Now is the time: coming to see

Giotto_Lower_Church_Assisi_Crucifixion_01In John 11:47, as Jesus’ popularity grew, the Pharisee had asked of one another: what are we to do? The Pharisees themselves testify to the fulfillment of their fears in v.19: “So the Pharisees said to one another, “‘You see that you are gaining nothing. Look, the whole world has gone after him.’” Their confession of vulnerability (“You see that you are gaining nothing”); their hyperbolic announcement that the “world” (kosmos) has gone after Jesus provides ironic testimony to the truth of Caiaphas’s prophecy: 50 nor do you consider that it is better for you that one man should die instead of the people, so that the whole nation may not perish.” 51 He did not say this on his own, but since he was high priest for that year, he prophesied that Jesus was going to die for the nation, 52 and not only for the nation, but also to gather into one the dispersed children of God. (John 11:50-02)

The Pharisees and the Jewish leaders unwittingly confirm one of the central tenets of the Gospel: Jesus came to save the world (3:16–17); he is the Savior of the world (4:42). Their words thus provide a fitting conclusion to the entry narrative, in which the crowd came to see Jesus and wrongly greeted Jesus as their national hero.

How Does One See Jesus? 20 Now there were some Greeks among those who had come up to worship at the feast. 21 They came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, and asked him, “Sir, we would like to see Jesus.”

As the “Palm Sunday” crowds fade in the narrative, the arrival of the Greeks marks the beginning of a new section. Leon Morris [251] introduces these verses as being peculiar to John and rather curious. He says:

“rather curious because it is unusual that we encounter Greeks in a narrative of events at Jerusalem, because the other Evangelists do not mention the incident, and because the Greeks simply say, “Sir, we would like to see Jesus” and then disappear from the narrative. Clearly John regards their coming as significant but he does not treat their presence as important. Jesus recognizes in their coming an indication that the climax of his mission has arrived. Immediately when he hears of them he says, “The hour has come,” and goes on to speak of his glorification and of death. In this Gospel we see Jesus as the world’s Savior, and evidently John means us to understand that this contact with the Greeks ushered in the climax. The fact that the Greeks had reached the point of wanting to meet Jesus showed that the time had come for him to die for the world. He no longer belongs to Judaism, which in any case has rejected him. But the world, whose Savior he is, awaits him and seeks for him.”

These Greeks begin by asking Philip, “Sir, we would like to see Jesus.” Philip takes them to Andrew. It may be that these two are singled out because they have Greek names. Narratively, they were the first disciples who brought Jews to Jesus. Andrew brings his brother Peter (1:42) and Philip brings his friend Nathanael (1:45). Thus, they serve as a connection between the first Jewish disciples and the first Gentile disciples – if the request to “see” Jesus is interpreted as their desire to have a meeting with Jesus so as to become his disciples. (O’Day interprets it this way; Brown in the Anchor Bible on John raises this same possibility.)


John 12:20 Greeks: Hellēnes not used here in a nationalistic sense. John introduces us now to certain Greeks. Since these men had come up to worship, it is likely that they were “God-fearers.” They may have been proselytes, but if so they would scarcely have been described simply as “Greeks.” The “God-fearers” were people who were attracted by the lofty morality and the monotheism of Judaism, but who did not care to become full proselytes by circumcision. They might visit Jerusalem for the great feasts, but they could not pass beyond the court of the Gentiles when they went up to the Temple. These “Greeks” would not necessarily have come from Greece itself. There were many Greeks in Decapolis, for example, and they could have come from such a place. At Passover time worshippers came from widely scattered places throughout the Roman Empire to join in the festivity.

John 12:21–22 Philip…Andrew: the approach is made through disciples who have distinctly Greek names, suggesting that access to Jesus was mediated to the Greek world through his disciples. Philip and Andrew were from Bethsaida (Jn 1:44); Galileans were mostly bilingual. See: here seems to mean “have an interview with.”

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