John 12:20-33, The Glorification of the Son

[March 22, 2015] This is the beginning of Passiontide and the last Sunday of Lent before Holy Week begins. During the Sundays of Lent, after speaking of Jesus’ forty-days in the wilderness, the gospel texts all speak explicitly of the cross. Today it specifically associates the glorification of the Son of Man with the cross and resurrection. We recall that the Son of Man is the glorious figure of Daniel 7:13, a figure with which Jesus identifies, even when the high priest asked him directly if he would swear that he was the Son of God. Jesus was well aware of the paradox that this Son of Man who will draw all people to himself must, like a grain of wheat, fall into the earth and die.

When the Jerusalem Pharisees saw the festival crowds shouting about Jesus on Palm Sunday they said to one another, “Look, the whole world has gone after him!” Among those from the Diaspora who had come to Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover were some Greeks; perhaps they were gentile proselytes. “They approached Philip and said, ‘Sir, we should like to see Jesus.’” Philip, as we recall, was one of the earliest disciples whom Jesus had called (John 1:43). The Greeks approached him perhaps because of the fluency of his Greek; after all, his name is Greek, which suggests something about the Hellenization of his father.

Philip is from Bethsaida. This seems like a pointless detail until we recall that Beth-tsaida means “house of fishing,” apparently because it was a fishing village. This recalls the prophecy of Jeremiah 16:16 that God—through the Messiah—would send fishers to gather the people of Israel to the Promised Land who had been scattered to “all the countries to which [YHWH] had driven them.” “To you [YHWH] the nations will come from the remotest parts of the earth” and turn from their idolatry to worship the true God. Jesus alluded to this verse when he told Simon (Peter) and his brother Andrew, “I will make you fishers of people” (Matthew 4:19). Now Philip tells Andrew and together they tell Jesus about the Greeks who wanted to see him.

The people of the nations, not only proselytes but gentile idolaters (as in Jeremiah’s prophecy; see 16:19-21), will come to the Messiah in Zion and worship God. Jesus says to Philip and Andrew, “Now the hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.” The glorification of the Son of Man has something to do with the Son of Man “drawing all people to himself” (see verse 32). In Daniel 7:14 “rule, honor and kingship” is conferred on the Son of Man “and all peoples, nations and languages became his servants. His rule is an everlasting rule which will never pass away, and his kingship will never come to an end.” No longer will the gentiles follow after their Beasts and serve them, that is, the kingdoms of this world (see in Daniel), but they will come to the Human One and serve him.

Well, people expected something like this. If, however, Jesus is to be this one, he would have to become a much more impressive figure than the humble Galilean who rode into Jerusalem on a donkey. He would have to become someone who could put the Caesar in Rome in his place! This makes sense if we would only cut certain Messianic promises out of the much broader context.

Jesus said, at the end of this passage, “When I am lifted up from the earth, I shall draw all people to myself.” This almost sound like it agrees with the people’s expectations. But John tells us that “by these words [Jesus] indicated the kind of death he would die” (John 12:32). To be lifted up from the earth is to die, to die in the way that Jesus died (whatever aspect of his death John has in mind). Here is the paradox: “Unless a wheat grain falls into the earth and dies, it remains only a single grain; but if it dies it yields a rich harvest” (verse 24). This is how the Son of Man is to be glorified. A grain of wheat is one solitary grain until it dies. Then it multiplies and what was one becomes many. Jesus intends to multiply himself by his death.

The word glory, in Hebrew, means brightness and refers to the manifestation of the presence of God. The glory of God was the Shekinah of the tabernacle and Temple, the pillar of fire and the cloud. The glory of God is also when God liberates. The mighty acts of God are also the glory of God. God is everywhere present, but his presence is not manifest. Normally it is hidden. Moses only sees the glory of God from behind; metaphorically it is in the trail that God leaves behind. For no one can see God directly and live.

Jesus was glorified during his transfiguration on the mountain: who he was became manifest. In the Gospel according to John, then, what does it mean for the Son of Man to be glorified? He is glorified by his death. This is what we see in the outer frame of this passage, verses 20-24 on the one hand and verses 32-33 on the other. Who is the Son of Man? None other than the crucified. Moreover, by the cross the Son of Man shines forth: Jesus becomes manifest as the Son of Man. Before that, this fact was still hidden.

At the heart of the passage are Jesus’ words in verses 27-28a: “Now my soul is troubled. What shall I say: ‘Father, save me from this hour’? But it is for this very reason that I have come to this hour. Father, glorify your Name!” At the heart of the passage, therefore, is the point that the “hour” of Jesus’ death will glorify the Father’s Name. The Father’s Name is the revelation of who the Father is; it is the revelation of the divine nature.

The passage then involves the glorification of two: the glorification of the Son of Man and the glorification of the Father’s Name. Somehow the two implicate each other. The glorification of the Son of Man glorifies the Father’s Name. We are not far from where Jesus says, “Now has the Son of Man been glorified, and in him God is glorified. If God has been glorified in him, God will in turn glorify him in himself, and will glorify him very soon” (John 13:31-32), again referring to the cross. Also remember what Jesus prayed in chapter 17: “Father, the hour has come: glorify your Son so that your Son may glorify you.”

If we read ahead to chapters 13—17, we will discover what the glorification of Jesus refers to. It will happen by his death. But what is it? How does his death glorify him and in doing so glorify the Father? What is Jesus asking for and what is he granted? “Now, Father, glorify me with that glory I had with you before ever the world existed” (17:5). The glory that Jesus had before the world existed is the glory of his divine nature. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God … and the Word became flesh and tabernacled among us and we beheld his glory, the glory that he has from the Father as the only Son of the Father.” His glory—the glory of the Son of Man—is the glory of the Son of God, and the glory of the Son of God is the glory of the divine nature shared by both Father and Son (and the Holy Spirit).

Jesus was not dispossessed of the divine nature of the Son when he was conceived in his mother’s womb. Repeatedly in this gospel he asserts that he is the “I Am” of God. But it is clear that who he is is hidden behind the veil of his flesh. His flesh is the flesh of God, the great “I Am,” but the Son’s divine nature is not manifest in it. It is divine by virtue of the hypostatic union, we say: one person with two natures, and the two natures remain uncompromised. It is his divine person that is revealed through his humanity, but at no time before his death does his humanity appear to be other than our own. The miracles that he performs he does by the divine anointing, the same as we do, and the same as all other miracles in the Bible.

His death changes that. His death transforms his human nature so that it is “divinized.” His humanity is resurrected with the divine life and now shares the “properties” of the divine nature. It does not become divine, for it is still human, but it participates (100%) in his divine nature, sharing its perfections. So, in resurrection Jesus is now everywhere. He only “manifests” himself to his disciples here and there. Yet he eats fish in front of them and lets them touch him to show that he is still fully human. Likewise with respect to time. The Jesus who lived between his conception in Mary’s womb and the moment of his death is now present at all times: he has become eternal. His “time” has not evaporated by becoming eternal; rather, it is his history in time that remains for all time. His humanity now manifests his divinity and thus glorifies it. And by manifesting the divine nature, it now glorifies the Father’s Name. Wherever Jesus now is, the Father is manifest for the divinity nature shines forth.

Not only does the divine nature shine forth in Jesus, but the Triune God shines forth: the Father is glorified as such, being the Father of the Son. Moreover, Jesus—his divinized humanity—is shared with us by the Holy Spirit whom he imparts to us when we believe (when Jesus is revealed to us). The Holy Spirit enlightens our spirit and thus is joined to our spirit, becoming our life (we participate in God’s eternal life). Thus Jesus dwells in us because he and the Spirit co-inhere. We are in him and he is in us, so that his relationship to the Father becomes our own. By participation, by grace, we thus become part of the Trinity, and are thus likewise “glorified,” though in our own resurrection, itself the manifestation of the Holy Spirit now living within us. “My dear friends, we are already God’s children, but what we shall be in the future does not yet appear. We are well aware that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he really is” (1 John 3:2-3). Our present participation in the divine nature shall be manifested then.

That leaves us with chapter 12 verses 25-26 on the one hand and verses 28:b-31 on the other: Anyone who loves his or her soul will lose his soul. Whoever hates her soul in this world will keep her soul for eternal life. Whoever serves me, must lose their soul as I do (“must follow me”). If anyone (thus) serves me, my Father will honor her, or him. This is coupled by the clap of thunder in which the Father speaks: “I have glorified [my Name], and I will again glorify it,” spoken for the sake of the crowd standing by. Jesus explains this event by saying, “Now sentence is being passed on this world; now the prince of this world is to be driven out.”

So on the one hand the soul must lay down its life in this world in death: this is the meaning of the cross—Jesus lays down his soul (John 10:11, 15, 17-18). His soul dies on the cross, though in resurrection he shows that he has “the power to take it up again.” By his doing so, sentence is passed on the world; the invisible mental realm that humans have constructed in defiance of God’s creation, and thus the prince of this world is to be driven out of the human domain.

I have come up to the limit of my time for this, but I will speak on it again next Sunday when we consider the meaning of Palm Sunday in the Gospel according to John.

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