The deeper meaning here comes from the idea that clean garments represent righteousness, and that filthy garments represent sin. We find a reference to filthy garments in Isaiah.
But we are all as an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags; ... Isaiah 64:6
... And he said to me, These are they which came out of great tribulation, and have washed their robes, and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. Revelation 7:14
And it was given unto her that she should array herself in fine linen, bright and pure: for the fine linen is the righteous acts of the saints. Revelation 19:8
So Jesus washed the disciples feet but in the process all their dirt, which stands for sin, gets on him. What this passage is showing is that Jesus cleansed us by taking our sin upon himself.
We can see it stated in another way in Peter, who speaking of Jesus, says:.
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 ye were healed. 1 Peter 2:24
And also these passages from 2nd Corinthians and Galatians say something quite similar.
For he hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him. 2nd Corinthians 5:21
Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us: for it is written, Cursed is every one that hangeth on a tree: Galatians 3:13
It is also found in the old testament when the ministry of the suffering servant, Messiah, is prophesied.
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. Isaiah 53:11
What this is saying is that Jesus took our sin upon himself, or he became sin, or became a curse, for our redemption.
Here are two more verses closely related to this theme.
For even the Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many. Mark 10:45
So Christ was once offered to bear the sins of many; and unto them that look for him shall he appear the second time without sin unto salvation. Hebrews 9:28
His normal clothes represent his Divine nature. That is what he set aside when he became a man to suffer and die for us.
The towel representing his human nature was clean, reflecting his sinless condition. But in saving us he had to take on our sin. And so the towel gets all dirty as he does this service. This is what the foot washing illustrates.
When He is finished, he sets aside the dirty towel and puts his own clothes back on. This speaks of Jesus once again taking on the Divine nature after his resurrection.
There is a veiled reference to this in the book of Zechariah, where Joshua the high priest is a type of Jesus.
And he shewed me Joshua the high priest standing before the angel of the LORD, and Satan standing at his right hand to resist him
And the LORD said unto Satan, The LORD rebuke thee, O Satan; even the LORD that hath chosen Jerusalem rebuke thee: is not this a brand plucked out of the fire?
Now Joshua was clothed with filthy garments, and stood before the angel.
And he answered and spake unto those that stood before him, saying, Take away the filthy garments from him. And unto him he said, Behold, I have caused thine iniquity to pass from thee, and I will clothe thee with change of raiment. Zechariah 3:1-4
This scene shows Jesus as a man coming to the judgment seat of the father, still bearing our sins. And we see the Lord, [the Father] rebuke Satan the accuser. After all Jesus was innocent! Then he gets a change of raiment, new clothes. His divine nature is restored to him before he is raised from the dead.
Another passage depicting the servant hood of Jesus, our messiah, is in Philippians.
Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus:
Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God:
But 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. Philippians 2:5-8
To sum up the entire scene, what Jesus has done here is to act out his entire ministry in a symbolic form.
He rose up from where he was seated represents leaving His throne in heaven Setting aside his clothes is his incarnation. He was born naked into this world. Taking a clean towel is the sinless human nature that he took upon himself.
Washing the men's feet is washing us with the blood. Getting the towel dirty, is bearing our sins for us.
Putting his own clothes back on, is his resurrection in a glorified body, taking His divine nature back once again.
His sitting down again speaks of sitting on his heavenly throne once again, at the right hand of the father.
So after he had washed their feet, and had taken his garments, and was set down again, he said unto them, Know ye what I have done to you? John 13:12
Lord, help us to realize and be thankful for what you have done for us sinners.
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