Question: What is the significance of foot washing and are we to practice it today?
Answer: In John, Chapter 13, the washing of feet was a custom and tradition of that time. Just as greeting one another with a “holy kiss” was in Romans 16:16, as Paul was greeted by those who loved him (Acts 20:37). 1 Corinthians 11:5,6 des-cribes a woman having her head covered in public, as it was the custom to do so. If her head was not covered, she was considered a prostitute. Some of these customs are still practiced in a few countries today. In America, the hand shake is a custom replacing the “holy kiss” of the Orientals. In traveling, paved roads and cars have replaced walking and animal travel from town to town on dirty, dusty roads. Shoes and socks have replaced sandals and bare feet in our travels.
Our Lord is addressing the disciples in this passage and is going to use the custom of foot washing as a very important object lesson to his followers. In fact, there are several lessons taught in this narrative that are important and must not be overlooked. May we examine a few of these object lessons.
“He (Christ) riseth from supper, and laid aside his garments; and took a towel, and girded himself.” (V.4)
“Supper” represents fellowship, such as Christ had at the Throne of God and with all the heavenly host of Heaven—perfect peace, perfect love, and perfect fellowship! He arose from the throne of His glory, laying aside His garments of glory, and came to this stench-filled Earth.
“He took a towel, and girded himself,”
...illustrates to us that He was “God manifest in the flesh” (1 Timothy 3:16), clothing Himself with the garment of human flesh and becoming a servant, humbling Himself even unto the death of the Cross.
Notice Verse 12, which illustrates to us Christ’s humility and Resurrection.
“So after he had washed their feet, and had taken his garments, and was set down again, he said unto them, Know ye what I have done to you?”
It almost reaches the limits of our minds to comprehend that Jesus Christ, Creator of the heavens, Earth, and all mankind, would descend from Heaven; and with the humility of a lowly servant, to wash the disciples’ feet. This is an example of the love Christians should have toward the lost, humbling them-selves as servants of the Lord, to win the lost to Christ. Sometimes people will display a false sense of humility for self-glory. Not so with the Lord Jesus, as several hours later He would prove that His humility and love for them was real. He would submit Himself to the Cross on Calvary. Philippians 2:8 makes this perfectly clear,
“And being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross.”
In Verse 12, after washing the disciples’ feet, we are told that He “had taken his garments.” In Verse 4, He had “laid aside his garments,” which represented His heavenly glory. Now, after His crucifixion, He takes back His garments, that is His glory, by His resurrected body. Philippians 3:20,21 explains,
“…We look for the Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ: Who shall change our vile body, that it may be fashioned like unto his glorious body (i.e., His resurrected body)."
Next, in Verse 12, we are told that he “was set down.” Now, we know that after Christ’s Resurrection, He walked this Earth 40 days as proof that death had no power over the Son of God. Dr. Luke in Acts 1:3 states:
“To whom also he (Christ) shewed himself alive after his passion by many infallible proofs, being seen of them FORTY DAYS, and speaking of the things pertaining to the kingdom of God.”
After this, He ascended back to Heaven (Acts 1:11) and sat down at the throne of God, as His work on Earth was finished. The Word of God states in Hebrews 1:3,
“…when he (Christ) had by himself purged our sins, sat down on the right hand of the Majesty on high;”
Verse 12, “Know ye what I have done to you?” In other words, "Do you understand the real meaning of what I have done? Can you spiritually see ahead that all of this points to the Cross and the Resurrection? Can you not see that in humility and humbleness I went to the Cross for every sinner?" Romans 5:8 sums it up:
“But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.”
This is Christ’s plea to every individual, "Can you not see what I have done for you?" Wouldn’t it be wonderful if every lost person would be conscious of their condition and want to be saved. Just as the Philippian Jailer, who cried out,
“What must I do to be saved?”
Paul and Silas responded,
“Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved.”
Jesus had begun to wash the disciples’ feet and than he came to Peter. Impetuous Peter blurted out immediately,
"Lord, dost thou wash my feet?”
Peter was in limbo end seemed to have no idea why Christ was washing their feet. Yes, he was familiar with the custom of being kind and generous in washing the feet of a traveler who had walked a long distance. But, here, the disciples had been sitting with Christ at the “Last Supper.” He may also have wondered why Jesus wanted to wash their feet instead of the disciples washing His feet. Nevertheless, Peter maintained his insistence that Jesus would not wash his feet. Here are Peter’s words in Verse 8.
“Thou shalt never wash my feet.”
...he declared. Peter, like some of us, think at times we know more than the Lord does. In Verse 7, we have the Lord’s answer to Peter.
“Jesus answered and said unto him, What I do that knowest not now; but thou shalt know hereafter.”
I remember an incident which happened while I was returning home from work late one night many years ago. I turned on the radio and happened to be tuned in to a “religious” program, the “World Wide Church of God” with Herbert W. Armstrong. After listening to this false teacher a few minutes, I told the Lord that He ought to kill this false prophet as he was sending thousands of people to Hell with his works salvation message. The Lord spoke to me by the Holy Spirit, saying, “Max, since you are that concerned, I would like for you to tell them the truth.” It was as though the Lord was riding in the passenger’s seat. I didn’t see Him bodily; but, I sure heard Him audibly.
The Holy Spirit spoke to my conscience saying, “ I want you to be a pastor and I want you to prepare yourself in Bible College." I remember telling the Lord that I didn’t see any reason for Him to “get personal” about that situation; and, as for me, I would never bring the subject up again! I kept my word, but the Holy Spirit was relentless! A short time later, we sold our home and off to Bible College we went! That’s been 40 some years ago and all of those years we have been on the radio continuously.
Looking back on that time, I couldn’t understand how the Lord would want someone as unqualified as me. I can relate to the words Jesus told Peter,
“What I do thou knowest not now; but thou shalt know hereafter.”
Now, after being a Christian for 45 years and a pastor for 35 years, I can look back and understand what I didn’t understand then. Now, God’s Word in 1 Corinthians 1:26,27 helps me understand what I didn’t understand all those years ago.
“For ye see your calling, brethren, how that not many wise men after the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called: (26) But God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise; and God hath chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty.(27)”
Let us return to Verse 8, where Jesus addresses Peter after his refusal to have his feet washed by the Lord.
"...Jesus answered him, If I wash thee not(i.e., his feet), thou hast no part with me.
“No part” is speaking of fellowship, not Sonship; communion, not union.
The feet of the travelers, as they walked in their sandals would collect the dust and dirt of the road. At day’s end, before bedding down for the night, it was a real display of love and care for someone to refresh them by washing their feet. This physical act was to illustrate a spiritual truth. Just as the traveler’s feet pick up the dirt of the road, so it is with the Christian.
Sometimes a Christian’s feet will take him where he shouldn’t go. Maybe he directs his feet to attend more boy scout meetings or school board meetings, than to attending his church's services (meetings). His secular activities have dominated his time. No time to teach a Sunday School class, be on the deacon or trustee board, sing in the choir, or help with the Awana Club or youth groups. The secular has replaced the spiritual. This Christian doesn’t need to be saved all over again; as he never got “unsaved” to begin with. What he lost was his fellowship with the Lord—not his salvation! What caused this man to utilize all of his time for the secular things is described by Christ in John 12:43,
“For they loved the praise of men more than the praise of God.”
James tells us in 4:17,
“Therefore to him that knoweth to do good, and doeth it not, to him it is sin.”
This Christian has sinned by putting the secular ahead of the spiritual; therefore, he has a false balance in his life. Proverbs 11:1 describes his condition,
“A false balance is abomination to the Lord: but a just weight is his delight.”
1 John 1:7-9, tells the Christian how to recapture the fellow-ship that was lost. First, he is to be honest with himself and quit justifying his sin. Verse 8 is very explicit,
“If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.”
Second, he is to confess his sin, that is agreeing with the Lord that what he is doing is wrong, as Verse 9 explains
“If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”
Third, he is to stop what he is doing and start putting the Lord first in obedience to God’s word as described in Verse 7,
"But if we walk in the light (i.e., the word of God), as he is in the light, we have FELLOWSHIP one with another, and the blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from all sin.”
Whatever sin, or sins, we as Christians commit daily, needs to be acknowledged, confessed, and forsaken for forgiveness to maintain fellowship with the Lord. This is the lesson that Christ was teaching the disciples and Peter by the washing of their feet.
Christ told Peter in John 13:10c,11, that one among them was not saved.
“…ye are clean, (i.e., saved) but not all. For He (Christ) knew who should betray him; therefore he said, ye are not all clean.”
Read verses 18-30 where Christ exposes Judas as a counterfeit Christian. This is a practical lesson for every Christian to exercise discernment. 1 John 4:1 says,
“Beloved, believe not every spirit (i.e., person), but try the spirits whether they are of God; because many false prophets are gone out into the world.”
These are Satan’s missionaries as described in 2 Corinthians 11:13-15,
“For such are false apostles, deceitful workers, transforming themselves into the apostles of Christ.(13) And no marvel: for Satan himself is transformed into an angel of light.(14) Therefore it is no great thing if his ministers also be transformed as the ministers of righteousness…(15)”
Matthew 7:21 explains that
“Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of Heaven.”
Satan will infiltrate your life, family, and church with false teaching to deceive you, if he can do it. Matthew 10:16 says
“…be ye therefore wise as serpents, and harmless as doves.”
Every false cult will project a works salvation including such things as baptism, confirmation; or just being a good person by keeping the 10 Commandments, and etc. This is in opposition to God’s word in Ephesians 2:8,9,
“For by grace are ye saved through faith: and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God. Not of works, lest any man should boast.”
The way a Christian should handle a false teacher is given in Romans 16:17,18,
“Now I beseech you, brethren, MARK THEM which cause divisions and offences contrary to the doctrine (i.e., the word of God) which ye have learned; and AVOID THEM. (17) For they that are such serve not our Lord Jesus Christ, but their own belly; and by good words and fair speeches deceive the hearts of the simple (18).”
“So after he had washed their feet, and had taken his garments, and was set down again, he said unto them, Know ye what I have done to you.”
You will recall in Verse 4 that Christ “laid aside his garments” which represented leaving His glory in Heaven and coming to this Earth, clothed with sinless human flesh (the Virgin Birth) to pay for the sins of the world. Christ’s last words on the Cross were,
“…It is finished: and he bowed his head, and gave up the ghost (i.e. spirit).” - John 19:30
After three days and three nights he clothed Himself with his resurrected body and walked 40 days (Acts l:3; 1 Corinthians 15:3-8) as living proof He had conquered and has taken away the fear of death (Hebrews 2:14.15).
After this he assembled with them at the “mount called Olivet” (Acts 1:12), where He gave them His last instructions (Acts 1:4-8). Now, clothed with His glorious resurrected body, He would ascend back to the glory He had before coming to this Earth. The record is given in Acts 1:9-11:
“And when he had spoken these things, while they beheld, he was taken up; and a cloud received him out of their sight (9)" And while they looked stedfastly toward heaven as he went up, behold, two men stood by them in white apparel (10);" Which also said, Ye men of Galilee, why stand ye gazing up into heaven? This same Jesus, which is taken up from you unto heaven, shall so come in like manner as ye have seen him go into heaven (11)."
Returning to our text in John 13:12 we are told that He “sat down again.” This illustration is explained in Hebrews 1:3,
“…when he (Christ) had by himself purged our sins, SAT DOWN on the right hand of the majesty on high;”
Here are Christ’s words in Verses 14,15, after the cere-monial foot washing.
“If I then, your Lord and Master, have washed your feet; ye also ought to wash one anothers feet. (14) For I have given you an example, that ye should do as I have done to you (15).”
One must remember that foot washing, especially those of strangers, was a custom of the times. It demonstrated a person’s love, kindness, hospitality, and concern for people, other than just their family and friends. (Read Luke 7:36-50 for a very interesting account concerning this custom and what it totally revealed, as previously stated.)
Christ’s humbling Himself to wash the disciples’ feet was a two-fold lesson: practical and prophetic. Prophetically, it is described in Philippians 2:7,8,
“But made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men (7). And being found in fashion as a man, he HUMBLED himself, and became obedient unto death, even the DEATH OF THE CROSS. (8)."
The practical example for every Christian today, is that we humble ourselves (outside of our relatives and friends) by exhibiting friendliness, kindness, hospitality, etc.; so that we may witness to the salvation that Jesus Christ has provided for all who believe. In other words, the more we are filled with Self, there will be little room for the concern for others. John the Baptist understood this as he stated in John 3:30.
“He must increase, BUT I must decrease.”
Philippians 2:4,5 also states it well,
“Look not every man on his own things, but every man also on the things of others.(4) Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus (5).”
No, foot washing is not a commandment for today, as we in America, have no need for such a social custom, as it was then. But we do need to put into practice the lessons Christ taught by using this ancient custom as an example. What lovely, sweet fellowship we can experience with our wonderful Savior as we walk with Him; fulfilling His will through us as described in Luke 19:10.
“For the Son of man is come to seek and to save that which was lost.”
In conclusion, I believe Proverbs 11:30,31 is appropriate for all Christians to keep in mind.
“The fruit of the righteous is a tree of life; and he that winneth souls is wise. (30) Behold, the righteous shall be recompensed in the earth: much more the wicked and the sinner (31).”
How can I do less,
Than give Him my best,
And live for Him completely,
After all He’s done for me?