Prior to the coming of Christ, the path of redemption back to Eden was quite demanding. Even for Israel, it was pretty tough. It usually meant studying the Covenant of Moses and seeking God’s face until the light dawned inside the soul and people were able to seize that Flaming Sword of divine justice and turn it on their fleshly self nature. No one was discouraged from studying the Covenant, but as you might expect, peasants often didn’t get the chance. One purpose of the synagogue system was to place more copies of the Scripture among the people.
But as we all know, once the Pharisees arose with their Hellenized materialism, they erected barriers to keep the common folks out. Peasants seldom went to synagogue because the Pharisees treated them with contempt, and the few Sadducees they encountered were entirely too secular minded and cynical. Nothing in the system appealed to those who were moved in their hearts to seek God. This is why Jesus made so much of having the gospel preached to the poor. Those who were spiritually awakened could find in His teaching the very drawing power of the Lord. The miracles were a signal they could understand.
And so our passage opens with even Gentiles seeking to meet this teacher who performed miracles. No doubt they also knew He was not popular with Jewish leadership, so this probably added to their curiosity. When the disciples told Jesus these Gentiles wanted to meet Him, Jesus noted that is about that point in His ministry when His glory would shine brightest.
However, that didn’t mean what His disciples thought it meant. His Kingdom was not of this world, and He was going to be a heavenly Messiah. So He talked about how spiritual fruit came only from death of the flesh. People determined to hang onto this fallen human existence didn’t know what they were missing. It would cost them eternity. The only thing worth our attention in this life is how we can bring glory to God, and then go home to our eternal reward. That’s where Christ was going to lead His followers.
John uses a Greek word that means Jesus was saying His fleshly mind was troubled by the prospect of dying. Should He pray to escape this awful fate, when it was precisely why He came to live among us? So He called out in firm assertion over His flesh: “Father, glorify Your name!”
The thundering response from Heaven was that, as God had done so in the past, He would continue doing just that. We have no other purpose in living, and if we want to understand what God is doing, we need to focus on His glory at any price. But how could anyone explain hearing the voice of God speaking in human hearing?
Jesus said it was not Him that needed to hear that voice; He already knew the score. It came for the sake of those standing near Him. Then He said something that most people just do not understand. Granted, it was symbolism, but it’s cryptic only to those who try to read their Western minds back into the text. In His death, Jesus was passing sentence on the world system. It was time to pull the plug on trying to create a human kingdom that could, as a whole, embrace that Flaming Sword. The nation of Israel was incapable of doing it.
It was time for the Messiah come and move the location and identity of the Kingdom into Heaven. It was time to close down the Covenant of Moses and transfer all of the promises and blessings of shalom into a country far, far away. It was time to establish the Kingdom in a place where Satan (“Prince of this World”) was not free to roam about and influence things. It didn’t mean Satan was being kicked out of this world, but that he was forced to release the true children of Heaven from his grasp.
Meanwhile, Jesus was going to be raised up into the sky. It was a paradox. The term typically was a figure of speech, meaning someone being exalted. He said His exaltation would take Him from this world. But in this case, it was also the literal raising of His body up on a cross. The Cross would be His crowning moment. John notes that this was a prophecy of how He would die, though we can be sure almost nobody caught onto that at the moment. Still, His paradoxical exaltation on the Cross would constitute a call to all humanity, not just Israel, to become citizens of His new Kingdom.
That was what Israel was supposed to accomplish in the first place, but they kept getting farther and farther from the mission. The people listening to this caught onto one point: Jesus was not staying on the earth to live among them. They had been falsely taught that the Covenant meant the Messiah would be an earthly king who would live forever. That was just one little element of a whole lore of false Messianic Expectations the Pharisees had taught. The folks listening were so confused, they asked if there was some other Jesus who was going to leave the earth.
His cryptic answer was meant to lodge in the hearts of those committed to His teaching, but it would not make sense to their fleshly minds, and would likely be forgotten by those who had no faith. It was a treasure to be put away until some future day when the Holy Spirit would call it back into their conscious awareness and give it meaning. Jesus warned them that the light of His presence would not shine much longer. Let them make the most of it, because when He was gone, those without faith would be blinded by the darkness.
They would have no clue what the mission was, just like most of Israel, the leadership in particular. He was calling for them to pay attention and absorb His teaching so that, once He was gone from the earth, He could come to life in their hearts.