John 12:20-33 (ESV)
Now among those who went up 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.” Philip went and told Andrew; Andrew and Philip went and told Jesus. And Jesus answered them, “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. 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.
“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. Father, glorify your name.” Then a voice came from heaven: “I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again.” The crowd that stood there and heard it said that it had thundered. Others said, “An angel has spoken to him.” Jesus answered, “This voice has come for your sake, not mine. Now is the judgment of this world; now will the ruler of this world be cast out. And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” He said this to show by what kind of death he was going to die.
John devotes much of his Gospel to the last six days of Jesus’ life. In John 12, Jesus predicts “what kind of death he was going to die” — one that would loosen Satan’s death grip on the world, raise Jesus in victory from the horrors of the crucifixion and grave, and draw people from all over the world to him (v. 32). But here he also reiterates his sobering template for all who would follow after him and be known as his disciples.
From the early days of his ministry in John, Jesus has been alluding to his “hour” — the appointed time when he would undergo suffering and death for the sins of the world. But through this humiliation Jesus also strangely radiates the “glory” of God to humanity. God “glorifies his name” not only through the earthly ministry of Christ but also his death. John foreshadows this reality early on by concluding “we have seen (or ‘beheld’) his glory … full of grace and truth” (1:14).
Equally striking is the very human Jesus we encounter here, honest enough to admit “now is my soul troubled” (v. 27) as he starts to feel the agony he is about to undergo. It is an amazing picture of a person completely abandoned to God in the face of unspeakable pain, knowing that God’s glory ultimately is the only thing that matters. And it becomes a teaching moment for the disciples as well.
Seeds are living things that must die in order to reproduce; they carry the promise of future life. On the surface, Christ’s death looks to the world like a disaster, but by falling “into the earth” (v. 24), he is able to raise up followers and bring “many sons to glory” (Hebrews 2:10). However, following Christ carries a cost: many of the original disciples were to die excruciating deaths themselves, leading Tertullian to conclude that “the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church.” Christ’s disciples must always “die” to themselves to find “living hope” (1 Peter 1:3-5) in Christ. Here Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s observation on discipleship rings true: “when Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die.”
Risen Lord, you loved us so much that you died to save us from sin. We pray that this reality gives us humility, leads us to praise you always, and gives us a boldness to live fully abandoned to your loving will. In your mercy make these things so, for we pray them in your name. Amen.