Note: The first twelve chapters of John’s Gospel cover three years; the next six chapters cover one night.
13:1 It was just before the Passover Feast [this time period covered in chapters 13 to 17]. Jesus knew that the time had come for him to leave [to depart, to transfer] this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he now showed them the full extent [“to the end” or “to the utmost”] of his love.
John’s account of the Passion begins just before the Passover Feast. This annual feast commemorated the Jews’ deliverance from bondage in Egypt. The Passover also foreshadowed the deliverance from sin Jesus, the lamb of God (John 1:29), would make possible through His death, burial, and resurrection.
Jesus lived on a divine timetable. On previous occasions Jesus stated that His hour had not yet come (John 2:4; 7:6,8,30; 8:20). However, when Jesus and His disciples met to observe the Passover, He was fully aware that His time to leave this world and return to the Father had come. Jesus knew what lay ahead. The cross did not come as a surprise to Him.
The words “showed them the full extent of his love” mean that Jesus loved His disciples completely. This beautiful expression emphasizes the close relationship Jesus and His disciples had developed during the years they spent together. Jesus used His last hours to instruct, warn, and encourage those He loved.
13:2 The evening meal was being served [the Passover meal; the last meal Jesus would eat with His disciples; Jesus instituted the “Lord’s Supper” during this meal], and the devil [cf. Jn. 13:27] had already prompted [to place or put something into the heart] Judas Iscariot, [cf. Jn. 6:70] son of Simon, to betray [to deliver over] Jesus.
When Jesus and His disciples sat down to begin the meal, John noted that the devil had already prompted Judas … to betray Jesus. Jesus had earlier called Judas “a devil” (John 6:70). Prior to the Passover meal, Judas had contacted the religious leaders and contracted with them to betray Jesus for “thirty silver coins” (Matt. 26:14-16). From that moment on, Judas began to look for an opportunity to carry out his evil plan (Luke 22:6). Later in the evening “Satan entered into” Judas, thus setting the actual betrayal in motion (v. 27).
13:3 Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from [Jesus knew His origin] God and was returning to [Jesus knew His destiny] God;
John prefaced the washing of the disciples’ feet by stating Jesus knew His origin and His destiny. Jesus had come from God. He had willingly laid aside His glory and took on the role of a humble servant through whom God would redeem people (Phil. 2:4-8). He knew why God had sent Him (Luke 19:10) and understood that God had given Him authority to accomplish His assignment. Jesus also knew He would soon be returning to God and be clothed again with the glory He had with the Father (John 17:5).
13:4 so he got up [to arise] from the meal, took off his outer clothing [cf. Phil. 2:6,7], and wrapped a towel [linen] around his waist [like an apron].
Foot washing was a common practice in Bible times. People wore sandals and walked along hot, dusty, and sometimes muddy roads and paths. Generally, a host assigned the menial task of washing the feet of guests to the lowest servant in the house. Failure to wash a guest’s feet was considered a breach of hospitality (see Luke 7:44).
When Jesus and His disciples met for the Passover meal, no servant was available to render this humble service, and none of the disciples volunteered to do it. So Jesus did it himself. Jesus quietly got up and removed His outer clothing. Jesus then wrapped a towel around his waist and took on the role of the lowest servant. Jesus’ actions teach that true Christian service is performed in a spirit of humility.
13:5 After that, he poured water into a basin [poured water over feet from one vessel to another] and began to wash [“It was the duty of the non-Jewish servant to wash the feet of his master. A Jewish slave was not required to do this.” (Rienecker/Rogers); subservient task for household servant (cf. 1 Sam. 25:41); see also Lk. 7:44; Jesus came to serve not to be served (Mk. 10:45); a truly shocking and stunning example of humility] his disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him.
We can imagine the hush that filled the room as Jesus knelt to wash the feet of the first disciple. Perhaps the others looked at one another in wide-eyed amazement. Interestingly, none of His disciples offered to take His place. All of the disciples, except Peter (John 6:6), accepted His service in silence.
Ironically, prior to the supper the disciples had been quite vocal about who would be the greatest in the new kingdom they expected Jesus to establish (Luke 22:24). Jesus’ humble service stood in contrast to their worldly ambition and desire for places of prestige in the kingdom.
13:6 He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, “Lord, are you going to wash [rinse] my feet?”
13:7 Jesus replied, “You do not realize [to perceive intuitively] now what I am doing, but later you will understand [to understand by learning; read 1 Peter 5:5-6 re: Peter’s understanding of what Jesus had done].”
13:8 “No,” said Peter, “you shall never [not in anywise] wash [rinse] my feet [Peter seemed confused by what he saw Jesus doing].” Jesus answered, “Unless I wash [physical cleansing symbolized the spiritual cleansing His death would accomplish for all who entered into a faith relationship with Him] you, you have no part with me [perhaps Jesus meant that unless He washed away Peter’s sins by His death on the cross, then Peter could have no relationship with Him; or perhaps Jesus meant that unless Peter submitted to this act of service he would never learn the lesson of humility].”
13:9 “Then, Lord,” Simon Peter replied, “not just my feet but my hands and my head as well [Peter went from one extreme to the other]!”
13:10 Jesus answered, “A person who has had a bath [washing the whole body] needs only to wash his feet; his whole body is clean. And you are clean, though not every one [referred to Judas Iscariot (cf. 13:18)] of you.”
13:11 For he knew who was going to betray him, and that was why he said not every one was clean.
13:12 When he had finished washing their feet, he put on his clothes and returned to his place [to recline at the table]. “Do you understand what I have done for you?” he asked them.
After Jesus answered Peter’s objections (13:6-11), He finished washing His disciples’ feet. Jesus then put on his clothes and returned to his place at the table. Jesus asked the disciples if they understood the significance of what He had done for them. His question challenged each of those present to consider the meaning of what they had personally witnessed and experienced. We do not know how long Jesus waited for an answer to His question, but the silence finally invited His explanation.
13:13 “You call me `Teacher [Master; a term of respect and recognition of instruction]’ and `Lord [a term of honor and recognition of authority],’ and rightly so, for that is what I am.
Jesus began His explanation by reminding His disciples that they knew who He was. They had come to recognize and acknowledge Jesus as Teacher, or Master, and Lord. The word translated Teacher is closely related to the term “Rabbi” (John 1:38). Rabbis were highly respected by the Jews of that day. Pupils were expected to honor and follow the example and teachings of their teachers. The title Lord acknowledged the authority and deity of Jesus. Jesus affirmed that the disciples were correct in addressing Him as Teacher and Lord.
13:14 Now that I, your Lord and Teacher [one on a higher level], have washed your feet, you also should [to owe a debt; to be obligated] wash one another’s feet.
As their Lord and Teacher Jesus had demonstrated the kind of service He expected His disciples to perform for one another. I once heard someone say that those who feel they are too big to do a small job are too small to do a big job. Jesus had demonstrated to His disciples that although He was their Lord and Teacher, He was willing to do the smallest job. He expected each of those present to humbly serve one another. He expects the same of us.
13:15 I have set you an example [pattern; illustration] that you should do as I have done [humble service] for you.
Some believe that Jesus instituted a new ordinance when He washed His disciples’ feet. However, the New Testament never mentions that the church practiced foot washing as an ordinance. The only other mention of foot washing is found in 1 Timothy 5:10 where the context indicates it was done as an act of hospitality.
Rather than actually washing feet, we should look for ways to demonstrate a foot washing attitude. We should understand Jesus’ words as a challenge to follow or imitate His example of humility and service.
13:16 I tell you the truth, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger [literally “apostle”] greater than the one who sent him.
Using a familiar expression (see Matt. 10:24; Luke 6:40; John 15:20), Jesus explained to his disciples that, as their master, He did not consider it beneath His dignity to perform a menial service for them. If He was willing to perform such a service, then they must be prepared to do the same.
If we refuse to serve others we are, in a sense, arrogantly placing ourselves above Jesus. The disciples would soon be sent into the world (John 20:21) and serve as leaders in Jesus’ church. They would best fulfill their responsibilities only by following Jesus’ example of servant leadership.
13:17 Now that you know these things, you will be blessed [happy, joyful, fulfilled] if [condition] you do them.
Jesus told the disciples they would be blessed if they followed His example. The word blessed is the same one used in the Beatitudes (Matt. 5:3-11). Jesus had previously taught His disciples the importance of putting what they knew into practice (see Matt. 7:21,24; Mk. 3:35; Luke 11:28).
On each of these occasions He emphasized that it is not enough to hear and understand the truth. Knowledge alone puffs us up (1 Cor. 8:1). While it is commendable to know what is right, we must apply what we know. True Christian service consists in actions, not just words or beliefs.
13:18 “I am not referring to all of you; I know [cf. Jn. 6:70-71] those [plural] I have chosen [to select for one’s self; cf. Mk. 3:13-19]. But this is to fulfill the scripture [cf. Ps. 41:9]: `He who shares [to chew, to eat] my bread has lifted up his heel against me.’
The lesson on humble service had meaning for all but one of the disciples present—Judas. Although Jesus chose Judas to be one of His disciples (Luke 6:13), He knew Judas would betray Him. Quoting Psalm 41:9, Jesus said that Judas’ betrayal would fulfill Scripture. Jesus described Judas’ treacherous act with the words “has lifted up his heel against me.” These words literally mean, “has taken a cruel advantage of me.”
Judas, a trusted companion (Judas was keeper of the money), indeed took a cruel advantage of Jesus. Sadly, Judas would never know the joy Jesus promised to those who humbly follow His example of service. His life would end within hours after the completion of his treacherous action.
Note: Psalm 41 describes how David’s friend Ahithopel betrayed him. Ironically, David’s betrayer later hanged himself (see 2 Sam. 16:20-17:3,23). Jesus described Judas’ treacherous act with David’s words “has lifted up his heel against me.” These words literally mean, “has taken a cruel advantage of me.” Judas, a trusted companion (Judas was keeper of the money), indeed took cruel advantage of Jesus. Judas would betray Jesus and then, like Ahithopel, hang himself.
13:19 “I am telling you now before [displayed Jesus’ divine foreknowledge] it [His betrayal by Judas] happens, so that when it does happen you will believe [not lose faith and confidence in Jesus because of the treachery of Judas] that I am He [the Messiah; God; the son of God].
13:20 I tell you the truth, whoever accepts anyone [those who represent Jesus] I send [cf. Jn. 20:21] accepts me; and whoever accepts me accepts the one [God] who sent me.”
13:21 After he had said this, Jesus was troubled [to be disturbed; Jesus was troubled because Judas could not be salvaged; cf. Jn. 11:33; 12:27] in spirit and testified [to make an important and solemn declaration], “I tell you the truth, one [cf. Jn. 13:10,18] of you is going to betray [to give over; to deliver someone to another; cf. Matt. 27:26 “handed him over”] me.”
13:22 His disciples stared [surprised; perplexed] at one another, at a loss [to be disturbed] to know which of them [cf. Matt. 26:22,25] he meant.
13:23 One of them, the disciple whom Jesus loved [traditionally known as the apostle John; phrase probably conveys John’s amazement that Jesus loved him], was reclining next to him.
13:24 Simon Peter motioned [to signal by nodding the head] to this disciple and said, “Ask him which one he means.” [perhaps Peter himself was going to deal with the betrayer]
13:25 Leaning back against Jesus, he asked him, “Lord, who is it?”
13:26 Jesus answered, “It is the one to whom I will give this piece of bread [indicates Judas had to be within Jesus’ reach] when I have dipped it in the dish [custom was to eat from a common dish].” Then, dipping the piece of bread, he gave [ironically, this was a sign of friendship; Judas would later betray Jesus with another sign of friendship–a kiss (Lk. 22:47-48)] it to Judas Iscariot, son of Simon.
13:27 As soon as Judas took the bread, Satan [adversary, opponent] entered into [thus setting the betrayal in motion] him [Judas became Satan’s tool to accomplish his evil plan; came under the complete control and influence of Satan]. “What you are about to do, do quickly,” Jesus told him,
13:28 but no one at the meal understood [no one made the connection between Jesus’ words in 13:21 and 13:26] why Jesus said this to him.
13:29 Since Judas had charge of the money [cf. Jn. 12:6], some thought Jesus was telling him to buy what was needed for the Feast [refers to the seven-day Feast of Unleavened Bread], or to give something to the poor [a custom of the Passover celebration].
13:30 As soon as Judas had taken the bread, he went [Judas made a choice] out [immediately]. And it was night [reference to actual time and also symbolizes the spiritual condition of Judas (moral and spiritual night); cf. Jn. 3:18-21].
13:31 When he [Judas] was gone [probable that the institution of the Lord’s Supper took place after Judas was gone], Jesus said, “Now is the Son of Man glorified [to exalt by completing a task; God made a full display of His glory in the person of His Son] and God is glorified in him.
13:32 If God is glorified in him, God will glorify the Son in himself, and will glorify him at once [refers to the resurrection and ascension].
13:33 “My children [term connotes intimacy, fondness, affection; John used this term seven times in his first epistle], I will be [in bodily form] with you only a little longer. You will look for me [in the sense of longing for His physical presence], and just as I told the Jews [cf. Jn. 7:33-34], so I tell you now: Where I am going [to His Heavenly Father], you cannot come.
13:34 “A new [in nature and quality; superior to the old; cf. Lev. 19:18; the motive of love, not the message, constituted a new commandment; new in the sense of intensity, degree, motive] command [God measures love by obedience (cf. 1 Jn. 5:2)] I give you: Love one another [35 “one another” passages in the NT; each one illustrates practical ways in which we can carry out this particular command]. As I have loved [Gr. agape: God’s self-giving, sacrificial love toward sinful people] you [we are to love others based on Jesus’ sacrificial love for us], so you must love one another.
With Judas absent from the room (13:30), Jesus told His disciples that He would be with them “only a little longer” (13:33). He then turned His attention to their relationship to one another. Jesus gave a new command to His disciples — a command to love one another. The message to love one another was not new (Lev. 19:18). However, the motive and quality of love Jesus challenged His followers to practice were something new.
His love is the basis for loving one another. Christian service is a visible demonstration of that love. How do we practice this command? The other “one another” passages in the New Testament amplify practical ways we can carry out Jesus’ all-encompassing command to love one another.
13:35 By this all men [people] will know that you are my disciples, if you love [the hallmark of Christians; cf. Acts 4:34-35 for example of such love] one another.”
The disciples took Jesus’ new command to heart. The early church exhibited the “as I have loved you” kind of love Jesus commanded His followers to practice (Acts 4:34-35). This self-giving, sacrificial kind of love caught the attention of unbelievers.
The church leader Tertullian (A.D. 155-220) quoted the unbelievers of his day as saying of Christians, “See how they love one another!” So impressed were they by what they saw that they also remarked, “How ready they are to die for one another!”
Can the unbelievers of our day say the same of us? Do we exhibit the kind of love that captures the attention of a skeptical world? Do our lives bear the unmistakable stamp of His love?
13:36 Simon Peter asked him, “Lord, where are you going?” Jesus replied, “Where I am going, you cannot follow now, but you will follow later.”
13:37 Peter asked, “Lord, why can’t I follow you now? I will lay down my life for you [other disciples joined Peter in his promise of loyalty (cf. Matt. 26:35); see also Mk. 14:29-31 and Lk. 22:33-34].”
13:38 Then Jesus answered, “Will you really lay down your life for me? I tell you the truth, before the rooster crows, you will disown me three times [cf. Matt. 26:69-75; Mk. 14:66-72; Lk. 22:54-62; note: everyone deserted Jesus when He was arrested (cf. Mk. 14:50); answer reveals the Lord’s foreknowledge]!