John – Part 6 – Chapter 12, verses 37-50 and Chapter 13, verses 1-17

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Many Jews continue in unbelief

John Chapter 12, verses 37-41

Even after Jesus had done all these miraculous signs in their presence, they still would not believe in him. This was to fulfill the word of Isaiah the prophet:

“Lord, who has believed our message and to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?”

For this reason they could not believe, because, as Isaiah says elsewhere:

“He has blinded their eyes
and deadened their hearts,
so they can neither see with their eyes,
nor understand with their hearts,
nor turn—and I would heal them.”

Isaiah said this because he saw Jesus’ glory and spoke about him.

Commentary

The faith of many on Palm Sunday was fickle. Although Jesus had done his miraculous signs in their presence, including the raising of Lazarus, they continued not to believe in Jesus.

This too fulfilled messianic prophecy. Anticipating these days, the prophet Isaiah had asked, “Who has believed our message?” (53:1). Even though the Pharisees feared Jesus’ popularity, in reality the people were rejecting Jesus’ teaching.

Many of these people, especially the Jewish leaders, had become hardened in their hearts against Jesus. They didn’t acknowledge the arm of God at work in his miracles. Finally, as he once did with Pharaoh at the time of Israel’s exodus from Egypt, God blinded the eyes of those who refused to see and closed the hearts of those who had locked Jesus out.

Isaiah had prophesied this unbelief (6:10), and Jesus had quoted him elsewhere (Matthew 13:14,15; Mark 4:12; Luke 8:10) to show why many Jews didn’t recognize his messianic claims and believe. They were locked away in their own unbelief. Isaiah prophesied these things because he had seen the glory of the Lord, the same glory that belonged to Jesus; Jesus was his Lord.

In these words the mystery of Jesus’ divinity surfaces again, and the promise of his exaltation is affirmed. Isaiah spoke about Jesus. Isaiah’s vision saw the Messiah’s great suffering to achieve our salvation and the Messiah’s glory, restored in the resurrection and ascension.

John Chapter 12, verses 42-43

Yet at the same time many even among the leaders believed in him. But because of the Pharisees they would not confess their faith for fear they would be put out of the synagogue; for they loved praise from men more than praise from God.

Commentary

The hostile leaders seemed to be having their way, but still many, even of the leaders, believed in Jesus. Sad to say, the Pharisees succeeded in intimidating them. They hid their real views for fear of being put out of the synagogue. They could not face the humiliation of that, valuing their reputations among the people more than their need to give glory to God. They still loved glory that comes from men more than the glory that comes from God in Christ.

We should not be surprised at this cowardice in faith. Our own lives display it today. How often do we Christians fail to confess our faith because we fear the reaction of those around us?

John Chapter 12, verses 44-46

Then Jesus cried out, “When a man believes in me, he does not believe in me only, but in the one who sent me. When he looks at me, he sees the one who sent me. I have come into the world as a light, so that no one who believes in me should stay in darkness.

Commentary

We learned earlier (verse 36) that Jesus left the crowd and hid from them. It’s not clear if he cried out loudly to them as he was leaving or if he reappeared later to say these words or if the text is not in strict chronological order here. Any of those situations might be accurate. John stresses that Jesus gave one more late witness to those Jews. They needed to hear again exactly who Jesus was and who sent him.

As he had done before (5:19-23; 8:54), Jesus identified himself directly with the Father, who sent him. He described a oneness that is best understood when we know he is God and equal with God the Father (1:1). To believe in Jesus is to believe in the One who sent him. To see Jesus for who he is means to see the One who sent him. No one has seen God at any time (1:18), but everyone who believes in Jesus sees him in faith.

Jesus brings the light of heaven into a dark world (1:4; 8:12). Once we have the light, we have no part with darkness. And we have the light when we believe in Jesus.

John Chapter 12, verses 47-50

“As for the person who hears my words but does not keep them, I do not judge him. For I did not come to judge the world, but to save it. There is a judge for the one who rejects me and does not accept my words; that very word which I spoke will condemn him at the last day. For I did not speak of my own accord, but the Father who sent me commanded me what to say and how to say it. I know that his command leads to eternal life. So whatever I say is just what the Father has told me to say.”

Commentary

Jesus came to give us light and make us at one with God the Father. He caught the people’s attention with miraculous signs and established faith with his teachings. But many, as was just demonstrated, did not guard his teachings as their own. They did not believe he was the Christ from God.

Jesus did not retaliate with judgment. He did not call fire and brimstone down on their heads. Instead, he continued witnessing to the truth. He had not come to judge the world, but to save it (3:17).

That was not to say those who rejected Jesus and did not accept his words would not be judged. To the contrary! By rejecting Jesus as Savior and not accepting the Word, which came directly from God the Father, they turned from salvation and embraced what was left. They shunned the light and found themselves in darkness.

The Word, commanded by the Father and spoken by Jesus, gives eternal life. To ignore Jesus’ Word, then, is to invite judgment to eternal death. Not Jesus, but the Word from the Father is the final arbiter.

Jesus washes his disciples’ feet

John Chapter 13, verses 1-5

It was just before the Passover Feast. Jesus knew that the time had come for him to leave this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he now showed them the full extent of his love.

The evening meal was being served, and the devil had already prompted Judas Iscariot, son of Simon, to betray Jesus. Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God and was returning to God; so he got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist. After that, he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him.

Commentary

The Passover Feast was at hand, and the hour appointed by God had come. Jesus knew what lay ahead. He was preparing “to leave this world and go to the Father.” He was preparing to be our Passover Lamb, through whose blood we escape eternal death.

Jesus used the occasion to demonstrate his complete, unwavering love for his followers, a love he bore to the very end. The timing was crucial, but only Jesus knew how much so. The Passover dinner was underway. It would be Jesus’ last one, and he would institute his Supper, as the other gospels had already recorded. The devil had worked on Judas Iscariot to betray Jesus. Still, Jesus was in control. The Father placed everything into his hands. He had come from God and was returning to God. Heaven’s plan was coming together, and it was up to the Son to see it through.

So Jesus, to show his deep love for his disciples, rose from the dinner and served them as a slave would serve his master and his master’s guests. Jesus washed their feet. Usually a slave was appointed to do that when the guests entered the house from the dusty paths. But on this night, Jesus and his disciples apparently didn’t enjoy such service. When Jesus rose during the meal to do the servant’s job, he called special attention to his ministry as servant.

This was God’s servant, his chosen one, at work (Isaiah 42:1). This was God who took on himself the form of a servant and humbled himself even to death (Philippians 2:6-8). When God does the work of a slave for man, that’s love! Even so, Jesus was but foreshadowing his ultimate act of service, the cross.

John Chapter 13, verses 6-9

He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, “Lord, are you going to wash my feet?”

Jesus replied, “You do not realize now what I am doing, but later you will understand.”

“No,” said Peter, “you shall never wash my feet.”

Jesus answered, “Unless I wash you, you have no part with me.”

“Then, Lord,” Simon Peter replied, “not just my feet but my hands and my head as well!”

Commentary

Simon Peter, as might be expected, could not sit still and let his Lord abase himself so. Incredulous, Peter asked, “Lord, do you wash my feet?”

Jesus understood Peter’s misgivings. How could Peter realize that Jesus’ act of humiliation was preparatory to his abject humiliation on the cross? He told Peter that everything would become clear in time—after the events about to pass. Peter should simply trust Jesus.

But Peter was too upset to let it go at that. “No,” he insisted, “you shall never wash my feet.” He didn’t realize what he was saying.

Jesus responded in a way he had other times, such as with the Samaritan woman at the well. His answer had spiritual meaning, although Peter kept thinking only of the physical washing. He told Peter he had no part with Jesus if Jesus didn’t wash him.

Jesus was not talking about cleaning dirty feet, but cleaning sin-soiled hearts. We belong with Jesus only when he washes us clean from our sins. He must serve us in order for us to have a relationship with him.

Peter’s upset turned to enthusiasm, but his emotional response clearly missed the point. He didn’t distinguish between the physical and spiritual washing.

John Chapter 13, verses 10-11

Jesus answered, “A person who has had a bath needs only to wash his feet; his whole body is clean. And you are clean, though not every one of you.” For he knew who was going to betray him, and that was why he said not every one was clean.

Commentary

Jesus picked up the thought from Peter’s remark. Because they wore sandals and walked on dusty roads, travelers could not avoid getting their feet dirty. A person who has bathed before leaving home, however, needed to have only his feet washed when he arrived at his host’s home. So Peter’s request served no purpose. With cleaned feet, his whole body was clean.

Then Jesus reverted to the spiritual dimension. The disciples were clean, their sins washed away by Jesus. But not all of them were clean. One had refused Jesus’ forgiveness and was plotting instead to betray him. Jesus knew what was coming and so spoke as he did.

John Chapter 13, verses 12-17

When he had finished washing their feet, he put on his clothes and returned to his place. “Do you understand what Ihave done for you?” he asked them. “You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and rightly so, for that is what I am. Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you. I tell you the truth, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them.

Commentary

Jesus completed washing the disciples’ feet. Then he taught a lesson that all his disciples can take to heart. The disciples called Jesus their “Teacher” and their “Lord.” He was that. The word “Lord,” in particular, indicated that he had authority over them. He was their master. In truth, they saw him also as the Lord of heaven. His disciples needed (and still need) to serve him.

But now the Teacher and Lord had served his followers in love. Jesus washed dirty feet as an object lesson of the spirit that should typify their attitudes toward one another—a humble spirit of forgiveness, love, and service. They should do as he had done.

The lesson still applies to us. It tells us that a true leader is one who serves others. It tells us that a follower of Jesus will act in humble service as Jesus did.

Some take the words literally to mean we should wash one another’s feet. But Jesus called the act an “example,” or a way of representing what he wanted. He was demonstrating the principle of loving service to others.

By actually demonstrating such loving service to them, he impressed them with more than words. Then he stated the solemn truth (“amen, amen”) that servants and messengers, as they were to him, are not greater than their master and sender. Oh, the arrogance of anyone who would think he or she was too good (better than the Lord Jesus) to serve in love!

Because we know these things from him, we are blessed by him when we do them. Many Christians have known those blessings from loving service over the years. But they don’t boast except in Christ (Jeremiah 9:24; 1 Corinthians 1:31; 2 Corinthians 10:17; Galatians 6:14).