John 12:20-33


Some commentators are of the opinion that this episode happened in the afternoon of Palm Sunday. It is found only in John and is found right after Jesus' entry into Jerusalem. Others feel that it occurred on Tuesday morning, two days later. In any event, all agree that Jesus was in the Temple.

John 12:20 Now there were some Greeks among those who went up to worship at the Feast.

"Greeks" meaning Gentiles. "Who were among those who customarily went up." They were among the God-fearing Gentiles who worshipped in Jerusalem at the time of the Passover. Compare Acts 10:1.22.35; 13:; 16:14; 17:4.17; 18:7. They came to worship.

John 12:21 They came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, with a request. "Sir," they said,  "we would like to see Jesus." 

This is narrative. They must have been acquainted with Philip. Bengel suggests that perhaps they always lodged with Philip in Bethsaida on their journey to Jerusalem. They simply request to meet Jesus to become acquainted with Him. This request must have proceeded from faith, for they surely knew that the Jewish authorities hated Jesus. It has been suggested that perhaps these Greeks were in the crowd which went out to meet Jesus, John 12:13, but we don't know.

John 12:22 Philip went to tell Andrew; Andrew and Philip in turn told Jesus.

Many commentators quote Bengel who says at this point:

A prelude is here given of the kingdom of God which is about to pass from the Jews (exclusively) to the Gentiles.

Well put.

Farrar: When Jesus was born, Chaldeans from the East had sought His cradle, and now Greeks and sons of the West came to His cross.
Fahling: In this request Jesus saw an indication of His glorification, which consisted in His being acknowledged by men of all nations, as had been prophesied.
Hendriksen: Andrew and Philip, hesitating to offend the Greeks, also hesitating to  encourage them, place the request of the Greeks before Jesus.

Jesus had told His disciples not to go to the Gentiles, Matthew 10:5, and that He was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel, Matthew 15:24. But Jesus Himself had foretold the bringing in of the Gentiles at John 10:16. John 12:20-22 reveals the Greeks, Philip, Andrew and Jesus as very tactful, but forthright nonetheless. A great truth is being introduced. Whether these Greeks actually met Jesus is not stated.

Lenski: We hear nothing further about the Greeks. . . John is not telling the story of these Greeks but of Jesus.

John 12:23 Jesus replied, "The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified." 

The antecedent of is the two disciples. "The hour has come" in the sense of the occasion of Jesus' suffering and death was found at John 7:30; 8:20. At this point it occurs in John with greater frequency. Compare 12:27; 13:1; 16:32; 17:1. The word "glorified" covers the suffering, death, resurrection and final ascension of the Son of man. The Son of man clothed God in splendor by His atoning work which brings the Gentiles into the Church.

John 12:24  "I tell you the truth, 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." 

Here is another "I tell you the truth," so frequent in John, (twenty-four times) introducing a very important statement.

Now follow two present general statements which are axiomatic and paradoxical. To bring out the axiom add  "ever" to each protasis and "always" to each apodosis. It is a principle of nature that if a seed does not die, there will be no fruit but that if it dies there will be much fruit. The point of comparison is clear , but applies to Jesus only. No other human being ever produced much fruit by dying, none other than Jesus Christ. His death brought much fruit, especially among the Gentiles.

Here begins Jesus' answer to the request of the Greeks. He did not spend His time exchanging amenities with these visitors. He spoke truths for all generations of men.

John 12:25  "The man who loves his life will lose it, while the man who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life." 

Verse 24 applies to Jesus only. Verses 25-26 apply to all people, Jews and Gentiles. Note that both verses contain two statements each. The universal atonement underlies these two verses. Both verses contain warning and promise.

In verse 25 Jesus is comparing two types of people, which include all human beings. On this verse cf. Luke 14:26-27. He is speaking of a selfish, temporal love. To love one's soul means to live for self-gratification and avoidance of suffering.  "Hate" does not denote the hatred of the flesh but the hatred of the new man. This involves one immediately in repentance, faith, the new life, also suffering. Compare Matthew 16:25.

Nothing frightens the Christian so much as the thought of losing his own soul. Nothing comforts the Christian quite so much as the preservation of his soul for everlasting life.

Ylvisaker: To love is here the equivalent of holding on, clinging to, being unwilling to part with. To hate is to give up cheerfully, turn away, or separate from.
Kretzmann: It is one of the demands of Christian discipleship that all followers of Christ die unto this present life, with all it has to offer, daily. Compare Matthew 10:39; 16:25; Mark 8:35; Luke 9:24; 17:33.
Hendriksen: The solemn truth stated in verse 24 applies to Christ, to him alone. Nevertheless, there is an analogous principle which operates in the sphere of men. It is the one stated in verses 25 and 26.
Lenski: The Christian is ready, contrary to his natural inclinations and desires in his life here on earth, to wound, grieve, deny, crucify, mortify self in repentance and sanctification. . . He shall thus get out of his natural life what God intends him to get and at the same time attain the life eternal.

This is well said, because Jesus is not teaching asceticism.

John 12:26  "Whoever serves me must follow me; and where I am, my servant also will be. My Father will honor the one who serves me." 

Note that both of these conditional sentences are general, covering all instances, an open invitation to both Jews and Gentiles. He died for all. "Serves" here is wider in meaning than mere religious service. "Serve" is a twenty-four hour a day matter, which involves a person in constant use of Law and Gospel. "Must follow," though an imperative, is an invitation, an invitation to trust, serve, suffer. And then follows a wonderful promise.  "Where -- there" are correlative adverbs of place. Read John 7:34 and 8:21 where Jesus warned His enemies that they would not be able to come. But here at John 12:26; 14:3; 17:24 He does not say "you will be able" because it is purely a gift of Jesus.

In what sense will The Father honor the "service" of Jesus? Bengel suggests that this corresponds to verse 23, the glorification of the Son of man. Just as the Son of man was glorified through suffering, death and resurrection, so the server will be honored with final glorification.

"My servant" is a fellow-heir with Christ, Romans 8:17. In verse 26 Jesus is not merely prophesying, but stating the certainty of everlasting life for the servant.

Before we leave this section we refer to Solomon's prayer for the Gentiles at 1 Kings 8:41-43. In its highest sense, the prayer of Solomon was answered here in John 12:20-33 when these Greeks, as representatives of all Gentiles, were knocking at the door of the Kingdom, to use an expression from Stoeckhardt, who says: "The hour that Christ should enter into glory through His death was at hand, because the Gentiles were knocking at the door and desiring a portion of Christ's kingdom." 

John 12:27  "Now my heart 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." 

Note that four of these words are quoted from the LXX, Psalm 6:4 (3), a penitential Psalm. Psalm 6 is spoken by the penitent sinner because of his own sins. Here Jesus uses it because of what He is about to suffer because of all men's sins. "Is troubled" is perfect tense because Jesus' soul has been disturbed for some time but the intensity is growing as He approaches His death. Jesus announced His impending death at least three times (cf. Matthew 16:21; Mark 8:31; Luke 9:22 for the first announcement). The first announcement occurred at least nine months before this time.

By the way, the word "hour" including this instance, occurs seventeen times in John from this point on. In the majority of cases it has to do with His suffering and death. (It occurs here again twice in verse 31 )

"What shall I say" is deliberative subjunctive. It denotes deep emotion, not a mere request for information. KJV and NEB make the sentence a statement. The others make it a question, as does Nestle/Aland. It is surely a question: "Shall I say: 'Father, save me from this hour'?" AAT gives the sense: "Father, save Me from what is going to happen? No! I came to suffer this now." "No" is clearly "No!" The situation is much like in the Garden of Gethsemane, Matthew 26:38ff.

"This reason" though it has no expressed antecedent, means "For this very reason, namely, to die for the world." He says "No!" to "save me," just mentioned, and "Yes!" to His purpose. "I've come" denotes Jesus' willing obedience.

Kretzmann: Every Christian may say a similar prayer when the hour of tribulation comes upon him; only he must never set his own will above the will of his heavenly Father. . . Jesus corrects His prayer by asking that the work for which He came into the world continue.

Verse 27 reveals two things: Jesus' intense agony and His willing obedience, no matter what the cost.

John 12:28  "Father, glorify your name!" Then a voice came from heaven, "I have glorified it, and will glorify it again." 

Note the word "glorify" for the second time. First, verse 27, in agony. Here in determination. The name of God is His revelation of Himself through Jesus. Jesus asks that revelation to be clothed in splendor by His suffering and dying. The Father had glorified His name, His revelation, by Jesus' incarnation, His life, miracles, baptism, preaching and transfiguration.

The first "I have glorified" denotes approval, and second "will glorify" offers comfort and promise to Jesus. Commentators point out that this is the third word of the Father publicly about Jesus. The first was at His baptism, the second at His transfiguration. On this read John 17:4.5. Jesus is very God of very God, incarnate. The Father addresses Jesus as both human and divine.

John 12:29 The crowd that was there and heard it said it had thundered; others said an angel had spoken to him.

It is clear that the crowd standing there heard something but did not understand. There were two opinions indicating that they discussed it.

John 12:30 Jesus said, "This voice was for your benefit, not mine." 

Hendriksen thinks this means "Not exclusively for my sake has this voice occurred, but also for your sake." That may be, for the Father's voice surely strengthened Jesus. In any case it shows Jesus' great love for His disciples. Jesus assures them that the Father has answered His prayer (cf. 11 :42) and that He (Jesus) is about to do His great vicarious work. Jesus' entire thinking and doing is devoted to saving mankind.

John 12:31  "Now is the time for judgment on this world; now the prince of this world will be driven out." 

A compound sentence. Each member introduced by "now," denoting what will happen presently. Only in this Gospel is Satan called "the ruler of this world." Compare 14:30 and 16:11. In all three cases, Satan is doomed. By causing man to fall into sin, Satan usurped authority over man. But Satan, who rules this world of men, is about to be thrown out. That is the judgment, the moment of crisis, of and for this world. Satan is conquered. Compare Luke 10:18 and Hebrews 2:14.

Death is Satan's most fearsome weapon. By dying, Jesus conquered Satan and death. Jesus is speaking about His own death. Read Ephesians 2:1-10. Satan is still hard at work. The Gospel is our only hope.

John 12:32  "But I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to myself." 

Only in John's Gospel (3:14; 8:28; 12:32.34) is "lifted up" used of Jesus' crucifixion. "Draw" is used of dragging dead weight, e.g. beaching ships or dragging a net of fish to the shore. Jesus used it again and again in John 6 of the Father "dragging" (drawing) people to Jesus. They cannot do it by their own powers. (Compare John 6:44). There the word was used of conversion but here Jesus is using "dragging" of redemption. We think that Lenski errs here when he says:

This is the drawing exerted by grace through the means of grace (Word and Sacrament), alike in effectiveness and seriousness for all men, not in any way limited on God's part. . . Jesus is speaking of this universal and unlimited grace only in so far as it succeeds in actually drawing men from the world to himself.

No! Jesus is not speaking of a potentiality, but an actuality. Jesus says: "I will draw all men to myself." This is the universal atonement, not the possibility of conversion. Lenski has real problems not only here but also with John 1:9; 2 Corinthians 5:19; Romans 5:12-21 and other passages. Look at John 12:33. Was the death of Christ for all men a mere potentiality or an actuality? It would be dangerous to say that Christ died for all only potentially. No. He died for all actually. Why then are not all saved? Because many reject what Christ and His cross did for all. Verse 32 must be taken literally without any kind of exegetical adornment.

Bengel: 'Draw all men,' even the Gentiles. Satan shall not be able to retain them. He shall give way. Here the answer is given to the request made at verse 21. I WILL DRAW from earth, upwards. By this word a power is indicated in opposition to the prince of the world, who shall no longer detain his captives.

Bengel rightly understood verse 32 as universal. Satan was not conquered potentially, but actually. Christ did not die for some men potentially, but for all actually. As Bengel says, here was Jesus' answer to the request of the Greeks. If the Greeks did not hear what Jesus said, Philip and Andrew likely told them what He said.

John 12:33 He said this to show the kind of death he was going to die.

This is plainly a comment by the Evangelist John. In indirect language, spoken for the benefit of the Greeks, Jesus is speaking of His crucifixion. When Jesus first announced His coming death to the disciples, they were shocked. Jesus likely uses "the kind of" here to soften the idea so they could get used to it. But He spoke in unmistakable terms.


Adapted from Exegetical Notes, Series B, Festival Season Sundays Gospel Texts, by Harold H. Buls, Concordia Theological Seminary Press: Ft Wayne IN, 1981, pp. 77-80. Used with permission.

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