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John 13 records some of the final lessons Jesus taught His disciples the evening before His crucifixion. One of the most powerful teachings Christ left with us was the example He set by washing the feet of His disciples.
After the last meal Jesus shared with His disciples, He rose from his seat and began to wash the disciples’ feet. Since Peter understood Jesus was the prophesied Messiah and the Son of God, he did not understand why Jesus was acting like a lowly servant and asked Him why He was doing it.
Jesus explained He knew Peter would not immediately comprehend why He was washing his feet, but with time Peter would understand the profound significance of His actions (John 13:7). Peter continued to protest, declaring: “Lord, you shall never wash my feet,” but Christ’s response: “If I do not wash you, you have no part with me,” caused Peter to change his attitude insisting: “Lord, not my feet only, but my hands and my head also.”
Peter’s reaction was reminiscent of the time Jesus had told the disciples He would go to Jerusalem to suffer and be killed, then be raised from the dead the third day. Peter had vehemently protested then as well, letting his Master know he would never let that happen, but Jesus had corrected him explaining those who would follow Him must learn to deny themselves (Matthew 16:21-28).
This lesson was also emphasised on the way to Capernaum, when Peter and the disciples began arguing about who would be the greatest in the Kingdom of God under Christ. Jesus intervened, telling them if a person wanted to lead, he must humble himself and become the servant of all, using a child as an example (Matthew 18:1-6).
When Jesus finished washing the disciples’ feet, He asked: “Do you know what I have done to you? … If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example, that you should do as I have done to you... a servant is not greater than his master; nor is He who is sent greater than He who sent Him” (John 13:12-15). Jesus had provided the 12 with an incredible example of humility and service, lowering Himself to the position of a slave and washing the feet of His disciples.
Jesus also emphasised the need for service in leadership. When the mother of James and John requested her sons sit at Christ’s right and left hand in His Kingdom, Christ replied that gentile kings lord it over their subjects, but His disciples should not follow this example. They were not to be concerned with greatness or position, but to focus on serving others (Matthew 18:1-4).
After Jesus washed the disciples’ feet on the night He was betrayed, He went on to explain this attitude of selfless love and service would show others they were truly His followers: “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; as I have loved you.... By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another" (verses 34-35). This was the last lesson Christ would teach His disciples before He would painfully die on the cross to deliver us from our sins (verses 26-30).
Jesus’ actions and words just before He was crucified helped the disciples to see that following Jesus Christ isn’t a position of power and authority, but a life of willing service. It requires a person to be humble, putting the needs of others first.
Beyond Today magazine