No Greater Love

12 “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. 13 Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends. 14 You are my friends if you do what I command you. 15 No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you. 16 You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name, he may give it to you. 17 These things I command you, so that you will love one another.” John 15:12-17 ESV

It’s rather odd to hear Jesus speaking about love when you consider the fact that He is just hours from His own death. And for the disciples, all His talk about dying and leaving them behind must have sounded like a strange way to show His love. Yet, for these men and all who would come to faith through their future ministry, the cross would become the greatest expression of love.

Just a short time earlier, in the upper room after Judas had departed, Jesus had disclosed to His remaining disciples a new commandment.

“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. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” – John 13:34-35 ESV

Notice the point of qualification that Jesus adds: They were to love one another, “just as” He has loved them. Jesus made this statement just hours before He would hang on a cruel Roman cross as the payment for their sin debt. He was going to follow through on His earlier promise concerning His role as the Good Shepherd.

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

And it would not be until Jesus had died, resurrected, and ascended back into heaven, that the disciples fully grasped the full import of what Jesus meant about loving as He had loved them. In a later letter, John would disclose His Spirit-enabled understanding of Jesus’ incredible expression of selfless, sacrificial love.

If we love our brothers and sisters who are believers, it proves that we have passed from death to life. But a person who has no love is still dead. Anyone who hates another brother or sister is really a murderer at heart. And you know that murderers don’t have eternal life within them.

We know what real love is because Jesus gave up his life for us. So we also ought to give up our lives for our brothers and sisters. – 1 John 3:14-16 NLT

The sacrifice Jesus was about to make on the cross was totally motivated by love, and not just His own. The death of Jesus was going to be a priceless expression of God’s love for mankind. This is exactly what Jesus had told Nicodemus.

“For this is how God loved the world: He gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life.” – John 3:16 NLT

The apostle Paul was blown away by this reality and saw the death of Jesus as ongoing evidence of the Father’s love for him.

But God proves His love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. – Romans 5:8 BSB

God had loved Paul in the midst of his sinfulness. He didn’t require Paul to get his spiritual act together. It was while Paul was still firmly entrenched in his rebellion and sin that God sent His Son to die in Paul’s place. And the same thing is true for each and every follower of Christ. Paul makes that point clear later on in his letter to the believers in Rome.

…he [God] did not spare even his own Son but gave him up for us all… – Romans 8:32 NLT

And Paul would encourage the believers in Ephesus to use the selfless love of God as a model for their own lives.

Be imitators of God, therefore, as beloved children, and walk in love, just as Christ loved us and gave Himself up for us as a fragrant sacrificial offering to God. – Ephesians 5:1-2 BSB

According to Jesus, the greatest expression of love was someone willingly sacrificing their life for the sake of another.

“Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.” – John 15:13 ESV

The disciples were not ye able to grasp the full significance of this statement. But in time, they would come to understand and appreciate what Jesus had meant. They would stand by and watch their friend and mentor die a gruesome death on a cross. They would weep and mourn as His life slowly and painfully ebbed away. They would see His broken and beaten body removed from the cross and placed in a borrowed tomb. And in the days following this hope-shattering event, they would gather together in sorrow and self-pity, as they tried to wrap their minds around what had just happened. But then they would receive the shocking and mind-blowing news: “he has risen, as he said” (Matthew 28:6 ESV). The would discover the tomb to be empty, Jesus to be alive, and their lives to be forever changed.

But on the other side of the cross, Jesus called His confused and concerned disciples to love one another. He referred to them as His friends, further indicating His love for them. He did not view them as servants or slaves, but as close friends to whom He was sharing the most intimate details concerning His life. Rather than leaving them in the dark, Jesus was disclosing the content of His private conversations with His Father.

“…all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you.” – John 15:15 ESV

They were the recipients of privileged information, passed down from God through His one and only Son. And Jesus makes it clear that the time they had spent with Him had been divinely ordained.

“You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide…” – John 15:16 ESV

He had chosen them. But as Jesus will disclose in His high priestly prayer, God had been the guiding hand behind His selection of these men.

“I have revealed you to the ones you gave me from this world. They were always yours. You gave them to me, and they have kept your word.” – John 17:6 NLT

While each of them had chosen to follow Jesus on their own accord, they were actually operating according to the sovereign will of God. Their selection by Jesus had been preordained by God and He had great things in store for them. The events of the last three years would pale in comparison to what was going to happen in the days ahead. Their greatest days were ahead of them because Jesus loved them and was going to lay down His life for them. That selfless, sacrifical act of love would make possible the fulfillment of the promise He had made to them.

“Truly, truly, I say to you, the one believing in Me, the works that I do, also he will do. And he will do greater than these, because I am going to the Father. – John 14:12 BSB

They didn’t realize it at the moment, but they were going to bear much fruit, just as Jesus had told them.

“By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples.” – John 15:8 ESV

But their fruitfulness would be accompanied by access to God. The imagery of the vine and the branches comes into play here. God, as the vinedresser, would fulfill His will through the Vine, producing lasting fruit through the branches. This interdependency between the Father, Son, and the Son’s faithful followers, would result in a harvest of lasting fruit. And the disciples will experience the joy of desiring to do the will of the Father. Like Jesus, they will learn to say, “not my will, but yours, be done” (Luke 22:42 ESV). Their desires will change. Their requests of God will become less selfish and more selfless. And Jesus assures them that His words are meant to produce in them a love for one another. But it will be His actions, not His words, that make that kind of selfless, sacrificial love possible. His death, as the ultimate expression of God’s love for sinful mankind, will provide the power they need to keep His commands, love one another, bear fruit, and do greater things.

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

The Promise of Fruitfulness

If anyone does not abide in me he is thrown away like a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned. If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples. As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love. 10 If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. 11 These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full. John 15:6-11 ESV

So, what does Jesus mean when He says that those who do not abide in Him will be taken away, thrown out, and left to whither, then collected and burned? Whatever He is trying to say, it doesn’t sound good. And these enigmatic verses have caused generations of believers to speculate and debate over their exact meaning. The sad result is that the church has ended up placing far more emphasis on what it might mean to not abide rather than finding comfort and encouragement from Jesus’ call to remain in Him.

This entire passage is about fruitfulness. And Jesus establishes that fact from the onset.

Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit.” – John 16:2 ESV

His message to His disciples is that He fully expects them to bear fruit because they are in a relationship with Him. They share a special bond with Him that is intended to result in fruitfulness. But the key to their fruitfulness will be their continued relationship with Him. To leave Him would be disastrous. It would sever the tie to the vine and result in a life of unfruitfulness. It would destroy any sense of purpose for their lives. And Jesus’ mention of the branch that fails to abide is meant to sound absurd and ridiculous. No branch would ever choose to remove itself from the vine. To do so would be to go against its very purpose for being.

This passage recalls an earlier conversation between Jesus and His disciples. In His lengthy discourse on the bread of life, Jesus mentioned that “Anyone who eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me, and I in him” (John 6:56 ESV). This rather cryptic and confusing statement from Jesus resulted in many of His followers leaving Him. And He turned to His disciples and asked them if they were going to leave Him as well. To which Peter responded:

Lord, to whom would we go? You have the words that give eternal life. We believe, and we know you are the Holy One of God.” – John 6:67-68 ESV

Yes, the words of Jesus had been difficult to understand. His talk of eating His body and drinking His blood had sounded strange to the disciples. But they believed in Him. He was the Holy One of God, and to walk away from Him would make even less sense than some of the things He said. So, they were sticking with Jesus.

Notice that Jesus had told the crowds that day that if they ate His flesh and drank His blood, they would remain in Him and He would remain in them. Jesus used the very same word that is found John 15:4.

Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me.

For all who partake of Jesus’ body and blood, by believing in His sacrificial death on their behalf, they will experience a permanent and irrevocable bond with Him. And that bond will make possible a life filled with fruitfulness and spiritual prosperity. This message from Jesus was meant to be a source of encouragement to the disciples. In the dark days ahead, they were to recall these words from Jesus and find hope.

But sadly, the church has tended to turn the act of abiding into a work. We have made it a mandatory requirement for experiencing fruitfulness. In other words, if we don’t abide, we don’t bear fruit. Which tends to convey the idea that any fruitfulness in our lives is completely up to us. But that is not what Jesus is saying. In fact, He is conveying jus the opposite message. He told His disciples, “you cannot be fruitful unless you remain in me” (John 15:4 NLT). In other words, it is the relationship that results in fruit, not the act of abiding. No branch can produce any fruit on its own. And at the same time, no branch has to work at remaining attached to the vine. It is a natural relationship that requires no effort on the part of the branch.

Yet, when we find our lives spiritually fruitless, we tend to question what we might be doing wrong. We begin to wonder what it is that we need to do to get the spiritual juices flowing so that we might be more productive and fruitful. And rather than abiding in the relationship we have, we begin to act as if the fruit production is all up to us. But what does Jesus say?

“Yes, I am the vine; you are the branches. Those who remain in me, and I in them, will produce much fruit. For apart from me you can do nothing. – John 15:5 NLT

No branch can produce fruit apart from the vine. And no Christian can live a life of spiritual abundance apart from His relationship with Jesus. The key to fruitfulness is recognizing our dependence and complete reliance upon Jesus. That is exactly what Paul meant when he wrote, “For I can do everything through Christ, who gives me strength” (Philippians 4:13 NLT).

Don’t miss what Jesus said in verse 5: “Those who remain in me, and I in them.” That is exactly what He said in John 6:54: “Anyone who eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me, and I in him.” The remaining or abiding to which Jesus refers is not an act of the flesh, but a work of the Spirit. It takes place through belief, not effort. That is the point Paul made to the believers in Ephesus.

God saved you by his grace when you believed. And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God. Salvation is not a reward for the good things we have done, so none of us can boast about it. – Ephesians 2:8-9 (NLT)

Our fruitfulness is not a result of our strenuous efforts to abide. It is the byproduct of believing that our sanctification or fruitfulness is entirely up to Jesus, just as our salvation was. The entire point of this passage is to remind us that it is our relationship with Jesus that matters most. There is no hope of salvation apart from Him. There is no chance of living a life of fruitfulness except through our relationship with Him. He does it all. And like a branch, the degree of our fruitfulness is entirely up to the vine and the vinedresser. The less productive branch will receive special attention from the vinedresser, resulting in pruning and careful cultivating so that the end result will be increasing fruitfulness. That is what means when He says, “he [God] prunes the branches that do bear fruit so they will produce even more” (John 15:2 NLT).

The goal is fruitfulness. And Jesus is assuring His disciples that they will be fruitful because their God is faithful.

So, what about the branches that bear no fruit? It would seem that these branches were never truly attached to the Vine. They had no lasting relationship with the Vine and, therefore, no hope of producing fruit. Like the people in the crowd who heard Jesus declare Himself to be the bread of life, they walked away from the very source of life and fruitfulness.

After this many of his disciples turned back and no longer walked with him. – John 6:66 ESV

They had been curious but not committed. They appeared to be branches but lacked a true relationship with the Vine. And Jesus had clearly communicated the non-negotiable requirement for a life of fruitfulness.

“Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. – John 6:53 ESV

Belief in who He was and what He had come to do was the key to having a true relationship with Him. Following after Jesus without having faith in Jesus will never produce fruit. Claiming to be a branch is not the same as abiding in the Vine. And all those so-called branches will one day find themselves judged. And the basis for their judgment will be their fruitlessness. In His Sermon on the Mount, Jesus referred to the fate of these false branches.

“On judgment day many will say to me, ‘Lord! Lord! We prophesied in your name and cast out demons in your name and performed many miracles in your name.’ But I will reply, ‘I never knew you.” – Matthew 7:22-23 NLT

They will brag about their fruit, but it will be the wrong kind. They will boast in their knowledge of the Lord, but He will declare that He doesn’t even know them. And these false branches will be “gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned” (John 15:6 ESV). But for those branches that remain attached to the Vine, Jesus has some outstanding news.

“…ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.” – John 15:7 ESV

They will have access to power like they have never known before. But because of their relationship to the Vine, their desires will be the same as the Vine. They will want what Jesus wants and ask for those things that Jesus desires. And Jesus clarifies exactly what they will ask for.

“By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples.” – John 15:8 ESV

Faithful branches desire nothing more than fruitfulness. They long to fulfill the wishes of the Vinedresser and act as willing agents in carrying out the work of the Vine. And Jesus describes all of this as nothing less and nothing more than abiding in His love. The very act of the branch remaining in the Vine is a beautiful picture of the love of the Father flowing through the Son into the branch and out into the world. And Jesus assured His disciples that His words were meant to encourage them.

“These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.” – John 15:11 ESV

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

A Future Full of Fruitfulness

1 “I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit. Already you are clean because of the word that I have spoken to you. Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. John 15:1-5 ESV

Jesus and His disciples have now departed the upper room where they had eaten the Passover meal together. He is resolute in His determination to keep the providentially preordained rendezvous with the cross and death prepared for Him by His Heavenly Father. But the 11 disciples who remain, are still trying to get their heads around all that Jesus has been revealing to them. And even as they make their way into the night, He continues to expand their understanding and prepare them for what lies ahead.

This passage, which is part of Jesus’ ongoing farewell discourse, provides one of the most powerful descriptions of what it means to experience eternal life with God through the Son. Jesus borrows from the familiar imagery of the vineyard to create an extended metaphor designed to convey the non-negotiable dependency His followers must have in Him. As a result of His death, burial, and resurrection, these men will no longer be independently minded followers, but they will become totally reliant extensions of God’s glory as expressed through His Son.

Over a period of three years, these men had expressed their allegiance to Jesus by choosing to follow Him and sacrifice all else on behalf of Him. They had given up their careers, left their families, exposed themselves to ridicule, gone hungry, suffered life-threatening storms at sea, traveled countless miles, and listened to more lessons than they could even remember. They were dedicated men who loved Jesus greatly. On several occasions, they had even expressed their willingness to lay down their lives for Him. But Jesus knew that the key to their continued faithfulness and fruitfulness would be through His death and resurrection. The very thing they feared the most would be the one thing that would transform their lives and transcend all their expectations of greatness and glory.

So much of what Jesus has told His disciples has escaped them. And His continued discussions regarding His death had left them frightened and frustrated. They couldn’t understand why He had to die. They couldn’t bear the thought that He was going to leave them. But Jesus had told them that His death would prove to be life-giving and fruit-bearing.

“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. Those who love their life in this world will lose it. Those who care nothing for their life in this world will keep it for eternity. Anyone who wants to serve me must follow me, because my servants must be where I am. And the Father will honor anyone who serves me.” – John 12:23-26 NLT

Extending this earlier discussion of death, life, and fruitfulness, Jesus declares, “I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser” (John 15:1 ESV). This will be the last of His “I am” statements and, with it, Jesus conveys to His disciples that everything is about to change, including their relationship with Him.

The imagery of the vine would have been very familiar to the disciples, not just because they lived in an agrarian culture where vines were ubiquitous, but because the vine was a symbol of Israel’s relationship with God. Every time they passed by the temple in Jerusalem, they would have seen the golden vine that adorned its walls. But according to the prophets, the nation of Israel, planted by God to produce abundant fruit, ended up producing wild grapes.

Let me sing for my beloved
    my love song concerning his vineyard:
My beloved had a vineyard
    on a very fertile hill.
He dug it and cleared it of stones,
    and planted it with choice vines;
he built a watchtower in the midst of it,
    and hewed out a wine vat in it;
and he looked for it to yield grapes,
    but it yielded wild grapes. – Isaiah 5:1-2 ESV

And Isaiah made it painfully clear that this lovingly planted vine that produced less-than-quality fruit represented the people of God.

For the vineyard of the Lord of hosts
    is the house of Israel,
and the men of Judah
    are his pleasant planting;
and he looked for justice,
    but behold, bloodshed;
for righteousness,
    but behold, an outcry! – Isaiah 5:7 ESV

Now, Jesus was declaring Himself to be the vine. In doing so, He was letting His disciples know that He had replaced Israel as the sole source of fruitfulness. He would be the fulfillment of all that Israel should have been. His life would yield abundant fruit and bring glory to God. Israel had failed to remain faithful. They had refused to keep their preferred status as God’s chosen people and chose instead to worship false gods. And the prophet Jeremiah declared to them God’s displeasure.

But I was the one who planted you,
    choosing a vine of the purest stock—the very best.
    How did you grow into this corrupt wild vine? – Jeremiah 2:21 NLT

But with this final “I am” statement, Jesus lets His disciples know that He is the true vine. He has been faithful and fully obedient to the will of God, the vinedresser. He was “planted” by God with a purpose in mind: to bear much fruit. And Jesus, by sacrificing His life, would fulfill that purpose by producing a “plentiful harvest of new lives” (John 12:24 NLT).

And the most amazing aspect of Jesus’ fruit-bearing ministry is the vital role His disciples will play. They will become the branches through which His life-giving, fruit-bearing ministry will flow. But it will require constant abiding on their part. The key to their role in producing fruit will be in their dependence upon the vine. And Jesus utilizes the imagery of the vinedresser or gardener tending His vines to convey exactly what He means.

“Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he [the vinedresser] takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit.” – John 15:2 ESV

There has been much debate over the centuries as to what Jesus means in these verses. Is stating that a fruitless branch is taken away, is He describing a believer’s loss of salvation? This idea would stand in direct opposition to the clear teaching of the Scriptures regarding the believer’s assurance of salvation. Jesus goes on to describe these fruitless branches as worthless and destined for destruction.

Anyone who does not remain in me is thrown away like a useless branch and withers. Such branches are gathered into a pile to be burned.” – John 15:6 NLT

Again, is Jesus suggesting that believers who fail to produce fruit will be removed from their relationship with Him and turned over to eternal judgment? That seems highly unlikely, based on His own admission to His Father that He had not “lost” any of those the Father had given Him.

“While I was with them, I kept them in your name, which you have given me. I have guarded them, and not one of them has been lost except the son of destruction…” – John 17:12 ESV

It is important to remember that Jesus is addressing the 11 disciples who have chosen to remain with Him. They are walking with Him as He makes His way across the Kidron Valley from the city of Jerusalem to the Garden of Gethsamane. These men represent all those who have placed their faith and hope in Jesus. But Jesus is revealing that the real key to their future fruitfulness and faithfulness will be the indwelling presence of the Spirit of God. As a result of His coming death, resurrection, and ascension, they will find themselves the recipients of the gift of the Holy Spirit. He will permanantly attach them to the vine, allowing them to play a vital role in the fruit-bearing plans of God.

The emphasis in this passage in on fruitfulness, not fruitlessness. It is on the vinedresser’s purpose to reap a harvest of fruit through the vine and its branches. Jesus was not threatening His disciples with a loss of salvation. He was simply conveying that their future relationship with Him would be all about fruit-bearing. To not bear fruit would be illogical and unacceptable. The very fact that He describes God as the vinedresser who “prunes” the branches so they can bear even more fruit reinforces His point.

He calls His disciples to remain or abide in Him.

“Remain in me, and I will remain in you. For a branch cannot produce fruit if it is severed from the vine, and you cannot be fruitful unless you remain in me.” – John 15:4 NLT

This had immediate application, as the disciples faced the uncertainty of the circumstances surrounding them. Jesus knew that the next few hours were going to be trying and He was calling them to remain faithful, continuing to believe in who He was. In a sense, they were about to be pruned, as God cut away all their preconceived notions regarding the Messiah. In just a matter of hours, all their lofty hopes and aspirations that Jesus would establish His Kingdom on earth would be shattered. But Jesus pleads with them to remain.

From the other gospel accounts, we know that the disciples would end up deserting Jesus. When the authorities came to arrest Jesus, they would flee into the night. But there is a sense in which they remained. They stayed nearby. They stayed together. There maintained a feint flicker of hope as they faced an unknown and uncertain future.

But Jesus was assuring them that their days of fruitfulness were not over. He would still use them to do great things. But the primary lesson they were going to learn from it all was their total reliance upon Jesus for all things. They could produce no fruit apart from Him. And their lives after His return to heaven would be marked by complete dependence upon Him.

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

The Promise of Peace

22 Judas (not Iscariot) said to him, “Lord, how is it that you will manifest yourself to us, and not to the world?” 23 Jesus answered him, “If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him. 24 Whoever does not love me does not keep my words. And the word that you hear is not mine but the Father’s who sent me.

25 “These things I have spoken to you while I am still with you. 26 But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you. 27 Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid. 28 You heard me say to you, ‘I am going away, and I will come to you.’ If you loved me, you would have rejoiced, because I am going to the Father, for the Father is greater than I. 29 And now I have told you before it takes place, so that when it does take place you may believe. 30 I will no longer talk much with you, for the ruler of this world is coming. He has no claim on me, 31 but I do as the Father has commanded me, so that the world may know that I love the Father. Rise, let us go from here.” John 14:22-31 ESV

The disciples were good men. They legitimately loved Jesus and, over the last three years of living with and listening to Him, they had come to believe that He was the Messiah. But their synagogue-sponsored religious education as boys had not prepared them for what they were hearing from the lips of Jesus. Their concept regarding the Messiah was being turned on its head. All of Jesus’ talk about His pending death at the hands of the Jewish religious leaders was disturbing because it made no sense. When the long-awaited Messiah finally appeared on the scene, He was supposed to be welcome as a King and the Savior of His downtrodden and oppressed people. And when Jesus had entered into Jerusalem to shouts of “Hosanna” and “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord, even the King of Israel!” (John 12:13 ESV), the disciples must have ecstatic. Their King had come. And they had assumed that, as His faithful disciples, they would be part of the Messiah’s royal retinue.

But within hours, their joy had turned to sorrow and confusion. At their celebration of the Passover, Jesus had announced the news that one of them would betray Him. Peter had been informed that he would end up denying Jesus. Their newly announced King had begun talking about being “lifted up” and even leaving them. And His repeated calls for them to believe in Him must have come across as an indictment of their faith. Was He questioning their commitment to Him? Did He doubt their love for Him?

And their growing confusion and concern are evident in the words of one of His lesser-known disciples, who was also named Judas.

Judas (not Judas Iscariot, but the other disciple with that name) said to him, “Lord, why are you going to reveal yourself only to us and not to the world at large?” – John 14:22 NLT

His question was in response to Jesus’ earlier statement: “Soon the world will no longer see me, but you will see me” (John 14:19 NLT). He was perplexed by Jesus’ words because he believed that when the Messiah came, He would reveal Himself to every nation on earth. The Messiah’s coming would have worldwide significance.

He was thoroughly confused by all of Jesus’ talk about leaving and appearing. He was hung up on all the references about going, coming, disappearing, and revealing. But rather than answer Judas’ question, Jesus returned to the subject of loving and obeying.

“All who love me will do what I say. My Father will love them, and we will come and make our home with each of them. Anyone who doesn’t love me will not obey me. – John 14:23-24 NLT

Jesus is narrowing the playing field. While Judas is thinking globally and has an image in his mind of a Messianic Kingdom with worldwide implications, Jesus is focused on the flock that had been given to Him by God. In His role as the Good Shepherd, Jesus was committed to caring for those whom the Father had called and for whom He had come to die.

“I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep. And I have other sheep that are not of this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd.” – John 10:14-16 ESV

It is interesting to note that this question came from a man named Judas. The other disciple who shared that same name had just departed the upper room, under the direct influence of Satan himself, and was in the process of preparing to betray Jesus. But this Judas, while struggling with understanding all that was happening, was still by Jesus’ side. And like his fellow disciples, Judas was being called by Jesus to continue believing. Jesus was encouraging them to trust Him in spite of all the questions they wanted to ask Him. And He reminded them that His words were not His own. He was not making this stuff up, but everything He was telling them was directly from God the Father.

“And remember, my words are not my own. What I am telling you is from the Father who sent me.” – John 14:24 NLT

And while Jesus knew they were having a difficult time accepting what He had to say, He assured them that the day would come when it would all make sense to them.

“But when the Father sends the Advocate as my representative—that is, the Holy Spirit—he will teach you everything and will remind you of everything I have told you.” – John 14:26 NLT

When the Holy Spirit came, He would clear up any remaining confusion by providing the disciples with a divine enablement to recall and comprehend all that Jesus had ever said to them. The “comforter” would become their instructor. And Jesus describes this coming ministry of the Holy Spirit as a “gift.”

“I am leaving you with a gift—peace of mind and heart. And the peace I give is a gift the world cannot give. So don’t be troubled or afraid.” – John 14:27 NLT

Yes, for the moment, Judas and his friends were wrestling doubt and fear. But if they would keep believing and trusting, they would eventually experience an overwhelming sense of peace when the Holy Spirit came to dwell in them and began to minister to them. Jesus was leaving, but He was not going to leave them alone or empty-handed. He was going to leave them with a parting gift – the Holy Spirit of God – who would come alongside them, providing them with power, insight, and the peace that passes all understanding (Philippians 4:7).

One of the most difficult things the disciples would have to do was to believe and wait. Jesus expected them to trust Him. But that was going to require that they remember all that He had said to them while their whole world seemed to collapse around them.

“Remember what I told you: I am going away, but I will come back to you again. If you really loved me, you would be happy that I am going to the Father, who is greater than I am. I have told you these things before they happen so that when they do happen, you will believe.” – John 14:28-29 NLT

The day was coming when the proverbial light would come on and they would see with a new Spirit-induced clarity. All the pieces would come together. The clouds of confusion would pass away and be replaced with a faith-building, belief-stirring sense of understanding of everything. And as John penned the words of his gospel, he was doing so from the other side of the cross. He had experienced the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. His eyes had been opened and all the cryptic-sounding, mind-numbing messages of Jesus had suddenly made sense. All the miracles and messages of Jesus had taken on a whole new meaning. As a result, John’s belief in Jesus had grown exponentially. And as John reflected back on all that He had seen and heard, He couldn’t help but tell others of the glories of Jesus, the Son of God.

We proclaim to you the one who existed from the beginning, whom we have heard and seen. We saw him with our own eyes and touched him with our own hands. He is the Word of life. This one who is life itself was revealed to us, and we have seen him. And now we testify and proclaim to you that he is the one who is eternal life. He was with the Father, and then he was revealed to us. We proclaim to you what we ourselves have actually seen and heard so that you may have fellowship with us. And our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ. We are writing these things so that you may fully share our joy. – 1 John 1:1-4 NLT

But Jesus, knowing that the time for His death was fast-approaching, abruptly ended His farewell discourse and set His mind on the task at hand.

“I don’t have much more time to talk to you, because the ruler of this world approaches. He has no power over me, but I will do what the Father requires of me, so that the world will know that I love the Father. Come, let’s be going.” – John 14:30-31 NLT

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

Seeing Is Believing

Philip said to him, “Lord, show us the Father, and it is enough for us.” Jesus said to him, “Have I been with you so long, and you still do not know me, Philip? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? 10 Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own authority, but the Father who dwells in me does his works. 11 Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me, or else believe on account of the works themselves.

12 “Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes in me will also do the works that I do; and greater works than these will he do, because I am going to the Father. 13 Whatever you ask in my name, this I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. 14 If you ask me anything in my name, I will do it. John 14:8-14 ESV

Jesus seems to be trying to make a not-so-subtle point with His disciples.

believe also in me.” – vs 1

Believe me… – vs 11

whoever believes in me.” – vs 12

In attempting to prepare them for His death and departure, Jesus stresses the need for their continued belief or trust in Him. During the last three years, He has given them ample evidence regarding His identity as the Son of God. By virtue of His many miracles and messages, Jesus has revealed His power and authority, given to Him by God. These men have witnessed never-before-seen signs and wonders, from the turning of water into wine to the raising of Lazarus from the dead. From the safety of their boat, they had watched Jesus walking on water. They could recall the many occasions when Jesus had debated with the Pharisees and had been amazed at the boldness and authority with which He spoke. He had repeatedly left His learned adversaries speechless and seemingly powerless to refute His words.

But as the day of death drew closer, Jesus knew that these men were going to have their faith in Him tested like never before. Even though He had repeatedly told them exactly what was going to take place in Jerusalem, His death was going to catch them completely off guard. And the last 24 hours had been an emotional roller coaster for these men, as they had gone from the ecstatic high associated with His triumphal entry to the despair in hearing Him announce His betrayal by one of their own.

The days ahead were going to be dark. The spiritual battle that had been taking simmering under the surface for the last three years was going to explode on the scene in dramatic fashion. The steadily increasing anger of the Pharisees and their fellow members of the Sanhedrin would finally reach its boiling point, manifesting itself in a virtually maniacal call for the death of Jesus.

But knowing all this, Jesus had told them, “Do not let your hearts be distressed. You believe in God; believe also in me” (John 14:1 NET). He wanted them to keep believing – in spite of the circumstances. Things were going to get worse before they got better, but they could still trust Him. Yes, their world was about to be rocked and they would be tempted to believe the worst, but Jesus wanted them to keep their minds focused on who He was and all that He had done. He was the Son of God, the Messiah, the King of Israel, the bread of life, the source of living water, the Good Shepherd, and the Lamb who takes away the sins of the world. None of that had changed. And nothing that was about to happen would alter the reality of Jesus’ identity or keep Him from accomplishing His God-ordained mission. In fact, all that was about to take place would be according to the Father’s divine plan and in keeping with His sovereign will.

And Jesus assured His disciples that His relationship with the Father would be unaltered by anything that was about to happen. The subsequent events surrounding Jesus’ death were going to provide a pathway to the Father. That is what Jesus meant when He said, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6 ESV). But the reality was that Jesus had already revealed the Father to them by virtue of His presence among them. As Paul states, Jesus was “the visible image of the invisible God” (Colossians 1:15 ESV). And John had opened his gospel with the assurance that Jesus was the very manifestation of God.

No one has ever seen God, but the one and only Son, who is Himself God and is at the Father’s side, has made Him known. – John 1:18 BSB

But when Jesus told His disciples “From now on you do know him and have seen him” (John 14:7 ESV), Phillip blurted out, “Lord, show us the Father, and it is enough for us” (John 14:8 ESV). He didn’t get it. After three years of intimate contact with Jesus, he still failed to grasp the full reality of His identity as the Son of God. Phillip, like the rest of the disciples, believed in Jesus, but he did not understand that to see Jesus was to see God. When Jesus had said, “The Father and I are one” (John 10:30 NLT), the full import of His words had escaped them.

So, Phillip did what any good Jew would have done if given the opportunity, he asked that he might get a glimpse of God. He expressed the same desire that Moses had communicated to God in the wilderness: “Please show me your glory” (Exodus 33:18 ESV).

But Jesus gently rebuked Phillip and, in doing so, revealed a vital truth regarding the relationship between the Father and His Son.

“Have I been with you all this time, Philip, and yet you still don’t know who I am? Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father! So why are you asking me to show him to you? – John 14:9 NLT

Notice Jesus’ emphasis on His identity. “You still don’t know who I am.” After three years of walking with Jesus, Phillip and his companions were still unconvinced of Jesus’ deity. Yes, they believed He was from God but were having difficulty in believing Him to actually be God.

Jesus’ claim to be one with God was the fuel that had inflamed the hatred of the religious leaders against Him. In an earlier confrontation with them, immediately after He had healed a man on the Sabbath, He had stated, “My Father is working until now, and I am working” (John 5:17 ESV). And John records the response of the Jewish leaders:

This was why the Jews were seeking all the more to kill him, because not only was he breaking the Sabbath, but he was even calling God his own Father, making himself equal with God. – John 5:18 ESV

The Jewish religious leaders had clearly understood what Jesus was saying, and they rejected it as nothing less than blasphemy, a crime worthy of death. But the disciples never uttered a word. They had heard the same statements from the lips of Jesus, but John never provides any insights into what they thought about His claims.

But Phillip’s request speaks volumes. It clearly shows that the disciples were still wrestling with the concept of Jesus’ deity. So, Jesus confronted their unbelief.

“Don’t you believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words I speak are not my own, but my Father who lives in me does his work through me.” – John 14:10 NLT

The relationship between Jesus and His Father was essential. It was the key to all that was about to take place. Jesus wanted them to know that the events they were about to witness would be the sovereign will and work of God. Jesus was doing exactly what His Father had told Him to do. And every word He had ever spoken had come directly from the throne of God.

As Jews, Phillip and his fellow disciples had been steeped in the concept of monotheism – the belief that there was only one God. They had been raised on passages like those found in the book of Isaiah:

“I am the LORD, and there is no other, besides me there is no God…” – Isaiah 45:5 ESV

“I am the first and I am the last; besides me there is no god.” – Isaiah 44:6 ESV

“I alone am God. There is no other God— there never has been, and there never will be. – Isaiah 43:10 NLT

The concept of the Trinity was nowhere on their radar screen. They had no way of understanding what Jesus was saying. Jesus was revealing to them a truth that had escaped their biblical scholars and seemed to contradict a basic tenet of their faith system. But the deity of Jesus was vital to all that was about to happen. It was His identity as the Son of God that would make His pending death effectual, as the sinless Son sacrificed His life on behalf of sinful mankind.

For God made Christ, who never sinned, to be the offering for our sin, so that we could be made right with God through Christ. – 2 Corinthians 5:21 NLT

And Jesus pleaded with His disciples to believe that He and the Father are one. No matter how difficult it was for them to grasp this concept, it was essential that they recognize it as true. And yet, knowing that they would continue to struggle right up until the bitter end, Jesus encouraged them to believe what they would see. If they still couldn’t believe with their ears, they were going to have ample opportunity to believe with their eyes.

“Believe me that I am in the Father, and the Father is in me, but if you do not believe me, believe because of the miraculous deeds themselves.” – John 14:11 ESV

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

All You Need to Know

1 “Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also. And you know the way to where I am going.” Thomas said to him, “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?” Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you had known me, you would have known my Father also. From now on you do know him and have seen him.” John 14:1-7 ESV

Jesus has just told Peter that he will deny Him, not once, but three times. Then He followed this painful pronouncement with a rather incongruous statement that seems a bit out of place.

“Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me.” – John 14:1 ESV

Everyone in the room that night was troubled, including Jesus (John 13:21). Jesus’ mind was filled with knowledge about all that was about to take place. He had been aware of Judas’ betrayal. He knew that Peter, one of the members of His inner circle, would end up denying any knowledge Him. Jesus knew His disciples would all desert Him in His hour of greatest need. The crowds that had eagerly flocked to watch Him perform signs and wonders would be long gone. And He was fully aware that the hours ahead would be filled with humiliation, insufferable pain, and the agony of the cross.

But what about the disciples? They were unaware of most of these details but they were still reeling from all that Jesus had just told them. They were disturbed by the news that one of them would betray Him. But even when Judas left the upper room, they remained unsure as to what he was about to do. Yet their hearts were troubled. Because they knew something ominous was about to happen. They just couldn’t put their finger on what it was.

And when Jesus had announced His imminent departure, He added the disconcerting news that they would not be joining Him. After three years of constant companionship with Jesus, He was going to abandon them. And then He tells them, “Don’t let your hearts be troubled.”

And poor Peter must have taken this statement particularly hard. He had just been outed as the one who would deny Jesus. How was he supposed to be untroubled by this news? And was Jesus’ statement about belief aimed at him? Was Jesus insinuating that Peter lacked faith?

Jesus, in His compassionate and caring way, is attempting to encourage His dismayed and discouraged disciples. He knows they are struggling. And as the Good Shepherd, He cares deeply about their physical and spiritual well-being. His love for them is a primary factor behind His pending death for them.

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

“There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” – John 15:13 NLT

But in their greatest moment of confusion and consternation, Jesus encourages them to believe. The darkness is closing in but He remains the light of the world. While everything around them is looking bleak and foreboding, He remains the same. He is still “the Christ, the Son of the living God” just as Peter had confessed Him to be (Matthew 16:16). He was still “the Messiah,” just as Andrew had announced to Peter three years earlier (John 1:43). And He was still “the Son of God” and “the King of Israel” as Nathanael had proclaimed (John 1:49).

But now, they were beginning to get a glimpse into His true mission. He had not come to set them free from slavery to Rome. His advent as the Son of God was not so He could set up His Kingdom on earth. He had come to offer His life as a ransom for many (Matthew 20:28). And the time had come for Him to fulfill His God-ordained mission.

There was so much they didn’t know or understand. But it is not as if Jesus had kept them in the dark about His future. In fact, Matthew records that immediately after Peter had made His public confession that Jesus was “the Messiah, the Son of the living God” (Matthew 16:16 NLT), Jesus “began to tell his disciples plainly that it was necessary for him to go to Jerusalem, and that he would suffer many terrible things at the hands of the elders, the leading priests, and the teachers of religious law. He would be killed, but on the third day he would be raised from the dead” (Matthew 16:21 NLT).

And yet, the very same man who had boldly confessed Jesus to be the Messiah pulled Him aside and rebuked Him.

“Heaven forbid, Lord,” he said. “This will never happen to you!” – Matthew 16:22 NLT

Jesus’ plains words concerning His death left Peter stunned and appalled. It was not what he expected or wanted. It didn’t fit into his concept of the Messiah. So, he simply rejected it.

And this had not been the last time Jesus shared news of what was going to happen. Even as they had made their way to Jerusalem and before His triumphal entry into the city, Jesus had reiterated to His disciples all that was about to happen.

“Listen,” he said, “we’re going up to Jerusalem, where the Son of Man will be betrayed to the leading priests and the teachers of religious law. They will sentence him to die. Then they will hand him over to the Romans to be mocked, flogged with a whip, and crucified. But on the third day he will be raised from the dead.” – Matthew 20:18-19 NLT

He couldn’t have made it much clearer. But they had refused to accept what He had to say because His words were not what they wanted to hear. And it is interesting to note that, immediately after Jesus made this announcement to His disciples, John’s own mother had approached Jesus with a rather presumptuous request on behalf of John and his brother, James.

“In your Kingdom, please let my two sons sit in places of honor next to you, one on your right and the other on your left.” – Matthew 20:21 NLT

She obviously expected Jesus to set up an earthly kingdom and was hoping to convince Him to award her two sons with places of prominence in His administration. But Jesus informed her and her two sons who were standing right beside her, “You don’t know what you are asking! Are you able to drink from the bitter cup of suffering I am about to drink?” (Matthew 20:22 NLT). 

They had the timeline all wrong. They had been expecting a Messiah who would come as a conquering King. But Jesus had come to play the part of the suffering servant. And, once again, Jesus had made this aspect of His earthly ministry quite clear.

When the other 10 disciples had gotten wind of what the mother of James and John had done, they had been furious. They all shared an expectation that they would play major roles in Jesus’ coming kingdom. But Jesus had new for them.

“You know that the rulers in this world lord it over their people, and officials flaunt their authority over those under them. But among you it will be different. Whoever wants to be a leader among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first among you must become your slave. For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve others and to give his life as a ransom for many.” – Matthew 20:25-28 NLT

Jesus had come to earth so that He could hang on a cross, not sit on a throne. He had taken on human flesh so that He might bear a crown of thorns, not one made of gold and precious stones. His incarnation had been so that He might suffer the humiliation of crucifixion, not the joy of His own inauguration as king. That time would come, but it would not be now.

But Jesus wanted His disciples to know that they could still trust Him. Despite all that was happening around them, they could take Him at His word as the Son of God. And while much of what they had heard Him say had been less-than-encouraging, He wanted them to know there was good news. This dark cloud had a silver lining.

“In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also.” – John 14:2-3 ESV

Yes, Jesus would be leaving them, but for a very good reason. He would be returning to His Father’s side where He would begin preparations for the day when they would each join Him. And when the time was right, Jesus assured them, He would return for His own.

Like so many of Jesus’ other statements, this one flew right over the heads of His disciples. It would only be after Jesus had died, been resurrected, and returned to heaven, that the disciples would put all the pieces together and understand the significance of His words. With the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, John and the other 10 disciples received a divine capacity to comprehend all that Jesus had said and done in their three years with Him. For the first time, it all began to make sense.

But on that night in the upper room, when Jesus insinuated that they knew where He was going, Thomas had confessed, “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?” (John 14:5 ESV). He was confused and concerned. How would they find Jesus if they didn’t know where He was going?

Then Jesus dropped the bombshell that destroyed all their preconceived notions concerning righteousness, salvation, forgiveness, and justification before God.

“I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” – John 14:6 ESV

He boldly and unequivocally proclaimed Himself to be the one and only source of access to God. And the pathway to the Father would pass through the shadow of the cross. Jesus assures His disciples that it is their relationship with Him that assures them of having a permanent relationship with God. Verse seven might better be translated, “If you have known me, you will know my Father too” (John 14:7 NET). And the inference seems to be that they since they have known Jesus, they most certainly have known and seen God. It was their belief in Jesus as the Son of God that made possible their access to and relationship with God. So, when Thomas had said they didn’t know the way, Jesus assured them He was wrong. They knew Him and that was all they needed to know.  

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

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

All Part of the Plan

21 After saying these things, Jesus was troubled in his spirit, and testified, “Truly, truly, I say to you, one of you will betray me.” 22 The disciples looked at one another, uncertain of whom he spoke. 23 One of his disciples, whom Jesus loved, was reclining at table at Jesus’ side, 24 so Simon Peter motioned to him to ask Jesus of whom he was speaking. 25 So that disciple, leaning back against Jesus, said to him, “Lord, who is it?” 26 Jesus answered, “It is he to whom I will give this morsel of bread when I have dipped it.” So when he had dipped the morsel, he gave it to Judas, the son of Simon Iscariot. 27 Then after he had taken the morsel, Satan entered into him. Jesus said to him, “What you are going to do, do quickly.” 28 Now no one at the table knew why he said this to him. 29 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. 30 So, after receiving the morsel of bread, he immediately went out. And it was night. John 13:21-30 ESV

What immediately followed Jesus’ washing is His disciples’ feet was His betrayal by Judas. But this shocking and unexpected event did not catch Jesus by surprise because He had always known it was part of His Father’s plan. In fact, all the way back in chapter six, John recorded Jesus’ first allusion to this fateful but necessary event.

Jesus had just finished delivering a very revealing yet confusing message regarding His pending death. He left the audience in the synagogue stunned when He described Himself as the bread of life and told them that their consumption of His body and blood would be the key to eternal life.

“For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him. As the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever feeds on me, he also will live because of me. This is the bread that came down from heaven, not like the bread the fathers ate, and died. Whoever feeds on this bread will live forever.” – John 6:55-58 ESV

As a result of this rather strange pronouncement, many of Jesus’ followers left Him. And once again, Jesus was not surprised by their reaction. He simply stated, “there are some of you who do not believe” and John added an aside, “For Jesus knew from the beginning who those were who did not believe, and who it was who would betray him” (John 6:64 ESV). Jesus had always been aware that there would be unbelievers, even among His 12 disciples. And He reminded these men that true believers were those who had been called by His Father.

“This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted him by the Father.” – John 6:65 ESV

Even the ability to believe in Jesus was a gift from God. That is why Jesus had told them, “It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh is no help at all” (John 6:63 ESV). 

So, as Jesus watched His former “followers” walk away, He asked His disciples if they wanted to leave Him as well. To which Peter responded, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God” (John 6:68-69 ESV). Peter, speaking on behalf of the 11 other disciples, declared their belief in Jesus as the Son of God. But Jesus knew something Peter did not know. One of the 12 was an imposter and an unbeliever.

Jesus answered them, “Did I not choose you, the twelve? And yet one of you is a devil.” He spoke of Judas the son of Simon Iscariot, for he, one of the twelve, was going to betray him. – John 6:70-71 ESV

This news did not register with Peter or the other disciples. It is even possible that Judas was nonplussed by this announcement because he had yet to make his fateful decision to betray Jesus. But the point Jesus seemed to be making is that He knew exactly what was going to happen because it had always been a part of God’s sovereign plan. Even Jesus’ choosing of Judas had been for his future role as a betrayer, not as a believer. It was all part of the preordained will of God and it had been foretold by the prophets of God. Jesus made this point clear that evening in the upper room.

“I am not speaking of all of you; I know whom I have chosen. But the Scripture will be fulfilled, ‘He who ate my bread has lifted his heel against me.’ – John 13:18 ESV

The role Judas would play had been foreordained by God and would be in fulfillment of the prophecy contained in Psalm 41:9. And Jesus, as the Son of God, was fully aware of this aspect of His Father’s plan and unsurprised by what was about to take place.

Yet John described Jesus as being “troubled in his spirit” (John 13:21 ESV). It seems likely that Jesus’ was visibly moved by the thought of all that was about to take place and His outward demeanor was evident to the disciples. This would be His final meal with His disciples before His betrayal, arrest, trials, and crucifixion. And while Jesus was fully God and completely aware of how things would turn out, He was also fully human and impacted by the thought of all that faced Him in the hours ahead. He was about to be betrayed by one who had spent three years at His side. The rest of His disciples would end up deserting Him. And He would undergo a series of humiliating trials, brutal beatings, and an excruciating death on a Roman cross.

And Jesus, moved in spirit, announced to His disciples, “Truly, truly, I say to you, one of you will betray me” (John 13:21 ESV). As expected, His disciples were shocked by this news and began to speculate who among them would dare to do such a thing. Matthew records in his gospel that the disciples were saddened by this news “and began to say to him one after another, ‘Is it I, Lord?’” (Matthew 26:22 ESV).

And Peter, anxious to know who the guilty party might be, got the attention of John, who was reclining at Jesus’ right side at the table. John, the disciple “whom Jesus loved” (John 13:23 ESV), leaned back against Jesus and asked, “Lord, who is it?” (John 13:25 ESV). To which Jesus responded, “It is he to whom I will give this morsel of bread when I have dipped it” (John 13:26 ESV). This was in direct fulfillment of Psalm 41:9.

There are some scholars who believe that Judas was seated to Jesus’ left hand, a place of honor. So, all Jesus had to do was dip the morsel of unleavened bread into the paschal stew and hand it to His betrayer. And John reports that as soon as Jesus gave the bread to Judas, “Satan entered into him” (John 13:27 ESV).

Metaphorically, Jesus, as the bread of life, personally handed Himself over to His betrayer. In passing the morsel of bread to Judas, Jesus was symbolically offering His life to the very one who would reject His offer of eternal life in exchange for “the deceitfulness of riches and the desires for other things” (Mark 4:19 ESV). Judas was going to sell Jesus out for 30 pieces of silver.

In his first letter, John would warn of the danger of allowing a love of the world to replace our love for God and His Son.

Do not love this world nor the things it offers you, for when you love the world, you do not have the love of the Father in you. – 1 John 2:15 NLT

And he would go on to describe the destructive and unfulfilling nature of this love affair with the world.

For the world offers only a craving for physical pleasure, a craving for everything we see, and pride in our achievements and possessions. These are not from the Father, but are from this world. – 1 John 2:16 NLT

Judas was a sell-out. It seems likely that his decision to follow Jesus had been motivated by what he thought he could get out of it. And when Jesus failed to manifest Himself as the conquering warrior and made no effort to establish His kingdom on earth, Judas lost interest. He was driven by a love of the world and a desire for fame and fortune. And knowing that the religious leaders were anxious to arrest Jesus, Judas had decided to turn his wasted three years into a financial windfall. But Jesus warned that this decision by Judas would have deadly consequences, and not just for Him.

“The Son of Man goes as it is written of him, but woe to that man by whom the Son of Man is betrayed! It would have been better for that man if he had not been born.” – Matthew 26:24 ESV

Both men were fated for death. Jesus would be betrayed by Judas so that He might fulfill the will of His Heavenly Father and suffer for the sins of mankind by His death on a tree. And Judas, after selling out the sinless Lamb of God, would also suffer an ignoble death by hanging himself from a tree. His crime and its punishment would be remembered throughout the centuries.

Jesus, after handing the bread to Judas, whispered to him, “What you are going to do, do quickly” (John 13:27 ESV). His hour had come and it was important that Judas fulfill his role. The betrayal of Jesus by Judas was going to set into motion the final phase of God’s grand redemptive plan. And John simply records: “after receiving the morsel of bread, he immediately went out. And it was night” (John 13:30 ESV).

Darkness descended. The night had come. With the last four words of verse 30, John reminds his readers of the words spoken by Jesus in regards to His pending death.

“My light will shine for you just a little longer. Walk in the light while you can, so the darkness will not overtake you. Those who walk in the darkness cannot see where they are going. Put your trust in the light while there is still time; then you will become children of the light.” – John 12:35-36 NLT

The time had come for the light to be extinquished. The moment for Jesus’ death was fast approaching. But it was all part of the divine plan to bring salvation to sin-darkened world.

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

Do As I Have Done

12 When he had washed their feet and put on his outer garments and resumed his place, he said to them, “Do you understand what I have done to you? 13 You call me Teacher and Lord, and you are right, for so I am. 14 If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. 15 For I have given you an example, that you also should do just as I have done to you. 16 Truly, truly, I say to you, a servant is not greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. 17 If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them. 18 I am not speaking of all of you; I know whom I have chosen. But the Scripture will be fulfilled, ‘He who ate my bread has lifted his heel against me.’ 19 I am telling you this now, before it takes place, that when it does take place you may believe that I am he. 20 Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever receives the one I send receives me, and whoever receives me receives the one who sent me.” John 13:12-20 ESV

Earlier in John’s narrative, he described Jesus as having “laid aside his outer garments” (John 13:4 ESV). The Greek word is tithēmi and it means to “lay down, to wear or carry no longer.” The same word is found three times in Jesus’ Good Shepherd discourse as He discusses His pending death.

For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down [tithēmi] my life that I may take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down [tithēmi] of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down [tithēmi], and I have authority to take it up again. This charge I have received from my Father.” – John 10:17-18 ESV

It is no coincidence that John chose to use this very same word when describing Jesus laying aside His outer garment in preparation to wash the feet of the disciples. And when Jesus had completed His task, John states that He “put on his outer garments” (John 13:17 ESV). Again, notice the word John used to describe this action by Jesus. It is lambanō, a Greek word that means “to take what is one’s own” or “to get back.” And it is the same word used in Jesus’ discourse on the Good Shepherd when He stated that He had the authority to lay down His life and to take it up again (lambanō).

John, writing long after the scene he personally witnessed and experienced in the upper room, is revealing his understanding of what took place that fateful evening. While the true meaning behind Jesus’ actions had evaded him that night, with the coming of the Holy Spirit, John had been able to comprehend the symbolic meaning behind the foot washing.

In taking off His outer garment, Jesus was signifying His death. And by taking up and putting on the very same garment, Jesus was illustrating His resurrection. And all that He did in-between was meant to reveal the spiritual cleansing that would come as a result of His sacrificial and selfless death.

It is interesting to note that Jesus, having put on His outer garment and rejoined His disciples at the table, asked them, “Do you understand what I have done to you” (John 13:12 ESV), and they made no reply. They had no idea what this strange and unexpected ritual meant. Because they had not yet received the Holy Spirit. Jesus will later tell them, “But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you” (John 14:26 ESV).

Having their feet washed by their Master had been uncomfortable for the disciples. It had been an awkward experience that had left them embarrassed and confused. But after the coming of the Holy Spirit, their spiritual eyes would be opened and they would be able to see the events of that evening from a whole new perspective.

But on that night in the upper room, Jesus made no attempt to explain what He had done. He simply challenged them to follow His example.

“You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and you are right, because that’s what I am. And since I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you ought to wash each other’s feet. I have given you an example to follow. Do as I have done to you.” – John 13:13-15 NLT

It is important that we see understand Jesus’ washing of the disciples’ feet as what it was, “an acted parable of the Lord’s humiliation unto death” (George R. Beasley-Murray, “Baptism, Wash.” In New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology). Jesus had provided them with a tangible demonstration of His coming death on the cross. It was going to require abject humility, the laying aside of His divine rights, and the willing sacrifice of His life. And the apostle Paul would later use the death of Jesus as an example for believers to follow, calling them to live lives of humility and selfless service.

Instead of being motivated by selfish ambition or vanity, each of you should, in humility, be moved to treat one another as more important than yourself. Each of you should be concerned not only about your own interests, but about the interests of others as well. You should have the same attitude toward one another that Christ Jesus had… – Philippians 2:3-5 NLT

And then he describes the “attitude” or mindset of Jesus they were to emulate.

…who though he existed in the form of God
did not regard equality with God
as something to be grasped,
but emptied himself
by taking on the form of a slave,
by looking like other men,
and by sharing in human nature.
He humbled himself,
by becoming obedient to the point of death
—even death on a cross! – Philippians 2:6-8 NLT

And Jesus commended His disciples for recognizing Him as their “Lord and Teacher.” He seems to have used these words in a non-spiritual and more “earthy” sense. He acknowledges that His disciples saw Him as their Rabbi or teacher and respected Him as their superior. But they were not yet fully convinced of His deity and true identity. So, Jesus seems to be emphasizing that, if their “Lord and Teacher” would be willing to humble Himself and wash their feet, they had no excuse for viewing themselves as too good to follow His example. If Jesus could humble Himself and do the unthinkable, so could they. There was no place in His Kingdom for pride, arrogance, or self-conceit.

And Jesus makes it clear that His washing of their feet had been intended as an example to follow, not a mandatory perfunctory ritual to be mechanically performed. The word “example” means “a sign suggestive of anything.” HIs washing of their feet had been intended as a representation of a far greater act of selflessness they would need to make. And Jesus would later reveal to His disciples just what that more significant act of sacrifice would be.

“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

The disciples had no idea what was coming. Even though Jesus had repeatedly alluded to His coming death, they were not yet able to grasp the weight of what was taking place around them. So, Jesus simply called them to follow His example.

“I tell you the truth, slaves are not greater than their master. Nor is the messenger more important than the one who sends the message. Now that you know these things, God will bless you for doing them.” – John 13:16-17 NLT

It is likely that all they heard Jesus saying was that they should wash one another’s feet. And it is even more likely that they couldn’t understand why. But before any of them could ask for clarification or express their confusion, Jesus changed the subject.

“I am not saying these things to all of you; I know the ones I have chosen. But this fulfills the Scripture that says, ‘The one who eats my food has turned against me.’ I tell you this beforehand, so that when it happens you will believe that I am the Messiah.” – John 13:18-19 NLT

Jesus was preparing His disciples for what was to come, including His betrayal by the hands of Judas. But Jesus lets them know that all of this was divinely ordained. He had chosen them all, including Judas. Each of them had a role to play. For Judas, his role would be to betray Jesus into the hands of the religious leaders, and his act would be in direct fulfillment of Scripture. Jesus quotes from Psalm 41:9, revealing that He had chosen Judas to fulfill the prophecy it contained. Nothing that was about to happen would be a surprise to Jesus. He would not be caught off-guard by Judas’ actions or shocked by the outcome of His pending trials before the high priest, Pilate, or Herod. It would all take place according to God’s sovereign plan. And Jesus wanted His disciples to know that He knew. In time, they would look back on all that happened and recognize that He had been who He had claimed to be: The Messiah.

And speaking prophetically, Jesus lets the disciples in on what the future has in store for them. When He has ascended back to His Father’s side in heaven, they will become His ambassadors, His “sent ones,” acting on His behalf and fulfilling the will of the Father in His absence.

“I tell you the truth, anyone who welcomes my messenger is welcoming me, and anyone who welcomes me is welcoming the Father who sent me.” – John 13:20 NLT

And this would all be made possible by His death, resurrection, and ascension, and the Holy Spirit’s coming.

“…you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you. And you will be my witnesses, telling people about me everywhere — in Jerusalem, throughout Judea, in Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” – Acts 1:8 NLT

They will have plenty of opportunities to do as He has done, selflessly sacrificing their lives for the spread of the Gospel and the glory of God.

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

Completely Cleansed

1 Now before the Feast of the Passover, when Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart out of this world to the Father, having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end. During supper, when the devil had already put it into the heart of Judas Iscariot, Simon’s son, to betray him, Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going back to God, rose from supper. He laid aside his outer garments, and taking a towel, tied it around his waist. Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was wrapped around him. He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, “Lord, do you wash my feet?” Jesus answered him, “What I am doing you do not understand now, but afterward you will understand.” Peter said to him, “You shall never wash my feet.” Jesus answered him, “If I do not wash you, you have no share with me.” Simon Peter said to him, “Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!” 10 Jesus said to him, “The one who has bathed does not need to wash, except for his feet, but is completely clean. And you are clean, but not every one of you.” 11 For he knew who was to betray him; that was why he said, “Not all of you are clean.” John 13:1-11 ESV

As Jesus senses the day of His death drawing closer, He begins to focus His attention more directly on the men He has chosen to carry on His work in His absence. His public ministry is officially over. The raising of Lazarus from the dead would be His last miracle. There would be no more debates with the religious leaders or discourses with the people in the temple. At this point, with just days remaining before He went to the cross, Jesus’ primary mission became the preparation of His disciples for all that was about to happen.

In his account of Jesus’ final week on earth, John diverges from the narratives found in the Synoptic Gospels. While Matthew, Mark, and Luke place considerable emphasis on the institution of the Lord’s Supper, while John chooses to leave it out. It would appear that John wrote his account late in the 1st-Century, likely making it the last of the four gospels to be written. Having had access to the accounts of Matthew, Mark, and Luke, John knew that they had amply covered the institution of the Lord’s Supper so, rather than echoing the same content, he focused his attention on Jesus’ teaching to the disciples. His record of the Passover meal shared by Jesus and His followers contains material not found in the other three gospels. In fact, he is the only one who records the well-known scene of Jesus washing the feet of His disciples.

It is important to remember that John’s purpose for writing his gospel was to support the very important doctrine of the deity of Jesus. Even by the end of the 1st-Century when John likely wrote his gospel, there were those who had begun to reject or repudiate the doctrine of the deity of Jesus. And because John had addressed his gospel to a Christian audience, he was attempting to reassure them that Jesus truly was who He claimed to be. John even reminded his readers of his purpose for putting pen to paper:  “that you may continue to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God” (John 20:31 NLT).

So, while the Lord’s Supper was important to John, it was not pertinent to what John was trying to convey to his audience. Instead, he chose to focus on an event that the other gospel writers left out of their accounts: The powerful object lesson of Jesus washing His disciples’ feet.

John presents a very compressed and compacted account of what took place that night. He sets the scene by juxtaposing the heart of Judas with that of Jesus.

the devil had already put it into the heart of Judas Iscariot, Simon’s son, to betray him – John 13:2 ESV

Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going back to God, rose from supper… – John 13:3-4 ESV

The heart of Jesus was motivated by love for His own. He knew He was about to leave His disciples and He greatly desired to provide them with some final words of encouragement and insight. Jesus, knowing “that his hour had come to depart out of this world” (John 13:1 ESV), performed an act of unspeakable humility and love.

So he got up from the table, took off his robe, wrapped a towel around his waist, and poured water into a basin. Then he began to wash the disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel he had around him. – John 13:4-5 NLT

The Son of God visibly placed Himself in the role of a servant and willingly washed the feet of His disciples. He provided them with an object lesson that left them stunned, embarrassed, and confused. Jesus even washed the feet of the one who would betray Him. And He did so with full awareness of His deity and superiority. He was living out the words He had spoken earlier.

“…the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” – Matthew 20:28 ESV

But the disciples were shocked by Jesus’ actions, as evidenced by Peter’s response.

“Lord, are you going to wash my feet?” – John 13:6 NLT

Always the first to speak his mind, Peter exhibited reticence at the thought of his master washing his feet. He knew this was not appropriate. Jesus was doing the work of a common slave and this embarrassed Peter. But there is far more going on here than first meets the eye. John describes Jesus as laying aside His outer garments. John did not use the normal Greek word for the removal of a piece of clothing. In fact, he will use this very same word again, when Jesus asks Peter, “Will you lay down your life for me?” (John 13:38 ESV). It is the same word Jesus used when speaking of His coming death.

“I lay down my life that I may take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again.” – John 10:17-18 ESV

This imagery of Jesus laying down and taking up His life is played out in the upper room, as Jesus lays down of His outer garments and then takes them back up again. And in-between doing so, He performs a sacrificial act of cleansing. But Peter and the disciples didn’t grasp the significance of what Jesus was doing. They didn’t make the connection. And Jesus makes this point perfectly clear.

“What I am doing you do not understand now, but afterward you will understand.” – John 13:7 ESV

When Peter vehemently refused to be cleansed by Jesus, he was unknowingly exhibiting the prideful, self-righteous attitude of the religious leaders.

In Peter’s response we see the pride and self-will that is at the heart of all sin and that is the very thing for which the cross will atone and bring healing. Peter is working from a worldly point of view, and not for the first time. – Rodney A. Whitaker, John: The IVP New Testament Commentary Series

But Jesus responded to Peter with a word of warning: “If I do not wash you, you have no share with me” (John 13:8 ESV). It would only be through Jesus’ death on the cross that true cleansing from sin could be attained. And without it, no one could have a right relationship with Christ or the Father.

Jesus’ words seemed to have gotten Peter’s attention because he immediately demanded that Jesus wash his hands and his head as well. If getting his feet washed by Jesus was a non-negotiable requirement, Peter wanted to show his enthusiasm by requesting even more cleansing. But he was missing the point.

Yet, Jesus doesn’t exactly clear up Peter’s confusion. His next statement is rather cryptic, providing the disciples with little clarity as to what He is talking about.

“The one who has bathed does not need to wash, except for his feet, but is completely clean. And you are clean, but not every one of you.” – John 13:10 ESV

It would seem that Jesus is trying to let Peter and his companions know that they belong to Him. By having been chosen by God and placed in the care of His Son, the disciples have been set apart as His servants. In a sense, they have been cleansed, but not completely. The final phase of their cleansing will take place on the cross. And when that happens, they will be made ready for the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit. Their lives will have been completely purified and made worthy vessels for the Spirit of God. It would not be until Jesus died, was raised again, and ascended, that the Holy Spirit would be poured out on His followers.

But there was one of them who would not experience this cleansing. He would not live to enjoy the coming of the Spirit of God. Judas was not clean. He was not a true believer in Jesus. He was a betrayer. And the death of Jesus would provide Him with no further cleansing from sin. As Matthew recorded in his gospel, Peter had clearly expressed His belief in Jesus when he stated, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Matthew 16:16 ESV). But evidently, Judas did not share that belief. He was not fully convinced by Jesus’ claims to be divine. He likely began following Jesus because he had hopes that He was the Messiah. But as time went by and Jesus failed to announce His Kingdom on earth, Judas lost patience and interest. And he would walk out that very night with a preconceived plan to make the most of his relationship with Jesus by betraying Him to the religious authorities. But for the time being, Peter and the rest of the disciples would remain by Jesus’ side.

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