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Jesus Washing the Disciples' Feet. John 13:1-20
At the Passover meal:
v. 1. Now before the feast of the Passover, when Jesus knew that His hour was come that He should depart out of this world unto the Father, having loved His own which were in the world, He loved them unto the end.
v. 2. And supper being ended, the devil having now put into the heart of Judas Iscariot, Simon's son, to betray Him,
v. 3. Jesus knowing that the Father had given all things into His hands, and that He was come from God, and went to God,
v. 4. He reset from supper, and laid aside His garments, and took a towel and girded Himself.
v. 5. After that He poureth water into a basin, and began to wash the disciples' feet, and to wipe them with the towel wherewith He was girded.
John introduces the story of the last evening of Christ's. life in a very exact and impressive way. Jesus had spent the time since Tuesday evening at some place outside of the city, probably at Bethany. He had now returned to Jerusalem, where two of His disciples had prepared the Passover meal for Him and the apostles. The announcement or introduction to the feast had taken place. After the disciples had reclined about the table, Jesus, as the head of the household, had uttered the thanksgiving, or benediction, over the wine and the feast, Himself drinking the first cup. It was at this point, when the feast proper had not yet commenced, that the washing of hands (and feet) usually took place. The evangelist also characterizes the attitude of Jesus. The Lord knew, by virtue of His divine omniscience, that His hour had come, the last great hour of His life, the consummation of His destiny on earth. He must leave this world, in the state of His human nature, in which He had given His whole life as a sacrifice. His way of glorification would be through death, but away from this world to the Father, by resurrection and ascension. Love of those that were His own according to the will of His Father, that had been given Him as His peculiar and particular friends, had been the keynote of His entire bearing toward them all His life. And so He wanted to give these men, who were attached to Him as His friends in a most particular sense, evidence of His love to the very end. His love remained steadfast through all His suffering and in spite of all their lack of faith. Such is the Savior's love at all times toward His weak and erring children, a seeking, searching, enduring love. "How do these words agree with the story? Very fine; if one only pays close attention. For in that he says: Jesus knew that the hour was there for Him to go out of this world to the Father, he wants to awaken a special diligence that we should mark this work and the preaching that He does concerning it with all diligence, since the Lord, almost in the last hour, when He was to depart out of this life, wanted to proclaim this to us. Now this is certainly true: what our dearest friends say and do shortly before their end moves us more and goes more deeply into the heart than other things which they may have spoken or done during the time of their life. For when it comes to that point, then both scolding and joking is past with the dying, and what they then say or do comes from their heart and is their true, serious opinion. It was now the time that the Lord should go from the world, the disciples, however, should remain there still longer; they had need of such example and instruction, if otherwise they wanted to remain His true disciples and not allow the example of the world to seduce them. " When supper had been served, when the meal proper was about to begin, Jesus did a peculiar thing. By this time the devil had not only suggested the betrayal to the heart of Judas, but had fully taken possession of his heart. Jesus, at the same time, was fully conscious, even as a mere human being, that the Father had given all things into His hands, See chap. 3:35. Even in the state of humiliation God had given to Jesus the full measure of divine omnipotence. With His exaltation He then, as true man, entered upon the full and free use of His divine omnipotence and providence. But here the thought is most prominent that God had entrusted to Jesus the carrying out of the great counsel of love. In a way, the responsibility for the redemption of the whole world now rested upon Him alone. He had gone out from the Father with a full knowledge of the requirements governing the proposed atonement for the sins of the world, and He knew that He must bring His work to a successful close and, even as true man, go back into the bosom of the Father. It was not that Christ was looking forward into a hidden future; He was fully conscious and aware of all that would happen to Him, It is that fact which emphasizes the willingness of the Lord to enter upon the great Passion.
The evangelist, having thus brought out the dramatic intensity of the hour and its importance in the history of salvation, makes the action of Jesus under the circumstances stand out all the more prominently. He arose from the sofa upon which He was reclining for the meal, He took off His outer garments, since they would hinder Him in the work He intended to perform, He took a long linen cloth, or towel, and girded Himself with it, tying it around His waist after the manner of the servants performing the work. For His object was to perform the foot-washing. There being no slave present, the office would naturally fall to the lot of the humblest in the little circle. But these men, far from feeling humility at this time, started a quarrel as to who should be accounted the greatest, Luke 22:23-27. The lesson was to be impressive and have a lasting effect, and it had, by the account of John, who noted every detail most carefully. Jesus put water into the basin which was commonly used for that purpose, and then very deliberately began to wash the feet of His disciples and to dry them with the towel with which He was girded.
The objection of Peter:
v. 6. Then cometh He to Simon Peter; and Peter saith unto Him, Lord, dost Thou wash my feet?
v. 7. Jesus answered and said unto him, What I do thou knowest not now, but thou shalt know hereafter.
v. 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.
v. 9. Simon Peter saith unto Him, Lord, not my feet only, but also my hands and my head.
v. 10. Jesus saith to him, He that is washed needeth not save to wash his feet, but is clean every whit; and ye are clean, but not all.
v. 11. For He knew who should betray Him; therefore said He, Ye are not all clean.
It is a most realistic picture which the evangelist here draws: the Lord In the role of the humblest of servants, performing the work of the house-slave; the disciples sitting around in silent stupefaction, really unable to make anything of the entire matter. But Jesus went right on down the line, omitting none. When He came to Peter, however, He met with opposition. With his usual impetuousness, Peter declared, half in the form of a question, half in that of an emphatic statement: Lord, surely Thou shalt not wash my feet! It was a mixture of relevance and self-will which prompted Peter to make this declaration; he still lacked the true understanding of his Master in many respects. The Lord tells him, in return, that he did not know, did not understand at that time, what the real significance of Christ's humble task was. But the time would come when the meaning should be brought to him and the full realization given him. A part of the meaning Jesus explained to His disciples that very evening, but the full enlightenment did not strike them until after Pentecost. Note: This word of Jesus finds its application to the many and various vicissitudes of a Christian's life, when there is a tendency to stand in helpless confusion before some words and works of the Lord which are at the time beyond one's understanding. But there is always the comfort: whatever is not revealed and made clear to us in this life will be fully explained in the great hereafter, 1 Corinthians 13:9-12.
Still Peter was not satisfied. He asserts: To all eternity nevermore shalt Thou wash my feet! His love for his Master was apt to show itself in peculiar ways. But Jesus sternly rejoins: If I do not wash Thee, thou hast no part with Me. The evidence is clearly pointing to some connection with Christ not conditioned by the mere external washing. The act of Jesus was symbolical and represented the close union and communion between Christ and those that are His. Only he whom Christ washes and cleanses from sins can have part with Christ. See Psalms 51:4. This great benefit and blessing of the Lord, the cleansing from sins, the disciples did not realize and appreciate fully till after Pentecost. But Peter immediately became over-enthusiastic and violently eager, desiring to have more than his share of the Lord's service, thinking it depended upon the extent of the outward washing, how close and certain the inward union and communion with Christ would be. But Jesus curbs his eagerness about having also his hands and his head washed. Since the washing was symbolical only, it was not necessary that the whole body be washed with water. He whom the cleansing and sanctifying power of Jesus in His redemption has touched is altogether clean and holy in the sight of God. His disciples were clean; they had, by faith, accepted the redemption in His blood. They were justified from their sins. And the sanctification of their lives must continue, as the washing of feet indicated; they must ever wash away and remove the filth of the sins that would persist in clinging to them and in soiling their flesh and their conscience. All believers have daily need of this cleansing from sins, it is necessary for them all, to lay aside the sin which does so continually beset them, Hebrews 12:1.That is the significance of the washing of feet. And in making the declaration, Jesus deliberately makes one exception. One there was, the man that would betray Him, who was not clean, who had spurned the redemption and sanctification of his Savior, who had denied the faith completely by planning to deliver his Master into the hands of the unbelievers.
The application of the washing of feet to the disciples:
v. 12. So after He had washed their feet, and had taken His garments, and was set down again, He said unto to them, Know ye what I have done to you?
v. 13. Ye call Me Master and Lord; and ye say well; for so I am.
v. 14. If I, then, your Lord and Master, have washed your feet, ye also ought to wash one another's feet.
v. 15. For I have given you an example that ye should do as I have done to re you.
v. 16. Verily, verily, I say unto you, The servant is not greater than his lord; neither he that is sent greater than he that sent him.
v. 17. If ye know these things, happy are ye if ye do them.
Jesus finished His self-imposed, deliberate task; He wanted it impressed upon the memories of the disciples. He then took His upper garments once more, He put them on, He reclined once more in His place as the head of the household. Then He broke the silence by asking them whether they had perceived the meaning of His action. The Lord's own action had been symbolical, but incidentally it served as an example which they should emulate. They gave Him the honoring title of Master or Lord, and He did not repudiate the appellation, but rather asserted His full right to bear these names. He is the great Lord, come from heaven; He is the great Teacher of all men, at all times. If He, therefore, did not consider Himself too good or too dignified to perform this humble service for them, they, in turn, should not hesitate about following His example. They are to apply His example to the acts of love and service which they owe to their neighbor. The reference is on to all acts of kindness and charity, and, under circumstances, the very act which Jesus performed for the disciples might well be included in that list, 1 Timothy 5:10. But Jesus refers in general to all kindly acts in the care of fellow Christians. For the Christians are His disciples, and therefore His willing, loving servants. Therefore, as Jesus very solemnly emphasizes, they, as servants, cannot be above the Master, neither can the ambassador or minister be greater than he that sent him. The humblest work of love for one's neighbor should be performed with all eagerness, for no disciple of Christ may presume to be above such works of merciful and kind service. If he does, he has none of the spirit of Christ living in him. See Mark 10:24; Luke 6:40; Luke 22:27. Note: The application of these words to the spiritual field is unusually apt. The Christians are still living in the world, they are obliged to battle continually with their flesh and blood, and therefore sin will make its appearance. The greatest love and the spirit of Christ is shown in this, that one forgives his neighbor his daily trespasses, and endures his faults and frailties. And the Lord adds an earnest and searching word in the conclusion of this paragraph. Mere head knowledge of the wish and will of Jesus has no value in the kingdom of Christ. It is the application of knowledge expressed in actions which counts in the estimation of Jesus. The person that practices the love which has come into his heart by faith, in such deeds of mercy and charity and kindness as are shown in the Word of God, he will be truly happy, in the sense of being assured of the approbation of Christ.
Another allusion to Judas:
v. 18. I speak not of you all; I know whom I have chosen; but that the Scripture may be fulfilled, He that eateth bread with Me hath lifted up his heel against Me.
v. 19. Now I tell you before it come, that, when it is come to pass, ye may believe that I am He.
v. 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.
All the words of kindly admonition, all the promises of future blessings, were directed only to the true disciples, only to those whose faith was firmly grounded in Jesus, their Master and Savior. And the Lord here expressly makes an exception in the case of one man. He knew very well whom He had chosen; He was altogether aware of the significance of His every action. But in their very midst was one in whom the words of the prophet would be fulfilled: He that eats with Me bread has lifted up against Me his heel, Psalms 41:9. It would be a man that had been in the utmost intimacy with the Savior, one that had been accepted into the inner circle of the apostles and intimates of the Lord, that would become guilty of the most fiendish and devilish crime that could be imagined, namely, of spurning the Lord that bought him with His holy blood. But herein would the Scripture be fulfilled. In that very fact, in the heinous crime of one member of the table-round, they would find confirmation of the fact that nothing was hidden from their Master. Thus they would be induced and encouraged to believe and trust in Him all the more firmly. That should strengthen them in their belief that Jesus was truly the Messiah that had been promised to the world. And so far as the true disciples were concerned, they should be perfectly assured in regard to their apostleship. He tells them that His messengers must be received with the deference and honor due Him, and that in a similar way those that receive Him and believe on Him thereby receive the Father. Every service rendered to any true servant of the Gospel is entered into the accounts of God as one rendered to Himself, and will receive its reward of mercy accordingly, on the last day. See Matthew 10:40; Luke 10:16. There is an encouraging admonition here for the Christians of all times.
The Traitor at the Table.
v. 21. When Jesus had thus said, He was troubled in spirit, and testified, and said, Verily, verily, I say unto you, that one of you shall betray Me.
v. 22. Then the disciples looked one on another, doubting of whom He spake.
v. 23. Now there was leaning on Jesus' bosom one of His disciples, whom Jesus loved.
v. 24. Simon Peter therefore beckoned to him that he should ask who it should be of whom He spake.
v. 25. He then, lying on Jesus' breast, saith unto Him, Lord, who is it?
v. 26. Jesus answered, He it is to whom I shall give a sop when I have dipped it. And when He had dipped the sop, He gave it to Judas Iscariot, the son of Simon.
The reference which Jesus had just made to His betrayer affected Him very deeply. He was deeply moved in the spirit, with sorrow over the ingratitude and baseness of the wretch that would use the familiarity and knowledge of intimacy to betray Him. Purposely the Lord does not mention the name of the traitor, since Peter and some of the rest would undoubtedly have taken measures to prevent the crime by dealing summarily with the man that contemplated such an atrocity, but merely says, with solemn deliberateness: One of you will betray Me. It was a tense moment. The sorrow of Jesus was transmitted to His faithful disciples. Involuntarily they became suspicious of one another; a feeling of uncertainty, of doubt took-hold of them; they did not dare to question one another's loyalty outright, and so the situation became very strained. Some of them began excitedly to whisper and to discuss the meaning of this revelation; others appealed to Jesus whether they were the guilty ones. But Peter wanted the satisfaction of finding out from Jesus. Since John, therefore, was reclining next to Jesus in such a way that his head almost touched the breast of Jesus, and since this man, John, had the enviable distinction of enjoying the love of Christ in a special measure, Peter beckoned to him, making himself understood to him by some form of the sign language that he should get the information from Jesus. John, therefore, without attracting any attention, leaned over or moved more closely to Christ so that his head actually touched the chest of Jesus, and then softly asked Him, Lord, who is it? The Lord even now did not give the name of the traitor, but answered John, in the same confidential way, that it was he to whom He would give a morsel (of bread) which He was' just then dipping into the sauce ( charoseth), which was one of the dishes of the Passover meal. And suiting His action to His word, Jesus took the sop which He was just then dipping and gave it to Judas Iscariot. This incident revealed the traitor to John, and probably also to Peter. But as for the rest, it is probable that most of them did not notice the incident at the time, or did not attach any importance to it. For the entire matter was taken care of so quietly, almost secretly, that it attracted no attention from the rest of the table-round. Then, also, Judas dipped into the sauce at the same time that Jesus did, Mark 14:20. He, of course, knew to whom Jesus had reference, but he was brazen-faced enough even to ask Jesus whether it was he that would perform the dastardly deed of betraying the Master, Matthew 26:25.
The betrayal definitely decided upon:
v. 27. And after the sop Satan entered into him. Then said Jesus unto him, That thou doest, do quickly.
v. 28. Now no man at the table knew for what intent He spake this unto him.
v. 29. For some of them thought, because Judas had the bag, that Jesus had said unto him, Buy those things that we have need of against the feast, or that he should give something to the poor.
v. 30. He, then, having received the sop, went immediately out; and it was night.
In all His dealings with Judas, in all the warnings which the Lord sounded, He still had the object of winning him from his way of sin and damnation, if possible. But in this crisis Judas decided the wrong way, he rejected the admonition of the Lord. After he had received the sop, the devil entered into him, took complete possession of his heart and mind, hardened both against the influence of Jesus, and forced Judas to do his will. That is the final result of yielding to evil influence in the first place; the ability to turn to good is lost. and in the crisis the devil steps in and takes hold of such a person as his own property. Now Jesus distinctly, so that all the disciples could hear it, told Judas to do as quickly as possible what he had in mind, what he intended to do. The traitor was not directing the turn of events, for this was altogether in the hands of Jesus; he was the devil's tool, but his devilish work resulted in the serving of God's plans. The fate of Judas was hereby decided; his heart was hardened; he was deserted by God forever: forever given into the will and submission of the devil. That is the terrible judgment which finally strikes the backslider, the apostate that denies the accepted truth: he is the tool and instrument of the devil to work his will, to commit one sin after the other, and finally to end in everlasting damnation. Though the disciples heard the order of Jesus to Judas, there was none of them in the table round, not even John himself, that understood to what Jesus had reference. Since Judas was the treasurer of the disciples, some thought that he was to buy provisions for the Passover and the Feast of Unleavened Bread, which was connected with the Passover, or for the chagigah, or meal of thanksgiving, which was celebrated on the 15 th
of Nisan, or that he was to take care of some poor people. Note: It seems that Jesus, in the midst of His great poverty, still took occasion to do good to the poor. Ways and means may always be found to make the mammon of unrighteousness work for the Lord. Immediately after Judas had received the sop at the hand of Jesus and had heard the remark which accompanied the action, he left the room. It was now about the time of the evening when twilight gave way to complete darkness, when night fell, about seven o'clock or somewhat later at that time of the year. Judas belonged to those that hate the light, that prefer the cover of darkness for their deeds. For that purpose he had left the upper room. There was night in him, and there was night about him; he was a child of darkness and damnation.
Concerning Christ's Glorification.
God glorified in the Son:
v. 31. Therefore, when he was gone out, Jesus said, Now is the Son of Man glorified, and God is glorified in Him.
v. 32. If God be glorified in Him, God shall also glorify Him in Himself, and shall straightway glorify Him.
v. 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 to you.
v. 34. A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another.
v. 35. By this shall all men know that ye are My disciples, if ye have love one to another.
No sooner had Judas left the room than Jesus turned to His disciples with a series of beautiful, comforting sayings. They needed strength and consolation for the time of tribulation that would soon strike them. There is a note of triumph in the words of Jesus. In this crisis, by this decision of Jesus, the first step in His glorification has been accomplished. It is the Son of Man, the God man, that has been glorified through all the miracles of His life, and who is now to be glorified through the greatest miracle of all, following His death and burial. And God is glorified in the Son. It is God's salvation; God was in Christ; God would be the Cause and the Promoter of His glorification, which was thus bound to result in the Father's glorification as well. The Son having accomplished the work of salvation, the Father would receive the honor and glory for the resultant benefit for the whole world. But so close is the union between the Father and the Son that there is a mutual exchange of honor and glory between the two. That Jesus was glorified according to His human nature, that His human nature was received into the full enjoyment of the divine essence and attributes, that is an event which transpires within the essence of God. This act of glorification happened quickly, had its inception, took place, that very night. The Lord shows His disciples what relation this fact would have to them and their faith. Affectionately He calls them little children. He would be with them only a little while; the time could be numbered by hours now rather than by days. Then He would be taken from them, be removed from the intimate relationship which they had now enjoyed a matter of some three years. He had told the Jews that they would seek Him after it was too late, after all their searching for false Messiahs had been fruitless. In a similar manner He here tells the disciples that they will seek Him. The parting from their Lord would be a severe blow for them. But instead of abandoning hope, they should take heart, though they cannot follow Him now, at once. There is work for them to do before they may follow Him into the Kingdom of Glory. The necessity of true, fervent brotherly love had become apparent that night. They had known before that they should love all men as their neighbors; but here they are given a new commandment, that they should love one another. It was a kind of love which had not been practiced up to that time, and is practiced all too seldom in our days. The manifestation of brotherly love should be a sign, a criterion, whereby the people in the world in general might at all times recognize them as His disciples. The standard of this love, unapproachable indeed, but one worth striving after, as the most beautiful ideal in all the world, is the love of Jesus to them, to His disciples of all times. The climax and consummation of His love came with His giving His life as a ransom for many. That is the ideal which should ever be present in the minds of all Christians, that everyone deny himself in the interest of brotherly love. When the Christians love one another fervently, with pure hearts, even unto death, then shall it fully appear that they are disciples of the Son of Man who laid down His life for His sheep, and who became, by dying, a ransom for all.
Peter's boast and the Lord's correction:
v. 36. Simon Peter said unto Him, Lord, whither guest Thou? Jesus answered him, Whither I go thou canst not follow Me now; but thou shalt follow Me afterwards.
v. 37. Peter said unto Him, Lord, why cannot I follow Thee now? I will lay down my life for Thy sake.
v. 38. Jesus answered him, Wilt thou lay down thy life for My sake? Verily, verily, I say unto thee, The cock shall not crow till thou hast denied Me thrice.
Peter was not yet altogether clear in his mind as to the glorification of his Master. That one thought had struck Peter's consciousness, that the Lord was going away, that He would be removed from them, and he wanted to know whither. Jesus patiently explained to Peter what He indicated to them all, that he could not accompany his Master now, but that he could and should follow later. It was necessary for Peter to learn many a lesson, to go through many an experience, to suffer and to labor for his Lord in many countries. He should therefore patiently wait until such a time as the Lord would call him to his eternal reward. But Peter was impetuous and impatient. Like a spoiled child he wanted to know the reason for being denied his desire. Right now he is willing, he proudly asserts, to lay down his life for his Master. That was no exhibition of strong faith, but a rash promise proceeding from the flesh. Let no man think he can do anything good without the assistance of Christ and God. The answering exclamation of Jesus sounds almost sarcastic: Thy life thou wouldst lay down for Me? The fact that without Christ he can do nothing had not yet been brought home to Peter. The prophecy of the Lord, accompanied as it was with the solemn words of emphasis, must have come to him as a distinct shock: The cock will not crow, the time of cock-crowing will not come this night, before thou hast denied Me thrice. These earnest words of Christ should have brought Peter to his senses; but he was too full of self-confidence and belief in his own powers to heed them earnestly, as he should have done. Every believer in Christ should earnestly examine himself in this respect, whether his love and faithfulness in Christianity depends merely upon his personal feeling or on the Word of the eternal God. Faithfulness unto death is possible only in the power of the Lord.
Summary. Jesus washes the feet of His disciples at the Passover meal, makes the application of His action to them and to their circumstances, speaks words of warning concerning the traitor at the table, rejoices in His glorification, and rebukes the self-confidence of Peter.
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Kretzmann, Paul E. Ph. D., D. D. "Commentary on John 13". "Kretzmann's Popular Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/
the Fourth Week after Epiphany