John 12:20-33


There is a deliberate pun in John about the "raising" of Jesus - on the cross, and from the grave. In the first, the rulers of this world are shown to be powerless; in the second, death is shown to be powerless.

Year B

Lent 5

Read the passage at the bottom of this post: John 12:20-33, The Message   or   John 12:20-33, The New Revised Standard Version (NRSV).

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Personal aside to begin.
Inserting readings from John along with those from MM&L (Matthew, Mark and Luke), without any explanatory comment, seems to suggest that MM&L and John are both telling the same story about Jesus. This is a mistake. Don't get me wrong. I love John's Gospel. But John has - literally - a very different vision of Jesus - wants us to "see" Jesus - in a way that is very different than MM&L. We do need to preach John's vision - raise it up, if I may borrow a phrase. But we should NOT harmonize it with MM&L. Instead, we need to have two good eyes/ears, and use both of them to see John's vision, and to hear MM&L's proclamation as they contrast and complement one another in a way that holds us in irresolvable tension - "irresolvable tension," also known as "mystery."

Malina and Rohrbaugh (See footnote below.) understand "some Greeks" to be Hellenistic Israelites, that is, Jews who were living outside of Judah, but would make the annual pilgrimage to Jerusalem for the Passover.

Note the implied "pecking order:" they first talk to Philip, who then goes to Andrew, and then the two of them go to see Jesus. Recall that back in Chapter 1, verses 35 to 40 that Andrew was one of the first two disciples to follow Jesus. The next day in Galilee, Jesus calls Philip. Thus Andrew has precedence over Philip.

Until now, Jesus' hour had not yet come, but with the request of these Greeks, Jesus now says, "The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified." Recall that in John, the emphasis is on Jesus being "raised up," and "glorified;" not on his dying.

Verse 24 is one of 5 "unless" statements by Jesus in John about the requirements of discipleship:

  • Jesus answered him, "Very truly, I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God without (or, "unless") being born from above."
    John 3:3 (NRSV)
  • So Jesus said to them, "Very truly, I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you.
    John 6:53 (NRSV)
  • Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.
    John 12:24 (NRSV)
  • Peter said to him, "You will never wash my feet." Jesus answered, "Unless I wash you, you have no share with me."
    John 13:8 (NRSV)
  • Abide in me as I abide in you. Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me.
    John 15:4 (NRSV)

Verse 25. Note John's themes of contrasting hate and love; this world and eternal life. In Matthew, Mark, and Luke the reference is to losing one's life for Jesus' sake and the sake of the gospel. (For example, our reading for Lent 2, Mark 8:31-38.)

Verse 26. Jesus' demands for his "followers" are that they bond with him and be loyal to him as a slave or servant would be. Thus, they will be where he is. By demonstrating their loyalty to and honouring of Jesus in this way, God will then, in turn, honour them.

Verse 27. Note the contrast with Matthew, Mark, and Luke where Jesus does indeed pray, "Father, save me from this hour." But in John, the whole point is for Jesus to be raised up so that God might be glorified. "Father, glorify your name," for John is the same as Jesus saying, "Father, raise me up (on the cross)."

Verse 28. Unlike Matthew, Mark, and Luke which tell of Jesus' baptism and transfiguration and in which a voice from heaven says, "This is my Son, the Beloved," in John, the only heavenly voice is heard here. The voice assures Jesus that indeed, as has been done in the past, God will glorify God's name, with public deeds demonstrating God's honour. That is, Jesus' crucifixion will not just be his death; God's honour will be shown and seen.

There is a deliberate pun in John about the "raising" of Jesus - on the cross, and from the grave. In the first, the rulers of this world are shown to be powerless; in the second, death is shown to be powerless.

The crowd hears the noise from the sky, but not the words. They try to interpret it: thunder; angels speaking? (Note that the voice Jesus heard was not an angel, it was the direct voice of God. It is quite amazing to hear an angel speaking to Jesus - that would be quite an honour; but the crowd could not imagine God speaking to Jesus - the highest possible honour of all.)

Verse 31. Note that "Now" is the judgment. The hour has come, now is the time.

Chapter 12 concludes the preface to the main event in John: the raising up of Jesus. Of the 21 chapters totaling 878 verses, John devotes 9 chapters and 293 verses - that is, about 35% - to the events of the Last Supper, arrest, trial, crucifixion and resurrection. The time has indeed arrived.

David Ewart,,
Short, easy to use, faith inspiring explanations of the meaning of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John for your sermon, homily, bible study, or reflection.

Note: Historical background information in this post is drawn primarily from Bruce Malina and Richard Rohrbaugh, Social-Science Commentary on the Gospel of John, pages 211-213; and the writings of Amy-Jill Levine, et. al.

John 12:20-33 (NRSV)

   20 Now among those who went up to worship at the festival were some Greeks. 21 They came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, and said to him, "Sir, we wish to see Jesus." 22 Philip went and told Andrew; then Andrew and Philip went and told Jesus. 23 Jesus answered them, "The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. 24 Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. 25 Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life. 26 Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there will my servant be also. Whoever serves me, the Father will honor.

   27 "Now my soul is troubled. And what should I say—'Father, save me from this hour'? No, it is for this reason that I have come to this hour. 28 Father, glorify your name." Then a voice came from heaven, "I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again." 29 The crowd standing there heard it and said that it was thunder. Others said, "An angel has spoken to him." 30 Jesus answered, "This voice has come for your sake, not for mine. 31 Now is the judgment of this world; now the ruler of this world will be driven out. 32 And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself." 33 He said this to indicate the kind of death he was to die.

New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright 1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

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John 12:20-33 (The Message)

   20 There were some Greeks in town who had come up to worship at the Feast. 21 They approached Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee: "Sir, we want to see Jesus. Can you help us?"

   22 Philip went and told Andrew. Andrew and Philip together told Jesus. 23 Jesus answered, "Time's up. The time has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.

   24 "Listen carefully: Unless a grain of wheat is buried in the ground, dead to the world, it is never any more than a grain of wheat. But if it is buried, it sprouts and reproduces itself many times over. 25 In the same way, anyone who holds on to life just as it is destroys that life. But if you let it go, reckless in your love, you'll have it forever, real and eternal.

  26 "If any of you wants to serve me, then follow me. Then you'll be where I am, ready to serve at a moment's notice. The Father will honor and reward anyone who serves me.

   27 "Right now I am storm-tossed. And what am I going to say? 'Father, get me out of this'? No, this is why I came in the first place. 28 I'll say, 'Father, put your glory on display.' "

         A voice came out of the sky: "I have glorified it, and I'll glorify it again."

   29 The listening crowd said, "Thunder!"

         Others said, "An angel spoke to him!"

   30 Jesus said, "The voice didn't come for me but for you. 31 At this moment the world is in crisis. Now Satan, the ruler of this world, will be thrown out. 32 And I, as I am lifted up from the earth, will attract everyone to me and gather them around me." 33 He put it this way to show how he was going to be put to death.

Scripture quotations from THE MESSAGE. Copyright © by Eugene H. Peterson 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002. Used by permission of NavPress Publishing Group.

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