Harmony of the Gospels

Tom Lowe

Harmony of the gospels   

(19) Feet Washed   
John 13:1-20    

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 [1](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 [2](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.

It was the consciousness of who He was and of His mission and destiny that enabled Him to stoop down and wash the disciples’ feet. Rising from supper, the Lord laid aside His long outer garments. Then He put a towel around Himself as an apron, taking the place of a slave to wash their feet.

Here the divine Host became the slave and performed this lowly service. “Jesus at the feet of the traitor—what a picture! What lessons for us!” Throughout the gospel of John the humility of Jesus and the deity of Jesus are revealed.  For example:
“The Son can do nothing of Himself” (John 5:19, 30).
“For I came down from heaven, not to do my will” (John 6:38).
“My doctrine is not Mine” (John 7:16).
“And I seek not Mine own Glory” (John 8:50).
“The word which ye hear is not Mine” (John 12:24).

True humility grows out of our Relationship with the Father.  If our desire is to know and do the Father’s will so that we might glorify His name, then we will experience the joy of following Christ’s example and serving others.

This symbolic act reminds us of how the Lord left the ivory palaces above, came down into this world as a Servant, and ministered to those He had created.

6 Then cometh he to Simon Peter: and Peter saith unto him, Lord, dost thou wash my feet?
7 Jesus answered and said unto him, What I do thou knowest not now; but thou shalt know hereafter.

Impulsive Peter strongly objected to this act of humility. Christ responded to Peter’s question by implying that there is a deeper meaning in washing feet. One day Peter would understand that this was a graphic illustration of Christ’s humility. However, at this time, Peter was shocked to think of the Lord washing his feet, and he expressed his disapproval that One so great as the Lord should condescend to one so unworthy as he. The sight of God in the role of a servant is as disturbing now as it was then.

Jesus now taught Peter a valuable lesson; that there was a spiritual meaning to what He was doing. Foot-washing was a picture of a certain type of spiritual washing. Peter knew that the Lord was performing the physical act, but he did not understand the spiritual significance. He would know it soon, however, because the Lord explained it. And he would know it by experience when later he was restored to the Lord after having denied Him.

8 Peter saith unto him, Thou shalt never wash my feet. Jesus answered him, If I wash thee not, thou hast no part with me.

Peter characterizes the extremes of human nature. He vowed that the Lord would never wash his feet—and here “never” literally means “not for eternity.” It is apparent that Peter did not feel that Jesus should act like a slave, toward him.  This is another case of Peter’s thoughtless speech [3](Mark 8:32; 9:5).  Jesus responded, “Unless I wash you, you have no part with Me.” This does not mean, “Unless you are baptized, you cannot be saved, but, “Unless I wash your sins away by My atoning death [4](Revelations 1:5) you have no real relationship to Me” [5](1 John 1:7). The Lord answered Peter that unless he is washed, there could be no fellowship with Him. They have a different point of view; Christ is thinking of His overall humiliation and death, while Peter is still thinking about physical washing. The meaning of foot-washing is now unfolded. As Christians walk through this world, they become infected with a certain amount of corruption. Listening to vile talk, looking at unholy things, and working with ungodly men inevitably soil the believer. He needs to be constantly cleansed, because if he is defiled by sin, he cannot have communion with our Lord. 

This cleansing takes place by the water of the Word. As we read and study the Bible, as we hear it preached, and as we discuss it with one another, we find that it cleanses us from the evil influences about us. On the other hand, the more we neglect the Bible, the more these wicked influences can remain in our minds and lives without causing us any great concern. When Jesus said “you have no part with Me,” He did not mean that Peter could not be saved unless He washed him, but rather that fellowship with the Lord can be maintained only by the continual cleansing action of the Scriptures in his life.

Our communion with Christ depends on our keeping ourselves “unspotted from the world” [6](James 1:27).  If we permit unconfessed sin in our lives, we hinder our walk with the Lord; that is when we need to have our feet washed.  We all know from experience how difficult it is to live a sinless life.  But when we sin, we have a loving Advocate in Glory who hears our prayers of confession and forgive us [7](1 John 2:1-2).

9 Simon Peter saith unto him, Lord, not my feet only, but also my hands and my head.
10 Jesus saith to him, He that is washed needeth not save to wash his feet, but is clean every whit: and ye are clean, but not all.

Now Peter shifted to the other extreme. A minute ago, he was saying, “Never.” Now he said, “Wash me all over.”

On the way back from the public bath, a person’s feet would get dirty again. He didn’t need another bath but did need to have his feet washed. “He who is bathed needs only to wash his feet, but is completely clean.” There is a difference between the bath and the basin. The bath speaks of the cleansing received at the time of one’s salvation. Cleansing from the penalty of sin through the blood of Christ takes place only once. A person who is washed (i.e., saved, [8]Tit 3:5) does not need another bath. The basin speaks of cleansing from the pollution of sin and must take place continually through the Word of God. There is one bath but many foot-washings. “You are clean, but not all of you” means that the disciples had received the bath of regeneration—that is, all the disciples but Judas. He had never been saved.

Roman Catholics sometimes interpreted verse 10 to mean that after infant baptism only penance is needed.  A preferable interpretation is that after salvation all one needs is confession of sins, the continual application of Jesus’ death to cleanse one’s daily sins [9](1 John 1:7; 2:1-2).

In the case of Peter, we can learn an important lesson: don’t question the Lord’s will or work, and don’t try to change it.  He knows what He is doing.  Peter had a difficult time accepting Christ’s ministry to him because Peter was not yet ready to minister to the other disciples.  It takes humility and grace to serve others, but it also takes humility and grace to allow others to serve us.  The beautiful thing about a submissive spirit is that it can both give and receive to the Glory of God.

John was careful to point out that Peter and Judas were in a different relationship with Jesus.  Yes, Jesus washed Judas’ feet!  But it did Judas no good because he had not been washed all over.  Some people teach that Judas was a saved man who sinned away his salvation, but that is not what Jesus said.  Our Lord made it very clear that Judas had never been cleansed from his sins and was an unbeliever [1](1John 6:64-71).

11 For he knew who should betray him; therefore said he, Ye are not all clean.

Jesus, who knows all things, knew that Judas would betray Him, and so He singled out one of the 12 as never having had the bath of redemption.

12 So after he had washed their feet, and had taken his garments, and was set down again, he said unto them, Know ye what I have done to you?

It would seem that Christ washed the feet of all the disciples. Then He put on His outer garments and sat down again to explain to them the spiritual meaning of what He had done. He opened the conversation by asking them if they understood the meaning of what He has done. The questions of the Savior make an interesting study. They form one of His most effective methods of teaching.

13 Ye call me Master and Lord: and ye say well; for so I am.
14 If I then, your Lord and Master, have washed your feet; ye also ought to wash one another’s feet.

The disciples had acknowledged Jesus to be their Teacher and Lord, and they were right in doing so. But His example showed that the highest rank in the power structure of the kingdom is that of servant.

If the Lord and Teacher had washed the disciples’ feet, what excuse could they have for not washing one another’s feet? Did the Lord mean that they should literally wash each other’s feet with water?  Was He here instituting an ordinance for the church? No, the meaning here was spiritual. He was telling them that they should keep each other clean by constant fellowship over the Word. If one sees his brother growing cold or worldly, he should lovingly exhort him from the Bible.

15 For I have given you an example, that ye should do as I have done to you.
16 Verily, verily, I say unto you, The servant is not greater than his lord; neither he that is sent greater than he that sent him.
17 If ye know these things, happy are ye if ye do them.

Christ is not instituting an ordinance of foot washing, but is showing an example of humility, and an object lesson of what they should do for one another spiritually. He does not command us to perform this act, but to acquire the attitude that this activity displays.

If pride or personal hostilities prevent us from stooping to serve our brethren, we should remember that we are not greater than our Master. He humbled Himself to wash those who were unworthy and unthankful, and He knew that one of them would betray Him. Would you minister in a lowly way to a man if you knew he was about to betray you for money? Those who were sent (the disciples) should not consider themselves too lofty to do anything that the One who sent them (the Lord Jesus) had done.

To know these truths concerning humility, unselfishness, and service is one thing, but one can know them and never practice them. The real value and blessedness lie in doing them! The result of practicing a life of humility and service is found in the phrase, “Happy are ye.”

Not to follow the example of Jesus is to exalt oneself and to live in pride.  No servant is greater than his Master [10](John 12:26).

18 I speak not of you all: I know whom I have chosen: but that the scripture may be fulfilled, He that eateth bread with me hath lifted up his heel against me.

Not all the disciples would have blessings on their lives because they were humble. One of the group who would eat with Christ would betray Him. Christ is speaking of Judas [11](Ps 41:9). What the Lord had just been teaching about service did not apply to Judas. He was not one of those whom the Lord would send into the entire world with the gospel. Jesus knew the Scriptures concerning His betrayal must be fulfilled—such Scriptures as Psalm 41:9. Judas was one who had eaten His meals with the Lord for three years, and yet he lifted up his heel against Him—an expression indicating that he betrayed the Lord. In Psalm 41 the betrayer is described by the Lord as “my own familiar friend.”

19 Now I tell you before it come, that, when it is come to pass, ye may believe that I am he.

Christ forewarned the disciples that this would take place, that is, that He would be betrayed. The Lord revealed this to the disciples in advance so that when it came to pass, the disciples would know that Jesus was true deity. The word “he” can be omitted from the end of this verse. God spoke to Moses at the “burning bush, “You may believe that I AM.” The Jesus of the New Testament is the Jehovah of the Old. Thus, fulfilled prophecy is one of the great proofs of the deity of Christ and also, we might add, of the inspiration of Scriptures.

The disciples did not later question Christ’s choice of Judas since this was all a part of God’s plan. To accept Christ means to accept the Father.

His selection of Judas was not an accident or a failure in God’s plan.  Jesus chose a betrayer among His 12 disciples (16:70–71) in order to fulfill the scripture, namely, Psalm 41:9.  As David was betrayed by his trusted companion Ahithophrel, who then hanged himself, so Judas, Jesus’ close companion, betrayed Him and then hanged himself.  Though Judas’ deed was foreknown by God, he was fully responsible. The fact that Jesus knew all this in advance (before it happens) and that it fit the Scriptures helped the disciples after the fact to believe God sent Jesus [12](John 14:29).

20 Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that receiveth whomsoever I send receiveth me; and he that receiveth me receiveth him that sent me.

Our Lord knew that His betrayal might cause the other disciples to stumble or doubt. So He added this word of encouragement. They should remember that they were being sent on a divine mission. They were to be so closely identified with Him that to receive them was the same as receiving Him. Also, those who received Christ received God the Father. They were thus to be comforted by their close link with God the Son and God the Father.


Two divisions can be made of this passage.
1. What Jesus knew (1–11). Because of what Jesus knew, He did what He did: He washed the disciples’ feet. Jesus knew where He came from and where He was going. He knew that the Father had given Him all things (3:35). If you have all things in your hand, you will have no problem picking up a towel (1 Cor. 3:21–23). Jesus taught them a lesson in fellowship and in keeping themselves clean before the Lord (1 John 1:5–2:1).                                                    
2. What the disciples knew (12–20). Jesus taught them a second lesson: true happiness comes from humble service. Jesus gave them an example that we must follow today (Phil. 2:1–11). Alas, soon after this lesson, the disciples began to argue over who was the greatest (Luke 22:24–30).

______________________________Scripture Reference______________________________
[1] (John 6:64-71) But there are some of you that believe not. For Jesus knew from the beginning who they were that believed not, and who should betray him. And he said, Therefore said I unto you, that no man can come unto me, except it were given unto him of my Father. From that time many of his disciples went back, and walked no more with him. Then said Jesus unto the twelve, Will ye also go away? Then Simon Peter answered him, Lord, to whom shall we go? thou hast the words of eternal life. And we believe and are sure that thou art that Christ, the Son of the living God. Jesus answered them, Have not I chosen you twelve, and one of you is a devil? He spake of Judas Iscariot the son of Simon: for he it was that should betray him, being one of the twelve.

[2](1 Timothy 5:10) Well reported of for good works; if she have brought up children, if she have lodged strangers, if she have washed the saints’ feet, if she have relieved the afflicted, if she have diligently followed every good work.

[3](Mark 8:32; 9:5). And he spake that saying openly. And Peter took him, and began to rebuke him… And Peter answered and said to Jesus, Master, it is good for us to be here: and let us make three tabernacles; one for thee, and one for Moses, and one for Elias.

[4](Revelations 1:5) And from Jesus Christ, who is the faithful witness, and the first begotten of the dead, and the prince of the kings of the earth. Unto him that loved us, and washed us from our sins in his own blood,

[5](1 John 1:7) But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship one with another, and the blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from all sin.

[6](James 1:27) Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world.

[7](1 John 2:1-2) My little children, these things write I unto you, that ye sin not. And if any man sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous: 2And he is the propitiation for our sins: and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world.

[8](Titus 3:5) Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us, by the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Ghost;

[9](1 John 1:7) But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship one with another, and the blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from all sin.

[10](John 12:26) If any man serve me, let him follow me; and where I am, there shall also my servant be: if any man serve me, him will my Father honour.

[11](Psalm 41:9) Yea, mine own familiar friend, in whom I trusted, which did eat of my bread, hath lifted up his heel against me.

[12](John 14:29) Jesus saith unto him, Have I been so long time with you, and yet hast thou not known me, Philip? he that hath seen me hath seen the Father; and how sayest thou then, Shew us the Father?


Do you have any questions or comments?

 Do you have a cellular phone? If you do, your chances of being in an auto accident are 35 percent higher than non-phone-toting Americans. This discovery by the Rochester Institute of Technology is not surprising. When you talk on a phone while driving, your attention is distracted. The same happens to each of us spiritually. Talking on a phone is not inherently bad and neither are many of the activities we involve ourselves with each day. Yet, when we get too many of these things going at the same time, we can become distracted and thus put ourselves in a dangerous position. Like physical travel, spiritual journeys also require undistracted drivers.

HomeLife, Jan. 1997, p. 9

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