Jesus Washing the Feet of His Disciples & Why It Matters

By lan Warner


The story of Jesus washing the feet of His disciples is another one of the most famous stories in the Bible. It is filled with symbolism and lessons that are timeless. No matter where and when we read it, we can always apply the lessons that we have learned in our lives. The story serves as one of the best examples of how the Kingdom is upside down. Gone are the days of the greatest being the one with all of the money and power. In this new Kindom the greatest will be the one who serves. 

The story of Jesus washing the feet of His disciples can be seen in John 13:1-17.

The Context for Jesus Washing the Feet of His Disciples

“It was just before the Passover Festival. Jesus knew the hour had come for him to leave this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end.

The evening meal was in progress, and the devil had already prompted Judas, the son of Simon Iscariot, to betray Jesus. Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power and that he had come from God and was returning to God; so he got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist. After that, he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel wrapped around him.

He came to Simon Peter, who said, “Lord, are you going to wash my feet?” Jesus replied, “You do not realize now what I am doing, but later you will understand.” “No,” said Peter, “you shall never wash my feet.” Jesus answered, “Unless I wash you, you have no part with me.”

“Then, Lord,” Simon Peter replied, “not just my feet but my hands and my head as well!” Jesus answered, “Those who have had a bath need only to wash their feet; their whole body is clean. And you are clean, though not every one of you.” For he knew who was going to betray him, and that was why he said not everyone was clean.

When he had finished washing their feet, he put on his clothes and returned to his place. “Do you understand what I have done for you?” he asked them. “You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord’, and rightly so, for that is what I am. Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you. Very truly I tell you, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them.”

What the Washing of the Feet Signifies

Jesus washed the feet of His disciples during the Last Supper. The act showed His servanthood and humility. For His disciples, the act was in direct contrast to what was in their hearts. For us, it was a symbol of our part in the body of Christ.

The disciples argued over who was the greatest. They wanted to know how and who would have the top spot in the kingdom. In the world, this is often decided by who has the most money and power. Jesus wanted to send them a message that the lowly in spirit would be blessed. 

During the time of Jesus Christ, the roads of Israel were filthy. Whoever walked on them in sandals needed to wash their feet before having a communal meal; this is because people reclined at low tables where their feet could be seen.

So, when Jesus started to wash His disciples’ feet, He did the work of the lowliest of servants. This was why His disciples were surprised. They should have been the ones to wash the feet of their Lord and master, not the other way around.

Then again, when Jesus came to this world, He was neither a king nor a conqueror. He was a suffering servant. Isaiah 53 proves this. Also, according to Matthew 20:28 “just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many”. Indeed, the humility of Jesus’ washing His disciples’ feet with a basin and a towel foreshadowed His ultimate act of love and humility on the cross.

Who is The Greatest? 

On the other hand, Jesus’ disciples had been arguing amongst themselves as to which of them was the greatest. Luke 22:24 says “A dispute also arose among them as to which of them was considered to be greatest.” They thought so highly of themselves. Surely, they would not stoop to the level of a servant.

At the time, there weren’t any servants around to wash their feet. It did not even occur to them to wash one another’s feet. So, when their Lord and master got up from the table and stooped to do the task, they were stunned. Peter became uncomfortable and refused to have his feet washed by his Lord and master.

However, Jesus said that unless He washes Peter, Peter will not have any part in Him. Peter loved the Son of God very much that he gave in to what He wanted. Jesus then went on to explain the real meaning of His act. He said He has given an example and that His disciples should also do the same.

Just like the apostles, we are also Jesus’ followers. So, we should emulate Him. We should serve and build one another with love and humility. We should always remember that the Lord said that only those with a servant’s heart can attain true greatness in His kingdom.

Mark 9:35 says “Sitting down, Jesus called the Twelve and said, “Anyone who wants to be first must be the very last, and the servant of all.”” Likewise, according to John 13:17, “Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them.”

Lessons that We Learn

Jesus poured out His life for us. He not only washed our feet but bathed us in righteousness by His dying on the cross. He took our sins upon Himself to save us. Jesus wants us to enter the Kingdom of God. In order for this to happen, we have to receive Him. We have to allow Him to serve and bathe us in His righteousness.

Then we receive the light of Christ, and we go out and serve others. When the Christian faith is lived out it is so radical and opposed to what we see all around us. Everyone today is only interested in what they can do and earn for themselves. Selfishness is rampant, and if people can’t get their own benefit, they probably will not show up. 

The Christian is called to lay his life down for others. It means that you use what power you have to get on your knees and serve another by washing their feet. It means that the greatest should take on the lowliest position. Are you willing to do that? If not, why? 

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Good News of Jesus Christ Today!