MIRACLES OF JESUS
Raising Lazarus by Caravaggio The Gospels describe many miracles performed by Jesus. These miracles included the healing of a paralyzed man, the stilling of the storm and the resurrection. Christ walked on water, healed lepers, gave sight to the blind, fed 5,000 people with five loaves and two fishes. Perhaps the most famous and miraculous miracle was the raising of the widow's son from the dead. Bystanders, according to the Gospels, held their nose as Jesus performed this feat.
The majority of 35 or so miracles described in The Gospels were healings of the lame, the deaf and the blind and exorcism of those possessed by demons. Luke 4:40 reads: “At sunset all those who had friends suffering from diseases of one kind or another brought them to him, and laying hands on each he cured them." In Mark 5:1 1-16, Jesus cast demons out of man into a herd of pigs, which were driven into a lake. Jesus's reputation as a healer caused people from far and wide to seek him out. Even when he was in the desert praying people found him there.
The miraculous curing of a blindman — reportedly at Siloam Pool in Jerusalem — is a good example of a miracle linked with a Jewish ritual. The man was undergoing ritual immersion before entering the Temple compound and Jesus used the opportunity to cure him of his blindness by putting clay in the man's eyes and then asking him to wash it off in the pool. Jews, who traditionally, made three pilgrimages a year to Jerusalem, ritually washed themselves here before walking down a road to enter the Temple. The pool was also a source of drinking water.
There have also been numerous miracles associated with Jesus after his death. In 2004, a woman reported seeing Jesus in a piece of toast.
Websites and Resources: Christianity Britannica on Christianity britannica.com//Christianity ; Religious Tolerance religioustolerance.org/christ.htm ; History of Christianity history-world.org/jesus_christ ; BBC on Christianity bbc.co.uk/religion/religions/christianity ;Wikipedia article on Christianity Wikipedia ; Early Christian Writing earlychristianwritings.com ; Internet Ancient History Sourcebook: Christian Origins sourcebooks.fordham.edu ; Christian Answers christiananswers.net ; Christian Classics Ethereal Library www.ccel.org ; Early Christian Art oneonta.edu/farberas/arth/arth212/Early_Christian_art ; Early Christian Images jesuswalk.com/christian-symbols ; Early Christian and Byzantine Images belmont.edu/honors/byzart2001/byzindex ; Jesus and the Historical Jesus ; Britannica on Jesus britannica.com Jesus-Christ ; Historical Jesus Theories earlychristianwritings.com ; Wikipedia article on Historical Jesus Wikipedia ; Jesus Seminar Forum virtualreligion.net ; Life and Ministry of Jesus Christ bible.org ; Jesus Central jesuscentral.com ; Catholic Encyclopedia: Jesus Christ newadvent.org ; Bible and Biblical History: Bible Gateway and the New International Version (NIV) of The Bible biblegateway.com ; King James Version of the Bible gutenberg.org/ebooks ; Bible History Online bible-history.com ; Biblical Archaeology Society biblicalarchaeology.org ; Internet Jewish History Sourcebook sourcebooks.fordham.edu ; Complete Works of Josephus at Christian Classics Ethereal Library (CCEL) ccel.org
Purpose and Meaning of the Miracles
For a time the miracles performed by Jesus were dismissed by liberal religious scholars as unnecessary, sensational embellishments but now they are regarded as integral parts of the Jesus story and a sign that the age of salvation was upon them.
The purpose of Jesus's miracles, some believe, was to show the power of God. Others say they were symbolic not real. Healing the blind, for example, meant helping people see the light. Raising the dead was a sign of his own coming resurrection. Casting out demons may have been a way to symbolize breaking away from tyrannical Roman rule.
Michael Symmons Roberts wrote for the BBC: The miracles “revealed that Jesus was seen by his contemporaries as a long-awaited saviour. But the precise identity of this saviour has been less clear. Some miracles showed him to be a great prophet like Elijah, heralding a new age of peace and prosperity. Others showed him as a type of political leader like Moses, or a longed-for warrior like Joshua. Perhaps Jesus was the long-awaited Messiah who would set the Jews free from Roman occupation. However, another famous miracle” — the stillong of the storm — “gives us a glimpse of a third possibility - that Jesus saw himself as more than a prophet, leader or warrior. [Source: Michael Symmons Roberts, BBC, September 18, 2009. Roberts is author the book“The Miracles of Jesus” |::|]
loaves and fishes“Jesus and the disciples were on one of their many trips on the Sea of Galilee, when the Gospels say they were hit by an unexpected and violent storm. The disciples were struggling for their lives. But by comparison Jesus' reaction is bewildering. He's said to have been asleep. And when awoken, his response couldn't have been less reassuring. "Why are you afraid, O men of little faith?" |::|
“But what the disciples didn't know was that they were about to receive help in a way they could never have imagined. Jesus stood up and rebuked the wind and sea. The disciples must have wondered who on earth Jesus was: this man who appeared able to control the elements. But just as with other miracles, what amazed them wasn't what Jesus did, it was what it revealed about his identity. They would have known the ancient Jewish prophecies which said very clearly, there was only one person who had the power to control the stormy seas - God. |::|
“One passage from the Book of the Psalms recalls an occasion where God had shown his power to save his people from distress in exactly the same way as Jesus had on the Sea of Galilee - by stilling a storm. The similarities wouldn't have been lost on the disciples. Jesus' actions seemed to suggest that he had the power of God himself. |::|
“Later in the century this miracle took on a new meaning - a meaning that would resonate down the centuries. The Gospel writers saw that the miracles could speak directly to the Christians suffering persecution in Rome. Like that boat in peril, the Christians in Rome might well have feared that their Church was in danger of sinking. And like Jesus asleep on the boat, they might have worried that Jesus had forgotten them. But the message of the evangelists was this: if they had faith in Jesus, he would not abandon them; he could calm the storm on the Sea of Galilee or in Rome.” |::|
Healings and Exorcisms by Jesus
Michael Symmons Roberts wrote for the BBC: “ The Gospels contain records of over 35 miracles and of these the majority were healings of the lame, the deaf and the blind, exorcism of those possessed by demons. The meaning of the healings and exorcisms is best understood against the background of Jewish purity laws which stipulated that those deemed impure could not enter the sacred precinct of the Temple in Jerusalem to make their sacrifice to God. The Jewish scriptures tell us that the impure included the lame, the sick, the blind and those possessed by demons. By implication, such people could not under Jewish law enter the Kingdom of God. [Source: Michael Symmons Roberts, BBC, September 18, 2009. Roberts is author the book“The Miracles of Jesus”. |::|]
“In healing the sick and casting out demons Jesus was sending a powerful signal - that they were now able to fulfill their obligations as Jews, and by implication that they were now entitled to enter the Kingdom of God. The fact that the cures are done by Jesus himself carried a further layer of meaning - that Jesus had the authority to decide who could enter the Kingdom of God. This becomes explicit in the healing of the paralysed man in Capernaum. Jesus heals the man by forgiving his sin - an act that would have been considered a blasphemy by Jews: only God had the authority to forgive sins. By forgiving sins Jesus was acting with an authority that the Jews believed only God possessed. In the healing of the Syro-Phoenician woman's daughter Jesus goes a step further and effectively signals that Gentiles too are eligible to enter the Kingdom of God. Authors have applied this first-century meaning of the miracle to modern life.” |::|
Healing stories were common in the time of Jesus in part because many people got sick and suffered from a variety of maladies that were difficult for the medicine of that era to cure. Kristin Romey wrote in National Geographic: “Accounts of large crowds coming to Jesus for healing are consistent with what archaeology reveals about first-century Palestine, where diseases such as leprosy and tuberculosis were rife. According to a study of burials in Roman Palestine by archaeologist Byron McCane, between two-thirds and three-quarters of the surveyed graves held the remains of children and adolescents. Survive the perilous years of childhood, and your chances of living to old age greatly increased, McCane says. “During Jesus’ time, getting past 15 was apparently the trick.” [Source: Kristin Romey, National Geographic, November 28, 2017 ^|^]
Wedding at Cana: Changing Water Into Wine
Jesus performed his first miracle at a wedding feast in Cana of Galilee. These feasts sometimes went on for over a week. At one point the wine ran out and Jesus saved the day by turning water into wine. He was reluctant at first to perform the miracle but his mother insisted he do it. From that day forward, according to the Book of John, "his disciples believed in him." The water-to-wine miracle took place just after he selected his disciples and was establishing a reputation as a divine figure and was under some pressure to prove his divinity.
Michael Symmons Roberts wrote for the BBC: “Jesus and his mother Mary are invited to a wedding in the Galilean town of Cana. Jewish wedding feasts lasted all week and everyone in the village was invited, so it's not surprising that the hosts' wine is said to run out. Jesus asks one of the servants to fill the large water jars with water, and soon there is plenty of wine again. [Source: Michael Symmons Roberts, BBC, September 18, 2009. Roberts is author the book“The Miracles of Jesus”. |::|]
“The miracle would have carried many messages. When the Jewish scriptures looked forward to the kingdom of God, they used a number of metaphors to describe it. One of the most frequently used images is that of a marriage. The Book of Isaiah says: ‘Do not be afraid; you will not suffer shame... For your Maker is your husband... The Lord will call you back as if you were a wife deserted and distressed in spirit - a wife who married young, only to be rejected.’ — Isaiah 54:4-8. |::|
“Another key image is that of a banquet overflowing with a superabundance of wine. ‘On this mountain the Lord Almighty will prepare a feast of rich food for all peoples, a banquet of aged wine - the best of meats and the finest of wines. — Isaiah 25:6. “Amos says: "The days are coming," declares the Lord, "when ... new wine will drip from the mountains and flow from all the hills. I will bring back my exiled people Israel; they will rebuild the ruined cities and live in them. They will plant vineyards and drink their wine." — Amos 9:13-14 |::|
In December 2004, Israeli archaeologists announced they had found the site of Jesus's first miracle: turning water into wine. Among olive trees in the modern town of Cana they found what they believe is the site of ancient Cana and there found pieces of stone vessels like those used to serve wine in Jesus's time. It is quite a stretch to say the vessels found were the vessels used in the wedding party. Stone vessels were used for all all kinds of things — but they do provide some insight to what that party might have been like. The actual location of Cana is still a matter of debate. American archaeologists working a few hundred meters from the Israeli-excavated site found similar vessels and claim their site is the site of the first miracle.
Jesus Raises the Widow's Son from the Dead
The miracle of the raising of the widow's son takes place in the village of Nain in Galilee. Jesus arrives in the town — accompanied by his disciples and a large crowd — during a funeral and sees a dead person being carried out of the gate. The dead man was the only son of a widow. She is surrounded by a large crowd from the town. When the Lord saw her, his heart went out to her and he said, "Don't cry." “Then he went up and touched the coffin, and those carrying it stood still. He said "Young man, I say to you, get up!" The dead man sat up and began to talk, and Jesus gave him back to his mother. [Source: Michael Symmons Roberts, BBC, September 18, 2009. Roberts is author the book“The Miracles of Jesus”|::|]
When Jesus brought the man back to life the crowd was astonished, but what delights them more than this triumph over death is the meaning of the miracle.“They were all filled with awe and praised God. "A great prophet has appeared among us," they said. "God has come to help his people." This news about Jesus spread throughout Judea and the surrounding country — Luke 7:11-17 |::|
Michael Symmons Roberts wrote for the BBC: “T“It's a captivating story - Jesus interrupting a funeral cortège to bring the deceased back to life. It isn't hard to picture the scene: the distraught mother weeping and wailing, supported by friends on either side; the confusion and unease as this stranger Jesus approaches the coffin, telling the mother not to cry; the shock and sheer incredulity of the crowd as the boy sits up in his coffin and talks; the boy himself, blinking in the daylight.” |::|
Meaning of the Raising of the Dead Story
Roberts wrote for the BBC: “But what are we to make of it? Maybe Jesus really did bring the boy back from the dead. Or perhaps the boy wasn't dead in the first place, merely in a coma. There will never be an answer to satisfy everyone. To those people who saw it happen there was no doubt - Jesus had brought the widow's son back to life. A pretty astonishing thing to witness. No wonder they were 'filled with awe'.
“The miracle reminds them of the great Jewish prophet Elijah who, eight centuries earlier, had also raised the only son of a widow in a town in Galilee. Elijah was famous as a miracle worker and as a prophet who rebuked those Jews who under the influence of pagan idolatry had strayed from devotion to God. Elijah never died - he was transported to heaven in a chariot of fire. The parallels between Jesus and Elijah were hugely significant. At the time the Jews were longing for an end to Roman oppression and the return of the kingdom of God - a new age in which peace, freedom, righteousness, faithfulness and the rule of God would prevail. The first stage in that road to salvation was the arrival of a prophet who - like Elijah - would rail against sin. Maybe Jesus was that prophet - maybe even a reincarnation of Elijah? |::|
“The Gospels repeatedly make the link between Jesus and Elijah: “When Jesus came to the region of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, "Who do people say the Son of Man is?" They replied, "Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, Jeremiah or one of the prophets." - Matthew 16:13-14 |::|
“Clearly though, the Gospel writers believed Jesus was more than a prophet. In Matthew 17:10-13 (and Mark 9:12-13), just after the transfiguration: “The disciples asked him, "Why then do the teachers of the law say that Elijah must come first?" Jesus replied, "To be sure, Elijah comes and will restore all things. But I tell you, Elijah has already come, and they did not recognize him, but have done to him everything they wished. In the same way the Son of Man is going to suffer at their hands." Then the disciples understood that he was talking to them about John the Baptist. -Matthew 17:10-13 |::|
“The resonances between Jesus and Elijah would have been striking to first century Jews and to Christians familiar with the Old Testament. But as Christianity spread into the Roman Empire, the miracle of the raising of the widow's son acquired other meanings. The most important is that it prefigured Jesus' own resurrection. In fact the miracle in Nain is one of three times when Jesus raises the dead. He also raises Jairus' daughter (Matthew 9:18-25, Mark 5:22-42, Luke 8:41-56) and his friend Lazarus (John 11:1-44). But there was a key difference between these miracles and the resurrection of Jesus. The widow's son, Jairus' daughter and Lazarus were resuscitated or revived: they would eventually die again. Jesus on the other hand would live forever. His resurrection entailed a complete transformation in his body and spirit, a complete victory over death.” |::|
Elijah Raises the Widow's Son from the Dead
The Prophet Elijah was one of the holiest men in Jewish history. His story of raising a widow’s son from the dead is quite similar to the story of Jesus doing the same. Roberts wrote for the BBC: “The story - as told in the book of Kings - goes that Elijah was staying with a widow in a small town when her son fell ill. The woman - though poor - had been generous in her hospitality to Elijah, so he was distressed to see her son grow worse and worse, and finally stop breathing. The widow was desperate, consumed by grief. She said to Elijah, "What do you have against me, man of God? Did you come to remind me of my sin and kill my son?" "Give me your son," Elijah replied. He took him from her arms, carried him to the upper room where he was staying, and laid him on his bed. Then he cried out to the Lord, "O Lord my God, have you brought tragedy also upon this widow I am staying with, by causing her son to die?" Then he stretched himself out on the boy three times and cried to the Lord, "O Lord my God, let this boy's life return to him!" [Source: Michael Symmons Roberts. BBC, September 18, 2009, |::|]
“The Lord heard Elijah's cry, and the boy's life returned to him, and he lived. Elijah picked up the child and carried him down from the room into the house. He gave him back to his mother and said "Look, your son is alive!" Then the woman said to Elijah, "Now I know that you are a man of God and that the word of the Lord from your mouth is the truth." — 1 Kings 17:18-24 |::|
“The similarities between the two miracles are clear: a widow's only son, a premature death, a distraught mother met at the town's gate, a restoration of life by a holy man. Same circumstances, same outcome. Jesus' miracle, which looks at first glance like a spontaneous act of compassion towards a grieving mother, was at the same time the spitting image of Elijah's miracle. The original Greek phrase at the end of the story, in which Jesus 'gave him back to his mother' is identical with the phrase used of Elijah after his miracle. No wonder the crowds were astonished. Raised on the Jewish scriptures, taught to revere Elijah as the greatest of prophets, everyone who saw or heard about Jesus and the widow of Nain would make the link with Elijah. According to Luke's Gospel account, one of them even shouts, 'A great prophet has appeared among us.' |::|
“But what does it mean, this copycat miracle? If it was more than an outlandish coincidence, if Jesus was acting out a 'sign' in public, then what was the message of the sign? What was he trying to convey by drawing this parallel with Elijah? To answer that question, the focus has to shift from Jesus, the widow and her son, to the bystanders. Only by understanding the audience can we hope to understand the message they received when Jesus healed the widow's son at Nain.” |::|
Raising Lazarus from the Dead
John 11:14-44 describes Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead four days after he died: 11:14 Then said Jesus unto them plainly, Lazarus is dead. 11:15 And I am glad for your sakes that I was not there, to the intent ye may believe; nevertheless let us go unto him. 11:16 Then said Thomas, which is called Didymus, unto his fellow disciples, Let us also go, that we may die with him. 11:17 Then when Jesus came, he found that he had lain in the grave four days already. 11:18 Now Bethany was nigh unto Jerusalem, about fifteen furlongs off: 11:19 And many of the Jews came to Martha and Mary, to comfort them concerning their brother. 11:20 Then Martha, as soon as she heard that Jesus was coming, went and met him: but Mary sat still in the house. 11:21 Then said Martha unto Jesus, Lord, if thou hadst been here, my brother had not died. 11:22 But I know, that even now, whatsoever thou wilt ask of God, God will give it thee. [Source: King James Version of the Bible, gutenberg.org]
11:23 Jesus saith unto her, Thy brother shall rise again. 11:24 Martha saith unto him, I know that he shall rise again in the resurrection at the last day. 11:25 Jesus said unto her, I am the resurrection, and the life: he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live: 11:26 And whosoever liveth and believeth in me shall never die. Believest thou this? 11:27 She saith unto him, Yea, Lord: I believe that thou art the Christ, the Son of God, which should come into the world. 11:28 And when she had so said, she went her way, and called Mary her sister secretly, saying, The Master is come, and calleth for thee. 11:29 As soon as she heard that, she arose quickly, and came unto him.
11:30 Now Jesus was not yet come into the town, but was in that place where Martha met him. 11:31 The Jews then which were with her in the house, and comforted her, when they saw Mary, that she rose up hastily and went out, followed her, saying, She goeth unto the grave to weep there. 11:32 Then when Mary was come where Jesus was, and saw him, she fell down at his feet, saying unto him, Lord, if thou hadst been here, my brother had not died. 11:33 When Jesus therefore saw her weeping, and the Jews also weeping which came with her, he groaned in the spirit, and was troubled. 11:34 And said, Where have ye laid him? They said unto him, Lord, come and see. 11:35 Jesus wept. 11:36 Then said the Jews, Behold how he loved him! 11:37 And some of them said, Could not this man, which opened the eyes of the blind, have caused that even this man should not have died?
“11:38 Jesus therefore again groaning in himself cometh to the grave. It was a cave, and a stone lay upon it. 11:39 Jesus said, Take ye away the stone. Martha, the sister of him that was dead, saith unto him, Lord, by this time he stinketh: for he hath been dead four days. 11:40 Jesus saith unto her, Said I not unto thee, that, if thou wouldest believe, thou shouldest see the glory of God? 11:41 Then they took away the stone from the place where the dead was laid. And Jesus lifted up his eyes, and said, Father, I thank thee that thou hast heard me.
11:42 And I knew that thou hearest me always: but because of the people which stand by I said it, that they may believe that thou hast sent me. 11:43 And when he thus had spoken, he cried with a loud voice, Lazarus, come forth. 11:44 And he that was dead came forth, bound hand and foot with graveclothes: and his face was bound about with a napkin. Jesus saith unto them, Loose him, and let him go.
Feeding of the 5,000
When Jesus arrived in a deserted and remote area on the northeast shore of the Sea of Galilee to preach to a crowd of 5000, he is told that the people are hungry. They discuss whether to go back to the villages to get food, but it's getting late, so instead Jesus asks the disciples to order the crowd to sit in groups of fifties and hundreds, and to gather what food is available. All they manage to collect is five loaves and two fishes. Jesus then works a miracle and produces enough food to feed the multitude, so much so there are twelve basketfuls of leftovers. [Source: Michael Symmons Roberts, BBC, September 18, 2009 |::|]
Mark 6:30-44 reads: “The apostles gathered round Jesus and reported to him all they had done and taught. Then, because so many people were coming and going that they did not even have a chance to eat, he said to them, "Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest." So they went away by themselves in a boat to a solitary place. But many who saw them leaving recognized them and ran on foot from all the towns and got there ahead of them.
“When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them because they were like sheep without a shepherd. So he began teaching them many things. By this time, it was late in the day, so his disciples came to him. "This is a remote place," they said, "and it is already very late. Send the people away so that they can go to the surrounding countryside and villages and buy themselves something to eat." But he answered, "You give them something to eat." They said to him, "That would take eight months of a man's wages! Are we to go and spend that much on bread and give it to them to eat?" "How many loaves do you have?" he asked. "Go and see." When they found out, they said, "Five - and two fish."
“Then Jesus directed them to have all the people sit down in groups on the green grass. So they sat down in groups of hundreds and fifties. Taking the five loaves and the two fish and looking up to heaven, he gave thanks and broke the loaves. Then he gave them to his disciples to set before the people. He also divided the two fish among them all. They all ate and were satisfied, and the disciples picked up twelve basketfuls of broken pieces of bread and fish. The number of men who had eaten was five thousand.” “
Meaning of the Feeding of the 5,000
Michael Symmons Roberts wrote for the BBC: “The feeding of the five thousand has always been one of the most memorable biblical miracles. Although perhaps not as world-changing as the raising of the dead, this apparently practical response to the physical needs of a crowd and the description of how it was done make it a wonderful story. Jesus does not stand over the meagre loaves and fishes, then magically transform them into a banquet for thousands. Instead, he starts to break the bread and divide the fish and hand them to the crowd. But as he prays, the bread keeps breaking and the fish keeps dividing until everyone is fed. It sounds like a kind of miraculous sleight of hand. [Source: Michael Symmons Roberts, BBC, September 18, 2009 |::|]
“It was late, and the people were hungry. Men, women and children all clamouring for a meal from five loaves and two fish. There have been many theories over the years that attempt to explain away this miracle. Some have claimed that the crowds were whipped into a frenzy of religious fervour on hearing Jesus speak, and that fervour suppressed their appetites. |::|
“Others have speculated that the mood of harmony and selflessness spread by Jesus' teaching might have inspired the crowd to offer up their own private supplies of food and share them with each other. But as with Jesus' healing of the widow's son at Nain, the key element here is the belief of the crowd that a miracle had taken place. They were convinced that from such meager rations Jesus had fed everyone, and left them all satisfied. As with the miracle at Nain, what the crowd witnessed would have made a huge impact on them, but that impact would come as much from the explosive message - the symbolism contained within the miracle - as from the supernatural feat with the bread and fish. |::|
“The feeding of the multitude would put first-century Jews in mind of a towering figure in Jewish history, someone even greater than the prophet Elijah. When those eyewitnesses saw Jesus handing out food, they could not help but think of the father of the Jewish faith himself - Moses. Everything about the miracle, from the setting right down to the smallest details, would suggest a powerful identification of Jesus with Moses. But why? |::|
Is Jesus Acting Like Moses in the Feeding of the 5,000
Michael Symmons Roberts wrote for the BBC: “The ancient meaning of this miracle would have been clear to the disciples and the crowd. Jesus had acted like Moses, the father of the Jewish faith. In every respect, the miracle echoed Moses and his miracle in the Sinai wilderness when he fed the multitude of Hebrews. Moses had left Ramesses on the fertile lands of the Nile Delta, crossed a sea - the Red Sea - and headed east towards a deserted area - the Sinai wilderness. Jesus had left Bethesda on the fertile lands of the Jordan Delta, crossed a sea - the Sea of Galilee - and headed east towards a deserted and remote area - the Golan Heights on the eastern shore of the Sea of Galilee. When Jesus orders the crowd to sit in fifties and hundreds he is echoing Moses the general who often ordered the Hebrews to sit in squares of fifty and one hundred. In the Sinai, Moses fed a multitude with quails and manna, the bread of heaven; in the Golan Heights Jesus fed a multitude with fish and bread. In both miracles there were basketfuls of leftovers. [Source: Michael Symmons Roberts, BBC, September 18, 2009. Roberts is author the book“The Miracles of Jesus”. |::|]
“To first-century Jews the miracle of the loaves and fishes signalled that Jesus was like Moses. The reason is that in Jewish minds, Moses was a role model for the Messiah. The Jews were praying for a saviour to come and free them from foreign oppression. They believed he would be someone like Moses who had freed the Israelites from Egyptian slavery. Maybe Jesus was the leader they were waiting for? The crowd certainly thought so - after the miracle, the crowd try to crown Jesus king of the Jews there and then. |::|
“To unravel this symmetry, we need to go back to the Dead Sea Scrolls and delve deeper into the hopes, fears and expectations of first-century Jews. We have already seen - through discoveries such as the War Scroll - that Jews at the time of Jesus were anticipating the arrival of a great prophet. But the Dead Sea Scrolls reveal that this was only one of several visions of the Messiah. |::|
“As scholars unravelled the meaning of the scrolls, it became clear that first-century Jews were looking out for a great military saviour too. This man of war would come to liberate the Jews from Roman oppression. If the great prophet was one crucial agent of their deliverance, come to reignite the passion and conviction of the Jewish people, then the great warrior was another. |::|
“It seems that the Jews had a pretty fleshed-out idea of the kind of saviour they were expecting. It would have to be a man with the military and leadership qualities of their greatest military hero. Moses had freed the Hebrews from slavery in Egypt and had led them on the treacherous journey to freedom, through the Sinai wilderness to the edge of the promised land on the River Jordan. It was a spectacular achievement, a cornerstone of Jewish history which is still remembered every year in the Passover festival.
Parallels Between Moses and Jesus Feeding of the 5,000
Michael Symmons Roberts wrote for the BBC: “Jews at the time of Jesus were praying for a military saviour who could do to their Roman oppressors what Moses had done to the Egyptians. But this was a tall order for anyone, never mind a miracle worker from the rural northern outpost of Galilee. How on earth could the crowds imagine that Jesus might be the new Moses? Well, there are vital clues in the detail of the miracle of the loaves and fishes, clues that betray striking symbolic parallels between Jesus and Moses. Those parallels begin where the story begins, when Jesus and his disciples get on a boat, cross the waters of the Sea of Galilee and reach a place the gospels describe as lonely. In fact, they reach a place on the north-east shore of the lake that is so lonely it is known as 'the desert'. [Source: Michael Symmons Roberts, BBC, September 18, 2009 |::|]
“How had Moses' journey to the promised land begun? Well, first he had crossed the waters of the Red Sea, and then he had stopped in the Sinai desert. An interesting parallel perhaps, but not enough to astonish the onlookers. However, once they reach the desert, Jesus' disciples ask him how two loaves and five fishes are going to feed such a substantial crowd. As soon as Moses reached the Sinai wilderness his Hebrew people asked him what on earth they were going to eat, to sustain them in that barren landscape. |::|
“Just before the miracle, Jesus orders the people to sit together in squares of hundreds and fifties. Moses ordered his Hebrew people to sit down in companies one hundred, or fifty, strong. In the Old Testament book of Exodus, Moses is advised by his father-in-law, Jethro, to 'select capable men from all the people who fear God, trustworthy men who hate dishonest gain, and appoint them as officials over thousands, hundreds, fifties and tens'. |::|
“It's an impressive symmetry, but it doesn't end there. At the climax of the story - the miracle itself - Jesus hands out the loaves and fishes, and somehow manages to multiply them so the food goes to everyone who needs it. Back in the Sinai desert, Moses presided over an equally miraculous multiplication of food. In the mornings the ground was covered with manna - the bread of heaven - like a fall of snow. In the evenings, the skies above the camp were alive with quail. Loaves and fishes, manna and quail: the menu may be different, but the significance would not be lost on a first century crowd.|::|
“According to the Gospel of John, the people tried to mob Jesus after they had witnessed the miracle. That response is hardly surprising, as the possibility had dawned on them that this man could be the great military saviour they were waiting for, the leader who would overcome the Romans and liberate the long-suffering Jewish people. |::|
Jesus Walks on Water
After the miracle of the loaves and fishes, Jesus tells the disciples to head back to the fishing village of Bethsaida whilst he retires to the mountain to pray on his own. Later that night, the disciples are crossing the sea of Galilee and making little progress against the strong wind when they suddenly see Jesus walking on the water. At first they think it's a ghost, but Jesus reassures them, telling them - 'Take heart, it is I! Do not be afraid!' Then Jesus joins the disciples on the boat. [Source: Michael Symmons Roberts, BBC, September 18, 2009. Roberts is author the book“The Miracles of Jesus”. |::|]
Michael Symmons Roberts wrote for the BBC: “Jews who knew the ancient scriptures would have been familiar with the idea that evil dwelt in a fiery hell. But the scriptures made it clear that evil had another home - the sea. One of the most evocative Jewish representations of evil was Leviathan, a monster who dwelt in the sea. And those ancient scriptures did more than locate the sea as a place inhabited by evil. They also set out who has power over that domain. The book of Job said of God, 'He alone stretches out the heavens and treads on the waves of the sea.' He alone? “When they saw Jesus acting as Joshua - crossing the River Jordan - close to their boat on the Sea of Galilee, it may have crossed their minds that this was a sign of something even greater. If by walking on the sea Jesus was symbolically trampling evil underfoot, then he was acting as God.” |::|
“This raises a major question. How conscious was Jesus that his miracles were acting as signs? What was going on in his mind? Did he see himself as a prophet - the new Elijah? As a military saviour like Moses and Joshua? Or did he see himself as God? How clear was his sense of his own role and identity? To answer that question, we need to understand the language of the healings and exorcisms. They too will need to be decoded by exploring the mindset of first-century Jews.” |::|
Carole Barthelemy from Wisconsin wrote me in an e-mail: “Jesus walked on water. I think my source was Max Dinmot's excellent book, Jews, God and History. I read that the ancient Jews wore wooden objects on their feet for walking on the water.”
Meaning of Jesus Walking on Water
Michael Symmons Roberts wrote for the BBC: “The miracle of the walking on water is best understood in the context of the previous miracle. The feeding of the 5000 would have reminded the disciples of Moses and the Exodus. The miracle of the walking on water would have reminded them of the climax to the Exodus - Joshua and the conquest of the land of Canaan. After wandering for 40 years in the wilderness Moses led the Israelites to the eastern shores of the river Jordan to prepare for the conquest. But Moses died on Mt Nebo before he could begin the invasion. His mission was accomplished by his right man Joshua. [Source: Michael Symmons Roberts, BBC, September 18, 2009 |::|]
“Jesus' miracle of the walking on water would have reminded the disciples of Joshua. Like Joshua, Jesus was crossing waters. Ahead of Joshua was the Ark of the Covenant with the Ten Commandments carried by twelve priests. That scene was inverted and echoed on the Sea of Galilee; ahead of Jesus was a different kind of ark - the wooden boat, carrying the twelve disciples. But the biggest similarity between the two was in their names: Jesus is the Latin for the Hebrew name Joshua. |::|
“In the Jewish mindset of the time, Joshua was another role model for the Messiah - the flipside of Moses. Whereas Moses had freed the Israelites from oppression, it was Joshua who had finished the job by conquering the Promised Land for them. At the time of Jesus, the Jews were looking for a Messiah would not only free them from foreign oppression (as Moses had done), but someone who would also reclaim Judea and Galilee and restore it to the rule of God. In both the miracles of the loaves and fishes and the walking on water, Jesus seemed to fit the bill perfectly. |::|
“But the miracle of the walking on water had many other meanings, especially in that difficult period from the middle of the first century onwards when early Christianity faced hostility and persecution from Imperial tyrants. The sea miracle functioned as a metaphor for the precarious situation in which Christian churches found themselves - especially in Rome. To many Christians the Church must have felt like the fishing boat on the sea of Galilee, buffeted by strong winds and rocked by the waves. They must also have felt that Jesus had left them alone on the boat to fend for themselves. At best he was a ghostly appearance. But the message of the miracle is that they should 'take heart' and not be 'afraid': Jesus had not abandoned them, he was with them. It was a message which helped Christians endure persecution through the centuries.” |::|
Jesus Heals a Paralyzed Man
Michael Symmons Roberts wrote for the BBC: As the news of Jesus' remarkable healings spread, more and more people came to hear him and brought their sick and dying loved ones to him. Although Jesus regularly withdrew to be alone and pray, he spent much of the time besieged by desperate people, hanging on his every word. According to the gospels, it was on such a day that one of his most moving healing miracles took place. [Source: Michael Symmons Roberts, BBC, September 18, 2009. Roberts is author the book“The Miracles of Jesus”. |::|]
“Jesus was in the small town of Capernaum, where he and the disciples had made their home. He was teaching inside a house, and the house was packed with people. Mark's Gospel suggests that this was Peter's house. Some of the crowd were locals, but Luke says there were also Pharisees and teachers of the Law there. These officials had travelled from every village in Galilee, and from Judea and Jerusalem, to hear him. They sat and listened, but they had an agenda. This preacher was a maverick, a threat to their authority. There were plenty of rumours about him, but now they had come to see for themselves. |::|
“As Luke sets the scene, he adds that 'the power of the Lord was present for him to heal the sick'. Perhaps that power was palpable to some of the onlookers. According to Luke: “Some men came carrying a paralytic on a mat and tried to take him into the house to lay him before Jesus. When they could not find a way to do this because of the crowd, they went up on the roof and lowered him on his mat through the tiles into the middle of the crowd, right in front of Jesus. — Luke 5:18-19
“Jesus with a paralysed man who has been lowered from the ceiling Jesus tips the man off his stretcher, ordering him to walk It is a memorable image - the packed, hushed room disturbed as plaster and dust fall from the ceiling and a paralyzed man is lowered down on a stretcher in front of Jesus. It sounds like an extraordinary feat, to climb onto the roof of a house with a sick man and lower him down. But it is not as hard as it seems. |::|
“Many Middle Eastern houses today are built in very much the same way as in Jesus' time. In a town like Capernaum, the houses would be clustered together in an intricate network of courtyards, stairs and rooms interconnected on all levels. Those desperate friends of the paralyzed man could have reached the roof through a neighbouring house. Once there, all they had to do was make a hole. The roof - like many still today - would be made of sticks, straw and mud. |::|
“You might think Jesus would be furious, or shocked, when his teaching was interrupted so dramatically. But according to the gospels, his reaction was far from angry, as shown here in Luke's account: ‘When Jesus saw their faith, he said "Friend, your sins are forgiven." The Pharisees and the teachers of the law began thinking to themselves, "Who is this fellow who speaks blasphemy? Who can forgive sins but God alone?" Jesus knew what they were thinking and asked, "Why are you thinking these things in your hearts? Which is easier: to say, 'Your sins are forgiven,' or to say, 'Get up and walk?' But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins..." He said to the paralyzed man, "I tell you, get up, take your mat and go home." Immediately he stood up in front of them, took what he had been lying on and went home praising God. Everyone was amazed and gave praise to God. They were filled with awe and said, "We have seen remarkable things today."’ — Luke 5:20-26
Meaning of Jesus Healing the Paralyzed Man
Michael Symmons Roberts wrote for the BBC: “Of course, some have argued that the paralysed man may have suffered from a psychosomatic illness, that his paralysis did not have a physical cause and was therefore more susceptible to suggestion. Many, however, accept that a remarkable healing took place that day in the house at Capernaum. Who does Jesus think he is? A disciple looks questioningly at him Who did Jesus think he was? [Source: Michael Symmons Roberts, BBC, September 18, 2009 |::|]
healing lepers “Either way, it was another astonishing spectacle from Jesus. It is not hard to imagine the reaction of the onlookers. In Luke's words 'everyone was amazed'. But the reason for their amazement was not the healing itself. To a first-century Jewish audience, the jaw-dropping moment came just before Jesus told the man to take up his mat and walk home. |::|
“'Friend, your sins are forgiven.' In the Jewish faith, only one person has the authority to forgive sins, and that is God himself. Of course, people offended by others can choose to forgive them for that offence, but no one can forgive all a man's sins except God. For the Pharisees and teachers of the Law, it confirmed what they suspected about Jesus - that he was a blasphemer. No mere man could forgive another man's sins. Jesus had crossed a significant and dangerous line in the eyes of the authorities, and he had done it in a crowded public place. |::|
“What must his disciples have thought, as they went back to their fishing boats after the people had gone home? First, the message of Jesus' miracles showed him to be a prophet like Elijah, then a great military leader like Moses or Joshua. By forgiving the sins of a paralyzed man was he now acting as if he were God himself? It's a question that must have altered the way the disciples saw another of Jesus' great signs, walking on the water. When they saw Jesus walking on the Sea of Galilee - and thereby crossing the River Jordan - it may have struck them that he was acting out the role of Joshua, who crossed the Jordan to conquer the Canaanites and claim the promised land. If they had understood that by forgiving the sins of the paralyzed man Jesus was claiming to be God, perhaps they would now see another powerfully symbolic strand in Jesus' walking on the water.” |::|
Jesus Stills the Storm
Roberts wrote for the BBC: ““As Jesus and the disciples set out on one of their many trips across the Sea of Galilee, they were hit by an unexpected and violent crisis, as recounted here in the Gospel of Mark. ‘That day, when evening came, he said to his disciples, "Let us go over to the other side." Leaving the crowd behind, they took him along, just as he was, in the boat. There were also other boats with him. A furious squall came up, and the waves broke over the boat, so that it was nearly swamped.’ — Mark 4:35-37[Source: Michael Symmons Roberts, BBC, September 18, 2009 |::|]
“Certainly this part of the story appears to be accurate. Sudden violent storms from the east in the early evenings of winter are well known in the area. The fisherman here call them Sharkia, Arabic for shark. The disciples are fighting for their lives. So does Jesus join the battle to save the boat? Not according to the Bible account: ‘Jesus was in the stern, sleeping on a cushion. The disciples woke him and said to him, "Teacher, don't you care if we drown?" He got up, rebuked the wind and said to the waves, "Quiet! Be still!" Then the wind died down and it was completely calm. He said to his disciples, "Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?" They were terrified and asked each other, "Who is this? Even the wind and the waves obey him!"’ — Mark 4:38-41 |::|
“It's the act of someone with incredible power, and it makes the disciples question who on earth Jesus was. Not surprisingly, the Bible says they are awestruck. Jesus - it appears - can control the very elements..."Who is this that even the wind and sea obey him?" Now, of course, from a modern western scientific perspective, the fascinating question is 'what really happened?' Perhaps the storm was about to subside anyway, and the 'miracle' may have been little more than good timing.” |::|
Meaning and Background Behind Jesus Stilling the Storm
Roberts wrote for the BBC: “In order to understand the miracle as a sign, we need to focus on the meaning of the event rather than the event itself. That meaning was what left the disciples awestruck. It was more than shocking, it was scandalous. Once again, the key to unlocking the significance of Jesus' actions lies in the ancient prophecies of the Jews, prophecies that the disciples would have heard in childhood, and were later made to learn by heart. [Source: Michael Symmons Roberts, BBC, September 18, 2009 |::|]
“According to these ancient texts there was only one person who had the power to control the stormy seas - God himself. One passage from the book of Psalms recalls occasions in the history of the Jewish nation when God had used his power to rescue his people, and the way he used that power is strikingly reminiscent of the way Jesus used his power that day on the Sea of Galilee. The Psalm describes how God's people were in boats in a storm and cried to God for help, and how in response he is said to have stilled the storm and calmed the waves. |::|
Others went out into the sea in ships;
they were merchants on the mighty waters.
They saw the works of the Lord,
his wonderful deeds in the deep.
For he spoke and stirred up a tempest that lifted high the waves.
They mounted up to the heavens and went down to the depths;
in their peril their courage melted away.
They reeled and staggered like drunken men;
they were at their wits' end.
Then they cried out to the Lord in their trouble,
and he brought them out of their distress.
He stilled the storm to a whisper;
the waves of the sea were hushed.
They were glad when it grew calm,
and he guided them to their desired haven.
Let them give thanks to the Lord for his unfailing love
and his wonderful deeds for men.
Let them exalt him in the assembly of the people
and praise him in the council of the elders. — “Psalm 107:23-32
“The disciples would have made the connection with the Psalms immediately as they watched Jesus command the storm. By rebuking the wind and the sea, Jesus was showing that he had authority over the elements. As only God could claim such authority, Jesus was acting as if he were God. But for the disciples, that revelation was not to be greeted with unalloyed joy. It was much too complicated for that. They were all too aware that for a Jewish man to act as if he were God could mean two things. Either he really was God in human form, or this was nothing short of blasphemy, and blasphemers were mad or demonic. Either way, they were usually dead before long. |::|
“As it has passed down the centuries, the miracle of the stilling of the storm has lost its edge. It has arrived in the twenty-first-century as a story to comfort the anxious and afflicted, a familiar metaphor for Christian therapy or meditation groups. But it didn't leave the disciples calm and liberated from their troubles. Far from it.” |::|
After six days Jesus took with him Peter, James and John the brother of James, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. There he was transfigured before them. His face shone like the sun, and his clothes became as white as the light.
And in John’s vision in Revelation: And in the midst of the seven lampstands One like the Son of Man, clothed with a garment down to the feet and girded about the chest with a golden band. His head and hair were white like wool, as white as snow, and His eyes like a flame of fire; His feet were like fine brass, as if refined in a furnace, and His voice as the sound of many waters; He had in His right hand seven stars, out of His mouth went a sharp two-edged sword, and His countenance was like the sun shining in its strength.
Mount Tabor is believed by most scholars to be the site of Christ's transfiguration---where Christ's disciples saw him talking with Moses and Elijah, and his face "did shine as the sun, and his raiment was as white as the light." The top of 1,929-foot mountain. Mount Herman has also been suggested as a site of the Transfiguration. “Raiment” means clothes.
Jesus’s Resurrection as a Miracle
Michael Symmons Roberts wrote for the BBC: “The belief that Jesus had been raised from the dead became the foundation of the early Christian Church. What the early Christians made of the resurrection can be gleaned from the letters of St Paul, the Gospels and the Acts of the Apostles. It is a complex picture: did the early Christians believe that Jesus had undergone a spiritual or physical resurrection? The earliest sources are the letters of St Paul. His belief in the resurrection of Jesus is based on a vision of the risen Jesus on the road to Damascus. Like the letters of St Paul, the Gospel writers also report appearances of Jesus to the disciples. But the evangelists also report the story of the empty tomb - the discovery of the disappearance of the corpse of Jesus from his tomb on the third day after his crucifixion. The clear implication from this account is that the early Christians took Jesus to have been physically raised from the dead. [Source: Michael Symmons Roberts, BBC, September 18, 2009 |::|]
“That in itself would have been hailed as a miracle. But a series of religious experiences convinced the early Christians that the resurrection meant much more than that. First, Jesus was the divine son of God. The Acts of the Apostles reports that during the feast of Pentecost the disciples were gathered together when they heard a loud noise like a wind from heaven, and saw tongues of fire descend on them. The Bible says they were filled with the Holy Spirit - and they took that as a sign that Jesus had been resurrected by God. The experience brought about a sudden and powerful transformation in the disciples. Until then Jesus had been a memory. Now for the first time Jesus became the focus of something unprecedented. A new faith flickered into life, a faith that worshipped Jesus as the son of God. |::|
“Another meaning attached to the miracle of the resurrection is that it conferred eternal life to Christians. At the time Jews believed that there would be an after-life - but only at the very end of time. Some Jews believed that at the last judgement the dead would be resurrected, and that it would begin in the cemetery on the Mt of Olives, which overlooks Jerusalem. But the dead would have to wait an eternity before they could taste resurrection. The resurrection of Jesus changed everything. There was no need to wait for the last judgement. If Jesus could conquer death so could others. All one had to do is commit completely to Jesus and follow his path. This would be the new way to an eternal life. |::|
“This meaning gave the early Christians - and Christians throughout history - the strength to endure suffering. The Romans executed thousands of Christian martyrs but the resurrection of Jesus gave people renewed hope. If his resurrection signified victory over death - if it meant eternal life - then death could hold no terror. Because of what the resurrection symbolised, Christian martyrs like St Peter and St Paul were fearless in the face of such persecution.” |::|
Image Sources: Wikimedia, Commons
Text Sources: Internet Ancient History Sourcebook: Christian Origins sourcebooks.fordham.edu “World Religions” edited by Geoffrey Parrinder (Facts on File Publications, New York); “ Encyclopedia of the World’s Religions” edited by R.C. Zaehner (Barnes & Noble Books, 1959); King James Version of the Bible, gutenberg.org; New International Version (NIV) of The Bible, biblegateway.com; “Egeria's Description of the Liturgical Year in Jerusalem” users.ox.ac.uk ; Complete Works of Josephus at Christian Classics Ethereal Library (CCEL), translated by William Whiston, ccel.org , Metropolitan Museum of Art metmuseum.org, Frontline, PBS, “Encyclopedia of the World Cultures” edited by David Levinson (G.K. Hall & Company, New York, 1994); National Geographic, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Smithsonian magazine, Times of London, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Lonely Planet Guides, Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.
Last updated September 2018