Summary: What is the difference between belief in Jesus and unbelief? What is the sign for Jesus that his task is finished?
One of the things that was quite striking when we were in Canada recently was the change of colours in the trees. We found that as the 3 weeks we had there went by we saw more and more red and yellow. Now of course we have leaves changing colour here in Australia in autumn, but I don’t think it has the same significance here as it does over there. We were listening to the radio on September 21, the day they consider the first day of fall, and there was almost a note of despondency in the air at the prospect of winter to come. They were saying things like, "Get out and enjoy the sunshine while you can." For them the changing of the leaves’ colours wasn’t just something to marvel at, like it was for us. For them it was the sign of winter on its way; of short days and bitter cold; of the end of warm days and sunshine.
A few days before the passover in Jerusalem, some Greek believers came to talk with Jesus. They first spoke to Philip who went to consult with Andrew, because he wasn’t sure what to do, then together they went and told Jesus.
When Jesus hears their request he immediately recognises it as a sign that the final fulfilment of his mission on earth is drawing near. He says: "The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified." The coming of these Greeks to speak with him is like the turning of the leaves in Autumn. It’s a sure sign that the end is drawing near.
Now 2 questions arise immediately from this incident. Why did they come and why did Jesus react in this way?
It might just be that they’ve been drawn by the same sort of curiosity that drew people to him after the raising of Lazarus. On the other hand it might be that they’ve witnessed the cleansing of the Temple, described in Mark 11, when Jesus declared the Temple to be a place of prayer for all nations. So they’ve come to find out more about this teacher who seems to be questioning the inferior status of Gentiles before God.
Now that’s all we hear about these Greeks. It seems that their significance lies primarily in what they signify to Jesus. Perhaps a clue to what that is, is to be found in the contrast between the attitude of the Pharisees and the High Priests in the previous passage where they reject Jesus and the attitude of these foreigners who come seeking him. In any case Jesus makes it clear how significant their coming is by the way he responds. He says "The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified."
Now up until this point in John’s gospel Jesus’ hour has always been in the future. So in John 2 at the wedding at Cana, he says to his mother: "Woman, what concern is that to you and to me? My hour has not yet come." In John 7 we’re told, "Then they tried to arrest him, but no one laid hands on him, because his hour had not yet come." In John 8 we’re told: "He spoke these words while he was teaching in the treasury of the temple, but no one arrested him, because his hour had not yet come." The ’hour’ is the time appointed by God for Jesus’ death and resurrection, and for his exaltation. And now the coming of these Gentiles to seek out Jesus heralds the arrival of that hour. Now is the time for the Son of Man to be glorified.