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Bible Commentaries

F. B. Hole's Old and New Testament Commentary
John 13



Other Authors
Verses 1-38

THIS CHAPTER THEREFORE begins with a description of the spirit in which Jesus gathered His disciples together for the last Passover Supper. The other Gospels have told us all we need to know as to the surrounding circumstances; here we are made aware of the atmosphere of Divine love which graced the occasion. He was in the full knowledge of His approaching death, which is viewed as a departure out of the judged “cosmos” to the Father whilst He leaves behind in the “cosmos” a few who are recognized as “His own.” He had spoken of these in chapter 10 as “His own sheep,” indicating that He would lay down His life for them; now we discover how His love had been set upon them. He loved “unto the end,” which as regards this world was death; but since death itself is but the door into life eternal for them, the love abides to eternity.

The first three verses uncover to our eyes things which otherwise were only known to God. Who could adequately read the love that filled the heart of Christ? Who could discern the hatred and craft of the devil which led him at that moment to inject the fatal thought of treachery into the heart of Judas? And who else was privy to that which filled the mind of Jesus in that sacred hour? We are permitted to know, however. As He faced the death by which He would depart to the Father, nothing was hidden from His eyes. He knew that He had come from God in order that He might carry to perfection both the revelation of God and the redemption of men. He knew that He was going to God in risen life as the firstfruits of a great harvest of blessing, the Head of a new creation. And He knew that though He was going forth to submit Himself to the hands of evil men, the Father had in reality given all things into His hands of perfect administration. Everything lies at His disposal, and the prediction of Isaiah, “The pleasure of the Lord shall prosper in His hand,” shall surely be fulfilled.

In the full consciousness of all this He took the humble place of service in the midst of His gathered disciples. The pleasure of Jehovah is to prosper in the hand of “the Servant of Jehovah.” In the coming day of glory He will cause that pleasure to prosper throughout a wide universe of blessing, but on the eve of His suffering He caused it to prosper by using His hands to wash the disciples’ feet. In this He was the servant of the Lord as much as He will be in the coming day; and both forms of service are alike wonderful. He was seeing God in serving them.

Peter’s impetuous remonstrance was overruled to make plain the significance of all this. The marvellous humility of it was very obvious to him, and it prompted his remonstrance. He was plainly told, however, that he did not know the real meaning of the Lord’s action, but that when the Spirit was come he should know it. We should understand it too. What then was its significance? The words of Jesus, recorded in verse John 13:8, provide us with the key. He spoke of “part with Me,” and if we are to have the happiness of sharing with Him, He must render to us the service symbolized by feet-washing. By our feet we come into contact with the earth, and the dust and defilement which this involves must be removed from us.

The Lord’s words in verse John 13:10 throw further light on the matter. He used two words for wash, the first of which means to wash all over, or bathe. He said, therefore, that he who is bathed needs only to wash his feet, thus alluding very evidently to the twofold washing of the priests—the bathing when they were consecrated (Leviticus 8:6), which was once for all, and the subsequent frequent washings of hands and feet whenever the sanctuary was entered (Exodus 30:19). This once-for-all bathing is ours when we are born again. We are then born of water and the Spirit; and so, after reminding the Corinthians of the evils in which once they had been sunk, Paul could write to them, “But ye are washed,” even though they were still mainly of a carnal mind. So here, the Lord said to the disciples, “Ye are clean,” adding, “but not all”—with Judas in mind. In spite of all his profession no new birth had ever reached Judas.

This symbolic action of the Lord, together with His explanatory words, was the suited prelude to the marvellous chapters that follow. His communications to the disciples in John 14:1-31; John 15:1-27; John 16:1-33, so to speak, introduced them into the sanctuary while in John 17:1-26 we see Him going alone into the Holiest of all. When His death was accomplished and, having gone up on high, the Holy Ghost was given, we find that boldness to enter the Holiest is the common privilege of believers. But whether it was the disciples then, or ourselves today, this cleansing from the defilement of earth is needed, in addition to the new birth, if there is to be the enjoyment of part with Him in the sanctuary of God’s presence.

This gracious service is still rendered to us by the Lord Himself just as we need it. It is part of His work as our High Priest and Advocate on high. Yet He is our Lord and Master, and therefore an Example to us that we should follow His steps in this. The Word is the great cleansing agent, as Psalms 119:9 has told us. It requires, we believe, more divinely given skill to use it as cleansing water than as a shining light or a cutting sword. If we acquire this skill and exercise it in our intercourse with saints we shall be happy indeed. It is easier to gain knowledge about this thing than to Do it, as verse John 13:17 indicates. Doing it, we should be restored and refreshed.

In keeping with this is the exhortation of Galatians 6:1, yet spiritual “feet-washing” would deal with defilements which, though touching the heart and mind, have not as yet led to being “overtaken in a fault.” If we knew better how to Do this thing we should often be instrumental in preserving one another from being overtaken and suffering a fall.

The moment had now come for Judas to be exposed in his true character. At the close of chapter 6 we find words of the Lord recorded which show that He thoroughly knew him from the outset. In His choice of the disciples He acted with Divine foreknowledge, and Judas was the man to fulfil the prediction of Psalms 41:9. Nevertheless he had been commissioned and sent by the Lord as much as the others and those who received him and them had received his Master, and God Himself, from whom the Lord had come. The personal unworthiness of the servant did not vitiate this great principle.

Yet the terrible fall of Judas was a real grief to the heart of the Lord, which was not lessened by His Divine foreknowledge, which enabled Him to see the end from the beginning. The Lord’s emphatic pronouncement that one of the chosen twelve was about to reveal himself as a traitor also carried trouble into the minds of the disciples, and verse John 13:22 bears witness to the fact that no suspicion of Judas was lurking in their minds. He appeared perfectly sincere to their eyes, so much so that the common purse had been entrusted to him. The craft of Satanic camouflage is well-nigh perfect. Has there ever been a more striking illustration of what is stated in 2 Corinthians 11:13-15 ?

“Who is it?;” that was the delicate question, and only one disciple was at that moment qualified to ask it. The bodily position of “the disciple whom Jesus loved” was an index of the state of his mind. Peter felt this and prompted the enquiry. The answer was given in a symbolic fashion. It was a mark of distinction for a guest to receive a dipped morsel from the host. But the honoured disciple was to prove the traitor.

We can discern three steps in his fall. First there was the unjudged covetousness which led him to become even a thief (John 12:6). Then came the action of Satan, putting it into his mind to recoup himself in part (John 13:2), since the three hundred pence which the ointment represented had not come into his hands; and he finally settled for ten per cent of this sum. Lastly Satan entered into him. The master spirit of evil took personal control, that there might be no slip in the arrangements that should encompass the Lord’s death.

The Lord accepted the situation and bade him act quickly. It seems that even Satan could not freely move in the matter without Divine permission; but that granted, under the imperative control of Satan, Judas rose and left. He went out into the night, in more senses than one.

Within the upper chamber a sense of ease prevailed when Judas had gone out into the night. Relieved of his presence, the Lord at once began His farewell discourse, which shed Divine light on all that was impending. At last He could speak with all freedom, though His disciples as yet had but little apprehension of His meaning. The first two sentences that He uttered present us with a marvellous summary. Each sentence furnishes two great facts.

The hour had just struck when the Son of Man should have been glorified in public fashion, as the prophets had said. Instead of that He was on the point of going into death. But—wondrous fact—in that very death He was going to be glorified, inasmuch as every Divine and human excellence, which was intrinsically His, would there be brought into brightest display. Connected with this is the second fact, that God was perfectly glorified in Him. In the first man and in his race God had been utterly misrepresented and dishonoured: in His death the perfect revelation of God was carried to its climax; His character and nature vindicated and displayed.

Then further, in answer to this glorifying of God, there is to be the glorifying of the Son of Man in God Himself. Christ is now hidden in God, as Colossians 3:3 infers, but He is hidden there as the glorified One. That the Son of Man should be glorified in this way had not been previously revealed. So this fact gives an unexpected turn to events; as does also the second fact of this verse that this hidden glorification should take place straightway. No waiting until the visible kingdom for this! But on the fact of this present and hidden glory hangs the shedding forth of the Spirit to indwell believers, and consequently all the privilege and blessing which is properly Christian.

The glorifying of Christ in this heavenly and immediate way involved, however, the severing of existing links upon an earthly basis with His disciples, for at that moment they could not follow Him into His new place. Here for the first time does the Lord address His disciples as “children,” viewing them as those who had been introduced into the family of God, according to verse twelve of John 1:1-51. It is remarkable how much of John’s first Epistle is based upon the Lord’s words recorded in verse 34. We enter the Divine family by being born of God, and the very life of the family is love, for God is love. The Lord makes it plain that while He is in the hidden glory of heaven, the children, left in the world of darkness and hatred, are to prove their discipleship by manifesting love. Glory there, and love here, was the Divine thought. The former is perfect, but, alas! how imperfect the latter!

This approaching separation was a puzzle as well as a grief to the disciples, and Peter voiced their difficulty. His question drew forth the assurance that neither he nor any other could follow Him then, as He passed through death into His risen glory, yet ultimately they should be there. There was a special meaning in the remark in Peter’s case, as we can see by turning to John 21:18, John 21:19; yet it surely has an application to all of us. He has made a way through death into resurrection that we all have to tread. Peter, not being content with the Lord’s assurance only revealed his own foolish self-confidence. In that solemn hour the self-confident boaster was exposed, just as the traitor had been.


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Bibliography Information
Hole, Frank Binford. "Commentary on John 13:4". "F. B. Hole's Old and New Testament Commentary". 1947.

Lectionary Calendar
Monday, October 19th, 2020
the Week of Proper 24 / Ordinary 29
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