October 6, 2013
How can you know for sure that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God? An old hymn put it, “You ask me how I know He lives? He lives within my heart.” Okay, but that’s pretty subjective. A Buddhist might say that Buddha lives within his heart. How can you verify such a thing? A critic might say that Jesus is just a legend or myth. Or, maybe the apostles embellished stories about Him so that what we read is far from the actual truth. Perhaps He was just a great religious teacher who was tragically murdered because of jealous men who felt threatened by Him.
If you’ve ever sat on a jury or watched a courtroom drama or followed a trial on the news, you know that having multiple witnesses of reputable character who all say the same thing independently of one another is crucial to prove a case. Those who are called on to bear witness in court must swear to tell the truth or be liable for perjury. A witness is not free to make up his own story; he must report the facts as he saw them. If the witnesses are credible people who give consistent witness, the case is pretty secure.
In our text, Jesus continues His defense to the Jews, who were accusing Him of breaking the Sabbath and of making Himself equal with God (5:18). Instead of backing off and responding with horror to such charges, Jesus sets forth His case in even stronger terms by showing that He is one with the Father in all of His actions. He asserts (5:22-23) that the Father “has given all judgment to the Son so that all will honor the Son even as they honor the Father.” He asserts that He has life in Himself and that in the future He will speak and all who have ever lived will come forth from the tombs for a resurrection either of life or of judgment (5:26, 28-29). Clearly, Jesus is claiming to be equal with God.
But, how do we know that these claims are true? What evidence backs them up? Would they hold up in court? In answer to these questions and in deference to Jewish law, which required at least two or three witnesses to establish any legal matter, Jesus gives a number of witnesses to verify His claims.
“Testimony” or “witness” was an important concept to John. He uses the noun and verb 47 times in this Gospel and 30 more times in his epistles and in Revelation (Edwin Blum, The Bible Knowledge Commentary [Victor Books], ed. by John F. Walvoord & Roy Zuck, 2:291). We don’t need to take a blind leap of faith. God has provided adequate testimony that Jesus is the truth.
Actually, there is one main witness, the Father, who uses these various witnesses to testify to the truth of who Jesus is. As John argues (1 John 5:9), “If we receive the testimony of men, the testimony of God is greater; for the testimony of God is this, that He has testified concerning His Son.” Every day we accept the testimony of men. When you go to the store, you don’t run a chemical analysis of every item that you buy, to make sure that it isn’t contaminated. You trust that the company has followed basic health procedures and that the store has kept the goods from spoilage or contamination. You go to the bank and hand over an endorsed paycheck to a teller whom you don’t know and trust that she really put it into your account. I could go on and on with examples of how you accept the testimony of fallible men, even men that you do not know, every day. So, John argues, why do we not accept the testimony that God has given concerning His Son?
In our text, the Father is the “another” (5:32) who testifies in conjunction with Jesus Himself. Also, the Father used John the Baptist to bear witness to Jesus (5:33-35). The Father used Jesus’ works (miracles) which He gave Jesus to do to bear witness of Him (5:36). The Father used the Scriptures to bear witness of Jesus (5:37-47). Since all of these witnesses line up, the case for Jesus is solid: He is the Christ, the Son of God (20:31).
But before we look at these witnesses to Jesus, I need to touch on two other important matters. First, although we should not have to debate the point, I need to make it clear that there is such a thing as absolute truth in the spiritual realm. Postmodernism argues that either there are no absolute truths, or if there are, we can’t know these truths with any degree of certainty. But that philosophy is self-refuting, because then we can’t know whether postmodernism is true or not!
But John repeatedly emphasizes “truth” in this gospel. As Leon Morris states (The Gospel According to John [Eerdmans], p. 293), “Truth is characteristic of God, and it is only as we know God that we know truth.” He points out (p. 294) that John uses the Greek noun for “truth” 25 times in his Gospel, plus 20 more times in his epistles (as against only once in Matthew and three times each in Mark and Luke). He also uses two other Greek words meaning “true” far more than other New Testament authors do.
Here in our text (5:32, 33), Jesus asserts that the Father’s testimony about Him is true and that John has testified to the truth. Jesus later claims that He is the truth (14:6). He affirmed in His high priestly prayer (17:17), “Your word is truth.” He told the cynical Pilate (18:37), “For this I have been born, and for this I have come into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth hears My voice.” So there is absolute truth in the spiritual realm and there is damnable error. The truth centers in the person of Jesus Christ as revealed in the Word of God.
Second, note that Jesus’ aim in this defense of His deity was not to win an argument, but to win souls. He tells the Jews (5:34), “I say these things so that you may be saved.” He laments (5:40), “You are unwilling to come to Me so that you may have life.” When we have opportunity to bear witness, our aim should not be to win an argument, but to win the person to Christ. If he isn’t trusting in Christ, he is spiritually dead and under condemnation. He needs eternal life and that life comes by believing in Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord. The point of these witnesses to Christ is to testify to who He is so that people (including you!) will be saved. So the point here is:
The Father bears witness to Jesus through Jesus’ testimony, John the Baptist, Jesus’ works, and the Scriptures so that we may come to Jesus for eternal life.
As we’ve seen, in 5:19-29 Jesus bore witness of Himself. In 5:19, He made the point that it is impossible for the Son to do anything on His own initiative apart from the Father, because the two share the same nature. Now (5:30) He repeats that point to sum up His testimony: “I can do nothing on My own initiative. As I hear, I judge; and My judgment is just, because I do not seek My own will, but the will of Him who sent Me.” In God’s eternal plan, the Father sent the Son to bear our sin and the Son submitted to the Father’s will. Everything that Jesus did while He was on earth He did in submission to the Father. Thus He wasn’t bearing witness of Himself independently of the Father.
But a Jewish lawyer would have said at this point, “Yes, but self-evidence is not admissible in a court of law. There must be outside testimony.” Jewish law required the testimony of two or three witnesses to establish the truth (Deut. 19:15). Jesus condescends to this point in 5:31: “If I alone testify about Myself, My testimony is not true.” Jesus is acknowledging that His testimony would not be valid if He were acting independently of the Father. So He goes on to give other witnesses to His claim. Behind all these witnesses is the Father, to whom Jesus refers in 5:32: “There is another who testifies of Me, and I know that the testimony which He gives about Me is true.”
Later (John 8:13), the Pharisees said to Jesus, “You are testifying about Yourself; Your testimony is not true.” On that occasion, Jesus replied (8:14), “Even if I testify about Myself, My testimony is true, for I know where I came from and where I am going; but you do not know where I come from or where I am going.” So even though self-testimony may not be sufficient in a court of law, it does not follow that it’s not true. This is especially so when it came from Jesus, who was sent to earth by the Father and knew that He would return to the Father after He accomplished the Father’s will. But then Jesus added (8:17-18), “Even in your law it has been written that the testimony of two men is true. I am He who testifies about Myself, and the Father who sent Me testifies about Me.”
A man’s self-testimony depends heavily on his character. If a man is known for lying and manipulating the facts to serve himself, you’re not going to believe him even if he really is speaking the truth. But everything that we know about Jesus points to His integrity. At His trial, the Jewish authorities couldn’t find witnesses to agree about the charges they were leveling at Him. After examining Jesus, Pilate said (18:38), “I find no guilt in Him.” The men who were closest to Jesus, who spent three years watching Him in all sorts of situations, all testify to His sinless character. So Jesus’ point in 5:30-32 is that His self-testimony is true because He never acted independently of the Father. The Father bore witness to Jesus through Jesus’ own testimony about Himself.
John 5:33-35: “You have sent to John, and he has testified to the truth. But the testimony which I receive is not from man, but I say these things so that you may be saved. He was the lamp that was burning and was shining and you were willing to rejoice for a while in his light.”
God sent John the Baptist in fulfillment of His promise (Isa. 40:3; Mal. 3:1) to bear witness of Jesus (John 1:6-8, 23). But John was not Jesus’ “key witness” in that he was human. Jesus’ main witness was the Father. But Jesus mentions John here because for a while the Jews were flocking out to hear him and Jesus wants them to be saved. If they would have believed John’s testimony that Jesus was the Lamb of God, sent to take away the sins of the world (1:29), they would have been saved. John was a lamp, not the light, but he bore witness to the Light.
So God had given illumination through John, but the Jews had rejected it. Jesus hits the main problem with the Jews and John with the phrase, “for a while.” John was probably now in prison, so his ministry was over. There was a window of opportunity for the Jews to believe John, but now that window had closed. The Jewish leaders were interested in John when he was popular, but they never took his message to heart. They were like a bunch of moths who hovered near the lamp while it was burning, but flitted back into the darkness after it was extinguished. They should have followed the One to whom John had pointed. The lesson is: Don’t miss the opportunity to be saved when God is speaking His truth to you through His messenger! Today is the day of salvation!
John 5:36: “But the testimony which I have is greater than the testimony of John; for the works which the Father has given Me to accomplish—the very works that I do—testify about Me, that the Father has sent Me.”
By His “works,” Jesus mainly meant the miracles that He did. His miracles were unique signs that He had been sent by the Father. When the Jews said to Jesus (10:24b), “If You are the Christ, tell us plainly,” He answered (10:25), “I told you, and you do not believe; the works that I do in My Father’s name, these testify of Me.” Later, He said (15:24), “If I had not done among them the works which no one else did, they would not have sin; but now they have both seen and hated Me and My Father as well.” Jesus’ miracles gave abundant testimony that He is the Christ, the Son of God.
J. C. Ryle (Expository Thoughts on the Gospels [Baker], 3:308) points out five distinctive features of Jesus’ miracles:
(1) Their number: they were not a few only but very many indeed. (2) Their greatness: they were not little but mighty interferences with the ordinary course of nature. (3) Their publicity: they were generally not done in a corner but in open day, and before many witness and often before enemies. (4) Their character: they were almost always works of love, mercy, and compassion, helpful and beneficial to man and not mere barren exhibitions of power. (5) Their direct appeal to men’s senses: they were visible and would bear any examination.
Ryle also points out that the Jews never attempted to deny that these miracles had occurred. Rather, they tried to attribute them to Satan (Matt. 12:22-30). Many skeptics today would deny the possibility of miracles because they have never seen one. I just read a Reader’s Digest cover story on “amazing facts” about the human body. The story uses words like “incredible” and “magical” to describe the way the body works. But it never alludes to the Creator. The evidence for miracles is literally right under their noses, but they’re blind to see it!
Thus the Father bears witness to Jesus through Jesus’ testimony to Himself, through John the Baptist’s testimony, and through Jesus’ works.
John 5:37-40: “And the Father who sent Me, He has testified of Me. You have neither heard His voice at any time nor seen His form. You do not have His word abiding in you, for you do not believe Him whom He sent. You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; it is these that testify about Me; and you are unwilling to come to Me so that you may have life.”
Jesus continues this point through verse 47, but we only have time to work through verse 40 today. Scholars debate (in 5:37) exactly how the Father had testified of Jesus. It may be a reference to the voice from heaven at Jesus’ baptism (Matt. 3:17), but John does not record that event. The Father also testified of Jesus as His Son on the Mount of Transfiguration (Matt. 17:5), but again that’s not recorded in John. I think that the answer is in the following context, where Jesus mentions God’s Word and indicts them for studying the Scriptures but missing Jesus as the promised Christ. All of the Father’s revelation from the beginning of Creation had pointed to Christ and that revelation is contained in Scripture.
Just after Adam and Eve fell into sin, God promised that the seed of the woman would crush the serpent’s head (Gen. 3:15). God killed an animal and clothed Adam and Eve, giving an object lesson of how the Lamb of God would be slain to cover their sins. God promised Abraham that in his seed, all the nations of the earth would be blessed (Gen. 12:1-3). The sacrificial system that was instituted in the Law of Moses pointed ahead to Jesus, the complete and final sacrifice (Heb. 10:1-14). Many of the Psalms, such as Psalm 22 and Psalm 110, point to Jesus. Isaiah 53 specifically predicts Jesus’ death on behalf of His people at the hands of sinners. As Luke 24:27 describes Jesus’ conversation with the two dejected disciples on the road to Emmaus, “Then beginning with Moses and with all the prophets, He explained to them the things concerning Himself in all the Scriptures.” How I wish that that conversation had been recorded for us! But the Lord leaves us to dig out those treasures for ourselves as we study the Bible.
Jesus indicts the Jews for three things (Morris, p. 329): (1) “You have [not] heard His voice at any time” (5:37). Moses had heard God’s voice (Exod. 33:11), but Jesus’ hearers were not true followers of Moses (5:46). If they had been true followers of Moses, they would have recognized God’s voice in Jesus (3:34; 17:8). (2) You have not “seen His form” (5:37b). Jacob saw “the face of God” when he wrestled with the angel (Jesus in preincarnate form), but the Jews were not true sons of Jacob or they would have seen God’s form in Jesus (1:18; 14:9). (3) “You do not have His word abiding in you” (5:38). Although they studied the Word (5:39) and many of the rabbis had memorized most of the Word, they had studied it wrongly, because their study had not pointed them to the Word who took on human flesh and dwelt among them (1:1, 14).
Jesus’ last phrase in 5:38, “for you do not believe Him whom He sent,” may be either the evidence for Jesus’ threefold indictment or the cause of it, or both. The reason they did not hear God’s voice or see God’s form or have His Word abiding in them was that they did not believe in Jesus, who was sent by the Father. And their unbelief was evidence that Jesus’ indictment was correct.
Jesus’ words in 5:39-40 show that it is possible to study the Scriptures in the wrong way. If you approach the Scriptures from an academic perspective only, it can lead to tragic results. It can fill you with intellectual pride about how you know more than others. It can lead you to the false hope that you have eternal life because of your great knowledge. The Jews thought that in their knowledge of Scripture they had eternal life. But they missed Jesus! The point of the entire Bible is to lead us directly to Jesus, who alone can impart eternal life (5:21). That leads to the last point:
Tragically, Jesus says of the Jews (5:40b), “You are unwilling to come to Me so that you may have life.” C. H. Spurgeon has two sermons on John 5:40, which I encourage you to read (online at www.spurgeon.org/sermons). In the first one, preached when he was only 21 years-old (“Free Will a Slave,” Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit [Pilgrim Publications], 1:395-402), he develops four points: (1) Men by nature are dead. (2) In Christ Jesus there is life. (3) Eternal life is given to all who come for it. (4) By nature, no man will come to Christ, because they are unwilling. On this last point, he explains that no one can come to Christ unless the Father draws him (John 6:44). He argues that no true Christian will say that he came to Christ of his own free will apart from God’s first seeking him and drawing him to the Savior.
Don’t miss Jesus’ point in this discourse (5:34): “I say these things so that you may be saved.” Are you saved? Do you have eternal life? If not, search the Scriptures and look for Christ. Come to Jesus and He will give you eternal life.
I know a man who used to profess to believe the gospel. He was a good Bible teacher. He went on to earn a Ph.D. at Harvard. He is a far more brilliant and accomplished scholar than I am. He is now a professor of New Testament at a liberal graduate school of theology. But in reading the descriptions of his three scholarly books on Amazon.com, I seriously question whether he knows Jesus in a saving way. Like these Jews, he has studied the Scriptures, but he missed coming to Christ so that he may have life.
Don’t be like that! The testimony of the witnesses to Jesus as the Christ, the Son of God, is solid. Jesus spoke these words so that “you may be saved” (5:34). Come to Him so that you may have eternal life.
Copyright, Steven J. Cole, 2013, All Rights Reserved.
Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture Quotations are from the New American Standard Bible, Updated Edition © The Lockman Foundation