John 13 – 17
The Lord Washes the Disciples Feet (vv.1-5)
We first read of footwashing in Genesis 18, when Abraham offered water to wash the feet of the three visitors to his tent in the plains of Mamre. We read in Exodus 30 of the laver of brass for the priests to wash not only their hands but also their feet. In those days when travel was done by foot, dust and grime from the roads would cling to the skin, and by the end of the day, the average person's feet would be hot and completely filthy. Upon retiring for the evening, it was customary to wash one's own feet. When receiving traveling guests, it was common courtesy for the host to provide water for the travellers' feet (Luke 7:44). However, the actual work of washing another's feet was quite unpleasant, and normally would be reserved for the servants. In the upper room Jesus did something completely contrary to what the disciples had known; He laid aside his garments, took water and a towel, and washed the disciples' feet. Incredible humility! He, the glorious Son of God, took the place of a lowly servant.
"He rises from supper".
Jesus rose up from the table, perhaps picturing His rising from the dead and returning to the Father in heaven, after the work of the cross (Passover) was complete. It is from this place, as a risen, glorified man, that He undertakes the work of footwashing. This is similar to John 6:15 where Jesus goes into a mountain, a type of His place on high while He intercedes for His disciples below.
|Only those who are associated with the risen Man and share His resurrection life are able to be involved in footwashing. We must ourselves be in association with Christ before we can help others.
"He lays aside his garments".
Jesus laying aside His garments represents His laying aside His official rights as Messiah.7 As the Messiah, He ought to have the most honored place in the nation. He did not cease to be Messiah, but He did not insist on His rights. Instead He laid aside that character altogether, to take up a different position. While Christ is in glory and His disciples on earth, He leaves the royal garments set aside, instead occupied with an intercessory work.8
|We are to have the same mind in us as was in Christ Jesus. If we are to be used to wash our brethren's feet, we must be willing to abandon all thoughts of self-importance, and get low.
"Having taken a linen towel he girded himself".
Most hosts would provide water for their guests to wash, and the rich would have a servant undertake the lowly task. Jesus, great as He was, takes the place of a servant. He "took upon him the form of a servant" (Phil. 2:7). A servant lives for the wishes and comfort of others. Christ became a servant in incarnation, but He has not ceased to be a servant. Even today in heaven, Christ is serving His own. He remains a servant forever (Exodus 21:1-6; Luke 12:37).
|We must be willing to take the place of a servant. Footwashing is not something I do for myself, but for my brethren. It is not about getting something off your chest, but about ministering to others with tender love and care.
The Word of God
"He pours water into the washhand basin".
|Water in scripture, especially contained water, represents the Word of God; "the washing of water by the word" (Eph. 5:26). We read of pools of water in 2 Kings 3, water pots in John 2, etc. These are types of the Word. There are different types of cleansing in scripture, but moral cleansing is by water, while judicial cleansing is by blood. The basin is a container. In a general sense, the water in a basin represents Christ Himself, the Eternal Word (water) become flesh (basin).
|When we go about to wash one another's feet, we also must use water, and first pour it into a basin. Containing water in a basin might represent mediation. We cannot share something from the Word we have not enjoyed ourselves.
"He began to wash the feet of the disciples".
|The Word of God is applied to us by the Spirit of God, and moral cleansing takes place. It is really the Lord washing our feet. From His place in heaven, Christ continues this work of cleansing and restoring His saints, that they might enjoy communion with Him. There is a once-for-all water cleansing that occurs at new birth (v.10), but this is a continual, daily cleansing, which we will need as long as we are on earth.
|We too can and should wash one another's feet (v.14). This is done by continually bringing the Word of God before our fellow-believers. Not a pointed rebuke, but by presenting Christ to the heart and conscience.
"To wipe them with the linen towel with which he was girded".
|Jesus took the towel, which He had girded Himself with, and used it to dry the feet of the disciples. I believe that speaks of the comforting grace that Jesus has in His work of cleansing and restoring us. He doesn't leave our feet wet and uncomfortable. His words have a comforting and settling effect. "And all bare him witness, and wondered at the gracious words which proceeded out of his mouth" (Luke 4:22). It was the same towel he was girded with; and I believe it is the servant-character of Christ that comforts and warms our hearts.
|Footwashing is not an assault on our brethren, like using a fire hose or pressure-washer. It is to be done gently, though firmly, but we need to use the towel. We should try to leave our brethren feeling secure and comforted.9
Peter’s Protest and the Lord’s Response (vv.6-11)
Instructions to Wash One Another’s Feet (vv.12-17)
The Prediction of Judas’ Betrayal (13:18-30)
The Cross and Its Implications (13:31-35)
The Prediction of Peter’s Denials (13:36-38)
- The entire drift is in all points and ways to lead His own into a true spiritual understanding of their new place before God the Father, in consequent contrast with that of Israel in the world. – Kelly, W. An Exposition of the Gospel of John.
- W. Kelly Translation
- I agree with those who take it to mean the arrival of the time for supper, which is confirmed by the wondrous action we are about to hear of. It cannot be doubted that it was usual to have the feet washed before, not after, supper. – Kelly, W. Exposition of the Gospel of John.
- … whence He came and whither He was going: that is, His personal and heavenly character in relationship with God, and the glory that was given Him. – Darby, J.N. Synopsis of the Books of the Bible.
- It is the washing of water by the word which the Spirit applies in answer to the Son's advocacy with the Father. Of this Christ was here giving the sign. - Kelly, W. Exposition of the Gospel of John.
- Be it carefully observed that it is a question here of water, not of blood. The reader of John's Gospel will not have overlooked that He makes much of "water" as well as "blood." So did the Lord in presenting the truth to His own, and no one shows this more than John. His first epistle also characterises the Lord as "He that came by water and blood; not in water only, but in water and blood." (1 John 5:6.) He purifies as well as atones. He employs the word to cleanse those who are washed from their sins in His blood. The Apostles Paul, Peter, and James, insist on this effect of the word, as John does. It is disastrous and dangerous in the highest degree to overlook purification by the washing of water by the word. If "the blood" is Godward, though for us "the water" is saintward to remove impurity in practice, as well as to give a new nature which judges evil according to God and His Word, of which it is the sign, adding to it the death of Christ, which gives its measure and force. Out of His pierced side came blood and water (chapter 19). - Kelly, W. Exposition of the Gospel of John.
- Garments in scripture often represent a person's status or character. For example, often in the Old Testament when a person was upset or sorry, they would rend their clothes or put on sackcloth (Gen. 37:34). When the prodigal son returned, the father brought forth the "best robe", symbolizing a place of dignity.
- There is an analog expression in Phil. 2:6-7; "who, subsisting in the form of God, did not esteem it an object of rapine to be on an equality with God, but emptied himself". He veiled His personal, intrinsic glory such that it could not be seen by the human eye. In Philippians 2 it it the veiling of His personal glory, in John 13 it is the veiling of His official glory.
- There are two things we need to be careful of: using the water without the towel, and using the towel without the water. In the first case, the defilement is removed, but the soul is left unsettled, and on edge. In the second case, the defilement is not removed, and even the towel does not have its desired effect.
- Bowley, Mary. Praise ye the Lord, again, again. Little Flock Hymnbook #156. 1881.
- He knew whom He chose out: Judas was not among such, though called to be an Apostle. He had never known the Lord, knew nothing truly of His grace or of His mind, and was not born of God. Why then had he been selected for that place of honour, the apostolate, in immediate and constant attendance on the Lord here below? – Kelly, W. Exposition of the Gospel of John.
- Thus we find in their fellowship there was no known evil, or there would have been implication of guilt, even in the betrayal of the Lord Himself. – Darby, J.N. The Gospel of John
- W. Kelly Translation
- They thought it was to buy something, or give to the poor; but there was something more than ignorance in this wrong estimate, from the heart being occupied with other things than that which the Lord’s heart necessarily was. The Lord had just said, “One of you,” etc., and told John that it was he to whom He gave the sop; and He gave it to Judas. Now, if their hearts had been engaged with this they would have immediately associated the word, “What thou doest, do quickly,” with it. – Darby, J.N. The Gospel of John
- And this sorrow bowed to, He had taken the cup into His hand. Mentally, as it were, the thing was passed. It was to be carried into execution, but Jesus had taken the step. He had submitted to the sorrow, redeeming sorrow, trusting His Father, to go through all. – Darby, J.N. The Gospel of John
- God was glorified in Him. His justice, His majesty, His truth, His love — all was verified on the cross as they are in Himself, and revealed only there; and that with regard to sin. – Darby, J.N. Synopsis of the Books of the Bible. John 13.
- It was not merely (moreover) that He bore the sins of the Church (as indeed He did), but there was a great abstract fact of the vindication of divine glory, independent of all consequences, and more important than all, and which presents itself first to the Saviour’s mind, centring in His Person; yea, as it were circumscribed by it; but withal in the person of Man; so that, in the infinite riches and unspeakable manifestation of grace, as in man God had been permanently dishonoured, in Man (even in Jesus) He was to be glorified. And so was it needful for the perfect rescue of His glory without stint. – Darby, J.N. The Gospel of John.
- From these Scriptures then we can see the glory of the Son of Man in three distinct aspects. First there is the glory in which He shall be displayed in His kingdom, when as Head over all things He shall come in His own glory as Son of Man, in the glory of His Father, and of the holy angels. Secondly, there is the moral glory of His submission and obedience even unto death, so that in the cross He brings to God the glory of redemption, meeting all the claims of His nature as of His throne in relation to the sin that stained His fair universe and dishonoured His name. Thirdly, there is the present glory of the Son of Man in the presence of God, the divine answer to the cross and to all that He wrought there for God’s pleasure. – Reid, W.C. The Son of Man Glorified.
- Poor dear Peter! How little he knew of himself, or of that which he was — sincerely, no doubt, though ignorantly — undertaking to do! How little did he imagine that the very sound of death’s dark river, heard even in the distance, would be sufficient so to terrify him, as to make him curse and swear that he did not know his Master! “Jesus answered him, Wilt thou lay down thy life for my sake? Verily, verily, I say to thee, the cock shall not crow till thou hast denied me thrice.” “Yet there shall be a space between you and it.” How needful! How absolutely essential! Truly there was a space between Peter and his Lord. Jesus had to go before. He had to meet death in its most terrific form. He had to tread that rough path in profound solitude — for who could accompany Him? “There shall be a space between you and it: come not near to it, that ye may know the way by which ye must go; for ye have not passed this way heretofore.” – Mackintosh, C.H. Gilgal.
- Lemmel, Helen H. O soul, are you weary and troubled? 1922.