The Infirm Man: Jesus as Son of God vs. the Law
Can the Law give healing? In the previous sign (healing of the nobleman’s son) we saw Israel as a nation “sick unto death”. The question arises, “we Jews have the law, isn’t that enough to give us life?” Even though the law brought blessing into the reach of man, yet the law required something of man, which man was not able to perform. It was “weak through the flesh” (Rom. 8:3). The answer is “No, the law can’t help man, because man can’t help himself.” In contrast to the Law, the Son of God has come to give life; but rejecting Him will mean judgment.
- Healing at the Pool of Bethesda (5:1-16)
- The Glory of the Son of God – Equality with the Father (5:17-30)
- The Double Reason for the Lord’s Persecution by the Jews (vv.17-18)
- The Perfect Unity between the Son and the Father (vv.19-20)
- The Equality of the Son Illustrated by Two Issues (vv.21-23)
- Assurance to the Believer Regarding Life and Judgment (v.24)
- The Issues of Life-giving and Judgment belong to the Son (vv.25-29)
- The Son’s Dependence on the Father made Him a Proper Judge (v.30)
- A Fourfold Witness of the Son of God (5:31-40)
- Man’s Pride is the Root of Unbelief in God’s Testimony (5:41-47)
Was the impotent man born again? There is really little evidence that he was born again. In fact, if you compare his response with the blind man’s response in John 9 and the lame man in Acts 3, you will see a difference. After his healing, the Lord still addresses the impotent man as a person under the Law; “sin no more, lest something worse happen to you”. Nevertheless, the point of this account is not whether the infirm man was born again. The point of this illustrative account is that the Son of God brought what the Law could never bring… a work of grace. The Law is on a different principle, the principle of works (Gal. 2:16), and it requires something of man. But while the Law could not help man, instead of pouring out wrath, the Father and Son are working together in grace to redeem man from his sinful condition.
All things are become new:
- In ch.3, a religious sinner is presented with the truth of new birth.
- In ch.4, a thirsty sinner is presented with a new object.
- In ch.5, a helpless sinner is presented with a new power.
Setting of the Miracle (vv.1-4)
¶ After these things was a feast of the Jews, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. v.1 Most likely the feast mentioned here was the Passover. The Lord went up each year to the Passover in fulfillment of Ex. 23:17. However, here in John this feast is called “a feast of the Jews” rather than a “feast of Jehovah”, perhaps because the Lord didn’t recognize the ceremonies of the apostate Jews as “of Jehovah”.
2 Now there is in Jerusalem, at the sheepgate, a pool, which is called in Hebrew, Bethesda, having five porches. v.2 The pool was called “Bethesda” which means “house of mercy”. The “sheep gate” speaks of the people of God, who are often pictured as sheep (Isa. 53:6). The water is a picture of the Word of God. The five porches adjacent to the pool would speak of man’s responsibility to “climb” by keeping the law (five books). So in summary, pictured here is a system that could provide blessing to the people of God but it depended on man’s efforts.
3 In these lay a multitude of sick, blind, lame, withered, awaiting the moving of the water. v.3 Rather than produce blessing, these porches were filled with helpless people. In a similar way, the responsibility imposed by the Law only found mankind helpless and without strength. Man’s only hope is a divine miracle.
4 For an angel descended at a certain season in the pool and troubled the water. Whoever therefore first went in after the troubling of the water became well, whatever disease he laboured under. v.4 The word “an angel” is used here, which implies that, in the legal system, man is at a distance from God. As Stephen said, the law was given “by the disposition of angels” (Acts 7:53). Another limitation with this pool was that only one person could be healed, and they had to be well enough to get down quickly into the water. How pathetic is this sight of a great crowd waiting for blessing that they could never get! Why did God limit it to one? Why did He make it so restrictive? I believe it is because their diseases came as a result of their disobedience (Ex. 15:26), and God intended this as a witness to the Jews to the fact that under law man was really powerless to help himself. Also, this pool exposed the true motives of man’s heart. All came to the pool for selfish reasons, and no one was happy when another got the blessing.
Claims that John 5:4 are not in the text. These claims are made on account of the verse being omitted in some of the best manuscripts, including the Codex Sinaiticus and Codex Vaticanus. In spite of the conflicts in manuscript evidence, we can have a high level of confidence that the passage in question does belong in the text. Some early copyists viewed the story as incredible; i.e. the angel coming down once a year, etc. Rather than submit to scripture, they chose to leave the verse out. It was for this same reason that some excluded John 7:53 – 8:11 or Luke 22:42-43.
Healing of the Infirm Man on the Sabbath (vv.5-9)
5 But there was a certain man there who had been suffering under his infirmity thirty and eight years. v.5 This particular man had been in a condition of suffering for almost forty years. It is remarkable that in the thirty-eighth year of Israel’s journey they came very near to their inheritance. As long as Israel had gallant men of war, the people were in danger of attributing the conquest of the land to their own power. So thirty-eight years were required for that generation of men of war to die (Deut. 2:14). In a similar way, this crippled man, at the end of thirty-eight years, had proven that he was beyond human help. He has to admit: “I have no man…” and it is then that Jesus makes him walk. This period seemed to coincide with the incident of the brazen serpent (compare Num. 21:4-16 with Deut. 2:14). The result was failure in the flesh, and death, which would have consumed all the people if it had not been for the intervention of Jehovah. This teaches us that, in the flesh, and on the ground of law-keeping, Israel will never get into the divinely promised inheritance. It is in contrast to the man in Acts 3-4.
|John 5||Acts 3-4|
|thirty and eight years||above 40 years of age|
|before the cross||after Pentecost|
|told to “sin no more”||walking, leaping, praising|
6 Jesus seeing this man lying there, and knowing that he was in that state now a great length of time, says to him, Wouldest thou become well? v.6 Jesus came unsought for, and sought this poor man. Likewise, it was at the end of the law that Christ came, after Israel had been in this helpless condition for “a great length of time”. It was as if God was asking Israel, “Wouldest thou become well?” Sadly, they refused to acknowledge their sinful condition.
7 The infirm man answered him, Sir, I have not a man, in order, when the water has been troubled, to cast me into the pool; but while I am coming another descends before me. v.7 Note that this man does not even say “yes” when asked if he wanted to be healed. He was so focused on himself that he couldn’t see the Lord for who He was. The only mode of salvation this man could conceive of was the pool, the system of law. He could only think about:
- His condition – the law makes self the object. “I have no man”… the result was a feeling of helplessness.
- Comparing with others – those who beat him stepping down into the water. The law encourages a spirit of competition with others.
The key to this man’s condition is that his disease prevented him from finding blessing through a means that required strength. It is a picture of man’s depraved condition that prevents him from finding blessing through the law.
8 Jesus says to him, Arise, take up thy couch and walk. v.8 Yet by his confession, the infirm man acknowledged his desire to be made whole. The Son of God does immediately and completely what the law could never do; “For what the law could not do, etc.” (Rom. 8:3-4.
9 And immediately the man became well, and took up his couch and walked: and on that day was sabbath. v.9 The result is immediate. There was not time needed to recover from muscle atrophy. The man was able not only to walk, but also to carry his bed. His bed was previously the symbol of his helplessness. Carrying our bed is the celebration of our liberty; “the liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free” (Gal. 5:1). To follow “the perfect law of liberty” (Jam. 1:25) is to walk in joyful obedience to the Word of the Lord.
Persecution by the Jews (vv.10-16)
The Sabbath is a vastly important subject, tying together Old and New Testaments. To understand its purpose, the Jews’ misconceptions about it, and the importance of this miracle being performed by Jesus on the Sabbath day, we must understand God’s thoughts about the whole subject. Read more…
10 The Jews therefore said to the healed man, It is sabbath, it is not permitted thee to take up thy couch. v.10 Apparently, the Jews were so occupied with the pool (legalism) that they had not even noticed the miracle! They were quick however to notice a man carrying a burden on the Sabbath.
11 He answered them, He that made me well, “he” said to me, Take up thy couch and walk. v.11 The healed man knew that One who had enough power to heal him was worthy of obedience; although we find later (vv.14-15) that he perhaps did not have faith, and unwittingly aided the Jews against the Lord Jesus. However, his answer to the Jews was open and honest. Perhaps he sensed that Jesus was Lord of the Sabbath.
12 They asked him therefore, Who is the man who said to thee, Take up thy couch and walk? v.12 Notice the focus of their thoughts… they don’t say “What man is that which healed thee”, but instead they want to know who told him to break the Sabbath. Their minds were thoroughly blinded by legalism. They should have been asking, “Who healed you? this must be our Messiah!”
13 But he that had been healed knew not who it was, for Jesus had slidden away, there being a crowd in the place. v.13 The Lord had ordered things so that the healed man should know no more of the Lord’s identity. Perhaps Jesus wanted the man to be tested as to the reception of grace; would he come out in the defense of the One who had healed him as the blind man did in John 9? The healed man had a chance (vv.14-15) to side with Christ, knowing the intentions of the Jews.
14 After these things Jesus finds him in the temple, and said to him, Behold, thou art become well: sin no more, that something worse do not happen to thee. v.14 The Lord’s instructions to the healed man indicate that he was not born again, that he was still in a condition of unbelief, under law in his own mind, even though grace has been shown to him. Compare this with ch.4. There was no need to tell the Samaritan woman to “sin no more”, because her heart had been reached. This may also be why the Lord speaks so negatively to him, warning him that further sin may result in worse consequences. Even this warning is a gracious word, though solemn in tone.
15 The man went away and told the Jews that it was Jesus who had made him well. v.15 The healed man went directly to the Jews to report Jesus. Perhaps he did not adequately judge the malice of the Jews, and assumed that they were anxious to know his wondrous benefactor. Or perhaps, it could be that the healed man was more willing to ally himself with the Jews than with the Lord Jesus. It is hard to say. I tend to think of the man in John 5 as a contrast to the man in John 9, who took a clear and decided stand for Christ after his healing (John 9:17, 27).
16 And for this the Jews persecuted Jesus and sought to kill him, because he had done these things on sabbath. v.16 Now the Jews knew for sure what they had probably suspected from the beginning; the healer was Jesus. From that moment the Lord Jesus became the object of their hatred and persecution. The new wine of Christian grace was simply incompatible with the old bottles of Judaism. Their hatred only grew from this point onward. The spirit of God records in John how the enmity of the Jew was gradually aroused until they fully intended to kill the Lord; read John 7:1, 19, 25; 8:37, 40, 58; and 11:53.
The Son’s Equality with the Father. The great subject unfolded in the remainder of this chapter is that the Son of God (marked out at His baptism, John 1:34) is equal with God the Father, and not independent from Him. The glory of the Son is that He is fully God, and He is worthy of equal honor. Yet there cannot be two supreme and omnipotent beings. The Son is in full union with the Father, does nothing without the Father, but does whatsoever He sees the Father do. These twin truths will carry on for all eternity! The Son will make the Father’s glory known, and the Father will direct all praise to the Son (L.F. #14).
All the Father’s counsels claiming
Equal honors to the Son,
All the Son’s effulgence beaming,
Makes the Father’s glory known.
The Father. This name of God is the characteristic name under which God has revealed Himself in Christianity. He was “Jehovah” to the Jews – a moral lawgiver. But the name of “Father” conveys an intimacy not known in the Old Testament, and brings out God’s heart and purposes of love. He could not be revealed as such until the Son came to “declare him” (John 1:18). Read more…
The Double Reason for the Lord’s Persecution by the Jews (vv.17-18)
The line is drawn. The line is being drawn by the Lord. No longer was it the testimony of John the Baptist (ch. 1:34), or Nathaniel (ch. 1:49), now He was claiming to be the Son of God. Jesus is either a liar, a deceiver, and a blasphemer, or He is what He said… the Son of God. Every intelligent person must decide what to do with Jesus. Will you embrace the truth that Jesus is the Son of God? Or will you reject it, to your own judgment?
17 But Jesus answered them, My Father worketh hitherto and I work. v.17 Unity in nature. Two things are revealed in the Lord’s wonderful response. (1) It showed the relationship of the Son with the Father, now openly revealed by His coming; Jesus was the Son of God. (2) It showed God’s heart of grace, because He could not rest with the existence of sin and misery in the creation. Having already promised not to destroy the race of man (Gen. 9:11), God chose in His love to redeem man. God will either destroy the creation, or work to redeem it. The Father and Son are working now. If God cannot rest, how vain was a religious observance of the Sabbath while the heart was a million miles away?
18 For this therefore the Jews sought the more to kill him, because he had not only violated the sabbath, but also said that God was his own Father, making himself equal with God. v.18 The Jews found in the Lord’s response a much deeper object for their hatred; He “said that God was his own Father”. One of the striking claims of the enemies of Christ is that Jesus never claimed to be the Son of God, or equal with God. That is simply not true, and this verse is one of the great proofs of that. He directly confessed it (John 10:36). He acknowledged it in His discourse with the Jews (John 5:17-18). He acknowledged it in His discourse with the Blind man (John 9:35-37). He acknowledged it in His upper room discourse with the disciples (John 16:27-28). He affirmed it after Peter’s confession (Matt. 16:16-17). Lastly, He affirmed it in His response to Caiaphas (Matt. 26:63-64; Luke 22:70).
The Perfect Unity between the Son and the Father (vv.19-20)
19 Jesus therefore answered and said to them, Verily, verily, I say to you, The Son can do nothing of himself save whatever he sees the Father doing: for whatever things “he” does, these things also the Son does in like manner. v.19 Unity in action. While the Son is equal in every way to the Father, the Son and Father do not act independently of one another (see John 17). The Son of God, now a man on earth, did not have a will that was independent from God the Father. If He was independent from the Father, the Son would not truly “declare him” (John 1:18). Jesus is the Son (fully equal with God), but the Son manifested in the flesh, acting in the mission which the Father sent Him to fulfill. There was complete unity in action. When the Son spoke it was the words that His Father gave Him, when He worked it was the works the Father gave Him to do (John 14:10). Those who resisted the word of the Son were resisting the Father also.
20 For the Father loves the Son and shews him all things which he himself does; and he will shew him greater works than these, that ye may wonder. v.20 Unity in thought. The Son did what the Father gave Him to do (v.19) but more is needed to set forth the glory of the Son. The Son is in no way inferior to the Father. The Son is the perfect complacency of the Father’s love, and as such, the Father has shown Him everything that He does. The Son is not a deputy, whom the Father tells certain things and withholds other things. There is perfect unity of thought between the Father and Son. What “greater works still” does the Lord refer to? Think of His great works of redemption, resurrection, giving the Spirit, building of the Church, etc. Note that He says the Jews would “wonder” at the greater works, He does not say they would believe them.
The Equality of the Son Illustrated by Two Issues (vv.21-23)
21 For even as the Father raises the dead and quickens them, thus the Son also quickens whom he will: v.21 Life-giving, or resurrection. The possession of sovereign authority to give life shows that the Son is equal. As God, both the Father and Son can give life. The Son can quicken “whom he will”. The Son is a Divine Person as truly as the Father is; therefore, in full sovereign right and power, the Son quickens “whom he will”… He is not merely the father’s instrument.
Quickening vs. healing. While the impotent man was healed, we do not read that he was quickened. The issue taken up here is the giving of life in a manner evidently Divine. Healing is a work which, at bottom, springs from the same source, but the issue taken up is one that marks out Divine power. Therefore, resurrection is used, because it excludes any other power than the Divine, and proves beyond any doubt that Jesus was the Son of God (Rom. 1:4).
22 for neither does the Father judge any one, but has given all judgment to the Son; v.22 Judgment. The possession of exclusive authority to judge shows that the Son is equal. Judgment as a whole, and in all its forms, is committed to the Son by the Father. The reason for the Son’s being invested solely with this authority is given in v.27, because He became man. More commentary on that will follow there. The fact that judgment has been committed to the Son does not contradict 1 Pet. 1:17, which is the government of God, pertaining to this life. Final judgment is reserved to the Son.
23 that all may honour the Son, even as they honour the Father. He who honours not the Son, honours not the Father who has sent him. v.23 This verse explains why exclusive judgment is given to the Son. The Jews were not denying that the Father was God (John 8:54). The Father was, in a sense, exempt from their injuries. But the Son, being incarnate, was vulnerable to be personally dishonored, disallowed, and despised of men. Consequently, all judgment is committed unto Him (as Son of man), in order that all, even those who have rejected the Son, should be forced to honor Him, even as they honor the Father whom they own as God. This is expanded on in v.27.
Assurance to the Believer Regarding Life and Judgment (v.24)
24 Verily, verily, I say unto you, that he that hears my word, and believes him that has sent me, has life eternal, and does not come into judgment, but is passed out of death into life. v.24 The Son has not left in doubt that which is so all-important; what so urgently concerns every child of man… what is my eternal portion? Judgment is committed to the Son, but so is the power to save. He gives the believer assurance. How precious! A “believer” in the context of Christianity is one who (1) receives the Son as God in His own right, and (2) believes in the Father as the sender of the Son. The two issues that the Son has are now declared in their connection with the believer:
- The issue of life – not only is the believer quickened by the Son of God, but he has eternal life as a present possession!
- The issue of judgment – the believer does not come into eternal judgment, but is passed out of our old condition of dead in sins (“out of death”) into life.
Quickening exempts from judgment. If a man rejects the Son of man, he will have to honor him as judge. But Jesus will not call into judgment one whom He has quickened.
The Issues of Life-giving and Judgment belong to the Son (vv.25-29)
25 Verily, verily, I say unto you, that an hour is coming, and now is, when the dead shall hear the voice of the Son of God, and they that have heard shall live. 26 For even as the Father has life in himself, so he has given to the Son also to have life in himself, vv.25-26 The Son has power to give spiritual life (new birth). The coming “hour” that had just dawned on this world was the day of grace when souls are quickened! (See note on seven “hours” in John’s Gospel). As in John 3:5, new birth is the result of the Word of God, but here in ch.5 the glory of quickening power is attributed to the Son! The “dead” refers to the spiritual state of all unbelievers until they are born of God. What we have in v.26 is a further clarification of v.21. This verse has been misused by many to teach that the eternal Son of God was “deputized” with the power to quicken, which is heterodox (it denies John 1:4). But in incarnation, as a dependent man on the earth, the Son was given to have intrinsic life in Himself. The point is that the Father was in full fellowship with the Son in His power to quicken.
27 and has given him authority to execute judgment also, because he is Son of man. v.27 The Son has authority to execute judgment. As Son of man, the Lord Jesus is given authority to judge. Had He remained only Son of God, who would have dared to despise Him? The light of His glory would have instantly consumed every proud enemy. It was His grace in becoming man (Phil. 2:6, 7) to save men which made Him vulnerable to rejection. For this reason, He alone will judge men. Whether it is the judgment seat of Christ for believers, the warrior judgments at the appearing, His judgments in the Millennium, or the Great White Throne, it is always the Lord Jesus who is the final judge of men.
28 Wonder not at this, for an hour is coming in which all who are in the tombs shall hear his voice, 29 and shall go forth; those that have practised good, to resurrection of life, and those that have done evil, to resurrection of judgment. vv.28-29 The Son has power to give physical life (resurrection). The coming “hour” spoken of here is the hour of physical resurrection (see note on seven “hours” in John’s Gospel); c.p. v.25. The phrase “and now is” does not occur here (c.p. v.25). That is because the resurrection of bodies is still future, while the time for quickening of souls is now. It is the voice of the Son of God that has the power to raise the dead. Resurrection power is the ultimate proof of deity; proof that Jesus was the Son of God (Rom. 1:4). The two parts of the resurrection are distinguished in v.29. the Lord carefully sets aside the popular thought of one general resurrection (John 11:24). We learn of two resurrections completely and distinct in character. the wicked and the just will not rise together, as if they would both come under judgment. One class will rise to “life”, the other to “judgment”. In the first “hour” (v.25) only some were discriminately quickened by grace, but in this “hour”, “all who are in the graves” rise. Still, there is no confusion of just and unjust. The two hours are connected with two characters of Christ. Life-giving is the display of His grace, judgment is the vindication of His honor. Why does it say “have practiced good/evil”? Does it suggest that salvation or judgment depend on our works? No. Rather these are characteristic terms.
The resurrection. There is a progression of understanding through scripture with regard to the resurrection. Old Testament saints knew of a general resurrection, that is all (John 11:24). The resurrection was spoken of in the Old Testament, but not in great detail (see 1 Samuel 2:6; Job 19:25-27; Psalm 16:9,10; Psalm 17:15; and Daniel 12:2). When Christ came He presented something new, that there would be a “resurrection from among the dead” (Matt. 17:9); i.e. that not all would be raised together. Christ Himself was the one who first taught this distinction; having “brought life and immortality to light through the gospel” (2 Tim. 1:10). He taught that the resurrection would have two parts; that those of faith would rise first, and then later those without faith would be raised for judgment (John 5:29). The “two resurrections” have several names:
Paul adds even more detail which he got by revelation: Christ would rise first, and then those that are Christ’s at His coming would rise (1 Cor. 15:23). Paul explained that some will rise at the rapture (1 Thess. 4:13-18), but he did not explain that another phase will occur at the Appearing. We learn, by joining Rev. 20:4 and Rev. 14:13, that the tribulation martyrs will form the last phase of the first resurrection. In Rev. 20:5, a detail is added as to the space of time between the end of the first resurrection and that of the wicked dead; the space would be 1000 years, or a “millennium”. While details are successively added throughout scripture, the later details do not contradict the earlier statements. Such is the perfection of scripture!
|Those who…||Are characterized by practicing..||Go forth to the resurrection of…|
|Do not believe||Evil||Judgment|
The resurrection of the body vs. immortality of the soul. The Greek philosophers (Plato, Aristotle, Socrates, etc.) believed, after a fashion in the immortality of the soul; but never in the resurrection of the body. There is something about the immortality of the soul in which man may exalt himself. He may think so highly of himself – his personality, his intellect, etc. – as to rule out any possibility that his soul could cease to exist. There were some who believed in trans-migration of the soul to other bodies (metempsychosis), where the consciousness lives on in another body, but the resurrection of the dead is distinct. To think of dust raised again into a living person goes beyond his thoughts. Rather than compliment his pride, it strikes fear in his heart. Resurrection is a glory which belongs only to God (John 5:21). It means – terrifying thought to man – that nothing is hid from His power. W. Kelly put it this way, “the resurrection… displays the power of God in the scene of man’s total nothingness and corruption.” Even the wicked will be raised at the last day so they can be judged at the great white throne. Not only does the natural man fail to conceive of it, but his will immediately rejects the idea when proposed; “and when they heard of the resurrection of the dead, some mocked” (Acts 17:32). The denial of bodily resurrection is really Sadducean error, for the Sadducees were highly influenced by the Greeks. This is why it is important to see that one’s raised body is not a different body, though it will be in a glorified condition; hence “it is sown in corruption, it is raised in incorruptibility” (1 Cor. 15:42). If it was a truly different body, then it wouldn’t be bodily resurrection. How will God bring all the atoms back together? We don’t know. We must accept it by faith.
The Son’s Dependence on the Father made Him a Proper Judge (v.30)
30 I cannot do anything of myself; as I hear, I judge, and my judgment is righteous, because I do not seek my will, but the will of him that has sent me. v.30 Whenever a judge is appointed, and man does not like the verdict, objections are raised as to the qualifications of the judge. Man knows that the human heart is prone to selfishness, bias, and corruption. He might object to being judged by a man! But the Son was no ordinary man… He was the perfect, dependent man. His every action was in total coordination with and dependence on the Father (v.19). He discerned and judged every matter as He heard from the Father. He could say “He wakeneth morning by morning, he wakeneth mine ear to hear as the instructed” (Isa. 50:4). This is what made the Son of man the proper judge of all mankind.
A Fourfold Witness of the Son of God (5:31-40)
Four witnesses. The Lord next presents four witnesses to His glory as Son of God:
- John the Baptist (vv.33-35)
- The Works that the Father Gave Him to Do (v.36)
- The Father Himself (vv.37-38)
- The Old Testament Scriptures (vv.39-40)
The Son would not Witness of Himself (vv.31-32)
31 If I bear witness concerning myself, my witness is not true. v.31 Before revealing the four witnesses to His divine glory, the Lord first explains why He doesn’t give Himself as a witness. It was not that the witness of the Son was false (see John 8:17-18), but according to Jewish law, a solitary human testimony was insufficient. Jesus had at least five witnesses, so He chose four that did not include His own!
32 It is another who bears witness concerning me, and I know that the witness which he bears concerning me is true. v.32 Another bore witness of Him, a witness of absolute truth. It would be a mistake to think that v.32 refers to John the Baptist. In vv.34-35 the Lord puts John’s witness on a much lower level. It is the Father’s witness of which He speaks in this verse, both in the works the Father had given Him (v.36), and the Father’s word (v.37). How precious that Jesus could say “I know that the witness which he bears concerning me is true”. His confidence was in His Father, not in any other. Practically speaking, we should have the same confidence. Oh the peace of committing our case to God, and resting in the fact that He knows the truth, and that one day, in this world or the next, all will be set right.
1st Witness: John the Baptist (vv.33-35)
33 Ye have sent unto John, and he has borne witness to the truth. v.33 Before He gets to the Father, the first witness the Lord calls is John the Baptist. John had been raised up for the purpose of marking out the “true light” (John 1:8-9). This was a fact beyond any honest denial. What was John’s witness? “And I have seen and borne witness that this is the Son of God” (John 1:34).
34 But I do not receive witness from man, but I say this that “ye” might be saved. v.34 Jesus needed no such testimony, because, while John was “a man sent from God” he was a man nonetheless. This is the only one of the four witnesses that is merely human. His works, the Father’s words, and the scriptures were all Divine. Yet He mentions John’s testimony, if thereby some might listen and be saved.
35 “He” was the burning and shining lamp, and ye were willing for a season to rejoice in his light. v.35 John’s witness was marked by both “burning” (warmth) and “shining” (light), yet he was only a “lamp” compared to Jesus who was “the true light”, like the sun shining in its strength. This more fully explains v.34… does the sun need the witness from a mere lamp? No! The next witness (v.36) is like the shining of the sun. Israel rejoiced temporarily in the moral glow of John’s prophetic testimony.
2nd Witness: The Works that the Father Gave Him to Do (v.36)
36 But I have the witness that is greater than that of John; for the works which the Father has given me that I should complete them, the works themselves which I do, bear witness concerning me that the Father has sent me. v.36 The works which the Father had given Jesus to finish were like the shining out of the sun! It was a testimony that completely eclipsed the lamp. The works were so obviously Divine that they proved Him to be the Sent One of the Father, the Son of God. It isn’t so much the display of power that is in view (like in Matthew where the miracles proved that Jesus was the Christ), but the character of His works, full of grace and truth. A nuclear detonation is a display of power, but not power for good. The works given by the Father for the Son to do made manifest that the Father had sent Him. Some of these would include: turning water into wine (ch.2), healing the nobleman’s son (ch.4); and healing the infirm man (ch.5). Others would follow shortly.
3rd Witness: The Father Himself (vv.37-38)
37a And the Father who has sent me himself has borne witness concerning me. v.37a The Father Himself could not be silent at the baptism (Matt. 3:17), for when he had come up out of the water, “lo a voice from heaven, saying, This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.” Jesus, a man on earth, was taking His place by baptism with the poor of the flock, and the Father’s own voice acknowledged Him as the Son of God, setting Him apart from all others.
37b Ye have neither heard his voice at any time, nor have seen his shape, 38 and ye have not his word abiding in you; for whom “he” hath sent, him ye do not believe. vv.37b-38 Their ears were deaf to the Father’s “voice”, and their eyes were blind to His “shape” as declared by the Son. The Jews claimed that they knew God (the Father). They claimed that His words were written on their hearts (Jer. 31:33). But by not believing in the Sent One of the Father, they proved that their hearts were far from Him.
4th Witness: The Old Testament Scriptures (vv.39-40)
39 Ye search the scriptures, for ye think that in them ye have life eternal, and they it is which bear witness concerning me; 40 and ye will not come to me that ye might have life. vv.39-40 The Jews knew that they did not have eternal life; they had no settled relationship with God. They searched the scriptures for it, page by page, looking for that which could satisfy them. But the scriptures are all about Jesus, the Son of God, and in refusing to see that fact they gained no profit from the reading of the Old Testament. The Scriptures cannot give life apart from Christ, nor will the Father give life to those who reject His “Sent One”. Sadly, the Son has to pronounce the sentence on them: they had no life because they willfully rejected him.
The scriptures are what testified of Christ. 2 Cor. 3:13 tells us that Christ was the “end” or object of the Old Testament. To read the Bible while refusing to admit that Jesus was who He said He was is ludicrous. It would be like studying a globe while refusing to admit that the world is round! What is the point? To this day the Jews are vainly, foolishly searching the scriptures, meanwhile rejecting the One who is the key to it all. It is like a blindfold on their hearts, as Paul goes on to say; “for until this day remaineth the same veil untaken away in the reading of the old testament; which veil is done away in Christ.” The Jews’ use of the Old Testament is a perfect example of taking the letter while ignoring the spirit; “for the letter kills, but the spirit quickens” (2 Cor. 3:6).
Man’s Pride is the Root of Unbelief in God’s Testimony (5:41-47)
The root of unbelief exposed. The Lord had given them four irrefutable external witnesses to His being the Sent One, the eternal Son of God. They had rejected all of them. Now He concludes in vv.41-47, by exposing that the root of the whole matter is man’s pride in desiring the recognition of men, with no real desire for relationship with God.
Complete Devotion to God vs. Desire for Human Glory (vv.41-44)
41 I do not receive glory from men, 42 but I know you, that ye have not the love of God in you. vv.41-42 Two motives. “Glory from men” is the force that moves the world. Jesus not only wouldn’t seek man’s glory, but he refused to receive it. Why? Because He loved the Father, and came to do His will. He did not feel that restless desire for glory from men, because He rested in the Father’s love (John 15:10). The Jews did not have that motive at all. This made the difference. What a pattern for us! Are we seeking the applause of men? If we are, it is inconsistent with having the love of God in us. You cannot love God and the world; for “no man can serve two masters” (Matt. 6:24).
43 I am come in my Father’s name, and ye receive me not; if another come in his own name, him ye will receive. v.43 The twofold test of the Jews. The motive of pride was hidden beneath the surface, but God would send the Jews a twofold test that would bring it to the surface. The first test took place two-thousand years ago, the second test is still future. God will have two men presented to Israel, to fully manifest where their hearts are.
- The negative test: Israel rejected the Christ (v.43a). God presented first the Man of obedience and righteousness; the man Christ Jesus… that One who perfectly displayed the Father; who brought God down to earth. He came in humility, dependence, and self-abnegation. But they didn’t want Him because He brought God too close for man’s comfort, and because His character was the very opposite of their own. The Jews rejected Christ.
- The positive test: Israel will receive Antichrist (v.43b). Another will come with the character of sin and self-will; one who “shall do according to his own will” (Dan. 11:16), the personification of lawlessness, the one who is the very opposite of truth and love, the “man of sin” (2 Thess. 2:3). The Jews will receive this Antichrist as their king under a strong delusion, because “as in water face answereth to face, so the heart of man to man” (Prov. 27:19), to their own destruction.
44 How can ye believe, who receive glory one of another, and seek not the glory which comes from God alone? v.44 The effect of wrong motives on man’s beliefs. Faith in the Son of God is closely linked to complete devotion to the will of God. The motive of self-glorification, which fuels Satan’s world, is incompatible with living for the glory of God, and thus with faith in His Son, the meek and lowly One. Man’s own pride and craving for worldly glory is what prevented him from believing.
The Jews’ Unbelief was not a New Development (vv.45-47)
45 Think not that I will accuse you to the Father: there is one who accuses you, Moses, on whom ye trust; v.45 The Jews were “resting in the law” of Moses (Rom. 2:17), but that was not a safe place to rest. Moses himself accused them! Striking here, the Son Himself gives to the writings of Moses a place in testimony beyond His own words. Not that His words were inferior, but that the written Word was a more forceful “accusation” of their rejection of the Truth.
46 for if ye had believed Moses, ye would have believed me, for he wrote of me. v.46 Why did the Old Testament condemn the Jews? Because Moses wrote of Christ, in many ways, in type as the Passover lamb, brazen serpent, etc. and also prophetically as the Stone of Israel, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, and “that prophet” which should arise (Deut. 18:18). If they had really believed Moses, they would believe Christ.
47 But if ye do not believe his writings, how shall ye believe my words? v.47 Moses’ writings and Christ’s words were in perfect accord. By not believing Christ’s words, the Jews proved that they did not believe Moses’ writings. Isaiah said, and Paul quoted, “All the day long I have stretched out my hands unto a people disobeying and opposing” (Isa. 65:2; Rom. 10:21). The children of Israel refused to hear the voice of God. It wasn’t a one time rejection, but a course of things going back to the days of Moses. Their rejecting the Christ is just a continuation of the old unbelief; another “hour” in what Paul calls “man’s day” (1 Cor. 4:3).