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20 Now there were certain Greeks among those who came up to worship at the feast.
21 Then they came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida of Galilee, and asked him, saying, “Sir, we wish to see Jesus.”
22 Philip came and told Andrew, and in turn Andrew and Philip told Jesus.
23 But Jesus answered them, saying, “The hour has come that the Son of Man should be glorified.
24 Most assuredly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the ground and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it produces much grain.
25 He who loves his life will lose it, and he who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life.
26 If anyone serves Me, let him follow Me; and where I am, there My servant will be also. If anyone serves Me, him My Father will honor.

This story comes after the triumphal entry, and before Jesus predicting his death.

  1. What does Jesus' answer have to do with the disciples' informing him of the Greeks?

  2. What is the main point the author is trying to convey by telling us about the Greeks?

Note: I am not asking for a detailed exegesis of v20-26, though that would not be unwelcome if it answers the questions.

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I'll have to hedge this. I've heard (!) the interpretation that the Greeks had tentative plans to sign Jesus up for a missionary tour of their homeland. Jesus had a different timetable, of which he obliquely informed them. –  user3363 Jan 23 at 14:57

2 Answers 2

  1. The time Jesus was on earth, specifically during +-3.5years of ministry he was sent to the lost sheep of the house of Israel (Matt 15:24). Not that he didn't minister to any gentiles at all, but the Israelites were his primary mission.
  2. When you read the passage, the Greeks came to Philip. Instead of simply bringing them to Him, Philip goes and gets Andrew, as though there was some kind of hesitation. As if Philip thought to himself, "Should I bring these Greeks to Jesus?" If you read the whole passage above Matt 15:21-28 this Canaanite woman is crying out to Jesus and he is ignoring her basically because she is not of the House of Israel. I am sure this was something the disciples / apostles of Jesus were very aware of and so the hesitation of Philip.If you look at Acts 10 & 11 it is absolute proof that even after the ascension the Apostles strongly thought that the message was for the Jews only. The only conclusion to make here in John regarding Philip with the Greeks is that Philip did hesitae due to this knowledge that Jesus was primarily ministering to the lost of the house of Israel.
  3. In this passage Jesus, very near the time of his crucifixion and death, Knew that he needed to prepare his disciples to accept the coming of the gentiles into the community of the saints. His final statement basically answers your question - "If anyone serves Me, him My Father will honor". These Greeks who were observing the feast of unleavened bread and the Passover and were obviously converted to Judaism, which expresses, at least to me, they were serving the one true God not a pantheon of Gods like there own people. I can see they are obviously men who seek and want to know the truth. Like Cornelius in Acts 10 "a devout man that feared God" and the Centurion in Matt 5:5. They hear of Jesus and come looking for him. When they find a follower of His, they respectfully and humbly ask " Sir, we wish to see Jesus?". I believe the text shows us that anyone who comes seeking Jesus with a humble heart will be accepted and the text says, will be honored by His Father!

Further explanation of the text:

The verses in John 12:17-19 make it clear that there was a real buzz regarding Jesus, especially in regards to raising Lazerus. The Greeks probably didn't know this information prior to coming to Jerusalem. The text says the purpose for them coming was "to worship" which shows me a purity in there coming to Jerusalem. They weren't Greeks simply seeking signs or knowledge (1 Cor 1:22), their purpose for coming was to "worship". When they came it is possible they saw the triumphal entry, maybe not, but one thing the text clearly says is that Jesus's fame was spreading (John 12:12-19). Weather they asked about finding Jesus prior to talking to Philip and were lead to Philip, or simply heard from someone else's initiative the text doesn't say. What I do see clearly is that they, the Greeks, approached Philip, Philip didn't approach them. Due to these facts in the text I come to the conclusion that they were seeking to see Jesus based on the "buzz" and chased down one of his followers specifically to gain an audience with Jesus.

I also think what is confusing in this text and what raises questions in the mind is - the writer John doesn't really get back to explaining what specifically happened and or what was said to the Greeks in the end. Of coarse there are certain inferences one has to make - why that is, which I recognize is speculation. I would speculate that when Jesus said these things regarding His death and the prerequisites of "losing your life..." to being a true follower and servant of His, John the writer of the gospel made his intended point. I say this because when anyone writes something for others to read, it is for the purpose of the communication of something. So if John concluded with Jesus speaking to those closest to Him, John must have finished making his intended point by the end of Jesus's dialogue. That point I conclude is that Jesus was clarifying to those He was speaking to that, Whoever wants to come, Jew, Greek..., and have communion with him, there are these commitment prerequisites of following Him and laying down your life, becoming a grain of weat..., these will be accepted by and have communion with Jesus, these His Father will honor. This is the "no respecter of persons part of the answer. The second part of the point, weather those listening to Jesus on that day realized it or not, was a warning in a sense, because he knew in the next coming days there faith and being His followers would be threatened with the potentiality of having to die themselves. Only those that would be willing to die are worthy to commune with Jesus and be honored by the Father. Secondly Jesus was saying, be careful, the depth and reality of whats truly in your heart regarding your discipleship is going to be tested. Make sure you are prepared to die for me. The reason Jesus did this was that - the would be disciples were self deceived and thought they were more committed than they actually were (Matthew 26:31-34).

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The Hebrew Bible is a treasure trove of truth, and provides the lens through which to understand this passage regarding the Greeks seeking Jesus.

First, the triumphal entry into Jerusalem resonated not with the Feast of Passover & Unleavened Bread (springtime), but the Feast of Tabernacles (autumn). That is, when the people took boughs and palm branches to welcome Jesus, they were singing from Psalm 118, which was the psalm describing the surrounding nations (Ps 118:10-14), and finally the cry that the Lord save from these nations (Ps 118:25). In other words, "Hosanna" was meant to convey: O, save us (from the Romans because you are the King of Israel).

The second imagery of Tabernacles hearkens to the wilderness journey of 40 years. That is, the people, notwithstanding that they were geographically located in the land promised to Abraham, were "not at home" in their own land because of the subjugation by the Romans. To reinforce this point, the triumphal entry into Jerusalem by Jesus hearkened not to Solomon entering Jerusalem (1 Ki 1:38-39), but to King David mounted on a foal who entered Jerusalem from the Mount of Olives. (Please click here for more detailed explanation of the parallel.) The point here is that in direct parallel to King David, Jesus also mounted on a foal from the Mount of Olives and entered Jerusalem, which (parallel to the situation and time of King David) was dominated by an illegitimate power on the throne. While the argument that the parallel could apply to Solomon (since Adonijah usurped the throne of David at that time), the question of "Why two animals instead of one?" is only solved if we compare the triumphal entry of Jesus to David.

Now to the question.

The Greeks that now appear on the scene take us into the Feast of Unleavened Bread, for which they had arrived into Jerusalem (John 12:20). These Greeks seek Jesus in the same way some of the disciples found Jesus; that is, by the concatenated word-of-mouth process of Andrew and Philip talking to others who became disciples of Jesus, which takes us back to John 1:35-47. But Philip and Andrew received the calling directly from Jesus, with no intermediary (as was not the case with Simon Peter and Nathaniel, who were called to Jesus through Andrew and Philip, respectively). Philip and Andrew now appear to Jesus, who indicates that he (Jesus) himself will draw all men to himself (John 12:32, which is compared to John 6:44 to indicate how this direct calling will occur).

Jesus will therefore draw men to himself by "dying like the grain of wheat" (Jn 12:24), and then being "lifted up." These Greeks came to Jerusalem to celebrate the Feast of Passover & Unleavened Bread, which commemorated the dying of the Paschal Lamb, and the subsequent release from the bondage of Egypt. The Feast of Passover & Unleavened Bread therefore was about those who killed the first-born lamb (and thus suffering "lost" life and then escaping Egypt) versus those who remained in Egypt and "lost" life, when the Angel of the Lord killed the first-born sons of Egypt. The parting of the Red Sea and the resurrection of Jesus are also in direct parallel in the Feast of Passover & Unleavened Bread, when the armies of Egypt were destroyed as was the power of Satan: thus Jesus adds, "...the ruler of this world will be cast out" (John 12:31). Please click here for a detailed analysis of those parallels.

Finally, the way that Jesus will draw all men to himself is by being "lifted up" (Jn 12:32) in the same way that the as the bronze serpent was lifted up in the wilderness (Jn 3:14), which brings us back to the imagery of Tabernacles. While these people escaped Egypt, they were only saved from the sting of the serpent of sin (whose infection was death) by believing the word of the Lord and looking upon the bronze serpent "lifted up."

The point here is that if you connect the dots and believe the word of the Lord, you see the light (Jn 12:35-36), since the question of being "lifted up" contradicted the then current paradigm of the Christ as never dying (Jn 12:34). This explanation of Jesus was rejected by his listeners (Jn 12:37) notwithstanding that few had believed (Jn 12:42). The words of Isaiah cited concerning the "blinding of the eyes" of those who see and especially the "hardness of heart" (Jn 12:40) hearken again back to the Exodus of Egypt, when the Israelites at that time resisted the Lord.

When we realize that the Greeks are seeking Jesus during the Feast of Passover & Unleavened Bread, we then come full circle that the Lord "was found by those who did not seek me; I became manifest to those who did not ask for me" (Rom 10:20, which cites Is 65:1). These Greeks find Jesus in the wilderness of Israel, where the occupying Romans will crucify the King of the Jews, who is the first-born son (Paschal Lamb). They find Jesus because Jesus is "lifted up" on the cross from where he will call the Greeks directly to himself.

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