Gospel of John 12:37-13:17
37 But though he had given so many signs, yet they did not believe in him, 38 so that the prophecy of Isaiah was fulfilled, when he said, ‘Lord, who has believed our report? And to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?’ 39 Thus, they could not believe, and he hardened their heart: 40 ‘He has blinded their eyes and hardened their heart, lest they should see with their eyes and understand with their heart, lest they should turn, so that I should heal them’. Phillips
Verse 38 quotes Isaiah 53:1, and Phillips has a good translation here. But let us read the three verses that come at the end of Isaiah 52:13-15. “Indeed, My servant shall prosper, Be exalted and raised to great heights. Just as the many were appalled at him—So marred was his appearance, unlike that of man, His form, beyond human semblance—Just so he shall startle many nations. Kings shall be silenced because of him, For they shall see what has not been told them, Shall behold what they never have heard.” Reading on in 53:2-6. For he has grown, by His favor, like a tree crown, He had no form or beauty, that we should look at him; No charm, that we should find him pleasing. He was despised, shunned by men, A man of suffering, familiar with disease, As one who hid his face from us, He was despised, We held him of no account. Yet it was our sickness that he was bearing, We accounted him plagued, Smitten and afflicted by God; But he was wounded because of our sins, Crushed because of our iniquities. He bore the chastisement that made us whole, And by his bruises we were healed. We all went astray like sheep, Each going his own Way; And the Lord visited upon him The guilt of all of us.” Jewish Study Bible If these last verses sound familiar, good; they are the stuff of Easter.
The second quotation is from Isaiah 6:10. Dull that people’s mind, Stop its ears, And seal its eyes—Lest, seeing with its eyes And hearting with its ears, It also grasp with its mind, And repent and save itself.” Verses 8-9 just before this are also worth noting. Then I heard the voice of my Lord saying, “Whom shall I send? Who will go for us?” And I said, “Here am I; send me.” And He said, “Go, say to that people: ‘Hear, indeed, but do not understand: See, indeed, but do not grasp.’” Jewish Study Bible
John only recorded a few of the signs because the Synoptics had covered them effectively. But, as we have seen, John stressed their importance in a way the others had not. His reason was the growing misunderstanding of who Jesus was. John insisted that Jesus was fully human and fully God. Any other position was wrong.
Verse 37 speaks directly to all the people in Jerusalem for Passover, most of whom did not believe the signs they had witnessed, heard, or heard about.
John is not saying that God prevented people from believing in Jesus to fulfill the prophecy. Many people have that mistaken idea from reading the OT. We read that God ‘hardened Pharaoh’s heart in the Exodus story.’ But we fail to see the difference between God forcing someone to do what he does not want to do and God knowing what he will do. The phrase is used in Exodus twenty times, but Pharaoh is said to have done it in the first five. JPS Torah Commentary adds this statement. It is only thereafter [the five] that it is attributed to divine causality. This is the biblical way of asserting that the king’s intransigence has by then become habitual and irreversible; his character has become his destiny.
William Barclay again: When we read a passage like this we must understand it to mean, not that God predestined and pre-ordained certain people to unbelief, but that even man’s unbelief can be used to further the eternal purpose of God. . . . There is nothing in this world, not even sin, which is outside the power of God.
One year, the Temple priest counted all the lambs offered for Passover and came up with 256,500. Ten men were required to join together for one lamb. That alone would put the celebrants over two million, but women and children joined in, so most groups had at least twenty per lamb. Do the math. The average population of the city was about 600,000, but most locals left town for a couple of weeks and let their visiting relatives live in their homes. They did their Passover a month later—called the Second Passover.
41 Isaiah said these things because he saw the glory of Christ, and spoke about him. 42 Nevertheless, many even of the authorities did believe in him. But they would not admit it for fear of the Pharisees, in case they should be excommunicated. 43 They were more concerned to have the approval of men than to have the approval of God. Phillips
John makes a small commentary on the quoted passages from Isaiah with verse 41. John says that Isaiah saw the Messiah and saw him as both the Son of Man and the Son of God.
Since about the second century, Jewish teachers have tried to distance their teachings from what the Christians were doing with passages like those in Isaiah. While we Christians have taken liberties with several bits of scripture, these John quoted from Isaiah were believed to be about the coming Messiah before Jesus’ birth. The early Jewish followers of Jesus said, ‘Oh, that’s what Isaiah meant.’
John adds that Jesus had some success reaching people. Those who believed in the signs wanted to believe Jesus was the Messiah but were afraid to do so publicly. There have been closet Christians for two thousand years. Many of them became followers after Pentecost. Sadly, many never did. How many people over the ages have attended church for a lifetime without ever following Jesus?
The job you have for the paycheck, the friends you hang with, the entertainment you enjoy, how you treat your family should all be a reflection of Jesus.
44 And Jesus cried out and said, “Whoever believes in me, believes not in me but in him who sent me. 45 And whoever sees me sees him who sent me. 46 I have come into the world as light, so that whoever believes in me may not remain in darkness. ESV
Jesus makes it clear that we cannot separate Jesus and God. Jesus is the earthly human image of God. To believe in Jesus and his signs is to believe in God. You may believe in God without believing in Jesus, but not the other way around.
Here is the light again. Without light, we must walk in darkness.
47 If anyone hears my words and does not keep them, I do not judge him; for I did not come to judge the world but to save the world. ESV
This statement is not in conflict with other comments about being the judge. Here, Jesus is talking about being the light. If we accept his light, we will not walk in darkness. If we walk in darkness, we will walk in sin. If we walk in sin, we will receive punishment. If we walk in the light, Jesus will tell God, ‘These are my people, let them in.’ If we walk in darkness, Jesus will tell God, ‘I do not know these people, do not let them enter.’ His job as judge is secondary to his role as savior.
William Barclay says it simply. Jesus did not come into the world to condemn men; He came to save men. It was not the wrath of God which sent Jesus to men; it was the love of God.
48 The one who rejects me and does not receive my words has a judge; the word that I have spoken will judge him on the last day. 49 For I have not spoken on my own authority, but the Father who sent me has himself given me a commandment—what to say and what to speak. 50 And I know that his commandment is eternal life. What I say, therefore, I say as the Father has told me.” ESV
The word that I have spoken will judge him on the last day. Imagine the Word posted on a wall, and I stand in front of the Word; if my image is distorted by sin, I will not look like the Word. Jesus is our judge in that we either look like him or we do not. It is not that simple because all of us are distorted with sin, but Jesus can see what we would look like without the pimples of sin. He can also see when the sin is more than skin deep.
Matthew 25 31 “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. 32 Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. 33 And he will place the sheep on his right, but the goats on the left. NIV
Every word spoken by Jesus came from God. His commands to us came from the Creator of the universe. We cannot ignore the commands.
Matthew 25 41 “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. 42 For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, 43 I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ NIV
13 1 It was just before the Passover Festival. Jesus knew that the hour had come for him to leave this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end. NIV
This reminds us of chapter 2, verse 4. “Woman, why do you involve me?” Jesus replied. “My hour has not yet come.” NIV He also refers to his hour in 7:30, 8:20, 12:23, and 12:27. Now, after three years, the hour has arrived. By now, we should understand that he is not referring to an hour but rather to a period of time—in this case, a week.
The more important statement in this verse is his love for the Twelve and the other disciples. Hundreds had followed him during the ministry, but most fell away. Attracted by the glitz of healing, they never became believers.
We cannot know how many people were believers because many could not walk with him, especially among the women who had homes and children to care for. Jesus’ love for those who could not be with him very often was still strong.
Jesus also loved them to the end. John tells us first that Jesus is getting ready to return to his life in Heaven. Then John tells us that Jesus loved all the people God gave to him on his stay on earth. Further, Jesus continues to love them and will always love them, even to the end of his earthly life and to the end of existence. His love for his ‘people’ knows no boundaries.
2 The evening meal was in progress, and the devil had already put into the heart of Judas Iscariot, Simon’s son, that he should betray Jesus. NET
John speaks of Judas eleven times in the Gospel. In John 6:71, he is called Judas Iscariot, Simon’s son, as he is here and again in 13:26. Nowhere else in the NT is Simon, the father of Judas Iscariot, mentioned, yet, John mentions him three times. My guess is that many of John’s readers in the nineties knew Simon. I like to think because he became a believer and active follower. But it is just as likely he was known for something not so nice.
Note that the devil gets the credit for turning Judas’ loyalties away from Jesus. This is classic Biblically rhetoric, even though verse after verse attests to God being in control. What are we to believe? Did the father-of-lies override God’s plan and corrupt Judas, a faithful follower of the Son of Man? Or did God tell Satan to take Judas for his own? A commonly held notion is that God stays aloof of the world and allows the evil one to do whatever damage he wants.
A careful study of the OT will show us a God very much involved in human affairs even though we remain rebellious and unfaithful. Time after time, God forgives us and helps us recover and rejoin Him in fellowship. True, God’s timing spans decades and centuries while we want instant results. Even His prophets were frustrated with Him occasionally.
The bottom line is that we are covered in sin and living in a sinful world where the devil can function. We must suffer the consequences of living in a sin-filled world—deadly storms, diseases, murders, wars, volcanic eruptions, and all the daily pin-pricks of misunderstandings, even from those we love. God allows the Lier his little victories but never allows him to tear anyone away from the protection of His Son. We, like Judas, can choose to do that ourselves. The evil one is always beside us, ready to help us pull away from God, but powerless to force us to do it.
3 Because Jesus knew that the Father had handed all things over to him, and that he had come from God and was going back to God, 4 he got up from the meal, removed his outer clothes, took a towel and tied it around himself. 5 He poured water into the washbasin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to dry them with the towel he had wrapped around himself. NET
In J. Ramsey Michaels commentary on John, he connects the knowing in verse 1 with the knowing in verse 3. First, Jesus knew, or realized, that his time had arrived. Now, God has filled him with the full knowledge of what is to come. He even understands that he is about to return to Heaven and be with his Father again.
Origen, writing about 230 CE, made this observation. The things, therefore, that were not formerly in Jesus’ hands are given into his hands by the Father. And it is not some things and not others that are given into his hands, but all things. ACCS
Augustine, about 410, wrote, Since the Evangelist was about to relate such a magnificent instance of our Lord’s humility, he first wanted to remind us of his majesty. ACCS
Jesus and God had a unique communication unlike any other human—ever. Because Jesus had a human brain, with all its limitations, God told Jesus what he needed to know at any given time.
Now, Jesus has so little time left as a human that God fills him with all the last details he will need to get through the next few days.
Jesus stood up as they were eating. Read that again—he got up from the meal. All thirteen men were reclining around the table, picking up food with their right hands—even the lefties—talking to one another as at hundreds of other meals.
Jesus stood. Why?
My assumption has long been that no one else was willing to wash everyone’s feet. That does not fit with what we know about the Middle East, then and now. First, they are eating a meal that women prepared for them. Second, two or three of the women would have been at the door to wash the men’s feet as they entered. No one would enter without at least removing his or her sandals. No. One.
We can assume the men reclined with washed feet, so what was Jesus doing? I refer again to J. Ramsey Michaels. In the first three verses, all the participles about what Jesus “knew,” how much he “loved,” and what the devil was up to combine to make the point that the moment for action came in the middle of the meal.
After three years, Jesus is comfortable with the Twelve. They all arrive, have their feet washed, find their places as they talk about the day. The women bring in their food and they begin to eat. For whatever reason, that is when it all came together for their Master. Perhaps his love for them was the final straw. He loved Judas and did not want him to do what he knew he would do.
We think we understand Jesus’ love, but how can we? As the Son of God, his love is perfect; ours is not. In his love, Jesus, during the meal, has to deal with the upcoming failings of all of the Twelve. We stress Judas and Peter in these terrible days; the other ten also failed to speak up and show up. John 19:26-27 may indicate that John stood near the cross. We will look at that later.
Jesus removed his outer clothes, that is, his robe. Underneath was a tunic. That made him look like a lower rank servant. With the towel, bowel, and water, he indeed looked like the servant who sat at the door to wash the feet of all who entered. That is precisely what he intended. The men did not need to rewash their feet; they needed one more lesson in humility and servitude. Time was short, so Jesus acted out a parable. ‘If you cannot do this with everyone you meet, you are not my disciples.’
6 He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, “Lord, do you wash my feet?” 7 Jesus answered him, “What I am doing you do not understand now, but afterward you will understand.” 8 Peter said to him, “You shall never wash my feet.” Jesus answered him, “If I do not wash you, you have no share with me.” 9 Simon Peter said to him, “Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!” 10 Jesus said to him, “The one who has bathed does not need to wash, except for his feet, but is completely clean. And you are clean, but not every one of you.” 11 For he knew who was to betray him; that was why he said, “Not all of you are clean.” ESV
Peter has not changed much in three years. He is still impulsive and naive. He is also a natural leader and willing to speak for the group. It is easy to imagine that there may have been some snickering at his more naïve remarks, but not likely in this case. I believe all of the Twelve were aghast that their Master of three years would undertake a slave’s job for any reason, let alone to care for them.
While Jesus is demonstrating that the disciples should live lives of service—as should we—he is also reminding them that cleanliness is about becoming one with Jesus. Our salvation is 100% in the hands of Jesus. The only way to my salvation is to believe in Jesus. There are no good works that will save me. If I put my faith, life, resources, and existence in Jesus, I will want to do the things he did; not to save me but honor him. The book’s title by Thomas à Kempis says it all: The Imitation of Christ.
In the second part of verse 10, Jesus speaks to the Twelve when he says, ‘you are clean.’ We get that when he adds, ‘not all of you.’ He is not saying that Peter is only partly clean. Some of the Twelve are not clean. John has already said Judas will betray Jesus, so we know who he means.
Judas had no intention of killing Jesus, but Jesus knew his action would result in death. Still, Jesus washed the feet of Judas because he loved him. That is the most challenging lesson to take to heart.
Some people are challenging to be around, let alone love. As a public high school teacher, I must confess to ignoring some students as much as possible. I did not want to poke the rattlesnake. The best teachers dealt with them fairly well.
12 When Jesus had washed their feet and put on his clothes, he sat down and spoke to them, “Do you realise what I have just done to you? 13 You call me ‘teacher’ and ‘Lord’ and you are quite right, for I am your teacher and your Lord. 14 But if I, your teacher and Lord, have washed your feet, you must be ready to wash one another’s feet. 15 I have given you this as an example so that you may do as I have done. 16 Believe me, the servant is not greater than his master and the messenger is not greater than the man who sent him. 17 Once you have realised these things, you will find your happiness in doing them. Phillips
Do you realise what I have just done to you? Several translations use the word for you. The Greek means to you, with you, or by you. The single Greek word, humin, has to be two words in English, but which two. As you can see, for you is not an option according to Strong’s.
So what does Jesus mean; what is his intent? Physically, he did it to the disciples. But he also did it for them to help them understand their servant status. The rest of this passage builds on that image.
A key verse is 16; the servant is not greater than his master. Add to that image the detail that the person responsible for washing the feet at the entrance was the lowest member of the house. In most homes, that was the youngest child capable of the task. It was the lowest and most inept servant or slave in the few wealthy homes.
Jesus did the most menial duty a person could do for anyone in those days.
One of my favorite accounts of what Jesus meant comes from the book Shantung Compound by Langdon Gilkey. As a young man just out of college, he went to China in 1940 to teach English. When the Japanese invaded his region, they rounded up all the foreigners and put them in guarded camps. In the first days in Shantung, no one was in charge because the guards were only there to shoot escapees. Eventually, all the toilets filled up to overflow levels, so people used the floors.
Gilkey writes, And so the situation grew progressively worse. It would have continued so had not some Catholic priests and nuns, aided by a few of the Protestant missionaries, tied cloths around their faces, borrowed boots and mops, and tackled this horrendous job. That inspired the few engineers in camp to work out a way to flush the toilets. They did not learn that at MIT.
As we read the Gospels, we see Jesus meeting the needs of people, healing them especially. That was not his most important job. He had to train a band of a hundred or more disciples to be ready to take over his duties when he ‘moved on.’ The Twelve received the most attention as one of their jobs would be to continue the instruction of the others so they could coach new followers.
You will find your happiness in doing them.
Be Righteous and do Good