Perhaps we are taken by surprise by what follows the Entry of Jesus into Jerusalem. John places before his readers a group of Gentiles (Greeks), also attending the Feast, who approach the disciples of Jesus, and say to Philip, “Sir, we would see Jesus.” When Jesus hears of this, he does not speak to them; but, he speaks of the nature and necessity of his coming death as a necessary stage in his glorification by the Father. And, as he does so the Father speaks to Jesus, much as he did at the Baptism and the Transfiguration! (People do not usually associate a Voice from heaven with the Holy Week!)
The Gentiles were most probably Galilean proselytes, who came from the border town known as Bethsaida of Galilee. As uncircumcised men, they were not allowed to eat the Passover, but they could enter the Court of the Gentiles in the Temple and make certain offerings. Possibly the reason why they came to Jesus was their gratitude for his cleansing of the Temple and restoring the Court to its true purpose (see Mark 11:15-19). It is also possible that they approached Philip for he had a Greek name and was from Bethsaida, as also was Andrew. However, Philip’s hesitation to process their request is understandable in that Jesus had not engaged in any ministry to the Gentiles. Nevertheless, it is significant that the desire of the Gentiles to meet the Son of God is mediated by the two disciples, with Greek names, Philip and Andrew.
The presence of the Greeks and their desire to see Jesus anticipate the mission to the world (John 7:35); the gathering together of the scattered children of God (John 11:52); and the coming of the sheep of another fold (John 10:16)into the kingdom. The discourse of Jesus (verse 23ff.) which follows is to be read in this context, although it is addressed in the first place to the disciples.
As the Gentiles begin to turn to the Messiah, Jesus recognizes that the time, “the hour,” for his sacrificial death as the first, essential part of his glorification by the Father has arrived. Only in this way can the salvation of the world be achieved. In illustration of the necessity of his laying down his life in obedience to the Father, Jesus tells the story of the grain of wheat. Unless it is buried in the ground, and dies, it remains what it is, a single, unproductive grain of wheat. Death is the appointed means whereby it can be multiplied and produce harvest. Thus Jesus must die in order by his self-offering to bring forth much fruit for Jews and Gentiles. “When I am lifted up from the earth I will draw all people to myself” (John 12:32). The universality of the significance of the death of Jesus is the real answer to the request of the Greeks to see him; and it also explains why he cannot as yet come into a direct relation to them.
“He who loves his life loses it; and he who hates his life in this world shall preserve it for eternal life” (v.25). This, of course, equally applies to both Jesus and to his disciples, but to Jesus first. However the final word in this section (v.26) applies to disciples only. Service of Christ means sharing his lot, whatever that may be; but with this is the amazing promise that the disciple who shares the suffering of Jesus will also share the honor which God gives him.
The prospect of his death, now felt to be imminent, fills the human soul of Jesus with terror. (Here we may insert as fuller background the account in the other Gospels of Jesus in Gethsemane—Mark 14:34-36. Also we may recall the agony of the servant of God in Psalm 43:5-6 & 55:4-5.) So, quite naturally, Jesus, the Son of the Father, turns to the Father in his agony and in self-dedication.
The surrender of the Son of God is based on his clear recognition that the “hour” of his death is imposed upon him by divine necessity; and, further, that, specifically and precisely, in his obedience to the Father the purpose of his coming in the world is alone fulfilled. “To glorify his Name” is for God to make known and reveal who and what he is, particularly in his redemption of the world.
The obedience of Jesus is immediately ratified from heaven by a word from the Father—as he had heard at his Baptism and Transfiguration. Jesus heard it perfectly for he had the ears to hear, but the crowd heard it but could not identify it precisely—for some it sounded like thunder and to others the voice of an angel. Yet this Voice served to declare to them the heavenly credentials of the Man before them. At the same time, Jesus is assured that the Father already has glorified his Name and that he will glorify it again, most amazingly and wonderfully in the Death and then Resurrection of Jesus himself.
Jesus continues his speech, which had been interrupted by the Voice from heaven. The repetition of the word, “Now,” places special emphasis upon it. That is, this is the unique moment in space and time, and in human history, of “the judgment of the world,” when Satan is removed from this rule, and the power of evil and sin broken and shattered. At the very centre of this unique moment is the exaltation of Jesus, his overcoming sin, evil, death and Satan at the Cross, and his being raised to the right hand of the Father in glory. And through this same Jesus God’s salvation will be available, as he, the crucified and exalted One, draws people to himself.
From his hearers, who have been interpreting what he said through their own view of the Messiah, who stays for ever (see 2 Sam.7:16; Psalm 45:6; Isaiah 9:7), a question arises, concerning not the identity but the status and function of “the Son of Man” ( see 2 Sam.7:16; Psalm 45:6; Isaiah 9:7). Jesus who identified himself as the Son of Man answers them but only indirectly—he is the light and he will not be with them much longer, so that this is their last chance of escaping the darkness by believing in the Light, in order to become sons of light.
This point marks the end of the public ministry of Jesus as he left the crowd and made himself unavailable. He hid himself! From now on Jesus speaks only to his disciples and to Herod, for the darkness has descended upon his own people, the Jews.
We, the readers of John’s Gospel, are highly privileged. While Jesus hid himself from the Jews of his time, he makes himself known to us, for we can go with John as guide (chapters 13-17) into the Upper Room to see the actions of and to hear the profound words of Jesus.