Gentiles come to Jesus (John 12.20ff.)

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We have looked at Mary anointing Jesus and Jesus’ rejection of a hero’s welcome with the waving of palms, coming to Jerusalem in humility on a donkey. Now we come to the final climax of the life of Jesus before his glorious death and resurrection. In our next blog we shall look more at the significance of these Greek Gentiles coming to Jesus.
Meanwhile we note John’s further use here of the conjunction ‘De‘. After Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem the Pharisees, the leaders of Israel, were plotting against Jesus. But now in contrast certain non-Jewish Greeks want to meet Jesus.  The way is opening for Jesus and his salvation to include non-Jews as well as the Jewish people of Israel.  ‘De‘ is used again to mark the contrast between Philip and Andrew speaking, and Jesus himself answering and speaking (12.23).
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In this climactic event of these Greeks wanting to see Jesus, John turns to dramatic present tenses. ‘Philip comes and tells Andrew. Andrew and Philip come and tell Jesus. But Jesus answers them, saying . . . ‘. The quick-fire present tenses highlight the urgency and drama of this event. This is further underlined by the repetition of the same verbs: the Greeks say to Philip, Philip tells (same verb in Greek) Andrew, Andrew and Philip tell Jesus, Jesus answers and says . . . . Likewise the verb ‘comes’ is repeated in the singular present tense: Philip comes to Andrew. Andrew and Philip comes (sic.) to Jesus.
These verses are also full of subtly implied emotions. It would seem that the Greeks were very uncertain whether as mere Gentiles they would be welcomed by Jesus. So they go first to Philip (a Greek name, not a Hebrew one) from Bethsaida of Galilee (an area with many Gentiles). The Greek verb saying that they “came to Philip” has a prefix meaning ‘towards’. Again it may imply some uncertainty as they approached Philip. They then address him with the title ‘Kurios’ which was often used like ‘Sir’ when speaking to people of higher rank. But for John and the readers of his Gospel ‘Kurios’ is the title ‘Lord’ which is used of Lord Jesus. Roman emperors claimed this title for themselves, but it became the affirmation of faith in baptism: Jesus is Lord.
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The Greeks were not alone in their uncertainty. Philip seems also to have had doubts about the reception Jesus would give to these Gentiles. Did the Greeks somehow know how hard it had been for the Canaanite woman to receive healing for her daughter (Matt.15.21-28)? To her Jesus had declared that he was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel and it was not right to take the children’s bread (Jewish) and toss it to their dogs (non-Jews). Philip will certainly have had this encounter very much in his mind.
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So Philip goes to Andrew and tells him of the situation. I like to picture the two of them, Philip and Andrew, holding hands like two small schoolboys going to see the headmaster. John even uses a singular verb for the two of them going to Jesus, but then moves to a plural verb for them ‘telling’ Jesus.
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I am reminded of the revival movement in East Malaysia in the 1970s. It began with two small boys having a word from God that they were to go to their headmaster and tell him to repent! Not easy at all! And even more difficult in an Asian culture which teaches deep respect for older or more senior people. Children dare not speak like that to a teacher, let alone a headmaster. But God had clearly commanded. When they went to the headmaster with much trepidation and told him God was calling him to repent, he replied that God had also warned him in a vision or dream that he was to expect boys to come to him with a message of repentance. From this event a large revival spread in East Malaysia. So now with the Greeks coming to Jesus we can also  look forward to glory – but that must wait until our next blog!
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