Jesus—His Life and Message: The Greeks

April 6, 2021

by Peter Amsterdam

The Gospel of John tells of an event, just prior to the passion and death of Jesus, which is not included in the synoptic Gospels.1 It describes Jesus’ encounter with some Greeks who desired to see Him. It is significant in that upon hearing their request, Jesus recognized that His mission was coming to an end.

Among those who went up to worship at the feast were some Greeks.2

The feast referred to here was the Passover festival. Also present at the feast were non-Jewish individuals who believed in and worshiped the God of Israel; in this case, some Greek believers. Such non-Jewish believers were often referred to as “God-fearers.”

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.3

We’re not told why these Greeks approached Philip, though it could have been because he, like Andrew, had a Greek name. It is assumed that their request was made in Greek. We’re also not told how many Greeks were in this group, only that it was some Greeks.

Jesus answered them, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.”4 

Jesus was speaking to Philip and Andrew. (There is no account here of Jesus going to see or speak with the Greeks who had requested to see Him.) Earlier in this Gospel, there were two references to “the hour”:

Jesus said to her, “Woman, what does this have to do with me? My hour has not yet come.”5

They were seeking to arrest him, but no one laid a hand on him, because his hour had not yet come.6

Previously His hour had not come, thus He could not be arrested; now it had come, and He could fall into the hands of Jewish authorities.

Jesus continued,

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.7

Jesus used the truly, truly statement to emphasize the importance of what He was saying. Using the word unless echoes other important sayings of Jesus, such as “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God”8 and “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you.”9

Jesus pointed to two possible scenarios. Either the grain of wheat stays where it is, and thus remains alone and bears no fruit, or it falls into the earth (meaning that it is planted), and it bears much fruit. It is only through “death” that the potential for bearing fruit can become actual bearing of fruit. The apostle Paul makes the same point in the book of 1 Corinthians. You foolish person! What you sow does not come to life unless it dies.10

Back to John’s Gospel:

Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life.11

Jesus first focused on life in this world. Those who love this world’s life will lose it. The Greek verb translated lose is also translated as destroy elsewhere in the New Testament. Loving this world can destroy one’s life. In the book of 1 John we read a similar warning.

Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world—the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride in possessions—is not from the Father but is from the world.12

The person who loves his life is one who is living for the present. The one who hates his life is one who is living for the life to come. Such a person does not lay up treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal; rather they lay up treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.13 Hating one’s life in this context means surrendering our personal desires to God, so that we are focused on His priorities rather than our own.

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.14

Those who serve Jesus are those who follow Him. The implication is that those who serve Jesus imitate His behavior, serving others as He did. Those who follow Him, who serve Him, receive honor from the Father.

“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.”15 

Jesus continues speaking, but has now begun to address His Father in prayer. His prayer has similarities to those recounted in the synoptic Gospels during the time shortly before His death.16

“Father, glorify your name.” Then a voice came from heaven: “I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again.”17

After addressing His Father in prayer, He then heard His Father’s response. This recalls the voice from heaven at Jesus’ baptism18 as well as the voice from the cloud at the transfiguration19 in the synoptic Gospels. Jesus has already glorified the Father’s name through His ministry and will do so again when He lays down His life on the cross.

The crowd that stood there and heard it said that it had thundered. Others said, “An angel has spoken to him.”20 

While until this point Jesus was speaking with Philip and Andrew, we are now told that there was a crowd of people present as well. This crowd, like others within this Gospel, is divided.21 They had heard something, with some stating that what they heard was thunder, while others were saying that an angel had communicated with Jesus. It’s not clear whether anyone in the crowd heard the actual words which were spoken.

Jesus answered, “This voice has come for your sake, not mine.”22

Whether the people had heard thunder or thought that an angel had spoken, Jesus made it clear that the voice from heaven was a sign to them that Jesus’ prayer was heard and an answer was given.

“Now is the judgment of this world; now will the ruler of this world be cast out.”23

Jesus referred to Satan as the ruler of this world here and elsewhere within this Gospel.24 In the Epistles of Paul, Satan is called the god of this world.25

“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.26 

The phrase when I am lifted up from the earth refers to the means of His death on the cross. Earlier in this Gospel, Jesus told Nicodemus:

As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.27 

Jesus’ saying that He will draw all people to myself has been understood in a number of different ways. Some feel it speaks of universal salvation; others interpret it to mean all ethnic groups rather than individuals, which would mean Gentiles as well as Jewish people. In the context of these verses, it likely refers to the presence of Greeks.

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?”28 

Jesus told His listeners that He was going to die; this conflicted with the crowd’s understanding of the Messiah, whom they understood would remain forever. However, both things are true. Jesus had to be lifted up, and yet He would remain forever. He said as much when He said, The slave does not remain in the house forever; the son remains forever. So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.29 The crowd didn’t understand. They considered death to be final, which is incompatible with “remaining forever.” They conclude by asking, Who is this Son of Man? In doing so, they are asking Jesus, “Who are you?” They want to know how He can claim to be the Messiah, who is to remain forever, while admitting that He was going to be crucified.

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.”30

Instead of directly answering their previous question, Who is this Son of Man? or explicitly stating that He is the Christ, Jesus spoke of Himself as “the light.” This reflects what was stated at the beginning of this Gospel.

In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.31

The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world. He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him.32

Earlier in this Gospel, Jesus pointed out that there was a time limit to the manifestation of “the light.” We must work the works of him who sent me while it is day; night is coming, when no one can work. As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.33

“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.34

The metaphor of the light is understood to be Jesus. In saying to “believe in the light,” Jesus means “believe in Me.” Becoming sons of light means becoming people of the light, people who belong to God. As the apostle Paul wrote:

You are all children of light, children of the day. We are not of the night or of the darkness.35 

He also stated:

At one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light (for the fruit of light is found in all that is good and right and true).36

As believers, we are all children of light.37


Unless otherwise indicated, all scriptures are from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

General Bibliography

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Brown, Raymond E. The Birth of the Messiah. New York: Doubleday, 1993.

Brown, Raymond E. The Death of the Messiah. 2 vols. New York: Doubleday, 1994.

Carson, D. A. Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount and His Confrontation with the World. Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1987.

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Morris, Leon. Luke. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1988.

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Young, Brad H. Jesus the Jewish Theologian. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 1995.

1 Matthew, Mark, and Luke.

2 John 12:20.

3 John 12:21–22.

4 John 12:23.

5 John 2:4.

6 John 7:30.

7 John 12:24.

8 John 3:3.

9 John 6:53.

10 1 Corinthians 15:36.

11 John 12:25.

12 1 John 2:15–16.

13 Matthew 6:19–21.

14 John 12:26.

15 John 12:27.

16 Matthew 26:39, Mark 14:35–36, Luke 22:42.

17 John 12:28.

18 Matthew 3:16–17, Mark 1:7–11, Luke 3:21–22.

19 Matthew 17:1–5, Mark 9:1–7, Luke 9:28–35.

20 John 12:29.

21 John 7:12, 40–43.

22 John 12:30.

23 John 12:31.

24 John 14:30, 16:11.

25 2 Corinthians 4:4.

26 John 12:32–33.

27 John 3:14–15.

28 John 12:34.

29 John 8:35–36.

30 John 12:35.

31 John 1:4–5.

32 John 1:9–10.

33 John 9:4–5.

34 John 12:36.

35 1 Thessalonians 5:5.

36 Ephesians 5:8–9.

37 John 12:36 KJV.