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When the Pharisees complained that “the world has gone after Him” (John 12:19), John then illustrates this with an account about certain Greeks that sought to speak with Jesus.
John 12:20-22 says,
20 Now there were some Greeks among those who were going up to worship at the feast; 21 these then came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida of Galilee, and began to ask him, saying, “Sir, we wish to see Jesus.” 22 Philip came and told Andrew; Andrew and Philip came and told Jesus.
These Greek proselytes had come to Jerusalem to celebrate the feast of Passover. We are not told where they were from, but because John notes that Philip “was from Bethsaida of Galilee,” which was near Syria (which was Greek at the time), these proselytes may have lived near there. Whether they had known Philip previously or not is unknown, but it appears that they identified with him, since Philip had a Greek name.
Philip’s Greek name means “lover of horses,” and Jesus (Ie-sus) is Hebrew, spelled in Greek letters, meaning Yah’s horse. The horse in those days was a symbol of salvation, especially in a military context where an army could be “saved by the cavalry.” Hence, God condemns Israel for depending on horses from Egypt (Isaiah 31:1), instead of relying on the God of Israel for their salvation (yeshua).
It appears that this company of Greeks saw how Jesus honored Greeks as well as Judeans. Their first contact, it seems, was Philip, and if they did not know him previously, it is certain that they would have asked him then how he got his name and if he was also a Greek convert.
Greeks were allowed access to the outer court, which was also known as the Court of the Gentiles or the Common Court. Yet they felt the sting of discrimination from the Judeans themselves, for they were not allowed to draw near to God in the inner court. It is likely that Philip explained that Jesus did not look down upon Greeks but treated all men with equal love and respect, for He was called to be the Savior of the world, not just of Israel or Judah.
It seems that Philip understood this and embraced this new attitude more readily than the other disciples, for he was later the first disciple to evangelize Samaria (Acts 8:5), even while the other believers were still discriminatory in the early church meetings in Jerusalem (Acts 6:1).
Philip did not go directly to Jesus but went first to Peter’s brother, Andrew, who was probably Jesus’ first disciple (John 1:40). Andrew then approached Jesus directly.
John 12:23 says,
23 And Jesus answered them, saying, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.”
What question was Jesus answering? John says only that they wished to see Jesus.
Obviously, more conversation took place than what John recorded. So we must look deeper into this. A few days later, when Jesus ate “the last supper” with His disciples, He was to pray about this time of glorification. John 17:1 and 4 says,
1 Jesus spoke these things; and lifting up His eyes to heaven, He said, “Father, the hour has come; glorify Your Son, that the Son may glorify You….” 4 I glorified You on the earth, having accomplished the work which You have given Me to do.
We see, then, that His “glory” was linked to “the work” that He did on the earth, culminating with His death on the cross, His resurrection, and ascension. The glory of men did not normally include death but was defined in terms of accolades after conquest, along with the increase of authority over men and nations. All of this Jesus was to receive, but only through the path of humility and death.
Isaiah 26:15 prophesied,
15 You have increased the nation, O Lord, You have increased the nation, You are glorified; You have extended all the borders of the land.
The Jews usually interpreted this in terms of conquering and subjugating other nations, for the purpose of increasing the wealth of the Judeans through the labor of foreign slaves. But Jesus came to serve, not to be served. His service, in fact, proved His worthiness to be served in return.
The Greeks who came to Jesus prophetically represented those foreign nations. So Isaiah 55:5-9 says,
5 “Behold, you will call a nation you do not know, and a nation which knows you not will run to you, because of the Lord your God, even the Holy One of Israel. 6 Seek the Lord while He may be found; call upon Him while He is near. 7 Let the wicked forsake his way and the unrighteous man his thoughts; and let him return to the Lord, and He will have compassion on him and to our God. For He will abundantly pardon. 8 For My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways My ways,” declares the Lord. 9 “For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways, and My thoughts than your thoughts.”
It is thus prophesied that a nation which does not know God “will run to you.” So these Greeks came to Judah and Jerusalem to seek God, and they found Jesus, of whom Isaiah had prophesied. The prophet advised the unrighteous to forsake his way and his thoughts—that is, his opinions about the nature and character of God. God’s nature and plan are much higher and better than men’s minds could devise.
Jesus’ answer to the company of Greeks interprets this prophesy. Again, Isaiah 66:19 says,
19 For I know their works and their thoughts; the time is coming to gather all nations and tongues. And they shall come and see My glory.
The manner in which the glory of God is revealed makes little sense to the carnal mind. God’s thoughts and His ways are beyond comprehension. How could a crucified Messiah be lifted up in glory while on the cross? Men indeed have to set aside their own carnal opinions to understand the mind of God.
So Jesus answered the Greeks by speaking of His time to be glorified. The entire explanation, as we will see, was about His death as a prerequisite to resurrection.
John 12:24, 25 says,
24 Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone [monos, “single”]; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. 25 He who loves his life loses it, and he who hates his life in this world will keep it to life eternal [aionios].
When Jesus says, “truly, truly,” He says, “amen, amen.” This is the 17th time that the double amen is recorded in the Gospel of John. Seventeen is the biblical number for victory. In this case, it refers to the victory over death when He was to be raised from the dead.
The farming metaphor shows that a grain of wheat had to be sown in the earth for it to bear fruit. It had to die in order to bring forth life. So also Israel itself had been sown in the earth (Hosea 1:4; 2:22, 23), as Hosea prophesied, calling the nation Jezreel (“Yezreel”), a homonym similar to Israel. Jezreel has a double meaning: God scatters and God sows.
Just as Israel had to be scattered (exiled) and sown in the earth among the nations in order to bear fruit at the time of harvest, so also Jesus Himself had to be sown in the earth at His burial in order to bear much fruit.
One’s earthly life, including one’s thoughts, opinions, and carnal viewpoints, must be discarded in order to take up God’s thoughts. We must learn to think differently as the Holy Spirit renews our minds (Rom. 12:2), so that we begin to think as God thinks. This is the only way in which we may fulfill the purpose for man’s creation and rule the earth as God’s agents.
John 12:26 completes the thought, where Jesus concludes,
26 If anyone serves Me, he must follow Me; and where I am, there My servant will be also; if anyone serves Me, the Father will honor [timao] him.
Though He was speaking to these Greeks, Jesus’ statement was to “anyone” who wished to serve Christ. To serve Him was to “follow” Him, that is, to follow Him even unto death (John 12:32). Many have indeed followed Him to martyrdom, but more importantly, all are required to crucify the old man (or old self), as Paul explains in greater detail (Rom. 6:6).
John 12:26 is the last of three times that the apostle uses the Greek term timao, “honor.” The other two uses of this word are in John 5:23 and 8:49, showing how we must honor the Son in order to honor the Father. John 12:26 adds that if we “serve” Christ (thus honoring God), the Father will also honor us.
The Septuagint uses this term when translating the Commandment to “honor your father and mother” (Deut. 5:16). Likewise, the name Timothy (Greek: Timotheus) means “honoring God.” He is Paul’s example of one who honors God and is in turn honored by God. Timothy is thus a type and shadow of all who honor God and are honored by the Father.
Timotheus’ name is Greek, but there is an accepted Hebrew spelling as well. In fact, it forms a Hebrew chiasm:
A Teth (snake, twist, coil)
B Yod (hand, work)
C Mem (water, chaos)
D Vav (nail, peg)
E Tav (mark, sign)
D1 Yod (hand, work)
C1 Aleph (ox, strength, order)
B1 Vav (nail, peg)
A1 Samech (support, staff)
The snake (teth) is parallel to the support (samech), picturing the serpent on the pole.
The hand (yod) is parallel to the nail (vav).
The water, or chaos (mem) is parallel to the restoration of order (aleph).
The nail (vav) is parallel to the hand (yod).
The central feature (E) that is most important is the tav, originally written as a cross, which means “a mark or sign.” The name itself pictures one who honors God by following Jesus to the cross. It also suggests that Timothy and those like him have the mark of God—the sign of the cross—in their foreheads (Ezek. 9:4; Rev. 7:3).
When we put together the meaning of the letters themselves, we are shown the meaning of the name Timotheus:
The Son of Man has been lifted up on the cross as the serpent in the wilderness, with nails in His hands, in order to bring order out of chaos.
Jesus tells us that those who honor God will be honored by Him in return. To honor God, Jesus says, one must follow Jesus to the cross and die to self in order to follow Him in resurrection. Hence, the Greeks who wanted to serve Christ and thereby honor (timao) Him were in turn honored by His heavenly Father.