What does John chapter 9 mean?This passage of the gospel of John heightens the tension between Jesus and His followers, and the religious leaders who despise Him. In prior chapters, Jesus has confronted the hypocrisy of those who claim to understand Scripture, but who reject what it says. He has also challenged tradition by healing on the Sabbath day. In this chapter, Jesus will once again perform a miracle on the Sabbath, resulting in no small controversy. When the dust settles, local religious leaders will be thoroughly embarrassed not by Jesus, but by the man who has been healed.
John chapter 9 opens with Jesus passing by a man who has been blind his entire life. The disciples react to this situation with the typical worldview of their era. In their minds, suffering is always a punishment for something, so they ask Jesus whose sin this man is suffering for: his own or that of his parents. Jesus' response proves that not all hardship is "our fault," so to speak. While it's true that our own choices have the greatest impact on our lives, it's also true that bad things can happen to those who've done nothing to deserve those particular struggles (John 9:1–3).
Jesus heals the man by putting mud on his eyes and sending him away to wash. The end result is a man who can see, though he'd never been able to before. The ideas of light, sight, and blindness are often used in Scripture as symbols of spiritual knowledge. In this case, the man's experience is a metaphor for the Christian experience. The "light" that comes when we are saved is something we never previously had, and never could have, until Christ chose to grant it to us (John 9:4–7).
This healing is also prophetic: the Old Testament speaks of the Promised One healing blindness (Isaiah 29:18; 35:5; 42:7). In all of Scripture, only Jesus is credited with miracles which give sight to the blind. This is not only proof of His identity, it symbolizes the unique way in which the Messiah grants understanding of the truth (Matthew 11:5; Matthew 12:22–23).
As with other miracles, Jesus' critics are more interested in finding ways to debunk the miracle than to understand it. Even those who are not hostile to Jesus are still focused on knowing "how" Jesus performed the healing, rather than "why." The Pharisees' immediate reaction, predictably, is to condemn Jesus for not properly honoring their Sabbath tradition. This, for them, is stronger evidence than the miraculous healing of blindness. For his part, the formerly blind man only knows that whoever granted him sight must be from God. The man refers to Jesus—whom he has not actually seen, yet—as "a prophet" (John 9:8–17).
John uses the phrase "the Jews" as a reference to Jerusalem's religious leaders and their most ardent followers. This includes the scribes and Pharisees, who have already decided that Jesus is a fraud to be rejected. At first, they don't even believe that a healing has occurred. After questioning the once-blind man, they summon his parents. Their tactics are clearly meant to intimidate, hinting that the parents themselves might even be bending the truth about their son's condition. These leaders have threatened to excommunicate anyone who supports Jesus, so the man's parents are quick to point out that their son is capable of answering questions for himself (John 9:18–23).
The second attempt to interrogate the healed man ends in disaster for the scribes and Pharisees. After implying the beggar is lying and needs to tell the truth, they suggest Jesus is "a sinner," meaning that He cannot really be performing godly miracles. The man's response is a poignant explanation of the Christian experience. For all he does not know, what he does know is beyond doubt: "though I was blind, now I see!" The investigators repeat the same questions they have already asked. The formerly-blind man responds with sarcasm, openly mocking the religious leaders' insincerity. They, in turn, heap insults and verbal abuse on him. In a dramatic turn, the beggar gives a brilliantly simple counter. He points out that God would not give a sinner the power to perform miracles which have never been done before! Having lost face, and the argument, the religious leaders hurl more insults and bar the man from the synagogue (John 9:24–31).
At this point, Jesus once again approaches the man. Presumably, the man realizes that Jesus is the one who has healed him. And yet, he does not fully understand to whom he is speaking. Jesus refers to the Son of Man, which Jews of that era would recognize as a Messianic figure. The man openly admits that he wants to believe, but does not know who he should turn to. When Jesus identifies Himself, the healed man responds with faith and worship. Jesus uses that reaction as an example of one aspect of His earthly mission: to separate those who are willing to believe from those who are willfully, spiritually "blind" (John 9:35–41).
The themes discussed in this chapter introduce the subject of Jesus' next teaching, which heavily involves the symbolism of a shepherd. Those words are meant to be understood in the context of this chapter, where the Pharisees' hypocrisy and failed leadership are on full display.