JOHN 13. THE CONTEXT
“Now before the feast of the Passover” (13:1). In this Gospel, the supper that Jesus shares with his disciples is not the Passover as in the Synoptic Gospels (Matthew 26:17-25; Mark 14:12-25; Luke 22:7-13). In this Gospel, Jesus will die on the day of Preparation for the Passover (19:31).
During the meal, Jesus washes the disciples feet (13:2-12), a task reserved for the lowliest servant—a task too lowly to be required of a Jewish man. In a few minutes, Jesus will tell his disciples to love one another, but he begins by demonstrating love in action.
Jesus then tells the disciples that “He who eats bread with me has lifted up his heel against me” (13:18) and predicts Judas’ betrayal (13:21). After some discussion among the disciples, Judas “immediately went out. And it was night” (13:30). The hour was dark both physically and spiritually.
John 13:31 – 16:33 is a series of discourses (speeches) by Jesus, which together are commonly thought of as Jesus’ Farewell Discourse. This is followed by Jesus’ High Priestly Prayer (17:1-26).
The farewell address is a common literary form found in both testaments (Genesis 49; Deuteronomy 33; 1 Chronicles 28-29; Joshua 23:24; Acts 20; 2 Peter). The typical farewell address is given by a person facing death, and includes blessings, exhortations, and the naming of a successor.
JOHN 13:31-32. NOW THE SON OF MAN HAS BEEN GLORIFIED
31When he had gone out, Jesus said, “Now the Son of Man has been glorified, and God has been glorified in him. 32If God has been glorified in him, God will also glorify him in himself, and he will glorify him immediately.“
“When (Judas) had gone out” (v. 31a). Earlier, preparing to identify Judas, “Jesus was troubled in spirit” (13:21), but he does not allow that mood to set the tone for the evening. It is as if, when Judas departs, a pall lifts. Judas’ departure rids the group of his evil presence and sets in motion the events that lead to Jesus’ glorification.
“Now the Son of Man has been glorified, and God has been glorified in him” (v. 31b). The title, Son of Man, comes from Daniel 7:13-14, where the Ancient of Days (God) gave to the one like a Son of Man “dominion, and glory, and a kingdom, that all the peoples, nations, and languages should serve him: his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom that which shall not be destroyed.” Scholars agree that Jesus intended it as a messianic title.
The title, Son of Man, has the advantage of having none of the militaristic connotations associated with the title, Messiah. People expect the Messiah to raise an army, to drive out the Romans, and to re-establish the great Davidic kingdom. They have no such expectations regarding the Son of Man.
Jesus focuses on glorification, his own and God’s. The word “glory” is used in the Bible to speak of various wonderful things—but it is used especially to speak of God’s glory—an aura associated with God’s appearance that reveals God’s majesty to humans. In this Gospel, Jesus’ glorification is his death, resurrection, and ascension. Just as God’s glory was revealed at Sinai (Exodus 24:16-17), so also it will be revealed at the cross and open tomb.
“the Son of Man has been glorified—God has been glorified” (v. 31)—“If God has been glorified—God will also glorify him (the Son of Man)—will glorify him immediately” (v. 32). While Jesus’ glorification will take place in his death, resurrection, and ascension, he speaks of it as both past and future. The past tense, “has been glorified,” reflects his decision, already made, to be obedient even to death on a cross. The future tense, “will also glorify,” anticipates his retaking his rightful place with the Father through his resurrection and ascension.
The wait has been long, but now Jesus’ time has come. His sacrifice will make visible his obedience to God and his love for people. On the cross he will open the door to eternity (John 3:14-15). On the cross he will draw all people to himself (John 12:32). The disciples understand glorification in traditional terms, so they do not understand Jesus. They will not understand until they see the open tomb and the resurrected Christ.
JOHN 13:33. WHERE I AM GOING, YOU CAN’T COME
33“Little children, (Greek: teknia) I will be with you a little while longer. You will seek me, and as I said to the Jews, ‘Where I am going, you can’t come,’ so now I tell you.”
“Little children, I will be with you a little while longer” (v. 33a). In verses 31-32, Jesus announced what will happen to him. Now he tells his disciples how that will affect them—the principal effect being that he will soon leave them.
“You will seek me; and as I said to the Jews, ‘Where I am going, you cannot come,’ so now I tell you” (v. 33b). As Jesus notes here, earlier he spoke these words to “the Jews” (7:33-34; 8:21)—by which he means his opponents, the Jewish leaders. In that context, he meant them as words of judgment, because Jewish leaders were looking for him so that they might kill him (5:18; 7:1). He told them, “you won’t find me” (7:34) and “you will die in your sins” (8:21).
Here he speaks these same words affectionately, calling the disciples teknia—little children—and omitting “you won’t find me” and “you will die in your sins.”
• Instead of saying, “you won’t find me,” Jesus promises his disciples that he will prepare a place for them and “I will come again, and will receive you to myself; that where I am, you may be there also” (14:3).
• Instead of saying, “you will die in your sins,” Jesus promises, “because I live, you will live also” (14:19).
JOHN 13:34. A NEW COMMANDMENT
34“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, just like I have loved you; that you also love one another.”
“A new commandment I give to you” (v. 34a). This new commandment is simple enough for a child to understand, and challenging enough that no mature Christian will claim to have obeyed it fully.
“New commandment” in the Latin Vulgate is mandatum novum, which is where we get the phrase Maundy Thursday (Bruce, 294).
The new commandment is not entirely new. Leviticus 19:18 says, “You shall not take vengeance nor bear any grudge against the children of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am Yahweh.”
That commandment required Israelites to love only other Israelites, but Leviticus 19:34 expands its scope: “The stranger who lives as a foreigner with you shall be to you as the native-born among you, and you shall love him as yourself; for you lived as foreigners in the land of Egypt. I am Yahweh your God.”
What, then, is new about Jesus’ commandment?
• First, Jesus provides a clear model of the love that he requires: “just like I have loved you, you also love one another” (v. 34b). If we want to understand Christian love, we have only to look at Jesus’ life and actions. The foot-washing in which he so recently engaged (13:1-20) sets the tone for the humble service that Jesus expects his disciples to render to each other.
• Second, it focuses on the Christian community—we are to love Christian brothers and sisters. In the Synoptics, Jesus calls us to love neighbors and enemies (Matthew 5:44; 19:19; 22:39; Mark 12:31; Luke 6:27, 35)—and God loves the world (John 3:16)—but Jesus’ call in this verse is for his disciples to love one another.
• Third, this new commandment inaugurates a new covenant (Jeremiah 31:31-34). The mark of faithfulness to the old covenant was obedience to the Torah. The mark of faithfulness to the new covenant is love for those within the community of faith (see Brown, 613-614; also Krentz and Vogel, 42).
• Fourth, this new commandment is positive and open-ended. Rather than focusing on “Thou shalt not,” it says, “thou shalt” (Gossip, 693). Where many Old Testament laws were very specific, this law is very broad. We can never claim full compliance, because there is no end to the requirement. When have we loved enough? There is always need for more love. People could respond to the old law with a bookkeeper’s mindset. Not so with this new commandment!
The focus is on loving action rather than loving feelings. In chapter 15, Jesus will repeat the commandment, saying, “This is my commandment, that you love one another, even as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends” (15:12-13). In his own life, Jesus translates love into action that benefits the beloved. He calls us to do the same.
This makes it possible to obey. While it might be impossible to feel affection for some people, it is not impossible to help them. Our action-love is a gift of Christ, who loved us, showed us how love behaves, and makes of us a new people born again in his image and capable of loving with his love. We can truly obey this commandment when “it is no longer I that live, but Christ living in me. That life which I now live in the flesh, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself up for me.” (Galatians 2:20).
If you believe yourself to have a valid excuse not to love a particular person, consider the context in which Jesus tells the disciples to love one another. Jesus has just told them that one of them will betray him, and they do not know who that will be. The betrayer has departed (v. 30), but the disciples do not know that (vv. 28-29). Jesus commands them to love one another anyway—in spite of the fact that they do not know who the betrayer will be—do not know who it is that they cannot trust.
JOHN 13:35. BY THIS EVERYONE WILL KNOW THAT YOU ARE MY DISCIPLES
35“By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”
Christian witness can take many forms, from street preaching to solemn liturgy, but it always involves love.
The church grew rapidly after the resurrection, in part because of the powerful witness of Christian love. “See how they love one another,” the pagans said (Tertullian, Apology). It is difficult not to respond to the witness of a loving person.
Ignoring this new commandment is not an option. Paul warns, “If I speak with the languages of men and of angels, but don’t have love, I have become sounding brass, or a clanging cymbal,… If I dole out all my goods to feed the poor, and if I give my body to be burned, but don’t have love, it profits me nothing.” (1 Corinthians 13:1-3).
But, as with all commandments, this one ultimately requires us to throw ourselves on the mercy of the court—to rely on God’s grace rather than our compliance with the law. Most of us fail daily to act in loving ways, even toward loved ones—and even more so toward people who rub us the wrong way. The Good News is that God loves us anyway! We must pray for grace to keep the commandment—and for grace when we fail.
SCRIPTURE QUOTATIONS are from the World English Bible (WEB), a public domain (no copyright) modern English translation of the Holy Bible. The World English Bible is based on the American Standard Version (ASV) of the Bible, the Biblia Hebraica Stutgartensa Old Testament, and the Greek Majority Text New Testament. The ASV, which is also in the public domain due to expired copyrights, was a very good translation, but included many archaic words (hast, shineth, etc.), which the WEB has updated.
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Copyright 2007, 2010, 2015, Richard Niell Donovan