Everything we read in the Bible is important. And anytime an event or teaching is repeated, it means we should pay careful attention to it. John 13:21-30 is one such passage. To set the stage, this passage, which follows Jesus washing the feet of his disciples and declaring them clean (John 13:4–10), continues Jesus’ interaction with his disciples as they ate the passover meal. And in these verses, we see a profound picture of his love—not just for the Eleven who were faithful, but for Judas as well.1
The first way Jesus loved Judas: a position of honor
When eating a meal like this one, Jesus and his disciples would have been reclining in a horseshoe shape, with their heads toward a low table and their feet facing away. With one arm, they would prop themselves up, and with the other they would eat. As the host of the meal, Jesus was in the center of the arrangement. John, the disciple whom Jesus loved, was to his right, in a position where we could easily lean back to speak privately to Jesus.
But who was to his left—in the place that, going against what we might naturally assume, was the one of greatest honor? A place fitting for a close friend, one whom the host trusts? One might assume that it was Peter or James. But it actually seems that this place belonged to Judas.2
The idea of this seems outrageous to modern readers. After all, Jesus knew Judas’ heart better than anyone. He knew it even better than Judas did himself (John 2:24). He knew Judas was the betrayer, even when no one else did. By positioning him in that place of honor, right next to Jesus, it was almost as though Jesus was saying to him, “Judas, I know what you’re about to do. Are you sure this is what you really want?”
But Jesus loved Judas, and he wanted Judas to know it. But Judas did not love him.
The second way Jesus loved Judas: a broken heart
In John 13:21, we read that “Jesus was greatly distressed in spirit,” as he announced that one of the disciples would betray him. The language of “distressed” or “troubled” is the same that we read in John 11:33, when Jesus is at Lazarus’ tomb. The word coveys the idea that Jesus was noticeably disturbed or agitated. And as he entered into the pain of those who grieved for Lazarus, he let out a noticeable and involuntary gasp. He felt their sorrow, even as he was indignant about the effects of sin in the world.
And so we see something like that happen again, here. Jesus is deeply troubled and perhaps lets out an audible, sorrowful sigh as he announced that he was to be betrayed. And his sorrow stemmed from his love for Judas. He knew where Judas’s allegiance lay—that Judas loved darkness and hated the light (John 3:20). Yet Jesus loved him still. And even as he knew what was going to happen was to fulfill the will of God, Jesus’ heart still ached.
The third way Jesus loved Judas: a final opportunity to repent
Then when John asked Jesus who would betray him, Jesus showed his love for Judas one final time. “Who is it,” asked John.
Jesus replied, “It is the one to whom I will give this piece of bread after I have dipped it in the dish.” Then he dipped the piece of bread in the dish and gave it to Judas Iscariot, Simon’s son.John 3:26
Offering the bread to Judas was a sign for John to know the answer. But it was also a final appeal from Jesus to Judas. In his commentary on this passage, D.A. Carson described it as an act of supreme love—something akin to his washing of the disciples’ feet. It was as though Jesus were saying, “Here, Judas, take and eat. Receive what I’m offering you—not merely bread but me, the bread of life.”
But, Carson wrote, “Judas received the [bread] but not the love. Instead of breaking him and urging him to contrition, it hardened his resolve.”3 Instead of giving himself over to Jesus, Judas gave himself over to Satan, and went out into the night (27–30).
How can we love those who love darkness?
Despite the love Jesus showed him, despite all the opportunities and appeals, Judas rejected Jesus. He went out and left to do what his heart was set on. Judas loved the darkness and not the light. He was given over to it (John 3:19–20).
And because of that, it can be tempting to take a hard-hearted view toward Judas and those like him. To erect barriers between us and those who reject Jesus. To create greater distances between us and them, to the degree that we don’t even see these people as people anymore. They are “them.”
But if we do, we miss the point. We all know people who are openly opposed to God, who snub every offer of kindness and mercy and forgiveness from him. And we also all know people who know how to act the part of being a faithful Christian, but are actually opposed to Jesus.
And what they need are people willing to pursue them to the end. People who practice what they preach (imperfectly, to be sure) about the gospel being good news. Who welcome people into their lives who aren’t like them. Who love the way Jesus loves because in doing so—incredibly—some might actually turn toward Jesus and be saved.
Jesus glorified God by loving Judas up to the end. He glorifies God by loving those who love darkness. And he calls us, challenges us, to do the same.
- A note about this article: this is based on a portion of a message I preached on September 17th, 2023, at Refuge Church in Franklin TN.
- It should be noted that there isn’t universal agreement on who was in this spot. However, based on the way that the rest of John 13 plays out, it seems to be the most logical conclusion.
- D. A. Carson, The Gospel according to John, The Pillar New Testament Commentary (Leicester, England; Grand Rapids, MI: Inter-Varsity Press; W.B. Eerdmans, 1991), 475.