In John chapters 1-12 the evangelist has been focusing on Jesus’ public ministry, especially in His interactions with the Jewish leaders in Jerusalem. But now we have come to the end of that ministry, and John’s focus shifts to a discussion that Jesus had with His disciples about what they should expect after He is gone, and that forms the substance of chapters 13 through 16. That, in turn, if followed by Jesus’ high priestly prayer in chapter 17.
John introduces this section with the following statement: “Now before the Feast of the Passover, when Jesus knew that the hour had come that He should depart from this world to the Father, having loved His own who were in the world, He loved them to the end” (John 13:1; NKJV). This remarkable statement tells us, first of all, that Jesus was conscious of something about Himself. He “knew that His hour had come that He should depart from this world to the Father.” He was conscious that He was no ordinary human being, that God was His Father in heaven. Moreover He knew that He had come down here to earth on a temporary mission, and that that mission was about to end: “His hour had come.” It was all foreordained and His departure was imminent.
But where would that leave His disciples? Jesus was also conscious, the verse says, that they were “His own who were in the world.” First of all, they were “His own.” This points back to what He had said earlier about the Father giving certain ones to Him (Jn. 6:37,39), and He would come back to the idea in His final prayer for them in John 17:2,24. There are certain people who are special to Him because they belong to Him in a certain way that the others do not. They were chosen by God to be the recipients of salvation. It points to the doctrine of election.
But then Jesus is also conscious of the fact that they “were in the world.” In John’s writings, at least, the word “world” (kosmos) does not refer to just the physical, inhabited earth. It also means the sum total of humanity that lives upon the earth. It is the fallen human race, a human race that is in a state of sin and rebellion against God. It is sunk in depravity and under God’s wrath and condemnation. And Jesus is conscious of the fact that as He is about to depart form this world He will be leaving them behind, and that they would somehow have to function in the world without Him being physically present. And this would pose a great challenge for them. The world, in its sin and rebellion, is hostile towards the truths of the gospel. It will put pressure on them to conform to its standards. And ultimately it will persecute them.
Conscious of all this, then, Jesus, “having loved His own who were in the world, He loved them to the end.” This is a remarkable statement. He was the eternal Son of God. He was about to die on the cross. Why should He be concerned about them? One would think that He had more important matters on His mind. And yet He loved them. He was concerned for their welfare. He was prepared to make the ultimate sacrifice for them. That the eternal Son of God would lay down His very life for finite and fallen human beings is quite extraordinary. This truly is “amazing grace that save a wretch like me.”
That kind of divine love, that kind of personal sacrifice, should move us to respond in love and devotion to Him. If He would make that kind of sacrifice for us, what kind of personal sacrifice on our part would be too great to make for Him?
“When I survey the wondrous cross
On which the Prince of Glory died,
My riches gain I count but loss,
And pour contempt on all my pride.
\ “Forbid it Lord, that I should boast,
Save in the death of Christ my God:
\ All the vain things that charm me most,
I sacrifice them to his blood.”