by Brian Currie, N. Ireland
John’s Gospel may be broadly outlined as follows:
Person of the Son
Path to Suffering
In this chapter of the “Glory of Last Words” book, we are at the commencement of the third section in the above outline. Before considering chapter 13 in detail, we will take a general look at the chapters that make up the ‘Upper Room Ministry’ of our Lord Jesus Christ.
During His last days on earth the Lord Jesus gathered His own on two separate occasions and taught them. These were, firstly, Matthew chapters 24 and 25, commonly called ‘The Olivet Discourse’ and secondly, ‘The Upper Room Ministry’ in John chapters 13 to 17. It is important to understand that, while the same men were involved, they represented different groups. On the Mount of Olives they were representatives of the nation, and His coming to the earth in power and great glory is seen. That phase of His coming will close the Tribulation and commence His Millennial reign. In the upper room they were representatives of the Church which is His body, which was to come into existence on the Day of Pentecost, Acts chapter 2, and conclude when the Lord comes to the air and raptures His own people away to glory, 1Thess.4.13-18.
While chapters 13 to 17 of John’s Gospel are commonly called ‘The Upper Room Ministry’, some question if all took place in the upper room. There are those who lay emphasis on 14.31, “Arise, let us go hence”, suggesting it was at that point they vacated the room. However, we take it that even the prayer was in the upper room rather than in the open air. Also, the Lord Jesus often chose an indoor location to impart ‘private’ truth. For example, Matt.13.36 reads, “Then Jesus sent the multitude away, and went into the house: and His disciples came unto Him, saying, ‘Declare unto us the parable of the tares of the field.’” Also note Jn.18.1, “When Jesus had spoken these words, He went forth with His disciples over the brook Cedron, where was a garden …”
The importance of this ministry is evident from the fact that it takes up approximately one quarter of John’s Gospel, yet records the events of a few hours in one evening. The other three-quarters of the Gospel covers the public ministry of the Lord Jesus, a period of three and a half years! As this publication shows, last words are always important. Some find comfort in recalling the last words of loved ones and these often-whispered statements are remembered for many years. As we think of the last words of people in the Bible it is remarkable how often they emphasise similar aspects of truth. For example, they emphasise: coming evils; the importance of the Word of God; the fact that God holds and controls the future; the coming of the King; the speaker’s first-hand experience of the faithfulness of God.
In John’s Gospel many have seen links with the Tabernacle of the Old Testament. In fact, this is the word used in Jn.1.14, “And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us …” The word, as a noun, is found in 2Cor.5.1,4: “For we know that if our earthly house of this tabernacle were dissolved, we have a building of God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens … For we that are in this tabernacle do groan, being burdened: not for that we would be unclothed, but clothed upon, that mortality might be swallowed up of life.”
We can easily see the following link. In chapters 1-12 the Lord Jesus is in the public gaze and this would remind us of the Tabernacle court. Then in chapters 13-16 He is with His own in private, which indicates the holy place. That is followed by chapter 17, where He prays and we are brought to the Holiest of all. We can focus on these more sharply and discover in chapter 10 that we are at the door: “I am the door” v.9; in 12.24 we come to the altar: “Except a corn of wheat fall into the ground and die …”; in 13.5 the Lord washes the feet of the disciples, which is preparatory for the ensuing ministry and, in this, it pictures the laver; in 14.21,23 the thought is communion with the Father and this illustrates the table of shewbread; the light which illuminates the holy place is found in 15.26: “the Spirit of truth … He shall testify of Me” and that is seen in the lampstand; the priestly activity of prayer is demonstrated in 16.23: “Whatsoever ye shall ask the Father in My name, He will give it you” and highlights the truth of the incense altar. Finally, there is the most profound article of furniture, the ark and the mercy seat, which are in the Holiest of all, and are clearly displayed in chapter 17.
It is very noticeable that in this ministry there is no real development of Christian doctrine. There is no teaching about the Lord Jesus’ suffering or blood shedding; there is no development of the doctrines of justification, propitiation, redemption, reconciliation, etc. While the Lord’s coming is mentioned, it is not expounded. The Spirit of God is somewhat prominent, which points to the realisation that the Lord’s death, burial, resurrection, ascension and enthronement are all past, and the Lord is anticipating that His work on earth is done; He is glorified and the Spirit has been given and His own are on earth, but with the Spirit of God guiding and comforting them. What is here, in embryo, was to be expanded by the apostle Paul. This underlines the truth of inspiration, since Paul wrote so harmoniously with John, even though Paul was not present when John wrote; indeed, Paul wrote long before John did.
The ministry is preparatory in that the disciples are being prepared for what will come their way when the Lord has returned to heaven. It is merciful and gracious of the Lord to prepare us for what we do not see or anticipate. The truth of this ministry may be said to consolidate, confirm, console and comfort.
We can detect a moral order running through the chapters, which gives a uniting basis. This is an order that ought to be followed in all true teaching. The disciples were:
– chapter 13
– chapter 13, Judas left
– chapters 14-16
– chapter 17.
|Chapter 13||Purification and Cleansing||Feet Washing||Implies Humility, and His Hands are in view|
|He left a Pattern: “If I then, your Lord and Master, have washed your feet; ye also ought to wash one another’s feet” v.14|
|Chapter 14||Parousia i.e. His Coming||Fidelity: “If a man love Me, he will keep My words” v.23||Implies Tranquillity, and Their Hearts are in view|
|He left a Peace: “Peace I leave with you, My peace I give unto you” v.27|
|Chapter 15||Pruning for Conformity||Fruit-Bearing||Implies Affinity, and The Harvest is in view|
|He left a Picture: “vine … branches” vv.1-6|
|Chapter 16||Persecution and Conflict||Friction||Implies Enmity, and The Hatred is in view|
|He left a Person: “if I go not away, the Comforter will not come unto you; but if I depart, I will send Him unto you” v.7|
|Chapter 17||Prayer and Communion||Fellowship||Implies Glory, and His Honour is in view|
|He left a People: “And now I am no more in the world, but these are in the world … Neither pray I for these alone, but for them also which shall believe on Me through their word” vv.11,20.|
The chapter under consideration (John chapter 13) can be divided into four sections:
- Vv.1-17 — Example of Humility, or Significance of Bathing
- Vv.18-30 — Exposure of Treachery, or Solemnity of Betrayal
- Vv.31-35 — Expectancy of Glory, or Sign of Belonging
- Vv.36-38 — Expression of Folly, or Stupidity of Boasting
The Setting – vv.1-3
The teaching is given under three ‘clouds’: glory, grace and gloom.
Cloud of Glory He was going to the Father, v.1
He was going to God, v.3
Cloud of Grace “Loved His own” v.1 Cloud of Gloom “the devil having now put into the heart of Judas Iscariot, Simon’s son, to betray Him” v.2.
Devotion to His Own – v.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.”
The Period: “before the feast of the passover”
The Passover was on the 14th of Nisan so this took place on the 13th. The number thirteen is the number of rebellion. It is first mentioned in Gen.14.4: “Twelve years they served Chedorlaomer, and in the thirteenth year they rebelled.” It was on the 13th that Judas showed his true character and rebelled!
The Person: “Jesus”
The name Jesus stresses His humanity. He was a true, real, yet sinless Man.
The Perception: “Jesus knew that His hour was come that He should depart out of this world unto the Father.”
His hour was come. His hour is mentioned some ten times in John’s Gospel; five times it had come: 12.23, 27; 13.1; 16.32; 17.1. It does not say He knew that He was going to die, though that was true, but He was going home. This was the character of the pigeon of the burnt offering, the bird with the homing instinct. With this agrees 16.28: “again, I leave the world, and go to the Father.” In 12.23 we read, “The hour is come, that the Son of man should be glorified”, not that He should suffer. John speaks of the glory, and not the gloom of the cross.
The Passion: “having loved”
Here this ministry begins with a declaration of His love for them and it ends with a desire for them to love each other: “A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another” v.34.
The People: “His own”
These people are not as those referred to in 1.11, “He came unto His own”; there the relationship was national, here it is spiritual. This is a heart-warming description, “His own”. He did not have much on earth, but we belong to Him and are “His own”. The following references are worthy of note. Matt.27.31: “they took the robe off from Him, and put His own raiment on Him, and led Him away to crucify Him”; Jn.10.3: “He calleth His own sheep by name, and leadeth them out”; Acts 20.28; Heb.13.12; Rev.1.5: “His own blood”; 1Pet.2.24: “Who His own self bare our sins in His own body on the tree”.
The Place: “which were in the world”
This is the place of coldness, rejection and reproach towards Christ and His people. However, the coldness of the world is warmed by the intensity of His love.
The Perpetuity: “He loved them unto the end.”
This means that He carried on loving them right through to the terminus. What a terminus it was! The word is as in Matt.24.13: “But he that shall endure unto the end, the same shall be saved”; 1Thess.2.16: “the wrath is come upon them to the uttermost”; Heb.3.6: “if we hold fast the confidence and the rejoicing of the hope firm unto the end”; Heb.3.14: “if we hold the beginning of our confidence stedfast unto the end”; Rev.21.6: “I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end”.
Darkness from Satan – v.2
“And supper being ended, the devil having now put into the heart of Judas Iscariot, Simon’s son, to betray Him.” Here is the cloud of gloom across the scene.
“Supper being ended” literally reads, ‘supper having come’ or ‘supper having arrived’; J.N.D. renders it “during supper”, which confirms v.4, “riseth from supper”, and the implication is that supper was about to take place and He arose to do the necessary washing.
In the Lord’s heart there are thoughts of glory and returning to the Father, but in Judas’ heart there are thoughts of gain and betrayal. The supper was, as the original Passover, on the eve of a great Exodus, according to Lk.9.31: “His decease [‘exodus’] which He should accomplish at Jerusalem.” It is from Luke that we learn that the supper took place in the upper room. Many have pointed out that everything was above street level. In this modern day of casualness we need to understand that in the assembly our clothing, our conversation, our character and our moral cleanliness are all above the level of the street.
A reasonable home would have consisted of three storeys. The ground floor was called the kataluma, which means ‘down loosening’. This is where beasts’ burdens and men’s sandals were untied. This is the word in Lk.2.7, “there was no room for them in the inn.” On the first floor was the pandocheion: pan (meaning ‘all’) and dechomia (meaning ‘to receive’) giving the meaning that this was where all were received. This is used in Lk.10.34, where the Samaritan “set him on his own beast, and brought him to an inn …” On the second floor was the anogeon: ana (meaning ‘above’) and ge (meaning ‘ground’). This was the most private and best room in the house.
In Lk.22.11 the Lord instructed His disciples to ask, “Where is the guestchamber, [kataluma] where I shall eat the passover with My disciples?” However, He was given the anogeon: “And he shall shew you a large upper room [anogeon] furnished: there make ready” Lk.22.12. Only the best is good enough for Him.
Delight in God – v.3
“Jesus knowing that the Father had given all things into His hands, and that He was come from God, and went to God.”
In v.1 we were directed to His head: there the expression was “Jesus knew that His hour was come …” Next it was His home: “that He should depart out of this world unto the Father”. Then His heart: “having loved His own which were in the world, He loved them unto the end.” Finally, in this verse we note His hands: “the Father had given all things into His hands …” All things are put into His hands for distribution. The balancing phrase is found in 1Cor.15.27, “He hath put all things under His feet”, and Eph.1.22, “And hath put all things under His feet”: this is His dominion.
In v.1 it was “the Father”, but in v.3 it is “God”. When we read of “the Father”, not “His Father”, it embraces us in terms of communion. When it is “God” we are directed to His character and His essential holiness and so there is the need for our cleansing.
The Service – vv.4-11
The Lord’s Actions – vv.4,5
“He riseth from supper, and laid aside His garments; and took a towel, and girded Himself. After that He poureth water into a bason, and began to wash the disciples’ feet, and to wipe them with the towel wherewith He was girded.”
There had been an altercation among the disciples: they had been disputing as to who would be the greatest: “there was also a strife among them, which of them should be accounted the greatest” Lk.22.24. They thought that the task of feet-washing was for those of least importance and so none of them took responsibility to wash feet! It was the task of the servant to do the feet-washing: “Behold, let thine handmaid be a servant to wash the feet of the servants of my lord” 1Sam.25.41. To wash the saints’ feet was a sign of faithfulness. Note the qualifications to be met before a widow could be supported by the assembly: she was to be “well reported of for good works; if she have brought up children, if she have lodged strangers, if she have washed the saints’ feet, if she have relieved the afflicted, if she have diligently followed every good work” 1Tim.5.10.
The Lord is about to show true greatness, in the estimation of heaven. It is important to note the seven actions of our Lord Jesus: riseth*; laid aside*; took; girded; poureth*; wash*; wipe*. The asterisks focus our attention on the words that are in the present tense, which may highlight that the evening activities were still very vivid in John’s mind. Many have seen a parallel between this passage and the Lord’s steps downward in Phil.2.5-8. This is why the series of actions by the Lord in John chapter 13 is sometimes called an ‘action parable’, which illustrates the doctrine of Philippians chapter 2.
Devotion cannot be demanded. Later, when the apostle Paul wanted the Roman saints to show more devotion, he said, “I beseech you therefore, brethren …” Rom.12.1. Again, he besought the Corinthians, the Ephesians and the Thessalonians, and others besides: “Now I beseech you, brethren …” 1Cor.1.10; “I therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you …” Eph.4.1; “… we beseech you, brethren …” 1Thess.4.10. It is sad when the saints are turned away from ministry by the attitude of the teacher. We need to learn that there is a right way of saying right things.
“He riseth from supper” – v.4
In the upper room our beloved Lord did not wait or hesitate; He took responsibility and He rose from supper. From the construction of the Tabernacle we learn that the Lord valued people whose hearts were given to His work. In chapters 35 and 36 of Exodus the heart is mentioned thirty-six times. The following can easily be seen: “as many as were willing hearted” Ex.35.22; “every wise hearted man” Ex.36.1; “every one whose heart stirred him up …” Ex.36.2: these were warm hearted. All these features are necessary since, for example, we could be willing hearted but not wise hearted, or we could be wise hearted and not warm hearted.
“Laid aside His garments” – v.4
Likely this was His outer, seamless robe. Slaves wore something similar to this and it was customary for them to lay it aside when they worked in the heat of summer. So, as any servant would do, He laid aside anything that would be a hindrance to service. This the nation did when they were leaving Egypt so that their progress would not be impeded. “And thus shall ye eat it; with your loins girded, your shoes on your feet, and your staff in your hand; and ye shall eat it in haste: it is the Lord’s passover” Ex.12.11. Peter, as he saw a similarity between the national experience of Israel and the individual saints in his day, wrote, “Wherefore gird up the loins of your mind, be sober, and hope to the end for the grace that is to be brought unto you at the revelation of Jesus Christ” 1Pet.1.13.
The Lord is seen girded at least three times, here in John chapter 13, and in two other places:
- Ps.45.3 — Girded in Glory — His Majesty
- Jn.13.4 — Girded in Grace — His Humility
- Rev.1.13 — Girded In Gold — His Scrutiny
“Took a towel” – v.4
In John’s record of that evening He took two things, a towel and a bason: John does not mention the bread and the cup, but he mentions the towel and bason: things that direct our attention to the atmosphere of the upper room in the night of His betrayal. It was then that the Lord said, “I am in the midst of you as he that serveth” Lk.22.27, R.V. This was the Lord’s rebuke to His disciples when they argued as to which of them was to be the greatest.
“Girded Himself” – v.4
Apart from vv.4,5 the only other occasion where this word “girded” is found is in Jn.21.7: “Now when Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he girt his fisher’s coat unto him (for he was naked), and did cast himself into the sea.” Obviously, both humility and modesty are seen in this girding. Perhaps Peter had this in mind when he wrote, “Yea, all of you gird yourselves with humility, to serve one another: for God resisteth the proud, but giveth grace to the humble” 1Pet.5.5, R.V.
“He poureth water into a bason” – v.5
He used the bason which was already in the room, probably that carried by the man in Lk.22.10: “And He said unto them, ‘Behold, when ye are entered into the city, there shall a man meet you, bearing a pitcher of water; follow him into the house where he entereth in.’” The upper room was furnished, v.12, so there was no need for anything extra to be introduced. This is true to this present time in assembly life. The Lord does not require our extra-Biblical innovations. He furnishes it fully with gifts and all that is required for spiritual development.
We must underline that their feet were washed with water and not with blood. There is absolutely no need for a second application of the blood. Some well-meaning, but poorly-taught, brethren have been heard to use expressions in confession like, “Put it under the blood, Lord”! This is tantamount to dishonouring the all-sufficient sacrifice of Christ on the cross. There is a great difference between being judicially cleansed, by His blood, and being practically cleansed from defilement, by His Word. The blood is Godward, whereas the ‘water’ is saintward. The first is 1Jn.1.7: “… the blood of Jesus Christ His [God’s] Son cleanseth us from all sin.” The second is Ps.119.9: “Wherewithal shall a young man cleanse his way? By taking heed thereto according to Thy word” and “Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave Himself for it; that He might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word” Eph.5.25,26. A.W. Pink writes: “The one affects our standing, the other our state; the former is for judicial cleansing, the latter is for practical purification.”1
- 1. Pink, A.W. “Exposition of the Gospel of John”. Zondervan Publishing House, Grand Rapids, 1967.
“Began to wash the disciples’ feet” – v.5
He both washed and wiped. If He only washed then He would have left their feet wet and it would have been an easy matter to pick up future defilement.
We note with interest that in chapter 12 there is a woman at His feet, v.3. That is something that we can easily appreciate, but He was at the feet of His disciples! It is significant that she anointed His feet. We read of His feet being anointed, but never of them being washed. This is important, as it reminds us that His walk was sinless, and the anointing that filled the house with odour was a picture of the fragrant walk of God’s Son before His Father.
- A perfect path of purest grace,
- Unblemished and complete.
- Was Thine, Thou spotless Nazarite,
- Pure, even to the feet!
- (Macleod Wylie)
“To wipe them with the towel wherewith He was girded” – v.5
Wiping is an indication of the completion of a work. In Luke chapter 7 there is a woman who wiped His feet with her hair, which indicates the appreciation of a sinner: Here, in John chapter 13, it is the Lord Who washed and wiped the disciples’ feet, and we learn the sanctification of the servants. How good it is to remember Rev.21.4: “God shall wipe away all tears”, which is a great comfort as we anticipate glorification in splendour!
Peter’s Attitude – vv.6-9
“Then cometh He to Simon Peter: and Peter saith unto Him, ‘Lord, dost Thou wash my feet?’ 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.’ 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.’”
In v.6 there are two words emphasised and these are “Thou” and “my”. These highlight Peter’s total surprise that his Lord is going to wash his feet: “Lord, dost Thou wash my feet?” In keeping with his character Peter exclaims, “Thou shalt never wash my feet”. Some suggest that these two statements were signs of Peter’s reverence and humility. However, we ask if it is a good sign to question the Lord and reject His methods?
In v.7 the Lord states, “What I do thou knowest not now; but thou shalt know hereafter.” This proves that literal feet-washing is not in view since that was obvious to all! We note that there are two different words used for “know”. “What I do thou knowest [oida = fully know] not now; but thou shalt know [ginosko = understand] hereafter.” “Hereafter” is in the plural, and could be translated ‘after these things’.
In v.8 Peter answers with a very strong denial, “Thou shalt never wash my feet”. That is Peter telling the Lord what not to do, indicating that the Lord is doing too much. The answer of the Lord causes Peter to swing to the other side of the pendulum! “Jesus answered him, ‘If I wash thee not, thou hast no part with Me.’” v.8. “Simon Peter saith unto Him, ‘Lord, not my feet only, but also my hands and my head.’” Now in v.9, he is telling the Lord what to do, indicating that the Lord is not doing enough!
It is important to note the preposition that the Lord uses in v.8: “thou hast no part with [meta] Me.” He did not say, ‘thou hast no part in Me.’ If the Lord had said ‘no part in Me’, He would have been saying Peter was not saved, but he said “with Me”, referring to communion. In his exuberance, Peter again over-reacted and said, “Lord, not my feet only, but also my hands and my head.” That is, he wanted bathed all over. The error of this is illustrated by the priest’s consecration and then his subsequent washing of his hands and feet at the laver: when the priests were being consecrated they were to be bathed all over by Moses: “And Aaron and his sons thou shalt bring unto the door of the tabernacle of the congregation, and shalt wash them with water” Ex.29.4. This was done for them by Moses and was never repeated. It illustrates the “washing of regeneration” Titus 3.5: “Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us, by the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Ghost …” The only other reference to regeneration is in Matt.19.28: “And Jesus said unto them, ‘Verily I say unto you, That ye which have followed Me, in the regeneration when the Son of man shall sit in the throne of His glory, ye also shall sit upon twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.’” These are to be differentiated because in Matthew’s Gospel the subject is national, has to do with Creation and is in the future; whereas in Titus it is personal, has to do with Christians and is in the present.
However, it is different when the priest personally utilises the water from the laver to ensure he is clean as he functions in the Tabernacle. This is further explained in vv.10,11.
The Lord’s Announcement – vv.10,11
“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.’ For He knew who should betray Him; therefore said He, ‘Ye are not all clean.’”
It is important to note that the Lord uses two different words for “wash”. The first word means to bathe, to wash all over and is used in Jn.13.10 (“He that is washed”). The second word means to wash part of the body and is used in Jn.13.5,6,8 (twice),10 (“to wash his feet”),12,14. Thus there is a ‘bathing’ that does not need to be repeated and there is a ‘partial washing’, of the ‘hands and feet’, which requires repetition. As seen above, this initial ‘washing’ is called “the washing of regeneration” Titus 3.5, but when they would approach to serve they had to have constant recourse to the ‘laver’ to ‘wash’ their ‘hands and feet’. This they did for themselves and this is the focus of John chapter 13. Further details regarding regeneration can be found in the ‘Assembly Testimony’ book, “The Glory of His Grace – Chapter 9.”
When Peter said he wanted washed all over, without realising the spiritual implications of his statement, he was saying that he wanted to be regenerated again and again. Obviously this cannot happen, since we can never lose eternal life: if we can, then it is not eternal!
The Lord solemnly states, “ye are clean, but not all”. This is really an appeal to Judas’ conscience, since he would soon leave that upper room, v.30, and plan the betrayal of the Saviour.
The Sequel – vv.12-17
Lord’s Examination – v.12
“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?’”
As was the case in v.7, it is clear that the Lord was not speaking of literal, physical feet-washing and certainly was not establishing a new ordinance.
Lord’s Exposition – vv.13-16
“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. 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.”
The change in order of the titles of the Lord Jesus may seem trivial but it opens to us another line of truth. They call the Saviour, “Master and Lord” but He gently corrects this and says, “If I then, your Lord and Master” and He emphasises that there cannot be any benefit from His teaching [Master] unless there is an acceptance of His Lordship. After all, there is little sense in imparting teaching to someone if the person being taught ignores the teaching because they do not accept the authority of the teacher. The order of Lord then Master is frequently seen in other Scriptures: “Take My yoke upon you, [Lordship] and learn of Me [Master]” Matt.11.29; “If any man will do His will [Lordship], he shall know of the doctrine [Master]” Jn.7.17; “Lord [Lordship], what wilt Thou have me to do [Master]?” Acts 9.6. Our relationship is that of a disciple to his master and a servant to his lord. Thus, “the disciple is not above his master, nor the servant above his lord” Matt.10.24.
Regarding feet-washing the Lord uses two expressions: “ye ought” v.14, and “ye should” v.15. We ought to wash the saints’ feet because it is a debt we owe to each other; we should because of His example. What then is feet-washing? It is something we do for each other. Regarding the truth of the laver and the injunction of 1Cor.11.28, “let a man examine himself”, these are what we do for ourselves; whereas feet-washing is done by another for us. It is restoration and the removal of defilement, such as ought to be experienced in ministry meetings, Bible readings or passing on a word in conversation.
This is done by the use of ‘water’, a common picture of the Word of God; it is not accomplished by using a ‘hammer’ or a ‘whip’! To make the feet-washing acceptable and comfortable the ‘temperature’ of the ‘water’ must be right. We want neither to be ‘frozen’ nor ‘scalded’! We will not help the saints by ‘roasting’ or ‘freezing’ them. It is a labour of love and this is seen by getting down to the saints and showing our affection for them. While corrective ministry is required in these days of departure, we need more than a pointing out of sin and failure (that does not need much spirituality), but the need is to bring the Scriptures to bear on a particular situation. Even when it hurts, we must give way to the Word of God; as a sword it cuts; as a hammer it crushes; and as water it cleanses.
In v.16 the Lord stated a valuable practical principle: “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.” The double “verily, verily” is found twenty-five times in John’s Gospel, including four times in this chapter. These four are as follows:
- v.16 Example of the Lord’s Lowliness
- v.20 Exposition of the Lord’s Closeness
- v.21 Exposure of Judas’ Badness
- v.38 Examination of Peter’s Brashness
The implication of v.16 is that for us to refuse to wash the saints’ feet implies that we are acting as if we are greater than the Lord.
Their Exultation – v.17
“If ye know these things, happy are ye if ye do them.”
The word “happy” means ‘blessed’, which is a more solid, stately word. Being blessed and happy can only be found in obedience. The hymn writer knew the truth of this when he wrote:
- Trust and obey, for there’s no other way
- To be happy in Jesus, but to trust and obey.
- (John H. Sammis)
Before the ministry can be given, another cleansing is necessary and it is not the physical cleansing of feet-washing, but it is the spiritual cleansing of the company, and Judas must depart.
Betrayal Prophesied – vv.18-21
“I speak not of you all: I know whom I have chosen: but that the scripture may be fulfilled, ‘He that eateth bread with Me hath lifted up his heel against Me’” v.18. This is a quotation from Ps.41.9: “Yea, mine own familiar friend, in whom I trusted, which did eat of my bread, hath lifted up his heel against me.” The Lord guarded His omniscience by not quoting from the Psalm the words “whom I trusted”. In the Psalm David was deceived by Ahithophel, but the Lord was not deceived; He knew exactly who would betray Him, when He would do it and how. Our Lord could express Himself in Scriptural language, revealing His thorough acquaintance with the Bible. He returns to the declaration of vv.10,11, “‘ye are clean, but not all.’ For He knew who should betray Him; therefore said He, ‘Ye are not all clean.’”
He states that it was “he that eateth bread with Me”, that is, Judas had enjoyed fellowship with the Lord and yet he “lifted up his heel against Me”. This means to ‘trample on’ with contempt, and envisages ‘to kick at’ as a vicious horse would do. Judas trampled and kicked the One Who came to bless, and so he sealed his eternal destiny. The language of this apostate is reminiscent of that used of other apostates in Heb.10.29, “who hath trodden under foot the Son of God, and hath counted the blood of the covenant, wherewith he was sanctified, an unholy thing, and hath done despite unto the Spirit of grace”.
“Now I tell you before it come, that, when it is come to pass, ye may believe that I am He” v.19. The Lord is preparing them for something which might otherwise have overthrown their faith. Sometimes He shows His tender care for His own, by forewarning of things to come. Believing that He is the great “I am” is vital to Christianity. Anyone who denies this fundamental truth is not a true Christian.
“Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that receiveth whomsoever I send receiveth Me; and he that receiveth Me receiveth Him that sent Me” v.20. Obviously, the Lord is not saying that to receive a servant in his own right (independently of the message he brings) is to receive Christ, and hence to receive God. That is not the truth of salvation. Rather, this has in view the reception of the message that the messenger brought. Reception of the message/messenger equates to the reception of the One behind the message/messenger.
“When Jesus had thus said, He was troubled in spirit, and testified, and said, ‘Verily, verily, I say unto you, that one of you shall betray Me’” v.21. It is worth noting some references to “trouble” in chapters 11-14, which have the meaning of ‘to be agitated’ (see Jn.5.4,7):
11.33— “When Jesus therefore saw her weeping, and the Jews also weeping which came with her, He groaned in the spirit, and was troubled.” His body was troubled; 12.27— “Now is My soul troubled; and what shall I say? Father, save Me from this hour: but for this cause came I unto this hour.” His soul was troubled; 13.21— “He was troubled in spirit.” His spirit was troubled.
It is wonderful to realise that it was the One Who was troubled in body, soul and spirit Who said to His own, “Let not your heart be troubled” Jn.14.1. This is true fellow-feeling, true sympathy, true priesthood.
His announcement, “one of you shall betray Me” should have touched Judas’ heart and conscience, but his heart was hardened and his conscience seared. The word “betray” means to deliver up and is found fifteen times in John’s Gospel. Tracing this word helps us to identify the order of the deliverance of Christ that night:
Judas delivered Him to the Jews: “he that betrayed Him gave them a sign, saying, ‘Whomsoever I shall kiss, that same is He: hold Him fast’” Matt.26.48. The Jews delivered Him to the Gentiles: “they led Him away, and delivered Him to Pontius Pilate the governor” Matt.27.2. Pilate knew the motives of the Jewish leaders were wrong: “he knew that for envy they had delivered Him” Matt.27.18. However, Pilate delivered Him to be crucified: “And so Pilate, willing to content the people, released Barabbas unto them, and delivered Jesus, when he had scourged Him, to be crucified” Mk.15.15. The final, victorious mention is: “When Jesus therefore had received the vinegar, He said, ‘It is finished:’ and He bowed His head, and gave up (same word) the ghost” Jn.19.30.
Disciples Mystified – v.22
“Then the disciples looked one on another, doubting of whom He spake.” They look at each other in amazement. We might have thought the answer was obvious but two matters are highlighted: firstly, Judas was an expert hypocrite and the others never suspected him. Secondly, the disciples were not so full of self-assurance that they were beyond self-examination. This is emphasised in Mark’s account: “And they began to be sorrowful, and to say unto Him one by one, ‘Is it I?’ and another said, ‘Is it I?’” Mk.14.19.
Betrayer Identified – vv.23-26
“Now there was leaning on Jesus’ bosom one of His disciples, whom Jesus loved” v.23. This is not the first posture that John has adopted in the chapter. In v.5 his feet are in the Lord’s hands and here his head is in His bosom. We learn again that cleansing is required for close communion.
We note that in v.23 the preposition used is en, meaning ‘in’, whereas in v.25 it is epi, meaning ‘on’. En involves the closeness of communion, since John can hear His heartbeat and feel His pulse. Epi has the idea of support and strength, as seen in the garments of the high priest, which are adorned twice with the names of the tribes of the nation. The names are on his shoulders, the place of strength, and they are also on the breastplate, the place of sympathy.
In his Gospel John tells us five times that he was the disciple whom Jesus loved, and five times in the book of the Revelation he simply calls himself “John”. It was not to imply that the Lord Jesus loved John more than the other disciples, but that John put himself in positions where he enjoyed the love of his Lord. In his Gospel John presents the Deity of the Lord Jesus and the fact that He is the Saviour of the world, 4.42. John is thrilled that such a Person loved men in general and him in particular. Others who were in the enjoyment of His love were “Martha, and her sister, and Lazarus” Jn.11.5. To live in the good of my love to Him is too fragile and even fickle, but His to me is strong, stable and unchangeable.
The Revelation is a book dealing mainly with tribulation and persecution of the saints, and John himself is experiencing these situations. Thus we read, “I John, who also am your brother, and companion in tribulation” Rev.1.9. He almost steps out of the page and warmly embraces them, which highlights the priestly, sympathetic ministry of an old man towards a younger generation.
It is in the atmosphere of love and communion that the supper was instituted. Others focus on the bread and the cup, but John directs us to the basin and the towel. John does not record the imperative, “This do” but, in v.15, “ye should do”. The clear implication is that for a true remembrance of our Lord Jesus a spirit of purity and humility is essential.
“Simon Peter therefore beckoned to him, that he should ask who it should be of whom He spake” v.24. Peter recognised that only those who are living close to the Lord are qualified to ask penetrating questions and John, being in such spiritual proximity, “saith unto Him, ‘Lord, who is it?’” v.25. John did not ask, “Is it I?”, since the closeness of fellowship was a guard against such a thought. Is it too imaginative to suggest that the question and answer were in a whisper? “Jesus answered, ‘He it is, to whom I shall give a sop, when I have dipped it.’ And when He had dipped the sop, He gave it to Judas Iscariot, the son of Simon” v.26. The sop was the choice piece, given to an honoured guest. A piece of pascal lamb, unleavened bread and bitter herbs all wrapped together. Even such an action did not reach Judas’ conscience and bring him to repentance.
Company Purified – vv.27-30
“And after the sop Satan entered into him. Then said Jesus unto him, ‘That thou doest, do quickly’” v.27. Now here is a man who is totally dominated by Satan and he is against Christ, replicating the man of sin in 2Thess.2.3. The command of Christ is not just “do” but “do quickly”: the more quickly. It seems the solemn issues of this night were already pressing on the Lord Jesus, as they would do with greater intensity in Gethsemane’s garden and He wants it all to be over. Thus, “he then having received the sop went immediately out” v.30. It would seem that Judas went out and made his dastardly deal of betrayal, which corresponds chronologically with 1Cor.11.23, where we read concerning the Lord Jesus, “the same night in which He was betrayed took bread”. W.E. Vine2 states, “‘He was being betrayed’, as the imperfect tense signifies, that is, while the previously arranged negotiations between Judas and the chief priests were in process of actual fulfilment” and he goes on to conclude, “Judas had left the room before the Lord instituted the Feast.”
- 2. Vine, W.E. “1Corinthians”. Oliphants Ltd., London, 1961.
The others did not know the reason for this departure. Perhaps there was a solemn and sombre atmosphere now pervading the upper room since Satan was in the room, in Judas. The apostles had their theories: “Now no man at the table knew for what intent He spake this unto him. For some of them thought, because Judas had the bag, that Jesus had said unto him, ‘Buy those things that we have need of against the feast;’ or, that he should give something to the poor” vv.28,29. However, there was a fiendish mind at work and that evening would end in eternal disaster for Judas. Note the solemn seriousness of the action of Judas, when the darkness of the evening reflected the darkness of Judas’ soul: “He then having received the sop went immediately out: and it was night.” For Judas this night would never know a dawn! It would eventually issue in the blackness of darkness for ever.
This leaves the company purged and ready to receive further teaching. If there is sin the company, it stands in the way of us listening to teaching from the Lord and receiving it in our hearts. Judas went out and we remember that it was John who also wrote, “They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would no doubt have continued with us: but they went out, that they might be made manifest that they were not all of us” 1Jn.2.19. Some have asked what is the difference between Peter’s and Judas’ denials of the Lord. It is the difference between a sheep and a sow. If a sheep falls into a muddy hole it wants out, but a sow will wallow in it. A ‘sheep’ is a true believer who can be recovered; a ‘sow’ is an apostate for whom there is no salvation. “But it is happened unto them according to the true proverb, ‘The dog is turned to his own vomit again;’ and ‘the sow that was washed to her wallowing in the mire’” 2Pet.2.22.
With such a dark cloud over the scene and thinking of the solemnity of Judas’ end, we ought to understand that as we partake of this supper, there is no place for lightness, frivolity, or casualness: in language, dress, or deportment, or in our attitude before the meeting commences, or when a brother is worshipping; neither is there any place for occupation with electronic devices.
- ‘Twas on that night, when doomed to know
- The eager rage of every foe,
- That night in which He was betrayed,
- The Saviour of the world took bread.
- (John Morrison)
We have noticed the words at the end of v.30, “it was night.” John seems to find illustrative material in such words and it will provide spiritual food for the saints if they meditate on these: “And it was now dark, and Jesus was not come to them” 6.17; “And it was at Jerusalem the feast of the dedication, and it was winter” 10.22; “the servants and officers stood there, who had made a fire of coals; for it was cold: and they warmed themselves: and Peter stood with them, and warmed himself” 18.18; “Then led they Jesus from Caiaphas unto the hall of judgment: and it was early” 18.28; “The first day of the week cometh Mary Magdalene early, when it was yet dark, unto the sepulchre” 20.1.
This penultimate paragraph of this chapter can be divided in two:
- Vv.31,32 – Majesty of Glory Reciprocated
- Vv.33-35 – Marks of Christianity Revealed
Majesty of Glory Reciprocated – vv.31,32
It is remarkable and very practical to note that the Lord Jesus would only teach His own when sin had been removed: “Therefore, when he [Judas] was gone out, Jesus said …” v.31. We may have expected that our Lord would give instructions as to practical, holy living and stress the necessity of personal and collective purity if we are to grow in spiritual matters. However, this is not the case. He speaks five times about glory and in v.33 He calls them “little children” or ‘dear children’, Newberry margin.
These five occurrences of glory refer to four events, since the third is a repeat of the second. They are divided in two by the first two being in the past tense, while the second two are future. The past emphasises the certainty of Calvary. It is looked upon as an accomplished fact.
In v.31 we read, “Jesus said, ‘Now is the Son of man glorified’”, and accounting for the tense this is better translated as ‘Now the Son of man has been glorified’ and similarly the second reference, “and God is glorified in Him” is better ‘God has been glorified in Him’. These phrases underline the absolute sureness of the acceptability of the work accomplished by the Saviour on the cross at Calvary. We can appreciate that the Son of man is glorified by submitting to death, since that death was for others. The expression ‘God has been glorified’ implies the total satisfaction that God received from the work of the cross. ‘God has been glorified in Him’ is showing that what was accomplished at Calvary was done totally by His Son and the work is so perfect that it has brought glory to God. We read in Ps.19.1 that “the heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament sheweth His handiwork.” That was His majesty and power in creation, and magnificent as it was, this sacrificial work is infinitely greater and vastly more profound.
Now we come to the two future glories. “If God be glorified in Him, God shall also glorify Him in Himself” v.32, which brings us to His resurrection. On the occasion of the resurrection of Lazarus we hear the Lord Jesus saying, “This sickness is not unto death, but for the glory of God, that the Son of God might be glorified thereby” Jn.11.4. How was He glorified? In the glory of resurrection; and that is not the end. We read, “and shall straightway glorify Him” Jn.13.32, which highlights His exaltation. This is recorded as if the two events of resurrection and exaltation happen at the same time. Peter wrote, “Who by Him do believe in God, that raised Him up from the dead, and gave Him glory; that your faith and hope might be in God” 1Pet.1.21; there is no delay in this happening. In Divine purpose future glory was secured because past glory was satisfying to God. In His Incarnation the Lord Jesus brought God into Manhood, but in His exaltation He brought Manhood unto God!
Marks of Christianity Revealed – vv.33-35
Linked to Him – v.33
We can learn from the tender manner in which He taught. He called them “little children” or ‘dear children’ and John, as an old man addressing the saints, uses the term seven times in his first Epistle. The saints meant something to him and he knew there was a right way of teaching truth. We can only teach those to whom we are close.
The Lord reveals that He is going away and, despite their search for Him, they would be unable to find Him. In the meanwhile they are to love each other, as He states in vv.34,35.
Love to Each Other – vv.34,35
Edict to Love – “A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another” v.34.
This is a new commandment in that it raises the standard and is superior to the old. It is not now an eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth. This is now a life based on forgiveness, compassion and love. Why is it a commandment? The simple yet most practical answer is that loving one another is not easy! Under the old dispensation when the Law was in operation, the instruction was to love our neighbour as ourselves: “Thou shalt not avenge, nor bear any grudge against the children of thy people, but thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself: I am the Lord” Lev.19.18; but under grace this is much higher. In Jn.15.12 the Lord Jesus gives this instruction, “This is My commandment, That ye love one another, as I have loved you.”
Example of Love – “as I have loved you” v.34.
This is sacrificial love and is expanded in 1Jn.3.16-18: “Hereby perceive we the love of God, because He laid down His life for us: and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren. But whoso hath this world’s good, and seeth his brother have need, and shutteth up his bowels of compassion from him, how dwelleth the love of God in him? My little children, let us not love in word, neither in tongue; but in deed and in truth.”
Effect of Love – “By this shall all men know that ye are My disciples, if ye have love one to another” v.35.
Darby’s translation is helpful: “By this shall all know that ye are disciples of Mine, if ye have love amongst yourselves.” This is more than a display merely of connection, which may be transient, or depending on circumstances, but of character, which is unchanging.
Having instructed them with respect to mutual love, the Lord returns to the fact of His departure from the disciples. Peter asks, “Lord, whither goest Thou?” The answer of the Lord is time based. Notice the expressions of time in vv.36,37: “‘Whither I go, thou canst not follow Me now; but thou shalt follow Me afterwards.’ Peter said unto Him, ‘Lord, why cannot I follow Thee now? I will lay down my life for Thy sake.’” In his “Collected Writings”, Darby states, “For the moment no one could follow Him. Who could pass through death, Satan’s power, and the judgment of God, being made sin before God, and enter beyond it all into glory?” For an apostle, a mere human, such was an impossibility.
Peter boasts like the proud cockerel, “I will lay down my life for Thy sake” v.37. This he may do, but he could never sustain and exhaust Divine judgment, as His Lord would soon do as He hung upon the cross. The Lord uses the cockerel illustration to bring the lesson of the futility and weakness of the human flesh home to Peter. The cockerel was silenced by the Lord’s power until Peter had denied Him thrice, v.38. Peter had to learn the value of humility, and this he did, as can be detected from his teaching in 1Pet.5.5,6: “… God resisteth the proud, and giveth grace to the humble. Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you in due time.” Paradoxically, death has to come before victory. Note the order in Col.3.5,8: “Mortify therefore your members which are upon the earth … But now ye also put off all these; anger, wrath, malice, blasphemy, filthy communication out of your mouth.” There can only be a putting off when there is a mortifying. Death is always the power for life!