Please Read John 5
After this there was a feast of the Jews, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. John 5:1 NIV
Yeshua attended the Jewish Pilgrimage Festivals
A major category of Jewish holidays is the pilgrimage festival. Described in the Hebrew Bible as celebrating both agricultural festivals and events in the history of the Jewish people, these three holidays were set aside in biblical times for all the Jewish men to travel to the Temple in Jerusalem to worship God by bringing an animal sacrifice for the priest to offer on the pilgrim’s behalf. (1)
Three times a year all your men are to appear in the presence of Adonai your God in the place which he will choose — at the festival of Matzah (unleavened bread), at the festival of Shavu‘ot (Weeks – we know it as Pentecost) and at the festival of Sukkot (Tabernacles). They are not to show up before Adonai empty-handed, but every man is to give what he can, in accordance with the blessing Adonai your God has given you. Deuteronomy 16:16-17 CJB
Yeshua obeyed and fulfilled the Torah, including travelling to Jerusalem for these three pilgrimage festivals. We saw in John 2 that He travelled to Jerusalem with His first disciples for Pesach (Passover) and cleansed the temple in preparation for Chag haMatzah (Feast of Unleavened Bread), did many miracles during that week and had a long nocturnal discussion with the religious leader and “teacher of Israel”, Nicodemus.
8 Day Long First Pilgrimage Festival
The First Pilgrimage Festival was Matzah (Unleavened Bread). To avoid confusion, it is worth noting that the whole 8 day festival – one day of Passover followed by seven days of Unleavened Bread – is sometimes all referred to as Pesach (Passover), and sometimes as Chag haMatzah (Feast of Unleavened Bread). Leviticus 23 specifies that the Jewish festival year begins with Pesach (Passover).
The LORD’s Passover begins at twilight on the fourteenth day of the first month. Leviticus 23:5 NIV
In the Jewish calendar, that is 14th Nisan. So Passover falls on different days of the week in different years. Leviticus 23:6 puts the second feast of this Pilgrimage Festival, on the next night (remembering that Jewish days begin in the evening):
On the fifteenth day of that month the LORD’s Feast of Unleavened Bread begins; seven days ye must eat bread made without yeast. Leviticus 23:6 NIV
Leaven, or yeast, is symbolic of sin – so cleansing all leaven from the house and eating bread without leaven for the whole week symbolised being cleansed from sin and walking in holiness with God.
Also during this pilgrimage festival, on the day after Shabbat (so, always on the Sunday, regardless of which day of the week the 8 day Festival began), the Feast of First Fruits is celebrated with the very first of the harvest reaped and presented to God in the temple.
… bring to the priest a sheaf of the first grain you harvest. He is to wave the sheaf before the LORD so it will be accepted on your behalf; the priest is to wave it on the day after the Sabbath. Leviticus 23:10b-11 NIV
Since they were not to eat any bread, or roasted or new grain, until after this wave offering (Vs 14) it became custom to pick the sheaf and wave it before the LORD early in the morning. Whenever the people were commanded to bring a grain offering to the LORD, they were also commanded to sacrifice an animal(s) without defect.
These three feasts, Passover, Unleavened Bread and First Fruits, were all part of the First Pilgrimage Festival each year, which lasted eight days in total.
1 Day Long Second Pilgrimage Festival
The Second Pilgrimage Festival – Shavu‘ot – was to take place seven weeks after the first. Whereas the first began on 14th Nisan each year, and so on different days of the week, the second was always on the day after the Sabbath (ie, on the Sunday) – and so could be on slightly different dates.
From the day after the Sabbath, the day you brought the sheaf of the wave offering, count off seven full weeks. Count off fifty days up to the day after the seventh Sabbath, and present an offering of new grain to the LORD… bring two loaves… baked with yeast, as a wave offering of firstfruits to the LORD. Leviticus 23:16-17 NIV
Because they were to count off the weeks to determine the date of this festival it was called the Feast of Weeks (Shavu‘ot). In Greek it was called Pentecost because it was 50 days after the feast of First Fruits. Two loaves were to be presented to God in the temple, both of them containing yeast. Some have seen this as representing the two different groups of peoples – Jews and Gentiles – both permeated with sin but both brought before God for His redemption. Jewish tradition also held that it was on this day God had given the Torah (Law) to Moses on Mount Sinai in the wilderness.
Shavu‘ot was a one day festival in Jerusalem. For many in outlying areas such as Galilee it was a long way to come for just one day, and most Jews outside of Judea did not get to all the festivals – but the crowds were still huge for each one. Even those scattered throughout the nations were determined to make it to Jerusalem for at least one festival in their lifetime. Historical texts and archaeological evidence indicate that during the Second Temple years of the Roman era, the pilgrimage festivals were a profoundly significant social and religious institution, bringing Jews from all over the ancient world of the Mediterranean to Jerusalem. Thousands upon thousands of Jews made these festival pilgrimages, and supported a vast commercial enterprise including the raising of animals for sacrifices, a lively animal market and a complex banking community to enable pilgrims to exchange currencies. (2) (1)
Shavu‘ot was the Feast of the Jews that Yeshua had now come to Jerusalem for. Whereas the author of the fourth gospel mentions several times that Yeshua’s disciples were with Him during His previous visit to Jerusalem for the eight day Pesach (Passover) festival, there is no mention of them being with Him on this pilgrimage. The author of the fourth Gospel, like the others, had been sent back to his home when Yeshua was returning to Nazareth after news of Yochanan the Immerser’s imprisonment reached them, but unlike the others this man lived in or near Jerusalem and was there for all the Jewish feasts.
7 Day Long Third Pilgrimage Festival
The Third Pilgrimage Festival was Sukkot (Tabernacles). It celebrates the wandering of the Israelites in the desert for 40 years, when they had to rely only upon God for food and protection. It also celebrates the last harvest before the onset of the winter rains in the land of Israel. It falls five days after Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement), usually in mid-autumn.
On the fifteenth day of the seventh month the LORD’s Feast of Tabernacles begins, and it lasts for seven days. Leviticus 23:34 NIV
Yeshua fulfilled Torah by going up to Yerushalayim (Jerusalem) with the multitudes for Shavu‘ot. Having come to Jerusalem He connected with the author of the fourth Gospel, who now travelled again with his rabbi and recorded His actions and words during this time away from His other talmidim. Yeshua gave different lessons to different groups of His disciples, according to where they were at in their life’s journey. This next lesson was for the religious leaders and those connected to the priesthood in Jerusalem.
Preparing to enter the Temple
As Yeshua entered the city, with the author of the fourth Gospel, to worship on Shabbat, the day before the festival of Shavu‘ot, He walked to the northern wall of the Temple to enter by the Sheep Gate. This was where they brought the sheep into the temple for sacrifices. (3) (4) Nehemiah 3:1 records Eliashib the high priest and his fellow priests rebuilding the Sheep Gate and dedicating it as part of the first construct of this second Temple.
Before going into the Temple Yeshua, like multitudes of other pilgrims, took a detour through the Pool of Beit-Zata (Bethesda – which means “House of Mercy”). Archaeological evidence shows a large pool shaped like a trapezoid, varying from 50 to 60 meters wide and 96 meters long, divided into two pools by a central partition. As way typical in the construction of many Mikvah of that time, the northern pool was a large water storage to ensure a flow of fresh, clean water into the Mikvah. The southern pool (that closest to the temple and lowest down) had broad steps with landings, indicating that it was a Mikvah for ritual purification.
In Yeshua’s day the Oral Law required every Jew to engage in ritual immersion in a Mikvah to become ceremonially pure before entering the holy Temple. (5) (6) (7) With his expansions of the Temple, Herod had also built several large public Mikvah in Jerusalem for the pilgrims to use in their preparation for entering the Temple. The Pool of Beit-Zata was one of the public mikvah in Jerusalem used for this purpose. Yeshua was not in rebellion against the Oral Law, and fulfilled the requirements of His community until, and unless, they were in contradiction to His Father’s direction.
Yeshua noticed one who was ignored…
After this, there was a Judean festival; and Yeshua went up to Yerushalayim. In Yerushalayim, by the Sheep Gate, is a pool called in Aramaic, Beit-Zata, in which lay a crowd of invalids — blind, lame, crippled. One man was there who had been ill for thirty-eight years.
Yeshua, seeing this man and knowing that he had been there a long time, said to him, “Do you want to be healed?” John 5:1-6 CJB
Of all the multitude going through the waters of this Mikvah for purification, and all the crowd of invalids hoping for healing in this “House of Mercy”, one man caught Yeshua’s attention. No explanation is given for why God chose to touch this man alone, except that he had been there a long time. He had been there for longer than Yeshua had been incarnate on the earth. As a Torah fulfilling Jew, Yeshua had likely immersed there, or in one of the other public mikvah’s in Jerusalem, every time He entered the Temple for each of the pilgrimage festivals every year, from the time of that first Passover as a ‘spiritual adult man’ when he was twelve years old. Each year Yeshua would immerse in the Mikvah then enter the Temple through the sheep gate to offer the prescribed sacrifices, knowing that the day would come when He would be the sacrifice. Festival after festival, year after year, He had seen this man lying near the edge of this mikvah hoping for a miracle but convinced that he was unable to receive such. Yeshua had noticed him. He notices the ones that everyone else just walks past.
This man that no one seemed to care about or notice, this man who was convinced that he had no one to help him, all those years Yeshua had noticed him. He knew this man had been there a long time because He had taken note of him, festival after festival, year after year. Just as God was not blind to Israel’s suffering under Egyptian slavery all through the years that Moses was a child and young man, so Yeshua was not blind to this man’s suffering all those years until He was endowed with power and at last heard His Father say “now”. His compassion had been stirred and now that He was walking in the power of the Holy Spirit, now that His time had come, He did something about it. A powerful lesson for those connected to the priesthood who were being discipled by Him.
The place would have been abuzz with religious leaders declaring the prescribed blessing on each one of the thousands who came to be immersed so they could be considered pure enough to enter the holy Temple. But this man had no one to help him. None of them considered assisting this invalid to be part of their religious duty. He had been left in helplessness, until Yeshua arrived.
Healing that challenged their laws…
The sick man answered, “I have no one to put me in the pool when the water is disturbed; and while I’m trying to get there, someone goes in ahead of me.”
Yeshua said to him, “Get up, pick up your mat and walk!”
Immediately the man was healed, and he picked up his mat and walked. John 5:7-9a CJB
Suddenly all that changed. Yeshua spoke. His words carried an authority the man had never heard before. They carried life and health and strength. Immediately, unexpectedly, he was healed – so he obeyed Messiah’s command, picked up his mat and walked.
Yeshua knew how to stir up trouble. He knew how to set things up so that the religious facade would be peeled away, and men’s hearts would be exposed. He had just done so in His conservative religious hometown of Nazareth, and now He was going to do it in the religious capital of His people, Jerusalem. If He had simply healed the man no one would have noticed or cared, the multitudes were all too busy getting themselves ready to enter the holy temple and fulfil their religious duty. So He gave the man an instruction that would capture the attention and stir up the ire of those who exercised religious authority in this place. It was Shabbat and Yeshua had told him to “pick up your mat and walk.”
Now that day was Shabbat, so the Judeans said to the man who had been healed, “It’s Shabbat! It’s against Torah for you to carry your mat!”
But he answered them, “The man who healed me — he’s the one who told me, ‘Pick up your mat and walk.’”
They asked him, “Who is the man who told you to pick it up and walk?”
But the man who had been healed didn’t know who it was, because Yeshua had slipped away into the crowd. John 5:9b-13 CJB
It is interesting that Yeshua had noticed this man all these years but the man had not noticed the Son of God until he was healed by Him. Even then, he had been too self-focused to notice who it was, or to ask. It took the religious leader’s accusations to motivate him to wonder who it was that had healed him.
Again, we have the Jewish religious authorities equating their rules with Torah. Like people now who equate their doctrines with the Word of God. As far as they were concerned, anyone who did not agree with their interpretations and their laws was a heretic and a law breaker.
There were many different Judaisms at this time, different schools of thought or ‘denominations’, just as there are many different Christian denominations now, each of which was convinced that they were the only ones who had the true knowledge and practice of the Torah. There were Sadducees whose focus was on the temple worship. There were Essenes who were so disgusted with the political manoeuvring and wealth seeking of the High Priests and ruling class that they refused to have anything to do with the temple worship. There were several different schools of Pharisees each of which was building their own particular set of rules to be a fence around the Torah to keep the people obedient to God.
As we have seen, the dominant group of Pharisees at that time had designated thirty-nine categories of work that were forbidden on Shabbat. In addition, they prohibited even coming into contact with any implement that could be used for any of those purposes (for example, one may not even touch a hammer or writing implement on Shabbat). (8) The thirty-ninth category of forbidden activity was: Transferring Between Domains / Carrying (Hebrew: הוצאה Hotza’ah). This law of theirs forbids transferring (carrying) something from one domain type to another domain type, or transferring within a public thoroughfare. Carrying a mat in the public domain of the Pool of Beit-Zata was therefore illegal according to their man-made law, and there were plenty of pharisaic religious leaders down at that pool to pronounce judgment on such. To their mind, any man who would tell a Jew to carry a mat in a public domain in Shabbat was a heretic and lawbreaker.
For the last 38 years they had failed to notice this man fading away, a lone invalid losing any hope. Now they noticed him carrying his mat and pounced to condemn him. In this “House of Mercy” they showed no mercy or empathy. No rejoicing in the wonderful miracle of God that had just taken place in their midst. They cared not that an invalid had been healed, only that some ‘heretic’ had told him to carry his mat on Shabbat.
Yeshua had not stayed around for this nonsense. He had continued on with the freshly immersed crowd pulsing out of the Beit-Zata (House of Mercy) pool and into the Temple through the Sheep Gate.
Persuaded of the need to leave his mat behind, the healed man now walked into the waters of the Mikvah and immersed himself to prepare for entering the Temple that he had been waiting just outside of for all these decades.
Afterwards Yeshua found him in the Temple court and said to him,
“See, you are well! Now stop sinning, or something worse may happen to you!”
The man went off and told the Judeans it was Yeshua who had healed him; and on account of this, the Judeans began harassing (Gk: diōkō) Yeshua because he did these things on Shabbat. John 5:14-16 CJB
Greek: diōkō = aggressively chase, like a hunter pursues a catch. It means “to run swiftly in order to catch some person or thing, to run after, pursue,” and refers to molesting (harassing) someone – “wanting to overtake,” “hunt them down“, ie to oppress and zealously persecute. This is what the religious leaders began doing to Yeshua. They were more sophisticated, and so did it more subtly than their Nazarene counterparts who had tried forcing him over the cliffs, but their intent was the same.
Teaching that challenged their doctrines…
Here, in the very Temple precincts, the place set aside to be holy unto God, set aside for worship, these men were more concerned that their rules had been breached than honouring God who had just performed a wondrous miracle in showing mercy to a man lying in the place they had called the “House of Mercy”. Instead of praising God they were harassing Him for operating outside their box and threatening their theology. Yeshua went on to threaten it some more as He engaged in the Jewish worship of teaching them the truth of God and His Torah.
But he answered them, “My Father has been working until now, and I too am working.” John 5:17 CJB
Yeshua lived at a time when sectarianism was rife, with major tensions among Jews over how to interpret Torah. He did not shy away from stepping right into the thick of this debate. Shabbat was one of those hotly contested areas. Not only in the practical living of it, which prominent religious leaders were codifying in the forbidding of those 39 categories of ‘creative work’, but also in the theology behind it. The apparent contradiction between God resting on the seventh day (Genesis 2:2, Exodus 20:11 & 31:17) and His continual work sustaining creation, caring for His people (Psalm 68:19, Psalm 121:2-8, Isaiah 56:24) and directing history, ignited all sorts of heated discussions. Some Jewish theology focused on God resting on Shabbat, while others focused on His permanent nature as creator.
For the religious leaders who were seeking to hunt Yeshua down there was a profound concept of imitation dei – the imitation of God – in association with the keeping of Shabbat according to their rules. For them, God needed a rest on the seventh day and totally ceased from all creative works on this day. Therefor, to be like God we must likewise totally cease from all the works they have forbidden on this day. Yeshua challenged this head on, associating His work of healing the crippled man on Shabbat with the never ceasing work of the Father – this was His imitation dei, doing good to others and delivering them on every day. (9) While this was contrary to the theology of those attacking Him, it was not outside the theology of many Jews of His day.
There was a current of Jewish thought that empathized God’s unceasing work. The Jewish philosopher Philo, who was about 20yrs older than Yeshua, had written: “that God never ceases to create, nor takes a holiday from His works”, and again: “as it is the property of fire to burn, and of snow to chill, so also it is the property of God to be creating.” (10) Some argued that God’s providence remained active on Shabbat, for otherwise the universe would cease to exist. God ceased from His work of creating the world, but not from His work of moral judgment. (11) Others contended that God both endows children with human souls and brings them into covenant relationship with Himself on Shabbat, as children are born on Shabbat and the Torah commands them to be circumcised on the eighth day even when it is Shabbat. (12) Also strongly woven into the concept of Shabbat was the theme of God’s deliverance from bondage and slavery (Deuteronomy 5:14–15), yet they could not rejoice in this lame man’s deliverance.
It is good to keep the commandments of God. It is good to study God’s word and to seek to gain a greater understanding of what He desires of us. It is good to search out what it means to live in accordance with God’s word. All these things the Jewish religious leaders had been doing for generations. But they had taken it one step further, and that step put them in conflict with God Himself. They had concluded that their understanding, their opinions, their practices and traditions, were God’s law and therefor had to be embraced and obeyed by all. So, when the Son of God came and lived out the fullness of God’s law in God’s way, they accused Him of being a law breaker. When the Son of God came and spoke the truth of the nature and will of God to them, they accused Him of being a heretic and blasphemer.
Yeshua as Son of God
In His one simple sentence, ““My Father has been working until now, and I too am working,” Yeshua not only stated His theological position on Shabbat, He asserted His credentials for being the One to establish theological positions “My Father…”
This answer made the Judeans all the more intent on killing Him — not only was He breaking Shabbat; … John 5:18a CJB
How seriously wrong we can get it when we start making up doctrines for everything, devising our own set of rules for what others must believe and do. The one man who walked this earth without sin, perfectly fulfilling all God’s law, being accused of breaking the fourth commandment because He didn’t keep it the way they thought it should be kept. God Himself being rejected because they had made His law into something that He never intended it to be.
…but also, by saying that God was His own Father, He was claiming equality with God. John 5:18b CJB
It was not that referring to God as their Father was foreign to Judaism. In speaking to the religious leaders Yeshua used their own language, and concepts that would have been very familiar to them from the scriptures, but He endowed these concepts with new meanings. Last time He was in Jerusalem, Yeshua had spoken to Nicodemus at length on the Jewish religious concept of being ‘born again’. This time His long discourse was on being the Son of God.
Israel is referred to as God’s son in the Tanakh (Jewish Scriptures):
Then you are to tell Pharaoh: ‘Adonai says, “Isra’el is my firstborn son. I have told you to let my son go in order to worship me… Exodus 4:22-23a CJB
There you saw how the LORD your God carried you, as a father carries his son… Deuteronomy 1:31 NIV
Think deeply about it: Adonai was disciplining you, just as a man disciplines his child. So obey the mitzvot (law) of Adonai your God, living as He directs and fearing Him. Deuteronomy 8:5-6 CJB
You are the children of the LORD your God… Deuteronomy 14:1a NIV
For You are our father, for Abraham did not know us, neither did Israel recognize us; You, O [YHWH], are our father; our redeemer of old is your name. Isaiah 63:16 JP
…In the place where it was said to them, “You are not my people”, they will be called “sons of the living God.” Hosea 1:10 NIV
“When Israel was a child, I loved him, and out of Egypt I called My son. But the more I called Israel, the further they went from Me… Hosea 11:1-2 NIV
…the LORD disciplines those he loves, as a father the son he delights in. Proverbs 3:12 NIV
… because I am Israel’s Father, and Ephraim is my firstborn son. … Is not Ephraim my dear son, the child in whom I delight? Though I often speak against him, I still remember him. Therefore my heart yearns for him; I have great compassion for him,” declares the LORD. Jeremiah 31:9, 20 NIV
“A son honours his father, and a servant his master. If I am a father, where is the honour due me? If I am a master, where is the respect due me?” says the LORD Almighty. “It is you, O priests, who show contempt for my name…” Malachi 1:6 NIV
God of armies, please come back! Look from heaven, see, and tend this vine! Protect what your right hand planted, the son you made strong for yourself. Psalm 80:14-15 CJB
The Jewish sages understood corporate, collective sonship. They could relate to the metaphor of God choosing to be a father to their nation, and of their moral responsibility in return, of honouring and obeying Him as a son is to honour and obey his father. (13) (14) (15) What they would not abide was Yeshua’s claim of a personal sonship that identified Him as one with His Father, as one with God Himself, and as reflecting the moral nature of God in perfect fulfilment of all the Torah.
Yet, in these times when Messianic hope was strong, the sages had seen the Psalms as portraying a Messiah who would be the Son of God, one who had focused within Himself Israel’s moral relationship to God. The Targum on Psalm 80:16 “the son that though madest strong for thyself” interprets the son as “the king Messiah”. There was already an understanding in Jewish expectations of their Messiah, from Psalms 2 and 89, that He would be a chosen Son of God, king and anointed one.
“I will proclaim the decree: Adonai said to me, ‘You are my son;
today I became your father. Ask of me, and I will make the nations your inheritance; the whole wide world will be your possession. Psalm 2:7-8 CJB
He will call to me, ‘You are my father, my God, the Rock of my salvation.’ I will give him the position of firstborn, the highest of the kings of the earth. I will keep my grace for him forever, and in my covenant be faithful with him. I will establish his dynasty forever, and his throne as long as the heavens last. Psalm 89:26-29 CJB
The coming of the Son of God, the King messiah, was the hope so many in Israel had been clinging to. This was the hope many of the Pharisees had taught them. But they were so caught up in their own rules and regulations, in their own teachings and doctrines, that they could not recognise Him when He came.
Relationship between the Father and the Son
There was so much that Yeshua wanted to explain to these religious leaders. There was so much that He thought they should already know with all their study of scripture and all that Yochanan the Immerser had proclaimed. He was not just uniquely the only begotten Son of God, He was also the embodiment of what God had been calling Israel to be as His son. For these “teachers of the Torah” in the Temple Yeshua had long and detailed explanations:
Therefore, Yeshua said this to them:
“Yes, indeed! I tell you that the Son cannot do anything on His own, but only what He sees the Father doing; whatever the Father does, the Son does too. For the Father loves the Son and shows Him everything He does; and He will show Him even greater things than these, so that you will be amazed. Just as the Father raises the dead and makes them alive, so too the Son makes alive anyone He wants. The Father does not judge anyone but has entrusted all judgment to the Son, so that all may honour the Son as they honour the Father. Whoever fails to honour the Son is not honouring the Father who sent Him.
“Yes, indeed! I tell you that whoever hears what I am saying and trusts the One who sent me has eternal life — that is, he will not come up for judgment but has already crossed over from death to life!
“Yes, indeed! I tell you that there is coming a time — in fact, it’s already here — when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who listen will come to life. For just as the Father has life in Himself, so He has given the Son life to have in Himself. Also He has given Him authority to execute judgment, because He is the Son of Man. Don’t be surprised at this; because the time is coming when all who are in the grave will hear his voice and come out — those who have done good to a resurrection of life, and those who have done evil to a resurrection of judgment.
“I can’t do a thing on My own. As I hear, I judge; and My judgment is right; because I don’t seek My own desire, but the desire of the One who sent Me.
“If I testify on My own behalf, My testimony is not valid. But there is Someone else testifying on My behalf, and I know that the testimony He is making is valid — you have sent to Yochanan, and he has testified to the truth. Not that I collect human testimony; rather, I say these things so that you might be saved. He was a lamp burning and shining, and for a little while you were willing to bask in his light. But I have a testimony that is greater than Yochanan’s. For the things the Father has given Me to do, the very things I am doing now, testify on My behalf that the Father has sent Me.
“In addition, the Father who sent Me has Himself testified on My behalf. But you have never heard His voice or seen His shape; moreover, His word does not stay in you, because you don’t trust the One He sent. You keep examining the Tanakh (Old Testament) because you think that in it you have eternal life. Those very Scriptures bear witness to Me, but you won’t come to Me in order to have life!
“I don’t collect praise from men, but I do know you people — I know that you have no love for God in you! I have come in My Father’s name, and you don’t accept Me; if someone else comes in his own name, him you will accept. How can you trust? You’re busy collecting praise from each other, instead of seeking praise from God only.
“But don’t think that it is I who will be your accuser before the Father. Do you know who will accuse you? Moshe (Moses), the very one you have counted on! For if you really believed Moshe, you would believe Me; because it was about Me that he wrote. But if you don’t believe what he wrote, how are you going to believe what I say?” John 5:19-47 CJB
The whole focus and purpose of Moshe’s writings…
Shavu‘ot (Feast of Weeks) was the pilgrimage festival at which the giving of the Torah to Moshe (Law of Moses) was celebrated. It was at this festival that Yeshua stated “if you really believed Moshe, you would believe Me; because it was about Me that he wrote” to the religious leaders policing “obedience to Moshe”.
Back in John 1:45, we saw Philip exclaime to Nathanael: “We’ve found the one that Moshe wrote about in the Torah, and about whom the prophets also wrote…” Now Yeshua was trying to teach these very learned men what the young Philip had instinctively grasped.
The Jewish leaders saw the Torah as being about their nation, but Yeshua stated that it was about Him that Moses wrote. This is not just a proof scripture here or there, although there are plenty of these, this is concerning the whole focus of the first five books of the Bible, the writings that these religious leaders claimed to honour above all else, and to be the experts on. Messiah, God manifesting Himself in a form that human eyes could see and coming as deliverer, was not just an extra thought added on to the stories of Israel, He was the story, the whole focus and purpose of Moshe’s writings. This was so much bigger than what most were focused on, deliverance from Roman oppression. This was God’s whole purpose since creation. This is what all the Jewish laws and feasts were pointing to. Yeshua – Emmanuel / God with us – God who is Spirit, who is invisible, whom no man can see and live, had made us in His image. As the coming Son of Man, descendant of Eve, He would bruise the serpent’s head even as His heal was bruised. He took on a form that could appear to men throughout the ages until the time came for Him to come as “a prophet like Moses“. Yeshua is He whom everything that Moshe wrote in Torah was pointing to.
Then God said, “Let us make humankind in our image, in the likeness of ourselves…” Genesis 1:26a CJB
Then the man and his wife heard the sound of the LORD God as He was walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and they hid from the LORD God among the trees of the garden… Genesis 3:8
I will put animosity between you and the woman, and between your descendant and her descendant; he will bruise your head, and you will bruise his heel.” Genesis 3:15 CJB
Then the Lord appeared to Abram and said, “To your descendants I will give this land.” And there he built an altar to the Lord, who had appeared to him. Genesis 12:7
When Abram was ninety-nine years old, the Lord appeared to Abram and said to him, “I am Almighty God; walk before Me and be blameless. Genesis 17:1
Then the Lord appeared to him and said: “Do not go down to Egypt; live in the land of which I shall tell you. Genesis 26:2
And the Lord appeared to him the same night and said, “I am the God of your father Abraham; do not fear, for I am with you. I will bless you and multiply your descendants for My servant Abraham’s sake.” Genesis 26:24
And he built an altar there and called the place El Bethel, because there God appeared to him when he fled from the face of his brother. Genesis 35:7
Go and gather the elders of Israel together, and say to them, ‘The Lord God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, of Isaac, and of Jacob, appeared to me, saying, “I have surely visited you and seen what is done to you in Egypt;” Exodus 3:16
God spoke to Moshe; he said to him, “I am Adonai. I appeared to Avraham (Abraham), Yitz’chak (Isaac) and Ya‘akov (Jacob) as El Shaddai, although I did not make myself known to them by my name, Yud-Heh-Vav-Heh [Adonai] Exodus 6:2-3 CJB
“Adonai will raise up for you a prophet like me from among yourselves, from your own kinsmen. You are to pay attention to him, just as when you were assembled at Horev (Horeb / also called Mount Sinai) and requested Adonai your God, ‘Don’t let me hear the voice of Adonai my God any more, or let me see this great fire ever again; if I do, I will die!’
On that occasion Adonai said to me, ‘They are right in what they are saying. I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their kinsmen. I will put my words in his mouth, and he will tell them everything I order him. Whoever doesn’t listen to my words, which he will speak in my name, will have to account for himself to me. Deuteronomy 18:15-19 CJB
The Jews had long understood that this prophecy in Deuteronomy would one day be fulfilled in a literal way by the coming of a “the Prophet” who would either:
A) come just before Messiah or B) would, in fact, be the Messiah.
That expectation helps explain the dialogue between the Priests and Levites sent from Jerusalem, and Yochanan the Immerser in John 1:19-21. When they asked who he was, he said, “I am not the Messiah.”
“Who are you, then? Are you Elijah?”
“Well, then, are you the Prophet.”
When they said, “the Prophet,” both the delegates from Jerusalem and Yochanan the Immerser understood the reference to be Moshe’s prophecy of Deuteronomy 18. (16)
In describing how “the Prophet” would be like himself, Moshe recalls an experience of his nation that has been memorialized and burned into the Jewish consciousness:
On the morning of the third day, there was thunder, lightning and a thick cloud on the mountain. Then a shofar blast sounded so loudly that all the people in the camp trembled. Moshe brought the people out of the camp to meet God; they stood near the base of the mountain. Mount Sinai was enveloped in smoke, because Adonai descended onto it in fire — its smoke went up like the smoke from a furnace, and the whole mountain shook violently. As the sound of the shofar grew louder and louder, Moshe spoke; and God answered him with a voice. … All the people experienced the thunder, the lightning, the sound of the shofar, and the mountain smoking. When the people saw it, they trembled. Standing at a distance, they said to Moshe, “You, speak with us; and we will listen. But don’t let God speak with us, or we will die.” Exodus 19:16-19, 20:18-19 CJB
Just as Moshe was a mediator between God and the Jewish people, the Messiah would be a mediator between God and man.
For there is one God and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all… 1 Timothy 2:5-6a BSB
Verse 6 in 1 Timothy highlights another way in which Messiah was like Moshe, only more so: “who gave himself as a ransom for all.” While God was giving Moshe the Ten Commandments on the stone tablets Israel was busy breaking all those commandments in their idol worship.
Adonai said to Moshe, “Go down! Hurry! Your people, whom you brought up from the land of Egypt, have become corrupt! So quickly they have turned aside from the way I ordered them to follow! … “I have been watching these people; and you can see how stiffnecked they are. Now leave Me alone, so that My anger can blaze against them, and I can put an end to them! I will make a great nation out of you instead.” Exodus 32:7-10 CJB
First, Moshe interceded for the people:
Moshe pleaded with Adonai his God. He said, “Adonai, why must your anger blaze against your own people, whom you brought out of the land of Egypt with great power and a strong … … Turn from your fierce anger! Relent! Don’t bring such disaster on your people! Remember Avraham, Yitz’chak and Isra’el, your servants, to whom you swore by your very self. You promised them… Adonai then changed his mind about the disaster he had planned for his people. Exodus 32:11-14 CJB
Hebrews 7:25 tells us that Yeshua:
“is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them.”
After seeing the horror of what the people had been doing when he was up the mountain with God, Moshe offered his own life—to take the punishment of the people’s sins on himself if God could find no other way to forgive them. He asked God that his life be an expiation for the sins of the people. As a priest he could have made grandiose offerings—thousands of lambs or bulls—but instead he simply offered his own life. Greater love has no man.
Moshe saw that the people had gotten out of control — because Aharon had allowed them to get out of control, to the derision of their enemies — … … The next day Moshe said to the people, “You have committed a terrible sin. Now I will go up to Adonai ; maybe I will be able to atone for your sin.” Moshe went back to Adonai and said, “Please! These people have committed a terrible sin: they have made themselves a god out of gold. Now, if you will just forgive their sin! But if you won’t, then, I beg you, blot me out of your book which you have written!” Exodus 32:25, 30-32 CJB
God did not accept Moshe’s offer. It could not suffice because he was not spotless. Like Moshe, the Messiah would offer His own life – to take the people’s sins on Himself – and His offer for the Jewish people and all mankind was accepted. Moshe led the people to the promised land but was not allowed to enter himself. Messiah is building us a dwelling in the promised land – He is both the pathway to it and the gate of entry. All that Moshe was the shadow of, Messiah would be the fulfilment of. (17)
Although much of contemporary Jewish thought sees this Prophet not as Messiah but only as Joshua who succeeded Moses in leading Israel, in more ancient times when messianic expectations were high, this passage was understood by the Jews to be referring to their coming Messiah. Rabbi Levi Ben Gershon identified the Prophet as Messiah:
“A Prophet from the midst of thee.’ In fact, the Messiah is such a Prophet as it is stated in the Midrash of the verse, ‘Behold my Servant shall prosper’ (Isaiah 52:13).…Moses, by the miracles which he wrought, brought a single nation to the worship of God, but the Messiah will draw all peoples to the worship of God.
The Midrashic passage that Rabbi Levi Ben Gershon cites, referring to Messiah as Prophet, states:
“It is written, Behold, my servant shall deal wisely, He shall be exalted, and extolled, and be very high (Isaiah 52:13). It means, He shall be more exalted than Abraham of whom it is written, ‘I lift up my hand’ (Genesis 14:22). He shall be more extolled than Moses of whom it is said, ‘As a nursing father beareth the nursing child’ (Numbers 11:12). ‘And shall be very high’—that is, Messiah shall be higher than the ministering angels.
Moshe wrote God’s word: “I will put My words in His mouth, and He will tell them everything I order Him.” (Vs18) Yeshua was doing this and they were not wanting to listen, even though Moshe had written God’s instructions: “You must listen to Him” (Vs15). This Prophet Messiah would speak God’s words in God’s name. “ I have come in My Father’s name and you don’t accept Me;” (John 5:43). Moshe had given the people this warning from God: “Whoever doesn’t listen to My words, which He will speak in My name, will have to account for himself to Me.” So Yeshua said to them:
“But don’t think that it is I who will be your accuser before the Father. Do you know who will accuse you? Moshe, the very one you have counted on! For if you really believed Moshe, you would believe Me; because it was about Me that he wrote. But if you don’t believe what he wrote, how are you going to believe what I say?” John 5:45-47 CJB
These religious leaders who were condemning the act of mercy of healing a crippled man were claiming to be defending Torah, but Yeshua knew them better than they knew themselves and here exposed them so they could see the true nature of their hearts, repent and be saved. What a sad indictment on those who claimed to be showing others the way to God: “I know that you have no love for God in you!” (Vs42)
Having fulfilled Torah in Yerushalayim (Jerusalem), Yeshua left them to contemplate His words and returned to the Galilee region, but not to His hometown of Nazareth. Their rejection of Him became someone else’s blessing. Yeshua was moving to the town of His disciples, from whence He would establish the next phase of His ministry. It appears that the author of the fourth Gospel remained in or around Yerushalayim, maybe serving in the temple, for he tells us nothing of this important next phase of Yeshua’s kingdom reformation.
1. Kohn, Rabbi Daniel. What Are Pilgrimage Festivals? My Jewish Learning. [Online] [Cited: 14th November 2019.] https://www.myjewishlearning.com/article/pilgrimage-festivals/.
2. Carlson, Thomas. Exile to Babylon and Diaspora. Department of Religious Studies, University of California, Santa Barbara. [Online] [Cited: 27th Aug 2016.] http://www.religion.ucsb.edu/faculty/thomas/classes/rgst116b/JewishHistory.html.
3. Christ Visits the Sheep Gate. The Gospel Armor. [Online] 20th February 2014. [Cited: 18th November 2019.] http://thegospelarmor.com/john/christ_visits_the_sheep_gate_john-5_1-2.
4. Wilson, Dr. Ralph F. Healing at the pool of Bethesda. Jesus Walk. [Online] [Cited: 18th Novmber 2019.] http://www.jesuswalk.com/john/11_bethesda.htm.
5. Slonim, Rivkah. The Mikvah. The Jewish Woman. [Online] [Cited: 18th November 2019.] https://www.chabad.org/theJewishWoman/article_cdo/aid/1541/jewish/The-Mikvah.htm.
6. Lamm, Rabbi Maurice. The Mikveh’s Significance in Traditional Conversion. My Jewish Learning. [Online] [Cited: 18th November 2019.] https://www.myjewishlearning.com/article/why-immerse-in-the-mikveh/.
7. Friedlander, Marty. Why Jews Immerse in the Mikveh. Haaretz. [Online] 1st November 2015. [Cited: 18th November 2019.] https://www.haaretz.com/jewish/why-jews-immerse-in-the-mikveh-1.5416019.
8. Encyclopedia Judaica. Shabbat: What is Shabbat? Jewish Virtual Library. [Online] [Cited: 24th November 2019.] https://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/what-is-shabbat-jewish-sabbath.
9. MJL. The Significance of Shabbat. My Jewish Learning. [Online] [Cited: 24th November 2019.] https://www.myjewishlearning.com/article/shabbat-themes-and-theology/.
10. Young. The Works of Philo. Early Christian Writings. [Online] [Cited: 28th November 2019.] http://www.earlychristianwritings.com/yonge/book2.html.
11. Sadananda, Daniel Rathnakara. The Johannine Exegesis of God: An Exploration into the Johannine Understanding of God. New York : Walter de Gruyter, 2014.
12. Lizorkin-Eyzenberg, Eliyahu. The Jewish Gospel of John: Discovering Jesus, King of All Israel. s.l. : Jewish New Testament, 2015.
13. Thompson, Marianne Meye. The Promis of the Father: Jesus and God in the New Testament. 2000.
14. Huntress, Erminie. “Son of God” in Jewish Writings Prior to the Christian Era. 2, s.l. : The Society of Biblical Literature, June 1935, Journal of Biblical Literature, Vol. 54, pp. Pp. 117-123. 10.2307/3259680.
15. Goshen-Gottstein, Alon. God the Father in Rabbinic Judaism and Christianity: Transformed Background or Common Ground? Jewish Christian Relations | Articles | Scholarly Contributions. [Online] 30th September 2003. [Cited: 29th November 2019.] http://www.jcrelations.net/God+the+Father+in+Rabbinic+Judaism+and+Christianity%3A+Transformed+Background+or+Common+Ground%3F.2771.0.html?L=3.
16. Pritchard, Ray. A Prophet Like Moses. Keep Believing Ministries. [Online] 8th December 2008. [Cited: 30th November 2019.] http://www.keepbelieving.com/sermon/a-prophet-like-moses/.
17. Rosen, Moishe. A Prophet Like Unto Moses. Jews for Jesus. [Online] [Cited: 2nd December 2019.] https://jewsforjesus.org/publications/issues/issues-v11-n04/a-prophet-like-unto-moses/.
In the comments section below share your thoughts on what you have read and answer some of the following questions…
* Compare the Jewish pilgrimage festivals with the festivals in your culture.
* Compare the preparations undertaken to enter the temple with any preparations undertaken to enter your church.
* How do we become clean and pure before God?
* What laws has your church or denomination made out of what scripture teaches?
* What traditions and customs have been established in your community, church or denomination?
* If Jesus was walking in your community today how do you think He would respond to your religious laws and customs?
* The crippled man appears to have been totally focused on himself, yet Jesus healed him anyway. Did he do anything to earn his healing or to attract Jesus to him to heal him?
* How would you describe God’s mercy?