A word for the heart

with Alan Bailey

John 13:21-38 - The Gospel of John

Bible study


Welcome to this Bible Study. Read what I have written slowly. If you have a Bible look up the reference verses given, and allow the Holy Spirit to minister to your soul through them.

John 13:21-38

This part of John’s Gospel deals with the last hours Jesus spent with his followers before His death on the cross. It is a time of learning for these men and a time of surprises as we will see in this study. Jesus surprised them by washing their feet (earlier in this chapter) and by telling them that He was about to be betrayed. It is a dramatic development which will be followed by much more drama within a few days.

Verse 21 When Jesus had said these things, He was troubled in spirit, and testified and said, ‘Most assuredly I say to you, one of you will betray Me.’

Jesus had just referred to a Psalm that spoke of ‘a familiar friend lifting up his heel against Me’ (Psalm 41:9), as something that was written about Himself. Now He makes it clear to His men that the betrayer is one of them. It was a most uncomfortable truth, both to Jesus Himself (He was troubled in spirit) and to the group of disciples. How could such disloyalty, such treachery exist in a circle of men who had done so much together, seen so much that had changed their lives and brought them to the point where they owned Jesus as their Lord? They all knew that the enemies of Jesus were pursuing Him and that Jesus had talked about dying at their hands.

Verse 22 Then the disciples looked at one another, perplexed about whom He spoke.

They all felt amazed that any one of them should dare to do such a thing to their Master. Undoubtedly their minds raced, trying to identify a possible defector in their midst. We can imagine that, being dumbfounded, they didn’t know what to say.

Verses 23-25 Now there was leaning on Jesus’ bosom one of His disciples, whom Jesus loved. Simon Peter therefore motioned to Him to ask who it was of whom He spoke. Then, leaning back on Jesus’ breast he said to Him, ‘Lord, who is it?’

This section of John’s Gospel (Chapters 13,14,15,16,) all occurs in the Upper Room in Jerusalem where Jesus and his twelve disciples went to celebrate the annual Passover meal. It was customary to recline at the table rather than to sit. That is, to half lie on their sides, resting on an elbow. At this point, John, who refers to himself in this Gospel as ‘the disciple whom Jesus loved’, was leaning his head on the chest of Jesus. (We can only guess that John was gratefully aware of Jesus love, not that Jesus loved him only.)
So Peter made some hand signals to John, suggesting that he ask Jesus who was the betrayer. So, tipping back his head, John asked the question.

Verse 26 Jesus answered, ‘It is he to whom I shall give a piece of bread when I have dipped it.’ And having dipped the bread, He gave it to Judas Iscariot, the son of Simon.

It appears that Judas was sitting in the place of honour, usually reserved for a guest. In offering the piece of bread (dipped in broth), Jesus was giving him this honour. We may well wonder how Judas could go ahead with his betrayal after being identified like this as a traitor. But we know from the other Gospels that he had already made a promise to the Jewish leaders and been paid thirty pieces of silver to carry out his awful deed. He was responsible for his decision and his actions. We need have no sympathy for him in this act of treachery.

Judas leaves

Verses 27-30 Now after the piece of bread, Satan entered into him. Then Jesus said to him, ‘What you do, do quickly.’ But no-one at the table knew for what reason He said this to him. For some thought, because Judas had the money box, that Jesus had said to him, ‘Buy those things we need for the feast,’ or that he should give something to the poor. Having received the piece of bread, he then went out immediately. And it was night.

Judas is confi rmed now as the traitor. In making a sinful choice, there is always the danger of deeper implication by the action of Satan. There is extreme danger in siding with him. He may drag you further along the wrong road. The other men were not taking all this in. They imagined that Jesus was saying something to Judas about using their funds as he was the one who cared for the group’s finances. Straight away, Judas went about his wicked errand. He slipped out into the night — not just into the darkness of the evening, but into the dark world of a lost soul.

Verses 31 & 32 So, when he had gone out, Jesus said, ‘Now the Son of Man is glorified, and God is glorified in Him. If God is glorified in Him, God will also glorify Him in Himself, and glorify Him immediately.’

Here is a contrast to the darkness of evil. It is the blessedness of Christ’s obedience and the tremendous honour it brings to the Godhead. Both God the Father and God the Son are to be glorified in the atoning work of Jesus on the cross. The character of God is seen in all that Christ’s suffering death means. God’s love and grace are so great. Yet His holiness is shining through it all. The Father is glorified in the Son; the Son is glorified in the Father. The immediate glorifying must refer to the outcome of His death, resurrection and ascension into heaven.

Verse 33 ‘Little children, I shall be with you a little while longer. You will seek Me; and as I said to the Jews, “Where I am going, you cannot come,” so now I say to you.’

The Lord is speaking of His soon departure from this scene. In calling them little children, He is expressing a caring family relationship which He has with them. He has been at pains to let them know that His stay on earth is not now for long.

Verses 34 & 35 ‘A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this will all know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.’

To this point, the disciples had not shown a great deal of love for one another. Like us, they saved their love for those that loved them. Owing a debt of love to those who were close, friends and family, was already understood. This commandment was new in that it meant loving all comers, all within one’s orbit. It was to be the mark of a Christian; a reflection of the love of Jesus for all kinds of people, not just the lovable and attractive.
We should note that this kind of love is not an emotion in the New Testament; it is more an action than a feeling. Love is active concern for another’s welfare.

Verse 36 Simon Peter said to Him, ‘Lord, where are you going?’ Jesus answered him, ‘Where I am going you cannot follow me now, but you shall follow Me afterward.’

Jesus is again referring to His forthcoming death but is not stating it in a direct manner. Earlier in His ministry He had spelt it out in plain detail but there was still little understanding in the minds of the disciples.

Verses 37 & 38 Peter said to Him, ‘Lord, why can I not follow you now? I will lay down my life for your sake.’ Jesus answered him, ‘Will you lay down your life for my sake? Most assuredly, I say to you, the rooster shall not crow till you have denied Me three times.’

We can see that Peter has in mind some dangerous place that Jesus is venturing into. Peter wants to loyally follow Him even if it costs him his life. It is the rash vow of a man given to impulsiveness. Like the rest of the group, Peter did not know what a heavy price was about to be paid right there in Jerusalem. But Jesus knew. He had already made forecasts which had come true. More were to follow, including this one about Peter’s failure. Instead of standing up for his Lord, as the new day dawned, Peter would disown Him, fearing the consequences of belonging to Him. We read about it in Chapter 18.
Peter’s intentions were not like those of Judas. After the event in each case, both were regretful. Judas did away with himself in remorse but Peter repented and was forgiven.
One man sold His Master. Peter took a cowardly course of which he was immediately ashamed. Later he was restored to fellowship with his Lord.


There is so much for us to learn from Chapter 13. As always, we see Jesus as faithful and true, patiently dealing with his followers, ever aware of His life’s calling. On His part there is a selfless reaching out to bless the lives of others. On the part of the men around Him there lurks sinful rivalry, selfserving and spiritual blindness. One is sold over to Satan while he tries to sell his Lord. Another denies any knowledge of Christ to save his own skin.

Do we see ourselves in this picture? Does it raise the question of where our loyalty lies? Jesus has said that if we are not with Him, we are against Him. We are potential betrayers and deniers. How much better to be those who will name His name and never be ashamed to say that He is our Saviour and Lord. Then never to forget the new commandment. What a quality of life this offers to us. There is none like it.

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