John 12:20-50 Facing Death

John's Gospel Commentary by Robert Brow ( 2000

As John reflects on what Jesus said as he was approaching his own death, he remembers words which seemed incomprehensible at the time, but later became very significant.

In the other Gospels cross taking is a voluntary commitment to a course of action that could be painful, and in which you might be metaphorically (in some cases literally) get crucified (Matthew 10:38, 16:24, Mark 8:34, Luke 9:23, 14:27). In this section of John's Gospel we might characterize cross taking by the three words love, sacrifice, and resurrection.

God is Love, and love has tremendous healing power. Babies that are not loved, and touched, and cuddled often die. But love is very costly. When we love our children, parents, partners, other church members, the needy and suffering, we are inevitably going to be hurt. At the heart of God's kind of love is sacrifice. Sacrifice (taking up the cross, turning the other cheek, praying and blessing) is a powerful force that heals by the absorbing of evil in one's own body for the good of others. And in God's astonishing plan for our world sacrifice is not a sad pointless end but the way to resurrection. Because God is love, when love is sacrificed it cannot be held down by the forces of evil, but it bursts out like a daffodil in spring in a glorious resurrection.  Which is why we hear the proverb: the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church.

The last six verses (12:44-50) sum up what Jesus has taught about himself, his relationship to the Father, the metaphor of himself as the light of the world, and the fact that he does not judge but rather it is humans who judge themselves by the way they respond to him or reject him.

12:20 These could have been Hellenists (in the sense of Jews who were raised in the Greek culture of the Mediterranean world (as in 7:35, Acts 6:1, 9:29) Or they could have been Greeks by birth who had become interested in the Jewish faith (Acts 11:20). The latter were called "Proselytes of the gate," and were viewed as converts (Matthew 23:15).

12:21-23 Philip was one of the earliest disciples (John 1:40-45, see 6:5-8). He and Andrew both came from Bethsaida at the north end of the Sea of Galilee (John 1:44), which was a busy center of trade. He would certainly have spoken Greek, and was perhaps known in his own home town by these visitors to Jerusalem.

We do not know why these Hellenists wanted to see Jesus. Perhaps they wanted to engage in a philosophical discussion, but Jesus gives them no encouragement in that direction. These days we would assume they were representatives of the press trying to get a story. They wanted to see Jesus, but he did not satisfy their curiosity. He pointed out that they would only know who he was when he was glorified in his resurrection and ascension. Jesus spoke of this glorification in his prayer at the end of the last supper (17:1-4).

12:24 The words glory and glorification refer to the full revealing of the purpose of something. An oil lamp is not glorified till it is used to give light in the darkness. Salt is not glorified when it is in the packet, but when it gives taste to food. A daffodil bulb has no glory till it is put in the ground and flowers as a yellow daffodil in the spring. The glory of a woman's pregnancy is the birth of a beautiful baby. Similarly Jesus' glory will emerge as when a grain of wheat is planted and comes out as an ear of wheat grains, which can then be made into bread, or sown to produce sixty to a hundred times more.

12:25-26 Jesus then speaks of the life principle of glorification through sacrifice, which is the acceptance of pain and suffering for a greater good. "If your body comes first, be ready to lose it." An oak tree is glorified when it is cut down and made into planks for a sailing ship. It was through suffering, death and resurrection that eventually the Messiah became the head of the worldwide church (Ephesians 1:20-23, 4:16, Colossians 1:18-20). In the same way our glory is in "the sharing of his sufferings" (Philippians 3:10, see 2 Corinthians 1:5-7, Colossians 1:24, 1 Peter 4:13).

12:27 At this point Jesus went on to share with the visitors his own heart feelings. The other Gospels describe the scene in the Garden of Gethsemane. But John remembers the awful sense of what was coming upon Jesus had already taken hold a day or two before. On the one hand as a human tempted in all points as we are (Hebrews 4:15) Jesus naturally shrank back, but he is able to ask the Father to complete the work of glorifying the Father's name.

12:28-30 John also remembers the awesome words that came right out of heaven: "I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again." The synoptic Gospels all three record the two other occasions in which the Father assured his Son that he was right there with him in the way of the cross (at his baptism Matthew 3:17, Mark 1:11, Luke 3:22 and transfiguration, Matthew 17:5, Mark 9:7, Luke 9:35).

Paul was also encouraged by words from heaven, not only on the Road to Damascus (9:4) but also in Corinth (Acts 18:9), after his arrest (Acts 23:11) and in the storm at sea (Acts 27:23). Which reminds us that the Father is with us, as he was with his son, and with Paul, every step of the way.

And such words of encouragement from heaven are not just for our own comfort, but those who are sharing with us in the way of the cross.

12:31 We speak of the world, the flesh and the devil. The world was judged because the most religious people in the world ended up crucifying their own most perfect individual, the Messiah that they were looking for. Roman justice failed in the gross injustice of Pilate the governor. Nationalism was also judged because the Jewish nation (apart from the many who became Christians) rejected the Savior that is believed in among all other nations.

The flesh (the drives and instincts we receive through the genes of our parents) was judged because it cannot produce in us the love that can only come from the Spirit (see Romans 7:14-20 and 8:1-8). And it was when Jesus allowed his flesh to be crucified that the full power of the Spirit was released to transform the world.

The devil (Satan) stirred up the jealousy, hatred, and lies that resulted in the betrayal, wrongful trial, and crucifixion of the Messiah. But it was precisely by the Messiah's love absorbing the evil of the world that Satan's power was broken.

In a lesser way we also are involved in breaking the power of evil. Luke records that Satan had been thrown down by the work of Jesus' disciples (Luke 10:18). And Paul tells Christians (probably in Ephesus) that "The God of peace will shortly crush Satan under your feet" (Romans 16:20). He also tells the Ephesians that Satan's massive power can be countered by the weapons we have at hand (Ephesians 6:10-12). The book of Revelation announced that "The great dragon was thrown down, that ancient serpent, who is called the Devil and Satan, the deceiver of the whole world" and he was conquered by ordinary Christians through "the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony" (Revelation 12:9-11).

On the one hand Jesus' victory on the cross was like the defeat of Goliath in personal combat, but that was followed by the battles of many other individuals in battle against the Philistines (1 Samuel 16:8-10, 17:52, 23:1, 24:1, etc.). That is why we are called soldiers of the cross.

12:32-34 The Greek word "lifted up"can refer to being put on a cross, and this is the sense Jesus had in mind (12:33, see 8:28) and the crowd understood (12:34). John had earlier spoken of the brazen serpent being lifted up for the people look at in faith (3:14-15). But the crucifixion and burial was like grain falling into dying in the earth (12:24). The drawing of all people to the Messiah occurs not just through the actual crucifixion but through the preaching of the "lifting up" of his resurrection and ascension (as in Acts 2:4, 32, 36, 3:15, 26, 4:2, 10).

The expression Son of Man refers to Jesus in his humanity (see notes on 5:27, 6:27, 53, 62, 8:28). In his Gospel John also includes many references to Jesus as the Son of God (see 5:17-23).

12:35-36 Jesus again goes back to the metaphor of himself as the light of the world (introduced in 1:5, 9, see 8:12, 9:5. Faith is turning to and responding to Jesus as the light of the world, and Jesus suggests that any who do that (no doubt many more than those who have grasped the right theology) are "the children of light." Jesus goes back to this metaphor in 12:46.

After this brief interview, Jesus again withdraws out of the public eye (as in 8:59, 10:40, 11:54). It seems as if John remembers Jesus as again and again coming in to the city, and withdrawing before the authorities could arrest him. He only allowed himself to be arrested when his time had come.

12:37-41 John now adds his personal comment as he reflects back on how and why so many refused to believe the obvious. To illustrate the small number who believed John quotes the beginning of Isaiah 53, the chapter that prophetically (see 12:41) pictures the suffering of God' servant (Isaiah 52:13-53:12). And as an explanation for the inability to believe he quotes from another part of Isaiah (Isaiah 6:9-10).

12:42-43 But in spite of the unbelief of many of the authorities John remembered many who had believed. But fear of being excommunicated held them back from admitting it (see 9:22, 11:57). In their case being honored by their peers was more important than being honored by God. But even if there was unbelief at that time the events of the resurrection and Day of Pentecost resulted in large numbers, who had previously been unwilling to declare themselves, now being willing to be baptized and become disciples to be taught by the Spirit (Acts 2:41, 47, 5:14, 6:7).

12:44 - 46 The words "cried out' introduce a public announcement to the whole crowd (as in 7:28, 37). And again Jesus declares his oneness with the Father (as in 5:17 - 23, 6:37- 40, 46, 8:16 -19).

He also goes back to the metaphor of himself as the light in the world (as in 12:35-36).

12:47- 48 Jesus is not in the business of judging and condemning us (see 3:17-18) but his very life and words force us into the crisis (3:19-21) of responding to or rejecting the light of God.

12:49-50 Again Jesus remind his hearers that he is declaring exactly what the Father has commanded him to say (as in 5:19-20, 7:16, 8:28), and eternal life is acting on what the Father commands.

13:1-15 Foot Washing