I am a follower of Christ seeking truth in the mire of false doctrines that are pervasive today.
Why did Jesus wash the disciples' feet?
I have heard various reasons why Jesus washed His disciples’ feet at the last supper. I suppose that the most common reason offered is that Jesus was teaching humility or service towards our fellow man. While service and humility were lessons that Jesus taught His disciples, I would like to suggest that there was a much deeper and profound meaning behind this act.
The Gospel of John is the only gospel that records this act of Jesus in chapter 13, in verse 7 John writes: Jesus answered and said to him, “What I do you do not realize now, but you will understand hereafter.” It is commonly understood by us now that much of what Jesus said and did was not understood by the disciples at the time that Jesus was among them. It was not until later when it was revealed to them through the Holy Spirit that Jesus was fulfilling what had been written in the law, prophets and the psalms.
Peter was focused on the physical act that was being performed and was appalled that His Master would be a servant to him, but Jesus kept deflecting to a deeper, more spiritual meaning. Jesus said, “If I do not wash you, you have no part with Me.” Now, does this really fit in the context of service or humility? He also said, "He who has bathed needs only to wash his feet, but is completely clean; and you are clean, but not all of you.” For He knew the one who was betraying Him; for this reason, He said, “Not all of you are clean.” Again, service or humility is not the context of the true lesson that Jesus was teaching.
The key to understanding the lesson being given is found in what was said in verse 8, "If I do not wash you, you have no part with Me." This is why Jesus told them that they would understand later when scripture would be opened more fully to them revealing that all of the acts of Christ fulfilled what was written concerning Him. Practically everything that was recorded about the life of Christ was to show that what was written about Him in scripture was fulfilled. So, where do we find the true meaning of this washing as previously foretold in scripture? Let’s turn to the Psalms.
Psalm 51:2 Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin.
Psalm 51:7 Purify me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; Wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.
And the prophet Ezekiel.
Ezekiel 36:25 Then I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your filthiness and from all your idols.
Then later, in the New Testament, this theme continues.
Acts 22:16 Now why do you delay? Get up and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on His name.
1 Corinthians 6:11 Such were some of you; but you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God.
Hebrews 10:22 Let us draw near with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water.
Suddenly this act that Jesus performed comes into sharper focus, Jesus wasn’t talking about the need for their feet to be clean, nor was He doing this merely because a servant had not been provided, as was customary in those days. Jesus was stating that unless their sins are washed away that they can have no part with Him. The disciples, even at this late stage of Christ’s time with them still did not grasp what Christ’s mission on this earth was truly all about. They were still seeking an earthly, physical kingdom, not realizing that His kingdom was not of this earth, but was spiritual. This simple act was to show that unless they be washed away of their sins, they cannot inherit the kingdom of God. The message of repentance and forgiveness was at the very heart of Christ’s teachings.
In Matthew 6 Jesus said this immediately after giving us the Lord’s Prayer.
Matthew 6:14 For if you forgive others for their transgressions, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. 15 But if you do not forgive others, then your Father will not forgive your transgressions.
Paul reiterates this and reinforces this concept in Ephesians:
Ephesians 4:32 Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you.
That rings a bell, doesn’t it? Let’s keep reading in John’s account of the Last Supper.
John 13:12 So when He had washed their feet, and taken His garments and reclined at the table again, He said to them, “Do you know what I have done to you? 13 You call Me Teacher and Lord; and you are right, for so I am. 14 If I then, the Lord and the Teacher, washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet.
Again, Jesus said that they wouldn’t understand what He was doing to them until later. This did not have as much to do with service or humility as it related to the very core of our salvation by grace . . . Forgiveness of sin.
Yes, service to others is extremely important as it reflects the very fruits of the spirit, but the main lesson that Christ was giving and fulfilling was that unless He washes us clean from all impurity, that we can have no part with Him. Only by putting on the righteousness of Christ might we have salvation.
*All quoted passages are from the NASB
© 2017 Tony Muse
Geoff on August 22, 2020:
Readiness that comes from the gospel of peace.
Washing their feet, so the can put on the armour of God. Feet of the Gospel of peace. Cause they would be going out for his purpose with their crosses once he had died. You need good footing in the Gospel to carry your Cross. Faith in the blood of Jesus makes you righteous before God by faith of what he has done for you,on your behalf. Surrender quickens you when Jesus comes Isa 36:26, Water baptism on you faith for remission of sin. As a sign of death of the old man and new of life. Death of the seed of Satan. New seed comes receiving of holy spirit as we cry Abba Father. Knowing we have been sealed. Walking the rest of your days in the spirit with him in you.
Faith jesse on August 11, 2020:
Thanks... now i learn more about Jesus and his disciples when, how and why Jesus washed his disciples feet's. thanks very much.
Lydia Nangolo, Windhoek on August 08, 2020:
Ignore the comments
Lydia Nangolo, Windhoek on August 08, 2020:
Just this morning I was asking myself what Jesus Christ said to His disciples when He was washing their feet and why He did so.I came across your very researched clarification of what I needed to know, Oh thank God ,we really are serving a Loving Master who washed away our sins.
Tony Muse (author) from Texas, USA on June 04, 2020:
Yes, thank you for your input and contribution.
Norman Morrison on May 30, 2020:
I totally agree and would add one more scripture verse from John later on in Revelation that is what he then did for sure understand: Rev 1:4-6
5 and from Jesus Christ, the faithful witness, the firstborn from the dead, and the ruler over the kings of the earth. To Him who loved us and washed us from our sins in His own blood, 6 and has made us kings and priests to His God and Father, to Him be glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.
Tony Muse (author) from Texas, USA on February 02, 2020:
Thank you for your thoughts. It is always good o see that people like yourself are searching for deeper meaning to the things that Jesus did. Everything that He did was with a purpose and the things that were actually recorded have deep meanings.
Mike Montefusco on February 02, 2020:
I found this because I was Googling my own interpretation which was based on the same method you chose.
In John, Jesus feeds 5000 to show he is the bread of life, gives a blind man his sight to show that he is the light of the world, raises Lazarus from the dead to show that he is the resurrection and the life.
Most commentators agree that Christ’s encounter with Peter was about a continual cleansing that the believer needed as opposed to the “full washing” that happens at the point of salvation.
We need to carry this into the interpretation for sure!
I was originally thinking it was a call to enter the sinful mess of people’s lives and serve them getting clean even though it highly inconveniences us. (Kind of like bearing their burdens)
But I struggled with “you should do as I have done to you” because only Jesus can really “cleanse” people from their sins.
So I think you may be on to something. I will camp out here a little bit just to confirm, but my knee jerk is that you are right.
It’s definitely not a generic call to serve each other although that’s Biblical.
Thanks for sharing!
Isaac Ali on December 16, 2019:
The Disciples were already redeemed because he told them they were clean. It is only Judas who was not clean or redeemed. It appears that Jesus was preparing them for the darkness of the passover
Fredrick lukwago Igombe on December 14, 2019:
As a minister of God what are you supposed to do before you patispate in washing people's feet
Brother in christ on November 14, 2019:
Just as i have wash your feet u should wash one another's feet . I'm i my brothers keeper?
"He who has bathed needs only to wash his feet, but is completely clean; and you are clean, but not all of you.” If any man see his brother sin a sin which is not unto death, he shall ask, and he shall give him life for them that sin not unto death. There is a sin unto death: I do not say that he shall pray for it.
SoniE on November 06, 2019:
Could it also have pointed to the baptising of people by disciples/followers of Christ for the forgiveness of sin once they believe in Jesus? (Refer to the Great Commission)
Tlhalosang on November 05, 2019:
Thank you very much, now I understand why our Lord Jesus Christ washed His disciples feet.
Isaac Ali on October 13, 2019:
I think the disciples had already experienced the forgiveness of sins as they were already bathed. The only disciple who was not bathed was Judas. It is possible that Jesus was referring to the forgiveness of each other because they would have to confront the sin of Judas. Wash each others feet. This perhaps would be the most difficult and trying hurdle for the disciples
Delilah on September 04, 2019:
Thanks, I really needed to hear this today
Phyllis on August 11, 2019:
And also, I’ve read that Christ was pointing out our physical/egotistical need to be above others in the hierarchy of this world. And consequently our need to Spiritually and physically Serve others
Alma Palos on June 07, 2019:
And...only by forgiving others may we be forgiven. Jesus was giving an example for them to follow. If I wash your feet you ought to wash others’ feet. If I forgive you you must forgive others.
Nathaniel on June 01, 2019:
I just want to say thank you for writing this article. I also felt there was some meaning more than just service and humility involved in this story when I read the part involving Peter. The points about relating forgiveness to "washing" are well taken.
Tony Muse (author) from Texas, USA on May 21, 2019:
Thanks you for reading my Hub, but I believe that you have missed my point. The conversation that took place between Jesus and Peter was not about ending their journey to Jerusalem or even the custom of a host making sure that the feet of their guests were clean. The words that Jesus spoke made it clear that Peter and the other disciples could not have any part with Him unless they be made clean, this was not an issue of bodily cleanliness.
Smith Tettey on May 21, 2019:
Good start but it was badly ended with scripture imposed on context. This act of Jesus did not say anything about forgiveness of sin. Humility and service was strongly seen than the cleansing from sin. In that culture washing of foot signaled an end to a journey. Jesus had completed his mission in their company and was cleaning off their dust. period!
??? on May 15, 2019:
does this go into more meaning than just getting ride of sin yes that is important but I think there is more here to talk about...
Ereswida on April 18, 2019:
Thank you very much ,I came from mass today wondering what did this act of Jesus washing his disciple mean,and here I found the aswers never had.I see the My Lord wants to teach me more about forgiveness,
Roan Thorat. on April 18, 2019:
I was amongst the 12 desciples.
For maundy thursday mass.
As father washed my feet.
I was felt that y couldn't as ask him. Can i wash ur feet.
Was i wrong?
Ronnie on April 18, 2019:
Thank you so much lighting again my spiritual life
Joyce Paul on April 18, 2019:
Cleary history of jesus christ and i like it by the way.
Tony Muse (author) from Texas, USA on April 18, 2019:
Thank you Sandy, I am pleased that you enjoyed the article. Have a wonderful resurrection weekend and may God richly bless you!
Sandypa on April 18, 2019:
Thank you so much for this enlightenment. You gave my Holy Thursday a whole new meaning. God bless you.
Tony Muse (author) from Texas, USA on March 26, 2019:
It is my belief that the Bible is the single most important book in the history of mankind. So much to learn and so full of wisdom and encouragement.
Thank you for reading this article, Jesus ashing the disciples' feet is a powerful story of the lover and compassion that Jesus has for all of us.
Gabriel Suakollie from Liberia on March 25, 2019:
I'm very interested in the Bible,
Tamarajo on March 31, 2018:
One more thing, I think the position of Laver that was used for washing in following the Sacrificial Altar confirms your revelation and meaning of the New Testament foot washing scene. He told them they would understand after He was crucified. I love all the checks and balances in His Word. They always aim us at God's intended target.
Tamarajo on March 31, 2018:
Thank you Tony. The timing for reading this couldn't have been more perfect. I was just asking what the lesson was with the laver and all I could find was the service aspect. I just had this feeling it was deeper than that but I couldn't quite get to it and here it is. What a graceful God He is.
God bless you too!
Tony Muse (author) from Texas, USA on March 31, 2018:
Tamarajo - As you already know, the sanctuary was definitely a ritual performed over and over again that represented Christ and His ministry. I would have to do some study what you have connected here, but it seems quite reasonable. I really appreciate you pointing this out!
I would agree with you. Jesus continually preached on the importance of forgiveness. Hoe can we, after experiencing God's grace, NOT extend that same grace to others?
If we do not bear the fruits of the Spirit, can our faith be genuine? James said that faith without works is dead. That doesn't mean that we are saved by our works, merely that or "works" are the fruit of the spirit, which is love, patience, charity, kindness, etc. James illustrated that thought by ignoring those who are without a cloak when you have one to give, or how can we watch someone go hungry when we have enough to eat? We Christians ought to feel obligated to help those in need by whatever measure we are able. Maybe it is for this reason alone that many churches have become cold and uninviting?
Tamarajo on March 31, 2018:
This is definitely a missing piece to a present puzzle.
I've been looking at the Brass Laver in the Old Testament Tabernacle where the priesthood washed their hands and feet. It was the place that was visited after the Altar of Sacrifice. It illustrates our participatory acknowledgment and understanding of what Christ has done for us through that Sacrifice in cleansing us from our sin. and the New Testament picture goes a step further in saying that our comprehension of this will be even more evident in how we treat each other. Do I have this right?
Tony Muse (author) from Texas, USA on March 01, 2018:
Hxprof - Thank you, while humility was at the core of Christ's ministry, I believe that the context of His washing the disciple's feet was truly forgiveness and grace. The feet were the most filthy part of their bodies in those days, which represented our sinful lives. But Christ truly cleansed them of all unrighteousness.
Hxprof on March 01, 2018:
Right on! Succinct piece, getting straight to the point. Christ gives us grace, which allows God to work in us so we can "cleanse ourselves from every defilement" - the process described in scripture as sanctification. It's in that process that we are cleaned up, and it's imperative that we learn how to cooperate with the Holy Spirit in that process of being washed clean, as it says in Philipians 2:12-13 "Work out your own salvation in fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you both to will and to do for his good pleasure". Many of us struggle with this important facet of our faith, which involves truly dying to our selfish and carnal motives of heart. That's not accomplished when we're born again, and it doesn't happen magically afterwards - we must learn how to fully and actively cooperate with God's work in us to be truly "washed" as Christ desires for us.
Tony Muse (author) from Texas, USA on February 22, 2018:
Thank you, Diane. It is my belief that most of what Christ said has a a much deeper meaning than what we see on the surface. Every time I read the gospels, I contemplate what Jesus was fulfilling in the Old Testament by His words or actions. His life was truly something for us to meditate on.
Blessings to you!
G. Diane Nelson Trotter from Fontana on February 22, 2018:
This is deep! Thank you!