We have one of the most intriguing scenes in the life of Jesus pictured in John 13:1-17.  The scene takes place in "an upper room" at an undisclosed location in Jerusalem.  The time is the evening before Jesus was crucified for the sins of the world.  After the observance of the Passover meal Jesus arises; lays aside His garments; girds Himself with a towel and proceeds to wash His disciples feet.


This is the One of Whom Paul wrote that in eternity past He "...did not consider it robbery to be equal with God..."  Philippians 2:6.  This is the One Who Isaiah saw and described as sitting upon a throne high and lifted up wearing royal apparel that filled the temple.  Seraphim hovered around Him:" each one had six wings: with two he covered his face, with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew.  And one cried to another and said: 'Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts: the whole earth is full of His glory."  Isaiah 6; John 12:41
This is the One of Whom John wrote that "All things were made through Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made."  John 1:3.  And of Whom Paul wrote, "For by Him all things were created that are in heaven and that are on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or powers.  All things were created through Him and for Him.  And He is before all things, and in Him all things consist."    Colossians 1:16, 17.
This the One Whom John would see many years later in vision on the Isle of Patmos Who would identify Himself as the Alpha and Omega, and John would record, "And when I saw Him, I fell at His feet as dead."  Revelation 1:17. 
This is  truly God incarnate in human flesh Who takes the place of a common household slave washing His disciples' feet.  This is unparallel anywhere else in all the Word of God because it appears that washing dirty feet was a menial chore to be done only by a household slave and was just not done by anyone else.  In the 18th chapter of Genesis the Lord and two angels appeared to Abraham in the form of three men, but even godly Abraham didn't wash their feet.  He had a servant fetch them water so they could wash their own feet.


Here is Peter whom Jesus has already found it necessary to rebuke with the words, "Get behind Me, Satan!  You are an offense to Me, for you are not mindful of the things of God, but the things of men."  Matthew 16:23.  And before the night is over, Peter will be denying Him with cursing and will later crumble under the peer pressure of the Judaizers at Antioch and, by his actions, nullify the New Testament of Jesus Christ in favor of going back to the Mosaic Covenant.  (See Galatians 2:11-18).

After the resurrection he hears many testify, "We have seen and heard the Lord", and yet he adamantly asserted "Unless I see in His hands the print of the nails, and put my finger into the print of the nails, and put my hand into His side, I will not believe."  John 20:25.

JAMES AND JOHN - Up to this point, Jesus has labeled these two, "Songs of Thunder"  (Mark 3:1).

PHILIP - who after three years with Jesus Christ still doesn't understand that "he who has seen Jesus has seen God".  (John 14:6-11).

JUDAS ISCARIOT - The one who betrayed Him is present.

And of the whole crowd Luke records that during the Passover meal: "Now there was also a dispute among them, as to which of them should be considered the greatest."  Luke 22:24.  And, of whom Matthew would write that in the garden of Gethsemane, "...Then all the disciples forsook Him and fled."

Do we even need to add that this was a most unworthy bunch for the Son of God to be washing their feet?  All of this brings us to the question...



The Lord's Supper and Baptism are ordinances the Lord gave the church.  If we looked at our Lord's example of washing the disciples' feet as a new ceremony for the church we will lose some of the greatest teaching in the New Testament on the right attitudes and actions God's servants are to have in their ministry to other believers.  There is no record of the Apostolic church observing foot-washing as an ordinance.  It did come much later in church history.  Jesus is not addressing the church corporate, but individuals.


In verse one we read, "...having loved His own who were in the world, He loved them to the end."  The word for love is agape, the love of unconditional commitment, deeds and actions.  It was in this same upper room that Jesus gave His new commandment found in John 13:34-35.  We are to have an active love for our brethren like the Lord Jesus has for His people.
This love is to be coupled with humility.  It would be difficult to take a lower place than performing the menial work of a household slave in washing the disciples' feet.  The disciples had been in a great strife debating which one would be greatest in the kingdom of God, and we get the impression that each one was nominating themselves for the position.  It was in response to this that Jesus made this statement in Luke 22:25-27;"...The kings of the Gentiles exercise lordship over them, and those who exercise authority over them are called benefactors.  But not so among you; on the contrary, he who is greatest among you, let him be as the younger, and he who governs as he who serves.  For who is greater, he who sits at the table, or he who serves?  Is it not he who sits at the table?  Yet, I am among you as the One who serves." 

The washing of the disciples' feet was an example of the humble attitude with which agape love should be practiced.  We so easily slip into the attitude that certain tasks are below our dignity.


This spiritual truth is brought out in verses 10, 11, and 18.  In verse 10 the first time we read "washed" it is louō and refers to the ceremonial bath in preparation for the Passover.  The second time the word "wash" comes from nipto and refers to washing only that place on us that has become defiled.  It is not difficult to see the picture that in salvation we are washed from our sins that bring condemnation, but as we walk through the world we gather the dust of contamination that defiles us to the point that our fellowship with God is hindered.  We need cleansing to be restored to unhindered fellowship.  In verses 11 and 18 Jesus refers to Judas and indicates that even though Judas received ceremonial cleansing for the Passover by total immersion in water he never received the initial spiritual cleansing of salvation of which the cleansing by water was only a picture. 

It is clear that Jesus was using a literal example to teach a spiritual reality.  As believers we get spiritually dirty feet that need to be cleansed through confession.  See 1st John 1:3, 4, 6, 7, 8-2:1.

Jesus said "If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another's feet.  For I have given you an example, that you should do as I have done to you."   John 13:14, 15.  This means I wash the spiritually dirty feet of my brethren and I allow them to wash my spiritually dirty feet.  I have found that as hard as it is for me to humble myself and wash my brother's feet, that like Peter, it is even harder to let my brother wash my feet.  I have also found that there were times when a brother has washed my spiritually dirty feet and my sensation was that he has used ice water.  My feet were cleaned up from defilement but I was having a hard time appreciating it.  Other times if felt like my feet had been spiritually washed in scalding water.  That is even harder to appreciate, and so I ask myself, Have I done the same thing?  We can assume that as Jesus washed the disciples' feet He lovingly and tenderly used comfortable water communicating His love in the tender way He did it. Note that Peter would shortly need his feet washed from cursing and denying Jesus and Thomas would need to be washed from doubting.


In John 13:8 Jesus said, "If I do not wash you, you have no part with me."  Note that if the primary lesson Jesus taught was physical foot-washing, He never again washed His disciples' feet, nor has He washed the feet of anyone else with literal water.  That means that after this one time there would never be anyone else who would be able to have a part in Jesus Christ.  But, if Jesus was giving a physical cleansing that was a picture of spiritual cleansing then every believer can be cleansed and have part in Jesus Christ.

One of the greatest desires in the heart of every believer should be to have a part in Jesus Christ.

In His sacrificial death for our sins (Galatians 2:20).
In His shed blood that washes us from our sins. (1st John 1:7)
In His Word that washes us like water in His sanctifying work. (John 17:17;
Ephesians 5:25,26)
In His resurrection and its power. (Philippians 3:10, 11).
In His ascension to sit with Him in heavenly places. (Ephesians 2:4-6).
In His pleadings of intercessory prayer as our Great High Priest (John 17:20...)
In the peace He gives the mind and heart. (John 14:27)
In the comfort He gives in sorrow. (John 14:1, 18)
In His spiritual body. (Romans 12:4,5; 1st Corinthians 12:12...).
In His bride the church. (Revelation 21:2).
In Him as branches connected to the vine. (John 15:1-7).
In His coming again. (1st Thessalonians 4:14-18).
In His kingdom. (Colossians 1:12-14).
In His eternal glory.  (Romans 8:18).

To have a part in Jesus we must be washed.
We qualify by admitting that we are a sinner and need to be washed, then by letting Jesus do the washing, and not ourselves.  This gives us a part in His saving work that can never be taken away.  The priests were set apart for the priesthood by sacrificial blood.  They never needed to be set apart for the priesthood again.  See Revelation 1:5b.  But the priest needed repeated cleansing by water as he went about his work.  At this very Passover the officiating priests would be ceremonially cleansed by total immersion in water.  As they went from task to task they would wash their hands and feet from defilement.

It is the blood of Christ that cleanses us from the condemnation of sin before God's Judgment bar.  It is the water of His word that cleanses us from the defilement of sin so that we can enjoy fellowship with our God and be fit for service that ministers to the needs of our brothers and sisters in Christ.  May we also be aware there filth and our feet tend to get dirtier.

Jesus said in John 13:17, "If you know these things, blessed are you of you do them."  When Jesus washed the feet of the disciples it went beyond picturing His cleansing from sin and includes ministering to the needs of believers, whatever they are.  The disciples got their feet dirty by walking from the place where they had washed all over.  As they walked, the dust gathered on their feet.  They were ceremonially defiled, and had a need of cleansing in order to not be ceremonially defiled.  I believe Jesus was saying in verse 17 that when our brothers and sisters in Christ have a need we can meet, then we are to humble ourselves and lovingly minister to that need.  He is also teaching that when we have a need, we allow our brothers and sisters in Christ minister to us.

This took place the night before Jesus died.  In less than 24 hours Jesus is going to experience the agony and sweat His blood in Gethsemane; the trial before the high priest; appear before Pilate and Herod and then Pilate again.  He will experience the abuse of the soldiers including the Roman whip.  He will falter beneath the cross on the Via Dolorosa.  He will suffer physically and spiritually on the cross and will die and be buried.  I believe Jesus knew all this.  We could excuse Him for being consumed with His own needs, but He is consumed with the needs of His disciples.  Hebrews 12:2 tells us how He did it.  It was "...for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God."   I think His eyes beheld an innumerable host of saints washed in His blood and in the water of God's word.

As we minister to the needs of God's saints let us also behold by faith the spiritual results that will bring great joy in future days.  As others minister to us, let us allow their ministry to increase our fellowship with our Lord and better fit us to minister.

An outstanding example of such ministering is in the lives of our friends, Frank and Earlene Comfort of Mineral, Virginia.  They lived near our friends, Karl and Mary Fretcher.  Karl was in a nursing home with Parkinson's disease, leaving Mary living alone.  For as long as I can remember Frank went by to haul away the Fretcher's garbage.  When the driveway needed the snow plowed, Frank would be there to do it.  Earlene would call Mary every morning to see if she was all right and if she had any needs.  If Mary needed to go to the doctor, the grocery store or whatever, Earlene arranged to take her.  The most amazing thing is, their sweet attitude that these were just things they ought to do and they counted it a joy to do them.

Motivated by love, we need to minister to the needs of our fellow Christians with a true servant's heart.

Copyright 2002 Thomas E Berry
Scripture quotations from NKJV unless otherwise noted




Copyright 2002 Thomas E Berry
Scripture quotations from NKJV unless otherwise noted


    Copyright 2008 Truth Helpers Inc.