Christ washes the disciples' feet. (1-17) The treachery of Judas foretold. (18-30) Christ commands the disciples to love one another. (31-38)
Verses 1-17 Our Lord Jesus has a people in the world that are his own; he has purchased them, and paid dear for them, and he has set them apart for himself; they devote themselves to him as a peculiar people. Those whom Christ loves, he loves to the end. Nothing can separate a true believer from the love of Christ. We know not when our hour will come, therefore what we have to do in constant preparation for it, ought never to be undone. What way of access the devil has to men's hearts we cannot tell. But some sins are so exceedingly sinful, and there is so little temptation to them from the world and the flesh, that it is plain they are directly from Satan. Jesus washed his disciples' feet, that he might teach us to think nothing below us, wherein we may promote God's glory, and the good of our brethren. We must address ourselves to duty, and must lay aside every thing that would hinder us in what we have to do. Christ washed his disciples' feet, that he might signify to them the value of spiritual washing, and the cleansing of the soul from the pollutions of sin. Our Lord Jesus does many things of which even his own disciples do not for the present know the meaning, but they shall know afterward. We see in the end what was the kindness from events which seemed most cross. And it is not humility, but unbelief, to put away the offers of the gospel, as if too rich to be made to us, or too good news to be true. All those, and those only, who are spiritually washed by Christ, have a part in Christ. All whom Christ owns and saves, he justifies and sanctifies. Peter more than submits; he begs to be washed by Christ. How earnest he is for the purifying grace of the Lord Jesus, and the full effect of it, even upon his hands and head! Those who truly desire to be sanctified, desire to be sanctified throughout, to have the whole man, with all its parts and powers, made pure. The true believer is thus washed when he receives Christ for his salvation. See then what ought to be the daily care of those who through grace are in a justified state, and that is, to wash their feet; to cleanse themselves from daily guilt, and to watch against everything defiling. This should make us the more cautious. From yesterday's pardon, we should be strengthened against this day's temptation. And when hypocrites are discovered, it should be no surprise or cause of stumbling to us. Observe the lesson Christ here taught. Duties are mutual; we must both accept help from our brethren, and afford help to our brethren. When we see our Master serving, we cannot but see how ill it becomes us to domineer. And the same love which led Christ to ransom and reconcile his disciples when enemies, still influences him.
Verses 18-30 Our Lord had often spoken of his own sufferings and death, without such trouble of spirit as he now discovered when he spake of Judas. The sins of Christians are the grief of Christ. We are not to confine our attention to Judas. The prophecy of his treachery may apply to all who partake of God's mercies, and meet them with ingratitude. See the infidel, who only looks at the Scriptures with a desire to do away their authority and destroy their influence; the hypocrite, who professes to believe the Scriptures, but will not govern himself by them; and the apostate, who turns aside from Christ for a thing of naught. Thus mankind, supported by God's providence, after eating bread with Him, lift up the heel against Him! Judas went out as one weary of Jesus and his apostles. Those whose deeds are evil, love darkness rather than light.
Verses 31-35 Christ had been glorified in many miracles he wrought, yet he speaks of his being glorified now in his sufferings, as if that were more than all his other glories in his humbled state. Satisfaction was thereby made for the wrong done to God by the sin of man. We cannot now follow our Lord to his heavenly happiness, but if we truly believe in him, we shall follow him hereafter; meanwhile we must wait his time, and do his work. Before Christ left the disciples, he would give them a new commandment. They were to love each other for Christ's sake, and according to his example, seeking what might benefit others, and promoting the cause of the gospel, as one body, animated by one soul. But this commandment still appears new to many professors. Men in general notice any of Christ's words rather than these. By this it appears, that if the followers of Christ do not show love one to another, they give cause to suspect their sincerity.
Verses 36-38 What Christ had said concerning brotherly love, Peter overlooked, but spoke of that about which Christ kept them ignorant. It is common to be more eager to know about secret things, which belong to God only, than about things revealed, which belong to us and our children; to be more desirous to have our curiosity gratified, than our consciences directed; to know what is done in heaven, than what we may do to get thither. How soon discourse as to what is plain and edifying is dropped, while a doubtful dispute runs on into endless strife of words! We are apt to take it amiss to be told we cannot do this and the other, whereas, without Christ we can do nothing. Christ knows us better than we know ourselves, and has many ways of discovering those to themselves, whom he loves, and he will hide pride from them. May we endeavour to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace, to love one another with a pure heart fervently, and to walk humbly with our God.
John 13:1-20 . AT THE LAST SUPPER JESUS WASHES THE DISCIPLES' FEET--THE DISCOURSE ARISING THEREUPON.
1. when Jesus knew that his hour was come that he should depart out of this world unto the Father--On these beautiful euphemisms,
having loved his own which were in the world, he loved them unto the end--The meaning is, that on the very edge of His last sufferings, when it might have been supposed that He would be absorbed in His own awful prospects, He was so far from forgetting "His own," who were to be left struggling "in the world" after He had "departed out of it to the Father" ( John 17:11 ), that in His care for them He seemed scarce to think of Himself save in connection with them: "Herein is love," not only "enduring to the end," but most affectingly manifested when, judging by a human standard, least to be expected.
2. supper being ended--rather, "being prepared," "being served," or, "going on"; for that it was not "ended" is plain from John 13:26 .
the devil having now--or, "already."
put into the heart of Judas . . . to betray him--referring to the agreement he had already made with the chief priests ( Luke 22:3-6 ).
3. Jesus knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, &c.--This verse is very sublime, and as a preface to what follows, were we not familiar with it, would fill us with inexpressible surprise. An unclouded perception of His relation to the Father, the commission He held from Him, and His approaching return to Him, possessed His soul.
4, 5. He riseth from supper, and laid aside his garments--outer garments which would have impeded the operation of washing.
and took a towel and girded himself--assuming a servant's dress.
5. began to wash--proceeded to wash. Beyond all doubt the feet of Judas were washed, as of all the rest.
6-11. Peter saith . . . Lord, dost thou wash my feet?--Our language cannot bring out the intensely vivid contrast between the "Thou" and the "my," which, by bringing them together, the original expresses, for it is not good English to say, "Lord, Thou my feet dost wash?" But every word of this question is emphatic. Thus far, and in the question itself, there was nothing but the most profound and beautiful astonishment at a condescension to him quite incomprehensible. Accordingly, though there can be no doubt that already Peter's heart rebelled against it as a thing not to be tolerated, Jesus ministers no rebuke as yet, but only bids him wait a little, and he should understand it all.
7. Jesus answered and said . . . What I do thou knowest not now--that is, Such condescension does need explanation; it is fitted to astonish.
but thou shall know hereafter--afterwards, meaning presently; though viewed as a general maxim, applicable to all dark sayings in God's Word, and dark doings in God's providence, these words are full of consolation.
8. Peter saith unto him, Thou shalt never wash, &c.--more emphatically, "Never shalt Thou wash my feet": that is, "That is an incongruity to which I can never submit." How like the man!
If I wash thee not, thou hast no part with me--What Peter could not submit to was, that the Master should serve His servant. But the whole saving work of Christ was one continued series of such services, ending with and consummated by the most self-sacrificing and transcendent of all services: THE SON OF MAN CAME not to be ministered unto, but TO MINISTER, AND TO GIVE HIS LIFE A RANSOM FOR MANY. submit to let his Master go down so low as to wash his feet, how should he suffer himself to be served by Him at all? This is couched under the one pregnant word "wash," which though applicable to the lower operation which Peter resisted, is the familiar scriptural symbol of that higher cleansing, which Peter little thought he was at the same time virtually putting from him. It is not humility to refuse what the Lord deigns to do for us, or to deny what He has done, but it is self-willed presumption--not rare, however, in those inner circles of lofty religious profession and traditional spirituality, which are found wherever Christian truth has enjoyed long and undisturbed possession. The truest humility is to receive reverentially, and thankfully to own, the gifts of grace.
9. Lord, not my feet only, but also my hands and my head--that is, "To be severed from Thee, Lord, is death to me: If that be the meaning of my speech, I tread upon it; and if to be washed of Thee have such significance, then not my feet only, but hands, head, and all, be washed!" This artless expression of clinging, life-and-death attachment to Jesus, and felt dependence upon Him for his whole spiritual well-being, compared with the similar saying in John 6:68 John 6:69 furnishes such evidence of historic verity such as no thoroughly honest mind can resist.
10. He that is washed--in this thorough sense, to express which the word is carefully changed to one meaning to wash as in a bath.
needeth not--to be so washed any more.
save to wash his feet--needeth to do no more than wash his feet (and here the former word is resumed, meaning to wash the hands or feet).
but is clean every whit--as a whole. This sentence is singularly instructive. Of the two cleansings, the one points to that which takes place at the commencement of the Christian life, embracing complete absolution from sin as a guilty state, and entire deliverance from it as a polluted life ( Revelation 1:5 , 1 Corinthians 6:11 )--or, in the language of theology, Justification and Regeneration. This cleansing is effected once for all, and is never repeated. The other cleansing, described as that of "the feet," is such as one walking from a bath quite cleansed still needs, in consequence of his contact with the earth. (Compare Exodus 30:18 Exodus 30:19 ). It is the daily cleansing which we are taught to seek, when in the spirit of adoption we say, "Our Father which art in heaven . . . forgive us our debts" ( Matthew 6:9 Matthew 6:12 ); and, when burdened with the sense of manifold shortcomings--as what tender spirit of a Christian is not?--is it not a relief to be permitted thus to wash our feet after a day's contact with the earth? This is not to call in question the completeness of our past justification. Our Lord, while graciously insisting on washing Peter's feet, refuses to extend the cleansing farther, that the symbolical instruction intended to be conveyed might not be marred.
and ye are clean--in the first and whole sense. but not all-important, as showing that Judas, instead of being as true-hearted a disciple as the rest at first, and merely falling away afterwards--as many represent it--never experienced that cleansing at all which made the others what they were.
12-15. Know ye what I have done?--that is, its intent. The question, however, was put merely to summon their attention to His own answer.
13. Ye call me Master--Teacher.
and Lord--learning of Him in the one capacity, obeying Him in the other.
and ye say well, for so I am--The conscious dignity with which this claim is made is remarkable, following immediately on His laying aside the towel of service. Yet what is this whole history but a succession of such astonishing contrast from first to last?
14. If I then--the Lord.
have washed your feet--the servants'.
ye--but fellow servants.
ought to wash one another's feet--not in the narrow sense of a literal washing, profanely caricatured by popes and emperors, but by the very humblest real services one to another.
16, 17. The servant is not greater than his lord, &c.--an oft-repeated saying ( Matthew 10:24 , &c.).
If ye know these things, happy are ye if ye do them--a hint that even among real Christians the doing of such things would come lamentably short of the knowing.
18, 19. I speak not of you all--the "happy are ye," of John 13:17 , being on no supposition applicable to Judas.
I know whom I have chosen--in the higher sense.
But that the scripture may be fulfilled--that is, one has been added to your number, by no accident or mistake, who is none of Mine, but just that he might fulfil his predicted destiny.
He that eateth bread with me--"did eat of my bread" ( Psalms 41:9 ), as one of My family; admitted to the nearest familiarity of discipleship and of social life.
hath lifted up his heel against me--turned upon Me, adding insult to injury. (Compare Hebrews 10:29 ). In the Psalm the immediate reference is to Ahithophel's treachery against David ( 2 Samuel 17:1-23 ), one of those scenes in which the parallel of his story with that of His great Antitype is exceedingly striking. "The eating bread derives a fearful meaning from the participation in the sacramental supper, a meaning which must be applied for ever to all unworthy communicants, as well as to all betrayers of Christ who eat the bread of His Church" (STIER, with whom, and others, we agree in thinking that Judas partook of the Lord's Supper).
19. I tell you before . . . that when it comes to pass, ye may believe--and it came to pass when they deeply needed such confirmation.
20. He that receiveth whomsoever I send, receiveth me, despite the dishonor done to Him by Judas, and similar treatment awaiting themselves, they were to be cheered by the assurance that their office, even as His own, was divine.
John 13:21-30 . THE TRAITOR INDICATED--HE LEAVES THE SUPPER ROOM.
21. When Jesus had thus said, he was troubled in spirit, and testified, and said, Verily, verily, I say unto you, One of you shall betray me--The announcement of John 13:18 seems not to have been plain enough to be quite apprehended, save by the traitor himself. He will therefore speak it out in terms not to be misunderstood. But how much it cost Him to do this, appears from the "trouble" that came over His "spirit"--visible emotion, no doubt--before He got it uttered. What wounded susceptibility does this disclose, and what exquisite delicacy in His social intercourse with the Twelve, to whom He cannot, without an effort, break the subject!
22. the disciples looked one on another, doubting of whom he spake--Further intensely interesting particulars are given in the other Gospels: (1) "They were exceeding sorrowful" ( Matthew 26:22 ). (2) "They began to inquire among themselves which of them it was that should do this thing" ( Luke 22:23 ). (3) "They began to say unto Him one by one, Is it I, and another, Is it I?" ( Mark 14:19 ). Generous, simple hearts! They abhorred the thought, but, instead of putting it on others, each was only anxious to purge himself and know if he could be the wretch. Their putting it at once to Jesus Himself, as knowing doubtless who was to do it, was the best, as it certainly was the most spontaneous and artless evidence of their innocence. (4) Jesus, apparently while this questioning was going on, added, "The Son of man goeth as it is written of Him, but woe unto that man by whom the Son of man is betrayed! It had been good for that man if he had not been born" ( Matthew 26:24 ). (5) "Judas," last of all, "answered and said, Lord, is it I?" evidently feeling that when all were saying this, if he held his peace, that of itself would draw suspicion upon him. To prevent this the question is wrung out of him, but perhaps, amidst the stir and excitement at the table, in a half-suppressed tone as we are inclined to think the answer also was--"Thou hast said" ( Matthew 26:25 ), or possibly by little more than a sign; for from John 13:28 it is evident that till the moment when he went out, he was not openly discovered.
23-26. there was leaning on Jesus' bosom one of his disciples, whom Jesus loved--Thus modestly does our Evangelist denote himself, as reclining next to Jesus at the table.
Peter . . . beckoned to him to ask who it should be of whom he spake--reclining probably at the corresponding place on the other side of Jesus.
25. He then lying--rather leaning over on Jesus' bosom.
saith--in a whisper, "Lord, who is it?"
26. Jesus answered--also inaudibly, the answer being communicated to Peter perhaps from behind.
He . . . to whom I shall give a sop when I have dipped it--a piece of the bread soaked in the wine or the sauce of the dish; one of the ancient ways of testifying peculiar regard; compare John 13:18 , "he that eateth bread with Me."
And when he had dipped . . . he gave it to Judas, &c.--Thus the sign of Judas' treachery was an affecting expression, and the last, of the Saviour's wounded love!
27-30. after the sop Satan entered into him--Very solemn are these brief hints of the successive steps by which Judas reached the climax of his guilt. "The devil had already put it into his heart to betray his Lord." Yet who can tell what struggles he went through ere he brought himself to carry that suggestion into effect? Even after this, however, his compunctions were not at an end. With the thirty pieces of silver already in his possession, he seems still to have quailed--and can we wonder? When Jesus stooped to wash his feet, it may be the last struggle was reaching its crisis. But that word of the Psalm, about "one that ate of his bread who would lift up his heel against Him" ( Psalms 41:9 ) probably all but turned the dread scale, and the still more explicit announcement, that one of those sitting with Him at the table should betray Him, would beget the thought, "I am detected; it is now too late to draw back." At that moment the sop is given; offer of friendship is once more made--and how affectingly! But already "Satan has entered into him," and though the Saviour's act might seem enough to recall him even yet, hell is now in his bosom, and he says within himself, "The die is cast; now let me go through with it"; fear,
Then said Jesus unto him, That thou doest, do quickly--that is, Why linger here? Thy presence is a restraint, and thy work stands still; thou hast the wages of iniquity, go work for it!
28, 29. no man . . . knew for what intent he spake this unto him . . . some thought . . . Jesus . . . said . . . But what we need . . . or, . . . give . . . to the poor--a very important statement, as showing how carefully. Jesus had kept the secret, and Judas his hypocrisy, to the last.
30. He then, having received the sop, went immediately out--severing himself for ever from that holy society with which he never had any spiritual sympathy.
and it was night--but far blacker night in the soul of Judas than in the sky over his head.
John 13:31-38 . DISCOURSE AFTER THE TRAITOR'S DEPARTURE--PETER'S SELF-CONFIDENCE--HIS FALL PREDICTED.
31. when he was gone out, Jesus said, Now is the Son of man glorified--These remarkable words plainly imply that up to this moment our Lord had spoken under a painful restraint, the presence of a traitor within the little circle of His holiest fellowship on earth preventing the free and full outpouring of His heart; as is evident, indeed, from those oft-recurring clauses, "Ye are not all clean," "I speak not of you all," &c. "Now" the restraint is removed, and the embankment which kept in the mighty volume of living waters having broken down, they burst forth in a torrent which only ceases on His leaving the supper room and entering on the next stage of His great work--the scene in the Garden. But with what words is the silence first broken on the departure of Judas? By no reflections on the traitor, and, what is still more wonderful, by no reference to the dread character of His own approaching sufferings. He does not even name them, save by announcing, as with a burst of triumph, that the hour of His glory has arrived! And what is very remarkable, in five brief clauses He repeats this word "glorify" five times, as if to His view a coruscation of glories played at that moment about the Cross.
God is glorified in him--the glory of Each reaching its zenith in the Death of the Cross!
32. If God be glorified in him, God shall also--in return and reward of this highest of all services ever rendered to Him, or capable of being rendered.
glorify him in himself, and . . . straightway glorify him--referring now to the Resurrection and Exaltation of Christ after this service was over, including all the honor and glory then put upon Him, and that will for ever encircle Him as Head of the new creation.
33-35. Little children--From the height of His own glory He now descends, with sweet pity, to His "little children," all now His own. This term of endearment, nowhere else used in the Gospels, and once only employed by Paul ( Galatians 4:19 ), is appropriated by the beloved disciple himself, who no fewer than seven times employs it in his first Epistle.
Ye shall seek me--feel the want of Me.
as I said to the Jews--( John 7:34 , 8:21 ). But oh in what a different sense!
34. a new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another--This was the new feature of it. Christ's love to His people in giving His life a ransom for them was altogether new, and consequently as a Model and Standard for theirs to one another. It is not, however, something transcending the great moral law, which is "the old commandment" ( 1 John 2:7 , it is said to be both new and old ( 1 John 2:7 1 John 2:8 ).
35. By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples--the disciples of Him who laid down His life for those He loved.
if ye have love one to another--for My sake, and as one in Me; for to such love men outside the circle of believers know right well they are entire strangers. Alas, how little of it there is even within this circle!
36-38. Peter said--seeing plainly in these directions how to behave themselves, that He was indeed going from them.
Lord, whither guest thou?--having hardly a glimmer of the real truth.
Jesus answered, . . . thou canst not follow me now, but thou shalt follow me afterwards--How different from what He said to the Jews: "Whither I go ye cannot come" ( John 8:21 ).
37. why not . . . now? I will lay down my life for thy sake--He seems now to see that it was death Christ referred to as what would sever Him from them, but is not staggered at following Him thither. Jesus answered,
38. Wilt thou lay down thy life for my sake?--In this repetition of Peter's words there is deep though affectionate irony, and this Peter himself would feel for many a day after his recovery, as he retraced the painful particulars.
Verily . . . The cock,