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B. W. Johnson
The New Testament Commentary: Vol. III--John (1886)



      The events of this wonderful week have passed rapidly. We have followed the Savior in his entry into Jerusalem upon Sunday and his visit to the temple. On Monday occurred the incident of cursing the fig tree, as he went from Bethany to Jerusalem, and a second time he entered into the temple to assert his authority to cleanse his Father's house by casting out the traffickers and money changers, returning in the evening again to his beloved retreat at Bethany. Tuesday was one of the busiest, stormiest, and most fruitful days of his ministry. On his appearance at the temple he was accosted by the demand, "By what authority doest thou these things?" Then came the attempts of the various parties to entangle him, a succession of parables directed against the Jewish nation, the awful denunciation of its sins recorded in @Matthew, chapter XXIII., the final and sad farewell to the temple and the nation that closes that chapter, the discourse on the fate of the nation, the end of the world and the day of judgment recorded in the @next two chapters, and, after these, a return to Bethany, where the next day, Wednesday, seems to have been passed in rest and preparation for the approaching struggle. From thence on Thursday afternoon he went into the city to eat the passover. This last interview with the disciples before his suffering is one of an unusually confidential and affectionate nature and is the occasion of the sweetest and most consolatory teachings of our Lord.

      John passes over the second cleansing of the temple and the conflicts of Tuesday, and the prediction of the fate of Jerusalem, which we gather from the other historians, and takes his readers, at once to the little gathering in the Upper Room where the Master and his disciples had gathered to eat the passover, and where the Supper was instituted. John speaks of the Supper, but he, only, of the four historians, omits to give an account of its origin. He, only, gives a full account of the remarkable discourses that the Savior delivered on that memorable occasion. I cannot here enter into the discussion whether the Savior ate the passover before the real time or not, nor is it needful to settle that, in order to understand his teaching. [200]

      It was on the morning of Thursday,--Green Thursday as it used to be called during the Middle Ages,--that some conversation took place between Jesus and his disciples about the paschal feast. They asked him where he wished the preparation to be made. As he had now withdrawn from public teaching, and was spending this Thursday, as he had spent the previous day, in complete seclusion, they probably expected that he would eat the passover at Bethany, which for such purposes had been decided by rabbinical authority to be within the limits of Jerusalem. But his plans were otherwise. He, the true Paschal Lamb, was to be sacrificed once and forever in the Holy City, where it is probable that in that very passover, and on that very same day, some 260,000 of those lambs of which he was the antitype were destined to be slain.

      It was towards the evening, probably when the gathering dusk would prevent all needless observation, that Jesus and his disciples walked from Bethany, by that familiar road over the Mount of Olives, which his sacred feet were never again destined to tread until after death. . . . We catch no glimpse of the little company till we find them assembled in that "large upper room,"--perhaps the very room where three days after the sorrow-stricken Apostles first saw their risen Savior,--perhaps the very room where, amid the sound of a mighty rushing wind, each meek brow was first mitred with Pentecostal flame.--Farrar. It is at this supper, at the very foot of the cross, that all believers are invited to sit down to angels' food in enjoying the wonderful revelation of the Master in the next five chapters.

      "It may be that the very act of taking their seats at the table had, once more, stirred up in the minds of the apostles those disputes about precedence which, on previous occasions, our Lord had so tenderly and carefully rebuked. The mere question of a place at table might seem too infinitesimal and unimportant to ruffle the feelings of good men at an hour so supreme and solemn; but that love for 'the chief seats at feasts,' and elsewhere, which Jesus had denounced in the Pharisees, is not only innate in the heart, but is so powerful that it has, at times, caused the most terrific tragedies."--Farrar.

      Matthew Henry points out that the paschal lamb was typical of "the Lord, our Passover," in the following features: (1) It was a lamb, as Christ was the Lamb of God. (2) A male, of the first year. In its prime. (3) Without blemish, as Christ was perfectly pure, without spot. (4) Set apart four days before, the 10th of Nisan. Christ's triumphal entry was four days before the crucifixion, on the 10th. (5) It was slain, and roasted with fire, denoting the death and exquisite sufferings of Christ. (6) It was killed between the two evenings, three to six o'clock. Christ suffered at the end of the world. He died at this same hour, and at the passover feast. (7) Each person must have a slain lamb. So Christ died for all. (8) Not a bone was broken. (9) It was eaten with bitter herbs of repentance. (10) Its blood must be applied to be effectual. (11) It looked forward to future deliverance, and became, after the death, a feast of hope and joy. (12) It was a feast of separation from the world; and (13) of protection as God's children. [201]

      1. Now before the feast of the passover. Immediately before, just as Christ was about to sit down with his disciples to the paschal feast. Jesus knew that his hour was come. The scenes of this hour, the passover, the Lord's Supper, the washing of feet, and the solemn teaching were in immediate view of the cross. The Lord saw the dark and bloody path of suffering just before him. In this hour of sorrow the pre-eminent love that he had for "his own" shone forth resplendent. "He loved them to the end."

      2. Supper being ended. The Revision says, "During the Supper," which expresses the meaning of the original. It is likely that Christ arose near the beginning of the feast, washed the feet, and then he sat down again to the feast. See @verse 12. For reasons that we will explain later, he arose after the feast began. The devil having already put into the heart of Judas Iscariot, etc. The devil planted the seed, but the soil of his heart was ready. The devil has no power except where there is preparation for him. The covetous disposition of Judas had prepared the way. His disappointment over the costly box of ointment had enraged him. John calls attention, to the fact that Judas was there, already a traitor at heart, and that Christ knew it, in order to show the wonderful condescension that would stoop to wash his feet.

      3. Jesus knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands. It was with a full consciousness of his divinity, his divine power and majesty, of the glory that he had and would enjoy with God, that he stooped to the menial office that he was about to fill. John points out with care the wonderful sight of God in Christ washing the feet, not only of the apostles, but of the traitor. John's astonishment at what followed finds expression in this verse.

      4. He riseth from supper, and laid aside his garments. Shortly after they had sat down to the table, he arose, laid aside his outer robe, girded a towel upon him, and began the lowly office of washing the feet of twelve men, without a word of explanation. Something more than ordinary must have caused so remarkable an act. The fact that the cause has been lost sight of, has caused many to misunderstand the significance, and to think the Savior was instituting a church ceremonial, rather than giving a deep, practical, spiritual lesson for all ages. I will endeavor to explain the circumstances: 1. The disciples still expected the immediate manifestation of the kingdom. When they sat down to this Supper [202] they felt that it was a kind of state occasion, and a strife arose among them for precedence. Each wanted the "chief seat at the feast." An account of this unseemly controversy over the, old question, "Who should be greatest?" is found in @Luke 22:24-30. 2. The owner of the house had furnished the guest chamber for the feast, had provided table, seats, water and vessels, but his duties on a passover occasion had ended there. He had to arrange for the passover with his own family. Jesus and his disciples had come in hot and dusty from their walk from Bethany; their sandals had been laid off according to custom. They sat down to the table with dry and dusty feet, but no one brought water to wash their feet, an eastern duty of hospitality made necessary by their hot, dusty climate. No apostle volunteered to attend to the office, the duty of a servant. They were rather filled with angry, envious thoughts who should have the most honorable place. 3. Then, when they were filled with their ambitious, envious feelings, and had engaged in strife right at the Lord's table, after waiting long enough to have it shown that no one would condescend to the menial, but needful duty, the Lord, the Son of God, full of conscious divinity, arose, girded on the towel, and began the office. A rebuke, an awful rebuke, to their ambitious strife, far more powerful than words could have spoken; such a rebuke that never again do we see a hint of the old question, "Who should be greatest?" It was Christ's answer to their unseemly conduct, and a lesson to those Christians "who love the pre-eminence" for all time. It said, "Let him that would be greatest become the servant of all."

      5. Poureth water into a basin. Girded as a servant the Lord does a servant's work. The feet were not put into the basin, but water was poured from it on the feet and they were then wiped with the towel.

      6. Lord, dost thou wash my feet? The language of Peter is that of confusion, of astonishment and of remonstrance. The emphasis is on the word thou. Dost thou, the Lord and Master, do the work of a servant?

      7. Thou knowest not now; but thou shalt know hereafter. "You do not understand this matter fully now, but thou shalt know hereafter." There was much that was not clear to the dull understandings of the apostles that became clear later. Knowledge comes by submissive obedience if we will wait patiently.

      8. If I wash thee not, thou hast no part with me. Peter, not yet reconciled to the Master discharging the duty that he now feels he ought to have discharged, exclaims: "Thou shalt never wash my feet." It was his characteristic [203] obstinacy. Christ replied as above, in substance, "If thou art not submissive to me, thou art not my disciple." Washing, with the Jews, was a symbolical act, signifying purification from uncleanness. That Christ referred to more than a washing with water was understood by Peter as is evident from his reply. Christ could only wash with blood the obedient.

      9. Not my feet only, but my hands and my head. Peter, not yet content, continues the argument. If thou dost insist on washing me, why not my hands and head as well as my feet? His language is partly due to embarrassment and partly to his great repugnance to have the Savior perform such a duty upon him.

      10. He that is washed needeth not save to wash his feet. The Lord first speaks of the material facts. It was only the feet that needed washing. After a tramp over the dusty roads they needed cleansing. It must be born in mind that only sandals were worn and that these were laid off when they entered the house. There is also a spiritual meaning. He who is once cleansed by the blood of Christ only needs, after this, to come to Christ for partial cleansing; for the forgiveness of the special sins that make him unclean.

      11. Ye are not all clean. Not all who enter into his service ostensibly are cleansed. Judas was not. Some do not enter through the "Door of entire obedience," but are thieves and robbers (see @John 12:1).

      12. Know ye what I have done to you? When he had completed his task, he laid aside the towel, resumed his robe, sat down to the table, and asked, "Do you understand what I have done to you?" They knew the act, but did they comprehend its meaning? Hence the emphasis that follows.

      13, 14. Ye call me Master and Lord. You recognize the fact that I am your Lord and Master, or rather the Lord and Master. Master is used in the sense of teacher, but Lord in the sense of ruler. He then draws his conclusion from the promise that they admit: "If I, your Lord and Master, wash your feet, ye ought also to wash one another's feet." Ye ought to follow the example of humility, self-sacrifice, and service to others, that your Lord sets you. Instead of seeking the pre-eminence, disputing concerning the seats of honor, and shrinking from humble service to each other, ye should follow my example. [204]

      15. For I have given you an example. Christ gave an example, not a church ordinance. It is our duty to follow the example and render the same kind of service to fellow Christians. To make his example a ceremonial and follow it literally would be to lose its spirit. We wish every student to note the fact that not once elsewhere is it referred to in the New Testament as a church ordinance, and only once mentioned at all. In @1 Tim. 5:10, it is named as a mark of a godly widow. Nor is there any mention of it as a church ordinance until the fourth century when the tide of corruption was sweeping in. The Pope now washes the feet of twelve beggars once a year, the German Baptists (Dunkards), Mennonites, and a few other minor sects practice it, but with rare exceptions Christendom, from the days of the apostles to our time, has looked upon the Savior's example as a sublime act of humility whose spirit must always be followed, but has rejected the idea of him establishing a church ordinance. There is a wide difference between an example and a church ordinance. When Christ wept with sympathy, or fed the hungry, or ministered to the sick, or taught lowly service by washing the feet of his disciples, he set an example, and happy are we if we know what he did, drink in his spirit, and follow the example. That feet washing belongs to the class of examples, rather than of church ordinances, is demonstrated by the fact that when we turn to the inspired history of the church as recorded in Acts and in the Epistles, it is silent concerning any such ordinance. The Savior, the night before he was crucified, established a church ordinance, the Lord's Supper. We discover it just as soon as the church is organized on the day of Pentecost. The converts "continued steadfastly in the apostles' doctrine, and in the fellowship, and in the breaking of bread, and in prayers." In his commission, just before the ascension, he established another ordinance, baptism. This we find, also, to appear immediately. On Pentecost Peter commands it and "they that gladly received the Word were baptized." Thus it continues; these undoubted church ordinances are constantly named throughout Acts, through the Epistles, the Apostolic Fathers and early writers of Christianity, while feet washing is named only once more in the New Testament, and then in such a way as to show that it was observed as a private benevolence, not as a church ordinance, and is never mentioned in the latter aspect until the time of Augustine, the Bishop of Hippo, when the apostasy had been fully inaugurated and the Bishop of Rome was claiming to take precedence of all other dignitaries in the church. This silence during the ages of apostolic purity settles the interpretation we are to place on the Savior's language. It is our duty to be always ready to do to others as he did, to serve them in a spirit of humility and self-sacrifice.

      16. The servant is not greater than his Lord. If the Lord then should thus condescend, how much rather the servant. To follow the Lord's example [205] the necessary thing is not that he should gird on a towel and go through a form, but that he should drink in the Lord's spirit. Spiritual pride has been one of the greatest perils of the church. The Lord seeks to guard against it.

      17. If ye know these things, happy are ye if ye do them. Know what things? Of course they knew that Christ had washed their feet. But did they know what it meant? The meaning is clearly, "If ye understand the meaning of my act, happy are ye if ye exemplify the same spirit in your lives." This language itself shows that his act was not to be taken in its literal form. Any one can know that, but there are many who call themselves Christians who do not know its significance. Those who catch his spirit and obey it are happy in the Lord's approval. The word translated, "Happy are ye" is the same one that is translated "Blessed are" in the opening of the sermon on the mount. Here, therefore, we have another beatitude.

      18. I speak not of you all. There is one present to whom knowledge will not bring happiness. He had been alluded to in @verse 10. I know whom I have chosen. Christ refers to the choice to the apostolate, not to election to salvation. He declares that he knew Judas, but chose him that the Scripture might be fulfilled. Judas was no surprise to Christ. He had known his sordid nature from the beginning and to what it would lead him. The Evangelists do not conceal the fact that the traitor was one of their own number. Why was such a man chosen to be one of the twelve? (1) There was needed among the disciples, as in the Church now, a man of just such talents as Judas possessed,--the talent for managing business affairs. (2) Though he probably followed Christ at first from mixed motives, as did the other disciples, he had the opportunity of becoming a good and useful man. (3) It doubtless was included in God's plan that there should be thus a standing argument for the truth and honesty of the gospel; for, if any wrong or trickery had been concealed, it would have been revealed by the traitor in self-defence. (4) It is a relief to modern churches to know that God can bless them, and the gospel can succeed, even though some bad men may creep into the fold.

      19. Now I tell you before it come to pass. Hitherto the Lord had borne his sorrow alone, but now that the hour was at hand and the traitor would soon be compelled to show his hand, he would declare it to his disciples, before it come to pass, in order that the fulfillment, instead of being a crushing disappointment, might increase their faith. Believe that I am he. Rather, "Believe that I am." The reader can hardly have failed to note how frequently the Lord thus speaks of himself. He does not say, "I am he," the latter pronoun being an interpolation. The "I AM'S" of our Savior associate him with the burning bush of Horeb where, when Moses asked the name he should report [206] to the children of Israel of the God who had appointed him as their leader, he was told to say, "I am that I am hath sent thee." The self-existent, uncreated Deity is revealed in these words and the similar terms used by Christ are an affirmation of absolute existence. He did not, like man, have a dependent being, but said, "I am," "I exist." This exalted claim was demonstrated when he laid down his life of his own will "to take it up again."

      20. He that receiveth . . . receiveth me. They whose faith was made strong to believe in him would be commissioned as his heralds, sent from him, as he was sent from the Father. To receive them, the King's messengers, would be to receive him; to receive him would be to receive the Father who sent him.


      1. The desire to be greater than others is the cause of many quarrels and much evil.

      2. Man's way to be great is to seek to be greater than others,--self-seeking.

      3. God's way to be great is to serve others, to do all we can for them,--love.

      4. It is Pharisaism to cling to a form, but to neglect the spirit.

      5. Often spiritual pride clothes itself in humble forms. We have known a man very proud of a buckskin watch guard, or of the hooks and eyes that fastened his coat. Pride may put on a towel and wash feet. Once when Dr. Bethune preached against pride, a man went to him and pointed to leather buttons on his coat, saying, "See, I am not proud." "Yes," said the doctor, "you are proud of your leather buttons."

      6. The great law of the kingdom of heaven is not this,--Use thyself for thyself. Still less is it this,--Use others for thyself. But it is this,--Use thyself for others.--Morison.

      7. Voluntary service in the kingdom of love, and under the impulse of humility and self-denial, makes a man a spiritual power, gives him an unconscious and blessed greatness.--Lange.

      8. Peter was always the chief speaker, and already had the keys given him; he expects to be lord chancellor, or lord chamberlain of the household, and so to be the greatest. Judas had a bag, and therefore he expects to be lord treasurer, which, though now he comes last, he hopes will then dominate him the greatest. Simon and Jude are nearly related to Christ, and they hope to take the place of all the great officers of state as princes of the blood. John is the beloved disciple, the favorite of the Prince, and therefore hopes to be the greatest. Andrew was first called, and why should not he be first preferred?--Matthew Henry. [207]


      It must be acknowledged that one of the most difficult questions of solution presented in the history of the Lord's ministry is the time when he ate the supper which must have been, in some sense, at least, a passover. That the supper described by John in @chapter XIII, is not the feast at the house of Simon the Leper in Bethany, as Lightfoot insists, but the paschal feast described by @Matthew, Mark and Luke at which the Lord's Supper was instituted, is, I think, evident to any one who makes a comparison of the accounts. As far as John gives an indication of the time, the supper was just before, or at the passover, and from this feast the Lord retired to the garden of Gethsemane. At this feast Judas was exposed and the fall of Peter predicted, events that took place, according to the other Gospels, the evening of the paschal supper. The authorities are therefore almost unanimous in the view that John describes the feast that took place at the guest chamber in the city of Jerusalem.

      A far more difficult question is whether the Lord's paschal feast was eaten at the regular time of the Jewish passover, or one day before. If we were to read only the first three Gospels we would conclude that he ate the Jewish passover at the regular time. If we were to read only John's account we would be compelled to conclude that the Savior died on the day the passover lamb was slain, before the Jews ate the passover. @Matthew, Mark and Luke each speak of "the first day of unleavened bread, when they killed the passover," as the day when the disciples "made ready the passover." It is not to be denied, however, that there are difficulties even in their accounts. "The first day of unleavened bread" was strictly the Jewish day that began in the evening with the passover feast; that day was a legal Sabbath and it would have been unlawful to conduct judicial business upon it, for Simon Cyrenian to carry the cross, or for Joseph of Arimathea to bring a hundred pounds weight of myrrh and aloes to embalm and bury the body of Christ. These things were all done on the day on which the Savior was crucified.

      In @Exodus 12:16 it is said: "And in the first day (of unleavened bread) there shall be a holy convocation, and in the seventh day there shall be a holy convocation to you; no manner of work shall be done in them, save that which every man must eat, that only may be done of you." The prohibition of all regular work, except the dressing of food, shows that the first day of unleavened bread was a Sabbath, and it was always so regarded by the Jewish writers. I cannot believe that all the violations of the law could have been made by devout Jews, which have to be admitted, if the passover was eaten by the Jewish nation the evening before Christ was crucified.

      I suspect, from these circumstances, that there is something in the language which alludes to the time in the first three Gospels that must be interpreted in the light of Jewish usages, which we do not fully understand. They were written with especial reference to Jewish Christians, who understood all the customs of the Jews in that age, and who, in view of that fact, would probably put a different interpretation on "the first day of unleavened bread when the passover was killed" from that which seems most probable to us, under [208] the conditions of our limited knowledge. It is objected, however, to the view that the Lord ate the passover before the regular time that this would not be in accordance with the Jewish law. It may be replied that, whether he kept the regular passover or not, he departed from the law. It enjoined that no one should go out until the morning. He sent Judas out from the supper table, and a little later went out himself with his disciples beyond the Kedron to Gethsemane.

      I now pass to a consideration of the statements of John. 1. From @John 13:1 it seems that the supper took place "before the passover." 2. In @13:29 the disciples suppose that the Lord told Judas to buy some things needed for the feast, which would be impossible if the real passover feast had begun. 3. In @18:28 the Jews refuse to enter the presence chamber of Pilate lest they should be so defiled that they could not eat the passover, a passage irreconcilable with the view that they had eaten it the evening before. 4. In @19:14, on the day of the crucifixion, it is stated that it was "the day of preparation of the passover," language irreconcilable with the fact that it had been eaten the night before. 6. It is said in @19:31 that it was the "preparation," and that the next day, the Sabbath, "was a high day," a statement understood to mean that it was a double Sabbath, not an ordinary Sabbath, but one that coincided with the day following the eating of the passover, which was hallowed as an annual Sabbath.

      From these premises I accept the conclusion of Alford, which I condense, as follows: 1. That on the evening of the 13th of Nisan (that is, the beginning of the 14th), the Lord ate a meal with his disciples, at which it was announced that one should betray him, and from which he went to Gethsemane; 2. That in some sense this meal was regarded as eating a passover; 3. That it was not at the regular time of the Jewish passover, but the evening before, since the disciples understood when Judas left that he went to buy something, which could not have been done during the first Jewish day after the passover feast began, as it was a Sabbath. 4. On that night the Lord was seized, and on the next day, before the Jews ate the passover, but the day the paschal lambs were slain, the Lord, our Passover, was crucified. "His hour," of the coming of which he so often speaks, was the hour when he should die, as the passover for man, on the very day when the paschal lambs were slain.


      In washing the disciples' feet, Jesus had said, "Ye are clean, but not all. For he knew who would betray him; therefore he said, Ye are not all clean." So early, from the very first, did the thought of Judas and his meditated deed press upon the Savior's spirit. When the washing of feet was over, and Jesus sat down, and the repast began, they all noticed that there was a cloud on the Master's countenance, and the disciple who, sitting next to him, could best read the expression of his face, saw that he was "troubled in spirit." They were not left long in doubt as to the cause. Still sitting at the table and engaged in the solemn feast, he began to speak of his betrayer. Already Judas had been to the chief [209] priests and agreed, for a certain sum of money, to betray the retreat of Jesus at night. The time of the deed had not been determined and the Savior brings it about that Judas, at once, leaves the company and perpetuates his dark crime that night.

      21. When Jesus had thus said he was troubled in spirit. He had just closed his remarks on the lesson of humility and service, illustrated by feet washing, and now a cloud comes over his soul. The phrase, "troubled in spirit," occurs also in @chapter 11:33 and 12:27. The Greek word always implies indignation mingled with sorrow. Here there is deep sorrow but condemnation of the traitor. The "trouble of spirit" may be understood better by our own experience. If we have present a company of loving friends and one comes in whom we know to be false, a traitor, uncongenial in every respect, it throws a cloud. I believe that Jesus wanted to speak to his friends alone the glorious last words of @chapters 14th, 15th, 16th and 17th, and that he deliberately exposed Judas and sent him away. One of you shall betray me. Christ had before foretold his betrayal (see @Matt. 17:22 and 20:18), but had not declared that one of the twelve should be the betrayer. Judas, led captive by his covetousness, had already agreed to betray him, immediately after his disappointment over the alabaster box of ointment. See @Matt. 26:14-16. None else of course knew of it and it is no wonder the Savior's words startled the apostles.

      22. Looked at one another. In wonder and questioning. They did not venture to doubt the Savior's prophecy, but it seemed to them impossible that one of their number could prove a traitor.

      23. There was leaning on Jesus' bosom one of his disciples. The party were reclining at the table in the Greek and Roman fashion. A wide couch was placed along the table and each guest reclined on his left elbow with his feet extended outward. The disciple next in front of the Savior would, therefore, be very near his bosom. He only needed to bend back a little to throw himself on his bosom. Whom Jesus loved. This phrase occurs seven times in John's Gospel, twice in speaking of Martha, Mary and Lazarus, and five times as the designation of the one of the disciples who wrote this Gospel. Though John never declares that he is the one meant, it has always been so understood by the church. One reason for this view is found in the fact that he names all the other apostles freely, but never names himself otherwise. Some have insisted that it was egotism to thus designate himself. Rather, I suppose that it was such a joy to John to know and feel that one so glorious as Christ had loved "even him," that he could hardly suppress his joy. After long years of work and trial had passed and he was a gray-haired man, it filled his soul with transports to think that Jesus loved him and that he had reclined on his bosom. [210]

      24. Simon Peter therefore beckoned to him. All are eager to know more, for they are filled with anxiety. Peter, always impulsive, as usual is the one who acts. He does not speak but beckons to John who was next to Christ to find out whom he meant. It must be kept in mind that he did not speak, and probably none but John, whose eye he had caught, saw him beckon. Therefore none else knew what John would ask Christ, and as he asked in a low tone of voice, the answer was not understood by the company.

      25. He then, lying on Jesus' breast, saith . . . Lord, who is it? The Revision says, "leaning back." The reader must not forget their positions. As Lucke says: "Since the captivity, the Jews lay at table in the Persian manner, on divans or couches, each on his left side, with his face to the table, his left elbow resting on a pillow and supporting his head. The second guest to the right hand lay with head near the breast of the first, and so on." John, being the disciple next to the Lord, let his head drop back on the bosom of Jesus and asked in a low tone, unheard by the others: "Who is it?"

      26. He it is to whom I shall give a sop. In a low tone also, in the ear of John, the Lord answers that he will show. There was upon the table a dish of bitter herbs, a kind of sauce that was always eaten at the passover. No knives, forks or spoons are used at an Eastern table, but the fingers only, which are always carefully washed before eating. These are dipped in the dish. The Lord took a piece of the unleavened bread, dipped it into the dish of sauce and handed it to Judas. John saw the act and understood what it meant. The rest did not yet comprehend that Judas was the traitor.

      27. After the sop Satan entered into him. We learn by comparison with the other accounts of this scene that the apostles each asked when Christ declared one should betray him, "Is it I?" Judas, who knew what he had sold himself to do, at last asked the same question and the Lord answered, "Thou hast said." It is evident from @John 13:28, that this was answered in the ear of Judas and was not understood by his companions. Startled to know that his treachery was exposed to the Master, as soon as he receives the sop, he casts aside an hesitation and gives himself up wholly to Satan's work. This is what I understand by the statement, "Satan entered into him," for already he was under the devilish influence. Up to this time he had doubts and impulses to do better, but now he plunges headlong into the bottomless pit. That thou doest, do quickly. Judas understood these words. He was fully exposed. He had covenanted to do the [211] wicked deed; Christ bids him do it at once. Christ wished the work done that night and he wished the traitor to leave at once that he might be alone to give a last sweet and loving charge to the faithful disciples.

      28, 29. No man at the table know for what intent he spake. None but John knew that Judas was the traitor. Hence none could understand what the Lord charged Judas to do. They supposed that Judas was directed to spend some money for some purpose; for things needed for the feast week of the passover which began with the passover meal; or to give something to the poor. Judas carried the small purse of the company, and scanty as it was, the poor had a share in it. See @John 12:6.

      30. He . . . went immediately out. He ate the sop, Christ spoke to him at once, and he immediately arose and went out. The question has been much discussed whether Judas was present when the Lord's Supper was instituted. I do not consider it vitally important that this should be settled, but I am of the opinion that he was not. We have just had the account of the passover; it was at the passover meal that Judas ate the sop; he went out immediately, leaving the Lord and the rest of the apostles at the table. After the passover meal the Supper was ordained; then followed the touching discourses recorded by John. It will be observed that this is the order of @Matt. 26:17-30. Matthew was present and undoubtedly followed the chronological order. His order is, 1. The Passover; 2. The exposure of Judas; 3. (Omitting to mention the departure of Judas which John records.) The institution of the Supper. Mark and Luke were not present, and neither follows closely the chronological order, as is done by the two apostolic writers who were present.


      We have entered upon the Holy of Holies of the Gospel history. The farewell discourses of our Lord, extending from @chapter 13:31 to 17:26, are unique even in this unique Gospel of John who was nearest the heart of Jesus and best qualified to drink in those words of comfort and instruction before the great sacrifice of the cross. Lange calls them "the most mysterious and most holy of the sayings of Christ, and a spiritual ante-celebration of his own glorification and that of his people in the new celestial life opened up by his death and resurrection." The parting song and blessing of Moses (@Deut., chapters 32 and 33), the @fifty-third chapter of Isaiah, the evangelist of the prophets, and the farewell address of Paul to the Ephesian elders (@Acts 20:17-36), bear a remote resemblance. We may also compare these last discourses with the Lord's final discourses in @Matthew, chapters 24 and 25, [212] @Mark, chapter 13, and @Luke, chapter 21. In John the Lord revealed the inner consummation of his work and the spiritual revolution to be accomplished; in the other Gospels he prophesied the overthrow of the Jewish theocracy and the establishment of his kingdom. Such an evening as the 14th of Nisan in the year of the crucifixion occurred only once in the world's history; the full meaning of eternity was condensed into a few hours. The last words of our Lord to his eleven disciples combine the deepest emotion with serene repose; they are unutterably solemn, weighty and comforting; they seem to sound directly from heaven, and they lift the reader high above time and space. We have more here than words; we have things, verities, acts of infinite love going out from God and going into the hearts of men. The main ideas are: "I in the Father; the Father in me; I in the believer; the believer in me; I came from my Father in heaven; I fulfilled his will on earth; I now return to my Father, and prepare a place for my disciples in the many mansions of my Father's house that they may be where I am and share my glory."--Schaff.

      31. When therefore he was gone out. When Judas had gone out the last disturbing element seems to have been removed from the mind of the Lord. The clouds of the world are lifted and there begins the most remarkable discourse recorded in history. The hour has come; the Master is about to part from his disciples; he will go through his bloody pathway to the presence of the Father; they will be left without him to meet the storms, trials and persecutions of earth. It is the time, therefore, for the Lord to pour forth the deepest feelings of his soul in their behalf. The discourse that follows, comforts, consoles, instructs and points them to the glory, power, and grace of their Lord. In it he apparently strives, as never before, to reveal himself to them so fully that every doubt of his divine majesty shall pass away. And when the gloom that gathered around his tomb was broken every doubt was forever dispelled in the deep knowledge of his glory. Now is the Son of man glorified. To him, now that Judas has gone, and he is at the foot of the cross, the struggle is passed, his weary ministry ended, and the glorification begun. There is an emphasis and exultation in "now." His disciples were not yet fully freed from their carnal ideas of his earthly glorification. They had expected its accomplishment in his coronation as King of the Jews in Jerusalem. He had, however, already pointed to the cross as the means of his glorification and as its shadow already falls upon him he anticipates the "lifting up" as a sacrifice, as a risen Savior, and as an ascending Lord to take seat upon a universal throne. It is his work now to more especially prepare his disciples for the disappointment of the false hopes that they had cherished, born of their Jewish education, by pointing them to his greater majesty, filling them with larger hopes and investing them with higher prerogatives and honors than they could ever have had in an earthly kingdom. The Lord's Supper, instituted this night, pointed unmistakably to the cross; now he points to it as the beginning of his glorification. His glory, while engaged in his lowly ministry, had not been seen. Nor would it be seen on [213] the cross. The world's idea of his glory was different, but proceeding right from the cross would begin an honor and exaltation that even the world would recognize and from it he would ascend, after a few days' instruction to his disciples, to enjoy the glory he had with the Father before the world was.

      33. Little children, yet a little while I am with you. Observe the tenderness of the term applied to his disciples, a term applied nowhere else except in @1 John 2:1, 12. He had told the Jews (@7:34; 8:21) that he would go away and they could not follow him. So now he says to his disciples, but he comforts them by the assurance (@14:3) that he will return for them.

      34. A new commandment I give unto you. The commandment to love was not new, but such love as the Savior commanded was new. It was such love for each other as he had shown for them that he commanded. That love was one so intense as to give up all things. His love led him to leave heaven, to take our infirmities upon him, to endure a weary and painful ministry, to become a servant, even to wash the feet of his disciples, and it was about to show itself forth in the outpouring of his blood for the sake of his people. It was such love as he would inspire in the hearts of his disciples for each other; a self-denying, self-sacrificing love which is not of the earth, but carries its own demonstration that it is of heavenly origin. The "new life" is love.

      35. By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples. Such love as this excited the wonder of the heathen in the earlier ages of the church when it burned with such a heavenly flame, and they said, "See how these Christians love one another." But the presence of such love does more than cause those who behold it to marvel. It points them to Christ as its author, for all must admit, when it shines forth in its excellency, that it is of heavenly origin. Hence, when it is fully exhibited men know that those who possess it are the disciples of Christ. So it has been in all ages. The men who have loved their race, given themselves for it, have gone as missionaries to the wretched, have built the hospitals and refuges; the Oberlins, Judsons, Howards and Florence Nightingale, have been those who were filled with the love of Christ. When did an infidel build a hospital! [214]

      36. Simon Peter said unto him, Lord, whither goest thou? I believe that in the interval after the departure of Judas and before this question the Lord's Supper was instituted. The Lord said, "Do this in remembrance of me until I come again." Peter, after the supper is eaten, not yet able to comprehend the Lord's death, asks, "Whither goest thou?" Here begins what Olshausen calls the "Most Holy Place" in John's Gospel; the last moments the Lord spent with his own before his suffering, a moment in which he speaks words full of tenderness and heavenly meaning; if possible, the most precious words of Christ himself. At first there is a conversation around the table; then they arise from it (@John 14:31) and the discourse takes a higher form, culminating in the touching prayer of @chapter 17th. The Savior's first words are to Peter in answer to his question. Whither I go thou canst not follow me now. The Lord's way was to the cross, the sepulcher, the ascension, and to heaven. Peter might follow in due time, but the Lord had other work for him now. He does not, however, answer Peter's question directly. According to tradition, Peter did follow Christ to the cross in death. He was also crucified.

      37. Why cannot I follow thee now? It was very hard for Peter to give up. He was impetuous, generous and self-willed. His conduct now was characteristic of the man. Christ has spoken of death; Peter declares that he will die too for his Master's sake.

      38. Wilt thou lay down thy life? The Lord reveals to him his weakness. It was then night. Before the cock shall crow for the dawn of the next morning he will have thrice denied his Lord. For the fulfilment of this prediction, see @Luke 22:54-60. Peter had bravely attempted to defend his Master with a sword when the company came, led by Judas, but when Christ was led away, he "followed afar off." His courage was departing. First, in the hall of the high priest, he denied to the maid servant that he knew Christ; then, a little while after, he denied to another man. About an hour later another said, "Of a truth this fellow was with him; for he is a Galilean." And Peter denied with oaths, declaring, "Man, I know not what you say." Just then the cock crowed for the approach of day.


      1. The love of money is the root of all evil. If a man surrenders to a sordid desire for wealth he will be prepared for any deed. [215]

      2. The only way to deal with temptation is to say, "Get behind me, Satan!" If we cherish the thought of wrong doing, the desire will grow upon us until "Satan enters into us." "Resist the devil and he will flee from you."

      3. Beware of the beginnings of evil. The seed may be small as a grain of mustard, but if nourished it becomes a great tree that overshadows a life. When Judas began to pilfer from the bag, he had no thought that he would ever sell his Master. When Nero first ascended the Roman throne, a tender youth, he mourned that he had learned to write, he shuddered so to sign a death warrant. He lived to become the bloodiest tyrant of the earth by the gradual growth of the evil within that he did not seek to repress.

      4. Wouldest thou sell Jesus? Dost thou not? Dost thou forsake him for the sake of making money? or for pleasure? or for friends? Then for these things dost thou betray the Master. You sell him and your birthright for a mess of pottage.

      5. Before the cock crow. Before three o'clock in the morning. Three crowings of the cock were distinguished,--the first between midnight and one o'clock, the second about three, the third between five and six. The mention of those two crowings, the first of which should have already been a warning to Peter, perhaps makes the gravity of his sin the more conspicuous.

[NTC3 200-216]

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B. W. Johnson
The New Testament Commentary: Vol. III--John (1886)

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