Jesus heals an unnamed man at the pool of Bethesda, in Jerusalem, on the Sabbath. The Jerusalem establishment go on offense against him. Jesus proclaims the authority of the Son, but only as it is built on the Father’s support and commission. Then Jesus speaks of the best supporting witness and testimony.
As I write in every introduction:
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The translation is mine. I offer it only to learn what the Greek says. It tends to be literal, but complete literalness and readability are impossible, so I had to make adjustments.
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A GrowApp section is offered after every passage of Scripture, which asks challenging questions for deeper discipleship.
Links are provided for further study.
Healing at the Pool of Bethesda (John 5:1-18)
1 Afterwards, it was a Jewish feast, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. 2 There is in Jerusalem at the Sheep Gate a pool which is called Bethesda, having five colonnades. 3 Between them used to lie a number of the sick, blind, lame and paralyzed. 4 [For an angel of the Lord at certain times came into the pool and stirred the water; then the first one getting in with the stirring of the water became healthy from whatever sickness was oppressing him.]
5 Now a certain man was there having his weakened conditioned for thirty-eight years. 6 When Jesus saw him lying there and learned that he was there a long time, he said to him, “Do you want to be healthy?” 7 The sick man replied to him, “Mister, I have no person so that when the water is stirred, he can put me into the pool! But as I go in, someone else goes down ahead of me!” 8 Jesus said to him, “Get up! Pick up your mat and walk!” 9 And immediately the man became healthy and picked up his mat and began to walk.
And it was the Sabbath on that day. 10 Therefore the Jews were saying to the healed man, “It is the Sabbath! It is not lawful for you to carry your mat!” 11 He replied to them, “The one who made me healthy—that one said to me, ‘Pick up your mat and walk!’ 12 They inquired of him, “Who is the man who told you, ‘Pick up your mat and walk’?” 13 The healed man did not know who he was, for Jesus had withdrawn from the crowd which was in that place.
14 Afterwards, Jesus found him in the temple and said to him, “See! You have become healthy. Do not sin any longer, so that something worse may not happen to you.”
15 The man left and announced to the Jews that he is the one who made him healthy. 16 So for this reason the Jews began to persecute Jesus because he did these things on the Sabbath. 17 But Jesus replied to them, “My Father is working until now, and I also am working.” 18 For this reason, therefore, the Jews sought him all the more to kill him, not only because he loosened up the Sabbath, but also because he was saying that God was his own Father, thus making himself equal to God.
Here is a table of the signs, but John also clarifies in various places that Jesus performed many other signs. So now we see that John’s narrative is highly stylized and edited, to suit his purpose.
THE EIGHT SIGNS OF JOHN’S GOSPEL
|1||Turning water into wine||2:1-11, the “beginning” or “first” sign|
|2||Healing an official’s son||4:43-54 “the second sign”|
|3||Healing a disabled man at a pool||5:1-15; see 6:2, where many healings are summarized|
|4||Feeding 5000||6:1-14 (see 6:14 and 6:26)|
|5||Walking on water||6:16-21|
|6||Healing a man born blind||9:1-12 (see 9:16 and “such signs”)|
|7||Raising Lazarus from dead||11:1-44 (see “signs” in 11:47 and “this sign” in 12:18)|
|8||Rising from the dead||20:1-31 (see many other signs in 20:30)|
|Source: BTSB, p. 2141, slightly edited. I repeat this table here because this is cyber-space, so there are no worries about the cost per printed page.|
And here is the purpose of the signs, without a complicated commentary:
30 So then Jesus performed many other signs in front of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. 31 These were written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name. (John 20:30-31)
The signs are for us to believe that he is the Messiah (or Christ), the Son of God. They are signposts, which point to Jesus and his glory. Evidently, Messiahship and Sonship are interchangeable here.
Next, since the verb believe and the noun faith are so important in John’s Gospel, I would like to plant word studies at the beginning of each chapter. Then you can scroll back up here to read what the terms mean. As noted, I repeat the same word study in nearly every chapter because there are no costs per page in cyber-space.
The verb believe (verb is pisteuō, pronounced pih-stew-oh) and the noun faith have to penetrate one’s whole being. Now let’s study them more formally. The noun faith is pistis (pronounced peace-teace or pis-tiss), and it is used 243 times. Its basic meaning is the “belief, trust, confidence,” and it can also mean “faithfulness” and “trustworthy” (Mounce p. 232). It is directional, and the best direction is faith in God (Mark 11:22; 1 Thess. 1:8; 1 Pet. 1:21; Heb. 6:1) and faith in Jesus (Acts 3:16; 20:21; 24:24; Gal. 3:26; Eph. 1:15; Col. 1:4; 1 Tim. 3:13). Believing (verb) and faith (noun) is very important to God. It is the language of heaven. We live on earth and by faith see the invisible world where God is. We must believe he exists; then we must exercise our faith to believe he loves us and intends to save us.
A true acronym:
Forsaking All, I Trust Him
One has to surrender to the Lordship of Jesus.
The bottom line is that for John’s Gospel believing and faith must not get stuck in an intellectual assent. “I believe that God exists and Jesus lived.” That may be the first step, but faith has to go deeper, all the way to commitment.. Everyone who believes or has faith must put their complete trust in God’s Son.
Now let’s move on.
Bethesda literally means “outpouring” (Carson, comment on v. 2).
Archaeologists have found the pool and evidence of the colonnades. Please visit this article
Or you may certainly google it.
It may refer to the Sheep Gate in Neh. 3:1, 32; 12:39.
At the pool a large number of people was laying there waiting to get well. “used to lie” translates an imperfect verb tense as if their lying in that place was a custom and habit. But what were they waiting for? Verse 4 is an insertion by a scribe, based on v. 7. Most scholars do not believe it to be original. Verse three has the clause: … “paralyzed, waiting for the movement of the water.” So part of v. 3 and all of v. 4 reads: “paralyzed, waiting for the movement of the water, 4 for an angel of the Lord at certain times came into the pool and stirred the water; then the first one getting in with the stirring of the water became healthy from whatever sickness was oppressing him.” I included v. 4 just to be complete, and the older translations have it. What were they waiting for? Mounce: “The probable explanation for a disturbance in the twin pools is that in addition to the water that came from large reservoirs, there were probably intermittent springs that augmented the flow from time to time” (comment on v. 3).
In any case, these four verses set the scene for the next confrontation between Jesus and an individual: Nicodemus (John 3:1-15), the woman at the well (John 4:1-30), and here with the lame man. We may say that Jesus had to push back on his mother at the wedding of Cana (2:1-12), but the scene was a mild one. We could also add that other people are allowed into the scenes: the Samaritans (4:39-45), and then the Jews are about to be drawn into the man’s healing because he was carrying his mat on the Sabbath (5:16-47), and the attenders of the wedding at Cana benefited from the miraculous transformation of the wine. So the (non-absolute) pattern: Jesus and an individual and then Jesus and many people.
In these four verses, at any rate, we now know where we are: In Jerusalem and the feast. John ties the festivals to his narrative: Passover (2:13), Passover (6:4), Tabernacles (7:2), Dedication (10:22). Which feast is this one? Scholars are not sure, based on a definite article (“the feast”) or (“feast”). If it is “the feast,” then it is the Passover. In that case, Jesus ministered for three-and-a-half years. If it “a feast” (and the manuscripts support this reading), then it is unclear which one. There were three commanded feasts: Passover and the associated unleavened bread (March / April), Pentecost or weeks (May / June), and tabernacles or booths or Sukkoth (September / October). NET Bible speculates that it is the feast of Pentecost. The editors say it was probably not Passover, because the temperature would be too cool for the lame to get into the water, and likewise for Sukkoth. So this leaves Pentecost, when the season was warm so that the sick could enter into the pool of water, but the NET editors are not certain.
Jesus saw his illness and “learned” or “knew” that the unnamed man was lying there for a long time. Did he know this by supernatural knowledge, or did he ask someone for the man’s backstory? The Greek can be translated either way—know or learn. If he learned about this, did he ask the man, or did he ask someone who knew the man by regular contact, like a helper who got drinking water for the sick and lame? I’m not one-hundred present clear, but I believe Jesus learned of the man’s condition and how long it lasted. He asked. It is okay to interview the sick and the lame or their friends and family, to find out how long the disease has afflicted him. Whatever it was, it must not have afflicted his vital organs, like liver or kidney or heart disease or cancer, for he would have died long ago. It must have been lameness of some kind, like paralysis (see. v. 3), which is literally a “withered” condition. It may have been palsy of some kind.
Here Jesus asks a father about his demonized son:
21 Jesus asked the boy’s father, “About how long has this has happened to him?” And he said, “From childhood. 22 And often he throws him in the fire and water in order to destroy him. But if you are able, help us, having pity on us. 23 But Jesus replied, “‘If you are able!’ All things are possible to the one who believes!” (Mark 9:21-23)
Let’s learn to follow Jesus in our healing and deliverance ministry. It’s okay to ask sick people questions.
“Mister”: it could definitely be translated as “sir,” and I had it as that term, but the man seems a little dull, so I can’t be sure he was courteous. He may have been surly. (I certainly would be miffed if a stranger asked me whether I want to get well when I had the illness or lameness for thirty-eight years and hung out by the pool.) But if you want to go with “sir,” then you may be right.
“weakened condition”: it is the noun astheneia (pronounced ah-stheh-nay-ah), and the prefix a– is the negation, and the stem –sthen– means “strength” or “strong,” so literally it means “unstrong.” It means, depending on the context, primarily “weakness”; and secondarily “sickness, disease.” The NIV translates it throughout the NT: weakness (most often), weaknesses, weak, crippled, diseases, illness, illnesses, infirmities, infirmity, invalid, sick, sickness, sicknesses. Here in v. 5 it could be lameness or illness or sickness. I chose “weakened condition,” but lameness works too because Jesus told him to walk, implying that he was not able to walk before. The Greek says he had his “asthenia” (weakness) for thirty-eight years. The wording is almost saying that he owned it. Please don’t “own” your illness or sickness, as if it belongs to you and is part and parcel of your existence. Instead, see it as an invasive force that does not express wholeness. One day, either now by divine healing, or by your passing into heaven by God’s grace, you will be whole, without your lameness or sickness. These crippling conditions don’t belong to you. No, I’m not talking about denying reality, as if you are not in a wheelchair or do not have a missing limb, but ultimately and ideally, the condition is not yours. “Up There,” you will be restored. And God may do this now. Legitimate miracles are happening. Research them online.
“healthy”: This adjective is used throughout this passage (vv. 6, 9, 11, 14, 15). It could also be translated “sound” “physically well” or “free” from your affliction (Mark 5:34). John says “becomes healthy.” The man “became healthy” in the past tense after Jesus commanded him to get up, pick up his mat, and walk. His whole condition changed from illness to health.
We are taught by popular Bible teachers that the man may have been deliberately holding on to his malady, whatever it was, because he identified with it. It became who he was. This interpretation seems right because Jesus asked whether the man wanted to become healthy. Jesus must have perceived a reluctance, but the man did say that he is about to go into the pool when someone gets in ahead of him. Popular pastors say that he should have sat by the pool 24/7 and just roll in. Maybe, but human life is not as tidy as we imagine it, particularly 2000 years ago. He needed to get up and eat, visit family and friends, or his family or friends had to fetch him and take him home, maybe for many hours.
Whatever the case, Jesus listened to him and then issued a series of commands. “Get up!” The man must have stared at Jesus for a split second. “Who are you to say this to me?” He had never heard of Jesus before (v. 13). Yet Jesus spoke with authority. The man obeyed the command. After a split second he stood up. Amazing, he must have said to himself. “Pick up your mat!” He did so, bending back down to get it. “And walk!” This shows the man was lame somehow. Immediately he became healthy. Mounce reminds us that the man seemed to have no faith (comment on vv. 8-9). I add: the faith of the Lord must have carried him. It just shows that people with no faith or weak faith are still candidates for a healing. Let the Lord carry you.
Sometimes you have to walk or do things that you could not do before. But wait for the command of Jesus. On the other hand, don’t be foolish. If you are diabetic, don’t swig a tall glass of sugared up liquid, like a soda drink. But if you are in a wheelchair, go for it. See if you can stand up. If you have to sit back down again, then don’t feel discouraged. Keep praying for your healing.
“The Word spoke to the man with the same powerful word that made all creation. The abruptness of Jesus’s command echoes the proclamation that the lame will ‘leap like a deer’ (Isa 35:6). They leap because the Word has spoken” (Klink, comment on v. 8).
One final point: not everyone at the pool was healed that day, and there is no record that anyone else was healed by Jesus during his visits to Jerusalem. Therefore we Renewalists need to be careful about claiming that Jesus healed everyone, every time. Yes, in summary statements he is said to heal everyone, but those are summary statements, generalizations, but do not over-generalize.
“While waiting for the power of a pool, the lame man was confronted in Jesus by the personal power of God” (Klink, comment on v. 9, emphasis original).
This next scene reminds me of several passages in the Synoptics, in which Jesus healed on the Sabbath. Here is one:
6 And so it happened on another Sabbath that he went into the synagogue and taught. And a man was there, and his right hand was withered. 7 The teachers of the law and Pharisees were watching him maliciously, whether he would heal on the Sabbath, in order to discover some way to accuse him. 8 But he knew their reasonings. He said to the man having a withered hand, “Get up and stand here in the middle!” 9 Then Jesus said to them, “I ask you: is it lawful to do good or to do bad, to save a life or destroy it, on the Sabbath?” 10 He looked around at them and said to him, “Stretch out your hand!” He did so, and his hand was restored. 11 They were filled with fury and began to speak among themselves what they might do to Jesus. (Luke 6:6-11)
Jewish law allowed for healing on the Sabbath, if a life was at stake or a birth was happening. But the man’s weakened condition or lameness did not fit this category.
Now let’s talk more broadly about the Sabbath laws and what constituted working. Here are the Mishnah’s thirty-nine categories of work that were not allowed (the Mishnah is a collection of legal and practical opinions, written down in about 200 AD). This comes from the second century, but it does reflect the times of Jesus:
- Sowing, plowing, reaping, binding sheaves, threshing, winnowing, selecting, grinding, sifting, kneading, and baking.
- Shearing wool, bleaching, hackling, dyeing, spinning, stretching the threads, the making of two meshes, weaving two threads, dividing two threads, tying [knotting] and untying, sewing two stitches, and tearing in order to sew two stitches.
- Capturing a deer, slaughtering, or flaying, or salting it, curing its hide, scraping it [of its hair], cutting it up, writing two letters, and erasing in order to write two letters [over the erasure].
- Building, pulling down, extinguishing, kindling, striking with a hammer, and carrying out from one domain to another.
These are the forty primary labors less one.
The rest of the tractate at another source goes on to define the parameters more precisely.
Religious teachers debated these issues endlessly. In effect, these strict teachers of the law said it was better that people should virtually do nothing on the Sabbath. It is better to be safe than sorry, better to be severe and austere than risk too much questionable behavior before a holy God. This is called building a wall or fence around the Torah, so that people would not really break the Torah, but the traditions. Problem: the extra-rules became so strict that people felt oppressed.
The goal in these rules is to build a wall around the Torah, which does not specify what keeping or breaking the Sabbath was (one man was stoned to death for collecting wood in Num. 15:32-36). So if a man did any of those activities, he would not be stoned to death. The goal may have been noble, but the rules and strictures kept building and accumulating, become oppressive. The Pharisees and teachers of the law “are only interested in saddling him with the charge of Sabbath breaker, an offense worthy of death (Exod. 31:14). In their zeal to protect the law, they do not use it to set captives free but to bind them ever tighter.
Jesus slipped away into the crowd. Borchert writes: “The hiddenness of Jesus, or so-called ‘Messianic Secret,’ is not a significant theme in John, but the theme of “not knowing” Jesus would function in a similar manner in that it calls the reader’s attention to what should be known” (comments on vv. 9b-15). People think they know who Jesus is, but their knowledge is incomplete.
No one knows what his sin was, which prompted his weakened condition or lameness, but yes, sometimes sin does hit the body hard, like taking drugs can tweak the brain and smoking cannabis can harm the lungs. Excessive speeding (e.g. street racing) can result in crashes and injuries and even deaths. Promiscuity can lead to Sexually Transmitted Infections or Diseases (STIs or STDs). If everyone on the planet were virgins before marriage and remained faithful within marriage, what would happen to the STDs around the globe? They would virtually disappear in a half-generation.
No, I’m not saying this man’s sin were any of those things. Was it bitterness and unforgiveness? Experienced ministers of the gospel tell us that those two roots can lead to all sorts of bad conditions, like arthritis or a weak heart. We don’t know what his particular sin was. Jesus must have sensed, by the Spirit, that sin was at the root. The way forward—always important—was to stop sinning. The verb is in the imperative and present tense, so “stop sinning” is right. My translation “do not sin any longer” is closer to the literal wording, but weak in English. You can go with “stop sinning,” if you wish.
Finally, let’s not over-generalize and believe that every affliction has its root in your personal sin. Sometimes afflictions can be organic. Ask God to show you if the affliction has a root cause and then stake steps forward to get it fixed. If he does not show you anything, keep praying and keep following the doctor’s orders, getting a second opinion, if necessary.
John 9:1-4 reminds us that we should not assume that every disease comes from specific sins.
In light of that warning, Klink cautions us against seeing this section of Scripture as connecting a specific sin with the man’s specific lameness. Instead, Jesus is telling him, generally, to stop sinning because spiritual lameness may befall him. The spiritual and eternal consequence of sinning is in view here, and Jesus is now evangelizing the man and going beyond the physical ailment and instead aiming at the heart (comment on v. 14). Borchert agrees: “Such a direct identification between personal sin and illness, which was proposed by the disciples in the story of the blind man (9:2), was firmly rejected by Jesus (9:3). The statement of cause and effect in this story, therefore, must be taken as referring to the eschatological correlation between sin and judgment that undoubtedly is the meaning of “something worse” in Jesus’ warning to the paralytic” (comment on 9b-15).
Fair enough. However, I prefer Carson’s (and others’) interpretation that says a specific sin lay at the root of the man’s weakened condition or lameness (Carson’s comments on v. 14). Maybe both views are right. His lameness was connected to a specific sin, so he needed to stop sinning, or else something worse (final judgment) may befall him.
After the man found out who healed him, he went back to the Jewish authorities and told them who the healer was—Jesus. He was not committing treachery, but he was spiritually dull, not recognizing that his being healed and carrying his mat on the Sabbath would arouse opposition to Jesus (Carson, comment on v. 15). They must have heard of him because Jesus had already cleared out part of the temple (2:13-22). Now he is defiantly breaking their rules for Sabbath keeping. But did Jesus actually break the Sabbath, as God originally intended it? As we have seen, God did not reveal what work was. We merely saw one example of it—gathering wood (Num. 15:32-36). People had to determine what it was, over the generations. Maybe it is best to conclude that the original intent was not to go to work, on the job, on that day, like standing behind a plow or harvesting—really harvesting, not plucking heads of grain on a stroll (Luke 6:1-5).
Then John uses a very interesting verb: luō (pronounced loo-oh). This verb normally means to loosen up or liberate, like untying a farm animal. Scholars debate what it means in this context. It does not mean abolish right now, nor destroy. So what does it mean? I say it means loosen up the Sabbath rules, all (or nearly all) thirty-nine of them. He knocked down the fence around the Sabbath, the fence which the Jewish authorities zealously guarded. He took out a fence post or two, but to break the essence of the Sabbath—no regular work—he did not do in this specific context. He simply healed and told the man to carry his mat, a practical thing to do when one can walk and not leave behind bedding material which may be useful later that night.
However, in other passages Jesus does say, in essence, we are not commanded to keep the Sabbath. He liberates it to a voluntary practice. If you are doubtful of what I say, please see this post:
In that article I conclude that if you are a Messianic Jew living in Israel or near unconverted Jewish neighbors in America, for example, then keeping the Sabbath for outreach is perfectly acceptable because you do so voluntarily. You are not under the command of the obsolete Sinai Covenant. The only command is the Great Commission (Matt. 28:18-20) and to love God and your neighbors (Matt. 22:34-40).
Then the Jewish authorities don’t like Jesus’s connection to God whom he calls Father. The Mishnah, a collection of oral traditions written down in about A.D. 200, says the blasphemer is not guilty until he pronounces the Name itself (m. Sanh. 7:5) (HT: Mounce, comment on v. 18). Jesus did call God “my Father,” in a special sense, as if he had a unique connection to him, to the point of overriding Jesus’s Father is working, and so does he. The Jews could legitimately call this blasphemy. Also, Jesus overrode their strict Sabbath rules. However, Jesus seems to say that if the Father intends to heal a non-life-threatening illness or lameness on the Sabbath which he invented in the first place (Gen. 1; Exod. 20:8-11), then that is what he will do. Jesus follows his Father. He does not operate independently. In effect, Jesus is saying that if the authorities intend to blame anyone, they should blame his Father, with whom he is in constant contact. He is the one who led his Son to heal. This accusation by the authorities and Jesus telling them to look to the Father first will launch his long teaching on his close connection to the Father. The authorities did not have this close connection, but he did. They were so far away from the heart of God and inside the hundreds of additional rules that they lost sight of God. Jesus will rise above them so far in the next long teaching that they will become dizzy with his claims. The imperfect tense of the verb can be inceptive (“began to persecute”), but Klink sees it as continuous (“were persecuting”), and concluding, tentatively, that it became a fixed policy at this stage to oppose and harass Jesus. Remember: he cleared out part of the temple (2:13-22), so that was enough to turn persecution into a fixed policy. Whatever the case, they will put him to death in about eighteen months.
Let’s look into some more systematic theology (as I do throughout this commentary). Jesus was the Son of the Father eternally, before creation. The Son has no beginning. He and the Father always were, together. The relationship is portrayed in this Father-Son way so we can understand who God is more clearly. Now he relates to us as his sons and daughters, though, surprisingly, in John’s Gospel we are not called “sons,” but “children.” Only Jesus is the Son. In any case, on our repentance and salvation and union with Christ, we are brought into his eternal family.
Now that we have opened up some systematic theology about the Son in relation to Father God, let’s discuss even a little more systematic theology: the Trinity. The Father in his role as the Father is over the Son; the Father guides the whole of creation and the plan of the ages. The Son carries out the plan, notably by being born as a man, humbling himself, taking on the form of a servant (Phil. 3:7-8). He humbled himself so deeply and thoroughly that he died a death on the cross, the instrument of the death penalty.
However, the Father and Son are equal in their essence or nature. The Father is fully God and the Son is fully God, in their essence. Phil. 2:6: Jesus did not regard equality with God as something to hold on to, but he surrendered the environment of heaven and took the form of a servant.
Function or role: the Father is over the Son during the Son’s incarnation and carrying out the plan of redemption.
In their essence or essential natures: Father and Son are equal.
The signs are for us to believe that he is the Messiah (or Christ), the Son of God. They are signposts, which point to Jesus and his glory. Evidently, Messiahship and Sonship are interchangeable here.
“sign” is used as a synonym for miracles and works (erga in Greek), that is another term for miracles. They confirm the message and Jesus himself:
Scroll back up to see the table of signs.
GrowApp for John 5:1-18
A.. Do you know someone who has become comfortable in their sin and sickness? What about yourself?
B.. Jesus worked in cooperation with his Father. Do you? How do you learn to do this?
The Authority of the Son (John 5:19-30)
19 Jesus then replied and said to them, “I tell you the firm truth: The Son is unable to do anything on his own, unless it is something he sees the Father doing, for the things that he does—the Son also does those things in like manner. 20 For the Father loves the Son and shows to him everything that he himself is doing, and he will show him greater works than these, with the result that you will be amazed. 21 For just as the Father raises dead people and makes them alive, so also the Son will make alive those whom he wants. 22 For the Father in no way judges anyone but gives all judgment to his Son, 23 so that everyone may honor the Son, just as they honor the Father, and the one not honoring the Son does not honor the Father who sent him.
24 I tell you the firm truth: the one hearing my message and believing the one who sent me has eternal life does not come into condemnation but has passed from death to life. 25 I tell you the firm truth: the hour is coming and now is here when dead people will hear the voice of the Son of God, and the ones hearing will live. 26 For just as the Father has life in himself, so also he has granted to the Son to have life in himself. 27 And he has given him authority to pass judgment because he is the Son of Man. 28 Do not be amazed at this because the hour is coming when those in their tombs will hear his voice 29 and come out: those doing good things to the resurrection of life, but the ones practicing wickedness to the resurrection of judgment.
30 I am unable to do anything on my own. 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.”
Remember: Jesus is in Jerusalem, and the Jerusalem religious establishment—labeled as “the Jews,” was challenging him. He already gave an introduction to his close relationship with his Father in the previous pericope (pronounced puh-RIH-koh-pea) or unit or section, and now he continues on with this teaching. He will end this pericope with the authority that the Father has given him—even to the point of judging everyone at the resurrection of the dead.
In vv. 19, 20, 21, 22, John uses the conjunction “for,” which means because. John is building a case. See if you can spot them and their significance.
“I tell you the firm truth”: it literally read, “amen, amen, I tell you.” Truth” comes from the word amēn (pronounced ah-main and comes into English as amen). In the Synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark and Luke) Jesus says amen only once (“amen, I tell you”), but in John he very often says the word twice, so I translate the double word as “firm truth.” It expresses the authority of the one who utters it. The Hebrew root ’mn means faithfulness, reliability and certainty. It could be translated as “Truly, truly I tell you” or “I tell you with utmost certainty.” (Bruce has “indeed and truly I tell you”). Jesus’s faith in his own words is remarkable and points to his unique calling. It means we must pay attention to it, for it is authoritative. He is about to declare an important and solemn message or statement. The clause appears only on the lips of Jesus in the NT.
“unable”: this is what the Greek literally says. This does not deny his free will, but it speaks of his total surrender to his Father. I say we should not over-analyze it. This verse shows the Son’s close connection to the Father and his listening to his Father’s instructions, as Jesus moved forward in his ministry. The Son was unable to work his powerful ministry without his Father and the power and anointing of the Spirit, but he needed both the Father and the Spirit’s anointing (Acts 10:38). What the Father does, the Son does in like manner. So we see the First and Third Persons of the Trinity in cooperation with the Second Person of the Trinity, now in human form. This is why we can never abandon the doctrine of the Trinity. It’s the fullest revelation of who God truly is.
“Son”: see vv. 15-18 for more comments.
This verse about the Father loving his Son reminds me of his baptism recorded in the Synoptic Gospels:
16 And being baptized, Jesus instantly got up out of the water, and look! Heaven opened up to him and he saw the Spirit of God coming down as a dove and coming upon him. 17 And listen! A voice from heaven saying, “This is my beloved Son, in whom I delight!” (Matt. 3:16-17)
Jesus is simply repeating what he knows in his heart. He is his Father beloved Son, and his Father delights in him. It is the verb agapaō (pronounced ah-gah-pah-oh, and the noun is agapē, pronounced ah-gah-pay), and it means total commitment or giving oneself over to something or someone.
Some teach that Jesus is hinting at his relationship with his earthly father, Joseph. Joseph showed Jesus growing up how to do a trade. And Jesus says the same of his heavenly Father about his Son’s ministry. I really like this idea. But you can make of it what you will.
But be warned: the other term for love, philia (noun and pronounced fee-lee-ah) and phileō (verb and pronounced fee-leh-oh) and agapē are virtually synonyms in John’s Gospel, so don’t make too much of them when we get to John 21 and read about Jesus restoring Peter.
So now the Father shows his Son what the Father is doing, like healing an ill or lame man on the Sabbath. But the Jerusalem establishment will see greater works than these. This refers to the Son’s resurrection and exaltation and his Father-given role as judge (v. 21). The dead will hear his voice and come out of their tombs (v. 28).
Mounce: “The Jews were simply unprepared for the tremendous truth about to be revealed to them. Even if well-intentioned, their habit of reducing God to a set of ritual requirements severely stunted their spiritual faculties” (comment on v. 20).
“Son”: see vv. 15-18 for more comments.
And here are some greater works. The Father raises up or resurrects dead people and makes them alive, and the Son also makes them alive. The context is judgment after a general resurrection, but can we exclude people’s souls and spirits being raised from the dead when they are born again? Carson says that the “greater works” are the whole redemptive work of Christ (comment on v. 21). Also see v. 25.
“Son”: see vv. 15-18 for more comments.
There is a purpose for the Father giving judgment to the Son. He gives the Son all judgment so that everyone may honor the Son just as they honor the Father. So once again, the connection between Father and Son is so tight that the ones who honor the Son in effect honors the Father, and the opposite is true. If they do not honor the Son, they do not honor the Father who sent him. Jesus was commissioned by the Father. Those who challenge his ability to heal on the Sabbath dos not realize what they are talking about. The Father has sent Jesus, who obeys and listens to his the one who sent him. This commissioning goes so far that he will judge people, including the Jerusalem establishment. Implication: his critics do not have the right to judge him, for he will turn the tables and judge them. And if they dishonor the Son, then they dishonor God.
7 I will proclaim the Lord’s decree:
He said to me, “You are my son;
today I have become your father.
8 Ask me,
and I will make the nations your inheritance,
the ends of the earth your possession. (Ps. 2:7-8, NIV)
Now it is Jesus who will judge everyone, God transferring this role to his Son. High Christology, indeed.
“Son”: see vv. 15-18 for more comments.
An ambassador receives honour due to the sovereign whom he represents; dishonour to the ambassador is an insult to his sovereign. The Son is the Father’s envoy plenipotentiary [invested with full power]. The Father bestows the authority and the Son exercises it; the Father sends and the Son is sent. Yet so completely one are the Father and the Son, so perfectly does the Son manifest the Father, that no one can at the same time refuse the Son’s claims and pay honour to the Father. Jesus’ opponents thought they could do this very thing, but they were mistaken (comments on vv. 22- 23)
“I tell you the firm truth”: see v. 19 for more comments.
Now Jesus emphatically tells the Jerusalem establishment how much authority he has from another angle. Anyone who listens to his message and believing in the one who sent him is so privileged that he will be granted eternal life.
“the one hearing” could be rendered “whoever hears.” The call of the gospel goes out to everyone, and each one has the potential to accept it if they exercise their faith, but unfortunately many do not exercise their faith to be saved.
“eternal life”: this is more than mere existence. This is life of the next age, that age, which has broken into this age or right now. In other words, eternal life happens now, but we must be careful not to believe that everything in the new age, in everlasting life, is happening now. This is called over-realized eschatology (study of ends times and new ages). Not every new-age blessing becomes realized or accomplished right now. But let’s not remain negative. We get some benefits of the next age or new age right now. We get some benefits of eternal life, right now.
“life”: this is more than mere existence. This is life of the next age, that age, which has broken into this age or right now. The next age has broken into this age and given us new life. It is eternal life right now.
Let’s look at life by the book—by the prominent Greek lexicon.
It is the noun zoē (pronounced zoh-ay, and girls are named after it, e.g. Zoey). BDAG says that it has two senses, depending on the context: a physical life (e.g. life and breath) and a transcendent life. By physical life the editors mean the period from birth to death, human activity, a way or manner of living, a period of usefulness, earning a living. By transcendent life the lexicographers mean these four elements: first, God himself is life and offers us everlasting life. Second, Christ is life, who received life from God, and now we can receive life from Christ. Third, it is new life of holiness and righteousness and grace. God’s life filling us through Christ changes our behavior. Fourth, zoē means life in the age to come, or eschatological life. So our new life now will continue into the next age, which God fully and finally ushers in when Christ returns. We will never experience mere existence or death, but we will be fully and eternally alive in God.
Clearly, John means the fourth definition.
The disciple not coming to judgment means the verdict of condemnation because the follower of Jesus has passed from death to life. This may also speak of going from spiritually dead to spiritually alive:
Paul sees the same thing as John does and writes:
As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, 2 in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. 3 All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our flesh and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature deserving of wrath. 4 But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, 5 made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved. 6 And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus …. (Eph. 2:1-6, NIV)
Jesus has power to raise your dead souls in you, while you live in your bodies, to a brand new life. This is like being born again (John 3:3, 5; Titus 3:5).
“As Jesus spoke a word and an invalid who lays helpless by the pool of Bethesda rose and walked away, now he speaks a word and spiritual invalids who respond in faith rise up and enter into ‘eternal life’” (Mounce, comment on v. 24).
If you are an amillennialist, you do not believe in a literal thousand year reign, but the reign of Christ is happening right now. So your first resurrection takes place when he calls you to be born again, and you pass from death to life. These verses all the way over in Rev. 20:4-6. They had not worshiped the beast or its image and had not received its mark on their foreheads or their hands. They came to life and reigned with Christ a thousand years. 5 (The rest of the dead did not come to life until the thousand years were ended.) This is the first resurrection. 6 Blessed and holy are those who share in the first resurrection. The second death has no power over them, but they will be priests of God and of Christ and will reign with him for a thousand years. (Rev. 20:4-6, NIV)
In v. 5, the “rest of the dead” means those who died without Christ, and they are not resurrected until he comes back in his Second Coming; they were dead in their trespasses and sins. The first resurrection happened when you were born again and came alive in Christ, and as Paul writes, you are seated with him in heavenly places (Eph. 2:6). You left behind the world and its beast and were not marked by the world’s beastly systems (Rev. 20:4), but you were and are a member of God’s kingdom, so you do not have the nonliteral mark of the beast. When you are born again, death has no power over you, and during his nonliteral thousand-year reign—happening right now—you reign with him, right now and in your heavenly seat right now. When your body does die, then you will continue your reign with him in heaven as priests (Rev. 20:6). Finally, the second death—the casting of people into hell (Rev. 20:14)—has no power over you because you experienced the first resurrection, when you were made alive in Christ.
But let’s now move on with the Gospel of John.
But everyone will be judged by their works and words.
Finally, Jesus says “message.” It is the Greek noun logos.
As I do in this entire commentary series, let’s explore this noun more deeply. It is rich and full of meaning. It always has built into it rationality and reason. It has spawned all sorts of English words that end in –log-, like theology or biology, or have the log– stem in them, like logic.
Though certain Renewalists may not like to hear it, there is a rational side to the Word of God, and a moment’s thought proves it. The words you’re reading right now are placed in meaningful and logical and rational order. The Bible is also written in that way. If it weren’t, then it would be nonsense and confusing, and we couldn’t understand the gibberish. (Even your prophecies have to make logical and rational sense on some level.) Your Bible studies and Sunday morning sermons have to make sense, also. Jesus’s words also have Bible-based logic and rational argumentation built into it. People need to be ministered to in this way. God gave us minds and brains and expects us to use them. Your preaching cannot always be flashy and shrieky and so outlandishly entertaining that people are not fed in the long term. Movements like that don’t last over the years without the Word. I have observed this from firsthand experience in certain sectors of the Renewal Movement.
People have the deepest need to receive solid teaching. Never become so outlandishly supernatural and entertaining that you neglect the reasonable and rational side of preaching the gospel and teaching the Bible. It is very orderly and rational and logical.
On the other side of the word logos, people get so intellectual that they build up an exclusive Christian caste of intelligentsia that believe they alone can teach and understand the Word. Not true. Just study Scripture with Bible helps and walk in the Spirit, as they did in Acts. Combining Word and Spirit is the balanced life.
It should be pointed out that Jesus often uses another noun for word: rhēma (pronounced rhay-mah). In John’s Gospel, synonyms are used often, so let’s not make a big thing of the nuanced differences. In any case, I wanted to point out for today’s Bible teacher in my corner of the church world that we must have better teaching or doctrine whether it is the logos or the rhēma.
Once again, Jesus uses the clause “I tell you the firm truth.” See v. 19 for more comments. He means business.
“Son”: see vv. 15-18 for more comments.
The hour is coming and now is that when the dead people hearing the voice of the Son will live as they hear it. Once again, this involves the rising from spiritual death to new life in Christ. We can be born again and live again. Jesus is blending eternal life—life of the next age with our age and lives right now. Life of the next age—eternal life—can impact us right now. We can come alive by the Father’s will, if we listen to his voice. In the Son, a new age is dawning, and we can get those living benefits right now—or right when Jesus spoke these words two thousand years ago until right now (Is. 55:3).
In v. 24 I quoted Eph. 2:1-6. Mounce seems to agree: “Jesus is bringing eternal life to believers right now. It is not something that lies well into the future following a time of judgment. To live involves a radical transformation of one’s entire existence” (comment on v. 25).
Make no mistake, the Son’s life on earth is derivative of the Father. This shows the relationship between the Father and the Son. The Son has been granted life in himself. This life goes all the way to and through the resurrection and ascension. See v. 19 for more comments.
Do we have the humility to acknowledge that we have new life through the Son and the Father? If not, we are self-deceived and have broken souls, and our arrogance will eventually cause our own downfall. We will wear ourselves out living in the cosmos (world).
“life”: see v. 24 for more comments.
“Son of Man”: It both means the powerful, divine Son of Man (Dan. 7:13-14) and the human son of man—Ezekiel himself—in the book of Ezekiel (numerous references). Jesus was and still is in heaven both divine and human.
Since Jesus is the Son of Man, he will be exalted. Note these verses from Dan. 7:13-14:
13 “In my vision at night I looked, and there before me was one like a son of man, coming with the clouds of heaven. He approached the Ancient of Days and was led into his presence. 14 He was given authority, glory and sovereign power; all nations and peoples of every language worshiped him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away, and his kingdom is one that will never be destroyed. (Dan. 7:13-14, NIV)
The Ancient of Days is God. Jesus was about to ascend and be enthroned on high, sitting next to God. When Jesus is enthroned as the Son of Man, in all his glory, he will be granted the authority to pass judgment and render verdicts and impose final sentences.
“life”: please scroll back up to v. 24 for more comments.
Now Jesus shifts the scene to the future—the hour is coming—but he does not say “and now is” in these verses. Those doing good works will go into the resurrection of life. In contrast, those doing wickedness will go into the resurrection of judgment / condemnation. Let’s pause right here. We shall be judged by our good and bad deeds. Please don’t ignore this biblical truth.
Now we can add that those who are born again by the Spirit of God enter the Father’s and his Son’s kingdom (John 3:3, 5), so it does not depend only on our good or bad works.
The resurrection of the righteous and wicked happen at the same time, on the last day. Then after judgement, the new Messianic Age is fully ushered in and implemented. This is not complicated, despite the best efforts of (usually) American Bible teachers to (wrongly) turn it into a massive, complicated teaching.
Here is a diagram of simplicity itself:
First Coming → Church Age ——————→ Second Coming
The first coming is his birth and ministry and life. You could swap out “Church Age” and insert “This Age,” as distinct from the New Messianic Age, which is ushered in right after the Second Coming and the judgement of the righteous and the wicked at the same time, which Jesus clearly teaches here. When Jesus came the first time and was in the process of inaugurating the kingdom of God, the kingdom came subtly and mysteriously. When he comes a second time, his inaugurated kingdom will be fully accomplished.
First Coming → This Age ————→ Second Coming → Judgment → Messianic Age
During the time of This Age, the kingdom is working behind the scenes and in people’s hearts and wherever the gospel of the kingdom is preached. At the Second Coming, That Age begins.
So now we can take out one term and replace it with another one:
First Coming → This Age ———→ Second Coming → Judgment → Messianic Age / That Age
The Messianic Age and That Age are the same reality.
Or we can swap out Messianic Age and insert Kingdom Age:
First Coming → This Age ———→ Second Coming → Judgment → Kingdom Age / That Age
In short: Messianic Age = Kingdom Age = That Age
Then the Kingdom which Jesus inaugurated at his first coming will have been fully realized and accomplished.
So now let’s add two more elements. The Bible fully teaches this flow chart—the Bible in its fullness:
First Coming → This Age & Inaugurated Kingdom ———→ Second Coming → Judgment → Fully Realized Kingdom Age
So we now live in the conflict and battle between This Age and the Inaugurated Kingdom, proclaimed by Jesus during his ministry. (They are not the same things but are at war with each other!) We are in the process of binding Satan and his demonic hordes, by expelling demons from people’s lives but mainly by preaching the gospel, so people surrender to the Son’s Lordship, and then Satan is pushed back and people experience victory in their lives. The gospel and life in the Spirit are so powerful that saved and redeemed people can experience victory over the power of sin in their lives. The presence of sin in their lives is not removed until they get their new resurrected and transformed bodies.
An amillennialist believes that the millennium begins with Inaugurated Kingdom, but apparently it is quiet and behind the scenes, and it will be fully manifested at his Second Coming.
A premillennialist believes that a literal thousand years of Christ (not shown) is ushered in at the Second Coming, where there will be peace and harmony, and Satan is completely bound until the end of the thousand years, but people will die, so the last enemy (death) is not defeated at the Second Coming, but death and Satan are defeated at the end of the millennium and another judgment will take place.
In John 5:28-29 and Matt. 13:41-43 and 25:31-46 Jesus talks about judgment in the above diagrams.
How does the rapture fit in? When people are snatched out of their tombs, they will be snatched or caught up (the rapture) and meet the Lord in the air. Then they will descend to a new heaven and new earth, which will have been recreated at the same time. Then they will be judged, and wicked will be sent away to punishment (though vv. 28-29 do not say this), and the righteous will be welcomed into the Messianic / Kingdom Age. In other words, the rapture and the Second Coming happen at the same time and are the same event.
Please see my post:
There is no reason, biblically, to over-think and complicate these verses and insert a separate rapture that comes before the Second Coming. Just because a teaching is popular does not make it right.
Personally, I am now rapidly trending towards amillennialism because it is streamlined, and I don’t believe the NT teaches convoluted theories. The entire NT fits together if we adopt amillennialism, from Matt. 1 to Rev. 22. I cannot allow, in my own Bible interpretation, a few contested verses in Rev. 20 to confuse the clear teaching of Jesus in the Gospels and the apostolic teaching in the Epistles. That is, I don’t believe we should allow Rev. 20 (the only few verses where one thousand years are mentioned) or the entire book of the Revelation (after chapter 3), the most symbolic book of the Bible, to guide our interpretation of these clear teachings in the Gospels and the Epistles. Instead, we should allow the clear, straightforward, nonsymbolic teachings in the Gospels and Epistles to guide our interpretations of the most symbolic book in the Bible, in which even the numbers may be symbolic and probably are. To see everything fit together, all we have to do is turn the kaleidoscope one notch or click and adopt amillennialism. I am willing to do that. And after much study (and more to come) I have become an amillennialist.
Clarity guides the unclear portions. My main point: keep the plain thing the main thing in hermeneutics (science of interpretation), and let the clear verses guide the unclear ones.
This interpretation enjoys the beauty of simplicity by eliminating all the complications that popular end-time Bible prophecy teachers have been imposing on the Gospels and Epistles for decades—over a century. Since this tradition has deep roots—not to say entrenched—in the conservative sectors of American Evangelicalism (broadly defined to incorporate the Renewal Movements), these teachers won’t give up their interpretation easily. So I hope to reach and teach the younger church generations and all other openminded people of all generations. They need to prepare for tough times ahead. I’m not a pastor, but I can still have a teacher’s pastoral heart.
But in these eschatological (end-time) discussions:
“In essentials, unity; in nonessentials, liberty; in all things, charity (love).”
We should not lose fellowship with those with whom we differ in eschatological matters.
Now let’s move on.
As for Jesus’s followers being judged by works, Klink reminds us of John 6:29, which says that the work of God is to believe in the one who sent Jesus. That’s true, but there are too many other verses which teach that believers will be judged by their works and words. Once again, see this post:
Jesus sums up this section with a reinforcement of his assigned role to judge everyone. His judgment will be just because he does not seek his own will but the will of the Father who sent him. So the Jerusalem establishment has now received fair warning. They need to show much more humility than they are currently doing. But of course they won’t. They will end up crucifying him. Then they will be subjected to his final judgment, as the Father exalts his Son at the resurrection and vindicates him with the ascension. Then he will carry out the role of judgment in the Father’s time and according to the Father’s will.
GrowApp for John 5:19-30
A.. How have you passed from death to life? What does this involve?
B.. How do you make it into the resurrection to life?
Testimony about Jesus (John 5:31-46)
31 If I testified about myself, my testimony is not true. 32 There is someone else testifying about me, and I know that the testimony which he testifies about me is true. 33 You have sent messengers to John, and he has testified to the truth. 34 But I do not accept human testimony, but I say these things so that you may be saved. 35 He was the burning and shining lamp, and you wanted to celebrate for a time in his light. 36 But I have a testimony greater than that of John, for the works which the Father has granted to me so that I complete them—these very works which I do—testify about me that the Father has sent me. 37 And the Father—the one who has sent me—has testified about me. You neither hear his voice at any time nor have you perceived his appearance, 38 and you do not have his message remaining in you because you do not believe the one whom he has sent. 39 You examine the Scriptures because in them you think you have eternal life. And they too are the ones which testify about me. 40 Yet you do not want to come to me so that you may have life.
41 I do not accept the glory from people. 42 But I have known you: you do not have the love of God in you. 43 I have come in the name of my Father, and you do not accept me. If another person comes in his own name, you will accept him. 44 How are you able to believe, when you accept the glory from others and do not seek the glory from the only God? 45 Do not think that I will accuse you before my Father; the one who is accusing you is Moses, in whom you have hoped. 46 For if you believe Moses, you would believe me, for he wrote about me. 47 But if you do not believe his writings, how will you believe my words?”
Remember that Jesus is still speaking to the Jerusalem establishment, a focus group. When Jesus speaks about witnesses, it is as if the establishment had just demanded that he produce them, to establish his authority.
“testify … testimony”: “The theme of witness … pervades the whole Gospel. The witness to the truth of God’s self-revelation in the Word is manifold: it comprises the witness of the Father (5:32, 37; 8:18), of the Son 8:14, 18), of the Spirit (15:26); the witness of the works of Christ (5:36; 10:25), the witness of the scriptures (5:39), the witness of the disciples (15:27), including the disciple whom Jesus loved (19:35; 21:24). The purpose of this manifold witness, as of John’s witness, is ‘that all might believe’: it is the purpose for which the Gospel itself was written (20:31)” (Bruce, comment on 1:6-8). The terms “witness” or “testimony” carries a legal meaning “of testifying or bearing witness to the true state of affairs by one who has sufficient knowledge or superior position” (Klink, comment on 1:7).
Klink translates the word “true” (as in “not true”), seen in v. 31, as “not sufficient.” Jesus is not dealing with the truth or falseness of his message, but its sufficiency if it has only one witness, Jesus alone (comment on v. 31). That’s excellent.
If I were to stand up in court and tell the audience how awesome I am, then my testimony is based on self-interest. Jesus tells us the best way in the next verse and then vv. 32, 36-40, 43. Deut. 19:15 says that an accusation must be established by two or three witnesses, so in the eyes of Jesus’s accusers his self-testimony would not stand, so Jesus appeals to his Father and the works he does (Mounce, comments on v. 31).
In John 8:14, in contrast, Jesus declares that his self-testimony is valid. However, the two settings are different. And in 8:16, his other witness is the Father, and that is good enough for the context there, because there are two witnesses.
In v. 32, Jesus is referring to the Father; his testimony is greater than John’s testimony.
Borchert reminds us of the testimony that backs up Jesus: “They are John (5:33), the works (not ‘work,’ the Greek is plural) of Jesus (5:36), the Father (5:37), and the Scriptures (5:39), particularly the laws of Moses (5:45). But before they are introduced separately, Jesus reminds his listeners that he has already indicated to them that there has been a joint testimony present in all his discussions” (comments on vv. 31-32).
The Jerusalem establishment sent a commission to investigate John (1:19-28) and grilled him to identify himself. John testified to the truth—the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.
“truth”: Let’s focus on the Greek noun. It is alētheia (pronounced ah-lay-thay-ah and is used 109 times). Truth is a major theme in the Johannine literature: 45 times.
BDAG is considered by many to be the authoritative lexicon of the Greek NT, and the lexicon defines the noun in these ways:
(1).. “The quality of being in accord with what is true, truthfulness, dependability, uprightness.”
(2).. “The content of what is true, truth.”
(3).. “An actual state or event, reality.”
So truth gained from the world around us is possible. Our beliefs must correspond to the outside world (outside of you and me). But it goes deeper than just the outside world. We must depend on God’s character and his Word. That is the meaning of the first definition. God is true or truthful or dependable, or upright. Everything else flows from him.
For good measure, let’s look at some definitions from the larger Greek world. The noun alētheia means I.. truth; 1.. truth as opposed to a lie; 2.. truth, reality as opposed to appearance. II.. truthfulness, sincerity, frankness, candor (Liddell and Scott). So I.2 says that truth goes more deeply than appearances. And the second definition (II) links truth with character. It is interesting, however, that frankness and candor is a synonym of truth. This fits the apostolic preaching in the book of Acts. Maybe we could call it boldness and fearlessness.
Remember these verses? Here is John’s testimony about Jesus:
26 In reply, John said, “I baptize you in water; someone stands in our midst whom you do not know, 27 the one coming after me, of whom I am unworthy to unbind the strap of his sandal. … 29 The next day, he saw Jesus coming to him and said, “Look! The lamb of God who takes away the sin of the whole world! 30 He is the one about whom I said, ‘A man is coming after me who outranks me because he is ahead of me!’ 31 I myself did not know him, but in order that he may be manifest to Israel, for this reason I came baptizing in water.” 32 Further, John testified, saying: “I saw the Spirit like a dove coming down from heaven and remained on him. 33 I did not know him, but the one who sent me to baptize in water—he told me, ‘On whomever you see the Spirit coming down and remaining upon him—this is the one who baptizes in the Holy Spirit!’ 34 And I saw and testify that this one is the Son of God.” (John 1:26-27, 29-34)
So Jesus is the Son of God who baptizes in the Holy Spirit, who remained on him.
However, Jesus does not receive John’s testimony, ultimately, because John is of the earth—not ungodly or worldly—because he was a burning and shining lamp, like a lamp sitting in a dark world, the kosmos. Light is another word for truth, and John testified to the truth in the above long excerpt. However, John is still not the greatest witness or testifier in the universe. This honor goes to Jesus’s Father. So Klink suggests we translate the phrase “human testimony” as “from a man,” which is what the Greek literally says. So this means that Jesus does not accept John’s testimony (comment on v. 34). Perhaps, but only if we mean that Jesus does not accept John’s testimony in the ultimate sense, because the Father’s backing is infinitely superior to John’s. But John’s testimony was still very strong and accurate and useful.
Jesus says that he is speaking these words and healing people so that the Jerusalem establishment may be saved.
“saved”: The verb is sōzō: Since the theology of salvation (soteriology) is so critical for our lives, let’s look more closely at the noun salvation, which is sōtēria (pronounced soh-tay-ree-ah and used 46 times) and at the verb sōzō (pronounced soh-zoh and used 106 times)
Greek is the language of the NT. BDAG defines the noun sōtēria as follows, depending on the context: (1) “deliverance, preservation” … (2) “salvation.”
The verb sōzō means “save, rescue, heal” in a variety of contexts, but mostly it is used of saving the soul. BDAG is considered by many to be the authoritative lexicon of the Greek NT, and it says that the verb means, depending on the context: (1) “to preserve or rescue from natural dangers and afflictions, save, keep from harm, preserve,” and the sub-definitions under no. 1 are as follows: save from death; bring out safely; save from disease; keep, preserve in good condition; thrive, prosper, get on well; (2) “to save or preserve from transcendent danger or destruction, save or preserve from ‘eternal’ death … “bring Messianic salvation, bring to salvation,” and in the passive it means “be saved, attain salvation”; (3) some passages in the NT say we fit under the first and second definition at the same time (Mark 8:5; Luke 9:24; Rom. 9:27; 1 Cor. 3:15).
As I will note throughout this commentary, the noun salvation and the verb save go a lot farther than just preparing the soul to go on to heaven. Together, they have additional benefits: keeping and preserving and rescuing from harm and dangers; saving or freeing from diseases and demonic oppression; and saving or rescuing from sin dominating us; ushering into heaven and rescuing us from final judgment. What is our response to the gift of salvation? You are grateful and then you are moved to act. When you help or rescue one man from homelessness or an orphan from his oppression, you have moved one giant step towards salvation of his soul. Sometimes feeding a hungry man and giving clothes to the naked or taking him to a medical clinic come before saving his soul.
All of it is a package called salvation and being saved.
Jesus does the works that the Father gave him to do; he obeys the Father. These works are greater than John’s words. His works which he accomplishes, directed and originating from the Father, testify about him. Remember: Jesus did not want to stand up in public and preach that he is awesome; if he did, then his testimony would be useless and perhaps even self-serving. He has a stronger witness to his credibility than his or John’s words. His witness are the works—miracles, like healing the ill or lame man on the Sabbath. These works prove that the Father sent him. Nicodemus’s testimony, speaking to Jesus: “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God, for no one can do the signs which you do, unless God was with him.” However, Klink see the “works” as the entire mission of Jesus, not just isolated signs (comment on v. 36). That’s insightful.
The Jerusalem establishment has never heard the Father’s voice nor seen his appearance or form—though the Word itself has tabernacle among them (1:14)—so they are unable to perceive the One who sent the Son, and the Father sent his Son, and the miraculous works demonstrate this. More importantly, the Son’s character reveals his Father. “He who has seen me has seen the Father” (John 14:9). So the establishment is spiritually obtuse and dead inside.
The one thing the Jerusalem establishment can claim is that they devoured the Torah (first five books of the Bible), but do they really understand it? No, Jesus says, because they do not believe in the one whom the Father has sent. They do not believe in the Son, the sent one. They read that God thundered down the Torah on Mt. Sinai, beginning in Exod. 19, but the establishment themselves never heard this voice or seen God’s appearance.
“word”: it is the noun logos, and see v. 24 for more comments. In the context here, it means the Torah.
These verses in John’s first epistle are relevant:
9 We accept human testimony, but God’s testimony is greater because it is the testimony of God, which he has given about his Son. 10 Whoever believes in the Son of God accepts this testimony. Whoever does not believe God has made him out to be a liar, because they have not believed the testimony God has given about his Son. (1 John 5:9-10, NIV)
God’s testimony about the Son is greater than anyone else’s or even the greater works that the Son does.
Jesus acknowledges that the establishment searched, examine, or investigated (all three verbs are good translations of the one Greek verb) the Scriptures or writings of Moses, but they are missing some points in the Torah that they cannot see—the Son, the one sent by the Father. They believe that in searching the writings of Moses, they would somehow acquire life eternal, but their beliefs are shortsighted.
Hillel, a rabbi who lived before Jesus ministered, said that the more one studies the law, the more he has life. He also said that the law is so great that when a man gains its words, he has life right now and life in the age to come (m. ‘Abot. 2:8 and 6:7; HT: Mounce, comment on v. 39).
It is one thing to obey the Torah and acquire righteousness—right living by the law—but this is not the source of eternal life. The source is a relationship with the Father. And now the Son has been sent and the establishment can have eternal life only through him, to be in conformity to the Son, and after his resurrection and ascension, they can be born again by the Spirit and enter the kingdom and live on a higher plain than the law of Moses. 17 “For the law was given through Moses, but grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. 18 No one has ever seen God; the only and unique God, who is in the bosom of the Father—that one has made him known” (John 1:17-18). Only Jesus has truly made God known, because he was in the bosom, which speaks of intimacy, of the Father. Now the Father has sent him and is making the Father known. The Torah comes up short.
Jesus is standing right there calling to them and inviting them to come to him, but they do not want to come. If they did, then they would have eternal life and be saved. It seems like the they have plenty of free will to resist the call and invitation of the gospel, proclaimed by Jesus himself.
“eternal life”: see v. 24 for more comments.
Fulfillment, as noted below, is more than just a quotation of a verse in the OT and transplanted to the NT, though there are plenty of verses like that.
Carson is right: “What is at stake is a comprehensive hermeneutical [interpretive] key. By predictive prophecy, by type, by revelatory event and by anticipatory statute, what we call the Old Testament is understood to point to Christ, his ministry, his teaching, his death and resurrection” (comment on vv. 39-40). A revelatory event presumably means parting the Red Sea or the thunder and lightning at Mt. Sinai. Anticipatory statute is a law that point to the redemptive work of Christ, like the laws regulating the Day of Atonement.
But this is my interpretation of Carson’s words, and I may be off target.
Simply put, Jesus does not receive the glory or honor of people. “People could be translated as “men,” but the context is generic, so I use the generic word “people.” The Jerusalem establishment accept the glory or honor of people. First-century people of Israel lived in an honor and shame society, and the people decided who had honor or shame after a verbal contest. Jesus does not want even to get involved in this contest, because people do not have reliable honor that they can bestow on him. In the end, many will push for his crucifixion. Jesus must stay laser-focused on his Father, not on the populace and the establishment.
In v. 38, Jesus said that the establishment does not have the word in them. Now he says that they do not have the love agapē (pronounced ah-gah-pay) of God in them. Why not? How can he tell? Because he has come in the name of the Father, whom the establishment claimed to know him through the law of Moses, though they would not call him “Father,” four decades before the destruction of the temple in A.D. 70. Recall verse 18, above: … “the Jews [Jerusalem establishment] sought him all the more to kill him, not only because he loosened up the Sabbath, but also because he was saying that God was his own Father, thus making himself equal to God” (John 5:18).
Klink suggests we translate the phrase “love of God in yourselves” (subjective) as “the love for God in yourselves” (objective). (Bruce agrees, comment on vv. 41, 42). Either translation works. However, I like the parallel with v. 38, which says they did not have the word abiding in them. So they were bereft of the word and love. Therefore, maybe we can say they did not have the love of God in them because they were blinded, so they did not have the love for God.
Coming in his Father’s name means that he was the Father’s ambassador. He was the Father’s perfect representative. (Heb. 1:1-4). The name stood in for the person’s character and entire person. Let’s develop this thought, so it can apply to you.
What’s in a name?
You carry your earthly father’s name. If he is dysfunctional, his name is a disadvantage. If he is functional and impacting society for the better, then his name is an advantage. In Jesus’s case, he has the highest status in the universe, next to the Father (Col. 1:15-20). He is exalted above every principality and power (Matt. 28:18; Eph. 1:20-23; Heb. 2:14; 1 John 3:8). His character is perfection itself. His authority and power are absolute, under the Father. In his name you are seated in the heavenly places with Christ (Eph. 2:6; Col. 3:1). Now down here on earth you walk and live as an ambassador in his name, in his stead, for he is no longer living on earth, so you have to represent him down here. We are his ambassadors who stand in for his name (2 Cor. 5:20). The good news is that he did not leave you without power and authority. He gave you his. Now you represent him in his name—his person, power and authority. Therefore under his authority we have his full authority to preach the gospel and set people free from bondages and satanic spirits and heal them of diseases.
So who is coming in his own name? Bruce points out that several messianic pretenders appeared before the destruction of the temple in A.D. 70.
5 “For many shall come in my name saying, ‘I am the Christ!’ and will lead many astray. … At that time if someone says to you, ‘Look!’ Here is the Christ!’ or ‘Here he is!’ do not believe it. 24 For false Christs and false prophets shall arise and produce great signs and wonders in order to deceive many, and if possible, even the elect” (Matt. 24:5, 23-24).
Jesus asks the Jerusalem establishment how they can believe when they receive the honor and glory from other people and not seek the glory and honor of the only God. They cannot believe, not deeply or fully or accurately. They are distracted by the opinions of others.
Jesus is talking about final judgment here (note the future tense of “accuse”), but also about finding the cause of the establishment’s unbelief here and now. Moses himself will accuse and is accusing them, even they have placed their hope in him. By living by the law of Moses, they have hope for the next age, for life eternal. But they are looking to him without true knowledge. Mounce cites popular Jewish belief that Moses was appointed to serve as an advocate and intercede for the people of God (comment on vv. 45-46).
All who sin apart from the law will also perish apart from the law, and all who sin under the law will be judged by the law. (Rom. 2:12, NIV)
Instead, according to Jesus, Moses will accuse them. How will he do this? Jesus answers this question in the next two verses.
Jesus said something similar in the Parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus. Here the rich man implored Abraham to send someone from the dead to help his five living brothers. Abraham replies:
29 But Abraham said, ‘They have Moses and the prophets. They should listen to them!’ 30 Then he said, ‘No, father Abraham! But if someone from the dead goes to them, they will repent!’ 31 But he said to him, ‘If they do not listen to Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded if someone rises from the dead!’” (Luke 16:29-31)
In the last verse, Jesus is hinting at his own resurrection. And so once again we see that John has very similar ideas and themes to the Synoptics, as I have tried to show throughout this commentary.
As noted, the religious leaders devour the Torah, but they read it with blinders on. Deut. 18:15 predicts that God will raise up another prophet. However, the Torah is fulfilled in ways that go beyond this prediction. Jesus tells the establishment that they cannot see that the patterns and themes of the Scripture are fulfilled in him. For example, the temple is lesser than Jesus. He cleared out part of it (2:13-22). People will not focus on temple worship or Jerusalem, but the Father seeks those who belong to him and worship him in Spirit-and-truth (4:21-24). So the temple religion has been completed and fulfilled in the Logos. He is the lamb of God (1:29). So fulfillment goes beyond just quoted verses from the OT in the NT. It is about types and shadows finding their substance in Christ.
Here is Peter’s preaching in Acts 2-3, after he heard a long Bible study from Jesus in Luke 24: For an even clearer idea of what Jesus taught them, let’s look at part of Peter’s sermon in Acts 2 and 3 (my tentative translations):
First Peter rehearses that Jesus’s death did not catch God by surprise, but he knew he would send him into the world to redeem humanity:
22 “My fellow Israelites, men and women, hear these words! God appointed Jesus of Nazareth for you, with mighty deeds, wonders and signs, which God did through him, right in front of you, as you yourselves know. 23 In the predestined counsel and foreknowledge of God, this man was handed over to the hands of lawless men and fastened to the cross, and you put him to death.
Now Peter proclaims the resurrection; the Holy One would not suffer decay:
24 But God lifted him out of the agony of death, because it was impossible for him to be ruled by it. 25 David said about him:
‘I saw the Lord before me always,
That he was at my right in order so I shall not be shaken.
26 Therefore my heart was cheered up
And my tongue rejoiced
for yet my flesh also shall rest in hope
27 because you did not leave my soul in hades,
Neither shall you give your Holy One over to see decay.
28 You have made known to me the paths of life;
you will fill me with joy in your presence.’ (Ps. 16:8-11)
Next, Peter applies David’s prophecy that David was speaking about the resurrection of Jesus, because David experience see decay.
29 “Brothers and sisters! I can boldly say to you about our forefather David that he died and was buried, and his tomb is nearby, right in front of you to this very day. 30 Therefore, being a prophet and knowing that God swore to him with an oath to seat one of his descendants on his throne— 31 foreseeing this, he spoke about the resurrection of the Christ: ‘he would not be left in hades, and neither would his flesh see corruption.’ 32 This Jesus God raised up, of which fact we are all witnesses. 33 Therefore he was exalted to the right hand of God; receiving the promise of the Holy Spirit from the Father, he poured out even what you see and hear. 34 For it was not David who went up into heaven, but he himself says:
‘the Lord said to my Lord:
“Sit at my right hand
35 until I put your enemies
Under your feet for a footstool” (Ps. 110:1)
36 Therefore let all Israel know with certainty that God made him Lord and Christ, whom you crucified.”
Here’s part of Peter’s sermon in Acts 3. Note how he preaches repentance to wipe away sins:
17 “And so now, brothers and sisters, I know that you acted in ignorance, as your rulers did also. 18 But that which God earlier had announced through the mouth of his prophets—that the Messiah would suffer—was fulfilled. 19 Repent therefore and turn back to wipe away your sins, 20 so that times of refreshing from the presence of the Lord would come and that he would send you the one he appointed, the Messiah Jesus. 21 Heaven must welcome him until the times of reestablishing everything that God had spoken through the mouth of his holy prophets from of old.
22 “Moses said: ‘the Lord God shall raise up for you a Prophet like me from among your brothers. You shall listen to everything that he tells you. 23 and every person who does not listen to that Prophet shall be cut off from the people.’ [Deut. 18:15, 18, 19] 24 And all the prophets from Samuel to one after the other who spoke of him announced this day. 25 You are the sons of the prophets and the covenant that God established with your fathers, saying to Abraham: ‘Even all the families of the earth shall be blessed by your descendants.’ [Gen. 22:18; 26:4] 26 And for you first God raised up his servant and sent him to bless you by turning each one away from your wickedness.” (Acts 3:17-26)
Peter boiled the message down to the resurrection and repentance and fulfilled prophecy. We can be sure that Jesus taught the huddled members of the Jesus Movement interpretations like those above. His interpretation of Scripture appeared in Peter’s proclamation or, to use the fancy words, kerygma.
In any case, this is right idea—the inspired idea. However, the establishment do not really believe fully in the writings or Scriptures by Moses, so they cannot see their way to believe the deeper subject written in the Torah. Moses, through the Torah, is accusing them right now—there is no need for the Son to do this.
GrowApp for John 5:31-47
A.. Do you seek the Father’s honor or your own or people’s honor?
B.. How do you have the love of the Father in you?
C.. Do you search the Scriptures for head knowledge or to know God and his Son more intimately? How do you know God and his Son through Scripture?
Beasley-Murray George R. John. Word Biblical Commentary. Rev. ed. Zondervan, 1999.
Borchert, Gerald L. John 1-11. New American Commentary. Vol. 25a. Broadman and Holman, 1996.
Bruce, F. F. The Gospel of John: Introduction, Exposition, and Notes. Eerdmans, 1983.
Carson, D. A. The Gospel according to John. The Pillar New Testament Commentary. Eerdmans, 1991.
The Greek New Testament. Fifth Revised Edition by Barbara Aland, Kurt Aland, Johannes Karavidopoulos, Carlo M. Martini, Bruce M. Metzger (United Bible Society, 2014).
Keener, Craig S. The Gospel of John: A Commentary. Vol. 1. Baker Academic, 2003.
Novakovic, Lidija. John 1-10: A Handbook on the Greek Text. A Handbook on the Greek Text. Baylor UP, 2020.
Klink, Edward W. John. Zondervan Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament. Zondervan, 2016.
Morris, Leon. The Gospel according to John. Rev. ed. Eerdmans, 1995.
Mounce, Robert H. John. The Expositor’s Bible Commentary. Rev. ed. Zondervan, 2007.