The Real Reason they killed Jesus

The Jewish religious rulers received their authority from the complex traditions.  Christ transgressed the traditions—not the Law of Moses—and thereby condemned the Jewish system of authority.  This, combined with the influence Christ gained with the common people, made Christ a threat to their rule, and they sought Jesus death. 

SUMMARY

What Christ did on the Sabbath made the Pharisees so angry that they wanted to kill Him.  Some argue today that Christ cancelled the Sabbath commandment by acting and teaching contrary to it.  However, He accepted the Sabbath as binding, but also consistently refused to admit having transgressed the Sabbath.  The Sabbath laws which Jesus contravened were the Jewish traditions.  The extremely strict Jewish traditions prohibited anything that even remotely looks like work.  It is therefore not possible to argue that He revoked the Sabbath.

Israel’s rulers merely wore a religious cloak.  They were not acquainted with God.  Religion for them was merely a method for maintaining their power over the people.  They ruled on the basis of the Law of Moses, as interpreted by their traditions.  The extremely complex and detailed traditions gave them power over the common people.

Jesus was not accepted by the leaders in Israel, but He gained an influence with the people. But this influence made Him a threat to the authority of the religious rulers.  Furthermore, by ignoring their traditions, and by even acting publicly and deliberately contrary to their traditions, Christ challenged the basis of their authority to rule.  That is why the Pharisees sought Jesus death.

Sometimes it is said that Jesus deliberately violated the rules to liberate the Sabbath from the stranglehold of the traditions, but it is proposed here He healed on the Sabbath, as a deliberate and public violation of the traditions, to condemn the entire Jewish system of authority.

DISCUSSION

WHAT SABBATH LAWS DID JESUS CONTRAVENE?

What Christ did on the Sabbath made the Pharisees so angry that they wanted to kill Him.

Some argue today that Christ cancelled the Sabbath commandment by acting and teaching contrary to it.  However, He never acted or taught contrary to the Old Testament Sabbath laws:

Firstly, as a general principle, Christ never violated any of the Laws of Moses. 

In the Sermon on the Mount He said: “Do not think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I did not come to abolish but to fulfill” (Mat. 5:17-19).  Whatever “fulfill” here means, it at least means that He observed the Law.

This principle is also seen in Christ’s claims that, “I have kept My Father’s commandments” (John 15:10) and “Which one of you convicts Me of sin?” (John 8:46).  Christ was a living representative of the law. No violation of its holy precepts was found in His life.

Secondly, He admitted the Sabbath as binding, but refused to admit breaking the Sabbath.

On a number of occasions the Pharisees accused Christ of breaking the Sabbath law.  In His various defenses He never questioned or contested the binding obligation of the Sabbath commandment.  To the contrary, by debating with the Pharisees what is lawful on the Sabbath (Mark 3:4), He admitted that certain things are not lawful, and by implication admitted the Sabbath as binding.

He therefore accepted the Sabbath as binding, but He also consistently refused to admit having transgressed the Sabbath.  He consistently justified His Sabbath deeds on the basis of the Old Testament, arguing that it is the Pharisees that are inconsistent with the Old Testament (Mat. 12:4-12; Mark 3:4; John 7:22-24).

Thirdly, the things which he did on the Sabbath did not violate the Law of Moses; it violated the traditions.

He was accused of breaking the Sabbath in two ways, namely by healing and by picking and eating grain while walking through a grain field.  The Old Testament is silent on both these issues.  When one looks for specific biblical laws regulating how to observe the day, one finds only injunctions against lighting a fire, going away from one’s dwelling, cutting down a tree, plowing and harvesting (Ex. 16:23-30; 20:10; 25:3; 34:21; Deut. 5:14).

But healing of people that were disabled for many years is a form of liberation.  Since the Law of Moses presents the Sabbath as a symbol of liberation, (see the article on the Sabbath in the Law of Moses), healing should not only be allowed on the Sabbath; it is the very purpose of the Sabbath.

Furthermore, as Jesus pointed out in the grain-picking incident, the disciples were not just men walking through grain fields on a Sabbath; they were part of His mission.  As such they were doing God’s work, which, as Jesus argued, allowed them to do things on the Sabbath that for other people would not be lawful.

Despite the fact that the Law of Moses is silent on these matters, there was no dispute among the Jewish authorities over whether healing or picking grain are allowed on the Sabbath (Luke 4:40; 13:14; Mark 3:2).  The Sabbath laws which Jesus contravened therefore must have been the Jewish traditions.  The extremely strict Jewish traditions so corrupted the seventh day that even healing of chronically ill patients was prohibited.  It prohibited anything that even remotely looks like work.  It was these traditions that interpreted picking grain as harvesting, rubbing grain in the hands as threshing and blowing the chuff away as winnowing.

It is therefore not possible to argue that He revoked the Sabbath, or even that He planted the seed for later abrogation of the Sabbath.

WHY WERE THE PHARISEES SO ANGRY?

Why were the Pharisees so angry when Jesus contravened the Sabbath traditions?  The synagogue official was annoyed when he saw that Jesus made the woman erect.  He should have been amazed.  It was not like claiming healing for some invisible illness, such as AIDS, where one can see no immediate change.  The people knew the ill people that Christ healed.  Their healings were clearly visible.  If the religious rulers were God’s children, they would have appreciated the infinite invisible Power faintly reflected in the woman’s physical healing.  They would have fallen to their knees and begged for mercy.  But these healing miracles only annoyed them (Luke 6:11; 13:14), and even more astounding, made them want to kill Jesus.

To understand this, remember that Israel had no king or civil rulers at the time.  It was governed by religious leaders.  And as with all human government systems, it is the people with dominating, strong personalities that push themselves forward to become leaders; not the meek and humble children of God.  Consequently Israel’s rulers merely wore a religious cloak.  They were not acquainted with God.  To them His voice through Christ was the voice of a stranger.  As Christ said to them, “you do not have the love of God in yourselves” (John 5:42) and, “You do not believe because you are not of My sheep” (John 10:26).

Religion for the religious rulers was merely a method for maintaining their power over the people.  They ruled on the basis of the Law of Moses, as interpreted by their traditions.  The extremely complex and detailed traditions gave them power over the common people.

Into this context Jesus came by the authority of God, bearing His image, fulfilling His word, and seeking His glory; yet He was not accepted by the leaders in Israel because His teaching demanded the sacrifice of self, while the Jews “receive glory from one another and you do not seek the glory that is from the one and only God” (John 5:44).

He gained an influence with the people because they could understand His words, and because their hearts were warmed and comforted.  He spoke of God, not as an avenging Judge, but as a tender Father.  He revealed the image of God as mirrored in Himself.

The influence which Jesus gained with the people made Him a threat to the authority of the religious rulers.  Furthermore, by ignoring their traditions, and by even acting publicly and deliberately contrary to their traditions, Christ challenged the basis of their authority to rule.  In order to maintain their own power, these leaders determined to break down Christ’s influence; they sought Jesus death.

In one incident we see that they actually wanted Him to heal on the Sabbath so that they could justify His murder on the basis of the Old Testament, which requires the death penalty for working on the Sabbath (Mark 3:1).  When He entered into a synagogue where there was a man whose hand was withered, they watched to see if He would heal him on the Sabbath, so that they might accuse Him.  They did not ask whether it is lawful to heal on the Sabbath (Matthew 12:10) because they were concerned for the sick man, or because they desired understanding.  They were convinced that they knew the answer to that question, and put this question to Christ to trick Him into the ‘crime’ of healing on the Sabbath, so that they could justify His murder.  After He healed the man the Pharisees went out and immediately began conspiring with the Herodians against Him, as to how they might destroy Him.

WHY DID CHRIST DELIBERATELY HEAL ON THE SABBATH?

Sometimes it is said that Jesus deliberately violated the rules to liberate the Sabbath from the stranglehold of the traditions and to restore the Sabbath to God’s original intent, but it is proposed here that He had a greater purpose in mind.  He taught that the traditions set the commands of God aside (Mark 7:8-9; Mat 15:3) and “destroyed the authority of God’s word” (Mark 7:13).  It is therefore proposed here that He healed on the Sabbath, as a deliberate and public violation of the traditions, to condemn the entire Jewish system of authority.  The Sabbath miracle healings were therefore a natural part of His condemnation of the Jewish system of authority, and consistent with what He elsewhere said to them:

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

“You do not believe because you are not of My sheep” (John 10:26).

I am the door of the sheep” (John 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” (John 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.” (John 10:11-13)

TO: Sabbath Table of Contents

Next: Opportunity to teach

TO: General Table of Contents

Traditions of the Elders

The detailed and strict traditions of the elders were developed as a hedge against sin, but Christ described them as “precepts of men” that invalidated the word of God.  These traditions eventually served to separate the man from his God, became the basis for self-righteousness, destroyed love for God and for fellow men and represented God as a tyrant.

SUMMARY

The Jews developed many rules as a wall of protection to prevent noncompliance with the Law of Moses.  These rules were therefore not merely interpretations of the law, but additions to the law, making the law more severe.  For example, the Law forbids using the name of God in vain.  Therefore the Jews made the rule that one should not use the name of God at all.  They referred to God as “the name”.

These rules were known as the traditions of the elders (Matthew 15:2; cf. Mark 7:3-5).  The traditions were very important in the Jewish society; regarded as equally important to the Law of Moses.  But Christ described the traditions as “precepts of men” (Mat. 15:7-9; see also Mark 7:7) that invalidated the word of God (Matthew 12; See also Mark 7:3-9).

To understand why Jesus said this, one firstly needs to appreciate how extremely complex and detailed the traditions were.  For instance, with respect to the Sabbath, the Jews added thousands of rules to define “work” at an amazing level of detail.  This includes, for instance, lists of the types of knots one is allowed to tie and untie on a Sabbath.

One secondly needs to appreciate that these rules were very strict.  With respect to the Sabbath, anything that even remotely looked like work, was classified as work, and therefore disallowed.  A Jew was not even allowed to light a candle on the Sabbath.

These help us to understand the consequences of the traditions.  These rules were developed as a hedge against con-compliance with the Law of Moses, but eventually served to separate the Jews from God:

The traditions replaced the Holy Spirit, Who must guide each person individually, with rules.

The traditions became the basis for self-righteousness.  The traditions consisted of rules with respect to outward behavior.  This serves to shift the focus away from God and to self, entrenching the belief that one is justified by one’s works, leading to self-righteousness.

By focusing on man’s works the traditions destroyed love for God and for fellow men.

This multitude of very strict rules reflected the character of selfish and dominating man and represented God as a tyrant.

By disallowing even pleasurable activities, combined with harsh policing, the traditions turned the best day of the week into the worst day.

Since the church at first consisted only of Jews, the traditions spilled over into the early church.  To combat the traditions, which were understood to provide justification by the “works of the Law”, Paul shifted the focus to man’s mind by teaching that man is justified by “faith in Christ Jesus” (Gal. 2:16).

DISCUSSION

The Jews developed many rules as a wall of protection to prevent noncompliance with the Law of Moses.  These rules were therefore not merely interpretations of the law, but additions to the law, making the law more severe.  For example, the Law forbids using the name of God in vain.  Therefore the Jews made the rule that one should not use the name of God at all.  They referred to God as “the name”.

These rules were known as the traditions of the elders.

…the Jews do not eat unless they carefully wash their hands, thus observing the traditions of the elders … and there are many other things which they have received in order to observe, such as the washing of cups and pitchers and copper pots. “ (Mark 7:3-4)

“Why do Your disciples break the tradition of the elders? For they do not wash their hands when they eat bread” (Matthew 15:2; cf. Mark 7:5)

The traditions were very important in the Jewish society; regarded as equally important to the Law of Moses.  Paul, for example, progressed rapidly through the ranks of the Jewish religious authorities due to his zeal for the traditions:

I was advancing in Judaism beyond many of my contemporaries among my countrymen, being more extremely zealous for my ancestral traditions” (Gal. 1:14).

But Christ described the traditions as “precepts of men” that invalidated the word of God:

You hypocrites, rightly did Isaiah prophesy of you: ‘this people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far away from me, but in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the precepts of men.’” (Mat. 15:7-9; see also Mark 7:7)

3 “Why do you yourselves transgress the commandment of God for the sake of your tradition? … 6 … by this you invalidated the word of God for the sake of your tradition. … 9  … in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the precepts of men.’” (Matthew 12; See also Mark 7:3-7)

You are experts at setting aside the commandment of God in order to keep your tradition” (Mark 7:9).

To understand why Jesus said this, one firstly needs to appreciate how extremely complex and detailed the traditions were.  For instance, with respect to the Sabbath, the Jews added thousands of rules to define “work” at an amazing level of detail.  This includes, for instance, lists of the types of knots one is allowed to tie and untie on a Sabbath; the knot of the camel-drivers, the knot of the seamen, knots that can be untied with one hand, a woman may tie the slit of her chemise, the bands of her hood, the bands of her girdle, the straps of her shoes and sandals; also the bands of leather flasks (filled) with wine or oil, and of a pot of meat.  One may tie a rope in front of cattle, in order that they may not escape. One may tie a bucket (over the well) with his girdle, but not with a rope.  Click here to see more of these rules.

One secondly needs to appreciate that these rules were also very strict.  With respect to the Sabbath, anything that even remotely looked like work was classified as work, and therefore disallowed.  A Jew was not even allowed to light a candle on the Sabbath.  One can also illustrate the Pharisees’ extremely strict application of the Sabbath with the incident where Christ’s disciples picked and ate grain while walking through grain fields on the Sabbath:

On a certain Sabbath day His disciples became hungry.  While walking through a grain-field, they were “picking the heads of grain, rubbing them in their hands, and eating” (Matthew 12:1-8, Mark 2:23-28 and Luke 6:1-5).  Some Pharisees saw this and immediately complained to Jesus: “Look, Your disciples do what is not lawful to do on a Sabbath.”

For us today it is difficult to understand how the Jews could consider the mere picking and eating of grains, while one is walking through a grain field, to be “work”, but this teaches us how harshly the Jews applied the Sabbath law.

These help us to understand the consequences of the traditions.  These rules were developed as a hedge against con-compliance with the Law of Moses, but eventually served to separate the Jews from God:

The traditions replaced the Holy Spirit with rules.  The requirements of the Law of Moses for the Sabbath is simple, namely no work.  The Holy Spirit must guide each person individually to understand what work is and what to do when exceptional circumstances require work on the Sabbath.  This spiritual connection has been replaced with “precepts of men”.

The traditions became the basis for self-righteousness.  The idea that man must earn redemption always leads men to develop rules to force themselves to obey; at least outwardly.  The traditions consisted of rules with respect to outward behavior.  This serves to shift the focus away from God and to self, entrenching the belief that one is justified by one’s works, leading to self-righteousness. Like the Pharisee prayed, “God, I thank Thee that I am not as the rest of men, rapacious, unrighteous, adulterers … I fast twice in the week, I give tithes of all things–as many as I possess”.  This Pharisee went away without being “declared righteous” (Luke 18:11-14).

The traditions destroyed love.  The focus on man’s works destroys love for God, and when love for God is destroyed, love for fellow men also disappears, leading men to be critical of one another.

The traditions represented God as a tyrant.  This multitude of very strict rules allowed very little space for compassion.  Thus the traditions eventually reflected the character of selfish and dominating man, rather than the character of the loving and caring God.

The traditions turned the best day of the week into the worst day.  God prohibited work on the Sabbath to make it a joyous day; the best day of the week, providing rest from the toil of human existence.  But by disallowing anything that even remotely looks like work, even pleasurable activities such as picking and eating grain, the Jews made it into a boring day of complete inactivity.  This, combined with harsh policing by the proud and fearsome religious rulers, made it the worst day of the week.  The life-giving power of rest was corrupted into a life-destroying burden; an intolerable burden to which the people were slaves.  It was because the traditions turned people into slaves of the Sabbath that Jesus objected by saying, “The Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath” (Mark 2:27).

Since the church at first consisted only of Jews, the traditions spilled over into the early church.  For instance, Paul instructed Titus not to pay attention to “Jewish myths and commandments of men” (Titus 1:14).  To combat the traditions, that focused on external deeds, and the Jewish emphasis on justification by the “works of the Law”, Paul shifted the focus to man’s mind by teaching that man is justified by “faith in Christ Jesus” (Gal. 2:16).  “Faith” knows that we are unable to meet God’s infinite standards, and throws itself at His feet, trusting in His mercy, like the tax collector in Christ’s story, who “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).  “This man went to his house justified” (Luke 18:14).

The traditions were not developed by evil people with ill intent.  But it is not human nature to go to one’s knees and ask for the Lord’s guidance.  Human nature always asks for rules.  Leaders responded to the demand for rules and initially developed simple definitions of work, but over the many centuries the definitions were extended into more and more detail.  This is what humans always do when they are subject to rules from higher authorities; they add more detail, but always make the laws more severe.

Many people still today keep the Sabbath; either on Saturday or on Sunday, but make the same mistake.  In their eagerness to ensure that they comply with the law they disallow even pleasurable activities, such as swimming or hiking.  The poor children suffer the most.  The purpose of the Jewish Sabbath was to be a day of joy.  There were some animal sacrifices prescribed for the Sabbath, but it was not prescribed as a day for religious activities.  It was a day to cease the hard work of the other days and to rest and enjoy.  If it is you view that you must keep the Sabbath, please ensure that you make keep it as the best day of the week for yourself and for your family.

TO: Sabbath Table of Contents

Next: Law of Christ

TO: General Table of Contents

Crippled Woman; Jesus heals on the Sabbath

Jesus heals on the Sabbath; publicly, in a synagogue, He healed a crippled woman.  But, in doing so, He contravened the traditions of the elders.  The synagogue official became very angry, but Jesus responded by saying that this woman has been bound by Satan for 18 years, should she not have been released from this bond on the Sabbath day?  This puts a new emphasis on the Sabbath day.  The Fourth Commandment simply prohibits work on the Sabbath, but Christ implied that the purpose of the Sabbath is to free people from Satan’s bonds.

Summary

Luke 13 reports an incident where Jesus heals on the Sabbath; a crippled woman, while teaching in one of the synagogues.  The woman had been ill for eighteen years.  She did not ask to be healed.  Jesus simply called her over and immediately healed her.

She was overjoyed and glorified God, but the synagogue official became angry, and chased the sick people out of the synagogue, informing them that healing is not allowed on the Sabbath.

The religious leaders were convinced that healing was work, but it was the traditions, disallowing anything that even remotely looked like work, that prohibited healing on the Sabbath; not the Law of Moses.

The religious rulers were, in general, not God’s children, but used the traditions as a tool to maintain their authority over the common people.  Christ’s condemnation of the traditions through His Sabbath healing miracles therefore threatened their authority, causing their anger.

The Lord responded sharply, calling the religious leaders hypocrites.  He mentioned that this woman was bound by Satan for eighteen long years and asked this very significant question, “should she not have been released from this bond on the Sabbath day?

Jesus did not contest the binding nature of the Sabbath.  Rather, by debating with the Pharisees what is allowed on the Sabbath, He confirmed the Sabbath commandment as binding.

By asking should she not have been released from this bond on the Sabbath day?” (v16) Jesus implied that the Sabbath is the most appropriate day for freeing people.  This woman was freed from illness.  This means that the Sabbath is the most appropriate day for healing.

This lends new meaning to the Sabbath.  While the Fourth Commandment simply prohibits work on the Sabbath, Christ implied that the purpose of the Sabbath is to free people from the bonds of Satan.  Understood this way, man, on the seventh day, still ceases from whatever he has been doing on the other days, but the seventh day becomes a day of activity; a day to free people from the physical, psychological and spiritual bonds of Satan.  This meaning of the Sabbath is not found in the Ten Commandments or in the Law of Moses.

Luke 13:10-17:

He was teaching in one of the synagogues on the Sabbath.

There was a woman who for eighteen years had had a sickness caused by a spirit; and she was bent double, and could not straighten up at all.

When Jesus saw her, He called her over and said to her: “Woman, you are freed from your sickness.He laid His hands on her; and immediately she was made erect again and began glorifying God.

But the synagogue official, indignant because Jesus heals on the Sabbath, began saying to the crowd in response: “There are six days in which work should be done; so come during them and get healed, and not on the Sabbath day.”

But the Lord answered him and said: “You hypocrites, does not each of you on the Sabbath untie his ox or his donkey from the stall and lead him away to water him?  And this woman … whom Satan has bound for eighteen long years, should she not have been released from this bond on the Sabbath day?”

In many respects this incident is similar to the healing of the man with the withered hand:

Both healing miracles occurred in synagogues

Synagogues were not like our churches today, where only one person speaks, but allowed various people to speak.  In the book of Acts we also read about the apostles teaching in synagogues.

It was the traditions that prohibited healing on the Sabbath; not the Law of Moses. 

The Law of Moses is silent on healing on the Sabbath, but both incidents show that the religious leaders had no doubt that healing was regarded as work.  This law against of healing on the Sabbath must therefore have been in their traditions.  These traditions disallowed anything that even remotely looked like work; including healing.

The religious rulers responded with anger because Jesus heals on the Sabbath. Their authority was threatened.

In all instances the healings were clearly visible, for example the healing of the withered hand and the crippled woman.  If the religious rulers were God’s children, they would have responded by falling to their knees, but these healing miracles only made them angry (Luke 6:11; 13:14).

To understand this one must understand that Israel had no king at the time, but was ruled by the religious leaders.  They ruled on the basis of the Law of Moses, as interpreted by their traditions.  The extremely complex and detailed traditions gave them power over the common people.  However, but as Christ said to them in John 5:42, “you do not have the love of God in yourselves”.

Into this context Jesus came by the authority of God, bearing His image, fulfilling His word, and seeking His glory.  He gained an influence with the common people because they could understand His words, and because their hearts were warmed and comforted.  He spoke of God, not as an avenging judge, but as a tender father.  He revealed the image of God as mirrored in Himself.

Yet He was not accepted by the leaders in Israel because His teaching demanded the sacrifice of self.  As Jesus said to them in John 5:44, they “receive glory from one another and … (do) not seek the glory that is from the one and only God”.  They would have accepted Christ if He appealed to their desire for self-exaltation and flattered their pride by approving their cherished opinions and traditions.

But by gaining an influence with the people and at the same time by condemning them by condemning the basis of their authority, namely the traditions, He was a threat to their authority.  In order to maintain their own power, they determined to break down His influence; to destroy Christ.

Neither of the healings were emergencies.

These Sabbath healings were an important part of Christ’s message.

Many sick people were continually streaming to Him, and He healed them all (Luke 4:40; 6:18-19).  These healings confirmed His divine nature, the supernatural source of His mission and that God can and wants to restore man.  Healing therefore was an integral part of His mission.  In Jesus God has come to live amongst us.

But we ask why Jesus heals on the Sabbath?  He knew that they wanted to kill Him and that they were seeking justification to do so.  And none of the sick people whom He cured on the Sabbath asked to be healed.  But still He deliberately and publicly contravened the Sabbath laws, as practiced by the Pharisees.  Jesus did not do things to endanger His life or mission without good cause.  These Sabbath healings therefore had an important message, such as to condemn the religious leaders and their traditions, and to explain the true Sabbath.

Christ accepted the Sabbath commandment as a binding obligation.

In all incidents, when accused of breaking the Sabbath, Jesus did not contest the binding nature of the Sabbath.  Rather, by debating with the Pharisees what is allowed on the Sabbath, He indicated that He accepted the Sabbath commandment as binding.  There is no indication in His teaching that the seventh day is no longer special or that it will ever become common, like the other six days.

Two differences between the two incidents may be identified.

To free is an example of doing good. 

The first is the justification of the Sabbath healing.  Jesus justified the healing of the man’s withered hand by saying that “it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath” (Mat. 12:12).  In the incident of the crippled woman He used the word luein, which means to free.  He used this word three times, but these words are translated differently in each case.  He first said to the woman, “Woman, you are freed (luein) from your sickness” (v12).  After the synagogue official responded with anger (v14), Jesus used the example of an ox or donkey that is untied (luein) on the Sabbath (v15).  Lastly He justified her healing by saying should she not have been released (luein) from this bond on the Sabbath day?” (v16)  To free somebody or some animal is an example of doing good.  The general principle therefore remains that it is “it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath”.  So this is not really a difference.

The Sabbath is the most appropriate day to free somebody. 

By saying should she not have been released (luein) from this bond on the Sabbath day?” (v16) Jesus said something that we do not find in the report of the man with the withered hand, namely that the Sabbath is the most appropriate day to free somebody.  Jesus said that this woman was bound by Satan for eighteen long years (v16).  Like the ox or donkey is tied with a rope, this woman has been tied by physical illness.  Since the bond of Satan that held this woman was her physical condition, physical or psychological illnesses may be classified as the bonds of Satan.  To free people from the bonds of Satan therefore includes to heal people.  So while the incident of the withered hand informed us only that doing good, including healing, is allowed on the Sabbath, the incident of the crippled woman informs us that the Sabbath is the most appropriate day to free somebody from the bonds of Satan, which also includes healing.

This gives a new meaning to the Sabbath. 

By saying that the Sabbath is the most appropriate day to free somebody from the bonds of Satan, Christ defined the purpose of the Sabbath.  This brings us back to the conclusion that Christ did more than interpreting the Sabbath commandment; He gave a new meaning to it.  While the Law of Moses simply prohibited all work on the Sabbath, Christ indicated that the purpose of the Sabbath is to free people from the bonds of Satan.  This gives a meaning to the Sabbath that is not found in the Ten Commandments or in the Law of Moses more generally.

This meaning of the Sabbath Christ received from the Father. 

This emphasis of the Sabbath as intended to heal people from their physical or psychological illnesses seems to go beyond the Law of Moses to the creation account, which states that the Sabbath was blessed (Gen 2:3), which implies it is intended to be a blessing to mankind.  By blessing the Sabbath at creation (Gen 2:3), God made the Sabbath “for man” (Mark 2:27); in other words, for the benefit of man.  In this view the Sabbath becomes the day on which man should expect supernatural healing.  In John 5, after He was challenged with respect to another healing miracle, He claimed that the Father is the Source of the things He did, and therefore of His view of the Sabbath:

Truly, truly, I say to you, 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”. (John 5:19)

Christ’s Sabbath is not a day of idleness, but of work to free people.

The origin of the Hebrew word sabbat is uncertain, but it seems to have derived from the verb sabat, meaning to stop or to cease.  If Jesus applied this meaning to the Sabbath, then the seventh day remains a Sabbath, in the sense of man stop doing what he has been doing on the other six days, but not in a sense of doing nothing.  Jesus presented the Sabbath as a day of activity; a day to free people from the physical, psychological and spiritual bonds of Satan.

NEXT: When His disciples picked grain

TO: Sabbath Table of Contents

TO: General Table of Contents

The religious leaders wanted Jesus to heal on the Sabbath

The rulers of the chosen nation actually wanted Jesus to heal on the Sabbath so that, on the basis that the Old Testament prescribed the death penalty for working on the Sabbath, they could justify His execution.  Are we the same?  Will it happen again?

Matthew 12:9-14 and Mark 3:1-6

Summary

Israel had no king or civil rulers at the time.  It was governed by religious leaders, but they only wore a religious cloak.  They were not acquainted with God.  Jesus’ healing miracles were clearly visible, but it only annoyed them, and even more astounding, made them want to kill Him.

The Old Testament is silent on healing on the Sabbath, but healing was a contravention of the Jewish traditions.  These traditions were many times more detailed and complex than the Law of Moses and were regarded by the Jews as equally important to the Law of Moses.  It applied the Sabbath extremely strictly.  It disallowed anything that even remotely looked like work.

For the religious rulers their religious rules, including the Sabbath, were tools whereby they controlled the masses.  But when Christ challenged their traditions, He challenged their authority.  In order to maintain power, they were intent on killing Him.  They actually wanted Jesus to heal on the Sabbath so that, on the basis that the Old Testament prescribed the death penalty for working on the Sabbath, they could justify His murder.

When accused of breaking the Sabbath, Jesus never disputed the binding nature of the Sabbath, but rather debated with the Pharisees what is allowed on the Sabbath.  This means that He accepted the Sabbath commandment as binding.

But He changed the nature of the seventh day.  The Law of Moses requires the seventh day simply as a day of rest, prohibiting all work; passively allowing rest to servants and animals.  By allowing work on the Sabbath, on condition that that work is to supply in the needs of those in distress, Jesus put a very different perspective on seventh day, converting it to a day of activity.

The religious leaders were seeking for evidence against Jesus.

One Sabbath He entered into a synagogue.  Among the people in the synagogue there was this man with his withered hand.  The religious leaders were watching Jesus.  They knew about His earlier Sabbath healing miracles, and expected Him to also in this case to heal on the Sabbath.  But rather than be amazed by His miracles, they saw this as an opportunity to obtain evidence against Jesus:

They were watching Him to see if He would heal him on the Sabbath, so that they might accuse Him”.  (Mark 3:1)

They were intent on killing Him.  They did not wait for Jesus to act, but initiated the confrontation by asking Jesus:

“Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath?” (Matthew 12:10 and Mark 3:1)

They did not ask this because of concern for the sick man, or because they desired understanding.  They were convinced that they knew the answer to their own question, but put this question to Christ to trick Him into healing on the Sabbath, so that they might condemn Him on the basis of their laws.

To heal on the Sabbath was prohibited by the traditions

The Old Testament is silent on healing on the Sabbath, but this incident shows that the Jews were confident that to heal on the Sabbath—even miracle healing—was a contravention of the Sabbath.  Since there is nothing about this in the Law of Moses, this prohibition must have been in their traditions.  To understand this incident it is very important to understand the role of the traditions in the Jewish society.  The traditions were many times more detailed and complex than the Law of Moses and were regarded by the Jews as equally important to the Law of Moses.  It was so detailed and complex that, to know it, required a lifetime of study.  It had more than 1000 rules with respect to the Sabbath, applying the Sabbath rest extremely strictly.  It disallowed anything that even remotely looked like work.  On the Sabbath sick people were left to fend for themselves; they could only expect help after the end of the Sabbath, after sun went down.  See here for more information.

This incident contains an important message.

Christ knew the traditions well, and He knew that He would be regarded as a transgressor if He would heal on the Sabbath, but He did not back off.  He invites the man forward.  He said to the man with the withered hand:

“Get up and come forward!” (Mark 3:3)

Even though He knew that they were seeking justification to kill Him, He deliberately and publicly contravened the traditions by healing this man.  Being the image of the Father (John 14:7), we know that Christ never acted stubbornly.  Everything He did and said was important, according to the infinite wisdom of the Father.  To heal on the Sabbath therefore said something important about the Sabbath.  Our question now is what His message was.

He desired to teach the Jews.

Jesus desired to break through the dull spiritual understanding of the religious leaders so that they would appreciate the absurdity of the situation, namely that, on the Sabbath, they were planning to kill (Him), while He was saving lives and bringing happiness to multitudes through God’s supernatural working.  He therefore answered their question with another question:

 “Is it lawful to do good or to do harm on the Sabbath, to save a life or to kill?”  (Mark 3:4)

He accepted the Sabbath as binding.

Notice that He did not dispute the binding nature of the Sabbath.  By debating with the Pharisees what is allowed on the Sabbath, Christ confirmed that certain things are not allowed on the Sabbath.  He thus accepted the Sabbath commandment as a binding obligation.  There is no indication in His teaching that the Sabbath law is no longer relevant or that it ever will become irrelevant.

But they kept silent (Mark 3:4).  They refused to admit that they were wrong.  The opportunity they had to reflect and realize their mistake has passed.  By adding refusal to admit their error to their intention to kill Christ they became even more confirmed in their opposition to God.

Not emergency healing only

Jesus then answered His own question:

What man is there among you who has a sheep, and if it falls into a pit on the Sabbath, will he not take hold of it and lift it out? How much more valuable then is a man than a sheep!  So then, it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath.

We should not conclude, on the basis of this example, that Christ here authorizes healing in emergencies only, because He used this example to justify the healing of a man’s withered hand, which was not an emergency.  Not one of Christ’s seven Sabbath healing miracles were emergencies.  The point of this example is rather that, since a man worth much more than a sheep, and since we all, even on the Sabbath, help a sheep that is in trouble, how much more should we not help a man that is in trouble, even on the Sabbath?

Jesus changed the nature of the seventh day.

The question that hovers over the entire incident is: what is lawful on the Sabbath?:

This is the question put by the experts of the law to Jesus (Matthew 12:10) when they tried to get Him to heal on the Sabbath, so that they can accuse Him of sin.

This is the question with which Christ responded in an effort to soften their consciences (Mark 3:4).

This is also Christ’s concluding words after the Pharisees confirmed their aggression to Jesus through their silence: “it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath”.

This is a key concept in the current study.  “To do” is to work.  What Christ said is that work is allowed on the Sabbath, if that work provides relief to people and animals in distress.  “To do good” includes healing.  The Sabbath is the time to express kindness and mercy toward others through kind deeds.  Jesus thereby changed the nature of the seventh day:

The Law of Moses, including the Ten Commandments, requires the seventh day simply as a Sabbath, which means a day of rest.  It prohibited any work.  It was “a sabbath of complete rest … You shall not do any work” (Lev. 23:3)

By allowing work on the Sabbath, if that work is “to do good”, Jesus put a very different perspective on seventh day.  While the Sabbath commandment focused on what must not be done on the Sabbath (work), Christ focused on what may and even must be done on the Sabbath, converting it from day of idleness to a day of activity.

For this view of the seventh day Christ seems to go beyond the time of Moses to the origin, namely the creation account, which states that the seventh day was blessed (Gen 2:3), which implies it is intended to be a blessing to mankind.

It also seems as if He used the fact that the Sabbath was a memorial of the divine redemption from the bondage of Egypt (Deut. 5:15) to convert the day:

From passively allowing rest to servants and animals;

To actively performing deeds of compassion to people and animals;

In His view, on the seventh day, animals should not only be lead to water, but should also be allowed other joys that are not available on other days.  Any work that is required to achieve this, for instance taking animals somewhere and to bring them back, are allowed.

The point is that Christ attached a meaning to the seventh day that is not immediately evident from the Ten Commandments or the Law of Moses.  We, like the Pharisees, would not have arrived at His view by simply studying the Law of Moses.

Israel’s rulers wore a religious cloak.

 After looking around at them with anger, grieved at their hardness of heart, He said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” And he stretched it out, and his hand was restored.” (Mark 3:5)

Christ was “grieved at their hardness of heart” (Mark 3:5) because He loved His people and earnestly desired that they would accept His message.

The Pharisees went out and immediately began conspiring with the Herodians against Him, as to how they might destroy Him” (Mark 3:6).

It is with surprise that we read that the Jewish leaders were not impressed by Jesus’ healing miracles.  Right in front of their eyes the man with the withered hand, whom they knew well, was healed.  In another incident the synagogue official was annoyed when he saw that that Jesus made the woman erect (Luke 13:10-17).  He should have been amazed.  It was not like claiming healing for some invisible illness, such as AIDS, where one can see no immediate change.  The people knew this woman and this man and their physical problems.  Their healings were clearly visible.  If they were God’s children, the religious leaders would have appreciated the infinite invisible Power faintly reflected in physical healings.  They would have fallen on their knees and begged for mercy.  But this healing miracle only annoyed the synagogue official.  Even more astounding, “the Pharisees went out and immediately began conspiring with the Herodians against Him, as to how they might destroy Him”.

To understand this we need to remember that Israel had no king or civil rulers at the time.  It was governed by its religious leaders, and as in all human government systems, it is the people with dominating personalities that become the leaders; not the meek and humble children of God.  Effectively Israel’s rulers wore a religious cloak.  They were not acquainted with God, and to them His voice through Christ was the voice of a stranger.

Religion for them was a method of maintaining their power over the people.  The Sabbath was for the Jewish leaders a tool whereby they controlled the people.

The man with the withered hand did not ask to be healed and he did not have to prove his faith before he was healed.  Jesus simply used him to divinely condemn the Pharisees and their traditions.  But when Christ challenged their religious system, He challenged their authority.  The Pharisees were not angry because Christ did heal on the Sabbath.  They were angry because Christ was a threat to their authority.  Jesus came by the authority of God, bearing His image, fulfilling His word, and seeking His glory; yet He was not accepted by the leaders in Israel because His teaching demanded the sacrifice of self, while the Jews “receive glory from one another and … not seek the glory that is from the one and only God” (John 5:44).  Christ was a threat to their power.  He gained an influence with the people because they could understand His words, and because their hearts were warmed and comforted.  He spoke of God, not as an avenging judge, but as a tender Father.  He revealed the image of God as mirrored in Himself.

In order to maintain their own power, these leaders determined to break down Jesus’ influence.  They actually wanted Him to heal of the Sabbath.  They asked Him whether it is lawful to heal on the Sabbath (Matthew 12:10) to trick Him into committing the “sin” of healing on the Sabbath, so that, on the basis that the Old Testament prescribed the death penalty for working on the Sabbath, and on the basis of their traditions, they could justify His murder.

The Sabbath is a day for good deeds.

The Sabbath is not intended to be a period of useless inactivity.  The necessities of life must be attended to and the sick must be cared for.  It is a day for planned good deeds to supply in the wants of the needy.  We are guilty if we neglect to relieve suffering, especially on the Sabbath.  God’s holy rest day was made for man, and acts of mercy, including healing, are in perfect harmony with its intent.

NEXT: The Crippled Woman

TO: Sabbath Table of Contents

TO: General Table of Contents