John 13:33-38. Love one another

13:33    “My children, I will be with you only a little longer. You will look for me, and just as I told the Jews, so I tell you now: Where I am going, you cannot come.

34    “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. 35 By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”

36    Simon Peter asked him, “Lord, where are you going?”

Jesus replied, “Where I am going, you cannot follow now, but you will follow later.”

37    Peter asked, “Lord, why can’t I follow you now? I will lay down my life for you.”

38    Then Jesus answered, “Will you really lay down your life for me? Very truly I tell you, before the rooster crows, you will disown me three times!

Just as Jesus told the crowd in John 7:33-34, and again in 8:21, so now he tells his disciples that where he is going they cannot now follow. It is clear now that Jesus is referring to his own death. Even Peter understands and proclaims himself willing to die for Jesus. But for Jesus, going to the cross means complete abandonment. Destroying death is something that Jesus alone can do and will do alone.

But in leaving, Jesus gives his disciples a new command (v34). What is new about this command? Moses had already commanded Israel to love their neighbour (Lev 19:18), which Jesus echoed and expanded upon in the Sermon on the Mount (Mt 5:43 ff). What is new about Jesus’ command here is the extent and quality of love commanded— that it be as Jesus has loved the Twelve. In the context of Jesus’ imminent departure (v33), Jesus means that his disciples are to love each other to death– without limit. Just as Jesus will serve them in his self-sacrificial death, so they must serve one another (Jn 13:14-15).

So, henceforth, the defining quality and identity of Christ’s disciple is to be Christ-like love. It is to be the hallmark (proof of authenticity) and trademark (unique identifier) of the Christian. Though Jesus himself will be absent, the world will accurately know him through the quality of his disciples love.

Lord Jesus Christ, you have loved me to death, and beyond. Please transform me so that I may love others with the same quality of love so that, without me knowing it, the world might observe such love, and know that it comes from you. Amen.