THE ARRIVAL OF ‘THE HOUR'
Topic: Sunday Morning Messages Passage: John 12:20–12:36
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. 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. 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.
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.” 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. 31 Now is the judgment of this world; now will the ruler of this world be cast out. 32 And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” 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?” 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.
Throughout a career that has spanned six decades, the popular talk-show host Larry King is believe to have interviewed more than thirty-thousand persons. He was once asked whom he would choose, if he had the choice to interview one person across history. His replied that would like to interview Jesus Christ, and that he would ask Him just one question: “Were you truly born of a virgin?” “The answer to that question,” said King, “would explain history for me.”
What about you? If you were to have the opportunity to ask Jesus a single question, what would it be? It greatly challenges me to try and limit all the things I would like to know about our Lord to a single question. Certainly His virgin birth would be near the top of the list, but the question that I would most like to ask is, “Was it necessary for You to die the way that You di so that sinners like me might live?” Nearly fifty years after first trusting Christ, that question still baffles me.
Given the opportunity, what one question would you want to ask Him? Think about that for moment. If our Lord Jesus were physically present with us right now, and you were given the chance to ask Him anything you wished, what would it be? Would your question be about some need or problem that you have, or would it center upon gaining a more complete understanding of Him?
Keep that in mind as we look at this passage together this evening.
Throughout John’s Gospel we have seen numerous references to the “time” or the “hour” of Jesus’ passion. Up to this point, those designations have always been future (cf. John 2:4, 4:21 and 23, 7:30, 8:20). Now, beginning with verse 23, we find Jesus saying, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.” From that moment forward until His death on the cross, His resurrection from the tomb, and His ascension into heaven, “the (appointed) hour” is imminent.
The event that appears to signal this shift from a future to a present orientation is a request made by a number of Gentiles who had come to Jerusalem in order to worship the God of Israel at the Passover. Having heard testimony of Jesus’ words and works, they approach one of Jesus’ disciples asking if they might perhaps be able to meet Him. In verses 20 through 26, we see...
The wish of the Gentiles (12:20-26).
It seems that they wanted to ask Him something. Some time during the week of Jesus’ “triumphal entry” into Jerusalem and His extended private session with His disciples, we are told that “among those who went to worship at the feast were some Greeks. So these came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, and asked him, ‘Sir, we wish to see Jesus.’” We are left to wonder what motivated their request and what they may have wanted to ask Him. All we know is that “wish(ed) to see Jesus.”
What is interesting is that these men are said to be “Greeks,” not Jews. That designation doesn’t mean that they were from Greece, but rather that they were Gentiles. The significance lies in the fact that Jesus had earlier defined His mission as being to “the lost sheep of the house of Israel” (cf. Matthew 15:24). We know from other texts in John’s Gospel that Gentiles were not excluded, but rather that the Jewish people had been the primary focus for His coming. But now here we find Gentiles “wish(ing) to see Jesus.”
Because these men had come to Jerusalem in order to “worship at the feast,” it is clear that they were God-fearing non-Jews who had learned about and were intrigued by the God of Israel and sought to pay homage to Him. It is likely that they were from Galilee, and quite possibly from Philip’s hometown of Bethsaida. Perhaps they knew Philip, and may have thought that he could arrange for them to meet privately with Jesus.
We are not told the reason for seeking Jesus out, but we can possibly draw some conclusions based upon His subsequent response. Nor are we told that their request was granted. Instead, the reply Jesus offers seems to be more directed to His disciples—Philip and Andrew—who had brought the request to Him. All of the disciples had heard Him speak repeatedly of His impending “hour,” and He now seizes this particular moment to tell them that “the time” has arrived for Him to lay down His life. It is here that He defines “the hour” for them, though still in cryptic terms.
Look again at verses 23 and 24, where Jesus says, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. 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.” What we find here is a parable about His own death. Jesus is about to die, and in so doing “much fruit” will be brought forth... including (now get this) a harvest of Gentile believers. Through Jesus’ death, resurrection, and exaltation there would be an ingathering of people of God “from every tribe and language and people and nation” (cf. Revelation 5:9), not just the nation of Israel. It would inaugurate the dawning of what is referred to elsewhere as “the times of the Gentiles” (cf. Luke 21:24, see also Romans 11:25).
What Jesus says next serves as a challenge to those—Jews and Gentiles alike—who truly desire to “see” Him, not just out of curiosity but with a view to committing oneself to Him: “Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life. 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.”
The contrast that Jesus makes between “loving one’s life” and “hating” it is an idiomatic comparison. Basically, it means that those who delight more in this “world-system” than in knowing and serving the Lord show themselves as those who either do not understand or have never truly appropriated the work of Christ on their behalf. To “love” the temporal gains of this life over the eternal benefits offered through the death and resurrection of Christ actually results in the “loss” of both. In other words, as C.S. Lewis put it, “Aim at heaven and you will get earth thrown in. Aim at earth and you get neither.”
This implies a personal relationship with Jesus, one that goes well beyond mere theory and speculation. And that is what makes the openness of our Lord’s offer in verses 25 and 26 so encouraging. Twice he says, “Whoever;” and twice more he adds, “If anyone.” What that tells us is that the door of opportunity is presently open to those who will respond to Him as Savior and Lord. But let us not be presumptuous about His invitation in terms of our delay, because none of us can be certain for how long it will remain to be offered.
Jesus says, “If anyone serves me (implying that some will and others will not, but if anyone does serve me), he must follow me (it is an absolute necessity); and (the result will be that) where I am, there will my servant be also.” In other words, just as Christ was willing to give up His life for us, so we must be willing to lay down our lives for His sake. “Following” Jesus means that we accept the role of “servant” and submit to Him as Master and Lord in all things. Let us not for a moment imagine that we dictate the terms of our relationship with Jesus.
To those who respond to Jesus and “follow” Him in this way, there is a promised reward. “If anyone serves me,” He says, “the Father will honor him.” That word “honor” (“τιμαω”) means “to place value upon.” Imagine unworthy ones, such as we, being honored by the Supreme God!
So the wish of the Gentiles on that day has prompted Jesus to offer His clearest description to date regarding “the hour” to which He has been alluding throughout the days of His public ministry. That “hour” has now arrived, and so has the time to more clearly explain...
The will of the Father (12:27-36).
This is a weighty paragraph...one that must be read and understood from the perspective of the cross that awaited Jesus. As “the hour” loomed forebodingly on the near horizon, the emotion of the God-man is featured, but the will of the Father is prominent.
Jesus is agitated in spirit and his soul is in turmoil over the prospect of facing not just the painful agony of a brutal human death, but the unimagined torture of taking upon Himself the guilt of sin for all of humanity, paying the required price of Divine justice, and being forsaken by the Father in the process. His human nature would have recoiled at the very prospect, and yet He presses onward toward the fulfillment of the mission He had been sent to complete.
“Now my soul is troubled,” Jesus confesses. “And what shall I say? ‘Father save me from this hour’? But for this purpose I have come to this hour. Father glorify your name.” Those words are very reminiscent of Matthew 26:39, where in the Garden of Gethsemane in the hours before His death, He would pray, “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will” (Matthew 26:39).
The mission of Jesus, accomplished through His vicarious death and resurrection, was first and foremost to bring “glory” to God. In order to do that, He must face “the hour” and drink “the cup” of suffering. It was the very reason for which He came. The salvation of those who would respond to His invitation was a means to that end. Let us not make the mistake of presuming anything other or anything less. God’s glory was primary...and it that for which Jesus first and foremost prays.
The response of the Father in verse 28 is startling, to say the least. Following Jesus’ prayer, we read, “Then a voice came from heaven: ‘I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again.’” This is the third time that the Gospels record the Father bearing vocal and verbal witness to the Son. He did so at Jesus’ baptism (cf. Matthew 3:17) and again on the Mount of Transfiguration, when three of Jesus’ disciples—including John—were given Divine revelation of Jesus’ exalted state (cf. Matthew 17:5).
On this particular day, we are told that “The crowd that stood there and heard it said that it had thundered. Others said, ‘An angel has spoken to him.’” And even though the people could not understand the heavenly message, Jesus tells them in verse 30 that “This voice has come for your sake, not mine.” He knew who He was, but they needed to know. The “voice” was another “sign” in a sense, yet another indicator of Jesus’ Divine identity.
Jesus explains in verse 31 that two things are about to happen. He first says, “Now is the judgment of this world,” implying that God is about to rid this fallen world of sin and restore it to its original pristine beauty. The Apostle Paul anticipates the fulfillment of Jesus’ words when he graphically writes in Romans 8(:19-22), “For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God, For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now.” It is nigh unto impossible for us to even imagine a world without sin and its evil effects. But that is what Jesus holds out to us here.
Not only will the world be judged, but Jesus also adds, “Now will the ruler of this world be cast out.” In the form of a serpent, Satan had slithered in the Garden of Eden as an uninvited guest. He succeeded in tempting our first parents to sin, and in turn claimed the world as his “playground.” Since that day, he has won the allegiance and secured the enslavement of every member of Adam’s race. But praise be to God, to borrow the words of Martin Luther, “Lo, his doom is sure.” “The ruler of this world” is about to be “cast out,” to be “cast out” decisively.
That will happen, Jesus explains in verse 32, “When I am lifted up from the earth,” which John tells us in the next verse reveals “by what kind of death he was going to die.” It is a word-picture related to His crucifixion, one that has been employed at least twice before in this book (cf. John 3:14 and 8:28). “Lifted up” speaks not of His resurrection, His ascension, or His exaltation; but rather to His death. Jesus is going to die by being “lifted up” on a cross for all to see,
What’s more, it would be through the death that He will die that Jesus would “draw all people” to Himself. Obviously, this does not mean that each and every individual without exception is “drawn” to Christ. Were that the case, then everyone would be saved. That is because, as John 6:44 reveals, God’s “drawing” people to Himself is always effectual and irresistible. In other words no one can come to Jesus unless the Father “draws” Him. Romans 9:19 rhetorically asks, “Who can resist his will?” If you are a Christian tonight, it is because you were “drawn” to Him by His will, and not by your own volition.
When Jesus speaks of “draw(ing) all people” to Himself, He is referring to “all kinds of people;” that is, people without ethnic distinction. In other words, not only Jews but those “from every tribe and language and people and nation” (cf. Revelation 5:9). One day there will be those from every “people group” on the planet gathered around the throne of God giving Him glory and exalting the name of Jesus.
It is this statement—that Jesus “will draw all people to (Him)self”—that brings this passage full-circle. In a sense it addresses the inquiry that the Gentiles in verses 20 and 21 were pursuing. Jesus was the one Person they most desired to meet, and He anticipated the question they hoped to ask. Their inclusion in the sovereign plan of God was the answer He gave, but the manner in which that would be accomplished was another matter.
Though their understanding of Jesus’ words would have been incomplete, there were those in the crowd that day who did seem to realize that He was speaking of His death. “We have heard from the Law that the Christ (or the Messiah) remains forever. How can you say that the Son of Man must be lifted up?” they ask. “Son of Man” is a Messianic title by which Jesus frequently referred to Himself. It originated in the prophecy of Daniel, where it speaks of that One chosen by God who would be granted “everlasting dominion” (cf. Daniel 7:13-14). Perceptively, they crowd asks how can this One’s rule be “everlasting” if He is to die. Perhaps Jesus is not the One to whom Daniel is referring, so they ask further, “Who is this Son of Man?” In other words, are You really the Messiah or do we keep looking for another (cf. Matthew 11:3)?
Jesus’ response to their honest question is found in verses 35 and 36. It is stated in the form of another contrast, this time between “light” and “darkness.” Hear His words: “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. While you have the light, believe in the light, that you may become sons of light.”
Light” and “darkness” are repeated themes throughout John’s Gospel. As we have already noted, the world has been “darkened” by sin. Jesus came as light, and His mission was to dispel the “darkness.” He did that by going to the cross, taking our sins upon Himself, and dying there. Jesus is referred to “the true light” in chapter 1(:7), but as we saw in chapter 3(:19) our evil deeds demonstrate that we inherently prefer the “darkness” to the “light.”
Were we to look down into verse 46 of the chapter before us, we would discover what makes “Good Friday” so “good.” It is there that Jesus declares, “I have come into the world as light, so that whoever believes in me may not remain in darkness.” Many of us remain in the “darkness” this evening. Sad to say, most who do don’t realize their lost state or the danger that awaits. May God show mercy and be pleased to flip the “light switch” in your heart before it’s too late.
Jesus leaves His hearers with a word of encouragement in verses 35 and 36, but it also serves as a word of caution. Notice the repeated warning that the clock is ticking: “The light is with you for a little while longer,” “Walk while you have the light,” “While you have the light, believe in the light.” My friends, if the Lord has been impressing upon You in recent days of your need to turn to the One who professed to be “the light of the world” (cf. John 8:12), then do not refuse Him. Second Corinthians 6:2 implores us to consider that “Now is the favorable time; behold, now is the day of salvation.” Your response to the work of Christ is what applies the benefits of His death and resurrection to you personally.
Even though Jesus’ words remained enigmatic to the crowd, He says to them, “Trust me, and soon the ‘light’ will dawn. Soon you will realize the significance of “the hour (which) has come.”
This passage concludes by telling us that “When Jesus had said these things, he departed and hid himself from them.” In no way is this meant to imply that Jesus withdrew out of fear. Instead, this statement places the final punctuation upon His public ministry. The chapter will conclude with a summary of the previous three-and-a-half years. The final days of His life, as recorded in the following chapters, will be devoted to preparing His disciples for His death and departure from them. It is imperative that they understand the significance of the events about to transpire, so that they might carry on His mission in His absence.
Jesus knew what His mission was and He conducted Himself in such a way that nothing would interfere with that God-given assignment. Throughout the Gospel of John this mission is constantly referred to as the “hour” or “time” of Christ. It was the time predetermined by God for Him to act in an open disclosure of His Messianic identity, which is climactically realized in His submission to death on a cross.
Jesus is fully aware that His “hour” or mission is providentially leading to His death, resurrection, and ascension (cf. John 13:1). We must, therefore, realize that He is fully sovereign and in complete control over all of the events and circumstances that would determine when that “hour” would arrive. Until then, He was in the complete “protective custody” of His Heavenly Father, to the point of being able to escape angry mobs who repeatedly sought to kill Him (cf. John 7:30 and 8:20).
The “hour” of Jesus’ death on the cross is simultaneously and paradoxically the “hour” of His greatest humiliation and glorification (cf. John 12:23 and 27). Recognizing the culmination of His earthly task is now upon Him, facing the death on the cross that awaited was all that remained.
The “hour” of tragedy was also the “hour” of victory...victory that will become fully realized by those who belong to Him when they will hear His voice, witness His return, and inherit the eternal life purchased for them by Him at the cross.
As you and I meet this evening, the “hour” for which Christ awaited and anticipated has come and gone. His work is “finished” (cf. John 19:30), but the fulfillment of the mission that He inaugurated has now been passed on to His Church. This is now our “hour.” He has left for us “an example” (cf. John 13:15). Will we now take up our crosses and follow Him (cf. Matthew 16:24)?