During the supper with His disciples, the Lord rose up, assumed the role of a slave, and washed His disciples’ feet. Through Peter’s staunch refusal, Jesus’ declaration, and Peter’s complete reversal, the narrative brings out the uniqueness of Jesus’ footwashing as well as its profound saving significance.
This lesson continues to examine the meaning of foot washing as well as what is expected of believers by looking at Jesus’ words to the disciples after the footwashing. Additionally, we shall study the events and words described in the same setting, including Jesus’ exposure of Judas’ betrayal and His prediction of Peter’s denial.
Did You Know...?
1. “He who is sent” (13:16) may be translated literally as “apostle.”
Why is it incorrect to understand Jesus’ command of footwashing only figuratively?Hide Answer
1. Jesus commanded His disciples to do as He had done to them (Jn 13:15). Nowhere in the Gospels is there any instance of Jesus performing a symbolic action as an example and then asking the disciples to do the same figuratively. When He commanded footwashing, He wanted the disciples to actually carry out the washing literally. 2. Jesus said to Peter, “If I do not wash you, you have no part with Me” (Jn 13:8). What Peter needed to have a part with Jesus was Jesus’ washing. Without Jesus’ washing, he would have no part with Him. Jesus was not asking Peter to imitate Him in His humility and love in order to have a part with Him. If Jesus was speaking only figuratively, Peter’s refusal to accept a demonstration could not have amounted to a complete severance from Christ. It was through the act of washing that Jesus granted Peter a part with Him. Therefore, His command to His disciples to do as He had done must be understood as actual washing with water. 3. When Jesus instituted the Holy Communion, He said, “Take this and divide it among yourselves” (Lk 22:17) and “Do this in remembrance of Me” (Lk 22:19). The early church understood the command not as a figure of speech, but as an instruction to follow what Jesus did literally (
1 Cor 11:23–29).
What was Jesus’ command here to His disciples?
What is the basis of this command?Hide Answer
The command to wash one another’s feet was based on the example Jesus gave the disciples (13:15). Jesus was the Lord and Teacher, and He washed His disciples’ feet. This implies two things. First, He has demonstrated by example what it means to love with humility and service. Second, His command carries authority, since He is the disciples’ Lord and Teacher.
What teachings lie behind the act of washing one another’s feet?Hide Answer
Through the most humbling means, our Lord Jesus loved the disciples. He washed their feet so they may have a part with Him. He wants us to also love one another in the same manner (Jn 13:34, 35, 15:17). This is why He commands us to wash one another’s feet. Only with humility and love would we be willing to wash the feet of another person. This act of washing vividly reminds us to also give ourselves to one another by serving each other in love, just as our Lord loved, served, and gave Himself for us (Eph 5:2; Mt 20:28; Mk 10:45). Washing one another’s feet also teaches us to accept one another in love. Love does not seek its own (
1 Cor 13:5). Therefore, we ought to receive one another and bear one another’s weaknesses. We ought not to please ourselves, for even Christ did not please Himself (Rom 15:1–3, 7).
How do we know that the sacrament of footwashing is to be carried out by the church today?Hide Answer
Before the disciples carried out Jesus’ command to wash one another’s feet, they had to first receive Jesus’ footwashing. In the same way, before we wash one another’s feet, we also need to first receive Jesus’ footwashing. After commanding the disciples to wash one another’s feet (Jn 13:14), Jesus turned the disciples’ attention again to His footwashing, saying, “For I have given you an example, that you should do as I have done to you (Jn 13:15). Today, we need to first let the Lord Jesus wash our feet in the sacrament of footwashing through the hands of the ministers in the church, who wash us according to Jesus’ example. After our feet have been thus washed by the Lord, we may wash each other’s feet among believers and put the teachings behind footwashing into practice in our daily lives.
What is the message of Jesus’ words in verse 16?Hide Answer
The repeated mention of the key word “not greater” may seem out of place in the context. But it is central to the understanding of the nature of the sacrament of footwashing. The slave and the apostle (“he who is sent”) in verse 16 refer to the one who has been given the commission to administer footwashing. He performs footwashing on behalf of the Lord Jesus, who is his master and the one who has sent him. Hence, the sovereign authority of the Lord Jesus is seen throughout the footwashing narrative, and with His authority He commissioned His disciples to do what He had done. Without the divine commission, footwashing could not be considered a sacrament. Only if the messenger has been sent can he act on behalf of the one who had sent him. By virtue of the authority from the Lord Himself, footwashing administered by the church are effective for salvation, enabling the recipients to have a part with the Lord.
What was the purpose of Jesus’ foretelling of His betrayal?Hide Answer
According to verse 19, the Lord Jesus told the disciples about the betrayal in advance so that when it did come to pass, they might believe “that I AM.” The expression “I AM,” when spoken in an absolute sense, revealed Jesus Himself as the only everlasting God who is over all things (Jn 8:24, 28, 58). The Lord wanted the disciples to believe in due course that He was the sovereign God who controlled everything, including His betrayal. Everything that had happened was in accord with His plan and will.
How does Jesus’ declaration in verse 20 relate to His footwashing?Hide Answer
The key words in this verse are “receive” and “send.” The focus has shifted from the administration (13:16, 17) to the reception of footwashing. In verse 16, we have seen that those who are sent to perform footwashing (the slaves and apostles) do so based on a higher authority. Now, Jesus lays His emphasis on the reception of this divine commission. Every disciple who accepts footwashing from the one sent by Jesus acknowledges Jesus’ divinity and yields to His authority.
Why was Jesus troubled in spirit at this moment?
What constitutes a betrayal?Hide Answer
A betrayal is when someone takes advantage of the trust of another person to the hurt of that person. This was the case with Judas, who had been chosen by the Lord and followed Him from the beginning yet turned into the liaison with the enemies who had been seeking to kill Jesus.
Compare the disciple whom Jesus loved with Judas Iscariot.Hide Answer
The disciple whom Jesus loved leaned on Jesus’ bosom (v. 23), an action that reveals closeness and mutual trust. His heart was one with the heart of Jesus. Judas, on the contrary, had turned against his Lord. His heart had been occupied by Satan (13:2, 27). Finally, he went out into the night (13:30). These two figures in the narrative exemplify two extremes in their distances from the Lord.
How was the Son of Man glorified “now” (31)?Hide Answer
This statement echoes Jn 12:23. The words “now” (13:31) and “immediately” (13:32) lay stress on God’s sovereign timing. Although on the surface, Judas’ betrayal had brought a terrible end upon Jesus, it would be through this very hour of suffering and death that the Lord should receive glory and be exalted. It was through His sacrifice that Jesus would draw all people to Himself (Jn 12:32).
How is the Lord’s commandment to love one another a new commandment?Hide Answer
The commandment from the Lord Jesus for us to love one another is a step deeper than the general command of loving our neighbors as ourselves. This is because our Lord Jesus Himself has personally opened this way of love by coming into this world to serve and to become our ransom. And because He has loved us first, we are able to love one another (cf.
1 Jn 4:7–11, 19). Also, this love is found foremost among believers of Christ, for the very reason this spiritual community exists is the love of Christ. Thus, our Lord commands us to put this new kind of love, which is rooted in Him, into practice within this community.
Why does loving one another make it known to all that we are Jesus’ disciples?
What is the meaning of Jesus’ words in verse 36?Hide Answer
The Lord’s words to Peter may have a double meaning. Peter would not follow Jesus now, but would do so afterward, in the sense that he would eventually follow the Lord unto death (cf. Jn 21:18, 19). But beyond the physical meaning, Peter would also follow the Lord into eternal glory (cf.
1 Pet 5:1).
Compare what Peter thought and what the Lord told him (37–38). How are we sometimes like the Peter at this moment?Hide Answer
Peter vowed that he would follow the Lord even to the point of laying down his life. But the Lord knew that Peter would not be able to keep his promise. We sometimes likewise overestimate ourselves, despite our good intentions. As the Lord said, “The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak” (Mt 26:41). Therefore, we cannot afford to count on our own determination in our commitment to Christ, but must depend on the help of God through watchful prayer and walking in the truth so that we may stand in the face of trials (Mt 26:41; Lk 21:36; Eph 6:10–18).