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John chapter 13

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What does John chapter 13 mean?

Here begins the private teaching phase of the gospel of John. Through chapter 17, John's text will focus on the words spoken by Jesus in the last hours prior to His arrest. This comes on the heels of an impassioned plea by Christ to the wider world, recorded at the end of chapter 12 (John 12:44–50).

Jesus is portrayed as fully aware of everything happening around Him. Though Judas has made secret plans to turn Jesus over to His enemies, this is not something hidden to Christ. Later, Jesus will make explicit mention of this and even tell the false disciple to leave and complete His work (John 13:1–3).

In the ancient world, people walked on dirt roads covered in mud, animal waste, and assorted trash. Washing of the feet was dirty and usually something a person did themselves. When done for another person, it was always done by someone of a lower status. When Jesus washes the feet of the disciples, Peter is especially scandalized. But, as Jesus explains, there is a purpose for His actions. Before giving that explanation, Jesus points out that there is a difference—corresponding to the spiritual message of His actions—between a one-time "bathing" and daily "washing." That frames the difference between salvation and the need for us to confess our sins to Christ to maintain our fellowship with Him (John 13:4–11).

Jesus explains His act of washing the disciples' feet by taking full ownership of His role as Master. What Jesus did was humble and submissive, but His purpose was not to set aside His Lordship. Instead, Jesus is proving, by example, that all who claim to follow Him are obligated to humility and sacrificial love for others. Spoken or subconscious, the excuses "I'm too good for that," or "that's for lesser people" have no place in the life of a Christian. In making this plain, Jesus gives another hint that one of the men present is not who he seems to be (John 13:12–20).

Different gospel writers include their own details about this last supper. That reflects a truth easily lost when reading about these events thousands of years later: the men present aren't necessarily seeing things in that moment as clearly as we, the reader, can now. Jesus makes an explicit prediction that one of these disciples will "betray" Him. Shocking as that is, it's unlikely the disciples considered something as drastic as what Judas has in mind. Peter attempts to subtly find out who the culprit is, motioning for John—the disciple "whom Jesus loved"—to ask. In the ensuing events, Jesus refers to a sign, and completes it, but the moment passes quickly enough that no one seems to grasp it (John 13:21–26).

At this moment, Judas' choices and resistance to truth bring him past the point of no return (Proverbs 29:1). He is entirely and completely controlled by Satan. Jesus tells Satan / Judas to complete his task, using a Greek phrasing that could be taken in English as either "hurry up" or "let's get this over with." So far as the other men know, Judas is simply on an errand. John, however, places great emphasis on the concept of light. It's not an accident that the text explicitly mentions Judas leaving the presence of Jesus and disappearing into darkness (John 13:27–30).

With Judas dismissed, Jesus begins to issue His final instructions to the disciples. This begins with the command that all Christians are to be known primarily by their love, especially for fellow believers. Jesus is not suggesting this command is "new" in the sense that it has never been stated before (Matthew 22:36–40). Rather, this is a refreshed, re-emphasized priority for love. Jesus' reference to His impending departure gives some of the rationale behind the commandment. Christians need each other in order to survive in a spiritually hostile world (John 13:31–35).

Peter's remark here is not insincere. He really, truly believes that he is ready to die for Jesus. Later, he will even draw a weapon and fight to protect his master (John 18:10). But this is another example of Peter's mouth incurring debts he's in no position to pay. Jesus predicts that Peter will, in fact, completely deny knowing Him three times this very night. Faced with fear and danger, that's exactly how Peter will respond (John 18:25–27). Not only is this prediction a blow to Peter's pride, it probably makes the other disciples suspect that the mysterious traitor might be none other than Peter, himself (John 13:36–38).

The next chapter continues this same flow of thought. Jesus' immediate command "let not your hearts be troubled" comes right on the heels of these uncomfortable conversations (John 14:1). Jesus will reassure the disciples, preparing them to view what's about to happen as prophecy fulfilled, not a disastrous change in plans. That includes Jesus' reassurance that He, alone, is the path to God the Father (John 14:6).
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