John Chapter 13

The-Gospel-of-JohnBETRAYAL –  John must have also had his future readers in mind when he wrote “though not everyone is clean.” If among the original disciples there was one not true, future groups of disciples would also discover among themselves those who were false followers. This happened later in the first century and has continued through the years. Many have betrayed Christ and his people.

Today’s readers of John should heed this implicit warning: Are we clean? Will our commitment stand firm and our faith sure no matter what’s happening around us? Will we be prepared to endure even when those who have seemed strong in the faith fail?

This and other helpful *Life Applications are in today’s reading.

 Jesus Washes the Disciples’ Feet / 13:1-20

The first twelve chapters cover three years; the next six chapters cover one night.

13:1-2 Because Jesus was fully aware that his hour had come to leave this world and return to his Father, he devoted his last hours to instructing and encouraging his disciples. Jesus continued his devotion to his disciples until the very end of his life, showing them in this last night the full extent of his love. Before he left them, he wanted to express his love to them, one by one—and this he would do in a way that would surprise them.

The supper was probably the official Passover meal, indicated by verse 1. And this was a special Passover, for it was the last meal Jesus would eat with his disciples. During this meal he would institute the “Lord’s Supper” (see Matthew 26:17-30; Mark 14:12-26; Luke 22:7-39). The context indicates that the food was being placed before them, but the meal itself had not been eaten (see 13:26, 30).

Jesus had already called Judas “a devil” in 6:70 because Jesus knew that Judas would cooperate with the Devil in perpetrating Jesus’ death. Thus, the Devil and Judas corroborated in Jesus’ betrayal. Indeed, Satan entered Judas to carry out the actual betrayal (see 13:27).


Jesus knew that one of his disciples had already decided to betray him. Another would deny him by the next morning. Even this night, they would all desert him. In the next hours they would repeatedly display ignorance, laziness, and lack of trust. It was indeed a sorry lot that gathered in the upper room. Even with good reasons to reject the entire group, Jesus deliberately showed to them the full extent of his love. The actions, words, and feelings that he shared with his disciples conveyed the highest form of love because his disciples did not deserve nor immediately appreciate this love.

Jesus knows us as fully as he knew those disciples. He knows intimately of every time and every way that we have denied or deserted him. Yet knowing us, he willingly died for us. Jesus continually displays his love toward us and reaches out to us. He continues to serve us in the Lord’s Supper, and he guides and encourages us by his Spirit. He serves us as we serve one another. Are we prepared to love one another with the same kind of love Jesus demonstrated for us?

13:3-5 Jesus, the Son of God, knew his origin and his destiny. He knew that he would soon be returning to his Father. Being assured of his own destiny, he focused his attention on the disciples and showed them what it meant for him to become their Servant and for them to serve one another. At the time so near to the revelation of Jesus’ true identity and glory, he set aside what was rightfully his and expressed his character through an act of humility. He got up, took off his robe, and wrapped a towel around his waist like an apron. He then poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet.

Jesus was the model servant, and he showed his servant attitude to his disciples. Foot washing was a common act in Bible times. People traveled mostly on foot in sandals across the dusty roads of Judea. When entering a home, it was customary to wash one’s feet. To not offer to wash a guest’s feet was considered a breach of hospitality (see Luke 7:44). Washing guests’ feet was a job for a household servant to carry out when guests arrived (1 Samuel 25:41). It was a subservient task. What was unusual about this act was that Jesus, the Master and Teacher, was doing it for his disciples, as the lowliest slave would do.


The other Gospel writers record a discussion the disciples had on the way to this meal when they argued about who would have the greatest position in the new kingdom. Jesus’ humble service contrasted sharply with their search for high places of prestige in the kingdom. Unselfish service to each other and to those not part of the inner circle was to be one of the distinctive marks of Jesus’ true disciples (see 13:34-35). When we feel the temptation to pride or to competitive comparisons with other believers, the antidote will be a healthy dose of service. One great starting place would be to pray for those we serve who most irritate us!

 13:6-9 All the disciples accepted the washing until Jesus came to Peter, who questioned Jesus: “Lord, why are you going to wash my feet?” Jesus did not provide Peter with an explanation, other than that Peter would understand the significance of the washing some time in the future. Later in the New Testament, Peter explains his understanding of what Jesus had done (1 Peter 5:5-6). Peter came to realize that humble service meant obedience to Christ. When Jesus washed the disciples’ feet, he was demonstrating his ultimate sacrificial act—giving his life for them on the cross.


Some people serve naturally. For Jesus’ friend Martha, serving others came easily and graciously. For many, hospitality is their gift.

For others, serving is an ordeal. If they do not feel inept at their efforts, the work exhausts them. Or they become angry when their service goes unappreciated. For these, hospitality becomes an uncomfortable chore.

Some find it difficult to accept service from others. (Servers may be part of this group.) Being helped makes them feel inadequate or vulnerable. They are unable to be gracious when they are not in control.

We need to remember that the true point of serving is to obey and imitate Jesus Christ. Likewise, accepting service from others is accepting Christ’s service. Christ elevated serving others as the highest pursuit to which we can dedicate our lives.

But at this moment, Peter didn’t understand: “You will never wash my feet!” he protested. Seeing the Master behave like a slave confused Peter. And Peter did not feel worthy that his Master should be acting like a slave toward him! This was not an expression of arrogance but of confusion. Peter felt he should be washing the Master’s feet—not the other way around.

Jesus responded: “But if I don’t wash you, you won’t belong to me.” There are two possible meanings for this sentence: (1) Jesus meant that unless he washed away Peter’s sins by his death on the cross, then Peter could have no relationship with him. (2) Jesus meant that unless Peter submitted to him and allowed Jesus to minister in this way, Peter would never learn the lesson of humility. Either way, Peter seemed to grasp the significance of Jesus’ words, for he then wanted to be bathed completely.

13:10-11 After one has bathed, another bath is not necessary at the end of the day. The person is still clean—except for the feet, which are constantly soiled by the dust of the ground. A clean and bathed person just needs to have his or her feet rinsed. According to the customs of those times, once a person had bathed, he or she needed only to wash his or her feet upon entering a person’s home.

To be bathed by Jesus meant to be washed by his living word. To receive Jesus, nothing is required of the believer except humble acceptance of what Jesus has done. Peter had to sit and humbly allow Jesus to wash his dirty feet in order to understand that to accept the salvation Jesus offers means to humbly accept his death on the cross for all sins.

When Jesus said, “You are clean, but that isn’t true of everyone,” he was referring to Judas Iscariot (see 13:18) and suggesting that Judas was not a true believer. Though Jesus had washed Judas’s feet, Judas was not clean, for he had not come to believe in Jesus as the Messiah, the Son of God. Jesus already knew that this man would be used by Satan to bring about the events that unfold in the final chapters of this Gospel.


John made it clear that Judas was the specific reason Jesus said, “though not all of you.” But John must have also had his future readers in mind. If among the original disciples there was one not true, future groups of disciples would also discover among themselves those who were false followers. This happened later in the first century and has continued through the years. Many have betrayed Christ and his people.

Today’s readers of John should heed this implicit warning: Are we clean? Will our commitment stand firm and our faith sure? Will we be prepared to endure even when those who have seemed strong in the faith fail?

13:12-16 Jesus’ act of washing the disciples’ feet demonstrated love in action. Jesus was their Teacher and Lord, meaning he was on a higher level than they; yet he assumed a position of humility and service because he loved those he served. Jesus commanded his disciples to wash each other’s feet—to serve one another in love according to the example he set. To refuse to serve others, to refuse to humble yourself, no matter how high your position, is to place yourself above Jesus. Such arrogant pride is not what Jesus taught.


Some churches and groups still practice foot washing today. In shoe-clad cultures it has little more than symbolic use. But as such, it can still teach a valuable lesson. In Jesus’ day, feet were washed for two practical reasons: to remove dirt and to be hospitable. Jesus did not perform a special or unusual act; his taking on a servant’s duties stunned the disciples.

Instituting foot washing today would be missing Jesus’ primary lesson. He was not inventing a clever way to serve others; he was serving others in a very common way. Today we ought to think of foot washing as an example of servant leadership. Other ways we can show a “foot washing” attitude include:

  • Taking on a menial task or accepting a lesser role.
  • Not insisting on our “rights” or “privileges.”
  • Meeting others’ needs before meeting our own.
  • Looking for a job no one else will do and cheerfully doing it.
  • Focusing on the results being achieved, not who is getting credit.

These disciples would soon be sent out as the messengers for the Christian church. They would be leaders in many places—indeed, James, John, and Peter became the leaders of the Christian church in Jerusalem. Jesus taught these soon-to-be leaders that as they labored to spread the gospel, they first and foremost had to be servants to those whom they taught. The disciples must have remembered this lesson often as they labored with the problems, struggles, and joys of the early believers. How many times they must have remembered that they were called to serve. And what a difference it made! Imagine how difficult the growth (even existence) of the early church would have been if these disciples had continued vying for spots of greatness and importance! Fortunately for us, they took Jesus’ lesson to heart.

13:17 We are blessed (happy, joyful, fulfilled), not because of what we know, but because of what we do with what we know. God’s grace to us finds its completion in the service we, as recipients of his grace, perform for others. We will find our greatest blessing in obeying Christ by serving others.


When Jesus talked about “knowing” and “doing,” he meant a needed service that we have identified but not rendered. Most of us are surrounded with opportunities for service that we have simply left undone. By doing nothing, we forfeit Christ’s blessing.

  • Do you know someone who needs a visit or a word of encouragement?
  • Do you have a possession you no longer use that would help someone else?
  • Is there a menial task (like cleaning) that regularly goes unfilled?
  • Are there trying duties that beg to be done—nursery, teaching classes, being youth sponsors, etc.?
  • Do you know a friend or work associate with whom you have never spoken about your faith?

Jesus promised personal spiritual benefits as you act on these opportunities.

13:18-19 Jesus’ previous statements about serving and loving one another did not apply to all of his disciples because, in fact, one of his disciples (Judas) was about to betray him. However, this betrayal was not an unexpected event, for Jesus had known from the beginning that one of the men he chose would betray him (6:70-71). Jesus’ betrayal was necessary to fulfill Scripture—specifically, Psalm 41:9. Jesus drew from Psalm 41 because it describes how one of David’s friends turned against him. This may have referred to the story of David’s trusted companion, Ahithophel, who betrayed David and then went and hanged himself (see 2 Samuel 16:20–17:3, 23). Judas, who had been with Jesus and was a trusted companion (Judas was keeper of the money), would betray Jesus and then hang himself.

Jesus had known all along that Judas would betray him (see 6:64, 70-71; Matthew 17:22-23; 20:17-19), but he predicted the betrayal in the presence of his disciples so that they would realize, when the betrayal actually occurred, that it had been prophesied in Scripture (see Acts 1:16). This would strengthen their faith.

13:20 This verse follows the thought of verse 16, where Jesus spoke of being a servant to the one who sent him. He would send forth his disciples so that whoever would welcome them would welcome Jesus and, in turn, welcome the one who sent Jesus—God the Father.

 Jesus and the Disciples Share the Last Supper / 13:21-30

At this point in the dinner, the mood shifted, partly as a reflection of the ominous tone Jesus used in verse 18. Apparently the food was on the table, and they may have already been eating. Moments later, in answer to John’s direct question, Jesus indicated his knowledge of Judas’s betrayal by handing him the bread that he had dipped in the bowl. The rest of the disciples could not understand the meaning of Judas’s abrupt departure.

13:21-26 Jesus was in great anguish of spirit over the coming betrayal, even though he knew that the betrayal had been foreordained. His inner turmoil was expressed when he said, “The truth is, one of you will betray me!” Jesus’ pronouncement caused great consternation among the disciples. It was not obvious who the betrayer was. Judas, as keeper of the money, may have been the one they would least suspect.

Peter motioned to the one who was sitting beside Jesus to ask who the betrayer was. So that disciple, the one Jesus loved (identified as John, the author), asked Jesus, “Lord, who is it?” Jesus identified the betrayer as “the one to whom I give the bread dipped in the sauce.” Jesus dipped the piece of bread into a dish filled with a sauce probably made of dates, raisins, and sour wine. Having said this, Jesus dipped the piece of bread and gave it to Judas. Ironically, a host offering a piece of bread to a guest was a sign of friendship. Jesus’ act of friendship was his identification of the betrayer. Later, in the Garden, Judas would identify Jesus to the guards with another sign of friendship—a kiss (Luke 22:47-48).


Judas had a fatal misconception of who the Messiah would be. Many Jews expected a military or political deliverer who would expel the oppressors and bring peace to Israel. Few were open to having their picture of the Savior clarified.

How well does your view of Jesus match the man who takes shape in the Gospels? From what sources have you developed your view of Christ? Does your picture limit him? To what degree does your view of Jesus put him under your control?

13:27-30 After Judas ate the bread, Satan entered into him. Thus the betrayal was set in motion. Satan would use Judas as his tool to accomplish his evil plan. But Satan’s part in the betrayal of Jesus does not remove any of the responsibility from Judas. Judas may have been disillusioned because Jesus was talking about dying rather than setting up his Kingdom. Or perhaps Judas didn’t understand Jesus’ mission and no longer believed that Jesus was God’s chosen one. Whatever Judas thought, Satan assumed that Jesus’ death would end his mission and thwart God’s plan. Like Judas, Satan did not know that Jesus’ death was the most important part of God’s plan all along.

Jesus said to Judas, “Hurry. Do it now.” No one else at the table understood, but Judas did. Jesus identified Judas so tactfully that all the disciples missed the significance of the act: they did not connect Jesus’ earlier statement (“One of you will betray me”) with his present exchange with Judas. Despite the disciples’ misunderstanding, the stage was quickly being set: Judas left at once, going out into the night. The last statement recounts the actual time yet also symbolizes the spiritual condition of Judas. He was in darkness, under the control of the prince of darkness, Satan.


Judas took the bread in what looked like a gesture of fellowship and love between himself and Jesus. Apparently, none of the other disciples knew of his thoughts of betrayal. Judas had completely concealed his hypocrisy from his peers. Yet Christ knew his heart.

If we try to conceal our hypocrisy (professing to live for Christ but not having real commitment), we may succeed in fooling our friends and family. But Christ knows each person’s real thoughts and desires. People may be convinced by our exterior sham, but God searches our hearts (see 1 Samuel 16:7). Judas’s life teaches us that hypocrisy can lead to satanic control. Judas’s betrayal should strengthen our resolve to follow Christ no matter what temptations or opposition we encounter.

Jesus Predicts Peter’s Denial / 13:31-38

After Judas’s departure, Jesus spoke of his own glorification and referred to the brief time they would still have together. With a sense of urgency, he commanded them to love each other. He indicated that this single characteristic would set them apart from the world as his disciples. Peter wanted to know where Jesus was planning to go that they could not go with him. Jesus simply restated that his destination would not be theirs until later.

Ironically, Peter came close to the truth when he suggested that he would not even allow death to keep him from following Jesus. With profound compassion, which Peter could not possibly fathom until later, Jesus pointed out that Peter was not ready to lay down his life. That disqualified Peter from going with Jesus at this time. Peter would, in fact, shortly deny that he even knew Jesus.

13:31-32 When Judas was gone, Jesus said, “The time has come for me, the Son of Man, to enter into my glory.” As Judas was on his way to betray Jesus into the hands of those who would crucify him, Jesus looked past the cross to his glorification at the resurrection. Jesus had allowed Judas to leave and carry out his murderous plans. By this act, Jesus committed himself to following through on what he had come to do. Thus he could say, “God will bring me into my glory very soon.” Jesus framed his words based on his knowledge that his glorification through death and resurrection already had been accomplished. He anticipated how his resurrection would bring about his spiritual union with the disciples. This is the key to interpreting the following discourse (13:31–17:26). Now that Judas had left to complete his treachery, nothing would stop the events leading to the final hour. God’s magnificent moral splendor is displayed by Jesus’ act of obedience, so God will receive glory in Jesus. At the same moment, Jesus is glorified as he resumes the glory he had with the Father before the foundation of the world.


Jesus said that our Christlike love will show that we are his disciples. Do people see petty bickering, jealousy, and division in your church? Or do they know you are Jesus’ followers by your love for one another? Love is more than simply warm feelings; it is an attitude that reveals itself in action. How can we love others as Jesus loves us? By helping when it’s not convenient, by giving when it hurts, by devoting energy to others’ welfare rather than our own, by absorbing hurts from others without complaining or fighting back. This kind of loving is hard to do. That is why people notice when you do it and know you are empowered by a supernatural source. The Bible has another beautiful description of love in 1 Corinthians 13.

13:33-35 Jesus told his dear children that the time of his departure was nearing. Jesus would be going to the Father (14:6, 28) to rejoin him in the glorious fellowship that the Father and Son enjoyed from all eternity (see 17:5, 24). The disciples would not be able to participate in that fellowship just yet.

Jesus would be gone, and they would not be able to come to him for a while. In the meantime, they were to follow this commandment: Love each other. A command to love one another is not a new commandment; it had been mandated in the Old Testament (Exodus 20:12-17; Leviticus 19:18, 33-34; Deuteronomy 5:16-21; 22:1-4; see also Matthew 5:38-48; 7:12; 23:36-39; Luke 10:25-37). The newness of Jesus’ command pertains to the new kind of love that Christians have for one another because they have each experienced the love of Christ.

Jesus commanded his followers to love one another “just as I have loved you.” This was revolutionary, for believers are called to love others based on Jesus’ sacrificial love for them. Jesus was a living example of God’s love, as we are to be living examples of Jesus’ love. This love would be the mark of distinction: “Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples.” One of the major themes in John’s first letter is brotherly love (see 1 John 3–4).

13:36 Simon Peter, ever the one to voice his thoughts and questions, asked, “Lord, where are you going?” Again, Jesus answered that where he was going they could not go until later. Peter would later follow Jesus in the way of death (see 21:15-19) and would also follow Jesus into glory.

13:37 Peter loved Jesus intensely, and he wanted to be with Jesus always. He did not understand any need for Jesus to die; in fact, he planned to protect Jesus with his life if necessary. As with the foot-washing incident, Peter would much rather die for Jesus than think that Jesus would die for him. Peter’s brave and proud response resounds across the centuries like many who proudly refuse to accept Jesus’ act on their behalf, preferring instead to do something in order to obtain salvation. However, obeying Jesus means more than the intention or the promise to obey. No one can do anything to obtain salvation.

13:38 When the time of trial came, three times Peter would say that he didn’t even know Jesus (see also Matthew 26:69-75; Mark 14:66-72; Luke 22:54-62). The disciples may have started to wonder if Peter (instead of Judas) was the betrayer.


Jesus knew exactly what was going to happen to both Judas and Peter, but he did not change the situation, nor did he stop loving them. In the same way, Jesus knows exactly what you will do to hurt him. Yet he still loves you unconditionally and will forgive you whenever you ask. Judas couldn’t understand this, and his life ended tragically. Peter understood, and despite his shortcomings, his life ended triumphantly because he never let go of his faith in the one who loved him.

— Life Application Bible Commentary
— Life Application Concise New Testament Commentary


About dkoop

Lead Pastor of Upwards Church: Leander & Jarrell, TX
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