Monday, January 22, 2018

The Messiah and His Miracles (Continued)

Investigating a Messianic Claim  - Stage 2: The Stage of Interrogation

Most of the members of the Sanhedrin were either Pharisees or Sadducees.  The Pharisees, who were in the majority, considered themselves guardians and cultivators of the ‘oral law’, a body of tradition that had been derived from, and then superimposed on, the T’nach. Therefore, they needed to know the attitude of Jesus to this additional legislation that they obligated the nation to obey – did he accept it or reject it? To understand this issue it is necessary to trace the history of the oral law in order to realise how great an issue it had become at the time of the Messiah.

The history of the oral law

The Mishnah declares, “Moses received the Torah from Sinai and delivered it to Joshua, and Joshua to the Elders, and the Elders to the prophets, and the prophets delivered it to the men of the Great Synagogue ….”[1] And so on, down to Hillel and Shammai who were contemporary with the beginning of the Christian era. The Rabbis traced their own system to Ezra and Nehemiah.  Their theory was that the Torah, which Moses himself handed down, included the oral law as well as the written law.

The word ‘Torah’ means ‘teaching’ and was understood to be inclusive and regarded as containing the whole of divine truth, not only that which had already been discerned but also all that in future ages might be brought to light.  The explicit was contained in Scripture, the implicit was the further yet undiscovered meaning contained in the Torah.  The Talmud says, “Even that which an acute disciple shall teach in the presence of his Rabbi has already been said to Moses on Mt. Sinai”.[2]  Therefore, ‘Torah’ denoted the whole of what, according to Jewish belief, was revealed to man, not merely the written but also the unwritten ‘tradition’, the ‘oral law’.

The foundation of the Torah is the Decalogue[3] and the summary of the Decalogue is the Sh’ma: “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one! You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength.”[4] According to Rabbinical theory, the T’nach[5] rests on the Pentateuch[6], the Pentateuch rests on the Decalogue and the Sh’ma is the summary of the Decalogue. All Scriptures were to be interpreted in conformity with the Pentateuch. A key figure in the development of the ‘Torah’ was Ezra.   Historically, he is the founder of Jewish legalism.

The historical succession is developed thus: “In the beginning, when the Torah was forgotten, Ezra went up from Babylon and founded it; again it was forgotten and Hillel the Babylonian went up and founded it; again it was forgotten and Rabbi Hija and his sons went up and founded it.”[7]

Ezra, the founder of Jewish legalism, started the school of Scribes called the Sopherim.  He had reasoned that the Babylonian captivity was a judgement of God, the cause of which was broken law.  Moses had warned:

“So watch yourselves, that you do not forget the covenant of the Lord your God which He made with you, and make for yourselves a graven image in the form of anything against which the Lord your God has commanded you. For the Lord your God is a consuming fire, a jealous God. When you become the father of children and children’s children and have remained long in the land, and act corruptly, and make an idol in the form of anything, and do that which is evil in the sight of the Lord your God so as to provoke Him to anger, I call heaven and earth to witness against you today, that you will surely perish quickly from the land where you are going over the Jordan to possess it. You shall not live long on it, but will be utterly destroyed. The Lord will scatter you among the peoples, and you will be left few in number among the nations where the Lord drives you.”[8]

Ezra reasoned, to avert a further judgement, Israel must obey the law of God. Therefore, Scribes were to examine and teach the Law of Moses to overcome the lack of knowledge.

However, to the foregoing, laudable aim they added the seed of something that was to undermine the written Hebrew Scriptures themselves, for to Ezra and the men of the Great Synagogue, was ascribed the ancient saying, “Make a hedge for the Torah”.[9] There are 613 explicit laws in the five books of Moses.  These were to be examined and re-enforced. The purpose was to set the bar higher, to make the law stricter, thus preventing even breaking the Mosaic Law inadvertently.  It was second generation Sopherim who sought to fulfil that ambition.  The principle on which they worked was, a Sopher could disagree with a Sopher but not with the Torah.  When they reached a majority agreement then it became binding on all Jews.  They used ‘Pilpul’, that is, the logic of deriving another law from the original law.  For example, from, “You shall not boil a young goat in its mother’s milk”,[10] came the kosher food laws.   Therefore, an observant Jew should not eat meat and dairy products together so there could be no chance of having both the milk of the mother and the meat of the kid seething together in their stomach, thus breaking the Mosaic Law.

In about 30 BC a new school arose - the Tanaim (Repeaters).  They said there were too many holes in the fence around the Law. They worked on the principle that a Tana may disagree with a Tana but not with the Sopherim.  This meant that the work of the Sopherim could no longer be challenged, so it became as important as the Pentateuch. The work of the Tanaim was still proceeding at the time of the Messiah, which partially explains why the Sanhedrists questioned Him so closely on these matters.

Up to about AD220 the work of the Sopherim and the Tanaim, had been committed to memory and mostly passed on orally.  It had never been organised and recorded. But in the third century, Rabbi Judah the Patriarch gathered together the work of seven centuries of Jewish Rabbis and teachers and wrote it down - it is called the Mishnah (denoting both teaching and repetition). 

The Sopherim and Tanaim claimed great authority for their work.  They said, “a more strict rule applies to the teachings of scribes than to the teachings of Torah”.[11] 

[1] Abot 1.1 ff (Mishnah)
[2] j.Hag.i.8.76c
[3] The ten commandments
[4] Deut.6.4,5
[5] The T’nach (the Old Testament) contains, the Law; the Former Prophets, the Latter Prophets, and the Writings.  The Law is Genesis to Deuteronomy; the Former Prophets are Joshua to Second Kings but without Ruth; the Latter Prophets are Isaiah to Malachi, but without Lamentations and Daniel.  The Writings are the books that are left - Psalms, Job, Proverbs, Song of Solomon, Ruth, Ecclesiastes, Lamentations, Esther, Daniel, Ezra, Nehemiah, 1 and 2 Chronicles in that order.
[6] The five books of Moses
[7] b.Succ.27a
[8] Deut 4:23-27
[9] Abot 1.1.I.C(3) (Mishnah)
[10] Exod.23.19
[11] Sanhedrin 11.3 (Mishnah)

Sunday, December 10, 2017

The Messiah and His Miracles (Continued)

How did the nation’s leaders investigate His claims?

As Jesus expected, the news of the healing of the leper early in His ministry spread very quickly. The healing of leprosy was a de-facto Messianic claim.  Jesus, wishing to bring His claim to the attention of the Sanhedrin sent the healed man to the priests to follow the prescribed procedure. In the administration of the law of the leper, the priest would require answers to three questions.

(1)    Had he really been a leper?   The priest would need either a testimony, or a priestly record, or better still, both.

(2)    Is he now clean? The priests would examine him over a period of seven days to confirm that there was no trace of the disease. 

(3)    What was the agency of his cleansing? Was it the result of an intervention by someone? 

The leper of Luke 5 would have the following answers. To the first question – Yes, he had been a leper, indeed a very severe case, as many would testify.  As to the second question, after the seven-day period of examination the priest would confirm his healing. Third and last, the leper would confirm that the Messianic claimant, Jesus of Nazareth did it!

The healing of the leper required the Sanhedrists to act.  Investigating a Messianic claim involved three stages:

(i) The stage of observation. This first stage required a delegation from the Sanhedrin to visit and observe the ministry of the Messianic claimant, and then return to Jerusalem and report to the authorities.   During this stage, the Sanhedrists were not allowed to cross-examine the claimant; only come to an opinion as to the significance of the Messianic movement. If the movement was significant, they moved to the stage of interrogation. If the movement was considered insignificant then the Sanhedrin would take no further action.

(ii) The stage of interrogation. If the movement was considered significant, the representatives of the Sanhedrin could question the claimant, check his beliefs, raise objections and receive answers to any concerns they had.

(iii) The stage of decision/declaration.  At this stage the Sanhedrin were required to declare whether they upheld or dismissed the Messianic claims of the individual, and give reasons for their decision.

Investigating a Messianic Claim – Stage 1: The Stage of Observation

The healing of the leper caused such interest that in addition to the delegation coming from Jerusalem for the stage of observation, “there were Pharisees and teachers of the law sitting by, which had come out of every town of Galilee, Judea, and Jerusalem.”[1] These were in the house where He was - observing, taking note.  Five friends, driven by need, came to this house, four of them carrying a fifth that lay on a pallet.  Trusting that the young Rabbi, who helped the disadvantaged, could help them, they tried to get admittance to the house, but the crowd was too thick.  So climbing to the roof, they made a rough entrance and gently dropped their friend at the feet of the Messiah in silent appeal for His help.   Jesus, aware of the delegation from the Sanhedrin and the procedure involved in the stage of observation, took the opportunity presented by the presence of the paralytic to demonstrate His Messianic credentials.

The condition of the paralytic was the result of personal sin, which brought into focus the rabbinical teaching, “the sick is not healed, till all his sins are forgiven him”.[2]  The 28th chapter of Deuteronomy[3] lists diseases of body and mind that could cling to those that obdurately refuse to honour the Law.  From these passages arose the practice of giving up such offenders to a ‘cherem’ or curse, that is, giving them up to Satan.  An offender who resisted correction and exhausted all remedy contained in the Law would become “a curse among his people”.[4] The Messiah remarked on such a one, “… ought not this woman, being a daughter of Abraham, whom Satan has bound for eighteen years, be loosed from this bond on the Sabbath?”[5]  The paralytic brought to Jesus was one who had been an obdurate sinner whom Satan had bound!

So Jesus first says, “Son, be of good cheer; your sins are forgiven you.”[6]  Because it was the stage of observation, the delegation could not question the Messiah but they were making mental notes of objections that would later be raised, so it is recorded, “And some of the scribes were sitting there and reasoning in their hearts, “Why does this Man speak blasphemies like this? Who can forgive sins but God alone?”[7]  Their theology, of course, was correct, and confirmed by three of the greatest writers of the T’nach. Daniel said, “To the Lord our God belong mercy and forgiveness”.[8] Moses quoted God’s self-revelation: “The Lord, the Lord God, merciful and gracious, longsuffering and abounding in goodness and truth, keeping mercy for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin”.[9] And David couples the healing of the body with the forgiveness of sins: “Bless the Lord, O my soul, And forget not all His benefits: Who forgives all your iniquities, Who heals all your diseases”.[10] God had never delegated the authority to forgive sins to any other, a truth that was surely included in the statement, “my glory I will not give to another”.[11]  Although the complaint of the scribes was unspoken, yet the Messiah knew and responded to it: “But Jesus, knowing their thoughts, said, Why do you think evil in your hearts? For which is easier, to say, Your sins are forgiven you, or to say, Arise and walk? But that you may know that the Son of Man has power on earth to forgive sins —then He said to the paralytic, Arise, take up your bed, and go to your house. And he (the paralytic) arose and departed to his house.”[12] Therefore, this miracle was not only an attesting sign of Messiahship but also implied deity.  Of course, there was an immediate effect on the crowd, who marvelled and glorified God.  Thus, the great prerogative of deity, the ability to forgive sin - was declared, questioned, validated and recognised, at least by some.  The Messiah had further supported His Messianic claim and sent the delegation back to Jerusalem to report a significant Messianic movement. The attesting signs were enough to indicate that the movement deserved further investigation.  But the issue that would cause the most difficulty for the Jewish leaders was already visible at this early stage – Jesus’ claim to deity!  As to His work, He was offering Himself to the nation as the Messiah of God; but as to His person, they would have to appreciate that the Son of God was among them.

On the basis of attesting signs, the Sanhedrin decided to proceed to the stage of interrogation.

[1] Luke 5.17
[2] Nedar 41a
[3] vv.21,22,27,28,35,59-61
[4] Numb.5.27
[5] Luke 13.16
[6] Matt.9.2
[7] Mark 2.6,7
[8] Dan.9.9
[9] Exod.34.6,7
[10] Ps.103.2,3
[11] Isaiah 42.8
[12] Matt.9.4-7

Thursday, November 9, 2017

The Messiah and His Miracles (Continued)

The Significance of the Signs in John’s Gospel

The signs for the nation before His rejection included turning the water into wine, healing the ruler’s son who was at the point of death, the impotent man at the pool of Bethesda, and feeding a multitude of people.  These indicate that when Messiah came to them, the nation was a nation in captivity, without freedom and under a hard rule, not only that of Rome, but also that of the Sanhedrin.  

(i)                 They were without blessing and without joy, as in the first sign, they had no wine. 

(ii)              Nationally, they were on the point of death, as in the second sign. 

(iii)            The third sign reflects their impotence as a nation, an impotence that was the result of sin, especially that of their leaders.

(iv)             In consequence, the people were like sheep without a shepherd, which is the context of the fourth sign.

If they had trusted their Messiah,

(i)                 they would have had joy “up to the brim”, as at the wedding in Cana (John’s first sign).  

(ii)              they would have been restored from the point of death as with the nobleman’s son (John’s second sign)

(iii)            given a new start with a new purpose, as with the paralytic at the pool of Siloam (John’s third sign), and

(iv)             would have been fed (physically, intellectually and spiritually) by Jesus the Good Shepherd, as was the great crowd (John’s fourth sign).

However, the majority of the nation were categorised as “wicked”, “evil” and “adulterous”.  They believed neither the Scriptures nor their Messiah.  They followed the lead of the Sanhedrin and rejected the Messianic claims of Jesus.  Jesus would give them one last national sign, the sign of the prophet Jonah. The first element of sign of the prophet Jonah was the raising of Lazarus (the seventh significant miracle in John).  This Messianic attesting miracle was not a call to the nation to change their attitude to Him, but a practical exercise to demonstrate that nothing can melt the hard hearts of those who do not believe the Scriptures, not even someone rising from Hades. The obdurate unbelief of the Jews of Jerusalem, and the Sanhedrin in particular, was stripped bare for all to recognise.

The disciples, on the other hand, were a believing remnant, and saw His glory:

(i)                 At a wedding, in a context of love, when He brought joy by providing wine for the blessing of bride, groom and guests. (sign 1)

a.       It would be a joy, that for the disciples, would be complete and enduring: “These things I have spoken to you so that My joy may be in you, and that your joy may be made full”;[1]

b.      It would be a joy in a context of love: “Just as the Father has loved Me, I have also loved you; abide in My love”.[2].

(ii)              On the sea, when He walked on water and calmed the storm, signifying there was no tempest that would be able to engulf them (sign 5)

a.       His peace is effective in all situations; “Peace I leave with you; My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Do not let your heart be troubled, nor let it be fearful.”[3]

(iii)            At the pool of Siloam, where He opened the eyes of a man born blind (sign 6) demonstrating that He is the Light of the world

a.       While they followed Him they would always walk in His light: “I have come as Light into the world, so that everyone who believes in Me will not remain in darkness.”[4]

(iv)             At a graveside, where He raised the dead (sign 7)

a.       He provides resurrection life: “For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ all will be made alive. But each in his own order: Christ the first fruits, after that those who are Christ’s at His coming”[5]

(v)               At the lakeside, where they dined on bread and fish (sign 8),

a.       In the context of the resurrection, they enjoyed fellowship: “What we have seen and heard we proclaim to you also, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father, and with His Son Jesus Christ.”[6]

For those who received Him as Messiah, He promised eternal joy, love, peace, light, life and fellowship.

[1] John 15.11
[2] John 15.9
[3] John 14.27
[4] John 12.46
[5] 1 Co 15:22,23
[6] 1 John 1.3

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

The Miracles of the Messiah (Continued)

The Seventh Significant Miracle in John – Raising a Dead Man

The seventh sign/miracle is the raising of Lazarus,[1] whose name means, ‘whom God helps’.  When Jesus received news that His friend was at the point of death, He not only delayed until Lazarus was dead, but also waited until he had been buried and entombed for four days. When Jesus finally arrived, He voiced the reason for His delay: “that the Son of God might be glorified through it” and, “that you might believe”. There was a great purpose to His actions.  While the Messiah could have returned to Bethany earlier and healed Lazarus prior to his decease, or raised him from the dead on the first or second day, His intention was to demonstrate to the leaders of the Jewish nation, that He was able to raise Lazarus, not just from the grave but from Hades.  Because of the framework of Jewish belief at that time, they believed that the soul did not descend into Hades until after three days. Jesus needed to wait until the fourth day to demonstrate fully that His power reached to Hades.  This sign would be used to demonstrate to the nation, for the last time, the Messianic credentials of Jesus of Nazareth.  Furthermore, it was of such a calibre that it would also support His claim to deity, as He said: “This sickness is … for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified by it.”[2]

It is this miracle that demonstrated, illustrated, and elucidated, John’s inspired assessment of Jesus: “in Him was life”;[3] and, “he who has the Son has the life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have the life.”[4]  Taking a phrase or two from the incident when Jesus forgave the sins of a paralytic before healing him, the Messiah could have asked here: ‘Whether it is easier, to say, I am the resurrection and the life; or to say, Lazarus come forth? But that you may know that the Son of man is the resurrection and the life, (He said to the deceased,) I say unto you, Lazarus come forth!’ Then he that was dead exited the tomb while still bound hand and foot with grave clothes. 

We will more fully examine the raising of Lazarus later under the heading of ‘the sign of the prophet Jonah’ (chapter ten).

The Eighth Significant Miracle in John – The Miraculous Catch of Fish

The last sign recorded in John’s gospel is that which took place at the Sea of Galilee after the resurrection of the Messiah.[5]  The  disciples should have gathered in the mountain region of Galilee,[6] but Peter had initiated a return to their old occupation, “I am going fishing.” The Greek word used for ‘I go’ is ‘upagw’, The word is made up of two elements.  The first is ‘upw’ which can denote secrecy. The second is ‘agw’ which means ‘I go’.  Together it is used to denote the final departure of one who ceases to be another’s companion or attendant.  Wuest’s expanded N.T. translation reads, ‘Simon Peter says to them, I am going off, breaking my former connections, to my former fishing business.’  Here is Peter’s formal announcement that he was abandoning his preaching mission and going back to his former occupation.  The word translated ‘fishing’ is a present infinitive meaning the action is durative, progressive and constant.  It refers to the fishing as an occupation.  Here then is a crisis.  Peter, perhaps still not over his failure when he denied the Messiah, is returning to his old life, and leading the others to join him. 

Jesus the Messiah meets the crisis with a double miracle, the first
part of which was negative.  This team of fisherman worked all night yet their nets were empty.  Firstly, the Messiah demonstrated that fishing was not their future.  Then, in the morning he stood on the shore incognito and instructed them to cast their nets again, this time on the other side of the boat.  They caught 153 fish.  This exceptional, miraculous draught of fish bore a remarkable similarity to that which they had experienced three years earlier.  Accordingly, they understood the stranger to be the Messiah.  On bringing the catch to shore, they were invited to a breakfast of bread and fish that had already been prepared.  Thus, on obeying their Lord, their needs were met abundantly.

Some of the detail of the narrative is very illuminating.  To emphasise the negative aspect of the miracle, Jesus enquired, “children, have you any food?” (KJV) In the NASB it is, “children, you do not have any fish, do you?” with the extra note, “literally, something eaten with bread”. The disciples answered, “No.” The enquiry, “Children, have you any food?” was very usual among the Rabbis of that day, and could mean, ‘have you sufficient for one meal?’ (in this context, breakfast), or, ‘I have bread – have you something to go with it?’ (Bread is the other symbol of the Melchizadekian blessing).[7] The disciples who had returned to their old occupation did not have enough for one meal. On the other hand, the Messiah had a meal of bread with fish already cooking.  And in consequence of the second, positive aspect of the miracle, Jesus invited them to bring the recently caught fish.[8] 

John now isolates the name of Peter for his next statement: “Simon Peter went up and drew the net to land, full of large fish, a hundred and fifty-three; and although there were so many, the net was not torn.”[9]  This is in contrast with what happened at the almost identical miracle when Peter received his call to service.[10] Then the net broke.  But that was when Peter was a fisherman.  Since then the Messiah had changed Peter’s career: “… from now on you will be catching men”.[11]   While Peter follows his commission as a fisher of men, the net of the gospel will not break.

In this, the last sign in John’s gospel, the principle of table fellowship is re-emphasised. They ate with the Lord.  In the first sign in John’s gospel, table fellowship was prominent.  There, He provided wine. Here at the lakeside He provided bread. Significantly, table fellowship is placed at the heart of the Church’s activities, where bread and wine symbolically represent the body and blood of Christ.[12] ‘The cup of the blessing that we bless—is it not the fellowship of the blood of the Christ? the bread that we break—is it not the fellowship of the body of the Christ?’[13]

[1] John 11.1 ff
[2] John 11.4
[3] John 1.4
[4] 1 John 5.12
[5] John 21.1ff
[6] Matt.28.16
[7] Gen.14.18
[8] John 21.10
[9] John 21.11
[10] Luke 5.1-11
[11] Luke 5.10
[12] Matt.26.26-28; Mark 14.22-24; Lk.22.19,20;
[13] 1 Cor.10.16 (Young’s literal translation)

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

The Miracles of the Messiah (Continued0

The Sixth Significant Miracle in John (Continued)

The healing of the man born blind took place during the Feast of Tabernacles. At this feast there were some particularly interesting ceremonies.

The Ceremony of the Pouring Out of the Waters

The Jewish nation considered that God had placed high honour
upon the water of the fountain of Siloam, and in consequence, on the pools of Bethesda and Siloam, which were fed from that fountain.  They applied the words of the prophet to the waters, “Therefore with joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation … for great is the Holy One of Israel in your midst”.[1]  Furthermore, they asserted, “From thence they drew the Holy Ghost”.[2]  This, of course, is a reference to the ceremony of the pouring out of the waters at the feast of Tabernacles. On the feast days, a priest carrying a golden pitcher would collect 6 or 7 pints of water from the pool of Siloam and lead a procession back to the Temple.  On the way, they would sing the Psalms of Ascent[3] arriving at the court of priests at the close of the morning service.  A threefold blast on the trumpets would welcome the bearer of the golden pitcher as he entered through the water gate, where another priest bearing a pitcher of wine for the drink offering joined him.  The two priests ascended the rise of the altar one going left and the other right, to pour out the libations, through funnels, to the foot of the altar.  Immediately after, they sang the great ‘Hallel’ with responses from the people.  They ended by singing:

“Open to me the gates of righteousness; I will go through them, and I will praise the Lord. This is the gate of the Lord, through which the righteous shall enter. I will praise You, for You have answered me, And have become my salvation. The stone which the builders rejected Has become the chief cornerstone. This was the Lord’s doing; It is marvelous in our eyes. This is the day the Lord has made; we will rejoice and be glad in it. Save now, I pray, O Lord; O Lord, I pray, send now prosperity. Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! We have blessed you from the house of the Lord. God is the Lord, And He has given us light; Bind the sacrifice with cords to the horns of the altar. You are my God, and I will praise You; You are my God, I will exalt You. Oh, give thanks to the Lord, for He is good! For His mercy endures forever.”[4]

Jesus, attending the ceremony at the festival, would have been intensely aware of the significance of these verses.  After the ceremony of the pouring out of those waters, He proclaimed in a loud clear voice, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to Me and drink. He who believes in Me, as the Scripture has said, out of his heart will flow rivers of living water”. John added the explanation, “This He spoke concerning the Spirit, whom those believing in Him would receive; for the Holy Spirit was not yet given, because Jesus was not yet glorified.”[5]  Here Jesus claimed to be the promised ‘Nabhi’, the prophet, the ‘weller-forth’, the expected One. Those that exercised faith in Him would be like the pool of Siloam, reservoirs of living water out of which are drawn water libations for YHWH.  God would quench their thirst and make them a blessing to others. The apostles were the best illustration of the fulfilment of this promise, since their post-Pentecost ministry was attended by conversions and miracles.

This then, is the context of the action of the Messiah in the healing of the man with congenital blindness.  The stigma that had been heaped upon the man by the Pharisaic system, (where sin is marked, identified and catalogued), was washed away by the Spirit of God. Jesus drew a straight line from the symbolism of the ceremony of the pouring out of the waters to the healing of the man and His office as Messiah.

The Ceremony of the Kindling of the Lamps

Furthermore, He used the other ceremony of the feast, the lighting of the menorahs, [6] to illustrate again His office and ministry.  
There were four menorahs, one in each corner of the court of prayer.  They were 86 foot high, and youths of priestly descent would climb ladders to fill each of them with oil (more than 30 gallons each).  Worn out garments of the priests had been reformed to make the wicks. At night, the menorahs were lit and the court of prayer was illuminated so brightly that its light was seen throughout Jerusalem.

This light symbolised the Shekinah that once filled the Temple, and was a major motif of the festival because:  

(i)  the descent of the Shekinah at the dedication of the Solomon’s Temple took place at this feast,[7]  

(ii)   the burning lamps represented the Shekinah that was seen as a pillar of fire on their wilderness journey. The wilderness journey when the Shekinah guided them from Egypt to Canaan, was the principal motif of the Festival.  According to Jewish tradition, the pillar first appeared to lead Israel from Egypt to Canaan on the 15th Tishri, which was the first day of the feast of Tabernacles.

So when Jesus stood in the shadow of a menorah and proclaimed, “I am the Light of the world; he who follows Me will not walk in the darkness, but will have the Light of life”,[8] He not only affirmed He was the Messiah, but also the Shekinah of God now returned to Israel.

The Shekinah that dwelt in the Tabernacle when it pitched.

The Shekinah that led them and protected them when they journeyed.

The Shekinah that fed them with bread from heaven.

The Shekinah that gave them living water to drink.

The Shekinah that healed all their diseases.

The Shekinah that dispelled the darkness, and guided them to the promised land.

The Shekinah that resided over the mercy seat in the Temple.

The truth that Jesus was the Shekinah, the visible representation of God, was re-enforced by another of His declarations at that time: “Before Abraham was I am”.  At this statement, “they picked up stones to throw at Him, but Jesus hid Himself and went out of the temple.”[9]  John is repeating and reinforcing the truth, “… the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth”.[10]  John restated in different ways at different points in his gospel, God walked on earth in the person of Jesus.

The brilliant light from the court of women was also intended to represent Messiah, for Isaiah had prophesied of the Coming One: “The people that walked in darkness have seen a great light: they that dwell in the land of the shadow of death, upon them hath the light shined”.[11]  As Simeon said when Joseph and Mary brought the Messiah to the Temple for the first time, He was to be “a light to lighten the Gentiles, and the glory of … Israel”.[12]

The law required the light of the Sanctuary to be always lit, not that God required light but that it was prophetic of the time when God would kindle for them ‘the Great Light’.  The Rabbis would speak of the light with which God wrapped Himself as with a garment, which was reserved under the throne of God for the Messiah,[13] in whose days it would shine forth once more.  In a Midrash on Lamentations 1.16, the Messiah is designated as the ‘Enlightener’, the words of Daniel 2.22 “and light dwells with Him” being applied to Him.

Jesus made a point of finding the newly sighted man later, so that He could give him even more light, that is spiritual sight. When Jesus met him again, He asked: “Do you believe in the Son of God?”[14]  This outcast of Jewish society who was unfamiliar with the Messianic ministry of Jesus responded: “Who is he, Lord, that I might believe on Him?” When Jesus replied, “You have both seen Him and it is He who is talking with you,” he reacted: “Lord, I believe. And he worshipped Him”.[15] This momentous miracle not only supported His Messianic credentials, and illuminated His latest self-revelatory ‘I AM’ statement, that is: “I AM the light of the world”,[16] but also demonstrated the truth of His claim to be the Son of God.[17] It was a work of God on several levels.[18]

The timing of the miracle is significant.  It took place after the Sanhedrin had declared that they had rejected the Messianic claim of Jesus.  So He did not offer it as an attesting sign, nor could the Sanhedrists accept it as such.  Nevertheless, Jesus, by performing this and other similar miracles was establishing His claim more and more, compelling His opponents to respond.  In the time period between the two encounters with the Messiah, the beggar was interviewed by the Pharisees.  They consistently sought to undermine the value of any Messianic miracle and the reputation of the One who performed it. They said, “we know that this man is a sinner”,[19] now placing on the Messiah the same stigma that had been placed on the blind beggar; a stigma that had been removed by the miraculous intervention of Jesus. The beggar, newly sighted, could see the inconsistency in their argument.   “Since the world began was it not heard that any man opened the eyes of one that was born blind.  If this man were not of God, He could do nothing”.[20]  The Pharisees countered by re-stigmatizing the healed man, “You were completely born in sins, and are you teaching us?”[21]

These events finished with a summary by Jesus, “For judgment I am come into this world, that they which see not might see; and that they which see might be made blind”.[22]  He again branded the Pharisees as “blind leaders of the blind”.

[1] Isaiah 12.3,6
[2] Jerusalem (Palestinian) Talmud. in Succah
[3] Psalms 120-134
[4] Psalm 118.20-29
[5] John 7.37-39
[6] Sukkah 5.2 and 5.3 (Mishnah)
[7] 1 Kings 8.2 ff; 2 Chron.7
[8] John 8.12 cf. 3.19; 9.5; 12.46
[9] John 8.59
[10] John 1.14
[11] Isaiah 9.2
[12] Luke 2.32
[13] Yalk. on Isa.60
[14] John 9.35 ff
[15] John 9.36-38
[16] John 9.5
[17] John 9.1
[18] John 9.3
[19] John 9.24
[20] John 9.32,33
[21] John 9:34
[22] John 9.39