John 13:1-17 1 Now before the feast of the passover, when Jesus knew that his hour was come that he should depart out of this world unto the Father, having loved his own which were in the world, he loved them unto the end. 2 And supper being ended, the devil having now put into the heart of Judas Iscariot, Simon's son, to betray him; 3 Jesus knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he was come from God, and went to God; 4 He riseth from supper, and laid aside his garments; and took a towel, and girded himself. 5 After that he poureth water into a bason, and began to wash the disciples' feet, and to wipe them with the towel wherewith he was girded. 6 Then cometh he to Simon Peter: and Peter saith unto him, Lord, dost thou wash my feet? 7 Jesus answered and said unto him, What I do thou knowest not now; but thou shalt know hereafter. 8 Peter saith unto him, Thou shalt never wash my feet. Jesus answered him, If I wash thee not, thou hast no part with me. 9 Simon Peter saith unto him, Lord, not my feet only, but also my hands and my head. 10 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. 11 For he knew who should betray him; therefore said he, Ye are not all clean. 12 So after he had washed their feet, and had taken his garments, and was set down again, he said unto them, Know ye what I have done to you? 13 Ye call me Master and Lord: and ye say well; for so I am. 14 If I then, your Lord and Master, have washed your feet; ye also ought to wash one another's feet. 15 For I have given you an example, that ye should do as I have done to you. 16 Verily, verily, I say unto you, The servant is not greater than his lord; neither he that is sent greater than he that sent him. 17 If ye know these things, happy are ye if ye do them.
In two previous feet-related texts I investigated from a more devotional nature. In John's account of Jesus washing His disciples' feet, I'd like to consider the timing of the feet washing. It is fairly common, perhaps nearly universal, among old-timey Baptists that observe washing the saints' feet in connection with the Lord's Supper to have the supper first and the feet washing last. I knew one Faithway Baptist minister who believed the feet washing occurred first but with deference followed the practice of his churches in observing it last. It is my conviction that the washing of the saints' feet precedes the bread and wine both chronologically and logically.
Chronologically. Some few writers, who appear determined to distance feet washing from communion, argue that the Jesus washing the disciples' feet does not occur on the same night as the Lord's Supper. While there may be some wondering, the full context of John 13 places the timing together. In his Harmony of the Gospels, A. T. Robertson writes, "It is not worth while to maintain that John in chapter 13 alludes to a different meal on a different occasion. The points of contact with the Synoptics are too sharp and clear, such as the sop given to Judas." (p. 281) Others remark that the feet washing occurred during the midst of the supper and should be thus translated (e.g. "so He got up from supper," HCSB). Because the King James and other English texts state "supper being ended," many consider the incident occurring after the institution of the Lord's Supper. While one cannot erase all doubts, there is a simple explanation that fits the text and harmonizes with the disciples singing an hymn and departing after the Lord's Supper. This is that the supper that was ended was the Passover supper, from whence Jesus constituted the New Testament supper of His body and blood. This fits theologically as well, for this was an ending of the old and installation of the new.
Logically. Not only does the actual incident precede the institution of the Lord's Supper chronologically, the symbols of its nature also logically precede it. Jesus, the Son of the Father in heaven, laid aside his beauty, glory and power, took on human flesh, and came to serve rather than be served. The ultimate end of that service was His death, giving His life and blood a ransom on the cross. He first laid aside His glory of deity and became man in the flesh, then offered His life. This is pictured vividly in the feet washing incident, as He lays His garments by and girds Himself with a towel and washes His disciples. One precedes the other, and how much fuller the lesson of these glorious symbols when they follow the order of Christ's mission!
Theologically and historically the incarnation precedes the crucifixion. Just as surely the symbols should agree with this fact.
Jesus washing His disciples' feet provided them (and us) an example to go and do likewise. It also paints a beautiful picture of a sovereign Lord who could not stoop too low to serve His people, but stepped out of heaven's glory fashioned as a man to serve, to be nailed to a cross, to give His life a ransom.
O how happy are they,
Who the Savior obey,
And whose treasure is laid up above!
Tongue can never express
The sweet comfort and peace
Of a soul in its earliest love.
--From "True Happiness" by Charles Wesley