Jesus knew that the time had come for him to leave this world and go to the Father. He was rapidly approaching the most important moments of life, and He knew, also, that the pain and agony of the cross was almost upon Him.
If we knew that we would die a terrible death tomorrow, what would we be focused on? Seriously. Honestly. What would be your point of interest?
I've not yet been in a situation like that. But if I am honest, I would have to say I'd probably be thinking about myself, and what I'd be going through soon.
John wants us to see something about Jesus. He is fully God and fully man, and He is facing something that we cannot even imagine. He isn't saying to the disciples, "Hey, don't you care about what I'm facing?" He isn't even focused on Himself. He is concerned that they should be prepared for what is going to happen. He is completely focused on others.
The Bible shows us that, all through His ordeal. When He is arrested, He is concerned that His disciples should be allowed to go. When He is on the cross, in the midst of His agony, He is concerned about His mother's future. Then in His last hours, He comforts and forgives the thief on the cross beside Him. He remains totally unselfish and loving toward His own.
John is making sure that we see this -- Jesus knew what was coming!
Verse 3 says that "Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under His power, and that He had come from God, and was returning to God."
He had full knowledge of Who He was. He knew it with every fiber of His being. And with all that in mind, He bowed before these disciples and washed their feet. He was not ignorant of the glory and authority that the Father had given Him, but that would not bring any pride or arrogance into His heart.
We have all seen a person (or, heaven help us, been a person) who was pretty humble and selfless until a little recognition came our way? A little prestige? A little too many pats on the head? How much honor can a human being handle without becoming selfish and conceited? Jesus knew that all authority in heaven and earth was His, from the Father -- but His heart was not lifted up in pride. He bowed before others and served.
Perhaps it is knowing who we are, being secure in our own identity, that allows us to bow to the lowest point of service. It is not great men or women who refuse to serve others; it is insecure people, the ones who think that washing feet defines them as someone less worthwhile than others. As God establishes Himself in our hearts, we will live less for recognition and much more for service.
There is something else that John tells us was in Jesus' thoughts: "He knew who was going to betray Him...."(verse 11)
There, in the same room, is Judas, full of deceit. He's full of hypocrisy. Full of plans to turn Jesus over to the religious leaders. In modern parlance, he's ready to "stab Him in the back."
What does He do with that knowledge?
What would one of us do with that knowledge?
Jesus does not distance Himself from Judas. He doesn't point His finger and say, "How can you do this? After all I've done for you?" Instead, He loves Him to the end, and does everything possible to bring Judas to repentance. He washes his feet with the same tenderness that He gives the other disciples. That doesn't soften Judas' heart. He comments on the impending betrayal (see in verse 10?) but instead of repenting, Judas hardens his heart.
Then, in verse 26 Jesus dips the bread in the dish and gives it to Judas and exposes him as the traitor. That was Judas’ final opportunity for repentance. Opportunity after opportunity had been declined. As soon as Judas made that final decision, Satan entered into him and Judas left to do his evil deed. Jesus knew his betrayer, and this must have been in His thoughts as well.
We learn something about Jesus in all that; we learn something about ourselves, as well. We learn something about how he would have us deal with those who betray us. No resentment, no anger, no bitterness, only sorrow for the awful decision Judas had made and the terrible consequences that would follow for Judas.
Can we wash the feet of our enemies? Will we serve the person though we know he or she will not return the kindness?