3 Words that will forever change the way you read the Gospel of John: Week 13

Contents

Chapter 13

Leonardo_da_Vinci_-_Ultima_cena_-_ca_1975This is part 13 of a 21-part series which traces “seeing” and “hearing”, and looks at how they relate to “believing”, through the Gospel of John.

This is the Last Supper. At first glance it may seem that our “seeing” and “hearing” theme is absent here, but in fact it does play a role, and an important one.


REVIEWING THE TEXT – CHAPTER 13

Hearing, Seeing, and Believing

Chapter 13 all happens in one “scene”. It is the Last Supper. This is a conversation exclusively between Jesus and his disciples. There are no other Jews present, no seekers, no “crowds”, no Jewish leaders, teachers, scribes, Pharisees, and no Samaritans, Roman soldiers or officials, nor “Greeks”. For this reason there is really not a lot of talk about coming to faith. So will we find our theme here, of “see”/”hear”/”believe”?

I think we do, if only briefly. See if you agree with me. It’s in this part of the text:

After saying this Jesus was troubled in spirit, and declared, “Very truly, I tell you, one of you will betray me.”

The disciples looked at one another, uncertain of whom he was speaking.  One of his disciples—the one whom Jesus loved—was reclining next to him; Simon Peter therefore motioned to him to ask Jesus of whom he was speaking. So while reclining next to Jesus, he asked him, “Lord, who is it?”

Jesus answered, “It is the one to whom I give this piece of bread when I have dipped it.”

So when he had dipped the piece of bread, he gave it to Judas son of Simon Iscariot. After he received the piece of bread, Satan entered into him.

Jesus said to him, “Do quickly what you are going to do.”

Now no one at the table knew why he said this to him. Some thought that, because Judas had the common purse, Jesus was telling him, “Buy what we need for the festival”; or, that he should give something to the poor. So, after receiving the piece of bread, he immediately went out. And it was night.

– John 13:21-30

Did you spot it?

Let’s step through the sequence.

I will be with you a little while longer, and then I am going

First, Jesus announces that he will be betrayed, and that one of the men at the table will be the betrayer. He doesn’t say how he knows, but Jesus, of course, is entitled just to know. Being whom he is, he not only sees the truth, but he always knows the truth because, as we will find out in the next chapter, he is the truth (John 14:6).

Next, the disciples “looked at one another, uncertain of whom he was speaking”. Their “looking” didn’t help, either. They were going to need Jesus to tell them. (Don’t worry, that’s not where I’m going with the “seeing”/”hearing” theme in this passage. It get’s better).

The “one whom Jesus loved” (presumably the author of this Gospel, who in turn is presumably the Apostle John… other theories exist, but this is by far the most widely accepted one), is delegated to ask Jesus who the turncoat is. Jesus indicates that he will make a visible sign (the dipped bread). He does so, and then sends Judas out, although nobody else knows what is really going on.

The clincher

Notice that “Satan entered into” Judas at Jesus’ command, when he said “Do quickly what you are going to do” (v27).

This is part of Jesus’ long-running strategy

Satan entered into Judas? At that point in time? That’s strange in a couple of interesting ways, isn’t it…? Strange, that is, until we recognise two things: firstly, that Jesus is in complete control of events leading up to and including his crucifixion; and second, that Jesus’ voice is the voice that raises the dead (see the study on Chapter 11)! His word is absolutely authoritative. This helps us to understand why “hearing” is so vitally important, too. Hopefully this doesn’t sound quite as strange now…?

So Judas went.

It was night

Was it sufficient to say that he had left? No. One more comment was required: “it was night”. Why?

In Da Vinci’s famous painting of the Last Supper it was light outside. I suppose it made a convenient light backdrop for Jesus’ head, forming a natural kind of halo. But the Bible says that “it was night”. Does it matter? Why was it important to say it?

Here are some suggestions:

  • Is it so that we can speculate about the timing of the various events of that evening, and reconstruct them?
  • Is it because the disciples had thought Judas was being sent to the shops (v28), and that’s crazy if it’s night time?
  • Is it related somehow to the similarly odd mention of “night” in chapter 3, with reference to Nicodemus? (“He came to Jesus by night” – John 3:2)?

Well… I think the third option has something of value to add here. It does, I suggest, relate in some ways to the Chapter 3 mention of night. Here is what I wrote in the study of Chapter 3:

it should come as no surprise in the context of light/dark, hear/see, that John would include the fact that at this time, the world is benighted.

– Week 3

… but it goes just a little further than that, too. Jesus has talked about a time when he would no longer be “able to be found”. He described this as “the night”. He also described life without faith as “darkness”.

Consider:

…in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.
– John 1:6-7

 

Jesus spoke to them, saying, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness but will have the light of life.”

– John 8:12

 

“We must work the works of him who sent me while it is day; night is coming when no one can work. As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.”

– John 9:4-5

 

Jesus answered, “Are there not twelve hours of daylight? Those who walk during the day do not stumble, because they see the light of this world. But those who walk at night stumble, because the light is not in them.”

– John 11:9-10

 

Jesus said to them, “The light is with you for a little longer. Walk while you have the light, so that the darkness may not overtake you. If you walk in the darkness, you do not know where you are going.

– John 12:35

 

I have come as light into the world, so that everyone who believes in me should not remain in the darkness.
– John 12-46

Where I am going, you cannot come

… so when we hear that Judas went out from Jesus’ presence and, “it was night”, we get another taste of the fulfilment of something Jesus has been saying. “Light”/”Dark” is another strong theme through John’s Gospel, and it is not unrelated to our theme of hearing/believing/seeing, because those who have heard and believed can “see“, and that is closely linked to the theme of “light”.

“Going away”

Why point all this out? Because Jesus is just about to start talking again about going away:

I am with you only a little longer. You will look for me; and as I said to the Jews so now I say to you, ‘Where I am going, you cannot come.’

– John 13:33

… “as I said to the Jews”? When was that?

Remember back a few chapters?

Jesus then said, “I will be with you a little while longer, and then I am going to him who sent me. You will search for me, but you will not find me; and where I am, you cannot come.”

The Jews said to one another, “Where does this man intend to go that we will not find him? Does he intend to go to the Dispersion among the Greeks and teach the Greeks?”

– John 7:33-35

 

Again he said to them, “I am going away, and you will search for me, but you will die in your sin. Where I am going, you cannot come.”

Then the Jews said, “Is he going to kill himself? Is that what he means by saying, ‘Where I am going, you cannot come’?”

– John 8:21-22

This is part of Jesus’ long-running strategy of teaching: to prepare his followers for when he will no longer be there to teach them. They must learn to value and repeat his words, because that’s all they will be able to offer when he is gone. His words are the way to faith. His voice raises the dead, and he even commands Satan’s minions (like Judas).

The hearing produces belief, the belief enables sight… because Jesus is the “light of the world”.


Questions to Ponder from Chapter 13

In what way does the “glory” in v31-32 relate to the “love” of the “new commandment” (v34) in the same paragraph?
How would you prepare your students if you knew you would be going away, and you would be disgraced and humiliated in the process?
Why would Jesus say that Peter was going to deny him, rather than die alongside him? (hint… look what happened when he spoke to Judas… who’s in control?)

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