Tribulation Saint

Historic Christianity in the Twenty First Century

Tag: Last Supper



As we noted earlier, John chapters 13 through 16 contain an account of the discussion that Jesus had with His disciples during His last Passover meal, just prior to His arrest and crucifixion.  The discussion began, however, with a striking gesture on Jesus’ part – the washing of the disciples’ feet.

John introduces the incident by telling us that “. . . the devil having already put it 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 had come from God and was going to God, rose from supper . . .” (John 13:2-4; NKJV).  Here again John tells us that Jesus was conscious of certain things as he undertook to do what H was about to do.  Jesus knew that He had come from God the Father and was about to return to Him.  He knew that the Father “had given all things into His hands.”  Thus Jesus knew that He was in a position of preeminent authority over all things.  But He also know that Judas had already decided to betray Him.  If anyone deserved honor and respect, it was Jesus.  And if anyone contempt and disgrace, it was the wretched human being who was about to betray Him.

In light of all that what Jesus did next was most remarkable.  He “rose from supper and laid aside His garments, took a towel and girded Himself” (v. 4).  He then proceeded to wash the disciples’ feet and wipe them with the towel.  It would be difficult to imagine a human being doing such a thing, let alone the eternal Son of God, the Lord of the universe!  And yet that is exactly what He did.

Apparently most the disciples watched in stunned silence, not quite comprehending what was happening.  And the Jesus came to Peter who, being his usual impulsive self, blurted out, “Lord, are You washing my feet?” (v. 6).  The word order in the Greek emphasizes the contrast between “You” and “my.”  Peter was struck by the anomaly of the situation – “Lord, are You washing my feet?”  And Jesus’ answer must have totally mystified him: “What I am doing you do not understand now, but you will know after this” (v. 7).

Peter protested.  “You shall never wash my feet!” (v. 8a), to which Jesus replied with a cryptic comment, “If I do not wash you, you have no part with Me” (v. 8b).  Well, thought Peter, that being the case, let us go all the way: “Lord, not my feet only, but also my hands and my head!” (v. 9).  Jesus’ reply to that must have been even more mystifying: “He who is bathed needs only to wash his feet, but is completely clean: and you [plural] are clean, but not all of you” (v. 10).

What Jesus was driving at, but what the disciples probably did not comprehend, was that His action in washing their feet was symbolic of something greater, of something that He was about to do – cleanse them spiritually by atoning for their sins on the cross.  He was about to make the supreme sacrifice on their behalf.  But it was a necessary sacrifice if their sins were ever to be forgiven.  Then they would receive the Holy Spirit who would renew them inwardly, transforming them from fallen sinners to children of light.  Without this cleansing no relationship with Christ is possible.  “You have no part with Me.”

But what did Jesus mean when He said, “He who is bathed needs only to wash his feet, but is completely clean”?  The implication is that when we are saved and born again, we are completely forgiven and inwardly transformed – we are “bathed,” as it were.  But we may still fall into sin from time to time, and need to have those sins forgiven and be completely restored to full fellowship with Christ.  And so as we walk thought the filth of this world we need to have our spiritual “feet” periodically washed, as it were.  “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (I John 1:9).

But then Jesus added an ominous note: “You are clean, but not all of you”; and John explains, “For He knew who would betray Him . . .” (v. 11).  Jesus’ arrest and crucifixion were not due to unforeseen events or circumstances beyond d His control.  Jesus was conscious that this was all part of God’s redemptive plan and that this was an ordeal which He must undergo.

Jesus then undertook to drive home the practical lesson.  “You call Me Teacher and Lord, and you say well, for so I am.  If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet.  For I have given you an example, that you should do as I have done to you” (vv. 13-15).  This does not necessarily mean that we must perform the physical rite of footwashing, as is done in some churches (the practice does not appear again in the Book of Acts or the Epistles).  But rather it means that we must imitate Jesus’ example of humble service to our fellow believers.

There was a sense in which Peter’s astonishment at what Jesus had done was well taken.  There was something odd about the eternal Son of God, the Lord of glory, taking on the role of a servant and performing a menial task.  But if Jesus was willing to do that for us, how much more should we be willing humbly to serve each other?  We have no excuse for not following His example.

But alas!   How very often is it different in our churches today!  As fallen human beings we crave attention.  We want to be respected and admired by others.  We strive to excel so that we can gain honor and respect.  And all too often in church life our actions are driven by ego rather than a desire to please God and serve others.  But everything we do should be marked by a humble servant attitude.  If Christ could die on the cross for us, what excuse do we have nor not serving each other?



In John chapters 1-12 the evangelist has been focusing on Jesus’ public ministry, especially in His interactions with the Jewish leaders in Jerusalem.  But now we have come to the end of that ministry, and John’s focus shifts to a discussion that Jesus had with His disciples about what they should expect after He is gone, and that forms the substance of chapters 13 through 16.  That, in turn, if followed by Jesus’ high priestly prayer in chapter 17.

John introduces this section with the following statement: “Now before the Feast of the Passover, when Jesus knew that the hour had come that He should depart from this world to the Father, having loved His own who were in the world, He loved them to the end” (John 13:1; NKJV).  This remarkable statement tells us, first of all, that Jesus was conscious of something about Himself.  He “knew that His hour had come that He should depart from this world to the Father.”  He was conscious that He was no ordinary human being, that God was His Father in heaven.  Moreover He knew that He had come down here to earth on a temporary mission, and that that mission was about to end: “His hour had come.”  It was all foreordained and His departure was imminent.

But where would that leave His disciples?  Jesus was also conscious, the verse says, that they were “His own who were in the world.”  First of all, they were “His own.”  This points back to what He had said earlier about the Father giving certain ones to Him (Jn. 6:37,39), and He would come back to the idea in His final prayer for them in John 17:2,24.  There are certain people who are special to Him because they belong to Him in a certain way that the others do not.   They were chosen by God to be the recipients of salvation.  It points to the doctrine of election.

But then Jesus is also conscious of the fact that they “were in the world.”  In John’s writings, at least, the word “world” (kosmos) does not refer to just the physical, inhabited earth.  It also means the sum total of humanity that lives upon the earth.  It is the fallen human race, a human race that is in a state of sin and rebellion against God.  It is sunk in depravity and under God’s wrath and condemnation.  And Jesus is conscious of the fact that as He is about to depart form this world He will be leaving them behind, and that they would somehow have to function in the world without Him being physically present.  And this would pose a great challenge for them.  The world, in its sin and rebellion, is hostile towards the truths of the gospel.  It will put pressure on them to conform to its standards.  And ultimately it will persecute them.

Conscious of all this, then, Jesus, “having loved His own who were in the world, He loved them to the end.”  This is a remarkable statement.  He was the eternal Son of God.  He was about to die on the cross.  Why should He be concerned about them?  One would think that He had more important matters on His mind.  And yet He loved them.  He was concerned for their welfare.  He was prepared to make the ultimate sacrifice for them.  That the eternal Son of God would lay down His very life for finite and fallen human beings is quite extraordinary.  This truly is “amazing grace that save a wretch like me.”

That kind of divine love, that kind of personal sacrifice, should move us to respond in love and devotion to Him.  If He would make that kind of sacrifice for us, what kind of personal sacrifice on our part would be too great to make for Him?

“When I survey the wondrous cross

On which the Prince of Glory died,

My riches gain I count but loss,

And pour contempt on all my pride.


\                       “Forbid it Lord, that I should boast,

Save in the death of Christ my God:

\                       All the vain things that charm me most,

I sacrifice them to his blood.”

Isaac Watts