Because He Broke the Sabbath – John 5:18

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Therefore the Jews sought all the more to kill Him, because He not only broke the Sabbath, but also said that God was His Father, making Himself equal with God.”

  • John 5:18

The Difficulty

  1. Many who teach that the Sabbath is no longer valid use this text to justify it. After all if Jesus broke the Sabbath, then why should we bother to keep it?
  2. Those who believe that the Sabbath is still binding believe that something else is going on in this text.

The Question

  • What is John really saying here? Is he saying Jesus broke the Sabbath commandment of God?

Our Principle: Let the Bible interpret itself

The Background

The Sabbath command comes from the Old Testament Scriptures from which Jesus and the Jewish religious leaders read:

“Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, 10 but the seventh day is the Sabbath of the Lord your God. In it you shall do no work: you, nor your son, nor your daughter, nor your male servant, nor your female servant, nor your cattle, nor your stranger who is within your gates.” – Exodus 20:8 – 10

The Sabbath was given by God Himself on Mt Sinai, and even before:

  • Gen 2:1 – 3, God made the Sabbath for humanity
  • Gen 26:5 – Abraham keept all God’s commandments
  • Exodus 16 – Israel was tested with the manna to see if they would honour the Sabbath

One of the main reasons the Jews were taken into captivity was that they disobeyed God’s law, especially the Sabbath. After seventy years in painful captivity, Ezra and Nehemiah led a return to their own lad. In order to not suffer another such experience their scholars began to really restrict Sabbath activities. On record they made over 500 new regulations to add to the simple law as given by God. These regulations covered 39 categories of work, including tying, untying, lighting a fire, or walking longer than a certain distance. Healing was also banned unless it was a life and death situation. One could not even put something in one’s pocket, otherwise the extra weight in walking would constitute work.

But this was never in the law God gave. The Jewish Pharisees erected their own Sabbath system, and though their intentions were good in the beginning, they soon became a tool of oppression and a burden to people who rather need Sabbath rest.

The Context

In the Immediate context of this verse Jesus had healed a man who had been lame for 38 years. This happened at the pool of Bethesda. It is a famous story. After giving him the precious gift of walking, Jesus asked him to “Get up, take up your bed, and walk.”

Later Jesus found him in the temple and warned him against sin, because the fate of judgment is greater than any bodily impairment. The Jews saw him carrying his bed, which would have just been a carpet or either wool, leather or cane.

The Jews saw this and said to him, And that day was the Sabbath. 10 The Jews therefore said to him who was cured, “It is the Sabbath; it is not lawful for you to carry your bed.” (v 10)

In sum then, this is the act that leads us into our text. “Therefore the Jews sought all the more to kill Him, because He not only broke the Sabbath, but also said that God was His Father, making Himself equal with God.” The verse begins with the word “Therefore” Greek: dia touto, meaning literally “Because of this”. This shows that the accusation of the Jews was directly a result of the miracle Jesus worked.

John is only faithfully recording the charge laid on Christ by the Jewish authorities and people. This accusation comes in the direct context of their anger at seeing a man carrying his beddings around on the Sabbath. For them the sight was sacrilegious, and Christ was the one who had led the man to do it.

The simple question then becomes, was it a sin to heal the man on the Sabbath? Did Jesus really break the Sabbath by doing so? The Sabbath law as given by God never forbade doing good. It was concerned only with servile work – that which brought pay. Jesus did not break God’s Sabbath law, but rather the unreasonable restriction of human moralists.

 

In Summary

John is not saying that Jesus was guilty of breaking God’s law, otherwise that would contradict Scripture, because Scripture says Jesus never sinned (Heb 4:15). John himself says the glory of Jesus was like that of the Father (John 1:14), and yet we know that all sinners fall short of the Father’s glory (Rom 3:23).

Jesus Himself answered the question this way: “Most assuredly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of Himself, but what He sees the Father do; for whatever He does, the Son also does in like manner.” (v. 19) and also: ““My Father has been working until now, and I have been working.” (v 16). Clearly the Father has finished the work of creation. This work he keeps doing is taking care of his children. We are all called to do the same by the Father as well as the Son. We should do good, especially on the Sabbath, and give rest to the suffering. We will not be breaking the Sabbath.

More Difficult Passages Explained Here

Until next time, keep studying the word. Prove all things, and hold fast what is good!

 

 

 

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Agana-Nsiire Agana is a theologian, communicator and writer. His passion is for communicating eternal truth in a contemporary context which is influenced by postmodern, secular thought. The gospel, though unchanging, can and should be expressed in terms of the challenges, philosophy and language of the present day.