Sermon: John 12:20-36a: Victory Through Death

Old Testament Reading: Genesis 12:1–3

“Now the Lord said to Abram, ‘Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.’” (Genesis 12:1–3, ESV)

New Testament Reading: John 12:20-36a

“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.’” (John 12:20–36a, ESV)


We should really begin our study of this passage by remembering what has just happened in the Gospel of John. Jesus, not long before this episode, rode into Jerusalem on the colt of a donkey. Thousands welcomed him as the Messiah, the King of Israel, shouting, “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord, even the King of Israel!” (John 12:13, ESV)

It would be difficult to exaggerate the significance of that moment. It was a huge moment. Keep in mind that the people of God had been anticipating the arrival of the Messiah, their Savior-King, from shortly after the fall of Adam. God, in response to the rebellion of man, immediately promised to send a Savior who would defeat the evil one who brought sin and evil into the world. This promise, which is found in Genesis 3:15, was like a seed which would eventually sprout forth, growing in size and complexity as history progressed.

Abram (later called Abraham) was chosen. The nation of Israel was chosen. King David was chosen. Covenants were made with these.  And though each of these covenants differed somewhat in substance, the thing which bound them together – the thing they all had in common – was the promise of God. When God, shortly after the fall, promised to crush the head of the serpent, it was as if he planted a seed. And that that seed began to grow. The promise, which was at first small, and rather unspecific, grew to affect more and more people – it grew in size, we might say. And it grew in complexity and clarity with the making of each new covenant.

The end result of these covenants and promises was that every Jew living in Jesus’ day lived with an expectation that the Messiah would come. I think it is safe to say that virtually all Jews expected the Messiah, or Christ, to appear. They were waiting for the Promised one – the Anointed one, who is the Christ, or Messiah. They were waiting for the King who would come from David’s loins to bring salvation.

And so this was no insignificant moment when Jesus rode into Jerusalem to shouts of praise from Psalm118 (which is a Messianic Psalm), and in fulfillment to Zechariah 9 (which is a prophesy concerning the coming the / Savior-King of Israel). The people were saying, in no uncertain terms, that Jesus was their Messiah – he was their long awaited King. Without a doubt they expected that the Kingdom of God would be established by him. And notice that Jesus did not rebuke them concerning their opinion. He received their praise.

But a question is left somewhat unanswered. And the question is this: What kind of Messiah would Jesus be? What kind of King would he be? And what would be the nature, or character, of his kingdom? Though most all expected the Christ to appear, there were certainly a diversity of opinions concerning these questions.

It seems to me that the passage that we are looking at today serves to answer the questions that the previous passage left unanswered. The previous passage made it clear that Jesus was indeed the Messiah, the King of Israel. This one seems to clarify what kind of King he would be.

Notice three things:

Jesus Came as King, Not Only of the Jews, but Also the Greeks

First of all, notice that Jesus came as King, not only of the Jews, but also the Greeks.

Up to this point in his ministry Jesus had insisted that his hour had not yet come. Now finally he says in verse 23, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.” And what prompted this declaration? It was the arrival of a group of Greeks who wanted to see Jesus.

These Greeks, we are told in verse 20, had come up to Jerusalem to “worship at the feast.” They were, what we would call, “God-fearers”. They were Gentiles who sought to worship the God of Israel.

And we are told in verse 21 that these God-fearing Greeks, approached one of Jesus’ disciples named Philip and said, “Sir, we wish to see Jesus.” Many have wondered why they approached Philip, of all people. Perhaps it was coincidence? Or perhaps it was because Philip had a Greek name? Or perhaps it was because Philip was born and raised in a region near where these men were from? I tend to think that this last view carries some weight given that John emphasizes in verse 21, that “Philip…was from Bethsaida in Galilee.” I suppose it does not matter in the end. The important thing to notice is that the Greeks came to Philip, and Philip went to Andrew, and the two of them together went to Jesus to tell him the news.

It was upon hearing the news that Greeks were seeking him that Jesus said, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.”

This is significant. It is significant because it marks a turning point in Jesus’ ministry – “my hour has not yet come” has now turned into “the hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.”

But I think it is even more important to notice the way that this event brings a major theme contained in John’s Gospel to the forefront. Jesus came to save, not the Jews only, but also the Greeks! John the Baptist announced the arrival of Jesus the Christ, saying “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29, ESV). John, the Apostle, and author of this Gospel, interjected this word after telling of the interaction between Jesus and Nicodemus: “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16, ESV) In chapter 4 the people of the Samaritan village repented, saying, “we believe, for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this [Jesus] is indeed the Savior of the world.” (John 4:42, ESV) And in 6:51 Jesus spoke of himself this way, saying, “I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. And the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.” (John 6:51, ESV) John’s Gospel, from beginning to end, is concerned to stress the fact that the Jesus is not only the Messiah and King of the Jews, but also the Greeks. God’s love for the world is demonstrated in this way, that he gave his unique Son, for the purpose that all who believe in him will not perish but have eternal life.

And please know that this is not only a central theme in John, but of the whole of scripture. Tell me church, to whom was the promise of the gospel first given? Was it not given first of all to Adam? God promised within the hearing of Adam that one would come who would crush the head of the serpent. And who was Adam the Father of? He was the Father of the human race! The promise of the gospel was that God would provide salvation, not only for the Jews, but also the Gentiles. This was the plan from the beginning.

And when God reissued that promise through the covenant made with Abraham, what did he say? He promised to give him a land, it is true. And he promised to bring a great nation from his loins. But was the scope of God’s saving purposes limited to one sliver of land and to one nation out of many? No! God made a promise, even to Abraham saying, “in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” (Genesis 12:3, ESV)

The Old Testament prophets were certainly aware of this. Take for example the prophesy of Joel 2:28 which says, “And it shall come to pass afterward, that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh; your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, and your young men shall see visions.” (Joel 2:28, ESV) It is the phrase “all flesh” that is pertinent to the topic at hand. The Messiah would usher in an age marked by the outpouring of the Spirit of God upon “all flesh”, meaning all the peoples of the earth, or all nations. 

I do wish that you would learn to read your Bibles with this progression in mind. We live 2,000 years after the Christ has come. We live 2,000 years after the giving of the Great Commission and the Pentecost event. And so we have perhaps grown accustom to seeing God’s activities amongst the Gentiles. But we must remember and not forget that from the day of Abraham to the day of Pentecost the Kingdom of God, and the saving activities of God, were largely limited to the nation of Israel and to the Jewish people. The Spirt was most active, in a saving way, amongst the Jews. There were exceptions, of course, but they were rare. Those instances under the Old Covenant where Gentiles came to the proper worship of God served as a foretaste of what would be the norm under the New Covenant.

This brief point of application will probably resonate more with those who are in the Eschatology class right now, but I’m sure many others will pick up on the significance of what I’m about to say: Any theological system that has at it is core that idea that the gospel going to the Gentiles was God’s plan B due to the fact that Israel rejected her King, is flawed to the core. It is unbiblical. And connected to that (and I will speak more gently here), any theological system that presses the idea that it is ethnic Israel who is at the heart of God’s redemptive purposes seems to me to have overlooked some very important teachings in the Holy Scriptures. It is true that ethnic Israel held a prominent place in redemptive history. Through them the prophets spoke! Through them the law was given! And through them the Messiah came! But the Messiah came, that is the point! And he is the Savior of the world! Old Covenant Israel was a conduit. They were the means through which the Christ came into the world. Certainly we should pray for ethnic Israel. Certainly we should, like our brother Paul, long to see the Jews recognize Jesus as their Messiah. But let us not miss the fact that he came to be the Savior and King of the world – Jew and Greek alike.

Jesus Would be Glorified as King of the World Through Suffering and Death

Secondly, notice that Jesus would be glorified as King of the world through suffering and by his death.

Notice verse 24. Jesus says, “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.” Later in verse 32 Jesus would say, “And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.”  And in verse 33 we see that  John understood that “He said this to show by what kind of death he was going to die.” (John 12:33, ESV)

This is not the normal way for a King to be glorified, is it? The Kings of this world receive glory through triumph. But Jesus, the King of Kings and Lord of Lords would be glorified by passing through the gates of suffering and death. That is not to say that there was no triumph in his first coming – we will come back to this in a moment – but that the triumph and glory that he did earn was earned through suffering and death. He was the grain of wheat that would fall into the earth to die and, in turn, bear much fruit.

You understand this metaphor, I’m sure. We can understand it even though most of us have little to do with agriculture. How much more would the people to whom Jesus was originally speaking understand this metaphor! They understood that they could reap a harvest only if they were willing to sacrifice some of their grain as seed. The seed would be put into the earth and it would be lost for a time, but it would eventually produce a harvest.

This was how our salvation was earned. This was how the Christ won the decisive victory. He would suffer and die, he would go into the grave, and from there he would rise, having in his hand victory over sin and Satan and death. Jesus would indeed be glorified as King of the world, but through suffering and death.

This is of course true of Jesus, but it should be noticed how this way to glory, or this way to life is set forth by Christ as a model, or pattern, for the Christian. Jesus would lay ahold of glory and life by passing through the gates of suffering and death, and we are urged to follow the same pattern.

Verse 25: “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.” (John 12:25–26, ESV)

Do you want to have life? Then Jesus says that you must die. Of course Jesus is not necessarily calling us to die physically (though it may involve that). He would suffer and die physically, and in so doing defeat sin and death and earn life for all who believe in him. But he calls out to us to die in spiritual sense. If we want to have life then we must let go of our life. We must surrender to Christ and make him Lord. We must submit to God and to his ways for us. We must live, not for self, but for the God who made us, trusting in him for the forgiveness of our sins. This is where true life is found.  Most chase after abundant life by living for their own pleasures. Christ calls us to lay ahold of abundant life by taking pleasure in the God who made us, seeking his glory above all else. “Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life.” (John 12:25, ESV)

I do wish that you would take some time to think upon this paradox. It at first seems unreasonable, even absurd, to say that the way to life is through surfing and death. “Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life” seems backwards to the natural man. But this is the way of our Lord. This is how he earned life for all who believe.

You cannot benefit from Christ’s work on the cross unless you come to him in this way. Christ will benefit you nothing if you come to him saying, I will live my for my pleasure, according to my rules, trusting in my own strength. That is the way of death! But Christ will benefit you to all eternity when you come to him saying, I lay it all down. I will live, not for my pleasure, but for yours, O God. I will live, not according to my rules, but yours, trusting, not in my self, but in you alone. This is how we must approach Christ if he is to help us. This is the way of life – the way of the Christian.

Furthermore, we would be foolish to assume that this way of life only pertains to the beginning of the Christian life and to the reception of salvation. No! It is the way of Christ, and the way of the Christian from beginning to end! The whole of our life is to be characterized by this way! Brother, you are to die to self daily! Sister, put to death the desires of the flesh and your self-serving, self-protecting,  self-exalting ways! Loose your life and see if you don’t begin to even now taste more and more of the fullness of the life that is ours in Christ Jesus.

Husband, do you want a blessed marriage? Do you want a marriage filled with life and every good thing? Then lay down your life. Serve your wife. Consider her needs as more important than your own. Wife, do you want a blessed marriage? Do you want a marriage filled with every good thing? Then lay down your life. Submit to your husband, considering his needs as more important than your own. See if your marriage is not filled to the brim and overflowing with life and happiness as you  live in this way. The way to life is found through dying to self daily.

Children, can I reason with you for a moment? Do you want to be happy? Do want to have joy? Do you want to have peace? It is never to early to learn this lesson, that you will be most happy, most joyous, most at peace when you are living in the way that we are describing. Don’t be selfish. Don’t live for your own self. Obey God’s commands. Honor your parents. Share with others. Serve others. Do good to your siblings and your friends. Speak kind and encouraging words, seeking to build others up. Don’t live for yourselves! Live for God and others. This is where the best kind of life is found! You are never to young (or old) to start learning this.

You say, Joe, I am neither a husband or wife, nor a child. What about me? I think it is clear that this principle can be applied be anyone, and in any circumstance of life. Jesus said in another place, “whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” (Matthew 10:38–39, ESV)

Jesus would be glorified as King of the world through suffering and death. Let us follow in his way.

King Jesus Would Win the Decisive Victory Through His Death

Thirdly, notice that King Jesus would win the decisive victory through his death.

This needs to be said given the emphasis upon Jesus’ death in this passage. If we are not carful we might misunderstand, thinking that Jesus would be defeated through his death. Not so! The opposite is true! Jesus, through his death, would win the victory!

Notice these five simple things:

One, Jesus speaks of the hour of his death as the hour of his glory. He would be “lifted up” from the earth. This, of course, is a reference to the cross. But it is symbolic of his being glorified, or exalted. He would, as we know, also raise from the dead and be exalted to the right hand of the Father. But that is not mentioned here. His hour of death was, in itself, his hour of glory because of what was accomplished there.

Two, notice that the Father would also be glorified through the death of the Son. In verse 27 Jesus says, “Now is my soul troubled.“ Jesus, in his humanity, was troubled at the thought of the suffering that lay ahead of him, and understandably so. Having acknowledged this, he posed a question: “And what shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’? [His response to his own question? By no means!] But for this purpose I have come to this hour. Father, glorify your name.” Jesus submitted fully to the will of the Father. His prayer was that the Father would be glorified in and through his death. And the Father responded in a miraculous way, saying, “I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again.” (John 12:27–28, ESV) Jesus would bring glory to the Father through his death.

Three, notice that it was through his death that the world would be judged. The word “now” is significant. Verse 31: “Now is the judgment of this world…” It appeared as if the world were judging Christ when they beat him and hung him on that tree. But with God things are not always as they appear.  The truth of the matter is that Jesus was beginning his judgment of the world even then. We tend to think of the judgment as a future thing, for so it is. But it is also true that the judgment of Christ began at his first coming as men and women decided for or against Christ. Their acceptance or rejection of him has the effect of putting them into one of two camps. Judgment, in some respects, has already begun.

Four, notice that the ruler of this world was cast out at the death of Christ. Again, the word “now” is significant. The second part of verse 31 says, “now will the ruler of this world be cast out.”

This verse should be of special interest to those of you taking the eschatology class. One of the main questions we are asking in that class is when is Satan bound, and when does the millennial reign of Christ begin, as described in Revelation 20? The predominant view in our day is that Satan will be bound, and the millennial reign of Christ will begin in the future. But I am of the opinion that Satan was in fact bound (from deceiving the nations) and that Christ began to reign at his first coming.  A proper interpretation of Revelation 20 should lead us to this conclusion. And so should a careful consideration of other New Testament texts, including this one.

Jesus said, in John 12:31, “now will the ruler of this world [Satan] be cast out.”

In John16:8-11 Jesus speaks of the promised Holy Spirit saying, “And when he comes, he will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment: concerning sin, because they do not believe in me; concerning righteousness, because I go to the Father, and you will see me no longer; concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world is judged.” The ruler of the world [Satan] has been judged at Christ’s first coming.

In Mark 3:27 Jesus says, “But no one can enter a strong man’s house and plunder his goods, unless he first binds the strong man. Then indeed he may plunder his house.” The implication is clear. Jesus was claiming to be doing that very thing – binding Satan, the strong man, so that he might plunder is his house. This he accomplished at his first coming. This he accomplished through his death and resurrection.

This is why he could say, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations…” (Matthew 28:18–19, ESV)

Jesus won the decisive victory through his death, and one of the things he accomplished was the casting out, or binding, of the evil one. Satan is still active, it’s true. But he cannot accuse you before God as he did in the days of Job. Furthermore, he has been rendered powerless from hindering the advancement the gospel and the establishment of the Kingdom of God to the ends of the earth. From this he has been bound by the death and resurrection of Christ.

Five, notice that Christ won the victory through his death in that from that day forward he would effectively draw all people to himself. That is what 12:32 says: “And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.”

Jesus is not claiming that all people – that is, each and every person who has lived – will be drawn to him. That is not what “all” means. Clearly “all” is referring to all the peoples of the earth – all nations – Jews and Greeks alike. The context makes this abundantly clear.

And so, though it would appear that Jesus was defeated in his death, the truth of the matter is that he was victorious. He glorified himself and the Father who sent him. His judgment of the world began there. He cast out the ruler of the world so that he might draw all peoples to himself. 

Our Lord was not a victim but the victor. He won the decisive victory through his death and resurrection.


We should remember Jesus’ audience as we move towards the conclusion. Thousands had greeted Jesus as the King of Israel not long before he spoke these words. They were right to call him King, but these words of Christ prove difficult to them. He shook their understanding of what kind of King he would be.

Look at how the crowd responded to him in verse 34: “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?” (John 12:34, ESV)

They were confused. They were right to confess that Jesus was the Christ – the Messiah – but they expected that the Christ, when he came, would remain forever – that he would not go away. But here Jesus spoke of his death. They didn’t know what to make of that. They didn’t have a category for that in their understanding of things.

Here is what some of them thought: The Messiah will come – the King of Israel will arrive – and he will save us from our enemies and establish the nation of Israel once more, remaining forever and ever. But Jesus was not interested in being this kind of Messiah. He came to defeat, not Rome, but Satan, sin and death. He came to establish, not an earthly kingdom, but a spiritual one, saying “my kingdom is not of this world.” He came, not to rule and reign as that kings of this earth do, but to, through suffering and death, establish an eternal kingdom, to the glory of God the Father and for our good.

Jesus was indeed the Christ – the Jews were right about that. And they were also right to think that when the Christ came that he would remain forever. But they were wrong to assume that he would remain to reign on earth. No, his rule and reign would be far more significant that that. His kingdom would be inaugurated at his first coming after his death and resurrection. From there he would ascend to the right hand of the Father, ruling and reigning from where? From heaven! And from there he will return to finish that which which he started at his first coming.

Brothers and sisters, you serve a victorious King. He was crucified, it’s true. But do not be fooled by the appearance of things. It was through the suffering of the cross that he won the victory for you and me and for all who look forward to his return.

Let us serve him boldly to his glory honor and praise.

Comments are closed.

"Him we proclaim,
warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom,
that we may present everyone mature in Christ."
(Colossians 1:28, ESV)

© 2011-2022 Emmaus Reformed Baptist Church