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Bible Commentaries

Spurgeon's Verse Expositions of the Bible
John 13

 

 

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Verses 1-17

John 13:1. Now before the feast of the passover, —

Or, just as it was about to begin, —

John 13:1. When Jesus knew that his hour was come that he should depart out of this world unto the Father, having loved his own which were in the world, he loved them unto the end.

That is a very beautiful description of Christ’s death: “His hour was that he should depart out of this world unto the Father,” — just as though he was merely going on a journey, leaving one land for another; and if this be a fair description of such a stormy passage as that of our Lord Jesus, who died for our sins upon Calvary’s cross, it must with equal truth describe the death of any of the children of God. There is also an appointed time for us to depart, and to be with Christ which is far better than remaining here. The loosing of the cable, the spreading of the sail, the crossing over the narrow sea, the coming to the eternal haven, and the abiding there, — what Christian heart needs to dread this? How much better is it even to look forward to it with ardent anticipation! Think much of the abiding lore of Christ: “Having loved his own” — his by election, his by redemption, for he regarded that as already done which was about to be accomplished, — “Having loved his own which were in the world,” — not yet in heaven, but still in the midst of trial, still imperfect, even as you and I are, — “ he loved them unto the end,” or “unto the perfection,” as it might be rendered. The Alpha of his love, which we find in eternity, bids us believe that we shall find the Omega of it nowhere but there.

John 13:2-4. And supper being ended, the devil having now put into the heart of Judas Iscariot, Simon’s son, to betray him; Jesus knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he was come from God, and went to God; He riseth from supper, and laid aside his garments; and took a towel, and girded himself.

Notice the wonderful contrast revealed to us in these verses. Our Lord Jesus Christ had a very vivid realization that he had come from God, and was going back to God, and that all things had been given into his hand; yet, while he knew that, and had a more than ordinary consciousness of his own dignified nature and position, he condescended to wash his disciples feet. Though many years elapsed between the event and the time when John recorded it, all the details seem to have been still present in his memory so that he distinctly mentions each separate act: “he riseth from supper, and layeth aside his upper garment, and taketh a towel, and girdeth himself.”

John 13:5. After that he poureth water into a bason,

The one that ordinarily stood in the guest-chamber for the washing of the hands and feet of the guests.

John 13:5-6. And began to wash the disciples’ feet, and to wipe them with the towel wherewith he was girded. Then cometh he to Simon Peter: and Peter saith unto him, Lord, dost thou wash my feet?

You must lay the stress on the pronouns in order to get the full forge of the original. “Lord, dost THOU wash my feet?” The contrast is between Peter’s Master and himself.

John 13:7-8. Jesus answered and said unto him, What I do thou knowest not now, but thou shalt know hereafter. Peter saith unto him, Thou shalt never wash my feet.

That is, Never, as long as I live, shalt thou do such a thing as that.”

John 13:8-10. Jesus answered him, If I wash thee not, thou hast no part with me. Simon Peter saith unto him, Lord, not my feet only, but also my hands and my head. Jesus saith to him, He that is washed needeth not save to wash his feet, but is clean every whit: and ye are clean, but not all.

We have often, in commenting, noticed Peter’s fault; perhaps we have noticed that too much. Let us now notice Peter’s excellence. I admire his humility in thinking it too mean an office for Christ to wash his feet; it seems to me to be a most proper feeling which prompted him to ask, “Dost thou wash my feet?” It seemed an overwhelming condescension of love which he could scarcely permit. No doubt he spoke too positively when he said to Christ “Thou shalt never wash my feet;” but, still, his motive in speaking thus was a good one. It was because he could not allow his Lord to stoop so low; he thought it ill manners to permit such an one as Christ to wash the feet of such an one as the poor fisherman, Peter. I have already said that there was something that was not right, and yet that was perfectly natural to this “rock” disciple, and this “dove” disciple, who was such a strange mixture of boastfulness and fickleness, yet do not forget how much good there was in him. I wish all of us were half as good as Peter. That was a grand utterance, “Wash not my feet only, but also my hands and my head.” He meant, “Lord, let me have all the cleansing I can, not only such as the washing of my feet would bring, but such as the washing of my head and my hands also would bring. Let me be clear of everything which would prevent full fellowship with thee, for I long to be one with thee altogether.” Then our Saviour meekly, gently, quietly explained that there was no need for the washing of his head and his hands, for his whole being had already been renewed by the one great act of regeneration; and as he had been cleansed from sin by the free gift of pardon at the time when he first believed, there was no need of any repetition of the spiritual bathing, all that was required was the washing of his feet, — a beautiful distinction always to be observed. He that believeth in Christ is fully forgiven. He is like a man who has gone into the bath, and washed, but, when he steps out of the bath, and put his foot on the ground, he often soils it, so that, before he robes himself, he needs to wash his feet again. That is our condition as believers in Jesus; we are washed in his precious blood, and are whiter than snow; but these feet of ours constantly touch this defiling earth, so they need every day to be washed. Christ our Lord Jesus said to Peter, “He that is washed needeth not save to wash his feet, but is clean every whit: and ye are clean, but not all.”

John 13:11. For he knew who should betray him; therefore said he, Ye are not all clean.

They were all washed so far as their feet were concerned, but not all of them had been cleansed in the saved bath which removes the stains of sin.

John 13:12-17. So after he had washed their feet, and had taken his garments, and was set down again, he said unto them, Know, ye what I have done to you? Ye call me Master and Lord: and ye say well; for so I am. If I then, you Lord and Master, have washed your feet, ye also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example, that ye should do as I have done to you. Verily, verily, I say unto you, The servant is not greater than his lord; neither he that is sent greater than he that sent him. If ye know these things, happy are ye if ye do them.

Blessed are they who, when they understand the meaning of Christ’s example, imitate it in their own lives.


Verses 1-19

John 13:1. Now before the feast of the passover, when Jesus knew that his hour was come that he should depart out of this world unto the Father, having loved his own which were in the world, he loved them unto the end.

Our Lord Jesus Christ had a clear foresight of all he had to endure. Future things are happily hidden from our eyes. We do not even know the moment when we shall die, nor how it will be. It is well that it is so but our Lord was able to anticipate his sufferings, by knowing all about them: “Jesus knew that his hour was come.” It was all appointed, and nothing happens to any of us by accident, chance is banished from the believer’s creed. There is an appointed “hour” for each one of us, and it will come in due season. “Jesus knew that his hour was come, that he should depart out of the world unto the Father.” What a beautiful way of describing death! Christ’s death was certainly a more trying one than ours will be, so that this description may apply to ours as well as to his.

John 13:2. And supper being ended,

I suppose that was the Paschal supper.

John 13:2. The devil having now put into the heart of Judas Iscariot, Simon’s son, to betray him;

What a horrible purpose for Satan to put into the heart of Judas even in the presence of Jesus! I hope that the devil will not put any such purpose into your hearts or into mine while we are in this house of prayer, but no place is sacred from his intrusion, he will come in anywhere. Even where Christ himself is at the head of the table, Judas may be sitting at that same table, and Satan may then and there put into his heart the horrible purpose of betraying his Master.

John 13:3-4. Jesus knowing that the Father given all things into his hands, and that he was come from God, and went to God, He riseth from supper, and laid aside his garments; and took a towel, and girded himself.

Notice those words, “Jesus knowing,... he took a towel, and girded himself.” If he had not known how great he was, there would not have been such condescension in his action, but he knew who he was, and what the Father had entrusted to him: “The Father had given all things into his hands.” You might suppose that he would rise up, in a very dignified manner, and put on a purple robe and a golden girdle, but, instead of that, he rose from the supper table, laid aside his garments, and took a towel, and girded himself. He knew that he had come forth from God, and that he was going back to God, and he performed this action on the way home to his Father. O dear brothers and sisters, if Christ thus stooped, how humble ought we to be! No office should be counted too lowly, no work for his servants should seem to be too humiliating, since Jesus “took a towel, and girded himself.”

John 13:5. After that he poureth water into a basin, and began to wash the disciples’ feet, and to wipe them with the towel wherewith he was girded.

You see that Jesus does his work well. He omits none of the details of it. He puts himself in the place of a slave, and he performs a slave’s duty very thoroughly. I am afraid that, sometimes, we do our work for him in a slovenly way, but Jesus was not satisfied with simply washing his disciples’ fees, he must do the wiping, too. I do bless him that he did so for this is a picture of what he has done for us. He has washed our feet, and he often repeats the gracious act. The feet that Jesus washes he will wipe; he has not begun his task without intending to finish it. I know that he will complete in my soul the work which he has undertaken, for he fulfilled on the feet of his disciples the office he had undertaken: “ He began to wash the disciples’ feet, and to wipe them with the towel wherewith he was girded.”

John 13:6. Then cometh he to Simon Peter: and Peter saith unto him, Lord, dost thou wash my feet?

I do not wonder that he said that; would not you have been equally astonished had you been there? Peter had some faint idea who Christ was, he had confessed him in such a way that Jesus had said to him “Blessed art thou, Simon Bar-jona: for flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but my Father which is in heaven.” Knowing so much about Christ, Peter did marvel at his action; he felt so astonished that he asked “Dost thou wash my feet?”

John 13:7. Jesus answered and said unto him, What I do those knowest not now; but thou shalt know hereafter.

I have heard this saying of our Lord applied to affliction; and it is very true that what Jesus does we do not at present understand, but we shall know by-and-by. I do not think, however, that this sentence is very applicable that way, for there was no affliction in having the feet washed. The fact is, brethren, though it is a very humbling thing to say, we do not understand that which Jesus does, even his simplest actions are a mystery to us, we have never gone into the very depths of them so as to comprehend them. “What I do, — even though I only wash thy feet, plain and simple operation as that is, — thou knowest not now; but thou shalt know hereafter.” Our knowing times, dear friends, are to come. We need not be so very anxious to know at present, this is the time of love. I would forego the filling of my head for a while if I could have my heart full; but, alas, we are generally so busy trying to attain merely head knowledge! My most intense longing is for a growing heart, a heart that truly loves the Saviour. That is the way for the head to learn, for knowledge that comes by the way of the heart, and so enters the head, is the best of knowledge. Jesus said to Peter, “What I do thou knowest, not now; but thou shalt know hereafter.”

John 13:8. Peter saith unto him, Those shalt never wash my feet.

That is just like Peter. If John had not told us who it was that said this, we should have known that it was Peter. He was always in such a hurry, and he spoke so quickly, that he made many mistakes, yet he was always so honest and so true that his Master forgave his faults, and helped him to correct them.

John 13:8. He answered him, If I wash thee not, thou hast no part with me.

If Christ does not cleanse us, we do not belong to him. If he does not, day by day, exercise a purifying influence over us, we are not his.

John 13:9. Simon Peter saith unto him, Lord, not my feet only, but also my hands and my head.

How that pendulum swings to and fro! It went this way just now: “Thou shalt never wash my feet.” Now it goes right away to the other extreme: “Lord, not my feet only, but also my hands and my head.” Go more gently, Peter, be more quiet. Why do you go so far in one direction and then rush off so far in another way? Thy Master knows better than thou knowest what is right for thee.

John 13:10. Jesus saith to him, He that is washed needeth not save to wash his feet, but is clean every whit: and ye are clean, but not all.

Dear friends, when we believe in Christ, we are washed in the fountain filled with blood, and we are clean; but this world is such a sinful place that we cannot walk through it for even a day without some of its mire and dust clinging to us. Besides, God’s lilies are so pure that they are hardly fit to bloom in such a defiling atmosphere. Oh, how we need that the dew should wash the lily when the night comes on! How greatly we need to have the foot-washing administered to us every day! We need not repeat the first great washing, the bath by which our sins were cleansed; when that was done, it was done once for all. Our sin was pardoned as before a Judge; but we want it to be taken away as before our Father, for we are now under his loving discipline. Christ further said to his disciples, “Ye are clean, but not all.” Does he say that to us at this time? “Ye are clean, but not all.” Where sits the man, in this house of prayer, who is not clean, the sinner who has not yet been washed by Jesus Christ? Where sits the woman who is not clean? The Lord have mercy upon you, dear friends! You know that, in the olden days, they put a red cross on the door of the house where the plague was. We cannot put a cross upon you; but I pray you to consider yourselves as marked men and marked women in the sight of God, and I pray the Lord to take that mark away by causing you to be washed, that you may be clean every whit. How quickly he can wash the foulest sinners! He that believeth in Jesus is washed in the precious blood, and he is clean. God cleanse us all for his great name’s sake!

John 13:11-15. For he knew who should betray him; therefore said he, Ye are not all clean. So after he had washed their feet, and had taken his garments, and was set down again, he said unto them, Know ye what I have done to you? Ye call me Master and Lord: and ye say well; for so I am. If I then, your Lord and Master, have washed your feet; ye also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example, that ye should do as I have done to you.

Christ’s actions are the pattern for us to imitate! Oh, that we followed them more closely!

John 13:16. Verily, verily, I say unto you, The servant is not greater than his lord; neither he that is sent greater than he that sent him.

Sometimes, we think that we are a deal too great to wash anybody’s feet; we should like to see a person propose it to us, such big people as we are! If we talk like that, there is great need that we should be taken down. That would be the true way to rise in the likeness of Jesus. Oh, that we were lowlier in humility! We should be higher in grace if we were.

John 13:17. If ye know these things, happy are ye if ye do them.

Peter wanted to know them; Jesus would have us do them.

John 13:18. I speak not of you all: I know whom I have chosen:

Christ has a chosen people, though some will not believe it. Yet it is so, for he says, “I know whom I have chosen.”

John 13:18-19. But that the scripture may be fulfilled, He that eateth bread with me hath lifted up his heel against me. Now I tell you before it come, that, when it is come to pass, ye may believe that I am he.

“That I am.” So, you see, even the great trouble of the early Church the betrayal by Judas, was used by Christ for the strengthening of his disciples’ faith. He foretold that it would be as it came to pass. So, dear friends, in these latter days, many forsake the gospel, but Jesus told us that it would be so. He taught his servants to write that there would be a falling away, and that in these last days there would be scoffers; and as we read the prophecies, and compare them with the fulfillment, even the doleful fact itself confirms our faith in our Lord. God bless to us this brief reading of his own Word! Amen.

 


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Bibliography Information
Spurgeon, Charle Haddon. "Commentary on John 13:4". "Spurgeon's Verse Expositions of the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/spe/john-13.html. 2011.

Lectionary Calendar
Friday, September 20th, 2019
the Week of Proper 19 / Ordinary 24
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