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 9:39 (ESV)
Leading up to this statement by Jesus, there has been a fascinating string of events, statements, and conversational exchanges, beginning in the first verse of the chapter with “a man blind from birth” (9:1b). From what we know about Jesus’ mission, what can we say about the statement of our text? Are we not safe in saying that Jesus, as He speaks these words, also presents the underlying premise that He came into this world to extend and reveal Israel’s God and His covenant faithfulness? To that we could add that God’s covenant faithfulness was being revealed to those from whom it had been kept. How had it been kept from some people? The primary reason that Jesus seems to address is that Israel had kept the knowledge of their God and His covenant blessings from the nations by not being the light to all nations and the source of blessing to all nations that God had intended them to be. This, of course, resulted in cursing and exile.
So because there were people that had been kept from seeing, these people could figuratively be referred to as being blind. Jesus said that He came to make it possible for those blind ones to see. Not only that, but to make it possible for those who could see, who had the knowledge of the light of God’s covenant but did nothing with it, to become blind. This may sound strange, in that we would wonder why it is that Jesus would want people to become blind. This has to be understood in the context of the entire chapter, which appears to be why the author includes the story of the man that was blind from birth that is mentioned earlier in the same chapter. In the story of that man, we learn that Jesus healed him of his blindness. This was done on the Sabbath, invoking the ire of the Pharisees. The Pharisees even went so far as to say, “This man (Jesus) is not from God, for He does not keep the Sabbath” (9:16b). They questioned the man about his healing. They questioned his parents about whether or not the man was really his son and if he was really born blind. Ultimately, when the healed man questioned the stubbornness of the Pharisees, they derided him and said “You were born in utter sin, and would you teach us?” (9:34)
In the verse following our text, we read “Some of the Pharisees near Him heard these things, and said to Him, ‘Are we also blind?’” (9:40) The answer that was implied in their statement was “we see.” In the context of Jesus’ words about His mission, along with the clear, underlying communication to His hearers in regards to Israel’s light-sharing, sight-bringing responsibilities under the covenant, the Pharisees were insistent that they were ones that could see. They were not blind. They were living up to the responsibility. They were not under a curse. Ultimately, they had no need to repent. Through their diligence and zeal, they truly believed that they were being the light for seeing that they were supposed to be, but their turning inwards in national and congregational isolation, and their prejudicial treatment of the Gentiles, of those people that then stood outside of God’s covenant family, exposed the true facts of the matter.
How does Jesus respond to their question? He said to them, “If you were blind, you would have no guilt, but now that you say, ‘We see,’ your guilt remains” (9:41). How are we to understand this? It is in the light of the man that was born blind, and the judgment that the Pharisees pronounced upon him in the thirty-fourth verse, which was that of being “born in utter sin.” As we consider all of these things in the light of seeing and blindness, we can hear Jesus telling them that if they would apply the same judgment to themselves that they had applied to the man that had been blind from birth, which was that of being born in utter sin, under a curse, seeing no light and therefore unable to lead others to the light, then they would have had a chance to repent from their sin of failing to live up to the terms of their God’s covenant with them, and thereby receive their sight. They were quite willing to pronounce others as being under the curse of sin, but were unwilling to acknowledge that they themselves, in their own day, were still living under the curse of their sin, as evidenced by their being oppressed by foreign nations, which demonstrated an ongoing exile from the blessings that had been promised to them through the Abrahamic covenant.
Because of this, because they believed themselves to have sight, to not being under the cursing of the blindness of covenant malfeasance, Jesus said that their guilt remained. With all of this, Jesus informed them that those that they believed to be in utter sin, those who were not of God’s covenant people Israel, were the ones who were going to have God’s covenant faithfulness revealed to them and be included in the covenant family of the Creator God that was to envelop all nations. The Pharisees, and indeed the entire nation of Israel, could enjoy the blessings of the covenant, by admitting that they had been blind guides, rightly cursed because of their failures to uphold their covenant obligations (sin). Doing this, they would be able to see Jesus in all of His glory, as He revealed Himself and His majesty and His dominion, and through Him and the people that He would come into union with Him through faithful allegiance to Him as King, the blessings of God’s covenant would be extended to the entire world through the Gospel declaration that Jesus was King and Lord of all.