1 Now before the Feast of the Passover, when Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart out of this world to the Father, having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end. 2 During supper, when the devil had already put it into the heart of Judas Iscariot, Simon’s son, to betray him, 3 Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going back to God, 4 rose from supper. He laid aside his outer garments, and taking a towel, tied it around his waist. 5 Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was wrapped around him. 6 He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, “Lord, do you wash my feet?” 7 Jesus answered him, “What I am doing you do not understand now, but afterward you will understand.” 8 Peter said to him, “You shall never wash my feet.” Jesus answered him, “If I do not wash you, you have no share with me.” 9 Simon Peter said to him, “Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!” 10 Jesus said to him, “The one who has bathed does not need to wash, except for his feet, but is completely clean. And you are clean, but not every one of you.” 11 For he knew who was to betray him; that was why he said, “Not all of you are clean.” – John 13:1-11 ESV
As Jesus senses the day of His death drawing closer, He begins to focus His attention more directly on the men He has chosen to carry on His work in His absence. His public ministry is officially over. The raising of Lazarus from the dead would be His last miracle. There would be no more debates with the religious leaders or discourses with the people in the temple. At this point, with just days remaining before He went to the cross, Jesus’ primary mission became the preparation of His disciples for all that was about to happen.
In his account of Jesus’ final week on earth, John diverges from the narratives found in the Synoptic Gospels. While Matthew, Mark, and Luke place considerable emphasis on the institution of the Lord’s Supper, while John chooses to leave it out. It would appear that John wrote his account late in the 1st-Century, likely making it the last of the four gospels to be written. Having had access to the accounts of Matthew, Mark, and Luke, John knew that they had amply covered the institution of the Lord’s Supper so, rather than echoing the same content, he focused his attention on Jesus’ teaching to the disciples. His record of the Passover meal shared by Jesus and His followers contains material not found in the other three gospels. In fact, he is the only one who records the well-known scene of Jesus washing the feet of His disciples.
It is important to remember that John’s purpose for writing his gospel was to support the very important doctrine of the deity of Jesus. Even by the end of the 1st-Century when John likely wrote his gospel, there were those who had begun to reject or repudiate the doctrine of the deity of Jesus. And because John had addressed his gospel to a Christian audience, he was attempting to reassure them that Jesus truly was who He claimed to be. John even reminded his readers of his purpose for putting pen to paper: “that you may continue to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God” (John 20:31 NLT).
So, while the Lord’s Supper was important to John, it was not pertinent to what John was trying to convey to his audience. Instead, he chose to focus on an event that the other gospel writers left out of their accounts: The powerful object lesson of Jesus washing His disciples’ feet.
John presents a very compressed and compacted account of what took place that night. He sets the scene by juxtaposing the heart of Judas with that of Jesus.
…the devil had already put it into the heart of Judas Iscariot, Simon’s son, to betray him… – John 13:2 ESV
Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going back to God, rose from supper… – John 13:3-4 ESV
The heart of Jesus was motivated by love for His own. He knew He was about to leave His disciples and He greatly desired to provide them with some final words of encouragement and insight. Jesus, knowing “that his hour had come to depart out of this world” (John 13:1 ESV), performed an act of unspeakable humility and love.
So he got up from the table, took off his robe, wrapped a towel around his waist, and poured water into a basin. Then he began to wash the disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel he had around him. – John 13:4-5 NLT
The Son of God visibly placed Himself in the role of a servant and willingly washed the feet of His disciples. He provided them with an object lesson that left them stunned, embarrassed, and confused. Jesus even washed the feet of the one who would betray Him. And He did so with full awareness of His deity and superiority. He was living out the words He had spoken earlier.
“…the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” – Matthew 20:28 ESV
But the disciples were shocked by Jesus’ actions, as evidenced by Peter’s response.
“Lord, are you going to wash my feet?” – John 13:6 NLT
Always the first to speak his mind, Peter exhibited reticence at the thought of his master washing his feet. He knew this was not appropriate. Jesus was doing the work of a common slave and this embarrassed Peter. But there is far more going on here than first meets the eye. John describes Jesus as laying aside His outer garments. John did not use the normal Greek word for the removal of a piece of clothing. In fact, he will use this very same word again, when Jesus asks Peter, “Will you lay down your life for me?” (John 13:38 ESV). It is the same word Jesus used when speaking of His coming death.
“I lay down my life that I may take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again.” – John 10:17-18 ESV
This imagery of Jesus laying down and taking up His life is played out in the upper room, as Jesus lays down of His outer garments and then takes them back up again. And in-between doing so, He performs a sacrificial act of cleansing. But Peter and the disciples didn’t grasp the significance of what Jesus was doing. They didn’t make the connection. And Jesus makes this point perfectly clear.
“What I am doing you do not understand now, but afterward you will understand.” – John 13:7 ESV
When Peter vehemently refused to be cleansed by Jesus, he was unknowingly exhibiting the prideful, self-righteous attitude of the religious leaders.
In Peter’s response we see the pride and self-will that is at the heart of all sin and that is the very thing for which the cross will atone and bring healing. Peter is working from a worldly point of view, and not for the first time. – Rodney A. Whitaker, John: The IVP New Testament Commentary Series
But Jesus responded to Peter with a word of warning: “If I do not wash you, you have no share with me” (John 13:8 ESV). It would only be through Jesus’ death on the cross that true cleansing from sin could be attained. And without it, no one could have a right relationship with Christ or the Father.
Jesus’ words seemed to have gotten Peter’s attention because he immediately demanded that Jesus wash his hands and his head as well. If getting his feet washed by Jesus was a non-negotiable requirement, Peter wanted to show his enthusiasm by requesting even more cleansing. But he was missing the point.
Yet, Jesus doesn’t exactly clear up Peter’s confusion. His next statement is rather cryptic, providing the disciples with little clarity as to what He is talking about.
“The one who has bathed does not need to wash, except for his feet, but is completely clean. And you are clean, but not every one of you.” – John 13:10 ESV
It would seem that Jesus is trying to let Peter and his companions know that they belong to Him. By having been chosen by God and placed in the care of His Son, the disciples have been set apart as His servants. In a sense, they have been cleansed, but not completely. The final phase of their cleansing will take place on the cross. And when that happens, they will be made ready for the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit. Their lives will have been completely purified and made worthy vessels for the Spirit of God. It would not be until Jesus died, was raised again, and ascended, that the Holy Spirit would be poured out on His followers.
But there was one of them who would not experience this cleansing. He would not live to enjoy the coming of the Spirit of God. Judas was not clean. He was not a true believer in Jesus. He was a betrayer. And the death of Jesus would provide Him with no further cleansing from sin. As Matthew recorded in his gospel, Peter had clearly expressed His belief in Jesus when he stated, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Matthew 16:16 ESV). But evidently, Judas did not share that belief. He was not fully convinced by Jesus’ claims to be divine. He likely began following Jesus because he had hopes that He was the Messiah. But as time went by and Jesus failed to announce His Kingdom on earth, Judas lost patience and interest. And he would walk out that very night with a preconceived plan to make the most of his relationship with Jesus by betraying Him to the religious authorities. But for the time being, Peter and the rest of the disciples would remain by Jesus’ side.
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