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(Note: This begins "Volume 3" of Ryle’s Expository thoughts. The Preface to this volume is placed below, after "Notes"; please scroll down to read the Volume 3 Preface.)
The passage we have now read begins one of the most interesting portions of John’s Gospel. For five consecutive chapters we find the Evangelist recording matters which are not mentioned by Matthew, Mark, and Luke. We can never be thankful enough that the Holy Ghost has caused them to be written for our learning! In every age the contents of these chapters have been justly regarded as one of the most precious parts of the Bible. They have been the meat and drink, the strength and comfort of all true-hearted Christians. Let us ever approach them with peculiar reverence. The place whereon we stand is holy ground.
We learn, for one thing, from these verses, what patient and continuing love there is in Christ’s heart towards His people. It is written that "having loved His own which were in the world, He loved them unto the end." Knowing perfectly well that they were about to forsake Him shamefully in a very few hours, in full view of their approaching display of weakness and infirmity, our blessed Master did not cease to have loving thoughts of His disciples. He was not weary of them: He loved them to the last.
The love of Christ to sinners is the very essence and marrow of the Gospel. That He should love us at all, and care for our souls,—that He should love us before we love Him, or even know anything about Him,—that He should love us so much as to come into the world to save us, take our nature on Him, bear our sins, and die for us on the cross,—all this is wonderful indeed! It is a kind of love to which there is nothing like among men. The narrow selfishness of human nature cannot fully comprehend it. It is one of those things which even the angels of God "desire to look into." It is a truth which Christian preachers and teachers should proclaim incessantly, and never be weary of proclaiming.
But the love of Christ to saints is no less wonderful, in its way, than His love to sinners, though far less considered. That He should bear with all their countless infirmities from grace to glory,—that He should never be tired of their endless inconsistencies and petty provocations,—that He should go on forgiving and forgetting incessantly, and never be provoked to cast them off and give them up,—all this is marvelous indeed! No mother watching over the waywardness of her feeble babe, in the days of its infancy, has her patience so thoroughly tried, as the patience of Christ is tried by Christians. Yet His longsuffering is infinite. His compassions are a well that is never exhausted. His love is "a love that passeth knowledge."
Let no man be afraid of beginning with Christ, if he desires to be saved. The chief of sinners may come to Him with boldness, and trust Him for pardon with confidence. This loving Savior is One who delights to "receive sinners." (Luke 15:2.) Let no man be afraid of going on with Christ after he has once come to Him and believed. Let him not fancy that Christ will cast him off because of failures, and dismiss him into his former hopelessness on account of infirmities. Such thoughts are entirely unwarranted by anything in the Scriptures. Jesus will never reject any servant because of feeble service and weak performance. Those whom He receives He always keeps. Those whom He loves at first He loves at last. His promise shall never be broken, and it is for saints as well as sinners: "Him that cometh unto Me I will in no wise cast out." (John 6:37.)
We learn, for another thing, from these verses, what deep corruption may sometimes be found in the heart of a great professor of religion. It is written that "the devil put into the heart of Judas Iscariot, Simon’s son, to betray Christ."
This Judas, we must always remember, was one of the twelve Apostles. He had been chosen by Christ Himself, at the same time with Peter, James, John, and their companions. For three years he had walked in Christ’s society, had seen His miracles, had heard His preaching, had experienced many proofs of His loving-kindness. He had even preached himself and wrought miracles in Christ’s name; and when our Lord sent out His disciples two and two, Judas Iscariot no doubt must have been one of some couple that was sent. Yet here we see this very man possessed by the devil, and rushing headlong to destruction.
On all the coasts of England there is not such a beacon to warn sailors of danger as Judas Iscariot is to warn Christians. He shows us what length a man may go in religious profession, and yet turn out a rotten hypocrite at last, and prove never to have been converted. He shows us the uselessness of the highest privileges, unless we have a heart to value them and turn them to good account. Privileges alone without grace save nobody, and will only make hell deeper. He shows us the uselessness of mere head-knowledge. To know things with our brains, and be able to talk and preach and speak to others, is no proof that our own feet are in the way of peace. These are terrible lessons: but they are true.
Let us never be surprised if we see hypocrisy and false profession among Christians in modern days. There is nothing new in it, nothing peculiar, nothing that did not happen even among Christ’s own immediate followers, and under Christ’s own eyes. Bad money is a strong proof that there is good coin somewhere. Hypocrisy is a strong indirect evidence that there is such a thing as true religion.
Above all, let us pray daily that our own Christianity may at any rate be genuine, sincere, real and true. Our faith may be feeble, our hope dim, our knowledge small, our failures frequent, our faults many. But at all events let us be real, and true. Let us be able to say with poor, weak, erring Peter, "Thou, Lord, who knowest all things, knowest that I love Thee." (John 21:17.)
There are peculiarities in John’s narrative of the end of our Lord’s life on earth, which seem to require a few introductory remarks before entering into the substance of the thirteenth chapter.
A careful reader of the four Gospels can hardly fail to remark, that in John’s account of the last six days of our Lord’s ministry, many things mentioned by Matthew, Mark, and Luke, are entirely omitted.
The parables of the two sons,—of the householder who let out a vineyard,—of the wedding garment,—of the ten virgins,—of the talents,—of the sheep and goats, are left out. The second cleansing of the temple,—the cursing of the barren fig-tree,—the public discussion with the chief priests and elders about John’s baptism,— the silencing of the Pharisees, the Sadducees, and the lawyers,— the public denunciation to the multitude of the Scribes and Pharisees,—all these interesting matters are found in the first three Gospels, but passed over in silence in the fourth. We cannot doubt that there were wise reasons.
But the most striking thing in John’s narrative at this point, is the entire absence of our Lord’s famous prophecy upon the Mount of Olives, and of the institution of the Lord’s Supper. Both these deeply interesting portions of our Lord’s last doings before His crucifixion, which are most fully given in the first three Gospels, are completely omitted in the fourth.
The reason of these two remarkable omissions we are left to conjecture. "God giveth no account of His matters." If we once admit that all Scripture is given by inspiration of God, we need not doubt that the Gospel writers were equally guided and directed by the Holy Ghost, both in the things they omitted and the things they recorded. Nevertheless a few remarks on the subject may be interesting to some readers.
(a) Concerning the omission of the prophecy on the Mount of Olives, I venture the following conjecture. I think it is partly accounted for by the time when John’s Gospel was given to the Church. That must have been very near the taking of Jerusalem, the destruction of the temple, and the complete overthrow of the Jewish ceremonial. Now if John had just at this crisis inserted anew this prophecy in his Gospel, it would have confirmed the erroneous notion which many have always held, that it refers only to the destruction of Jerusalem, and does not extend to the second advent of Christ, and the end of the world. His marked silence about it would be a testimony against the misapplication of the prophecy. The second reason of the omission, I think, is the striking fact that the writer of the fourth Gospel was inspired to write the Book of Revelation. No wonder, therefore, that he was directed to pass over our Lord’s prophecy, when he was about to write at a later date the most striking prophetical book in the Bible.
(b) Concerning the omission of the Lord’s Supper, I venture the following conjecture. I think it was specially intended to be a witness for ever against the growing tendency of Christians to make an idol of the sacraments. Even from the beginning there seems to have been a disposition in the Church to make Christianity a religion of forms and ceremonies rather than of heart, and to exalt outward ordinances to a place which God never meant them to fill. Against this teaching John was raised up to testify. The mere fact that in his Gospel he leaves out the Lord’s Supper altogether, and does not even name it, is strong proof that the Lord’s Supper cannot be, as many tell us, the first, foremost, chief, and principal thing in Christianity. Its perfect silence about it can never be reconciled with this favourite theory. It is a most conspicuous silence, which the modern advocates of the so-called sacramental system, can never get over or explain away. If the Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper really is the first and chief thing in Christianity, why does John tell us nothing about it? To that question I can only see one answer : it is because it is not a primary, but a secondary thing in Christ’s religion.
The reason assigned for the omission by many commentators, viz., that John thought it needless to repeat the account of the institution, after it had been recorded by three evangelists and Paul, appears to me entirely insufficient.
v1.—[Now before...passover.] We should observe that the feast of the passover is always carefully mentioned by each Gospel writer, as the precise time of the year when Jesus was crucified. It was ordered of God that it should be at this particular time, for two good reasons. For one thing, the passover lamb was the most striking and remarkable type in the whole Jewish ceremonial of Christ Himself, and the history of the passover of Christ’s work of redemption. For another thing, it secured the greatest assembly of Israelites to be eye-witnesses of our Lord’s crucifixion. At no time of the Jewish year were so many Jews gathered at Jerusalem. Anything that happened at the passover would be reported by Jewish worshippers, on returning home, all over the civilized world. For these two reasons "the Lamb of God" was slain at this feast, in spite of the priests, who said, "Not on the feast day."
Let us remember that one of the few dates we know for certainty of the events in our Lord’s life, is the time of His crucifixion. Of the time of His birth and baptism we know nothing. But that he died at Easter, we may be quite sure.
[When Jesus knew...hour...come.] Let us note that our Lord knew perfectly beforehand when and how He should suffer. This, whatever we may think, is a great addition to suffering. Our ignorance of things before us is a great blessing. Our Lord saw the cross clearly before Him, and walked straight up to it. His death was not a surprise to Him, but a voluntary, foreknown thing.
[That...depart...world...Father.] Let us observe how death is spoken of here. It is taking a journey—a going from one place to another. In the case of our Lord, it was a return to His Father’s house, and a going home, after finishing the work He came to do. So a believer’s death, in a lower sense, is going home.
Calvin observes, "This definition of death belongs to the whole body of the Church. It is to the saints a passage to the Father, an inlet to eternal life."
[Having loved his own...world..loved...end.] The meaning of this seems to be, "Having always loved His own disciples, and having given many proofs of His singular affection, He now, before leaving them alone like orphans in the world, gave one more striking proof of His love by washing their feet, and thus on the last evening before His death, showed that He loved them to the very end of His ministry, and was not weary of them."
He knew perfectly that they were going to forsake Him and act like cowards, but that did not prevent Him loving them, with all their weakness, to the very end.
He knew perfectly that He was about to suffer within twenty-four hours, but the knowledge and foresight of it did not absorb his thoughts so as to make Him forget His little flock of followers. Saints, when they are dying, often ask to be left alone and let alone; Christ, on the trial of His crucifixion, thought of others, and loved his disciples to the end.
The love of Christ to Christians who really believe on Him, is a great depth. "It passeth knowledge." It is something that our poor corrupt nature cannot fully comprehend or measure.
The expression, "His own," applied to believers, is very noteworthy. They are Christ’s peculiar property, given to Him by the Father, and His own special care as members of His body. Tittman’s idea that "His own" means all mankind, is preposterous and weak, and ignores the privileges of believers.
The expression, "which were in the world," is another great depth. Believers are not in heaven yet, and find it out to their cost. They are in a cold, unkind, persecuting world. Let them take comfort in the thought, that Jesus knows and remembers it. "I know thy works, and where thou dwellest." (Revelation 2:13.)
Theophylact thinks that our Lord purposely deferred this act of washing the disciples’ feet to the last evening of His ministry, in order to leave in their minds a pleasant impression of His love and condescension.
Melancthon shows that the three greatest marks of pity and compassion are (1) to tolerate the wicked for a season; (2) to abstain from exposing their sins as long as possible; (3) to warn them plainly and gently before leaving them for ever. All this appears in our Lord’s dealing with Judas in this chapter.
v2.—[And supper being ended.] These words would have been more literally rendered, "while supper was going on," or, "supper being in progress." That this is the true meaning seems clear from the twenty-sixth verse. If supper had really been ended, we should not have heard of a sop being given out of the dish, etc.
It is only fair to say that Scaliger and other learned men insist that the Jews had more than one supper at the passover,—one a legal one, strictly according to ritual; the other a social one. They think these two suppers are both in this chapter. Gerhard gives this opinion at length. Whitby seems to lean to this view, and maintains that our Lord twice pointed out Judas as the traitor,—once privately and once publicly.
Let it be noted that our Lord’s ministry ended with a supper,—that the last ordinance He appointed was a supper,—that one promise He has left to a believer is, "I will come and sup with him" (Revelation 3:20),—and that the first thing that will take place at His second advent will be the marriage supper of the Lamb. All point to the same great truth,—the close union, familiarity, and comfortable intimacy between Christ and His people. It is a thing far too little known.
What supper this was we are not told, and are left to conjecture. It is a point on which opinions widely differ.
Some, as Lightfoot, think that the supper was the same that took place at Bethany, in the house of Simon the leper, two days before the passover. Rollock also thinks it was not the passover.
Others think it was the ordinary passover supper, which our Lord was eating with His disciples the night before His crucifixion. This certainly, in my judgment, seems the more probable view.
One thing at any rate is pretty clear. It was not the institution of the Lord’s Supper. It seems highly improbable that the washing of the disciples’ feet would take place after the Lord’s Supper. That blessed ordinance appears to come in after the twentieth verse. Brentius stands alone in maintaining that it was the Lord’s Supper.
[The devil...put...heart.] This does not mean that Judas now for the first time left the faith, and became an apostate. Our Lord long before had spoken of him as one that "was a devil." (John 6:70.) But it means that now at length the devil suggested into the heart of this unhappy man the atrocious idea of betraying his Master. It was the last and final heading up of his apostasy.
The personality of Satan, and his old character as the father of all wickedness, are forcibly brought out here.
The word rendered "put" is literally "cast." This graphically describes the way in which Satan works. He casts into the heart of those he tempts the seeds of evil. The heart is the seed-plot which he sows. Suggestion is one of his chief weapons. The sin of man consists in opening his heart to the suggestion, giving it a place, and letting it sink down. This is obvious in the first temptation of Eve in the garden of Eden.
Tittman’s idea that the expression is only a "popular form of speaking," is utterly untenable, and cannot be reconciled with the general teaching of the Bible about the devil.
[Judas Iscariot, Simon’s son.] Here, as in three other places, the false apostle is called emphatically "Simon’s son." Doubtless this was to mark him out as not the Judas who was brother of James and son of Alphaeus. Who this Simon was we do not know. (See note on John 6:71.)
[To betray him.] There seems no need for regarding Judas’s betrayal of his Master as anything but the wicked act of a wicked man, who loved money more than his soul. The theory that he was a high-minded, impatient disciple, who wished his Master no harm, but desired to hasten His kingdom, and expected Him to work a miracle, and save Himself at the last, is ingenious, but lacks foundation. Our Lord’s word applied to him, "a devil," and the word of John, "a thief," appear to me to overturn the theory altogether. Judas betrayed Jesus because he loved money better than his Master. He probably did not realize the full consequence of his act. But this is often the case with wicked men.
v3.—[Jesus, knowing that the Father, etc.] The reason why this verse comes in here is not very plain. Why are we told that Jesus "washed His disciples’ feet," knowing all these wonderful things? What is the special point and object of the sentence?
Some think that the words mean that our Lord knew the end of His ministry was at hand, that all His work was accomplished, that the Father had now committed to Him all power in heaven and earth, and that having come from God, He was about to return to God very shortly. Knowing this, He seized the last opportunity that remained to give His disciples a practical example of love and humility. He knew that His time was short, and that He must give the lesson this night, if it was to be given at all.
Others, as Chrysostom, Augustine, and Zwingle, think that the object of the words is to show the extent and depth of our Lord’s infinite condescension and love to His disciples. With a full knowledge that the Father had committed all power into His hands, that He had been from eternity with God, and was going back to God,—knowing all the dignity and majesty of His person and office, He yet condescended to perform the most menial office, and to minister like a servant to His disciples.
Either view is good sense and good divinity, and admissible as a fair interpretation of the words. For myself I prefer the latter view.
Theophylact points out that to argue our Lord’s inferiority to the Father from the expression, "Delivered all things into His hand," is unfair. He justly remarks that you might as well infer the Father’s inferiority to the Son from the expression in Corinthians, "When He shall have delivered up the kingdom to the Father."
Bernard remarks, that "Jesus came from God, not leaving Him, and went to God, not leaving us."
v4.—[He riseth from supper, etc.] The minuteness with which every action of our Lord is related here is very striking. No less than seven distinct things are named,—rising, laying aside garments, taking a towel, girding Himself, pouring water into a basin, washing, and wiping. This very particularity stamps the whole transaction with reality, and is the natural language of an astonished and admiring eye-witness.
The "laying aside garments" of course only means the laying aside the long, loose, outer garment which people in the East always wear, and which must be laid aside if any bodily exertion is used.
The "girding Himself" refers to the well-known practice of tying tightly round the person any loose garment before taking any action requiring bodily exertion. A good servant is said to have "his loins girded and his lamp burning," ready for any errand or duty.
The likeness between our Lord’s action here and the words in Luke 12:37, are very striking: "He shall gird Himself—serve them," etc.
Jansenius remarks, that the "rising" here mentioned seems like a clear proof that this supper could not be the paschal supper. That was to be eaten standing.
The use of the present tense all through this description is noteworthy. It brings the whole transaction before us like a picture.
Hengstenberg says here, "Jesus had seated Himself at the table, and Peter probably enjoyed the honour of washing His feet. After this he, with the other disciples, sat down also at table, expecting that the younger would spontaneously assume the function of feetwasher for all the rest. But pride evoked pride. The younger Apostles, following a quick impulse, seated themselves also at table. Thus a situation of deep embarrassment resulted in murmuring and contest. Who would be the first to rise up again? Jesus put an end to the embarrassment, by rising from supper and washing the feet of His disciples." This is possible; but it is only conjecture.
v5.—[After that he poureth water, etc., etc.] Wonderful as all this transaction seems, and no doubt is, when we remember who our Lord was, one thing must never be forgotten. The actions here described would not seem nearly so strange to the disciples as they do to us. They were simply the courteous actions of a host who desired to show the utmost degree of hospitable attention to the guests. Thus Abraham washed the feet of the three angelic messengers. (Genesis 18:4. So also 1 Samuel 25:41.) In a hot country like Palestine, where people wore no stockings, and the heat was very scorching to the skin, frequent washing of the feet was an absolute necessity, and to wash the feet of guests was a common piece of hospitality. It is one mark of a deserving widow, that she has "washed the saints’ feet." (1 Timothy 5:10.) The real wonder was that such a Master, on such a solemn occasion, should do such a condescending act to such weak disciples. It was not so much the action as the doer of it, that was remarkable.
After all there was a touching fitness in our Lord’s choice of an instructive action on this solemn occasion. He knew that He was leaving his disciples, like poor feeble travelers, in a weary, wicked world. He would therefore wash their feet before parting, and strengthen and refresh them for their journey.
It will be observed that the work was not left, unfinished and half-done. Like a perfect servant, our Lord "wiped" the feet as well as "washed" them.
Preface (to volume 3)—
The volume now in the reader’s hands completes a work which I began sixteen years ago, entitled "Expository Thoughts on the Gospels." By the good hand of God that work is now finished. For this I desire to be deeply thankful. "Better is the end of a thing than the beginning of it." (Ecclesiastes 7:8.)
In concluding that portion of the work which is devoted to John’s Gospel, I think it right to make a few prefatory remarks about the "Notes." They occupy so large a part of my three volumes on John, that my readers may not unreasonably expect me to give some account of them. Filling up, as they do, at least two-thirds of the work, and necessarily increasing its cost, they require some defense and explanation. Questions such as these will naturally arise in some minds,—"What are these notes? What is their object? What is their doctrinal tone? What helps have been used in preparing them?"—These questions I propose to answer.
(1) My object in writing these notes on John’s Gospel is soon stated. I have tried to explain, in simple language, everything in the text which needs explanation, and to bring all available light to bear on every verse in the book. In trying to attain this object, I have given not only my own thoughts and opinions, but also the results of a patient study of about seventy Commentators, both ancient and modern, of almost every Church and school in Christendom. I have endeavoured to handle every subject raised by the text, however high and deep, and to meet the requirements of every class of readers, whether educated or uneducated. I have evaded no hard passage, and turned away from no difficulty. I am very sensible that I have often failed to hit the mark, and I have not been ashamed in many places to confess my ignorance. Competent critics will probably detect in the work not a few errors and mistakes. I lay no claim to infallibility. But I can honestly say that I have never handled the Word partially or deceitfully, and have done my best to show "the thing as it is." (Job 26:3.) Some controverted points I have ventured to discuss in annotations of more than ordinary length, and of these a list will be found appended to this concluding volume. On the whole I cannot help hoping, that, in spite of many deficiencies, the notes will be found a help to thoughtful readers of John’s Gospel.
(2) The doctrinal tone of the notes, I must frankly avow, is thoroughly and unmistakably evangelical. After patiently studying John’s Gospel for twelve years, with much thought, much labour, much examination of the writings of others, and, I hope I may add, with some earnest prayers, my theological opinions are what they were when I began to write. In these twelve years I trust I have learned many things: but I can truly say that I have seen no reason to alter my views of doctrine. My conviction is firm and decided, that the theology of that religious school in the Church of England, which, rightly or wrongly, is called Evangelical, is thoroughly Scriptural, and a theology of which no Christian man need be ashamed.
I freely confess that, with increasing years and experience, I have learned to think more kindly and charitably than I once did, of theologians who belong to other schools than my own. I am more and more convinced every year I live, that there are many Christians whose hearts are right in the sight of God, while their heads are very wrong. I am more and more convinced, that the differences between schools of religious thought are frequently more nominal than real, more verbal than actual, and that many of them would melt away and disappear, if men would only define the terms and words they use with logical accuracy. But, for all this, I cannot shrink from saying, as in the sight of God, that at present I know no theology which appears to me so thoroughly in accordance with Scripture as Evangelical theology. In the belief of this I have written my notes on John, and in the faith of this I hope to die. With the Bible only in my hands, I find difficulties in the systems of non-Evangelical schools, which to my mind appear insuperable.
(3) Concerning the Commentators I have consulted, in preparing my notes on John, I wish to make a few remarks for the benefit of my younger readers, and of those who have not access to large libraries. I see no reason to alter the opinions which I expressed seven years ago, in the Preface to my first volume. After patiently studying Cyril, Chrysostom, Augustine, and Theophylact, for twelve years, it is my deliberate conviction that their Commentaries on the Gospels are often overrated and overpraised, and that those who lead young students of theology to expect to find "all wisdom" in the Fathers, are neither wise nor kind. After an equally patient examination of the modern German Commentators, Tittman, Tholuck, Olshausen, Stier, and Hengstenberg, I am obliged to say that I leave them with a feeling of disappointment. About them also I raise a warning cry for the benefit of young students. I advise them not to expect too much. Writers like Hengstenberg and Stier are well worth reading; but I cannot say that any modern German Commentators seem to me to deserve the extravagant commendation which is often bestowed on them. In fact I have a strong suspicion that many praise German theology without having read it!
For throwing light on the meaning of the text of John, and for raising just and beautiful thoughts out of it, my opinion is distinct and decided, that there are no Commentaries equal to those of the Continental divines who lived immediately after the Protestant Reformation. Unfortunately they wrote in Latin, which few persons care to read; and their books are, generally, huge, lumbering folios, which few care to handle. Moreover they are sometimes defective in verbal criticism, and were, most of them, more familiar with Latin than Greek. But taking them for all in all, as Expositors and Elucidators of God’s Word, in my judgment, there is nothing like them. The man who has carefully read the expositions of Brentius, Bullinger, Gualter, Musculus, and Gerhard, will find that later Commentaries rarely contain any good thoughts which are not to be found in these five writers, and that they say many excellent things which have not occurred to later writers at all. Why these great Expositors are so totally ignored and neglected in the nineteenth century, I do not pretend to explain. Some modern theologians seem not even to be aware that such Commentators as Brentius, Musculus, and Gerhard, ever existed! But the fact is one which reflects little credit on our times.
I shall say little or nothing about the works of British Commentators. This is a department of theological literature in which, I must plainly say, I do not think my fellow-countrymen shine. With rare exceptions, they appear to me to fall below the level of their reputation. I shall therefore content myself with naming a few Commentaries, which appear to me more than ordinarily useful and suggestive, and which I have seldom consulted in vain.—Rollock on John is excellent; and it is a great pity that the whole work is not translated, instead of lying buried in Latin.—Hutcheson is always good; but his value is sadly marred by his interminable divisions, uses, applications, and inferences.—Matthew Henry is generally rich in pious thoughts and pleasing illustrations, and sometimes exhibits more learning and acquaintance with books, than he is commonly credited with.—Poole’s "Annotations" are sound, clear, and sensible; and, taking him for all in all, I place him at the head of English Commentators on the whole Bible.—Alford and Wordsworth have done good service to the Church by their works on the Greek Testament, and I know none at present that I can sooner recommend to a student of the original. But they both say, occasionally, things with which I cannot agree, and they often seem to me to leave important texts very scantily expounded, or entirely unnoticed. [Footnote: As examples of what I mean, I refer the reader to Wordsworth on John 17:4-20, very scantily expounded, in my judgment; and to Alford on John 10:27-28, not expounded at all!] A fuller and more satisfactory commentary on the Greek Testament appears to me to be still wanted.—Burgon’s "Plain Commentary on the Gospels" is an excellent, suggestive, and devout work. But I cannot agree with him, when he touches such subjects as the Church, the Sacraments, and the Ministry.—In fact, the conclusion I arrive at, after a diligent examination of many Commentators, is always one and the same. I trust none of them unreservedly, and I expect nowhere to find perfection. All must be read with caution. They are good helps, but they are not infallible. They are useful assistants, but they are not the pillar of cloud and fire. I advise my younger readers to remember that. Use your own judgment prayerfully and diligently. Use commentaries; but be a slave to none. Call no man master. [Footnote: A full list of Commentators, whom I have consulted, more or less, in preparing my notes on John, will be found in the preface to my first volume. From that list the following authors were omitted,— Hengstenberg on "John," Manton, Newton, Burgess, and Traill, on the "17th chapter of John," and Bishop Andrews’ Sermons.]
It only remains for me now to express my regret, that the completion of my "Expository Thoughts on the Gospels" has been so long delayed. The delay has arisen from causes entirely beyond my control. The work was first begun in a little quiet parish of three hundred people, and then brought to a standstill by heavy domestic affliction. It has been resumed, and carried on, amidst many interruptions, in an isolated rural parish of 1,300 souls, in which, after coming into residence, I found a parsonage had to be repaired, large schools had to be built, and a huge old dilapidated church had to be restored. In the face of these difficulties and distractions, I can only wonder that I have been enabled to finish my work on John at all.
The book is now sent forth, with a deep conviction in the author’s mind, that it contains many defects, inaccuracies, and blemishes, but with an earnest desire and prayer that it may help some readers to a better understanding of one of the most interesting portions of Holy Scripture. I never felt more persuaded than I do in the present day of the truth of the old saying, "Ignorance of Scripture is the root of all error." If I can lessen that ignorance a little I shall be very thankful.
The concluding paragraph of Dean Alford’s "Prolegomena" to his "Commentary on the Book of Revelation," so thoroughly expresses my own feelings, on completing my work on John’s Gospel, that I make no excuse for inserting it here, with the omission of a few words:—
"I have now only to commend to my gracious God and Father this feeble attempt to explain a most glorious portion of His revealed Scripture. I do it with humble thankfulness, but with a sense of utter weakness before the power of His word, and of inability to sound the depth even of its simplest sentence. May he spare the hand which has been put forward to touch the ark! May He, for Christ’s sake, forgive all rashness, all perverseness, all uncharitableness, which may be found in this book! And may He sanctify it to the use of His Church: its truth, if any, for teaching; its manifold defects for warning."
J. C. RYLE.
Stradbroke Vicarage, Suffolk,
The verses we have now read conclude the story of our Lord’s washing the feet of His disciples, the night before He was crucified. It is a story full of touching interest, which for some wise reason no Evangelist records except John. The wonderful condescension of Christ, in doing such a menial action, can hardly fail to strike any reader. The mere fact that the Master should wash the feet of the servants might well fill us with surprise. But the circumstances and sayings which arose out of the action are just as interesting as the action itself. Let us see what they were.
We should notice, firstly, the hasty ignorance of the Apostle Peter. One moment we find him refusing to allow his Master to do such a servile work as He is about to do:—"Dost Thou wash my feet?" "Thou shalt never wash my feet."—"Another moment we find him rushing with characteristic impetuosity into the other extreme:—"Lord, wash not my feet only, but my hands and my head." But throughout the transaction we find him unable to take in the real meaning of what his eyes behold. He sees, but he does not understand.
Let us gather from Peter’s conduct that a man may have plenty of faith and love, and yet be sadly destitute of clear knowledge. We must not set down men as graceless and godless because they are dull, and stupid, and blundering in their religion. The heart may often be quite right when the head is quite wrong. We must make allowances for the corruption of the understanding, as well as of the will. We must not be surprised to find that the brains as well as the affections of Adam’s children have been hurt by the fall. It is a humbling lesson, and one seldom fully learned except by long experience. But the longer we live the more true shall we find it, that a believer, like Peter, may make many mistakes and lack understanding, and yet, like Peter, have a heart right before God, and get to heaven at last.
Even at our best estate we shall find that many of Christ’s dealings with us are hard to understand in this life. The "why" and "wherefore" of many a providence will often puzzle and perplex us quite as much as the washing puzzled Peter. The wisdom, and fitness, and necessity of many a thing will often be hidden from our eyes. But at times like these we must remember the Master’s words, and fall back upon them:—"What I do thou knowest not now, but thou shalt know hereafter." There came days, long after Christ had left the world, when Peter saw the full meaning of all that happened on the memorable night before the crucifixion. Even so there will be a day when every dark page in our life’s history will be explained, and when, as we stand with Christ in glory, we shall know all.
We should notice, secondly, in this passage, the plain practical lesson which lies upon its surface. That lesson is read out to us by our Lord. He says, "I have given you an example, that ye should do as I have done to you."
Humility is evidently one part of the lesson. If the only-begotten Son of God, the King of kings, did not think it beneath Him to do the humblest work of a servant, there is nothing which His disciples should think themselves too great or too good to do. No sin is so offensive to God, and so injurious to the soul as pride. No grace is so commended, both by precept and example, as humility. "Be clothed with humility." "He that humbleth himself shall be exalted."—"Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus; who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God: but made Himself of no reputation, and took upon Him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men: and being found in fashion as a man, He humbled Himself." (1 Peter 5:5; Luke 18:14; Philippians 2:5-8.) Well would it be for the Church if this very simple truth was more remembered, and real humility was not so sadly rare. Perhaps there is no sight so displeasing in God’s eyes as a self-conceited, self-satisfied, self-contented, stuck-up professor of religion. Alas, it is a sight only too common! Yet the words which John here records have never been repealed. They will be a swift witness against many at the last day, except they repent.
Love is manifestly the other part of the great practical lesson. Our Lord would have us love others so much that we should delight to do anything which can promote their happiness. We ought to rejoice in doing kindnesses, even in little things. We ought to count it a pleasure to lessen sorrow and multiply joy, even when it costs us some self-sacrifice and self-denial. We ought to love every child of Adam so well, that if in the least trifle we can do anything to make him more happy and comfortable, we should be glad to do it. This was the mind of the Master, and this the ruling principle of His conduct upon earth. There are but few who walk in His steps, it may be feared; but these few are men and women after His own heart.
The lesson before us may seem a very simple one; but its importance can never be overrated. Humility and love are precisely the graces which the men of the world can understand, if they do not comprehend doctrines. They are graces about which there is no mystery, and they are within reach of all classes. The poorest and most ignorant Christian can every day find occasion for practicing love and humility. Then if we would do good to the world, and make our calling and election sure, let no man forget our Lord’s example in this passage. Like Him, let us be humble and loving towards all.
We should notice, lastly, in this passage, the deep spiritual lessons which lie beneath its surface. They are three in number, and lie at the very root of religion, though we can only touch them briefly.
For one thing, we learn that all need to be washed by Christ. "If I wash thee not, thou hast no part in Me." No man or woman can be saved unless his sins are washed away in Christ’s precious blood. Nothing else can make us clean or acceptable before God. We must be "washed, sanctified, and justified, in the name of the Lord Jesus, and by the Spirit of our God." (1 Corinthians 6:11.) Christ must wash us, if we are ever to sit down with saints in glory. Then let us take heed that we apply to Him by faith, wash and become clean. They only are washed who believe.
For another thing, we learn that even those who are cleansed and forgiven need a daily application to the blood of Christ for daily pardon. We cannot pass through this evil world without defilement. There is not a day in our lives but we fail and come short in many things, and need fresh supplies of mercy. Even "he that is washed needs to wash his feet," and to wash them in the same fountain where he found peace of conscience when he first believed. Then let us daily use that fountain without fear. With the blood of Christ we must begin, and with the blood of Christ we must go on.
Finally, we learn that even those who kept company with Christ, and were baptized with water as His disciples, were "not all" washed from their sin. These words are very solemn,—"Ye are clean: but not all." Then let us take heed to ourselves, and beware of false profession. If even Christ’s own disciples are not all cleansed and justified, we have reason to be on our guard. Baptism and Churchmanship are no proof that we are right in the sight of God.
v6.—[Then cometh he to Simon Peter.] Whether our Lord began with Simon Peter, is not quite clear from the words before us. The word "then," however, certainly does not mean "then," in the sense of "in order."
Chrysostom and Theophylact hold that Jesus washed Judas Iscariot’s feet, and then came to Peter. From the subsequent action of dipping and giving a morsel to Judas, it certainly seems probable that he sat very near our Lord.
Augustine holds that Jesus began with Peter. Bellarmine eagerly grasps at this, and gives it as one of twenty-eight alleged proofs that Peter always had a primacy among the Apostles!
[And Peter saith unto him.] The word "Peter" is not in the Greek text here, but simply "he," or "that man." Our translators seem to have inserted it to make the meaning plain.
[Lord, dost thou wash my feet?] The English language here fails to give the full emphasis of the Greek. It would be literally rendered, "Dost Thou, of me, wash the feet?" Such an one as Thou art, wash the feet of such an one as I am! It is like John the Baptist’s exclamation when our Lord came to his baptism: ’’Comest thou to me?" (Matthew 3:14.)
v7.—[Jesus answered and said, etc.] The famous saying of this verse stretches far beyond the literal application of the words. Primarily, of course, it means, "This action of mine has a meaning which in a few minutes I will explain and you will understand, though at present it may seem to you strange and unsuitable."—But in every age true Christians have seen a higher, deeper, broader meaning in the words, and a pious mind cannot doubt that they were intended to bear that meaning. It supplies the key to many things which we cannot understand in the providential government of the world, in the history of the Church, in the events of our own lives. We must make up our minds to see many things happening which we do not know and understand now, and of which we cannot at present see the wisdom. But we must believe that "we shall know hereafter" the full purposes, the why and wherefore and needs-be, of each and all. It is a golden sentence to store up in our memories. God’s eternal counsels, the wisdom of the great Head of the Church, must never be forgotten. All is going on well, even when we think all is going on ill. When we cannot see it we must believe. In sickness, sorrow, bereavement, disappointment, we must summon up faith and patience, and hear Christ saying to us, "What I do thou knowest not now, but thou shalt know hereafter."
Musculus has some happy remarks here on the applicability of this expression to infant baptism, which are most just and true.
v8.—[Peter saith...thou...never wash my feet.] Here, again, the English version fails to give the full strength of the Greek words. This sentence would be rendered literally, "Thou shalt never wash my feet for ever," or unto eternity.
We may note here, in Peter’s language, that there is such a thing as "a voluntary humility," which runs into extremes.
Hutcheson remarks, "Men may have much seeming humility in the matters of God, which is yet but preposterous and sinful, and learned from carnal reason." Rollock compares with Peter’s conduct here the Romish worship of saints and angels, under the pretense of deep humility and unworthiness to approach God.
[Jesus answered...If I wash...not...no part...me.] We need not doubt that this sentence was meant to bear a deep and full meaning, and to reach far beyond the primary application. It would be a very cold and tame exposition to say that our Lord only meant, "Unless thy feet are washed by Me to-night, thou art not one of my disciples."—It means a great deal more. Our Lord seems in effect to say, "Thou wilt not be wise to object to the symbolical action which I am performing. Remember no one can be saved, or have any part in Me and my work of redemption, unless I wash away his sins. Except I wash away thy many sins, even thou, Simon Peter, hast no part in Me. I must wash every saved soul, and every saved soul must be washed. Surely, therefore, it does not become thee to object to my doing an instructive and figurative act to thy feet, when I must needs do a far greater work to thy soul."
The sentence is one of wide, deep, and sweeping application. It is true of every Christian of every rank and position. To each one Christ says, "If I wash thee not, thou hast no part in Me." It is not enough that we are Churchmen, professed communicants, and the like. The great question for every one is this: "Am I washed and justified?"
The common assertion that this "washing" here spoken of is baptism, seems to me unwarrantable. Our Lord never baptized any one, so far as we can learn from Scripture. Where is it said that He baptized Peter? Moreover, if baptism were meant, the past tense would have been used: "If I had not washed thee, thou wouldest have no part in Me." The washing here spoken of is something far above baptism.
v9.—[Simon Peter saith, etc.] The exclamation of Peter in this verse is highly characteristic of the man. Impulsive, excitable, zealous, ardent, with more love than knowledge, and more feeling than spiritual discernment, he is horrified at the very idea of "having no part in Christ." Anything rather than that! Not seeing clearly the deep meaning of his Master’s words, and still sticking to a carnal, literal interpretation of the word "washing," he cries out that his Master may wash him all over, hands and head as well as feet, if an interest in Christ depends on that.
Great zeal and love are perfectly consistent with great spiritual ignorance and dullness, and great slowness to comprehend spiritual truth.
Rollock remarks that Peter erred as much in one extreme now, as he had erred before in another.
Stier remarks that the passionate, strong expression of Peter in this verse, is just the language of a warm-hearted but dull-minded disciple, just beginning to understand, as if light had suddenly flashed on him.
v10.—[Jesus saith to him, He that is washed, etc.] This sentence of our Lord’s conveys a latent rebuke of Peter’s spiritual dullness. It is as though Jesus said, "The washing of head and hands whereof thou speakest is not needed. Even assuming that a literal washing is all I meant in saying, ’If I wash thee not,’ it is well known that he who is washed needs only to wash his feet after a journey, and is accounted clean entirely after such a partial washing. But this is far more true of the washing of pardon and justification. He that is pardoned and justified by Me, is entirely washed from all his sins, and only needs the daily forgiveness of the daily defilement he contracts in traveling through a sinful world. Once washed, justified, and accepted by Me, ye are clean before God: although not all of you. There is one painful exception."
The great practical truth contained in this sentence ought to be carefully noted and treasured up by all believers. Once joined to Christ and cleansed in His blood, they are completely absolved and free from all spot of guilt, and are counted without blame before God. But for all this they need every day, as they walk through this world, to confess their daily failures, and to sue for daily pardon. They require, in short, a daily washing of their feet, over and above the great washing of justification, which is theirs the moment they first believe. He that neglects this daily washing is a very questionable and doubtful kind of Christian. Luther remarks pithily, "The devil allows no Christian to reach heaven with clean feet all the way."
"Every whit," in this verse, means literally "the whole man."
The deep mine of meaning which often lies under the surface of our Lord’s language is strikingly exemplified in this verse, as well as in John 13:7-8. There is far more in many of His sayings, we may believe, than has ever yet been discovered.
It is striking to observe that even of His poor, weak, erring disciples Jesus says, "Ye are clean."
Bullinger observes that the words of the Lord’s Prayer, "Forgive us our trespasses," are a daily confession of the very thing here mentioned,—viz., the need of daily washing of our feet..
Casaubon remarks that those who come out of a bath, as a matter of constant experience, only need to wash their feet, which, stepping on the ground as they come out, must needs contract some defilement. In Eastern countries, where bathing was very common, all could see the force of this.
Hengstenberg remarks, that "the expression, ’but not all,’ was intended to pierce the conscience of Judas, whom the Redeemer did not give up until the last good impulse died within him."
The common idea that the "washing" here spoken of refers to baptism, seems to me quite untenable. He that is washed must mean only "washed in a spiritual sense from his sins;" as Psalms 51:2. Hengstenberg’s discussion of the point is worth reading.
Burgon observes, "The traitor, Judas, though washed by the hands of Christ Himself, was filthy still."
v11.—[For he knew...betray him, etc.] Our Lord’s perfect foreknowledge of His sufferings and the manner of them, and His thorough discernment of the real characters of all His disciples, are alike shown in this verse. He did not suffer because He did not fore-see it, and was taken by surprise. He walked up to death knowing every step He was about to tread.
The sentence is an example of the explanatory glosses which are so characteristic of John’s Gospel.
The Greek words rendered "who should betray Him," are literally, "the person betraying Him," in the past participle.
v12.—[So after...washed...feet.] After the conversation between our Lord and Peter, the washing seems to have gone on without interruption. The disciples were accustomed to see their Master do things they did not understand, and they submitted in silence.
[And had taken...garments...set down again.] This refers to His putting on again the long loose outer robe, which was laid aside on performing any action requiring exertion in the East. Then our Lord took His place once more at the table, and commenced a discourse which seems to have ushered in the Lord’s Supper. Whether the washing of the feet was meant, among other things, to teach the need of special preparation for that blessed ordinance, is an interesting thought, and worth consideration. It certainly seems our Lord’s last action before He gave the bread and wine.
[He said...know ye what...done...you.] This question was meant to stir up in the disciples’ minds inquiry as to the meaning of what they had just seen. Understanding and intelligent perception of all we do in religion, should be sought after and valued by all true Christians. There is no real religion in blind devotion. "What mean I by this service?" should be the question often impressed on our minds.
v13.—[Ye call me Master and Lord.] These words would be more literally rendered, "Ye call Me, or speak of Me, as the Master and the Lord." The expression seems to show that this was the habitual language of the disciples while our Lord was on earth. So Martha says to Mary, "The Master is come." (John 11:28.)
[Ye say well; for so I am.] The word "so" is not in the Greek. It is simply "for I am." The expression is a beautiful warrant for applying to Jesus especially the appellation "the Lord." He has Himself endorsed it, by the words, "Ye say well."
v14.—[If I then, your Lord, etc.] The argument of this verse is one which our Lord very frequently uses: "If I do a thing, much more ought ye to do it." Literally rendered the meaning is, "If I, the Person whom ye speak of as ’the Lord’ and ’the Master,’ have washed your feet, and condescended to perform the most menial act of attention to you, ye also ought to feel it a duty to do acts of the same kind for one another,—acts as condescending as washing one another’s feet."
The words "Your Lord and Master" in the Greek are literally, "The Lord and the Master."
"Ye ought" is a very strong expression. It is tantamount to saying, "It is your duty and debt,—ye are under an obligation to do it."
Paley on Evidences, p. 2, ch. iv., has a remarkable passage, showing the close affinity between our Lord’s conduct here, and His conduct when taking a little child and putting him in the midst of the disciples. In both He taught humility, that rare grace, by action.
v15.—[For I have given you an example, etc.] "I have, in my own person, given you a pattern of what your own conduct should be. The duty I want you to learn is of such vast importance that I have not left it to a general precept, but have given you an example of my meaning."
Of course the question at once rises,—What did our Lord really mean? Did He mean that we all ought literally to do the very same thing that He did? Or did He only mean that we are to imitate the spirit of His action?
The Church of Rome, it is well-known, puts a literal sense on our Lord’s language. Once every year, about Easter, the head of the Romish Church publicly washes the feet of certain poor persons got ready for the occasion. The absurdity, to say the least, of this view is evident on a moment’s reflection.
It seems absurd to take our Lord’s words literally, and to suppose that the Pope’s literal washing of a few feet at Easter can supersede the duty of all Christians to do the same. Yet it is only fair to remember that the Moravians to this day take a literal view of those words, and have a custom called "pedilavium."
It is in any case absurd to suppose that our Lord would require His disciples to perform a duty which the young and the feeble would be physically unable to do.
It is inconsistent with the general tenor of our Lord’s teaching to suppose that He would ever attach so much importance to a mere bodily action. "Bodily exercise profiteth little." (1 Timothy 4:8.) A formal performance of bodily acts of religion is just the easiest thing that can be imposed on people. The thing that is really hard, and yet always required, is the service of the heart.
The true interpretation of the two verses is that which places a spiritual sense on our Lord’s words. It is a practical illustration of Matthew 20:26-28. He wished to teach His disciples that they ought to be willing to wait on one another, serve one another, minister to one another, even in the least and lowest things. They should think nothing too low, or humble, or menial to undertake, if they can show love, kindness, and condescension to another. If He, the King of kings, condescended to leave heaven to save souls, and dwell thirty-three years in this sin-defiled world, there is nothing that we should think too lowly to undertake.
Pride, because we possess wealth, rank, position, place, education, or high-breeding, is condemned heavily in this passage. He who would shrink from doing the least kindness to the poorest Christian, has read these verses to little purpose, and does not copy his Master’s example.
One caution only we must remember. Let us not suppose that an ostentatious attention to the poor constitutes the whole of obedience to the law of this passage. It is easy work comparatively to care for the poor. We are to be ready to do the least acts of kindness to our equals quite as much as to the poor. There is nothing about temporal poverty in the passage. The disciples were told their duty to "one another." This is a very important point. It is much easier and more self-satisfying to play the part and do the work of a Christian to the poor than to our equals.
How entirely the passage overthrows the claim of mere talking, head-learned professors of sound doctrine, to be accounted true Christians, it is needless to show. Doctrinal orthodoxy, without practical love and humility, is utterly worthless before God.
Bullinger remarks, how singularly full of Christian truth the passage is which ends at this verse. That we are washed clean from all sins, by Christ our Saviour,—that although washed, the remainder of infirmity sticks to us, and obliges us to wash our feet daily,—that the duty of a disciple is to make Christ his example in all things,—these three great lessons stand forth most prominently.
Gurnall observes, "The master here doth not only rule the scholar’s book for him; but writes him a copy with his own hand."
If we would understand the full meaning of these verses, we must mark carefully where they stand in the chapter. They follow hard after the remarkable passage in which we read of Christ washing His disciples’ feet. They stand in close connection with His solemn command, that the disciples should do as they had seen Him do. Then come the five verses which we have now to consider.
We are taught, for one thing, in these verses, that Christians must never be ashamed of doing anything that Christ has done. We read, "Verily, I say unto you, The servant is not greater than his Lord; neither he that is sent greater than he that sent him."
There seems little doubt that our Lord’s all-seeing eye saw a rising unwillingness in the minds of the Apostles to do such menial things as they had just seen Him do. Puffed up with their old Jewish expectation of thrones and kingdoms in this world, secretly self-satisfied with their own position as our Lord’s friends, these poor Galileans were startled at the idea of washing people’s feet! They could not bring themselves to believe that Messiah’s service entailed work like this. They could not yet take in the grand truth, that true Christian greatness consisted in doing good to others. And hence they needed our Lord’s word of warning. If He had humbled Himself to do humbling work, His disciples must not hesitate to do the same.
The lesson is one of which we all need to be reminded. We are all too apt to dislike any work which seems to entail trouble, self-denial, and going down to our inferiors. We are only too ready to depute such work to others, and to excuse ourselves by saying, "It is not in our way." When feelings of this kind arise within us we shall find it good to remember our Lord’s words in this passage, no less than our Lord’s example. We ought never to think it beneath us to show kindness to the lowest of men. We ought never to hold our hand because the objects of our kindness are ungrateful or unworthy. Such was not the mind of Him who washed the feet of Judas Iscariot as well as Peter. He who in these matters cannot stoop to follow Christ’s example, gives little evidence of possessing true love or true humility.
We are taught, for another thing, in these verses, the uselessness of religious knowledge if not accompanied by practice. We read, "If ye know these things, happy are ye if ye do them." It sounds as if our Lord would warn His disciples that they would never be really happy in His service if they were content with a barren head-knowledge of duty, and did not live according to their knowledge.
The lesson is one which deserves the continual remembrance of all professing Christians. Nothing is more common than to hear people saying of doctrine or duty,—"We know it, we know it;" while they sit still in unbelief or disobedience. They actually seem to flatter themselves that there is something creditable and redeeming in knowledge, even when it bears no fruit in heart, character, or life. Yet the truth is precisely the other way. To know what we ought to be, believe, and do, and yet to be unaffected by our knowledge, only adds to our guilt in the sight of God. To know that Christians should be humble and loving, while we continue proud and selfish, will only sink us deeper in the pit, unless we awake and repent. Practice, in short, is the very life of religion. "To him that knoweth to do good, and doeth it not, to him it is sin." (James 4:17.)
Of course we must never despise knowledge. It is in one sense the beginning of Christianity in the soul. So long as we know nothing of sin, or God, or Christ, or grace, or repentance, or faith, or conscience, we are of course nothing better than heathens. But we must not overrate knowledge. It is perfectly valueless unless it produces results in our conduct, and influences our lives, and moves our wills. In fact knowledge without practice does not raise us above the level of the devil. He could say to Jesus, "I know Thee who Thou art, the Holy One of God." The devils, says James, "believe and tremble." (James 2:19.) Satan knows truth, but has no will to obey it, and is miserable. He that would be happy in Christ’s service must not only know, but do.
We are taught, for another thing, in these verses, the perfect knowledge which Christ has of all His people. He can distinguish between false profession and true grace. The Church may be deceived, and rank men as Apostles, who are nothing better than brethren of Judas Iscariot. But Jesus is never deceived, for He can read hearts. And here He declares with peculiar emphasis, "I know whom I have chosen."
This perfect knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ is a very solemn thought, and one which cuts two ways. It ought to fill the hypocrite with alarm, and drive him to repentance. Let him remember that the eyes of the all-seeing Judge already see him through and through, and detect the want of a wedding garment. If he would not be put to shame before assembled worlds, let him cast aside his false profession, and confess his sin before it is too late. Believers, on the other hand, may think of an all-knowing Savior with comfort. They may remember, when misunderstood and slandered by an evil world, that their Master knows all. He knows that they are true and sincere, however weak and failing. A time is coming when He will confess them before His Father, and bring forth their characters clear and bright as the summer sun at noon-day.
We are taught, finally, in these verses, the true dignity of Christ’s disciples. The world may despise and ridicule the Apostles because they care more for works of love and humility than the pursuits of the world. But the Master bids them remember their commission, and not be ashamed. They are God’s ambassadors, and have no cause to be cast down. "Verily, verily," He declares, "He that receiveth whomsoever I send receiveth Me; and he that receiveth Me receiveth Him that sent Me."
The doctrine here laid down is full of encouragement. It ought to cheer and hearten all who lay themselves out to do good, and specially to do good to the fallen and the poor. Work of this kind gets little praise from men, and they who give themselves up to it are often regarded as miserable enthusiasts, and meet with much opposition. Let them however work on, and take comfort in the words of Christ which we are now considering. To spend and be spent in trying to do good, makes a man far more honorable in the eyes of Jesus than to command armies or amass a fortune. The few who work for God in Christ’s way have no cause to be ashamed. Let them not be cast down if the children of the world laugh and sneer and despise them. A day comes when they will hear the words, "Come ye blessed children of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you." (Matthew 25:34.)
v16.—[Verily, verily, I say unto you, etc.] This well-known mode of expression is doubtless used here to show the great importance of the lessons which our Lord is imposing on the disciples at this point. It is as though He said, "Do not think lightly of what I am teaching you now. It is no trifling matter. Love and humility are weighty things in my service. I solemnly charge you to remember that, as I have often told you, the servant is not greater than his master, but must strictly follow his example. The messenger sent on an errand is not greater than him that sends him, and must carefully do as he is bid. If I, your Master and Head, have done these actions of love and humility, never be ashamed of doing the same, or similar ones. If you are really my disciples and messengers, you must prove it by shrinking from nothing which you have seen Me do."
The Greek word which we render here, "He that is sent," is the same that is elsewhere rendered, "the Apostle." Our translators seem to have translated the word as they have to show more forcibly the connection between "the sender" and "the sent," which, to a reader ignorant of Greek, would not have appeared if the word "apostle" had been used.
v17.—[If ye know...happy...do them.] The object of this verse seems to be the confirmation of the preceding one. "Be not content with knowing these things with your heads. See that you actually practice them. If you really know and understand my meaning, you will find it your happiness to put it in practice." The latent idea seems to be, "Wretched and miserable Christians are ye, if you know these things, and then stop short, and do not practice them."
Let us note the solemn principle which lies beneath the verse. Knowledge without practice is the character of the devil. None knows more truth, and none does more evil than he. Let us not forget that!
v18.—[I speak not of you all.] It is not quite clear what our Lord meant by these words. Some think, as Bishop Hall, that the connection is with the verse before, and that our Lord meant, "When I speak of happiness, knowledge, and practice, I do not speak as if there was no false Apostle among you."
Others think that the sense should be carried forward. "I am not speaking as if you were all equally faithful, and equally sent by Me."
[I know whom I have chosen.] This sentence again admits of being taken in two senses. Some think, as Calvin, Poole, Rollock, and Hutcheson, that it refers to the eternal election and choice of those disciples who were true believers. "I know whom I have really called and chosen to be mine by my Spirit."
Others think, as Zwingle, Musculus, Hall, Whitby, Hengstenberg, and Burgon, that it only refers to the official choice and calling of the twelve when our Lord selected them to be His disciples, and has no reference to the inward call of grace. It would then mean, "I know the real inward character of all those whom I have called to be my professing disciples." It certainly favours this view, that our Lord uses precisely the same expression in John 6:70 : "Have not I chosen you twelve, and one of you is a devil?"
Any one who cares to see the question well discussed, will find it ably examined by Gomarus.
[But that the Scripture...fulfilled.] Our Lord’s meaning seems to be filled up in the following way: "I speak not of you all, as if I thought you all faithful. I know that ye are not all clean and trustworthy, and I know that in this way you will see the words of Scripture fulfilled."
Here, as in many places where the expression occurs, "This was done that the Scripture might be fulfilled," we must not for a moment suppose that "things were done in order that Scripture might be fulfilled," but that "when things were done the Scripture was fulfilled." "I know the characters of all my disciples," our Lord seems to say, "and I know that very soon something will happen by which the Scripture will be fulfilled."
[He that eateth bread, etc.] The forty-first Psalm is here shown to apply to one greater than David, and one worse than Ahitophel. The ninth verse here quoted says, "Mine own familiar friend, which did eat of my bread, hath lifted up his heel against me."
The expression implies the act of one who like a stubborn and vicious horse, suddenly turns round against his master and kicks at him. "This," our Lord says, "is about to be fulfilled in the conduct of Judas Iscariot to Me."
It cannot of course be said that this quotation is positive proof that Judas ate the Lord’s Supper. But it certainly rather increases the probability of it. The words, "eateth bread with Me," used in such close juxtaposition to the institution of the Lord’s Supper, are very remarkable.
The grand lesson, that we must be prepared for much disappointment in friends and companions in this life, is very plain in this passage. The less we expect from man the better.
v19.—[Now I tell you before, &c.] There can be little doubt that this verse applies to the warning of Judas’ approaching apostasy which our Lord had just given. "I tell you of the coming fall of one of your number before it takes place, in order that when it takes place you may not be confounded, but may see fresh reason for believing that I am the promised Messiah."
The expression, "I am He," in the Greek is literally, "I am." Is there any reference to the famous "I AM" hath sent me in Exodus? It comes in close connection with "sending" in the next verse.
v20.—[Verily, verily I say, etc.] Our Lord’s purpose in this verse seems to be to encourage and cheer His faithful disciples. "Be not dismayed" he seems to say, "though one of your number is unfaithful and falls away. Persevere and fear not. Remember the high dignity of your office. I solemnly declare to you that he who receives you or any one else whom I send forth to preach the Gospel, receives Me, because ye are my representatives. Nor is this all. He that receives Me, receives not Me only, but God the Father who sent Me. Ye have no cause therefore to be ashamed of your calling however unworthily some may behave."
Let us note that it is no light matter to reject and despise a faithful minister of Christ. A weak and ignorant servant may carry a message for a royal master, and for his master’s sake, ought not to be lightly esteemed. Contempt for Christ’s ministers, when they are really faithful, is a bad symptom in a church or a nation.
The connection of this verse with the preceding passage is certainly not easy to see, and has puzzled all commentators. Some, as Alford, have thought that our Lord intended to show the wickedness of Judas in giving up such an honourable office as that of the Apostleship. This seems far-fetched.—Some refer it back to the command to imitate our Lord’s humility by washing one another’s feet, and think it is meant to remind them that even they are Christ’s ambassadors. I prefer the view already given, that the words are meant to cheer and comfort the disciples. Though not all were faithful, the true-hearted ones were Christ’s commissioned ambassadors.
Stier says, "The whole circle of the Apostles seemed to be disgraced and broken up by the treachery of Judas, and therefore our Lord confirms the faithful in their election, and that very fitly by repeating an earlier promise."
The subject of the verses before us is a very painful one. They describe the last scene between our Lord Jesus Christ and the false Apostle Judas Iscariot. They contain the last words which passed between them before they parted forever in this world. They never seem to have met again on earth, excepting in the garden when our Lord was taken prisoner. Within a short time both the holy Master and the treacherous servant were dead. They will never meet again in the body till the trumpet sounds, and the dead are raised, and the judgment is set, and the books are opened. What an awful meeting will that be!
Let us mark, firstly, in this passage, what trouble our Lord Jesus went through for the sake of our souls. We are told that shortly after washing the disciples’ feet, He "was troubled in spirit, and said, One of you shall betray Me."
The whole length and breadth and depth of our Master’s troubles during His earthly ministry are far beyond the conception of most people. His death and suffering on the cross were only the heading up and completion of His sorrows. But all throughout His life,—partly from the general unbelief of the Jews,—partly from the special hatred of the Pharisees and Sadducees,—partly from the weakness and infirmity of His few followers,—He must have been in a peculiar degree "a Man of sorrows and acquainted with grief." (Isaiah 53:3.)
But the trouble before us was a singular and exceptional one. It was the bitter sorrow of seeing a chosen Apostle deliberately becoming an apostate, a backslider, and an ungrateful traitor. That it was a foreseen sorrow from the beginning we need not doubt; but sorrow is not less acute because long foreseen. That it was a peculiarly cutting sorrow is very evident. Nothing is found so hard for flesh and blood to bear as ingratitude. Even a poet of our own has said that it is "sharper than a serpent’s tooth to have a thankless child." Absalom’s rebellion seems to have been David’s heaviest trouble, and Judas Iscariot’s treachery seems to have been one of the heaviest trials of the Son of David. When He saw it drawing near He was "troubled in spirit."
Passages like these should make us see the amazing love of Christ to sinners. How many cups of sorrow He drained to the dregs in working out our salvation, beside the mighty cup of bearing our sins. They show us how little reason we have for complaining when friends fail us, and men disappoint us. If we share our Master’s lot we have no cause to be surprised. Above all, they show us the perfect suitableness of Christ to be our Savior. He can sympathize with us. He has suffered Himself, and can feel for those who are ill-used and forsaken.
Let us mark, secondly, in these verses, the power and malignity of our great enemy the devil. We are told in the beginning of the chapter that he "put it into the heart" of Judas to betray our Lord. We are told here that he "entered into" him. First he suggests: then he commands. First he knocks at the door and asks permission to come in: then, once admitted, he takes complete possession, and rules the whole inward man like a tyrant.
Let us take heed that we are not "ignorant of Satan’s devices." He is still going to and fro in the earth, seeking whom he may devour. He is about our path, and about our bed, and spies out all our ways. Our only safety lies in resisting him at the first, and not listening to his first advances. For this we are all responsible. Strong as he is, he has no power to do us harm, if we cry to the stronger One in heaven, and use the means which He has appointed. It is a standing principle of Christianity, and will ever be found true. "Resist the devil, and he will flee from you." (James 4:7.)
Once let a man begin tampering with the devil, and he never knows how far he may fall. Trifling with the first thoughts of sin,—making light of evil ideas when first offered to our hearts,—allowing Satan to talk to us, and flatter us, and put bad notions into our hearts,—all this may seem a small matter to many. It is precisely at this point that the road to ruin often begins. He that allows Satan to sow wicked thoughts will soon find within his heart a crop of wicked habits. Happy is he who really believes that there is a devil, and believing, watches and prays daily that he may be kept from his temptations.
Let us mark, lastly, in these verses, the extreme hardness which comes over the heart of a backsliding professor of religion. This is a thing which is most painfully brought out in the case of Judas Iscariot. One might have thought that the sight of our Lord’s trouble, and the solemn warning, "One of you shall betray Me," would have stirred the conscience of this unhappy man. But it did not do so. One might have thought that the solemn words, "that thou doest, do quickly," would have arrested him, and made him ashamed of his intended sin. But nothing seems to have moved him. Like one whose conscience was dead, buried, and gone, he rises and goes out to do his wicked work, and parts with his Lord forever.
The extent to which we may harden ourselves by resisting light and knowledge is one of the most fearful facts in our nature. We may become past feeling, like those whose limbs are mortified before they die. We may lose entirely all sense of fear, or shame, or remorse, and have a heart as hard as the nether millstone, blind to every warning, and deaf to every appeal. It is a sore disease, but one which unhappily is not uncommon among professing Christians. None seem so liable to it as those who, having great light and privilege, deliberately turn their backs on Christ, and return to the world. Nothing seems likely to touch such people, but the voice of the archangel and the trump of God.
Let us watch jealously over our hearts, and beware of giving way to the beginnings of sin. Happy is he who feareth always, and walks humbly with his God. The strongest Christian is the one who feels his weakness most, and cries most frequently, "Hold Thou me up, and I shall be safe." (Psalms 119:117; Proverbs 28:14.)
v21.—[When Jesus had thus said.] This would be more literally rendered, "had said these things," referring to all He had just been saying.
There seems to be a kind of break or pause in the narrative here. This is the point in John’s narrative where the institution of the Lord’s Supper seems to come in. At any rate there seems no point, comparing his account of this evening with that of Matthew, Mark, and Luke, where it can be so well fitted in. This is the view of Jansenius, Lampe, and Burgon.
[He was troubled in spirit.] This expression applied to our Lord is peculiar to John. We find it only in his Gospel, here and at John 11:33 and John 12:27. Here it seems to mean principally the pain and sorrow which our Lord experienced, on seeing one of his own chosen Apostles about to betray him. In addition to this, it probably includes that peculiar agony and distress of soul which our Lord was subject to under the presence of a world’s sin laid upon Him, and which we see intensified in the garden of Gethsemane.
Let it be noted, that of all the Gospel writers John is the one who dwells most fully on the Divine nature of our Lord, and also is the one who describes most fully the reality of His human affections.
Observe that to be troubled and disturbed in mind is not in itself sinful. Brentius remarks, after Augustine, how foolish were the Stoic philosophers, who taught that a wise man is never disturbed in mind.
Musculus thinks that our Lord’s distress and sorrow at the sight of the wickedness of Judas had much to do with this "trouble of spirit." Nothing so sad as the sight of a hardened, incorrigible backslider.
[And testified, and said.] The frequency with which John used the word "testified" is very remarkable. It occurs thirty-three times in his Gospel, and only three times in all the other three Gospels. Why our Lord is said to "testify" in this place is hard to see. We must suppose that it means He made an open, solemn declaration in a very impressive manner, like a witness bearing testimony to some great and unexpected fact.
[Verily...I say...one of you...betray me.] The solemn "Amen, amen," here, as elsewhere, was calculated to arrest the attention of the disciples to the declaration our Lord was going to make. "One out of you (i.e., out of your number) shall betray Me. My last and crowning trial draws near. I am about to bear a world’s sins, in my own body on the tree; and painful as it is to say, the first step in the history of my passion shall be my betrayal by one of yourselves."
Let us note our Lord’s thorough foreknowledge of all the details of His sufferings, as well as of the great fact that He was about to be killed.
v22.—[Then the disciples looked...another.] The first effect of our Lord’s declaration seems to have been silence. Like men stunned and amazed, the disciples looked at one another in astonishment. The thing announced was the last thing they expected to hear.
[Doubting of whom he spake.] The word "doubting" hardly conveys the full force of the Greek here. It is rather, as 2 Corinthians 4:8, "perplexed," "puzzled."
Let us note that neither here nor afterwards does any suspicion appear to have fallen on Judas. For anything we can see he looked as good as Peter, James, and John, and as unlikely to betray his Master. The length to which hypocrisy can go is very awful.
v23.—[Now...leaning...Jesus’ bosom.] To understand this we must remember the customs of the East, in the time of our Lord, about the position and attitude of the guests at a meal. They did not sit, but reclined. The famous picture of the Last Supper, by Leonardo Da Vinci, gives a totally inaccurate idea of the scene.
[One...disciples...Jesus loved.] There can be no doubt this was John, the writer of this Gospel. It is the first time he speaks of himself in this way, and the expression occurs afterwards four times, John 19:26, John 20:2, John 21:7, John 21:20.
The Greek word rendered "loved" deserves notice. It signifies the higher, nobler, and more refined kind of love. There are two words in the Greek language translated "love" in the New Testament.
Let it be noted that the general special love with which our Lord loved all His disciples did not prevent His having a particular love for one individual. Why he specially loved John we are not told. Gifts certainly do not appear so much in John as grace. But it is worth noticing that love seems more the characteristic of John than of any disciple, and that in this he showed more of the mind of Christ. It is quite clear that special friendship for one individual is quite consistent with love for all.
It is noteworthy that of all the writers of the New Testament, none goes so deep and reveals so much of the hidden things of God as he who lay in the bosom of Christ.
v24.—[Simon Peter therefore beckoned, etc.] The characteristic forwardness and zeal of Peter come out strikingly in this verse. None seem so excited by our Lord’s announcement as he is. None is so anxious to know of whom our Lord can be speaking. He cannot wait silently like the others. He makes a sign to John to ask privately who it can be. A fisherman by early training, like John, he was probably intimate with him, and could make himself understood by signs.
Let us note that the whole transaction seems to show that Peter did not sit next [to] our Lord in the post of honour and favour. That place was given to John.
Rollock here observes, that so far from Peter having any primacy among the Apostles, he here uses the intercession of John!
v25.—[He then lying on Jesus’ breast, etc.] The Greek words here would be more literally rendered, "He having fallen upon." It is so translated in eleven out of twelve other places where it occurs in the New Testament. The idea is evidently of one moving and leaning towards another, so as to get closer to him and whisper a question, so as not to be heard or observed. That this is what John did is evident. It is plain that he did not say out aloud, "Lord, who is it?"
v26.—[Jesus answered...He...sop...dipped it.] The action by which our Lord told John He would indicate the traitor to him, was probably so common at an Eastern banquet, that no one at the table would remark anything about it. That it was a common way of eating is shown by Ruth 2:14, "Dip thy morsel in the vinegar." The word "sop," the marginal reading tells us, might be translated "morsel." To give a morsel, as our Lord did, was probably a mark of favour or compliment.
That our Lord’s answer was whispered, is evident. No one seems to have noticed it, except John.
Hengstenberg observes, that by this act of kindness and attention Jesus "would touch the heart of Judas once more, if haply he might be susceptible of better emotions."
[And when...dipped...gave...Judas...Simon.] The word "gave" is literally "gives," in the present tense, showing the immediate action which followed our Lord’s reply to John’s question.
Here, as elsewhere, it is noteworthy that John specially calls Judas "the son of Simon," in order to make it quite clear what Judas it was who did this foul deed.
Bengel remarks, "How very near to Jesus was Judas on this occasion! But in a short time after, by what a wide gulf did glory separate Jesus from Judas, and destruction separate Judas from Jesus."
v27.—[And after the sop...Satan entered...him.] Of course this does not mean that now for the first time Satan entered, but that from this moment Satan got full and entire possession of the heart of Judas. Up to this time he was in it, but now he possessed it.
The word "then" is emphatically given in the Greek, but omitted by our translators. It should be, "After the supper, then Satan entered into him."
Let us note the reality, personality, and awful power of our great spiritual enemy the devil. There are degrees in his power and dominion over us. If his first temptations are not resisted, he may in the end gain full and entire possession of every part of our soul, and lead us captive to be his slaves. This seems the history of Judas.
Musculus observes that even at the first communion Satan was present, and busy in a heart.
[Then said Jesus...that...doest...do quickly.] The full meaning and purport of this solemn saying it is not easy to define positively. It is evidently a very elliptical saying, and we can only conjecture about it.
Of course we cannot suppose that our Lord desired to hasten on an act of wickedness, nor yet can we suppose for a moment that there was any impatience in our Lord, or unwillingness to await the hour of His sufferings.—But we must remember that our Lord foreknew perfectly all that was before Him in the next twenty-four hours. Does He not then speak to Judas as to one of the instruments in the great work which was about to be accomplished? Does He not seem to say, "If thou must indeed do this wicked act—and I know now that the prince of this world has got full possession of thy heart,—go on and do it. There need be no delay. I am ready to suffer and to die. Do thy part, and I will do mine. The Sacrifice is ready to be slain. Do thy part in the transaction, and let there be no unnecessary waste of time"?
Chrysostom says, ’’This is not the expression of one commanding, nor advising, but of one reproaching, and showing him that He desired to correct him; but that since he was incorrigible, He let him go."
Augustine says, "This was a word rather of glad readiness than of anger."
Calvin says, ’’Hitherto Jesus tried by various methods to bring Judas back, but to no purpose. Now He addresses him as a desperate man: ’Go to destruction, since you have resolved to go to destruction.’ In doing so He performs the office of a Judge who condemns to death not those whom He drives of His own accord to ruin, but those who have already ruined themselves by their own fault."
Cyril starts the odd idea that our Lord addresses these words to Satan rather than Judas, and as it were challenges him to do his worst!
Gerhard sees a likeness in the expression, to God’s words to Balaam, when He says, "Rise up and go." (Numbers 22:20.) They did not signify approbation, but only a permission. Yet God’s anger was kindled when Balaam went with Balak’s ambassadors.
Musculus observes the use of the present tense here. It is not "What thou art going to do," but "What thou art doing now." Even at the Lord’s table wickedness was going on in Judas’ heart.
Lightfoot says, "I take this expression for a tacit, severe threat, pronounced not without scorn and indignation: ’I know well what thou art contriving against Me. What thou doest, do quickly, else thy own death may prevent thee; for thou hast but a very short time to live. Thy own end draws on apace.’"
Whitby compares it to Ezekiel 20:39; "Go ye, serve every one his idols."
Some, as Hengstenberg, would render the Greek word for quickly "more quickly," as if our Lord wished him to hasten his work. But there seems no necessity for this.
After all it is noteworthy that the disciples did not know what the saying meant; and even John, though writing forty or fifty years afterwards, by inspiration of God, was not directed to explain it, though he does explain our Lord’s sayings in other places. We may therefore safely leave the meaning somewhat uncertain.
That our Lord spoke these mysterious words aloud and openly, so that all the company heard, is quite evident from the context. John’s question was a whisper; His reply was another whisper, and neither was remarked or heard by others. But the address to Judas was heard by all.
v28.—[Now no man at the table, etc.] This verse would be more literally rendered, "Now this thing no one knew, of them that were sitting at table, for what purpose He said it to him." The sentence confirms the statement above made, that both John’s question and our Lord’s answer were spoken in a whisper or undertone, and not noticed by any one. This sudden address of our Lord to Judas would therefore take the disciples by surprise.
v29.—[For some of them thought, etc.] This whole verse is interesting, and throws light on some curious points.
The statement that "Judas had the bag," shows the position he occupied among the Apostles. He was so far from being suspected, that he had the charge of the common store of money. Bullinger even thinks that he must have been a man remarkable for wisdom, prudence, economy, and faithfulness.
The supposition of some, that Jesus told Judas to "buy the things needed against the feast," shows clearly that our Lord did not work miracles in order to procure the necessaries required by Himself and His disciples. Christians must buy and sell like other people, and must manage their money affairs with prudence and economy. It also shows how little the disciples realized that their Master’s death was close at hand.
The supposition of others, that Jesus told Judas to "give something to the poor," shows plainly what was our Lord’s custom in the matter of almsgiving. He sanctified and adorned the practice of caring for the poor by His own example. This passage, and Galatians 2:10, deserve careful consideration. It may be doubted whether the English Poor Law has not tended to shut up English almsgiving far more than is right before God.
Let us mark the snares which attend the possession, fingering, and handling of money. The man who has care of the money in our Lord’s little company of followers, is the very man who makes shipwreck of his soul for ever, through the love of money. "Give me neither poverty nor riches," should be a Christian’s frequent prayer. (Proverbs 30:8.)
Bullinger points out that the possession of money is evidently not in itself sinful and wicked, and argues from the verse that the Romish mendieant friars, and others who made a merit of self-imposed poverty, are under a complete delusion. It is not the having, but the misusing money which is sinful.
v30.—[He then...received....sop...immediately out.] The hasty departure of Judas as soon as our Lord had given him the morsel, and spoken the remarkable words already commented on, may easily be explained. He saw at once that our Lord knew all his plot, and dreaded exposure. His conscience condemned him, and he dared no longer sit in our Lord’s company. He at any rate understood what our Lord meant, if nobody else did. He felt himself detected and discovered, and for very shame got up and went away.
It is curious and noteworthy that John, at all events, must have known Judas to be the traitor, and yet he seems to have said nothing.
It seems very difficult to me to explain this part of the history of this memorable evening, unless we admit that Judas Iscariot received the Lord’s Supper with the other Apostles.—From this point to the seizure of our Lord in the garden, the narrative flows on without break or interruption, and I cannot see any place at which the Lord’s Supper can come in. I therefore hold strongly that Judas was actually a communicant.—The subject is very fully discussed by Gerhard, who takes this view, and confirms it by quotations from Cyprian, Jerome, Augustine, Chrysostom, Cyril of Jerusalem, Theodoret, Euthymius, Lombardus, Aquinas, Ferus, Toletus, Bellarmine, Jansenius, Baronius, Maldonatus, Calvin, Beza, Martyr, Bucer, and Whittaker. After all the expression of Luke 22:21 appears to me unanswerable.
[And it was night.] This emphatic little sentence of course is not inserted without a meaning; but why, we are left to conjecture.
Perhaps it was meant to show us that Judas purposely waited till darkness, to accomplish his deed of darkness. "This is your hour, and the power of darkness." (Luke 22:53.)
Perhaps it was meant to show that Judas slunk off at a time when nobody could see where he went, follow him, or observe his movements.
Perhaps it was meant to show that the time was hastening on, and that our Lord had reason to say, "That thou doest, do quickly."
Perhaps it was only meant to mark the precise time when our Lord delivered the exquisite address of the next three chapters. John loves to mark time and places in his narrative.
One thing, at any rate, is very clear. The expression shows that the first Lord’s Supper was not celebrated by day, but by night. The objections to an evening sacrament commonly made by certain persons, are really so untenable in the face of this passage, that one marvels how men of common sense can make them.
In this passage we find the Lord Jesus at last alone with His eleven faithful disciples. The traitor, Judas Iscariot, had left the room, and gone out to do his wicked deed of darkness. Freed from his painful company, our Lord opens His heart to His little flock more fully than He had ever done before. Speaking to them for the last time before His passion, He begins a discourse which for touching interest surpasses any portion of Scripture.
These verses show us what glory the crucifixion brought both to God the Father and to God the Son. It seems impossible to avoid the conclusion that this was what our Lord had in His mind when He said, "Now is the Son of man glorified, and God is glorified in Him."—It is as though He said, "The time of my crucifixion is at hand. My work on earth is finished. An event is about to take place tomorrow, which, however painful to you who love Me, is in reality most glorifying both to Me and My Father."
This was a dark and mysterious saying, and we may well believe that the eleven did not understand it. And no wonder! In all the agony of the death on the cross, in all the ignominy and humiliation which they saw afar off, or heard of next day, in hanging naked for six hours between two thieves,—in all this there was no appearance of glory! On the contrary, it was an event calculated to fill the minds of the Apostles with shame, disappointment, and dismay. And yet our Lord’s saying was true.
The crucifixion brought glory to the Father. It glorified His wisdom, faithfulness, holiness, and love. It showed Him wise, in providing a plan whereby He could be just, and yet the Justifier of the ungodly.—It showed Him faithful, in keeping His promise, that the seed of the woman should bruise the serpent’s head.—It showed Him holy, in requiring His law’s demands to be satisfied by our great Substitute.—It showed Him loving, in providing such a Mediator, such a Redeemer, and such a Friend for sinful man as His co-eternal Son.
The crucifixion brought glory to the Son. It glorified His compassion, His patience, and His power. It showed Him most compassionate, in dying for us, suffering in our stead, allowing Himself to be counted sin and a curse for us, and buying our redemption with the price of His own blood.—It showed Him most patient, in not dying the common death of most men, but in willingly submitting to such horrors and unknown agonies as no mind can conceive, when with a word he could have summoned His Father’s angels, and been set free.—It showed Him most powerful, in bearing the weight of all a world’s transgressions, and vanquishing Satan and despoiling him of his prey.
Forever let us cling to these thoughts about the crucifixion. Let us remember that painting and sculpture can never tell a tenth part of what took place on the cross. Crucifixes and pictures at best can only show us a human being agonizing in a painful death. But of the length and breadth and depth and height of the work transacted on the cross,—of God’s law honored, man’s sins borne, sin punished in a Substitute, free salvation bought for man,—of all this they can tell nothing. Yet all this lies hid under the crucifixion. No wonder Paul cries, "God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ." (Galatians 6:14.)
These verses show us, secondly, what great importance our Lord Jesus attaches to the grace of brotherly love. Almost as soon as the false Apostle had left the faithful eleven, comes the injunction, "Love one another." Immediately after the sad announcement that He would leave them soon, the commandment is given, "Love one another." It is called a "new" commandment, not because it had never been given before, but because it was to be more honored, to occupy a higher position, to be backed by a higher example than it ever had been before. Above all, it was to be the test of Christianity before the world. "By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another."
Let us take heed that this well-known Christian grace is not merely a notion in our heads, but a practice in our lives. Of all the commands of our Master there is none which is so much talked about and so little obeyed as this. Yet, if we mean anything when we profess to have charity and love toward all men, it ought to be seen in our tempers and our words, our bearing and our doing, our behavior at home and abroad, our conduct in every relation of life. Specially it ought to show itself forth in all our dealing with other Christians. We should regard them as brethren and sisters, and delight to do anything to promote their happiness. We should abhor the idea of envy, malice, and jealousy towards a member of Christ, and regard it as a downright sin. This is what our Lord meant when He told us to love one another.
Christ’s cause in the earth would prosper far more than it does if this simple law was more honored. There is nothing that the world understands and values more than true charity. The very men who cannot comprehend doctrine, and know nothing of theology, can appreciate charity. It arrests their attention, and makes them think. For the world’s sake, if for no other cause, let us follow after charity more and more.
These verses show us, lastly, how much self-ignorance there may be in the heart of a true believer. We see Simon Peter declaring that he was ready to lay down his life for his Master. We see his Master telling him that in that very night he would "deny Him thrice." And we all know how the matter ended. The Master was right, and Peter was wrong.
Let it be a settled principle in our religion, that there is an amount of weakness in all our hearts, of which we have no adequate conception, and that we never know how far we might fall if we were tempted. We fancy sometimes, like Peter, that there are some things we could not possibly do. We look pitifully upon others who fall, and please ourselves in the thought that at any rate we should not have done so. We know nothing at all. The seeds of every sin are latent in our hearts, even when renewed, and they only need occasion, or carelessness and the withdrawal of God’s grace for a season, to put forth an abundant crop. Like Peter, we may think we can do wonders for Christ, and like Peter, we may learn by bitter experience that we have no power and might at all.
The servant of Christ will do wisely to remember these things. "Let him that thinketh he standeth, take heed lest he fall." (1 Corinthians 10:12.) A humble sense of our own innate weakness, a constant dependence on the Strong for strength, a daily prayer to be held up, because we cannot hold up ourselves,—these are the true secrets of safety. The great Apostle of the Gentiles said, "When I am weak, then I am strong." (2 Corinthians 12:10.)
v31.—[Therefore, when...gone out, Jesus said.] The withdrawal of Judas from the company of the disciples, at this point, forms a distinct break in the narrative. At once, from this time, our Lord seems to speak as one relieved by the absence of an uncongenial mind. There is a manifest alteration in the tone of all He says. It seems pitched in a higher key.
Bengel, at this point, interposes an entire interval of a night, and thinks that a new discourse begins here. It seems a needless view, and is very unnatural.
[Now is the Son of Man glorified, etc., etc.] This is a deep saying, and not least so because both the verbs are in the past tense. Literally rendered in each case, the verb should be "has been glorified." This is not an uncommon mode of speech. The glorification is so near, so certain, so complete, that it is spoken of as a thing accomplished, and even past. It was accomplished in purpose, and in a few hours would be accomplished in reality. (So John 17:4.) The meaning of our Lord may probably be paraphrased thus: "Now has the time come that I, the Son of Man, should be glorified, by actually dying as man’s substitute, and shedding my blood for the sins of the world. Now has the time come that God the Father should receive the highest glory by my sacrifice on the cross."
Let it be noted that the Lord regards His own atoning death on the cross as the most glorious part of His work on earth; and that nothing so tends to glorify the Father’s attributes of justice, holiness, mercy, and faithfulness to His promises, as the death of the Son.
Let it be noted that the Lord does not speak of His death as a punishment, or disgrace, or humiliation, but as an event most glorious,—glorifying both to Himself and to the Father. So Christians should learn to "glory in the cross."
If we do not take this view, and adhere to a strictly literal rendering of the verb glorified, as past, as Hengstenberg does, we must suppose it to mean, "Now at last, by my perfect righteousness in life and willingness to suffer in death, I, the Son of man, have received glory, and my Father at the same time has received glory through Me." But the other interpretation, taking the past tense for the present or future, is better. "The sacrifice has begun. The last act of my redeeming work,—specially glorifying myself and my Father,—has actually commenced or is commencing."
Augustine and Ecolampadius hold that the expression, "Now is the Son of Man glorified," has a special reference to the glory which surrounds our Lord when the wicked are all put away from Him, and He is attended only by saints. This peculiar glory was on Him when Judas Iscariot went out, and left Him and His faithful disciples alone.
v32.—[If God be glorified in him, etc.] This verse may be paraphrased as follows: "If God the Father be specially glorified in all His attributes by my death, He shall proceed at once to place special glory on Me, for my personal work, and shall do it without delay, by raising Me from the dead, and placing Me at His right hand." It is like the famous passage in Philippians: "Wherefore God also hath highly exalted Him." It is the same idea that we have in the seventeenth chapter more fully: "I have glorified Thee on the earth;—now, O Father, glorify Thou Me with Thine own self." (Philippians 2:9; John 17:5.)
If the Son, on the one hand, specially glorifies the Father’s attributes of holiness, justice, and mercy, by satisfying all His demands with His own precious blood on the cross, so, on the other hand, the Father specially glorifies the Son, by exalting Him above all Kings, raising Him from the dead, and giving Him a name above every name.
"In Himself" must refer to that special and peculiar glory which, in the counsels of the blessed Trinity, is conferred on the Second Person, on account of His incarnation, cross, and passion.
It is hardly needful to remind Christians that "if" does not imply any doubtfulness, but is rather equivalent to "since," as in Colossians 3:1 : "If ye then be risen with Christ."
If anyone wishes to adhere rigidly to the past tense in the first "glorified" of this verse, it undoubtedly makes excellent meaning. "If God the Father has been glorified on the earth by my life and perfect obedience to His law, He will also glorify Me in my own person, by raising Me from the dead, and placing Me at His own right hand, and that very soon." But I doubt this being the full meaning, for the reasons given in the preceding verse.
The perfect harmony and co-operation of the Persons in the blessed Trinity shine out here. The Son glorifies the Father, and the Father glorifies the Son. The Son shows the world by His death how holy and just is the Father, and how He hates sin. The Father shows the world, by raising and exalting the Son to glory, how He delights in the redemption for sinners which the Son has accomplished.
Chrysostom thinks, that "straightway glorify Him" must refer to the special signs and wonders which appeared from the very time our Lord was on the cross. "So the sun was darkened, the rocks rent, the veil of the temple parted, many bodies of the saints arose, the tomb had its seal, the guards sat by, and while a stone lay on the grave, the body rose."
Musculus remarks, that here you have the great principle asserted which is always true: "Those who glorify God shall be glorified by God."
v33.—[Little children.] This is the only time our Lord ever calls His disciples by this name. It was evidently a term of affection and compassion, like the language of a father speaking to children whom he is about to leave alone as orphans in the world. "My believing followers, whom I love and regard as my children."
Observe that the expression is not used till Judas has gone away. Unbelievers are not to be addressed as Christ’s children.
[Yet a little while I am with you.] This seems to mean, "I am only staying a very little longer with you. The time is short. The hour approaches when we must part. Give me your best attention while I talk to you for the last time before I go."
[Ye shall seek Me.] It is not quite clear what this means. Of course it cannot refer to the time after the resurrection, when the disciples were fully convinced that "the Lord had risen." Much less can it refer to the time after the ascension. I can only suppose it means, "After my death ye shall be perplexed, amazed, and confounded for a little season, wanting Me, seeking Me, wishing for Me, and wondering where I am gone. The very moment the little child is left alone by mother or nurse, it begins to cry after her and want her. So will it be with you."
[And as I said unto the Jews, etc.] This sentence can only mean, "The words that I said to the Jews will soon apply to you also, though in a very different sense. Whither I am going you cannot follow Me. You will follow Me hereafter; but at present there is a gulf between us, and you will not see Me."
Of course the words applied to the Jews meant that Jesus was going to a place where spiritually and morally the Jews were unfit to go, and in their impenitent state could not go. The words applied to the disciples only meant that Jesus was going into a world where they could not follow Him till they died. They were remaining on earth, and He was going to heaven.
Hengstenberg observes, that this is the only place in which Jesus ever spoke to His disciples concerning "the Jews." Elsewhere He uses the expression in speaking to the Samaritan woman (John 4:22) and before Caiaphas and Pilate.
v34.—[A new commandment, etc.] The immense importance of Christian love or charity cannot possibly be shown more strikingly than by the way that it is urged on the disciples in this place. Here is our Lord leaving the world, speaking for the last time, and giving His last charge to His disciples. The very first subject He takes up and presses on them, is the great duty of loving one another, and that with no common love; but after the same patient, tender, unwearied manner that He has loved them. Love must needs be a very rare and important grace to be so spoken of! The want of it must needs be a plain proof that a man is no true disciple of Christ. How vast the extent of Christian love ought to be! The measure and standard of it is the love wherewith Christ loved us. His was a love even to death.
Melancthon points out our Lord’s great desire to promote unity and concord among professing Christians, by His dwelling so much on love before He left the world.
Why did our Lord call love a "new" commandment? This is a rather difficult question, and has called forth great variety of opinions. One thing only is very clear. Jesus did not mean to say that "love" was a grace peculiar to the Gospel, and was nowhere taught in the law of Moses. To say this, is a mark of great ignorance. The point is set at rest by the words in Leviticus 19:18 : "Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself." What then does this word "new" mean?
Some think, as Chrysostom, that our Lord refers to the degree with which Christians should love,—even as He had loved them. This was a new and higher standard than had been yet known. Hitherto, as Cyril says, men were to love others as themselves. Now they were to love them more than themselves.—Some think that our Lord refers to the great duty of Christians to love one another, and cling to one another with a special and peculiar love, over and above the love they had generally to all mankind. This was in a sense a novelty.—Some think that our Lord only meant that He renewed and recreated the great law of love, and raised it to so much higher a position than it had ever held among the Jews, that it might be truly called a "new commandment." The parable of the good Samaritan shows how little the Jews realized the duty of loving their neighbours. He had in view the utter neglect into which the law of love had fallen among Jewish teachers like the Pharisees, and like Isaac digging the earth out of the old well, would give the law a second beginning, as if it were new.
Some, as Maldonatus and Suicer, think that the expression is only a Hebraism, and that "new," "rare," and "excellent" are synonymous. Thus a new name, a new song, new wine. (Revelation 2:17; Psalms 98:1; Matthew 26:29.)
Perhaps there is something in each and all of these views. One thing is very certain: nothing could exalt the value of love so highly as to call it "a new commandment."
Scott observes, that the law of love to others "was now to be explained with new clearness, enforced by new motives and obligations, illustrated by a new example, and obeyed in a new manner."
v35.—[By this shall all men know, etc.] There can be no mistake about these words. Love was to be the grand characteristic, the distinguishing mark of Christ’s disciples.
Let us note that our Lord does not name gifts, or miracles, or intellectual attainments, but love, the simple grace of love, a grace within reach of the poorest, lowliest believer, as the evidence of discipleship. No love, no grace, no regeneration, no true Christianity!
Musculus observes, with withering scorn, how little likeness there is between our Lord’s mark of discipleship, and the dresses, beads, fastings, and self-imposed austerities of the Church of Rome.
Let us note what a heavy condemnation this verse pronounces on sectarianism, bigotry, narrow-mindedness, party-spirit, strife, bitterness, needless controversy between Christian and Christian.
Let us note how far from satisfactory is the state of those who are content with sound doctrinal opinions, and orthodox correct views of the Gospel, while in their daily life they give way to ill temper, ill nature, malice, envy, quarrelling, squabbling, bickering, surliness, passion, snappish language, and crossness of word and manner. Such persons, whether they know it or not, are daily proclaiming that they are not Christ’s disciples. It is nonsense to talk about justification, and regeneration, and election, and conversion, and the uselessness of works, unless people can see in us practical Christian love.
Whitby remarks that in the primitive ages the mutual love of Christians was notorious among heathens. "See how these Christians love one another," was a common saying, according to Tertullian. Even Julian the apostate proposed them to the heathen as a pattern in this respect.
v36.—[Simon Peter...Lord, whither goest Thou?] Here, as elsewhere, the forward, impulsive spirit of Peter prompts him to ask anxiously what our Lord meant by talking of going: "Whither goest Thou?" Can we doubt however that in this question he was the spokesman of all?
How very little the disciples had ever comprehended our Lord’s repeated saying that He must be taken prisoner, crucified, and die, we see in this place. Often as He had told them He must die, they had never realized it, and are startled when He talks of going away. It is marvelous how much religious teaching men may have, and yet not take it in, receive, or believe it, especially when it contradicts preconceived notions.
[Jesus answered him, etc.] Our Lord graciously explains here a part of His meaning. He does not explicitly tell Peter where He is going; but He tells him He is going to a place where Peter cannot follow Him now during his lifetime, but will follow Him after his death, at a future date. It is not unlikely, as Cyril observes, that these words, "Thou shalt follow Me," pointed to the manner of Peter’s death by crucifixion. He was to walk in his Master’s steps, and enter heaven by the same road.
v37.—[Peter said...Lord, why...follow Thee now, etc.] This question shows how little Peter realized what our Lord fully meant, and the nearness of His death on the cross. "Why cannot I follow Thee now? Where is the place Thou art going to on earth, where I am not willing and ready to follow Thee? I love Thee so much, and am so determined to cling to Thee, that I am ready to lay down my life rather than be separate from Thee."
These words were well meant, and Peter never doubted perhaps that he could stand to them. But he did not know his own heart. There was more feeling than principle in his declaration. He did not see all that was in himself.
Let us note the mischief of self-ignorance. Let us pray for humility. Let us beware of over-confidence in our own courage and steadfastness. Pride goeth before a fall.
v38.—[Jesus answered him, Wilt thou, etc.] Our Lord’s meaning appears to be, "Wilt thou really and truly lay down thy life for Me? Thou little knowest thy own weakness and feebleness. I tell thee in the most solemn answer, that this very night, before the cock crow, before sunrise, thou, even thou, wilt deny three times that thou knowest Me. So far from laying down thy life, thou wilt try to save thy life by cowardly denying that thou hast anything to do with Me."
Let us note the wonderful foreknowledge of our Lord. What an unlikely thing it seemed that such a professor should fall so far and so soon. Yet our Lord foresaw it all!
Let us note the wonderful kindness and condescension of Jesus. He knew perfectly well the weakness and feebleness of His chief disciple, and yet never rejected him, and even raised him again after his fall. Christians should be men of very pitiful and tender feelings toward weak brethren. Their inconsistencies may be very great and provoking, but we must never forget our Lord’s dealing with Simon Peter.
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Ryle, J. C. "Commentary on John 13". "J. C. Ryle's Expository Thoughts on the Gospels". https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 25 / Ordinary 30