Teaching on the Gospel of John by Rev. Dr. Nadine Burton

“The Betrayals”

John Chapter 13

In this chapter, which begins Jesus’ farewell discourse, he models servant leadership by washing the Disciples’ feet. “This section, unlike the other synoptic texts, does not institute the Lord’s Supper. That does not mean that the overtones are not present (see John 6:11-12; 15:1-8 and 19:34). John inserted the washing of the disciples’ feet instead of the Eucharist in the other Synoptics.” [i] 

Chapter 13 is set before the festival of the Passover. Jesus knew that his hour of death was approaching, and that he would depart from this world, leaving the Disciples behind. While chapters 1-12 represent God’s love for the world, now Jesus’ Disciples will be sent into the world – “It is for the sake of God’s mission to the world, represented by Jesus and continued in the church, that he now speaks to his own.”[ii]

Knowing that God had given all things to him, Jesus got up from the table, took off his outer robe, tied a towel around him, and poured water into a basin. He began to wash the Disciples’ feet. In the first century world, foot washing was common hospitality to strangers. Slaves always performed this service. When Jesus came to Simon Peter, Simon asked him if he was going to wash his feet. Jesus shared that Peter did not know what he was doing, but later on, he would understand. Peter was reluctant to allow Jesus to wash his feet. Jesus said, “Unless I wash you, you have no share with me.” Peter said, “Lord, not only my feet but also my head and my hands.” Jesus went on to explain the importance of foot washing, the cleanliness needed, and pointed out an exception as to the one who would betray him. “Washing refers to the cleansing, saving act of God in Christ event as a whole, an event that the believers experiences as personally real by being baptized and participating in the Eucharist.”[iii] Peter misunderstood, just as Nicodemus and the Samaritan Woman at the well, each dealing with “water” that gives us life.

“With overtones of Paul’s pre-existence-incarnation-exaltation drama in Phil. 2:5-11, John understands the whole Christ event. As Jesus laid aside his garments, and assumed the role of a slave, then arose, was called Lord, and resumed his pre-existence, rejoined his Disciples at the table – so the pre-existent Christ laid aside his celestial glory, became an example to the Christians as a truly human servant of all.”[iv] In other words, Jesus exemplified what it meant to be God and human. After the foot-washing ritual, Jesus asked them, “Do you know what I have done for you?” Jesus modeled servant leadership before explaining to the Disciples what he had done for them. If Jesus is our teacher and Lord, then we should follow the example and wash one another’s feet. He further explained what it means to serve – that servants are not greater than their masters. Neither are messengers greater than the one who sends them. “If you know these things, you are blessed if you do them.” 

Jesus fulfilled the Old Testament prophecy by sharing that one of the disciples would betray him – “the one who has ate my bread has lifted his heel against me.” He warns the Disciples by telling them at that moment, so that when it happens, they would believe that Jesus is whom he says he is. Jesus was troubled because he knew that one of his own would betray him. The Disciples were bewildered because they could not imagine that one of them would betray Jesus. The Disciple whom Jesus loved was reclining next to him. Peter motioned to him to ask Jesus of whom he was speaking. The Disciple asked, “Lord is it I?” Jesus replied, “It is the one to whom I give this piece of bread after I have dipped it in the dish.” When Judas betrayed Jesus, “it was night – not chronology but theology.”[v]

He gave the bread to Judas. Satan entered into Judas. What an unfolding drama! There seemed to be a conversation between Jesus and Judas that the other Disciples did not know. They thought because Judas held the money purse, that Jesus was telling him to go out and buy what they needed for the festival, or that he should give something to the poor. Why could the Disciples not put two and two together?

Jesus finished this chapter claiming his glorification from God the Father and telling the Disciples he would only be with them a little while longer. “Glorified means crucified, the lifting up on the cross is also Jesus’ return to the glory of God the pre-existent Christ shared with the Father.”[vi] He puts forth the example of loving one another as he loved them. “By this, everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” “The love that Jesus speaks is not just for the Johannine community but reflects the love of God, directed to all people.”[vii]

Simon Peter again spoke up and asked why he could not go with Jesus where he was going. Jesus replied, “Where I am going you cannot follow now, but you will follow afterward.” Simon professed that he would lay down his life for Jesus. Nevertheless, Jesus, asking the rhetorical question, “Will you lay down your life for me?” then warned Peter that he would deny him three times before the cockcrows.

I called this blog “Betrayals” because Judas knew he would betray Jesus and Peter did not. As we study chapters 14 and beyond, we will see the betrayals unfold. Have a blessed week!


[i] Craddock and Boring, pg. 332.

[ii] Ibid.

[iii] Ibid. 333.

[iv] Ibid.

[v] Ibid. pg. 335.

[vi] Ibid.

[vii] Ibid.