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The New Testament Commentary Vol Iii John by B.W. Johnson

The Last Supper.

The events of this wonderful week have passed rapidly. We have followed the Savior in his entry into Jerusalem upon Sunday and his visit to the temple. On Monday occurred the incident of cursing the fig tree, as he went from Bethany to Jerusalem, and a second time he entered into the temple to assert his authority to cleanse his Father's house by casting out the traffickers and money changers, returning in the evening again to his beloved retreat at Bethany. Tuesday was one of the busiest, stormiest, and most fruitful days of his ministry. On his appearance at the temple he was accosted by the demand, |By what authority doest thou these things?| Then came the attempts of the various parties to entangle him, a succession of parables directed against the Jewish nation, the awful denunciation of its sins recorded in Matthew, chapter XXIII., the final and sad farewell to the temple and the nation that closes that chapter, the discourse on the fate of the nation, the end of the world and the day of judgment recorded in the next two chapters, and, after these, a return to Bethany, where the next day, Wednesday, seems to have been passed in rest and preparation for the approaching struggle. From thence on Thursday afternoon he went into the city to eat the passover. This last interview with the disciples before his suffering is one of an unusually confidential and affectionate nature and is the occasion of the sweetest and most consolatory teachings of our Lord.

John passes over the second cleansing of the temple and the conflicts of Tuesday, and the prediction of the fate of Jerusalem, which we gather from the other historians, and takes his readers, at once to the little gathering in the Upper Room where the Master and his disciples had gathered to eat the passover, and where the Supper was instituted. John speaks of the Supper, but he, only, of the four historians, omits to give an account of its origin. He, only, gives a full account of the remarkable discourses that the Savior delivered on that memorable occasion. I cannot here enter into the discussion whether the Savior ate the passover before the real time or not, nor is it needful to settle that, in order to understand his teaching.

It was on the morning of Thursday, -- Green Thursday as it used to be called during the Middle Ages, -- that some conversation took place between Jesus and his disciples about the paschal feast. They asked him where he wished the preparation to be made. As he had now withdrawn from public teaching, and was spending this Thursday, as he had spent the previous day, in complete seclusion, they probably expected that he would eat the passover at Bethany, which for such purposes had been decided by rabbinical authority to be within the limits of Jerusalem. But his plans were otherwise. He, the true Paschal Lamb, was to be sacrificed once and forever in the Holy City, where it is probable that in that very passover, and on that very same day, some 260,000 of those lambs of which he was the antitype were destined to be slain.

It was towards the evening, probably when the gathering dusk would prevent all needless observation, that Jesus and his disciples walked from Bethany, by that familiar road over the Mount of Olives, which his sacred feet were never again destined to tread until after death. . . . We catch no glimpse of the little company till we find them assembled in that |large upper room,| -- perhaps the very room where three days after the sorrow-stricken Apostles first saw their risen Savior, -- perhaps the very room where, amid the sound of a mighty rushing wind, each meek brow was first mitred with Pentecostal flame. -- Farrar. It is at this supper, at the very foot of the cross, that all believers are invited to sit down to angels' food in enjoying the wonderful revelation of the Master in the next five chapters.

|It may be that the very act of taking their seats at the table had, once more, stirred up in the minds of the apostles those disputes about precedence which, on previous occasions, our Lord had so tenderly and carefully rebuked. The mere question of a place at table might seem too infinitesimal and unimportant to ruffle the feelings of good men at an hour so supreme and solemn; but that love for 'the chief seats at feasts,' and elsewhere, which Jesus had denounced in the Pharisees, is not only innate in the heart, but is so powerful that it has, at times, caused the most terrific tragedies.| -- Farrar.

Matthew Henry points out that the paschal lamb was typical of |the Lord, our Passover,| in the following features: (1) It was a lamb, as Christ was the Lamb of God. (2) A male, of the first year. In its prime. (3) Without blemish, as Christ was perfectly pure, without spot. (4) Set apart four days before, the 10th of Nisan. Christ's triumphal entry was four days before the crucifixion, on the 10th. (5) It was slain, and roasted with fire, denoting the death and exquisite sufferings of Christ. (6) It was killed between the two evenings, three to six o'clock. Christ suffered at the end of the world. He died at this same hour, and at the passover feast. (7) Each person must have a slain lamb. So Christ died for all. (8) Not a bone was broken. (9) It was eaten with bitter herbs of repentance. (10) Its blood must be applied to be effectual. (11) It looked forward to future deliverance, and became, after the death, a feast of hope and joy. (12) It was a feast of separation from the world; and (13) of protection as God's children. (Joh 13:1)

1. Now before the feast of the passover. Immediately before, just as Christ was about to sit down with his disciples to the paschal feast. Jesus knew that his hour was come. The scenes of this hour, the passover, the Lord's Supper, the washing of feet, and the solemn teaching were in immediate view of the cross. The Lord saw the dark and bloody path of suffering just before him. In this hour of sorrow the pre-eminent love that he had for |his own| shone forth resplendent. |He loved them to the end.| (Joh 13:2)

2. Supper being ended. The Revision says, |During the Supper,| which expresses the meaning of the original. It is likely that Christ arose near the beginning of the feast, washed the feet, and then he sat down again to the feast. See verse 12. For reasons that we will explain later, he arose after the feast began. The devil having already put into the heart of Judas Iscariot, etc. The devil planted the seed, but the soil of his heart was ready. The devil has no power except where there is preparation for him. The covetous disposition of Judas had prepared the way. His disappointment over the costly box of ointment had enraged him. John calls attention, to the fact that Judas was there, already a traitor at heart, and that Christ knew it, in order to show the wonderful condescension that would stoop to wash his feet. (Joh 13:3)

3. Jesus knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands. It was with a full consciousness of his divinity, his divine power and majesty, of the glory that he had and would enjoy with God, that he stooped to the menial office that he was about to fill. John points out with care the wonderful sight of God in Christ washing the feet, not only of the apostles, but of the traitor. John's astonishment at what followed finds expression in this verse. (Joh 13:4)

4. He riseth from supper, and laid aside his garments. Shortly after they had sat down to the table, he arose, laid aside his outer robe, girded a towel upon him, and began the lowly office of washing the feet of twelve men, without a word of explanation. Something more than ordinary must have caused so remarkable an act. The fact that the cause has been lost sight of, has caused many to misunderstand the significance, and to think the Savior was instituting a church ceremonial, rather than giving a deep, practical, spiritual lesson for all ages. I will endeavor to explain the circumstances: 1. The disciples still expected the immediate manifestation of the kingdom. When they sat down to this Supper they felt that it was a kind of state occasion, and a strife arose among them for precedence. Each wanted the |chief seat at the feast.| An account of this unseemly controversy over the, old question, |Who should be greatest?| is found in Luke 22:24-30.2. The owner of the house had furnished the guest chamber for the feast, had provided table, seats, water and vessels, but his duties on a passover occasion had ended there. He had to arrange for the passover with his own family. Jesus and his disciples had come in hot and dusty from their walk from Bethany; their sandals had been laid off according to custom. They sat down to the table with dry and dusty feet, but no one brought water to wash their feet, an eastern duty of hospitality made necessary by their hot, dusty climate. No apostle volunteered to attend to the office, the duty of a servant. They were rather filled with angry, envious thoughts who should have the most honorable place.3. Then, when they were filled with their ambitious, envious feelings, and had engaged in strife right at the Lord's table, after waiting long enough to have it shown that no one would condescend to the menial, but needful duty, the Lord, the Son of God, full of conscious divinity, arose, girded on the towel, and began the office. A rebuke, an awful rebuke, to their ambitious strife, far more powerful than words could have spoken; such a rebuke that never again do we see a hint of the old question, |Who should be greatest?| It was Christ's answer to their unseemly conduct, and a lesson to those Christians |who love the pre-eminence| for all time. It said, |Let him that would be greatest become the servant of all.| (Joh 13:5)

5. Poureth water into a basin. Girded as a servant the Lord does a servant's work. The feet were not put into the basin, but water was poured from it on the feet and they were then wiped with the towel. (Joh 13:6)

6. Lord, dost thou wash my feet? The language of Peter is that of confusion, of astonishment and of remonstrance. The emphasis is on the word thou. Dost thou, the Lord and Master, do the work of a servant? (Joh 13:7)

7. Thou knowest not now; but thou shalt know hereafter. |You do not understand this matter fully now, but thou shalt know hereafter.| There was much that was not clear to the dull understandings of the apostles that became clear later. Knowledge comes by submissive obedience if we will wait patiently. (Joh 13:8)

8. If I wash thee not, thou hast no part with me. Peter, not yet reconciled to the Master discharging the duty that he now feels he ought to have discharged, exclaims: |Thou shalt never wash my feet.| It was his characteristic obstinacy. Christ replied as above, in substance, |If thou art not submissive to me, thou art not my disciple.| Washing, with the Jews, was a symbolical act, signifying purification from uncleanness. That Christ referred to more than a washing with water was understood by Peter as is evident from his reply. Christ could only wash with blood the obedient. (Joh 13:9)

9. Not my feet only, but my hands and my head. Peter, not yet content, continues the argument. If thou dost insist on washing me, why not my hands and head as well as my feet? His language is partly due to embarrassment and partly to his great repugnance to have the Savior perform such a duty upon him. (Joh 13:10)

10. He that is washed needeth not save to wash his feet. The Lord first speaks of the material facts. It was only the feet that needed washing. After a tramp over the dusty roads they needed cleansing. It must be born in mind that only sandals were worn and that these were laid off when they entered the house. There is also a spiritual meaning. He who is once cleansed by the blood of Christ only needs, after this, to come to Christ for partial cleansing; for the forgiveness of the special sins that make him unclean. (Joh 13:11)

11. Ye are not all clean. Not all who enter into his service ostensibly are cleansed. Judas was not. Some do not enter through the |Door of entire obedience,| but are thieves and robbers (see John 12:1). (Joh 13:12)

12. Know ye what I have done to you? When he had completed his task, he laid aside the towel, resumed his robe, sat down to the table, and asked, |Do you understand what I have done to you?| They knew the act, but did they comprehend its meaning? Hence the emphasis that follows. (Joh 13:13) (Joh 13:14)

13, 14. Ye call me Master and Lord. You recognize the fact that I am your Lord and Master, or rather the Lord and Master. Master is used in the sense of teacher, but Lord in the sense of ruler. He then draws his conclusion from the promise that they admit: |If I, your Lord and Master, wash your feet, ye ought also to wash one another's feet.| Ye ought to follow the example of humility, self-sacrifice, and service to others, that your Lord sets you. Instead of seeking the pre-eminence, disputing concerning the seats of honor, and shrinking from humble service to each other, ye should follow my example. (Joh 13:15)

15. For I have given you an example. Christ gave an example, not a church ordinance. It is our duty to follow the example and render the same kind of service to fellow Christians. To make his example a ceremonial and follow it literally would be to lose its spirit. We wish every student to note the fact that not once elsewhere is it referred to in the New Testament as a church ordinance, and only once mentioned at all. In 1 Tim.5:10, it is named as a mark of a godly widow. Nor is there any mention of it as a church ordinance until the fourth century when the tide of corruption was sweeping in. The Pope now washes the feet of twelve beggars once a year, the German Baptists (Dunkards), Mennonites, and a few other minor sects practice it, but with rare exceptions Christendom, from the days of the apostles to our time, has looked upon the Savior's example as a sublime act of humility whose spirit must always be followed, but has rejected the idea of him establishing a church ordinance. There is a wide difference between an example and a church ordinance. When Christ wept with sympathy, or fed the hungry, or ministered to the sick, or taught lowly service by washing the feet of his disciples, he set an example, and happy are we if we know what he did, drink in his spirit, and follow the example. That feet washing belongs to the class of examples, rather than of church ordinances, is demonstrated by the fact that when we turn to the inspired history of the church as recorded in Acts and in the Epistles, it is silent concerning any such ordinance. The Savior, the night before he was crucified, established a church ordinance, the Lord's Supper. We discover it just as soon as the church is organized on the day of Pentecost. The converts |continued steadfastly in the apostles' doctrine, and in the fellowship, and in the breaking of bread, and in prayers.| In his commission, just before the ascension, he established another ordinance, baptism. This we find, also, to appear immediately. On Pentecost Peter commands it and |they that gladly received the Word were baptized.| Thus it continues; these undoubted church ordinances are constantly named throughout Acts, through the Epistles, the Apostolic Fathers and early writers of Christianity, while feet washing is named only once more in the New Testament, and then in such a way as to show that it was observed as a private benevolence, not as a church ordinance, and is never mentioned in the latter aspect until the time of Augustine, the Bishop of Hippo, when the apostasy had been fully inaugurated and the Bishop of Rome was claiming to take precedence of all other dignitaries in the church. This silence during the ages of apostolic purity settles the interpretation we are to place on the Savior's language. It is our duty to be always ready to do to others as he did, to serve them in a spirit of humility and self-sacrifice. (Joh 13:16)

16. The servant is not greater than his Lord. If the Lord then should thus condescend, how much rather the servant. To follow the Lord's example the necessary thing is not that he should gird on a towel and go through a form, but that he should drink in the Lord's spirit. Spiritual pride has been one of the greatest perils of the church. The Lord seeks to guard against it. (Joh 13:17)

17. If ye know these things, happy are ye if ye do them. Know what things? Of course they knew that Christ had washed their feet. But did they know what it meant? The meaning is clearly, |If ye understand the meaning of my act, happy are ye if ye exemplify the same spirit in your lives.| This language itself shows that his act was not to be taken in its literal form. Any one can know that, but there are many who call themselves Christians who do not know its significance. Those who catch his spirit and obey it are happy in the Lord's approval. The word translated, |Happy are ye| is the same one that is translated |Blessed are| in the opening of the sermon on the mount. Here, therefore, we have another beatitude. (Joh 13:18)

18. I speak not of you all. There is one present to whom knowledge will not bring happiness. He had been alluded to in verse 10. I know whom I have chosen. Christ refers to the choice to the apostolate, not to election to salvation. He declares that he knew Judas, but chose him that the Scripture might be fulfilled. Judas was no surprise to Christ. He had known his sordid nature from the beginning and to what it would lead him. The Evangelists do not conceal the fact that the traitor was one of their own number. Why was such a man chosen to be one of the twelve? (1) There was needed among the disciples, as in the Church now, a man of just such talents as Judas possessed, -- the talent for managing business affairs. (2) Though he probably followed Christ at first from mixed motives, as did the other disciples, he had the opportunity of becoming a good and useful man. (3) It doubtless was included in God's plan that there should be thus a standing argument for the truth and honesty of the gospel; for, if any wrong or trickery had been concealed, it would have been revealed by the traitor in self-defence. (4) It is a relief to modern churches to know that God can bless them, and the gospel can succeed, even though some bad men may creep into the fold. (Joh 13:19)

19. Now I tell you before it come to pass. Hitherto the Lord had borne his sorrow alone, but now that the hour was at hand and the traitor would soon be compelled to show his hand, he would declare it to his disciples, before it come to pass, in order that the fulfillment, instead of being a crushing disappointment, might increase their faith. Believe that I am he. Rather, |Believe that I am.| The reader can hardly have failed to note how frequently the Lord thus speaks of himself. He does not say, |I am he,| the latter pronoun being an interpolation. The |I AM'S| of our Savior associate him with the burning bush of Horeb where, when Moses asked the name he should report to the children of Israel of the God who had appointed him as their leader, he was told to say, |I am that I am hath sent thee.| The self-existent, uncreated Deity is revealed in these words and the similar terms used by Christ are an affirmation of absolute existence. He did not, like man, have a dependent being, but said, |I am,| |I exist.| This exalted claim was demonstrated when he laid down his life of his own will |to take it up again.| (Joh 13:20)

20. He that receiveth . . . receiveth me. They whose faith was made strong to believe in him would be commissioned as his heralds, sent from him, as he was sent from the Father. To receive them, the King's messengers, would be to receive him; to receive him would be to receive the Father who sent him.

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