Day of Conflict: John 12:20-50

By Randall Breland, Director of Communications


Winston Churchill was elected the Prime Minister of England on May 10, 1940. By this point, the government under Chamberlain had allowed Germany to arm itself for war, grant Hitler absolute power as chancellor, and take Poland and the Rhineland. Guided by a blind policy of appeasement, Germany had raised an army more powerful than the world had ever seen. Britain, in the meantime, had continued to invest in the economy and social welfare programs instead of building up their own military to counteract Germany’s build up. By 1940, Britain was years behind Germany. After Churchill formed a government, his personal security guard, Walter Thompson, wished him a hearty congratulations. Churchill responded: “I only hope it’s not too late.”

As we continue on our narrative of Jesus’ journey to the cross during passion week, we turn to Tuesday, a day of conflict. This is the last day of Jesus’ public ministry. Many were rushing to see Jesus before it was too late. In this case, they were simply afraid they were just going to miss out on seeing him. The reality was much worse. If they did not see Jesus rightly and the problem of their sin rightly, their chance of salvation might not just come too late, it might never come at all.

Are You Where He Is? — John 12:20-50

20 Now among those who went up to worship at the feast were some Greeks. 21 So these came to Philipwho was from Bethsaida in Galileeand asked him, “Sirwe wish to see Jesus.” 22 Philip went and told AndrewAndrew and Philip went and told Jesus. 23 And Jesus answered them, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. 24 TrulytrulyI say to youunless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and diesit remains alonebut if it diesit bears much fruit. 25 Whoever loves his life loses itand whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life. 26 If anyone serves mehe must follow meand where I amthere will my servant be alsoIf anyone serves methe Father will honor him.

It is the Feast of Passover in Jerusalem. Thousands of pilgrims are ascending into Jerusalem to worship Yahweh and celebrate the Exodus deliverance at the Temple. John reports that Greeks, whom we assume were God-fearers, had come to worship as well. If we assume they have come from afar, then this makes a tremendous statement about just how far word about Jesus and his ministry had travelled. Naturally, these Greeks want to see Jesus — and we can assume, they want to see him perform a miracle. Andrew and Philip take the request to Jesus, who gives them a seemingly cryptic answer.

Jesus is not here to entertain the masses, fellowship with his family, or to partake of a feast. Jesus is here for a singular purpose: to glorify himself and gain eternal life for his people through his death. Anyone who wants to see Jesus must see and believe in his ultimate purpose: a sacrificial death that reconciles God to his people and provides forgiveness from their condemning sin. In fact, they must do more than “see.” They must believe and “get it” to the point that they are willing to follow in his footsteps. They must be willing to give up their lives as he did: “and where I am, there will my servant be also.”

Are You Listening to the Right Voice? — John 12:27-36

27 Now is my soul troubledAnd what shall I say? ‘Fathersave me from this hour’? But for this purpose I have come to this hour. 28 Fatherglorify your name.” Then a voice came from heaven: “I have glorified itand I will glorify it again.” 29 The crowd that stood there and heard it said that it had thunderedOthers said, “An angel has spoken to him.” 30 Jesus answered, “This voice has come for your sakenot mine. 31 Now is the judgment of this worldnow will the ruler of this world be cast out. 32 And Iwhen I am lifted up from the earthwill 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 foreverHow can you say that the Son of Man must be lifted upWho is this Son of Man?” 35 So Jesus said to them, “The light is among you for a little while longerWalk while you have the lightlest darkness overtake youThe one who walks in the darkness does not know where he is going. 36 While you have the lightbelieve in the lightthat you may become sons of light.”

“Father, glorify your name” (verse 28) is the center of this passage. The fact that a voice speaks from heaven, affirming Jesus’ requests, indicates that Jesus’ pursuit of glory for himself and for his people, through his death, is on the forefront of his mind and at the center of his mission. He is in Jerusalem for this moment. The fulfillment of the mission is at stake.

After the Father speaks, Jesus addresses the crowd, explaining the significance of this moment in the history of redemption. Since the Lord expelled Adam and Eve from the Garden, he has been planning to send his seed, his descendant, who would crush the head of Satan. Jesus is that seed and is here to crush Satan’s head. Verse 31 indicates that he will do this by removing Satan from power and judging humanity’s rebellion. In verse 32, he indicates that he is going to be “lifted up” and “draw all people to himself.” As is common in John’s Gospel, there is a double entendre. The “lifting up” language recalls the episode in Numbers 21 where Moses erects two bronze serpents in the wilderness. All people who looked on the lifted-up bronze serpents were saved. The “lifting up” language also foreshadows his ascension to the throne as the rightful and restored King of the universe.

The juxtaposition of judgment and salvation in verses 31-32 provides a key to understanding both this passage, the nature of Jesus’ mission, and the logic of the cross. First, this judgment or salvation motif in verses 32-33 —you will either be judged with Satan or drawn to Jesus—continues until verse 36 with the light and dark metaphor. Jesus is inviting the crowds to believe in the light. Believing in the light means following Jesus’ way of life (verse 26) and believing the word that he has spoken (verses 47-50).

The invitation is also to accept Jesus’ path to the throne—through the cross and resurrection. In verse 34, the crowd indicates their understanding of what Jesus is, and then ask if “the son of Man” is someone other than him? Their assumptions of who the Messiah is and what his mission is blocking their ability to receive, understand, and believe in Jesus’ message.

Finally, the juxtaposition of judgment and salvation in this passage points toward the logic of the cross. Jesus’ mission  was to die as a substitute for His people. His lifting up on the cross was the means by which he was to be lifted up among the nations as King of the universe.

This is the story of Easter. God the Son, the eternal one who perfectly obeyed God the Father, submitted himself to death as a perfect  sacrifice for God’s people. Relying on Jesus’ substitutionary sacrifice is the essence of Christian belief and is at the heart of the Gospel. Easter also celebrates Jesus’ kingship over the cosmos. Through his death, “the ruler of this world will be cast out” (verse 31).

In other words, Jesus death and resurrection began the downfall of Satan and the rise of Jesus and his kingdom. Notice that Satan’s defeat is equated with judgment coming into the world. Why is that? When Jesus hung on the cross, God the Father released his full fury of wrath and condemnation on Jesus. Jesus satisfied God’s wrath and propitiated it. Satan’s power lies in his ability to accuse and his ability to draw people from God. Jesus’ ended Satan’s ability to condemn since he took the penalty. And, as King of the cosmos, he now has the dominion and authority to draw all people to himself.

Whose glory are you really after? — John 12:36-43

36 When Jesus had said these thingshe departed and hid himself from them. 37 Though he had done so many signs before themthey still did not believe in him, 38 so that the word spoken by the prophet Isaiah might be fulfilled: ‘Lordwho has believed what he heard from usand to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?’ 39 Therefore they could not believeFor again Isaiah said40 ‘He has blinded their eyes and hardened their heartlest they see with their eyesand understand with their heartand turnand I would heal them.’” 41 Isaiah said these things because he saw his glory and spoke of him. 42 Neverthelessmany even of the authorities believed in himbut for fear of the Pharisees they did not confess itso that they would not be put out of the synagogue; 43 for they loved the glory that comes from man more than the glory that comes from God.

Why did many in the crowd reject Jesus? Keeping with the main theme of glory in this passage, John tells us that many did not believe in Jesus because they loved the glory that comes from man. At the end of the day, these Pharisees valued others opinion of them more than they valued God’s opinion of them.

Yet, there is a deeper answer to the question of why they did not believe. Isaiah indicates that they could not believe. Their hearts are hardened and their eyes are blind in unbelief. John 12 causes us to struggle with the perennial question of election and free will. Humanity cannot believe unless Jesus draws them by the Spirit. And yet, the Gospel is offered freely to any and all who believe. The doctrine of election often makes us uncomfortable. It should provide great comfort. It reminds us that all deserve death and that God would be perfectly righteous if he never sent His son. Belief is a gift from God. For this reason, election—and it’s attached gift of belief—is a great reason to rejoice daily and pray vigorously.

44 And Jesus cried out and said, “Whoever believes in mebelieves not in me but in him who sent me. 45 And whoever sees me sees him who sent me. 46 I have come into the world as lightso that whoever believes in me may not remain in darkness. 47 If anyone hears my words and does not keep themI do not judge himfor I did not come to judge the world but to save the world. 48 The one who rejects me and does not receive my words has a judgethe word that I have spoken will judge him on the last day. 49 For I have not spoken on my own authoritybut the Father who sent me has himself given me a commandmentwhat to say and what to speak. 50 And I know that his commandment is eternal lifeWhat I saythereforeI say as the Father has told me.”

The passage ends with a stern warning from Jesus. If you do not believe Jesus, then you reject God and remain in the darkness—in the dominion of Satan. A judgment is coming at the end of days when the world will be judged by the Father, who is the righteous and holy one. The only way to come out of that judgment with a status of innocent is to believe in God’s commandment. In this case, God’s commandment is “believe in Jesus.” Obviously, the implications are that those who believe in Jesus follow in Jesus’ footsteps of perfect obedience, willing sacrifice, and eager worship.

The Cosmic Conflict

John 12 and Jesus’ conflict with the Pharisees and the crowds reminds us that the story of Easter is a story filled with tragedy. This is the story of the perfect and glorious son of God, King of the universe, and rescuer of the world being put to death by the very people he came to save. This is also the story of thousands upon thousands of Israelites and others rejecting Jesus. Like England of the 1930s, they did not see the danger that was right in front of them. In this case, the mortal peril was not found in another nation. It was found right in their own hearts in the black dark of rebellion. Yet, their was another nation—another kingdom. Every person who rejected Jesus chose to walk in the dark and became a recruit for the kingdom of darkness.

Pastels Are for the Darkness

Jesus’ journey to the cross is about much more than you and me. It is about God crushing the head of the serpent and regaining his dominion. Easter celebrates God setting the world right. Easter is about God making everything that is sad become untrue. We need to be careful not to lose sight of the ultimate reality behind Easter. All too many of us faithful Christians hope that Easter will provide a religious experience that will add some nitrous to our faith and life. Somehow, somewhere deep down, on the very day we should remember the Gospel, we find ourselves putting on our pastels, hiding our easter eggs, and hoping the Spring sunshine will appease a righteous God and make life all better. It will not. We have to fight this hardness of heart before it’s too late for us.

Easter is a time to fight sin and to label sin rightly. Sin is a joining forces with the black one. Sin is a willful refusal to walk in the light. Your anger cannot be glossed over with a nice suit and warm memories of the day you were saved. God’s anger cannot be appeased if you willfully disobey the truth and do not obey the command of Jesus.

The Question We Must Answer

At this point, many of us—including the one writing—are faced with a choice. Will we believe in Jesus’ and in his mission? Will we “be where he is” by laying down our lives and giving all to see him glorified? Or will we choose our comfort, our pleasures, our worldly security, and our own glory? This is the question we must answer in Easter.

In 1944, one of Churchill’s chief ministers suggested to him that they hold a national day of prayer. This minister wanted to pray for operation overlord, which we now know as the invasion of Normandy, or D-day. Churchill dismissed this as an unnecessary waste of breath and argued that what was needed was will power, determination, and fighting spirit.

As wise as Churchill was, he himself missed his need for God. Do not let Easter be the time you decide to duck your head, try harder, and by sheer determination clean up your life. Instead, look to Jesus who is now the reigning and resurrected King of the Universe as the one who has appeased God’s wrath , defeated the Accuser, put an end to the black realm of sin and rebellion, and has secured a forever hope for you in heaven.