1-4 | Preparation for the Last Supper
5-11 | Jesus washes the disciples feet
12-20 | Jesus, our Example: “a slave is not greater than his master”
21-30 | Jesus’ betrayal foretold and begun
31-35 | “Now is the Son of God glorified”
36-38 | Jesus tells Peter he will deny Jesus three times before morning
The events in this chapter are thought provoking. We need to have a little background to understand the nature of foot washing and why it was most unusual for Jesus to perform this task. The IVP Bible Background Commentary1 offers this comment.
“The couches would be arranged around tables containing the food, with the upper part of each person’s body facing the food and their feet away from the table. Jesus would go to the outside of this circle to wash each person’s feet….Yet loosing sandals and personally washing someone else’s feet was considered servile, most commonly the work of a servant or of very submissive wives or children (cf. also I Samuel 25:41)….By so serving, Jesus prefigures his death as the suffering servant of Isaiah 53:1-12 on behalf of the many. Unlike Greco-Roman society, Judaism stressed humility; but like other societies, it also upheld societal roles. Jesus overturns even positions of social status. Rabbi Judah ha-Nasi (about A.D. 220) was said to be so humble that he would do anything for others—except relinquish his superior position; seating according to rank was crucial. Jesus goes beyond even this.”
Also from the text we can guesstimate the seating arrangement for Jesus and some of the disciples around the table.2 (You can read an article by Edersheim to understand how the arrangement was determined on ccel.org.)
Jesus’ explanation of why He washed the disciples’ feet needs a little explanation. Why? Because we need to understand that Jesus is relating the washing to baptism. To give a little background, the priests were to cleanse themselves prior to serving in the tabernacle and later in the temple.
Exodus 29:4 NASB “Then you shall bring Aaron and his sons to the doorway of the tent of meeting and wash them with water.
Exodus 30:18-21 NASB “You shall also make a laver of bronze, with its base of bronze, for washing; and you shall put it between the tent of meeting and the altar, and you shall put water in it. 19 “Aaron and his sons shall wash their hands and their feet from it; 20 when they enter the tent of meeting, they shall wash with water, so that they will not die; or when they approach the altar to minister, by offering up in smoke a fire sacrifice to the LORD. 21 “So they shall wash their hands and their feet, so that they will not die; and it shall be a perpetual statute for them, for Aaron and his descendants throughout their generations.”
In the text Jesus says that the disciple who has already “bathed” only needs to wash his feet. Here is what this might mean.
- Bathing → Baptism = sins washed away and forgiveness granted
Acts 2:38 NASB Peter said to them, “Repent, and each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.
I Corinthians 6:9-11 NASB Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived; neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor homosexuals, 10 nor thieves, nor the covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers, will inherit the kingdom of God. 11 Such were some of you; but you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God.
Titus 3:3-7 NASB For we also once were foolish ourselves, disobedient, deceived, enslaved to various lusts and pleasures, spending our life in malice and envy, hateful, hating one another. 4 But when the kindness of God our Savior and His love for mankind appeared, 5 He saved us, not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness, but according to His mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit, 6 whom He poured out upon us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, 7 so that being justified by His grace we would be made heirs according to the hope of eternal life.
Revelation 1:5 NASB … and from Jesus Christ, the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth. To Him who loves us and released us from our sins by His blood …
- Washing Feet = confessing sins
James 5:16-20 NASB Therefore, confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another so that you may be healed. The effective prayer of a righteous man can accomplish much. 17 Elijah was a man with a nature like ours, and he prayed earnestly that it would not rain, and it did not rain on the earth for three years and six months. 18 Then he prayed again, and the sky poured rain and the earth produced its fruit. 19 My brethren, if any among you strays from the truth and one turns him back, 20 let him know that he who turns a sinner from the error of his way will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins.
I John 1:8-10 NASB If we say that we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves and the truth is not in us. 9 If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. 10 If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar and His word is not in us.
Some have over emphasized the physical act of washing feet and lost the meaning of what Jesus was trying to say. In being a servant to others, we offer them the opportunity to confess their sins and if they haven’t been baptized, to baptize them. Warren Wiersbe3 offers this comment.
However, as the believer walks in this world, it is easy to become defiled. He does not need to be bathed all over again; he simply needs to have the defilement cleansed away. God promises to cleanse us when we confess our sins to Him….It is a wonderful thing to deepen your fellowship with the Lord. The important thing is to be honest with Him and with ourselves and keep our feet clean.
Have you been cleansed through baptism? If not, why not? What are you waiting for? I don’t want to be too morbid, but we don’t know how long we will live on this earth and we could die today or in the next 5 minutes. If you haven’t established a relationship with God and confirmed it in baptism, you are putting your very soul in peril.
If you have been cleansed through baptism, when was the last time you had your feet washed? None of us are perfect and all of us have a need to acknowledge our inability to resist temptations on our own and at times fail. It is true that God has already forgiven the times we fall short, but He still wants us to agree with Him that we have sinned and to commit again to living to honor God, the true nature of repentance.
Heavenly Father, I thank You for cleansing us through the blood of Christ, through baptism, and for forgiving us in those times when we stumble and fall. I pray that those who read this and haven’t been baptized will see the need of being faithful in following the example of Your Son Jesus who understood the need for being baptized is a necessary part of faith and obedience, and that they will seek out someone who can aid them in being baptized in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. May Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven, in Jesus’ name. Amen.
1 Walton, John H. et al. IVP Bible Background Commentary. InterVarsity Press; e-Sword, 2000.
2 Edersheim, Alfred. The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah. New American Edition, 37th Printing. Vol. 1. Grand Rapids: William B Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1956. Print. 2 vols.
3 Wiersbe, Warren. The Bible Exposition Commentary: Matthew—Galatians. Vol. 5. Wheaton, IL: Victor Books; SP Publications, Inc., 1989. Print. 6 vols.