John 13:31-38 The New Commandment

John 13:31-38    The New Commandment                          WC McCarter
We have found ourselves in the Upper Room with Jesus and His disciples over the past couple of weeks, and we will continue to make our way through these sections to hear what the Lord has to say to His first disciples as well as His disciples in the latter days, you and me. This is a tense time in the narrative as the time for Christ’s glorification draws near.
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Now the Son of Man is Glorified (31-32)
The betrayer has now been fully possessed by Satan. The hour of darkness has come. However, the hour of Christ’s glorification has also come, and He makes that clear at the beginning of this passage. Jesus will have a lot to say now that Judas has left the house, and He begins by declaring His coming glory. Since we know the whole story, we can now see clearly, even in the Upper Room, that the most glorious event of human history and the time when God will put His glory on full display is at the cross of Calvary. The term “glory” (as you have heard me say before) refers to someone’s worth. For someone to be “glorified” means that their value is put on full display. God the Father will make the glory of His Son known in the humiliation of the cross.
This is the story that we are reading, learning, and discussing on Sunday evenings. From the beginning of human history until now God has been working out a plan to redeem us by the work of Christ. This King would overthrow much more than a human government. He would conquer the enemies of the people of God: Satan, the demons, sin, and death. He would do so by taking the penalty for the sins of the world upon Himself. Here is His glory. How valuable is He? You would be cursed for eternity and abandoned to the lake of fire if it were not for what He has done. He has taken your place to bear your penalty. There is no thing and no one more valuable than Him.
Let me point out that Jesus shows His relationship with the Father again here. The glory of the Father and the Son are so attached that when the Father is glorified, so is the Son, and when the Son is glorified, so is the Father.
A Little While Longer (33)
Jesus is now going to speak plainly to His disciples about His departure, and He begins by speaking to them gently saying, “Little children. . . .” This is a term of affection from a teacher to His students. The men only have a little time remaining together. Jesus is dropping on them what amounts to a bomb in their minds. They may begin to feel defeated and desparate, so Jesus affectionately speaks to them. This is a phrase (little children) that the Apostle John heard loud and clear, and it became the designation he used for his congregations later in his life. Jesus will spend much of His time in the Upper Room preparing these men as much as possible for His departure.
What Jesus had already said to the Jews, now He must say it to His closest followers. He is leaving, and they cannot go where He is going. At least not yet. There are many promises that will follow. When Jesus spoke this same thing to His opponents on a couple of previous occasions, He meant that where He was going they could never come. Their hearts were evil, and they would die in their sins. When Jesus says this to His disciples, He means that they cannot come just yet. As we will see, He is going to prepare a place for them, and He will come again so that where He is they may be also. We will see in response to Peter’s question in verse 36 that Jesus says promises that, “. . . you shall follow Me afterward.” It is only a temporary thing, but Jesus is leaving.
Love One Another (34-35)
This evening’s teaching is Jesus’ farewell speech. He will leave them with many things including His commands. He wants to leave them with a new commandment, and this command becomes a major theme in the rest of the Lord’s farewell speech as well as the remainder of the New Testament Scriptures. He commands them to love one another, but what makes that command new? The Old Testament commanded the same thing. In fact, Jesus had been teaching throughout His ministry that the Law was fulfilled in two commands of the OT, Duet 6, “Love the your God” and Lev 19, “Love your neighbor.” Why does Jesus say that He is giving them a new commandment?
The second part of verse 34 is what makes the command new because He says, “. . . as I have loved you. . . .” This is a new revelation. Christ has said that He has come not to be served, but to serve and give His life as a ransom for many. He is now showing, that night in the footwashing and the next day on the cross, the definition of love. Loving one another is not light and fluffy. It is not sweet and pretty. Christian love is sincere and sometimes dirty. It is difficult and sometimes ugly. Christian love is sacrificial. Christian love commands us to consider others better than ourselves. Christian love calls on us to lay down our lives for our brethren. This is the new commandment.
In what way(s) were the disciples recognized as followers of Jesus during His ministry? They literally followed Him. They were His tail. They were His shadow. If Jesus went to Galilee, the disciples went to Galilee. If He went to Jerusalem, they went to Jerusalem. They traveled together, ate together, and rested together – they lived together for three years. That’s how someone could tell that they were Jesus’ disciples. They were always with Him. But, now He is leaving. How will people know that they are His disciples after He leaves? Jesus gives them a new “badge” (Piper). They are to love one another. There is the new sign of their discipleship, and it is ours as well.
All true believers will exhibit this kind of love because THE FRUIT of the Spirit IS LOVE. This is the mark of the Christian life. This is what declares to the world that we are disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ. This is the flag that we raise above our assemblies: Love for one another. He first loved us, so we love one another. He laid down His life for us, so we lay down our lives for one another. We may not be called upon to physically die for a fellow believer (although we will if need be), but we surely offer our bodies as living sacrifices.
You Cannot Follow Me Now (36-38)
Although Jesus has just given the new commandment, Peter wants to back-track and ask a question about Jesus’ departure. In verse 33, He said that He was leaving. Now Peter asks, “Lord, where are you going?” Jesus responds by further explaining what He has said. In verse 33, He said, “Where I am going, you cannot come.” At the end of verse 36, He says, “. . . but you shall follow Me afterward.” Jesus is leaving, and although the disciples cannot follow Him there now, they will be able to go there later. This can only be understood by the disciples after everything takes place. They do not understand that Jesus is going back to the Father. Remember what verse one said, “. . . when Jesus knew that His hour had come that He should depart from this world to the Father. . . .” Then in verse three, “. . . Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into His hands, and that He had come from God and was going to God. . . .” He is going to the Father, but by way of the cross. No one can go where He is going. He must go this route alone. He is the Lamb of God who will take away the sin of the world. None of the disciples can go with Him.
Of course, this is not good enough for Peter. He asks an acceptable question at first. There was nothing wrong, apparently, with asking the Lord where He was going, but Peter wants to push the issue farther. He wants to know why he can’t follow Jesus now. He even pledges that he would lay down his life for the sake of his Master.
Jesus knows more about Peter than Peter knows about himself, and that is true of us as well. We rarely have a balanced or genuine view of ourselves. We often think to highly of ourselves and sometimes we think to lowly of ourselves. We never really get a sense of how damaging the sin can be that is in our lives. We think that we would do well, but often we do not. Like Peter, we think that we will charge the hill for the Lord’s sake, but we fail miserably. The issue is not with the Lord or the cause. The issue is with our own hearts. When we operate in a worldly mode (often called the “flesh”), we cannot please God, but when we are walking in the Spirit, He directs our steps into paths of righteousness for His name’s sake. The flesh told Peter that the Lord should not die. The flesh told Peter that he should go with the Lord right then, although the Lord told him he could not. After all, who is it that is laying his life down for the other (Carson, 486)? It is the Lord that must first lay down His life for Peter and the world. Of course, Peter will lay down his life for the sake of Christ some three decades later when he is crucified by Rome.
Jesus says, in essence, You think you know yourself, but you do not. I know your heart, and I know your future. Listen up, you will deny Me. Peter made a pledge of allegiance to the Lord, but in only a short time he would deny his Lord three times. On the same night that Judas betrays the Lord for 30 pieces of silver, Peter would deny the Lord three times. As one author has said, “Sadly, good intentions in a secure room after good food are far less attractive in a darkened garden with a hostile mob” (Carson, 486). In Palestine, roosters would usually crow about 12:30am, 1:30am, and 2:30am, so that the Romans called the watch between midnight and about 3:00am the “cockcrow” (Carson, 487). Thus, it would not even get very late into the night before Peter would deny his Lord three times.
Conclusion and Christian Application
(1) Forget worldly understandings of wisdom, strength, and value. Corinthians says in one place, “But God has chosen the foolish things of the world to put to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to put to shame the things which are mighty” (1 Cor 1:27), and in another place, “For the wisdom of this world is foolishness with God” (2 Cor 3:19). God will use the cross to glorify Himself. If you cannot accept salvation by the work of Christ on the cross, you will not and cannot be saved.
(2) Through the tension and uneasiness, we must hear Jesus say that His disciples will be known by their love for one another. If you say you love God, you must love your brothers and sisters. We love God and one another because He first loved us and gave Himself for us.
(3) Operate in the Spirit. Do not lean on your understanding, the world, or the flesh. They will often lead you to the wrong conclusion. There is a way that seems right to a man, but its ends are the way of destruction. Keep in step with the Spirit, and He will direct your paths and understandings as well as give you wisdom and grace when you need it.