Our Savior, Jesus Christ, left us with many lessons to ponder as we study His final evening in the flesh. That Passover evening involved new, powerful symbols that go to the heart of what it means to be a Christian. Of profound importance as we examine ourselves during this Passover season, is recognizing that Jesus Christ asks nothing of us that He was not willing to experience Himself.
On the night before Christ died, He oversaw the final Passover He would share with His disciples before His crucifixion. In addition to instituting the powerful symbols of bread and wine, He also directed His apostles to practice a new ceremony—the washing of each other’s feet. Until this time, foot washing was a task only the lowest of servants performed. Christ took this humbling action and made it part of the sobering annual Passover service.
There are many lessons to be gleaned from the foot-washing ceremony, but in this article we will focus on one specific action Jesus Christ took that evening. Before we draw the lesson, however, we must first understand just who Jesus Christ was and the historic events that preceded His final Passover.
God’s Ancient Plan
The Bible tells us that in the very beginning Christ, as the “Word” or Logos, was alongside the One we now call the Father, even before creation: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God” (John 1:1). In Their eternal existence together, God and the Word—who was later to become the Son of God—crafted a magnificent plan through which They would expand Their Family. The plan called for the creation of children who would have the opportunity to develop the godly character necessary to one day join the full, spiritual Family of God (1 John 3:2)!
However, developing godly character would necessitate forgiveness for God’s physical children, who would certainly sin under Satan’s influence. For this reason, They determined that there would need to be a “Savior”—someone who would take the sins of mankind on Himself so that humanity could be forgiven (John 1:29) and “washed clean” from their inevitable transgressions of God’s law. The Bible tells us that this Savior, Jesus Christ, was actually “slain from the foundation of the world” (Revelation 13:8). In fact, the Bible even shows us that Christ’s eventual death for mankind was planned “before time began”—demonstrating how ancient this plan of salvation really is (2 Timothy 1:9)! As Christ introduced the new symbols of the Passover and led His disciples in them, He was implementing a plan that He and our Father in Heaven had laid out long before!
Was Judas Part of God’s Plan?
Christ, as the Word, inspired the Old Testament prophecies about Himself. He even inspired prophecies of His betrayal by one of His own (Psalm 41:9; 109:6–9) and predicted that His betrayer would commit this act for 30 pieces of silver (Zechariah 11:12–13).
Christ knew from the beginning of His ministry—from the beginning of time—that one of His apostles would need to betray Him. He had prophesied that it would be so! Might this have been one of the things He prayed about the night before He selected His apostles (Luke 6:12–13)? Jesus would select one apostle with a character flaw that would eventually lead to his succumbing to Satan’s deceptions. And, as Christ’s three-and-a-half-year ministry progressed, it is not unreasonable to believe that the identity of His betrayer may have become apparent to Him, if it was not from the beginning. We see that, even before the betrayal, the disciples knew Judas was stealing from the apostles’ “money box” (John 12:6). Jesus knew Judas’ character and his plan of betrayal even during the Passover service, as we will now review!
The Merciful Example of Our Lord and Teacher
Of all the godly attributes Christ displayed, mercy is one that resounds in His example of foot washing. The biblical understanding of mercy conveys a sense of deep compassion, tender affection, and deep love. In fact, in Isaiah 49:15 God says that His own merciful love is even greater than that of a mother for her child. Just as a mother’s nature is to show mercy, deep love, and tender affection to her child, God the Father and Jesus Christ have, even more truly and faithfully, this type of mercy concerning God’s children—children who look like Them (Genesis 1:26)! This is why “God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life” (John 3:16)! Judas was a sinner and the betrayer of the Messiah. Yet, as Judas’ Creator, Christ was moved to show him incredible mercy and compassion just hours before Judas betrayed Him.
In John’s account of the last Passover, we see Jesus Christ humbling Himself as a servant and washing the feet of each of His twelve apostles. It is important to note that Christ did not skip over Judas when his turn came. Jesus lovingly and mercifully washed Judas’ feet as well (John 13:11–12). It was only after washing Judas’ feet that Christ directed him to depart and tend to the betrayal (vv. 21–27). And then Judas left (v. 30)!
A Passover Lesson for Us!
Christ washed the feet of the man who would betray Him only a few hours later—the feet of a thief who accepted a bribe to be an accomplice to His murder! Knowing that Jesus possessed this knowledge, we see how He demonstrated loving, patient, and godly mercy in washing even the feet of His betrayer.
How many of us would walk in Christ’s footsteps and wash Judas’ feet? As Christians, called to put on the mind of Christ (Philippians 2:5–8) and become men and women after God’s own heart (Acts 13:22), could we too display the godly love and mercy needed to wash the feet of the one who would betray Jesus?
On a more personal note, who is our “Judas”? Is there a person—alive or dead—whose feet we would refuse to wash, if given the opportunity? Do we have the God-like forgiveness to look beyond slights, hurts, disappointments, and betrayals, to the ultimate potential of the individual? Do we yearn so deeply for our “enemies” to be forgiven and to enter God’s Kingdom one day that we would serve them in mercy and wash their feet? These are important questions to ask as we examine ourselves in preparation for the Passover.
Christ made plain in the Sermon on the Mount that it is the merciful who will, themselves, obtain mercy (Matthew 5:7). And God will extend His own forgiveness only to those who forgive others (Matthew 6:14–15).
Christ’s final Passover before His crucifixion and resurrection leaves us with many profound lessons. One of the most important is about our need to extend godly mercy to others—even to the unrepentant! Our Lord and Master, our High Priest, our Savior and King, asks nothing of us that He was not willing to do Himself. Jesus is our example, and His example of washing Judas’ feet is a profound reminder of the mindset and heart we must develop toward our fellow human beings. As we prepare to become full members of the God Family one day, and as we prepare for the upcoming annual Passover, we should be sure to meditate on the question, “Would I wash Judas’ feet?” With God’s help, the answer to that question must be “Yes, I would!”