“No one has love greater than this, that someone should surrender his life in behalf of his friends.”—John 15:13, New World Translation.
“Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friends.”—John 15:13, New King James Version.
Meaning of John 15:13
Jesus was helping his followers to understand that their love should be so strong that they would be willing to die for one another.
In his preceding words, Jesus said to his apostles: “This is my commandment, that you love one another just as I have loved you.” (John 15:12) What kind of love did Jesus have for them? It was unselfish, self-sacrificing love. During his earthly ministry, he put the needs and interests of his followers and others ahead of his own. He cured people of their illnesses and taught them about God’s Kingdom. a He even performed menial tasks for the benefit of others. (Matthew 9:35; Luke 22:27; John 13:3-5) But at John 15:13, Jesus was referring to a far greater act of love. In fact, just hours after he spoke those words, he showed that greater love when he willingly gave “his life as a ransom in exchange for many.” (Matthew 20:28; 22:39) He thus showed in an extraordinary way that he loved others more than he loved himself.
Jesus loves humankind. But he especially loves those who follow his teachings. He considered his disciples to be his close friends because they obeyed his instructions and stuck with him in his trials. (Luke 22:28; John 15:14, 15) So he had even greater reason to sacrifice his life for them.
The first-century Christians took Jesus’ words to heart, and they were willing to die for one another. (1 John 3:16) Indeed, unselfish love—the love that Jesus displayed—would become the foremost identifying mark of true Christians.—John 13:34, 35.
Context of John 15:13
Chapters 13 to 17 of the Gospel of John record Jesus’ parting counsel to his 11 faithful apostles and his final prayer with them. He died not many hours later. In chapter 15, to illustrate that his disciples need to remain in union with him in order to prove themselves his followers, Jesus compares his disciples to fruit-bearing branches on a vine. He urges them to “keep bearing much fruit.” (John 15:1-5, 8) One way they do so is by showing self-sacrificing love for others, which includes preaching the message that Jesus preached—“the good news of the Kingdom of God.”—Luke 4:43; John 15:10, 17.
Watch this short video to see an overview of the book of John.