A Bible Lesson on John 12:20-46

Scripture taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version.  Copyright 2000; 2001, by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers.  Used by permission.  All rights reserved.

This part of John relates the final time that Jesus addresses the crowds, the last of His public teaching.  It is, of course, Passover/Passion week, and Jesus is in Jerusalem.

John 12:20  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.”

This is significant.  Jesus has taught for 3 years, speaking to the Jews.  Now at the end, here are some Gentiles/Greeks seeking Him out for an interview.  In all likelihood these are not full Jewish proselytes, but rather “God-fearers” who took part in the synagogue worship without becoming full members of the Jewish community.  The “who went up” in verse 20 likely carries the meaning of “who usually went up.”

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.

Jesus doesn’t seem to immediately respond to the request of the Greeks.  But it triggers this explanation of what is about to happen.  The coming of the Greeks is consistent with the fact that the time for the crucifixion has come.  We see repeatedly in John (e.g. in John 8:20 and John 10:18) that Jesus is completely aware and in control of where He is relative to the cross.  The time has come.  But consider what the disciples probably hear in this.  To their ears, the glorification of Christ can only mean that finally the program is under way! He’s going to set up His kingship and they’re in line for prime jobs.  Then He says

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.

This is surely not what the disciples are expecting.  It’s not what any of us expects thinking from the perspective of this world.  Jesus talks of His life as like a seed in the plant world.  Apparent death brings life more plentiful than the single seed that one starts with.  Jesus is clearly talking primarily of His own sacrifice for you and me.  But there is probably also application in this verse to us, in terms of the death of the mortal body and resurrection described in ICorinthians 15.

25 Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life.

This is clearly about you and me.  Those who truly follow Christ will not have a different experience than Christ.

To love one’s life is to give selfish considerations priority over the interests of God’s kingdom.  This is to reckon in terms of the natural life of man, seeking to satisfy its appetites, desires and affections.  This grasping, selfish attitude in fact destroys real life both here and beyond the grave.  The amazing thing about humans is that we know this to be true, we can see it in others, and yet we try to find a middle way.

Hating one’s life is the antithesis of “loving” it.  It describes a spirit of self-sacrifice that counts nothing in this world dear in comparison to obedience to Christ.  And the truth is that a heart that sets no store in this life in itself, gains both real life here and real life beyond the grave.

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.

Again, the experience of Christ will be the experience of His people, both now and in eternity.

The agony of Christ is real.  But He is very aware of where He is in terms of the will of the Father.  The whole purpose of His coming is about to be fulfilled, and He focuses His attention and ours on that which is primary, the honor of God.

28 Father, glorify your name.” Then a voice came from heaven: “I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again.”

29 The crowd that stood there and heard it said that it had thundered. Others said, “An angel has spoken to him.”

30 Jesus answered, “This voice has come for your sake, not mine.

31 Now is the judgment of this world; now will the ruler of this world be cast out.

Jesus says that what is about to happen will bring judgment.  We’ll do well to read again John 3:16-19 and bear in mind the nature of God’s judgment.

John 3:16  “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.

17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.

18 Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.

19 And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil.

The judgment of God is an implied, legal, judgment, something that people choose.  God’s purpose is redemption.  People judge themselves by rejecting that redemption.  And now, says Jesus, is the time for judgment, in that people will be required to either accept or reject His atoning work on Calvary.

Joh 12:32  And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.”

Here is the answer to the request of the Greeks put in verse 21.  Through the cross, they will have the same access to Jesus enjoyed by His Jewish disciples.  All men will be drawn to Him, regardless of nationality or religious heritage.  The word “draw” is the same one as in Joh 6:44  No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day.

We’re reminded that Christ is not only our means of reconciliation with God, but it’s the work of His Spirit that makes us willing to accept that reconciliation.

33 He said this to show by what kind of death he was going to die.

34 So the crowd answered him, “We have heard from the Law that the Christ remains forever. How can you say that the Son of Man must be lifted up? Who is this Son of Man?”

The crowd objects to this talk of Jesus’s death.  They understand perfectly that this is what He’s discussing, but that doesn’t fit with how they understand the Old Testament scriptures.  They are thinking perhaps of verses like:

Daniel 7:14 And to him was given dominion and glory and a kingdom, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve him; his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom one that shall not be destroyed.

Ezekiel 37:25 They shall dwell in the land that I gave to my servant Jacob, where your fathers lived. They and their children and their children’s children shall dwell there forever, and David my servant shall be their prince forever.

Isaiah 9:7 Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end, on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time forth and forevermore. The zeal of the LORD of hosts will do this.

In the minds of the people in the crowd, the “Son of Man” is connected with or perhaps is a conquering Messiah, one that would live forever.  Jesus is claiming to be the Son of Man of Daniel 7:13, yet is alluding to His death.  It doesn’t add up for them.  They ask what kind of Son of Man He is anyhow.

This is, by the way, the last mention of the crowd.  To the end they remain confused and perplexed about who Jesus is.

John 12:35 So Jesus said to them, “The light is among you for a little while longer. Walk while you have the light, lest darkness overtake you. The one who walks in the darkness does not know where he is going.

Jesus doesn’t answer them directly, but rather tells them to act on the light that they have.  If they will put aside their wrong notions of what Messiah should be and trust in Him, their questions will be answered.  The tense of “walk” is present imperative.  It is “keep on walking” while you have light.

36 While you have the light, believe in the light, that you may become sons of light.” When Jesus had said these things, he departed and hid himself from them.

“believe in/put your trust in the light” brings us back to the realization that “the light” is not some abstract illumination or knowledge.  It is the person Christ Jesus.  This is not some general admonition to do good or think wise and enlightened thoughts.  It is an admonition to trust in, cleave to, cast oneself upon the mercy of Jesus.  And the end of it is that one takes on the very characteristics of Jesus, the light.  The Hebrew idiom “son of” indicates having the ethical qualities of the one referred to.  These are not people with a passing interest in the light, but rather ones who have so embraced Him that they reflect His nature.

Jesus warned them to make use of the light while they had it.  Now, figuratively, the light becomes hidden.

37 Though he had done so many signs before them, they still did not believe in him,

Again, it is “signs.”  The way John uses this word emphasizes the moral content, the fact that what is done points to who Jesus is.  And the construction rendered “had done” emphasizes the permanent and continuing quality of what Jesus had shown them of Himself.  By all rights, it’s reasonable to expect that such substantial revelations of Himself would have produced faith.  But it did not.  They still did not believe.

38 so that the word spoken by the prophet Isaiah might be fulfilled: “Lord, who has believed what he heard from us, and to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?”

39 Therefore they could not believe. For again Isaiah said,

“could not believe” is “could not continuously/habitually believe.”  They couldn’t come to faith in any real and enduring way.

40 “He has blinded their eyes and hardened their heart, lest they see with their eyes, and understand with their heart, and turn, and I would heal them.”

41 Isaiah said these things because he saw his glory and spoke of him.

None of this excuses the people.  There is the “did not” in verse 37.  There is the “could not” in verse 39.  Much as in Exodus the account of Pharaoh in response to the plagues alternates between “God hardened Pharaoh’s heart” and “Pharaoh hardened his heart.”  Humans are responsible for their own disbelief.  But none of it thwarts God’s sovereign work.  Paul deals extensively with the fact of Jewish rejection of Jesus in Romans 9-11 and he concludes that the hardening of the Jewish heart toward Christ provided salvation for us Gentiles.  Remember where we started in verse 20.

42 Nevertheless, many even of the authorities believed in him, but for fear of the Pharisees they did not confess it, so that they would not be put out of the synagogue;

43 for they loved the glory that comes from man more than the glory that comes from God.

The rejection of the Jewish leaders was not complete.  Take for example Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea.  It’s obvious, however, that John is not impressed with a secret “belief.”  What John describes here is a far cry from the wonderful picture of the blind man made able to see in John 9That fellow knew he used to be blind and now could see, and he didn’t care a whit that people wanted him to soft-peddle that fact.

44 And Jesus cried out and said, “Whoever believes in me, believes not in me but in him who sent me.

Jesus cried out.  This was not said quietly.  Jesus is offering dying humanity life eternal and He’s not whispering.  This is of final and ultimate importance.  Whoever relies on, trusts in, cast him or herself upon Jesus, is not only believing in the man from Galilee, but upon His Father.

45 And whoever sees me sees him who sent me.

And whoever steadily looks upon Jesus sees not only Him, but His Father.  They cannot be separated.

46 I have come into the world as light, so that whoever believes in me may not remain in darkness.

I (emphatic) have come forth and remain in the world as light, the only light.  He delivers us from our natural state of darkness.  That’s His purpose in coming.

Here is a .pdf of this lesson.

Scripture taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version.  Copyright 2000; 2001, by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers.  Used by permission.  All rights reserved.

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