John (Part 49): Betrayal (ch 13)
A slight change in the feel of the scene seems to have occurred. Of course, this is all still prior to Jesus going to the cross. However, the footwashing action was meant to depict Jesus’s sacrifice on the cross. Therefore, as it ends and Jesus “put on His robe” and “reclined again,” it has the immediate flavor of a post-resurrection engagement. Much is going on here, and so we can’t get too caught up in this post-resurrection flavor. It is just a whiff that will last but a moment, but it is worth pointing out. Jesus calls the disciples to follow his example in this act of sacrificial love expressed. And in his call to his disciples, he is also calling us, the post-resurrection church to this same act of sacrificial love. Note that it is mainly to the community of saints, but it also encompasses not only those who may at times not act toward us in love (e.g., Peter in his denial and the rest in running away) but also those who will have no part of us—the unsaved—who will actually work evil against us (as Judas did). Jesus reinforces this idea by pointing out his grace even as he is greatest. He is the master. He is greater than we. If the greater one has acted in grace, those who follow him—who recognize his greatness—should then act without hanging on to their own pride and self-interest.
In verses 17 and 18, Jesus specifically said he is speaking only to those who are his true disciples. They are the ones who will be blessed by this action, implying that if Judas (representing the unsaved) were to act in kindness, it would not produce blessing because the one apart from Jesus acts for his or her own self interest. After that comment, Jesus quotes part of a Psalm to connect betrayal with the most intimate of acquaintances. That whiff of post-resurrection encouragement to love begins to dissipate as Jesus draws attention to the betrayer who will soon act.
Jesus quoted David from Psalm 41:9. In the Psalm, David is speaking of a victory achieved, but a victory that came even though one of his closest friends “in whom [he] trusted, one who ate [his] bread, [had] raised his heel against [him].” We should review the scene that sparked these comments by David. Most scholars believe the Psalm was written following the securing of the kingdom after Absalom’s revolt.
David’s son Absalom wanted to be king. He was a handsome, charismatic, clever man who began to steal the hearts of the people. Absalom amassed such a following that David and his men fled from Jerusalem while Absalom marched in to claim kingship. One of David’s trusted advisors, Ahithophel, became an advisor to Absalom.
This story parallels what Jesus experienced in Jerusalem. Israel belonged to God. God established Jesus as king over his kingdom, just as he had picked David to be king years earlier. (Note the connection through the Davidic covenant.) Absalom, of David’s story, represents the priests and ruling Jews of Jesus’s time. They had no more thought of Israel belonging to God than Absalom did. Just like Absalom, they wanted to for themselves. And just as Absalom sought the death of the true king, David, so also did the Jewish leaders seek the death of the true king, Jesus.
But Absalom wanted a little help. First, Absalom didn’t want to destroy the nation in taking over. He wanted to be king over a strong nation. If civil war had erupted, the nation would be torn in two so that even if he won, neighboring nations, like the Philistines, perhaps could have come in and defeated the weakened, civil-war-torn Israel. So Absalom tries to secure advice from one of David’s trusted advisors—one who had been a trusted friend of David, who had eaten bread at the king’s table—Ahithophel. Ahithophel’s parallel is of course Judas. Just as were Absalom’s thoughts, the Jewish leaders in Jesus’s day didn’t want Israel destroyed through inner conflict. If all the people were following Jesus and Jesus had led them to disregard Rome, turmoil would result and that other nation—Rome—would have come in to take over. So Caiaphas decided that Jesus must die alone (the “one” man of Jn 11:49-50) to keep Israel intact and in their control. And so it comes about that one of Jesus’s close friends, who had eaten bread from his table, betrayed Jesus to Caiaphas and the others. The betrayal was important because Caiaphas didn’t want to take Jesus in front of all the people for fear of an ensuing riot. He wanted to take him from wherever Jesus might be in private when few were around.
The scene was the same for Absalom. Notice the parallels in Ahithophel’s advice. Ahithophel told Absalom to set out in pursuit at night (2 Sa 17:1), attack him and throw him in a panic so that the people with him will scatter (2 Sa 17:2). That way they could strike down David with minimal fighting. David’s followers would have no choice but to quietly submit to Absalom. It was the same idea, the same plan, and much of it similarly carried out by Judas and Caiaphas.
And notice how the betrayal ends. In Matthew 27:5 tells us that Judas “threw the silver into the sanctuary and departed. Then he went and hanged himself.” And Ahithophel? We learn in 2 Samuel 17:23b that Ahithophel “set his affairs in order and hanged himself.”
That’s the story of betrayal. That’s what Jesus wants to come to mind as he quotes Psalm 41:9. And he wants us to pick up on this story because it shows that the evil plans of those against God and against his Christ are not unknown to God and they cannot thwart the will of God in accomplishing his plans for his Zion purpose.
In the very next verse in John 13, we are told that Jesus I troubled. Why? Well, there are several hints. We saw Jesus troubled only a chapter earlier. In 12:27, Jesus said his soul was troubled because of the prospect of end of life—relationship with God. And that matches Jesus’s revelation in Matthew 26:38 when, out in the garden, he said, “My soul is swallowed up in sorrow—to the point of death.” But a couple of other clues here in John 13 expand the reason for us, I think, quite a bit. Verse 21 starts with the phrase, “When Jesus had said this. . . .” In other words, he was troubled based on his previous conversation in bringing up the betrayal of his trusted friend. And immediately as a consequence of him being troubled, Jesus said, “I assure you: One of you will betray Me” Thus, it appears that the betrayal is what has him particularly troubled.
John portrays Jesus’s emotions more than the other Gospel writers. We have seen that already a few times in John so far. Here’s why I think Jesus is so troubled at this point. Jesus is experiencing all the good and correct intimate feelings of oneness with his disciples just at the point when the betrayal issue flashes across the scene. What makes the scene so poignant in balancing the embrace of love relationship accomplished with hideous betrayal is specifically this trusted friend who is receiving Jesus’s bread. These verses, I believe, surround the activity of the communion message recorded in the other Gospels. Therefore, we should talk about communion—its meaning and its practice.
The communion institution is presented in all three Synoptics, but the account is longest in Luke. Luke begins by displaying Jesus’s heart. Luke records Jesus’s words, “I have fervently desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer” (Lk 22:15). This desire is not simply because he wants to eat a meal with them. He has been doing that probably almost every day for the past three and a half years. And remember, the actual Passover meal would be celebrated by the rest of the Jews the following evening—the evening starting the 15th of Nissan. But Jesus won’t be around then, and so he wants to celebrate this Passover with them a day early, while he can, in order to draw a vital link between the Passover festival and what it is specifically intended for. The original Passover was a historical event. It did occur just at a time when God was obtaining freedom for his people from the world (Egypt). All Passover celebrations in the ensuing years looked or pointed back at the original event of God’s rescue. But what is so incredibly important to realize—and what Jesus was so fervently wanting to share in this particular Passover celebration—is that the original event was itself a figurative image pointing to something else. The original Passover marking the rescue of God’s people from Egypt pictured the ultimate rescue of God’s people from the world—the imprisonment of sin characterized by trust in humanity or self (the world). So Jesus is eager to share the point of rescue from the world through him.
But notice (just as importantly) that the big news of the evening is not that his death will pay the penalty for sin.
Ok, wait. Think about this for a moment. Everything in John is rushing toward the death of Jesus that would effect our rescue. And that was, actually what occurred in Egypt, right?—the rescue from the world. Through death (the first born) rescue was realized. We have sin. We need rescue. We can’t pay for our sin. Jesus died as the sin offering. All of this shows the rescue based on the vicarious atonement by Jesus! So, . . . how exactly can I be saying that the big news of the evening is NOT that his death will pay the penalty for sin??
Here is the point. It is an extremely selfish, myopic view to consider the point of God’s rescue merely as our individual escape from punishment. I am not saying that it is unimportant. I personally, certainly am thrilled to escape everlasting torment through the rescue of Jesus. And yet, it is not merely for our escape from that that God implemented redemption’s plan. It was FOR the Zion purpose. It was FOR everlasting love relationship. It was FOR our community bond of abounding love that we would realize together—TOGETHER—with our God! That is the point. Without it, we lose all contextual meaning.
Here at this meal, then, especially in Luke, we see Jesus excited, anticipating this Passover so that he may explain this Zion purpose—this community of love—this fellowship, togetherness, multiple-in-oneness everlasting joy we can experience together. And—AND—Luke immediately explains, shows, demonstrates the glory of this oneness together in depiction of Jesus’s institution of the Lord’s Supper—of communion. Do you sense the meaning here? This is not merely some ritual to perform because God wants us to remember the torturous death of Jesus. Yes, he died horribly, in torture, in shame, in suffering, and all for us. Should we recognize that? YES! Should we be grateful? YES! But is that the point of communion? NO!! In communion we remember Christ’s death as the inheritance of LIFE—relationship with God!!—TOGETHER!! It is a joyous occasion. There should be smiling and singing and laughing as we eat together! This is what the early church did. We’re told at the end of Acts 2 that they broke bread from house to house—THAT WAS COMMUNION. We’re told that they “ate their food with a joyful and humble attitude, praising God.”
But why eating? What does the taking in of food represent? I don’t think the disciples were confused. This was not the first time Jesus referred to himself as food. After the feeding of the 5000 in John 6 we heard Jesus say, “I assure you: Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you do not have life in yourselves” (Jn 6:53). Jesus was saying that just as taking in physical food gives us physical life, taking him in as spiritual food gives us spiritual life—relationship with God! So, the meal purpose in communion is to depict that very thing—Jesus in us, and we then in God.
Back in Luke 22, Jesus was eager to show the disciples this through the eating of the Passover meal. And not how Jesus introduces this non-ritual. He doesn’t clear the table and say, “Now that we’re done eating a meal, we’re going to have a little solemn ceremony here.” Mark 14:22 tells us it was “as they were eating, He took bread.” In Luke, he first picks up a cup and tells them to drink. And then he took the bread, thanked God, broke it, and gave it to the others. And then he took the cup again and said, that it was his blood. In other words, Jesus does not put aside the Passover meal in order to institute communion. The meal itself was the communion meal, and Jesus points out the figurative elements during the meal. Jesus is telling them that when they come together to eat, they should be thinking of purpose and celebration in and made possible by his very life. Our life together—our relationship—as one in and with God is made possible through his life—as we have taken him in to our very selves.
I’m sure someone is thinking, “But doesn’t Paul tell us to examine ourselves because if we eat in an unworthy way we will be guilty of sin against the body and blood of our Lord?” Yes, he does, but what exactly does he mean by that. We must pay attention to the context. The Corinthians were celebrating communion by coming together to eat—well, sort of. Read I Corinthians11:17-34. There were factions in the church—cliquish groups eating together as groups apart from others, not waiting, partying for their own purposes while others of their church—of their body—went hungry. In strong terms Paul tells them they’re acting disgracefully! The point of coming together was to think of each other as a whole—as a body. The factionalism was resulting in just the opposite. He wasn’t giving rules for solemnly confessing sin, thinking of the torture Jesus went through, and then ritualistically putting a cracker in your mouth in coordination with the pastor. Communion is a meal in which we recognize our shared life in Christ. We show his death by the celebration of its purpose in our life together in him.
That’s it. That’s communion. That’s what it is for. That is what Jesus instituted. The Corinthians didn’t pay attention to that purpose, and therefore they sinned with it. But the church seems to have overcorrected in the ensuing years after the apostolic period. By 1215 at the Great Lateran Council, Pope Innocent III introduced 72 articles for consideration and endorsement. One of those included a mention of transubstantiation—the understanding that the bread and wine of the Mass turns into the actual body and blood of Jesus. This idea obviously moved the purpose of communion from Jesus’s point of celebration of relationship with God together made possible through his life to an individualistic conveyance of grace from God to a person. The Reformation changed that idea for protestants, but for the most part the sacramental and transcendent quality of communion remained to some degree. Luther, while denying transubstantiation, still insisted that Christ was actually present in the elements. Zwingli opposed that view calling communion merely a memorial of Christ. Calvin tried to take a middle ground by speaking of a spiritual presence with Christ in the taking of the elements. This high view of mystery in the elements and in the taking of the elements obfuscates the meaning Jesus intended. A celebration of our life together gained through his life.
John doesn’t include the actual communion discussion by Jesus as it is included in the Synoptics. Many commentators remark that John didn’t do so because it was covered adequately by the others. But this would call into question the adequacy of other Synoptic events that John does discuss. I believe that John does not discuss it because the joyous mood and message of communion would conflict with the troubled, worried general attitude he is trying to present. Of course, there was both joy and sadness at the supper. But John’s interest is in the sadness and how Jesus would go on to give hope in that general gloom.
Therefore, since the Passover meal as a whole is intended as the communion that Jesus speaks of, we have that idea very much present as Jesus speaks of the betrayer, making more poignant the contrast between the joy of communion of life in God with Jesus, the Life Giver, and the lost, evil companion that will lash out in hatred through his betrayal. And so, Jesus is troubled.
We are shown one other thing in Luke that we don’t have in John, which may also contribute to Jesus’s troubled feeling. Jesus had been excited about having this joyous, celebratory meal filled with indication about new life with God that his people would experience together in love. How horrible, then, is the conversation we see in Luke immediately following the communion explanation. The disciples begin discussing who it would be who would betray Jesus. And each person’s denial would probably morph into a statement of loyalty—closeness—importance in the kingdom. They began arguing about who was greatest among them—the exact opposite of what Jesus was showing them through the communion emphasis! (Luke 22:24).
Thus, we can see Jesus essentially stopping their greatness argument by saying, “I assure you, one of you will betray me!” The phrase is literally, “Truly, truly” (or, as in the KJV, “Verily, verily”). Even though the disciples are denying it and arguing about how great they are, Jesus cuts the discussion short by saying that the betrayal would definitely happen. And so they wonder who. Peter, obviously reclining on a couch other than the one on which Jesus and John lie, signals John to ask Jesus again who the betrayer is. And John does so, leaning back in more intimacy, apparently unheard by the rest of the group. The action portrays one who lies in the bosom of his Lord. On the other side of Jesus, we may imagine Judas reclining. He will soon receive the sop and then be cast out.