Most scholars lay out a chronology for Holy Week with Jesus entering Jerusalem on Sunday to the acclaim of thousands of his followers and fans. The palm branches are mentioned in Psalm 118, especially v. 27, and the donkey ("foal of an ass") in Zechariah 9. Jesus was deliberately taking on himself these prophetic symbols, as a message to the religious establishment, and any others who knew the words of the prophets that, as N.T. Wright has written, “the revolution has begun.” These actions made the religious leaders absolutely determined to kill Jesus.
I strongly encourage us all to read through the many meaning-filled events of this week, including Jesus’ crucifixion, in Matthew 21-27, Mark 11-15, Luke 19-23, and John 12-19. You could also review the story of Israel triumphantly leaving Egypt, in Exodus, especially Exodus 1-15. I don’t have room to teach about all the multitude of events there, but I will dwell briefly on John 12:20-33.
Greeks who were in Jerusalem for the Passover came to Philip (a Greek name), whom they may have known from his home in Bethsaida, seeking to meet Jesus. Were they wanting to hear him teach? They could have done that in the many public places where he hung out. Did they want to spend a moment with this famous person and maybe get his autograph? It appears from their request that they wanted a private audience, perhaps because they had questions that Jews would not ask, or perhaps as Gentiles they wanted affirmation that they also were accepted by this unusual rabbi. Philip relays the request to Jesus and awaits his answer.
Jesus gives a 'non-answer,' that I believe after study and meditation on this passage, speaks volumes (as do all the incidents in John’s gospel). He says “the hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified” and “unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.” Both of these refer to his upcoming crucifixion and resurrection. The first speaks of his glorification on the cross — a reversal of the shaming effect of that instrument of torture, and a prediction of the honor given him by his Father, and by believers in the millennia since.
The second saying was that by dying, like the grain of wheat, he would “bear much fruit,” that is, humanity would sprout into new life by his death. The nation of Israel had never been the outward “light to the nations” that God had intended, but a new iteration of Israel, the church, was about to change that. Jesus’ post-resurrection call to the apostles to preach around the known world expanded his ministry far beyond its current size and impact — including to Gentiles (people like you and me).
Once again, Jesus was thinking about us, not about his own comfort or fame. His ministry continues today through you and me as we love others, whoever and wherever they are, as he has loved us (John 13:34). He is still today “bearing much fruit” through us. Hallelujah!