Jesus Washes His Disciples' Feet
Verse 1: Now before the festival of the Passover, Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart from this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end. (NRSV)
- Passover, of course, was the yearly holiday to remember God’s provision for Israel during the Exodus from Egypt. Part of that remembrance was the eating of unleavened bread.
- ”Depart” is more literally “pass over” and is a normal term from going from one place to another (Liddell 501).
- This is not just a euphemism for death, but a way the author emphasizes the continued life of Jesus after he left Earth.
- The phrasing here is also aorist subjunctive, which means that it is a general statement of possibility. This was not a certainty or an exact time, but everything was coming to a head.
- The aorist at times indicates something has just happened (Morris 613), a possible interpretation here. The hour had just arrived. But this interpretation doesn’t account for the subjunctive.
- There is almost an element of worry implied in this phrasing.
- ”World” is here indicating the realm of human activity and not the physical sphere we call Earth (Moloney 378).
- ”His own who were in the world” is not saying that Jesus didn’t love those in heaven, but is used to point out that people on earth can be completely Jesus’ and we don’t have to wait until heaven.
- ”The end” can also mean completion, in terms of loving fully or loving completely. This would give the sentence a very different meaning as it would point to the cross and that being not just the end but the full expression of love.
Verse 2: The devil had already put it into the heart of Judas son of Simon Iscariot to betray him. And during supper (NRSV)
- ”Put” is more literally “throw” and is a perfect tense. This means that it is something completed that is still affecting the present tense. This is something that happened a while ago, but we don’t know when.
- ”Betray” conveys the right sense, but has a more pejorative connotation than the original has, which just means “give over.”
- This verse is ambiguous.
- Most translations have this be Satan making Judas decide to betray Jesus.
- But in the Greek, this could equally as easily be Satan deciding that it would be Judas who he would have betray Jesus (Moloney 378).
- If this is the Devil’s plan and reasoning here, then we don’t know if Judas was as of yet consciously planning on betraying Jesus or not, the seeds had just been planted.
Verse 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, (NRSV)
- In the Greek we do not have Jesus’ name mentioned, it is just “he”. This linguistically could be read backwards as being about the devil, but should be interpreted as being about Jesus.
- This is an odd place for a declaration of command. He was about to die, and now had a traitor waiting to betray him. Even with the devil working and Judas scheming, god had placed Jesus in control.
- This verse reminds us that things weren’t spiraling out of control, they were moving to the conclusion they were supposed to arrive at.
- This verse also serves to present Jesus’ pedigree so to speak. The instinct of an early reader would have been to downplay Jesus’ importance in the universe because of his washing people’s feet. This verse points out that the “highest possible place is His by right” (Morris 615).
Verse 4: got up from the table, took off his outer robe, and tied a towel around himself. (NRSV)
- ”got up” and “took off” are present tense verbs, which is unusual. This brings a sense of vibrancy to the proceedings, like the author is seeing it happen again as he write it (Morris 615).
- This isn’t about Jesus getting out of a chair, he was probably sitting on the floor, mostly lying down. In the Greek, there is no mention of a table, but only that Jesus rose from “supper.”
- ”Outer robe” is a bit of a stretch, the more literal word is simply “clothes” as this is a generic term, though it can be for an outer layer (Liddell 380).
Verse 5: Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was tied around him. (NRSV)
- The washing of feet was a common event when people entered a house, given that people walked everywhere, but was usually given to the lower rank person. This was definitely not Jesus’ role.
- This was after the meal and so is unusual because it should have happened much earlier.
- That no one had washed anyone else’s feet might indicate a continuation of the dispute about who was first (which is the context of this event in Luke’s account, and who was last. This is perhaps the earliest example of arguments between Christians keeping Jesus from being served.
Verse 6: He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, “Lord, are you going to wash my feet?” (NRSV)
- There is no indication as to where in the process Peter was. He could have been first, or other disciples might have accepted this service from Jesus without complaint. We don’t know. That Peter asked such an obvious question is the only indication we have that he might have been first.
Verse 7: Jesus answered, “You do not know now what I am doing, but later you will understand.” (NRSV)
- There is a purposeful emphatic contrast here between “I” and “you” (Morris 617).
Verse 8: Peter said to him, “You will never wash my feet.” Jesus answered, “Unless I wash you, you have no share with me.” (NRSV)
- This is an odd statement of Peter’s. He doesn’t think the master should be a servant to him, but at the same time thinks he can contradict the master.
- There are a lot of different theories about why Jesus had to wash Peter’s feet.
- One idea is that this is simply what Jesus wanted to do, and to resist was resisting Jesus, something his followers cannot do.
- Another theory is that this was an actual cleansing that has real spiritual fruit and was needed for them to stay true to Jesus over time.
- The primary theory is that this is already referring to a metaphorical washing like verse 10, one of salvation and communion with God.
- Unlike how Peter interprets it in the next verse, Jesus does not say that washing the feet will give Peter a part of Jesus, but that without it a person can’t have even a piece. The implication is they can have a lot more than a part if they allow this washing.
- For later Christian, this minor humiliation foreshadows the much greater humiliation of Jesus while on the cross. We cannot save him from this, but must let Jesus’ humiliation clean us of our own.
Verse 9: Simon Peter said to him, “Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!” (NRSV)
- This is one of the most sudden changes of position in the history of the Bible.
- This is a very characteristic reaction for Peter, who does nothing in half measures.
- Peter does not ask for Jesus to give him a bath, but only those parts that were visible while fully clothed.
- This probably is Peter trying to say that if the feet allows a part of Jesus, he wants more than that, he wants everything possible. But Jesus wasn’t saying that he will give a small share with the foot washing, but that without it there won’t even be connected to Jesus at all.
- It is important to notice that this is still not an acceptance of what Jesus wanted to do, but is still something else Peter thought would be even better.
Verse 10: Jesus said to him, “One who has bathed does not need to wash, except for the feet, but is entirely clean. And you are clean, though not all of you.” (NRSV)
- ”One who has bathed” is not about someone who once took a bath, but is referring to a permanent condition (Morris 618).
- The bathing here is probably not referring to the disciples’ already being baptized as we have no record of that happening.
- ”You are clean” is plural, referring not just to Peter but to all those in attendance. Apparently others also had questions about what Jesus was doing.
- This verse seems to back up the idea that this is about obedience, if being clean is being saved, then you only need to obey.
- Another possible interpretation is that this is referring to the cleansing of “normal” sins, those little things that accumulate but cannot shake the cleansing of our salvation.
Verse 11: For he knew who was to betray him; for this reason he said, “Not all of you are clean.” (NRSV)
- Take notice that Jesus does not tell the disciples who the unclean one was, they were still in the dark about that.
Verse 12: After he had washed their feet, had put on his robe, and had returned to the table, he said to them, “Do you know what I have done to you? (NRSV)
- There is no indication that Jesus bypassed Judas in this foot-washing, but washed everyone’s feet including his betrayer’s.
- We don’t have the conclusion to this story, oddly enough. If this was written today we would expect to find out if the disciples let Jesus wash them or if they stood up and said he was too high to do that. But the author and the culture simply assumed that obedience was a given. The author assumes we know that the disciples of course submitted immediately after this.
Verse 13: You call me Teacher and Lord—and you are right, for that is what I am. (NRSV)
- This is not an ambiguous “some consider me to be…” but “you call me…” These are names that the people listening to Jesus used of him, putting them directly under Jesus’ authority.
- Even though “Lord” was the word the Jews used to replace the name of God, it was also commonly used as “master” or “leader” and so does not necessarily point to Jesus proclaiming himself as God here.
- What “Lord” does make clear is that this is a man who should not have had to wash anyone’s feet. Likewise, a teacher should be washed by his students.
Verse 14: So if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. (NRSV)
- This is troublesome because Jesus’ foot-washing appears to foreshadow salvation and the cross. That would require an interpretation here of us offering salvation to each other, impossible.
- This probably is a command to forgive and to serve as people need it, not as we want to or as they deserve in relation to us.
Verse 15: For I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you. (NRSV)
- ”Example” is literally a pattern or model, specifically one that should be imitated (Arndt 844).
- Jesus actions are here reinforced as being purposeful and not random or carelessly thought out (Morris 620).
- There is great debate about whether this “example” is a holistic one from Jesus’ life, or just the foot washing of this passage. The foot washing itself, however, has usually been associated with the humility and sacrifice of Jesus’ death (Maloney 379).
- ”you do” is here subjunctive, normally a verb of possibility, but here rightly takes on the power of a command of purpose. Jesus presented this pattern, laid it all out, for the very purpose of us following the pattern, following him.
Verse 16: Very truly, I tell you, servants are not greater than their master, nor are messengers greater than the one who sent them. (NRSV)
- The word translated as “Master” here is the same word translated “Lord” in verses 13 and 14. Jesus has already made the case that he is the disciples’ master, this is applying directly to the disciples and not just a vague statement.
- Likewise, “messenger” is the word normally translated as “apostle.” This is a speech by Jesus trying to convince the disciples themselves to do what Jesus was doing.
- ”Servant” can equally easily mean “slave.”
- The point is that if Jesus did something, no matter how humbling or strange, it is part of the pattern that they need to do. Nothing is beneath the Christian if Jesus has done it first.
Verse 17: If you know these things, you are blessed if you do them. (NRSV)
- The implication in the Greek is that they do in fact know these things (Morris 621).
- This is not a future blessing, but a present tense one, “you are” blessed.
- Blessing in John’s gospel comes not from the knowledge but from actions, doing what our knowledge implies (Maloney 379).
Verse 18: I am not speaking of all of you; I know whom I have chosen. But it is to fulfill the scripture, ‘The one who ate my bread has lifted his heel against me.’ (NRSV)
- This is an odd thing for Jesus to say. Surely anyone would be blessed if they followed Jesus, even Judas if he turned around right then.
- Therefore this is probably not referring to the blessing, but going back to verse 16 and saying that Judas is not really a servant
- This is also pointing to the next verse, where Jesus indicates that saying this is to keep the disciples from losing faith.
- The quotation here is from Psalm 41:9.
- Lifting up the heel probably comes from a horse rearing back to kick, but it could also be from (Morris 622).
Verse 19: I tell you this now, before it occurs, so that when it does occur, you may believe that I am he. (NRSV)
- The warning about Judas was not that he couldn’t have been redeemed, but so that the disciples didn’t think Jesus was blind when the betrayal happened. It was to keep the disciples from losing faith in their master.
- This is one of the “I AM” statements in John. The name of God in Hebrew was never spoken, but translated would be a form of “I AM”.
- By saying this, Jesus is saying that he is God, and wants the disciples to believe that.
- If the disciples did not believe this, Jesus would be considered guilty of great sacrilege by profaning God’s name.
Verse 20: Very truly, I tell you, whoever receives one whom I send receives me; and whoever receives me receives him who sent me.” (NRSV)
- ”Receive” is the standard form for any sort of taking or getting/receiving, but in this context takes on a meaning of more than simple hospitality but acceptance and belief. There is still the connotation of proximity and drawing close, though.
- The very act of receiving, implies sending. God sends people out.
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