John 13:31-38 The Upper Room Discourse

A New Commandment

People come up with all sorts of things to show their community associations. Even Christians have come up with all kinds of symbols to show that they belong to Christ. We label ourselves with this and that so that we are sure that everyone knows who we are. Yet, Christ tells us in this passage of Scripture that there is one distinguishing trait by which all will know that we are His disciples. You can label yourself with any word known to man, you can wear certain clothes to mark yourself out, you can put a big billboard in your front yard that says, “I AM A CHRISTIAN,” but without this one characteristic you are nothing. We will explore this for a few minutes today and pray that we are all enlightened to this very important sentence, “By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.”

Love is a key theme in the Apostle John’s writings. He obviously learned what Jesus taught.
Let me read you a few verses from His Gospel and Epistles:
a) John 3:16 “For God so loved the world…”
b) John 13:1 “…having loved His own who were in the world, He loved them to the end.”
c) 1 John 3:11 “For this is the message that you heard from the beginning, that we should love one another…”
d) 1 John 3:16 “By this we know love, because He laid down His life for us. And we also ought to lay down our lives for the brethren.”
e) 1 John 3:23 “And this is His commandment: that we should believe on the name of His Son Jesus Christ and love one another, as He gave us commandment.”
f) 1 John 4:11 “Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.”
g) 2 John 1:5 “And now I plead with you, lady, not as though I wrote a new commandment to you, but that which we have had from the beginning: that we love one another.”

Do you think that this is slightly important? Do you think that John learned something from the Lord Jesus Christ that he absolutely needed to impart? I think so…

READ Scripture- This is the Word of God

God is Glorified [31-32]
For us to have a good grasp of what verses thirty-one and thirty-two mean, we must look back to verse thirty which we read last week. It said, “Having received the piece of bread, he then went out immediately. And it was night.The New Commandment” This, of course, was speaking of Judas who John said had been possessed by Satan. When Judas took that piece of bread and exited the room, something was enacted. Yes, Judas’ scheme was initiated at that moment and yes, the Father’s plan had begun, but more importantly God was glorified in the Son of Man. The glory of God had commenced and it shows brightly from the pages of this Upper Room Discourse as we read.

Jesus used the title “Son of Man” to refer to Himself. It was a term that represented glory, honor, power, and His messianic role stemming from Daniel’s use of the term in the Old Testament. It is used twelve times in John’s Gospel with this being the last occurrence. Now make this note, outside of the New Testament “Son of Man” is associated with glory, yet within the Gospels it is often used of suffering. John brings both ideas together with his use of the phrase. As the Son of Man, Jesus’ suffering equals His ultimate glory (Carson). This one glorifying event includes suffering, crucifixion, and resurrection.

We must give a little thought to what it means to be glorified. We now know when it happened, but what was it that happened? “Glorified” for John was the entire episode of the Passion. The word is used five times here in these two verses. It can also be translated “exalt,” and we should probably have that in the back of our minds when we read the word. One person said that the last two times that it is used should be translated “exalt” (Tenney). It would read something like this, “Now the Son of Man is glorified, and God is glorified in Him. If God is glorified in Him, God will also exalt Him in Himself, and exalt Him immediately.” The word glory refers to something’s weight or in this instance to someone’s value. For God to be glorified is for His value/worth to be put on display.

As another has said, “…the greatest moment of displayed glory, was in the shame of the cross” (Carson). When Judas fell to the temptation of Satan and left that room, the cross had already begun. Christ would suffer and die for the sins of the world. He would literally be exalted on that tree and He would symbolically be exalted above every other as the God who redeems His people. This is the value of our God. This is His worth. He is the greatest of all treasures!

You Cannot Come [33]
Jesus begins the next verse with “little children,” an endearment from a Rabbi to His disciples. John did not forget this phrase. He used it several times in his epistle from a pastor’s heart to his congregations. Jesus now tenderly speaks to His disciples and tells them that He will be leaving. Beginning with this verse we have what is called the “Farewell Discourse.” Judas has left and Jesus is now left with His eleven disciples to say His farewell and prepare them as much as possible for the next few hours and days. It is reported in this Gospel that Jesus told the Jews on two previous occasions that He was leaving to a place where they could not come (John 7:34; 8:21). He was quite forceful with them during those two instances and at that second time He told them that they would die in their sins. Here His tone is rather different. He is gentle and loving as He tells them that he is departing.

Love One Another [34-35]
Jesus now imparts to His closest followers His expectations for them in light of His parting. He gives them a new commandment that is really not new at all. It is the phrase “new commandment” that passed through the Latin language and gave us our term “Maundy,” hence Maundy Thursday. The newness is not in the sense of recent, but in the sense of fresh. This commandment was not recent at all, but had a long history dating back to the Mosaic Law (SEE Deut 6:5; Lev 19:18; also Mk 12:28-33; Rom 13:8-10; 1 Jn 2:7-8). The “new commandment” points to the footwashing which points to the cross. A fresh interpretation is given to the commandment by the Lord Jesus Himself. We are to love unselfishly and sacrificially. There is a new standard in light of the new covenant which is in Christ’s blood.

This is how everyone will know that we are Christ’s disciples: If we love the way He loved. He laid down His life for us and we ought to also lay down our lives for each other. We are to be living sacrifices. Our love must be different. Yes, we will love the world with compassion and evangelism, but we are distinct from the world. Our binding love is directed toward one another. That is what makes our love holy. On this verse many quote from Tertullian, a second century Christian leader, writer, and apologist. He reported how the pagans of his time marveled at the Christians and would say, “See how they love one another! are they ready even to die for one another!” Is that how the society at-large views us today? Do they see a unique love?

Most Assuredly, I Say to You [36-38]
Peter interrupts here and seemingly ignores verses thirty-four and thirty-five to go back to verse thirty-three. Of course this is no surprise to us who have gotten to know Peter fairly well. It is almost as if he says, “Wait a minute…wait a minute…what did you say? where are You going?” This is Peter’s second interruption and exchange with Jesus in the Upper Room Discourse. Peter could not follow Jesus immediately when He left, but he would at some point afterward. It would be death that would transport him to glory. Glory awaits those who die in Christ. We know that Jesus was going back to His Father (the rest of the discourse informs us of this) and that is where Peter would go at some point in the future. Likewise, we go to the Father when we die in Christ, unless He returns first!

Peter must have felt the threat of death though he did not completely comprehend it. He said in verse thirty-seven, “I will lay down my life for your sake.” Ironically, church tradition tells us that Peter did lay down his life for Christ’s sake, but it was not in the way that he could have thought that night. He must have thought that he would fight to the end to defend Jesus from the physical threats. In fact, he did draw his sword in the garden. And Jesus told Peter after the resurrection, “…when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and another will gird you and carry you where you do not wish.” Tradition says that Peter was crucified, upside down, because he said that he was not worthy to be crucified right-side-up like His Lord.

A chilling statement is made at the close of this chapter. Jesus foretells Peter’s denial. His denial will be extreme- three times! The rooster-crow was at some point between 12am and 3am and was considered to be the standard “alarm clock” just before day light in Palestine. What Jesus was saying was that before the night was even over, Peter would deny his Master three times. As one expositor said, “Sadly, good intentions in a secure room after good food are far less attractive in a darkened garden with a hostile mob.” Jesus knew that Peter would not be willing to stand and fight to the bitter end that night.

Notice how the love teaching follows the footwashing- Jesus demonstration shows them that this type of love is real, active, hands-on, and even dirty at times. The type of love that He expects of His followers is out of the norm; awkward and even uncomfortable. That is what makes it sacrifice. It is not an abstract thought for us to sit around and discuss, but is something that we must do. When Jesus says it to His first disciples it is not a suggestion of something that would be nice for them to do, but is something that will characterize them for all time. Those who follow this saying are really Christ’s disciples, truly Christians in every sense of the word.

Make sure that you know this: “The command to love has its first application within the Body of Christ” (Burge). We love the world, we love this community, we love the lost, but not in the same way. Our love is distinct and holy. There is not much that should trump it.