The last half of John chapter 12 encompasses Jesus’ final public teaching. As such, verses 20-50 function as a kind of epilogue wherein Jesus is summing up the purpose of his coming into the world. As a large crowd came out to meet Jesus as he made his way to Jerusalem for Passover, the Pharisees, looking on in dread, saw their plans to eliminate him crumbling. And in a wonderful bit of irony they said to one another, “The whole world has gone after him” (vs. 19). And then John immediately tells us that among the crowds flocking to Jesus “were some Greeks” (vs. 20).
These Gentiles from the Greek speaking world were likely those referred to as “God fearers,” Gentiles who had come to believe in and worship the LORD. On that final Passover of Jesus’ ministry, it was true that the world was going after him. The promise made to Abraham so long before was being fulfilled before the eyes of the religious leaders but they couldn’t see it.
Two of Jesus’ disciples, Philip and Andrew, brought to Jesus a company of Greeks wanting to meet Jesus. Wasting no time, Jesus gives them the key to understanding what they will see in a matter of days. “The hour has come,” Jesus tells them, “for the Son of Man to be glorified” (vs. 23). In John’s Gospel this hour of glorification means the cross. The glory of God will be displayed as the Son bears the sins of the world upon the cross. Jesus wants them to know when they see him die it will be like a seed that goes into the ground and dies then becoming a source of abundant life. It’s a paradox which points to a further paradox in which all of Jesus’ disciples live. It’s a life that comes from dying to self and an honor that comes from humble service. The cross of Jesus, then, is both the source of our salvation and the pattern for our living as followers of Jesus.