Unless a Seed Dies
John 12:12–16 (NIV) 12 The next day the great crowd that had come for the festival heard that Jesus was on his way to Jerusalem. 13 They took palm branches and went out to meet him, shouting, “Hosanna!” “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” “Blessed is the king of Israel!” 14 Jesus found a young donkey and sat on it, as it is written: 15 “Do not be afraid, Daughter Zion; see, your king is coming, seated on a donkey’s colt.” 16 At first his disciples did not understand all this. Only after Jesus was glorified did they realize that these things had been written about him and that these things had been done to him.
The branches from date palms (12:13) were abundant in Israel, and their use here is important for symbolic reasons. Palms had become a symbol of Jewish nationalism. When the temple was rededicated during the Maccabean era, palms were used in the celebration (1 Macc. 13:51; 2 Macc. 10:7). In the extrabiblical tradition, palms were used by Levi as a symbol of ruling power. During both major wars with Rome, reliefs of palms were stamped on the coins minted by the rebels… The cry of “Hosanna!” is an Aramaic phrase meaning “Save us now!” and it occurs in a number of the psalms (esp. Ps. 118:25). The following words (“Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord”) likewise continue to quote from Psalm 118:26 and announce a blessing on the pilgrim arriving in Jerusalem. But what comes next (“Blessed is the king of Israel!”) is not in the psalm and departs considerably from its intent. Suddenly we gain the impression that the crowds are greeting a national liberator. “Triumphal entries” were common in the ancient world. A conquering hero or king would return to his city, bringing the spoils of his battles and stories of conquest. This imagery would not be missed on any Greek-speaking audience on the eastern edge of the Roman empire. When John says that the crowd “went out to meet him,” this is a common expression used for cities meeting their triumphant, returning king. In a Jewish context, “Hosanna” was used to greet such incoming kings (2 Sam. 14:4; 2 Kings 6:26). In fact, Jewish culture understood these “royal welcomes” so well that it adopted such forms commonly. This scene is awash in Jewish political fervor. – Gary M. Burge
John 12:20–33 (NIV) 20 Now there were some Greeks among those who went up to worship at the festival. 21 They came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, with a request. “Sir,” they said, “we would like to see Jesus.” 22 Philip went to tell Andrew; Andrew and Philip in turn told Jesus. 23 Jesus replied, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. 24 Very truly I tell you, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds. 25 Anyone who loves their life will lose it, while anyone who hates their life in this world will keep it for eternal life. 26 Whoever serves me must follow me; and where I am, my servant also will be. My Father will honor the one who serves me. 27 “Now my soul is troubled, and what shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’? No, it was for this very reason I came to this hour. 28 Father, glorify your name!” Then a voice came from heaven, “I have glorified it, and will glorify it again.” 29 The crowd that was there and heard it said it had thundered; others said an angel had spoken to him. 30 Jesus said, “This voice was for your benefit, not mine. 31 Now is the time for judgment on this world; now the prince of this world will be driven out. 32 And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” 33 He said this to show the kind of death he was going to die.
The image of a seed dying in order to produce fruit was used in lots of different ways… Paul develops the image with respect to the resurrection (1 Cor. 15:36–38); the principle of multiplied fruitfulness crops up in several parables (e.g.Mk. 4:3–9, 26–29, 31–32; Mt. 13:24–30)… But if the principle modelled by the seed–that death is the necessary condition for the generation of life–is peculiarly applicable to Jesus, in a slightly different way it is properly applied to all of Jesus’ followers. As 1 Peter 2:21ff. rapidly moves from the unique and redemptive sacrifice of Christ to its exemplary significance for Jesus’ followers, so the movement of thought in this passage runs from Jesus’ uniquely fruitful death (the death of one seed producing many living seeds) to the mandated death of Jesus’ followers as the necessary condition of their own life. The person who loves his life will lose it: it could not be otherwise, for to love one’s life is a fundamental denial of God’s sovereignty, of God’s rights, and a brazen elevation of self to the apogee of one’s perception, and therefore an idolatrous focus on self, which is the heart of all sin. Such a person loses his life, i.e. causes his own perdition. By contrast, the one who hates his life will keep it for eternal life (cf. Mk. 8:35 par.–which also follows a passion prediction). This person denies himself, or, to use another of Jesus’ metaphors, takes up his cross daily (Mk. 8:34 par.), i.e. he chooses not to pander to self-interest but at the deepest level of his being declines to make himself the focus of his interest and perception, thereby dying. – D. A Carson.