Jesus, A Candid Shot
John 13:31-35 ESV
Muhammad Ali standing in triumph over Sonny Liston. Albert Einstein sticking his tongue out for the camera. Jackie Onassis standing regal in black next to her son as he saluted at JFK’s funeral.
These are some of the most famous pictures in recent history. They don’t just portray a person; they encapsulate a moment. These candid shots capture the personality, the ethos of the person by getting the context just right for just the right moment.
Ali’s braggadocio and twentieth century optimism. Einstein’s mad genius. Jackie’s proud stylishness even in her most tragic moment. Theses photographs capture who they are.
There are many moments like this in the life of Jesus, but one of the most poignant takes place in John 13. The opening of the chapter sets the scene:
Now before the Feast of the Passover, when Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart out of this world to the Father, having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end. During supper, when the devil had already put it into the heart of Judas Iscariot, Simon’s son, to betray him, Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going back to God, rose from supper. He laid aside his outer garments, and taking a towel, tied it around his waist. (John 13:1-4 ESV)
In this verbal crescendo so many things come together: Jesus’ death, Judas’s betrayal, and the enthronement of Christ. And the Lord’s reaction in this quantum moment is to wash feet. This act was the work of a slave, considered one of the lowliest duties.
In that culture, slaves were a common sight. They were part of daily life. They weren’t particularly loved or hated — they were just necessary. They were treated, for the most part, with consistent disregard. Slaves were essentially appliances.
And this is what Jesus chooses to do. This is the picture — like the boxer, the genius, the President’s wife — that encapsulates who he is.
Let’s look at this famous moment and see what we can learn:
- The example
- The command
- The indicator
On a spring day in 1981, a mentally disturbed young man attempted to assassinate then Pope John Paul II. He shot the Pope four times, with each bullet making contact, and the pontiff was critically wounded. The Pope made a slow but full recovery. Two years later, he visited the young man in prison to forgive him in a private conversation. One of the most famous pictures of his ministry was taken of him gently talking with his would-be killer. That’s the heart of someone who understands forgiveness, who learned from Jesus’ example here in John’s gospel and elsewhere.
To really explore the depths of John 13, we need to pay attention to the sequence of events. The disciples come together for the Passover meal. They eat together. Jesus gets up to wash feet and has the famous conversation with Peter, addressing the fisherman’s trademark enthusiasm.
Jesus then finishes the slave’s work of washing feet and reclines back at the table. It’s shortly after this that he dismisses Judas to do his dark work, and the narrative goes on.
Let’s pause right there – it’s easy to ignore that detail. Jesus washed Judas’s feet! Knowing what he was just about to do, knowing that Satan would enter Judas momentarily. Jesus knew this and didn’t hesitate for a moment to wash Judas’s feet. Those feet might have still been damp when Judas left to betray him.
Pull even further back, and you see how people sat at the table. Famously, John sat next to Jesus and rested his head on Jesus’ chest at the end of the meal. This would have been a common placement for a guest of honor at a meal. But look how Jesus signifies that Judas will be the one to betray him:
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. (John 13:26 ESV)
Why was Judas right there to receive the morsel of bread? Because Judas was seated right next to Jesus! Whether he was placed there by someone else or took the place himself, we don’t know. But Jesus shared the table — right next to him — with the man he knew would betray him.
This is the example. This is that candid shot of who Jesus is: sharing a dish with his betrayer, washing the traitor’s feet. Jesus shares that example before he starts commenting on it at all. He speaks to the disoriented, uncomfortable disciples to say: “This. This right here. What I just did, this is what the kingdom is like.”
Then John punctuates this scene with his characteristic use of light and dark in describing Judas:
So, after receiving the morsel of bread, he immediately went out. And it was night. (John 13:30 NRSV)
“A new commandment I give you…” (John 13:34)
And with these words, Jesus unlocks all of human history and human potential. This is the hinge it all hangs upon: love, even before you are loved. Love, even when you don’t receive payment or reward, even when your love is unrequited. Love because loving is its own reward. Love for its own sake, just like Jesus did in washing feet, even those of Judas.
In the culture of the time, there was a steady exchange of honor. I honor you by getting you a gift, you honor me by getting me a gift. I honor you by showing you hospitality, and my honor profile is raised in the community, which means status and better connections and networking. There was a strong cultural exchange of quid pro quo.
And we see the same in our society as well. Giving gifts with the expectation of getting something back. Networking to make connections that will pay off in the future. I scratch your back, you scratch mine. Yet in ancient times and in our own, we all know there is something more. There is something better about giving freely, something that brings us joy and meaning and lightness of heart. Even when there’s no one there to applaud the action, we know that selfless giving brings us some of our greatest joy.
Jesus articulated what that “something more” is all about. He made sense of the human journey and the very human urge to give and told us: That’s the key. Giving before we are given to, participating in generosity: these urges to give are the only reason that humanity has survived, and they are the key to humanity thriving. CS Lewis articulates it vividly:
Meanwhile the cross comes before the crown and tomorrow is a Monday morning. A cleft has opened in the pitiless walls of the world, and we are invited to follow our great Captain inside. The following Him is, of course, the essential point. (Lewis, the Weight of Glory)
To know Jesus, to follow the servant’s way of Jesus, is to walk through that cleft in the “pitiless walls of the world.” Instead of dog-eat-dog, instead of the brutal cycle of seeking and losing status, we’re invited to follow the Lord who scrubbed toes, who took the posture of dishonor because he knew it was his greatest glory. We’re called to be truly free to love.
The great irony of Jesus’ enthronement begins. The language and detail of Jesus’ crucifixion the next day portray his passion as his enthronement. He is given a purple robe (Mark 15); he is given a reed in his hand in a cruel imitation of a scepter (Matthew 27); and he is coronated with a crown of thorns. When this king is exalted, he is “lifted up” (John 12) onto the rough wood of a cross.
Jesus calls us along this royal path. He calls us not simply to love our neighbors as ourselves, but to love as he loves –– without expectation, without caveat, without condition.
Think about who is in the room when Jesus speaks these words:
- Peter – a leather-neck hot-head
- Simon the Zealot – a terrorist who fought Rome with violence
- Matthew – a tax collector who made his money by selling out to Rome
- Thomas – a self-protective skeptic
- John – A young follower of John the Baptist who was likely half revolutionary and half confused mystic.
And several others who were all over the map in terms of loyalties, backgrounds, and character. These are the people to whom Jesus gives his great commandment and gives a workshop on how the commandment is to be lived out in daily life. He then gives the primary indicator of the people who follow Jesus:
“By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:35 ESV)
Jesus started with an intensely divided group to show what Christian unity would eventually look like. We have biblical records of infighting and one-upmanship in the ranks of the apostles, but Jesus knew this, and still chose them. He then gave them this dubious indicator of his presence: If you love each other, they’ll know you belong to me.
Two great theologians, John Wesley and George Whitefield, were huge influences in England’s Evangelical Revival in the 1700s. In a time without internet, television, or much media to speak of at all, these renowned orators would have been some of the biggest pop stars around. And these two were famous theological rivals. They wrote against each other and spoke against each other, holding differing views within the same faith. Their disagreement was as famous as their reputations.
At one point, one of Whitefield’s followers ventured the question, “We won’t see Wesley in heaven, will we?”
Whitefield replied, “No.”
The man then conjectured, “So you don’t think Wesley knows Jesus?”
Whitefield declared, “No! He will be so close to the throne of God and we so far away that we won’t be able to see him from where we sit!”
Years later, when Whitefield died, he requested that Wesley himself would speak at the funeral. So, great disagreement fomented between these two men, great differences in the theological details of their understanding of faith, but also great love.
That’s the indicator. That’s our first and last witness to the hope that is within us: love. For Jesus to bring together his group of twelve, and for us still to hold fellowship as the 2.5 billion Christ-followers in the world today, is the primary indicator that we are his disciples. Think of the love that works in a complicated relationship like that of Wesley and Whitefield, or those of differing political opinions, social classes, racial backgrounds, economic levels — this is the other-worldly love that Jesus is talking about, and it transforms everything it touches.
So, let’s look at what happened in that moment, in the upper room, over a clay basin of water, centuries ago:
The example – Judas’s feet were washed clean when he left to betray Jesus. Our Lord took the posture of a servant, even to his betrayer as an example of what his kingdom looks like. Where can we take the posture of a servant in our daily lives? Where can we take it as a church in our community?
The commandment – Jesus unlocks the key to the surviving and thriving of humanity: Loving, while expecting nothing in return. The only way our race will survive is if we learn to give and love without expecting to have our back scratched in return. To do this is the way of Jesus, and the secret to true freedom. Do we love first? Do we preemptively love others?
The indicator – “They’ll know we are Christians by our love,” the old song goes. Wesley and Whitefield show us that even before we can have our theology hammered out to the last detail, we can still share love. The apostles – very different men from radically diverse backgrounds – eventually served, and some even died alongside each other because they had Christ’s world-stopping, self-sacrificial love for each other. How can we experience this harmony? How can we be an agent of healing in our church family?
The great theologian Francis Shaeffer called love and unity the “final apologetic.” We can argue the logic of the Christian story with eloquence and undeniable force, but the “final apologetic” that brings people to faith is not clever presentation; it is love.
This year’s theme in Grace Communion International is “Compelled by love.” His love compels us to listen to others, to honor each other’s opinions, to respect each other’s differences, to look at (see) others as beloved children of God. His love compels us to reach out to neighbors and friends and share God’s love and life with them, telling them that they already belong to God, and we want them to know the one they belong to. We are compelled by love, because otherwise, as Paul said, and it still rings true, “If we have not love, we are nothing.”
Small Group Discussion Questions
- Can you think a candid shot (in news or movies or other media) that captured the essence of a person?
- What do you think of Jesus’ relationship with Judas, especially in that last night?
- Even though Jesus knew he would end up the way he did, Jesus chose him. Why?
- Talk about yourself for a minute. If someone was to take a candid shot that would encapsulate the best of you, what would you be doing?
- We don’t have slaves in most of the world today. In our time, what’s the equivalent of washing feet?
- How do we serve in this way?
What is the second death?
- Some (like WCG) believe it is a death from which there is no resurrection. Some describe it as annihilation.
- Others (like most evangelicals) believe it is the beginning of eternal suffering … which means the second death (according to them) is not really a death, but eternal life.
So which is it? Eternal death? Or eternal life (or eternal separation)? OR is it something else?
I believe it is something else … and I’m going to try to explain what I believe the second death is.
WHAT DOES THE BIBLE SAY?
There are four instances in the KJV of the Bible …
- Revelation 2:11 He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches; He that overcometh shall not be hurt of the second death.
- Revelation 20:6 Blessed and holy is he that hath part in the first resurrection: on such the second death hath no power, but they shall be priests of God and of Christ, and shall reign with him a thousand years.
- Revelation 20:14 And death and hell were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death.
- Revelation 21:8 But the fearful, and unbelieving, and the abominable, and murderers, and whoremongers, and sorcerers, and idolaters, and all liars, shall have their part in the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone: which is the second death.
What does Revelation 2:11 and Revelation 20:6 tell us about the second death?
What does Revelation 20:14 tell us about the second death?
What does Revelation 21:8 tell us about the second death?
What is the difference between the lake in Revelation 20:14 and the one in Revelation 21:8? (Cf. Revelation 19:20, 20:10)
Do you believe the verses refer to the same lake?
What do you think brimstone is?
What do you think the original readers might have thought about the presence of brimstone?
How was brimstone used in the past (in the first century)?
- From the website of The Sulphur Institute …
The major derivative of sulphur is sulphuric acid (H2SO4), the highest production volume chemical, used as an industrial raw material. The largest single use of sulphuric acid is for the manufacture of phosphoric acid, a precursor to phosphate fertilizers and non-fertilizer phosphates. Sulphur and its derivatives are also used in metallurgical ore leaching, caprolactam, pigments, hydrofluoric acid, pulp and paper chemicals, sulphur fertilizers, petroleum refining, batteries, detergents, fungicides, carbon disulphide, pharmaceuticals, personal care products, cosmetics, leather tanning, rubber vulcanization, plasticizers, dyestuffs, explosives, aramid fibers, construction materials, sugar manufacture, dehydrating agent in organic chemical and petrochemical processes, water treatment, and steel pickling.
- From the Total Victory in Christ website …
Sulfur, also known as brimstone, has been used in the refining of metals since ancient times. Gold refining by sulphurization is even still done by the United States mint (a). Sulfur is highly reactive and by adding small amounts of sulfur to the crucible unwanted metals are transformed into suphides. This reaction will even flash and smoke. The gold itself is resistant to this reaction and will settle to bottom in a more purified form since the other metals, now trapped as suphides, float to the top. The ancients would not have understand the chemistry behind this process but they most certainly understood the results. Pure gold!
- Also from the TVIC website …
The lake of fire with sulfur is the image of an ancient gold refining process. Literally a crucible of molten gold with sulfur added to eliminate impurities. This understanding is confirmed in Revelation 3:18. “I counsel you to buy from me gold refined by fire (pyros).”
Christ himself uses the image of gold refined in fire when rebuking the church in Laodicea for being neither hot nor cold.
The lake of fire was never meant to be understood as an actual lake or realm of punishment in literal fire. Rather the lake of fire is merely a picture of the gold refiner’s crucible, the process of purifying gold. Understanding the imagery of the Greek words behind these passages brings the text to life.
What about the word “lake”?
- The Greek word translated as “lake” literally means a pond, large or small, depending on the context. This is the Greek word limné : “Probably from limen (through the idea of nearness of shore); a pond (large or small) — lake.” (Strong’s Concordance).
- [Biblehub.com says limnen, from limen (pond)]
- Thus the lake of fire is the image of a tiny pond of molten metal … as we would see in a refiner’s crucible … not a lake filled with fire. Only a psychopath would torture people in literal fire for all eternity. Most certainly God, who is love, would not do such a thing nor would it come to his mind.
What about the word “torment”?
- The Greek word translated as “torment” is actually the word “touchstone”. This is the Greek word “basanizó”. “Cognate: 931 básanos – originally, a black, silicon-based stone used as “a touchstone” to test the purity of precious metals (like silver and gold).” – (Strong’s Concordance).
- The Greek word básanos is where we get the word “basalt”, a type of rock that was used for making touchstones in the ancient world.
Isaiah 4:4 4 when the Lord shall have washed away the filth of the daughters of Zion, and shall have purged the blood of Jerusalem from the midst thereof by the spirit of judgment, and by the spirit of burning.
Isaiah33:14-15 The sinners in Zion are afraid; fearfulness hath surprised the hypocrites. Who among us shall dwell with the devouring fire? who among us shall dwell with everlasting burnings? 15 He that walketh righteously, and speaketh uprightly; he that despiseth the gain of oppressions, that shaketh his hands from holding of bribes, that stoppeth his ears from hearing of blood, and shutteth his eyes from seeing evil;
Isaiah 48:10 Behold, I have refined thee, but not with silver; I have chosen thee in the furnace of affliction.
Zephaniah 3:8-9 Therefore wait ye upon me, saith the Lord, until the day that I rise up to the prey:
for my determination is to gather the nations, that I may assemble the kingdoms, to pour upon them mine indignation, even all my fierce anger: for all the earth shall be devoured with the fire of my jealousy. 9 For then will I turn to the people a pure language, that they may all call upon the name of the Lord, to serve him with one consent.
Malachi 3:2-3 But who may abide the day of his coming? and who shall stand when he appeareth? for he is like a refiner’s fire, and like fullers’ soap: 3 and he shall sit as a refiner and purifier of silver: and he shall purify the sons of Levi, and purge them as gold and silver, that they may offer unto the Lord an offering in righteousness.
Matthew 3:11 I indeed baptize you with water unto repentance: but he that cometh after me is mightier than I, whose shoes I am not worthy to bear: he shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost, and with fire:
Luke 12:47-49 And that servant, which knew his lord’s will, and prepared not himself, neither did according to his will, shall be beaten with many stripes. 48 But he that knew not, and did commit things worthy of stripes, shall be beaten with few stripes. For unto whomsoever much is given, of him shall be much required: and to whom men have committed much, of him they will ask the more. 49 I am come to send fire on the earth; and what will I, if it be already kindled?
- Compare Revelation 1:18 I am he that liveth, and was dead; and, behold, I am alive for evermore, Amen; and have the keys of hell and of death.
1 Corinthians 3:13,15 every man’s work shall be made manifest: for the day shall declare it, because it shall be revealed by fire; and the fire shall try every man’s work of what sort it is . . . If any man’s work shall be burned, he shall suffer loss: but he himself shall be saved; yet so as by fire.
Hebrews 12:29 for our God is a consuming fire
1 Peter 1:7 that the trial of your faith, being much more precious than of gold that perisheth, though it be tried with fire, might be found unto praise and honour and glory at the appearing of Jesus Christ:
Revelation 3:17-19 Because thou sayest, I am rich, and increased with goods, and have need of nothing; and knowest not that thou art wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked: 18 I counsel thee to buy of me gold tried in the fire, that thou mayest be rich; and white raiment, that thou mayest be clothed, and that the shame of thy nakedness do not appear; and anoint thine eyes with eyesalve, that thou mayest see. 19 As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten: be zealous therefore, and repent.
4 And I saw thrones, and they sat upon them, and judgment was given unto them: and I saw the souls of them that were beheaded for the witness of Jesus, and for the word of God, and which had not worshipped the beast, neither his image, neither had received his mark upon their foreheads, or in their hands; and they lived and reigned with Christ a thousand years. 5 But the rest of the dead lived not again until the thousand years were finished. This is the first resurrection. 6 Blessed and holy is he that hath part in the first resurrection: on such the second death hath no power, but they shall be priests of God and of Christ, and shall reign with him a thousand years.
7 And when the thousand years are expired, Satan shall be loosed out of his prison, 8 and shall go out to deceive the nations which are in the four quarters of the earth, Gog and Magog, to gather them together to battle: the number of whom is as the sand of the sea. 9 And they went up on the breadth of the earth, and compassed the camp of the saints about, and the beloved city: and fire came down from God out of heaven, and devoured them. 10 And the devil that deceived them was cast into the lake of fire and brimstone, where the beast and the false prophet are, and shall be tormented day and night for ever and ever.
11 And I saw a great white throne, and him that sat on it, from whose face the earth and the heaven fled away; and there was found no place for them. 12 And I saw the dead, small and great, stand before God; and the books were opened: and another book was opened, which is the book of life: and the dead were judged out of those things which were written in the books, according to their works. 13 And the sea gave up the dead which were in it; and death and hell delivered up the dead which were in them: and they were judged every man according to their works. 14 And death and hell were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death. 15 And whosoever was not found written in the book of life was cast into the lake of fire.
Revelation 21 And I saw a new heaven and a new earth: for the first heaven and the first earth were passed away; and there was no more sea. 2 And I John saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. 3 And I heard a great voice out of heaven saying, Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and he will dwell with them, and they shall be his people, and God himself shall be with them, and be their God. 4 And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away.
5 And he that sat upon the throne said, Behold, I make all things new. And he said unto me, Write: for these words are true and faithful. 6 And he said unto me, It is done. I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end. I will give unto him that is athirst of the fountain of the water of life freely. 7 He that overcometh shall inherit all things; and I will be his God, and he shall be my son. 8 But the fearful, and unbelieving, and the abominable, and murderers, and whoremongers, and sorcerers, and idolaters, and all liars, shall have their part in the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone: which is the second death.
9 And there came unto me one of the seven angels which had the seven vials full of the seven last plagues, and talked with me, saying, Come hither, I will shew thee the bride, the Lamb’s wife. 10 And he carried me away in the spirit to a great and high mountain, and shewed me that great city, the holy Jerusalem, descending out of heaven from God, 11 having the glory of God: and her light was like unto a stone most precious, even like a jasper stone, clear as crystal; 12 and had a wall great and high, and had twelve gates, and at the gates twelve angels, and names written thereon, which are the names of the twelve tribes of the children of Israel: 13 on the east three gates; on the north three gates; on the south three gates; and on the west three gates. 14 And the wall of the city had twelve foundations, and in them the names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb.
15 And he that talked with me had a golden reed to measure the city, and the gates thereof, and the wall thereof. 16 And the city lieth foursquare, and the length is as large as the breadth: and he measured the city with the reed, twelve thousand furlongs. The length and the breadth and the height of it are equal. 17 And he measured the wall thereof, an hundred and forty and four cubits, according to the measure of a man, that is, of the angel. 18 And the building of the wall of it was of jasper: and the city was pure gold, like unto clear glass. 19 And the foundations of the wall of the city were garnished with all manner of precious stones. The first foundation was jasper; the second, sapphire; the third, a chalcedony; the fourth, an emerald; 20 the fifth, sardonyx; the sixth, sardius; the seventh, chrysolite; the eighth, beryl; the ninth, a topaz; the tenth, a chrysoprasus; the eleventh, a jacinth; the twelfth, an amethyst. 21 And the twelve gates were twelve pearls; every several gate was of one pearl: and the street of the city was pure gold, as it were transparent glass.
22 And I saw no temple therein: for the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are the temple of it. 23 And the city had no need of the sun, neither of the moon, to shine in it: for the glory of God did lighten it, and the Lamb is the light thereof. 24 And the nations of them which are saved shall walk in the light of it: and the kings of the earth do bring their glory and honour into it. 25 And the gates of it shall not be shut at all by day: for there shall be no night there. 26 And they shall bring the glory and honour of the nations into it. 27 And there shall in no wise enter into it any thing that defileth, neither whatsoever worketh abomination, or maketh a lie: but they which are written in the Lamb’s book of life.
Revelation 22 And he shewed me a pure river of water of life, clear as crystal, proceeding out of the throne of God and of the Lamb. 2 In the midst of the street of it, and on either side of the river, was there the tree of life, which bare twelve manner of fruits, and yielded her fruit every month: and the leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations. 3 And there shall be no more curse: but the throne of God and of the Lamb shall be in it; and his servants shall serve him: 4 and they shall see his face; and his name shall be in their foreheads. 5 And there shall be no night there; and they need no candle, neither light of the sun; for the Lord God giveth them light: and they shall reign for ever and ever.
6 And he said unto me, These sayings are faithful and true: and the Lord God of the holy prophets sent his angel to shew unto his servants the things which must shortly be done.
7 Behold, I come quickly: blessed is he that keepeth the sayings of the prophecy of this book.
8 And I John saw these things, and heard them. And when I had heard and seen, I fell down to worship before the feet of the angel which shewed me these things. 9 Then saith he unto me, See thou do it not: for I am thy fellowservant, and of thy brethren the prophets, and of them which keep the sayings of this book: worship God. 10 And he saith unto me, Seal not the sayings of the prophecy of this book: for the time is at hand. 11 He that is unjust, let him be unjust still: and he which is filthy, let him be filthy still: and he that is righteous, let him be righteous still: and he that is holy, let him be holy still.
12 And, behold, I come quickly; and my reward is with me, to give every man according as his work shall be. 13 I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end, the first and the last. 14 Blessed are they that do his commandments, that they may have right to the tree of life, and may enter in through the gates into the city. 15 For without are dogs, and sorcerers, and whoremongers, and murderers, and idolaters, and whosoever loveth and maketh a lie.
16 I Jesus have sent mine angel to testify unto you these things in the churches. I am the root and the offspring of David, and the bright and morning star.
17 And the Spirit and the bride say, Come. And let him that heareth say, Come. And let him that is athirst come. And whosoever will, let him take the water of life freely. 18 For I testify unto every man that heareth the words of the prophecy of this book, If any man shall add unto these things, God shall add unto him the plagues that are written in this book: 19 and if any man shall take away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part out of the book of life, and out of the holy city, and from the things which are written in this book.
20 He which testifieth these things saith, Surely I come quickly.
Amen. Even so, come, Lord Jesus.
21 The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all. Amen.