13:1 If it was just before the Passover feast in verse 1, did John intend for the meal of verse 2 to be a different one from the Passover? Probably not. Verse 1 is a small paragraph that functions as a headline over all of chapters 13–17. Verse 2 then describes the very Passover meal that had just been mentioned. Not only did various details match the accounts from the other Gospels that are more clearly based on Passover, but only on that night would anyone have imagined that Judas was leaving to give something for the poor (v. 29). The feast lasted for a week, so he could also have needed to buy more provisions (v. 29).
13:1 Jesus knew certainly that the hour of His Passover sacrifice was at hand. Since “His hour had come” and Jesus loved His own, He carried out that love to its perfect conclusion by (1) His humble service, (2) His teaching, and (3) His death on the cross; He loved them “to the end” or perfectly (telos, Gk.). The word “depart” describes Jesus’ death in terms of a journey, and in a Passover context may indicate that His death was a second and ultimate Exodus, with deliverance from spiritual bondage. His death is not the termination of a life, but an act providing freedom from sin’s captivity. The washing of the disciples’ feet could well emphasize cleansing in relation to redemption.
13:1 he loved them to the end. Great emphasis is placed in chs. 13–17 on Christ’s love. This love is illustrated in the moving scene of the foot-washing in which the Son of God does not disdain performing the most menial tasks of a servant (Phil. 2:7, 8).
13:1 Passover See note on 2:13.
|Israelite Feasts in John’s Gospel
|Passover (3 different years)
|John 2:13, 23; 6:4; 11:55; 12:1; 13:1; 18:28, 39; 19:14
|feast of the Jews
depart This term means to go from one place to another. Jesus prophesied His resurrection and, by extension, His ascension to heaven in 12:27–34.
from this world Jesus’ work continues; His coming suffering and death is not the end, but the beginning. Although He is troubled by His coming death (12:27), He wants His disciples to have confidence in their knowledge that His death does not mark the end of His ministry.
13:1 Jesus’ own are now the Twelve, the representatives of his new messianic community (cf. 1:11). Though Jesus was about to die an agonizing death, he continued to love his disciples. to depart out of this world. In several places John says that Jesus is leaving the world and going to the Father (see 13:3; also 7:33; 16:28; 17:11). Yet in other places Jesus can say that he will always be present with his disciples, even after his ascension into heaven (see 14:23; Matt. 18:20; 28:20; Rev. 3:20). Both are true: Jesus in his human nature is no longer here on earth but has returned to heaven and will come again one day, but in his divine nature Jesus is omnipresent and is with believers “always” (Matt. 28:20).
13:1 to the end. Meaning “to perfection” with perfect love. God loves the world (3:16), and sinners (3:16; Mt 5:44, 45; Tit 3:4) with compassion and common grace, but loves His own with perfect, saving, eternal love.
13:1 — … having loved His own who were in the world, He loved them to the end.
Jesus always finishes what He starts. He never drops someone in midstream or gives up on a person halfway to the finish line. “He who has begun a good work in you will complete it” (Phil. 1:6).
13:1 To the end means either “to the last” or “utterly and completely.” What follows in vv. 1–11 demonstrates Jesus’ complete love. Jesus loved His disciples, even though He knew that one would betray Him, another would deny Him, and all would desert Him for a time.
13:1. The phrase, before the feast of the Passover, refers to the night before Jesus’ crucifixion when Jesus and His disciples ate the Passover meal (v 2). Jesus knew that His hour had come that He should depart from this world to the Father. (Paul similarly spoke of his own impending death as “the time of my departure,” 2 Tim 4:6). When John says that Jesus loved them to the end, he is probably referring to the expressions of His love in washing their feet, teaching them, and praying for them this last night (chaps. 13–17).
13:1 The day before the crucifixion, the Lord Jesus knew that the time had come for Him to die, to rise again, and to go back to heaven. He had loved His own, that is, those who were true believers. He loved them to the end of His earthly ministry, and will continue to love them throughout eternity. But He also loved them to an infinite degree, as He was about to demonstrate.
13:1. Jesus knew that the time had come (cf. 2:4; 7:6, 8, 30; 12:23, 27; 17:1) for Him to leave this world and go to the Father. Jesus’ death and resurrection were now imminent. He had come to die in obedience to the Father’s will. His coming was also an act of love for all mankind (3:16). But He has a special love for His sheep: He loved His own. Then He showed them the full extent of His love. His humble service (13:1–17), His teaching (13:18–17:26), and finally His death (chaps. 18–19) are in view. All three revealed His love.
13:1. Of the three Passovers cited in John, this Feast of the Passover is the only one recorded in the Synoptics. Jesus was fully aware that the time of His death had come (cf. 12:23). His disciples were not. He loved His disciples, even Judas, to the end (telos)—to the cross where He cried, “It is finished” (teleo, 19:30). Up to this point in John, it was said that his hour had not yet come (2:4; 7:30; 8:20). Now it is said that His hour had come, i.e., the time of His death, resurrection, and ascension as described in the words, to depart out of this world to the Father.
13:1. We have talked often about key words in John’s Gospel. The thirteenth chapter opens with three of them appearing in the first verse. The time had come, and Jesus would soon leave this world. The word kosmos appears 185 times in the New Testament; 8 times in Matthew; 3 times in Mark, 3 in Luke; but 78 in the Gospel of John. And if we add John’s epistles and Revelation, 105 of the 185 New Testament uses come from John’s pen. The other two key words are time and love. We take our title from the latter part of this verse where full extent translates the Greek word eistelos that means “to the limit.”
Some interpreters have noted a change in John’s vocabulary beginning with this chapter. The life and light words that dominated the first half of the Gospel appear in some form a total of 82 times in chapters 1 through 12. But in chapters 13 to 17, life words occur only six times and light words not at all. The key word for the next five chapters will be agape (love).
13:1 “before the Feast of the Passover” John and the Synoptic Gospels disagree over whether this was the day before the Passover meal or the Passover meal itself. They both put the meal on Thursday and the crucifixion on Friday (cf. 19:31; Mark 15:43; Luke 23:54). This Passover meal commemorated Israel’s release from Egypt (cf. Exod. 12). John asserts that it was the day before the regular Passover meal (cf. 18:28; 19:14, 31, 42).
© “having loved His own who were in the world” John uses the term world (kosmos) in several different senses: (1) this planet (cf. 1:10; 11:9; 16:21; 17:5, 11, 24; 21:25); (2) human kind (cf. 3:16; 7:4; 11:27; 12:19; 14:22; 18:20, 37; and (3) rebellious mankind (cf. 1:10, 29; 3:16–21; 4:42; 6:33; 7:7; 9:39; 12:31; 15:18; 17:25).
© “Jesus knowing that His hour had come that He would depart out of this world” This is a PERFECT ACTIVE PARTICIPLE (like v. 3). Jesus understood His unique relationship to the Father at least from the age of twelve (Luke 2:41–51). The coming of the Greeks in 12:20ff shows Jesus that His hour of death and glorification had come (cf. 2:4; 12:23, 27; 17:1).
The gospel of John continues to emphasize a vertical dualism, above vs. below (cf. v. 3). Jesus was sent (cf. 8:42) by the Father and now He will return. The Synoptic Gospels portray Jesus as teaching a horizontal dualism of the two Jewish ages, the already and not yet tension of the Kingdom of God.
There are many questions about the Gospels that modern readers must address, but when all is said and done these sacred writings reveal a consistent biblical world-view: (1) there is one holy God; (2) His special creation, mankind, has fallen into sin and rebellion; (3) God has sent an incarnate Redeemer; (4) mankind must respond by faith, repentance, obedience, and perseverance; (5) there is a personal force of evil in opposition to God and His will; and (6) all conscious creation will give an account of their lives to God.
© “having loved His own” This Greek phrase was used in the Egyptian papyri for “near kin” (cf. Luke 8:19–21).
© “He loved them to the end” This is the Greek word “telos,” which means an accomplished purpose. This refers to Jesus’ work of redemption for humanity on the cross. A form of this same word was Jesus’ last word from the cross (cf. 19:30), “It is finished,” which we learn from the Egyptian papyri had the connotation of “paid in full”!
13:1. Now Jesus, knowing (already) before the feast of the Passover that his hour to depart out of this world (and to go) to the Father had arrived, having loved his own in the world, loved them to the uttermost.
The fact that he was now about to depart out of this realm of mankind (for the meaning of κόσμος see Vol. I, p. 79, footnote ; here in 13:1 meaning 2 seems probable), and that he was about to go home, that is, to go back to the Father (see also on 5:24; 8:23; 14:12, 28; 16:10, 28; and 17:5) did not suddenly dawn upon Jesus. Even in his human nature (see Vol. I, p. 191) he had known it long before this feast of Passover of the year 30 a.d. It was in the full and reassuring knowledge of this fact that he approached the momentous events of Passover-week. On Christ’s foreknowledge see also 2:4; 7:6; 12:23; 13:11, 18; 18:4; 19:28.
Hence, he who all along had loved his own disciples (his own not merely in the sense of 1:11, but in the full and comprehensive sense of 17:6, 9, 11, 20) considered this to be the appropriate time for the manifestation of his love to the uttermost (εἰς τέλος, probably as in 1 Thess. 2:16). In all that follows—that is, in the feet-washing, farewell address, highpriestly prayer, crucifixion, etc.—that love-motive is operating. For the meaning of the term the feast of the Passover, see Vol. I, pp. 121, 122; and see on 13:29.
That briefly is the meaning of 13:1, as we see it, in the light of its own context. Our translation of this verse indicates that we take the phrase before the feast of the Passover to modify the nearest verbal form, which in this case is the participle knowing. That would seem to be the most natural. We admit, however, that it is grammatically possible to construe this phrase with the main verb he loved. If this is interpreted to mean that at the very beginning of Passover-week Jesus exhibited his love most gloriously (by means of the feet-washing), the resulting explanation is not far removed from ours. Hint: those readers of this book who are not interested in the discussion of critical problems are advised to proceed at once to verses 2, 3, 4.
1. At the beginning of the Last Supper Jesus washed his disciples’ feet. Setting the scene for the foot-washing, the evangelist says, It was just before the Passover Festival. The foot-washing took place as the meal was being served (13:2). To bring out the significance of this moment, the evangelist adds, Jesus knew that the hour had come for him to leave this world and go to the Father. The theme of Jesus’ hour has been to the fore throughout the Gospel. In the earlier part, we are told that things did not happen because his hour had not yet come (2:4; 7:30; 8:20). In 12:23 and in the latter part (12:27; 13:1; 16:32; 17:1), we learn that the hour had come. The hour is the hour of Jesus’ departure from this world to return to the Father through his death, resurrection and exaltation. In full awareness of these things Jesus carried out the foot-washing.
There was more on Jesus’ mind than this when he washed his disciples’ feet: Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end. Jesus’ love was expressed not only in performing the menial service of foot-washing, but also in what that act symbolized: his humiliating death upon the cross by which spiritual cleansing would be made possible (this becomes clear as the story unfolds). Referring to Jesus’ disciples as his own, the evangelist picks up Jesus’ references to his ‘own’ sheep who hear his voice (10:3, 4). The disciples are described as in the world, even though they are not ‘of the world’ (cf. 17:11, 14).
The evangelist’s statement that Jesus loved them to the end can be construed in two ways: (1) adverbially, meaning ‘to the uttermost’—that is, showing the full extent of his love; (2) temporally, meaning ‘to the end of his life’—that is, Jesus’ love for his disciples did not fail: it persisted to the last moments of his life. Perhaps there is intended ambiguity here, for Jesus’ action did reflect the full extent of his love, a love that persisted until the end of his life.
1. Of the Passover much hath been already noticed in this Commentary on Matt. 26:1, 2 and Mark 14:1, 2. to which I refer. I beg the Reader to remark with me, what is here said of the unalterable love of Jesus to his own. And I beg the Reader to attend to the sense of the words, his own. The words differ very widely from the same words, his own. John 1:11. For though they appear to an English Reader as one and the same, yet they are not so in the original. By his own, as it is rendered, John 1:11 is meant his own nation, the Jews. But here in this place, by his own is meant, his own Church, his own people, his own children, whom his Father gave to him before the foundation of the world. Ephes. 1:4. And the original words in the two passages make all this difference. The former means such as we are used to say of a person in relation to his own place of birth, it is his own country, his own town or people there dwelling. But the latter carries with it an idea of relationship and property, such as we should say of a man’s wife or children, yea, his own flesh. So that the one implies no more, than that Christ and the nation to which he came, were countrymen. The other bespeaks his own house and family, his spouse the Church. Reader! do not fail to mark the vast difference, wherever you meet it. And never forget also, that Christ’s love to his own is an everlasting love, or as the words themselves express, to the end; which end is eternity, unchangeable like Christ himself, the same yesterday, and to day, and for ever, Heb. 13:8. Isaiah 54:10.
13:1 / Just before (or simply before). The vague expression makes it impossible to extract an exact chronology of Passion week from John’s Gospel. All that is clear is that this is not the Passover meal (cf. 19:14).
His own who were in the world: There are echoes here of the prologue: “He was in the world … the world did not recognize him. He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. Yet to all who received him …” (1:10–12). In the present passage, the “some” who received him are identified as his own, for now they have displaced “his own” who rejected him. Still Jews, they belong to the new Israel that Jesus began almost immediately to gather around himself (cf. 1:31, 47–51; 2:11). The statement that they are in the world is not as redundant as it may sound to the casual reader, but hints at the fact that they will have a mission to the world after Jesus’ departure (cf. 17:11).
He now showed them the full extent of his love. Some translations tend to connect this statement with the footwashing in particular (e.g., niv; BDF par. 207: “he gave them the perfect love-token”), but it is more likely that the phrase, the full extent (Gr.: eis telos) has a temporal as well as a qualitative sense, and that the statement points beyond the footwashing to what the footwashing itself represents, Jesus’ death on the cross.
Love to the End
Now before the Feast of the Passover, when Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart out of this world to the Father, having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end. (John 13:1)
John 13:1 stands at the very center of the teaching of John’s Gospel. Not only does it begin the second half of the Gospel, but it looks both backward to what John has written and forward to what is yet to come. John’s key statement is that “having loved his own who were in the world, [Jesus] loved them to the end.”
For many Christians, the Gospel of John is the spiritual high point of the entire Bible, which is why John is often recommended as a first book to read for those new to Scripture. Within John, the chapters that present Jesus’ final teaching to his disciples, his arrest, and his crucifixion are especially precious to believers’ hearts. F. W. Krummacher describes the events of the second half of John in terms of the Israelites’ entry into the temple sanctuary. First, there is the outer court, which describes Jesus’ Last Supper teaching to the disciples; then comes the Holy Place, the outer room with its sacred objects, which Krummacher compares to the account of Jesus’ arrest and trial; and finally we enter the Most Holy Place, the inner sanctum where God’s glory dwelt, which he compares to John’s account of the crucifixion of Jesus.
The first section of John’s Book of the Passion presents material found nowhere else in the New Testament. It is now the night of the Passover Feast, at which Jesus would celebrate his Last Supper with the disciples. This momentous evening, the eve of the cross, is unfolded in John chapters 13–17. Chapter 13 relates Jesus’ symbolic act of washing the disciples’ feet. It is followed by a lengthy instruction dealing with Jesus’ coming departure and God’s provision in his absence, from the end of chapter 13 through chapter 16. Chapter 17 concludes the section with Jesus’ High Priestly Prayer, in which he commits his disciples into the care of the heavenly Father. In all these events, Jesus was motivated by the knowledge “that his hour had come to depart out of this world to the Father” (John 13:1). Of this matchless material, James Montgomery Boice writes:
Nowhere in the entire Bible does the child of God feel that he is walking on more holy ground. For here, more than in many other portions of Scripture, he hears the voice of Jesus leading him into a greater understanding of his new place before the Father and consequently also of his new position in the world. These chapters contain teaching about heaven, the new commandment, the person and work of the Holy Spirit, the mutual union of Christ with the disciples and the disciples with Christ, and prayer.
Christ’s Particular Love for His Own
One reason that these chapters are precious to believers is that they highlight Jesus’ particular love for “his own.” This touches on a truth emphasized throughout John’s Gospel, that there is a people set apart by God the Father for his Son and that these elect people are the objects of a special and saving love. Not that Christ loved only his own. Christ’s love for the whole world is strikingly revealed in John. But there is a difference between Christ’s love for the world and his love for his own, just as there is a difference in a man’s love for his bride compared to his love for others. Boice explains this difference: “God has done some things for all men … [but] on the other hand, God has done all things for some men.” It is Christ’s all-saving love for those who are “his own” that is the concern of these chapters.
How did believers come to be Christ’s own? The first answer is that Christ chose them. Jesus says in John 15:16, “You did not choose me, but I chose you.” Charles Spurgeon comments: “A man may surely choose his own wife, and Christ chose his own spouse, he chose his own church; and while the Scripture stands, that doctrine can never be eradicated from it.” Having chosen us in his gracious love, Jesus made us his own by purchase, redeeming us from our sins through the blood of his cross. Therefore, Paul writes to believers: “You are not your own, for you were bought with a price” (1 Cor. 6:19–20).
A second answer is that believers are Christ’s own because we were given to him by the heavenly Father. Jesus said: “All that the Father gives me will come to me.… And this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day” (John 6:37, 39). This presents the biblical doctrine of election, which states that in eternity past God predestined particular people to be joined to his Son for their salvation and his glory. Paul writes that God “chose us in [Christ] before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him” (Eph. 1:4). Therefore, Jesus prays in his High Priestly Prayer: “Yours they were, and you gave them to me” (John 17:6).
The first and second reasons why Christians are “Christ’s own” center on God the Son and God the Father. It makes sense that the third reason focuses on God the Spirit. We are Christ’s own because we were born again as children of God through the Holy Spirit. The effect of this is that we have taken Christ for our own and given ourselves to him, so that for us life holds no more glittering crown than to be called “Christ’s own.” Spurgeon exults:
The fact that you are truly Christ’s is the fountain of innumerable pleasures and blessings to your heart. Jesus calls us “his own”—his own sheep, his own disciples, his own friends, his own brethren, the members of his body. What a title for us to wear, “His own”!… Thus he distinguishes us from the rest of mankind, and sets us apart unto himself. “My name shall be named on them,” says he[;] … surely, this is the highest honour that can be put upon us even in the last great day.
Knowing that we are Christ’s own is even more glorious when we realize how great is the love of Christ for his own. This is the theme of these chapters: “having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end.”
The love of Christ for us is mirrored in the love he showed to his first disciples, despite their great unworthiness. Consider these men whom Christ loved! How often they had been foolish, wayward, and unbelieving! All this would be especially revealed in the hour of the cross. Yet, observes J. C. Ryle, “knowing perfectly well that they were about to forsake Him shamefully in a very few hours, in full view of their approaching display of weakness and infirmity, our blessed Master did not cease to have loving thoughts of His disciples.” This tells us that we can look to the love of Christ despite our failures and sins. However we might fall short of our calling, believers are still Christ’s own and enjoy his unfailing love. How this ought to motivate us to please him in the manner of our lives.
Moreover, if there were ever a time when we might excuse Jesus for turning his thoughts away from his disciples and turning inward to his own problems, this would be such a time. Spurgeon writes: “If you and I had to bear all that Christ had to suffer, it would engross our thoughts, we should not be able to think of anything else but that; but it did not engross our Lord’s thoughts. He still thought of ‘his own.’ ”
What is closest to one’s heart is usually made apparent in the hour of his death. Some are preoccupied with their business affairs, so there is a rush to get affairs settled before dying. Some reveal their love for family, and others for the fleeting pleasures of life. Likewise, Jesus revealed what is closest to his heart as his cross came near. It was his love for his own that dominated his thoughts and feelings, and “having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end.” Does this not prove that there is no greater blessing than to be called one of Christ’s own? While Christ has chosen his own, it is equally true that anyone who takes him for Lord and Savior is one of those chosen. If you will yield your faith to Jesus, then you may know the incomparable blessing of being loved as one of his own.
Having Loved Them
I said that John 13:1 stands at the very center of John’s Gospel. His key phrase, “having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end,” looks both backward and forward on Jesus’ love. What, then, do we see if we look backward from the cross on the love of Christ? How has he “loved his own”?
This quest will take us all the way back to the creation of the world. John’s Gospel began with a statement of Christ’s deity that deliberately reflected the creation account in Genesis 1. John wrote: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made” (John 1:1–3). Therefore, when Genesis 1 recounts that “God said, ‘Let us make man in our image’ ” (Gen. 1:26), Christ was that Word by which man came into being. We were made as spiritual beings capable of fellowship with our Creator and called to reflect his glory in the world. Boice writes: “He created us, not to a meaningless existence but to an existence that is the highest existence possible for any created object, namely, communion with the One who created it.” This is the fundamental dignity stamped onto every human soul, the result of Christ’s love for us in creation.
Following with John’s prologue, we see that Christ loved us in his incarnation. John writes, “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14). It was for love that Christ left the glories of heaven for the miseries of earth. And it was a mark of his love that he was born not in a palace amid jewels and gold, but in the poverty of a stable in the midst of the world in need. Krummacher writes: “He associated with sinners, that He might bear them eternally on His heart.”
The particular love of Christ for his own was seen in the calling of his disciples. They came at his invitation: “Come and you will see” (John 1:39). Matthew, the tax collector, was sitting in his sin when Jesus approached and called, “Follow me” (Matt. 9:9). Peter, James, and John were tending their nets when Jesus promised them: “From now on you will be catching men” (Luke 5:10). Every Christian can look to the same love that called him or her to faith with effectual grace. Jesus called us not because of what we can give to him but because of what he can do for us and what he can make of us. “You were called to freedom, brothers,” wrote Paul (Gal. 5:13): freedom from worldliness, misery, bondage, and sin. We were called to “the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints” (Eph. 1:18), all by the love of Christ for his own.
Furthermore, Jesus loved his own by teaching and leading them during the three years of their discipleship. The Twelve could never have imagined the things they would hear from the loving lips of Jesus. How often had he called them aside for a special word of truth, or patiently borne with their questions and objections. “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples,” Jesus told them, “and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free” (John 8:31–32). Likewise, Christians are taught the Word of truth in the Scriptures by the ministry of Christ through his Spirit.
Had the disciples been told at the start the dangers and threats they would face in Jesus’ company, they would have probably fled in terror. But Jesus guided them through all these trials. Ever the Good Shepherd, he constantly brought them beside still waters, restored their burdened souls, and led them in paths of righteousness (Ps. 23:2–3). All for love! Every Christian can look back on the life of faith, with many joys and trials, and say of that same love: “The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want” (23:1).
How Jesus Loved to the End
But now John turns to the future, and the immediate future facing Jesus and his disciples was as dark as could be. What would become of Christ’s own in this dreadful hour? What provision would there be for them in light of the cross? John answers, “Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end.”
The expression “to the end” (Greek eis telos) can be taken in a number of ways. It can mean that Jesus loved them perfectly or thoroughly, and that is certainly true, for Jesus was about to show the disciples the full extent of his love. But probably the best way to take this is by its temporal meaning. Jesus did not just love them up to this point, but kept on loving them to the end.
First, Jesus loved his own to the end of his own life. Undoubtedly, this was John’s major point of view, since this passage takes place in the shadow of the cross. If love for his own required Jesus to die for their sins, then he loved them to that end; the cross was indeed the fullest extent of his love. “Greater love has no one than this,” Jesus explained, “that someone lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13). Krummacher comments:
O how He loved them, when He took their sins with Him into judgment, and cast Himself into the fire which their transgressions had kindled! How He loved them, when His own blood did not seem to Him too dear a price to be paid for them, although it was they who were the transgressors; He loved them to the end; and to this day He loves them that are His in a similar manner!
What should the love of Christ on the cross mean to us? An analogy is presented in the movie Saving Private Ryan. It tells of a rescue operation after the Allied invasion of Normandy in June 1944. The War Department has learned that three out of four boys in a family named Ryan died in battle on the same day. So the Army’s top general orders that the fourth son be rescued from behind German lines, where he parachuted. An elite squad of Army Rangers is assigned to find Private James Ryan. Their search leads to a bridge where German tanks are attacking, and the squad is destroyed as their quest finally succeeds. As the captain who saved him lies dying on the bridge, surrounded by the bodies of the men from his squad, he draws Ryan close and gasps, “Earn this. Earn it.” The movie concludes with Ryan, as an old man, walking across a field of crosses, marking the graves of men who died for him. Falling to his knees at Captain Miller’s grave, he says to the white plaster cross, “Every day I think about what you said to me that day on the bridge. I’ve tried to live my life the best I could. I hope that was enough. I hope that at least in your eyes, I earned what all of you have done for me.”
Of course, none of us could ever earn the death of God’s own Son for our sins. Our forgiveness in Christ’s blood is a free gift, received not by works but by simple faith alone. Yet it ought to open up a fountain of gratitude and love in our hearts. Every believer should turn to Christ’s wooden cross and pray, “If you, with all your glory, died for me, I can live for you today.” We are called to live for him because he loved us to the end that was his cross, because he died for us.
But this expression “he loved them to the end” can be taken a second way. Jesus loved his disciples not only to the end of his life but also to the end of their lives. The striking of the Shepherd on the cross would scatter the sheep; the disciples would cower in fear, Peter even denying Christ three times on the night of his arrest. Yet far more would be demanded of them in years to come. They would be persecuted, afflicted, tempted, and tried as they served their Master in the world. How could they even hope to endure, much less to conquer in faith? The answer is that the risen and ascended Christ would continue in his love to the end of their lives.
This is why the chapters to come focus heavily on the ministry of the Holy Spirit, whom Christ would send to his own from heaven after his own departure. Indeed, Jesus himself would continue to disciple them—teaching, guiding, disciplining, and strengthening his own—through the ministry of the Spirit. And from his throne of authority and power in heaven, Jesus would intercede for his own with the Father. In John 17, Jesus prayed:
I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, keep them in your name, which you have given me.… While I was with them, I kept them in your name, which you have given me. I have guarded them, and not one of them has been lost.… But now I am coming to you, and these things I speak in the world, that they may have my joy fulfilled in themselves.… I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one.… Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. (John 17:11–17)
Note the key expression “in the world.” “The world” is mentioned eighteen times in Jesus’ prayer. The same expression, “in the world,” occurs in John 13:1: “having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end.” Jesus knows that he has left us “in the world,” that is, in the midst of sin, darkness, misery, temptation, and affliction. Spurgeon writes: “The church of God … is nothing but a camp in the midst of heathendom.” In this world we will suffer losses and bear crosses. Like Lot living in Sodom and the Israelites journeying through the barren desert, without the love of our Lord we would never make it through. But Jesus knows where we are—he knows what temptations bring us down, what doubts beset us, what furnaces try our faith—and he loves us to the very end of our lives, providing all that we need to continue unto salvation. He not only grants us the great privilege of prayer, but prays with and for us, sending the Spirit to help us in our weakness.
That leads us to a third and final way to understand Jesus’ love “to the end.” He loves us to the very end of history, all the way to our eternity in glory. In Hebrew, the expression “to the end” means “forever.” And Jesus’ love for us abides forever. When this world has passed away, when God’s enemies have been judged, and when the cosmos is renewed in the glory of the final reign of Christ, his love for his own will not have changed. Therefore, Paul could extol:
Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword?… I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Rom. 8:35–39)
What an encouragement this is for us to rely on Jesus’ love now. Do you turn to Jesus’ love with your joys and sorrows, with your wants and your needs? He who loved you to his own end on the cross has promised to love you to the very end. Do you realize that being saved by Christ means far more than going to heaven in the end—all-important though that is—that it also means that his love is resting on you all through this present life? If you do not realize this, then it is no wonder that you struggle with spiritual weakness, that you feel dry and distant from the Lord, or that you fear to return to Christ when you falter or fall into sin. Yet his nail-scarred hands are held out to you even now, marked with eternal emblems of a sin-conquering love. More fundamental than our faith in Jesus and our will to live in obedience to him is the unchanging, unending, unfailing love of Christ for his own. No one is more devoted to your good, more sympathetic to your plight, or more interested in your heart than Jesus Christ, who loves his own to the end. Every one of his own should therefore daily sing:
Jesus, lover of my soul,
Let me to thy bosom fly.
Love Worth Having
The final words in our reflection on this glorious verse should therefore be directed to those who have not yet known the love of Jesus for his own. If Jesus loves like this, and if in his divine power and unending life he will always love his own to the very end, how can you afford not to receive this great and saving love? Can even parents or spouses, can children or friends, offer you a love that will save your soul and endure forever, to the very end of all things? Do you know a love that gladly accepts death in your place? Do you have a love that will even bear your sins before God, so that you may stand spotless in his holy presence, a love that will win you through to an eternity in heaven? In the end, without the love of Christ, you will be lost. But the day of God’s grace is still present, and today should be the day of your salvation through faith in the love of Jesus Christ. Then you will discover how much he has loved you, and how faithfully he will love you as one of his very own, to the very end.
The Sublime Riches of Christ’s Love
Now before the Feast of the Passover, Jesus knowing that His hour had come that He would depart out of this world to the Father, having loved His own who were in the world, He loved them to the end. (13:1)
The Feast of the Passover was the annual Jewish festival commemorating God’s deliverance of Israel from bondage in Egypt. The name derived from the angel of death’s passing over the houses of the Hebrews when he killed the firstborn of the Egyptians (Ex. 12:7, 12–13). This Passover would be the last divinely authorized one. From this point on there would be a new memorial—not one recalling the lambs’ blood on the doorposts but the blood of the Lamb of God (1:29, 36; Rev. 5:6; 6:9; 7:10, 17; 14:4, 10; 15:3; 19:9; 22:1, 3) “poured out for many for forgiveness of sins” (Matt. 26:28). The Last Supper celebrated by the Lord with His disciples gave Him opportunity to use the elements of the Passover meal to form a transition from the old covenant Passover to the new covenant Lord’s Supper (1 Cor. 11:23–26).
An apparent discrepancy exists at this point between John’s chronology and that of the Synoptic Gospels. The latter clearly state that the Last Supper was a Passover meal (Matt. 26:17–19; Mark 14:12–16; Luke 22:7–15). John 18:28, however, records that the Jewish leaders “led Jesus from Caiaphas into the Praetorium, and it was early [Friday morning; the day of the crucifixion]; and they themselves did not enter into the Praetorium so that they would not be defiled, but might eat the Passover.” Further, according to John 19:14 Jesus’ trial and crucifixion took place on “the day of preparation for the Passover,” not the day after the eating of the Passover meal. Thus the Lord was crucified at the same time that the Passover lambs were being killed (cf. 19:36; Ex. 12:46; Num. 9:12). The challenge, then, is to explain how Jesus and the disciples could have eaten the Passover meal on Thursday evening if the Jewish leaders had not yet eaten it on Friday morning.
The answer lies in understanding that the Jews had two different methods of reckoning days. Ancient Jewish sources suggest that Jews from the northern part of Israel (including Galilee, where Jesus and most of the Twelve were from) counted days from sunrise to sunrise. Most of the Pharisees apparently also used that method. On the other hand, the Jews in the southern region of Israel counted days from sunset to sunset. That would include the Sadducees (who of necessity lived in the vicinity of Jerusalem because of their connection with the temple). Though no doubt confusing at times, that dual method of reckoning days would have had practical benefits at Passover, allowing the feast to be celebrated on two consecutive days. That would have eased the crowded conditions in Jerusalem, especially in the temple, where all the lambs would not have had to be killed on the same day.
Thus, there is no contradiction between John and the Synoptics. Being Galileans, Jesus and the Twelve would have viewed Passover day as running from sunrise on Thursday to sunrise on Friday. They would have eaten their Passover meal on Thursday evening. The Jewish leaders (the Sadducees), however, would have viewed it as beginning at sunset on Thursday and ending at sunset on Friday. They would have eaten their Passover meal on Friday evening. (For a further discussion of this issue, see Harold W. Hoehner, Chronological Aspects of the Life of Christ [Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1977], 74–90; Robert L. Thomas and Stanley N. Gundry, A Harmony of the Gospels [Chicago: Moody, 1979], 321–22).
John repeated Jesus’ declaration that His hour had come (12:23); no longer was it future as in 2:4; 7:30; and 8:20 (cf. 7:6, 8). The Lord knew that the time had come for Him to depart out of this world to the Father. He was in full control of everything that was happening, and was never a victim of circumstances, or of men’s evil schemes.
Though He yearned to return to His full glory in the Father’s presence (cf. 17:5), Jesus never wavered in His focus on loving His own (cf. 10:29) who were in the world. The Lord loved them to the end. Telos (end) means “perfection,” or “completeness,” and signifies that Jesus loves His own with the fullest measure of love. There is a general sense in which God loves the world (John 3:16) of lost sinners (Matt. 5:44–45; Titus 3:4), but He loves His own with a perfect, eternal, redeeming love—a love “which surpasses knowledge” (Eph. 3:19). The words of the hymn writer capture the Lord’s marvelous love for believers:
Loved with everlasting love,
Led by grace that love to know;
Gracious Spirit from above,
Thou hast taught me it is so!
O, this full and perfect peace!
O, this transport all divine!
In a love which cannot cease,
I am His, and He is mine.
In Romans 8:35–39 Paul exulted,
Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? Just as it is written, “For Your sake we are being put to death all day long; we were considered as sheep to be slaughtered.” But in all these things we overwhelmingly conquer through Him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Even the imminent arrival of His own death could not separate His disciples from His love. That reality becomes even more wonderfully clear in His prayer in the seventeenth chapter.
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