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Over the past several years, I have written several posts about Maundy Thursday, or Holy Thursday, which might be of interest. The solemn period of the Triduum leading up to Easter begins on this night:

What is the Triduum?

‘One of you will betray Me’ (John 13)

Passover, the Last Supper and the New Covenant

Why some Jews celebrated Passover on Thursday and others on Friday (here and here)

Maundy Thursday and the Last Supper: Jesus’s words of comfort (John 14, alludes to Holy Trinity)

John MacArthur on Passover as celebrated at the Last Supper

John 17 — the High Priestly Prayer: parts 1, 2 and 3

Jesus foretells Peter’s denial (Mark 14:26-31)

Readings for Maundy Thursday — Holy Thursday — can be found here.

The Gospel reading is as follows (emphases in bold mine):

John 13:1-17, 31b-35

13:1 Now before the festival of the Passover, Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart from this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end.

13:2 The devil had already put it into the heart of Judas son of Simon Iscariot to betray him. And during supper

13:3 Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going to God,

13:4 got up from the table, took off his outer robe, and tied a towel around himself.

13:5 Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was tied around him.

13:6 He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, “Lord, are you going to wash my feet?”

13:7 Jesus answered, “You do not know now what I am doing, but later you will understand.”

13:8 Peter said to him, “You will never wash my feet.” Jesus answered, “Unless I wash you, you have no share with me.”

13:9 Simon Peter said to him, “Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!”

13:10 Jesus said to him, “One who has bathed does not need to wash, except for the feet, but is entirely clean. And you are clean, though not all of you.”

13:11 For he knew who was to betray him; for this reason he said, “Not all of you are clean.”

13:12 After he had washed their feet, had put on his robe, and had returned to the table, he said to them, “Do you know what I have done to you?

13:13 You call me Teacher and Lord–and you are right, for that is what I am.

13:14 So if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet.

13:15 For I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you.

13:16 Very truly, I tell you, servants are not greater than their master, nor are messengers greater than the one who sent them.

13:17 If you know these things, you are blessed if you do them.

13:31b When he had gone out, Jesus said, “Now the Son of Man has been glorified, and God has been glorified in him.

13:32 If God has been glorified in him, God will also glorify him in himself and will glorify him at once.

13:33 Little children, I am with you only a little longer. You will look for me; and as I said to the Jews so now I say to you, ‘Where I am going, you cannot come.’

13:34 I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.

13:35 By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

Commentary comes from Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

We are now at the time of the Last Supper, where Jesus wanted to express His love for His Apostles one final time (verse 1).

As Matthew Henry says, they were imperfect, yet He loved them dearly:

They were weak and defective in knowledge and grace, dull and forgetful and yet, though he reproved them often, he never ceased to love them and take care of them.

John MacArthur explains that Jews had Passover supper on Thursday or Friday, depending on where they were from:

The southern Jews celebrated it on Friday; the northern ones on Thursday night. It is that Thursday night he is meeting for the Passover, which is a memorial dinner that commemorates God’s deliverance of the children of Israel from Egypt when the angel of death passed by the homes that had the blood of the lamb on the door. God is wanting to be remembered in this feast as the Savior and Deliverer of His people.

Satan had put betraying our Lord into the heart of Judas (verse 2).

For whatever reason, unusually, the Apostles did not wash their feet upon entering the room for dinner. Everyone in that era washed his or her feet before reclining for a feast.

Jesus, having seen this and knowing His hour had come, decided to deliver a final, personal act of serving each one of them (verse 3).

He arose from the table, took off His outer robe, tied a towel around Himself (verse 4) and, with a basin of water nearby, began washing the feet of each one of the Apostles (verse 5).

MacArthur says:

The humbler you are, the less interested you are in yourself, the greater your capacity to invest yourself in somebody else. They are related to one another proportionately. The lower you go in self-concern, the higher you go in concern for others.

Simon Peter was horrified that Jesus would deign to wash his feet (verse 6).

Jesus reassured him that one day Peter would understand the purpose of this gesture (verses 7, 8).

Henry says that Jesus had four clear purposes in mind with the foot washing:

We are sure that it was not in a humour or a frolic that this was done no, the transaction was very solemn, and carried on with a great deal of seriousness and four reasons are here intimated why Christ did this:– 1. That he might testify his love to his disciples, John 13:1,2. 2. That he might give an instance of his own voluntary humility and condescension, John 13:3-5. 3. That he might signify to them spiritual washing, which is referred to in his discourse with Peter, John 13:6-11. 4. That he might set them an example, John 13:12-17. And the opening of these four reasons will take in the exposition of the whole story.

Jesus told Peter that if He did not wash his feet, he would have no share with him (verse 8), to which Peter replied that Jesus should wash his hands, hair and head (verse 9).

Presumably, the Apostles must have bathed — perhaps in Bethany, we do not know — before arriving at the room for the Last Supper, because Jesus said that one who has bathed does not need to wash, except for one’s feet (verse 10). Then He told Peter that he was clean, yet, not everyone around the table was, meaning Judas, the betrayer (verse 11).

Henry points out:

With reflection upon Judas: And you are clean, but not all, John 13:10,11. He pronounces his disciples clean, clean through the word he had spoken to them, John 15:3. He washed them himself, and then said, You are clean but he excepts Judas: not all they were all baptized, even Judas, yet not all clean many have the sign that have not the thing signified. Note, [1.] Even among those who are called disciples of Christ, and profess relation to him, there are some who are not clean, Proverbs 30:12. [2.] The Lord knows those that are his, and those that are not, 2 Timothy 2:19. The eye of Christ can separate between the precious and the vile, the clean and the unclean. [3.] When those that have called themselves disciples afterwards prove traitors, their apostasy at last is a certain evidence of their hypocrisy all along. [4.] Christ sees it necessary to let his disciples know that they are not all clean that we may all be jealous over ourselves (Is it I? Lord, is it I that am among the clean, yet not clean?) and that, when hypocrites are discovered, it may be no surprise nor stumbling to us.

After Jesus had washed all the Apostles’ feet, He asked them whether they understood the import of His humble act (verse 12). He acknowledged that they rightly called Him Teacher and Lord (verse 13), then said that if He, of that exalted position, condescends to such an act of humility, then they should also serve each other in humble ways (verse 14).

This can involve literal foot washing in church on this particular Thursday or, perhaps, other humble acts of benefit — temporal or spiritual — to the recipient.

Henry explains:

(1.) Some have understood this literally, and have thought these words amount to the institution of a standing ordinance in the church that Christians should, in a solemn religious manner, wash one another’s feet, in token of their condescending love to one another. St. Ambrose took it so, and practised it in the church of MilanWhat Christ has done Christians should not disdain to do

(2.) But doubtless it is to be understood figuratively it is an instructive sign, but not sacramental, as the eucharist. This was a parable to the eye and three things our Master hereby designed to teach us:– [1.] A humble condescension. We must learn of our Master to be lowly in heart (Matthew 11:29), and walk with all lowliness we must think meanly of ourselves and respectfully of our brethren, and deem nothing below us but sin we must say of that which seems mean, but has a tendency to the glory of God and our brethren’s good, as David (2 Samuel 6:22), If this be to be vile, I will be yet more vile. Christ had often taught his disciples humility, and they had forgotten the lesson but now he teaches them in such a way as surely they could never forget. [2.] A condescension to be serviceable. To wash one another’s feet is to stoop to the meanest offices of love, for the real good and benefit one of another, as blessed Paul, who, though free from all, made himself servant of all and the blessed Jesus, who came not to be ministered unto, but to minister. We must not grudge to take care and pains, and to spend time, and to diminish ourselves for the good of those to whom we are not under any particular obligations, even of our inferiors, and such as are not in a capacity of making us any requital. Washing the feet after travelling contributes both to the decency of the person and to his ease, so that to wash one another’s feet is to consult both the credit and the comfort one of another, to do what we can both to advance our brethren’s reputation and to make their minds easy. See 1 Corinthians 10:24; Hebrews 6:10. The duty is mutual we must both accept help from our brethren and afford help to our brethren. [3.] A serviceableness to the sanctification one of another: You ought to wash one another’s feet, from the pollutions of sin. Austin takes it in this sense, and many others. We cannot satisfy for one another’s sins, this is peculiar to Christ, but we may help to purify one another from sin. We must in the first place wash ourselves this charity must begin at home (Matthew 7:5), but it must not end there we must sorrow for the failings and follies of our brethren, much more for their gross pollutions (1 Corinthians 5:2), must wash our brethren’s polluted feet in tears. We must faithfully reprove them, and do what we can to bring them to repentance (Galatians 6:1), and we must admonish them, to prevent their falling into the mire this is washing their feet.

Jesus said that, through this foot washing, He had set them an example that they should follow (verse 15).

He said something that they all knew — a servant is not greater than his master nor is a messenger greater than the one who sends him on an errand (verse 16) — and that they would be blessed in acting accordingly (verse 17).

Henry explains why Jesus said that:

Christ reminds them of their place as his servants they were not better men than their Master, and what was consistent with his dignity was much more consistent with theirs. If he was humble and condescending, it ill became them to be proud and assuming. Note, [1.] We must take good heed to ourselves, lest Christ’s gracious condescensions to us, and advancements of us, through the corruption of nature occasion us to entertain high thoughts of ourselves or low thoughts of him. We need to be put in mind of this, that we are not greater than our Lord. [2.] Whatever our Master was pleased to condescend to in favour to us, we should much more condescend to in conformity to him. Christ, by humbling himself, has dignified humility, and put an honour upon it, and obliged his followers to think nothing below them but sin. We commonly say to those who disdain to do such or such a thing, As good as you have done it, and been never the worse thought of and true indeed it is, if our Master has done it. When we see our Master serving, we cannot but see how ill it becomes us to be domineering.

A lot of people in the world do not understand this, which is why they take Christians for chumps, to use modern parlance.

Unfortunately, the Lectionary skips a few important verses from John 13, such as the following about Judas, in which John refers to himself in verses 23 and 25:

One of You Will Betray Me

21 After saying these things, Jesus was troubled in his spirit, and testified, “Truly, truly, I say to you, one of you will betray me.” 22 The disciples looked at one another, uncertain of whom he spoke. 23 One of his disciples, whom Jesus loved, was reclining at table at Jesus’ side,[e] 24 so Simon Peter motioned to him to ask Jesus[f] of whom he was speaking. 25 So that disciple, leaning back against Jesus, said to him, “Lord, who is it?” 26 Jesus answered, “It is he to whom I will give this morsel of bread when I have dipped it.” So when he had dipped the morsel, he gave it to Judas, the son of Simon Iscariot. 27 Then after he had taken the morsel, Satan entered into him. Jesus said to him, “What you are going to do, do quickly.” 28 Now no one at the table knew why he said this to him. 29 Some thought that, because Judas had the moneybag, Jesus was telling him, “Buy what we need for the feast,” or that he should give something to the poor. 30 So, after receiving the morsel of bread, he immediately went out. And it was night.

John MacArthur wrote his seminary dissertation on Judas. His sermon, ‘Unmasking the Traitor’, has a summary of his research and pertains to this passage from John.

MacArthur reminds us of Judas’s material disappointment of being in charge of the money bag for three years:

In chapter 13 verse 2, the devil has already put it “into the heart of Judas Iscariot, the son of Simon, to betray Him.” He has already begun the machinations to bring about the betrayal of Christ. He protested earlier in the week because perfume was wasted on Jesus. He said that it could’ve been sold, and the money given to the poor. He didn’t want to give money to the poor, but he was the treasurer and held the money box, and he was always stealing from it. So he wanted the money in the box so he could steal from it and make a getaway with as much as he could salvage out of what he saw as three wasted years. And to add to the amount that he could get, he wanted more than what the meager box might’ve held, and so he concocted a plan to sell Jesus out, to betray His presence, to the Pharisees who wanted Him dead. And he would sell Him for the price of a slave, 30 pieces of silver.

Our Lord is aware of all of this. He knows that the devil is commiserating with Judas. He knows that. Verse 11 of chapter 13 says “He knew the one who was betraying Him.” He knew the betrayal was in motion – present tense. It was ongoing. “For this reason He said, “Not all of you are clean.” He had just told the disciples they were clean. They were redeemed, they were saved, they were regenerated, they had been fully washed. But not all of them. Not all of them …

The presence of Jesus every day was an intolerable rebuke to him.  The purity of Jesus must’ve been unbearable for his wretched soul.  And surely, he must’ve had the sense, the fear for certain, the dread for certain that Jesus knew everything he was.  After all, in three years, he had seen Jesus read the hearts and minds of men.  He knew that Jesus said, way back at the beginning of the ministry in John 2, that He knew what was in the heart of men, and nobody needed to tell Him anything about that.  He had heard that Jesus declared, John 5:42, that He knew the people who didn’t love Him.  It says that.  The torture of knowing at any moment that it could all be over and Jesus could expose him must’ve made holding onto the hidden secrets of his heart an unbearable, brutal burden

But that didn’t work to convict him to do the right thing.  It just pressed him deeper and deeper into his hypocrisy until he could pull off his ultimate crime and get out with the best that could be made.  Sell the master of all things with money as his reward. 

It is a compelling sermon.

Now on to verse 31, wherein John tells us that once Judas left, Jesus told the remaining eleven Apostles that He — the Son of Man — had been glorified and, in turn, God glorified in Him. In verse 32, He reiterated that this would be a reciprocal action of the Son glorifying the Father (through His death on the cross), therefore, the Father would glorify the Son (through His obedience by reconciling the world to Him).

Henry tells us why Jesus waited until Judas left before saying those words:

Christ did not begin this discourse till Judas was gone out, for he was a false brother. The presence of wicked people is often a hindrance to good discourse. When Judas was gone out, Christ said, now is the Son of man glorified now that Judas is discovered and discarded, who was a spot in their love-feast and a scandal to their family, now is the Son of man glorified. Note, Christ is glorified by the purifying of Christian societies: corruptions in his church are a reproach to him the purging out of those corruptions rolls away the reproach. Or, rather, now Judas was gone to set the wheels a-going, in order to his being put to death, and the thing was likely to be effected shortly: Now is the Son of man glorified, meaning, Now he is crucified.

Jesus called the Apostles ‘little children’ and told them that He would not be among them for much longer, as He had told the Jews, ‘Where I am going, you cannot come’ (verse 33).

Henry says that this was their final time to ask any important questions of Him:

Whether we understand this as referring to his death or his ascension it comes much to one he had but a little time to spend with them, and therefore, [1.] Let them improve the advantage they now had. If they had any good question to ask, if they would have any advice, instruction, or comfort, let them speak quickly for yet a little while I am with you. We must make the best of the helps we have for our souls while we have them, because we shall not have them long they will be taken from us, or we from them. [2.] Let them not doat upon his bodily presence, as if their happiness and comfort were bound up in that no, they must think of living without it not be always little children, but go alone, without their nurses. Ways and means are appointed but for a little while, and are not to be rested in, but pressed through to our rest, to which they have a reference.

Then, Jesus gave them the true and great Commandment, which sums up all Ten from the Old Testament, to love one another, just as He has loved them (verse 34). Verse 34 is part of the traditional Anglican liturgy for Holy Communion.

Jesus further reinforced this by saying that, by obeying His Commandment, everyone will know they are truly His disciples (verse 35).

This is MacArthur’s closing prayer on these verses:

Let’s pray. We are reminded again of that familiar word from Paul.  Examine yourselves, whether you be in the faith.  And it comes down to who we love.  Loving You, Lord, loving You so that we are completely consumed with and committed to Your glory, Your honor, Your majesty, Your will.  This is the mark of a true believer.  This is a true Christian.  And Father, we also know that true believers are marked by an undying, focused, faithful love for each other.  May we be known by that love, that love toward You, so that You would be glorified in everything in our lives, and in this world, and in heaven, and foreverAnd may we be known by the love we have for one another This is enough to demonstrate who we are And as we see the evidence of that love in us, we can be assured of our salvation and what a great gift that is.  Lord, I pray that You’ll work in every life and every heart.  Make it our desire that we love even more, excel even more to a greater and greater love for Your glory and for each other These things we ask in the name of the Savior who loved us and gave Himself for us, our Lord Jesus Christ.  Amen.

What greater love could our Lord have for us than to die an excruciating death on the Cross for our sins, the sins of the whole world.

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