John 13:1. Now before the feast of the passover, Jesus, knowing that his hour was come that he should pass out of this world unto the Father, haying loved his own which were in the world, loved them to the full. In this verse we have first a chronological notice, and next a description in three particulars of one side of the circumstances of the scene.
The chronological notice, ‘before the feast of the Passover.’ The Passover is that mentioned in John 12:1, and more particularly described in John 11:55 as ‘the Passover of the Jews.’ It is significant that these last words, ‘of the Jews,’ are dropped in the expression before us. Jesus will partake of ‘the Passover,’ but not of ‘the Passover of the Jews;’ of the great national ordinance of Israel, but not of an ordinance the true spirit and meaning of which had perished; and which, as celebrated by ‘the Jews,’ had degenerated into an outward carnal form repulsive to the truly spiritual mind (comp. on John 2:13). The preposition ‘before’ is indeterminate, and is as suitable to an event happening immediately, as to one happening days, before. (2) The circumstances of one side of the scene, three in number. First, the leading person in it, ‘Jesus, knowing that His hour was come,’ etc. Certainly not ‘although He knew,’ as if His consciousness of the glory awaiting Him might have proved an obstacle to His present manifestation of Himself, had it not been overcome by love; but because He knew that He was about to be delivered from the toil and suffering of the world, and to be reunited to the Father in the blessedness of the most intimate communion with Him (comp. on chap. John 1:1). Second, the persons with whom He deals. They were ‘His own;’ and they were ‘in the world,’ amidst its dangers and difficulties and sorrows. Third, the feelings of the heart of Jesus,—love, not the mere love of friendship, but a solemn, deep, divine love. Thus indeed He had always loved ‘His own,’ but His love now gains additional intensity; He loved them ‘to the full.’ The expression does not mean ‘to the end,’ for which another phrase is always used (Hebrews 3:6; Hebrews 3:14; Hebrews 6:11; Revelation 2:26). It is best explained by 1 Thessalonians 2:16, ‘to the uttermost:’ the love of Jesus now reaches its highest point.
It may be well to remind our readers that we shall now ever and again, until at least we reach the dose of chap. 19, meet expressions having a bearing on the great controversy, not yet conclusively laid at rest, as to the day on which the Last Supper was eaten by Jesus and His disciples, as well as to that on which the crucifixion of Jesus took place. Here the first of these two points especially concerns us; and, without going into all the particulars which would be required for a fall discussion of the controversy, we would simply recall attention to the fact that the question is, Did Jesus eat the passover on the usual night, that appointed by the law, viz. the 14th of Nisan, or did He eat it on the evening of the previous day? It will hardly be denied that the expressions here employed point most naturally to the regular, legal night. We have already said that with this view the word ‘before’ in this verse is perfectly consistent.
We enter here upon the fifth of those sections into which we have seen that the Gospel is divided; and the section extends to the close of chap. 17. The scene and the circumstances of the actors in it are altogether different from what we have witnessed in chaps, 5 to 12. There is a transition from the ‘world’ and the ‘Jews,’ its leading representatives, to the circle of the most intimate friends of Jesus, from struggle to quietness and peace, from denunciation of sin to an outpouring of the most tender affection in act, discourse, and prayer. The consequence is that nowhere in the Gospel have we so full a revelation of the Father’s put pose and work, of the Son’s relation to it, of the great New Covenant gift of the Spirit, and of the duties, privileges, and hopes of that Church of Christ which, after He went away, was to take His place, as we find in these chapters. The first scene in the section is the Foot-washing. The subordinate parts are—(1) John 13:1-11; (2) John 13:12-20.
John 13:2. And a supper being begun, the devil having already put it into his heart that Judas Iscariot, Simon’s son, should betray him. It is important to notice the exact parallelism of this verse to the preceding, both in the note of time, and in the circumstances of the scene.
(1) The chronological notice, ‘a supper being begun.’ It was during the course of the supper, not after it was ended, that the events to be spoken of took place. That this ‘supper’ was not the ‘feast’ properly so called appears from the name ‘a supper,’ not ‘the feast,’ from John 13:29, where the ‘feast’ is not yet or only just begun, and from the absence of the article, which could hardly have been wanting had the word ‘supper’ taken up again the ‘feast’ of John 13:1. It was the preliminary meal at the close of which the ‘feast’ was celebrated.
(2) The circumstances of the other side of the scene, three in number. First, the devil, who had ‘already’ plotted the destruction of Jesus, and had fixed on Judas as the instrument. Second, Judas Iscariot, the victim of the devil’s wiles. Third, the feelings of the devil’s heart,—treachery, hatred, at the point of intensity when what had been long determined on shall be fulfilled. The three particulars are in the sharpest contrast with those in John 13:1,—the devil with Jesus, Judas with ‘His own,’ treachery with love. Darkness is over against light, earth over against heaven, the lie over against the truth; and between these Jesus takes His way. What has been said ought to remove the objection felt by many to the translation which we have given of this verse. None will deny that it is the correct translation of the best established Greek text, but it is thought to be impossible to speak of the heart of Satan. The expression, it will be seen, springs from the Evangelist’s mode of thought, as he seeks a contrast to the heart of Jesus (comp. the marginal rendering of Job 1:8; Job 2:3 : ‘Hast thou set thy heart on?’).
John 13:3. Jesus knowing that the Father had given him all things into his hands, and that he came forth from God, and goeth unto God. We have now that state of mind in Jesus which leads to the act about to be described. ‘Knowing’ takes up again the same word in John 13:1, and has the same meaning, ‘because he knows.’ The knowledge is summed up in three particulars—(1) That ‘the Father had given all things into His hands;’ the tense expressing no presentiment of coming power, but an act already past (2) That ‘He came forth from God;’ the words expressing not His Divine original, which would have required another form of expression, but that He had left the presence of God as the ‘Sent’ of God. (3) That ‘He goeth unto God,’ as one who has executed His commission. The three clauses thus refer not to power or glory belonging Jesus as the Son of God: they connect themselves with His work of redeeming love.
John 13:4. He riseth from the supper, and layeth down his garments, and having taken a towel girded himself. How wonderful the act when compared with the circumstances (mentioned in the previous verse) by which it is introduced! In the fullest consciousness of the glory of that work of redeeming love which He had undertaken, He who was in the ‘form of God’ assumed the ‘form,’ and did the work, of ‘a servant,’ a slave,—nay, felt that to do this was glory. What He does, too, is rendered all the more striking by the fact that the remarkable scene described in Luke 22:24,—the strife among the disciples which should be the greatest,—may have just occurred. In contrast with that eager desire among His servants for superior station in the world, the Master ‘riseth,’ ‘layeth down’ His outer garments, and ‘girdeth’ Himself, becomes as ‘he that serveth (Luke 22:27).
John 13:5. Then he poureth water into the bason, and began to wash the disciples’ feet, and to wipe them with the towel wherewith he was girded. It is impossible not to mark the minuteness with which each separate part of the wonderful work of condescension he would describe is here recorded by the Evangelist. According to the usages of the East, rendered necessary at once by the dusty nature of the roads and the imperfect covering afforded by sandals, it was customary for the master of a house, when receiving guests, to provide them with water to wash their feet (Genesis 18:4; Genesis 19:2; 19:21; Luke 7:44). The act of washing would generally be performed by servants. Here Jesus, the Master of the feast, becomes Himself the servant.
John 13:6. He cometh therefore to Simon Peter: he saith unto him, Lord, dost thou wash my feet? If the narrative of the actual foot-washing begins here, and John 13:5 is to be regarded as a general description of what is now related in detail, we must infer from the words before us that our Lord began with Peter. If, on the other hand, the washing begins with John 13:5, we learn now that our Lord only came to Peter in due course, so that whatever place that apostle had it was not the first. The point is of little moment. It is more important to mark the strong emphasis belonging to ‘thou’ and ‘my:’ ‘Lord, dost thou wash my feet?’ There may be hastiness and self-will on Peter’s part, but surely there is also deep reverence for his Lord and a spirit of genuine humility. We must bear in mind that as yet he looks at the matter only with the outward eye, and that he can hardly be expected to think of the deeper spiritual significance which the act possesses.
John 13:7. Jesus answered and said unto him, What I do thou knowest not now; but thou shalt learn hereafter. The Great Teacher now takes in hand the task of instructing the warmhearted but impulsive disciple in the true nature of the act performed by Him, and His reference to the future prepares the way for the revelation to be given. ‘Hereafter’ certainly does not refer either to Pentecost or the eternal world. The remarkable transition in this verse from ‘knowest’ to ‘learn,’ and the fact that the last of these two words is again taken up in John 13:12 (where we translate ‘perceive’), afford ground for the supposition that the ‘hereafter’ spoken of begins with the light there thrown by Jesus Himself upon what He does. Even then, however, it can hardly be confined to that moment. It is in the trying circumstances of the future, in the zealous discharge of the task that shall be his, and in the ripening of Christian experience, that Peter shall ‘learn,’ shall ‘perceive,’ the full meaning of what he at present feels to be so incomprehensible. He will not fully know what it is to have had his own feet washed by Jesus, until he shall have felt the need of constantly turning to Him in faith; and until, in the love ever renewed in the exercise of that faith, he too shall have washed the feet of others.
John 13:8. Peter saith unto him, Thou shalt never wash my feet. Peter is too much amazed to comprehend at once the lesson of the previous words of Jesus. He does not even heed them; and his impulsiveness, checked for a moment, leads him to break over the barrier that has been opposed to it with greater force than before: ‘Thou shalt never wash my feet.’
Jesus answered him, If I wash thee not, thou hast no part with me. Now, our Lord begins to unfold the true spiritual meaning of what He is about to do. We must carefully mark the words,—first, the word ‘wash,’ not ‘cleanse ‘or ‘bathe,’ referring to the whole body, but simply ‘wash,’ referring to the act which Jesus has immediately in hand,—the washing of the feet alone; secondly, ‘with me,’ not ‘in me,’ referring, not to the entire dependence of the believer upon his Lord and his completeness in Him, but to his share along with Him in a work of self-sacrificing love, triumphant over the world and crowned with glory. If we keep these two points in view, it will be at once seen that the words of Jesus before us have little reference to any mere spirit of self-will, for which Peter must substitute the childlike disposition that alone can enter into the kingdom of heaven, and also that they relate as little to our first cleansing from sin in the atoning blood of Christ. They refer to something different from either of these two great truths, and express, what we shall have to explain more fully (on John 13:20), that unless Peter enters into the spirit of that self-sacrificing work of love which Jesus performs, makes that spirit his own spirit, sees the beauty and owns the glory of the Master’s becoming the servant for His people’s sake (comp. Matthew 20:28; Luke 22:24-27), and becomes in like manner ready to sacrifice himself if he may thereby help the humblest member of the flock of Christ, then he is going his own way, not the way of Jesus; he is choosing his own portion, not the portion of his Lord; he must be content to separate from One whom he loved with all his heart, and to have no more a part with Him either in His sufferings or His reward. It is this thought, even though it may be as yet imperfectly apprehended by the apostle, that leads to the sudden revulsion of feeling in the following verse.
John 13:9. Simon Peter saith unto Him, Lord, not my feet only, but also my hands and my head.—Peter sees that in whatever way the result maybe produced, suffering Jesus to wash his feet will bring him nearer to his Master, will make him to be more ‘with Him.’ The thought of the hands and the head as the uncovered parts of the body naturally occurs to him; and his reasoning is that, if the washing of one part will give him a deeper interest in the Master whom he loved, much more will this be effected by the washing of more parts than one. To everything he will submit, so that it bring him nearer to Jesus and His reward.
John 13:10. Jesus saith to him, He that is bathed needeth not save to wash his feet, but is clean every whit: and ye are clean, but not all. The ground of the figurative language hardly needs explanation: he who has just been cleansed in the bath has only further to wash his feet as he proceeds from the bath to the banquet in order that he may sit down there wholly clean. Peter’s words had shown that he did not fully understand he application of the figure, and that he did not see that the washing of more than the feet, which had alone been in a position to contract defilement, implied that the first cleansing had not been so thorough as it really was. It was necessary, therefore, in furtherance of his training at this time, to remind him that in faith and love he had already been made completely one with Jesus, and that all now required was not an entire renewal of that first cleansing, as if men were to be born a third as well as a second time, but a preserving of it in its completeness. This was to be effected by suffering Jesus now to cleanse away any stain that could be imparted by the work of the world, but no more. A right perception of the greatness of what Christ did for us when He first united us to Himself, is as necessary to a true following of His example of love and self-denial, as is a perception of the fact that, at every step of our progress, in every part of our continued work, we need to turn to Him for the spiritualising of our earthly thoughts, the elevation of our earthly aims, and the pardon of our shortcomings and sins. Peter and the apostles ought not to forget this. They had all been truly united to Jesus except one; and there is sadness in the way in which the words are added, ‘but not all.’
John 13:11. For he knew him that was betraying him: therefore said he, Ye are not all clean. What a contrast to the eleven do these words present: they full of faith and love, ‘clean;’ Judas with his heart full of evil passions, at that very moment his treachery not a thing of the future, but of the present. And yet more! Jesus knew this. The eye that sees what is in man, saw what was in the heart of the traitor while he yet washed his feet. It may be asked, What is the import of the foot-washing in such a case? We can only answer, It is nothing but an outward rite. The complete bath must have been accepted, before the subsequent washing of the feet can bring its blessing to us, or be other than a carnal form.
John 13:12. When therefore he had washed their feet, and had taken his garments, and had sat down again, he said unto them, Perceive ye what I have done to you? Again three particulars introduce the words of Jesus: and the frequent recurrence of this structure throughout these verses harmonizes well with the touching solemnity of the whole scene. Having washed the feet of the disciples, resumed His garments, and again taken His place at the table, Jesus proceeds to enforce the lesson of what He had done. He first awakens their attention by His question, and then proceeds.
John 13:13. Ye call me Master and Lord: and ye my well; for so I am. It was in the full consciousness of the dignity belonging to Him that (John 13:3) Jesus had entered upon this scene. It is in a similar consciousness that He now urges its lesson. The word used for ‘Master’ is John’s Greek rendering for the Hebrew ‘Rabbi’ (John 1:29, John 20:16). No special meaning therefore, such as ‘Teacher,’ is to be given it.
John 13:14. If I therefore, the Lord and the Master, have washed your feet, ye also ought to wash one another’s feet. The order of the titles which Jesus assumes to Himself is changed in this as compared with the preceding verse. The object appears to be to give prominence to that title of ‘Lord’ in the thought of which lay the strength of the obligation resting upon His disciples to do as He had done. They, then, were to wash one another’s feet when He would no longer be beside them to do so: they could not bathe one another, make one another ‘clean;’ but this they could do in self-denying love and fellowship,—they could restore one another’s failing faith and love by ever-renewed manifestations of that love to one another which, springing from the love of Jesus, leads back to Him.
John 13:15. For I gave you an example, that ye also should do even as I did to you. What the giver of a commission does may well be done by the servant to whom the commission is given. It is important to observe that the act spoken of is only that of ‘washing one another’s feet.’
John 13:16. Verily, verily, I say unto you, No servant is greater than his lord; neither one that is sent greater than he that sent him. How often does Jesus speak of Himself in this gospel as the ‘Sent’ of God! It is impossible to dissociate this usage from the words here, so that the same word is applied to the disciple in reference to his Lord as is applied to the Lord Himself in reference to God (comp. John 17:18). The disciples are the ‘sent,’ taking the place of Him who was first ‘sent’ but is now gone to the Father.
John 13:17. If ye know these things, happy are ye if ye do them. Simple as might appear the duty to which the disciples were called, Jesus knew that it was a hard and trying task. He connects therefore a promise of blessedness with the actual performance of the duty.
John 13:18. I speak not of you ail. At this point Jesus again turns to the thought of Judas, yet not with the view of simply repeating what He had said at John 13:10. It is contemplation of the blessedness first spoken of that fills His mind, and pity for that disciple who was not only to separate himself from the others, but, in doing so, to lose their blessedness.
I know whom I chose. The choosing refers to election to the apostleship, not to eternal life (comp. John 6:70; John 6:16; John 6:19). The precise object of the statement is more difficult to determine. The most probable explanation seems to be that our Lord would anticipate what could not fail to be afterwards a source of perplexity to the disciples. It will seem strange to them that a traitor should have been chosen to be one of their number; and they may even be tempted to think that, had Jesus known what He was doing, no such choice would have been made. Therefore, with much emphasis on the ‘I,’ he says, ‘I know whom I chose. You may imagine that I have been deceived, but it is not so; I knew well what was to happen, and that it was a part of the purposes of God,’—but, that the scripture may be fulfilled, He that eateth my bread lifted up his heel against me. The words are from Psalms 41:9. As originally used they refer to the suffering righteous man, but the Psalmist is led to employ words which have their full meaning only as applied to the ideal righteous one, that is, to Jesus; and Jesus now speaks them directly in His own person. As found here they are not a reproduction of the Septuagint, but are an original translation of the Hebrew. The figure may be taken from the tripping up of a runner in a race, or from the thought of kicking. The latter allusion is the more probable. The peculiar offensiveness of the conduct spoken of lies in the fact that the person guilty of it has ‘eaten the bread’ of him whom he injures, and has thus violated those laws of hospitality and friendship than which the East knew none more sacred.
John 13:19. From henceforth I tell you before it come to pass, that when it is come to pass, ye may believe that I am. These words can hardly mean that Jesus would henceforward tell them events that were to happen in order that, when the events did happen, they might see that He had been a true prophet and might have their faith confirmed. He is here dealing with them as with persons who are to be sent forth to do His work in the world; and it is as if He would say, ‘Because the moment of your work is come I put you in possession of what is to happen, I make you anticipate and foresee it, I give you the same knowledge of it that I have myself, in order that, when suffering comes, you may not only not lose faith by the shock, but may be strengthened in your progress towards a deeper and truer faith. My ever present knowledge corresponds to my ever present Divine existence, to the fact that I am (comp. on John 8:24). Your knowledge shall be to you a proof that it is indeed One who can say “I am” that is in you.’ It is not so much of faith in Him as the Messiah that Jesus speaks: it is of faith in the Divine in Him, bestowed through Him upon themselves.
John 13:20. Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that receiveth whomsoever I send receiveth me; and he that receiveth me receiveth him that sent me. The difficulty of tracing the connection of these words with the rest of our Lord’s discourse at this time has been felt by all commentators. Let us observe that they are introduced by ‘Verily, verily,’ and that we are thus taken back to John 13:16 with the expectation that the thought here will closely correspond, although in a deepened form, to the thought there. There, however, the distinct reference had been to that work of lowly love which ‘in the form of a servant’ Jesus had just performed for His disciples. What, therefore, He had done for them, they are now to do for one another, and for the world. Laying aside all thought of earthly preeminence, seeking only the glory of God and not their own, they are to go out, like their Master, ‘in the form of a servant,’ and in a spirit of self-sacrificing love like His to be His representatives to men. As they do so, they will experience the same reception as He had done. Some will ‘receive’ them,—that is, will not merely view with favour their general work, but will accept them when they come, and because they come, to them in the same spirit as that which Jesus had displayed in the act which He had just performed towards them. Others, it is implied, will reject them; will accept indeed the outward service, the external rite; but, yielding to the evil suggestions of Satan, and so proving themselves his children instead of the children of God, will cast away from them the precious truth of which the service and the rite were only the symbolical expression. Men will thus divide themselves into two classes which will take up towards the apostles doing the work of Jesus the same position as that which the eleven on the one hand, and Judas on the other, had now taken up towards Jesus Himself. It is important to keep this thought of Judas as well as of the others prominently in view in the verses before us. Just as John 13:1; John 13:3 constitute a parallel to John 13:19, and there is One behind Jesus who is received when Jesus is received (John 13:20), so John 13:2 constitutes a parallel to the implied thought of Judas, and there is one behind the traitor whose children the rejectors of Jesus, as He acts in the apostles, show themselves to be. Nor is this all; for, while the thought of which we speak binds the whole passage, John 13:1-20, into one, it also explains the apparently sudden transition to the powerful emotions stirred in the Redeemer’s breast by the thought of Judas at John 13:21, as well as the emphatic ‘Now’ of John 13:31,—now, when the last who would resist that true glory which consists in self-sacrificing love has been expelled. The last clause of John 13:20 is explained by chap. John 1:12.
It is desirable to pause here for a moment, and to ask as to the real meaning of the wonderful scene, the details of which we have been considering. It is not a mere lesson of humility. The lesson is far deeper. It is the completing act of that great work of self-sacrificing love in which Jesus was engaged. He even includes in the thought of it the thought of the crucifixion now so near; and, as then He shall depart unto the Father, He affords now the most touching, the culminating, illustration of the fact that ‘the Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister.’ That is the very essence of His glory, a glory so different from that of the world, so different even from that upon which the thoughts of His disciples were yet fixed. Therefore He humbles Himself anew. Laying aside His glory He takes up His cross, not that He may justify disciples who are already His, who are ‘clean,’ but that He may bring them ever and again to Himself the source of all true spiritual nourishment, and may wash away any fresh stains of defilement which they have contracted in their work in the world.
That is His part, What is ours? It springs from the consideration that, exalted in glory, He really labours and suffers no more. His disciples take His place and carry on His work, constantly leading one another back to Him, and washing away those weaknesses of faith, those defects of love, which their work in the world brings with it. Thus they ‘fill up what is behind of the sufferings of Christ for His body’s sake, which is the Church’ (Colossians 1:24); and it is thus only that, suffering with Him, they shall at last be glorified ‘with Him’ (John 13:8) in His glory.
John 13:21. When Jesus had thus said, he was troubled in spirit, and bare witness, and said, Verily, verily, etc. All the expressions of the verse indicate how deeply the spirit of Jesus was moved, the ‘troubled in spirit,’ the ‘bare witness,’ the ‘Verily, verily.’ Compassion, however, is not the leading feature of His mind at present. It is rather horror and indignation at the thought that over against His glorious mission of love to the world there should now appear in their utmost intensity the worldliness, the selfishness, and the sin that would fain defeat it all. Therefore He was ‘troubled’ (comp. on John 11:33. John 12:27), and troubled ‘in spirit,’ in the highest region of the spiritual life. Therefore He ‘bare witness:’ not simply were His words plain, as compared with His previously obscure intimations of the approaching treachery (John 13:10; John 13:18), but He was now delivering a part of that mystery of the will of His Father which it was His mission to proclaim, and which announced the thickness of satanic darkness no less than the brightness of heavenly light. And therefore also He said ‘Verily, verily;’ so solemn, so awful, so full of deep and far-reaching meaning, was the fact about to be realised. The same three-fold statement shows the greatness of the impression made upon the mind of the Evangelist.
I say unto you, That one of you shall betray me; sad, painful words, but as yet not understood by the disciples.
The leading idea of this section is the expulsion of Judas from the company of the disciples. We have already seen that before the chapter begins the world is shut out, and Jesus is to be alone with ‘His own.’ But Judas is of the world, the last remnant of it left in the apostolic company, the last particle, as it were, of the leaven that had to be removed with such scrupulous care from every Jewish house before the feast of the Passover. Before the true Christian Passover then can be celebrated, Judas must withdraw. Then only will the house be clean, the air be pure; and with no jarring element in their midst, Jesus will be able to pour forth all the fulness of His love towards those who are bound up with Him in the closest and most sacred fellowship.
John 13:22. The disciples looked one on another, in perplexity of whom he spake. From the parallel passages of the earlier Gospels (Matthew 26:22, etc.; Mark 14:19; Luke 22:23) we learn that they expressed their perplexity to one another in words. To John, hastening always to the main figure of the scene, it is enough to speak of their looks.
John 13:23. There was reclining at meat in Jesus’ bosom one of his disciples. It had been originally enjoined that the Passover should be eaten standing (Exodus 12:11), but after the return from the captivity the custom had been changed; the guests now reclined upon couches. The reason for the original injunction no longer existing, it had been permitted to fall aside; and our Lord recognised the propriety of the change. At this moment indeed the feast, properly so called, had not yet begun; but there is no reason to doubt that the altitude of reclining would not be changed when it did so.
Whom Jesus loved. The universal tradition of the Church, as well as the information afforded by the gospel itself when various intimations contained in it are put together, leave no doubt that this disciple was John himself.
John 13:24. Simon Peter therefore beckoneth to this one, and saith unto him, Say who it is of whom he speaketh. Peter, as usual the first to act, is the spokesman of the rest. Nothing is said to explain why either he or any other of the apostolic band should have supposed that John would know what they themselves were ignorant of. It may have arisen simply from their having witnessed many tokens of love and confidence on the part of Jesus towards him.
John 13:25. He leaning back thus on Jesus’ breast, saith unto him, Lord, who is it? Nothing can be more graphic than the account here given of the movement made by John. He had been reclining on the bosom of Jesus: he now throws back his head upon His breast, looking up into His face that he may ask his question. It is worthy of notice that this little act is fixed on by the beloved disciple in John 21:20, to characterize himself: not ‘which also leaned,’ but ‘which also leaned back on his breast’ at the supper. Perhaps, too, we may justly infer that the question was neither asked nor answered in undertones, but that all could hear.
John 13:26. Jesus therefore answereth, He it is for whom I shall dip the sop, and shall give it to him. The use of the definite article with the word ‘sop’ can leave no doubt upon our minds that it is the well-known sop of the Paschal Supper. The sauce in which it was dipped does not belong to the original institution, but had been introduced before the days of Christ, and was partaken of before the lamb was placed upon the table. At this point then we are at the beginning of the ‘feast.’ Two important questions meet us, In what spirit is the sop offered? Does Judas partake of it?
As to the first of these, it was certainly more than a sign to point out Judas as the traitor. This particular sign is chosen in order even at the last moment to touch his heart. For this purpose Jesus departs from the ordinary custom at the feast at which each guest dipped his own bread in the bitter sauce, and offers Judas a piece which He Himself had dipped. It was as if He would say, ‘Thou art at my table, thou art my guest, I would fain have thee to be my friend; cans thou violate every rule of love and friendship?’ The giving of the sop then is more than an index to the traitor. It is a final appeal to Judas which may yet soften his heart, but which, if it do not soften him, will only make him more hardened than before.
The second question, Does Judas partake of the feast? is not distinctly answered by the Evangelist. We must probably answer in the negative, because—(1) The ‘feast’ was only now beginning. (2) The drift of the passage, and indeed of the whole of this section of the gospel, leads to the conclusion that he did not. This view seems also to find confirmation from the words of 1 John 2:19, which appear to take their form from the memory of the scene before us. Thus looked at, the going out of Judas is the token that he did not belong to the number of the disciples, and that he could not share in that expression of communion with Jesus now to be enjoyed.
When therefore he had dipped the sop, he taketh and giveth it to Judas the son of Simon Iscariot. For the name Simon Iscariot, comp. John 6:71. That the name Iscariot belongs to the father as well as the son, confirms the idea that the meaning is the ‘Man of Kerioth’ (Joshua 15:25).
John 13:27. And after the sop then Satan entered into him. After the sop had been given, Satan took such full possession of the traitor, that he is no longer only Judas, but one possessed by Satan.
Jesus therefore saith unto him, That thou doest, do more quickly. Judas may now be addressed as ‘doing ‘what he was to do. It was too late to expect any change. Mercy, grace, offered to the last, have been to the last rejected. The sin must be committed now. Let him therefore not stay, as in all probability he would have wished to partake of the feast; let him be even more active than he is inclined to be; Jesus not only desires to be alone with His true disciples, but He is eager to take that last step which is now at hand; He is ‘straitened’ until His ‘baptism is accomplished’ (Luke 12:50).
John 13:28. No one of those reclining at meat perceived for what intent he said it unto him. From these words the inference is generally drawn that the conversation between Jesus and John must have been in an undertone; otherwise the disciples would have known the meaning of what had been said. The inference is hardly warranted. Even although they now knew that he was to betray his Master, they might be so ignorant of all the steps he was to take for that end, that they could not attach a correct idea to the words addressed to him. And they did not.
John 13:29. For some thought, because Judas had the bag, that Jesus said unto him, Buy those things that we have need of for the feast; or, that he should give something to the poor. On the ‘bag’ here spoken of, see on John 12:6. The first supposition made, that Judas might have gone out to purchase things needed ‘for the feast,’ is a proof that the feast itself had not begun, or was only beginning. It is important to observe the word ‘feast.’ It is that of John 13:1, and it shows that the disciples expected to partake of the Paschal Supper with Jesus. This expectation the Evangelist would in all probability not have communicated to us as he has done had he not known it to be correct. He knows that Jesus partook of the feast; that what He did not partake of was the ‘Passover of the Jews’ (comp. on John 13:1). The words, too, are much more reconcilable with the idea that the feast was just about to be partaken of, than that it was to be eaten twenty-four hours afterwards. On the latter supposition, the ‘more quickly’ loses all its meaning. On the former it retains its force. The expression here employed supplies therefore a powerful argument for the supposition that the evening on which Jesus and His disciples were thus gathered together was that of the Paschal Supper. It has indeed been urged that, if the Supper took place on the evening of the 14th,—according to sacred calculation, the beginning of the 15th,—such purchases would have been illegal and impossible, the 15th possessing all the sanctity of a Sabbath. This, however, is hardly a fair representation of the case. There are clear indications both in Scripture (Exodus 12:16; Leviticus 23:7; Luke 23:56) and in the Mishna, that a difference was made between these two days in respect of sanctity, the preparation of food, for example, being expressly allowed on the latter of the two. A rabbinical provision, also, for the procuring of the Paschal lamb when the eve of the Passover fell on the Sabbath, is a proof that no difficulty was experienced on the point when the two days did not coincide (Mishna, treatise Sabbath).
The second supposition of the disciples points to the same conclusion. They thought that Judas was to give something to the poor; and that it was to be given ‘more quickly.’ This could hardly be mere general charity to the poor. The time was not very suitable for the exercise of such charity, and there could be no call for its being given at once. We are compelled therefore to think not of charity in general, but of that particular aid which, in conformity with the law (Deuteronomy 16:14), was to be given at the Passover to ‘the stranger, and the fatherless, and the widow,’ to enable them also to rejoice. Such an interpretation of the words of Jesus on the part of the disciples corresponds much better with the supposition that the feast was about at this moment to be celebrated than that it was to be so the following night.
John 13:30. He therefore haying received the sop went immediately out. Again nothing is said of the sop’s being eaten.
And it was night. It is impossible to mistake the symbolic meaning of these words, which thus become important as illustrating the general character of the thought and style of the Evangelist. They illustrate, no doubt, the minute accuracy of the narrative, and the fact that it is that of an eye-witness, upon whose memory the events witnessed by him had made a profound impression. But they certainly do more. In the darkness of the night in which Judas went out the Evangelist sees the symbol of the darkness of his deed of treachery.
John 13:31-32. When therefore he was gone out, Jesus saith, Now is the Son of man glorified, and God is glorified in him; and God shall glorify him in himself, and shall straightway glorify him. In the going out of Judas Jesus sees the disappearance of the last trace of the world from His presence. It is the token to Him, therefore, that the struggle is past, that the victory is won, that the moment of His glorification has arrived. To the eye of sense, indeed, it seems as if at that instant the powers of darkness triumphed. But that was only the outward aspect of the events now to be consummated. We are on the verge of the ‘lifting on high;’ and in what the world thinks shame there really begins the brightest manifestation of the ‘glory both of the Son and of the Father. Hence the emphatic’ Now with which Jesus introduces His words. The ‘glorifying’ spoken of in the first two sentences is not to be distinguished from that of the last two, as if the former were the glory of suffering by which Jesus glorified the Father, the latter that of reward by which the Father glorified Him. It is throughout the same glory that is in view, and that not an outward but an inward glory; although the word ‘glorify’ implies that what had been for a time veiled, obscured, is now made manifest in the brightness which is its true and proper characteristic. The glory spoken of is that of Sonship, the glory belonging to the Son as the absolutely perfect expression of the Father, and especially of that love of the Father which is the essential element of the Father’s being. This expression had been found in the Son, not only throughout the eternity preceding the foundation of the world, but also after He became Son of man; and it is to be particularly observed that it is of the glorifying of the ‘Son of man’ that Jesus speaks in the words before us. His life on earth, not less than His previous life in heaven, had been the manifestation of the Father’s love. But its ‘glory’ had not been seen. The world’s idea of glory was altogether different; it had misunderstood and persecuted, and was about to crucify, Him whose life of lowly and self-denying service in love had been the highest and most glorious expression of the love of God to sinful men. This had been the cloud obscuring the ‘glory.’ But ‘now,’ when the struggle was over,—when, notwithstanding all appearances to the contrary, the ‘lifting on high out of the earth’ (comp. on chap. John 12:32), the resurrection, the ascension, and the bestowal of the Spirit established the triumph of Jesus,—the cloud was rolled away, and the glory always in Him, but hidden for a time, was to shine forth with an effulgence that all, though some unwillingly, should own. In this respect the ‘Son of man’ is ‘now glorified.’ Thus, also, ‘God is glorified in Him;’ because it is seen that even all the humiliation and sufferings of His earthly state, flowing as they did from love, the expression as they were of love, are the manifestation of the love of God. Nor is this all, for ‘God shall glorify Him in Himself;’ that is, shall bring out before the whole universe of being that the lowly, the crucified, Son of man is ‘in Himself,’ one with Him, His Beloved in whom His soul is well pleased (Isaiah 42:1; Matthew 12:18). Finally, God will do this ‘straightway,’ for the moment of death, of resurrection, and of all that followed, is at hand. Can we fail to understand the triumphant ‘Now’ of Jesus at the very instant when Judas was on his way to complete his treachery? But if there be triumph for Himself, what of His disciples?
Judas has now gone out; Jesus is alone with the disciples whom He loved; and the last disturbing element has been removed from the midst of the little company. But the hour is come when the servants must be left without the immediate presence of their Master, and when they are to take that place, amidst the trials of the world, which He was about to leave for the immediate presence of the Father. It is the moment, therefore, for the Redeemer to pour forth all the inmost feelings of His soul on their behalf; and He does this in the discourse extending to the close of chap. 16, and in the intercessory prayer of chap. 17. We shall mistake the object of these chapters, however, if we suppose that they are intended mainly to console: they are still more to instruct and train those by whom the work of Christ in the world is to be carried on. The subordinate parts of the section before us are—(1) chap. John 13:31-35; (2) John 13:36-38; (3) chap. John 14:1-4; (4) John 13:5-7; (5) John 13:8-11; (6) John 13:12-21; (7) John 13:22-24; (8) John 13:25-31.
John 13:33. Little children, yet a little while I am with you. For them there is separation from Him, and the thought of its nearness lends more than ordinary tenderness to the words of Jesus. He calls them ‘little children,’ a term found nowhere in the New Testament, except here and in the First Epistle of John (chap. 1 John 2:1; 1 John 2:12; 1 John 2:28, 1 John 3:7; 1 John 3:18, 1 John 4:4, 1 John 5:21); for the more probable reading of Galatians 4:19 is simply ‘children.’
Ye shall seek me: and even as I said onto the Jews, Whither I go away, ye cannot come; so now I say to you. These words had been spoken to the Jews at chaps. John 7:34, John 8:21. It is remarkable that, formerly addressed to determined enemies, they should now be addressed to beloved disciples. Yet we are probably to seek for no other basis of the common thought than this, that the ‘going away’ of Jesus involved His separation from the community of human life, from friends therefore no less than foes. The desolate state in which the disciples would thus be left, and, not less than this, the greater responsibility that would then rest upon them to carry out the work of Jesus, prepare the way for the words that follow.
John 13:34. A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; even as I loved you that ye also may love one another. The new commandment is love, such love as Jesus had Himself exhibited, and as had been His ‘glory’ (John 13:31); and this love to one another they would need, that in an evil world they might be to one another sources of strength and comfort. It is again the lesson of the foot-washing; though here it appears not so much in the form of general love to all men as of that specific love which can only be exercised towards the members of the body of Christ. By ‘commandment’ is meant not a definite precept, but rather a sphere of life in which the disciples are to walk (chaps. John 10:18, John 12:50); and it is this, rather than the character or quality of the love, that makes the commandment ‘new.’ The whole life of Jesus had been love; the life of His disciples, as that of those in Him, was to be love also. There was to be a transition in them from the outward to the inward, from the letter of an injunction to its felt experience. Hence the first half of the verse is complete in itself; and the second half points out the ground upon which this love was to rest, and the means by which it was to be obtained. It was the very purpose of the love of Jesus that He might form a community all whose members, born again into His love, might love one another,—‘Even as I loved you, that ye also may love one another.’ Out of Him is selfishness; in Him, and in Him alone, we love.
John 13:35. By this shall all men know that ye are disciples of mine, if ye have love one with another. The expression ‘disciples of mine’ is worthy of notice. It seems to show that the meaning is not exhausted by the thought of that language so often quoted in connection with it, ‘Behold how these Christians love one another.’ It directs our thoughts, not to the disciples only, but to Jesus Himself. He was love: in the love of the Christian community, the love of its members ‘with’ one another, it was to be seen not merely what they were, but what He was, and more particularly that He was love. Thus, then, the disciples have their great charge committed to them,—to be in the season now at hand what He had been who had washed their feet.
John 13:36. Simon Peter saith unto him, Lord, whither goest thou away? Jesus answered. Whither I go away, thou canst not follow me now, but thou shalt follow afterwards. Peter has not been able to apprehend aright the truths of which Jesus has been speaking. We need not wonder at it; and, had he understood them fully, there would have been less necessity either for the instructions that follow or for the discipline of his fall. As it is, thinking only of himself and his fellow-disciples, failing to see the greatness of the charge that would be committed to them when Jesus went away, and not yet trained as he will be, he turns to the thought of the separation spoken of in John 13:33, and asks whither his Lord goeth. No direct answer is given to the question. Peter must have known his work and done it before he could have properly comprehended the answer, had it been given; for a disciple’s reward stands in such a relation to his work, that without a knowledge of the latter he can have no true knowledge of the former. Therefore it is that he is told that the time is not come for his following his Lord. He shall follow Him afterwards; follow Him in shame, in humiliation, to the cross, to the life beyond the grave: then shall he know.
John 13:37. Peter saith unto him, Lord, why cannot I follow thee even now? I will lay down my life for thee. Peter sees that in the words,’ Thou canst not follow me now,’ there lies the meaning that he is not yet morally prepared for following Jesus. His self-confidence is hurt by the suggestion; and not in devotion only, but in too high an estimate of his own readiness to meet every trial for the sake of the Master whom he loved, he cries out that he is ready to follow Him ‘even now,’—nay, that he is ready to lay down his life for Him. Such want of self-knowledge must be corrected.
John 13:38. Jesus answereth, Wilt thou lay down thy life for me? Verily, verily, I say unto thee, The cock shall not crow till thou hast denied me thrice. For a similar repetition of Peter’s own words in the answer of Jesus, comp. chap. John 21:17 and the commentary. The words of Jesus fix with solemn emphasis His disciple’s attention on what He Himself had said.
Before we pass on, it may be well to ask at what point in these chapters we are to place the institution of the Supper. The point has been very variously fixed: at the beginning of chap, 13, at the end of chap. 14, at the end of chap, 13, between John 13:30-31, John 13:32-33, in the midst of John 13:34 of the present chapter, but these suppositions are attended with more or less improbability. We have already seen (in John 13:26) that ‘the feast,’ with the institution of which the Supper was most closely connected, was then beginning; but that there is reason to think that Judas did not actually partake of it. If so, the natural inference is that it was completed between John 13:30-31, immediately after the traitor had gone out. The objection to this view, that the words of John 13:31 follow too closely upon John 13:30 to permit us to think that time was occupied between the two verses, is less weighty than at first appears. The words would follow with great appropriateness the giving of the cup which was the ‘new covenant in the blood of Jesus;’ and the word ‘therefore’ of John 13:31 does not necessarily imply that Jesus spoke at that moment, but only that the thoughts awakened by the departure of Judas must have remained in all their freshness when John 13:31 was uttered. This they would do even although the giving of the cup intervened, because that cup expressed in the most solemn form the exclusive intimacy of communion which now existed between Jesus and His disciples, and the existence of which is presupposed in John 13:34-36. If this explanation is not accepted, there seems no valid reason why the institution should not be placed between John 13:35-36. The latter of these need not follow the former at once. The words ‘I go away’ (John 13:33), once uttered, would linger in the minds of those present as the one thought demanding explanation; and This do in remembrance of me’ would deepen it.’
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Schaff, Philip. "Commentary on John 13". "Schaff's Popular Commentary on the New Testament". https://www.studylight.org/
Second Sunday after Epiphany