Having concluded in chapter 12 of his gospel the story of Jesus’ public ministry, John the Apostle turns in chapter 13 to narrate the final events of Jesus’ earthly life. These events, which begin with the Last Supper, include some of the most significant teaching Christ gave to His disciples as well as His passion.
Before telling us about this supper, however, John notes that the occasion is just “before the Feast of the Passover” (13:1). This refers most specifically to the foot washing that John describes in the following verses, which occurred before Jesus and the disciples ate the Passover meal. The mention of the Passover alerts us to the significance of Christ’s death as the final Passover lamb. John the Baptist’s remarks that Jesus is the “Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world” (1:29, 36) are fulfilled in the Savior’s death.
John 13:1 makes other significant theological points as well. It notes that “Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart out of this world to the Father.” Here we have reference to Jesus’ sovereignty over His own death and the timing of His crucifixion. Although Jesus allows Himself to be killed by a conspiracy of Roman and Jewish authorities, He is not at the mercy of those who want Him dead. They have power to put Him to death only insofar as it has been granted to them according to the divine plan and the divine schedule. Jesus lays down His life of His own accord; no one takes it from Him (John 10:18).
Our Lord’s sovereignty over His own death, in turn, informs John’s next point that “having loved his own who were in the world, [Jesus] loved them to the end” (13:1). “End” here can mean that Jesus loved His disciples until the end of His life or that He loved them to the fullest extent possible. It is probably best to see the verse as indicating both. Jesus loved His disciples until the crucifixion, and in the crucifixion we see the very depths of the love that Jesus had for them. Jesus willingly laid down His life—no one took it from Him by force—because He was the willing sacrifice for sin. He submitted to death because He loved us enough to pay the ultimate price to atone for our transgressions and reconcile us to God. This should inspire nothing less than awe and assurance in us. John Calvin comments, “Though we think that we are at a distance from Christ, yet we ought to know that he is looking at us; for he loveth his own, who are in the world; for we, have no reason to doubt that he still bears the same affection which he retained at the very moment of his death.”