Luke sums up the public ministry of the Lord Jesus in the words, “all that Jesus began both to do and to teach”, Acts 1:1. His ministry consisted of miracles and doctrine. The fact that “do” comes before “teach” shows that the doctrine of Christ was supported by His miracles, and they gave authority for His teaching. It is also true that His doctrine was illustrated by His miracles, as is seen especially in John 5 and 6, which we shall look at later.
At the end of His ministry the Lord referred to both His words and His works in John 14:8-11: “Philip saith unto Him, Lord, show us the Father, and it sufficeth us. Jesus saith unto him, Have I been so long time with you, and yet hast thou not known Me, Philip? he that hath seen Me hath seen the Father; and how sayest thou then, Show us the Father? Believest thou not that I am in the Father, and the Father in Me? the words that I speak unto you I speak not of Myself: but the Father that dwelleth in Me, He doeth the works. Believe Me that I am in the Father, and the Father in Me: or else believe Me for the very works’ sake.”
Notice the following things that are brought out in this passage:
1. The subject is that of knowing the Father, as indicated by Philip’s request.
2. The Lord Jesus expresses surprise that even though Philip had been with Him during His ministry, he had not come to know the Father.
3. The secret to knowing the Father is in knowing the relationship the Son has with Him. The Son is “in the Father”, which means He has identity of nature with the Father, so that what the Son is perfectly expresses what the Father is. Not only is the Son in the Father, but the Father is “in the Son”, meaning that the identity of nature between the Father and the Son results in the full endorsement by the Father of all that the Son does as He expresses what the Father is.
4. As a result of the foregoing, The Lord Jesus can make two claims. The first, to do with His words. He does not speak “of Himself”, as if He is the independent source of the doctrine He made known. Rather, because He is one in nature with the Father, when the Son speaks it is as if the Father speaks. Second, (note the colon after the word “Myself”), the works He performed before men were works the Father was doing, so one in essence are they. Notice that in the last part of the statement the idea of the Father being in the Son is intensified, so that He dwells in the Son, for the Father is fully comfortable and at ease in the Son- there is nothing to disturb His rest.
5. Because when the Son speaks the Father speaks, we should believe His words. If men are not able to do that immediately, then they should believe Him for the sake of the works. In other words, respond to the testimony that His miracles give to His person, by believing in Him.
THE UNIQUENESS OF CHRIST’S MIRACLES
The words of the Lord Jesus as He neared the end of His Upper Room discourse were these: “If I had not come and spoken unto them, they had not had sin: but now they have no cloak for their sin. He that hateth Me hateth My Father also. If I had not done among them the works which none other man did, they had not had sin: but now have they both seen and hated both Me and My Father”, John 15:22-24.
Again the words and the works are linked together; not this time in connection with the united testimony of the Father and the Son, but in the unity of men in their hatred of both Father and Son. Since when the Son spoke and worked, it was as if the Father spoke and worked, when men hated the Son they hated the Father. This is how serious the rejection of Christ’s words and works is.
Notice the phrase “the works which none other man did”. Despite the fact that both Elijah and Elisha had raised the dead, and worked other miracles besides, yet the Lord claims here to have done works that none other man did. How can this be true? The answer to this problem has already been given us in the verses we looked at from John 14. It is because the works of Christ are an expression of the unity of nature and essence between the Father and the Son, that they are on a higher level. For Elijah and Elisha were not expressing their oneness with God when they performed miracles. They were simply acting as God’s channel for the blessing to flow through; that blessing, and the power to transmit it, did not originate in them, but in the God who sent them. With Christ it was otherwise, for His miracles were an expression of who and what He was, as one with the Father.
A further insight into the uniqueness of Christ’s miracles is found in John 5:19 with the word “likewise”. It could not be said that the prophets or apostles worked miracles like God does, for they simply acted as agents. The Son is not the mere agent of the Father, but is acting in complete harmony with Him, and doing so, moreover, in manhood.
Another indication along this line is the use of the words “as He will”, in John 5:21. Of no mere man could it be said that he did miracles of his own will. This makes the miracles of the Son unique.
DEFINITION OF MIRACLES
The word used for miracle is “dunamis”, from which we derive the English word dynamite. Miracles were therefore the putting forth of great power; power beyond that possessed by men ordinarily. They involve an intervention in normal processes, so that, for instance, the long process of turning rain-water into vintage wine was accelerated by the Lord Jesus in His first miracle, John 2:1-17. And at the end of His ministry He cursed a fig-tree, which promptly dried up by the roots, Mark 11:20. It was as if a long drought had killed the tree.
Miracles have been defined as “works of a supernatural origin and character, such as could not be produced by natural agents and means”, W.E.Vine, Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words. They are exceptions to normal events, which occur due to the intervention of a power beyond natural power. So we may say that a miracle is an event beyond the normal, with an effect beyond the usual, giving expression to things beyond the natural.
We must beware of devaluing the word miracle by using it of happenings which are either simply out of the ordinary, or merely coincidences, or take place at a particularly opportune moment. We must also beware of labelling as miraculous events which would have occurred anyway. An example of this would be illnesses that are known to go into remission naturally. Nor does an event become a miracle because it is an answer to prayer.
The apostle Peter coupled three words together in the phrase “miracles and wonders and signs”, Acts 2:22. The second of these words expresses the effect the miracle had upon those involved. At best, in the case of miracles wrought by Christ and the apostles, those around would be constrained to believe on the Lord Jesus. As He said in John 14:11 “Believe Me that I am in the Father, and the Father in Me: or else believe Me for the very works’ sake”. (Note that belief in Himself is the goal in each case; it is not “believe Me or else believe the works”). At worst, there were those who responded to Christ’s miracles by wanting to make Him king simply because He could multiply loaves. He withdrew from such, John 6:15.
This word reminds us that the miracles had a lesson to teach, they had sign-ificance. They were not simply acts of mercy and compassion, but doctrine made visible in vivid ways. We see this especially in John 6, where the Lord’s long discourse on the Bread of Life is based on His miracle of feeding the five thousand.
We must always remember that Satan is able to imitate God’s work to a certain extent, as Moses and Aaron discovered in Exodus 7:11,12,22. See also 2 Timothy 3:8,9. This will come to a climax at the end times, when the Lawless One is revealed “whose coming is after the working of Satan with all power and signs and lying wonders,” 2 Thessalonians 2:8,9. Note that in this case the wonders are lying wonders, for they do not further the truth of God, but rather, the Devil’s lie.
A WORD OF WARNING
The current obsession in charismatic circles with happenings which are out-of-the-ordinary is conditioning professing Christians to look for exhilarating experiences, instead of being built up by the exposition of the Word of God. (Apparently many charismatics do not bother to bring their Bible to their meetings). It is part of Satan’s New Age strategy to influence the minds of men so that they give themselves over to spirit-forces, and so further his end. His object is to draw believers away from the written revelation of the Word of God, and attract them to “spiritual” experiences.
THE MIRACLES OF CHRIST
Christ’s miracles were a witness to His own person. Those performed by the apostles witnessed to His person, too. They were certainly not performed to bear witness to themselves. In Acts 3:12 Peter says, “why look ye so earnestly on us, as though by our own power or holiness we had made this man to walk?…His name through faith in His name hath given him this perfect soundness in the presence of you all”. In Acts 14:8-18 the apostle Paul was of the same mind, refusing to take any credit for performing a miracle.
THE PURPOSE OF THE MIRACLES
(a) To show God’s approval.
On the Day of Pentecost the apostle Peter began his address to the people, (after quoting Joel 2), by appealing to the testimony that God gave to the Lord Jesus through His miracles. His words were:
“Ye men of Israel, hear these words; Jesus of Nazareth, a man approved of God among you by miracles and wonders and signs, which God did by Him in the midst of you, as ye yourselves also know:” Acts 2:22.
Peter makes the following points:
1. Jesus of Nazareth, the one they crucified, was approved of God. Thus to crucify Him was a great sin. Peter is aiming to convict them of that sin.
2. He was approved among them, so the mark of approval was something that was public. The word of approval from heaven in Matthew 17 was on the mount of transfiguration, with only five persons present. The miracles, however, were done in public.
3. The approval was in connection with the miracles the Lord Jesus did. The apostle gives them all their designations. They were miracles, acts of great and supernatural power; wonders, dramatic events that made a deep impression, although not inevitably leading to faith in Him; and signs, acts of great significance and meaning, illustrations of profound truth.
4. The miracles were acts of God done through Jesus of Nazareth. In a special way, as we have seen from John 15:24, they were done as an expression of Divine persons working together.
5. They were done in the midst of the nation, not hidden away in an obscure spot. Some were done in the temple, Matthew 21:14; some with thousands of people present, John 6:10, others surrounded by hostile men, Mark 3:2,5. As the apostle Paul could say later on, “this thing was not done in a corner”, Acts 26:26.
6. The things that were done were known about. It was not difficult to find those who had been the objects of Christ’s power, who could testify to the change that had been wrought by Him. They could consult Lazarus for instance.
Notice that the apostle does not refer to the objection that some had regarding Christ’s miracles, saying they were done by the power of Beelzebub. It is noticeable that both times the Pharisees made this objection, the Lord Jesus referred to the sign of the prophet Jonah, the only sign He would give to unbelief. See Matthew 12:24,39 and 16:1,4. In the latter passage the charge of working by the power of Satan is put the other way round. They sought a “sign from heaven”, implying that the others He had performed were not from heaven, but from beneath. In response His impending death was announced, and His consequent resurrection. This would silence unbelief. So Peter is under no pressure to deal with the question of the power behind the miracles, for the resurrection of Christ had settled the matter.
(b) To show He was Israel’s Messiah
Not only did John record the miracles of Christ that we might believe that He is the Son of God, but also that we might know He is the long-promised Christ, or Messiah, John 20:31. The prophets had told of the Messiah as one who would come to bring in what the Jews called “the age to come”, when He would reign over them from Jerusalem. Hebrews 6:5 describes the miracles of Christ as the “powers of the world (age) to come”. Isaiah had written that in the time of the kingdom, “the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf shall be unstopped. Then shall the lame man leap as the hart, and the tongue of the dumb sing”, Isaiah 35:5,6. The fact that these things did indeed happen when Christ was here, is proof positive that He is the Messiah.
The Lord Jesus appealed to these things when John the Baptist sent a message to Him, “Art Thou He that should come? or look we for another?” Then Jesus answering said unto them, Go your way, and tell John what things ye have seen and heard; how that the blind see, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, to the poor the gospel is preached”, Luke 7:22.
The blind, deaf, and lame are mentioned, to remind John of Isaiah 35. But the Lord adds, “to the poor the gospel is preached”, so it is not the destruction of God’s enemies, but their salvation, that is achieved by Christ’s ministry. John was no doubt expecting the defeat of the Romans, as his father had been, Luke 1:71,74, and when it did not happen, thought he had heralded the wrong man as the Messiah. So it is that the Lord adds, “And blessed is he, whosoever shall not be offended in Me”, verse 23. There is no reason why John should be stumbled in his pathway as a believer, for Christ’s works amply showed He was indeed Israel’s Messiah.
(c) To prove He should be believed.
John tells us why he wrote his gospel: “And many other signs truly did Jesus in the presence of His disciples, which are not written in this book: But these are written, that ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing ye might have life through His name”, John 20:30,31. Jesus is the historical person who was born in Bethlehem, lived in Nazareth, and died at Jerusalem. But why should anyone put their faith in Him, and why should faith in Him result in the gift of eternal life? John explains why. Jesus is the Christ, the long-promised, long-expected, eagerly-awaited Messiah. And His miracles were of great significance, for they proved that He was the Messiah. But they proved something else, for His miracles were of such a sort that they were the evidence of the Father working in the Son. These are powerful reasons why faith in Jesus of Nazareth is a worthwhile thing to have, for the great gift of eternal life comes to those who accept the testimony of the Scriptures about this person.
(d) To show God’s grace in action.
The apostle Peter could say that Jesus of Nazareth “went about doing good, and healing all that were oppressed of the Devil, for God was with Him”, Acts 10:38. So the miracles Christ did were expressions of compassion, evidence that God was working in grace. Under the law God promised that he would not inflict Egypt’s diseases upon the nation, as long as they obeyed Him, Exodus 15:23-26. Under grace there is no such condition imposed, and far from simply not bringing disease, He removed them through Christ, of whom it could be said, “Himself took our infirmities and bare our sicknesses”, Matthew 8:17. He removed the disease, and replaced it with health.
(e) To destroy the works of the devil.
The apostle John wrote, “For this purpose the Son of God was manifested, that He might destroy the works of the Devil”, 1 John 3:8. In the context this refers to sins, and the Lord Jesus coming to deal with these at the cross. The lesser thing is true also, for just as Matthew 8:17 just quoted had a fuller fulfilment at Calvary, so this has a partial fulfilment in Christ’s life. Evil spirits were cast out by a word, and recognised their Maker as they fled, Matthew 12:22. This is why the charge the Pharisees made that He cast out demons by the prince of demons was so ludicrous, for that would be Satan casting out Satan! Matthew 12:26.
(f) To show that Jesus of Nazareth was the Son of God
We look now at the record of the miracle of the healing of the impotent man as found in John chapter 5, which is followed by the first public discourse in John’s gospel. The powerlessness of the man is contrasted with the power of the Son of God. The rest of the Sabbath, and the forced rest of the impotent man, are both contrasted with the work of the Son of God. Just as in the next chapter the hunger of the people is remedied by the fulness of the One who is the Bread of Life.
SURVEY OF THE CHAPTER
John chapter five records three important matters. First, in verses 1-15, the healing of an impotent man at the Pool of Bethesda in Jerusalem; second, in verses 16-29, the Lord’s discourse explaining the issues which come out of that miracle; third, in verses 30-47, the allied and vital matter of witnesses to the truth.
STRUCTURE OF THE CHAPTER
SECTION 1 5:1-15 Work by the Son and the Father.
SECTION 2 5:16-29 Word about the Son and the Father.
SECTION 3 5:30-47 Witness to the Son by the Father.
SECTION 1 5:1-15 Work by the Son and the Father.
5:1 After this there was a feast of the Jews; and Jesus went up to Jerusalem.
When the religious feasts were detailed in Leviticus 23, they were called the Feasts of the Lord. Here, however, John can speak only of a feast of the Jews. It is as if the Lord has been sidelined, and the Jews have come to the fore. God has been removed from the centre of the life of the nation, and man is now central. This situation is about to be challenged, for God manifest in flesh is about to move in the very centre of the Jew’s religion, and set out His claim to be in control, on behalf of His Father.
John records more of the Lord’s ministry in Jerusalem than any of the other gospel writers. He tells of one who has come to His own things, 1:11, and this includes the capital city of His own country, and the temple, which was the focal point of the religious life of the nation. The repeated mention of Jerusalem in John’s gospel is in striking contrast to the lack of mention in Matthew’s gospel, which is the gospel of the king. The Lord Jesus is not found in Jerusalem in Matthew’s account, (which He Himself described as the ‘city of the great king’, Matthew 5:35), until He goes there to die.
Returning to John 5, we notice that John does not tell us what feast it was. This might puzzle us, until we remember that the list of seven feasts in Leviticus 23 is preceded by the mention of the Sabbath. The healing of the impotent man was done on the Sabbath, and provoked the hostility of the Jews, and provided the starting-point for the Lord’s discourse about His work and the Father’s work, which continued even on the sabbath, the day of rest for Israel. To tell us the name of the feast would perhaps detract from John’s aim to emphasise the sabbath.
5:2 Now there is at Jerusalem by the sheep market a pool, which is called in the Hebrew tongue Bethesda, having five porches.
As he builds up a picture of the scene for us, John is using Old Testament ideas to help us understand the significance of the miracle he is about to relate. Thus he speaks of Jerusalem, the capital city established under David and Solomon; the sheep market, where animals would be bought to be used as sacrifices; and even the name of the pool in the Hebrew tongue, the language of the Old Testament. We shall see other references as we proceed.
John describes Christ’s miracles as signs, for they had deep spiritual significance, and they demonstrated that the historical Jesus was the Christ or Messiah prophesied in the Old Testament, and that He was indeed the Son of God, as expounded in the New Testament; see John 20:30,31. The miracle after Christ’s resurrection was to demonstrate His Lordship, which is referred to eight times in John chapter 21.
These miracles were not only performed so that unbelievers might learn from them and believe. They were done “in the presence of His disciples”, John 20:30, which assures us not only that they were witnessed at first hand, but also that the miracles have a lesson for believers as well as unbelievers. As the Lord said to His disciples, “Believe Me that I am in the Father, and the Father in Me: or else believe Me for the very works’ sake”, John 14:11.
So it is that in the city of Jerusalem, near to where the sheep would be brought from the market to be sacrificed, the Lord finds a sorry collection of infirm folk. And all this in Bethesda, which means loving-kindness! Yet the Lord Jesus is going to be very selective as to who He heals.
5:3,4 In these lay a great multitude of impotent folk, of blind, halt, withered, waiting for the moving of the water. 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.
Impotent folk are people who have no strength, and the way in which this lack of strength manifested itself is told us, for some were blind, some were unable to walk properly, and some had lost the use of a limb. How like Israel under the law this was. For Romans 8:3 speaks of the inability of the law to enable men to walk in obedience to God, and the cause of that inability was not a fault in the Law, but rather the weakness of the flesh. Man is unable to live for God without Divine strength. Even the power of the water to heal, (supposed or otherwise), had not remedied the situation.
5:5 And a certain man was there, which had an infirmity thirty and eight years.
This is the man that the Lord singles out. But why? Surely because of the time he has been infirm. For 38 years was the period of time that the nation of Israel of Israel had wandered in the wilderness, after they had refused to go into the land because of unbelief, Deuteronomy 2:14. Now in the Epistle to the Hebrews a connection would be made between God resting on the seventh day after His work of creation, and the rest that Israel will enjoy when they eventually receive their Messiah and enter the land under His benevolent rule. See Hebrews 4:1-10. The sabbath day, therefore, was a reminder that God had rested, but also that “there remaineth now a rest (the particular word meaning ‘a keeping of sabbath’), for the people of God”, Hebrews 4:9. And the Lord Jesus is working to bring them in to that rest. Hence the discussion a few verses later about the sabbath, and work.
5:6 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?
Joshua said that the people had “dwelt in the wilderness a long season”, Joshua 24:7. Similarly, this man has been unable to enjoy the rest of the sabbath because of his disability; he is still “in the wilderness”. It is strongly implied in the words the Lord spoke to him afterwards that his infirmity was the result of some particular sin, which he is commanded to forsake, verse 14. So, too, the people of Israel had, by their own confession, sinned by not entering the land when God commanded, Deuteronomy 1:41, and as a result wandered outside of the land, (the “rest”), for 38 years. The Lord’s words to the man served to introduce the subject of being made whole, and caused the man to review his options, either self-help to get into the pool, or the help of another. As yet, he does not realise there is a third option, which will enable him to be healed without recourse to the pool. In the Old Testament angelic interventions had occurred at times, but now the Lord of the Hosts of angels is present in loving-kindness.
5:7 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.
What a sad commentary on the men of religious Jerusalem! Obsessed with their rituals, they forgot the weightier matters such as mercy, Matthew 23:23. What better way to remember the sabbath day and sanctify it to sacred uses, than to lower the man into the pool, if the waters moved that day. He would then have been able to keep sabbath, and worship God in an undistracted way. On two occasions the Lord found it necessary to quote the words of Hosea 6:6 to the people, “I desired mercy, and not sacrifice”. By which is meant, not that there was a choice between bringing sacrifice or showing mercy, but rather, that sacrifice without mercy was not pleasurable to God.
5:8 Jesus saith unto him, Rise, take up thy bed, and walk.
The three things the man is commanded to do have special significance, since greater works than these are spoken of in verse 20. He who can cause a man to rise from his bed, can also raise men from the dead. He who can give a man strength to carry his bed in ordinary life, can also quicken with eternal life. He who can warn the man that if he sins further a worse thing will come upon him, verse 14, will bring worse things by way of judgement on all unbelievers at the Great White Throne, verse 29.
These three things also have significance when we link them to what the Lord Jesus said about this miracle months afterwards, in John 7:19-24. The Jews were angry about what He had done. The Lord, however, exposed their inconsistency, for they were fully prepared to circumcise a male child on the Sabbath if he was born on a Friday, in order that Moses’ eighth-day rule be not broken. But that work of circumcision only gave the boy nominal entrance into the nation of Israel under the Old Covenant, whereas the truth expressed by Christ’s healing of the impotent man makes “every whit whole”, and gives entrance into the rest of God. Moreover, circumcision is a wounding, and partial, and physical, whereas Christ’s work is restoring, and complete, and spiritual.
Pursuing this line a little further, we may compare the three commands to the man, with the three aspects of circumcision presented to us in Scripture. The first command was “Rise”, and we may link this with the circumcision of Joshua, to whom the word came, “Moses my servant is dead; now therefore arise, go over this Jordan”, Joshua 1:2. Having done this, the people were circumcised at Gilgal, on the further bank of the river. The circumcision of Christ brings into the reality of this, as Colossians 2:11,12 indicates, for the believer is associated with a risen Man, and as such is spiritually circumcised, being cut off from his former life.
The second command was “Take up thy bed”. By saying these words, the Lord Jesus deliberately set His authority against that of the Jews. They had hedged the sabbath about with their regulations, which they had elevated almost to the level of the law itself. The man, as he obeyed Him, becomes a living example not only of the superior authority of Christ over the leaders in Israel, but also of the superiority of grace over law. The circumcision of Christ not only frees us from our past, but also from the traditions of men, and even the law of Moses itself, which the circumcision of Moses placed men under. See Galatians 5:1-6, 6:12-16.
The third command was “Walk”. This would remind us of the circumcision of Abraham, for the apostle Paul speaks of him as “the father of circumcision to them who are not of the circumcision only, but who also walk in the steps of that faith of our father Abraham, which he had being yet uncircumcised”, Romans 4:12. The walk of a believer should be a separated one, following in the footsteps of a man committed to walking by faith in the path marked out for him by God.
5:9 And immediately the man was made whole, and took up his bed, and walked: and on the same day was the sabbath.
Instead of waiting for intermittent angel ministry, or the help of men who are indifferent to his plight, the man finds someone who shows him kindness, so that the pool of Bethesda truly was the House of Loving-kindness that day. The Lord has deliberately told him to do these three things, for they will serve to introduce the subject on which He intends to discourse.
5:10 The Jews therefore said unto him that was cured, It is the sabbath day: it is not lawful for thee to carry thy bed.
Note that the Jews are not overjoyed that the man has been made whole at last, and is strong enough now to walk and carry his bed, but are only concerned with the fact that he is carrying his bed on the sabbath day. In fact to carry one’s bed on the Sabbath day carried the death penalty according to their regulations.
5:11 He answered them, He that made me whole, the same said unto me, Take up thy bed, and walk.
Though the Jews ignore the fact that the man is now whole, the man himself cannot, so connects the healing with the command. If his benefactor had power to make whole, He must have power to command; so he reasons, and rightly. It is a question of authority that is developed in the next section. The Jews feel that their authority is being questioned and overturned, and that at feast time.
5:12,13 Then asked they him, What man is that which said unto thee, Take up thy bed, and walk? And he that was healed wist not who it was: for Jesus had conveyed himself away, a multitude being in that place.
Taking advantage of the crowds, the Lord had conveyed Himself away, no doubt in order that the questioning of the man might take place, and the issues involved might become clear. He is not interested in the praise of men for what He had done, but rather that they see the significance of what He had done, and, believing, come into the good of the rest of heart and conscience He bestows. Only in this way could they know true “sabbath”.
5:14 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.
Not only does the Lord identify Himself as the man’s healer, but also as his judge if he returns to his sin. And this is very relevant, for in His subsequent discourse, He shows that He not only has power to give life, but also to judge as well.
5:15 The man departed, and told the Jews that it was Jesus, which had made him whole.
Perhaps it is understandable that the man should have a certain amount of fear for the authorities, given that, as already mentioned, they demanded the death penalty for sabbath breaking. And not just sabbath breaking in the limited sense of breaking God’s law, but also for breaking their additions to the law.
SECTION 2 5:16-29 Word about the Son and the Father.
SURVEY OF SECTION 2
Because He did the miracle on the Sabbath day, and also because He commanded the healed man to carry his bed, the Lord Jesus was met by the hostility of the Jews, which in John’s gospel means the Jewish authorities. They had added to God’s simple command to “remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy”, and by so doing had made the word of God of no effect by their tradition, as they had done in other connections, Mark 7:13. They failed to realise that God desires “mercy and not sacrifice”, Matthew 12:7, and if they had gone to the Pool of Bethesda and carried the sick from that place to the feet of the Lord Jesus they would have sanctified the Sabbath day to sacred uses, and thus have obeyed God’s command.
So the discourse of the Lord Jesus revolves around the matter of working, and is given, significantly, on the day of rest. Notice the words for working and doing in verses 16, 17, 19, 20, and also the reference to this miracle as a work in John 7:21.
That God is not indifferent to the breaking of the Sabbath is seen in the stoning of the Sabbath-breaker in Numbers 15:32-36, and the carrying away of the Jews so that the land could enjoy 70 years of Sabbath after 490 years of neglect of the Sabbath, 2 Chronicles 36:21. In no way, however, were the works done by Christ on the Sabbath a transgression of the Sabbath law, but were rather the exercise by Christ of His Divine rights.
STRUCTURE OF SECTION 2:
5:16-20(i) AUTHORITY FOR WORKING ON THE SABBATH
The Son is equal in attributes and ability, verses 17,18.
The Son is equal in action, verse 19.
The Son is equal in apprehension, verse 20(i).
5:20(ii)-23 GREATER WORKS
Raising of dead, verse 21.
Quickening, verse 21.
Judging, verse 22.
The Son has claim to equal acknowledgement, verse 23.
5:24,25 PERFORMANCE OF GREATER WORKS IN THIS AGE
Quickening, (not judging), of those dead in trespasses and sins, verse 24.
Raising of the dead of this present age, verse 25.
5:26,27 AUTHORITY TO DO GREATER WORKS
The Son has equal authority to give life, verse 26
The Son has equal authority to judge, verse 27.
5:28,29 PERFORMANCE OF GREATER WORKS IN THE AGE TO COME
Raising of Old Testament and tribulation saints, verse 28.
Raising of sinners for judgement, verse 29.
16-20(i) AUTHORITY FOR WORKING ON THE SABBATH
5:16 And therefore did the Jews persecute Jesus, and sought to slay Him, because He had done these things on the sabbath day.
If the man was in danger of the death penalty, so was the Lord Jesus, in their view. That He had the right to work on the sabbath day is established by the discourse which follows. It was a subject of earnest discussion amongst the Jews as to whether the Creator rested or worked on the sabbath day. They are about to receive the answer to that question.
5:17,18 But Jesus answered them, My Father worketh hitherto, and I work. 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.
The Son is equal in attributes and ability
The Jews persecuted the Lord for His miracle, for they believed He had broken the sabbath, or in other words, was loosing the binding force of the commandment. This statement is Christ’s answer to this persecution. Far from admitting a transgression of the Law, He asserts that what He had done was but a sample of the ongoing work which He and the Father performed constantly, even on the sabbath day. The tense of the word “worketh” is present indicative, meaning continuous action- even on the sabbath day. The original sabbath after the six days of creation was not the rest of exhaustion, but of complacency, as the Creator enjoyed the work of His hands. Despite this resting, however, creation was still maintained and preserved by Him, whether it was the sabbath day or not.
What the Lord states here is that this is His work, too. It was not that the Father worked in the past, and now the Son was commencing to work, for then it would be “My Father worked hitherto, and I work”. Rather, it is the Father and the Son working constantly together, whatever the age or circumstance. God worked in a variety of ways as He intervened in the affairs of men, whether restraining, judging, blessing, forming and preserving the nation of Israel, entering into covenants, or preparing the way for the coming of Christ. The Son claims here to be involved in this work on an equal basis.
Christ’s statement was clearly understood by the Jews, even though they did not believe it, for they correctly deduced from the words “My Father” that He was claiming a unique relationship with God the Father. They immediately realised that He was saying God was His Father in a unique and special sense, for such is the force of the word “His”, meaning “His privately, exclusively”. The Jews felt it their bounden duty under the terms of the Law of Moses to kill such a blasphemer, for this they thought Him to be since they refused His claims. That He is in fact “equal with God”, the Lord Jesus goes on to explain.
5:19 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.
The Son is equal in action
Note the double use of the word verily. This phrase, unique to John’s gospel, has a four-fold significance. First, it introduces doctrine that is different, a development on all that had gone before. Second, it assures us of the definiteness of the truth made known, that there is no doubt about it. Third, it prepares the way for something difficult, and beyond the mind of mere man to conceive. Fourth, it pre-empts denial, the “Nay, nay” of any who refuse to believe what is taught. Having thus assured His hearers of the truth of what He was about to say, the Lord Jesus first of all makes clear that as the Son of the Father, He cannot act “of Himself”, that is, independently. So when He made the man whole on the sabbath day, He was not acting in independence of God, much less at variance with Him and contrary to His Law. It is impossible for Divine Persons to act independently of one another, or else they would not be “One Lord”, Deuteronomy 6:4.
That this “cannot” is not specifically because He has come into manhood is shown by two things. First, it is as Son that He cannot do anything of Himself. When the word Son is on its own, it means Son of God, and not Son of man. The Lord speaks of Himself in the third person, thus emphasising the abstract character of what He is saying, and separated from other considerations such as that He has become man. Second, it is said of the Spirit that He does not speak “of Himself”, John 16:13 margin, but the Spirit obviously has not become man. Hence the emphasis in the phrase “of Himself”, is on the character of Divine persons as such.
The Son does nothing except what He sees the Father do. By seeing is meant spiritual, Divine insight, which involves knowledge of the reason for what is done, as well as the action itself. Only a Divine person has full insight into the purpose of God. Furthermore, “doeth” is in the present tense in each case, and therefore at any given moment the Father and the Son are both at work. The Son does not begin after the Father has started, nor when the Father has finished. The work of the Son is not additional to the work of the Father, but He acts together with the Father, and acts in the same way identically, this being the force of the word “likewise”- it is not mere imitation, nor is it a modification.
This is seen, for example, in the way Scripture speaks of the creation and preservation of the world. “For of Him, and through Him, and to Him, are all things”, Romans 11:36. This is said of God.
“All things were made by Him; and without Him was not anything made that was made”, John 1:3, said of the Lord Jesus as the Word.
“Thou, even Thou, art Lord alone; Thou hast made heaven, the heaven of heavens, with all their host, the earth, and all things that are therein, the seas, and all that is therein, and Thou preservest them all; and the host of heaven worshippeth Thee”, Nehemiah 9:6. Said of Jehovah.
“His Son, whom He hath appointed heir of all things, by whom also He made the worlds; who being the brightness of His glory, and the express image of His person, and upholding all things by the word of His power, when He had by Himself purged our sins, sat down on the right hand of the majesty on high”, Hebrews 1:2,3. Said of the Son of God.
“For by Him were all things created that are in heaven, and that are in earth, visible and invisible, whether they be thrones, or dominions, or principalities, or powers: all things were created by Him, and for Him: and He is before all things, and by Him all things consist”, Colossians 1:16,17. Said of the Son of God.
Note it is “whatsoever” the Father doeth, for there is no limit to the work that the Son is able to do in harmony with His Father, for their powers are co-extensive.
5:20 (i) For the Father loveth the Son, and showeth Him all things that Himself doeth:
The Son is equal in apprehension
The word for love here is phileo, which is love where there is a correspondence and likeness between those loving. The other major word for love in the New Testament is agape, which speaks of love because the object is valued. Both words are used of the love of the Father and the Son, so we should beware of thinking of one as being a lesser sort of love than the other. Such is the love between the persons of the Godhead that they withhold nothing from each other. The word “showeth” is the same as in John 14:8, “show us the Father”. Note the reply, “He that hath seen Me, hath seen the Father”. Clearly the Father cannot be physically seen, (so neither the physical appearance of the Father nor of the Lord Jesus is in view), but He can be discerned spiritually as a result of knowing and understanding the person and ministry of the Lord Jesus. So here, the Father shows the Son what He is doing in the sense that He hides nothing of the purpose of His acting from Him. Because He is the Son, and therefore shares the nature of Deity, the Lord Jesus has infinite capacity to understand the Father’s purpose and actions. The work He performed on the impotent man was a very wonderful thing, therefore, for it was the reproduction of what the Father was showing the Son, and therefore was a perfect expression of Divine communications, and an evidence of the Father’s love for the Son, and His total confidence in Him.
5:20(ii)-23 ANNOUNCEMENT OF GREATER WORKS
5:20(ii) And He will show Him greater works than these, that ye may marvel.
To raise a man from his bed is a great work, but to raise a man from the dead is a greater. To cause him to be able to walk on earth is a great work, to enable him to walk the streets of heaven is greater. To warn of a more severe physical illness if sin is persisted in, is one thing, to execute eternal judgement upon men is a greater thing. Sadly, the Lord does not anticipate that they will all believe as a result of learning that He was able to do these greater works, since He knew the hardness of their hearts. They would merely marvel, and many of them would be despisers, and wonder, and perish, Acts l3:41.
The fact that the Son knows what these works are beforehand, (and it is clear from the next verse that He does), and knows, too, that the Father will show them to Him at the appropriate moment, is further testimony to the Deity of Christ.
RAISING THE DEAD AND QUICKENING
5:21 For as the Father raiseth up the dead, and quickeneth them; even so the Son quickeneth whom He will.
In verses 21 and 22 there is a two-fold justification for the claim to be able to do greater works, each prefaced by the word “for”. Of Nebuchadnezzar it was said, “Whom he would he slew; and whom he would he kept alive”, Daniel5:19, but God declares “I kill, and I make alive”, Deuteronomy 32:39. The Egyptian magicians had to admit that to bring life out of the dust was a work of God, Exodus 8:16-19. See also 1 Samuel 2:6.
When a man dies, his spirit leaves his body, James 2:26, and returns to God, Ecclesiastes 12:7, and hence is in the control of God. One who can cause that spirit to return to the body must therefore have Divine authority. Of course prophets in the Old Testament and apostles in the New Testament raised the dead, but they did so only because it was the will of God to use them in this work. Here the Lord Jesus claims to quicken “whom He will”- it is His decision and action, but in harmony with the Father, of course.
The word quicken has altered in meaning; it means to make alive. Raising the dead has to do with the body as it is caused to stand up again, whereas making alive has more to do with the return of the spirit into the body. If the departure of the spirit means death, its return must mean life.
We should not deduce from this verse the idea that the Father raised and quickened in Old Testament times, and the Son did it in New Testament times. Rather, two statements are made, one about the Father and one about the Son, and both are true at all times.
We now how four reasons why the claim of the Lord Jesus in John 15:24 that He did “works that none other man did”, is justified:
1. As one with the Father, He was in perfect harmony with the Father at all times, this could not be said of saints of old, despite their spirituality.
2. He did the works “likewise”, 5:19, which does not mean that He did works in addition to His Father doing works, but rather that He did the identical works the Father did, in the identical way, at the identical time.
3. Because the Father showed Him all the works He was doing, 5:20, (meaning He had perfect insight into them), then He did the works with Divine, and therefore complete, insight.
4. The Son quickeneth “whom He will”, 5:21, not in competition with the Father, but in perfect harmony of will with Him.
For these reasons the miracles of the Lord Jesus were in a class apart from those performed by men in Old Testament times, and also those done by the apostles. They were simply human agents, used to work miracles on behalf of God.
5:22 For the Father judgeth no man, but hath committed all judgement unto the Son:
This is the second example of greater works which the Son performs. His work of quickening is illustrated by the restoration of the impotent man; His work of judgement is hinted at by the words “Sin no more, lest a worse thing come unto thee”, verse 14. The Father is still the judge of all, Hebrews 12:23, and He still judges His children, 1 Peter 1:17, but He does it in and through the Son. The reason for this will be seen in verse 27. That the Son is entrusted with the entire work of Divine judgement in all its aspects shows that the Father is confident of His ability, and this in turn shows His Deity. Only one who is God can judge infallibly, as He must do if He is to have the Father’s confidence. Joseph was able to make predictions about life and judgement, but he was not able to bring them to pass, Genesis chapter 40.
5:23 That all men should honour the Son even as they honour the Father. He that honoureth not the Son honoureth not the Father which hath sent Him.
The Son has claim to equal acknowledgement.
The ultimate purpose for which quickening and judging is done is here disclosed by the Lord. If He quickens as God does, and has all judgement entrusted to Him, He must be due Divine honours. All men shall have to acknowledge God eventually, Isaiah 45:23, and here they are said to honour the Son “even as” they honour the Father, in other words with the same kind of honour; not simply the honour of respect, but of the recognition of Deity. The Father regards the withholding of honour from the Son as a withholding of honour from Him, since there is unity between them. See also similar thoughts in John 15:23,24; 1 John 2:22,23; 2 John 9.
5:24-25 PERFORMANCE OF GREATER WORKS IN THIS AGE
QUICKENING AND NOT JUDGING
5:24 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.
The phrase “Verily, verily” marks a development in the teaching, which reveals how a person may be quickened or made alive. First, in this verse, as to spiritual life, then in verse 25, as to resurrection life. To hear His word displays a different sort of attitude to the “marvel” of verse 20, for it means to receive the truth of the doctrine He makes known. “Word” means theme, topic, or subject. The theme in this passage is the equality of the Son with the Father. It is vitally important that those engaged in evangelising the lost should make it abundantly clear who the Lord Jesus is, in order that they may then exhort sinners to believe on Him as one who is utterly dependable, being equal with God. The apostles “ceased not to teach and preach Jesus Christ”, Acts 5:42. They taught who He was, then preached that men should believe. Their preaching was not sinner-centred, but Christ-centred, in accordance with Romans 1:1,3, “The gospel of God…concerning His Son”.
Sinners should also be warned of the consequences of refusing one who is thus equal, see John 8:24. The seriousness of the matter is heightened when we consider that to not hear Christ with the hearing of faith, is to disbelieve God, for their testimony is one. Thus by believing the Father when the Son speaks, a person assents to the truth of their equality. On the other hand, to not believe, is to deny their equality.
There are few references to everlasting life in the Old Testament, and they refer to life in the Messianic kingdom of the future, Psalm 133:3; Daniel 12:1,2,9,13. Here the Lord is announcing that everlasting life may be the present possession of those who believe His word. This fits them to be in the kingdom of God, irrespective of whether that kingdom has been manifested on the earth or not, see John 1:12,13; 3:3. This life enables a person to know, initially and progressively, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom He has sent, John 17:3.
Those who know Christ as the Life-giver, as He exercises His Divine right to quicken, shall never know Him as the Judge, nor will they be tried for their sins. Those who remain dead in trespasses and sins, however, rejecting eternal life from Christ, are in grave danger of both the process and carrying out of judgement.
Note that “from” means out of, not away from; and “unto” means into, not towards. In other words the change from death to life is complete the moment faith is placed in Christ; it is not a gradual process away from death towards life.
RAISING OF THE DEAD OF THIS PRESENT AGE
5:25 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.
The repetition of “Verily verily” so soon after its previous use in verse 24 signals a fresh revelation. Having spoken of the present availability of eternal life, the Lord now enlarges on the future availability of life in resurrection conditions. The expression “the dead” is the usual one for those who are in the grave, and is not a description, as in “dead in trespasses and sins”. That He is able to raise the bodies of dead saints in the future is shown by His raising of Lazarus, for the hour “now is”. The power is vested in Himself, so if He is present, so is the power. Compare John 11:23-27, where Martha learns that far from needing to wait for the resurrection at the last day, He who is the “I am”, and therefore unaffected by time, can do the work immediately if He so chooses.
Note that to receive eternal life we must hear His word, which involves faith, whereas here the emphasis is on the voice of the Lord Jesus calling to His own in the graves to summon them out. This is illustrated by the raising of Lazarus in John 11:43,44, for Jesus “cried with a loud voice…and he that was dead came forth”. All the dead that hear the voice of the Son of God when He comes for His own will be given resurrection life. Having recognised Him to be the Son whilst they were on earth, they respond to Him in that capacity again. Every believer of this church age who has died shall be raised from the dead when Christ comes into the air with a shout, 1 Thessalonians 4:16. If the Son of God was glorified by the raising of Lazarus alone, how He will be glorified when He raises all His own at His coming! This subject is further developed in 1 Corinthians 15:35-58, where the mystery is solved as to how living saints will partake in the resurrection even though they have not died.
AUTHORITY TO DO GREATER WORKS
5:26 For as the Father hath life in Himself; so hath He given to the Son to have life in Himself;
As Son He has equal authority to give life
The life needed to quicken those dead in trespasses and sins, and to quicken their mortal bodies at the resurrection, is sourced in God the Father. But the “as…so” of this verse signifies the same as it does in verse 21, namely just as, even as. So not only does the Son have life in Himself just as the Father does, as John 1:4 indicates, but in addition it is given to Him to have this life in Himself for others, see 1 John 5:11. He is the vessel full of the water of life, and men are invited to go to Him and drink, John 7:37; Revelation 22:17.
5:27 And hath given Him authority to execute judgement also, because He is the Son of man.
As Son He has equal authority to execute judgement
In verse 22 the right to judge men is vested in Christ’s Deity, for one of the results of that judgement will be that He is recognised as equal with God. Here His right to judge is vested in His manhood, for He is Son of man. As a real man amongst men, Christ has given men the opportunity to react to Him, for He has been on earth to make Himself available, and the record of His life and teaching is available also, now that He is no longer on earth. When He was here, He lived a blameless life, and this condemned the lives of other men, and should have made them abhor themselves, and want to be like Him. As Son of man, Christ is relevant to all men, and has universal rights over them.
5:28-29 PERFORMANCE OF GREATER WORKS IN THE AGE TO COME
RAISING OF OLD TESTAMENT SAINTS AND TRIBULATION SAINTS
5:28,29(i) Marvel not at this: for the hour is coming, in the which all that are in the graves shall hear His voice, and shall come forth; they that have done good unto the resurrection of life;
That one who possesses Deity shall judge men should not be a cause of marvelling, for God is the Judge of all the earth, Genesis 18:25, and the Judge of all, Hebrews 12:23. The hour mentioned here is not a period of sixty minutes, but a time marked by a certain character. The word was used by the Greeks for the seasons of the year. Since the theme of verses 27 to 29 is Christ’s authority to execute judgement, the reference is to the Day of the Lord, a period extending from the time when God’s wrath begins to be poured out upon the earth, until the Great White Throne judgement. Compare Isaiah 2:10-22 with Revelation 6:12-17 for the commencement of the Day, and for its end, see 2 Peter 3:10, where the passing away of the heavens takes place during the Day of the Lord, showing that it extends to the end of the millenial reign of Christ, Revelation 20:1-11.
Old Testament saints will be raised when Christ comes to the earth to reign, near the beginning of the Day, whilst at the end of His reign of 1000 years all the unsaved dead of every age will be raised Thus they all will be raised in the same “Day”, and in the same “hour”, or season of judgement. Those who believed during Old Testament times are described by Paul as “them who by patient continuance in well-doing seek for glory and honour and immortality”, who will receive “eternal life”, Romans 2:7. For Old Testament saints there will be the announcement of God’s verdict, through Christ, on their lives, so it is fitting this should be mentioned in the section that deals with judgement, for all judgement has been committed to Christ, see Revelation 11:15-18. It will not be the sort of judgement, however, which sinners will know when they are raised.
That Old Testament saints will be raised when Christ comes to earth to reign, (an event totally distinct from His coming for the church), is seen from a consideration of the following Scriptures: Job 14:13-15; Job 19:25-27; Isaiah 26:16-21; Daniel 12:1,2; Revelation 11:15-18.
Ephesians chapter 3 makes clear the absolute distinction between things revealed by prophecy in Old Testament times, and the mysteries relative to this present church age. Martha expected her brother to be raised along with Old Testament saints when the Messiah came to reign, John 11:24, but she learns there is to be a resurrection before this, John 11:25,26.
RAISING OF SINNERS FOR JUDGEMENT
John5:29(ii) And they that have done evil, unto the resurrection of damnation.
The unsaved dead will be reunited with their bodies and stand before the Great White Throne. For these, there will be nothing but damnation, their last opportunity for salvation having gone when they died, as Hebrews 9:27 makes clear. Note that the matter which divides the two companies in this verse is whether they were characterised by good or evil in their lives, for this is an infallible indicator as to whether they had faith, which, if genuine, is always followed by good works; see James 2:21-26, 1 John 3:7,10.
Thus when the righteous and the wicked have been raised, both rights conferred on the Son will have been fully exercised, namely the granting of life to those who believe, and the judgement of sinners. Before believers enter into an eternity of bliss, however, and the unrepentant are banished for ever to the Lake of Fire, a further thing happens. As the solemn procedures of the “judgement of the great day” come to an end, a name is uttered- the name JESUS. At the mention of this name, every knee will immediately bow, whether of beings heavenly, earthly or infernal. At last Christ will be honoured universally as being equal with the Father.
STRUCTURE OF SECTION 3 Witness to the Son by the Father.
Verses 30-39 Appeal to witnesses.
Verses 40-47 Analysis of unbelief.
SURVEY OF SECTION 3
In a court of law, statements that are made must be supported by the witness or testimony of others. In Jewish law, a man’s own testimony was not allowed, unless accompanied by the witness of others. This explains the apparent discrepancy between verse 31, and 8:14. The testimony of Christ, if it were unsupported by others, would not be valid, but since it is supported, then it is allowable. And since it is the Father who witnesses in various ways, then the evidence could not be stronger. The case for Christ’s claim to Deity is undeniable.
Verses 30-39 Appeal to witnesses.
5:30 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.
This verse links sections 2 and 3 together, for what the Lord Jesus had said about not being able to do anything of Himself in verse 19, is repeated here in connection with judgement. What He does is judge, but only as He hears His Father judging. He singles out the speaking that causes most animosity, that of judging, and assures His hostile listeners that when He judges He does so perfectly fairly and truly, since His will is in harmony with God the Father’s. They would readily admit that Jehovah’s judgement was right, for Abraham had said so, Genesis 18:25, so if He is equal with God, His judgement is right, too.
5:31 If I bear witness of Myself, My witness is not true.
The first witness is Himself, although this verse seems to deny it. The sense however, is “If I bear witness of Myself without any support from anyone or anything else, My witness is not allowable as evidence in My case”. Jewish law would not allow a man to testify for himself, unless there was at least one other to support him. That the Son has Another, is seen in the next verse.
5:32 There is another that beareth witness of Me; and I know that the witness which He witnesseth of Me is true.
Because He is conscious of His relationship with the Father, He knows that what He witnesses about Him is true to fact. Those who deny His relationship deprived themselves of the benefit of the proof they give. When he was told that scientists had proved that it was possible for the Red Sea to be parted, a Rabbi said, “To the believer no proof is necessary; to the unbeliever no proof will ever be enough”.
5:33 Ye sent unto John, and he bare witness unto the truth.
John the apostle never writes of John the Baptist under that title, but always as a testimony bearer. See, for instance, how he introduces him to us in 1:6-8. The words “witness”, testimony”, and “record”, mean the same. John is a secondary witness, in that he simply passes on what he has been told, either from the Old Testament, (so he knew he was making straight the way of “The Lord”, 1:23, Isaiah 40:3), or through the voice from heaven at Christ’s baptism, Matthew 3:17, and the descending dove, John 1:32-34. They could not say they did not know these things, for they had sent unto John to find them out, 1:19-28. Whichever way John heard the truth, it was from God, and passed on faithfully.
5:34 But I receive not testimony from man: but these things I say, that ye might be saved.
Being only a man, John’s testimony was valuable, but received from another. As such, in important matters as the truth as to the person of Christ, his testimony is not the first line of argument. John did not really know the details of verses 19-29. Even though John’s testimony was secondary, the Lord advances it if by any means He may bring them to salvation.
5:35 He was a burning and a shining light: and ye were willing for a season to rejoice in his light.
In support of this appeal to John, He reminds them that John was a burning and shining light, bearing testimony with enthusiasm (burning), and effect, (shining). But he was only a lamp, as the word light means; for just as a lamp only burns because it has been supplied with oil from another vessel, so John only bore testimony because of what he had been told. They were prepared to rejoice in what John had to say for a time, all the while he raised expectations about a coming King. But when he bore faithful testimony to who that King was, his message was rejected by the authorities. They wondered whether he himself was the Messiah, Luke 3:15, which shows what a low view of Messiahship they had, even though John was a great man. Notice the past tense “was”, for by now John is in prison, his time of testimony over.
5:36 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.
There is now an appeal to the works that the Lord Jesus had done. They were not the testimony of fallible men, but the undisputed actions of one who must be God. Only the creator can turn water into wine by His own power. He was given works to finish, or “that He might perfect them”. It is significant that the last miracle the Lord performed was to heal the ear of Malchus, Luke 22:50,51. So work and hearing are brought together at the close of His ministry, just as works with significance, and the teaching of that significance for men to hear, were brought together during His ministry.
5:37 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.
John later wrote, “If we receive the witness of men, the witness of God is greater”, 1 John 5:9. The voice had come from heaven at His baptism, the Spirit had descended in bodily shape like a dove upon Him, but despite this two-fold testimony to Christ they had not laid hold of it by faith, so it was as if they had not heard the voice nor seen the shape. To see Christ is to see the Father, John 14:9, so to not see the Son is to not see the Father.
5:38 And ye have not His word abiding in you: for whom He hath sent, Him ye believe not.
The one who testified on the banks of the Jordan was the same as He who had spoken in the Old Testament scriptures. They were rejecting both testimonies. The word spoken by God in Old Testament scriptures was not abiding in their hearts as a believed and loved truth. This is shown conclusively by the fact that they did not believe the one who was predicted in the scriptures as coming. When the subject is the word of Christ, then to hear with faith is to believe the Father, verse 24. Here the one to be believed is the Son, when the Father is heard giving testimony.
5:39 Search the scriptures; for in them ye think ye have eternal life: and they are they which testify of Me.
The rendering in the Textus Receptus is “Ye are searching the scriptures”. They thought that the more detailed their knowledge of the Old Testament scriptures was, the more correctly they could obey God, and thus earn eternal life for themselves.
5:40 And ye will not come to Me, that ye might have life.
They were prepared to go to the Old Testament scriptures, to learn how to gain life by trying to keep the law, but they were not prepared to go to Him, to gain eternal life as a free gift. Such is the pride and perversity of the human heart.
5:41 I receive not honour from men.
He did not invite them to come to Him so that He could gain prestige, but rather so that they might gain life and salvation. When they offered Him this sort of prestige, He turned it away, as seen in 6:15, when they wanted to make Him king.
5:42 But I know you, that ye have not the love of God in you.
Because He is the Son of God, He is fully aware of man’s attitude to God His Father. He knew perfectly well that the love of God was not in their hearts, even though they avidly studied the scriptures. He said later on, “If God were your Father ye would love me”, John 8:42. John would afterwards write, “everyone that loveth is born of God, and knoweth God. He that loveth not knoweth not God; for God is love”. 1 John 4:7,8. Since God is love, those who have life from God will love the Son He loves.
5:43 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.
To come in another’s name is to fully represent that person. The solemn truth is that the very Son of God has come amongst men, manifesting God His Father to them so perfectly, that He could say that the one who had seen Him had seen the Father, 14:9. The human heart, perverted by sin, inclines always to sin and error, and is ready to believe a lie before it will believe the truth. (Jacob believed his sons when they told him a lie about Joseph, but when those same sons told him the truth about Joseph, he did not believe them. Genesis 37:31-33; 45:26). There will come one in the future who will present himself to the nation as their Messiah, and the majority of them will believe him. However, he will be, not Christ, but antichrist, Matthew 24:24, and he will certainly not come in the name of the Father, but will seek to elevate himself. Perhaps there is a suggestion here that the Anti-christ will withhold from men that he comes in the Devil’s name, all the while honouring Satan in secret, see Daniel 11:38,39.
5:44 How can ye believe, which receive honour one of another, and seek not the honour that cometh from God only?
The honour which only comes from God, is the honour of possessing eternal life, and being in the family of God. Their mindset was only to accept and give honour to one another on a carnal level. So entrenched was this attitude, that until they turned from it, they could not believe in Him. They “loved the praise of men more than the praise of God”, John 12:43.
5:45 Do not think that I will accuse you to the Father: there is one that accuseth you, even Moses, in whom ye trust.
Having spoken of the witness that there is to His person, the Lord now shows that they are the accused, and the stronger the testimony to His person, the stronger the case against them. They trusted in the writings of Moses to give them light on the subject of being right with God, but those very scriptures accused and condemned them as sinners.
5:46 For had ye believed Moses, ye would have believed Me; for he wrote of Me.
The testimony of Moses was to one who would come and unfold the truth to them. The rulers wondered if John was this Prophet, 1:21, but it was Christ, as Acts 3:22 and Acts 7:37 show. This is why Moses accuses them, because the one who did not receive the words of the Prophet whom God would send, was to be cut off from the people, Deuteronomy 18:18,19.
5:47 But if ye believe not his writings, how shall ye believe my words?
Because the testimony of Moses and Christ is identical in this matter, to believe the one is to believe the other. So since they did not believe Moses, but preferred to strive for their own salvation through law-works, they did not rely in faith on what he said about the coming Messiah. And when that Messiah arrived, they still preferred to work rather than believe Him, even though, as the miracle at the beginning of the chapter fully showed, they were impotent, totally incapable of earning their own salvation.