In John 1-12 we see Jesus’ ministry to His one nation, the nation rejected Him, John 1:11, He withdraws from public ministry and in chapters 13-17 we have teaching given to the apostles. There is a difference in emphasis, in John 1-12 the dominant words are ‘life’ and ‘light’, introduced in John 1:4. The theme of ‘life’ occurs 50 times, and the theme of ‘light’ occurs 32 times. But in John 13-17 the ‘life’ theme occurs only 6 times and the ‘light’ theme not at all, by contrast ‘love’ is mentioned 6 times in John 1-12 but 31 times in John 13-17.
In the farewell narrative, John is showing us love in action, John 13-19 deal with the final week in the earthly life of Jesus and we see two significant actions in John 13:1-30. Before beginning his systematic instruction of the apostles, Jesus does two significant things, He washes His disciples’ feet an object lesson in love and humility and also, and He gives a sop and instruction to Judas, setting in motion the chain of events which led to His death.
This verse is by way of introduction of the event now to occur, the reason why Jesus did this is given as ‘He now showed them the full
extent of His love’. He loved the men He had spent the last three years training, now He used this opportunity to show them the full extent of His love and His humility.
‘Now before the feast of the Passover’ etc., doesn’t necessarily mean that the events here recorded took place before the Passover. Judas Iscariot already knew what he was to do, he had shown his true colours as a materialist by being guilty of stealing. Now he had the opportunity to earn money by selling Jesus to the Sanhedrin. He decides that the time is right, perhaps if he lingers longer someone else will earn the thirty pieces of silver. The decision was already made.
Feet washing was practised because the roads were unsurfaced and uncleaned, in summer, dust, in winter, mud. Feet washing was an essential social requirement. In times of riches, a servant performs this service.
No doubt they took turns, on this occasion no apostle willing to do it, Luke 22:24, if John 13 records the observance of the Passover, then on this occasion, they were arguing about who should be greatest.
Jesus had all assurance that His objectives were to be reached, He now needed to show the way of humility not, arrogance, the foot washing was the lowest task in a household. It proved one’s servanthood, so Jesus, fully understanding His Deity as well as His imminent death and return to God, becomes that lowly servant.
Jesus washes and dries the feet of those around Him, using the towel wrapped around His waist. The lowest servant’s role is taken on by God himself and note the ‘garments’ in John 13:4 / John 13:12.
Customarily the slave who washed his master’s feet removed both outer cloak and inner tunic, clad only in a loincloth, Philippians 2:7. In man’s view of things, you have many people at the bottom of a ladder in a company, family or even a church or denomination.
Jesus shows His disapproval of such views by washing the feet of the disciples, He shows the need for the leaders, as Jesus truly was, to be servants to the masses. It’s a great lesson in humility that we all need to learn.
Jesus washed the feet of all, including Judas, John 13:12, Judas had already conceived the plan to betray his Master, John 13:2. Jesus knew this, John 13:11 / John 6:70-71, but Jesus washed Judas’ feet because He loved him. Agape love isn’t a mere emotional response to someone we like, it is a deliberate act of the well, determination to do good to others, no matter how badly they treat us.
Man’s view of the road to success, many are at the bottom of the ladder and all are trying to ascend it. The man at the top is served by those below him.
Jesus’ view of the same ladder, He taught us the need to accept our place at the top but struggle to serve, and descend the ladder becoming more like Him at each rung.
Here we see that Jesus eventually works his way around to Peter. Now Peter had a strong tendency to put his foot in his mouth without thinking of the potential consequences. Peter’s protest, ‘Lord, do you wash my feet?’ is incongruous that his ‘kurios’ should wash His own servant’s feet.
He ought to have known that a lesson was being taught by the Master. Even if he didn’t understand the lesson, it was amply clear that Jesus wasn’t involved in a foot cleaning session for the simple sake of it. However, his heart is in the right place.
Jesus says, ‘You do not realise now what I am doing, but one day you will understand’. Peter immediately shows that he doesn’t appreciate the significance of what Jesus is doing through his violent protest, this shows Peter’s character, a curious blend of humility and arrogance.
Peter thinks it’s totally unacceptable that His Master should perform this menial act shows his humility and then in the same breath we see his arrogance, he, the servant, presumed to dictate to his Master, Matthew 16:22. Jesus says, ‘Unless I wash you, you will not share with me’ and look at Peter’s response, ‘Lord, not my feet only, but also my hands and my head!’
Peter was a very unstable man. He had just told his Master that He, Jesus was doing too much. He now tells Him that He isn’t doing enough! One moment he courageously walks on the sea, the next moment he is pleading, ‘Lord, save me!’ Matthew 14:28-30
He confesses that Jesus is ‘the Christ, the Son of the living God,’ then soon after he dares to rebuke His Master, Matthew 16:16-22
In the Upper Room, he declares that he will die rather than deny Jesus, but soon he will deny him three times. John 18:25-27 / Matthew 26:69-75.
But there is no denying Peter’s love for Jesus, even here in John 13, he seems to be saying, ‘I want to belong to you completely’ not just my feet, but all of me, Lord. He was impetuous and unreliable, but in him ‘grace gradually won the victory’ and made him the man Jesus wanted him to be. He seems so emphatic that Jesus will not clean his feet until Jesus tells him his options, then he swings around to the opposite extreme and wants his whole body washed.
The lesson isn’t one of bodily cleanliness, but of spiritual humility. It’s a vital lesson all must learn but is even more pronounced for those who are in leading positions in the church, they must lead by example, and in humility, with all love and compassion.
Peter didn’t feel worthy of having his feet cleaned by the Lord, and he was well justified for this idea, however, none of us deserved or do still deserve redemption, but God’s love for us exceeds His hate for sin. We must be most precious in the eyes of God, or He would never have sent His Son on our behalf.
This was an everyday example, a man going to feast first bathes completely at home, then on arrival, his feet only would be washed. Likewise, ‘you, ‘plural’ are clean’ i.e. spiritually.
‘But not every one of you’, Judas had already made a bargain with the Sanhedrin to betray Jesus, Matthew 26:14-16 / Mark 14:10-11. Jesus has reassured Peter that he is now clean and now turns His attention to one of the number who isn’t. He doesn’t yet tell the gathering who is to be guilty, but we can be sure both Jesus and the guilty party knew who was being discussed.
Judas may have had had a bath, but he could never wash away the spiritual dirt he had allowed and was now allowing to accumulate within him. We can do nothing to affect spiritual cleansing and need to rely totally on Jesus’ grace and blood, there must also be a daily cleansing.
Here we see Jesus the example of humble service. Jesus then completed the task of washing the rest of the disciple’s feet. No one else commented on the action, although they may have been somewhat perplexed by the entire incident.
The word ‘know’ means understand, they knew what he had done, but did they appreciate its spiritual significance. Jesus re-joined them at the table and started to discuss the event just passed and He points out to them the relationship between them, Jesus is their teacher and their Lord.
They rightly called him, ‘The Teacher’, ‘didaskalos’ and ‘The Lord’, ‘Kurios’. If He, their Kurios and ‘didaskalos’ had lovingly served them, they ought lovingly to serve one another. By performing this most menial task He had given them an ‘example’ for them to copy.
‘Truly, truly’, always prefaces a solemn statement, ‘a slave’ ‘doulos’ is not greater than his Master, it is surely not too menial for his slaves. ‘He who is sent’ John 13:16 is apostolos, its sole occurrence in John’s Gospel. They were His sent ones, apostles, Matthew 10:2, He was their sender.
‘If you know this, happy are you if you act upon it’.
What did Jesus say? He said, not ‘…that you should do what I have done to you’ but ‘as I have done to you’. Foot washing in both the Old and New Testaments was a social custom, it met a real need. Present denominational practice of washing clean feet cannot be compared with it. there is absolutely no New Testament evidence that it was ever practised congregationally as an ordinance.
1 Timothy 5:10 classed with bringing up children, and showing hospitality, all defined as ‘doing good in every way’. It would be equally logical to suggest that bringing up children be made a ‘church ordinance’.
Jesus gave them an object lesson in humility, which rebuked their pride. They argued as to who was greatest, Luke 22:24, He had taught them often in word, Matthew 20:25-28. Now He teaches them in deed, in His kingdom true greatness is measured by the yardstick of loving service, Galatians 5:13.
It was an example of loving service which should characterise every true disciple in His dealings with other disciples. We aren’t told to wash each other’s feet as some sort of ceremony, but to be involved with actively serving each other as well as the people around us.
This doesn’t mean that the disciples are greater than Jesus, but that our response to our greatness in Christ, having our sins forgiven, and enjoying eternal life, ought to be a response in humility and servanthood, not arrogance as is the norm in the world. We are urged to do these things as Christ did.