“His disciples stared at one another, at a loss to know which of them he meant.”
Jesus’ refusal to name Judas explicitly had the effect of unsettling the other eleven disciples. “His disciples stared at one another, at a loss to know which of them he meant” (John 13:22). The disciples had been arguing over who among them was the greatest (Luke 22:24). Now they were looking at one another with suspicion and doubt wondering who was the traitor. Jesus was responsible for this sudden change in focus. He gave the benediction and turned the conversation to the subject of betrayal. The group dynamic shifted from the positive to the negative in a sentence.
For those who run an organization and who feel it is their duty to keep morale up this doesn’t seem like the most responsible thing to do. Why not pull Judas aside privately and confront him with your suspicions (Matthew 18:15)? Or, if you are going to raise the matter in the group, at least name him directly so a cloud of suspicion doesn’t hang over the whole group. Jesus’ strategy prompts us to ask, was this the loving thing to do? Why jeopardize the disciples’ peace of mind for the sake of Judas’ anonymity?
We have already seen from the text that the purpose of the conversation was to strengthen the disciples’ faith in Christ (John 13:19). Jesus’ loving discernment drew a line between preparing the disciples for betrayal and naming the betrayer. If he had explicitly named Judas, a sword wielding Peter may have taken matters into his own hands the way he did in the Garden of Gethsemane (John 18:10). Ironically, by preserving Judas’ anonymity, Jesus protected Judas from harm. His loving non-resistance allowed evil to run its course. Whatever consternation the disciples felt was a necessary emotion for participating with Jesus in this concrete demonstration of long-suffering love. The disciples were not asked if they were willing to participate, but by virtue of following Jesus they were subject to the necessity of patient endurance. Discipleship has an emotional impact. To abide in Christ is to follow his path and to bear the cross. This cannot be done without an emotional toll. These upper room relational dynamics will continue to be experienced by all those who follow the Lord Jesus.
Another reason for Jesus to involve the disciples in this emotional dilemma was to alert them to the imminent danger of betrayal and denial. Personal self-examination was more important than singling out the betrayer. It was better for the disciples to feel their vulnerability than to pounce on Judas. The prophet reminds us that “the heart is deceitful and desperately wicked” (Jeremiah 17:9). “So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall!” (1 Corinthians 10:12). Judas’ actions were premeditated and malicious, but in a few hours all the disciples will succumb to fear and flee from Jesus in his hour of crisis. As uncomfortable as this scene may be, Jesus orchestrated this soul-searching moment. It is wise for us to examine our loyalty to Jesus. The very idea of Judas ought to make us nervous.
Upper Room Reflection
If you had been in the upper room, how would you have reacted to Jesus’ warning?
Why did Jesus put the whole group on notice?
Jesus used the act of betrayal rather than Judas himself as grounds for self-examination. What is the difference?
How does God orchestrate self-examination in your life?