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the Disciples Feet
John 13.1-19
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.
And supper being ended, the devil having now put 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 was come from God, and went to God; He riseth from supper, and laid aside his
garments; and took a towel, and girded himself. 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
Then cometh he to Simon Peter: and Peter saith unto him, Lord, dost thou wash my feet?
Jesus answered and said unto him, What I do thou knowest not now; but thou shalt know
Peter saith unto him, Thou shalt never wash my feet.
Jesus answered him, If I wash thee not, thou hast no part with me.
Simon Peter saith unto him, Lord, not my feet only, but also my hands and my head.
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. For he knew who should betray him; therefore said he,
Ye are not all clean.
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? Ye call me Master and Lord: and ye say
well; for so I am. If I then, your Lord and Master, have washed your feet; ye also ought to
wash one another's feet. For I have given you an example, that ye should do as I have done
to you.
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. If ye know these things, happy are ye if ye do them.  (KJV)
He Loved Them To The End

Jesus loved His disciples from the time He called them, until the time
of His death, and beyond. The love of Jesus knows no time limit. His
love for us is the same – boundless and timeless.

(Romans 8:33-39) Who shall lay any thing to the charge of God's elect?
It is God that justifieth. Who is he that condemneth? It is Christ that
died, yea rather, that is risen again, who is even at the right hand of
God, who also maketh intercession for us. Who shall separate us from
the love of Christ? shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or
famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? As it is written, For thy sake
we are killed all the day long; we are accounted as sheep for the
slaughter. Nay, in all these things we are more than conquerors
through him that loved us. For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor
life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor
things to come, Nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be
able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our
Lord.  (KJV)

Judas Iscariot

The actions of Judas are attributed to the actions of the Devil. The
pseudo-Gospel of Judas tries to attribute Judas’ actions to the greater
understanding of Judas of Jesus’ purpose and need to die, making
Judas the hero of the story instead of the villain. However, Judas is
consistently portrayed as the anti-hero in the Biblical narrative.

The Washing of Feet

Being fully aware of what He was doing, and how He was doing it,
Jesus takes upon Himself the appearance and demeanor of the
servant of His disciples, rather than their Master.

Peter thought to refuse this treatment from his Lord. Jesus told him
that he did not understand what He was doing now, but that he would
understand later.

If Peter would not allow Jesus to wash his feet, he would have no part
with Him. Upon realization of this, Peter now wanted Jesus to wash
not only his feet, but his hands and his head.

Jesus assured Peter that they did not need anything other than their
feet washed to be clean, except for Judas.

I Have Given You An Example

For I have given you an example, that ye should do as I have done to
you. Jesus had performed the footwashing with a purpose in mind.
He, who was their Master, had taken on the appearance and demeanor
of their servant performing the humblest of tasks for them – washing
their feet.

The example was that of humility and service. If He as their Master
could serve them, so they should serve each other. That was what
they should do – serve one another. They should not seek to be
served by others, they should not seek preeminence. They were to be

Did Jesus Institute
Ceremonial “Feet-Washing”?


"Why do most Christians not practice “feet washing” today, since
Jesus gave this as an example, and he said that his followers ‘ought’
to do this" (Jn. 13:15)?

This is an interesting question that arises from time-to-time. Let us
give consideration to it.

It should be observed first of all that just because Christ gave a
command to someone, at some time, during his ministry, does not
mean that that same command was required of all people for all time.
One must look at the nature of the command, to whom it was given,
the purpose thereof (if stated), and whether or not it initially applied in
a limited way, or whether it was for every person throughout history.
For example, the Lord once commanded a man, “take up your bed
and walk” (Jn. 5:8). Surely it is not difficult to understand that this
particular injunction was not universal in its application. To another he
said, “Go, wash in the pool of Siloam” (Jn. 9:7). That requirement
applied to no one but the man to whom it was given. To the apostles
Jesus said, “Wait in the city [of Jerusalem], until you are clothed with
power from on high” (Lk. 24:49). That command was for the apostles
exclusively. Keep this principle in mind as we explore John 13:3ff.
In order to appreciate the situation that occurred during the Passover
supper, one has to have some “background” knowledge in a couple
of areas – pertaining to the customary act of feet-washing itself, and
that of the events that led up to the “supper” incident.

The Act of Feet-Washing Generally

Most Bible students are aware of the fact that folks in ancient days did
not wear the type of footwear that most of us in America do today.
They wore sandals. Furthermore, most of the nearby travel was by
walking. The combination of these factors meant that the citizens’ feet
became very dirty during their journeys. It was a common act of
hospitality, therefore, when a visitor came calling, to provide him with
water for the washing of his feet (cf. 1 Tim. 5:10). One may recall that
Christ once reproved Simon the Pharisee for not having furnished him
with water for his feet, as the Savior visited in his home (Lk. 7:44).
Further, if a man was wealthy enough to have servants, he might well
dispatch one of them to wash his guest’s feet. This is illustrated by a
case from the time of king David. When the ruler sent messengers to a
lady named Abigail, she gladly received them, and said, “Behold, let
your handmaid act as a servant in washing the feet of the servants of
my lord” (1 Sam. 25:41). Generally, it was the servant’s role to wash
the master’s feet. Keep this thought in mind.

The Tense Supper Scene

As devoted as the Savior’s disciples were, they still had “rough
edges” that needed to be eliminated, and not the least of these
problems was the spirit of egotistical competition that prevailed
among them. One recalls that James and John had requested of
Christ that they might have places of preeminence when the Lord
entered into his glory (Mk. 10:37). In fact, that very evening there was a
dispute among the twelve as to who would be considered the
“greatest” (Lk. 22:24). They desperately needed to learn that
“greatness” is achieved in serving others; it is not a tribute merely to
be bestowed arbitrarily.

It was in this setting that the Master laid aside his outer garments and
girded himself with a towel, subsequently commencing to wash his
disciples’ feet.

Contextual Clues

In considering the entire context of this episode, it is important that the
Bible student look carefully at all of the details, so that he may draw
such conclusions as the evidence warrants.

1.        Notice first that Jesus washed the feet of all the disciples. If one
is going to bind precisely this “example” as a church ordinance, as a
few small religious groups have done, then the feet of everyone
present will have to be cleansed. Further, everyone who washes the
feet of others will need to have his own feet bathed by everyone else.
If there should be a group of several hundred people, this “ceremony”
would consume the better part of a day – or even longer.

2.        That Jesus was not washing the disciples’ feet as a literal act to
be required henceforth is very clear from what happened in the
meantime, and how the Lord responded. When Christ came to where
Peter was, the apostle asked, “Do you intend to wash my feet?” The
Savior replied, “What I am about to do you don’t understand right
now, but you will presently.” Get this point, please. Peter knew that
Jesus was about to wash his feet (in a literal sense), but Christ says,
“You do not know what I’m doing.” Obviously, it was not the act of
washing feet per se that was the point; rather, it was the lesson to be
conveyed. And so, in a mild rebuke, Jesus told his apostle (if we may
paraphrase), “If you do not learn the lesson I am attempting to
demonstrate, you will have ‘no part’ in my ministry” (v. 8).

Then, after he had finished this symbolic act, the Lord asked, “Do you
know what I have done unto you?” (v. 12). Certainly they knew what
he had done physically. But had they perceived the real significance
of the act? They had not. But he explained the matter.“ You call me
Teacher, and, Lord. You are correct; that is my relationship to you. If I
then, the Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you ought to
wash one another’s feet.” In what sense? Literally? No, the lesson is
this. If I, your Lord, have humbled myself, assuming the role of a
servant, you ought to do the same (cf. v. 16).The pathway to
“greatness” is not by self-assertion; it is through service! The Son of
God was demonstrating an attitude, not requiring a literal act.

The error, then, on the part of some religious people, is in not
discerning the difference between what the Lord was doing literally,
and the symbolic significance of the act.

The Testimony of History

It is important to note that the early church did not perceive this
incident as a “binding example” of literal feet-washing for a required
practice throughout Christian history. One prominent historian has

“There is no indication in the New Testament, or in the Christian
literature of the first three centuries, that our Lord was understood to
have instituted an ordinance [feet-washing] by the acts and words
under consideration [in John 13]. Feet-washing was a common and
needed act of hospitality in Palestine at the time, and the teaching that
Christ intended to convey was the manifestation of the spirit of
brotherly love in acts of humble service. . . The earliest reference to the
ceremonial use of feet-washing is in the canon of the synod of Elvira
(A.D. 306) where it is condemned” (A.H. Newman, A Manual of Church
History, Philadelphia: The American Baptist Publication
Society/Judson Press, 1933, Vol. I, p. 140).


John 13:15; John 5:8; John 9:7; Luke 24:49; John 13:3; Luke 7:44; 1
Samuel 25:41; Mark 10:37; Luke 22:24; John 13

Jackson, Wayne. "Did Jesus Institute Ceremonial "Feet-Washing"?" Access date: November 9, 2017. https://www.

The Servant Is Not Greater Than His Lord

Again Jesus uses the introductory phrase, Verily, verily – truthfully,
truthfully – amen, amen – to gain their attention, and draw their
attention to the fact that what He was to say deserved all of their

I say unto you, The servant is not greater than his lord; neither he that
is sent greater than he that sent him.

[apostolos] Jesus may have been contrasting His relationship with
God (The servant is not greater than his lord) with the relationship that
He had with the apostles (neither he that is sent greater than he that
sent him). Note that the word translated “he that is sent” is  
(Apostolos) the same word that is translated as apostle in other

If they would remember this lesson of humility, they would be blessed.
(The word translated “happy” here is the same word translated
“blessed” in the Beatitudes [Matthew 5]). That is, they would receive
the pleasure of being in fellowship with the Father, and the favor of
God associated therewith.

(Matthew 13:13-17) Therefore speak I to them in parables: because
they seeing see not; and hearing they hear not, neither do they
understand. And in them is fulfilled the prophecy of Esaias, which
saith, By hearing ye shall hear, and shall not understand; and seeing
ye shall see, and shall not perceive: For this people's heart is waxed
gross, and their ears are dull of hearing, and their eyes they have
closed; lest at any time they should see with their eyes, and hear with
their ears, and should understand with their heart, and should be
converted, and I should heal them. But blessed are your eyes, for they
see: and your ears, for they hear. For verily I say unto you, That many
prophets and righteous men have desired to see those things which ye
see, and have not seen them; and to hear those things which ye hear,
and have not heard them.  (KJV)

(Luke 11:27-28) And it came to pass, as he spake these things, a
certain woman of the company lifted up her voice, and said unto him,
Blessed is the womb that bare thee, and the paps which thou hast
sucked. But he said, Yea rather, blessed are they that hear the word of
God, and keep it.  (KJV)

(Romans 4:5-8) But to him that worketh not, but believeth on him that
justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness. Even as
David also describeth the blessedness of the man, unto whom God
imputeth righteousness without works, Saying, Blessed are they
whose iniquities are forgiven, and whose sins are covered. Blessed is
the man to whom the Lord will not impute sin.  (KJV)

(James 1:21-25) Wherefore lay apart all filthiness and superfluity of
naughtiness, and receive with meekness the engrafted word, which is
able to save your souls. But be ye doers of the word, and not hearers
only, deceiving your own selves. For if any be a hearer of the word,
and not a doer, he is like unto a man beholding his natural face in a
glass: For he beholdeth himself, and goeth his way, and straightway
forgetteth what manner of man he was. But whoso looketh into the
perfect law of liberty, and continueth therein, he being not a forgetful
hearer, but a doer of the work, this man shall be blessed in his deed.  

(Revelation 14:13) And I heard a voice from heaven saying unto me,
Write, Blessed are the dead which die in the Lord from henceforth: Yea,
saith the Spirit, that they may rest from their labours; and their works
do follow them.  (KJV)

(Revelation 22:14) Blessed are they that do his commandments, that
they may have right to the tree of life, and may enter in through the
gates into the city.  (KJV)