Why Is It So Powerful That Jesus Washed His Disciples' Feet?

Contributing Writer
Why Is It So Powerful That Jesus Washed His Disciples' Feet?

It was one of the happiest days of my life. My husband and I were getting married. Traditionally in the Christian church, there is a moment where a bride and groom participate in a spiritual act together. Some choose communion, others tie a strand of three, others take a moment to pray.

We chose the symbol of washing feet.

Jesus modeled washing His follower’s feet out of love and sacrifice to us. My husband and I thought it would be a special way to point to the sacrifice of a husband and a wife in marriage, representing the Savior’s love for His bride, the church.

Washing feet is a precious symbol, but what does it really mean? Today we will study what the Bible teaches about Jesus washing feet.

Where in the Bible Does Jesus Wash His Disciples Feet?

The specific passage of Scripture where Jesus washes His disciples’ feet can be found in John 3:1-17.

I know people who have a serious aversion to feet. They cannot handle looking at bare feet, much less touching them. The foot is considered one of the dirtiest places on the body. In Biblical times, the disciples would have walked around on filthy roads in sandals, and eaten most meals reclining at a low table. This would have been very unclean before a meal.

Amanda Idleman from Christianity.com writes, “Cleaning of the feet would have been necessary because the group would have likely been reclining together at a low table and dirty feet would not be welcomed so close to their food. It was the servant of a household's job to wash the feet of incoming guests.”

Right before the pinnacle of Jesus’ ministry here on earth (Maundy Thursday), He decided to take the place of a servant and wash His disciples’ feet. It is the picture of a teacher serving the students, a boss honoring his employees, or a king placing himself below his citizens.

The Process That Awed His Followers

“So he got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist. After that, he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him” (John 13:4-5).

Imagine being in the midst of the meal with Jesus. All of a sudden, he gets up. Everyone was likely watching him with anticipation of what He would say or do. Would he give them a pep talk? Would he offer a toast of celebration? No, instead He took off his outer clothing and wrapped a towel around his waist. They may have thought, “What is happening?” Then, the Living Water Himself began to pour water into a basin. He started one by one, going from disciple to disciple, washing and drying their feet with the towel that he wore.

When He got to Peter, one of his closest friends, Peter protested. It seemed unnatural for His Messiah to do such a humbling thing. Jesus tells him in verse 8, “Unless I wash you, you have no part with me.” Then, out of his love for His God, Peter asked Jesus to wash all of him.

Jesus Is the Only Way to Be Clean before God

A life of cleanliness was imperative to a Jewish believer. The Levitical Law contained multiple commands which were created for the protection and health of the people. However, no matter how outwardly clean a person is, only Jesus could cover sins and give His righteousness.

The prophetic book of Isaiah shares in chapter 1 verse 18 “'Come now, let us settle the matter,’ says the Lord. ‘Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red as crimson, they shall be like wool.’”

Jesus washes our sins away. 1 John 1:7 says, “But if we walk in the light as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanses us from all sin.”

We all offer filthy rags (Isaiah 64:6). We cannot earn our way to heaven. We cannot spiritually scrub away our sin. Only by accepting Jesus can we enter the kingdom of God (John 14:6). Even though we are all filthy, just like Peter, we can be “all in” for Jesus. However, it is worth noting that even in his enthusiasm, Peter denied Jesus three times shortly after this encounter. This reminds us that even the most dedicated and loyal Christ-follower has fallen short of God’s glory and is in need of a Savior.

John 13:10-11 says, “Jesus answered, 'Those who have had a bath need only to wash their feet; their whole body is clean. And you are clean, though not every one of you.’ For he knew who was going to betray him, and that was why he said not every one was clean.”

Judas did not truly belong to Jesus. He was not His follower. He would instead betray Him. Even knowing this, our Savior got on his knees and took the feet of His enemy and washed his feet. In Matthew 5:44 Jesus says, “But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” Jesus addresses loving your enemies because even the tax collectors love their neighbors, people who are easy to love. Jesus was able to love Judas even though Judas hated Jesus. Matthew 5:48 says, “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” Jesus demonstrated His perfect love.

Washing the Feet before the Commission

“How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of those who bring good news, who proclaim peace, who bring good tidings, who proclaim salvation, who say to Zion, Your God reigns!" (Isaiah 52:7).

It is worth recognizing that Jesus washed the feet of His followers. He was equipping them for the Great Commission which He would share after His resurrection. The feet that He was washing were the feet of the men He called to begin spreading the good news of His gospel. Ponder the variety of men in that upper room. There was a tax collector, there were brothers, fishermen, a zealot, and all Jews. But all shared the strange and humbling experience of having God wash their filthy feet.

“When he had finished washing their feet, he put on his clothes and returned to his place. 'Do you understand what I have done for you?’ he asked them. ‘You call me Teacher’ and Lord,’ and rightly so, for that is what I am. Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one anothers feet. I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you. Very truly I tell you, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them’” (John 13:12-17).

Later in Matthew 20:19-20, Jesus sends out His disciples to all nations to baptize others in His name. His calling was one of sharing the gospel. I wonder if any of them thought back to that upper room when their Savior (who was now ascending into heaven) bent down and washed their feet, telling them to do the same for others? The time came and they went and obeyed Him.

We too have this same calling today. No, Jesus is not physically washing our feet, however He has spiritually washed us from our sins. We too are called to go and share His gospel with all of the nations. We are to tell of His great love for the world that He came and died a horrible death and brought Himself back to life, becoming the risen Savior.

The Bible teaches us that Jesus washed the feet of His disciples on that Maundy Thursday out of humble servanthood. He always went against the grain of what people expected. Lastly, He cleaned before He commissioned. We are all invited to be washed by Him and go. I find it no coincidence that the armor of God found in Ephesians 6 tells us in verse 15, “And with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace.” With the feet that Jesus has washed and prepared, may we also go with His gospel of peace. 

Photo credit: ©Getty Images/rudall30

Emma DanzeyEmma Danzey’s mission in life stems from Ephesians 3:20-21, to embrace the extraordinary. One of her greatest joys is to journey with the Lord in His Scriptures. She is wife to Drew and mom to Graham. Emma serves alongside her husband in ministry, she focuses most of her time in the home, but loves to provide articles on the Bible, life questions, and Christian lifestyle. Her article on Interracial Marriage was the number 1 on Crosswalk in 2021. Most recently, Emma released Treasures for Tots, (Scripture memory songs) for young children. During her ministry career, Emma has released Wildflower: Blooming Through Singleness, two worship EP albums, founded and led Polished Conference Ministries, and ran the Refined Magazine. You can view her articles on her blog at emmadanzey.wordpress.com and check out her Instagram @Emmadanzey.