Through the Bible in One Year

Day 156

John 13:1-17

The second half of John’s Gospel (13:1-21:25) is often called the “Book of Glory.”  It divides into three main sections: Jesus’ farewell discourse (13-17); Jesus’ passion—that is his arrest, trial and crucifixion (18-19); and Jesus’ resurrection appearances (20-21).  In the farewell discourse, Jesus spent the evening before his arrest sharing his final teachings with his disciples.  They must have spent several hours together that night, and Jesus revealed to them the power of humble service by washing their feet, which foreshadowed his work on the cross.  He identified Judas as his betrayer, even though the disciples did not pick up on it at the time.  He taught them, much to their surprise, that it would be better for him to depart than to remain with them, for only if he departed could he send the Holy Spirit to indwell them.  They needed to know that persecution lay in their future, but they would not face it alone.  Jesus spoke of these things and more as they gathered to eat a sacred meal.  And as they gathered, the devil was among them, making the upper room a battlefield where a cosmic conflict was about to erupt.  The farewell discourse concludes with Jesus’ heartfelt prayer for himself, his disciples and future believers.

It was just before the Passover Festival. Jesus knew that the hour had come for him to leave this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end.

The evening meal was in progress, and the devil had already prompted Judas, the son of Simon Iscariot, to betray Jesus. Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God and was returning to God; so he got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist. After that, he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him.—13:1-5

John begins by describing events in the upper room on the night of Passover.  He focuses not on the Lord’s Supper but on Jesus’ washing of the disciples’ feet and on his extended teaching in the upper room.  Jesus knew the time for his departure had arrived.  John does not say that Jesus was about to die but says that Jesus was about to go to the Father.  John directs the reader’s attention past the cross to Jesus’ return to heaven.  There is not the slightest hint at the possibility of defeat.  Jesus’ love and commitment to his disciples is unquestioned.

We see twice in this chapter that the devil was at work in Judas.  At this sacred gathering, a cosmic conflict was being waged.  Despite Jesus’ knowledge that he had all authority and would soon return to his Father, he washed the disciples’ feet.  Because many people wore sandals and walked on dusty roads, foot washing was a common custom.  A good host provided a servant to wash his guests’ feet, but if none were available, he would not do it himself.  John meticulously records this scene.

He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, “Lord, are you going to wash my feet?”

Jesus replied, “You do not realize now what I am doing, but later you will understand.”

“No,” said Peter, “you shall never wash my feet.”

Jesus answered, “Unless I wash you, you have no part with me.”

“Then, Lord,” Simon Peter replied, “not just my feet but my hands and my head as well!”—13:6-9

The exchange between Peter and Jesus reveals that the foot washing had symbolic significance beyond an act of humble service.  Peter’s resistance to Jesus’ action was met by an even stronger statement from Jesus.  The foot washing symbolized the cleansing that would take place through Jesus’ death on the cross.  Peter’s reply to Jesus’ rebuke was characteristically impulsive; he asked Jesus to also wash his hands and his head.

Jesus answered, “Those who have had a bath need only to wash their feet; their whole body is clean. And you are clean, though not every one of you.” For he knew who was going to betray him, and that was why he said not every one was clean.—13:10-11

Jesus changed the imagery slightly to make the point that God cleanses/bathes a person at conversion, but as they live in this fallen world, they pick up the world’s dirt.  What is needed is not another bath (conversion) but a cleaning of one’s feet, expressed by confessing sin for a clean conscience and maintaining close fellowship with the Lord.  But one disciple was not clean, because he was a traitor.

When he had finished washing their feet, he put on his clothes and returned to his place. “Do you understand what I have done for you?” he asked them. “You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and rightly so, for that is what I am. Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you. Very truly I tell you, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them.—13:12-17

Jesus went on to make a practical application from the foot washing.  If he, as their Lord and Teacher, washed their feet, they also should wash one another’s feet.  Jesus compared himself to a master and his disciples to servants.  If he, as their master, willingly washed his servants’ feet, how much more should they be willing to wash one another’s feet?  Genuine blessing comes from obeying Jesus’ teachings, not just from hearing them.  And we will pick up from here tomorrow.

Tomorrow’s Bible Readings:

1 Kings 2:1-3:2, Acts 5, Psalm 125:1-5 and Proverbs 16:25


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