Firstfruits of an Abundant Harvest

“And Jesus answered them, saying, The hour is come, that the Son of man should be glorified. 

Verily, verily, I say unto you, Except a corn of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abideth alone: but if it die, it bringeth forth much fruit.” 

John 12:23, 24

“And there were certain Greeks. . . .” 

The great feast of the Passover was but a few days away. On foot, by boat, on the backs of donkeys, from nearly every corner of the civilized world, came thousands upon thousands of the faithful, Jews and proselytes, coming up to the Holy City to participate in the celebration. A conservative estimate has placed as many. as one hundred fifty thousand visitors in Jerusalem for this important event. Parthians, and Medes, and Elamites, and the dwellers in Mesopotamia, and in Judea, and Cappadocia, in Pontus, and Asia, Phrygia, and Pamphylia, in Egypt, and in the parts of Libya about Cyrene, and strangers of Rome, Jews and proselytes, Cretes and Arabians were all present, drawn to Jerusalem by the determinate council and foreknowledge of God. They came to Jerusalem for the Passover, and they came to Jerusalem to see. this Jesus of Nazareth, for word of Him had spread to the far reaches of Jewry. It was common knowledge that this Man went about teaching and preaching, sealing His testimony with signs and wonders such as the prophets before Him had never been able to do. Many cherished the secret hope that He might be persuaded to become a revolutionist to deliver them from the hated yoke of the Roman government. The raising of Lazarus particularly, and the triumphal entry into Jerusalem had aroused the enthusiasm of the multitudes to a fever pitch. Were the rulers possibly mistaken in branding this Man as a dangerous character, worthy of imprisonment and death? The smallest encouragement from Jesus would have supplied Him with an army and an enthusiastic following, ready to crown Him as their king. Satan was hissing once more, “Bow down to me, and I will give you all the kingdoms of the world; or else . . . .” 

Among the milling throng that crowded into the outer court of the temple and into the court of the Gentiles were also certain Greeks who faithfully attended this annual feast. They had given up their vain idols to worship Jehovah. Though we do not know their names, nor even how many there were, Scripture focuses our attention upon them, and that with a purpose. 

It is possible that these Greeks came from Decapolis, a region near Galilee, where many Greeks had made their home. That would account for the fact that they approached Philip, who was from Bethsaida of Galilee. They say to him, “Sir, we would see Jesus.” Philip realized that this request was not from idle curiosity. It was not their vain ambition to spot a celebrity, so that they could tell the folks at home that they had feasted their eyes on the renowned Jesus of Nazareth. These Greeks knew about Jesus. They may have heard Him preach, and may have witnessed some of His miracles in the environs of Galilee. They may have been present in Jerusalem to witness the triumphal entry and the cleansing of the temple. They felt a strong urge to meet Him, to converse with Him. To these Greeks Jesus was the promised Messiah, the only hope of salvation. Likely He was teaching at this moment in the outer court, and they, not being allowed there, hoped that Philip could persuade Jesus to arrange an interview with them. At the very moment when Jesus’ own people, the Jews, were rejecting Him, these Greeks sought Him. 

Their request places Philip in a quandary. Jesus on occasion had told the disciples that He was not sent to any others than to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. On the other hand, He had also spoken of other sheep, not of this fold, which also He must gather into the fold to make His flock complete. Could Jesus have had in mind these deeply concerned Greeks? Yet how would the chief priests and rulers react if Jesus should add insult to injury by consorting with Gentiles in the temple? Philip presents his problem to Andrew, who may have been his close companion, and together they approach Jesus with the request

“The hour is come.” 

This request of the Greeks is a clear sign to Jesus that His hour is come. Jesus is visibly impressed. His grief-stricken face lights up with joyful anticipation. The longing of His soul is satisfied with a ray of hope that cheers the present gloom. Heaven itself sent these Greeks to give Him a foretaste of the glory that awaited Him. Like Rahab, the harlot from Jericho, like Ruth, the Moabite, like the Ninevites who repented at the preaching of Jonah, like the wisemen who were led to His cradle by a star, when He was but a Babe, so also these Greeks are the promise of the better things to come. Japheth is getting eager to move into the tents of Shem. 

The hour. Jesus had often spoken of His hour. It had always been the anticipated hour—not yet, but always approaching, always sure to come. Now the hour had arrived. Amazing hour! Hour of great conflict; dreaded, yet desired; bitterly painful, yet blessed; filled with deepest shame, and yet with highest glory. This hour included all the suffering of the cross and the glory that followed. Soon Jesus prays, “Father, the hour is come: glorify Thy Son, that Thy Son may glorify Thee.” Later, standing before Caiaphas He will testify, “Hereafter shall ye see the Son of man sitting at the right hand of power, and coming with the clouds of heaven.” After His resurrection our Lord will tell the men of Emmaus: “Ought not the Christ to have suffered these things, and to enter into His glory?”

“Except a corn of wheat fall into the ground and die . . . .” 

What good does a kernel of grain do lying dormant in a granary? The kernel attains its real purpose when it is planted, sprouts into a plant, and brings forth fruit. But to produce fruit it must necessarily die; and that according to divine appointment. 

The comparison is obvious. Our Lord sees Himself as that grain of wheat that must die, be buried in the earth, in order to arise again in newness of life. Eternally He is chosen of God as the Firstborn among many brethren, the Firstborn from the dead, the Firstborn of an entirely new creation. He is appointed of God to be the Firstfruits of an abundant harvest, the entire church of the redeemed that eternally rejoices before the throne. The Seed and the Harvest are one, for God makes them one. 

It is for that reason that the Son of God became Son of man. He took His flesh from the virgin Mary, that He might become flesh of our flesh, bone of our bone, yet without sin. He had to enter into our world of sin and death, had to become like us, burdened with the debt of our sin, in order to pay our debt and deliver us from it. As the Captain of our salvation He had to go through death and the grave to lead many sons into heavenly glory. He had to be made perfect through suffering. He had to bear the burden of God’s wrath and deliver Himself and us from it. Mere suffering would never do. Suffering without complaint was not sufficient. He had to suffer willingly, dying every day. Deliberately He had to take upon Himself the burden of suffering. Unflinchingly He had to bear it, even as the load grew heavier and the way steeper. Repeatedly the opportunity offered itself to shed that burden. Friend and foe urged Him to have mercy on Himself, to shake off the weary load. Yet He carried on in obedience to the Father Who sent Him. No veil hid the future from Him. He knew that He, the Son, Who enjoyed intimate, covenant fellowship with His Father, would be rejected, cast out in His innocence, forsaken, panting under the torrents of divine wrath that would sweep over His soul. He must suffer spiritual death; and then, after He was delivered from that, give His body unto death and the grave. For Him the planting of the seed in the earth involved a willing surrender unto death in love, love to Father, love for His people, love that would cling to Father in longing, crying out of hell, “My God.” 

Greater love has no man than this, that he lays down his life for his friends. My Savior laid down His life for me, even for me, when I was still His enemy. 

He loved us then. He loves us still. 

The kernel of wheat must fall into the earth and die. How well our Lord Himself was aware of that. There is no other name under heaven whereby we can be saved. There is no other way of salvation than that the Captain of our salvation passes through death into life to lead His many sons into glory. The prophet Isaiah had foretold that God would make His soul an offering for sin; yet through this offering He would see His seed. God had promised to prolong His days into endless eternity, and the pleasure of the Lord would prosper at His hand. (Isaiah 53:10

Triumphantly we cry: “But now is Christ risen from the dead, and is become the Firstfruits of those who sleep.” (I Cor. 15:20)

As the coming of the wisemen served as a sign of Christ’s birth, so the coming of the Greeks was a harbinger of His death. 

To us it would appear as if they had arrived a bit early. Scripture does not inform us whether Jesus spoke with them or not. One would be inclined to interpret the answer of Jesus to Philip to mean: Tell these Greeks that all is well, but they must be patient a little longer. To see Jesus now would be but to see the Man of Sorrows, the Suffering Servant, the Seed that must still be planted in the earth. How would they ever be able to understand that He is the Savior, made perfect through death, especially if His own intimates disciples did not understand. Yet their inquiry is eagerly received, for it is the signal from heaven that the hour is come when God will glorify Himself by taking His obedient Servant into glory. 

Were these Greeks still present in Jerusalem on Friday? Were they filled with fear and wonder? Were they still present on the morning of the resurrection? Likely they were. Likely they also heard the report of the wonder that had taken place in Joseph’s garden. The Seed had sprouted. May we assume that they were back in Jerusalem on Pentecost to hear the 120 tell in many languages the great things that God had done for them on the cross, by the resurrection, and through the ascension of Christ to heaven? Were they included among those who heard Peter’s marvelous sermon? Were they among the three thousand that were added to the church that day? 

We can only surmise. This is certain, the risen Christ did implant His life in their hearts, so that they were born again, not of corruptible, but of incorruptible Seed, by the Word of God which lives and abides forever. They are now with the saints before the throne. Their bodies are sown in the earth, awaiting the glorious Harvest when Christ returns. They would see Jesus in the flesh; they now see Him face to face to reflect His glory, world without end. 

Jesus’ natural body was sown in corruption; it is raised in incorruption. Our natural body must also be sown in corruption, to be raised in incorruption. His body was sown in dishonor, and is raised in power. Our vile bodies must also be sown in dishonor to be changed into the likeness of His glorious body, by that power whereby He subdues all things to Himself. 

O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory? 

Christ is risen! With Him we rise, with Him to reign, that to our God may be the glory forever and ever!