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Ver. 1. “Now, before the feast of the Passover, when Jesus knew that His hour was come that He should depart out of this world unto the Father, having loved His own which were in the world. He loved them unto the end.”
The δέ points to the circumstance that we have before us, not a new book, but only a new section of it. That the connection is formed by an adversative particle, places the severity of Jesus against the Jews in contrast with His love towards His own. This first verse gives the sketch; vers. 2 seq. give the completion. The εἰ?δώς , knowing, here, is resumed in ver. 3. As we cannot in that verse interpret “because,” but only “although He knew,” so we are constrained to interpret here. This will appear the obvious interpretation, when we consider that the motive of the transaction is indicated by the words, “as He loved His own,” etc. If we understand, “because He knew,” there arise two motives for this action, placed unconnectedly together, which is scarcely tolerable. If we understand, “although He knew,” we have first a reference to the hindrance which existed to the last display of love, and then, in “because He loved,” a reference to the living principle through which that hindrance was overcome. Ἀ?γαπήσας alone contains the motive: the εἰ?δώς , placed before it, points to what opposed the motive, and must be vanquished by the energy of that love. The proof of love which Jesus now at the last gave to His disciples, beams out in all the richer light, because Jesus was clearly conscious that His transition into a state of glory was near at hand. That, notwithstanding this knowledge, He so profoundly abased Himself towards His disciples, and washed their feet, must fill us: with thankful and adoring love. It was as if God had from heaven itself come down to wash the feet of sinful mortals! And this He did to men who immediately before had been contending for a pitiful scrap of worldly honour! “Can any one,” says Heumann, “who reads this history, retain a spark of pride in his heart? Or if he, notwithstanding what he reads, remains proud, is he not unworthy of the name of a Christian?”
We must not understand “having hitherto loved His own;” for the hitherto, which would form the antithesis to εἰ?ς τέλος , is not in the text; the “in the world” looks back to the “out of the world,” and refers to the perilous position in which the disciples would be found after the impending departure of their Lord (comp. ch. John 17:11: “I am no longer in the world; but these are in the world, and I come to Thee.” Grotius: Quos relicturus erat in hoc rerum salo. J. Gerhard: “Because they still remained in the world, in the valley of tribulation, where they must expect nothing but trouble”),—leads expressly to the love which manifested itself in this last proof, and by which Jesus strengthened their hearts beforehand to meet the coming sorrow. We must therefore assume that ἀ?γαπήσας indicates His love in general, while ἠ?γάπησεν points to the particular act of love which now sprang from that source.—Ἀ?γαπᾷ?ν can of itself signify only the affection of love. But as this can be known only by the action that expresses it, such an action is indirectly indicated in the ἠ?γάπησεν . That this ἠ?γάπησεν must be primarily referred to the act of washing their feet, is evident from the words “before the feast of the Passover.” The other tokens of love which are recorded in this section are part of the feast itself. Yet we may appropriately regard the remaining evidences of love as supplementary to the feet-washing. “To the end” seems to show that the Evangelist so regarded them. There is no difficulty in this, when we consider what followed as only the unfolding of what had been already displayed in the washing, and furnishing a commentary upon it. If we separate them, the εἰ?ς τέλος loses its significance. The remaining acts of love, which were assuredly confirmations of the tender affection of the Lord towards His disciples, would then fall beyond and after the τέλος . We cannot argue that the supreme proof of His love. His death, lay nevertheless beyond the “end” here mentioned; for the words here refer to the love displayed to His own, and not to that which was manifested by the Saviour of the world.
It remains that we examine the chronological note at the beginning of the verse, “before the feast of the Passover.” Remembering John’s manner in giving marks of time (comp. ch. John 12:1), we cannot doubt that his words here refer to the event which he was about to record, primarily to ἠ?γάπησεν , or to the “riseth” in the nanrative; or that the feet-washing occurred in the time before the paschal feast.
“Before the feast” either means nothing (and that can the less be assumed, inasmuch as John is the only one of the Evangelists who follows definite chronological leadings, all his other notes of time being thoroughly precise, such as that of the six days before the Passover in ch. John 12:1; on the following day, ver. 12), or it points to the fact, that the transaction to which this note of time refers, the feet-washing, belongs to the time immediately before the beginning of the paschal feast; that between the feast and the washing nothing else intervened; that, with the completion of the washing, the Passover immediately began for those here concerned. If we give up the closest proximity of the feast, we are left to most arbitrary hypotheses as to the time. We have no more reason to refer it to the day before than to any other day. But considering the high importance which the Evangelist himself attaches to the events here recorded, the feet-washing and what was connected with it down to ch. 7, it is inconceivable that he would leave them chronologically indefinite, with absolutely no note of time; and more especially as they have been treated with very exact chronological precision by the other Evangelists, themselves much more careless on this point. It is plain that the last meal of Jesus, to which all in John’s thirteenth chapter relates, was, according to those earlier Evangelists, the paschal meal; and that Jesus partook of it at the same time with the Jews, entirely according to the law and the universal custom of the feast. (Wichelhaus has thoroughly settled this point in his Leidensgesch.) If the Evangelist had had the design, attributed to him by many, of subverting this chronological decision of his predecessors, he could not have acted more perversely. He would have opposed to their chronological precision an absolutely vague indefiniteness.
That “before the Passover” means “immediately before” (just as, in Luke 11:38, πρὸ? τοῦ? ἀ?ρίστου refers to what immediately preceded the mid-day meal), has been well shown by Lange, who argues that such specific acts as the rising from the table, ver. 4, are not reckoned by days, but by hours and moments. Accordingly the sense here must be, that immediately before the beginning of the feast He rose up.
Having settled that this action took place immediately before the paschal feast, the further question arises as to when the feast itself began. It is to be taken for granted that the most important time of the feast, that of the fourteenth Nisan, cannot be excluded from the paschal period. Those who have attempted to do so have been labouring, under a misapprehension. That which gave its name to the whole feast must necessarily have been included within its limits. But the question is, whether the feast had its beginning literally with the commencement of this meal, or whether, as Wieseler and Wichelhaus maintain, the slaying of the lamb must also be included.
We decide in favour of the former view, and assume that the beginning of the feast coincided with the beginning of this meal. The very idea of the feast is in harmony with such a view. Ἑ?ορτή always corresponds in the New Testament to the Hebrew חג , and is never used save of joyful festivities, in which the people rejoiced before the Lord. The root חגג signified originally to dance, then to celebrate a festivity: “derived from the sacred choruses and dances with which the feasts were wont to be observed” (Gesenius). The joy which was accordingly associated with the idea of the feast, was based upon the presupposal of an accomplished atonement, obtained in the Passover through the slaying of the lamb. The great day of atonement, notwithstanding its profound importance ( Leviticus 16:31), was never termed a feast any more than our Good Friday falls under the Scriptural notion of a feast. The paschal feast was further, according to Isaiah 30:29 (comp. Exodus 12:42), a night-feast, and did not begin until darkness had set in; but the slaying of the lamb took place while it was yet day. The same passage of Isaiah shows that feast and song were always inseparably connected. According to Psalms 81:2-4, the feast pertained to the domain of the moon, and was begun with shouting and song: comp. 2 Chronicles 30:21-22. Finally, the feast is always called in the books of Moses the feast of unleavened bread. But the eating of the unleavened bread began, according to Exodus 12:18, not till “the evening,” the evening which opened the fifteenth Nisan, Leviticus 23:6. On the fourteenth Nisan, between the two evenings—that is, in the afternoon—there was indeed a Passover to the Lord; but that was the paschal sacrifice, not the paschal feast, with which we are here concerned. The two are carefully distinguished in Numbers 28:16-17, “In the fourteenth day of the first month is the Passover of the Lord. And in the fifteenth day of this month is the feast:” comp. also 2 Chronicles 35:17.
It may therefore be regarded as fixed, that the paschal feast had its commencement with the paschal meal. But what defined the actual commencement of the meal? Having so entirely spiritual a character, we may assume that its commencement was not a material but a spiritual one; and we can the less doubt this, inasmuch as its conclusion is expressly described to have been a spiritual one: ὑ?μνήσαντες , Matthew 26:30. The meal had its specific liturgy, which Jesus did not dispense with, so far as it adhered to holy Scripture, as the ὑ?μνήσαντες itself shows. The meal had indeed its unvarying introductory words. All that took place before the moment when these were spoken, was regarded as “before” the feast of the Passover, although immediately preceding and introducing it.
The further question arises. Did the Lord’s act of washing take place before the beginning of the paschal meal, as thus indicated?
It may be argued from vers. 2 and 4, that the supper, and consequently the feast, had begun before the feet-washing. But the fact of the time having come, does not prove the beginning of the meal or of the feast; that depended on the liturgy, and the actual eating which then immediately followed. The καὶ? δείπνου γινομένου (Tisch.: not γενομένου ) points to the circumstance that in a certain sense, not coming into consideration here, the supper was already come. (Meyer: “While they were in the act of keeping the supper.”) The supper was not yet; it was about to begin. The translation of the Vulgate, coenâ peractâ, and Luther’s “after the supper,” would not be justified even by the reading γενομένου .
But we can positively demonstrate that the feet-washing preceded the actual beginning of the supper and of the feast.
That the washing of the feet was customary at all greater feasts, was a result of the Oriental equipment of the feet, the Oriental climate, and the Oriental habit of reclining at the table, which brought the feet into contact with the neighbour. To give the guest no water for his feet was, according to Luke 7:44, regarded as something altogether unusual, and as a great indignity. The word of our Lord, in ver. 10, shows that the washing of the feet was a necessity at the feast. Least of all could it have been omitted at the paschal feast; that would have been in the fullest sense a profanation.
The very nature of the case demonstrates that the feet-washing preceded the actual meal; this is attested by the whole of Scripture, wherever the matter is mentioned, from Genesis 18:4; Genesis 19:2, downwards. Classical antiquity affirms the same thing. Not only was the washing of the feet “usually” performed before the meal; it was so always, and without exception.
We gather from vers. 4, 5, that the apparatus for the feet-washing was quite prepared, but had not as yet been used. This leads us to the conclusion that our Lord’s act had a specific reason; and that, in fact, He did what others had omitted. And those who had neglected the act must be sought within the circle of the disciples. The master of the house had only yielded his chamber to the Lord. He did not, as in Luke 7, act the part of the host. In this last feast our Lord Himself occupies the place of entertainer: comp. Matthew 26:17. The master of the house was always bound to his family at the paschal season. Those expositors who hold the independent nature and significance of our Lord’s act, are much embarrassed by the presence of the materials for washing; Lampe, for example, following the example of Euthymius, represents Jesus as having asked for these things at the hands of the host, etc. That would have had to be recorded, if the act had been one of independent origination; but as we see the reverse, we may fairly infer that the feet-washing was, so to speak, accidental in its origin.
In respect to the Lord’s act, it must be taken for granted that no other washing had preceded. Now, if it is a settled point that such a ceremony was absolutely necessary before the beginning of the feast, then must the present one have occurred before “the supper” began, and consequently before the Passover. It would have been most inappropriate for Jesus to wash over again the feet that had been washed. “He did not,” says Schweitzer, “superfluously rewash their feet: there would have been nothing but an artificial example in such an act, as it would not have been an act of necessity.”
The fact that our Lord rose up from the table, ver. 4, shows that He assumed the place of others whose business it was to wash the feet, but who had pretermitted it. If He had had the independent design to wash the feet of His disciples. He would not have seated Himself at the table. And the act itself leads to the same conclusion. His washing their feet would have had, viewed apart from some specific occasion for it, a far-fetched and romantic character; and the objection which Weisse, for instance, urges against it as a “tasteless humiliation” (he remarks that he could find no edification in it, as it would have to every unbiassed feeling a touch of theatrical design in it), would, on such a supposition, be not altogether unfounded. Ewald remarks, on that theory: “A strange thought was seen suddenly to take possession of Christ’s soul;” and Lücke observes: “Here all was unusual; the Master of the house performs the act Himself, and by performing it interrupts the supper.” We cannot but see the confusion of all these observations; and that, by renouncing any specific reason for the Lord’s act, they lose the only key to its interpretation. By recognising the, as it were, accidental occasion of the feet-washing, we get rid of the notion that Jesus apparently prescribed a rite to be observed in all times; and we are then justified in distinguishing between, the eternally valid principle of the feet-washing, and the form of its expression as influenced by passing circumstances. If we ignore the fortuitous origin of the act, we can hardly refute the argument of Weisse, that as the symbolical rite never became a sacred usage of the early Church, the historical truth of the narrative may be impeached.
Finally, the assumption of a special reason for the act is strengthened by the urgent manner in which our Lord requires of His disciples that they wash one another’s feet. It is obvious to infer that He exhorted them to perform in future, after His example, the service that they had just neglected. So also the emphatic exhortations to brotherly love, vers. 34, 35, shine out in brighter light when we consider that the Apostles had recently incurred the blame of neglect in that particular.
So far we draw our materials from John himself. But our view is enlarged if we compare the nearest predecessor of John among the Evangelists, Luke, with whom he everywhere has more contact than with any other. He relates, in ch. Luke 22:7-23, the events of “the day of unleavened bread, when the Passover must be killed,” in chronological order, and in harmony with his two predecessors. Then, in the manner with which in him we are familiar, he adds a supplement not chronologically connected with what precedes, vers. 24-38. There he narrates a contest that took place among the disciples as to who of them should be greatest, and the words which our Lord addressed to them in consequence. But we cannot imagine this contention to have occurred after the beginning of the supper: such a supposition would be utterly inconsistent with the solemn tone in which Jesus commenced the feast. But neither can we imagine it before the commencement of the feast, at a time so full of solemnity, unless we suppose that some circumstances surprised them into it, that something in the state of matters gave direct occasion for the contest. That occasion we must not seek in the selection of places at the table (Lichtenstein); it must rather be sought in the fact that a service was expected by some which was not rendered. This will appear evident from the exhortation of ver. 26, which refers to this contention: “He that is greatest among you, let him be as the younger; and he that is chief, as he that doth serve.” We infer from this that the greater among the Apostles, those who were by the Lord distinguished above the rest, and were the appointed “pillars,” with Peter at their head, had expected from the lesser Apostles a service which these had not rendered. The words of Jesus, ver. 27, show that that service was no other than the washing of the feet: “For whether is greater, he that sitteth at meat, or he that serveth? is not he that sitteth at meat? but I am among you as he that serveth.” These words of Luke stand in undeniable connection with ver. 4, where Jesus assumes the garment of a servant, in order to wash the disciples’ feet. If the serving of Jesus, which in Luke is exhibited as the corrective of the disciples’ reluctance to serve,—a reluctance which gave occasion for the contest,—was actually this washing of the feet, the disciples’ refusal to serve must have been no other than their having declined to wash each other’s feet.
The matter then stands thus. Jesus had seated Himself at the table, and probably Peter enjoyed the honour of washing His feet. After this was done, he, with the other disciples interioris admissionis, also sate at the table, expecting that the “younger” would spontaneously assume the function of feet-washers for all the rest. But pride evoked pride. The younger Apostles, following a quick impulse, seated themselves also at the table. Thus a situation of deep embarrassment was the result: murmuring and contest. Who would be the first to rise up again? Jesus put an end to the embarrassment, by arising from the supper and washing the feet of His disciples. How much sorrow was caused by this fatal contention in the circle of the disciples, is shown by the fact that Matthew and Mark pass over it altogether, while Luke and John touch it only by way of hint.
If our Lord’s washing occurred immediately before the beginning of the last paschal meal, John is in perfect harmony with the other Evangelists. Such a harmony every one must certainly expect who only remembers and carefully considers the general relation in which John stands to his predecessors. He also will be incapable of doubting that in John the last supper and the Lord’s death must fall within the paschal feast. This is the goal to which all that precedes tends. Jesus always withdrew from His enemies until the Passover was come; He goes up to the capital when the feast draws nigh, entering it on the day when the lambs were set apart. Ch. John 19:36 points the same way, where Christ appears as the antitype of the paschal lamb.
Vers. 2, 3, 4. “And supper being ended, (the devil having now put into the heart of Judas Iscariot, Simon’s son, to betray Him,) Jesus knowing that the Father had given all things into His hands, and that He was come from God, and went to God; He riseth from supper, and laid aside His garments; and took a towel, and girded Himself.”—Καὶ? δείπνου γινομένου in ver. 2 means literally, “And the meal being about to begin.” Καί announces the further development of what was given in epitome in ver. 1. The meal needed no more exact definition, as, according to the connection with ver. 1, it could only be understood as that which the other three Evangelists had made familiar, and which opened the paschal feast. Tob_2:1 is similar: “In the feast of Pentecost there was a good dinner prepared me, in the which I sat down to eat.” There a good meal is spoken of quite indefinitely; but the connection shows that the chief meal of the feast is meant. The passage is also further analogous, inasmuch as the ἐ?γενήθη ἄ?ριστον there also indicates the meal by its material preparation. It follows in ver. 4: “Then, before I had tasted of any meat, I started up.” In harmony with this parallel passage, Heumann paraphrases our text: “When the last supper was provided for, and stood ready on the table.” In ch. John 21:20, the article secures to the feast its definite character, just as here the relation to ver. 1 does: τὸ? δεῖ?πνον , the generally known and celebrated meal.
The scope of the remark that Satan had already put it into the heart of Judas to betray Jesus, must first be interpreted by the epitome of ver. 1, and then by the words of ver. 3. Vers. 2 and 3 serve for the development of the words of the epitome, εἰ?δὼ?ς—πατέρα . Accordingly, the already determined treachery of Judas is here referred to only as involving the near approach of the death of Jesus, and, as connected with it. His approaching departure to the glory of the Father. That Jesus, in the prospect of that glory, abased Himself so deeply, and assumed, as never before, the form of a servant, showed the energy of His love to His own. Vers. 31, 32 also support this view. There the betrayal of Judas appears as no other than the prelude of the glorification of Christ. If, in interpreting the words, “the devil having now put it into the heart of Judas Iscariot,” we omit to connect them with the first and third verses, we are left to mere conjectures, and the result must be a wide variety of opinions. But, dealing with them as above, vers. 1-3 present much simplicity and transparency of thought. The Apostle gives the utmost prominence to the circumstance that the demonstration of Christ’s love derived its deepest significance from its having been exhibited at the end, at the period when His glory was about to attain its consummation, in which it might have been supposed that thoughts of greatness would leave no room for any other. A secret Kyrie eleeson is always, however, the undertone. While the Apostle so strongly illustrates the humble love of Christ, he at the same time mourns over the proud φιλονεικία of himself and his brother-disciples, whose darkness was only shone upon by the clear brightness of Christ’s example. That is the proper key to the striking accumulation of the expressions.
That Satan at that time had already put it into the heart of Judas to betray his Master, was an internal fact of which the Searcher of hearts alone could be cognizant. But, inasmuch as it here enters as an historical element, it is to be taken for granted that the internal fact had already assumed an external form, and become known to man. Now, the other Evangelists expressly record this to have been the case; they prove that Judas had already concluded his compact with the high priests. Matthew 26:14-16; Mark 14:10-11; Luke 22:3-6. John would have appealed to these passages, had the question been put to him, How knowest thou this? It is plain that he had in view the passage of Luke, his immediate predecessor, for there also the trafficking of Judas with the chief priests is referred to Satan. The narrative in Luke begins with the words, “Then entered Satan into Judas, surnamed Iscariot, being of the number of the twelve,” words to which John, in ver. 27, also expressly alludes. He reserves, however, the very strong expression used there for the last stage.
According to Revelation 17:17, it might have been stated that God put it into his heart. Satan everywhere serves only as the instrument of the plans of God. What Judas did, like all the works of the ungodly, stood under the secret direction of the Supreme. The sin belonged to himself. Since he would not separate from it, and be converted, in spite of all the means freely vouchsafed to him, he was compelled to be the involuntary instrument of the plans of Satan first, and then of God, whose servant even Satan is; and when he had done this, he was to be thrown away, and go to his own place. As his personal definition, to distinguish the traitor from the other Judas among the Apostles, Σίμωνος was enough. The Ἰ?σκαριώτου was added only to stamp the traitor with infamy: comp. on ch. John 6:71, John 12:4.
On ver. 3 Heumann observes: “This must not be viewed as if John repeated in ver. 3 his first εἰ?δώς in ver. 1, ‘although He knew.’” His amazement at this act of Jesus constrained him to say again what he had said already, and thus to excite the attention of his readers: “I say it once more, that He, knowing that His Father had made Him Lord of all lords, and that He was about to enter heaven in full triumph, nevertheless humbled Himself so much as to wash the feet of His disciples.” The δέδωκε , “gave,” is used by anticipation; the brief space of time which elapsed between the present and the bestowment of His power is ignored: compare the “will straightway glorify Him,” ver. 32. That the πάντα , “all things,” is to be taken in its full comprehensiveness, is evident from Matthew 28:18, “all power is given unto Me in heaven and upon earth:” comp. Hebrews 2:8.
The consciousness of Jesus, that He had come forth from God, must have been pre-eminently vivid at the time when His return to God, and to the glory which He had with Him before the world was, immediately approached.
He laid aside His garments, ver. 4,—so far, that is, as they were an hindrance to the act He was about to perform. This, of course, applied only to the outer garment. That Jesus girded Himself with the napkin, is evident from ver. 5. That was specifically the equipment or habitus of a servant. In Luke 17:8, we read of a servant to whom his lord says, “Gird thyself, and wait upon me.” That our Lord so formally prepared Himself for the act, not only had reference to the end He proposed, but served also to realize vividly before our eyes the depth of His humiliation. The matter might have been accomplished without all this formal preparation. But then the humiliation of the disciples would have been less profound, and the admonition less penetrating. Only on the consideration we have mentioned can the careful detail of the Apostle’s description be understood.
Vers. 5, 6. “After that He poureth water into a bason, and began to wash the disciples’ feet, and to wipe them with the towel wherewith He was girded. Then cometh He to Simon Peter: and Peter said unto Him, Lord, dost Thou wash my feet?”—“He began” points to the circumstance that the act had to be performed over a wide circle. The ἔ?ρχεται οὖ?ν , in its reference to ver. 5, suggests that Jesus began with Peter; which has been denied only in the interests of a narrow and petty opposition to the Roman Church. Ver. 5 says in general, that Jesus began to wash the disciples’ feet. Ver. 6 adds with whom He began; and the οὖ?ν is specifically connected with the ἤ?ρξατο : thus He came, or thus beginning He came. It is probable, on other grounds, that our Lord began with Simon Peter. The order of precedence among the Apostles, in which Peter always had the first place (comp. Matthew 16:18), could hardly, on such an occasion as this, have been ignored by Christ. And that would have been all the less appropriate, inasmuch as Peter had doubtless assumed the first place in the contention. When Christ commenced the feet-washing with him, it was all the more keen a humiliation of his aspiring natural man. Even the protest of Peter leads to the conclusion that Jesus commenced with him. Every other disciple would doubtless have protested in the same way; and if, through modesty, one or other had kept silence, the impetuous Peter would doubtless have in some way interposed. As the Lord had placed him at the head of the Apostles, he had, in a certain sense, a right to be their representative. But in that case the explanation which ensued between Jesus and Peter would have taken place before; we can understand it, as it lies before us, only on the supposition that Peter began the series. “But,” observes Heumann, “as the Lord commanded the first to let it be so, the others kept silence when their turn came; however astonished, they nevertheless submitted obediently to receive the service which the Lord performed.”
Peter was not wrong in resenting the Lord’s humiliation in washing his feet. So long as he did not recognise the symbolical significance of this action, it must have seemed to him altogether abnormal and unaccountable; and even if he had come to the full consciousness of his own guilt and obligation, it must have seemed to him a too severe punishment that the Lord should dedicate Himself to so degrading a service. But any such symbolical meaning he would not, and could not, assume on his own suggestion. The Lord Himself must declare it. When He had done so, Simon Peter’s opposition was withdrawn. All is here correct enough; and the censure which the expositors are generally disposed to cast upon Peter has no foundation.
Ver. 7. “Jesus answered and said unto him. What I do thou knowest not now; but thou shalt know hereafter.”
Jesus intimates that there was a mystery in the matter. “Hereafter;” some light came to Peter through the following explanation of our Lord. Yet that was not sufficient. He did not thoroughly understand it until his fall had taught him to know the depth of his sinfulness, and to see how needful it was that he should be washed of Christ; until, in fact, he obtained through the Holy Spirit, whose outpouring depended on the glorification of Christ, the deepest insight into his own misery and Christ’s abundant benefit.
Ver. 8. “Peter saith unto Him, Thou shalt never wash my feet. Jesus answered him. If I wash thee not, thou hast no part with Me.”
Peter continues to protest. The Lord’s allusion to the fact of a mystery was not sufficient to overcome his opposition. In order to that, he must at least have some elementary knowledge of what the mystery was. And that knowledge the Lord now gives him by His answer. The bodily washing was a type of the spiritual washing away of the defilement of sin. This alone saved it from being unnatural and unworthy of Christ, and made it for the Apostles no longer a piercing rebuke, but actually an evidence of the supreme love of their Lord. Jesus, whose name signifies that He would save His people from their sins, is only then truly in His element. Both things must concur in our estimate of the reason for the act: reference to the Apostles’ omission of the service to each other, and this spiritual meaning. The latter justifies the act in its real signification, the former justifies its form.
That the washing must be understood in its spiritual sense, which the Israelites were prepared for by the Levitical washings—these having regarded external impurity as the figure of sin, so that the purifications were symbolical acts that typified what must take place on sin—is plain from the circumstance that nothing more is said about washing the feet, but only of washing generally; as also from the result that is said to follow from the not being washed by Christ. To have no part in Him means to have nothing to do with Him, to be excluded from all communion with Him: Joshua 22:24-25; 2 Samuel 20:1; 1 Kings 12:16; 2 Corinthians 6:15. Entire exclusion from the fellowship of Christ can befall only those who refuse to seek for spiritual cleansing from Him. With this agrees the undeniable reference to Psalms 51:4, which the saying of our Lord contains. David there prays to God: “Wash me thoroughly from mine iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin.” When Jesus arrogates to Himself what is there supplicated from God, He assumes to Himself a Divine dignity. That passage in the Psalm teaches us also that the washing here refers directly to the bestowment of forgiveness (νίπτειν is equivalent to ἀ?φιέναι ἁ?μαρτίας , Mark 2:10, Matthew 9:6, which the Pharisees rightly regarded as arrogating a Divine prerogative), and not primarily to sanctification. Ver. 9 gives us the comment on ver. 4 of the Psalm: the blotting out of iniquity corresponds to the washing. “In the preliminary petitions, vers. 3, 4, 5, the subject is the main and prominent blessing in the forgiveness of sins. And the unfolded supplications are occupied primarily only with this, vers. 9-11. Then in vers. 12-14 the Psalm turns to the second gift, which necessarily follows from the communication of the first, the impartation of the sanctifying grace of God.” But though the washing has primarily nothing to do with sanctification, yet Jesus, when He arrogates to Himself the power to forgive sins, indirectly assumes also the power of creating a pure heart; for He by the former places Himself in the province of God, with whom the commencement in justification is, according to Psalms 51, inseparably connected with the termination in holiness.
The word about washing must have found an immediate response in Peter, who, in Luke 5:8, cries, “I am a sinful man, O Lord.” The law of Moses has such a severe word as this ( Numbers 19:20): “But the man that shall be unclean, and shall not purify himself, that soul shall be cut off from among the congregation.” As certainly as Christ is the thrice Holy One, so certainly the man born and bound in sin remains separated from Him by a wide gulf, unless He should fill up the great gulf by the forgiveness of sins. When here the being washed by Christ is made the fundamental condition of all fellowship with Him, we are thereby assured that the knowledge of sin, and the desire to be washed from it by Christ, are the first principles of all Christianity. “Whatever purity a man may flatter himself that he has,” says Quesnel, “unless Jesus purifies us, we are unworthy of His fellowship, of the communion of His body, and of the glory of His new life.” That the basis of the doctrine of the water of forgiveness is the blood of the atonement, we learn from ch. John 19:34-35; 1 John 5:6. The forgiveness, therefore, which Jesus imparted during the continuance of His earthly life, must have had an anticipative character.
Ver. 9. “Simon Peter saith unto Him, Lord, not my feet only, but also my hands and my head.”
We must supply: If the matter is so, then wash, etc. Peter had but recently, in the contention, found how mighty sin was still in him. It was natural that he should lose all consciousness of what he already possessed through the grace of his Master, and that he should come to Christ as one who generally had not yet been washed from his sins, 1 Corinthians 6:11. Therefore Jesus must remind him of the condition of grace in which he stood.
Vers. 10, 11. “Jesus saith to him. He that is washed needeth not, save to wash his feet, but is clean every whit: and ye are clean, but not all. For He knew who should betray Him; therefore said He, Ye are not all clean.”
Jesus had already transferred the matter into the spiritual domain. “He that is washed” must mean only “He that is washed in a spiritual sense.” First comes the universal proposition, and then the specific application of it to the disciples.
Purity appears here as the consequence of the washing; and as, according to ver. 8, the bestowment of forgiveness of sins was signified by that washing, so purity must consist in the possession of forgiveness. How had the Apostles become clean? According to ch. John 3:5, and the other passages of the New Testament which we have there alluded to, the basis of that blessing was baptism. But this, in their case, required supplementing, inasmuch as it was the baptism of John, which could only imperfectly attain its end by assuring the future forgiveness of sins ( Mark 1:4). This supplement the Apostles attained through their relation to Christ: comp. ch. John 15:3. They were led thereby to repentance and faith; and their faith led to forgiveness of sins, Acts 10:43, and the purification of the heart that rests upon forgiveness, Acts 15:9. In consequence of their faith, the Son of man, who had upon earth the right to forgive sins, absolved them from their sins: because they were believers in Him, they became righteous in Him. They could say with David, “Blessed is the man whose iniquity is forgiven, whose sin is covered.”
To the washing of the feet, ever coming into contact with the dust and soil of earth, corresponds in the spiritual domain the forgiveness of sins to which the man in a state of grace is liable, from the fact that he, by nature a sinner, dwells among a people of unclean lips—such sins as result from the mere daily walk in a corrupted world. The Apostles were men of sincere heart; they hated sin as those who had obtained forgiveness; and when, in their own despite, and to their deep sorrow, they were surprised into it, they had an intercessor with the Father, Jesus Christ, 1 John 2:1, who, if we confess our sins, as Peter confessed them here, is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and cleanses us from our unrighteousness, 1 John 1:9. —“But not all” was intended to pierce the conscience of Judas, whom the Redeemer did not give up until the last good impulse had died within him. Jesus must exhaust all the means of love and discipline, however plain it was that through the guilt of his obduration all would be in vain. Therefore He washed his feet also, for a sign that He still stood ready to wash even him spiritually from his unrighteousness. But the word was not spoken for Judas alone. In common with the later sayings of our Lord concerning the traitor, it serves to obviate the natural suspicion that Jesus, without observing it, had nourished a viper in His bosom,—a fact that would have been an argument against His true divinity. The clearly discerned and plainly foreannounced treachery weighed nothing against, but rather in favour of, the claims of Jesus as the Son of God: comp. ver. 19. Jesus thereby declared that He possessed the Divine prerogative of searching the heart and the reins. The Evangelist himself makes this emphatic in ver. 11.
Ver. 12. “So, after He had washed their feet, and had taken His garments, and was set down again. He said unto them, Know ye what I have done to you?”
This question demanded that they should reflect on the whole transaction; and in order to lead them to this after consideration, Jesus sets before them in full what the matter had to do with them, and what His design had been.
Vers. 12-17. Our Lord’s feet-washing presents a twofold aspect. It was, on the one hand, an act of ministering love, which had for its object the performance of that literal bodily washing which the pride of the disciples had left unaccomplished. On the other hand, the feet-washing symbolized the forgiveness of sins assured through Christ. When our Lord went on to impress it upon the Apostles that they should copy the example given by Himself, that must of course be interpreted only of the former of these elements. The latter—the washing of forgiveness—was peculiar to Christ. It rested on His divinity. No one man can spiritually wash another. Admonitory appeals, and attentive watchfulness over others’ sins, have nothing to do with this washing; moreover, the danger incident to this is so great, Matthew 7:3, that we cannot suppose it to have been recommended and made a duty in so absolute a manner. It was all the more obvious that the former—the setting an example of brotherly service—was the true interpretation, inasmuch as our Lord’s act was occasioned, in its formal aspect, by the Apostles’ own deficiency, and was really intended to have the significance of a pattern. Beza remarks, that by God’s grace it had been given to the Apostles to respond in their conduct to the Lord’s present requirement: this is attested by the Acts of the Apostles, in which there is no trace of the contentions that were formerly so rife, and also by their epistles.
Ver. 13. “Ye call Me Master and Lord: and ye say well; for so I am.”
The nominative is not used instead of the vocative: but φωνεῖ?ν signifies to name. When the Apostles spoke of Christ, they were wont to say: The Master said this, the Lord did this. The article must be emphasized. The Master and the Lord simply: here we are carried beyond the mere human nature. Absolute dominion over others in spiritual things would be a sinful claim, unless made by one who partook of the Divine nature.
Vers. 14, 15. “If I then, your Lord and Master, have washed your feet, ye also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example, that ye should do as I have done to you.”
The washing is here to be taken in its literal sense. A spiritual meaning has no foundation; and it is obviated by reference to the disciples’ omission of the material washing, as well as by the Lord’s own present act. That which they had now omitted they must do in the future, moved by the example of Christ. That there are circumstances under which it is a duty literally to wash others’ feet, is plain from 1 Timothy 5:10. Among the disciples themselves there might arise occasions for it. But the commandment must be understood with a certain reserve. Beneath the specific injunction there lies the universal precept which it symbolically exhibited—the precept of self-sacrificing love, to which no service is too mean. The form of the expression given to this precept is taken from the act then performed. If this is acknowledged, it will appear plain that the literal fulfilment does not by any means satisfy the injunction; indeed, that the literal fulfilment might be under certain circumstances a violation of the precept. The literal feet-washing is by it enjoined upon them only as a ministry of love. But that it is now as it were only in the relation of the woman to the man. Gomarus has well observed, that in our part of the world it is not so much the feet as the shoes that require the cleaning. The washing of the feet would be among us a burden: it presupposes the Oriental manner of clothing the feet, and the propriety that resulted from it. Where the feet are among the covered parts of the body, decency demands that they should not be uncovered before strangers. As a symbolical act, and as an exemplification of ministering love, the washing of the feet is not inadmissible. But it is not here commanded. There is something strange and forced in such an injunction. The ancient Church was rightly advised, and followed a sure instinct, in giving it up. .
Ver. 16. “Verily, verily, I say unto you. The servant is not greater than his Lord; neither he that is sent greater than He that sent him.”
The name Apostle (he that is sent) Jesus confers in Luke 6:13 upon His twelve disciples. From the fact that the Lord uses that name, we gather that the phrase, general in its form, is used with a special reference to the disciples.
Ver. 17. “If ye know these things, happy are ye if ye do them.”
The doing is emphasized by the Lord in a manner similar to this in Matthew 7:21; Luke 6:46; Luke 12:47.
In vers. 18, 19, the Lord obviates the danger of their referring what was said for the Apostles alone, to the traitor found amongst them.
Ver. 18. “I speak not of you all; I know whom I have chosen: but, that the Scripture may be fulfilled. He that eateth bread with Me hath lifted up his heel against Me.”
I speak not of you all: this points to that which, in ver. 10, Jesus had said concerning the Apostles’ state of grace, and to the exhortation of vers. 13-17 based upon it. Vainly has it been attempted to place in opposition things immediately connected together. Only those who in essentials are pure, can mutually wash each other’s feet.
The choosing spoken of here cannot be any other than that spoken of in ch. John 6:70, “Have I not chosen you twelve?” and there is in fact no reason to understand the choosing otherwise than as the reception into the number of the Apostles. Grotius paraphrases: Non de omnibus bene spero. Novi intime eos, quos mihi in comites elegi. The knowing is opposed to the partial not knowing which might seem to be inferred from the treachery of Judas: comp. ch. John 6:64 and ver. 11 here.—“I know whom I have chosen” involves that Jesus had not received the traitor among His Apostles through ignorance. With this negative is connected the positive, “but (I have chosen him) that,” etc.: comp. ch. John 9:3; “but (he was born blind) that.” Jesus chose Judas that he might betray Him, and that thus the Scripture might be fulfilled, according to which such a man belonged to the necessary surrounding of the Redeemer. Had our Lord not chosen Judas, the nature of the world, as it has been exhibited in the scripture quoted, would have been imperfectly represented in the apostolical circle; and this again would have been an unfaithful type of the Church in its later development. Judas belongs to the apostolical circle no less than Peter and John. We should miss something essential if there had been no Judas among the Apostles. We might, following Matthew 26:56, Mark 14:49, John 19:36, supplement τοῦ?το γέγονεν . That would only come to the same thing. The τοῦ?το γέγονεν would refer to the fact of the choice of Judas by Christ.
The passage quoted is from Psalms 41. The subject of that Psalm is the suffering Righteous One, not specially David. That which is there said of him must pre-eminently be fulfilled in Christ, in whom the idea of the Righteous One became a reality. When, then, after the wickedness of the open enemies has been depicted, we read in ver. 10, “Yea, mine own familiar friend, in whom I trusted, which did eat of my bread, hath lifted up his heel against me”—like a beast which strikes out against its master and feeder—there is at the foundation the general truth, that in the world of sin the righteous man cannot but have false friends; and this truth must have its realization in Christ. The quotation is according to the original text. The Septuagint has: ὁ? ἐ?σθίων ἄ?ρτους μου , ἐ?μεγάλυνεν ἐ?π̓? ἐ?μὲ? πτερνισμόν . That Christ did not regard the passage as directly Messianic, is plain from the fact that He omits “in whom I trusted,” which would not have been appropriate to Him who knew what was in man. That the μετ ἐ?μοῦ? , does not merely denote the fellowship of eating, but the eating with Christ as the host, is evident from the original, where the words run, “who eateth My bread.” From the relation in which Judas stood to Christ, he was, like all the Apostles, nourished by Christ: comp. ch. John 12:6, and Matthew 26:17, where the Apostles ask, “Where shall we provide Thee the Passover?” (Bengel: Jesus est ut pater familias inter discipulorum familiam); and finally from ver. 26.
Ver. 19. “Now I tell you before it come, that, when it is come to pass, ye may believe that I am He.”— Ἀ?πάρτι from this time onwards (instead of the ἀ?πάρτι , Matthew 26:64, Luke has, ch. Luke 22:69, ἀ?πὸ? τοῦ? νῦ?ν ), points to the fact that Jesus would still recur often to the same subject. Some interpret “just now, now at once.” But New Testament phraseology furnishes no certain example of this interpretation (comp. ch. John 1:51); and we have no reason for departing from the ordinary meaning, as our Lord does often return to the subject of the betrayal.
The foreannouncement of it not only obviates an obvious argument against Jesus; in connection with that foreannouncement, the betrayal becomes a positive argument in His favour.—“That I am;” that is, the absolute, the central personality: comp. on ch. John 8:24. For to that alone does it belong to try the heart and the reins, and to know the hidden before it is evolved in act. At the basis lie those passages of Isaiah, in which Jehovah proves His true divinity by His prediction of the future, such as ch. Isaiah 43:11-13.
Ver. 20. “Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that receiveth whomsoever I send, receiveth Me; and he that receiveth Me, receiveth Him that sent Me.”
Jesus had given to His disciples the pattern of self-humiliation, and had pressingly urged them to follow that example. The expression here is directly connected with this. Vers. 18, 19 in reality bear a parenthetical character. Its position at the close of the whole transaction requires us to assume that the Lord here returns to the act from which all had started, which had been the central subject, and with which all thus closes; and that He, glancing at the treachery of Judas, would fortify the other disciples in their fidelity by a reference to the dignity of their vocation. There is no evidence whatever that the treachery of Judas would have been a temptation to the remainder of the Apostles. The son of perdition they looked upon only with amazement and grief. That the Apostles might not mistake the real dignity of their vocation, in consequence of His exhortations to humility, Christ here at the conclusion points expressly to that dignity with designed allusion to an earlier utterance, Matthew 10:40 (comp. Mark 9:37; Luke 10:16), the continued validity of which seemed to be endangered by those words of exhortation. It is to this seeming danger that the “Verily, verily, I say unto you,” with its express assurance, refers. Berl. Bible: “This is said for consolation to those who must have received a severe lesson before.” But we must not limit ourselves to the notion that Christ here exhibits the other side, in order to obviate misunderstanding of the lesson of humility. The two views are not placed in juxtaposition; but the consciousness of the dignity of their vocation must rather bring with it a willingness to humble themselves. He who is penetrated with the conviction that he is in the enjoyment of a divine mission, will not be ready to contend about the trivial honours of this world; he will freely surrender them to him whose worldliness of spirit finds nothing better to desire. True spiritual pre-eminence puts an end to all common ambition, and has below its feet all such questions as, whether one should wash the feet of others, or be washed. To contend about such pitiable matters is below its dignity. The Lord’s word here stands in close connection with Luke 22:28-30, and finds there its commentary. Jesus, after He had commended the humble service of love and self-enunciation to His disciples by word and example (the feet-washing), now refers them to the dignity of their vocation, and shows them that they are called to high honour. That remained, notwithstanding their obligation to self-abasement; indeed, it rendered them all the more disposed to such humility. For all honour which the world could offer, would be in comparison only contemptible.
Lampe observes on “whom I shall send:” “Christ, although preparing Himself to suffer, nevertheless foresees His dignity as King of the Church; and as such He will have His legates, whom He will send.” The Apostles were only the first in the great company. We have here the basis of the designation of ministers in the Apocalypse, as the angels of the Church. The principle from above is here as expressly as possible declared in relation to office in the Church. Lampe, the Reformed theologian, remarks: “The servants of God in the congregation of the Old Testament, as well the extraordinary like the prophets, as the ordinary like the priests, were regarded as sent of God. The same expression was transferred to the ministers of the New Testament, as well the extraordinary, the most eminent of whom were therefore called Apostles, as the ordinary, Romans 10:15, who therefore were called angels, Revelation 2, 3. The ἐ?άν τινα πέμψω is intentionally general, in order to intimate that the sending of Christ would not be restricted to the Apostles.”
Ver. 21. “When Jesus had thus said, He was troubled in spirit, and testified, and said. Verily, verily, I say unto you, That one of you shall betray Me.”
The testifying (comp. on ch. John 1:7, John 3:11) is the opposite of speaking from mere supposition: it here declares what Christ utters was founded upon fact, and rested upon direct intuition. This, in connection with such events as we have here, lies beyond the human domain: Christ’s possessing it was based upon His participation in the divine omniscience. The testifying has its counterpart in the “Verily, verily,” of our Lord’s discourse; intimating that He did not speak in the language of supposition, but of certain knowledge. That Jesus spoke only of one among the twelve, had probably for its reason the prevention of the excitement which the mention of his name would have raised among the Apostles, and of the premature departure of the traitor, who must needs partake of the holy supper. At the same time, all the others were thereby stimulated to a salutary self-examination.
Chap. John 13:21-30
The feet-washing is now followed by our Lord’s discourse concerning His betrayer. The ταῦ?τα εἰ?πών at the beginning places this in immediate juxtaposition with the address which Jesus had delivered to His disciples after the washing was finished, and Jesus had resumed His seat at the table. Matthew and Mark coincide upon this. According to Matthew 26:21, Mark 14:18, Jesus uttered the words, “Verily I say unto you, One of you will betray Me,” immediately after He had placed Himself at the table with the twelve, and the supper had begun. Matthew and Mark point not indistinctly to the fact, that our Lord’s words concerning the traitor were closely connected with the commencement of the feast; Mark especially, who to the εἷ?ς ἐ?ξ ὑ?μῶ?ν appends ὁ? ἐ?σθίων μετʼ? ἐ?μοῦ? . Ver. 18 in John shows what that connection was. “He that eateth my bread,” in the Psalm, was, as it were, realized in act at the beginning of the meal. Such a special occasion is demanded for the “troubled in spirit,” ver. 21. Luke omits the colloquy touching the traitor, and, instead of it, inserts another omitted by his predecessors, and which belonged to the end of the feast. We have already observed that, after the ἀ?πάρτι in ver. 19, a series of our Lord’s utterances concerning the traitor was to be expected. There was a particular reason for that one which Luke records. It was to occasion the departure of the traitor, who, although he must be present at the institution of the supper, would have been altogether out of place during the subsequent outpourings of our Lord. That the words concerning the traitor in Luke closely resemble the earlier ones, is quite natural, as it is a designed repetition for a particular purpose. In the Old Testament we often find in such cases the echo-like recurrence of the same words: as may be observed, for example, in Psalms 42, 43. But Luke’s words are too closely connected with what Jesus had uttered at the supper, to allow us to suppose that he arbitrarily inserted them. Not only the πλὴ?ν ἰ?δοὺ? comes here into consideration,—which, in spite of all that Wichelhaus says, cannot be regarded as an appendage of Luke, without throwing some suspicion upon his genuineness,—but also the τοῦ? παραδιδόντος με in its undeniable reference to the τὸ? ὑ?πὲ?ρ ὑ?μῶ?ν διδόμενον . That what is recorded by Luke in ver. 23 does not harmonize with the period after the institution of the supper, is an assertion which could be made only by those who take an incorrect view of the previous transactions concerning the traitor.
Ver. 22. “Then the disciples looked one on another, doubting of whom He spake.”
They looked at each other, not so much to detect the traitor in any other face, as to see whether in others’ countenances they saw any suspicion of themselves. How weak is the flesh, how deceitful the heart, and how deeply had fallen many even of the believers of the Old Testament! This gives the point of connection for Matthew 26:22-24. The Lord’s word then, ver. 23, “He that dippeth his hand with Me in the dish, the same shall betray Me,” not only contains a more specific designation of the traitor, but, in its repeated reference to Psalms 41, gives prominence to the indignity, that one of His table-companions should betray his Lord. Mark makes this very emphatic in ch. Mark 14:20: “It is one of the twelve that dippeth with Me in the dish.” Here follows, from John 13:23-29, a scene peculiar to John, the communication of which was the reason that he made mention of the incident concerning the traitor. John 13:21-22 serve only as an introduction or point of connection with what the other Evangelists had already recorded, and which is here briefly resumed. That which John communicates in John 13:23-29 is, as it were, his own private property. He alone could have imparted from the first source, and therefore the Evangelists who preceded him left it unmentioned.
Ver. 23. “Now there was leaning on Jesus’ bosom one of His disciples, whom Jesus loved.”
That the words “whom Jesus loved” occupy the place of a proper name (Heumann: “a title, a designation, by which John desired to be known”), appears from its being repeated often (ch. John 19:26, John 20:2, John 21:7; John 21:20), as well as from its being used in circumstances in which the love of Jesus is not under consideration. They are a paraphrase (as Bengel tells us) of the name of John, which signifies “him whom Jehovah loves.” In the love of Jesus, the Jehovah manifest in the flesh, the pious wish became fulfilled from which the denomination arose. Meyer objects that it ought in that case to have been, not “whom Jesus loved,” but “whom the Lord loved.” But John speaks of Jesus as the Lord only twice before His resurrection, ch. John 4:1, John 6:23. Jesus, on the other hand, is the standing name. That was the name which belonged to the Son of man, Jehovah manifest in the flesh. To have designated himself as pre-eminently the disciple whom Jesus loved, would have been presumption on John’s part (Grotius very incorrectly: Hac modesta circumlocution e se designare solet Johannes)—he would have shown himself a “babbler who on all occasions boasted that none of the other disciples were so highly esteemed as himself”—if this pre-eminence had not, like the primacy of Peter, rested upon some declaration of Christ Himself, and thus been removed out of the region of self-complacent fancy. Lampe’s remark, “That he was much beloved by Jesus, was the conclusion he drew from the strong love towards Jesus with which he felt his own heart filled,” is more specious than true. In all probability Jesus gave this declaration in the form of an interpretation of the name John, which even by this interpretation became a “new name.” This is confirmed by the fact that Jesus on other occasions stamped the spiritual character of His Apostles by the imposition of a second name: comp. on ch. John 6:71, John 11:16. Where the proper name itself only needed to be expounded, it was obvious to retain it, and to sanctify it by an interpretation given.
The place which John assumed at the table, on the bosom of Jesus (comp. on ch. John 1:18), was symbolically significant: it stood in close reference to his name; and thus rested doubtless on an appointment of Jesus.
Larape is wrong here: “The Papists will find it hard to justify the primacy of Peter; John takes here the first place, not only at the table, but also in the heart, of Christ.” Peter and John have each after his kind the first place in the apostolical circle; and both, inwardly bound to each other, were altogether without envy at each other’s preeminence. Peter, between whom and the Pope of Rome there is no solid bridge, so that there is not the least necessity for explaining away the pre-eminence which the Lord gave him, is placed at the head with reference to the energy of action. The profoundly internal John, with his depth of love, his inwardness and devotion, stands nearest to the heart of Jesus. We may say, that because the relation between John and Jesus took the form of a relation of love, and was so far partial in its character, he was not called to the primacy, however necessary love was to that primacy: comp. ch. John 21:15.
Ver. 24. “Simon Peter therefore beckoned to him, that he should ask who it should be of whom He spake.”
The present νεύει is characteristic. The scene, which he himself witnessed, and with which he had particularly to do, is immediately before the Apostle’s eyes. That a mere beckoning was sufficient, implies a closer relation between John and Peter, such as is attested by many other passages: ch. John 20:2, John 21:7; Luke 5:10; Luke 22:8; Acts 3:4; Acts 8:14. Lachmann’s text reads: καὶ? λέγει αὐ?τῷ? εἰ?πὲ? τίς ἐ?στιν οὗ? λέγει . Here again we may learn a lesson of caution in relation to this text. The beckoning presupposes that Peter, in his position at the table, could not communicate with John by word. The λέγει comes into contradiction with this. The εἰ?πέ is unpleasantly ambiguous. The obvious view of it would be that John should speak of his own accord. Then arises the difficulty as to how John came to know, or how Peter could take it for granted that he knew. According to another view, the “say” is equivalent to “ask.” But then we should expect αὐ?τῷ? , and “say” in the meaning of “ask” is strange. The reading arose doubtless from the difficulty felt in appreciating the spiritual rapport between John and Peter, and in understanding how a request could be made by a mere nod.
Peter was not urged by curiosity. He, the man of action, who cut off the high priest’s servant’s ear, thought that there was something here also for him to do. That Jesus entered into his desire, served to answer the end indicated in ver. 19. According to this, Jesus could not end with “One of you shall betray Me;” He must before the betrayal mention the name of the traitor, although it was preliminarily left in the keeping of the disciple whom Jesus loved. He would, in committing it to John, commit it to the whole apostolical circle, to the collective Christian Church.
Ver. 25. “He then, lying on Jesus’ breast, saith unto Him, Lord, who is it?”—Ἐ?πιπεσών points to a certain violence in the act, a strong impulse of affection, which the disciple of love must have felt when the Lord said, “One of you will betray Me.” The reading of Lachmann’s text, ἀ?ναπεσών , sprang from an inconsiderate comparison with ver. 12 or ch. John 21:20, in which passages the word refers to the habitual place which John occupied at the supper, and not this particular act. The address Κύριε shows, that with John the tenderness of affection did not impair the awe of reverence.
Ver. 26. “Jesus answered. He it is to whom I shall give a sop, when I have dipped it. And when He had dipped the sop. He gave it to Judas Iscariot, the son of Simon.”
Why did Jesus take this method? Not merely that He might be understood by John. If He could say softly the words ἐ?κεῖ?νός— ἐ?πιδώσω ), He might just as easily have softly pronounced the name. The purpose of our Lord was rather, by this intimation of the manner of the betrayal, to make more emphatic the horror and the abomination of that act. He thus realized in act the words of Psalms 41:10, “He that eateth my bread,” which He had quoted in ver. 18, and to which in ver. 21 He had referred. Outwardly viewed, that which Jesus did was an expression of paternal favour to Judas. The other disciples, observes Bengel, doubtless thought that Judas was fortunate beyond them. It need not be proved that this was not mere semblance; and nothing can be more foolish than to speak of it as a “cunning designation by an act which had the force of a token of friendship and goodwill.” Although the act had a complaining and condemnatory significance, it was doubtless, at the same time, a declaration that Jesus had not yet quite given up Judas, that He was still ready to receive him again into the fellowship of His love. He must and He would touch his heart once more, if haply he might yet be susceptible of better emotions. Besides John, to whom Jesus had previously given the commentary on the symbolical act, Judas also knew the meaning of the sign. His conscience gave him the interpretation, especially as Jesus had already alluded to that passage in the Psalm. In order, however, to be absolutely certain, he asked Jesus, according to Matthew 26:25, “Master, is it I?” and Jesus answered him, “Thou hast said.” This colloquy between Jesus and Judas must have proceeded softly, and so that no one perceived it except John, who had been already made acquainted with the secret, and thus was especially observant. This is on other accounts probable. Jesus could not have unmasked the traitor before all the Apostles without exciting the utmost commotion in their minds, and especially occasioning some premature explosion on the part of Peter. It is made necessary also by vers. 28, 29. That Jesus could exchange these words with Judas in private, renders it necessary to suppose that the latter sate near Him at the table. Probably Peter was first in the series on that side, and Judas ended it on the other; so that in one respect he was the nearest to the Lord, in another the most distant. This is supported by the fact that in all the catalogues Peter takes the first place and Judas the last: comp. Matthew 10:2-4; Mark 3:16-19; Luke 6:14-20.
The ψωμίον of itself points to bread. In later Greek, ψωμί was bread; and Suidas remarks, ψωμὸ?ς ὁ? ἄ?ρτος . That it was a morsel of bread, is plain also from the frequent reference to the passage in the Psalm, “He that eateth my bread.” We have here such an allusion to the paschal rite as forbids us to separate this feast from that of the Passover. In the paschal meal there was a sop called charoseth, made up of figs, nuts, and other fruits compounded with wine or vinegar. In this sop the householder dipped pieces of unleavened bread, and was followed in the act by the rest of the company. The sop was not a continuation into the paschal feast of a custom belonging to an ordinary meal; it belonged entirely to the paschal feast. It had a symbolical meaning. It represented the fruits of the blessed land to which the partaking of redemption gave them a right; just as in the law the benefits of nature were always conjoined with the grace of redemption. Matthew 26:23 refers to this dish. If we refer it to the common bread of the daily meal, there is no connection with that passage. There remains no material to be dipped into.
Ver. 27. “And after the sop Satan entered into him. Then said Jesus unto him, That thou doest, do quickly.”—Τότε serves to give prominence to the frightful crisis. The allusion, in the “Satan entered into him,” to Luke 22:3, is all the less doubtful, as this peculiar phraseology never again occurs in the same way, either in reference to Judas or for any other purpose. In Mark 5:12, Luke 8:32, it is used of bodily possession. There is an apparent opposition here, but it is only a formal one: it only intimates, that now first the word used by Luke reached its fullest truth. We ought not to say that Luke wrote “less exactly.” “There were two stages,” says Lampe, “of which it in a special manner held good that the devil entered the heart of the traitor: the first in the preparation for the betrayal, and the second in the accomplishment of it.” As the indwelling of Satan, so also the indwelling of God by His Spirit, has its several degrees; and as the phraseology is relative, it may be used of the several crises of possession. The only question is as to the point from which we take our departure. The basis of the expression used by Luke and John was the word which Jesus had used at an earlier period, ch. John 6:70: “Have I not chosen you twelve, and one of you is a devil?”—an incarnate Satan.
Why did the final decision follow so close upon this sop? The colloquy recorded by Matthew between Jesus and the traitor is presupposed by John. It belonged to the sop, as a commentary upon it. The foundation of the entrance of Satan into the traitor was formed by the absolute assurance that he was detected. In the interest of his design he had overcome the shining evidences which Jesus had earlier given of His Godhead, otherwise the betrayal would be inconceivable: he who would betray the Son of God, must first be convinced that He is not the Son of God. The divinity of our Lord now suddenly shone out in the demonstration that He gave of His possessing the Divine prerogative of searching the heart and the reins. Not uttering a supposition, but with absolute assurance, Jesus says, “Verily, verily, I say unto you, One of you shall betray Me.” The rays of Divinity now beam still more brightly upon Him. By sign and word the Lord says to him. Thou art he who eateth My bread, and betrayeth Me. Then should he have been pierced to the heart, as Achan was in Joshua 7; and all the more, as Jesus was at the same time attracting him, and declaring to him by this very sign that he was not yet struck out from the number of the twelve, and that there still remained space for his return. But he would not; and the vehement effort which he made to close his heart against heavenly influences, must at the same time have opened the door to the influences of hell: yea, he must have derived the very strength for that resistance from his union with those powers of evil. As it is said of David that he strengthened himself in his God, so Judas strengthened himself in Satan. This crisis decided his fate for all eternity.
The word, “What thou doest, do more quickly,” does not command Judas to do anything generally, but to do more quickly what he will do, and must. He shows thereby that He does not fear the act of Judas; that His impulse to suffer, and to finish the work which the Father had given Him to do, was stronger than the impulse which Satan had given to Judas; that His desire for the salvation of the world was more vehement than Judas’ desire for the reward of his sin. Judas sees himself by this word of Jesus profoundly degraded. He has not power over his Master, as he had imagined he would have, and soothed his vain thought thereby, like many others who follow in the footsteps of Judas; but his Master uses for His own purpose the designs of the traitor.
Vers. 28, 29. “Now no man at the table knew for what intent He spake this unto him. For some of them thought, because Judas had the bag, that Jesus had said unto him. Buy those things that we have need of against the feast; or, that he should give something to the poor.”
This remark has so far actual circumstantial interest, as it shows what a thorough hypocrite Judas was, and how little the evidence of his treachery could be gained in a natural way. Even now the eyes of his fellow-disciples are not opened, so firmly had he closed all the issues of his heart, and watched over his words and looks. “No man knew” besides the disciple whom Jesus loved. This limitation is given by ver. 23. If the letter is pressed, Judas himself must be made unaware of it.
The supposition here referred to will appear “senseless and wild,” only if we inadequately depict to ourselves the situation, and sunder the meal here described from the paschal feast. “For the feast” is more fully explained by ch. John 13:1, which shows that only that part of the feast was meant which followed the opening of the Passover. Jesus had, in the anticipation of His passion and death, taken no care for the remainder of the feast. His disciples had doubtless been surprised at that; and it was all the more natural that they should refer the Lord’s present words to that fact, as the things needed would be required in the next morning. It has been asserted, that to buy in the night of the Passover would have been a violation of the enjoined rest of the feast. But at the feasts, when men were to rejoice before the Lord, they were less rigorous than at the Sabbath. The law itself, in Exodus 12:16, permitted on the first day of the feast the provision of food which was forbidden on the Sabbath. The immense multitudes of people in Jerusalem at the feast, and the wide variety of needs arising from it, caused doubtless a certain relaxation of rule after the great feast, in order that the remainder of the festival might be worthily cared for. In view of such pressing and decisive necessity, we may be sure that some resource must have been discovered for relief. “Necessity breaks law:” the Talmud gives express evidence as to how provision was made for buying during the feast, Tract. Sabbath, c. xxiii. 1. A difficulty arises only if we separate the meal in John from the paschal feast. In that case there would have been no urgency in the buying. Needless trouble has been raised as to the offices for buying and selling being open. The paschal feast certainly did not last elsewhere longer than that of the Apostles; and the sellers, who are always ready enough for gain, especially the Jewish, would not delay to open their stores.
Others thought that Jesus commanded Judas to give something to the poor: that is, for the same object, the procuring of provision for the further need of the feast. There were doubtless many whose slender resources were exhausted by the expenditure of the journey and the first part of the feast. It was the office of gratitude for the grace of redemption sealed in the Passover, to take charge of such as these. According to the prescription of the law, the people were to rejoice before the Lord in the great feasts, and to receive personae miserabiles into the fellowship of this joy, by hospitality and alms. Deuteronomy 16:14: “And thou shalt rejoice in thy feast, thou, and thy son, and thy daughter, and thy man-servant, and thy maidservant, and the Levite, the stranger, the fatherless, and the widow, that are within thy gates:” comp. ver. 11, John 12:12. This injunction had, as we may take for granted, been observed by Jesus at the earlier feasts which He had attended; and that circumstance would render the supposition more natural. Quesnel: “The Redeemer sanctified the feast by mercy; and He teaches us that we should give more liberal alms on those days on which God more richly dispenses His gifts. That is only a righteous requital; but all the advantage is on our side.” But the supposition of the text was obvious only if the feast in John was the paschal feast: the distribution of alms at such an otherwise unseasonable time would be accounted for as a necessary appendage of the feast. Under ordinary circumstances, the time—it being night—was altogether inappropriate. But the paschal night was the most excited of the whole year—the only one which, in this regard, was equal to the day: comp. Isaiah 30:29. The supposition about Judas’ errand would have been, on any other night, “senseless and wild.”
Ver. 30. “He then, having received the sop, went immediately out; and it was night.”
Instead of εὐ?θέως ἐ?ξῆ?λθεν , Lachmann and Tischendorf have ἐ?ξῆ?λθεν εὐ?θύς , following preponderating witnesses. The ὅ?τε ἐ?ξῆ?λθε , which many add at the end of this verse, omitting it at the beginning of ver. 31, is essential to that verse, since it gives emphasis to the connection between the utterance of Jesus and the departure of Judas. In ver. 30, however, it is superfluous and disturbing. John connected the receiving of the sop with the departure of Judas, because there was a link of causation between them. The εὐ?θύς is pressed too far, if we draw from it the conclusion that he went out at that precise moment. The εὐ?θύς soon after, in ver. 32, teaches us that, as also that of ch. John 6:21. Such an instantaneous departure cannot be conceived; for by it Judas would have betrayed himself before all the other disciples. It would have been just the same as if one among ourselves should withdraw from the rank of communicants: indeed much more surprising, when we consider the legal strictness of the Old Testament. He could not have gone away before the most holy feast of the nation—the feast on which their participation in redemption depended—reached its conclusion in the song of praise. The external reasons which forbade this were reinforced by a special internal reason. Hypocrites, like Judas, are particularly scrupulous in the observance of religious usages. He would not assuredly act like an ordinary knave, who tramples on all restraints; that would have been out of harmony with his whole past life: he concealed his wickedness under the garment of devotion; and the thirty pieces of silver were a slight and accidental matter to him. He would have forsaken his part, and have acted in opposition to that delusion by which he soothed his conscience, had he wantonly broken through the sacredness of the festal circle. There are also other reasons which assure us that Judas was present at the institution of the sacrament. Luke 22:21-22, are of decisive import in relation to this. There, after the institution of the Supper, Jesus says: But, πλήν , behold, the hand of him that betrayeth Me is with Me on the table. So also “they all drank of it,” Mark 14:23, after the mention of the Twelve just preceding, vers. 17, 20. Further, the passage in the Psalm, on which our Lord lays such decisive stress, “He that eateth My bread hath lifted up his heel against Me,” would not have had its complete fulfilment if Judas had not partaken of the holy meal. So also the symbolical character of this first supper must not be left unconsidered in respect of this: there must have been present some representative of those who should eat and drink unworthily, and to their own condemnation, 1 Corinthians 11:29. The matter, then, must be viewed thus: after the transaction touching the traitor, and the completion of the paschal feast, followed the institution of the sacrament, which required only a few moments: Matthew 26:26-29; Mark 14:22-25; Luke 22:17-20. When we consider the record given of this by the first three Evangelists, and the strictly corresponding account of Paul in 1 Corinthians 11, we shall not need any further reason why John passed it over in silence. It was for him to supplement his predecessors; and they had already perfectly communicated these proceedings. After the institution of the sacrament, Jesus brought back the discourse to the traitor, Luke 22:21-22, in order to occasion his departure, whose presence during the confidential utterances that were to follow would have been disturbing. Judas’ going out followed after the psalm of praise had been sung, and consequently the official feast had ended. The intercourse of our Lord with His disciples now assumed a freer character; and Judas, the business agent of the society, could retire without exciting much attention, more especially as our Lord’s word, “What thou doest, do quickly,” furnished him with a cloak for his disguise.
The view we have taken is further supported by the consideration, that after ver. 30 we cannot find any room for the institution of the sacrament. Vers. 31-35 are most closely connected with the departure of Judas. Peter’s word, in ver. 36, “Lord, whither goest Thou?” refers to ver. 33, and allows no interval. With ch. John 14:1 we enter upon the last discourses of our Lord to His disciples, and we cannot imagine any interval during the utterance of them. In ch. John 13:36 we are, according to the other Evangelists, beyond the song of praise; but the holy supper must, from its express explanation as given by our Lord, and from the nature of the case, have preceded that psalm.
That Judas partook of the supper, may with perfect propriety be regarded as the ecclesiastical view. It is supported by the far greater number of the more important authorities among the Fathers, as well as in the middle ages. As to the opinion of the Lutheran Church, the remark of John Gerhard is very characteristic: qui aliter sentiat nemo mihi notus. Those who have differed have been led by two classes of motive: some based upon ecclesiastical discipline (held by many Reformed theologians), and some based upon sentimentality (held by most moderns, with Neander at their head). Wichelhaus has most fully exhausted the historical material. He argues against the participation of Judas, on the ground that the known character of such a transgression as Judas’ would necessarily exclude from the communion of the body and blood of Jesus. This is certainly not without force; but it is outweighed by another consideration still more important, namely, that the first supper had a symbolical significance, and was a prospective exhibition of the sacrament of all future times. Nothing more was absolutely necessary than the protest against him, and that was given with abundant force. Nor is it to be overlooked that the feet of Judas were washed with the rest. Now, if we press the argument of ecclesiastical discipline, the washing of his feet would be equally a stumblingblock. Signifying as it did the forgiveness of sins imparted by Christ, it would not seem to have been appropriate to Judas. But if we regard him as the type of those who, notwithstanding the proffer of the washing away of their sins by Christ, perish in their guilt, we find no further difficulty. Wichelhaus argues further: “According to Matthew, ch. Matthew 26:25, Jesus had designated Judas, before the collected disciples, as the traitor; consequently he could not have remained any longer; and it is impossible that a detected traitor should have partaken of the sacred supper with the other Apostles.” But all that he says about the “collected disciples” is an interpolation of his own. Matthew says nothing about it. All he thinks of is, that Jesus uttered the words, “Thou hast said.” That had to him an apologetic meaning. It was sufficient if only one among the Apostles besides Judas heard it. That Jesus spoke it before all, is in itself highly improbable; and John intimates the very contrary.
The remark, “It was night,” has no chronological importance. The whole festival was a night festival: comp. Exodus 12:8; Exodus 12:42, “This is that night of the Lord, to be observed of all the children of Israel in their generations.” It belonged to the domain of the moon, and not to that of the sun: comp. “in the new moon, in the time appointed, on our solemn feast-day,” Psalms 81:4. It began בערב , after the light of the day had entirely departed. That had to do with the nature of the festival. The Lord arose upon His people in the night of their misery, as the Sun of their salvation. The night signified their Egyptian oppression, as the type of all oppression which the people of God should ever have to endure from the world.
Now, if the night mentioned in this verse had no chronological meaning, it had a symbolical one. What night meant from the moment when Judas went out—it existed, indeed, before his departure, but its full significance came out only with that—may be seen in what has been observed upon ch. John 9:4-5, John 11:9-10. In harmony with the symbolism of the paschal feast, the night signified the dark passion-season for Christ and His disciples, which really began with the vers. 31-38, departure of Judas.
Vers. 31, 32. “Therefore, when he was gone out, Jesus said, Now is the Son of man glorified, and God is glorified in Him. If God be glorified in Him, God shall also glorify Him in Himself, and shall straightway glorify Him.”
That ἐ?δοξάσθη , in ver. 31, refers to an actual fact that had already taken place, and not to an anticipated event (according to many the passion of Christ, which, however, is never viewed under the aspect of glorification; according to others. His state of exaltation), is shown by the εἰ? ἐ?δοξάσθη in ver. 32. The relation of the two verses to each other becomes entirely incomprehensible, if we do not perceive that in ver. 31 an accomplished fact is spoken of, and in ver. 32 the consequence that should be developed from that fact. The Son of man had been glorified through all that He had done while it was day, ch. John 9:4. With the departure of Judas, and the night that then and thereby set in, when no man could work, ch. John 9:4, John 11:10, John 13:30, His course was so far ended; and a new one began, which, however, was to be one in reality closely connected with the former. The glorification of the Father by the Son is now followed by the glorification of the Son by the Father.
To the glorification of the Son of man by His acts the ἐ?δόξασα of ch. John 12:28 also refers. To the δοξάσω there corresponds ver. 32 here. According to ch. John 11:4, the sickness of Lazarus had for its end, that the Son of God should be glorified. We have, in ch. John 17:4-5, simply a commentary on these two verses. Accordingly, the glorification of the Son of man was to consist only in the consummation of His work upon earth, in the acts by which He at the same time manifested His own glory and the glory of God: comp. on ch. John 2:11.
Wherever the Son of man is mentioned, the Son of God is in the background, according to the precedent of the original passage in Daniel: comp. on ch. John 1:51. The glorification brings the hidden background into the light.
That ἐ?ν αὐ?τῷ? signifies not by Him, but in Him, is shown by the corresponding ἐ?ν ἑ?αυτῷ? , ver. 32. Since the Son of man is the Son of God manifest in human form, the manifestation of God in the flesh, therefore God is, at the same time, glorified in Him: comp. on ch. John 11:4.
What was remarked upon ch. John 7:4 holds good in reference to the εἰ? in ver. 32. It is still more emphatic; and intimates that the one must, so to speak, draw the other after it by logical consequence. In 1 Samuel 2:30, “Them that honour Me I will honour,” we have the proposition on which the inferential “if” here rests. As the particular instance here rests upon the general principle there expressed, so again out of this particular may be constructed a general proposition, calculated to excite our zeal to make the glory of God the aim of all our endeavours upon earth. But there is for the disciples a still more direct and potent encouragement here. If Christ was to be received up into the glory of God, then would His disciples be safe; if the fulness of omnipotence was at His command, they need not tremble though the whole world were in arms against them. How the glory of Christ turned to the advantage of His followers, is developed in ch. John 14:12 seq.
The glorification assured by God to Christ began with the resurrection, and was consummated in His session at the right hand of the Father, with all the supreme prerogatives and glories connected therewith.—Ἐ?ν ἑ?αυτῷ? , in Himself, is stronger than παρὰ? σεαυτῷ? , with Thyself, in ch. John 17:5. The latter might have spoken of the n Arian Christ. Ἐ?ν ἑ?αυτῷ? leads to the equality with God in power and glory; intimates that the Son was to be received up into the sphere of the Father. In the Apocalypse, the Lamb in the midst of the throne, ch. John 7:17, corresponds to the ἐ?ν ἑ?αυτῷ? . As, during the earthly life of Christ, the relation of the Father to Him was not one of nearness and help merely, as God was manifested in Him, ver. 31, as the Father was in Him and He in the Father, ch. John 14:10-11; so also in glory we must conceive of no mere nearness, but Christ is to be received up into the Divine glory itself. The communion of nature which was declared in the earlier time, must have the latter as its consequence.—“And shall forthwith glorify Him:” immediately after death, not in some remote distance, allowing an interval during which the disciples might be left to themselves.
Chap. John 13:31-38
With the departure of Judas began the profound humiliation of Christ. It was beyond all things needful to strengthen the disciples against the temptation that would spring from His abasement. Jesus did this by intimating, in John 13:31-32, that suffering and abasement would be for Him only a short point of transition to supreme glory.
Ver. 33. “Little children, yet a little while I am with you. Ye shall seek Me: and as I said unto the Jews, Whither I go, ye cannot come; so now I say to you.”
From the contemplation of His glory, Jesus again descends to His disciples. That which He here tells them, forms the foundation for the solemn exhortation of vers. 34, 35. He would, by allusion to the impending separation, render their minds tender and susceptible, that they might receive the exhortation, and shut it up in their heart. That which, when leaving them, He had so emphatically laid on their hearts as His last request, they would never dismiss from their thoughts.” This exhortation brings the holy supper to its conclusion. It began with uncharitable contention; it ends in the exhortation to love.
It was appropriate that our Lord, when He would exhort His disciples to love, should use the most affectionate address, τεκνία , never elsewhere occurring in all the Evangelists (τέκνα only once, Mark 10:24: comp. Matthew 9:2; Mark 2:5: comp. παιδία , ch. John 21:5), but which finds a kind of echo in the First Epistle of John. And it was all the more appropriate, as our Lord lays down as the foundation of His precept of love—as I have loved you.—“Ye shall seek Me:” especially in the times of trial and tribulation. This word, as parallel with what Jesus had spoken to the Jews (comp. John 7:33-34, John 8:21), points to the fact that even for the disciples, and for the faithful members of the Church, the ceasing of the bodily presence of Christ would be grievous and hard to be borne. Christ would be unapproachable to the Jews; and so He would be, in a certain sense, to His disciples, until they were received one by one into the heavenly glory, and He should return in visible form: comp. Acts 1:11. Assuredly, Jesus did not leave His disciples orphans; He came to them by the Paraclete; He is still and ever with them, present in the midst wherever two or three are gathered together in His name. But all this is not full compensation for His personal presence; does not hinder Christ from appearing as one who has gone away, ἀ?ποδημῶ?ν , Matthew 25:14; does not prevent His disciples from desiring, during the interval until His return, to see one of the days of the Son of man, Luke 17:22; and does not cause that, during this whole season, the fundamental tone of Christendom should not be sorrow. But it was profitable for them that it was so. Wrestling faith was thereby excited (comp. ch. John 20:29), and thus the best preparation secured for seeing Him in person.
Jesus says, “Yet a little while am I with you.” This is to be referred to the short space until His imprisonment. The intercourse of the risen Lord with His disciples was essentially different from all His former intercourse, and led the way to that entirely spiritual communion which began after the Lord’s ascension,
This is the only passage in which Jesus spoke to His disciples concerning the Jews. Elsewhere He uses the designation only in the conversation with the Samaritan woman, with Caiaphas, with Pilate. We have here the germ of the Johannaean phraseology: comp. on ch. John 1:19. Just here, after the institution of the sacrament of the new covenant, before the mention of the new commandment, and where there is a sharp distinction made between the disciples and the enemies of Jesus, the designation is quite in place. How carefully John distinguishes between his own words and the words of Jesus, may be gathered from the fact that the Jews are never mentioned save here, without the Evangelist himself coming forward in his own person to use the name.
Vers. 34, 35. “A new commandment I give unto you. That ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another. By this shall all men know that ye are My disciples, if ye have love one to another.”
It is an arbitrary and baseless notion, that the love of the disciples to each other is here supposed to be the compensation, as it were, for the bodily absence of Christ. We have already exhibited the right connection with ver. 33: that verse is the soil for the seed of the present ones. It would also be a mistake to make the new commandment here the New Testament first and great commandment, as Ebrard does: “That same single new commandment which the New Testament brings in as a necessary supplement “of the ten precepts of the Old Testament.” The first and great commandment is even in the New Testament the love of God. That brotherly love is made prominent here, had its reason in the contention which had preceded. Knapp rightly observes (De novo praecepto Christi) that there is here a silent condemnation of the disciples, who had been unfaithful in some degree to this obligation of love. What they had neglected, while Christ was with them, they were, after His departure, all the more diligently to observe. A comparison with the Lord’s saying in ver. 15, which has a manifest reference to the φιλονεικία of the disciples, shows that here also there is such a reference as the undertone.
The Old Testament foreannounced Christ as a new Lawgiver, Isaiah 2:3; Isaiah 42:4. The difference between Christ and Moses in this domain appears in this, that Christ here comes forward independently as a Lawgiver, while Moses ordinarily referred back his laws to Jehovah, and represented himself to be only a mediator. In a certain sense, all the laws of the New Testament are old laws. The law of the Old Testament has eternal value, and belongs to the Church of the New Testament no less than to that of the old: comp. Matthew 5:17-20. In a certain sense, all the commandments of the New Testament are new. Even the first and chief commandment of the Old Testament, the precept of the love of God, shines forth in new brightness now that Christ has brought the Father near to us, and in the manifestation of His love laid the foundation for ours. It was to the disciples as if they had never received this precept before. Also the precept of brotherly love, the love of our neighbour, was in the Old Testament so clearly and rigorously set forth, that, viewing it merely as a commandment, it could not be more expressly enjoined. To love our neighbour as ourselves, Leviticus 19:18, is just the same precept in the New Testament as in the Old: Mark 12:31; Matthew 22:39. Yet this commandment also has, in a certain sense, become new. First, it has received a new foundation in the love of Christ. The Lord has saved the expositors from speculating as to what the newness of the law consisted in, by adding, “as I have loved you.” Christ exhibits the commandment as a new one, after He has come to the perfection of the manifestation of His own love, and His departure from the disciples was impending: comp. ver. 33. Secondly, in internal connection with the newness of the foundation stands the new limitation of the sphere of this love. In the Old Testament the neighbour is, according to grammatical and historical exposition, the member of the covenant established on Sinai, the fellow-partaker of the Old Testament covenant benefits. In the New Testament he is the member of the covenant sealed by Christ,—the new commandment here consequently corresponds to the new covenant of which Christ had spoken in the institution of the Supper,—the fellow-partaker in His redemption, the brother in His love. This is a relation which before Christ had never been in the world, and of all the bonds of love it is the most binding and internal.—Ἀ?λλήλους refers to the true disciples of Christ, ἐ?μοὶ? μαθηταί ver. 35. Primarily the Apostles were meant; but these were the representatives of all believers: comp. ch. John 17:11. But that which primarily was spoken of the stricter bond of Christian brotherhood, involves also the indirect obligation to the most universal love of man; just as the love of Christ to His own disciples, which is here set before us for our imitation, rests upon the foundation of His universal love to the world. Even under the Old Testament they were to love the stranger as themselves: this proves that the Pharisaical gloss on the precept of the love of their neighbour, which certainly in the letter referred only to fellow-Israelites, was not according to the mind of the Lawgiver. If we are to love the Christian brother as Christ loves him, so we are to love all men because Christ loves them, and died for them. Nevertheless, the violation of brotherly love is a heavier guilt than the violation of the universal love of man. The measure of the guilt is the greatness of the love of Christ.
The commandment is at first nakedly laid down, and then, after the reason given for it, it is repeated with an inserted καί , which refers to the reason given: ἵ?να , καθὼ?ς ἠ?γάπησα ὑ?μᾶ?ς , καὶ? ὑ?μεῖ?ς ἀ?γαπᾶ?τε ἀ?λλήλους . The displacement of the ἵ?να does not militate against this view, which is simple, and recommended by the comparison of ver. 15. We find the same elsewhere, e.g. in ver. 29, and 2 John 1:6.
Acts 4:32 may be compared with ver. 35; and what the heathen used to say of the Christians (Tertull. Apol.): “See how they love one another.”
Ver. 36. “Simon Peter said unto Him, Lord, whither goest Thou? Jesus answered him. Whither I go, thou canst not follow Me now; but thou shalt follow Me afterwards.”
What Jesus had said concerning love had gone straight to Peter’s heart, and the more as he had taken a prominent part in the contention which had given rise to the exhortation. But there was something in the Lord’s words which smote him still more keenly: Christ had spoken of His speedy departure. On this point he earnestly desired more light; and, as the Lord’s answer shows, in order that he might actively interfere, and unite his destiny with Christ’s. Whither goest Thou? If Thou goest unto death, I will go with Thee: compare the word of Thomas in ch. John 11:16; and Elisha’s word to Elijah in 2 Kings 2:4; 2 Kings 2:6: “As the Lord liveth, I will not leave thee.” The “canst not” in our Lord’s answer has a psychological reason. Before Peter could die for Christ, Christ must have died for him, and have obtained for him by His death the Holy Spirit, who is, with other attributes, a Spirit of might. August.: Quid festinas, Petre? nondum te suo spiritu solidavit Petra. There were also other reasons for that inability. In God’s counsel, Peter, before he followed his Lord in death, must strengthen his brethren, and feed the lambs of Christ. But that the inability was connected with the state of Peter’s mind, is evident, as from the answer of Peter, so also from a comparison of Matthew: there “thou canst not follow Me now” is followed by “All ye shall be offended in Me this night.”
Vers. 36-38 coincide accurately with what the other Evangelists record of the same event. We have here, in John 13:36, the starting-point of the whole incident, which in the others is wanting. The question of Peter here refers to the words of our Lord, not communicated by the other Evangelists, immediately after the departure of Judas. And our Lord’s answer here, “Whither I go, thou canst not follow Me now, but thou shalt follow Me afterwards,” connects itself with vers. 31, 32, in Matthew. That the answer there also issues from Peter, harmonizes well with the fact that, according to John, the Lord’s words were primarily addressed to him. John communicates the former part of that answer, Matthew gives the remainder in ver. 33. John supplements the answer of Jesus by the words placed at the beginning, “Wilt thou lay down thy life for My sake?” What Peter replied, Matthew had already recorded: hence John omits it here.
As to the particulars of time, there is no essential difference between John and Matthew. The τότε of the latter, in its reference to the καὶ? ὑ?μνήσαντες ἐ?ξῆ?λθον εἰ?ς τὸ? ὅ?ρος τῶ?ν ἐ?λαιῶ?ν , leaves us ample space in the interval between the hymn with which the Passover began, and the arrival at the Mount of Olives. Those only are embarrassed by it who place the departure of Judas, with which vers. 31-38 in John are immediately connected, before the institution of the supper, and the hymn that marked its commencement.
Mark adheres closely to Matthew; he gives only what the Lord had said concerning the cock-crowing, but in a rather more detailed form.
The address of Jesus to Peter in Luke, ch. Luke 22:31-32, forms the continuation of Matt., vers. 31, 32. That Peter, besides the words quoted by Matthew and John, added further, “Lord, I am ready to go with Thee to prison and to death,” is quite in harmony with the vehemence of his character. He cannot do full justice to the absoluteness of His devotion and willingness to sacrifice himself; and he is all the more impetuous because a still voice within his inmost soul whispers to him that he has not yet the needed strength. This voice he thus strove to silence. To the threefold assurance of his readiness for self-sacrifice (John: Lord, why cannot I follow Thee now? I will lay down my life for Thy sake. Matt.: Though all men shall be offended because of Thee, yet will I never be offended. Luke: Lord, I am ready to go with Thee, both unto prison and to death), corresponds the threefold denial in the Lord’s reply, and in the event. The same heaping of affirmation we find at the denial itself in Matthew 26:74.
Ver. 37. “Peter said unto Him, Lord, why cannot I follow Thee now? I will lay down my life for Thy sake.”
As Peter could not follow Christ, so likewise he was ignorant of himself, and estimated his own strength far too highly. True self-knowledge could come to him only in consequence of the outpouring of the Holy Ghost. The Spirit searcheth all things, the deep things of God, and the deep things of the human heart. Nevertheless, Peter was like the young eagle, which is beginning to stir its wings. Of such stuff were the martyrs formed, when the full possession of the Holy Ghost was added. The spirit was already willing, though the flesh was weak: the strength was small, the will was good. Aug.: Quid in animo ejus esset cupiditatis videbat, quid virium non videbat.
Ver. 38. “Jesus answered him, Wilt thou lay down thy life for My sake? Verily, verily, I say unto thee, The cock shall not crow, till thou hast denied Me thrice.”
When Jesus disclosed to Peter his real weakness, He assured him at the same time of the means of his recovery, after his fall, which would lead him to a much profounder knowledge of himself. That fall was itself a demonstration of the Divine omniscience of his Master, and must therefore have assisted to strengthen his faith. When he heard the cock-crowing, he must have remembered the word of Christ.
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Hengstenberg, Ernst. "Commentary on John 13". Hengstenberg on John, Revelation, Ecclesiastes, Ezekiel & Psalms. https://studylight.org/
the First Week of Advent