The Light of the World
(William Holman Hunt)
Jn 8:12-59 Jesus is teaching in the Temple courts and is challenged by the Pharisees when he claims to be “the light of the world.” (John 8:12). Jesus warns the Pharisees they will “die in your sins if you don’t believe that I am he” (John 8:24).
The Pharisees are incensed as ‘I am’ sounds like the Hebrew pronunciation of God’s personal name ‘YHWH’ (‘Yahweh’ or ‘Jehovah’, meaning ‘I am’, ‘I am he’ or ‘I am who I am’) which Jews were forbidden to speak out of reverence (see Exodus 3:14).
The Pharisees remind Jesus that, as Jews, they are the heirs of Abraham’s covenant agreement with God (see Genesis 17:7). Jesus claims that Abraham rejoiced at his coming. The Pharisees point out that Jesus is not yet fifty years old and respond, “You have never seen Abraham” (who died eighteen hundred years earlier). Jesus replies, “before Abraham was even born, I am!” (John 8:57-58).
The Pharisees are furious that Jesus has apparently used God’s personal name, I am, for himself, and they try to stone him to death for what they believe is blasphemy (see Leviticus 24:16). But Jesus escapes from the Temple courts and hides away.
Jn 9:1-41 Later, on the Sabbath day, Jesus heals a man who was born blind. The man washes his eyes in the Pool of Siloam and his sight is restored. The man is hauled before the Pharisees who claim that Jesus has gone against God’s laws by healing him on the Sabbath. But the man who was blind replies, “If this man were not from God, he could do nothing” (John 9:33). The Pharisees are furious and plot to kill Jesus.
The Pool of Siloam
It isn’t known for certain whether Jesus’s miraculous healing of a man born blind took place in Jerusalem at the small Pool of Siloam adjacent to Hezekiah’s water tunnel (the Upper Pool), or at the nearby Lower Pool (the Birket el-Hamra).
The Upper Pool of Siloam and entrance to Hezekiah's Tunnel (Tamar Hayardeni)
The small Pool of Siloam (the Upper Pool) and the entrance to Hezekiah’s Tunnel can be visited at the foot of the hillside ridge (Ophel Hill) on which the original City of David was built (see 2 Samuel 5:6-9, 2 Kings 20:20 and Map 13). A Byzantine church was erected here in the 5th century to commemorate Jesus’s miracle, but was destroyed in 614AD. Remnants of the columns that formed the four ‘porches’ or covered porticoes attached to this church, and other excavated remains of the church erected by the Empress Eudocia in c.450AD, can still be seen today.
Excavations in 2005, about 400 yards / 300 metres south of the Upper Pool, revealed extensive remains of several sets of monumental steps leading down into the much larger Lower Pool, which was probably the actual site of Jesus’s healing miracle. This pool was probably used as a mikvah – a Jewish ritual bath – which would explain why Jesus told the man whose eyesight had been restored to bathe there. In this way, he would become ‘ritually clean’ under the Jewish law as well as physically healed (see John 9:7).
Remains of the Lower Pool of Siloam in Jerusalem (Markbarnes)
Teaching about children
Mk 9:42 Jesus is scathing about those who cause children to turn away from God because of their own poor example. “If one of these little children believes in me, and someone causes that child to sin, it would be better for that person to have a large stone tied around his neck and be drowned in the sea” (Mark 9:42).
Jesus is talking here about millstones – large pieces of coarse-grained stone cut into a circular shape. One was placed on top of another and seeds of grain were ground into flour between the two stones. In Jesus’s day, the top stone was usually turned using a wooden handle. If one of these heavy stones was tied around someone’s neck, drowning would be inevitable.
Teaching about ‘hell’
The Valley of Hinnom,
Mk 9:43 Jesus teaches that people whose hands cause them to do wrong will end up in ‘hell’, “where the fire never goes out” (Mark 9:43).
This vivid picture of the consequences of wrongdoing is a reference to the smoke and flames commonly seen at that time in the Valley of Hinnom (or 'Gehenna') just outside the southern walls of Jerusalem – where Jerusalem’s refuse tip permanently smouldered all day and night (see Map 13). In this picture of the Day of Judgement, those who do wrong will be cast out of the ‘New Jerusalem’ into ‘Gehenna’ (the Hebrew word used in Jesus’s day that is translated as ‘hell’), “where the fire never goes out”.