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COMMENTARY ON THE GOSPEL OF JOHN

By Dr Peter Pett BA BD (Hons-London) DD

John 13 Jesus Washes the Disciples’ Feet and Discourses With Them (John 13).

We now reach the final stage in John’s Gospel. Having revealed the One Who came from God as the true light to enlighten men and give eternal life, and having demonstrated that He was the Lord of life, John will now describe Him as He approaches His final hour. For those concerned with the problem as to how John ties in with the Synoptics on the timing of the Passover please consult Appendix below.

13.1 separates what has gone before, the self-revelation of Jesus to the people over a period of two to three years or more, from what follows, His self-revelation to His diciples and His preparation for the establishment of the New Vine (15.1-6), the new Israel, which includes His death and resurrection, and takes place within a three day period. This latter takes up eight chapters. Jesus’ life, death and resurrection are thus seen by John as pivotal, and as unique in that, having revealed Himself for what He is, His death and resurrection are to be seen as a turning point in history. It brings out that His life had His death in view, and that what would appear at first sight to be a tragic end, will finally result in the establishment of a new work of God which will be the consequence of His own activity as the resurrected Christ as He gives His Spirit to His followers (20.20-23).

Nevertheless the self-revelationto the disciples continues. We learn immediately that Jesus knew that ‘the Father had given all things into His hands, and that He was come from God and went to God’ (13.3). In other words His life had been a kind of interlude between His previously having been with the Father (compare 17.5), and His going to be with His Father, during which He had and would accomplish what the Father had given into His hands. Having descended from Heaven He would now ascend to Heaven (3.13). For a while the Word had been made flesh and had dwelt among us (1.14) for the fulfilling of His purposes, but now He was going back to His Father. Nothing brings out more the uniqueness of Jesus than this, the revelation of Him as both pre-existent and as the arbiter for the future. The fact that ‘all things had been given into His hands’ may refer to the whole of time, or it may signify that it was what He received in His divine manhood in consequene of His obedience. To the Greeks ‘all things’ indicated the universe.

We note that Jesus is now still being addressed as ‘Lord’ (13.9), as in chapter 11. This is something which Jesus now takes up when He declares that He is their ‘Lord and Teacher’ (13.13-14). This His only direct application of the title to Himself in John’s Gospel (but note 15 15, 20). Note His switch from ‘Teacher and Lord’ in verse 13 to ‘Lord and Teacher’ in verse 14. He is now emphasising His unique authority over them. They had seen Him as their Teacher. Now they must recognise Him as their Lord. He will later speak of them as ‘friends’ (15.1-14), but for now His emphasis is on the fact that He is their Lord (compare 13.16; 15.20). His Lordship is even brought out by the fact that He is depicted as in control of His own destiny as He commands Judas to go about his act of betrayal (13.27-28).

Once Judas has left Jesus turns to His other disciples and declares, ‘Now is the Son of Man glorified, and God is glorified in Him. And God will glorify Him in Himself, and will immediately glorify Him’ (13.32). The ‘now’ connects with Judas departure on his evil errand, and indicates that what is to result from the betrayal is for the glory of God and for the glory of Jesus as the Son of Man. Once more Daniel 7.13-14 is in mind. Jesus will come out of suffering in order to approach the throne of God and receive glory and kingship. The idea of Messiahship is thus included. This idea of the glory of Jesus being revealed is an essential part of the author’s portrayal of precisely Who Jesus is (1.14; 2.11; 11.4, 40; 12.41; 17.5, 24). But for God to ‘glorify Him in Himself’ goes beyond just Messiahship, for when in 17.5 Jesus prays, ‘glorify Me with Your own self, with the glory which I had with You before the world was’, He was thinking of a greater glory than that of the Messiah, the divone glory itself. The idea is that as the Son of God He will once more be united with His Father in His supreme glory.

We should not be too surprised that John does not mention the inauguration of the Lord’s Supper (Holy Communion). It is his method to omit mention of what we might see as primary events. Similarly he also omits describing Jesus’ baptism and the transfiguration, and His prayers in the Garden, although bringing out the underlying meaning of them all. The significance of what lies behind the Lord’s Supper is, however, found in chapter 6. But from now on he was more concerned with bringing out Jesus’ preparation of His disciples for what was to come, and underlining the inspiration of the Spirit that would be given to them which would result in the guarantee of the accuracy of the tradition concerning Himself, as borne witness to by them and in the New Testament Scriptures.. As we have seen right from the beginning his emphasis is on the testimony borne to Jesus, and its sources.

The Washing of the Feet: A Lesson in Humility (13.1-17).

Two major lessons come out from this passage. The first is that of the example that Jesus was giving of true humility in love and service. He stressed that His disciples were similarly to behave as He has (13.13-17). The second is what is to be learned from His statement to Peter about the need for those who have already been bathed only to wash their feet. It was indicating that He was the source both of their initial cleansing and of their daily cleansing, and that the former was permanent in its effectiveness. Once a person has been truly cleansed by Him the effectiveness of that cleansing is permanent. All that is then required is to deal with daily sins as they occur.

‘13.1 ‘Now Jesus, knowing before the Feast of the Passover that his hour had come to depart from this world to the Father, having loved his own who were in this world, loved them to the end (or to the uttermost).’

‘Before the Feast of the Passover.’ It is clear from the mention of this that there is intended to be a close connection between the death of Jesus and the significance of the killing of the Passover lamb. This significance is brought out in the other Gospels by the meaning Jesus gives to the drinking of the Passover wine, as a participation in the New Covenant through His blood, after the consumption of the Passover lamb. John brings it out by continually indicating a close connection between His impending hour and the Passover. Jesus knew at this particular Passover that ‘His hour had come’. This was why He had come into the world, in order to be the Lamb of God (1.29). And He was fully aware of what lay before Him.

‘Knowing that His hour was come.’ In the light of the fact that His hour had come He took the next step in His self-abasement. He would reveal Himself as the One Who was the Servant, Who would give His life as a ransom for many (Mark 10.45).

So in the face of the unbelievable suffering to come He turned His thoughts, not to Himself, but to His disciples, whom He had loved constantly. They were His constant companions and He treasured them. Now He would reveal His love for them to its fullest extent. In the hour of His trial He would not allow Himself to be taken up with His own thoughts but would take time to reveal to them the inner secrets of God.

Whether we translate ‘loved them to the end’ i.e. His love did not waver, or ‘loved them to the uttermost’ i.e. showed His love even more fully, the meaning is the same. His love flowed out to them in depth. (Both are equally possible, compare 1 Thessalonians 2.16, and indeed the double meaning is probably intentional)

13.2 ‘And during the supper, the Devil having already put it into the heart of Judas Iscariot, Simon’s son, to betray him.’

‘And during the supper.’ John will, from this point, deliberately play down the fact that it is the Passover meal, even to the extent that he does not describe the instituting of the Lord’s Supper (Holy Communion). That this is deliberate is clear. He was well aware that the early church was very familiar with the facts of that Supper. He thus wanted to concentrate on the fact of Jesus’ preparation of His disciples for their witness to the world. He wanted the time to be seen as the time when Jesus revealed inner truths about the future, something of which the early church was less aware. But all are aware of the shadow that lies behind it.

The Lord’s Supper was well established by this time and constantly celebrated. Through it the truth about His sacrificial death constantly came out. The history of it would have been imbedded in the minds of all Christians. So, as always through his Gospel, John wants rather to bring out spiritual truths rather than physical enactments. He is concerned to stress the spiritual benefits arising from His death. This event clearly occurred late on in the Supper, probably after the Passover meal had been eaten. Certainly Judas would not have left unless the meal was over. (The alternative reading ‘after supper’ is equally strongly attested).

‘ The Devil having already put it into the heart of Judas Iscariot, Simon’s son, to betray him’. (Compare Luke 22.3) To ‘have a devil’ was constantly used in various mouths to signify the Devil’s influence in men’s speech and behaviour (Matthew 11.18; Luke 7.33; John 7.20; 8.40, 49, 52; 10.20, 21), and Jesus had earlier said of Judas (incognito) that he ‘was a devil’ i.e. was submissive to the Devil’s control (6.70). Thus here the idea of the Devil’s control over Judas continues.

The idea of a supernatural lord of evil (the Devil, Satan, the Evil One) was widespread among the Jews, and it was he who, according to Jesus, had put Him to the test at the commencement of His ministry ( ‘the Devil’ and ‘Satan’ Matthew 4.1-11; ‘Satan’ Mark 1.13; ‘the Devil’ and ‘Satan’ Luke 4.1-13), whilst Jesus Himself testified to the power of ‘Satan’ when He pointed out that He had come to break his power (Matthew 12.24-29; Mark 3.22-27; Luke 11.15-22 - ‘Satan’ in all cases). Compare also how in Matthew 13.39 the weeds were the sons of the Evil One, and the one who sowed them was the Devil.

In Matthew 13.19 ‘the Evil One’ snatched away the seed sown by the sower, while in Mark it was ‘Satan’ (Mark 4.15). When Peter tried to deny the need for the Messiah to suffer Jesus addressed him as ‘Satan’, i.e. as being used as Satan’s tool (Matthew 16.23; Mark 8.33). So the working of a powerful supernatural lord of evil was widely acknowledged, and confirmed by Jesus Himself, seen often as working through his minions, described as ‘evil spirits, devils, or demons’ (e.g. Luke 13.11 with 16). Scripture elsewhere depicts Satan as presenting himself as ‘an angel of light’ (2 Corinthians 11.14) and there is nowhere any idea of horns or forked tails. Such ideas are false and dangerous as belittling the idea. Thus Satan, the Devil, was at work throughout Jesus’ ministry and was now seeking to have Him destroyed.

However, it should be noted that what now happens does indicate that Satan did not understand what God was doing, and was, without realising it, conniving in his own destruction. There is something ironic about his haste to get Jesus to the cross which would turn out to be the cause of his own defeat. So it is clear that while he was aware of Who Jesus really was, he was not aware of the means that He would use to save men. While he must have been aware of what Jesus had taught he clearly could not conceive of such divine self-giving. It was totally outside his understanding and beyond his comprehension. Thus he was prompting Judas to betray Jesus to the authorities, thinking thereby to foil His purpose, only for it in the end to be revealed as bringing about God’s purposes. We must not think of Satan as all-knowing, or as omnipresent, although he does have many agents.

‘Judas Iscariot’ - Jesus knew from the beginning that Judas was the weak link among the Apostles (John 6.70-71). But we must remember that Judas, at least to begin with, was his own master, and that Jesus gave him every chance to think again. What he did was of his own choosing. In the end, however, money turned out to be more important to him than his belief in Jesus, and this should be a grim warning to us all. There may also have been in Judas’ mind the thought that he could spur Jesus into Messianic action, but the fact that he took money for his betrayal is against such an idea. Any Messiah would hardly be expected to look well on someone who had taken money in such a fashion, and who had done it in order to betray Him.

Later he genuinely regretted his action. The paying back of the money to the Temple treasury, where it would then be held separately to be repaid to the contractee, and if not claimed would be used for public works, was a recognised means of cancelling a contract when the other party refused to accept the money back (Matthew 27.5), and it is quite possible that at that stage he could have repented and been forgiven. But his remorse was such that instead he took his own life.

13.3-5 ‘Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going to God, rose from supper, and laying aside his top clothes, took a towel and wrapped it round him. Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples feet, and to wipe them with the towel he had wrapped around himself.’

The contrast given here is deliberate and striking. Judas was set on the pathway of greed and betrayal. Jesus was set on the pathway of humility and loving service. For in full knowledge of His glorious status as the One into Whose hands ‘all things’ had been delivered, and as the One Who had come from God and was returning to God, He performed the duties of the lowest servant. He put off His robe and vest and, deliberately cladding Himself like a slave, began to wash the disciples’ feet. Here He was depicting in an earthly setting the amazing humility He had shown when ‘being in the form of God He thought not equality with God a thing to be grasped at, but humbled Himself, taking on Himself the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of man’ (Philippians 2.6-7). To Him humble service was the prime honour.

‘Began to’ probably simply prepares for the interruption that will shortly come. It is doubtful if we are to see in it the sacramental significance that He would go on doing so through the years.

We have to be careful what we read into what is said here. John gives no hint that the disciples had somehow been remiss. It is true that when people in the Middle East entered a house to dine it was the custom of a servant of the house to wash their feet, to remove the dust and grime accumulated in their journeying on the dusty roads, and that Jesus is copying this act. But His action was ‘during the supper’ and ‘He rose from supper’ in order to do it, while the feet washing would have occurred some time before the meal, i.e. before the supper commenced. It had quite possibly been performed by a servant of the owner of the house.

It is hardly possible to believe that if Jesus had risen to perform the menial task of washing their dirty feet there would not have been an outcry and a rush of willing volunteers, or that Peter would have waited for Jesus to get round to him before he did something. Had it been the normal feet-washing impetuous Peter would surely have protested immediately and risen to take over from Jesus saying, ‘Be it far from you, O Lord’, even if he had then suggested that someone else do it. It is true, of course, that they were proud. But they were surely not so proud that they would have allowed Jesus to get on with it without making at least some move from themselves. The fact that they did not make such a move suggests they saw the whole thing as unusual and did not know what to do because they were not sure what Jesus was doing.

Besides it is specifically pointed out that His action was symbolic. Thus we are not to see here that Jesus was rebuking His disciples, but rather that He was teaching them lessons through an acted out parable. It may well be that His action followed their discussions as to which of them would be the greatest (Luke 22.24), in which case a quiet rising at that point to wash their feet would have been all the answer to that question that He needed to give. He was thereby bringing out that they were not to think of greatness but of being servants.

It does, however, turn out that His action had a deeper significance even than that, and we must ask, What was Jesus seeking to convey to them? His action was truly an action of humility, but it soon becomes clear that He wanted the disciples later to look back and remember what He had done. He wanted them to recognise that He had had one thing more to do for them. He wanted them to recognise that in going to the cross He was going there for their benefit, so that there might be for them a way of total cleansing. He had done much for them, but one thing further was necessary. He must die for them, His final service for them on earth.

Some, however do consider that what happened was that as there was no servant present at a meeting that had been deliberately kept secret, Jesus waited to see if any of His disciples would take the lower place. And that as they all went and lay at the table, and then discussed who was the greatest, Jesus, after a short pause, arose to teach them a vital lesson for the future. Only He was the greatest and yet He was the servant of all. This may have been so, but as mentioned above it does not seem to fit in with the timing mentioned or with what we would expect of normal human beings. And even if it was we must not allow it to take away from us the main significance of His act which was symbolic and demonstrating that He was about to humble Himself deeply at the cross so that cleansing might be available to them all.

13.6-11 ‘Then he comes to Simon Peter. He says to him, “Lord, are you going to wash my feet?” Jesus answered and said to him, “What I am doing you do not now perceive, but you will know fully later”. Peter says to him, “Under no circumstances will you wash my feet!” Jesus answered him, “If I do not wash you, you have no part with me”. Simon said to him, “Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head”. Jesus said to him, “He who is bathed only needs to wash his feet (or ‘needs not to wash except his feet’) and then is completely clean. And you are clean, but not all of you”. (For he knew the one who would betray him, that is why he said “You are not all clean”).’

This incident reveals Peter’s typical ambivalence, which the Gospels draw attention to again and again, and John clearly remembers it vividly. But its repetition was not in order to draw attention to Peter but to draw attention to the significance of the words that passed between him and Jesus. Peter’s question seems to confirm that this was not the usual run of the mill feet-washing.

Humanly speaking Peter rightly felt that it was not fitting that ‘the Lord’ (we must give the word its full significance here) should wash his feet. But he had overlooked the fact that this was something outside the human, and that what Jesus was doing had a spiritual significance. It indicated that He was beginning His unique time of voluntary submission, which began with the washing of the feet, would continue in His prayers in Gethsemane, and would reach its final fulfilment on the cross of shame. And it was all for them - and for us.

‘He who is bathed needs not to wash except for his feet’. The picture here is of a guest who, having bathed at home only requires to wash his feet to remove the stains of the journey. Here Jesus was saying, ‘I have already in the past bathed you so that you are clean, but now I am preparing you for your part in what lies ahead’. The bathing refers, of course, to the work of the Spirit by which Peter had been born of the Spirit and forgiven his sins, the ‘washing of regeneration’ (Titus 3.5). Now by the washing of the feet He was pointing to a further work of the Spirit which they would enjoy continually as a result of His death. Without that they would be ineffective.

There may, however, be in mind that as the priests ministered in the Tabernacle they had to wash their feet when they moved in and out of the Sanctuary or when they approached the altar (Exodus 30.18-21). Having been cleansed and purified they needed to be kept constantly clean. If so the lesson is the same. But in that case we might also have expected hand washing as well, although it might be argued that they had already washed their hands preparatory to the meal. Jesus always seems to have followed the Pharisaic principles of washing (they never criticised Him for not doing so) even if he did not full subscribe to them.

They were also being reminded that even the forgiven sinner becomes defiled and needs daily forgiveness, and that this was something that was freely available to them from the Lord. And in view of what was to come they especially needed it at this moment. Peter above all needed to be prepared in heart, for ‘Satan has desired to have him’ to test him out (Luke 22.31).

By this we know that Jesus will continue to minister to us so that we can daily be made clean. But only if we are willing to receive it. Compare here John’s words in 1 John 1.7-10. It is a comforting thought that our daily sin does not put us right back where we were before. It is a humbling thought that daily Jesus stoops to ‘wash our feet’ as the One Who is Lord of all.

‘Except his feet’ is omitted in a large number of old manuscripts, but it would appear to be required, or must be understood, for the sense. Perhaps it dropped out because it was not felt seemly that God’s ‘washing’ should be insufficient. Alternately Jesus may have left it to be assumed - ‘He who is bathed does not need a full wash’ and a discerning writer have added it as a note. But Jesus’ statement and action only really make sense with the contrast described. Otherwise Peter’s request for a full wash would be reasonable.

Some argue that Jesus’ action was intended to symbolise a full washing and they therefore agree with the omission. But this ignores the fact that the disciples had already been ‘born of water and Spirit’ (John 3.5), and that this was the final touch. The central purpose of Jesus’ act was twofold. Firstly so that they would recognise their participation in His final work and secondly to bring home the lesson of humble service and the need to minister to one another, something He makes clear in the context. The symbolic lesson comes out especially because of Peter’s words.

‘You have no part with me’. In order to stand at Jesus’ side through what lies ahead, and to have a part with Him in what was to come, Peter, (and we as well), must submit to His ministrations, both in the short term and in the long term, for without His daily ministration we would be lost. And we must especially learn the need for humility.

To use theological language Jesus was saying, ‘You have been washed (made clean) once for all through My word, you have been sanctified (set apart as holy) once for all by My calling, you have been justified (declared in the right) once for all, in the name of the Lord Jesus and by the Spirit of our God’ (1 Corinthians 6.11). But now you need to recognise the basis on which all this comes to you and go on being continually sanctified by a daily dealing with sin and daily forgiveness and purification (1 John 1.7). By being bathed they had been perfected for ever in God’s eyes. Now they needed continual sanctification. ‘He has perfected for ever those who are being sanctified’ (Hebrews 10.14).

Many lay great stress on the idea that Jesus had baptism in mind here. But once John had been put in prison (when it was the baptism of John), baptism is never mentioned during the time of Jesus’ ministry, and there is nowhere any indication that all the disciples had been baptised even with John’s baptism. It would thus not at that time have been prominent in the minds of the disciples. John has rather given the impression throughout his Gospel that any washing was of the Spirit. Indeed it is very questionable whether baptism did signify washing to the early church. Such an idea became prominent later, but in the New Testament letters baptism appears rather to have indicated dying and rising again, and new life through the Spirit (not the putting away of the sins of the flesh, but the answer of a good conscience towards God - 1 Peter 3.21).

13.12-15 ‘So when he had washed their feet and taken his outer clothes and again sat down, he said to them “Do you know what I have done to you? You call me Master and Lord and you say well, for so I am. If I then the Lord and Master have washed you feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet, for I have given you an example that you also should do what I have done to you”.’

Having washed their feet, Jesus first act was to take His clothes and reinstate Himself as their ‘Teacher and Lord’. Then, having done so, He brought home to them the lesson of what He had done. As He had humbled Himself on their behalf, so must they be willing to humble themselves on each other’s behalf, and on behalf of all the people of God. For while only God could fully bathe them, they must be ready to wash each other’s feet.

In other words no task was to be seen as too lowly for them in ministering to God’s people and to each other. His people would in the future need constant attention and ministry in order to maintain their walk with God. And this was a personal and humbling task, to be carried out by the meek and lowly. The servant of God was not to stand above His people, but to kneel before them. For once a so-called servant of God begins to feel his own importance, he is failing in his task. He has ceased to be (even if he still calls himself so) the servant of all. (We note here that the meaning given for the act to the disciples as a whole refers to washing each other’s feet. Thus it cannot be referring to the original bathing of salvation).

Some Christians believe that Jesus' command here is binding on the church in a literal sense. They practise foot-washing as an ordinance of the church along with water baptism and the Lord's Supper. But Christians through the centuries have believed that Jesus meant that His disciples should follow His example by serving humbly rather than by specifically washing each other's feet, and nowhere else in the New Testament do its writers treat foot-washing as another ordinance.

1 Timothy 5.10 speaks of it as an example of humble service along with a number of others, but not as an ordinance of the church. It was the attitude of humility that disciples should have toward one another that was the point that Jesus was making, not simply the performance of a ritual which loses its point with modern clothing. Furthermore Jesus called foot-washing an example (Greek hypodeigma - a pattern) implying that there were to be other examples of the same attitude. It was an appropriate example of humble service in a culture where people wore sandals and soiled their feet easily in the heat of the day.

13.16-17 “With the strongest emphasis (truly, truly) I tell you, a slave is not greater than his Lord, nor is one who is sent (Gk. ‘an apostle’, one who is sent) greater than the one who sent him. If you know these things you are blessed if you do them.”

This statement is so patently true that it cannot be denied. He was saying, ‘as I am greater than you and have done this, so you too must be ready to behave in the same way’. The trouble is that the Lord and the Sender were so deeply humble and so ready to serve that it makes it difficult for us arrogant humans to follow suit. We are so the opposite of being humble. We are good at putting on an act at the right time when we feel it necessary, but we find it difficult to do it all the time, especially when it is out of the limelight. It is one thing to know these things. It is another to do them. But blessing only follows if we do them.

There Is One Among Them Who Will Betray Him (John 13.18-30).

Jesus now brings out the astonishing fact that one of His own disciples would ‘betray’ Him. To us the meaning of this is clear for we know precisely what happened afterwards. But we must remember that it would not have been clear to the disciples. Indeed the actual reality would have been beyond their imagination. Thus we learn in the other Gospels that each disciple thought that he might be the one who would betray Jesus. They clearly did not see His words as indicating a deliberate act of betrayal. Rather they all assumed that such a betrayal, whatever the word portrayed, would be involuntary, and probably that it would take place some time in the future. They would thus have had no reason for preventing Judas from leaving.

However, prior to that Jesus does indicate that all is not well and that not all of them will prove faithful, for He indicates that the cleansing of which He has spoken will not apply to all.

13.18 “I do not speak of you all, I know whom I have chosen, but that the Scripture may be fulfilled, he who eats my bread lifted up his heel against me.”

What He had done had brought home to Him something that only He knew, and that was that not all of them were ‘clean’. “I am not speaking of you all. I know those whom I have chosen, but it was in order that the Scripture might be fulfilled, ‘He who eats my bread has lifted up his heel against me’.” He knew that there was one among them to whom His past words could have no meaning. For Jesus was well aware that besides choosing those who, though failing through weakness, would finally stand the test, He had chosen one who was basically weak and would now fail. One whose heart had not been cleansed, who was not in the end one of the chosen.

It is a reminder to us that all must be given a chance, even those who will fail, for who knows whether they will make a recovery? Judas had been given his chance, and had been received into the closest relationship, something to which he had outwardly fully responded. There is no reason to doubt that he had also performed miracles in the Name of Jesus. But he was to fail in the end (consider Matthew 7.22).

The phrase ‘to eat bread’ signified an avowal of friendship. You did not eat bread with an enemy, for it would contravene the laws of hospitality. But there will always be those who betray those who trust them, and who can comprehend what thoughts must have been going through Judas’ mind at this moment? His conscience must have been tearing at him, but he must have been deliberately holding it in check. (This is proved by his later remorse).

Nor can we fathom all his reasons for acting as he did. Greed for money? Disappointment with the kind of Messiah Jesus was proving to be? Anger at some imagined slight which injured his self-esteem? All possibly played a part in his reasoning. But none really excused him for an act of pure treachery. Just as the Psalmist (Psalm 41.9) had experienced betrayal by a close friend, so would Jesus. It was necessary, for how else could He be said to suffer temptation as we do? He knew that He must go through the experiences of all those who have suffered for God, and that their sufferings were a mirror of His own. Thus was it a fulfilment of the Scripture which portrayed humanity as they are. The ‘lifting up of the heel’ may suggest a recalcitrant animal which kicks out at its owner and friend.

We should note the significance of the fact that Jesus performed the physical ‘cleansing’ act on Judas also. He did not see an outward ceremony as having any automatic inward effect. He was well aware that it was symbolic and that it was only efficacious on those whose hearts had truly responded.

13.18 “From now on I am telling you before it takes place, so that when it does take place you may continue to believe that I am he”.

Jesus knew that the betrayal which would result in His shameful death, would come as a crushing blow to His disciples. He knew that they might then be tempted to think, ‘if Jesus were really from God would He not have known?’ and might finally lose hope. But God would not allow them to be tempted above what they were able. Jesus wanted them therefore to be aware that He knew beforehand about His coming betrayal. Thus could they be confident of Who He was.

‘From now on’ suggests that up to this point Jesus had wanted Judas to realise that there was still an opportunity for him not to go ahead with his betrayal. He had offered him every opportunity. It was only now that He drew a veil over these attempts, and declared in a way that Judas would understand that for him there was now no hope. He had gone too far. His opportunity had gone. So He was aware of the struggle that was going on in Judas’ head and had seen him finally determine, against every pleading of conscience, that he would go on with his plan. It was not, however, just something He accepted philosophically. It hurt Him deeply (13.21).

13.19 “I strongly affirm to you that he who receives anyone whom I send, receives me, and he who receives me, receives him who sent me”.

These words are in strong contrast to the actions of Judas. They stress the carrying on of Jesus’ ministry through His followers. They are an indication that what Judas was about to do could not affect the carrying forward of the Father’s plan. But how will men then know that He is Who He is? The answer is that His followers, those whom He sends, will now take His place on earth. He has groomed them for this and He is no longer necessary. His earthly task (apart from His final sacrifice) is complete. But He will be represented by His own, and reception of them and their message will be reception of Him, and reception of Him in this way will be reception of the Father. Thus will they know that He is Who He is. These words, spoken immediately after the words indicating betrayal, provide the confident certainty that that betrayal will not affect the going forward of God’s purposes. But the disjointedness of the context is an indication that John is staying closely to the very words of Jesus. He is getting over his point, not by inventing statements, but by a suitable use of what Jesus actually said.

13.20 ‘When Jesus had spoken thus he was troubled in spirit and testified saying, “I emphatically inform you that one of you will betray me”.’

Jesus now confirms that he knew at this point that Judas had made his final decision. That he had hardened his heart and was now beyond helping. But this was not something that was easy for Jesus to accept. He had clearly loved Judas and felt deeply betrayed. Thus His spirit was troubled within Him, and this forced out of Him the anguished words ‘one of you will betray me’. The plain truth could be held back no longer.

Betrayals, however, are of many different kinds, and there would not have dawned on the disciples either the nature of the betrayal, the closeness timewise of its occurrence, nor its dark consequences. They did not know what we know. Indeed we learn from the other Gospels that each thought that it might be him. They were thinking in terms of a slip up (like that of Peter later) rather than of a catastrophe.

13.21 ‘The disciples looked at one another not sure of whom he spoke’.

Nothing that Judas had done had brought Judas under suspicion, although John appears to have been a little unsure of him for other reason (12.6). However, there is a great deal of difference between petty theft and open betrayal, and John might even have seen Judas’ dishonesty as the betrayal Jesus was speaking about. The verb is continuous. It suggests a stunned silence as they looked from one to another again and again. They were totally baffled, and not a little uncomfortable.. The other Gospels tell us that they asked, aware of their own possible frailty, ‘Lord, is it I?’ They knew Jesus must be right and it awakened their worst nightmares and fears about themselves. They were not, however, thinking of quite such a total betrayal as Judas would perpetrate. They were probably thinking in terms of ‘letting the Lord down’.

13.23 ‘There was at the table, reclining next to Jesus to His right (literally ‘in Jesus’ bosom’, the favoured place next to Him), one of his disciples whom Jesus loved.’

The ‘disciple whom Jesus loved’ was the author of the Gospel (21.20 with 24; compare 14.21; 15.9; 17.9, 12). He has previously declared Jesus’ overwhelming love for all the disciples (13.1), so that now he can describe himself as one of them without conceit. Like them he was a disciple whom Jesus loved. It suggests that it was ever a wonder to him that Jesus loved him, and he never ceased, even in his old age, to forget what a marvel it was that Jesus had chosen him (with the others) to be a disciple. As the writer of the Gospel he is wary of using his own name (or that of his brother), so he calls himself the disciple whom Jesus loved. This is his most treasured thought. He is not thinking of earthly love but of the love His Lord and God has for him.

It may certainly be that there was a special affinity between him and Jesus (he was one of the inner three), but this was not his meaning, nor would he have thought it. He knew that Jesus’ love was impartial. The suggestion that he could not use this title of himself is purely subjective and dependent on interpretation, and many would heartily disagree with it, recognising that this was a title claimed in all humility. Indeed if we discount John we might even have to ask ‘who would have applied such a title to only one of the Apostles?’ It only makes sense as the words of a person deeply humbled at the thought, without any thought of self-glorification. That it was John is certain even on critical grounds, for the following reasons:

  • 1). John is nowhere mentioned by name in the Gospel at times when we would most expect him to be, whilst ‘another disciple’ is spoken of at a time when we might expect John to be there.
  • 2). The Baptiser is called simply John, as though it needed no further clarification. This is almost inconceivable except to John the Apostle himself who would think in that way.
  • 3). The one who was in the favoured place next to Jesus at the Last Supper must have been an apostle.
  • 4). The suggestion that ‘the disciple whom Jesus loved’ was an ‘ideal’ disciple has little to commend it, especially as he was one who lay in a favoured place and conversed with Jesus. It is simply to ignore the evidence.

There is thus little reason for denying the title to John the Apostle.

‘In Jesus’ bosom’ - that is lying at His right hand on cushions, with his legs stretched backwards, so that Jesus, leaning on His left elbow, was looking towards him. This is the second favoured place. The first favoured would be on Jesus’ left. The trusted one towards whom a man could turn his back.

(John did not consider it important who occupied the seat to the left but the probability is that it was Peter. Firstly because he was the leading Apostle, and secondly because at the feet-washing we get the impression that he was last, which he would be if Jesus started with John and went anti-clockwise. He could easily have beckoned to John from behind Jesus’ back, and that fits in with the fact that he would probably not have wanted Jesus to know he was doing it. Other suggestions have been Judas or James).

13.24-26 ‘Simon Peter therefore gestured to him, and said to him, “Tell who it is he is speaking about”. He, leaning back as he was on Jesus’ breast, says to him, “Lord, who is it?” Jesus therefore answers, “He it is for whom I will dip the sop and give it to him.” So when he had dipped the sop he takes and gives it to Judas, the son of Simon Iscariot.’

At Jesus’ words it was typical of Peter that he rushed in when all others were silent. All were aware that something solemn was in the air, and they were dumbstruck. But not Peter. Yet even he kept it to a question put in privacy. He hinted to John by a signal that he should question further. It would seem that this episode was private between the three of them.

So John, leaning back as he was, close to Jesus (literally ‘on Jesus’ breast’), says to him, “Lord, who is it?” Then Jesus answers, “It is the one for whom I will dip the sop (broken bread with bitter herbs dipped in a sauce) and give it to him”. It is possible, in fact, that Peter assumed that Jesus had already told John who it was. But He had clearly not done so. Alternately his question may have been deliberately indirect because he did not want Jesus to think that he was asking Him or anyone else a direct question. It was an indirect suggestion that John ask Jesus evidenced by his hand signal. (This is a clear sign of an eyewitness account). Either way John gets the point and asks, ‘Lord, who is it?’

It is not accidental that all were now described as calling Jesus ‘Lord’. By it the writer wishes us to recognise that it was the Lord of glory with Whom the disciples were fellowshipping. While they may have been using a courtesy title which could be translated ‘lord’, it must have had a deeper meaning even then. Thus it bears a double meaning.

Jesus did not denounce the traitor openly. Now that Judas has delivered himself into Satan’s hands He wished him to carry out his evil deed. Thus while Jesus made known to John who it was, He did not bring home to him the importance of the betrayal in mind, and also kept the fact from the other disciples. (This must be so due to what immediately follows). John may well have been thinking that Jesus was referring to Judas’ misuse of the funds, especially when He immediately appeared to send Judas off to buy provisions. He may have thought that Jesus was ‘on to him’. So when Jesus quietly told him that it was the one to whom He would give a piece of dipped bread, John would have no cause to react and prevent Judas from going. He might well have thought that if he did so he would spoil Jesus’ plan.

Then Jesus dipped the bread into the mixture of bitter herbs, vinegar and salt (or alternately one of mashed fruit, water and vinegar), and gave it to Judas. Outwardly, as far as the rest were concerned, this was the final titbit at the end of the meal given to a favoured friend. John, aware that Jesus did not wish the matter known, and not realising how important it was, remained silent (he would not realise that the betrayal was to be fatal, nor that it would happen immediately. Indeed he would see Jesus’ calmness as indicating the opposite). But there was one other who knew, apart from Jesus, how deep was the betrayal, and that was Judas. This final offering of the titbit to Judas was a final chance for him to recognise Jesus’ goodwill towards him. It indicated that Jesus had not given up until there was no hope at all.

13.27 ‘And then, after the dipped bread, Satan entered him. Jesus says to him, “What you are going to do, do quickly”.’

Again we have here a double meaning. We already know that Judas had submitted to Satan, but John stresses it here so that he can add ‘Jesus says to him’, referring to both Judas and Satan. That it was to Judas is certain, but that it was also to Satan who now possessed Judas is also probable. Jesus had no fear of what Satan could do to Him, and He wanted him to know it. Jesus’ words were carefully weighed as far as Judas was concerned, “what you are doing” (just think about the enormity of it Judas) “do quickly”. There must be no delay for, in the final analysis, it was in the purpose of God, and nothing, except perhaps his own conscience, must be able to intervene and stop him. To Satan He was saying, ‘carry on with your evil work. I am ready.’ This was the moment at which Jesus finally gave up on Judas. He was now Satan possessed.

13.28-29 ‘Now no one at the table knew the reason why he said this to him, for some thought that, because he held the communal purse, Jesus was saying to him, “Buy what we need for the feast”, or else that he should distribute something to the poor’.

This confirms the fact that none of them knew the significance of what had happened. The others merely assumed he had duties to perform. (‘No one’, of course, excludes Jesus, and it may exclude the writer. He is speaking of the others). Buying ‘for the feast’ refers to the purchases that will need to be made for the remaining days of the feast of Unleavened Bread, and especially for the next day. The 15th of Nisan was always a ‘sabbath’ but special concessions were made with regard to preparations for meals on that day. That Judas was thought to be able to purchase at night after the Passover meal demonstrates that food sellers made special provision for providing such goods at that time. In the hot weather food could no be stored for long, especially by visitors. Even John probably saw Jesus as laying a trap for Judas.

13.30 ‘He then, having received the dipped bread, immediately went out. And it was night.’

Does the speed at which Judas acted suggest the torment that he was under? He did not stop for a moment for he wanted to get away as quickly as possible. He knew that he must not think about what he was going to do. And once he knew that Jesus knew what he was going to do, he would not have been able to bear being with Jesus a minute longer than was necessary. What a terrible state he had got himself into.

‘And it was night’. Again we should note the double significance. True, it was dark outside, although there would be a bright Passover moon. But the truth is that the darkness was more inside Judas. There had never been such a darkness. The blackness of the darkest night was in his heart. He had forsaken the light of the world. (Compare Luke 22.53, spoken to Jesus’ enemies, ‘this is your hour and the power of darkness’). And what was more, for Jesus also the dark hour had come.

Jesus’ Final Words To His Apostles (13.31-17.26).

This next section, from 13.31 to 17.26, can be seen as the equivalent of the dying words of Jesus. Words spoken on approaching death, and especially on a deathbed, were considered to be particularly potent. There are numerous examples of this in Scripture, like the blessings of Jacob to his sons in Genesis 47.29-49.33, Moses’ farewell words in Deuteronomy 33, the farewell of Joshua to the nation of Israel in Joshua 22-24, and David's farewell speech in 1 Chronicles 28-29. Thus we must see these chapters as essentially spoken to the disciples, although of course we may apply much of what was said more generally as having wider implications. Within them, however, Jesus gives special promises of unique gifts and blessings which were only for His Apostles in their task of establishing the new people of God, the new Israel growing out of the old (15.1-6).

It is noteworthy that they were not spoken until Judas had left the company. They did not apply to him. He had gone out into the night. These instructions and promises were for those who walked in the light of day.

The Path to Glory Which Jesus Must Tread Alone (John 13.31-38).

The opening two verses reflect Jesus’ awareness of the pivotal nature of the situation. As He thought back to the glory which had been His with the Father before the world was (17.5) He saw Himself as now returning to that glory. But it was to be a glory achieved by the glory of His self-offering of Himself. He would be glorified on the cross (nothing brings greater glory to Him than the cross) prior to His being glorified in Heaven.

Glory is a theme of John’s Gospel:

  • The glory of Jesus was revealed in His life among men, ‘we beheld His glory, the glory as the only Son of the Father, full of grace and truth’. Here glory indicates the shining out of truth and love as expressed in His life, teaching and miracles (1.14).
  • Jesus manifested forth His glory in His signs and miracles (2.11; 11.4, 40).
  • Isaiah saw the glory of Jesus in his vision of the LORD in the Temple, ‘these things said Isaiah when he saw His glory and spoke of Him’. Here glory specifically has in mind divine splendour (12.41).
  • Jesus had once had the glory which is His and Father’s before the world was, ‘glorify me with your own self, with the glory which I had with you before the world was’. We may see this as all-inclusive including all of the above (17.5).
  • He will yet be glorified again with the glory that once was His, something which very much has in mind restoration of a status voluntarily relinquished for a period (7.39; 12.16, 23; 17.1, 24).

We note that initially in eternity Jesus had had equal glory with the Father, and that He had revealed that glory in the Temple to Isaiah as YHWH (12.41). It was a glory which He relinquished in order to live among men, taking a lower place, so much so that He could say ‘(at present) my Father is greater than I’. And yet even then it could not be completely hidden for His life had shone forth that glory. In the end, however, it was a glory to which He would be fully restored so that He would have equal glory with the Father.

This is then followed by an attempt to prepare the Apostles for what was coming, and a stress on their need to love one another in view of His soon departure. He is returning to His former glory and status. They are going forward to battle with the world and with Satan, and love is to be their keyword, both His love and their love.

13.31-32 ‘When therefore he had left Jesus says, “Now is the Son of Man glorified, and God is glorified in him. And God will glorify him in himself, and immediately he will glorify him’.

We have here a whole package of glorification. The Son of Man is about to be glorified, and God is to be glorified in Him. Then God will glorify Him in Himself, and will immediately glorify Him. This undoubtedly includes His being glorified on the cross (12.23-27) but equally clearly involves His restoration to the glory that had once been His in His eternal existence (17.5), by way of resurrection and exaltation.

This glorification of the Son of Man is described in Daniel 7.13-14. ‘I saw in the night visions and behold there came with the clouds of Heaven (out of a period of suffering) One like to a Son of Man, and He came even to the Ancient of Days, and they brought Him near before Him, and there was given Him dominion and GLORY and a kingship, that all the peoples nations and languages should serve Him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion, which will not pass away, and His kingship that which will not be destroyed.’ Thus Jesus had very much in mind His entering out of suffering into the presence of the Father to receive eternal glory and kingship (compare Matthew 16.27-28; 25.31 ff; 26.64).

But His words here in 13.31-32 go even further than Daniel, for they include the thought of His being ‘glorified in God Himself’, something expanded on in His prayer in chapter 17 where He prays to be glorified ‘in the Father’s own self, with the glory which He had with Him before the world was’ (17.5). Thus He was not only, on behalf of redeemed mankind, to receive the kingship (Acts 2.35), and in His glorified manhood take His place at the right hand of God, but He was also to be glorified with the Father’s essential glory, and take His place upon the Father’s throne (see Revelation 3.21; 5.6). It is significant that as Glorified Man His place was at the Father’s right hand, whilst in His Own divine glory His position was on the Father’s throne.

Note that Jesus’ statement is specifically connected with Judas’ departure to carry out his Satanic purpose. Events of huge significance were now involved, and Jesus has given permission for them to commence. By His voluntarily allowing Satan’s schemes to go forward Jesus has initiated the procedure which will lead to His full glorification, both on the cross, and then in His final Glory. And He was fully aware of the fact.

So by His words to Judas Jesus has accepted His destiny on the cross, and by it He is to be glorified (12.23-27), and God is also to be glorified in it (compare 12.24-28), for He has willingly given His Son (3.16), revealing His love for men. In this way God commends His love towards us in that, while we were still sinners, Christ died for us (Romans 5.8). Nothing brings greater glory to Father and Son than the cross and what it was accomplishing.

But it would not end there. For God will further glorify Him, first in His own being (‘He will glorify Him in Himself’. Compare ‘glorify Me with Your own self, with the glory which I had with you before the world was’ - 17.5), a glory beyond our comprehension, and then by immediate resurrection and exaltation, when He will be lifted up to the glory of God. So in each step of humiliation, by washing the disciples’ feet, by bidding Judas to go about his purpose, by willingly taking the way to the cross through humiliation and degradation, Jesus was being glorified, and God was glorified with Him. Jesus had to go through it step by step, and the Father had to stand back and watch, while supporting Him in His actions. And then, ‘immediately’, will come the coronation and the final glory. The Son of Man will receive His kingly rule (Daniel 7.14), and the Lord of glory will receive back His glory (17.5)..

13.33-35 “Little children, I am with you for a little while longer. You will look for me, and as I said to the Jews, so now I say to you, where I am going you cannot come. A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another. In the same way that I have loved you, that you love one another. By this will all men know that you are my disciples, if you have love the one for the other”.

Now in the light of the great events that lay ahead Jesus looked with fondness on His disciples, and called them ‘little children’. He saw them as they will be, facing a terrible new world when He has gone. Soon He will not be there to sustain them. Therefore they must sustain each other by the love that they have for each other. He is going where they cannot at present come, and when they look for Him they will not find Him, for He will not be on this earth. His time on earth is over. So their love for each other, the kind of love that He has had for them, will be very important. It will be the mark that they are His. It is indeed something that replaces all the commandments. It is the new commandment. Do we stand the test?

Jesus had previously stressed the two great commandments, ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and soul, and mind and strength’, and ‘you shall love your neighbour as yourself’ (Mark 12.30-31). Now is added this third, ‘you shall love one another, as I have loved you’. Love is at the heart of all true ‘religion’ and this special kind of love was to be a distinguishing mark of the true Christian.

Note the emphasis on the fact that Christ loved the disciples, a repetition of the idea in 13.1. These were ‘the disciples whom Jesus loved’. Any one of them could have spoken of themselves as ‘the disciple whom Jesus loved’ in the consciousness of their own unworthiness.

13.36-38 ‘Simon Peter says to him, “Lord, where are you going?” Jesus replied, “Where I am going you cannot follow me now, but you will follow me later”. Peter says to him, “Lord, why can’t I follow you even now? I will lay down my life for you.” Jesus replies, “Will you lay down your life for me. I tell you emphatically, the cock will not crow before you have denied me three times”.’

The disciples were still not sure what was happening, and what Jesus meant, and so Peter asks Him where He is going. Jesus’ enigmatic reply makes Peter recognise that perhaps death is involved. That, however, does not put him off. He is ready to die for Jesus, or so he thinks. Yes, immediately. Let them go to death together. It was not a question of later. And he meant it.

How careful we should be in our boasting. We all know what happened with Peter. Just as Jesus says, he will shortly deny Jesus three times out of craven fear. But at least he would be there. He did his best but it was just too much for him. All the disciples learned a new lesson in humility that night, and the wonder of their forgiving Lord. No wonder then that Jesus recognised the need for His words of encouragement. But when we think of their failure we must also remember the sinister and dark forces that were at work. All the forces of Hell had been gathered for the coming battle.

Yet in contrast with Judas, out of Peter’s failure would come a new beginning. Only his feet would need to be washed. We too may fail Jesus out of weakness. But if we are willing He will restore us so that we have the strength to overcome. Being His is never a guarantee that we will not fail. It is rather a guarantee that we will not finally fail, because He is our shepherd.

Mark has ‘before the cock crow twice’ (14.30). His is probably the more exact rendering. Rarely does a cock crow just once, and Jesus knew it. But the remaining Gospels are thinking of ‘the cock crow’ as an event of timing each day rather than picturing the actual happening.

Note on The Passover.

The Passover - Was the Last Supper the Passover Meal?

The Passover was the great Jewish festival which commemorated the slaying of the firstborn in Egypt, and the following exodus from Egypt of the Israelites (Exodus 12.24-27), together with those who joined themselves with them (the ‘mixed multitude’) and became Israelite by adoption (Exodus 12.38). The passover lambs were slain on the afternoon of the 14th Nisan (14 days after the new moon roughly in March/April), following the offering of the daily sacrifice, which, by the time of Jesus, was put back in order to leave time for the slaying of the passover lambs, which had to be slain in great numbers. The Passover meal was eaten in the evening (the commencement of 15th Nisan, for the Jewish day began at sunset). There was a specific pattern followed at the meal, although variations within that pattern were allowed. The celebration of the Passover was connected with the seven day feast of Unleavened Bread which by this time was so closely linked with the Passover that the whole eight days of the feast could be called The Passover (Luke 22.1) or Unleavened Bread (Mark 14.12). This specific link with the Passover, which was there from earliest times, is confirmed by Josephus, the Jewish first century AD historian.

It was celebrated in Jerusalem in smallish groups (ten males or more) in individual houses within the city bounds, each group having a lamb. The lambs were slain within the Temple area, which confirms that they were sacrificial offerings. Movement during the evening was restricted to a limited area, although Gethsemane came within that area. Jews living within a reasonable distance were expected to gather in Jerusalem for the feast, and even those who lived far afield among the Gentiles (the Dispersion) made great efforts to attend. Thus Jerusalem might contain around 200,000 people at Passover time (Josephus’ estimate of 3,000,000 is almost certainly exaggerated. It would not have been possible to sacrifice sufficient lambs to meet his figures within the restricted Temple area in such a short time).

The Passover meal would begin with the ritual search by candlelight for any leavened bread which may have been overlooked (it was forbidden at the feast) and the Passover meal would then be eaten reclining. It included the symbolic elements of roasted lamb, unleavened bread, bitter herbs, some other condiments and four cups of red wine mixed with water, at specific points. The first cup was drunk with a blessing (Luke 22.17 probably refers to this cup, although some refer Luke’s reference to the second cup), followed by the washing of hands by dipping in water. Some of the herbs would then be dipped in salt water and given out After this the eating surface would be cleared, and the second cup would be filled.

Before the drinking of the second cup the story of the original Passover was recounted in a dialogue between father and eldest son (or if necessary suitable substitutes). At this stage the Passover meal would be brought back to the table and each of its constituents explained. It is quite possible that one question would be (as it was later) ‘what means this bread?’ The reply was ‘this is the bread of affliction which our fathers ate when they were delivered from the land of Egypt’. (Note the ‘this is --’. It was not, of course, but it represented it)

After these explanations the second cup would be drunk, accompanied by the singing of part of the Hallel, and then there would be a further dipping of the hands in water. After this came the breaking of one or two of the unleavened cakes, which was followed by the giving of thanks. Pieces of the broken bread with bitter herbs between them were dipped in a mixture and handed to each of the company (see John 13.26), and it would appear that then the company would themselves dip bread and herbs into the mixture (Matthew 26.23; Mark 14.20). This was the real beginning of the actual Passover meal. The Passover lamb would now be eaten. Nothing was to be eaten thereafter, although in later times the eating of a final piece of unleavened bread followed. After a third dipping of hands in water the third cup was drunk, again accompanied by a blessing. This cup was considered of special importance. The singing of the Hallel was completed with the fourth cup (see Matthew 26.30; Mark 14.26), and this was followed by prayer. It must be remembered that this was a feast and not a service so that eating and general conversation would be taking place throughout, except at the solemn moments.

It is quite clear that the first three Gospels (the Synoptic Gospels) show the Last Supper of Jesus to be the Passover meal. Jesus sent two of His disciples (Peter and John - Luke 22.8) to ‘prepare the Passover’ (the lamb, the unleavened bread, the bitter herbs, the wine, etc), so that He could ‘eat the Passover with His disciples’ (Mark 14.12-15 and parallels). It was probably one of these who went to the Temple area with the lamb for slaying. The room was ‘furnished and ready’ which may mean that the owner had provided what was necessary. We are told that they ate the meal reclining (Matthew 26.20; John 13.23) as would be expected at the Passover meal.

It is possible that the breaking of bread by Jesus ‘after He had given thanks’ was the same as the breaking of bread at the feast but if so it is noticeable that Jesus gave thanks beforehand because He was enduing it with a new meaning . It could, however, have been that Jesus introduced a second breaking of bread, establishing a new pattern with a new significance. ‘This is my body’ parallels ‘this is the bread of affliction which our fathers ate’. In the latter case it was clearly symbolic, a partaking with the fathers, as it were, in their affliction, but with a sense of real participation. Thus the former is also to be seen as symbolic, a partaking with Jesus, as it were, in His sufferings and their consequence, again with a real sense of participation. The wine, which Paul calls the ‘cup of blessing’ (1 Corinthians 10.16), was probably the third cup given a new significance.

Some have argued that it could not have been the Passover meal. They have argued:

  • 1). A trial would not have been held on Passover night.
  • 2). The disciples would not have borne arms on that night.
  • 3). Simon of Cyrene would not have been ‘coming in from the country’ the following morning.
  • 4). Some Synoptic passages are inconsistent with it e.g. Mark 14.2.

However these arguments are not convincing. Passover time, while the pilgrims were still in the city, might be considered precisely the time when a ‘false prophet’ should be executed in order that ‘all Israel might hear and fear’ (Deuteronomy 17.13). Furthermore the whole affair was carried out in haste probably because Judas’ information made it possible for it to be done secretly and Jesus was there available. They dared not miss such an opportunity.

Mark 14.2 merely expresses the plan of the authorities, which was subject to change if circumstances demanded, while some suggest translating ‘feast’ as ‘festal crowd’ rather than ‘feast day’ which is quite possible.

There was no prohibition of arms being carried at the Passover.

‘Coming in from the country’ need not mean that Simon had been outside the prescribed limits, and indeed he may not have been a Jew. Besides it would always be possible that he had been delayed by some cause beyond his control so that he had arrived late for the Passover.

But this immediately faces us with a problem. John 18.28 seems to suggest that Jesus died at the same time as the Passover sacrifice. That would mean that the scene in John 13 occurred on the night before the Passover feast. Yet as we have seen the other Gospels make clear that Jesus officiates at the Passover feast (Mark 14.12; Luke 22.7), and there can be no doubt that both are depicting the same feast.

However what must be borne in mind is that John 18.28 may be speaking of ‘the Passover’, not as meaning the Passover feast itself, but in a general sense as including the whole seven day feast (compare 2.23 where ‘the feast of the Passover’ is clearly the seven days of the feast and Luke’s use in 22.1). so that ‘eating the Passover’ may refer to the continual feasting during the week (unleavened bread had to be eaten throughout the week and there would be thank-offerings as well) and not to the actual Passover celebration, in which case there is no contradiction.

We can compare with this how in 2 Chronicles 30.22 the keeping of the Feast of the Unleavened Bread (verse 13) which includes the Passover (verse 15) is described as ‘eating the food of the festival for seven days’.

Against this, however we should note that ‘to eat the Passover’ does at least include eating the Passover supper in the Synoptics (Matthew 26.17; Mark 14.12, 14; Luke 22.8, 11, 15). Although that does not necessarily tie the escorts of Jesus to using it in the same way after the Passover supper has passed.

Alternately it has been suggested that in fact the men involved had been so taken up with the pursuit of Jesus into the night as a result of Judas’ unexpected offer to lead them to Jesus in a place where he could be taken without fear of the people, that they had not yet had time to complete their Passover meal. We only have to consider the facts of that night to recognised how involved their night had been! They may well have been disturbed in the middle of their Passover meal and have convinced themselves that such a delay was justified in order to deal with Jesus at what was clearly a crucial moment. Once they had dealt with Him they could go home to finish ‘eating their Passover’, which had been suddenly delayed for reasons of state, with contented minds.

In the same way his reference to ‘the preparation of the Passover’ or ‘the Friday of the Passover’ (paraskeue tou pascha) (19.14) can equally be seen as referring to the ‘preparation’ for the Sabbath occurring in Passover week, i.e. the Friday of Passover week, as it certainly does in verse 19.31, and therefore not to the preparation of the Passover feast itself. Basically the word paraskeue does mean ‘Friday’ as well as ‘preparation’ and the term Passover (pascha) was used to describe the whole festival. If this be the case he gives no suggestion that Jesus died at the same time as the Passover lamb.

Another alternative answer suggests that not all Jews celebrated the Passover on the same day. We do know that the Essenes had their own calendar to which they rigidly adhered, and forbade their members to follow the orthodox calendar, and they would therefore celebrate the Passover on a different day from the priests. And there are grounds for suggesting that Galileans, an independent lot who were looked on by Judeans as somewhat unorthodox, may well have celebrated the Passover a day earlier than Judeans. Thus it may be that Jesus and His disciples, who were Galileans, followed this Galilean tradition, if it existed, and celebrated the Passover a day earlier than the priests.

A further possibility that has been suggested is that in that year the Pharisees observed the Passover on a different day from the Sadducees, due to a dispute as to when the new moon had appeared that introduced Nisan. This is known to have happened around this time. Jesus would thus have been able to observe the feast of the Passover with His disciples and then die at the same time as the Passover sacrifices.

The suggestion that John was either mistaken or changed the day for theological purposes is the least likely explanation. The early church was far too well aware of the fact that the Last Supper was ‘the Passover feast’ for such a change to be accepted, and John would have had it firmly pointed out to him by his ‘backers’ (21.24-25). We must not assume that the leaders of the early church were dimwits. Nor does John emphasise anywhere that Jesus died at the same time as the Passover lamb. Had this been his intention he would surely have drawn attention to it more specifically.

End of Note.

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