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.

  • 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
    Commented Jan 23, 2014 at 14:57
  • What version are you citing?
    – Ruminator
    Commented May 25, 2018 at 20:42
  • Nice question! Many possible responses here, but certainly it is suggestive that Jesus talks about being lifted up and drawing all men to himself
    – Robert
    Commented Sep 1, 2021 at 5:36

12 Answers 12

  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 their 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). Whether 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 course 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 wheat..., 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, whether 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 their 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 what's 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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  • A very good explanation, thank you. One correction. These 'Greeks' were probably not converts - yet. Thayer's Greek Lexicon under Hellen: "The hellen spoken of in John 12:20 and Acts 17:4 are Jewish proselytes from the Gentiles." This means uncircumcised Gentiles who still worshipped the God of Israel, possibly preparing to accept the Covenant of Abraham. Such was not rare, proven by the fact of the "court of Gentiles" on the Temple grounds. google.com/search?q=court+of+gentiles+diagram
    – wberry
    Commented Nov 3, 2021 at 21:21

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.

  • These particular Greeks were comprised of proselytes of the diaspora mentioned in John 7:35.
    – Joseph
    Commented Sep 25, 2018 at 19:37

I've read this explanation in a Presbyterian commentary:

At his first advent, Gentiles from the East came to visit him (Magi; Matthew 2:1-12). Initiating his exit from this Earth was the visitation of Gentiles from the West (Greeks; John 12:20-23). As soon as he was told of the Greeks' desire to visit him he said his hour had come.

It's as if their visit was a signal for him to formally recognise the ending of his first advent. These Gentiles are representative of the Church Age to follow, which is dominated by Gentiles. One day the Church Age will end and the Jews will once again become prominent in the Church that remains.

  • 1
    Hi Laura, welcome to the site. Could you cite the source/commentary you used? Thanks for contributing! Commented Apr 11, 2022 at 16:29
  • Hi, HTTR! I wish I could but this was in about 1991 in a library. It may be awhile before I'm passing back by that library but when I do I'll check to see if they still have the book. It may have been Abingdon press which is United Methodist but does publish for other denominations. I'll try to hang onto this email and edit my comment when I have the information. Commented Apr 12, 2022 at 22:54
  • thanks, and good memory! Commented Apr 12, 2022 at 22:58

Jesus' answer is in fact the key to the inclusion of the Greeks coming to see Jesus and, indeed, to the whole chapter:

John 12:23: And Jesus answered them, saying, The hour is come, that the Son of man should be glorified.

Matthew Henry explains that in the close of the foregoing chapter the scribes and Pharisees proclaimed Jesus a traitor to their faith, and put upon him all the marks of ignominy they could, doing dishonour to our Lord Jesus. This chapter provides a balance to that:

  • The common people did him honour, with their acclamations of joy, when he rode in triumph into Jerusalem (John 12:12-19).

  • The Greeks did him honour, by enquiring after him with a longing desire to see him (12:20-26).

  • God the Father did him honour, by a voice from heaven, bearing testimony to him (12:27-36).

  • He had honour done him by the Old Testament prophets, who foretold the infidelity of those that heard the report of him (12:37-41).
  • He had honour done him by some of the chief rulers, whose consciences witnessed for him, though they had not courage to own it (12:42,43).
  • He claimed honour to himself, by asserting his divine mission, and the account he gave of his errand into the world (12:44-50).

John's Gospel, more so than the synoptic gospels, emphasises Jesus' mission to the Gentiles, so it is natural that Gentiles should play a key part in this chapter for the glorification of Jesus, before he goes to meet his destiny:

John 13:1: Now before the feast of the passover, when Jesus knew that his hour was come that he should depart out of this world unto the Father, having loved his own which were in the world, he loved them unto the end.


The Greeks were GREEK SPEAKING JEWS. Would a Gentile have celebrated Passover and JEWISH festivals? The Greeks were Greek speaking Jews who came to the Temple for the festivals.

  • Hi, welcome to the BHSE community! Would it trouble you to fix your answer a little to make it closer to what the question is asking for? Commented Nov 30, 2018 at 3:42
  • I think you are quite correct but you have not directly addressed the question.
    – wberry
    Commented Nov 3, 2021 at 21:03

It appears that although the Greeks were brought before Jesus he did not speak to them directly but made reference that a seed must die to bear fruit.In my view reading from excerts from scripture Salvation was deemed to be only for the chosen people ,the Jews and the refeence to the Cannanite Woman and Jesus's reply to her is most apt.Here too outcasts Jesus indirectly tells the Greeks that he must die for salvation to be accessible to the Gentiles as well.

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    – agarza
    Commented Mar 21, 2021 at 3:55

As I have looked into this question myself, I felt that there is some OT prophecy that Jesus sees fulfilled that leads him to his response. I got out my Tompson Chain Reference Bible and Isaiah 2:1-5 might be at play. Jesus definitely knew before he stepped foot into Jerusalem that this was his last Passover, He knew what was about to happen but he uses this moment to teach his disciples from the text why and what was about to happen. Not just his death but the nations poring back to God seeking

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    – agarza
    Commented Apr 2, 2021 at 2:56

It may also be significant because Satan was trying to keep Jesus away from the cross. Since getting to the cross and dying meant He would fulfill the law and the prophecies. Refer to the two passages below.

Example on the mount of temptation
Matthew 4:1-11

4 Then was Jesus led up of the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted of the devil. 2And when he had fasted forty days and forty nights, he was afterward an hungered. 3And when the tempter came to him, he said, If thou be the Son of God, command that these stones be made bread. 4But he answered and said, It is written, Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God. 5Then the devil taketh him up into the holy city, and setteth him on a pinnacle of the temple, 6And saith unto him, If thou be the Son of God, cast thyself down: for it is written, He shall give his angels charge concerning thee: and in their hands they shall bear thee up, lest at any time thou dash thy foot against a stone. 7Jesus said unto him, It is written again, Thou shalt not tempt the Lord thy God. 8Again, the devil taketh him up into an exceeding high mountain, and sheweth him all the kingdoms of the world, and the glory of them; 9And saith unto him, All these things will I give thee, if thou wilt fall down and worship me. 10Then saith Jesus unto him, Get thee hence, Satan: for it is written, Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and him only shalt thou serve. 11Then the devil leaveth him, and, behold, angels came and ministered unto him.

  1. Example with Peter talking to Jesus Matthew 16:21-23

21From that time forth began Jesus to shew unto his disciples, how that he must go unto Jerusalem, and suffer many things of the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and be raised again the third day. 22Then Peter took him, and began to rebuke him, saying, Be it far from thee, Lord: this shall not be unto thee. 23But he turned, and said unto Peter, Get thee behind me, Satan: thou art an offense unto me: for thou savourest not the things that be of God, but those that be of men.

He wasn’t speaking to Peter. He was speaking to the devil. Who was trying to use Peter to distract Jesus from the cross? I haven't done any further digging but in most if not every exchange Jesus has had with someone, Jesus, God already knew what they were thinking and what their intentions were, like the Pharisees for instance. Anyways. Hope you find your answer. God Bless


To me Jesus was saying that through the Greeks and the Greek Language he will be glorified which actually happened and also these Greeks came to see him because Christ had travelled to Greece when he was in his teens with Joseph of Arimethea They came to pay their respects to him

  • Please add further details to expand on your answer, such as working code or documentation citations.
    – Community Bot
    Commented Aug 30, 2021 at 13:02

Just as a wisemen came in response to Jesus's birth representing the Gentiles I believe the Greeks coming to seek Jesus again prior to his death is a signal that his hour had come.

  • @ Janet Cover. His hour had come, but the first advent would not be fulfilled untill his death and resurrection. Welcome to Biblical Hermeneutics.
    – RHPclass79
    Commented Jan 2 at 23:22
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Every nation is described as a soil in the parable of the sewer, but the seed (Jesus and the Gospel) is always the same. The quality of the tree (church and faith) will fully depend on the type of soil and environment : to dry, to many brambles and you will not have the same tree, nor the fruits. In this Passage Jesus compares himself to the seed and says it's time for him to fall on the ground and day. Why now? What do these Greeks changed by asking after him? Simple : the seed must fall on a good soil otherwise the seed will die useless ThosesGreeks where the first groud of the church. Historicaly, the church first flourished in the hellenistic world. This is why many orthodox countries prefered to stay with the Greeks after the Great schism between Rome and Constantinople. God bless you.

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    – ThaddeusB
    Commented Oct 13, 2015 at 20:17

This scene of Greeks desiring to see Jesus is one of several 'signs' announcing that the Church would now be instituted so that all may have eternal life. Even the colt ridden into Jerusalem signals something new (never ridden) is coming (whereas the donkey (Israel) comes along side but is not ridden.


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