A Long and Painful Goodbye

31 When he had gone out, Jesus said, “Now is the Son of Man glorified, and God is glorified in him. 32 If God is glorified in him, God will also glorify him in himself, and glorify him at once. 33 Little children, yet a little while I am with you. You will seek me, and just as I said to the Jews, so now I also say to you, ‘Where I am going you cannot come.’ 34 A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. 35 By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

36 Simon Peter said to him, “Lord, where are you going?” Jesus answered him, “Where I am going you cannot follow me now, but you will follow afterward.” 37 Peter said to him, “Lord, why can I not follow you now? I will lay down my life for you.” 38 Jesus answered, “Will you lay down your life for me? Truly, truly, I say to you, the rooster will not crow till you have denied me three times.” John 13:31-38 ESV

After the shocking announcement that one of His own would betray Him, Jesus begins  what has come to be known as His “farewell discourse.” Judas has left the upper room, leaving Jesus alone with His 11 remaining disciples. These men were likely still in a state of bewilderment, trying to assimilate all that Jesus had just said and done.

The fact that no one attempted to hinder Judas from leaving reveals that they had not fully comprehended the gravity of the situation or the meaning behind Jesus’ words. John even alludes to their misunderstanding by revealing what he and the other disciples were thinking when Jesus said to Judas, “What you are going to do, do quickly” (John 13:27 ESV). 

Now no one at the table knew why he said this to him. Some thought that, because Judas had the moneybag, Jesus was telling him, “Buy what we need for the feast,” or that he should give something to the poor. – John 13:28-29 ESV

From their places at the table where they had just celebrated the Passover, the 11 disciples watched as their brother walked into the night. With Judas’ departure, another form of cleansing or separation took place. When Jesus had finished washing the disciples’ feet, He had told them, “you are clean, but not every one of you” (John 13:10 ESV). The inference was that Judas, who had also had his feet washed by Jesus,  remained unclean. He was not one of them. His intention to betray Jesus revealed his true heart and exposed his state of disbelief.

But with Judas gone, the room was occupied only with those whom Jesus had originally chosen to be His followers and who were destined to His future ambassadors. Everything Jesus would say from this point forward would be designed to brace these men for all that was about to happen but also to prepare them for the role they would play once He was gone. He began by telling them:

“The time has come for the Son of Man to enter into his glory, and God will be glorified because of him. And since God receives glory because of the Son, he will give his own glory to the Son, and he will do so at once.” – John 13:31-32 NLT

In the opening verses of his gospel, John testified regarding Jesus: “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14 ESV).

As one of those chosen by Jesus, John had been an eye-witness to all that Jesus had said and done. He had been able to see the amazing miracles Jesus had performed. He had sat under the remarkable teaching of this Rabbi from Nazareth. And over the three years he had spent with Jesus, John had become convinced that Jesus really was the Word become flesh. Jesus was the Messiah, and His entire life and ministry revealed the glory of His identity as the Son of God.

Now, Jesus tells John and the other disciples that the time has come for Him to “enter His glory.” He was going to be returning to His Father’s side in heaven, but the path to His glory would pass through the cross. Jesus had already alluded to the fact that His glorification would require His crucifixion. Earlier in the day, Jesus had told His disciples:

“Now the time has come for the Son of Man to enter into his glory. I tell you the truth, unless a kernel of wheat is planted in the soil and dies, it remains alone. But its death will produce many new kernels—a plentiful harvest of new lives.” – John 12:23-24 NLT

In the physical world, life precedes death. But in the spiritual realm, it is the other way around. Death precedes life. All that Jesus had done in His earthly life had given evidence of His glory as God’s own Son. But God would use His Son’s death on the cross as the ultimate proof of His identity by raising Him back to life. The Son of Man would die, but the Son of God would rise again and return to His Father’s side in heaven.

This was not the first time that Jesus had communicated to His disciples the idea of death preceding life. He had told them that they too would be required to sacrifice their temporal earthly lives in order to gain eternal life.

“If any of you wants to be my follower, you must give up your own way, take up your cross, and follow me. If you try to hang on to your life, you will lose it. But if you give up your life for my sake, you will save it.” – Matthew 16:24-25 NLT

What they didn’t understand was that Jesus was about to take up His own cross. He was just hours away from laying down His life for their sake. But with the Father’s help, He would pick it up again. In a split second of time, God would restore to life the beaten, broken, and bloodied body of His Son. And He would see to it that His glorified Son was restored to His rightful place at His side.

The apostle Paul describes this death-to-life transformation in powerful terms, stating that Jesus “humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name,  so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” Philippians 2:8-11 ESV).

But Jesus informs His disciples that His glorification will result in their isolation from Him. In addition to the news that He will be betrayed by one of His own, Jesus now informs them that He will be leaving them and they will not be able to follow Him.

“Dear children, I will be with you only a little longer. And as I told the Jewish leaders, you will search for me, but you can’t come where I am going.” – John 13:33 NLT

Upon His departure, the disciples would find themselves alone and in need of one another’s companionship and support. Jesus wanted them to understand that they were going to be part of a new and totally unique community, made up of all those who believed in Him and would become members of His body. And one of the requirements for membership in this community would be mutual love for one another.

“So now I am giving you a new commandment: Love each other. Just as I have loved you, you should love each other. Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples.” – John 13:34-35 NLT

Later on, in this same farewell discourse, Jesus will elaborate on this command to love one another, using His own death as an example of the kind of love He is talking about.

“This is my commandment: Love each other in the same way I have loved you. There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” – John 15:12-13 NLT

Jesus had earlier described Himself as the Good Shepherd and had indicated that His love for His sheep would be exhibited by His willingness to die for them.

“I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd sacrifices his life for the sheep.” – John 10:11 NLT

Now, He was telling His disciples that they too would need to be willing to die for one another. The life of a follower of Christ is marked by self-sacrifice and selfless love for others. Again, the apostle Paul used Jesus as the prime example of what this kind of selfless, sacrificial life was to look like.

Don’t be selfish; don’t try to impress others. Be humble, thinking of others as better than yourselves. Don’t look out only for your own interests, but take an interest in others, too. You must have the same attitude that Christ Jesus had. – Philippians 2:3-5 NLT

With His death on the cross, Jesus exhibited an attitude of humility, sacrifice, obedience, and love. He faithfully followed the will of His Father and willingly laid down His life for the good of others. And He expected His disciples to do the same.

But Peter, as the unofficial spokesman for the group, vocalized their confusion by asking, “Lord, where are you going?” (John 13:36 ESV). All the talk about glorification and loving one another went right over their heads. All they had heard was “Where I am going you cannot come” (John 13:33 ESV). In spite of all that Jesus had said, they were oblivious to the reality of the cross. The last thing on their minds was the death of Jesus.

And Jesus, speaking rather cryptically, assured His disciples that while they could not immediately accompany Him to His destination, they would one day join Him. This is probably a veiled reference to both His death and His glorification. He was headed to the cross and, ultimately, to His Father’s side in heaven. And one day, each of the disciples would experience their own physical deaths, most by martyrdom, and then join Jesus in heaven. But for now, they would remain behind because God had work for them to do.

But Peter, impulsive and outspoken as ever, blurted out, “Lord, why can I not follow you now? I will lay down my life for you” (John 13:37 ESV). He boldly proclaimed his love and allegiance to Jesus, declaring that he was willing to face anything, even death, to prove His faithfulness. But little did Peter know that his commitment to Jesus would prove wholly insufficient and, ultimately, insincere. The next words out of Jesus’ mouth must have left Peter devastated and embarrassed. 

“Will you lay down your life for me? Truly, truly, I say to you, the rooster will not crow till you have denied me three times. – John 13:38 ESV

But Jesus knew that Peter, however well-intentioned he might be, lacked the one thing he and the other disciples were going to need if they were going to survive His departure: The Holy Spirit.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson