Jesus Washes His Disciples’ Feet

Posted by Yong Joo Park on 28 December 2014 in John |

John 13:1 - 17

See v1a. It was just before the Passover Festival. This Passover Festival was when Jesus would be sacrificed as the Lamb of God. What is the name of the Festival “Passover” originated from? When Moses asked Pharaoh to release Israelite in Slavery, he kept refusing. For every refusal, God punished him by sending a plague. The 10th plague was death of firstborn. But if door post was marked with the blood of lamb, the angel of death passed over the household without killing the firstborn. Israelite were saved from this plague through the blood of lamb. This is the origin of “Passover” Festival. Jesus is the Lamb of God (John 1:29) whose blood marks believers’ heart.

See v1b. Here ‘the hour’ is that of Jesus’ departure from this world. In John 12:23, it was expressed as the coming of the hour of glorification.

This departure itself, that is, Jesus’ death for the world is the ultimate extent of love. Particularly here, this love was expressed for those in the world who belonged to Him. Jesus has been prepared by having dealt with His agony (John 12:27 - 28) and has now begun the preparation of the disciples for the death of the Passover Lamb of God (John 1:29, 19:14). [1]

The evening meal (2a) was the so-called “Last Supper”. The devil had thrown into the the heart the betraying of Jesus by Judas Iscariot, the son of Simon (2b). The devil had a part to play in Judas’s betrayal of Jesus.

The heart that is inspired by the devil wills what the devil wills[2] (cf. also John 13:18, 21, 27).

Then, is Judas not responsible for the betrayal?

Judas is clearly the responsible actor in the betrayal of Jesus and the devil is the one who inspires the evil heart. [1] In Genesis 3, the serpent that was the tempter, woman and man who were victims of temptation were all responsible and God judged each of them.

See v3. Jesus knew not only ‘the hour had come’ but also His authority, His origin and His goal or destiny. He had authority to forgive (Matthew 9:6). He had authority to execute judgment (John 5:27). The Word (Logos) was active in creation (John 1:3) and became flesh (John 1:14).

But given these divinely oriented attributes, what comes next is absolutely stunning. See v4 and v5. Instead of basking in the glow of power and authority, Jesus emptied or humbled himself and adopted the form of a servant (cf. Phil 2:7). As indicated in connection with the story of the Baptizer (John 1:27), touching feet was regarded as menial slave work and as such was primarily an assignment given to Gentile slaves and women. Students were responsible to rabbis or teachers to perform menial tasks of labor, but touching feet was clearly not expected. In a society that was very conscious of status symbols of shame and honor, such as the touching or washing of feet, was an extremely important matter. John the Baptizer had been unwilling to be categorized in the same context with Jesus, even as his lowest slave (John 1:27). He was viewed by the Disciple John as an ideal model of a witness. But here the lowly slave was God’s agent, the proclaimer of the key thesis to understanding the message of the Gospel, namely that Jesus is “the Lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world” (1:29). [1]

But what is startling in this story is the vivid portrayal of the Messiah adopting a shameful/lowly posture in relation to his disciples. I know of no other example in the literature of the ancient world before the coming of Jesus where such a foot washing by a leader occurs. The Disciple John makes clear that Jesus intended that he should be viewed in the posture of such a slave by removing or “laying down” his “outer clothing”. Then he tied a towel around himself in the fashion of a slave and actually used that towel to wipe the feet of the disciples once he had washed them. The humbling or dishonoring symbolism is unmistakable. [1]

To get the full impact of this scene one should review the setting again. The text is not unrelated to the issue of ambition among the disciples, who wanted the chief seats in Jesus’ coming “kingdom” (Matt 20:21, Mark 10:37). And since it was the sons of Zebedee who were making the request, this idea of glory probably left an indelible impression on the Disciple John here and on all the disciples. These disciples undoubtedly had evidenced the human trait of ambition. Moreover, Peter was clearly convinced of his own ability to follow Jesus, as is indicated later in this chapter (John 13:37). And to complete the picture of the disciples, Judas had apparently already schemed the betrayal of Jesus (John 13:11, Mark 14:10–11, Luke 22:3–4). It was in this very human-centered context that Jesus adopted the totally different example of a humble servant to be the model for discipleship. [1]

The picture is made more intense when one understands that at the meal they were undoubtedly reclining (not sitting) with their heads facing the center and their feet stretched out behind them. They supported themselves on one elbow (primarily the left) and reached for food with the right hand. The participants at the meal could ignore the one washing their feet. [1]

See v6 - 9.

In v6, Peter expressed his sense of shock. “Lord, are you going to wash my feet?” Peter only thought this was shame for the teacher. And Peter didn’t understand its meaning. Jesus said that he would realize the significance of it later (7). Peter was convinced that he would never dishonor Jesus by having Him wash his feet (8a). Jesus answered with devastating “no part with me” statement. Peter’s response was extremely amusing. Peter probably thought it was kind of ritual to make him an heir of Kingdom of Jesus. So he asked Jesus to wash his hands and head as well (9).

What is the answer of Jesus? See v10.

10 Jesus answered, “Those who have had a bath need only to wash their feet; their whole body is clean. And you are clean, though not every one of you.”

Believer or follower of Jesus is ‘bathed’ - they have repented & been forgiven.
‘feet’ is only area that requires attention if bathed because ‘feet’ get dirt easily while walking around, which requires care - but only possible to care if with humility.

Jesus said not every one of them were clean because they included a betrayer (10b, 11).

Jesus asked “Do you understand what I have done for you?” (v12). Jesus commanded “You also should wash one another’s feet.” (14b)

The foot washing of Jesus becomes in v14–15 the model for the disciples to follow. It is precisely because their Lord and Teacher was willing to adopt the humbling model of foot washing that Jesus’ disciples cannot treat humility as merely a nice idea that is unrelated to Christian life.[1]

This practice seems a humble, self-giving treatment of other people without regard to shame and honor codes of society. [1]

But the model of Jesus is not merely one of self-giving service to others epitomized in the foot washing. The model is, in fact, one that also represents the dying Lamb of God. Therefore the servant/follower of Jesus should realize that the self-giving washing of feet may be far more costly a calling than merely a matter involving a basin of water and a towel.[1]

There is His promise of blessing for doing them (17).


[1] Borchert, G. L. (2002). John 12–21 (Vol. 25B, pp. 76–77). Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers.

[2] A. Schlatter, Der Evangelist Johannes (Stuttgart: Calwer Verlag, 1948),

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