John (Part 43): The Hour of Glorification (ch 12)
Though Jesus will, in just a few chapters, declare that his kingdom is not of this world, the tendency of many prophecy pursuers is to create for him just such a kingdom—a kingdom that looks and feels like a kingdom of this earth, albeit with high moral values. But his kingship is different. He is to be King of Zion—God’s purposed plan for everlasting love relationship. It is not a governmental setup in which law and structure and a graded hierarchy establish peace. It is a kingdom in which the reflected glory of God shines through the unity of a loving community.
The Jews were not looking for a Messiah to lead them to that. The priests wanted peace through appeasing Rome. The people wanted peace through a messiah’s revolution bringing Israel out from under other nations to dominate them as the premier, favored nation of God. The Pharisees wanted peace by having all the Jews follow their spiritual decisions. And it seems that the Pharisees were the first to give up hope. As they view the triumphal entry, they throw up their hands in failure, crying, “You’ve [we’ve] accomplished nothing. Look—the world has gone after Him!”
And, it appears, although not in the exact understanding of the Pharisees, it was God’s intention to move the appeal of his Christ from merely the Jews to the whole world. That indication in this passage began with the incorrect focus of the people in hailing a messiah for their selfish national purpose. In the next scene we see some of “the world” coming to see Jesus.
We are told that some Greeks are at the festival, having come to worship. These are not Jews who have adopted Greek lifestyle (Hellenists), but rather these are actual Greeks or people from Greek colonies (Hellenes). They are proselytes to Judaism who have come, as the Jews were instructed to come, to worship at the Passover. And, like the other Jews traveling in, they hear about Jesus and his miracles, especially the raising of the dead. They find many of the city eager to embrace this Jesus as the longed-for Messiah. So, they ask Philip whether they can “see” him—meaning, they’d like to talk with him, get to know him, and understand him.
But why didn’t they merely walk up to him? Why approach Philip first? It is certainly not clear that Philip was a friend of theirs. But these Greeks are men who, although having embraced the Jewish religion, understood themselves (or were made to understand themselves) as somewhat of a second-class status. After all, the temple itself had an outer Court of the Gentiles past which they were not allowed, as were native-born Jews. The Law ordered the Jews to accept foreign worshippers, but the pride of the native Jews kept these “strangers” in a spiritual class below them and off to the side. Understanding this attitude, and, perhaps, accepting it, the Greeks do not directly approach Jesus, who appears as one with the status of a rabbi. They find out, some way, perhaps accidentally, that one of Jesus’ main disciples has a Greek name. So they approach this person—Philip—who may be more sympathetic to their Greek heritage.
And so, it is Philip who approaches Jesus for them. Or … wait … no, Philip doesn’t take their request directly to Jesus either, at least, not yet. Philip, first, seems to discuss the request with Andrew. Why is that? What is the cause of Philip’s hesitation? Philip’s hesitation may have been the same as that of the Greeks. After all, when Jesus had sent the Twelve out in ministry, he had instructed them, “Don’t take the road leading to other nations, and don’t enter any Samaritan town” (Mt 10:5). And when a Canaanite (non-Jewish) woman had approached Jesus concerning her demon-possessed daughter, Jesus initially wouldn’t speak to her, finally saying to her, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel” (Mt 15:24). So, it seems likely that Philip thought Jesus might not want to see these Greeks. But, after discussion with Andrew, he does approach Jesus anyway.
Without this conjecture, it would be difficult to understand the movement from verse 22 to verse 23. In 22, Philip and Andrew tell Jesus of the Greeks’ request. In 23, Jesus says, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.” How did we move from a request for an interview to the climax of Jesus’ ministry? Jesus makes this statement, not despite the interview request, but rather, we are told, in reply to it. How is this a reply? If we do imagine that our previous conjecture is correct, Jesus is replying to the hesitation of his disciples. Yes, he had been sent to Israel first. Yes, he had focused his revelatory ministry on them—the imaged people of covenant relationship. But even in this passage as we see the welcoming crowd hailing him as Messiah, their intent already shows a rejection of Jesus’ revelation in favor of their own selfish desires. We have been shown this rejection before. When, at the feeding of the 5000, he had rejected their attempt to make him a national king, they dropped away, confused by his words about necessary relationship to him and to God. After his discussion with them after rescuing the adulteress, many began to believe, but would not continue with him as he suggested they needed freedom from sin to embrace God. They proudly rejected his suggestion, claiming an already sufficient covenant union with God. And even here at their festival welcoming, they will soon drop away as Jesus will again explain their relational deficiency and need.
It is this wholesale rejection of Jesus’ ministry message that helps establish the time of Jesus’ hour—the end of his revelatory ministry to Israel and his widespread, open-armed call to the world. He had shown Israel that he was the WAY. But now, his hour had arrived in which he would show the TRUTH that rescue would come by means of his sacrificial death. And that Way by that Truth would result in salvation to LIFE, not only for the Jews but also for the whole world. Thus, Jesus’ reply to these Greeks—representatives of the world—was fittingly contrary to the disciples’ worry that Jesus would not want interaction with them because they were Greeks. Rather, at this point—the hour of his rescue—he was intentionally embracing them.
Jesus’ revelatory focus had been on Israel. Israel was the nation of promise, not for the purpose of rescuing only them and setting them on a spiritual pedestal above all other people (as they thought), but rather for the purposes of (1) imaging a covenantal relationship between God and his image bearers, (2) imaging that relationship is based on faith (both in establishing the covenant with Israel’s patriarchs based on faith and in bringing through them the only begotten Son of God through righteous relationship), and (3) preparing the means by which, through Israel’s disobedience, that the rescue would be accomplished for the whole world.
Israel showed covenantal relationship with God. God did not intend to show that relationship was on the basis of legalism and duty, but rather God showed his desire to have relationship and live in the midst of his people.
Israel showed that relationship was not based on works. They broke the Law constantly. But God kept Israel as his people particularly on the basis of the faith of the patriarchs. For example, God told Isaac, “I am the God of your father Abraham. Do not be afraid, for I am with you. I will bless you and multiply your offspring because of My servant Abraham” (Gen 26:24). Notice that God blesses Isaac, not for Isaac’s works, but because of the faithfulness of his father. This is to show the backward look of heritage to the righteousness of the patriarch that provides relationship for the child. This pictures our relationship with Christ. It is based on his faithfulness (righteousness) that we have relationship with God. In Exodus 3:6, God tells Moses, “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob,” not because he is merely trying to identify himself to Moses, but rather to assure Moses that he is his God as well because of the faithfulness of the patriarchs. Moses uses that thought later in praying for the children of Israel in Deuteronomy 9:27, as he asks God not to deal with Israel based on their sin, but rather to hold them because of the faith of their fathers. And we even have it more expressly stated by Paul in Romans 11:28, saying that God loved Israel (gave of himself for her) “because of the patriarchs.”
Israel also showed that its disobedience brought about the means of rescue. This relates strongly to John 12. But to understand it thoroughly, we should consider Paul’s explanation of it in Romans 11:25-32. In that passage, Paul is addressing Roman, gentile believers. We understand that from the preceding context in which Paul alternately talks about “them” (the Jews) and “you” (the Roman believers). In verse 25 he addresses the Romans gentiles with “you” and calls them “brothers” so that we know they are believers.
Before we look at the passage, let’s discuss what we know of God’s interaction with the world. God chose Abraham based on Abraham’s faith. That faith satisfied the requirement of covenant relationship, and thus it was counted to Abraham as righteousness (covenant faithfulness). On the basis of that covenant, God had relationship with Abraham’s offspring for hundreds of years. During that time, he continued a program of progressive revelation with these children of Abraham (and Isaac and Jacob—or children of Israel). Paul refers to this provided progressive revelation as being entrusted with the oracles or spoken words of God (Romans 3:2).
But if Israel’s privilege was receiving this revelation from God based on their covenantal relationship with him, we also know that the rest of the world was not. Without God’s revelation, the fallen image bearer becomes hardened. And thus, a hardening happens to the nations of the world. However, as history progressed, Israel misinterpreted God’s revelation as a spiritual status symbol for them above all other image bearers. They began to think of God in the common worldly sense as a national deity who cared only for them. And this gave rise to a selfish self focus through which they began to interpret all God’s activity with them.
Since this was not the true revealed word of God, and therefore could be called a rebellion against God’s true revelation, God stepped back in the relationship. God moving away results in a hardening, and so Israel hardened. They hardened to the extent that even when God sent his Messiah—his only begotten Son—to Israel, they could not understand the message. They rejected that Word made flesh and crucified him. But that disobedient act, coming because of their hardness, actually was a blessing to the world. The sacrificial death of the righteous Messiah had the effect of bringing rescue to that world who had before not been a party to the revelation of God. The apostles carried this gospel—good news—to the nations of the world. And that very result, of the world coming into covenant relationship with God through faith in Jesus’ death and resurrection, Israel was made to see the true plan of God—that God was not intent on exalting Israel above everyone else, but rather than God was intent on providing rescue for the whole world. And in recognizing that, even Israel then could turn to God for salvation.
This was the plan of God—revelation to Israel while the world was in darkness; darkness to Israel, based on their rejection of revelation, resulting in death to the Messiah; light coming to the world based on Israel’s disobedience causing the death of the Messiah; and then light coming to Israel based on the revelation of light to the world. This back and forth revelation, rejection, and light is what Paul is describing in Romans 11.
Paul first tells his believing gentile audience that a partial hardening had come to Israel until the fulfillment of the Gentiles came in (11:25). And because of the rescue of the Gentiles, Israel recognizes its need and comes to God (11:26). He explains in 28-32 that the Jews were enemies to God in that they rejected and killed his Word. But since God’s relationship is based on faith, God didn’t reject every Israelite unconditionally for their rejection, but rather based on the faith of the patriarchs still loved them. In effect, all had rejected; all had been steeped in sin, unable to have relationship. But God in mercy provided opportunity for salvation to all.
Jesus’ reply concerning the world (Greeks) who want to see him is that his hour has come. Back in our discussion of John chapter 2, we found that Jesus’ hour is the time of his death. Jesus now says that in this hour—the hour of his death—he (the Son of Man) would be glorified. How exactly will death bring about glory? We must remember also our discussion of what glory is.
Back in Summary 19 of this series, we discussed that glory is truth, goodness, and beauty made manifest through faith, hope, and love. More particularly, we stated that God’s glory was God’s truth, goodness, and beauty made manifest through faith, hope, and love. In 12:23, Jesus doesn’t use the noun “glory” but rather the verb “glorify.” Based on our definition of the noun, the definition of the verb “glorify” would be to make manifest truth, goodness, and beauty through faith, hope, and love. Or, again, speaking of glorifying God, it is to make manifest God’s truth, goodness, and beauty through faith, hope, and love.
Notice that when we glorify God, it the manifestation of TGB is not necessarily something that we are doing to God, although it could be. As example, I could make manifest (or show) God’s goodness in my praise of him. That would make God both the object of the goodness and the one whom I am glorifying. However, I could manifest God’s goodness in helping someone in need. In that case, the object of God’s goodness is the person in need. However, I am still glorifying God by manifesting his goodness even though the activity is directed toward someone else.
Let’s look at a more specific example to understand this concept. Let’s say someone is in financial need. I believe God is telling me to pay that person’s house payment. So I pay it. The good act is recognized by me and delivered by me based on God’s goodness. The object of the goodness was the one who received the payment gift. But the one glorified is God because it was his goodness that was made manifest. So whoever is being glorified is not necessarily the object of the goodness, but rather the one glorified is the one to whom goodness is attributed. If I had made the payment gift without thought of God, and, in fact, claiming it as my own goodness in giving, I would be glorifying myself.
Now, we do glorify people all the time in such a way. We may honor someone for work done or providing funding for a program or ministry. So we glorify the person. But for the Christian, we have a tendency to step beyond that in our recognition that truth, goodness, and beauty actually is born in God and therefore attribute the truth, goodness, and beauty to God, thereby glorifying him.
Therefore, when Jesus says that the hour has come “for the Son of Man to be glorified,” he means that the truth, goodness, and beauty of the Son of Man will be made manifest in his death. A little further in the passage, Jesus prays to the Father, regarding this “hour,” saying, “Father, glorify Your name.” Thus, he prays for God’s truth, goodness, and beauty to be made manifest in his death. We see the glory of God and the glory of Jesus mentioned together in John 17:1 as Jesus prays, “Father, the hour has come. Glorify Your Son so that the Son may glorify You.” This doesn’t seem to be a mystery. Obviously, Jesus is true, good, and beautiful in giving his life. And God is true, good, and beautiful in giving his Son. But dwelling on these thoughts for a moment or two should reveal the deeper and intricate import of these statements.
The Penal Substitution theory of the Atonement sees the guilt of sin placed on Jesus as he hangs on the cross. Because of the ugliness of sin, the Father must turn away. (This is the usual explanation for Jesus calling out “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” coupled with the Habakkuk 1:13 statement, “Your eyes are too pure to look on evil.”) However, this idea violates many other truths, requiring us to reevaluate the idea. First, the requirement that the sacrifice be unblemished prohibits Jesus from becoming blemished prior to his death. We also know that Jesus was characterized as holy following his death (Acts 2:27). Therefore, Jesus could not have been guilty of sin in the atonement.
Additionally, the declaration of John 12:23, in which we see glorification of Jesus in his death, indicates that the truth, goodness, and beauty of Jesus were made manifest in his death, not the ugliness of sin away from which the Father had to turn.
The biblical view of the atonement, then, is one in which both God and Jesus participate to show the truth, goodness, and beauty of each. We discussed earlier that life means relationship with God. Adam had life (relationship), but when he sinned, he received the consequence of death (broken relationship). He was separated from God, symbolized by the expulsion from the Garden and being blocked from the Tree of Life (relationship). Just so, in the atonement, Jesus (the man) gives his life, meaning he gives up his relationship with God. And God does not turn away in disgust, but rather steps back from the relationship, no longer acting in provision and thus allowing his Son to die. It is a time of heartache for God. God’s plan from the beginning was to create for love relationship with his image bearers. All his race of image bearers were in unrighteous status—in broken relationship. Jesus (the man), the only begotten Son, was the only image bearer who was righteous—who had perfect relationship with the Father, fulfilling the Zion purpose. But God, for the greater joy in redemption of humankind, gave this one and only relationship over to death. The darkness that came over the earth as Jesus hung on the cross symbolized this separation. But Jesus cried out Psalm 22, “My God, My God, …” reminding himself of the psalm’s end—that of fulfillment in righteousness.
This is the only picture of the atonement that sees both God’s glorification and Jesus’ glorification. It is the only picture in which we view both God giving his Son while at the same time Jesus freely gives his life (“No one takes it from me,” John 10:18). And in John 12, Jesus recognizes this as what will happen. He fears it and worries about it (12:27a) but he determines to do it for the ultimate glorification of God (12:27b-28).