Jesus saith to him, He that is washed needeth not save to wash his feet, but is clean every whit: and ye are clean, but not all. (John 13:10)
On the evening before His crucifixion, Jesus celebrated Passover with His disciples. The Apostle John records in his Gospel that Jesus “laid aside his garments; and took a towel, and girded himself” (John 13:4) and proceeded to wash the feet of His disciples.
In those days, the majority of travel was done on foot. The footwear of the day protected only the sole of the feet leaving the rest of the feet exposed to the elements. Most of the roads were no more than dirt trails so that feet collected a good amount of road dirt.
It was customary for the host of a house to welcome the traveler by washing the road dirt off their feet. This task was assigned to the lowest servant or the youngest member of the household. For whatever reason, no one performed the customary foot washing at this house, perhaps because it was a private gathering not hosted by the homeowner.
Whatever the reason, Jesus chose this time to give an object lesson. Jesus rose from the table, removed his outer garment, took a towel, and some water, and performed the task of the lowliest servant. Jesus washed all of the disciples’ feet, but when he got to Peter, Peter protested. “Lord, dost thou wash my feet?” (John 13:6). Peter was not being “holier than thou,” in his refusal to have Jesus wash his feet. Perhaps, as he watched Jesus wash the other’s feet, he thought, “Why didn’t someone else do that? The Master should not be the one doing that! Maybe I should be the one washing feet.” Whatever may have crossed his mind, it was obvious that he was humiliated that his Lord should lower Himself to that position.
“Jesus answered and said unto him, What I do thou knowest not now; but thou shalt know hereafter” (John 13:7). We seldom know what God is doing in our lives when we go through trials, but when we look back on our lives, we can see how God directed our circumstances for our good. Peter did not get the lesson; “Thou shalt never wash my feet. Jesus answered him, If I wash thee not, thou hast no part with me. Simon Peter saith unto him, Lord, not my feet only, but also my hands and my head. Jesus saith to him, He that is washed needeth not save to wash his feet, but is clean every whit: and ye are clean, but not all.” (John 13:8-10).
Jesus washed all of the disciples’ feet. They did not need a bath; only their feet needed washing, but Jesus said not all were clean. The unclean one to whom Jesus referred as Judas Iscariot who would betray Him. It’s not that Judas failed to take his Sabbath Day mikvah; Jesus referred to Judas’ spiritual condition, not his physical cleanliness. Therefore, the significance of the foot-washing act goes deeper than road grime.
The disciples were “clean” because they believed that Jesus was their expected Messiah. When Jesus had asked, “Whom do you say that I am?” Peter confessed, “Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Matthew 16:16). The key to salvation (i.e., cleansing) is “That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved” (Romans 10:9). Obviously, Judas had not believed: therefore, he was not clean.
As we traveled to Washington, D.C. for the Franklin Graham 2020 Prayer March last week, this topic came up in our conversation. My brother Eli made a very interesting analogy applicable to the Church today. Like Jesus’ disciples (and we too are disciples) we walk around in this filthy world every day, and the grime of the world cannot help but stick to our “spiritual feet.” Then, every time we gather for worship and fellowship, we have the opportunity to wash each other’s feet. We do not need a bath because the Bible says that “ye are washed, but ye are sanctified, but ye are justified in the name of the Lord Jesus, and by the Spirit of our God” (1 Corinthians 6:11). Our “spiritual” feet only need washing. Therefore, the Bible encourages us to gather together. “Let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience, and our bodies washed with pure water … Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is; but exhorting one another: and so much the more, as ye see the day approaching.” (Hebrews 10:22, 25, emphasis mine). Our gathering together is the way we wash each other’s feet by praying for each other and encouraging one another in the faith.
Another parallel that can be drawn from this account is that not all are clean. The twelve apostles walked with Jesus for three years of His earthly ministry, yet one of them was lost, i.e., not clean, the entire time. In the same way, not all within the Church are all saved. Some practice all the “right things” on the outside, but inwardly they have not truly believed. Jesus referred to these as “tares.” When He returns for His Bride, the Church, these will be left behind. For now, feet only need washing if you have placed your trust in Jesus Christ. If not, you need a bath. If you are not sure of your standing before God, please read my page on “Securing Eternal Life.”