Besides humility and service, Jesus’ act of washing his disciples’ feet also represents his love and forgiveness. Through his action and the words that accompanied them, Jesus was essentially telling his disciples that he knew who they were, that they were good men, though not perfect, but that he loved and forgave them nonetheless.
- v10 Jesus said to him, “He who has bathed needs only to wash his feet; otherwise he is completely clean. And you are clean—but not all of you.”
They did not understand what he was doing then. Later, after Peter has denied Jesus and the other disciples with the exception of John have abandoned him, they would understand the symbolic and prophetic meaning of his words and actions that night. Though Jesus has not yet returned to console them, they would remember his words and the washing of their feet and understand that they have already been forgiven.
If the text ends at verse 10, it would mean that Jesus was speaking about the disciples only as individuals and saying that each of them were “clean”, but not all over. Verse 11, however, adds a different layer of meaning.
- v11 For He knew the one who was betraying Him; it was for this reason that He said, “Not all of you are clean.”
Thus Jesus' words also apply to the disciples as a whole and reveal that all of them were “clean”, except one. Rather than prophetic, the meaning of his words was immediately applicable since Judas was already plotting to betray him. However, this fact was unknown to the other disciples at the time and again would only become clear to them later.
As a final thought, Peter’s initial refusal to have his feet washed by Jesus was, I think, a genuinely humble response. However, it also showed that he had not yet understood what Jesus was trying to teach them about leadership - about the love, mercy, humble service and sacrifice that it entails. Only later, when Peter has learned this lesson, would he be ready to follow in Jesus’ footsteps.
- v36 Simon Peter said to Him, “Lord, where are You going?” Jesus answered, “Where I am going, you cannot follow Me now; but you will follow later.”