Bible Commentaries
John 13

Sutcliffe's Commentary on the Old and New TestamentsSutcliffe's Commentary

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Verses 1-38

John 13:1 . Before the feast of the passover, when Jesus knew that his hour was come. What now transpired was on the Tuesday, while at supper in the house of Simon. Judas was now rebuked before all present, for interrupting Mary, who by a secret prophetic impulse had anointed the Saviour. The traitor nevertheless yielded to the sudden temptation of the devil to betray his Master, for the reward of filthy lucre already promised by the council. His pride was enraged by reproof; and covetousness being his habitual sin, proved at last his utter damnation. On the Wednesday or the Thursday he struck the fatal bargain with the rulers.

Jesus having loved his own he loved them to the end, by communing with them in the last supper, by washing their feet, and by unfolding the plenitude of glory and grace in his valedictory address. What could the Saviour do more. Money he had none to give; but he gave his life a ransom for their souls. What melting words are these, This is my body; this is my blood of the new testament. Oh Redeemer, was ever love like thine?

John 13:2 . Supper being ended; δειπου γενομενου . The versions vary here, the greek participle being often used as an aörist of indefinite time. Here therefore it may regard what our learned grammarian Mr. Harris calls middle time. Then the reading will be, “while they were at supper.” Our Saviour having supped before the others had quite finished, rose up from supper, and laid aside his garments [garment] and took a towel and girded himself. John does not relate the sacrament of the Lord’s supper, that having been done correctly by other evangelists.

But it should not escape remark, that ten families usually joined to eat one paschal lamb. By consequence each had but a morsel, and must have had other food to complete the supper. Of this we have no account, the custom being known to all. But on this point the evangelists are harmonious, that after supper the Lord took bread, and brake it with eulogies. After that he took the cup, as stated in Matthew 26:26. Luke 22:14-23.

John 13:8 . If I wash thee not, thou hast no part with me. Peter now understood that more was intended by this washing than merely a lesson of humility; that it symbolized the washing of regeneration, and the renewing of the Holy Ghost. Titus 3:5.

John 13:17 . If ye know these things, happy are ye if ye do them. Our Lord here intimates the necessity of knowledge in order to practice, and the necessity of practice in order to happiness. A man may know the will of God indeed, and not do it; but he can never do the will of God acceptably, and not know it. The knowledge of God’s will and our duty, and the practice of it, may be, and are too often separated; but the practice of religion, and doing what we know to be our duty, is the only way to true happiness.

Learn hence, that Christ does not approve a blind obedience in his people, but requires that their practice and obedience be founded upon understanding and knowledge. That the first care of those that will be Christ’s disciples and followers must be this, with all seriousness to apply themselves to the knowledge of their Master’s will; that, next to the knowledge of our duty, our first and chief care must be to practise every thing that we understand and know to be our duty. That a right knowledge and practice of our duty will certainly make us happy. “If ye know these things, happy are ye if ye do them.”

John 13:20 . He that receiveth whomsoever I send, receiveth me. There is an identity of glory between the mission of Christ, and that of the apostles, as stated before when he sent the twelve to preach. Matthew 10:40. But the words are repeated here to show the greatness of Judas’s sin, by the addition of incomparable apostasy. Jesus, on announcing the treason, was troubled in spirit; he felt in his breast a mysterious perturbation of grief and indignation.

John 13:21 . Jesus was troubled in spirit, and so deeply as to be perceived. The first enunciation of this anguish was, “one of you shall betray me!” What silence what thoughts what feelings! After this silence, Peter made a sign to John, that he should ask which it was that should betray him. John enquired by a whisper: but none of the disciples, except John, knew that Judas was the man, till after the traitor had made his exit.

John 13:26 . When he had dipped the sop, he gave it to Judas Iscariot. Yea, he gave it with indignation What thou doest do quickly. Silence said more. I know the working of thy covetousness since the day thou heardst of the promised rewards set on my life. Yea, Satan also made haste. Immediately after the sop he entered the traitor, and hurried him on by his love of money to the grossest of treasons. Judas having committed the crime, could no longer bear the reproaches of his own conscience. He speedily destroyed himself, as related in Matthew 26:14. The prophecy of David was in him accomplished: “Let his days be few, and let another take his office.” Psalms 109:8. How awful to see a minister separated from his brethren for acts of gross immorality! And the love of women, of wine, and of money have generally been the causes of all such degradations. The interior dispositions of the heart become developed by the conduct of life.

John 13:31 . Now is the Son of man glorified, as had been promised by a voice from heaven: John 12:28. We should always keep in mind the encouraging promises which are given to us from the Lord.

John 13:34 . A new commandment I give unto you. Our Saviour having, in the foregoing verse, intimated to his disciples that he was suddenly to depart from them, proceeds here to give them a strict charge, that in his absence they should love one another. This he calls a new commandment. Not new in regard of institution, but of restitution; not new in regard of the substance of it, for it was a branch of the law of nature, and a known precept of the jewish religion. But it became a new commandment for the following reasons

It was now purged from the old corrupt glosses of the pharisees, who had limited this duty of love, and confined it to their own countrymen. Whereas Christ enlarges the object, and obliges his disciples to love all mankind, even their enemies. It was also highly advanced by him in measure and degree, even to the laying down of our lives for one another.

This commandment was now urged from a new motive, and enforced by a new example. “As I have loved you, do ye also love one another.” It is never to be superseded, like ancient acts of legislature, but to be always fresh in their memory and effective in practice, to the end of the world.

The fruits and effects of this love, or christian charity, are described by St. Paul. 1 Corinthians 13:4. Or in other words, it consists in doing all the good we can to the souls, the bodies, the goods, and the good name of our neighbours, especially of all christians. One duty of it is to instruct, convert, admonish, reprove, or at least to pray for one another; to defend one another’s bodies as much as we can from all internal infirmities and all external violence. A third is, to preserve one another’s goods from fraud, oppression, and rapine. And the last is, to maintain one another’s good name from lying, railing, reviling, calumny and slander. Poole.

John 13:35 . By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples. The disciples of John the baptist were known by the austerity of their lives; those of the pharisees by their habit and separation from other men. But Christ will have his disciples known by their affection to each other, which in the primitive times was so conspicuous, that the very heathens cried out and said, see how these christians love one another.

We may here observe, that our Lord does not say, by this shall men conjecture and guess that ye belong to me, as being my disciples, but they shall certainly know it. He does not say, by this shall ye know yourselves to be my disciples, and one another to be so; but by this shall all other men know it, as well as yourselves. Neither does he say, by this shall all men know that ye look like my disciples; but that ye are indeed what ye pretend to be, namely, by your loving one another. He says not, by this shall the world know that ye are my disciples, by your assembling often together in my house of prayer, by your frequent fastings, by your reading the scriptures daily, by your hearing sermons weekly, by your receiving sacraments monthly: all these put together will be no sufficient evidence of your discipleship, if ye keep up a secret grudge in your heart one against another. But “by this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another.”

John 13:38 . The cock shall not crow till thou hast denied me thrice. See the note from Chrysostom, Jeremiah 36:3, and Matthew 26:14. When we are too assuming of our own strength, it often happens that we presently get some check, some rebuke, some shame or mortification. Let him that glorieth glory in the Lord.


How good it is to be where Jesus is; to be present in spirit at the last supper, and to hear the gracious words which he there addressed to his friends. Glory and grace are ever attendant on his presence, and his aspects cause the face of those that see him to shine with beams of bliss.

Having spoken of the supper before, we now attend to learn the lesson of humility from high example. Jesus knowing that all things were delivered to him, began his reign by humility. He washed the disciples feet, an office which the richer jews did to their guests by their servants. “Simon, thou gavest me no water to wash my feet.” Luke 7:44. Pride was the first ruin of man. The tempter said, “ye shall be as gods.” The great antichrist sits in the temple of God, speaking as though he were a god, and all his raiment is dipped in the blood of the saints. Just the reverse of this is the temper of Jesus, and must be imitated by his ministers. They must learn to be kind and affectionate, and to do all kind offices for the meanest of their flock.

Ere Peter was aware of the Lord’s design, he opposed his own humility against the Saviour’s condescension. It was the same with John the baptist. “Comest thou to me? I have need to be baptized of thee.” Oh yes; for unless we are washed, and washed in heart, and head, and feet, we can never eat bread, the true and living bread with Christ in the heavenly kingdom.

But alas, we cannot help being grieved and moved here to see the Saviour moved. The treason, the baseness of Judas, and baseness beyond example, casts a gloom on the church which future ages cannot remove. But though one of the twelve pillars fell, the shake of the temple was only transient. His place was filled by another; yea, by a real apostle of the Lord. When a minister falls into any deadly sin, the church must be washed and cleansed, as a house after a funeral; and the offender must be sent away to tears and penance. Yet he should not be left without hope. Perhaps, after a proper time, he may again be useful, and move in a humbler sphere. It is habits we most dread; these superinduce a return of crime, and leave the offender destitute of ecclesiastical hope.

Bibliographical Information
Sutcliffe, Joseph. "Commentary on John 13". Sutcliffe's Commentary on the Old and New Testaments. 1835.