This section of the notes includes verses 3-18 of chapter 13 of the gospel of John.
13:3 Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going back to God, rose from supper. He laid aside his outer garments, and taking a towel, tied it around his waist. Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was wrapped around him.
The Sovereignty and Pleasure of God in the Cross
Jesus had been given supernatural revelation from the Father through the Spirit as to who He was, and what His mission was.
Leon Morris explores a brilliant point about why (in verse 3) John would take time to give such a statement about the Father. It’s worth quoting Morris here:
The threshold of Calvary seems an unlikely place for a statement of sovereignty like this. But John does not view the cross as the causal observer might view it. It is the place where a great divine work was wrought out and the divine glory shown forth. So he describes it in terms of the Father’s giving all things to the Son. The reference to the Father is important. He is no idle spectator at the Passion, but he does his will there.
It bothers us to know that the Father was so intricately involved in the brutal mutilation of His Son. We can’t comprehend His involvement so we use scape-goat terms like “He permitted it” or “He allowed it”, or “He didn’t stop it” even. And while all of these may be technically correct on their face, they often serve as terms we use to hide the truth that we can’t fully comprehend. That truth is that God ordained that His Son would be a “bruised reed” and, perhaps even more horrifying to us, He took “pleasure” in bruising/crushing His Son. For we read in Psalms this unavoidable statement:
The Lord was pleased to bruise him;
he has put him to grief;
when he makes himself an offering for sin,
he shall see his offspring,
he shall prolong his days;
the pleasure of the Lord shall prosper in his hand.
This is what we read in Ps. 53:10, and it tells us that God was pleased to bruise/crush His Son. He was actively involved in the crucifixion of His Son, He did not personally commit the evil, but He used that evil to bring about great good. That is His methodology. In comprehending this truth I have found John Piper’s insights to be quite helpful. He says that there are basically two reasons God can take pleasure in bruising His Son. First, it was because of what His Son would accomplish with His death for us, and secondly because of His own great love for His own glory. With regard to the first point, Piper says this:
It says at the end of verse 10, “The pleasure of the Lord will prosper in his hand.” I take that to mean that God’s pleasure is not so much in the suffering of the Son considered in and of itself but in the great success of what the Son would accomplish in his dying.
Regarding the second point about God’s love for His own glory Piper says:
But I think another part of the answer must also be that the depth of the Son’s suffering was the measure of his love for the Father’s glory. It was the Father’s righteous allegiance to his own name that made recompense for sin necessary. And so when the Son willingly took the suffering of that recompense on himself, every footfall on the way to Calvary echoed through the universe with this message: the glory of God is of infinite value!
…the Father knew that the measure of his Son’s suffering was the depth of his Son’s love for the Father’s glory, and in that love the Father took deepest pleasure.
These are deep and amazing mysteries and they ought to cause us to worship.
Now, considering this context, we see that Christ’s love is rooted in love for the Father and the Father’s glory, and this love overflows in His actions not only on the cross, but also all the way up until the cross!
For despite knowing all his was about to suffer, Jesus still continued on steadfastly toward the cross. He could have changed His mind at any moment. He could have risen up and crushed all the kings of this world and setup a political rule that would never end. Note especially that John says, “knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands” signifies that Jesus knew that all power was at His disposal. Carson says, “With such power and status at his disposal, we might have expected him to defeat the devil in an immediate and flashy confrontation, and to devastate Judas with an unstable blast of divine wrath. Instead, he washes his disciples’ feet, including the feet of the betrayer.”
But He chose instead to be faithful to the mission His Father had given to Him. Such was the love Christ had for the glory and fame of the Father.
His methodology in preparing for the cross is odd to us only if we don’t understand that all of Christ’s actions were rooted in love. Jonathan Edwards speaks of how love works in this way:
Love will dispose to all proper acts of respect to both God and man…If a man sincerely loves God it will dispose him to render all proper respect for Him; and men need no other incitement to show each other all the respect that is due than love. Love for God will dispose a man to honor Him, to worship and adore Him, and to heartily acknowledge His greatness, glory, and dominion. And so it will dispose men to all acts of obedience to God…a due consideration of the nature of love will show that it disposes men to all duties towards their neighbors…thus love would dispose to all duties, toward both God and man. And if it will thus dispose to all duties, then it follows that it is the root and spring and, as it were, a comprehension of all virtues. It is a principle that, if it is implanted in the heart, is alone sufficient to produce all good practice; and every right disposition toward God and man is summed up in and comes from it, as the fruit from the tree or the stream from the fountain (‘Charity and its Fruits’ pg.’s 6, 8, 9).
Therefore, He changed His clothes into garments that were reflective of a slave, and began to wipe the feet of His servants! It’s worth noting that only slaves washed feet. In fact, Jewish slaves didn’t have to do that; only Gentile slaves were lowly enough to be required to do such a demeaning and gross service.
Yet here was the King of kings stooping to do this act. What did this mean? Let’s explore that some more and Jesus begins to dialogue on this point with Peter…
13:6-11 He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, “Lord, do you wash my feet?”  Jesus answered him, “What I am doing you do not understand now, but afterward you will understand.”  Peter said to him, “You shall never wash my feet.” Jesus answered him, “If I do not wash you, you have no share with me.”  Simon Peter said to him, “Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!”  Jesus said to him, “The one who has bathed does not need to wash, except for his feet, but is completely clean. And you are clean, but not every one of you.”  For he knew who was to betray him; that was why he said, “Not all of you are clean.”
Three Significant Truths
It is significant that Jesus was doing this. He knew it, Peter knew it, they all knew it. Yet Peter couldn’t quite put his finger on why Jesus would do such an outrageous thing, and Jesus wasn’t going to give him the easy answer about coming to serve instead of being served. Instead, He told him that he would know later on the more significant purpose behind what He was doing.
Why would Peter know later on? Jesus will get into this later on in the chapters ahead, but it was because the Holy Spirit would come to reveal “all things” to them.
So why did He do this? Was it simply an act of servant-hood, or was there something more significant here? For example, some theologians have gone so far as to declare that Jesus is instituting a foot washing sacrament here. They say this looks like something that He wants His followers to do long after He is gone. But while I think Jesus would love for us to wash each other’s feet, I don’t think that the actual washing of the feet was something being instituted in the same way the Communion Meal was when Jesus said “take eat, do this is remembrance of me.”
I think there are three significant things that we need to look at here, and in order to get at the significance, we need to look at the literary context – look at the verses which preceded and followed these verses.
First, there is the lesson of humility, it is obvious that Jesus is showing us the kind of King He came to be, and the kind of servants He wants in His kingdom. That is why we looked closely at verse one which ended by saying, “having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end.” Jesus was doing what He was doing because it was in His character to do so, and He was planning on sending His Spirit so that His children would also love in the way that He did.
Second, there is the lesson of the impending work of atonement, if we look at the verses following the foot washing, we see Jesus talking about how “The one who has bathed does not need to wash, except for his feet, but is completely clean”, this He said to setup the analogy (I don’t think this first part had any theological significance), and then He made His point when He said, “And you are clean, but not every one of you.” What He is saying is that those who are His, those whom He has come to wash clean by His atoning blood, ARE CLEAN. That being said, not everyone here was clean. Judas wasn’t clean. The reason he said this was that He desired to show a demarcation. There was a difference between a man who has been cleansed by Jesus and one who hasn’t.
Now we have baptism to show that we have been cleansed by Jesus of our sins. Those sins have been forgiven, buried with Christ! And a new man has been raised with Christ – this is the ultimate analogy, is it not? But here we have a beautiful analogy of the sovereign efficacious work of Christ in the life of a sinful, dirty, stained human being. Unless Christ washes you from your sin, you have “no part with him.”
Thirdly, in verse 10 we see Jesus turn Peter’s objection into an opportunity make another point, namely that once one has been washed it is no longer necessary to wash again. In other words, the atonement is final and a one-time occurrence despite our continual sin post regeneration.
As Carson notes, “…the initial and fundamental cleansing that Christ provides is a once-for-all act. Individuals who have been cleansed by Christ’s atoning work will doubtless need to have subsequent sins washed away, but the fundamental cleansing can never be repeated.”
This point is one Jesus seemed to make almost secondarily after Peter’s thoughtless and reactional rejoinder opened the door to more teaching.
And so in sum, “This first application used the foot washing tot symbolize Christ’s atoning, cleansing death; this second (about the one-time occurrence of the atonement) application makes the points just elucidated; the third and final application teaches lessons in humility” (Carson).
13:12 When he had washed their feet and put on his outer garments and resumed his place, he said to them, “Do you understand what I have done to you?  You call me Teacher and Lord, and you are right, for so I am.  If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet.  For I have given you an example, that you also should do just as I have done to you.  Truly, truly, I say to you, a servant is not greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him.
Now, going back to point 1 that I made earlier, Jesus explains that He is the true example of love. Just as He loved, so we are to love. He is our Lord, and as such we are to obey Him, to follow after Him, and to emulate His example. That is why He emphatically states, “For I have given you an example, that you also should do just as I have done to you.” Again, I don’t think that He is stating, “you need to also do foot washing.” Why? Because Peter wasn’t an idiot. If Peter didn’t understand why it was that Jesus was doing what He was doing and Jesus knew that even this explanation in 12-16 wasn’t the full expression of the meaning, then we need to realize that there is more to this than just foot washing. And that’s what Peter would later come to find. Even though Jesus gave them the explanation of what He was doing, He gave them the why not a specific command to do foot washing, it wasn’t that obvious. It was something that Jesus knew they would “get” only later when they had the Holy Spirit to help guide them into all truth.
This, by the way, is a perfect example (in my opinion) of why it is so important to look at the context of a passage in order to understand the fuller meaning of the passage and not jump to conclusions. Now, I might not be 100% correct on my statement/conclusions, but I will learn that in heaven. My responsibility now is to listen to the Holy Spirit, and to be as wise as I possibly can in discerning the text.
Lastly, I love verse 16 and we can’t get away without at least noticing that Jesus uses the analogy of a servant, but then of a messenger. And indeed that is what we are, we are messengers of the Gospel to a lost and dying world.
13:17 If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them.
This is sort of the positive side to James’ statement that, “So whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin.” The point is that there is something to be said for ignorance. I am not saying ignorance is good, I am saying we are responsible for what we KNOW and what we DO with that knowledge.
This is practical, and it is obvious, but let me anticipate an objection. Some would say “what about those who have never heard of the gospel or of Jesus?” Paul explains that they still know enough to know there is a God and still to have rebelled against Him.
For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. (Romans 1:19-20)
Secondly, let us take note that the echo of James is here as well in Christ’s words “blessed are you if you do them.” How are you blessed? If you DO them. Why? Because you are acting out of what you KNOW, namely you are acting on the knowledge of God and are walking in the Spirit in obedience to God’s prompting. You know because you have been given these things from above (James 1:16-18), and you DO because you are acting in obedience to the Holy Spirit instead of giving way to your flesh. Surely the man who is submitting to the Spirit will indeed be blessed. Maybe not materially in the way we think of blessing so often, but certainly eternally, and certainly right now spiritually. There is a true joy that comes from obedience to the Spirit of God.
13:18 I am not speaking of all of you; I know whom I have chosen. But the Scripture will be fulfilled, ‘He who ate my bread has lifted his heel against me.’
Here Jesus goes back to point 2 from earlier, namely that He has made distinctions, He has made choices. His choices come before your choices and lead to your choices by His power and grace.
He says, “I am not speaking of all of you.” Not everyone here is getting washed! Not everyone here is going to be atoned for by my blood! Well, this is elementary we say…we know not everyone get saved. So what are you saying that is so radical here Mr. Wenzel, why don’t you move on. Ahh, but Jesus does say more…listen…
He states clearly “I know whom I have chosen.” He says this as if to state, “don’t be deceived, this is not a guessing game. I am not just going to die and hang that atonement out there for whomever might feel so inclined to take me up on the offer. No indeed! He emphatically answers this line of thinking by saying “I know”! I know whom I have chosen. Not everyone is getting washed, not everyone will accept me. But that’s because I have not chosen everyone!
What Jesus is stating here amounts to this: He is preeminent in the application of His atonement. He knows for whom He has died.