Summary: This is a brief examination of the new commandment that Jesus gave to his disciples in John 13:34-35.
On Jesus’ final evening on earth he had just had supper with his disciples. During this meal Jesus inaugurated what we now call the Lord’s Supper. After supper Jesus visibly demonstrated his servanthood by washing his disciples’ feet. Then Judas Iscariot left them in order to go and betray Jesus to the Jewish authorities later that evening. After Judas left, Jesus gave his disciples a new commandment to love one another.
Let me read about a new commandment in John 13:31b-5:
31 . . . Jesus said, “Now is the Son of Man glorified, and God is glorified in him. 32 If God is glorified in him, God will also glorify him in himself, and glorify him at once. 33 Little children, yet a little while I am with you. You will seek me, and just as I said to the Jews, so now I also say to you, ‘Where I am going you cannot come.’ 34 A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. 35 By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:31b-35)
In the ancient church the three days before Easter Sunday were known as the Great Triduum. Maundy Thursday was a Communion Service. Good Friday was a service remembering the crucifixion of Jesus. Holy Saturday was an Easter Vigil anticipation Jesus’ resurrection on Sunday. These were days of fasting and prayer, days when the final acts of Jesus’ saving work were remembered by the church.
Maundy Thursday gets its name from the Latin mandatum novarum (“a new commandment” in John 13:34). Robert Webber says, “A primary meaning of this service is to celebrate the giving of the new commandment to love one another, a commandment given in the context of Jesus washing the disciples’ feet.”
Jesus gave significant and substantial teaching to his disciples on his last night on earth. I would like to isolate and briefly examine this new commandment that he gave to his disciples.
Tonight, let’s examine the new commandment that Jesus gave to his disciples.
I. The Priority of the Commandment (13:34a)
First, notice the priority of the commandment.
Jesus said in verse 34a, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another.”
The Old Testament taught, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might” (Deuteronomy 6:5), and also, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Leviticus 19:18).
When asked, “Which commandment is the most important of all?” Jesus answered, “The most important is, ‘ . . . And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these” (Mark 12:28-33).
So, if both the Old Testament and Jesus taught that the greatest commandments were to love God and also one’s neighbor, what is so different about Jesus’ new commandment to love one another? The ESV Study Bible note states, “The command to love one’s neighbor was not new; the newness was found in loving one another as Jesus had loved his disciples (cf. John 13:1; 15:13). In light of Jesus’ subsequent death, just as implies a love that is even willing to lay down one’s life for another (see 15:13).”