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John 13:21-30 Study Guide: The Betrayer and the Beloved Disciple

Community Group Study Guide — The Betrayer and the Beloved Disciple
John 13:21-30

Study Information:
Jesus knows what it was like to be betrayed by a close friend. John 31:18 sees this betrayal is a fulfillment of Psalm 41:9 “Even my close friend, in whom I trusted, who ate my bread has lifted his heel against me.” Looking back it can appear obvious to us the reader that Judas was the betrayer and not a real disciple of Jesus, but if you were there it would have been really difficult to know that because Judas did all the right things. In John 13:21-30 we get a picture of the betrayer and the beloved disciple as a means of contrast. What is the difference between someone who turns away from Jesus and someone who is defined by being loved by Jesus? This is the first of five passages that focus on the “disciple whom Jesus loved,” which begs the question “what is John doing with that?” And we also are left with the question, why would Judas betrayed Jesus over to the religious leaders? Let’s explore first the betrayer and see how the beloved disciple contrast with Judas.

The Betrayer:
John 13:21-30
After washing his disciples feet, Jesus became troubled in his spirit about his upcoming betrayal and announced to the group what was going to happen so they would know and believe. There disciples were confused by this and it seems like they quickly resumed dinner and conversation as normal shortly after Jesus announced it. Typically they had a hard time understanding whenever Jesus talked of suffering and dying; but notice that they also did not immediately assume that one of them was capable of this act of betrayal. This was not because they all thought they were equally capable of betraying Jesus, but it appears like the opposite. No one thought it was Judas, or any of them for that matter because they all looked like real followers of Jesus based on what they did. All of them had taken part in helping with Jesus’ ministry and had spent 3 years with Jesus, which means they knew each other pretty well. You’d think they’d automatically assume it was Judas, but he thoroughly convinced them of his genuineness. Judas was the group treasurer and he was sitting in close proximity to Jesus which one could assume he was considered to be among “the greatest” since he was likely at Jesus’ right or left (John 13:26). Notice too that when Judas got up and left the meal that the other disciples assumed the best about him like he was going to buy more supplies for the feast or that he was going to give money to the poor (John 13:29). The disciples over valued what they could see from one’s outward actions and that put them in a danger position of assuming someone was a real disciple when that person’s heart was actually far from God. 

The Bible does not tell us concretely why Judas betrayed Jesus but it is likely that Judas became disillusioned with Jesus. First, Judas’ surname of “Iscariot” means “dagger men,” meaning it was likely he was a zealot and was hoping for political revolution and that Jesus would raise up an an army to fight Rome. Second, we know that Judas had a love for money and would often steal from their moneybag (John 12:6). If Judas was disappointed with Jesus’ ministry then he’d welcome an opportunity to profit by betraying Jesus to the religious leaders in secret. Finally, we see that this betrayal was influenced by the devil who first put it into Judas’ heart and then altered entered into Judas (John 13:2, 27). 

Judas seemed to struggle with a transactional relationship with Jesus. He looked the part, did the right things and at the end of the day was let down because Jesus did not fill his end of the bargain for Judas. Distance and disillusionment with Jesus could easily lead to a betrayal.

Instead of punishing Judas we see Jesus extend kindness. First he did not announce him as the betrayer in a way that outed him to the group rather he did so in secret and in a way that only a few disciples knew. Second, when he dipped the bread into the spread and fed it to Judas, that was something that symbolized close friendship. Finally, John 31:18 tells us that Jesus viewed Judas as a friend, someone he spent time with and showed love to. Even though Jesus knew he would be betrayed he showed kindness to the very end.  

The Beloved Disciple:
John 13:23-25
There’s another person in this story though. John introduces a new character, the “disciple whom Jesus loved.” Many people think this is John himself and likely that is true. There are many theories about why he wouldn’t just write his own name but go by a descriptor like “the disciple whom Jesus loved” for example it could have been common for people in the ancient world to write themselves anonymously into their story or that he wanted to emphasize the attribute of God’s love. Those things may be true, but we should be cautious about just jumping to saying “it’s John!” When you look at the “disciple whom Jesus loved” you can see that John is doing something intentionally with this character as he tells the story of Jesus. The Beloved Disciple is mentioned five times in the gospel of John and each time he is compared or contrasted with Peter. The Beloved Disciple shows up in this passage, the time Peter denied knowing Jesus, the cross when Peter and the rest of the disciples abandoned Jesus, the empty tomb and when Peter is being restored by Jesus in John 21. This is more than just getting details about an event and it is certainly not a random thing from John, so we have to ask the question “what is he trying to teach us?”

John compares the disciple whom Jesus loved to Peter as a way to model for his readers what faithful discipleship to Jesus looks like. Peter was a beloved church leader, but full of failures throughout the gospels, like any of us would be if we switched places. God’s grace made a huge impact in Peter’s life showing us that change is possible for any who’d follow Jesus. But, John highlights this through his comparisons with the Beloved Disciple, not to downplay Peter, but rather to invite the reader to imagine themselves in the story. To imagine themselves as beloved by God and one that follows Christ to the end. In John 13:23-25, notice what the disciple whom Jesus loved is doing; he is leaning and reclining on Jesus. Peter is pictured as far away and needing to motion to the Beloved Disciple and Judas is pictured as the betrayer. What do real disciples do in times of trouble and distress? They’re invited to draw near to Jesus. Instead of having a transactional relationship with Jesus, following Christ in genuine love is a growing desire to be near him. Keep your eyes open for the next few passages that focus on the disciple whom Jesus loved and ask yourself the question, “what does this teach me about what it means to follow Christ?”

At your community group:

Take 15-20 minutes to share about how God has been at work in your life, prayer concerns and pray for one another.

How did God speak to you through the scripture and the sermon this week? 

Discussion Questions:
Read John 13:21-30

How do the disciples react to Jesus’ news that one of them would betray him? How did the disciples think of Judas based on the text?

What are some reasons that Judas would betray Jesus? How does Jesus show kindness to Judas?

Judas seemed to do a good job at fooling the other disciples about the true state of his faith in Jesus. Have you had an experience where you over emphasized someone’s outward actions? What are some reasons we tend to over value the things we can see?

Why wouldn’t John just name himself in the gospel and instead go by the title “the disciple whom Jesus loved?” What do you think we’re supposed to learn about following Jesus through the example of the disciple whom Jesus loved in this passage?