David Guzik Commentary on the Bible
John 13:1-38 - JESUS, THE LOVING SERVANT
A. Jesus washes the disciples’ feet.
1. (John 13:1) Jesus and His disciples at a last meeting before His arrest.
Now before the feast of the Passover, when Jesus knew that His 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.
a. Now before the feast of the Passover: This gives us a time reference. Jesus is about to share a meal with His disciples, and scholars warmly debate if this meal was actually on the Passover, or if it was the Passover meal, but held a day before.
i. The chronology is an issue because in some passages, it seems that Jesus was crucified on the day of Passover. In other passages, it seems that Jesus was crucified the day after Passover. There are scores of potential solutions to the problem, but it’s hard to say which one is the final answer.
ii. “The verbs for ‘reclining’ [John 13:23]. . . suggest that, although this meal fell ‘before the (official) festival of the Passover’ (verse 1) it was nevertheless treated by the participants as a Passover meal.” (Bruce)
b. Jesus knew that His hour had come: Jesus lived His life in anticipation of this hour. He knew when it had not yet come (John 2:4). Up to this point, Jesus enjoyed a unique protection because His hour had not yet come (John 7:30; John 8:20). Now, Jesus knew that His hour had come. He spoke of this awareness in John 12:23-27 and even said that for this purpose I came to this hour.
i. Indeed, His hour had come. Jesus’ public ministry is over. In close to 24 hours, Jesus will hang on the cross. This is the beginning of the end, and Jesus will use these last precious hours to minister to His disciples.
c. That He should depart this world to the Father: The cross is not specifically mentioned in John 13:1, but casts a shadow over almost every word. We see the shadow of the cross over His hour had come. We see the shadow of the cross over loved them to the end. But we also see the shadow of the cross over depart this world. It is phrased softly, but there is an iron-hard reality underneath the soft cover. Jesus would only depart this world through the cross.
d. Having loved: Surely, Jesus had loved His disciples. He led them, taught them, cared for them, protected them. What Jesus had given them already was more than any other teacher or leader could give his followers.
e. Having loved His own: There is a love Jesus has for all people, and then there is a love for His own. It isn’t so much that Jesus’ love is different, but the dynamic of the love relationship is different. The love of Jesus for His own is greater, because it has a response, and love answers to love.
i. Jesus has done some things for all men. He has also done all things for some men - His own who were in the world.
f. He loved them to the end: Jesus had loved His own. But He hadn’t finished loving them. He would love them to the end. The idea behind the phrase to the end is “to the fullest extent, to the uttermost.”
i. To the end means to the end of Jesus’ earthly life. Though the disciples gave up on Him, He never gave up on them. Though they stopped thinking about Jesus, and were only thinking of themselves, He never stopped thinking of them. Whose problems were worse - Jesus’ or the disciples’? Who was concerned more for the other? He loved them to the end.
ii. To the end means a love that will never end. Jesus will never stop loving His own. It isn’t a love that comes and goes, that is here today and gone tomorrow.
iii. To the end means a love that reaches to the fullest extent. Some translations have “He loved them to the uttermost.” Jesus poured out the cup of His love to the bottom for us.
2. (John 13:2-5) Jesus washes the disciples’ feet.
And supper being ended, the devil having already put it into the heart of Judas Iscariot, Simon’s son, to betray Him, Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into His hands, and that He had come from God and was going to God, rose from supper and laid aside His garments, took a towel and girded Himself. After that, He poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet, and to wipe them with the towel with which He was girded.
a. Supper being ended: Some ancient manuscripts have “supper was now in progress” instead of supper being ended. This probably makes more sense, and the difference is of one letter in the ancient Greek language.
i. “‘Supper was now in progress’ is a preferable reading to the variant ‘Supper having ended,’ chiefly because the sequel (John 12:30) makes it plain that supper had not ended. The point is that supper had already begun when Jesus rose from the table and began to wash the disciples’ feet.” (Bruce)
b. The devil having already put it into the heart of Judas: Judas was led by the devil. Before this chapter is finished, John will show us the extent of Judas’ depravity. Luke 22:3 describes how Satan entered Judas shortly before this.
i. It may well be that a better translation is the devil had already made up his mind that Judas Iscariot, Simon’s son, should betray him. Satan was looking for a man to betray Jesus, and had probably been “cultivating” Judas for a long time. But now the choice was made. Judas was his man.
c. Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into His hands: This wasn’t something that Jesus came to know just at this hour. Several years before in His ministry, Jesus said The Father loves the Son, and has given all things into His hand. (John 3:35) But this means that at this particular time, and in this particular circumstance, it was important that Jesus knew the Father had given all things into His hands.
i. It was important because of the hour. Jesus is about to face the agony of crucifixion and the terror of standing in the place of guilty sinners before the righteous wrath of God the Father. At the same time, Jesus went into this situation as a victor, not as a victim. He could have backed out any time He wanted to, because the Father had given all things into His hands.
ii. It was important because of the circumstance. Jesus is about to lower Himself, literally stooping in humble service to His disciples. But as He serves in this humble way, He does not do it from weakness. He does it from a position of all authority, because the Father had given all things into His hands.
d. And that He had come from God and was going to God: Jesus didn’t only know His authority, He also knew His relationship with God. He knew His identity, as one who had come from God, and as one who was going to God. Knowing His past with God the Father, and His future with God the Father, what else could He do but glorify Him in the present?
e. Began to wash the disciples’ feet: At this moment of deep meaning, Jesus did something that must have almost seemed crazy. He began to do the job of the lowest servant in the household. He began to wash the disciples’ feet.
i. At this critical moment, at this evening before the torture of the cross, Jesus doesn’t think of Himself. He thinks about His disciples. Truly, this is loving them to the end. After all, Jesus’ disciples treated Him badly - and were about to treat Him even worse, forsaking Him completely - yet He loved them.
ii. Jesus completely gave Himself to washing their feet. Look at how thorough He was in this work. First, He rose from supper. Then Jesus laid aside His garments, which had to remind Him of what waited in just a few hours, when He would be stripped of His garments and be crucified. Jesus then took a towel and girded Himself. Finally Jesus poured water into a basin. If Jesus wanted to just display the image of a servant, He would have had a servant or one of the disciples do all this preparation work. He then would have quickly wiped a damp cloth on a few dirty feet and consider the job done. That would give the image of servanthood and loving leadership, but Jesus gave Himself completely to this work.
iii. This was an extreme act of servanthood. According to the Jewish laws and traditions regarding the relationship between a teacher and his disciples, a teacher had no right to demand or expect that his disciples would wash his feet. How much more unthinkable was it that the Master would wash His disciple’s feet?
iv. “He disrobed himself, though angels longed to cast the imperial purple about his shoulders. With all things in his hand, he yet took a towel and wiped the disciples’ feet.” (Spurgeon)
f. And to wipe them with the towel with which He was girded: As Jesus went around the table, washing and drying the feet of His disciples, it was a dramatic scene. Luke 22:23 says that the disciples entered the room debating who was greatest. By what He did, Jesus illustrates true greatness.
i. It was customary that the lowest servant of the house would wash the feet of the guests as they came into the house, especially for a formal meal like this. For some reason, this didn’t happen when Jesus and the disciples came into the room. So they ate their meal with dirty feet.
ii. This was more awkward than we might think. First, because of the sandals they wore and the roads they walked on, the feet would be dirty. Second, the disciples would eat a formal meal like this at a table known as a triclinium. This was a low (coffee-table height), U-shaped table. The guests would sit, and their status at the meal was reflected by how close they were seated to the host or leader of the meal. Because the table was low, they didn’t sit on chairs. They leaned on pillows, with their feet behind them. This meant that dirty feet could be unpleasantly close to the table during the meal. So the unwashed feet were conspicuous.
iii. So why didn’t any of the disciples do this first? Any of the disciples would have gladly washed Jesus’ feet. But they could not wash His without having to be available to wash the others’ feet, and that would have been an intolerable admission of inferiority among their fellow competitors for the top positions in the disciples’ hierarchy. So no one’s feet got washed!
g. In all of this, Jesus essentially acted out a parable for the disciples. Jesus knew better that actions speak louder than words. So when He wanted to teach the proud, arguing disciples about true humility, He didn’t just say it - He showed it. And He showed it in a way that illustrated His whole work on behalf of His own.
o Jesus rose from supper, a place of rest and comfort
o Jesus rose from His throne in heaven, a place of rest and comfort
o Jesus laid aside His garments, taking off His covering
o Jesus laid aside His glory, taking off His heavenly covering
o Jesus took a towel and girded Himself, being ready to work
o Jesus took the form of a servant, and came ready to work
o Jesus poured water into a basin, ready to clean
o Jesus poured out His blood to cleanse us from the guilt and penalty of sin
o Jesus sat down again (John 13:12) after washing their feet
o Jesus sat down at the right hand of God the Father after cleansing us
i. We know this whole lesson did “stick” powerfully. Decades later, when Peter wrote to Christians about humility, he put it like this: Yes, all of you be submissive to one another, and be clothed with humility (1 Peter 5:5). More literally, Peter wrote: “wrap the apron of humility around yourself.” Surely, what Jesus did here stuck in his mind, and in his heart.
3. (John 13:6-11) Jesus overcomes Peter’s objections and washes his feet.
Then He came to Simon Peter. And Peter said to Him, “Lord, are You washing my feet?” Jesus answered and said to him, “What I am doing you do not understand now, but you will know after this.” Peter said to Him, “You shall never wash my feet!” Jesus answered him, “If I do not wash you, you have no part with Me.” Simon Peter said to Him, “Lord, not my feet only, but also my hands and my head!” Jesus said to him, “He who is bathed needs only to wash his feet, but is completely clean; and you are clean, but not all of you.” For He knew who would betray Him; therefore He said, “You are not all clean.”
a. You shall never wash my feet! Knowing the layout of a typical table and Passover meal, we have reason to believe Peter was seated at the far end of the U-shaped table from Jesus. Probably, Jesus came to Peter last of all. Perhaps Peter thought, “All these guys missed the point by letting Jesus wash their feet. He wants us to protest, and proclaim that He is too great, and we are too unworthy, to have Him wash our feet!” So, Peter makes this dramatic statement.
i. At the same time, Peter clearly felt uncomfortable with having Jesus perform such a humble act of service for him. This example of the servant’s heart of Jesus made Peter and the others look pretty proud by comparison.
b. If I do not wash you, you have no part with Me: If we do not accept the humble service of Jesus to cleanse us, we have no part with Him. Jesus does not wash our feet literally, as He did for the disciples. But He did humbly die on the cross to cleanse us, and we must receive it.
i. This foot washing is a powerful lesson in humility. But it is more than that. The deeper meaning here is that there is Jesus has no fellowship with those who have not been cleansed by Him.
c. Lord, not my feet only, but also my hands and my head! Peter, in his request to be fully washed, is still reluctant to let Jesus do as He wants. Peter wants to tell Jesus what to do. Jesus - though the servant of all - is still God’s appointed leader. He won’t allow Peter to monopolize this situation, and set things on a wrong course.
i. Sometimes we show a servant’s heart by accepting the service of others for us. If we only serve, and refuse to be served, it can be a sign of deeply rooted and well-hidden pride. “Man’s humility does not begin with the giving of service; it begins with the readiness to receive it. For there can be much pride and condescension in our giving of service.” (Temple)
4. (John 13:12-17) Jesus explains what He did, and calls His disciples to follow His example.
So when He had washed their feet, taken His garments, and sat down again, He said to them, “Do you know what I have done to you? You call me Teacher and Lord, and you say well, for so I am. If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example, that you should do as I have done to you. Most assuredly, I say to you, a servant is not greater than his master; nor is he who is sent greater than he who sent him. If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them.”
a. You also ought to wash one another’s feet: Jesus plainly and powerfully says that this is the attitude that must mark His followers, especially the leadership of the church.
i. You also ought to wash one another’s feet: Some try to fulfill this with foot washing ceremonies. Surely, if it is done with the right heart it can be a blessing, but Jesus wasn’t talking about a ceremony here. “Every year they hold a theatrical feet-washing, and when they have discharged this empty and bare ceremony they think they have done their duty finely and are then free to despise their brethren. But more, when they have washed twelve men’s feet they cruelly torture all Christ’s members and thus spit in the face of Christ Himself. This ceremonial comedy is nothing but a shameful mockery of Christ. At any rate, Christ does not enjoin an annual ceremony here, but tells us to be ready all through our life to wash the feet of our brethren.” (Calvin, cited by Morris)
ii. If we are going to wash one another’s feet, we should be careful of the temperature of the water. Sometimes we try to wash someone with our water too hot - we are too fervent and zealous. Sometimes our water is too cold - we are cold and distant in heart to them. The temperature needs to be in the middle. We should also remember that we can’t dry-clean someone else’s feet. Jesus washed us with the washing of water by the word (Ephesians 5:26), we should use the same “water” in ministering to others.
b. Wash one another’s feet: We, like the disciples, would gladly wash the feet of Jesus. But He tells us to wash one another’s feet. Anything we do for each another that washes away the grime of the world and the dust of defeat and discouragement is foot washing.
i. “In the world they criticize: this is the business of the public press, and it is very much the business of private circles. Hear how gossips say, ‘Do you see that spot? What a terrible walks that man must have had this morning: look at his feet! He has been very much in the mire you can see, for there are the traces upon him.’ That is the world’s way. Christ’s way is very different. He says nothing, but takes the basin and begins to wash away the stain. Do not judge and condemn, but seek the restoration and the improvement of the erring.” (Spurgeon)
c. If you know these things, happy are you if you do them: The theory of being a servant isn’t worth very much. But the practice of being a servant pleases God and fulfills our calling.
i. “If there is a position in the church where the worker will have to toil hard and get no thanks for it, take it, and be pleased with it. If you can perform a service, which few will ever seek to do themselves, or appreciate when performed by others, yet occupy it with holy delight. Covet humble work, and when you get it be content to continue in it. There is no great rush after the lowest places, you will rob no one by seeking them.” (Spurgeon)
B. Jesus sends Judas away after favoring him.
1. (John 13:18-21) Jesus reveals He will be betrayed by one of the twelve.
“I do not speak concerning all of you. I know whom I have chosen; but that the Scripture may be fulfilled, ‘He who eats bread with Me has lifted up his heel against Me.’ Now I tell you before it comes, that when it does come to pass, you may believe that I am He. Most assuredly, I say to you, he who receives whomever I send receives Me; and he who receives Me receives Him who sent Me.” When Jesus had said these things, He was troubled in spirit, and testified and said, “Most assuredly, I say to you, one of you will betray Me.”
a. Lifted his heel against me means “has given me a great fall” or “has taken cruel advantage of me.” To the eastern idea of hospitality, for one who eats bread with Me to lift up his heel against Me was great betrayal and treachery.
b. Jesus was troubled in spirit at this; He was not unfeeling or emotionally detached from the events surrounding His passion. He loved Judas, and was troubled for Judas’ sake, not His own.
c. Most assuredly, I say to you, one of you will betray Me: By revealing the traitor, Jesus shows that He is in control of these events; He is not being taken by surprise.
2. (John 13:22-30) Judas departs.
Then the disciples looked at one another, perplexed about whom He spoke. Now there was leaning on Jesus’ bosom one of His disciples, whom Jesus loved. Simon Peter therefore motioned to him to ask who it was of whom He spoke. Then, leaning back on Jesus’ breast, he said to Him, “Lord, who is it?” Jesus answered, “It is he to whom I shall give a piece of bread when I have dipped it.” And having dipped the bread, He gave it to Judas Iscariot, the son of Simon. Now after the piece of bread, Satan entered him. Then Jesus said to him, “What you do, do quickly.” But no one at the table knew for what reason He said this to him. For some thought, because Judas had the money box, that Jesus had said to him, “Buy those things we need for the feast,” or that he should give something to the poor. Having received the piece of bread, he then went out immediately. And it was night.
a. Simon Peter therefore motioned to him to ask who it was of whom He spoke: Peter’s question to John (the disciple whom Jesus loved) may have been prompted by a desire to take preventative action. Peter couldn’t discreetly ask Jesus, so he asked John.
b. Leaning back on Jesus’ breast, he said to Him: At a special or ceremonial meal like this they would lay on their stomachs around a U shaped table, leaning on their left elbow and eating with their right hand.
c. It is he to whom I shall give a piece of bread when I have dipped it: The giving of the dipped bread designated special honor, like a toast; it was a mark of courtesy and esteem.
i. Jesus showed great love to Judas, giving him the chance to repent. Had Judas repented, his past intention would have been secret before the disciples.
ii. Earlier at this dinner, the washing of feet displayed a degree of sacrificial love and service not seen before the cross. Now, the giving of the dipped bread to Judas showed the height of love for enemies, previous to the cross.
d. Judas departs - into the night. It may have been that the events earlier at the dinner made Judas decide that he didn’t want anything to do with a foot-washing Messiah, with a Messiah who would perform such a humble act.
i. “His act, however, was more than an incidental act of treachery; he sold himself to the power of evil.” (Tenney)
ii. Judas is typical of many who reject Jesus, in that he had no lack of opportunity for repentance or he did not lack a good example. Judas simply shows man’s sin nature.
C. A new commandment.
1. (John 13:31-32) Jesus saw the cross as supreme glorification, not supreme humiliation.
So, when he had gone out, Jesus said, “Now the Son of Man is glorified, and God is glorified in Him. If God is glorified in Him, God will also glorify Him in Himself, and glorify Him immediately.”
a. It is emphasized in these two verses: glorified . . . glorified . . . glorified . . . glorify . . . glorify. Five references to glory in two verses! Jesus saw the cross in terms of glory, instead of humiliation.
2. (John 13:33) Jesus plainly reveals His soon departure.
“Little children, I shall be with you a little while longer. You will seek Me; and as I said to the Jews, ‘Where I am going, you cannot come,’ so now I say to you.”
a. I shall be with you a little while longer . . . Where I am going, you cannot come: This would have been like an earthquake to the disciples. They had literally left everything to follow Jesus, and expected to be high-ranking officials in His government when He took political control of Israel as Messiah. They have followed Him for three years, enduring a lot, and now He says, “I’m leaving you”?
b. Jesus will explain this dramatic statement and comfort the disciples concerning this all the way through the end of John 14:1-31.
3. (John 13:34-35) In light of the coming storm, Jesus tells of a new commandment.
“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.”
a. A new commandment: The specific ancient Greek work used here for new here implies freshness, or the opposite of outworn, rather than recent or different. It isn’t that this commandment was just invented, but it will be presented in a new, fresh way.
b. That you love one another: “Whereas the Old Testament demanded that men should love their neighbors as themselves, the New Law is that they should love the brethren better than themselves, and die for their friends.” (Hoskyns)
c. As I have loved you: The command to love wasn’t new; but the extent of love just displayed by Jesus was new, as would be the display of the cross. Love was newly defined from His example.
d. By this all will know that you are My disciples: Love is the mark of the fellowship of true believers, and all other criteria are strictly secondary.
4. (John 13:36-38) Peter’s denial of Jesus is predicted.
Simon Peter said to Him, “Lord, where are You going?” Jesus answered him, “Where I am going you cannot follow Me now, but you shall follow Me afterward.” Peter said to Him, “Lord, why can I not follow You now? I will lay down my life for Your sake.” Jesus answered him, “Will you lay down your life for My sake? Most assuredly, I say to you, the rooster shall not crow till you have denied Me three times.”
a. I will lay down my life for Your sake: Poor Peter! He would have died for Jesus right then but he later failed because his devotion was based on emotion.
i. Emotion in vital to the Christian walk, but it can’t be its power or foundation.
ii. We see a different Peter when his walk is no longer built on emotion, but on the work of Jesus on the cross and the empowering of the Holy Spirit.
b. Till you have denied Me three times: Poor Peter! He would have died for Jesus but he could not stand being laughed at for Jesus’ sake. To him, a servant-girl’s tongue was sharper than an executioner’s sword.
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