20.  Now there were certain Greeks among those who came up to worship at the feast.

We learn here that there are certain Greeks present at Jerusalem at this Passover time.  The word here in Greek is Hellenes.  The Greek word comes from Hellen, son of Deucalion, the legendary ancestor of the Greek nation (according to the Iliad.)  Although the Greek Empire had passed away and the Roman Empire was now in prominence, the knowledge, language, and literature of Greece were held in the highest regard by the Romans.  Those who believed this belonged to a party or political movement that was called the “Greeks.”  This might be compared to our liberal and conservative movements today, which both promote a different way of doing government, and even often a different way of living. There were those whose ancestors were Israelites who nevertheless adopted the Greek way of thinking, and these could be called “Greeks,” just as Jews can be conservative or liberal today. We should not mix this up, however, with the word Hellenistes, which means “hellenized,” and indicates a Jew who spoke Greek instead of Aramaic.  This word occurs three times in the book of Acts.  Here, though, the word is Hellenes, and refers to their manner of life.  That these were Jews who had adopted the Greek way of life seems clear, however, as no Gentile except perhaps a proselyte would come up to worship at God’s Passover feast.  This would be like one who isn’t a Muslim going to Mecca at one of the Islamic holy days! These could not be “Gentile Greeks,” for this in and of itself would preclude them from being proselytes. How could one be a proselyte who lived a Greek lifestyle? Yet one who was a Jew, and yet who had given up the Jewish culture and religion and lived like a Greek, might yet come up to the feast to visit with friends, relatives, and so forth. This is who I believe these Greeks were.
21.  Then they came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida of Galilee, and asked him, saying, “Sir, we wish to see Jesus.”

They came to Philip desiring to see the Lord.  Yet the word for “see” indicates to not just look at, but to get to know.  They wanted to become acquainted with the Lord.  Philip is the only disciple with a Greek name.  It may be that these Greeks were actually living in Galilee, and had gotten to know Philip there.  Thus, they recruit him in their attempt to get to see the Lord.

22.  Philip came and told Andrew, and in turn Andrew and Philip told Jesus.

Philip finds Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, and tells him what these men had desired of him.  Andrew was of what we might call the “first group” among the twelve, whereas Philip was of the second.  He probably thinks having Andrew on his side might help the Lord listen to his request.  Then, together, they go and tell the Lord what these men have requested.

23.  But Jesus answered them, saying, “The hour has come that the Son of Man should be glorified.

The Lord responds to Andrew and Philip, but He seems to give a different answer than we might expect to such a question.  He informs them that the hour has come that He, the Son of Man, should be glorified.  As we have seen in studying throughout John, the Lord was following a specific timetable that God had for Him, and doing certain events at certain times as it fit into God’s plan.  Now, the time has come in that plan for Him to be glorified.  This does not seem to answer the disciples’ question.  We can indeed think of many times when the Lord seemed not to answer a question put to Him.  Perhaps what He meant was that, though the time had come for Him to be glorified, the time had not yet come for Him to minister to Greeks.  That time would come later on through His apostles in the Acts period, but it had not come yet.  Now, it was time for the Son of Man to be glorified.  That had to happen first before the time would come to minister to Greeks.

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.

The Lord prefaces this statement with a double “amen,” which, as I’ve said in the past, meant “truly, truly.”  Then, He reveals to them a fact that was no doubt very familiar to them.  That is, if you leave a grain of wheat by itself, it remains alone.  If, however, the grain “dies” by being buried in the ground, it will produce much grain.  As anyone who is familiar with grain will know, one single grain of wheat can result in many grains of wheat being produced once it grows into a grain plant.

25.  “He who loves his life will lose it, and he who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life.

He who loves his life will lose it.  In Greek, the word for life is psuche, which would be “soul” properly translated.  “Soul” here indicates not just your life, but the things that bring you comfort and pleasure in this life…the things that please your soul.  He who loves these things, who just hangs unto them and refuses to be willing to give them up even if the Lord asks it of him, that man will end up losing his soul ultimately.  However, he who hates his soul in this world will keep it.  “Hates” here means being willing to cut himself off from those things that bring him pleasure and comfort.  That is what the disciples had done in order to follow Jesus Christ wherever He went, and that is what the Lord was asking of men at that time.  “World” here is the Greek word kosmos, and indicates in that order of things or that system of things.  Of course, in the world to come, the things that bring comfort and pleasure will be coming from God Himself, and cutting yourself off from them will not be necessary.  That is why one who hates his soul in this world will keep it for eternal life.  “Eternal” here is the Greek word aionion, which speaks of life in the coming flow of things, God’s great eon on earth.

26.  “If anyone serves Me, let him follow Me; and where I am, there My servant will be also.  If anyone serves Me, him My Father will honor.

This was what God asked of men at that time.  Those who served Jesus Christ had to follow Him.  Many did at that time, for He had a whole crowd of followers, not just the twelve disciples.  Thus, where He was, there His servants were also.  And He reveals a promise: that the one who serves Him will be honored by His Father.  Notice, however, that this does not say the one who serves his fellowman, or even the one who serves the church.  This was speaking of one who serves the Lord Jesus Christ Himself.  This was something that it was possible to do at that time, as the Lord Jesus was on the earth with them.  They could serve Him in ways that we today simply cannot.

It may also be that He was indicating that these Greeks just wanted to meet Him out of curiosity, but what the Lord was really looking for at that time was men who were willing to give up the comforts of the life they were living in order to follow Him and be where He was.  This, these curious Greeks were simply not willing to do. 

27.  “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.

Now His soul is troubled.  In this context, the soul has to do with the emotions, feelings, and desires.  The Lord’s emotions were stirred up and troubled because of the hour that had come and the terrible things He was facing.  Therefore, He asks what He should say about this hour.  First, He asks if He should say, “Father, save Me from this hour.”  Of course, if He had truly asked that, the Father would have done it for Him, for the Father always gives the Son what He asks for.  Yet, as the Lord reveals, He could not say that, for it was for that very purpose that He had come to that hour.  To ask to be saved from it would have meant that He failed to fulfill His purpose, and failed to die to save us from our sins.  It would certainly have saved Him a lot of pain and suffering, but He could never have asked this, for His love for us and His faithfulness to His Father’s plan would not allow it.  He would never disobey the Father.  And He would never leave us to be lost in our sins!

28.  “Father, glorify Your name.”  Then a voice came from heaven, saying, “I have both glorified it and will glorify it again.”

In the last verse, the Lord had simply been asking if He should say this.  Of course, the answer was no, as that was not what He was going to say.  But now, He says what He was going to say in this situation as He faced His hour of suffering and death.  He said, “Father, glorify Your name.”  What an attitude to have as He faced such a terrible situation!  That most of all, He wanted His Father to be glorified.  This is an attitude that we should have as well in all that we do: that through what comes upon us, no matter how bad it might be, our first desire is that God be glorified.

Once the Lord had voiced what He was going to say as this hour came upon Him, a voice answered Him from heaven.  This is what I have called in the past, “the miracle of the voice.”  Of course, God has no physical vocal cords, tongue, or mouth with which to frame words.  Thus, this was not “the voice of God,” as we might think of a voice coming from a person’s mouth.  Yet this voice was from God, though it came by miraculous means.  So it was a miracle of a voice coming from God.

God declares through this voice that He had already glorified His name.  And He had, many times in the Bible as we look back on it, and no doubt many other times that are not recorded for us.  Now, He was going to glorify it again through the death of His Son.  What glory is there in that: the extent of humility and suffering that He was willing to undergo because of His love for us!

29.  Therefore the people who stood by and heard it said that it had thundered.  Others said, “An angel has spoken to Him.”

It seems this voice was of unusual power and magnitude.  Some, it seems, did not make out what it said, or even if they did, they did not believe that it was really a voice, but concluded that what they had heard was merely thunder.  Others, who more clearly recognized it as a voice (or who were more willing to admit that it had been a voice,) decided that an angel must have spoken to Him.  Of course, angels have the means of speech, and could have spoken to the Lord by natural means, although we are not used to hearing the voices of angels on a normal basis.  It is obvious that these people did not really know for certain what had happened: only that they had heard a loud noise that sounded like a voice.

30.  Jesus answered and said, “This voice did not come because of Me, but for your sake.

The Lord replies to their confusion.  He reveals that the voice did not come to speak to Him.  Indeed, He had little need to be reminded of the truth that God had spoken by the voice, for He well knew that His Father had both glorified His Own name in the past and would glorify it again.  No, this voice actually came for the sake of those who stood by the Lord and heard it speak to Him.

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

The Lord reveals that it is time for the judgment of this world.  This seems strange, for we know that two thousand years have passed, and yet the world has not yet been judged, as far as we can tell.  The word for “judgment” here is krisis in Greek, from which we get our English word “crisis.”  This word often has to do with a turning point.  I think we can understand this better if we take this word as meaning “judging,” not “judgment.”  This world was about to do the judging.  And when it did, the result of its judging would be to cast the ruler of this world out. 

I do not believe that this phrase, “the ruler of this world,” refers to Satan here, although many would teach that, including the Companion Bible notes on this verse.  I do not insist upon it.  Many would like to say that it clearly means this in its other two occurrences in Scripture.  Yet Satan was not cast out of the world at that time, nor were Satan or his works in the context.  The context is the death of the Lord that was approaching, and His being lifted up from the earth.  Satan may be the “prince of the power of the air” according to Ephesians 2:2, but does that truly mean that he is the “ruler of this world?”  It cannot be doubted the Jesus Christ Himself is ultimately the Ruler of this world, and His rule will win out in the end.  Satan was not cast out of the world at that time, but the Lord Jesus was.  Praise God, however, He returned to the world three days later, triumphant!  I think there is sufficient evidence in the context to suggest that the reference here is to Christ Himself and to His casting out.

32.  “And I, if I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all peoples to Myself.”

Here we can clearly see that the Lord was referring to Himself being cast out, not Satan.  For He speaks of His being cast out, and tells us how it will happen: by Him being lifted up from the earth.  Yet by doing this He was going to draw all peoples to Himself.  “Draw” here does not have the idea that might first come to our minds: that of a magnet “drawing” iron filings towards itself and more or less pulling them in.  Rather, the idea here is that used in the phrase: “drawing a glass of water.”  When you draw a glass of water, you allow the water to flow into the glass.  In the same way, through Christ being lifted up from the earth, all men have permission to come to Him.  We can see that this was what He meant by this phrase by comparing John 6:44, which says the same thing as this, with John 6:65, which explains it as meaning that the Father grants it to him to come.

This seems to settle the question of the Greeks who wanted to get to know Him.  These Israelites who had given up their heritage had no right to see Him at this point.  However, when He had been lifted up from the earth on the cross, that would result in all men having permission to come to Him, even those of Israelite descent who had formerly turned their backs on God, like these Greeks.  They did not have permission at that time, but the permission would soon be bought for them on Calvary’s cross.

33.  This He said, signifying by what death He would die.

Some have suggested that His being lifted up from the earth meant that He would be lifted up by men preaching the truth about Him.  That, they say, is what would draw all peoples to Himself.  Yet this verse reveals that this is not the proper interpretation of verse 32, for what He was talking about was the manner of death He was going to die.  If the Lord had been stoned to death, as was common for those whom the Jews executed at that time, He would have been thrown down on the ground, as was customary as they would spread a person out in order to take a stone and crush his skull with it.  But the Lord was going to be lifted up from the earth and hung on a cross.  This is how He was going to die.

34.  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?”

The people speak up, thinking they see a contradiction in what the Lord says here.  They have just heard, apparently, a portion of the Old Testament (which they here call “the law.”  Remember, this was the first section of the Old Testament, and was often used as a name for the whole of it.)  Readings of portions of Scripture were common during the feasts.  Thus, they had heard a passage, probably one of the Psalms.  Two suggestions for the passage they may have been referring to are either Psalm 89:29 or Psalm 92:6.  But either way, they had come up with this mistaken idea that the Christ (or the Messiah) had to remain for the eon.  The eon is God’s future Kingdom on earth.  This idea might have been taught by the rabbis, but they were mistaken.  There was no statement in the Bible that the Messiah could not leave the earth once He had come to it, or that He had to be on the earth for every moment of the Kingdom.  Yet, because of this mistaken idea, they decided that the “Son of Man” must be different from the Messiah.  “Son of Man,” which means “representative of Man,” was a term that certainly did refer to the Messiah, for He was the One Who had permission to represent mankind to God.  But because of this idea they had, they decided they must be two different people, and so they asked Him who this “Son of man” is.  It could be, too, that they were referring to the idea that there might be two Messiahs.  This was how some people in that day tried to justify the ideas, contained in different parts of the Scripture, of a Messiah who would suffer and be rejected, and of a Messiah who would rule and reign with an iron scepter.  They concluded that there must be two Messiahs.  One, the suffering Messiah, they called “Messiah Ben-Joseph” after Joseph’s rejection and suffering in Egypt, whereas the other, the ruling Messiah, they called “Messiah Ben-David” after Israel’s great King.  (“Ben” means “son” in Hebrew.)  It could be that they wanted to know if the Lord was referring to the “Messiah Ben-Joseph” instead of the “Messiah Ben-David.”  Of course, this idea was wrong, as these two were the same: Jesus Christ.  The difference that they failed to grasp was that He would have two different comings, and two very different missions that He would fulfill on earth.

35.  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.

The Lord does not directly answer their question, as was so often the case.  Yet what He does tell them is that the light would only be with them a little while longer.  Of course, He was the light He was referring to.  Thus, He confirmed that He was going away, and that He would not remain with them for the outflow, as they thought the Messiah would do.  Then, He commands them to walk while they have the light, lest darkness overtakes them.  Indeed, one who refuses to walk in the light Christ gives is doomed to walk in darkness.  Then, He says that one who walks in darkness does not know where he is going.  I think in our society, with the sheer number of electric lights we have throwing light into the atmosphere, we often have little idea of what the real darkness of night is.  In Israel at a time when they had no electric lights, the darkness of night would have been far greater than anything we are used to.  For us, where everything is well lit, sometimes it is better even to travel at night than it is during the day.  For them, it would have been most difficult and even foolish to try to travel at night, for they simply would not have known where they were going.  Of course, this is assuming that the moon and stars weren’t out, from which they could get at least some small amount of light at that time.

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.

Now He tells them that, while they have the light, they should believe in it.  This was what He demanded of these people who stood by Him as He was there present on the earth.  And He promised them that if they would do so, they would become sons of light.  Indeed, those who believed on Him at that time did become representatives of His light to the world in the upcoming Acts period.

Once the Lord Jesus had spoken these things, He departed, and was hidden from them.  This, then, is the conclusion of the matter of the Greeks who wanted to get to know Him.  He spoke these things, He departed, and He was hidden from them.  As far as we can tell, these Greeks got no interview with the Lord.  As He’d said above, the time was not yet right, and they had no permission to come to Him.  That permission would come in time, however.  But the Lord did not now grant this request, even when it was put to Him by His disciples.  Taking Andrew with him did Philip little good.  He still didn’t get his request granted.  Did he truly think that the Lord would respect persons, and would listen to one disciple over another?  Well, that is the way we as human beings think, but that thinking had no effect on the Lord.  At any rate, it seems neither the disciples nor the Greeks got what they asked for, and these Greeks received no interview with the Lord Jesus Christ.