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.
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.
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)
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