The Healing of the Blind Man
Dr. S. Lewis Johnson, Jr., is a Bible teacher at Believers Chapel, Dallas, Texas.
This is the sixth in his series of studies on the seven signs of the our Lord Jesus Christ recorded in John’s Gospel prior to His death, burial and resurrection (see John 20:30-31).
Scripture Reading: John 9:1-7
In the story of the healing of the man born blind, found in John chapter nine, we have one of the apostle’s most vivid and complete portraits of the Lord’s ministry. And what a colorful man the blind fellow was! He is undoubtedly one of the most interesting, arresting, and delightful characters in the New Testament.
The chapter is founded upon two things. First of all, there is the saying about light in verse five, “As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.” Light is one of the common figures of the Bible. It is often seen as that which exposes darkness, or in the moral sense that which exposes sin. It, therefore, is also that which presages grace, and it is in the sense of the revelation of divine grace that it is found in this chapter (cf. . 1 Pet. 2:9; John 1:11-13).
And, second, the chapter rests upon the sign of the healing of the man, and in this with the following account of conversations with the Jews there is revealed the power of the Lord to save and to judge (cf. v. 39; 12:46-48; 3:19).
When one thinks of the overall purpose of the gospel in the light of the author’s intent to set forth the Lord Jesus as the Messiah, it is clear that one of the major purposes of the chapter is to make the point that Jesus is the one toward whom the Old Testament was looking. He performs the works that the Messiah was to do when He came. For instance, in speaking of the Messianic times Isaiah wrote, “And in that day shall the deaf hear the words of the book, and the eyes of the blind shall see out of obscurity, and out of darkness” (29:18). And again, “Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf shall be unstopped” (35:5). The prophet also says that the purpose of the Messiah’s ministry shall be “to open the blind eyes, to bring out the prisoners from the prison, and them that sit in darkness out of the prison house” (42: 7; cf. Luke 4:18). The opening of the eyes of the blind is associated in the Old Testament with God Himself (cf. Psa. 146:8; Exod. 4:11), and the fact that our Lord performed the work is a further testimony to His deity.
My outline in this message is a rather simple one, as the reader will see. It will not be as impressive as the country preacher’s who, wishing to be sure his audience got the point of the incident, said he had three points:
“I. The Man Was Blind.
II. The Man Was Stone Blind.
III. The Man Couldn’t See at All”
The Circumstances of the Healing
The place and time (John 9:1). The “and” of verse one merely connects the chapters, that is, chapter nine with chapter eight. It seems clear from the statements in chapter ten, verses nineteen through verse twenty-two that the incident took place in Jerusalem and at the time of the feast of dedication. That feast commemorated the cleansing of the temple and altar by Judas Maccabaeus in 165 or 164 B.C. It resembled in its ritual features of the Feast of Tabernacles, although it differed from the great feasts in that it could be celebrated outside of Jerusalem. It is known by the Jews and most Gentiles as Hanukkah, and it is celebrated usually in the month of December.
The people involved (John 9:1). The two people singled out for special mention are our Lord and the man, who is said to have been “blind from his birth.”
One surely cannot fail to see, since this miracle is another of John’s “signs,” that his physical condition suggests the condition of the natural man, the man without Christ. As the Scriptures so plainly point out, we, too, are spiritually blind, blind from birth (cf. Eph. 2:3; 4:18; 1 Cor. 2:14) .
The Conversation With the Disciples
The request of the disciples (John 9:2). Evidently the disciples of our Lord were accompanying Him when He saw the blind man, and they sought to satisfy their curiosity concerning a theological problem, which they had often pondered. They asked Him, “Master, who did sin, this man, or his parents, that he was born blind?”
The background of the question is clear. It was the Jewish view that all suffering was traceable to some specific sin. Now upon reflection it is easy to see that the fact that persons were occasionally born blind would pose a serious theological question. What was their specific sin? How could they be guilty of such?
In fact, there were current three theories regarding sin and suffering. One was reincarnation, and it was thought to have some support from ideas reflected in Matthew 16:13. A second theory had to do with the law of heredity, reflected in such passages as Exodus 20:5 and 34:6, 7. Sins of parents may be seen in the experiences of the children. The case of Job ought to have argued against too complete an application of this biblical principle. And, finally, it was argued by some that a man could sin before he was born, and Genesis 25:22 was said to reflect that. The general principle, as one can see, is that present sins have a link with the past. As Rabbi Ammi said, “There is no death without sin, and there is no suffering without iniquity.”1
There were differences of opinion among the rabbis, however. As Strachan says, “Rabbi Elisha b. Abija (c. A.D. 120) deals with the instance of a pregnant mother who enters an idol’s temple, and smells a sacrifice. The odour penetrated her body like the poison of a snake. He rules that the unborn child did not sin. The mother is responsible for her child’s later apostasy from the true faith. (S.M. II, p. 528).”2
To the disciples, then, the blind man was a subject for theological reflection and analysis, and it is quite easy to understand their desire for answers from the Lord.
The reply of the Lord (John 9:3-5). In effect, the Lord rejects all the speculations of the men of the day. He replies to his disciples, “Neither hath this man sinned, nor his parents: but that the works of God should be made manifest in him” (v. 3). All suffering, it is true, is ultimately from sin, the sin of our parents in the Garden of Eden (cf. Rom. 5:12). But there may be other more proximate reasons for sin, some of which are not the result of specific sin (cf. 11:4; 21:19; 2 Cor. 12:9, etc.).
Sometimes suffering takes place in order that the occasion may ultimately bring glory to God by reason of that which He brings to pass through it. In the final analysis, of course, in the experiences of life we can rest on Romans 8:28 (cf. 11:36). We may not understand God’s purposes now, but we know that they are for our ultimate blessing and His glory.
Mr. Spurgeon often told of the old believer who had been born blind. When speaking one day with another believer he said, “You know, I have so much more to give thanks for than you.” The other man was astonished and said, “What! More than I? Why, I have been able to see for years.” The blind man replied, “Oh, yes; but you have had to see so many things which may have been disagreeable and distressing, so many faces which were unkind and angry and unholy, but the first face that I shall ever see will be the face of my blessed Saviour, who loved me and gave Himself for me. Thus, you see, I have so much more to be thankful for than you.”
Jesus goes on, in effect, and says that the man’s condition really calls for action and not discussion, for he continues, “I must work the works of Him that sent me, while it is day: the night cometh, when no man can work” (v. 4). In the original text it is not “I must work,” but we must work (the older manuscripts have the plural we). It is an illustration of grace that the disciples are included with Him, for it is He who performs the spiritual works that please God (cf. 15:5, “without me ye can do nothing”). The words are a general statement of ministry, teaching that one must be diligent in service while alive.
In the final verse of this section Jesus says, “As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world” (v. 5). Cf. 8:12. This is a special statement of ministry, and it finds its illustration in the following healing action as the opening words of verse six, “When He had thus spoken,” indicate.
The Cure of the Blind Man
The means of the healing (John 9:6-7). The means that Jesus employed in the healing are described in this way, “He spat on the ground, and made clay of the spittle, and He anointed the eyes of the blind man with the clay, and said unto him, Go wash in the pool of Siloam.” Various explanations have been offered. The means was chosen, some say, to impress upon the man that the healing power came from Jesus. Since saliva was often thought to possess healing power, some think that He wished to use those healing powers. Strachan writes, “It is a very ancient belief that saliva contains and conveys something of a man’s own personality. This survives in a curious way in the phrase, ‘the spit of his father’ (cf. ‘c’est son pere toute crache’). Saliva was thought to have healing properties.”3
Still others have said that He used the method to make the man more completely blind, in order that he might appreciate the cure more deeply. And, finally, it has been suggested that the use of the clay was designed to symbolize the fact that man was made from the dust of the earth.
William Hendrikson said, “If an answer must be given, it may be said that the Lord probably used this method in order to induce the proper attitude of heart and mind; i.e. to bring about perfect obedience, that type of submission which carries out a seemingly arbitrary command.”4
The meaning of the healing (John 9:6-7). It is possible that the clay symbolized a creative act, since it might remind the man and others of that described in Genesis 2:7, when man was made from the dust of the earth. Did it perhaps suggest the incarnation, our Lord’s taking of humanity to Himself? It is difficult to be sure of this.
The command, “Go, wash in the pool of Siloam,” is easier to fathom. The spring of Siloam flows from the hill of the Temple and forms a pool at the foot of that hill. For this reason Isaiah in chapter eight and verse six of his work uses Siloam and its waters as symbolic of the blessings that flow from the temple, or the place where God symbolically resides, as over against the strong waters of the brute force of the foes of the theocracy of Israel. Its waters flowed from an ever-flowing fountain. The word Siloam, from the Hebrew Shalach, seems to mean the Sent One (cf. John 3:17, 34; 5:36, 37; 6:57; 7:19; 8:18; 26, 29, etc.). Thus, it is beautifully suggestive of the Lord Himself, and particularly as He is presented in John, where He appears so often as One sent from God. As such He is the source of divine blessing, the mediator between God and men.
Harrison comments, “The earthly life of Jesus was like the waters of the pool, well-known, visible. But his goings forth were from eternity. The Jews could not see beyond Nazareth, and they were offended in him. Because the deity found expression through the humanity, the Jews made the mistake of seeing only the humanity. They were not willing to explore the source of the pool.”5
Siloam also has figured in the famous statement of John 7:37-39, because it was on one of the days of the Feast of Tabernacles when the statement was made, and it was customary for the priests to go to Siloam, obtain water, return and pour it out at the base of the altar on each day of the celebration of that feast. By the cry of our Lord at that time He claimed to be the One of whom the water from the pool of Siloam spoke, the One who gave water to Israel miraculously at the time of the Exodus.
The resultant meaning of the command of our Lord, if we strip away the historical for the symbolical, seems to be simply this: Go, wash in the Word of the Sent One, who is the Eternal One, whose life comes from a source hidden from men, but who alone can heal. Cf. 15:3; Psa. 119:130.
Contrary to the pattern of Naaman, the Syrian, who blew his stack, when asked by Elisha to go and wash in the Jordan River seven times for the cleansing of his leprosy (cf. 2 Kings 5:1-27), the man born blind “went his way therefore, and washed, and came seeing” (v. 7). As someone has said, “There was obedience when obedience was not easy; there was faith, where faith looked fantastic and grotesque.”6
The climax of the sign is found in the words that conclude verse seven. The blind man “came seeing.” Faith had opened to him a new world, and it will do that to all who believingly respond to the words of the Lord Jesus Christ.
How different the miracles of our Lord are from the false ones claimed by “healers” today. The “healers” and the “wonder-workers” of today are like the prophets of Baal, who cried, “O Baal, hear us,” but nothing happened. This was illustrated again a few years ago, when the followers of Harry Houdini met again in New York to see again if the famous magician, who died in 1926 on Halloween (how appropriate!), would make contact with them from the other world. He had promised that he would keep in touch with the spirit world. In November a group of magicians gathered at the Magic Towne in New York City. With fog flowing from a garbage can filled with dry ice, the magicians gathered round one another and joined hands. Dick Brooks, the editor of Hocus Pocus magazine, acted as medium and called out, “Oh Houdini, we are gathered here to ask for a sign if it is possible for you to return. Give us a sign,” he urged, perspiration beading on his upper lip. Nothing.
“Please give us a sign, oh Houdini, that you are here … One sign, one time.”
Nothing, and there never will be anything. “Oh Houdini, give us a sign,” will never have an answer. The “signs” have been given by the Lord Jesus Christ in token of His Messiahship and Saviorhood, and through them men are pointed to the only One who can save, as John expounds (cf. 20:30-31).
The man blind from birth is a picture of human hopelessness. He was, thus, a favorable opportunity for a divine work. He did not need new glasses, the new glasses of reformation. He did not need vision correction, the vision correction of education and culture. He certainly had no need for the eye salve of religion. What he needed were new eyes, and they could only come by a new creative work, the creative work of the power of the Lord Jesus Christ, illustrative of the new spiritual birth which He brings to those who are the objects of the work of God in regeneration and faith. Cf. 3:3, 7. Jesus was right, we must be born again.
The chapter is a lovely picture of a seeking Savior. It was the grace of God that led to the work of healing and of redemption. The divine initiative is suggested in the fact that it was Jesus who “saw” (cf. v. 1) the man as He passed by, providing the opportunity for the questions from the disciples and the healing that followed. As one commentator said, “The Lord was interested in the man long before he was interested in Jesus.”7
And, finally, the incident affords a very illuminating picture of an omnipotent Saviour, master of the fate of humans. When He touches the eyes of our blindness, we see and sing,
“Amazing grace, how sweet the sound,
That saved a wretch like me;
I once was lost, but now am found,
Was blind, but now I see!”
1 Shab. 55a.
2 Strachan, p. 217.
3 Ibid., p. 218.
4 Hendriksen, II, 75.
5 Harrison, pp. 120-21.
6 The Interpreter’s Bible, VIII, 614.
7 Ironside, p. 401.