This article is a Bible study on John 13.

Source: The Banner of Sovereign Grace Truth, 2016. 3 pages.

John 13 – The Form of a Servant

As the Word made flesh, Christ understood how to make the deepest things visible and concrete. In the miracles He performed He showed His mercy, His power, and His glory. If you had seen the water turned to wine, you would have seen His power. If you had seen the long-time lame man start to walk, you would have known what Christ’s mercy looked like. How then could He make God’s love for sinners visible? Paul says: “But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom. 5:6). Paul understood that Christ’s death on the cross is the greatest demonstration of God’s divine love for sinners.

Of the twelve disciples, it seems to have been John who best understood the love of Christ. Not only is he called the disciple “whom Jesus loved” (v. 23), but he basked in that love. We are told that he leaned on Jesus’ bosom at the last Supper (v. 23). He knew the quiet confidence of the mind of Christ and a deep love for Him in his heart.

John watched very closely as Christ prepared His dis­ciples for His death. Nothing close to this infinite miracle had ever happened before. It’s true that the Old Testament had prophesied Christ’s suffering and death; yet, we all would have wondered: what will it all look like? So on the eve of His death, Christ did something very special to show His abiding and deep love to His people.

The Foot Washing🔗

Jesus and the twelve were together in the upper room Supper was done. The devil was also present, having put into Judas’s heart the resolve to betray Christ (v. 2). All of a sudden, Christ got up, took off His outer garments, girded Himself with servant garb, and started washing and wiping His disciples’ feet. A hush must have come over the whole room while the Savior did this. It was quiet until He came to Peter. Peter had to say something: “Lord, dost thou wash my feet?” (v. 6). Peter resisted having his feet washed by his Lord, but Christ told him that though he didn’t understand it all now, he would later. When Jesus explained that being washed like this symbolizes belonging to Christ (v. 8), Peter quickly swung to the opposite extreme, wanting to be washed head to toe. Christ, meanwhile, patiently reassured Peter that since he was in principle already clean, he only needed to have his feet washed. Apparently Christ even washed Judas’s feet, a poignant scene    of how  low Christ stooped towards His betrayer.

All this would be a powerful picture on its own; however, when you connect it with what Christ would do on the cross, you see deeper significance still. Christ’s whole mission was made visible here in the upper room. While Himself in the bosom of the Father (John 1:18), Christ determined to lay aside His glory and take to Himself the form of a servant. He assumed a human body and a human soul, in their weak­ness and frailty (Phil. 2:6-8). He would be born in abject poverty and live a life in which He would be despised and rejected, looked down upon, and afflicted. Everyone else by nature wants to climb up the ladder of prestige and power; Christ climbed down the ladder all the way to the lowest of the low. He came not to be served, but to serve (see Mark 10:45). He came alongside His disciples, including Judas. He stooped to the level of their dirty feet in order to wash them. As He did so, the dirt would be washed away and they would be clean — except for Judas. Though Judas partook of the sign, he didn’t enter into its significance.

It was the Passover feast, the time that recalled the deliv­erance of the Israelite slaves from Egypt. God had come down and delivered Israel that they might serve Him. By leading the people through the Red Sea and later through the Jordan River, it is as if He cleansed them and made them new. They would have a part with Him in the land of Canaan. They would inherit territory, which they didn’t deserve and had not earned. But He prepared it for them and them for it. Every step they would take would be because of God’s deliverance of them. Likewise, in the upper room, the disciples of Christ would enter into a new inheritance through Christ. They would follow in His steps. They would partake of Him (v.8).

Christ went on to explain how this should guide their behavior into the future. In His kingdom, everyone serves one another and no one is greater than another. He had given them an example and commanded them to do to each other as He had done to them (vv.12-17).

Betrayal and Denial🔗

Christ showed such deep, full, and unconditional love to His disciples; and yet, John made clear that two of His disciples added greatly to Christ’s suffering: Peter and Judas. Both had followed Christ for years. They were Christ’s friends. He had taught them, provided for them, confided in them, and trusted them.

The passage makes us feel how deep the suffering of Christ was at this point. In verse 18, John quotes Psalm 41:9, which reads: “Yea, mine own familiar friend, in whom I trusted, which did eat of my bread, hatch lifted up his heel against me. He that eateth bread with me hath lifted up his heel against me.” This psalm is likely set in the events of David’s dethronement by his son Absalom, specifically when David’s friend and advisor, Ahithophel, went over to Absalom’s camp (2 Sam. 15:31). Betrayal like this, especially by a close friend, always cuts into our hearts and leaves a wound. The closer a person was to you and the more you confided in him, the deeper the pain if he turns against you. It stays with you. More than that, it has spiritual effects because your trust has been broken. How can you trust again? Christ knew this pain.

Secondly, John shows explicitly how troubling this was for Jesus: “When Jesus had thus said, he was troubled in spirit, and testified, and said, Verily, verily, I say unto you, that one of you shall betray me” (v. 21). There must have been obvious anguish in His face and voice, and in His whole demeanor. Christ knows the anguish that comes with betrayal and loss, grief and rejection. He certainly knew that anguish when He looked over Jerusalem and knew what path they chose (Luke 19:41-44).

Do not forget that Judas was not the only disciple that would cause Christ suffering. Peter would as well. Though Peter had good intentions, he would disappoint himself greatly. He had such high ambition: “Lord, why cannot I follow thee now? I will lay down my life for thy sake” (v. 37). He wanted to die for his Master; however, his Master would die for him instead. That’s what the foot-washing was all about. As we will see some chapters later, Peter will not be left to himself, thankfully. He was a part of Christ. When he couldn’t hold on to Christ in his own strength, Christ would hold on to Peter.

Thus John unfolds the coming death of Christ against the scene of conflict. Satan goes about as a roaring lion. He sifts believers like Peter. However, Christ came as the Servant of the Lord, and did not despise taking the place of a servant for the likes of Peter or Judas. His love and glory shine brightly as He girds Himself still in the preaching of the gospel and washes sinners through His Word, applied by the Holy Spirit. The Spirit cleanses lost sinners like Peter and makes them partakers of Christ. Satan may rage, but it is vain against the one who has said: “None shall snatch any out of my hand” (10:28-29).


  1. What is the main lesson Christ teaches in the foot washing? Is there also an example here for us (see v. 14)?
  2. What significance is there in the fact that Peter swung so wildly from one extreme to another (vv. 6-10)?
  3. What did it mean that Christ would have washed Judas’s feet? How might He still do the equivalent today with hardened sinners?
  4. What sorts of things might believers not know now, but they will know hereafter (see v. 7)?
  5. Compare verse 20 with Matthew 25:35-41. How can we make this practical in our lives?
  6. How is the sin of Judas different from that of Peter? What is the difference between these two men?

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