Learn from a study of John 12:27-36 and reflect on the reasons why Jesus ministered to non-Jews.
"Six days before the Passover" (John 12:1)-the Passover which was to claim the Lamb of God as the sacrifice for sinners-Jesus paid a visit to Bethany once again. There He enjoyed supper with His close friends-the last really enjoyable meal He was to have.
Mary of Bethany anointed Jesus' feet, much to the disgust of Judas who saw not ointment but shekels flowing out of the container over Jesus' feet (12:4-6). (Notice that Mary is at the feet of Jesus again, just as she always is when we see her in the New Testament.) The rebuke of our Lord (v. 7) silenced Judas, but the greedy thoughts of an unregenerate heart were still there.
The next day (five days before the Passover) the triumphal entry into Jerusalem took place on what is traditionally called "Palm Sunday."
Everyone was in a state of excitement or agitation. The disciples-delirious for joy; the religious leaders-furious to the point of murder; the general population-thrilled with anticipation. At such a moment, a day or two after the triumphal entry certain Greeks came, requesting an interview with Jesus.
When Jesus first sent out His disciples, He had specifically instructed them, "Go not into the way of the Gentiles, and into any city of the Samaritans enter ye not: but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel" (Matt. 10:5-6).
This was not because of any racial bigotry on our Saviour's part. It was simply that He had come to offer Himself to His people Israel as a King, in accordance with Old Testament prophecies. He knew they would reject Him on the terms He offered, but legally, this offer had to be made to Israel.
It is true that periodically Jesus ministered to non-Jews. The Syrophoenician woman was a case in point (see Mark 7:26) but only after she stopped calling Him "Son of David" and addressed Him as "Lord." His conversation with the Samaritan woman at Jacob's well was another. But He was careful to say to her, "Salvation is of the Jews" (John 4:22). These incidents had been few, and were merely prophetic examples of universal grace.
But now, a new factor appeared on the horizon. Some Greeks came to Jerusalem to observe the Passover ceremonies. They were Gentiles, but perhaps Gentiles who had become dissatisfied with the paganism of their own idolatrous religion and were seeking solace in Judaism.
They came to Philip, possibly because he had a Greek name (Philhippos, "lover of horses"), and they may have felt he might be more sympathetic to their request. Understand, most Jews would look with disdain upon a Gentile and call him a goy, the lowest form of contempt. These men probably realized this and felt that if anyone would listen to them, Philip might. Then, too, it is possible that they may have known Philip from his home in Bethsaida.
Observing that they were Greeks, Philip was not sure just how Jesus would receive this request for an interview (see v. 21). So he asked Andrew (also a native of Bethsaida). He didn't know what to do either, so both of them approached Jesus with the news that some Gentiles were requesting an opportunity to talk to Him.
Our Lord recognized in the coming of these Greeks a certain divine sign. Up to that moment He had been insisting that His "hour had not yet come" (John 2:4; 7:30; 8:20). But now, the picture changed. The sudden, unexpected appearance of these inquirers was received as from the Father. His hour had now arrived!
Verse 24 suggests, in metaphorical language, the Lord's own death and its effectiveness. He was the grain of wheat, about to fall to the ground in death and burial. But because of His death, multitudes of every tongue and nation would come forth to eternal life in Him, as fruit. How true this has been as we survey the pages of church history. Wherever the message of Christ's atoning death has gone, it has borne fruit in abundance. This is the very heart of the Christian gospel.
- Does this teach us that Jesus did not have an interest in preaching to Gentiles? Explain.
- If the gospel has “borne fruit of abundance” in history, what does this teach us about missions or evangelism?