The Gospel of John is made up of two sections. The dividing point comes between chapters 12 and 13. In chapters 1-12 it is Christ and the world. Chapters 13-21 it is Christ and His own. This section includes the account of the Lord’s death and resurrection.
The dealings of the Lord with the world reached a climax in chapter 12, and the chapter closes with a declaration of judgment consequent upon His rejection by the nation of Israel. Chapter 13 opens with a declaration of the Lord’s love for His own, having in view His approaching death on their behalf. ‘Having loved his own which were in the world, he loved them to the end (to the uttermost)’.
Chapter 13 provides the setting for what is known as the Paschal discourse in which the Lord gave much instruction to His disciples. They needed to be taught many things, but first He would demonstrate the lesson on the subject of humility. This was simply given by means of the washing of the disciples’ feet. Here was education by means of example and explanation.
In the first three verses of the chapter the emphasis is upon divine knowledge, the knowledge which belongs to the Son of God. Later on Peter said to Him, ‘Lord, thou knowest all things’, John 21. 17. The truth of this is clearly seen in these verses. The Lord’s knowledge was comprehensive and complete. He knew that the hour was come for His departure out of this world unto the Father; He knew that Judas was about to betray Him: He knew that the Father had given all things into His hands; He knew that He was come from God and was returning to God.
Here is a brief unveiling of the omniscience and wondrous dignity of the Son of God. At this moment He stood at the central point of the unfolding purpose of God. The great conflict of the ages was nearing its climax, and He knew all that the struggle would involve. On the one hand there was the Father and His own; on the other hand there was the devil and Judas the betrayer. He stood between them, the One upon whom everything hinged. He was about to undertake a work of divine love. The devil was about to perpetrate a work of foul hate.
First there was divine knowledge; then came deliberate action. What happened next was all the more wonderful in view of the revelation of the Lord in the first three verses. The One who was about to do battle with the forces of evil in a conflict which would have eternal consequences, at this moment laid aside His garments and began to wash the feet of the disciples.
This was a task usually performed by a slave, if one was available. In the absence of a slave one of the disciples should have undertaken the task. On this occasion, because of their ambitious pride (they had been disputing among themselves as to who should be the greatest), none of them was willing to come forward. No doubt the Lord waited for a while, then without any loss of dignity, He rose, and after making the necessary preparations, stooped down and carried out the feet-washing. It was an expression of unsurpassed humility, and a demonstration of the intensity of His love: The One who was about to die for His own, at this moment engaged in menial service on their behalf.
We might pause here in order to notice that in the act of laying aside His garments and girding Himself with a towel, the Lord Jesus provided a vivid illustration of the down-stooping of love which took place when He laid aside His heavenly glory, and took upon Him the form of a servant. ‘Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus: who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God: but made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant’, Phil. 2. 5-7. The Lord Jesus is the supreme example of that humility which God longs to see in all of His people. Humility is a rare quality. Its opposite is pride, the very thing which prevented the disciples from undertaking the feet-washing. ‘God resisteth the proud, but giveth grace to the humble’, James 4. 6. What a matchless example and expression of humility it was when the Lord stooped down and washed the feet of His disciples.
Humility is the recognition of our lowly estate before God and our absolute dependence upon Him for all things. It is a voluntary stooping down, taking the lowly place, being content to remain there until He shall lift us up. ‘Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, that he may exalt you in due time’, 1 Pet. 5. 6.
Divine knowledge and deliberate action; then during the course of the feet-washing there was a definite refusal on the part of the disciple Simon Peter. No doubt his conscience had been stung by the Lord’s action. First there was his query, ‘Lord, doest thou wash my feet?’ followed by the Lord’s answer, ‘What I do thou knowest not now, but thou shall know hereafter’. Then came the refusal, ‘Thou shalt never wash my feet’. Peter used the strongest negative possible, ‘Thou shalt in no wise wash my feet for ever’ – not now, nor ever!
Consequent upon this refusal the Lord Jesus made a statement which is of the greatest importance to those who are among His own. ‘If I wash thee not, thou hast no part with me’. All that He was doing was with a view to the maintenance of fellowship between Himself and His people. The words ‘part with me’ reveal His great desire that those who belong to Him should live in the constant enjoyment of fellowship with their Master.
Fellowship with Christ is a most important feature of the Christian life. It is the main thought underlying the Lord’s action in this chapter. Both the feet-washing and the explanation which followed have in view the maintenance of fellowship with Himself.
How precious are the two words ‘with me’. They have in view both our association and our fellowship with Christ. This is expressed in various ways. The believer has died with Christ, and is also risen with Him, Rom. 6. 4. The life that he possesses is hid with Christ in God, Col. 3. 3. According to Romans 8. 17 he is a joint-heir with Christ. If he dies he knows that he will go to be with Christ in heaven, ‘absent from the body … present with the Lord’, 2 Cor. 5. 8. The words of 1 Thessalonians 4. 17 never cease to thrill our hearts, ‘So shall we ever be with the Lord’. His hope and expectation is that when the Lord comes again he will be with Him in His glory. Then, when his Lord is manifested he too will be manifested in glory, and he will have the wonderful honour of reigning with Christ in His coming kingdom, 2 Tim. 2. 12.
For the present little while the Christian lives daily in the enjoyment of fellowship with Him, involving both partnership and co-operation. ‘God is faithful, by whom ye were called unto the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord’, 1 Cor. 1. 9. There will be a participation in His service, and a dependence upon Him for daily strength. ‘Truly our fellowship is with the Father, and with His Son Jesus Christ’, 1 John 1. 3.