Lectionary Year B
April 9, 2000
John 12:20-33

Step IV: Context


The fourth Gospel still seems to have been written originally in Greek to help early Christians in their attempts to understand, refine and deepen the faith they found in Jesus as the Christ. These earliest Christians were still in the youth of the movement based on Jesus’ sayings and deeds. Christianity is still admittedly a mystery to many in the first century. Questions arise when believers analyze what they believe, in whom they believe and what they are to do based on whom they believe to be for them an authority and example of what is right. When believers’ faith is stimulated by new and different people, events and teachings, their faith provoked by other data, tend to argue the validity of the new forms. Other, more populated religions surround Christianity as it is being developed. Though the people then and there were hardly as inquisitive as we are here and now, still challenges of traditions could stimulate intense discussions.

It is often stated that Greeks were notorious for their wandering of the ancient world seeking to discover the "truth." Perhaps they were symbolic of the coming of the Gentiles to worship God through Christ.

Why did the Greeks approach Philip? Was it because he had a Greek name and they felt he would help them?

In v. 27 Jesus speaks from Psa. 6:4f and seems thereby to show human emotion: "my soul is troubled." The The Greek here is "tetaraktai" (= "troubled," "stirred" or "agitated" ). Was this emotion due to the prospect of his being made sin for all humanity? [(JA) in anticipation of step V?]

Why did some hear the voice from heaven as a heavenly voice and others only heard it as thunder? Were some more spiritually discerning than the others? [(JA) step V?].

In v. 32 those hearing Jesus talk about being "lifted up" might have known that he was talking about crucifixion. Again looking forward we might wonder if this could refer to his ascension. Matters of chronology play a role here; the conceptual approaches for semitic and hellenistic thought might play a role too.


B. Old Testament and Judaism In the 27th verse of our pericope, Jesus quotes Psalm 6:4 in the Septuagint and Psalm 31:10, a Individual Lament. In the by-standers’ identifications of the voice speaking to Jesus from heaven in verse 29, as an angel’s voice, might have been a reminder to them from Genesis 21:17, where an angel speaks to Hagar from heaven. God’s honoring those who follow Jesus mentioned in verse 26 of our text, might have been prefigured in IV Maccabees 17:20. The ruler of this world, who is said in verse 31, to be on the way to be driven out, might be modeled in the Testament of Solomon 2:9 and/or by “the angel of iniquity who rules this world,” in the Martyrdom and Ascension of Isaiah 2:4 and/or in the Life of Adam and Eve 12:1 where we read, “And the devil sighed and said, ‘O Adam, all my enmity and envy and sorrow concern you, since because of you I am expelled and deprived of my glory which I had in the heavens in the midst of angels, and because of you I was cast out onto the earth’.”

One use of the term "son of man" is found in the apocalyptic Book of Daniel. Daniel had described the major powers of his day (the Babylonians, Medes, Assyrians) as horrible beasts and then said that "a son of man" (meaning simply a human?) would come and defeat the beasts. Enoch [(JA) reference?] also describes "the son of man" as a divine being being held back "on a leash" by God to keep him from routing the enemy. The image of "son of man" to the Jews in Jesus' day has been taken to mean by some to be a human military hero who would be "unleashed" by God to free them from the Roman tyranny [(JA) source?].


The pericope at hand begins with Greeks/Hellenists expressing interest in seeing Jesus. They were on their way up to Jerusalem to worship at the Passover Season. They engaged Jesus’ disciple Philip in conversation and, though we are not told, it appears he guided them to meet their request. At least Jesus seems to have responded to their interest. Did he respect their interest? They could certainly appreciate the figurative language Jesus uses in this pericope and the monologue Jesus has with himself, re: how to deal with his troubled soul. The question and answer would appeal to the Hellenists as an effective method of communicating significant data. The crowds speculating on the identity of the voice from heaven, came up with at least 2 possibilities. A variety of possibilities would arrest the attention of Hellenistic philosophers, surely. The ruler of this world’s being about to be driven out could appeal to them, too. Predicting the manner of one’s death might interest Hellenists, as well.

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