Twelve New Leaders For Twelve Old Tribes (john 13:1-20)

12 apostles for 12

Twelve new leaders for twelve old tribes (John 13:1-20)

Now before the Feast of the Passover, when Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart out of this world to the Father, having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end.

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After the recent events discussed in the previous chapter, it was clear to Jesus that this would be the last Passover he would spend with his beloved disciples. You may recall that he had come to this decision when the God-fearing Greeks sought him out. The content of this chapter comes on the heels of the previous confrontation with the hoi Ioudaioi, and Jesus’ presentation of himself as the good shepherd. There  he accused the current leadership of Israel of being the evil shepherds who did not care for the sheep. This verse begins by stating that as the Good Shepherd of Israel, Jesus loved his own sheep with the highest commitment and dedication possible.

During supper, when the devil had already put it into the heart of Judas Iscariot, Simon’s son, to betray him, Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going back to God, rose from supper. He laid aside his outer garments, and taking a towel, tied it around his waist. Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was wrapped around him.

It is clear in this passage, one of his last interactions with his disciples that Jesus wanted to personally model something very important. However, it is crucial that we don’t see this as simply his personal example for all believers (while the principle of course applies to everyone). The supper was very special, because it was one of Jesus’ last training sessions with the new leadership of Israel he was about to leave in his place. This is in contrast to today, when in many churches apostles and their office are not considered to be of much importance.

The number twelve was not coincidental. Jesus chose twelve apostles because his plan included the full renewal of Israel. The 12 heads of the tribes of Israel were to be replaced by the 12 Jewish apostles who would lead Israel into the renewed future defined by redemption.

Just read this description of the New Jerusalem:

“It had a large, high wall with twelve gates. Twelve angels were at the gates, and the names of the twelve tribes of Israel were written on the gates. There were three gates on the east, three gates on the north, three gates on the south, and three gates on the west. The wall of the city had twelve foundations, and the twelve names of the twelve apostles of the lamb were written on them.” (Rev.21:12-14)

So as we read in vs. 3 “knowing that that the Father had given all things into his hands” Jesus rose up to wash up the feet of his disciples. As we noted earlier, this was one of the last and most important leadership training sessions he would have with those who were to become the good shepherds of Israel. They were to rule Israel with compassion, care and a sense of ownership. This was in contrast to the “bad shepherds” Jesus had come to replace. We must not move forward before at least mentioning the fact that God had given everything into Jesus’  hands did not mean that now people should serve him (a rather logical conclusion), but that He should now serve them.

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He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, “Lord, do you wash my feet?” Jesus answered him, “What I am doing you do not understand now, but afterward you will understand.” Peter said to him, “You shall never wash my feet.” Jesus answered him, “If I do not wash you, you have no share with me.” Simon Peter said to him, “Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!” 10 Jesus said to him, “The one who has bathed does not need to wash, except for his feet, but is completely clean. And you are clean, but not every one of you.” 11 For he knew who was to betray him; that was why he said, “Not all of you are clean.” 12 When he had washed their feet and put on his outer garments and resumed his place, he said to them, “Do you understand what I have done to you? 13 You call me Teacher and Lord, and you are right, for so I am. 14 If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. 15 For I have given you an example, that you also should do just as I have done to you.

Peter makes his opposition known by simply voicing the bewilderment of other disciples. Jesus answers him that unless he lets Jesus wash his feet, Peter would not be able to share in the crucial service of the good shepherds. Peter, perhaps, thinking that Jesus is talking about ceremonial water cleansing offers to go through the entire ceremony (mikvah). Jesus specifies that he does not have the water ceremony in mind, rather that he only requires his leader-servants to have hearts of humility and utter commitment to serve God’s people. Jesus would later challenge Peter by the context of Ezekiel’s prophecy of the evil of shepherds of Israel: “Feed my sheep!” (Ezek.34)

16 Truly, truly, I say to you, a servant is not greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him.

It was either the task of the youngest family member or a servant to wash the dusty feet of newly arrived guests coming into a house from the outside. Jesus carried out the job of the servant. The disciples were Jesus’ servants. The conclusion was inescapable. If he did it, how much more should they be willing to do the same! They must become trustworthy and not self-seeking to be able to truly be shepherds of God’s people – Israel.

17 If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them. 18 I am not speaking of all of you; I know whom I have chosen. But the Scripture will be fulfilled, ‘He who ate my bread has lifted his heel against me.’ 19 I am telling you this now, before it takes place, that when it does take place you may believe that I am he.

Though this is not his focus, Jesus predicts future events. Everything was done so that the Apostles would be strengthened in their faith before a time of very difficult service (for most ending with martyrdom) that lay ahead of them.

 20 Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever receives the one I send receives me, and whoever receives me receives the one who sent me.”

In this concluding remark, Jesus once again shows the importance of the twelve apostles he was leaving in his place. He gave them all the authority necessary to rule. Receiving them would mean receiving Jesus; just as receiving Jesus meant receiving his Father. It follows, therefore, that whoever receives one of the twelve apostles receives God Himself.

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  1. Rodolfo E. Henriquez Lao

    En cada estadio de mi vida espiritual — de católico a las ciencias ocultas, de éstas al evangelismo y la úiltima al judeo mesianismo– recibí ofensas, desprecios, abandonos, pérdidas económicas y sociales…¡y hasta amenazas! Aún hoy, al arribar a mis 80 años, los sigo sufriendo. Parece un mal general, y lo huelo en algunos comentarios: no se puede ir contra las falsas tradiciones. Parece que tuvieran mayor poder que LA VERDAD.
    Muchos de nosotros hemos hecho la falsa oración:”Señor, quiero saber más de Tí”. Para ser honestos, para nuestro interior agregamos “siempre y cuando no contradigan mis creencias” ¡Qué difícil es “no tener pelos en la oreja”! ¿Por qué? Pues porque YO, nada menos que YO…¡NO PUEDO ACEPTAR ESTAR EQUIVOCADO O HABER SIDO INGENUAMENTE ENGAÑADO!
    ¡Qué difícil es la tarea que se ha impuesto, estimado Doctor! ¡Y qué impotencia se siente cuando, como Yesayah, clama uno a Lo Alto “Señor ¿quién quiere escuchar lo que me mandas decir”!

    1. Eric de Jesús Rodríguez Mendoza

      BS”D

      Hola Rodolfo!
      gracias por comentar!
      Te invito a que nos sigas en el blog en español… Sigue la banderita en la parte superior derecha de la pantalla.

  2. Marinete Almeida

    Dr. Eli , Não percebi languagem iinflammatory nos comments apenas, ideas radicail

  3. Harriett

    Hello Dr. Eli, What you said about humility and serving is one aspect of this set of verses. However there is, I think a different aspect to it as well. Jesus said “What I am doing you do not understand now, but afterward you will understand.” This was prophetic of the Lord’s death and resurrection. But Peter replied “Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!” Jesus then told him that “The one who has bathed does not need to wash, except for his feet, but is completely clean. ”

    This represents that we are cleansed twice, the first when we accept Christ, complete absolution from sin as a guilty state i.e. Justification and Regeneration, which is effected once for all and is never repeated. The other cleansing “the feet” is in consequence of continuing contact with the earth. It is the DAILY CLEANSING which we are taught to seek. That is why Christ refused to extend the cleansing further and it is what Peter did not, and could not, yet understand. The understanding of it would come after the resurrection.

    Thank you for your continued commentaries, they are always excellent, Harriett

    1. Dr. Eli Lizorkin-Eyzenberg

      Harriett, shalom. thank you for sharing your ideas on this. Blessings and happy New Year. Dr. Eli

  4. Dr. Eli Lizorkin-Eyzenberg

    Friends, since apparently we cannot talk civilly about these things. I made a decision in the future to not to allow any comments with inflammatory language expressing radical ideas. Dr. Eli

    1. Rafael

      I hope your perceived boundaries for “inflammatory” and “radical” leave lots of room.

      Just calmly stating a belief in the trinity can be inflammatory. And my idea about the shape of the New Jerusalem is quite radical, so much so, I’ve yet to encounter anyone who agrees with me about it. I rarely mention it to anyone. It doesn’t seem to be very inflammatory. Rather everyone just thinks I’m weird. I am, mind you, as is everyone else. Everyone has strange ideas about something or another.

      The evidence that I have for what I believe that shape to be, starts weak and gets weaker. But my belief is not as weak as the evidence.

      I suspect that people’s most-pet beliefs are that way. But most people don’t realize just how weak is their evidence. The weaker the evidence, the more we tend to double-down, and the more we need humility in the belief that’s built upon it.

      Those who insist on believing some thing, care only about the facts which bolster their belief.

      Those who care about the truth humble themselves and let go of mistaken cherished beliefs.

      Those who care about others must decide when the truth is more important than a person’s feelings. Love covers a multitude of sins.

      But to have peace, you must establish authority that destroys the chaos. That’s one of the word-picture meanings that emerge from the word “shalom (שלום)”.

      שלום Dr Eli.

      Thanks for establishing the authority that destroys the chaos.

      1. Dr. Eli Lizorkin-Eyzenberg

        Rafael, I am glad you are taking part in these discussion. May He grant us all light.

  5. Jesiel Monteiro de Miranda

    Dr. Eli Lizorkin-Eyzenberg, really liked his words, there is inspiration of God in them, put your link on my facebook page so my Brazilian friends have access to this gold mine.
    Cheers
    Jesiel Monteiro

    Dr. Eli Lizorkin-Eyzenberg, gostei muito de suas palavras, há inspiração de Deus nelas, coloquei seu link em minha página de facebook, para que meus amigos brasileiros tenham acesso a essa mina de ouro.
    Felicidades
    Jesiel Monteiro

    1. Dr. Eli Lizorkin-Eyzenberg

      Thank you dear friend. Fill free to post http://JewishStudies.eteacherbiblical.com

      Next month I will be introducing Spanish (I realize in Brazil it is not spanish that is spoken) as the second language on the site.

      Dr. Eli

  6. Betty Rindal

    Just one small confusion, only one after following your studies for a
    couple of years. “Judas Iscarriot, Simon’s son”. Which Simon: Simon Peter or Simon, the Cannonite?

    Thank you, I do so enjoy you discourses as you are so learned.
    Betty Rindal
    Temple Texas USA

    1. Dr. Eli Lizorkin-Eyzenberg

      Betty, thank you for your kind words. Judas under discussion is unrelated to any Simon we know. Simon that is mentioned was his dad. Simon is a very common Jewish name.

  7. Marinete Almeida

    I dont understand the translation quite well, but what I think is that, before being servants and leaders, we should be humble and truly, to have a commitment to serve the people of God. ” That’s what was missing in the Jewish leaders. I Also understand that when Jesus said to Peter: “take care of my sheeps” he was relying Peter this herd. He wanted a committed pastor in the work of caring, teaching, conducting.

    1. Dr. Eli Lizorkin-Eyzenberg

      Yes, one clarification is that before we go to “we” (all believers today) it was primarily meant for “them” (apostles Jesus was leaving in his place).

    2. Rafael

      A point of order, Marinete: Jesus did NOT assign the flock only to Peter. The assignment was to all the apostles, even to Paul, even though Paul wasn’t even on the scene yet.

      In the final chapter of John, Jesus does specifically command this to Peter. But the rest of the new testament makes it clear that this assignment was to each apostle (and by extension, to every believer of “the way”).

      Paul was the only one of them who did extensive ministry to gentiles (not of the flock of Israel). And even he ministered to the Jew first, and repeatedly suggested it as a model. The others, including Peter, ministered almost exclusively to those within the borders of Israel, primarily Jews.

      This is not to say that gentiles are not included. We are, by adoption, by grafting, and by marriage (not to mention by special creation).

      My point is merely that there is no scriptural basis for assigning to Peter some special status.

  8. Kostya

    Shalom Dr Eli!
    A point of clarification please. You wrote ‘This is in contrast to today, when in many churches apostles and their office are not considered to be of much importance’. I assume you meant ‘the’ apostles, not that the office of apostle is available today. That of course is disputed among cessationists and continualists. I agree that the importance of the apostles is largely lost today. Evangelicals have largely replaced it with Scripture. We call them ‘apostolic writings’ but not all were by apostles. What is the importance of (the) apostles to us today?
    A comment: Thanks for bringing up the issue of authority in the church. The issue of authority is about radical service as you said, based on a foundation, which is Messiah Jesus and His example. You quoted Revelation 21:12-14 in support of the idea that the 12 Jewish apostles replaced the twelve tribes of Israel. But does the Revelation passage speak of replacement? The names of the apostles can be seen just as an addition. If there is replacement, it is there in Rev 21:22 where the temple (and its significance to the Jews) is replaced by the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb (the eternal sacrifice).
    Were the leaders of the 12 tribes of Israel ever in a position of spiritual leadership over all Israel or play a role in spiritual redemption that they should be replaced or their authority renewed? Is it not the place and function of the Torah that is renewed and replaced with a new foundation? This seems to be the idea in Apostle Paul’s letter to the Ephesians 2:12-22.
    There the idea of a new foundation for the church is ‘ apostles, prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the cornerstone’. (v20) . In Ephesians we see the law (which was a barrier between Jew and Gentile) replaced with a new foundation creating unity.
    S novim godom! All blessings on you and your family and ministry in 2014!

    1. Dr. Eli Lizorkin-Eyzenberg

      Kostya, shalom. Yes, I meant the 12 apostles. BUT I did not mean to communicate the idea that the twelve apostles replace the 12 tribes. They rather are the symbolic new heads of those 12 tribes. In the next section we will see that Jesus commandment for them to love one another will be reminiscent of the NON-LOVE of the original heads of Israel towards one another another, especially Joseph.

    2. Rafael

      Kostya, also note that the word which we know as apostle comes from a Greek word which simply means messenger (which is how most churches view it). But that Greek word stems from a Hebrew word that is more like vicar, how Jesus spoke in this passage, someone who represents the sender in such a way that the sent one vicariously IS the one who sent him. Those who receive such an ambassador receives the sender. Those who harm the ambassador have assaulted the sender.

      The station of apostle today, depending upon context, can either refer to the original apostles, or to the ones going out into the world as His vicars (not the pope, sorry), or to both. I think Dr Eli used both contexts. And I think Jesus used both contexts also (in his foreknowledge). And in the context of present-day sent-out-ones, Dr Lizorkin is right. They are not regarded highly.

      But Dr Lizorkin never referred to the tribal heads as being replaced. And if he had, he would be on shaky ground, particularly in light of the Revelation passage that he stated himself. The names of the twelve tribal heads are on the twelve gates, as well as being on each of the twelve tribes. After all, the tribe of Judah is not renamed as the tribe of John.

      The title says it well, Twelve New Leaders For Twelve Tired Tribes. And as Dr Eli pointed out, they were weakened by the then-current shepherds who were devouring the sheep of God, the people of Israel, for their own gain.

      1. Dr. Eli Lizorkin-Eyzenberg

        Clarification: I am not thinking replacement, but renewal.

        1. Rafael

          I didn’t see your clarification until after posting that Judah redeemed himself. But I would have posted that anyway, just to clarify something that I had left ambiguous.

      2. Rafael

        I meant to point out that Judah redeemed himself when he begged the ruler of Egypt to take him instead of Benjamin (becoming a type of hamashiakh in the process).

        And Reuben showed repentance when he went to the well to set Joseph free.

        The scripture never cites anything against Joseph, neither his brother Benjamin.

        So there’s four “heads” of the tribes of Israel who need no replacement. And I think that research may exonerate the other 8 as well.

        Perhaps the successive generational tribal heads may need replacement, particularly those in the days of Yeshua. But the original heads of the tribes? I just don’t see that.

        1. Dr. Eli Lizorkin-Eyzenberg

          I clarify again. New leaders for old tribes is NOT a replacement, but renewal. Dr. Eli

          1. Rafael

            Dare I repeat myself also?

            I didn’t see your previous clarification until “after” I posted that.

  9. James Ericksen

    Dr. Eli,

    In verse eleven (11) Jesus said, that one is unclean. What is your take on this. They were observing the passover, and each person doing so had to be clean.

    1. Dr. Eli Lizorkin-Eyzenberg

      In this case I think unclean must refer to what Judas was about to do. Do we have other interpretive options?

      1. Deborah Welch

        Satan observes God’s Ways, he must observe them for he is only a created being. Jesus knew that Satan would enter Judas, take complete control of that what Judas did, lift his heel against the Christ, exactly what God Almighty said in the beginning, Gen.3:15 And I will put enmity between you and the woman, & between your offspring & her OffSpring; He will bruise & tread your head underfoot, you will lie in wait & bruise His heel.” Satan was (through Judas) trying to beat God’s Only Begotten, the One Who would bruise his (Satan’s) head to the in end line of Gen.3:15. And of course this is all taking place in the capsule of time. Jesus was speaking &living with eternal purpose & actions.

  10. Kat Hobaugh

    Another remarkable article that I look forward to sharing with my friends.
    I am wondering in this statement, “leader-servants to have hearts of humility and utter commitment to serve God’s people” who decides whether we are leader-servants ? I bring this up because I have not always known what the Name of the Lord our God meant in relationship to “Feed my sheep.”