“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:34-35).
When Jesus was bidding his disciples farewell, for his time, that is his demise, was approaching—the time when the King of kings would be betrayed by a close friend; the time when the promised Messiah would face a rigged and illegal trail by those threatened by his very presence; the time when the Messiah-Rabbi-Discipler would be abandoned by the very ones he had trained; and, the time when the Prince of life would be hung on a Roman cross as a traitor and criminal--he gave some final instructions. Have you noticed that this new command to love one another is given within the context of betrayal.
“During supper, the devil having already put into the heart of Judas Iscariot, the son of Simon, to betray Him” (v. 2).
We know (yet, probably do not practice) of the foot-washing instructions. Nevertheless, what is overlooked is the framing of the foot-washing in the narrative, that is, the prediction and affirmation of Judas’s betrayal (vv. 2, 11). Jesus’ final hour had arrived and during the last supper (vv. 1-2) we learn, as John informs us, that Judas would “betray [Jesus] (v. 2c). Then, at the end of the foot-washing scene, this is repeated, “For He knew the one who was betraying Him” (v. 11a). So, when Jesus says, “I gave you an example that you also should do as I did to you” (v. 15), perhaps the example is the implication, the washing amid the betrayal.
Reading through Acts, the Luke's inspired volume of the early days of the apostles, we don’t see a whole lot of foot-washing and, as well, no such instruction is addressed in the Epistles to the churches. So what are we to make of following Jesus’ example? Why, then, is Jesus' final instructions important to the early church and for us now? The example seems instructive for a community with now leverage and no platform for its message. Perhaps the instruction is an ironic means of survival and endurance--a preventative measure and an embedded community habit against alignment with those who would be betrayers of Messiah and the brethren, inside and out.
Then, after Jesus reveals the betrayer to John and Peter (vv. 21-29) and prior to the “new command,” we hear Jesus explain:
“Therefore 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 will glorify Him immediately. Little children, I am with you a little while longer. You will seek Me; and as I said to the Jews, now I also say to you, ‘Where I am going, you cannot come’” (vv. 31-33).
“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another” (vv. 34-35).
“Simon Peter said to Him, “‘Lord, where are You going?’” (v. 36).
What do you mean we can’t go where you are going? Instead, Jesus tells Peter that he would indeed betray his Messiah-King:
“Peter said to Him, ‘Lord, why can I not follow You right now? I will lay down my life for You’” (v. 37)
We should stand before this story challenged, at the place of our own arrogance and desire to have the glory—the status of Jesus’ glory. Our potential for betrayal is exposed and laid bare for all to see. We will deny Jesus, too, before the rooster signals a new day. What we need to hear is that “loving one another” is, despite betrayal of close friends (and despite the grandness of self-claimed glory), is the remedy for aligning with those who seek to eliminate the Messiah and his gospel (and replacing it with their glory). “Loving one another” is the pathway for surviving false trials and cruel crosses. “Loving one another” is the answer to the problem of status and competition, that false sense of ecclesiological superiority, false spirituality, and Christian celebrity.