Jesus ended His public ministry with a final revelatory message. He now turns His attention to His disciples exclusively, as He is about to leave them for a while to go to the Father. At the beginning of the lengthy section recording His discourses with His disciples and His prayer to the Father stands a crucial event—the washing of the disciples’ feet. This event is profoundly significant in the saving relationship between the Lord and His disciples. It also lays the foundation for the rest of the section on Jesus’ final hours in this world.
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1. “During supper” (13:2): The NKJV reads, “supper being ended,” based on a different variant reading. In either case, Jesus’ footwashing was decidedly different from the customary washing of hospitality, since such washing would have taken place before the meal, not during or after it.
2. “Began to wash the disciples’ feet” (13:5): The washing of one’s feet for personal comfort and hygiene was quite common (cf. 2 Sam 11:8; Song 5:3). As a form of hospitality, either water was offered to the guest, or the slaves of the host washed the feet of the guest (cf. Gen 18:3–5; 19:2; 24:32, 33; 43:24). Touching another person’s feet was considered by Jews to be such a menial task that it is among the works that Jewish slaves should not be required to perform. Therefore, except in extraordinary circumstances, only the lowest slaves would wash another person’s feet (cf. 1 Sam 25:41).
3. “He who is bathed needs only to wash his feet” (13:10): The word for “wash” represents partial washing, such as the washing of face, hands, or feet (cf. Mt 6:17; 15:2; Jn 9:7). The word for “bathe,” on the other hand, means the washing of the whole body.
- Setting and Depiction of Jesus’ Footwashing (13:1–5)
- Dialogue with Peter (13:6–11)
Record instances in 13:1–20 with the word “know.”Hide Answer
1. Jesus knew that His hour had come that He should depart from this world to the Father (13:1). 2. He knew that the Father had given all things into His hands, and that He had come from God and was going to God (13:3). 3. When Peter protested, Jesus told him, “What I am doing you do not understand now, but you will know after this” (13:7). 4. Jesus knew who would betray Him (13:11). 5. After He had washed His disciples’ feet, Jesus asked them, “Do you know what I have done to you?” (13: 12) (Grammatically, this question in Greek could also be read as a command: “Know what I have done to you.”) 6. Jesus promised the disciples, “If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them” (13:17). 7. When speaking of His betrayal, Jesus said, “I know whom I have chosen” (13:18).
What truths did you learn from the use of this word?Hide Answer
Jesus’ knowledge revealed His divine identity. The mention of His knowledge indicates that He was not a helpless victim of circumstances, but the Lord over all things. The timing of things was according to “His hour,” i.e., God’s foreordained time. Even His betrayal was under His all pervading knowledge. Therefore, Jesus’ footwashing was a deliberate act according to His sovereign will and timing. This tells us that the meaning of footwashing was closely linked to Jesus’ heavenly origin, His departure, His return to glory, and His sovereign will. In contrast, Peter, who represented the disciples in the narrative, did not know the meaning of Jesus’ footwashing. But Jesus promised him that he would know it afterwards. Nevertheless, Jesus commanded the disciples to wash one another’s feet and to do as He had done to them. Jesus had told them what they needed to know. If they would carry out what they knew, they would be blessed. As human beings, we do not have full knowledge of God’s timing or purpose. But He has revealed to us what we need to know. We need to act on this knowledge, and if we do, we would be blessed.
How do we know that Jesus’ footwashing transcended the customs of those days?Hide Answer
1. Whether it was for hospitality or personal hygiene and comfort, footwashing was not done by someone in a higher status. But our Lord Jesus, being Teacher and Lord, washed His disciples’ feet (13:13, 14). It is no wonder that Peter insisted that Jesus must never wash his feet (13:6, 8). 2. Ordinarily, the guest washed his feet before a meal. But in this story, Jesus, being the Master, washed the feet of those partaking in the banquet while the banquet was underway (13:2). 3. Jesus told Peter, “What I am doing you do not understand now” (13:7). If Jesus’ actions were customary, Peter would have understood what He was doing (cf. 13:12). 4. If Jesus’ footwashing was a gesture of hospitality, Peter’s refusal to let his master wash him would have been applauded rather than resulted in being severed from Jesus (13:8). 5. Jesus asked the disciples if they knew what He had done, and pointed out the reversal of roles in the footwashing (13:12–14). 6. Jesus’ footwashing, while being an example of humility, also carried divine authority. Hence He spoke about the concept of sending in verses 16 and 20.
What does this segment tell us about: The timing of Jesus’ footwashing?Hide Answer
It was before the feast of the Passover (13:1), and it was during the supper, when the devil had already put into the heart of Judas to betray the Lord (13:2).
What Jesus knew that prompted the footwashing?Hide Answer
He knew that His hour had come that He should depart from this world to the Father (13:1). He also knew that the Father had given all things into His hands, and that He had come from God and was going to God (13:3).
The action of Jesus’ footwashing?Hide Answer
See verses 4 and 5.
The recipients of Jesus’ footwashing?Hide Answer
Those who received Jesus’ footwashing were “Jesus’ own who were in the world” (13:1), namely, Jesus’ disciples (13:5; cf. Jn 10:4).
What does it mean that the Father had given all things into His hands (13:3)?Hide Answer
The Father had given to Jesus authority over all things. This universal authority that Jesus held in His hands pertained specifically to His authority to save (Jn 3:35, 36; 17:2).
Why was this fact important to Jesus’ footwashing?Hide Answer
Jesus’ sovereign authority to save is the basis for the saving significance of His footwashing. Just as He prefaced the command to baptize with the declaration of His universal authority (Mt 28:18, 19), in John 13, the depiction of Jesus’ footwashing was prefaced by the remark that Jesus had received authority over all things from the Father. Therefore, footwashing is closely related to Jesus’ power to grant eternal life. Through His footwashing, the Lord Jesus imparts to believers salvation and eternal life.
Why was the timing of Jesus’ footwashing significant?Hide Answer
The timing of Jesus’ footwashing was connected to His departure from the world. The mention of the Passover reminds us of Jesus’ impending death, through which He would be exalted to glory. In this final moment with His disciples, the Lord Jesus wished to love the disciples with one final act of love. Not only so, the meaning and effect of Jesus’ footwashing were rooted in Jesus’ death and glorification. For this reason, sacraments (i.e., institutions by Christ involving physical actions and elements through which He gives His grace of salvation), which include baptism, the Holy Communion, and footwashing, were established in connection with Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection. In the case of footwashing, Jesus instituted this sacrament before He died and returned to glory. This indicates that underlying His footwashing were both His lowly death and His exaltation, and that through these footwashing receives its saving significance.
How was Jesus’ footwashing an act of love?Hide Answer
The Bible tells us that Jesus “loved” the disciples by washing their feet. It does not say that His actions were symbolic of His love for them. In other words, the washing itself was an act of love, and it was a final, ultimate act of love. This can only be understood if we accept that Jesus’ footwashing was effective for the salvation of His disciples. Through footwashing, Jesus granted His disciples a part in Him. If, on the contrary, Jesus’ footwashing was strictly an illustration of humility or merely an external washing, this act itself could not have been described by the words “He loved them to the end.”
Why was this act of love only for “Jesus’ own,” and not for the whole world?Hide Answer
Only believers may have the privilege of having a part with Jesus. Jesus’ footwashing revealed His love that is especially for those who belong to Him. Those who do not belong to Christ cannot be partakers of this grace. See the discussion below about the relationship between being bathed and the washing of feet.
Carefully observe and contemplate on the depiction of Jesus’ actions in verses 4 and 5.Hide Answer
Jesus assumed the role of a slave and performed an utterly humbling act on His disciples. The putting aside of His garments, girding of the towel, and the actions surrounding the footwashing, all portray His lowliness. He chose to love His disciples by means of self-sacrifice and humble service.
What can you learn from Him?
Explain Peter’s staunch refusal to let Jesus wash him.Hide Answer
From a human point of view, Jesus’ action was incomprehensible. It was unacceptable by any social norm for a disciple to let his master wash his feet. Peter, out of respect for the Lord Jesus, simply could not let the Lord go through with such a self-debasing act.
What would have been the consequence for Peter if Jesus did not wash him?Hide Answer
Peter would have no part with the Lord Jesus. To have a part with someone is to be identified with that person and to share in his destiny (Mt 24:50–51; Lk 12:46). By the same token, having a share in the father’s inheritance means to receive the portion that is given to the son (Lk 15:12). Therefore, that Peter would not have a part with Jesus implies that he would be severed from the Lord. He would not be identified with Jesus or relate to Him in any manner. Such a state of final separation would be the complete opposite of being a member of “His own” mentioned in 13:1. The consequence of not receiving Jesus’ footwashing could not have been more severe.
How does Peter’s response in verse 9 reflect the severity of the consequence?Hide Answer
Peter’s response was a complete reversal of his refusal to let the Lord wash his feet. Jesus’ ultimatum was unambiguous. Peter immediately requested not only the washing of his feet but also his hands and his head because he understood the severity of Jesus’ warning. He did not want to risk the slightest chance of being cut off from the Lord.
What does this say about the necessity and effect of receiving Jesus’ footwashing?Hide Answer
In light of the foregoing study, we can understand that footwashing is essential and necessary. Furthermore, we also understand that the purpose and effect of Jesus’ footwashing is for us to have a part with Him.
What does it mean to have a part with Jesus?Hide Answer
From the meaning of the expression “have a part” (Mt 24:51; Lk 12:46; 15:12; Rev 20:6; 21:8; 22:19), we understand that having a part with Jesus is being identified with Him and having a share in Him. Accepting Jesus’ footwashing is accepting Him in faith (cf. Jn 13:20). The outcome of this is being where He is (Jn 14:2, 3; 17:22, 24), receiving His eternal life (Jn 14:19; 15:1–5; 17:2, 3, 7, 8, 25), and having a place in His kingdom (cf. Lk 22:29, 30).
What is the bath that Jesus speaks of in verse 10?Hide Answer
The word for “bath” denotes the washing of the entire body. Jesus’ words may be translated as “He who is washed….” Here, as well as in most of the other instances of this word in the New Testament, this word is an allusion to baptism (Heb 10:22; Acts 22:16; 1 Cor 6:11; Eph 5:26; Tit 3:5). According to our Lord Jesus, the person who is bathed does not need to wash his hands and his head; rather, he is completely clean. This corresponds with the teaching of the Bible that the effect of baptism is the cleansing of the believer from sin (Acts 2:38; 22:16).
How does the need for footwashing relate to the status of having been bathed?Hide Answer
The Lord replied Peter that a person who is bathed does not have a need [for additional washing] except the washing of the feet (Jn 13:10). Therefore, a believer who has been baptized and cleansed of his sins in baptism needs no other washing than the washing of his feet. This need applies to everyone who has been baptized into Christ. By receiving footwashing, the believer would have a part with the Lord Jesus.
How do we have our feet washed today?Hide Answer
While the Lord Jesus is not physically present with us today, He has commissioned His disciples to do as He has done to them (Jn 13:15). By accepting those whom the Lord Jesus has sent, we receive the Lord Jesus Himself (13:20). Therefore, today, for us to have a part with Christ, we need to accept the sacrament of footwashing administered by the True Jesus Church, the church in the end time that has received the commission of the Lord Jesus through the Holy Spirit (cf. Jn 20:21–23).
What does the fact that your feet have been washed by the Lord remind you about your daily walk?Hide Answer
1. Walk in the Lord (Col 1:10; 2:6; Rom 13:13; Eph 4:1; 5:8; 1 Thess 2:12; cf. Ps 119:105), and not as the Gentiles walk (Eph 4:17). 2. Be watchful (1 Cor 10:12; 2 Pet 3:17; Eph 5:11–13, 16) and overcome the devil by God’s power (Rom 16:20). 3. Live a disciplined and purposeful life (1 Cor 9:24; Rom 10:15; Isa 52:7; 2 Tim 4:7; 2 Pet 1:10, 11).