Jesus Christ silently scanned the room and gazed upon His 12 apostles-in-training. During the past 3½ years, the men had been through much together. They had seen throngs of thousands seek after Jesus to heal the sick and infirmed…and they had seen the same swelling crowds diminish after Christ made plain that “strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leads unto [eternal] life, and few there be that find it” (Matt. 7:14).
The 12 disciples had witnessed their Teacher free people from demon possession—yet His enemies accused Him of being possessed by demons. Peter, James, John and the others had seen Jesus enjoy some of the physical benefits of life, such as food and drink, always in balance—yet His detractors accused Him of being gluttonous and a winebibber (Luke 7:34). The disciples were there, time after time, when Jesus sought privacy, a few fleeting moments to pray to His Father and recharge Himself spiritually—yet when people came to Him for help, Christ put the needs of others first.
And now Jesus and His disciples were in Jerusalem for Passover, sharing a private meal in the upper room of a house. It would be their final evening together.
Peter and the others took note of Jesus’ expression: a mixture of care and concern with a serious tone. It was evident that something weighed heavily upon His mind. Since Jesus had long been open-hearted with them, they did not ask Him about it. They knew He would eventually tell them.
Instituting the Footwashing Service
A dispute arose among the twelve men: Which one of us would be the greatest in the kingdom of God? (Luke 22:24). It was a topic they had argued about in the past (Matt. 18:1).
As He had done before, Jesus had to set their thinking straight. He said, “The kings of the Gentiles exercise lordship over them; and they that exercise authority upon them are called benefactors.” History is replete with kings, dictators, presidents and other leaders who sought to benefit themselves at the expense of their miserable subjects.
“But this shall not be so among you. He who is greatest among you, let him be as the younger; and he who is chief, as he that does serve. For which is greater: he who sits at the dinner table, or he who serves? Is not he who sits at dinner? But I am among you as He who serves” (Luke 22:25-27).
A true follower of Jesus Christ does not serve by seeking power and authority. Rather, he serves with humility and selflessness—and then God will reward him with power and authority. Serving the needs of others means sacrificing one’s time and energy, as Jesus did in healing the sick, freeing people from demon possession, and preaching good news of the kingdom of God, day after day, city after city. And sometimes serving the needs of others means laying down one’s life (John 15:13-14), as Jesus would do for humanity—past, present and future—on the stake.
This lesson in service and humility perfectly introduced what Christ was about to do next: institute the annual footwashing service.
Jesus rose from the dinner table and put aside His outer garments. Then, as His disciples looked on, He took a towel and tied it around Himself, assuming the dress of a servant. Next, He poured water into a basin, stooped down to His knees and began to wash the disciples’ feet, afterward wiping them dry with the towel He had around His waist.
In Jesus’ time, people wore open sandals, which collected dirt and dust throughout the day. It was the custom for hosts to have a servant wash the feet of houseguests. This lowly service, which fulfilled a genuine need, was far from being glamorous or high-profile. It required physically lowering oneself to his knees to serve the lowest part of the body. As one washes the feet of another person, thoughts of vanity and self-promotion are deflated; he spiritually takes on the humble attitude of a servant, focusing on others, not the self, “esteem[ing] others better than themselves” and “look[ing] not every man on his own things, but every man also on the things of others” (Phil. 2:3-4).
Peter was stunned! Here was the Messiah—the Christ—the Son of God—the Rock of the Old Testament (I Cor. 10:1-4)—the One who spoke to Abraham, Moses and other great servants of the past—performing the task of a lowly servant. And now He’s about to wash my feet! Peter thought.
When Jesus came to him, Peter said, “Lord, do You wash my feet?”
Christ knew Peter well, that he was bold, impetuous and tended to rush to conclusions. Yet Jesus also knew that once Peter would receive the Holy Spirit, it would help him to develop holy, righteous, godly character, directing Peter’s natural boldness and confidence to do God’s will. The power of God’s Spirit would activate within Peter the unique and intense training he had personally received from Christ, which would transform him into a dynamic leader in preaching the true gospel and feeding the flock of God.
“What I am doing you do not understand at this time,” Jesus patiently explained to him. “But you shall know hereafter.”
Still, it was difficult for Peter to accept his feet being washed by his Master and Teacher. This is the lowliest of jobs, he thought, worthy only of the lowliest of servants! “You shall never wash my feet,” Peter said.
Jesus answered, “If I wash you not, you have no part with Me.”
Rushing to the other extreme, Peter replied, “Lord, not my feet only, but also my hands and my head!”
Ever patient, Jesus said, “He who is washed need not except to wash his feet, but is clean every whit: and you are clean.” Christians are made spiritually clean through faith in and acceptance of Christ’s sacrifice (I John 1:7; Rev. 1:5; 7:14). The waters of baptism symbolically wash away all sins (Acts 22:16; Titus 3:5). With Christ as our High Priest in heaven, mediating to God the Father on our behalf, we can “draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience, and our bodies washed with pure water” (Heb. 10:22).
But then Christ said to His disciples, “But not all are clean.” He was speaking of Judas Iscariot. Jesus knew all along that Judas was driven by greed, which had seduced him to betray the responsibility Christ gave him—managing the treasury, from which Judas had stolen. Instead of repenting from his sins, Judas justified his actions, leading to even more sins. This eventually led him to do the unthinkable: secretly strike a deal to betray Jesus and deliver Him into the hands of His bloodthirsty enemies.
Jesus was well aware of this betrayal, for it was foretold hundreds of years earlier. Despite this, Jesus washed Judas’ feet, a man whom He had called friend. By humbly serving the man who was about to betray Him, Christ personally set the example of serving one’s enemies and overcoming evil with good (Rom. 12:19-21).
After the footwashing service, Jesus said to His disciples, “Do you understand what I have done to you? You call me ‘Master’ and ‘Lord,’ and you say well, for so I am. If I then, your Lord and Master, 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 lord—and neither is He [Jesus] who is sent greater than He [God the Father] who sent Him. If you know these things, happy are you if you do them” (John 13:12-17).
In humbly serving the needs of others—without exalting the self or seeking to fulfill selfish ambition—Jesus Christ set the high standard all Christians are to follow.
An Annual Memorial Service
Redirecting their minds to thoughts of serving others, Jesus, after Judas Iscariot had departed to betray Him (John 13:18-32), was now ready to institute new Passover symbols for the New Testament Church. He took unleavened bread, prayed over it, and then broke it into several bite-sized pieces, which He distributed among the eleven remaining disciples. Christ said to them, “Take, eat; this is My body, which is given for you: This do in remembrance of Me” (Matt. 26:26; Mark 14:22; Luke 22:19).
Jesus then took a cup of wine, said a blessing over it, and gave it to His disciples. “All of you drink of it,” He said, “for this is My blood of the new testament, which is shed for many for the remission of sins” (Matt. 26:28; Mark 14:23-24; Luke 22:20).
“In remembrance”—in recollection; Christ was instituting an annual reminder of the New Covenant Passover—a “memorial” service observed in memory of Jesus Christ’s death. A memorial service is not observed daily, weekly, or monthly, but rather annually.
For Christians, “Christ [is their] Passover, sacrificed for [them]” (I Cor. 5:7). As the true “Lamb of God” (John 1:29, 36), Jesus was sacrificed on the same day as the physical Passover sacrificial lambs were killed: the 14th of Abib. Therefore, Christians are to observe the death of their Passover Lamb annually on Abib 14, not “between the two evenings” at the end of the day, but at the beginning, on the anniversary of “the same night in which [Jesus] was betrayed” (I Cor. 11:23).
Sadly, millions of this world’s “Christians” partake weekly of symbols that they believe are “the Lord’s Supper”—not understanding they have been deceived. (To learn more, read our booklet How Often Should the Lord’s Supper Be Taken?)
No matter where you may be on earth, bread and bread products are universal, in one form or another, among all cultures, societies and traditions. The various types of breads most people eat share at least one thing in common: they contain yeast or other leavening agents. These work within the dough to expand it and make the bread elastic and much easier to chew.
In the Bible, leaven symbolizes sin. Just as “a little leaven leavens the whole lump” (I Cor. 5:6; Gal. 5:9), sin always leads to more sins, until it permeates an entire person. And, just as leaven expands, or “puffs up,” bread dough much larger than its original size, sin—such as vanity and pride—“puffs up” a person’s view of himself. For this reason, “All the ways of a man are clean in his own eyes” (Prov. 16:2). When leaven enlarges dough, it produces bread riddled with empty pockets of air. Similarly are the lives of men, all of whom have sinned (Rom. 3:23). They appear smooth, self-confident, sometimes even “larger than life,” but within they are vain—empty.
Jesus Christ, as a physical human being, was different. He “made Himself of no reputation, and took upon Him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men: and being found in fashion as a man, He humbled Himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross” (Phil. 2:7-8).
Like unleavened bread, Jesus was “flat”—humble, not puffed up with a self-image of vanity, pride and self-importance. Void of the “malice and wickedness” of this world, Christ was—and is—“the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth” (I Cor. 5:8).
Again, bread made with leavening is much easier to chew, just as the ways of this world are easier to “digest.” Its currents are swift and lead away from God’s kingdom, “for wide is the gate, and broad is the way, that leads to destruction, and many there be which go in thereat” (Matt. 7:13). But choosing to live God’s Way means to swim against the current, to deny oneself and regularly replace the leavening of Satan’s society with the “unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.”
“Because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leads unto life, and few there be that find it” (vs. 14).
Early in His ministry, Jesus said, “He that believes on Me has everlasting life. I am that bread of life” (John 6:47-48). The ancient Israelites—the physical “church in the wilderness” (Acts 7:38)—ate manna from heaven, yet “are dead” (John 6:49). Physical Israel enjoyed bountiful material, national blessings. However, they were not offered God’s Spirit or the promise of eternal life in the kingdom of God.
Yet spiritual Israelites—Christians in the Body of Christ—stand to receive infinitely greater promises than material blessings. “This is the bread which comes down from heaven,” Jesus said, referring to Himself, “that a man may eat thereof, and not die. I am the living bread which came down from heaven: if any man eat of this bread, he shall live forever: and the bread that I will give is My flesh, which I will give for the life of the world” (vs. 50-51).
The apostle Paul states, “The bread which we break, is it not the communion [participation, distribution, fellowship] of the body of Christ? For we being many are one bread, and one body: for we are all partakers of that one bread” (I Cor. 10:16-17).
The small, broken pieces of unleavened bread we are to eat at the Passover service symbolize Jesus’ “broken” body. Consider all the abuses and torment Jesus took upon His body because all human beings have broken God’s physical laws.
- “I gave My back to the smiters, and My cheeks to them that plucked off the hair: I hid not My face from shame and spitting” (Isa. 50:6).
- “His visage was so marred more than any man, and his form more than the sons of men” (Isa. 52:14).
- “I am poured out like water, and all My bones are out of joint [but not broken]…I may tell all My bones: they look and stare upon Me” (Psa. 22:14, 17).
- “Surely He has borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows: yet we did esteem Him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted. But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all. He was oppressed, and He was afflicted, yet He opened not his mouth: he is brought as a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is dumb, so He opened not His mouth” (Isa. 53:4-7).
- “Yet it pleased the Lord to bruise Him; He has put Him to grief…He shall see of the travail of His soul, and shall be satisfied: by His knowledge shall My righteous servant justify many; for He shall bear their iniquities…because He has poured out His soul unto death: and He was numbered with the transgressors; and He bare the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors” (Isa. 53:10-12).
For the past 6,000 years, men have judged for themselves right from wrong, without seeking instruction and direction from God. Consequently, mankind has reaped sicknesses, diseases, cancers, syndromes, deformities—physical penalties derived from breaking God’s commandments, statutes, judgments and overarching principles of living the right way. Through Jesus’ “broken” body, we can be healed: “Who His own self bare our sins in His own body on the tree, that we, being dead to sins, should live unto righteousness: by whose stripes you were healed” (I Pet. 2:24).
Yet none of Christ’s bones were broken. His body, though it severely suffered, remained as one. And so does Christ’s spiritual Body, for “He is the head of the body, the church” (Col. 1:18).
Jesus Christ “lives in” all Christians through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, making them all part of the one “Body” of Christ—the undivided Church of God (Gal. 2:20).
“Ratified in Blood”
When God redeemed ancient Israel from slavery in Egypt, He entered into a covenant with them. He promised to grant Israel national blessings in the Promised Land as long as the Israelites faithfully served Him. The covenant was then ratified in the blood of animal sacrifices (Ex. 24:7-8).
But the blood of bulls and goats cannot take away sins (Heb. 10:4). Another, far greater, blood sacrifice was needed: “For if the blood of bulls and of goats, and the ashes of an heifer sprinkling the unclean, sanctifies to the purifying of the flesh: how much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without spot to God, purge your conscience from dead works to serve the living God?” (Heb. 9:13-14).
Jesus was perfect in all His ways—“a lamb without blemish and without spot” (I Pet. 1:19). It took the sacrifice of a flawless, sinless life to redeem the “blemished” and “spotted” lives of men. To fulfill this purpose, innocent blood had to be shed: “For the life of the flesh is in the blood: and I have given it to you upon the altar to make an atonement for your souls: for it is the blood that makes an atonement for the soul” (Lev. 17:11).
The Old Covenant served as a type for the New Covenant, which is also ratified in blood (Heb. 9:20), but it is a “better covenant [testament, compact, contract], which was established upon better promises” (Heb. 8:6; also read verses 7-13).
The “blood of the [new] covenant” delivers Christians from their ultimate enemies: sin and death. This is why Jesus said, “Whoever eats My flesh, and drinks My blood, has eternal life” (John 6:53-56).
Just as God delivered Israel from slavery so that they might “serve” Him (Ex. 3:12; 8:1, 20), He is delivering Christians from spiritual slavery to sin, so that they might “serve [God] without fear, in holiness and righteousness before Him, all the days of our life.”
Having instituted the new Passover symbols of the bread and wine, Christ was now ready to make the ultimate sacrifice…