing.” Finally, all are called to walk in the light that is given. When the Lord gives light, we are to embrace the light so that we might have more light. If we reject the light that is given, we enter a world of darkness where even the light we have will vanish. This was the fate of many of the Jews that heard Jesus teach.
[Some of the material in this post has been adapted from my commentary That You May Believe: A Commentary on John, available here.]