This post is part of an ongoing series in the study of John we are doing during January. Subscribe to the blog for daily updates in the Bible Study posts. Subscribe to the podcasts to hear our discussion of the book of John throughout this month. Join us in your daily devotions as we travel through this fascinating account of the life of Christ.
As with other movements in this gospel, chapter 12 presents a unique dichotomy as we see a moment of the people giving glory to God and then Jesus describing what glory really looks like. One thing looks like glory, but according to the Kingdom of God, something entirely different represents true glory in the Kingdom of God.
Everything in this gospel points to the glory of Jesus Christ, but that glory is not understood or seen by all. As the first words of the gospel of John explain to us, some witnessed or beheld the glory while others, the darkness, did not comprehend it.
And the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it. John 1:5 (NKJV)
And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth. John 1:14 (NKJV)
The Triumphal Entry
The triumphal entry into Jerusalem appears as a high-water mark for the ministry of Jesus. As He enters Jerusalem, the people are celebrating, singing praises, and proclaiming Him to be the Messiah, the one who comes in the name of the Lord.
The next day a great multitude that had come to the feast, when they heard that Jesus was coming to Jerusalem, took branches of palm trees and went out to meet Him, and cried out:
“Hosanna! ‘Blessed is He who comes in the name of the LORD!’ The King of Israel!”
John 12:12-13 (NKJV)
The events unfolding in chapter 12 verses 12-19 fulfilled ancient Biblical prophecies. The religious leaders are at their wits’ end. After opposing Jesus’s ministry for nearly every passage recorded in the gospel, now they feel that all their hopes and patience have failed.
The Pharisees therefore said among themselves, “You see that you are accomplishing nothing. Look, the world has gone after Him!” John 12:19 (NKJV)
(As a side note, I love the statement in verse 16: His disciples did not understand these things at first. However when Jesus was glorified, then they remembered that these things had been written about Him…Many times in my walk with Christ, I feel I have walked a step or two behind the pack. Everyone in a meeting room experiences the glory, and I am left thinking, “Maybe?” Verses like this remind me that it is ok to be a little slow on the draw when it comes to realizing the glory of God. The point is to get there – not to be the first one there.)
Nevertheless, the same crowds who chanted Hosanna! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord! The King of Israel John 12:13, only a few short days later, shouted, “Crucify Him, crucify Him!” (Luke 23:21). Jesus knew the heart of man. He knew who could be trusted and who could not be trusted. We find Him throughout the gospel refusing to entrust Himself to men. But even here, He explains to His followers that true glory is not what we think.
But Jesus answered them, saying, “The hour has come that the Son of Man should be glorified. John 12:23 (NKJV)
These words follow the triumphal entry into Jerusalem (verses 12-19). A sense of celebration and victory filled the air. His disciples could feel it. But Jesus calibrated their response and perspectives regarding that sense of excitement. That thing you are feeling is not the true glory of the Kingdom of God. The glory that Jesus came for and modeled for His followers was in front of them, not behind them. True glory, the glory of the Kingdom of God, was about to unfold, and it looked shockingly different from what they expected.
Most assuredly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the ground and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it produces much grain. He who loves his life will lose it, and he who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life. If anyone serves Me, let him follow Me; and where I am, there My servant will be also. If anyone serves Me, him My Father will honor. John 12:24-26 (NKJV)
I have a note scribbled next to these verses in the margins of my Bible: true life is brought forth through genuine death. This is an unfaltering principle of the Kingdom of God. Death of the self is the starting point for life in the Kingdom of God.
The process of death to self is the beginning point of Kingdom life is true glory in the Kingdom of God. A million people could have celebrated the entry of Christ into Jerusalem, but it still would not have reflected the design of glory in the Kingdom of God. In the Kingdom of God, death is required for life to begin. And because the willing embrace of death means the total abandonment of self-preservation, self-will, and self-centeredness, it frees us from everything that might stand between us and the realization of the true glory of God.
It Is Not Easy
Death is the pathway to life. This is the way of the Kingdom of God. We do not find life by glorifying, fulfilling, or preserving the self. We find life by denying self and following Christ into death. This reality was never meant to be easy. It contradicts every biological instinct of our fallen flesh that strives toward self-preservation and dominance.
“Now My soul is troubled, and what shall I say? ‘Father, save Me from this hour’? But for this purpose I came to this hour. Father, glorify Your name.” John 12:27-28 (NKJV)
For those who seek God’s glory, the answer to every question, dilemma, and frustration of life begins with death. We do not find life separate from personal death. In the most literal sense, Jesus modeled that for us through His march toward the cross. In most cases, death for us means surrendering our will to the trust of God’s design over our own. It is not easy, but it was never supposed to be. As we have seen many times in this study, the way of Christ is narrow and easy to rationalize away.
“Enter by the narrow gate; for wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and there are many who go in by it. Because narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life, and there are few who find it. Matthew 7:13-14 (NKJV)