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COMMENTARY ON THE GOSPEL OF JOHN

Dr Peter Pett BA BD (Hons-London) DD

John 5 The Healing of the Disabled Man - Discourse on Eternal Life - God’s Witness To Jesus.

The chapter commences with ‘After these things’. This is a vague connecting phrase regularly used by John (compare 3.22; 6.1; 7.1; 19.38; 21.1 see also 2.12; 19.28). It may indicate here that a new phase of the Gospel has begun, although not necessarily directly, and we must be wary of fitting John into our own mould. There does, however, appear to be a different emphasis as Jesus comes into conflict with ‘the Judaisers’, and more detailed aspects of His self-revelation are made known.

It begins with the healing of the disabled man on the Sabbath, a Messianic sign, together with the resulting controversy and the first indications of a desire to kill Him because He made Himself equal with God, but expressed in such a way as to indicate that those desires were already there. It then leads on to Jesus’ revealing His equality with God as the Co-worker with God, the Source of Life and the Judge of all.

And it closes with Jesus declaring the different ways in which God has borne witness to Him, through John the Baptiser (verses 33-35), through His mighty works (verse 36), through God’s own voice, including the voice at His baptism (verse 37), through God’s word (verses 38-39), and through Moses (verses 45-47). Included also is the counteraccusation that they do not believe because they seek their own glory (verses 43-44).

The Healing of the Disabled Man at the Pool (5.1-18).

When John recounts an incident in the life of Jesus we must always ask what it is intended to illustrate, for he always has a purpose in mind. Here the aim is to demonstrate that God is working through Jesus (verse 17). Here, ‘The lame walk’, and indication that Messianic days are here (Matthew 11.5; Luke 7.22 compare Isaiah 35.6). The Judge is here (5.14 with 5.27-29). Among them is the One Who makes whole (verses 9, 11, 14, 15 with 25-26).

5.1 ‘After these things there was a feast of the Jews, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem.’

Some time later Jesus went up to Jerusalem for ‘a feast of the Jews’ The manuscript evidence strongly favours no definite article. We do not know which feast it was. What the author could not remember he did not invent. It is clear from this that Jesus made a practise of attending the regular feasts, as the Old Testament had commanded, even though with the dispersion of the Jews the practise had become less widespread due to problems of distance and of travel. John is still concentrating His attention on Jerusalem and Judea.

‘After these things’. A vague time note which could cover any length of time. Its purpose is to connect the narrative with its context and to indicate a new subject. It is not in order to give us specific information. It need not indicate chronological sequence, but simply a change of subject.

5.2 ‘Now there is in Jerusalem, near the Sheep Gate, a pool which in Hebrew is called Bethesda’ (or Bethzatha or Bethsaida or, less likely, Belzetha - the manuscripts differ widely) ‘which has five covered collonades’.

The pool was clearly renowned for its healing properties which occurred at various times at ‘the moving of the water’ (v.7), and the five collonades had presumably been built round it to aid those who came seeking healing. Its site is uncertain but a pool that adequately fits the desription has been excavated in Jerusalem. It was ‘near that which pertains to sheep’, therefore possibly ‘the Sheep Gate’ which was near the Temple. It probably means ‘place of outpouring’.

At this point explanatory glosses have been introduced into the text, but not with great support in the early manuscripts - ‘waiting for the moving of the water’ has support in some important regionalised texts, and verse 4 is found in a few, mainly unimportant texts. The former is probably a note to draw attention to the phenomenon mentioned in v.7 and the latter an explanation added to bring in a supernatural element. It is probably safe to assume that they were not part of the original text. They were possibly notes added later which accidentally became incorporated in the text.

5.3 ‘In these lay a great crowd of those who were sick, blind, lame and withered.’

Many people with all kinds of disablement would lie round the pool because the belief was that when there was a stirring in the water, (presumably from an intermittent spring), it had healing powers.

5.5-6 ‘And a certain man was there who had been an invalid for thirty eight years. When Jesus saw him lying there, and knew that he had now been like that a long time, he says to him, “Do you want to be made whole?”.’

We are not told how Jesus knew that he had been there a long time and it is possibly intended to signify divine discernment. Alternately Jesus may have asked someone about the man and been informed of his situation, or it may be that someone accompanying Jesus, who knew of the man, drew His attention to him. Jesus could, of course, have healed him without recourse to him, but always His purpose in healing was to reach the heart so He involves the man in conversation.

‘For thirty eight years.’ The main point is that he had been disabled for a long time, but there may be intended here a reminder of Israel’s thirty eight years of disfavour as a result of their unwillingness to obey God (Deuteronomy 2.14) hinting at the fact that the man’s disablement is due to his too having disobeyed God in some way. Like Israel he was under God’s disfavour and was about to be given a new beginning. ‘Thirty eight years’ would immediately remind a Jew of that period, and the story would then indicate to him that in the coming of Jesus a ‘lame’ Israel was to be made to walk.

‘Do you want to be made whole?’ The question did not need to be asked. Everyone knew that the man was carried there because of a slim hope of healing. But Jesus’ idea was not to obtain information but to make the man think about his position and bring him into a condition where he can receive healing and benefit by it spiritually.

In the end Jesus' concern was for the man's spiritual state. This is brought out more in the case of the paralytic where He actually began by offering him forgiveness (Mark 2.1-12). Healing, while important in what it revealed, and while desperately sought by the sick person, was secondary. This is the opposite view to that of the world. They would in most cases consider the healing more important and the spiritual aspect second. But Jesus knew that the world's deepest need was spiritual. This was the part of man that would be affected eternally. It affected his final destiny. Here was where the world really needed to be healed, but few sought it. Yet Jesus did not hurry the man into considering such aspects of the case. He knew that the seed must be sown and then be left to germinate. All was in the Father’s hands.

This incident is remarkable because it is one of only two cases we know of where Jesus healed without being asked. The other is the blind man in chapter 9. And in both cases He had a special lesson to teach, and was brought into conflict with the Pharisees. That is not to say that He did not perform other such miracles, for these incidents were described precisely because of their wider context, but it is surely significant that the other Gospels never draw attention to such activity (except perhaps Peter’s wife’s mother - Mark 1.29-31).

There were so many sick people in Palestine that Jesus could have spent all His time healing, and we never know of Him turning someone away. But He would sometimes have to conceal Himself from such crowds because He was finding the physical strain too much, and so as to be able to restore His strength by spending time in prayer with His Father. At such a time He pointed out that He had not come to heal but to proclaim to them the Kingly Rule of God (Mark 1.35-38), although healing was of course part of that proclamation (Isaiah 35.6; 61.1-2). Thus He wanted men to know that He had come, not as a healer, but as a proclaimer of God’s Kingly Rule.

It is significant that Jesus did not deliberately practise mass healing. He healed each person individually, usually as they came to Him. It draws attention to the fact that there was a purpose for sickness and disease in the world, and that to heal on such a broad scale without being asked would actually have thwarted God’s purposes.

There were indeed many sick people around that pool that day, and yet as far as we know He only healed this one (compare Luke 4.25-27). The incident gains in importance from this fact.

5.7. The sick 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 steps down before me”.’

Someone may have brought the man there each day, or he may have been there permanently, but no one was concerned enough to stay with him to help him down into the water. Possibly they had little confidence in the powers of the pool, or perhaps they had previously tried and had found it hopeless. There was always going to be someone else there who was more agile. What a sickening position he was in. Constant hope, and yet hopelessness.

‘When the water is troubled’. If the explanation in verses 2 and 3 is a gloss this stands on its own as unexplained, but it may be that John assumed that any reader would read into his words the significance of them and did not want to publicise a superstition. The ‘moving of the water’, possibly caused by an intermittent spring, was probably seen by many as a divine phenomenon. Psychological healings no doubt took place.

5.8-9 ‘And Jesus says to him, “Stand up, take up your bed and walk.” And the man was made whole immediately, and took up his bed and walked. Now it was the Sabbath on that day.’

Then Jesus said, ‘Rise, take up your mattress and go home’, and at once the man was made whole. The healing was immediate, the more remarkable because his muscles must have atrophied and would need instant restoration. And he took up his mattress and walked. Some response was, of course, required. Had the man lain there and made no effort he might have been there for many years to come. But something about Jesus, and what he felt to be happening in his own body, made him make the effort and he found that he could walk. The phrase ‘made whole’ is stressed in the passage (verses 11, 14, 15). John is stressing that the One Who makes whole is here.

But the problem was that it was the Sabbath, and, according to Scribal teaching, to carry furniture on the Sabbath was forbidden, possibly on the basis of Jeremiah 17.19-27 with Exodus 20.10. To lift the man together with the mattress was allowable for that would be giving assistance to a disabled man, but just to lift the mattress was against the Pharisaic regulations. In general their principle was in accordance with the Law’s requirements, but they lacked the compassion to differentiate special cases.

It is probable that we have here a deliberate attempt by Jesus to make the Scribes and Pharisees face up to the inadequacy of their teaching. He did not need to tell the man to carry his mattress, and the fact that He did so was a direct challenge to their beliefs, and a declaration of His own authority to override them. Would they really attack a situation where the power of God was so clearly revealed?

5.10 ‘So the Judaisers said to him who was cured, “It is the Sabbath and it is not lawful for you to take up your mattress.”

He (the man who had been healed) was spotted by some of ‘the Judaisers’ (the representatives of the religious authorities) who stopped him and said to him, ‘Today is the Sabbath. It is not lawful for you to carry your mattress’. This was reasonable. They did not at first know the circumstances of the case.

5.11-13 ‘And he answered, “The man who made me whole, it was he who told me, ‘take up your mattress and walk’.” They asked him, “Who is the man who said to you, ‘take up your mattress and walk?’ ” But he who was healed did not know who it was, for Jesus had slipped away, a large crowd being in the place.’

The incident brings out how intransigent the Scribes and Pharisees were in their teaching. They were told two things. ‘The man made me whole’ and ‘he told me to pick up my mattress’. But instead of considering the first and praising God for the miracle of the man’s healing, and recognising that carrying his ‘stretcher’ went with the miracle, (hardly a normal case of carrying furniture - God is at work and the man is returning home from the place of healing) they pedantically go on the attack. It is as though miracles like this were commonplace, whereas it should have quickened their interest in Jesus in the right way. Note John’s stress on ‘the man who healed me’, ‘he who was healed’, it is this that alters the case. It should have given pause for consideration of the Healer, but their narrow-mindedness prevented them from thinking more widely. They were only interested in furniture removal on the Sabbath.

‘Jesus had slipped away’. He did not want the crowds to react wrongly. They were not as pedantic as the Scribes and Pharisees.

The lame man is a character study in himself, someone who was totally lacking in initiative (contrast the blind man in chapter 9). He resignedly does nothing about his predicament at the pool and blames those who get in before him. Nor when Jesus made an offer of healing does it seem to have stirred him at all (although he does at least get up when told to). He does not bother to ask the man who healed him who He was. Then when he later finds out he goes and tells the Scribes and Pharisees, not thinking of the consequences, probably because he feels that he is seen as blameworthy and wants to clear himself, although they may have left him with the impression that if he could point out the real Sabbath-breaker he himself could be spared the punishment that a synagogue court could inflict. There can be no doubt that this man is a genuine characterisation.

5.14 ‘Afterward Jesus finds him in the Temple and said to him, “Look, you are made whole, sin no more, lest a worse thing befall you”.’

Jesus later sought the man out in the Temple area. He did not just want the incident to stop with healing, He was concerned for the whole man. ‘Do not sin any more in case worse things happen to you’. This might suggest that the illness was associated directly with the way he had lived, but the exhortation is in the present. ‘Do not go on sinning’. He has not only sinned in the past but continues to the present day. As always with Jesus, the man must face up to his sinfulness. The Judge of the world is here and the light is shone on the man’s heart and conscience.

The story has similarities to that of the Paralytic man in Mark 2.1-12 in that his disability is connected with his having sinned, and that he picks up his mattress and walks at Jesus’ command. But there are no other similarities. It may be in both cases that their physical problems were the result of a psychological reaction to some particular question of guilt, which Jesus released, but in this case no mention is made of sin being forgiven. However, it is clear that Jesus did wish to get over the message that he needed to turn from sin, for He specifically seeks him out to tell him so. Like him many people have found through life that certain types of sin lead on to sickness and disease. But the main purpose of the story is to reveal that Jesus is the One Who has come to make God’s lame people walk again, thus revealing Him as the Messiah, and to lead on to what follows, His controversy with the ‘Judaisers’.

5.15 ‘The man went away and told the Judaisers that it was Jesus who had made him whole.’

This may suggest that he recognised that he was ‘in trouble’ with the authorities and wanted to clear himself. He could otherwise have found himself excluded from the synagogue (the local Jewish place of worship). But note the statement. The man told them, not that it was Jesus who had told him to carry the bedding, but that it was Jesus who had made him whole. He wants Jesus to get the credit and perhaps possibly thinks that now the Scribes and Pharisees will recognise their error. But the Scribes and Pharisees think only of the carrying of the mattress. They ignore the greater sign. It is typical of man’s fallen state that he is able to overlook what God does because he is so taken up with petty affairs.

5.16 ‘And this was why the Jews persecuted Jesus, because he did these things on the Sabbath’.

Initially the persecution must have taken on the form of some verbal attack, as it leads on to a reply from Jesus, but the way it is put suggests that this is seen as the commencement of a continual process of persecution. Jesus is looked on as a confirmed Sabbath-breaker. Note that ‘these things’ confirms that Jesus is recognised as having flouted the Pharisaic regulations a number of times. This is only one example.

The Pharisees were, of course, to be found in many places and they were not so organised that they would act as one body in every particular case. It is the leading Pharisees and other Jewish leaders in this locality who are spoken of here. When Jesus moves to a new locality He will be reassessed (Mark 2.6, 16, 24; 3.2), but in the end, with exceptions, the result is always the same, until finally He becomes watched by the central authority, ‘the Scribes from Jerusalem’ (Mark 3.22).

5.17-18 ‘But Jesus answered them, “My Father works even until now, and I work”.

Jesus’ reply to the charge of breaking the Sabbath is a powerful one. ‘My Father is still at work, and I also am working’. No one will attack God for working on the Sabbath in maintaining the universe, and performing miracles (‘works until now’), why then should they attack the One Who uniquely works on God’s behalf, as the miracle proves? It is interesting to note that when Rabban Gamaliel II, R. Joshua, R. Eleazar ben Azariah, and R. Aquiba were in Rome, around AD 95, they gave as a rebuttal to sectarian arguments evidence that God might do as He willed in the world without breaking the Sabbath because the entire world was his private residence. Thus this may well have been a generally held position in Jesus’ day.

The reply linked His work with God’s work in a very intimate way. He was saying that He had the same authority over the Sabbath as God had. Because God could work, He could work when He was doing the work of God. His use of the phrase ‘my Father’ was also very intimate. He was putting Himself on God’s side of reality. The implication was that they should see Him as having a unique relationship with the Father, which put Him above men’s interpretations of the Law, an implication that they recognise.

In this way Jesus tried to bring them back to considering the miracle. Here was a work of God. Will they not consider its implications? It demonstrated that God was on His side and was pleased with what He was doing. As Nicodemus had said, ‘No man can do these signs that you do except God be with him’ (3.2).

5.18. ‘This was why the Jews sought the more to kill Him (i.e. to plot His death) because He not only broke the Sabbath, but also called God ‘His own Father’ (patera idion) making Himself equal with God’.

Rather than recognise the logic of the situation they look for more reasons for attacking Him. They would not let the light in and so their hearts were darkened. Note that they recognised that He was claiming that God was His Father in a unique sense. That is why He always taught others to say, ‘OUR Father’ (not including Himself) while He Himself spoke of ‘My Father’. The Pharisees at least clearly recognised that claim, but for the wrong reasons. His claim that His right to work should be compared with God’s in relation to the Sabbath was sufficient for them in itself, but His reference to God as His Father confirmed the position. He was a blasphemer. They never stopped to ask themselves how a blasphemer could heal sick men. They simply glossed it over.

So the incident ends with a clear conclusion, that in it Jesus has made Himself out to be equal with God. This is apparent from His claim to rights over the Sabbath as a result of His co-working with the Father, and the fact that He can call God His own Father. They recognised the implication, but failed to recognise the consequence of the healing having taken place.

Jesus Confirms Their View Of His Equality With God And Points To The Resurrection (5.19-29).

Jesus now expands on His claim to be co-equal with the Father. He does not want them to be in any doubt, but does it in semi-veiled terms comparable with His use of parables. He leaves them to think through the implications. It may be of help if we first summarise what Jesus is about to say, for it will help to bring home just how great a claim He was making. Notice how close the relationship is between Father and Son, and how Jesus links Himself with the Father in the greatest issues of life:

  • The Son is doing what His Father does (5.19).
  • He is the Son Who is loved by the Father so that the Father shows Him all that He the Father does (5.20).
  • He is the Son Who like the Father can make alive whoever He wills (5.21).
  • He is the Son to Whom the Father has committed all judgment (5.22).
  • He is the Son Who is deserving of equal honour with the Father (5.23).
  • He is the Son Who like the Father has life in Himself, so that as the Son of God He will summon the dead to life at the last day (5.25-26).
  • He is the Son to Whom the Father has given the authority to exercise judgment because He is the Son of Man (5.27).

A glance over Jesus’ claims here helps to explain the attitude of the Scribes and Pharisees. They were being put on the spot, for they either had to recognise the stupendous nature of His claims and respond to Him, or dismiss them out of hand. They reveal Him as a figure of gigantic proportions. It will be apparent that the third, fifth and sixth statements are inconceivable unless Jesus really is equal with the Father, while the remainder also bring out His uniqueness in the scheme of things, the seventh being Messianic. We will now consider them in more detail.

5.19-20 ‘Jesus answered and said to them, “In very truth I tell you, the Son can do nothing of himself, but what he sees the Father doing. For whatever things he does the Son does in the same way. For the Father loves the Son, and shows him all things that he himself does, and greater works than these will he show him, that you may marvel”.’

Jesus now expands His statement concerning the paralleling of His working with that of God (verse 17). He Himself now uses the unique term ‘the Son’ (the one and only, compare 3.16-17, 35-36). ‘I tell you truly, the Son can do nothing of His own accord.’ He is now making His claims totally clear. Furthermore He points out that His relationship with the Father is such that all that He does is done as a result of Him seeing what the Father is doing. The intimacy of the thought is outstanding. He sees what the Father is doing. He is fully aware of all that God does. And He not only does whatever He sees the Father doing, but He Himself does nothing else. Whatever He does He does in the same way as the Father. Indeed His relationship with the Father is such that His Father loves Him as ‘the Son’ and shows Him all that He is doing. No one had ever made such claims. They had to be either true or blasphemous. He is indicating that He and the Father work in such unison that it was impossible for Him to act without it being in line with the Father’s will and actions. The two worked as One. And as the Father is ‘the (unique and only) Father’, so He is ‘The (unique and only) Son’.

If only they will keep their eyes open they will in the future see greater things than they have seen up to this point so that they may marvel. He will perform many signs. (But because they would not be spectacular signs of the kind that men liked they would fail to acknowledge them). And above all He will take personal responsibility both for the judgment of the world and the future resurrection of the dead (verses 21-22, 25-29).

‘Except what he sees the Father do.’ His actions are always as a result of seeing the Father’s will and activity. There is here a claim to be able to fully enter into the mind of God.

‘For whatever He does, the Son does the same, for the Father loves the Son and shows him all that He Himself is doing’. There is such a relationship of love between Father and Son that what each does is fully known to the other and He always does what His Father does, and because of His love for Him His Father always shows Him what He is doing.

So He and the Father are declared to be working in tandem. Whatever Jesus does is what the Father has shown Him to do, and indeed is doing along with Him. Thus the healing of the lame man is the work of the Father and of the Son, and the consequence is that He thus has the right to do what He did on the Sabbath.

We should remember here that the Jews saw a son as being almost the embodiment and extension of his father. There was a oneness between them that was not true of their relationship with any other. The good son reproduced the life and behaviour of his father. Jesus makes clear that He does not work independently of the Father in anything. He does what the Father does, and wills what the Father wills. He is a true Son.

A careful analysis of these claims demonstrates that they are little short of a complete claim to be on the divine side of reality. None other could make such claims. So He is making the Scribes and Pharisees ask themselves how otherwise they could explain the healing, for it was nothing short of proving what He was saying.

‘And He will show him greater works than these so that you may be filled with amazement’. Let them take further note that what they will see in the future will exceed anything they have seen up to now. God has yet greater things to do through Him than the healing of a disabled man and exertion of authority over the Sabbath, as He will now declare.

5.21 “For as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, even so also the Son gives life to whoever he wishes.”

Thus just as the Father can raise the dead and give life, both now and in the age to come, so He, the Son, claims to have the same power and authority, and to be able to do it by His own will. In other words He had the right to be able to do these things on His own. Nevertheless the context makes clear that He always exercises that will in line with His Father’s will because they always work together. Jesus will reveal this power in the raising of Lazarus (chapter 11), which amazed everyone who witnessed it, but the statement goes much further than that. He is claiming to give eternal life to all who believe and to have the power to raise men at the last day. He is offering eternal life through the Spirit now, and will Himself be the One Who raises men at the last day (see verses 28-29).

5.22 “For neither does the Father judge any man, but he has given all judgment to the Son.”

And this is not in any secondary way, for He will also be the One Who passes the judgment which determines the manner of their resurrection, for ‘the Father judges no one but has committed all judgment to the Son’. Indeed judgment is totally in His hands. This stark claim took the position even further. To be the One to Whom all judgment was committed could only signify that at the very least He was God’s favourite, and should lead on, with what He has already said, to the recognition of (to them) the unthinkable. That He was God. And yet He is also man, for the world will be judged by ‘that man whom God has ordained’ and resurrected (Acts 17.31).

5.23 “That all may honour the Son, even as they honour the Father. He who does not honour the Son, does not honour the Father who sent him.”

Why then has the Father given this power and privilege to the Son? It was ‘That all may honour the Son as they honour the Father’. God’s purpose is that He, Jesus Christ, will have equal honour with the Father. This can mean nothing other than equality of status, and thus oneness of being. Who else could have equal honour with the Father?

They thus need to take care what attitude they take up to Jesus, for ‘He who does not honour the Son, does not honour the Father who sent him’. Because of His relationship with the Father their attitude towards Him will make clear their attitude to and position before God. As He will say elsewhere, He has revealed God’s power in such a way that to reject His work is to be in danger of blaspheming against the Holy Spirit (Mark 3.22-30).

There can be no doubting now the claims of Jesus. His words were very different from those He would use with the crowds. To them He taught simply yet firmly, allowing the truth about Himself to slowly dawn in their hearts, for He wanted no false disciples. But here He was facing the theologians, and put the matter clearly and in theological terms. They have challenged whether He is equal with God, and instead of backing down He has boldly asserted that equality as the Son of the Father. He does the same works as the Father, He has power to give life in accordance with His own will just as the Father has, and He has been appointed judge of all so that all judgment is in His hands, and He has equal honour with the Father. What more could He say?

The Son Has the Power to Offer Everlasting Life Now (5.24-29).

He now goes on to reveal His uniqueness by the fact that He can both give men eternal life now, and will be responsible both for man’s judgment at the Last Day, and for the resurrection of the dead and their final destiny.

5.24 “In very truth I tell you, he who hears my word and believes him who sent me, has eternal life, and does not come into judgment but has passed from death to life’.

He goes on to add that because He has been given the power to raise men at the last day He is able to offer life and certainty now. Those who hear His word (which means hear in the sense of responding to it fully), and believe Him Who sent Him, something which will be shown by their response to Jesus (v.23), will immediately have the life of the coming age, eternal life, the life of the Spirit. They do not have to wait for it, it can be theirs now, courtesy of both Father and Son. For such there will be no Judgment Day needed to determine their destiny, they will have already passed from death to life.

That this ‘having eternal life’ does not only mean ‘has potentially’ is confirmed by 1 John 5.11-13. It has in mind the ‘birth from above’ of John 3.3, the ‘begetting again’ of 1 Peter 1.3, 23 and the ‘partaking of the divine nature’ of 2 Peter 1.4.

The Scribes and Pharisees earnestly sought eternal life. They believed that it could be theirs by strict obedience to the Laws and proved participation in the covenant community before God. And yet they were conscious that they always failed. So they strove harder, and still they failed. But Jesus was now offering to free them from the daily grind of hopeless striving. Let them now believe God as He speaks through the activities of His Son. Let them respond to His words. Then they will receive eternal life now. They will already have passed from death to life.

‘Hears My words -- and believes Him Who sent Me.’ Notice how the implication is that His words are God’s words, that His words can be seen as the very words of God. They need to believe His words because they are not only His but are the Father’s, so that their attitude to His words demonstrates whether they are willing to believe the Father..

5.25 “In very truth I tell you, the hour is coming, and now is, when the dead shall hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear shall live.”

‘The hour is coming.’ That was the expectancy of the Pharisees, that an hour was coming when men would be raised from the dead for either life or judgment. But Jesus tells them that that hour has now come. Because He is there men can hear His voice and receive eternal life immediately, because He is the Son of God.

‘And now is’. The claim is momentous and epoch-making. The hour has now come for men to hear the voice of the Son of God and receive life, and it is here now. It is true that they are spiritually dead, but they can come alive by responding to Him and receiving life from Him (as the woman of Samaria and her fellow Samaritans had already done). It does not await Pentecost. It does not await the resurrection. He is speaking now, and they can respond now. He who ‘has the Son has life’ (1 John 5.12). So if they do respond they will receive life now and the guarantee of resurrection at the last day. ‘Spiritual resurrection’ is now a present possibility for those who respond to His words. This is the ‘first resurrection’ which results in our sharing the throne with Jesus Christ (Ephesians 2.6; Revelation 20.4-6). From this point on the title ‘the Son of God’ takes on new meaning (compare on 1.34, 49). He is God, the Son.

5.26 “For as the Father has life in himself, so has he granted the Son also to have life in himself.”

And the life that He is now offering has its source not only in the Father but in Himself, for He and the Father are one in having and giving life in themselves. He indeed is Himself the source of spiritual life, that life through which men can come to the Father (14.6).

5.27 “And he has given him the authority to execute judgment because he is the Son of Man.”

Not only does Jesus give life now, but as the Son of Man He has been given the authority to execute judgment. The connection with the Son of Man shows that the idea is taken from Daniel 7.9-14, where God takes His seat at the Judgment, the court sits in judgment and the books are opened. Then one like a son of man comes before God and is given dominion and glory and kingship, that all peoples, nations and languages should serve Him, an everlasting dominion that will not pass away. The right of judgment has been passed on to Him.

Thus it is in His glorified humanity as the chosen King that Jesus is made the Judge, as Son of Man as well as Son of God, with the power to execute judgment. As the introducer of the new eternal age He has also the right to decide who will enter it.

Note the distinction that is made between the fact that it is as ‘the Son of God’ that He gives life, something which is God’s prerogative alone, but that it is as ‘the Son of Man’ that He will one day execute judgment. Who better to judge than One Who has Himself lived as man?

5.28-29 “Do not marvel at this, for the hour is coming in which all who are in their graves will hear his voice and will come forth, those who have done good to the resurrection of life, and those who have practised evil to the resurrection of judgment.”

Now Jesus moves on to the idea of the final resurrection. The picture is stirring. One day it will be the voice of Jesus that will command the dead to come forth. Then some will enjoy the resurrection of life, for they are those who have previously heard His voice and have received life, and their resurrection will simply be entering more fully into that life in a new resurrection body. Others will experience the resurrection of judgment, because they have never received life.

‘Those who have done good.’ This includes the thought that they have received His word and believed on Him. As He says elsewhere this is what doing the works of God involves (6.29). But those who claim to have received the gift of eternal life will reveal the genuineness of what they have received by their lives. ‘By their words they will be justified’ (Matthew 12.37). It is impossible to have the new life and live the old life (compare 2 Corinthians 5.17; Romans 6.1-11; Ephesians 4.22-24; Colossians 3.9-10). To do good is to do what God requires. It signifies full acceptability with God. Thus it includes having been reconciled to God and then having responded in an obedient life.

‘Those who have practised evil.’ Those who have not responded to Jesus’ words in this life will come forth to the resurrection of judgment, for they will have refused life. And this refusal will be revealed by the way they live and by their attitude to Him. They will practise selfishness and wrongdoing. No one was more conscious of failure than the genuine Pharisee, for he struggled to obey the Law and yet found himself failing again and again. But now he too is faced with the consequence, a consequence true for all. If they refuse the transforming of their lives through believing in Christ they can only receive judgment.

Behind the words are a contrast too, for in the Last Day all the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God and respond. The Word will speak. Yet in the present it is only believers who hear His voice. There is no response to that voice in the hearts of the Judaisers. They are proving themselves to be worse than dead.

So Jesus has made clear what He really is. He not only reveals the Father’s workings while on earth, but He also works with the Father and offers eternal life now to all who hear His voice and respond from the heart, and it will in fact be His voice also which raises men at the last day, giving resurrection life to those who have responded to Him, and passing judgment on those have refused to hear His voice. They will have to obey His voice, either now or then, but if it is then it will be too late.

As The Son Jesus Works Totally in Accord with the Father’s Will (5.30).

Jesus now emphasises that He works and judges totally in line with His Father. He does nothing on the basis simply of His own will. He aligns His will with the will of the Father.

5.30 “I can of myself do nothing. As I hear, I judge, and my judgment is righteous because I do not seek my own will but the will of him who sent me”.

Having asserted the supreme authority and power He has received from the Father, Jesus now assured His hearers that this did not mean that He was acting on His own. While all judgment has been committed to Him He does not seek His own will, for He and the Father work in unison, and indeed anything else is not possible. By His very nature He cannot act on His own. The unity of the Godhead is too close. There is, as it were, a divine exchange, and as He judges He is always aware of what the Father says and has in mind the Father’s will. Thus His judgment is just because it is the judgment of God.

Witnesses to the Genuineness of His Authority (5.31-40).

Jesus now goes on to describe the witnesses which support Him:

  • He is the One to Whom the Father has borne witness (5.37)
  • His very works bear witness to Him as the One sent by the Father (5.36).
  • The Scriptures themselves bear witness to Him (5.39).

And He closes by emphasising the fact that He has come in His Father’s Name in contrast with those who come in their own name. The reference to those who come in their own name (5.43) probably has in mind Messianic pretenders.

5.31 “If I bear witness of myself, my witness is not true.”

Clearly Jesus did not literally mean that His witness was not true simply because it was His own. He was rather acknowledging that self-testimony was seen as worthless by the Jews from a judicial point of view. This was the strongly held Jewish viewpoint based on the Scriptures. He is therefore stressing that He does not expect them to rely on such self-testimony. Rather there are others who testify of Him. This does not therefore contradict 8.14, rather it indicates what the response of men will be. Men will say that ‘truth’ judicially can only be established by more than one witness. In contrast 8.14 is saying that essential truth can be established by Him in that He is the One Who truly knows because He is in a position to know, and because of where He comes from, even though it might not be judicially acceptable on earth. The idea there is that by its very nature as heavenly, heavenly truth is more acceptable than earthly truth and requires no further witness.

5.32 “There is another who bears witness to me, and I know that the witness that he witnesses of me is true.”

He does not need to bear witness concerning Himself because there is Another Who bears witness to Him, Someone Whose witness is undoubted. As He will demonstrate later, God bears witness to Him, indeed has already borne witness to Him through the miracle of the lame man. This is the testimony which really counts. But prior to this He will point to an earthly witness.

5.33-35 “You have sent to John and he has born witness to the truth. But the witness which I receive is not from man, but I say these things so that you might be saved. He was a kindled and a shining lamp, and you were willing to rejoice for a while in his light.”

That earthly witness is John the Baptiser. John, with his message of the imminence of the work of God, had received some acceptance for a while, even among many Jewish leaders, for they too were looking for God to work, although of course they were confident that whoever came would work with and through them. And many of them had rejoiced in his light. Well, they should recognise that John, who was highly regarded by so many, bore testimony to Him and revealed the truth about Him.

They had accepted John as a shining lamp, a revealer of truth, although he was only a kindled lamp in comparison with the One Who was the permanent and original light of the world. Then let them accept his testimony about Jesus. But they must understand that He was only saying this so that they might listen and be saved from their present darkness. He Himself did not need the testimony of men. He has a greater witness than John.

5.36 “But the witness which I have is greater than that of John, for the works which the Father has granted me to accomplish, these very works which I am doing, bear witness to me that the Father has sent me.”

His Father has provided Him with many witnesses. Every miracle He does bears testimony to Him for it demonstrates that His Father is with Him. Indeed all to whom He speaks are witness to the signs and miracles He has done, the effectiveness of His words, the authority that He has revealed, His power over evil spirits. His life was a constant source of such things, and these very things bear witness that His Father is with Him. As one of their own had testified, ‘no one can do these signs that you do, unless God is with him’ (3.2). So His very works prove that He is from the Father. (Note that their witness is not to the sceptic but to the religious mind wanting to know the truth. They are signs not proofs. Compare Matthew 11.2-6).

Others had done miracles in the past, but none had done so on the vast scale and with the completeness that He did. Nor had they like Him constantly openly faced the world of evil spirits and defeated it. He performed miracles when and where He would and they could not point to a case of one who had come for healing and had gone away unhealed or of an evil spirit that had refused to obey His command (Mark 6.5-6 refers to those who would not come, not to failures by Him). He was a constant revelation of the Father’s power.

5.37a “And the Father who sent me has himself borne witness to me.”

Furthermore the Father had Himself borne witness to Jesus. He had done it through the voice at His baptism (Mark 1.11). He had done it through His Spirit continually testifying to men’s hearts that Jesus was from God, for ‘he who believes in the Son of God has the testimony in himself’ (1 John 5.10). And He has also spoken of Jesus through their very Scriptures. Furthermore He also witnesses to Him through the works of power that Jesus does. But the truth is that they will not hear the testimony because their hearts are hardened.

Jesus may well rather have had in mind here by His reference to the Scriptures, all the Old Testament promises with regard to the coming David, the coming Servant of YHWH found there, especially as propounded in Isaiah 9.6. In the Scriptures there was a constant stream of testimony to the One Who was coming and what He was going to do under the hand of God.

5.37b-40 “You have neither heard his voice at any time, nor seen his form, and you do not have his word abiding in you, for you do not believe him whom he has sent. You search the Scriptures, because you think that in them you have eternal life, and it is they that bear witness to me, yet you refuse to come to me that you might have life.”

Here Jesus is contrasting his listeners with Moses who both heard God’s voice and saw His form ( although not seeing Him in the fullness of His being). See Exodus 33.11, 17-23. They saw themselves as ‘in Moses’ seat’ but by their refusal to hear Him were demonstrating that far from being like Moses they were actually rejecting Moses. In spite of searching the Scriptures they were blind to what the Scriptures actually revealed. So they were not only unlike Moses in that they had not seen God’s form or seen His face, demonstrating their inferior standing as compared with Moses, but their failure to respond positively to Him demonstrated that, unlike Moses, they did not have the word of God abiding in them. For had they had God’s word abiding in them they would have responded to the One Who was His Word.

His listeners would certainly immediately recognise in these words a reference to Moses. Moses was the one who above all heard God’s voice and saw His form (Exodus 33.11; 33.23; Deuteronomy 34.10). And these Jewish leaders gloried in Moses. They laid great stress on the Law of Moses. They claimed to sit in the seat of Moses. They even looked for the coming of a prophet like Moses. And yet they were revealing by their attitude how far from being like Moses they really were. For God had borne witness to Him through Moses, and if only they would really be willing to hear Moses and the Prophets, then they would believe Him, for both spoke of Him. These are God’s witnesses.

The Scribes and Pharisees especially believed that by meditation in the Law of Moses and in the Prophets they could obtain eternal life as those who by doing so proved that they were within the covenant. And they claimed to represent Moses. But, says Jesus, how far from being like Moses they were. Let them consider this. Moses heard the voice of God, Moses saw the form of God, proving his supreme prophetic status. So they should all the more carefully listen to Moses, for they have neither heard the Father’s voice nor seen His form.

And yet there is an irony in these words in that they had in fact ‘heard His voice and seen His face’ without being aware of it, because He Himself was among them as One Who spoke with the voice of God directly, and through Whom they could see the form of God, for, as He will later inform His disciples, ‘he who has seen Me has seen the Father’ (John 14.9). Thus their sin is all the greater in that they have had a greater privilege than Moses and yet have refused to hear and see. We can compare here Jesus’ words to His disciples, “Blessed are the eyes which see what you see. For I tell you, that many prophets and kings have desired to see those things which you see, and have not seen them; and to hear those things which you hear, and have not heard them” (Luke 10.24). The Pharisees had seen them as well, but they had closed their eyes and ears to what they saw and heard.

How unlike Moses they are, He is saying. They are like the people of Israel of old who when they heard the voice of God (Deuteronomy 4.12) asked that they should hear it no longer but that it should be conveyed to them through Moses (Deuteronomy 5.24-27). And then in the end they did not listen to Moses. And now the Judaisers are the same. Unlike Moses they do not have God’s word abiding in them, for if they had, they would have believed in the One Whom God has sent. They pretend to be ready to hear Moses, but they are not.

And yet they have had a unique opportunity, the greatest possible opportunity, For the One Who makes God known has come (1.18), the One Who has the glory of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth (1.14), and they have heard His voice and seen His face, but in their blindness they have failed to recognise it..

They search the Scriptures, believing that meditation in them will bring them eternal life. For example, in the rabbinic tractate Pirqe Aboth ("The Sayings of the Fathers"), we read, "He who has acquired the words of the Law has acquired for himself the life of the world to come." (Pirqe Aboth 2.8) and "Great is the Law for it gives to those who practise it life in this world and in the world to come." (Pirqe Aboth 6.7). These illustrate the kind of things they said and believed.

Yet, He points out, it is these very Scriptures which bear testimony to Him. So with all their confidence in the Scriptures it is clear that they do not listen to their testimony, and that their search is therefore in vain, for they refuse to come to Him for the life that they seek. The word ‘refuse’ suggests more than just lack of understanding. The reason they do not come is because they do not want to listen. The voice is speaking within but their hearts are hardened.

So we discover that there are a number of witnesses to Jesus:

  • 1). John the Baptiser
  • 2). The Works of Jesus
  • 3). The inner voice from God
  • 4). Moses
  • 5). The Scriptures

5.41 “I do not receive praise (doxan - ‘praise, glory’) from men.”

Jesus now contrasts Himself with the Judaisers. They constantly look for the praise of men (verse 44). In contrast He does not seek such praise. Unlike these leaders of the Jews who seek praise from one another He does not seek praise as a man, or from men. He wants men’s eyes to be turned on God so that they praise only God. For that is central to His purpose in coming, to turn men’s eyes on God so that they might praise Him. Furthermore He Himself wants only praise from God. From His own point of view that is His only concern. Praise from men is unimportant to Him.

5.42-43 “But I know that you do not have love for God (literally ‘the love of God’ where the genitive is objective) within yourselves. I am come in my Father’s name and you do not receive me, if another comes in his own name him you will receive.”

But by their refusal to hear Him they were revealing that they neither loved God, nor had His love in their hearts. For if they had truly loved God they would have recognised Him for what He was and would have received Him, for He came in the Father’s name, seeking only glory for Him. Their failure to come demonstrates therefore that their love for God is simply feigned. Rather they love themselves and their own carefully worked out religion, and they love those who seek their own glory.

‘If another comes in his own name, him you will receive.’ And the supreme irony is that when men come in their own name claiming great things for themselves they will receive them. And indeed the day would soon come when they would follow different persons, and follow them to disaster, both before the final destruction of Jerusalem, and after (see Acts 5.36-37). Then they would follow different glory-seeking Messianic leaders to destruction. Then they would rise against the Romans and see Jerusalem destroyed (66-70 AD). Then they would see the ‘star of David’ in Bar Kochba (132-135 AD), resulting in the further destruction of Jerusalem. That would be because they did not seek God’s interests, but their own, interests which they would convince themselves were God’s. But if they had really known God’s ways they would not follow such leaders.

This point was particularly poignant. Jesus sought no glory, desired to be given no authority, united Himself with no group, sought to establish no army, and encouraged men to fully follow the Law, as expanded by Him (Matthew 5), and attend the synagogue. He pointed men only towards God. And their antagonism towards Him came simply because He preached truth according to the Scriptures, the Scriptures that they claimed to trust.

5.44. “How can you believe who receive praise from one another and do not seek the praise that comes from the only God?”

He then questions how they can possibly believe when their main concern is not the praise and glory of God but their own praise and glory. For the truth is that if men are to know the truth they must be wholehearted in their search for it. But these men longed for the praise of their fellowmen and so they lived and believed accordingly. If they had really sought praise from the central source, ‘the only God’ (tou monou theou), they would have known the truth about Him. The phrase stresses that they boasted of their belief in the one and only God, and yet looked elsewhere for their praise. They looked to men. They were double-minded. It is thus they who were living independently of God, not Jesus.

The stress is on the fact that there is no value in pretending to love ‘the only God’ if their thoughts and obedience are not centred on Him. Those who seek their praise and honour from men demonstrate that it is men whom they love, and whose verdict they desire, not He Who alone is God. They were so eager to get men to live in accordance with their own ideas, that they did not have time to contemplate God and recognise that some of their ideas were wrong. (Which was why the signs passed them by).

5.45-47 “Do not think that I will accuse you to the Father, there is one who accuses you, Moses on whom you have set your hope. If you believed Moses, you would believe me, for he wrote of me. But if you do not believe his writings, how will you believe my words?”

But let them not think that He would act as their accuser. It was not necessary. Moses himself accused them, the Moses on whom they had set their hope. They should take note of the fact that when they face God at the final judgment it is Moses who will be their accuser, the very one whom they have exalted and relied on, and it will be because they have refused to listen to his testimony to Jesus. So their failure to believe in Jesus is very much a failure to believe the very writings of Moses which they revered and meditated in constantly.

Indeed had they believed Moses they would have recognised in Jesus, from the very purity and impact of His words, the ‘prophet like unto Moses’ of whom God said ‘I will put my words in his mouth and he will speak to them all that I command them’ (Deuteronomy 18.18). They would have seen in Him the One Who was bruising the serpent’s head by His power over evil spirits (Genesis 3.15). They would have recognised the Seed through Whom the whole world would be blessed as large numbers, including Samaritans, experienced the blessing of God through Him (Genesis 22.18). They would have recognised the One from the house of Judah, to Whom all the obedience of the peoples would be (Genesis 49.10). They would have recognised the Star and Sceptre from Israel (Numbers 24.17).

Had they listened to Moses they would not have tried to build around themselves a wall of righteousness by making a multitude of requirements that they were actually unable to fulfil, and have ignored the deeper implications of the Law which would have convinced them of their own sinfulness and need for God’s mercy. The sacrificial system was itself proof that they could not keep the Law, and yet they were trying to use the Law as a means of justifying themselves. But even the sacrificial system pointed to Him, for as Isaiah had drawn out in his interpretation of the Law, in the end the sacrificial lamb must be a unique human being, suffering for the sins of His people (Isaiah 53).

‘His writings -- my words.’ Compare Luke 16.31 where it is said that those who refuse to listen to Moses and the prophets will not be persuaded though one rose from the dead. The Scribes and Pharisees laid huge stress on the written ‘Law of Moses’. They thought that eternal life was available through meditation in it and response to it as proof that they were in the covenant. Yet they did not listen to what it was saying because of the darkness in their hearts. Their spiritual senses were dulled. No wonder then that they did not hear the words of the One Who was greater than Moses, for, vital though they were, His words were not in their eyes sanctified by age.

‘On whom you have set your hope’. They had set everything aside apart from their trust in Moses and his writings. These determined the course of their whole lives. And yet because of their blindness, and because of their desire for the approbation of their fellow seekers, they had missed Moses’ essential message, the message of a Coming One Who would bring all to rights. There is also some evidence that first century Jews believed that Moses would intercede for them at the judgment. But if only they realised it there was only One Who could do that, the One Whom they were now rejecting.

So Jesus left the Judaisers in no doubt as to what they were doing when they rejected Him. They had rejected God’s bevy of witnesses.

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