We noted in our study of John 13:1 that the mention of a specific hour of Christ’s departure from this world indicates that our Lord was sovereign over His death. That point of sovereignty we find again in today’s passage, where we read that the Father gave all things into the hands of the Son (v. 3). As we study our Lord’s passion over the next few months, it will be important for us to remember that Christ remained in control of His fate at all times. The executioners had authority over Him to put Him to death only insofar as God granted it to them (19:11).
Furthermore, the death of Christ as part of the divinely ordained plan for our salvation does not absolve the participants who crucified Him of their guilt. Jesus was delivered up to death, but the men who killed Him were “lawless” (Acts 2:22–23). They were not seeking to fulfill God’s ends; they were pursuing their own will. This applies also to Judas, whom the devil inspired to betray Jesus (John 13:2). Judas was no passive actor forced to hand Jesus over to the authorities. He was an eager conspirator in our Savior’s death.
The remainder of today’s passage describes the foot washing that took place just prior to the last meal that Jesus enjoyed with His disciples before His crucifixion. The disciples would have all been reclining on thin mats around the table, each leaning on his left arm, when Jesus washed their feet (vv. 3–5). When people traveled the dusty roads of ancient Palestine in sandals, their feet would get dirty, and a servant commonly washed the feet of guests before they joined the master of a house for a meal. But most Jews saw this task as demeaning, so it was given only to the most menial of servants. Thus, Peter objected to Jesus’ action because he thought it not worthy of Him (vv. 6–8a).
Simon Peter finally accepted Jesus’ response that washing by Him is necessary to be His disciple, but Peter said his whole body, then, should be washed (vv. 8b–9). Jesus did not deny this need for a full washing, but He said that if one’s body has been washed, one is completely clean except that only the feet periodically need to be washed (vv. 10–11). The reference here is to the twofold washing Christ provides. When we are converted, we are decisively cleansed from sin such that we enjoy salvation permanently. Yet, Christians continue to sin and need cleansing of that sin. Postconversion sin does not so dirty us that it makes us kingdom outcasts, but it still needs to be dealt with (1 John 1:8–10).