Jesus speaks to the apostles in chapters 13-16, on the eve of his death. For an excellent study on John 13:31-17:26, read The Last Discourse, by James Greig.

Even though he knows that Judas is about to betray him, Jesus remains focused. In these final moments with his disciples he shows the true nature and quality of his love: he washes their feet (vv.2ff), a deed is recorded only in the gospel of John.

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13:1 Now before the festival of the Passover, Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart from this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end. The devil had already put it into the heart of Judas son of Simon Iscariot to betray him. And during supper Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going to God, got up from the table, took off his outer robe, and tied a towel around himself. Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was tied around him. 

  • The "hour" -- Jesus continues to act in God's timing. This theme will reach a crescendo at the cross.
  • 13:5 ties in to 12:3.
    • There, after anointing his feet, Mary washes them with her hair. Here, Jesus washes the feet of his apostles.
    • As the verbs are the same in both passages, the connection is esp. obvious in the Greek: exémaxen [12:3] and ekmássein [13:5].

He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, “Lord, are you going to wash my feet?” Jesus answered, “You do not know now what I am doing, but later you will understand.” Peter said to him, “You will never wash my feet.” Jesus answered, “Unless I wash you, you have no share with me.” Simon Peter said to him, “Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!” 10 Jesus said to him, “One who has bathed does not need to wash, except for the feet, but is entirely clean. And you are clean, though not all of you.” 11 For he knew who was to betray him; for this reason he said, “Not all of you are clean.”

  • Peter objects (v.6ff). Pride sometimes keeps us from accepting God's grace, even though we are sorely in need of it. And yet without washing, we cannot be right with God.
  • Foot washing was later considered so menial a task that Jewish slaves and children could not be required to do it (Mekh. Exod. 21.2.82a, based on Lev. 25:39). Gentiles, however, were an exception to this rule.

12 After he had washed their feet, had put on his robe, and had returned to the table, he said to them, “Do you know what I have done to you? 13 You call me Teacher and Lord—and you are right, for that is what I am. 14 So if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. 15 For I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you. 16 Very truly, I tell you, servants are not greater than their master, nor are messengers greater than the one who sent them. 17 If you know these things, you are blessed if you do them. 

  • Jesus calls the apostles to imitate him, to actively love others (v.12ff).
  • If he, the master and teacher, was willing to wait on others in humbling ways, how much more ought we, his servants and students, to be willing to serve?
  • For the words to Untitled, scroll all the way down.
  • Knowledge is a liability if we don't live out to what we have been taught (v.17).
  • Question: Is foot washing for today? Foot washing represents all actions of loving service rendered to one another. Surely we mustn't limit concrete expressions of love to the washing of feet! That would violate the spirit of the passage, which directs us to serve others as Christ served -- not in one way only, but in a multitude of ways. For more on this, listen to the podcasts on Bible & Culture.

18 I am not speaking of all of you; I know whom I have chosen. But it is to fulfill the scripture, ‘The one who ate my bread has lifted his heel against me.’ 19 I tell you this now, before it occurs, so that when it does occur, you may believe that I am he. 20 Very truly, I tell you, whoever receives one whom I send receives me; and whoever receives me receives him who sent me.”

  • The betrayer (v.18ff) will commit a heinous act.
    • In Eastern culture, to share bread with another created a bond not easily broken. To break this bond so vilely was unthinkable.
    • Psalm 55.13-14 -- how hard it must have been to take it from a friend! (And yet in John 15:15 Judas is among those no longer called servants, but friends, as he has already embarked on his treacherous errand.)
    • The O.T. reference is Psalm 41:9. Jesus had trusted Judas, and was deeply hurt by his disloyalty (even though he knew that Judas would turn on him).
  • Jesus knew in advance that Judas would fall away. Yet in the Bible, divine foreknowledge does not remove free will. It simply has access to the future as yet in the process of being determined. 
  • How we treat Jesus is how we are responding to God. Thus, in betraying Christ, Judas was rejecting the Father. 

21 After saying this Jesus was troubled in spirit, and declared, “Very truly, I tell you, one of you will betray me.” 22 The disciples looked at one another, uncertain of whom he was speaking. 23 One of his disciples—the one whom Jesus loved—was reclining next to him; 24 Simon Peter therefore motioned to him to ask Jesus of whom he was speaking. 25 So while reclining next to Jesus, he asked him, “Lord, who is it?” 26 Jesus answered, “It is the one to whom I give this piece of bread when I have dipped it in the dish.” So when he had dipped the piece of bread, he gave it to Judas son of Simon Iscariot. 27 After he received the piece of bread, Satan entered into him. Jesus said to him, “Do quickly what you are going to do.” 28 Now no one at the table knew why he said this to him. 29 Some thought that, because Judas had the common purse, Jesus was telling him, “Buy what we need for the festival”; or, that he should give something to the poor. 30 So, after receiving the piece of bread, he immediately went out. And it was night.

  • Jesus becomes troubled in spirit (v.21ff).
    • He is deeply hurt that one of his own disciples is betraying him.
    • The disciples have no idea which one of them it is. This is amazing, as it shows Jesus treated Judas the same as the others. None understands Jesus' conversation with Judas. (Only "the disciple Jesus loved" -- possibly John or someone else -- is shown the identity of the traitor.)
  • When Judas took the morsel, Satan "entered him" (v.27). I believe this indicates Judas at that point crossed the point of no return. True repentance was no longer possible. Jesus then calls Judas to a decision -- a quick one.
  • Despite the brightness of the full moon of Passover, "it was night" (v.30).
  • Jesus knows that there is no going back.
    • With the end so clearly in sight, he speaks of how his death will glorify the father (vv.31-32).
    • See 7:39; 8:54; 11:4; 12:16,23,28; 17:1,5; and also 21:19.

31 When he had gone out, Jesus said, “Now the Son of Man has been glorified, and God has been glorified in him. 32 If God has been glorified in him, God will also glorify him in himself and will glorify him at once. 33 Little children, I am with you only a little 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.’ 34 I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. 35 By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

  • Jesus knows he will soon die. Yet despite the shame that the world will attach to the event of the crucifixion, Jesus knows that this is a matter of glory.
  • The new commandment (v.34ff) is set in the context of Jesus' departure (death).
  • V.34 is the second of the three "disciple" passages in John (8:32; 13:34; 15:8 or 16).
  • The Lord keeps the focus on relationships -- as he has done all along.

36 Simon Peter said to him, “Lord, where are you going?” Jesus answered, “Where I am going, you cannot follow me now; but you will follow afterward.” 37 Peter said to him, “Lord, why can I not follow you now? I will lay down my life for you.” 38 Jesus answered, “Will you lay down your life for me? Very truly, I tell you, before the cock crows, you will have denied me three times.

  • Peter can't follow Jesus (to death) just yet. But he will later -- and in chapter 21 Jesus will allude to the execution of Peter.
  • Peter swears he will lay down his life for Christ, but Jesus predicts the triple denial of the overconfident apostle. In chapter 21 Jesus will three times put a question to Peter, implicitly recalling the denials.
  • Talk is cheap. As the proverb says, if we faint in the day of adversity, how little is our strength (Pr 24:10).


Was it from a couch
  Or from heaven he arose that night?

Was it to the floor
  Or to the earth he descended that night?

Was it with towel
  Or human flesh he wrapped himself that night?

Was it with water
  Or with blood he washed them clean that night?

Was it to his to his table
  Or to his throne he returned that night?

That night!
  That night!
    That staggering night!
When men argued for greatness
  And God was on his knees