STUDY 17: JOHN 13 - THE LAST SUPPER
© Rosemary Bardsley 2009
John’s Gospel contains no reference to Jesus instituting Holy Communion. We can, however, be certain that the meal, the teaching, and the prayer recorded by John in chapters 13 to 17 occurred on the same night on which the other gospel writers report the institution of the Lord’s Supper. John is giving us additional, and extremely significant, information. Here in these chapters in John we are taught truths that were not for the crowds, but for the ears of believers only. These are the important things Jesus wanted the eleven faithful disciples to know before he died. We also have here the prayer he prayed to the Father in their presence. He is preparing them, even through the footwashing in Chapter 13, for his arrest, his death, his return to his Father, and for their life as his people in his physical absence.
A. INDICATIONS OF DEITY
Although Chapter 13 does not contain any familiar powerful claims like those in the chapters we have considered so far, it nevertheless presents Jesus as One who is the Sovereign Lord.
- He is the omniscient One who knows the future, and who knows the inner thoughts and intentions of the heart of man [various verses].
- He is the ‘Lord and Master’ [ 13:14 ] into whose power the Father has put all things [13:3], who came from God [13:4] and was returning to God. This ‘all things’ that are under his power include the people who are about to betray, malign, falsely accuse, convict and crucify him. His impending death, which is very much present in this chapter [13:1,18, 21, 31-33, 36], is under his power, in his hands. Those who presumed that was in their power were mistaken [John 19:11 ].
- So significant, so powerful, so great is Jesus, that he is not threatened by assuming the role of a servant. Nothing can diminish his true identity. His humility in this servant-role of washing the disciples' feet is symbolic of his humility in identifying as our substitute in his sin-bearing death by which we are cleansed. [13:7-12]
- He and his Father share a common glory [ 13:31 -32]. This glory will be manifested in the death of Christ on the cross.
- He is the ‘I AM’ [ 13:19 ] – where the Greek reads ‘so that when it happens you will believe that I am’. Jesus is about to be crucified. When that happens the disciples will be shaken; it will seem impossible then for them to believe his claims. But here he reaffirms the claims he has been making all along: that he has the right of divine being to call himself ‘I AM’, and that unless a person believes that he is the ‘I AM' they will die with their sins unforgiven [See John 8:24 ,58]. He warns them of his death in advance, so that when it happens they will still believe. The death is not a denial of his claims. It did not overtake him; rather, he, in sovereign power, takes hold of death and uses it for his eternal purpose.
As you read through John 13 make a list of seven things that Jesus knows. Five are explicit; two implied.
B. JESUS PREDICTS HIS DEATH AND ITS SAVING IMPACT
Like Chapter 12 this whole chapter anticipates the death of Christ.
‘It was just before the Passover Feast’ - 13:1
Mention of the Passover Feast brings the death of Christ into focus. We, reading after the event, know that this Passover is the final predictive Passover. Beyond this Passover, implemented at the time of this Passover, is the grand eternal reality that it symbolized and predicted. The one death which gave efficacy to all previous Passover deaths is about to happen.
‘Jesus knew that the time had come for him to leave the world and go to the Father’ - 13:1
As we have seen in Chapter 12, the time has come, the time to which the whole of human history, and the progressive revelation of God’s purpose, has been heading, has come. Here the goal of the incarnation will be accomplished and Jesus will return to the Father. Note that the death, resurrection and ascension of Christ are all in focus here.
The spiritual significance of footwashing - 13:1b-12
John wrote: ‘having loved his own who were in the world, he now showed them the full extent of his love’ [13:1b].
It is easy to assume that John is here referring simply to the deeply humble action of Christ in washing the disciples’ feet: that Christ by this physical action showed them the full extent of his love. But when we stop to think about this, we realise that, while this is indeed an expression of servant love, it in no way actually shows of Jesus’ love. The full extent of Jesus’ love is demonstrated in his sin-bearing death on the cross.
Christ’s conversation with Peter [6-10] directs us to this real meaning of this foot-washing: it is a dramatic allegory of that sin-cleansing death of Christ. Jesus stoops to wash their feet, taking upon himself this lowest of servant roles in a household; he washes away the filth and the grime. Peter in his human pride does not want to permit this. : Jesus, the divine Lord, made himself nothing – he became a human being, he took our sin upon himself in his death, and by that death he washes away our sin. Our human pride does not want to permit this. We think that we can by some means or other cleanse ourselves, get ourselves right with God. But Jesus says to us: Unless I wash away your sin, you have not part with me.
Thus this footwashing powerfully represents to us the incarnation and the death of Christ, its impact, and its necessity; it also powerfully teaches us of our absolute individual, personal need to be spiritually washed by Christ.
Jesus realizes that they did not understand the spiritual significance of what he has just done [13:7,12]. They will understand only later, after his death and resurrection. [If this incident was just about foot-washing and humble service it would have been understood there and then; it would not have needed the clarifying events of Christ’s death and resurrection.]
Note the sequence of spiritual truth presented in this incident:
- The divine origin and identity of Jesus 
- The putting aside of his obvious deity [4a]
- The incarnation – putting on human flesh [4b]
- The humiliating, sin-bearing death [5-10]
Note also that there is one who is not ‘clean’ spiritually, even though Jesus washes his feet physically [10b-11; compare this with 15:3 which was spoken only to the faithful eleven disciples]. Because Judas has not taken on board the word of Christ, and thus not believed that Jesus is the one he claimed to be, the death of Christ can do nothing for him. The sin-cleansing effect of the death of Christ applies only to those whose mind and understanding [belief] is cleansed by the Word. Christ’s death cannot save/cleanse Judas for he has not believed in him.
The moral significance of the footwashing - 13:13-17
Here again we stand in danger in minimizing the meaning of this incident. When Jesus says ‘you also should wash one another’s feet. I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you’ [14b,15] he is saying far more than that we should wash each other’s feet; he is also saying far more than that we should serve each other humbly. The deep spiritual meaning of the footwashing – the forgiveness of sin – is what Jesus is commanding us to copy, to imitate.
Thus the scripture says:
Matt 6:12 ,14-15
If Christ, the Holy One of God, against whom we have offended utterly, has forgiven us – has washed off his record of our sin – then who are we to stand on our perceived dignity and importance and refuse to wash our brother’s sins off our record of those sins? Are we greater than Christ that we cannot humble ourselves in this way? [ 13:16 ]
The immanent departure
Just as Jesus told the Jews [ 7:33 -36; 8:21 -22] so he tells his disciples: I’m going away, and you can’t come where I’m going [ 13:33 ]. He is going to his death – a unique death that not one of us can share or experience, for it a death in which he bears all the sins of the world. Beyond the death and resurrection he is going to return to the Father. Some teachers understand Jesus’ to mean that the disciples cannot go there with him, and at one level this is true; but at another level, the scripture teaches us that we are already, in Christ, seated in the heavenly realms [Ephesians 2:6]. In addition, in the very next chapter Jesus indicates that they can actually go to his ‘Father’s house’ – in fact, he is going there to prepare a place for them.
[It is interesting that here Jesus says to these eleven genuine disciples ‘but you will follow later’ [ 13:36 ], whereas he did not add this qualification when he earlier told the Jews they could not come.]
C. THE JUDAS QUESTION
We have just noted the fact that Judas was not saved, and that the death of Christ could do nothing for him unless he changed his belief about Christ [10,11].
There are additional facts about Judas in this chapter:
The role of Satan in Judas’ action
John comments that ‘the devil had already prompted Judas Iscariot … to betray Jesus’ , and that ‘as soon as Judas took the bread, Satan entered into him’ .
Up until the point of time reported in verse 27 Judas could have pulled out of his betrayal of Jesus. Indeed, his position close to Jesus at the meal table, and the honour given him by Jesus in handing him the piece of bread, are both unspoken opportunities for repentance and faith offered to him, even at this last minute, by Jesus.
That Satan has this power over Judas is not surprising: speaking to unbelieving Jews in 8:44 , Jesus said ‘You belong to your father, the devil.’ In betraying the Christ Judas is simply doing the work of the one he belongs to. As far as Jesus is concerned any opposition to God, whether intentional or ignorant, has its origin in Satan [Matthew 16:23 ], who uses humans, not demons, to do most of his work in this world.
But here in God’s grand sovereign economy, even this work of the devil is but an instrument whereby God brings his eternal purpose to pass. Satan, who thinks he will here put an end to God’s Christ, is unwittingly bringing about his own defeat.
Judas’ relationship to Jesus
- One of the twelve, and therefore exposed to much more of Christ’s teaching than the crowds and the Pharisees. From the other gospels we learn that he was sent out on mission along with the others [Matthew 10:1-8] and, we assume, participated with them in the ministry Jesus gave them to do.
- A disciple, but not a believer. He listened to Jesus’ teaching, but he did not believe what he heard.
- The treasurer of the group of disciples [John 12:4-6; 13:29 ], with a reputation for stealing from the funds.
- One of those chosen by Christ [John 6.70,71]; but not chosen in the same way as the others 13:18 ].
Judas and the scriptures
Judas is the one of whom the scriptures spoke [John 13:18 ; 17:12 ; Psalm 41:9]. He, the only one of the twelve to be ‘lost’ [Greek: destroyed], is he who is called ‘the son of destruction’. God doesn’t make Judas sinful; he makes use of Judas’ sinfulness, weaving it into his almighty plan and purpose.
Jesus’ attitude to Judas
Jesus is extremely gracious and compassionate towards Judas; right up to the betrayal none of the other disciples knew that Judas was an unbeliever:
- Jesus sent him out to participate in spiritual ministry, just as he did the others – to heal the sick, cast out demons, and preach the kingdom.
- He gave him the treasurer’s job even though he was a thief.
- None of the other disciples knew what Jesus was talking about here in John 13 on this last night, or what he sent Judas out to do [28,29].
- Although Jesus has made illusions to Judas’ non-genuine association with himself and the coming betrayal, he does not identify him by name [6:70; 13:10 ,11,21-29].
- Even at the moment of betrayal the love of Christ challenges Judas [Luke 22:48 ].
It disturbed Jesus that Judas, one of the twelve, would betray him [ 13:21 ]. The fact that this betrayal is foretold by the Scripture does not take away its pain; nor does it take away the pain Christ feels for this lost soul.
D. THE NEW COMMANDMENT
Jesus begins to speak to his disciples about the love that should characterize them [34-35]. With his mind full of his immanent death/departure he is telling them that they must love each other with the same love that he expresses ultimately in this death. In a way, he is summarizing the foot-washing lesson in terms of love. It is this ultimate forgiving love that washes away all vengeance, retribution and grudges, that he says will identify them as his disciples and impact all men.
But he cannot continue to talk about this love, he puts it aside and does not really come back to it until 15:9-17. They are not ready for it for his talk about leaving them has unsettled them [ 13:36 ; 14:1-5], and he must first address their fears before he can further define this love.