One of the distinctive characteristics of John's gospel has been the long discourses that Jesus delivered. In chapters 1-12 these long discourses are delivered to the public - to the Jews usually. The disciples play a relatively minor role in John 1-12 when compared with their role in the Synoptic Gospels. They are rarely addressed and even then it is only for a few short verses as in John 4:34-38 and 6:67-70.
John 13-17 continues the pattern of long discourse(s). However, the audience shifts. Jesus addresses the disciples and the crowd disappears. It has been growing increasingly clear that Jesus was about to die. John 11:45-12:36 ended the suspense. "The hour has come," Jesus declared in 12:23. But before that hour actually takes place Jesus has two final agenda items to take care of. First he must make his last appeal to the Jews. Second, he must prepare his disciples for the coming crisis that will accompany his death.
The passage studied in this lesson sits astride the turning point. John 12:37-50 describe Jesus' final public appeal, the unbelief of the Jews, and Jesus' final statement. John 13 begins Jesus' special ministry to the disciples. There is no sustained discourse in these verses. In fact, the basic form is primarily narrative. However, John always uses the dialog in narrative sections to present the theological issues. John 13:1-20 describes Jesus washing the disciples' feet and his interpretation of that event. John 13:21-30 presents Jesus anticipating and almost precipitating his betrayal by Judas.
John 12:37-50 - Jesus' Final Public Appeal
Jesus had concluded his prediction of his coming death in John 12:23-36 with a passionate appeal to walk in the light and to believe in the light. He gives one of the strongest "evangelistic" appeals to be found in the gospel of John urging the pre-Passover crowd to faith in himself. The final part of verse 36 states that Jesus departed and hid himself. This provides a brief interlude in which John can take the stage and provide us a commentary on the Jewish response to Jesus. Then Jesus returns to center stage and delivers his final public appeal to the Jews of Jerusalem in verses 44-50.
Verse 37 sums up John's comments. Even after Jesus had done so many signs the Jews still did not believe. The reference to "signs" takes the reader all the way back to chapter 2 where the first "sign" had been done at the changing of the water into wine. Like a string of fine pearls John had lined up miracle after miracle with plenty of interpretation all designed to convince the Jews to believe.
In John's mind those miraculous signs were not simply miracles of the past. The Greek construction of the verb translated "done" (or "performed") indicates that John saw continuing results flowing out of those miracles. In fact, that reflects part of the reason he calls them signs instead of miracles. Just as after a sign is posted it continues to give directions, so Jesus' miracles continued to point toward faith. But the Greek verbal construction also highlights the perversity of the Jewish unbelief. The verb "believe" is constructed in such a way as to communicate that the Jews kept on and kept on in unbelief. The picture is one of constant refusal to believe.
It is one thing to be slow to believe - many of us are. It is another thing to continue to refuse to believe when the evidence has been overwhelmingly brought to bear. John, like Paul in Romans 9-11, is at a loss to explain why the Jews continued to disbelieve.
Like many people when they don't understand, he explains it in terms of the will of God. Scripture had prophesied this very thing and John appeals to two passages from Isaiah. The first passage comes from Isaiah 53:1, which verse 38 quotes verbatim from the Greek translation of the Old Testament. Lord, who has believed our report and to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed? In the original context of Isaiah 53 these words express the astonishment of the surrounding nations at God's exaltation of the disfigured servant of the Lord.
Though the New Testament writers rarely use Isaiah 53:1 it perfectly fits John's need at this point. First, it made use of the word "believe," which is extremely important to John. Many Old Testament verses contain the idea that John has in mind. Deuteronomy 29:4 is often mentioned as a verse expressing John's thoughts at this point. But the Deuteronomy 29 passage does not use the word "believe" and Isaiah 53:1 does. As a result John gives a direct and full quotation (a rare thing for him) of the verse.
A second attractive feature of Isaiah 53:1 is how closely connected it is with death. The unfolding of the rest of Isaiah 53 in terms of the suffering servant who dies for the people fits right in with John 11:50 and Caiaphas' unwitting prophecy. The combination of the word "believe" and the theme of atoning death in Isaiah 53 provide John the perfect verse to quote at this stage.
Another advantage of Isaiah 53:1 is that its parallelism points to both Jesus' words and his signs. "Who has believed our report?" assumes a spoken word. All of the discourses of Jesus, all of the detailed arguments with the Jews are in view here. "To whom is the arm of the Lord revealed?" turns the focus to activity. Even after all these signs that Jesus has extended his arm to accomplish, the Jews still don't believe. This leads John to a conclusion that often strikes us as mind-boggling. Because of this Scripture, John says in verse 39, the Jews could not believe. They were predestined to disbelieve because the Bible prophesied it. He then buttresses his argument with another prophecy from Isaiah in verse 40.
Here John turns to Isaiah 6:10, which appears to be the most popular Old Testament verse to explain Jewish unbelief in the early church. It is quoted in Matthew 13:14-15, Mark 4:12, Luke 8:10, Luke 19:42, and in Paul's final speech in Acts 28:26-27 in addition to its use here in John. If God had predestined the Jews to this kind of rejection the next logical step is to conclude that He cannot hold them guilty for rejecting Christ. That is precisely the step that John does not take, nor - do I think - did he even think of it. The Roman Catholic commentator, Raymond Brown put it this way:
Verse 41 makes it clear that Brown is quite right. John states that Isaiah spoke these verses because he saw his [Jesus'] glory and spoke concerning Jesus. In fact, the verses from Isaiah don't speak of Jesus, nor of his glory. It seemed that John had quoted them to prove that the Jews were destined to disbelieve. Then he says that they (the verses) speak of Jesus. That is John's shorthand way of saying that Isaiah saw the unfolding of God's great plan of salvation. In spite of disbelief, in spite of amazement and rejection, God had a man who would be faithful in preaching (Isaiah 6) and in dying an atoning death (Isaiah 53).
The Jews are not off the hook because of predestination. The appeal is still to every one of them to believe. But the pattern of disbelief of the group simply fits into the much larger picture of God's persistent love. That is what Isaiah saw. For John, Jesus' glory is ultimately his atoning death that expresses the awesome love of God (John 3:16).
Verses 42 and 43 also make it clear that John did not see any loss of free will. In spite of what he has just written, many of the rulers believed in Jesus. The prophecy did not close the door to a personal decision on the part of many Jews to accept Christ. (John himself is a notable example of a Jew who believed.) Indeed, their freedom found expression in negative as well as in positive ways. Though they had chosen to believe they chose not to confess their faith because of fear of the consequences.
John's disapproval is quite clear from his sarcastic assessment in verse 43. They loved the glory of men rather than the glory of God. Though Nicodemus provides us a historical example of the fence straddling that John describes, his vehemence is probably directed as his own day. The reference to being put out of the synagogue in verse 42 is same Greek word used in John 9:22. As mentioned there the word came into regular usage in John's time to describe Jewish excommunication of Christians from synagogue worship. John was most concerned about the "closet Christians" of his time who wanted to believe in their heart, but keep their mouth shut to protect status and security. If he was disturbed about believers who wouldn't say so for fear of persecution, how much more would John be concerned about those of us who want to believe but don't want to make public profession of our faith?
Abruptly the interlude is past; John the commentator disappears from the stage and Jesus reappears for his final public appeal. The first verb in verse 44 literally means "to cry out" and many translations keep that meaning. However, it was often used for the proclamation of a prophet. One writer paraphrases verse 44, "This is the content of the proclamation of Jesus." In other words, John 12:44-50 provide a summary of Jesus' message.
Verses 44 and 45 are important because the first item in Jesus' summary is his relationship with the Father. After all the emphasis on believing in Jesus in the preceding verses, Jesus declares that believing in him is not believing in him but is believing in the Father-God who sent him. No book in the New Testament has a higher view of Christ and the deity of Christ than the gospel of John. No book in the New Testament is as emphatic as John that the role of Christ is to reveal the Father. The goal of religion is to come to the Father. The way is through Jesus. That is why Christians have prayed to God the Father in Jesus' name through the centuries. Sometimes the focus of Christians stops with Jesus; the goal of Jesus was for us to see the Father. Verse 45 then declares that if one has seen Jesus he has seen the Father. Focus on Jesus will enable us to see what Jesus wants us to see - the Father. But that only happens as we pay attention to Jesus' goal for us.
Verses 46-48 pick up two themes that have been common in Jesus' preaching. He is the light of the world. This was first stated in John 8:12 and beautifully illustrated in chapter 9 in the healing of the man who had been born blind. Verse 46 reiterates the goal of Jesus, the light coming to the world. He came so that the believer would not have to remain in the darkness. The word "remain" is one of John's significant words. It speaks of abiding, staying, and having one's secure place. The believer may encounter darkness; we may even have to pass through some darkness; we may feel as though the darkness is assaulting us. But the believer does not have to stay in the darkness; we don't abide there; it is not our place, thanks to Christ.
Verse 46 also indicates that Jesus' purpose is salvation not judgment. Verses 47 and 48 explicitly state that. Jesus is not on a vindictive mission to "get" those people who do not accept him. However, because his mission is to reveal the Father rejection of Jesus means rejection of God. God is the judge who will judge anyone who disbelieves. But even God is not vindictively ready to pounce on the unbeliever. Jesus' word stands as an objective standard of judgment. In the final analysis every person's judgment comes from his or her own response to the word of Christ.
The climax of Jesus' teaching comes in verses 49 and 50. Once again it is couched in the description of Jesus' relationship with the Father. But the goal of all Jesus' ministry is eternal life according to verse 50. In the mind of John (and of Jesus) eternal life is not some future state of the believer in heaven. Eternal life is literally the life of the age - the new messianic age, the age of the Spirit that is breaking into history in Jesus. God's will is that everyone would reject the present, evil age and move into life in the age of Christ. That eternal life begins the moment one believes in Christ and can be a present reality throughout both life and eternity.
John 13:1-20 - Jesus Washing the Disciples' Feet
This passage has three sections: verses 1-3 form an introduction, verses 4-11 narrate the foot washing, and verses 12-20 present interpretation of the foot washing
Verses 1-3 introduce both the narrative of the foot washing and the whole set of upper room discourses. Verses 1 and 2 place Jesus with the disciples at supper before the festival of the Passover. Later context will indicate that this is the night before the Passover. There is no indication of a change of location until John 18:1 when Jesus and the disciples get up and leave after "these words."
Thus John 13-17 is presented as the events and discussion of a single evening the night before the Passover. The transition from Jesus’ public ministry to his final night with the disciples is mentioned in verse 1. Jesus knew that his hour had come; it was time to depart from this world, but he loved the disciples. As a result there was serious work to do with the disciples on his final night. The long Last Supper discourse section with its heavy theology is a result of Jesus' love for his disciples.
God's love for us expressed in Christ is neither a release from careful and hard thinking nor from the discipline of laying down one's life for another. Rather, God's love is an invitation to such careful thinking and sacrificial living. The contemporary emphasis on the love of God is very healthy; its separation of the love of God from critical thinking and sacrificial living is very unhealthy.
The story of Jesus' knowledge of Judas' betrayal will not come until verses 21-30. However, John, in an editorial aside, gives the reader a sneak preview of that terrible sin in verse 2. The contrast is vivid. Jesus loved them [his disciples] to the end. The devil has already tampered with Judas' heart to betray Jesus. The contrast is heightened by the following story. Judas betrays Jesus for a few coins. Jesus washes Judas' feet. One cannot avoid the question that verse 2 forces into our minds. Who would you rather be like, Jesus or Judas? John gives the powerful event of Jesus’ washing the disciples' feet an even greater impact by contrasting it with Judas' self-serving betrayal.
Verse 3 is the final important preface to the foot washing. Jesus washes the disciples' feet in the confidence of his relationship to the Father. He knew the Father had given everything to him; he knew he had come from God; he knew he was returning to God. With that knowledge Jesus was able to lay aside the symbols of earthly power and serve the disciples' need.
Judas had no such confidence with the Father. He had no identity arising from a trusting relationship with a heavenly Father. As a result he had to grasp and claw to get anything he wanted. He lived in constant competition. He had to get other people before they got him. A Judas cannot serve; he can only grasp for a power that cannot be obtained by grasping (see Philippians 2:6-8). It is only when we come to understand who we are in relation to God that we can truly serve. When we are confident of our standing in Him then we have no need to play earthly power games and we are free to perform the most menial tasks in service to others. The continued playing of power games suggests that we do not enjoy that confident trusting relationship with the Father.
The foot washing arose from a very specific cultural context. In Palestine in Jesus' time, almost all travel was done by walking; there was almost no pavement, and the footwear was sandals. Dirty feet were the inevitable result. To wash one's feet was not a high priority for common people in the ordinary course of events. But for special occasions, what we would call formal dining events especially, foot washing brought hygiene, comfort, a touch of class, and a great sense of refreshment. A good host provided this gracious service for guests on arrival. It was done by one of the lowest ranking servants because it was not considered a pleasant task! Jewish documents indicate that occasionally a student would wash his rabbi's feet.
The fact that the meal was already begun and no foot washing had happened indicates that the disciple(s) responsible for setting up the meal had failed to get someone to perform this menial task. John does not comment on why the disciples' feet had not been washed. He simply tells us that Jesus began the process. There is no condemnation stated for the one who failed in his responsibility. But in that culture Jesus was the last person in the room that should have been washing people's feet. The disciples' human understanding of status and rights was being turned upside down. In the Kingdom of God roles are reversed and human understandings of status and rights are abolished.
Peter has not played a prominent role thus far in the gospel of John. However, he emerges in these final chapters as a key figure though he seems to represent those who don't really understand Jesus. The Greek construction in verse 6 suggests that he sputtered his objection: "Lord, are you going to wash my feet?" The reversal of roles being demonstrated by Jesus was so mind-boggling that Peter could not construct a coherent sentence.
Jesus' reply in verse 7 indicates that true understanding could only come later. Literally, the Greek says understanding will only come "after these things." The implication is that all the events of Jesus' death, resurrection, and giving of the Spirit would have to occur before Peter could understand. Peter's failure to understand is evident in his refusal to submit to what Jesus was doing.
On the surface Peter's refusal seems to reflect a fine motivation. He wasn't about to let Jesus suffer the humiliation of doing low ranking servant work. However, the refusal also reveals a problem often seen in Peter and in us. He wanted Jesus to be confined to a certain pre-conceived idea that Peter had about the Messiah. That pre-conception of Messiahship also brought benefits to Peter.
When Jesus washed the disciples' feet both Peter's awareness of who and what Jesus was and of what effect that would have on Peter's life emerge. Peter did not want to face the changes in his life that following a servant Messiah would mean. Jesus clearly understood that Peter's real problem was Peter not Jesus, as his reply in verse 8 indicates. If I do not wash you, you have no part with me. Acceptance of Jesus is all or none. We cannot pick and choose the aspects of Christ and thus of Christlikeness that are most appealing to us and reject the rest.
Peter's demand for a whole bath instead of just a foot washing shows that he is still trying to control Jesus rather than submitting. Jesus' reply in verse 10 has generated almost endless discussion about baptism. However, two points are clear regardless of what one thinks about baptism. First, the issue is not foot washing versus whole body baptism. Jesus wanted to wash Peter's feet and Peter was resisting. The issue is obedience; submission to Christ is what was at stake. Until we submit to the will of Christ, until we obey, we have no part with him. The second point that is obvious in verse 10 is that cleansing is Jesus' goal for us and it is related to obedience.
Jesus' interpretation of the foot washing in verses 12-20 focuses on the reversal of values that come with the Kingdom of God. He described the foot washing as an example. If he - as Teacher and Lord - had washed their feet, then they also ought to wash each other's feet.
Verse 14 has been the basis for a variety of small groups to require foot washing as a part of their practice of the Christian faith. Some of them argue that foot washing as just as much Biblical warrant to be a sacrament as does baptism and the Lord's Supper. Several observations are in order. First, this is the only mention of foot washing in the entire New Testament. References to baptism and the Lord's Supper are far more frequent.
Second, as sacraments, baptism and the Lord's Supper, are symbols of God's grace to us. Their symbolism points to God reaching out to us. The symbolism of foot washing is us reaching to others - a valid, but different matter from the sacraments.
Third, there is no evidence that the literal practice of foot washing was understood to be the command of Christ by the early church. Foot washing as a religious ceremony emerges several centuries later and, interestingly, in a culture where folks did not wear sandals and where there was not a slave class that normally performed the task.
Finally, to argue about foot washing, to debate whether a woman's nylon stockings must or must not be removed, and to attempt to force someone else into the practice is to miss the whole point. When we play power games over this issue we certainly aren't following Christ's example.
John 13:21-30 - Judas' Betrayal Is Revealed
The shift from the interpretation of the foot washing to Judas' betrayal was already taking place in verses 18 and 19. In a larger sense the foot washing is a preparation for the scene unfolded in verses 21-30.
Jesus becomes troubled in spirit and announces that one of the disciples will betray him. Obviously, this message distresses the disciples to no end. The text makes it clear that they were reclining in the typical Palestinian fashion around the table. They were not sitting as Western people do around a table. Rather the table was very low and they were stretched out on cushions and pillows placed on the floor. The customary method was to lie on one's left side supported by the left forearm and elbow and to eat with the right hand stretching toward the table to take the food. Thus eye contact is difficult and no one can see everyone at once.
The point of understanding this arrangement is that private conversations with the people in front and behind you (not beside) were easy and more common than general conversation. Conversation straight across the table was also possible in a limited fashion. Peter apparently was across from Jesus and the disciple whom Jesus loved. He asked the beloved disciple to find out whom Jesus was talking about. The conversation about the "morsel" or "piece of bread" was just between Jesus and the beloved disciple.
The fact that John portrays this meal as happening the night before the Passover rather than as a Passover meal raises questions about the meaning of the "morsel." However, it appears that the "morsel" was a sign of special favor and it was considered a special treat or blessing to receive it. This would mean that Judas received the morsel with only the beloved disciple knowing that it was a sign of who would betray Jesus. All the rest of the disciples and perhaps Judas himself saw it as a special honor extended to Judas. Verses 28 and 29 show that the other disciples did not suspect Judas at all.
We should not miss the connection between the foot washing and the scene of the announcement of the betrayal. From a human perspective awareness of betrayal would cause anger, the desire for revenge, and especially a strategy to prevent the betrayal. But, (verse 1) Jesus loved his disciples to the end; he even loved Judas to the end. Jesus' response to Judas is to protect him and to offer him another chance to change his mind. The "morsel" was a final invitation of love, to stay and to become a true disciple. But because the hour had come Judas could not enjoy the luxury of more time for decision. Jesus' statement in verse 27 said to Judas, "There is no more time for fence straddling. You must choose and you must choose now." Verse 30 records Judas' choice. He left.
John then adds the chilling comment, "It was night." The daylight of opportunity had passed for Judas. He had chosen the darkness where there is no light. The reader is again confronted with the awesome choice. Do you want to be like Jesus or like Judas?
Study Questions for Reflection and Discussion
These readings and study questions are in preparation for next week's lesson.
As you study each day ask the Lord to speak to you through His Word and for the Holy Spirit to make the Scripture alive and meaningful to you that day.
First Day: Read the notes on John 12:37-13:30. Look up the Scripture references given.
1. Identify one or two new insights that became important for you.
2. Select a truth for which you see a specific and personal application for your own life. Describe how it would apply to you.
3. Do you love the glory that comes from men more than the glory that comes from God? Ask the Lord to deal with specific areas of your life where this might be a problem.
Second Day: Read John 13:31-14:21. Now focus on John 13:31-38.
1. What characteristic of discipleship does Jesus lay down as essential in these verses?
2. What do you think Jesus meant in verse 31 when he said, "Now the Son of Man has been glorified?" Does the context of chapter 13 suggest more applications of this statement?
3. What does the general context of John 13-19 suggest will be necessary for us if we are to love one another like Jesus loved us?
Third Day: Read John 14:1-31. Focus in on John 14:1-14.
1. What great "I AM" statement appears in these verses?
2. Why is the last half of verse 1 an appropriate response to the first half of verse 1?
3. What is your favorite verse or phrase in verses 1-14? Why?
Fourth Day: Read John 14:1-31. Focus again on John 14:1-14.
1. What promise is given the disciples in verses 8-14?
2. Summarize Jesus' teaching about the Father in these verses.
3. What is the condition for doing greater works than Jesus? What do you think verse 12 means?
Fifth Day: Read John 14:1-31. Now focus in on John 14:15-24.
1. What titles are given to the Holy Spirit in these verses? What is the significance of those titles?
2. How does verse 18 relate to the promise of the Spirit? Is that happening in your life?
3. Summarize the relationship between love and obedience that Jesus presents in these verses. Is one possible without the other? Why or why not?
Sixth Day: Read John 14:1-31. Focus in on John 14:25-31.
1. What role of the Holy Spirit is described in these verses?
2. Describe the peace of Christ that is mentioned in these verses.
3. Are there circumstances in your life that have not received the peace of Christ? What can you do so that the peace of Christ will touch every area of your life?