By Alistair Begg
When Jesus made the declaration in John 12 that the time had come for the Son of Man to be glorified, many of His listeners would have caught their breath. Jesus’ followers were looking to the day when their political tyrants would be crushed under the feet of their conquering Messiah. However, they were about to discover that Jesus’ definition of “glorified” was radically different than their own.
Drawing a comparison to a kernel of wheat, Jesus introduced the principle that the way to fruitfulness is through death. He applied this to Himself: He was the grain that must suffer and die through the unbelief of the Jews and be multiplied in the faith of many nations. Apart from the cross there would be no spiritual harvest.
While the substitutionary death of Jesus (1 Peter 3:18) refers to Christ alone, the principle that life is found through death also applies to those who believe in Him and follow Him. Disciples of Jesus Christ are called to die to self and to live for Christ. Those whose priorities are right have a love toward the things of God that causes the affairs of this life to lose their luster.
Despite the deep passionate trouble in the heart of Christ as He faced crucifixion, He made it clear that He had come for this very hour. His concern was expressed in the prayer, “Father, glorify Your name!” Here we see the horror of death and the ardor of obedience fused in an incredible expression of submission.
In John 12:28, Christ’s prayer was answered by the voice of the Father from heaven. His name had been glorified at Christ’s baptism, at the transfiguration, and by means of the mighty miracles. It would be glorified again in the humiliation of the cross, as well as in the exultation of the resurrection and the ascension.
The crowd, however, dismissed the voice of God as thunder or the words of an angel. Some sought a “natural” explanation for a supernatural occurrence while others admitted the extraordinary nature of the event. Jesus explained that the voice had come for their sake, not His. Even though the crowd missed the message, they did not miss the significance of its timely occurrence.
John’s Gospel explains Christ’s statements concerning judgment and being lifted up from the earth: “He said this to show by what kind of death he was going to die” (John 12:33). Jesus was not simply referring to His death on the cross, but the deep and telling significance of it. The cross represents the judgment of the world. The world condemns itself by its treatment of the Son (John 3:18). The cross also represents the defeat of Satan. In contemplating all the agony of the cross, it may appear that Satan had won. However, the moment of Satan’s apparent triumph was actually Christ’s victory. The defeat of Satan and the drawing of men and women to Christ all center on the atoning sacrifice of the Son. Nations previously under the rule of Satan become the very lands from which the elect children of God are drawn, keeping with God’s purpose.
Based on their knowledge of the Law, the crowd believed that the Messiah would live on earth forever as the King of Kings. However, now they had a problem because they had discerned that “lifting up” meant death. What kind of a Son of Man was He anyway – instead of remaining with them forever, He was going to be taken away? This is the last image we have of the crowd in John’s Gospel – a crowd portrayed as confused and perplexed. They did not understand the significance of the One who spoke, nor the necessity of the gift He offered. Jesus urged His followers to put their trust in the Light while they had it so they might “become sons of light.”
Such remains the case with the crowds in our cities today – milling around with a vague sense of the identity of Christ, and yet remaining unprepared to consider His claims. The Bible urges us even today to come to Christ, the Light of the world. We understand that to be a child of light is not simply to be one who has an interest in light, but rather to be one whose life has been so revolutionized that one may be characterized only with reference to light. When Paul described the radical changes that had been brought about in the lives of the Ephesian believers, he put it in these terms: “For at one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light…” (Ephesians 5:8).
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