Command to Love One Another (Jn 13:33-35)


Everyone wants a model to follow. In my classes, when a teacher assigns a specific type of paper, I often ask if he could offer an example of what he’s expecting. I can usually get online and download an example from the school library. I like to be able to follow a model that has been approved.

We are all this way. This is why we like perusing through Pinterest. We want to find examples of things we want to do by people who have already done it successfully. This is why we watch YouTube videos. We want to see how someone else has done something effectively before we try to do it.

And, we desire to love well. The problem is that Jesus is really the only accurate model for love and he is no longer here. How then are we to see love modeled? That’s where we find the purpose of this particular passage. We, the church, are now to be the model of love for others to observe and follow.

Purpose Statement. Christ’s departure places an emphasis on the church to model ideal love.

Overview of Chapter 13

Christ offers a model of love (13:1-5). In the first five verses, John sets up the context of this chapter. John acknowledges that Jesus is going to offer the fullest and most complete model of love. Jesus does so by performing the humble and culturally unacceptable task of washing his disciple’s feet, a task only slaves would perform.
Christ expands this model in his conversation with Peter (13:6-11). Peter interrupts this magnificent display of love and argues with Jesus. In so doing, Jesus takes the opportunity to teach a secondary but important lesson. Jesus’ love includes ongoing forgiveness.
Christ directs his disciples to love (13:12-17). Jesus follows up his act of love with a command for his disciples to follow the model he has just offered them. They are as well to love one another in the same manner that Jesus had just loved them.
Christ dismisses Judas (13:18-30). In a potentially confusing interchange, Jesus dismisses Judas to go betray him. I’ll take note of this more in just a moment, but note that Judas was dismissed only after Jesus had already washed his feet.
Christ expands on his command to love (13:31-35). (1) The Father is going to glorify the Son, therefore (2) the Son’s absence will demand that the Son’s disciples offer a model of love to the world.

A New Command

In verse 34, Jesus says, “a new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have love you, you also are to love one another” (Jn 13:34). Even a brief perusal through the Old Testament would seem to indicate that love others is far from being a “new commandment.” What does Jesus mean by “new commandment”?

Moses. In Deuteronomy, Moses summarizes the law when he declares, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might” (Deut 6:5). Moses not only commands Israel to love God, but in Leviticus he as well directs them to “love your neighbor as yourself: I am the Lord” (Lev 19:18).

Jesus. A teacher once asked Jesus, “which is the great commandment in the Law.” Jesus responded by saying, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets” (Matt 22:36–40).

John. Even John acknowledged, in one sense, that it wasn’t new. He writes in his first epistle, “Beloved, I am writing you no new commandment, but an old commandment that you had from the beginning. The old commandment is the word that you have heard. At the same time, it is a new commandment that I am writing to you, which is true in him and in you” (1 Jn 2:7–8, cf Rom 13:8-9[1]).

How then is it new? Why does Christ call it “a new command”? Christ refers to this command as “new” because he raises this command to love to an entirely new and superior standard.[2]

  • New standard. Christ offers himself as the standard, and in so doing offers a new, higher, and more extreme standard for which to follow.
  • New motivation. God’s people possess a new motivation. No longer do God’s people love one another to meet up to the expectations of the law. Instead, we love because Christ has first loved us. We love others out of gratitude for the love we’ve experienced from God.
  • New and broader application. This love extends beyond just the people of God to all people. When Moses commanded the people of Israel to love each other, this love was confined to the people of Israel. Moses connects loving “your neighbor” to a context of “the sons of your own people” (Lev 19:18).
  • New power. When Christ departed from the earth, he gifted his people the Holy Spirit. Unlike the Old Testament saints, New Testament believers have the power of the Spirit. Their love for others is empowered in a new way. Without the Spirit, we cannot love as Christ loved.

Aspects of Love Revealed in Chapter 13

Barclay. Jesus was laying down his farewell commandment to his disciples. The time was short; if they were ever to hear his voice, they must hear it now. He was going on a journey on which none might accompany him; he was taking a road that he had to walk alone; and before he went, he gave them the commandment that they must love one another as he had loved them. What does this mean for us, and for our relationships with one another? How did Jesus love his disciples?[3]

I would like to offer a few aspects of Christ’s love as displayed in this chapter. Most of them could appropriately have “extreme” affixed to their name for in each of these areas, Christ’s love extended beyond what any of us would consider normal. Even the apostle John acknowledges this reality when he tells us that Christ “loved them to the end” (Jn 13:1). While “to the end” may connote a few variant meanings, John likely intends to communicate that Jesus loved his disciples to the utmost or “in full measure, fully.”[4]

Christ’s love was humble. A few weeks ago, we addressed this idea of humility as we discussed Jesus’ washing his disciple’s feet. The first century audience would have connected foot washing to servitude and slavery. A couple commentaries add the additional caveat that footwashing was even below the duties of a Jewish servant or slave. Instead, the task would be given to “Gentile slaves, or for women and children.”[5]

Christ consistently exemplified this extreme humility throughout his life, beginning even in his birth. He had already humbled himself to human form. He lived a life of humility, and even “humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death” (Phil 2:8).

Christ’s love was sacrificial. Christ sacrificed his exalted position in lowering himself to become man. Christ sacrificed temporal wealth and possessions as he lived a life of poverty and rejection. Christ sacrificed the applause of man as he refused to conform to expected norms or tout the party line. Christ sacrificed himself as he washed the feet of both one who would deny him and another who would betray him. Christ sacrificed himself as he took on the payment for our sins and died on the cross.

John writes later in his epistle, “By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers” (1 John 3:16). As well, Paul writes to husbands, “Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her” (Eph 5:25). We fail to love like Christ loved if we are unwilling to sacrifice ourselves for another.

Christ’s love was long-suffering. First, Christ declares this aspect of long-suffering in his short side conversation with Peter (13:6-10). Christ discusses with Peter the importance, the necessity, and the availability of ongoing forgiveness. Secondly, Christ extends ongoing forgiveness to Peter. Peter boasts of his unwavering commitment only hours before he denies Christ. Yet, Christ will soon come back to Peter and restore Him. Christ never gave up on Peter and will never give up on you.

While Peter shows arrogance and ignorance and would soon deny Christ, Christ never gave up on him. There would be a day when Peter would be restored (John 21:15 ff). He would encourage the brethren (Luke 22:31-32). He would die for the cause of Christ and would then be with Christ.

Paul acknowledges and addresses the fact that love is long suffering in his description of love to the Corinthian church. “Love is patient and kind . . . It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful . . . Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things” (1 Cor 13:4–7).

Christ’s love was extended to all. It’s worth briefly noting that Judas had not yet left when Jesus washed the disciple’s feet. Jesus extends this extremely sacrificial, humble, and long-suffering love to Judas as well as his other disciples. It is this broad extension of love that Christ directs his disciples to extend to all those around them.
Christ’s love was noticeable. As has already been acknowledged, Jesus desired that his disciples love one another, and others, in such a way so that others would be able to see their love. Jesus has left. The clear demonstration and model for extreme love has gone back to His Father. Therefore, a need exists for the world to see love displayed and modeled. The disciples (and the following church) are to be that visible model. John writes, “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (Jn 13:35).


The vertical love we have for Christ must be expressed horizontally towards all other Christians. Furthermore, the presence of our horizontal love for one another is evidence for our vertical love for Christ.

[1] Owe no one anything, except to love each other, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. For the commandments, “You shall not commit adultery, You shall not murder, You shall not steal, You shall not covet,” and any other commandment, are summed up in this word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” (Rom 13:8–9).

[2] Friberg, Analytical Lexicon of the Greek New Testament, 212. “(1) of what was not there before new, recently made, not yet used, fresh (MT 9:17); neuter as a substantive τὸ καινόν new piece, new part (MK 2:21); (2) of what was not known before strange, unheard of, unusual (MK 1:27); (3) of what was not possessed before newly gained, newly acquired (MT 13:52); (4) by way of contrast with the old or obsolete better, superior, different (HE 8:8); substantivally new (and better) one (HE 8:13); (5) comparative καινότερος, τέρα, ον quite new; colloquially latest (AC 17:21)”

[3] William Barclay, The Gospel of John, vol. 2, The New Daily Study Bible (Louisville, KY: Edinburgh, 2001), 174.

[4] Friberg, Friberg, and Miller, Analytical Lexicon of the Greek New Testament, 377–78. “τέλος, ους, τό (1) as an action achievement, carrying out, fulfillment (LU 22:37); (2) as a closing act end, termination, cessation (2C 3:13; 1P 4:7) . . . (5) in adverbial expressions . . . to the end (MK 13:13) . . . in full measure, fully, completely (JN 13:1)” .

[5] Carson, The Gospel According to John, 462; Milne, The Message of John, 196.