The Greeks Seek Jesus
12:20 Now among those who went up to worship at the feast were some Greeks.
I think that it might be helpful to note just a few things about this section before we look at the theological and spiritual significance of the event.
First, from what multiple commentators say about the word “Greeks” here, the meaning is not Jewish Greeks from the Diaspora, and not Greeks as in people from Greece necessarily (though it may have included these types of people), but rather it is foreigners as a whole. The term “Greeks” served as a sort of Jewish umbrella term for those outside their own ethnicity (Gentiles).
James Boice comments, “…they were Greeks in the gentile sense, not Hellenistic Jews…” and D.A. Carson remarks, “These Greeks were not necessarily from Greece: as elsewhere in the New Testament, the term refers to Gentiles who come from any part of the Greek-speaking world, possibly even a Greek city as near as the Decapolis.”
Second, John doesn’t give us a time when this occurs. James Boice says, “From my reading of the other Gospels I doubt that it was on the same day Jesus made his triumphal entry into Jerusalem, for on that occasion he seems to have returned quickly to Bethany. Perhaps it was the next day…”
Lastly, it is evident that these Greeks are God-fearers. They weren’t in Jerusalem for sightseeing or for the draw of the great marketplace, but rather there were there “to worship.”
12:21 So these came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, and asked him, “Sir, we wish to see Jesus.”
The significance of the Greeks asking to see Jesus is recognized by every commentator, and is evident in that it “triggers” (Carson) Jesus to declare that the hour has come for Him to be glorified.
As Leon Morris puts it, “Clearly John regards their coming as significant but he does not treat their presence as important. Jesus recognizes in their coming and indication that the climax of His mission has arrived.”
But why is this?
I think it is because it indicates the pregnancy of the historical and biblical timeline as prophesied by God’s prophets according to His plan. The moment where the entire world would hear of the wonders of His plan, and all the nations would be blessed was converging in upon Jesus. The time had come when God would gather from all nations a chosen people for Himself (1 Pet. 2:9).
Of all the prophets, Isaiah has a lot to say about this, so let’s look at a few of those passages so we can see what the Lord had planned from of old:
In that day from the river Euphrates to the Brook of Egypt the LORD will thresh out the grain, and you will be gleaned one by one, O people of Israel. And in that day a great trumpet will be blown, and those who were lost in the land of Assyria and those who were driven out to the land of Egypt will come and worship the LORD on the holy mountain at Jerusalem. (Isaiah 27:12-13 ESV)
“I am the LORD; I have called you in righteousness;
I will take you by the hand and keep you;
I will give you as a covenant for the people,
a light for the nations,
to open the eyes that are blind,
to bring out the prisoners from the dungeon,
from the prison those who sit in darkness.
(Isaiah 42:6-7 ESV)
…“It is too light a thing that you should be my servant
to raise up the tribes of Jacob
and to bring back the preserved of Israel;
I will make you as a light for the nations,
that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth.”
(Isaiah 49:6 ESV)
Incline your ear, and come to me;
hear, that your soul may live;
and I will make with you an everlasting covenant,
my steadfast, sure love for David.
Behold, I made him a witness to the peoples,
a leader and commander for the peoples.
Behold, you shall call a nation that you do not know,
and a nation that did not know you shall run to you,
because of the LORD your God, and of the Holy One of Israel,
for he has glorified you.
(Isaiah 55:3-5 ESV)
In their groundbreaking book Kingdom Through Covenant Peter Gentry and Steven Wellum comment on how the prophets foretell a time when salvation will come back to Israel and spread to all nations, the effects of sin are reversed, and a new creation is consummated:
…among the postexilic prophets there is an expectation that the new covenant will have a purpose similar to the “old covenant”, that is, to bring the blessing of the Abrahamic covenant back into the present experience of Israel, and even more than this, to the nations. The new covenant, then, will bring about the Abrahamic blessing in that it will benefit both Israel and the nations and thus have universal implications…Within the Old Testament, the new covenant is viewed as both national (Jer. 31:36-40; 33:6-16; Ezek. 36:24-38; 37:11-28) and international (Jer. 33:9; Ezek. 36:36; 37:28). In fact, its scope is viewed as universal, especially in Isaiah (in the passages I quoted above). These Isaiah texts project the ultimate fulfillment of the divine promises in the new covenant onto an “ideal Israel”, i.e., a community tied to the servant of the Lord, located in a rejuvenated new heavens and new earth (Is. 65:17; 66:22). This “ideal Israel” picks up the promises of Abraham and is presented as the climactic and ultimate fulfillment of the covenants that God established with the patriarchs, the nation of Israel, and David’s son (Is. 9:6-7; 11:1-10; Jer. 23:5-6; 33:14-26; Ezek. 34:23-24; 37:24-28). Furthermore, in the story line of Scripture it is not enough to say that the new covenant merely brings about the Abrahamic blessings to Israel and the nations. One cannot understand the Abrahamic covenant apart from the “covenant with creation,” so, in truth, when the new covenant arrives we have the ultimate fulfillment of all God’s promises, the reversal of the effects of sin and the death brought about by Adam, and the establishment of the new creation. (pg. 645)
I especially love the anticipation of a new creation in Isaiah 66 and how the plan of God is not limited to one race or people, but to all people everywhere:
And they shall bring all your brothers from all the nations as an offering to the LORD, on horses and in chariots and in litters and on mules and on dromedaries, to my holy mountain Jerusalem, says the LORD, just as the Israelites bring their grain offering in a clean vessel to the house of the LORD. And some of them also I will take for priests and for Levites, says the LORD.
“For as the new heavens and the new earth
that I make
shall remain before me, says the LORD,
so shall your offspring and your name remain.
From new moon to new moon,
and from Sabbath to Sabbath,
all flesh shall come to worship before me,
declares the LORD.
“And they shall go out and look on the dead bodies of the men who have rebelled against me. For their worm shall not die, their fire shall not be quenched, and they shall be an abhorrence to all flesh.” (Isaiah 66:20-24 ESV)
The reason I wanted to quote such an extended section from Gentry and Wellum has to do with their grasp of the magnitude of the new covenant ushered in by Christ. When these gentiles came to see Jesus, He clearly saw this as a sign that His hour had come, and that soon all the promises and covenants made with His people in ages past, were about to be fulfilled in Him (2 Cor. 1:20).
Morris says, “Plainly their coming is important. Jesus views it as evidence that his mission has reached its climax and that he is now to die for the world, Greeks included.”
12:22-23 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.
Boice says there are two ways in which Jesus would be glorified. First, the Greek’s seeking Him indeed gave Him glory. It showed that He was a significant person, but more than that, it showed that those outside of ethnic Israel who were looking for the light of life thought that perhaps they had found it in Him.
Secondly, and most prominently, Christ would be glorified in His death and resurrection. In His sacrificial atonement, and triumph over the grave, Jesus would show the world the meaning of His coming in plain terms, and put Satan and his army of demons to open shame by triumphing over them (Col. 2:15).
In saying that “the hour has come” Jesus undoubtedly is referring to his death, yet as Morris notes, “…He speaks not of tragedy but of triumph.” And so it is that He sees in His death the anticipation of victory, and that is what is meant by “glorified.”