Some Greeks asked to see Jesus, and in typical Johannine fashion, Jesus answered their request with a discourse. Jesus never mentioned the word “cross” or “death” in his answer, but it’s clear that’s what he’s talking about. The evangelist is explicit in John 12:33. He said this to show the kind of death he was going to die.
If we correlate Jesus’ answer, then, with the original request, here’s what we get. If you really want to see Jesus, look at the cross. If all you see is the miracle-working Jesus or the compassionate Jesus or the wise Jesus or the prophetic Jesus, then you’re missing something essential. If you want to see who Jesus really is, watch him die.
So what picture does John draw of Jesus’ death? Jesus’ death is …
- Soul troubling (John 12:27)
- God glorifying (John 12:28)
- Satan expelling (John 12:31)
- Fruit producing (John 12:24, probably referring to the multiplication of believers)
- Gentile including (John 12:32 – “all” includes the Greeks who asked to see him)
- Crisis (or judgment) creating (John 12:31)
- Example setting (John 12:25-26)
- Life enabling (John 12:25)
- Faith inducing (John 12:32, “draw” is not psychological attraction, cf. John 6:44)
- Purpose fulfilling (John 12:27)
One thing that John doesn’t say here, curiously, is “sin removing.” At least it’s not explicit.
To be sure, John identifies Jesus as the “the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29) and is careful to note the symbolism of Jesus’ death at Passover. For John, however, Jesus’ death had such a broad effect that it cannot be captured in the concept of “forgiveness of sins” alone.