Joh 13:2 And supper being ended, the devil having now put into the heart of Judas Iscariot, Simon's son, to betray him;
Joh 13:3 Jesus knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he was come from God, and went to God;
Joh 13:4 He riseth from supper, and laid aside his garments; and took a towel, and girded himself.
Joh 13:5 After that he poureth water into a bason, and began to wash the disciples' feet, and to wipe them with the towel wherewith he was girded.
Shortly after they had sat down to the table, he arose, laid aside his outer robe, girded a towel upon him, and began the lowly office of washing the feet of twelve men, without a word of explanation. Something more than ordinary must have caused so remarkable an act. The fact that the cause has been lost sight of, has caused many to misunderstand the significance, and to think the Savior was instituting a church ceremonial, rather than giving a deep, practical, spiritual lesson for all ages. I will endeavor to explain the circumstances:
(1) The disciples still expected the immediate manifestation of the kingdom. When they sat down to this Supper they felt it was a kind of state occasion, and a strife arose among them for precedence. Each wanted the "chief seat at the feast." An account of this unseemly controversy over the old question, "Who should be greatest?" is found in Luke 22:24-30
(2) Their sandals had been laid off according to custom. They sat down to the table with dry and dusty feet, but no one brought water to wash their feet, an eastern duty of hospitality made necessary by their hot, dusty climate. No apostle volunteered to attend to the office, the duty of a servant.
(3) Then, while they were filled with their ambitious, envious feelings, and had engaged in strife right at the Lord's table, after waiting long enough to have it shown that no one would condescend to the menial, but needful duty, the Lord, full of conscious divinity, arose, girded on the towel, and began the office. By removing his outer garments, he assumed a servant’s dress. Then proceeded to wash each of their feet; including the feet of Judas, just as all the rest.
This was a rebuke to their ambitious strife, far more powerful than words could have spoken: such a rebuke that never again do we see a hint of the old question, "Who should be greatest?"
It was Christ's answer to their unseemly conduct, and a lesson to those Christians "who love the pre-eminence" for all time. It said, "Let him that would be greatest become the servant of all."