John 13 Bible Commentary

John Lightfoot’s Bible Commentary

(Read all of John 13)
1. Now before the feast of the passover, when Jesus knew that his hour was come that he should depart out of this world unto the Father, having loved his own which were in the world, he loved them unto the end.

[Now before the feast of the Passover.] The Vulgar, Beza, and the Interlinear read, Now before the feast day of the Passover: but by what authority they add day it concerns them to make out. For,

I. In the common language of the Jews, the whole festivity and time of Passover, Pentecost, and Tabernacles, no part of that time being excepted; nor does the word feast, occur anywhere throughout the whole Bible in another signification.

II. It is something harsh to exclude the paschal supper out of the title of the feast of the Passover, because the name of the whole feast takes its original from it. This they do who imagine this supper mentioned in this place to have been the paschal supper, and yet it was before the feast of the Passover.

We have therefore shewn, by many arguments in our notes upon Matthew 26:2,6, that the supper here mentioned was the same with that at Bethany, in the house of 'Simon the leper,' two days before the Passover.

2. And supper being ended, the devil having now put into the heart of Judas Iscariot, Simon's son, to betray him;

[And supper being ended.] I acknowledge the aorist, and yet do not believe the supper was now ended. We have the very same word in the story of the same supper, Matthew 26:6; and Jesus being in Bethany: which in St. Mark is and being in Bethany, chapter 14:3: so that supper being ended is no more than 'being' supper.

Let us join the full story together. While Jesus was at supper in the house of Simon the leper two days before the Passover, a woman comes and pours very precious ointment upon his head. When some murmured at the profuseness of the expense, he defends the woman and the action by an apology: and having finished his apology, he rises immediately from the table, as it were, in the very midst of supper, and girds himself to wash his disciples' feet: so that while they are grumbling at the anointing of his head, he does not disdain to wash their feet.

The reason of this extraordinary action of his we may in some measure spell out from those little prefaces the evangelist uses before he tells the story.

I. "When Jesus knew that his hour was come that he should depart out of this world, &c." [There is an expression not unlike this in Bemidbar Rabba; "Abraham said, 'I am flesh and blood, tomorrow I shall go out of this world.'"]

It had a little rubbed up the memory of his departure out of this world, that the woman had as it were anointed him for his funeral: and therefore he riseth immediately from the table, that he might give them some farewell token of his humility and charity, and leave them an example for the practice of these virtues one amongst another.

II. "The devil having now put into the heart of Judas to betray him," it was but seasonable for him to shew his disciples that he would strengthen and vindicate them against the wolf who had now stolen, I will not say a sheep, but a goat, and that out of his own flock. It must not pass unobserved, that 'his disciples' murmured at the lavish use of the ointment, Matthew 26:8; as if the murmuring humour was crept in amongst others also as well as Judas; which perhaps moved Christ the more earnestly to meet the beginnings of that distemper by this action.

III. "Knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands," verse 3, he gave the traitor over to Satan, and confirms the rest to himself: signifying, by the external washing, that his should be secured from the devil by the washing of Christ. Whosoever shall attempt the determination, whether he washed the feet of Judas or not, let him see how he will free himself of this dilemma:

If he washed Judas' feet, why had not he his part in Christ, as well as the rest of his disciples? For supposing that true, "If I wash thee not, thou hast no part with me," why should not this be so too, "If I do wash thee, thou hast a part with me?"

If he did not wash Judas with the rest, but left him out, how could the rest be ignorant who was the unclean person? verse 10, which they were altogether ignorant of.

5. After that he poureth water into a basin, and began to wash the disciples' feet, and to wipe them with the towel wherewith he was girded.

[Into a basin.] "On that day, [when they made R. Eleazar Ben Azariah president of the council] the votes were numbered; and they determined concerning the basin wherein they were to wash their feet, that it should contain from two logs to ten."

[He began to wash the feet, &c.] As to this action of our Saviour's washing his disciples' feet, it may be observed,

I. It was an unusual thing for superiors to wash the feet of inferiors. Amongst the duties required from a wife towards a husband this was one, that she should wash his face, his hands, and his feet. The same was expected by a father from his son. The same from a servant towards his master, but not vice versa. Nor, as I remember, was it expected from the disciple towards his master, unless included in that rule, "That the disciple is to honour his master more than his father."

II. The feet were never washed merely under the notion of legal purification. The hands were wont to be washed by the Pharisees merely under that notion, but not the feet: and the hands and the feet by the priests, but the feet not merely upon that account. That what was said before, concerning the basin wherein the feet were to be washed, must not be understood as if the feet were to be washed upon any score of a legal cleansing; but only care was taken by that tradition, lest through defect of a just quantity of water the feet and the person should contract some sort of uncleanness whilst they were washing.

So that by how much distant this action of Christ's was from the common usage and custom, by so much the more instructive was it to his followers, propounded to them not only for example, but doctrine too.

III. As to the manner of the action. It is likely he washed their feet in the same manner as his own were, Luke 7:38; viz. while they were leaning at the table (as the Jewish custom of eating was) he washed their feet, as they were stretched out behind them. And if he did observe any order, he began with Peter, who sat in the next place immediately to himself. This Nonnus seems to believe; to which opinion also there are others that seem inclined; and then the words he began to wash, must be taken in some such sense as if he made ready and put himself into a posture to wash. But perhaps this way of expression may intimate, as if he began to wash some of his disciples, but did not wash them all; which for my own part I could easily enough close with. For whereas Christ did this for example and instruction merely, and not with any design of cleansing them, his end was answered in washing two or three of them, as well as all. And so indeed I would avoid being entangled in the dilemma I lately mentioned, by saying, he did not only leave Judas unwashed, but several others also. What if he washed Peter and James and John only? And as he had before made some distinction betwixt these three and the rest of his disciples by admitting them into his more inward privacies, so perhaps he distinguisheth them no less in this action. These he foretold how they were to suffer martyrdom: might he not, therefore, by this washing, prefigure to them that they must be baptized with the same baptism that he himself was to be baptized with? and as the woman had anointed him for his burial, so he, by this action, might have washed them for that purpose.

13. Ye call me Master and Lord: and ye say well; for so I am.

[Master and Lord.] Rabbi, and Mar, are titles amongst the doctors very frequently used, both those of Jerusalem and those of Babylon.

23. Now there was leaning on Jesus' bosom one of his disciples, whom Jesus loved.

[Leaning on Jesus' bosom.] "They were wont to eat leaning on the left side, with their feet to the ground, every one singly, upon their distinct beds."

"But when there were two beds, he that was chief sat highest: and he that was second to him sat above him." Gloss: "The bed of him that sat second was by the bolster of him that sat first."

"When there were three, the worthiest person lay in the middle; and the second lay above him; and the third below him." Gloss: "The third lay at the feet of him that was first."

"And if he would talk with him, he raised himself, and sitting upright talks with him." Gloss: "If he that sits chief would talk with him that is second to him, he raiseth himself and sits upright: for so long as he leans, or lies down, he cannot talk with him; because he that lies second lies behind the head of him that lies first, and the face of him that lies first is turned from him: so that it were better for the second to sit below him, because then he may hear his words while he sits leaning." So Lipsius writes of the Roman custom. "This was the manner of their sitting at table: they lay with the upper part of their body leaning on the left elbow; the lower part stretched at length, the head a little raised, and the back had cushions under. The first lay at the head of the bed, and his feet stretched out at the back of him that sat next," &c. To all which he adds, "That the Jews had the very same way of lying down at meals in Christ's time, appears evidently from John, Luke," &c.

So that while Christ and his disciples were eating together, Peter lay at the back of Christ, and John in his bosom: John in the bosom of Christ, and Christ in the bosom of Peter. Christ, therefore, could not readily talk with Peter in his ear (for all this discourse was by way of whispering). Peter, therefore, looking over Christ's head towards John, nods to him; and, by that, signs to him to ask Christ about this matter.

So the Gemara concerning the Persians (I suppose he means the Jews in Persia); when they could not, because of their way of leaning at meals, discourse amongst themselves, they talked by signs either with their hands or upon their fingers.

We must not omit what the Gloss said, that they were wont to sit at table leaning on their left side, with their "feet upon the ground"; this is to be understood when one sat alone, or two at the table only. And the Gemara tells us, that the order was otherwise when but two sat down: for then he that was the second sat below him that was the chief, and not at his pillow.

There was also a diversity of tables: for the ordinary table of the Pharisee, or one of the disciples of the wise men, was but little, where three at most could sit down; and there were tables which would hold more.

The ordinary table is described in Bava Bathra: "What kind of table is that of the disciples of the wise men? Two thirds of the table were spread with a tablecloth; and one third was uncovered, and on this were set the dishes and the herbs."

The ring of the table was on the outside. Gloss: "They were wont to put a ring upon the edge of the table to hang it by." That hanging up the table when they had done using it, seems to have been only to set it out of danger of contracting any defilement; and argues it was but small and light. Now the ring of the table was ab extra, when that part of the table where the ring was was naked, not covered with a tablecloth: so that it was not amongst the guests, but without, viz. in that void place where nobody sat down. We have more in the same place about the ring being placed within or without. Gloss: "If a child sit at table with his father, the ring was without, not among the guests, lest the child, playing with the ring, should shake the table." If a servant be waiting at the table, then the table is so placed (especially if it be night), that the ring is within, lest the servant, in moving to and fro, should happen to touch upon it.

[Whom Jesus loved.] We have touched upon this phrase before in our notes upon Mark 10:21; where, upon those words, "Jesus looking upon him loved him," let us add something omitted there. 2 Chronicles 18:2: and persuaded him to go up to Ramoth-Gilead. Greek: where he loved him is put for "he persuaded him to go up with him to Ramoth in Gilead": and so the Complutensian Bible hath it. Where Nobilius, "He loved him, that is, did him all good offices, and shewed him tokens of great kindness." So Jesus, earnestly beholding this young man, persuaded him, encouraged him, used all mild and gentle words and actions towards him, that he might urge and stir him up to the ways of godliness.

26. Jesus answered, He it is, to whom I shall give a sop, when I have dipped it. And when he had dipped the sop, he gave it to Judas Iscariot, the son of Simon.

[And when he had dipped the sop.] This was a very unusual thing, to dip a sop and reach it to any one: and what could the rest of the disciples think of it? It is probable they took it as if Christ had said to Judas, "What thou doest, do quickly: do not stay till the supper be done and the tables withdrawn; but take this sop to make up your supper, and begone about the business you are to despatch." So they might apprehend the matter; only John, indeed, understood what it meant: unless perhaps Peter, being not ignorant of the question John asked our Saviour, might not be ignorant of what Christ answered him by that action.

27. And after the sop Satan entered into him. Then said Jesus unto him, That thou doest, do quickly.

[And after the sop, &c.] Satan knew well enough what Christ meant by it: for when he saw that by giving the sop Christ had declared which of them should betray him, the devil makes his entry. For as he had entered into the serpent that deceived the first Adam, so he knew the second Adam could not be betrayed but by one into whom he should first enter.

[That thou doest, do quickly.] I would take this expression for a tacit severe threatening pronounced, not without some scorn and indignation against him: q.d. "I know well enough what thou art contriving against me; what thou doest, therefore, do quickly: else thy own death may prevent thee, for thou hast but a very short time to live, thy own end draws on apace." So Psalm 109:8, "Let his days be few." And, indeed, within two days and three nights after this, Judas died.

30. He then having received the sop went immediately out: and it was night.

[Went immediately out: and it was night.] So the traitor goes forth to his work of darkness under the conduct of the devil, the shelter of the night. He was to go two miles, viz. from Bethany to Jerusalem; then was he to seek out and get the chief priests together, to make his bargain with them for betraying Christ. Whether he did all this this very night or the day following, as the holy Scripture saith nothing of it, so is it of no great moment for us to make a business of inquiring about it. It is not so difficult to shew how many difficulties they involve themselves in that would have all this done the very same night wherein the paschal supper was celebrated, as it is a wonder that the favourers of this opinion should take no notice thereof themselves.

33. Little children, yet a little while I am with you. Ye shall seek me: and as I said unto the Jews, Whither I go, ye cannot come; so now I say to you.

[Little children.] "'Behold, I and the children whom the Lord hath given me,' Isaiah 8:18. Were they indeed his sons, or were they not rather his disciples? Hence you may learn that any one's disciple is called his son." Nor is it unlikely but that Christ in calling his disciples here My little children might have an eye to that place in Isaiah: for when the traitor, the son of perdition, had removed himself from them, he could then properly enough say, "Behold, I and the children which thou hast given me."

38. Jesus answered him, Wilt thou lay down thy life for my sake? Verily, verily, I say unto thee, The cock shall not crow, till thou hast denied me thrice.

[The cock shall not crow.] We must not understand this as if the cock should not crow at all before Peter had denied Christ thrice: this had not been true, because the cock had crowed twice before Peter had denied him. But we must understand it, The cock shall not have finished his crowing, &c. Nor indeed was that time above half over before Peter had denied his Master.

The Jewish doctors distinguished the cockcrowing into the first, second, and third. The first they call the cockcrowing. The second, when he repeats it. The third, when he does it a third time. The distinction also amongst other nations is not unknown. When the time indeed was near, and the very night wherein this was to happen, then Christ saith, This very night the cock shall not crow his second time, &c. But here, two days before this night, he only saith, The cock shall not crow, that is, shall not have done all his crowing, before thou deny me. And thus our Saviour meets with the arrogance of Peter, foretelling him that he should not have the courage he so confidently assumed to himself, but should within the time and space of cockcrowing deny him thrice.