As all Great Empires that we study there are small sections that I show the following days. This one has six in all. Tomorrow we will look at…
Jesus Heals on the Sabbath
1 After this there was a feast of the Jews; and Jesus went up to Jerusalem.
“A feast of the Jews” – probably one of the three pilgrimage feasts to which all Jewish males were expected to go – passover, Pentecost or tabernacles.
2 Now there is at Jerusalem by the sheep market a pool, which is called in the Hebrew tongue Bethesda, having five porches.
3 In these lay a great multitude of impotent folk, of blind, halt, withered, waiting for the moving of the water.
4 For an angel went down at a certain season into the pool, and troubled the water: whosoever then first after the troubling of the water stepped in was made whole of whatsoever disease he had.
5 And a certain man was there, which had an infirmity thirty and eight years.
6 When Jesus saw him lie, and knew that he had been now a long time in that case, he saith unto him, Wilt thou be made whole?
“Wilt thou be made whole” – the question was important. The an hadn’t asked Jesus for help, and a beggar of that day could lose a sometimes profitable (and easy) income if he were cured. Or perhaps he had simply lost the will to be cured.
7 The impotent man answered him, Sir, I have no man, when the water is troubled, to put me into the pool: but while I am coming, another steppeth down before me.
8 Jesus saith unto him, Rise, take up thy bed, and walk.
9 And immediately the man was made whole, and took up his bed, and walked: and on the same day was the Sabbath.
“The man was made whole” – ordinarily, faith in Jesus was essential to the cure, but here the man didn’t even know who Jesus was. So while usually healed in response to faith, He wasn’t limited by a person’s lack of it.
10 The Jews therefore said unto him that was cured, It is the Sabbath day: it is not lawful for thee to carry thy bed.
“It is not lawful for thee to carry thy bed” – it wasn’t the law of Moses but their traditional interpretation of it that prohibited carrying loads of any king on the Sabbath.
The Jews had very strict regulations on keeping the Sabbath, but also had many curious loopholes that their lawyers made full use of.
11 He answered them, He that made me whole, the same said unto me, Take up thy bed, and walk.
12 Then asked they him, What man is that which said unto thee, Take up thy bed, and walk?
“What man” – the Jews were contrasting the authority of the law of God, which in their view prohibited the action, and that of a mere man (as they considered Jesus to be) who permitted it.
13 And he that was healed wist not who it was: for Jesus had conveyed himself away, a multitude being in that place.
“Worse thing” – the eternal consequences of sin are more serious than any physical ailment, or he could receive an even worse physical ailment as well.
14 Afterward Jesus findeth him in the temple, and said unto him, Behold, thou art made whole: sin no more, lest a worse thing come unto thee.
15 The man departed, and told the Jews that it was Jesus, which had made him whole.
16 And therefore did the Jews persecute Jesus, and sought to slay him, because he had done these things on the Sabbath day.
17 But Jesus answered them, My Father worketh hitherto, and I work.
18 Therefore the Jews sought the more to kill him, because he not only had broken the Sabbath, but said also that God was his Father, making himself equal with God.
19 Then answered Jesus and said unto them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, The Son can do nothing of himself, but what he seeth the Father do: for what things soever he doeth, these also doeth the Son likewise.
“Can” – because of who and what He was, it was not possible for Jesus to act except in dependence on the Father.
Jesus was God, but He was also a man (Jn 1:14; 1Tim 3:16) so He had to call on the Father/God for His assistance, just like us. Jesus could have anything He had wanted, and so can we (1 Jn 513-15).
20 For the Father loveth the Son, and sheweth him all things that himself doeth: and he will shew him greater works than these, that ye may marvel.
“The Father loveth the Son” – therefore the Father revealed to the Son His plans and purposes and the Son obediently carried them out.
That is the same way it is with us and Jesus – see Jn 15:15.
21 For as the Father raiseth up the dead, and quickeneth them; even so the Son quickeneth whom he will.
“The Father raiseth up the dead” – a firm belief among the Jews. They also held that He did not give this privilege to anyone else. Jesus claimed a prerogative that according to His opponents, belonged only to God.
Jesus will give us the same thing the Father had given Him – see Jn 15:15.
22 For the Father judgeth no man, but hath committed all judgment unto the Son:
23 That all men should honor the Son, even as they honor the Father. He that honoureth not the Son honoureth not the Father which hath sent him.
24 Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that heareth my word, and believeth on him that sent me, hath everlasting life, and shall not come into condemnation; but is passed from death unto life.
25 Verily, verily, I say unto you, The hour is coming, and now is, when the dead shall hear the voice of the Son of God: and they that hear shall live.
“Is coming, and now it” – a reference not only to the future resurrection but also to the fact that Christ gives life now. The spiritually dead who hear Him receive life from Him. The dead non-believer do not hear Him for they will spend eternity in hell.
26 For as the Father hath life in himself; so hath he given to the Son to have life in himself;
“Hath life in himself” – must be understood against the background of the Old Testament, where life is spoken of as belonging to God and as being His gift (Deut 30:20; Job 10:12, 33:4; Ps 16:11,27:1, 36:9, etc.). The Son has been given the same king of life that the Father possesses (cf. 1 Jn 5:11 for the benefit to man).
27 And hath given him authority to execute judgment also, because he is the Son of man.
28 Marvel not at this: for the hour is coming, in the which all that are in the graves shall hear his voice,
29 And shall come forth; they that have done good, unto the resurrection of life; and they that have done evil, unto the resurrection of damnation.
“Have done good…life…have done evil…damnation” – as always, judgment on the non-believer is on the basis of works (Lk12:47-48), but salvation is a gift from God in response to faith.
30 I can of mine own self do nothing: as I hear, I judge: and my judgment is just; because I seek not mine own will, but the will of the Father which hath sent me.
“I can of mine own self do nothing” – Jesus stresses His dependence on the Father. He judges only as He hears from the Father, which makes judgments. That is why He tells us not to judge, we don’t have the right (Matt 7:1-2).
31 If I bear witness of myself, my witness is not true.
32 There is another that beareth witness of me; and I know that the witness which he witnesseth of me is true.
33 Ye sent unto John, and he bare witness unto the truth.
34 But I receive not testimony from man: but these things I say, that ye might be saved.
35 He was a burning and a shining light: and ye were willing for a season to rejoice in his light.
36 But I have greater witness than that of John: for the works which the Father hath given me to finish, the same works that I do, bear witness of me, that the Father hath sent me.
37 And the Father himself, which hath sent me, hath borne witness of me. Ye have neither heard his voice at any time, nor seen his shape.
38 And ye have not his word abiding in you: for whom he hath sent, him ye believe not.
39 Search the scriptures; for in them ye think ye have eternal life: and they are they which testify of me.
40 And ye will not come to me, that ye might have life.
41 I receive not honor from men.
42 But I know you, that ye have not the love of God in you.
43 I am come in my Father’s name, and ye receive me not: if another shall come in his own name, him ye will receive.
The Jews of v. 18 had their attention firmly fixed on people. Their emphasis on self-seeking and on human praise showed that they did not accept the One who came from God and therefore they missed the praise that comes from God.
As you see the wealthy, the political, those with legal authority, and even the Pope do all they can to please people, not God. Their reward comes only from people, not from God – Matt 6:2).
44 How can ye believe, which receive honor one of another, and seek not the honor that cometh from God only?
45 Do not think that I will accuse you to the Father: there is one that accuseth you, even Moses, in whom ye trust.
“One that accuseth you, even Moses” – Jesus’ listeners prided themselves on their attachment to Moses, their great lawgiver. So it was an unexpected thrust for Jesus to say that Moses himself would accuse them before God.
46 For had ye believed Moses, ye would have believed me: for he wrote of me.
“He wrote of me” – all the New Testament writers stressed or assumed that the Old Testament, rightly read, points to Christ, but the Jews couldn’t read what was written, they only understood what they wanted to understand.
47 But if ye believe not his writings, how shall ye believe my words?
Great Empires: The House of Islam
Umayyads, Abbasids, and Fatimids
From its inception, Islam was both a religious and a political movement, concerned with how the faithful should be guided and governed.
Muhammad, born around 570 in Mecca, the commercial and spiritual hub of Arabia, served as judge and military commander of the ummah—the community of believers that grew up around him—as well as their prophet.
He began to attract followers around the age of 40, when he experienced a revelation in which he recognized Allah, the same God worshiped by Jews and Christians, as supreme.
His insistence that Arabs worship Allah to the exclusion of all other gods set him at odds with powerful figures in Mecca, and he fled for his life to Medina, where his movement gained strength.
In 630, he and his forces took Mecca and removed pagan idols from the Kaaba, which became the central shrine of Islam, which means “submission”— to God and his word, as revealed by Muhammad and inscribed in the Koran.
Muhammad left no designated successor when he died in 632.
His disciple and father-in-law, Abu Bakr, became caliph (deputy) and completed the task of uniting the tribes of Arabia under Islam. They had long battled one another, and some rebelled after Muhammad’s death by renouncing Islam or refusing to pay taxes.
Abu Bakr forced them to submit, however, and prohibited them from warring on other Muslims within dar al-Islam, the “house of Islam.” Instead, the Arabs turned their energies outward and forged an empire.
No more than 50,000 men took part in the Arabs’ initial conquests, but they excelled at mounted warfare, often relying on camels which were more durable than horses in the desert and better suited for carrying supplies.
And they struck at the right time, when rival Byzantine and Sasanid Persian forces had exhausted each other and the Near East was up for grabs. Neighboring Syria had many Arab inhabitants and became the first target of Arab forces, who seized Damascus in 636.
From there, they fanned out, wresting Palestine and Egypt from the faltering Byzantines by 642 and Mesopotamia and Persia from the defunct Sasanid dynasty by midcentury.
Many cities yielded without a fight to the advancing Arabs. Like most soldiers in those times, they looted their defeated foes, but they did so systematically:
All booty was registered before it was distributed to warriors and others, with one-fifth of the proceeds going to the caliph his government. Muslim forces established garrisons in lands they conquered and were joined there by Arab civilians who helped populate those strongholds. Conversions to Islam were largely voluntary.
Thus, it took centuries for countries such as Egypt with strong ties to other faiths to become predominantly Muslim.
Jews and Christians were tolerated as “people of the Book,” whose biblical scriptures and prayers honored the one true God, and they were allowed to continue worshiping as they had before, so long as they paid a special tax required of non-Muslims.
That’s kind of funny, usually it’s the Jews that are charging everybody else an arm and a leg.
Those nonbelievers sometimes opposed their Muslim rulers, but the sharpest civil strife occurred within the house of Islam when dissident Muslims challenged the legitimacy of caliphs, who were growing increasingly wealthy and powerful.
Controversy began during the reign of Uthman, who became caliph in 644. A leader of the influential Umayyad family in Mecca, which had initially opposed Muhammad before embracing the prophet and his message, Uthman filled top government posts with family members and enriched them in the process.
He died at the hands of rebels in 656, and civil war ensued between the succeeding caliph, Ali—Muhammad’s cousin, son-in-law, and leading disciple—and his opponents, including Umayyads who hoped to regain power.
Following Ali’s assassination in 661, Umayyads established a dynasty without the support of Shiites, those Muslims who revered Ali and believed that only his descendants were entitled to rule the house of Islam.
The Muslim world continued to expand under the powerful Umayyad caliphs, who made Damascus their capital. Muslim armies advanced eastward into Central Asia and northern India and westward across North Africa before crossing to Spain in the early 700s.
When Abu al-Abbas defeated Umayyad forces in 750 and founded the Abbasid dynasty, he alienated Shiites who had joined in the rebellion hoping that a descendant of Ali would become caliph.
Abbasids came from a different branch of Muhammad’s family, and by keeping the caliphate within that branch, they excluded Ali’s heirs from power. Abbasids and their supporters believed that caliphs were political rather than spiritual guardians of the Islamic world.
Thus, descent from a member of Muhammad’s family helped legitimize caliphs, but they did not have be descendants of the prophet’s disciple Ali to rule righteously.
Muslims of that opinion became known as Sunnis, or traditionalists, because they held the traditional view that early caliphs other than Ali had in fact been rightful rulers. The conflict between Sunnis and Shiites would deepen and ultimately divide the house of Islam.
But it did not prevent Abbasid caliphs from restoring order to the Islamic world and building on the imperial foundation laid by their predecessors.
The Umayyads continued to have some influence. Abd al-Rahman of the Umayyad family fled from Damascus when his dynasty fell to the Abbasids, eventually ending up as ruler of Muslim Spain.
He took Cordoba as his capital and transformed it into a cultural commercial center that surpassed any Christian city in western Europe in the early Middle Ages.
Among its monuments were the Great Mosque of Cordoba, one of the largest structures in the Muslim world, and a library containing 400,000 volumes.
The Umayyad dynasty might have lasted longer had its caliphs all been as dynamic and outgoing as Abd al-Rahman.
But later rulers of the dynasty were isolated figures, who lived luxuriously in their palaces and entrusted the affairs of government to Arab chieftains holding lucrative positions.
Arabs who were not part of that wealthy military elite denounced caliphs and their coterie for violating the spirit of Islam, which placed the needs of the community above personal gain and required Muslims to aid the poor.
Others at odds with the Umayyads included many non-Arab Muslims, who were excluded from high offices and the accompanying financial rewards.
Imperial dynasties that came to power by toppling old ruling families have often made a fresh start by moving to a new capital.
The Abbasids thus moved the government from Damascus to Mesopotamia, the age-old heartland of empires, home to Sumerian, Akkadian, Babylonian, Assyrian, Macedonian, and Persian sovereigns over the preceding 3,000 years.
Abbasids built their new capital, Baghdad, on the Tigris River, near the former Sasanid Persian capital of Ctesiphon and not far from ancient Babylon. Laced with irrigation canals, this was a fertile area that nourished fast-growing cities.
It was also fertile ground for Islam, which won numerous converts in what is now Iraq and in neighboring Iran, birthplace of the Persian Empire of the soldiers who helped al-Abbas win power came from Khurasan in northeaster Iran, where Arab colonists intermingled and intermarried with Iranians to produce a society.
Geographically, Baghdad was not much farther from Mecca than was Damascus, the Umayyad capital. But culturally, Abbasid caliphs were entering a different world, one long dominated by Persians of one dynasty or another.
Unlike the Umayyads, the Abbasids trusted in Muslims who were not Arabs, hiring Persian clerks and administrators and patronizing Persian artists and scholars. Like well-educated Muslims of all ethnic background, those Persians knew Arabic, the sacred language of the Koran and the official language of the Islamic empire.
Under the Abbasids, Arabic literature and scholarship flourished at courts and universities where Muslims from various lands gathered, producing works of poetry, fiction, and philosophy as well as important mathematics, astronomy, and other sciences.
Mesopotamian had long been a commercial crossroads, linking India, China, and other lands of the Far East with the Mediterranean world. Under Abbasid rule, that commerce expanded.
Camel caravans plied the Oriental trade routes known as silk roads, and mariners equipped with compasses and astrolabes (used to determine latitude) navigated the Persian Gulf, Arabian Sea, and Indian Ocean, introducing Islam to ports in East Africa and Southeast Asia.
Muslim merchants helped disseminate crops native to the Far East such as rice, sugarcane, oranges, lemons, and bananas westward to Africa and Mediterranean lands.
They also engaged in the slave trade, which brought black Africans as well as Turks from Central Asia and Slavs from eastern Europe into service as laborers, soldiers, concubines, and household retainers.
Under sharia—an Islamic legal and moral code derived from the Koran—Muslims were allowed to hold non-Muslims as slaves but were required to treat them well and encouraged to free them. Just as in the Roman Empire, some freed slaves rose to high positions.
Traders brought caliphs in Baghdad treasures from many lands and increased their revenue through the taxes they paid.
Abbasid rulers were as fond of wealth and luxury as any of their Umayyad predecessors, but such behavior was customary in Mesopotamia, where emperors had long lived in splendor and dazzled onlookers.
One scholar who visited the palace in Baghdad found the caliph cloaked in gold and seated on an ebony throne: “To the right of the throne hung nine collars of gems . . . and to the left were the like, all of famous jewels.”
Like emperors in China and other lands, Abbasid rulers kept a harem of wives and concubines, watched over by eunuchs.
Some of those consorts were influential, including a freed slave named al-Khayzuran who became the wife of one caliph and the mother of another, Harun al-Rashid, who reigned in Baghdad from 786 to 809.
Harun’s opulent court inspired the colorful tales collected under the title One Thousand and One Nights and made an impression on the distant Holy Roman emperor Charlemagne, who reportedly sent envoys to Baghdad and received gifts from the caliph that included monkeys and an elephant.
Mindful of the blame cast on Muslims who failed to share their wealth with those in need, caliphs maintained hospitals in Baghdad for the sick and mentally ill, who were treated free of charge and given money when they were well enough to return home.
Abbasid rulers were less concerned with expanding their vast empire than preserving it, but that proved impossible over the centuries.
Like Persian emperors of old, they sent out agents to spy on the governors of distant provinces and see that they did not use taxes they collected or troops they commanded to advance their own interests.
But that did not prevent provincial chieftains from breaking away and forming their own dynasties. Spain remained a separate Muslim kingdom under the Umayyad ruler Abd al-Rahman and his successors.
Other countries slipped from the grasp of Abbasid caliphs during the ninth and tenth centuries—notably Egypt, a loss Baghdad could ill afford.
That wealthy and populous land fell to a Shiite dynasty known as the Fatimids, named for Muhammad’s daughter Fatimah, wife of the revered Ali.
Their movement gained strength after Harun’s son, the caliph al-Ma’mun, tried to reconcile Shiites to Abbasid rule by naming at his successor a descendant of Ali, who was later poisoned to death.
The caliph was suspected of killing him to appease rebels in Baghdad opposed to that would-be successor, and the scandal further alienated Shiites.
In 909, a Fatimid imam (spiritual leader) woo called himself al-Mahdi (“divinely guided”) took control of Tunisia.
His successors gathered strength and advanced east, conquering Egypt in 969 and building a new capital there: Cairo, near Giza and the other ancient cities where the Egyptian pharaohs once ruled.
The Fatimids’ ultimate goal was to topple the Abbasid dynasty and bring the entire Muslim world under their political and spiritual leadership.
After seizing Mecca and Damascus, however, they were thwarted in the 11th century by Seljuk Turks, who were now the real masters of Baghdad, having reduced caliphs there to figureheads.
Turks from Central Asia had long served as soldiers under Abbasid rulers, who like many emperors in other times and places recruited warlike tribesmen at their frontiers.
They benefited from their services in the short term, but ended up entrusting the defense of their realm to foreigners who did not always remain their obedient servants.
By 1055, the decrepit Abbasid dynasty was powerless without Turkish forces, who had converted to Islam as Sunnis and were eager to fight for their faith.
When Tughril Beg, the leader of a Turkish faction called the Seljuks, ousted Iranian Shiites called Buyids from Baghdad, the grateful Abbasid caliph recognized him as sultan, or chieftain, and invited him to campaign against the Fatimids.
With the army at their command, the sultan and his Turkish successors held the keys to Baghdad, and caliphs became their wards, who continued to live royally but had no real authority.
After repulsing the Fatimids and occupying Syria and Palestine, Seljuk Turks expanded the Islamic world by seizing Anatolia from the Byzantine Empire.
The ensuing Crusades diminished their power and brought a new Muslim sultan to the fore: Saladin, a commander of Kurdish origin who turned against his Fatimid masters, seized control of Egypt in 1171, and went on reclaim Jerusalem from Christian crusaders in 1187.
At his death five years later, Saladin’s realm reached from Egypt to Syria. Yet Turks retained control of Anatolia, and from that contested borderland at the outskirts of Asia emerged a new Turkish dynasty, known as the Ottomans.
In centuries to come, their forces would lay claim to much of the old Muslim world and advance deep into Europe.
…The Battle of Talas River.