John 12:20-36


The hour has come. Our souls are troubled. Can they also remain loyal?

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Holy Week Tuesday

Read the passage at the bottom of this post: John 12:20-36, The Message   or   John 12:20-36, The New Revised Standard Version (NRSV).

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As we move through Holy Week, it is crucial that we keep before us the historical context that is at the root of these events.

Why are the religious authorities - the chief priests, scribes and Pharisees - so frightened of what Jesus is doing?

The Gospel of John provides the answer (John 11:47-48, NRSV):

So the chief priests and the Pharisees called a meeting of the council, and said, "What are we to do? This man is performing many signs. If we let him go on like this, everyone will believe in him, and the Romans will come and destroy both our holy place and our nation."

Their assessment of what Rome would do if things got out of hand was correct. And in fact when such a revolt did happen 30 years later, the Roman occupiers did destroy the temple and killed thousands of people.

The raising of Lazarus from the dead was the final sign that caused the authorities to decide that Jesus must be arrested and executed.

And it was the raising of Lazarus that created the gossip and spread the reputation of Jesus so that crowds gathered to greet him with palms strewn on the road as he entered Jerusalem. (John 12:12-16) This prophetic act by Jesus, concludes with the Pharisees observing:

You see, you can do nothing. Look, the world has gone after him.
John 12:19, NRSV

Jesus is well aware of the danger he is in, and the passage here concludes with:

After Jesus had said this, he departed and hid from them.
John 12:37 (NRSV)

This passage is a bit like the "Who do you say that I am" passages in Matthew, Mark, and Luke because it marks a significant turning point in the arc of John's narrative.

Previously, Jesus has said 3 times that his hour has not come: John 2:4, 7:30, and 8:20. But here at last:

The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.
John 12:23 (NRSV)

Celebrating the Passover in Jerusalem was an annual pilgrimage for all Israelites - even those known as "Greeks" who now lived elsewhere in the recently conquered Grecian empire.

As Malina and Rohrbaugh comment (See footnote below, page 212):

The coming of the Israelites from abroad to see Jesus triggers Jesus' certainty that the time for him to do what he was always meant to do, the activity marking the culmination of his life's significance, has finally come.

Recognition that his hour has now come is immediately followed by a teaching about the requirements for those who would be his followers.

And. Since a hallmark of any follower is loyalty the teaching here focuses on dying and its consequences:

  • bearing much fruit;
  • eternal life; and,
  • honour from God

Jesus himself testifies to the anxiety that his followers must also be experiencing:

Now my soul is troubled. And what should I say - 'Father save me from this hour?
John 12:27 (NRSV)

This admission of a troubled soul intensifies the loyalty to God that Jesus then shows:

No, it is for this reason that I have come to this hour.
John 12:27 (NRSV)

This hour for which Jesus has come is so that the glory of God might be seen. His exclamation, "Father, glorify your name," means:

Father, by some outward deed, show everyone how honourable you are!

The sound that comes from the sky is now heard as a voice by Jesus and as thunder by the crowd.

Jesus hears the voice affirming him.

At least some in the crowd understand this to be a sign from the spiritual realm - angels speaking to Jesus.

Jesus then interprets the significance of the sky sound to the crowd.

The phrase, "lifted up from the earth," has the double meaning of being crucified, and, of being elevated in status.

Jesus' crucifixion will elevate him; the rulers of the world will be driven out; and all people will be drawn to him - hailed into court - some to receive true life, others to receive judgment.

The crowd then raise the theological question that remains one of the divisions between Jews and Christians to this day: How can Jesus be the Messiah when the Torah says the Messiah remains forever?

Jesus does not answer this question.

Instead, in his last public address, he encourages those present to become his followers - to walk in the light and become children of the light.

The hour has come. Our souls are troubled. Can they also remain loyal?

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 12:20-36 (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. 34 The crowd answered him, "We have heard from the law that the Messiah remains forever. How can you say that the Son of Man must be lifted up? Who is this Son of Man?" 35 Jesus said to them, "The light is with you for a little longer. Walk while you have the light, so that the darkness may not overtake you. If you walk in the darkness, you do not know where you are going. 36 While you have the light, believe in the light, so that you may become children of light." After Jesus had said this, he departed and hid from them.

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 12:20-36 (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.

   34 Voices from the crowd answered, "We heard from God's Law that the Messiah lasts forever. How can it be necessary, as you put it, that the Son of Man 'be lifted up'? Who is this 'Son of Man'?"

   35 Jesus said, "For a brief time still, the light is among you. Walk by the light you have so darkness doesn't destroy you. If you walk in darkness, you don't know where you're going. 36 As you have the light, believe in the light. Then the light will be within you, and shining through your lives. You'll be children of light." Jesus said all this, and then went into hiding.

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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