The Washing of Feet

John 13:1Now before the Feast of the Passover, when Jesus knew that His hour had come that He should depart from this world to the Father, having loved His own who were in the world, He loved them to the end.And [a]supper being ended, the devil having already put it into the heart of Judas Iscariot, Simon’s son, to betray Him, Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into His hands, and that He had come from God and was going to God, rose from supper and laid aside His garments, took a towel and girded Himself. After that, He poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet, and to wipe them with the towel with which He was girded. Then He came to Simon Peter. And Peter said to Him, “Lord, are You washing my feet?” Jesus answered and said to him, “What I am doing you do not understand now, but you will know after this.” Peter said to Him, “You shall never wash my feet!” Jesus answered him, “If I do not wash you, you have no part with Me.” Simon Peter said to Him, “Lord, not my feet only, but also my hands and my head!” 10 Jesus said to him, “He who is bathed needs only to wash his feet, but is completely clean; and you are clean, but not all of you.” 11 For He knew who would betray Him; therefore He said, “You are not all clean.” 12 So when He had washed their feet, taken His garments, and sat down again, He said to them, “Do you [b]know what I have done to you? 13 You call Me Teacher and Lord, and you say well, for so I am. 14 If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. 15 For I have given you an example, that you should do as I have done to you. 16 Most assuredly, I say to you, a servant is not greater than his master; nor is he who is sent greater than he who sent him. 17 If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them.

As we approach this text there are a couple of things we need to keep in mind.

1.) John is a writer who is rich in connecting his writings to the Old Testament. Indeed one misses a good deal of what John is doing in his writings if one is not aware of how influenced John’s thought world is with the thought world of the OT.

Right out of the gate with John’s “In the beginning” there can be little question that John’s Gospel finds linkage with the prior Revelation of God. As one moves through John’s Gospel one reads of the Patriarchs and the Prophets,

In John Moses and the Prophets wrote about Jesus (Jn. 1:45, 5:46) Abraham saw his day and was glad (8:56) Isaiah saw a Heavenly vision of the pre-incarnate son high and lifted up (Is. 6 w/ Jn. 12:41). In John, there is a recurring reference to the festivals and the feasts, (Passover [2] Purim [5:1, 17] Passover [6:4] Tabernacles [7] Great Day [7:37] Dedication [10:22] Passover [11:55] and the Old Testament History in General … For example, Jesus is the Manna come down from Heaven. Jesus is the water from which one can drink and never thirst.

These few sentences draw together some of the major connections between John’s Gospel and the Old Testament. Sometimes these connections are very clear and directly cited. In other parts of the Gospel, the Old Testament allusions are more indirect and less obvious. With the passage of time, many of the allusions do not immediately strike us and one of the challenges we face is to pose the question – what might these things have meant to the first-century reader, to the author’s initially-intended audience?

This explains in part why we need to be familiar with the whole of Scripture in order to understand the whole of Scripture. John writes out of covenantal world and life view and He labors to demonstrate that Jesus was the fulfillment of all that the Old Testament spoke of.

We find that here also in John 13 and that is what we want to reference in beginning this morning.

As we begin we note that this section of Scripture in John 13-17 is referred to as the upper room discourse. Jesus here concentrates on preparing His disciples and is especially investing time with them. It is a block of Scripture that is its own sub-unit. We see that this sub-unit fits with John’s theme that people might believe that Jesus is the Messiah of God. In these five chapters, the Deity of Christ is put forth time and time again.

In order to understand the dynamic of what is going on w/Jesus’ donning of the towel, we need to turn to Dr. Luke for some immediate context. Luke tells us that

22:24 there was also a dispute among them (the Disciples), as to which of them should be considered the greatest.

With the Cross now in sight gathering for their last meal together the Disciples were still contending about matters of precedence and prestige among them.

It is quite possible that this was the conversation going into this upper room. Understand that the roads of Palestine were very 1st century. In the best of weather, they were inches thick in dust, and in rainy weather they could be a mud bath. Of course, the shoes were sandals with a leather strap that attached the sandal to the foot. The foot was therefore obviously exposed.

Because of this there was always kept at an entry to a home large water pots as well as a servant with a pitcher and a towel to wash the dirtied feet of the guests. Apparently, in this situation, there was no servant to perform this menial labor and you can bet that if the disciples were arguing about who would be considered the greatest none of them would be bowing to this service.

But before we get to the actual washing itself let us consider briefly this Passover reality that John gives us. Of course, the Passover was the highest Hebrew Holy Day of the Year. It was the day that remembered the Exodus and how God required the slaying of the lamb and the application of the blood in order that the Angel of the Lord would Pass by that God’s wrath would not visit the homes covered by the blood. Passover also marked the Exodus or departure of God’s people out of the Egyptian world that would eventually find them journeying to the promised land.

We need to keep this in mind to hear the allusion that Jesus is giving here in Chapter 13. Jesus says here during this Passover time that He knew that His hour had come and that He should depart from this world to the Father.

I believe that John uses this language purposely to communicate that Jesus is on the cusp of His own Exodus … a Departure that would find Him entering into His return to the Promised land. Inasmuch as the idea of Departure is connected with returning to the Father the word departure suggests not only the Crucifixion but also His resurrection and ascension. About His glory, and authority. Jesus is starting a new Exodus … a fulfillment of what the earlier Exodus only anticipated. Jesus is leaving this world into a new world that is the reality of which the new land flowing with milk and honey was only the precursor. We need to keep in mind that when Jesus says He is departing this world to the Father He has before Him not only the humiliation but the exaltation as well.

To underscore this we remain mindful of how John uses the word “world,” in His gospel. Jesus is departing this “world.” Yes, of course, there is a literal reference here inasmuch as Jesus will be departing this physical universe but if we scratch just a bit we might insist that there is a double reference here. Remember for John the word “world” can also mean this present evil age – this World system – as it lies under the influence of the evil one.

The World System

John 12:31 Now is the judgment of this world; now will the ruler of this world be cast out.

John 14:30 I will no longer talk much with you, for the ruler of this world is coming. He has no claim on me…

John 16:11 concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world is judged.

Is this departure not only a departure from the physical universe but also an Exodus from the World system as it lies under the Evil One? Is Jesus departing this World much the way God’s Son – Israel in the Old testament – departed the World system that was Egyptian bondage?

I think that is very likely.

But if we scratch just a bit more we could honestly say that Jesus is departing the whole Old Covenant world order. With Jesus’ departure not only is Pharaoh’s bondage of the evil World system being left behind but in Christ’s return to the Father the whole Old Covenant world order is likewise being left. With Jesus’ departure to the Father, it is the end of the Temple system… the end of the Jewish world order the end of the ceremonial law.

So, when John tells us that Jesus is departing from this world, I would submit that there is a good deal going on in that statement. In Jesus departure, the whole Old Covenant world is being nailed to the cross and God’s people with Jesus departure Exodus out of that world with Jesus.

My friend and Biblical Theologian Kim Burgess put it this way,

“Jesus departure from this world IS how things “changed” from the Old Cov world order to the New Cov world order — namely, via the death and resurrection of Christ for Christ Himself had been born under and had died under that Old Cov order (Gal 4:4) and so was taking it down with Him in order to replace it. Thus Heb 10:9 — “He takes away the the first [or old covenantal world] in order to establish the second [or new covenantal world]”.

One more piece before we return to that pitcher of water. John says that Jesus knew His hour had come. We need to remember that this whole idea of “Jesus Hour” is a literary tool that John has been using throughout His Gospel.

The Gospel of John has an intentional focus on “the hour” of Jesus. Before his first miracle, Jesus said that “My hour has not yet come” (2:4). During his early life and ministry, we are twice told that “his hour had not yet come” (7:30 and 8:20). Toward the end of his life, Jesus realized that the hour was at hand, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified” (12:23). He recoiled from the horror of it, but knew that this hour was the fulfillment of his mission, “Now my soul is troubled. And what should I say – ‘Father, save me from this hour’? No, it is for this reason that I have come to this hour” (12:27). The forward momentum of Jesus’ hour in the Gospel of John reaches a climax at the Cross, “Now before the festival of the Passover, Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart from this world and go to the Father” (13:1). “After Jesus had spoken these words, he looked up to heaven and said, ‘Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son so that the Son may glorify you” (17:1).

We see here then that when Jesus says “His hour had come” He is epistemologically self-conscious about the Work that He came to do. All of His life was preparatory to what He was about to accomplish. This bespeaks that Jesus was self-conscious His whole life about His calling. He knew He was born to be God’s pass-over lamb. He knew He was headed for a particular Hour. He knew all about the hour and because of this knowledge He could say of His life in John 10

18No one takes it from Me, but I lay it down of My own accord. I have authority to lay it down and authority to take it up again. This charge I have received from My Father.”

Now we have set the table and we return to the matter at hand.

Whereas traditionally those feet would’ve been washed before the meal they all set there through the supper with grimy feet each preferring to be uncomfortable rather than taking up the servant’s towel.

Here we see the Master serving His people.

This foot washing of course is an illustration of what Jesus is about to do. He is about to serve His people by dying for them and so cleansing them from Sin. The lamb of God is cleansing His people from that which soils them. This foot-washing is prelude to the Cross.

We might note here we see the theology of the Cross as we will see in boldness in a few chapters further. We tend to expect the flashy, the expansive, the glorious. But John gives us what Luther called “a theology of the Cross.” Yes… it is true that the resurrection and ascension are in the future but before that what we get is a theology of the Cross. God bowing down and serving His people. God showing that if one really wants to be “the greatest” one must deny Himself.

What I find marvelous here in this narrative is that Jesus washes not only Peter’s feet but also He washed the feet of Judas as well. This is truly a picture of what Scripture means when it says to love your enemies.

God serves His people with the purpose that they might be better equipped to serve Him. Here God is serving His people that they might glorify Him in the future by serving one another (14). Jesus ends all this contention about who will be the greatest among them by giving them a model that disallows shoving and pushing to the front as a way to get to the front.

The servant of God has need to, as much as possible, just forget themselves. Forget the chasing of position and accolades. Forget the rush to be seen and recognized by an army of groupies. The servant of God realizes the first shall be last and is content just washing feet in God’s kingdom.

The Church is full of glory hounds in the ministry. What the Church needs are people who know their stuff but who are content just washing people’s feet. As John, the Baptist said … “I must decrease but He must increase.” This is all theology of the Cross material.

One more word before we move on. We need to understand that this serving is Leadership. God doesn’t call leaders to abandon Leadership. There are times when Leaders must Lead in every sense of that word. What this passage teaches is that part of Leadership is donning the towel when necessary.

So, here we have seen that God condescends to man. The incarnation of Jesus was itself a condescension of God to man. In the foot washing, we see Jesus taking to Himself no reputation and being a servant.

As we said this foot-washing is prelude to His cleansing work on the cross.

Let us be precise in application

1.) We are most like Christ when we serve one another

The Church often has friction because everyone wants to play the leader. It is amazing how much can be done if no one is concerned about being served.

2.) The Kingdom of God is advanced by God’s servant leaders.

Next we would note here that in this foot-washing we learn of the Cross.

The only thing these men contributed to Jesus foot-washing was their dirt. Jesus does all the cleansing work. This parallels what we know of the Cross. The only thing we bring to the Cross is our sin. Jesus does all the cleansing. The only thing we contribute is our dirt/sin.

Jesus washes them their feet and does not put any pre-conditions on the washing. He knows that Judas will betray Him. He knows that Peter will deny Him. He knows the others will flee in His darkest Hour and yet He washes their feet for they are His people. It is the same with our being washed and cleansed by Christ. We are cleansed and nothing will make us unclean.

In another sense, the foot-washing is a picture of sanctification. Daily we must come to Christ for daily washing away of residual sin. We must constantly return to the laver of Christ. This is why it was said by some of the Reformers that we must be daily converted. It is why John could write his epistle to believers writing,

“If we confess our sins He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and cleanse us of all unrighteousness.”

I wonder if we are surprised by God’s humility, condescension, kindness, compassion, and love. We were nothing but rebels rightfully hell-bound but God came close to us in Christ and provided washing and cleansing for those who would yield to the command to be cleansed from our sin.

Author: jetbrane

I am a Pastor of a small Church in Mid-Michigan who delights in my family, my congregation and my calling. I am postmillennial in my eschatology. Paedo-Calvinist Covenantal in my Christianity Reformed in my Soteriology Presuppositional in my apologetics Familialist in my family theology Agrarian in my regional community social order belief Christianity creates culture and so Christendom in my national social order belief Mythic-Poetic / Grammatical Historical in my Hermeneutic Pre-modern, Medieval, & Feudal before Enlightenment, modernity, & postmodern Reconstructionist / Theonomic in my Worldview One part paleo-conservative / one part micro Libertarian in my politics Systematic and Biblical theology need one another but Systematics has pride of place Some of my favorite authors, Augustine, Turretin, Calvin, Tolkien, Chesterton, Nock, Tozer, Dabney, Bavinck, Wodehouse, Rushdoony, Bahnsen, Schaeffer, C. Van Til, H. Van Til, G. H. Clark, C. Dawson, H. Berman, R. Nash, C. G. Singer, R. Kipling, G. North, J. Edwards, S. Foote, F. Hayek, O. Guiness, J. Witte, M. Rothbard, Clyde Wilson, Mencken, Lasch, Postman, Gatto, T. Boston, Thomas Brooks, Terry Brooks, C. Hodge, J. Calhoun, Llyod-Jones, T. Sowell, A. McClaren, M. Muggeridge, C. F. H. Henry, F. Swarz, M. Henry, G. Marten, P. Schaff, T. S. Elliott, K. Van Hoozer, K. Gentry, etc. My passion is to write in such a way that the Lord Christ might be pleased. It is my hope that people will be challenged to reconsider what are considered the givens of the current culture. Your biggest help to me dear reader will be to often remind me that God is Sovereign and that all that is, is because it pleases him.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *