Commentary on John 13:21-32 ~ Fr. Terry Elkington

John 13:21-32

21 After he had said this, Jesus was troubled in spirit and testified, “Very truly I tell you, one of you is going to betray me.”

22 His disciples stared at one another, at a loss to know which of them he meant. 23 One of them, the disciple whom Jesus loved, was reclining next to him. 24 Simon Peter motioned to this disciple and said, “Ask him which one he means.”

25 Leaning back against Jesus, he asked him, “Lord, who is it?”

26 Jesus answered, “It is the one to whom I will give this piece of bread when I have dipped it in the dish.” Then, dipping the piece of bread, he gave it to Judas, the son of Simon Iscariot. 27 As soon as Judas took the bread, Satan entered into him.

So Jesus told him, “What you are about to do, do quickly.” 28 But no one at the meal understood why Jesus said this to him. 29 Since Judas had charge of the money, some thought Jesus was telling him to buy what was needed for the festival, or to give something to the poor. 30 As soon as Judas had taken the bread, he went out. And it was night.

31 When he was gone, Jesus said, “Now the Son of Man is glorified and God is glorified in him. 32 If God is glorified in him,[a] God will glorify the Son in himself, and will glorify him at once.

Notice first that Jesus was troubled in spirit. Perhaps pausing to think about the betrayal He was about to experience was like a penetrating arrow into His soul. Perhaps knowing the love He had for His disciples – including Judas – caused Him pain to know that it wasn’t reciprocated, even if only partially, by Judas. Perhaps this event on the timeline leading to His crucifixion was particularly painful, because it stepped up the pace of everything. There was no turning back.

Jesus has already prepared His true disciples for this event; now, He brings it about in actuality. First, in deep distress of spirit, Jesus tells all the disciples plainly, so that there could be no more room for doubt, that one of them would indeed betray Him (v21). The depth of the eleven disciples’ love and dedication to Jesus may be seen in their response: stunned silence and amazement (v22). How could it be that one of them, who had seen the goodness and greatness of this Messiah, the true Son of God and Man, ever betray Him? Even impetuous Peter is so taken aback at this revelation that he does not dare to speak openly, but motions for John, reclining beside Jesus, to “Ask Him which one He means” (v23-24). John asked Jesus (v25), and Jesus’ answer once again shows the depth of His mercy; for as Calvin says, He would reveal the traitor to John alone and not to all the disciples, and not by giving some sign of condemnation or curse, but by displaying to this impostor the honor of a dignified guest – He selected a piece of bread, dipped it in the oil, and “gave it to Judas Iscariot, son of Simon” (v26). This gentle display, as we’ll see is why John’s gospel points out Judas’ treachery more frequently than the others, and also why, as we’ll see in v28, why none of the other disciples understand why Jesus said what He said in v27. Let’s look at it now.

So far in this chapter, we’ve seen the commencement of the greatest act of love, and we sadly note that it is met with the most malicious act of treachery ever committed. Having taken the piece of bread from Jesus, but having despised the love that extended it, Judas, fully and finally persuaded by Satan (v27) to betray God Incarnate, obeys the sorrowful command not to delay in that which he had already planned to do. This exhortation is not of such a nature that Jesus can be regarded as exciting Judas to do the action; rather it is the language of one who views the crime with horror and detestation. It’s as if He is saying, “Since you’ve given yourself to destruction, go to destruction.” And we get explanations of the misunderstanding that the other disciples had regarding this command in v28-29. Of course, they’d understand it all quite clearly with the passage of time. But in v30, we see Judas depart from the presence of the Lord forever; John adds, “And it was night.”

Maybe “And it was night” is just a casual comment by John that it was now dark outside; but maybe John is saying something more significant than that. One commentator said, “These are some of the most pregnant words in the whole of literature.” It was dark, but not only outside, not only because the sun had gone down, but it was dark in Judas’
heart. No light shone there, because no love for Jesus shone there, because Satan had entered into him, because sin had taken hold of Him, and because worldly pleasures had captivated him. The Trinity of evil was choking the very life out of him. “And it was night.”

At this point (v31-32), Jesus begins His final instructions and teachings before He goes to the cross. From here to the end of chapter 17 compose one great block of instructional material which Jesus gives to His disciples, so that they might understand exactly what His death would mean, and why it must come about. Immediately, He brings out the one foundational principle that He will continue to develop and elaborate upon: His impending death is for the glory of God. This must have been unthinkable to His disciples. If there was one thing that did not conjure up thoughts of glory, it was death on a Roman cross.  That was the most shameful, despised, and humiliating process the world of fallen men could possible devise. Yet here Jesus was, saying that it would be for the glorification of Himself, the Son of Man, and likewise of the Father. Such is the wonder and the foolishness of the gospel!

The greatest act of humility and condescension in all history is at the same time the greatest act of self-glorification that God would ever perform. It’s accomplishment was the one great design of God from before time began, a design which brought all three members of the Godhead into a marvelous and mutually-glorifying work, the Father planning, the Son purchasing, and the Spirit applying the redemption of man the rebel! There we see God’s glorious character revealed more clearly than at any other time and place. We see His wrath against sin in the crushing of His own dear Son because of it. We see His free, redemptive love in the lengths He goes to be able to have mercy on those for whom He has decreed mercy. We see His grace, His justice, His sovereignty, and His inter-triune relationships of love and mutual glorification all displayed on the cross, as we could never have seen them in any other way. Truly, in this horrible act of injustice, the Father glorified the Son, and the Son glorified the Father.

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s