25 March 2012

John 12:20-33

"Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it does, it bears much fruit." (v. 24)


This passage, chosen for Passion Sunday, the next Sunday but one before Good Friday, is full of themes common to John's Gospel. There are echoes also of sayings of Jesus in the other Gospels. Compare verses 25 and 26 with Mark 8:34-38, and verses 27 and 28 with Mark 14:33-36.

Throughout John's Gospel, Jesus reveals God's glory (see John 1:14), but most clearly on the cross. That will be the way by which God draws all people to the gift of eternal life (verse 32, compare with John 3:14-15). So the request of some Greeks (not Jews by birth, but sympathisers who have come to Jerusalem in the Passover pilgrimage) to see Jesus is a sign that the time has come.

Verse 25 provides rather a stark contrast to the preceding verses, but we should not interpret "hate" in the modern sense of self-hatred. The choice is between prizing all the things we have now and being prepared to let them go for a deeper and more enduring life.

Jesus' death will not be the end but the prelude to a new beginning, just as the burial of a seed leads, in time, to a great harvest. It is a principle that applies equally to those who would follow Jesus; new life comes from the death of the old.

This is not an easy message, and throughout John's Gospel there are those who refuse to believe or simply, as here, fail to understand. Judgement (in this case, the testing and division of people into those for and those against) has taken place from the beginning of Jesus' ministry. His crucifixion will be the supreme act of judgement, and the greatest test of faith, making faith impossible for some, while to others it will reveal God's glory.

It will not be an easy path for Jesus, but it is what he has come for, and by it the forces of darkness and evil will be overcome (verses 27 and 31).

To Ponder

What implications do verses 24 and 25 have for you at this point in your life?

Does the crucifixion of Jesus make it easier or harder to believe in a loving God? Why?

Bible notes author

The Revd Brian Beck

Brian Beck is a Methodist minister, now retired, and a former president and secretary of the Methodist Conference. A large part of his ministry has been spent in theological education, both in Limuru, Kenya, and in Cambridge, England..