I do not speak of all of you. I know the ones I have chosen; but it is that the Scripture may be fulfilled, ‘He who eats My bread has lifted up his heel against Me.’ “From now on I am telling you before it comes to pass, so that when it does occur, you may believe that I am He. “Truly, truly, I say to you, he who receives whomever I send receives Me; and he who receives Me receives Him who sent Me.” When Jesus had said this, He became troubled in spirit, and testified and said, “Truly, truly, I say to you, that one of you will betray Me.
— John 13:18–21
Within twenty-four hours after the events recorded in John 13, Jesus was to die. That is, he was to exercise his priestly role by offering up himself as a perfect sacrifice for human sin. Within another three days he was to be raised from the dead and then ascend into heaven, from which he was to rule his church as King. In this chapter, as if to make the trilogy complete, Jesus speaks as a prophet. Moreover, this is not just in the sense of speaking for God, as he had indeed been doing all along, but in the full sense of the word; that is, by actually foretelling what was to come to pass. In these verses he says that one who for three years had been a member of the apostolic band was to betray him.1
He was saying, “Men, not all of you who are in this room are blessed, because one of you is going to lift up his heel against me in betrayal.” It is significant that our Lord uses this phrase from Psalm 41:9, for it’s generally agreed that Psalm 41 refers to the traitor Ahithophel, who hung himself after he betrayed his master, David. Judas would have the same end. Jesus was saying, “Men, there is an Ahithophel in our fellowship.
When David’s son, Absalom, launched a rebellion against him, Ahithophel, David’s key advisor, defected and joined Absalom. “He who ate bread with me—the guy who sat at my table, the one who shared with me—has kicked me,” a crushed David lamented. What happened to David, though, was simply a picture of what would happen to the Son of David, Jesus Christ, as Jesus would be betrayed by one who ate bread with Him, one who traveled alongside of Him, one who had his feet washed by Him. And Ahithophel was a picture of what would happen to Judas, for, like Judas, he too eventually hanged himself because of guilt (2 Samuel 17:23).
There is another who was guilty of betrayal. Peter denied Jesus, but he didn’t end up hanging from the limb of a tree because he looked to the One who hung on the tree of Calvary in his place. Every one of us has a choice to make, for you and I are Peter, Judas, and Ahithophel. We have all sinned. The only question is, are we going to get hung up and say, “I’m going to end it all”—or are we going to look to Him who hung on the tree and say, “Thank You for dying in my place.”2
Now, Jesus tells them something they needed to know,
I am telling you now before it happens, so that when it does happen you will believe that I am He. I tell you the truth, whoever accepts anyone I send accepts me; and whoever accepts me accepts the one who sent me.
–John 13:19 – 20
Were the apostles discouraged to learn that one would betray their master? We don’t know, but we do know that Jesus always provides encouragement to his children. Jesus had chosen each one to be his representatives in an ungodly world. And they would be his representatives, so much so that whoever received them would be accounted as having received Jesus and whoever received Jesus would receive God.
This is a great encouragement, for us as well as for the first apostles. There are things which discourage us in the Christian life. There really are betrayals. We see it within our churches, and we see them in the workplace. “But,” says Jesus, “I know that. It is not new. It has always been that way. Nevertheless, in the midst of betrayals I still have my ambassadors, whom I will use and who will be a blessing.”
We are his ambassadors, if we believe on Jesus and speak for him as we are instructed to do.
After he had said this, Jesus was troubled in spirit and testified, “I tell you the truth, one of you is going to betray me.” (v. 21)
Jesus’ voice must have given him away, because John describes him as “troubled in spirit.” That description is important because “troubled” is the same word used in John 11:33 as Jesus stood by Lazarus’ grave and wept. It also is the same term used in John 12:27 as Jesus thought about the coming dread of the cross and said, “Now my heart is troubled.”
In his commentary, William Barclay stresses the sheer cruelty of Judas’s betrayal, noting that “in the east to eat bread with a person was a sign of friendship and an act of loyalty. Second Samuel 9:7, 13 tell how David granted it to Mephibosheth to eat bread at his table, when he might well have eliminated him as a descendant of Saul. First Kings 18:19 tells how the prophets of Baal ate bread at the table of Jezebel. For one who had eaten bread at someone’s table to turn against the person to whom by that very act he had pledged his friendship was a bitter thing. This disloyalty of friends is for the Psalmist the sorest of all hurts. Barclay writes,
For it was not an enemy that reproached me; then I could have borne it; neither was it he that hated me that did magnify himself against me; then I would have hid myself from him: but it was thou, a man mine equal, my guide, and mine acquaintance. We took sweet counsel together and walked unto the house of God in company (Ps. 55:12–14).2
Jesus was prophesying that one who had been with him for the entire three years of his earthly ministry would betray him, and that is sobering. It is sobering because we reason that if one could have been among the company of the Twelve for all those years, during which time he not only heard the Lord Jesus Christ but also witnessed the miracles he did, if one who had experienced all that could betray him, then it’s certainly possible for a person to be in the company of God’s people today, in a context in which the Word of God is faithfully preached, and yet not actually be a child of God.
All the disciples could see his emotion, but they didn’t know it was because of Judas. Here is demonstrated one of the most remarkable truths about our Lord’s heart. On the eve of the cross, just a few hours before he was going to be crucified, our Lord’s heart was troubled, not for himself, but for another—and specifically for the one who was going to deliver him to death.
O the deep, deep love of Jesus—
Vast, unmeasured, boundless, free!
Rolling as a mighty ocean
In its fullness over me.3
He was troubled over the soul of the one who was going to betray him. While the disciples did not know Judas would be the betrayer, they understood the thrust of Jesus’ words, which must have come as a severe shock. They respond, “Lord, is it I? It cannot be me! Lord, who is it?” Judas, reclining at the table alongside Jesus, coolly mouthed the same words.
Judas was as perfect an actor, as accomplished a hypocrite as one can find. Theologians surmise that he was a man of more education and higher social standing than the rest of the apostles. He was not from Galilee but from Kerioth, a much better address.
Of Judas, Henry Ironside said, “Judas was the real gentleman of all the teachers.”4 He had class compared to the rest. Today Judas would be wearing an Armani suite and sport a Hollywood smile. He would know all the latest contemporary worship songs — when to sit down, when to stand up, when to inject the most persuasive cliché, how to ingratiate himself with those of notoriety – the power leaders of the church. No one would suspect him of being a traitor, and they didn’t then either.
Once again, we see the Lord’s heart because in a tight group like the disciples’ circle if there had been any suspicion cast upon Judas, the disciples would have picked it up. In my family a raised eyebrow can mean ten pages single-spaced! A pause, an innuendo, the intonation of a voice—we know what is meant. Yet in the Upper Room the Lord knew Judas’ heart, but no one else had any idea. Why? Because our Lord was reaching out to Judas in love. Even though he knew Judas’ heart, he wanted to reach him. There was no rejection. What a beautiful illustration of how Jesus reaches out with his accepting love to the world. If you do not know him, the love that Jesus first manifested in the Upper Room is something to grab and hold on to. It is a matter of life or death.
The Upper Room was charged with our Lord reaching out to Judas. When he washed the disciples’ feet, he washed Judas’ feet too. Imagine that! He told Peter as he washed his feet, “A person who has had a bath needs only to wash his feet; his whole body is clean. And you are clean, though not every one of you” (v. 10). “Judas, old friend,” Jesus was saying, “you’re not clean.” He was appealing to Judas’ conscience, giving him reason to reflect and repent. Can you imagine what it was like when the Lord washed Judas’ feet, when those piercing eyes of Jesus met the hollow eyes of Judas? Jesus was reaching out to him. When the Savior quoted Psalm 41:9 about Ahithophel, he was again saying, “Judas, old friend, I’ve got your number. Why do you not turn around?”
Even the way the table was arranged demonstrated Jesus’ love. The seating arrangement (from left to right) was Judas, Jesus, and John. Jesus’ head was at Judas’ chest as they reclined together. John’s head was at Jesus’ chest. Jesus had given Judas the left-hand side, the place of honor. Evidently when he brought him into the meal he said, “Judas, I want to have a talk with you. Sit in the place of honor to my left tonight.” Our Lord was reaching for his heart. Is that not just like Jesus?5
Jesus reached out to Judas to the very end.
In the culture of that time, to take a morsel from the table, dip it in the common dish, and offer it to someone else was a gesture of special friendship. Back in the Old Testament we read of Boaz inviting Ruth to come fellowship with him: “‘Come over here. Have some bread and dip it in the wine vinegar.’ … he offered her some roasted grain” (Ruth 2:14).
Jesus was reaching out to Judas. He was saying, “Judas, here is my friendship. Here is restoration. Judas, here is my heart. All you have to do is take it, old friend. Will you?” But the door had slammed shut. Judas, as Matthew records, replied, “Surely not I, Rabbi?” Jesus responded: “Yes, it is you” (Matthew 26:25).
At that moment an immortal soul committed suicide.
It certainly was the midnight of Judas’ soul. It was the night that would know no morning. Judas had chosen his own place of darkness and doom. I wonder if he thought about turning back. How great his loss! He was now separated from the fellowship of the apostles, and never again would he sit at the table with the Eleven. Their acquaintance and friendship were eternally terminated. Even worse, he was separated from Christ. Never would he see the Master’s face except in terror on the future day of judgment. He was separated from peace of mind too, though his soul-anguish was only an earnest of what was to come.
The tissues of the life to be,
We weave with colors all our own;
And the fields of destiny,
We reap as we have sown,6
All in all, Judas was a victim of his own dark heart. He bears the responsibility for what he did. His deeds were his own. Yet he was also a victim of his rejection of Jesus’ radical love.4 Judas had every opportunity given for intimate fellowship with Jesus Christ, yet he chose to reject the continuation of that relationship and seek his own. Moreover, he was in the fellowship of the other apostles, yet again, he chose to forsake the fellowship of the others, his church family, in an effort to obtain the things of the world; recognition, status and riches.
If you aren’t in fellowship with the Lord or in the fellowship of the family of God, learn from the mistake of Judas and seek after the fellowship of Jesus Christ and his family of believers, the church. If today you’re following the Lord yet looking at the things of the world with the inclination to reach after them, don’t, for in doing so, you risk losing that eternal blessing of an intimate relationship with the Lord and your eternal salvation.
- Boice, J. M. (2005). The Gospel of John : An expositional commentary (Pbk. ed.) (1019). Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Books.
- William Barclay’s commentary on John, The Gospel of John, Vol. 1 (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1956), 169
- Samuel Trevor Francis, “O the Deep, Deep Love of Jesus,” stanza 1, in Joel R. Beeke and Mark Jones, A Puritan Theology: Doctrine for Life (Grand Rapids, MI: Reformation Heritage Books, 2012), 387.
- A. Ironside, Addresses on the Gospel of John (Neptune, NJ: Loizeaux Bros., 1942), 565.
- John Greenleaf Whittier, ed., The Writings of John Greenleaf Whittier, vol. 2, The Writings of (Medford, MA: Perseus Digital Library, n.d.), 100.