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The Life of Jesus - Series 11: Episode 4

Jesus teaches about his death & resurrection

| Martin Charlesworth
John 12:20-36

Jesus explains that he must die just like a seed, so that others will be saved. God the Father speaks for the third time to confirm that Jesus' earthly life and his future death and resurrection has, and will, glorify him.

Jesus explains that he must die just like a seed, so that others will be saved. God the Father speaks for the third time to confirm that Jesus' earthly life and his future death and resurrection has, and will, glorify him.


Hello, and welcome to Series 11 and Episode 4, where 'Jesus teaches about his death and resurrection'.

Introduction and Recap

If you've been following earlier episodes in this series, you'll know that we are now in the Passion Week, the last week of Jesus' life. We're following the events that take place in Jerusalem as Jesus enters the city, and visits the city on a daily basis during that week. This is the most dramatic week of Jesus' life, which we generally call Passion Week, and about which we have a huge amount of material in the four Gospels. The beautiful thing about having the four Gospels is that we can move from one to another to understand different parts of the story, and that's exactly what we're going to do today as we move from Matthew, Mark, and Luke to John's account, where he brings us an important discussion between some key people that takes place during the middle of this week.

Before we get to that text, let's remind ourselves of where we are in this Passion Week. After the huge build-up to Jesus' entry into Jerusalem, which we've been following for several series, the great moment finally came on the Sunday of this week, which we call Palm Sunday traditionally in Church life, which was characterised by what's known as the Triumphal Entry of Jesus. He'd decided to stay just outside the city, a few kilometres away, in a village called Bethany, where Martha, Mary and Lazarus lived and where he'd raised Lazarus from the dead, in a remarkable miracle a few weeks earlier, probably. Jesus and his disciples were staying in Bethany. Every day they went into the city. They walked from Bethany and went to Jerusalem for different events. The first day was the Triumphal Entry on the Sunday, which had a huge impact on the city.

Jesus was so incredibly popular at that point because the people hoped that he would fulfil all the Jewish expectations about the Messiah, the Son of God, the Son of Man, the Servant of the Lord, the figure from the Old Testament who was going to redeem the nation. In previous episodes I've discussed this on many occasions. I want to quickly summarise the fact that the Old Testament pointed towards a time when a divine, human figure, the Messiah, would come and rule on behalf of the God of Israel, from Jerusalem, rule the nation and in fact, rule the whole world: overturn corrupt politicians and rulers, corrupt religious leaders, and bring in an era of peace, which I like to call the messianic age - the high prophetic hope of the Old Testament prophets. People wondered whether Jesus was going to fulfil those expectations, hence his popularity in the triumphal entry, where he's identified with the monarchy of David, as the son of David, the successor of King David, in that process.

Then came the events of Monday, which were characterised primarily by Jesus going to the Temple courts and disrupting the market trading that was taking place there, in animals for sacrifice and in money changing between Roman currency and the Temple currency, for making contributions to the Temple treasury. That caused a great stir as well. It was a major moment of provocative confrontation by Jesus towards the religious authorities. They didn't respond immediately, but they were preparing to respond dramatically. They wanted to arrest Jesus as soon as they could get him out of the public sphere, put him on trial privately, hand him over to the Romans, and get him executed. By Friday of this week that's exactly what they achieved. In our following episode, looking at events on the Tuesday, we saw Jesus teaching on prayer and faith, based on an event that happened as he'd walked between Bethany and Jerusalem, when he had cursed a fig tree that was not producing fruit, and that fig tree had quite suddenly withered away. In our last episode we find that Jesus uses this physical event to illustrate some spiritual principles about faith and prayer.

That's the context. It's a tense, difficult context. As always, John provides us with extra and fascinating material. You may remember from my early explanation of how the Gospels fit together, that it's almost certain that John was the last writer, and he would have had the other Gospels before him. My own opinion is that Luke was the third writer. We have Mark, Matthew and Luke, so those interrelated Gospels are complete by the time John comes later on and adds in material that he considers is helpful, to supplement the material of the earlier Gospels. Here is an example, where he adds in a fascinating discussion that took place at this time, somewhere in the middle of the week, Passion Week. The overall passage is John 12: 20 - 36 We're going to have a look at this passage in sections because it's easier to understand and explain by doing so.

Greeks Ask to See Jesus

‘Now there were some Greeks among those who went up to worship at the festival. They came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, with a request. “Sir,” they said, “we would like to see Jesus.” Philip went to tell Andrew; Andrew and Philip in turn told Jesus.’

John 12:20-22, NIV

Who are these Greeks? The Jews were primarily Aramaic speakers - that was their first language. The Greek language was well-known, and widely used, in Israel because it was the common language of the eastern Mediterranean, arising from the days of the Greek Empire. That's why our New Testament is in fact written in Greek originally. Greek was widely spoken by the Jews. But when the expression ‘Greeks’ is used, it doesn't mean people who live in Greece, as we might imagine, it means Greek speakers, people whose first language is Greek. The Jews' second or third language might be Greek, but not their first language. Who are these Greek speakers? They're either Jews, who live in other parts of the Roman Empire, who have adopted Greek as their first language (but then they'd be identified as Jews by John, almost certainly), or alternatively they are Gentiles, who are connected somehow to Judaism, to Jerusalem, to the Jewish religion, even though they're not Jewish people. A likely possibility is that these people were from an area that we've mentioned earlier on, which is to the north and to the east, outside the country of Israel called the Decapolis, which means in Greek, ‘the ten cities’; ten independent cities who formed a confederation at that time, ruled by the Romans but speaking Greek as their primary language and relating significantly to the Jewish community, because their territory bordered Galilee in the north, and was close to Judea in the south. So, I imagine these Greeks probably to come from that area called the Decapolis.

It's very interesting that they approached Philip. It may be coincidence, but it's interesting that it describes the fact that Philip came from Bethsaida in Galilee, and the geographical location of Bethsaida is very near the Decapolis area. They may have identified Philip as having some cultural connection with them. We don't know for certain, but it's intriguing if that is the case. These Greeks are at the festival, and the festival is the Passover Festival as we've described in earlier episodes; that's the circumstance of the Passion Week. The Passover is due to take place towards the end of the week and preparations are underway. Why would they come, and why would they want to meet Jesus? They would come to the festival because they must have been influenced by Judaism, influenced by the Old Testament, and influenced by their Jewish neighbours from Galilee, and other places in Israel. They've got some awareness of the Jewish faith, and they're coming to participate, as best they can, as Gentiles in the festival. They can't go into the inner courts where only Jews are allowed in the Temple, but they can go into the outer Temple courts that we described earlier on, the place where Jesus cleansed the Temple from the market traders.

Here they are, and their request is interesting: “We would like to see Jesus.” Why would people from the Decapolis, if that's where they're from, want to see Jesus? There's an answer in the Gospels actually. In Mark 7, 8, and one or two other sections in the other Gospels, we find that Jesus is in the area of the Decapolis. Also, in Mark 5, he visits very briefly. We see him performing miracles in the Decapolis; the greatest of which was one of his great feeding miracles. He fed the 5000 on the hillside of northern Galilee but he fed 4000, according to Mark 8, in the district of the Decapolis. The 5000 would have been mostly Jews. They came from the area of Galilee; they travelled across country to see Jesus. The 4000 would have been mostly Gentiles, residents of the Decapolis. It's interesting to note that very recently Jesus has been in their territory, briefly, performed some remarkable miracles, and it has aroused some real interest in who he is. They wanted to meet him. That seems to be the context. The intriguing thing about this text is, we don't hear about this meeting. But Jesus uses this request as a basis for teaching.

Jesus Teaches About His Death and Resurrection

Let's read verses 23 - 28.

‘Jesus replied, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. Very truly I tell you, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds. Anyone who loves their life will lose it, while anyone who hates their life in this world will keep it for eternal life. Whoever serves me must follow me; and where I am, my servant also will be. My Father will honour the one who serves me. Now my soul is troubled, and what shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’? No, it was for this very reason I came to this world. Father, glorify your name!”’

John 12:23-28, NIV

We move away from the story of the Greeks and we move to Jesus giving some very specific teaching. ‘Now is the time “for the Son of Man to be glorified.”’ This language of glorification means that Jesus is going to be shown for who he is, in all his majesty and power, through his death and resurrection. He has to be like a seed that falls to the ground and dies in order to produce many seeds. That's an interesting description of the seeds that we plant for agriculture, or horticulture or plant in gardens. The seed, in one sense, has to die. It gives its life for the benefit of producing many others. Jesus uses this analogy to describe what's going to happen to him. He's going to fall into the ground, in the sense of dying. He's going to die so that he brings life to others. He will multiply, as it were, through all the people who believe in him.

The Cost of Discipleship

He's calling his followers here to have a similar attitude, which is to treat your life as not something you want to hold onto and nurture and protect for your own good, only in a selfish kind of a way, but to consider your life as given over to the purposes of God and available for his services, even at cost to yourselves. This theme I'm mentioning here, we've mentioned on numerous occasions as we've gone through the Gospels. One of the most striking observations that I've made, as I've been preparing and delivering this material, is how many times Jesus speaks plainly about the cost of discipleship, and invites people to allow their lives to be used and expended for the Kingdom of God, and sacrificed for the Kingdom of God, in one way or another, rather than preserved just for their own well-being. Here's another example. He promises, as he so often does, that if you give up your life, you use your resources for God's Kingdom now, you're going to get rewarded in eternity, you'll receive eternal life, and as he says elsewhere, you'll receive treasure in heaven. That's where we're looking for our reward. We have to, as it were, hate our own life to follow Jesus.

The Father's Voice

Jesus ends by saying, “Father, glorify your name!” That's a prayer, by the way. He's actually calling out to his Father: “Father, glorify your name!” Let's read on. Verse 28, the second half of verse 29, something remarkable happens at this point.

‘Then a voice came from heaven, “I have glorified it, and will glorify it again.” The crowd that was there and heard it said it had thundered; others said an angel had spoken to him.’

John 12:28-29, NIV

This is one of three occasions that the Gospels record the audible voice of God the Father being heard in the ministry of Jesus. Let's review that, and think about the significance of it. The first occasion, as you may recall, is at the baptism of Jesus. Let me just read Matthew's account, Matthew 3: 17, when Jesus came up out of the water and the Spirit of God came upon him in the form of a dove, it says,

‘And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.”’

Matthew 3:17, NIV

The voice of the Father came in affirmation of Jesus at the very beginning of his ministry. This was the moment that he started out in public ministry. It's interesting the voice of the Father comes at the beginning, and the voice of the Father comes secondly, at the moment of transfiguration, which is the turning point of Jesus' ministry. We've had the beginning of Jesus' ministry, then at the turning point, when he moves from Galilee to go south, when he has a remarkable appearance of glory and power on the mountain. Peter, James and John are there. The Old Testament figures of Moses and Elijah briefly appear, they all appear in glory, and the disciples are very humbled, and confused, and in awe of what's going on. They discussed together, according to Luke's account, how Jesus is going to bring about his departure in Jerusalem. This is the context and in that context Matthew 17: 5 says that,

‘a voice from the cloud said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased. Listen to him!”’

Matthew 17:5, NIV

At the turning point of Jesus' ministry, where he's going to leave Galilee and he's going to head to Jerusalem, to bring about his death and resurrection through conflict with the authorities, in the way that I described earlier on - at that point the voice of the Father comes again, at the turning point, encouraging his Son, Jesus, and teaching the three senior apostles, Peter, James and John, the inner circle, and encouraging them to listen to Jesus, listen to his teachings, because he's going to bring about some new teachings about the future, that they need to get to understand.

The earlier audible voices of the Father, come at the beginning of Jesus' ministry, the turning point in the middle of his ministry, which we've described very fully as we've been through the narrative, and now the third one is at the end of his ministry, where the Father says, “I have glorified it” that is, his name, “and will glorify it again.” What does that actually mean? The name of God the Father has been glorified through the life of Jesus. It's brought glory to the Father. Jesus' faithfulness, his miracles, his power, his obedience, his sinlessness, his fulfilment of prophecy - all these things have brought glory to the Father. It says, “I will glorify it again.” The Father will be glorified again, and this refers to the death and resurrection of Jesus. The Father is glorified through Jesus' life and he's going to be glorified through his death and resurrection.

It's all going to point to the ultimate purposes of God the Father, which are, to use the ministry of his Son to bring about salvation in the world. John 3:16

‘For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.’

John 3:16, NIV

Notice there, ‘God so loved the world’, a reference to God the Father. God the Father sent his Son. God the Father is glorified by everything the Son does in obedience to him. God the Father will be glorified when Jesus dies and is raised again from the dead, because this death and resurrection will bring about salvation for the world. Who is the audible voice for? I think it was for the disciples to encourage them, for the crowds to challenge them, and for Jesus to affirm him.

The Prince of the World Will be Judged

Verses 30 to 33,

‘Jesus said, “This voice was for your benefit, not mine. Now is the time for judgement on this world; now the prince of this world will be driven out. And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” He said this to show the kind of death he was going to die.’

John 12:30-33, NIV

There's a certain judgement that's going to come when Jesus dies, and particularly ‘the prince of this world will be driven out’. Who is the prince of this world? The prince of this world is a reference to Satan, the leader of the demonic forces that oppose Jesus. He is going to be driven out. John 16: 11 tells us, ‘“the prince of this world now stands condemned”’ at the time of Jesus' death. Colossians 2:15, speaking of Jesus' death on the cross, describes it from Paul's point of view as

‘having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle over them, triumphing over them by the cross.’

Colossians 2:15, NIV

The prince of the world is driven out. The world is judged. The sin of the world is coming under assessment. Why did Jesus have to die? Because of the sin of the world. And yet, through his death, he is going to draw people to himself. Going back to John 3 again, the same passage that we just read from, verses 14 and 15:

‘“Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness,”’(a reference to an event in the Old Testament) ‘“so the Son of Man must be lifted up,”’ (that is, is on the cross) “that everyone who believes may have eternal life in him.”

John 3:14-15, NIV

Believe in the Light

And then Jesus addresses the crowd, verses 34 to 36 in conclusion,

‘The crowd spoke up, “We have heard from the law that the Messiah will remain forever, so how can you say, ‘the Son of Man will be lifted up’? Who is this Son of Man?” Then Jesus told them, “You are going to have the light just a little while longer. Walk while you have the light, before darkness overtakes you. Whoever walks in the dark does not know where they are going. Believe in the light while you have the light, so that you may become children of light.” And when he finished speaking, Jesus left and hid himself from them.’

John 12:34-36, NIV

People in the crowd believed that the Messiah, when he came, was going to be there permanently. They didn't understand what this lifting up from the earth meant, and Jesus, in a sense, gives them an answer they're not expecting. This often happens with Jesus, of course. He's basically saying your responsibility is to believe while you have the opportunity, speaks of darkness coming to the people of Israel, that the darkness of judgement in the subsequent years, after Jesus' death and resurrection, when God brings judgement on the nation, which ends up with the Romans crushing the nation in the military victory over them in 70 A.D. and destroying the city of Jerusalem, and destroying the Temple. He's basically saying, ‘now is your opportunity to believe before that darkness, that spiritual darkness, comes in and you get confused, and you get hardened against the truth of the gospel’.


Some concluding reflections. We lost sight of the Greeks, didn't we? They didn't get their private discussion with Jesus, as far as we know but they were in that crowd. They heard his teaching: where he speaks of his incredible self-giving. He's going to be like a seed that falls into the ground and dies; where he tells his disciples that they need to have an attitude of self-sacrifice in following him; and where God's voice comes, the voice of the Father comes from heaven.

God's voice today comes to us in different ways. We don't hear that audible voice of God the Father. But we have God's voice coming to us in many ways, primarily through the Scriptures, which is why I'm so pleased that you're studying with us as we go through the life of Jesus, giving careful attention to all the Scriptures that relate to Jesus. God's voice comes to us through the gospel message itself. God's voice comes to us through good, quality, Bible teaching, through the testimony of others, through miraculous dreams and visions that we may have where he speaks to us prophetically. God's voice is still active today. He's drawing us to the cross: “when I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw all people to myself.” That's the ultimate intention of God the Father, of Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit, the Trinity of God. All the amazing events that we're experiencing and discussing now, were all leading towards one critical and central event, the death and resurrection of Jesus. That death, at this point in the story, is only a few days away. We'll follow the story further in our next episode.

Study Questions

The following questions have been provided to facilitate discussion or further reflection. Please feel free to answer any, or all the questions. Each question has been assigned a category to help guide you.

  • Exploring Faith
    Exploring Faith
    1. How could Jesus' death be considered to be his ‘glory’?
  • Discipleship
    1. Share specific times when God has spoken to you whether audibly or in other ways?
  • Further Study
    Further Study
    1. Use tagging to look at other times when God the Father speaks. Why was it important at this point?
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