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On the Gospel of John, Part 35: Empathy and Altruism
In our last presentation from John chapter 13, which was Part 34 of our commentary on this gospel, we spoke of the intrinsic character which all people possess, even comparing it to the structure of a water molecule and the natural behavior of its basic components, the hydrogen and oxygen atoms which make its creation possible. In one place in that presentation I said “This may seem to be conjecture, but every man has an inherent nature, and often, contrary to that nature, every man is conditioned by society to behave in a certain manner. But eventually, when confronted with an appropriate situation, it is a man’s intrinsic character which will surface and take control of his actions and determine his fate.” There I went on to use Peter’s description of the fate of Lot as an example.
The children of God are called sheep for good reason, as they are generally docile and follow along with the flock wherever they are led. The proof of that statement is easily verified in the transformation of Western society over the past few decades. Until recently, sodomites and miscegenators were the outcasts of society, and in many places, laws had prohibited both acts. Now these sins are not only publicly acceptable, but they are even publicly applauded and those who commit them are admired rather than scorned. Thus we read in Jeremiah chapter 50: “6 My people hath been lost sheep: their shepherds have caused them to go astray, they have turned them away on the mountains: they have gone from mountain to hill, they have forgotten their restingplace.”
For that reason, at the day of their judgment their shepherds shall receive the greater punishment, as we read in Jeremiah chapter 25: “33 And the slain of the LORD shall be at that day from one end of the earth even unto the other end of the earth: they shall not be lamented, neither gathered, nor buried; they shall be dung upon the ground. 34 Howl, ye shepherds, and cry; and wallow yourselves in the ashes, ye principal of the flock: for the days of your slaughter and of your dispersions are accomplished; and ye shall fall like a pleasant vessel. 35 And the shepherds shall have no way to flee, nor the principal of the flock to escape. 36 A voice of the cry of the shepherds, and an howling of the principal of the flock, shall be heard: for the LORD hath spoiled their pasture. 37 And the peaceable habitations are cut down because of the fierce anger of the LORD.”
However there is also another dynamic: ultimately, the sheep are in the hands of their God, and it is He who gives them the shepherds that they deserve when they merit chastisement, or faithful shepherds when He determines that they have suffered sufficiently. The Old Testament is replete with examples of this, especially in the period of the Judges and up to the time of David himself. Thus we read in a Messianic prophecy in Jeremiah chapter 23 where Yahweh promises: “3 And I will gather the remnant of my flock out of all countries whither I have driven them, and will bring them again to their folds; and they shall be fruitful and increase. 4 And I will set up shepherds over them which shall feed them: and they shall fear no more, nor be dismayed, neither shall they be lacking, saith the LORD.”
So when a ram rises from among the sheep to accomplish something good for them, that is also by the will of their God, as we read in Amos chapter 5: “5… when the Assyrian shall come into our land: and when he shall tread in our palaces, then shall we raise against him seven shepherds, and eight principal men. 6 And they shall waste the land of Assyria with the sword, and the land of Nimrod in the entrances thereof: thus shall he deliver us from the Assyrian, when he cometh into our land, and when he treadeth within our borders.” While many of the historical details are apparently out of our reach, this must have been fulfilled when Assyria was destroyed, some time around 612 BC. The children of Israel in captivity had a significant role in the destruction of Assyria where they were known in the inscriptions as Scythians and Kimmerians.
Now as John chapter 13 progresses, we shall observe an example of one significant characteristic of the sheep, which is their altruism and their empathy, having a tendency to project their own values onto others, even when the others do not possess those same values. These traits of the sheep even impede their ability to recognize the goats among them. Sheep should not imagine that goats share the same feelings and values which they do. Where the same sins of ancient Judah were recollected in the words of the prophet Zechariah, speaking of what had happened to Judah and of the time following the Babylonian captivity, Yahweh said “3 Mine anger was kindled against the shepherds, and I punished the goats: for the LORD of hosts hath visited his flock the house of Judah, and hath made them as his goodly horse in the battle.” The Old Testament explains that there was a problem with goats among the sheep in the days of the ancient Kingdom period. In its historical sections, this is evident in the presence of the Canaanites who remained in the land of Israel, and it is described in Hosea chapter 5, Jeremiah chapter 2 or in Ezekiel chapter 16, among other places in the prophets. Now here in John, we shall see that in spite of everything that He had told them, not even the apostles of Christ could recognize the goat among themselves. Even John had not realized all of the implications until long after the events which are recounted here had transpired.
This is one example of the fulfillment of the prophecy that Yahweh God Himself would have to judge between the sheep and the goats, as we read in Ezekiel chapter 34: “15 I will feed my flock, and I will cause them to lie down, saith the Lord GOD. 16 I will seek that which was lost, and bring again that which was driven away, and will bind up that which was broken, and will strengthen that which was sick: but I will destroy the fat and the strong; I will feed them with judgment. 17 And as for you, O my flock, thus saith the Lord GOD; Behold, I judge between cattle and cattle, between the rams and the he goats. 18 Seemeth it a small thing unto you to have eaten up the good pasture, but ye must tread down with your feet the residue of your pastures? and to have drunk of the deep waters, but ye must foul the residue with your feet? 19 And as for my flock, they eat that which ye have trodden with your feet; and they drink that which ye have fouled with your feet. 20 Therefore thus saith the Lord GOD unto them; Behold, I, even I, will judge between the fat cattle and between the lean cattle. 21 Because ye have thrust with side and with shoulder, and pushed all the diseased with your horns, till ye have scattered them abroad; 22 Therefore will I save my flock, and they shall no more be a prey; and I will judge between cattle and cattle. 23 And I will set up one shepherd over them, and he shall feed them, even my servant David; he shall feed them, and he shall be their shepherd. 24 And I the LORD will be their God, and my servant David a prince among them; I the LORD have spoken it.” This being a Messianic prophecy, the sheep and the goats may be distinguished by a full understanding of the gospel of Christ.
Here in John chapter 13, the apostles are celebrating the Passover feast which is now famously referred to as the Last Supper. Christ had washed their feet, and explained to them that they should serve one another in that same manner. Then He began to speak rather ominously and said “18 I do not speak concerning all of you. I know the ones I have chosen. But in order that the Scripture may be fulfilled, ‘He eating My bread has raised his heel against Me!’ 19 Right now I say to you before that which is to happen, so that you may believe it when it happens, that I am! 20 Truly, truly I say to you, he receiving the ones whom I should send receives Me, and he receiving Me receives He who has sent Me!” Now we shall continue with John’s account from that point in chapter 13 of his gospel:
21 Saying these things Yahshua was troubled in Spirit and testified and said: “Truly, truly I say to you that one from among you shall betray Me.” 22 The [P66 has “Therefore His”; א, A, D, W and the MT have “Therefore the” the text follows B and C] students looked at each other, being puzzled concerning whom He speaks.
As we have also already elucidated, John had actually written this gospel many years after the fact, late in his life while he was in Ephesus. In part 1 of this commentary On the Gospel of John, titled The Word Made Flesh, we cited Irenaeus in regard to this, along with other witnesses. Irenaeus was a Christian bishop in Gaul who wrote in the middle of the 2nd century. In Book 3 of his treatises Against Heresies, he said “John, the disciple of the Lord, who also had leaned upon His breast, did himself publish a Gospel during his residence at Ephesus in Asia.” John was in Ephesus many years after Paul of Tarsus had his ministry there. So concerning the actual writing of his gospel, when John recorded these events he had knowledge that he did not necessarily have even while he was here having dinner with his fellows at the time when these events had actually taken place. When these events took place, if John knew whom about Yahshua was speaking, he would have been able to answer Peter’s question, rather than passing it along to Yahshua. So where John says that the students were puzzled, he must also have been puzzled.
But John did not record every aspect of what happened here, so we will turn to Matthew’s account, as he wrote from a different perspective what things he thought were important, and that is an important aspect of the value of having multiple witnesses. In Matthew chapter 26 we read: “21 And as they did eat, he said, Verily I say unto you, that one of you shall betray me. 22 And they were exceeding sorrowful, and began every one of them to say unto him, Lord, is it I? 23 And he answered and said, He that dippeth his hand with me in the dish, the same shall betray me.”
This situation reveals an intrinsic characteristic that was shared by the apostles of Christ, which is the altruism and empathy which the children of God naturally have towards others. Judas was among them for several years, yet they could not yet imagine for themselves that Judas was the devil among them. The information in the parenthetical remark found in John chapter 6, where the apostle explained that Christ was speaking of Judas where He said “yet one from among you is a devil” was very likely not known to John until after this time, but he added it later because by the time when he wrote his gospel account he was well aware of the truth. As Christ had said in verse 19 of this chapter of John, “19 Right now I say to you before that which is to happen, so that you may believe it when it happens, that I am!” Likewise, Judas was a goat among the sheep, but the apostles did not know that until long after the necessary events to which Christ was referring had actually happened. Observing this phenomenon, we continue as John refers to himself:
23 [P66, א, A, D, W and the MT insert “Now”; the text follows B and C] There was reclining in the bosom of Yahshua one from among His students whom Yahshua loved.
I find it quite incredible that so many supposed scholars would doubt the identification of the “disciple whom Yahshua loved” with John, as it certainly is John. As we have seen in our citation from Irenaeus, he was also confident that it was John. But John neglected to mention his own name in any of his writings until the Revelation, where he mentioned his own name five times. This certainly is John the apostle, who was too humble to mention his own name here. John is also the unnamed apostle in chapter 1 of this gospel, who at the beginning had heard John the Baptist testify of Christ, along with Andrew, and he is also the unnamed disciple in chapter 18 of his gospel who was somehow known to the high priest. That is not unreasonable, as John must have been with Christ during the many confrontations which Christ had with the rulers in the temple, many of which only John had recorded. Ostensibly, at that time his young age had allowed him to escape accusation. Elsewhere in his gospel, in chapters 19, 20 and 21 (19:26, 20:2, and 21:7 and 20), he refers to himself in this same manner that he does here. Continuing to speak in reference to himself, he writes:
24 Therefore Simon Petros motions to him to inquire about whom it could be concerning whom He speaks.
The Codex Sinaiticus (א) has verse 24 to read, in part: “… concerning whom He had spoken, and he says to Him: ‘Tell us who it is concerning whom He speaks.’” The Codices Vaticanus (B), Ephraemi Syri (C) and 068 have the verse to read: “Therefore Simon Petros motions to him and says to him ‘Tell us who it is concerning whom He speaks.’” Our text follows the Codices Alexandrinus (A), Washingtonensis (W), the Majority Text, and the Codex Bezae (D) which varies only slightly.
It seems that the disciples had a collective empathy for one another, imagining everyone in the group to be of the same inherent character. So Peter is anxious to know the identity of the betrayer, not being able to comprehend that it was Judas, and beckons to John asking him to find it out. As we have said, where John next passes Peter’s question along to Yahshua, we may discern that John could not have known it either, or John would have answered Peter’s question for himself. This helps to establish that John did not really know that it was Judas who was the betrayer and the devil until this time and after. So in that manner we read:
25 Then he reclining thusly upon [א, D and W have “Therefore he leaning upon”; A “then he leaning upon”; B and C “He reclining thusly upon”; the MT “then he thusly leaning upon”; the text follows P66] the breast of Yahshua says to Him “Prince, who is it?”
For reason of John’s youth it would not have been considered unusual for the apostle to have been “reclining thusly upon the breast of Yahshua”, as a boy may have affection for a fatherly man, and as the early Christian writers inform us, John’s having been an elderly man in Ephesus after the death of Domitian is consistent with the narrative which is presented in the testimony that we have here. For example, if perhaps John is only 16 years old here in 32 AD, he would have been 80 in the year that Domitian had died, in 96 AD. This also helps to explain how John was close to Yahshua throughout His disputes and His trials but was never suspected or arrested. The narrative and the reports in the early Christian writers being consistent in this regard, we are more confident that this unnamed apostle certainly is our John, the writer of both this gospel and the Revelation. All of the facts fit together to make a consistent narrative. Now Peter’s question is answered, although we never learn why Peter did not ask it for himself:
26 [B and C insert “Then”] Yahshua replied [א inserts “and says”; D “to him and says”]: “It is he for whom I shall dip a morsel and give it to him.” [For the response of Christ here, P66, א, A, D, W and the MT all have text which would read similar to “It is he for whom having dipped a morsel I shall give it to him.” The text follows B and C.] Then [P66, A, D, W and the MT have “And”; the text follows א, B and C] having dipped a morsel He [B and C insert “took it and”; the text follows P66, א, A, D, W and the MT] gave it to Ioudas the son of Simon Iskarioth [D has “Simon from Karuotos”; the text follows P66, א, A, B, C, W, 068 and the MT].
It seems that by answering in this manner that at this point Christ did not want to utter the name of Judas. While Luke’s account of the Last Supper is very concise, that of Mark is very similar to Matthew’s account. As we have already cited from chapter 26 of his gospel, as Matthew had described this event, at least some of the apostles were wondering if it were they themselves who would be His betrayer, not understanding that the betrayal was imminent. So while John asked this question of Christ on Peter’s behalf, the others must have overheard both the question and Yahshua’s reply. Therefore Matthew recorded the statement by Yahshua, “… that one of you shall betray Me”, and described the bewilderment of the apostles before recording the answer by Christ where He said that “He that dippeth his hand with me in the dish, the same shall betray me.” What Matthew had described must have been from his own perspective of what had transpired up to this point where John now records, in reference to Judas:
27 And after the morsel then the Adversary entered into him. Therefore Yahshua says to him: “That which you shall do, do quickly!”
As John describes it, the Adversary, or Satan, entered into Judas at this point. But much earlier, as it is recorded in John chapter 6, Christ had called Judas himself a devil, and as the Scripture informs us elsewhere, Satan is a devil, so perhaps it was Judas’ own inherent nature which had taken control of his thoughts and actions, as we had said earlier that “eventually, when confronted with an appropriate situation, it is a man’s intrinsic character which will surface and take control of his actions and determine his fate.”
Satan is not necessarily an evil spirit which seizes men at some point in time for some evil purpose, as this passage is often interpreted. Rather, the fact that the label Satan is used to describe a collective entity is clear in Mark chapter 3 where we read: “ 23 And he called them unto him, and said unto them in parables, How can Satan cast out Satan? 24 And if a kingdom be divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. 25 And if a house be divided against itself, that house cannot stand. 26 And if Satan rise up against himself, and be divided, he cannot stand, but hath an end.” So it is apparent that Satan rises up against himself when the collective enemies of God are divided one against another.
In Luke chapter 22 we read an account of things which transpired shortly before this time, where the apostle wrote: “1 Now the feast of unleavened bread drew nigh, which is called the Passover. 2 And the chief priests and scribes sought how they might kill him; for they feared the people. 3 Then entered Satan into Judas surnamed Iscariot, being of the number of the twelve. 4 And he went his way, and communed with the chief priests and captains, how he might betray him unto them.” In Matthew chapter 26 that event is described a little differently: “14 Then one of the twelve, called Judas Iscariot, went unto the chief priests, 15 And said unto them, What will ye give me, and I will deliver him unto you? And they covenanted with him for thirty pieces of silver. 16 And from that time he sought opportunity to betray him.” Earlier here in John chapter 13, we read “2 And dinner taking place, with the False Accuser [or devil] already putting into the heart of Ioudas the son of Simon Iskarioth that he would betray Him…” and then Yahshua arose to wash the feet of the apostles.
In reference to Luke chapter 22, where we see him describe Satan as having “entered into” Judas, we would assert that this happened when the thought arose in the mind of Judas that he could get money for betraying Christ, since the expensive ointment had been a subject of contention for Judas, and he would rather have sold that in order to steal the money. This John had explained when he later wrote chapter 12 of his gospel, and he said: “4 Then saith one of his disciples, Judas Iscariot, Simon's son, which should betray him, 5 Why was not this ointment sold for three hundred pence, and given to the poor? 6 This he said, not that he cared for the poor; but because he was a thief, and had the bag, and bare what was put therein.” It is also apparent that John could only have known at a much later time that Judas was a thief, just as John only later knew that Judas was a devil, and as John only learns here that Judas would be the betrayer of Christ.
So according to Luke, Satan “entered into” Judas days before these events described here where John had said that Satan “entered into” him. Therefore we would assert that where John wrote that the False Accuser, or devil, had already put it “into the heart of Ioudas… that he would betray Him”, that this was a way of explaining Judas’ intrinsic character. The apostles of Christ did not have that same character, and, as we see here in John chapter 13, they were not yet able to comprehend why Judas may have been different. So it is also evident, that where they appear to have been attributing his actions to an external factor, to Satan, they may have only been attempting to explain why Judas had acted according to what was actually his own inherent nature, which they themselves did not yet understand. While at this time John seemed not to know that it was Judas who was the devil among them which Christ had mentioned much earlier, after all of these things had happened and by the time when he wrote his gospel, John surely did understand that Judas was a devil because he was able to explain it in his parenthetical remarks.
Yahshua Christ had come to “reveal things kept secret from the foundation of the world.” In the Old Testament, there may be some hints that certain people are devils, or that devils are people, such as in the occasion of Job. But many people just as readily perceive that devil to have been some sort of spirit being, which is certainly not necessary in order to understand the story of Job. I would contend that it simply is not true, that devil is also a person, who would appear three times yearly at the tabernacle in the wilderness along with the men of Israel, which is described in the opening chapters of Job. So the Old Testament does not fully reveal the existence of people who were devils, something which is revealed in the Gospel of Christ. So the apostles could not understand how Judas could be a devil, and how Judas could be evil and have these different thoughts, which were contrary to their own thoughts and opposed to Yahshua Christ.
Judas was born a devil, but the fact that devils were born was not revealed until the ministry of Christ. John writes later, in chapter 4 of his first epistle, warning his readers to test, or try, every spirit to see whether they are from God, because not all spirits are from God. John was not speaking of disembodied spirits, but of embodied spirits, of people. So by the time John wrote his epistle, he understood that there were indeed Devil People, people who did not come from God. One cannot understand the entire Bible without understanding the parables and Revelation of Christ in that same manner.
The fact that John did not understand these things as these events had occurred is more clearly elucidated as the record of John continues, and we see that at this time John certainly did not know that Judas was the devil among them, where he wrote:
28 But [B and W want “But”; the text follows P66, א, A, C, D and the MT] not one of those reclining knew for what reason He said this to him.
When he wrote this John must have had himself in mind as well as all of the other disciples, since he could not answer the question which was posed by Peter a short time earlier. Now John records the resulting conjecture of the disciples, as they could not yet understand that Judas was a devil and a traitor in spite of the fact that Yahshua had already indicated to them that Judas would be his betrayer:
29 For [P66 has “But”] some supposed, since Ioudas held the case, that Yahshua tells him: “Buy the things of which we have need for the feast”, or that he should give something to the poor. 30 Therefore having taken the morsel he went out immediately. And it was night.
As a digression, among the ancient Greeks, teachers of philosophy were supported by their students, by those who learned from them, and frequently also by wealthy patrons. Without such patrons, most teachers could not be teachers. Teachers who work for wages in state-certified schools are usually not teachers. Rather, they are public indoctrinators. The fact that the disciples as a group had a common treasury kept in a case, or perhaps in a bag, seems to indicate that many of the disciples and students of Christ had also helped to fund Him and His disciples in that same traditional manner. Obviously, Judas fulfilled the position as treasurer of the group, as John had also described in chapter 12 where he wrote that Judas “had the bag, and bare what was put therein.” How typical it is of a devil, to fulfill the role of treasurer.
At this point it is once again evident that the apostles themselves could not yet have imagined that Judas was evil by his very nature, even in spite of the fact that Christ had told them, as it is recorded in John chapter 6, “Have not I chosen you twelve, and one of you is a devil? ” Judas was not a devil because he betrayed Christ. Rather, Judas betrayed Christ because he was a devil. He was a devil in the first place. But instead, they projected their own values onto Judas, and they all imagined that he was departing from them to do something for their collective good, rather than to do something evil. Only when Judas’ actions were completed, and his fruits had become fully manifest, was his tree made known. For this reason Christ had said “for the tree is known by his fruit”, because He must have been referring to those trees of Eden. Being a devil, Judas was certainly not of the Tree of Life. [It may have been timely that I had presented my paper Identifying the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil immediately before making this presentation.]
We may also assert that it is at this same point where we read in Matthew’s account of the blessing of the bread and wine and the mention of a new covenant: “26 And as they were eating, Jesus took bread, and blessed it, and brake it, and gave it to the disciples, and said, Take, eat; this is my body. 27 And he took the cup, and gave thanks, and gave it to them, saying, Drink ye all of it; 28 For this is my blood of the new testament, which is shed for many for the remission of sins. 29 But I say unto you, I will not drink henceforth of this fruit of the vine, until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father's kingdom. 30 And when they had sung an hymn, they went out into the mount of Olives.” So here it is evident, that Christ had waited for Judas to depart before He blessed the bread and wine, and before He spoke of a new covenant and the Kingdom of God. Therefore Judas, being a devil, did not have the opportunity to share and to hear these things, as he had already departed to do that for which he was destined.
Now, knowing that Judas was on his way to betray Him and what would result from that act, Yahshua makes another exclamation:
31 Then when he [Judas] went out, Yahshua says: “Now the Son of Man is magnified and Yahweh is magnified in Him, 32 and Yahweh magnifies Himself in Him, and magnifies Him immediately.
The Codex Alexandrinus and the Majority Text begin a new sentence with the start of verse 32, and having a different form of one of the pronouns they would read “If God is magnified in Him, then God magnifies Him in Himself, and magnifies Him immediately.” The King James Version follows this reading. The distinction between Him and Himself in our translation of this verse is deduced from multiple uses of the same pronoun, αὐτός. However for the second pronoun in the phrase “Yahweh magnifies Himself in Him”, the Codices Alexandrinus (A), Bezae (D), Washingtonensis (W) and the Majority Text have ἑαυτοῦ, which is more explicitly himself and which would compel us to read “Yahweh magnifies Him in Himself”, which is plausible in any event. Our reading follows the papyrus P66 and the Codices Sinaiticus (א) and Vaticanus (B). The Codex Ephraemi Syri (C) is illegible at this point.
Yahshua Christ would be magnified, or as the King James Version has it, glorified, in His death and subsequent resurrection. In Isaiah chapter 44 we read: “23 Sing, O ye heavens; for the LORD hath done it: shout, ye lower parts of the earth: break forth into singing, ye mountains, O forest, and every tree therein: for the LORD hath redeemed Jacob, and glorified himself in Israel.”
33 Children, shortly still [still, or perhaps yet; א has ‘for a short time still’; the text follows P66, A, B, C, D, W and the MT] I am with you. You shall seek Me, and just as I said to the Judaeans, that [P66, א, D and W want ‘that’] where I go you are not able to come, to you also I speak now [P66 wants ‘now’, moving it to the next sense by inserting another word before it].
Where Christ had been confronted by His adversaries, as it is recorded in John chapter 8, we read: “21 Then said Jesus again unto them, I go my way, and ye shall seek me, and shall die in your sins: whither I go, ye cannot come. 22 Then said the Jews, Will he kill himself? because he saith, Whither I go, ye cannot come. 23 And he said unto them, Ye are from beneath; I am from above: ye are of this world; I am not of this world. 24 I said therefore unto you, that ye shall die in your sins: for if ye believe not that I am he, ye shall die in your sins.” Where Christ said “if ye believe not”, He was not offering them a choice as to whether or not to believe, but instead, He was stating a matter of fact. He also told them, in chapter 10, “26 But ye believe not, because ye are not of my sheep, as I said unto you.” So if they are not His sheep, they cannot believe Him, and they are destined to die in their sins. They cannot avoid that faith regardless of what they believe.
This presents a quandary for Identity Christians, as Christian Identity has been taught these last several decades, that is easily resolvable. It is often said in Christian Identity circles, and even in some Protestant circles, that only the ancient children of Israel could sin, because only they had the law. That is not true. In fact, in Romans chapter 5 Paul of Tarsus said that “For until the law sin was in the world: but sin is not imputed when there is no law.” So we see that while anyone can sin, sin is not imputed where there is no law, only Israel was given the law, and therefore the enemies of Christ would die in their sins, but not necessarily because of their sins. Christ coming to redeem Israel from the law and cleanse them of their sins, as He had promised explicitly, only the children of Israel can live in Him. So the apostle John wrote in chapter 2 of his first epistle: “1 My little children, these things write I unto you, that ye sin not. And if any man sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous….”
So Christ told His adversaries why they could not go to where He would be, which is because they were “of this world” and “from beneath”, indicating that they were not of God and that they were not “born from above” for which reason they would never be able to see the Kingdom of Heaven. While He tells the same thing to His disciples here, once Judas is already gone away, that they could not go where He was going, a few verses after this one He tells them “but you shall follow later” where it is evident that they too were “born from above”.
The Greek word τεκνίον refers more explicitly to a little child, which is the reason for the reading found in the King James Version, “Little children...” This is the first time in the Gospel where it is recorded that Christ addressed His disciples directly as children. The things which Christ had said here and in the three chapters which follow must have made a deep impression upon the young John, since many years later he expounded on them at length using much of the same language in the letter which we know as his first epistle.
34 [P66 inserts ‘But now”] I give to you a new commandment: that you should love one another; just as I [D inserts ‘also’] have loved you that you also should love one another.
For the children of God, altruism can be characteristic, but it is also the one quality which Christ demands of those who would follow Him, besides obedience to the commandments. However altruism is only demanded for one another, for one’s fellow sheep, and the children of God should not extend their altruism to goats. Altruism and empathy are closely related, and empathy is the perceived ability to share the feelings of another. Empathy is the ability to feel the pain of others, to use colloquial language. Before desiring to help someone, which is altruistic, one must imagine that help is needed, which requires empathy. The disciples of Christ thought that they could share the feelings of Judas Iscariot, imagining that he was departing to do them some good. But they did not know that he was a devil, and that his feelings were something quite different than what they had expected, having departed to do them evil. Because they had empathy for him, the devil was able to take advantage of them until the day on which he thought he might find it more profitable to betray them entirely.
Perhaps as many as 60 years later, in chapter 3 of his first epistle, John would write “9 Whosoever is born of God doth not commit sin; for his seed remaineth in him: and he cannot sin, because he is born of God. 10 In this the children of God are manifest, and the children of the devil: whosoever doeth not righteousness is not of God, neither he that loveth not his brother. 11 For this is the message that ye heard from the beginning, that we should love one another.” These statements, as well as much of the balance of the content in that epistle, were all based directly on the testimony of Christ found here in this gospel. So much of the epistle expounds on what John had learned from Yahshua as it is reflected over the record of these few short days. Now he records the conclusion of Yahshua’s statement:
35 By this they shall all know that you are My students, if you would have love for one another [literally ‘among one another’].”
For this same reason, John wrote many years later the part of what he had just cited which says: “For this is the message that ye heard from the beginning, that we should love one another.” In the context of the writing of his first epistle, the phrase “the beginning” must be a reference to the beginning of the spread of the Gospel of Christ.
But the commandment is not actually new, although it may have been new to the disciples and to the Judaeans in general. Originally, it is found only in the priestly law, in Leviticus chapter 19, where we read: “18 Thou shalt not avenge, nor bear any grudge against the children of thy people, but thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself: I am the LORD.” Evidently, the admonition to “love thy neighbor as thyself” did not catch on in the Old Testament period, or perhaps because it is not found in Deuteronomy then it was neglected. Christ had already counted among the commandments the admonition that “Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself” in his discourse with a young man which is recorded in Matthew chapter 19, which occurred at least a few weeks before this time. Of course, the concept of neighbor is defined in that same passage, as one of the “children of thy people”, meaning ones own people. So a goat is never really a neighbor to a sheep.
In this same regard John also wrote in chapter 2 of his first epistle: “7 Brethren, I write no new commandment unto you, but an old commandment which ye had from the beginning. The old commandment is the word which ye have heard from the beginning. 8 Again, a new commandment I write unto you, which thing is true in him and in you: because the darkness is past, and the true light now shineth. 9 He that saith he is in the light, and hateth his brother, is in darkness even until now. 10 He that loveth his brother abideth in the light, and there is none occasion of stumbling in him. 11 But he that hateth his brother is in darkness, and walketh in darkness, and knoweth not whither he goeth, because that darkness hath blinded his eyes.” The true light revealed to us that there are Devil People all around us. So Peter wrote in chapter 5 of his first epistle “8 Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour.” There is no requirement for Christians to love Devil People.
36 Simon Petros says to Him: “Prince, where do You go?” Yahshua replied to him [B and C want “to Him”; the text follows P66, א, A, D, W and the MT]: “Where I go you shall not be able to follow Me now [D has ‘follow with Me just now’], but you shall follow [D and the MT insert ‘Me’] later.”
Here it is evident that the disciples of Christ could not have been “from beneath”, or they would not be able to follow Christ at all. Rather, they too must have been “born from above”, as Christ had explained to Nicodemus near the beginning of His ministry. For that reason, John wrote in his epistle that “Whosoever is born of God doth not commit sin; for his seed remaineth in him: and he cannot sin, because he is born of God.” As Luke informs us in his gospel, Adam is the son of God, and if one’s “seed is in him” and he is of the race of Adam, therefore he is born from above.
Peter will receive the balance of his answer in the discourse which follows, but first he causes a digression:
37 Petros [D has “He”] says to Him “Prince [א wants ‘Prince’], for what reason am I not able to follow You [D and W insert ‘now’] right [C wants ‘right’] now? On behalf of You I shall lay down my life!”
Peter’s expressions were indeed altruistic, according to his inherent character. But he was not able to live up to fulfilling them, and, of course, Yahshua knew that and had immediately expressed it in His reply:
38 Yahshua replies [D has “replied and said to him”; the MT “replied to him”; the text follows P66, א, A, B, C and W ]: “You lay down your life on behalf of Me? Truly, truly I say to you, the cock should [C and D have ‘shall’] not crow [literally ‘sound’ or ‘call’, φωνέω] until when you have denied Me three times!
For this reason Christ had come, as He explained in John chapter 10, in order to lay down His life for the sheep. Surely Peter could not abrogate the purpose of God by laying down his own life for Christ. Once before this, Peter had pretended to do so, as it is recorded in Matthew chapter 16 that “21 From that time forth began Jesus to shew unto his disciples, how that he must go unto Jerusalem, and suffer many things of the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and be raised again the third day. 22 Then Peter took him, and began to rebuke him, saying, Be it far from thee, Lord: this shall not be unto thee. 23 But he turned, and said unto Peter, Get thee behind me, Satan: thou art an offence unto me: for thou savourest not the things that be of God, but those that be of men.” As it is explained in Revelation chapter 12, in the beginning Satan had attempted to abrogate the purpose of God, and Peter being of the mind that he could counter God’s will makes himself an enemy of God, for which he was called satan, although he did not sin past the point of mild correction.
As we have also explained elsewhere, Peter was the most stubborn of the disciples of Christ, and the Gospels and Acts of the apostles contain several examples of that, where Peter had to be shown or told something three times before he realized his error or received correction. But this also seems to be a component of the intrinsic character of the children of Israel in general. In Deuteronomy chapter 9 they were told: “6 Understand therefore, that the LORD thy God giveth thee not this good land to possess it for thy righteousness; for thou art a stiffnecked people.” Again, Yahweh appeals to them, as it is recorded in Deuteronomy chapter 10, “16 Circumcise therefore the foreskin of your heart, and be no more stiffnecked.”
But Peter was especially stiff-necked. As the record shows in Luke chapter 22, three times while watching on as Yahshua Christ was suffering at the hands of the Judaeans in the evening before His crucifixion, later this very same evening, Peter had denied knowing Christ to those around him. Then Luke wrote that “61 And the Lord turned, and looked upon Peter. And Peter remembered the word of the Lord, how he had said unto him, Before the cock crow, thou shalt deny me thrice. 62 And Peter went out, and wept bitterly.”
Then in the final chapter of the gospel of John, after the Resurrection when Christ appeared to his disciples on the shores of the Sea of Galilee as they were fishing, three times Yahshua had asked Peter if he loved Him, and when he answered each time in the affirmative Peter was told by Yahshua to “Feed my sheep.” On the third occasion, Peter was clearly agitated, so Christ had told him “… when you were young, you girt yourself and walked about wherever you wished. But when you should grow old, you shall extend your hand, and another shall gird and bring you where you do not wish.” Perhaps this indicated that Peter would remain stubborn until his final moments.
Later, Peter was shown the vision of the four-cornered sheet while at the home of Simon the Tanner, and he had to be shown that vision three times just to begin to comprehend it. Many years after that, Paul had issues with Peter for his hypocrisy, where he refused to eat with the uncircumcised when Judaeans were present, as it is described in Galatians chapter 2. That would have been contrary to what Peter was shown three times in the vision on the four-cornered sheet. So with the crow of the cock, the vision of the sheet and the command to feed the sheep of Christ, at least three times did Peter have to see or experience something three times, and at least sometimes he still did not not quite comprehend it, or Paul would not have had to criticize him. Perhaps this is why Christ had called Simon the son of Jonah petros, or stone, right from the beginning, as it is attested at John 1:42, as it was inherent in his nature to be stubborn.
There are people – mostly of the Roman Catholic or Eastern Orthodox variety – who cannot stand any criticism of the apostles of Christ. But the fact of the matter is that when they are above criticism, then they are idols, they become as gods, and we should not practice idolatry, nor should we worship elements of the creation of God. The apostles were certainly good men worthy of our respect, but they were men, just like us. They had misguided empathy and misplaced altruism, just like us, and they could be stubborn or, in the case of Thomas, overly skeptical, just like us. It took them time to learn new things, just like us, and sometimes they made mistakes doing so, just like us. When we see the patterns in their behavior and we can recognize their mistakes, then we can learn even more from them that we have learned in their words, and for that they become even more valuable to us.
Here we conclude our commentary on chapter 13 of the gospel of John. When we commence with chapter 14, we will return to Yahshua’s answer to Peter’s question, “Prince, where do You go?”