The Last Supper | John 13:12-38
Brian Hedges | August 29, 2021
Let me invite you this morning to turn to John 13. Today is the second sermon in a 12-sermon series on the Upper Room Discourse, or the Farewell Discourse of Christ. This really takes place from John 13-17. This is a segment in our ongoing study through the Gospel According to John.
We’re looking at the final hours before Jesus’s betrayal and then death by crucifixion. This is the last night of his life before he will be crucified, and John 13 finds us in the upper room (this would have been a second-story room somewhere in Jerusalem) as Jesus is having his final Passover meal, the Last Supper, and we know from the other Gospel accounts this is also the institution of the Lord’s Supper. This is taking place on the Thursday night before he will be betrayed and then crucified.
Last week we looked at the very touching scene where Jesus as the servant king takes the place of humility and washes the feet of his disciples, giving them an example to follow and showing us what it looks like to live as humble followers of Christ. Today we’re going to pick up also in John 13. We’re actually going to begin reading in verse 12 and read through the end of the chapter. You have the setting; it is the Last Supper, it is the night before Jesus is betrayed. Let me give you the cast of characters, because what I want to do this morning is focus on three central characters in this story, besides Jesus.
The characters, of course, are the disciples, but there are three disciples in particular who receive focus in this passage. Those disciples are Judas Iscariot, the one who betrayed; secondly, “the disciple whom Jesus loved,” which is the apostle John’s way of referring to himself in this Gospel. He does so four times, and we know when we harmonize with the other accounts that this is indeed John, the brother of James, the son of Zebedee, and the author of this Gospel. The third person, of course, is Peter.
What I want us to do is look at these three disciples; these three cases, really. They’re case studies for us of three different kinds of people: Judas, John, and Peter. I think each one has an important lesson to tell us. And then, of course, I want us to see Jesus’ response to each one, because the way Jesus interacts with these disciples reveals much about the heart of Jesus.
There are words that Jesus says here that I’m not going to dwell on in particular, but there are themes that pop up right here that are resumed throughout the farewell discourse, themes like loving one another and the Son of Man being glorified. We will talk about those in later messages.
Let’s begin by reading the text together. It is John 13:12-38. This is a long passage of Scripture; you may want to follow along on the screens or in your copy of God’s word.
“When he had washed their feet and put on his outer garments and resumed his place, he said to them, ‘Do you understand what I have done to you? You call me Teacher and Lord, and you are right, for so I am. If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another's feet. For I have given you an example, that you also should do just as I have done to you. Truly, truly, I say to you, a servant is not greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them. I am not speaking of all of you; I know whom I have chosen. But the Scripture will be fulfilled, “He who ate my bread has lifted his heel against me.” I am telling you this now, before it takes place, that when it does take place you may believe that I am he. Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever receives the one I send receives me, and whoever receives me receives the one who sent me.’
“After saying these things, Jesus was troubled in his spirit, and testified, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, one of you will betray me.’ The disciples looked at one another, uncertain of whom he spoke. One of his disciples, whom Jesus loved, was reclining at table at Jesus' side, so Simon Peter motioned to him to ask Jesus of whom he was speaking. So that disciple, leaning back against Jesus, said to him, ‘Lord, who is it?’ 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. Then after he had taken the morsel, Satan entered into him. Jesus said to him, ‘What you are going to do, do quickly.’ Now no one at the table knew why he said this to him. 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. So, after receiving the morsel of bread, he immediately went out. And it was night.
“When he had gone out, Jesus said, ‘Now is the Son of Man glorified, and God is glorified in him. If God is glorified in him, God will also glorify him in himself, and glorify him at once. Little children, yet a little while I am with you. You will seek me, and just as I said to the Jews, so now I also say to you, “Where I am going you cannot come.” A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.’
“Simon Peter said to him, ‘Lord, where are you going?’ Jesus answered him, ‘Where I am going you cannot follow me now, but you will follow afterward.’ Peter said to him, ‘Lord, why can I not follow you now? I will lay down my life for you.’ Jesus answered, ‘Will you lay down your life for me? Truly, truly, I say to you, the rooster will not crow till you have denied me three times.’”
This is God’s word.
When we read a passage like this, we feel like we’re on holy ground, these last moments of Jesus’ life, these interactions with his disciples. We can’t read a passage like this, I don’t believe, without some self-reflection in thinking about ourselves. We have to put ourselves in the seats around this table and ask ourselves some questions as we see these cases of these three disciples who are singled out in this passage, Judas, John, and Peter.
I would suggest to you that they epitomize for us certain kinds of people who are in some kind of relationship to Jesus, some kind of association with Jesus. They’re very different, Judas, John, and Peter. One, of course, is a very negative example (Judas), John is a very positive example, and Peter is I think the example of what we almost all are like. So hopefully we will all see ourselves reflected in one of these characters this morning.
1. The Case of Judas
I want to suggest three lessons as we look at these case studies, and here’s the first: Association with Jesus does not guarantee salvation by Jesus (the case of Judas).This dominates, doesn’t it, verses 21-30, where Jesus speaks very specifically that one of them, one of the disciples, will betray him. It’s also referenced in verse 18. Really, when you go all the way back to the beginning of John 13, it’s already there on the horizon. John 13:2, “During supper, when the devil had already put it into the heart of Judas Iscariot, Simon’s son, to betray him . . .”
So, we know this is going to happen, and there are a number of things we can notice about it. We can see, of course, that this was a fulfilled prophecy, and in fact Jesus quotes directly from Psalm 41:9. You see this in verse 18: “He who ate my bread has lifted his heel against me.” Jesus says, “This is happening so that the Scripture will be fulfilled, and I’m telling you so that you will know that I am he, I am the Messiah, I am the one you’re waiting for.” So Scripture is being fulfilled.
But when we think about Judas himself, it teaches us a lesson, and it teaches us that not all who are associated with Jesus are saved by Jesus. Not everyone who says they are a Christian really is a Christian. Not everyone who is religious has actually experienced the transforming power of God’s grace in his or her life.
I think we’re on very safe ground to say that Judas was not saved, he was not a Christian. He was a disciple, but he was not a true disciple. He was even an apostle; he was named among the 12, and he lived in this close association with Jesus for three years, and yet he was not saved.
This is why we know this. I’m going to give you a couple of passages. In John 17:12 Jesus is praying, and he says, “While I was with them [that is, the disciples] I kept them in your name, which you have given me. I have guarded them, and not one of them has been lost, except the son of destruction, that the Scripture might be fulfilled.” The son of destruction, or as the old King James puts it, “the son of perdition.” That word destruction or perdition means someone who’s damned, it means someone who is destroyed. I don’t think there’s any question here that Judas was lost.
Right here in the context, it’s perhaps even clearer. You remember last week we saw this, that when Jesus came to wash the feet of his disciples—including, we can assume that he washed Judas’s feet—you remember that Peter’s the one who objected, and he said, “Lord, shall you wash my feet?” Jesus says, “If I don’t wash you, you have no part in me.” Of course, Peter overreacts: “Lord, wash my head and my hands; wash everything.” Typical Peter.
But do you remember what Jesus said in response to that? This is verses 10-11. He says, “The one who has bathed does not need to wash, except for his feet, but is completely clean. And you are clean, but not every one of you.” Then in verse 11, “For he knew who was to betray him; that was why he said, ‘Not all of you are clean.’”
As we saw last week, the foot-washing is symbolic, and it is symbolic of the cleansing efficacy of Jesus’s death. That’s what the foot-washing is pointing to. When Jesus says, “If I don’t wash you, you have no part in me,” he’s saying, “Peter, if you won’t submit to me not only washing your feet but going all the way to the cross as the servant who ransoms his life in order to save and cleanse, if you will not submit to be cleansed and washed by me, you have no part with me.” He’s pointing Peter to this reality that he must be cleansed, he must be washed. But then he says, “You are all clean—” plural, “you’re all,” talking about all the disciples “—but not all of you,” because he knew that there was one who was not clean. That’s telling us something; it’s telling us that Judas was not clean. Judas had not been washed. Peter had been, Judas had not. Judas was not clean; he was not a Christian.
I want you to see this, because what we see in Judas is not the case of a person who loses their salvation. In fact, I don’t believe such a thing is possible. That’s another sermon defended another time, but it is part of the doctrine of our church. I don’t believe it is possible for a genuine Christian to lose salvation, but it is certainly possible for someone to think they are a Christian and not be. It is certainly possible for someone to be religious and not be saved, to be associated with Jesus and not be cleansed and saved by Jesus. That’s certainly possible, and Judas is the case study for that.
It reminds of the end of John Bunyan’s famous book The Pilgrim’s Progress, when Christian and Hopeful have reached the gates of heaven, they’re right at the gates of the Celestial City and they’re being welcomed in, there is one of their former traveling companions, a man named Ignorance, someone who did not understand or care about or embrace the gospel. Ignorance is, tragically, bound hand and foot and cast away. In the next to the last sentence of the book, Bunyan says this, “Then I saw that there was a way to hell even from the gates of heaven as well as from the City of Destruction.”
Friends, that’s scary. That’s terrifying, and that should cause every one of us to ask ourselves the question the disciples each asked: “Lord, is it I?” When Jesus said, “One of you will betray me,” that was their response. We shouldn’t read this passage without asking ourselves and examining ourselves. “Lord, is it? Do I have a Judas heart?”
I want you to see one more thing, and that is the way Jesus relates to Judas. Even though Jesus knows he’s going to do this, and Jesus has known for a long time—even in John 6:70, when everybody else had forsaken him but just a handful of disciples stayed with him, Jesus said, “Did not I choose you, the twelve? And yet one of you is a devil.” So Jesus has known this. He’s known what was in Judas’s heart.
Even knowing that, even knowing what’s going to happen, when Jesus passes this morsel of bread to Judas, it’s not just a sign, but virtually all the commentators point this out, that that was actually a symbol of deep respect and friendship, and it was like a final invitation. It was a final opportunity to Judas. Jesus was extending friendship to him.
Charles Ross, in his book The Inner Sanctuary, says, “The sign of Judas’s treacher was at the same time an expression of offered friendship. It amounted to the offer of friendship at the last moment, and yet Judas refused it. Satan then enters his heart, the text says, and he goes out to betray Jesus. The next time he will see Jesus will be in Gethsemane, where he betrays him with another symbol of affection: he betrays him with a kiss. Now it is full hypocrisy.”
I think that if Judas had repented at that moment, Jesus would have forgiven him. That was his heart all the way up until that point. He’s offering friendship right at that moment, but Judas refused, and therefore perished.
So it is with all who perish. Listen, there will never be a person in hell who came to Jesus for salvation and was turned away. There never will be. Jesus says in John 6, “All that the Father gives me shall come to me, and him who comes to me I will not cast out.” Judas wouldn’t come, and that’s why he was lost.
C.S. Lewis one time said in relationship to the doctrine of hell these words that I find quite helpful. He said, “In the long run, the answer to all who object to the doctrine of hell is itself a question. What are you asking God to do? To wipe out their past sins and at all cost to give them a fresh start, removing every difficulty and offering every miraculous help? But he has done so on Calvary. To forgive them? They will not be forgiven. To leave them alone? Alas, I’m afraid that is what he does.”
That’s what Jesus did with Judas. He gave him the opportunity, Judas refused, and Jesus let him go.
How do we respond? We ask ourselves a question: “Lord, is it I?” Now, Judas asks a question, but not quite like that. In Matthew 26 Judas said, “Rabbi, is it I?” I do think the different wording is significant. He would not call him Lord right there. He called him Teacher.
Ask the question, “Lord, is it I?” That’s the first lesson; the case of Judas.
2. The Case of John
Secondly, we have the case of John, and it’s almost the complete opposite of Judas. I think the lesson we learn here is this, that proximity to Jesus is necessary for intimacy with Jesus; or, to put it differently, communion with Jesus. That’s the old word, communion with Jesus. We must be close to Jesus—that’s proximity—in order to have communion with Jesus, or fellowship, or close friendship with Jesus.
I think we see that in the case of John, just in the way this is worded, the way John refers to himself and what we see John doing in this passage. Look at verses 23-25.
“One of his disciples, whom Jesus loved, was reclining at table at Jesus’ side.” Probably what we have here is Judas was on Jesus’ left, then here’s Jesus, and John on his right, John reclining towards Jesus. Jesus has just said, “One of you will betray me.” One of his disciples, whom Jesus loved, was reclining at table at Jesus’ side. So Simon Peter motioned to him to ask Jesus of whom he was speaking. So that disciple, leaning back against Jesus, said to him, ‘Lord, who is it?’”
This is one of four references in the Gospel of John to the disciple whom Jesus loved. You also have it in John 21, where “the disciple whom Jesus loved” is one of the first witnesses to the resurrection. That’s in John 20 and 21. Then, at the end of John 21, he’s named again in verse 20 as the disciple whom Jesus loved, and then in verse 24 we read these words: “This is the disciple who is bearing witness about these things and who has written these things, and we know that his witness is true.” That’s why we know that this is the author of the Gospel; he identifies himself as such in John 21.
What we see here is how he designates himself. He calls himself—and isn’t this significant—he calls himself not the disciple who loved Jesus, he calls himself the disciple Jesus loved. I think it’s because John was so overwhelmed by it, he was so taken by the fact that Jesus loved him. It’s similar to the apostle Paul, who talked about how Christ “loved me and gave himself for me” in Galatians 2. In the same way, I think John was just overwhelmed by this sense that Jesus loved him. Jesus had loved him, and he was so close to Jesus.
He was one of the inner three in the band of twelve, alone with Peter and James. John was one of the inner three, which meant that he was with Jesus in the most intimate moments. He was with Jesus when Jesus raised a little girl from death in Mark 5, Jairus’s daughter. He was with Jesus on the Mount of Transfiguration; he was with Jesus in the garden of Gethsemane. He was close to Jesus, and he had this proximity to Jesus. That was because of the great love that Jesus had for him and that he had for Christ.
I think we could say of John, in such stark contrast to Judas, that John’s greatest delight was to be close to Jesus. Is that your greatest delight? Here’s another probing question, isn’t it? Do you love Jesus? Are you conscious that Jesus loves you, so that you long to be with him? If you want intimacy in relationship with Christ, you have to be like John; you have to be close, you have to lean, as it were, on Jesus’ breast; you have to draw near to him.
Charles Spurgeon preached a wonderful sermon on this phrase, “On His Breast,” as it is translated in the King James, but here he is reclining at Jesus’ side, leaning back against Jesus (verse 25). This is what Spurgeon said about John.
“He was nearest in fellowship because dearest in love. Now beloved, if you are best-loved by Christ, you live nearest to him; I am sure of it. If you love him best and he loves you best, you will be more in prayer than others, you will spend more time alone with Jesus than other Christians do. You will abound in petition and praise, you will read his word with greater diligence, you will drink it in with greater delight. You will live for him, too, with greater consecration. Your whole time will be spent in his company.”
Does that pierce your heart this morning? When you start to try to read your own story in this text, is that what you’re like? Are you like John? Do you love to be with Jesus?
All of the disciples, when Jesus said, “One of you will betray me,” all of the disciples wondered if it was them; all of them, we read in one of the other Gospels, asked this question, “Lord, is it I?” But the way it’s worded here, John asked, “Lord, who is it?”
I think there was a protection in John’s life against this sin of betraying and even denying Jesus, as Peter will do, and that protection was the closeness he had to Christ. Those who live closest to Christ are protected, they are guarded against sin and against backsliding.
I think you will find, as I have certainly found in my own life, invariably that when you sin and when you backslide, you can always trace it back to its source, that before you turn away in some deliberate sin, before you did that there was neglect. There’s always neglect of time with Jesus, fellowship with Jesus, closeness to Jesus.
Proximity to Jesus is necessary for intimacy with him, and those who live closest to him will be entrusted with that which is dearest to his heart. A couple of other observations here before we move to Peter.
Another one of the passages where John refers to himself as “the disciple whom Jesus loved” is at the scene of the crucifixion. By this time Peter has denied the Lord and has run away. All the other disciples have fled. One disciple, along with some of the women, remains and is there at the foot of the cross, and John is that disciple. Do you remember the scene that’s recorded in John 19? “When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to his mother, ‘Woman, behold your son,’ and then he said to the disciple, ‘Behold your mother.’ From that hour the disciple took her to his own home.’”
John, the disciple Jesus must have trusted most, because John was so close, because he loved him so much, and so he entrusts the care of his mother, Mary, to John.
I think John especially, in a unique way, took the teaching of Jesus to heart. Jesus in this passage uses a phrase that’s only used here in all of the Gospels. He uses the phrase “little children” when he is exhorting his disciples. “Little children, now the time has come for the Son of Man to be glorified,” and, “Yet a little while I am with you,” and, “You will seek me but you will not find me,” and so on. “Little children”; he uses that phrase.
Did you know that the only other person who uses that phrase is the apostle John? He uses seven times, I believe, in the letter of 1 John, and what is that letter? It is a letter that’s full of emphasis on the love of God and the necessity of us loving one another. So John has been called “the apostle of love,” because he was disciple whom Jesus loved, and because he loved Jesus so much. “By this we know love,” John says, “that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers” (1 John 3:16). “In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his son to the atoning sacrifice for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another (1 John 4:10-11).
Listen, the most kind and loving believers you will ever meet, I can guarantee it, will be those who are conscious of being deeply loved by Jesus. They’ve spent time with Jesus, they are in fellowship with Jesus, and the overflow of that experience of love is that they love others. “We love because he first loved us” (1 John 4:19).
3. The Case of Peter
We have the case of Judas—Judas the hypocrite, Judas the betrayer—we have the case of John, the disciple whom Jesus loved; and then, between these two extremes, we have the case of Peter. Peter also teaches us a lesson, and I think this will be encouraging for those of you who, like myself, feel far from John. I want to be like John; I feel like I’m more like Peter. When you feel like you’re far from John and more like Peter, I hope this will encourage you this morning. Here’s the lesson: the believer who sins against Jesus will still be preserved and restored by Jesus.
You have Peter’s case in verses 36-38. Let’s read it one more time. “Simon Peter said to him, ‘Lord, where are you going?’” This is in response to Jesus saying, “You will seek me, but where I am going you cannot come.” So Peter says, “Lord, where are you going?”
“Jesus answered him, ‘Where I am going you cannot follow me now, but you will follow afterward.’ Peter said to him, ‘Lord, why can I not follow you now? I will lay down my life for you.’”
You see there his sincerity. He is as sincere as he can be. He sincerely is committed to Christ. “I will lay down my life for you,” but he is lacking in self-understanding.
Jesus knows him better than he knows himself, and in verse 38 says, “Will you lay down your life for me? Truly, truly, I say to you, the rooster will not crow till you have denied me three times.”
You know the story. Sure enough, in just a few hours, when Jesus has been arrested by the mob and Peter is there in the courtyard and someone recognizes him by his accent— “Here’s a Galilean. Weren’t you with Jesus?”—he denies three times, even with curses and oaths he denied that he even knows the Lord.
What’s going on here? Jesus here is beginning to unveil Peter’s heart to Peter, and it’s really an act of mercy and grace. Now, we could say that Peter stands in contrast to both John and Judas. He’s not as close as John is, and he commits sin that John does not commit. But he’s not Judas. He is clean, and Jesus has already said, “You are all clean,” and he’s already said to Peter, “If I don’t wash you, you have no part with me. But you’re clean.” He is clean, he is saved.
Here’s Peter; he has confessed that Jesus is the Messiah (Matthew 16), he is the spokesman for the apostolic band, right? He’s the first one to speak almost every time he’s on the scene. He is sincere, but he doesn’t understand himself, he doesn’t understand his heart. He’s not yet watchful, and therefore he falls and turns away from the Lord temporarily.
But he’s different from Judas, and the difference is seen in how the two respond. Judas betrays Jesus, and when he realizes what he has done, does he repent? No! In absolute despair, he takes his own life. But Peter, when he recognizes what he has done, he goes out and he weeps bitterly, and in John 21 we see the scene of restoration, where Jesus comes to him and restores him, and he asks him, “Simon, son of Jonah, do you love me?
Peter doesn’t have as much self-confidence now. He says, “Lord, you know what’s in my heart. You know all things. You know that I love you.” But it takes three times, once for each denial, for Peter to then be restored.
I think we see here Jesus’s patience with Peter, his preservation of Peter. In fact, we know from the Gospel of Luke (Luke 22) that Jesus specifically prayed for Peter. There, when he tells Peter that “you’re going to deny me,” he says, “Simon, Simon, Satan has desired to have you, that he might sift you like wheat. But I have prayed for you, that your faith may not fail.” Then, of course, Jesus does restore him.
I think this is true for every genuine believer. If you are in Christ, if you’ve been washed by Christ, if you are a Christian, Jesus prays for you, he intercedes for you. Though you may sin against him and temporarily turn away, he will restore you, he will bring you to repentance, he will preserve you just as he does with Peter; he looks at him. We have that in the Gospel of Mark. After the rooster crows—Peter’s already denied the Lord three times—and Jesus looks at him, and that look, that piercing, penetrating look is what brings Peter to his knees.
It may be, brothers and sisters, that the Lord this morning is looking at you, he’s put his finger on you, and he’s saying, “You’ve forsaken me. It’s time to come back.” Where are you this morning? Are you a hypocrite, just pretending? Don’t be like Judas. Instead, respond. If you’re not John, at least, like Peter, respond to the Lord’s look and turn to him in repentance.
I want to close with a hymn written by John Newton, as I so often do. John Newton was a great hymn-writer—”Amazing Grace,” of course—and here’s another one that’s not sung very often, but I’ve thought of this many times in reference especially to Peter. This hymn was called “In Evil Long I Took Delight”; it’s been used in more contemporary form simply as “The Look.” I want to read it, and you can read the words on the screen, and maybe this will be your story as well.
In evil long I took delight,
Unawed by shame or fear,
Till a new object struck my sight,
And stopp’d my wild career.
I saw One hanging on a tree
In agonies and blood,
Who fixed His languid eyes on me,
As near his cross I stood.
Sure never till my latest breath
Can I forget that look,
It seem’d to charge me with His death,
Tho’ not a word He spoke.
My conscience felt and owned my guilt,
And plung’d me in despair,
I saw my sins His blood had spilt,
And helped to nail Him there.
Alas! I knew not what I did,
But now my tears are vain.
Where shall my trembling soul be hid,
For I the Lord have slain?
A second look He gave, which said,
"I freely all forgive,
This blood is for thy ransom paid,
I die, that thou may’st live."
Thus, while His death my sins displays
In all its blackest hue,
Such is the mystery of grace,
It seals my pardon too.
With pleasing grief and mournful joy
My spirit now is filled;
That I should such a life destroy,
Yet live by him I killed.
Lord, you are the great searcher of hearts, and we pray this morning that you would search our hearts. Lord, search out the hypocrisy, search out the sin, search out the neglect, search out anything in us that would cause us to turn away from you, to betray you, to deny you. May we, like Peter, respond to your conviction with pleasing grief and mournful joy, with repentance and with faith, so that we can be restored. May we become more like John, who leaned on your breast and who lived in such close fellowship with you that he could only think of himself as the one whom Jesus loved.
Lord, I pray that as we come to the table this morning that we would come with appropriate self-examination, searching our hearts, and then, having seen the sin and the corruption that is in our hearts (because we all have it), that turning from ourselves to Christ we would see the sufficiency of Christ’s atoning sacrifice to cleanse us, to forgive us, to renew and restore us. Our life is found through his death. May that be our hope this morning, our comfort, and may looking at the cross, looking at Christ on the cross, may it this morning have transforming, renewing power in our lives so that we walk away from worship this morning with a deeper desire to be with Jesus, to love him and to walk humbly with him.
Lord, we need you, and we pray for the ministry of your Spirit. In Jesus’ name we pray, amen.