John 13:8 – 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.”
In our last post we began to look at the narrative of Jesus washing the feet of the disciples shortly before his crucifixion. This was a shocking turn of events for the twelve, as Jesus was clearly their superior, and this menial task was always performed by servants.
Peter, the most outspoken of the group, immediately protests. His refusal is actually an expression of reverence for Jesus; he is reiterating how improper it is for Jesus to perform this task, since Peter is inferior to Jesus in every regard.
However, as we studied in our last post, Jesus has already stated that there is a purpose behind his actions. Therefore, if Peter refuses to allow this to happen, he is essentially rebelling against the will of God. Peter should submit to Jesus, even if he does not fully understand what is happening or the purpose behind it.
So what was the purpose? Well, we know that Jesus often used natural things or events to illustrate spiritual principles. For instance, in John chapter 10 he helped explain the kingdom of heaven by comparing himself to a shepherd and the kingdom to a sheep fold.
In the present case, Jesus is using the filth on the physical feet of the disciples to illustrate the filth of sin which clings to their souls. Because Jesus is literally the only one who can cleanse their sin, it is appropriate for him to wash their feet in this scenario.
It is not only appropriate but necessary that each one of us bow before Christ and implore him to wash us from our sin, so that we can ‘have a share’ with Christ or become one of the children of God. If he does not cleanse us, we are not his.
John 13:9 – Simon Peter said to him, “Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!”
Peter probably still misunderstands the complete meaning of Jesus, but he does know one thing – he will give up anything and everything just to keep Jesus! I can relate to that – how about you?
If refusing to have his feet washed will separate him from Christ, then Peter will swing to the other extreme – now he wants Jesus to wash his entire body, from head to foot.
Peter’s motivation was righteous – he was depending on Jesus for his spiritual well being. He desires for his whole inner man to be spiritually cleansed:
1 Thessalonians 5:22-23 – Abstain from all appearance of evil. And the very God of peace sanctify you wholly; and I pray God your whole spirit and soul and body be preserved blameless unto the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.
As true Christians, we too desire to have our intellects, wills, desires, actions, emotions and decisions all brought under the influence of Christ and consecrated unto God.
John 13:10 – 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.”
The act of bathing occurs at different intervals in different cultures. Here in America, people bathe almost daily. This was not the case back in the times of Christ; bathing was much less frequent.
Nevertheless, it was the custom of the Jews to bathe before partaking of the Passover meal. Therefore, in the natural sense, they did not need another whole-body cleansing at dinner that day – they only needed to wash their feet, because they would have picked up some dust as they walked to the location of the Passover celebration. This meant there were two separate cleansings or washings for them on that day (whole body and just the feet). This is symbolic of what happens in the spiritual realm.
In a spiritual sense, every follower of Christ experiences two cleansings. The first occurs at the commencement of your Christian life. As you are washed in the blood of Christ, you are made ‘completely clean’; Jesus absolves you from all of your sins. You become a new creature in Christ. You are sealed with Holy Spirit until the final day of redemption:
Ephesians 1:13 – In whom you also trusted, after you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation: in whom also after you believed, you were sealed with that Holy Spirit of promise…
(See also Ephesians 4:30). Like the whole-body washing of the disciples, this cleansing does not need to be repeated.
However, because we live in a sinful body of flesh in the midst of a fallen world, we still need to be cleansed of the daily sins that touch our life. This kind of cleansing is represented by the washing of the disciples’ feet. It is a cleansing that occurs often – as much as you need it. We are told to ask for this cleansing/forgiveness every time we pray. This is evident in the model prayer that Jesus gave his disciples while he was still on the earth:
Matthew 6:9, 12 – After this manner therefore pray: Our Father who is in heaven… forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.
Imagine for a moment that you lived back in the time when Christ walked the earth. Most people wore sandals and walked everywhere they went. The arid climate created a lot of dust, which was kicked up with every step you took. You wouldn’t have to go far before you could feel the dirt and grit coating you from the knee down.
Wouldn’t it be refreshing to go into your house after a hard day, sit down and wash that grit off of yourself?
Again, this reflects the spiritual realm. As we go through our daily life here on earth, the dust and grit of sin clings to us, no matter where we go or what we do. It weighs us down spiritually, mentally and emotionally. It makes us feel awful. But at the end of the day, we can turn to Jesus and ask him to cleanse us from that sin. When he does, our soul once again becomes as light as a feather as Jesus washes away the burden of our sin.
Unfortunately, even though Jesus washed the feet of all twelve of the disciples, one of them was not clean. Sadly, Judas remained in his sin because no amount of external washing can purify the soul. In other words, he failed to receive the first cleansing; he was not a true believer in Christ.
John 13:11 – For he knew who was to betray him; that was why he said, “Not all of you are clean.”
This statement by Jesus is the first reference to his betrayal during the feast. Jesus knew exactly who was going to betray him (John 6:64). His statement is a kind of warning to Judas, spoken in love. Perhaps the possibility for repentance still existed at that point. If Judas had been open to receiving it, his life would have turned out much differently.
John 13:12 – 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?”
This question is asked, not to be answered, but to focus their attention on what Jesus had done. He is about to explain to them why he washed their feet.
John 13:13-14 – “You call me Teacher and Lord, and you are right, for so I am. If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet.”
Teacher (your translation may say Master) – Jesus is our instructor in all the truths and commands of the gospel. He is a prophet revealing to us the will of God and showing us the way to salvation.
Lord – Jesus is our ruler, our creator, our owner and our King. He has authority over us in all ways. As disciples of Christ, it is proper for us to acknowledge him as such not only in word but in deed/action. There will be instances where our flesh does not want to receive or submit to the instruction/commands he gives us, but it is our duty to bring our flesh under control and obey his commands.
So what is Jesus teaching them? One important lesson is that of humility. The washing of their feet was a practical example they would never forget. Jesus teaches them that they ought to condescend to the most humble actions/offices/positions for the benefit of others, just as he did for them. They should regard themselves as servants of each other, instead of being proud or vain and having a high opinion of themselves.
Mark 10:42-43 – But Jesus called them to him, and said unto them, You know that they who are accounted to rule over the Gentiles exercise lordship over them; and their leaders exercise authority over them. But so shall it not be among you: but whosoever would be great among you, shall be your servant…
This was a valuable lesson for the disciples, since they are soon to be venerated as the founders of the church. They will be revered and honored by men and women everywhere, which would create a temptation for them to think they were more important than others. Jesus wanted to give them this important lesson in humility and service before he was crucified.
John 13:15 – For I have given you an example, that you also should do just as I have done to you.
What did Jesus mean by that? Should we be washing each other’s feet in church every Sunday? If so, it might affect attendance!
Doubtless, the instruction of Christ should be taken figuratively, not literally. Foot washing was not meant as an ordinance of the church like water baptism and communion.
Instead, we find four basic things that Jesus was showing us through this event. We have mentioned some of these already, but a reminder never hurts!
One, we must be humble. We need to remind ourselves that we are sinners, saved by grace alone; we have no reason at all to boast (Ephesians 2:8-9). In fact, we are to be meek and lowly in heart (Matthew 11:29). We should not refuse to do anything that promotes the glory of God or the good of our brothers and sisters in Christ. (II Samuel 6:20-22).
Two, we must engage in service for others. Back in the day, washing the feet of another person was the lowest/most base service you could perform for someone else. This reflects the mission of Jesus who came to earth to serve, not to be served (even though that was what he deserved).
We find the same example in the life of the apostle Paul. He made himself the servant of all so that he could win as many people to Christ as possible.
1 Corinthians 9:19 – For though I am free from all men, yet have I made myself servant unto all, that I might gain the more.
The principle of service to others also requires that we allow others to serve/assist us. In our culture, this is often very difficult because we want to do everything for ourselves. We feel we can handle most things on our own; we don’t need or want help from anyone else. We often feel that accepting help from others makes us appear weak or inept. But that is not the case. Through acts of service, we build working relationships with other believers.
These kinds of working relationships are vital to the kingdom. Scripture tells us that one Christian puts a thousand enemies to flight, but two can scatter ten thousand (Deuteronomy 32:30)! Those kinds of exponential results occur when we partner with each other.
Three, we should help each other abstain from sin. If a brother or sister in Christ has fallen into sin, it is our duty/delight to come along side them and help restore them to their proper place in the church (Galatians 6:1). Obviously, only God can cleanse their sin, but we can assist them in recovery and reinstatement in the body of Christ.
Or even better, if we see a brother or sister about to fall into sin, we need to have the courage to go to them with a loving warning (I Thessalonians 5:14).
Four, Jesus teaches us by example as well as doctrine. His actions are always consistent with his commands. We might say he ‘practices what he preaches’. We need to do the same thing, especially in our own families/homes. We need to be godly examples for our children and the lost that surround us.
Take a moment and examine your own household. Ask yourself some of these questions:
Do you attend church regularly? Do you bring your children with you? Do you place importance/value on prayer and reading the bible? Have you taught your children how to pray?
Do you exemplify forgiveness, generosity, fairness, respect and love in your home? If not, what are you teaching your children? More importantly, what are you failing to teach your kids (1 John 2:6)?
John 13:16 – 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.
This lesson applied to the disciples in a peculiar way. Remember, all Jews believed that the Messiah was going to appear on earth and immediately establish an earthly kingdom that would last forever. No doubt, the twelve believed this as well.
Furthermore, they had reason to believe that they would have a special place in this kingdom (Matthew 19:28, Luke 22:30). For this reason, they may have felt that washing someone else’s feet was beneath them. If this was their thought process, Jesus immediately dispels that notion.
Instead, they are to remember that there is absolutely NO circumstance in which a servant, messenger or ambassador is greater than his master. In fact, the servant is to represent or imitate the one he/she serves. This means that the characteristics displayed by the master should be evident in the servant:
- If the master is humble, they cannot exhibit pride.
- If the master is generous, they cannot be stingy.
- If the master is forgiving, they cannot hold a grudge.
- If the master forbids sin, they cannot embrace it.
The corollary truth is this: Because the servant/messenger/ambassador and the master are in complete unity, the servants cannot expect to be treated differently than the master they represent. The implications for Christians are obvious. If Jesus experienced rejection and persecution, it is entirely possible that his servants will experience the same thing. If there are those who love and embrace the master, they will love and embrace his servants as well (John 15:20).
John 13:17 – If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them.
Jesus is revealing two things here. One, we need to have a knowledge of his ways, commands and doctrines so that we might practice them. Two, blessing comes as we practice or live out those commands in our everyday lives.
So if you’re not blessed, whose fault is it? Yours or God’s? Instead of blaming our King, perhaps we should change our ways in order to place ourselves under the open windows of heaven (Deuteronomy 28:1-9 – pay special attention to the word ‘if’ in verse 9).
John 13:18 – 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.’
Back in verse 10, Jesus indicated that they were clean, but not all. Now he goes on to again point out that he would be betrayed. He assures his true followers that this was not happenstance; nor was it a surprise. It was predicted hundreds of years before by God through his servant David (Psalms 41:9).
As with most prophesy, Psalms 41 had more than one fulfillment. It was fulfilled during the time of King David, as his close friend and advisor Ahithophel betrayed him (see II Samuel chapter 15). It was also fulfilled as Judas betrayed King Jesus.
However, let me remind you that Judas was not doomed to betray Christ because of an ancient prophesy. Judas had a free will choice of what to do; the scriptures simply foretold his decision.
In both cases, the betrayer ‘ate bread’ with the one they claimed to love and follow. Back in that day to eat with someone was proof of friendship. In the case of Judas, it affirmed that he had been admitted to all of the privileges of friendship, unity and love that all 12 disciples enjoyed.
Yet, Judas is described as ‘lifting up his heel against me’. This is a metaphorical expression that means to attack a person in an unexpected manner; to gain an advantage under the pretence of friendship when a person is not on their guard.
You expect your enemies to try and harm or kill you, but not your friends. To betray a friend is one of the most despicable actions a person can take. Everyone knew that the Jews (for the most part) were the enemies of Christ. Everyone knew they desired to kill him, so their persecution of Jesus was not a surprise. But Judas was different. He was considered a friend and companion of Christ. So his betrayal greatly aggravated the suffering of Jesus.
John 13:19 – I am telling you this now, before it takes place, that when it does take place you may believe that I am he.
The upcoming crucifixion of Christ had the potential to crush the faith of the apostles. Things would not turn out like they dreamed or expected, and one of their own was the catalyst for the death of their beloved Messiah. Satan would definitely have tortured them with thoughts of hopelessness and fear.
But Jesus protects and strengthens their faith by telling them in advance what was going to happen. So when Judas betrays Christ and Jesus lays his life down on the cross, his followers could have confidence that everything was happening according to God’s great plan. Instead of losing faith, their faith would be increased and strengthened!
Let me offer you some encouragement, relief and strength:
Jesus says that if we know his commands and keep them, we will be blessed. But what does that mean? For some strange reason, many people associate the word ‘blessed’ with money.
To be fair, ‘bless’ can mean to confer prosperity upon something or someone. But that is only a very small portion of what the word means.
‘Bless’ also means to be pronounced holy or consecrated; to make happy or joyous, to grant divine favor on a person or thing; to invoke beneficial attributes on something (as on food); to praise, glorify or extol for excellence.
God is all about blessing his people:
- God is said to bless his people when he bestows upon them a temporal or spiritual gift (Genesis 1:22).
- In the Old Testament the priests blessed the entire congregation of Israel (Numbers 6:2-27).
- In the New Testament, the apostles often pronounced blessings upon believers in Christ (II Corinthians 13:14, Ephesians 6:2-24, Hebrews 13:20-21, etc) when they wrote letters to them.
But notice that these blessings were for grace, peace, the ability to maintain a successful Christian walk, etc.
While God has (and will continue) to bless his people financially, let’s not make the mistake of limiting God’s blessings to the financial realm. God blesses us with many, many, many things which no amount of money can buy – like peace, joy, love, good relationships, health, children, provision, his presence in our lives, etc.
How have you been blessed by God?