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Gems in the Gospel of John

Part 52 – John 12: 23

The Glory of the Son

Very soon Jesus will die. So he now says some things about the meaning of his death. He says them in conversation with some people described as Greeks, therefore probably Gentile God worshippers. This is interesting because it is the first place in this Gospel where there is a clear reference to the non-Jewish world.

There is a big problem here. Three main ideas about the meaning of his death have been widely accepted in the World-wide church through the centuries. They are, in ascending order of importance and acceptance: 1) he died to set us an example of consecration and love; 2) in his death he conquered Satan, paying the ransom for all mankind (but not to Satan – the recipient of the ransom is never specified), and established his reign over all the earth; 3) he died as the supreme sacrifice for the sin of all those who would accept him. In fact to some degree all these are true and part of what he accomplished on the Cross, as can be clearly established by reference to different parts of the New Testament. The trouble is that none of them is clearly in view in this Gospel. We do see that he is an example to us, though how far we are able to imitate him is open to question; he does show his ability to overrule the work of the devil in many of the actions he took, but all on a local scale rather than a world wide one; the idea of sacrifice does not appear at all anywhere in John’s story.

What does Jesus himself say here then about his death? There is the striking metaphor of the seed that dies and thus multiplies; there is the challenge to all who would serve him to follow him and in doing so to sit loose to any desire for life in this world in order to concentrate on the better and deeper eternal life of the spirit; there is the remarkable statement that he would draw all people to himself when he was lifted up on the Cross. What happens when we put all those things together and try to arrive at one statement to add to the three above?

I think this: Jesus died to attract to himself a vast number of people, to create a fellowship, which we now call the church. Why he had to die to do that is less than obvious. His death on the Cross has given us this one great symbol: the Cross, towering above and over all subsequent human history, and still going strong. His death has given us him, in that by taking to himself the one inevitable and final act of all humanity, death, he has made himself available to us all. We are now able to walk in step with him – as we have seen several times on our way through this Gospel he allowed a strange collection of very varied people to do just that. So the word ‘reconciliation’ captures much of what has lain behind most of the incidents John recorded. The double phrase ‘restored relationship’ is another possibility to express John’s view of what Jesus achieved. John chose these things from all the many that Jesus said about himself. This is the glory of Jesus.

To remember it clearly let’s stick with that simple phrase ‘walk in step with Jesus’ or even ‘walk hand-in-hand with Jesus’ as our summary of what we have been enabled to do through the death of our Lord on the Cross.

And that comes down to a very simple personal challenge for each one of us.

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