John 12:20-33 – Is this Greek to you?

Updated: Feb 3

Now among those who went up to worship at the festival were some Greeks. They came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, and said to him, “Sir, we wish to see Jesus.” Philip went and told Andrew; then Andrew and Philip went and told Jesus. Jesus answered them, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life. Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there will my servant be also. Whoever serves me, the Father will honor.


“Now my soul is troubled. And what should I say—‘Father, save me from this hour’? No, it is for this reason that 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 standing there heard it and said that it was thunder. Others said, “An angel has spoken to him.” Jesus answered, “This voice has come for your sake, not for mine. Now is the judgment of this world; now the ruler of this world will be driven out. And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” He said this to indicate the kind of death he was to die.


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This is the Gospel selection from the Episcopal Lectionary for the fifth Sunday in Lent, Year B. It will next be read aloud in church by a priest on Sunday, March 18, 2018. It is important because Jesus says the time has come to be glorified, with a voice from heaven then coming to say that glorification will be repeated.


In verse 20, which is translated above to state, “Now among those who went up to worship at the festival were some Greeks,” this is actually three segments of words, separated by two commas. The first literally translates to state, “There were moreover Greeks certain.” The second says, “among those coming up that they might worship,” and the last segment says, “at the feast.” By reading this as three progressive identifications of the “Greeks,” one knows they were not technically “Jews,” as they were not descended from the fallen Judah. Their ancestors had been scattered from the fallen Israel, so they were cousins of the Jews.


By association to Moses, the scattered into Greek lands became Jews.


The Greek word “tines” means “a certain one or thing,” which identifies the “Greeks” as a sect of the broad scope of “Greeks,” who were generally Gentiles. That sect of “certain Greeks” is then shown to be pilgrims coming to Jerusalem (when Jesus had just rode in on a donkey colt for his final Passover feast), which means they honored the command of God to maintain the traditions of Moses, which were performed by the priests in Herod’s Temple. We can then safely assume the Greeks who had come to worship at the Passover feast had done so because they were descended from a Northern tribe of Israel. Therefore, they were not tourists, or Gentiles who sought an audience with Jesus.


One can even question how these certain Greeks knew the name “Jesus,” as it could be that John made their request to Philip seem like they knew, when it was John who specifically identified him.  By John writing the word “Lord” or “Master,” that could be his way of stating that the Greeks requested a meeting with the one they saw enter Jerusalem to much fanfare.  Their request came following John writing about the one who just had the crowd cheering, “Hosanna! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord, even the King of Israel.”


The Greek word “Kyrie” (which means “Lord, Master, Sir, or the Lord”) was written by John as capitalized and separated as a one-word statement, showing a state of importance the word can hold, individually.  That meaning then goes beyond the disciple who was probably the last in a string of disciples behind Jesus – Philip. Thus, the question those “certain Greeks” posed to Philip could have actually been because they tapped Philip’s shoulder to get his attention, and the pointed ahead.  As they pointed, and as John witnessed, the Greeks said, “your Lord,” before saying, “may we see him?”  That interpretation make more sense than does a stranger Greek addressing a Galilean as “Sir.”


Philip then shows his lack of leadership within the disciple’s ranks.  Not only probably last in line, he also showed his low ranking by not being able to answer the Greeks without asking Andrew, his closest friend. John (who was not technically a disciple of Jesus, as he was his family … the beloved), was a youth and probably closer in age to Philip and Andrew, which would explain their lack of life experience as being why they were trailing the field and why John was tagging along with them.


John was remembering this event as an underling, not a leader. John’s Gospel is the only one that quotes Philip and Andrew (the younger brother of Simon-Peter) and shows how much they leaned on Jesus for fatherly guidance, through their questions posed.  This means the one John named as Philip’s friend (Nathanael) was likewise a young adult, who knew his rightful place in the back of the pecking order for those who followed Jesus.


When verse 23 says, “Jesus answered them,” the Greeks had accompanied Philip, Andrew and John to where Jesus was, introducing the Greeks to him. This means Jesus was talking to the Greeks, who were not just a quaint pair or small group, but a “crowd” of “them,” who had most likely traveled in numbers from Greece to Jerusalem, for safety reasons.  Together, they had seen the adoration of Jesus as the Messiah, who had raised Lazarus from his death tomb just a week earlier, prompting that celebration. Therefore, Jesus’ answer to them was in response to the question, “Are you the Messiah we have been promised? We must know if we should follow and bring more soldiers.” (Or something along that line.)


In this reading, we get a feel of Jesus speaking a soliloquy, as there is no response to those words. Other than John’s aside, from looking back from a time long afterwards and knowing the meaning of what Jesus said, there is nothing read that “certain Greeks” in a “crowd” said. They did question Jesus, which led him to make further statements (John 12:34-36); but none of that pertains to this message Jesus spoke, of which John wrote, “He said this to indicate the kind of death he was to die.”


John did not mean that Jesus had just told of his coming crucifixion as the “kind of death he was to die.” That was a death that was not permanent because, “when I am lifted up from the earth, [I] will draw all people to myself,” means Jesus foresaw his continuing in Apostles and Saints. That statement, made to “certain Greeks,” who was descended Israelites and honored Mosaic Law and God-commanded festivals, they were still not Jews, per se. They would be the people sought by the Apostles, in particular Paul and his evangelical companions, who had long been assimilated into the Gentile Greco-Roman cultures and philosophies. It would be those Greeks who would “draw all people to Jesus,” in the first expanse of Christianity.


“To die or not to die. That is the question.”


This means that when Jesus said, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified,” he was not speaking in the sense that he knew the coming ten days[1] would lead to his arrest, hearings before authorities, trial and sentence, abuse and execution, followed by burial in a tomb, and his resurrection. The intent was the return of Christ on Pentecost (a Sunday), after his Ascension on a Sabbath. This means “the hour” when the Son of Man would be “glorified” would be when disciples would be transformed into Jesus Christ reborn … still two months away.


The root word that is translated as “to be glorified” is “doxazó.” HELP Word-studies says about this word’s intent: “Cognate: 1392 doksázō (from 1391 /dóksa, “glory”) – glorify; properly, to ascribe weight by recognizing real substance (value). See 1391 (doksa). “Glorifying (1392 /doksázō) God” means valuing Him for who He really is. For example, “giving (ascribing) glory to God” personally acknowledges God in His true character (essence).” [My underscore in bold.]


Thus, Jesus said the time had come for him to become the true value by which God had sent him as the Son of Man, and not the Son of God (as emperors made that claim). That “glorification” can only come from his death and rebirth in those who believe and follow afterwards as Jesus reborn.


This is why Jesus then said, “Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.” Certainly, Jesus was the seed of the tree of salvation, which had to die for that tree to grow; but a fruitless tree cannot have value, nor can it be glorified. The fruit of glorification, and the reason Jesus came to die in human form, was to have others in human form give rise to that tree of salvation. For that to happen, others must also die and be reborn. Others must also reflect the glorification of Jesus Christ as his fruit.


This issue of others also dying is explained when Jesus said, “Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life. Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there will my servant be also. Whoever serves me, the Father will honor.” If one loves a worldly life, then death will be their reward, as death will give them what they love again – reincarnation.  However, if one loves the life God gave them, as the giver of eternal life, then one will love God deeply in one’s hearts, which will cause one’s human lusts and ego to die, as had been the life of Jesus of Nazareth.


Such as that will follow Jesus as Jesus reborn. They will become servants of Jesus Christ, as they will serve the LORD just as Jesus had served the needs of the Father. As the Son reborn, the Father will honor all new Apostles and Saints as His Son (regardless of one’s human gender). However, all those who will love self more than God, they will keep a life of death for eternity, which means reincarnation time and again into the realm of Satan (potentially the illusion of paradise, as long as Earth can continue to support pleasant life).


Jesus then said, “Now my soul is troubled. And what should I say—‘Father, save me from this hour’? No, it is for this reason that I have come to this hour. Father, glorify your name.” This is the natural fear of death that comes to all who have been given the breath of life by God (all worldly life forms have the breath of a soul in them). Still, if one knows that death is a release of miserable recycling, by one’s soul being enabled by Jesus Christ to resist evil temptations, then one does not beg God to save one’s human life. Instead, one prays to God for Him to make one’s true value become realized, as a soul return home to God.


That is the purpose of God sending His Son into the world: To return wayward souls home. However, each soul must choose that path, just as did the “prodigal son” in the parable told by Jesus.


John then wrote, “Then a voice came from heaven, “I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again.”’ This means John heard the voice, as he had great love of Jesus and God in his heart. When God said, “I will glorify it again,” this must be seen as the glorification of Jesus Christ in an Apostle – Saint. God said, in effect, every time His Son is reborn in a human being, His Son will again be glorified. That glorification will include the glorification of the one sacrificing his or her human life for a life serving Jesus Christ.


John then wrote, “The crowd standing there heard it and said that it was thunder. Others said, “An angel has spoken to him.” Jesus answered, “This voice has come for your sake, not for mine. Now is the judgment of this world; now the ruler of this world will be driven out.” By understanding that “the crowd” included many Greeks of Israelite descent, “thunder” was the power of God that was sensed surrounding Jesus the Nazarene. For them to think angels had spoken to Jesus means they had belief that God was watching over his soul. However, as Jesus pointed out, the voice of God (in whatever mode of reception detected) was not directed to Jesus, but to those who find faith that Jesus is eternally the Son of God and the one to emanate.  If the sins of the world are to be resisted and defeated, God must be known to speak to those who have Jesus Christ within.


As a personal Lenten lesson, where one is being tested in the wilderness, one has to first see oneself as a “certain Greek,” one who is not a Jew, but closer to a Gentile through assimilation with the ways of many nations. One has to find enlightenment through insight that exposes the errors of human philosophies of mind, which entrap the soul and keep one led away from complete faith, through deep love of God. One has to be asked the question, “Who do you serve?” as a test.  If the answer is not God, then the wilderness test will fail.


Second, one has to see oneself as Philip, the least of the followers of Jesus.  One must see oneself as one who has no rights to make decisions and has no power to tell Jesus what one’s will shall be. One has to be happy in that role and share one’s thoughts with others, like Andrew, Nathanael, and John, who are relatives or close friends, those who also follow Jesus like oneself. If one denies knowing Jesus, asks non-followers their opinions, or ignores the requests of strangers to get to know one’s Lord, then the test in the wilderness will fail.


Third, knowing one must sacrifice the ego and its accompanying Big Brain, one will know that fear will come.  This will be a normal stage in one’s spiritual transformation. Still, if one is more afraid of dying, so that one will pray to God to save one’s life, then one is not deeply in love with God, enough to desire to be with Him eternally. One cannot enter the wilderness to be tested if one loves life in this world, afraid to lose it, because the test of faith will fail.

Fourth, if one has never heard the voice of God speaking, in any form – audible or visual – then one has denied Jesus Christ, for fear of being outed as his disciple. One cannot hide the light of truth under a bushel barrel and expect to pass the wilderness test. An inability to hear God, means one has no ability to talk with God, so the test will fail.


Finally, if one cannot see the meaning of Jesus saying “the hour has come to be glorified by the Father,” then one has not yet reached one’s own hour to be glorified. If one cannot see the intent of God saying, “I will glorify it again” as meaning God’s willingness to glorify one and all who die and are reborn as His Son, Jesus Christ, then one has not yet reached one’s own hour to be glorified. Without the glorification of God marking one as possessing Spiritual value that others can be drawn to, then one’s test in the wilderness will fail.


It is most important to understand that failure is not an end in itself. Failure is commonplace and normal. Failure is widespread across the earth. The wilderness is littered with the dried bones of those who have failed God in the past. Still, just as a first grader with a learning disability is not denied second chances to learn, so too will God not give up on those who fail a wilderness test. One has to see a willingness to be deeply tested as the first step towards glorification. And, thus, the saying, “A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.”


A marriage to God is arranged first. It is arranged through the baptism of water.  Still, one’s heart must open like a flower in full bloom for that marriage to be consummated and the rebirth of the Son of Man to result. Only as Jesus Christ can one pass the wilderness test.  So, it is most worthwhile to keep trying, rather than give up.


Keep in mind that this fifth Sunday in Lent will be followed by the Sunday known as Palm Sunday, which ends the Lenten period. At that time, one will be expected to mount the donkey colt and parade into town as the next sacrificial Lamb.  That celebration marks a successful graduation from wilderness testing.


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[1] Jesus rode into Jerusalem on Sunday, the first day of the week.  He then commuted daily from Bethany to the Temple to preach, Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday (four days  the Lamb was inspected).  Friday was the day of preparation for a Sabbath Passover, which began at 6:00 PM.  He was arrested in early morning (predawn) of the Sabbath (Saturday).  He was seen by the Sanhedrin on Sunday, by Pilate on Monday, sent to Herod Antipas on Tuesday and back to Pilate Tuesday afternoon, when the option of freeing a criminal (by custom) allowed him to be tried before a mob.  He was convicted, flogged and mocked on Tuesday evening, and crucified on Wednesday morning, dead by 3:00 PM.  His dead body hung on the cross Thursday and on Friday the request by Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea allowed the spear test of death occur, when he was taken down and prepared for burial.  Friday he was entombed and he arose at 3:00 PM in that tomb on the Sabbath.  He would be discovered risen early on Sunday.  Therefore, Jesus spoke to certain Greeks on Sunday about a death and raising that would occur in ten days time.

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