On the Gospel of John 13

John 13  •  16 min. read  •  grade level: 8
In chapter 13 the instructions begin that relate to a heavenly Savior. Although He was upon earth, He was the Light come from heaven, the eternal life that was from heaven; but, rejected upon earth, He now takes His place in heaven-not God manifested in human humiliation down here, but Man glorified in the glory of God above; and He exhibits and develops what He is for us in this position, before entering into it.
From this thirteenth chapter, then, the Savior presents Himself as having finished His testimony upon earth, and going to the Father. This leads Him to speak of His position and of His service on high in heaven, of the position of the disciples, and of the other Comforter, that He-and the Father in His name-would send from on high. He was seated at supper with His disciples, their friend and companion at table down here, one of them, whatever might be His glory, and their servant in grace. But He must leave them and go to His Father; solemn moment for them: what would become of them, and what would be their relationship with Him? Their thoughts hardly went further than this with regard to Him; they thought that they had found the Messiah who was going to set up the kingdom of God in Israel, although the Holy Ghost had attached them to His Person by a divine power. They knew that He was the Son of the living God, He who had the words of eternal life. But He was going to leave them: He had been among them as one who serves; must His service of love come to an end? The Father had given all things into His hands, He knew it; He was come from God, and was going to God; could the link of His service of love with His own continue? If it should, it was necessary that they should be fit for the presence of God Himself, and for association with the One to whom all things were committed.
Now Jesus had loved His own that were in the world: it is the precious source of all His relations with us, and He does not change. He had loved His own, He loved them to the end; His heart did not give them up, but He knew that He must leave them. Would He cease to be their servant in love?
No, He would be it forever. Everything was ready for His departure, even the heart of Judas. But neither the iniquitous treachery of Judas below, nor the glory into which He was about to enter above, separated His heart from His disciples. He ceases to be their companion; He remains their Servant; it is what we read in Ex. 21:2-6.
Jesus rises from supper and lays aside His garments; He takes a napkin and girds Himself with it: then, pouring water into a basin, He begins to wash the feet of the disciples, and to wipe them with the napkin with which He was girded. He is ever a Servant, and does the service of a slave. Wonderful truth and infinite grace, that the Son of the Most High, humbling Himself even to us, is pleased in His love to make us fit to enjoy the presence and the glory of God. He took the place of a Servant to accomplish this work of love, and His love never gives it up. (See in the glory, Luke 12:37.) He is a Servant forever, for love delights to serve.
Peter, who in giving way to his own feelings, though very natural, gives occasion so often to the words of the Lord that reveal to us the thoughts of God, objects strongly to the Lord's washing his feet. The answer of Jesus discloses the spiritual meaning of what He was doing, a meaning which Peter could not then understand, but which he should understand later on, for the Holy Ghost would make them understand all these things. One must be washed by the Lord in order to have part with Him: this is the key of all that was being done. Jesus could no longer have part with His disciples down here, and the disciples could not have part with Him, and before God Himself, to whom He was going, unless He washed them. There must be a cleanness such as could suit the presence and the house of God. Then, with his ardent spirit, Peter desires that the Lord should wash his hands and head, and Jesus explains to him the import of what He was doing.
We must remember that here it is a question of water, not of blood, however necessary the blood of the Savior be. It is a question of purity, not of expiation. Note, in the next place, that the scripture uses two words here which must not be confounded; one means to wash the whole body, to bathe; the other to wash the hands, the feet, or anything small. The water itself, employed here or elsewhere as a figure, signifies purification by the word, applied according to the power of the Spirit. One is born " of water ";-then the whole body is washed: there is a purification of the thoughts and actions by means of. an object which forms and governs the heart. These are the divine thoughts in Christ, the life and character of the new man, the reception of Christ by the word. Christ had the words of eternal life: this was expressed and communicated in His words, where grace acted, for they were spirit and life. The disciples had received these words, except the one who should betray Him; but although they were thus washed, converted, purified in reality, by the Lord's words, yet they were going to walk in a defiled world, where they could indeed defile their feet. Now this defilement does not suit God's house, and the love of the Lord does what is needed that the remedy should be soon applied, if they contracted defilement which shut them out. Ready to do everything that they might be blessed, Jesus washes their feet. This action was the service of a slave in those countries, where it was the first and constant expression of hospitality, and of the attentive care it claimed. (See Gen. 18:4; Luke 7:44.)
With this washing of the feet is connected the truth that conversion is not repeated. Once the word has been applied by the power of the Holy Ghost, this work is done, and it can never be undone, any more than the sprinkling of blood can be repeated or renewed. But if I sin, I defile my feet; my communion with God is interrupted. Then the Savior occupies Himself with me, in His love.
It will be well to notice here the difference that there is between the Priest and the Advocate. In practice the difference is important. Both offices have to do with intercession; but the Advocate is for sins that have been committed; the Priest is there that we may not sin, and that goodness may be in exercise in respect of our weakness; I speak of the Priesthood in heaven. Upon the cross Jesus was Priest and Victim (the goat Hazazel); but there the priest represented all the people, confessing their sins on the goat's head. This was indeed the work of the priest, but not properly a priestly act; and, as I have just said, the priest acted there as the representative of all the people, these latter being looked upon as guilty. This work is accomplished by the offering of the body of Jesus Christ, made once for all: by His one offering He has perfected forever those that are sanctified, so that we have no more conscience of sins. But Christ intercedes for us, in order that we may obtain mercy, and that we may find grace in time of need; so that, in our weakness, we may be the objects of the care of God's goodness, and that we may not sin. The Advocate intercedes, when we have sinned, to re-establish the interrupted communion, for it is a question of communion in 1 John 1. Righteousness and propitiation remain always perfect, and form the basis of that which is done for us when we have failed; 1 John 2:1, 2. The effect of this grace in Christ is, that the Spirit applies the word (the water in figure), humbles us in convincing us of sin, and brings us near to God. The red heifer (Num. 19) is a very instructive development of this renewing of communion. Notice here, that the Advocate does His work in order that we may be cleansed, not when we have been: also, we do not go to Him that He may do it; it is He who takes the initiative in grace, as He did for Peter, that His disciple's faith might not fail, when He should be obliged to leave him to himself for a moment, that he should make experience of his weakness.
The washing of the feet is therefore a service with which Christ is now occupied for us. When by our negligence (for there never is a necessity that we should do it) we have defiled our feet, and we have made ourselves unfit to enter spiritually into the presence of God, Christ purifies us by the word, so that communion may be re-established between our souls and God. It is a question of our walk down here essentially. When the priest amongst the Jews was consecrated, his body was washed, then he washed his feet and hands at the time of the accomplishment of each service. Here it is only the feet that had to be washed; it is no longer a service of work that is in question, but our walk down here.
The Lord gives what He had just been doing as an example of humility; but the spiritual intelligence of what He had done would only come when the Holy Ghost had been given. Still, we are called, in this sense also, to wash one another's feet, to apply the word in grace to the conscience of a brother who needs it, and in the humility, of which Christ has given the example. But the teaching refers to what Christ is doing for us on high, remaining ever our Servant in grace.
The Lord, in speaking here to His disciples, makes an exception of Judas, for He knew that Judas should betray Him, and He warns the disciples of it, that it might not be a stumblingblock. Still, in receiving one sent of the Lord, as sent of Him, they received Him; and in receiving Him, they received the Father Himself that sent Him. But although the Lord knew who should betray Him, the feeling that it was one of His own companions grieved Him; He even opens His heart before them: " One of you shall betray me." (v. 21). Sure at least of the truth of His words, of the certainty of them, they look at one another with the sincerity of innocence. Now John was near the Lord; Peter, always ardent, wishes to know who it is, and makes a sign to John to ask Jesus, for he was not himself near enough to Him to ask the question. Peter loved the Lord, a sincere faith attached him to Him, but he lacked that concentration of spirit that would have kept him near the Lord, as Mary, the sister of Martha, was kept there. John had not placed himself near Jesus to receive this communication; he received it because, according to the habit of his heart, he kept near Him, glorying in the title, " the disciple whom Jesus loved." Thus John was there where he could receive the Lord's communication. This is our secret, too, in order to have the intimate communications of the Lord. Blessed place, where the heart enjoys the affections of the Savior, and where He communicates to us what His heart contains for those whom He loves.
But nearness to Jesus, without faith in Him, if the heart overcomes the influence of His presence, hardens in a terrible manner; the morsel which showed that one was eating of the same dish, the morsel which Judas received, dipped by His hand, is but the sign of Satan's entering into his heart. Satan enters into this heart to harden it, even against every amiable sentiment of nature, against every remembrance of that which could act upon the conscience. There are many unconverted persons, who would not betray an intimate companion by covering him with kisses; many wicked people that would have remembered the miracles they had seen-perhaps done themselves. Covetousness had been there, it had never been repressed; then Satan suggests to Judas the means of satisfying it. For myself I have no doubt that Iscariot thought that the Lord would escape out of the hands of men, as He had done, when His hour was not yet come: his remorse, when he knew that Jesus was condemned, makes me think it-a remorse which only found other hearts as hard as his own, and indifferent to his misery; an appalling picture of man's heart under the influence of Satan. Then, almost the final phase of this influence, Satan hardens Judas against all feeling of humanity, and of man towards the man of his acquaintance, and finishes all by abandoning him, giving him up to despair in the presence of God.
Morally all was over when Judas had taken the morsel that had been dipped: and Jesus charges him to do quickly that which he was doing. The disciples did not know why the Lord said this; they thought of the feast, or of the use which might be made of what was in the purse; but in the heart of the Lord, all the import of this solemn moment is realized. As soon as Judas had gone out, He declares it: " Now is the Son of man glorified." It is no longer affection, wounded by the treachery of one of His own, that expresses itself in the anguish of His heart; His soul rises, when the fact is there, to the height of the thoughts of God in this solemn event, which stands alone in the history of eternity, and on which all blessing depends, from the beginning, to the new heavens and the new earth. It rises even above the blessings, to the nature of God, and to the relations of God and of Christ, founded on His glorious work. This passage is thus of great importance; the cross makes the glory of the Son of man. He will appear in glory, the Father will subject all things to Him; but it is not this glory that is here in view; it is the Savior's moral and personal glory. He who is man, who (although in a miraculous way, so that He was without sin) was, on His mother's side, of the nature of Adam, has been in suffering, the means of establishing and bringing to light all that is found in God, His glory. God is righteous, holy, and hates sin; God is love: it is impossible to reconcile these characters in any other way, than by the cross. There, where the righteous judgment of God is in exercise against sin, infinite love is manifested towards the sinner. Without the cross, it is impossible to reconcile these two things, impossible to manifest God such as He is: in it, holiness, righteousness, love, are manifested as a whole; then obedience and love towards the Father were accomplished in man, in circumstances that put them to the test in an absolute manner. Nothing was wanting in this test, either on the part of man, of Satan, or of God Himself. It is in Christ, made sin, that obedience has been perfect; it is in Him, forsaken of God, that His love for God was at its height. The forsaking of man and his hatred, the power of Satan, had been fully realized, so that when He appealed to God, He found no answer, but that in the solitude of His sufferings, He had the occasion of showing perfection in man, and of bringing out the glory of God Himself in all that God is, the foundation in righteousness, of the blessing of the new heavens and new earth, in which righteousness dwells-a righteousness that has already placed the Son of man, in the glory, divine righteousness that cannot but recognize the value of this work, by setting already at His right hand, the Man who has accomplished it, until all shall be manifested in the ages to come.
Thus the Son of man has been glorified, and God has been glorified in Him; and God, having been glorified in Him, has glorified Him in Himself, and has not waited for the display of all His glory in the future, but has glorified Him straightway at His right hand (v. 31, 32).
There is found the demonstration of God's righteousness; that is, in the exaltation of the Lord Jesus as man to the right hand of God, God having withdrawn Him from the world, so that the world should see Him no more, as the way of the tree of life was closed, when man forsook God for sin. But the second Man, the last Adam, having passed through death, having been made sin, having passed out of the power of the devil and the judgment of God, takes His place in heaven, in the divine glory in righteousness, when the first Adam had gone out of the garden of Eden in sin.
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? It was thus for them as well as for the Jews. For the Jews, it was an outward thing, but looked upon in connection with God's glory and the power of evil; but a thing as impossible for the disciples as for them. The Lord shows His disciples that their strength would be in the love they would have to each other, loving one another as He loved them: this was the new commandment He gave them (v. 34). He was love; He had loved them; His love had been like a strong central stake, which held up all the poles that met around it. He had been the bond of their union; now, this same love in their hearts should bind them together, as poles that supported each other, when the central support should be taken away. In reality, this would be the power of the Holy Ghost who would fill their heart with this divine love of Christ Himself, and would thus make them all one. Their love for one another would be the characteristic proof that they were disciples of Jesus, for He had loved them, and He was shown out by love in them.
Peter, always ardent, asks Jesus where He was going (v. 36). The Lord answers him that he could not follow Him now, but that he should afterward, announcing to him his martyrdom. Peter insists: " I will go with thee to prison and to death," " I will lay down my life for thee "; but Jesus said: " The cock shall not crow till thou hast denied me thrice."