[4. The fuller Revelation, and Growth of Faith among the Disciples
(a)The washing of the disciples’ feet (verses
(b)The spiritual interpretation of this act (John 13:12-28).
(c)The Betrayal. Hatred passes from the presence of love (John 13:21-30). ]
(1) Now before the feast of the passover.—Comp. John 12:1; John 12:12; John 12:36, and Excursus F: The Day of the Crucifixion of our Lord.
When Jesus knew that his hour was come . . .—He knew during the course of His earthly work that His hour was not yet come, and again and again declared this. (Comp. Note on John 2:4; John 7:6; John 11:9.) Now He knows with equal certainty that the hour is at hand that He should depart unto the Father. Having loved his own which were in the world . . .—By “his own” are here meant those who by believing on Him had received power to become the sons of God; those who by walking according as they had light were becoming sons of light. They are the true members, of the family of God. (Comp. Note on John 1:11-12.) The words as here used refer specially to those who had been called by Him, and had left all and followed Him. He is the head of this family, and He knows that these His “little children” (John 13:33) will be left as orphans (John 14:18). He would depart “out of the world;” they would be left “in the world,” as sheep among wolves, and as sheep without their shepherd. St. John places these facts in touching contrast. His thoughts are for them and not for Himself. For Him there would be the return to the glory of His Father’s throne, but His mind dwells on the bereavement and sorrow of those He leaves behind, and this moves Him to a special manifestation of His love.
He loved them unto the end—It has been usual to explain these words of the continuance of our Lord’s love—“Having loved His own, He continued to love them until the last moment.” This is, of course, true, but is a truth so certain and necessary from every conception of our Lord’s character as St. John has portrayed it, that we may doubt whether he would in this formal way state it. And though the phrase rendered “unto the end” sometimes means “finally”—as, e.g., in the New Testament, Luke 18:5, and 1 Thessalonians 2:16 (see Notes)—the sense, “unto the end” is very rare, and the general meaning is, “in the fullest degree,” “up to the limit.” It thus answers exactly to our “extremely.”
What seems not to have been noted is that the whole sentence may be a common Hebrew idiom in Greek dress. It belongs to the simple syntax of a primitive people to express intensity by repetition. The Vale of Sodom was “pits, pits of bitumen “(Genesis 14:10). Esau asked Jacob to feed him with “that red, red, thing” (Genesis 25:30). The intensity of the verbal idea was expressed in like manner by a simple form of the verb which brought the thought before the mind, and then by the special form which denoted the action. This is sometimes preserved in the English, as, e.g., in Genesis 20:17—“That in blessing I will bless thee, and in multiplying I will multiply thy seed” (I will bless thee abundantly, and will multiply thy seed exceedingly). Sometimes it is not. We have, e.g., in Amos 9:8, “I will not utterly destroy the house of Jacob, saith the Lord,” where the Hebrew is literally, “Destroying I will not destroy . . . (Vulgate, conter ens non conter am). In these passages the English exactly follows the Greek—i.e., the Greek in the passage of Genesis repeats the words as the Hebrew does, and in that of Amos, expresses the intensity by an adverbial phrase (εìs τέλος). Now that phrase is exactly the same as the one used by St. John here, and which is rendered “unto the end.” St. John was a Jew writing in Greek. May we not naturally expect a Hebrew thought in Greek form? He thinks of the intensity of our Lord’s love, and speaks of it in the simple expressiveness of the old Hebrew phrase, “Loving, he loved them with fulness of love.” (Comp. John 12:13.) This is not given as an amended rendering, because authority has been sought for it without success; but it is offered, as an explanation, to the reader’s judgment. The student will find in Schleusner s Lexicon Veteris Testamenti other instances which support this view.
The devil having now put into the heart of Judas Iscariot.—The better reading is, The devil having now put it into the heart, that Judas Iscariot, Simon’s son, should betray Him. But the sense must be that of our version, “The heart of Judas” (the devil having suggested). The alternative interpretation, “the heart of the devil” (the devil having conceived) is opposed to all scriptural analogy. For the fact, comp. Notes on Matthew 26:14, and Luke 22:3.
For “Judas Iscariot,” comp. Notes on Matthew 10:4; Matthew 26:14. The name is given here in the sad fulness of this mournful record. The fact is recorded hero to explain the references to Judas which follow in our Lord’s words (John 13:10; John 13:18; John 13:21; John 13:26-27; John 13:30).
And took a towel, and girded himself.—This was itself a mark of the servant’s position, and was meant to signify His assumption of the servant’s work. The successive minute details of this picture carry with them their own authenticity.
And began to wash the disciples’ feet.—The exactness of the narrative notes that the act was only begun, and was interrupted by the objection of Peter. This word “began” is frequent in the earlier Gospels, but it is only in this touch of accuracy that St. John uses it.
Lord, dost thou wash my feet?—For the title, comp. Matthew 16:22. The word “Thou” is to be strongly emphasised, but the common error of reading “my” as an emphatic word is to be avoided. The act is in itself natural; perhaps is even one that he had expected from some of the less prominent in the apostolic band. What he cannot understand is that his Master should do it. “Lord, dost Thou wash my feet?” Comp. with this feeling of the Apostle at the close of our Lord’s life that of John the Baptist at its commencement (Matthew 3:14-15).
But thou shalt know hereafter—i.e., in the teaching which is to follow (John 13:13-17). The word rendered “hereafter” is different from that rendered “afterwards” in John 13:36. The precise meaning is “after these things.” The sense, then, is “What I do thou knowest not now; but thou shalt come to know presently.” (Comp. John 13:17.)
If I wash thee not, thou hast no part with me.—Our Lord has already intimated (John 13:7) that His deed was symbolic, and He now refers to the truth underlying the outer act. The key to His meaning is to be found in His own words in John 13:13-17. By the act of washing their feet, He, their Lord, taught the spirit of self-sacrifice and love in opposition to the spirit of self-seeking and pride which ruled even in the Apostles’ hearts. That lesson every servant and apostle of Jesus Christ must learn, for the servant is. not greater than the Lord, nor the Apostle than the Sender. That lesson Peter was refusing to learn in the pride of his own impulsive will, which seemed to be humility. But unless he learns to accept the love of Christ’s humiliation, and is so cleansed by its power that he yields his human will wholly to the divine, and learns in self-sacrifice what the spirit of Christ really is, he can have no part in Him. The lesson is a hard one, but it is necessary; the sacrifice of will may be harder than that of life; but the strong man must become as the little child before he can enter into the Kingdom of Heaven.
For the phrase, “Thou hast no part with me,” which is again a Hebrew thought in Greek dress, comp. Matthew 24:51, and Luke 12:46. It is frequent in the Old Testament. See, e.g., Deuteronomy 12:12, “He hath no part nor inheritance with you.”
And ye are clean, but not all.—This is the moral application, accompanied by the mournful thought that it was not true of all. One there was among those who had been bathed who had allowed evil to enter into his heart and pollute it. For him cleansing had been neglected, and the daily corruption of the world had remained; evil thoughts had been harboured, until at length they had made corrupt the whole man. (Comp. Note on John 15:4.)
Know ye what I have done to you?—This question is asked, not to be answered, but to direct their attention to what He had done, and to the interpretation which follows—“Do ye perceive what I have done? This is the meaning of it.”
The second clause makes their blessedness depend upon their combining action with knowledge. They had known the truth before, but their knowledge had not profited them, and they needed on this very day to be taught them again.
I know whom I have chosen.—Comp. Note on John 6:70. The pronoun is strongly emphatic. “I (for My part) know whom I have chosen.” (See next verse.)
But that the scripture may be fulfilled.—Comp. Note on John 12:38. There is an ellipsis after “but,” which is most simply filled up by some such phrase as “all this was done;” “but all this was done that the Scripture . . .” (Comp. John 19:36 and Matthew 26:56.) Others would make the connection to be, “But I have chosen them that the Scripture . . .”
He that eateth bread with me hath lifted up his heel against me.—Comp. especially Note on the quotation in John 2:18, from Psalms 61. The present words are a free rendering of the Greek (LXX.) of Psalm 41:9; but the LXX. follow the Hebrew more literally, and read, “hath made great his heel.” This is here interpreted to mean, “lifted up his heel,” which the Bible version of the Psalm gives, with the literal rendering magnified in the margin. The Prayer Book version follows the Vulgate in reading “hath laid great wait for Me.”
Our Lord’s quotation omits the earlier part of the verse, “Mine own familiar friend whom I trusted.” He knew whom He had chosen. “He knew what was in man, and did not trust Himself to them” (John 2:24-25).
It is by no means certain that we are justified in following the title of the Psalm, and ascribing it to David. It is not improbable that here, as in Psalms 69, we have the words of Jeremiah, and the special reference to the friend is unknown. If the Psalm was by David, then, as the king was the type of Christ, Ahithophel is doubtless the type of Judas. In any case the baseness of the treachery lay in the fact that the betrayer was one who did eat bread with the psalmist. He was, as our word expresses it, a “companion” (one who breaks bread with), but to this the Orientals attached a sacredness which even the Bedouin of the desert would honour. But there was one then professing to be His Apostle, eating bread with Him, and yet planning to betray Him.
Ye may believe that I am he.—Comp. Note on John 8:24; John 14:29. The result of His henceforth declaring these things unto them before the events, will be that they will find confirmation of their faith in Him as the Messiah. Had He not then declared His knowledge of all, and traced even His choice of Judas to the will of God, there would have been room for doubt whether that choice was consistent with His being the Messiah.
One of his disciples, whom Jesus loved—i.e., John himself. (Comp. John 21:2; John 21:7; John 21:20-23, and Introduction, p. 375.) The same designation occurs also in John 19:26.
That he should ask who it should be of whom he spake.—The better reading is, and saith unto him, Say who it is of whom He speaketh. St. Peter supposes that the disciple whom Jesus loved is more than any other in the confidence of his Master, and that he knew who was here referred to, and makes a sign to him to tell what he knew.
Our Lord would preside at the meal, and distribute to each guest his portion. When John asked the question, He was about to give the morsel to Judas. He avoids the name, and makes the act which He is about to perform convey the answer to the question. That act is the token of friendship and love which even now would redeem the heart full of treachery, if that heart would but receive it. (Comp. John 13:18.)
He gave it to Judas Iscariot.—Better, He takes and gives . . . , with the majority of good MSS. Note the solemn and sad fulness with which the name of Judas is again given by the Evangelist. (Comp. John 13:2.)
Then said Jesus unto him.—Better, Jesus therefore said unto him. It was because He read the secrets of the heart, and saw that it was wholly given up to evil that He said it.
That thou doest, do quickly.—The Greek is exactly, more quickly. “Carry out your plans even more quickly than you have proposed. Do the fatal deed at once. It is resolved, and every effort to win thee has failed. A fixed resolve is nothing less than the deed itself.”
Buy those things that we have need of against the feast.—Here, again, it will be better to postpone the consideration of details in the order of the events of this week, and to deal with the question as a whole. (Comp. Excursus F: The Day of the Crucifixion of our Lord.)
That he should give something to the poor.—Such gifts seem to have been made at all festivals. Their thought was probably of gifts to enable the poor to obtain the lamb and other requisites for keeping the Passover.
And it was night.—These words doubtless state the physical fact that at the time when Judas left the room the darkness of night had already come on. He went out, and went out into the darkness of night. We cannot say that the writer meant them to express more than this, and yet we feel that there is in them a fulness of meaning that cannot have been unintentional. It was night; and he stepped forth from light into darkness; from the presence and guidance of the Light of the World, to be possessed by and guided by the prince of darkness. It was night; and St. John could hardly have written these words without remembering those he had written but a short time before: “If a man walk in the night, he stumbleth, because there is no light in him.” (See Note on John 11:10.) Comp., for the way in which St. John gives emphasis to a tragic fulness of meaning by expressing it in a short detached sentence, John 11:35; John 18:40.
[(2) THE LAST WORDS OF DEEPEST MEANING TO THE FAITHFUL FEW (John 13:31 to John 16:33).
(a)His glory is at hand, because He is going to the Father; they are therefore to love one another (John 13:31-38);
(b)In the Father’s house He will receive them to Himself. He is the Way, the Truth, the Life (John 14:1-10);
(c)Being in the Father, He will be present in the disciples (John 13:11-24):
(α) By answering their prayers (John 13:12-14);
(β)By sending to them the Paraclete (John 13:13-17);
(γ)By abiding in them (John 13:18-24).
(d)His legacy of peace to them (John 13:25-31).]
God is glorified in him.—This is a re-statement of the thought which has met us whenever the work of the Son has been dwelt upon. It was the Father’s work too. The glory of the Son of Man in the redemption of the world was the glory of God, who gave His only-begotten Son, that by Him the world might be saved. There is a contrast drawn here between the humanity and the divinity united in the person of our Lord. In Him, i.e., in His person, in the person of the Son of Man suffering and crucified, there were manifested the attributes of the majesty and glory of God. It was an utterance to the world, in a fulness never heard before, of the Justice, Holiness, and Love which are the nature of God.
God shall also glorify him in himself.—The tense now changes to the future, and the glory thought of is that of the Father’s throne. The words “in Himself,” refer to “God,” not to “the Son of Man.” The thought is that the humiliation by which God is manifested to the world is the glory of God in the person of the Son of Man, and that this shall be followed by the glory of the Son of Man in the person of God, not simply and generally by His return to the glory of the pre-incarnate state, but by His return to it as the Son of Man. (Comp. Notes on John 17:4-5.)
And shall straightway glorify him.—This accounts for the present tense of the last verse. The whole is present to His mind as occurring forthwith.
For the remainder of the verse, see Notes on John 7:33-34; John 8:21.
For the meaning of the word “commandment,” comp. Note on John 10:18.
As I have loved you.—More exactly, Even as I loved you. (Comp. Note on John 13:1.) The punctuation of our version is to be maintained. It is not, as it has sometimes been read, “That ye love one another, as I have loved you . . .” The earlier clause gives the principle of the new commandment. The latter clause repeats this, and prefaces the repetition by words referring to His own acts of love, which should be an example for them. The word “as,” or “even as,” does not refer to the degree of His love, but to the fact; and the special instance of love then present to the mind was the feet-washing upon which the whole of this discourse has followed.
Whither I go, thou canst not follow me now.—Our Lord does not give the answer which St. Peter had sought, but repeats the statement of John 13:33. For St. Peter, as for the others, the place must be prepared and the way opened before they could follow (John 14:2). For him, as for his Master, the day’s work was to be done before the night would come, and it was not done yet. But that night would come, and he would hereafter follow his Master in a more literal sense than any of which he thought. (See Notes on John 21:18-19.)
For the remainder of the verse, comp. Notes on Matthew 26:34; Mark 14:30; and Luke 22:34.