Jesus tells us in John 12:24 that

unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds.

Today the process of germination is explained in a different way and certainly seeds do not have to 'die'.

Does Jesus use the word die in a different context?

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    Jesus is using a well known (to the people at the time) word-picture to illustrate a spiritual truth. He is not lecturing on plant biology. – gmoothart Oct 10 '11 at 22:03

Remember who he was talking to. This was certainly not intended to be understood in the context of modern science, which hadn't been invented yet, but to be understood as his listeners understood it. When the seed is still part of the living plant, it is alive, but when it is detached from the living plant (to fall into the ground) it is no longer connected to the life-giving roots, and therefore is thought of as being without life.

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    Excellent point! When we say we take the Bible literally, it doesn't mean that everything was meant to be literal. The authors were free to use language that made sense to the hearer. For example, we still say that the sun rises and sets today, when really, we know it's the rotation of the earth. Similarly, they were free to use figurative speech (like we would say "I'm so hungry I could eat a horse.") Literal interpretation doesn't mean absolutely everything is to be taken literally. greatcom.org/resources/reasons_skeptics/ch_08/default.htm – David Stratton Oct 9 '11 at 20:08
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    @David I always used to say: When taking Bible literally, think like people did at 1 BC. – Phonics The Hedgehog Oct 9 '11 at 21:36

If we continue reading Jesus says "25 Anyone who loves their life will lose it, while anyone who hates their life in this world will keep it for eternal life. 26 Whoever serves me must follow me; and where I am, my servant also will be. My Father will honor the one who serves me." (NIV)

Jesus is not asking us to physically die, but to give up life as it currently exists to follow him. In this context, I don't believe he meant the seed physically dies, but it stops being a seed and becomes a plant.

In this way we must stop being what we are, and become a follower and servant of Christ.

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