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The Life of Jesus - Series 12: Episode 12

Servant leadership in the Kingdom

| Martin Charlesworth
John 13:21-30
John 13:31-38
Luke 22:22-23
Luke 22:24-38
Matthew 26:21-22
Matthew 26:23-25
Matthew 26:31-35
Mark 14:18-21
Mark 14:27-31

During the Last Supper, Jesus predicts that one of his disciples would betray him. Judas leaves the meal. Jesus teaches about servant leadership and gives guidance about their future ministry.

During the Last Supper, Jesus predicts that one of his disciples would betray him. Judas leaves the meal. Jesus teaches about servant leadership and gives guidance about their future ministry.


Hello, welcome to Series 12 and Episode 12, and we are talking today about 'Servant Leadership in the Kingdom. The context is we are in the story of the Last Supper. We are going to look at a number of different texts in this episode, parallel passages from John, Luke and Matthew that tell us parts of the story of something very important that happens at the Last Supper. Weare going to start looking at John 13: 21 - 30.

Introduction and Recap

As always in these episodes, we are trying to get everything firmly in context and work out what the storyline is. You have probably been following through the different series. I hope you have. If you have been with us on the journey, you will know that we are in the middle of the very exciting, thrilling and tense story of the last week of Jesus' life, which we have been telling in Series 11 and now Series 12. We have seen the dramatic events of Jesus coming into Jerusalem on a donkey with huge crowds around him on Palm Sunday, and heading, on Monday, to the Temple for a major confrontation with the religious leaders by overturning the tables of their market trading exercise in the Temple. Then we have seen a very tense day in the Temple compound on Tuesday of that week whilst Jesus was being questioned, and he counter-questioned his opponents. We see this great conflict between Jesus and the religious establishment being built up to a final climax. Jesus prophetically knows what the outcome is going to be; it is going to be his death; he's going to be arrested, tried and ultimately executed through the activities of the religious authorities, working in association with the military and political rulers, the Romans. He has been warning his disciples all the way through, that this is the eventual outcome. Having seen the events of Sunday, Monday and Tuesday, probably on Wednesday, the anointing by Mary of Jesus takes place, in the house of Simon the Leper, in the village of Bethany, just a few kilometres outside the city of Jerusalem. It is at that point that one of Jesus' followers, Judas Iscariot, slips out of the meal and the social time they were spending at that home and heads off back into the city, just a few kilometres away, and goes to the religious leaders, the chief priests and the rulers from the Sanhedrin council and offers to betray Jesus. They have been waiting for this moment because their dilemma was they wanted to arrest him but they didn't want to do it in public because the crowds are generally very sympathetic to Jesus and there might be a huge civic unrest if they did that. They want to arrest him privately. We know, in the texts, that Judas has been to them and they have offered him money. He said, 'I'll come back to you again when I know his movements and where he's going to be at certain times. I will enable you to arrest him privately.' Judas then rejoins the disciples - no one knows what he has done. Jesus is aware, through supernatural revelation, that he is betraying him but all the other disciples don't know. 

Then they gather for the Last Supper and this story is the one that is unfolding at the moment. Before they gather, not only have they been in Bethany but Jesus, on that Tuesday evening after all the questioning, had told them a great deal about future judgement on Israel, the end times, and the Second Coming of Christ which we've discussed in detail at the beginning of this series.

There is a lot happening but the immediate context that we have been looking at in the last few episodes is the gathering together for the Last Supper. We are now part of the way through the Last Supper and we notice that Peter and John were the ones who were called to prepare the upper room in the city and to prepare all the food for the Passover meal, which they began to share. We noticed, a couple of episodes ago Jesus, in a very extraordinary and amazing way, as described in John 13, during the meal with his twelve disciples around him, suddenly takes the form of a domestic servant and washes their feet. This causes quite some reaction, particularly in Peter, who thinks, I can't imagine any reason why my master should serve me by washing my feet, taking the place of a servant. That becomes very important for our episode today. We began to discuss servant leadership in the last episode. We looked specifically at the institution of the Lord's Supper, or the Communion, or what we call the Eucharist in some church traditions. During the meal Jesus took the main elements of the meal - the wine and the bread, two of the main elements of the meal - and he made them especially significant, describing them as symbols of his life given in death; the blood of Jesus being represented by the wine and his body being represented by the bread, which is to be broken. They became symbols of the death of Jesus. He described it, as we saw in Luke's account, as a new covenant that he was making through his sacrificial death on the cross. We looked at some details when we saw that event taking place.

Jesus Predicts His Betrayal

All that having happened, we come back in the story to the question of Judas. It is a very tense situation. He is there as one of the disciples, apparently a totally loyal follower but we know he has already been to the High Priest and Sanhedrin and offered to betray Jesus. He has decided already that he is going to betray him, but we don't know when this is going to happen and it turns out that that moment is right now. It is just about to happen. Jesus has been talking about betrayal in the previous verses and warning that somebody is going to betray him. Suddenly this becomes quite distressing for Jesus, in the middle of the meal. This is an intimate moment with his disciples and yet a painful moment because something terrible is about to happen. John 13: 21 - 30.

‘After he had said this, Jesus was troubled in spirit and testified, “Very truly I tell you one of you is going to betray me.” His disciples stared at one another, at a loss to know which of them he meant. One of them, the disciple whom Jesus loved, was reclining next to him. Simon Peter motioned to this disciple and said, “Ask him which one he means.” Leaning back against Jesus, he asked him, “Lord, who is it?” Jesus answered, “It's the one to whom I will give this piece of bread when I have dipped it in the dish”. Then, dipping the piece of bread, he gave it to Judas, the son of Simon Iscariot. As soon as Judas took the bread, Satan entered into him. So Jesus told him, “What you're about to do, do quickly.” But no-one at the meal understood why Jesus said this to him. Since Judas had charge of the money, some thought Jesus was telling him to buy what was needed for the festival, or to give something to the poor. As soon as Judas had taken the bread, he went out. And it was night.’

John 13:21-30, NIV

This is a really painful and poignant moment in the life of Jesus. No wonder he was distressed. He could see one of the people he had invested so much of his time in turning against him and preparing to betray him. There is an interesting point here because Simon Peter is next to a disciple, who is next to Jesus at the table, and this disciple is described in verse 23 as ‘the disciple whom Jesus loved’ - an anonymous statement. It is the first time we get this statement in John's Gospel but there are several more references to this disciple in the subsequent chapters. Who is it? Scholars have debated and argued over this for many years but the most likely explanation is that it is actually John himself, John the apostle, John the disciple of Jesus. If we take John to be the author of this Gospel, which I do - not everyone agrees with our position but I've taken this position all the way through, right from the beginning. If he is the author, he is describing himself but he doesn't name himself out of a certain shyness or reluctance to be prominent in the story, so he describes himself as ‘the disciple whom Jesus loved’ which is a representation of close friendship. Jesus had a particular friendship with John who was one of the inner circle - Peter, James and John. You probably remember in earlier episodes, Jesus sometimes took them aside in a special way, and he is going to do it again shortly. This disciple asked Jesus who it was going to be. Jesus identified him by the act of giving a piece of bread to one of the other disciples and it turned out to be Judas, who very quickly went out. Still the others didn't know what exactly Judas had gone to do. Their assumption was he was doing a job for Jesus because he had practical responsibilities. He ran the finances for the disciples. That meant he had to go and buy things regularly and make practical arrangements, and maybe that is what Jesus had in mind, according to the other disciples. They were not yet ready to fully understand what was going on in this situation. Matthew adds an interesting addition. In Matthew 26: 23 to 25 when Jesus' words are quoted

‘Jesus replied, “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 that he had not been born.” Then Judas, the one who would betray him, said, “Surely you don't mean me Rabbi.” Jesus answered, “You have said so.”

Matthew 26:23-25, NIV

That is Matthew's addition to the conversation that passed between them. Judas has gone; he has gone to the High Priest and the Sanhedrin and he will reappear in the story very soon. He now knows what Jesus' plans are for that evening; he is sharing the supper and he is going to head out from there late in the evening. He has understood, from conversations he had with Jesus, that his plans are to head to a certain place which we know as the Garden of Gethsemane later on that evening. He has got that information in mind and he is going to the high priests and the Sanhedrin to tell them. 

Meanwhile, turning to Luke's account, Luke 22: 24. At this very time, Judas having left, another discussion started amongst the disciples, a rather surprising discussion which is described here.

‘A dispute also arose among them as to which of them was considered to be greatest.’

Luke 22:24, NIV

Even at this critical hour, the disciples are thinking about their own roles in Jesus' Kingdom. It seems surprising to us that they should be thinking about this when there is an imminent threat of Jesus' death and dispersal of the disciples by the authorities, which they are aware of in a general sense but clearly they are not focusing on that - they are more focusing on Jesus' power and ability to overcome all opposition. They have a very strong theology and understanding that Jesus is going to bring in what we called the messianic Kingdom - God's Kingdom in full power on the earth with the Messiah ruling, and they are pretty convinced that when he does that, which might be imminent, they would receive positions of authority - a kind of political and religious authority in Jewish society and extending beyond that. That is what they had in mind.

Servant Leadership

However, Jesus took the opportunity of this dispute to teach them very clearly about leadership - Luke 22: 25 - 28

‘Jesus said to them, “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.”’

Luke 22:25-28, NIV

Jesus is trying to help his disciples here, as he has done before, to get the right idea of what leadership in God's Kingdom is all about. He does so, by considering the way that society views authority, particularly Gentile society. When he talks about the Gentiles, Jesus is talking primarily about the Romans who were the Gentile rulers of the country, the only Gentile authorities that the disciples fully experienced. Their model of leadership is based on the fact that those who rule are those who have power - political power, economic power, social power, military power. The power of force. It is based on power not servanthood. They describe themselves as benefactors, in the same way that the Romans to a great extent would describe themselves to the Jews as their benefactors. They would say ‘Look we have come to take over your country; we rule your country but look, we are producing good things: we are improving the roads; building infrastructure in cities; providing security through the army; and we have got a clear taxation system. We are the benefactors of your society.’ In fact, it is all about power and they were drawing resources out of the country to support the Roman Empire.

What Jesus says is, in fact the greater authority you have, the greater you are the servant of others. He describes himself as the ultimate role model. Christian leaders should model themselves on the leadership style of Jesus. It is not without authority - it has a huge authority but that authority is the innate, inner authority of the God-given gifts that an individual has and the Holy Spirit empowering of those gifts, that enables that person to be a preacher, or a teacher, a pastor or a musician, an evangelist or any other ministry in the church. They are to use their gifts to serve others, not to build any particular hierarchy or power structure. The Roman authorities in Israel, at the time, had a very clear hierarchy and power structure. You knew exactly where you were in the power structure and the ultimate leader was the governor Pontius Pilate. All authority stemmed from him in the country. He was accountable directly to the Emperor.

The Kingdom of God

Moving on - Luke 22: 29 - 30, Jesus develops their understanding further,

‘“And I confer on you a kingdom, just as my Father conferred one 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.”’

Luke 22:29-30, NIV

Jesus is saying there is going to be a real Kingdom of God. It exists now and it is going to come in much fuller manifestation in reality sometime in the future. The disciples are going to have a very critical role in that Kingdom. In fact their role is going to be such that they are going to sit on thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel, which seems to be a position of real institutional power in the messianic Kingdom. The whole point about this discussion is, this is much further in the future. This is associated with when Jesus returns. He is going to return in power and, amongst many other things, he is going to be ruling over the redeemed people of Israel, and the disciples are going to be assisting. They are going to be ruling over a redeemed and reconstructed nation. Jesus hints about these things of the messianic Kingdom. He doesn't develop them into much detail, so we only want to go as far as the detail leads us but he is telling them you are going to have real power in my Kingdom but your task in order to reach that position is to adopt the role of a servant leader.

Jesus Predicts Peter's Denial

Verses 31 - 34, continuing the narrative, speaking to Peter by his other name,

‘“Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift all of you as wheat. But I have prayed for you Simon, that your faith will not fail. And when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers.” But he replied, “Lord, I'm ready to go with you to prison and to death.” Jesus answered, “I tell you, Peter, before the rooster crows today, you will deny three times that you know me.”

Luke 22:31-34, NIV

This talk about a future messianic Kingdom is all very well but in the intervening period, right now, the disciples are going to be tested in a profound way. Jesus describes a spiritual battle that is going on. Not only has Satan and the demonic powers deceived, misled and taken control of the activities of Judas Iscariot, through his willing giving in to sin over a long period of time, but those demonic forces want to undermine, disunite and ultimately neutralise the rest of the disciples, so they cannot continue the work of Jesus after he has died and risen again. Even Peter is going to be tried very severely within a few hours. Jesus predicts he is going to be denying that he is a follower of Jesus, or even knows him. Peter finds this incredible that Jesus should say such a thing but we will see as the story unfolds, that this is exactly what happens. He will deny Jesus three times.

Future Ministry

Moving on to the last section of this passage, verses 35 - 38.

‘Then Jesus asked them, “When I sent you without purse, bag or sandals, did you lack anything?” “Nothing,” they answered. He said to them, “But now if you have a purse, take it, and also a bag; and if you don't have a sword, sell your cloak and buy one. It is written: ‘And he was numbered with the transgressors’; and I tell you that this must be fulfilled in me. Yes, what is written about me is reaching its fulfilment. The disciples said, “See, Lord here are two swords.” “That's enough!” he replied.’

Luke 22:35-38, NIV

This is an enigmatic and really interesting passage about preparing for ministry in a new context - ministry without the presence of Jesus, and ministry in places which are less friendly than the Jewish districts that the disciples have been accustomed to travelling in, especially in Galilee. Jesus described the fact that, when he sent them out, they always had a full provision. He is referring back here to the sending out of the Twelve, as recorded in Luke 9 and Matthew 10, and the sending out of the seventy-two, as recorded in Luke 10. We have discussed those itinerant ministries in previous episodes in some detail. It is interesting that Jesus encouraged them to travel light and to rely on hospitality and God's provision wherever they went. Now he is saying they need to prepare for a different season. They need to prepare, making provision for their needs and being careful about security. The disciples have received hospitality wherever they went in Israel. There were always people who would be favourable to them so they didn't need to consider provisions and didn't need to consider security that much while Jesus was popular. Now they are going to be travelling far and wide in dangerous situations and are going to be going long distances across different parts of the Roman world, where security on the road was a very great issue.

There is an interesting question here. What does he mean by the reference to swords? These were short swords that were carried around frequently by people for personal protection. When Jesus speaks about having a sword in the future, is he talking literally or is he talking symbolically or metaphorically? That is an important question for us to consider. You can argue it both ways. I would propose to you that it is unlikely that this is a literal statement because if you sell your cloak then you are selling one of the most important things you need in order to travel. It seems unlikely that he literally meant you sold your cloak in order to buy a sword. The sword is a representation of security and so he is pointing, I think, towards taking consideration of security as you are travelling far and wide. He is preparing them for a much more dangerous and difficult lifestyle when they will, all of them, at one stage or another, have left the nation of Israel and they are heading into much more hostile cultural environments where they are a minority people - the Jews who are not favoured - and they are preaching a Gospel that will be a threat and a challenge to people. The reason I think this is probably not literal is that, in all other contexts, Jesus speaks about non-violence, and the swords that are mentioned here in verse 38 are almost certainly swords that were discovered in the venue because there is no reference to the disciples ever carrying swords at an earlier stage. If you look in the book of Acts, there is no reference to them resorting to swords for self-defence or personal security at any point later on. Jesus advocates a position of non-violence in connection with the Gospel advance and the lack of use of force at a very fundamental level in the Sermon on the Mount. (Matt 5 - 7) Also interestingly enough, in an incident that follows very quickly after this, which we're going to look at in a subsequent episode which I think sheds a lot of light on this passage. Wherever these two swords came from, and I am proposing they were ones that they discovered in the venue and were not carrying beforehand, we find that later on when Jesus is arrested, Peter, taking one of these swords, strikes and injures one of the people who is in that group - a servant of the High Priest. Jesus heals that servant and rebukes Peter for the use of that sword, which suggests to us that this comment here about the sword is a symbolic or metaphorical statement, and what he's really referring to is - consider security very carefully as you are travelling. Consider security and make careful provision for your physical needs because you are going to be in much more adverse circumstances than you were when you were travelling around Israel.


Some final reflections, as we complete this fascinating episode with all its different themes. With Judas' betrayal, we can note that Satan exploits Judas' weakness - his particular weakness concerning money. It says a number of times in the gospel that money was an attraction to him; he stole money from the common purse; it was money that he was offered by the authorities; and it is money that tempted him to sin. That is a common story. That is a common temptation for many Christians but there is a wider spiritual battle going on through this story. Judas' actions are overseen by the sovereign God who is going to turn them to the good, to the benefit of his salvation plan, even though Judas will head to destruction. There is a wider satanic strategy to undermine the disciples, so that they are unable to sustain the impact of the events that are going to happen when Jesus is arrested, tried and executed which is all going to happen within the next 24 hours. Jesus says that he has prayed for his disciples so that they will come through and indeed they did come through a terrible, traumatic time and they found their confidence again and were able to launch the Church under God's grace very shortly afterwards. We will come to that story later on.

There is a lot here about servant leadership which is worth reflecting on if you have any leadership responsibilities. My final thought is that Jesus is quoting Isaiah in verse 37, Isaiah 53: 12, which is a part of a very important prophecy about the suffering servant, which we have referred to on a number of occasions, which is fulfilled in Jesus. He became the Messiah and the suffering servant who died on behalf of others and was raised again to life. Thanks for being with us on this episode. I look forward to welcoming you again soon.

Study Questions

The following questions have been provided to facilitate discussion or further reflection. Please feel free to answer any, or all the questions. Each question has been assigned a category to help guide you.

  • Exploring Faith
    Exploring Faith
    1. We all have weaknesses. Judas' was a love and greed for money. What steps can you take to right yourself from Satan's influence?
  • Discipleship
    1. In what ways should Christian leaders be ‘servants’?
  • Further Study
    Further Study
    1. Research the occasions in the Gospels when Jesus took his closest friends with him - one of which was ’the disciple whom Jesus loved’. What special experiences did they have?
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