Why Did Jesus Think That His Time Has Come? (john 12:20-32)

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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. 

There are two words in the Greek language that could be translated as Greeks – Hellenistoi and Hellenes. Both refer to Greek affiliation. John uses here the latter word. The difference between the words is usually understood as the following: Hellenistoi is used for Greek-behaving people, like Greek-speaking Jews (Hellenized Jews); while the second word refers to ethnic Greeks (in this case probably the Greek God-fearers that we meet in the book of Acts). However, in John’s Gospel, we are faced with an interesting dilemma. John does not seem to use hoi Ioudaioi (usually translated as the Jews) as others use it. He has his own use that is particular to his Gospel, given his unique audience and situation. (The use of hoi Ioudaioi meant something to his audience that it does not mean to others).

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Thinking along the same lines it is entirely possible that John has his own use of Hellenes as well. Whereas others use the term Hellenes for ethnic Greeks, John may be using it in a different way. But this of course is only a possibility. The burden of proof is upon those who would like to argue that these were Hellenized Jews and not God-fearing Greeks. We must however think of both possibilities with the first still being the most probable one.

Whether Hellenized Jews are in view or Greeks God-fearers (probable version), who were seeking out Jewish religious leader for a meeting, Jesus’ following had reached the farthest corner of Jewish influence! (If one looks at the Israelite umbrella of various Jewish movements, the Gentile God-fearers who had not fully joined Jewish community, but in many ways affiliated themselves, can be viewed as occupying the furthest corner of Jewish communal influence.) Now that Jesus has followers not only in Judea, Galilee, Samaria, but also in the Diaspora he declares that the time for the Son of Man to be glorified has finally come (something that he denied number of times before).

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.

What is very intriguing here is that the Gospel does not tell us if Jesus actually met with the Greeks. Instead the author switches his emphasis to the words of Jesus where he spoke of his coming death and sacrifice. It is likely that Greeks were invited in; and what comes in the following verses may constitute a summary of that conversation. Jesus’ point is simple. Unless he dies, his ministry will not bear much fruit. Those who sanctify God’s name might also be required to die with him, but his Father will honor them.

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“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.”

The words of Jesus speak deeply of his full humanity. It is not natural for a human being to want to suffer and die. Jesus, understanding the core of his mission, is willing to do so.

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.

The connection between God’s voice and thunder is important here. We read in Ex.19:16-19: “16 On the morning of the third day there were thunders and lightnings and a thick cloud on the mountain and a very loud trumpet blast, so that all the people in the camp trembled. 17 Then Moses brought the people out of the camp to meet God, and they took their stand at the foot of the mountain. 18 Now Mount Sinai was wrapped in smoke because the Lord had descended on it in fire. The smoke of it went up like the smoke of a kiln, and the whole mountain trembled greatly. 19 And as the sound of the trumpet grew louder and louder, Moses spoke, and God answered him in thunder.” The voice of God in speaking of the glorification of Jesus is, therefore, set in the same glorious context.

31 Now is the judgment of this world; now will the ruler of this world be cast out.

As I discussed in the previous section, while it is traditional to assume that the ruler of this world is Satan, the enemy of God’s purposes on this earth, it is also possible (though this is only a possibility) that a particular evil leader of the hoi Ioudaioi in fact was in view instead.

The Qumran community speaks of a wicked priest as a towering evil figure in the Qumranic imagination. While one cannot simply draw quick conclusions, we are justified however in entertaining the possibility of such a figure. It is noteworthy that every known case of persecution against Jesus and the Jerusalem believers in Jesus, especially their leaders, “was taken when the reigning high priest was one of those who belonged to the powerful Sadducean family of Annas.” Caiaphas, Annas’ son-in-law condemned both Jesus and Stephen. James the Son of Zebedee was executed and Peter was arrested by Agrippa I; while Matthias, son of Annas, was probably a priest.

In Acts 12:3 we are told that the king was motivated to gain the favor with “the Jews,” that is to “placate the high priest Mathias and his family” since some time before Agrippa had humiliated Annas’ family by deposing Theophilus, brother of Mathias. Another son of Annas, Ananus II, put James to death taking advantage of being Roman Emperor’s before the appointment of the next leader of the Empire. The above shows that we are justified to speak of a case of family vendetta against “the followers of a man whose movement Caiphas (as a member of Annas priestly family) had expected to but failed to stamp out”.[1]

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.

It was clear to Jesus that he would be crucified and would be lifted up on the Roman cross for criminals. When this dying/sowing of the seed happens, it would produce much fruit and all men (in this nearer sense, Israel, though certainly not only) would be drawn to him.

[1] See Bauckham, R. 2007. James and the Jerusalem Community. In Jewish Believers in Jesus: The Early Centuries. Edited by O. Skarsaune and R. Hvalvik. Peabody: Hendrickson Publishers, 75.

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  1. Rev. Chis Madison, M.Div.

    Dr. Eli,

    Thank you for exploring this piece related to “kairos” time. Earlier at Cana of Galilee when Mary had suggested to Jesus that he do something because the wine had run out, he replied to his mother that “his time had not yet come.” So, from early in John’s gospel we know that timing will be an element in the way this book is laid out. There is a consistent theme of relating to Hellenistic Jews or “Greeks” in John. Andrew’s name (Andreas, Greek, man) is a Greek name, as is Phillip (phillipos, Greek, lover of horses). The Gentile mission looms large in John with its logos theology. As has been noted by others, John is divided into two halves, the Book of Signs, and the Book of Glory. When Jesus turns to the Cross the Book of Glory makes its presence felt. And, as alluded by others, when Jesus said, “When I am lifted up, I will draw all people to myself,” this was very much a parallel to the serpent on the bronze pole in the wilderness during the Exodus. So, there is a definite connection between those of hellenistic background in John’s gospel, and those whose own roots trace themselves to TANAK. It is most probably that these Greeks are diaspora Jews, meaning that they are familiar with Greek philosophy and may very well trace their worship/study to Alexandria through the use of the LXX. Why was it “the time?” I believe that John expresses a sense of “purpose” expressed in time and with timing. So John, in composing this gospel was very sensitive to the moment when God began to bring to a conclusion Jesus’ earthly ministry and to move toward its culmination his crucifixion and the events to follow. A question that we need to ask ourselves as we explore our own calling is, “When is it God’s “time” for us to respond to God’s call in our own lies?” And a second question is, “What will that call look like?” And lastly, “What gifts have we been given to help us live out that call?”

    My two cents.

    1. Dr. Eli Lizorkin-Eyzenberg

      Pastor Chris, thank you for your thoughtful comment. I am not sure as you are that “the gentile mission is looming in John”. I am aware of course that this is the traditional reading. If you read my previous chapter treatments you may see why I don’t think so. (You can see the Jewish-Samaritan Journey – banner on the right side). So disagree with what you are saying, but very much welcome your comment and interaction. Blessings and much peace, Dr. Eli

  2. RamonAntonio

    In fact, my positions are not “traditional” indeed… Je, je.. If anyone wants to know what a “traditional Catholic” is just Google “Opus Dei”, “Opus Angelorum” or some of those movements to the extent that anyone can reach in those readings. Traditional Catholic is something under fire right now for this is precisely the issue behind Pope Francis whereabouts, the fact that nobody can pinpoint where, if somewhere, he stands.But all have to accepts that he is a 2013 embodyment of what Jesus stood for. Just check who were his guests to his birthday celebration in the Vatican. There were no Cardinals in the guest list.
    I think Holly should check her timeline. 3700 years is too far away in the past for something resembling Jewish doctrine. Most scholars locate Abram circa 1800 BC and Abram is the beginning of hebrews, then to be israelites and then jews.
    However, Holly is absolutely correct in signaling the “original sin” as a central issue in Catholicism dogma. I’ll try to share some thoughts around this but just to frame the conversation, the Catholic perspective includes the role of the “satan” as the adversary (one of the sons of God, ¿angel?, ¿living beings?) as presented in the Book of Job, (one of the oldest oral traditions of the Bible being Job understood as a rich one from the time of Abram) but then evolves that role into a more complex proposition that includes a basic negation by Satan, now a created being, against God as Creator in the origins of time and creation. Thus, the rejection becomes a sin committed by Satan against the Spirit which is the sin that is unforgivable by God as Jesus Himself defined. That sin, which is the sin caused by Satan from humanity against God through Eve being tricked through satan’s mischief, is the original sin that humans share by birth as descendants of Adam and Eve. In turn Adam and Eve have been alternatively understood as humanity being Adam a derivative of “adama” a form that can be translated as “from the earth” or humanity as a general reference to mankind. THis has been explored before by Dr. Eli in previous posts.
    The difference may be reduced to the fact that the Catholic understanding of sin is one against the Spirit committed by humanity and forgiven by God because of the death and resurrection of Jesus on behalf of humanity, This act of Love by JEsus reopened the access to Salvation that was closed before by the original sin and is dispensed by baptism to Christians. Though getting INTO the Heaven now depends in following Jesus path in our remainder life. THis is what currently divides Catholics and Protestants who posit that everyone is already saved while Catholics stand that every baptized is SAVED FROM ORIGINAL SIN through Baptism but has to live according to Jesus to gain actual and personal Salvation thus needing reconciliation throughout our life because satan and his minions are alive and rumbling like a roaring lions waiting to attack adn trick humanity against God.

  3. Dr. Eli Lizorkin-Eyzenberg

    Though Ramon is a committed Catholic, I don’t think his positions are as traditional as you state, but I suppose that I should let him speak for himself. About 3700 of Jewish tradition it is far more complicated that you are describing. I don’t even know where to begin. Perhaps, you can start by reading “Inventing Christian Identity” to get you going (http://iibsblogs.wpengine.com/featured-articles/) in putting things in a better perspective. Let’s keep thinking about this together! Dr. Eli

  4. Holly Holmstrom

    Thank you Dr Eli for this forum and open exchange of ideas. I appreciate all the comments, especially Ramon’s. He has very clearly stated the traditional Christian position I believe. What I am interested in is comparing and hopefully reconciling that with the accepted theology of Judaism in which the satan is not seen as the “ruler of the world” but merely an adversary functioning as described in the Book of Job, with The Lords implicit consent. I am not a scholar but it appears to me that Jewish philosophy developed in the 3700 or so years before Jesus was born does not include the concept of original sin. Why would Jesus not have been taught and believed all that the prophets and sages and oral tradition held to? By this I am not referring to His fulfillment of the Torah or The fact of His coming as the Messiah and the redemption of Israel and all people. It seems to me that our Lord’s main point of contention with the Jewish leaders were their hypocrisy and man-made regulations, that they did not follow the Spirit of the Torah. There are other areas of difference but my main question here I guess is that of the doctrine of original sin. Are we humans made in the image of G-d, with a “spark” of the Divine Nature within us and have as our purpose here in this world with our life to give expression to that spark or are we conceived in sin and have as our Father the Devil? If there is not an either or answer and there is a way to reconcile these viewpoints I would be interested. I know Jesus was very clear when he spoke in the Temple but His words could have several meanings. When you act like or behave like someone it could be said they are your Father and when you let someone , thing or idea control you it can be said they are your ruler as in the verses we are discussing. And being conceived of flesh and blood does give us an “animal ” or carnal I guess nature but if we do truly have the breath of G-d as our life force and have been given a soul with His Word written in it then can we not cry out Abba Father? And claim to be His?

  5. Stephen Lockwood

    As John was a Jew who obviously spoke Hebrew, and the Samaritans spoke Hebrew (their Torah was written in Hebrew); is it possible that the original language that John wrote in was Hebrew? There seem to be several “Hebrewisms” in the text (word images that are obvious to people from a Jewish/Hebrew society that is not obvious to outsiders)? I also think that vs 32 was an allusion to the bronze serpent (nachash nichoshet) of Num. 21:9, another Hebrewism, as all who looked upon the upraised image were saved form painful death.

    Just thinkin’

    1. Dr. Eli Lizorkin-Eyzenberg

      I don’t think so. The reason is not because I don’t want it to be… I actually do :-). But that I think we have no evidence that it was so. Now you do mention Hebraism/s, but Hebraisms do not at all necessitate translation from Hebrew or Aramaic. For example, it can be cogently argued that all Hebraisms (Hebraic patterns of speech composition) came to New Testament via Greek LXX. Remember it was Jews who did this work, so they thoughts Hebraically even as they wrote things done in Greek. (When a Gospel refers to an old testament event or text it is NOT a hebraism, but a reference to old testament text). The only Gospel for which have some limited evidence that it may have been first written in Hebrew is that Gospel of Matthew (in fact one of the church fathers mentions the Gospel in Hebrew), but even there it is not as clear as I would like it to be. Also, don’t forget that Samaritans also had their Samaritan Torah in Greek (!!!!!) just like the Jews did (LXX). Let’s keep thinking together on this. It is important. Dr. Eli

  6. Kostya

    Thanks for the linguistic points about the Greeks. It was amazing how far Jesus’ fame had spread.
    I am interested in verses 27 -28. It is fascinating that John does not have an account of Jesus in Gethsemane yet these words seem to almost be a substitute for it.
    Also: v 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.’ This is so so much like the ‘takes up his cross and follows me’ of the synoptics.
    John’s gospel is so different yet the same themes come through at times.

    1. Dr. Eli Lizorkin-Eyzenberg

      excellent observation, Kostya. Thank you for sharing it with us.

  7. RamonAntonio

    Even though Dr. Eli has been using his exegetical approach consistently through his posts, here, he excels himself in utmost clarity. I’m reminded of my High School Spanish class where the professor ( a Spanish Marist brother) taught us “Analogic Analysis” which is a careful word by word deconstruction of each one in terms of its own significance and in the context of its use in the sentence. By applying this time honored Spanish language tests, we were teached to consider all possibilities of the text and then, after this precise and ordered analysis, decide the most probable meaning of the sentence. I LOVE IT!

    The consideration of the Greek alternatives is illuminating. And then some… the reflection on John’s own use of this dichotomy is shocking. This insight reinforces my feeling about John which simply put, revelas John as a profound historian philosopher who considered each nuance of his dictations following decades of pondering upon the previously wrote Gospels. So my take is that John wrote a Gospel that had not been told carefully emphasizing each phrase that would ultimately become his Gospel. That is why it is difficult to ascertain ONE AUTHOR but easily to recognize ONE SOURCE: JOHN.

    The obscure, enigmatic and possibly allegorical figure of the “whicked priest” in Qumran documents comes fully alive in Dr. Eli’s account and reveals itself evident in the narrative. A clear cut recognition of the reference. More clear in here that in the original references to him in Qumran texts. A great achievement to insert such a hyphotesis in this examination.

    And finally, the eloquent and direct reference by Jesus to “the ruler of this world” as a clear cut identification to Satan leaves no doubt of his intention. Jesus is openly saying that humanity is ruled by A RULER THAT IS NOT HIM AND THAT THE REASON FOR HIS COMING WAS TO LIBERATE US FROM HIS RULE AND CONSTITUTE HIMSELF AS RULER. HE can’t speak clearer than that. ANd then, that replacement can only be achieved by death…

    … and Self Resurrection by the Father with whom HE IS ONE…!

    Can anything be more poetic and at the same time more significant than this?

    1. Dr. Eli Lizorkin-Eyzenberg

      Dear Ramon, I am honored and deeply encouraged by your feedback. Thank you. Dr. Eli

  8. James

    Jesus was always saying I can only do do what I see the Father doing. I ‘m thinking it was His intimate relationship with the Father, he also knew what was in the hearts of man. Didn’t He tell peter that flesh and blood had not revealed who He was to him.

    1. Dr. Eli Lizorkin-Eyzenberg

      Dear James, thank you for your comment and welcome to our forum. I am not exactly sure what your point is. I of course agree with everything you wrote, but I am not sure why you wrote it. Would you be willing to clarify? Dr. Eli

  9. Richard Stanbery

    I believe Jesus (Son of God) was in full knowledge of the time table of earthly happenings. Jesus stated several times in scripture that “His ways are not our ways, that His ways are much higher than ours.” Jesus said the same words in the garden when he and james, simon peter, and john. He showed his humanity in asking His father to take this cup from him, “Now is my soul troubled. ” I believe you are right on target. But, Jesus asked for things on a conditional basis, “If it is in the will of the Father.” I believe the closer he came to the cross, the more he showed his full humanity. While the Qumran community speaks of a wicked priest as a towering evil figure in the Qumranic imagination. And adds views not recorded in our Bible I have to continue to believe the Bible’s suggested view, seeing it is the emfactic word of God, imspired my the Holy Ghost. My God is three in one (1) God the Father (2) God the Son (3) God the Holy Spirit (Ghost) so God directed the writing of the scriptures. So I can say thank you for sharing the views of the Qumran community, but I will give the scriptures as the final word. Nice to hear and it does open some interesting thoughts.

    1. Dr. Eli Lizorkin-Eyzenberg

      Dear Richard, thanks for your comments. There is no question (well to my mind it is not :-)) that God’s Word (Biblical Canonical Collection) is the authority. Writings of Qumran community should be viewed as only background against which the Bible (New Testament in this case) should be read along side of many other backgrounds. But I think (and I am writing it with all respect due and with all sincerity due) you are making one serious mistake. You are assuming that the Bible defines for us the identity of the Prince/Ruler of this world that is you are assuming that we know for 100% what John means by it. I disagree. I think later interpreters of the Bible do that for us (seeking to systematize into one coherent account what various verses like this may be saying), but not the Bible itself. I think that what you are doing is reading back into John something that may or may not be there.

      Incidentally (just to be clear) you may notice that I am very careful to only include this as interpretive possibility (I am not at all convinced of it), BUT (and you should read the entire “Jewish Samaritan Journey through the Gospel of John” to see why why what I am suggesting may not be too far out, so to speak :-)).

      Let me summarize. In John (and ONLY in John) Jesus is portrayed as the one who has come to displace the current religious leadership in Israel. Several times in JOHN (unique to this Gospel) the world is strangely enough referred to as the world of Hoi Ioudaioi (look at John 7 for example). Jesus and his disciples must be shepherding united Israel not (blind) and judged Sanhedrin. High priest is the main leader of that currently ruling group, so when Jesus (anticipating his death, resurrection and ascension) says that in a little while the ruler of the world will be cast out, I think (at least as a possibility) I am justified in saying that perhaps what is meant here (originally) is that the evil dynasty that ran the Temple will soon come to an end (Incidentally in Qumran it is not clear if the wicked priest is one person or a whole series of High Priests opposed to righteousness as the community of Qumran defines it).

      NOW… can this also apply by extension to the Devil/Satan theological construction that we are discussing here? OF COURSE! After all anyone who opposes the royal Son of God Jesus is on the side of the Father of Lies.

      I suggest that we should keep thinking together on this out, keeping our minds and hearts open to the truth no mater where it may lead us. Dr. Eli

  10. Kat Hobaugh

    Dr. Eli, I keep meaning to tell you that my friends are loving your articles! Thanks!!!

    In thinking through the question I believe Jesus died so the Holy Spirit would come (v24). We can only produce fruit if we have the Holy Spirit. What I am left to wrestle with is whether we receive the Holy Spirit when we “accept” Jesus or receive it when we follow Jesus?

    1. Dr. Eli Lizorkin-Eyzenberg

      Spiritual birth is like a any other birth (especially human). From the time the female gets pregnant until the time of birth there is a profit NOT easily testable on the early stages. Dr. Eli P.S. You can send your friends invites by simply typing their names into the Sign up for updates box, if they like it, they will confirm it (when a confirmation email arrives to them).