Law of Christ

Christ did more than to merely interpret the Law of Moses; He replaced the Law of Moses with much higher moral standards, which Paul calls the Law of Christ.  This law reflects the Father’s perfect heart.  He loves His enemies and has compassion with people.  Therefore, the Law of Christ asks the same from His followers.  The Law of Christ is the eternal law as it existed from the beginning.  The Law of Moses was a temporary watered-down version of the eternal law, suitable for the corrupt condition of the nation.

Overview:

Christ not only interpreted the Law of Moses; He replaced the Law of Moses with a higher law with much higher moral standards.  Paul refers to this as the Law of Christ.  The Law of Christ is best illustrated by Matthew 5, where Christ quotes various Old Testament laws, and then, starting with the words, “But I say to you”, for each gives His alternative law, which is at a much higher moral level.  For instance:

He replaced the law against murder with a law against anger.

The revenge-law, which specified “an eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth”, He completely set aside, commanding His followers to “not resist an evil person; but whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also”.

This higher level Law reveals the Father’s heart.  The Father is perfect.  He loves His enemies and has compassion with people.  For that reason the Law of Christ requires His followers to do the same.

When Jesus was asked about the provisions for divorce in the Law of Moses, He referred to the creation account, stating that “the two shall become one flesh”.  When the Pharisees then asked why Moses allowed divorce, Jesus responded as follows:

Because of your hardness of heart Moses permitted you to divorce your wives; but from the beginning it has not been this way” (v8).

This teaches two principles:

Firstly, Christ’s Law is the law as it existed “from the beginning”.

Secondly the Law of Moses was a diluted / watered-down version of the law as it existed “from the beginning” to fit the corrupt condition of the nation.

The question then is, did Christ also replace the Old Testament Sabbath with a much higher Sabbath Law?

Introduction

This page discusses a principle that is seldom sufficiently appreciated, namely that Christ, through His teachings, did more than to interpret the Old Testament Law; He rather replaced the Law of Moses with a higher law with much higher moral standards.

Christ replaced the law of Moses with a higher system of ethics.

The Sermon on the Mount provides perhaps the best examples of this.  Here Christ quoted various Old Testament laws, and then, starting by saying, “But I say to you” (Matthew 5:22, 28, 32, 34, 39 and 44), gave a much elevated version of that law.

For instance, the law against adultery He replaced with a law against looking at a woman with lust:

“You have heard that it was said, ‘you shall not commit adultery’; but I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” (Mat 5:27-28)

This is not an interpretation of the seventh commandment, but on a much higher moral level.

The law against murder He replaced with a law against anger:

You have heard that the ancients were told, ‘you shall not commit murder … But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother shall be guilty …” (Matthew 5:20-21).

Still talking about people that make one angry or scared, He said: “love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (Matthew 5:44).  Here Christ lifts the standard exponentially by defining even anger is a sin.  Instead of anger He requires us to love even our enemies.

Christ not only replaced the Ten Commandments; he also replaced other Old Testament laws, for instance, God gave to Moses the rule “an eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth” (Lev. 24:20), but now Christ teaches that we should not take revenge:

“You have heard that it was said, ‘an eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, do not resist an evil person; but whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also.” (Matthew 5:38-39)

This was also how Christ lived and died.  Dying on the cross, in incredible pain and suffering, He still had time to think about His enemies:

Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing. (Luke 23:34)

The law of Christ replaced the law of Moses. 

Moses said that “God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you, from your countrymen, you shall listen to him” (Deut. 18:15; cf. Acts 3:22), for “I will put My words in his mouth, and he shall speak to them all that I command him” (Deut. 18:18).  At the transfiguration of Jesus, Moses also appeared with Jesus (Mt. 17:3), but God said of Jesus “This is My beloved Son, with whom I am well-pleased; listen to Him” (v5).  These statements confirm that Jesus is the law-giver of the new dispensation.

Just before His ascension, Jesus said to His disciples:

Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you” (Matthew 28:19-20)

Paul wrote “the things which I write to you are the Lord’s commandment” (1 Cor. 14:37) and that he (Paul) is not “without the law of God” because he is “under the law of Christ” (1Cor.  9:21).  He urged Christ’s followers to “fulfill the law of Christ” (Gal. 6:2).  The “Law of Christ” refers Christ’s teachings, which is the higher level law which replaced the Law of Moses.

The Law of Christ reveals the Father’s heart.

Christ said:

He who has seen Me has seen the Father” (John 14:9)

“I do nothing on My own initiative, but I speak these things as the Father taught Me. (John 8:28)

I did not speak on My own initiative, but the Father Himself who sent Me has given Me a commandment as to what to say and what to speak” (John 12:49).

It is therefore proposed that the “Law of Christ” is the pure law as it exists in the Father’s heart.  This is supported by Christ’s conclusion of His teachings in Matthew 5,

Therefore you are to be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:48).

This means there is no anger or revenge in the Father.  He would never expect more from us that from Himself.  He requires us to love our enemies (Matt. 5:44; Luke 6:27, 35) because He loves His enemies.  He told us to “turn the other cheek” (Matt. 5:39) and “I desire compassion” (Matthew 9:13) because that is what the Father is like.  The Bible does sometimes present God as angry or seeking revenge, but it is proposed here that that is simply to explain the infinite One in a way which humans can understand.

God never punishes us because of bad things we have done in the past.  He does punish, but it is always with an eye on the future; to achieve better things for the future, for God is love (1 John 4:8, 16).

The Bible speaks about God’s wrath, and His wrath is a reality, but that does not mean that He becomes angry.  Without God we can do nothing.  He is the invisible Force that constantly protects and upholds us both physically and spiritually.  We are not even aware of all the dangers from which He constantly protects us. His wrath, therefore, is simply to give up those people for whom He can do nothing more.  In Romans 1, where Paul discusses “men who suppress the truth in unrighteousness” (v18), he three times wrote that “God gave them over” to their own passions and lusts (v24, 26, 28).  Also with respect to His people Israel, who were “bent on turning from Me”, God said:

How can I give you up, O Ephraim? How can I surrender you, O Israel? … My heart is turned over within Me, All My compassions are kindled” (Hosea 11:7-8)

Since the Father’s standards are infinitely high, our response should simply be like that of the tax collector:

“standing some distance away, was even unwilling to lift up his eyes to heaven, but was beating his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, the sinner’” (Luke 18:13)

God gave Israel the law in a form which they could understand.

But, one may protest, if Christ revealed God’s true law, why was the Law of Moses given at a lower level?  Why did God give Israel a watered-down law?

It is proposed that the law was scaled down to fit the corrupt condition of the nation.  Jesus explained this principle in Matthew 19.  When He was asked about the provisions for divorce in the Law of Moses, He said:

Have you not read that He who created them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, ‘for this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? So they are no longer two, but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let no man separate.” (v4-6)

Jesus therefore responded to their question by referring to the creation account, not the Law of Moses.  This implies that the Law of Christ is the law as it existed “from the beginning”.  For both marriage (Mat. 19:8) and the seventh day (Mark 2:27) Christ reached over the Law of Moses to derive His elevated principles or laws from the way that things were created to be.

The Pharisees then, still adamant to apply the Law of Moses, asked, “Why then did Moses command to give her a certificate of divorce and send her away?” (v7)  Jesus then explained:

Because of your hardness of heart Moses permitted you to divorce your wives; but from the beginning it has not been this way” (v8).

Here we have confirmation that the original law was adapted to Israel’s limited abilities.  God elected Abraham and his seed to be the conduit of His grace to the peoples of the earth.  To Abraham He promised, “in you all the families of the earth will be blessed” (Gen 12:3).  But, by the time of Moses, Israel has become a corrupt and enslaved little nation; far removed from the sinless and regal human beings that God created.  Due to the deterioration that comes from thousands of years living in a world filled with sin, Israel would not have been able to keep or even to understand the Laws of God as it existed “from the beginning”.  Therefore, to rescue that weak little nation from their addictive and soul-destroying idolatrous practices.  He gave the Law to Moses in the form that was best for Israel due to their “hardness of heart”.  He gave laws to Israel according to their capacity.  Israel needed simple, clear and practical instructions, linked with severe penalties.

This principle is applicable to all of God’s interactions with His creatures.  God meets people where they are.  He speaks to His hearers words that they are able to understand.  He never expects more from people than what they are able to do or able to bear.

Differences between the Law of Moses and the Law of Christ

The point is that Christ went beyond interpreting the Law of Moses; He replaced the Law of Moses and the Ten Commandments with a much higher system of ethics, here referred to as the “Law of Christ”.  Consider some differences between the Law of Moses and the Law of Christ:

The Ten Commandments is God’s Law at Satan’s end of the spectrum; it expresses God’s principles in terms of the practical realities of a world controlled by the evil one.  Take, for instance, the commandment not to kill.  It is based on God’s law—to love the people around you as much as you love yourself—but with Satan’s and man’s fallen nature in mind.   The Ten Commandments therefore are but a dim reflection of His original and eternal law.  The Law of Christ describes what the Father wants us to strive for, namely to be like Him, which is unconditional love.

The Law of Moses is an adaptation of God’s eternal law to fit the condition of a specific nation, place and time; to fit the hardness of man’s heart (Mat 19:8).  The Law of Christ is the law as it existed from the beginning.

The Law of Moses is given at a level where sinful man would be able to keep it.  The Laws of Christ, being at such a high level, is impossible for man, in his current condition, to comply with.

The Law of Moses may be read as teaching that one can earn rewards from God.  The Law of Christ emphasizes grace (mercy).

The Law of Moses focuses mostly on external behavior, while Christ’s laws put the emphasis mostly on the drivers of external behavior, namely internal feelings, such as love, hate and compassion.

Most of the Ten Commandments are stated negatively (what you should not do), while most of Christ’s explanations of the laws are stated positively (what you should do: Matt. 5 – let you light shine – be reconciled – make friends quickly with your opponent – turn the other cheek, to mention a few).

The Old Testament prescribes the death penalty for Sabbath breaking (Ex. 31:14), murder (Ex. 21:12), striking or cursing one’s father or mother (Ex. 21:15; Ex. 21:17), adultery (Lev. 20:10), blaspheming the name of the LORD (Lev. 24:16) and various other transgressions.  But Christ said to the woman caught in adultery, “I do not condemn you, either. Go. From now on sin no more” (John 8:11).

Relevance

You may ask why the “Law of Christ” is discussed here as part of a discussion of Christ and the Sabbath.  The reason is that when we read what Jesus said about the Sabbath, we have to listen carefully.  If it can be shown that Christ, through His Sabbath teachings, explained the Sabbath principle as at a much higher moral level than the Law of Moses, then it would be possible to conclude that He replaced the Old Testament Sabbath with a much higher Sabbath Law.

TO: Rebuttal of the article “The Law of Christ”

TO: Sabbath Table of Contents

NEXT: First two Sabbath healing miracles

TO: General Table of Contents

Jesus heals the blind man in John 9

The traditions did not permit healing on the Sabbath, but Jesus heals the blind man specifically on the Sabbath.  He thereby:
(1) Illustrated the nature and work of the Father, namely to heal, redeem and restore;
(2) Provided support for His astounding claims, such as that He has the authority from the Father to give up His life and to take it up again;
(3) Condemned the Jewish system of authority, which was based on their traditions; and
(4) Declared that the purpose of the Sabbath is to heal and restore;

Overview:

One Sabbath Jesus heals the blind man.  He 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 heals the blind man, 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.    In Christ the Father came near to us:

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).

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:

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)

Another purpose of His Sabbath healing miracles was to condemn the religious rulers as religious thieves and robbers, coming to steal and destroy.  This was one of Christ’s major messages in these chapters in John.  He said to them, “you do not believe because you are not of My sheep” (10:26).  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.

Since Christ so often healed these non-emergency cases on the Sabbath, without being asked, in deliberate contravention of the traditions, it should be concluded that He was thereby saying something important about the Sabbath:

Firstly, 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).

Secondly, that the purpose of the Sabbath is to restore man.  It was for this purpose that 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; to restore man.

The Sabbath healing miracles are therefore merely part of His message, supporting His claim to be sent by the Father, but also condemning the Pharisees, while also showing what the Sabbath is supposed to be; a day for the “good works from the Father”.

Jesus heals the blind man

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 Jesus heals the blind man, 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 Jesus heals the blind man 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).

NEXT: Deliberately breaking the Sabbath

TO:  Sabbath Table of Contents

TO: General Table of Contents

Bethesda – John 5: Jesus heals on the Sabbath Day

The traditions were very important to the Jews, but the strict rules allowed little space for the principles of the Kingdom of God, such as compassion and mercy.  The Sabbath Day was made to be a day a rest, but became an intolerable burden, falsely depicting God as a tyrant.

One Sabbath day Jesus deliberately and publicly broke the Jewish traditions by healing one of the many desperately sick people around the pool of Bethesda, and by telling the man to pick up his pallet and go home.  Jesus was seeking confrontation to condemn the traditions.  Therefore, since man did not know who Jesus was, Jesus later introduced Himself to him.

But Jesus did more than condemn the traditions; He gave a new meaning to the fourth commandment.  The fourth commandment forbids work and demands rest, but Jesus taught that the seventh day is the preferred day to focus our thoughts and energy on bringing joy to people by physical, psychological and spiritual healing, while we rest from ordinary work.

Summary

John 5 records Christ’s miracle healing of a paralytic man on the Sabbath day.  This man had been ill for 38 years.  He was lying with a multitude of the sick, blind, lame, and withered next to the pool known as Bethesda, hoping for a supernatural cure.

The man did not ask to be healed.  He did not even know who Jesus was.  Jesus also did not require this suffering man to exercise faith.  Jesus simply told the man to get up, pick up the mat on which he was lying, and walk.  The man immediately became well, picked up his pallet and began to walk.

But it was the Sabbath day and the Jewish religious police was quick to spot him.  They said to him “It is the Sabbath, and it is not permissible for you to carry your pallet” (v10).  As if to say that a man, that is able to heal so completely, should know what is allowed on the Sabbath day, the man responded, “He who made me well was the one who said to me, Pick up your pallet and walk”.

The Jews asked him who the Healer was, but he did not know.  Jesus had slipped away into the crowd.  But later the same day Jesus found him in the temple and spoke to him.  Jesus might have remained anonymous, but He was seeking confrontation with the religious rulers.

The man then told the Pharisees who the Man was who cured him, probably expecting the religious leaders to be overjoyed, just like he himself was, to meet this miracle Worker.  But this news made the religious leaders more committed than ever to persecute Jesus.  Not only did Christ heal the sick on the Sabbath; He also told the man to carry his mat.

While the Law of Moses is silent on healing on the Sabbath day, simply prohibiting work on the Sabbath day, the “traditions of the elders”, which was their fence around the Law of Moses, had an extremely strict and detailed definition of work, even prohibiting non-emergency healing on the Sabbath day.  According to these “traditions” Christ clearly contravened the Sabbath commandment.

The traditions were extremely important in Jewish society, but by adding this multitude of very strict rules to the Law of Moses, the Jews allowed very little room for compassion, and consequently perverted the Sabbath day.  What was supposed to be a day a rest from the toil of human existence, became an intolerable burden to which the people were slaves, falsely representing God as a tyrant.

Healing was an integral part of His ministry, but to heal on the Sabbath day was so important to Jesus that He was willing to risk His life and mission for it.

One reason for His Sabbath day healing miracles was to condemn the Jewish traditions and the entire Jewish system that rested upon those traditions.  But the more important reason for Christ’s deliberate contraventions of the traditions was to give a new meaning to the Sabbath day.  Similar to the way in which He replaced the commandment against adultery with a commandment against looking at a woman with lust in the heart, and similar to the way in which He replaced the commandment against murder with a commandment against anger, He gave a much higher / deeper meaning to the Sabbath day.

The fourth commandment forbids work and demands rest.  Jesus accepted the principle that the seventh day is set aside for special use (sanctified – Gen 2:3), but He not only declared that it is allowed to do good to people and animals in need on the Sabbath day; He also declared that the Sabbath day is the preferred day for doing good to others, which includes to restore people to health.  In this way He have a new meaning to the Sabbath day.  He shifted the focus:

From the fourth commandment to the original purpose of the seventh day, namely to be a blessing to mankind (Gen 2:3).

From rest to the purpose of the rest, namely to restore man to health.

From the negative prohibition against any form of work to the work that is required on the seventh day, namely works to restore people to holistic physical, emotional, psychological and spiritual health.

Since this shifts the focus away from the rest required by the fourth commandment, we should accept Christ’s Sabbath deeds and statements as new truth for the Christian; as a founding statement for Christianity.  Thus the Sabbath day also becomes a work day, but a different type of work.  The Sabbath becomes a day on which we focus our thoughts and energy on bringing joy to people by healing; not only by physical healing, but also by psychological and spiritual healing, while we rest from the work that is required on the other days of the week.

The Story

John 5 records Christ’s miracle healing of a paralytic man (v7) on the Sabbath day (v9).  The story is as follows (with comments in brackets):

Jesus went up to Jerusalem for a feast of the Jews.

In Jerusalem there was a pool called Bethesda, with five porches.  In these porches lay a multitude of the sick, blind, lame, and withered, waiting for the moving of the waters.  (They had the superstitious belief that the person, who gets into the pool first, after it was “supernaturally” stirred, will be healed.)

One of the men there was ill for 38 years (v5).  When Jesus saw him, He knew that this man had been in that condition for a long time.  Jesus said to him:

Do you wish to get well?” (v6)

The man answered that he has nobody to put him into the pool when the water is stirred.  Jesus then said to him:

Get up, pick up your pallet and walk” (v8).

(The man did not ask to be healed.  He did not even know who Jesus was.  Jesus also did not require this suffering man to exercise faith in Him.  He simply told him to get up, pick up his pallet—his sleeping mat—and walk.)

The man became well immediately, picked up his pallet and began to walk.  (But it was the Sabbath day and the Jewish religious police was quick to spot him carrying his mat.)  When the Jews saw this man carrying his pallet, they said to him:

It is the Sabbath, and it is not permissible for you to carry your pallet” (v10).

But he answered them,

“He who made me well was the one who said to me, Pick up your pallet and walk”.

(As if to say, a man that is able to heal me so completely, after lying on my mat for 38 year, should know what is allowed and what is not allowed on the Sabbath day.  If he tells me to carry my mat, then I will do it.)

The Jews asked him who this man was, but he did not know.  Jesus had slipped away into the crowd (v13).  (After his healing the man probably was bewildered, not believing what his body is doing; too excited to pay attention even to his Healer.)

Later the same day Jesus found him in the temple and said to him,

Behold, you have become well; do not sin anymore, so that nothing worse happens to you.” (v14)

The man then told the Pharisees who the Man was who cured him (v15). (The healed man was naturally overjoyed by his deliverance.  Probably ignorant of the enmity toward Jesus, he assumed that everybody, particularly the religious leaders, will want to meet this miracle Worker.)

For this reason the Jews were persecuting Jesus, because He was doing these things on the Sabbath” (v16).

(Note the plural “doing these things” (v16).  The Jews could identify two contraventions of the Sabbath Law in this incident.  Firstly the man carried his sleeping mat (5:10) and secondly Jesus healed the sick (compare Luke 13:14).  Jesus was ‘guilty’ of both, because He told the man to carry his mat.)

(The Jews apparently then questioned Jesus, because, according to the next verse,) He answered them,

“My Father is working until now, and I Myself am working” (v17).

Discussion

Jesus did not contravene the Law of Moses; He contravened the Traditions.

But did Jesus contravene the fourth commandment?  The Law of Moses is silent on healing on the Sabbath day, simply prohibiting work on the Sabbath day.  But still the Jewish authorities had no doubt that healing is not allowed on the Sabbath day(Luke 4:40; 13:14; Mark 3:2).  It is therefore concluded that it was the regulations, known as the “the traditions of the elders”, that prohibited healing on the Sabbath day.

The Traditions were a fence around the law.

Because it was, according to the voluminous Talmud, intended as a fence around the law, the “traditions of the elders” had an extremely strict definition of work.  For example, if the Law of Moses determines that the Sabbath starts at sunset, the traditions might require Jews to stop their work an hour before sunset.  And anything that even remotely looked like work was defined as work; a Jew was not even allowed to light a candle on the Sabbath.  In this way they hoped to protect themselves from breaking the law.  They knew that a contravention of the traditions is not necessarily a contravention of the Law of Moses, but the traditions were nevertheless applied as law.

The Traditions were extremely important in Jewish society.

We generally have very little appreciation of how detailed and complex the traditions of the elders” were, or how important it was in the Jewish society.  Paul, describing his previous life, wrote “I was advancing in Judaism beyond many of my contemporaries among my countrymen, being more extremely zealous for my ancestral traditions” (Gal. 1:14).

The Traditions perverted the Sabbath Day.

But by adding this multitude of very strict rules to the Law of Moses, the Jews allowed very little space for compassion, and consequently perverted the Sabbath.  What was supposed to be a day a rest from the toil of human existence became an intolerable burden to which the people were slaves.  This falsely represented God as a tyrant.  Because the traditions made people to serve the Sabbath, Jesus objected by saying, “The Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath” (Mark 2:27).

Jesus was seeking confrontation with the religious rulers.

We see this in the following:

Jesus could have healed the sick man on any other day of the week, but He healed him deliberately on the Sabbath.

After He cured him Jesus might have warned the man not to carry his bed, but Jesus deliberately told him to carry away his bed.

The man did not know who healed him, because “Jesus had slipped away” (5:13).  Jesus might have remained anonymous, but instead Jesus afterwards “found him in the temple” (5:14) and spoke with him, apparently with the purpose that the man may inform the Pharisees “that it was Jesus who had made him well” (5:15).

Jesus did not explain in John 5 why healing is allowed on the Sabbath Day, except to say it is the Father’s will.

Healing was an integral part of His ministry, but why was it so important to heal on the Sabbath that He was willing to risk His life and mission for it?  He did not do it simply out of compassion, for there were many other sick people at Bethesda whom He did not heal.  The people whom He healed also were not medical emergencies; they were all sick for many years.  Why did He not delay healing to another day?

In healing the man’s withered hand, He said “it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath” (Mat. 12:12).  In healing the crippled woman, He said “this woman … whom Satan has bound for eighteen long years, should she not have been released from this bond on the Sabbath day?” (Luke 13:16)  But we find no such explanation in John 5.

John 5, after the healing, does include a long debate between Christ and the Pharisees (5:17-47), but does not explain why He healed.  It seems as if one reason for performing this miracle, deliberately acting contrary to the traditions of the elders, was to create the opportunity to explain to them some higher order principles, such as resurrection from death, judgment, eternal life and honoring the Son “even as they honor the Father” (5:21-30).  He later says, “I say these things so that you may be saved” (5:34).

His justification of the healing is limited to saying:

My Father is working until now, and I Myself am working” (5:17)

the Son can do nothing of Himself, unless it is something He sees the Father doing; for whatever the Father does, these things the Son also does in like manner.” (5:19)

Notice that the words “working”, “do”, “doing” and “does” link these statements to the work of healing which He performed on the Sabbath.  These statements seem to simply say that these Sabbath healings are the right and proper things to do, according to the Father’s will, without explaining why.

He later added:

If a man receives circumcision on the Sabbath so that the Law of Moses will not be broken, are you angry with Me because I made an entire man well on the Sabbath?” (2:23).

This seems to say that circumcision is a form of healing, and that healing is allowed on the Sabbath, but still does not explain why healing is allowed on the Sabbath.

By healing on the Sabbath, and by His Sabbath declarations, Jesus gave a new meaning to the Sabbath.

Healing was an integral part of His ministry, but to heal on the Sabbath was so important to Jesus that He was willing to risk His life and mission for it.  One reason for His Sabbath healing miracles was to condemn the Jewish traditions and the entire Jewish system that rested upon those traditions.  But perhaps the most important reason for His Sabbath healing miracles was to give a new meaning to the Sabbath:

The Sabbath commandment simply forbids work and requires rest.  The religious leaders applied this literally, and we probably would have done the same, because that is the emphasis in the commandment.  It would be difficult to justify non-emergency work on the basis of the Law of Moses alone.  Even Christian Sabbath-keepers today would find in difficult to justify work related to non-emergency healing on the Sabbath.

But Jesus came and taught that “it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath” (Mat. 12:12).  He went further and said the Sabbath is the most appropriate day for releasing people from the bonds of Satan—which includes physical illnesses (Luke 13:16).  He declared this as the Father’s will (John 5:17, 19).

In the view of the Jewish leaders Christ’s statements contradicted of the Law of Moses, but that was due to their extremely narrow and strict interpretation of the Law.  Christians need to assume that these statements are consistent with the Sabbath Commandment because Jesus never acted contrary to the Law of Moses.

By arguing with the Pharisees what is allowed on the Sabbath, implying that certain things are not allowed on the Sabbath, He confirmed the principle that the seventh day is set aside for special use (sanctified – Gen 2:3).

To be able to adopt the meaning which Christ attached to the Sabbath, we have to interpret the Sabbath not only in terms of the fourth commandment, but also in terms of its original purpose, namely that it was created to be a blessing to mankind (Gen 2:3).  As Jesus confirmed, “the Sabbath was made for man” (Mark 2:27).

Then the requirement for rest in the fourth commandment is not an end in itself, but a means to an end.  Then we interpret the “rest” in the Sabbath Commandment as to cease the work of everyday life, to focus the mind and energy on bringing joy to people by restoring ourselves and other people to holistic physical, emotional, psychological and spiritual health.

Understood in this way “it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath” and anything that we can do to restore ourselves and other people to health, holistically defined, is not only allowed, but completely consistent with the purpose of the Sabbath.  In fact, to neglect to do on the Sabbath anything that we can do to restore people to health would be inconsistent with the Sabbath principle.

But the principle in the previous paragraph apply to all days of the week.  We should go beyond this and accept the Sabbath as the preferred day for healing.  Thus the Sabbath also becomes a work day, but a different type of work.  The Sabbath becomes a day on which we work for the mentally, physically and spiritually sick, blind, lame, and withered, to heal them.  Then our lives will become divided into two parts; for six days we work for ourselves, but on the seventh day we work for the physical, psychological and spiritual health of others.

Understood in this way we accept Christ’s statement, that healing on the Sabbath is the Father’s will, as new truth for the Christian; as a founding statement for Christianity.  Jesus gave a new meaning to the Sabbath which cannot be derived simply from the Law of Moses.

What Jesus did to the Sabbath is the same as what He did to the entire Law of Moses; He replaced it with the The Law of Christ.  The Law of Moses was God’s eternal laws for mankind, but adapted to the condition, abilities and situation of the enslaved and corrupt little nation of Israel.  It therefore, for example, prohibited adultery.  But Christ again revealed the eternal principles on which the Law of Moses was based, replacing the law against adultery with the law that “everyone who looks at a woman with lust for her has already committed adultery” (Mat 5:28).  All moral principles of the Law of Moses are retained in the Law of Christ, but the Law of Christ raised the standards to the Father’s perfection.  We should therefore not be surprised to find that Christ replaced the fourth commandment with a much higher law, without lowering the standards.

NEXT: The healing of the blind man in John 9

TO: Sabbath Table of Contents

TO: General Table of Contents

Romans 14:7-13 – Judgment Seat of God

Paul wrote “that a man is justified by faith apart from works of the Law” (e.g. 3:27), but he also wrote that all people will all be judged by their deeds before the Judgment Seat of God.  If a man is justified by faith, why must he still be judged by his deeds?  By what norm will we be judged if not by the works of the Law?  Is there a difference between our deeds and the works of the Law?

Romans 14:7-9

Romans 14:7 For not one of us lives for himself, and not one dies for himself; 14:8 for if we live, we live for the Lord, or if we die, we die for the Lord; therefore whether we live or die, we are the Lord’s. 14:9 For to this end Christ died and lived again, that He might be Lord both of the dead and of the living.

14:6 describes eating meat and certain days as “for the Lord”.  Verses 7 and 8 then expands this concept and describe the Christian’s entire life and even his death as “for the Lord”.  Verses 7 and 8 therefore take the minds of the opposing groups in the church away from their petty disputes about meat and days to things that really matter.

Romans 14:10-13

14:10 But you, why do you judge your brother? Or you again, why do you regard your brother with contempt? For we will all stand before the Judgment Seat of God. 14:11 For it is written, “as I live, says the Lord, every knee shall bow to Me, and every tongue shall give praise to God.” 14:12 So then each one of us will give an account of himself to God. 14:13 Therefore let us not judge one another anymore …

These verses repeat the words “judge” and “contempt” from verses 1 to 4.  This confirms that, with respect to eating meat, there was in-fighting among the Christians in Rome.  They were judging one another (v 10, 13) with contempt (v10) .  The GNB says they despised one another.   Verses 10 to 13 therefore continue to draw the minds of the opposing groups away from their disagreements to things which really matter.  And what really matters, according to verses 10 to 13, is that everyone of us will judged before the Judgment Seat of God.  Since that is true, Paul is saying, let us not focus on other people.  Rather, let each person be concerned about him or herself (v12).

Judgment Seat of God

Judgment Seat of God
Judgment Seat of God

Some people believe that Christians will not appear before the Judgment Seat of God, but Paul is not only clear that we will be judged; he is also specifically clear that we will be judged by our deeds.  On the basis of our deeds, we will receive either eternal death or eternal life.  For example:

God … will render to each person according to his deeds: to those who by perseverance in doing good seek for glory and honor and immortality, eternal life; but to those who are selfishly ambitious and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, wrath and indignation”. (Rom 2:5-8)

The doers of the Law will be justified” (2:13).

 “if you are living according to the flesh, you must die; but if by the Spirit you are putting to death the deeds of the body, you will live” (Rom. 8:12-13)

For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom 6:23).

we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may be recompensed for his deeds in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad” (2 Cor. 5:10).

Please see the article Eternal Life and Death in Paul’s Letters for more information on that topic.

The Conundrum

As quoted above, all people will all be judged by their deeds, but Paul also wrote “that a man is justified by faith apart from works of the Law” (e.g. 3:27).  If a man will be justified by faith, why must he still be judged by his deeds?

WHAT ARE THE WORKS OF THE LAW?

Paul wrote that no one will be justified (put right with God) by the works of the law (Romans 3:20, 28; Gal 2:16; etc.).  To be justified by the works of the law is often understood as to be justified by living a sinless life.  This conceptual error is caused by a lack of understanding the context in Paul’s day, and has resulted is a huge theological error.

Law of Moses

It was Jews, who accepted Jesus as Messiah, who maintained that people are justified by the works of the law.  They taught that, unless one is circumcised and observe the Law of Moses, one cannot be saved (Acts 15:1, 5).  These Christian Jews brought this idea over from Judaism into the Church.

By this argument, that man is justified by the works of the Law, the Jews did not mean that one must be without sin to be saved.  Far from it.  They were very aware of their sins.  What they meant is that the rituals and ceremonies of the Law of Moses, such as circumcision and the sacrifices, will cancel out their sins.

It was this error which Paul opposed when he taught that no one will be justified by the works of the Law.  Paul was not saying that no one will be saved by living a sinless life; he was simply saying is that the rituals and ceremonies of the Law of Moses will not save anybody.

The works of the Law therefore refer to circumcision and the other rituals and ceremonies prescribed by the Law of Moses.

WHY MUST PEOPLE APPEAR BEFORE JUDGMENT SEAT OF GOD?

As quoted above, all people must appear before the Judgment Seat of God to be judged by their deeds.  To put the issue in the context in which Paul lived and wrote, since the sins of people are not cancelled by the works of the Law of Moses, they will be judged by their deeds before the Judgment Seat of God.  In that day “God will judge the secrets of men through Christ Jesus” (Rom. 2:16).

The Cross
The Cross of Christ

But, to update the question to modern thinking, if the sins of Christians are washed away by the Cross of Christ, why must they appear before the Judgment Seat of God?   It is proposed that this question is based on a superficial understanding of why Christ had to die.   Please see the article, Why Jesus had to die.

THE TWO LAWS

The Jews argued that man is “justified by the works of the Law”.
Paul wrote that “the doers of the Law will be justified” (2:13)

The word “Law” in used in both statements, and it almost seems as if Paul and the Jews agreed, but these two statements refer to two different laws, used in two different ways:

Animal sacrifices

The Jews were referring to the Law of Moses and by justified by the works of the law they meant that man in justified by the rituals and ceremonies of that Law.  For the Jews the law was their means of justification.  They taught that man is reconciled to God through the blood of sheep and goats.  To argue against this error, Paul responded that man is not justified by the works of the Law.

In Romans 2:13, quoted above, Paul was referring to the Law of Christ.  The Law of Christ is God’s eternal moral principle.  Man’s “deeds”—“what he has done, whether good or bad” (2 Cor. 5:10), will be measured against that Law:

Those that sin will die, for “the wages of sin is death” (Rom. 6:23).
Those that “are putting to death the deeds of the body, … will live” (Rom. 8:12).

WHAT LAW IS PAUL REFERRING TO?

Paul uses the word “law” often in his writings, and it is difficult to always be sure what law he is referring to:

Often “law” refers to the five books of Moses, for instance in the phrase “the Law and the Prophets” (e.g. Rom. 3:21).

At times “law” refers to the book which Moses wrote up, and put beside the ark, for instance “the book of the law” (Gal. 3:10).  This is also known as the Law of Moses.

Sometimes the word law refers to Christ’s teachings; the “commandments we gave you by the authority of the Lord Jesus” (1 Thess. 4:2), elsewhere called the “law of Christ” (1 Cor. 9:21).

Ten Commandments

Sometimes the word law may even refer to the Ten Commandments (e.g. Rom. 13:10).

It is therefore difficult to always know what Paul means by the word law.  All the conflicting theories about the law floating around in Christianity do not make it easier.  The only solution is to read and to read again, to be aware of the various meanings of the word law, and to allow the immediate context to determine what Paul means.

DOES THIS MEAN THAT GOD’S PEOPLE EARN THEIR JUSTIFICATION?

If “the doers of the Law will be justified” (2:13), does that mean that man earns redemption through his deeds?

Paul argued that man is wholly unable to comply with the Law of Christ.  The only function of the Law is to accuse man of sin (3:20; 7:11).  As stated by 1 Corinthians 15:56, the law gives power to sin.  The law is therefore completely unable to justify man.

Paul therefore also often wrote that man is saved by grace.  We will be judged by our deeds, but because man is unable to comply with God’s eternal moral principles, man does not deserve to live.  Man is justified by grace, which means to be saved by God’s kindness:  Eternal life is “the free gift of God … in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom. 6:23).

GOD’S ELECT

If “the doers of the Law will be justified” (2:13), does it contradict the indications in the Bible that God elects certain people? 

Jesus, for instance, said, “for the sake of the elect those days will be cut short” (Mat. 24:22, cf. 24:24, 31).  Paul similarly asked “Who will bring a charge against God’s elect?” (Romans 8:33)

It is proposed here that God does elect certain people, but He does not do that independent of what they are or do, as is often taught.  He elects people for what they are.  However, only God is able to see what people really are.  Only God is able to judge the internal being of man; his faith, motives and desires; what we may refer to as man’s heart.  These things people are completely unable to judge.

Job may serve as an example.  He was God’s elect, but Satan refused to accept God’s judgment, and requested permission from God to test Job thoroughly.  See Why Satan thought he could succeed, for further information.

ON WHAT DOES GOD DISTINGUISHES BETWEEN PEOPLE?

Since we are all sinners (Romans 3:9), how does God decide who will receive eternal live and who will die (8:13)?

Here Romans 7 help us.  In brief, God will save the people that want to do good, even though they fail often (Romans 7:21-25).  The person that does not want to do good, will die.  God will therefore judge man by his inner being.  To say that man is justified by his want to do good is the same as saying man is justified by faith.

SELF-RIGHTEOUSNESS IS FOUND IN ALL AGES.

The error of the Jews in Paul’s time is relevant in all times.  In all ages man is inclined to make a list of things that one must do or not do, to be saved.

We also see this error at the time of Luther, when the church also taught that man is redeemed by complying with a strict set of rules, and that contributions to the church and self-deprivation and even self-mutilation compensate for sins.

And we also, today, are fond of making lists of do’s and don’ts.  Such lists of externals only serve to make us unloving and critical of others.  What matters is the heart; whether we want to do the will of God.

WHY ARE THE THEOLOGIANS WRONG?

In this article an approach is proposed that hopefully reconciles all of Paul’s statements with respect to the law.  However, if this understanding is correct, then an enormous amount of church theology is wrong. Why is this so, and why do we find so many churches out there with so many conflicting doctrines?

Universities and colleges

The problem is that pastors and even theologians, in general, with notable and admirable exceptions, never really study the Bible for themselves without preconceived ideas.  They usually study what other people wrote about the Bible.  When they encounter a difficult passage, they flee to the writings of their favorite teacher and author.

For that reason Christianity is divided into various schools of thought.  The existence of these schools of thought prove what I am saying is true.  Pastors typically do not spend time to compare Scripture with Scripture until they understand for themselves what the Scriptures teach.  Unless they intensely study the Bible for themselves, they will never be able to escape from the trap of the schools of thought into which the church has fallen.

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