How do you behave during suspenseful movie scenes? I tend to make lots of noise, and call out to the characters on screen who can’t hear me (which drives my kids nuts). Today we’re going to revisit and retell the suspenseful scene where Jesus is seated next to the one who will betray him: Judas.
Where else can I listen to the podcast?
Bible Passage: John 13:17-30
Get your Freebie: The Live Like It’s True Workbook
- Article and video about the seating arrangement of the last supper
- Instructions for observing Passover
- Offering of the Sop
- Comparison Girl: Lessons from Jesus on Me-Free Living in a Measure-Up World
Music: Cade Popkin Music
A Story of Suspense
From a storytelling perspective, this is an amazing scene of suspense. There’s a dinner party. The Rabbi and his followers have gathered in an upper room, and we’re looking in—knowing that something is about to happen. Our author, John, has already let us know that Judas is going to betray Jesus, and Satan has entered him.
But then, as we watch the scene unfold, we see Jesus seat Judas beside him in the seat of honor at the feast. I’ve linked to a video that really helped me understand the customary way of seating around a triclinium, which was a low u-shaped table that had cushions around it. The guests would lean in on their left sides, and their seating arrangement was according to greatness.
And we know that Jesus seats Judas in the seat of honor because, during the meal, it’s customary to dip the “sop” which is a piece of bread and give it to an honored guest at the meal as a gesture of love and friendship. So after Jesus says that someone at this very table is going to betray him, all of the disciples start looking at each other. And Peter motions to John to ask Jesus. We’re told where John is seated – he’s reclining so his head is leaning right back on Jesus, and Jesus says to John – I assume so that the others can’t hear, “It’s the one I give a piece of bread to.”
And he gives it to Judas. This most likely means that Judas is sitting in the position of honor! That’s who you would give the sop to. So picture this scene with me. There’s a u-shaped table, and here’s how they’re arranged. Jesus is in the position of host, which is almost to the far left, with only John to his right. Then on his left, in the position of honor is Judas. And then it makes sense that Peter, who motions to John would be all the way to the far right (facing John) and he’s in the lowest position. The position of the servant.
Nothin’ but Love
If you read my book, Comparison Girl, we talked a lot about Jesus’s last shall be first statements, and I really wish I had understood this whole seating arrangement thing when I wrote that book! Here Jesus is giving them a representation of how greatness works in the kingdom. But Judas – Jesus is giving him the position of honor. He’s loving Judas, and honoring him. He’s showing him extraordinary kindness. Which is crazy to us – the ones watching the scene, because we know that Judas is Jesus’s murderer!
Have you ever been watching a scene in a movie, where there’s a character who is trusted and given access, and we know they’re the bad guy—trying to kill someone, but the victim isn’t aware? If you’re like me (and this drives my kids nuts) you’re squirming in your seat and yelling at the TV, saying, “No! Don’t let him near you! He wants to kill you!”
Well, that’s how we should be feeling if we read the scene that John has set for us. Jesus has been dropping clues left and right. Actually, they’re not even clues; He’s been telling them plainly what is going to happen. He’s just told them that someone at their very table is going to betray him, and we’re the only ones who know that Judas is the snake. He’s the one who’s being influenced by Satan.
But here’s the difference between this scene and a suspenseful movie scene. Jesus knows. As he dips the bread and hands it to Judas, Jesus shows us that he is completely aware of who his betrayer is. He’s known all along. When Jesus says, in John 13:18, “I know who I have chosen,” he’s saying, that he knows the hearts of each of these disciples, including Judas.
In my conversation with Lee Nienhuis, we talked about how proximity to Jesus isn’t the same as relationship. Jesus is called Immanuel, which means, “God came near”. And Judas got as near as anyone to God. He was next to God at the table, and dipping bread with him. But when Judas walked out the door and entered the night scene, he was walking as far away from God as could be. His proximity to Jesus meant nothing because he had no relationship to Jesus.
In just hours, both of these men will be dead. One—a death of honor and sacrifice and beautiful humility. And the other, a death of hopelessness, shame, and regret.
Looking Down at Jesus
And what kept Judas from embracing Jesus? Clearly, he had a sense of superiority. You don’t betray someone you think highly of. I heard about a wife who had been cheating on her husband, and he didn’t know. For months she lived out the facade of faithfulness, but whenever he turned his back, she would roll her eyes. When he found out about her unfaithfulness, she became open about her contempt for him. He was so stupid that he hadn’t even known about her hidden affair.
Like this betraying wife, Judas had no respect for Jesus. His heart was not warm to Jesus or his ministry. In fact, since he was the accountant and had access to the ministry purse, we’re told that he helped himself (John 12:6), which meant he had been betraying Jesus for a while now. His heart is rock hard, and ice-cold toward Jesus.
But unlike the unsuspecting husband, or the movie character who doesn’t realize they’ve let their enemy in, Jesus knows and he lets Judas close. Judas wasn’t getting away with anything. Judas was making a choice, and Jesus knew all about it.
Jesus knows the choice we’re making, as well.
What’s Your Choice?
Jesus came near for each of us, friend. He came near so that we could understand who God is. He came near, not to tower over us, but to bend low and serve us. To lift us up from our position in the pit of sin. But as we’ve just learned, being near to Jesus doesn’t save us. Relationship with Jesus changes us.
Do you have a relationship with Jesus? Have you gone past proximity and had a personal heart-level encounter? If you’ve never done so, I’m going to pray and invite you to share these words with Jesus.
“Jesus, I am a sinner just like everyone else in this world. I am dying in my sin. I know that you came to die in my place—to be the Lamb, and solve the biggest problem of my life: the separation that my sin creates between me and God. Thank you, Jesus, for humbling yourself. I see your humility the way God does: It makes you very, very great. I want my story to be wrapped up in yours. I want my sin to be nailed up on that cross, Jesus. I want your death to be in the place of mine. I want to rise up from my old life the way you rose up from that tomb. I want to not only be in close proximity to you, by going to church or being around your followers; I want to have a personal relationship with you and experience your forgiveness and comfort and love. Please change me from a Judas into a disciple, Jesus. Amen.”
If you prayed those words along with me, would you let me know? I would love to rejoice with you and answer any questions you have.
I’m going to retell the True Story of Judas which is a scene of suspense, and as I do, I want you to ask that question that Lee closed with: Am I pursuing proximity with Jesus? Or am I pursuing a relationship with him?
Retelling the Story
When the disciples gathered in the upper room for the Passover—the last meal they’ll share with Jesus—Jesus washed their feet and then talked about following his example of being a servant. And then he said something that was completely disorienting. He said, “This lesson isn’t for all of you. One of you doesn’t belong. I know each of you that I’ve invited to be my disciples, and one of you is going to betray me.”
The disciples looked at each other, wondering who Jesus was talking about. Peter motioned across the table to John and said, “Ask him who!” So John leaned back toward Jesus and said, “Who is it, Lord?” Jesus said, “It’s the one I give this piece of bread to.”
Then Jesus dipped the bread and gave it to Judas. That’s when Satan entered into Judas, and Jesus said to him, “Go quickly and do what you’re going to do.” And Judas went out into the night.
Next Time in “The True Story of Easter” Series
We’ll be back next Wednesday for the True Story of the Arrest, where I’ll be talking with an amazing friend named Lindsay Schott, who loves the Word. It’s going to be a great conversation, and I hope you’ll join us.
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Inside, you’ll find:
- The 4-page True Story Worksheet
- The 1-page True Story Worksheet
- 2-sided bookmark with Study and Story Tools
- False Narrative Watchlist
- “Awakening to the False Narratives”
- Four Reasons Journaling Prompt
- Storytelling Content Podcast Directory
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