There is a lovely picture of advocacy in the Upper Room ministry. Indeed, we might have been a little surprised if there wasn’t, bearing in mind that four times over our original word, parakletos, is found in that context.
In John chapter 13, our Lord is acutely aware that He is leaving this world. ‘Jesus knew that his hour was come that he should depart out of this world unto the Father, having loved his own which were in the world, he loved them unto the end’, v. 1. Note, it is ‘unto the Father’ and, of course, ‘we have an advocate with the Father’, 1 John 2. 1. Additionally, our Lord was aware that ‘he … went to God’, v. 3. Conversely, ‘his own … were in the world’, v. 1. An interesting picture is emerging: the Lord has effectively gone to be with the Father (or, to use the parallel language of John chapter 17 verse 11, He is ‘no more in the world’), but His own are still ‘in the world’. Kelly seems to have accurately assessed the situation, ‘He was going to His Father on high, and here reveals what He in that glory would do for them while here below’.1 It is a beautiful picture of advocacy!
He is admirably fitted to undertake the task - clothed appropriately for the occasion, vv. 4, 5. Garments of earth are laid aside. Girded with a towel and with water in a basin, He is ready to undertake the task. Garments, of course, speak of character - here is ‘Jesus Christ’ (earthly garments laid aside), the ‘righteous’, (He alone capable of taking the towel and the water, Eph. 5. 26), cleansing defiled disciples in view of communion and fellowship, cp. 1 John 1. 6. ‘It is the washing of water by the word which the Spirit applies in answer to the Son’s advocacy with the Father. Of this Christ was here giving the sign’.2
The fact that there is a deeper significance in the act is evidenced by our Lord’s reply to Peter’s question. Peter had asked, ‘Lord, dost thou wash my feet?’ The Lord’s answer is most revealing, ‘What I do thou knowest not now; but thou shalt know hereafter’. Vincent has an interesting observation. He says, ‘The A.V. ignores the distinction between the two words [for knowing]. Thou knowest not … of absolute and complete knowledge. Thou shalt learn or perceive … of knowledge gained by experience’.3 Peter might have protested that he was perfectly well aware of what was happening - his feet were being washed! But there was something more. He did not have ‘complete knowledge’. He would ‘learn or perceive’ the deeper meaning by experience and maturity. This was a picture then, or practical preview of what would take place ‘hereafter’, when the Lord would be the Advocate with the Father. It is clear that John had grasped the deeper significance when he wrote his Epistle. The involuntary defilement by walking the streets of Jerusalem had to be removed. Otherwise, Peter had ‘no part with’ (not ‘in’; the vital link is not broken) his Master. Communion or fellowship could only be maintained by being rid of the defilement (‘if any man sin’, 1 John 2. 1). No believer today can escape involuntary defilement in a world saturated with sordid sin. There is always the need for the Advocate!
It is evident too that the Lord took the initiative. Again, the link with 1 John is clear. The Advocate - the Helper, the Intercessor - moves immediately the requirement is known - maybe in many cases even before it is known.4 How much have we been preserved from, without even knowing it?
There was no need, of course, for an overall washing - regeneration needs no repetition. It is ‘not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us, by the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Ghost’, Titus 3. 5.
The first eleven verses of John chapter 13 are thus a lovely picture of our Lord’s office as an Advocate. The parallel with what we have seen in 1 John is unmistakable. Of course, we should not miss the fact that the Lord is also leaving us an example, as underlined in verse 15 - to ‘do as [not what] I have done to you’. The exemplary character of His activity is emphasized from verses 12 to 17. The Lord ‘had taken his garments, and was set down again’. He retakes His place with them now as ‘Lord and Master’ -able to resume fellowship with them, on the basis of the effectiveness of His work as an Advocate, and to bring to bear the important practical and salutary lessons of being His devoted servants, v. 16.
W. KELLY, Exposition of the Gospel of John, F. E. Race, 1898.
M. R. VINCENT, Word Studies in the New Testament, Macdonald Publishing Company, N. D.
See, for example, ‘And the Lord said, Simon, Simon, behold, Satan hath desired to have you, that he may sift you as wheat: but I have prayed for thee, that thy faith fail not: and when thou art converted, strengthen thy brethren’, Luke 22. 31, 32.