Summary: Christ had requested privacy for His supper and, consequently, no servant was present. The disciples were too proud to perform this menial task; therefore, the Lord took the basin and washed the feet of His disciples.
Harmony of the gospels
(19) Feet Washed
In chapter 13, the Upper Room Discourse begins. Jesus was no longer walking among the hostile Jews. He had retired with His disciples to an upper room in Jerusalem for a final time of fellowship with them before going forth to His trial and crucifixion. John 13 through 17 is one of the best-loved sections in the entire New Testament.
1 Now before the feast of the Passover, when Jesus knew that his hour was come that he should depart out of this world unto the Father, having loved his own which were in the world, he loved them unto the end.
Jesus had entered Jerusalem on Sunday and on Monday had cleansed the temple. Tuesday was a day of conflict as the religious leaders sought to trip Him up and get evidence to arrest Him. These events are recorded in Matthew 21-25. Wednesday was probably a day of rest, but on Thursday He met in the upper room with His disciples in order to observe the Passover.
The day before His crucifixion, the Lord Jesus knew that the time had come for Him to die, to rise again, and to go back to heaven, and yet God was in control of all events leading to Jesus’ death. From the human point of view, crucifixion meant suffering but from the divine point of view, it meant Glory. Christ had done everything he had come to do, except for one thing (to die for mankind’s sins). He would even do that the next day, and nothing could prevent it from happening. When the servant of God is in the will Of God he is immortal until his work is done. They could not even arrest Jesus; let alone kill Him, until the right hour had arrived.
Jesus knew that His “hour was come.” He lived on a “heavenly timetable” as He did the Father’s will. Note the development of this theme:
2:4 - -“Mine hour is not yet come.”
7:30 - -“His hour was not yet come.”
8:20 - -“His hour was not yet come.”
12:23 - -“The hour is come that the Son of Man should be glorified.”
13:1 - -“Jesus knew that His hour was come.”
17:1 - -“Father, the hour is come.”
He had loved His own, that is, those who were true believers. He loved them to the end of His earthly ministry; He loved them to the uttermost and will continue to love them throughout eternity. But He also loved them to an infinite degree, as He was about to demonstrate.
2 And supper being ended, the devil having now put 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 was come from God, and went to God;
In the midst of this loving scene, one can observe the work of Satan, for it was Satan who put the idea of betrayal into Judas’ mind. Judas had plotted evil against the Lord long before this, but he was now given the signal, that the time was ripe for carrying out his foul plans. Judas was not a believer (6:64–71), so he did not have a “shield of faith” to ward off Satan’s attacks.
To fully appreciate the Lord’s humility, one must remember that all things had been given into his hands. The all-powerful One was about to wash His disciples’ feet. What an example of humility and service our Lord has given us here. You and I as believers know that we have been born of God, that we are one day going to God, and that in Christ we have all things; therefore, we ought to be able to follow our Lord’s example and serve others.
Verse 3 emphasizes who was performing a slave’s task—not just a rabbi or teacher, but Jesus, who was conscious of His deity. He knew the work that had been committed to Him; He knew that He had come from God and that He was already on His journey back to God.
Note: John does not say which supper is referred to here—whether the Passover, the Lord’s Supper or an ordinary meal.
4 He riseth from supper, and laid aside his garments; and took a towel, and girded himself.
5 After that he poureth water into a bason, and began to wash the disciples’ feet, and to wipe them with the towel wherewith he was girded.
In eastern lands, the people walked dusty streets and roads wearing open sandals without socks or stockings making it necessary to wash one’s feet frequently. It was common courtesy and a mark of honor, for a host to arrange to have a slave wash the feet of his guests. It was a breach of hospitality not to provide for it (1 Timothy 5:10). Wives often washed their husband’s feet, and children washed their parent’s feet. Most people, of course, had to wash their own feet. However, Christ had requested privacy for His supper and, consequently, no servant was present. The disciples were too proud to perform this menial task; therefore, the Lord took the basin and washed the feet of His disciples.