John 12:20–36: The Hour Has Come

One hour makes a big difference. Just as one hour can bring suffering, another hour might bring rejoicing. But is it possible that one single hour might signify both suffering and rejoicing at the same time? 

Now there were some Greeks among those who went up to worship at the festival. 21 They came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, with a request. “Sir,” they said, “we would like to see Jesus.” 22 Philip went to tell Andrew; Andrew and Philip in turn told Jesus. 

 23 Jesus replied, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. 24 Very truly I tell you, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds. 25 Anyone who loves their life will lose it, while anyone who hates their life in this world will keep it for eternal life. 26 Whoever serves me must follow me; and  where I am, my servant also will be. My Father will honor the one who serves me. 

27 “Now my soul is troubled, and what shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’? No, it was for this very reason I came to this hour. 28 Father, glorify your name!” 

Then a voice came from heaven, “I have glorified it, and will glorify it again.” 29 The crowd that was there and heard it said it had thundered; others said an angel had spoken to him. 

30 Jesus said, “This voice was for your benefit, not mine. 31 Now is the time for judgment on this world; now the prince of this world will be driven out. 32 And I, when I am lifted up from the earth,  will draw all people to myself.” 33 He said this to show the kind of death he was going to die. 

34 The crowd spoke up, “We have heard from the Law that the Messiah will remain forever, so how can you say, ‘The Son of Man must be lifted up’? Who is this ‘Son of Man’?” 

 35 Then Jesus told them, “You are going to have the light just a little while longer. Walk while you have the light, before darkness overtakes you. Whoever walks in the dark does not know where they are going. 36 Believe in the light  while you have the light, so that you may become children of light.” When he had finished speaking, Jesus left and  hid himself from them.

We are heading for another time change in just a few weeks, on November 6. Consider the difference that one hour makes. When it is time to spring forward, that single hour of stolen sleep feels like torture. But when it is time to fall back, that one hour means a long, guilt-free snooze is waiting for us in the morning.

One hour makes a big difference. Just as one hour can bring suffering, another hour might bring rejoicing. But is it possible that one single hour might signify both suffering and rejoicing at the same time? 

In today’s passage, Jesus says that his hour has finally come. This is after several occasions in John’s gospel when Jesus has made it clear that His hour had not yet come. When his mother asked him to help with wine at the wedding in Cana, Jesus said, “My hour has not yet come.” When Jesus is teaching in the temple courts and the leaders try to capture him, he eludes them for, as John says, “his hour had not yet come.” 

But today, the hour has arrived. His hour has come.

It’s a strange passage, because Jesus doesn’t directly answer any one of the questions brought before Him, and yet he answers every question we should be asking. The Greeks, who represent the gentile world – the outsiders – ask to see Jesus, which serves as a signal that this is it, the time is here. Rather than jump on the opportunity to expand his ministry by entering into new Greek and gentile territory, Jesus rejects worldwide fame as it comes calling at his doorstep, and instead chooses the way of the cross. 

Jesus is not rejecting the notion that He is here not only for the Jews, but for the Greeks and gentiles as well. By walking away from momentary fame that day, He was rejecting the world’s way of doing things, and opting instead to do things God’s way. Yes, God would draw all nations, even gentiles, to His love, but it had to go a certain way. The hour of Jesus was not to be fifteen elusive minutes of fame, but an hour of suffering and shame through which an eternity of rejoicing would be made freely available to all. He rejected the temporary glitz of worldly fame in favor of opening a permanent portal to heaven’s glory.  

More on how that works in a moment. 

But the key to understanding the significance of this “hour” is found in verses 31 and 32:

“Now is the time for judgment on this world; now the prince of this world will be driven out. And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” 

The Hour of Judgment

First Jesus says “Now is the time for judgment on this world;”

By this He means that the hour of the cross is the hour of judgment on sin – both the curse of Adam’s original sin as well as the sins we personally commit.  

Commentator Craig Keener observed: “The guilt of the ages cannot be swept under the carpet but must be drawn out into the light and judged.”

Wrongs must be made right. What is broken must be fixed. Someone must pay for the debts that we have incurred with God and with one another. And yet our sin and the sin of the world is too vast for any of us to compensate for. There is no earthly way to repay a heavenly debt. Only heaven can do that.

And so the hour of the cross was not optional, it was inevitable. The moment Adam sinned and deliberately disobeyed God, the hour of the cross became a necessity, an unavoidable event that would wield the force necessary to redeem such a catastrophe.

And so, at the hour appointed by the Father, Jesus was executed in our place. We are not without responsibility for our sins, but we are no longer condemned by them. The wrath of God, just, fair, right, accurate, and true, has been satisfied, paid in full. 

Oh sinner, we must always run to the cross when we feel discouraged or anxious over our past or present sins, for though we are guilty as charged, our death sentence has already been carried out. 

D.A. Carson writes, “The world thought it was passing judgment on Jesus … in the cross. In reality, the cross was passing judgment on them."

This hour of judgment for which Jesus came into the world is at the same time fearsome in its fury, and awesome in its redemptive power.

The Hour of Driving

The hour of the cross was not limited to judging sin. It was also the hour of judgment on the devil. 

Jesus says, “now the prince of this world will be driven out”.

The hour of the cross is the hour of driving – driving out the devil. 

Carson writes, “Although the cross might seem like Satan’s triumph, it is in fact his defeat.” 

In Revelation 12:9–10 we read of this judgment against the prince of this world 

“The great dragon was hurled down—that ancient serpent called the devil, or Satan, who leads the whole world astray. He was hurled to the earth, and his angels with him.  Then I heard a loud voice in heaven say: 

“‘Now have come the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God, and the authority of his Messiah. For the accuser of our brothers and sisters, who accuses them before our God day and night, has been hurled down.’”

This “hour of driving out” is not merely the temporary withdrawal of a demon through an exorcism, or the shuffling of the devil’s forces from one tormented soul into a herd of pigs. This hour of driving out spells the full and final defeat of satan, and the irrevocable disabling of his stronghold on earth. Skirmishes will continue, just as they do in any war once the capital has been taken, but the devil’s footing to condemn us has been forever lost. 

The secret weapon, the doomsday device that obliterated the gates of hell, was detonated at the hour of the cross. Once the wrath of the righteous Father was satisfied by the death of His innocent Son, the sacrifice of the Lamb rendered inoperable the devil’s weapons of guilt and shame, and there is now no longer any basis for the devil's charges against us. 

The hour of the cross is why we who call on the name of Jesus no longer need to live in fear. When the devil rushes hard against us, we may simply point to the cross and tell him to go back to … from whence he came. 

The hour of the cross is our shield and fortress, the helmet which guards our hearts and minds when we are racked by guilt, driven to shame, and overcome by anxiety. 

By taking upon Himself the full measure of God’s right judgment of the world, Jesus has once and for all foiled the devil’s only possible gambit against us, making every child of God invincible in the face of his wiles. 

Satan’s attempts to destroy Jesus served only to destroy himself. The hour of the cross is the hour of driving out the devil.

The Hour of Lifting

Next Jesus says the hour of the cross is the hour when He will be lifted up. Not only is it an hour of judgment on sin and an hour of driving out the devil, but the cross is also an hour of lifting Jesus up.   

For those who know how the story ends, this phrase, “when I am lifted up from the earth” packs a double wallop. 

One one level, “lifted up” refers to the cross, when His body would be physically lifted off the ground and nailed to a post. But on another level, “lifted up” refers to the glory awaiting Him after the cross, when He will be raised from the dead. In this specific phrase, “when I am lifted up,” Jesus presents us with a carefully crafted double entendre. 

On the one hand it conveys the gruesome significance of His humiliating death. And on the other hand it expresses the awesome glory of the resurrection.

That phrase, “lifted up” represents both suffering and glory.  Is it possible that one single hour might signify both suffering and glory at the same time? 

The infinite wisdom of God is revealed in this mystery: the way of suffering is the way of glory. A seed must be buried before it can flourish. 

Isaiah 52:13 (The Suffering and Glory of the Servant) See, my servant will act wisely; he will be raised and lifted up and highly exalted.

Hebrews 1:3 The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word. After he had provided purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven.

Most of us spend our lives avoiding suffering. We think the cost of living sacrificially is too great. And yet Jesus says the only way to truly live is to let go of our lives. Only when we release our death grip on the world can we fall into the life-grip of heaven. If we aren’t willing to sacrifice the way Jesus did, we will have no part in being raised the way He was. 

The paradox of the way of Jesus is that in order to live we must first die. To gain everything that matters we must let go of everything that doesn’t matter. To win heaven, we must be willing to lose earth.  

Before we can be lifted up in resurrection power, we must first be humbled by the process of taking up our cross each day. 

The hour of lifting up has come, not only for Jesus, but for us as well.

The Hour of Drawing

The hour of the cross is the hour of judgment, the hour of driving, and the hour of lifting. Finally, the hour of the cross is also the hour of drawing. 

Jesus said, “I …will draw all people to myself.”

For those of us who were just a little worried about the Greeks' unrequited request at the beginning of the passage, Jesus gives an answer here. He says that the hour of the cross is also the hour when He will draw all people – including Greeks and gentiles – to Himself. 

We need to be careful not to misunderstand what Jesus is saying here. He is not saying that all people will be saved. He is saying that all people will now have the opportunity to be saved. We must bear in mind that the Pharisees taught that salvation was for the Hebrews alone, and that Greeks and gentiles could only enter through the back door, if at all. 

Jesus turns that thinking on its head and says there is no longer Jew nor Greek, slave nor free. Because of the hour of the cross, all people may enter through the main gate. And Jesus is the main gate. 

The hour of the cross was the hour of drawing, when not only the people of Israel were offered the gift of atonement, but all the people of the world. All people – not some, but all – would be drawn to Jesus in this hour.

One word about the cross drawing all people to Jesus: some Christians think they are called to draw people to Christianity, or to religion, or to some other wordly enterprise. If you fall in that category, I would warn you that we are not called to lift up a religion or philosophy, but only Christ. I have found that lifting up religion is a waste of time. Lifting Jesus up is far better.

Our Hour Has Come

To finish this morning, I think it is important to bear in mind that we are still living, right now, in the hour of drawing; the hour when Jesus is reconciling everyone with God who wishes to be reconciled.

We are also still living, right now, in the hour of judgment – when our sins have been judged and through the cross we have been redeemed.

We are also living, right now, in the hour of driving out – when the devil’s head is crushed under our feet by the power of the cross. 

And we are also still living, right now, in the hour of lifting Jesus up in glory as we live lives that honor Him. He is worthy of being lifted up through the highest praise we can offer – our lives lived in obedience to Him, for this is also the hour, right now, when we must lift up our own crosses of self-denial, self-control, and self-sacrifice – He said it must be so. 

As Jesus finishes his message at the end of our gospel reading for today, He conveys an overwhelming sense of urgency about this hour. Before He slips away from the crowd, He makes it clear that time is running out. We must work while it is still day, while we have the light of the sun, and before the night inevitably falls.

In other words, this hour is an opportunity that is closing. It may be tomorrow, it may be next week, it may be ten years from now, but Jesus indicates that a time is coming for all of us when it will be too late to choose, and He will be hidden from us.

What will we do? Will we commit to follow Him more fervently now? Or will we let this hour pass?  

The right choice is clear: we who believe must embrace this hour, and every hour to come, for everything it is worth, making the most of every opportunity to walk humbly in forgiveness, to drive out evil, to lift Jesus up, and to draw all people to Him.

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