Healing on the Sabbath

Matthew 12:1–21; Mark 2:23–3:12; Luke 6:1–11

Jesus and his disciples were pulling grain and eating on the Sabbath, but the Pharisees took issue with what they interpreted as their “working” on the Sabbath. The apostle John gave a blunt explanation that summed up the Pharisaical animosity towards Jesus, which revolved around Christ’s Sabbath activity. The law regarding the Sabbath was one of observant cessation for holiness (Exod. 20:8). What they were doing was not a violation of the Sabbath. Instead, they violated the traditional keeping of the Sabbath as it was defined by the rabbis.

God permitted the Jews to eat grain as they passed through a grain field (Deut. 23:25; Ruth 2:2–3). Sabbath prohibitions were to not start a fire for cooking (Exod. 16:22–30; 35:3), gather fuel (Num. 15:32–36), bear a load (Jer. 17:21–22), or conduct business (Neh. 10:31; 13:15, 19). The rabbinical tradition, however, demanded thirty-nine particular restrictions, including reaping (Shab. 7.2). Therefore, the disciples picking grain was perceived by the Pharisees as reaping and thus a violation of the law.

Jesus proved the Pharisee’s inconsistency by exposing their veneration of David while neglecting David’s disobedience of the law while Jesus and his disciples were not breaking the law. Furthermore, Jesus, not the Pharisees, was “lord of the Sabbath.” Jesus as Lord of the Sabbath does not indicate that Jesus violated the law. Some have categorized this narrative as one of situational ethics, but that is not the case. Jesus was not bending the rules or saying he could because of his lordship over the Sabbath. Instead, he was the legislator of the law and, bound by it (cf. Matt. 5:17–19), would not have broken it. Had Jesus defied the law, he could not have been called sinless (1 John 3:4; cf. Heb. 4:15; 1 Peter 2:22). If Jesus sinned, he could not have been our sacrifice humanity would still be in sin (2 Cor. 5:21). Matthew adds the detail that Jesus pointed out that the priests broke the law, working on the Sabbath, but were blameless. Then, for the second time, he cites Hosea, “For I desire mercy and not sacrifice.” 

Jesus is next faced with healing on the Sabbath. By this time, the Pharisees kept a steady eye on the Lord to determine whether he would violate their traditions. However, later rabbinic traditions attest to an answer to the question of Jesus: “Is it lawful on the Sabbath to do good or harm, to save life or to destroy it?” The rabbis agreed that preserving life overruled Sabbath restrictions when life was at stake (Yoma 8.6; cf. Shab. 18.3; 19.2). However, life wasn’t at risk in this story. Mark permits us a glimpse into how Jesus felt about their hardness of hearts: he “looked … at them with anger, bring grieved” (Mark 3:5). Jesus did this miracle publicly not to provoke but to persuade. The proof was required to attest to his identity to know that he was Lord. Once he healed the man, though, the Pharisees began plotting with Herodians, a detail unique to Mark, which makes for an ironic narrative. Since the Sabbath was meant for cessation, their plotting contradicts their ceasing. 

Jesus removes himself, healing those who came to him in Tyre and Sidon (Mark 3:7–12), Gentile cities that perhaps spoke to the offer of salvation even to Gentiles. Matthew cited Isaiah’s words as the explanation of being in Tyre and Sidon (12:16–21; cf. Is. 42:1–4).  

By the Pool of Bethesda

John 5:1–47

Jesus spent a lot of time in Galilee. Now, he goes to Jerusalem for a feast in the first year of his ministry (c. 27–31). The Sheep Gate was where sheep came in and were washed in the pool before being taken into the sanctuary. Invalids were also here, so those wishing to be ritually pure would have avoided this area. Yet, Jesus goes to it. Its name may mean “house of mercy,” which was why such folks went here (vv. 1–3). Depending on your translation, there may be an omission of mentioning angels stirring the waters (vv. 3–4).  

All English translations use a specific edition of the Greek New Testament and Hebrew/Aramaic Old Testament. The very first Greek New Testament to be comprised was by Erasmus in 1516. He used 12th-century manuscripts. At his time, the oldest manuscript was from the 10th century, but he opted for the later ones. As time passed, scholars made revisions that echoed Erasmus’ text. All English translations through 1880 used the same Greek New Testament, called Textus Receptus (“received text”). 

By the 1700s, many more manuscripts had been discovered. Some were six to nine centuries older than what Erasmus had available. These older manuscripts lacked passages such as John 5:3b–4 and fifteen others. The belief was that a scribe may have mistaken an explanatory marginal comment for a correction and copied it into the text. A new Greek New Testament was made and appeared in 1831. Since the manuscripts were older than Erasmus used, they omitted the sixteen passages to construct the most accurate and historical version, which is reflected in many English translations. 

Since 1611, the King James Bible has reigned as the preeminent English translation. However, because of the newer Greek New Testament, a Revised Version was commissioned in England in 1881. The Revised Version would later birth the New Revised Standard Version, which would later birth the English Standard Version. When the Revised Version appeared, there was a considerable uproar since the long-dominant KJV had set the standard. The omission of the verses was seen as blasphemous, and people cited Revelation 22:19 to those who upheld the Revised Version. In reality, Revelation 22:18 is more relevant if you want to argue the point. 

Translations that omit these added verses usually contain a footnote or marginal note explaining that 3b–4 appears in later manuscripts. Modern translations do not leave these verses out per se any more than the older ones added them. They are simply the product of the information that was available at the time. Now that we have better information, the translations that omit them should be more commonly used.

Nevertheless, given the affinity for the New King James, we use it with the caveat that it’s based on later manuscripts. More recent translations utilize a vast amount of sources. The standard for most English translations is the Masoretic text of the Hebrew called Biblia Hebraica Stuttgartensia; the Greek New Testament used is Novum Testamentum Graece. Translators often consult, alongside these primary sources, the Dead Sea Scrolls, the Septuagint (Greek Old Testament), the Samaritan Pentateuch (Law of Moses), the Syriac Peshitta (Syriac Bible), the Latin Vulgate, and other sources that may help shed light on texts that may be difficult to translate. 

After Jesus healed the man, linking his condition to sin (v. 14), he took his bed and went on his way while the Pharisees rebuked him for carrying his bed. This act of healing on the Sabbath was the start of persecution for Jesus that would culminate in his death (v. 16). Christ explains  himself to them as equal with God in nature (vv. 17–18), power (vv. 19–21), authority (vv. 22–30). The language of verse 25 may foreshadow the raising of Lazarus. Another possibility is that his intention is akin to Ezekiel speaking to the valley of dry bones to bring them to life (Ezek. 37). Later, Jesus alludes to the resurrection at the judgment (vv. 28–29). 

Jesus, next, shows that he is submissive even to the Law of Moses, which prescribes two or three witnesses to confirm facts (Deut. 19:15). Jesus has the witness of John the Baptist (vv. 31–35), the works he performs (v. 36), the father (vv. 37–38), and Scripture (vv. 39–47). Rabbi Hillel taught, “The more study of the Law the more life…If a man…has gained for himself words of the Law he has gained for himself life in the world to come” (m. ’Abot 2.7). The emphasis on studying the Torah was such that what it taught was overshadowed. We must beware of this kind of biblicism because many brethren can know the Scriptures with exactitude. Yet, being able to quote book, chapter, and verse is meaningless unless our lives conform to what’s written. 

Jesus Among an Undesirable Crowd

Matthew 9:9–17; Mark 2:13–22; Luke 5:27–39

When we think about apostles, we envision holy men. Yet, we often forget their humanity and the “before” of their story. Relating to ordinary people, even some that society considers undesirable are disregarded as we think of them in the position given to them by Jesus. Jesus, however, chose unwanted, ordinary people. 

This story begins with Jesus calling a certain disciple, Levi. In other passages, he’s identified as Matthew—the writer of the Gospel that bears his name (Matt. 9:9–13; Mark 2:14). Matthew, or Levi, was a tax collector. They were crooked, greedy, and usually men of wealth and influence. They would contract with their city or district and gather taxes to be sent to Rome. They had little authority, but they were in cahoots with the authorities. Sometimes they served as informants and bore false witness to get extra money when someone might have already paid their taxes (cf. Luke 19:8). Whatever they collected above what was required was often pocketed as a commission (cf. Luke 3:13). What made tax collectors so hated was that they were Jews who worked for the Roman government. To the Jewish people, who were prideful of their heritage and disdainful of foreign rule and occupation, the tax collectors were seen as traitors. Israel had been an independent state for about 100 years until Rome brought them under subjugation, and Herod was installed as king in AD 6. Before, Israel and Rome were allies. After being made a Roman province, Israel often had uprisings in attempts to expel the Romans from their homeland. Those tax collectors were natives working for the occupiers, placing them in a hated category. This was why the religious leaders were astounded by Jesus’ associations. However, it was because Levi was spiritually sick that Jesus sought him. 

Table meals in the ancient East were more significant than we might deem them. Sharing a meal with someone implied accepting them, and in this case, added to that was forgiveness. Our Lord’s Supper is based mainly on the same premise. Sharing the meal from the Lord’s Table in the assembly communicates our acceptance and forgiveness towards one another. The religious leaders believed obedience to religious law was a precondition for God’s kingdom’s arrival. Jesus, however, communicates by this that God’s kingdom will arrive even to sinful Israel by God’s grace—the very thing Jesus is giving the sinners and tax collectors. The same still stands: we don’t make ourselves ready to be accepted. God offers grace through which, in our unpreparedness and sin, we can go to him as we are, and he makes us something far more significant. Then the work begins. 

Jesus quoted Hosea 6:6: “For I desire mercy [steadfast love] and not sacrifice, the knowledge of God more than burnt offerings.” The statement isn’t meant to call one away from sacrifices (worship) but to the knowledge of God. When we understand God’s heart, we’ll live with integrity under his covenant rather than engage in rituals and shows of piety to earn his love. Have affection for God and mercy for others. They had missed the whole point. Jesus was going to heal spiritual sickness, but they were enslaved to trivial issues of purity. The opposite of mercy, in this case, is a religious triviality wed to traditions and regulations. 

The banquet at Levi’s home concerned the Pharisees because they, and John’s disciples, were disciplined in fasting and prayer, while to them, it appeared that Jesus’ disciples partied. However, what Jesus seemed to relay to the Pharisees was a matter of compatibility. As a new garment patch was incompatible with an old garment, and as new wine in old wineskins was incompatible, so it was that fasting in the presence of the bridegroom was incompatible. This isn’t to say that fasting isn’t needed. Just that the occasion for it was untimely.   

Jesus’ Popularity Grows

Matthew 8:2–4; Mark 1:40–45; Luke 5:12–16

Leprosy was no pleasant or beautiful thing. It was downright torture for the one who struggled with it. It was physical torture because of its effects upon the body, and it could even be in the orifices hidden from sight, the throat, and genitals. To have leprosy was thought to have been cursed by God (cf. 2 Sam. 3:29; 2 Kings 15:5; 2 Chron. 26:20–21). One author notes: 

Leprosy usually begins with a patch-like lumpy rash which does not fade under pressure. The…initial eruption may entirely disappear and reappear after a long interval, when the next and unmistakable form of the disease manifests itself…[as] the appearance of the white skin.

Leviticus 13–14 dealt with leprosy and its handling in Jewish life. Priests were responsible for pronouncing one as unclean or clean. The initial stages of leprosy were a period of observation in the event a person did not have leprosy (Lev. 13:4–6). If the disorder spread, the person was declared unclean, and they were to be ostracized from society (Lev. 13:45–46).

Because Jesus touched the leper—an unlawful thing to do (Lev. 5:2–6; 7:21) – some might be prone to think him unclean and in violation of the law. This must have been the audience’s thought when they saw Jesus touch the leper. Since Christ is the author of the law, he is able to supersede the law in this regard (cf. Luke 6:5), but he did observe it and yield to it by commanding that the leper seek the priest’s pronouncement as well as offer acceptable sacrifices.

This miracle gave greater rise to Christ’s already growing popularity. Because of this, he could scarcely be seen without being bothered by those wanting to be healed. Yes, Christ is a healer, but more of the spirit than of the body. A man should seek the spiritual cleansing that brings us into fellowship with God more so than the physical healing that affords comfort. A leper was not only physically ostracized, but he was also spiritually ostracized. He could not worship. The Lord wearied of these requests and went away to pray. 

(Matthew 9:1–8; Mark 2:1–12; Luke 5:17–26) 

In this account, Jesus healed a paralytic man while attributing his healing to forgiving sins. However, it is here that Luke first points to the contention between Jesus and the Pharisees. In this story, they appear as students, but when Jesus did something contrary to their customs, they accused him of blasphemy. Accompanying the Pharisees were the “teachers of the law” or, more likely, the scribes. The latter group traced their heritage back to Ezra (cf. Ezra 7:6, 10). Their duty was to interpret the law while the Pharisees applied the law. It would be like having a different preacher for exposition and application. The exposition gives the meaning while the applicator instructs how the meaning is to be followed.

This contention was Christ pronouncing forgiveness of sins and healing the paralytic (cf. Ps. 103:3). While only God forgives sins, he did use human agents to offer forgiveness (2 Sam. 12:13). Since disease and sins were linked in Jesus’ time (1 Cor. 11:30; cf. John 9:2–3), those present would have identified the paralytic’s disease as linked to his sins. What Jesus was doing was what was prophesied in the Messianic era (Jer. 31:31–34; Is. 29:18–19). However, the Pharisees didn’t understand these things, so they accused Christ of blasphemy. Jesus would have been worthy of blasphemy had he misused the name of God (M. Sanh. 7.5), but he didn’t.

Jesus Begins Healing and Casts out Demons

Matthew 8:14–17; Mark 1:21–34; Luke 4:31–41

One emphasis of Mark’s is the authority of Jesus (Mark 1:22, 27; cf. 2:10; 3:15; 6:7; 11:28–33). He teaches as one with authority, and the response is surprise and wonder, but not faith. His authority is that he did not cite a rabbi or some tradition when he taught but spoke as an arbiter. While in the synagogue, Jesus exorcised a demon (v. 27). He set out to cleanse the unholiness on a day God intended to be holy. Jesus’ manner of exorcism and the words he used were similar to Jewish exorcists (e.g., “rebuked” and “muzzled”), yet he didn’t use incantations as mentioned in the pseudepigraphical book, Testament of Solomon. Josephus attributed Jewish exorcism to Solomon and even said such practices were customary (Antiq. 8.45–49). Since Jewish exorcists invoked magical incantations (cf. Test. Sol.), Jesus simply commanded, and he obeyed. 

The genesis of demons is an interesting one. Angels were created by God (Psalm 148:1–5), and they have free moral agency (Psalm 103:20–21; Jude 1:6; 2 Peter 2:4). Some of these angels did in their outcast status changed the course of events that eventually birthed demons (Jude 1:6; 2 Peter 2:4). The text used to determine this was Genesis 6:1–4. This passage spoke to the ancient audience of the comingling between the divine and earthly figures—something that violated God’s creative purposes and was thus sinful. In the Greek Old Testament, this passage has in the place of “sons of God,” “angels” in Genesis 6:2. In place of Nephilim (“fallen ones”), the Septuagint has “Giants” in Genesis 6:4. Therefore, the Old Testament of the early church believed this passage to speak regarding fallen angels who had copulated with women and produced as offspring a race of Giants. Because of the commingling of earthly and divine beings, God would eventually judge the earth and destroy it by the flood due to the subsequent corruption that arose because of the intermingling of angels and humans.

However, if God were to destroy all except Noah and his family by flood, one might assume that the flood would destroy the offspring of angels and women (Giants), ending the matter. The case is that the disembodied spirits of the offspring (Giants) produced by angels and women became what we regard today as “demons.” As seen in the New Testament, these demons often sought to possess bodies to enjoy once more the pleasures of the flesh that brought God’s judgment on the earth in the days of Noah. Furthermore, we also read about Giants post-flood (Numbers 13:33), which suggests that some survived.

Jesus obtains notoriety from the crowds but not faith (v. 28). This wonder continues throughout the ministry of Jesus. So many just aren’t sure what to make of him, and we have the benefit of hindsight so much that we cannot fathom how they were so confused. His hushing of the demons may have to do with him not wanting them to be the ones to disclose who he is. After all, if it’s coming from a demon, people may look to them in a way he doesn’t want. Angel worship, or angel religion, may have been an issue (Col. 2:18; cf. 1 Cor. 11:10; 1 Tim. 4:1). 

After this, they go, and Jesus heals Peter’s mother-in-law. She begins to serve him, and crowds gather to be healed by him at sunset when Sabbath prohibitions end (v. 32). Matthew attaches this to fulfilling the prophecy about Jesus (Matt. 8:17). The English rendering from Isiah 53:4 reads, “griefs” and “sorrows,” which often leads us to equate that with struggles and sins, or something along those lines. It would be better translated as “sicknesses” and “pains,” which is more faithful to Matthew’s rendering and the English derived from it. Here on out, Jesus is noted as having healed multitudes. 

The Invitation to Follow Jesus

Matthew 4:13–22; Mark 1:16–20; Luke 5:1–11

Matthew’s and Mark’s passages are calling of the disciples, while Luke’s details what occurs immediately after they join Jesus. He had just read Isaiah in the synagogue in Nazareth, and the crowds, not liking what he said, sought to kill him. Jesus, however, eluded them and left Nazareth and went to Capernaum. Capernaum was a city in the northern part of the Sea of Galilee, and there was a large fishing industry in this city and the others surrounding the sea. Here on out, Jesus makes Capernaum his base of operations (cf. Matt. 9:1). 

Matthew ties Jesus’ location to a prophecy from Isaiah (Matt. 4:13–16; cf. Is. 9:1–2). The prophecy envisioned when the Assyrians threw the region into darkness by their conquest (721 BC), but that light would come to it once more. This was why Jesus was here. 

Nazareth was in Zebulun and Capernaum was in Naphtali, both of which were in the territory of Galilee. To the west, north, and east, Galilee was surrounded by non-Jewish populations, hence “Galilee of the Gentiles.” It also came under Gentile influences, which was why many pious Jews didn’t regard the area very well. Interesting that Jesus went to a lowly regarded area to draft disciples. 

Jesus begins preaching the message of John the Baptist (Matt. 4:17). As he walks by the sea, he calls Simon and Andrew and James and John (Matt. 4:18–22; Mark 1:16–10). This wasn’t their first meeting: they were with him after his baptism and when he turned water into wine. Rabbis were typically sought after by students, and the rabbis determined who’d they take on as a disciple. Here, however, Jesus chooses his own, something out of the norm (cf. John 15:16). Not taking for granted the scene, understanding what a disciple was is important. A disciple was not only a student but a follower. They mimicked their rabbi in all that he did. When Jesus gave his great commission to make disciples, he told them to make little Jesuses of all the nations.  

The next event occurred in the morning after a night of fishing (Luke 5:5); by this time, Jesus’ popularity had swelled to proportions, making teaching difficult because the crowd was pressing in on him. Jesus entered Simon Peter’s boat and set out so that he could be heard. The way the lake is situated is akin to an amphitheater, so Christ setting out gave him enough distance to be heard while the people crowded. The acoustics in this area are ideal for such an address.

Jesus later asks Peter to cast his nets after an unsuccessful night of fishing (Luke 5:4). Fishing entailed not only the use of nets (Luke 5:2, 4) but also a spear (Job 41:7) and fishhook (Job 41:1; Amos 4:2). Ezekiel prophesied the spread of the Gospel in fishing imagery(47:8–10). Peter’s asking the Lord to depart from him was not only Peter’s sensing the holiness and personhood of Jesus, but it was also a manifestation of his guilt (Luke 5:8). One reason Peter might have wanted Jesus to depart was the belief of his ancestors that no one can look upon God without incurring his wrath (Exod. 20:19; Judg. 13:22; 1 Sam. 6:20). Luke solidifies that it was at this point that they left everything to follow Christ (Luke 5:11).

Jesus in the Synagogue

John 4:43–54; Luke 4:16–30

Leaving Samaria, Jesus ventures to Galilee. John makes a preliminary note in verse 44, which we later see in Luke’s passage under this study. While in Cana, where he performed his first miracle, a father from Capernaum came seeking healing for his son. He’s desperate because of the dire nature of his son’s health (v. 47). This father had traveled fifteen miles, about a day’s journey, uphill. The father didn’t make it back the same day, but his servants met him, and the nobleman inquired about when his son became well (vv. 49–53). 

Luke 4:14–16 is a year, filled in by information from John 1:29–4:54. Since Jesus had time to make an impact within a year, his popularity no doubt grew. So when he returned to his hometown to participate in the synagogue meeting by reading from the prophets and preaching, he would have likely been given attention to see what he would say and do.

From this sketching of the synagogue meeting and other passages, we notice how closely the early church worship mirrored the synagogue meetings. The synagogue meetings were not for worship per se but religious instruction. Synagogues were like an institute of religious education (Contra Apion 2.7; Mosis 3.27), and synagogue worship negates the place of the temple in the life of the Jew. The temple was where worship was rendered, though one might argue that common prayers in the synagogue were a sort of devotion.

There were at least two readings in a synagogue meeting—one from the Law and the other from the prophets (Megillah 4.1–5). The latter was followed by the ruler of the synagogue asking if anyone had a message after their reading (Acts 13:15; 15:21). The Law was read on a liturgical calendar in its entirety in three years (Megillah 29b). Had a priest or Levite been present, they would have been given preference over anyone reading (Gittin 5.8), so Jesus’ reading infers the absence of both. The reading of a prophetic book was the meeting’s conclusion, known as the haftarah. Since this portion of the reading was not preselected, the reader, at their discretion, could select the passage to read (Megillah 4.4).

For Jesus to unravel the scroll to Isaiah, to read this small portion from it, to roll it back up and hand it to the attendant likely took some time because the Jews were respectful in their handling of the Scriptures. After his reading followed a sermon that explained the text and applied it (cf. Luke 4:31–33; 6:6), and afterward, Jesus related this reading to the ministry of Elijah. However, the message and point of this relation appear after they question who Jesus’ father was. The fact that stung the audience was that Elijah, like Jesus, was also sent to Gentiles to work miracles when the people of God refused to receive them. This enraged the audience, who likely anticipated the Messiah, but they couldn’t believe his report because they knew him as Joseph’s son and had seen him grow among them.

When Jesus read from Isaiah, one passage Jesus noted was the one that read, “…to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” This phrase indicates that the year in which Jesus spoke was the year of Jubilee (cf. Lev. 25:8–17, 50–54; Deut. 31:9–13). During the year of Jubilee, whoever sold themselves as enslaved people or was indebted was released from their debts and freed. If someone lost land as surety, it was returned. Imagine a year where all was forgiven. That’s the year of Jubilee, and it is after this model of the year of Jubilee that chapter seven bankruptcies are modeled.

However, that doesn’t mean that a person was free to rack up as much debt as possible so that it could be forgiven in seven years. No, those usually indebted were in that position because they had to borrow to survive and not because they tried to save the cars, boats, and ways of life to which they became accustomed. This year was for those who found themselves in an unfortunate position of indebtedness—a position in which all Christians find themselves (cf. Matt. 18:23–35). Jubilee was meant to avoid oppression and social classes. On this year, every man was square with one another. It was in this year that Jesus begins healing on the Sabbath—a move that would later draw the ire of the religious leaders of his day. 

The Woman at the Well

John 4:5–42

Some thirty-four miles from Jerusalem, Jesus arrives in Sychar (Shechem; Josh. 24.32). John often uses the term polin (“city”) to indicate a small town, so we’re not in a big metropolis. At noon, he sat by the well when a Samaritan woman came to draw from the well. Water drawing usually occurs in the morning or evening and by a group of women (Gen. 24:11; Exod. 2:15–16). So drawing water alone may reflect her story—that she’s been married multiple times (John 4:18). Jesus asks for a drink at noon, and he asks for a drink upon the cross (John 19:28). 

John is careful to mention that Jews have no dealings with Samaritans. They were a race who sat between being Jew and Gentile, descending from Assyrians and Israelites. In Jesus’ time, Shechem was regarded as the “city of senseless” (T. Levi 7.2). Between AD 6–9, the Samaritans desecrated the temple on the eve of Passover: “It was customary for the priests to open the temple gates just after midnight. … some of the Samaritans came privately into Jerusalem, and thew about dead men’s bodies in the cloisters; on which account the Jews afterward excluded them from the temple” (Jos., Ant. 18.2.2). 

What’s later evident is the Holy Spirit is the living water of which Jesus speaks (John 7:37–39). Like Nicodemus, the woman takes him literally, however. The transition from the discussion about water to her husband is a little odd (vv. 15–16). It’s not a natural conversation progression, but men had met their wives at wells, such as Isaac and Jacob (Gen. 24:17; 29:10). There’s no technical term in Greek for “husband.” However, when it’s used as possessive, it’s implied. Assuming that “husband” is the better translation reminds us that rabbis disapproved of more than three marriages, even in the case of death (b. Yebam. 64b). If the translation is to be “man,” then she’s a serial fornicator. Either way, she’s living with one who isn’t even hers. 

Jesus’ point in asking this question may have been to reveal that he was a prophet, to which she responds (v. 19). She changes the conversation to their differences in worship location. Abraham and Jacob built altars in the region (Gen. 12:7; 33:20), and Mount Gerizim was where Moses blessed the Israelites (Deut. 11:29; 27:12). The dispute, however, has been ongoing for centuries. Worship won’t be tied to a location but to a person. Preachers have often stated that the spirit of worship is the mind and heart we bring to it, while the truth is doing what is commanded. John likely wouldn’t have agreed with that interpretation. Throughout his gospel, Jesus is the person who is associated with spirit and truth, as is belief in him (1:14, 17, 33; 3:5–8; 6:63; et. al.). When we worship through Christ (cf. Heb. 8:1–2), we worship in spirit and truth.

Samaritan belief in Messiah was not so much royal as he was to be instructive. Jesus discloses that he is the one of which she speaks. When the disciples return, they find Jesus speaking with this woman and are surprised. The surprise was that he was a) speaking with a woman and b) that she was Samaritan. Something Jesus often does is break through barriers by which people usually live. He disabuses us of our prejudices. He challenges our feelings on things. This woman left to bring others to Jesus while his disciples urged him to eat. As the people approach him because of the woman’s testimony, Jesus likens them to a field ready for harvest. The very people the disciples may have avoided were those they spent two days among sharing the good news. Later, Jesus commands his apostles to begin in Jerusalem and proceed to Judea, Samaria, and the ends of the earth (Acts 1:8).  

Jesus and John

John 3:22–4:4; Luke 3:19–20

Jesus has been in the land of Judea since the Passover, so the term translated “land” here may indicate the countryside. Either way, Jesus is likely heading north of Jerusalem, where John the Baptist is too (3:22–23). Jesus is not doing the baptizing, though (cf. 4:2). The exact location where they were performing baptisms is disputed, but Aenon is a word meaning “many springs.” The verse tells us that water was plentiful there (3:23). The author mentions John not yet being in prison, something he assumes his audience was familiar with. 

A dispute arises about purification (cf. Lev. 14:8). There are many reasons a person might be baptized or purify themselves (cf. Heb. 6:1–2; 9:10). Unique to John was that he did this in repentance in preparation for the kingdom of heaven. People were “getting right” with God through John via his baptism, so the nature of it may have led to the dispute since it differed from the usual rite. 

Next, John’s disciples come to him concerned about those going to Jesus. They may have feared that the dispute was because of their varying personalities—some were going to John to be baptized while others went to Jesus. John, in answering, doesn’t feel threatened, unlike modern preachers might. He was doing God’s will and wouldn’t supersede the mission God gave him. That mission was to point others to Jesus, not to rival him. 

John mentions to his audience that Jesus had the spirit without measure. The rabbis believed that God gave portions of his spirit to prophets. “Even the Holy Spirit resting on the prophets does so by weight, one prophet speaking one book of prophecy and another speaking two books” (Lev. Rab. 15:2). Jesus, however, had the fullness of the Spirit. Here in this passage are Father, Son, and Spirit, all mentioned. It’s important to note this passage’s active, present tense verbs. “He who believes” is ongoing, not a one-time thing. 

As much as believing is something ongoing, so is not believing. We don’t like to talk much about God’s wrath because it can sound too harsh and dilute our picture of a loving God. The author mentioned that Jesus wasn’t sent to condemn the world (v. 17), so this conclusion eliminates any misunderstanding that judgment is nonexistent (v. 36). God’s wrath isn’t God losing his temper. John has already shown us that the father came to earth as the son, and the son endured the cross to keep us from condemnation. God would rather die than we should incur his wrath. 

In the Old Testament, God is often described as “slow to anger” (Exod. 34:6). The phrase used literally translates to “long of nose.” Anytime anger is translated from Hebrew, it comes either from “nose,” “heat,” or “hot nose.” When a person becomes angry, their face often flushes, hence “hot nose.” God, however, is described as “long of the nose,” meaning it takes much longer for his face to flush. He’s more patient and longsuffering and gives many chances for change. When we read about his judgment on Pharoah, remember that he sent plagues to provoke Pharoah to change. When he refused and pursued the Israelites, God gave him over to the consequences of his actions—the man who drowned all Israelite boys in the river was himself, along with his fighting men, drowned. Some may still struggle with this, but we can’t forget that Pharoah oppressed others who God also loved. That brokenness in our world is what God sought to repair through Jesus. 

Meanwhile, John the Baptist removed himself from the scene as Jesus’ disciples continued baptizing. He went to Herod and rebuked him for being married to Herodias, his niece. Herod had divorced the daughter of the Nabatean king to do this, but Herodias had divorced his half-brother, Philip. Jewish law prohibited this very thing (Lev. 18:16; 20:21). John had the boldness to rebuke a ruler and wound up in prison for it. Once Jesus learns of John the Baptist’s imprisonment, he heads to Galilee (Matt. 4:12; Mark 1:14), but he has to go through Samaria to get there (John 4:3–4). 

Jesus and Nicodemus (& Co)

John 2:23–3:21

Believing in Jesus’ name is a reiterated point from the book’s opening (1:12–13; 2:23; cf. 1 John 3:23; 5:13). The name, Jesus the Christ, literally means God Saves, The Anointed. Paul often referred to him as Christ Jesus (The Anointed Jesus). “Christ” is a title more so than a name. Later, Jesus prays for protection in the name God gave him (John 17:11-12). Simply put, to believe in the name of Jesus is to believe that the one and only God saves through him (cf. Acts 3:16; 4:12). A key theme in John’s gospel is that Jesus is God (1:1–2, 14). Here again, an attribute of God is applied to Jesus (2:24) because only God knows the mind and hearts of men.

The result of the signs Jesus did (2:23) was drawing the attention of an influential Jewish leader. Nicodemus is a Pharisee and ruler of the Jews (3:1). Corroborating evidence demonstrates that the name was common in Palestine at this time. Despite Pharisees often appearing as opponents of Jesus, Nicodemus and a few others were more amenable to him. Coming to Jesus at night has caused a lot of speculation. Maybe he wanted a private audience or was afraid to be seen with him. We don’t know, and we’re not told. Nicodemus addresses Jesus very respectfully and cannot deny the signs he has performed. Still, it would appear he is approaching Jesus on behalf of some group (“we” in v. 2). When Jesus replies, he uses the plural “you” in verses 7 and 11–12.  

Jesus’ answer isn’t altogether best translated in English Bibles. It should say “born from above” or “born anew” rather than “born again.” Jesus is pointing to a heavenly birth, but Nicodemus envisions only the natural birth a mother gives to a child. Being born of water and Spirit entails baptism (1 Cor. 6:11; 12:13; Titus 3:5). This particular passage is the most quoted baptismal passage from second-century Christian literature. Plus, baptism has occupied portions of chapter 1 (vv. 24–34), and the Spirit is mentioned in conjunction with baptism at Christ’s immersion by John. The contrast between natural and spiritual birth has already been highlighted in 1:12–13. 

The conversion language is taken from Ezekiel 36:25–27, where water and spirit work to cleanse the heart and achieve inner transformation. Gentile converts to Judaism were regarded as newborn children.  “And the legal status of a convert who just converted is like that of a child just born” (b. Yebam. 22a). “A convert who just converted is like a child just born” (b. Yebam. 48b). Here we have the connection between conversion and infancy in Jewish law. The spirit associated with water in Ezekiel 36 was symbolized as the wind in Ezekiel 37.

Nicodemus, an established and recognizable teacher, fails to understand. The earthly things are water and wind, and the heavenly things are rebirth from above by the Spirit. Therefore, heaven can only give divine wisdom—the Spirit (1:32–33), angels (1:51), and the Son of Man (3:13). Yet it’s the Son of Man who will be lifted, as the serpent in the wilderness, so that all who believe may have eternal life (cf. 1:4). Each time you see “believe” or one of its cognates, think “faith,” or “trust” as I much prefer. It’s the same term translated as faith used here as belief.  

The most famous verse of Scripture, John 3:16, appears to begin John’s reflection on the interview, given the past tenses from there till verse 21. We can’t trust the words in red but must rely on the grammar. When we read the first few words, “For God so loved the world,” we often think this is how much he loved the world. Yet, the tense doesn’t suggest the extent to which he loved the world but how he loved the world. It would be better to think, “God loved the world this way: He gave his only son.” The fact that God didn’t send Jesus to condemn the world should make us pause in how we present the good news. Instead, it’s often presented as a threat: God loves you, so you’d better obey or burn in hell. I much prefer that Jesus came to rescue us from the consequence of our own decisions, and if we accept his rescue, we don’t have to face those consequences.    

Water to Wine; Cleansing the Temple

John 2:1–22

We’re going to read about the first miracle Jesus performed, and he did so at a wedding. Men wedded between 18–24 and women as early as 13 or 14. A Jewish wedding was a joyful occasion for the bride, groom, their families, and the community. On the wedding day, the bride was taken from her father’s home to her husband in a joyful procession. The bride veiled her face and was surrounded by bridesmaids. Friends of the groom would have led her to her husband, and they were crowned with garlands. After, the couple signed the wedding contract, and the marriage supper followed. The celebration could last an entire day, and friends of the bridegroom would lead them to the bridal chamber. 

When we arrive at the setting, they’re at the marriage supper. Jesus was with his mother and disciples, so this is likely a relative or friend, which may explain why Mary brought the problem to Jesus. Wine symbolized joy: “There is no rejoicing save with wine” (b. Pesach 109a). To not have wine was an embarrassment. Moreover, Jews envisioned the Messianic age as flowing with wine. 

    Therefore they shall come and sing in the height of Zion,

    Streaming to the goodness of the LORD

    For wheat and new wine and oil,

    For the young of the flock and the herd;

    Their souls shall be like a well-watered garden,

    And they shall sorrow no more at all. (Jer. 31:12)

    Behold, the days are coming,” says the LORD,

    “When the plowman shall overtake the reaper,

    And the treader of grapes him who sows seed;

    The mountains shall drip with sweet wine,

    And all the hills shall flow with it.

    I will bring back the captives of My people Israel;

    They shall build the waste cities and inhabit them;

    They shall plant vineyards and drink wine from them;

    They shall also make gardens and eat fruit from them. (Amos 9:13–14)

Scripture is clear that drunkenness is sinful (1 Cor. 5:11; Gal. 5:21). Yet we don’t know to what degree the wine here was intoxicating or not. Nevertheless, what we call wine and what they call wine are different things. People often added water to wine to dilute it when it was strong, and this was what they called wine. “We call a mixture wine although the larger part of the component parts is water” (Plutarch, Mor. 140f; c. first century). The average person who drank in the first century would have considered drinking undiluted wine barbaric. 

Jesus’ reply in verse four might come across as disrespectful, and some argue for such an interpretation, but, at best, we might say it was distant. Addressing his mother as “woman” would have been akin to our “ma’am,” but the second phrase is often disrespectful. This verse and the next seem odd until we further understand. “My hour has not yet come” is another way of saying, “Once I begin miracles, my path to the cross begins.” Mary’s reply was one of full faith. Mary trusts that Jesus will answer her entreaty. Jesus has pots filled with water, and as the master of the banquet drank the water, it turned to wine. This was Jesus’ first miracle. 

At Passover, Jews traveled from all over to go to Jerusalem. They would have gone up regardless of their direction because the city was on a hill. Herod had renovated the temple. Here’s how Josephus described it, 

The exterior of the building wanted nothing that could astound either miind or eye. For, being covered on all sides with massive plates of gold, the sun was no sooner up that it radiated so fiery a flash that persons straining to look at it were compelled to avert their eyes, as from the solar rays. To approaching strangers it appeared from a distance like a snow-clad mountain; for all that was overlaid with gold was of the purest white. (Wars 5.5.6)

The rabbis, who did not like Herod in the least, admitted that “he who has not seen the Temple of Herod has never seen a beautiful building” (b. B. Bat 4a).  

Jesus is in the temple courts (hieron), in distinction from the actual temple (2:20; naos). Interestingly enough, when Paul refers to the church and individual Christian as the temple of the Holy Spirit, he uses naos (1 Cor. 3:16; 6:19). For the pilgrims who traveled far, the sale of sacrificial animals rendered a service to them rather than having to carry an animal a long distance. Also, considering where one came from, they would need to exchange their local currency with that of Jerusalem to purchase the animals. Previously, this was done across the Kidron Valley on the Mount of Olives. For some reason, it had moved into the temple courts. Jesus’ zeal for the temple was akin to Phineas, who drove out sin from the tabernacle. Because his actions bucked convention, the Jews wanted a sign to justify what he’d done. He foretold of his own temple (body) being destroyed and raised in three days, but they believed he was speaking of Herod’s temple. Even his disciples wouldn’t understand it until he rose from the dead.   

Calling the First Disciples

John 1:35–51

John was a spiritual leader whose sole mission was to point out Jesus, but those who saw in him the mission of God took up with him. This is why John had disciples (v. 35; cf. 3:25–26). As the previous day, John proclaimed Jesus aloud for all to hear (1:36; cf. v. 29), and two of his disciples began following Jesus. What’s of note is that John doesn’t follow Jesus but continues his ministry. Some have argued that Jesus was a disciple of John because he was known in relation to John (cf. Mark 6.14–15; 8:27–28), but John didn’t see it that way (John 3:30). 

One of the disciples that left John to follow Jesus was Andrew, Peter’s brother. The gospel’s author is believed to have been the second, so Andrew and John left the Baptizer to follow Jesus. Andrew goes to Peter and brings him to Jesus. When Simon Peter sees Jesus, he receives a new name—Cephas. Both Cephas and Peter are names meaning “rock.” There’s a lot of significance to this. Jesus said whoever hears his words and does them is like one who builds their house on the rock (Matt. 7:24). Later, Peter is contrasted with the rock upon which the church is built (Matt. 16:18). 

The next day, Jesus calls Philip. Disciples then opted to attach themselves to a rabbi, so Jesus calling disciples was not expected (cf. 15:16). Bethsaida means “place of fishing,” and it’s where Andrew and Peter were also from. This city is one of the most frequently mentioned cities—Jerusalem and Capernaum being more so. A blind man was healed here (Mark 8:22–25), and the feeding of the four thousand occurred in a deserted place nearby too. Yet, the city was cursed because they did not accept Jesus despite the miracles performed there (Matt. 11:21). 

Nathanael isn’t mentioned in any of the other gospel accounts, so it’s been presumed that his name was Bartholomew—the name being a surname (Bar-Tholomais, or son of Tholomaiso)—who’s often linked with Philip (Matt. 10:3; Mark 3:18; Luke 6:14). By the first century, Jewish rabbis had puzzled together Scriptures about an anticipated Messiah. He was one of whom Moses spoke (Deut. 18;15, 18) and the prophets predicted (Is. 9:1–7; 11:1–5, 10–12). Nathanael was himself from Cana in Galilee, so it seems odd that he would look down on Nazareth. However, many others questioned Christ coming from Galilee (John 7:41, 52). 

Jesus’ address to Nathanael is ironic. Jacob, whose name was later changed to Israel, was a deceiver. Yet, Nathanael, unlike the original Israel, was not deceitful. Jesus’ knowledge of Nathanael points to him being a prophet, which accounts for his response. Jesus promises greater things to come and identifies himself with Jacob’s ladder (v. 51; cf. Gen. 28:12). As the angels ascended and descended on Jacob’s ladder, an indication of divine revelation, so Jesus’ disciples would receive further revelation. It’s often tempting to think “Son of Man” references that Jesus was born of a woman and thus represents his humanity. However, the title is taken from Daniel 7:13 and is a divine title.  

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