Greg Strand is EFCA executive director of theology and credentialing, and he serves on the Board of Ministerial Standing as well as the Spiritual Heritage Committee. He and his family are members of Northfield (Minnesota) EFC.
John 12:20-36: Now among those who went up to worship at the feast were some Greeks. So these came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, and asked him, "Sir, we wish to see Jesus." Philip went and told Andrew; Andrew and Philip went and told Jesus. And Jesus answered them, "The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life. If anyone serves me, he must follow me; and where I am, there will my servant be also. If anyone serves me, the Father will honor him. "Now is my soul troubled. And what shall I say? 'Father, save me from this hour'? But for this purpose I have come to this hour. Father, glorify your name." Then a voice came from heaven: "I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again." The crowd that stood there and heard it said that it had thundered. Others said, "An angel has spoken to him." Jesus answered, "This voice has come for your sake, not mine. Now is the judgment of this world; now will the ruler of this world be cast out. And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself." He said this to show by what kind of death he was going to die. So the crowd answered him, "We have heard from the Law that the Christ remains forever. How can you say that the Son of Man must be lifted up? Who is this Son of Man?" So Jesus said to them, "The light is among you for a little while longer. Walk while you have the light, lest darkness overtake you. The one who walks in the darkness does not know where he is going. While you have the light, believe in the light, that you may become sons of light." When Jesus had said these things, he departed and hid himself from them.
John’s Use of “Now” and “Hour”
John emphasizes two key words: “now” and “hour”. Both terms focus on Jesus, His ministry, the age He ushers in, and the cross. Generally, the “hour” emphasizes Jesus’ person and work such that “the hour is coming, and is now here” (Jn. 4:21; 5:25). Jesus marks the transition from the old to the new and begins the transformation – He ushers in the kingdom (Mk. 1:14-15). Even though the kingdom awaits a future fulfillment, it is begun now in the person and ministry of Jesus.
More specifically, the “hour” is related to the culmination of Jesus’ earthly ministry which is the cross, the place where Christ experiences the depths of sin, yet also the beginning of his exaltation through resurrection and glorification.
It is important to note John’s transition. When Jesus was asked to do certain things, He made it clear that the “hour had not yet come” (Jn. 2:4; 7:30; 8:20). But Jesus final journey to the cross marks his transition such that John records Jesus as saying, “The hour has now come for the Son of Man to be glorified” (Jn. 12:23; cf. 12:27(2x); 13:1; 17:1).
The cross is the unique way through which He will be glorified. Jesus’ High Priestly prayer begins, “Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son that the Son may glorify you” (Jn. 17:1).
The Hour Has Now Come
With the arrival of the Greeks (Jn. 12:20), Jesus knows that his appointed “hour” has arrived (Jn. 12:23). Prior to this point, Jesus made it clear that the hour had not yet arrived, it was not yet time for Him to go to the cross. And yet that changes now because the appointed time has arrived.
Because that hour encompasses the cross, He is deeply troubled (Jn. 12:27). He and the Father are one in their plan and intent to redeem humanity, and there was no other way or means by which that would be done. There is a divine necessity (Lk. 24:26; Acts 17:3) to this hour and the cross, a necessity that was filled with pain and agony such that Christ would ask that this cup be taken from him (Matt. 26:38-42). The agony was so great that he sweat great drops of blood (Lk. 22:44). And on the cross, Jesus uttered the painful yet ever-trusting cry, "why have you forsaken me" (Matt. 27:46).
Although these matters are true, Jesus also willingly and joyfully obeyed: “Your will be done” (Matt. 26:39-42, which is the same willing and joyful dependency acknowledged by all believers as noted in the Lord's Model Prayer: "Your kingdom come, your will be done [Matt. 6:10].) For the joy set before him he endured the cross (Heb. 12:2) and as the Son he delighted to do his Father’s will (Heb. 10:6-10, cf. Ps. 40:6-8). This is the reason for which Christ came, so the cross culminates his consuming mission, that the Father should glorify His own name, even and especially in this hour (Jn. 12:28).
Five Key Truths
D. A. Carson helpfully points out five key truths of these verses, which I include with a longer summarizing quote in point 5 (The Gospel According to John, 442-445).
On this Maundy Thursday, ponder the hour. Pray now.