Studies in the gospel of John
Lesson 35: “Teaching Eternal Principles”
John 12:20 -50
Shakespeare said, “There is a tide in the affairs of men which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune.” The ability to recognize the significance of certain “turning points” in a person’s life is a very valuable commodity – and most people don’t possess it. But in John chapter 12 Jesus came to that point in His life – and He recognized it. He says in verse 23 “the hour is come when the Son of Man should be glorified.” And as we come to the last section of the chapter we see how Jesus reacted to that turning point. As we begin our study, remember that the chapter falls into three sections:
The Tender Encouragement in verses 1 through 11
The Triumphal Entry in verses 12 through 19,
and The Teaching of Eternal Principles in verses 20 through 50
So let’s look now at the details of this third section of the chapter: “The teaching of eternal principles” in verses 20 through 50. It is interesting that as Jesus sees His death approaching, He turns His primary attention to preparing His disciples for that death and for what would come after it. So in the remainder of this chapter (and actually in the remainder of the book) we will see that teaching taking place. And the first principle He stresses to them is “the principle of timing” in verses 20 through 30. “The setting” for the teaching of that principle is “the popularity of Jesus,” which we see demonstrated in verses 20 through 22.
Now there were certain Greeks among those who came up to worship at the feast (21) Then they came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida of Galilee, and asked him saying, Sir we would see Jesus.” (22) Philip came and told Andrew, and in turn Andrew and Philip told Jesus.
It is interesting to notice that these Greeks coming to Jesus at the close of his life and ministry seem to bring the Gentile world into fellowship with Him, just as “the wise men from the East” did at the beginning of His life. And His teaching in the next verses is in answer to their request, however it was worded, (note that in verse 23 it says that “Jesus answered them”) So out of that background we find “the prophecy of Jesus” in verses 23 and 24 and it has to do with His death:
But Jesus answered them, saying, “The hour has come that the Son of Man should be glorified (24) “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the ground and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies it produces much grain.”
Notice that He doesn’t speak of it as death, but as “glorification” in verse 23. The death of Christ was different from any other death before or since. It was the fulfillment of all that He had come to do – His “crowning achievement.” And God the Father had promised Him that He would have “the name that is above every name” because of it. He amplifies that further in verse 24 when He speaks of it as a seed dying in order to bring forth more grain. If He had not died you and I would not be sitting here today – and our lives would be totally different. And this is why in the transfiguration experience in Luke chapter 9, Moses and Elijah spoke with Him “of His decease which He should accomplish at Jerusalem” Then in verses 25 and 26 His prophecy extends to His disciples.
He who loves his life will lose it, and he who hates his life in this life in this world will keep it for eternal life (26) If anyone serves Me, let him follow me, and where I am, there will my servant be also. If anyone serves Me, him will my Father honor.
Jesus wants His disciples (even down to our day) to operate on the same principle that He was operating on. And that principle is articulated here. This “hating life” doesn’t mean that we should go around unhappy and dissatisfied with life, but that we should not try to hold on to it at all costs (“loving” life) The key to understanding this comparison is in verse 26 – He is talking about serving Him (which has to be preceded by believing in Him.) There are many people today who are afraid to trust Him as Savior because they are afraid He will not let them live the way they want to live. But carried to its logical conclusion, those people will eternally lose that life that they love so much.
For those people it is literally true, “you only go around once in life, you better grab all the gusto you can get.” But those who are willing to give up control over their own lives and trust Him as Savior and live according to His instructions will find the true “richness” of life. Nate Saint, who was a missionary martyred by Auca Indians, said before His death, “He is no fool who gives that which he cannot keep to gain that which he cannot lose.”
But verses 27 through 30 show us that these statements were not lofty philosophical statements by Jesus. In those verses we see the prayer of Jesus and learn a great deal more about the costliness of His death.
Now my soul is troubled and what shall I say? “Father save me from this hour? But for this purpose I came to this hour. (28) Father glorify your name.” then a voice came from heaven, saying I have both glorified it and will glorify it again. (29) Therefore the people who stood by and heard it said that it had thundered. Others said “An angel has spoken to him.” (30) Jesus answered and said, “this voice did not come because of me, but for your sake.”
Look at the clear statement of verse 27 – “my soul is troubled.” In fact, his human tendency would be to say “Father save me from this hour!” Listen: our salvation is free, but it was very costly to God! Jesus Christ was not just some “extra-terrestrial” who came into our atmosphere and mechanically performed the sacrifice for our sins. He faced that death with the same dread and apprehension that any other human would, even though He had great joy what it would accomplish. And the voice from heaven in verse 28 certified that it was given primarily for the sake of the humans who were there, according to verse 30. Before long they were going to see Him hanging on a cross in shame as a criminal. So for their strengthening God let them have this reassurance of His deity. He had done this on at least two other occasions: at His baptism and on the mount of transfiguration.
So the first principle Jesus taught was “the principle of timing” in verses 20 through 30. But the second principle is developed in verses 31 through 43, and it is the principle of testing. The basis of the test is given in verses 31 through 33
“Now is the judgement of this world; Now the ruler of this world will be cast out. (32) And I, if I am lifted up from the earth will draw all peoples to Myself.” (33) This He said signifying by which death He would die.
The death, burial and resurrection of Christ is “the great dividing line” among all people. When you come right down to it, there are only two kinds of people: saved and lost. And belief or unbelief in Jesus Christ is the test that God provided. Every person in the world has the choice to either believe that the judgement of God for their sin fell on Jesus Christ or to face the judgement of God poured out on them. Notice that Jesus refers to it as “the judgement of this world” – the test by which the world will be examined. And make no mistake about it, it was there that Satan was defeated – called the ruler of this world in verse 31 – – he still gives orders, but we no longer have to obey them. And that death was sufficient for people of every race and nation and station in life. And yet, for all that, verse 34 shows that there was a bias against the test on the part of some:
The people answered Him, “We have heard from the law that the Christ remains forever, and how can you say, the Son of Man must be lifted up?” Who is this Son of Man?”
This was probably a sincere question on the part of some, and a rebellious one on the part of others. But it does show that they understood what the term “lifted up” meant. In answer to their question Jesus brings out the fact of the blessing of the test in verses 35 and 36.
Then Jesus said to them, “A little while longer the light is with you. Walk while you have the light, lest darkness overtake you; he who walks in darkness does not know where he is going (36) “While you have the light, believe in the light that you may become sons of light. “These things Jesus spoke, and departed and was hidden from them.
As long as Jesus was on the earth it was not too late to believe says verse 34. And the same thing is true today through the witness of Christians. But that day will someday end – at the rapture or at the time of a person’s death. And the admonition is still the same as in verse 36 – “while you have the light “– you are not promised anything beyond this moment, really, or this day. Unfortunately, however, verses 37 through 41 bring out the blindness to the test. In the remainder of the chapter John seeks to explain the mysterious fact of the rejection of Christ as Messiah on the part of so many. Why did so many of the Israelites, particularly the leaders, reject this One who met all of the Old Testament qualifications of the Messiah? They were God’s chosen people, designed to be the repository for his truth and the nation through whom the savior of the whole world would come! Paul answers these questions in great detail in Romans 9,10, and 11, but John answers them briefly here. The first part of the answer is in verses 37 through 41:
(37) But although He had done so many signs before them, they did not believe in Him, (38) that the word of Isaiah the prophet might be fulfilled which he spoke: “Lord who has believed our report? And to whom has the arm of the LORD been revealed? (39) therefore they could not believe because Isaiah said again: (40) He has blinded their eyes and hardened their hearts, lest they should see with their eyes, and Lest they should understand with their hearts and turn, so that I should heal them.” (41) And these things Isaiah said when he saw His glory and spoke of Him.
The rejection of Jesus did not catch God the father by surprise. He did not ordain it, but He did predict it over and over again in Old Testament passages such as the ones John quotes here from Isaiah chapter 6 and chapter 53. Although in every generation there was a small remnant who did believe in Him, the majority rebelled. They kept the outward religious laws but refused to live righteously toward God and man in their everyday life. And John points out that eventually God actually took the light away from them because they refused to act on the light they had.
The second part of John’s explanation of the Jews’ rejection of Jesus is explained in verses 42 and 43 and it is what I am calling the blemish of the test.
Nevertheless even among the rulers many believed in Him, but because of the Pharisees they did not confess Him, lest they should be put out of the synagogue (43) For they loved the praise of man more than the praise of God.
Israel’s blindness was so entrenched that even when faith began in some of the leaders it was choked out by fear of the majority. These people made the choice: the praise of men rather than praise of God – verse 43.
There is one final principle taught by Jesus in this chapter and it is the principle of teamwork in verses 44 through 50 (the others were “the principle of timing” and “the principle of testing”) The participants in the “team” are specified in verses 44 and 45:
Then Jesus cried out and said, “He who believes in Me, believes not in Me, but in Him who sent me. (45) And he who sees Me sees Him who sent Me,”
Jesus wanted the Jews of His day, as well as readers of His word today to know that He was not a “lone ranger” thinking all this up as He went along. He clearly says that God the Father was intimately involved in the whole thing.
The purpose of the team is verses 46 and 47
I have come as a light into the world, that whoever believes in Me should not abide in darkness. (47) “And if anyone hears my words and does not believe, I do not judge him, for I did not come to judge the world but to save the world.
Here is the whole purpose of salvation: that we may walk in the light. In his first epistle, chapter one, verse 7 says, “if we walk in the light as He is in the light we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Christ cleanses us from all sin
And God is so gracious that He does not judge those who don’t believe in Jesus (verse 47) Jesus had already explained this to Nicodemus back in chapter 3 – people are not condemned because they don’t believe, they are already condemned before they ever hear about Him.
Finally, in verses 48 through 50 Jesus points out the perfection in the team.
He who rejects Me and does not receive My words, has that which judges him: the word that I have spoken will judge him in the last day. (49) For I have not spoken on My own authority; but the Father who sent me gave me a command, what I should say and what I should not speak. (50) And I know that His command is everlasting life, therefore whatever I speak just as the Father has told Me, so I speak.
As before, Jesus was operating under the direction of God the Father while on earth. And the truth that the Father directed Him to speak formed a basis for judgment for every hearer. Anyone who has heard the truth is responsible for it. Where does that leave you?
The purpose of these studies is to help people come to know Jesus Christ as their personal Savior. Romans 3:23 says that “All of us have sinned and come short of the glory of God.” “And Romans 6:23 says that “the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life.” And John 3:16 says that “God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son that whoever believes in him shall not perish, but have everlasting life. If you will sincerely ask Him to forgive your sins and give you eternal life He will readily do so. Having trusted Him as your savior it is my hope that the lessons will help you grow in grace and bring others to know Him as well. If you would like more information you may contact me at “firstname.lastname@example.org