John 13:21-30 (90 Days with Jesus, Day 64)
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.” 22His disciples stared at one another, at a loss to know which of them he meant. 23One of them, the disciple whom Jesus loved, was reclining next to him. 24Simon Peter motioned to this disciple and said, “Ask him which one he means.” 25Leaning back against Jesus, he asked him, “Lord, who is it?” 26Jesus answered, “It is the one to whom I will give this piece of bread when I have dipped it in the dish.” Then, dipping the piece of bread, he gave it to Judas Iscariot, son of Simon. 27As soon as Judas took the bread, Satan entered into him. “What you are about to do, do quickly,” Jesus told him, 28but no one at the meal understood why Jesus said this to him. 29Since Judas had charge of the money, some thought Jesus was telling him to buy what was needed for the Feast, or to give something to the poor. 30As soon as Judas had taken the bread, he went out. And it was night.
I’m not going to pretend to understand all the dynamics that are working together in this periscope. I think it’s too easy to say that Judas acted entirely of his own free-will, but I think it is equally unlikely that Judas had no help. To be sure, I think Judas had a choice in the matter all the way up until the moment when Jesus handed Judas the bread and Judas accepted it. Was it inevitable that Judas would take the bread? Scripture had to be fulfilled. Judas had a choice, but Scripture ‘knew’ all along, or at least declared all along, that Judas would invariably make the wrong choice. Judas had already been prompted by the devil and Jesus, I presume, knew that too, but prompting isn’t quite the same as ‘gave him no choice’ in the matter. I think Judas had a choice right up until the sop was taken from the hand of Jesus. Then, and only then, did Satan enter Judas and make the choice of Judas irrevocable. Judas had a choice; then he didn’t.
I fully realize that doesn’t make matters any better. I think Judas had a say so in the matter. After all, he let Jesus wash his feet and presumably, since John gives no indication that Jesus didn’t wash Judas’ feet, Judas ‘had a part of him’ (see verse 8). I presume that Judas didhave a part with Jesus up until Jesus handed him the sop. There is a tension here that, frankly, I cannot resolve. Scripture ‘had to be fulfilled’ concerning the betrayal of Jesus. Even the disciples who were sitting around the table didn’t know what was going on: Perhaps Judas was making a donation to the poor, perhaps he was buying more food for the Feast. Who knows? If they didn’t know all the dynamics, I’m quite certain I don’t. Judas did and did not have a choice in the matter is the best I can say. I don’t think Judas could have not chosen to do what he did. On the other hand, I think up until the moment he took the sop, he had every opportunity to not do what he did. Hmm.
If Judas didn’t have a choice, do any of us? I don’t think there was any magic in the sop. I think Jesus handed Judas the sop and Judas took it and after he took it the devil too him. Judas was in control of himself until that moment, then he relinquished control: He became an agent, a servant, of the Enemy. I picture that scene from Revenge of the Sith(Star Wars, episode III) when Anakin finally gives himself to the emperor. Up until the moment that Anakin bowed down in front of Senator Palpatine he had a choice. The minute his knee began to break the choice became irrevocable. There was no going back; he was a servant of evil. In some way, I think the same is true of Judas Iscariot.
The point here is not really to debate the epistemology of this scene. There are two or three other points that I would like to draw your attention to. First, the friendship of Judas. Second, the friendship of Satan. Third, the friendship with darkness.
First, the friendship of Judas. You realize of course that since Judas was handed the sop by Jesus that he must have been sitting, or reclining, close to Jesus. I think he was sitting closer to Jesus than was Peter. Have you ever thought about that before? Why was Judas sitting close enough to Jesus that Jesus could reach out and hand him the sop? I suspect, and it is speculation, that Judas was close to Jesus, a good friend. John even quotes the Psalm, “He who shares my bread has lifted up his heel against me.” The full verse of Psalm 41 says this, “Even my close friend, whom I trusted, he who shared my bread, has lifted up his heel against me” (Psalm 41:9, NIV). Could it be that Jesus and Judas were actually closer friends that we have previously thought? Could it be that this is why Judas had charge of the money bag, because Jesus ‘trusted him’?
But how can someone so close become so full of the devil? How can someone who is on intimate terms with Jesus become the very one that the devil used to accomplish his ends? I think that at some point Judas opened himself up to the influence. “The devil had already prompted Judas Iscariot, son of Simon, to betray Jesus” (v 2). At some point Judas dabbled, cavorted, carved out a niche in his heart where he would at least entertain the notion of betraying Jesus. Perhaps Judas knew the Psalm. Perhaps he had this in mind all along and used his friendship with Jesus for just such a purpose. Who knows? It is somewhat strange that Jesus and Judas were friends but that is the way it appears.
Second, the friendship of the devil. Whatever else we may say, this much is clear: Judas flirted. And when you flirt you invariably end up on the losing end of the deal. Judas proves that the devil does not keep his word. There’s no telling what Judas thought he would get out of this deal, but in the end he got none of it at all. There is no trust to be afforded the devil and, in fact, we probably would do well to simply avoid him at all costs. Judas also proves that no one can serve two masters: We cannot love them both. We will either hate one and love the other, or love one and hate the other, but there’s no two ways about it. You cannot walk down both sides of the street and expect to be in your right mind.
I don’t believe this was the first time the devil prompted Judas Iscariot, son of Simon. I have no evidence, but I’m willing to bet my cat that it had happened in the past. The beginning of this chapter simply gives us an insight into what had been happening in the life of Judas. Then there’s this: Jesus served Judas by washing his feet, the devil used Judas by prompting him to betray Jesus. Well who got the better end of that deal? Are there times when we do the same? Are there times when we are far too quick to betray the One who has washed us, included us in himself, made us fully alive? Friendship with the devil does not amount to much. It brings with it heartache, hurt, and a heavy does of ‘see I told you so.’
Finally, friendship with darkness. Since the beginning of John’s Gospel we have see this back and forth between darkness and light, day and night. John simply says, “And it was night.” Remember what John wrote, “In him was life, and that life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it.” Remember that ‘understood’ can also be ‘overcome.’ “The darkness has not overcome the light.”
Evil must be done under the cover of darkness. It was their ‘hour’, when darkness ‘reigned.’ Even by the time Jesus is taken to Pilate it was still ‘early morning’ and it would still be dark. And even though John mentions it not, we know that darkness covered the land while Jesus was on the cross. It was a time of darkness. Darkness here symbolizes the evil that filled the world during those days. John was not just marking the time for us. He was making a theological statement about the condition of the world: It was night. In other words, for the time being, the devil ruled.
It’s no wonder, then, that Jesus was ‘troubled’ during the dinner and it’s no wonder he sort of hurries Judas along (read: wanted Judas’ darkness away from him).
I don’t really think that these verses are about friendship. I do wonder if Jesus’ ‘troubled in spirit’ in verse 21 is the same or nearly the same as his ‘deeply moved in spirit and troubled’ in chapter 11:33. Because if it is then Jesus was not simply emotionally taxed; he was angry. In chapter 11 he was angry about death. Here he is angry about betrayal. I don’t think we can take this anger lightly as if Jesus ‘meek and mild’ took it lightly. Maybe the lesson here is that we must indeed be careful to whom we entrust ourselves. By this I don’t mean that Jesus made a mistake in choosing Judas. I mean that Judas made a mistake in opening himself up to the temptations of the devil. We must be on guard! We must protect ourselves at all times giving the devil no foothold, no occasion, no opportunity. I think the devil knew that Judas was available and open to the idea of betrayal. We must not give the Enemy the idea that we are available to be used by him for his purposes.
We have one Master and it is not the devil. We cannot, must not, try to serve anyone but Jesus. The apostle wrote, “Do not be yoked together with unbelievers. For what do righteousness and wickedness have in common? Or what fellowship can light have with darkness? What harmony is there between Christ and Belial? What does a believer have in common with an unbeliever? What agreement is there between the temple of God and idols? For we are the temple of the living God. As God has said, ‘I will live with them and walk among them, and I will be their God, and they will be my people’” (2 Corinthians 6:14-16, NIV). I think this episode is a perfect example of what Paul talked about in Corinthians. Judas was riding the fence. He was dealing from two stacks. Jesus told Judas to make up his mind.
There’s a lot of this in our own church today. There are too many preachers, teachers, professors, and Christians in general who are convinced that they can have a foot in both worlds. It will not stand. And, frankly, it must stop. We must stop playing this game we play with our faith. It’s a dangerous game of thinking that we can live in any way we want with no regard to Christ but on Sundays. When we flirt with the devil, it won’t be long before we are divorced from our husband and remarried. After that, it won’t be long before we are widows. Indeed, our first love is the one we must cling to. If you belong to Christ—if you ‘have a part with him’—then stay with Him. Don’t flirt. Don’t open yourself up to things you cannot possibly control. Once the door is open it will not be long before it swings wide and that which we flirted with—power, money, fame, pride, gluttony, ambition—will reveal its true identity.
Soli Deo Gloria!