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The Lord Washes the Disciples' Feet
Summary —The Passover Meal. The Lord Washes the Disciples' Feet. The Traitor Pointed Out. The Departure of Judas. The Discourse to the Disciples. Peter Warned.
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 were in immediate view of the cross. On the next day the Lord was crucified.
2. Supper being ended. The Revision says, “During the Supper.” It is likely that Christ arose near the beginning of the feast, washed the feet, and then sat down again to the feast. See verse 12. 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.
3. Jesus knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands. It was with a full consciousness of his divinity, of 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.
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 they felt 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) 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. (3) Then, while 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, full of conscious divinity, arose, girded on the towel, and began the office. A 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.”
8. If I wash thee not, thou hast no part with me. Washing, with the Jews, was a symbolical act, signifying purification from uncleanliness. 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.
10. He that is washed needeth not save to wash his feet. We must seek the 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.
13, 14. Ye call me Master and Lord. 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.
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. Note the fact that not once else where 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. The lesson is that he who would be greatest must be always ready to serve others in a spirit of humility and self-sacrifice.
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 he 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.”
18. I speak not of you all. One is a traitor. He is not included in the beatitude just pronounced in the 17th verse.
21–28. Troubled in spirit. Because a traitor was present among the apostles. For the exposure of Judas, see notes on Matt. 26:21–25. Compare Mark 14:18–21. There was leaning on Jesus' bosom. It was the custom to recline on a couch, leaning on the left elbow, at table. John, who was immediately before Jesus, would be almost at his bosom. Whom Jesus loved. It was John's joy that Jesus loved him. The disciples did not know who would be the traitor. At Peter's request, John, in a low tone, asked Jesus. He gave a sign, and when John saw him dip a piece of bread into the sop of bitter herbs, always on the passover table, and give it to Judas, he knew he was meant. Satan entered into him. He gave himself up at once to Satan's purpose. That thou doest, do quickly. Judas understood what these words meant, but no one else.
30. Went immediately out. It is probable that the Lord's Supper was instituted, at this point, after Judas went out. It was, as we learn from Matthew, after the passover. Matthew's order (see Matt., chap. 26) is as follows: (1) The Passover; (2) the Exposure of Judas; (3) the Lord's Supper. This is John's order, save that he omits, because well known, to record the origin of the Lord's Supper here, and simply tells of the departure of Judas.
35. By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples. The love and self sacrifice of Christians has done more to extend the name of Christ than argument. In the early ages, heathen were wont to say: “See how these Christians love one another.”
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