The Mystery of Foot Washing
Jn. 13:14 "If I then, the Lord and the Teacher, washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another's feet. 15 "For I gave you an example that you also should do as I did to you.
We turn aside briefly today to look at the mystery of foot washing. This event occurring at the Last Supper is the closing act of prelude to all Jesus will proceed to tell His disciples that night based on the exhortation, “love one another as I have loved you.”
As He said, Jesus gave us the act of foot washing as an example. The surrounding drama to that example is instructive and we want to understand it. Throughout church history, there has been some debate over whether foot washing was intended as an ordinance for practice parallel to that of the communion elements. While a few have practiced this, most have not.
But if we listen carefully, I think we can get ahead of that discussion….
The key to understanding the meaning and intent of foot washing is found in the piece of the drama where Jesus says to Peter:
Jn. 13:10 Jesus said to him, "He who has bathed needs only to wash his feet, but is completely clean; and you are clean, but not all of you."
We are remembering the context here. It has come Peter’s turn to be washed, but Peter protests saying, “Lord, you shall not wash my feet,” to which Jesus replies, “If I don’t wash your feet, you have no part in Me,” to which Peter then replies, “Then Lord, not just my feet, but do my hands and head as well.”
Stop and ponder. Jesus was telling Peter that he needed only his feet washed because Peter had already been bathed and so was already clean[sed].
Yet Jesus had never given Peter a bath with water as He was doing now with the basin at his feet. This one fact unveils the real meaning of foot washing.
Later in His discourse, Jesus tells us exactly how the disciples had already been bathed and what He meant back here at the Supper:
15:3"You are already clean because of the word which I have spoken to you.”
In other words, Jesus had already bathed the disciples clean by His word and teaching, even as He describes later through Paul:
Eph. 5:25… just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself up for her, 26 so that He might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word,
Jesus elaborated on this total “bathing” in His closing prayer to the Father:
Jn. 17:6 "I have manifested Your name to the men whom You gave Me out of the world; they were Yours and You gave them to Me, and they have kept Your word. 7 "Now they have come to know that everything You have given Me is from You; 8 for the words which You gave Me I have given to them; and they received them and truly understood that I came forth from You, and they believed that You sent Me.
Here then, Jesus is praying forth the full meaning of the bathing to which He alluded back at the supper.
But if so—and it is so—then we are also able to understand the real meaning behind the foot washing.
At the supper, Jesus told Peter that if one has already been bathed, he only needs to have his feet cleansed on an ongoing basis, and that this is something the disciples should be doing one for another, which Jesus was exemplifying here for them.
A Spiritual Example
Now an example can be literal, but an example can also be figurative or representative of something else. When we look at the context of being bathed, then we can understand that the real import of Jesus’ example in the literal foot washing is that it is representative of something else connected to the spiritual washing of their total being already by the word.
Why can we say this foot washing is only representative of Jesus’ intent and not his literal intent? It is because Jesus said to Peter up front before washing his feet,
13:7… "What I do you do not realize now, but you will understand hereafter."
If Jesus had meant by this example that the disciples were supposed to literally every so often wash one another’s feet, He would not have said that they could not understand what He intended. They would have understood this to be what He meant. Just do it.
But no, He said they could not understand what He meant by what He was instructing them to do by His example. Nor would they be able to until “hereafter.”
When is “hereafter” in this context? “Hereafter” refers to when the Holy Spirit would come to “reveal all truth” to them at Pentecost.
By this totality of evidence, we understand that in washing their feet at the Last Supper, Jesus is giving them an example of a spiritual truth He expects them to carry out later when they can understand what He really means by what He is doing to them now.
The Lord’s Final Prayer: Key to the Mystery
Is there anywhere Jesus speaks more specifically to the spiritual meaning of this foot washing that they will perform one toward another? The answer is yes. It too is in His final prayer:
17:8 for the words which You gave Me I have given to them; and they received them and truly understood that I came forth from You, and they believed that You sent Me. 9 "I ask on their behalf… 11 … keep them in Your name, the name which You have given Me, that they may be one even as We are.12 "While I was with them, I was keeping them in Your name which You have given Me; ….13 "But now I come to You… 14 "I have given them Your word; and the world has hated them… 15"I … ask You … to keep them from the evil one. …17 "Sanctify them in the truth; Your word is truth.18 "As You sent Me into the world, I also have sent them into the world. 19 "For their sakes I sanctify Myself, that they themselves also may be sanctified in truth.
Watch this prayer carefully. Part of what Jesus prays (as seen previously) refers to the word by which He had already cleansed (i.e., “bathed”) and kept His disciples. The other part prays for the Father to go on keeping and sanctifying them by His word after His departure. This latter praying is the prayer associated with the foot washing.
The disciples have already been bathed, but their feet will need to keep being cleansed as they walk through this hating world. But this is the truth they could not understand when He first literally washed their feet. Yet He is praying it now. It is the truth that through their ministry one to another, the Father may cleanse everyone’s feet even as they have all been totally bathed already.
The Lord’s final prayer of John 17 is an amazing recapitulation of all that transpires beginning in John 13 with the foot washing.
13:3 Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into His hands, and that He had come forth from God and was going back to God, 4 got up from supper, and laid aside His garments; and taking a towel, He girded Himself.
What do we read in the prayer?
17:1 … "Father, the hour has come; glorify Your Son, that the Son may glorify You, 2even as You gave Him authority over all flesh, that to all whom You have given Him, He may give eternal life.
After the foot washing, Jesus says,
3:31 … "Now is the Son of Man glorified, and God is glorified in Him; 32 if God is glorified in Him, God will also glorify Him in Himself, and will glorify Him immediately.
What do we read in the prayer?
17:4 "I glorified You on the earth, having accomplished the work which You have given Me to do. 5 "Now, Father, glorify Me together with Yourself, with the glory which I had with You before the world was.
What brilliant connections these are from the foot washing to the final prayer. But our point here is that the final prayer is therefore the key that reveals what Jesus meant by the foot washing which they could not understand in that moment.
After the foot washing, Jesus exhorts the disciples to love one another.
13:34 "A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. 35 "By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another."
And “foot washing” is how they are to do so! Not by physically washing one another’s feet (which is fine if the Spirit leads some to do this), but by washing one another’s “feet” with the “word” to help keep one another clean and without spot as we all stumble through this dirty world!
Even so, that oneness through cleanness is the closing objective of the final prayer:
17:19 "For their sakes I sanctify Myself, that they themselves also may be sanctified in truth. … 21that they may all be one; even as You, Father, are in Me and I in You, that they also may be in Us, so that the world may believe that You sent Me.
The Prophetic Ministry of Foot Washing
Are we starting to get this picture then?
The prophetic ministry is a ministry of true foot washing to the body of Christ. Prophets are servants who are given a basin filled with cleansing revelation and who gird themselves with towels to minister that revelation to the cleansing of the feet of the church on its trek through the filthy generations of this world.
There is much more for us to glean from this story of the foot washing. Perhaps for later.
But for now, let us receive the fuller understanding of this foot washing Jesus sent His Holy Spirit to impart to us.
Blessings to all the Royal Priesthood,
New Meadow Neck, Rhode Island
First Love Ministry
- a ministry of Anglemar Fellowship
BACK TO TOP
Page created December 18, 2017