The healing of the blind man in John 9

OVERVIEW:

One Sabbath Christ healed a man that was blind from birth.  Jesus made clay, applied it to the man’s eyes and told him to go and wash in the pool of Siloam.  So he went away and washed, and came back seeing (John 9:6-7).

Most of John 9 describes the dialogue between the blind man, his neighbors, his parents and the Pharisees, without Christ being involved (9:8-33).  The realistic nature of these exchanges, for such an unusual situation, assures us that this miracle really happened.

The Pharisees concluded, “This man is not from God, because He does not keep the Sabbath“.  Jesus not only healed the man, He also made clay to put on the man’s eyes and He told the man to wash his face in a pool.  All three these actions were perhaps classified, by the extremely strict traditions, as work that was not allowed on the Sabbath.

In this incident Jesus did not justify His Sabbath works, except to say it is the Father’s work.  When Jesus healed, it was the Father at work.  God’s purpose and perpetual work in this world is to redeem and restore man, healing sinners both spiritually and physically.

After the miracle Jesus spoke to the Pharisees and told them that He is one with the Father, that He was sent by the Father, that the Father is in Him, and He in the Father, that He is the Son of God, that He is the door to God’s people, that He is the good shepherd and that He has the authority from the Father to give up His life and to take it up again.  Christ appealed to the miracles to support these astonishing claims:

It was neither that this man sinned, nor his parents; but it was so that the works of God might be displayed in him” (9:3)

the works that I do in My Father’s name, these testify of Me” (10:25)

If I do not do the works of My Father, do not believe Me; but if I do them, though you do not believe Me, believe the works, so that you may know and understand that the Father is in Me, and I in the Father.” (10:37-38; compare 9:3)

To support Christ’s astonishing claims was therefore one purpose of His miracles.

Since Christ so often on the Sabbath healed these non-emergency cases, without being asked, in deliberate contravention of the traditions, it should be concluded that He was thereby conveying an important message with respect to the Sabbath:

One purpose was simply to create the opportunity for Him to teach the religious rulers.

A second purpose was to condemn the religious rulers.  This was one of Christ’s major messages in these chapters, namely to condemn the Pharisees as religious thieves and robbers, coming to steal and destroy.  He said to them, “you do not believe because you are not of My sheep” (10:26).  This was also one of the purposes of the Sabbath healing miracles.  By healing on the Sabbath, in direct contravention of the traditions (9:15, 16), He condemned the Pharisees’ rule and the foundation of their authority, which was their traditions.  It was not necessary for Christ to make clay to heal the man.  Perhaps He made clay on the Sabbath to deliberately contravene of the extremely strict the Jewish traditions.

The third purpose was to say that doing the Father’s work is allowed on the Sabbath.  “It is lawful to do good on the Sabbath” (Mat 12:12), and healing is a good example of the “many good works from the Father” (John 10:32).

By healing so often on the Sabbath Christ also implied that the purpose of the Sabbath is to restore man.  For this purpose the seventh day has been set aside.  Since Christians are people that abide by the “Law of Christ” (Gal. 6:2), which is His teachings, Christians should cease other work on the seventh day to focus on this work.

The Sabbath miracle healings are therefore simply part of His message, supporting His claim to be sent by the Father, but also condemning the Pharisees, specifically informing them that their interpretation of the Sabbath is wrong, and showing them what the Sabbath is supposed to be; a day for the “good works from the Father”.

Dialogue

Most of the chapter (9:8-33) describes the dialogue between the blind man, his neighbors, his parents and the Pharisees, without Christ being involved.

The people who knew him were amazed (9:8-11).  They took him to the Pharisees (9:13), who did not believe that the man was born blind (9:18) until they interrogated his parents (9:18-21).  Because it was a Sabbath on which Jesus made the clay and told the man to wash his face, some of the Pharisees concluded that Jesus worked on the Sabbath and therefore that He was a sinner (9:14-16).  But others were not sure (9:16), causing division in the ranks of the Pharisees (9:16).  Interestingly, they then asked the blind man for his opinion about Christ (9:17).

But eventually the consensus amongst the Pharisees was that “we know that this man (Jesus) is a sinner” (9:24).

The brave and wise words from the blind man, when they interrogated him for a second time (9:25; 27; 30-33), indicate the working of the Holy Spirit.  He witnessed to the Pharisees that Jesus was “from God” and questioned Pharisees’ legitimacy, seeing that they did not know where Jesus is from.

Therefore the Pharisees excommunicated the blind man (9:34, compare 9:22).  Later Jesus went to look for the man, and introduced Himself to the man as Daniel’s “the Son of Man” (9:35).

Causes and reasons of suffering and illness

When His disciples first saw the blind man, they asked:

Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he would be born blind?” (9:2)

This question reflects the general Jewish view of the time, namely that every illness was God’s penalty of some wrongdoing; either of the sufferer himself or of his parents.  This view is also reflected in the statement later made by the Pharisees to the blind man:

You were born entirely in sins, and are you teaching us?” (9:34)

Correcting His disciples, Jesus said:

“It was neither that this man sinned, nor his parents; but it was so that the works of God might be displayed in him. (9:3)

Different people have different views with respect to what causes suffering, for instance:

  • Many people think that God causes suffering and disease.
  • Others think that it is caused by Satan.  They may use the history of Job in support of their view.
  • Still others view it as the natural result of sin.

People that believe that God causes suffering and disease also have different views with respect to His purpose.  Some view it as God’s punishment for sin. Others view it as discipline.  Discipline is, like punishment, the consequence of wrong things done in the past, but the purpose of discipline is to correct behavior to harvest good things in the future, while punishment has no future purpose.

In 9:3 Jesus seems to oppose the idea that suffering is God’s penalty for the sins of the past, “but it was so that the works of God might be displayed in him”.  This raises a number of questions.  Does this mean that all illness is intended to display “the works of God”, or was this man a special case?  Did God cause his blindness from birth to display “the works of God”?

There is another way of interpreting Christ’s words here.  Note that the words “it was” in 9:3 are added by the translators.  By deleting these words and by replacing the full stop with a comma (there are no punctuation marks in the original text), it reads:

but so that the works of God might be displayed in him, we must work the works of Him who sent Me as long as it is day”. (9:3-4).

Read in this way Christ is not saying that God caused the man’s illness, but rather that He (Christ) will use the man’s disability to display the works of God.  It is therefore proposed that 9:3 by itself is insufficient to come to general conclusions with respect to the causes and reasons of suffering and illness.

The Father’s Works

Jesus said:

We must work the works of Him who sent Me as long as it is day; night is coming when no one can work. While I am in the world, I am the Light of the world.” (9:4-5)

This is Christ’s only justification in this chapter for the Sabbath healing that is described in the next two verses (9:6-7).  He justifies it as “the works of Him who sent Me” (9:4) which are “good works from the Father” (10:32).  This is the same justification as for the Sabbath healing in John 5, where He said, “My father is working still, and I am working” (5:17).  Both statements refer to the Father’s work and both say Christ is doing the Father’s work.

We sometimes put the Father in the background, but Jesus was the Father’s agent.  He has been sent by the Father (9:4).  When He heals, it is the Father at work.  God’s purpose and perpetual work in this world is to redeem and restore man, healing sinners both spiritually and physically:

the Lord Jesus Christ … gave Himself for our sins so that He might rescue us from this present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father” (Gal 1:3-4)

Night and Day

Consider again Christ’s words:

We must work the works of Him who sent Me as long as it is day; night is coming when no one can work. While I am in the world, I am the Light of the world.” (9:4-5)

The word “day” links to the word “Light”.  In other words, “day” here refers to the time when Jesus was in the world.  “Night” probably refers to death.

Light is something that makes it possible for us to see.  Christ is the “Light of the world” because He made it possible for the world to see spiritual truths.

Similar to John 5

This incident is in many respects similar to the healing at Bethesda:

Both healed men have been ill for a long time.  Neither was an emergency.  One was an invalid for 38 years (5:5) and the other was blind from birth (9:2).  In both instances the healing could have been delayed to the next day.

Neither of the chronically ill men asked for or expected to be healed.

Both miracles were performed in Jerusalem (5:1; 8:2), but not in the temple (8:59), nor in one of the synagogues.  Consequently in neither case Pharisees witnessed the healing, but both incidents were later reported to the Pharisees.

In both instances Jesus later went to speak to the man again (5:14; 9:35).

Pools are involved in both miracles.  The paralytic was lying on the edge of the pool in Bethesda while the blind man had to wash in the pool in Siloam.

In addition to healing, which the Pharisees viewed as work that is disallowed on the Sabbath, both miracles also included other activities which the extremely strict traditions perhaps classified as work.  In the first Christ instructed the paralytic to carry his pallet, and in the second Christ “made the clay” and instructed the man to go and wash his face in a pool (9:14-16).

After both miracles the Pharisees accused Christ of breaking the Sabbath: “This man is not from God, because He does not keep the Sabbath” (9:16).

Support His astounding claims

The healings in both John 5 and John 9 are followed by Christ’s teaching.  Christ’s teachings cover 30 verses in John 5 (5:17-47) and 20 verses in John 9-10 (9:41-10:18).

After the miracle healing in John 9 Jesus told the Pharisees that He is one with the Father (10:30), that he was sent by the Father, that the Father is in Him, and He in the Father (10:38), that He is the Son of God (10:36), that He is the door to God’s people, that He is the good shepherd and that He has the authority from the Father to give up His life and to take it up again.  Because of these claims some Pharisees concluded that He has a demon, but because of the miracles some were inclined to believe Him.  This was one purpose of the miracles, namely to support these astonishing claims:

If I do not do the works of My Father, do not believe Me; but if I do them, though you do not believe Me, believe the works, so that you may know and understand that the Father is in Me, and I in the Father.” (10:37-38)

Opportunity to speak

Another purpose of the miracles was simply to create controversy to create the opportunity for Him to teach the religious rulers.

Condemn the Jewish authorities

One of Christ’s major messages in these chapters was to condemn the Pharisees as religious thieves and robbers, coming to steal and destroy.  He said to them:

If you were blind, you would have no sin; but since you say, ‘We see,’ your sin remains”  (9:41).

“You do not believe because you are not of My sheep” (10:16).

I am the door of the sheep” (10:7), “he who does not enter by the door into the fold of the sheep, but climbs up some other way (implying the Pharisees), he is a thief and a robber” (10:1).

I am the good shepherd; the good shepherd lays down His life for the sheep.  He who is a hired hand, and not a shepherd (by implication the Pharisees), … sees the wolf coming, and leaves the sheep and flees … because he … is not concerned about the sheep.” (10:11-13)

The Sabbath healing miracles had the same purpose.  By healing on the Sabbath, in direct contravention of the traditions (9:15, 16), He condemned the Pharisees’ rule and the foundation of their authority, which was their traditions.

Doing good is allowed on the Sabbath.

By healing on the Sabbath and by explaining this as the Father’s work (9:3-4; 10:25, 32, 37-38), Christ implied that all work necessary on the Sabbath to accomplish the Father’s purpose to redeem and restore man is in harmony with the Sabbath.  In the healing of the man’s withered hand Christ’s defense was that He is doing good, and that “it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath” (Mat 12:12).  To “do good” is to assist people or animals that are in distress.  Healing is a good example of doing good.

The purpose the seventh day is to restore man.

By healing these non-emergency cases so often on the Sabbath, without being asked to do so, Christ furthermore implied that the purpose of the Sabbath is to restore man.  For this purpose the seventh day has been set aside (Gen. 2:3).  Since Christians are people that abide by the “Law of Christ” (Gal. 6:2), which is His teachings, Christians must cease other work on the seventh day to focus on this work.

Conclusion

The miracle healings are therefore simply part of His message, supporting His claim to be sent by the Father, but condemning the Pharisees and their traditions, specifically telling them that their interpretation of the Sabbath is wrong, and showing them what the Sabbath is supposed to be; a day for the “good works from the Father” (10:32; compare 9:4; 10:37).

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