Following Jesus’ stark words concerning his “glorification” as a grain of wheat falling into the ground and dying, Jesus now proceeds to give a basic principle for those who would serve him and be his disciples: Love life = lose it, hate life = keep it. The present tenses for ‘love’, ‘lose’ and ‘hate’ turn this from being a threat into being a fundamental spiritual principle which all Christians need to take note of. But the future tense for ‘keep’ reminds us that we still have a sure hope which lies beyond this life. To our surprise Jesus adds some additional words to this simple formula: “in this world”. It is because of the nature of ‘this world’ that we are called to hate our present experience of life ( “hate” – British people with their love of rather moderate language may react to Jesus’ very Jewish use of strong graphic language).
Jesus was speaking in the context of Israel living under the oppression of the imperial Roman empire with armed rebellion in the air. The Jewish authorities were also violently opposed to his claims, so it was highly dangerous to become his followers. He knew too that the general public and the majority of the people would call for his crucifixion. The surrounding society rejected Jesus and would always reject those who lived radically as followers of Jesus.
In Britain today we also live in the midst of a society which may be less violent in its rejection of Jesus, but which is equally opposed to those who really follow him. British law now forbids the claims of Jesus to be the unique truth and way to the Father, considering that to be a message of hate against the followers of other faiths. Employment has become difficult for any Christian who insists that marriage is only between a man and a woman or who opposes easy abortion. Our leaders have begun to stress so-called “British values”, but they lack a definite basis for determining what these values consist of. Some have defined them as tolerance, openness and freedom. As Christians we have serious questions: tolerant of what? Open to what? Freedom to do what? Will there also be tolerance for claims concerning Jesus and Christian values?
The two-fold “Whoever would serve me” in the original Greek (obscured in the NIV translation) requires us to follow Jesus, but it also assures us of the glorious promise that the Father will honour us (26). The requirement to follow Jesus is clearly in the context of the grain of wheat dying, willing to sacrifice everything in life “in this world”. In our materially comfortable contexts it comes as a challenge to ask ourselves how much we actually ‘love our life’, how much we are willing and expecting to lay down our lives “in this world”.
But it is also heart-warming to know that a glorious future awaits us finally. In contrast to Jesus’ repeated use of present tenses, his use of future tenses promises us that we are heading towards eternal life together with Jesus himself – “where I am, there the one who serves me will be”. In Jesus’ earlier words of promise concerning eternal life, he says that we “have eternal life” (present tense – e.g. John 3.16, 36). But now in John 12 he wants to reassure us that there is an ultimate future promise beyond the sufferings and opposition of the present. The preposition ‘unto’/’into’ indicates that we are headed in the direction towards this wonderful eternal life which he promises to us. Likewise he uses the future tense for the Father honouring us. What a future! Surely this makes any suffering, even martyrdom for Christ’s sake, more than worthwhile.
Jesus gives this triple future promise of being with Jesus, of eternal life and the father honouring us to “anyone who would serve me”. So let us live lives of sacrifice and service of the Lord!
In our last blog we noted how Jesus responded to the coming of the Greeks with enormous excitement. Now we want to look more closely at his response.
The climax has come
“The hour has come”. The word ‘hour’ does not just denote time, but has a strong eschatological/end-time significance. With Jesus’ cross and resurrection the climax of God’s working has come. Now through the sacrificial death of Jesus we enter the final days; the kingdom of God has come and now we await its perfect consummation with confidence; God’s full salvation has arrived; Satan is now a defeated foe, although his backlash may still be felt; Jesus is King of kings and Lord of lords – he reigns on earth as in heaven; indeed the baptismal declaration has become a reality “Jesus is Lord”.
We can only respond with a strong Hallelujah and renewed love and dedication to serve him.
“In order that the son of man may be glorified”. We take note of the Greek ‘hina’ = in order that. This is the great purpose of the final hour coming. The Father longs that his son may be honoured and glorified. This is the final goal of history and it is achieved through Jesus’ cross and resurrection. The hour has come in order that the son of man should be glorified.
Of course this should be the ultimate aim of all we as his disciples are and do. We have to confess that often our aim is that people would think well of us. We often long for our church, our mission, our denomination, our particular biblical understanding should be honoured and built up. But with repentance we need to remind ourselves that our ultimate purpose is that Jesus should be honoured, praised and glorified through us. Indeed Jesus prays that through his cross the name of the Father should be glorified (12.27/28). Then a voice comes from the Father in heaven declaring that “I have glorified it and will glorify it again”. So we beseech the Lord, “Father, please glorify your name through us”.
Who is to be glorified?
“The son of man”. Ezekiel wrote in Hebrew and therefore uses ‘ben’/’son of’ in his frequent use of the expression ‘son of man’ for himself or for other ordinary human beings. But Daniel is partly written in Aramaic, so he uses ‘bar’/’son of’ in Daniel 7.13. Presumably the Aramaic-speaking Jesus used ‘bar’ and was referring particularly to the exalted figure in Daniel of the one like a son of man who ‘came with the clouds of heaven’. But John’s Gospel is in Greek which makes no distinction. At least the Greek-speaking readers of John’s Gospel and perhaps the Jews who originally heard the words of Jesus may have faced a choice. They could understand Jesus’ use of ‘Son of Man’ as a reference to Daniel 7.13 or perhaps they could have understood it in the light of Ezekiel where the title has no great significance at all, meaning just any human being. The title ‘son of man’ is like Jesus’ use of parables. People with ears to hear will understand, while those who are opposed to him will just think of Ezekiel.
In Daniel 7 the Son of Man is given “authority, glory and sovereign power”. This fits the context in John 12 of the Son of Man being glorified. Also in Daniel 7 we are told that “all peoples, nations and men of every language worshipped him”. Likewise we read in John 12 that Jesus’ death on the cross produces “many seeds” and when he is lifted up on the cross he ‘will draw all people to himself’ (12.32). The title “Son of Man” has international significance. It comes as a call to us all to pray and work that Jesus may indeed be glorified by the multitudes of all nations everywhere. The hour has come in order that he may be Lord of all.
“Martin, there are some Greeks who want to see you”. If someone said this to me, I should be intrigued to know who these Greeks were and why they wanted to meet me. But Jesus’ response to the Greeks wanting to see him seems at first sight to be seriously over-the-top. “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. I tell you the truth . . . “. Jesus has been waiting for his final hour, his glorification with the cross and resurrection. The coming of the Greeks is the final event which shows him that the time has now come. His use of the end-time “hour” and the thought of him being ‘glorified’ lead to the emphatic ‘verily, verily I say unto you’ (12.23/24). So why does Jesus get so excited when a handful of Greeks come to him? He was accustomed to great crowds following him and even welcoming him when he rides into Jerusalem, but the coming of the Greeks carries a rich significance. And John evidently also understood it because in writing his Gospel he shows this event to be the door that leads to the climax of the cross and resurrection.
To grasp what was happening we need to step back a bit. Throughout history God has always been sovereignly in control of the history of all peoples, not just of Israel as his own covenant people. He loves all people of all ethnic backgrounds and has purposes of grace towards all nations. These purposes were to be demonstrated through Israel’s life, not through any out-going preaching mission.With the notable exception of the prophet Jonah who was sent out from Israel to preach to the Gentile city of Nineveh, in the Old Testament Israel was never called to preach the message of God to non-Jews, such as these Greeks.
Yet in God’s call to Abraham (Gen.12.1-3) he declares that “all peoples on earth will be blessed through you”. So Israel as the children of Abraham are also called to demonstrate God’s truth and glory by the holiness of their life as a people. The Gentile nations should see God’s splendour in and through Israel’s life. Israel was called to be like honey to attract the Gentile bees, light to draw the moths in to Zion to worship the living God of Israel (e.g. Isaiah 60).
We see little signs of this happening when the Queen of Sheba, Hiram the king of Tyre and others are attracted by the God-given wisdom of Solomon. But generally Israel fails to fulfil this calling of God. Her national life does not submit to the commandments of God, sin prevails and the Gentiles do not see God’s glory mirrored in the life of Israel.
Now however Jesus comes as the perfect Israelite. He fulfils God’s call to Israel in every point. He lives a life of perfect holiness in every point. No sin at all can be found in him. He is gloriously beautiful, entirely righteous and demonstrates the very nature of God his Father in all his relationships. So it is in fulfilment of God’s call to Israel that the Greeks come to Jesus. Now finally he can move on to his death and resurrection to bring salvation to all peoples. The door can now be opened not only for Jews, but also for the whole world. No wonder Jesus gets excited!
As followers of Jesus the challenge comes to us too. Do our lives both individually and corporately as God’s people follow the model of Jesus in the beauty of holiness and righteousness, in grace and love in all our relationships? Are people of all races attracted to Jesus and the Father through us? Is it true that through us as the children of Abraham the blessing of the Lord is moving out to “all peoples on earth”?