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John 13:10 (NASB)

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.

What spiritual reality/truth is Jesus getting at by saying that those whose feet are washed are completely clean (no need to wash other parts of the body)? How is he connecting washing Peter’s feet with him being clean?

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John's gospel has:

Now before the Feast of the Passover, when Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart out of this world to the Father, having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end. (John 13:1, ESV)

The next action Jesus washed their feet. The finale, Jesus gave his life for us.

In 13:10 Jesus added the common custom of a servant washing feet of guest They washed their feet because they walked on dirt roads. That is what got dirty and all that needed washing. Jesus was emphasizing his action as that of a servant.

10 Jesus said to him, “The one who has bathed does not need to wash, except for his feet, but is completely clean. And you are clean, but not every one of you.” (John 13:10, ESV)

Of course Jesus gave a spiritual since to bathing. "Completely clean" would be fulfilled with his sacrifice.

13:9–11. The “bath” here presumably alludes to ceremonial washing that Jesus and the disciples had undergone before the feast (11:55), but Jesus applies it in a spiritual sense. This figurative sense of cleansing was common enough that the disciples should have been able to understand his meaning. -- Keener, C. S. (1993). The IVP Bible background commentary: New Testament (Jn 13:9–11). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.

But, the primary point Jesus sought to get across was to love by serving others.

Do you understand what I have done to you? 13 You call me Teacher and Lord, and you are right, for so I am. 14 If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. 15 For I have given you an example, that you also should do just as I have done to you. (John 13:12–15, ESV)

Later Jesus said:

A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. 35 By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:34–35, ESV)

This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. 13 Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends. (John 15:12–13, ESV)

Thus, while 13:10 has a secondary meaning of the disciples being cleaned by forgiveness of sins, its primary meaning is Christ showing is servant-like love as an example for us to follow.

Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. 4 Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. 5 Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, 6 who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, 7 but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. 8 And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. (Phil. 2:3–8, ESV)

Appendix: References for custom of washing feet

Custom required a kiss of greeting, usually on the face. After the guests were seated on stools around the broad U-shaped dining couch, called a triclinium, water and olive oil would be brought for the washing of hands and feet. Only then could the grace be offered. -- Bailey, K. E. (2008). Jesus through Middle Eastern Eyes: Cultural Studies in the Gospels (p. 242). Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic.

44 Then turning toward the woman he said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I entered your house; you gave me no water for my feet, but she has wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. 45 You gave me no kiss, but from the time I came in she has not ceased to kiss my feet. 46 You did not anoint my head with oil, but she has anointed my feet with ointment. 47 Therefore I tell you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven—for she loved much. But he who is forgiven little, loves little.” (Luke 7:44–47, ESV)

13:5. Foot-washing was needed in Palestine. The streets were dusty and people wore sandals without socks or stockings. It was a mark of honor for a host to provide a servant to wash a guest’s feet; it was a breach of hospitality not to provide for it (cf. 1 Sam. 25:41; Luke 7:40–50; 1 Tim. 5:10). Wives often washed their husbands’ feet, and children washed their parents’ feet. Most people, of course, had to wash their own feet. -- Blum, E. A. (1985). John. In J. F. Walvoord & R. B. Zuck (Eds.), The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures (Vol. 2, p. 320). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.

After travelers had come a long distance, the host was to provide water for their feet as a sign of hospitality, as exemplified by Abraham (Gen 18:4). Yet loosing sandals and personally washing someone else’s feet was considered servile, most commonly the work of a servant or of very submissive wives or children (cf. also 1 Sam 25:41). (Travelers’ sandals would not be covered in dung, as some scholars have suggested. Side roads were very dusty; the main streets of Jerusalem, however, would have been kept as clean as the city could make them, especially the Upper City, where Jesus ate this Passover meal.) Jesus’ removing his outer garments to serve them would also appear as a sign of great humility before them. -- Keener, C. S. (1993). The IVP Bible background commentary: New Testament (Jn 13:3–8). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.

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There was much more to Jesus washing His disciples’ feet than merely their physical cleansing. He was giving them an example of humility that they were supposed to follow (see note 9 at John 13:15), but this was also illustrating a spiritual lesson on cleansing from sin.

Two different Greek words are used for “wash” and “washed” in this verse. The word used for “wash” in John 13:5-6, 8, and this verse is “NIPTO,” and it is the Greek word used in the New Testament to denote “washing part of the body” (Vine’s Expository Dictionary) such as the hands or feet (e.g., Matthew 15:2 and Mark 7:3). A different Greek word, “LOUO,” was translated “washed” in this verse, and it signifies “to bathe, to wash the body” (Vine’s Expository Dictionary).

Jesus was saying that just as those who have just bathed don’t need another bath when only their feet have gotten dusty, so believers who have received eternal redemption (Hebrews 9:12) only need an external cleansing from the contact they have had with the world.

Peter’s desire to be cleansed from head to toe was commendable but misdirected. In the symbolism that Jesus was using, anyone who has confessed Jesus as Lord (Matthew 16:16 and Romans 10:9) has already been cleansed of sin once and for all (Hebrews 10:10-14 and 12:23). Our spirits have been sanctified and perfected forever, but our bodies and souls can be defiled by sin and need to be cleansed throughout our earthly lives. This is done by confessing and turning from that sin (1 John 1:9).

As seen in John 13:11, this was a reference to Judas, the betrayer. The ministry of Jesus to His disciples had cleansed them, and they were completely clean. However, Judas was not cleansed, because of his rejection of Jesus.

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  • Judas didn’t “reject” Jesus, he betrayed him. He wanted to test Jesus’ Messiahship, by delivering him into the hands of his enemies. Aug 4, 2021 at 7:47
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The principles that Jesus enacted in John 13, He had often stated elsewhere:

Principle #1- servant leadership

  • Mark 10:43 - But it shall not be this way among you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant,
  • Mark 10:44 - and whoever desires to become first among you will be slave of all.
  • Matt 20:26 - It shall not be this way among you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant,
  • Matt 20:27 - and whoever wants to be first among you must be your slave—
  • Matt 23:11 - The greatest among you shall be your servant.
  • Mark 9:35 - Sitting down, Jesus called the Twelve and said, “If anyone wants to be first, he must be the last of all and the servant of all.”
  • Luke 22:26 - But you shall not be like them. Instead, the greatest among you should be like the youngest, and the one who leads like the one who serves.

Principle #2 - regeneration = Washing

  • 1 Cor 6:11 - And that is what some of you were. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified, in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.
  • Ps 51:7, 10, 11 - Purify me with hyssop, and I will be clean; wash me, and I will be whiter than snow. ... Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me. Cast me not away from Your presence; take not Your Holy Spirit from me.
  • Acts 22:16 - And now what are you waiting for? Get up, be baptized, and wash your sins away, calling on His name.’
  • Eph 5:26 - to sanctify her [the church], cleansing her by the washing with water through the word,
  • Heb 10:22 - let us draw near with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and our bodies washed with pure water.
  • Rev 7:14 - “Sir,” I answered, “you know.” So he replied, “These are the ones who have come out of the great tribulation; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.

See also the significance of the washing at the pool of Siloam in John 9 and the discussion with Nicodemus in John 3 about being born of water.

Jesus summarized these two principles with His concluding remarks after washing the disciples' feet:

John 13:12-17 - “Do you know what I have done for you? You call Me Teacher and Lord, and rightly so, because I am. So if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. I have set you an example so that you should do as I have done for you. Truly, truly, I tell you, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. If you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them.

Thus, three times here Jesus asks the disciples to imitate his actions.

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The ceremony of baptism is the precursor to the ceremony of footwashing. Both represent cleansing from sin, but in a slightly different sense.

Baptism

These five verses each teach that baptism represents a repentance and cleansing from sin, just as a water bath cleanses us of soil and dirt.

And were baptized of him in Jordan, confessing their sins. (Matthew 3:6, KJV)

John did baptize in the wilderness, and preach the baptism of repentance for the remission of sins. (Mark 1:4; KJV)

And he came into all the country about Jordan, preaching the baptism of repentance for the remission of sins; (Luke 3:3, KJV)

Then Peter said unto them, Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost. (Acts 2:38, KJV)

And now why tarriest thou? arise, and be baptized, and wash away thy sins, calling on the name of the Lord. (Acts 22:16, KJV)

Footwashing

Footwashing began as part of the sanctuary service. It was a requirement of priests before they would enter the holy places, lest they should defile them by tracking in dust upon their feet.

Thou shalt also make a laver of brass, and his foot also of brass, to wash withal: and thou shalt put it between the tabernacle of the congregation and the altar, and thou shalt put water therein. For Aaron and his sons shall wash their hands and their feet thereat: . . . So they shall wash their hands and their feet, that they die not: and it shall be a statute for ever to them, even to him and to his seed throughout their generations. (Exodus 30:18-19,21, KJV)

The dust represented anything that defiles, i.e. sin and sinfulness, and needed to be washed away before coming into the presence of God.

Jesus' Instruction

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, KJV)

This ceremony, in addition to the partaking of the bread and wine of the last supper, fulfilled multiple purposes at once.

  1. Those who are baptized have been "washed." Their entire body has been washed, symbolizing that they have dedicated their lives to Christ. Those who are thus following Christ must still walk through the dusty roads of this world, and the footwashing symbolizes a renewed commitment to Christ by washing away that which has begun to soil the soul (sole) again.

  2. The act of washing the feet of one another helps to keep us humble. We yield up our pride to minister to another in this way. We also acknowledge our own need of cleansing and reconsecration to God by allowing someone else to wash our feet.

  3. This act of humility promotes unity.

  4. This service helps to remind us of how Jesus humbled himself, coming down to our level to minister to us.

  5. Combined with the bread and wine of the communion service, which represent Jesus' body as the Bread of Life and his blood as the atonement for our sins, the entire ordinance replaces the Passover service as a memorial of Christ's sacrifice for us.

The New Covenant

Likewise also the cup after supper, saying, This cup is the new testament in my blood, which is shed for you. (Luke 22:20, KJV)

This New Covenant takes the place of the Old Covenant; the Levitical priesthood is replaced by a new kingdom of priests--a royal priesthood. It is royal, because Christ, at its head as our great High Priest, is also our King.

A Royal Priesthood

But ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, peculiar people; that ye should shew forth the praises of him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvellous light; (1 Peter 2:9, KJV)

Just as the priests of old were required to wash their feet before entering the Holy Place to minister with the bread and blood of sacrifice--which pointed forward to Christ, so now, in the new testament era, Christians are to wash their feet before partaking of these emblems in solemn memory of Christ's sacrifice.

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It symbolizes Confession and sacramental absolution. "Bathed" is a reference to Baptism, "not a removal of dirt from the body, but an appeal to a clean conscience before God."

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