A Dreaded and Difficult Conversation

15 When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” He said to him, “Feed my lambs.” 16 He said to him a second time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” He said to him, “Tend my sheep.” 17 He said to him the third time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” Peter was grieved because he said to him the third time, “Do you love me?” and he said to him, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep. 18 Truly, truly, I say to you, when you were young, you used to dress yourself and walk wherever you wanted, but when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and another will dress you and carry you where you do not want to go.” 19 (This he said to show by what kind of death he was to glorify God.) And after saying this he said to him, “Follow me.” John 21:15-19 ESV

The moment Peter had been dreading finally arrived. Ever since he had peered into the empty tomb, he must have experienced a growing sense of irrepressible joy at the thought that Jesus was alive and he might get see Him again. But his excitement was tempered by a nagging sense of guilt over his public denials of Jesus. On that night in the upper room, when Jesus had announced that one of the 12 would betray Him, Peter had boldly proclaimed, “I will lay down my life for you!” (John 13:37 ESV). But Jesus had responded with an equally bold statement of His own:

“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

And that very same night, as Jesus was being interrogated by the high priest and the members of Sanhedrin, Peter fulfilled Jesus’ prophecy.

The servant girl at the door said to Peter, “You also are not one of this man’s disciples, are you?” He said, “I am not.”  – John 18:17 ESV

Now Simon Peter was standing and warming himself. So they said to him, “You also are not one of his disciples, are you?” He denied it and said, “I am not.” – John 18:25 ESV

One of the servants of the high priest, a relative of the man whose ear Peter had cut off, asked, “Did I not see you in the garden with him?” Peter again denied it, and at once a rooster crowed.  – John 18:26-27 ESV

Three separate times, Peter had been asked about his personal relationship with Jesus. Three different individuals asked him to confirm his identity as a disciple or follower of Jesus, and three times he vehemently denied any knowledge of or relationship with Jesus.

Now, standing on the shore of the sea of Galilee, Peter’s worst fear was realized. He found himself alone with Jesus. Peter had been avoiding the inevitable. The weight of his guilty conscience must have become unbearable, preventing him from fully experiencing the joy of being with Jesus. Every time Peter looked at Jesus’ face or caught a fleeting glimpse of the nail prints in His hands and feet, a sense of shame and self-loathing must have welled up within him. It is difficult to imagine just how tortured Peter must have felt each time he looked on his resurrected Master and friend.

And now, Jesus approached him one on one. There is no way of knowing what was going through Peter’s mind at that moment, but one would expect that Peter had been rehearsing the apology he would need for just such a moment. Yet, mercifully, Jesus broke the awkward silence by speaking first. And what Jesus had to say to Peter speaks volumes. One might have expected Jesus to say something like, “I told you so” or “Well, what have you got to say for yourself?” But instead, Jesus asked Peter a series of three questions.

“Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?” – John 21:15 ESV

“Simon, son of John, do you love me? – John 21:16 ESV

“Simon, son of John, do you love me? – John 21:17 ESV

Actually, it was one question asked three different times. That night in the garden, Peter’s inquisitors wanted him to confirm his relationship with Jesus, and three times he had denied having one. But now, Peter is being asked to publicly confess and confirm his love for Jesus. And this time, the one asking the questions is the very one Peter had denied.

Peter’s brash and impulsive nature had finally caught up with him. Over the years he had been with Jesus, he had made a habit of speaking his mind and trying to set himself apart from the rest of the disciples. He was naturally competitive and driven to do whatever it took to stand out from the crowd. All three of the Synoptic gospels record his pride-filled response when Jesus had declared, “You will all fall away because of me this night” (Matthew 26:31 ESV). Peter had boldly proclaimed, “Though they all fall away because of you, I will never fall away” (John 26:33 ESV). He was declaring himself to be better than the rest. He was made of better stuff. But little did Peter know that his bold claim was going to be put to the test and he would end up failing miserably.

But at the heart of Jesus’ questions is the issue of love. The very first iteration of Jesus’ question compared Peter’s love with that of the other disciples. When Jesus asked, “do you love me more than these?,” He was not asking if Peter’s love for the other disciples was greater than his love for Him. This was a question designed to expose whether Peter still harbored feelings of superiority, and considered himself to be more committed to Jesus than his fellow disciples.

Remember, Peter had accused the rest of the disciples of a lack of commitment. He had predicted that they would all fall away at the first hint of trouble. But he was different. He would stay the course and remain by Jesus’ side through thick or thin. Or so he had thought.

But standing face to face with Jesus, all Peter could say was “Lord; you know that I love you” (John 21:15 ESV). No comparison. No competition. He was not willing to speak for or compare himself with the other disciples. All he could do was confirm his own love for his friend.

Over the years, much emphasis has been placed on the two Greek words for “love” that appear in this passage. One is the word agapaō and the other is phileō. The first is said to be a description of divine love – a selfless, sacrificial love expressed by God to men. While the latter was more commonly used to refer to a lower, earthly form of love – the love between two human beings. And while there is some truth to this distinction, it is also true that these two words were often used interchangeably in the Greek language. Yet, John seems to establish a clear pattern in this passage. He records that Jesus repeatedly used the word agapaō, while Peter responded by using the word phileō. There is a subtle, yet important, point of clarification being made as Jesus discusses the nature of Peter’s love. Does Peter love Jesus in the same way that Jesus loved him?

Jesus had laid down His life for Peter. He had personally demonstrated the very definition of love He had given to the disciples.

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

Jesus had faithfully fulfilled His role as the Good Shepherd.

“The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. He who is a hired hand and not a shepherd, who does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and flees, and the wolf snatches them and scatters them.” – John 10:11-12 ESV

By his actions that night in the courtyard, Peter had proven himself to be a hired hand. The wolf had come and he had fled. But now, Jesus was offering Peter an opportunity to prove his love. With each successive query, Jesus responded to Peter’s answer with a directive.

“Feed my lambs.” – John 21:15 ESV

“Tend my sheep.” – John 21:16 ESV

“Feed my sheep. – John 21:17 ESV

In essence, Jesus is demanding that Peter prove his love for Him by loving those for whom He died. Jesus had told the disciples, “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 10:16 ESV). And now, Jesus was turning the care and feeding of the flock over to Peter and his companions. If Peter wanted to prove his love for Jesus, he was going to love and care for those whom Jesus gave His life.

In His teaching on the Good Shepherd, Jesus had stated, “he who enters by the door is the shepherd of the sheep. To him the gatekeeper opens. The sheep hear his voice, and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes before them, and the sheep follow him, for they know his voice” (John 10:4 ESV). In a sense, Jesus was turning over to Peter the responsibility for shepherding and leading His flock. Peter and the other disciples would become under-shepherds, commissioned by the Good Shepherd to feed and tend His sheep. These men could express no greater love for Jesus than to care for His sheep. Jesus was leaving and He was going to turn over the care and protection of His flock to His disciples.

And then Jesus reveals to Peter that his shepherding of the sheep will be costly. Peter too will end up laying down his life for the sheep. This impulsive, self-assertive man will one day find himself being led by others. But as a sheep to the slaughter. This somewhat poetic-sounding prophecy by Jesus was meant to reveal to Peter “by what kind of death he was to glorify God” (John 21:19 ESV).

“I tell you the truth, when you were young, you were able to do as you liked; you dressed yourself and went wherever you wanted to go. But when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and others will dress you and take you where you don’t want to go.” – John 21:18 NLT

Peter’s life was going to be dramatically different from this point forward. No longer would he live the self-willed, ego-driven life he had known up until that day. He will live a long life, but one that will be dedicated the the flock of Jesus Christ and end in him laying down his own life for the sheep – just as Jesus did. And according to the early church father, Eusubius, Peter was crucified in the midsixties A.D. during the purges of the Roman emperor, Nero.

But when Jesus had completed His one-on-one conversation with Peter, He ended it the same words He had used when they first met: “Follow me.” But this time, Jesus wasn’t asking Peter to become His disciples. He was inviting Peter to follow His example of selfless, sacrificial love for the sheep. And one day, when Peter had fully followed Jesus’ example, he would follow Jesus to heaven.

“When everything is ready, I will come and get you, so that you will always be with me where I am.” – John 14:3 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

Lifeless, Yet Priceless

38 After these things Joseph of Arimathea, who was a disciple of Jesus, but secretly for fear of the Jews, asked Pilate that he might take away the body of Jesus, and Pilate gave him permission. So he came and took away his body. 39 Nicodemus also, who earlier had come to Jesus by night, came bringing a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about seventy-five pounds in weight. 40 So they took the body of Jesus and bound it in linen cloths with the spices, as is the burial custom of the Jews. 41 Now in the place where he was crucified there was a garden, and in the garden a new tomb in which no one had yet been laid. 42 So because of the Jewish day of Preparation, since the tomb was close at hand, they laid Jesus there. John 19:38-42 ESV

Using His final breath, Jesus declared “It is finished,” and then He died. Only in His third decade of life, Jesus had brutally tortured and killed, by means of one of the most inhumane forms of capital punishment ever devised: Crucifixion. From the perspective of His mother and what remained of His followers, all that remained of Jesus was His beaten, bruised, and lifeless body.

Three times in five verses, John refers to “the body of Jesus.” There is a sense of finality in these closing verses of chapter 19. One almost gets the impression that John is bringing his gospel to an abrupt and unexpected end. With Jesus dead, this must be the end of the story. And everything John records in these verses seems intended to portray the shocking end of Jesus’ life and the disappointing failure of His mission.

John describes the efforts of Joseph of Arimethea, who came to Pilate asking for permission to remove the body of Jesus from the cross for burial. John provides no insights into this man’s identity, other than he was a disciple of Jesus. But in his gospel, Mark reveals that Joseph was “a respected member of the council, who was also himself looking for the kingdom of God” (Mark 15:43 ESV). So, Joseph was a member of the Sanhedrin, the religious governing body of the Jews who had condemned Jesus to death. But Luke adds that he “had not agreed with the decision and actions of the other religious leaders” (Luke 23:51 NLT).

This dissenting member of the Sanhedrin risked not only his reputation but also his place in the religious community of Israel. The Sanhedrin had threatened anyone who showed allegiance to Jesus with ex-communication from the synagogue. But out of love for Jesus, Joseph was willing to put it all on the line. And he was not alone. He was joined by Nicodemus, another member of the high council. This is the same man who had made a light-night visit to Jesus and received a head-scratching lecture on the need to be born from above in order to enter the kingdom of heaven.

These two unlikely characters are the ones who remove the lifeless body of Jesus from the cross and prepare it for burial. It should not be overlooked that these men were members of the very same council that had condemned Jesus to death. Matthew records that when Caiaphas the high priest had asked the members of the council for their verdict, they had shouted, “Guilty! He deserves to die!” (Matthew 26:66 ESV). And then, Matthew describes the scene that followed:

Then they began to spit in Jesus’ face and beat him with their fists. And some slapped him, jeering, “Prophesy to us, you Messiah! Who hit you that time?” – Matthew 26:67-68 ESV

Yet surprisingly, from out of this prideful and hate-filled mob emerged two men who showed their final respects for Jesus by ensuring He received a proper burial.

So they took the body of Jesus and bound it in linen cloths with the spices, as is the burial custom of the Jews. – John 19:40 ESV

John’s emphasis on the body of Jesus is crucial. All throughout his gospel, John has stressed the deity and humanity of Jesus. These two aspects of Jesus’ identity are inseparable and equally vital in John’s understanding of the Gospel. Jesus was the Word made flesh (John 1:14). He was the Son of God who came from heaven and became a man so that He might dwell among us and reveal the glory of God to us. According to John, Jesus, in HIs incarnation, made God known (John 1:18). The apostle Paul declares that Jesus, by virtue of His humanity, was “the visible image of the invisible God” (Colossians 1:15 NLT).

But there was far more behind the miracle of the incarnation than making God known. Jesus came to make God accessible. Paul describes that Jesus’ coming to earth “in a body like the bodies we sinners have,” had much more long-term and radical implications.

He [God] sent his own Son in a body like the bodies we sinners have. And in that body God declared an end to sin’s control over us by giving his Son as a sacrifice for our sins. – Romans 8:3 NLT

The physical body of Jesus had profound spiritual implications. It was His body that allowed Him to live as a man and to be “tempted as we are, yet without sin” (Hebrews 4:15 ESV). And it was His sinlessness that made Him the perfect sacrifice for the sins of mankind. The author of Hebrews goes on to describe the absolute necessity that Jesus be fully human so that He could serve as the substitutionary atonement for the sins of a guilty and condemned humanity.

“You did not want animal sacrifices or sin offerings.
    But you have given me a body to offer.
You were not pleased with burnt offerings
    or other offerings for sin.
Then I said, ‘Look, I have come to do your will, O God—
    as is written about me in the Scriptures.’” – Hebrews 10:5-7 NLT

For God’s will was for us to be made holy by the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ, once for all time. – Hebrews 10:10 NLT

The body of Jesus, while lifeless, was also priceless. And John’s emphasis on the extravagant and expensive quantity of burial spices brought by Nicodemus is intended to drive home the infinite worth value of the body of Jesus. And Peter also emphasizes the priceless nature of Jesus’ sacrifice.

For you know that God paid a ransom to save you from the empty life you inherited from your ancestors. And it was not paid with mere gold or silver, which lose their value. It was the precious blood of Christ, the sinless, spotless Lamb of God. – 1 Peter 1: 18-19 NLT

And Peter would go on to describe how Jesus paid the price for our sins with the offering of His own body on our behalf.

He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed. – 1 Peter 2:24 ESV

And Peter was simply restating the prophetic words of Isaiah, who centuries earlier, described in stunning detail the atoning work of Jesus.

But he was pierced for our transgressions;
    he was crushed for our iniquities;
upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace,
    and with his wounds we are healed.
All we like sheep have gone astray;
    we have turned—every one—to his own way;
and the Lord has laid on him
    the iniquity of us all. – Isaiah 53:5-6 ESV

And John reveals that Joseph and Nicodemus treated the body of Jesus with utmost respect and dignity, washing it and anointing it with burial spices, then wrapping it in linen cloths. Then he adds that they placed the body of Jesus in “a new tomb in which no one had yet been laid” (John 19:41 ESV). Matthew notes that the tomb belonged to Joseph and this point becomes significant because of the prophetic words of Isaiah.

He had done no wrong
    and had never deceived anyone.
But he was buried like a criminal;
    he was put in a rich man’s grave. – Isaiah 53:9 NLT

The sinless one was treated like a criminal. He died the death of a sinner even though He was without sin. He was “pierced for our rebellion, crushed for our sins…beaten so we could be whole…whipped so we could be healed” (Isaiah 53:5 NLT). He was “struck down for the rebellion of my people” (Isaiah 53:8 NLT).

And His body, though lifeless, would not undergo the indignity of decay and decomposition. Because it was of immeasurable worth and value. Under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, King David would prophetically speak on behalf of Jesus when he wrote:

No wonder my heart is glad, and I rejoice.
    My body rests in safety.
For you will not leave my soul among the dead
    or allow your holy one to rot in the grave.
You will show me the way of life,
    granting me the joy of your presence
    and the pleasures of living with you forever. – Psalm 16:9-11 NLT

Years later, the apostle Paul would preach a sermon in Antioch of Pisidia, in which he stated:

“For God had promised to raise him from the dead, not leaving him to rot in the grave. He said, ‘I will give you the sacred blessings I promised to David.’ Another psalm explains it more fully: ‘You will not allow your Holy One to rot in the grave.’ This is not a reference to David, for after David had done the will of God in his own generation, he died and was buried with his ancestors, and his body decayed. No, it was a reference to someone else—someone whom God raised and whose body did not decay.” – Acts 13:34-37 NLT

The body of Jesus, while just like the bodies we sinners have, did not suffer the same post-death fate that all human bodies do. And while John’s description of Jesus’ burial has a sense of finality to it, he is simply preparing his readers for what comes next. He subtly hints that there is more to come when he mentions what all of this took place on “the Jewish day of Preparation” (John 19:42 ESV). This is a reference to Friday, the day before the Sabbath. Joseph and Nicodemus were under pressure to make sure the body of Jesus was interred before the Sabbath began and all forms of work would have been prohibited. But his reference to the day of preparation has far more in mind than the mandatory observance of the Sabbath. He is preparing his readers for something even greater.

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 Path to Glory

1 When Jesus had spoken these words, he lifted up his eyes to heaven, and said, “Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son that the Son may glorify you, since you have given him authority over all flesh, to give eternal life to all whom you have given him. And this is eternal life, that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent. I glorified you on earth, having accomplished the work that you gave me to do. And now, Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had with you before the world existed. John 17:1-5 ESV

Chapter 17 contains what has come to be known as Jesus’ “high priestly prayer.” This somewhat lofty designation is based on the role that the high priest of Israel played in mediating the spiritual needs of the people before God. Once a year, on the Day of Atonement, the high priest was allowed to enter the holy of holies and offer sacrifices intended to atone for the sins of the people. And God had warned Aaron, Moses’ brother and the high priest of Israel, that he was prohibited from entering the Most Holy Place at any other time.

“Tell Aaron your brother not to come at any time into the Holy Place inside the veil, before the mercy seat that is on the ark, so that he may not die. For I will appear in the cloud over the mercy seat.” – Leviticus 16:2 ESV

The author of the New Testament book of Hebrews picks up on this theme as he compares the role of the high priest with that of Jesus.

But only the high priest ever entered the Most Holy Place, and only once a year. And he always offered blood for his own sins and for the sins the people had committed in ignorance. By these regulations the Holy Spirit revealed that the entrance to the Most Holy Place was not freely open as long as the Tabernacle and the system it represented were still in use. This is an illustration pointing to the present time. – Hebrews 9:7-9 ESV

During the days of the Exodus, when the Israelites were making their way from Egypt to the land of Canaan, the  Most Holy Place in the Tabernacle was where the glory of God’s presence was said to dwell above the mercy seat on top of the Ark of the Covenant. And this sacred place was off-limits to all, including the high priest, except on the Day of Atonement. Even then, the high priest could only enter into God’s presence after performing a series of ritual cleansings to purify himself from sin.

Aaron shall come into the Holy Place: with a bull from the herd for a sin offering and a ram for a burnt offering. He shall put on the holy linen coat and shall have the linen undergarment on his body, and he shall tie the linen sash around his waist, and wear the linen turban; these are the holy garments. He shall bathe his body in water and then put them on. – Leviticus 16:3-4 ESV

Aaron, performing his role as the high priest, was also required to offer a bull as a sin offering for himself and a goat as a sin offering for the people. He would take some of the blood of the bull and sprinkle it on the mercy seat. Then he would do the same thing with the blood of the goat, “sprinkling it over the mercy seat and in front of the mercy seat. Thus he shall make atonement for the Holy Place, because of the uncleannesses of the people of Israel and because of their transgressions, all their sins” (Leviticus 16:15-16 ESV). 

These elaborate and mandatory rituals were designed to illustrate the glory and the holiness of God and to stress the unrighteousness of the people. It was not without the sacrifice of blood that the people of God could enter into His presence. Their sinfulness separated them from Him. And there was no way for them to stand before God in their sinful state. So, as the author of Hebrews states, atoning blood was required.

…according to the law of Moses, nearly everything was purified with blood. For without the shedding of blood, there is no forgiveness. – Hebrews 9:22 ESV

And according to Hebrews, Jesus had come to replace the old system with a new and better one.

So Christ has now become the High Priest over all the good things that have come. He has entered that greater, more perfect Tabernacle in heaven, which was not made by human hands and is not part of this created world. With his own blood—not the blood of goats and calves—he entered the Most Holy Place once for all time and secured our redemption forever. – Hebrew 9:11-12 NLT

So, when Jesus prayed this prayer, He was interceding on behalf of the people of God. He was acting as their high priest, mediating for them before God the Father. But in reality, Jesus would not be fully fulfilling His role as the high priest until He sacrificed His own blood on the cross as a payment for the sins of mankind.

Christ offered himself to God as a perfect sacrifice for our sins. – Hebrews 9:14 NLT

But this powerful prayer provides us with a glimpse into Jesus’ heart and mind as He prepared to fulfill His Father’s redemptive plan. He had just told His disciples, “But take heart; I have overcome the world” (John 16:33 ESV). And then John states, “When Jesus had spoken these words, he lifted up his eyes to heaven, and said…” (John 17:1 ESV). There is no break in the action. John doesn’t indicate that Jesus left the disciples and found a quiet place to be alone. He simply describes Jesus as lifting up His eyes and praying. One moment He had been talking to the disciples and then suddenly, He was talking to God. And John and the other disciples were allowed to eavesdrop on this intimate conversation between Jesus and His Heavenly Father.

Jesus had assured His disciples that they could take heart because He had overcome the world. His mission was as good as done. They could have complete confidence that what He had been sent to do, He would do. And Jesus expressed His complete commitment to fulfill His Father’s wishes by requesting that His glorification take place just as it had been planned.

“Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son that the Son may glorify you…” – John 17:1 ESV

Jesus is not just focusing His attention on His future resurrection and ascension. In other words, He’s not expressing His desire to get the crucifixion over with as quickly as possible so He can enjoy a restored relationship with the Father. For Jesus, the cross was a central part of the glorification process. By offering His life as an atonement for the sins of mankind, He would be faithfully fulfilling the will of His Father, performing the final act of obedience that would mark His life as pleasing to God.

“When you have lifted up the Son of Man, then you will know that I am he, and that I do nothing on my own authority, but speak just as the Father taught me. And he who sent me is with me. He has not left me alone, for I always do the things that are pleasing to him.” – John 8:28-29 ESV

Jesus knew that it was necessary for His death to proceed His glorification. The path to future glory passed through the shadow of the cross. It was just as He 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

His death would produce new life – not only for Himself but for all those who placed their faith in Him. His crucifixion would result in His own glorification but also that of His followers. The apostle Paul reminds us of this incredible reality.

And we know that God works all things together for the good of those who love Him, who are called according to His purpose. For those God foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, so that He would be the firstborn among many brothers. And those He predestined, He also called; those He called, He also justified; those He justified, He also glorified. – Romans 8:28-30 BSB

Ultimately, Jesus was expressing His desire to bring glory to God. He knew that by sacrificing His life on the cross He would be expressing His Father’s love for mankind. The willingness of God to offer up His Son on behalf of sinful, undeserving humanity would end up glorifying Him by demonstrating His goodness and grace.

This is how God’s love was revealed among us: God sent His one and only Son into the world, so that we might live through Him. – 1 John 4:9 BSB

Jesus was the means by which God would extend His offer of eternal life to sinful humanity. And Jesus knew that He had been given divine authority to extend this offer on behalf of His Father.

For you have given him authority over everyone. He gives eternal life to each one you have given him. And this is the way to have eternal life—to know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, the one you sent to earth. – John 17:2-3 NLT

Everything that Jesus had done and said up until this point had brought glory to His Heavenly Father. He had done nothing of His own initiative or for His own glory.

“I have no wish to glorify myself, God is going to glorify me.” – John 8:50 NLT

He had come to earth in order to point people to God. The sole purpose behind His incarnation had been to be “the way, the truth, and the life” (John 14:6 NLT). There were no other means by which sinful men and women could find access to and a restored relationship with God.

Jesus indicates that He had done all He had been commissioned to do.

“I glorified you on earth, having accomplished the work that you gave me to do.” – John 17:4 ESV

His miracles and messages had all been in keeping with His Father’s will. And now, it was time to complete His mission and return to His Father’s side.

“And now, Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had with you before the world existed.” – John 17:5 ESV

Again, Jesus knew full well that the path to His glorification led through the cross. He would have to be “lifted up” before He could be raised up to His former place of glory at His Father’s side. The apostle Paul describes well this path of humility and suffering that would ultimately lead to Jesus’ glorification.

And being found in human form, he 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

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

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

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

For This Purpose I Have Come

20 Now among those who went up to worship at the feast were some Greeks. 21 So these came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, and asked him, “Sir, we wish to see Jesus.” 22 Philip went and told Andrew; Andrew and Philip went and told Jesus. 23 And Jesus answered them, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. 24 Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. 25 Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life. 26 If anyone serves me, he must follow me; and where I am, there will my servant be also. If anyone serves me, the Father will honor him.

27 “Now is my soul troubled. And what shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’? But for this purpose I have come to this hour.” John 12:20-27 ESV

Back in chapter 10, John records Jesus’ revealing of Himself as the “Good Shepherd.” In doing so, He presented Himself as the model leader, one who selflessly cares for those under His care, even to the point of laying down His life for them.

“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

As part of this discourse, He made a surprising revelation that His flock would contain sheep from outside the fold of Israel. Even to His disciples, who were all Jews, this would have been a shocking disclosure. And although they had been eyewitnesses to His ministry among the Samaritans, they would have had a difficult time accepting the fact that their long-awaited Messiah would include Gentiles in His Kingdom.

But as Jesus makes His triumphal entry into Jerusalem, John records a brief and seemingly unimportant scene involving “some Greeks.” These were likely Gentiles who were recognized as being Greek for their appearance or accents. John indicates that they were there to worship at the feast. So, they were likely proselytes to Judaism who had come to participate in the celebration of Passover. But upon seeing all the commotion surrounding Jesus’ entry into the city, they approached Philip, one of Jesus’ disciples, and said, “Sir, we wish to see Jesus.” (John 12:21 ESV). And then, mysteriously, they disappear from John’s record, never to seen or heard from again. 

Yet, their simple request speaks volumes and sets up a short, but significant pronouncement from Jesus regarding His pending death.

“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

These unidentified “Greeks” expressed their desire to see Jesus. And while John never reveals whether they got their wish or not, their request indicates that they had been drawn to Jesus. Even as Gentiles, they found themselves mysteriously attracted to this Jewish Rabbi from Nazareth. And when Jesus was told that the Greeks wished to see Him, He disclosed it as further proof that His hour had come.

It was time. His death was fast approaching. And it would usher in a remarkable paradigm shift that would forever alter the spiritual landscape of the world. He had told the Samaritan woman, “the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him” (John 4:23 ESV). Jesus had come to offer His life as a ransom for many, preparing the way for Jews and Gentiles to be restored to a right relationship with God the Father through faith in Him.

And when the Greeks expressed their desire to see Jesus, He saw it as a simple sign of a significant change to the status quo. His death would turn the religious world on its ear. No longer would Gentiles have to seek the God of Israel through the practice of Judaism. They would find access to Him through Jesus, His Son. The sacrificial death of Jesus would level the playing field, making salvation available to all, regardless of their ethnicity, religious background, gender, or economic status. The apostle Paul would rejoice in the homogeneous nature of God’s redemptive plan made possible through Jesus’ sacrificial death.

There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. – Galatians 3:28 ESV

Or is God the God of Jews only? Is he not the God of Gentiles also? Yes, of Gentiles also, since God is one—who will justify the circumcised by faith and the uncircumcised through faith. – Romans 3:29-30 ESV

It is interesting to note how Jesus described what was awaiting Him. He saw His pending death as the pathway to glorification.

The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.” – John 12:23 ESV

Jesus was not just referring to His resurrection and ascension. Because those two events would be impossible without His death. The cross was the means by which His future glorification would take place. The cross was intended to be the focal point of the redemptive plan of God. It was only by willingly sacrificing His sinless life on behalf of sinful mankind that Jesus could experience glorification. Paul put it this way:

He humbled himself, by becoming obedient to the point of death—even death on a cross! As a result God highly exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee will 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 NLT

The death of Jesus would be the greatest expression of God’s love for mankind. It would be on the cross that Jesus revealed God the Father with the greatest clarity. Jesus would glorify the Father by expressing His love in the starkest of terms. And John would later write of this remarkable manifestation of God’s love in his first letter.

By this the love of God is revealed in us: that God has sent his one and only Son into the world so that we may live through him. In this is love: not that we have loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins. – 1 John 4:9-10 NLT

And Jesus explains the seeming incongruity of His death as an expression of God’s love.

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

Even within the natural realm, death plays an essential role in the creation of life. And so, His own death would serve a vital and necessary role in producing new life among the spiritually dead. Jesus was expressing His willingness to sacrifice His life so that others might live. He was fully confident that His death would be efficacious, resulting in abundant fruit – the transformed lives of countless individuals.

But Jesus was also using His death as a model for those who would enjoy the fruit of His labors. It would be His willing obedience to give up His earthly life that would result in eternal life for others. Even His future glorification and return to His Father’s side was dependent upon His giving up of His earthly life. So, He tells His disciples that they too will be expected to follow His example of divine prioritization.

“Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life.” – John 12:25 ESV

The Greek word translated as “life” is psyché rather than the more common word zoe. It refers to far more than just physical life. It encompasses the entire nature of man, and was often used to describe the soul or heart, including the feelings, desires, and affections. Jesus was letting His disciples know that there would be a sacrifice required for all those who chose to follow Him. There is no place in the life of a Christ-follower for love of self. Had Jesus modeled self-love, He would never have gone to the cross. But rather than focusing on self-preservation, Jesus committed Himself to selfless oblation, the sacrifice of Himself for the good of others. And He expected His followers to do the same. A point He made perfectly clear.

“If anyone serves me, he must follow me; and where I am, there will my servant be also. If anyone serves me, the Father will honor him.” – John 12:26 ESV

As usual, this disclosure went over the heads of His disciples. They were not yet able to grasp the meaning or significance of His words. But in time, they would. Most of the disciples would eventually follow Him by giving their lives for the cause. It is believed that most of the disciples ended up being martyred for their faith. They too would become grains of wheat that fell to the earth and died, resulting in much fruit. And, in death, they would follow Jesus in glorification, being honored by God for their faithful service and enjoying fellowship with He and the Son for eternity.

But the knowledge of how His death would result in fruitfulness did not prevent Jesus from wrestling with the reality of the suffering He was about to face. With His next statement, Jesus reveals the human side of His nature, providing us with a glimpse into the battle going on between His desire to obey His Father and the natural desire to avoid the pain and suffering that awaited Him.

“Now is my soul troubled. And what shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’? But for this purpose I have come to this hour. – John 12:27 ESV

His humanity was expressing its natural desire to preserve self. But Jesus’ divinity would not allow Him to give in to the temptation. It would have been the height of rebellion for Jesus to attempt to escape what God the Father had planned. And Jesus knew that the entire purpose behind His incarnation had been the cross and all the suffering and pain it entailed. It was for this reason He had come. And it was for this reason He would overcome His fear with faithful obedience to His Father’s will. Because He understood all that His death would accomplish

But he was pierced for our transgressions;
    he was crushed for our iniquities;
upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace,
    and with his wounds we are healed.
All we like sheep have gone astray;
    we have turned—every one—to his own way;
and the Lord has laid on him
    the iniquity of us all. – Isaiah 53:5-6 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

Better That One Man Die

45 Many of the Jews therefore, who had come with Mary and had seen what he did, believed in him, 46 but some of them went to the Pharisees and told them what Jesus had done. 47 So the chief priests and the Pharisees gathered the council and said, “What are we to do? For this man performs many signs. 48 If we let him go on like this, everyone will believe in him, and the Romans will come and take away both our place and our nation.” 49 But one of them, Caiaphas, who was high priest that year, said to them, “You know nothing at all. 50 Nor do you understand that it is better for you that one man should die for the people, not that the whole nation should perish.” 51 He did not say this of his own accord, but being high priest that year he prophesied that Jesus would die for the nation, 52 and not for the nation only, but also to gather into one the children of God who are scattered abroad. 53 So from that day on they made plans to put him to death.

54 Jesus therefore no longer walked openly among the Jews, but went from there to the region near the wilderness, to a town called Ephraim, and there he stayed with the disciples.

55 Now the Passover of the Jews was at hand, and many went up from the country to Jerusalem before the Passover to purify themselves. 56 They were looking for Jesus and saying to one another as they stood in the temple, “What do you think? That he will not come to the feast at all?” 57 Now the chief priests and the Pharisees had given orders that if anyone knew where he was, he should let them know, so that they might arrest him. John 11:45-57 ESV

John gives what appears to be a surprisingly brief summary of the peoples’ response to the raising of Lazarus from the dead. He simply states that many who had been eyewitnesses to the miracle Jesus performed “believed in him” (John 11:45 ESV). But what did they say? How did they react? Did anyone scream in fear as they watched Lazarus come out of the tomb? Were there tears of joy, shouts of praise, and gasps of disbelief and shock? We don’t know because all John tells us is that many believed and others went to the Pharisees to tell them what Jesus had done.

There is little doubt that Jesus’ miracle made a powerful impression on all those who witnessed it. It had been a jaw-dropping display of supernatural power that was impossible to dismiss or ignore. And for many in the crowd, it had been enough to convince them that Jesus was the Messiah. Who else but the Anointed One of God could have raised a dead man back to life?

But John’s lack of detail regarding the peoples’ reaction is because he has a different point of emphasis. In the very next chapter, John will provide a more satisfying glimpse into the peoples’ emotional state as he recalls what happened when they accompanied Jesus into the city of Jerusalem. But for now, John is far more interested in the reaction of the religious leaders. It would appear that these men had Jesus under 24-hour surveillance. They wanted to know His every move and had commissioned spies to report back on everything they saw and heard. And the miracle in Bethany had sent them scurrying back to Jerusalem, eager to tell the Pharisees what they had seen. Upon hearing the first-hand report of what had taken place in Bethany, the Pharisees informed the high priest, who called a special meeting of the Jewish religious council, the Sanhedrin.

This entire scene is strangely similar to one that would take place after Jesus’ own resurrection. John gives a detailed account of it in chapter 20 of his gospel.

Early on Sunday morning, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and found that the stone had been rolled away from the entrance. She ran and found Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved. She said, “They have taken the Lord’s body out of the tomb, and we don’t know where they have put him!”

Peter and the other disciple started out for the tomb. They were both running, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. He stooped and looked in and saw the linen wrappings lying there, but he didn’t go in. Then Simon Peter arrived and went inside. He also noticed the linen wrappings lying there, while the cloth that had covered Jesus’ head was folded up and lying apart from the other wrappings. Then the disciple who had reached the tomb first also went in, and he saw and believed — for until then they still hadn’t understood the Scriptures that said Jesus must rise from the dead. – John 20:1-9 NLT

Notice the differences. Mary found the tomb of Jesus empty and ran to tell the disciples. Shocked at the news, Peter and John rushed to the scene and discovered the burial wrappings discarded and the tomb empty. And they believed.

The men who witnessed the empty tomb in Bethany had also run to tell others. But the Pharisees had made no effort to verify the facts. Upon hearing the fantastic nature of the news, they didn’t bother to make the two-mile journey to Bethany to see for themselves. They simply reported what they heard to the high priest, who decided it was worthy of an emergency meeting of the council.

The news that a dead man had walked out of a grave was not enough to make these men believe. Their only response was to ask, “What are we to do? For this man performs many signs” (John 11:47 ESV). In a real sense, what they were saying was, “What are we supposed to do now? Our current course of action isn’t working.”

They realized that the longer they delayed, the more powerful and popular Jesus seemed to become. They had tried to discredit Him. They had even threatened to stone Him. But He wouldn’t go away. And now they had a real problem on their hands. He had reportedly raised a dead man back to life and the rumors were flying. Those who had witnessed the miracle were probably spreading the news that Jesus was the Messiah and the religious leaders were fearing the worst.

“If we allow him to go on in this way, everyone will believe in him, and the Romans will come and take away our sanctuary and our nation.” – John 11:48 NLT

They saw Jesus as a threat to their way of life. He was a trouble-making, crowd-inciting thorn in their sides who was fomenting discord and rocking the proverbial boat. Everything had been just fine until this rabble-rouser from Nazareth had shown up on the scene. Now, what were they going to do? Jesus had supposedly raised a dead man back to life. How were they supposed to discredit someone who could do the impossible? And with the celebration of Passover just days away, the crowds were gathering, and the news of His latest miracle was going to spread like wildfire.

But Caiphas, the high priest, tried to put it all in perspective. He calmly and arrogantly responded, “You know nothing at all! You do not realize that it is more to your advantage to have one man die for the people than for the whole nation to perish” (John 11:49 NLT). He had made up his mind. Jesus had to die. It was the only logical solution to the problem facing them. The sacrifice of one man’s life was necessary if they wanted to preserve the overall well-being of the nation.

Little did Caiphas know that his words were divinely ordained. He was prophesying and didn’t even know it. John reveals that the high priest’s words were Spirit-inspired.

Now he did not say this on his own, but because he was high priest that year, he prophesied that Jesus was going to die for the Jewish nation, and not for the Jewish nation only, but to gather together into one the children of God who are scattered. – John 11:51-52 NLT

It is interesting to note that the Jewish high priest was appointed by the Romans. He served at their behest and knew his power and position were solely dependent upon their approval of his performance. If he were not careful, this “Jesus problem” could get out of hand and turn into an armed revolt, with the people trying to replace the Romans by crowning their new Messiah as King. This was all unacceptable and if it meant that Jesus had to die, so be it. Better that one man dies than that the Sanhedrin risk the loss of their power and the potential destruction of their temple.

The office of the high priest had originally been a God-ordained role, first held by Aaron, the brother of Moses. And as a God-appointed leader of the nation of Israel, the high priest was intended to be a spokesman for the Almighty. And even in the dark days of the 1st-Century when the spiritual leadership of Israel was in a state of apostasy and populated by men who were self-righteous hypocrites, God still spoke through Caiaphas. And while the high priest thought he was declaring Jesus’ death as the logical means of preserving their way of life, God was announcing the death of His Son as the key to eternal life.

Caiaphas was focused on protecting and preserving Israel. But God had bigger plans in store that would include not only the Jews but the nations of the world. And while Caiaphas didn’t realize it, he was going to be used to bring about the salvation of both Jews and Gentiles by participating in the death of Jesus.

The stage is set. The conflict between darkness and light is intensifying. And the days are drawing near when Jesus will complete His God-given assignment and fulfill the will of His Heavenly Father. But for the time being, Jesus avoided the limelight and removed Himself from public view, content to await the very moment for which He had come. The Passover was coming. And the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world was preparing to make His final entrance into Jerusalem

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 Good Shepherd

1 “Truly, truly, I say to you, he who does not enter the sheepfold by the door but climbs in by another way, that man is a thief and a robber. But he who enters by the door is the shepherd of the sheep. To him the gatekeeper opens. The sheep hear his voice, and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes before them, and the sheep follow him, for they know his voice. A stranger they will not follow, but they will flee from him, for they do not know the voice of strangers.” This figure of speech Jesus used with them, but they did not understand what he was saying to them.

So Jesus again said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, I am the door of the sheep. All who came before me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not listen to them. I am the door. If anyone enters by me, he will be saved and will go in and out and find pasture. 10 The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly. 11 I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. 12 He who is a hired hand and not a shepherd, who does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and flees, and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. 13 He flees because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep. 14 I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, 15 just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep. 16 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. 17 For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life that I may take it up again. 18 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. This charge I have received from my Father.”

19 There was again a division among the Jews because of these words. 20 Many of them said, “He has a demon, and is insane; why listen to him?” 21 Others said, “These are not the words of one who is oppressed by a demon. Can a demon open the eyes of the blind?” John 10:1-21 ESV

In this teaching, Jesus continues His use of contrasts, using His own mission and ministry to distinguish Himself from the religious leaders of Israel. John has arranged his gospel account in such a  way that the religious elite’s growing antipathy for Jesus is clearly evident. Their hatred for Him is clear. But their disdain for the people under their care is also hard to miss. They showed no signs of empathy for the blind man who was given the gift of sight. Angered by his glowing praise of Jesus, they callously cast him out of the synagogue. These were the same men who had publicly humiliated a woman by dragging her before Jesus and accusing her of adultery. To them, she had been nothing more than another tool used to construct their case against Jesus. They despised her for her sinfulness and would have had no problem seeing her stoned for her blatant disregard for God’s laws.

Yet, sadly enough, the people looked up to these men. They revered and even feared them. In the eyes of the average Israelite, these men were the enforcers of the Mosaic law, policing the behavior of the people and punishing all those who disobeyed. But what made it worse was that these men appeared to be icons of virtue, constantly promoting their own spiritual superiority and religious zeal. They proudly presented themselves as models of righteousness who had earned special favor with God for their faithful adherence to His laws.

But in these verses, John records the words of Jesus that paint a starkly different image of these men. Jesus never addresses them directly, but it is easy to see that He has them in mind. Immediately after they had callously cast the formerly blind beggar out of the synagogue, Jesus had taken the effort to find him and reveal Himself to Him. And the result was that the man believed and worshiped Jesus as the Son of Man. This man received far more than his physical sight. He was given the opportunity to see the one who had healed Him and who could also deliver him from a life of spiritual darkness due to sin.

In this passage, Jesus uses the metaphor of a shepherd to distinguish Himself from the religious leaders of Israel.  This imagery would have resonated with His audience because of its familiarity. Everyone would have understood the nature of the shepherd’s role. And they would have been well aware of the differences between a good and a bad shepherd.

So, when Jesus began to outline these differences, everyone would have understood exactly what He was talking about. The real question would have been who He had in mind when He talked about the thief, robber, and stranger. It was quite obvious that Jesus was presenting Himself as the alternative, even referring to Himself as “the good shepherd” (John 10:11 ESV). So, who were these bad shepherds Jesus seemed to be comparing Himself to? And who did He have in mind when He referred to the “hired hand” who “cares nothing for the sheep” (John 10:13 ESV)?

It’s not clear whether anyone in the crowd connected Jesus’ words with the religious leaders. All John tells us is that “there was again a division among the Jews because of these words” (John 10:19 ESV). Even these well-educated and intelligent men seemed to miss the point of what Jesus was saying. They weren’t able to see that Jesus was exposing their failure to shepherd well the sheep whom God had placed under their care. Jesus had exposed them as thieves, robbers, and hired hands, who cared more for themselves than they did for the sheep. And Jesus was simply echoing the words of His Heavenly Father, recorded hundreds of years earlier by the prophet Ezekiel.

“What sorrow awaits you shepherds who feed yourselves instead of your flocks. Shouldn’t shepherds feed their sheep? You drink the milk, wear the wool, and butcher the best animals, but you let your flocks starve. You have not taken care of the weak. You have not tended the sick or bound up the injured. You have not gone looking for those who have wandered away and are lost. Instead, you have ruled them with harshness and cruelty. So my sheep have been scattered without a shepherd, and they are easy prey for any wild animal. They have wandered through all the mountains and all the hills, across the face of the earth, yet no one has gone to search for them.” – Ezekiel 34:2-2-6 NLT

Because of their knowledge of the Scriptures, the scribes and Pharisees should have made the connection but, once again, they reveal their spiritual blindness by failing to comprehend the truth found in the Word of God.

Yet, Jesus fully understood what Ezekiel had written and presented Himself as the true shepherd who knows His sheep and calls them by name. He was the fulfillment of the promise made by God centuries earlier.

“For this is what the Sovereign Lord says: I myself will search and find my sheep.  I will be like a shepherd looking for his scattered flock. I will find my sheep and rescue them from all the places where they were scattered on that dark and cloudy day.” – Ezekiel 34:11-12 NLT

“I will search for my lost ones who strayed away, and I will bring them safely home again. I will bandage the injured and strengthen the weak. But I will destroy those who are fat and powerful. I will feed them, yes—feed them justice!” – Ezekiel 34:16 NLT

Jesus had come to redeem and restore the lost sheep of God’s flock. He presents Himself as “the door” through which the sheep of God must come. There is no other way into the abundant pastureland God has prepared for His sheep than through His chosen Shepherd: His Son.

In this passage, Jesus deftly weaves together a series of metaphors concerning Himself that present a vivid portrait of His divine mission. He portrays Himself as the Good Shepherd who leads and feeds the flock of God with tender compassion, calling them by name and guiding them to safety. But He is also the door of the sheepfold, the very means by which they find access into the abundance of God’s presence. Jesus was the ultimate fulfillment of David’s portrait of the faithful shepherd.

The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.
   He makes me lie down in green pastures.
He leads me beside still waters.
   He restores my soul.
He leads me in paths of righteousness
    for his name’s sake. – Psalm 23:1-3 ESV

But Jesus would do more than simply lead and feed. He would provide protection against the enemy, who seeks to steal, kill, and destroy (John 10:10). As the Good Shepherd, Jesus would lay down His life on behalf of His Father’s sheep. It would be just as John the Baptist had declared. Jesus would become the sacrificial Lamb of God who sacrifices His life so that the sheep of God might have access to His heavenly sheepfold.

Jesus makes it quite clear. “I am the door. If anyone enters by me, he will be saved and will go in and out and find pasture” (John 10:9 ESV). He is the exclusive access point to the Father. He will later reiterate this bold claim to Thomas.

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

But Jesus doesn’t sugarcoat the manner in which the sheep find access to the Father. It will be through His death.

“I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.” – John 10:11 ESV

The religious leaders were not about to sacrifice their lives for anyone. They weren’t even willing to bow the knew before the Son of God. They refused to submit their wills to that of the Father. And when the Good Shepherd appeared in their midst, they were unable to hear His voice. But there would those who, like the formerly blind beggar, would hear Jesus ask, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?” and would respond, “Lord, I believe” (John 9:35, 38 ESV). Jesus reveals that there will be others.

“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 10:16 ESV

This is His veiled reference to the Gentiles, who will also become part of God’s flock. Like the Samaritan woman, they too will hear the voice of the Good Shepherd and respond in belief. They will recognize the call of God, coming from the lips of the Son of God, offering them living water, the bread of life, and the promise of an eternity marked by peace, contentment, joy, and righteousness.

But it would only come one way. The Good Shepherd would have to lay down His life for the sheep.

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. – John 10:14-15 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

I Am!

51 Truly, truly, I say to you, if anyone keeps my word, he will never see death.” 52 The Jews said to him, “Now we know that you have a demon! Abraham died, as did the prophets, yet you say, ‘If anyone keeps my word, he will never taste death.’ 53 Are you greater than our father Abraham, who died? And the prophets died! Who do you make yourself out to be?” 54 Jesus answered, “If I glorify myself, my glory is nothing. It is my Father who glorifies me, of whom you say, ‘He is our God.’ 55 But you have not known him. I know him. If I were to say that I do not know him, I would be a liar like you, but I do know him and I keep his word. 56 Your father Abraham rejoiced that he would see my day. He saw it and was glad.” 57 So the Jews said to him, “You are not yet fifty years old, and have you seen Abraham?” 58 Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am.” 59 So they picked up stones to throw at him, but Jesus hid himself and went out of the temple. John 8:51-59 ESV

The longer Jesus spoke, it seems that the frustration of the religious only intensified. And their growing anger with Him seems to support His accusations against Him. He has claimed to be the light of the glory of God, but they prefer to remain covered by the darkness of their own pre-established notions of righteousness and holiness. He has offered Himself as the only solution to mankind’s sin problem and the key to eternal life. But they have refused His offer, choosing instead to label Him as a blasphemer and sinner, operating in league with Satan himself. He has declared Himself to be the Son of God, yet they accused Him of being illegitimate, and not even knowing the name of His own earthly father. Jesus had described them as being the children of Satan, and now they return the favor by declaring Him of being demon-possessed.

This entire section of John’s gospel is intended to support Jesus’ claim to be the light of the world. He has been standing in the courtyard of the temple of God, speaking to the people of God, and allowing the glory of God to illuminate what has become one of the darkest places within the nation of Israel: God’s own dwelling place.

The location for this latest conversation between Jesus and the religious leaders is extremely important. He is standing in the temple treasury, where all the voluntary and obligatory financial gifts given to the temple were kept. Earlier, in chapter two of his gospel, John described Jesus cleansing the temple of “those who were selling oxen and sheep and pigeons, and the money-changers sitting there” (John 2:14 ESV). The Son of God had been appalled to find His Father’s house turned into a marketplace. In His anger, He literally cleaned house.

And making a whip of cords, he drove them all out of the temple, with the sheep and oxen. And he poured out the coins of the money-changers and overturned their tables. And he told those who sold the pigeons, “Take these things away; do not make my Father’s house a house of trade.” – John 2:15-16 ESV

The temple was to have been the place where God’s glory dwelled. All the way back at the dedication of the original temple, the glory of God had descended upon the magnificent structure built by King Solomon.

As soon as Solomon finished his prayer, fire came down from heaven and consumed the burnt offering and the sacrifices, and the glory of the Lord filled the temple. And the priests could not enter the house of the Lord, because the glory of the Lord filled the Lord‘s house. When all the people of Israel saw the fire come down and the glory of the Lord on the temple, they bowed down with their faces to the ground on the pavement and worshiped and gave thanks to the Lord, saying, “For he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever.” – 2 Chronicles 7:1-3 ESV

In response to Solomon’s prayer of dedication over the newly constructed temple, God had told him:

“I have heard your prayer and have chosen this place for myself as a house of sacrifice. When I shut up the heavens so that there is no rain, or command the locust to devour the land, or send pestilence among my people, if my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land. Now my eyes will be open and my ears attentive to the prayer that is made in this place. For now I have chosen and consecrated this house that my name may be there forever.” – 2 Chronicles 7:12-16 ESV

But God’s people had proved to be unfaithful. They failed to remain obedient to His commands and chose to worship false gods, even erecting idols to them within the temple Solomon had dedicated to God. And Solomon had been one of the chief instigators behind the nation’s rebellion against God. In time, God destroyed the temple that bore His name. He used the Babylonian Empire as His agent of judgment against His chosen people, turning the capital city of Jerusalem and the glorious temple into a heap of ruins.

The temple where Jesus spoke was the same one that had been rebuilt by the Jews who had returned to Judah after 70 years of captivity in Babylon. That much smaller and less ornate temple was greatly expanded by King Herod during the 1st-Century AD. And it was on the grounds of this temple where Jesus had His confrontation with the Jewish religious leaders.

In a sense, Jesus was presenting Himself as the replacement for the temple. With His coming, the primary purpose of the temple was being eliminated. It was no longer the dwelling place of God. Jesus had made the invisible God visible. He was God in human flesh, manifesting the glory of God through His miracles and messages. And, in time, He would offer His life as the ultimate and final sacrifice for the sins of mankind. The earthly temple would be replaced by the bodily temple of God’s own Son. That is why Jesus had said, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up” (John 2:19 ESV). His death would accomplish what the temple and the sacrificial system could have never done. And the author of Hebrews makes this point perfectly clear.

…those sacrifices actually reminded them of their sins year after year. For it is not possible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins. That is why, when Christ came into the world, he said to God, “You did not want animal sacrifices or sin offerings. But you have given me a body to offer. You were not pleased with burnt offerings or other offerings for sin. Then I said, ‘Look, I have come to do your will, O God—as is written about me in the Scriptures.’”

First, Christ said, “You did not want animal sacrifices or sin offerings or burnt offerings or other offerings for sin, nor were you pleased with them” (though they are required by the law of Moses). Then he said, “Look, I have come to do your will.” He cancels the first covenant in order to put the second into effect. For God’s will was for us to be made holy by the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ, once for all time. – Hebrews 10:3-10 NLT

One of the things that infuriated the religious leaders was Jesus’ claim that He could offer eternal life. They had been shocked by Jesus’ audacious and ridiculous claim: “if anyone keeps my word, he will never see death” (John 8:51 ESV). His statement was illogical and, therefore, unacceptable. Abraham and all the prophets had died, they reasoned. So, who was He to think that He could offer a life free from death? They even ask Him, “Who do you make yourself out to be?” (John 8:53 ESV). Their question reveals that they know exactly what Jesus was saying. He was claiming to be God. And, almost as if to support their suspicions, Jesus responded, “If I glorify myself, my glory is nothing. It is my Father who glorifies me, of whom you say, ‘He is our God’” (John 8:54 ESV).

Jesus brings the conversation back to the issue of His relationship with God. He was not just another son of God, as they believed themselves to be. He was the actual Son of God, the second member of the Holy Trinity. He was claiming divinity and authority, provided to Him by His Heavenly Father. But, as Jesus pointed out, their failure to recognize and accept Him was due to their ignorance of God. They didn’t know God as their Father, so how would they ever recognize His Son when He showed up?

But Jesus emphasized that Abraham, their great patriarch, had looked forward to the day when the promise of God was finally fulfilled through Jesus. God had told Abraham, “All the families of the earth will be blessed through you and your offspring” (Genesis 12:3 BSB). And the apostle Paul had clarified the meaning of this promise when he wrote, “Now the promises were made to Abraham and to his offspring. It does not say, ‘And to offsprings,’ referring to many, but referring to one, ‘And to your offspring,’ who is Christ” (Galatians 3:16 ESV).

Jesus was the ultimate fulfillment of God’s promise to Abraham, and He claims, “Your father Abraham rejoiced that he would see my day. He saw it and was glad” (John 8:56 ESV). In a sense, Jesus is saying, “If Abraham could ‘see’ and rejoice in my coming, why can’t you?”

And when His detractors scoff at Jesus’ words, He adds fuel to the fire by boldly asserting, “Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am” (John 8:58 ESV). And the magnitude of this statement did not escape them. They knew exactly what He was saying. Jesus was claiming to be God, which is why John states that “they picked up stones to throw at him” (John 8:59 ESV). They distinctly heard Jesus using the self-designation used by Yahweh when He had spoken to Moses at the burning bush.

Then Moses said to God, “If I come to the people of Israel and say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ what shall I say to them?” God said to Moses, “I am who I am.” And he said, “Say this to the people of Israel: ‘I am has sent me to you.’” – Exodus 3:13-14 ESV

At this point in the story, John has presented a turning point in the life and ministry of Jesus. The confrontation between Jesus and His adversaries has entered a new and darker phase. Jesus has clearly stated His identity. No more cryptic answers. No more veiled references to deity. He is the great “I am.” And John ends this scene with a simple sentence that is pregnant with meaning: “but Jesus hid himself and went out of the temple” (John 8:59 ESV). 

The glory of God, in the form of the Son of God, departed the temple. He vacated the premises, leaving the religious leaders still holding the stones in their hands with which they had intended to kill Him. The Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world, had walked away from the very place where tens of thousands of sacrifices had been offered for hundreds of years. But this Lamb would be offered on a hillside outside the city, providing atonement for the sins of mankind – once for all.

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