[16]   Farewell Discourses 1: Last Supper (13:1-30)

Section D. Farewell Discourses of the Christ (13:1-17:26)

These five chapters are the private farewell discourses of Christ to His closest 11 disciples.

The earlier part of the Gospel is marked by two main words: “life” and “light”. In chapters 1-12, there are 50 words related to “life” and 32 words related to “light”. However, in chapters 13-17, “life” appears only 6 times while “light” does not appear. In contrast, the word “love” appears 31 times, compared to only 6 times before this passage.


[D1]    13:1-30........... Two significant actions in the Last Supper

In the Synoptic account of this evening is a dispute among the disciples as to which of them would be the greatest. Jesus rebuked their lack of humility by saying: “I am among you as one who serves” (Lk 22:24-27). The event following might be Jesus’ response by a demonstration of His voluntary humility, an example of selfless service which the disciples must follow. Jesus’ words had to do with cleansing, a cleansing which is given by the atoning death on the cross alone, a cleansing without which no one belongs to Christ.

13:1     “The hour” (of His death) had now come (aorist). “His own” is a term of endearment to close relations. “The full extent of His love” can mean either “love unto the end” (till the end of Jesus’ life) or “love to the utmost” (boundless love); the second meaning is more likely.

The emphasis on love set out the theme of the discourse.

13:2     The best text reads, “the devil had already made up his mind that Judas...”

13:3     Calvary is where a great divine work was completed and where the divine glory is revealed.

13:4     “Outer clothing” is plural. Jesus stripped to a loin cloth, just like a slave.

13:5     The towel was a long one so that Jesus could gird Himself with it and still use the free end to dry the disciples’ feet.

13:6     Both “you” and “my” are emphatic; the emphastic question is: “Lord, do YOU MY feet wash?”

13:7     It refers to the later illumination of the Holy Spirit (cf. 14:26; 16:13).

13:8     Peter’s reaction was with emphatic double negative, meaning that this would never happen.

“Wash” as the custom of John has a double meaning: the washing of the feet and a washing free from sin. Without the washing, Peter would not have any relationship with Jesus.

13:9     Peter’s reply shows that he misunderstood the meaning of the action.

13:10   The imagery is that of a man going to a feast. He will bathe at home. Jesus meant: “Such a cleansing as you indicate is not necessary. Anyone who has identified with me, has been washed by me, has no need to supplement that washing. That person is wholly cleansed.”

“You” now is plural, referring to the apostolic band who had been cleansed from sin.

13:12   The words may be a question but it might well be imperative: “Understand what I have done.”

13:13   “Rabbi” means a religious leader; “Lord” expresses a very high reverence, even divinity.

13:14   This exalted person had washed their feet. They ought to wash one another’s feet. The two parts of the sentence have no connecting word. Usually the word “although” is inserted by translators but it is also possible to use the word “because”. Then the point is that true greateness is seen in lowly service.

Feet washing is unlikely meant to be a regulation. The point is rather that they should have a readiness to perform the lowliest service for one another. Some churches, however, do practice such a ritual. Some replace it with the washing of hands.

13:16   “I tell you the truth” again. Jesus reminds His followers of their status as “slaves” and “men sent”. They are not to stand on their dignity or think too highly of themselves. If their Master and their Sender does lowly actions, then they, the slaves and the sent ones, should not consider menial tasks beneath their dignity. Similar teachings are found in Jn 15:20; Mt 10:24; Lk 6:40.

13:18   The eating of bread together signifies close fellowship. “Lifted up his heel” is a metaphor from the lifting up of the horse’s hoof preparatory to kicking.

13:19   The prophecy was out of tender concern as the disciples might well have been seriously shocked and their faith shattered had the betrayal taken them completely unawares.

13:20   To receive the messenger is to receive the Sender. To treat the messengers of God well (such as the pastors) is to serve the God who sent them.

13:21   The apostles knew only that one of them was false in some undefined way.

“I tell you the truth” again. “Testified” (a solemn and heartfelt affirmation) and “said” emphasize the special solemnity. Now Jesus specifically said that one of them was a betrayer.

13:23   The disciple “whom Jesus loved” was no doubt John.

On special occasions such as Passover, it was mandatory to use the customary arrangement of a formal meal. Couches were arranged in a U-shape around the table. The guests reclined with their heads toward the table and their feet stretched out obliquely away from it. They leaned on their left elbow and used the right hand to secure food. The person to the right of the host would have his head close to the breast of the host.

13:25   By leaning back slightly, John could speak to Jesus without being overheard by others.

13:26   Apparently, Judas was also very close to Jesus (see also Mt 26:25), possibly because of his special position as the treasurer of the group. It is clear that Jesus did not want the group to know the identity of the traitor. The giving of a piece of food (could be bread or meat) dipped in the common dish could be a mark of honour.

13:27   It was Satan who entered Judas and inspired his actions. The word “therefore” (often skipped in translations) indicates Jesus knew what had happened with Judas. Jesus words are “do it more quickly” (a comparative adjective). It is possible that Judas might not originally intend to commit the betrayal that night. If so, then it was Jesus who determined the time of the passion.

13:28   John apparently did not grasp the significance of what happened. There is nothing to show that Jesus meant the betrayal was imminent. The group possibly had no thought of a deliberate act of treachery; they might think of an involuntary betrayal. They might think that Judas’ departure was concerned with other things. Therefore, there was no need for immediate action.

13:30   The fact of nightfall indicates an eyewitness’s account. The description of night may imply the strife between light and darkness. It was the dark night in the soul of Judas. He had cut himself off from the light of the world and accordinly shut himself up to night.


§         Jesus used His final chance to teach the disciples to talk about love. Clearly, this is the one theme that should dominate the life of a Christian and the life of a church.

§         With Christ’s example, Christians are commanded to serve other Christians, even in menial work (v.14). Such work will bring blessings (v.17).


Hymns of Life no.11 “We gather together” (Dutch folk melody)

We gather together to ask the Lord’s blessing;

He chastens and hastens His will to make known;

The wicked oppressing now cease from distressing,

Sing praises to His Name; He forgets not His own.

We all do extol Thee, Thou Leader triumphant,

And pray that Thou still our Defender wilt be.

Let Thy congregation escape tribulation;

Thy Name by ever praised! O Lord, make us free!