The Messiah’s Authority over the Sabbath

Three events marked by controversy (two healings and picking of grain) manifest Christ’s authority over
the Sabbath.

Healing on the Sabbath (John 5:1-47). On the occasion of an unnamed Jewish feast (probably
Passover), Jesus made His way from Galilee to Jerusalem. In Galilee, the Pharisees veiled their
antagonism to Jesus. Now that Christ was in Jerusalem where His popularity would be nowhere as great,
the antagonism broke out into the open. The occasion for this antagonism was the Sabbath question.

The Sabbath was divinely instituted as a sign of the covenant between God and His people Israel (Exodus
31:13, 17). It observance marked Israel as a set-apart people. At the Pool of Bethesda by the Sheep Gate,
Jesus heals a man who had been thirty-eight years in his sickness. Jesus said to him, “Get up! Pick up
your mat and walk.” The Jews immediately began to question the healed man about the One who had
authorized him to violate their traditions of carry any burden on the Sabbath day.

The man did not know who Jesus was and could not identify Him. While he was in the Temple, Jesus
approached him and revealed Himself to him. The man left the Temple and became a public witness to
Christ. As a result, the Jews persecuted Jesus because He did these things on the Sabbath (John 5:16).
Christ’s defense in the face of the Jews’ accusation was “My Father is always at his work to this very day,
and I, too, am working” (5:17). Jesus claimed God to be His Father and this was blasphemy in the eyes
of the Jews. According to Mosaic Law, the penalty for both blasphemy and Sabbath violation was death
by stoning. And for this reason they tried all the harder to kill Him (5:18).

The authority that had been given to Him was proof of His person (5:19). The Jews recognized that God
had the power to give life as Creator and the One who would give life to the righteous in the resurrection
(Isaiah 26:19-20; Daniel 12:2). Now Christ claimed that God the Father had given power to the Son to
raise men from the dead (John 5:21). Secondly, the Jews recognized that God the Father had the power to
judge all men. Christ claimed that this authority to judge had been conferred by the Father on the Son
(5:22). Thus the authority invested by the Father in the Son proved the equality of the Son with the
Father.

Christ affirmed that He would in due time exercise the authority that the Father had invested in Him. In
John 5:25, He said, “I tell you the truth, a time is coming and has now come when the dead will hear the
voice of the Son of God and those who hear will live.” In John 5:27, He said, “And he has given him
authority to judge because he is the Son of Man.” Here Christ claims to be “the Son of God” and “the
Son of Man.” The first title was less common on the lips of Jesus, but was used by the disciples.

Christ anticipated the objection of His opponents that He was bearing witness of Himself (5:31); so He
presented five other witnesses to His Person.

1. The witness of John the Baptizer (John 5:33-35).
2. The testimony of His works (5:36).
3. The witness of the Father (5:37-38).
4. The witness of the Scriptures (5:39).
5. The testimony of Moses (5:45-47).

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