The forgotten Greeks and the glorified Jesus

This Sunday the lectionary invites us to consider John 12:20-43. The English Standard Version breaks the text into three portions and supplies them with the headings: “Some Greeks Seek Jesus,”[1] “The Son of Man Must Be Lifted Up,”[2] and “The Unbelief of the People”[3].

The first portion tells of some Greeks[4] who’d come to Jerusalem to enjoy the feast of Passover. Many scholars say they weren’t Jews. They were part of a swell of non-Jews who were showing interest in Jesus.

A later example is the Ethiopian Eunuch in the book of Acts.[5] Perhaps it’s no coincidence that he was ministered to by Philip. It’s likely that the interest of these non-Jews in Jesus is what caused the Pharisees to say “Look, the world has gone after him,” as John wrote in verse 19. If they’d known the word “tsunami,” they might’ve said that there was a tsunami of interest in Jesus.

The Greeks approached Philip and asked for an appointment with Jesus. Philip went with Andrew[6] and told Jesus. Jesus took the request of the Greeks as proof of a tidal wave, a tsunami, of interest in him.

People were beginning to see that he was king not only of the Jews[7] – the political charge for which he was killed – but king of the cosmos. Sadly, as we’ll see in the third portion, what they saw often didn’t amount to faith in him.

Jesus’ answered, “the hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.” And expanded on it by speaking of his death – and theirs. He said God would honour their sacrifice by giving them eternal life.

John forgets to tell us whether the Greeks got their appointment.

The second portion tells us Jesus spoke of being lifted up, so that he could draw all men to himself. And spoke of being lifted up in order to show them how he would be killed.

We know the words “being lifted up,” point back to the centuries-ago incident of the people being saved from death by serpent-bite by looking up at a bronze serpent. I discussed it in my post titled The Serpent, the Son, and Nicodemus. I’ve provided a link to my post.

John adds that the people didn’t get it, and that Jesus urged the people to walk in the light, believe in the light, become sons of the light. But the people just didn’t get it. So, Jesus left them. John writes, with sadness:

“Though he had done so many signs before them, they still did not believe in him, 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?’
” (36b-37)

There’s a lot in the three portions. I’ll just expand on three things.

First, let’s consider what “glory” depicts. John uses the word “glory” 15 times, while Luke uses it 11 times; and Mark and Matthew use it 3 times and 6 times, respectively. What did they mean by “glory”?

In the Old Testament, the response of people to glory was fear and trembling. Glory is that aspect of God which humbles, terrifies, man.

In the New Testament, the Son of God took on the very nature of a man and so, could even be humiliated, spit upon, mocked, flogged, killed – as I discussed in my column last week. I’ve provided a link to it.

But the killing of Jesus, by nailing him to a cross and raising it up, was his coronation; his being crowned and robed once more with the imperishable glory of God, as king of the cosmos. This is how the Apostle Paul explained it in his letter to the Philippians:

… Christ Jesus, 6 … though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, 7 but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. 8 And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. 9 Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, 10 so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.[8]

Second, let’s consider what “the hour” depicts. Matthew and Mark, in their gospels, use “the hour” to refer to the moment when Jesus was betrayed[9] by Judas. In other words, they use it to indicate the beginning of the end of Jesus earthly ministry. Luke uses it in much the same way.

However, John, in his gospel, uses “the hour” as a thread, a theme, to tie together the things he writes about. Bible scholar Leon Morris tells us the words “the hour”:

“[bear] witness to the truth that everything in the life of Jesus moves inevitably to the climax, the death and resurrection that lay before him from the beginning.”[10]

Supremely, John uses “the hour” to tell us about the soon-to-be event of the crucifixion of Jesus. We read in

John 12:23 … The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.
And in
John 17:1   … Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son that the Son may glorify you …

Third, let’s consider what “belief” depicts. John tells us why he wrote his narrative of the life of Jesus. He ends his gospel with this sentence, to which the English Standard Version gives the title, “The Purpose of This Book”:

30 Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; 31 but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.

The conclusion of this column is obvious. Jesus was no ordinary man. He was God incarnate. God incarnate who came to die. Who came to die because that was his coronation. His coronation was his glorification. His glorification was to call us to look upon his broken body, see God’s plan of salvation, and be saved.[11]

How else would you explain the life and death of Jesus?

Peace be with you.

[1] Verses 20-26.

[2] Verses 27-36.

[3] Verses 37-43.

[4] According to Bible scholar Gary M Burge, “These Greeks who come  up to the feast are likely ‘God-fearers,’ Gentiles who admire the  Jewish faith and respect its traditions.” Burge adds that the arrival of the Greeks may signal that Jesus’ “ministry in Judaism is finished and he now belongs to the wider world.”

[5] Acts 8:26-40.

[6] It’s unclear why Andrew is mentioned. Andrew was Peter’s brother.

[7] This is a term used often by the gospel writers. See especially John 19.

[8] Philippians 2:5-11

[9] Matthew 26:45; Mark 14:35,41

[10] The Atonement in John’s Gospel, 1988.

[11]Bible scholar John Lightfoot says, “in the presence of the incarnate Jesus men ipso facto [by that very fact] pass judgement on themselves by their attitude  to Him, and are thus revealed for what they truly are. 

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *