In the verses immediately prior to our text, we see the Lord’s triumphal entry into Jerusalem. The people received Him gladly in the name of the Lord (vv. 12-13). It is common for preachers to expand on the fickleness of crowds by contrasting this reception with the mob yelling “crucify Him” just a few days later, but we really have no reason for thinking that these were the same people.
Jesus entered Jerusalem on the back of a donkey, fulfilling the word of the prophet (vv. 14-15). The disciples did not understand the import of all this until later, until after Christ’s glorification (v. 16). The word about Lazarus was being spread around (v. 17), and the crowd received Him because of this (v. 18). The Pharisees then said, “Look, this is worthless. The world loves this man” (v. 19). This is how John sets up the episode with the Greeks.
“And there were certain Greeks among them that came up to worship at the feast: The same came therefore to Philip, which was of Bethsaida of Galilee, and desired him, saying, Sir, we would see Jesus. Philip cometh and telleth Andrew: and again Andrew and Philip tell Jesus. And Jesus answered them, saying, The hour is come, that the Son of man should be glorified. Verily, verily, I say unto you, Except a corn of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abideth alone: but if it die, it bringeth forth much fruit. He that loveth his life shall lose it; and he that hateth his life in this world shall keep it unto life eternal. If any man serve me, let him follow me; and where I am, there shall also my servant be: if any man serve me, him will my Father honour” (John 12: 20-26).
Summary of the Text
It is possible that these were Jews of the Dispersion, but in this context, it is much more likely that they were Gentile Greeks. They were there to worship at the feast, which was Passover (v. 20). They came to Philip, who was from (John makes a point of telling us here) the town of Bethsaida in Galilee. Galilee was “of” the Gentiles (Matt. 4:15), and Bethsaida meant “House of Fish.” Jesus had promised Peter that the disciples would be fishers of men, and He was not talking about a cane pole and a quiet trout stream. He was talking about bursting nets and a fishing industry. So these men came to Philip and said they wanted to see Jesus (v. 21). Philip tells his brother Andrew about it, and they both tell Jesus (v. 22). We are not explicitly told whether these Greeks ever met Jesus, but Christ’s cryptic answer tells us what the conditions would have been if they did. This seems to hint at a positive response, however stringent the conditions. The hour was approaching for Christ’s glorification (v. 23), and in this regard He was here talking about the cross (vv. 27-28). A grain of seed that does not die “abideth alone,” but if it goes in the ground and dies, it brings forth much fruit (v. 24). This pattern of “much fruit” is generational. It multiplies because the seed corn that is produced will itself die, and be fruitful as well (v. 25). Christ then closes the loop on the request of the Greeks. They wanted to see Him (v. 21), but Jesus slides right into “serve me” (v. 26). He who would serve must follow (v. 26). Follow where? To death and fruitfulness. For, Jesus says, where I am (in the ground and in the heavens), there also will His servant be (v. 26). If a man does this, the Father will honor him as well (v. 26). As Christ rose, so shall we. If we die as Jesus did, we are glorified in the dying. If we die with Him we will also rise with Him (Rom. 6:5). And if we rise with Him, then we are honored as He was—and this is the place where the fruit is harvested.
“Not Dying” or “Not Rising”
Jesus came into the world to confront the world, and to subvert its entire system. Worldliness and godliness therefore represent two different approaches to the questions about life and living. The world is dedicated to a life that is based on not dying. Given our sinfulness and the curse that God laid on the world, this is a futile and vain endeavor, an impossible standard. This is the core of worldliness—don’t let go, don’t give up, don’t surrender, keep whatever you have in that death grip. And that is just what it is—a death grip. Once matured, this worldliness is the beating heart of Hell.
The core of godliness is this—Jesus came so that we might have life, and have it more abundantly (John 10:10). Who would shy away from abundant life? Well, everyone, just as soon as they discover that this abundant life is on the other side of death. As the old Albert King blues song puts it, “everybody wants to go to Heaven, but nobody wants to die.” As that song also notes, everybody wants to hear the truth, but everybody wants to tell a lie.
Now this is not just worldliness as opposed to godliness on the grand scale—dealing with actual death, for example. It is not just the day before you physically die that the contrast between the two kinds of living is made. Jesus said we were to take up our cross daily (Luke 9:23), which means that these issues are present every day, all day long.
Once the teaching of Jesus at this point is made clear, it would be easy to believe that throughout the course of human history, we might be able to come up with three Christians tops, if that. But the cross is not the ultimate test that we must pass. It is the ultimate test that the Lord Jesus passed, and because He was glorified in passing it, that glorification draws men inexorably to their fruitful deaths.
“Now is the judgment of this world: now shall the prince of this world be cast out. And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto me. This he said, signifying what death he should die” (John 12:31-32).
We have been contrasting this fruitful death and resurrection with the way of the world. Here it is explicitly. How did Jesus save the world? He did it by judging the world. Now is the judgment of the world, and all its clinging-to-life ways (v. 31). Now the prince of the world was to be cast out—and we are to have a new prince, one who died and rose, not one who clung to everything. And Jesus, lifted up in agony and death, would be glorified, and would draw all men to Him. And this He is in the process of doing, even down to the present hour.