The reason this is important is that it sets a particular context for everything Jesus does and shares with these men. Within the next few hours Jesus will find Himself being betrayed by Judas, arrested in the Garden, and abandoned by everyone of His closest friends.
Then, as this night unfolds, Jesus will be illegally tried by the religious establishment, brought before wicked King Herod, denied three times by Peter, and ultimately sentenced to death by the Roman Governor Pontius Pilate — though He was formally declared innocent.
As this night turns to day Jesus will be brutally scourged, totally humiliated, and forced to carry a cross down the Via Dolorosa. At noon He will be crucified at Golgotha between two criminals. Sometime after 3pm Jesus will die. And then before sunset He will be laid in the tomb of a man named Joseph of Arimathea. All of this happens in the next 24 hours.
As John’s thoughts take him back to this final evening before all of these things occur he sets the stage for their time together recalling in verse 1 how Jesus “loved them to the end!” Jesus “loved” these men with an agape love — a love willing to go “to infinity and beyond!”
While the Twelve were oblivious to what was on the immediate horizon, Jesus knew His time with them was quickly running out. Jesus had so much He needed to share during these final moments. His first lesson was presented in a scene John would never forget.
Beginning in verse 4 John recalls how in the midst of this supper Jesus “rose, laid aside His garments, took a towel and girded Himself,” and “after that, poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet, and to wipe them with the towel with which He was girded.”
Then after an important exchange between Jesus and Peter aimed at explaining the purpose for this exercise, in verse 12 John continues, “So when Jesus had washed their feet, taken His garments, and sat down again, He said to them, ‘Do you know what I have done to you? You call Me Teacher and Lord, and you say well, for so I am. If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet.
For I have given you an example, that you should do as I have done to you. Most assuredly, I say to you, a servant is not greater than his master; nor is he who is sent greater than he who sent him. If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them.”
We pick things back up mid-stream with Jesus saying, John 13:18-20, “I do not speak concerning all of you. I know whom I have chosen; but that the Scripture may be fulfilled (Psalms 41:9), ‘He who eats bread with Me has lifted up his heel against Me.’ Now I tell you before it comes, that when it does come to pass, you may believe that I am He (“He” is not in the text). Most assuredly, I say to you, he who receives whomever I send receives Me; and he who receives Me receives Him who sent Me.’
In these verses Jesus is articulating a few things the men at this table simply wouldn’t understand until after the events of this evening had played themselves out. For our purposes what’s important is this line, “I tell you before it comes, that when it does come to pass, you may believe that I am!” The purpose of these things was to reveal Himself as God.
John 13:21-22, “When Jesus had said these things, He was troubled in spirit, and testified and said, ‘Most assuredly, I say to you, one of you will betray Me.’ Then the disciples looked at one another, perplexed about whom He spoke.”
Back in verse 2 — and writing with the benefits of hindsight — John noted that even before dinner began Judas Iscariot had joined a plot with the religious establishment to betray Jesus by promising to give them a time and place they could arrest Him away from the mobs. While the other disciples had no knowledge of the scheme, Jesus was fully aware.
Before we get to the reaction of the men in this room, I’m struck with John’s observation “Jesus was troubled in spirit.” While Jesus knew what Judas was up too, he was still deeply bothered. It’s sad, but we’re so quick to overlook the humanity of Jesus’ experiences!
Have you ever been betrayed by a close friend? If you have, you understand the hurt and pain that comes with betrayal. Jesus loved Judas; and yet, Judas was stabbing Him in the back! Of all the people you’d think would have commanded loyalty it would be Jesus. What had Jesus done to deserve such a betrayal by Judas? What was He guilty of doing?
What’s even more amazing about all of this is that while Jesus knew what was happening behind the scenes, He was still willing to share a meal with Judas and wash the man’s feet! Oh the love that Jesus demonstrates to even those who’d hurt and betray Him!
Imagine the moment when Jesus looked around the room, sighed, and then said to these men, “I say to you, one of you will betray Me!” No one expected Jesus to say that! Sure, they knew Jesus was a wanted man, but the notion a traitor was in their midst was too much! John recalls how “the disciples looked at one another, perplexed about whom He spoke.”
Also writing about the same moment as an eyewitness himself Matthew’s account provides for us an interesting detail not recorded by John. In Matthew 26 we’re told, “Now as they were eating, Jesus said, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, one of you will betray Me.’ And they were exceedingly sorrowful, and each of them began to say to Him, ‘Lord, is it I?’”
There are two things about this I find deeply fascinating… First, the very fact these men were “perplexed” as to who the traitor was indicates Judas Iscariot was not the obvious choice.
Not only had he been masterful at concealing his plans, but he was able to keep whatever was going on in his heart from becoming known by the others. No one had a clue it was him!
Secondly, the initial reaction of these men to ask Jesus, “Lord, is it I?” reveals a measure of self-awareness we should give them credit for having. Instead of pointing the finger at the others sharing this table, they were all willing to admit the fact they each possessed the capacity to do the unthinkable. Jesus spoke a harsh truth and they all internalized it.
I don’t want to deviate to far from the flow of this passage, but there is a lesson we need to consider… When God speaks a truth, instead of assuming it’s about someone else, you should have enough self-awareness like these men to realize it might be you… “Lord, is it I?”
John 13:23-27a, “Now there was leaning on Jesus’ bosom one of His disciples, whom Jesus loved (this would be John our author). Simon Peter therefore motioned to him to ask who it was of whom He spoke. Then, leaning back on Jesus’ breast, he said to Him, ‘Lord, who is it?’ (Basically, Peter gets John to get Jesus to identify the traitor.)
Jesus answered (this it seems directed only to John), ‘It is he to whom I shall give a piece of bread when I have dipped it.’ And having dipped the bread, Jesus gave it to Judas Iscariot, the son of Simon. Now after the piece of bread, Satan entered him.”
It’s likely this private exchange between John and Jesus occurred in the midst of the chaos of the other disciples asking, “Is it I?” Again, Matthew provides a more complete picture… “Jesus answered and said, ‘He who dipped his hand with Me in the dish will betray Me. The Son of Man indeed goes just as it is written of Him, but woe to that man by whom the Son of Man is betrayed! It would have been good for that man if he had not been born.’ Then Judas, who was betraying Him, answered, ‘Rabbi, is it I?’ Jesus said to him, ‘You have said it.’”
As with so much in the Scriptures we have to consider why Jesus identified Judas the way He did — why this exercise of “dipping the bread” and giving it too Judas was so necessary?
Keep in mind, though we can only speculate as to his deeper motivations, there is no debating the fact Judas was a free-moral agent, a willing participant in this dastardly deed.
On the flip side to this, the Scriptures are also clear Judas’ character was always suspect. Even back in John 6 Jesus remarked that one of His disciples was “a devil.” In fact, in verse 18 Jesus acknowledges that He “chose” Judas knowing full-well what was in his heart.
Consider the dynamic of this evening… Judas came to the Passover Seder already a member of the conspiracy. The dominos were set and all that was needed was Judas to give things a push. Though the disciples are clueless, Jesus is fully aware. Most amazingly, even knowing what was going on in Judas’ heart, Jesus still washed the man’s feet!
Aside from this obvious demonstration of His love for Judas, this act of Jesus, as the host “dipping the bread” and then giving it to Judas intended to signify friendship and brotherhood. It was a demonstration of love, favor, and honor akin to giving a toast in our context!
Even though Jesus has already acknowledged a traitor was sitting at their table, Judas doesn’t have definitive proof his plans had been uncovered until this moment Jesus “having dipped the bread” gave it to him. He’d been caught red handed. Jesus knew his plans!
According to Matthew’s account, Judas’ response to this moment was to ask Jesus, “Rabbi, is it I?” Jesus confirms and then John records one of the scariest things in all of Scripture, “Now after the piece of bread, Satan entered him.” The only other person aside from Judas we’re told Satan specifically possesses is the future Antichrist!
Again, if Judas knew and Jesus was aware, why the exercise? I think there is only one conceivable explanation — In an act of grace Jesus was giving Judas an out! Even though Judas was already neck-deep in this conspiracy to betray Him, I believe he still had a choice to make and Jesus was seeking to influence his decision. He could reverse course.
Not only has Jesus demonstrated His love by washing his feet, but in sharing this piece of bread Jesus was seeking to remind Judas of their friendship. It’s as though Jesus is pleading with Judas, “I know what you’re doing. I know what you have planned. Judas, it’s not too late to change your mind. You can confess your sin. I’ll forgive you. Don’t do this!”
How radically different Judas’ story-arch would have been if, in this moment in time, instead of saying, “Is it I?” — which was completely disingenuous for he knew it was him — Judas chose to humbly acknowledge his sin by replying, “It is I!” Oh the profound effects the reversal of two simple words would have made in this man’s destiny.
Yes, there is no doubt Jesus was going to the cross that night regardless. He even said, “The Son of Man indeed goes just as it is written of Him.” But then Jesus adds a very stark warning directed at Judas, “Woe to that man by whom the Son of Man is betrayed!” You see Judas didn’t have to betray Jesus for God’s will to still be accomplished that night. God’s divine plans are never dependent on any man — it didn’t have to be Judas!
The story of Judas Iscariot is one we don’t contemplate as much as we should. He was a man uniquely chosen by Jesus to be one of His closest disciples… He’d been entrusted with the position of treasurer… He heard every sermon Jesus ever gave… Judas saw the miracles for himself — Jesus walk across the water, multiply loaves and fish, raise the dead to life… Judas had even publicly proclaimed the Gospel and even cast out demons…
Judas literally walked with Jesus for years; and yet, today he’s in hell! Why? Aside from the fact Judas resisted Jesus’ gestures of kindness and failed to be persuaded here at this final supper, deciding to betray Him anyway… The reason is even more simple than that.
Again, look back at Matthew’s account for there is a subtle but profound difference in the response of the 11 disciples who asked, “Lord, is it I?” and Judas who said, “Rabbi, is it I?” You see Judas’ core problem was the fact Jesus was his “Rabbi” and not his “Lord!”
Sure, as his “Rabbi” Jesus was a wonderful moral example… As his “Rabbi” Judas sat at the feet of the greatest teacher the world has ever known. However (and this is the important lesson we can draw from Judas’ life), if Jesus is just a moral example or a teacher and He’s not your Lord, you’ll share the same final destiny! Jesus must be your Savior!
John 13:27b-30, “Then Jesus said to Judas, ‘What you do, do quickly.’ But no one at the table knew for what reason Jesus said this to him. For some thought, because Judas had the money box, that Jesus had said to him, ‘Buy those things we need for the feast,’ or that he should give something to the poor. Having received the piece of bread, he then went out immediately. And it was night.”
In the way John typically tells a story he takes a moment to let us know why no one reacted to Judas or for that matter tried to stop him. Other than John “no one at the table knew” what Jesus and Judas had just discussed. In fact, the assumption to Judas getting up and leaving was that he was going to run an errand for Jesus since he “had the money box.”
John 13:31-33, “So, when Judas had gone out, Jesus said (to the remaining 11 disciples who were left at this table — side note Jesus would also institute communion after Judas had left), ‘Now the Son of Man is glorified, and God is glorified in Him. If God is glorified in Him, God will also glorify Him in Himself, and glorify Him immediately. Little children, I shall be with you a little while longer. You will seek Me; and as I said to the Jews, ‘Where I am going, you cannot come,’ so now I say to you.”
Since washing their feet Jesus has been launching verbal hand grenades. First, He says one of them was a traitor. Now that Judas has left the building and everything has been set into motion, Jesus drops another bomb… “I’m about to leave and you cannot come!” What!?
I am not a Greek scholar, but those who are make an interesting observation about this text. Apparently, in the sentence structure and punctuation, Jesus didn’t say these things matter-of-fact. Basically, wherever the translators place a comma, semicolon, or a period you should take a pause because Jesus likely did. He’s saying these thing in a very somber tone.
Go back to verse 33… Jesus begins, “Little children (this term can be translated as, “My little children”), I shall be with you a little while longer (pause). You will seek Me (pause); and as I said to the Jews, ‘Where I am going, you cannot come,’ so now I say to you (pause).”
John 13:34-35, “A new commandment I give to you (pause), that you love one another (pause); as I have loved you (pause), that you also love one another (pause). By this all will know that you are My disciples (pause), if you have love for one another.”
This “new commandment Jesus gives” is interesting for several reasons. First, the command “that you love one another” is unique for it’s the only commandment Jesus ever gave! The truth is that Jesus wasn’t really keen on issuing these type of declarative statements.
The second reason this is so interesting is that, on the surface, the command itself to “love one another” doesn’t seem to be all that “new.” In fact, earlier in His ministry Jesus summarized the entirety of the Mosaic Law in Mark 12:30-31 saying, “You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength. This is the first commandment. And the second, like it, is this: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. There is no other commandment greater than these.”
Though the idea of loving our fellow man was not exactly a new concept, what makes Jesus’ “commandment new” isn’t the exhortation we “love one another,” but the fact we’re to love one another just “as Jesus has loved us!” Jesus is redefining the essence of our love!
The new angle to an old idea is that no longer are we to love others as “we love ourselves.” We’re to love others in the same measure, type, and kind of love Jesus has loved us! And in case you have any confusion what this love actually looks like… Romans 5:8, “God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”
What makes this all the more challenging is that the demonstration of this type of radicle love is the very way Jesus says the world “will know that we are His disciples!” Again, loving one another with such a love is not a suggestion, but a commandment. It’s our identifier!
How in the world is this kind of love even possible? How is a selfless and sacrificial kind of love like Jesus attainable for you and I? What’s interesting is John seems to wrestle with this question most of his life. Here’s his explanation… 1 John 4, “Beloved, let us love one another, for love is of God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God.
He who does not love does not know God, for God is love. In this the love of God was manifested toward us, that God has sent His only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through Him. In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins.
Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has seen God at any time. If we love one another, God abides in us, and His love has been perfected in us. By this we know that we abide in Him, and He in us, because He has given us of His Spirit. And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent the Son as Savior of the world. Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God.
And we have known and believed the love that God has for us. God is love, and he who abides in love abides in God, and God in him. Love has been perfected among us in this: that we may have boldness in the day of judgment; because as He is, so are we in this world. There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves torment. But he who fears has not been made perfect in love.
We love Him because He first loved us. If someone says, ‘I love God,’ and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen, how can he love God whom he has not seen? And this commandment we have from Jesus: that he who loves God must love his brother also.”
According to John the only possible way you and I can love one another as Jesus has loved us is for two things to occur: (1) Our love must be a reciprocal act stemming from the demonstration of His great love for us — this kind of divine love can only flow downhill from Him to us and then from us to others, and (2) Jesus must love through us!
How can you love like Jesus? Allow Jesus to love through you! It’s the only way! In and of yourself such a manifestation of love is impossible. Selfless love demands as little of self as possible. The very essence of our love should stand out in this world, because it’s not of this world — it’s otherworldly! Our love is the fragrance of Jesus manifesting in our lives.
John 13:36-38, “Simon Peter said to Jesus, ‘Lord, where are You going?’ (Peter missed this “new commandment” section because he’s still hung up on Jesus leaving him.) Jesus answered him, ‘Where I am going you cannot follow Me now, but you shall follow Me afterward.’ (Clearly, Jesus is speaking of a future eternal life we’ll enjoy with Him in heaven.)
Peter said, ‘Lord, why can I not follow You now? I will lay down my life for Your sake.’ Jesus answered, ‘Will you lay down your life for My sake? Most assuredly, I say to you, the rooster shall not crow till you have denied Me three times.’”
Honestly, I think Peter gets a bad wrap for this exchange when he really doesn’t deserve one. His question, “Why can I not follow You now” was birthed from the correct desire to be with Jesus. From Peter’s perspective he can’t imagine Jesus going someplace he wouldn’t follow. Even if this meant death Peter boldly declares, “I will lay down my life for Your sake!” The truth is Peter’s actions in the Garden later that night will demonstrate his sincerity.
The initial problem with Peter’s zeal is that initially it centered upon things he doesn’t know. The path before Jesus was one Jesus had to walk alone. Only the sacrifice Jesus made could atone for sin. Only Jesus possessed resurrection power to conquer death and the grave. As David Guzik wrote, “Peter could never die for Jesus until Jesus first died for him.”
In Peter’s mind he thought he could extrapolate out the worst case scenario, but he couldn’t. Peter had no idea what was coming that night and he wasn’t prepared for it. In fact, Jesus tells him he would actually deny Him three times before the rooster crowed at daybreak.
Beyond this (and we’ll see this reality play out in his life later on in John’s Gospel), Peter’s fundamental problem ends up being illustrated in his very statement, “I will lay down my life!”
You see Peter’s “will” was of more concern than Jesus’ will! The basis of his relationship with the Lord was the sacrifices he was willing to make — not the sacrifice Jesus would make. Over the course of this evening and the days to follow Peter will learn some serious lessons.
In closing, I want to go back to the way our author John defined himself in this passage. Look back at verse 23 when he writes, “Now there was leaning on Jesus’ bosom one of His disciples, whom Jesus loved.” Please note this will not be the last time John will refer to himself in his Gospel as the disciple “whom Jesus loved!” So why is this relevant?
You know in a world that seems to struggle most with identity (who am I?) John presents a powerful thought we should all consider. When presented with the opportunity to identify himself in his own narrative, John simply points to the love of Jesus! Who was John? John saw himself simply as a man loved by Jesus and that was more than enough!
When you consider yourself, what drives your identity? Is it your race and the experiences that come from it? Is your identity based on gender or a sexual preference? Has your identity (who you are) become dependent on your career success or some position you’ve earned?
Aside from these things has your identity been relegated to a component of family life — Is your identity found in being a husband or for that matter a mom? As a Christian is your identity based in what you do for Jesus or the sacrifices you’re presently making for Him?
Friend, John is writing this Gospel of Grace as an old man who’d lived quite a life. He was a pillar of the church, an Apostle. And yet, when he thought about himself what mattered most was that he was loved by Jesus! That’s who John was and he was fine with it. Are you?
No Additional Links