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On the Gospel by John: Chapter 4 - John 13

By J.G. Bellet

      I HAVE followed the Lord through chapters 1 - 12 of this Gospel, noticing His ways as the Son of God, the Stranger from heaven, the Saviour of sinners; and also His intercourses and controversies with Israel. The one was a path of grace, but of loneliness--the other lay much in the track of the prophet Jeremiah. Like Jeremiah, the Lord had witnessed the backslidings of the daughter of Zion. Like him, He had warned her, and taught her, and would fain have healed her. But, like him, He had seen the stubbornness of her heart, had suffered rebuke and rejection from her, and had now only to weep for her. He had, as in the words of Jeremiah, said to her, even to the end of His ministry (see John 12: 35), "Give glory to the Lord your God, before He cause darkness, and before your feet stumble upon the dark mountains, and, while ye look for light, He turn it into the shadow of death, and make it gross darkness. But if ye will not hear it, my soul shall weep in secret places for your pride." Jer. 13: 16, 17.

      Jesus had thus wept over Jerusalem, for she had not repented. The boar had now again left his woods to devour her; the "destroyer of the Gentiles" was again on his way, as in the prophet's day. The captivity in Babylon had no more purged away the dross of Zion, than the waters of Noah had sanctified the earth; and all was again ripe for another judgment. But, as in the midst of all this, Jeremiah of old had his Baruch, the companion of his temptations (Jer. 36 and Jer. 43), to whom from the Lord he pledges present life (Jer. 45), and with whom he deposits the sure evidence of final inheritance (Jer. 32), so now, Jesus has His saints, the companions of His rejection, to whom He gives the present certainty of life, and the sure promise of future rest and honour.

      With these we now get our Lord in secret. We have now done with His public ministry: and we have Him now with His own, telling them, as their Prophet, the secrets of God.

      And being about to listen to Him as the Prophet of the Church, I would observe, that what the Lord gives us as our Prophet, is our present riches. It is not with us, as with Israel of old, blessings of the basket and of the store, nor is it with us now, as it will be by-and-by authority over cities--but "we have the mind of Christ." Treasures of wisdom and knowledge hid in Christ are our present treasures. Col. 2: 3. And accordingly, having now turned away from Israel towards His elect, and looking at them apart from the world, He makes known to them all things that He had heard of the Father. By-and-by, as the King of glory, He will share His dominion with the saints; but now He has only the tongue of the learned for them, that He may teach them the secrets of God. It is only as their Prophet that He now enriches them. As to other riches they may count themselves poor, as one of them of old said (and said it, beloved, without shame), "Silver and gold have I none."

      Our Lord Jesus is the Prophet like unto Moses Who had been promised of old. God saw Moses face to face. He spake with him, as a man speaketh unto his friend, saying of him, "With him will I speak mouth to mouth, even apparently, and not in dark speeches; and the similitude of the Lord shall he behold." In all this high prerogative Moses was the shadow of the Son of God. Moses had access to God. He was on the heights of the hill with Him, beyond the region of thunder and tempest; then within the cloud of glory, as it stood at the door of the temporary tabernacle; and lastly, in the very holy of holies, when the tabernacle itself was reared. Ex. 24; 33; Ex. 25: 22. And he stood in all that nearness to God without blood  -  though even Aaron, we know, could be there only once a year, and that not without blood--all this telling us, in affecting and intelligible language, of the divine personal worthiness of our Prophet--of the God-head glory of Him Whose shadow Moses was, Who is in the bosom of the Father, and has now spoken to us. Heb. 1: 1, 2.

      And what Moses learnt on the top of the hill, or within the cloud of glory, or from off the mercy-seat in the holiest, was the secret which the Son has now brought from the Father. Moses learnt there the grace of God, and saw the glory of goodness. Ex. 33: 19. Blessed vision! And the only begotten Son was among us, "full of grace and truth."

      But the services which the Lord renders us as our Prophet are various; and in this variety we shall find the special character of this Gospel by John fully maintained.

      In the opening of Matthew, the Lord, as a Prophet, revealed the mind of God touching the conduct of His people, interpreting the law in its extent and purity, thus determining the divine standard, and applying it to the conscience. He prescribed the order and ways of the saints, so as to make them worthy of the regeneration and the kingdom, calling the soul into exercise towards God, and giving it its due ends and objects. See Matt. 5 - 7. But in our Gospel He is the Prophet in a higher character. He declares "the Father," and reveals the "heavenly things." He speaks as the One Who had "ascended up to heaven," and was "from above." John 3: 13, 31. It is not so much our conduct as God's thoughts that He tells us of. He tells us of the mysteries of life and judgment; He declares the love of the Father, the works and glories of the Son, and the place and actings of the Holy Ghost, in and for the Church of God. He is, in this Gospel, the Prophet of the secrets of the Father's bosom, disclosing the hidden ways of the sanctuary. He speaks as the Word, Who was with God, and was God, giving us such knowledge as a mere walk on the earth in righteousness and service would not have needed, but such as makes us nothing less than "friends" (John 15: 15), and gives us communion, in knowledge, with the ways of "the Father of glory." Eph. 1: 17.

      Such is the variety of the Lord's exercise of His prophetic office; and such, I judge, the peculiar exercise of it in this Gospel, the exercise of it in its highest department, again making the Gospel so peculiarly precious to the saint. And when the gathering of the Church in this present "day of salvation" is over, and all. have come in the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, we shall not lose our Lord as our Prophet. We shall listen to Him as such, even in the kingdom. His lessons will feed us for ever. Solomon was a prophet, as well as a priest and a king. His servants stood continually before him, and all kings of the earth sought his presence to hear him. The Queen of Sheba came to prove him with hard questions, and he answered her in all her desire. When she beheld all his ways, the king's magnificence, the priest's ascent to the house of God, and the prophet's wisdom, these were altogether more than a match for her heart--the half had not been told her--"there was no more spirit in her." And so, in the coming kingdom. we shall have that which shall fill the eye with glory, give the heart its satisfied affections, ever feed the still enlarging thoughts of our minds with the treasures of wisdom that are hid in our divine Prophet, and withal give our ears the music of His praise for ever.

      But let me say, for my own, as for my brethren's admonition, that we should constantly suspect and dread all mere effort of mind while listening to the words of our Prophet, that is, while reading the Scriptures. The Spirit is a ready Teacher, as well as a ready Writer; and the light of the Spirit, though it may shine at times, through our darkness, but dimly, yet will it always evidence itself with more or less certainty. And let us remember also, that it is a temple light--a light that suits the sanctuary. It was in the holy place that the candlestick stood; and the intelligence that is awakened in the soul by the Holy Ghost is attended by the spirit of devotion and communion. It is a temple light still.

      I have already noticed the Lord's different exercise of His prophetic office, in Matthew's Gospel and in this. In His discourses with His elect, after His public ministry is over, as given us by these two evangelists, the same characteristic difference is still to be clearly discerned. In Matthew, He talks with them on the Mount of Olives about Jewish matters (Matt. 24, 25); but here, He leads them, in spirit, into heaven, to open to them the sanctuary there, and to tell them of heavenly secrets. John 13 - 17. The Lord takes His seat, not as on the Mount of Olives, to tell His remnant of Israel's sorrows and final rest, but, as in heaven, to disclose to His saints the actings of their High Priest there, and their own peculiar sorrows and blessings as the Church of God, during the age of that heavenly priesthood. The heavenly priesthood is the great subject throughout these chapters, on which I would now somewhat more particularly meditate. They form one section of our Gospel; but I will consider them in distinct portions, as their contents seem to me to suggest.

      John 13.  - Here, at the opening, the Lord's action, washing the disciples' feet, is an exhibition of one great branch of His heavenly service.

      The washing of the feet was among the duties of hospitality. The Lord rebukes the neglect of it in His host in Luke 7. See 1 Tim. 5: 10. It conveyed two benefits to the guest, I may say--it cleansed the traveller after the soiling of the journey, and refreshed him after the fatigue of it.

      Abraham, Lot, Laban, Joseph, and the old man of Gibeah, are eminent among those who observed this duty. Gen. 18, 19, 24, 43; Judges 19. And the Son of God, as receiving into the heavenly house, would give His elect the full sense of their welcome and their fitness, that they might take their place. with happy confidence, in any department of that royal sanctuary. It was a sanctuary, it is true. But this washing fitted them for such a place. The Son of God was doing for the disciples the duty and service of the brazen laver towards the priests, the sons of Aaron, in the tabernacle. Ex. 30. He was taking on Himself the charge of having them fit for the divine presence. It is the common way of every well-ordered family, that the servants keep themselves clean, or leave the house. But such is the grace of the Son of God, the Master of the heavenly house, that He charges Himself with the duty of keeping the household in even priestly sanctification and honour.

      "Unfathomable wonder, and mystery divine!" All we need is the spirit of a simple, unquestioning faith which rests in the reality of such surpassing grace.

      But His service for us in the sanctuary, as the High Priest of our profession, His cleansing of our feet as the true Laver of God's house, Jesus did not enter on till He had accomplished His passion on earth, and ascended into the heavens; and, thus, it was not, as we read here, till after the supper was "ended" that He took a towel and girded Himself to wash His disciples' feet. For the "supper" was the exhibition of His passion and death, as He had said, "Take, eat: this is My body." And, accordingly, He seems to go through the whole of this mystic scene in the consciousness that He had now finished His sufferings, had ascended, and was looking back on His saints; for it is introduced in these words, "Having loved His own which were in the world"--words that suggest the apprehension He had of His saints being still in the world, while He had left them for higher and holier regions. And in the sense of all this, though glorified again in and with the Father, as the gracious Servant of their need and infirmities, He girds Himself with a towel, and washes their feet; giving them to know, that He was abiding in the heavenly sanctuary, just to impart to them the constant virtue of the "holiness" which, as their High Priest, He ever carried for them on His forehead before the throne of God.* Ex. 28.

      *The supper is not noticed in this Gospel, save by allusion. And this is in beautiful keeping with its general character; for it is, as we have already seen, the Gospel of the Son, rather than of the humiliation of Jesus. And, therefore, we get Him, as in this chapter, in His priesthood, but we do not see Him in His passion, as at the supper.

      Thus, there is a difference between the mystic import of the supper, and of this subsequent washing of the feet; and the difference is the same as between the day of atonement and the ashes of the red heifer, under the law. The day of atonement, like the supper, set forth the virtue of the blood of Christ; the ashes of the heifer, like this washing, the virtue of His intercession. The day of atonement was but one day in the Jewish year, a great annual day of reconciliation, on which the sins of Israel were put away once for all; the ashes of the heifer were provided for every day's transgressions, for all the occasional defilements which any Israelite might contract, while passing through the year. So with the bloodshedding first, and the priestly intercessions of Christ afterwards: as a scripture says, "For if, when we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of His Son, much more, being reconciled, we shall be saved by His life."

      And we have the same blessings in the same order in another form; viz., the paschal lamb once and for ever redeemed Israel out of Egypt, but in the wilderness it was the intercession of Moses that turned away wrath from the occasional trespasses of the camp. And so the blood of Jesus our Passover, and the intercession of Jesus our Mediator--the supper first, and then the washing of the feet; the death here, and then the life in heaven for us. He that is once washed in the blood, needeth not save to wash his feet; and that washing of his feet, that removal of the soil which the saint gathers in his walk along this earth day by day, the High Priest Who is in heaven for him accomplishes by His presence and intercession there. He is the Mediator of the new covenant, and His blood is the Blood of that covenant.

      Thus, the love of the Son of God for the Church, as it had been from everlasting, so must it be to everlasting; as it is here written, "Having loved His own which were in the world, He loved them unto the end." Every age and scene must witness the same love in some of its services, and in its abiding fervour and truth. No change of time could affect it. The dreariness of this world and the glories of heaven found it in His heart the same. Neither sorrow nor joy, suffering nor glory, could touch it for a moment. His death here, and His life in heaven, alike declare it. Nay, much more. He had served her in this love before the world was, when He said, "Lo, I come!"--and in the kingdom after the world, He will serve her still in the same love, making His saints to sit down to meat, while He waits on their joy. Luke 12: 37.

      Such was the Lord, such is the Lord, and such will be the Lord, in His unceasing service of love towards His saints; and He tells them to be His imitators. "If I then, your Lord and Master, have washed your feet, ye also ought to wash one another's feet." He expects to see, among us on earth, the copy of that which He is doing for us in heaven. He is there daily washing our feet, bearing our need and meeting our defilements before the throne; and He would have us daily washing one another's feet, bearing one another's infirmities, and helping one another's joy, here on the footstool.

      This action and teaching of the Lord were thus a taking of the Church, like Moses before, up into the mount, to show her the patterns according to which the things on earth were to be made. Moses then stood above the law, beyond the region of fire and tempest; and so the Church here. The disciples are called up in spirit into the heavenly sanctuary, and there shown the ways of the High Priest in His daily love and care for them; and they are told to go down and do likewise. As was said to Moses, "Look that thou make them after their pattern, which was showed to thee in the mount." The time for the taking of Moses into the mount to abide there had not then come. He was only to visit it, that he might see the patterns, and receive orders. And so here. The Church was not yet ready for the glory and for the Father's house. "Whither I go," says the Lord to the disciples, "ye cannot come." They shall follow afterwards, as He further promises; but for the present, there was to be only a sight of the patterns on the mount, that they might copy them on the earth. But love alone can fashion those copies, for love is the artificer of the originals in heaven. As the Lord again says, "By this shall all men know that ye are My disciples, if ye have love one to another." It is not, as of old, the skill of such as "work in gold, and in silver, and in brass" that will do now, but the skill of such as "walk in love." The fashioning of any kind thought in the heart toward a brother, the arming of the mind with power to bear and forbear in love, the goings forth of the soul in sympathies, and the moulting off or softening down of any hard or selfish affection; these are the copies of the heavenly patterns. It is only as "dear children" we can be "imitators of God." Eph. 5: 1. And what comfort is this! When the Lord would appoint on earth the witness of His own ways in heaven, He tells us to love one another, to wash one another's feet! What a sight of Him, though within the veil, does this give us! "He shows His thoughts how kind they be." What manner of daily occupation of our Priest in His sanctuary on high is here disclosed to us!

      And, beloved, let me admonish myself and you to seek to walk more amid these witnesses of the Lord than we do. For this would be our assurance before Him, and our joy among ourselves. If our ways were steady, unwavering ways of love, we should be ever walking in the midst of the shadows and emblems of Christ; we should have the Lord's thoughts in all their kindness and constancy ever before us; and what joy and assurance would that give us! No suspicions of His love, no cloudings of doubt and fear, could then gather on the soul; but we should hear Him with our ears, and see Him with our eyes, and handle Him with our hands; for all that ear, or eye, or hand met from one another would witness, as well as savour, of His love. This, indeed, would be a sweet dwelling "in the house of the Lord," a blessed beholding of "the beauty of the Lord." But all this display of glorious love the poor heart of man is not prepared for. Peter expresses this common ignorance. He does not yet understand this connection between glory and service. He follows his human thoughts, and says, "Thou shalt never wash my feet." But Peter was to know all this by-and-by, as his Lord promises; for, Peter and his Lord were one. But Judas must be separated. "I speak not of you all," said the Lord. The presence of the traitor in the midst of the saints up to this solemn moment was needed; for the scripture had said, "He that eateth bread with Me hath lifted up his heel against Me." Judas must receive the sop from the Lord's own hand. The pledge of love must be given and despised ere Satan could enter; for it is the rejection of love that matures the sin of man, as the remaining unmoved by this signal mark of kindness from the hand of his Master perfected the sin of Judas; and Satan entered. Satan's indwelling is not noticed till the sop was received--as man, in this dispensation of ours, has despised love, and thus matured his sin--as the Lord afterwards said, "If 1 had not done among them the works which none other man did, they had not had sin." John 15: 24. But, having now despised the love of the Gospel, man has gone his way; as Judas here, having received the sop, went out to betray Him Who had given it. And our evangelist adds, "It was night." Solemn words! Night in man and night for Jesus.

      But He at once looks beyond this night; for, dark as it was to be to Him, it was to open into the perfect day. Jesus would be glorified in God at once, for God was glorified in Him; the only Son of man in whom He ever was glorified. He had kept the nature without spot, and was now about to present it to God a sheaf of untainted human fruit fitted for God's garner. Man in Jesus had been glorified, for all that had proceeded from Him, all that had been drawn out of Him, was according to God. John 14: 30, 31. Not one speck sullied the moral beauty there. Man in Jesus had not come short of the glory of God. And God, Who had thus been glorified in Him, would therefore glorify Him in Himself. But as to all beside it was altogether otherwise. Jesus could go at once to God, by virtue of all this moral glory; but as to all beside it matters not; whether saints or unbelievers, whether Peters or Pharisees, there could not be this. A place with God must be prepared, ere even the saints could be gathered into it (John 14: 1); and, therefore, the Lord says to them, "Ye shall seek Me, and as I said unto the Jews, whither I go, ye cannot come; so now I say to you."

      This day of His own glory in God, Jesus here anticipates, saying, as soon as the traitor was gone out, "Now is the Son of man glorified."* And so, by-and-by, there will be room again for the display of the glory, when the Son of man shall have gathered out of His kingdom all things that offend, and all that do iniquity; when the traitor shall again go out, then shall the glory be witnessed, and the righteous shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father. The floor once purged, the sheaves of glory will be gathered into the garner.

      *I would notice the assurance of heart which the consciousness of love at all times gives us. Peter and John are not at all alarmed at the Lord's solemn hints about the traitor; they take counsel together to search and find out the meaning of those hints, and who it was that should do this thing. Could our hearts so stand, beloved, before the searchings and discernings of the Spirit of judgment! Conscious love is bold as a lion.

Back to J.G. Bellet index.

See Also:
   Chapter 1 - John 1-4
   Chapter 2 - John 5-7
   Chapter 3 - John 8-12
   Chapter 4 - John 13
   Chapter 5 - John 14-16
   Chapter 6 - John 17
   Chapter 7 - John 18-19
   Chapter 8 - John 20
   Chapter 9 - John 21


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