What Lessons Can We Learn From Jesus Washing Feet In John 13:1-17?

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Published by Kimberly Wall


Co-Founder, Disciple Group Leader, Author

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During the Passover festival, Jesus performed the ritual of foot washing and washed the feet of his disciples in what is now known as the Last Supper.

At the time, foot washing was a common practice before entering someone’s home. However, it was usually performed by servants and lowly individuals.

By performing the footwashing ceremony for his disciples, Jesus demonstrated that even though he was their teacher and leader [1], he considered himself their servant too. He wanted to show them that they should serve one another with love and humility, just as he had served them.

This selfless act of humility and service foreshadowed the ultimate act of service that Jesus would perform for humanity—his sacrificial death on the cross for our sins.

Jesus Washes His Disciples’ Feet: Biblical Context

He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, “Lord, are you going to wash my feet?” Jesus replied, “You do not realize now what I am doing, but later you will understand.” “No,” said Peter, “you shall never wash my feet.” Jesus answered, “Unless I wash you, you have no part with me.”

— John 13:6–8

Foot washing was a common ritual practice in ancient times, especially in the Middle East. It was considered a sign of hospitality and respect for guests.

During the Last Supper, just before Jesus was arrested, he performed the foot-washing ritual to teach his disciples about humility and service. This act of forgiveness surprised them because it was usually done by servants or low-ranking individuals, not by a teacher or leader like Jesus. However, Jesus used this opportunity to emphasize the importance of footwashing as a symbol of serving others with humility.

By performing the foot-washing ritual with his disciples, Jesus demonstrated the importance of forgiveness and humility. Peter initially resisted having his feet washed, but Jesus explained that it was necessary for him to fully participate in the ritual, to which Simon Peter replied: “Then, Lord, not just my feet but my hands and my head as well!” Jesus answered that only his feet need to be washed because he is already “clean.”

Even Judas Iscariot, who would later betray Jesus, received the same act of kindness. Jesus knew in advance who would betray him, but he did not hesitate to wash Judas’ feet. Jesus himself hinted at this, saying: “Those who have had a bath need only to wash their feet; their whole body is clean. And you are clean, though not every one of you.”

Through this simple deed, Jesus showed that no task is too small for a leader to perform if it helps others, and that serving others with love and compassion is the ultimate goal. In John 13:14–15, Jesus says, “Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you.”

This act has become an important symbol of Christian faith and forgiveness, and it is often reenacted during Holy Week services in many denominations around the world. It serves as a reminder to Christians of the importance of serving others with humility and love.

illustration of jesus washing feet of disciples

Symbolism Of Jesus Washing Feet Of His Disciples

As we have learned, one of the most profound acts of humility in the Holy Bible was when Jesus washed his disciples’ feet with water. In John 13:1–17, Jesus demonstrated servant leadership by performing a task that was usually reserved for servants or slaves. By washing their feet with water, he showed his disciples that no job was too lowly or menial for him to do.

The symbolism behind this act was powerful. In ancient times, people wore sandals and walked on dusty roads, so it was customary to wash one’s dirty feet with water before entering a home.

Foot washing was also seen as an act of hospitality and respect in the church. However, when Jesus washed his disciples’ feet, he went beyond these cultural norms to teach them a lesson about humility and service.

Through this act of foot washing in the church with water, Jesus taught his disciples about the importance of serving others. He said in John 13:14–15, “If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet with water in the church, 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.”

Jesus Washing The Disciples’ Feet: Spiritual Cleansing

In a way, foot-washing represents the cleansing of sin and forgiveness through the power of the Holy Spirit. Just as our feet become dirty from walking on dusty roads and need to be cleaned regularly, our souls also get soiled with sin.

The cleansing power of foot washing is similar to that of baptism. Baptism symbolizes the washing away of our sins and being reborn in Christ. Foot-washing represents the ongoing process of sanctification after baptism—the continuous effort to purify ourselves from sin and strive towards holiness.

Through footwashing, Jesus showed that he came to serve sinners and saints alike. He did not discriminate based on social status or moral standing but offered his love and grace to all who were willing to receive it.

What We Can Learn From Jesus’ Example

Demonstration Of Humility And Service

Jesus, as a servant leader, demonstrated humility and service to his disciples by washing their feet. This act of selflessness is recorded in the Bible and serves as a powerful example for the church to follow. By taking on the role of a servant, Jesus exemplified sacrificial love that went beyond words. He showed that true greatness comes from serving others, not from seeking power or status within the church.

In today’s church world, humility is often seen as a weakness rather than a strength. People tend to equate it with submission or a lack of confidence. However, Jesus’ example shows us that humility is actually an essential part of being a servant leader. It involves putting others before oneself and recognizing their needs above one’s own. Just like how Jesus humbly washed the feet of his disciples, we too should serve others with a humble heart.

Serving Others

Through his act of washing his disciples’ feet, Jesus challenged his followers in the church to serve one another in love. He knew that they would face many challenges and temptations as they carried out their mission to spread the gospel message throughout the world. Therefore, he wanted them to be grounded in a spirit of humility and service that would enable them to overcome any obstacle in the church.

The church today can learn much from Jesus’ example when it comes to serving others. We are called to be servants of God who wash the feet of others, seeking first His kingdom and righteousness (Matthew 6:33). This means putting aside our own agendas and desires for the sake of others.

True Greatness Comes From Serving Others

Jesus taught his disciples that true greatness in the church comes from serving others with love. In Mark 10:43–45, he said, “Whoever wants to become great among you must wash the feet of others as their servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

As Christians and members of the church, we are called to follow Christ’s example of sacrificial love and service. This means putting others first, even when it costs us something. It means being willing to wash the feet of our brothers and sisters, laying down our lives for the sake of the gospel message and the advancement of God’s kingdom.

Applying The Lessons Of Jesus’ Example Today

Washing feet is a powerful symbol of love and respect for others, as demonstrated by Jesus when he washed the feet of his disciples. This act teaches us an important lesson about humility and serving others. In today’s world, we can apply this lesson by finding ways to serve those in need.

Foot washing may not be a common practice today, but there are many ways we can serve others. Volunteering at a local food bank or homeless shelter, donating to charities that support those in need, or simply helping a neighbor with their groceries are all examples of how we can put this lesson into practice.

In some cultures, foot washing is still practiced as a sign of hospitality and respect. For example, in some Middle Eastern countries, it is customary to wash guests’ feet before they enter the home. By learning about these cultural practices and respecting them, we can show our willingness to serve and put others first.

Foot washing is also symbolic of love and respect for others. When Jesus washed the feet of his disciples, he was demonstrating his love for them even though they were not worthy. This act taught them an important lesson about selflessness and humility.

Today, we can demonstrate our love for others by showing kindness and compassion. We can listen attentively when someone needs to talk or offer words of encouragement when someone is feeling down. These small acts of kindness can have a big impact on someone’s life.

A Profound Message Of Love And Humility

Jesus washing his disciples’ feet is a powerful example of humility and service. In those times, washing someone’s feet was considered a lowly task, reserved for servants or slaves. However, Jesus performed this act himself, showing his disciples that no task is beneath them if it serves others with love. This profound message teaches us to put aside our pride and ego and serve others with humility.

This act of love also exemplifies the gospel’s teachings on compassion and kindness. By washing his disciples’ feet, Jesus showed them that he cared for their physical well-being. This gesture was not only an act of cleanliness but also one of care, concern, and affection. It reminds us to treat everyone with kindness, regardless of their social status or background.

By washing his disciples’ feet, Jesus teaches us to prioritize others’ needs above our own. He shows us that true leadership involves serving others with a pure heart rather than seeking power or control over them. This message is especially relevant in today’s world, where we often focus on our own needs rather than those around us.

Above all else, the message behind Jesus washing feet is one of love. His actions demonstrate selflessness and unconditional love for his disciples. Through this simple yet profound act, Jesus taught us how to love one another unconditionally without expecting anything in return.

black and white photo of two pairs of feet soaking in water


The act of Jesus washing his disciples’ feet carries a profound message that transcends time and place. It is a symbol of humility, service, and love that challenges us to follow in his footsteps.

Through this simple yet powerful gesture, Jesus teaches us the importance of putting others before ourselves and serving with selflessness. We are reminded that true greatness lies in serving others rather than seeking power or recognition for ourselves.

Today, we can apply these lessons by embodying Christ’s example in our daily lives. We can practice humility by putting others first, serving with sincerity, and loving people regardless of their background or status.

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