Believing for Betrayal (John 13:21–38)

“I am telling you this now, before it takes place, that when it does take place you may believe that I am he.”

“After saying these things, Jesus was troubled in his spirit, and testified, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, one of you will betray me.'”

—John 13:19, 21

John tells us once more that Jesus was troubled. Why was Jesus troubled? Throughout His earthly ministry, as John presents it, Jesus has seemed so calm, so in control, despite volatile and tangible hostility and misguided zeal. But beginning with Lazarus, we read of Jesus being troubled. “When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in his spirit and greatly troubled” (John 11:33).

I think there were other days of trouble in Jesus’ earthly life, but John is wanting to tell us something profound. As the cross nears, the soul of our Lord is increasingly said to be troubled. “Now is my soul troubled. And what shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’? But for this purpose I have come to this hour” (John 12:27). There, the anguish of soul Jesus speaks of relates to the cross in general and receiving the cup of wrath from the Father’s hands. But here, in John 13, the trouble of soul is much more focused. Jesus is troubled in soul “after saying these things.” He has just spoken of Judas’ betrayal. Also, He is troubled in His spirit and testifies. He testifies of Judas’ betrayal. What Jesus has said and what He will say speaks as to why He is troubled. He has washed the disciples’ feet, but not all of them are clean. Not all are blessed. Not all are chosen. One will lift his heal against Jesus. One will betray Him. And this troubles our Lord, (v. 21).

See and marvel at our Lord’s tender humanity. As God, He, with the Father, eternally willed this betrayal. And yet, as a man, this betrayal stings. It is no strain to see David’s pain as anticipating that of our Lord. “Even my close friend in whom I trusted, who ate my bread, has lifted his heel against me” (Psalm 41:9). We don’t need to take liberal poetic license to see how that song is fulfilled here. Jesus’ sorrows included those of betrayal by a close friend.

In His divine nature, our Lord, is impassible. His joy is indestructible. He isn’t moody. He isn’t moved by outside forces. He moves all. He does all that He pleases. All that He pleases, He does. The incarnate Son reveals something of this to us when He tells the disciples that He was glad that Lazarus was dead and not merely sleeping, (John 11:14–15). Our God doesn’t wring His hands. He has never pulled His hair. He has never sought treatment for anxiety. Because He needs no comfort, He is the comforter, the God of all comfort.

But our Lord Jesus, remaining what He was (God), became what He was not (man)—one person with two natures. In His divine nature, Jesus remains impassible. In His human nature, He was “troubled in his spirit.” He was troubled in spirit, and without sin. He is troubled because one of these disciples, one of these men who He has spent years with, teaching, laughing, praying, rebuking, eating, sharing, and communing—one of these will betray him. One of the twelve. One of those whose feet He has washed. Judas is His close friend. And his betrayal troubles Him.

There are tares among the wheat. There will be apostasy. There will be betrayal. It will be unexpected. It will come from those we trust. It is not for us to figure out ahead of time. It will sting. It will trouble our souls. It will confuse and befuddle. Take comfort. Our Lord knew such pain. He knew the betrayal would come and still it stung. He divinely ordained it, and yet, in His humanity, it troubled Him. But don’t forget that your God works all things together for good. The betrayal of His close friend was for the redemption of His true friends for whom He laid down His life.

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