What Was The Real Reason For The Persecution Of Jesus By “the Jews”? (john 5.9-17 )

Now that day was the Sabbath. 10 So the Jews said to the man who had been healed, “It is the Sabbath, and it is not lawful for you to take up your bed.” 11 But he answered them, “The man who healed me, that man said to me, ‘Take up your bed, and walk.’ ” 12 They asked him, “Who is the man who said to you, ‘Take up your bed and walk’?” 13 Now the man who had been healed did not know who it was, for Jesus had withdrawn, as there was a crowd in the place. 14 Afterward Jesus found him in the temple and said to him, “See, you are well! Sin no more, that nothing worse may happen to you.” 15 The man went away and told the Jews that it was Jesus who had healed him.

It was the Sabbath day. We read in verse 10 that once Jesus healed the man, commanding him “to get up, pick up his bed and walk” hoi Iudaioi objected to the man carrying his rolled up mattress because of the Sabbath. The man who was healed implicated Jesus when he said “that man who healed me commanded me to do so.”  When asked, he could not identify by name or give a description of Jesus. Everything had happened so quickly. He was healed and then Jesus simply disappeared in the crowd.  Some time later the man encountered Jesus in the Jewish temple complex.  Jesus warned him that unless he begins to live a righteous life the sickness could return. (verses 9-14)

Jesus’ comment about the man’s sin seems to be uncharacteristic of Jesus. The comment is unlike most his interaction with those he healed or helped in some way. From this, I conclude that either the reference was made to something particular in connection to this man’s past that Jesus knew or the more probable option is that the man, being Jewish, had succumbed to adulterous involvement in Greek religious worship. Jesus’ reference to the man’s sin was related to the location where Jesus found him – the pool of Bethesda – the pool dedicated to the healing power of Greek god Asclepius (Make sure to read the preveious discussions if you have not already).

The man who was healed most likely was not happy with Jesus’ rebuke and therefore went to the hoi Iudaioi to tell them who Jesus was. It is a possibility that the man went to the hoi Iudaioi because of his naiveté. However, the natural reading of the story seems to communicate that the healed man reported Jesus to the authorities because of Jesus’ earlier rebuke.

16 And this was why the Jews were persecuting Jesus, because he was doing these things on the Sabbath. 17 But Jesus answered them, “My Father is working until now, and I am working.”

The Temple leadership had heard of the rising popularity of Jesus whom they had rejected. Further incidents occurred that exacerbated the situation. The conflict between Jesus and the hoi Iudaioi intensified and became increasingly visible. In this passage, Jesus did something unthinkable for the hoi Iudaioi. He went to a Greek Temple complex where the god Asclepius was worshiped and healed a Jew who had lost all hope of ever being whole. Jesus demonstrated his full authority over sickness and, as the Jewish prophets of old, put to shame the false claims of pagan worshipers.

The hoi Iudaioi’s authority, popularity and communal influence were threatened to the core by this unprecedented challenge issued by Jesus to the temple authorities. This often happens in life. Frequently when a pioneer in any field has taken a strong lead over others, the challenged and threatened establishment attempts to launch an attack on the challenger’s character.

In this case, they attempted to disown what was most dear to Jesus himself in the context of his life – obedience to the Mosaic Law, the Law that Israel’s God had given to his people. The hoi Iudaioi attacked him, criticizing him on the issue of one of the most important things in the life of the everyday Jew – Sabbath observance.

But there’s more here than first meets the eye. In verse 16 we read that “this was why the Jews were persecuting Jesus, because he was doing these things on the Sabbath.” In most interpretations of this story, the emphasis is placed on the Sabbath, so we read “this was why the Jews were persecuting Jesus, because he was doing these things on the Sabbath.” But what if we are simply placing the emphasis on a wrong word? What if the sentence should instead be read, “this was why the Jews were persecuting Jesus, because he was doing these things on the Sabbath.”

In other words, the issue really was not that Jesus was “not Sabbath-observant.” There were thousands of Jews and other peoples in Jerusalem at that time who were not Sabbath-observant. The issue was that Jesus was demonstrating his incredible miracle working power; the power that demonstrated his unprecedented connection with the divine. The influence of the hoi Iudaioi was jeopardized already. Now it was jeopardized even more. What Jesus did was not acceptable, by any stretch of the imagination.  Jesus stepped into the abode of god Asclepius and healed someone who had been ill for many years.  In other words, the Jerusalem Temple authorities knew that Jesus couldn’t continue performing such powerful miracles without them losing their authority over Jewish communities in Judea and abroad. Therefore, they falsely accused him of breaking the laws of the Holy Sabbath. The Sabbath was not the reason for the hatred of Jesus. His miracles, especially the miracle in the Greek Temple, were the reason.

In verse 17 we read that Jesus defended himself by referring to a well-known concept in Jewish tradition – God rested on Sabbath day. After the initial creation described in Genesis, He has continued to do some work on each the Sabbath day ever since. Jesus therefore stated: “My Father is working until now, and I am working.” The logic was very simple. If children are born on the Sabbath day then it means that God works to give them life on the Sabbath day. Therefore, Jesus’ reasoning was already accepted by many Jews as a Jewish Torah-observant opinion and an honorable life-style for  fellow practicing Jews.

As we will see shortly, the problems here are connected with Jesus’ other claims. Jesus did not only claim general sonship of God, but argued that he had a unique and particularly close relationship with the Heavenly Father. He was the Son and therefore equal to God in some very important senses. This claim was rightly perceived by hoi Iudaioi as a threat to their standing in the community; to their ability to lead, influence and control. Regrettably, the leadership (hoi Iudaioi) reached the conclusion that at all costs they must stop Jesus. Jesus was becoming too dangerous to them. Something needed to be done to discredit him and stop his gathering momentum.

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© By Eli Lizorkin-Eyzenberg, Ph.D.

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  1. keishera sorrell

    its a nice website

  2. Dong Hee Oh

    Thank you, Dr. Eli

    1. Dr. Eli Lizorkin-Eyzenberg

      You are most welcome!

  3. Dong Hee Oh

    Dear Dr. Eli;
    Please accept my poor English skill.
    I will do my best though.
    When Jesus talked v17 ““My Father is working until now, and I am working.”
    How could The Jews understand “my Father” as “Heavenly God”?

    1. Dr. Eli Lizorkin-Eyzenberg

      I make plenty of mistakes on this blog myself not being a native English speaker. So no worries. I think the answer to your question is yes, “of course.” However do make sure to go back to the beginning of my work on John to trace the question who the Jews in John are then a lot of things will be become more clear – http://iibsblogs.wpengine.com

  4. Peter

    Thanks for that revelations.

    1. Dr. Eli Lizorkin-Eyzenberg

      Thank you, Peter. Blessings, Dr. Eli

  5. […] detail when we get to chapter 11, but for now, it is clear that the accusations of hoi Iudaioi in chapter 5 did not have to do with Jesus’ seemingly “liberal” Sabbath observance, but with his … It is not that his claims to be the Son of Man/Logos of God did not have a place in Judaisms of the […]

  6. theresa cawood

    I fully agree with dr Stefano. They saw the rule – “don not”, and missed the miracle – and salvation! The miracle at the end of previous chapter was about the healing of a non Jew, the child of the Rome soldier. They believed because of the miracle and he and his family where saved. Ironically the Jewish man as well as his elders did not believe and missed salvation. Paul said G-d will use the gentiles to make His people jealous. It happens here, in the time of Jesus, without success. Is it still happening?

  7. Dr. Stefano Giliberti

    Dear Dr. Eli,

    I refer to your comment on John 5, 9-17 just to tell you that I appreciate a lot your comment and agree with your statement according to which the man’s healing demonstrated “his incredible miracle working power”, i.e. “his unprecedented connection with the divine”, referred to Jesus, and thus that “the Jerusalem Temple authorities knew that Jesus couldn’t continue performing such powerful miracles without them losing their authority over Jewish communities in Judea and abroad”.

    This is confirmed by what can be considered Jesus’ greatest miracle: Lazarus’ resurrection. Actually, we can read in John 11, 47-48: ” So the Pharisees and the chief priests met with the Council and said: What shall we do? Look at all the miracles this man is performing! If we let him go on in this way, everyone will believe in him…” and in John 11, 53: “From that day on the Jewish authorithies made plans to kill Jesus” (GNB- Good News Bible).
    Regrettably, their authority became more important than the evidence of Jesus’ miracle working power… What a pity!… The history could have been completely different…
    Once again, thank you very much for your service in Jewish Studies for Christians.
    My best wishes for your life!
    Stefano Giliberti
    Dr. engineer

  8. Kristine Holland

    If one contextualizes this situation into 21st century terminology perhaps ‘professional jealousy’ is the correct diagnosis. (Refer to article) http://japansskk.org/philosophy/

    1. Dr. Eli Lizorkin-Eyzenberg

      It was not just that, but it played a very significant part in my opinion. By the way Paharisees should not be all lumbed together as your article seem to emply. Remember that many believe (John 11) and there are those who speak on Jesus’ bahalf!

  9. Michael Browne

    Thank you Eli. As you say, looking at John 5.16, the Greek text seems to put the emphasis on the phrase “these things”. So really this was doubly threatening to the Jewish leaders: he was doing “those things”, and he was doing them on the Sabbath. Which is why Jesus defended himself as he did in v.17 – covering both objections in the one statement!

  10. Dr. Eli Lizorkin-Eyzenberg

    I would very much welcome your comments and questions. Dr. Eli