Summary: Jesus' famous foot washing of His disciples is a love-parable of the way disciples should live and treat one another.
“A Symbolic Servant Ceremony” John 13:1-20
The cross is near for Jesus and the next 5 chapters cover Jesus’ farewell Passover meal and Jesus’ encouragement and prayers for His followers. We look at John 13:1 which is Jesus’ last supper where He washes His disciples’ feet:
“Now before the feast of the Passover, when Jesus knew that His hour had come that He should depart from this world to the Father, having loved His own who were in the world, He loved them to the end.” (What a beautiful verse! God certainly loves the world and sinners IN the world, but Jesus loves His own, His chosen ones who choose to follow Him; He loves them with His perfect self-sacrificial and self-denying, saving, eternal love!)
2 “And supper being ended, the devil having already put it into the heart of Judas Iscariot, Simon's son, to betray Him, 3 Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into His hands, and that He had come from God and was going to God, 4 rose from supper and laid aside His garments, took a towel and girded Himself. 5 After that, He poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples' feet, and to wipe them with the towel with which He was girded.”
Judas had already made his decision to betray Jesus: His heart desired what the devil desired, namely, the death of Jesus. This would be how Jesus would be handed over to His executioners, and although it was the will of God to be done this way, Judas is in no way excused for his actions.
Knowing all these things, Jesus rises from the table and begins to wash the disciples’ feet, wrapping a towel around Himself, as if He were a household servant. Footwashing was commonplace because of the dusty and dirty conditions in the region, but it would be unheard of for the Teacher, the Rabbi, to stoop to such a menial and degrading task. It is a picture of a Love-Parable in Action.
The Love of Jesus would not be quenched by the power of evil. His love knows no barriers, social, or otherwise. God incarnate stoops to wash the feet of sinners. His love is active and joyful, even in the tasks that are menial and lowly. Jesus shows by his love that the Greatest is the one who serves others and He will soon demonstrate that fact in the greatest possible degree in the cleansing power of the cross. There He would wash the hearts of sinners, not with water, but with the shedding of His Blood.
The disciples may have been more than happy to wash the feet of Jesus, but they would hardly consider washing each other’s feet; that would be a task for the lowest menial servants-yet Jesus does not shirk from such service. In Luke 22:24 the disciples were arguing about who was the greatest, so they were no doubt shocked when Jesus moved from the table to wash their feet, and the furthest thing from their minds would have been to humbly wash each other’s feet.
We continue in verse 6: Then He came to Simon Peter. And Peter said to Him, "Lord, are You washing my feet?" 7 Jesus answered and said to him, "What I am doing you do not understand now, but you will know after this." 8 Peter said to Him, "You shall never wash my feet!" Jesus answered him, "If I do not wash you, you have no part with Me." 9 Simon Peter said to Him, "Lord, not my feet only, but also my hands and my head!" 10 Jesus said to him, "He who is bathed needs only to wash his feet, but is completely clean; and you are clean, but not all of you." 11 For He knew who would betray Him; therefore He said, "You are not all clean."
Jesus was not merely being polite or responding to a dirty feet problem. As shocked as the disciples were by Jesus’ action, and as indignant as Peter appears, Jesus’ actions were serving as a symbolic and spiritual lesson. The selfless and humble service which Jesus was exemplifying through their footwashing was only the prelude which would be displayed by his death on the cross.
Peter as well as the other disciples failed to grasp the humble service at hand as symbolic of spiritual cleansing which only Jesus could provide, indicative of Jesus’ reply in verse 7: "What I am doing you do not understand now, but you will know after this." What the disciples would later learn is that unless the Lamb of God cleanses a person’s sin, a person would have no part with the Lord Jesus. (Jesus’ response in vs. 8b: "If I do not wash you, you have no part with Me.")