John’s Gospel: Chapter 12:14-36 (“when I am lifted up”)

(John 12:14-16 ESV) 14 And Jesus found a young donkey and sat on it, just as it is written,  15 “Fear not, daughter of Zion; behold, your king is coming, sitting on a donkey’s colt!”  16 His disciples did not understand these things at first, but when Jesus was glorified, then they remembered that these things had been written about him and had been done to him.

Jesus chose to ride into the city on a young donkey — the transportation of the common man — rather than a horse, as would befit an earthly king. He entered humbly. Indeed, the donkey was symbolic of peace, whereas a horse would have been symbolic of war.

(John 12:17-18 ESV)  17 The crowd that had been with him when he called Lazarus out of the tomb and raised him from the dead continued to bear witness.  18 The reason why the crowd went to meet him was that they heard he had done this sign.

The crowd that found him in Bethany followed him to Jerusalem and spread the word: This Jesus has raised the dead!

(John 12:19 ESV)  19 So the Pharisees said to one another, “You see that you are gaining nothing. Look, the world has gone after him.”

John cuts to the Pharisees, who are frustrated at Jesus’ growing reputation and support among the people. Indeed, their fears were coming true! He was entering the city as a  king. Even though the disciples didn’t recall Zechariah’s prophecy, it’s entirely likely that the Pharisees did.

(John 12:20-22 ESV)  20 Now among those who went up to worship at the feast were some Greeks.  21 So these came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, and asked him, “Sir, we wish to see Jesus.”  22 Philip went and told Andrew; Andrew and Philip went and told Jesus.

We learn very little of these Greeks. Rather, the point seems to be that Jesus was now becoming the world’s Messiah. He is bigger than Judaism.

Philip was a Jew from Bethsaida, a tiny fishing village in Galilee near the Sea of Galilee. However, Philip is a Greek name. Perhaps that’s why they chose to approach Jesus through him.

(John 12:23-24 ESV)  23 And Jesus answered them, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.  24 Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.

Jesus says nothing about the Greeks’ inquiry. Rather, he explains to his disciples what’s really going on. He’s about to die in order to bear fruit for the Kingdom.

(John 12:25-26 ESV)  25 “Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life.  26 If anyone serves me, he must follow me; and where I am, there will my servant be also. If anyone serves me, the Father will honor him.”

Jesus then calls his disciples to follow his example. Just as he is about to give up his life for the Kingdom, his disciples must follow him and do the same.

This is no easy lesson. Jesus is not much of a marketer! Rather than preaching prosperity and blessings in this life, Jesus promises death to be followed by honor from the Father afterwards.

(John 12:27-28 ESV)  27 “Now is my soul troubled. And what shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’? But for this purpose 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.”

Jesus asks a rhetorical question: Should he pray that God save him death? No, because he came to die — all to glorify God. Of course, in context, Jesus is explaining that the disciples must do the same. They have a choice. They can follow Jesus into death and glory or they can pray to be rescued.

God the Father, however, intervenes, speaking from heaven in response to Jesus’ words.

(John 12:29-30 ESV)  29 The crowd that stood there and heard it said that it had thundered. Others said, “An angel has spoken to him.”  30 Jesus answered, “This voice has come for your sake, not mine.”

The voice was not audible to all, perhaps only to Jesus and his disciples.  God had not intended to be heard by all — but to encourage those who needed encouragement, the disciples especially.

(John 12:31 ESV)  31 “Now is the judgment of this world; now will the ruler of this world be cast out.”

Jesus sees his death as a victory over Satan. We’ve considered the New Testament’s views on Satan and pagan gods in the Atonement series from last year. Jesus sees Satan as real, and although Satan is surely delighted to see Jesus in such trouble, Jesus knows that the resurrection will prove to be ultimate defeat of Satan and his minions.

You see, there is more going on here than soldiers arresting and executing Jesus. There’s a cosmic battle for the fate of the world, and Jesus will only win this battle by losing — by dying so he can be resurrected. Of course, even that would be a failure if Jesus were not followed by disciples willing to die for his sake.

(John 12:32 ESV)  32 “And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.”

We often quote this passage to refer to Christians lifting up Jesus by honoring him with their words and actions, but Jesus is actually speaking of his crucifixion.

Jesus is echoing his words from —

(John 6:44 ESV) “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day.”

In John 6:44, as we studied, Jesus is alluding to —

(Jer 31:3 NAS) The LORD appeared to him from afar, saying, “I have loved you with an everlasting love; Therefore I have drawn you with lovingkindness.

God draws with his lovingkindness, most powerfully evidenced, of course, by the cross. But the cross, although the center of God’s lovingkindness, is not the totality of it. God does many other acts of lovingkindness to draw people to him.

Therefore, when Christians, as agents of God, also do acts of lovingkindness — acts of grace freely given for no reason other than love and the glory of God — God draws others through their works of service.

(John 12:33-34 ESV)  33 He said this to show by what kind of death he was going to die.  34 So the crowd answered him, “We have heard from the Law that the Christ remains forever. How can you say that the Son of Man must be lifted up? Who is this Son of Man?”

This is actually a very good question. If the Kingdom is to last forever, then so must the Messiah. How can the Messiah die?

(John 12:35-36 ESV)  35 So Jesus said to them, “The light is among you for a little while longer. Walk while you have the light, lest darkness overtake you. The one who walks in the darkness does not know where he is going.  36 While you have the light, believe in the light, that you may become sons of light.” When Jesus had said these things, he departed and hid himself from them.

Jesus doesn’t answer, but then, John’s readers already know the answer quite well. Jesus’ words regarding becoming “sons of light” suggest that his listeners must become committed to (have faith in) the light. He’s demanding loyalty, that is, faithfulness.

About Jay F Guin

My name is Jay Guin, and I’m a retired elder. I wrote The Holy Spirit and Revolutionary Grace about 18 years ago. I’ve spoken at the Pepperdine, Lipscomb, ACU, Harding, and Tulsa lectureships and at ElderLink. My wife’s name is Denise, and I have four sons, Chris, Jonathan, Tyler, and Philip. I have two grandchildren. And I practice law.
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