Title: The Messiah’s authority over the Sabbath part 1
Scriptures to Read: Read John 5:1-47
The Sabbath: Jehovah’s queen, Israel’s bride
Now we come to three sections on the conflict over the Sabbath. Today we will look at the healing of a paralytic. The Sabbath had been highly personified in the Judaism of the first century, and the personification continues to this day.
In addition to the one commandment that God gave to Moses, the Pharisees added over 1,500 new Sabbath rules and regulations. It was personified both as a queen and as a bride: Jehovah’s queen, Israel’s bride. In the School of the Sophrim when they raised the question: why did God make Israel? The answer was God Made Israel for the Sabbath. Why did God make Israel? For the purpose of honoring the Sabbath.
The healing of a paralytic
In John 5:1-47, we have the healing of a paralytic. This is also the second of John’s seven discourses: the discourse on the works of God. You also have the third of John’s seven signs.
The Second Passover
Now verse 1 says: “After these things there was a feast of the Jews”. And in Jewish writings, whenever a feast is mentioned without naming it, it is a reference to the Passover. So in keeping with the Jewish practice this would be a Passover and so at this point his ministry is exactly one-year-old. From the time he went public at the first Passover one year has passed.
Miracle – public, not requiring faith
Jesus goes into the pool of Bethesda. He is the one who initiates what happens here. He finds a paralytic. And of his own initiative he heals the paralytic. As the context shows, the man doesn’t even know who Jesus was. Notice three things here.
1. Number one, Jesus sought the man out. He didn’t come to Jesus. Jesus went to him.
2. Secondly, there was no requirement of faith. The man does not know who Jesus is.
3. Thirdly, there is not even the knowledge of who Jesus claims to be.
At this point it was not essential for people to recognize who Jesus was to receive the miracle. At his point of time the miracles were performed to get them to believe. Again, these are signs to Israel to get them to make a decision.
First he tells the man at the end of verse 8: “Get up, pick up your pallet and walk.” And immediately the man became well, and picked up his pallet and began to walk. What Jesus asks him to do does not violate the Sabbath in accordance with the Mosaic Law, but it does violate the Sabbath in accordance with the Pharisaic Law, because in the Pharisaic Law, the Mishnaic Law, you could not carry anything on the Sabbath day from a public place to a private place, or from a private place to a public place. He is carrying it from inside the Pool of Bethesda, a private area, into the streets which is a public area. And Jesus knew he raised the issue. In verses 10: “Now it was the Sabbath on that day. So the Jews were saying to the man who was cured, “It is the Sabbath, and it is not permissible for you to carry your pallet.” So why are you doing this? Why are you violating the law, not the Mosaic Law here, but Pharisaic law? And the man tells them: well the one who healed me told me to do this. Then they asked him who healed him, notice he doesn’t know who it was. He had to go back and find out who it was.
Jesus claims deity
Only after he finds out who it was and he finally tells them who it was, we read in verse 18: “For this reason therefore the Jews were seeking all the more to kill Him, because He not only was breaking the Sabbath, but also was calling God His own Father, making Himself equal with God”. Notice that calling God his Father was enough to be claiming equality with God. In cult groups nowadays they deny the deity of Messiah. One of their arguments is that the son of God is not equal to the Father. That might be true in Gentile reckoning, but it is not true in Jewish reckoning where the first born son is equal to the father. And that is the way He is understood by his own Jewish audience. The Jews, when they heard him claiming God as his Father, were not hearing him say he was something less than God, notice they understood him to be claiming equality with God.
Pharisees charges against Him
So now they have two counts against him:
1. Number one: He breaks the Sabbath
2. Number two: He claims equality with God.
Jesus Defends His Claim to Deity
Now Jesus defends Himself in four points in verses 19 to 29.
1. Firstly, He is doing the works of the Father (vv19-21). He is doing the kind of work only God the Father can do. So if he can do what the Father does, he must be equal to the Father.
2. Secondly, there is equal honour, and the son will end up judging all men (vv22-23). Now in the Old Testament God is the final judge of all men. If now He is the judge of all men, it means He must be God.
3. Thirdly, He has the power to provide eternal life (v24). Here again, in the Old Testament they would know that only God had power to provide eternal life. So if He claims to provide eternal life then He must be God as well.
4. Fourthly, He will bring about the resurrection of the dead (vv25-29). Here again in the Old Testament only God had the power to provide the resurrection of the dead.
Clear claims of his deity! Also notice two different titles: Son of God, focusing on his deity (v25) and Son of Man, focusing on his humanity (v27). He is the God-Man.
Four witnesses of Jesus’ deity
In the Jewish context, merely claiming these claims does not make it so, because Jewish people, in the history of the Mosaic Law, required witnesses. In the Mosaic Law two witnesses were sufficient. Three witnesses were better. At the testimony of two or three witnesses any truth will be established. But Jesus goes one beyond that. He provides them with four witnesses:
1. John the Baptist in verse 33: “You have sent to John, and he has testified to the truth”. And John was the one who declared him to be the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.
2. The works that He does in verse 36: “the very works that I do—testify about Me, that the Father has sent Me”. His miracles authenticate his claims. And by now he had performed one Messianic miracle: the healing of a Jewish leper.
3. God the Father bore witness of him: “the Father who sent Me, He has testified of Me”, because He publicly spoke at his baptism: “this is My Beloved Son in whom I am well pleased”.
4. The testimony of Scripture in verse 39: “You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; it is these that testify about Me”.
The Pharisees Problem
The problem is not that there is insufficient witness to His messianic and divine claims. The problem is elsewhere as we see in verse 46: “For if you believed Moses, you would believe Me, for he wrote about Me. But if you do not believe his writings, how will you believe My words?” He was accusing these very religious Jews of not believing Moses. That seems to be an odd accusation. They believed in the kind of Moses that had been reinterpreted through Pharisaic tradition. Had they simply taken Moses at his writings and no more, they would have less difficulty recognizing him to be the Messiah. Because they were testing him through the prism of the Pharisaic system they failed to recognize him! But there is a four-fold witness to his messianic claims.
Light & Darkness
One more thing in this section: In verse 35 you have another example of the sub-theme of the conflict between light and darkness common in John’s gospel.