John 12:20-50

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These small group studies of John contain outlines, cross-references, Bible study discussion questions, and applications.  Visit our library of inductive Bible studies for more in depth inductive studies on this and other books of the Bible you can use in your small group.

John 12:20-50 Inductive Bible Study

Outline-

I. Jesus teaches on humility and self-sacrifice (20-26)

II. The Father speaks from heaven (27-30)

III. Jesus discusses His coming death (31-36)

IV. The people reject Him (37-43)

Jesus discusses the results of belief and unbelief.

Questions 

I. Jesus teaches on humility and self-sacrifice (20-26)

Why would Greeks celebrate the feast and go to worship?

Explain Jesus’ response in light of the fact that they were coming to tell Him the Greeks wanted to talk to Him.

What is the meaning of the parable in verse 24? How is it connected, if at all, to verse 23?

What is the world’s teaching on how to be successful? What character qualities does the world look for in a successful person?

How is this the same or different from the character qualities that a successful person in God’s eyes must have?

Is verse 25 teaching suicide? Should we not value our own lives?

Describe what a person looks like or does who loves his own life.

Describe what a person looks like or does who “hates his life”.

What will the servant of Christ do? Is it possible to serve Christ, but do it “our own way”?

What will the results be of dying, hating our life, serving Christ, and following Him?

II. The Father speaks from heaven (27-30)

Why was Jesus troubled? Why was He troubled about His coming death? Isn’t He God?

What does the crowds reactions in verse 29 tell us about the condition of their hearts?

What does Jesus mean in verse 30? How was this voice for their sakes?

What judgment was about to come?

III. The Father speaks from heaven (27-30)

Why did the crowd question Jesus that He would die? Is their interpretation accurate?

IV. The people reject Him (37-43)

Why were the people not believing?

Does God harden people’s hearts?

Why would He harden the hearts of the people of Israel? Doesn’t He want to save them?

If He did harden their hearts, how come in verse 42 some people were believing?

Does this mean they aren’t responsible?

Why wouldn’t the leaders confess Jesus? What does this tell us about their faith?

Why do many people and leaders today refuse to take a stand on something?

Do you like the approval of men?

Which do you like more, the approval of God or man?

What concept does Jesus highlight through this section of verses?

Cross-references –

Acts 17-4 – There was a group of God-fearing Greeks. Salvation was always available to everyone.

Romans 8:13 – Putting to death the deeds of the flesh.

2 Corinthians 6:9 – Dying yet living. The paradox.

Galatians 5:24-25 – Those belonging to Christ have crucified the flesh with its evil passions.

Luke 9:24-25 – Whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for Jesus will save it.

John 3:14 – The Son of man must be “lifted up”.

Daniel 7:14 – The coming Messiah’s kingdom is an everlasting one.

Isaiah 53:1, Isaiah 6:10 – Verses in the Old Testament that John quotes here.

Isaiah 6:10-13 – God planned to punish them for their sin.

Romans 10:16-11:11 – Further explanation about God hardening Israel’s heart.

Exodus 7:13, 22, 8:15 (Pharaoh hardened his own heart), 19, 32 (Pharaoh hardened his own heart), 9:7, 12 (first time it says the Lord hardened his heart), 34, 35, 10:1 (God hardened it), 20 (God hardened it), 27 (God hardened it), 11:10 (God hardened it)

Matthew 10:28 – Fear God who can cast us into hell.

Colossians 3:23-24 – Please the Lord rather than men and we will receive the reward from Him.

Teaching Points-

20-26

Acts 17:4 – There was a group of God-fearing Greeks. Salvation was always available to everyone.

Romans 8:13 – Putting to death the deeds of the flesh.

2 Corinthians 6:9 – Dying yet living. The paradox.

Galatians 5:24-25 – Those belonging to Christ have crucified the flesh with its evil passions.

Luke 9:24-25 – Whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for Jesus will save it.

Why would Greeks celebrate the feast and go to worship?

Explain Jesus’ response in light of the fact that they were coming to tell Him the Greeks wanted to talk to Him.

What is the meaning of the parable in verse 24? How is it connected, if at all, to verse 23?

What is the world’s teaching on how to be successful? What character qualities does the world look for in a successful person?

How is this the same or different from the character qualities that a successful person in God’s eyes must have?

Is verse 25 teaching suicide? Should we not value our own lives?

Describe what a person looks like or does who loves his own life.

Describe what a person looks like or does who “hates his life”.

What will the servant of Christ do? Is it possible to serve Christ, but do it “our own way”?

What will the results be of dying, hating our life, serving Christ, and following Him?

There were some God-fearing Greeks. Acts 17:4. These were Greeks who knew about the true God and believed in Him. Several of these Greeks are mentioned in the gospels and also in Acts. While in the Old Testament and early New Testament God worked primarily through the people of Israel, salvation wasn’t limited to Israel. Anyone could be saved from any nation. Just as the Jewish leaders were planning to kill Jesus, Gentiles were coming wanting to hear about Him, showing their interest.

Philip first went and told Andrew since he was part of the inner-circle. This passage doesn’t tell us if Jesus met with the Greeks or not. It seems that Jesus’ answer was intended to show the disciples the urgency of time. The final hour for His purpose to be accomplished was upon Him. His answer could be saying He couldn’t meet with them because of the importance of what He was about to do, or it could be saying to “hurry up” because of the importance of what He was about to do.

The parable in verse 24 uses a seed for example. I am not an expert on farming, but apparently death (either of the vegetable or fruit) is a necessary step in the process of growth. When a kernel of wheat falls to the ground it first must die. After it dies the seed can then reproduce and bear fruit. Jesus is giving this parable to explain His death. In order to accomplish the work of salvation He must die. It is a necessary part of the process. There is no other way. And there are no shortcuts. Only His death will bring about salvation.

The Jews wanted a powerful, political Savior who would launch a brilliant campaign to free them from the Romans. But instead, Jesus said He would die.

This spiritual truth isn’t only applicable to Jesus and His death. It is applicable to us as well. True success will only come if we die to self. The world teaches that a successful person is someone who is assertive. This is probably the primary quality of a successful person according to public opinion, at least in the west. Here are some quotes about assertiveness.

“It is the emotional ability to assert your rights, to express yourself and to stand up for yourself and what you believe in.”

“Assertiveness is acting in your own best interest.”

“Successful entrepreneurs depend on being assertive.”

People think that to be successful a person needs to defend their rights, do what is in their best interests, stand up for themselves, push others aside in their ambition, and believe in themselves. This may bring success in the world, but all of this success is temporary and will be lost in the end.

As a believer, we must not fall into the trap of thinking like the world. We must not be selfish and love ourselves above everything else. We shouldn’t go through life only thinking about #1. In verse 25 we learn that we must hate our life. What does this mean? Of course it is not teaching suicide or inflicting pain on your body. Like the command to hate our parents it is only comparative. We must hate ourselves in comparison to the amount we love others. That means we must consider others to be more valuable than ourselves. We must hate ourselves in comparison to loving God. That means we must love God much more than we love ourselves. If we love God more than ourselves, we will be willing to obey His commands, even if it robs us of some pleasure. Read and discuss the cross-references.

Do you love your life? When faced with a choice, either you can make somebody else happy or you can be happy, what will you choose? Do you generally put other’s needs before your own, or do you generally serve yourself first?

Jesus is God, and He sacrificed Himself for others’ needs. As His followers we must do the same. If we go through life selfishly focusing on building up treasure for ourselves, buying a bigger house, building security for our retirement, and treating ourselves with all kinds of pleasures we will in a sense gain our life. It will be the kind of life that person is looking for. But in the end it will disappoint. The seeker of this kind of life will discover it holds no joy. The wise investor will instead give up a self-centered life and instead be God-centered and other-centered. We will gain rewards in heaven, a deep, satisfying relationship with God, and a joyful life.

Jim Elliot said, “he is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.”

Do you want to serve God with your life? If we want to serve God, we must follow Him. You can’t serve God and follow your own lifestyle at the same time. It’s impossible. To serve God you must give up your own way of life and follow His way of life for you.

So I ask you now. Are you willing to die to self? If serving God, means sacrificing your dream to get a P.H.D. and be a super-doctor are you willing to? If it means giving up a beautiful girl, but one who doesn’t believe in God, are you willing to? If it means giving up a career to move to Mongolia or Congo to work for God, are you willing to? If it means you don’t turn to bribes and under-the-table strategy to gain a promotion, and your co-worker gains it instead are you willing to let him? If it means letting your friend choose the movie to watch or the television station will you let him? If it brings your parents’ anger at your decision to “waste time” with God, will you serve Him anyway?

Do you want to be successful? Do you want to bear fruit? If so, you must die. That is the ONLY way you can gain what you want. God designed a genius system to encourage us to be humble and dependent on Him and selfless. His system often requires us to give up the very thing we want most, because it’s the only way we will get it in the end.

What will happen to us if we “throw away our life” in order to follow God? Verse 26 says that the Father will honor Him. So you don’t need to worry that you will become a beggar on the street. God will take care of you. All of us will say that we believe that. But faith is action. If you believe it, do it.

27-30

Why was Jesus troubled? Why was He troubled about His coming death? Isn’t He God?

What does the crowds reactions in verse 29 tell us about the condition of their hearts?

What does Jesus mean in verse 30? How was this voice for their sakes?

What judgment was about to come?

The fact that Jesus was troubled shows His human nature. His death would bring very real pain and very real separation from God. It wasn’t something He looked forward to. It troubled Him deeply. Yet although He was troubled and it would be painful He knew it had to be done. He didn’t let these feelings stop Him from fulfilling His purpose.

To me this is encouraging. If Jesus didn’t have a human nature and faced death on the cross only as God, in a way it would kind of minimize what He did. After all, shouldn’t God be able to go through that with no problems! But because He did also as human it should inspire us to do what’s right no matter what the consequences. If we are facing persecution it’s natural to be troubled about it. We don’t need to fly gaily into persecution welcoming the pain and torment and celebrating it with a kind of crazy zeal. Yet neither should we let fear of personal suffering keep us from doing what’s right.

God’s voice came out of heaven. Jesus said it was for the crowd’s sake. God spoke out loud in yet another instance of doing a miracle that should have convinced people to believe in Him. Yet instead of believing, many said that the voice was just thunder. People will find any excuse not to believe in God. They are already prejudiced against God and have already assumed He doesn’t exist or that if He does exist He is far away and doesn’t care about the things going on in the world. Some did recognize the voice as supernatural. Yet they thought it was an angel. Their theology wasn’t very good since Jesus called Him “Father” and angels wouldn’t glorify themselves.

31-36a

What is the judgment that Jesus refers to?

The cross is the judgment. It condemns all of those who don’t accept it. It divides people and makes them choose. In addition, it is the basis upon which Christ has won the ultimate triumph over Satan.

Verse 32 uses language like that of John 3:14. A person on a cross is lifted up in front of the whole world for everyone to see their shame. Yet this very act of receiving shame and scorn would be the act by which Christ saved the world. The very act that the rulers thought was their victory over Christ and would bring Him shame was His way to draw all men to Himself. The “all men” obviously doesn’t refer to every single individual on the earth, but rather to people from every nation and tribe, Jews and Gentiles alike, people of all ages, sexes, and walks of life. It was a death for the world. John 3:16.

Why did the crowd question Jesus that He would die? Is their interpretation accurate?

Daniel 7:14. There are verses in the Old Testament that refer to the coming Messiah’s eternal reign. So their misunderstanding is understandable. Yet there are also verses about the coming Messiah’s passion. The problem was they focused on the other set so didn’t understand when Jesus referred to His death and passion. Generally people focus on the truths that they want to hear. These are the truths that become popularized. Uncomfortable truths are often ignored or denied.

Then Jesus encouraged them to embrace Him and follow Him while He was still with them. The salvation call is always urgent.

36b-43

Why were the people not believing?

Does God harden people’s hearts?

Why would He harden the hearts of the people of Israel? Doesn’t He want to save them?

If He did harden their hearts, how come in verse 42 some people were believing?

Does this mean they aren’t responsible?

Isaiah 53:1, Isaiah 6:10 – Verses in the Old Testament that John quotes here.

Isaiah 6:10-13 – God planned to punish them for their sin.

Romans 10:16-11:11 – Further explanation about God hardening Israel’s heart.

Exodus 7:13, 22, 8:15 (Pharoah hardened his own heart), 19, 32 (Pharoah hardened his own heart), 9:7, 12 (first time it says the Lord hardened his heart), 34, 35, 10:1 (God hardened it), 20 (God hardened it), 27 (God hardened it), 11:10 (God hardened it)

Although Jesus did so many signs and performed so many miracles people were not believing in Him. John here lists two verses written by Isaiah where God told Isaiah what fruit his ministry would produce. Read Isaiah 53:1 and Isaiah 6:10-13. Originally these verses referred to Isaiah’s ministry. Although he would preach for years and years the people would not repent. Though they heard his report and saw him teaching they wouldn’t repent. Their amazing unbelief would be at least partially caused by God’s judicial blinding. They had continued on in sin and filth for so long that God had determined to punish them. Here John applies this as a kind of double prophecy to the situation surrounding Jesus’ first coming.

It is only predicted that they wouldn’t believe, but this verse also says that God blinded their eyes and hardened their heart. How can we explain this? Throughout Scripture we see a few instances where God specifically hardens the heart of certain groups of people so that they will not repent. While I can’t explain this completely I think it is helpful to notice a few truths with this.

Although God does occasionally harden someone’s heart, in each case recorded in Scripture they themselves harden their own hearts first. In other words, these aren’t people who are desperately trying to reach God and repent, but God refuses to let them. They are already hardening their hearts on their own. We’ve seen that time and time again with the Jewish rulers here and we see it with Pharaoh in Egypt.

When God hardens someone’s heart it is with a specific goal in mind (not because He doesn’t want to forgive them). With Pharaoh it was in order to free the nation of Israel. With the nation of Israel in the time of Isaiah it was to punish them for their sins. With the nation of Israel here, it was God’s way to take the gospel to the Gentiles (and ultimately back to the Jews again). See Romans 10:16-11:11.

When God hardens a group of people it doesn’t mean there is no way for any of them to receive salvation. In the time of Isaiah some did repent and believe. There was an entire time period under Hezekiah when many people turned to God and they followed Him as a nation. Here in verse 42 we see that some people believed. Others did as well.

We know God is holy and just. But we also know He is loving and forgiving. We know He desires people to be saved. So His hardening of some hearts isn’t because He hatefully refuses to save. Rather He does it in some specific situations to accomplish His perfect plan.

Does this mean that this group of people are not responsible for their sin? Absolutely not! Humans’ responsibility is emphasized over and over again in Scripture. No one will have any excuse for rejecting God. Rather, this should serve as a strong warning to us. Do not ever harden your own heart against God or His commands. Maybe you think that you always have more chances until you die. Well, from Scripture I think we can see that some people who continually harden their hearts may eventually come to a line and cross it even before their death. We don’t know where or when that “point of no return” will come. But it’s not wise to try to check it out! Receive God’s mercy and love because they are offered to you! Accept His forgiveness! Obey His commands. Do what we should do even if we don’t understand all the complexities of God’s plans.

40-43

Why wouldn’t the leaders confess Jesus? What does this tell us about their faith?

Why do many people and leaders today refuse to take a stand on something?

Do you like the approval of men?

Which do you like more, the approval of God or man?

Matthew 10:28 – Fear God who can cast us into hell.

Colossians 3:23-24 – Please the Lord rather than men and we will receive the reward from Him.

Many of the rulers did believe in Jesus. But because they were scared of the other rulers they weren’t willing to confess Jesus in front of others. Why? What does this tell us about their faith?

Their faith was weak. It was an intellectual assent, but their lives clearly didn’t take action on it. At least at this point it seems their faith was dead.

Verse 43 is very telling. They loved the approval of men rather than God. That describes so many people in this world even now. Politicians mostly care about votes, not doing what is right. Do you like the approval of men? I do. I like it when my boss says I did a good job. I enjoy hearing compliments about the things I have done. I like pleasing my parents and pleasing Christy. This is a natural, but often sinful, desire. As believers we need to be very careful to guard against this mentality. We discussed this already in depth about Mary last study. Explain.

We already read today that servants of Christ will follow Him. We are called to follow and please Christ, not anyone in this world. Read cross-references and discuss.

We can only have one master. By examining our hearts and seeing who we want to please the most we can see if we have any idols in our life. If we desire to please someone, maybe our girlfriend or boss, more than we desire to please God, it is idolatry. We will face many times when we have to choose who to please. Who will you choose? Can any of you give some examples where you have faced this choice recently. Please share.

Do not seek out the compliments of people. It is a prideful desire. Every country has it’s problems with this, China too. Face is such a big deal in China. People have guests to their house and say, it’s so small, it’s not nice, it’s a gou wo. Why? Many times they want others to say, “No, it’s not bad at all. The atmosphere is great. It’s very bright. Etc.” There are so many examples. Just think of your own life and the areas that you like others to compliment you on. Personally I enjoy it when others compliment me on my sports skills or countless other things. Let’s make sure than in everything we do, our goal is to serve God. He is the one we will face when we die, no one else. Take our stand for Him, even if others in the world criticize us for it or laugh at us. Be God-pleasers, not man-pleasers.

44-50

Two concepts are seen in these verses.

Jesus’ purpose for coming was to save, to shine as a Light, not to judge. But His word would judge people if they died without believing and receiving the salvation.

He came from the Father and spoke the words of the Father. Jesus practiced submission to the Father. We should too.

To end, I want everyone to decide on an application from this week’s study. It could be related to dying to self in order to bear fruit for God, some decision to please God rather than man, or something else we discussed in the lesson. Please share.

My application is for tomorrow. At work I will do everything I can to please God rather than men. I won’t laugh at any bad jokes they share or try to keep my faith a secret. I will not try to get compliments from any of them.

Study John 13:31-14:7

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