John 13: 1–32. The Foot-washing and Its Aftermath.

Key Notes: Small gifts of comfort. Jesus deals wiith Judas. Foot-washing a church ordinance? Humility and how not to get it.

The account of Jesus washing the disciples’ feet is so well imbedded in our memories that reading it again seems unnecessary. Even the account of Judas’ betrayal is so low-key that it does not command our attention. Let us look at the text again in prayer for new insights and lessons.

13:1–5 John begins with a long preamble to the simple act of foot-washing:

*At the feast of the Passover when the Passover lamb was being prepared from sacrifice,
*Jesus knowing that His hour had come to depart out of this world,
*Loving the disciples to the end,
*During the supper,
*Satan having tempted Judas to betray Jesus,
*Knowing that the Father had put everything into His hands (so His power is intact)
*Knowing that He came from God (and was to return to God)....

His homeward path is clear.The needs of the disciples, the threat of the traitor, the significance of the Passover ceremony and His place in the titanic struggle against the world and its sin all come together. With these enormous issues swirling through His mind,  He leaves the dinner, takes off His outer garment,  puts on an apron , gets a towel and basin, gets down on His hands and knees and starts washing dirty feet! It is the work of a slave.

13:6–11 Peter must have been distracted,  engaged in conversation, because when Jesus came to him with the basin, he acted surprised, then scandalized.

“Lord, do you wash my feet!?”
“What I am doing you do not know now,  but afterward you will understand.”
“You shall never wash my feet.”
“If I do not wash you, you have no part in Me.”
“Lord, not my feet only but my hands and my head.”
“He who has bathed does not need to wash, except for his feet, but He is clean all over; and you are clean, but not every one of you.”

13:12–20  When He was finished and returned to the table, Jesus explained. He was giving them an example. He probably was responding to the controversy the disciples had during the supper about which of them was the greatest. (Lk.22:24–27). He had modeled humble service for them.

There are four messages we can learn from the foot-washing
*He was expressing His love for the disciples. (13:1). Foot-washing is a comfort.
*He gave them His final and memorable teaching on humility and promised a blessing to those who would do such humble service.
*He taught them the concept of daily spiritual washing. They were bathed; that is, their souls were already saved and committed to the Kingdom. Daily washing was still necessary. “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just, and will forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” (I Jn.1:8,9)
*The fourth message is that the act of cleansing was not effective for the rebel. “For He knew who was to betray Him; that was why He said, ‘you are not all clean.’” Jesus had washed Judas’ feet, but to no avail for Judas.[How could He do that? How could Judas accept it?]

13:18–30 Jesus at once moved on to the betrayal. He referred to Judas four times (*) during the evening, with the disciples understanding little until the last word. Judas did not flinch.
*“…He said ‘you are not all clean.’ “ 13:11
*“I know whom I have chosen; it is that the Scripture may be fulfilled, ‘He who ate my bread has lifted his heel against me.” 13:18. The reference is to Psalm 41:9 where David was surrounded by his enemies. Eating together has always been a way of bonding, especially in the Middle East, where “sharing salt” implies a commitment between people. Eating my bread makes betrayal more painful. Lifting up the heel is an image of the donkey kicking his master.

In the middle of His discourse, Jesus made an apparent digression.
“…he who receives anyone whom I send receives Me; and he who receives Me receives Him who sent Me.” (13:20). Judas’ situation is the opposite. Judas has not received Him, and he has lost the Father in the process.

*“When Jesus had thus spoken, He was troubled in spirit and testified {an expression of intensity} ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, one of you will betray me.’”

Now the disciples were disturbed and looked at each other. It is obvious that Judas was not in their sights. He was innocent as far as they knew. That he could live with the disciples for three years and not appear to be an evil man is a lesson in itself. Jesus had previously told them that one of them was a devil,  but even that did not disturb Judas or isolate him from the others. Jn.6:70

Peter beckoned to John (the disciple whom Jesus loved), who was on the couch immediately in front of Jesus and asked for a clue. Jesus said the one to whom He gave the next morsel of bread and sauce was the betrayer. That must mean that Judas sat immediately behind Jesus, because he was within easy reach. So the one who loved Jesus and the one who intended to have Him killed were on opposite sides of Jesus. One is full of the Holy Spirit; the other is full of the Devil--poles apart. The tension must have been unbearable.

*“What you are going to do, do quickly” In this fourth word, Judas was pushed out. He was possessed by Satan and went out into the night—the symbol of his world. He already had his money, and will report Jesus’ location and His next movements to the Pharisees, preparing the capture.

When he was gone, Jesus said:
“Now is the Son of Man glorified, and in Him God is glorified”.
“if God is glorified in Him, God will glorify Him in Himself and glorify Him at once.”
The two sentences are almost identical but the first is passive and the second is active. It may be that the passive sentence represents the action of Judas,  the Pharisees and the Romans in Jesus’ execution. Then the second, active phrase, may refer to God’s action in the Resurrection and Ascension of Christ.


Should we not continue the foot-washing? Foot-washing did not become the third ordinance of the Church. It is not mentioned in the NT except in I Tim. 5:10 where it is in a list of the humble service of widows. There are other acts of simple kindness such as giving a cup of cold water (Matt.10:42)  and anointing the head with oil (Lk.7:46),  that are in this family of comforting service. Foot-washing  can be a demonstration of false humility and could be misused. It has not been adopted in the Church except for a papal ceremony on Maundy Thursday.

The core of the lesson is about humility. Humble service may not create humility, but it is a start, in the way a loving gesture may be the start of genuine love. Humility is the opposite of pride. A long discussion on pride (see notes on Nebuchadnezzar in Daniel 4) can sharpen our focus but does not create humility. Ant article by Tim Keller (Christianity Today, Dec.2008, p.51–53)  discusses how difficult humility is to acquire:
            “Humility is so shy. If you begin talking about it, it leaves.”

If we think about being humble, we are at once proud. Keller advises us not to think less of ourselves, but to think of ourselves less. Think about Jesus more. Thinking about ourselves less is not a simple path to humility. Humility is a virtue of children—some children. As teenagers, we think only of ourselves and our careers. Ageing does not generate humility. As we grow older, we think of ourselves more and more. Humiliations there are, and plenty with ageing, but humility is not the result. The older we get the more attention we have to pay to ourselves:
Where am I? Is my hair on straight? Did I say the right word? Will my denture hold? Can I say this person’s name?

Consequently the aged have a generic problem of pride—shoring up past achievements and maintaining dwindling vanities. The unbridled  ego is the natural result of ageing.

But in closing Keller says
“…humility is only achieved as a by product of understanding, believing and marveling in the gospel of grace. So let us preach grace till humility just starts to grow in us.”

Everyone can embrace God’s grace. It is the basis of our lives, our genes, our past and our destinies. Everything we  have is a gift.