The theme of the death of the Lord Jesus Christ is predominant throughout all the Scripture. To grasp all that was involved in and accomplished by that death is far beyond any human ability. The death of Christ is the foundation of all God’s purpose, the basis of His dealings with mankind, and the central point of all the ages: “Once in the end of the world (on completion of the ages, Newberry margin) hath He appeared to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself.” Therefore summarizing the death of Christ in a few short statements would be very hard. Yet in John 12:23-33, as the Lord Jesus enters Jerusalem for the last time before His death, He makes some succinct statements about this awesome event, giving explanation of the death He would imminently accomplish; “This He said, signifying what death He should die” (v 33).
Lord’s Answer to the Greeks
It is important to notice that these verses are spoken by the Lord Jesus in answer to certain Greeks who had inquired concerning Him (vv 20-22). They were presumably proselytes who had embraced Judaism. They were present at Jerusalem to worship at the feast. They had no doubt heard of Jesus, and their desire expressed to Philip was “Sir, we would see Jesus.”
In what will be His final public discourse, the Lord gives this explanation of His death, and also clearly declares the judgment for those who reject Him (v 48). What a lesson this ought to be to us! If there is to be a final last word to sinful humanity, surely it would be to speak of the death of Christ for sinners, and to warn of the consequences of rejecting His sacrifice at Calvary.
If any person asks us about our Savior, what should we speak about? We could tell them of the moral perfection and beauty of His life, the great miracles He performed, the wonderful teaching He spoke. But the one thing we must speak of, to any who “would see Jesus,” would be His death, for that is the most vital thing about the Lord Jesus that any person must know. When we declare the gospel, we must never fail to present to sinners the truth of Christ’s death as their only means of salvation.
The Tabernacle in John’s Gospel
Others have noted that John’s Gospel has the Old Testament tabernacle in view. “The Word became flesh, and dwelt (tabernacled) among us” (John 1:14). Christ is the fulfillment of the tabernacle in the wilderness. In John 10:9, the Lord Jesus says, “I am the door.” Here is the one door of the tabernacle, the only entrance into the presence of God. From chapter 12 onward, it is as though John is taking us on a pathway through the distinct parts of the tabernacle.
In chapter 12, we are at the brazen altar where sacrificial offerings were made. In chapter 13, we move to the brazen laver. The Lord washing the disciples’ feet reminds us of our need for cleansing from defilement before progressing into the presence of a holy God.
In chapters 14-16, we have entered into the holy place, where there was the showbread and the lampstand. In the upper room ministry of Christ, we get provision and light for the wilderness journey, including revelation of the Father’s house, the truth of the Lord’s coming again, the giving and ministry of the Holy Spirit of God, the knowledge of Christ’s joy and peace. By chapter 17, in the sanctuary prayer of the Son of God to His Father, we have entered into the holy of holies. The Lord lifts up His eyes to the immediate presence of His Father.
Brazen Altar and the Offerings
At the brazen altar, priests offered the five major Levitical offerings to the Lord by fire. In these verses in John 12, the Lord shows how His death is the ultimate fulfillment of all these Levitical offerings. He clearly alludes to the burnt offering, which was all for the glory and honor of God: “For this cause came I unto this hour. Father, glorify Thy Name” (vv 27, 28).
In verse 24 the Lord uses “a corn of wheat” to picture His death. This links with the meal offering, which could be of the firstfruits, an offering of “green ears of corn dried by the fire, or corn beaten out of full ears” (Lev 2:14). Verses 31 and 32 relate to the peace offering. The Lord states that His death will remove all that stands as a barrier to peace between God and men: by His death the world and the devil are judged and all are drawn to Him.
Verse 27 brings the sin offering before us, as the Lord considers the great suffering He will endure as a sacrifice for sin: “Now is My soul troubled.” Verse 24 points to the trespass offering, in which the offerer restored the principal amount and added the fifth part (Lev 5:16). Thus the Lord foretells the great bounty of blessing that will be the outcome of His death: “If it die, it bringeth forth much fruit.” Truly, the Lord restored to God that which He took not away (Psa 69:4), and added the fifth part thereto.
Larger View of Christ’s Death
In the Lord’s statement of His death in this passage, He covers a number of great themes. On the day we were saved, we appreciated that “He died for me, to procure my salvation, in order that I would not be eternally lost.” But as we progress in the pathway of faith, we begin to appreciate Christ’s death in a wider context and to view it from the standpoint of divine Persons. Therefore, subsequent articles that will consider Christ’s death in relation to Himself, His Father, the world, the devil and all humanity should be profitable and interesting to all believers.