Jesus Predicts Peter’s Denial

Posted by admin on 11 January 2015 in John, Uncategorized |

John 13:31–38

This paragraph is considered as the 1st unit of farewell speeches as Jesus’ departure was coming closer.

Verses 31–38 are a kind of summation to the introduction of the Farewell Cycle, which is in four parts: (1) the glorification of Jesus (John 13:31–32), (2) the shortness of the time and the impossibility of following Jesus (John 13:33), (3) the new commandment to the community (John 13:34–35), and (4) the post-Passover possibility of following and Peter’s misunderstanding (John 13: 36–38). [1]

  1. The Glorification of Jesus (John 13:31–32)

As stated in chap. 12, the reader is here once again reminded by the use of “now” that the “hour” for the glorification of the “Son of Man” had arrived (cf. John 12:23). [1]


But beyond the “now” statement, the text continues to expand on the idea of glorification by indicating that “God is glorified in him.” It is probably best understood as “God has revealed his glory in Jesus.”[4] Indeed, if one remembers that Jesus was acting as God’s agent, then it should be clear that in the legal sense God is clearly to be understood to receive the benefit of any action undertaken by his representative on earth. [1]


The expansion of the idea of glorification in v. 32 may on first glance seem to be confusing double-talk. Nevertheless, the significance of the verse is that it presents the obverse side of the coin of v. 31. Not only is God glorified in the process but the Son is glorified in the Father’s glorification, and that glorification is an immediate one. [1]


This glorification does not require the coming of the end of time and the final victory. The glorification idea employed here is directly related to the obedience of the Son in the crucifixion and the subsequent resurrection. To see God’s act of glorification through the tragedy of the death of the Messiah and the victorious resurrection is a crucial aspect of the Gospel presentation. The drama of the divine reversal in history is the message of John and a basic summation thesis that is presented. [1]


  1. The Shortness of Time and the Impossibility of Following Jesus (John 13:33)


Addressing the disciples with the loving diminutive “little children”, used only here in the Gospel, the evangelist in the second place assumes the role of the teacher-parent similar to that of the writer of the First Epistle of John (1 John 2:1, 28; 1 John 3:7, 18; 1 John 4:4; 1 John 5:21) when he was speaking to the Christians. Jewish teachers often addressed their learners with such kind and gentle designations. [1]


The statement that follows the address consists of several parts. First, Jesus tells the disciples that he will be with them only for a “longer.” The shortness of time is thus highlighted here as in John 16:16. Second, the disciples are told here that they like the Jews would seek him and not be able to join him (John 7:34; John 8:21). That statement definitely created perplexity for the hostile Jews in the Festival Cycle as they sought to determine whether Jesus was going to the Diaspora (John 7:35) or going to commit suicide (John 8:22). But in this cycle the idea of Jesus’ departure was equally perplexing for the disciples (John 16:17), even though they do not ultimately remain perplexed. The basic thesis here then is that the disciples had to face realistically that Jesus’ time with them would be short, and that they could not join him in his Passover mission of death. [1]


  1. The Giving of the New Commandment to the Community (John 13:34–35)

In the present verses the focus is upon the community that Jesus will establish as a result of his Passover departure. Its distinctive quality was to be marked by a new commandment. Like the previous summation statements (John 13:31–32), which are related to other parts of John (John 12), this statement is clearly related to verses in the central passage of the farewell (John 15:12–13), where the commandment to love is reasserted. [1]


In the establishment of communities, one of the principle factors of success is the establishing of boundaries for action, which we call laws. These laws are based on community or national covenants, whether stated or unstated. These covenants that lie behind the laws, rules, or commands are absolutely crucial. Understanding underlying covenants is crucial to perceiving the significance of laws or commands. [1]


Thus, to understand the ten so-called commandments of Exodus 20 one must realize that they do not start with v. 3, “no other gods.” The Ten Commandments start with the presupposition of a covenant based on the liberating act of God in bringing the people out of Egypt, the house of bondage, as it is described in v. 2. It is only when one understands the foundational liberating act of God for Israel that one recognizes the responsibility to obey the divine commands. To forget the covenant is to set the commands in a sea of meaninglessness. Rules have to be contextualized to have meaning. [1]


So it is with the new commandment of John 13:34. The commandment to love one another has almost no meaning apart from its contextual presupposition, “I have loved you.” It is like commanding people to have no other gods who have not understood the meaning or accepted the exodus for themselves. Their question, “Why should I obey?” is perfectly legitimate until they recognize that the exodus is a paradigm for them as well. In the same manner, to ask people to love one another is pointless if they have not understood the love of Jesus in his Passover death for them, alluded to in the two previous summary thesis statements. Such love becomes philosophically a nice ideal without any root in reality. You can legislate “no discrimination” in the workplace based on a covenant of mutual respect, but you cannot make people love one another without the acceptance of the covenant foundation of the self-giving love of God for the world. [1]


The acceptance of God’s self-giving love for the people of the world, including each one of us as recipients of that love (John 3:16), and the obedient response in a derivative love enables “all people” (not merely men) to recognize the accepter as a disciple of Jesus (John 13:35). This way of loving one another is not to be interpreted exclusively as my little in-group (as it was by many Jews). Instead, it was to be understood as breathtakingly explosive of old relationships and old patterns of obedience in the way it was pointedly presented in the Sermon on the Mount (cf. Matthew 5–7 and particularly John 5:43–48; cf. also 1 John 4:7–21). These two verses of John (John 13:31-32) thus encapsulate the coming of the new era and the new community. This new community, in fact, epitomized God’s consistent intention in the Old Testament of calling out a people who are to be recognized by their love for God (Deuteronomy 6:4–5) and their love of neighbor (Leviticus 19:18) just as Jesus spelled out his model in the Sermon on the Mount. Likewise, in his first epistle (1 John 3:1–18) John articulated the fact that this new community of believers was expected to love one another (3:11) and not act like the evil Cain (3:12) because God had loved them and accepted them as his children (3:1–2). That thesis is basic to this Gospel. [1]


  1. The Post-Passover Possibility of Following Jesus and Peter’s Misunderstanding (John 13:36–38)


The final summation is played out not in monologue but in a dialogue between Jesus and Peter. This dialogue masterfully knits together several ideas or themes, some of which are not unlike elements in the Synoptic portrayal of Jesus and Peter. [1]

Almost as though he had missed the significance of the establishment of the new community and its mission to the world, Peter here is pictured as returning to the issue of Jesus’ departure (13:33) by his question, “Where are you going?” Jesus’ response repeats the fact that Peter is unable to follow Jesus, but he adds something new. That change did not negate the earlier statement of Jesus to the effect that Peter was not able to join him in his Passover death. Only Jesus could die such a death for the world. [1]


But the change in the statement was here possible because, with the coming of a new community that would follow the example of Jesus, a new element had been introduced in vv. 34–35. The “now” of v. 36, however, reminds one of the “now” of v. 31, which is related to the glorification of Jesus in his death and resurrection. Clearly Peter was not now able to join Jesus in that glorification, but his time would come in the era of the new community (“later”). Jesus’ prediction reminds the reader of the statements in 21:18–19, where Peter’s death as a glorifying of God is also predicted. [1]


Unfortunately Peter misunderstood the implications of Jesus’ words and assumed that the present (“now”) also was his time. In the context of his present safe community Peter forcefully enunciated his loyalty to Jesus by boastfully proclaiming his readiness to “lay down” his life for Jesus. Peter’s statement here is filled with irony [2]. Instead of Peter, however, Jesus was the one who freely (John. 10:18) was prepared in the “now” time to lay down his life for his sheep (John 10:15, 17; 1 John 3:16) just as he laid down his garments in the foot washing for his disciples (John 13:4). [1]


Peter, on the other hand, would in the moment of trauma not lay down his life for Jesus but in fact would deny him three times (John 13:38; John 18:17, 25–27). Jesus’ repetition here in question form of the very words of Peter highlights the irony in Peter’s words and sets the stage not only for the threefold denial of Peter but also for the threefold searing questions posed to Peter in the post-Passover period during the establishing of the community (John 21:15–17). The crowing of the cock later became the electrifying sign that was used to remind Peter of his well-intentioned but mistaken boast. [1]


In this passage (36), Peter’s first question, “Where are you going?” recalls the Latin tradition in the apocryphal Acts of Peter that when Peter was fearful of his forthcoming death and was fleeing Rome, he was met in a vision by Jesus, and Peter asked again, “Quo vadis?” (“Where are you going?”). When Jesus answered that he was going to Rome to be crucified again, Peter realized that he was about to repeat his mistake and in repentance turned back to face his certain death after the pattern of Jesus. [3]


Whether there is any truth in that apocryphal tradition, it is a story that vividly reminds us of this fourth thesis in the summation. Although no one could walk the lonely valley of redemption with Jesus, the disciples of Jesus do have the opportunity to follow their Lord, if they do not mistake their calling. [1]




[1] Borchert, G. L. (2002). John 12–21 (Vol. 25B, pp. 97–98). Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers.

[2] Duke, P. Irony in the Fourth Gospel. Atlanta: John Knox, 1985.

[3] Brown, R., K. Donfried, and J. Reumann, eds. Peter in the New Testament. Minneapolis/New York: Augsburg/Paulist, 1973.

[4]G. B. Caird, “The Glory of God in the Fourth Gospel: An Exercise in Biblical Semantics,” NTS 15 (1968–1969): 265–77.

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