Harry Whittaker
Studies in the Gospels

185. The Washing of Feet [2] (John 13:1-20)

A number of details in connection with this incident are mentioned in such a way as to read like allusions to the priesthood under the law of Moses. It seems possible that Jesus had such an idea in mind and that John has so framed his story as to emphasize the symbolism of the incident. The various points are catalogued here for consideration.

"Jesus knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands . . . ." (v.3). This is Exodus 29:9: "Thou shalt consecrate (mg: fill the hands of) Aaron and his sons...." Also Leviticus 8 :27: "And he (Moses) put all upon Aaron's hands, and upon his son's hands. . . ." This was their consecration for the priesthood.

Jesus "girded himself" : the same word is used of the girding of the high priest (Lev.8 :7 LXX).

"Not only my feet, but also my hands and my head." Peter had evidently recognized now the further meaning behind this strange action of Jesus, and proceeded characteristically to press for a complete consecration like that of the high priest who was anointed with the sacrificial blood on the tip of his great toe, the thumb of his right hand and the tip of his right ear (Lev.8:24).

"He that is bathed (as the priests were: Lev.8:6, same word in LXX) needeth not save to wash his feet," like the priests busy in the tabernacle or temple (Ex.30 :19). The Levitical priest had to wash hands also, to cleanse them from the blood of the sacrifice, but this new priesthood need offer no more sacrifice for sin (Heb.10 :U).

"After... he had taken his garments . . . ." This divesting of garments and taking them again suggests either Zechariah 3 :4,5, where another Jesus is both type and prophecy of a greater high priest, or else the action of the High Priest on the Day of Atonement (Lev.16:23,24).

"I have left you an example." The word is really "a type".

The high priest had in his bosom the Urim and Thummin by which guilty men were identified by divine decision (e.g. Josh.7:16-19). Is there a counterpart to this in John lying on Jesus' breast (Jn. 13:25 has the same word as Ex. 28:23,26 LXX, and apparently, a deliberate change from 13:23)? And he elicited from him a pronouncement as to who was the guilty one.

John 14 continues the idea with its reference to "my Father's house" (always the sanctuary), and to "abiding places" in it; this must be an allusion to the rooms for the priests on duty, which were an integral part of the sanctuary. "I go to prepare a place for you", anticipates the double work of Christ's sacrifice and priesthood without which the believer's priestly service cannot possibly be acceptable.

John 17 is the Lord's high-priestly prayer,

A remarkable parallel with John 13 and context can be traced in Hebrews 10:21-29:

"Bodies washed with pure water"

"Hold fast the profession of your faith"—cp. the warning: "All will deny me."

Consider one another to provoke unto good works'—

"Do as I have done to you."

"Love and good works'— the Agape: "He loved them unto the end" (see Study 190).

"Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together'—

"Judas went out and it was night."

"If we sin wilfully ... no more sacrifice for sins'—

"Better for that man that he had never been born."

"Trodden underfoot the Son of God . . . counted the blood of the covenant an unholy thing'— Judas again.

"Having an high priest over the house of God."

In Matthew 26 also, Jesus blessing the Bread and Wine exercised the function of the priest blessing the sacrifice (1 Sam. 9:13; Ps. 132:15).

"I will no more drink of the fruit of the vine. . ." —a priest on duty was not to drink wine (Lev.11 :9). Thus Jesus proclaimed his own priesthood.

"This is the blood of the new covenant . . . ." Compare Moses and the blood of the first covenant (Ex. 24:8; Heb. 9:18-24; 8:13).

Note that in Gethsemane the four groups had relative nearness to God-Jesus, me three disciples, the rest of the twelve, and the hostile world outside; then compare the high priest, the ordinary priests, the Levites, and the ordinary people; and also: the Holy of Holies, the Holy Place, the Outer Court, and the outside world. (Study 211).

"Watch with me." It is the word used in LXX for "keeping the charge" of the sanctuary: e.g. Num. 3:28,31,32.

"He prayed the third time . . . ." On the Day of Atonement the high priest went three times into the Holy of Holies:

with incense.

with the blood of the bullock of his own sacrifice.

with the blood of the goat for the sins of the people.

The coat of Jesus, without seam, appears to be carefully described in this way so as to invite comparison with the seamless robe worn by a priest (Jn.19:23).

So it would seem that more than one gospel writer, besides the writer of Hebrews, was quick to see a fulness of "priestly" significance in the actions and work of Jesus as the time of sacrifice drew near.

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