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Bible Commentaries
John 13

Benson's Commentary of the Old and New TestamentsBenson's Commentary

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A.M. 4037. A.D. 33.

Jesus having finished his public discourses, here at the passover-supper,

(1,) Washes his disciples’ feet, to set them an example of humility and brotherly love, John 13:1-17 .

(2,) Foretels who should betray him, John 13:18-30 .

(3,) Speaks of his glorification as at hand, and enjoins his disciples to love one another, John 13:31-35 .

(4,) Foretels Peter’s denial of him, John 13:36-38 .

Verse 1

John 13:1. Now before the feast of the passover That is, before they began the passover-supper; when Jesus knew Greek, ειδως Ιησους , Jesus having known; that his hour was come The hour which he had long expected; sometimes called his enemies’ hour, the hour of their triumph; sometimes his hour, the hour of his suffering, and of his triumph also; that he should depart out of this world In which he had sojourned for a while; unto the Father With whom he had glory, and who had loved him, before the world was, John 17:5; John 17:24. Having loved his own Not τα ιδια , his own things, as John 1:11; but τους ιδιους , his own persons; that is, as the expression here means, his apostles; which were in the world Which were to remain for some time in the world, in a state of trial and suffering, after he was taken from them; he loved them unto the end Of his life; and therefore would omit nothing which might be for their advantage. The sense is, that although he knew his own sufferings were at hand, the prospect of them did not make him forget his disciples. They rather quickened his friendship; for he indulged the tenderest feelings of love on this occasion, and after the manner of a departing friend, expressed his kindness in the most affectionate manner.

Verse 2

John 13:2. And supper being ended Or, as δειπνου γενομενου should rather be translated, supper, or supper-time, being come, or, while they were at supper, as Dr. Campbell renders it. Thus, John 21:4, πρωιας γενομενης , when morning was come. Acts 12:18; Acts 16:35, ημερας γενομενης , when day was come; and Acts 21:40, σιγης λενομενης , when silence was made: in all which places, and in many more, which might easily be collected from the Greek writers, it would be absurd to translate the word, ended. “When γενομενης ,” says Dr. Campbell, “is joined with πρωιας , οψιας , ημερας , or with any term denoting a precise portion of time, it invariably signifies that the period denoted by the noun is begun, not ended.” Of this he produces several incontrovertible examples. “That this was the passover-supper, may be proved by four arguments: 1st, In John’s history of this supper we are told, when Jesus had washed the disciples’ feet he sat down again at table, and explained the meaning of the action, John 13:12; and then declared that one of them should betray him, John 13:18-21. This occasioned the beloved disciple first, and after him the other disciples, to inquire which of them should do the horrid deed, John 13:23. But, by the consent of all the evangelists, that declaration and inquiry were first made while they were eating the last passover. 2d, At this supper, mentioned by John, Jesus declared that Peter should deny him, John 13:38; and the words of his declaration are not, The cock shall not crow the next, the third, or the fourth day, but, The cock shall not crow till thou hast denied me thrice: therefore the declaration must have been made on the night of the denial; and consequently the supper, at which it was made, must have been the paschal-supper, for all the evangelists agree that Peter denied his Master the night in which that supper was celebrated. 3d, The connection in which John’s supper stands with the subsequent facts mentioned by him shows plainly that it was the paschal-supper. For the discourse, (John 14:0,) being intended to give the disciples consolation, was delivered by Christ immediately after he had foretold Peter’s denial, and the cowardice of the rest. Having ended that discourse, Jesus went out of the house, (John 14:31,) and delivered the allegorical sermon, (John 15:0.,) which, from the subject of it, seems to have been preached in a place where there were many vines growing, probably on the mount of Olives, whither, as the other evangelists inform us, he retired after the paschal-supper. Immediately after the allegorical sermon, he spake that which is contained in the 16th and 17th chapters, and then went with his disciples over the brook Cedron, into the garden of Gethsemane, where he was apprehended. From this series of facts it appears, that the supper was the paschal-supper, because, between it and Jesus’s crucifixion, there is not the least chasm in John’s history, where the passover can be brought in. 4th, We are told, (chap. John 13:27-30,) that after Jesus had ordered Judas to do quickly what he was about to do, he went out; upon which Jesus mentioned the near prospect he had of being glorified, to intimate that he knew Judas was gone out to betray him. From this time forth there is nothing said of Judas by John till he appeared with the armed band. Nevertheless, by the accounts of the other evangelists, Judas was present at the institution of the sacrament of the supper, after the passover. Wherefore the passover being celebrated before Judas went out, the supper mentioned by John must have been that solemnity.” Macknight. The devil having now put it into the heart of Judas to betray him By this version the English reader would be led to apprehend, that it was at this paschal-supper that the devil first tempted Judas to betray Christ: but the original expression may be properly rendered, the devil having already put it into the heart of Judas, &c., for the participle βεβληκοτος is of the perfect tense, and denotes an action done at some time past, and the particle ηδη , rendered now, often signifies already, or before: so that what Christ says here concerning Judas, may refer to what had passed between him and the chief priests, after the reproof given him in the supper at Bethany. And therefore when John says afterward, (John 13:27,) that after the sop was given him, Satan entered into Judas, the meaning must be, that he was then again incited by the devil to execute the treachery which he had before resolved upon, by a like instigation of the same evil spirit.

Verses 3-6

John 13:3-6. Jesus knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he was come from God, &c. That is, although he was conscious of his own greatness, as being invested with the government of all things, and as having existed in heaven before he appeared on earth, and as being sure of returning to heaven again to reign there; yet he humbled himself in the manner here related, descended to the mean office of a slave, and washed the feet of his own disciples; an action which might justly excite our wonder, if we had not proofs of his much greater humiliation, in making himself of no reputation for the great work of man’s redemption. He riseth from supper This implies, that in some sense supper was begun. Probably the ante-past had been taken, which is mentioned by the Jews as preceding the eating of the paschal lamb, and they tell us, that it was then usual for the master of the family to wash his hands, a custom which, it is said, the Jews continue still. And laid aside his garments Namely, his upper garments, which would have hindered him. After that, he poureth water into a basin A large vessel, usually placed for this very purpose wherever the Jews supped. Then cometh he to Simon Peter Namely, after he had washed the feet of those who sat nearest to him; and Peter saith, Lord, dost thou wash Dost thou purpose, or go about to wash; my feet? Thou who art the Son of God, the Messiah, and consequently the king of the Jews, shalt thou wash my feet, who am thy disciple, a poor fisherman, and, what is still more degrading, an unworthy sinner.

Verses 7-11

John 13:7-11. Jesus said, What I do thou knowest not now Thou dost not now know what I intend by this action, but thou shalt know hereafter, a declaration which we may apply on many occasions, for many of his works (whether of creation, providence, or grace) are now great mysteries to us, and known to us, either not at all, or very imperfectly. It is sufficient that we can love and obey now, and that we shall know hereafter what now appears mysterious to us, and what we cannot comprehend. Peter saith, Thou shalt never wash my feet Words rashly and sinfully spoken. Jesus answered And by his answer caused him to change his mind, and retract what he had uttered; for when the mistake of his understanding was rectified, the corrupt resolution of his will was soon altered. Jesus answered, If I wash thee not If thou dost not submit to my will; thou hast no part with me Thou art not my disciple. In a more general sense the clause may mean, If I do not wash thee from the guilt of thy past sins in my blood, and purify thee from the power and pollution of sin, and all the depravity of thy mind and heart by my Spirit, thou canst have no communion with me, nor any share in the blessings of my kingdom. Peter saith, Lord, not my feet only, &c. Being now convinced that he had spoken rashly, and that the washing intended was an act of Christ’s authority and grace, he readily consents to it, having before refused it, because it seemed only to be an act of Christ’s humiliation. As if he had said, Lord, if this washing be necessary, in order to my having a part with thee, and be an emblem, or token thereof, I most gladly acquiesce in it, and am not only heartily willing, but desirous, that thou shouldest wash my whole person, not my feet only, or the defilement I may contract while I am endeavouring to walk in the way of duty, but all my executive and intellectual powers; yea, that I may be sanctified throughout, body, soul, and spirit, and that my whole man may be dedicated to, and employed in, thy service. Jesus Willing to lay hold on an expression which gave him an opportunity of pursuing a useful thought; saith to him further, He that is washed Greek, λελουμενος , he that hath been bathed, whose whole body hath been washed in water; needeth not After that, to wash any part thereof, except his feet Which, in coming out of the bath, may have been defiled. As the αποδυτηριον , says Clarius, or room in which they dressed themselves after bathing, was different from that in which they bathed, their feet might be so soiled in walking from one to the other, as to make it necessary immediately to wash them again. Or, as Dr. Campbell thinks, there may be “an allusion in the words to the custom of the times; according to which, those who had been invited to a feast, bathed themselves before they went; but, as they walked commonly in sandals, and wore no stockings, it was usual to get their feet washed by the servants of the family, before they laid themselves on the couches. Their feet, which would be soiled by walking, required cleaning, though the rest of their body did not.” The spiritual meaning of our Lord’s words evidently is, that persons truly converted, that is, justified and regenerated, do not, after this, unless they fall from grace, stand in need of experiencing an entire change of their state and nature; but only to cleanse themselves by renewed acts of repentance and faith, from the smaller pollutions which they may inadvertently contract, through infirmity and carelessness, and which, in some degree, are inseparable from the weakness of human nature. For that our Lord spake of a spiritual washing, is evident from his adding, and ye are clean, but not all Ye are accepted as sincere and upright, as penitent and believing, and therefore as pardoned and renewed sinners, but you are not all such. For he knew who should betray him He was perfectly acquainted with the secret dispositions of their hearts, and with the hypocrisy and wickedness of the traitor, that his heart was polluted with reigning sin, yea, and was so far enslaved to the power of Satan, as to have consented to the perpetration of one of the vilest acts of wickedness ever committed.

Verses 12-15

John 13:12-15. So after he had washed their feet, &c. After he had given them such a striking proof of his humility, condescension, and love, by performing to them the office of the meanest slave; he said, Know ye what I have done to you? Know ye the meaning of what I have done? for the action was emblematical. Ye call me Master, and Lord Ο διδασκαλος και ο κυριος , the master, or teacher, and the Lord. “The article prefixed to each appellation, and the nominative case employed, where in common language it would have been the accusative, give great energy to the expression, and show that the words are applied to Jesus in a sense entirely peculiar.” Campbell. And ye say well I am really what you call me, being the Son of God, and Saviour of the world, If I, then, your Lord, &c., have washed your feet Have condescended to so mean an office, and in all other instances have shown my readiness in love to serve you; ye also ought to wash one another’s feet And why did they not? Why do we not read of any one apostle ever washing the feet of any other? Because they understood their Lord better. They knew he never designed that this should be literally taken. He designed to teach them the great lesson of humble love, as well as to confer inward purity upon them. And hereby he teaches us, 1st, In every possible way to assist each other in attaining that purity. 2d, To wash each other’s feet, by performing all sorts of good offices to each other, even those of the lowest kind, when opportunity serves, and the necessity of any calls for them. For I have given you an example that ye should do On all proper occasions to one another; as I have done to you As if he had said, I have set you a pattern of humility, to recommend it to you: and it must be acknowledged that nothing shows us more effectually the necessity of this grace, than its being recommended to us by so high an example; a recommendation which, in the present circumstances, was peculiarly seasonable, for the disciples having heard Jesus say that the kingdom of God was at hand, (Luke 22:18,) their minds were so fired with ambitious passions, that, before they arose from supper, they fell into a hot contention about sharing the principal posts in the kingdom.

Verses 16-20

John 13:16-20. Verily, the servant is not greater than his lord And therefore ought not to think much either of doing or suffering the same things. If ye know these things Therefore, knowing your duty in this particular, ye are happy if you practise it. I speak not of you all When I call you happy; nor do I expect that all of you will hearken to me; I know whom I have chosen I know there is one among you whom no instruction will profit, and that I should have called such a one to the apostleship need not surprise any of you, for I was well acquainted with the dispositions of each of you when I made choice of you, and did not make choice of a traitor to be my apostle through ignorance of his character; but that the Scripture may be fulfilled Particularly Psalms 41:9; He that eateth bread with me And has been nourished by my care and favour; hath lifted up his heel against me Like an ungrateful brute, that kicks at the kind master who feeds him. Such treatment David met with from those whom he trusted, and such I know that I am to expect. Now I tell you before it come I give you this intimation before I am betrayed; that when it is come to pass That when what I thus foretel is accomplished, you may be so far from doubting of the truth of my mission on that account, that, on the contrary, you may more firmly believe that I am he That I told you I was, even the true Messiah. Verily, he that receiveth whomsoever I send, receiveth me I put my own honour upon you, my ambassadors; and assure you that he who receives in faith, love, and obedience, the doctrine of you my apostles, or of any other messengers whom I send to preach the word of eternal life, receives mine, and he who receives mine, receives that of him who sent me. Whatsoever therefore I shall suffer, let not your zeal to carry on my cause be lessened, but steadfastly persevere in your adherence to it, with a firm persuasion that I will support you in it; for in this view I look upon your interest as my own. See on Matthew 10:40; Luke 10:16.

Verses 21-22

John 13:21-22. When Jesus had thus said, he was troubled in spirit To think of so ungrateful and impious a design in one so near him, and so much obliged to him; and testified As they sat together, and were eating the paschal-supper, Mark 14:18; Verily, one of you shall betray me Verily, how incredible soever what I now say may appear to you, one of you, who is eating with me in this friendly and intimate manner; even one of you, my apostles and constant followers, shall, or will betray me, to those that thirst for my blood. None, indeed, could be said to betray him but those in whom he reposed confidence, and were the witnesses of his retirement. This did not lay Judas under any fatal necessity of committing the sin here spoken of; for though the event followed according to the prediction, yet it was not caused by the prediction, but would have equally happened if no such prediction had been uttered. Our Lord’s speaking thus indefinitely at first, and only saying, one of you, was profitable to them all, as leading them all seriously to examine themselves. Then the disciples looked one on another For some time, in silence, and with great astonishment; doubting of whom he spake And studious to observe in whose countenance they might read any peculiar confusion, which might look like an indication of guilt.

Verses 23-26

John 13:23-26. There was leaning on Jesus’s bosom That is, sitting next to him at table. This phrase only expresses the then customary posture at meals, where the guests all leaned sideways on couches, and each was said to lie in the bosom of him who was placed next above him; one of the disciples whom Jesus loved This was John, the memory of whose sweet disposition, and other amiable qualities, is perpetuated in the peculiar love which Jesus bare to him. He always avoids with great care the expressly naming himself. Perhaps our Lord now gave him the first proof of his peculiar love, by disclosing this secret to him. Simon Peter, therefore Not daring to ask Jesus himself; beckoned to him The word νευει , thus rendered, might be more exactly translated, nodded, namely, he intimated his desire by a motion of his head; that he should ask him privately who it should be Peter was probably desirous to know, not only that he might be sure it was not himself, but that, knowing who it was, he and the other disciples might withdraw from him, and guard against him, as also, if possible, prevent his design. It may appear to us a desirable thing to know who, in the church, will deceive us, yet let this suffice: Christ knows, though we do not. He then, lying on Jesus’s breast That is, leaning backward, and secretly whispering; saith, Lord, who is it? Jesus answered In his ear: so careful was he not to offend (if it had been possible) even Judas himself; He it is to whom I shall give a sop Το ψωμιον , the sop, which he took up while he was speaking; and when he had dipped the sop In a thick kind of sauce made of dates, raisins, and other ingredients beaten together and properly diluted; he gave it to Judas Iscariot Who took it readily enough, not suspecting the design of Christ’s giving it to him. See note on Matthew 26:20-25. The Jews still retain the use of such a sauce, which they call haroseth, made of such kind of ingredients, about the consistence of mortar, to represent the clay in which their forefathers wrought while they were under bondage to the Egyptians.

Verses 27-30

John 13:27-30. And after the sop Satan entered into him More fully; “non secundum substantiam,” says Jerome, “sed secundum operationem,” not as to his substance, but as to his operation; as he is said to do when man’s will is fully inclined to obey his motions. Then said Jesus, That thou doest, do quickly This is not a permission, much less a command. It is only as if he had said, If thou art determined to do it, why dost thou delay? Hereby showing Judas that he could not be hid, and expressing his own readiness to suffer. No man at the table knew why he said this That is, none except John and Judas, for John does not here include himself, but speaks of the other disciples; for though they could know nothing of the matter, in all probability he must have comprehended the meaning of Christ’s words to the traitor. Some thought because Judas had the bag Had the keeping of the common purse, on which they were to subsist during their stay at Jerusalem; that Jesus had said, Buy that which we have need of against the feast That is, the seven ensuing days of the feast; or that he should give something to the poor These meanings were what first occurred to the disciples. But being in great perplexity on account of his declaration concerning the treachery of one of their number, they did not think much upon what he now said to Judas. The declaration which engrossed their attention had not pointed at any of them in particular, and the discovery of the person was made to John only. They were therefore swallowed up in grief, and each of them would fain have cleared himself, inquiring of Jesus, one by one, Lord, is it I? Matthew 26:22; Mark 14:19. Judas himself even, conscious as he was of his guilty purpose, also inquiring, with unparalleled impudence, Master, is it I? He then, having received the sop With the awful words of his Master (giving him to know that his intentions were not concealed) sounding, as it were, in his ears; went immediately out To the chief priests, or, went out soon, without any further reply, as ευθεως , here rendered immediately, sometimes signifies: for it seems he stayed till the Lord’s supper was instituted: being so utterly abandoned as to be capable of committing his intended horrible crime, even with this aggravation; and it was night Which was the time he had appointed to meet those who were consulting how to execute their purpose against the life of Jesus, and under the cover of it he went to them, and fulfilled his engagement in a little time, by delivering his Master into their hands.

Verses 31-32

John 13:31-32. When he was gone out Having quitted the place in a mixture of rage and confusion, as being marked out both by Christ’s actions and words; Jesus said To the rest of the disciples, as they sat at the table with him; Now While I speak this; is the Son of man glorified Or, is just on the point of being glorified; and God is glorified in him Or, is about to be immediately glorified by the signal and extraordinary circumstances of his abasement and exaltation. And if God be glorified, &c. Or, as ει ο θεος εδοξασθη may be rendered, seeing God is glorified in him; God shall also glorify him, &c. That is, Seeing that he has already done great honour to God by the past actions of his life, and is about to honour him yet further by his sufferings and death, which will display the divine perfections, particularly God’s infinite love to men, in the most astonishing and amiable light; he is, in his turn, to receive glory from God; meaning, that in his human nature he was to be exalted to the highest dignity and power, or, as he himself expresses it, (Matthew 28:18,) to all power, or authority, in heaven and in earth; and that his mission from God was immediately to be supported by irrefragable attestations.

Verses 33-34

John 13:33-34. Little children An expression intended to signify both their weakness and his tenderness and compassion; as if he had said, Ye whom I love with parental tenderness, and whom my heart pities under all your trials and sorrows; yet a little while, &c. That is, It is but a very little while longer that I am to continue with you: a few hours more will part us; and ye shall seek me Shall wish for my presence and converse when I am gone; and as I said to the Jews, (see John 7:34; John 8:21,) Whither I go ye cannot come Not yet, being not yet prepared for it. A new commandment As if he had said, But observe my parting words, and let them be written on your very hearts; for I give you what I may properly call a new commandment, enjoining a higher degree of mutual love than has generally been possessed and manifested among pious people to each other; a command which I press upon you by new motives, and a new example, and which from henceforth I would have you to consider as confirmed by a new sanction, and to keep ever fresh in your memories. The expression, which, says Dr. Doddridge, “signifies much more than merely a renewed command, is a strong and lively intimation, that the engagements to mutual love, peculiar in the Christian dispensation, are so singular and so cogent, that all other men, when compared with its votaries, may seem uninstructed in the school of friendship, and Jesus may appear, as it were, the first professor of that divine science.” “He called this a new commandment,” observes Dr. Macknight, “not because mutual love had never been enjoined on mankind before, but because it was a precept of peculiar excellence, for the word new in the Hebrew language [often] denotes excellence and truth, as appears from Psalms 33:3; Mark 1:27; Revelation 2:17; and because they were to exercise it under a new relation, according to a new measure, and from new motives. They were to love one another in the relation of his disciples, and with that degree of love which he had shown to them, for they were to lay down their lives for the brethren, 1 John 3:16. Withal they were to love from the consideration of his love, and in order to prove themselves his genuine disciples, by the warmth of their mutual affection.” So also Dr. Campbell: “Our Lord, by this, warns his disciples against taking for their model any example of affection whereunto the age could furnish them; or, indeed, any example less than the love which he all along, especially in his death, manifested for them.”

Verse 35

John 13:35. By this shall all men know that you are my disciples Your loving one another sincerely and fervently, and in the manner and degree I now enjoin, will be the most acceptable and the most ornamental token of your relation to me, and the noblest badge of your profession. The reader will not need to be told how remarkably this new precept of our Lord was exemplified in the spirit and conduct of the first Christians, when he recollects their historian has attested, (Acts 4:32,) that though they were a great multitude, consisting of many thousands, they were all of one heart and of one soul; insomuch that not any of them accounted any of the things which he possessed as his own, but they had all things in common. And the ancient apologists for Christianity inform us, that the persecuting heathen themselves could not help exclaiming in rapture, on observing the prevalence of this grace among them, See how these Christians love one another!

Verses 36-38

John 13:36-38. Simon Peter saith, Lord, whither goest thou, &c. The exalted virtue which our Lord had just inculcated, did not make so strong an impression on Peter’s mind, as the words which he had before spoken, concerning his going away to a place where his disciples could not come. He therefore replies by thus asking whither he was going. He seems to have supposed that Christ, in consequence of being rejected by the Jews, was about to go to some other part of the earth to erect his throne, where he might reign without disturbance, according to the gross notion which he had of Christ’s kingdom. Jesus answered, Whither I go thou canst not follow me now, &c. Thou art too weak at present to follow me in my sufferings: but thou shalt be enabled to do it afterward. From this clause “we gather that the declaration, (John 13:33,) Whither I go ye cannot come, is one of those general propositions whereof there are many in Scripture, which were spoken with a limitation not expressed. Here we are directed to add the limitation, thus, Whither I go ye cannot come NOW. For they were all, equally with Peter, to follow Jesus afterward, by suffering a violent death.” Macknight. Peter said, Lord, why cannot I follow thee now? He was very unwilling to believe that he was so weak as Christ’s words intimated he was. He thought he was prepared to do or suffer any thing for his dear Master; adding, I will lay down my life for thy sake As if he had said, Is there any road more terrible than the dark valley of the shadow of death? Yet through these black and gloomy shades I am willing to accompany thee this moment. Jesus answered, Wilt thou lay down thy life, &c. Alas! Peter, thy promises are too large, and uttered with too much confidence to be relied on: thou dost not consider with what reluctance life is parted with, and what a hard task it is to suffer death. Verily, the cock shall not crow, &c. Notwithstanding thy pretended affection and fortitude, a few hours shall not pass till, in great consternation at the danger with which I and my disciples will be threatened, thou shalt basely deny three several times that thou art my disciple. Peter, therefore, had no reason to be elated, though on a former occasion he had confessed Jesus to be the Son of God. And his behaviour, in this instance, affords a very affecting example of human vanity, in the midst of the greatest weakness.

Bibliographical Information
Benson, Joseph. "Commentary on John 13". Benson's Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/rbc/john-13.html. 1857.
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