The betrayal is all the more horrendous coming after the footwashing in which the depth of Jesus' divine love is revealed. Once again we see Jesus deeply agitated as he bears witness: I tell you the truth, one of you is going to betray me (v. 21). He has been agitated with anger at death (11:33) and in anguish over his own coming death, which will mean separation from his Father for the first time (12:27). In both cases love causes the disturbance--the love for his friends at Lazarus's tomb and the love for his Father. Here also his anguish is caused by great love--the love he has for his disciples, including his betrayer. In his anguish we see revealed the effects of our sin on the heart of God, from the first rebellion in the Garden right up to the most recent sin you and I have committed today. All sin is a rejection of God's great love.
The disciples stared at one another, at a loss to know which of them he meant (v. 22). They did not all swing around and look at Judas. They could not imagine who would do such a thing. Indeed, according to other accounts each of them asked, "Is it I, Lord?" (RSV, Mt 26:22 par. Mk 14:19). We are all quite capable of the worst sin. If we think otherwise, we are deluded and have no real idea how much we owe to the grace of God.
With such a statement hanging in the air, everyone wondering to whom he could be referring, we can imagine Peter bursting to ask Jesus. But he has just been rebuked at the footwashing so instead of speaking up he motions (literally, "nods," neuei) to one of them, the disciple whom Jesus loved (vv. 23-24; cf. Chrysostom In John 72.1). This person is said to be reclining next to Jesus (v. 23; more literally, "on/at his breast/bosom," en to kolpo). Three couches or mats are arranged in a U shape around a table. The men are reclining on their left arms with their right hands free to get at the food. Most likely there are three at the head couch and five at each of the side couches. Jesus is at the center of the head couch, the place of honor. The second most honorable position is to the back of the place of honor, that is, to Jesus' left when looking from behind them. The third place of honor is in front of Jesus, that is, to his right (t. Berakot 5:5). The one to whom Peter nods is in this third place of honor, for he leans back against Jesus to ask him, Lord, who is it? (v. 25). Since Peter is able to catch his eye, presumably Peter is along the couch on the right at some distance. Since the ranking alternated from left to right, Peter's place would have been in the second half of the disciples, perhaps even at the very end. This reconstruction is somewhat uncertain, however, not least because of the unconventional views Jesus had about rank (cf. Mt 20:26 par. Mk 10:43 par. Lk 22:26; Mt 23:11; Mk 9:35; Lk 9:48), exemplified par excellence in the present story of the footwashing.
Jesus says, It is the one to whom I will give this piece of bread when I have dipped it in the dish (v. 26). Since Jesus is able to give the bread to his betrayer it is likely that Judas was in the second place of honor. This would also fit with the custom of the host's giving food in this way to one he wishes to honor (Westcott 1908:2:156; Brown 1970:578; Talbert 1992:195-96). In the face of such honor and intimacy we see the heinousness of Judas' deed (cf. Ps 55:12-14). Jesus is pouring out his love and grace upon Judas. He is trying to win Judas over, but to no avail (Chrysostom In John 72.2). Early in the Gospel Jesus healed one who turned around and betrayed him, a Judas figure (5:1-16). That healing was the climax of a series of revelations of the divine grace, which then triggered the conflict. The conflict itself is now coming to its climax, and we are seeing brighter and brighter revelations of the divine grace, first in the footwashing and now in Jesus' treatment of his betrayer. All of this is leading up to the grand climax of glory in the cross.
Presumably, this exchange is spoken quietly (Beasley-Murray 1987:238). Peter is too far away to hear what was said, so only this disciple to Jesus' right knows the identity of the betrayer. This is the first we hear of the Beloved Disciple in this Gospel. He is referred to several times in the coming account of the Passion and the postresurrection appearances of Jesus (19:26-27, 35; 20:2-10; 21:7, 20-23; probably 18:15-16), and it is his testimony that is represented in this Gospel (21:24). In the present story we see him as Jesus' confidant, one who is said to be en to kolpo to Jesus, the very description of Jesus' own relation to the Father--"at the Father's side" (1:18)--suggesting "the Disciple is as intimate with Jesus as Jesus is with the Father" (Brown 1970:577). This intimacy is borne out in the special knowledge this disciple has. "As Jesus' most intimate disciple and eye-witness he is allowed to know by whom Jesus will be betrayed (13:13-21) and to understand the meaning of the empty tomb (20:2-10). He witnesses Jesus' suffering and death and because he saw blood and water coming out of Jesus' side he is able to state beyond doubt that Jesus died a real death" (de Jonge 1979:104). His insight regarding Jesus' death and resurrection means, in Johannine language, that he understands Jesus' glorification through which the Father is revealed. He also has insight concerning the betrayer, which is to say, Jesus' enemies. Thus, his special knowledge enables him to present both the positive and the negative sides of the case: he can both testify to the truth and identify the error. In this way he shares in the Holy Spirit's functions of bearing witness to Jesus and judging the world (14:16, 26;15:26; 16:7-11). In writing this Gospel this disciple is himself the prime example of the Spirit's leading into all truth, teaching all things and bringing to remembrance what Jesus said.
The very anonymity of the Beloved Disciple may be a reflection of his humility, though we should not assume that John is carefully calculating to produce such effects. If he is calling himself the Beloved Disciple perhaps it is because he is the beloved disciple, the one whose heart, whose inward disposition, is particularly open and sensitive to Jesus. John presents himself in a way that actually has certain similarities to his Master because he is humble. John has no false humility; he exalts in what he has heard, seen and touched, and he knows his place of authority. But in his humility he keeps pointing to Jesus in the same way Jesus keeps pointing to the Father.
When Judas receives the bread he seals his fate: As soon as Judas took the bread, Satan entered into him (v. 27). Earlier Satan had put the idea of betraying Jesus into Judas' heart and mind (13:2). Indeed, the Synoptics tell us that Judas had already gone to the chief priests to plan the betrayal (Mt 26:14-16 par. Mk 14:10-11 par. Lk 22:3-6). But now we have the point of decision. Just as faith is a progressive sequence, so acceptance of the devil's will also follows a sequence (cf. Nikodimos and Makarios 1979:364-66). "His acceptance of the morsel without changing his wicked plan to betray Jesus means that he has chosen for Satan rather than for Jesus" (Brown 1970:578). Satan has found in Judas a willing agent (cf. 8:44), who serves as a counterexample to Jesus, the willing agent of his Father.
The contest now begins in earnest. There is no doubt as to the outcome, for Satan and his agent are under Jesus' command: What you are about to do, do quickly (v. 27). Jesus is not commanding Judas to sin but rather commanding him to get on with what he is going to do, one way or the other. "No man in all history was more truly `put on the spot' than Judas in that moment" (Beasley-Murray 1987:238). It is very ironic that this gesture of friendship--the sharing of bread--is the point of decision to betray, an irony matched only by the use of a kiss to accomplish the betrayal itself (not mentioned by John; cf. Mt 26:49 par. Mk 14:45 par. Lk 22:47-48).
The disciples could not imagine which of them would betray Jesus (v. 22), and they are ignorant of why Jesus is telling Judas to act quickly. No one (v. 28), not even the Beloved Disciple, knew the betrayal was upon them even then. It is one thing to know who is going to betray Jesus; it is another to know how and when it will take place. They figured Jesus must be telling him to buy what was needed for the Feast, or to give something to the poor (v. 29). There is debate over whether they are eating the Passover meal or not (see comment on 18:28). If they are eating the Passover meal, the feast referred to would be the Feast of Unleavened Bread, which began that night and lasted for seven days. While purchases on the evening of Passover were not impossible, they would not be possible for the next two days of the high feast and the sabbath, which, some of the disciples thought, explained the urgency (Jeremias 1966a:53; cf. Carson 1991:475). The setting of Passover might also give rise to the disciples' other explanation that Jesus has sent Judas to give alms, since this was a custom on the eve of Passover (Jeremias 1966a:54). If Jesus is not referring to the Feast of Unleavened Bread, then he is referring to the Passover itself, which means the meal they are now sharing occurs just before Passover.
Again we see that the disciples have no special suspicion of Judas. Indeed, they think he is being sent forth on an errand for Jesus and his band. That is, they think Judas is acting as a servant, as Jesus has just modeled. There is great irony in their thinking that he has gone on an errand of service or piety (cf. Michaels 1989:252). He is indeed going to buy what is needed for the feast--the Lamb of God who will take away the sin of the world. Instead of giving to the poor he is selling the archetypal Poor Man, though in doing so he provides eternal wealth to the poor, all of us made beggars by sin.
At the beginning of the footwashing John notes that the hour for which we have been waiting since the beginning of the Gospel has now arrived (13:1). At the end of this section we reach another benchmark: now comes the night (v. 30) in which people do not know where they are going (12:35-36). It is time for the ultimate contest between light and darkness.
Jesus Washes His Disciples' Feet
Jesus Introduces Major Themes of His Farewell Discourse
About this commentary:
IVP New Testament Commentaries are made available by the generosity of InterVarsity Press.
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