"Come and See": A Web Commentary on the Gospel of John: Section 12 The Last Supper and Farewell Discourses (Jn 13-17)

Section 12.2.2 Jesus' Glorification and Peter's Denial (Jn 13.31-38)

31Then when Judas1 went out, Jesus said, 'Now the Son of Man has been glorified, and God has been glorified in him. 32[If God has been glorified in him,] God will also glorify him in God's self, and will glorify him at once. 33Little children, I am still with you for a short time: you will seek for me and, just as I said to the Judaeans (or the Jerusalemites), I say now also to you2: where I am going, you cannot come.

34'I give you a new commandment: love one another: just as I have loved you, so you should love one another. 35In this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.'

36Simon Peter said to him, 'Lord, where are you going?' Jesus answered [him], 'Now you cannot follow me where I am going, but later you will follow.' 37Peter said to him, 'Lord, why can't I follow you now? I will lay down my life for you!' 38Jesus answered him, 'Will you lay down your life for me? Amen, Amen, I say to you: the cock will not crow before you deny me three times!'


This section falls neatly into three parts. In it we are shown Jesus' reaction to Judas' departure, on his way to betray his friends. His immediate reaction was to speak of his glorification, which in John is always connected with his sacrificial death. In that death Jesus would be lifted up on a cross to die a terrible death, but that executioner's act would point the way to understanding who Jesus really is and appropriating the reconciling power of his death (see the comments on Jn 3.13-17 and 8.21-9.

Jesus speaks here of both a present and a future glorification. What is glorification? Here it seems to refer to the way that the Father reveals his glory in Jesus, through Jesus' mighty acts, miracles, or signs. These are revelatory: they show who Jesus is (that is, the Son) and also show who the Father is. The ultimate sign is the resurrection, in which God raises Jesus up to the glory of a return to the heavenly realm that has always been his as Son and Word.

To say glorification is connected with Jesus' sacrificial death in John is helpful because it provides some of its context. In fact Jesus had already announced earlier that the glorification of the Son of Man was here, in Jn 12.23: it is his reaction to being sought out by Gentiles. That brings Jesus' hour, for which all the rest has been waiting. For John, Crucifixion (the raising up of Jesus on the Cross), Resurrection (the raising up of Jesus from death), and Ascension (the raising up of Jesus to the Son's ongoing life of love with the Father and the Spirit) are so closely entwined as to be a single act, thus making Jesus' death part of this glorification. So the glorification to which Jesus refers in v31 is the glorification announced in Jn 12.23, and the glorification to which Jesus refers in v32 is the glorification coming in his saving acts of Crucifixion, Resurrection, and Ascension.

Jesus and his Father are thus part of an ongoing act of mutual glorification, in which Judas' actions play a part. This is why Jesus was also reminded of the fact that he will shortly be leaving to go to a place to which they cannot follow - this glorification will necessitate his death, and Judas has gone to set in motion the events that will lead to Jesus' judicial murder by Pilate.

The remark about his going away soon harks back to a conversation with Judaeans (or possibly Jerusalemites specifically) told in Jn 7.33-4 and mentioned again in Jn 8.21ff (where he also talks about going away and his being lifted up (that is, his death). By reminding them of these two encounters during his teaching in Jerusalem at the time of the feast of Tabernacles, Jesus was trying to prepare his followers for his death.The time will come when they can follow him on that journey (sooner for some than later), but not now.

It is in this context that Jesus gave them a new commandment, the commandment to love each other. That is the second part of the section. This love will not only create community among Jesus' followers, it will be their distinguishing mark. This is how everyone will know that they are Jesus' disciples. In the coming assault on Jesus and subsequent scattering of his disiples, Jesus wanted to strengthen them, not with weapons but with love, a love that is so strong that it will forever mark their community.

But Peter was one step behind Jesus here. He was still stuck on the idea that Jesus is leaving, and not only leaving but going to a place where the disciples can't come. So he interrupted at this point to ask Jesus where he was going. When Jesus replied that he was going where Peter could not follow, Peter (who had clearly already forgotten his earlier mistake at the time of the footwashing) protested. Sounding more like an adolescent than a householder with responsibilites for a wife and a mother-in-law, he asked why he couldn't come too, and proclaimed that he would lay down his life for Jesus. Jesus, who had already been rocked by the actions of Judas (however much you may know that something like that is going to happen, it has to be a blow when it does), now revealed to Peter that he would not only fail to lay down his life for his teacher but repudiate him as well:

Jesus answered him, 'Will you lay down your life for me? Amen, Amen, I say to you: the cock will not crow before you deny me three times!'

So in this section we transition from one hurtful loss to another: we begin with Jesus' actions in the aftermath of Judas' betrayal. But we end not with the challenging commandment to love but with the forewarning of Peter's betrayal. We are accustomed to downplay Peter's action by calling it a denial rather than a betrayal, and it is true that he did not hand over Jesus or information about him to the authorities as Judas did. But he will lurk in shadows, slink in behind another man's coattails, and having reached the courtyard of the high priest's house he will refuse to acknowledge even that he knew Jesus, much less that he was one of his principal disciples and the leader of the Twelve. Like Judas, Peter betrayed himself, his fellow disciples, and Jesus that night. The difference between them lies in their subsequent actions: as we shall see, Peter returned, acknowledged his failing, and was received back into the community with the love that Jesus had commanded.

1 Judas: added for sense, original reads he

2 just as I said to the Judaeans: in reference to Jn 7.33-4

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