John 13:34 – A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another.
In John 13, we get a glimpse of the Lord with his disciples in the upper room at the last supper just hours before His arrest and expedited crucifixion. As the time for the Passover drew near, the Lord spent the final hours of His pre-Calvary ministry laying the foundation for the understanding that they would need in order to fulfill their roles as Israel’s shepherds in view of His coming absence. As the events leading up to our selected text transpire, we are given to see that Judas, one of the twelve, is dismissed to the performance of his diabolical task. As he rises from supper, he becomes Satan’s tabernacle and goes out into the night to sell the Son of God into the hands of those wicked men that had heretofore sought opportunity to take Him (Jn. 13:27).
As the events unfold, it becomes clear that the disciples of the Lord do not perceive what Judas had set out to accomplish (Jn. 13:28). Though the Lord had revealed that one of them would betray him, they doubted and questioned amongst themselves who it should be. This was done until finally John, who laid on Jesus’ bosom, was beckoned by Simon Peter to ask Him (Jn. 22-26).
Who is it (Jn. 13:25)? This question underlay all their fears and to John the answer is given, He it is, to whom I shall give a sop, when I have dipped it (Jn. 13:26). As the bread of betrayal passes from the hand of the Lord into that of his own familiar friend, Jesus admonishes him to do quickly that which he purposed (Ps. 41:9; Jn. 13:26-27).
It is at this point that we see the lack of perception that the disciples possessed as to what it was taking place. They supposed that Jesus had instructed Judas to make ready for the feast or give something to poor, and it seems they are mostly oblivious to what Jesus had said only moments previous (Jn. 13:28). It is my present understanding that this is likely due to the fact that Jesus spoke v. 26 to John only. The tone of the Lord’s words may have been in a whisper so that only John could hear as he leaned close to the Lord, and the commotion of the moment may well have drowned out the Lord’s words from the hearing of the larger group. Amid the disruption, the Lord passed the bread and dismissed Judas to his task. As the betrayer departed, Jesus again began to speak to them all, but rather than expound further who should betray Him, He proceeded to shift their focus toward their responsibility one toward another in view of His departure to a place where they could not follow.
Now this prospect undoubtedly shocked them to a degree greater than a potential betrayal. As far as they were concerned, the reason that they have come to Jerusalem was not only to keep the feast, but also to see the Lord take the throne and establish the kingdom that He and they had been preaching for several years. Some among them had recently been in the mount with the Lord and witnessed as He was transfigured before them (Mt. 17:1-13; Mk. 9:1-13; Lk. 9:27-36). Peter especially had understood the significance of what that was about in connection with the glory of the Son of Man establishing His kingdom on earth, and he had expressed that comprehension in a desire to erect three tabernacles for the Lord, Moses and Elijah (Mt. 17:4; Mk. 9:5; Lk. 9:33). In Peter’s mind, what all this rightly signified was the fulfillment of the feasts of tabernacles and the Lord establishing His presence as King in the midst of His people Israel as Jehovah-shammah (Eze. 48:35)!
Furthermore, all the disciples had witnessed the Lord riding into Jerusalem upon the prophesied ass of Zechariah 9:9 less than a week prior, and they beheld the people crying out Hosanna to the Son of David (Matt. 21:15)! Everything they understood about the gospel of the kingdom and prophecy led them to believe that they were now in Jerusalem to see Christ crowned and take to Himself the control of the nation as the Davidic throne was restored again to Israel (Acts 1:6). As those He had ordained to be with Him, they expected to now sit upon those twelve thrones that the Lord had promised and to enter into their roles as the administrators of His government over the twelve tribes of the reconstituted nation (Mt. 19:28).
Needless to say, the farthest thing from their minds was the prospect that Jesus would be going away, especially to some place where they could not follow Him. All of this was shocking, and because of their unbelief with respect to some things Jesus had been saying to them in recent days, this news now was devastating! Sorrow filled their hearts and they could not conceive how Jesus could be going somewhere that they themselves could not follow (Jn. 16:6). All of this was embodied in Peter’s question as he spoke up and gave voice to apostles’ objections: Lord, why cannot I follow thee now? I will lay down my life for thy sake (Jn. 13:37). Peter expects a revolution that will end in the kingdom of heaven being established at this time. He thinks himself ready to lay it all on the line to see it brought to pass and he cannot fathom how the Lord could be going away at such a time.
It is in that context and with that frame of mind living in the apostles that the Lord goes on to say some things to them about where the program stood and where it was headed from that point forward. In view of His coming crucifixion and subsequent absence, He proceeded to give them some final instructions as to what their responsibilities will be while He is away. While all of this will not ‘click’ with them immediately, the coming Spirit would remind them of these things, and they would then understand what Jesus had said with a new clarity about the progression of the program. Afterward they would be given to fully understand how that Israel must go through a day of purging wrath prior to that kingdom’s establishment, and as those chosen apostles that they were, they would fulfill their special ministry as signs and wonders in Israel (Isa. 8:18). With them, the doctrine of the Lord for the remnant had been deposited, and it was they who were charged with feeding Jehovah’s sheep and and the guiding of them through the final installment of the prophetic program.
Now all of that background is given for the purpose of establishing a context, for it is in that setting that the words of the selected text are spoken.
John 13:34 –A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another.
A new commandment Jesus now gives. It seems a bit strange at first that Jesus would describe such a commandment that way. After all, He had spoken much about love in His ministry; and for that matter, the concept could hardly be called a new commandment when the Law of Moses had detailed what loving God and one’s neighbor was to look like in Israel. When the Lord spoke about those matters in His corrective doctrine, those were not new commandments for Israel (Mt. 22:37-40). His teaching of the law caused many in Israel to marvel because it was different than the way the religious leaders had taught it, but those teachings were by no means new commandments for them.
How then can the Lord describe His words as a new commandment? In my understanding the new portion of the commandment is not the command to love, but rather to do so as I have loved you. In view of the prophetic program and where it stood and the fact that He would be going away along with the coming of day of wrath before the kingdom’s establishment, He now must give His apostles a new commandment to take the oversight of the little flock and love His sheep in the same way He had loved them as His chosen apostles.
Now this, of course, begs the question: How had the Lord loved them? I do not think He is talking in general when He says this. To me, it seems that He is referring to something quite specific and something that they themselves would understand. Furthermore, as I read the passage from the standpoint of the larger context, it seems apparent to me that the love wherewith Jesus had loved them is being framed in view of the instructions that He had given them up to this time and now continued to give over the next several chapters of John’s record. Our understanding was alerted to this fact as we were introduced to this section of final instruction in John 13:1.
John 13:1 – Now before the feast of the passover, when Jesus knew that his hour was come that he should depart out of this world unto the Father, having loved his own which were in the world, he loved them unto the end.
What proceeds from this verse is a body of instruction that the Lord gave to His apostles before entering into his hour. What I would suggest, therefore, is that the way Jesus had loved his own which were in the world was by teaching them the doctrine of the Father. His love for them had been expressed in the daily reality of giving them the word of God heretofore, and thereby equipping them to be able to handle what was coming as the program moved forward. He had not left them ignorant and unaware of what was occurring in the Father’s plan, but had taught them the spiritual truths of God’s word that were more necessary to them than daily food (Job 23:12). And even now, at the end as it were, Jesus still loved them and continued to instruct them up until the very moment in which He was taken.
As the Son of God fulfilled His work as it related to this ministry, we are given access to His communion with the Father and are further informed as to the love that He had demonstrated to His chosen.
John 17:4-8 – I have glorified thee on the earth: I have finished the work which thou gavest me to do. And now, O Father, glorify thou me with thine own self with the glory which I had with thee before the world was. I have manifested thy name unto the men which thou gavest me out of the world: thine they were, and thou gavest them me; and they have kept thy word. Now they have known that all things whatsoever thou hast given me are of thee. For I have given unto them the words which thou gavest me; and they have received them, and have known surely that I came out from thee, and they have believed that thou didst send me.
John 17:14-19 – I have given them thy word; and the world hath hated them, because they are not of the world, even as I am not of the world. I pray not that thou shouldest take them out of the world, but that thou shouldest keep them from the evil. They are not of the world, even as I am not of the world. Sanctify them through thy truth: thy word is truth. As thou hast sent me into the world, even so have I also sent them into the world. And for their sakes I sanctify myself, that they also might be sanctified through the truth.
John 17:26 – And I have declared unto them thy name, and will declare it: that the love wherewith thou hast loved me may be in them, and I in them.
Teaching them the word of God is how Christ loved them, and now that He is about to go away, He is leaving them in the world in His stead to care for and minister to the nation until His return as the remainder of the program unfolds. It is therefore that they are to love one another as [He] had loved them. They now are charged with a new commandment, wherein resides the responsibility of giving to the true nation the words that He had deposited with them. The sheep must be fed, and when the Chief Shephard has withdrawn Himself and returned to the Father, it falls these to take up that duty.
John 21:15-17 – So when they had dined, Jesus saith to Simon Peter, Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou me more than these? He saith unto him, Yea, Lord; thou knowest that I love thee. He saith unto him, Feed my lambs. He saith to him again the second time, Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou me? He saith unto him, Yea, Lord; thou knowest that I love thee. He saith unto him, Feed my sheep. He saith unto him the third time, Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou me? Peter was grieved because he said unto him the third time, Lovest thou me? And he said unto him, Lord, thou knowest all things; thou knowest that I love thee. Jesus saith unto him, Feed my sheep.
It is in the communication of God’s truth that love is found. It is not in the warm and fuzzy feelings of the emotions nor in some generic expression of affection, but in the communication of love in the truth (2Jn. 1:1; 3Jn. 1:1). This is how the world would recognize that they were indeed His disciples.
John 13:35 – By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another.
Acts 4:13 – Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were unlearned and ignorant men, they marvelled; and they took knowledge of them, that they had been with Jesus.
Acts 4:29 – And now, Lord, behold their threatenings: and grant unto thy servants, that with all boldness they may speak thy word….
While this commandment certainly falls within a programmatic context concerning true Israel and her apostles, it is nevertheless applicable as a general truth that what God considers true love involves the provision and communication of His word for the life of others. This is shown by means of both the mouth and manner of life that His disciples exemplify in the world. As we, with sound speech, expound the written epistles, and likewise, through conformance to the image of God’s Son, are made a spectacle as living epistles, we thereby love one another as He has loved us. The instruction we receive by His Spirit, while personally important, is for the spiritual profit of others. Well may it be said of the body of Christ also that we have love one to another as demonstrated in the compassion and bowels of mercies that long after one another and desire with great thanksgiving and joy the establishment and perfection of our brethren to the praise of His glory.