As I approach our text, I am reminded of a story circulating among the outdoor types, which goes something like this. In the mountains of the Northwest, a man was sitting beside a campfire while he roasted some kind of bird over the fire with eager anticipation. About this time, a forest ranger came upon the camp and asked the camper what he was preparing for dinner. The camper replied that it was a seagull. A frown came over the ranger’s face as he informed this fellow that it was against the law to kill that particular bird, and that he would have to give him a citation.
The camper responded by telling the ranger how he had lost his way and had consumed all of his food. In desperation, he had managed to kill this seagull to maintain his strength. After listening sympathetically, the forest ranger told the fellow he would let him go this time with just a warning, and the camper thanked the ranger profusely. Just as the ranger was about to leave, he asked the camper, “Just out of curiosity, what does seagull taste like?” Thinking for a moment, the camper responded, “Well, I would place it somewhere between a spotted owl and a bald eagle.”
Needless to say, this camper’s words got him into even more trouble. He would have been better off not to say anything at all. Some may think our Lord’s words in our text are something like this camper’s statement. At the outset, Jesus is deemed guilty of breaking the Sabbath, and of instructing the healed paralytic to do likewise. But after our Lord defends His actions to the Jewish authorities,0 He is considered guilty of an even greater offense—claiming to be equal with God.
Our text is our Lord’s response to the accusations made against Him. Some may be tempted to think it is less than spectacular, for no debate is actually recorded, and there is no interchange between our Lord and the Jewish authorities. Only our Lord’s words are recorded.1 Our text contains a three-fold use of the (King James) expression, “Verily, verily, I say unto you …” (verses 19, 24, 25).2 Surely this tells us that the words spoken here are vitally important, both to be heard and to be heeded.
Listen to what others have said about our text:
“Nowhere else in the Gospels do we find our Lord making such a formal, systematic, orderly, regular statement of His own unity with the Father, His divine commission and authority, and the proofs of His Messiahship, as we find in this discourse” (Ryle).3
Ryle adds: ‘To me it seems one of the deepest things in the Bible.’ Similarly Phillips in his translation inserts a sub-heading ‘Jesus makes His tremendous claim.’4
It is, as Barclay says, ‘an act of the most extraordinary and unique courage … He must have known that to speak like this was to court death. It is His claim to be King; and He knew well that the man who listened to words like this had only two alternatives—the listener must either accept Jesus as the Son of God, or he must hate Him as a blasphemer and seek to destroy Him. There is hardly any passage where Jesus appeals for men’s love and defies men’s hatred as He does here.’5
Our Lord’s words are a bold stroke. If Jesus wishes to avoid trouble with the Jews, this is the time for Him to deny, to “clarify,” or to minimize, His previous claim to be equal with God. Instead, He makes His claim even more emphatically. Indeed, if you look at the text carefully, His words put the Jewish authorities on the defensive. They are the ones who should be uneasy—not our Lord. In our text, the Lord Jesus boldly claims to be the Son of God, equal with God, and thus having full authority to act like His Father.
This is one of the great texts in the Gospel of John and in the entire New Testament. The truths set down here are the very foundation of the gospel and of our faith. Let us listen well, for they are words that our Lord indicates we should hear and heed.
Until now, Jesus has been keeping a relatively low profile. He has been very reluctant to draw too much attention to Himself too quickly, or to create too much enthusiasm of the wrong kind. When He turned the water into wine in chapter 2, He did so in a way that prevented most from even knowing that a miracle had taken place. Only His disciples are said to have “believed” as a result of this miracle (2:11). The cleansing of the temple was much more public, and it certainly got the attention of the religious leaders in Jerusalem (2:18ff.). It was not, however, the sort of event which attracted a large group of enthusiastic followers. The other signs our Lord performed in Jerusalem at this time would have gained our Lord a bigger following if He had not deliberately kept His distance from His “sign-faith” followers (2:23-25).
The events of chapters 3 and 4 are consistent with our Lord’s desire not to attract undue attention to Himself, and particularly to His miracles. From all appearances, His meeting with Nicodemus was a private interview, conducted at night. When our Lord’s ministry in the Judean wilderness became too prominent, He and His disciples retreated to Galilee, where He was not as enthusiastically sought (3:22–4:3). For a few days, He did have a very successful ministry among the Samaritans, but this had little or no impact on the Jews, who looked upon the Samaritans with disdain (4:4-42).
The healing of the royal official’s son, recorded in John 4:43-54, was accomplished in a way that left the curious crowds in the dark. Our Lord did not accompany the royal official to his home and to the bedside of his ailing son. Instead, Jesus rebuked the “sign-seekers,” and then simply informed the distraught father that his son would live. Not until the official had nearly reached his home did he learn that Jesus had healed his son from a distance. Only the man and his household are said to have come to faith as a result of this miracle (4:53).
It is the healing of the paralytic at the pool of Bethesda which draws considerable attention to our Lord. This miracle prompts the Jewish religious leaders to view Jesus as a notorious criminal, deserving the death penalty. This is no accident. Our Lord selects this paralytic to be healed, knowing not only how long he has suffered, but how he and others will respond to his healing. Jesus asks the man if he wishes to be healed, and the fellow proceeds to make excuses for all the time he has spent by the pool without being healed. Jesus does not require faith of the man, but commands him to rise, take up his bed, and walk. The man can do nothing else. As he does so, our Lord melts into the crowd. The healed man is quickly intercepted by “the Jews,” who accuse him of violating the Sabbath by carrying his bed on this sacred day. The former paralytic justifies himself by laying the responsibility on the One who healed him. But when pressed to identify this law-breaker, he is unable to give them our Lord’s name, for he never even found that out. When Jesus later finds the man in the temple, He admonishes him to forsake his sin, lest a worse condition come upon him. There is no repentance on this man’s part and no mention of gratitude. Instead, he seeks out the authorities so that he can identify Jesus as the villain.
Once Jesus is identified as the “culprit,” zealous Jews make it their business to wage an attack against Him:
16 Now because Jesus was doing these things6 on the Sabbath, the Jewish authorities began persecuting7 him. 17 So Jesus told them, “My Father is working until now, and I too am working.” 18 For this reason the Jewish authorities were trying even harder to kill him, because not only was he breaking the Sabbath, but he was also calling God his own Father, thus making himself equal with God (John 5:16-18).
The Jewish authorities lose interest in the healed paralytic and actively press their attack against Jesus. Initially, they accuse Jesus of breaking the law by healing on the Sabbath and commanding this man to carry his bed. Jesus’ defense is simple: “I am only carrying out My Father’s work.” This is what really sets the Jewish authorities off. Jesus is not just a Sabbath-breaker; He is a blasphemer! He has boldly claimed to be God! For the Jews, there is no more serious offense than blasphemy. Now they are even more intent on putting Him to death. The words of our text are Jesus’ response to this charge of blasphemy.
19 So Jesus answered them, “I tell you the solemn truth, the Son can do nothing on his own initiative, but only what he sees the Father doing. For whatever the Father does, the Son does likewise. 20 For the Father loves the Son and shows him everything he does, and greater deeds than these he will show him, so that you may be amazed. 21 For just as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, so also the Son gives life to whomever he wishes. 22 Furthermore, the Father does not judge anyone, but has assigned all judgment to the Son, 23 so that all people may honor the Son just as they honor the Father. The one who does not honor the Son does not honor the Father who sent him.
Our Lord makes a bold claim. It does not minimize or qualify His earlier declaration to be the Son of God. His words even more boldly affirm His previous claim. In verse 19 Jesus says, “I can do nothing apart from what My Father is doing.” He then sets out to give specific examples of His activities in relation to the working of His Father. In verse 23, Jesus declares the Father’s purpose in this and underscores the seriousness of refusing to honor the Son.
Let’s begin with our Lord’s claim: “I can do nothing apart from what My Father is doing.” The Jews are greatly distressed by the way Jesus speaks and acts. In short, Jesus acts like God. Like the Father, Jesus works on the Sabbath. To make matters worse, Jesus claims that God is His Father. One may not like what Jesus is saying, but it must be granted that at least He is consistent. Jesus acts like God and talks as if He is God. In fact, to defend His God-like actions, Jesus claims to be God.
It was Nicodemus, one of the Pharisees and a member of the Sanhedrin, who said, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God. For no one could perform the miraculous signs that you do unless God is with him” (John 3:2, emphasis mine). Later on in John’s Gospel, the blind man whose sight was restored by our Lord said virtually the same thing:
28 They heaped insults on him, saying, “You are his disciple! We are disciples of Moses! 29 We know that God has spoken to Moses! We do not know where this man comes from!” 30 The man replied, “This is a remarkable thing, that you don’t know where he comes from, and yet he caused me to see! 31 We know that God doesn’t listen to sinners, but if anyone is devout and does his will God listens to him. 32 Never before has anyone heard of someone causing a man born blind to see. 33 If this man were not from God, he could do nothing” (John 9:28-33, emphasis mine).
Jesus cannot do the things He does apart from His being the Son of God. Later, the Jews will attempt to counter our Lord’s statement by accusing Him of performing miracles by means of Satan’s power. Jesus then challenges His opponents to explain why Satan could be the one empowering Him, since He attacks the powers of darkness and casts out demons (see Mark 3:22-26). Our Lord’s defense is powerful. How can you deny the claims of One who says He is God and who also does the works of God?
I believe there is still another dimension to our Lord’s words. The thrust of the Jews’ accusation against our Lord is this: “How can you dare presume to act and speak as if you were God?” Jesus turns this accusation around by saying, in effect, “How is it possible for the Son of God to act in any way that is independent of, or inconsistent with God the Father and what He is doing?” The Jews are saying, “How is it possible for you to speak and act as you do?” Jesus is saying, “If I am God, how is it possible for Me to do otherwise?”
It is impossible for a lion to act like a lamb, for a bear to behave like a bunny rabbit. It is impossible for our Lord to act in any way that is not like His Father. Jesus is one with the Father. Jesus is God. He must therefore act and speak like God. Is this not what our Lord’s “temptation” was all about (Matthew 4:1-11; Luke 4:1-12)? And this is exactly what Satan could not comprehend—that as the Son of God, Jesus could not act independently of God. Satan seems to have believed that because Jesus was God He could act as He pleased. In our text, Jesus tells us the opposite: because He is God, He must act like God. He cannot act independently of His Father! Satan’s efforts were all in vain. He tries to entice Jesus to do something that is impossible for Him to do—act in an unGod-like manner—because He is the Son of God.
I believe our Lord’s first defense is based upon His divine nature. He is, by nature, divine (to which, John tells us, sinless humanity has been added—John 1:14-18). He cannot act contrary to His nature. He must act as God the Father acts. His words and His deeds are those of the Father. Like father, like son, we say, and so does our Lord. The Son does what He sees His Father doing.
I remember when our first child, Timothy, was born.8 My parents came to the hospital to visit my wife Jeannette and me, and to see our new son. My Dad and I made our way down to the nursery, where he saw Timothy for the first time. I still remember that scene, even though it was years ago. I looked over at my Dad, and he had his elbow propped on the windowsill of the nursery, with his index finger characteristically placed alongside his nose. I then realized I was doing the exact same thing. I had my elbow on the windowsill, with my finger alongside my nose. I almost expected Timmy to do the same thing. Like father, like son.
The second element of our Lord’s defense is rooted in the Father’s love for Him as His Son. Even if Jesus could act independently of the Father (which He cannot), why would He ever want to? The Father loves9 the Son, and He shows the Son all that He is doing. The Father withholds nothing from the Son. The Father and the Son share all things. So what is it the Son needs to grasp for Himself by acting independently of the Father? The Father’s love for the Son removes any motivation for the Son to act independently of the Father.
The Father shows the Son everything He is doing so that the Son will do likewise. What Jesus is doing is that which He has seen the Father doing. Specifically, because He has seen the Father work on the Sabbath, the Son does likewise (5:17). As great as the things are that He has already done (see 2:23-25), the Father has even greater things to show the Son—so that when the Son does them men will be amazed (verse 20).10 Just what are these “greater deeds” yet to be shown the Son, and yet to be done by the Son? Jesus is just about to tell us:
21 “For just as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, so also the Son gives life to whomever he wishes. 22 Furthermore, the Father does not judge anyone, but has assigned all judgment to the Son, 23 so that all people may honor the Son just as they honor the Father. The one who does not honor the Son does not honor the Father who sent him” (John 5:21-23).
Jesus has not yet raised the dead in John’s Gospel, but in chapter 11 He will raise Lazarus. Our Lord points to the works He has already done to prove His identity as the Son of God. Now, He speaks of the greater works He is yet to do, which will even more dramatically validate His claims. God alone raises the dead (Deuteronomy 32:39; 1 Samuel 2:6; 2 Kings 5:7),11 giving men life. So also the Son gives life to whomever He wishes (5:21). This “giving of life” appears to be the giving of spiritual life up to this point in our Lord’s ministry (see John 3:1-16; 4:14). But before long, our Lord will “give life” by literally raising the dead.
The Son has the power to give life to the dead, and the Father has also assigned all judgment to Him. The Son saves men by bearing the wrath of God in the sinner’s place; He also executes God’s wrath upon those who reject His sacrifice for sins. That role once played by the Father—the judgment of all men—has now been given over to the Son exclusively, so that the Son might be uniquely honored by men, just as they honored the Father as the “Judge of all the earth” (see Genesis 18:25). Those who refuse to honor the Son also dishonor the Father, who has given all judgment to the Son (verse 23). Men must honor the Son as they do the Father, because the Father has purposed it to be this way.
24 “I tell you the solemn truth, the one who hears my message and believes the one who sent me has eternal life, and will not be condemned, but has crossed over from death to life. 25 I tell you the solemn truth, a time is coming and is now here when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and the ones who hear will live. 26 For just as the Father has life in himself, thus he has granted the Son to have life in himself; 27 and he granted the Son authority to execute judgment because he is the Son of Man. 28 Do not be amazed at this, because a time is coming when all who are in the tombs will hear his voice 29 and will come out—the ones who have done what is good to the resurrection resulting in life, and the ones who have done what is evil to the resurrection resulting in condemnation. 30 I can do nothing on my own initiative. Just as I hear, I judge; and my judgment is just because I do not seek my own will, but the will of the one who sent me.”
Jesus is defending Himself against charges that could (and eventually will) cost Him His life. Any other person in such circumstances would be terrified and very eager to do an adequate job of defending himself. In our text, our Lord is simply “stating the facts.” He is not seeking to save Himself. He is laying out His case so that His words and actions will be correctly understood as a bold claim to His being the Son of God.
Our Lord’s words in this text should cause His Jewish opponents considerable distress. In verses 24-30, Jesus spells out the practical implications of His being the Son of God. If what He says is true, several implications must be faced. These implications are introduced by the solemn words, “Verily, verily” (KJV; “I tell you the solemn truth,” NET Bible). If Jesus is the Son of God, then whoever hears His message and believes in the One who sent Him has eternal life. To possess eternal life is to escape divine condemnation. The one who believes crosses over from a state of death to the state of life.
Observe how our Lord intertwines His work with the works of God the Father. He is the Son of God. As the Son, He does what His loving Father shows Him. As the Father has life in Himself, and thus brings the dead to life, so the Son gives life. The judgment the Father once administered has now been given over to the Son. Those who honor the Son honor the Father, and those who dishonor the Son dishonor the Father who sent Him. The one who believes in the message Jesus speaks believes in the One who sent Him, and thus has eternal life. The Son is inseparably related to the Father.
Just how can the Son give eternal life to those who believe in Him, and judge those who reject Him? It is only through resurrection—His resurrection, and the resurrection of the dead. Jesus explains this in verses 25 through 30. He foretells of a future time when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live (verse 25). This is possible because of our Lord’s Father-Son relationship with God the Father. The Father has life in Himself, and thus He has also granted the Son the power to give life to others (verse 26). It is this power to give life that enables the Son to judge all men. How can our Lord judge an Adolf Hitler when this man died years ago? He can judge Adolf Hitler after He Himself has raised Hitler from the dead, and this He will do with all unbelievers:
30 Therefore, although God has overlooked such times of ignorance, he now commands all people everywhere to repent, 31 because he has set a day on which he is going to judge the world in righteousness, by a man whom he designated, having provided proof to all by raising him from the dead (Acts 17:30-31).
5 You should have the same attitude toward one another that Christ Jesus had, 6 who though he existed in the form of God did not regard equality with God as something to be grasped, 7 but emptied himself by taking on the form of a slave, by looking like other men, and by sharing in human nature. 8 He humbled himself, by becoming obedient to the point of death—even death on a cross. 9 As a result God exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name, 10 so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow—in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue should confess to the glory of God the Father that Jesus Christ is Lord (Philippians 2:5-11).
11 Then I saw a large white throne and the one who was seated on it; the earth and the heaven fled from his presence, and no place was found for them. 12 And I saw the dead, the great and the small, standing before the throne. Then books were opened, and another book was opened—the book of life. So the dead were judged by what was written in the books, according to their deeds. 13 The sea gave up the dead that were in it, and Death and Hades gave up the dead that were in them, and each one was judged according to his deeds. 14 Then Death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death—the lake of fire. 15 If anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, that person was thrown into the lake of fire (Revelation 20:11-15).
Jesus makes it very clear: a time is coming when He will raise all the dead from the grave. The dead include not only those who are saved, but those who are not. The righteous experience the resurrection resulting in (eternal) life. The unrighteous dead are the recipients of the resurrection resulting in condemnation (verses 28-29). The destiny of all who are raised is linked to the deeds they have done in this life:
And many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, Some to everlasting life, Some to shame and everlasting contempt (Daniel 12:2, NKJV).
15 “Watch out for false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are voracious wolves. 16 You will recognize them by their fruit. People don’t gather grapes from thorns or figs from thistles, do they? 17 In the same way, every good tree bears good fruit, but the bad tree bears bad fruit. 18 A good tree is not able to bear bad fruit, nor a bad tree to bear good fruit. 19 Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. 20 So then, you will recognize them by their fruit” (Matthew 7:15-20).
28 “Do not be amazed at this, because a time is coming when all who are in the tombs will hear his voice 29 and will come out—the ones who have done what is good to the resurrection resulting in life, and the ones who have done what is evil to the resurrection resulting in condemnation” (John 5:28-29).
3 And do you think, whoever you are, when you judge those who practice such things and yet do them yourself, that you will escape God’s judgment? 4 Or do you have contempt for the wealth of his kindness, forbearance, and patience, and yet do not know that God’s kindness leads you to repentance? 5 But because of your stubbornness and your unrepentant heart you are storing up wrath for yourselves in the day of wrath, when God’s righteous judgment is revealed! 6 He will render to each one according to his works: 7 eternal life to those who by perseverance in good works seek glory and honor and immortality, 8 but wrath and anger to those who live in selfish ambition and do not obey the truth but follow unrighteousness. 9 There will be affliction and distress on everyone who does evil, on the Jew first and also the Greek, 10 but glory and honor and peace for everyone who does good, for the Jew first and also the Greek (Romans 2:3-10).
These words may greatly trouble some. Do these texts not teach that salvation is obtained by works, rather than by faith? They most certainly do not teach salvation by works! Let us remember what we have already read in the Gospel of John:
12 But to all who have received him—those who believe in his name—he has given the right to become God’s children 13—children not born by human parents or by human desire or a husband’s decision, but by God (John 1:12-13).
3 Jesus replied, “I tell you the solemn truth, unless a person is born from above, he cannot see the kingdom of God.” 4 Nicodemus said to him, “How can a man be born when he is old? He cannot enter his mother’s womb and be born a second time, can he?” 5 Jesus answered, “I tell you the solemn truth, unless a person is born of water and spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. 6 What is born of the flesh is flesh, and what is born of the Spirit is spirit. 7 Do not be amazed that I said to you, ‘You must all be born from above.’ 8 The wind blows wherever it will, and you hear the sound it makes, but do not know where it comes from and where it is going. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit” (John 3:3-8).
Works are not the means by which one is saved, but they are the evidence of having been saved. This is what James emphasizes so strongly:
14 What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but does not have works? Can this kind of faith save him? 15 If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacks daily food, 16 and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, keep warm and eat well,” but you do not give them what the body needs, what good is it? 17 So also faith, if it does not have works, is dead being by itself. 18 But someone will say, “You have faith and I have works.” Show me your faith without works and I will show faith by my works. 19 You believe that God is one; well and good. Even the demons believe that—and tremble with fear. 20 But would you like evidence, you empty person, that faith without works is useless? 21 Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered Isaac his son on the altar? 22 You see that his faith was working together with his works and his faith was perfected by works. 23 And the scripture was fulfilled that says, “Now Abraham believed God and it was counted to him for righteousness,” and he was called God’s friend. 24 You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone. 25 And similarly, was not Rahab the prostitute also justified by works when she welcomed the messengers and sent them out by another way? 26 For just as the body without the spirit is dead, so also faith without works is dead (James 2:14-26).
Jesus is speaking to the Jewish authorities, those who have condemned Him on the basis of His works. They believe He is guilty of breaking the Sabbath and of blasphemy. In their eyes, He is worthy of the death penalty. These folks profess to be the people of God, and yet they dishonor the Son of God. They condemn others on the basis of their works. Jesus reminds His adversaries that this cuts both ways. Our Lord’s works demonstrate that He is indeed the Son of God. Their works will be the basis for their eternal condemnation. Their “fruits” will show their professions of faith to be insincere.
God knows men’s hearts, and thus He alone can judge men apart from their works:
3 So for me, it is a minor matter that I am judged by you or by any human court. In fact, I do not even judge myself. 4 For I am not aware of anything against myself, but I am not acquitted because of this. The one who judges me is the Lord. 5 So then, do not judge anything before the time. Wait until the Lord comes. He will bring to light the hidden things of darkness and reveal the motives of hearts. Then each will receive recognition from God (1 Corinthians 4:3-5).
As men, we cannot know what is in the hearts of others. Thus, as Paul says above in 1 Corinthians, we must leave such judging to God in the end time. What we can see and know is the “fruit” of men’s lives—their deeds. Thus, our Lord speaks of judgment based upon men’s deeds, because this is what is visible to men. What we do verifies or nullifies what we say. Our deeds demonstrate the condition of our hearts (see Deuteronomy 8:2).
There is yet one more thing. While no one is ever saved by their good works (see Romans 3:9-20; Ephesians 2:8-9; Titus 3:5-6), men are condemned on the basis of their deeds. That’s what the Law (the Law of Moses) is about. The Law defines sin, largely in terms of deeds. When we break the law, we do something God has forbidden, or we fail to do something God has commanded. No one can be saved by their good works but must cast themselves upon Jesus Christ, who died for their sins and who offers them His righteousness. When men reject Jesus Christ as God’s only means of salvation, they choose to stand before God on the basis of their own works, rather than on the basis of Christ’s work on the cross. Lost men will stand before a righteous and holy God on the basis of their own worthless and wretched works. They will be condemned because their works are worthy only of condemnation (Isaiah 64:6), and because they have rejected Him, whose work is able to save them (John 3:16-21, 36).
Jesus then concludes His defense in almost the same way He commenced it:
So Jesus answered them, “I tell you the solemn truth, the Son can do nothing on his own initiative, but only what he sees the Father doing” (John 5:19a).
“I can do nothing on my own initiative. Just as I hear, I judge; and my judgment is just because I do not seek my own will, but the will of the one who sent me” (John 5:30).
Jesus does not act independently of His Father. What He sees His Father doing, He does (verse 19). According to what He hears His Father say, He judges (verse 30). Jesus is acting like God and speaking like God because He is God. If He were not God, He could not speak or act as He does.
If we think through the Gospels, we will realize that our Lord’s claim is consistent with everything we read in the New Testament. In the first chapter of John’s Gospel, the apostle boldly claims that our Lord—“the Word”—is God, and that He was actively involved in the creation of the world. We would expect from our Lord’s words in this fifth chapter of John that what the Son sees the Father doing, He will do also. Our Lord’s claim to be God is seconded by John, who tells us that “the Word was God.” John also tells us that “the Word became flesh.”
The temptation of our Lord, described by Matthew and Luke, is completely consistent with what our Lord has said in our text: Jesus claims to be the Son of God. Satan seeks to tempt our Lord, predicated on the fact that He is the Son of God:
3 The tempter came and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread.” 4 But he answered, “It is written: ‘A person is not to live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’” 5 Then the devil took him to the holy city, and stood him on the highest point of the temple. 6 He said to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down. For it is written: ‘He will command his angels about you’ and ‘with their hands they will lift you up, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone’” (Matthew 3:3-6, underscoring mine).
In many ways, the temptation was a testing of our Lord as the Son of God. Having passed this test, it is clear that He alone is qualified to act as the Son of God, which He consistently does.
If Jesus is the Son of God, then His challenge to the religious leaders at the temple makes perfect sense:
18 So then the Jewish leaders responded, “What sign can you show us, since you are doing these things?” 19 Jesus replied, “Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up again.” 20 Then the Jewish leaders said to him, “This temple has been under construction for forty-six years, and are you going to raise it up in three days?” 21 But Jesus was speaking about the temple of his body. 22 So after he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this, and they believed the scripture and the saying that Jesus had spoken (John 2:18-22).
If Jesus is the Son of God, then He has the right—indeed the obligation—to correct abuses of the temple, His Father’s house. And since He is the Son of God, He has life in Himself, just as the Father does. No man can take away His life; He gives it up, and He will take it up again (John 10:17-18). Do these religious leaders wish to know just who Jesus thinks He is? He is God, and His resurrection will prove it once for all.12
Who Jesus is—the Son of God—explains why He “broke” the Sabbath by working (John 5:1-18). Jesus is the Son of God, and the Son does what He sees His Father doing. Since the Father is at work on the Sabbath, so is the Son.
Since Jesus is the Son of God, the resurrection of Lazarus in John chapter 11 makes perfect sense. Jesus says in our text that since He has life in Himself, He will raise the dead. In the Gospel of John, Lazarus is the first to rise from the dead. Our Lord will rise, too. This explains why His resurrection was a necessity:
22 “Israelite men, listen to these words: Jesus of Nazareth, a man clearly demonstrated to you to be from God by powerful deeds, wonders, and miraculous signs that God performed through him among you, just as you yourselves know—23 this man, who was handed over by the predetermined plan and foreknowledge of God, you executed by nailing him to a cross at the hands of Gentiles. 24 But God raised him up, having released him from the pains of death, because it was not possible for him to be held in its power” (Acts 2:22-24; see also 1 Corinthians 15).
Imagine this: Peter tells us that it was impossible for our Lord not to rise from the dead. Many people today, as in times past, will say just the opposite. They will tell us that it is impossible for Him to rise from the dead. Why was it impossible for Him not to rise? The answer: because of who He is. If Jesus is God, then He has life in Himself. It would therefore be impossible for One who possesses life, who is life, not to live. That is Peter’s point. Let those who would deny the resurrection admit that they must first deny our Lord’s deity before they can deny His resurrection.
The fact that Jesus is the Son of God explains His voluntary death on the cross of Calvary. Jesus is the Son, who does whatever He sees His Father doing. His Father is seeking to save those who are lost. Is it any wonder that Jesus would die on the cross of Calvary? He was doing what His Father was doing—seeking to save lost sinners.
The fact that Jesus is the Son of God explains the agony of our Lord’s suffering at Calvary. Who can read the accounts of our Lord’s agony in Gethsemane, and on the cross of Calvary, without feeling a deep sense of awe at how much He suffered? It was not just the physical suffering of Jesus, because this was not His primary suffering. The great agony of our Lord is recorded in these words,
At about three o’clock Jesus shouted with a loud voice, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” that is, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46; see Psalm 22:1.)
Jesus was one with His Father (John 10:30). He experienced a unity with the Father which only He, as the Son, could know. And yet it was on the cross that the Father turned His back on the Son. Who can grasp the agony of that separation between Father and Son?
Our text, and our Lord’s claim to be the Son of God, explains the importance and the significance of Easter. I am preaching this message on Easter Sunday. In one sense, this message is not an “Easter message.” It is but the next in a continuing series of messages from the Gospel of John. But it certainly seems providential that we would reach this text on Easter Sunday. Easter is the celebration of our Lord’s resurrection from the dead. If, indeed, He is the Son of God (as He claims to be, and as He surely is), then it would have been impossible for Him not to rise from the dead. But since He has risen from the dead, this historical fact proves that everything Jesus claims about Himself is true. He is the Son of God. And if He is the Son of God, then He has the right to “break the Sabbath,” just as His Father does. He has the right to cleanse the temple and to give life to others. He also has the right to judge all men.
Many people go to church on Easter as a kind of annual ritual. They come to church and tip their hat to God. They talk of the resurrection of Jesus and find a kind of comfort in the fact that He is said to have risen from the dead. Such a view of Easter is shallow and foolish, one that does not square with the Gospels. It most certainly does not take our text seriously enough.
The first thing we must acknowledge from our text is that Jesus claims to be God. His adversaries understand Him to claim this, and it is for this that they will eventually put Him to death. When given the opportunity to deny this claim—or at least to clarify it—Jesus only repeats the same claim more emphatically. He challenges His adversaries to explain how He can do the works He performs if He is not God. He promises to do even greater things. He claims to have power over death and the ability to give life. He claims that He will raise all men from the dead and that He will judge all mankind.
That our Lord claims to be God could not be more emphatically stated than it is in our text. If His words are false, then we are foolish to worship Him. We would be obliged to condemn Him as a fraud. But if His words are true, then we must do far more than tip our hats to Him. The Gospel accounts and the words of the apostles all affirm that our Lord’s claim to be God is true. If it is true, then we will do well to apply this truth as our Lord has indicated. We should first acknowledge Jesus to be the divine Son of God. We should endorse all of His actions and all of His teachings as those appropriate for the Son of God. We should expect that the things He promises which have not yet occurred will happen (such as the resurrection of all the dead). Most importantly, we should trust in Him as God’s only remedy for sin and His only provision for eternal life. We should believe in Him, knowing that it will save us from eternal condemnation.
Those who trust in Jesus for salvation should rejoice in the truths He has emphatically stated in our text. Those who do not trust in Him as the Son of God and the Savior of the world should not bother to tip their hat to Him, or to find some backhanded comfort in His life, death, and resurrection. Easter should not be a comfort to them, but a source of dread. The resurrection of our Lord from the dead is proof that He is God, and that His claims are true. The resurrection of our Lord from the dead assures us that all who trust in Him will be saved, and that all those who do not will suffer eternal condemnation.
Let no unbeliever find comfort in the fact that Jesus died and rose again. Let them not seek to find comfort in the thought that once they die they will cease to exist. Because Jesus Christ is the Son of God, He did rise from the dead, and He will likewise raise all the dead. While those who trust in Him will be raised to the resurrection unto life, those who have not trusted in Him will be raised to the resurrection of eternal condemnation. Our Lord’s deity and His resurrection from the dead should be the most dreaded of all biblical doctrines, because it means that those who have not trusted in Jesus Christ for salvation face an eternity of condemnation.
It is very clear from our text who Jesus claims to be. It is also very clear who the Jewish authorities believe Jesus claims to be. The two most important questions you will ever answer are these:
(1) Is Jesus right about who He claims to be?
(2) If He is right, what have you done about it?
There are no more important questions in life than these. What is your answer? The answer of the Gospel of John is crystal clear: Jesus is the Son of God, the Savior of the world. John wrote this Gospel to convince you of this truth (John 20:30-31). Do you believe our Lord and John? If you do, have you trusted in Jesus as your Savior, the One who died in your place, who bore the penalty for your sins? If you believe in Him, your sins will be forgiven, and you will have eternal life. You will also escape from eternal condemnation. If you do not believe, you are condemned already. There is no more frightening future than that which you have chosen by your unbelief.
I challenge you, as the Apostle John does, to consider the claims of Jesus Christ, and then respond to Him in faith by believing in Him for eternal salvation.
6 The study notes in the NET Bible suggest that the plural, “these things” refers to other miracles which Jesus performed on the Sabbath. While this is possible, and we know that Jesus did perform other miracles on the Sabbath, reference to this must be found elsewhere. I believe the plural refers to “sins” which the Pharisees would find in our text. I would therefore be more inclined to understand the plural as referring to two sins the Jews think Jesus is guilty of in this one incident John records: (1) breaking the Sabbath by healing this man on the Sabbath; and, (2) commanding the paralytic to break the Sabbath by carrying his bed on the Sabbath. Thus, in their minds, Jesus is not only guilty of breaking the Sabbath Himself, but also of commanding others to do so.
7 This same term is only found once elsewhere in John (15:20). From this text and Luke 11:49, I would think that more than “harassing” is in view. No wonder we read in the next verse (John 5:17) that the Jews were “trying even harder to kill him.”
9 In John 3:16, we read that the Father “loved” the world; He loved the world through the Son, and specifically through the sacrificial death of the Son. Now we read that the Father “loves” the Son. This is an ongoing, persistent love. In the temptation of Eve, Satan implied that God did not love Adam and Eve, and that He was withholding something good from them. Our Lord knows better. His Father loves Him and withholds nothing from Him. There is no possibility of Him acting independently of the Father, because they are one. There is no need for Him to act independently of the Father, because the Father loves the Son and shows Him all that He is doing.
10 Jesus is talking to His opponents. He does not say that greater deeds will be accomplished so that you may believe, but rather, so that you may be amazed. These folks are dead in their trespasses and sins and will not be convinced or converted by signs and wonders.
11 “The idea was accepted throughout Judaism. SBk cite a Rabbinic saying: ‘Three keys are in the hand of God and they are not given into the hand of any agent, namely that of the rain (Deut. 28:12), that of the womb (Gen. 30:22), and that of the raising of the dead (Ezek. 37:13)’ (I, p. 523). Cf. ‘Blessed art Thou, O Lord, the shield of Abraham. Thou art mighty for ever, O Lord; Thou restorest life to the dead … who sustainest the living with beneficence, quickenest the dead … who can be compared unto Thee, O King, who killest and makest alive again …? And faithful art Thou to quicken the dead. Blessed art Thou, O Lord, who restorest the dead’ (E. Schurer, A History of the Jewish People, II, ii, Edinburgh, 1885, pp. 85f.).” Cited by Morris, p. 314, fn. 66.