John 9:35–39 (ESV)
35 Jesus heard that they had cast him out, and having found him he said, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?” 36 He answered, “And who is he, sir, that I may believe in him?” 37 Jesus said to him, “You have seen him, and it is he who is speaking to you.” 38 He said, “Lord, I believe,” and he worshiped him. 39 Jesus said, “For judgment I came into this world, that those who do not see may see, and those who see may become blind.”—John 9:35–39
Jesus’ interactions with the blind man frame this narrative. In between those interactions Jesus is absent, and yet, central to all that unfolds. In the gospel of John, attention has been so intensely focused on Jesus, that this absence is dramatic. The camera has been locked onto one character for so long, and His person and work are so amazing, that the change of focus, once noticed, startles.
This absence heightens those two interactions of the blind man with Jesus. In each instance, the blind man receives sight. How gloriously different are this man’s interactions with Jesus in contrast to those with the Pharisees. Two times Jesus gives this man sight. And the climactic work of Christ comes at the end. When the camera pans back around to Jesus, we are not disappointed.
This is the sixth sign we encounter in the gospel of John. John falls neatly into two halves. In the first half, chapters 1–12, there are seven signs, thus it is known as the “book of signs.” This is the penultimate sign in the “book of signs.” John has selected his signs carefully. John ends this gospel telling us, “Now there are also many other things that Jesus did. Were every one of them to be written, I suppose that the world itself could not contain the books that would be written” (John 21:25).
Think of how the signs have grown in glory. First there was the quiet act of turning the water into wine. Second, Jesus healed the official’s son from a great distance. Third, there was the healing of the invalid man at the pool of Bethesda. Fourth, we have the feeding of the five thousand plus. Fifth, there is a cluster of wonders as Jesus walks on the water to His disciples and then upon getting into the boat the storm ceases and immediately they arrive at their destination. And now, with this healing of the blind man, do not think that we have something more commonplace and lesser than the feeding or the walking on the water. John has selected these signs carefully. They grow in glory. This one is exceeded only by the raising of Lazarus in the book of signs which then anticipates the sign of signs central to the second half of John—the death and resurrection of our Lord. “Never since the world began has it been heard that anyone opened the eyes of a man born blind” (v. 32).
But this is not the greatest marvel. John has chosen these signs, he tells us, “so that you might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you might have life in his name,” (John 20:21). Believing is spiritual sight. John has written these signs so that you might see. John has written of this sign in particular, so that you might see! This man was born blind not for sin, but for glory. This man was born blind so that blind men might see. Better to receive the second sight the blind man received than to see the wonder of the blind man receiving his first sight. It is the second sight that sees the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.
This is also the last sign of what is often called “the festival cycle.” This cycle began with an unnamed feast in chapter 5 and the third sign of healing the invalid man. In chapters 5–10 we have four feasts and four signs wherein hostility towards Jesus grows. Since chapter 5, all of Jesus’ interactions with the Jews in Jerusalem have a particularly legal connotation about them. There is a lot of talk of witness and testimony and judgment. This courtroom setting is sustained throughout this chapter as well. But whereas all the legal proceedings have been directly with Jesus, now, an additional witness is called in. Nonetheless Jesus still who they believe they are trying. And it is nonetheless Jesus still who is the true judge. And what Jesus extends in judgment is sight and blindness.