Thinking Through Scripture

"but the word of the Lord remains forever"

Month: March, 2018

52 Reflections on the Gospel of John: #12. Healing at Bethesda

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In our last post we observed that Jesus finally made his way home from the Passover (John 2:13; 4:43-45). After a wedding feast in Galilee (John 2:1, 11), Jesus took a trip up (up in elevation, but south on a map) to Jerusalem for Passover, then He came back up to Galilee through Samaria. Throughout this journey Jesus made a significant impact in Jerusalem (John 2:23), Samaria (John 4:39-42), and Galilee (John 4:43-45, 53-54).  His signs and people’s testimonies have been causing large numbers to believe in Him.

And He can’t stop now. There is no time to rest. John immediately moves to Jesus’ next journey back to Jerusalem. Another feast was about to take place so again “Jesus went up to Jerusalem” (John 5:1). Upon entering the city, He meets a man who “had been ill for 38 years” (John 5:5). This man spends his time by a pool of water with the “sick, blind, lame, and withered” (John 5:3). He’s an outcast with no social status. Basically, he is the exact opposite of the last guy Jesus just met (John 4:46-54). Jesus had just been in Galilee with a royal official and now He is in Jerusalem with the outcasts of society. Yet another example that Jesus cares for all.

But this man believed he could be healed. He had hope in something, but unlike the royal official, that hope was not Jesus. His hope was to lay by a mystical pool of water. The pool of Bethesda was believed to have mystical healing powers, which is why so many in need of healing surrounded it. Thus, it’s an excellent location for Jesus to visit. It’s an excellent location for His next sign.

The ill man wants to be made well, but complains, “I have no man to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up, but while I am coming, another steps down before me” (John 5:7). Basically, this guy has been at a stop sign at a busy intersection for 38 years. Someone keeps pulling out in front of him and he can’t go. Every single time the water is stirred up, he tries to get in, but someone beats him to it.

You may be wondering, “What in the world is he talking about?”  This whole story is bizarre. What does he mean by the water being “stirred up” (John 5:7)?  Why does he need to get in first? Why does he believe this water will heal him? There’s an interesting history to this pool which might help explain some of these details and why it’s so important that Jesus healed him without using this water. Prior to the 19th century, it was doubted by some that this pool even existed because nothing like was known. Then, as so often happens, archeology did its thing and a pool matching this description was discovered. We now know where it is and you can visit it today if you find yourself in Jerusalem. Or you can just google a photo of it.

The mystical healing powers of this pool were at first believed to come from the gods of Greek mythology. The son of Apollo, Asclepius, was the god of medicine and healing. This pool was at one time dedicated to him as a place of healing, probably by an occupying Roman garrison. It had pagan roots, and while Jews would have rejected the paganism associated with the water, some maintained the idea of its mystical healing power.

There’s a textual variant which is not original to the Gospel of John (although it’s maintained in the King James and New King James Version and bracketed in the NASB) which attributes the healing power to an angel which stirred the water (John 5:3b-4). This variant shows an attempt to make the healing power of this pool consistent with Judaism by attributing it to an angel rather than a god. I think this misses the point though. The pool is to be seen as a place of false hope and Jesus is contrasted as the only source of true hope.

He spent most of his life with an illness that couldn’t be cured. Upon seeing him, Jesus asks, “Do you wish to get well?” (John 5:6). The answer might seem obvious, but perhaps it isn’t. The healing that Jesus offers is an amazing blessing, but not everyone is interested. Some might grow comfortable by the pool of water, putting false hope in a healing they can never truly receive. After the man explains that he has no one to help put him in the water (perhaps hoping that Jesus will stick around and be that helper), Jesus says, “Get up, pick up your pallet and walk” (John 5:8). Jesus entirely ignores the statement about the water and heals him anyway. Jesus heals him without the aid of mystical waters or pagan beliefs.

Then, like always, a problem arises. The man picks up his pallet and begins to walk, but it’s the Sabbath. You’re not supposed to carry stuff on the Sabbath. As the Jews rebuke him they ask who healed him. Incredibly, John tells us, “But the man who was healed did not know who it was” (John 5:13). What a remarkable thing to say! What a remarkable contrast with the royal official in John 4:46-54. The royal official heard of Jesus, sought Him out, and believed. This man had never heard of Jesus, did not seek Him out, and was healed without believing. He was still complaining about the water when Jesus healed him. And he didn’t even know who Jesus was! His hope was in the pool when it should have been in the stranger standing right in front of him.

Later in the story, this man meets up with Jesus in the temple. Jesus tells him, “Behold, you have become well; do not sin anymore, so that nothing worse happens to you” (John 5:14). Jesus likens this man’s physical illness with a spiritual illness. Perhaps in this we see the point of the sign. Jesus embodies His Father as the Forgiver of sins and spiritual Healer. So many long to be made well, but so few seek the proper source. This man put his hope in mysticism instead of Jesus. He was talking with Jesus and had no idea that this stranger could be his solution.

Maybe we would all benefit from opening our eyes and trying to see how Jesus could be our solution. Maybe we would all benefit from asking ourselves the question, “Do you wish to be made well?” Then go to the Source of all healing. Not Asclepius, not an angel who stirs up the water, not wealth, alcohol, or mindless entertainment, but the working and active Son of God (John 5:17). This man soon learned and reported “that it was Jesus who had made him well” (John 5:15). Hopefully, we all can say the same thing.

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52 Reflections on the Gospel of John: #11. Healing the Royal Official’s Son

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John 4:46-54 contains the incredible account of Jesus healing the son of a royal official in Galilee. This is the third in a series of exchanges that Jesus has with various characters. John 2:24-25 makes an important claim about Jesus: “He knew all men…He Himself knew what was in man.” Immediately following that verse, Jesus proves that He knows all men by a series of interactions.

Jesus Knew All Men:

The first is a well-respected man, Nicodemus, a Pharisee and member of the Jewish Sanhedrin Court (John 3:1). Then Jesus meets the polar opposite; a poor, sinful, and disgraced Samaritan woman (John 4:7). An honorable, probably wealthy, male Jewish leader VS a probably poor, female Samaritan of ill-repute. You cannot find two more opposite people. Yet Jesus knows both, talks with both, and leads both closer to Him.

The third interaction is with a royal official in Galilee (John 4:46), who we will spend this post talking about. But immediately afterwards, Jesus meets up with a man who spends his time lying by a pool in Jerusalem with the “sick, blind, lame, and withered” (John 5:3), he had been ill for 38 years and was a social outcast (John 5:5). He is quite the opposite of the royal official in Galilee. Yet again, Jesus knows these people, He knows what’s in them. No one is beneath Him and no one is above Him. No matter who He meets, He responds perfectly because “He knew all men…He Himself knew what was in man” (John 2:24-25).

Jesus Enters Cana of Galilee:

The reason for focusing of the third of these interactions, the royal official, is because this is the next “sign” in John’s collection. John gives a list of carefully selected signs in hopes of bringing people to believe (John 20:30-31). This event is counted as “a second sign that Jesus performed when He had come out of Judea into Galilee” (John 4:54). Upon experiencing this sign, the royal official “believed and his whole household” (John 4:53). I think John hopes that we will too.

This account begins with Jesus entering Cana of Galilee (John 4:46). This should immediately remind you of Jesus’ first sign in Cana, turning water into wine (John 2:11). To ensure you don’t miss it, John says, “He came again to Cana of Galilee (where He had made the water wine)” (John 4:46). This is intentional. You are supposed to read this account with the sign at the wedding feast in mind. Both of these signs are in Cana, both produce belief, and both tell us something about Jesus.

Once in Cana, Jesus meets a royal official. This official had heard of Jesus. In fact, many of “the Galileans received Him, having seen all the things that He did in Jerusalem at the feast” (John 2:45). The “feast” is the Passover that Jesus went to right after turning water into wine (John 2:12-13).  While there, He cleansed the temple, performed many signs (John 2:23), and met Nicodemus (John 3:1). On His way back to Galilee, He interacted with a woman in Samaria (John 4:7). Now He is back in Galilee and reports have spread about His signs. This royal official is in desperate need of one of them, so He comes to Jesus, leaving behind a dying son about 15 miles away in Capernaum.

What did Jesus Do?

So, let’s examine the actions that make up this sign, and then ask the question, “What does this sign mean?” What Jesus did is quite remarkable. He sent a miracle 15 miles away to the city of Capernaum to a deathbed with precision accuracy. This sign transcends time and space. The official wanted Jesus to go back with him to Capernaum but Jesus refused. Jesus told him to go back home alone (John 2:49-40). He simply said, “Go; your son lives” (John 4:50). That would be extremely hard to do.  Your son is dying, you know Jesus can heal, you travel all the way to Him to bring Him to your son, but He doesn’t come. He gives you just a few words, possibly a few seconds, and sends you back.

Imagine turning around and walking home, empty-handed, by yourself. Why did the official do this? Why didn’t he stay and beg Jesus to come with him? Because “the man believed the word that Jesus spoke to him” (John 4:50). He believed the word, even though he hadn’t seen the sign yet. This is the opposite of what Jesus has just told him, “Unless you (pl.) see signs and wonders, you (pl.) will not believe” (John 4:48). Jesus is giving him a test. Can you believe, unlike so many others, without seeing?

So the official heads to his son. The next day he is greeted by some slaves who tell him the great news that his son is alive and well. So he asks what time His son recovered, and lo and behold, it was the exact moment that Jesus uttered the words, “Your son lives.” Thus, the official and his whole household believe. This was the second sign Jesus did in Cana of Galilee.

What does it Mean?

Now, I can’t help but think that the true spiritual meaning lies in the fact that this sign was believed, but not seen. The Galileans were willing to receive Jesus because they saw His signs in Jerusalem (John 4:45). Either this official heard their testimonies, or was in Jerusalem, but he believed Jesus could heal His son. That belief led him both to walk to Jesus, and to walk away from Jesus, trusting His words.  He did not see his son healed. He didn’t witness Jesus touch him, hold his hand, or raise him up. But he believed the testimonies about Jesus, the words of Jesus, and the evidence that came later.

This is the way that all the readers of John are asked to believe in Jesus. Some were told they will see great things (John 1:50). Some saw the glory of Jesus made manifest (like the first time He was in Cana, John 2:11). Some, like Thomas, had the benefit of seeing the resurrected Lord (John 20:27-28). Some will only believe if they see signs (John 4:48). But Jesus wants us, you and me, to believe based on what we haven’t seen. Believe the testimonies about Him. Believe what we read. Believe in what we will see one day. Remembering, “Blessed are they who did not see, but yet believed” (John 20:29).

52 Reflections on the Gospel of John: #10. Jesus as the Temple

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Last week we examined that odd scene in John 2 where Jesus visits Jerusalem for Passover and enters the temple and starts flipping tables and driving everybody out and stopping all the buying and selling that was common in the Jerusalem temple. After this dramatic demonstration, Jesus explains His actions by saying, “‘Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.’ The Jews then said, ‘It took forty-six years to build this temple, and will You raise it up in three days?’” (John 2:19-20). That’s where the conversation ends. It is ambiguous and the Jews leave without understanding. The author, however, fills the reader (us) in on the hidden true meaning behind Jesus’ words. We are told, “But He was speaking of the temple of His body” (John 2:21).

It is that explanatory note that we will investigate in this post. What is meant by “the temple of His body”? In what way is Jesus’ body analogous to the Jerusalem temple? In building up to this question it is helpful to start back at the beginning of John, because there have already been a few hints leading us to this conclusion before you even get to this scene in chapter 2.

Going all the way back to the first verses of chapter 1, John begins with a creation account. The first words in the Gospel are, “In the beginning” (John 1:1). This should immediately take you back to Genesis 1, which begins with these exact same words. Genesis 1 opens by telling you about creation, and John does the same thing: “All things came into being through Him, and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being” (John 1:3). Genesis 1 tells you on the first day God said, “‘Let there be light’; and there was light. God saw that the light was good; and God separated the light from the darkness” (Genesis 1:3-4). Genesis has the coming of light and the separation of light and darkness. John says, “In Him was life, and the life was the Light of men. The Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it” (John 1:5). These strong parallels tell us that John is writing with the Genesis creation account in mind. He is retelling the creation story Christologically, that is, reading it through the lens of Jesus.

John can’t read Genesis 1 the way He used to. He can’t read it the same way as before He met Jesus. He now sees Jesus through the entire creation event. Only, he also notes a very serious problem: “He was in the world, and the world was made through Him, and the world did not know Him. He came to His own, and those who were His own did not receive Him” (John 1:10-11).  The darkness of the world rejected the Light which came from God. This Light is also referred to as the Logos, the “Word.” In the beginning this Word and Light was One with God acting together in creation.

The story takes a very interesting turn in John 1:14, “And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we saw His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth.” There are two words in this verse that strongly imply this is meant to be taken as a Temple description. The first is the word “Dwell.” The One who created heaven and earth has come to dwell among men. Where does God dwell among men? He did in the Garden of Eden. He did in the tabernacle/temple. And He did in the flesh of Jesus. Creation, temple, and the incarnation are all coming together in this verse. In fact the word “dwell” is not the usual Greek word for “dwell” in the New Testament. It literally means, “tabernacled” (See the same word in Revelation 7:15 and 21:3). It is the verb form of the noun “tabernacle.” When God instructs the Israelites on how to build the tabernacle, He begins by saying, “Let them construct a sanctuary for Me, that I may dwell among them…the tabernacle” (Exodus 25:8, 9).

Secondly, the word “tabernacled” is coupled with the word “glory.” When He tabernacled among men, we beheld His “glory.” The glory of God was seen in His temple. Remember the depressing account in Ezekiel 10:4, 18; 11:23 of the glory of God slowing departing from the Jerusalem temple? That was in preparation for the temple to be destroyed by the Babylonians. But the dwelling of God was supposed to contain God’s glory. When the temple is reconstructed in the days of Zerubbabel, God encouraged and promised, “The latter glory of this house will be greater than the former” (Haggai 2:9). John 1:14 pictures Jesus as the new tabernacle/temple of God who shines forth His glory.

This identification is hinted at further in John 1:51: “Truly, truly, I say to you, you will see the heavens opened and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.” This passage clearly has references to Genesis 28:12 where Jacob rests his head on a rock and dreams of a ladder going up into heaven with angels ascending and descending upon it. That ladder was the connection between heaven and earth, between God and Men. Jesus, the Son of Man, claims to be that ladder. In the Genesis story, Jacob wakes up and comes to a realization. The place he was resting is “none other than the house of God, and this the gate of heaven” (Genesis 28:17). He then names the place Bethel, which literally means “House of God.”

The Temple is the house of God. It is God’s dwelling place and the meeting place between God and man. It is like that ladder going from earth to heaven. And Jesus has taken the role of the temple for Himself. That’s why it is not surprising when John tells us, “He was speaking of the temple of His body” (John 2:21). To the careful reader, these dots have already begun to connect. Instead of going to the temple to find God, go to Jesus. Instead of going to the temple to find the Passover lamb or forgiveness, go to Jesus. Don’t go to the temple to find the glory of God, go to Jesus. Jesus, as the eternal Divine Word become flesh, has become meeting place of God and man and the dwelling place of God on earth.

52 Reflections on the Gospel of John: #9 Cleansing the Temple

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Prophets often did strange things to demonstrate God’s Word. Jesus continues this tradition when He enters the temple in John 2. Jesus entered Jerusalem because “the Passover of the Jews was near” (John 2:13). This is the first of three Passovers (John 6:4; 11:55) in the Gospel of John (which is why we say Jesus’ ministry lasted 3 years). In the Synoptics (Matthew, Mark, Luke) Jesus cleanses the temple also, but John’s telling is unique.  For instance, in the Synoptics, Jesus cleanses the temple as one of His final acts in Jerusalem leading to His arrest and crucifixion. In John, however, He cleanses the temple right at the beginning of His ministry. This placement is theologically motivated. I think it’s supposed to tell us something rather important about Jesus. Something that John wants you to know right from the start, to be kept in the reader’s mind throughout the rest of the Gospel.

Another unique feature of John’s account of Jesus cleansing the temple is the symbolic way that Jesus interprets His actions. Right after Jesus drives everyone out the temple He is asked to explain Himself. This also happens in the Synoptics (Mark 11:28; Matthew 21:23; Luke 20:2). In John, however, His answer is quite different. The question is also slightly different. Matthew, Mark, and Luke all portray the question as “By what authority are you doing these things?” But John has particular interest in “signs,” so notice how the question is asked: “What sign do you show us as your authority for doing these things?” (John 2:18). At least that’s how the NASB translates it. The word “authority” (ἐξουσίᾳ), while in the Synoptics, is not actually in John. The question is simply: (τί σημεῖον δεικνύεις ἡμῖν ὅτι ταῦτα ποιεῖς;) “What sign do you show us because you do these things?”

Now that question could be taken one of two ways. First, as the NASB thinks, it could be: “What sign will you now show us to prove that you had the authority to cleanse the temple?” Or, the question could be more like this: “What sign are we supposed to see from you cleansing the temple?” When a prophet would do some extravagant demonstration like this, there is supposed to be a meaning attached to it. What is the sign of cleaning the temple? What does it mean? To take the question this way, which I think is probably correct, means that cleansing the temple was itself a sign, though non-miraculous, and Jesus is now going to explain the spiritual meaning of it.

Here is Jesus answer: “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up” (John 2:19).The Jews respond in the typical manner. By typical, I mean the way everyone always responds to Jesus, they will miss the spiritual point and get lost in the physical details.  They snort back incredulously, “It took forty-six years to build this temple, and You will raise it up in three days?” (John 2:20).  This is when John lets the reader in on Jesus’ true meaning. He clarifies the confusion for us, saying, “But He was speaking of the temple of His body” (John 2:21).

So what does this all mean? Jesus cleansed the temple as a sign. When Jesus says, “Destroy this temple” He actually means, “destroy My body.” And when He says, “in three days I will raise it up,” He is not talking about constructing a new temple, but His resurrection. In this way, the destruction of Jesus’ body parallels the destruction of the temple (which took place in AD 70).  And while Jesus was raised from the dead three days later, I think the implication may be that the temple will be raised also. Perhaps the temple will live on, be raised, as the “body of Christ,” or the church. A common New Testament picture of the church, the body of Christ, shows it is how God’s temple now lives on (1 Corinthians 3:16; Ephesians 2:19-22).

Perhaps then, the “sign” of Jesus cleansing the temple in John 2 is that Jesus will be killed and raised, paralleling that the temple will be destroyed and raised up in His body, the church. The problem with this “sign” though, is that you don’t actually get to see or understand its meaning until after the resurrection. While He is speaking the Jews miss His meaning, but the disciples miss the meaning also. At least, they don’t understand it yet. But, “when He was raised from the dead, His disciples remembered that He said this: and they believed the Scripture and the word which Jesus had spoken” (John 2:22).

The resurrection of Jesus caused the disciples to look back on this event. They looked back and remembered this conversation and it led them to “believe” (The sign led them to believe, remember John 20:30-31?). But what’s interesting is that His disciples believed “the Scripture and the word which Jesus had spoken” (John 2:22). What Scripture did they believe? I think the answer is back in John 2:17, “His disciples remembered that it was written, ‘Zeal for Your house will consume me’” (John 2:17; Psalm 69:9).

All of the sudden, after the resurrection of Jesus, the disciples believed that Psalm 69:9 is about Jesus. Notice, by the way, the entire verse: “For zeal for Your house has consumed me, And the reproaches of those who reproach You have fallen on me” (Psalm 69:9; Romans 15:3). After the resurrection this Psalm became a key Messianic Psalm. Note Romans 15:3 which also applies this verse to Jesus. In fact, the entire Psalm came to be read about Jesus. Each of these New Testament passages applies parts of Psalm 69 to Jesus: John 2:17; 15:25; 19:28-29 (Matthew 27:34; Mark 15:36; Luke 23:36) Romans 11:9-10; 15:3; Acts 1:20. The cleansing of the temple is what opened this passage up to Messianic interpretation.

The cleansing of the temple, coupled with the death and resurrection of Jesus, was a sign that the temple would live on as Jesus’ body in the church. It also opened the disciple’s eyes to believe and to see Jesus throughout Psalm 69, to read it in a new light. Perhaps, it also caused the disciples to read other Old Testament passages about the temple differently, since Jesus links His body to the temple. The temple was seen as God’s dwelling on earth, but Jesus is the truest form of God dwelling on earth. Our next post will examine how Jesus is repeatedly pictured as God’s temple in John.

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