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. jane z. mazzola

    Re-reading this for the 3rd time, the original POST and the blog comments, has been very meaningful & insightful into this Scripture passage. You all posted this over a year ago, and still it is blooming into new places. Thank you & blessings as Passover & Easter are upon us for this year.
    Jane M.

    1. Dr. Eli Lizorkin-Eyzenberg

      Thank you Jane, I trust that you will have a meaningful Passover/Easter season. May the Lord abundantly bless you and keep you! Eli

  2. Holly Holmstrom

    I would like to say how much I enjoy reading this blog and how wonderful it is to know people who are so concerned with The Word of the Lord!!! It is so refreshing for me to be able to turn my mind from the 9-5 work week, grocery lists, gas station lines, laundry etc. etc. etc. and focus on The Scriptures. I have also found some fascinating reading and insight into Judaism on the Jewish Virtual Library site and Chabad.org. And I would highly recommend those sites to anyone interested in learning more about the Jewish faith. At least I was able to more fully understand the Jewish concept of the adversary and the concept of evil as it was explained there. But what I really love about Judaism is the idea that God is in everything and everything is in God ! And in no way did Jesus contradict that. I am beginning to see that the division of Christianity from Judaism was due in a much larger part to politics than theology. ” And this to we Bless The Lord for.” Why did Jesus think his time had come? He could feel it in His Spirit.

    1. Dr. Eli Lizorkin-Eyzenberg

      Yes, in spite of the popular opinion it is exactly that. What divided us was not theology, but politics.

  3. Rafael

    One of the problems is that it is a concept that is a little too wonderful for us to understand fully.

    Another problem is that each person thinks so differently that the AHA moment is triggered by something different. And even then, we still run into paradoxes about it that are not easy to wrestle.

    The concept of the trinity its a mental wrestling match lasting a lifetime. And yet despite that, it doesn’t seem to be much of a struggle after a few years.

    The trinity is not spelled out anywhere in scripture. It is inescapable once you hit the gospels and pay attention. But Jewish sages wrestled with the hints of it in the Tenakh. They even drew some remarkable conclusions that came close to it, even realizing that the Meshiakh and God were somehow both God. It was just as mysterious for them, and even more so. If I remember correctly, they were even aware that the Holy Spirit was also somehow God, both separate from God and not. But these are things I only vaguely remember.

  4. Rafael

    You can say that a tree is a plant. That would be true. But if you say that a plant is a tree, then that is true only sometimes. Other times, a plant can be a bush, grass, etc.

    I’ll try to simplify it a little. Lets say we have the Java family, Pops, Junior, and Muscles. Each of them are Java. Pops is the backbone of the Java family. Some people call him Pops. Some people call him Java. Pops is the planner, and he has great expectations for Junior because he loves him. And Junior loves Pops every bit as much, and wants to make him proud. Junior does whatever Pops tells him. He knows that Pops wants only the very best for Junior. They both love uncle Muscles. He makes things happen without anyone seeing him. And he loves Pops and Junior. Nobody could ask for better family. Whatever they need, Muscles makes it happen.

    One day, Pops sends Junior on an errand far from home. But the people in that place don’t know Junior. They’re supposed to know that he’s coming. Java told them long ago, but they forgot. And they are furious when Junior tries to tell them that he’s also Java, and that Java sent him. They hear Junior on his cell fone, talking to Pops occasionally. But they don’t believe that it’s really Java on the fone. They accuse Junior of being an ally of old Nick, Java’s enemy.

    This is a very simplified example. But I hope it will be good enough to get the idea across.

    1. Dr. Eli Lizorkin-Eyzenberg

      This is a good example when simplification is successful at complicating comprehension :-).

  5. RamonAntonio

    May I insert a question to this study? Does the idea of Jesus Himself in the Gospels was actually Yahwe Himself in the Old Testament is out of question to Jewish perspective? BEcause most of the questions I see can be explained if we use this understanding.

    I think that, as a matter of fact, we have to position ourselves in this regards for one thing is to understand Jesus as “someone who was or may have been God” versus Jesus being the same Yahwe that spoke to Moses and liberated israel from slavery. A difficult situation is developing in some scholars who are beginning to posit that in fact this reading was the center core of the LVXX and that this was the reason why Jewish rabbinate departed from this reading towards what became the MT. (An ample critique has been cast out to the Jerusalem Bible authors who decided to translate Jesus name as Lord instead of Yahwe thus breaking the Old and NEw Testament continuum that some begin to see in the originals). This reading then is the root of the saying “Jesus is the Lord” that appears in John and else. Then, the original Christians were in fact stating that Yahwe was Jesus or vice versa, that Jesus WAS / IS Yahve.

  6. Rafael

    Dr Eli, you suggest that the reason Yeshua knew His time had come was because the final class of Jewish rulers had come to Him. But I must disagree. This may have been an important element. But it had no bearing on the timing.

    Prophecy dictated that He would be taken from us after three and a half years. Even if these God-fearing Greeks had not come, the time limit was at hand.

    At the beginning of His ministry, He told His mother that His time had not yet come. But she demonstrated that she knew that it was close at hand when she instructed the servants to obey Him. This also suggests (a speculation) that she may have seen Him do miracles before this. Why else would she expect that He could instantly do something?

    But when He replied, she knew that His 30th year would begin during the wedding festival (which is seven days long). She also knew that He could not begin public ministry before his 30th year (a Jewish custom).

    His public ministry ended on Pesach. So it started three and a half years earlier (according to Daniel) at the beginning of sukkot.

    It fascinates me to discover the timing of some things, in this case, that the wedding festival began at least a few days before the beginning of sukkot (since I believe that He was born on the first day of sukkot).

    Enough time passed for them to run out of wine, and yet more time had to pass before His ministry could begin. I speculate that His mother didn’t have to wait more than around an hour, however long it was until sunset.

    Mary wanted to save those who were responsible (for the wine) from the humiliation of running out. And even though the wine had indeed run out, the outage was short enough that the festival was barely affected. Coincidence? I think not.

    1. Dr. Eli Lizorkin-Eyzenberg

      I think this is speculation, nothing more. So I disagree with the disagreement :-). Dr. Eli

      1. Rafael

        Nothing more? I think you’re sweeping away far too much, far too easily. His three and a half years, as prescribed by Daniel, was dwindling to nothing. This is not speculation. I stand by my disagreement.

        1. Dr. Eli Lizorkin-Eyzenberg

          This is what I think. The burden of proof that this NOT a speculation is on you, Rafael. I would be happy to hear what makes you so sure of your circulations.

          1. Rafael

            Thank you for this challenge.

            I must admit that I was rather perplexed at not being able to find in Daniel what I had claimed was there. Scouring my memory, I realized that it got into my head via the comment of someone else on your blog. It had gotten into my head because it sounded right, and so I did not bother to check it.

            So I retract what I said about the three and a half years being a time limit.

            However, while I was searching Daniel, I found the real time limit. And it affirms my position. Yeshua had a time constraint. He had to be cut off on a specific day at the end of the 69 weeks of years (or break the prophecy).

            I have sufficiently carried the “burden of proof”. I discovered an error along the way, even though said error did not damage my position, namely that he had a time limit that was close at hand. Other proof has been shown. The ball is now in your court.

            Your stated reason for disagreeing with my disagreement was that you thought it was speculation, “nothing more”. I think I have adequately shown that there is something more.

  7. Holly Holmstrom

    Thank you Dr Eli for referring me to the article “inventing Christian Identity”. It was very interesting and quite lengthy but did not address my question as to why Jesus would believe that there is an Evil Ruler of this world when Jewish belief is that G-d alone is Lord and King of the Universe. I understand that there were many different denominations in Judaism before Christ and afterwards also but this is a very basic issue , I just do not see anything in Judaism then or now that points to Evil as being a separate entity outside of G-d. Are there any practicing Jews who read and comment on this blog that could maybe enlighten me as to the role of the satan in Judaism and the Ruler of this World? I am not trying to be argumentative at all. And I do understand the idea that we humans sometimes make a god of our desires and let our wants rule our lives but the Bible does say that the arm of the Lord is not shortened and all flesh shall see His salvation.

    1. Dr. Eli Lizorkin-Eyzenberg

      Do you mean that you are failing to see the personality of evil (or evil personified) in Judaism? (clarification)

  8. Gabriel

    In the days of Moses, Joshua knew that our Father was going to send some one to free them from slavery because of our forefathers disobedience, now this was places in Joshua’s heart by the spirit the same spirit that is shifting the Lord’s Church. Indeed Jashua belived and it was for fill because it was the right time. In the end times we know that our King Christ Jesus is returning for He’s Kingdom. In between now and our Lord Christ Jesus there is 3 woes and the second woe is the 2 witnesses the one’s cover in humiliation (Sackcloth). A lot of us dough in the Holy Spirit. There will be conformation on all this things my brother in Christ by the same spirit that lifted our Lord Jesus the Christ, May Grace, Mercy and Peace lay a pond all the belivers Amen

    1. Rafael

      I am not able to follow this, Gabriel. Something was seriously lost in the translation, and in the typos.