Grain...dying...fruit? What does John 12:24 mean?

Question
Grain...dying...fruit? What does John 12:24 mean?
Answer

John 12:24: Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.

In context, Jesus is just about to speak more extensively about his own death in John 12:27-36. However, before this he elaborates on the saint's full commitment to him. The complete context is as follows:

John 12:20-26: Now among those who went up to worship at the feast were some Greeks. So these came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, and asked him, "Sir, we wish to see Jesus." Philip went and told Andrew; Andrew and Philip went and told Jesus. And Jesus answered them, "The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life. If anyone serves me, he must follow me; and where I am, there will my servant be also. If anyone serves me, the Father will honor him."

Some Greeks desired to see Jesus. It seems this should be a rather simple yes or no answer, but these were Greeks and not Jews, so Phillip went and told Andrew that Greeks, of all people, desired to see Jesus. Then they both went to see Jesus and told him that some Greeks desired to see him.

Phillip and Andrew were probably expecting a simple yes or no answer. However, Jesus was a teacher and seldom answered with just a mere yes or no. Instead, Jesus begins speaking about his own death. He says, "The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified" (John 12:23). So, speaking of his own death Jesus adds, "Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit" (John 12:24).

But what does this mean? As long as a grain of wheat keeps on being just a kernel in the head of a stalk of wheat, it remains just that – a lone kernel of wheat. Only when it is detached from the head and buried in the ground does it produce more grain. Jesus is the seed (grain of wheat) of Abraham (Gal. 3:16). Jesus could have chosen not to die (cf. John 10:18), and if he had chosen this, then he would have remained alone in heaven. But what happens if Jesus (the Seed of seeds) dies? Well, then Jesus becomes the firstborn among many brothers and sisters (Rom. 8:29; cf. John 6:40).

Jesus believed in multiplication. He instructed the first Adam to be fruitful and multiple (Gen. 1:28) and now being the second and last Adam (1 Cor. 15:45, 47), Jesus follows suit. However, Jesus’ means of procreation is through his death upon the Cross and his bride is his church.

How much does one kernel of wheat falling to the ground and dying produce? Agriculturally speaking, one grain of wheat can produce eight or more heads with over 40 seeds per head. [1] Jesus' point in John 12:25-26 is that if those Jesus-believing kernels fully die to themselves in this world, then they will produce another eight or more heads with over 40 seeds per head, etc. The resulting crop is overwhelming. No wonder the great Farmer of farmers says, "The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few. Therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest" (Luke 10:2; cf. Matt. 9:37-38; John 4:35). After his resurrection from the dead, the fruitful Sowers of sowers commands, "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations …" (Matt. 28:18-20). The word of our Lord will not return void (Isa. 55:11), on the last day he will gather up all the elect kernels from "every tribe and language and people and nation" (cf. Rev. 5:9; 7:9).

What about you? Have you died to sin, self and the world?

Reference

[1] Bread Comes to Life (http://www.informeddemocracy.com/bread/activitiesFrmSet.html). Last Accessed 4 Feb. 2019.

Answer by Dr. Joseph R. Nally, Jr.

Dr. Joseph R. Nally, Jr., D.D., M.Div. is the Theological Editor at Third Millennium Ministries (IIIM).