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  • « Images of the Savior (11 -- His Sermon on the Mount) | Main | Choice Quotes on Regeneration »

    Studies in John (Lesson 8: The Healing of the Man Born Blind)

    I.The Golden Lampstand

    We have already noted that, when one entered the tabernacle, he would immediately see the table of the bread of the presence on his right. If he turned and looked to his left, he would see the golden candlestick, which would have been the only source of light in the tabernacle (Exodus 25:31-37). This imagery, as well as that of the table, is perfectly fulfilled in Christ. In our last lesson, as he was teaching at the Feast of Tabernacles, he made the monumental claim, “I am the light of the world”; and in this lesson, he will illustrate that claim in the next of his sign-miracles – the healing of the man born blind. But before we look at this miracle, let's think about the significance of the golden candlestick, particularly the way in which John applies it to Jesus.

    The symbol of light is one of John's favorite themes, not only in his gospel, but throughout his letters and the book of Revelation as well. He almost always uses the term in a moral sense: evil is symbolized by darkness, and light is the opposite of evil – it is the holiness and positive righteousness that flows from God alone. And, just as it is impossible for darkness to be in the presence of light, so it is impossible for evil men, who are still in the darkness of their sins, to have fellowship with God (see I John 1:5-10). This is the core problem that must be solved by the gospel, that is, by Jesus' coming to do his redemptive work. Jesus is Light, so of course he may be in God's presence; but he was sent to bring men into the presence of God, and men are all evil – how can he overcome this impossible obstacle?

    This brings us to another way in which John uses the symbolism of light. Not only does light symbolize holiness, it also symbolizes the way in which a person comes to know the truth. When one is in the dark, he cannot see anything around him. He does not know where he is going, how to get there, or what obstacles are in the way. But when the daylight comes, he can see, and choose the right path. So men, when they are in their spiritual state of darkness, do not know where they are going. They do not know what eternal life is, because they do not know God, whom they were created to enjoy and be in close fellowship with. But when Jesus came to reveal God to men, he enlightened them to the truth, and so opened the eyes of their heart to know God. This is why John loves to use the symbolism of light to refer to Jesus – it so perfectly illustrates Jesus' work in opening men's eyes to the knowledge of God (see John 1:1-18).

    So Jesus alone is the true fulfillment of the tabernacle imagery of the candlestick. But in a derivative sense, the candlestick also symbolizes the Church. Just as the candlestick had bowls which were filled with oil, and so gave off their light, the Church is filled with the Spirit that Christ sent, and so gives off the light of the gospel (see Matthew 5:14-16; Zechariah 4:1-6; Revelation 1:20). Just as the candlestick was the only source of light in the tabernacle, so the Church is the only “pillar and ground of the truth” in this world (I Timothy 3:15). Just as the candlestick was made of one solid piece of gold, all connected to one central shaft, so the Church is pure and precious to God; so she is one Church, undivided; so she is united to Christ, her head and sole support (Ephesians 5:27; Ephesians 4:3-6,15-16).

    Yes, Jesus alone is the light of the world; Jesus alone can bring the knowledge of God to men blinded by sin, and make them pure as light, so that they can come into his presence; but the startling truth is that, he only does so today through the ministry of the Church, as she, being filled with his Spirit, proclaims the gospel to the nations. What a sobering and staggering truth! Let us be filled with the Spirit, let us walk as children of light (Ephesians 5:8), let us be faithful to proclaim the glories of the One who “called us out of darkness into his marvelous light (I Peter 2:9-10)!

    II.Textual Analysis

    Jesus heals the man born blind (John 9:1-12)

    Of all the sign-miracles that Jesus performed, this is one of the most amazing, and one of the surest indicators that he was indeed the Messiah. After all, giving sight to the blind was one of the works that was to characterize the coming Christ, as we read in Isaiah 35:4-5 and 42:6-7. Moreover, although the prophets before Christ had performed many miraculous signs, and had even raised the dead, it had never before happened, in recorded history, that a man born blind had been given sight – which is the point of the healed man's observation in John 9:32. This is most appropriate, for no physical sign could demonstrate the nature of the Messianic task quite as poignantly as giving sight to someone who had been born blind. In the same way, we were all born in the spiritual night of our sinfulness, and only Jesus can open our eyes to see and rejoice in God's glory.

    It is certainly reasonable, then, to suppose that God arranged history so that no man, before Christ came, had been healed in this way; and also, that this man should be born blind, and should encounter Christ as an adult. In other words, God had made this man blind, in order to show forth his glory, in the person of Christ, at the appropriate time. This is a truth that the disciples did not initially understand. Like Job's three comforters, they believed that any such trial could only be in response to a specific sin – either the man's or his parents'. It is certainly true that it is only because of sin that death and all physical evils exist in the world; and it is also true that sickness can come because of a specific sin, as was the case with King Uzziah, for instance (II Chronicles 26:19); but to try to trace all sicknesses and hardships to specific sins is not at all in accordance with the scriptures, and can only lead to theological errors and excesses.

    So Jesus explained these things to his disciples, and then, before he even performed the miracle, he explained why it was so significant that he do so. It is because he is the Light of the world, as he had already said at the Feast of Tabernacles, and so must work the Father's works. The time when Jesus was in the world was the Messianic Day, that had finally arrived after centuries of spiritual night. And the night was to return, when those who experienced the light-giving Son of God, and personally encountered his words and works, saw him no more and were swallowed back up in darkness. Of course, this is not true of Jesus' true disciples, to whom Jesus would continue to give light throughout the age – but for the Jews in general, this is exactly what would happen.

    It is difficult to know exactly why Jesus performed the miracle in the way he did. It is clear enough why he told the man to wash in the Pool of Siloam: as John translated for his readers, “Siloam” means “sent” – and it is also where the water was drawn for the Feast of Tabernacles, of which Jesus claimed to be the fulfillment, and exhorted the crowds to come to him and drink (John 7:37) So Jesus is the One sent from God, and only Jesus can give sight to the blind. In fact, he had been called “Shiloh,” from the same Hebrew word, as far back as Genesis 49:10. But why did Jesus first make mud from his spit, and put it over the man's eyes. Perhaps it is to emphasize the point of the miracle, that are eyes are blinded by the “dirt” of our sin, until we come to Christ, who was sent by God to accomplish our redemption, and are cleansed by him. Or maybe he is re-enacting the creation account, when God formed man from the dust; and showing that he alone can accomplish the new creation of sinful men. But either way, the basic point is clear enough.

    This miracle is so staggering, that people had a hard time believing that this man was actually the blind beggar they all knew – some thought it was a different man who just looked like him. But the beggar himself acknowledged that it was indeed he, and told them that Jesus had healed him. Of course, they all wanted to see Jesus then, but the man did not know where he had gone.

    The Pharisees Investigate the Miracle (John 9:13-14)

    The next portion of our text departs from John's usual custom of relating Jesus' own teaching about himself, following his miraculous signs. In fact, Jesus is not even present while the Pharisees investigate his latest healing, and he will not show up again until the end of the chapter, when he comes privately to the man he had healed. But it has a crucial role in John's gospel, because it continues to relate the unfolding controversy that the Jewish religious leaders had with Jesus, and it further illustrates the manner in which the sign-miracles were meant to lead sinners to a true faith in Jesus as the Messiah and the Son of God.

    It is indicative of the hardened state of the Pharisees' hearts that, as soon as they had heard of this unprecedented miracle, which took place on the Sabbath, their sole concern was not to glorify God for his mercy, or remember the prophecies about the Messiah's giving sight to the blind – instead they just wanted to know how the miracle was performed, so that they might accuse Jesus of breaking the Sabbath again. And the act of making mud and anointing the blind man's eyes was, apparently, sufficiently like manual labor to give them cause to condemn him. And so they immediately discern that he must not be of God, since he was in violation of God's laws. Of course, Jesus' actions were not technically forbidden by Moses, who recorded the very words of God, but were in fact carried out in keeping with both the spirit and the letter of the Sabbath commandment. But the Pharisees had placed the oral traditions and interpretations of the Law on the same authoritative plane as the scriptures themselves – and he had clearly violated the traditions of the elders. We would do well to remember that no creed or interpretation of scriptures should be immune to being subjected to the testimony of scripture alone, no matter how ancient or widespread it is!

    Apparently, the outstanding nature of this miracle in particular, as well as the fact that Jesus did not command the healed man to carry his bed, was enough reason to cause some diversity of opinion, even among the Pharisees (although they had become united in condemning him by they end of the investigation). And so, after having asked the man for a detailed account of what happened, they also asked what he believed about Jesus. In a way, this man was similar to the crippled man at the Pool of Bethsaida – Jesus healed him physically, at first, but he did not yet know and believe in him as the Christ until he came to him later, and explained the gospel. But in another way, he was much different. The crippled man seemed unwilling to say anything definite about who the man was who had healed him, for fear of the Jews. But this man is very straightforward and unintimidated – in fact, he becomes very sarcastic and critical with the Pharisees, and is eventually driven out of the synagogue. From the first, even though he had not yet learned all the truth about Christ, he emphatically states that he must be a prophet, come from God.

    The Jews are not willing to believe that this man truly was healed of congenital blindness until they had called his parents to testify. But unlike the man himself, they are indeed afraid of the Jews, and so they refused to answer any questions beyond the circumstances of his birth, pointing out instead that he was of legal age to answer for himself. By this time, the Pharisees had already made it clear that they would expel from the synagogue anyone who professed that Jesus was the Christ; and this was not a sacrifice they were willing to make, and so they chose not to pursue any further knowledge of Jesus, being content with their comfortable ignorance. How many today are the same, and would rather live in their comfortable sins than be willing to listen to the truth that Jesus will one day come to judge the world! Let us assure our hearts that the pursuit of the truth, which is in Jesus, is well worth any sacrifice that comes with it.

    And so the Pharisees question the man again, this time exhorting him (ironically) to “give glory to God” by admitting that Jesus is a sinner. The man does not profess to know that point certainly, but simply states again that he has experienced an extraordinary miracle. He knows what Jesus has done for him, and he will not deny it. But the Jews continue to press him, asking him again of the details of the affair. At this point, he turns to sarcasm – he has already told them all about the healing, so maybe the reason they want to keep hearing about it is that, deep down, they actually want to be Jesus' disciples.

    The Pharisees' response reveals the heart of the dispute: they still believe they are following the Law of Moses, whom they know was from God. They did not know where Jesus was from, so if he disagreed with Moses, whom they knew, Jesus must be the one who was in the wrong. Their reasoning is certainly correct, but their understanding of Moses is woefully inadequate. Moses did not contradict Jesus – he prophesied of Jesus, and wrote all about him. But they were blinded by their own prideful tendency to use Moses as a guide to earning self-righteousness, and completely missed the gospel-truths about Jesus that Moses had proclaimed. The healed man did not undertake to argue about the interpretation of the law with the Pharisees, but still declared, all the more emphatically, that if Jesus was a sinner, it is certainly a marvel that God would answer his prayers in such a powerful way, doing something that had never been done by all the prophets before him. The Pharisees are outraged at this rebuke, and, making a snide comment about how his birth as a blind man indicated that he was a sinner from the womb, they expelled him from the synagogue.

    Jesus Interprets the Miracle (John 9:35-41)

    After all this, Jesus found the healed man, and explained to him who he truly was. The man did not then know who was the Messiah, or the Son of Man, that he could believe in him; but Jesus told him, “You have seen him” – which was a statement that had a dual sense, and summarized the true meaning of the miracle. By the mighty work of Christ, he had come to see him, with physical eyes, when he had always been blind before; but in the same way, it was through Jesus' work that he came to see him with spiritual eyes, and so have eternal life. This is another example that perfectly fleshes out the process of John's purpose statement, in John 20:31.

    Jesus then expanded the principle to a general truth: only the blind need to be given sight, and so he came to give sight to the blind, but also to make those who already see become blind. When one recognizes that he cannot see God because of his sin and ignorance, Jesus is always willing to give him spiritual sight. But he hardens in their blindness those who believe they are already spiritually knowledgeable. If the Pharisees knew of their blindness, Christ would forgive their sins – but since they already thought that they could “see,” in a spiritual sense, he left them in their sinful state. This hardening of sinners, or giving them over to their sins, is a terrible and righteous judgment of God (see Romans 1:24). Let us be thankful that, in his great mercy, he has chosen to show us our need and open up our eyes instead!

    The Parable of the Sheepfold (John 10:1-21)

    The next chapter, which opens with Jesus' parable of the Good Shepherd, has some definite ties to the preceding account. The Pharisees, who were supposed to be shepherds of the people of Israel, did not care for this man who was born blind, but treated him harshly, and drove him out of the synagogue. Observing this, Jesus then notes that it is only the thieves and robbers who destroy the sheep – the true shepherd cares for them. When the Pharisees heard this parable, they probably would have thought of Ezekiel 34. There, God berates the religious leaders of the Jews as wicked shepherds, who destroy the sheep. Therefore, God himself will come to shepherd the sheep (or, as the passage later says, David, which is a name used to refer to Christ, the Son of David). Jesus is basically telling the Jews that this prophecy is coming true – and they are the wicked shepherds.

    John included very few parables in his gospel – and even this parable is a little different from the typical parables of the synoptic gospels. For one thing, there is not one single point of similarity which Jesus is emphasizing, but he makes use of several different images of the illustration to apply to himself in different ways. He speaks, first, of the door to the sheepfold; second, of the good shepherd; and third of the good shepherd's sheep, in verses 1-6. Then, in verses 7-21 he comments on those three features, explaining them in order.

    First, Jesus is the door of the sheepfold. If the sheepfold signifies life, security, and good pasture, then it is only through Jesus that the sheepfold may be entered. Everyone who offers life and salvation through some other way is just a thief and a robber – there is no way to life, except through Jesus. But in Jesus, there is not just life, but abundant, full and eternal life. The Father guards his sheep and does not give them to any of these false teachers – he is the doorkeeper, and opens the door only to Christ, the true shepherd. Just as there is only one door to the sheepfold, so there is only one way to fellowship with God and eternal life – Jesus Christ.

    Second, Jesus is the Good Shepherd. The thieves, who are false teachers, destroy the sheep. The hirelings, who are just nominal, uncaring shepherds, are not willing to sacrifice for the good of the sheep. But the Good Shepherd lays his life down for the sheep. Jesus, knowing that his sheep were in mortal danger, because of their sins, voluntarily sacrificed his own life, so that they might be saved. There is only one who could have saved the sheep by means of his own self-sacrifice. There is only one Good Shepherd, Jesus Christ.

    Third, Jesus speaks of his sheep. The sheep in the fold are the people of Israel, whom the Pharisees were supposed to protect – but not all of them are Jesus' sheep. Which sheep do belong to Jesus? Those who hear his voice and follow him. Just as we saw in chapter six, those whom the Father has not given to Jesus will flee at the sound of his voice, and refuse to believe him. But those who are his are taught by the Father, and will hear him and follow. Jesus is going to take his true sheep, who hear his voice, out of the midst of the sheep of Israel who belong to a different master. But that is not all: for he also has sheep who are not from the fold of Israel – and so he is going to call out his sheep from the Gentiles, just as he did from Israel, and bring them all together as his true people. There would no longer be any distinction between Jew and Gentile, but there would be one fold and one shepherd.

    As Jesus explains his teaching, there arises a division among the people, once again. Some of them claim that he is a demon-possessed lunatic, to teach things so contradictory to all the religious leaders of the Jews. But others are convinced that no demon-possessed person could speak with such reason and authority.

    Jesus at the Feast of Dedication (John 10:22-42)

    The Jewish Feast of Dedication was not an Old Testament feast. It originated in the time between the last Old Testament prophets and the coming of Christ. In that time, the Jews were on the brink of extermination, and the temple was on the brink of destruction; but a Jewish leader, Judas Maccabeus, rallied the people, and they were delivered. In response, they celebrated a feast in which they lit candles to rejoice in their deliverance. The feast is very similar to the Old Testament Feast of Tabernacles, and in the same way, its imagery is fulfilled in Jesus. The occasion of this second feast indicates that the same theme is still being developed, of Jesus as the Light of the world.

    During this feast, there is still a controversy as to whether or not Jesus is the Messiah; and the people ask him to tell them plainly. Of course, he has already done so, at numerous times, but they have not believed him. Jesus then cuts right to the heart of the matter, and tells them that the reason they cannot believe him is that they are not of his sheep. Only his sheep can recognize his voice and follow him. These, whom the Father has given him, will come to Jesus and he will give them eternal life. No one will be able to snatch them from him or from the Father. And both the Father and Jesus are holding them, because they are one God.

    Again, the Jews are not ready to hear Jesus making himself equal to God. They had asked if he was the Christ – but at his answer, they are ready to stone him, a second time. But Jesus lays down his life of his own accord, and it was not his chosen time to do so, so he escaped out of their hands. But first, he asks them why, when his works bear witness to the truth of his claims, do they try to stone him? They have no problem with his works, but they are convinced that he is blaspheming, by making himself equal to God. In response, Jesus quotes Psalm 82:6, where the Father refers to those to whom His word came as “gods” and “sons of the Most High”. Jesus is arguing from the less plausible to the more plausible here. If even the scriptures, which cannot be false, call those who received God's word and were saved, both his “sons,” and, (although not in a fundamentally divine sense) “gods”; then surely Jesus could not be blaspheming by claiming the same thing about himself. If it can be said of the Father's adopted children, who become his children just because of their relationship to Christ, then how much more may it be said of Christ himself, who is God's eternal, divine Son? The bottom line is, if Jesus' works were not from the Father, there would be no compelling reason to believe in him. But they are, and so the Jews are without excuse. Here Jesus leaves; and we find that the testimony of John the Baptist is still bearing fruit, for some of John's disciples, when they see Christ's signs, turn to him in faith.


    As Jesus' ministry continues, we find the same basic themes developed ever more emphatically. There has not yet been a miracle more perfectly designed to display who he is than the healing of the man born blind. The controversy with the Pharisees, over the Sabbath, continues to escalate. Jesus' teachings about himself as the only way of salvation, and as equal with the Father, continue to outrage the people. And his teaching that they cannot believe him because the Father has not given them to him only increases their rage. If we have been enabled to see Jesus as the Light of the world, the true Son of God, the Good Shepherd of the Sheep, the only Door to eternal life, then let us give thanks to God the Father, who has made us his sheep! Let us trust in our Good Shepherd alone, and not be led astray by those who seek to show us another way.

    Posted by Nathan on February 20, 2007 07:09 AM

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