Conversations With Jesus: A Difficult Final Conversation

After this Jesus revealed himself again to the disciples by the Sea of Tiberias, and he revealed himself in this way. Simon Peter, Thomas (called the Twin), Nathanael of Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zebedee, and two others of his disciples were together. Simon Peter said to them, “I am going fishing.” They said to him, “We will go with you.” They went out and got into the boat, but that night they caught nothing.

Just as day was breaking, Jesus stood on the shore; yet the disciples did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to them, “Children, do you have any fish?” They answered him, “No.” He said to them, “Cast the net on the right side of the boat, and you will find some.” So they cast it, and now they were not able to haul it in, because of the quantity of fish. That disciple whom Jesus loved therefore said to Peter, “It is the Lord!” When Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he put on his outer garment, for he was stripped for work, and threw himself into the sea. The other disciples came in the boat, dragging the net full of fish, for they were not far from the land, but about a hundred yards off.

When they got out on land, they saw a charcoal fire in place, with fish laid out on it, and bread. Jesus said to them, “Bring some of the fish that you have just caught.” So Simon Peter went aboard and hauled the net ashore, full of large fish, 153 of them. And although there were so many, the net was not torn. Jesus said to them, “Come and have breakfast.” Now none of the disciples dared ask him, “Who are you?” They knew it was the Lord. Jesus came and took the bread and gave it to them, and so with the fish. This was now the third time that Jesus was revealed to the disciples after he was raised from the dead.

When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” He said to him, “Feed my lambs.” He said to him a second time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” He said to him, “Tend my sheep.” He said to him the third time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” Peter was grieved because he said to him the third time, “Do you love me?” and he said to him, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep. Truly, truly, I say to you, when you were young, you used to dress yourself and walk wherever you wanted, but when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and another will dress you and carry you where you do not want to go.” (This he said to show by what kind of death he was to glorify God.) And after saying this he said to him, “Follow me” (John 21:1-19).

We are all prone to fall into sin, to live a life less than what we are called to. We often look to Peter and his denials of Christ and mentally shake our heads at his choices. Jesus, however, has other ideas when it comes to Peter–and us, as we’ll find out in this conversation.


Jesus has now been crucified and resurrection. The work that He came to earth to do has been completed. He has secured life for all who trust in Him. This conversation takes place in the midst of final instructions and encouragements to His disciples (John tells us it is the third appearance of Jesus to His disciples after the resurrection). Peter and several disciples are now in Galilee waiting for Jesus, as He commanded them (Matt. 28:7).

The Fruitless Fishing Trip

While in Galilee Peter decides, “I’m going fishing,” and several other disciples join him. Many have commented that Peter’s assertion that he was going fishing marks a return to the life he knew before encountering Jesus, as though he were deserting or backsliding, being discouraged. However, John records that they knew Jesus was alive and that He had already commissioned them (20:20-21). It seems unlikely that they would be discouraged. The fact is they had been told to go to Galilee and wait for Jesus, and they went fishing to pass the time; there is certainly no moral injunction against making a living while waiting on the Lord’s command (unless He commands otherwise). Unfortunately for the disciples, their night of labor was fruitless.

As dawn breaks and rescues the disciples from the long night, Jesus is standing on the shore, but the disciples didn’t recognize Him. It being early morning the mist on the lake could have made recognition difficult, and they were likely focused on the frustrating night. Jesus calls out, “Children, haven’t you caught any fish?” Jesus uses a phrase that is a term of affection. The question is phrased in such a way to expect a negative answer, showing that Jesus knew they had failed to catch any fish before the question was asked–their “no” only confirmed it.

Jesus then calls out that they should cast their net on the right side of the boat and they would find fish there. Whether or not Jesus supernaturally knew there were fish there or could see them from shore, it is certain that the number of fish present was a miracle, since the tone is one of awe and surprise. The disciples probably decided that since they had spent all night, one more try wouldn’t hurt anything.

John records that immediately the net was swarming with fish, so many that they could not bring the net in. Something about this seems to open John’s eyes, either Jesus’ voice or the result–it is remarkably similar to Luke 5:1-11. He tells Peter that it is Jesus who is on the shore. Peter, acting in his characteristically impulsive way, puts on his cloak (he had taken it off, leaving only the tunic) and jumps into the water. He apparently swims to shore, since John reports that they are about one hundred yards from shore. (On a side note, the KJV rendering, “for he was naked,” is inaccurate. The Jews were strict in not exposing their nakedness in public, dating back to the Mosaic Law, hence the wearing of a tunic as an undergarment.)

Jesus invites them to bring some of the fish and have breakfast, and John notes here that none asked Him, “Who are you,” since they all knew it was the Lord by now (v. 12). The context of verse 13 seems to indicate that Jesus’ actions in breaking the bread and fish served as a link back to the last meal they had shared together. The scene is now set for Jesus’ conversation with Peter.

An Unexpected Outcome

Peter must have often wondered about his future. After all, he had publicly denied Jesus three time, after making bold assertions that he would never fall away. Surely he remembered Jesus’ words about what would happen to one who denied Christ–such a one would be denied before the Father. He is now in a very uncomfortable position. None of us enjoy having to face the consequences of our past, and we can picture Peter kind of squirming as the conversation starts.

It is interesting that Jesus never brings up the actual denials of Peter. Rather, He frames the discussion in positive questions (question that expect an affirmative response). Whether He intended this as a model for the church to follow is unknown and is a matter that church leadership should consider prayerfully.

The three questions by Jesus are to negate the three denials by Peter. Each time, Jesus simply asks, “Simon son of John, do you love Me?” In the first two instances, Jesus uses the word agapaō, the divine love of God, manifested through Christ that sacrifices self for His purpose. However, Peter answers with phileō, which denotes “tender affection,” such as the love that the Father has for the Son (John 3:35; 5:20). The two words are never used interchangeably or indiscriminately, so one gets the sense that Peter is, at the moment, unable or unwilling to commit to “love” in the way that Jesus presents it.

Jesus’ addition of “more than these” in verse 15 is somewhat ambiguous. There are three possible meanings to this: 1) “Do you love Me more than these other men love me?” 2) “Do you love Me more than you love these other men?” 3) “Do you love Me more than these things [boats and fishing, things of the world]?” In light of Peter’s earlier promise to never fall away from Christ regardless of what the others might do and given the context of this discussion, it seems that the first option is probably in view.

For the third exchange, Jesus changes the word “love” to match Peter. He uses phileō, as a seeming concession to Peter. Jesus meets Peter where he is and starts from that point. We learn later that Peter did indeed manifest the agapaō of God, and was willing to die for his faith, crucified upside down, history tells us. This scene is meant to encourage the believer, reminding him that Christ came to restore the broken and fallen and He always starts at the point of need, where the believer is, in order to lead the believer to a higher calling.

While Peter may have been frustrated that Jesus asked him three times, “Do you love me,” the questions were meant to counter his three denials. With each affirmation by Peter, Jesus gave a command. “Feed my lambs. Take care of my sheep. Feed my lambs.” Each statement is not only a command, but it is a statement of restoration–Jesus is restoring Peter to his calling.

In restoring Peter, Jesus reminded him that he still had a purpose. Jesus now gives Peter a glimpse into his own future. He says that one day Peter will be led by another. Another would dress him and lead him where he did not want to go. This seems ambiguous, but John interprets it for the reader. Jesus is here showing how Peter would die and thus glorify God. Peter’s death would not be simply from old age, rather it would be a death “in the line of duty,” suggesting imprisonment before death. Though this seems a morose and forbidding thing to say, Jesus probably means it as encouragement, as a way to say, “Peter, I have restored you, and here is how you will know you have been restored: You will fulfill your purpose and will remain faithful to the end, dying for My name.” Then Jesus gives the solemn command, “Follow Me.”

Takeaways from this Passage

We are all prone, as we saw, to fall away from Christ, and even to deny Him–either by our words or (more likely) by our lives. Christ can and will restore anyone to Himself–no matter the place that you have fallen to. As Jesus told Peter, “I am not finished with you yet.” All you need to do is accept His restoration and follow Him.

[Some of the material in this post has been adapted from my commentary That You May Believe: A Commentary on John, available here.]


Conversations With Jesus: The Trial Before Pilate

So Pilate entered his headquarters again and called Jesus and said to him, “Are you the King of the Jews?” Jesus answered, “Do you say this of your own accord, or did others say it to you about me?” Pilate answered, “Am I a Jew? Your own nation and the chief priests have delivered you over to me. What have you done?” Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would have been fighting, that I might not be delivered over to the Jews. But my kingdom is not from the world.” Then Pilate said to him, “So you are a king?” Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. For this purpose I was born and for this purpose I have come into the world—to bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice.” Pilate said to him, “What is truth?”

After he had said this, he went back outside to the Jews and told them, “I find no guilt in him. But you have a custom that I should release one man for you at the Passover. So do you want me to release to you the King of the Jews?” They cried out again, “Not this man, but Barabbas!” Now Barabbas was a robber.

Then Pilate took Jesus and flogged him. And the soldiers twisted together a crown of thorns and put it on his head and arrayed him in a purple robe. They came up to him, saying, “Hail, King of the Jews!” and struck him with their hands. Pilate went out again and said to them, “See, I am bringing him out to you that you may know that I find no guilt in him.” So Jesus came out, wearing the crown of thorns and the purple robe. Pilate said to them, “Behold the man!” When the chief priests and the officers saw him, they cried out, “Crucify him, crucify him!” Pilate said to them, “Take him yourselves and crucify him, for I find no guilt in him.” The Jews answered him, “We have a law, and according to that law he ought to die because he has made himself the Son of God.” When Pilate heard this statement, he was even more afraid. He entered his headquarters again and said to Jesus, “Where are you from?” But Jesus gave him no answer. So Pilate said to him, “You will not speak to me? Do you not know that I have authority to release you and authority to crucify you?” Jesus answered him, “You would have no authority over me at all unless it had been given you from above. Therefore he who delivered me over to you has the greater sin.”

From then on Pilate sought to release him, but the Jews cried out, “If you release this man, you are not Caesar’s friend. Everyone who makes himself a king opposes Caesar.” So when Pilate heard these words, he brought Jesus out and sat down on the judgment seat at a place called The Stone Pavement, and in Aramaic Gabbatha. Now it was the day of Preparation of the Passover. It was about the sixth hour. He said to the Jews, “Behold your King!” They cried out, “Away with him, away with him, crucify him!” Pilate said to them, “Shall I crucify your King?” The chief priests answered, “We have no king but Caesar.” So he delivered him over to them to be crucified (John 18:33-19:16).

Sometimes we get so caught up in trying to please everyone that we end up backed into a corner–and pleasing no one. This was the experience of Pilate, the governor of Judea during the time of Jesus. During this last of Jesus’ conversations before the crucifixion, we’ll see the Pilate was weak, vacillating, acting more like a negotiator than a ruler, not realizing that the very Truth stood before him.


Jesus has now been arrested. The Gospels tell us that He was tried twice before the Jewish leaders–once in secret (at night) and once openly (to confirm the earlier decision). The leaders have now brought Him before Pilate, since the Jews cannot execute anyone without the consent of Rome–and executing Jesus is exactly what they want to do.

We are told that the Jewish leadership “did not enter the governor’s headquarters, so that they would not be defiled, but could eat the Passover.” The striking thing here is that they cared more about ritual defilement than true justice–which Jesus has condemned them for many times. Pilate, in an act of both submission and condescension comes outside to them. His initial question, “What charges are you bringing against this man,” was the normal one under Roman law. The answer, obviously, should have been a statement of crimes that Roman law recognized. However, the answer of the high priest was elusive: “If this man were not a criminal, we would not be handing him over to you.” The implication of the statement is that the Jewish leadership knew that Jesus was not guilty of any crime under Roman law.

Pilate therefore replies that if they had no charges to bring against Jesus under the law of Rome, they should try Jesus according to their own law. This they Jewish leaders had already done (in a manner of speaking). Yet, they had now right to enforce the death sentence already pronounced against Jesus, so they had to transfer the case to Rome.

The First Round

Pilate withdraws inside and summons Jesus. He asks Jesus outright, “Are you the King of the Jews?” The tone may be one of surprise, with Pilate being unable to reconcile the calm demeanor of Jesus (who certainly did not look the part of a pretender to the vacant Jewish throne) with the charges brought against Him. This private audience may show that Pilate did not trust the priests; we are told in Matthew’s account that Pilate knew that Jesus had been handed over because of envy (Matt. 27:18).

Jesus’ reply may seem a bit disrespectful; however, the tone is simply one that is inquiring about Pilate’s stance: Was he making inquiry about Jesus because he really wished to know, or was the questioning simply part of a legal procedure? This question by Jesus seems to have irritated Pilate. No doubt the governor was used to having his questions answered rather than being challenged. His answer to Jesus implies that his questioning was not because of any personal interest. Rather, he wanted to know what Jesus had done to arouse the hatred of the Jews.

Jesus then acknowledges that He is a king. But, He notes quickly that His kingdom is “not of this world.” For if His had been a worldly kingdom, His servants would have fought to prevent Jesus’ arrest (of course Peter did try, but Jesus rebuked him, further emphasizing the point). Rather than get into the finer points of Jesus’ statement, Pilate focuses on the central question, that of Jesus’ kingship. “So you are a king then?”

Jesus’ reply, “You say that I am a king,” is actually an affirmative statement. Then He goes back to His mission: to bear witness to the truth. These statements link back throughout John’s gospel to Jesus’ identification of His mission. It is clear He knew His destiny from the beginning. Since “everyone who is of the truth heeds [His] words,” the implication is that Pilate should also listen to Jesus’ words if he truly wants to seek truth. The tone of Pilate’s question seems to be one of frustrated irritation (picture him throwing his hands up). He simply could not understand Jesus.

The Verdict of Not Guilty

Pilate returns outside to the Jews and pronounces: “I find no guilt in Him.” It was a legal pronouncement, and at that point, Jesus should have been released. Pilate, however, seeks to release Jesus not on the basis of his own inquiry but on the basis of a Passover custom. He proposes to release Jesus to them, hoping that would satisfy the people. (He probably knew that the crowd often was at odds with the Jewish leadership.)

However, Pilate’s plan doesn’t work, and further puts him into a corner. The priests and other leaders encourage the crowd to ask for the release of another, Barabbas, a criminal destined for execution–John notes that he is a “robber.” So, Pilate takes Jesus and has Him scourged. This punishment was done by a heavy rawhide strap called a flagellum, which was loaded with bits of zinc, iron and bone. The punishment was often used as a prelude to crucifixion, but also as a means of extracting information non-Roman citizens (which is why Paul objected when he was going to be flogged in Acts 22:24-25). The flogging plus the humiliation at the hands of the Roman soldiers (vv. 2-3) may have been Pilate’s attempt to punish Jesus to the satisfaction of the Jews–and perhaps to deride the idea that any man would save Israel from Rome.

The Verdict Affirmed

Thus, Pilate brings Jesus out to the crowd and again pronounces that he has found no guilt in Jesus. When Jesus appears, Pilate says, “Behold the man!” The tone suggests either derision or an attempt to stir up compassion from the crowd (as in, “Does this man really look like a revolutionary?”) The plan again backfires, for when the leaders see Jesus, they are enraged (the sight of Jesus dressed in a mock royal outfit may have had something to do with the rage). They “cried out” that He should be crucified. By this time, Pilate seems to be thoroughly disgusted with the whole affair–with Jesus as well as the Jewish leaders. His statement to the leaders, that they should crucify Jesus themselves shows traces of sarcasm, since he has pronounced Jesus guiltless at least twice now.

The Jews, however, switch tactics: “According to our law, He must die because He made Himself the Son of God.” Pilate would have understood the implications of such a charge. To him, however, was not the Jewish God, but rather the possibility that Jesus might indeed be divine, in the manner of the Roman gods. Indeed, such a man might easily supplant him or even Caesar, so therefore Pilate was “even more afraid” (v. 8). Because of His fear, He goes back to question Jesus more.

The question that Pilate placed before Jesus, “Where are you from” (v. 9) indicate that Pilate sought to know if Jesus really was some divine being. If indeed Jesus were, Pilate would not want to harm Him, for fear of divine judgment. Jesus remains silent to the questioning, since He has already made His claims clear. Pilate, having refused to listen, was thus denied any new revelation.

Because of his own fear, Pilate determined from that moment on to release Jesus. He had already tried in two different ways–the “custom of the feast” and the flogging. The Jewish leaders would have none of it: “If you release this man, you are not Caesar’s friend. Everyone who makes himself a king opposes Caesar” (v. 12). There are two clear implications here. First, the Jews accused Jesus being a “king,” a rival to Caesar, which under Roman law carried the death penalty. Second, the Jews implied that Pilate could be charged as Jesus’ accomplice, by perhaps making an alliance with Him. The “Caesar” at the time (Caesar had become a title for Emperor) was Tiberius, notoriously suspicious of anyone who might be a rival.

Backed into a Corner

Pilate is now in a most difficult position. Either choice will likely mean the end of his political career–and perhaps his life. If he exonerates Jesus, he will only exacerbate the tensions with the Jewish leadership–and perhaps face a charge of treason. If he condemns Jesus, he will be making a travesty of strict Roman justice–and could perhaps face a charge of malfeasance of office. In any event, his decision could no longer be postponed. He went out to the crowd and sat on the bench used for official judgments and brought Jesus out.

Pilate’s words to the Jews, “Here is your king,” show a total lack of understanding for the Jewish mindset, and a terrible miscalculation on his part. The Jewish leaders respond as they had earlier, with a cry to crucify Jesus. Pilate asks, “Do you want me to crucify your king?” His words show bitterness at having been placed into this position, and the reply of the Jewish leaders is equally ironic: “We have no king but Caesar.” The leadership of the Jews, hating the Romans and longing for independence, preferred Caesar as king over the One sent by God as their Savior. Giving in finally to the Jews, Pilate orders that Jesus be crucified.

Takeaways from this Passage

Pilate is seen as a weak leader who sought to try to please everyone. Whatever his religious beliefs–most Roman men had loyalty to the divine emperor–he failed to respond to the light that was offered by Jesus. Because of his refusal to do so, He was denied any further light. His rejection of Jesus as the Truth parallels his intellectual battle with the truth. Because of His inability to embrace the truth, he is left with an impossible choice, and would continue to spiral downward until recalled to Rome in disgrace.

1 John reminds us to walk in the light (1 John 1:5-10). As we are given light, we respond to it, and we are given more When we reject the light, the only alternative is more and continued darkness.

[Some of the material in this post has been adapted from my commentary That You May Believe: A Commentary on John, available here.]

Conversations With Jesus: The Q&A Session

Simon Peter said to him, “Lord, where are you going?” Jesus answered him, “Where I am going you cannot follow me now, but you will follow afterward.” Peter said to him, “Lord, why can I not follow you now? I will lay down my life for you.” Jesus answered, “Will you lay down your life for me? Truly, truly, I say to you, the rooster will not crow till you have denied me three times.

“Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also. And you know the way to where I am going.” Thomas said to him, “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?” Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you had known me, you would have known my Father also. From now on you do know him and have seen him.”

Philip said to him, “Lord, show us the Father, and it is enough for us.” Jesus said to him, “Have I been with you so long, and you still do not know me, Philip? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own authority, but the Father who dwells in me does his works. Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me, or else believe on account of the works themselves.

“Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes in me will also do the works that I do; and greater works than these will he do, because I am going to the Father. Whatever you ask in my name, this I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If you ask me anything in my name, I will do it.

“If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever, even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, for he dwells with you and will be in you.

“I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you. Yet a little while and the world will see me no more, but you will see me. Because I live, you also will live. In that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you. Whoever has my commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves me. And he who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and manifest myself to him.” Judas (not Iscariot) said to him, “Lord, how is it that you will manifest yourself to us, and not to the world?” Jesus answered him, “If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him. Whoever does not love me does not keep my words. And the word that you hear is not mine but the Father’s who sent me. These things I have spoken to you while I am still with you. 26 But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you” (John 13:36-14:26).

If I had a great teacher who was getting ready to go away, I’d be wanting to ask him all sorts of questions–picking his brain for any knowledge he could pass along to me. We’ve all known people like that, those people we’d love to sit with for hours and glean their wisdom. The disciples of Jesus had such a chance–and one wonders what they were thinking! They clearly still had little to no understanding of Jesus’ mission to the world–or to them.


The time has come for Jesus to complete His mission. Before doing so, He spends some last few moments with His disciples–instructing, encouraging, and answering questions. This “Q&A session” takes place immediately after Judas Iscariot departs. Jesus and the other disciples are now alone, as He continues His teaching to them. This particular scene can be broken up into a few questions by the disciples:

  • Peter’s Questions (13:36-38)
  • Thomas’s Question (14:1-7)
  • Philip’s Question (14:8-14)
  • Judas’s Question (14:15-26)

Peter’s Questioning of Jesus

Peter, responding to Jesus’ earlier comment, asks for clarification on where He is going. Jesus does not tell him specifically, but John makes it clear in other passages that He is referring to His return to the Father. Jesus assures Peter (and the rest) that they will follow Him, only “later” (v. 36). Peter, as impulsive as ever, objects: “Why can’t I follow you now? I would give up my very life for you” (emphasis added)? Jesus replies simply, “Will you really give up your life for Me? Actually, Peter, you will deny that you know Me three times before the rooster crows in the morning” (paraphrase). Jesus concludes that little conversation with this, making no more comments about it.

Of course, we know that Peter did indeed deny Christ three times before the rooster crowed. The difference between Peter’s denials and Judas’ betrayal lie only in the fact that Peter experienced godly sorrow and repented when questioned by Christ (21:15-17, compare 2 Cor. 7:10), whereas Judas’ betrayal seems to have placed him beyond the point of repentance–instead he went out and hung himself, realizing that he was now hopeless.

Thomas Asks about the Way

Jesus now begins to teach and encourage the disciples. In an oft-quoted (but often misquoted) verse, Jesus says, “In my Father’s house are many rooms.” Though the thought of mansions is a pleasant thought, the Greek literally is rooms or dwelling places. Jesus is bringing to mind the traditional Jewish wedding. In that time, after the betrothal, the groom returned to his father’s house to prepare a place for he and his bride to live, this would have been a room in the family home, or a house within a compound, where the groom’s parents also lived. (On a side note, the groom would return for his bride only when his father was satisfied with the preparations. This is why Jesus often said that no one knows the time of His return except for the Father–but that’s another topic for another post.)

Since Jesus is going to prepare a place for them, the disciples can be assured that He will return for them, so that they will be together. This is not a statement referring to a general resurrection; rather, just as the bridegroom returns personally for his bride, Jesus will return personally for His children. Jesus reminds them that they know the way to where He is going.

Thomas disagrees: “Since we don’t know where You are going, how could we know the way?” His question indicates that the disciples have no more understanding of Jesus’ mission than do His Jewish antagonists. The reply of Jesus seems to suggest surprise at the lack of understanding (of course Jesus, as God-incarnate, is never surprised): “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father but through Me. If you had known me, you would have known my Father also. From now on you do know him and have seen him.” The first part of this reply is no doubt the definitive statement of the Christian faith. Whereas others might see Jesus as a great teacher, a great example, He Himself claims to be the answer to all:

The way – Literally “road,” Jesus is here proclaiming Himself the “highway,” the only route to the Father. If one seeks to find the Father, he must go through Him (and also according to His way), or be eternally frustrated, hence “no one comes to the Father but through Me.”
The truth – Note here that Jesus says He is “the truth,” not a means to discovering truth. He is the very source and embodiment of truth. It means more than just being “truthful;” rather it means that no truth exists independently from Him.
The life – As with “truth,” Jesus asserts that He is the source and embodiment of all life. Indeed John wrote that He created everything and gave life and light to men. As with “truth,” there is no life independent of Christ.

This statement settles any argument about Jesus versus other religions. Many other religions teach that there are many ways to God (some even include Christ). Yet, Jesus says that there is only one way–through Himself. Therefore, one side must be right and one wrong. If Jesus is right, then all other religions fail to deliver. If “all roads lead to God” is correct, then Jesus Himself is a liar since He claims to be the only way, and thus Christianity is not true.

Philip Continues the Questioning

Since Jesus is the way, and since they know Him, they also know the Father. In fact, having seen Jesus, the disciples have seen the Father (v. 7). Jesus asserted that He has provided an adequate presentation of the Father in His own being. Philip, however, seems to think differently. His question–or demand–to see the Father seems to suggest that he wants to have an experience of God similar to Moses and Jacob. In his question, Philip shows the lack of understanding that Jesus is in the Father and the Father in Jesus.

Jesus reminds them that He had been with them for a long time now, and that anyone who has seen Him (this would be better translated as “has had an experiential knowledge“) has seen the Father since 1) His mission was to show the Father to the world; 2) He was only speaking and working as the Father commanded Him–indeed it is the Father doing the works. As He told the Jews, the disciples should at least believe the works He had done to show that He and the Father were one.

One Final Question

Jesus now returns to His task of teaching the disciples (at least He attempts to return to it). He promises to send them another Helper, the Spirit of Truth to both be in them and help them. Like Jesus, the Holy Spirit is the embodiment and Source of truth (thus the united nature of the Godhead). Though the world cannot recognize Him or His work, the disciples will know Him intimately, as He will indwell them. Because of the Holy Spirit, the disciples will not be left alone as “orphans.” Jesus will come to them through the ministry of the Holy Spirit. And because of the Spirit’s ministry, the disciples will continue to see Jesus, even when the world no longer sees Him.

Though they may not understand now, when the Spirit comes, the disciples will realize the nature of the intimate nature of the relationship between the Father, Son and Holy Spirit–and now to include the disciples. Those who are in this intimate relationship are the ones who keep the commands of Jesus, and in turn experience the love of the Father and see the Son (through the ministry of the Spirit). Though obedience may be said to be a condition of experiencing God’s love, obedience is not the cause of His love. Obedience flows from a love for God and that obedience is the proof of our love for Him, and that obedience leads to an experiential knowledge of His love for us.

We know little of the Judas who asks the question in verse 22, except that he is identified as “not Judas Iscariot” by John (and since Iscariot had already left, that would be unlikely anyway). His question to Jesus again focuses on the physical senses: “Lord, how can You show yourself only to us and not to the world?” The question indicates that he is only thinking in the physical realm, rather than the spiritual.

Jesus’ answer supports this, as He indicates that those who love Him (obeying His commandments) will see Him through the ministry of the Holy Spirit. As He had already said, the world cannot recognize the Spirit–because of being outside of that relationship. In fact, the ministry of the Spirit is to be the representative of Jesus to the disciples, just as the disciples are the delegated representatives of Christ to the world (“in My name,” v. 26, cf. vv. 13, 14). The Spirit’s function is to instruct believers, and will bring to mind the teachings and commandments of Christ (v. 26).

The Q&A session is over, Jesus prepares to leave the upper room for His destiny.

[Some of the material in this post has been adapted from my commentary That You May Believe: A Commentary on John, available here.]

Conversations With Jesus: Different as Night and Day

It was just before the Passover Festival. Jesus knew that the hour had come for him to leave this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end. The evening meal was in progress, and the devil had already prompted Judas, the son of Simon Iscariot, to betray Jesus. Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God and was returning to God; so he got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist. After that, he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him.

He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, “Lord, are you going to wash my feet?” Jesus replied, “You do not realize now what I am doing, but later you will understand.” “No,” said Peter, “you shall never wash my feet.” Jesus answered, “Unless I wash you, you have no part with me.” “Then, Lord,” Simon Peter replied, “not just my feet but my hands and my head as well!” Jesus answered, “Those who have had a bath need only to wash their feet; their whole body is clean. And you are clean, though not every one of you.” For he knew who was going to betray him, and that was why he said not every one was clean.

When he had finished washing their feet, he put on his clothes and returned to his place. “Do you understand what I have done for you?” he asked them. “You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and rightly so, for that is what I am. Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you. Very truly I tell you, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them.

“I am not referring to all of you; I know those I have chosen. But this is to fulfill this passage of Scripture: ‘He who shared my bread has turned against me.’ I am telling you now before it happens, so that when it does happen you will believe that I am who I am. Very truly I tell you, whoever accepts anyone I send accepts me; and whoever accepts me accepts the one who sent me.”

After he had said this, Jesus was troubled in spirit and testified, “Very truly I tell you, one of you is going to betray me.” His disciples stared at one another, at a loss to know which of them he meant. One of them, the disciple whom Jesus loved, was reclining next to him. Simon Peter motioned to this disciple and said, “Ask him which one he means.” Leaning back against Jesus, [this disciple] asked Him, “Lord, who is it?”

Jesus answered, “It is the one to whom I will give this piece of bread when I have dipped it in the dish.” Then, dipping the piece of bread, he gave it to Judas, the son of Simon Iscariot. As soon as Judas took the bread, Satan entered into him.

So Jesus told him, “What you are about to do, do quickly.” But no one at the meal understood why Jesus said this to him. Since Judas had charge of the money, some thought Jesus was telling him to buy what was needed for the festival, or to give something to the poor. As soon as Judas had taken the bread, he went out. And it was night (John 13:1-30).

After the raising of Lazarus, Jesus’ public ministry on the earth was effectively finished. From that point on, He began preparing for “His hour,” the time when He would complete the work for which He had been sent by the Father. During this time, Jesus turned His attention to His disciples, to also prepare them for what lay ahead.


This scene takes place at the beginning of the Passover celebration. There is some debate on whether Jesus and the disciples are celebrating the Passover meal or the Last Supper (so called because it was the last meal made with any type of leaven before Passover). The Synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke) seem to indicate that the actual Passover meal is in view (Luke 22:15). In that case, Jesus may have celebrated it early with His disciples, knowing He would be crucified the next day.

There would have been 3 tables arranged in a U-shape, and the guests typically lay on their left sides against pillows. Given the conversations that took place, John most likely sat in the seat traditionally taken by the “friend” of the host (in front of Jesus, making it possible to “lean back against Him”), while Judas Iscariot sat behind Him, in the seat traditionally taken by the guest of honor (making it possible for Jesus to easily give the bread to him).

A Conversation with Peter

John starts by telling us that “Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God and was returning to God.” Jesus knew that His time was fast approaching. He knew that He was on the path that the Father had ordained for Him, and He was committed to following through. John continue by saying, “So he got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist. . . . [And] began to wash his disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him” (vv. 4-5, emphasis mine). This use of “so” is similar to the story of Lazarus. We read in that account that Jesus loved Lazarus and his sisters, and “so, when he heard that Lazarus was sick, he stayed where he was two more days” (11:6). The idea in John 12 is similar. Because Jesus knew that His time was at hand, and knew that the Father had put all under his authority, he now could show what real love is.

In those days, it was of course the servant’s job to wash the feet of guests who might enter a home. In this intimate gathering, there were no servants present. (And we should note that none of the disciples had offered to take this job.) That Jesus would (literally) stoop to perform such a task was unfathomable–and offensive in many eyes, as we see with Peter.

When the Lord came to Peter, He was given a mild rebuke: ““Lord, are you going to wash my feet?” The question is one of unbelief rather than just a simple question. Though Peter doesn’t understand what is happening now, Jesus assures him that he will understand later. But, the idea that Jesus, the Teacher and Lord, should wash his feet offends Peter. Perhaps his attitude is similar to John the Baptizer’s: “I need to be baptized by You! Why then do You come to me” (Matt. 3:14, the difference between Peter and the Baptizer being this: Peter did not offer instead to wash Jesus’ feet).

Jesus tells Peter that it is necessary that He wash Peter’s feet; otherwise “you have no part with Me.” Here Jesus is echoing John’s words in 1 John 1:7-9, “But if we walk in the light, as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin. . . . [and] is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” This prompts Peter’s impulsive reply: “If You are going to wash my feet, then my hands and head need washing so I will be totally clean.” Jesus replies that Peter is already clean; indeed, all the disciples (save one, who John identifies as Judas) are clean, and thus only need to wash their feet.

The picture here is of a person who gets up in the morning and takes a bath. The whole body is now cleansed. In Jesus’ day, it was common for people’s feet to be very dirty after walking along the roads, as the wore sandals–close-toed shoes were not yet a thing. Therefore, they would need their feet washed, especially when entering someone’s home (cf. Luke 7:44). As applied spiritually, one who is “clean” has experienced the new birth of chapter 3, and thus only needs cleansing from walking in a fallen world and stumbling into sin. This is accomplished by confessing our sins, according to 1 John 1:9.

Jesus Explains His Actions

After completing His task, Jesus addresses the disciples. He has given them an example to follow. If He, their Teacher and Lord could stoop to the position of a servant to wash His disciples’ feet, then they should do likewise for each other. To refuse to do so would be saying that the disciple is greater than the teacher. The goal of the disciple, however, is to be like his teacher. Therefore, if the disciples follow the example He has given, they will be blessed.

On a side note, while some in the church see verse 15 as sanctioning foot washing as a continual ordinance of the church, the thrust of the passage argues against a mere outward understanding. While the word translated “example” can mean something done for imitation, the focus of Jesus’ words is on the attitude behind the act. (Greek hypodeigma, “copy; example.” See Heb. 8:5, where it is translated “copy” in the ESV). It is certainly not sufficient to perform the act of foot washing as a ritual without a genuine servant attitude. That would be no different than the Pharisees’ “observance” of the law. Of course, the text does not argue against the practice specifically, but on balance, the context does not support the idea of foot washing as a binding ordinance on the church.

It’s extremely important to remember that Jesus washed all the disciples’ feet–even the one He now identifies as His betrayer! He indicates that one of the disciples has already turned against Him (v. 18). He is telling the disciples this before it happens so that they will know He is the Messiah. And in knowing that, they can have certainty that those who receive the testimony of the disciples receives Jesus Himself, and also receives the Father. The language suggests a close relationship between Jesus, His disciples and the Father.

Jesus is then “troubled” in spirit (the same phrase used in chapter 11 at the resurrection of Lazarus). It is not that the betrayal of Judas was unexpected. On the contrary, Jesus had already predicted it some time ago (see 6:64). Now that the time has come, however, the bitterness of the betrayal weighs heavy on Jesus, showing yet again that He is fully human. Jesus then lets the disciples know that one of them would betray Him (v. 21). The tone suggests that there was no hysteria in His pronouncement (at least not from Jesus), but that He calmly stated the fact. The disciples are both shocked and uncertain (v. 22). Shocked, because they had not taken His previous warning of betrayal to heart, and now that the time has arrived the blunt statement has hit them all the more. Uncertain because they could not fathom which of them would do such a thing. One wonders if some of the disciples, instead of asking, “Who is it” may have instead asked silently, “Could it be me?”

Peter decides to find out. He signals to “the disciple whom Jesus loved, who reclined against Him” to ask Jesus about the identity of the betrayer. This identification has long been held to be John. In the arrangement of the meal, John would have been in the place of the “friend,” and so it was easy for him to lean against Jesus and inquire. Peter alone would have been able to make eye contact with John due to their placement (making it probable that Peter was at the “lowest” place, the place closest to the door).

In any case, John does ask Jesus, “Lord, who is it?” Jesus’ reply, though quite clear in its meaning, apparently was missed by all the other disciples but John (possibly Jesus spoke in low tones). John notes that “Jesus answered, ‘It is he to whom I will give this morsel of bread when I have dipped it.’ So when he had dipped the morsel, he gave it to Judas, the son of Simon Iscariot.” It was common for the host of a meal to give a piece of bread dipped in the communal bowl to a friend or guest. Thus, Judas would have had to recline at the table with Jesus and John–otherwise he would not have been close enough. Jesus’ reply and actions must have been understood by John, yet he apparently did not communicate this to Peter, for whatever reason.

Up until that point Judas had been planning to betray Jesus. We are told that Satan had prompted Judas to betray Jesus (v. 2, literally “the devil had put it into the heart of Judas”). When Jesus offered Him the morsel of bread, that was his last chance to change his mind. He could have refused the bread, and thus repudiated the plan he had (most likely without any explanation). However, when he accepted the bread from Jesus, he crossed a line of no return, for now “Satan entered him.” The statement of Jesus to Judas, “What you are going to do, do quickly” simply was Jesus’ way of dismissing Judas to the task that Judas had set for himself. In other words, it is a statement of resignation: “Get on with this business and be done with it.”

John records that Judas, after receiving the bread, “immediately went out,” and then points out “it was night.” Night had come, and for Jesus the time was drawing close at hand now. Judas, however, had entered a true spiritual night, from which there would be no end.

Takeaways from the Passage

The main thrust of this passage has to do with the idea of servanthood. Jesus has taught His disciples that to be called great in the Kingdom is to be the servant of all. If He, the Perfect Lord and Teacher, could stoop to wash the feet of those who show unbelief and even betrayal, then His disciples can do no less. We are called to do good and show love to all–even in the face of unbelief, ridicule, and persecution. We are to leave the results up to the Lord.

[Some of the material in this post has been adapted from my commentary That You May Believe: A Commentary on John, available here.]