At the very moment that the Jewish religious authorities find themselves distressed at Jesus’ growing popularity in Jerusalem, their complaint that “the world has gone after him” is dramatically illustrated by the arrival of some Greeks who come to Philip looking for Jesus (John 12:19–21). These Greeks are gentiles from the Greek-speaking world and not necessarily from Greece itself, since Greek was the common language of first-century Mediterranean societies. Since they have come up to worship at the feast of Passover (v. 20), they are either gentiles who have converted fully to Judaism and have been circumcised or they are God-fearers, gentiles who adhered to the ethics and monotheism of Judaism but who did not follow the ritual requirements of the Jewish religion.
According to the Old Testament, the coming of the Messiah results in the gentile nations’ worshiping the God of Israel (Gen. 49:10; Isa. 11:1–10; 19:16–25; Micah 4:1–5). The Greeks looking for Jesus in Jerusalem are a fulfillment of this, and this prompts Jesus to speak of the Messiah and His work that results in the conversion of the nations. He says that the time for this work to be accomplished has come when He states that the hour of His glorification has arrived (John 12:23). We know that this glorification involves His resurrection and His ascension, but our Lord makes it clear that it also occurs in His death. He says that if a grain of wheat is to produce fruit, it must first fall into the earth and die. Clearly, this is a reference to His death, the results of which will be a glorious harvest as many come into the kingdom (v. 24). The death of Jesus itself is a moment of glory, for by this ultimate act of obedience to God, He atones for the sin of His people and is finally worshiped by those given to Him by the Father. After all, around the world, people gather weekly to worship the Savior who was crucified for their sins. Dr. R.C. Sproul writes in His commentary John: “There was glory in the passion. . . . Because in His death on the cross He was obeying the Father and glorifying the Father, and all who obey the Father and give glory to the Father are honored by the Father.”
Disciples are not above their master, so if Jesus must die to be glorified, so must His servants. Christ goes on to say that we must not love our lives but be willing to hate the world and follow Him wherever He goes, even to death itself. But those who do that will receive the glory of eternal life (John 12:25–26).