Men on Mission

And he called the twelve and began to send them out two by two, and gave them authority over the unclean spirits. He charged them to take nothing for their journey except a staff—no bread, no bag, no money in their belts— but to wear sandals and not put on two tunics. 10 And he said to them, “Whenever you enter a house, stay there until you depart from there. 11 And if any place will not receive you and they will not listen to you, when you leave, shake off the dust that is on your feet as a testimony against them.” 12 So they went out and proclaimed that people should repent. 13 And they cast out many demons and anointed with oil many who were sick and healed them. Mark 6:7-13 ESV

In the closing half of verse 6, Mark reveals that Jesus “went about among the villages teaching.” At this point in His ministry, Jesus is concentrating His energies and efforts on the region of Galilee. Having been rejected by the citizens of His own hometown of Nazareth, Jesus has moved on, taking His message of the Kingdom to other towns and villages where He will find a more receptive audience.

In this section, Jesus, as Master and Teacher, begins to prepare His disciples for the role they will play when the time comes for Him to return to His Father’s side in heaven. These men had been hand-picked by God (John 17:6) and assigned to serve by Jesus’ side, but their greater contribution to the Kingdom would come after the Son’s eventual departure.

For some time now, they have been witnesses to the witnesses of Jesus. They have seen Him cast out demons, heal the sick, minister to the needy, display His power over the elements of nature, and confound the people with His preaching and parables. But now, they were going to become participants rather than spectators. These men were going to be given an opportunity to practice what Jesus has preached. Instead of standing in the background safely observing the ministry of Jesus, they will find themselves on the frontlines of the effort to declare the arrival of the kingdom of heaven. And to validate their message, they will be given unprecedented power to perform miracles, just like their Lord and Master.

Jesus chooses to send them out in pairs, most likely in keeping with the Old Testament teaching concerning witnesses. Since these men would be declaring the news regarding the kingdom’s arrival and the reality of Jesus as the long-awaited Messiah, a second witness would serve to validate that message. And Jesus knew that these men would need the strength and encouragement that comes with companionship.

Two people are better off than one, for they can help each other succeed. If one person falls, the other can reach out and help. But someone who falls alone is in real trouble. Likewise, two people lying close together can keep each other warm. But how can one be warm alone? A person standing alone can be attacked and defeated, but two can stand back-to-back and conquer. – Ecclesiastes 4:9-12 NLT

This entire enterprise was intended for the benefit of the disciples. While the nature of their message and ministry was vital, Jesus was giving them this assignment to prepare them. As He has been doing all along, Jesus is attempting to strengthen their faith. Despite their constant exposure to His teaching and their front-row seats to His amazing displays of power, they still struggled to comprehend His true identity. Even after witnessing Him calm the winds and waves on the Sea of Galilee, they had expressed their shock and displayed their uncertainty.

“Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?” – Mark 4:41 ESV

Jesus knew that His disciples remained unconvinced as to who He was. They wanted to believe He was the Messiah of Israel, but so much of what He said and did seemed to contradict their expectations and aspirations. They couldn’t deny His power and it was clear, from the crowds that followed Him wherever He went, that Jesus was growing in popularity. But His ongoing disputes with the religious leaders confused the disciples. How did He expect to unite the people and lead them in victory over the Romans if He continued to alienate the most powerful men in the nation?

But the disciples had much to learn about the Kingdom and the reign of the Messiah. They were going to have to repent of their preconceived ideas concerning God’s plans for His people. They had their own visions of the future and when Jesus did not do things the way they expected, they found themselves wrestling with doubt.

So, this brief mission on which they were being sent was meant to put them on the frontlines of the battle and bolster their belief in the identity of Jesus as the Son of God. As He prepared to send them, He gave them “authority over the unclean spirits” (Mark 6:8 ESV). They would find themselves possessing the very same power He had displayed and that had allowed Him to cast out the demons from the Gadarene demoniac (Mark 5:1-20). But, while they would have access to great power, they were to place themselves on the mercy and provision of God. Jesus instructed them to travel light and to trust God for all their needs.

He told them to take nothing for their journey except a walking stick—no food, no traveler’s bag, no money. He allowed them to wear sandals but not to take a change of clothes. – Mark 6:9 NLT

Matthew reveals that Jesus provided strict instructions regarding the destination of the disciples. They were to focus their efforts on the Jews and were prohibited from ministering among the Gentiles and Samaritans.

“Go nowhere among the Gentiles and enter no town of the Samaritans, but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. And proclaim as you go, saying, ‘The kingdom of heaven is at hand.’ Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse lepers, cast out demons.” – Matthew 9:5-8 ESV

Their message was clear. They were to declare the same news that John the Baptist had preached in the wilderness of Judea. It was the same message of the kingdom that Jesus had been spreading throughout Galilee. And to validate their message, they were given the power to perform the same kind of miracles that Jesus did. These signs and wonders would provide proof that their message was from God and that its content should be heard and heeded.

And, Jesus warns, if anyone should refuse to listen to their message, the disciples are to walk away. They are not to waste their time on those who reject the message of the kingdom and the call to repentance. He instructs them to “shake off the dust that is on your feet as a testimony against them” (Mark 6:11 ESV). This symbolic act was meant to condemn the unrepentant Jews as unbelieving, defiled, and subject to divine judgment. And Jesus knew that there would be plenty of Jews who would refuse to listen to His disciples. These men would experience the same level of rejection Jesus had encountered in Nazareth.

All of this is in keeping with the words of John found in the opening chapter of his gospel.

He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God. – John 1:11-13 ESV

Sadly, all those Jews who believed themselves to be the children of God but who refused to accept Jesus as the Son of God would find themselves rejected by God.

Equipped with divine power and a clear message, the disciples made their way into the far reaches of Galilee. They called the people to repentance and “cast out many demons and anointed with oil many who were sick and healed them” (Mark 6:13 ESV). This brief but eventful venture would do wonders for the disciples’ confidence and go a long way in solidifying their faith in Jesus. It would provide them with a glimpse of the future when they would receive the Great Commission from their resurrected Lord and Savior. The day was coming when He would depart and turn over the ministry of the gospel to these very same men. And they would take the good news of Jesus to the ends of the earth. But for now, they were being given a taste of things to come.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

An Unlikely and Unholy Alliance

28 Then they led Jesus from the house of Caiaphas to the governor’s headquarters. It was early morning. They themselves did not enter the governor’s headquarters, so that they would not be defiled, but could eat the Passover. 29 So Pilate went outside to them and said, “What accusation do you bring against this man?” 30 They answered him, “If this man were not doing evil, we would not have delivered him over to you.” 31 Pilate said to them, “Take him yourselves and judge him by your own law.” The Jews said to him, “It is not lawful for us to put anyone to death.” 32 This was to fulfill the word that Jesus had spoken to show by what kind of death he was going to die. John 18:28-32 ESV

John has chosen to give an abbreviated version of Jesus’ trial before the high priest and the other members of the Sanhedrin. Perhaps it was because he understood this charade to be anything but a fair trial. Jesus had been brought before these self-righteous religious leaders for questioning but they had already made up their minds concerning His guilt. In his gospel account, Matthew records that all the teachers of religious law and the elders had gathered at the home of Caiaphas, the high priest. And while Jesus was being interrogated by Annas, the members of the Sanhedrin were busy plotting how they could falsely accuse Jesus.

the leading priests and the entire high council were trying to find witnesses who would lie about Jesus, so they could put him to death. – Matthew 26:59 NLT

But according to Jewish law, they were required to have two witnesses with corroborating testimonies.

Finally, two men came forward who declared, “This man said, ‘I am able to destroy the Temple of God and rebuild it in three days.’” – Matthew 26:60-61 NLT

When they demanded that Jesus answer these charges, He remained silent. And it was not until the high priest demanded, “tell us if you are the Messiah, the Son of God” (Matthew 26:63 NLT), that Jesus spoke.

“You have said it. And in the future you will see the Son of Man seated in the place of power at God’s right hand and coming on the clouds of heaven.” – Matthew 26:64 NLT

In a rather melodramatic display of shock and awe, the high priest tore his own robe and cried out, “Blasphemy! Why do we need other witnesses? You have all heard his blasphemy. What is your verdict?” (Matthew 26:65-66 NLT). And the council-turned-mob shouted in unison, “Guilty! He deserves to die!” (Matthew 26:66 NLT).

Their verbal declaration of Jesus’ guilt was followed by physical abuse as they began to beat him with their fists and spit in His face. And as they slapped the face of the Son of God, they mocked Him saying, “Prophesy to us, you Messiah! Who hit you that time?” (Matthew 26:68 NLT).

They had their official charge of blasphemy, which was a capital offense in Israel (Leviticus 24:16). They had their two witnesses. Now, all they needed was the assistance of the Roman government to see that Jesus’ death was carried out. According to Roman law, the Jews were prohibited from carrying out any form of a death sentence. But it was going to be unlikely that the Romans would execute Jesus based on a violation of some obscure religious law. So, the high priest and his companions knew they would have to drum up additional charges that portrayed Jesus as a threat to the Roman government.

Interestingly enough, John records none of this. Perhaps he considered the whole affair a travesty of justice and not worth the time and effort to document. Whatever his reasons, John picks up the story in the morning as they transferred Jesus to the headquarters of Pilate, the Roman governor over the region.

In a subtle statement cloaked in irony, John records that Jesus’ “accusers didn’t go inside because it would defile them, and they wouldn’t be allowed to celebrate the Passover” (John 18:28 NLT). Unwilling to risk becoming ceremonially unclean by entering the un-kosher home of a Gentile, these pious hypocrites chose to remain outside. There were the same men who had gone out of their way to solicit false witnesses so they could draw up fabricated charges against Jesus. Their self-righteous display of moral superiority was a sham and their actions gave proof of the veracity of Jesus’ earlier statements concerning them.

“What sorrow awaits you teachers of religious law and you Pharisees. Hypocrites! For you are so careful to clean the outside of the cup and the dish, but inside you are filthy—full of greed and self-indulgence! You blind Pharisee! First wash the inside of the cup and the dish, and then the outside will become clean, too.

“What sorrow awaits you teachers of religious law and you Pharisees. Hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs—beautiful on the outside but filled on the inside with dead people’s bones and all sorts of impurity. Outwardly you look like righteous people, but inwardly your hearts are filled with hypocrisy and lawlessness.” – Matthew 23:25-28 NLT

These men were little more than actors in a play. In fact, the Greek term, “hypocrite” with which Jesus described them was commonly used to refer to an actor or stage player. To be a hypocrite is to portray yourself falsely, putting on an outward act meant to conceal your true nature or identity. And as these men stood outside the offices of the Roman governor, they pompously displayed their commitment to moral purity as they prepared to betray the sinless Lamb of God and condemn Him to an undeserved death. His face still red and swollen from their repeated slaps and beatings, Jesus, the innocent Son of God was handed over to the Romans by men who were spiritual pretenders, full of pretense and dissimulation.

When Pilate demanded to know what charges they were bringing against Jesus, the Jewish religious leaders responded somewhat sarcastically, “We wouldn’t have handed him over to you if he weren’t a criminal!” (John 18:30 NLT). It wasn’t that they lacked any charges to level against Jesus, it was that they wanted Pilate to know just how serious they were. According to their description of Jesus, He was kakopoios – an evildoer. Luke records that they accused Jesus of trying to foment an insurrection against the Romans.

“This man has been leading our people astray by telling them not to pay their taxes to the Roman government and by claiming he is the Messiah, a king.” – Luke 23:2 NLT

But, once again, John leaves out these details.

Pilate, out of frustration over the early morning disturbance and the lack of an official charge against Jesus, demanded that they judge Jesus according to their own law. He had heard nothing that deemed this matter worthy of a Roman trial. And in an effort to drive home the seriousness of their intentions, the Jews reminded Pilate that they were forbidden by Roman law to carry out capital punishment. They had deemed Jesus worthy of death and they would not be satisfied until Pilate acquiesced and accommodated their wishes.

It is at this point in the narrative that John adds the note: “This was to fulfill the word that Jesus had spoken to show by what kind of death he was going to die” (John 18:32 ESV). This is similar to what he wrote when Jesus had declared, “when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself” (John 12:32 ESV). John had added the aside, “He said this to show by what kind of death he was going to die” (John 12:33 ESV).

Several times in his gospel, John reports that the Jews had intended to stone Jesus, but had failed to do so (John 8:59; 10:31). According to God’s divine plan, stoning would not be the means by which Jesus would die. He would be “lifted up” on a cross. And for that to happen, Jesus would have to be condemned by the Roman government. Crucifixion was the official form of capital punishment used by the Romans. And God had ordained that Jesus would be betrayed by the Jews and officially executed by the Romans. And just days after Jesus ascension, the apostle Peter would address a crowd of Jews, declaring the sovereign will of God behind all that took place during Jesus’ final days.

“People of Israel, listen! God publicly endorsed Jesus the Nazarene by doing powerful miracles, wonders, and signs through him, as you well know. But God knew what would happen, and his prearranged plan was carried out when Jesus was betrayed. With the help of lawless Gentiles, you nailed him to a cross and killed him.” – Acts 2:22-23 NLT

And sometime later, Peter would pray a powerful prayer of thanks to God, expressing the gratitude of the believers for all that God had accomplished through the sacrificial death of His Son on their behalf. And all that God had done had been in spite of the efforts of the Gentiles and the Jews who had joined forces against the Son of God.

“Herod Antipas, Pontius Pilate the governor, the Gentiles, and the people of Israel were all united against Jesus, your holy servant, whom you anointed. But everything they did was determined beforehand according to your will. – Acts 4:27-28 NLT

What a remarkable thing to consider that all the forces of Rome and Israel were aligning themselves to stand against Jesus the Savior of the world. The Jews were the chosen people of God and the Romans were the most powerful nation on earth, and they were sworn enemies. But these two unlikely partners were linking arms in order to put to death the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. And all according to the sovereign will of Almighty God. They would be instruments in His all-powerful hands, unwittingly performing His will and accomplishing His divine strategy for the redemption of men from every tribe, nation, and tongue.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

A Case of Contrasts

22 At that time the Feast of Dedication took place at Jerusalem. It was winter, 23 and Jesus was walking in the temple, in the colonnade of Solomon. 24 So the Jews gathered around him and said to him, “How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Christ, tell us plainly.” 25 Jesus answered them, “I told you, and you do not believe. The works that I do in my Father’s name bear witness about me, 26 but you do not believe because you are not among my sheep. 27 My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. 28 I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. 29 My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand. 30 I and the Father are one.”

31 The Jews picked up stones again to stone him. John 10:22-31 ESV

Sometime after His lesson on the Good Shepherd, during the annual celebration of the Feast of Dedication, Jesus returned to the temple complex. But this time He made His way to Solomon’s Colonnade, an area located on the east side of the Court of the Gentiles. This roofed, but open-sided “porch” was reserved for the Gentiles, who were prohibited from entering the temple proper.

Jesus’ decision to mingle with the Gentiles is significant. Earlier, when He had described Himself to the Jews as the Good Shepherd, He had told them, “I have other sheep that are not of this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd” (John 10:16 ESV). Jesus was informing them that His offer of eternal life was not reserved for the Jews alone. There were those outside the flock of Israel who would hear His voice and willingly received the gift of salvation He had come to make available. This was the same message He had conveyed to the Samaritan woman.

“the hour is coming when neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father. You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him.” – John 4:21-23 ESV

The Samaritan woman, a non-Jew, but a believer in Yahweh, had raised the issue of whether the Samaritans or the Jews worshiped God in the right place. The Samaritans worshiped Him at Mount Gerizim, while the Jews viewed the temple in Jerusalem as the proper place of worship. But Jesus informed her that this argument was about to become irrelevant. With His coming, the means and the method of worship would change. It would have little to do with the right place, and everything to do with worshiping God in the right way. And He was that way.

“I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” – John 14:6 ESV

Whether you were a Jew or a Samaritan, the only way you could truly worship God would be through faith in His Son. And Jesus’ offer of salvation would be available to all, regardless of their ethnic or religious background.

So, in Solomon’s Colonnade, surrounded by Gentiles, Jesus finds Himself accosted by the Jewish leaders once again. They somewhat sarcastically ask Him: “How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Christ, tell us plainly” (John 10:24 ESV). They want to hear Jesus openly declare Himself to be the Messiah. But they chose an interesting place to have Him do it. They are standing within the Court of the Gentiles and it has not escaped them that Jesus has chosen to associate Himself with non-Jews. Perhaps they were goading Him to announce Himself as the Jewish Messiah in this particular setting because it would make Him look like a fool.

It’s impossible for us to know the motivation behind their actions, but it seems clear that Jesus was fully aware of what they were up to. He responds to their question by returning to His discussion of the sheep and the shepherd.

“I told you, and you do not believe. The works that I do in my Father’s name bear witness about me, but you do not believe because you are not among my sheep.” – John 10:25-26 ESV

Jesus had not hidden anything from them. He had repeatedly declared Himself to be the Son of God, sent from heaven to offer the gift of eternal life to all who would believe in Him. But these men had refused to believe. Why? Because they were not among His sheep. They were Jews but they were not included in His flock. When He spoke, they did not recognize His voice.

“My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand.” – John 10:27-28 ESV

Again, don’t miss the context. Jesus has willingly placed Himself in the company of Gentiles, on the one day of the year when the Jews celebrated the Feast of Dedication or what is now known as Hanukkah. This was a feast that was begun in the intertestamental period in order to celebrate the Maccabean revolt that drove the Syrians (the Gentiles) out of Israel. The temple had to be cleansed and rededicated because Antiochus Epiphanes, the Syrian King, had desecrated it by sacrificing swine on the temple altar as a tribute to the god Zeus. This pagan king further humiliated the Jews by forcing them to offer sacrifices to the Syrian gods and to eat the flesh of pigs. It was a spiritual low point for the people of Israel, and the Jewish historian Josephus describes the joy the people experienced by celebrating their release from Syrian oppression.

And from that time to the present we observe this festival, which we call the festival of Lights, giving this name to it, I think, from the fact that the right to worship appeared to us at a time when we hardly dared hope for it. – Josephus, Jewish Antiquities

At the festival of Lights, the light of the world stood among the Gentiles and declared Himself to be the Jewish Messiah. What an amazing moment, filled with seeming contradictions and contrasts. On the day when the Jews celebrated their deliverance from pagan oppression, Jesus, the Jewish Messiah, stood among the Gentiles and offered the gift of eternal life – freedom from the condemnation of sin and death. He stood among the unclean, offering Himself as a way for all men, both Jew and Gentile, to be made pure before God. And Jesus described this gift of eternal life as irrevocable.

“My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand. I and the Father are one.” – John 10:29-30 ESV

Those who placed their faith in Him would never experience a loss of their salvation. Their gift of freedom from sin could never be revoked. Their promise of life eternal could never be lost. But for the Jews, their temple would be desecrated and destroyed yet again. In 70 A.D., the Romans would lay siege to Jerusalem and completely demolish the temple, burning it to the ground.

Jesus would later foretell of this coming day.

As Jesus was leaving the Temple grounds, his disciples pointed out to him the various Temple buildings. But he responded, “Do you see all these buildings? I tell you the truth, they will be completely demolished. Not one stone will be left on top of another!” – Matthew 24:1-2 NLT

The Jews put a high priority on the temple. It was there that they offered sacrifices to God. It was in the Holy of Holies that the glory of God was said to dwell above the Mercy Seat on top of the Ark of the Covenant. The temple was their key to their continued access to God. It was through the sacrificial system, which was relegated to the temple grounds, that they could receive atonement for their sins. But the day was coming when the temple would be destroyed and, with it, the means of offering sacrifices for sin and receiving atonement from God.

And yet, here was the Messiah, the Son of God, offering Himself as the sole source of salvation from sin and death. It was as He had told Nicodemus.

Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God. – John 3:18 ESV

And the reaction of the Jewish leaders speaks volumes. John says they “picked up stones again to stone him” (John 10:31 ESV). He was not their Christ or Messiah. They refused to believe His claim to be the Son of God. He was the Good Shepherd, but they were not His sheep. And they stood condemned. The Light of the world had come, but they “loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil” (John 3:19 ESV). During the celebration of the Festival of Lights, these men remained trapped in the darkness of their own sin.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

A Man Born Blind

1 As he passed by, he saw a man blind from birth. And his disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” Jesus answered, “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him. We must work the works of him who sent me while it is day; night is coming, when no one can work. As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.” Having said these things, he spit on the ground and made mud with the saliva. Then he anointed the man’s eyes with the mud and said to him, “Go, wash in the pool of Siloam” (which means Sent). So he went and washed and came back seeing. John 9:1-7 ESV

As has been noted before, John does not attempt to adhere to a strict chronologically accurate timeline. He has chosen to arrange his Gospel according to a theme, selecting those stories that best illustrate and prove the point he is trying to make. Since John is most interested in establishing the deity of Jesus, the stories he has included are those that best support his premise. As a result, there are many events recorded in the Synoptic Gospels that do not appear in John’s record of Jesus’ life. And, in today’s passage, John provides the details surrounding a miracle that none of the other Gospel writers include.

But John’s placement of this particular miracle at this precise point in his narrative was not without purpose. For several chapters, he has chronicled the ongoing and quickly intensifying conflict between Jesus and the Jewish religious authorities. As the light of the world, He has entered the sin-darkened land of Israel, revealing the glory of God with words of truth concerning His ministry, mission, and identity as the Son of God. But the religious leaders have repeatedly rejected His claim to have been sent from God. They have scoffed at His offers of living water, true bread, and eternal life. And they had found his most recent statement particularly off-putting.

“I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” – John 8:12 ESV

Who did this man think He was?  What right did He have to question the spiritual integrity of the nation’s preeminent religious scholars? They were incensed by His offer to set them free because they were slaves to no one. And, of course, they weren’t exactly flattered when He had called them sons of the devil. He had accused them of being murderers and liars, completely out of touch with God, and incapable of hearing or accepting His claim to be the Son of God. And John closed chapter eight closes with a not-so-subtle summary of their reaction to Jesus’ words.

So they picked up stones to throw at him, but Jesus hid himself and went out of the temple. – John 8:59 ESV

Jesus simply walked away. The light of the world departed the temple grounds, symbolically leaving the area bathed in darkness. But the story does not end there. John records that “As he passed by, he saw a man blind from birth” (John 9:1 ESV). it just so happened that as Jesus left the temple and the company of the belligerent religious leaders, He came across a man who suffered from physical blindness. But don’t miss the fact that this man had been born blind. This detail is what will set this particular miracle apart. While there are other accounts of Jesus restoring people’s sight, this is the only instance in which we are told that the man had been blind since birth. In a sense, he had born into darkness. He had never seen the light of the sun. He had never experienced the joy of seeing his parents’ faces. This man had been born into a world marked by an all-pervasive darkness and he was completely incapable of doing anything about his condition.

This man was about to become a visible symbol for the plight of all humanity. He had been born with his debilitating condition. It was not as if he had once had sight and then lost it. He had never had the capacity to see. And he would have remained in darkness had he not encountered Jesus, the light of the world.

For the Jews, physical blindness was closely associated with sin. Because of the egregious nature of this particular disorder, most Jews assumed that it was a form of divine punishment for sin. That is why the disciples asked Jesus, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” (John 9:2 ESV). In their minds, it wasn’t a matter of whether sin had been involved, it was a case of who was the guilty party. Since the man was born blind, the logical conclusion would be that his parents were responsible for his pitiable condition.

It seems quite evident that the disciples made no connection between this man’s condition and the spiritual state of the religious leaders who had just tried to stone their master. To them, this was just another blind man, one of many anonymous sufferers that filled the streets and alleys of Jerusalem. Their only interest in this man was as a point of theological discussion. But Jesus reveals that this man’s condition and his appearance at that moment in time was all God-ordained.

“It was not because of his sins or his parents’ sins,” Jesus answered. “This happened so the power of God could be seen in him.” – John 9:3 NLT

This simple statement carries a powerful punch, revealing the sovereign hand of God over every detail of human existence. This man’s very existence had been orchestrated by the will of God Almighty. And his encounter with the Son of God had been providentially prearranged. He had been placed in the path of Jesus, not so that his sight be could be restored, but so that the power of God could be revealed. Jesus was about to give this man something he had never possessed: The ability to see. He had been born into darkness, but he was about to have his eyes opened for the very first time in his life.

Jesus took the opportunity to address His disciples, reminding them that time was of the essence. His days on earth were quickly drawing to a close. And in the time remaining, they would need to keep their attention focused on “the light of the world.”  While so many of Jesus’ conversations had been with the religious leaders, His words had been directed at His disciples. They had been His primary audience, and everything He had said had been for their benefit.

“We must quickly carry out the tasks assigned us by the one who sent us. The night is coming, and then no one can work. But while I am here in the world, I am the light of the world.” – John 9:4-5 NLT

They didn’t yet realize it, but Jesus’ days on earth were quickly drawing to a close. They would not always have the luxury of His company. And He wanted them to take advantage of every single moment they had in “the light” of His presence because the night was coming.

As usual, Jesus did not explain His words. He left the disciples to wrestle with the meaning of His comments and turned His attention to the blind man. And every single action taken by Jesus is filled with powerful symbolism and meaning. John describes Him as spitting on the ground and making mud from the dirt and His own saliva. Then Jesus took the mud and spread it over the blind man’s eyes. When finished, He instructed the blind man to somehow make his way to the Pool of Siloam, where he was supposed to wash away the mud.

This entire scene was meant to instruct the disciples. Jesus had just told them, “We must quickly carry out the tasks assigned us by the one who sent us.” Now, He has shown them an example of the task they had been assigned by God. They didn’t understand it yet, but they had been chosen by God and been given the responsibility of opening the eyes of the blind. And Jesus was giving them a physical demonstration of the spiritual transformation that He had come to bring to those born into the darkness of sin.

John provides no explanation regarding Jesus’ actions. We are not told why He chose to mix His saliva with dirt and apply it to the man’s eyes. His instructions for the man to wash in the Pool of Siloam come with no commentary. But all of it had to have left the disciples scratching their heads in confusion. Yet, the blind man never utters a word. He simply stands there, blindly oblivious to what Jesus is doing, but faithfully willing to do whatever this unidentified and unseen man told him to do. When Jesus told him to wash in the pool, the man obeyed. And John describes what happened next.

So the man went and washed and came back seeing! – John 9:7 NLT

This man’s life had just been radically transformed by an encounter with the Son of God. Born into darkness, he was suddenly able to see for the very first time in his life. As amazed as this man must have been at the transformation he experienced, it was the disciples whom Jesus intended to impress with His actions. His healing of the man born blind was meant to be a powerful demonstration of the Father’s power and a sign of their future ministry and mission.

At one point the disciples of John the Baptist had approached Jesus with a question from their master.  “Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?” (Matthew 11:3 NLT). And Jesus had responded, “Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight and the lame walk, lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up, and the poor have good news preached to them. And blessed is the one who is not offended by me” (Matthew 11:4-6 NLT). Jesus was informing John that everything He did was in keeping with His Father’s will. The evidence for His identity was clearly visible in the things that He did. Jesus was fulfilling the words of the prophets.

In that day the deaf shall hear
    the words of a book,
and out of their gloom and darkness
    the eyes of the blind shall see.
The meek shall obtain fresh joy in the Lord,
    and the poor among mankind shall exult in the Holy One of Israel. – Isaiah 29:18-19 ESV

In a real sense, Jesus’ healing of the blind man was designed to open the eyes of His own disciples. The light of the world was illuminating the darkness of their own understanding, helping them to grasp the reality of who He was and what He had come to do. But their lesson was far from over.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

The True Offspring of Abraham

31 So Jesus said to the Jews who had believed him, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, 32 and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” 33 They answered him, “We are offspring of Abraham and have never been enslaved to anyone. How is it that you say, ‘You will become free’?”

34 Jesus answered them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who practices sin is a slave to sin. 35 The slave does not remain in the house forever; the son remains forever. 36 So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed. 37 I know that you are offspring of Abraham; yet you seek to kill me because my word finds no place in you. 38 I speak of what I have seen with my Father, and you do what you have heard from your father.”

39 They answered him, “Abraham is our father.” Jesus said to them, “If you were Abraham’s children, you would be doing the works Abraham did, 40 but now you seek to kill me, a man who has told you the truth that I heard from God. This is not what Abraham did. 41 You are doing the works your father did.” They said to him, “We were not born of sexual immorality. We have one Father—even God.” John 8:31-41 ESV

This entire encounter between Jesus and His adversaries has taken place in the treasury of the temple, the area located in the Court of the Women. Between the colonnades of the courtyard were placed 13 boxes that were used for the collection of voluntary monetary contributions to the care and maintenance of the temple. Two of the boxes were dedicated to the collection of the half-shekel tax, which was required of every male Israelite of age, including proselytes and slaves. Mark describes the use of these offering boxes in his Gospel.

And he sat down opposite the treasury and watched the people putting money into the offering box. Many rich people put in large sums. And a poor widow came and put in two small copper coins, which make a penny. – Mark 12:41-42 ESV

It was in this environment, the only area on the temple mount where women were allowed to enter, and where vast sums of money were collected and stored, that Jesus chose to address the crowd about His role as the “light of the world” (John 8:12 ESV). He had come to shed the light of God’s glory through His sinless life but, ultimately, through His sacrificial death. As the Son of God, He would become the offering that would pay the debt owed by sinful mankind and satisfy the just demands of His holy Father in heaven.

Jesus had come to earth in order to accomplish the will of His Father, which required that He give His life as a ransom or payment for a sinful and condemned humanity. He even alluded to His death and the role the religious leaders of the Jews would play in bringing it about.

“When you have lifted up the Son of Man, then you will know that I am he…” – John 8:28 ESV

And John indicates that, as a result of Jesus’ message, “many believed in him” (John 8:30 ESV). John doesn’t elaborate on what he means by this statement. But it seems clear that the belief of these people was limited in nature. They were becoming increasingly more convinced that Jesus was someone special, perhaps even the Messiah. But so much of what Jesus was saying still made no sense to them. They knew there was something special about Jesus but His claim to be the Son of God was outside their capacity to grasp. And Jesus was well aware that their belief in Him had its limitations. Which is why He addressed them directly.

“If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” – John 8:31-32 ESV

It is almost as if Jesus is expecting their belief to be short-lived. After all, He has already seen what happens when the content of His message becomes too difficult to understand or accept. Earlier in chapter six, John recorded the reaction of Jesus’ followers then they heard Him speak about eating His body and drinking His blood.

“This is very hard to understand. How can anyone accept it?” – John 6:60 ESV

At this point many of his disciples turned away and deserted him. – John 6:66 ESV

So, knowing that His message was going to become increasingly difficult to accept, Jesus warned His so-called followers that the proof of true discipleship would be to remain committed to hearing and keeping His word. It wasn’t enough to accept the parts they found attractive. When Jesus had spoken of a bread from heaven that gives life, the people had been eager to get their hands on it. But when He had elaborated on His meaning by saying He was that bread and they would have to eat His flesh and drink His blood, they found His words distasteful and too difficult to accept. So, they had walked away.

The freedom Jesus offered would not be available until He had completed the task assigned to Him by His Heavenly Father. He was going to have to finish His mission by sacrificing His life on the cross. And all those who believed His death to be a satisfactory payment for their sins would find true freedom. Jesus states that they  “will be free indeed” (John 8:36 ESV).

But even this message of freedom becomes difficult for His audience to hear and accept. They immediately begin to reject His assessment of their condition, saying, “We are offspring of Abraham and have never been enslaved to anyone. How is it that you say, ‘You will become free’?” (John 8:33 ESV). They found His words to be offensive, not attractive. As Jews, they were extremely proud of their heritage as descendants of Abraham. They viewed themselves as the recipients of all the promises made by God to Abraham. In their minds, they were the chosen people of God and the rightful heirs to all the blessings God had guaranteed to shower on His children.

They even viewed their current occupation by the Romans as a temporary setback. They refused to view their condition as that of slaves and found Jesus’ offer of freedom offensive. But Jesus didn’t have the Romans in view either. The freedom He was offering them was spiritual in nature. And He clearly points out the difference.

“Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who practices sin is a slave to sin.” – John 8:34 ESV

Remember what Jesus said: “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples.” He had told them that a true disciple would continue to accept what He had to say, regardless of how difficult it might be to hear. Now, He accuses them of being slaves to sin. As Jews, they would have recognized the reality of their sinfulness, but they would have also taken great comfort in the forgiveness made possible by the sacrificial system. They counted on receiving atonement for their sins by dutifully presenting their offerings to God. But what they failed to understand was “impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins” (Hebrews 10:4 ESV).

The author of Hebrews goes on to say, “every priest stands daily at his service, offering repeatedly the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins” (Hebrews 10:11 ESV). The sacrificial system could only offer temporary absolution for sin. It could not provide a permanent release or freedom from the pervasive presence and power of sin. The very fact that the Jews had to continually offer their sacrifices was evidence that they were actually slaves to sin. But Jesus was offering them a different kind of sacrifice, that would provide a permanent solution to their sin problem – something the author of Hebrews points out.

But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God, waiting from that time until his enemies should be made a footstool for his feet. For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified. – Hebrews 10:12-14 ESV

What the people believed about Jesus was incomplete and insufficient. Even if they believed Him to be their Messiah, they failed to understand that He had come to set them free from slavery to sin, not to offer them release from Roman oppression. They viewed themselves as children of God, but Jesus makes it clear that they are simply the descendants of Abraham.

“I know that you are offspring of Abraham; yet you seek to kill me because my word finds no place in you.” – John 8:37 ESV

They were Jews by birth and right, but that did not mean that they were children of God. And this is where Jesus began to address their real problem. Because they refused to accept Him as the Son of God, they were proving their lack of relationship with His Father in heaven. And Jesus is about to blow away all their preconceived notions regarding their identity as God’s chosen people. He makes a somewhat cryptic comment that is going to leave them furious when they finally understand what He implies by it.

“I speak of what I have seen with my Father, and you do what you have heard from your father.” – John 8:38 ESV

Their immediate response was to claim Abraham as their father. But Jesus counters that if this was true, they would be reacting to Him in a far different fashion.

“If you were Abraham’s children, you would be doing the works Abraham did, but now you seek to kill me, a man who has told you the truth that I heard from God. This is not what Abraham did. – John 8:39-40 ESV

They wanted to claim descendency from Abraham, but Jesus was revealing that they lacked the faith of Abraham. They failed to understand and believe in the promises of God as Abraham had. And the apostle Paul later explains what Abraham came to know and believe about the promises of God.

Now the promises were made to Abraham and to his offspring. It does not say, “And to offsprings,” referring to many, but referring to one, “And to your offspring,” who is Christ. This is what I mean: the law, which came 430 years afterward, does not annul a covenant previously ratified by God, so as to make the promise void. For if the inheritance comes by the law, it no longer comes by promise; but God gave it to Abraham by a promise.

Why then the law? It was added because of transgressions, until the offspring should come to whom the promise had been made…” – Galatians 3:16-19 ESV

The promises made to Abraham were to be fulfilled in Christ – the Messiah of Israel. While Abraham did not understand the full import of God’s words, he chose to believe and trust all that God had to say. And the book of Genesis records that Abraham “believed the LORD, and the LORD counted him as righteous because of his faith” (Genesis 15:6 NLT).

Yet the people listening to Jesus in the Court of the Women were having a difficult time receiving and accepting what He had to say. And while they would vehemently defend themselves, claiming to be the children of God, Jesus was about to drop another bombshell on them that would turn their belief in Him to anger and resentment.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

The Savior of the World

39 Many Samaritans from that town believed in him because of the woman’s testimony, “He told me all that I ever did.” 40 So when the Samaritans came to him, they asked him to stay with them, and he stayed there two days. 41 And many more believed because of his word. 42 They said to the woman, “It is no longer because of what you said that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is indeed the Savior of the world.”

43 After the two days he departed for Galilee. 44 (For Jesus himself had testified that a prophet has no honor in his own hometown.) 45 So when he came to Galilee, the Galileans welcomed him, having seen all that he had done in Jerusalem at the feast. For they too had gone to the feast. – John 4:39-45 ESV

Like the Samaritan woman, Nicodemus, a prominent Jewish religious leader, had enjoyed a personal, one-on-one encounter with Jesus. He had heard with his own ears how Jesus described the requirement for entrance into the kingdom of God:

“…unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” – John 3:3 ESV

Jesus had gone on to explain the need for spiritual new birth – a birth from above – made possible by God and accessible only through belief in His Son.

“…whoever believes in him may have eternal life.” – John 3:15 ESV

But Nicodemus had simply walked away from that late-night discussion with Jesus. There was no indication by John that this prominent member of the Pharisees had accepted what Jesus had said and believed in Him for eternal life. But John had opened his gospel with the sad, but accurate news that Jesus would find few among His own people who would receive Him as their Messiah and Savior.

He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God. – John 1:11-13 ESV

Yet in the case of the Samaritan woman (who was considered a non-Jew), she had literally run away from her encounter with Jesus, leaving her water jar behind, and making her way into her village so that she could tell them about her experience.

“Come, see a man who told me all that I ever did. Can this be the Christ?” – John 4:29 ESV

And John indicates that many of her fellow villagers “believed in him because of the woman’s testimony” (John 4:39 ESV). When they had heard her story of how Jesus had somehow known all about her five former husbands and had exposed the truth behind her current adulterous relationship, they had believed. Their belief was based on her words and nothing else. It was on the basis of the woman’s personal testimony that they made their way to the well to see Jesus for themselves. Their curiosity was piqued and they wanted to see if Jesus just might be the Christ, the Messiah.

As Samaritans, they worshiped the same God as the Jews and shared a common belief with them concerning the Messiah. So, when their neighbor had come to them with her story about an encounter with a strange Jewish man who had revealed hidden secrets concerning her life, they had wanted to know more. According to John, they were so intrigued by Jesus that they convinced Him to remain with them for two more days. And the result was that “many more believed because of his word” (John 4:41 ESV).

John makes it clear that the nature of their belief had changed. They had gone from believing what the woman had said about Jesus to believing in Jesus.

They said to the woman, “It is no longer because of what you said that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is indeed the Savior of the world.” – John 4:42 ESV

Her story had led them to believe that Jesus just might be the Christ. But, now that they had heard Him for themselves, they were convinced that He was the Savior of the world. This designation concerning Jesus is unique to the writings of John. It appears here and in one other place: 1 John 4:13-14.

By this we know that we abide in him and he in us, because he has given us of his Spirit. And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent his Son to be the Savior of the world.

It coincides with the message the angel gave to Joseph concerning his betrothed’s unexpected pregnancy.

“do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife. For the child within her was conceived by the Holy Spirit. And she will have a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” – Matthew 1:20-21 NLT

In Greek, the word “save” is sōzō and it means “to save, keep safe and sound, to rescue from danger or destruction.” It is the root word from which the designation “Savior” is derived. This was a common term among the Greeks and Romans and used to refer not only to their deities but to men of great distinction.

But the Samaritans were using this term to describe Jesus as their long-awaited Messiah. Like the Jews, they believed He would come to redeem God’s people from their oppression at the hands of foreign powers. The Samaritans, as half-Jews, were just as anxious to see the arrival of the Messiah because they believed He would restore order to the entire world by establishing His kingdom and righting all wrongs.

It’s interesting that these verses contain no mention of the disciples. But it seems obvious that they would have remained with Jesus throughout His two-day stay among the Samaritans. And it seems equally clear that they would have been appalled at the idea of spending an additional 48 hours among a people whom they believed to be unclean and unacceptable to God. Yet, here was their Rabbi and teacher spending extended time with these unworthy “dogs” and sharing with them His message of new birth from above and the promise of eternal life.

John would have been one of the ones who stood by in amazement as he watched Jesus interact with the Samaritans. And his emphasis on their “belief” in Jesus is intended to drive home the words that Jesus spoke to Nicodemus: “so the Son of Man must be lifted up, so that everyone who believes in him will have eternal life” (John 3:14-15 NLT).

Jesus had made it perfectly clear to Nicodemus that the Son of God had come to offer salvation to “the world,” not just the Jews.

“For this is how God loved the world: He gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life. God sent his Son into the world not to judge the world, but to save the world through him.” – John 3:16-17 NLT

And the Samaritan woman and her neighbors were evidence that the Son was no respecter of persons. His message of salvation, while offered to the Jews, was not reserved for them alone. He had come to provide salvation to all who would believe in Him, regardless of their country of origin, economic status, religious affiliation, or educational background.

It was the prophet Isaiah who wrote concerning the coming Messiah:

God, the Lord, created the heavens and stretched them out.
    He created the earth and everything in it.
He gives breath to everyone,
    life to everyone who walks the earth.
And it is he who says,
“I, the Lord, have called you to demonstrate my righteousness.
    I will take you by the hand and guard you,
and I will give you to my people, Israel,
    as a symbol of my covenant with them.
And you will be a light to guide the nations.
   You will open the eyes of the blind.
You will free the captives from prison,
    releasing those who sit in dark dungeons.” – Isaiah 42:5-7 NLT

Jesus had come to fulfill the words of that prophecy and the Samaritans were living proof that He was a light to guide to the nations, opening the eyes of the spiritually blind, setting free those held captive by sin, and bringing release to all those sitting on death row, condemned to suffer the consequences of their rebellion against God. Jesus was the Savior of the world. And while not everyone living in the world would accept His offer of salvation, He made it available to all, and “to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God” (John 1:12 ESV).

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

An Unscheduled and Ill-Advised Rest Stop

1 Now when Jesus learned that the Pharisees had heard that Jesus was making and baptizing more disciples than John (although Jesus himself did not baptize, but only his disciples), he left Judea and departed again for Galilee. And he had to pass through Samaria. So he came to a town of Samaria called Sychar, near the field that Jacob had given to his son Joseph. Jacob’s well was there; so Jesus, wearied as he was from his journey, was sitting beside the well. It was about the sixth hour.  – John 4:1-6 ESV

Chapter 3 featured Jesus’ encounter with Nicodemus, who was a well-respected member of the Pharisees, an extremely orthodox sect of Judaism. This learned man, who also happened to be a member of the Jewish ruling council called the Sanhedrin, was well-versed in the Hebrew Scriptures, with special knowledge of the Mosaic Law. Yet, with all his knowledge and wisdom, he had been unable to comprehend the words of Jesus. In fact, Jesus exposed Nicodemus’ surprising lack of understanding when He somewhat sarcastically asked, “Are you the teacher of Israel and yet you do not understand these things?” (John 3:10 ESV).

Nicodemus prided himself in his knowledge of both the written and oral traditions of Israel. But he had been unable to understand what Jesus meant when He said, “unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God” (John 3:5 ESV). Nicodemus’ wisdom had proved insufficient because his mind was stuck on a horizontal plane, and incapable of comprehending the spiritual nature of Jesus’ words.

Now, John shifts the scene of the story as he describes Jesus’ departure from Judea to the northern region of Galilee. Jesus is vacating the confines of Jerusalem because the Pharisees have gotten wind of His growing popularity.

…when Jesus learned that the Pharisees had heard that Jesus was making and baptizing more disciples than John (although Jesus himself did not baptize, but only his disciples), he left Judea and departed again for Galilee. – John 4:1-3 ESV

Jesus had come to Jerusalem in order to celebrate the Passover, but He had found the temple of His Father being desecrated and profaned by those who were supposed to be the spiritual leaders of the nation. Rather than encouraging the people to “worship the Father in spirit and truth” (John 4:23 ESV), they had turned the house of God into “a house of trade” (John 2:16 ESV). They were using the God-ordained sacrificial system as a means for making money, rather than making atonement for the sins of the people.

So, John describes Jesus, the Messiah of Israel, as turning His back on the city of Jerusalem and heading for Galilee. But to get there, Jesus was going to have to journey through the region of Samaria. And this seemingly insignificant geographic detail is far more important that one might realize.

The seismic nature of the shift in location is easily overlooked by modern readers. But John’s original audience would have recognized the fascinating juxtaposition between chapters 3 and 4 that John was creating. To understand what is going on, you have to know the historic significance of Samaria and its inhabitants. The land of Samaria had originally belonged to the tribe of Ephraim and the half-tribe of Manasseh. It had been part of the land of Canaan that God had promised as an inheritance to the nation of Israel. After God had divided the nation in two, due to the sins of Solomon, Samaria had become part of the northern kingdom of Israel. But when the people of Israel had continued to rebel against God and had refused His repeated calls to repent, He had brought the Assyrians against them as punishment for their sin. The book of 2 Kings describes what happened as a result.

The king of Assyria transported groups of people from Babylon, Cuthah, Avva, Hamath, and Sepharvaim and resettled them in the towns of Samaria, replacing the people of Israel. They took possession of Samaria and lived in its towns. But since these foreign settlers did not worship the Lord when they first arrived, the Lord sent lions among them, which killed some of them.

So a message was sent to the king of Assyria: “The people you have sent to live in the towns of Samaria do not know the religious customs of the God of the land. He has sent lions among them to destroy them because they have not worshiped him correctly.”

The king of Assyria then commanded, “Send one of the exiled priests back to Samaria. Let him live there and teach the new residents the religious customs of the God of the land.” So one of the priests who had been exiled from Samaria returned to Bethel and taught the new residents how to worship the Lord.

But these various groups of foreigners also continued to worship their own gods. In town after town where they lived, they placed their idols at the pagan shrines that the people of Samaria had built. – 2 Kings 17:24-29 NLT

These foreigners ended up intermarrying with the Jews who had been left in the land. And 2 Kings describes how these “Samaritans” practiced a syncretistic brand of religion that combined the worship of Yahweh with the worship of false gods.

These new residents worshiped the Lord, but they also appointed from among themselves all sorts of people as priests to offer sacrifices at their places of worship. And though they worshiped the Lord, they continued to follow their own gods according to the religious customs of the nations from which they came. – 2 Kings 17:32-33 NLT

To the Pharisees and other orthodox religious groups in Israel, the Samaritans were considered “half-breeds” who had refused to maintain the purity of the nation’s bloodline. Not only that, but they were also guilty of idolatry and, therefore, in violation of the Mosaic Law. And to make matters worse, they had established their own place of worship on Mount Gerazim, refusing to recognize the temple in Jerusalem as the dwelling place of God. And much to the chagrin of the Pharisees, the Samaritans rejected all the writings of the prophets and the Jewish oral traditions, which the Pharisees held near and dear.

So, when John describes Jesus as having “to pass through Samaria,” there is an intentional tension in his words. It was impossible for Jesus to travel from Judea to Galilee without having to make his way through this land occupied by “half-breeds” and heretics. And any self-respecting, God-honoring Jew would pass through this region as quickly as possible, making certain to avoid any interaction with the inhabitants. To the Jews, the Samaritans were considered unclean and of no more value than a dog. They were to be avoided at all costs.

All of these details are essential if one is to understand the significance of all that John is about to describe. Jesus’ transition from Jerusalem to Galilee takes on a special significance because He must pass through the region of Samaria. And the intense animosity between the Jews and Samaritans would have been well-documents and fully understood in John’s day. A contemporary reader of John’s gospel would have expected Jesus and His entourage to expedite their passage through Samaria, spending as little time in the region as was physically possible.

But John describes Jesus as arriving at the town of Sychar, located in the heart of Samaria, at about Noon. The inference is that Jesus has only a few hours left before darkness falls, so He should have been in a hurry to complete His journey to Galilee. But instead, He decides to take an unscheduled and highly unrecommended rest stop at the base of Mount Gerazim, where the Samaritans practiced their syncretistic brand of religion.

Again, the details are critical to understanding what follows. Sychar, also known as Shechem, was located in the valley between Mount Gerazim and Mount Ebal, and this spot held a special significance for the Jewish people. It was there, during the initial conquest of the land of Canann, that Joshua had instructed the people to build an altar to the Lord, to recommit themselves to the covenant, and to give thanks for their recent victories over Jericho and Ai.

Then Joshua built an altar to the Lord, the God of Israel, on Mount Ebal. He followed the commands that Moses the Lord’s servant had written in the Book of Instruction: “Make me an altar from stones that are uncut and have not been shaped with iron tools.” Then on the altar they presented burnt offerings and peace offerings to the Lord. And as the Israelites watched, Joshua copied onto the stones of the altar the instructions Moses had given them.

Then all the Israelites—foreigners and native-born alike—along with the elders, officers, and judges, were divided into two groups. One group stood in front of Mount Gerizim, the other in front of Mount Ebal. Each group faced the other, and between them stood the Levitical priests carrying the Ark of the Lord’s Covenant. This was all done according to the commands that Moses, the servant of the Lord, had previously given for blessing the people of Israel.

Joshua then read to them all the blessings and curses Moses had written in the Book of Instruction. – Joshua 8:30-34 NLT

Notice the reference to “all the Israelites – foreigners and native-born alike.” Here, centuries later, the Messiah of Israel was making His way to this very same spot, accompanied by native-born Jews, and He would encounter a woman who was considered a foreigner and a violator of the covenant of Israel. But the message Jesus had to share with her would be similar to that which He had shared with Nicodemus, a native-born Jew, a Pharisee, and a so-called keeper of the law.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

The Light and the Right

There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came as a witness, to bear witness about the light, that all might believe through him. He was not the light, but came to bear witness about the light.

The true light, which gives light to everyone, was coming into the world. 10 He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. 11 He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. 12 But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, 13 who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God. – John 1:6-13 ESV

Up to this point in his gospel account, the apostle John has yet to mention the name of Jesus, choosing instead to refer to Him as the Word, the life, and the light. It seems that John is attempting to establish, from the outset, the divinity and eternality of Jesus. The birth of Jesus, while important to John, was only significant because the Word of God who was God took on human flesh. The co-creator of the universe became one with His creation by assuming the lowly nature of a man. The apostle Paul describes this divine demotion in stark terms:

he gave up his divine privileges;
    he took the humble position of a slave
    and was born as a human being… – Philippians 2:7 NLT

John was not trying to underplay the humanity of Jesus. He had spent more than three years of his life living with and learning from Jesus. John had shared many meals with Jesus and seen Him fall asleep in the bow of a fishing boat, exhausted from the day’s activities. He had watched as Jesus wept over Jerusalem and the death of His friend, Lazarus. And he had been an eye-witness to the gruesome crucifixion of Jesus, watching in helplessness as his friend and teacher endured excruciating pain and eventually gave up His life. But John knew that the birth, life, and death of Jesus were meaningless if Jesus was not the Word of God and the light of men.

And John recalls how God had prefaced the arrival of Jesus in human form by sending a witness, a martyria – one who testifies. Unlike Jesus, this witness was a mere “man.” But he had been sent by God. In that sense, he followed in a long line of other men, the prophets of the Old Testament, whom God had sent to proclaim His Word to His chosen people.

But the people of Israel had endured a nearly 400-year period of silence, with no prophets or witnesses for God appearing on the scene. Malachi, the last of the prophets disappeared off the scene around 400 B.C. So, for four long centuries, the people of God had no word from God. He had gone silent. And those years had been anything but pleasant. The Israelites had no king and found themselves under the successive rules of the Persians, the Greeks, and, eventually, the Romans. Their land was under constant occupation by enemy forces, and they were subjected to the humiliation of living under Gentile rule. In 63 B.C., the Romans conquered Israel and subjected the land to military occupation and heavy taxation.

The people of God were relegated to living as little more than slaves in what had once been the land of promise. And their dire circumstances created in them an intense desire for the arrival of their long-awaited Messiah. The prophets had spoken of one who would come and rescue them from their suffering. He would be a warrior-king like David had been, wielding his sword on behalf of the downtrodden people of Israel and delivering them from their enemies. But with each passing year, their hopes of rescue grew dimmer as the Messiah’s arrival failed to take place.

But John emphasizes that there was hope. A light had pierced the darkness. A baby had been born who would prove to be the very one for whom the Israelites had been waiting. And that baby’s birth had been heralded by angels, proclaiming “the good news of great joy” (Luke 2:10 ESV).

“For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.” – Luke 2:11 ESV

The word, “Christ” is the Greek equivalent of “Messiah.” The angels were announcing the arrival of the Savior of Israel. The 400-years of silence had been broken. The long period of darkness had been broken by the arrival of the light of the world.

Eight days after His birth, the parents of Jesus took Him to the temple in Jerusalem to be circumcised. There, a “righteous and devout” man named Simeon pronounced a blessing on the baby.

“Lord, now you are letting your servant depart in peace,
    according to your word;
for my eyes have seen your salvation
   that you have prepared in the presence of all peoples,
a light for revelation to the Gentiles,
    and for glory to your people Israel.” – Like 2:29-32 ESV

The light had come. And some 30 years later, John the Baptist would begin to testify of the arrival of the light. The infant had become an adult and the earthly ministry of Jesus was about to begin. John the Baptist was given the responsibility to act as God’s herald, announcing the arrival of the Messiah.

In those days John the Baptist came preaching in the wilderness of Judea, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” For this is he who was spoken of by the prophet Isaiah when he said,

“The voice of one crying in the wilderness:
‘Prepare the way of the Lord;
    make his paths straight.’” – Matthew 3:1-3 ESV

John makes it clear that John the Baptist “was not the light, but came to bear witness about the light” (John 1:8 ESV). He was the messenger, not the Messiah. His job was to proclaim the arrival of the King and His Kingdom. And John the Baptist knew his place, fully recognizing that Jesus was someone and something special. He humbly announced, “Though his ministry follows mine, I’m not even worthy to be his slave and untie the straps of his sandal” (John 1:27 NLT).

And yet, the apostle John records that the good news regarding the arrival of the light of men received an unenthusiastic response from the people.

The true light, which gives light to everyone, was coming into the world. He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. – John 1:9-10 ESV

You can almost sense the disbelief and disgust in John’s words. How could these people fail to recognize the arrival of the light? The creator of the universe had penetrated the darkness of their world and they acted as if nothing had happened. They were completely oblivious to the momentous nature of what was taking place right in front of them. And, to make matters worse, John describes the failure of the Israelites to recognize and receive their long-awaited Messiah.

He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. – John 1:11 ESV

The one they had longed for had finally appeared and they had chosen to reject Him. But John makes it clear that not all had rejected Jesus. He had been one of a handful of Jews who had chosen to follow Jesus because they believed Him to be the Messiah. John had been joined by Peter, who had said of Jesus, “You have the words that give eternal life” (John 6:68 NLT). It was Peter who also said of Jesus, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Matthew 16:16 ESV).

And John makes it clear that all those who received Jesus and “believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God” (John 1:12 ESV). John is writing these words after the fact – long after Jesus’ death, resurrection, and ascension. He is writing after the events of Pentecost when the Spirit of God had descended upon the disciples gathered in the upper room. John is penning these words with full confidence that Jesus was who He had claimed to be and who Peter had testified Him to be: “the Christ, the Son of the living God.”

And because Jesus was the Christ, the Son of the living God, all those who believed in Him received life. “In him was life, and the life was the light of men” (John 1:4 ESV). And that life was eternal in nature. The creator-God had given men their initial life, but the Son of the living God, the light of the world, had made it possible for men to have everlasting life. They were “were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God” (John 1:13 ESV). 

John is describing the new birth, the Spirit-empowered transformation that takes place in an individual’s life when they place their faith in Jesus. It is what Jesus described to the Pharisee, Nicodemus.

“I tell you the truth, unless you are born again, you cannot see the Kingdom of God.”
 – John 3:3 NLT

And Jesus qualified His statement by adding, “Humans can reproduce only human life, but the Holy Spirit gives birth to spiritual life” (John 3:6 NLT). And that is John’s point in this passage. The new birth is not like human birth. It is not the result of human initiative. It is the miraculous work of God, made possible through the birth, death, burial, and resurrection of His Son, Jesus Christ. Those who received Jesus as the Christ and believed in His name as the Son of God enjoyed the amazing benefit of eternal life. They became children of God. Their acceptance of the Light provided them with the right to be adopted into God’s family. It was just as Jesus had told Nicodemus:

“For this is how God loved the world: He gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life. God sent his Son into the world not to judge the world, but to save the world through him.” – John 3:16-17 NLT

The Light had come. And He had made possible the right to become a child of God. But belief was the key. Faith was the means by which eternal life became accessible and possible.

to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God.” – John 1:12 ESV

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

His Blood Be On Us!

24 So when Pilate saw that he was gaining nothing, but rather that a riot was beginning, he took water and washed his hands before the crowd, saying, “I am innocent of this man’s blood; see to it yourselves.” 25 And all the people answered, “His blood be on us and on our children!” 26 Then he released for them Barabbas, and having scourged Jesus, delivered him to be crucified.

27 Then the soldiers of the governor took Jesus into the governor’s headquarters, and they gathered the whole battalion before him. 28 And they stripped him and put a scarlet robe on him, 29 and twisting together a crown of thorns, they put it on his head and put a reed in his right hand. And kneeling before him, they mocked him, saying, “Hail, King of the Jews!” 30 And they spit on him and took the reed and struck him on the head. 31 And when they had mocked him, they stripped him of the robe and put his own clothes on him and led him away to crucify him. – Matthew 27:24-31 ESV

Jesus mockedPilate washed his hands of Jesus. He wanted nothing to do with the death of this innocent man, but because of the growing anger of the mob that had gathered outside his home, he gave in to their demands and turned Jesus over to be crucified. Yet, he made his position on the matter perfectly clear: “I am innocent of this man’s blood; see to it yourselves” (Matthew 27:24 ESV).

According to Luke’s account, Pilate had attempted to set Jesus free. His own wife had warned him not to have anything to do with putting Jesus to death because she had experienced disturbing dreams about him. Upon discovering that Jesus was a Galilean, Pilate sent Jesus to Herod so that he might examine him.

“…after examining him before you, behold, I did not find this man guilty of any of your charges against him. Neither did Herod, for he sent him back to us. Look, nothing deserving death has been done by him. I will therefore punish and release him.” – Luke 23:14-16 ESV

The people could have cared less about what Pilate or Herod thought. Their minds were made up. They wanted Jesus dead, and the continued to cry out, “Crucify, crucify him!” (Luke 23:21 ESV). And Luke records that, for the third and final time, Pilate had responded:

“Why? What evil has he done? I have found in him no guilt deserving death. I will therefore punish and release him.” – Luke 23:22 ESV

But the people would have none of it. They were not interested in the facts of the case. The guilt of Jesus had been established by the religious leaders, and that was enough for them. And Luke continues in his account:

But they were urgent, demanding with loud cries that he should be crucified. And their voices prevailed. So Pilate decided that their demand should be granted. – Luke 23:23-24 ESV

Fearing a riot, Pilate gave in to the demands of the people, and handed Jesus over to his guards to begin the process of His crucifixion. The people responded with what would be a prophetic statement that would seal their own fates, as well as those of their descendants, for generations to come.

“His blood be on us and on our children!” – Matthew 27:25 ESV

With this rashly spoken vow, these people unknowingly admitted their culpability for Jesus’ death and included their children and grandchildren in their guilt. Sometime later, after Jesus was resurrected and had ascended back into heaven, Peter would remind the high priest and the Sanhedrin:

“The God of our ancestors raised Jesus from the dead after you killed him by hanging him on a cross.” – Acts 5:30 ESV

Peter was simply restating what the crowd had declared. The blood of Jesus was on their hands. They would be held responsible by God for the death of His Son. And it would be because of their refusal to accept Jesus as their Messiah that God would turn to the Gentiles with the offer of salvation through His Son. The apostle Paul makes this fact perfectly clear in his letter to the Romans. But he also reminds us that, in spite of their blood-guilt, God was not yet done with Israel.

Did God’s people stumble and fall beyond recovery? Of course not! They were disobedient, so God made salvation available to the Gentiles. But he wanted his own people to become jealous and claim it for themselves. Now if the Gentiles were enriched because the people of Israel turned down God’s offer of salvation, think how much greater a blessing the world will share when they finally accept it. – Romans 11:11-12 NLT

And just in case we fail to understand the weight of Paul’s words, he adds:

What does all this mean? Even though the Gentiles were not trying to follow God’s standards, they were made right with God. And it was by faith that this took place. But the people of Israel, who tried so hard to get right with God by keeping the law, never succeeded. Why not? Because they were trying to get right with God by keeping the law instead of by trusting in him. They stumbled over the great rock in their path. God warned them of this in the Scriptures when he said,

“I am placing a stone in Jerusalem that makes people stumble,
    a rock that makes them fall.
But anyone who trusts in him
    will never be disgraced.” – Romans 9:30-33 NLT

The people of Israel had stumbled over Jesus. His arrival on the scene had left them disappointed and disillusioned. He was not the kind of Messiah they had been expecting, so they rejected Him. And their refusal to accept Him led to the gospel being sent to the Gentiles. But there is a day coming when God will refocus His divine will and His everlasting love on His chosen people, the Israelites. Paul goes on to state the unmistakable reality of that fact.

Some of the people of Israel have hard hearts, but this will last only until the full number of Gentiles comes to Christ. And so all Israel will be saved. As the Scriptures say,

“The one who rescues will come from Jerusalem,
    and he will turn Israel away from ungodliness.
And this is my covenant with them,
    that I will take away their sins.” – Romans 23:25-27 NLT

The crowd gathered outside Pilate’s residence had demanded the death of Jesus. They had rejected Him as their Messiah and demanded that a common criminal be released in His place. They would be complicit in the death of the Savior of the world. But it would be His death that made redemption possible for the world. Their rejection of Jesus made His offer of salvation available to the Gentile world. And since the day of Pentecost, when the church began, millions upon millions of Gentiles from all tribes, nations, and tongues, have come to faith in Jesus. But the day is coming when the full number of Gentiles that God has ordained for salvation will be complete. Then, He will turn His attention to Israel once again, extending His grace and mercy to a people responsible for the death of His own Son. The blood of Jesus, covering their heads as a sign of their guilt, will also be used by God to cleanse them from all unrighteousness. The one they crucified will be the one who will deem them fully justified.

But first, Jesus was going to have to suffer and die. And HIs suffering began at the hand of Pilate’s guards, who stripped Him, beat Him, and mocked Him by sarcastically proclaiming Him to be the king of the Jews. In this depressing scene, we see Jews and Gentiles alike rejecting the Savior of the world. They ridicule rather than revere Him. They spit in the face of the one who created them. They crush a hastily fabricated crown of thorns onto the head of the King of kings and Lord of lords. And in their ignorance, they jokingly, and prophetically cry out, “Hail, King of the Jews!”

Little did they know how true those words would prove to be. Jesus was the King of the Jews, and He was willingly laying down His life for His people. He was dying so that they might live. He was taking on their guilt and suffering the death they deserved so that they might receive His righteousness and God’s forgiveness. He was willingly shedding His blood so that the sins of mankind might be atoned for once and for all. The apostle John reminds us that “the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin” (1 John 1:7 ESV).

And in the book of Revelation, John records a vision he was given into heaven during the days of the Great Tribulation.

After this I saw a vast crowd, too great to count, from every nation and tribe and people and language, standing in front of the throne and before the Lamb. They were clothed in white robes and held palm branches in their hands. And they were shouting with a great roar,

“Salvation comes from our God who sits on the throne and from the Lamb!” – Revelation 7:9-10 NLT

When John inquired as to who made up this vast crowd dressed in white, he was told:

“These are the ones who died in the great tribulation. They have washed their robes in the blood of the Lamb and made them white.” – Revelation 7:14 NLT

The precious blood of Jesus shed for the sins of men, will continue to provide atonement and salvation for generations to come, all the way up to the end. But when the crowd gathered outside Pilate’s home had boldly shouted, “His blood be on us and on our children!” they had no idea how prophetic their words would be. Because, as the author of Hebrews reminds us, “without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins” (Hebrews 9:22 ESV).

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Even the Gentiles Were Satisfied

32 Then Jesus called his disciples to him and said, “I have compassion on the crowd because they have been with me now three days and have nothing to eat. And I am unwilling to send them away hungry, lest they faint on the way.” 33 And the disciples said to him, “Where are we to get enough bread in such a desolate place to feed so great a crowd?” 34 And Jesus said to them, “How many loaves do you have?” They said, “Seven, and a few small fish.” 35 And directing the crowd to sit down on the ground, 36 he took the seven loaves and the fish, and having given thanks he broke them and gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the crowds. 37 And they all ate and were satisfied. And they took up seven baskets full of the broken pieces left over. 38 Those who ate were four thousand men, besides women and children. 39 And after sending away the crowds, he got into the boat and went to the region of Magadan. – Matthew 15:32-39 ESV

According to Mark’s gospel, Jesus left the region of Tyre and Sidon, where He had healed the Canaanite woman’s daughter and went to the region of Decapolis. The name of this area literally meant “Ten Cities,” because it was based on an alliance formed by ten cities located on the eastern shore of the Sea of Galilee. During Jesus’ day, these cities were predominantly Gentile and heavily influenced by the Greek culture. And it is most likely the Gentile character of the population that explains the disciples’ surprising behavior in this story.

For three days, the crowds had gathered around Jesus, many waiting their turn to receive healing from the hands of Jesus. Others were simply curious spectators who were drawn to the miracles of Jesus. Knowing that the people had grown hungry after three days in the desolate surroundings, Jesus expressed His concern to His disciples.

“I feel sorry for these people. They have been here with me for three days, and they have nothing left to eat. I don’t want to send them away hungry, or they will faint along the way.” – Matthew 15:32 NLT

At first glance, the response of the disciples seems to indicate a remarkable lapse in memory.

And the disciples said to him, Where are we to get enough bread in such a desolate place to feed so great a crowd?” – Matthew 15:33 ESV

This is very similar to what Philip had said when Jesus had commanded the disciples to feed the 5,000.

Lifting up his eyes, then, and seeing that a large crowd was coming toward him, Jesus said to Philip, “Where are we to buy bread, so that these people may eat?” – John 6:5 ESV

It seems highly unlikely that the disciples would have already forgotten the earlier miracle. After all, they had each walked away from that experience carrying a basket full of leftover bread and fish. But this circumstance was different. They were in a Gentile region on the eastern shore of the Sea of Galilee. In essence, they were in enemy territory and out of their comfort zone. The disciples were probably questioning the very fact that Jesus was performing miracles among non-Jews. And the thought of Him replicating what He had done for the Jewish crowds on the northeastern shore of the Sea of Galilee was impossible for them to consider. After all, they had heard Jesus tell the Canaanite woman, “It is not right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs” (Matthew 15:26 ESV).

These people were non-Jews and, in the minds of the disciples, undeserving of Jesus’ compassion, let alone His miraculous feeding of them.

Recognizing His disciples’ reticence, but desiring to teach them yet another valuable lesson, Jesus asked them to report what they had in the way of food. Their meager supply included seven loaves of bread and a few small fish. This would have been their dinner. And the disciples could see what was coming. They had been through this drill before. But in this case, because of the location and the ethnic makeup of the crowd, they were not overly excited about the prospect of Jesus duplicating His earlier miracle. But Jesus took the loaves and fishes, broke them and gave them to the disciples to distribute among the people.

To appreciate the full import of this scene, it is essential to recognize the extreme hatred that the Jews held toward Gentiles. Just coming into contact with a Gentile could make a Jew ceremonially unclean. And here was Jesus commanding His disciples to distribute their food to a crowd full of impure and unholy Gentiles.

But that was the whole point of the miracle. These were Gentiles and yet, Jesus was doing for them exactly what He had done for the Jews. And Matthew records that the people ate and were satisfied. Their need was met by the Messiah. Their racial background and religious affiliations did not matter. Jesus’ compassion was non-discriminatory. Not only had He been willing to heal their infirmities, but He had also chosen to satisfy their hunger. And it’s interesting to note that Matthew records no response on the part of the people. They didn’t thank Jesus. They didn’t marvel at what they had just witnessed. They simply ate and then Jesus sent them away.

This is in direct contrast to the reaction of the Jewish crowd in Jesus’ earlier miracle. When they had seen what Jesus had done, they had exclaimed, “This is indeed the Prophet who is to come into the world!” (John 6:14 ESV).

And John went on to explain that they desired to take Jesus by force and make Him their king. They weren’t grateful. They were simply greedy and wanting to see Jesus put His miraculous powers to work on a permanent basis on their behalf. But Jesus had simply walked away.

The Gentiles had no Messianic hopes and expectations. They weren’t looking for a Savior or anticipating the arrival of the Son of David. And yet, much to the chagrin of the disciples, Jesus treated these Gentiles the same way He had done the Jews. He showed them compassion and He fed them.

All the way back in His sermon on the mount, Jesus had said, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied” (Matthew 5:6 ESV). In these two miracles, Jesus had met the physical needs of the two crowds, filling their stomachs with food, leaving them satisfied. But in both cases, they had demonstrated no hunger or thirst for righteousness. Jews and Gentiles alike had come to Jesus in order to have their physical needs met, but they expressed no desire for or need of righteousness.

So much of what Jesus was doing was in order to teach His disciples. He was attempting to open their eyes to the reality of His real mission. Their eyes were focused on the here-and-now. They were still believing and hoping that Jesus was going to set up an earthly kingdom and restore the Jewish people to power and prominence. But Jesus was trying to reveal that His was a spiritual kingdom and it would be all-inclusive, consisting of Jews and Gentiles, the rich and poor, men and women, so-called saints and the sorriest of sinners.

After the feeding of the 5,000, the crowds showed up the next day and Jesus exposed the motivation behind their seeking of Him.

Jesus answered them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, you are seeking me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves. Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you. For on him God the Father has set his seal.” – John 6:26-27 ESV

Then, Jesus went on to explain:

I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst. – John 6:35 ESV

“Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes has eternal life. I am the bread of life.” – John 6:47-48 ESV

I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. And the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.” – John 6:51 ESV

“Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. – John 6:53-54 ESV

Jesus was revealing new truth to His disciples. He was attempting to get their focus off the temporal and on to the eternal. Their perspective was limited. They had a myopic view of life that centered on themselves as Jews. They were looking for a reestablished Jewish kingdom, made up of God-fearing Jews and ruled by their Jewish Messiah. But Jesus came to do far more than improve their lot in life. He came to offer eternal life. And not only to Jews but to all mankind. But it was going to take time for the disciples to recognize the eternal nature of His kingdom and the ethnic diversity of its citizens.

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson