Summary: Jesus washes His disciples feet to prove to them that He loves them, to set an example for them to follow, and to confirm in their minds that obedience to the Father is never a loss.
We’re in our study of John and we’ve finally come to chapter thirteen. The first twelve chapters cover from “in the beginning” to around A.D. 33. Chapters 13-17, however, only cover the space of about one meal! Jesus knows His time is up and so He’s taken His disciples into this private room. They still don’t understand the big picture; they think He’s come to overthrow Rome and reestablish David’s throne, and they’re going to be perplexed at His death. The Messiah is supposed to be eternal; He’s supposed to be glorified and exalted; the government will rest on His shoulders. So when Christ dies between two common criminals these followers won’t know what to do.
And so the goal is to show them that their Master must first suffer. More specifically He must be humiliated. And of course, the way He does this is to wash their feet. He takes on the look and the actions of a slave. And if you’ll just think of that in more general terms you’ll see that we’re also talking about His first coming. He humbled Himself and took on the form of a slave and became obedient to death (Phil 2:8). And so, washing their feet is consistent with His purpose.
I think it probably adds to it a little bit to know this conversation is the same one where the disciples argue about which of them will be greatest in Christ’s kingdom (Lk. 22:24). They really need to see what God’s kingdom is all about, and they really need to know what it means to love each other.
Alright, the first five verses are pretty choppy and hard to understand because most of the stuff in the middle is parenthetical. He starts out by saying, “Before the feast of the Passover.” Well, what about it? What happened before the feast? For that we have to skip down to verse four. Before the feast…Jesus rose and washed their feet. Everything that falls in the middle of these two sentences is details that prepare us for the King on His knees washing feet.
Don’t read it too quickly. Imagine being a Jew who’s waiting on the King and then you hear John talking about how Jesus dressed up like a slave and then started acting like one. That’s kind of disappointing, isn’t it? And John is aware of this so he doesn’t just jump right out and say it; he builds up to it with five things Jesus knew or did that justify this humiliating act. “Yes, the King humbled Himself, but here are the reasons He did it.”
To make it easier to see I’ve made this table:
1Now 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,
He knew His time was up and wanted to more fully prepare His disciples for the cross.
having loved his own which were in the world, he loved them unto the end.
He wanted them to experience firsthand how much He loved them and to give them a standard.
2And supper being ended, the devil having now put into the heart of Judas Iscariot, Simon’s son, to betray him;
He was completely submitted to the Father’s will; He would even give His enemy occasion to betray Him and He would submit to death.
3Jesus knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands,
He was not afraid to lose status by serving. Rather, He submitted to the Father’s will that “he who is last shall be first.”
and [Jesus knowing] that he was come from God, and went to God;
He was convinced of His origin and destination and that He would victoriously return at the completion of His mission.
4He riseth from supper, and laid aside his garments; and took a towel, and girded himself. 5After 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.”
So, you can see that He’s got reasons to dress like a slave and do a slave’s job. His whole first coming is about submission. It’s about giving Himself for those He loves and allowing His “lessers” to triumph over Him for a season.
6Then cometh he to Simon Peter: and Peter saith unto him, Lord, dost thou wash my feet? 7Jesus answered and said unto him, What I do thou knowest not now; but thou shalt know hereafter. 8Peter saith unto him, Thou shalt never wash my feet. Jesus answered him, If I wash thee not, thou hast no part with me.
Think of this in the broader sense: Peter thinks Jesus is going to set up His kingdom now. “No, Peter. I’m here to serve. The kingdom comes later. If you can’t accept Me as a servant, if you can’t bear my humiliation now, then how will you bear it at my cross?” Stooping down is His whole point. If He doesn’t stoop then no one can join Him.