Brian P. Stoffregen Exegetical Notes at

John 13.31-35
5th Sunday of Easter - Year C

Other texts: 

Our short text can be divided into three parts:


These verses are difficult to translate and understand. The verb "to glorify" (doxazo) occurs five times in these two verses. The first three times are aorist passives. The next two times are future actives. The aorist usually implies a one-time event in the past -- although the "now" in v. 31 would suggest an act in the present time. Some translations use a perfect verb = "has been glorified" and others use the present tense = "is glorified." How does the past (or present) event relate to the future?

The pronoun "him" also occurs five times. Four times it is the object of the preposition "in" (en) which has a wide range of meanings.

I will look at other instances of glorification (doxazo) in John to try and help us understand these two verses

**The glorification of Jesus in John**

During his earthly ministry (or at least part of it), Jesus was not glorified: "Now he said this about the Spirit, which believers in him were to receive; for as yet there was no Spirit, because Jesus was not yet glorified." (7:39)

Although the verb is passive in our text, it is clear from other verses that it is the "Father" or the "Spirit of truth" who glorify Jesus. Note the changing verb tenses.

"If I glorify myself, my glory is nothing. It is my Father who glorifies me...." (8:54 -- present tense)

"He [the Spirit of truth] will glorify me, ..." (16:14 -- future tense)

"Father, the hour has come, glorify your Son so that the Son may glorify you." (17:1 -- aorist tense)

"So now, Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had in your presence before the world existed." (17:5 -- aorist tense)

The aorist tenses in the last two verses suggests to me that there is a specific point in time when God glorifies the Son. For John, that point seems to be Christ's death/resurrection/ascension as this next two verses suggests.

"His disciples did not understand these things [the 'Palm Sunday entrance into Jerusalem] at first; but when Jesus was glorified, then they remembered that these things had been written of him and had been done to him" (12:16).

In 12:23: "The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified." This "hour" is preceded by Greeks wishing to see Jesus -- thus fulfilling the words of 12:19: "The world has gone after him." Immediately following this verse, Jesus talks about the necessity of a seed falling into the earth and dying, so that it will bear much fruit (12:24).

However, 11:4 suggests that the death and raising of Lazarus occurs "so that the Son of God may be glorified through it." Although after this miracle the Jewish leaders "planned to put him [Jesus] to death" (11:53).

**The glorification of the Father in John**

Jesus asks: "Father glorify your name." Then a voice came from heaven, "I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again (12:28). This is spoken in the context of "Jesus' hour" when he is "lifted up from the earth" and "will draw all people to myself," which he said "to indicate the kind of death he was to die" (12:32-33). I note here, as well as 12:24 mentioned above, that it is not just the death that is related to Jesus' or the Father's glorification but also the "bearing of much fruit" or the "drawing of all people to himself." Can we claim that the glorification is complete when the "fruit" of Jesus' death seems to be diminishing?

This thought is supported by 15:8: "My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit and become my disciples." The Father's glorification does not only come from Jesus, but from disciples.

Jesus indicates that whatever he does -- including responding to the requests of disciples -- is done to glorify the Father: "I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son" (14:13).

As noted above, Jesus' prayer in ch. 17 begins with requests for glorification of himself by the Father and glorification of the Father by himself.

"Father, the hour has come, glorify your Son so that the Son may glorify you" (17:1)

"I glorified you on earth by finishing the work that you gave me to do" (17:4).

It was important to Jesus to "finish" or "complete" (teleioo) the work God had given him to do (see also 4:34; 5:36). The last word Jesus utters from the cross is a related word (teleo) -- "It is finished (or completed)" (19:30).

Finally, God will be glorified by Peter's death: "He said this to indicate the kind of death by which he [Peter] would glorify God" (21:19)

Will this word study of doxazo in John help us understand our verses? We look briefly at each line (my translation) and its possible meanings.

line 1 -- now the Son of Man was glorified

Who glorified the Son of Man? It is often important to try and convert passive verbs ("was glorified") into active verbs ("glorified"). If this is a divine passive, we could rephrase the sentence: "Now God glorified the Son of Man." However, as we see in the next line, God may not be the actor in this line.

Assuming that it is God who glorifies Jesus, why does God do this? I think that it comes as a result of fulfilling God's plan by:

  1. Jesus lowering himself to wash the feet of the disciples (13:1-11)

  2. Awareness of the betrayal (13:18-25)

  3. The sending of Judas to do the deed (13:26-30)

At this moment when Jesus put the process in motion that would lead to his death, he is glorified -- and he will be glorified when the death-resurrection-ascension event actually occurs. Note that our text begins with: "When he had gone out,..." referring to Judas leaving the group to betray Jesus.

line 2 -- and God was glorified in him.

Again we have a passive verb ("was glorified"). How would we express this with an active verb? Who glorified God? Is it Jesus who glorifies God? Is it the people who recognize God "in him," i.e., in Jesus, and then glorify God?

The phrase "in him" refers to "the Son of Man". What is it about the Son of Man that brings glorification to God? He completes the work that God gave him to do -- namely, the acts that will lead to his death, so that he might bear much fruit. Note also that the Father is glorified when Jesus' disciples bear much fruit (15:8).

line 3 -- if God was glorified in him,

This line, which essentially repeats the preceding one, is not found in some important ancient manuscripts. As Brown indicates, "It is easier to explain why it may have been lost than why it would have been added." Namely, in copying, the copyist inadvertently skipped over the repeated line. The meaning here would be the same as the previous line.

line 4 -- and God will glorify him in him

Here we have active verbs. It is clear that God is doing the glorifying. It seems likely that the first "him" refers to "the Son of Man." God will glorify Jesus. (This is similar to line one, except that the verb was aorist -- the glorification took place in the past.)

Who does the second "him" refer to? If God, then we might interpret the phrase: "God will glorify Jesus by the works that God will do for Jesus." Perhaps more specifically, God's act of raising Jesus from the dead so that Jesus will return to the presence of God (17:5).

line 5 -- and immediately he will glorify him

God's glorification of Jesus takes place "immediately." The best explanation I can offer of this time sequence is that the same word (eythys) is used of Judas "immediately" going out in 13:30, presumably to betray Jesus. It is as if Captain Kirk or Picard had ordered a non-retractable destruct sequence on the Enterprise. The moment of Jesus' destruction/glorification began immediately when Judas walked out the door.


"Little children" (teknion) occurs only here in John. Its other seven occurrences are all in 1 John.

Twice before Jesus had talked about going where others could not come: 7:34; 8:21.

Even earlier Jesus had talked about going to where he was before (6:62) -- thus referring to the ascension.

In contrast to the inability of the Jews or disciples to go where (hopou) Jesus is going; Jesus says the following:

Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there will my servant be also. Whoever serves me the Father will honor (12:26).

And if I go and prepare a place for you. I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also. And you know the way to the place where I am going. (14:3-4)

Father I desire that these also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory, which you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world. (17:24)

The question of Jesus' origins -- "where he is from" (pouthen) -- becomes a significant faith-issue in John (7:27-28; 8:14; 9:29-30; 19:9). There is his human origins in Galilee, but by faith, we also know of his divine origins and the place where he will return to.

Why can't the disciples now go where Jesus is going? My guess is that they need to remain here on earth in order to witness to Jesus in the way that they fulfill the new commandment.


I first read the following quote from Jonathan Swift (1667-1745) in an editorial cartoon about the religious fighting in India. It can apply to many different situations -- not the least of are the conflicts between denominations or within congregations.

We have just enough religion to make us hate, but not enough to make us love one another. (from Thoughts on Various Subjects; from Miscellanies -- 1711).

What is "new" (kainos) about this commandment? This word occurs only twice in John, here and 19:14 -- "new" tomb.

It can refer to something that didn't exist before -- but the command to love one another is not recent. It is found in the Torah (Lev 19:18; Dt 6:4). It can refer to something that existed previously, but was not fully known or understood; e.g., a "new" understanding. I think that it is in this sense that this commandment is "new".

To understand what is new about this commandment, we first look at other uses of "commandment" (entole) and "to command" (entellomai) in John. Jesus lays down his life in obedience to the commandment from his Father (10:18). Jesus' obedience to God's commands is his witness to the world that he loves the Father (14:31). Jesus' words and actions are in response to the Father's commandments, which result in eternal life (12:49-50).

O'Day (John, New Interpreters Bible) writes:

...what is new is that the commandment to love derives from the incarnation (see 3:16). The "new" turn in the commandment of 13:34 is that Jesus' "own" are asked to enter into the love that marks the relationship of God and Jesus. Their participation in this relationship will be evidenced the same way that Jesus' is: by acts of love that join the believer to God (cf. 14:15, 21, 23; 15:12). Keeping this commandment is the identifying mark of disciples (v. 35), because it is the tangible sign of the disciples' abiding in Jesus (15:10). [pp. 732-3]

In addition to O'Day's comments, I think that the newness of this commandment is also found in its purpose of being our witness to the world. For John, there is to be something unique about the Christian community that sets it apart from the world. One might bring in the picture of the early church from Acts -- the sharing of all resources so that no one would be in need (Acts 4:34-35), but recognize that such a practice was short-lived in the early church. From Galatians 3:28, we have a picture of a united community that transcends races, economic status, or genders. In many of our congregations, the greater struggle may be between the old and new members; or between those who believe that the congregation's primary ministry is to its members and those who believe that the congregation's ministry is to the unchurched.

As Christians, we are called to love all people -- even enemies -- in the name of Jesus Christ; yet there is a special love and relationship we have for spouses, children, and other family members. In a similar way, there is to be a special love we are to have towards our brothers and sisters in the faith. We are to be a family to one another.

I think that we need to be more intentional in declaring our unity and solidarity with Christians throughout the world. Shouldn't we be more connected with Palestinian Christians than we are with Jewish Israelis? There is little outrage from American Christians when the Israelis persecute these fellow believers and forbid them from attending church. By faith, we are members of the same family. (Jews and Muslims are from different faith-families.)

The words, agapao and agape first of all mean: "to have love for someone or something, based on sincere appreciation and high regard" and, secondly, "to demonstrate or show one's love." (Lowe & Nida)

In neither definition is it an primarily an emotional word -- that is, having warm, inner feelings towards.

One of the great benefits I find in using the Myers-Briggs Personality Type Indicator is that it can help people to value each other's differences -- and thus appreciate and make use of those differences. To do this doesn't mean that I have to have wonderful, inner feelings towards such people -- or that we won't have disagreements; but that there is a mutual respect and appreciation for each other's gifts. One of my great complaints against some other Christians and pastors is that they may expect me to appreciate and value what they have to tell me, but they aren't willing to listen to or try to understand my point of view. Those are the believers that I have the most difficulties loving as Christ has commanded us to love.

The little Greek word hina occurs twice in v. 34. It can designate the content of the new commandment: "That you are loving one another."

However, the primary meaning of hina is to designate a purpose or a result. So the verse might be understood: the purpose or result of Jesus giving the commandment is that we might (continue to) love one another. The purpose or result of Jesus having loved us is that we might (continue to) love one another. agapao is present tense which implies continuous or repeated actions. It is a command about a continuous way of life rather than occasional events.

It may be that what is new about the commandment is that it is now coming from Jesus. We love because, or as a result of Jesus' commanding it and as a result of being loved by Jesus; rather than obedience to an Old Testament law.

I think that an issue related to these verses is to try and understand what church membership means. When someone joins our congregations, what does that mean? It should mean, in part, that they become objects of this special "familial" love we have toward our own; and they become givers of this special love towards other members. What should we do when this doesn't happen? What should we do when a church member's relationship with other members becomes detrimental to our unity and our witness to the world? I've heard of congregations where there were members who would not speak to each other. I know of another situation where fellow church members were suing each other. I know of a congregation where at least a dozen members are attending other churches because of things the pastor has done. In another case a pastor took early retirement (at 55) so that he wouldn't have to deal any longer with the "clergy killers" in the congregation. What would a congregation look like where the members love one another? How does that reveal to everyone that we are Jesus' disciples?

O'Day (John, New Interpreters Bible) offers these reflections on these verses:

To interpret Jesus' death as the ultimate act of love enables the believers to see that the love to which Jesus summons the community is not the giving up of one's life, but the giving away of one's life. The distinction between these prepositions is important, because the love that Jesus embodies is grace, not sacrifice. Jesus gave his life to his disciples as an expression of the fullness of his relationship with God and of God's love for the world. Jesus' death in love, therefore, was not an act of self-denial, but an act of fullness, of living out his life and identity fully, even when that living would ultimately lead to death.


To love one another as Jesus loves us does not automatically translate into one believer's death for another, nor does it mean to deny oneself for others. Jesus did not deny himself; he lived his identity and vocation fully. Rather, to love one another as Jesus loves us is to live a life thoroughly shaped by a love that knows no limits, by a love whose expression brings the believer closer into relationship with God, with Jesus, and with one another. It is to live a love that carries with it a whole new concept of the possibilities of community. [p. 734]

Related to what O'Day writes, these verses which ask us to love as Jesus has loved us, might lead one to deal with the popular phrase: "What Would Jesus Do?" I dislike that question because we are not Jesus. He was unique. What Jesus did was to suffer and die for all of sinful humanity. I can't do that. However, I think that it is appropriate to struggle with the question, "What would God have me do at this time and in this situation?" In this way we are similar to Jesus who lived his life in a close relationship to and in obedience to his Father's commands. We should seek to live our lives in that same relationship with God. Seeking to be Christ-like is not the same as seeking to be Christ.

Brian Stoffregen
Faith Lutheran Church, 1000 D St., Marysville, CA 95901