JOHN, Part 14

John 5:16—30

These verses are among the most powerful in the Gospels.  In them, Jesus Christ puts Himself on par with God the Father.  The Jewish leaders, however, obsessed with ceremonies and religious observances, saw nothing of the glory of God in Person and work of Jesus Christ.  Instead of seeing what should have been obvious to them, they sought to trap Him with a charge of blasphemy.  Instead of taking the chance of defend Himself, Jesus opened up and told them the whole truth.   Essentially, Jesus was fanning the flames of Jewish hatred in these verses.  From this point onward, to use a modern saying, the genie was let out of the bottle and there was no putting him back!

1.  Visceral hatred manifested, verse 16

So, because Jesus was doing these things on the Sabbath, the Jewish leaders began to persecute him.

Literally translated, the first clause should look like this:  “the Jews were persecuting Jesus.”  The verb refers to a continued, ongoing practice that would become more and more hostile and determined until it finally culminated in the crucifixion of Christ on the cross.  The reason for this visceral hatred is stated clearly:  Jesus was healing people on the Sabbath.  The Jewish leaders viewed this activity as an obvious violation of the fourth commandment (Exodus 20:8, 10).  John’s Gospel records another time when a  healing was performed on another Sabbath and the Synoptics add even more instances (see Mark 2:23—28; 3:1—6; Luke 13:10—16; 14:1—6).

If Jesus knew (and surely He did) what His continued practice of healing people on the Sabbath would result in, why did He keep it up?  We’re always on dangerous ground when speculating about the machinations of the Divine Mind, but could these Sabbath healings be object lessons illustrating our Lord’s general attitude toward various Jewish traditions?  By this time in Jewish history, interpretation of the Law was often more rigid than the Law itself!  What Jesus is showing to all—the healed and onlookers—was that helping those in need was never a violation of God’s Law.

In Luke’s Gospel, in fact, Jesus skillfully exposed the ridiculous nature of Jewish interpretation of the Law by reminding the Jewish leaders that the Law allowed a man to rescue an animal from danger on the Sabbath; should, therefore, a human being in need be ignored (Luke 14:5)?

2.  A special relationship:  Father and Son, verses 17—24

“Very truly I tell you, the Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does.” (verse 17)

What a marvelous comeback Jesus made!  Since God does not stop His activities on a Sabbath, why should He, His Son?  By healing the sick and meeting the needs of human beings on the Sabbath, Jesus was doing two things.  First, He was acting in complete conformity with how His Father hds acted and continues to act.  How did Jesus know what God did on the Sabbath?  He knew because He saw!  That leads to the second point:  Jesus was claiming equality with God; how that must have galled the Jewish leaders!

The Jews were angry that Jesus violated their Sabbath mandates, but they were positively livid that He was so presumptuous as to claim equality with the Father.  This claim served to widen the gap between His critics and Himself.

But the theological value of these verses is rich because they give us a rare glimpse of the kind of relationship the Son has with the Father.  The main point of our Lord’s argument is stated in verse 24:

…that all may honor the Son just as they honor the Father.

  • The Son is completely dependent on the Father, verse 19.  Jesus Christ never acts independently from the Father’s will and purpose.  Time and again throughout His earthly career, Jesus said that His work was to do the will of the Father.  Tenney succinctly observed—Equality of nature, identity of objective, and subordination of will are al interrelated in Christ.
  • The Son is loved by the Father, verse 20.  The Son is neither a slave nor an employee.  The Father and Son are united in an unbreakable bond of love.  Not only that, the fruit of this bond of love is “greater works.”  That is to say, God would show greater works through the ministry of His Son so that unbelievers might look and be in awe.
  • The Son is empowered by the Father, verse 21.  This makes plain that God is the source of all life; He alone can impart life and bring life out of death.  This incredible power He has given to His Son alone.  What is so marvelous about this life-giving power is that it refers not only to physical life, but spiritual life, as well!  Those who are spiritually dead are raised to new life in Christ.
  • The Son is entrusted with the power of judgment, verses 22—23.  God the Father never judges alone; He always judges in concert with His Son.  C.H. Dodd wrote,  Positively, the work of Christ is to bring life and light; negatively, it results in judgment upon those who refuse the life and turn away from the light.
  • The Son is the arbiter of destiny, verse 24.  The very deep theological reasonings of the previous verses now give way to an equally warm and loving appeal.

Very truly I tell you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be judged but has crossed over from death to life.

The three verbs of this verse are all in the present tense:  hear, believe, has (or possesses). Eternal life becomes the possession of the believer the moment he hears and believes.  Future judgment will only confirm what has already taken place.

3.  Another special relationship:  The Son and Man, verses 25—29

Some scholars have suggested that with verse 25, Jesus is referring to the power He had to raise the dead during His earthly ministry (demonstrated by Lazarus, for example).   This is a valid interpretation, however, it is likely that Jesus is also referring to those who spiritually dead.  Upon responding to His life-giving message in faith, they receive new life.  This spiritual life cannot be given apart from the Word, although simply hearing the Word is not enough.  Many a sinner may “hear” the Word in a sermon but not be given eternal life.  It must be heard and accepted by faith.

This new spiritual life is elusive.  It exists only in two places:  the Father and the Son.  Human beings are dependent creatures; we have no knowledge in ourselves for we must be taught and we must learn.  We also have no inherent life; our life comes from outside ourselves.  Initially, we are given life through our parents.  Sometimes we are given life through the work of physicians.  So it is in the spiritual world; if we want eternal life, we must come in faith to the Source of it:  God and the Son.

At first, verse 27 seems to stand alone, almost out of place.

And he has given him authority to judge because he is the Son of Man.

It is, however, intimately connected to the relationship the Son has with man.  The Son of God is uniquely qualified to minister to human beings and judge human beings because in addition to being the Son of God, Jesus Christ is also “Son of man.”  The definite article is not present in the Greek, meaning that that the “prerogative of judgment is connected with the true humanity of Christ (Son of Man) and not with the fact that He is the representative of humanity (the Son of Man),” (Westcott).  He is qualified to judge humanity because He is part of it.  Hebrews 2:17 may help us understand what Jesus is saying here:

For this reason he had to be made like his brothers and sisters in every way, in order that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in service to God, and that he might make atonement for the sins of the people.

Though Hebrews is referring to Christ as High Priest, the underlying principle is the same.  Because He is Son of Man, He is able to be the perfect Judge of all men.

Verses 28 and 29 are purely eschatological in nature, referring to the future.  The idea of a future judgment was nothing new to the Jews and therefore they should not have been take by surprise by what Jesus was teaching.  What must have caught them off guard was the fact that Jesus Christ as the Son of God would be the judge!

So, Jesus admonishes them not to be amazed at what He is telling them.  Jesus is speaking of judgment in the general sense, so it is best not to build an entire theology around these two verses.  Later on, the author of this Gospel was given the eschatological details while in exile on the island of Patmos, resulting in the last book of the New Testament.  For now, though, all Jesus is says is this:  At some point in the future—

…all who are in their graves will hear his voice and come out—those who have done what is good will rise to live, and those who have done what is evil will rise to be condemned.  (Verses 28b, 29)

Notice that at that time—in the future—all people will hear and respond to the voice of God, not because they want to or because they believe, but because God has called them to come and give an account of their lives to Him.  Paul sought to help his Corinthian friends understand this idea:

For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that everyone may receive what is due them for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad.  (2 Corinthians 5:10)

Commenting on what Jesus told the Jews, Strachan wrote,

The Christian conception is that men are held responsible for deeds done in the flesh.  The casting away of the flesh at death does not mean the shedding of the evil and gross side of a man’s nature, while their souls are saved.

As the prophet Ezekiel made crystal clear in chapter 18 of his book:

The one who sins is the one who will die. (Ezekiel 18:4b)

Unless those sins are separated from the one who committed them by Another, their fate is sealed.

3.  Summary, verse 30

By myself I can do nothing; I judge only as I hear, and my judgment is just, for I seek not to please myself but him who sent me.

With this verse, Jesus sums up His entire argument to the Jews who had confronted Him.  The religious leaders had no right to condemn Him for healing on the Sabbath because He did nothing on His own.  He was commissioned—sent forth—by God the Father.  He ministered, not in pride or self-confidence or arrogance, but with the blessing of His Father.  In condemning Him, the Jews were criticizing the God whom they were ostensibly defending!

Over 20 times in John’s Gospel, our Lord asserts that He was sent by the Father.  Two different words are used:  pempo, which means “to send” in the broadest sense.  The other word is apostello, a word which, in addition to meaning “to send,” carries the idea of being “equipped” or “commissioned” or of being “a delegate.”  Both pempo and apostello are used interchangeably and both are applied to Jesus Christ.  Jesus Christ is the One who was sent from God and commissioned by God.

We can see that Christ, then, during His earthly ministry was acting as a “delegate” or “ambassador” sent from God, acting on God’s behalf.  No mere human being is in a position to criticize the Son.

(c)  2010 WitzEnd
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