John’s Gospel: Chapter 13:10-33 (“Do you understand what I have done to you?”)

(John 13:10-11 ESV)  10 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.”  11 For he knew who was to betray him; that was why he said, “Not all of you are clean.”

This is a difficult verse. At least it is to me. Why would Jesus declare the apostles, other than Judas, “clean”? “Clean,” of course, usually referred to ceremonial cleanness, but that is surely not Jesus’ thought here — but there has to be some connection.

Jesus seems to be speaking in reply to Peter’s declaration that he wants to be washed head to toe! If washing my feet is good, then surely washing all of me would be even better! And that’s how many of us think, creating new rituals and burdens to be even holier than God asks, as it were.

Thus, at one level, Jesus is saying, simply enough, “Just let me wash your feet. The problem isn’t that you’re dirty all over but that you need to understand how to accept service so can learn how to serve.”

Leon Morris, author of the commentary on John in the New International Commentary series, asks us to consider Jesus’ footwashing as a metaphor for the crucifixion soon to come. The apostles need to learn to accept his service of a slave — a voluntary death — as a good and necessary thing. If that’s right, it fits exactly with Paul’s interpretation in —

(Phi 2:7-8 NET)  7 [He] emptied himself by taking on the form of a slave, by looking like other men, and by sharing in human nature.  8 He humbled himself, by becoming obedient to the point of death– even death on a cross!

Under that interpretation, Jesus is saying that his foot washing is enough because his death will be enough.

Ultimately, the thought has to be along the lines that it’s enough to accept Jesus’ submissive service. It’s not about how much service you accept, but that you are willing to join a community that is based on grace — generosity — and that, therefore, reflects that generosity to each other and to all others.

Contrary to many commentaries, it’s certainly not the case that Jesus is saying you were once totally clean, but now you need a touch up — as though Jesus’ grace would be inadequate without the footwashing.

No, the point is that we need to accept God’s grace on the terms offered. We shouldn’t refuse the grace as more than we deserve and we shouldn’t ask for even more than is offered. Just take what’s offered on the terms offered, and don’t try to outwise God.

(John 13:12-15 ESV) 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?  13 You call me Teacher and Lord, and you are right, for so I am.  14 If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet.  15 For I have given you an example, that you also should do just as I have done to you.”

The apostles would soon scatter to the farthest reaches of the Roman Empire and beyond, if history is to be believed. They could hardly submit to each other when thousands of miles apart.

And so their first and most important opportunity to submit to each other was as co-leaders of the Jerusalem congregation. They served there more or less as elders, and they needed to act as a group, reflecting among themselves the unity that God wants from the church as a whole. (And, yes, there’s a lesson there for modern elders.)

But, of course, even after they scattered to do their missionary work, it was critical that they not vie for power and influence. No one apostle could claim to step into the leadership role of Jesus. After all, Jesus would still be alive, as the singular head of a singular church. Nothing could have more deeply undermined the church than division among the leaders.

Unity, therefore, is not found so much in perfect agreement on doctrine but on mutual submission. Unity is built on washing feet.

(John 13:16-17 ESV)  16 “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.  17 If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them.”

Of course, the point is that if Jesus — King of the universe — can do the work of a slave, then so can one of his apostles or any of his other followers. No one gets to be high and mighty in the Kingdom.

(John 13:18-19 ESV)  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.’  19 I am telling you this now, before it takes place, that when it does take place you may believe that I am he.

Jesus prophesies the betrayal by Judas — and then says he does so to demonstrate that he really is the Messiah.

(John 13:20 ESV)  20 “Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever receives the one I send receives me, and whoever receives me receives the one who sent me.”

If someone receives an apostle, he receives Jesus; if he receives Jesus, he receives God.

(John 13:21-25 ESV) 21 After saying these things, Jesus was troubled in his spirit, and testified, “Truly, truly, I say to you, one of you will betray me.”  22 The disciples looked at one another, uncertain of whom he spoke.  23 One of his disciples, whom Jesus loved, was reclining at table at Jesus’ side,  24 so Simon Peter motioned to him to ask Jesus of whom he was speaking.  25 So that disciple, leaning back against Jesus, said to him, “Lord, who is it?”

Judas’ betrayal was obviously invisible to the other apostles, and so, understandably, the apostles were curious.

(John 13:26-28 ESV)  26 Jesus answered, “It is he to whom I will give this morsel of bread when I have dipped it.” So when he had dipped the morsel, he gave it to Judas, the son of Simon Iscariot.  27 Then after he had taken the morsel, Satan entered into him. Jesus said to him, “What you are going to do, do quickly.”  28 Now no one at the table knew why he said this to him.

Jesus let Peter and the disciple whom he loved know it was Judas.

(John 13:29-30 ESV)  29 Some thought that, because Judas had the moneybag, Jesus was telling him, “Buy what we need for the feast,” or that he should give something to the poor.  30 So, after receiving the morsel of bread, he immediately went out. And it was night.

The rest of the apostles continuing perplexed, unable to imagine that one of their own would betray Jesus.

The reference to it being night is surely a reference back to —

(John 9:4 ESV)  4 “We must work the works of him who sent me while it is day; night is coming, when no one can work.”

(John 11:10 ESV)  10 “But if anyone walks in the night, he stumbles, because the light is not in him.”

“Night” was literally true, but John’s point is metaphoric — “night” refers to separation from God as well as the end of Jesus’ time on earth.

(John 13:31-32 ESV)  31 When he had gone out, Jesus said, “Now is the Son of Man glorified, and God is glorified in him.  32 If God is glorified in him, God will also glorify him in himself, and glorify him at once.

Jesus is speaking proleptically. “Prolepsis” is a fancy word for speaking of something future as though present. The final act, the final steps were being taken that would lead to the glorification of Jesus. His glorification was now certain, even inevitable.

“Glory” in the Bible often refers to the immediate presence of God — the bright, shining presence called Shekinah in the Hebrew Bible. For Jesus to be glorified would be for him to be brought into God’s presence, indeed, to be shown to have the same glory as God.

This began with the resurrection and culminated with his ascension. It had not really happened yet.

(John 13:33 ESV)  33 “Little children, yet a little while I am with you. You will seek me, and just as I said to the Jews, so now I also say to you, ‘Where I am going you cannot come.’

Jesus prepares his disciples for the difficult road ahead by warning them that they cannot go where he is going — and therefore won’t have to go there, not yet.

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About Jay F Guin

My name is Jay Guin, and I’m a retired elder. I wrote The Holy Spirit and Revolutionary Grace about 18 years ago. I’ve spoken at the Pepperdine, Lipscomb, ACU, Harding, and Tulsa lectureships and at ElderLink. My wife’s name is Denise, and I have four sons, Chris, Jonathan, Tyler, and Philip. I have two grandchildren. And I practice law.
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