John 13:18-30. Darkness

John 13:18 “I am not referring to all of you; I know those I have chosen. But this is to fulfil this passage of Scripture: ‘He who shared my bread has turned against me.’ 19 “I am telling you now before it happens, so that when it does happen you will believe that I am who I am. 20 Very truly I tell you, whoever accepts anyone I send accepts me; and whoever accepts me accepts the one who sent me.”

21 After he had said this, Jesus was troubled in spirit and testified, “Very truly I tell you, one of you is going to betray me.”

22 His disciples stared at one another, at a loss to know which of them he meant. 23 One of them, the disciple whom Jesus loved, was reclining next to him. 24 Simon Peter motioned to this disciple and said, “Ask him which one he means.” 25 Leaning back against Jesus, he asked him, “Lord, who is it?”

26 Jesus 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, the son of Simon Iscariot. 27 As soon as Judas took the bread, Satan entered into him. So Jesus told him, “What you are about to do, do quickly.”28 But no one at the meal understood why Jesus said this to him. 29 Since Judas had charge of the money, some thought Jesus was telling him to buy what was needed for the festival, or to give something to the poor. 30 As soon as Judas had taken the bread, he went out. And it was night.

Jesus has just referred to the blessing bestowed upon those who follow his example of sacrificial service. But not all who follow Jesus’ example will be blessed because one of the chosen Twelve will ‘lift up his heel against me’. In this way Jesus’ experience fills out Psalm 41:9 which says,

Even my close friend in whom I trusted, who ate my bread, has lifted his heel against me.

This ‘lifting the heel’ idiom also echoes the serpent’s curse in the Garden of Eden. In response to Adam and Eve’s sin, God tells the serpent that the offspring of Eve will crush his head but he will ‘bite/strike his heel’ (see Gen 3:15). Jesus’ victory over Satan on the cross is introduced by the ‘lifting of the heel’ betrayer.

In verse 19 Jesus is emphatic that he knows in advance all that is about to happen. He is effectively say, “I am telling you that I will betrayed so that you will believe that I am God and that I am the Messiah foretold by the prophet.”

Who among the 12 gathered at this intimate meal could possibly betray Jesus? There was no obvious candidate. All heads did not immediately turn to Judas in suspicion. And so Jesus must be probed for more information by the inner circle. It is then that Judas Iscariot (given his full family name) is identified in advance as the betrayer who ‘lifts his heel’ against Jesus. Jesus confirms this to John by passing him some bread (a typical sign of brotherly affection).

And so in verse 27, ‘With the piece of bread enters into him Satan…’ This rough translation heightens the issue of Judas’ “free will” in the situation. Jesus gives the bread, which is seemingly the sign/sacrament of Satan’s entry into Judas. Before this moment Jesus has already identified him as his betrayer— Satan’s ‘entry’ simply becomes the enabler. Judas was fore-ordained to betray Jesus and yet he freely chose to betray Jesus.

This apparent tension between Judas’ “free will” and God’s foreknowledge soon diminishes when one considers the idea of compatibilism*. The fact that God knew in advance what Judas would choose to do does not diminish Judas’ responsibility for his freely chosen actions. It is entirely logical that God could even will something to happen in advance, and yet a human being experiences no coercion or pressure in the process of choosing to act in accordance with God’s will and foreknowledge.

And so, perhaps still chewing the morsel given him by Jesus, Judas leaves the room and steps out into the darkness. And it was night… indeed.

Great God and Father, I thank you that you are sovereign even when it seems that Evil is prevailing. I praise you that you achieve your will no matter how much Evil seeks to oppose you. I confess that I do not always understand— and perhaps I never will— when events in this world seem all wrong. At very least, I can trust that you have experienced the impact of evil, suffering and death… and still you have won my salvation. Thank you. Amen.

* for further reading on the topic of ‘compabilism’ see D.A.Carson, Divine Sovereignty and Human Responsibility: Biblical Perspective in Tension.