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Bible Commentaries
John 13

Clarke's CommentaryClarke Commentary

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Verse 1


Christ washes the feet of his disciples, and gives them

instructions concerting humility and charity, 1-17.

He tells them that one of themselves will betray him, 18-20.

The disciples doubting of whom he spoke, Peter desires John to

ask him, 21-25.

Jesus shows that it is Judas Iscariot, 26.

Satan enters into Judas, and he rises up and leaves the company,


Christ shows his approaching death, and commands his disciples

to love one another, 31-35.

Peter, professing strong attachment to Christ, is informed of

his denial. 36-38.


Verse John 13:1. Now before the feast of the passover, when Jesus knew, c.] Or, as some translate, Now Jesus having known, before the feast of the passover, that his hour was come, c. The supper mentioned in John 13:2 is supposed to have been that on the Thursday evening, when the feast of the passover began and though, in our common translation, this passage seems to place the supper before that feast, yet, according to the amended translation, what is here said is consistent with what we read in the other evangelists. See 2 John 1:12; John 12:1.

Having loved his own — His disciples.

Which were in the world — Who were to continue longer in its troubles and difficulties.

He loved them unto the end. — Continued his fervent affection towards them to his latest breath, and gave them that convincing proof of it which is mentioned John 13:5. That the disciples alone are meant here every man must see.

Verse 2

Verse John 13:2. And supper being ended — Rather, δειπνου γενομενου, while supper was preparing. To support this new translation of the words, it may be remarked that, from John 13:26; John 13:30, it appears that the supper was not then ended: nay, it is probable that it was not then begun; because the washing of feet (John 13:5) was usually practised by the Jews before they entered upon their meals, as may be gathered from Luke 7:44, and from the reason of the custom. I think that John wrote, not γενομενου, but γινομενου, as in BL. Cant. and Origen, which latter reading is approved by several eminent critics, and should be translated as above. By the supper I suppose to be meant, not only the eating of it, but the preparing and dressing of it, and doing all things necessary previously to the eating of it. The devil had, before this time of the supper, put it into Judas's heart to betray his Master. See Matthew 26:14, c. Mark 14:10-11; and Luke 22:3, &c. See also Bishop Pearce, from whose judicious commentary the preceding notes are principally taken.

Calmet observes that John, designing only to supply what was omitted by the other evangelists, passes over all the transactions of the Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday, before the passion, and at once goes from Monday evening to Thursday evening. It is remarkable that St. John says nothing about the institution of the holy sacrament, which Matthew, Matthew 26:26, &c., Mark, Mark 14:22, &c., and Luke, Luke 22:19, &c., describe so particularly. No other reason can be assigned for this than that he found it completely done by the others, and that he only designed to supply their defects.

The devil having now put it into the heart — Judas formed his plot six days before this, on occasion of what happened at the house of Simon the leper: see Matthew 26:14. Calmet.

Verse 3

Verse John 13:3. Knowing that the Father had given, c.] Our Lord, seeing himself almost at the end of his race, and being about to leave his apostles, thought it necessary to leave them a lesson of humility exemplified by himself, to deliver them from the bad influence of those false ideas which they formed concerning the nature of his kingdom. On all occasions previously to this, the disciples had shown too much attachment to worldly honours and dignities: if this ambition had not been removed, the consequences of it would have been dreadful in the establishment of the religion of Christ as after his death, it would have divided and infallibly dispersed them. It was necessary therefore to restrain this dangerous passion, and to confirm by a remarkable example what he had so often told them,-that true greatness consisted in the depth of humility, and that those who were the willing servants of all should be the highest in the account of God.

Verse 4

Verse John 13:4. He riseth from supper — Not from eating, as Bishop Pearce has well observed, but from his place at table; probably the dishes were not as yet laid down, though the guests were seated. According to the custom of the Jews and other Asiatics, this washing must have taken place before the supper. John 13:2.

Laid aside his garments — That is, his gown or upper coat, with the girdle wherewith it was girded close to his tunic or under coat; and, instead of this girdle, he tied a towel about him:

1. that he might appear in the character of a servant; and

2. that he might have it in readiness to dry their feet after he had washed them.

Verse 5

Verse John 13:5. Poureth water into a bason, c.] This was the office of the meanest slaves. When David sent to Abigail, to inform her that he had chosen her for wife, she arose and said: Behold, let thy handmaid be a SERVANT, to WASH the FEET of the SERVANTS of my lord, 1 Samuel 25:41. Some of the ancients have supposed that our Lord began with washing the feet of Judas, to inspire him with sentiments of compunction and remorse, to melt him down with kindness, and to show all his disciples how they should act towards their enemies. Dr. Lightfoot supposes he washed the feet of Peter, James, and John only but this is not likely: the verb αρχεσθαι in the sacred writings, signifies, not only to commence, but to finish an act, Acts 1:1; and in the Septuagint, Genesis 2:3. There is every reason to believe that he washed the feet of all the twelve. John 13:9; John 13:9.

Verse 6

Verse John 13:6. Lord, dost THOU wash MY feet? — Every word here is exceedingly emphatic. Peter had often seen the great humility of his Lord, but never saw his condescension so particularly marked as in this instance.

Verse 7

Verse John 13:7. What I do thou knowest not now, &c.] As if our Lord had said, Permit me to do it now, and I will shortly explain to you the nature of this action, and my motives for doing it.

Thou shalt know hereafter. — μετα ταυτα, after this business is finished. And so we find he explained the whole to them, as soon as he had finished the washing: see John 13:12-17. I cannot think that this refers to any particular instruction received on this head after the day of pentecost, as some have conjectured.

Verse 8

Verse John 13:8. If I wash thee not, thou hast no part with me. — Thou canst not be my disciple unless I wash thee. It is certain Christ did not mean to exclude him from the apostolic office, if he should persist, through the deepest reverence for his Master, to refuse to let him wash his feet: this act of his was emblematical of something spiritual; of something that concerned the salvation of Peter; and without which washing he could neither be an apostle or be finally saved; therefore our Lord said, If I wash thee not, thou hast no part with me. There is a mystical washing by the blood of Christ, 1 John 1:7; and by his Spirit, 1 Corinthians 6:11; Titus 3:5-6. It was the common custom of our Lord to pass from sensible and temporal things to those which were spiritual and eternal; and to take occasion from every thing that presented itself, to instruct his disciples, and to raise their souls to God. If the discourse was of bread, water, leaven, father, mother, riches, c., he immediately changed the literal sense, and under the figure of these things, spoke of matters altogether spiritual and Divine. I have met with many good persons who have attempted to imitate our blessed Lord in this, but I never knew one to succeed in it. The reason is, it requires not only very deep piety, but sound sense, together with an accurate knowledge of the nature and properties of the subjects which, in this way, the person wishes to illustrate and very few can be found who have such deep, philosophical knowledge as such cases require. The large folio which a good-intentioned man printed on the metaphors is, alas! a standing proof how little mere piety can do in matters of this kind, where the sciences, and especially practical philosophy, are totally wanting. Jesus Christ was a consummate philosopher: every subject appears grand and noble in his hands. See an ample proof in the preceding chapter, John 12:24.

Verse 9

Verse John 13:9. Lord, not my feet only, &c.] It appears that Peter entered into our Lord's meaning, and saw that this was emblematical of a spiritual cleansing: therefore he wishes to be completely washed.

Verse 10

Verse John 13:10. He that is washed — That is, he who has been in the bath, as probably all the apostles had lately been, in order to prepare themselves the better for the paschal solemnity; for on that occasion, it was the custom of the Jews to bathe twice.

Needeth not save to wash his feet] To cleanse them from any dirt or dust that might have adhered to them, in consequence of walking from the bath to the place of supper. The washing, therefore, of the feet of such persons was all that was necessary, previously to their sitting down to table; The Hindoos walk home from bathing barefoot, and, on entering the house wash their feet again. To this custom our Lord evidently alludes.

If these last words of our Lord had any spiritual reference, it is not easy to say what it was. A common opinion is the following: He who is washed-who is justified through the blood of the Lamb, needeth only to wash his feet-to regulate all his affections and desires; and to get, by faith, his conscience cleansed from any fresh guilt, which he may have contracted since his justification.

Ye are clean, but not allEleven of you are upright and sincere; the twelfth is a traitor. So it appears he had washed the feet of all the twelve; but as no external ablutions can purify a hypocrite or a traitor, therefore Judas still remained unclean.

Verse 12

Verse John 13:12. Know ye what I have done — Our Lord had told Peter, in the presence of the rest, John 13:7, that he should afterwards know what was the intent and meaning of this washing; and now he begins to fulfil his promise; therefore I think it more likely that he gives a command, here, than asks a question, as he knew himself that they did not comprehend his design. On this account γινωσκετε might be translated in the imperative mood, CONSIDER what I have done.

Verse 13

Verse John 13:13. Ye call me Master and Lord — Ὁ διδασκαλος και ὁ κυριος, similar to רבי Rabbi, and מר Mar, titles very common among the Jewish doctors, as may be seen in Schoettgen. This double title was not given except to the most accredited teachers, רבי ומורי Rabbi vemore, my master, my lord!

Verse 14

Verse John 13:14. Ye also ought to wash one another feet. — That is, ye should be ready, after my example, to condescend to all the weakness of your brethren; to be willing to do the meanest offices for them, and to prefer the least of them in honour to yourselves.

Verse 16

Verse John 13:16. The servant is not greater than his lord — Christ has ennobled the acts of humility by practising them himself. The true glory of a Christian consists in being, in his measure, as humble as his Lord.

Neither he that is sent — Ουδε αποϚολος Nor an apostle. As I think these words were intended for the suppression of all worldly ambition and lordly conduct in the apostles and their successors in the ministry, therefore I think the original word αποϚολος, should be translated apostle, rather than he that is sent, because the former rendering ascertains and determines the meaning better.

Verse 17

Verse John 13:17. If ye know these things, happy, c.] True happiness consists in the knowledge of God, and in obedience to him. A man is not happy because he knows much but because he receives much of the Divine nature, and is, in all his conduct, conformed to the Divine will. "They who have read many books (says Menu) are more exalted than such as have seldom studied; they who retain what they have read, than forgetful readers; they who fully understand, than such as only remember; and they who perform their known duty, than such as barely know it. Sacred knowledge and devotedness to God are the means by which a man can arrive at beatitude." See Institutes of MENU, c. xii. Inst. 103, 104. For a heathen this saying is very remarkable.

Verse 18

Verse John 13:18. I speak not of you all — This is a continuation of that discourse which was left off at the tenth verse. The preceding verses may be read in a parenthesis.

I know whom I have chosen — I am not deceived in my choice; I perfectly foresaw every thing that has happened, or can happen. I have chosen Judas, not as a wicked man, nor that he should become such; but I plainly foresaw that he would abuse my bounty, give way to iniquity, deliver me into the hands of my enemies, and bring ruin upon himself.

That the scripture may be fulfilled — Or, thus the scripture is fulfilled. Christ applies to Judas what David had said of his rebellious son Absalom, Psalms 41:9, who was one of the most express emblems of this traitor. See on John 12:38-39.

He that eateth bread with me — That is, he who was in habits of the utmost intimacy with me.

Hath lifted up his heel — An allusion to a restive, ill-natured horse, that sometimes kicks even the person who feeds and takes care of him.

Verse 19

Verse John 13:19. That - ye may believe — These frequent predictions of his death, so circumstantial in themselves, had the most direct tendency to confirm the disciples, not only in the belief of his being the Messiah, but also in that of his omniscience.

Verse 20

Verse John 13:20. He that received whomsoever I send — See similar words, Matthew 10:40, c. Our Lord spoke this to comfort his disciples: he showed them that, although they should be rejected by many, they would be received by several and that whoever received them should reap the utmost benefit by it.

Verse 21

Verse John 13:21. Was troubled in spirit.John 11:33.

And testified — Spoke with great earnestness.

Shall betray me. — παραδωσει με, Will deliver me up. Judas had already betrayed our blessed Lord, and he was now on the point of delivering him up into the hands of the chief priests. By all these warnings, did not our Lord intend that Judas should be benefited?-that he should repent of his iniquity, and turn and find mercy?

Verse 22

Verse 22. Looked one on another doubting of whom he spake. — See the notes on Matthew 26:20-25. Every one but Judas, conscious of his own innocence, looked about upon all the rest, wondering who in that company could be such a traitor! Even Judas himself is not suspected. Is not this a proof that his general conduct had been such as to subject him to no suspicion?

Verse 23

Verse 23. Now there was leaning on Jesus' bosom — The Jews of those days, at their suppers, reclined, supported by their left arm, on couches placed round the table, as the Greeks and Romans did. On each couch there were two or three persons; and the head of one of them came near to the bosom of him who reclined above him on the same couch. The person here mentioned was John, the writer of this history, who, being more tenderly loved by Christ than the rest, had always that place at table which was nearest to his Lord.

Verse 25

Verse 25. He then lying on Jesus' breast — επιπεσων, laying his head against the breast of Christ, in a loving, respectful manner. As the expressions in the text are different here from those in the preceding verse, it shows that John altered his position at table, in order to ask the question which Peter suggested, which he probably did by whispering to our Lord; for, from John 13:28, we may learn that the other disciples had not heard what John said; and it is likely that the following words - It is he to whom I shall give the morsel when I have dipped it, were whispered back by Christ to John.

Verse 26

Verse 26. And when he had dipped the sop — Dr. Lightfoot observes that it was no unusual thing to dip a sop and give it to any person; and it is probable that the rest of the disciples considered it as given to Judas that he might hurry to do some work on which he wished to employ him, and not wait to finish his supper in a regular manner. They did not hear the question that John asked, nor our Lord's answer; but they no doubt heard the words, That thou doest do quickly - and might understand them as above.

Verse 27

Verse 27. Satan entered into him. — He had entered into him before, and now he enters again, to strengthen him in his purpose of delivering up his Master. But the morsel was not the cause of this entering in; the giving of it only marks the time in which the devil confirmed Judas in his traitorous purpose. Some have thought that this morsel was the sacrament of the Lord's Supper: but this is an utter mistake.

That thou doest, do quickly. — As if he had said: "Thou art past all counsel; thou hast filled up the measure of thy iniquity, and hast wholly abandoned thyself to Satan; I will not force thee to turn from thy purpose, and without this thou wilt not. Thy designs are all known to me; what thou art determined to do, and I to permit, do directly; delay not, I am ready."

Verse 29

Verse 29. Buy those things that we have need of against the feastCalmet's observation here has weight so it. "The disciples who thought that our Lord had said this to Judas, knew well that on the day of the passover there was neither buying nor selling in Jerusalem. This, therefore, did not happen on the paschal evening; for the feast, according to the common opinion, must have begun the preceding evening, and Jesus have eaten the passover with his disciples the night before his death; but it appears to me, by the whole text of St. John, that the passover did not begin till the time in which our Lord expired upon the cross. It was then that they were sacrificing the paschal lambs in the temple. It is therefore probable that the apostles believed that Judas went to purchase a lamb, and the other necessary things for the evening, and for the day of the Passover." On this subject the reader is requested to consult the observations at the end of Matthew 26:0, where the subject is considered at large. Matthew 26:0- :

Give something to the poor. — It is well known that our Lord and his disciples lived on public charity; and yet they gave alms out of what they had thus received. From this we learn that even those who live on charity themselves are expected to divide a little with those who are in deeper distress and want.

Verse 30

Verse 30. He - went immediately out: and it was night. — He set off to Jerusalem from Bethany, which was about two miles distant; and, under the conduct of the prince of darkness, and in the time of darkness, he did this work of darkness.

Verse 31

Verse 31. Now is the Son of man glorified — νυν εδοξασθη, Hath been glorified. Now it fully appears that I am the person appointed to redeem a lost world by my blood. I have already been glorified by this appointment, and am about to be farther glorified by my death, resurrection, and ascension.

Verse 32

Verse 32. And shall straightway glorify him. — Or, glorify him, ευθυς, immediately; "he did, not only in the miracles wrought at his death, but also in that remarkable case mentioned, John 18:6, when the whole crowd that came to seize him were driven back with a word of his mouth, and fell to the ground.

Verse 33

Verse 33. Little children — Or, rather, beloved children. τεκνια, a word frequently used by this apostle in his epistles. It is an expression which implies great tenderness and affection, and such as a fond mother uses to her most beloved babes. Now that Judas was gone out, he could use this epithet without any restriction of meaning.

Yet a little while — The end of my life is at hand; Judas is gone to consummate his treason; I have but a few hours to be with you, and you shall be by and by scattered.

Ye shall seek me — For a few days ye shall feel great distress because of my absence.

Whither I go, ye cannot come — Your time is not up. The Jews shall die in their sins, martyrs to their infidelity; but ye shall die in the truth, martyrs for your Lord.

Verse 34

Verse 34. A new commandment I give unto you — In what sense are we to understand that this was a new commandment? Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself, was a positive precept of the law, Leviticus 19:18, and it is the very same that Christ repeats here; how then was it new? Our Lord answers this question, Even AS I have loved you. Now Christ more than fulfilled the Mosaic precept; he not only loved his neighbour AS himself, but he loved him MORE than himself, for he laid down his life for men. In this he calls upon the disciples to imitate him; to be ready on all occasions to lay down their lives for each other. This was, strictly, a new commandment: no system of morality ever prescribed any thing so pure and disinterested as this. Our blessed Lord has outdone all the moral systems in the universe in two words:

1. Love your enemies;

2. Lay down your lives for each other.

Verse 35

Verse John 13:35. By this shall all men know, c.] From this time forward, this mutual and disinterested love shall become the essential and distinctive mark of all my disciples. When they love one another with pure hearts, fervently, even unto death, then shall it fully appear that they are disciples of that person who laid down his life for his sheep, and who became, by dying, a ransom for all.

The disciples of different teachers were known by their habits, or some particular creed or rite, or point of austerity, which they had adopted but the disciples of Christ were known by this love which they bore to each other. The primitive Christians were particularly known by this among the Gentiles. Tertullian, in his Apology, gives us their very words: Vide, inquiunt, ut se diligunt; et pro alterutro mori parati sunt. "See, said they, how they love one another, and are ready to lay down their lives for each other."

Verse 36

Verse John 13:36. Thou canst not follow me now — Thou hast not faith strong enough to die for me, nor is thy work yet done; but hereafter thou shalt suffer for my sake, and die in defence of my truth. See John 21:18.

Verse 37

Verse John 13:37. Why cannot I follow thee now? — Peter probably thought that our Lord intended to go some long journey, which would necessarily subject him to many inconveniences and fatigue; and he felt quite disposed to follow him in this supposed journey, at all hazards. He saw no reason, because he did not see our Lord's meaning, why he could not follow him now.

I will lay down my life for thy sake. — Poor Peter! thou wast sincere, but thou didst not know thy own strength. Thou wast at this time willing to die, but when the time cams wast not able. Christ must first die for Peter, before Peter can die for him. Let no man think he can do any thing good, without the immediate assistance of God. Peter's denial should be an eternal warning to all self-confident persons: though there be sincerity and good will at the bottom, yet in the trial these cannot perform that office which belongs to the power of God. We should will, and then look to God for power to execute: without him we can do nothing.

Verse 38

Verse John 13:38. The cock shall not crow, c.] Matthew 26:34. Dr. Lightfoot has very properly remarked that we must not understand these words, as if the cock should not crow at all before Peter had thrice denied his Master but we must understand them thus: "The cock shall not have finished his crowing before thou wilt thrice deny me. When the time was near, the very night in which this was to happen, Christ said, This very night the cock shall not crow his second time, c. But here, two days before that time, he says, the cock shall not crow that is, shall not have done his crowing. The Jews, and some other nations, divided the cock-crowing into the first, the second, and the third times."

1. ON peters denial of our Lord much has been written: by one class he has been incautiously excused, and by another rashly censured. Peter was self-confident, but he was certainly sincere, and, had he trusted more in God and less in himself, he would not have miscarried. He did not look to his Maker for strength, and therefore he fell. He was surprised, and found unarmed. It is a well-known fact that circumstances have occurred in which persons of the most bold, intrepid, and adventurous minds have proved mere cowards, and acted to their own disgrace and ruin. Facts of this kind occur in the naval and military history of this and every other country. No man is master of himself at all times; therefore prudence and caution should ever be united to courage. Peter had courage, but he had not caution: he felt a powerful and determined will; but the trial was above his own strength, and he did not look to God for power from on high. He was warned by this miscarriage, but he dearly bought his experience. Let him that readeth understand.

2. A fact which occurs in the English Martyrology will serve to illustrate the history of Peter's denial and fall. In the reign of Queen Mary, when the Papists of this kingdom burned all the Protestants they could convict of denying the doctrine of transubstantiation, a poor man who had received the truth in theory, but had not as yet felt its power, was convicted and sentenced by their bloody tribunal to be burned alive. While they were drawing him to the place of execution, he was very pensive and melancholy; and when he came within sight of the stake, c., he was overpowered with fear and terror, and exclaimed, O! I can't burn! I can't burn! Some of the attending priests, supposing that he wished to recant, spoke to him to that effect. The poor man still believed the truth - felt no disposition to deny it - but did not feel such an evidence of his Maker's approbation in his own soul as could enable him to burn for it! He continued in great agony, feeling all the bitterness of death, and calling on God to reveal himself through the Son of his love. While thus engaged, God broke in upon his soul and he was filled with peace and joy in believing. He then clapped his hands, and exclaimed with a powerful voice, I can burn! I can burn! He was bound to the stake, and burned gloriously, triumphing in God through whom he had received the atonement. This was a case in point. The man was convinced of the truth, and was willing to burn for the truth but had not as yet power, because he had not yet received an evidence of his acceptance with God. He pleaded for this with strong crying and tears, and God answered him to the joy of his soul; and then he was as able as he was willing to go to prison and to death. Without the power and consolation of the Spirit of God, who could be a martyr, even for Divine truth? We see now plainly how the case lies: no man is expected to do a supernatural work by his own strength; if left to that, in a case of this kind, his failure must be inevitable. But, in all spiritual matters, assistance is to be sought from God; he that seeks shall find, and he that finds Divine strength shall be equal to the task he is called to fulfil. Peter was incautious and off his guard: the trial came-he looked not for power from on high, and he fell: not merely because he was weak-not because God withheld the necessary assistance - but because he did not depend on and seek it. In no part of this business can Peter be excused - he is every where blamable, and yet, through the whole, an object of pity.

Bibliographical Information
Clarke, Adam. "Commentary on John 13". "The Adam Clarke Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/acc/john-13.html. 1832.
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