We pick up the story after Jesus has entered Jerusalem; His “Triumphal Entry”. The news of His having raised Lazarus has spread like wildfire through the region and people are flocking to Jesus like never before, some just to have a look and others in faith. The reaction of the Pharisees in verse 19 is classic: “See, this is getting us nowhere. Look how the whole world has gone after him!” Yes, they must put a stop to this business, pronto! Our text begins with some Greeks who are present for Passover who approach Phillip asking to meet with Jesus. It would seem that they were not Greek speaking Jews, but Gentile Greeks. Notice that they approach Phillip who goes to Andrew. Phillip and Andrew are not only from Galilee like these Greeks, but they have Greek names, the only two amongst the disciples. They are “Hellenized” Jews which is to say that they have adopted Greek culture while remaining Jews. Thus, it is believed that they took Greek names and most likely are Greek in dress and hair style.
They approach Jesus with the request of a meeting and Jesus answers oddly by going straight to the subject of His impending death. Using the example of a grain of wheat, Jesus will now teach those around him that life (eternal life) comes from death. The use of the example of grain is designed to overcome the fact that this concept is entirely counter-intuitive to humans who have not seen the glories of Heaven. The message is obvious in His case, now that we know the rest of the story, but the implication for us is quite serious: Any of us who holds on to our lives in this world too selfishly will not inherit eternal life, for we will not follow Jesus at all. This idea is seen in verse 26 where Jesus equates losing or “hating” this worldly life with serving Him and thus serving God. Thus, we “lose” our life by serving God rather than serving ourselves. I cannot over emphasize the importance of this idea, for this is the Christian life!
Verses27-28 reveal that Jesus was troubled by what He was about to face in going to the cross to die a horrible death. Remember that He is both Divine and human and had the same instincts of survival that we all have. How would you feel about things if you knew that you were soon going to be taken away for torture and death? I would be on my way out of town! Jesus has a different response, for this is the very reason He has been brought to this point. It is interesting that John tells us about this encounter that is begun with the arrival of the Greeks. Maybe Jesus was tempted to go off with them and take His message to a whole different audience to avoid His date with the cross… In any case, He will not be swayed from His purpose, and God confirms His approval with a rare vocal endorsement.
The people heard the voice and stunned, await some clarification. Jesus explains that the voice was for their benefit, so they would know that everything is going according to God’s plan. Then, He demonstrates the point in three amazing ways:
First, the time has come for “judgment on this world”. Since the Greek word rendered “judgment” is krisis, if we leave it un-translated, the statement would read “Now is the crisis of this world.” A crisis for this world would surely come when Jesus is murdered in front of everyone when all were aware of His total innocence. This would expose the sin that has the entire world in its grip for all of its stinking rottenness. Second, it is the time when “the prince of this world will be driven out.” Satan, who has the world in his pocket through their slavery to sin, will lose his grip on those who will follow Jesus, those who will be set free from bondage to sin. Third, that Jesus will die by being “lifted up” gives His listeners the method by which all of this will be accomplished; He will die on a cross. The result of this will be that all peoples who look to the cross in faith will see not merely a method of execution, but the means by which they can be saved from sin and death.
We reach a major turning point in John’s Gospel at this point. The crowd has come to discuss national liberation from Rome, and Jesus is talking about death and redemption. They object and refer to Daniel 7:14 which teaches that the Messiah will be with them forever. Jesus doesn’t engage. He does offer one last bit of advice: Darkness is about to descend, their only hope is to believe in Jesus (“trust in the light”) which will enable them to resist the oppressive spiritual darkness, for they will become “sons of light”. With that, Jesus slips away. The rest of the Gospel will describe Jesus’ answer to the question they have posed: “Who is this Son of Man?”