The story of Jesus healing the man born blind is an actual event that illustrates Jesus’ claim to be the light of the world (8:12, 9:5). It shows the stark contrast between those who accept and walk in His light and those who reject it (1:4-5). One who is born blind is made to see while others who can see are shown to be spiritually blind. The light thus divides men. It heals those who understand they’re blind and leaves blind those who think they can see. In the end, this is a story of the gospel and how it’s effective for those who understand their desperate need of it, and useless for those who believe they’re already in the light.
The Miracle (1-7)
The disciples and Jesus pass by a blind man. Somehow they know he’s been blind from birth. The disciples ask Jesus why he was born blind. Was it the sin of his parents or somehow his own sin that caused it? Their question reflects the thinking of the day – for someone to be afflicted this way, it must be punishment for some sin in the past.
Jesus likely amazes them with His answer. He tells them that no one sinned (and it really would’ve been hard for the man to have sinned in the womb); the man was born blind so that the works of God could be displayed in him. He’s blind so Jesus can heal him. And Jesus will heal him because Jesus is the light of the world.
Jesus’ words explain the purpose of the story. This event truly took place, but John likely places it here to illustrate Jesus’ claim to be the light of the world. Everything that is about to happen lends credence to Jesus’ claim.
Jesus decides to heal the man. Interestingly, He doesn’t specifically tell the man He’s going to heal him. He simply spits in the dust and makes mud that he applies to the man’s eyes. He then tells him to wash off his eyes in the pool of Siloam. Why He does this isn’t explained (couldn’t Jesus have just spoken and healed him immediately?). And there’s nothing in the text about why the man obeys Him. Perhaps the man hears the exchange between Jesus and the disciples and realizes Jesus is a holy man. He might also be willing to try anything if it holds out hope of being healed.
When the man washes in the pool of Siloam he’s healed. He comes back to where he was – presumably excited beyond belief (remember, he’s NEVER seen anything – we don’t know how old he is, but he’s spent his entire life blind – he’s seeing everything for the first time – it has to be both overwhelming and amazingly joyous) – to find that Jesus and the disciples are gone.
The Response (8-12)
The people and neighbors who know him are flabbergasted at his newfound ability to see. They’re so amazed they have a hard time believing it. They can’t get over that this is the same man they know as a blind beggar. Some even doubt that it’s him (which is understandable – the human mind makes allowances for what it can’t comprehend – in this case his ability to see is so out of the usual context that they assume they aren’t seeing the same guy). He repeatedly tells them, “I am the one” (which suggests a comical scene – the people saying, “There’s no way you’re you” and the healed man assuring them, “Yes I am!”). They ask him what happened, and he explains what Jesus did (he knows Jesus’ name so apparently Jesus identified Himself) and how he washed in the pool and how it all worked. They then ask where Jesus is, and he admits that he has no idea.
The Reckoning (13-34)
After the big reveal, the scene changes. If there were a score to go along with this story, ominous music would start playing. The religious killjoys are coming to turn a joyous scene into an ugly one.
The people decide to bring the man to the Pharisees. This is likely because they realize something amazing has happened and they’re not sure what to think about it. Someone has apparently performed a miracle so the Pharisees should know what to do because they’re the authorities on all things supernatural. The Pharisees will know how they should respond and whether this is all on the up and up.
It’s at this point that John decides to let us know something critical about the story. This all occurs on a Sabbath day. This is a vital piece of information that John for some reason hasn’t told us until now. Once we realize this and know how other Sabbath confrontations have gone between Jesus and the religious leaders, we know we’re in for some controversy.
The man explains to the Pharisees how he was healed. They react joyously and praise God for a wonderful miracle and an incredible act of compassion on the man’s life. Okay, just kidding. They don’t react that way at all. They immediately start arguing amongst themselves. Some say – and these guys eventually win the day – that Jesus can’t be from God because He obviously violated the Sabbath with His making clay and healing. Others make the point that it would be pretty amazing for someone to be able to heal like this and not be from God.
This brings up a really interesting point. Go back to how Jesus healed the man. Remember how we said it was odd that He made clay to apply to the man’s eyes and there wasn’t an obvious reason why? Well, here’s something to think about. Could it be that Jesus intentionally did it that way to make sure He would violate the Sabbath according to the rules of the religious leaders? Not only did He heal on the Sabbath, but He also made clay which would be classified as work under the extra-legal rules of the day. If that was His intention, then it means that just as He did with the lame man in Chapter 5, Jesus specifically invites confrontation with the religious leaders (which shows just how much Jesus hates hypocrisy and religiosity – throughout His life, Jesus’ harshest words and actions are always directed at the self-righteous).
Since the Pharisees can’t agree amongst themselves as to the validity of Jesus’ miracle, they ask the healed man what he thinks (which seems really strange coming from a group that sees itself as more learned and more religious than the common folk). The healed man simply says of Jesus, “He is a prophet.”
The Pharisees aren’t convinced and now take a different approach. They decide to question whether a miracle even happened. This makes things easier. If the man wasn’t actually healed, then this all becomes moot and they don’t have to worry about someone performing a miracle on the Sabbath and what that means.
They call the man’s parents in to verify his story. The parents – who are scared to death of the Pharisees – confirm that this is their son and he was in fact born blind. When the Pharisees ask them how is it that he can now see, they decide to essentially throw their son under the bus by saying “We know that this is our son, and that he was born blind; but how he now sees, we do not know; or who opened his eyes, we do not know. Ask him; he is of age, he shall speak for himself.” They want nothing to do with any of this and are perfectly willing to let their son answer to the authorities. Their “joy” at his being able to see seems remarkably contained. They seem to be more interested in protecting themselves from retribution than they are in celebrating their son’s miraculous sight.
The reason the parents are scared is that the religious authorities have apparently let it be known that they will excommunicate anyone who confesses that Jesus is the Messiah. Jesus’ followers will not be allowed to worship in the synagogue (it’s hard to know how wide ranging this proclamation is, but it’s notable that later John will say that some of the religious leaders will believe Jesus but not make their belief public for fear of excommunication – 12:42).
Since the parents back the man’s story and aren’t any help in showing the miracle to be false, the leaders call the man back to testify. This time they essentially say, “Tell the truth right here before God – you know the man who healed you is a sinner” (vs 24). [Amazing to realize: the Pharisees are so lost in their self-absorption that it never occurs to them to celebrate the miracle – the wonderful change in the healed man means nothing to them – there’s absolutely no human compassion for him at all.] At this, the man – who seems to be growing in confidence and, unlike his parents, does not appear to fear the leaders – repeats all that he knows. And what he knows is that he was blind and now he sees. “You can call him whatever you want, but I can see.” The religious leaders ask him again how he was healed and what Jesus did. This time the man can’t help tweaking them and tells them that he’s already told them what Jesus did but either they didn’t listen or perhaps they want to hear the story again so they can become Jesus’ disciples too. “You do not want to become His disciples too, do you?” Notice the ‘too’. He’s already counting himself among Jesus’ disciples and mockingly (presumably) asks the Pharisees if they want to join him.
This gets the Pharisees riled up and they very self-righteously claim to be disciples of Moses – the true man of God who God spoke to – not Jesus whose origins aren’t even known. Here again the man shows himself to be fearless (and remember, this is a man who most likely has spent his entire life begging – not debating theology with the scholars of the day) and decides to lecture the leaders. “It’s pretty amazing that you don’t know where He’s from and yet He healed me. There’s no way that God would do a miracle like this through a sinner. No one has ever healed a man blind from birth. If this man were not from God, He could do nothing.” He goes right at them with undeniable truth.
Their response to this shows the weakness of their argument. They can’t answer him based on the facts or theological implications of what’s happened. So they attack him personally. “You were born entirely in sins, and you are teaching us?” “You were born blind, which shows you were born in sin, and you have the audacity to lecture US?” By this answer they not only show the emptiness of their contention, they also for the first time readily admit that the miracle took place and a man born blind now sees. It’s at this point that they throw him out of the synagogue. They excommunicate him.
The Reward (35-41)
Jesus finds the man after hearing that he’s been put out of the synagogue. Jesus asks him if he believes in the Messiah. The man – who is likely seeing Jesus for the first time – asks who the Messiah is. Jesus tells him – and don’t miss the significance of his wording – “You have both seen Him, and He is the one who is talking with you.” At this the man declares his belief and worships Jesus.
Jesus goes on to say that His presence in the world forces people to either acknowledge their blindness and so gain their sight, or claim they can see and remain in darkness. This is similar to what He told Nicodemus when Nicodemus came to Him at night (3:16-20). Jesus brings light into the world, but men reject the light when they love the darkness. It’s those who choose darkness who are judged. Jesus didn’t come to judge but to save; but His presence ensures that judgment occurs because there are those who reject His light.
The scene ends with some Pharisees who are with Him and who aren’t overly self-aware saying to Him, “We are not blind too, are we?” Jesus answers by essentially saying, “The fact that you have to ask shows that you are and don’t know it. And that means you remain in your sin.” It’s the final message of the story – those who reject the light are damned.
It’s important to remember the thesis of this story: Jesus is the light of the world (vs 5). Everything flows from that. The man born blind is in darkness and Jesus heals him. He now can see and walks in the light. The Pharisees who reject Jesus – and who question how the man can see – are actually in darkness and are blind because they reject the light. It’s the light that divides men. Those who acknowledge the darkness accept the light and live in it (Col 1:12-14). Those who don’t acknowledge the darkness happily remain in it. It’s the ultimate irony of the story. The religious leaders who condemn the man who was blind are actually blind themselves. They think they see better than he does and yet are in darkness.
It’s also important to understand the symbolism of the story in regard to the gospel. The man was born blind, born in his condition without any hope of reversing it. He didn’t seek Jesus, but Jesus came to him. And the only way he regained his sight was through Jesus’ work. He did nothing to change his situation except obey and accept what Jesus did on his behalf.
In this same light, note the effect of the miracle on the man. He doesn’t care what anyone thinks about what happened or about who healed him. All he knows is that he was changed in a miraculous way and the man who changed him must be wonderful. He lets nothing detract from that. He’s so amazed and thankful over what’s happened that he’s willing to take on the religious leaders single-handedly (even after his parents bail out and leave him on his own). He’s completely taken by his conversion. It’s a lesson, isn’t it? The formerly blind man is wholly cognizant of his former state and how much he owes to the One who healed him. And as a result he’s willing to tell anyone who asks what happened and testify to the wonder of the fact that it did. It’s when we’re overwhelmed with our own conversion that we find it’s easy to tell others about it and defend it. We’re boldest when we appreciate all that Jesus has done for us and what a miracle it is that we’re now one of His.
Lastly, go back to verse 3. Jesus’ words about the why the man was born blind – essentially so that Jesus could someday heal him – seem a little harsh, don’t they? Did God really sentence a man to years of blindness just so Jesus could come along and heal him? That doesn’t seem quite right, does it? But look again at verse 38. This is the result of being born blind and then being healed by Jesus. He not only sees physically for the first time, he sees spiritually too. He knows Jesus in a way he wouldn’t have apart from the blindness. Do you think, if he could, that the man would go back and give up the blindness if it meant that he wouldn’t have this experience with Jesus? Don’t you think that he’d say it was all worth it because now he knows the Messiah and is His disciple? The man was born blind for God’s glory. And when God glorifies Himself, we benefit. We are here for God’s glory and difficult times are for God’s glory and God purifying and molding us is for His glory. The hard times we sometimes don’t understand are ultimately for His glory and our best.