John 13:1-17 Exploring the Passage

Below are some preliminary questions to assist in the study of this passage. For a comprehensive study of the passage, download the Study Guide (PDF download).

1. According to verses 3-4 (printed below), what knowledge did Jesus possess?

Knowing that the Father had put all things under his authority, and that he had come forth from God and was returning to God, (4) Jesus got up from the supper table and laid aside his robe. He took a towel and wrapped it around his waist. (John 13:3-4)

Jesus is described as undertaking this humble service of foot washing with complete consciousness of and confidence in His identity. Jesus knew that “the Father had put all things under his authority” (verse 3); the Father had made Him to be Lord over all. Jesus knew that “he had come forth from God” (verse 3); He was fully aware of His identity as the Son of God, fully aware of His deity and His divine dignity. Jesus knew that He was “returning to God” (verse 3); that is to say, via the cross and the resurrection, He would return to the presence of God and the divine glory He shared with the Father throughout all of eternity (note John 17:5)

2. Do you think His consciousness of His divine identity helped enable Jesus to undertake this humble act of service, or did it make it more difficult for Him to undertake this act?

In one sense, Jesus undertook this humble act of service despite His consciousness of His true identity as the eternal Son of God, the One possessing divine dignity and equality with God the Father (note Philippians 2:6). In another sense, Jesus was enabled to undertake this humble act of service because of His consciousness of His true identity: He knew that He was the eternal Son of God, possessing divine dignity and equality with God the Father. Consequently, this humble act of service was not a threat to Him: He did not suffer from a sense of insecurity or a fear of loss—He knew who He was and what the Father had given Him, and this knowledge and confidence gave Him the freedom to serve.

3. How does Peter react when it is time for him to submit to Jesus’ humble act of washing his feet? See John 13:6-8 (printed below)

So he came to Simon Peter, but Peter said to him, Lord, are you going to wash my feet? (7) Jesus replied, You do not now understand what I am doing; but later you will understand. (8) Peter said to him, You shall never wash my feet. Jesus answered him, If I do not wash you, you have no part with me. (John 13:6-8)

Peter is astonished and indignant: before him stoops the Lord of glory, half-naked, performing the task reserved for the most menial household slave—and Peter himself is the object of this act of service! (verse 6). Peter will not tolerate such a display of humility, he cannot conceive of himself being the recipient of such a service being performed by none other than the Son of God (verse 8).

4. Why do you think Peter initially reacted as he did? When Jesus tells Peter he must accept Christ’s humble act of service or else he will have no part in Christ, how does Peter respond (see John 13:9 printed below?) What does this tell us about Peter’s love for Jesus?

Simon Peter responded, Lord, not only my feet, but wash my hands and my head also. (John 13:9)

Peter was, no doubt, zealous to preserve his Lord’s dignity and prevent Him from degrading Himself. Peter also was too proud to allow himself to be the recipient of such humble service as that which his Lord now offered him. Jesus must now confront Peter with the truth: “If I do not wash you, you have no part with me.” (Joh13:8b) Jesus is declaring to Peter, “If you do not humble yourself to receive the foot washing (symbolic of the soul cleansing) I offer, you will have no part with Me in My kingdom.” At this point Peter blurts out, “Lord, not only my feet, but wash my hands and my head also!” (verse 9) Although he does not fully understand what Jesus is doing and all that it means, out of love for Jesus and not being able to bear even the thought of being separated from Jesus, Peter submits himself to Jesus’ humble ministry.

5. According to Luke 22:24 (printed below), what had the disciples been discussing among themselves shortly before the Passaover? What impact do you think Jesus’ humble act had upon them?

Also a dispute arose among them as to which of them was considered to be greatest. (Luke 22:24)

According to Luke 22:24, it was at this very time that the disciples had been disputing which one of them was the greatest. Now, with this dispute still in the air, the Lord Himself assumes the position of the most menial slave! The room must have been filled with absolute stillness. Suddenly, the disciples’ whole conception of greatness—their conception of the character and behavior of greatness—was shaken to its foundations as they witnessed the Lord of glory stooping down to perform the lowliest task of service. When He had finished washing their feet, Jesus declared, “You call me, Teacher, and, Lord: and you speak correctly; that is what I am. (14) If I then, the Lord and the Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. (15) I have given you an example, you also should do as I have done to you.’ (John 13:13-15)