John 13:21–38: One of You Will Betray Me, A New Commandment, Jesus Foretells Peter’s Denial
In the previous passage Jesus had washed his disciples’ feet, and used it as an illustration as to the type of leaders they should be. He had even predicted that one of them was going to betray him. But now Jesus gets explicit, saying that one of them is about to betray him. But none of the disciples seem to know who he’s talking about; they all look at each other, uncertain about whom he’s referring.
Verse 23 says, “One of his disciples, whom Jesus loved, was reclining at table at Jesus’ side,” and there are two interesting points on these words:
- Most commentaries I’ve seen say that the language about being “the one whom Jesus loved” means that John was talking about himself.
- There is an ESV footnote indicating that “at Jesus’ side” is literally “in the bosom of Jesus” in the Greek, which is a nice phrase.
Regardless, the point is that because John is so close to Jesus, Peter motions him to ask Jesus who he’s talking about, which he does, and Jesus tells him that the one who’s going to betray him is, “… he to whom I will give this morsel of bread when I have dipped it” (verse 26). He then does exactly that: dips a morsel of bread, and gives it to Judas.
Jesus tells Judas, “What you are going to do, do quickly” (verse 27), and Judas leaves, but the others still don’t know what’s going on. Since Judas controlled the moneybag, some assumed that Jesus was sending him on some money-related task. Verse 28 says that, “No one at the table knew why” Jesus had said this to Judas; it doesn’t mention anything about John or Peter.
Jesus then predicts his imminent death again—though, once again, the disciples could be forgiven for not understanding that that’s what he means:
When [Judas] had gone out, Jesus said, “Now is the Son of Man glorified, and God is glorified in him. If God is glorified in him, God will also glorify him in himself, and glorify him at once. Little children, yet a little while I am with you. You will seek me, and just as I said to the Jews, so now I also say to you, ‘Where I am going you cannot come.’ 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.” (verses 31–35)
But Peter seems to focus on the phrase, “Where I am going you cannot come,” so he asks Jesus where he’s going. Jesus doesn’t really answer the question, but he repeats himself, and then augments it: “Where I am going you cannot follow me now, but you will follow afterward” (verse 36). So when Jesus said “you cannot come,” he really meant, “you cannot come yet.” But Peter pushes the point further: why can’t he follow Jesus now? He would lay down his life for Jesus! But…
Jesus answered, “Will you lay down your life for me? Truly, truly, I say to you, the rooster will not crow till you have denied me three times.” (verse 38)
I said above that the disciples could be forgiven for not understanding that Jesus was talking about his death, because verses 31–35 are all talking about “glory” and “glorification.” It would be quite a while before the disciples would understand that the means by which the Father and the Son would be glorified would be through the Son’s death (and resurrection).
When they thought about “glory,” they (as we) would think in terms of victory—and that’s true. But Jesus wasn’t going to achieve victory by becoming a king, defeating the Romans, and ruling Israel. He was going to achieve victory over sin; a far more difficult victory, but with much greater benefits to all of mankind.
The Logistics, and John and Peter
I’m always struck—and I seem to recall writing something similar when covering this event in the book of Luke—by the fact that none of the disciples even suspected Judas. Even when Jesus explicitly indicates to John (and Peter) that Judas is the one who’s going to betray him, and then sends Judas out to do “quickly” what he’s going to do, there is no indication that they’re less confused than the other disciples.
I wonder if they simply didn’t understand either the magnitude of the betrayal, or its imminence, since they didn’t stand up at that moment and say, “Wait, stop him! He’s going to betray Jesus!” I’m guessing that even they were assuming Jesus was sending Judas out for some task, as opposed to thinking that Judas was on his way at that very moment to betray Jesus.
Peter Will Deny Jesus
Jesus’ prediction that Peter will deny him is well known, but I don’t actually have a lot of thoughts about it. It’s just Peter being Peter; he had a history of making brash/rash statements, and I see this as just one more of those statements. It’s easy to say, “I would die for you!” in the heat of the moment, it’s difficult to do when the opportunity actually arises.
Luke goes into more detail on this conversation, where Jesus doesn’t just predict Peter’s betrayal but touchingly tells Peter that he’s been praying for him, and that after Peter betrays Jesus he’s going to have the task of strengthening the brothers.
I’ll probably talk about this again when I get to Chapter 18, but I feel Christians can sometimes fall into a trap of judging Peter a bit too harshly. Yes, he betrayed Jesus; but the only reason he had the opportunity to betray Jesus is that he’d followed him right up to the trial, whereas the other disciples had already fallen away by that point. Yes, when he walked on water he lost faith, started to sink, and had to be rescued by Jesus; but the only reason he had the opportunity to sink is that he’d walked on the water in the first place, whereas the other disciples had stayed in the boat.
Peter’s brashness sometimes led him to make rash promises—“I will never deny you!”—but it also led him into moments of faith that were stronger than any of the other disciples. I don’t see a lesson in the Scriptures that says we should be more like Peter or less like Peter; I see a lesson that we need to be aware of our own personalities, and deal with them accordingly. If I’m brash like Peter, then maybe I need to be careful before making any promises or bold claims; if I tend to hold back and play it safe like the other disciples, maybe I need to make sure that it’s not a lack of faith.