Study Notes 9-1-13: A Traitor in Our Midst

These notes cover John 13:21-30, the announcement by Jesus that a traitor is in their midst. 

13:21-25 After saying these things, Jesus was troubled in his spirit, and testified, “Truly, truly, I say to you, one of you will betray me.” [22] The disciples looked at one another, uncertain of whom he spoke. [23] One of his disciples, whom Jesus loved, was reclining at table at Jesus’ side, [24] so Simon Peter motioned to him to ask Jesus of whom he was speaking. [25] So that disciple, leaning back against Jesus, said to him, “Lord, who is it?”

Electricity and Tension…

It seems as though the disciples still are in the dark as it concerns what’s going on with Judas.  There is an entirely separate narrative playing out before them, and they’re working to figure it out.

We see that in verse 22 “the disciples looked at one another” in stunned silence.  Morris points out that, “It is clear that the news took them completely by surprise. It is interesting that neither here nor elsewhere does anyone express suspicion of Judas. He had covered his duplicity well.”

Furthermore, no one willing to say a word, not even Peter is willing, at this point, to interject an obtuse question. So in verse 23 and 24 we see Peter “motioning” to John, here described as “the disciple whom Jesus loved”, to find out more about what Jesus could mean.  Think about this “motioning” that John records here. The text betrays for us a closeness of friendship that reminds us once again of the pain that Jesus will soon feel when those who are His closest friends will desert Him.

It’s also apparent from the text that Peter and John are close friends.  I am guessing that you likely have similar experiences with friends or your spouse. You are so close that it only takes a glance of the eye, a raise of the eyebrows, or a quick nod of the head to communicate a thought – and be on the same page completely.

Peter and John had spent three years walking, talking, eating and serving together.  They had cast out demons in the name of Christ.  They had healed children, men, and women, and had seen their master do miracle upon miracle. Their faith had been tested together, their weaknesses exposed to one another; they had traveled the road of faith side by side under the tender care of their Shepherd.

We also see how close John was to Jesus, sitting close enough to have leaned back and asked in hushed tones, “Lord, who is it?”  As John is said to have leaned back against Jesus, it reminded me of the final chorus of the old and wonderful hymn ‘How Firm a Foundation’:

The soul that on Jesus has leaned for repose,

I will not, I will not desert to its foes;

That soul, though all hell should endeavor to shake,

I’ll never, no never, no never forsake.

 I love the idea of John leaning back against Jesus to ask this question. The mental picture of this is nothing like the Da Vinci portrait which comes no where near faithfully depicting what we are reading here.

Interestingly, there is much scholarship devoted to figuring out who sat where at this last super.  It seems that the “place of honor” is devoted to the one sitting on the left with the right closely behind.  From the sounds of the discourse, and what numerous scholars seem to indicate, Judas could very well have been sitting on the left hand of Jesus, and John on His right.  Though, despite all of this, I’m not sure any of it really matters.

What seems most relevant here is the revelation that Jesus is about to be betrayed.  This shocking statement on Passover night, during the gathering of such close friends, and in the middle of a city swarming with Pharisees who would love nothing better than to see Jesus killed, must have been enough to electrify the room.  You can hear the murmuring already…the silent glances…the presuppositions and judgments each was making about each other. The tension in the room is so think you could cut it with a knife…“What is going on here? Who could He be talking about?!” they wonder, and in verse 26 they get an answer.

13:26-27 Jesus answered, “It is he to whom I will give this morsel of bread when I have dipped it.” So when he had dipped the morsel, he gave it to Judas, the son of Simon Iscariot. [27] Then after he had taken the morsel, Satan entered into him. Jesus said to him, “What you are going to do, do quickly.”

The Sop

First, we see that Jesus has given a “morsel” (or in some translations “sop”) of bread to Judas. The context of the word and the way it was used historically at the time has led D.A. Carson to speculate that this would have been a choice piece of the meal, as when someone wants you to taste something and they put together a nice bite for you to taste so you gather the best impression possible with the most flavor possible.  It is as if Jesus, acting in one final movement of love (or “last appeal” according to Morris), has given kindness to those who didn’t deserve it. There is nothing not good that comes from God in heaven (James 1:17), yet perhaps that goodness turned to bitterness in the heart of Judas. So it is with the gospel when offered to those who have hardness of heart.  Carson says, “Instead of breaking him and urging him to contrition, it hardened his resolve.” It often just embitters them more, but to those whose hearts have been softened by the Spirit of God the bread of life is sweetness in our mouths, and life to our souls.

Complete Control

If there is one central impression I got from these verses it is the command of Christ to Judas, “What you are going to do, do quickly.”  This ought to remind us once again of the words of our Lord regarding His impending death:

For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life that I may take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again. This charge I have received from my Father.” (John 10:17-18)

The circumstances surrounding the betrayal and death of Jesus were completely in His hands. It isn’t as though some things were set in motion beyond His control.  This isn’t a chain of events beyond His ordaining or guiding hand. Yet we know that men, when left to their own devices, will run to evil, for it is our natural choice. We do what we desire most (John 3:19-21), and we often desire what is sinful before Christ frees us from that slavery (Rom. 6:17-18).

His absolute sovereignty rings through the words “do quickly.”  Not only does Judas eat what Jesus gives him, but then he obeys what Jesus tells him!  John tells us that Satan then entered into Judas, and Carson indicates that the word seems to indicate possession. Satan is using Judas.

Let us not be confused about the circumstances of our own lives and the times in which we live as we see what must surely be the plans of Satan playing out all around us.  Let us remember that Satan does not do, and cannot do a single thing until Jesus’ lips move with permission (Job. 1:12).

13:28-30 Now no one at the table knew why he said this to him. [29] Some thought that, because Judas had the moneybag, Jesus was telling him, “Buy what we need for the feast,” or that he should give something to the poor. [30] So, after receiving the morsel of bread, he immediately went out. And it was night.

I have come to think that the dinner they are eating at this point is likely the Passover dinner, which means that it is Thursday night (properly “Friday” at this point of reckoning from the Jewish perspective now that the sun has gone down). Why was Judas going to buy something right now? Carson explains:

Judas was sent out (so the disciples thought) to purchase what was needed for the Feast, i.e. not the feast of the Passover, but the Feast of Unleavened Bread (the hagigah), which began that night and lasted for seven days…Purchases on that Thursday evening were in all likelihood possible, though inconvenient. The rabbinic authorities were in dispute on the matter.

The second possibility that popped into the mind of the disciples was that Judas could have been going out to “give something to the poor.”  Carson provides more historical context for their thinking:

Moreover, it was customary to give alms to the poor on Passover night, the temple gates being left open from midnight on, allowing beggars to congregate there). On any other night other than Passover it is hard to imagine why the disciples might have thought Jesus was sending Judas out to “give something to the poor”: the next day would have done just as well.

Ironically, while the disciples thought Judas might be giving money to the poor, he was actually enriching himself at the expense of their Lord (Morris).

Carson’s notes give us good reason to believe that the meal they are eating is the Passover meal. Although John does not record for us the institution of the Communion Sacrament, he does give us an amazing picture of Jesus’ sovereignty and the contrast of closeness to Jesus with the betrayal of one of his followers.  For we see here that Judas “immediately” goes out at the command of Jesus.

Judas is dismissed, and walks out of the room into the darkness, for “it was night.”  The darkness that enveloped Judas that evening was far more penetrating than the evening’s weather. This man was off to betray the Son of God.

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