Now among those who went up to worship at the feast were some Greeks. So these came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, and asked him, “Sir, we wish to see Jesus.” Philip went and told Andrew; Andrew and Philip went and told Jesus. And Jesus answered them, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life. If anyone serves me, he must follow me; and where I am, there will my servant be also. If anyone serves me, the Father will honor him.
(John 12:20-26 ESV)
People are out there who want to see Jesus. But the problem here is one of politics. There were Greeks at the feast of the Passover? Whether they had come to celebrate Passover with the Jews is questionable to me. I think what John means is that there were Greeks who had come to Jerusalem hoping to see Jesus. I think they knew perfectly well it was a real long shot as to whether or not they would get an audience though. Still, these Greeks had come from someplace far to the north, though not necessarily Greece. To call someone a Greek was to say they had a certain cultural perspective.
This passage is probably here in John’s text to back up what he just claimed the Pharisees said after watching the Triumphal Entry on Palm Sunday, “the whole world has gone after him.” Well… here is an example.
So these Greeks have stepped seriously out of their cultural comfort zone and are visiting Jerusalem, not at any ordinary time of the year, but at Passover. Passover was one of three great feasts when tens of thousands of Jews swelled the city to be near the Temple. These Greeks were very politically and culturally astute however. They went and sought out Philip, who was from Bethsaida, a little berg that was probably a neighboring town to Capernaum, up on the northern end of the Sea of Galilee, where Jesus conducted most of his earthly ministry.
The thing to know about Bethsaida is that it was in the region called Galilee of the Gentiles, an area that was a great cultural melting pot, though dominantly Jewish. They strategically chose to ask the person they felt would be most sympathetic to their concern. Philip must have been particularly Greek in his thinking or schooling, because back in John 1:40 when Jesus first proposes going on mission into Galilee, he goes and finds Philip first. This was the guy with the connections to get to know Greeks.
Once the connection with Philip was made, Philip went and got hold of Andrew, who was Peter’s brother. I think we can assume that Andrew spoke to Peter, who was one of Jesus’ inner circle of three and “had Jesus’ ear,” and that is how, in the middle of Passover week in the midst of the confusion and crush of people and on the heals of the riot that was the Triumphal Entry, some Greeks got a chance to speak with Jesus for a few minutes.
We never do find out what Jesus said to these Greeks. But his answer to Philip and Andrew is not disconnected from the rest of the text. His reply that “My hour has come” is his way of saying, “Okay, there are Greeks involved in this thing. Now it is clear that this isn’t just about national Israel. Once I am raised from the dead the whole world will hear. These Greeks are here, and they will answer the call of discipleship, die to self, and proclaim the gospel.” More than that, after Jesus rose from the dead it should have been obvious to the early church that the Gentiles were to be included in salvation. Jesus ends by saying, “If anyone serves me, the Father will honor him.” Well, here they were: Greeks in the middle of Jerusalem at Passover. I guess that qualifies as “anyone.”
You and I are also “anyone.” Does Jesus have to go to great lengths and lobby among your friends in order to get time with you? Or will you go to great lengths, at great personal cost, and at risk of being ridiculed both by your friends and by the culture around you to go out and find someone who will take you to see Jesus?