Introduction to John 5 (Continuation of “Small Details May Say A Lot)
A quick reading of John 5 might mislead many into thinking, “Oh well, it’s another miracle story of Jesus Christ, this time about a man invalid for 38 years.” I recall many years ago, each time I studied the Scripture in preparation for my upcoming Bible study, coming to the stories of the Gospels, I often asked myself, “What particular difference does this miracle story tell from that of the previous ones narrated by the gospel writers?” ‘Cause sometimes we seem to just be reading stories of miracles upon miracles, perhaps thinking that all these stories simply prove Jesus’ divinity. Jesus is God; that is true and should never be doubted. Yet, it’s not that simple. We have to remember that before us, the Gospels were written to a particular audience – the Jews, with a particular circumstance. They were awaiting the appearance of the Christ, the Anointed One of God, as promised by God for their deliverance.
The Jews, through God’s call and promise to Abraham, became the children of God. Genesis tells us the story of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob – until Jacob was named Israel. Everything that unfolded in the history of Israel was first spoken to Abraham, specifically that Israel would fall into slavery in a foreign nation, but God would lead them out in Exodus (Genesis 15:13-14). True enough, in Exodus, the LORD God made a bilateral covenant with Israel after He had fulfilled His promise of deliverance, leading the Jews out of Egypt. The Torah, first five books of the Old Testament Scripture – Genesis to Deuteronomy – all written by Moses, was significant in the life and dealing of God with Israel, and vice-versa.
And God said “Let there be lights in the expanse of the heavens to separate the day from the night. And let them be for signs and for seasons, and for days and years. (Genesis 1:14)
And God said, “This is the sign of the covenant that I make between Me and you and every living creature that is with you, for all future generations: I have set My bow in the cloud, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between Me and the earth. (Genesis 9:12-13)
You shall be circumcised in the flesh of your foreskins, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between Me and you [Abraham]. (Genesis 17:11)
He [God] said, “But I will be with you [Moses], and this shall be the sign for you, that I have sent you; when you have brought the people out of Egypt, you shall serve God on this mountain.” (Exodus 3:12)
All these curses shall come upon you and pursue you and overtake you till you are destroyed, because you did not obey the voice of the LORD your God, to keep His commandments and His statutes that He commanded you. They shall be a sign and wonder against you and your offspring forever. (Deuteronomy 31:45-46)
The Torah spoke about signs, which were an integral part of God’s dealing with Israel. No wonder, the apostle Paul, himself a Jew, said, “For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom” (1 Corinthians 1:22). Signs was really a big thing among the Jews, same with recognizing the promised Messiah. The LORD God speaking through Isaiah about the coming Christ said,
Behold My Servant, whom I uphold, My chosen, in whom My soul delights; I put My Spirit upon Him; He will bring forth justice to the nations … I am the LORD; I have called You in righteousness; I will take You by the hand and keep You; I will give You as a covenant for the people, a light for the nations, to open the eyes that are blind, to bring out the prisoners from the dungeon, from the prison those who sit in darkness. (Isaiah 42:1,6-7)
No wonder, along with the ministry of Jesus, He was healing and doing the signs. Throughout the Gospels, here also in John, it’s not merely about the miracles but “signs”. Seventeen times, the Greek word “sign” was used throughout the Gospel of John. Below are examples of the passages with the mention of “sign”:
“Now when He [Jesus] was in Jerusalem at the Passover Feast, many believed in His name when they saw the signs that He was doing” (John 2:23)
“This man [Nicodemus] came to Jesus by night and said to Him [Jesus], “Rabbi, we know that You are a teacher come from God, for no one can do these signs that You do unless God is with Him.” (John 3:2)
And a large crowd was following Him [Jesus], because they saw the signs that He was doing on the sick … When the people saw the sign that He had done, they said, “This is indeed the Prophet who is to come into the world!” (John 6:2,14)
Yet many of the people believed in Him [Jesus]. They said, “When the Christ appears, will He do more signs than this man has done?” (John 7:31)
And many came to Him [Jesus]. And they said, “John [the baptist] did no sign, but everything that John said about this man was true. (John 10:41)
The reason why the crowd went to meet Him [Jesus] was that they heard He had done this sign … Though He [Jesus] had done so many signs before them, they still did not believe in Him. (John 12:18,37)
Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in His name. (John 20:30-31)
The Gospel of John narrated so many incidences, proofs, and signs pointing to Jesus as the Christ; yet, John 12:37 said, “though Jesus had done so many signs before them, they still did not believe in Him.” Was it simply due to the stubbornness of the Jews?
Let us take a step back and look at John 9:13-17. Scripture said,
They brought to the Pharisees the man who had formerly been blind. Now it was a Sabbath day when Jesus made the mud and opened his eyes. So the Pharisees again asked him how he had received his sight. And he said to them, “He [Jesus] put mud on my eyes, and I washed, and I see.” Some of the Pharisees said, “This man is not from God, for He does not keep the Sabbath.” But others said, “How can a man who is a sinner do such signs?” And there was a division among them. So they said again to the blind man, “What do you say about Him, since He has opened your eyes?” He said “He is a prophet.” (John 9:13-17)
Now in John 5:8-9, 16, it said,
Jesus said to him [the invalid man], “Get up, take up your bed, and walk.” And at once the man was healed, and he took up his bed and walked. Now that day was the Sabbath … And this was why the Jews were persecuting Jesus, because He was doing these things on the Sabbath.
Despite the overwhelming signs of Jesus, His healing on a Sabbath became a hindrance to the Pharisees from believing in Him. Several times in the Gospels, that was the issue raised against Jesus – He performed miracles on a Sabbath. What was the Sabbath to a Jew? See Exodus 20:8-11.
Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor, and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the LORD your God. On it you shall not do any work, you or your son, or your daughter, your male servant, or your female servant, or your livestock, or the sojourner who is within your gates. For in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, the sea, all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day. Therefore the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.
The Sabbath prohibition from work was from the Ten Commandments of God, given by God through Moses at Mount Sinai in the wilderness after the Exodus event. The Sabbath prohibition was once again reiterated with the Covenant Renewal, after Israel had committed the sin of the Golden Calf (Exodus 32). Hence, Sabbath is of great significance to the Jews, for it was again reiterated by God’s bilateral covenant renewal with Israel (Exodus 34:10-28).
And He [LORD] said, “Behold, I am making a covenant. Before all your people I will do marvels, such as have not been created in all the earth or in any nation. And all the people among whom you are shall see the work of the LORD, for it’s an awesome thing that I will do with you. Observe what I command you this day … Take care, lest you make a covenant with the inhabitants of the land to which you go, lest it becomes a snare in your midst … You shall keep the Feast of Unleavened Bread [Passover]. Seven days you shall eat unleavened bread, as I commanded you, at the time appointed in the month of Abib, for in the month Abib you came out of Egypt … Six days you shall work, but on the seventh day you shall rest [Sabbath Rest]. You shall observe the Feast of Weeks, the firstfruits of wheat harvest [Pentecost], and the Feast of Ingathering [Booths] at the year’s end. Three times in the year shall all your males appear before the LORD God, the God of Israel. For I will cast out nations before you and enlarge your borders; no one shall covet your land, when you go up to appear before the LORD your God three times in the year” … And the LORD said to Moses, ” Write these words, for in accordance with these words I have made a covenant with you and with Israel.” So he [Moses] was there with the LORD forty days and forty nights. He neither ate bread nor drink water. And he wrote on the tablets the words of the covenant, the Ten Commandments. (Exodus 34:10-11a,12,18,21-24,27-28)
The circumstance of Israel at the time of Jesus, they were under the control of a foreign nation, Rome. Three times in a year, all Israel appeared before the LORD celebrating the Spring harvest festivals – (1) The Feast of Passover and Unleavened Bread, and the Feast of Firstfruits; then, (2) the Feast of Weeks or Pentecost; and finally (3) the Fall harvest Festivals – The Feast of Trumpets, Feast of Atonement and the Feast of Booths. Altogether, again, the seven annual Jewish Feasts of Leviticus 23. Hence, each time they observed a Jewish Feast, perhaps they were on the watch for the appearance or signs of the Christ.
On the other hand, the great significance of the Sabbath Rest was a command from the LORD God to Israel. It was among the covenant binding conditions of God’s bilateral covenant made with Israel; thereby, the objection of the Jews and the Pharisees, that Jesus was violating the Sabbath, was not without basis. Yet, it seems that Jesus had always chosen the Sabbath to perform His sign (Mark 3:2-5; Mark 6:2; Luke 6:6-10; Luke 13:10-14; John 5:9-16; John 9:14). Yes, in John 5, Jesus healed a man also on a Sabbath. In fact, ten times the word “Sabbath” was used in John’s Gospel; four of them appeared here in John 5. Sabbath therefore is an important theme here in John 5. indeed, small details does say a lot.
To be continued …
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