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14. Why the Jews Are Against Jesus (John 5:31-47)


For two years, I have been troubleshooting a problem with one of my daughter’s cars.14 Every time the car is put into forward or reverse, the automatic transmission gives a substantial “thud.” Having given this a lot of thought over the past two years, I finally replaced the transmission. With the new transmission, I was sure my problems would be solved. After laboring for a number of hours, the new transmission was in place, and I started up the engine for a test drive. That exact same “thud” was still there! I could hardly believe it. But yesterday, I found the trouble. When the transmission was previously overhauled, a repairman left one of the bolts out of the rear motor mount, and the other bolt was loose. Every time the car was put into gear, it jerked and made a noise as the transmission literally rocked in its mounts.

Certain problems simply cannot be ignored. On July 17, 1996, Flight 800 suddenly exploded in mid-air and crashed into the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of Long Island, killing all 230 passengers and crew. Thousands of hours and millions of dollars have been spent retrieving the wreckage and reassembling the plane—all in an effort to explain what caused this tragedy.

As we read the Gospel of John, we know that everything happened according to God’s plan. Jesus came as Israel’s Messiah, and He was rejected and crucified by the Jews. What “went wrong”?15 How could the Messiah come and Israel miss His coming? What caused the Jewish religious leaders to resist and reject Jesus as the Messiah? These men had spent much of their time in the Old Testament Scriptures. They heard John the Baptist and knew he had identified Jesus as the Messiah. These men personally witnessed our Lord healing the sick, casting out demons, and even raising the dead. How could they possibly fail to get the message? Our text in the Gospel of John may be one of the most informative passages in the New Testament concerning this matter. Here, our Lord not only defends Himself, but diagnoses the problem which prevents the religious leaders from trusting in Him as the Messiah.

The Setting

Jesus made His way once again to Jerusalem where, at the pool of Bethesda, He came upon a large crowd of the physically afflicted, hoping for a miraculous healing from the “angel-troubled” waters. Selecting a fellow who had been disabled for 38 years, Jesus asked him if he would like to be healed. At our Lord’s command, the man not only got up and walked, but took up his mattress and went on his way. It happened to be the Sabbath, so the Jews promptly stopped the man. These “Sabbath police” saw it as their calling to insure that the Sabbath was observed in accordance with Jewish traditions. When challenged for carrying his mattress on the Sabbath, the man explained that “the One who made him well told him to take up his mattress and walk.” The Jews wanted to know who this man was, but the paralytic had to plead ignorance because he did not find out who our Lord was before He slipped away.

Later, Jesus found the man in the temple and warned him that continuing in sin might result in even worse troubles. This seems to be all it took for the former paralytic to turn against Jesus and give His name to the Jews. The Jews then focused their attention on Jesus, accusing Him of breaking the Sabbath. Our Lord’s answer appears to produce mixed emotions: they are greatly distressed to hear Jesus explain His Sabbath-breaking by claiming to be the Son of God, but they also seem grateful to have such a serious offense with which to charge Him. Already intent on putting Jesus to death, this statement only prompts them to redouble their efforts in this direction.

Jesus responds to these serious accusations in verses 19-30. He declares what everyone should know: He cannot act as He does on His own initiative, authority, or power. The Father loves the Son and shows Him all that He is doing. Jesus only does what He sees the Father doing. Concerning the charges made against Him, the Father works on the Sabbath and therefore, so does the Son. In fact, He has works yet to perform that will be even more amazing. The Son is going to give life to the dead. In the future, when the dead are raised by the Son, some will be raised to eternal life and the others to divine condemnation. This, too, is a work the Father has given to the Son. The one who does not honor the Son also dishonors the Father, who sent Him. Those who charge Jesus with making an illicit (even blasphemous) claim to be equal with God are treading on very dangerous ice.

Jesus’ Testimony Concerning Himself

“[So far as you are concerned] If I testify about myself, my testimony is not true.16

We need to understand what our Lord is saying here in the light of John chapter 8:

13 So the Pharisees objected, “You testify about yourself; your testimony is not true!” 14 Jesus answered, “Even if I testify about myself, my testimony is true, because I know where I came from and where I am going. But you people do not know where I came from or where I am going. 15 You people judge by outward appearances; I do not judge anyone. 16 But if I judge, my evaluation is accurate, because I am not alone when I judge, but I and the Father who sent me do so together. 17 It is written in your law that the testimony of two men is true. 18 I testify about myself and the Father who sent me testifies about me” (John 8:13-18).

Our Lord knows what His opponents are thinking and so in John 5:31, at the outset of His testimony, He informs them He knows they will not accept His testimony alone. The Old Testament law required two or three witnesses (see Deuteronomy 17:6; 19:15) for a man to be found guilty of an offense. Jesus has much more testimony than this, but it doesn’t matter since the Jewish authorities are determined not to accept it. The reason becomes apparent by the end of our passage, and as the Gospel of John continues. In both our text in chapter 5 and in chapter 8, Jesus says He does not bear witness alone, but that the Father bears witness with Him. Once again, the unity of Father and Son is declared.

Perhaps a parenthetical comment would be helpful here to point out the hypocrisy of the Jews who oppose Jesus and His claims. They will not accept His testimony (5:31; 8:13), yet they accept others who come with only their own testimony: “I have come in my Father’s name, and you do not accept me. If someone else comes in his own name, you will accept him” (John 5:43).

While the Jewish authorities seek to give the impression that they are sticklers for observing the letter of the law, actually they are not. When our Lord stands trial for His life, they employ false witnesses who give conflicting testimony, and yet no objection is raised (Matthew 26:60). The high priest illegally demands that Jesus give testimony about (against) Himself, and then condemns Him on the basis of His testimony (Matthew 26:63). These Jews seek neither justice or truth.

The Testimony of John the Baptist

32 There is another who testifies about me, and I know the testimony he testifies about me is true. 33 You have sent to John, and he has testified to the truth. 34 (I do not accept human testimony, but I say this so that you may be saved.) 35 He was a lamp that was burning and shining, and you wanted to rejoice greatly for a short time in his light.

It is possible that here in verse 32 Jesus is talking about John the Baptist, but I am inclined, along with others, to conclude that in this verse our Lord is referring to the witness of His Father. In verse 34, Jesus indicates that He does not accept the testimony of men. Our Lord refers to John’s testimony for the benefit of men, while He does not personally need such testimony (see John 2:25). Remember our Lord has justified His “Sabbath-breaking” (healing the paralytic on the Sabbath) by claiming to be equal with God. He is doing what His Father is doing (working on the Sabbath). It is our Lord’s identity that is being questioned. Jesus persists in claiming to be One with the Father. Thus, the most important testimony to our Lord is the testimony of the Father.

John the Baptist is a very popular fellow, a man many believe to be a prophet (Matthew 11:9; 14:5; 21:26, 46). Jesus reminds the Jewish authorities of their own high regard for John, when they “sent to John” (John 5:33). Initially, I read John 1:19-28 as an interrogation of John by the Jewish authorities, one carried out with considerable suspicion. Jesus seems to say otherwise. His words in our text seem to indicate that their “sending men” to John is their own “testimony” concerning John’s authority. In John 1, the Jews are really trying to “put words into John’s mouth.” They want John to admit that he is Messiah, or Elijah, or the Prophet. John is the one insisting otherwise.

If I understand Jesus (and John 1:19-28) correctly, for a short time the Jews actually wanted John to be the Messiah. This would explain our Lord’s words in Matthew regarding the Jews and John: “From the days of John the Baptist until now, the kingdom of heaven has been forcefully advancing, and forceful men lay hold of it” (Matthew 11:12, NIV).

The Jews are literally trying to force the kingdom into existence, and for a time they try to force John to become their Messiah. In the very next chapter of John’s Gospel, the Jews want to force Jesus to become their king:

14 So when the people saw the miraculous sign that Jesus performed, they began to say to one another, “This is certainly the Prophet who is to come into the world.” 15 Then Jesus, because he knew they were going to come and seize him by force to make him king, withdrew again up the mountainside alone (John 6:14-15).

Late in our Lord’s earthly ministry, the Jews challenge Jesus to prove His authority. Our Lord’s answer, and the Jews’ response, demonstrates the high regard the people have for John:

27 They came again to Jerusalem. While Jesus was walking in the temple area, the chief priests, the experts in the law and the elders came to him 28 and said, “By what authority are you doing these things? Or who gave you this authority to do these things?” 29 Jesus said to them, “I will ask you one question. Answer me and I will tell you by what authority I do these things. 30 John’s baptism, was it from heaven or from men? Answer me.” 31 They discussed with one another, saying, “If we say, ‘From heaven,’ he will say, ‘Then why did you not believe him?’ 32 But if we say, ‘From men—’” (they feared the crowd, for they all considered John to be truly a prophet). 33 So they answered Jesus, “We do not know.” And Jesus said to them, “Neither will I tell you by what authority I am doing these things” (Mark 11:27-33; see also Matthew 11:25; Luke 20:4).

Early in John’s ministry, the Jews are eager for John to be the Messiah. In our Lord’s words, they “rejoiced greatly for a short time in his light” (John 5:35). But when it becomes apparent that John rejects their religious system (Matthew 3:7-10; 21:32; Mark 3:15), and worse yet, identifies with Jesus as the Messiah he promised would come (John 1:29-36), just as quickly they abandon him (Luke 7:29-30). Although initially they respected John’s testimony, they now refuse to accept his testimony. Nevertheless, Jesus reminds them, John, whom they once regarded as a prophet and a candidate for Messiah, bears testimony that He is indeed the promised Messiah.

Weighty Witnesses

36 “But I have a testimony greater than that from John. For the deeds that the Father has assigned me to complete—the deeds I am now doing—testify about me that the Father has sent me. 37 And the Father who sent me has himself testified about me. You people have never heard his voice nor seen his form at any time, 38 nor do you have his word residing in you, because you do not believe the one whom he sent. 39 You study the scriptures thoroughly because you think in them you possess eternal life, and it is these same scriptures that testify about me; 40 but you are not willing to come to me so that you may have life.

The Works of Jesus

Set John’s testimony aside. Jesus doesn’t need it anyway (John 5:34). He has much weightier testimony; He has the testimony of His own works. Jesus is doing the works His Father assigned Him. These works testify to His identity, to His equality with the Father:

18 John’s disciples informed him about all these things. So John called two of his disciples 19 and sent them to Jesus to ask, “Are you the one who is to come, or should we look for another?” 20 When the men came to Jesus, they said, “John the Baptist has sent us to you to ask, ‘Are you the one who is to come, or should we look for another?’” 21 At that very time Jesus cured many people of diseases, sicknesses, and evil spirits, and granted sight to many who were blind. 22 So he answered them, “Go and report to John what you have seen and heard: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, the poor have good news proclaimed to them. 23 And blessed is anyone who takes no offense at me” (Luke 7:18-23).

Now while Jesus was in Jerusalem at the feast of the Passover, many people believed in his name because they saw the miraculous signs he was doing (John 2:23).

1 Now there was a man of the Pharisees whose name was Nicodemus, a member of the council. 2 He came to Jesus at night and said to him, “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 3:1-2).

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 9:30-33).

30 Now Jesus performed many other miraculous signs in the presence of his disciples that are not recorded in this book. 31 But these are recorded so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name (John 20:30-31).

Nicodemus and the formerly blind man had it right: no one can do the things Jesus does on their own. They must be “connected.” Jesus is “connected” to God. The only other explanation (to which our Lord’s opponents are finally forced) is that Jesus is “connected” to Satan:

20 Now Jesus went home, and a crowd gathered so that they were not able to eat. 21 When his family heard this they went out to take control of him, for they said, “He is out of his mind.” 22 The experts in the law who came down from Jerusalem said, “He has Beelzebul,” and, “By the ruler of demons he casts out demons.” 23 So he called them and spoke to them in parables: “How can Satan cast out Satan? 24 If a kingdom is divided, that kingdom will not be able to stand. 25 If a house is divided against itself, that house will not be able to stand. 26 And if Satan rises against himself and is divided, he is not able to stand and his end has come. 27 But no one is able to enter the house of the strong man and remove his goods unless he first ties up the strong man. Then he can thoroughly clean out his house. 28 I tell you the truth, all the sins and blasphemies people may speak will be forgiven them. 29 But whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will never be forgiven. They are liable for an eternal sin 30 (because they said, ‘He has an unclean spirit’)” (Mark 3:20-30).

Our Lord’s response is simple. If He is “connected” with Beelzebul, then why would He oppose Satan and his kingdom by casting out demons? Jesus’ works are indeed a powerful witness concerning His identity.

The Word of the Father

Indirectly, Jesus’ works are the witness of the Father, who assigned these works to the Son (5:36). But the Father even more emphatically testifies that Jesus is His Son. The Father has testified17 about Jesus (verse 37). Just when and how did this take place? We see from the Gospels that the Father gave His testimony concerning the Son at the baptism of Jesus:

16 After Jesus was baptized, as he came up from the water the heavens opened and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming on him. 17 And a voice from heaven said, “This is the Son I love, in whom I have great delight” (Matthew 3:16-17).

Jesus tells His accusers, “You people have never heard his voice nor seen his form at any time” (John 5:37b). By inference, He claims otherwise. It seems that Jesus is referring, in part, to the time of His baptism, when John the Baptist and perhaps others saw the Spirit of God present (and abiding on Jesus) in the form of a dove. They heard the voice of God, identifying Jesus as His Son, in whom He took great delight. Here, the Father is bearing witness to Him as His Son, the Messiah.

Even beyond this, the Father has borne witness through the Son. Jesus is God manifested in human flesh. Jesus is the voice (the “Word”) of God:

Now the Word became flesh and took up residence among us. We saw his glory—the glory of the one and only full of grace and truth, who came from the Father (John 1:14).

1 After God spoke long ago in various portions and in various ways to our ancestors through the prophets, 2 in these last days he has spoken to us in a son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom he created the world. 3 The Son is the radiance of his glory and the representation of his essence, and he sustains all things by his powerful word, and so when he had accomplished cleansing for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high (Hebrews 1:1-3).

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” (John 5:19-20).

“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).

God is bearing witness through His Son. Here is the irony. The Jewish authorities will not accept Jesus as the Son of God; they simply will not heed His testimony. Yet, He is the voice of God, the visible manifestation of God to men. They have never seen or heard God in person. God is now standing before them, being accused by them. They are accusing the very One they claim to worship and serve. They do not have God’s Word abiding in them because they do not believe in Jesus, the One whom the Father sent to “declare” or “explain” Him (John 1:18). Is this not a “catch 22”? How can anyone be saved? If people need to trust in Jesus to grasp the Word of God, and they need to grasp the Word of God to see that Jesus is the One to whom the Scriptures bear witness, then no one can be saved. The solution the Bible gives us is that men most certainly cannot be saved on their own; they can only be saved by means of God’s sovereign and gracious intervention, which is exactly what John has been telling us in his Gospel:

10 He was in the world, and the world was created by him, but the world did not recognize him. 11 He came to what was his own, but his own people did not receive him. 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 1:10-13).

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).

Jesus Turns the Tables on His Accusers

“You people have never heard his voice nor seen his form at any time, 38 nor do you have his word residing in you, because you do not believe the one whom he sent. 39 You study the scriptures thoroughly because you think in them you possess eternal life, and it is these same scriptures that testify about me; 40 but you are not willing to come to me so that you may have life. 41 I do not accept praise from people, 42 but I know you, that you do not have the love of God within you. 43 I have come in my Father’s name, and you do not accept me. If someone else comes in his own name, you will accept him. 44 How can you believe, if you accept praise from one another and don’t seek the praise that comes from the only God? 45 Do not suppose that I will accuse you before the Father. The one who accuses you is Moses, in whom you have placed your hope. 46 If you believed Moses, you would believe me, because he wrote about me. 47 But if you do not believe what Moses wrote, how will you believe my words?”18

Up to this point, it may appear as though Jesus is on the defensive, defending His claim to be equal with God. In a sense, this is true, but our Lord is equal with God because He is the Son of God. It is not Jesus who needs a good defense, but His adversaries, the Jewish religious authorities. In verse 37, the tone of our Lord’s “defense” changes, and we see our Lord now taking the offensive, challenging those who oppose Him. Here, He not only admonishes them for not receiving God’s witness, He informs all as to the real reason they reject Him as the Messiah.

The Jewish authorities are accusing our Lord of blasphemy and Sabbath-breaking. They have never seen God’s form, nor have they heard God’s voice. Yet both of these were evident at our Lord’s baptism. Jesus has seen the Father and heard His voice (5:19-20, 30). Most important of all, Jesus Himself is the form of God (see John 14:9) and the voice of God. It is He who came to make God known to men: no one has ever seen God. The only One, Himself God, who is in the presence of the Father, has made God known (John 1:18).

The Jews are those to whom, and through whom, the Old Testament Scriptures were revealed (see Romans 9:4). They studied the Scriptures diligently, thinking this was the way to eternal life.19 Ironically, these same Scriptures testify about Jesus, the Christ, the Messiah. How could these men possess the Scriptures and study them, and yet miss the main point of their teaching? Jesus tells them and us: they do not have the Word abiding in them. They are “in the Word,” but the Word is not abiding in them. This is so because Christ is not only the central theme of the Word, He is the key to the Word. Christ is the key that unlocks the message of the Word. The Jews are not willing to come to Him so that they may have life. Thus, they are blind to the central message of the very Scriptures they possess and regard so highly.

I remember teaching world history and psychology to a high school class in a medium security prison in Washington State. Somehow the conversation drifted to the subject of evolution one day, and an inmate said something I will never forget: “I’ll tell you why I believe in evolution,” he blurted out, “because I won’t believe in God!” The Jewish authorities will not believe in Messiah, and thus they cannot see Him in the Scriptures they study. Listen to how the Apostle Paul explains the “blindness of the Jews”:

12 Therefore, since we have such a hope, we behave with great boldness, 13 and not like Moses who used to put a veil over his face to keep the Israelites from staring at the end of the glory that was fading away. 14 But their minds were closed. For to this very day, the same veil remains when they hear the old covenant read. It has not been removed because only in Christ is it taken away. 15 But until this very day whenever Moses is read, a veil lies over their minds; 16 but whenever anyone turns to the Lord, the veil is removed. 17 Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is present, there is freedom. 18 And we all, with unveiled faces reflecting the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another, which is from the Lord, who is the Spirit (2 Corinthians 3:12-18).

Christ is a “blind spot” for the Jews, and yet He is both the central figure and the key to the Old Testament Scriptures. Because the Jews are blind to Christ, they read the Old Testament as though a veil were over their faces. Only by trusting in Jesus Christ is that veil removed. Then the Scriptures become clear, and the glory of the Lord is revealed and reflected, transforming those who believe into His image. Those opposing Christ in our text do so with “veiled faces,” so to speak. They are blind to who Jesus is, and rather than come to Him for eternal life, they seek to take His life.

Our Lord presses further in verses 41-44, explaining even more thoroughly the reason the Jews are opposed to Him. Why are they so unwilling to come to Jesus for salvation? It is because they seek glory and praise from men, rather than from God. Jesus does not seek the praise of men; He seeks to please the Father. This is because of His love for the Father, just as His Father loves Him (5:20). Jesus has come in His Father’s name, and the Jews have rejected Him. Others come to them in their own name, and they gladly welcome them. How can this be? It is really quite simple. Those who come and are quickly received tell their audience what they want to hear. Their message flatters the listener, so that the message is easily and quickly embraced as true, simply because it “tickles the ears” of the audience. Neither John the Baptist nor our Lord are willing to do this. They boldly proclaim the truth of the gospel.

Those who seek acceptance from men rather than from God cannot believe in Jesus because they are not willing to come to Him. To be saved, a person must admit that he or she is a sinner, deserving of God’s eternal wrath and unworthy of His favor. To be saved, one must humble himself, and accept God’s grace as a gift. The self-righteous find this highly offensive and abhorrent. The false teacher comes with a flattering message, one that diminishes sin and demeans grace. They assure the listener he can obtain eternal life by his own doing, by his own merits. This is the message the self-righteous love to hear, because it seems to offer them a salvation of their own making. Seeking the praise of others turns us away from seeking praise from God, and thus we seek to please men rather than God.

Once again, the Apostle Paul takes up this theme and applies it to the church at Corinth:

12 For we would not dare to classify or compare ourselves with some of those who recommend themselves. But when they measure themselves by themselves and compare themselves with themselves, they are without understanding. 13 But we will not boast beyond certain limits, but will confine our boasting according to the limits of the work to which God has appointed us, that reaches even as far as you. 14 For we were not overextending ourselves, as though we did not reach as far as you, because we were the first to reach as far as you with the gospel about Christ. 15 Nor do we boast beyond certain limits in the work done by others, but we hope that as your faith continues to grow, our work may be greatly expanded among you according to our limits, 16 so that we may preach the gospel in the regions that lie beyond you, and not boast of work already done in another person’s area. 17 But “The one who boasts must boast in the Lord.” 18 For it is not the person who commends himself who is approved, but the person the Lord commends (2 Corinthians 10:12-18).

If you remember the situation at Corinth in Paul’s day, it was Paul who led many of the Corinthians to faith. It was he who had invested a good part of his life in this church. Yet some false teachers came along who seemed so wise, so persuasive, so impressive. The Corinthians began to look down their noses at Paul and the other true apostles. The message of these “false apostles” appealed to the Corinthians. Paul calls attention to the fact that these are men (and women?) who care much about their status and standing with men, and all too little about the praise of God. They compare themselves with other men. They are puffed up with pride and arrogance, and they seek to undermine the authority of the “true apostles.” They are just like the Jews of our Lord’s day, aren’t they?

The Apostle John will have even more to say about such folks in his epistles. There he warns about false teachers and their message. Today, we call this temptation of seeking the approval of men rather than God “peer pressure.” John speaks of it as “loving the world.” That is what it is—seeking approval from our peers, rather than from God. When we seek the world’s approval, we abandon our desire to please God.

15 Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him; 16 because all that is in the world (the desire of the flesh and the desire of the eyes and the arrogance produced by material possessions) is not from the Father, but is from the world. 17 And the world is passing away with all its desires, but the person who does the will of God remains forever. 18 Children, it is the last hour, and just as you heard that Antichrist is coming, so now many antichrists have appeared. We know from this that it is the last hour. 19 They went out from us, but they did not really belong to us, because if they had belonged to us, they would have remained with us. But they went out from us to demonstrate that all of them do not belong to us. 20 Nevertheless you have an anointing from the Holy One, and you all know. 21 I have not written to you that you do not know the truth, but that you do know it, and that no lie is of the truth. 22 Who is the liar but the person who denies that Jesus is the Christ? This one is the Antichrist: the person who denies the Father and the Son. 23 Everyone who denies the Son does not have the Father either. The person who confesses the Son has the Father also. 24 As for you, what you have heard from the beginning must remain in you. If what you heard from the beginning remains in you, you also will remain in the Son and in the Father. 25 Now this is the promise that he himself made to us: eternal life. 26 These things I have written to you about those who are trying to deceive you. 27 Now as for you, the anointing that you received from him resides in you, and you have no need for anyone to teach you. But as his anointing teaches you about all things, it is true and is not a lie. Just as it has taught you, you reside in him (1 John 2:15-27).

The Jewish authorities reject Jesus. They not only reject His testimony concerning Himself, they set aside the testimony of John the Baptist, of our Lord’s works, of the Father, and of the Scriptures. Because of this, they are the ones who should be accused. Those who are accusing Jesus will be accused, but not by Jesus. Their accusation will come from Moses, the one they revere, whose law they impose on themselves and others—as they interpret it. Their devotion to Moses is seen in the dialogue between the Jews and the blind man to whom Jesus gives his sight:

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!” (John 9:28-29)

This Moses, so revered by the Jews, will be their accuser because he, too, testified of Jesus. They did not believe Moses, and neither will they believe Jesus. Jesus does not specify any particular passages in which Moses wrote of the Messiah, but we know there are many. For example, Jesus is “the Prophet” of whom Moses spoke:

15 “The LORD your God will raise up for you a Prophet like me from your midst, from your brethren. Him you shall hear, 16 according to all you desired of the LORD your God in Horeb in the day of the assembly, saying, ‘Let me not hear again the voice of the LORD my God, nor let me see this great fire anymore, lest I die.’ 17 And the LORD said to me: ‘What they have spoken is good. 18 I will raise up for them a Prophet like you from among their brethren, and will put My words in His mouth, and He shall speak to them all that I command Him. 19 And it shall be that whoever will not hear My words, which He speaks in My name, I will require it of him’” (Deuteronomy 18:15-19, NKJV).


Our text in John chapter 5 is crucial to the argument to the Gospel of John, and indeed crucial to the gospel of Jesus Christ. No words can more clearly communicate our Lord’s claim to be the Son of God, Israel’s Messiah. No one who hears our Lord speak or who reads the Gospel of John has any doubt about who He claims to be (see John 1:14-18, 29-34, 41, 45, 49; 2:14-22; 3:26-36; 4:25-26, 29, 42; 5:17ff.). The question is not whether Jesus ever claimed to be the Messiah, or whether His opponents understand Him to do so. The question is whether Jesus is right in what He claims. If He is right, then He does speak for God. If He is right, we had better listen well to what He says:

7 Then a cloud surrounded them, and a voice came from the cloud, “This is the Son I love. Listen to him!” 8 Suddenly when they looked around, they saw no one with them any more, except Jesus (Mark 9:7-8).

1 After God spoke long ago in various portions and in various ways to our ancestors through the prophets, 2 in these last days he has spoken to us in a son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom he created the world. 3 The Son is the radiance of his glory and the representation of his essence, and he sustains all things by his powerful word, and so when he had accomplished cleansing for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high (Hebrews 1:1-3).

1 Therefore we must pay closer attention to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away. 2 For if the message spoken through angels proved to be so firm that every violation or disobedience received its just penalty, 3 how will we escape if we neglect such a great salvation? It was first communicated through the Lord and was confirmed to us by those who heard him, 4 while God confirmed their witness with signs and wonders and various miracles and gifts of the Holy Spirit distributed according to his will (Hebrews 2:1-4).

16 For we did not follow cleverly concocted fables when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ; no, we were eyewitnesses of his grandeur. 17 For he received honor and glory from God the Father, when that voice was conveyed to him by the Majestic Glory: “This is my dear Son, in whom I am delighted.” 18 When this voice was conveyed from heaven, we ourselves heard it, for we were with him on the holy mountain. 19 Moreover, we possess the prophetic word as an altogether reliable thing. You do well if you pay attention to this as you would to a light shining in a murky place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts (2 Peter 1:16-19).

Jesus not only claims to be the Messiah, the Son of God, He claims to be the only source of eternal life. He says that to reject Him is to reject life, to reject the Father, and to seal our eternal condemnation. It is not enough to revere the Word of God, or even to diligently read and study it. The Jewish authorities did all this, yet they missed the main point of the Scriptures—the promise of a Messiah exactly like Jesus, in fact who was Jesus. The Word of God must abide in our hearts by faith. We must look for Christ in the Scriptures, and having found Him, we should love and obey Him. The Bible is not given so that we may amass knowledge about God. The Bible is given so that we may know, love, and serve God.

Witnesses to the fact that Jesus is the Son of God are many, and they are compelling. Men do not reject the claims of Christ for lack of evidence. They reject Him because sinful men do not wish to submit to Him as God, nor do they wish to come to Him as unworthy sinners, seeking grace. This is the reason the Jews reject Jesus. It is why the Gentiles reject Him as well.

May the Spirit of God give us eyes to see Christ in the Word, and ears to hear what He says to us. May His Word be not just a source for scholarly study; may it be a love letter to us.

13 This same issue is taken up later in John. In chapters 5 and 6, why people don’t believe in Jesus is dealt with from a human perspective (“but you are not willing to come to me so that you may have life,” verse 40). In later chapters, it is again taken up from a divine perspective (see John 6:44, 65; 8:43).

14 My wife Jeannette and I have five lovely daughters, and as “Dad” I have built or rebuilt nearly all of their cars.

15 I speak of things “going wrong,” not in the sense that God’s plan failed, but that men failed to respond to our Lord as they should have. This “failure” on Israel’s part was in accordance with God’s eternal plan. Nevertheless, it is good for us to consider the causes of Israel’s failure, because there are lessons for us to learn from the failures of the people of old.

16 The NET Bible has rendered this verse literally, but in the process leaves the appearance of a contradiction with John 8:13-18. I have thus added the words in brackets. I believe this is the sense of what John meant to convey to the reader. The NASB attempts to do something similar: “If I alone bear witness of Myself, My testimony is not true.” There is a marginal note in the NASB which informs the reader that “true” should be understood as “admissible as legal evidence.” The New English Bible renders verse 31: “If I testify on my own behalf, that testimony does not hold good.” J. B. Phillips paraphrases: “You may say that I am bearing witness about myself, that therefore what I say about myself has no value, …” Our Lord’s testimony is true on its own merits, but not in the eyes of the Jewish religious authorities. I like what Calvin has to say here: “He does not here take any thing away from the credit due to his testimony, which he elsewhere asserts in strong terms, but he speaks by way of concession; for Christ, having been in other respects most abundantly supported, consents that they should not believe his word. ‘If my testimony concerning myself,’ says he, ‘is suspected by you according to the ordinary custom of men, let it go for nothing.’ Now we know that what any man asserts about himself is not reckoned to be true and authentic, although in other respects he speak truth, because no man is a competent witness in his own cause. Though it would be unjust to reduce the Son of God to this rank, yet he prefers to surrender his right, that he may convince his enemies by the authority of God.” John Calvin, Calvin’s Commentaries, Volume 7: The Gospels (Grand Rapids: Associated Publishers and Authors Inc., n.d.), p. 684.

17 Notice the past (more precisely, the perfect) tense here. This is testimony the Father has already given regarding the Son, a testimony given in the past with lingering effects.

18 There is a certain overlapping of argument in these verses, and thus the repetition of verses 37b-40 above.

19 “Cf. The saying attributed to Hillel: ‘the more study of the Law the more life … if he has gained for himself words of the Law he has gained for himself life in the world to come’ (Ab. 2:7). There are several sayings like Baruch 4:1f., ‘This is the book of the commandments of God, and the law endureth for ever: all they that hold it fast are appointed to life.’” Morris, p. 330.

Related Topics: Christology, Dispensational / Covenantal Theology

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