John - Chapter 5
This is part 7 in a 23-part study on the Book of John. Below is a modified transcript of the audio lesson.
Lord, we thank you for this time that we have together to study Your word and to reflect upon it. I ask that You’d give us clarity of insight and willingness to not only hear but to respond to what we hear. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.
As we approach John 5 and looking next week at John 6, these two chapters seem to share a common theme. It is that of causes and the nature of Israel’s actual lack of faith in Jesus. It deals with the issue of rejection. Why did Israel reject her Messiah? Chapter 5 focuses particularly on what this looked like in Jerusalem during the Sabbath festival whereas chapter 6 explores what happened there at a Passover festival in Galilee. We go to Jerusalem in chapter 5 and back up to Galilee in chapter 6. There we see in both cases we have rejection- the Jews who refuse to accept Him as their Messiah.
This is a very common theme in the synoptic gospels. Remember the synoptics- Matthew, Mark and Luke- all concern “seeing together” (that’s what synoptic means). They all present conflict stories and also the Passion narratives but John adds something more.
What we have in John is a typology- a theme of what this looked like. John’s gospel places Jesus on trial and not just at the end of His life. In a way we see that He’s been on trial continually.
His arrival forces us to see. What evidence do we have that He is who He claims to be in view of His audacious claims? We see tonight His claims become much more direct and much more explicit than they were in the first four chapters of John. How are we to handle this? What are we to do with it? If He is, in fact, who He claims to be, the implications are nothing less than stunning. Whereas if He is not who He claims to be then He was a blasphemer and needs to be ultimately disciplined. In fact, the law would say He was to be stoned to death. You have this issue that really eliminates the possibility of seeing Him just as a mere teacher but it’s far, far more than that and claiming a great deal more than that. We have a template of accusations and response- a template of prosecution and then defense. The interesting irony is that wherever Jesus is on trial, the world gets on trial. It turns it around and ultimately it’s we, not Jesus, who is going to be on trial because the issue will be what do we do with this Person? He cannot be overlooked or ignored.
I want to point out a couple of things in this story. One of those things is in chapters 1-4 we saw that Jesus was being compared with institutions of Jewish piety in history. Now in chapters 5-10 we see a festival cycle. Jesus, in this new section of John, is being seen in light of the major festivals of Judaism. In chapter 5 we would see the Sabbath festival. We’ll see how Jesus handles this. This takes place in Jerusalem and what the controversy will be. There’s another festival that will appear and that will be the Passover in John 6. That takes place in Galilee. Then in John 7 and 8 you’re going to have the Feasts of the Tabernacles.
In John 9 there’s kind of a case story- a blind man and the issue of spiritual light and darkness and receptivity.
One of the movies I may eventually show, in my once a month movie study, is an Iranian film called the Color of Paradise. It’s not famous by any stretch but I believe it can be used to illustrate this theme of light and darkness. It’s a beautiful and touching film. It contrasts a blind Iranian boy’s physical blindness with his father’s spiritual and moral blindness. His passion and desire would ultimately be to see the face of God. Another film that illustrates the same thing is Woody Allen’s intriguing development of Crimes and Misdemeanors that is based upon the novel Crime and Punishment. In this novel you have a man who is an optician and so it immediately deals with the idea of sight. This optician is morally and spiritually blind. He hires someone to rub out his lover because she’s threatening to ruin his family. He has her bumped off and he eventually lives to be able to explain this to himself. In other words, although he’s filled with guilt at first, in about a year he realizes he’s going to get away with murder- literally! He finally comes to accept that and to actually embrace life and to move on from there. The interesting irony is that this optician’s brother turns out to be a Rabbi who goes physically blind. Woody Allen wrestles with the fundamental question about the goodness and evil that we find in life. He never arrives at a satisfactory conclusion but at least he raises the issues very, very well. Similarly in John’s gospel we see this theme of light and darkness being repeated again and again. Often people will be seen as dealing on a physical level but Jesus is speaking about a moral and spiritual darkness and blindness. That becomes particularly evident in chapter 9.
In chapter 10 we see the Hanukah festival. The Hanukah festival was one of the recent ones as well as Purim compared to the other festivals of Judaism. In Jesus’ time though they were already hundreds of years old. In Leviticus 3, three of these festivals required that Jews would go up with their families to Jerusalem. They were, Passover in the spring, Pentecost seven weeks later and finally in the autumn, Tabernacles, to thank God for the harvest of crop and to remember great episodes in Israel’s history. Jesus is going to be saying, just as I actually fulfill the institutions of Judaism concerning the temple and concerning other areas of life itself, so also will I fulfill the imagery here of these festivals.
We see in this gospel that the festivals were made by God to bring good gifts to people not to legislate and control behavior. What has happened in Judaism is it’s ossified all these things and made it a rigidity of external do’s and don’ts and lost all the joy. Religiosity has a way of really killing the spirit. We can lose the true vitality that comes from a living faith.
In chapter 5 we have an interesting development. We have accusations and Jesus’ response. We have Him being prosecuted but then we also see His defense. The crime, first of all, is to be seen in verses 1-15 where Jesus is accused as a criminal who violates the Sabbath. We see a man at Bethesda and he’s healed on the Sabbath day. The man is going to be interrogated by the Jewish religious leaders and ultimately the criminal, Jesus, is identified. Then in verses 16-18 we have the decision to prosecute. Jesus meets with tremendous hostility now that this man has identified who He is. There are two bases for this prosecution. First, they claim He violates the Sabbath. Secondly, He’s making divine claims. We have the issue of the Sabbath feast and Him claiming to have the prerogatives that only God could have. In verses 19-47 we have Jesus going on trial.
In this era, Jewish trials were different than what we have today. In our time, a person might be accused and so forth and eventually found innocent or guilty. In those days, defendants didn’t simply just prove their innocence and thus end the trial. The trial would work to uncover the truth and if the accusers were found to have made false claims in court, they could actually find themselves placed in the defense and subject to serious jeopardy. That’s an interesting twist on the law. Wouldn’t it be something if people making lawsuits would be liable for the consequences? In fact, punishments they hoped to inflict upon their opponent could actually turn back on them. The implications of the judiciary system would be profound if the consequence of people found making false claims would then in the same trial be prosecuted. It would actually lead to a great deal of less litigation. People would realize they had a real downside. Also the person who filed the lawsuit would have to pay the court fees if it is thrown out. This is what they do in England and they have a lot less litigation in England than we do because they have a lot more sensible approach to this matter. Frankly, anybody can sue, sue, sue- but what if you had to pay the court fees? Do you see my point here? The Jews had a different thing and here’s what happened. He goes on trial defending himself, marshals 5 witnesses as evidence to himself as we’re about to see. Then at the end of the chapter he’s accusing them. It’s all reversed around and they’re the ones on trial. That’s how this chapter will unfold.
May I stress something I’ve mentioned before but I must mention again and again? It’s so important for us to see this. Being Jewish isn’t the problem. You must understand that Mel Gibson’s film is being criticized for being anti- Semitic because it talks about the Jews. He’s specifically talking about the Jews who reject Jesus- those who were in the religious establishment. This gospel was written by a Jew about a Jew and all the disciples were Jewish. You have to understand it’s not anti-Semitic. It’s written about Jesus who’s a Jew and they were Jews and it was written about that. It’s idiotic to say it’s anti-Semitic if you follow the gospels. In fact what the gospel tells us is that really many of the Jews accepted their Messiah but many didn’t. The main point is that the leaders, the religious leadership, the establishment, ultimately rejected Him. That’s the point he’s making.
Furthermore, you need to understand that when John is writing this gospel, he’s also writing to show that this rejection of Jesus is the paradigm of what his actual listeners are experiencing in their own lives. It was written around 80A.D. or maybe a little later but at this time the Jewish believers who were in their assemblies, which were often called synagogues, were being persecuted as being part of a Christian synagogue as opposed to the Jewish synagogue. In other words, they were being persecuted by their own. This paradigm is saying, look, our Lord said that if you will follow Me, you too will be persecuted so don’t be surprised. Look at John 15:20, “Remember the word that I said to you, ‘A slave is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you; if they kept My word they will keep yours also.” He stresses then that what they’re going to be experiencing is conflict just as He’s experiencing conflict. It’s a comforting word to understand that this is no surprise. This is what happens when you testify the truth. It will not go over well with the world system. Ironically, the ones who will most hate it will be people who are in a religious establishment who would see their own positions as being threatened if this thing were really true. We have this paradigm that John’s developing to help us understand this model of the gospel. This issue is not something that is new. It’s an ancient concept.
May I point out one other verse that is often overlooked in this discussion of who really “murdered Jesus”? The answer is all of us. What the bible itself says about this is instructive. Acts 4:27, “For truly in this city there were gathered together against Your holy servant Jesus, whom You anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel.” In other words he’s saying it was Herod and Pontius Pilate, both the Jewish and Gentile authorities as well as the Gentiles and peoples of Israel- they all gathered against Him. See the point here? It’s not just the Jews but it was the Jews and the Gentiles. It was no accident. The Romans and the Gentiles crucified Him. As you know the Jews were not allowed to actually crucify. Their method of capital punishment was stoning. They couldn’t do it under the laws of that day because they didn’t have the right to that in that culture at that point. They had to get Pilate to go along with it and instigate it through him. The point is it’s not just one group or another.
John 5:1, “After these things (note-the previous chapter) there was a feast of the Jews, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem.” Now it’s not “the” feast it would be better attested to say “a” feast of the Jews. This is probably not the Passover but it may be the Feast of Tabernacles but we’re not sure. If it were it would’ve happened on October 21-28 in the year 31 A.D. You can identify that. The events of John 6 are just before the Passover and that occurred on April 13-14 A.D. 32. You can date these. I take a 33 A.D. crucifixion. Some hold to a 30 A.D. crucifixion. I’m not going to lose sleep over it!
John 5:2, “Now there is in Jerusalem by the sheep gate a pool, which is called in Hebrew Bethesda, having five porticoes.” We’re dealing right now in the first 15 verses with a cure. Now this particular pool was actually not discovered until quite recently. Earlier archeological attempts to find it proved unfruitful and many therefore criticized John’s gospel as being non-historical because they couldn’t find this thing. It was discovered in 1888. It fits the description and we have this pool that’s adjacent to the church of St Anne inside old city Jerusalem. It’s right there for people to see and you can go in there and see the five porches. This is where this particular event took place. It’s very specific.
John 5:3, “In these lay a multitude of those who were sick, blind, lame, and withered, [waiting for the moving of the waters;” There is a textual variant here and many texts do not have the next few verses. Mine has it in brackets because frankly some of the earlier manuscripts don’t have the remainder of v. 3 and v. 4. This is one of the biggest textual variations in the scriptures. No textual variations or various readings affect the sense at all in even a minor area of doctrine or practice. It may have been supplied later on. The moving of the waters refers to a superstition known at that time. That’s how the word got out! As soon as this legend came out it was never eradicated- that’s how it’s going to be.
John 5:4. “for an angel of the Lord went down at certain seasons into the pool and stirred up the water; whoever then first, after the stirring up of the water, stepped in was made well from whatever disease with which he was afflicted.]” That is implied and if it’s in the original text, that’s fine because it would explain why he says in v.7 that there’s no one to put me in the pool when the water is stirred up. This gives an understanding of why that verse is there. It may or may not have been there but frankly at least this explains the actual tradition that was associated with it. In any case this is what takes place. The tradition was apparently that in this pool the water would get stirred every so often, supposedly by an angel of God, and you couldn’t know when but the first one to hop in would be cured. They were all waiting for their opportunity. This poor guy has been going there for 38 years and he hasn’t been very successful.
John 5:5, “A man was there who had been ill for thirty-eight years.” It says there were sick, blind, lame and withered people there. It’s an image of the havoc that sin has brought into the world. It’s a portrait of the distortion of this world. This is not the world as it was meant to be. The Messiah would ultimately heal these infirmities. Look at Isaiah 35 and you’ll see the Messianic work includes this healing and ultimately this will be fulfilled. We see hints of it in this world. We see evidence of it in His ministry and hints even now. Every now and then, evidences that He’s done this from time to time. There will come a time when it will be universal among the people of God. Isaiah 35:3-4, “Encourage the exhausted, and strengthen the feeble. Say to those with anxious heart, ‘Take courage, fear not. Behold, your God will come with vengeance; the recompense of God will come, but He will save you.” This refers to the time of judgment- after that apocalyptic time of judgment. Isaiah 35:5, “Then the eyes of the blind will be opened and the ears of the deaf will be unstopped.” I hear Handel’s Messiah here in one of his arias! Isaiah 35:6-8a, “Then the lame will leap like a deer, and the tongue of the mute will shout for joy. For waters will break forth in the wilderness and streams in the Arabah. The scorched land will become a pool and the thirsty ground springs of water; in the haunt of jackals, its resting place, grass becomes reeds and rushes. A highway will be there, a roadway, and it will be called the Highway of Holiness.” He describes what I believe are kingdom blessings that are ultimately to come. You’ve got to associate them with the Messianic work. Part of the problem is, as we’ve seen so many times, that Jesus didn’t fit their ideas of what the Messiah would do. They expected Him to come, at least the version of the Messiah they wanted, and would finally deliver the people and bring in physical prosperity. Jesus came instead to first provide spiritual healing and reconciliation with God, which is the far greater thing to do- the miracle of actually reconciling them with God. They didn’t really go for that option. They wanted to have the visible. That’s the way we’ve always been. We want the visible over the invisible- its just part of human nature. Ultimately what they couldn’t realize is that the two are one and the same. The Suffering Servant is also to be the reigning King. This is the thing we want to keep in mind. The One who came and was rejected was really the Prophet that Moses spoke about, as we’ll see. That Prophet will not only be greater that the greatest of the prophets, He will also be the priest who will actually become the One who offers the sacrifice and becomes the offering once and for all. More than that, He’ll not only be a Prophet and Priest but He’ll also be Israel’s coming King. He will then deliver His people and bring in an eternal reign of righteousness. He’ll fulfill all three offices of Prophet, Priest and King. You know the mystery. How on earth could He be both a Priest and a King because to be a priest you have to be from Levi and to be a king you had to be from Judah? It turns out He’s not a Levitical priest but actually a higher order of priesthood, namely the priesthood of Melchizedek. He can actually function in all three roles in this unique way.
In John 5:5 we don’t know if this is some allusion but it is interesting at least there’s a certain parallel to the wandering of Israel of 38 years in Deuteronomy2:14. There was an extra 38 years that was not planned for. In a way you could almost say that this is a picture of Israel’s spiritual paralysis. This man turns out to be a paralytic. He was in a difficult condition because he’d been in that condition now for so much of his life. In v. 6 and v. 7 Jesus asks him a rather strange question at least at first glance.
John 5:6-7, “When Jesus saw him lying there, and knew that he had already been a long time in that condition, He said to him, ‘Do you wish to get well?’ The sick man answered Him, ‘Sir, I have no man to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up, but while I am coming, another steps down before me.” It sounds odd to ask someone if they would want to get well as they would say, well obviously I do, what do you think I am doing by this pool? But you’ve got to ask yourself this question again. Do you understand the implications of what will happen to you if you do get well? It will mean your whole identity will change. You can no longer define yourself as one who is carried here by your friends and dropped off and then basically lives off the charity of others who see your pathetic plight. It will mean your whole identity will change. It will mean that you have to move in another direction that you do not know. Are you sure you want that? All of us in effect are being asked this question. Do you really want to be healed? A lot of people, I find, resist coming to Christ not because of intellectual issues, often you can help them think through the intellectual objections, but many times it’s because of the moral implications of what it might mean for their lives. That is to say, coming to Christ is not a neutral matter. It’s not a matter of coming to Christ and having a better life just on your terms. It’s a matter of surrender to His purposes. That’s a scary thing. It might mean there’s some change. A lot of people don’t want that change and so they resist Him. This is an issue. So He says to him, “Do you want to get well?” Now this man will offer Him some excuses because his will in some way paralysis’ his body. We see here- compare it with John 5:40, “ and you are unwilling to come to Me so that you may have life.” So He says, “Are you really willing?”
His excuse, John 5:7, “The sick man answered Him, ‘Sir, I have no man to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up, but while I am coming, another steps down before me.” We have a frustrated man with no one to aid him, as was the case of the paralytic in Mark 2- recall his friends brought him. They were aggressive. They opened the roof and lowered him down and then Jesus spoke to him. I want you to notice He says to this man here almost exactly what He said to that man in Mark 2. The contrast is intriguing. Recall when that man was lowered down and the account is found in Mark 2:1-13. Specifically in v. 5 Jesus says,” Son, your sins are forgiven.” But then in verse 9 He said, “Get up, pick up your pallet and walk.” That is a pretty strong claim. The point is, I’m on this pallet for a reason. I can’t walk, that’s the problem so why tell me to get up-you see? It sounds very strange at first.
John 5:8, “Jesus said to him, ‘Get up, pick up you pallet and walk.” How can He possibly demand that he do something that’s impossible? It’s this. These men were healed by the power of His spoken word. He commanded him to do what he could not do but the command actually had the power of fulfillment. Take a look at Mark 3:5. It’s another example of this. He told the man with the withered hand, “Stretch out your hand.” That’s exactly what he can’t do. When he tried, he was able to do so. There’s a power in the word of Jesus then that actually makes the command possible. Similarly that’s an analogy of the whole spiritual life. There’s a power in His indwelling life that makes the Christian life possible. You and I can’t live it. But we’re inviting Him to do it through His indwelling word and His indwelling power. That’s what makes it possible for us to accomplish this. We see then this beautiful portrait of a healing that takes place and then John underscores something.
John 5:9, “Immediately the man became well, and picked up his pallet and began to walk.” He underscores that the man became well not in gradual fits and starts but immediately.
The problem was the Jews didn’t care for this kind of a thing because actually you’ll see in v.9 it was the Sabbath on that day. The scribes by this time had listed in the oral tradition some 39 tasks that were prohibited on the Sabbath. One of those 39 tasks was you couldn’t carry a burden. When they saw him picking up his pallet and carrying it, that was a violation of the Sabbath. They’re more concerned about their tradition than in his healing.
John 5:10-13, “So the Jews were saying to the man who was cured, ‘It is the Sabbath, and it is not permissible for you to carry your pallet.’ But he answered them, ‘He who made me well was the one who said to me, ‘Pick up your pallet and walk.’ They asked him, ‘ Who is the man who said to you, ‘Pick up your pallet and walk?’ But the man who was healed did not know who it was, for Jesus had slipped away while there was a crowd in that place.” Jesus often slips away after these miracles because His time has not yet come. They have this issue and they want to find out who would be so audacious to heal this man on the Sabbath and then tell him to pick up his pallet and walk around with it. By the way, it’s not actually clear if this man personally responded to Jesus. You don’t see any personal response yet. He is grateful for the gift and that’s why Jesus meets him in the temple. He doesn’t seem to pursue the Giver as much as he’s happy for the gift and has gone to the temple to thank God.
John 5:14, “Afterward Jesus found him in the temple and said to him, ‘Behold, you have become well; do not sin anymore, so that nothing worse happens to you.” Evidently we are invited to see that there was some connection between this man’s paralysis and his sin. You have to be very; very careful- it’s a tightrope to walk here- because indeed certain sins can lead to physical consequences. You will recall in I Corinthians 11:30 that because of people’s abuse of the Lord’s Supper, some would get sick and also be disciplined with physical death. “For this reason many among you are weak and sick, and a number sleep.” There can be physical consequences of disbelief and disobedience to God.
What we don’t want to do is assume therefore that anytime something’s wrong it must be your lack of faith, trust or lack of belief. That’s a dangerous thing to say. Jesus in fact balances this out because He makes it very clear that sometimes things happen and it’s no one’s fault. Take for example Luke 13:1-5, “Now on the same occasion there were some present who reported to Him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mixed with their sacrifices. And Jesus said to them, ‘Do you suppose that these Galileans were greater sinners than all other Galileans because they suffered this fate? I tell you, no, but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish. Or do you suppose that those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them were worse culprits than all the men who live in Jerusalem? I tell you, no, but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.” What He’s saying is this, these things happened to them, they were at the wrong place at the wrong time and He says I’m not going to speculate as to why this particular group and not another perished but you need to understand that it is a sign of our need to repent before God.
One thing we must learn from other people’s experiences is that that very thing could have happened to me and it better give me a desire to make sure my life is right before God. How can I presume in the future that I’ll be here 24 hours from now? See the idea? Don’t presume in the future and think you have all the time in the world. I know a lot of people who felt that, you know, I don’t want to make this decision about Jesus, I’ve got plenty of time, I’ll think about Him later. Or some people want to say as Augustine prayed, “Lord, make me chaste but not yet.” Let me live it up a bit and then I’ll be ready. That’s a dangerous game to play. So He says, gain insight, you do not know the workings of the mind of God. He has mysteries here.
In John 9:2-3, there’s something else that balances this out if you recall the man who was blind from birth. “His disciples asked Him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he should be born blind?’ Jesus answered, ‘It was neither that this man sinned, nor his parents; but it was so that the works of God might be displayed in him.” So don’t be quick to jump and assume but on the other side don’t say or suppose that disobedience is the case. God can chastise and discipline us in a variety of ways and one of them can be a physical consequence as well but we don’t want to be simplistic here. Clearly the text is inviting us to see that there was some kind of connection because in John 5:14 Jesus said, “Do not sin anymore, so that nothing worse happens to you.”
John 5:15-17, “The man went away, and told the Jews that it was Jesus who had made him well. For this reason the Jews were persecuting Jesus, because He was doing these things on the Sabbath. But He answered them, ‘My Father is working until now, and I Myself am working.” So Jesus deliberately chooses the Sabbath day. He’ll do it again in John 9 and He’s done it before- for example, in Luke 4, in Capernaum, he healed on the Sabbath and the word probably got out by this time to the Sanhedrin.
There were a lot of controversies over the Sabbath. John wants us to see this issue. Jesus says that He’s fulfilling the Sabbath; He’s the Lord of the Sabbath. This is a major claim. He’s showing His authority and He’s doing this deliberately. Look at Matthew 12. As you recall, Jesus went to the grain fields on the Sabbath, his disciples became hungry and they began to pick the heads of grain and eat. The Pharisees were quite upset by this and then Jesus claims that something greater is here than the Sabbath traditions. He says that the Son of Man is really the Lord of the Sabbath as He’ll also say in Luke 12:8. Matthew 12:8-14, “For the Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath.” Departing from there, He went into their synagogue. And a man was there whose hand was withered. And they questioned Jesus, asking, “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath?’- so that they might accuse Him. And He said to them, ‘What man is there among you who has a sheep, and if it falls into a pit on the Sabbath, will he not take hold of it and lift it out? How much more valuable then is a man than a sheep! So then, it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath.’ Then He said to the man, ‘Stretch out your hand!’ He stretched it out, and it was restored to normal, like the other. But the Pharisees went out and conspired against Him, as to how they might destroy Him.” The point here is that this has been an ongoing litany of controversy in these conflict stories and it centers on this tradition.
John is going to record a claim that Jesus is making that’s quite, quite radical along these lines. We see him deliberately doing this and it raises some controversy in which there’s going to be some very real trouble. His defense is going to be that the Sabbath was made for man. What was it for? It was to give them physical rest and also to kind of recharge them spiritually. Wasn’t it for relationships, to give them vitality and to give them an opportunity to enjoy God and each other? That was the point of the Sabbath. What’s happened is that the religious leaders and their traditions have so ossified it that they make it into a context of misery. People had to invent clever, little loopholes to get around it. For example, they came to define the Sabbath days’ journey as 3/5 of a mile. They’d have placed a meal there, almost like a little lunch, they’d eat and that’d become their new home and then they could go another 3/5 of a mile. This is bizarre stuff. If they think God’s going to be taken in by that- it’s incredible! It’s another chapter in my book, People Must Think God is Stupid! A book I’ll never write but one I’d love to write! When you look at religious observances, if you really analyze what people think- do they really think they can dupe God with these crazy, little loopholes and practices? God is not taken in by that. Most religions think they can bamboozle God- Hey; I got You in a loophole! I got You on a technicality. That’s some of the last words of W.C. Fields when he was found on his deathbed with a bible. Someone asked him what he was doing with a bible. He replied, “I’m looking for a loophole!” That doesn’t work!
John 5:18, “For this reason therefore the Jews were seeking all the more to kill, Him because He not only was breaking the Sabbath, but also was calling God His own Father, making Himself equal with God.” How does this work? Here’s what we’ve got here. You see His own activity is paradoxically an expression of the Sabbath rest of God who actually keeps no Sabbath rest week by week but actually His sustaining work is always at work. My Father’s working until now. I’m working. That is to say, everyday the Father is at work sustaining the world, keeping things in control. Just as my Father is working and that His rest is a perpetual rest but it’s a work rest, a faith rest, in a very real way. He’s sustaining things but His is a perfect “shalom” in the same way. Jesus says I also am working and that I go beyond just the Sabbath traditions. This continuous and perfect activity, which is a unique characteristic of God that Jesus seems to be displaying and claiming. The Jews correctly see the meaning of His dissertation and it arouses in them a murderous hatred because He’s claiming- look, if in fact the Father is always at work and if I am doing the work of My Father then when I heal on the Sabbath then I am actually doing what the Father calls Me to do. I am not only His Ambassador; I am His Agent in this world. He makes Himself in effect like God. They understand that. It’s interesting to me that the Pharisees, the religious leaders, had a better grasp of Jesus’ claims often than His own disciples. Very often, they had a clearer picture of the implications because it was a shrewdness that was going on here. They wanted to kill Him. This is a motif that goes throughout the scriptures- the desire to really put Him away and to kill Him. In fact, if you’ll take a look at a few verses here in John 15:18, Jesus will tell His disciples this very thing. “If the world hates you, you know that it has hated Me before it hated you.” Then He goes on to say in v. 25, “But they have done this to fulfill the word that is written in their Law, ‘They hated Me without a cause.’ They would hate the One who would be sent by God.
We have to ask ourselves this question. What if Jesus hadn’t come then but He came now, in our own time? How would the church, the religious establishment, receive him? Now of course that’s a strange question because the church is based upon Jesus’ coming. But in another sense though, you actually had this question, what if He were to come a second time after His first coming but came again in secrecy rather than to come in a second advent? How would we react to His claims?
Look with me at John 7:19, “Did not Moses give you the Law, and yet none of you carries out the Law? Why do you seek to kill Me?” Again in v. 25, “So some of the people of Jerusalem were saying, ‘Is this not the man whom they are seeking to kill?” John 8:37, “I know that you are Abraham’s descendants; yet you seek to kill Me, because My word has no place in you.” John 8:59, “Therefore they picked up stones to throw at Him, but Jesus hid Himself and went out of the temple.” This motif becomes a growing context of tension.
John 5:19, “Therefore Jesus answered and was saying to them, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of Himself, unless it is something He sees the Father doing; for whatever the Father does, these things the Son also does in like manner.” So He is really saying that He cannot act independently of God because of the uniqueness of the Father-Son relationship that He enjoys. In ordinary father-son relationships, the love of the father for his son or the obedience of the son to the father is not perfect. In this relationship the Son is true to His Father’s word. You recall the accusation, You are right in what I say but here’s what I must do and if you’ll recall this concept here is something that we’ve seen again and again- the liar, lunatic, Lord dilemma. Recall this idea that C.S. Lewis came up with in his book Mere Christianity. “I’m trying here to prevent any one from saying foolish things that people often say about Him,” says Lewis. “I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher but I’m not ready to accept His claim to be God. This is the one thing we must not say.” Lewis writes, “A man who is merely a man and said the sorts of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic on the level with a man who says he is a poached egg or else he would be the devil of hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was and is the Son of God or else a madman or something worse. You can shut Him up for a fool. You can spit at Him and kill Him as a demon or you can fall at His feet and call Him Lord and God. But let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about Him being a great human teacher. That’s not an option,” he says. “Look, He might be a liar. If He was wrong and He knew He was wrong, He was lying. Or if He was wrong and He didn’t know He was wrong, He was crazy, absolutely nuts. Or if He wasn’t wrong, He was right, then what does that make Him? He’s the living Lord.”
Many people are now claiming there’s a fourth El and call Him a legend. Scholarship is increasingly pointing, if anything, to the authority and reliability of the scriptures, the gospels, as reliable narratives. When we hear things about the Jesus Seminar and some of these groups, they pose themselves as being in the mainline but they’re actually fringe scholars. They’re not in the mainline of real scholarship. The real strength of scholars, both evangelical and liberal, but in the mainline, still affirm that these gospel accounts have tremendous authority. You can’t just write it off as a total legend. They were written too early, there were too many witnesses who were around and there were too many things that would defeat the legend theory from being the case. Let’s look at His claims. First of all He says everything I do I do from the Father. Now in v. 19-23, He’s going to be claiming equality with God Himself.
John 5:29, “For the Father loves the Son, and shows Him all things that He Himself is doing; and the Father will show Him greater works than these, so that you will marvel.” It shows the Father works and He shares His love and His works. That’s why He’s called My Beloved Son in the first three gospels and also in John 3:35. The Father loves the Son and has given all things into His hand.
John 5:21, “For just as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, even so the Son also gives life to whom He wishes.” He’s going from the lesser to the mightier. If He’s the Lord of the Sabbath, He’s even more than that. He’s also the One who is the Lord of life itself. He has the authority of life and death- the power to raise the dead. That power belongs to God alone. We have the clearest expressions of the sovereign acts of God- the raising of men from death to life and the passing of the final judgment upon them. These are the prerogatives of God alone. Genesis 18:25b, “Shall not the Judge of all the earth deal justly?” Deuteronomy 32:39, “See now that I, I am He, and there is no god besides Me; it is I who put to death and give life. I have wounded and it is I who heal. And there is no one who can deliver from My hand.” Jesus is claiming this very prerogative in this text.
John 5:21-22, “For just as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, even so the Son also gives life to whom He wishes. For not even the Father judges anyone, but He has given all judgment to the Son.” This is another radical claim. Not only does He raise people from the dead but He also is the One who will actually give judgment. He has authority not only to raise the dead but also to judge the living and the dead. This is a powerful claim that He makes and He goes even further in v. 23.
John 5:23, “So that all will honor the Son even as they honor the Father. He who does not honor the Son does not honor the Father who sent Him.” He saying men must honor Me just as they honor God and that word for honor is the word for worship.
Answer: My role in My first coming is not to judge but to bring life but I will come as judge in the end. We have two advents. In His first advent, He’s not coming to judge the world but came to give them life. At the same time though He will be the judge. In fact the whole book of Revelation says that Jesus is the coming judge. If you want to look at that, you’ll see in Revelation that Jesus is the One who judges the earth.
Answer: Yes, He came to bring love and tolerance. A lot of people have the mistaken idea that Jesus is a way but not the way. They think people can come to God in their own ways. That’s not an option. Jesus is making salvation available. You can decide if He’s wrong but if you take Him seriously, He’s claiming to be the way. Now that teaching will not make you popular. You have to understand that. Nor did it make Him popular in His day as well. It’s a strong teaching but I’m not making it up. Don’t shoot the messenger! The fact is that this is exactly what He claims. You have to ask yourself if Jesus isn’t the way, what options do you have? I’ll tell you what it is. Your option is you’ve got to work your way to God. It’s not going to be by grace through faith and the finished work of Christ on your behalf. Every other option is called bootstrap theology. You know how it works. You grab your bootstraps and try to lift yourself up into heaven. It doesn’t work. That’s the only option I know of. Every other religion, every cult, they all teach human works. If God’s perfect, how do you think you’re going to make it? We can’t even be perfect with our friends or with our loved ones. How can we be perfect before God? You see the point here? It’s a dilemma. In fact, Jesus is the One who claimed the human heart is actually the problem. We have a heart problem- both in the sins of the flesh and also sins of the spirit. These sins include coveting, envy, malice, and pride. Who of us have never had those problems? You see, we say, “I’m not an adulterer or I haven’t committed murder.” But the others will do very well. Jesus says it’s much more radical than you supposed. I think that’s one of the reasons that people water it down. This is not popular stuff in an age that elevates tolerance of truth as a virtue. Jesus, I find to be rather intolerant of error.
I want to stress the other side of that coin. Here it is. Anyone who seeks Him will find Him. You can chose not to seek Jesus but if you chose not to seek Him, you will not find Him. You have to figure out if you want to gamble your eternal destiny assuming that Jesus is wrong and you’re right. That’s the gamble that you’re going to make. What is your answer to the problem of the grave? Here we have One who has died and came back from the grave. He has the authority of life over death. I think I’m going to put my hands in Him rather than in my own speculations. That’s what He’s dealing with. Frankly, what’s happened in the first century has continued on and is even more rife today, especially among religious leaders. In fact, I don’t think He’d get a good reception at all if He came preaching the way He preached in the first century in many churches today. I think He’d be booted out of the churches. He’s utterly against the culture.
John 5:24, “Truly, truly, I say to you, he who hears My word, and believes Him who sent Me, has eternal life, and does not come into judgment, but has passed out of death into life.” This is one of my favorite verses in the bible. Every believer has three possessions and I want you to notice these are present, not future possessions. First he has eternal life (zoe). It is a new kind of life with a new quality. He already has it. You don’t have to wait until heaven to get that. He already has that gift when he hears My word and believes Him who sent Me. Secondly, he does not come into judgment. He is now in a condition where he is now accepted in the Beloved, in Christ Jesus. Therefore he is no longer going to be judged in the sense of the judgment of condemnation.