In John 12, we reach the end of the public ministry of Jesus. Who is this figure thundering through these pages? The Apostle John, John the Baptist, Nicodemus, the Samaritan woman, and a man born blind have all borne witness: He is the Word enfleshed, the lamb of God, a teacher from God, the Savior of the world, and the Son of Man. We’ve heard from Jesus Himself that He is the light of the world, the bread of life, the fountain of living water, the good shepherd, the resurrection, and the life.
Many of these word pictures contain ominous elements. The darkness doesn’t grasp the light. A sacrificial lamb must die. Water is poured out. The good shepherd risks his life for his sheep. This theme becomes more obvious in John 12. Mary anoints Jesus “for the day of [His] burial” (12:7). Judas is angry with Jesus. The priestly leaders plan to kill both Jesus and Lazarus (12:9-11). The crowds call Him king but only because of His sign (12:18). Jesus is disturbed (12:27). Although John gives Jesus’ last invitation to the crowds at the end of the chapter (12:44-50), John makes it clear that Jesus’ ministry has ended in rejection (12:37). In the middle of the chapter, he lets us know that rejection is not failure.
Throughout John, glory is important, but glory comes to the forefront in chapter 12. The disciples don’t understand Zechariah 9:9 until “Jesus is glorified” (John 12:15). Jesus has been saying throughout the entire Gospel that His hour hasn’t come, but He’s now saying that His hour has come to be glorified (John 12:23; see also 2:4, 7:30, 7:6, 8:20, and especially 17:1). This hour, moreover, is the whole reason He came (12:27). Weaving these threads together, we see that although the crowds reject Jesus, Jesus didn’t come just so they would accept Him. He came to be glorified, and He is being glorified in what is about to happen. What is about to happen? Jesus must die: “Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit” (John 12:24). To paraphrase John Stott, Jesus was consumed not with the living of His life but with the giving of His life.
The core truth of chapter 12 is that glory comes through death. Although we can expand that principle to include many other truths essential to the Christian faith, John highlights this point in two ways. First, he shows what it means for Jesus’ followers. The path of faith is the path of sacrificial service. People who believe that Jesus died for them are ready to follow Him in giving their lives for others (John 12:25-26). Second, John uses Isaiah’s prophecies to explain Jesus’ ministry. He points to the rejection of the prophet’s message in Isaiah 6:10 and 53:1 (John 12:38, 40). When the glorious Lord revealed Himself as “high and lifted up” (Isaiah 6:1 and 52:11), the people who are not part of the remnant reject Him. Isaiah, John says, spoke this way because he saw the glory of Jesus (John 12:41). Whether in Isaiah’s day, John’s day, or today, people in love with human glory can’t see real glory (John 12:43).
As modern-day believers follow the Lord’s example of sacrificial love, we must remember that some will never see Christ’s glory. Rejection, however, isn’t failure. His death ensures that He will draw all types of people to Himself — Greek, Jew, or otherwise (John 12:20, 32-33). Our goal, like His, is not to live but to give.