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John 13

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Verse 1

A dramatic break in the outline of this Gospel appears here. The previous chapters related to Jesus' revelation to the chosen people who rejected him, and with significant overtones of revelation to the entire world. Beginning here, the narrative develops Jesus' special revelation to the disciples who received him, despite the betrayal by Judas and Peter's denial. This chapter details the washing of the apostles' feet (John 13:1-11), the statement of Jesus' purpose in the painful disclosures about to be made (John 13:12-20), the identification of the traitor (John 13:21-30), the new commandment (John 13:31-35), and the prophecy of Peter's denial (John 13:36-38). This section, which begins here and extends through John 20, records the events of the final week, climaxed by the resurrection.

Now before the feast of the passover, Jesus knowing that his hour was come that he should depart out of this world to the Father, having loved his own that were in the world, he loved them unto the end. (John 13:1)

Before the feast of the passover ... We take these words in their simplest and most obvious sense as declaring that the supper about to be narrated occurred in advance of the Jewish Passover; and, although it resembled the passover in so many details, it was nevertheless not technically the passover. Jesus was crucified on the Preparation (John 19:31), and the passover was eaten after sundown the day Jesus died. There is no way the Passover itself could have been called the Preparation. The synoptics are in perfect harmony with this, Matthew making it clear that Jesus ate this meal reclining (Matthew 26:20), which he would not have done had it been the passover. See my Commentary on Matthew, Matthew 26:19.

Knowing that his hour was come ... Christ was fully aware, throughout his ministry, of the Father's ordering of all of his steps and was fully conscious that the moment of his offering upon the cross was at hand.

He loved them unto the end ... might also be rendered, "unto the uttermost." See the marginal reading. The true meaning probably includes both thoughts. It was the great love of Jesus for his own that motivated his supreme act of giving himself up to die for the remission of sins.

Verse 2

And during supper, the devil having already put it into the heart of Judas Iscariot, Simon's son, to betray him.

The devil ... The great protagonist of evil on earth is a person, called here the devil, and identified as Satan throughout the Bible. He is a being of supernatural power but is himself a creature and does not share control of the universe with God. Satan has the power to suggest and motivate evil deeds, as here; but this power is effective only in those souls who have consented to evil domination. Judas had already consented to sin and readily became the instrument of Satan through an act of his own volition. See my Commentary on Matthew, Matthew 4:2; 8:26,32; 112:29; 28:11,15.

Judas Iscariot, Simon's son ...


Judas was named one of the Twelve by Jesus and, along with the others, was commissioned to "heal the sick and raise the dead" (Matthew 10:7); and it must therefore be inferred that at the time of his call Judas was not evil. However, by the time of the great defection recorded in John 6, Judas had fallen. "One of you is a devil" (John 6:70), Jesus said, which is sometimes amended to read, "a devil from the beginning," which of course is not true. A deduction from the events recorded in John 6 indicates that Judas, like so many of his countrymen, expected a temporal Messiah; and the knowledge that Jesus would never be that kind of Messiah turned his heart away from the Lord. In any case, he became unsympathetic to the ideals of the Master, used the common treasury, which he carried, for his own purposes, and drifted more and more into rebellion and defiance, even betraying the Lord, at last, for thirty pieces of silver.

Judas, like all people, had freedom of the will and might have elected a more honorable course, but chose instead to betray the Lord. The thesis so often advocated that people "are not responsible for what they do,"[1] and that society is to blame for the vicious acts of criminals is negated by the record of Judas. Wherein did Jesus fail the traitor? See my Commentary on Matthew, Matthew 26:49.

That Judas was truly an apostle at first is verified by the sacred record that he "by transgression fell" (Acts 1:25 KJV). It is axiomatic that one cannot fall from an eminence that he does not have. Some have sought to extenuate Judas' sin on the grounds that he probably expected Jesus to extricate himself by some supernatural act, or upon the theory that he "atoned" for his misdeed by returning the money and committing suicide. All sins can be rationalized, and Judas might indeed have rationalized the betrayal; but all such rationalizations of criminal behavior are futile. The deed of betrayal itself was one of unique shame and ugliness.

The death of Judas and the disposition of the returned money are discussed in my Commentary on Matthew, Matthew 27:10, where particular attention is given to the alleged contradiction in the two accounts of Judas' death.

Verse 3

Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he came forth from God, and goeth unto God, riseth from supper, and layeth aside his garments; and he took a towel and girded himself.

All things into his hands ... The Lord was about to give an object lesson in humility, but it was given in full consciousness of his power and Godhead. John was more perceptive in his association of the Godhead of Jesus with the darkest hours of the Lord's humiliation. Matthew mentioned "all authority" as belonging to Christ but associated it with the Great Commission (Matthew 28:18-20). Of course, both Gospels are correct.

Riseth from supper ... If this had been the passover, Jesus could not have eaten it reclining (Exodus 12:11). Jesus rose up from the reclining position customary at meals in those days, laid aside his outer robe, or garment, and girded himself with a towel, the clothing suggestive of a slave.

Verse 5

Then he poureth water into the basin, and began to wash the disciples' feet, and to wipe them with the towel wherewith he was girded.

The background of this moving incident includes the jealousy of the Twelve among themselves as to who was "greatest," a jealousy that had been aggravated by the request of Zebedee's wife that James and John should have the chief seats in the new kingdom. The disciples' concern over questions like this could have been the reason that none of them volunteered to perform the menial task of washing feet. No one made a move; and, apparently, the supper had actually begun without the customary footwashing having taken place. This was not a ceremonial act at all, but a necessity due to the type of sandals worn and the dusty condition of all roads in those days. It would have been uncomfortable for them to have continued without washing their feet; but, since the task was usually performed by servants, and none of those disciples jockeying for position as "head man" in the kingdom would touch so menial a task, the Lord did it! In this act he truly took upon him the form of a servant (Philippians 2:1-9).

Verse 6

So he cometh to Simon Peter. He saith unto him, Lord, dost thou wash my feet?

Peter was certainly among them who coveted the position of "head man" in the coming kingdom; and the paradox of Jesus the Lord of life stooping to wash his feet was such an incongruous thing that Peter protested it.

Verse 7

Jesus answered and said unto him, What I do thou knowest not now; but thou shalt understand hereafter.

The Lord was in the act of teaching an incredibly effective lesson in humility; but the full significance of it would not be realized by any of the apostles until long afterward.

Verse 8

Peter saith unto him, Thou shalt never wash my feet. Jesus answered him, If I wash thee not, thou hast no part with me.

Thou shalt never wash my feet ... Peter was like many in all ages who suppose that certain kinds of work are demeaning; but, in this marvelous episode, the Lord dignified the work of a slave by taking the towel into his own hands.

If I wash thee not ... Here Jesus spoke of washing in a different sense. Unless Peter should be washed of his false pride and ambition, unless he should share in that ultimate cleansing of the soul that would result from Jesus' sacrifice, thus being truly "washed," he could have no part with Jesus.

Verse 9

Simon Peter saith unto him, Lord, not my feet only, but also my hands and head.

Peter vacillated between extremes. He could walk on the water and then cry out a moment later for help. He confessed Christ but promptly assumed a stance of rebuking the Lord. He affirmed undying loyalty to Christ and denied him the same day. Here he first refused Jesus' washing of his feet and then demanded to be washed all over. Some have explained this latter act as an over-enthusiastic submission to Jesus' will, but there is more to it than that. Peter mistakenly thought that Jesus was still referring to the physical act of foot-washing, when actually he was referring to the spiritual cleansing so much needed by Peter and all of them.

Verse 10

Jesus saith unto him, He that is bathed needeth not save to wash his feet: and ye are clean, but not all.

It is not necessary to construe the first part of this reply of Jesus as something mysterious and deep beyond human comprehension. It meant, "Only your feet need washing." It is only at the end of this verse that Jesus left off speaking of physical things, the final clause being intended spiritually.

Verse 11

For he knew him that should betray him; and therefore said he, Ye are not all clean.

Jesus' thoughts in this incident are quite clear. While literally washing the disciples' feet in order to teach them humility, the thought suddenly came to him: "This physical uncleanness is not really the big problem; it is their spiritual cleanliness which is needed."

For discussion of Judas Iscariot, see under John 13:2. The thought of their spiritual cleanliness, or rather uncleanness, encompassing the treachery of Judas and the denial of Peter, led to the painful revelation of those events later during the supper.

Verse 12

So when he had washed their feet, and taken his garments, and sat down again, he said unto them, Know ye what I have done unto you?

In John 13:4, it was stated that Jesus laid aside his garments, and here that he took them again. This laying aside and taking again of his garments has been referred by some to the analogy of Jesus' laying aside his eternal glory in order to enter human life and perform the act of human redemption, after which he resumed his eternal glory, thus making the incident of the foot-washing a figure of the salvation accomplished. The reading of rather lengthy discussions of this has failed, however, to persuade this student that any such analogy was intended. What the episode really meant, Jesus explained. "Do you know ..." has the weight of "Do you really know the meaning of what I have done unto you?"

Verse 13

Ye call me Teacher, and Lord: and ye say well; for so I am.

Lord ... The use of this term by the apostles shows the exalted nature of their concept of Jesus Christ, thus hailing him as the divine ruler of life. The use of "Teacher" along with this title does not diminish the impact of it.

Verse 14

If I then, the Lord, and the Teacher, have washed your feet, ye also ought to wash one another's feet.

Jesus' reversal of the two titles, placing "Lord" first, is significant, because it is as "Lord" that he must be confessed (Romans 10:9). This dramatically emphasized his humility in washing their feet. Menial service for one's fellow Christians is taught by this example.

Verse 15

I have given you an example, that ye also should do as I have done unto you.

This verse is the anchor of certain religious teachings which would honor as a continuing ordinance the ceremony of washing feet; but this was not a ceremony in any sense of the word. As Lipscomb noted:

There is nothing in this that could indicate a special ordinance or formal observance to be perpetuated in the church. The foot washing of both the Old Testament and the New Testament was an act of helpful kindness when needed.[2]

Footwashing was a social custom of those times, founded on the wearing of sandals and the prevalence of dusty roads; and at the time Jesus washed the disciples' feet, it filled a definite need, a need no longer in existence and which, if feigned in some kind of ceremony, amounts only to play-acting. Certainly, the Lord did not say of this, as he said of the communion, "This do until I come." No apostolic instructions have come down to us with reference to when, where, or how such a thing should be observed; and the fair conclusion is that it was never observed as any kind of a religious ceremony during the times of the holy apostles. Also, it is not amiss to point out that the ceremonial washing of CLEAN feet by some religious groups today bears no resemblance whatever to what the Lord did here.

Paul instructed Timothy regarding the enrollment of widows on the list of the church's charities thus:

Well reported of for good works; if she hath brought up children, if she hath used hospitality to strangers, if she hath washed the saints' feet, if she hath relieved the afflicted, if she hath diligently followed every good work (1 Timothy 5:10).

In Paul's words here, foot washing appears in a list of good works and on a parity with bringing up children and showing hospitality to strangers; and, until churches are willing to ceremonialize the other good works of this passage, it seems that they should also refrain from ceremonializing foot washing. Hendriksen said:

No, he is not commanding the disciples to do WHAT he did; but he has given them AN EXAMPLE in order that they, of their own accord, may do as he has done .... Jesus has shown his humility under their very eyes.[3]

[2] David Lipscomb, A Commentary on the Gospel of John (Nashville: The Gospel Advocate Company, 1960), p. 210.

[3] William Hendriksen, Exposition of the Gospel according to John (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Book House, 1961), II, p. 235.

Verse 16

Verily, verily, I say unto you, A servant is not greater than his lord; neither one that is sent greater than he that sent him.

An expression similar to this was used by Jesus to show that his disciples would be hated and persecuted like himself (Matthew 10:24; John 15:20), and that the disciples of the Pharisees were as blind as their leaders (Luke 6:40). Tertullian made the words of this verse a mandate that no disciple might advocate a doctrine contrary to the teachings of the Lord, saying, "If Marcion be even a disciple, he is not yet `above his Master.'"[4] Here, Jesus taught that disciples should not hold themselves above performing menial tasks for each other.

Verse 17

If ye know these things, blessed are ye if ye do them.

It is not in the mere knowledge of sacred truth, but in the faithful obedience of it, that men are blessed. Taken alone, this verse might be interpreted as meaning that merely doing the truth would bless the doer; but such is not exactly the truth for knowing and doing truth bless them that are in the true fellowship with Jesus. One of the Twelve (Judas) was not in fellowship; and, therefore, Jesus promptly indicated the exception.

Verse 18

I speak not of you all: I know whom I have chosen: but that the Scripture might be fulfilled, he that eateth my bread lifted up his heel against me.

McGarvey paraphrased this thus:

I do not speak of blessing you all, for there is one who shall never be blessed. His conduct does not deceive or surprise me, for I know those whom I have chosen whether they be good or bad.[5]

That the Scripture might be fulfilled ... Even the treachery of an apostle was prophesied in Psalms 41:9, which reads:

Yea, mine own familiar friend, in whom I trusted, Who did eat of my bread, Hath lifted up his heel against me.

Of the Twelve, only Judas carried the bag and sat next to Jesus at the table, even dipping his hand in the dish with him. The Psalm cited, therefore, has the effect of a positive identification of Judas as the traitor. There is no implication in this, that Jesus chose Judas for the purpose of the betrayal. God's foreseeing future events imposes upon those events no necessity of happening, any more than a mortal's knowledge of past events caused them to occur.

Verse 19

From henceforth I tell you before it come to pass, that, when it is come to pass, ye may believe that I am he.

The treachery of Judas and denial of Peter were events of such negative force that Jesus moved to protect his disciples against the impact which such actions would have upon their faith. The whole terrible ordeal of the trials, crucifixion, and death, was almost upon them; and the apostles were here schooled against the very worst that could happen.

That I am he ... Jesus never lost sight of the fact which he came into the world to establish, namely, that he was God appearing in human form, entitled to human worship and adoration upon the part of all who would enter into eternal life, and himself being the source of that eternal life. Even negative events like the betrayal and denial were laid under tribute to maintain and buttress the apostles' faith, this being accomplished by the Lord's accurate prophecy of them.

Verse 20

Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that receiveth whomsoever I send receiveth me; and he that receiveth me receiveth him that sent me.

The rejection of Jesus is the rejection of God. This was a constant theme of Jesus' entire ministry, and it means that Jesus is God come in the flesh. It was probably reiterated here in the final hope that Judas might, even at that late hour, repent.

Verse 21

When Jesus had thus said, he was troubled in the spirit, and testified, and said, Verily, verily, I say unto you, that one of you shall betray me. The disciples looked one on another doubting of whom he spake.

The prophecy had been quoted, along with the fact that a familiar friend would betray the Lord, and Jesus had taken the trouble to reveal his reason for the sad disclosure about to be made. Therefore, he would now become specific; the traitor would be singled out, and the sacred company would soon be rid of his presence.

One of you shall betray me ... was a shocking announcement. Each disciple seems to have found some sense of evil in his own heart; and they began to question, "Is it I?" (Mark 14:19). What a dark hour it was when the innermost circle of the Lord's followers read the stain of sin within themselves and pondered the awful prophecy that one of themselves would betray him. A baleful doubting fell upon them all.

He was troubled in spirit ... No wonder the Lord was troubled. The agony approaching was more than enough to fill the soul with dread, even the soul of the Blessed; but there was also the problem of the Twelve. Could they stand the acid test they were about to endure? It was the hour of darkness and the powers of evil. All the powers of hell would surge to their zenith and the full tides of evil reach their flood upon the cross. How could that little band, eating a last meal together in an upper room, overcome the gargantuan wickedness that would lay the Son of God in a tomb? How could they, without any of the sophisticated tools of wealth, education, and power, cope with the horrors about to be unfolded? The secret of their eventual triumph was disclosed in the first verse of this chapter, "He loved them to the uttermost!" That love proved to be motivation enough to overcome all human weakness. The troubling of Jesus' spirit here gave way, later on, to his brimming confidence that evil would be defeated. "Be of good cheer; I have overcome the world" (John 16:33).

Verse 23

There was at the table reclining in Jesus' bosom one of his disciples, whom Jesus loved. Simon Peter therefore beckoneth to him, and saith unto him, Tell us who it is of whom he speaketh.

At the table reclining ... According to the custom of the times, the guests surrounded the table, which was not an elevated platform at all, such as modern tables, but only a slightly elevated place, or only a covering placed on the floor. Each guest lay on his elbow, leaving one hand free for eating. In such a position, it was easy for one guest to whisper to another.

Whom Jesus loved ... This expression appears seven times in John, twice with reference to Lazarus and his sisters, and five times with reference to John himself. As Gaebelein said:

John has been charged with egotism in speaking thus of himself; but the charge is unfounded. He wrote under the guiding hand of the Holy Spirit who put these words in his pen.[6]

John had already stated in John 13:1 that the Lord loved all of his disciples "to the uttermost."

Simon Peter ... used some kind of body language in his request of John, "beckoning" to him to find out who Jesus meant. Whatever the gesture was, John understood it.

Verse 25

He leaning back, as he was, on Jesus' breast saith unto him, Lord, who is it?

Jesus promptly complied with John's relayed request from Peter. Matthew indicates that Jesus' reply was addressed openly to all.

Verse 26

Jesus therefore answereth, He it is for whom I shall dip the sop, and give it to him. So when he had dipped the sop, he taketh and giveth it to Judas, the son of Simon Iscariot.

Westcott and others speak of the custom of giving a sop to an honored guest, inferring from this that Jesus here made one last effort to reach Judas' heart; but nothing like that is evident here. Jesus was identifying the traitor by an action often engaged in before, but not with the overtones of this situation. As soon as this was done, Judas knew that his identity was known to all but pretended that it was not true, saying, "Is it I?" Jesus told him plainly that it was indeed he (Matthew 26:25), and commanded him to "do quickly" what he had purposed to do (John 13:27).

Verse 27

And after the sop, then entered Satan into him. Jesus therefore saith unto him, What thou doest, do quickly.

The entering of Satan into Judas at this time indicates an unusually malevolent entry; because Satan had been in Judas before, as for example, when he bargained for the thirty pieces of silver. Therefore, this indicates that Satan took possession of Judas permanently, in consequence of his judicial hardening, a fact suggested, and even demanded, by the fact of Jesus' command for Judas to act quickly. Until this point, there had been hope for Judas; but, after Satan took him over, his descent into wretchedness and death was swift, dramatic, and irrevocable. The example of what happened to Judas here should give every person pause in the contemplation of evil. Once the die is finally cast and Satan claims possession of the soul, swift and inevitable destruction always ensues. Another example of this same ruthless destruction on the part of Satan is seen in the case of the demons being permitted to enter the swine (Matthew 8:32).

What thou doest, do quickly ... God will not always oppose the will of evil men. There comes the day when Balaam is commanded to "Go with the men" (Numbers 22:22), and Judas is ordered to get on with the betrayal.

The sop ... is repeatedly mentioned here and cannot fail to emphasize the triviality of Judas' reward. It was a mere trifle, a financial sop, a mere handful of change that he received for betraying the Saviour.

Verse 28

Now no man at the table knew for what intent he spake this unto him. For some thought, because Judas had the bag, that Jesus said unto him, Buy what things we have need of for the feast, or, that he should give something to the poor.

Here is final and certain proof that the meal eaten was not the passover; otherwise, it would have been impossible for some of the disciples to have thought that Judas was being dispatched on an errand to buy things needed for its observance.

Or give something to the poor ... This affords an indirect glimpse of the habit of charity practiced by the apostles under Jesus' direction. The significance of this lies in the poverty of the group themselves. They, like Jesus, had nowhere to lay their heads, and sometimes they improvised lunch by plucking a few heads of wheat to eat as they crossed a field (Matthew 12:1); but, despite their own poverty, it was no unusual thing for them to give of their little store to those of even greater need.

Verse 30

He then having received the sop went out straightway: and it was night.

The spiritual overtones of many of the expressions found in this Gospel are magnificent. See concerning "sop" under John 13:27.

And it was night ... What a commentary is this upon the situation confronting the Lord on this last night with his disciples before the crucifixion. The traitor was on the way to the high priest; within the hour, plans would be made for soldiers to take him; the Sanhedrin switched their strategy and would stage a formal trial, doubtless presuming upon what they hoped would be effective testimony from Judas; the Shepherd would be apprehended and the sheep scattered; suborned witnesses would spin their lies in exchange for temple gold; Caiaphas, who had already determined to kill Jesus, would pretend to be shocked and rend his priestly garments contrary to the law; and, for an hour, the wicked hypocrites would prevail. Even resolute Peter would falter under the questioning of a girl; and before the night ended runners would fan out over the dark city to summon a formal meeting of the Sanhedrin; which body would put out, so they thought, the Light of all nations; but instead they put out the Light of Jerusalem and plunged their city into a darkness from which it would not emerge for twice a thousand years. "And it was night!"

He ... went out ... is another expression with connotations greatly in excess of the denoted fact that Judas left the sacred company. Sin always casts the sinner out. The parents of all living sinned and were cast out of Eden; Jacob sinned and lied against his brother and his father's sightless eyes and went out that night to rest his head upon a stone; Gehazi sinned and lied to Elisha and went out a leper white as snow; the prodigal son sinned and lusted after the wine shops and bright, lights of the far country and went out from a loving father to be a swineherd; Peter sinned and denied the Lord and went out into the darkness to weep; Judas sinned and betrayed the Lord and went out to a suicide's death and eternal infamy. On and on the record of sin repeats the monotonous tale, "Out, out, out ..." Always out! And the present day is no exception. Sin enters men's hearts, and then they go out: out from the homes of father and mother, out from the love of wife and child, out from the sacred fellowship of the church, out from the Bible school, out from the prayer meetings, out from the study of the word of the Lord, out from the tender devotions of the family, out from every decent and uplifting influence, out from hope and salvation; and, finally, when sin is done with the sinner, it casts him out into eternal darkness and remorse. When sin is permitted to have dominion over a man, his epitaph has already been written, "And he went out!"

Verse 31

When therefore he was gone out, Jesus saith, Now is the Son of man glorified, and God is glorified in him; and God shall glorify him in himself, and straightway shall he glorify him.

Four times the verb "to glorify" appears in these lines; but why this shout of victory at the very moment the traitor was dispatched for the act of betrayal? John wished to stress that the sufferings and death of Christ were not forced upon Jesus by circumstances out of his control, but were in fact accepted and directed by himself throughout. It was the Saviour's obedience to God's will that glorified both himself and the Father with whom he was one. Far from cowering before the blackness of the gathering storm, Jesus sent the traitor to perform the act that would trigger its release. The storm would not come, as the Pharisees planned (Matthew 26:1-5), after the passover was ended, but in the midst of it; because Jesus, not the Pharisees, was the architect of those awful events. Jesus would be glorified in the fulfillment of his sacred mission of salvation; mankind would be redeemed; the prophecies reaching back to Eden would be vindicated and fulfilled; the head of Satan would be crushed; and the purpose of God from before times eternal would be realized in the events which Jesus had that very moment set in motion.

And straightway shall he glorify him ... The emphasis here is upon "straightway." It is as though Jesus had said, "Now the purpose of all ages shall be realized; let it begin now; action!"

Illustration: Winston Churchill thus described the moment of decision which launched the invasion of Europe:

The hours dragged slowly by ... conditions were bad ... the weather experts gave some promise of temporary improvement on June 6th, but predicted the indefinite return of rough weather after that. Faced with the desperate alternatives of accepting the risk or postponing the attack, General Eisenhower, with the advice of his commanders, boldly, and as it proved, wisely chose to go ahead with the operation ... At 4:00 A.M., June 5th, the die was irrevocably cast: the invasion would be launched on June 6,1944.[7]

It was a long, long night for Eisenhower; but at the hour appointed he boldly commanded, "Let 'er rip!"

This illustration is given for contrast. The Lord did not consult with advisors; there was no uncertainty as to the time; the issues were not in doubt; human experts were of no avail; only God could do what Jesus did; and there was never the slightest doubt that the operation would succeed. Jesus' triumphant words were, "God is glorified!"

Hendriksen observed that:

Whenever we think of Christ's sufferings, we never know what to admire most: whether it be the voluntary self-surrender of the Son to such a death for such a people, or the willingness of the Father to give up such a Son to such a death for such a people.[8]

[7] Winston Churchill, Closing the Ring (Cambridge, Massachusetts: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1951), p. 630.

[8] William Hendriksen, op. cit., II, p. 251.

Verse 33

Little children, yet a little while I am with you. Ye shall seek me: and as I said unto the Jews, Whither I go ye cannot come; so now I say unto you.

Little children ... is found nowhere else in the Gospels and was used here, perhaps, for the first time by the Lord. This tender address and the circumstances under which it was used endeared the words to John who made them a permanent part of his vocabulary (1 John 2:1,12,18,28 etc.).

As I said unto the Jews ... See John 7:34 and John 8:21,22. In those instances, Jesus referred to the eternal impossibility of wicked men having fellowship with himself; but here he referred to the temporary separation of the Lord from the disciples by reason of his approaching death and departure to the heavenly world. As Hovey noted:

In going to his Father through the dreadful pathway of death, he would enter upon a life distinct from the present, and inaccessible to his own in their earthly state. In view of this impending separation, he proceeded to enjoin them to love one another.[9]

Verse 34

A new commandment I give unto you, that ye love one another; even as I have loved you, that ye also love one another. By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples if ye love one another.


If this commandment had been merely a restatement of the Mosaic principle of loving one's neighbor as himself, it would not have been new. The newness of it is implicit in the words, "even as I have loved you." As Reynolds stated it:

So a new type of love is given, as the Greek expositors generally have urged. There is a deeper intensity in this love than can be found in Moses' "Love thy neighbor as thyself." In that commandment which embraces the whole law, self-love is assumed and made the standard for the love of neighbor. The new commandment, on the other hand, is based on a new principle, measured by a higher standard than love of self. This is based on Christ's love, which was self-abandoning and self-sacrificing love.[10]

R. W. Frank stated that:

In Christian thought, "God is love." An everlasting, all-comprehensive, benevolent, and sacrificial love is held to be the very essence of God. This redeeming love was revealed in Christ who summed up the law and the prophets in the two-fold commandment of love.[11]

In the earliest ages of the church, there seems to have been far more success on the part of Christians in obeying this commandment than in present times. The lack of love among Christians is a glaring weakness of faith today. Again from Reynolds:

So long as this great power prevailed, the church made astonishing progress; when the so-called disciples of Christ began to hate and kill one another the progress was arrested. But thank God, "the new commandment" has always had marvelous power over the church of Christ.[12]

[10] H. R. Reynolds, The Pulpit Commentary (Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1962), II, p. 196.

[11] R. W. Frank, Encyclopedia of Religion (New York: Philosophical Library, 1945), p. 453.

[12] H. R. Reynolds, op. cit., II, p. 196.

Verse 36

Simon Peter saith unto him, Lord, whither goest thou? Jesus answered, Whither I go thou canst not follow me now; but thou shalt follow afterwards.

Peter was determined to follow Jesus both to prison and to death, and there is no doubt of Peter's sincerity. What he did not at that time realize was that the power to do such a thing is not resident in men but comes only from above. The access to such heavenly strength would come to Peter only after the victory of Jesus upon the cross had made it possible. In his reply, Jesus addressed Peter's intentions, not his question, and pointed out (1) Peter's present inability to follow the Lord, and (2) the full ability of Peter to do so after the enabling sacrifice on Calvary had been made.

Verse 37

Peter saith unto him, Lord, why cannot I follow thee even now? I will lay down my life for thee.

Peter's sincerity was so genuine that he could not understand why Jesus did not accept his intentions as fact. However, Peter had only mortal and imperfect knowledge of his own strength, whereas Jesus had full knowledge of all things; and Peter's unwillingness to accept Jesus' words revealed the weakness in Peter even in this moment of his boldest assertion of strength. His bold assertion of willingness to lay down his life for Jesus had a contradictory note in it, being squarely opposed to what Jesus had just said of his not being able now to follow Jesus. No disparagement of Peter's love should enter our thoughts; because, before life was over, he would make good the promise here, a promise impossible for him to keep until later; but a promise he would nevertheless honor with his martyrdom.

Verse 38

Jesus answereth, Wilt thou lay down thy life for me? Verily, verily, I say unto thee, The cock shall not crow, till thou hast denied me thrice.

This was the second bombshell detonated in that small company on the dark betrayal night. Not only Judas - but Peter would deny the Lord! The reason for so painful disclosures was given (John 13:19); and Jesus stressed such things to prevent the faith of the whole group from utter collapse under the sledge hammer blows that would fall during that tragic night. For extended study of Peter's denial, see my Commentary on Matthew, Matthew 26:58.

Bibliographical Information
Coffman, James Burton. "Commentary on John 13". "Coffman's Commentaries on the Bible". Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. 1983-1999.