Washing the Disciples’ Feet

13:1 Just before the Passover feast, Jesus knew that his time had come to depart from this world to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he now loved them to the very end.

Father – This word is used over 50 times in Jn 13-17.

13:2 The evening meal was in progress, and the devil had already put into the heart of Judas Iscariot, Simon’s son, that he should betray Jesus.
13:3 Because Jesus knew that the Father had handed all things over to him, and that he had come from God and was going back to God, 13:4 he got up from the meal, removed his outer clothes, took a towel and tied it around himself. 13:5 He poured water into the washbasin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to dry them with the towel he had wrapped around himself.

In a rare insight into the psychology of Jesus, this verse tells us that he knew three things:-

  1. His authority – ‘that the Father had put all things under his power’.
  2. His identity – ‘that he had come from God’.
  3. His destiny – ‘that he was returning to God’.

‘I venture to say that we never understand Jesus Christ and His work until we recognize this as its prominent purpose, to cleanse us from sin.  An inadequate conception of what we need – shallow, superficial views of the gravity and universality, and obstinacy of, the fact of sin – is an impenetrable veil between us and all real understanding of Jesus Christ.  There is no adequate motive for such an astounding fact as the incarnation and sacrifice of the Son of God except the purpose of redeeming the world.  If you do not believe that you – you, individually, and all of us, your brethren – need to be cleansed, you will find it hard to believe in the divinity and atonement of Jesus Christ.  If you have been down into the depths of your own heart and found out what tremendous, diabolic power your own evil nature and sin have upon you, then you will not be content with anything less than the incarnate God, who stoops from heaven to bear the burden of your sin and to take it all away.  If you want to understand why He laid aside His garments and took the servile form of our manhood, the appeal of man’s sin to His love and the answer of His divine condescension are the only explanation.’ (Alexander Maclaren)

13:6 Then he came to Simon Peter. Peter said to him, “Lord, are you going to wash my feet?” 13:7 Jesus replied, “You do not understand what I am doing now, but you will understand after these things.” 13:8 Peter said to him, “You will never wash my feet!” Jesus replied, “If I do not wash you, you have no share with me.” 13:9 Simon Peter said to him, “Lord, wash not only my feet, but also my hands and my head!” 13:10 Jesus replied, “The one who has bathed needs only to wash his feet, but is completely clean. And you disciples are clean, but not every one of you.” 13:11 (For Jesus knew the one who was going to betray him. For this reason he said, “Not every one of you is clean.”)

“Later you will understand” – In 1 Pet 5:5b-6 Peter gives good evidence that later he did understand.

13:12 So when Jesus had washed their feet and put his outer clothing back on, he took his place at the table again and said to them, “Do you understand what I have done for you? 13:13 You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and do so correctly, for that is what I am. 13:14 If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you too ought to wash one another’s feet. 13:15 For I have given you an example—you should do just as I have done for you. 13:16 I tell you the solemn truth, the slave is not greater than his master, nor is the one who is sent as a messenger greater than the one who sent him. 13:17 If you understand these things, you will be blessed if you do them.

‘Every Christian is a pupil in the school of Jesus Christ.  We sit at the feet of our Master.  We want to bring our minds and our wills, our beliefs and our standards, under his yoke.  In the Upper Room he said to the apostles: “You call me ‘Teacher” and ‘Lord’, and rightly so, for that is what I am.”  That is, “Teachers” and “Lord” were no mere courtesy titles; they bore witness to a reality.  Jesus Christ is our Teacher to instruct us and our Lord to command us.  All Christian people are under the instruction and the discipline of Jesus Christ.  It should be inconceivable for a Christian ever to disagree with, or to disobey him.  Whenever we do, the credibility of our claim to be converted Christians is in doubt.  For we are not truly converted if we are not intellectually and morally converted, and we are not intellectually and morally converted if we have not subjected our minds and our wills to the yoke of Christ.’ (Sott, Authentic Christianity, p39)

‘The God who washes feet! It is the greatest vision of God ever given to mankind. The God who became flesh, who dwelt among us, who made Himself nothing, who washes feet. Think the way Christ thought! If He had thought differently there would have been no incarnation, no cross, and no salvation.’ (McLeod, A Faith to Live By)

John Stott discusses this passage under the heading of ‘cultural transposition’.  ‘In Jesus day, foot-washing was a common cultural practice.  If we had been invited to a meal in a friend’s house, we would have walked thee barefoot or in sandals through dusty streets, and on arrival a slave would have washed our feet.  Today, however, at least in the West, the whole culture has changed.  We visit a friend by car or public transport.  On arrival, there is certainly no slave to meet us and wash our feet.  Instead, our host or hostees will probably ask us, “Do you want to wash your hands?”‘ Stott suggests that we have three options for handling this text today:-

  1. We could ignore it, on the basis that foot-washing has no place in our culture.
  2. We could follow it literally (as the Mennonites do, and some African and Asian churches have ritual foot-washing as part of their communion service).
  3. We could seek to culturally transpose it, by asking, ‘What was Jesus getting at, what was the essence of his instruction?’  The answer, says Stott, is not difficult: ‘He was teaching that if we love one another, we must serve one another, and no service will be too dirty, menial or demeaning for us to perform.’  (The Contemporary Christian, p200f)

“I am among you as one who serves,” said Jesus in Lk 22:27, and this passage visibly demonstrates that.  But Jesus goes further, by setting this as an example for his disciples.  In a sense, then, all Christ’s followers are called to the ‘diaconate’, because all are called to serve.  ‘The opportunities for diakonia, for a ministry in which Christian people may serve both God and man, are extremely numerous.  There is the vocation of parents, especially of the mother, to bring up the children “in the discipline and instruction of the Lord”, Eph 6:4, and to make the Christian home a place of love, hospitality and peace.  There is a Christian’s job, to be regarded primarily neither as a way to earn his lving nor as a contribution to his coutnry’s ecnominc stability, nor as a useful sphere of witness and evangelism – not in fact as a means to these or any other estimable ends – but as an end in itself, the diakonia of a Christian man, who is seeking to co-operate with the purpose of God in securing the welfare of men.  There are also abundant openings for alert Christians in public service, through voluntary organisations, and among underprivileged and unwanted people in the neighbourhood.  But apart fom the home, the job and the neighbourhood, most Christians will wish to be of service also in and through the local church to which they belong.’ (Stott, Authentic Christianity, 245f)

The Announcement of Jesus’ Betrayal

13:18 “What I am saying does not refer to all of you. I know the ones I have chosen. But this is to fulfill the scripture, ‘The one who eats my bread has turned against me.’ 13:19 I am telling you this now, before it happens, so that when it happens you may believe that I am he.
13:20 I tell you the solemn truth, whoever accepts the one I send accepts me, and whoever accepts me accepts the one who sent me.”
13:21 When he had said these things, Jesus was greatly distressed in spirit, and testified, “I tell you the solemn truth, one of you will betray me.” 13:22 The disciples began to look at one another, worried and perplexed to know which of them he was talking about.
13:23 One of his disciples, the one Jesus loved, was at the table to the right of Jesus in a place of honor. 13:24 So Simon Peter gestured to this disciple to ask Jesus who it was he was referring to. 13:25 Then the disciple whom Jesus loved leaned back against Jesus’ chest and asked him, “Lord, who is it?”
13:26 Jesus replied, “It is the one to whom I will give this piece of bread after I have dipped it in the dish.” Then he dipped the piece of bread in the dish and gave it to Judas Iscariot, Simon’s son. 13:27 And after Judas took the piece of bread, Satan entered into him. Jesus said to him, “What you are about to do, do quickly.” 13:28 (Now none of those present at the table understood why Jesus said this to Judas. 13:29 Some thought that, because Judas had the money box, Jesus was telling him to buy whatever they needed for the feast, or to give something to the poor.) 13:30 Judas took the piece of bread and went out immediately. (Now it was night.)

“What you are about to do, do quickly” – ‘Jesus gently prods Judas to go ahead and follow through with what he has already decided to do in his heart. This shows that rather than being a victim of forces beyond his control or an unwilling prey of divine child abuse, Jesus was well in control of the situation and willingly went to the cross (cf. John 10:11, 15, 16-18; and esp. Jn 18:4-11).’ (Holman Apologetics Commentary)

The Prediction of Peter’s Denial

13:31 When Judas had gone out, Jesus said, “Now the Son of Man is glorified, and God is glorified in him. 13:32 If God is glorified in him, God will also glorify him in himself, and he will glorify him right away.
13:33 Children, I am still with you for a little while. You will look for me, and just as I said to the Jewish religious leaders, ‘Where I am going you cannot come,’ now I tell you the same.

Klink says that ‘this verse…serves as a foundational statement for the rest of the farewell discourse, for it introduces the questions and issues that the rest of the discourse will answer and explain.’

“I will be with you only a little longer” – According to Carson, this could refer either to his death or to his ascension (being conceived as a ‘theological unity’, with both addressed in the following chapters).

Just as I told the Jews – See Jn 7:33–34; cf. Jn 8:2.  As Carson says, ‘the Jews’ refers to Jesus’ Jewish opponents, since he and his disciples were also Jewish, but are distinguished here from ‘the Jews’.

“Where I am going, you cannot come” – ‘To the Jews this was a warning to believe in him before it was too late (Jn 8:21: “You will die in your sin”); for the disciples it is more consolatory, serving to let them know ahead of time that a change in his presence and the manner in which they relate to him is about to take place (cf. Jn 14:19; 16:16)’ (Klink).  Matthew Henry had said as much: ‘What he had said to the Jews (ch. 7:34) he saith to his disciples; for they have need to be quickened by the same considerations that are propounded for the convincing and awakening of sinners.’

‘They could not follow him to his cross, for they had not courage and resolution; it appeared that they could not when they all forsook him and fled. Nor could they follow him to his crown, for they had not a sufficiency of their own, nor were their work and warfare yet finished.’ (MHC)

13:34 “I give you a new commandment—to love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. 13:35 Everyone will know by this that you are my disciples—if you have love for one another.”

‘There is much misunderstanding about the true nature of love.  We may be sure that Jesus did not issue commands which cannot be obeyed.  Since he commanded us to love each other (even, elsewhere, our enemies), we must conclude that he loving he meant is not the victim of our emotions, but the servant of our will.  We may not feel like loving somebody, but we are commanded to do so.  We have to learn deliberately to set our love on people whom we do not naturally like.’ (Stott, Authentic Christianity, 221)

‘So peculiar is this blessing of the Gospel, that Christ appoints it for the badge and cognizance by which they should not only know one another, but even strangers would be able to know them from any other sect and sort of men in the world.’ (William Gurnall)

‘The sign that you followed Abraham was circumcision. The sign that you followed Moses was keeping the Sabbath. The sign that you followed John was that you were baptised. The sign that you follow Jesus Christ is that you love one another.’ (Illustrations for Biblical Preaching, 421)

The best proof that Christ has risen is that he is still alive. And for the immense majority of our contemporaries, the only way of seeing him alive is for us Christians to love one another. (Louis Evely)

‘Several years ago Johanne Lukasse of the Belgian Evangelical Mission came to the realization that evangelism in Belgium was getting nowhere. The nation’s long history of traditional Catholicism and the aggression of the cults had left the land seemingly impervious to the gospel. Driven to the Scripture, he came up with a new plan. First, he gathered together a heterogeneous group of believers: Belgian, Dutch, Americans – whoever would come. Second, he had them rent a house and live together for seven months. As is natural, frictions developed among these diverse people. This in turn sent them to prayer and, happily, to victory and love. Following this, they began to see amazing fruit. Outsiders called them “the people who love each other,” for they were living out the words and promises of Jesus: “A new commandment I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. All men will know that you are my disciples if you love one another” (John 13:34, 35).’ (R. Kent Hughes)

13:36 Simon Peter said to him, “Lord, where are you going?” Jesus replied, “Where I am going, you cannot follow me now, but you will follow later.” 13:37 Peter said to him, “Lord, why can’t I follow you now? I will lay down my life for you!” 13:38 Jesus answered, “Will you lay down your life for me? I tell you the solemn truth, the rooster will not crow until you have denied me three times!

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