16 April 2014

John 13:21-32

“One of you will betray me” (v. 21)


A theme of yesterday's passage (link) is picked up here, and made more specific. Jesus is the Son of Man (which means the man from heaven, and humanity's representative in heaven) who has been glorified by God when he became flesh on earth (John 1:14) in a life which is now culminating in him handing himself over to death on a cross. In doing that, he is fulfilling the will of God, which means that God is glorified in him by what he does (verse 31). Moreover, this is not a novelty, but part of God's nature. If God has glorified the Son of Man on earth, then God will also glorify him in heaven (verse 32), not just when he is raised to life, but now as he is raised up in glorious victory on the cross.

But if so, there must be a sense in which Jesus is managing the process or arranging what happens. Jesus knows that Judas will betray him, yet he still washes Judas' feet (John 13:10-12). At the very least, he consents to what Judas will do (John 13:18). He gives Judas permission to go and do it (verse 27). There is a sense in which since God has sent Jesus, and Jesus has now sent Judas, those who do a deal with Judas have Jesus and God placed into their hands for them to do their worst to them - and that this is in accordance with the will of God (John 13:20).

Does the fact that by his actions Judas helps to fulfil the will of God absolve him from responsibility? No. On another level, Judas' role of being a useful interface between the twelve disciples and the economic dealings of the world around him has opened him up to the unacceptable face of the world. First comes the thought of betraying Jesus (John 13:2), then the impulse to actually do it (verse 27).

Jesus knows what Judas must do. He tells everyone that one of them will betray him, but does not name the person (verse 21). They speculate wildly, but when Jesus tells Judas to go and do what he has to do, they only interpret it as meaning that Jesus wants Judas to go and purchase what they need for the Passover festivities, or that he should go and give alms to the poor (verses 22, 27-29). Only the beloved disciple is told what Jesus really means (verses 23-26). Peter is not. Similarly, it will be the beloved disciple who gets to the empty tomb of Jesus before Peter, and believes before Peter (John 20:1-8); and it will be the beloved disciple who recognises the risen Jesus before Peter does (John 21:4-7).

When Judas goes out, it is dark - physically, morally and spiritually.

To Ponder

  • With whom do you identify in this story, and why?

Bible notes author

Ken Howcroft

Ken Howcroft was designated by the Conference in 2013 to be the President of the 2014 Conference. He is currently a minister of the British Conference of the Methodist Church seconded to the Methodist Church in Italy to look after the English-language Methodist Church in Rome.