Jesus and the disciples were sharing their Passover dinner. Jesus knew that this would be His last meal with the men who had journeyed with him all over the nation of Israel. They labored with Him among the crowds on hot days, walked the many miles from town to town, leaving all the comforts of home and family life to devote themselves to this Lord and the proclamation of His Kingdom. They had offered to lay down their very lives in order to stand by His side. Yet Jesus also knew that one among them had already betrayed Him, and would betray Him further still. So as He told the disciples about the blessings they would receive if they washed each other’s feet, He also told of the one who would receive a curse:
“‘I know those I have chosen. But this is to fulfill the scripture:
“He who shares my bread has lifted up his heel against me.”
“‘I am telling you now before it happens, so that when it does happen you will believe that I am He.’”
As Jesus said these things, He became deeply grieved in His spirit. Then He said, “‘I tell you the truth, one of you is going to betray me.’”
Did Judas quiver as Jesus spoke? The other disciples looked around at each other in shock. Which one of them could possibly be guilty of treachery? It was so hard to imagine that each one began to question themselves. “‘Surely, not I, Lord!’” they said. They were innocent, yet they were filled with fear and dread at the sin they might commit. They longed to be loyal.
How that must have touched the Lord at that moment.
Outside the doors of the Upper Room there were powerful men craving His death. But these men inside with Jesus, however flawed and weak, were true. Their love was real, and so was their faith.
Jesus said, “‘The one who has dipped his hand into the bowl with me will betray Me. The Son of Man will go just as it is written about Him. But woe to that man who betrays the Son of Man! It would be better for him if he had not been born.’”
As they reclined at the table, John was leaning up against Jesus’ chest. This was the disciple who described himself as “the one who Jesus loved.” Peter leaned over and motioned to John, “‘Ask him which one He means.’” John leaned back against the Savior and said, “‘Lord, who is it?’”
Jesus said, “‘It is the one to whom I will give this piece of bread when I have dipped it in the dish.’” The he dipped his bread into the dish and handed it to Judas Iscariot. As Judas took the bread, Satan entered him.
The Lord commanded, “‘What you are about to do, do quickly.’” The minute Judas took hold of the bread, he was rising to leave. By that time it was night, when his evil deeds would be carried out unnoticed. The other disciples didn’t think twice about his leaving. He watched over the money, so they figured Jesus had sent him out to buy food or to give to the poor. They had no idea that as they shared their evening with Jesus, he was making his way to the chief priests. The clock was set in motion.
As the meal went on, some of the disciples began to argue about which one of them would be the most honored.
As Jesus spoke of washing each other’s feet in God’s Kingdom, all they seemed to hear was that there was going to be a Kingdom! They hungered to know who would be the most influential and powerful among them. They were still seeking status for themselves. They were acting like the Pharisees and scribes! In a way, they were betraying the message of Christ. They weren’t listening. They had no idea what lay before them in the days ahead. Listen to the Lord’s patient response:
“‘The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them; and those who exercise authority over them call themselves Benefactors. But you are not to be like that. Instead, the greatest among you should be like the youngest, and the one who rules like the one who serves. For who is greater, the one who is at the table or the one who serves? Is it not the one who is at the table? But I am among you as one who serves. You are those who have stood by Me in my trials. And I confer on you a kingdom, just as my Father conferred on Me so that you may eat and drink at My table in My kingdom and sit on thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.’”
Wow. WOW. The disciples will not only each have honored roles in the Kingdom of Christ, they will be given positions of authority to judge God’s holy nation. Jesus will give them a portion of His royal power. Jesus was establishing a new kind of Kingdom in the place of Israel, and these men would be the leaders. But they would have to wait to receive those positions. They would not come to them while they lived on earth. They would have to look to Christ’s everlasting Kingdom to imagine that day. That required faith about a world and a time they could not see.
Jesus began to prepare His men for what was about to unfold to make that day possible:
“‘Now is the Son of Man glorified and God is glorified in Him. God will glorify the Son in Himself, and will glorify Him at once.
“‘My children, I will be with you only a little longer. You will look for Me, and just as I told the Jews, so I tell you know: where I am going, you cannot come.
“‘A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you love one another.’”
Now it was the disciples’ turn to be troubled. Why was He leaving them? Simon Peter asked Him where He was going. Imagine the sorrow in the question.
Jesus didn’t answer. He simply said, “‘Where I am going, you cannot follow now, but you will follow later.’”
Then Jesus said words that must have filled Simon Peter with even more dismay:
“‘Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift you as wheat. But I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers.’”
All Peter wanted to do was follow his Lord. How could Jesus be saying these things? “‘Lord,’” he said, “‘I am ready to go with You to prison and to death.’” And surely, it was true. Peter had many months and even years to think about this. As the hatred of the religious leaders grew, it had become more and more dangerous to be Jesus’ friend. The best in Peter was ready to die for the Lord. But Jesus was telling Peter things that he didn’t know about himself.
Much of Peter’s bravado and action was more about himself than from pure devotion to Christ. Now Satan was after him, longing to destroy this disciple whose dedication made him such a dangerous enemy to the Evil One. But God was going to use the sifting of Satan to purify Peter. Jesus said, “‘I tell you Peter, before the cock crows today, you will deny three times that you know me.’”
When push came to shove, Peter was not going to give up his life for Jesus. He was going to save his own life by denying the Lord at His most devastating hour. Jesus understood exactly what Peter was about to do…and loved him still. For you see, the Lord knew that Peter’s denials were not about Christ Himself. They were about Peter and the work that God was doing to prepare this disciple who would become the rock of the church.
Peter was full of his own ideas about how to serve Jesus. He was convinced of his own ability to remain loyal and strong. God was going to strip him of all that misplaced bravado and false confidence. Peter was about to have his pride and presumption stripped away. But once Peter went through this terrible time, he would come out of it with a deep inner strength. Through this humiliation and sorrow, Peter would learn to depend on God.
Jesus knew that Peter was going to deny Him, but He also knew that in the end, Peter was going to follow through on his promise. He would spend the rest of his life proclaiming the Good News of God’s Kingdom, and hHe would suffer persecution and prison for his Lord. And one day, he would die for the name of Jesus.