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Bible Commentaries

L. M. Grant's Commentary on the Bible
John 13

 

 

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Verses 1-38

WASHING HIS DISCIPLES' FEET

(vs.1-17)

We are brought now to consider the last hours of the Lord Jesus before the cross. No longer does He minister to the world, but to His own disciples, from chapter 13 through 16; and it is marvelous that He makes every spiritual provision for them before leaving them.

With calm, measured steps all is ordered here. He knows His hour is come, but it is not said His hour to die, but to depart out of the world to the Father (v.1). How sweetly do the counsels of divine knowledge shine out here! The end was the presence of the Father, though the way of course involved the agony of the cross. But all that faced Him now no doubt deeply pressed upon His heart, for He knew every detail of the malice of Satan, of the treachery of Judas, of the denial of Peter, of the forsaking of all the disciples, of the bitter persecutions of the Jews and of the Romans, of His being crucified; and more dreadful than all, of His having to suffer the judgment of God for our sins. These things are not mentioned here, but His love toward His own remained as full and pure through all these circumstances as it had been from the beginning.

Events fit each into place, as ordered by a sovereign hand. As supper has come, Satan (only as allowed by God) has influenced Judas to betray the Lord. But though the Lord knew all this, He was also conscious of the blessed fact that the Father had given all things into His hand (v.3). He had come from God; He was now to return to God; the intervening sufferings are quietly disregarded here.

With this consciousness He rises from supper: the sweetness of communion is to be followed by lowly service. He laid aside His garments, an implied reminder for us that He laid aside His garments of Godhead glory and dignity in order to serve in subject Manhood. Then taking a linen towel He girded Himself, for His object was the blessing and comfort of His disciples.

The water poured into a basin (v.5) is typically a sufficient quantity of the word of God for the present need (cf.Eph.5:26): it is not to bathe them, nor to overwhelm them, but only to wash their feet. Without doubt too, it would be neither too hot nor too cold. Such washing of feet was common, of course, because of the use of sandals in walking through a country often dry and dusty. But for the Lord of glory to do this was a most striking and instructive humbling of Himself.

Peter, confident as to his own evaluation of the matter, evidently felt it too great a humiliation for the Lord, and refused to have his feet washed, in spite of the Lord's telling him that he did not understand at the time what the Lord was doing, but that he would know later (v.8). Why did he not trust the Lord's words, instead of his own assumptions? This same question we may well ask ourselves sometimes.

Verse 7 is clear proof that the Lord was not intending by His example a mere literal washing of feet to be thereafter carried on by the disciples, but something more important, of which feet-washing is typical. For this speaks of the application of the word of God to the details of our walk through a defiling world (Ephesians 5:26). Contact with defilement requires contact with the word, if the defilement is to be removed, and who is more gentle and thorough than the Lord Jesus in applying that word?

When the Lord answers Peter that if He does not wash him, then Peter has no part with Him, Peter blunders into an opposite extreme. instead of simply submitting to the Lord's wisdom in the matter. So the Lord patiently informs him that he had already been bathed, so that only his feet needed cleansing now (v.10). The complete bath is indicated in Titus 3:5. Every believer has had this at the time of his regeneration once and for all; but feet washing must be done often. New birth is a wonderful cleaning process, bringing a decided change in one's character and habits. This is the bath, while foot washing is a provision for daily conduct. Judas however had not even had the bath: he was not clean (vs.10-11). Verse 12 pictures the return of the Lord Jesus to glory, His sitting down on the right hand of God in His rightful garments. So that the instruction He gives is virtually that which He gives us today.

They called Him Teacher and Lord, and He approves this, yet He Himself reverses the order of these (v.14). Our viewpoint is too frequently that of making teaching the most important, with Lordship practically stemming from teaching. But Lordship is first, and in submission to His authority teaching is then of proper value and properly productive. Whether one understands or not, he should be fully subject to the Lord's authority. He had taught them by example, and they too ought to wash one another's feet.

This feet washing is the lowly ministry of applying the word of God to the need of one another's souls, for the cleansing or preservation from the defilement of our daily contacts with the world. We all need this restoring ministry, and we should all engage in it for the help of one another.

If we are hesitant to obey this word, then we need to be reminded that the servant is not greater than his Lord (v.16). How vast an understatement is this! Yet in our pride we may too easily act as though we were greater than He! It is necessary that we have pressed upon us the fact that happiness lies, not in knowing merely, but in acting rightly upon that knowledge.

WARNING OF A BETRAYER

(vs.18-30)

Yet He spoke not of all the disciples: there was one among them who was false, who would therefore not act upon the truth at all. Scripture had foretold this, though this fact does not in the least palliate the guilt of Judas: he was himself responsible for the callous deceit of eating with the Lord while plotting to betray Him (v.18).

In speaking this prophetically of Judas, the Lord Jesus did so in order that this might later strengthen the faith of the disciples as to the glory of His own person, the self-existent "I Am." He adds to this the absolute confirmation that when He sends a messenger, there is such authority in this that the receiving of such a messenger is the receiving of Himself; and more than that, the receiving of Himself is the receiving of the Father who sent Him (v.20). For He Himself was leaving, and in all this dispensation of grace, others would now carry His message.

As regards Judas, at that time the Lord was troubled in spirit: He deeply felt, not merely the treachery of Judas against Himself, but the condition of the man's soul. It is instructive here to note that Judas had been able to keep his own character so covered that he was no more suspect in the disciples' eyes than any other (vs.21-22). Deceit may thrive for a long time, but is eventually always exposed.

It was John, the writer of this Gospel, who leaned on the bosom of the Lord Jesus, a place which, spiritually, every believer is entitled to enjoy. But his nearness to the Lord influenced Peter to motion to him to ask who the betrayer might be (v.24). The answer of the Lord shows His genuine love for Judas, love not tainted by bitter resentment, as would be the case with mere men. For the sop was a special morsel given to a favored guest. Yet Judas had already steeled himself against the love and grace shown him; and this last overture being refused, Satan is allowed to enter into him (v.27). Satan cannot do this without the willing consent of his victim; but such is the dreadful alternative when one has stubbornly refused the love of the truth.

The Lord's words to Judas were not understood by the other disciples. One wonders too what Judas thought of those words: for the Lord left him with the decision as to what he would do. Why did he not stop and think that the Lord was reading his very heart? But Satan had blinded him, for he was willing to be blinded. After receiving the sop, he went immediately out, and ominous words are added, "and it was night" (v.30). He heard no more thereafter of the Lord's ministry in chapters 14 to 16, nor was he present at the institution of the Lord's supper, which is not spoken of by John in his Gospel.

A NEW COMMANDMENT

(vs.31-35)

Now the Lord speaks positively of the time having arrived of His being glorified, and God's being glorified in Him. The thought of His suffering is not mentioned, though indeed it is by His sacrifice of Calvary that He is eternally glorified, and by this has glorified God. Though His sufferings were imperative, yet these are not emphasized in John, but rather the glorious results of His atonement.

Since God would be glorified in Him by virtue of the perfection of His sacrifice, God would also glorify Him in Himself, and this without delay (v.32). We know the fulfillment of this in His raising Christ from the dead and giving Him glory.

So that it would be only a little while that He would be with them. He would leave them. He had told the Jews that they could not come where He would be. Now He speaks similarly to His disciples. There is of course a difference: the Jews could never come there, while the disciples only at that present time could not come where He went (cf.v.36).

However, He has one striking new commandment to leave with them. It is not a legal commandment, as those given by Moses, and nothing that would tend to puff up the flesh. He had loved them: let them show the same love toward one another (v.34). Indeed, His love was because of His very nature: they too had been given this blessed nature by new birth. The command therefore is really to allow that nature its proper expression. In this all men would recognize them as His disciples.

PETER'S DENIAL FORETOLD

(vs.36-38)

But these words of the Lord Jesus seem to have little real effect on Peter at the time, just as we too may easily ignore ministry that presses our personal responsibility, and he asks, "Lord, where are You going?" (v.36). The Lord's answer to this is in chapter 14, but first He answers Peter's implied desire. Peter could not follow Him then, but would do so later. But Peter had sadly not yet learned to truly submit to the Lord's word, in spite of his humbling experience of verses 6 to 9. For while then the Lord was washing feet literally, in the latter part of this chapter He is seeking to wash feet spiritually, giving the word to have effect on hearts and consciences. Judas had resisted it absolutely and gone out. Peter resists it in another way, unhappy because he could not accompany the Lord now; and insisting with bold words that he would lay down his life for the sake of the Lord (v.37). No doubt there was love toward the Lord in his heart, but there was also self confidence, not the submissiveness of confidence in the Lord. Little does he realize the significance of all this, and he must learn by sad experience that the words of the Lord are absolute truth.

So the Lord presses upon him, with decisive insistence, the truth of His own words, which make Peter's bold words collapse in shame. Three times, he is told, he would deny his Lord before the cock crew (v.38). How strong an emphasis this is as to the untrustworthiness of the flesh, even in the most zealous and devoted of disciples; and on the other hand, of the perfect trustworthiness of the word of the Lord! If Peter was not yet convinced, at least he could only be silent, and thereafter learn by experience the sinfulness of his own heart and the grace and truth of the Lord Jesus.

 


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Bibliography Information
Grant, L. M. "Commentary on John 13:4". L.M. Grant's Commentary on the Bible. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/lmg/john-13.html. 1897-1910.

Lectionary Calendar
Sunday, October 20th, 2019
the Week of Proper 24 / Ordinary 29
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