Why did Jesus wash the disciples’ feet?

The event of Jesus washing the feet of the disciples can be found only in the gospel of John. It seems on the surface to be straightforward. Jesus washed his disciples’ feet. It is usually taught that Jesus did this to show the disciples humbleness. 

While this is true to a certain extent, like all the teachings of Jesus there is MUCH more going on that can be seen with just a basic reading. When we look deeper into the passage and its context we will find a number of  very important messages that Jesus was demonstrating to his disciples.  

So let’s have a look at the passage and then we can break it down and see what Jesus was really teaching. 

John 13:1 Now before the feast of the passover, when Jesus knew that his hour was come that he should depart out of this world unto the Father, having loved his own which were in the world, he loved them unto the end. 2 And supper being ended, the devil having now put 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 was come from God, and went to God; 4 He riseth from supper, and laid aside his garments; and took a towel, and girded himself.5 After that he poureth water into a bason, and began to wash the disciples’ feet, and to wipe them with the towel wherewith he was girded.6 Then cometh he to Simon Peter: and Peter saith unto him, Lord, dost thou wash my feet?7 Jesus answered and said unto him, What I do thou knowest not now; but thou shalt know hereafter. 8 Peter saith unto him, Thou shalt never wash my feet. Jesus answered him, If I wash thee not, thou hast no part with me. 9 Simon Peter saith unto him, Lord, not my feet only, but also my hands and my head. 10 Jesus saith to him, He that is washed needeth not save to wash his feet, but is clean every whit: and ye are clean, but not all. 11For he knew who should betray him; therefore said he, Ye are not all clean.12 So after he had washed their feet, and had taken his garments, and was set down again, he said unto them, Know ye what I have done to you? 13 Ye call me Master and Lord: and ye say well; for so I am. 14If I then, your Lord and Master, have washed your feet; ye also ought to wash one another’s feet. 15 For I have given you an example, that ye should do as I have done to you. 16 Verily, verily, I say unto you, The servant is not greater than his lord; neither he that is sent greater than he that sent him. 17 If ye know these things, happy are ye if ye do them.

John chapter 13 starts just before what would become known as the last supper. This was the supper where Jesus would introduce the Lord’s supper (communion). It would not be long after this supper that Jesus would be betrayed by Judas and subsequently arrested in the garden of Gethsemane before ultimately being crucified. 

John 13:1 Now before the feast of the passover, when Jesus knew that his hour was come that he should depart out of this world unto the Father, having loved his own which were in the world, he loved them unto the end.  

We then move immediately (in John’s gospel) to the events after the meal had ended 

John 13:2 And supper being ended, the devil having now put into the heart of Judas Iscariot, Simon’s son,to betray him;

Jesus took off his garments (his outer clothing) and took a towel and dressed himself with it. 

John 13:4 He riseth from supper, and laid aside his garments; and took a towel, and girded himself.

It is important to note here that this was not just any towel. In the Greek this is λέντιον lention. This was a servants garment that they would put on before they were to go to work. Jesus took off his clothes and literally put on the clothes of a servant. 

Jesus poured water into a basin and  began to wash the feet of his disciples. Wiping them with the very towel that he was wearing. Again it is important to note that washing the feet would have been done by servants not the master of the house and in no way a king. 

John 13:5 After that he poureth water into a bason, and began to wash the disciples’ feet, and to wipe them with the towel wherewith he was girded.

Now the text does not specifically state that this included Judas, but none of the disciples except Peter (verse 6)  are individually named. it most certainly does however state that Jesus washed the feet of his disciples and does not exclude anyone, so there is simply no reason based on textual evidence to exclude Judas from the feet washing. 

If Judas was therefore included, Jesus then, would have washed the feet of his enemy. We cannot fail to remember Jesus’ own words back in his sermon on the mount regarding loving your enemies. 

Matthew 5: 44 But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you;

Jesus literally served his enemy,  Judas, the one who was going to betray him,  by washing his feet. Even though Jesus knew that it was Judas that would betray him Jesus still humbled himself to serve the man that would sell out his master.

The more that I study the sayings and doings of Jesus the more I understand just how special this man was. 

Then Jesus came to Peter to wash his feet. Peter asked Jesus was he really going to wash his feet? 

John 13: 6 Then cometh he to Simon Peter: and Peter saith unto him, Lord, dost thou wash my feet? 

Here was Jesus, the man that Peter had proclaimed he believed was the Messiah about to wash his feet as a servant would wash his master. 

John 6:69 And we believe and are sure that thou art that Christ, the Son of the living God.

Jesus told Peter that although Peter did not understand what Jesus was doing that he would know later. 

John 13: 7Jesus answered and said unto him, What I do thou knowest not now; but thou shalt know hereafter.

The Greek here reads you will know however after these things. A physical reference to the feet washing but also a spiritual reference to the things that were going to happen in just a short time, Jesus was going to be killed, his blood would be shed. 

It was not unusual for Peter to fail to understand the message of Jesus and even after Jesus had just stated Peter didn’t know but that he would later, he said that Jesus would never wash his feet. However Jesus answered him simply that if he didn’t wash his feet he would have no part in him. 

John 13: 8 Peter saith unto him, Thou shalt never wash my feet. Jesus answered him, If I wash thee not, thou hast no part with me.

To which Peter, still not any wiser to what Jesus was doing, overreacted and asked Jesus to wash his hands and head also. 

John 13: 9 Simon Peter saith unto him, Lord, not my feet only, but also my hands and my head.

Jesus then makes a statement that is very important to understand in the spiritual side of his teaching as well as the physical. Jesus stated that he that is washed only needs to wash his feet. He then states that YE are clean. 

John 13:10 Jesus saith to him, He that is washed needeth not save to wash his feet, but is clean every whit: and ye are clean, but not all. 

Ye is the Greek σύ su which is the plural form of you. Jesus was not only addressing Peter but had addressed all the disciples with his statement and declared them all clean. But Jesus does state not all. This is a reference to Judas and further evidence that Judas was still with them when Jesus was washing their feet. 

We shall come back to the spiritual meaning in just a moment. 

After Jesus had washed the feet of his disciples he asked them if they knew what he had just done. 

John 13:10 So after he had washed their feet, and had taken his garments, and was set down again, he said unto them, Know ye what I have done to you? 

Jesus then explains that if he, that they called master,  washed their feet, that they should wash the feet of one another. 

John 13: 13 Ye call me Master and Lord: and ye say well; for so I am. 14 If I then, your Lord and Master, have washed your feet; ye also ought to wash one another’s feet. 

Jesus washed their feet as a physical example as to what they were to do to ONE ANOTHER. 

John 13:15 For I have given you an example, that ye should do as I have done to you. 

The disciples had to learn some humbleness and for a very specific reason. We are told in the gospel of Luke that an argument had broken out amongst the disciples during the last supper that had not long before finished, about who was the greatest amongst them:

Luke 22:24 And there was also a strife among them, which of them should be accounted the greatest. 

Jesus explained to them that NONE were to be counted as greater, this was what kings and gentiles did. 

Luke 22:25 And he said unto them, The kings of the Gentiles exercise lordship over them; and they that exercise authority upon them are called benefactors. 

The disciples were not to do so amongst themselves. 

Luke 22:26 But ye shall not be so: but he that is greatest among you, let him be as the younger; and he that is chief, as he that doth serve. 

Jesus explained that HE was the greater and yet even he was amongst them as one that serves:

Luke 22:27 For whether is greater, he that sitteth at meat, or he that serveth? is not he that sitteth at meat? but I am among you as he that serveth.

Jesus had previously stated that he had not come to be served unto but to serve: 

Matthew 20:28 Even as the Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many.

Minster is the Greek διακονέω diakoneó which means to serve. 

Jesus continues that the servant is not greater than his lord. So if Jesus who was greater than them served them how much more should they serve each other. 

John 13:16Verily, verily, I say unto you, The servant is not greater than his lord; neither he that is sent greater than he that sent him. 17 If ye know these things, happy are ye if ye do them.

So none of the disciples were greater than the others and being not greater than Jesus, who served them,  they should not think of themselves as greater than any other and so serve each other. 

So Jesus most certainly did do what he did as an example to the disciples. An example of how they were to treat each other and to not think that any were more superior than the others. Jesus, before he would leave the room where he had just had the last supper and washed the disciples feet gave the disciples a new command, that they should love each other as he had loved them. 

John 13:34 A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another.35 By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another.

By loving one another people would know that they were disciples of Jesus. 

However as I stated there is also a spiritual meaning to this whole incident. 

If we go back to verse 8 after Peter had stated that Jesus would never wash his feet, Jesus stated that if he didn’t wash him, he would have no part with Jesus.

John 13:8 Peter saith unto him, Thou shalt never wash my feet. Jesus answered him, If I wash thee not, thou hast no part with me.

While we have seen this was a physical example demonstrating that Jesus wanted them to serve as he did, we must also understand that this is a spiritual reference to being washed by Jesus, which we ALL need to be.  

Jesus stated that Peter did not know YET but that he would know after these things. 

John 13:7 Jesus answered and said unto him, What I do thou knowest not now; but thou shalt know hereafter.

Those things were the arrest, trial and crucifixion of Jesus where he would shed his blood for our sins. 

We are washed by Jesus through his blood. It is the blood of Jesus that washes us clean.  

1 John 1:7 But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship one with another, and the blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from all sin.

Ephesians 1-7 In whom we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of his grace;

Romans 3-22 Even the righteousness of God which is by faith of Jesus Christ unto all and upon all them that believe: for there is no difference: 23For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God; 24 Being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus: 25 Whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in his blood, to declare his righteousness for the remission of sins that are past, through the forbearance of God; 26To declare, I say, at this time his righteousness: that he might be just, and the justifier of him which believeth in Jesus.Paul says he was sent by God not to baptise but to preach the gospel of Grace

Romans 5-9 Much more then, being now justified by his blood, we shall be saved from wrath through him.

Revelation 7:14 And I said unto him, Sir, thou knowest. And he said to me, These are they which came out of great tribulation, and have washed their robes, and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.

Jesus though, told the disciples that they were clean before the blood had been shed. 

John 13:10 Jesus saith to him, He that is washed needeth not save to wash his feet, but is clean every whit: and ye are clean, but not all. 

It is through belief in Jesus that we are washed by his blood. 

The disciples already believed on Jesus before his death and so Jesus had imputed the future blood onto them. 

Jesus stated the disciples were clean because of the word that he had spoken to them: 

John 15: Now ye are clean through the word which I have spoken unto you.

Faith comes from hearing and hearing comes from the word of God: 

Romans 10:17 So then faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.

They had heard the word of God and had faith which brings salvation through grace as grace comes through faith. 

Ephesians 2:8 For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God:

We must also notice that the disciples had partaken in the blood symbolically during the last supper. 

Matthew 26:26 And as they were eating, Jesus took bread, and blessed it, and brake it, and gave it to the disciples, and said, Take, eat; this is my body. 27 And he took the cup, and gave thanks, and gave it to them, saying, Drink ye all of it; 28 For this is my blood of the new testament, which is shed for many for the remission of sins.

Then we also have Jesus’ comment that when a person is clean they only need to wash their feet (which is what Jesus did physically while spiritually washing them clean completely). Which is also found in verse 10

John 13:10 Jesus saith to him, He that is washed needeth not save to wash his feet, but is clean every whit: and ye are clean, but not all. 

The reason why Jesus said a person needs only to wash his feet also has a spiritual meaning. 

Back when Jesus had sent the disciples out on their mission to preach the gospel of God Jesus makes the statement that if they were not received to shake off the dust from their feet for a testimony against them. 

Luke 9:5 And whosoever will not receive you, when ye go out of that city, shake off the very dust from your feet for a testimony against them.

Matthew 10:14 And whosoever shall not receive you, nor hear your words, when ye depart out of that house or city, shake off the dust of your feet:

The feet are the only thing touching the earth when a person walks. The feet are the thing that is connected to the earth or in other words to the world. 

Jesus said that the disciples were not of the world:

John 17: 14I have given them thy word; and the world hath hated them, because they are not of the world, even as I am not of the world. 15I pray not that thou shouldest take them out of the world, but that thou shouldest keep them from the evil. 16They are not of the world, even as I am not of the world. 17Sanctify them through thy truth: thy word is truth. 18As thou hast sent me into the world, even so have I also sent them into the world.

Those that would do not hear are of the world and they hear the world: 

1 John 4: 5 They are of the world: therefore speak they of the world, and the world heareth them.

So Jesus had told them to literally shake off the world if the word was not heard: 

Having themselves been cleaned by Jesus, only their feet required cleaning, dusting off from the world. 

When we study the Bible deeper than surface level we can find so much spiritual meanings hidden in the texts. 

Would you consider becoming a patreon of this site??? If so please click here
You can read my non christian blog here

shares