Strife Among the Disciples: The Gospel Accounts: A Chronological Harmony

Strife Among the Disciples

Example of Service (John 13:1-20)

            John clearly states that the Passover meal which Jesus and his disciples had partook of occurred before the Feast of the Passover had began. The event here occurred during the supper, which matches the Greek. Some translations state that it was after the supper, but this is clearly not true as they were still eating (John 13:26). Whether it occurred before or after the Lord’s supper is hard to determine since John doesn’t record when the Lord’s supper occurred during the meal.

            Jesus, knowing that the end had come, desired to share these last hours with his disciples whom he loved. He knew that he came from heaven and would be returning there. He also knew all had been given to him by the Father; yet, he wanted to demonstrate to his disciples that even he wasn’t above serving others (Philippians 2:5-11). It is important to understand that in this demonstration that even Judas Iscariot was present and that he had already decided to betray Jesus – and Jesus knew this. The Greek literally states that Satan had threw the idea into Judas’ heart much as one would throw a dart (Ephesians 6:16). The idea is that Satan had tempted Judas with the betrayal and the idea stuck.

            It is a custom in this region for guests of a host to have the dust of roads washed from one’s feet. Either water was provided so a person could do it himself (Genesis 18:4; 19:2; 24:32; 43:24). Sometimes a slave performs the task and it was considered the lowest of jobs (I Samuel 25:41). It is strongly possible that this common task was not performed at the start of the Passover meal; perhaps because the disciples were too focused on their own position (Luke 22:24).

            But Jesus rises from the meal, puts aside his garments and puts a towel around his waist, pours water into a basin and begins washing each disciple’s feet, drying them with the cloth he is wearing. Not only was he cleansing their feet, he was taking their uncleanness upon himself.

            When he reached Peter, Peter objected. It was too much for Peter to have his Lord behaving like a servant and serving him. It offended Peter’s sensibilities. Jesus was Lord and he was just a lowly disciple. But Jesus explained that while Peter doesn’t understand what is happening at the moment, he would explain his actions later. Still Peter refused, “You shall never wash my feet!” Peter often took the extreme point, only later to regret it. It is also ironic because Peter objected because Jesus was his Lord, yet here he is ordering his Lord not to wash his feet.

            Jesus pointed out that if he did not permit Jesus to wash his feet, then they could have nothing to do with each other. If Peter was unwilling to obey the Lord in this small matter, he wasn’t worthy to be a disciple of Jesus. Jesus’ statement has a double meaning. Unless a person is washed in the blood of Christ, he cannot be a disciple of Christ (I Corinthians 6:11; Ephesians 5:26; Hebrews 10:22).

            Peter, seeing that his relationship with Christ depended on this act, went to the other extreme and ask that his hands and head also be bathed by Jesus. If this is what it took to belong to Jesus, he wanted to do so fully.

            Jesus’ reply is that a person who has bathed earlier only needs to remove the recently gained dirt on his feet. By this Jesus is stating that most of his disciples were basically righteous and needed only some improvement (John 15:3). The principle is why a person who has been baptized does not need to be re-baptized after he has stumbled into sin (I John 1:7-10). However, Jesus hints that this principle can’t be applied to everyone. One, Judas Iscariot, had already decided to betray the Christ. No amount of cleansing would atone for one determined to remain in sin.

            But it is important to understand that Jesus did wash even the feet of his betrayer. “But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven; for He makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward have you?” (Matthew 5:44-46).

Betrayer is Revealed (Matthew 26:21-25; Mark 14:18-21; Luke 22:21-23; John 13:21-30)

            This one of the few events in Jesus’ life which is recorded in all four gospels. Matthew and Mark mentions this event before the Lord’s Supper was instituted. Luke, whose account is in chronological order, mentions that it happens after the Lord’s Supper. Since John doesn’t record the Lord’s Supper, we can’t draw a conclusion.

            During the Passover meal, Jesus announces that one of those present would betray him. The fact greatly distressed Jesus (John 13:21), indicating that Jesus did not wish the consequences on his betrayer. The announcement also upsets the disciples and they each began asking each other and of the Lord if Jesus was referring to him. Notice that the disciples did not begin accusing each other. Each was concerned that he might betray his Lord without intention. In the Greek, the form of their question was one that expected a “no” for an answer; thus each was asking “Surely it is not I?” Jesus, however, stated it was the who shared the food bowl with him. This is a fulfillment of the prophecy in Psalm 41:9. The bowl is probably a sauce made from raisins, vinegar, and bitter herbs that the Jews commonly used during the Passover meal. Bowls of the sauce are set on the table and people would dip pieces of bread into it before eating, much the way we dip corn chips into salsa.

            Jesus further stated that he would go just as it has been prophesied, but just because it was ordained to happen in this fashion, the one who betrays him would still be held guilty. Thus Jesus is stating that even though God willed for it to happen in this manner, those participating – including his betrayer – were still acting of their own free will and would be held accountable for their actions. Jesus states that it would have been better for that person to have not been born than to face what he must face.

            The disciples still found the statement unclear. The bowl was probably shared by several people. So Peter motioned to John to ask Jesus who was he talking about. John describes himself as the one whom Jesus loved; in other words, of all the disciples he was the one who was closest to Jesus. And in this case he was physically closest to the Lord at the meal as he was leaning against Jesus. Peter probably hoped that if John asked he would get a more direct answer. In response to John’s question, Jesus took a piece of bread, dipped it into the sauce and handed it to Judas Iscariot.

            Acting as if he didn’t already realize who Jesus was talking about, Judas asked if he was the one Jesus was talking about. Jesus simply replied, “You have said it.” John tells us that Satan then entered Judas’ heart; in other words, Judas became more determined to betray Jesus because he had been exposed in front of the others.

            Jesus told him to do what he planned quickly. The other disciples, still not comprehending what was going on thought Jesus had given Judas some instructions concerning the funds he kept and that he wanted Judas to buy something else for the meal or that he wanted someone aided from the funds.

            Judas then immediately left, even though it was now dark. Notice that neither Matthew or Mark’s accounts specify when Judas left. Thus, though in a different order than Luke’s account, it doesn’t rule out Judas being present when the Lord’s Supper was instituted as Luke’s account implies.

Who is the Greatest (Luke 22:24-30)

            The talk of one betraying the Lord brings up the old argument concerning who among the disciples would be the greatest in the kingdom (Matthew 18:1; 20:20-28; Mark 9:34; Luke 9:46). When combined with John’s account concerning the foot washing which happened before Judas left, the fact that the disciples were still arguing over position demonstrates they did not understand what Jesus was trying to tell them. And just as Jesus is about to give them final instructions before his death, we see that they are still returning to the same point of contention.

            Using the same points he made before (Matthew 20:25; Mark 10:42), Jesus points out that among the Gentiles kings exercise authority over other people and for that people call them “benefactors.” Their exercise of power over other people is seen as giving a favor to lesser men. But this is not how Jesus’ kingdom operates. The greatest, the one most valued, will be the one who takes the position of the younger (that is showing humility) and who serves others.

            Jesus points again to his own example. The greatest is the one who sits at the table, but Jesus had gotten up and served them. His purpose in coming to this world was to serve others (Philippians 2:7).

            These who were present (Judas having already left) were those who remained by him through his various trials. In reward, Jesus was giving them a kingdom, just as he himself would be receiving a kingdom from the Father (Luke 12:32; II Corinthians 1:7; II Timothy 2:12). And in that kingdom they would all have favored positions and positions of authority. Those who shared a lord’s table were considered to be in high favor with the ruler. Those who sit on thrones to give judgment are those in greatest authority. This is again something Jesus had promised them before (Matthew 19:28).