Teacher’s Overview of Lifeway “Explore the Bible” lesson: John 12:20-33, “If It Dies”

A brief overview for Sunday School teachers and Bible study leaders, of Lifeway’s “Explore the Bible” lesson of John 12:20-33, “If It Dies,” for Sunday, March 12, 2023.

A video version of this overview is available on YouTube at:

INTRODUCTION:  I might use some variation of the suggestion in the teacher’s guide: Bring some packets of garden SEEDS for your group to plant. Let them pick one and ask WHY they picked that one …

Then say:  today in John 12 we are going to see how Jesus pictures HIS life and what He came to do for us as a seed — and how WE need to imitate Him in that too. (And I would plan to refer back to these seeds in a few minutes, too, as you will see). 


John 12 and following, our text for this spring, is all about Jesus’ journey towards the cross.

We saw last week the anointing He received from Mary, as well as the service of Martha and the companionship of Lazarus – different ways of showing our love to Jesus.

The next day after that, :12 says, Jesus made His “Triumphal Entry” into Jerusalem on a donkey, fulfilling Zechariah 9:9, while the people took palm branches and shouted “Hosanna”! (That’s why we call it “Palm Sunday”!) 

THAT’s the context in which we find our passage for this week, John 12:20-33. 


 I.  The People coming to Jesus   (:20-22)

II.   The Principle of the Seed       (:23-26)

III.  The commitment to God’s purpose (:27—

I. The People Coming to Jesus (:20-22)

:20 “Now there were some Greeks among those who were going up to worship at the feast.”

??? What’s significant about their being “Greeks”? 

These were the “Gentiles,” NOT the “chosen people” of Israel. But the Gospel was open to THEM too! One of the important messages of this text is that the door is open for whoever will come to Jesus!

And here’s another good point: WHY did these Greeks come through Philip? There are a couple of possible reasons, both of them somewhat related:

1) Scholars point out that Philip and Andrew were the only disciples who had Greek names. (Philip of Macedon was the father of Alexander the Great; Philippi was named after him, etc.) So the Greeks probably looked at them and said; “Oh, we can ask these guys; they have names like ours!”

2) Philip’s home town, Bethsaida, was not far from Decapolis, where there was a large Greek population.

What both of these point to, is that these Greeks may have felt like they had something in COMMON with Philip – whether it was his name, or coming from a nearby city.

One thing this teaches us is that God can use things we have in common with other people, to draw them to Jesus.

??? What are some things in our lives that people might see that they have in common with us, that God could use to help draw people to HIM???

(— KIDS! Children can be a big bonding element. Many people tend to see someone with kids as more approachable. Especially if they had children too. 

— a sports team that you are on together

— a problem you are open with, that they are wrestling with also!

People are often drawn to people with similar problems, because they feel like they can empathize and understand. )

You/your group can think of others. But the point I would make is: let’s ask God to help us look to make connections with people who have things in common with us. Purposefully WATCH for those people: on your job; in your school; on your team; in your neighborhood and so on.  

:21  “Sir, we wish to see Jesus”

The request of these Greeks is the heart cry of many people: “We wish to see Jesus.”  Let’s make sure we show Him to them. 

In 2018 Tim Challies, a Christian associate pastor and blogger, published an article entitled: “The Joel Osteen Sermon That Changed Oprah’s Life.” He said this sermon was the #1 watched sermon video on YouTube. But among the problems of this video, is that other than the opening and closing prayers, the name of Jesus is not mentioned in the message! Here’s what Challies writes:

“To make sure we’re being fair, let’s go back over the sermon, and we’ll just watch together all the clips where Osteen talks about Jesus.

You can’t make this stuff up. Between the Bible pledge at the beginning of the sermon and the sinner’s prayer at the end of the sermon, Osteen mentions the name of Jesus a grand total of zero times. Do you see what he’s doing? He’s telling his church how to live without ever once referencing the greatest man who ever lived, the one who shows us how to live.  And this is the third reason this sermon is not great. The name of Jesus Christ is missing.”

We might envision the thousands in his congregation, or those watching on the internet, saying, “Sir, we wish to see Jesus.”

But listen: you & I are not accountable for what Joel Osteen does. We are accountable for what WE do!

Let’s make sure that WE are showing people Jesus! 

Let’s be sure they SEE Jesus in us.

Let’s be sure they HEAR about Jesus from us: in our churches, in our SS lessons, sermons, and programs. I try to have at least some presentation of the Gospel in every message I share in our church. Let’s make sure they don’t hear everything from us BUT Jesus.  JESUS is who people need. They don’t just need a “motivational talk”; they don’t just need a “better church.” They need JESUS. Let’s remember who they need, and point them to HIM! 

II. The Principle of the Seed

:24 “unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.”

Whether you do or don’t use the seeds package in the introduction, I would refer to it here. Either hand those out now, OR say: you know those seeds I gave you in the opening? If you just leave those on the shelf, they will do NOTHING. They will produce nothing. What do you have to do with them??? 

(You have to PLANT them. They have to go into the earth and die, and then they can grow and bear much fruit. But if you leave in the package, they will give you NOTHING.

SO: take these home and PLANT them. Put them in the ground, DO something with them. If you don’t they will produce nothing. 

(Now, depending where you live, your members may need to wait a bit; we’re having spring already here in South Texas, but if you’re farther north, you may need to have your group to wait a bit!)

But then I’d say: FIRST of all, this is a picture of what JESUS HIMSELF would do:Jesus had to DIE in order to save us from our sins. “He Himself bore our sins in His body on the cross” I Peter 2:24 says. But He had to die; He couldn’t stay in heaven and save us. He had to be like the seed, and go into the earth to die, in order to save us.

SECOND: this is a picture of what WE need to do as we follow Jesus. WE have to be willing to leave OUR self-centered lives, and “die to ourselves” and follow Jesus. If we will, then we can bear all kinds of fruit for Him. But we never will if we just stay safely where we are. 

Jesus said in :25 “He who loves his life loses it, and he who hates his life in this world will keep it to life eternal.”

??? I might ask my group: What do you think Jesus meant by that???

(That if we hold on to “our” life, our plans, our way, we will end up losing it all. But if we give up our “self-centered” life to HIM, we will gain eternal life in heaven.)

There are LOTS of applications you can make for your group here:

— A lot of people are afraid of what Jesus will do if they really give their life to Him, or commit fully to Him. But if they try to “hang on” to their life, they are just going to lose it – and lose their life for eternity (or if they are Christians, lose what could have been their eternal reward.)

— It’s a good challenge, that you can stay “safe” in your home each day and night, but if you want to reach/teach/care for people, you have to “die” to some of that “free time” and give up some of “your life,” in order to touch and influence others.

— you can stay where we are comfortable, or “die to ourselves” and go on mission and bear much fruit. Traveling on mission is HARD — but it can be the most fruitful work you’ve ever done. I took a mission trip to India a few years ago, and it was SO hard: the 12 hour flights, the jet lag, the uncomfortable traveling – we even had to leave a couple of places quickly because of some troublemakers who were coming after us. I came back sick.

But on the other hand, I have never led more people to the Lord than I did on that trip!  But see I had to “die,” to bear fruit.

Pray and consider some ways in which this applies to you and your group. There are so many ways in which this is true. Discuss this with your class. 

The principle is, we have to “die” to our own ways/life, to become like Christ and bear fruit like Him

And we may even have to physically die like Jesus did — but God will use it to bring many others to Himself. 

:26 then describes that process of dying to ourselves and following Christ. Jesus said: “If anyone serves Me, he must FOLLOW Me; and where I am, there My servant will be also; if anyone serve me, the Father will honor him”

— if we FOLLOW Him

— we’ll be WITH Him

— God will HONOR us

We can’t spend a lot of time on that one verse in this little overview, but that section in :26 will practically preach on its own! That could even be the whole lesson! Follow Him; be With Him; and be Honored by Him!  

III. The Commitment to God’s Purpose

In :27 Jesus says something so important: “Now My soul has become troubled, and what shall I say, ‘Father, save me from this hour?’ But for this purpose I came to this hour.” As we saw, this is just why Jesus CAME, was to die. He couldn’t pray “save Me from this.” (You see He is already wrestling with the “Thy Will Be Done” prayer of Gethsemane.)

And we can apply this scripture in OUR lives too. Are we in a difficult time? What shall WE pray: “Lord save me from this hour?” We might hear Him say to us: “For this purpose I brought you to this hour.” This is why He has you here, for this very time.

Don’t wish to be spared from them; LIVE for those hours.

— It’s a difficult time in our country: should we ask to get out of it — or realize that God planned to put us here to live for HIM in it?!

— It’s a difficult time in your church: should you seek to get out of it; or realize He has us here specifically to help in this time?

— Maybe it is a difficult hour in your personal life, health, etc. — I had a devastating illness in 2012 that took me out of the ministry, but I had the chance to minister to many through it. Should I pray for God to take me OUT of that hour — or realize that He had me in that hour for the very purpose of glorifying Him? 

Glorifying HIM is what we are to be all about: In :28 Jesus prays: “Father, glorify Your name.” 

This is the best prayer: “Glorify Your Name.” If you don’t know what to pray in a certain situation, I think you could do a lot worse than pray: “Lord, glorify Your name in this situation” — in my life, in my family, in our church, at our work/school/country, “glorify Your name.”

That is the ultimate purpose for our life, and for everything that exists: to glorify God. 

The old English Westminster Catechism says: “The chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever.” That’s a great statement. THE most important purpose we have, is to glorify God, in whatever we do.
+x I Corinthians 10:31 “Whether then you eat or drink or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.” 

‘I’m impressed with what you’ve been doing, Ken … You’re new here, and I want you to understand one thing: there’s just one thing that we’re selling here, and that’s the name, ‘Walt Disney.’ If you can buy that and be happy to work for it, you’re my man.  But if you’ve got any ideas of selling the name ‘Ken Anderson,’ it’s best for you to leave right now.'”  (Bob Thomas, Walt Disney, An American Original, p. 192) 

This is to be our attitude as Christians, too. We aren’t here on earth to glorify OUR names, but to glorify GOD, and lift up the name of Jesus.

There’s another section here I like to call: “Some Said It Thundered”

In :28 Jesus had just prayed before the multitude, “Father, glorify Thy name.” “Then a voice came out of heaven: ‘I have both glorified it, and will glorify it again.’” 

What is interesting to me is the response we see here from the multitude. Some obviously heard what God had said. “Others were saying, ‘an angel has spoken to Him.’” But others were saying “it had thundered.” (:29) It is notable that all the people were present for the same event, and actually heard the same thing; but some attributed it to God, others said that it was just thunder.

We see here that we human beings are not nearly as “objective” as we would like to think we are. Our response to God’s work reveals our hearts. If we are inclined to believe in God, we will see His hand in a variety of situations, and credit Him for it. But if we are disinclined to believe, there is usually some other explanation which will suffice, be it “thunder” or whatever. 

It actually seems to the plan of God that He often shows just enough of Himself for some to believe – but often also leaves His work just ambiguous enough that those who would prefer to doubt can find another explanation if they so choose.

This isn’t limited to John 12. We see this in countless modern experiences as well. If a Christian goes to the doctor with a serious illness, and through prayer and treatment they recover, the Christian and those who are praying see God’s hand in it and give Him thanks. But those who would prefer to doubt will assert that God had nothing to do with it; it was just the medication. Again, God did enough for His people to give Him thanks, but also left it open for those who want to say, “it just thundered” to ignore Him if they will!

Blaise Pascal said it well: “In faith there is enough light for those who want to believe and enough shadows to blind those who don’t.”

In the end, our response to what we see happening around us reveals something important about US – whether we will choose to believe or not. Will we by faith hear the voice, and see the work of God? Or like many in the crowd that day in John 12, will we will say that it just thundered?

Then our focus passage concludes with Jesus saying in :32 “And I, if I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to Myself.”

Sometimes we hear preachers say things like: “Let’s lift up Jesus” — and as we have seen, we DO need to show HIM to the world.

But the Bible also makes it very clear in :33 that in THIS context, “He was saying this to indicate the kind of death by which He was to die.” By “lifted up,” He meant “lifted up” on the CROSS. Like we saw in John 3:14, where Jesus said, “As Moses LIFTED UP the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be LIFTED UP” — that serpent was lifted up on a wooden pole to save Israel; Jesus was lifted up on a wooden cross, to save whoever would believe in Him and His death on that cross for us.

Because He was “lifted up” on the cross, whoever believes in Him can be saved. 

If you want to use this story from my childhood here or elsewhere in this lesson you can: 

When we were children living on 29th street outside of Harrah, Oklahoma, our dad came home one night with a calf to put in our barn. But he didn’t want us to have any illusions about it. He told us up front: “His name is ‘Steak.’ We are raising him for the meat we are going to get from him.” So we knew from the beginning; he came to die.  

In a very real sense, that is exactly what Jesus came for, too. He came to die. He HAD to. This is the reason He came. He HAD to die for us, so that our sins could be forgiven. If He had stayed safely in heaven, which He might have done, we would all have been lost forever. But to save us, He had to die, and bear our sins in His body on the cross.  

Jesus was absolutely committed to God’s purpose; to glorify Him by coming to earth, and “planting” His life like a seed in the ground, laying down His life for us. As His followers, we should be committed to God’s purpose too: to glorify HIM with our lives. 

— If you’ll put your email in the “Follow Blog” section of my home page, Word Press will automatically send you next week’s lesson via email and you won’t have to search for it.

— And if you write something in the Comments below, I’ll be sure to pray for your and your group by name this week.

Per my licensing agreement with Lifeway:

– These weekly lessons are based on content from Explore the Bible Adult Resources. The presentation is my own and has not been reviewed by Lifeway.

– Lifeway resources are available at: goExploretheBible.com  and: goexplorethebible.com/adults-training

– If you have questions about Explore the Bible resources you may send emails to explorethebible@lifeway.com

About Shawn Thomas

My blog, shawnethomas.com, features the text of my sermons, book reviews, family life experiences -- as well as a brief overview of the Lifeway "Explore the Bible" lesson for Southern Baptist Sunday School teachers.
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8 Responses to Teacher’s Overview of Lifeway “Explore the Bible” lesson: John 12:20-33, “If It Dies”

  1. Linda Howard says:

    When I was reading about the “voice” in John 12:28. When I found your commentary on it the 3 paragraphs you wrote I copied it to share with our class next Sunday. It says it perfectly. thank you

  2. Elizabeth Lois Elijah says:

    When will you post the Sunday School lesson for March 19, 2023? Thanks!

    • Shawn Thomas says:

      I try to have the overviews posted on Saturday night a week before, at 9:00. So it should go up this Saturday at 9:00. (I will say that I will be out of town in Oklahoma, moving my mom and her husband into a care center, so it may affect that – but I am working on it early and still hope to have it up then.)

      • Lois Elijah says:

        Thank You for your reply, Shawn! Pray safe & timely travels for you as you go to move your mother!!
        Thanks also for your weekly lesson posts – so helpful & insightful as this lay person (me) preps to teach!!! Last week I incorporated Gary Chapman’s “5 Love Languages” into the lesson. One couple (80s) told me that they have now put those on their refrigerator door!!! Praises!!

  3. Rachel Terry says:

    Thank you for the review of our lesson. May God continue to bless you as you glorify Him.

  4. Linda Giltner says:

    Thank you for sharing your thoughts with us. Your ministry is a great help to me as I prepare the lesson for my class – the most senior ladies in our church – ages 71 to 96.

    • Joe McPipkin says:

      Mr. Thomas, I am so excited to have found your commentaries that correlate with our Sunday School lessons.
      You have a very unique way of explaining and providing vivid examples in our daily lives that help simplify these lessons.
      I look forward to following your lessons on a weekly basis.

  5. David Atkinson says:


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