Serving a Betrayer: Red Letter Year 12/2

John 13.21-30

21 Now Jesus was deeply troubled, and he exclaimed, “I tell you the truth, one of you will betray me!”

22 The disciples looked at each other, wondering whom he could mean. 23 The disciple Jesus loved was sitting next to Jesus at the table. 24 Simon Peter motioned to him to ask, “Who’s he talking about?” 25 So that disciple leaned over to Jesus and asked, “Lord, who is it?”

26 Jesus responded, “It is the one to whom I give the bread I dip in the bowl.” And when he had dipped it, he gave it to Judas, son of Simon Iscariot. 27 When Judas had eaten the bread, Satan entered into him. Then Jesus told him, “Hurry and do what you’re going to do.” 28 None of the others at the table knew what Jesus meant. 29 Since Judas was their treasurer, some thought Jesus was telling him to go and pay for the food or to give some money to the poor. 30 So Judas left at once, going out into the night.


The first thing I want to point out today is that we are still in the foot washing chapter, still at John’s Last Supper scene. John does not draw as much attention here to the bread and wine as the other Gospels do, but by the time he wrote communion was an established practice in the churches and he covered this quite well earlier when Jesus freaked out the crowds with his “eat my flesh, drink my blood” declaration. But this is the same supper the others record and the bread Jesus gave Judas was the bread representing his body. To recap, Jesus washed Judas’ feet, served Judas communion, and then sent him out to do the betraying. Jesus also speaks to Judas in code here to protect him from the reaction of the other eleven (just imagine what Peter would have done if he had known). It was in Luke where Jesus told his followers to love our enemies. Here in John he displays this distinctive behavior.

Second, this passage marks the introduction of “the disciple Jesus loved” – a character we will encounter several more times in the remainder of John. This is worth paying attention to because even though we have been calling him “John” since we started reading the fourth Gospel, at no point in the text does the author identify himself as John. Church tradition tells us the author was John and it does so based (primarily) on what we learn about TDJL from here until the end of the gospel. Right away we see this person was very close to Jesus (both in the title given for him and his proximity to Jesus at the table) and that he and Peter knew each other well enough to communicate across a room. We will come back to this later and at some point will need to think about why the author calls himself TDJL.

Third, we should note that Jesus was troubled before he told them about the betrayer. Unlike the other Gospels, John does not write about Jesus struggling in prayer at Gethsemane. Jesus does pray just before his arrest, but the content of that prayer does not match the troubled descriptions of the other Gospels. Here John gives us a small indication that Jesus was troubled. Given his desire to uphold the divinity of Jesus, this shift makes sense for John, but it is also comforting that he left something of the other in place. Jesus knows how betrayal feels as only one who continues to serve the betrayer can.

Finally, John accentuates the divinity of Jesus by showing that through all this (the betrayal now and the arrest and death to come), Jesus remained in control. We will see several examples of this but perhaps none more telling than this one. Read it carefully. Jesus gave Judas the communion bread. Judas ate the bread. Satan entered into Judas. Then Jesus commanded Judas to go quickly (and we have to read that as something Jesus said in a neutral sounding voice since the other eleven thought nothing of it) and Judas left immediately. We can learn two things from this sequence:

  1. The newly Satan-possessed man still took a direct order from Jesus and obeyed it without hesitation.
  2. Jesus displayed an eagerness to get things rolling. In John, Jesus is aware of when it is not time to die and when it is time to die. He knew it was time and he did not want to hit the snooze button.

Both of these show Jesus as in control of the whole situation. You don’t really get that sense reading the other three Gospels, not even Luke where Jesus predicts his death early and often. When it comes to the arrest, trial, and death, the other three Gospels really focus on the humanity of Jesus. Remember that John is writing to believers struggling with the Ebionite heresy. He needs to show the divinity of Jesus as clearly as possible and that is nowhere more important than here during the last 12 hours of Jesus’ earthly life. The idea of God being killed was more than some people could handle (and it should mess with our thinking more than we let it). John intentionally writes so that we are left with no choice but to accept that idea.

Taken together, we get the orthodox understanding of Jesus as fully God and fully human. More specifically, we tend to think of Jesus as being fully God, very superhero like, but not so much human. The gritty Jesus in Mark and the Spirit-dependent Jesus in Luke help us with that misconception. But when it comes to the idea of Jesus being weak, arrested, smacked around, lied about, beaten, mocked, and killed – well, then we switch to a very human notion of Jesus. It’s hard for us to imagine God getting spit on and slapped on the head. This is where John can help us most because this is exactly the God we have, a God who eagerly accepts our violence, a God who partners with the man who sells him out, a God willing to serve betrayers. This is the best part of the good news because Judas didn’t have a monopoly on betrayal. We all do our share of betraying, so we should be immensely grateful that Jesus is willing to serve betrayers like us.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible. New Living Translation copyright© 1996, 2004, 2007 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale HousePublishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.