Why Would “the Jews” Want To Kill Jesus? (john 5.18)

18 This was why hoi Ioudaioi were seeking all the more to kill him, because not only was he “breaking” the Sabbath, but he was even calling God his own Father, making himself equal with God.

(Please, make sure to read this post in the context of the overall study – you can find it here. Especially, the sections covered in John 5.2-17).

How can their strong negative language, expressing their intent to kill him, be explained?  We read that hoi Ioudaioi  (normally and incorrectly translated simply as “the Jews”) sought to kill Jesus (vs.18). It is known that in the vast majority of premeditated murder cases, the actions of the murderer were based on feelings of anger that eventually led to the murder itself. This is probably why Jesus taught that in some way anger towards a fellow human is the same as actual murder.

When people become (and stay very) angry for a long period of time they often cannot bear the heavy burden of their anger. They seek to take some action that will satisfy and nullify the anger that causes them so much emotional pain. They must end the pain that their own anger causes them. The stronger the anger; the stronger is the desire to end it. In the absence of a better way, people resort to evil actions such as violence and even murder.

The issue was not that Jesus did not abide by the Sabbath-keeping rulings of hoi Ioudaioi. Judaism in the time of Jesus was not monolithic. It is probably better to speak in terms of many Judaisms rather than one, given the wide variety of Jewish observance practices and scriptural interpretation that existed at that time. Only in the 5th – 7th centuries C.E. can we speak of Jewish rabbinic leadership solidifying its authority over the Jewish community. The rabbis were engaged in setting forth an authoritative corpus of rabbinic literature that would determine the interpretation of the Hebrew Bible/Old Testament for the rest of the Jewish community for centuries to come. They did very much succeed, but only centuries later.

Incidentally, the word in Greek translated here as “breaking” the Sabbath does not need to be translated this way. It is equally possible to speak of Jesus “setting the Sabbath free.” It is not that the author of John thought Jesus was breaking the Sabbath. He in fact was persuaded that Jesus could not break the command of his own, so by definition, Jesus could not be everything John said he was and at the same time to be a Sabbath-breaker. But, in John’s story, hoi Iudaioi accused him of breaking the Sabbath. Because they were seeking to discredit him in the eyes of the people whose heart-allegiance they did not possess and whose rebellion they still feared.

Jesus’ very presence (His person) as well as his teachings (His words) and his miracles (His deeds) were spelling trouble for the Jerusalem Temple elite and others who fed off the same budget and status. Jesus was gaining more and more popular following. He was performing miracles and giving prophetic speeches almost exclusively outside of Judea, (the headquarters of hoi Ioudaioi) where, for the most part, he was accepted and honored. He, as a matter of principle, did not respond to their requests to submit to their authority. He was rightly perceived by them to be a real threat; but most importantly, he was a threat to their personal status and their personal financial resources that were associated with the Jerusalem Temple.

In the chapter 5, however, the anger and plans to kill Jesus are only beginning. They pick up when Jesus will cross the red line of the patience and tolerance of the hoi Ioudaioi. The final threat of Jesus to the hoi Ioudaioi leadership will be his most spectacular miracle – the resurrection of the well-known and respected member of the hoi Ioudaioi, a man named Eliezar. (We know him as Lazarus.)

We read in a later portion of the Gospel that Jesus’ coming to Bethany (very near Jerusalem) and resurrecting Lazarus resulted in two significant events. Many members of hoi Ioudaioi placed their faith in Jesus. As a result, an emergency meeting of the top level of the leadership was called. In John 11:47-48, we read: “… the chief priests and the Pharisees gathered the council and said, “What are we to do? For this man performs many signs. If we let him go on like this, everyone will believe in him, and the Romans will come and take away both our place and our nation.”

We will look at this story in detail when we get to chapter 11, but for now, it is clear that the accusations of hoi Ioudaioi in chapter 5 did not have to do with Jesus’ seemingly “liberal” Sabbath observance, but with his person, words and deeds.

It is not that his claims to be the Son of Man/Logos of God did not have a place in Judaisms of the time, but simply that Jesus was not allowed to take that place. Stop and think about it again. It was not because “divine Messiah” claim did not fit “the Jewish” thinking spectrum (see the links), it was precisely because it did. That was the problem!

The Jerusalem leaders did the math. If things continue “as is,” Jesus would surely have put them out of a job with his prophetic speeches that were validated by his great miracles. In the next sections we will see how Jesus’ roles will merge two normally separate concepts, the Son of God and the Son of Man. We will consider John 5.19-30 in its ancient literary and poetic context. I think you will be amazed!

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© By Eli Lizorkin-Eyzenberg, Ph.D.

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  1. gustavo vargas angel

    Dear Dr.: I repeat/clarify my point: Jesus did like to talk in parables, where from was/is get the inner teaching, which, besides, sometimes is dual; then, if apostles had to ask him the meaning many times, is possible to get a second explanation, beyond the first one, almost in plain sight?

    1. Dr. Eli Lizorkin-Eyzenberg

      of course. remember that the parables were also meant to separate those who had the ears to hear from those who did not.

  2. gilbert singh

    yeshua Is the light and salvation so g-d Adonay made his son yeshua to come down to expose the jealous people that believed in G-d but did not Really have G-D in there heart’s so only those type of people would come out of the discrete hidden places to complaint against yeshua so yeshua brought them 2 the light praise G-d Adonay & yeshua AMEN.

  3. kostya

    Shalom Dr Eli! I refer to Tony Lanclos’ comment and your reply to him. I wonder whether it is a sufficient explanation of the actual text, which says that they wanted to kill him because ‘he was even calling God his own Father, making himself equal with God’, to say that ‘oi Iudaioi’ believed in a divine Messiah but were too threatened to accept Jesus as him. Do we know how they understood that divinity? Do you think it is possible that as well as the threat to them and their position, that Jesus’ words and deeds were also a threat to their understanding of who the Messiah was, especially in His relationship to the Father, and John picks up on this? Can you comment please?

    1. Dr. Eli Lizorkin-Eyzenberg

      Shalom, Kostya. Thank you as always for your thoughtful comment. I think the evidence is ample from the variety of holy writ and para-holy writ literature of the time that pre-Christian Judaism did not have a problem with divine Messiah. So, while I think it would be a stretch to say that “hoi Ioudaioi rejected Jesus, even though they believed in the divine Messiah”, it would not be a stretch to say that “Jesus’ divine Messiah claims did not contradict a significant stream within Ancient Judaism”. The key to understanding this is to see that there was no and to some degree there is still no halachic teaching about the Messiah in Judaism of then and in Judaism of now.

  4. Rick Moorefield

    Truth is the issue here. Pilate knew they had delivered Him up for envy (Matt 27:18)because Jesus had The Holy Spirit without measure and was doing the Works of The Father. The Pharisees and Sadducees were pretenders who were in cohoots with Rome to keep the Jews in line. Only the righteous Pharisees (Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimithea) sought Jesus because they recognized He was sent from Almighty GOD. The common people heard Him gladly (Mark 12:37). The raising of Lazarus was the piece de resistance’, and the Pharisees knew that they had to do something dramatic. The issues of Shabbat were smokescreens when the real issue was the He was the Son of God, they couldn’t refute Him at all, so they arranged to have Him killed.

    1. Dr. Eli Lizorkin-Eyzenberg

      Rick, I think you are right in your summary. I especially like that you don’t make Jews and Pharisees to be one group. This is one of my main points! Not all Pharisees were part of hoi Ioudaioi! To be part of hoi Ioudaioi you need to be connected with authority of Jerusalem. Actually in John 11:46 (when Jesus ressurects Eliazer/Lazarus – a member of hoi Ioudaioi) we are told that hoi Ioudaoi (jews in most translations) went to Pharisees! (“but some of them went to the Pharisees and told them what Jesus had done.”)

  5. ruth hirt

    The position of Jesus Christ with unbelievers was circuitous and complicated particularly when they willfully set aside or disregarded Scriptural prophecies. If there were those who truly were obsessed in eliminating HIM, it was because of their fear of getting subverted from their age-old practices and traditions, which Christ Jesus had made them realize the error of mis-applying them, at least in their hearts.

    Thank you very much for the blog, Dr. Eli.

    1. Dr. Eli Lizorkin-Eyzenberg

      Ruth, I respectfully disagree. I think you are missing the point. Unless of course I missed your point 🙂

      Dr. Eli

  6. Carmencita Lu

    Thank you very much for this topics, Dr.Eli, a very important passages in the Bible. I think,as you have said,the reason why the Jews hated Jesus so much,to the point, they wanted to kill him is because Jesus is a threat for them and a law-breaker.They couldn’t accept the facts Jesus has a power and they don’t have any.They were the teachers, and yet, who is this man Jesus? Teaching people and heal them despite Jesus is younger of age than them.

    1. Dr. Eli Lizorkin-Eyzenberg

      Dear Carmencita, shalom! I think I agree with you with one point. I would advice against using “the Jews” for hoi Ioudaioi, please, read my introduciton http://iibsblogs.wpengine.com/samaritan-jewish-commentary-on-gospel-of-john/ I think it is a mistake to translate hoi Ioudaioi in the Gospel of John as the Jews. What John meant by the Jews is not what we today mean by the Jews.

  7. edwin

    Thanks Dr. Eli a powerful comment about the gospel of john and I know that the seven day is not abolish, as many believe today. Jesus never broke the law of god, he taught us how to observed it, doing good on that day. shalom

    1. Dr. Eli Lizorkin-Eyzenberg

      Edwin, I am with you :-). Dr. Eli

  8. Jeff Martin

    Dr. Eli

    I enjoyed this teaching. I think you are right to say that him depending on something other than God to heal him was his sin.

    If by “setting the Sabbath free” you mean “relaxing the requirements” I agree.

    1. Dr. Eli Lizorkin-Eyzenberg

      Your first point I think refers to a different post perhaps the one that discusses the greek god Asclepeus. About your second point, I don’t know what it means exactly, I just know that the word in greek can also be translated as setting something free not just breaking. Trust this helps.

  9. R. G. Montgomery

    Ah. Thanks for the clarification. All I have right now is Strong’s Concordance. Which underscores the need to further (fully?) understand the language.

    Right now I’m working through the ‘Biblical Hebrew’ class and I’m confused enough. (Languages are not my spiritual gift, I fear.) Once I’m done with the Hebrew course – and I feel some degree of competence and confidence – I’ll probably jump into Greek. (Finances affect the decision as well.)

    In the meanwhile, I’ll keep reading your blog here and see what I can learn. Thanks again.

    1. Dr. Eli Lizorkin-Eyzenberg

      We will be thrilled to have as our Greek student too! Keep up the good work and if you like share my blog with your blog readers. Thanks and blessings, Dr. Eli