John 5 – A Healing and a Discourse
A. Jesus heals a man at the pool of Bethesda.
1. (1-4) The pool of Bethesda.
After this there was a feast of the Jews, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. Now there is in Jerusalem by the Sheep Gate a pool, which is called in Hebrew, Bethesda, having five porches. In these lay a great multitude of sick people, blind, lame, paralyzed, waiting for the moving of the water. For an angel went down at a certain time into the pool and stirred up the water; then whoever stepped in first, after the stirring of the water, was made well of whatever disease he had.
a. A feast of the Jews: We don’t know what feast this was, but it was probably one of the major three feasts in which attendance was required.
i. The debate centers on if this was Passover, Pentecost, or Purim. If it was a Passover, then we can date four Passovers in Jesus’ ministry and we know it lasted about 3½ years.
b. A pool, which is called in Hebrew, Bethesda: This pool has been excavated in the area just north of the temple area, and found to have five porches, just as John said.
i. “The expression there is has been thought to import that St. John wrote his Gospel before the destruction of Jerusalem. But this must not be pressed. He might have spoken in the present without meaning to be literally accurate with regard to the moment when he was writing.” (Alford)
ii. There is a crusader-era church near the remains of this pool. “That they [the Crusaders] regarded this pool as that mentioned here is shown by their having represented on the wall of the crypt the angel troubling the water.” (Dods)
c. For an angel went down… whoever stepped in first… was made well: Many sick and injured people gathered at this pool in hope of healing. Perhaps this hope of healing was real, and God honored a release of faith. Or, it may be that this was merely a hopeful legend; nevertheless, a great multitude of sick people believed it.
i. The words from waiting for the moving of the water through was made well of whatever disease he had are not in several old manuscripts. Nevertheless, the truth of the perception of a healing received by being first in the water is also demonstrated in the words of John 5:7.
ii. “From MSS. evidence, this verse and the last clause of verse 3 seem not to be by John, but to be a very early insertion (as least as early as Tertullian, 2nd century).” (Trench)
iii. At a certain time: Clarke and others believe that this certain time was feast time, perhaps specifically Passover. The idea is that the people gathered around the pool in expectation of healing at the Passover season or other feast seasons. “Once a year only, saith Tertullian. Others (more probably) at all their great feasts, when the people met out of all parts at Jerusalem.” (Trapp)
iv. If there were people genuinely healed by the waters of the Pool of Bethesda, it was one of many unusual occasions healing in the Bible.
· Some were healed by a purified pot of stew (2 Kings 4:38-41).
· Naaman was healed by washing in the Jordan River (2 Kings 5:10-14).
· One was healed by touching the bones of Elisha (2 Kings 13:20-21).
· Some were healed when the shadow of Peter fell upon them (Acts 5:14-16).
· Some were healed when Paul’s handkerchiefs were laid upon them (Acts 19:11-12).
v. God can and does do things in unexpected ways. But something isn’t necessarily from God simply because it is unexpected or unusual.
2. (5-6) Jesus questions a lame man.
Now a certain man was there who had an infirmity thirty-eight years. When Jesus saw him lying there, and knew that he already had been in that condition a long time, He said to him, “Do you want to be made well?”
a. A certain man was there who had an infirmity thirty-eight years: This man suffered from a paralytic condition for a long time, and apparently was frequently at the Pool of Bethesda in hope of healing. It was a hope that had been long disappointed (thirty-eight years).
b. When Jesus saw him lying there: For some reason, Jesus selected this man among the great multitude of sick people (John 5:3). Jesus was not about to conduct a healing crusade at the Pool of Bethesda, but He was about to miraculously meet this one man’s need.
i. A multitude of needy people were there, yet none of them looked to Jesus. “A blindness had come over these people at the pool; there they were, and there was Christ, who could heal them, but not a single one of them sought him. Their eyes were fixed on the water, expecting it to be troubled; they were so taken up with their own chosen way that the true way was neglected.” (Spurgeon)
ii. Spurgeon pictured the multitude waiting around the waters of the Pool of Bethesda, all of them waiting – instead of looking to Jesus. He thought of how foolish this waiting is for many people.
· Some wait for a more convenient season.
· Some wait for dreams and visions.
· Some wait for signs and wonders.
· Some wait to be compelled.
· Some wait for a revival.
· Some wait for particular feelings.
· Some wait for a celebrity.
c. Do you want to be made well? This was a sincere question. Jesus knew that not every sick person wants to be healed, and that some are so discouraged that they put away all hope of being healed. Jesus dealt with a man who may have had his heart withered as well as his legs. Jesus therefore attempted to build the faith of this man.
i. “It certainly is possible that the man’s long and apparently hopeless infirmity may have given him a look of lethargy and despondency, and the question may have arisen from this.” (Alford)
ii. It is possible that Jesus asked this even as the waters were stirred and people started jumping and diving and rolling into the waters, each hoping for evidence that they were the favored one. The man Jesus spoke with knew that he was not one of the favored, and had no real hope to be healed.
iii. In this man’s particular case, it was reasonable to wonder if he really wanted to be healed. “An eastern beggar often loses a good living by being cured of his disease.” (Barclay) As bad as his current situation was, at least he was familiar with it.
3. (7-9) The man replies and Jesus heals him.
The sick man answered Him, “Sir, I have no man to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up; but while I am coming, another steps down before me.” Jesus said to him, “Rise, take up your bed and walk.” And immediately the man was made well, took up his bed, and walked. And that day was the Sabbath.
a. Sir, I have no man to put me into the pool: The crippled man assumed Jesus knew how things worked at the Pool of Bethesda, and he explained to Jesus why it wasn’t possible for him to be healed. Quite naturally, the man couldn’t think of any other way for his need to be met.
i. The man was an interesting case of hope combined with hopelessness. He had hope, or would never have come to the Pool of Bethesda. Yet once there, he had little hope to be the favored one to win the healing that day.
ii. Another steps down before me: “The man’s answer implies the popular belief that whoever stepped in immediately after the bubbling up of the water was made whole.” (Alford)
iii. “The sick man does what we nearly all do. He limits God’s help to his own ideas and does not dare promise himself more that he conceives in his mind.” (Calvin)
b. Rise, take up your bed and walk: Jesus told the man to do what he could not do. Being paralyzed, it was impossible for him to rise or to take up his bed-mat or to walk. At this moment, Jesus challenged the man to believe Him for the impossible.
i. The bed was not a full-framed bed, but a bed-mat. Morris on the ancient Greek word translated bed: “It is apparently Macedonian in origin and denotes a camp-bed, a pallet.”
ii. It’s easy to imagine that the man’s first reaction was, I can’t do that – why even try? Yet something wonderful prompted the man to say, If this man tells me to do it, I will try. Jesus guided the man towards a response of faith.
iii. “The man might well have said with a kind of injured resentment that for thirty-eight years his bed had been carrying him and there was not much sense in telling him to carry it.” (Barclay)
iv. “He was commanded to take up his bed that he might recognise that the cure was permanent. No doubt many of the cures at the pool were merely temporary.” (Dods)
c. Immediately the man was made well: This happened as the man responded in faith and did exactly what Jesus told him to do, though a moment before this it was impossible to do it. The fact of his healing was confirmed in that he had the strength to carry his own bed-mat and walk with it.
i. “Because Jesus told him, he asked no questions, but doubled up his couch, and walked. He did what he was told to do, because he believed in him who spake. Have you such faith in Jesus, poor sinner?” (Spurgeon)
ii. “He healed the man beside the pool, but without his touching the pool, to show that He could heal without the water.” (Trench)
iii. This shows us that the New Testament describes many different ways people may be healed.
· The elders of the church may anoint someone with oil and pray for them, and they may be healed (James 5:14-16).
· God’s people can lay hands on each other in prayer, ask God for healing, and people may be healed (Mark 16:17-18).
· God may grant someone a gift of healing – either that they are directly healed, or have the power to bring healing to another (1 Corinthians 12:9).
· God may grant healing in response to the faith of the person who desires to be healed (Matthew 9:22).
· God may grant healing in response to the faith of another on behalf of the person who is healed (Mark 2:4-5, Matthew 8:13).
· God may heal through medical treatment (1 Timothy 5:23, James 5:14 with Luke 10:34).
d. That day was the Sabbath: That all this was done on the Sabbath day will be the source of the controversy that follows.
B. The Sabbath controversy.
1. (10-13) The Jews ignore the miracle and take offense.
The Jews therefore said to him who was cured, “It is the Sabbath; it is not lawful for you to carry your bed.” He answered them, “He who made me well said to me, ‘Take up your bed and walk.’” Then they asked him, “Who is the Man who said to you, ‘Take up your bed and walk’?” But the one who was healed did not know who it was, for Jesus had withdrawn, a multitude being in that place.
a. The Jews therefore said: Throughout his Gospel, John uses the term the Jews in the sense of the Jewish leaders, not of all the Jews in Jerusalem.
i. “Here, as regularly in the Gospel of John, it is important to mark who exactly ‘the Jews’ in question are: in this context they are members of the religious establishment in Jerusalem.” (Bruce)
b. It is the Sabbath; it is not lawful for you to carry your bed: Carrying a bed (actually a sleeping-mat or a bedroll) was in fact a violation of the rabbis’ interpretation of the commandment against doing work or business on the Sabbath. It was not a breaking of God’s law of the Sabbath, but the human interpretation of God’s law.
i. “The Rabbis of Jesus’ day solemnly argued that a man was sinning if he carried a needle in his robe on the Sabbath. They even argued as to whether he could wear his artificial teeth or his wooden leg.” (Barclay)
ii. “Jesus persistently maintained that it is lawful on the sabbath to do good. He ignored the mass of scribal regulations, and thus inevitably came into conflict with the authorities.” (Morris)
iii. This devotion to the rabbis’ interpretation of the Sabbath law continues in modern times. An example is found in an April 1992 news item: Tenants let three apartments in an Orthodox neighborhood in Israel burn to the ground while they asked a rabbi whether a telephone call to the fire department on the Sabbath would violate Jewish law. Observant Jews are forbidden to use the phone on the Sabbath, because doing so would break an electrical current, which is considered a form of work. In the half-hour it took the rabbi to decide “yes,” the fire spread to two neighboring apartments.
c. Who is the Man who said to you, “Take up your bed and walk”? The Jewish leaders didn’t want to know who healed the crippled man. They wanted to know who told him to carry a bed-mat on the Sabbath day.
i. This probably seemed strange, and perhaps confusing to the healed man. “I was carried to the pool today and if I were not healed I would need to be carried home. That’s a lot more work than me carrying my little bed-mat. In healing me and sending me home, Jesus was saving work on the Sabbath, not making more work.”
ii. To the religious leaders Jesus was the man who broke the Sabbath. To the healed man Jesus was He who made me well.
d. For Jesus had withdrawn, a multitude being in that place: Jesus did not want to remain with the commotion surrounding the man’s healing. Because He did not intend to heal the entire multitude, it was better for Him to withdraw.
i. “Jesus spoke the healing words, and then went on among the crowd, so that no particular attention was attracted to Himself, either by the sick man or others.” (Alford)
2. (14-15) Jesus warns the healed man of a greater danger.
Afterward Jesus found him in the temple, and said to him, “See, you have been made well. Sin no more, lest a worse thing come upon you.” The man departed and told the Jews that it was Jesus who had made him well.
a. Afterward Jesus found him: Jesus found him because He was concerned for his spiritual health (sin no more lest a worse thing come upon you), not only his physical health. Living a life of sin is worse, and will bring a worse result, than being crippled for thirty-eight years.
i. See, you have been made well: “Employs the perfect of the verb, indicating that the cure was permanent. No doubt some of the ‘cures’ that were reported from the pool did not last very long.” (Morris)
ii. “The man’s eight-and-thirty years of illness had apparently been brought on by dissipation. It was a sin of the flesh, avenged in the flesh, that had given him that miserable life.” (Maclaren)
b. The man departed and told the Jews that it was Jesus: The fact that he reported Jesus to the authorities showed how intimidated the man was by those same religious leaders.
i. “The man who had been healed seems to have been an unpleasant creature…as soon as he found out the identity of his Benefactor he betrayed Him to the hostile authorities.” (Morris)
ii. In theory, the penalties for disobedience on the Sabbath were serious. Dods cites Lightfoot: “Whosoever on the Sabbath bringeth anything in, or taketh anything out from a public place to a private one, if he hath done this inadvertently, he shall sacrifice for his sin; but if willfully, he shall be cut off and shall be stoned.”
3. (16-18) Jesus defends His Sabbath actions.
For this reason the Jews persecuted Jesus, and sought to kill Him, because He had done these things on the Sabbath. But Jesus answered them, “My Father has been working until now, and I have been working.” Therefore the Jews sought all the more to kill Him, because He not only broke the Sabbath, but also said that God was His Father, making Himself equal with God.
a. For this reason the Jews persecuted Jesus, and sought to kill Him: Remarkably, the healing seemed to make no difference to those who persecuted Jesus. All they could see was that their religious rule was broken, a rule that went beyond the command of Scripture itself.
i. “Inciting others to break the law (as they understood it) was worse than breaking it oneself. Therefore they launched a campaign against Jesus which was not relaxed until his death some eighteen months later.” (Bruce)
ii. The absolute devotion to the traditions of man surrounding the Sabbath can’t be understated. For example, Deuteronomy 23:12-14 tells Israel to practice good sanitation when their armies are camped. Ancient rabbis applied the same principle to the city of Jerusalem, which they regarded as “the camp of the Lord.” When this was combined with Sabbath travel restrictions, it resulted in a prohibition against going to the bathroom on the Sabbath.
b. And sought to kill Him: The anger and hatred of the religious leaders is difficult to explain, apart from seeing that it had a spiritual root. They did not like Jesus, and therefore they did not like God the Father (but also said that God was His Father).
c. My Father has been working until now, and I have been working: Jesus did not try and explain that He had not truly worked on the Sabbath. Instead, He boldly explained to the religious leaders that His Father worked on the Sabbath, and therefore Jesus the Son also worked on the Sabbath.
i. “God never stops working, for as it is the property of fire to burn and of snow to be cold so of God to work.” (Philo, cited in Dods)
ii. In some ways, it is strange that the God of the Bible is a working God. “In the old world, it was hardly an honourable thing to work. It was a think for slaves and serfs and strangers, not for freeborn men. Hence work and greatness rarely went together; and nothing could be more alien to the genius of paganism than a toiling God. It was a revolution when Jesus taught ‘God loves.’ But it was hardly less revolutionary when He taught ‘God works.’” (Morrison)
iii. “Though he rested from creating, he never ceased from preserving and governing that which he had formed: in this respect he can keep no sabbaths; for nothing can continue to exist, or answer the end proposed by the Divine wisdom and goodness, without the continual energy of God.” (Clarke)
iv. This answers the objection raised by a hostile (and ignorant) critic of Christianity. I saw this statement written in an anti-Christian tract: Just say “no!” to a god who claims to be all powerful, but then requires a nap after only six days of creating (Genesis 2:2). This objection betrays the lack of understanding on behalf of the writer. The Bible clearly says that God does not need sleep or rest (Psalm 121:3-4, He who keeps Israel shall neither slumber nor sleep). The rest of God on the seventh day was given for man’s benefit, not God’s, demonstrating a pattern of rest necessary for man’s well being.
v. My Father… and I: “His explanation shows that he did not claim identity with the Father as one person, but he asserted his unity with the Father in a relationship that could be described as sonship.” (Tenney)
d. But also said that God was His Father, making Himself equal with God: The religious leaders did not miss the fact that Jesus claimed to be equal with God. They knew clearly that when Jesus said that God was His Father in this unique way, He declaredHimself equal with God.
i. “He was claiming that God was His Father in a special sense. He was claiming that He partook of the same nature as His Father. This involved equality.” (Morris) Morris also notes that the verbs broke and said are both in continuous tenses; Jesus habitually broke their man-made Sabbath rules and habitually said He was equal with God.
ii. “The individual use of ‘MY FATHER’ by Jesus had a totally distinct, and in their view a blasphemous meaning; this latter especially, because He this made God a participator in His crime of breaking the sabbath.” (Alford)
iii. “It should be carefully observed that He did not deny the accuracy of their deduction, but continued to speak as One who claimed such equality of authority.” (Morgan)
iv. Augustine wisely said of this passage: “Behold, the Jews understand what the Arians do not understand.” Today, Jehovah’s Witnesses are among those that hold the doctrines of the Arians, denying the deity of Jesus.
C. Jesus explains His relationship to the Father.
1. (19-20) The Son does as the Father does.
Then Jesus answered and said to them, “Most assuredly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of Himself, but what He sees the Father do; for whatever He does, the Son also does in like manner. For the Father loves the Son, and shows Him all things that He Himself does; and He will show Him greater works than these, that you may marvel.”
a. Then Jesus answered and said to them: In this extended discussion Jesus explained to the religious leaders some of the nature of His relationship and work with God the Father. Because of this, we have a lot of information of the relationship between God the Father and God the Son.
i. Leon Morris said of this section, “The language Jesus uses throughout is thoroughly Rabbinic.”
b. The Son can do nothing of Himself: Jesus explained that He, as God the Son, does nothing independently. He was and is fully submitted to the Father’s will. This submission comes by choice, not by coercion or by an inferior nature.
i. Relevant to the Sabbath controversy discussed in the previous verses, this was Jesus’ way of telling the religious leaders that He did not tell the healed man to carry his bed on His own authority; He did it in complete submission to God the Father in heaven.
ii. “It is not simply that He does not act in independence of the Father, He cannot act in independence of the Father.” (Morris)
c. Whatever He does, the Son also does in like manner: Jesus explained that His work was a perfect reflection of the work and will of God the Father. Jesus showed us exactly what the work and will of God is.
i. “The Father is not passive in the matter, merely allowing Jesus to discover what He can of the Father’s will; but the Father shows Him.” (Dods)
ii. “C.H. Dodd discerned an ‘embedded parable’ in verses 19 and 20: Jesus draws an analogy from his own boyhood experience in the carpenter’s workshop, when he learned to imitate the things he saw Joseph doing, thus serving his apprenticeship.” (Bruce)
iii. Some people think of a great difference – or even a small difference – between God the Father and God the Son, as if God the Father emphasized judgment and God the Son emphasized love. Sometimes they think the same way over what they call the God of the Old Testament and the God of the New Testament. This thinking is wrong; it usually comes from refusing to see the display of love in God the Father, or the display of righteousness in God the Son.
iv. “He is explaining also, by inference, the mystery of the Incarnation – that God The Son in becoming Man ceased not to be God, and that the Personality of Jesus is the Personality of God The Son.” (Trench)
d. The Father loves the Son: The relationship between the First and Second members of the Trinity is not one of master and slave, not of employer and employee, but of Father and Son, united by love.
i. “The Father loves the Son (the tense denotes a continuing habitual love; the Father never ceases to love the Son).” (Morris)
ii. “That ‘the Father loves the Son’ has been affirmed already in this Gospel (John 3:35); it is immaterial that the verb here is phileo whereas in the earlier occurrence it is agapao.” (Bruce)
e. He will show Him greater works than these, that you may marvel: The religious leaders were stunned by what Jesus told the formerly paralyzed man to do. Jesus here told them that they would see even greater works, ones that would make them marvel.
2. (21-23) The works of the Father, the works of the Son.
“For as the Father raises the dead and gives life to them, even so the Son gives life to whom He will. For the Father judges no one, but has committed all judgment to the Son, that all should honor the Son just as they honor the Father. He who does not honor the Son does not honor the Father who sent Him.”
a. As the Father raises the dead and gives life to them, even so the Son gives life to whom He will: Jesus used the work of resurrection as an example of the shared work of the Father and the Son. Here the Son has the power and authority to raise the dead and give life to them just as the Father does.
i. In this Jesus appealed to ultimate power. It’s hard to think of greater power and authority than of that to raise the dead. The religious leaders didn’t want to think much about Jesus’ ability to heal a paralytic; they focused on Him as a Sabbath breaker. Yet the power of Jesus went far beyond the power to heal.
ii. The Son gives life to whom He will: “Here our Lord points out his sovereign power and independence; he gives life according to his own will-not being obliged to supplicate for the power by which it was done, as the prophets did; his own will being absolute and sufficient in every case.” (Clarke)
b. But has committed all judgment to the Son: Jesus used the work of judgment as an example of a division of labor between the Father and the Son. It is before God the Son that people will stand on the Day of Judgment. Even during His earthly ministry, Jesus was something of a judge among humanity.
i. Just being in the presence of Jesus led one to know, “I’m not like Him.” Jesus looked at the rich young ruler, and he was judged. He looked upon Simon Peter, and he was judged. Those were not looks of anger; they were looks of love. Yet when they saw the face of Jesus they knew a love was extended to them that they were not worthy of.
ii. “Wherever Jesus was, there was the element of judgment… there was always self-reproach where Jesus was. Men were ashamed of themselves, they knew not why. His life was an unceasing act of love, and yet it was an unceasing act of judgment.” (Morrison)
c. That all should honor the Son just as they honor the Father: God the Father gave this work of judgment to God the Son so that people would honor Jesus as they should, and that they should honor the Son just as they honor the Father. Failing to honor God the Son means that it is impossible for one to also honor God the Father who sent the Son.
i. This was a clear claim to deity. If Jesus – designating Himself as the Son – was not God, then it would be idolatry to honor the Son just as they honor the Father.
ii. “All must honour Him with equal honour to that which they pay to the Father – and whosover does not, however he may imagine that he honours or approaches God, does not honour Him at all; because He can only be known or honoured by us as ‘THE FATHER WHO SENT HIS SON.’” (Alford)
iii. The Father who sent Him: “The Incarnation is every whit as much The Father’s act as it is The Son’s: The Father ‘sent,’ The Son ‘came.’” (Trench)
3. (24-27) From death to life in the Son of God.
“Most assuredly, I say to you, he who hears My word and believes in Him who sent Me has everlasting life, and shall not come into judgment, but has passed from death into life. Most assuredly, I say to you, the hour is coming, and now is, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God; and those who hear will live. For as the Father has life in Himself, so He has granted the Son to have life in Himself, and has given Him authority to execute judgment also, because He is the Son of Man.”
a. He who hears My word and believes in Him who sent Me has everlasting life: Jesus explained to the astonished religious leaders that those who heard his word would have everlasting life. They would have the life connected with eternity, and have that live now.
i. John 3:16 stated that belief in Jesus – in the sense of trusting in, relying on, and clinging to – was the path to everlasting life. Here Jesus said that hearing His word and belief in the Father (Him who sent Me) is the path to everlasting life. Because the Father and the Son are so united in their work, each is true of the other. True belief in the Father is belief in the Son, and true belief in the Son is belief in the Father.
ii. With these words Jesus lifted Himself far about the level of any mere man. Think of it: “Hear My word and have everlasting life.” This was either the babbling of an insane man or the words of God Himself. There is no neutral ground to be found here.
iii. “It does not appear from our text that everlasting life is communicated by drops of water, or in any other ceremonial manner; but the command is, ‘Hear, and your soul shall live.’” (Spurgeon)
b. Shall not come into judgment, but has passed from death into life: This is one aspect that is essential to everlasting life; to escape judgment for sin and to pass from the position of death to the position of life.
i. Has passed from death into life: “Has changed his country, or place of abode. Death is the country where every Christless soul lives. The man who knows not God lives a dying life, or a living death; but he who believes in the Son of God passes over from the empire of death, to the empire of life.” (Clarke)
c. The dead will hear the voice of the Son of God; and those who hear will live: Jesus had already explained that one who lives can hear His word, believe, and have everlasting life. Now He adds that one day even the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and be raised again. These are remarkable claims to be much more than a man.
d. He has granted the Son to have life in Himself: Jesus further described His uniqueness to the religious leaders by claiming that He has life in Himself, a gift granted by God the Father. Jesus had life in Himself, not dependent upon other people or things.
i. None of us has life inherent in ourselves. Our life is derived from our parents, and the fragile environment around us. Jesus claimed that His life was derived from no one; it is inherent and uncreated. Theologians call this quality of self-existence aseity and recognize that God alone possesses it.
ii. “What a paradox it is to say that it is ‘given’ to Him to have ‘life in Himself’! And when was that gift given? In the depths of eternity.” (Maclaren)
iii. As Jesus explained His nature and deity to the religious leaders in this chapter, it is evident that He did not claim identity with the Father as one person, but asserted His equality to God the Father and His relationship of love with the Father. Jesus and the Father are not the same, but they are equal, just as John 1:1 states.
iv. These words of Jesus contradict two later errors about the nature of the deity of God the Son. One is sometimes called the “Jesus Only” doctrine, confusing the Father and the Son (anciently known as Sabellianism, and held today by groups like Oneness Pentecostals). The other is the error that Jesus is not God, (anciently known as Arianism, and held today by groups like the Jehovah’s Witnesses).
4. (28-30) The reality of the Son’s coming judgment.
“Do not marvel at this; for the hour is coming in which all who are in the graves will hear His voice and come forth; those who have done good, to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil, to the resurrection of condemnation. 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 the Father who sent Me.”
a. The hour is coming in which all who are in the graves will hear His voice: Previously Jesus said that all who have everlasting life would hear His voice and live (John 5:25). He now extended the concept of resurrection to all humanity, both those who have done good and who have done evil.
i. “This does not mean that salvation is on the basis of good works, for this very Gospel makes it plain over and over again that men enter eternal life when they believe on Jesus Christ. But the lives they live form the test of the faith they profess.” (Morris)
b. The resurrection of life… the resurrection of condemnation: Jesus explained this to the astonished religious leaders to explain who He was, the nature of His authority and deity. At the same time, it tells us something remarkable about humanity; that everyone, both those who have donegood and those who have done evil will live forever, far beyond the physical and material life they know on this earth in this age. Jesus will command them to rise on that day, in bodies suited for eternity.
i. “The double resurrection assumes that both the righteous and the wicked will receive bodies in the future life and that presumably each body will express the character of the person who is resurrected.” (Tenney)
c. My judgment is righteous: Jesus explained that He is qualified as a completely righteous judge, because His power is in submission to God the Father. He repeated the themes: I can of Myself do nothing… I do not seek My own will but the will of the Father who sent Me.
D. The five-fold testimony to who Jesus is.
1. (31-32) Jesus tells of testimony beyond His own regarding himself.
“If I bear witness of Myself, My witness is not true. There is another who bears witness of Me, and I know that the witness which He witnesses of Me is true.”
a. If I bear witness of Myself, My witness is not true: Like anyone else, it was not enough for Jesus to simply claim things about Himself. There had to be outside and independent witness to His true identity and nature.
i. This principle is established by Deuteronomy 19:15, which says by the mouth of two or three witnesses the matter shall be established. Jesus explained to the religious leaders that He was God, but His testimony alone was not enough.
b. There is another who bears witness of Me: In the following passage, Jesus brought forth three trustworthy witnesses who will testify that He is equal to the Father. Jesus found it important to give them reason to believe beyond what He said about Himself.
2. (33-35) The testimony of John the Baptist.
“You have sent to John, and he has borne witness to the truth. Yet I do not receive testimony from man, but I say these things that you may be saved. He was the burning and shining lamp, and you were willing for a time to rejoice in his light.”
a. You have sent to John, and he has borne witness to the truth: Jesus noted that the religious leaders knew of and heard John the Baptist for themselves. They needed to think of and believe what John said about Jesus.
b. He was the burning and shining lamp, and you were willing for a time to rejoice in his light: The religious leaders accepted the work of John the Baptist for a time. They needed to continue to believe John regarding Jesus the Messiah.
i. “The expression of lamp our Lord took from the ordinary custom of the Jews, who termed their eminent doctors the lamps of Israel.” (Clarke)
ii. “He said that John was the lamp which burns and shines. That was the perfect tribute to him. (a) A lamp bears a borrowed light. It does not light itself; it is lit. (b) John had warmth, for his was not the cold message of the intellect but the burning message of the kindled heart. (c) John had light. The function of light is to guide, and John pointed men on the way to repentance and to God. (d) In the nature of things a lamp burns itself out; in giving light it consumes itself. John was to decrease while Jesus increased. The true witness burns himself out for God.” (Barclay)
iii. To rejoice: “To jump for joy, as we would express it. They were exceedingly rejoiced to hear that the Messiah was come, because they expected him to deliver them out of the hands of the Romans; but when a spiritual deliverance, of infinitely greater moment was preached to them, they rejected both it and the light which made it manifest.” (Clarke)
3. (36) The testimony of the works of Jesus.
“But I have a greater witness than John’s; for the works which the Father has given Me to finish; the very works that I do; bear witness of Me, that the Father has sent Me.”
a. A greater witness than John’s… the very works that I do: Jesus claimed another witness regarding His identity and deity – the very works that He did. This present controversy started with a remarkable healing of a man paralyzed for 38 years. This was one of many works that testified to the deity of Jesus.
b. The very works that I do; bear witness of Me: The majority of the miraculous works of Jesus were simple acts of compassion and mercy, done for simple and needy people. In this, these works… bear witness to the heart of God. The Jews looked for a miraculous Messiah, but they did not look for One who would express His miraculous power in simple acts of compassion and mercy. They looked for the Messiah to use miraculous power to bring military and political deliverance to Israel.
i. Because Jesus’ miraculous works didn’t fit in with what they thought the Messiah would do, they didn’t receive this witness of Jesus’ works.
4. (37-38) The testimony of the Father.
“And the Father Himself, who sent Me, has testified of Me. You have neither heard His voice at any time, nor seen His form. But you do not have His word abiding in you, because whom He sent, Him you do not believe.”
a. The Father Himself, who sent Me, has testified of Me: In virtually every work and word of Jesus, God the Father testified to Jesus status as the Son of God. But specifically, the Father testified of the Son in Old Testament prophecy and at the baptism of Jesus (Luke 3:22).
b. But you do not have His word abiding in you: They will not receive the testimony of the Father, because they do not have His word abiding in them. They can’t hear God the Father audibly, or see Him, but they have His word. They are guilty because they do not abide in the word that God gave them.
5. (39) The testimony of the Scriptures.
“You search the Scriptures, for in them you think you have eternal life; and these are they which testify of Me.”
a. You search the Scriptures: In theory the religious leaders in Jesus’ day loved and valued the Scriptures (here used in the sense of the Old Testament). They studied and memorized and thought upon them continually, correctly thinking eternal life was found in God’s revelation.
i. “They read them with a wooden and superstitious reverence for the letter, and never penetrated into the great truths to which they pointed.” (Morris)
ii. “They read it not to search for God but to find arguments to support their own positions. They did not really love God; they loved their own ideas about him.” (Barclay)
iii. Search the Scriptures: “The verb itself (eraunao) implies keen scrutiny, tracking down the message of the Scriptures. The tragedy was that these people, for all their painstaking exploration of the sacred writings, had never found the clue which would lead them to their goal.” (Bruce)
b. These are they which testify of Me: If their study of the Scriptures was accurate and sincere, they would see that they spoke of the Messiah, God the Son. Their recognition of and belief upon Jesus was a measure of their true understanding of the Scriptures.
6. (40-44) The reason for their unbelief.
“But you are not willing to come to Me that you may have life. I do not receive honor from men. But I know you, that you do not have the love of God in you. I have come in My Father’s name, and you do not receive Me; if another comes in his own name, him you will receive. How can you believe, who receive honor from one another, and do not seek the honor that comes from the only God?”
a. But you are not willing to come to Me: The religious leaders were not willing, even though they had all the testimony one could have wanted. They were concerned with man’s honor, not the honor that comes from God (do not seek the honor that comes from the only God).
i. Jesus made it clear that having life is found in fulfilling the command “come to Me.” “Christ is a person, a living person, full of power to save. He has not placed his salvation in sacraments, or books, or priests, but he has kept it in himself; and if you want to have it you must come to him.” (Spurgeon)
ii. Their refusal to come to Jesus was despite their searching of the Scriptures (John 5:39). “They search the Scriptures, but they will not come to Jesus. Is it not, therefore, a good thing to search the Scriptures? Ay, that it is, and the more you search them the better; but still it is not the thing: it is not the saving work. You may be Bible readers and yet perish, but this can never happen if you come to Jesus by faith.” (Spurgeon)
iii. “The words Ye are not willing to come here set forth strikingly the freedom of the will, on which the unbeliever’s condemnation rests.” (Alford)
iv. “Let me tell you, the day will come when you will wring your hands in anguish to think that you despised that life. It may be that it will be so in the throes of death, but it is certain that it will be so amid the terrors of judgment, when there shall open wide before you the gates of hell, and before you shall blaze the lake that burneth with fire and brimstone, which is the second death.” (Spurgeon)
v. I do not receive honor from men: “I do not stand in need of you or your testimony. I act neither through self-interest nor vanity. Your salvation can add nothing to me, nor can your destruction injure me: I speak only through my love for your souls, that ye may be saved.” (Clarke)
b. That you do not have the love of God in you: The reasons for their rejection were fundamentally reasons of the heart, not of the mind. These religious leaders could hide behind supposedly intellectual excuses, but their real lack was love and desire for the honor that comes from God.
c. If another comes in his own name, him you will receive: Jesus prophesied the coming day when the descendants of these religious leaders would embrace a false Christ, an Antichrist, who comes in his own name. The rejection of Jesus left them open to terrible deception.
i. “The words are perhaps spoken primarily of the false or Idol-Messiah, the Antichrist, who shall appear in the latter days (2 Thessalonians 2:8-12); whose appearance shall be according to the working of Satan (their father, John 8:44), shewing himself that he is God, 2 Thessalonians 2:4.” (Alford)
ii. Though this will ultimately be fulfilled in the very end times, there were lesser fulfillments through history. “An outstanding fulfillment of this prediction came about in AD 132, when one Simeon ban Kosebah claimed to be the Messiah of David’s line, and led a revolt against Rome… Simeon’s messianic pretensions involved himself, his supporters and the people of Judea in the most fearful ruin.” (Bruce)
e. How can you believe, who receive honor from one another, and do not seek the honor that comes from the only God? The fatal error of the religious leaders of Jesus’ day – and ever since – is pride. They longed for prestige and honor from one another and were willing to sacrifice the honor that comes from God alone for the sake of man’s honor.
i. Charles Spurgeon preached a message on John 5:44 (Why Men Cannot Believe in Christ) and in one remarkable section of that sermon he examined of how fame, honor, and celebrity hinder true faith (how can you believe, who receive honor from one another). Following are some lines from that sermon:
· “The mere fact of receiving honor, even if that honor be rightly rendered, may make faith in Christ a difficulty.”
· “When a man gets to feel that he ought to be honored, he is in extreme danger.”
· “Always receiving this undeserved honor, they deceived themselves into believing that they deserved it.”
· “Dear friends, it is very difficult to receive honor and to expect it, and yet to keep your eyesight; for men’s eyes gradually grow dull through the smoke of the incense which is burned before them.”
· “Once more, the praise of men generally turns the receivers of it into great cowards.”
· “But, oh, how many live on the breath of their fellow men; to be approved — to be applauded — that is their heaven; but to be despised, to be sneered at, to be called fool, to have some nickname applied to them; oh no, they would sooner go to hell than bear that.”
ii. “The grand obstacle to the salvation of the scribes and Pharisees was their pride, vanity, and self-love. They lived on each other’s praise. If they had acknowledged Christ as the only teacher, they must have given up the good opinion of the multitude; and they chose rather to lose their souls than to forfeit their reputation among men!” (Clarke)
iii. “Seeking credit as religious men from one another, they necessarily habituated themselves to current ideas, and blotted out Divine glory from their mind.” (Dods)
iv. “They had accused Jesus of acting independently of God; He now accuses them of displaying that independence. The motive of their actions is not love for God but the approval of their fellows.” (Tasker)
7. (45-47) The testimony of Moses.
“Do not think that I shall accuse you to the Father; there is one who accuses you; Moses, in whom you trust. For if you believed Moses, you would believe Me; for he wrote about Me. But if you do not believe his writings, how will you believe My words?”
a. If you believed Moses, you would believe Me: These religious leaders rejected Jesus because they rejected God’s word through Moses. Moses accuses them, because Moses wrote about Jesus and they would not receive the testimony of Moses.
b. For he wrote about Me: Jesus said of the Scriptures that they testify of Me (John 5:39). The words and writings of Moses fulfill this, prophetically speaking of the Messiah in many places.
i. The LORD your God will raise up for you a Prophet like me from your midst, from your brethren. Him you shall hear. (Deuteronomy 18:15)
ii. Then the LORD said to Moses, “Make a fiery serpent, and set it on a pole; and it shall be that everyone who is bitten, when he looks at it, shall live.” So Moses made a bronze serpent, and put it on a pole; and so it was, if a serpent had bitten anyone, when he looked at the bronze serpent, he lived. (Numbers 21:8-9)
iii. Jesus was typified in the rock that gave Israel water in the wilderness (Numbers 20:8-12 and 1 Corinthians 10:4).
iv. The ministry of Jesus was shown in almost every aspect of the seven different kinds of offering that God commanded Israel to bring (Leviticus 1-7).
v. Jesus and His ministry were shown in the Tabernacle and its service. One place where the New Testament makes this connection is with the word propitiation in Romans 3:25, which speaks of the mercy seat on the Ark of the Covenant.
vi. The law of the bondservant speaks of Jesus (Exodus 21:5-6 and Psalm 40:6-8).
vii. No wonder Jesus could say Behold, I come; in the scroll of the Book it is written of Me (Psalm 40:7). He could teach a Bible study where beginning at Moses and all the Prophets, He expounded to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning Himself (Luke 24:27).
viii. “Thus the writings of Moses were prophetic. In them nothing was completed. They pointed on to other things, which came to pass when He came. Thus in this word we find at once the authority and limitation of Moses.” (Morgan)
ix. “This is an important testimony by the Lord to the subject of the whole Pentateuch; it is concerning Him. It is also a testimony to the fact, of Moses having written those books, which were then, and are still, known by his name.” (Alford)
c. But if you do not believe his writings, how will you believe My words? Jesus did not call these religious leaders to a new or a different faith. He called them to believe what Moses, what the Scriptures, what His works, what John the Baptist each testified about Jesus: that He is the Messiah, the Son of God and God the Son. If they refused to believe this overwhelming testimony, it was unlikely they would believe Jesus’ own words.
©2018 David Guzik – No distribution beyond personal use without permission