Jesus Heals the Man Who Was Born Blind / 9:1-12
All of Jesus’ miracles also pointed to who he was. John follows Jesus’ discourse about being “the light of the world” (8:12; 9:5) with the account of Jesus restoring sight to a man born blind. This story illustrates the spiritual truth of Christ being the Light of the World. As the blind beggar comes to “see” that Jesus is the Messiah, so Jesus offers us spiritual sight to enable us to see him as our Savior and Lord. We too are born spiritually blind and need the gift of sight that only the Light of the World can provide. The Light of the World becomes our light when we put our faith in Jesus Christ.
9:1-3 In ancient cultures, blind people had no choice but to be beggars. This man probably was very poor and was begging along the roadside, thus Jesus saw him as he passed by. The disciples believed, based at least partly on Old Testament texts like Exodus 34:7, that a disability such as blindness was a punishment for sin. Many people around the world believe that suffering results from sin. People tend to believe that displeasing God leads to punishment; therefore, they assume that whenever a person seems to be undergoing punishment, there is reason to suspect wrongdoing. This assumption, for example, drove Job’s friends to treat him with heavy-handed judgment.
*LIFE APPLICATION: A CURIOSITY
We have a tendency not to “see” those who are disabled or to treat them in ways that emphasize or trivialize their disadvantage. For instance, blind people are often treated as if they can’t hear either, which is exactly what the disciples did on this occasion.
People appreciate being genuinely cared for, but resent being treated as a “case,” “problem,” or “curiosity.” When dealing with people who are suffering or disabled, we must try to empathize with them. We should always strive to treat others in the way we would want to be treated, were our situations reversed (see Matthew 7:12).
*LIFE APPLICATION: GOD MAY USE OUR SUFFERING
How can God be at work in a desperate situation? There may be times when we have done everything possible to solve a problem. After we have explored the options, exhausted our resources, probed our motives, asked for advice, and done what was suggested, we may have found that nothing seems to have changed. We may have persisted in prayer and asked others to pray for us, and yet perceive no answer. The truth is, the solution, resolution, or answer may not ever come in this life. But it is also true that regardless of our difficulty and whether or not our burden is removed, God is still at work.
- God may use our experience to help advise and encourage others who pass through the same trials.
- God may use our suffering to break through the hardness of another person and bring about change in them.
- God may use our unresolved need to motivate others to keep searching for a solution from which others will benefit.
- God may use our endurance in suffering rather than the suffering itself to be an encouraging example to other believers.
But if suffering always indicates sin, what do we say about babies born with deformities or handicaps? This man was born blind, so they asked, “Was it a result of his own sins or those of his parents?” The disciples were thinking about what caused the blindness. Jesus shifted their attention away from the cause to the purpose. Jesus demonstrated the power of God by healing the man. Instead of worrying about the cause of our problems, we should instead find out how God could use our problem to demonstrate his power. Jesus explained that the man’s blindness had nothing to do with his sin or his parents’ sin. God allowed nature to run its course so that the victim would ultimately bring glory to God through the reception of both physical and spiritual sight (see 9:30-38).
*LIFE APPLICATION: WHY THE HURT?
In Jewish culture, many believed that all calamities and suffering resulted from sin. But this man suffered so that God could be glorified. We live in a fallen world where good behavior is not always rewarded and bad behavior not always punished; therefore, innocent people sometimes suffer. If God removed suffering whenever we asked, we would follow him for comfort and convenience, not out of love and devotion. Regardless of the reasons for our suffering, Jesus has the power to help us deal with it. When we suffer from a disease, tragedy, or disability, we should not ask, Why did this happen to me? or What did I do wrong? Instead, we should ask God to give us strength for the trial and a clearer perspective on what is happening.
9:4-5 Jesus was speaking of himself and his disciples as coworkers. He wanted them to learn from him because they would continue his work as his sent ones (see 20:21). Jesus included the disciples in this work (although they actually did nothing for this blind man) because they would be the ones doing the work of God on earth after his resurrection and ascension. What a privilege to be called Christ’s coworkers (see 1 Corinthians 3:9; 2 Corinthians 5:21; 6:1).
While Christ was in the world, light was in the world. However, there was little time left before the night would fall and all work would come to an end. The night would come, that is, Jesus would soon die, and would no longer be in the world in physical form. The coming of the night speaks of the shortness of time Jesus had left to fulfill his purpose on earth. But while he was still in the world, Jesus would be the light of the world. The healing of the blind man affirmed Jesus’ identity as the Messiah, for the Old Testament predicted that the Messiah would come to heal the blind (Isaiah 29:18; 35:5; 42:7).
*LIFE APPLICATION: TODAY
Jesus’ words held a note of urgency. It may be “day” now, but it won’t always be so. We must not put off until tomorrow what God wants us to do now. Today is the day. If God presents an opportunity and also provides the strength, skill, or other resources to do it, we ought to respond immediately. The night is coming soon enough; then our day of opportunity will end. What have you done today with eternity in mind?
9:6-7 This is not typical of the way Jesus performed miracles, according to John. But Mark records two incidents of miraculous healing where Jesus used his saliva—to cure a deaf and dumb man and to heal a blind man (Mark 7:33; 8:23). John’s account, however, provides the only record of Jesus spitting on the ground and forming mud from it.
From antiquity, spit or saliva was thought to have medicinal power. But the Jews were suspicious of anyone who used saliva in healing because it was associated with magical arts. It is worth noting, however, that the role of Jesus’ saliva in the healing was primarily in making the mud. As has been pointed out before (see section on 2:6-8), Jesus did not use random objects without a specific purpose.
First, Jesus used the mud to help develop the man’s faith (he had to do as Jesus said, which was to go and wash in a certain pool). Second, Jesus kneaded the mud with his hands in order to put it on the man’s eyes. This constituted “work” on a Sabbath day and would upset the Pharisees. Jesus had much to teach them about God and his Sabbath.
Siloam is a Greek translation of the Hebrew name, Shiloah, meaning “sent.” The pool of Siloam had been built by King Hezekiah. His workers had built an underground tunnel from the Spring of Gihon in the Kidron Valley outside of Jerusalem. This tunnel channeled the water into the pool of Siloam inside the city walls. Located in the southeast corner of the city, the tunnel and pool were originally built to help Jerusalem’s inhabitants survive in times of siege. The man went and washed, and came back seeing! He did as he was told, and his faith healed him.
9:8-12 These verses record the various reactions of the blind man’s neighbors to his healing. Some thought he looked like the one who used to sit and beg. Others positively identified him as the same man. Still others objected that this only looked like that blind man. In response, the healed man insisted, “I am the same man.” Finally realizing that the person who once was blind had received his sight, they asked, “Who healed you?” The formerly blind man testified to the healing power of Jesus by recounting the story of how he had been healed.
Religious Leaders Question the Blind Man / 9:13-34
Because the people discovered both a miracle and a mystery surrounding the healing of the blind man, they took him to what they considered the most dependable place for exploring such matters. The Pharisees quickly concluded that whatever else the healer might be, he certainly wasn’t from God, for otherwise he would not work on the Sabbath. In their quest for “truth,” these Pharisees tried a number of explanations to invalidate the miracle: (1) perhaps the blind man had not been blind from birth or had not been totally blind; (2) perhaps God did this miracle directly (but they would recognize no human agent). When the formerly blind man pointed out the obvious answers that they had been so studiously avoiding, they responded by viciously berating him and expelling him from their presence. The astonishing fact of the man’s newly given vision eluded this group as if they were blind. Later Jesus pointed this out as their problem, over their strenuous objections.
9:13-15 Why did the people bring him to the Pharisees? The possible answer: Jesus had healed the man on a Sabbath. The people had realized that Jesus had performed another miracle on the Sabbath and that the Pharisees would want to know about this event. This miracle was news because it was very unusual (9:32). Healing, along with many other actions defined as work, was strictly controlled on the Sabbath. Healing was only to occur in cases of life and death, for which the blind man did not qualify because he had been living with his blindness since birth.
The Pharisees wanted to know how this man had received his sight, and the man explained it in the simplest of terms. Because the man was still blind during the interview with Jesus, he really didn’t know who Jesus was. He could only exclaim that he could see.
*LIFE APPLICATION: CLEARER VISION
Our personal description of Jesus to others makes an impact. John encourages all of us whose eyes, hearts, and minds have been opened by Christ to speak out for the Lord. This lesson is for us because the formerly blind man’s vision of Jesus got clearer and clearer as he reflected on what had happened and listened to the accusers frantically trying to discredit what he knew to be undeniably true. At first his description of Jesus wasn’t accurate, but it was heartfelt. He said what he understood. New believers often bring that quality of freshness and earnestness to their statements about Jesus. How quickly we forget the wonder of being able to see spiritually for the first time!
We can testify to the fact that we were once blind to our own separation from God, blind to our need, blind to God’s influence in our lives, and blinded by the world around us. We may not be able to explain in detail how Jesus has done what he has done in our lives, but we can say with conviction: Once I was blind; now I can see!
9:16-17 Jesus’ actions of kneading the mud, anointing the man’s eyes, and healing the man (whose life was not in danger) were all considered work and therefore were forbidden. Jesus may have purposely made the mud in order to emphasize his teaching about the Sabbath—that it is right to care for others’ needs even if it involves working on a day of rest. But because Jesus broke their petty rules, they immediately decided he was not from God.
But some other Pharisees questioned this condemnation: “How could an ordinary sinner do such miraculous signs?” There is no indication that these men were inclined to believe in Jesus; more likely, they were protecting themselves from the charge of obvious bias. Thus, there was a deep division among them. While the Pharisees conducted investigations and debated about Jesus, people were being healed and lives were being changed. The Pharisees’ skepticism was not based on insufficient evidence, but on jealousy of Jesus’ popularity and his influence on the people.
The staunchest Pharisees attacked the healed man with a renewed attempt to break down his testimony. But this newly sighted beggar responded with even more praise for his healer than he had offered previously—he called Jesus a prophet.
9:18-21 The Jewish leaders wouldn’t believe that the man had been blind, so they called in the man’s parents in the hope that they would refute their own son’s testimony. Failure to reach quick agreement on the case meant they needed to review the “facts.” They asked the parents if this man was really their son, and if he was really born blind. The Pharisees were exasperated: “How can he see?” they asked, although we may wonder what they expected the parents to answer.
They knew their son, and they knew his previous condition, but how he could see they didn’t know. They responded, “Ask him.” The parents did not deny their son’s story, but neither did they support his claim.
9:22-23 The reason for the parents’ fear was that to say Jesus was the Messiah would cause them to be expelled from the synagogue. Jewish regulations stipulated two kinds of excommunication: one that would last for thirty days until the offender could be reconciled, and one that was a permanent “ban” accompanied by a curse. Because the synagogue controlled every aspect of life (civic, recreational, legal, and religious), an individual cut off from the synagogue would suffer severe isolation.
But why would such a harsh punishment be given people who followed this Jesus, whom the Pharisees had proclaimed as a fake Messiah? The Pharisees were facing a politically dangerous situation. If the crowds were to take Jesus by force and make him king, Rome would respond quickly and forcefully to suppress such a revolt. Roman intervention would cause incredible troubles for the Jews. So the religious leaders decided on the harsh punishment of being put out of the synagogue for anyone who dared believe in Jesus.
9:24-25 Not content with their cross-examination of the healed man, the Pharisees called him in a second time with a command, “Give glory to God by telling the truth.” The Pharisees tried to make the man confess his wrong in proclaiming Jesus as a prophet and to make him agree with them that Jesus was a sinner.
But the healed man would not give in; he would not say whether or not Jesus was a sinner. What he would say was what he had experienced: “I know this: I was blind, and now I can see.”
*LIFE APPLICATION: LOOKING FOR A LOOPHOLE
In reviewing the facts of the case, the Pharisees had no intention of believing or following the one who had performed the healing. They wanted to disqualify Jesus. They avoided the truth in their quest for a loophole.
Occasionally we will meet people who only want to argue and debate the merits and claims of Jesus without ever deciding to follow him. They mask their rejection under a thin cover of inquiry. Perhaps, like the Pharisees, they have too much to lose. Prestige, power, and personal independence are hard to give up. It is easier to keep the argument on intellectual grounds than to face our spiritual and moral shortcomings. Sometimes, people have worked hard to get to their comfortable place in life and are unwilling to consider change. We must help them see that Christ gives both the power and the desire to change.
9:26-27 The Pharisees relentlessly asked who did the healing and how it happened. Perhaps they hoped the man would contradict his earlier story so they could accuse him. The religious leaders were making such extensive inquiry about Jesus’ identity that it would appear they wanted to follow him—when actually they had no intention of becoming his disciples.
The religious leaders were unable to throttle the healed beggar’s willingness to testify for Jesus. In fact, the more the Pharisees questioned this man who had received his sight, the stronger and clearer he became about Jesus. At first, the man recognized his healer as “the man they call Jesus” (9:11); then he knew Jesus was “a prophet” (9:17); then he saw Jesus as one who was “from God” and had performed a miracle never done before (9:32-33). Finally, when confronted by Jesus, he believed that Jesus is the “Son of Man” (the Messiah), worthy of worship (9:35-38).
9:28-29 While the Pharisees questioned and cursed the man, they persistently defended their adherence to Moses (they were confident that God had spoken to Moses). But Jesus had already told them that if they really knew Moses and understood his writings, they would know the Messiah, for Moses wrote of him (5:45-47). But as for Jesus, they said they didn’t know anything about him. It is ironic that the Pharisees claimed not to know where Jesus was from, for that was one item they believed would be true about the Messiah: “No one will know where he comes from” (7:27). They refused to accept Jesus’ words or believe that the signs he did validated his claims. They chose to reject him.
9:30-31 This reasoning (and probably their insults too) astonished the healed man, so he tried to explain to them that the act of giving him sight proved that Jesus was a man whom God listened to: “God doesn’t listen to sinners, but he is ready to hear those who worship him and do his will.” There are many Scriptures that support this man’s statement (see, for example, Job 27:8-9; 35:12-13; Proverbs 15:29; Isaiah 1:15). As a boy, this healed man certainly had been taught the Scriptures, and he pointed out this fact to these supposedly “learned” Pharisees. God does not listen to the requests of sinners, only to the requests of those devoted to him.
9:32-34 Jesus had done the unprecedented, but not the unpredicted. In their fury, the Pharisees were blind to the Old Testament descriptions that specifically speak of the Messiah as being able to open the eyes of someone born blind (see Isaiah 29:18; 35:5; 42:7). Indeed, many thought the healing of the blind would be the messianic miracle par excellence because there was never any record of such a healing in the Old Testament. Obviously, Jesus had healed him, so Jesus must be from God.
The healed man’s condemnation of the Pharisees’ irrational rejection of Jesus proved too much for them to take, so they threw him out of the synagogue.
Jesus Teaches about Spiritual Blindness / 9:35-41
Unless we have suffered rejection for our faith, we may not be able to identify with the state of this blind man whom Jesus healed. In a single day he went from being a disabled outcast to a celebrity who had miraculously received his sight, then to being a witness in court where he was treated like a criminal, and finally to being outcast again (literally) for simply telling the truth as he clearly saw it. At this point, Jesus intervened again. The man’s understanding of the one who had healed him had already expanded considerably. Here was his chance to really see Jesus.
9:35-38 Since Son of Man is a title of the Christ, Jesus was asking the man if he believed him to be the Messiah. Perhaps the man instantly recognized Jesus by his voice. He expressed immediate desire to believe, which here means not intellectual recognition, but wholehearted trust.
When the man asked who the Son of Man was, Jesus responded, “You have seen him.” The man could physically see Jesus with his healed eyes, and he could spiritually see because he understood that Jesus was the Messiah. The man acted on his newfound belief—he worshiped. He may have just been excommunicated from the synagogue, but he had found true worship. His personal belief is the culmination of the narrative. His belief sharply contrasts with the blindness of the religious leaders (9:40-41).
*LIFE APPLICATION: 20/20 VISION
The longer this man experienced his new life through Christ, the more confident he became in the one who had healed him. He gained not only physical sight but also spiritual sight as he recognized Jesus first as a prophet (9:17), then as his Lord. When you turn to Christ, you begin to see him differently. The longer you walk with him, the better you will understand who he is. Peter tells us to “grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 3:18 niv). If you want to know more about Jesus, keep walking with him.
9:39-41 Do Jesus’ words here contradict his statement in 3:17: “God did not send his Son into the world to condemn it.” Jesus did not execute judgment during his years on earth, although he would do that in the future. However, his words here reveal that, as the light of the World, he sees and reveals people’s innermost thoughts and deepest motives. In so doing, he “judges” or separates those who claim to have great spiritual knowledge when in fact they are blind, from those who humbly seek to follow God and who thus find the Savior.
*LIFE APPLICATION: ULTIMATE ADVENTURE!
John 9 would make a wonderful script for a play or movie. The innocent hero, a disabled victim, is expelled from his home and lives on the periphery of society. Religious people suspect his parents committed some heinous sin, possibly before he was even born!
Into our victim/hero’s life steps a remarkable stranger who heals his blindness. The blind man is asked to wash off some miracle mud and loses track of the one who gave him his sight. Strangely, no one recognizes the miracle that has happened to him or shares in his joy. Instead, they treat him as if he has contracted a new disease! Even his parents maintain their distance. Finally, as he explains over and over what happened and what he thinks about the man who healed him, he finds himself thrown into the street. It is only then that he finally meets Jesus face-to-face and believes.
By relating this incident John prepares those who follow Jesus to expect opposition from unbelievers—even religious unbelievers. The trials of those who trust Jesus are real. The backlash and rejection can take financial, familial, social and religious forms. It takes courage and conviction to keep on following Christ. “Though my father and mother forsake me, the Lord will receive me” (Psalm 27:10 niv).
Christ spoke these words to the healed man in the presence of the Pharisees who were standing there. The blind are those who realize their need for the Savior and humbly come to him for salvation. They will receive sight. But those who think they see are the self-righteous who think they have all the answers and have no need of the Savior. They are blind because they have rejected the “light of the world” (8:12).
The Pharisees quickly understood that Jesus had directed this statement toward them, but they were not fully sure of the meaning of his words. They assumed that with their learning, reputation, and high standing, they certainly would not be counted among the “blind.”
Jesus expanded his statement with the rather cryptic condemnation: “If you were blind, you wouldn’t be guilty, but you remain guilty because you claim you can see.” In contrast to the man who had received his sight, the Pharisees had sight but no light. They were spiritually blind, though they claimed to see. Those who admitted blindness could receive the light and see, but those who thought they saw would remain in their darkness. And their guilt remained, whether they felt guilty or not.
*LIFE APPLICATION: CHOOSING BLINDNESS
The Pharisees were shocked that Jesus thought they were spiritually blind. Jesus countered by saying that it was only blindness (stubbornness and stupidity) that could excuse their behavior. To those who remained open and recognized how sin had truly blinded them from knowing the truth, Jesus gave spiritual understanding and insight. But he rejected those who had become complacent, self-satisfied, and “blind.”
Spiritual darkness describes the worst form of judgment. The Light of the World, Jesus, gives us a glimmer of hope. All of us need to follow the Light given to us. Otherwise we are left with nothing but our blind judgment and self-darkening opinions.