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!