John 12:20-26 — another law of the harvest — LeGrand Baker

The brief story John tells here seems disjointed and asks questions that on first reading it does not seem to answer. The questions are: Who were the Greeks and why did they come to the Jewish Passover? Why did they want to see Jesus? Why did their visit elicit Jesus’s prophecy and explanation about his own death and resurrection? And, was it still in the context of the imagery of the dying seed’s producing greater life that he said to his apostles, “he that hateth his life in this world shall keep it unto life eternal. If any man serve me, let him follow me; and where I am, there shall also my servant be.”

As is often so, John tells us just enough so we can understand, but not enough to make his message too obvious. This is the way he tells this story:

20 And there were certain Greeks among them that came up to worship at the feast [Passover]:
21 The same came therefore to Philip, which was of Bethsaida of Galilee, and desired him, saying, Sir, we would see Jesus.
22 Philip cometh and telleth Andrew: and again Andrew and Philip tell Jesus.
23 And Jesus answered them, saying, The hour is come, that the Son of man should be glorified.
24 Verily, verily, I say unto you, Except [unless] a corn of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abideth alone: but if it die, it bringeth forth much fruit.
25 He that loveth his life shall lose it; and he that hateth his life in this world shall keep it unto life eternal.
26 If any man serve me, let him follow me; and where I am, there shall also my servant be [life eternal]: if any man serve me, him will my Father honour.
27 Now is my soul troubled; and what shall I say? Father, save me from this hour: but for this cause came I unto this hour.
28 Father, glorify thy name. Then came there a voice from heaven, saying, I have both glorified it, and will glorify it again.
29 The people therefore, that stood by, and heard it, said that it thundered: others said, An angel spake to him.
30 Jesus answered and said, This voice came not because of me, but for your sakes.
31 Now is the judgment of this world: now shall the prince of this world be cast out.
32 And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto me.
33 This he said, signifying what death he should die (John 12:20-26).

The above questions suggest their own answers. These are the answers they suggest to me.

Who were the Greeks and why did they come to the Jewish Passover? Since the Law of Moses required all Israelites attend the Passover, and the Greeks “came up to worship at the feast,” we can safely say they were either Jews who lived in Greece or Greek converts to Judaism.

Why did they want to see Jesus? Curiosity might be the answer, but it does not fit Jesus’s response. Another reason might be that they had come to invite either Jesus himself or his representatives to come to Greece to teach the people there. If that were so, then that would account for the answer to the next question.

Why did their visit elicit Jesus’s prophecy and explanation of his own death and resurrection?
“Jesus answered them, saying, The hour is come, that the Son of man should be glorified. Verily, verily, I say unto you, Except a corn of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abideth alone: but if it die, it bringeth forth much fruit.”

In the scriptures, verse numbers and breaks that come in the middle of an idea often divide the parts of the same idea from themselves. If Jesus words are read without the verse numbers then it appears that the grain of wheat that dies to produce new life may be as much about the apostles as it is about Jesus.

And Jesus answered them, saying, The hour is come, that the Son of man should be glorified.
Verily, verily, I say unto you, Except a corn of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abideth alone: but if it die, it bringeth forth much fruit. He that loveth his life shall lose it; and he that hateth his life in this world shall keep it unto life eternal. If any man serve me, let him follow me; and where I am, there shall also my servant be: if any man serve me, him will my Father honour.

If that reading is coreect, then the next part might be understood differently also.

27 Now is my soul troubled; and what shall I say? Father, save me from this hour: but for this cause came I unto this hour.
28 Father, glorify thy name. Then came there a voice from heaven, saying, I have both glorified it, and will glorify it again
29 The people therefore, that stood by, and heard it, said that it thundered: others said, An angel spake to him.
30 Jesus answered and said, This voice came not because of me, but for your sakes.
31 Now is the judgment of this world: now shall the prince of this world be cast out.
32 And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto me.
33 This he said, signifying what death he should die.

The conclusion of Jesus mission on this earth was not his resurrection but the 40 day ministry during which he prepared his apostles for their world wide missionary work. {1} Later, Jesus would give his apostles this explanation:

16 Ye have not chosen me, but I have chosen you, and ordained you, that ye should go and bring forth fruit, and that your fruit should remain: that whatsoever ye shall ask of the Father in my name, he may give it you.
17 These things I command you, that ye love one another.
18 If the world hate you, ye know that it hated me before it hated you.
19 If ye were of the world, the world would love his own: but because ye are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world, therefore the world hateth you (John 15:16-19).

The analogy of a dying seed bringing forth new life was easily understood by the people in their agrarian society. It had been used by Isaiah as a promise that the dead who rise in the resurrection. Elsewhere I have identified Isaiah 61as a promise that the temple rites would be vicariously performed for the dead. That promise concludes with this imagery of the resurrection.

11 For as the earth bringeth forth her bud, and as the garden causeth the things that are sown in it to spring forth; so the Lord GOD will cause righteousness and praise to spring forth before all the nations ( Isaiah 61:11).

Paul also used this imagery to explain the resurrection.

34 Awake to righteousness, and sin not; for some have not the knowledge of God: I speak this to your shame.
35 But some man will say, How are the dead raised up? and with what body do they come?
36 Thou fool, that which thou sowest is not quickened, except it die:
37 And that which thou sowest, thou sowest not that body that shall be, but bare grain, it may chance of wheat, or of some other grain:
38 But God giveth it a body as it hath pleased him, and to every seed his own body.
39 All flesh is not the same flesh: but there is one kind of flesh of men, another flesh of beasts, another of fishes, and another of birds.
40 There are also celestial bodies, and bodies terrestrial: but the glory of the celestial is one, and the glory of the terrestrial is another.
41 There is one glory of the sun, and another glory of the moon, and another glory of the stars: for one star differeth from another star in glory.
42 So also is the resurrection of the dead. It is sown in corruption; it is raised in incorruption:
43 It is sown in dishonour; it is raised in glory: it is sown in weakness; it is raised in power:
44 It is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body. There is a natural body, and there is a spiritual body.
………………….
49 And as we have borne the image of the earthy, we shall also bear the image of the heavenly.
50 Now this I say, brethren, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God; neither doth corruption inherit incorruption.
51 Behold, I shew you a mystery; We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed,
52 In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump: for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed.
53 For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality.
54 So when this corruptible shall have put on incorruption, and this mortal shall have put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written, Death is swallowed up in victory.
55 O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory?
56 The sting of death is sin; and the strength of sin is the law (1 Corinthians 15:34-56).

Paul also used that imagery to say, as Amulek said, that this life is the time to prepare to meet God (Alma 34:32). It is true that people have an opportunity to repent and accept all priesthood and temple blessings in the post-mortal spirit world. However, repentance is still necessary because neither are our natures nor are our inclinations automatically changed simply because we make the transition through death to life in the pre-resurrection spirit world. Paul warned,

7 Be not deceived; God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap.
8 For he that soweth to his flesh shall of the flesh reap corruption; but he that soweth to the Spirit shall of the Spirit reap life everlasting.
9 And let us not be weary in well doing: for in due season we shall reap, if we faint not (Galatians 6:7-9).

It is still the story of the seed. The principles of creation do not change. The seeds of the plants still bring forth fruit after their own kind. About our own bodies, the Lord instructed the Prophet Joseph,

29 Ye who are [present tense] quickened by a portion of the celestial glory shall then receive of the same, even a fulness (D&C 88:29).

And an ancient prophet promised, “Sow to yourselves in righteousness, reap in mercy [hesed] (Hosea 10:12).”

Resurrecting of this earth, and of the people who live on it, will be the final act of our creation. The earth will be freed from the iniquity that has inhabited it and become the home of celestial beings. They will have a body that will give them power to experience a magnificent, unrestrained adventure.

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FOOTNOTE

{1} Matthew 24:12-15, 28:16-20; Mark 16:14-17; Luke 24:33-53; John 15:14-19, 21:1-25; Acts 1:1-10.

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