We have just begun a study of the Upper Room Discourse in John 13. This discourse begins with the Last Supper, and our Lord is washing the disciples feet. We all understand that Yeshua washed the feet of the disciples, but what we don't seem to understand is, why? That is what we want to look at today.
This passage we are looking at can be divided up in three sections: verses 1-3 form an introduction, verses 4-11 narrate the foot washing, and verses 12-17 give us the interpretation of the foot washing. So today we'll look at the interpretation.
Let me ask you this; Whose feet is our Lord washing? As we look at this Upper Room Discourse, which is the Lord's teaching on the last night of His life there is something we need to understand; There were more than just the Twelve with Yeshua in that upper room. We do not know how many people were present at this meal, but I'm confident it was more than the Twelve. If you just look at Mark's Gospel you get the idea that it was just Yeshua and the Twelve in that upper room. And that is because Mark concentrates his attention on the Twelve and rarely mentions any other disciples of Yeshua. But in Luke's Gospel we see that Yeshua had a large number of disciples:
And he came down with them and stood on a level place, with a great crowd of his disciples and a great multitude of people from all Judea and Jerusalem and the seacoast of Tyre and Sidon, Luke 6:17 ESV
So here we have a "great crowd of His disciples" and the multitude.
After this the Lord appointed seventy-two others and sent them on ahead of him, two by two, into every town and place where he himself was about to go. Luke 10:1 ESV
The NASB, KJV and YLT have seventy, not seventy two. There are several manuscripts and versions that have seventy-two. Sometimes the Jews chose six out of each tribe: this was the number of the great Sanhedrin. The names of these seventy disciples are found in the margin of some ancient manuscripts, but this authority is questionable.
So there is no reason to believe that only the Twelve were with the Lord in the upper room. Acts 1 tells about the time when the eleven remaining apostles named a replacement for Judas. They began by selecting two men. But notice what is said about the group from which these two came:
So one of the men who have accompanied us during all the time that the Lord Yeshua went in and out among us, beginning from the baptism of John until the day when he was taken up from us—one of these men must become with us a witness to his resurrection." Acts 1:21-22 ESV
This text teaches us that Yeshua had many loyal disciples that accompanied Him throughout His time here on earth. Is it hard to believe that some of them would have been at the Last Supper? Something Yeshua says also indicated the presence of others at the Last Supper. Yeshua tells them that one of them will betray Him, and when they ask who, He replies:
He said to them, "It is one of the twelve, one who is dipping bread into the dish with me. Mark 14:20 ESV
"The twelve" is a specific designation to refer to the twelve apostles. The term "disciple" is a broad term that refers to any follower of Yeshua. If Yeshua and "the twelve" were the only ones at that Last Supper, then why would Yeshua need to say "one of the twelve"? If "the twelve" were the only ones present, wouldn't Yeshua have said, "One of you"?
In the last couple of weeks we have looked at the first 11 verses:
Now before the Feast of the Passover, when Yeshua knew that his hour had come to depart out of this world to the Father, having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end. John 13:1 ESV
"Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end"—the full extent of Yeshua's love is demonstrated in His washing the feet of the disciples, which foreshadowed Yeshua's sacrificial death on the cross. He loved His own enough to die for them.
Yeshua, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going back to God, John 13:3 ESV
The One who can claim the highest status in all reality, the sovereign over all creation, humbles Himself to the lowest of human status. Yeshua is acting from a position of strength, He expressed His power by getting up from the supper, laying down His garment and washing the disciples feet. This is a radical overturning of common cultural values with respect to status.
Remember the context here, according to Luke 22 at that very moment they were having an argument. They were arguing about which of them was the greatest in the kingdom. As they argue over which of them is the greatest in the Kingdom of God, the sovereign God of the kingdom humbly washes their feet:
rose from supper. He laid aside his outer garments, and taking a towel, tied it around his waist. Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples' feet and to wipe them with the towel that was wrapped around him. John 13:4-5 ESV
In our last study we looked at the cultural significance of foot washing. I'd like to stress the significance of this again. We need to grasp this. For those of Yeshua's day, foot washing was as necessary and regular chore as taking a shower is for most modern people. Please get this; Foot washing was a necessary and regular chore. It was something that needed to be done. Foot washing appears in the ancient literature most often as preparation for a meal, and also as a duty of hospitality. Washing someone else's feet was an unpleasant task, which no one except a servant or slave could be expected to do. It was, in fact, the typical servant task, the one thing that no one else should do. In a household without servants, everyone washed their own feet.
In a society highly conscious of relative status, it would be unthinkable for this servant act to be performed for an inferior by a superior in the social scale, it would be a contradiction of their social relationship. There were instances in which a pupil might wash the feet of his teacher, apparently as an extraordinary show of devotion, but the reverse was never done. Abraham was famous for his hospitality to strangers. but notice his response to Yahweh and two angels:
And the LORD appeared to him by the oaks of Mamre, as he sat at the door of his tent in the heat of the day. He lifted up his eyes and looked, and behold, three men were standing in front of him. When he saw them, he ran from the tent door to meet them and bowed himself to the earth and said, "O Lord, if I have found favor in your sight, do not pass by your servant. Genesis 18:1-3 ESV
Abraham sees his three visitors as his superiors, he bows to them and calls himself their servant. Now notice the next verse:
Let a little water be brought, and wash your feet, and rest yourselves under the tree, Genesis 18:4 ESV
What seems strange about this verse? He has water brought to them so they can wash their own feet. One of these visitors is Yahweh, and Abraham says, "Wash your own feet."
In the Septuagint of this verse, Abraham's servants wash the visitors' feet:
Let water now be brought, and let them wash your feet, and do ye refresh yourselves under the tree. Genesis 18:4 Brenton
The translators of the Septuagint knowing that Abraham had servants thought it more hospitable for the servants to do the foot washing. So they translated it as "let them wash your feet." What is interesting is that in the pseudepigraphal work, The Testament of Abraham, it was Abraham himself who washed the three guests' feet: A6.6 records Abraham as saying, "when I was washing his feet."
Bottom line here is the Scriptures tell us that Abraham didn't wash his visitors' feet. Abraham seems to have understood that his visitors were divine, and yet he still doesn't wash their feet. As I said earlier, washing feet was the typical servant task, the one thing that no one else could do.
Foot washing was a task that needed to be done, and our Lord did it. It was also a way that Yeshua could demonstrate His unfathomable love for His disciples. Lazarus understands the foot washing in relation to the cross, where Yeshua, who in chapter 13, undertakes the role of a slave finally dies the death of a slave on a cross.
Peter said to him, "You shall never wash my feet." Yeshua answered him, "If I do not wash you, you have no share with me." John 13:8 ESV
Yeshua said to him, "The one who has bathed does not need to wash, except for his feet, but is completely clean. And you are clean, but not every one of you." John 13:10 ESV
In 13:8 the word "wash" is the Greek word nipto which means: "to wash the parts of the body." While the word "bathed" in 13:10 is louo and means: "to bathe all over." So Yeshua is saying the one who has been bathed all over only needs to have his feet washed.
The initial and fundamental cleansing that Christ provides is a once-for-all act. Once having believed in the Lord Yeshua we have the bath of regeneration, but we need cleansing from daily sin. We need cleansing from acts of sin to maintain our fellowship, but we do not need another bath.
I see this foot washing as performed by the Word, as believers continue in the Word, reading it, studying it, memorizing it, we are cleansed. It shows us our sin and we confess it and forsake it. I don't understand how a believer can walk in fellowship with the Lord without spending time in the Word.
Yeshua's interpretation of the foot washing in verses 12-17 focuses on the reversal of values that come with the Kingdom of God.
When he had washed their feet and put on his outer garments and resumed his place, he said to them, "Do you understand what I have done to you? John 13:12 ESV
The Greek word used in this verse is also used in:
rose from supper. He laid aside his outer garments, and taking a towel, tied it around his waist. John 13:4 ESV
The Greek words used here are unusual. Instead of the usual words for taking off (ekdyein) and putting on (endyein) clothing, the text says that Yeshua "laid aside" (tithenai, 13:4) and "put on" (lambanein, 13:12) his garments, using verbs found elsewhere for laying down and taking up his life (10:17-18).
"Do you understand what I have done to you? "—Yeshua began to explain the significance of what He had just done, though full comprehension would come to the disciples later (v. 7). The Greek text suggests, "Do you recognize what I have done?"
Obviously, they all knew that He had physically just washed their feet. But He was pointing to a symbolic meaning behind what He had just done. We could say, Do you recognize the significance of what I have just done?" The answer would be, No they don't have a clue. The foot washing was shocking to them, but not half as shocking as the notion of a Messiah who would die as a slave on a cross.
You call me Teacher and Lord, and you are right, for so I am. John 13:13 ESV
The traditional Jewish titles of Rabbi and Lord are typical ways that disciples or servants of a Rabbi would address their Master. Both titles were respectful and acknowledged Yeshua's superiority over His disciples.
The title Lord (kyrios) was first applied to Yeshua as a mark of respect for His teaching role. But after His resurrection, "Lord" took on richer meaning to Christians as their understanding of who Yeshua is took hold. Those earlier Christians who used the Septuagint were used to referring to Yahweh imself as the "Lord".
"I am"—it seems like Yeshua is evoking Yahweh's chosen way of identifying Himself in the Tanakh—saying that He is Yahweh, the God of Israel and ruler of the universe. In other words He is so much more that their Rabbi, He is their God.
If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another's feet. John 13:14 ESV
The "If" here is a first class conditional sentence, which is assumed to be true from the author's perspective or for his purposes. Since I, "the" Lord and "the" Teacher and your God have washed your feet:
You also ought to wash one another's feet. For I have given you an example, that you also should do just as I have done to you. John 13:14b-15 ESV
Does this text teach us that we must literally wash the feet of others?
Some Christians believe that Yeshua's command here is binding on the Church in a literal sense. They practice "foot-washing" as an ordinance of the Church, along with water baptism and the Lord's Supper. The Grace Brethren and certain Mennonite Churches, among others, view foot washing as a third ordinance.
Commenting on this verse Hendriksen writes, "Foot-washing was practiced on Maundy Thursday by the Church of Augustine's day. It was recommended by Bernard of Clairvaux in one of his sermons. The practice, moreover, was continued by the pope at Rome and by emperors (of Austria, of Russia) and kings (of Spain, Portugal, Bavaria). For a while it was practiced by the Church of England and by the Moravians. It has been continued to this very day by certain Baptist and Adventist bodies. It was roundly condemned by Luther and by his followers as 'an abominable papal corruption.' [Hendriksen, vol.2, p. 236, fn. 134.]
So what do you think? Is foot washing something that Christians are called to practice today? Remember earlier I said, "Foot washing was a task that needed to be done." Is it needed today? In the foot washing that happens in Churches today you can be sure that nobody actually needs to have their feet washed! Everybody comes to the foot washing service with clean feet. Foot washing is not a need today.
Nowhere else in the New Testament, or in the earliest extra-biblical documents of the Church, is foot washing treated as an ecclesiastical rite, an ordinance, a sacrament. We do not see this command repeated or practiced as an ordinance in Acts or in the Epistles.
Yeshua is not saying that from here on all Christians for all time shall wash each others feet. What He is saying is that all Christians should be humbly serving each other, we should be meeting the needs of each other. If Yeshua were giving an example in modern North American culture, He probably would have selected another ordinary daily chore that they should humbly do for each other. He is telling us that if foot washing is not beneath anyone's dignity then nothing is that serves our brothers.
Outside John 13 there is only one New Testament reference to a Christian practice of washing the feet of fellow Christians.
and having a reputation for good works: if she has brought up children, has shown hospitality, has washed the feet of the saints, has cared for the afflicted, and has devoted herself to every good work. 1 Timothy 5:10 ESV
Foot washing here is a needed act of hospitality, not a ceremony. Everyone other than Christians would have expected a slave or the guests themselves to wash feet. Foot washing was one of the most counter cultural practices of early Christianity, symbolizing most radically the status-rejecting ideals of the early Christian communities.
Christ's command that His disciples should wash feet calls them to show love in various forms of service, even laying down their lives for one another when necessary:
By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers. 1 John 3:16 ESV
You might say, Well, I'm willing to die for my brothers. I just never have the chance to. Look at the next verse:
But if anyone has the world's goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God's love abide in him? 1 John 3:17 ESV
Do you have something that your brother needs. Then you're to help them. Yeshua is teaching that we should do unpleasant tasks that serve others in their area of need. This means that no task should be beneath us as we serve others for Christ's sake.
For I have given you an example, that you also should do just as I have done to you. John 13:15 ESV
The Greek word translated here as example is hypodeigma—the word suggests both "example" and "pattern." By example He has shown the disciples how they are to serve one another lovingly, in complete humility as He has served them in washing their feet. This is quite the contrast to what the Old Covenant priesthood had become!
The "example" that Yeshua gave them was not just humility, but sacrificial service. Disciples were supposed to follow their teacher's example. Later Rabbis even used earlier Rabbis' behavior as legal precedent!
Truly, truly, I say to you, a servant is not greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. John 13:16 ESV
This strong assertive, "truly, truly" when used at the beginning of a sentence and doubled, it is an authoritative, assent-getting device.
Lazarus puts this in the form of an aphorism, which is a concise definition or statement of a principle. By common assent, "a slave (or servant) occupies" an inferior role to that of "his (or her) master," and messengers (apostolos) do the same to those who send them.
"A disciple is not above his teacher, nor a servant above his master. Matthew 10:24 ESV
His point was that no disciple of His should think it beneath him or her to serve others—since He, the master and sender, had humbled Himself to serve.
Remember the context of the foot washing. Luke gives us the details:
A dispute also arose among them, as to which of them was to be regarded as the greatest. And he said to them, "The kings of the Gentiles exercise lordship over them, and those in authority over them are called benefactors. But not so with you. Rather, let the greatest among you become as the youngest, and the leader as one who serves. Luke 22:24-26 ESV
"A dispute also arose among them, as to which of them was to be regarded as the greatest"—the disciples had been discussing which one of them was the greatest. It is the last night of Yeshua's earthy life, and they are arguing about which of them is the greatest. We don't really know what precipitated this conversation other than human pride.
In our society, and in theirs as well, greatness was measured in how many served you, how many obeyed your command, how many catered to your needs. As a matter of fact, in the Jewish culture itself, great time was spent in deciding the relative rank of individuals. It was important to know where people fell on the pecking order. How one dealt with a superior was far different than how one dealt with an inferior. Status, authority, and titles were all important in the protocol of the Jewish religious community.
We aren't too different than the first century Jews. We compare ourselves with others and desire their praise. The appetite for glory and greatness seems to be inbred in us. Who doesn't cherish the ambition to be "somebody" whom others admire rather than a "nobody"?
We all tend to measure success and greatness by criteria which the world uses and then take those and apply them to the Church. We want to be the leader with the biggest congregation, the greatest following, the most converts, the most hits on YouTube; all these are considerations which the world forces upon its inhabitants where winning is everything, but it shouldn't be this way in the Church.
Yeshua responds to the disciples argument, You want to talk about greatness? Let's do that. Let's talk about greatness:
But not so with you. Rather, let the greatest among you become as the youngest, and the leader as one who serves. Luke 22:26 ESV
So what Yeshua does is He takes human values and dumps them on their head—He turns them upside down. You see, we think greatness is about being first. Yeshua says, "Greatness is about being last." We think greatness is about having a position of power and prestige where we can be served. Yeshua says, "Greatness is about being a servant." From Yeshua's perspective, a great person puts everyone else before himself and takes on the role of a servant.
Yeshua's attitude toward the disciples and to us here is: You want to pursue greatness? By all means, do it! Go for it! The only thing I ask is that you know the rules—that you know the criteria. Greatness is determined by the person who puts everyone before himself and takes on the role of a servant. Once you get that criteria down, go for it. You pursue greatness with all your heart.
True greatness is manifested in humble servant-hood. It is not how many serve me, but how many I serve. And it is through humble servant-hood that we are exalted. This is a principle that is found all through the Word of God in precept and example:
Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted. Matthew 23:12 ESV
It is one principle with two sides. It is a promise of being brought low to those who exalt themselves, and it is a promise of exaltation to those who humble themselves. We see this principle illustrated and stated in:
"Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: 'God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.' But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, 'God, be merciful to me, a sinner!' I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted." Luke 18:10-14 ESV
James gives us the principle in:
Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you. James 4:10 ESV
Peter gives us the principle also:
Likewise, you who are younger, be subject to the elders. Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another, for "God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble." Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, 1 Peter 5:5-6 ESV
Yeshua, Peter, James, and Paul all said it. It is a biblical law—exaltation follows humility. Just as sure as the law of thermodynamics, is the law that those who humble themselves will be exalted. And the one who exalts himself will be humbled.
We see the negative side of this principle in the life of king Nebuchadnezzar. He exalted himself, and God humbled him. And the mighty king of Babylon ended up wandering around eating grass like an animal. But when he humbled himself, God exalted him:
Now I, Nebuchadnezzar, praise and extol and honor the King of heaven, for all his works are right and his ways are just; and those who walk in pride he is able to humble. Daniel 4:37 ESV
Joseph is an example on the positive side; he humbled himself and God exalted him:
he had sent a man ahead of them, Joseph, who was sold as a slave. His feet were hurt with fetters; his neck was put in a collar of iron; until what he had said came to pass, the word of the LORD tested him. The king sent and released him; the ruler of the peoples set him free; he made him lord of his house and ruler of all his possessions, Psalms 105:17-21 ESV
The teaching of Scripture is clear, God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble, and yet the seeking of glory and power has followed the history of the Church; revered bishoprics, papal thrones, ornate miters, and monuments to power litter the pages of Church history. The ambitious Pope Leo X sold indulgences to lay the foundation for his lasting monument of St. Peter, even though he didn't even know the Gospel. King James I (of King James Bible fame) sought to use the Episcopal form of church government to secure his own position, in spite of the objections of Puritans and other non-conformists.
The Church in our own generation is filled with pride. Churches desiring the title of "World's Largest Sunday School" have resorted to all sorts of gimmicks and numerical slight of hand to receive men's accolades. A couple of decades back, a Southern Baptist Church determined to lead the denomination in baptism totals, so they would go to the local bus station, get a group of "converts," carry them to the church for a midnight baptism, and then cart them back to the bus station to be on their way.
But it shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all. Mark 10:43-44 ESV
"It shall not be so among you"—as followers of Christ, as those redeemed through Christ's blood, as those who now live for the glory of Christ, it is not to be this way. The phrase "among you" implies all disciples, every congregation of believers. Yeshua insists on a distinct contrast between kingdom citizens and the world.
Okay, we are to be humble, so can you give a definition of humility? We can't humble ourselves if we don't know what humility is. Humility is first a feeling toward God that He has absolute rights over your life—that He can do with you as He pleases and that He has absolute authority to tell you what is best for you—and that's just fine with you. It is a spirit of utter yieldedness and submissiveness to the Lord as master. The humble person sees him self as clay in the Potter's hands.
Secondly, humility means feeling indebted to all people because of how graciously God has treated us. It's the opposite of feeling that everybody owes you something— owes you their attention or time. The more you are driven by what others owe you rather than by what you owe them in love and service, the less humble you are.
Paul defined humility this way:
Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Philippians 2:3 ESV
This way of thinking is very much against the grain in our culture, which is extremely self-centered. We are still a part of the "me-generation." But, we don't admire selfishness in others. We like people who are interested in us, not just in themselves. We listen to people who talk about our concerns, not just their own. Therapists report that inmates of mental institutions say "I" or "me" twelve times more often than residents of the outside world. As their conditions improve, the patients use the personal pronoun less often. It is no surprise that a Christian who is constantly talking about himself or herself, doesn't have much interest in serving others.
How can we humble ourselves and become servants of all when pride is such a controlling factor is our lives? The solution to the problem of pride is to see yourself in a proper manner. To see yourself as someone who is saved and sustained by the grace of God alone. All we are, and all we have is a gift of grace from God; what do we have to be proud about?
Believer, what we must see in this text is that our Lord is turning social values upside down. The secular world looks upon leadership as the opportunity to be served. A leader has many people under him, and thus he uses them to minister to his own needs. But in the kingdom of God, a position of leadership is simply a place of service.
The Christian is to serve God by serving others.
If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them. John 13:17 ESV
The first "if" is a first class condition which is assumed to be true from the author's perspective. "Since you know these things." The second "if" in this verse is a third class conditional, which means potential action. Since we know, we should do . This reflects the Hebrew verb shema, "hear so as to do" (Deut. 6:4).
Anybody want to be blessed? Yeshua promised God's blessing on those who
practice humble service:
But he said, "Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and keep it!" Luke 11:28 ESV
But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. James 1:22 ESV
Would you like to know what it is to live a happy, joyous, Christian life? Then follow your Rabbi Yeshua, wash one another's feet. Love one another because He has loved us. This is the lesson. Love like this. Love selflessly, humbly, in the most menial, simple necessity of life. Love at the lowest level of need. Follow the Rabbi.
Someone has said, "You will know whether a person is a servant or not by the way they act when they are treated like one."