1.  Now before the feast of the Passover, when Jesus knew that His 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.

Now the time for Israel’s ancient feast of the Passover is near.  This feast was to celebrate the time the Lord brought the Israelites triumphantly out of the land of Egypt, as set forth in the book of Exodus.  We learn in Leviticus 23:5 that it took place on the fourteenth day of the first month of the Hebrew calendar, which for us would be early April.  Now, as this time approaches, the Lord knows that His hour has come to depart from this world to the Father.  Of course, this knowledge was His as the Son of God, Who knew all things by divine knowledge.  He was following a timetable that the Father had set up for Him, and now that timetable has come to this crisis point.

How does the Lord respond to knowing that His time is short?  Indeed, as we might have expected Him to.  For now, having loved His Own who were in the world, He loves them to the end.  This word for “love” is agapao, the verb form of the Greek word for love, agape, which is a word so rare some suspect that the writers of the Scriptures coined it.  It indicates a love beyond mere natural love, a self-sacrificial love that comes only from God.  The Lord had loved His Own all along, but now He loves them to the end.  The idea here is not that He loves them to the end of His life, for of course the cross was not that since it was followed by the resurrection.  Rather, the idea here is that He loved them to the absolute fullest extent, the “end” of how much He could have loved them.  Indeed, that love to the fullest extent is demonstrated without question by the sacrifice He made on the cross.

2.  And supper being ended, the devil having already put it into the heart of Judas Iscariot, Simon’s son, to betray Him,

We read here that supper was ended.  This makes little sense, as washing would naturally precede a meal, not come after it.  In writing a “Last Supper” scene in a play for my church, I wrote this washing scene as preceding the meal, not after it, for this is the only way this makes sense.  This is further emphasized by the fact that they are eating bread down in verse 26, which certainly indicates that their supper wasn’t over.  It is likely that this should be translated, “supper having been served,” rather than “being ended.”  This is what Alford suggests in his translation, according to the Companion Bible notes.

Now the devil has already put it into the heart of Judas Iscariot, Simon’s son, to betray the Lord.  Some would suggest that this means that the devil was responsible for Judas’ betrayal, and thus the devil, not Judas, is the one who should be punished for it.  Well, be this as it may, Judas already had become a thief, using his status as the treasurer for the disciples to embezzle money from them, as we learned back in John 12:6.  Thus, Judas would not have to be punished for betraying the Lord.  He would already be punished for being a thief.   Yet now he becomes a traitor as well, and it is unlikely that the devil could have used him in this way if unbelief and rejection of the Lord were not already in his heart.

3.  Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into His hands, and that He had come from God and was going to God,

If I am holding something, I can do many things with it.  I could dash it to the ground and possibly damage it.  I could attempt to fix it or decorate it.  I can do many things with something once I am holding it, for the fact that I am holding it places it under my power.  Thus, having something in your hands means that you have it under your authority.  And the Father has given all things into the hands of Jesus Christ.  Not only that, but Christ came from God and was going to God.  That does not mean that Christ was just a messenger sent from God, as the President of the United States might send an agent of his to a foreign country as a messenger.  Rather, this indicates that He was an extension of God come to this world.  Otis Q. Sellers used the following illustration to explain this.  He said it is like if I extend my hand to someone in the offer of a handshake.  I am extending myself to that person.  I can then take that hand back and withdraw the extension of myself.  That is what Christ was.  He was God extended to the world.  But He was not to stay here forever, but was going to return back to God.

4.  Rose from supper and laid aside His garments, took a towel and girded Himself.

Now He gets up from His place at the table and removes His outer garments.  This does not mean He removed all His clothes, but only His outer robe, leaving the tunic underneath.  They would do this in that day when preparing to work.  Then, He girds Himself with a towel in preparation for the work He was about to do.

5.  After that, He poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet, and to wipe them with the towel with which He was girded.

We need to understand a little bit about their customs in Israel at that time to understand the meaning of this action.  People in Israel at that time did not wear shoes as we know them…in fact, modern-type shoes would have been practically unknown in that country at that time.  What they wore were sandals.  These were basically made only to protect the bottom of the feet, with straps to go over the top to hold them on.  As we might imagine, and as anyone might know who has walked much in sandals outdoors, this leaves the feet open to get very dirty and dusty.  And in their country at that time, when roads were unpaved and the ways were very dusty, the feet would be very dirty by the end of the day.  Thus, it was customary when one would come into the house for a meal, that the lowest slave was given the job of going around the table and washing the feet of all the guests.  This was considered a humble and menial task, and it was the lowest slave, the one with the lowest position in the household, who would be expected to do this.  And yet this is the task that the Lord deigned to do for His disciples!

Now contrast this with what we learned in the above few verses.  We learned in verse 2 that Judas was one of those sitting with Him at the table: the one who had it in his heart from the devil to betray Him!  Imagine the Lord sitting at this man Judas’ feet and washing them, humbling Himself before the traitor who was to turn Him over to His enemies.  Moreover, we learned in verse 3 that the Lord well knew that the Father had put all things in His control.  He knew that He came out as an extension of God, and that He was returning to God very soon.  And yet, in light of all this, He was still willing to humble Himself to do the task of the lowliest servant for His disciples!  Indeed, He was demonstrating to them that He loved them to the uttermost.

6.  Then He came to Simon Peter.  And Peter said to Him, “Lord, are You washing my feet?”

It may have been that the disciples were deep in conversation, and Peter had not noticed what the Lord was doing.  Now, seeing his Master standing before him in the outfit of a servant preparing to wash his feet, Peter is taken aback.  It seems he can little grasp that his Master would do this for him.

7.  Jesus answered and said to him, “What I am doing you do not understand now, but you will know after this.”

We need to realize that Peter and the other disciples knew all about the custom of washing feet.  This was something that would have been done every day many times over in the land of Israel.  Having a servant wash your guests’ feet was as common as it might be in our day to offer to take your guest’s coat, or to offer your guest something to drink.  There was nothing about this custom that the disciples did not understand.  Thus, what the Lord refers to was something deeper that was behind His actions that was much more than just this common ceremony.  The act of washing feet itself was meaningless, but what was behind that act was what was truly meaningful, and was what Peter did not understand at that time.

8.  Peter said to Him, “You shall never wash my feet!”  Jesus answered him, “If I do not wash you, you have no part with Me.”

Peter, still focusing on the Lord’s acting like a servant to him, the disciple, makes this statement that the Lord will never wash his feet.  Of course, Peter was wrong, and made far too strong a statement here.  Peter was always one to speak too quickly and to regret it afterwards.

Peter did not use the word “never” here.  This one English word is actually the translation of five Greek words.  The first two words are the two Greek words for “no,” ou and me.  When used together, these words form the strongest possible negative, perhaps best translated by our English phrase “by no means.”  This “no” is so strong that it seems that whenever anyone but the Lord used this phrase, he proved unable to come through on it and back it up.  Then, Peter used the three words eis ton aiona, which means “in respect to the eon.”  An “eon” is a flow, and the idea here is that from then on and throughout the flow of time from then on the Lord would not by any means wash Peter’s feet.

Yet the Lord shocks Peter by replying with a stunning fact, that if He did not wash Peter’s feet, Peter would have no part with Him.  This clearly shows that what was going on here was much more than the mere physical act of washing feet.

9.  Simon Peter said to Him, “Lord, not my feet only, but also my hands and my head!”

Now Simon Peter, hearing this, goes to the other extreme, and urges the Lord to not only wash his feet, but also his hands and his head.  Peter, it cannot be doubted, had thrown his lot in with the Lord, and he intended to have a part with Him no matter what.  Thus, if he must be washed to have a part with Him, then he will be washed, regardless of what he might have said mere seconds before.

10.  Jesus said to him, “He who is bathed needs only to wash his feet, but is completely clean; and you are clean, but not all of you.”

We might imagine that one might take a bath in Israel in the morning or during the day, and find that at the end of the day, although his body was still clean, his feet had already become dirty just by the act of walking around with sandals on.  Thus, he would be clean, and would not need to bathe again, but only to wash his feet.  And this is what the Lord meant here.  Yet the underlying meaning goes far beyond this.  For these disciples were clean.  They were washed of their sins.  The Lord had forgiven them from all iniquities because of their faith in Him.  Yet in the matter of walking with Him on the earth, it was inevitable that their feet would become soiled by sin.  Thus, the Lord was there to wash their feet and to restore them to cleanness.  How thankful we can be that our own soiled feet are in the Master’s hands, and that He will wash them and make them clean, come what may.

11.  For He knew who would betray Him; therefore He said, “You are not all clean.”

The Lord knew that there was one in that company who was not bathed, and that was Judas.  Of course, Judas no doubt bathed his body as much as did any of the other disciples, but he, unlike them, was not washed clean of his sin.  He did not believe in the Lord, and so he was not washed, as the other disciples were.  To wash his feet did him little good, as he was unwashed in general.  Now the Lord knew that only eleven of these men were washed, and that one of them was not.  That is why He said that they were not all clean.

12.  So when He had washed their feet, taken His garments, and sat down again, He said to them, “Do you know what I have done to you?

Once He finished His task, He clothed Himself in his outer robe again and sat down in His place at the table.  Then, He asked the disciples if they knew what He had done for them.  Of course, they knew, as far as the physical act went.  This is something that was as common as it is when we wash our hands prior to a meal.  Yet in fact they did not know what He had really done for them, for there was a far deeper meaning and a reality behind what He had done that they did not understand at all.

13.  “You call me Teacher and Lord, and you say well, for so I am.

This is how the disciples addressed Him.  They never called Him familiarly “Jesus,” as if He were their buddy, but always used the formal terms of respect.  And the Lord does not condemn them for this, but tells them that they say well, for so He is.  Do we likewise call Him our Teacher and our Lord (or Master)?  Indeed, if we called Him this, would we be telling the truth?  We should each be sure that He is our Teacher and our Lord, for that is what He should be in our lives.

14.  “If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet.

Of course, if He their Lord and Teacher had done this for them, then they should act the same way and follow His example in washing one another’s feet.  Now some in our day have reduced this matter of foot washing to a ritual and a ceremony that they perform in their churches in a “foot washing service.”  They follow this command literally and think that they are pleasing the Lord by going through some ceremony and washing one another’s feet.  This is simply taking this action of our Lord’s and making a mockery of it.  There is nothing holy or righteous about washing someone’s feet.  This action was steeped with meaning in the culture in which the Lord lived, but it was not something that was done ceremonially, but rather merely had to do with the traditions of how one would treat a guest, and what was proper to do before a meal.  This act is useless in our day, for, with the shoes we wear, our feet generally don’t need washing any more than the rest of our bodies do, and washing our feet along with the rest of our bodies when we bathe is more than sufficient.

If we truly wished to follow the Lord’s example, we would have to offer to wash the feet of guests in our homes, not wash peoples’ feet at a church in a made-up ceremony.  Yet even then, this was not what the Lord meant, nor what He wanted His disciples to do.  He was referring to their sins, and the fact that He had not only washed them of all their sins by His grace, but that He would also wash them of the sins they committed day-by-day as they walked with Him.  In this same way, they were to forgive each other of their day-by-day sins against one another.  This is how one would obey the Lord’s words here, not by some foolish ceremony of foot washing.  How many of those who think they are pleasing God by partaking in such ceremonies in some church harbor resentment and a lack of forgiveness towards their fellow believers even as they perform this ritualistic act?  We would do well if we sought to obey the reality of what the Lord was saying, and left behind the outward form, which in our day is useless.

15.  “For I have given you an example, that you should do as I have done to you.

Their Master had given them an example, and as His servants they should follow it.  Yet they would not follow it literally by washing each other’s feet at a meal, but figuratively by forgiving each other when they sinned against one another.

16.  “Most assuredly, I say to you, a servant is not greater than his master; nor is he who is sent greater than he who sent him.

This phrase “most assuredly” is “truly, truly” in Greek, a solemn emphasis of what the Lord was saying.  He tells them that a slave is not greater than his master.  Of course, this was true, for a master is always considered as greater than his slave.  If he were not, then their roles would be reversed.  And he who is sent is not greater than he who sent him.  This is an occurrence of the Greek word apostolos, which is almost always translated as “an apostle.”  If our translators were consistent, they would have translated this as “nor is an apostle greater than he who sent him.”  Yet they wanted to get in here the parallel between the word for apostle, apostolos, and the verb for sending that appears later.  Yet interestingly, this word for sent is actually pempo, and not the companion word for sending with apostolos, apostello.  It is good that the translators wanted to get this idea of one sent and one sending in here, but we must wonder why they did not trouble to get the parallel in anywhere else, for both apostolos and apostello appear commonly in Scripture, and yet the noun form is usually translated as “apostle” and the verb form as “sent” without any indication that the two words are related.  It would be better if they had consistently translated these words in such a way that we could tie them together.  Yet the idea is that the apostle is not greater than the one who sent him, or that the one who is sent with authority is not greater than the one who sent him.  Of course, this too is obviously true.

17.  “If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them.

The Lord promises blessing to them if they know what He has said and do it.  But this would apply only to those who obey the reality behind what he was saying and forgive each other, not to those who literally wash each other’s feet in a religious ceremony.

The word “blessed” means “happy,” and thus the King James rendered this as “happy are you if you do them.”  Either way is a promise of the Lord’s favor if this command is followed.  But indeed, even without the Lord’s intervention, there is great happiness in being able to forgive those who have wronged us.  Indeed, what pain and sorrow can bitterness, anger, and lack of forgiveness harbored in the heart bring into our lives!  Happy indeed is the one who can let this go and instead live in forgiveness of others.

18.  “I do not speak concerning all of you.  I know whom I have chosen; but that the
Scripture may be fulfilled, ‘He who eats bread with Me has lifted up his heel against Me.’

The Lord knows that all who heard Him were not a part of what He was talking about.  This is not because He had made a mistake in choosing Judas.  He knew what He was doing when He chose him.  Yet this choice was made so that the Scripture might be fulfilled.  All the Lord’s actions were with a view to accomplishing the plan that God had for Him!

The Scripture that would be fulfilled by Judas is quoted from Psalm 41:9.  It was that the one who ate bread with Him would lift up his heel against Him.  This was a figure of speech for opposing Him as an enemy, which is what Judas did.  But these actions were not the result of a mistake on the Lord’s part in choosing Judas, but rather were part of God’s pre-ordained plan.

19.  “Now I tell you before it comes, that when it does come to pass, you may believe that I am He.

He is telling them before it happens what was going to happen.  He tells them why He is doing this: so that when it does come to pass, they may believe that He is the “I Am.”  The word “He” does not belong here, but was supplied by the translators, who must have supposed that this was an ellipses with words missing that they needed to supply.  Yet this was not the case.  Rather, this was a reference back to the Old Testament, when God revealed to Moses in the burning bush that His name was “I Am.”  Exodus 3:14 reads: “And God said to Moses, ‘I AM WHO I AM.’ And He said, ‘Thus you shall say to the children of Israel, ‘I AM has sent me to you.’’”  This is what the Lord was referring to here.  Once they realized that He had told them in advance what would happen, they would realize that He is the “I AM” whom Moses saw in the bush; that He is God Himself.