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Exposition of the Gospel of John
Christ at the pool of bethesda
We begin with the usual Analysis:
1. Jesus in Jerusalem at the feast, verse 1.
2. The pool of Bethesda and the sick congregated about it, verses 2-4.
3. The impotent man and Christ’s healing of him, verses 5-9.
4. The healed man and his critics, verses 10-12.
5. The man’s ignorance, verse 13.
6. Christ’s final word with him, verse 14.
7. The man confesses Jesus, verse 15.
The scene introduced to us in this passage is indeed a pathetic one. The background is the pool of Bethesda, around which lay a great multitude of impotent folk. The great Physician approaches this crowd of sufferers, who were not only sick but helpless. But there was no more stir among them than in the quiet waters of the pool. He was neither wanted nor recognized. Addressing one of the most helpless of the sufferers, the Lord asked him if he is desirous of being made whole. Instead of responding to the sympathetic Inquirer with a prompt request that He would have mercy upon him, the poor fellow thought only of the pool and of some man to help him into it. In sovereign grace the Savior spoke the life-giving word, and the man was immediately and perfectly healed. Yet even then he was still ignorant of the Divine glory of his Benefactor. The healing took place on the Sabbath day, and this evoked the criticism of the Jews; and when they learned that it was Jesus who had performed the miracle "they sought to slay him." All of this speaks loudly of the condition of Judaism, and tells of the rejection of the Christ of God.
"After this there was a feast of the Jews" (John 5:1 ). "After this" or, as it should be. "After these things," is an expression which is characteristic of John’s Gospel as "Then" is of Matthew, "Immediately’’ of Mark, and "It came to pass" of Luke. It occurs seven times in this Gospel (Luke 3:22 ; Luke 5:1 ; Luke 5:14 ; Luke 6:1 ; Luke 7:1 , Luke 7:11 :11; Luke 21:1 ) and nine times in the Apocalypse. "It gives one the thought of Jesus acting according to a plan and times marked out ‘in the volume of the Book’ (Psalms 40:7 ) and of which He renders an account in John 17:0 " (M. Taylor).
"After this there was a feast of the Jews; and Jesus went up to Jerusalem" (John 5:1 ). There is nothing to indicate which of the Feasts this was. Some think it was the Passover, but this we believe is most unlikely, for when that feast is referred to in John it is expressly mentioned by name: see John 2:13 ; John 6:4 ; John 11:55 . Others think it was the feast of Purim, but as that was a human invention and not of Divine institution we can hardly imagine the Lord Jesus going up to Jerusalem to observe it. Personally we think it much more likely that the view of almost all the older writers is the correct one, and that it was the feast of Pentecost that is here in view. Pentecost occurred fifty days after the Passover, and the feast mentioned in John 4:1 follows the Passover mentioned in John 2:13 . Pentecost is one of the three great annual Feasts which the law required every male Israelite to observe in Jerusalem (Deuteronomy 16:0 ), and here we see the Lord Jesus honoring the Divine Law by going up to Jerusalem at the season of its celebration. Doubtless there was a typical reason why the name of this feast should not be given here, for that to which the feast of Pentecost pointed received no fulfillment in the days of our Lord’s early ministry contrast Acts 2:1 .
"Now there is at Jerusalem by the sheep market a pool, which is called in the Hebrew tongue Bethesda, having five porches" (John 5:2 ). We believe the reference here is to the sheep "gate" of Nehemiah 3:1 . At first glance Nehemiah 3:0 does not seem to be very interesting reading, and yet there is much in it that is precious. It describes the rebuilding of the walls of Jerusalem in the days when a remnant of Israel returned from the Babylonian captivity. Various portions in the work of reconstruction were allotted to different individuals and companies. These portions or sections were from gate to gate. Ten gates are mentioned in the chapter. The first is the sheep gate (verse 1) and the last is "The gate Miphkad" which means "judgment," and speaks, perhaps, of the judgment-seat of Christ; and then the chapter concludes by saying, "And between the going up of the comer unto the sheep gate repaired the goldsmiths and the merchants." Thus the circle is completed, and at the close we are brought back to the point from which we started "The sheep gate." This is the gate through which the sacrificial animals were brought to the temple the "lamb" predominating, hence its name. The sheep gate, then, points us at once to Christ, and tells of His Cross.
Now in the light of what we have just said, how exceedingly significant and blessed to note that we are here told the pool which was called Bethesda, meaning mercy, was by the "sheep" (gate). It is only in Christ that the poor sinner can find mercy, and it is only through His sacrifice on the Cross that this mercy is now obtainable for us in Him. What an instance is this of the great importance of noting carefully every little word in Scripture! There is nothing trivial in the Word of God. The smallest detail has a meaning and value; every name, every geographical and topographical reference, a message. As a further example of this, notice the last words of the verse "having five porches." The number of the porches here is also significant. In Scripture the numerals are used with Divine design and precision. Five stands for grace or favor. When Joseph desired to show special favor to his brother Benjamin we read, "And he took and sent messes unto them from before him: but Benjamin’s mess was five times so much as any of theirs" (Genesis 43:34 ); and again we are told, "To all of them he gave each man changes of raiment; but to Benjamin he gave three hundred pieces of silver, and five changes of raiment" (Genesis 45:22 ). Five and its multiples are stamped on every part of the tabernacle. It was with five loaves the Lord Jesus fed the hungry multitude. The fifth clause in the Lord’s prayer is, "Give us this day our daily bread." The fifth Commandment was the only one with a promise attached to it; and so we might go on. Thus we see the perfect propriety of five porches (colonnades) around the pool of Mercy, situated "by the sheep (gate)"!
"In these lay a great multitude of impotent folk, of blind, halt, withered, waiting for the moving of the water" (John 5:3 ). What a picture of the Jewish nation at that time! How accurately does the condition of that multitude of sufferers describe the spiritual state of Judaism as it then existed! God had dealt with their father in sovereign mercy and marvelous grace, but the Nation as such appreciated it not. A few here and there took the place of lost sinners, and were saved, but the "great multitude" remained in their wretchedness. Israel as a people were impotent. They had the Law, made their boast in it, but were unable to keep it. Not only were they impotent, but "blind" blind to their own impotency, blind to their wretchedness, blind to their desperate need, and so blind to the Divine and moral glories of the One who now stood in their midst "they saw in him no beauty that they should desire him." A third word describing their condition is added, "halt:" the term signifies one who is lame, crippled. Israel had the Law but they were unable to walk in the way of God’s commandments. A blind man is able to grope his way about: but a cripple cannot walk at all. Again; we are told this "great multitude" were "withered." This, no doubt, refers to those whose hands were paralyzed (cf. Matthew 12:10 ; Luke 6:6 ), and as a description of Israel it tells us that they were totally incapacitated to work for God. What a pitiable picture! First, a general summing up of their state "impotent." Second, a detailed diagnosis under three descriptive terms "blind" (in their understandings and hearts), "halt" (crippled in their feet, so that they were unable to walk), "withered" (in their hands so that they were unable to work). Third, a word that speaks of their response to the prophetic word "waiting"; waiting for the promised Messiah, and all the time ignorant of the fact that He was there in their midst! Who but the Spirit of God could have drawn so marvelously accurate a picture in such few and short lines!
We must not, however, limit this picture to Israel, for it is equally applicable and pertinent to sinners of the Gentiles too. Israel in the flesh was only a sample of fallen man as such. What we have here is a pointed and solemn delineation of human depravity, described in physical terms; its moral application is to the whole of Adam’s fallen race. Let every reader see here a portrait of what he or she is by nature. The picture is not flattering we know. No; it is drawn by One who searcheth the innermost recesses of the human heart, and is presented here to humble us. The natural man is impotent "without strength" (Romans 5:6 ). This sums up in a single word his condition before God: altogether helpless, unable to do a single thing for himself. Then follows an amplification of this impotency, given in three (the number of full manifestation) descriptive terms. First, he is blind. This explains the lethargic indifference of the great multitude today sporting on the very brink of the Pit, because unable to see the frightful peril that menaces them; making merry as they hasten down the Broad Road, because incompetent to discern the eternal destruction which awaits them at the bottom of it. Yes, blind indeed is the natural man: "The way of the wicked is as darkness: they knew not at what they stumble" (Proverbs 4:19 ).
"Halt": lame, crippled, unable to walk. How inevitably this follows the other! How can one who is spiritually blind walk the Narrow Way that leadeth unto life? "Mine eye affecteth mine heart" (Lamentations 3:51 ), and out of the heart are the issues of life (Proverbs 4:23 ); if then the eye be evil, the body also is full of darkness (Luke 11:34 ). Halt lame a cripple if, then, such an one is ever to come to Christ he must indeed be "drawn" (John 6:44 ).
"Withered" blind eyes, crippled feet, paralyzed hands: unable to see, unable to walk, unable to work. How striking is the order here! Consider them inversely: a man cannot perform good works unless he is walking with God; and he will not begin to walk with God until the eyes of his heart have been opened to see his need of Christ. This is the Divine order, and it never varies. First the eyes must be opened, and then an illumined understanding prepares us to walk worthy of the vocation wherewith we are called; and that, in turn, equips us for acceptable service for God. But so long as the eyes are "blind" the feet will be "halt" and the hands "withered."
"Waiting for the moving of the water." Surely this is not hard to interpret. This pool was the object in which the great multitude placed all their hopes. They were waiting for its waters to be "troubled" so that its curative property might heal them. But they waited in vain. The one invalid who is singled out from the crowd had been there "a long time," and little had it availed him. Is it not thus with the ordinances of the religious world? How many there are "a great multitude" indeed which place their faith in the waters of baptism, or in the ‘mass’ and ‘extreme unction’! And a long time all such will have to wait before the deep need of their souls will be met.
"For an angel went down at a certain season into the pool, and troubled the water: whosoever then first after the troubling of the waters stepped in was made whole of whatsoever disease he had" (John 5:4 ). We return now to the Jewish application of our passage. The waters of this pool reflect the Sinaitic law, which was "given by the disposition of angels"; that law which promised "life" to him who did all that it enjoined. But whoever kept the law? Whoever obtained life by meeting its demands? None of Adam’s fallen race. The law was "weak through the flesh." A perfect man could keep it, but a sinner could not. Why, then, was the law given? That the offense might abound; that sin might be shown to be exceeding sinful; that the sinner might discover his sinfulness. His very efforts to keep the law, and his repeated failures to do so, would but make manifest his utter helplessness. In like manner, when the angel troubled the water of Bethesda so that the first to step into it might be made whole, this only magnified the sufferings of those who lay around it. How could those who were "impotent" step in! Ah! they could not. Was, then, God mocking man in his misery? Nay, verily. He was but preparing the way for that which was "better" (Hebrews 11:40 ). And this is what is brought before us in what follows.
"And a certain man was there, which had an infirmity thirty and eight years" (John 5:5 ). How this serves to confirm our interpretation of the previous verse, and what an illustration it furnishes us again of the deep significance of every word of Scripture. Why should the Holy Spirit have been careful to tell us the exact length of time this particular sufferer had been afflicted? What is the meaning and message of this "thirty and eight years"? Are we left to guess at the answer? No, indeed. Scripture is its own interpreter if we will but take the trouble to patiently and diligently search its pages and compare spiritual things with spiritual (1 Corinthians 2:13 ). Thirty-eight years was exactly the length of time that Israel spent in the wilderness after they came under law at Sinai (see Deuteronomy 2:14 ). There it was, in the Wilderness of Sin, that of old Israel manifested their "impotency" blind, halt, withered under law.
"When Jesus saw him lie, and knew that he had now been a long time in that case, he saith unto him, Wilt thou be made whole?" (John 5:6 ). Here is Light shining in the darkness, but the darkness comprehended it not. The very shining of the Light only served to reveal how great was the darkness. There was a great multitude of sick ones lying around that disappointing pool, and here was the great Physician Himself abroad in the land. Bethesda thickly surrounded, and Christ Himself passing by unheeded! Truly the "darkness comprehended not." And is it any different today? Here is human religion with all its cumbersome machinery and disappointing ordinances waited on, and the grace of God slighted. Go yonder to India with its myriad temples and sacred Ganges; visit Thibet, the land of praying-wheels; turn and consider the devotees of Mohammed and their holy pilgrimages; come nearer home, and look upon the millions of deluded Papists with their vigils and fasts, their beads and holy water; and then turn in to the religious performances in many of the Protestant churches, and see if there are any differences in the underlying principles which actuate them. They one and all fail, utterly fail, to meet the deep need of the soul. One and all they are unable to put away sin. And, yet, sad to say, they one and all supplant the Christ of God He is not wanted; He passes by unnoticed.
Such is fallen human nature. The whole world lieth in the wicked one (1 John 5:19 ), and were it not for sovereign grace every member of Adam’s race would perish eternally. Grace is the sinner’s only hope. Desert he has none. Spirituality he has none. Strength he has none. If salvation is to come to him, it must be by grace, and grace is unmerited favor shown toward the hell-deserving. And just because grace is this, God exercises His sovereign prerogative in bestowing His favors on whom He pleases "For he saith to Moses, I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion" (Romans 9:16 ). And let none murmur against this and suppose that any one is wronged thereby. Men prate about God being unjust, but if justice, real justice, bare justice, be insisted on, hope is entirely cut off for all of us. Justice requires that each should receive his exact due; and what, dear reader, is your due, my due, but judgment! Eternal life is a gift, and if a gift it can neither be earned nor claimed. If salvation is God’s gift, who shall presume to tell Him the ones on whom He ought to bestow it? Was salvation provided for the angels that fell? If God has left them to reap the due reward of their iniquities, why should He be charged with injustice if He abandons to themselves those of mankind who love darkness rather than light? It is not that God refuses salvation to any who truly seek it. Not so; there is a Savior for every sinner who will repent and believe. But if out of the great multitude of the impenitent and unbelieving God determines to exercise His sovereign grace by singling out a few to be the objects of His irresistible power and distinguishing favors, who is wronged thereby? Has not God the right to dispense His charity as seemeth best to Himself (Matthew 20:15 )? Certainly He has.
The sovereignty of God is strikingly illustrated in the passage now before us. There lay a "great multitude" of impotent folk: all were equally needy, all equally powerless to help themselves. And here was the great Physician, God Himself incarnate, infinite in power, with inexhaustible resources at His command. It had been just as easy for Him to have healed the entire company as to make a single individual whole. But He did not. For some reason not revealed to us, He passed by the "great multitude’’ of sufferers and singled out one man and healed him. There is nothing whatever in the narrative to indicate that this "certain man" was any different from the others. We are not told that he turned to the Savior and cried "Have mercy on me." He was just as blind as were the others to the Divine glory of the One who stood before him. Even when asked "Wilt thou be made whole?" he evidenced no faith whatever; and after he had been healed "He wist not who it was" that had healed him. It is impossible to find any ground in the man himself as a reason for Christ singling him out for special favor. The only explanation is the mere sovereign pleasure of Christ Himself. This is proven beyond the shadow of doubt by His own declaration immediately afterwards "For as the Father raiseth up the dead, and quickeneth them; even so the Son quickeneth whom he will" (verse 21).
This miracle of healing was a parable in action. It sets before us a vivid illustration of God’s work of grace in the spiritual realm. Just as the condition of that impotent multitude depicts the depravity of Adam’s fallen race, so Christ singling out this individual and healing him, portrays the sovereign grace of Him who singles out and saves His own elect. Every detail in the incident bears this out.
"When Jesus saw him lie, and knew that he had been now a long time in that case." Note the individuality of this. We are not told that he saw them the "great multitude" but him. The eyes of the Savior were fixed on that one who, out of all the crowd, had been given to Him by the Father before the foundation of the world. Not only are we told that Christ "saw him," but it is added, "and knew that he had been now a long time in that case." Yes, He knew all about him; had known him from all eternity "I am the good shepherd, and know my sheep" (John 10:11 ). And then we read, "And saith unto him." It was not the man who spoke first, but Christ. The Lord always takes the initiative, and invites Himself. And it was thus with you, Christian reader, when sovereign grace sought you out. You, too, were lying amid the "great multitude of impotent folk," for by nature you were a child of wrath, "even as others" (Ephesians 2:3 ). Yes, you were lying in all the abject misery of a fallen creature blind, halt, withered unable to do a thing for yourself. Such was your awful state when the Lord, in sovereign grace, drew near to you. O thank Him now that He did not pass you by, and leave you to the doom you so richly deserved. Praise Him with a loud voice for His distinguishing grace that singled you out to be an object of His sovereign mercy. But we must now consider the force of the Savior’s question here.
"He saith unto him, Wilt thou be made whole?" (John 5:6 ). Does it seem strange that such a question should be put to that sufferer? Would not being made whole be the one thing desired above all others by a man who had suffered for thirty-eight years? Was not the very fact that he was lying there by the pool an indication of what he wished? Why, then, ask him "Wilt thou be made whole?" Ah! the question is not so meaningless as some might suppose. Not always are the wretched willing to be relieved. Invalids sometimes trade on the sympathy and indulgence of their friends. Others sink so low that they become despondent and give up all hope, and long for death to come and relieve them. But there is something much deeper here than this.
Did not the Savior ask the question to impress upon this man the utter helplessness of his condition! Man must be brought to recognize and realize his impotency. Whilever we console ourselves we will do better next time, that is a sure sign we have not come to the end of ourselves. The one who promises himself that he will amend his ways and turn over a new leaf has not learned that he is "without strength." It is not till we discover we are helpless that we shall abandon our miserable efforts to weave a robe of righteousness for ourselves. It is not till we learn we are impotent that we shall look outside of ourselves to Another.
No doubt one reason why Christ selected so many incurable cases on which to show forth His power, was in order to have suitable objects to portray to us the irreparable ruin which sin has wrought and the utter helplessness of man’s natural estate. The Savior, then, was pressing upon the man the need of being made whole. But more: when the Savior said, "Wilt thou be made whole?" it was tantamount to asking, ‘Are you willing to put yourself, just as you are, into My hands? Are you ready for Me to do for you what you are unable to do for yourself? Are you willing to be my debtor?’
"The impotent man answered, Sir, I have no man, when the water is troubled, to put me into the pool: but while I am coming, another steppeth down before me" (John 5:7 ). How sadly true to life. When the great Physician said, "Wilt thou be made whole?" the poor sufferer did not promptly answer, ‘Yea Lord; undertake for me.’ And not thus does the sinner act when first brought face to face with Christ. The impotent man failed to realize that Christ could cure him by a word. He supposed he must get into the pool. There are several lines of thought suggested here, but it is needless to follow them out. The poor man had more faith in means than he had in the Lord. And, too, his eye was fixed on "man," not God: he was looking to human kind for help. Again we would exclaim, How true to life! Moreover, he thought that he had to do something "While I am coming." How this uncovers the heart of the natural man! How pathetic are the closing words of this verse! What a heartless world we live in. Human nature is lull of selfishness. Christ is the only unfailing Friend of the friendless.
"Jesus saith unto him, Rise, take up thy bed, and walk" (John 5:8 ). If the Savior waited until there was in the sinner a due appreciation of His person, none would ever be saved. The sufferer had made no cry for mercy, and when Christ inquired if he were willing to be made whole there was no faith evidenced. But in sovereign grace the Son of God pronounced the life-giving word, yet it was a word that addressed the human responsibility of the subject. A careful analysis of the command of Christ reveals three things. First, there must be implicit confidence in His word. "Rise" was the peremptory command. There must be a hearty recognition of His authority, and immediate response to His orders. "Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved" is something more than a gracious invitation; it is a command (1 John 3:23 ). Second, "Take up thy bed" a cotton pallet, easily rolled up. There was to be no thought of failure, and no provision made for a relapse. How many there are who take a few feeble steps, and then return to their beds! ‘The last state of such is worse than the first. If there is faith in the person of Christ, if there is a submission to His authority, then the new life within will find an outlet without: and we shall no longer be a burden to others, but able to shoulder our own burdens. Third, "And walk." I like that word coming here. It is as though the Savior said, ‘You were unable to walk into the water: you could not walk in order to be cured, but now that you are made whole, "walk!"’ There are duties to be faced of which we have had no previous experience, and we must proceed to discharge them in faith; and in that faith in which He bids us do them will be found the strength needed for their performance.
"And immediately the man was made whole, and took up his bed, and walked: and on the same day was the sabbath" (John 5:9 ). How blessed! The cure was both instantaneous and complete. Christ does not put the believing sinner into a salvable state. He saves, saves us with a perfect and eternal salvation the moment we believe: "I know that, whatsoever God doeth, it shall be forever: nothing can be put to it, nor anything taken from it" (Ecclesiastes 3:14 ). We need hardly say that we are here shown, once more, the Word at work. The Savior did nothing but speak, and the miracle was accomplished. It is thus the Son of God is revealed to us again and again in this fourth Gospel.
"The Jews therefore said unto him that was cured, It is the sabbath day: it is not lawful for thee to carry thy bed" (John 5:10 ). How true to life again! The one who surrenders to his Lord must expect to encounter criticism. The one who regulates his life by the Word of God will be met by the opposition of man. And it is the religious world that will oppose most fiercely. Unless we subscribe to their creed and observe their rules of conduct, persecution and ostracism will be our lot. Unless we are prepared to be brought into bondage by the traditions of the elders we must be ready for their frowns. Christ was not ignorant of the current teaching about the Sabbath, and He knew full well what would be the consequences should this healed man carry his bed on the sabbath day. But he had come here to set His people free from the shackles which religious zealots had forged. Never did He toady to the public opinion in His day; nor should we. There are thousands of His people who need to be reminded of Galatians 5:1 : "Stand fast therefore in the liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free, and be not entangled again with the yoke of bondage." If the child of God is regulated by the Scriptures and knows that he is pleasing his Lord, it matters little or nothing what his fellowmen (or his fellow-Christians either) may think or say about him. Better far to displease them than to be entangled again in the yoke of bondage, and thus "frustrate the grace of God" (Galatians 2:21 ).
"He answered them, He that made me whole, the same said unto me, Take up thy bed, and walk" (John 5:11 ). This sets a fine example for us. How simply he met his critics. He did not enter into an argument about their perverted view of the Sabbath: he did not charge them with want of sympathy for those who were sufferers, though he might have done both. Instead, he hid behind Christ. He fell back upon the Word of God. Well for us when we have a "Thus saith the Lord" to meet our critics.
"Then asked they him, What man is that which said unto thee, Take up thy bed and walk? And he that was healed wist not who it was" (John 5:12 , John 5:13 ). This illustrates the fact that there is much ignorance even in believers. We ought not to expect too much from babes in Christ. This man had been healed, and he had obeyed the command of his Benefactor; but not yet did he perceive His Divine glories. Intelligence concerning the person of Christ follows (and not precedes) an experimental acquaintance with the virtues of His work.
"For Jesus had conveyed himself away, a multitude being in that place" (John 5:13 ). This brings out the moral Perfections of the Savior. It evidences the meekness of the Divine Servant: He ministered without ostentation. He never sought to be the popular idol of the hour, or the center of an admiring crowd. Instead of courting popularity, He shunned it. Instead of advertising Himself, He "received not honor from men." This lovely excellency of Christ appears most conspicuously in Mark’s Gospel: see Mark 1:37 , Mark 1:38 , Mark 1:44 ; Mark 7:17 , Mark 7:36 ; Mark 8:26 , etc.
"Afterward Jesus findeth him in the temple, and said unto him, Behold, thou art made whole: sin no more, lest a worse thing come upon thee" (John 4:14 ). The Lord had withdrawn from the man. Christ had retired in order that he might be tested. New strength had been given him; opportunity was then afforded for him to use it. The restored sufferer did not falter. The One who had saved him was obeyed as Lord. The Jewish critics had not intimidated him. That a work of grace had been wrought in his soul as well as in his body is evidenced by the fact that he had gone to the House of Prayer and Praise. And there, we are told, the Lord Jesus found him. This is most blessed. Christ was not to be met with in the throng, but He was to be found in the temple!
Having dealt in "grace" with the poor helpless sufferer Christ now applied the "truth." "Sin no more" is a word for his conscience. Grace does not ignore the requirements of God’s holiness: "Awake to righteousness, and sin not" (1 Corinthians 15:34 ) is still the standard set before us. "Lest a worse thing come unto thee" reminds us that the believer is still subject to the government of God. "Whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap" (Galatians 6:7 ). is addressed to believers, not unbelievers. If we sin we shall suffer chastisement. Bishop Ryle has pointed out that there is here an important message for those who have been raised from a bed of sickness. "Sin no more": renewed health ought to send us back into the world with a greater hatred of sin, a more thorough watchfulness over our ways, a greater determination to live for God’s glory.
"The man departed, and told the Jews that it was Jesus, that had made him whole" (John 5:15 ). This gives beautiful completeness to the whole incident. Here we see him who had been healed confessing with his lips the One who had saved him. It would seem that as soon as the Lord Jesus had revealed Himself to this newly-born soul, that he had sought out the very ones who had previously interrogated and criticized him, and told them it was Jesus who had made him whole.
Study the following questions on the next lesson, verses 16-31:
1. What is the force of Christ’s answer in verse 17?
2. What is the meaning of Christ’s words in verse 19?
3. How does verse 20 bring out the Deity of Christ?
4. What does verse 23 go to prove about Christ?
5. How does verse 24 establish the eternal security of the believer?
6. Why should the "Son of man" be the Judge? verse 28.
7. Does verse 30 speak of Christ’s humanity or Deity?
Exposition of the Gospel of John
The Deity of Christ: Sevenfold Proof
We present our customary Analysis of the passage which is to be before us. It sets forth the absolute equality of the Son with the Father:
1. In Service, verses 16-18.
2. In Will, verse 19.
3. In Intelligence, verse 20.
4. In Sovereign Rights, verse 21.
5. In Divine Honors, verses 22-23.
6. In Imparting Life, verses 24-26.
7. In Judicial Power and Authority, verses 27-30.
There is an intimate connection between the passage before us and the first fifteen verses of the chapter: the former provides the occasion for the discourse which follows. The chapter naturally divides itself into two parts: in the former we have recorded the sovereign grace and power of the Lord Jesus in healing the impotent man on the Sabbath day, and the criticism and opposition of the Jews; in the latter we have the Lord’s vindication of Himself. The second half of John 5:0 is one of the profoundest passages in this fourth Gospel. It sets forth the Divine glories of the incarnate Son of God. It gives us the Lord’s own teaching concerning His Divine Sonship. It also divides into two parts: in the former is contained the Lord’s sevenfold declaration of His Deity; in the latter, beginning at verse 41, He cites the different witnesses to His Deity. We shall confine ourselves now to the former section. May the Spirit of Truth whose blessed work it is to "glorify" the One who is now absent from these scenes illumine our understandings and enable us to rightly divide this passage of God’s inspired Word.
The miracle of the healing of the impotent man, which engaged our attention in the last chapter, has several outstanding and peculiar features in it. The abject misery and utter helplessness of the sufferer, the sovereign action of the Great Physician in singling him out from the multitude which lay around the Pool of Bethesda, the total absence of any indication of him making any appeal to Christ or exercising any faith in Him previous to his healing, the startling suddenness and spontaneity of the miracle, the Lord’s command that he should "take up his bed" on the Sabbath day, are all so many items that at once arrest the attention. The turning of the healed man’s steps toward the Temple, evidenced that a work of grace had been wrought in his soul as well as in his body. The grace of the Lord is seeking him out in the Temple and the faithful words there addressed to his conscience, give beautiful completeness to the whole scene. All of this but serves to emphasize the enormity of what follows:
As soon as the healed man had learned Who it was that had made him whole, he went and "told the Jews that it was Jesus" (verse 15). What, then, was their response? Did they immediately seek this Blessed One who must be none other than their long-promised Messiah? Did they, like the prophetess Anna, give thanks unto the Lord, and speak "of him to all them that looked for redemption in Jerusalem" (Luke 2:38 )? Alas, it was far otherwise. Instead of being filled with praise, they were full of hatred. Instead of worshipping the Sent One of God, they persecuted Him. Instead of coming to Him that they might have life, they sought to put Him to death. Terrible climax was this to all that had gone before. In chapter one we see "the Jews" ignorant as to the identity of the Lord’s forerunner (John 1:19 ), and blind to the Divine Presence in their midst (John 1:26 ). In chapter two we see "the Jews" demanding a sign from Him who had vindicated the honor of His Father’s House (John 2:18 ). In chapter three we are shown "a ruler of the Jews" dead in trespasses and sins, needing to be born again (John 3:7 ). Next we see "the Jews" quibbling or quarreling with John’s disciples about purifying (John 3:25 ). In chapter four we learn of their callous indifference toward the Gentile neighbors "the Jews have no dealings with the Samaritans" (John 4:9 ). Then, in the beginning of chapter five, we read of "a feast of the Jews," but its hollow mockery is exposed in the scene described immediately afterwards a "feast," and then "a great multitude of impotent folk, of blind, halt, withered? Now the terrible climax is reached when we are told, "And therefore did the Jews persecute Jesus, and sought to slay him, because he had done these things on the sabbath day" (John 5:16 ). Beyond this they could not go, save, when God’s time had come, for the carrying out of their diabolical desires.
"And therefore did the Jews persecute Jesus, and sought to slay him, because he had done these things on the sabbath day" (John 5:16 ). Unspeakably solemn is this, for it makes manifest, in all its hideousness, that carnal mind which is enmity against God. Here was a man who had been afflicted for thirty and eight years. For a long time he had lain helplessly by the pool of Bethesda, unable to step into it. Now, of a sudden, he had risen up in response to the quickening word of the Son of God. Not only so, he carried his bed, and walked. The cure was patent. That a wondrous miracle had been wrought could not be gainsaid. Unable to refute it, the Jews now vented their malice by persecuting the Divine Healer, and seeking to put Him to death. They sought to kill Him because He had healed on the Sabbath day. What a situation! They dared to put themselves against the Lord of the Sabbath. The One who had performed the miracle of healing was none other than the Son of God. In criticising Him, they were murmuring against God Himself. Therefore, we say we have here an out and out exposure of that carnal mind which is enmity against God: that carnal mind which, my reader, is by nature, in each of us. How this reveals the awful depravity of the fallen creature. How it demonstrates our deep need of a Savior! How it makes manifest that wondrous grace of God which provided a Savior for such incorrigible rebels.
"But Jesus answered them, My Father worketh hitherto, and I work" (John 5:17 ). This was not the only occasion when the Lord Jesus was criticised for healing the sick on the Sabbath day, and it is most instructive to observe (as others before us have pointed out) the various replies He made to His opponents as these are recorded by the different Evangelists. Each of them narrates the particular incident (and the Lord’s words in connection with it) that most appropriately accorded with the distinctive design of His Gospel. In Matthew 12:2 , Matthew 12:3 we find that Christ appealed to the example of David and the teaching of the Law, which was well suited for record in this Gospel. In Mark 2:24 , Mark 2:27 we read that He said, "The sabbath was made for man," that is, it was designed to serve man’s best interests this in the Gospel which treats most fully of service. In Luke 13:15 we find the Lord Jesus asking, "Doth not each one of you on the sabbath loose his ox or his ass from the stall, and lead him away to watering?": here, in the Gospel of Christ’s humanity, we find Him appealing to human sympathies. But in John 5:0 Christ takes altogether higher ground and makes answer suited to His Divine glory.
"But Jesus answered them, My Father worketh hitherto, and I work." Here is the first of the seven proofs which Christ now gives of His absolute Deity. Instead of pointing to the example of David or appealing to human sympathies, Christ identifies Himself directly with "the Father." In saying "My Father worketh hitherto and I work" He affirms His absolute equality with the Father. It would be nothing short of blasphemy for a mere creature no matter how exalted his rank or how great his antiquity to couple himself with the Father thus. When He speaks of "My Father... and I" there is no misunderstanding the claim that He made. But let us ponder first the pertinency of this affirmation.
"My Father worketh hitherto." It is true that on the seventh day God rested from all His creative works. As we read in Genesis 2:3 , "And God blessed the seventh day, and sanctified it: because that in it He had rested from all His work which God created and made." That seventh day of rest was not needed by Him to recuperate from the toil of the six days’ labor, for "the everlasting God, the Lord, the Creator of the ends of the earth, fainteth not, neither is weary" (Isaiah 40:28 ). No; but it is otherwise with the creature. Work tires us, and rest is a physical and moral necessity, and woe be to the man or woman who ignores the merciful provision "made for man." If we refuse to rest throughout one day each week, God will compel us to spend at least the equivalent of it upon our backs on a bed of sickness "Be not deceived; God is not mocked." God, at the beginning, set before His creatures a Divine example, and pronounced the Day of Rest a "blessed" one, and blessing has always attended those who have observed and preserved its rest. Contrariwise, a curse has descended, and still descends, on those who rest not one day in seven. God not only blessed the seventh day, but He "hallowed" it and the word "hallow" means to set apart for sacred use.
While it is true that God rested on that first seventh day from all His creative work, He has never rested from His governmental work, His providential work, supplying the needs of His creatures. The sun rises and sets, the tides ebb and flow, the rain falls, the wind blows, the grass grows on the weekly Rest Day as well as on any other. What we may term works of necessity and works of mercy that is upholding and sustaining the whole realm of creation and the daily recurring needs of His creatures God never rests from.
Now says Christ, "My Father worketh hitherto, and I work." All through the centuries has the Father been working. Nor had His working been restricted to the material realm. In illuminating the understandings of men, in convicting their consciences, in moving their wills, had He also "worked hitherto." If, then, it was meet that God the Father worked with unremitting patience and mercy, if the Father ministered to the wants of His needy creatures on the Sabbath day, then by parity of reason it must also be right for God the Son, the Lord of the Sabbath, to engage in works of necessity and mercy on the weekly Rest Day. Thus the Lord Jesus unequivocally claims absolute equality with the Father in service.
"Therefore the Jews sought the more to kill him, because he not only had broken the Sabbath, but said also that God was his Father, making himself equal with God" (John 5:18 ). There was no mistaking the force of Christ’s declaration. By saying "My Father... and I" He had done what, without the greatest impropriety, was impossible to any mere creature. He had done what Abraham, Moses, David, Daniel, never dreamed of doing. He had placed Himself on the same level with the Father. His traducers were quick to recognize that He had "made himself equal with God," and they were right. No other inference could fairly be drawn from His words. And mark it attentively, the Lord Jesus did not charge them with wresting His language and misrepresenting His meaning. He did not protest against their construction of His words. Instead of that He continued to press upon them His Divine claims, stating the truth with regard to His unique personality and presenting the evidence on which His claim rested. And thus did He vindicate Himself not only from the charge of Sabbath-violation in having healed by His Divine word a poor helpless sufferer on that day, but also of blasphemy, in making an assertion in which by obvious implication, was a claim to equality with God.
Christ’s claim to absolute equality with God only fanned the horrid flame of the enmity in those Jewish zealots they "sought the more to kill him." A similar scene is presented to us at the close of John 8:0 . Immediately after being told that the Lord Jesus said "Before Abraham was I am" (another formal avowal of His absolute Deity) we read, "Then took they up stones to cast at him" (verses 58, 59). So again in the tenth chapter we find that as soon as He had declared "I and Father are one" Then the Jews took up stones again to stone him" (verses 30, 31). Thus did the carnal mind of man continue to display its inveterate enmity against God.
"Then answered Jesus and said unto them, Verily, Verily, I say unto you, The Son can do nothing of himself, but what he seeth the Father do: for what things soever he doeth, these also doeth the Son likewise" (John 5:19 ). This is a verse which has been a sore puzzle to many of the commentators, and one used frequently by the enemies of Christ who deny His Deity. Even some of those who have been regarded as the champions of orthodoxy have faltered badly. To them the words "The Son can do nothing of himself" seem to point to a blemish in His person. They affirm a limitation, and when misunderstood appear to call for a half apology. The only solution which seems to have occurred to these men who thus dishonor both the written and the incarnate Word, is that this statement must have reference to the humanity of Christ. But a moment’s reflection should show that such a conclusion is wide of the mark. The second half of this nineteenth verse must be studied and interpreted in the light of the first half.
It is to be noted that the verse opens by saying "Then answered Jesus and said unto them, Verily, Verily, I say unto you, the Son can do nothing of himself, but what he seeth the Father do." What was it that He was replying to? Who was it that He was here "answering"? The previous verse quickly decides. He was replying to those who sought to kill Him; He was answering His enemies who were enraged because He had "made himself equal with God." In what follows, then, we have the Lord’s response to their implied charge of blasphemy. In verse 19 we have the second part of the vindication of His claim that He and the Father were one. Thus it will be seen that the words "The Son can do nothing of himself" respect His Deity and not His humanity, separately considered. Or, more accurately speaking, they concern the Divine glory of the Son of God incarnate.
"The Son can do nothing of himself but what he seeth the Father do." Does this mean that His ability was limited? or that His power was restricted? Do His words signify that when He "made himself of no reputation (R. V. emptied himself) and took upon him the form of a servant" (Philippians 2:7 ) that He was reduced to all the limitations of human nature? To all these questions we return an emphatic and dogmatic No. Instead of pointing to an imperfection, either in His person or power, they, rightly understood, only serve to bring out His peerless excellency. But here as everywhere else, Scripture must be interpreted by Scripture, and once we heed this rule, difficulties disappear like the mists before the sun.
It will be seen that in verse 30 we have a strictly parallel statement, and by noting what is added there the one in verse 19 is more easily understood. "The Son can do nothing of himself" of verse 19 is repeated in the "I can do nothing of myself" in verse 30, and then in the closing words of verse 30 we find that the Lord explains His meaning by giving as a reason "Because I seek not mine own will, but the will of the Father which hath sent me." The limitation is not because of any defect in His person (brought about by the incarnation) nor because of any limitation in His power (voluntary or imposed); it was solely a matter of will. "The Son can do nothing of himself," literally, "nothing out of himself," that is, "nothing" as proceeding from or originating with Himself. In other words, the force of what He said was this: ‘I cannot act independently of the Father.’ But was that a limitation which amounted to a defect? Indeed no; the very reverse. Do the words "God that cannot lie" (Titus 1:2 ) and "God cannot be tempted with evil" (James 1:13 ) point to a blemish in the Divine nature or character? Nay, verily, they affirm Divine perfections. It was so here in the words of Christ.
But may it not be that Christ is here speaking in view of His mediatorial position, as the servant of the Father? We do not think so, and that for three reasons. In the first place, John’s Gospel is not the one which emphasizes His servant-character; that is unfolded in Mark’s. In this Gospel it is His Deity, His Divine glory, which is prominent throughout. Therefore, some explanation for this verse must be found consonant with that fact. In the second place, our Lord was not here defending His mediatorship, His Divinely-appointed works; instead, He was replying to those who deemed Him guilty of blasphemy, because He had made Himself equal with God. Our third reason will be developed below.
"The Son can do nothing of himself." This we have attempted to show means, "the Son cannot act independently of the Father." And why could He not? Because in will He was absolutely one with the Father. If He were God the Son then His will must be in perfect unison with that of God the Father, otherwise, there would be two absolute but conflicting wills, which means that there would be two Gods, the one opposing the other; which in plainer language still, would be affirming that there were two Supreme Beings which is, of course, a flat contradiction of terms. It was just because the Lord Jesus was the Son of God, that His will was in fullest harmony with the will of the Father. Man can will independently of God, alienated from Him as he is. Even the angels which kept not their first estate, yea, one above them in rank, the "anointed cherub" himself could, and did say, "I will" (see Isaiah 14:13 and 14, five times repeated). But the Son of God could not, for He was not only very Man of very man but also very God of very God.
It was this in the God-man which distinguished Him from all other men. He never acted independently of the Father. He was always in perfect subjection to the Father’s will. There was no will in Him which had to be broken. From start to finish He was in most manifest agreement with the One who sent Him. His first recorded utterance struck the keynote to His earthly life "Wist ye not that I must be about my Father’s business?’’ In the temptation when assailed by the Devil, He steadfastly refused to act independently of God. "My meat is to do the will of him that sent me" ever characterized’ His lovely service. And, as He nears the end, we have the same blessed excellency displayed, as we behold Him on His face in the Garden, covered with bloody sweat, as He confronts the thrice awful Cup, yet does He say, "Not my will, but thine be done."
"The Son can do nothing of himself, but what he seeth the Father do." The word for "seeth" (blepo) signifies to contemplate, to perceive, to know. It is used in Romans 7:23 ; Romans 11:8 ; 1 Corinthians 13:12 ; Hebrews 10:25 , etc. When, then, the Son exerts His Divine power, it is always in the conscious knowledge that it is the will of the Father it should be so exerted.
"The Son can do nothing of himself, but what he seeth the Father do: for what things soever he doeth, these also doeth the Son likewise." Here is an assertion which none but a Divine person (in the most absolute sense of the term) could truthfully make. Because the Son can do nothing but what the Father does, so, on the other hand, "What things soever the Father doeth, these also doeth the Son likewise." Note well this word "likewise." Not only does He do what the Father does, but He does it as He does it, that is, in a manner comporting with the absolute perfections of their common Divine nature. But what is ever more striking is the all-inclusive "whatsoever." Not only does He perform His works with the same Divine power and excellency as the Father does His, but the Son also does all "whatsoever he (the Father) doeth." This is proof positive that He is speaking here not in His mediatorial capacity, as the servant, but in His essential character as one absolutely equal with God.
We cannot refrain from quoting here part of the most excellent comments of the late Dr. John Brown on this verse: "All is of the Father all is by the Son. Did the Father create the universe? So did the Son. Does the Father uphold the universe? So does the Son. Does the Father govern the universe? So does the Son. Is the Father the Savior of the world? So is the Son. Surely the Jews did not err when they concluded that our Lord.made Himself ‘equal with God.’ Surely He who is so intimately connected with God that He does what God does, does all God does, does all in the same manner in which God does it; surely such a person cannot but be equal with God." To this we would add but one word: Scripture also reveals that in the future, too, the will of the Father and of the Son will act in perfect unison, for, in the last chapter of the Bible we read that the throne of Deity on the new earth will be "the throne of God and of the lamb" (Revelation 22:1 ). But before passing on to the next verse let us pause for a brief moment to make application to ourselves. "The Son can do nothing of himself." How this rebukes the selfwill in all of us! Who is there among the saints who can truthfully say, I can do nothing at my own instance; my life is entirely at God’s disposal?
"For the Father loveth the Son, and showeth him all things that himself doeth: and he will show him greater works than these, that ye may marvel" (John 5:20 ). Here again the carnal mind is puzzled. If Christ be the Son of God why does He need to be "shown." When we "show" a child something it is because it is ignorant. When we "show" the traveler the right road, it is because he does not know it. Refuge is sought again in the mediatorship of Christ. But this destroys the beauty of the verse and mars the unity of the passage. What seems to point to an imperfection or limitation in Christ’s knowledge only brings out once more His matchless excellency.
"For the Father loveth the Son and showeth him all things that himself doeth." The opening word "For" intimates there is a close connection between this and the verse immediately preceding, as well as with the whole context. It intimates that our Lord is still submitting the proof that He was "equal with God." The argument of this verse in a word is this: The Father has no secrets from the Son. Because He is the Son of God, the Father loveth Him; that is to say, because they are in common possession of the same infinite perfections, there is an ineffable affection of the Father to the Son, and this love is manifested by the Father "showing the Son all things." There is no restraint and no constraint between them: there is the most perfect intimacy because of their co-equality. Let me try to reduce this profound truth to a simple level. If an entire stranger were to visit your home, there are many things you would not think of "showing" him the family portrait-album for example. But with an intimate friend or a loved relative there would be no such reluctance. The illustration falls far short we know, but perhaps it may help some to grasp better the line of thought we are seeking to present.
But not only do the words "the Father loveth the Son" make manifest the perfect intimacy there is between them, but the additional words "showeth him all things that himself doeth" evidences another of the Divine glories of Christ, namely, the absolute equality of intelligence that there is between the Father and the Son. Let us again bring the thought down to a human level. What would be the use of discussing with an illiterate person the mathematics of the fourth dimension? What’s the value of taking a child in the first grade and "showing" him the solution of a problem in algebra? Who, then, is capable of understanding all the ways and workings of God? No mere creature. Fallen man is incapable of knowing God. The believer learns but gradually and slowly, and only then as he is taught by the Holy Spirit. Even the unfallen angels know God’s mind but in part there are things they desire "to look into" (1 Peter 1:12 ). To whom then could God show the full counsel of His mind? And again we answer, To no mere creature, for the creature however high in rank has no capacity to grasp it. The finite cannot comprehend the infinite. Is it not self-evident, then, that if the Father showeth the Son "all things that himself doeth" He must be of the same mind as the Father? that they are one, absolutely equal in intelligence! Christ has the capacity to apprehend and comprehend "all things that the Father doeth," therefore, He must be "equal with God," for none but God could measure the Father’s mind perfectly.
"The idea seems to be this, that the love of the Father, and of the Son, their perfect complacency in each other, is manifest in the perfect knowledge which the Son has of the period at which, the purpose for which, and the manner in which, the Divine power equally possessed by them is to be put forth. It is in consequence of this knowledge, as if our Lord had said ‘That in this case (the healing of the impotent man) I have exercised Divine power while My Father was exercising it’
"And He adds, ‘Still further still more extraordinary manifestations of this community of knowledge, will, and operation of the Father, and of the Son, will be made.’ ‘He will show him greater works than these, that ye may marvel,’ or ‘that ye shall marvel’; that is, we apprehend, ‘the Son, in consequence of His perfect knowledge of the mind, and will, and operations of His Divine Father, will yet make still more remarkable displays of that Divine power which is equally His Father’s and His own’ such displays as will fill with amazement all who witness them. What these displays were to be, appears from what follows: He had healed the impotent man, but He was soon to raise to life some who had been dead; nay, at a future period He was to raise to life all the dead and act as the Governor and Judge of all mankind" (Dr. John Brown).
"For as the Father raiseth up the dead, and quickeneth them; even so the Son quickeneth whom he will" (John 5:21 ). This verse presents the fourth proof of Christ’s Deity. Here He affirms His absolute equality with the Father in sovereign rights. This affords further evidence that the Lord Jesus was not here speaking as the dependent Servant, but as the Son of God. He lays claim to Divine sovereignty. The healing of the impotent man was an object lesson: it not only demonstrated His power, but it illustrated His absolute sovereignty. He had not healed the entire company of impotent folk who lay around the Pool; instead, He had singled out just one, and had made him whole. So He works and so He acts in the spiritual realm. He does not quicken (spiritually) all men, but those "whom He will." He does not quicken the worthy, for there are none. He does not quicken those who seek quickening, for being dead in sin, none begin to seek until they are quickened. The Son quickeneth whom He will: He says so, that ends the matter. It is not to be reasoned about, but believed. To quicken is to impart life, and to impart life is a Divine prerogative. How this confirms our interpretation of the previous verses! It is the Divine rights of Christ which are here affirmed.
"For as the Father raiseth up the dead, and quickeneth them; even so the Son quickeneth whom he will." The verse opens with the word "for," showing it is advancing a reason or furnishing a proof in connection with what had been said previously. In our judgment it looks back first to verse 19 and gives an illustration of "what things soever he (the Father) doeth, these also doeth the Son likewise" the Father quickens, so does the Son. But there is also a direct connection with the verse immediately preceding. There he had referred to "greater works" than healing the impotent man. Here, then, is a specimen quickening the dead: making alive spiritually those who are dead in sins. This is a further demonstration of His absolute equality with the Father.
"For the Father judgeth no man, but hath committed all judgment unto the Son: That all men should honor the Son, even as they honor the Father. He that honoureth not the Son honoureth not the Father which hath sent him" (John 5:22 , John 5:23 ). This declaration that the Father judgeth no man better "no one" is especially noteworthy. The Father is the One whom we might most naturally expect to be the Judge. He is the first who was wronged. It is His rights (though not His exclusively) which have been denied. His governmental claims have been set at naught. He was the One who sent here the Lord Jesus who has been despised and rejected. But instead of the Father being the Judge, He hath "committed all judgment unto the Son," and the reason for this is "that all should honor the Son, even as they honor the Father." There is then, or more correctly, there will be, absolute equality between the Father and the Son in Divine honors.
"Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that heareth my word, and believeth on him that sent me, hath everlasting life, and shall not come into condemnation; but is passed from death unto life" (John 5:24 ). Once more we find the Lord, as in verse 17, linking Himself in closest union with the Father: "heareth my Word, and believeth him that sent me." But as we have already dwelt at such length on the dominant thought running all through our passage, we turn now to consider other subordinate though most blessed truths. This verse has been a great favorite with the Lord’s people. It has been used of God to bring peace and assurance to many a troubled soul. It speaks of eternal life as a present possession "hath everlasting life," not shall have when we die, or when the resurrection morning comes. Two things are here mentioned which are evidences and results of having everlasting life, though they are usually regarded as two conditions. The hearing ear and the believing heart are the consequences of having eternal life and not the qualifications for obtaining it. Then it is added, "and shall not come into condemnation’’: this guarantees the future "There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus" (Romans 8:1 ). No condemnation for the believer because it fell upon his Substitute. Another reason why the believer shall not come into condemnation is because he has "passed from death," which is the realm of condemnation, "into life."
"Verily, verily, I say unto you, The hour is coming, and now is, when the dead shall hear the voice of the Son of God: and they that hear shall live" (John 5:25 ). This continues the same thought as in the previous verse, though adding further details. ‘The dead shall hear:" what a paradox to the carnal mind! Yet all becomes luminous when we remember that it is the voice of the Son of God they hear. His voice alone can penetrate into the place of death, and because His voice is a life-giving voice, the dead hear it and live. The capacity to hear accompanies the power of the Voice that speaks, and it is just because that Voice is a life-giving one that the dead hear it at all, and heating, live. Here then is the sixth proof presented for the Deity of Christ: the Son claims absolute equality with the Father in the power to give life.
"For as the Father has life in himself; so hath he given to the Son to have life in himself" (John 5:26 ). This confirms what we have just said above, while bringing in one further amplification. The Father hath "life in himself." "It belongs to His nature; He has received it from no one; it is an essential attribute of His necessarily existing nature: He so has life that He can impart, withdraw, and restore it to whomsoever He pleases. He is the fountain of all life. All in heaven and in earth who have life, have received it from Him. They have not life in themselves" (Dr. John Brown). Now in like manner the life of Christ is not a derived life. "In him was life" (John 1:4 ). He is able to communicate life to others because the Father hath "given to the Son to have life in himself." The word "given" must be understood figuratively and not literally, in the sense of appointed, not imparted: see its usage in Isaiah 42:6 ; Isaiah 49:8 ; Isaiah 55:4 . So also the word "given him to have," signifies to hold or administer. Thus, inasmuch as all creatures live and move and have their being in God, but in contrast from them Christ has "life in himself," He cannot be a mere creature but must be "equal with God."
"And hath given him authority to execute judgment also, because he is the Son of man. Marvel not at this: for the hour is coming, in the which all that are in the graves shall hear his voice, And shall come forth; they that have done good, unto the resurrection of life; and they that have done evil, unto the resurrection of damnation" (John 5:27-43.5.29 ). This brings us to the seventh proof for the absolute Deity of Christ: He is co-equal with the Father in judicial authority and power.
"And hath given him authority to execute judgment also, because he is the Son of man." The "also" seems to point back to verse 22, where we are told, "The Father judgeth no man, but hath committed all judgment unto the Son." Judgment has been committed to the Son in order that all should honor Him even as they honor the Father. But here in verse 27 Christ gives an additional reason: the Father has also appointed the Lord Jesus to execute judgment "because he is the Son of man." It was because the Son of God had become clothed with flesh and walked this earth as Man, that He was despised and rejected and His Divine glories disowned. This supplies a further reason why it is meet that the Son of man should be Judge in the last great day. The despised One shall be in the place of supreme honor and authority. All will be compelled to bow the knee before Him; and thus will He be glorified before them and His outraged rights vindicated.
Next follows a reference to the resurrection of all that are in the graves. These are divided into two classes. First, they that have clone good unto the resurrection of life. This refers to the resurrection of the saints. They that have "done good" is a characteristic description of them. It has reference to their walk which manifests the new nature within them. In the previous verses (24, 25) we have had life, eternal life, imparted to the spiritually dead by the sovereign power of the Son of God. This is His own life which is communicated to them. The Christ-life within is seen by Christ-like acts without. This is forcibly and beautifully brought out in the language which the Lord Jesus here uses when referring to His people. Just as in Acts 10:38 the apostle sums up the earthly life of Christ by saying He "went about doing good," so here the Lord Jesus speaks of His own as "they that have done good," that is, have manifested His own life. These will come forth at the time of His appearing (1 Corinthians 15:23 ; 1 Thessalonians 4:16 ); come forth "unto a resurrection of life" for then they shall enter fully and perfectly into the unhindered activities and joys of that life which is life indeed.
"And they that have done evil" describes the great company of the unsaved. These, too, shall "come forth." All the ungodly dead will hear His voice, and obey it. They refused to hearken to Him while He spoke words of grace and truth, but then they shall be compelled to hear Him as He utters the dread summons for them to appear before the great white throne. They would not believe on Him as the Savior of sinners, but they will have to own Him as "Lord of the dead" (Romans 14:9 ). Unspeakably solemn is this. Not a vestige of hope is held out for them. It is not a resurrection of probation as some modern perverters of God’s truth are now teaching, but it is the resurrection "unto damnation." Nothing awaits them but impartial judgment, the formal and public pronouncement of their sentence of doom, and after that nothing but an eternity of torment spent in the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone. As they had sinned in physical bodies so shall they suffer in physical bodies. Instead of having glorified bodies, they shall be raised in bodies marred by sin and made hideous by evil "shame and everlasting contempt" (Daniel 12:2 ) describes them. Though capable of enduring "tribulation and anguish" (Romans 2:9 ) they shall not be annihilated by the flames (any more than were the physical bodies of the three Hebrews in Babylon’s fiery furnace) but continue forever "salted with fire" (Mark 9:49 ): the "salt" speaks of a preservative element which prevents decay.
"I can of mine own self do nothing: as I hear, I judge: and my judgment is just; because I seek not mine own will, but the will of the Father which hath sent me" (John 5:30 ). The first part of the verse need not detain us, for it has already received consideration under our exposition of verse 19. The second half of the verse adds a further word concerning the judgment. "My judgment is just:" this is profoundly solemn. Christ will deal not in grace, but in inflexible righteousness. He will administer justice, not mercy. This, once more, excludes every ray of hope for all who are raised "unto damnation."
Two additional thoughts in connection with the Deity of Christ come out in these last verses. First, the fact that "all that are in the graves shall hear" the voice of Christ and shall "come forth," proves that He is far more than the most exalted creature. Who but God is able to regather all the scattered elements which have gone to corruption! Second, who but God is capable of acting as Judge in the Great Assize! None but He can read the heart, and none but He possesses the necessary wisdom for such a stupendous task as determining the sentence due to each one of that vast assemblage which will stand before the great white throne. Thus we see that from start to finish this wonderful passage sets forth the Godhood of the Savior. Let us then honor Him even as we honor the Father, and prostrate ourselves before Him in adoring worship.
Let the interested reader study carefully the following questions preparatory to our next lesson on John 5:31-43.5.47 :
1. How many witnesses are there here to the Deity of Christ?
2. What is the meaning of verse 31?
3. What is the significance of the first half of verse 34, after Christ had already referred to "John"?
4. What warning is there in the second half of verse 35?
5. What is the force of "ye think" in verse 39?
6. Who is referred to in the second half of verse 43?
7. What is the moral connection between receiving honor of men and not believing in Christ? verse 44.
Exposition of the Gospel of John
The Deity of Christ: Threefold Witness to it
We begin with our usual Analysis of the passage which is to be before us:
1. Christ’s Witness not independent of the Father: verses 31, 32.
2. The Witness of John: verses 33, 34.
3. Christ’s Witness to John: verse 35.
4. The Witness of Christ’s Works: verse 36.
5. The Witness of the Father: verses 37, 38.
6. The Witness of the Scriptures: verse 39.
7. Christ’s Witness against the Jews: verses 40-47.
As we pass from chapter to chapter it is ever needful to keep in mind the character and scope of this fourth Gospel. Its chief design is to present the Divine glories of Christ. It was written, no doubt, in its first and local application to refute the heresies concerning the person of the Lord Jesus which flourished toward the end of the first century. Less than fifty years after the Lord departed from these scenes and returned to His Father in heaven, the horrible system of Gnosticism, which denied the essential Deity of the Savior, was spread widely throughout those lands where the Gospel had been preached. Whilst it was generally allowed that Christ was a unique personage, yet, that He was "equal with God" was denied by many. Nor is that very surprising when we stop to think how much there was which would prove a stumbling block to the natural man.
Outwardly, to human eyes, Christ appeared to be an ordinary man. Born into a peasant family; cradled amid the most humble surroundings; carried away into Egypt to escape the cruel edict of Herod, and returning later, only to grow to manhood’s estate in obscurity; working for years, most probably, at the carpenter’s bench what was there to denote that He was the Lord of Glory? Then, as He began His public ministry, appearing not as the great of this world are accustomed to appear, with much pomp and ostentation; but, instead, as the meek and lowly One. Attended not by an imposing retinue of angels, but by a few poor and unlettered fishermen. His claims rejected by the religious leaders of that day; the tide of popular opinion turning against Him; the very ones who first hailed Him with their glad Hosannas, ending by crying, "Away with him: crucify him." Finally, nailed in shame to the cruel tree; silent to the challenge to descend from it; and there breathing out His spirit that, that was the last the world saw of Him.
And now by the year A. D. 90 almost all of His original disciples would be dead. Of the twelve apostles who had accompanied Him during His public ministry, only John remained. On every side were teachers denying the Deity of Christ. There was thus a real need for an inspired, authoritative, systematic presentation of the manifold glories of His divine person. The Holy Spirit therefore moved John the one who of all the early disciples knew Christ best, the one whose spiritual discernment was the keenest, the one who had enjoyed the inestimable privilege of leaning on the Master’s bosom to write this fourth Gospel. In it abundant evidence is furnished to satisfy the most credulous of the Deity of the Lord Jesus. It is to the written Word God now refers all who desire to know the truth concerning His beloved Son, and in it are presented the "many infallible proofs" for the Godhood of our blessed Redeemer. Chiefest of these are to be found in John’s Gospel.
In the chapter we are now studying we find record of a remarkable miracle performed by the Lord Jesus which signally displayed His Divine power. He had singled out a most hopeless ease and by a word had made whole, instantly, one that had suffered with an infirmity for thirty and eight years. Because this miracle had been performed on the Sabbath day, the Jews persecuted the Lord Jesus. In gracious condescension the Lord replied to their criticism by giving them a sevenfold declaration of His equality with the Father. This we examined at some length in maintaining it, so immeasurable is the blessing when received, so tremendous is the stake involved in its loss, God has vouchsafed us the amplest, clearest, fullest evidence.
"If I bear witness of myself, my witness is not true" (John 5:31 ). Every commentator we have consulted expounds this verse as follows: The witness which I have just borne to Myself would not be valid unless it is supported by that of others. The law of God requires two or three witnesses for the truth to be established. Therefore if I bear witness of Myself, says Christ, and there is none to confirm it, it is "not true," i.e., it is not convincing to others. But we most humbly dissent from any such interpretation. The word of a mere man does need confirmation: but not so that of God the Son. To affirm or suggest that His witness must be ratified by the testimony of others so as to establish its validity, is deeply dishonoring to Him. And we are both amazed and saddened that such a view should be put forth by many excellent men.
"If I bear witness of myself, my witness is not true." The key to this verse lies in what has gone before. Divorce it from its context, and we must expect to find it difficult; but examine it in our last chapter; now, in the passage before us, we find that He closed by bringing in the evidence of various unimpeachable witnesses who testified to the veracity of His claims. In view, then, of what is to be found here, there can be no excuse whatever for ignorance, still less for unbelief, upon this all-important subject. So bright was Christ’s glory, so concerned was the Father in the light of its setting, and all becomes clear. This verse simply reiterates in another form what we find the Savior saying at the beginning of the previous verse, can of mine own self do nothing" means, I cannot act independently of the Father: I am so absolutely one with Him that His will is My will; mine, His. So, now, He declares, "If I bear witness of myself, my witness is not true." He speaks hypothetically "if." "I bear witness of myself" means, If I bear witness independently of the Father. In such a case, "my witness is not true." And why? Because such would be insubordination. The Son can no more bear witness of Himself independently of the Father, than He can of Himself work independently of the Father.
"There is another that beareth witness of me; and I know that the witness which he witnesseth of me is true" (John 5:32 ). This explains the previous verse and confirms our interpretation of it. The "other" who is here referred to as "bearing witness" of Him, is not John the Baptist, as some have strangely supposed, but the Father Himself. Reference, not appeal, is made to John in verses 33, 34. Observe now that our Lord did not here say, "There is One that beareth witness of me" and His witness is true, but "there is another that beareth witness of me." He would no more dissever the Father and His witness from Himself, than He would bear witness to Himself independently of the Father. This is strikingly confirmed by what we read in John 8:0 : "The Pharisees therefore said unto him, Thou bearest record of thyself; thy record is not true. Jesus answered and said unto them, Though I bear record of myself, yet my record is true... Ye judge after the flesh; I judge no man. And yet if I judge, my judgment is true: for I am not alone, but I and the Father that sent me" (verses 13-16).
"Ye sent unto John, and he bare witness unto the truth" (John 5:33 ). Here our Lord reminds "the Jews" (verse 16) how, when they had sent an embassy unto His forerunner (see John 1:19 ), that he "bear witness unto the truth." Notice the abstract form in which this is put. Christ did not say, "He bear witness unto me," but "unto the truth." This witness is recorded in John 1:20-43.1.27 . First, John confessed that he was not the Christ, but simply "the voice of one crying in the wilderness, Make straight the way of the Lord." Then, he testified to the presence of One in their midst whom they knew not, One of whom he said, "He it is, who coming after me, is preferred before me, whose shoes latchet I am not worthy to unloose." Such was the Baptist’s witness to the delegates of these same Jews.
"But I receive not testimony from man: but these things I say, that ye might be saved" (John 5:34 ). The Son of God continues to occupy the same high ground from which He had spoken throughout this interview. "I receive not testimony from man" shows that He had not appealed to the witness of John in confirmation of His own declarations. His purpose was quite otherwise: "These things I say, that ye might be saved." The witness which John had borne to "the truth" was fitted to have a salutary effect on those who heard him. John’s testimony was a merciful concession which God had made to the need of Israel. Christ Himself did not stand in need of it; but they did. God sent His messenger before His Son to prepare the way for Him. His ministry was designed to arouse men’s attention and to produce in them a sense of their deep need of the One who was about to be manifested.
"But I receive not testimony from man." This word "receive" is explained to us in verse 44 where it is interchanged with "seek." It means to lay hold of, or grasp at. Christ would not bemean Himself by subpoening human witnesses. His claim to be equal with God rested on surer ground than the testimony of a man. But He had reminded these Jews of what John had said to their representatives on an earlier occasion, and this that they "might be saved," for salvation comes by believing God’s "witness unto the truth."
"He was a burning and a shining light: and ye were willing for a season to rejoice in his light" (John 5:35 ). This was most gracious of Christ. John had given faithful witness to the One who was to come after him; and now the Son of God bears witness to him. A beautiful illustration is this of the promise that if we confess Christ before men, so He will yet confess us before God. "A burning and shining light" more correctly, "lamp," see R.V. the Lord calls him. Burning inwardly, shining outwardly. John’s light had not been hid under a bushel, but it had shone "before men." Ah! dear reader, will the Savior be able to say of you, in a coming day, "He was a burning and shining lamp"? Is the light that is within thee "burning" or is it just flickering? Is your lamp "trimmed," and so "shining," or is it shedding but a feeble and sickly glow? Great is the need for burning and shining "lamps" in the world today. The shadows are fast lengthening, the darkness increases, and the "midnight" hour draws on apace. "And that, knowing the time, that now it is high time to awake out of sleep: for now is our salvation nearer than when we believed. The night is far spent, the day is at hand: let us therefore cast off the works of darkness, and let us put on the armor of light" (Romans 13:11 , Romans 13:12 ).
"And ye were willing for a season to rejoice in his light" (John 5:35 ). This provides us with an illustration of the stony-ground hearers of the parable of the Sower. Concerning this class Christ says, "But he that received the seed into stony places, the same is he that heareth the word, and anon with joy receiveth it; Yet hath he not root in himself, but dureth for a while" (Matthew 13:20 , Matthew 13:21 ). Such were these Jews: "for a season" they rejoiced in John’s light. But the difference between real believers and mere professors is not in how they begin but how they end. "He that endureth to the end shall be saved": enduring to the end is not a condition of salvation, but an evidence of it. So, again, when Christ says, "If ye continue in my word, then are ye my disciples indeed:" continuing in Christ’s word is a proof that we are His disciples. We take it that which caused these Jews to "rejoice’’ for a season in John’s light, was the testimony which he bore to the Messiah, then about to appear. This was good news indeed, for to them this meant deliverance from the Roman yoke and the destruction of all their enemies. But when the Messiah was actually manifested He instead announced that He had come to save the lost, and when He demanded repentance and faith, their joy soon faded away.
"But I have greater witness than that of John: for the works which the Father hath given me to finish, the same works that I do, bear witness of me, that the Father hath sent me" (John 5:36 ). Here is the first witness to which Christ appeals in proof of His Deity. His "works" bore unmistakable witness to Him. He gave hearing to the deaf, speech to the dumb, sight to the blind, cleansing to the leper, deliverance to the captives of the Devil, life to the dead. He walked the waves, stilled the wind, calmed the sea, He turned water into wine, cleansed the Temple single-handed, and fed a great multitude with a few loaves and fishes. And these miracles were performed by His own inherent power. To these works He now directs attention as furnishing proof of His Deity. Quite frequently did He appeal to His "works" as affording Divine testimony: see John 10:25 , John 10:38 ; John 14:11 ; John 15:24 .
The late Bishop Ryle called attention to five things in connection with our Lord’s miracles. "First, their number: they were not a few only, but very many. Second, their greatness: they were not little, but mighty interferences with the ordinary course of nature. Third, their publicity: they were not done in a comer, but generally in open day, and before many witnesses, and often before enemies. Fourth, their character: they were almost always works of love, mercy and compassion, helpful and beneficient to man, and not merely barren exhibitions of power. Fifth, their direct appeal to man’s senses: they were visible, and would bear any examination. The difference between them and the boasted miracles of Rome, on all these points, is striking and conclusive." To these we might add two other features: Sixth, their artlessness. They were not staged mechanically: they happened in the natural course of our Lord’s ministry. There was nothing pre-arranged about them. Seventh, their efficacy. There was as much difference between the miracles of healing performed by Christ and those of His miserable imitators which are being so widely heralded in our day, as there is between His teaching and that given out by these pretenders who claim to heal in His name. Christ’s cures were instantaneous, not gradual; complete and perfect, not faulty and disappointing.
"The same works that I do, bear witness of me." Ere passing on to the next verse, we pause to apply these words to ourselves. Our works, too, bear witness of us. If ours are "dead works," wood, hay, and stubble which shall be burned up in the coming Day, that proves we are carnal, walking after the flesh; and such a witness will dishonor and grieve Him whose name we bear. But if we abound in "good works," this will show that we are walking after the spirit, and men (our fellow-believers) seeing our good works will glorify our Father which is in heaven. What, then, my reader, is the "witness" which your "works" are bearing? What the writer’s? Let us "be careful to maintain good works? (Titus 3:8 ).
"And the Father himself, which hath sent me, hath borne witness of me. Ye have neither heard his voice at any time, nor seen his shape" (John 5:37 ). The miracles performed by our Lord were not the only nor the most direct evidence which proved His Deity. The Father Himself had borne witness. The majority of the commentators refer this to the baptism of Christ, when the Father’s voice declared, "This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased." But we scarcely think this is correct. Immediately following, our Lord went on to say, "Ye have neither heard his voice at any time, nor seen his shape." What, then, would be the force of Christ here appealing to the Father’s witness at the Jordan if these detractors of His had not heard that Voice? Personally, we think that Christ refers, rather, to the witness which the Father had borne to His Son through the prophets during Old Testament times. This seems to give more meaning to what follows the Old Testament economy was characterized by an invisible God, neither His voice being heard, nor His shape seen.
"And ye have not his word abiding in you: for whom he hath sent, him ye believe not" (John 5:38 ). Here our Lord begins to make solemn application of what He had said to the consciences and hearts of these Jews. Note the awful charges which He brings against them: "ye have not his word abiding in you" (verse 38); "Ye will not come to me" (verse 40); "ye have not the love of God in you" (verse 42); "ye receive me not" (verse 43); "ye seek not the honor that cometh from God only" (verse 44); "ye believe not" (verse 47). But notice carefully the basic charge: "ye have not his word abiding in you." This explained all the others. This was the cause of which the others were but the inevitable effects. If God’s Word has no place in man’s hearts they will not come to Christ, they will not receive Him, they will not love God, and they will not seek the honor that cometh from God only. It is only as the Word is hidden in our hearts that we are preserved from sinning against God.
"Search the scriptures; for in them ye think ye have eternal life: and they are they which testify of me" (John 5:39 ). This is the last witness which our Lord cites, and, for us, it is the most important. John has long since passed away; the "words" of Christ are no longer before men’s eyes; the voice of the Father is no more heard; but the testimony of the Scriptures abides. The Scriptures testified of Christ, and affirmed His Deity. Their witness was the climax. The Holy Writings, given by inspiration of God, were the final court of appeal. What importance and authority does He attach to them! Beyond them there was no appeal: above them no higher authority: after them no further witness. It is blessed to note the order in which Christ placed the three witnesses to which He appealed in proof of His equality with God. First, there was the witness of His own Divine works. Second, there was the witness which the Father had borne to Him through the prophets. Third, there was the testimony of the Holy Scriptures, written by men moved by the Holy Spirit. Thus in these three witnesses there is a remarkable reference made to each of the three Persons in the Holy Trinity.
"Search the Scriptures" was both an appeal and a command. It is to be read, as in our A.V., in the imperative mood. The proof for this is as follows: First, the usage of the word. The Bible is its own interpreter. If scripture be compared with scripture its meaning will be plain. In John 7:52 we find the only other occurrence of the Greek word (ereunao) in John’s Gospel, here translated "search"; "They answered and said unto him, Art thou also of Galilee? Search, and look: for out of Galilee ariseth no prophet." When the Pharisees said to Nicodemus "Search and look," they were bidding him search the Scriptures. Thus, in both instances, the word has the imperative and not the indicative force. Again; to give the verb here the indicative force in John 5:39 is to make the first half of the verse pointless; but to render it in the imperative gives it a meaning in full accord with what precedes and what follows. "For in them ye think ye have eternal life." The pronoun "ye" is emphatic. The word "think" does not imply it was a doubtful point, or merely a matter of human opinion. It is rather as though Christ said unto them, ‘This is one of the articles of your faith: ye think (are persuaded), and rightly so; then act on it. Search the Scriptures (in which you are assured there is eternal life) and you will find that they, too, testify of Me.’ The word "think" does not imply a doubt, but affirms an assurance. (Cf. Matthew 22:42 , etc.).
"Search the Scriptures." Here is a command from the Lord. The authority of His Godhood is behind it. "Search," He says; not merely "read." The Greek word is one that was used in connection with hunting. It referred to the hunter stalking game. When he discovered the tracks of an animal, he concentrated all his attention on the ground before him, diligently searching for other marks which would lead him to his quarry. In a similar way, we are to study God’s Word, minutely examining each expression, tracing every occurrence of it, and ascertaining its meaning from its usage. The grand motive for such earnest study is, that the Scriptures "testify" of Christ. May writer and reader give daily heed to this Divine admonition, to "Search" the Scriptures.
"And ye will not come to me, that ye might have life" (John 5:40 ). It was not lack of evidence but perversity of will which kept these Jews from coming to Christ. And it is so still. The Lord Jesus stands ready to receive all who come to Him; but by nature men are unwilling, unwilling to come to Him that they "might have life." But why is this? It is because they fail to realize their awful peril: did they but know that they are standing on the brink of the Pit, they would flee from the wrath to come. Why is it? It is because they have no sense of their deep and desperate need: did they but apprehend their awful condition their wickedness, their blindness, their hardheartedness, their depravity they would hasten to the great Physician to be healed by Him. Why is it? It is because the carnal mind is enmity against God, and Christ is God.
"I receive not honor from men" (John 5:41 ). Here again the Lord maintains His dignity and insists upon His Divine self-sufficiency. I "receive not" signifies, as in verses 34 and 44, "I seek not" honor from men. "When I state My claims, and complain that you disregard them, it is not because I wish to ingratiate Myself with you; not because I covet your approbation or that of any man, or set of men. He did not need their sanction: He could receive no honor from their applause. His object was to secure the approbation of His Divine Father, by faithfully executing the commission with which He was entrusted; and so far as they were concerned, His desire was not that He should be applauded by them, but that they should be saved by Him. If He regretted, and He did most deeply regret their obstinate unbelief and impenitence, it was for their own sakes, and not for His own. Such was the unearthly, unambitious spirit of our Lord, and such should be the spirit of all His ministers" (Dr. John Brown).
"But I know you, that ye have not the love of God in you" (John 5:42 ). How this makes manifest the omniscience of Christ! He who searcheth the heart knew the state of these Jews. They posed as worshippers of the true and living God. They appeared to be very jealous of His honor. They claimed to be most punctilious in the observance of His Sabbath. But Christ was not deceived. He knew they had not the love of God in them, and this was why they refused to come to Him for life, It is so now. The reason why men despise the claims of Christ is not because of any want of evidence on the side of those claims, but because of a sinful indisposition on their part to attend to those claims. They have not the love of God in them; if they had, they would receive and worship His Son.
"I am come in my Father’s name, and ye receive me not: if another shall come in his own name, him ye will receive" (John 5:43 ). Unspeakably solemn is this. Israel’s rejection of Christ has only prepared the way for them to accept the Antichrist, for it is to him our Lord referred in the second part of this verse. Just as Eve’s rejection of the truth of God laid her open to accept the Devil’s lie, so Israel’s rejection of the true Messiah has thoroughly prepared them, morally, to receive the false Messiah; who will come in his own name, doing his own pleasure, and seeking glory from men. Thus will he thoroughly expose the corrupt heart of the natural man. How this exhibits what is in the fallen creature and demonstrates his depravity!
"How can ye believe, which receive honor one of another, and seek not the honor that cometh from God only" (John 5:44 ). "Honor" signifies approbation or praise. While these Jews were making it their chief aim to win the good opinion of each other, and remained more or less indifferent to the approval and approbation of God, they would not come to Christ for life. To come to Christ they must humble themselves in the dust, by taking the place of lost sinners before Him. And to receive Him as their Lord and Savior, to live henceforth for the glory of that One who was despised and rejected of men, would at once separate them from the world, and would bring down upon them contempt and persecution. But there is no middle ground: "the friendship of the world is enmity with God." If we are determined to be honored and smiled upon by our fellowmen, we shall remain alienated from God.
"Men are deceived today by the thought of building up man, the improvement of the race, the forming of character, holding on to themselves as though all that man needed was change of direction. Man is himself evil, a sinner by nature, utterly alienated from the life of God. He needs life, a new one. For what else did Christ come but that He might give it? He is not to be received with honors such as men pay to high officials, for they are like the men who pay the honor, but He is from above and above all, and has eternal life to give. He needs emptiness for His fulness, sinfulness for His holiness, sinners for His salvation, death for His life; and he who can make out his case of being lost and helpless gets all. It is not that men should do their best by leaving off vices and reforming, and pay devout respect to the name of Jesus and to religious rites, adding this to their goodness for God’s acceptance. It is that they should be as the poor man in the beginning of this chapter, indebted to Christ for everything: they must be receivers instead of givers. Receiving honor from one another vitiates the whole idea in regard to God and His Christ. We honor Him only when we are saved by Him; then, as saved, worshipping and rejoicing in Christ Jesus the Lord" (Mal. Taylor).
"Do not think that I will accuse you to the Father: there is one that accuseth you, even Moses, in whom ye trust. For had ye believed Moses, ye would have believed me: for he wrote of me" (John 5:45 , John 5:46 ). Our Lord concludes by intimating to these Jews that they would yet have to give an account of their rejection of Him before the tribunal of God, and there they would see as their accuser the great legislator of whom they boasted, but whose testimony they rejected. Here, then, was the final reason why they would not come to Him for life they believed not the written Word of God.
"There is one that accuseth you, even Moses, in whom ye trust. For had ye believed Moses, ye would have believed me: for he wrote of me." How solemn and searching is this! If there is one thing those Jews thought they believed, it was Moses and his writings. They contended earnestly for the law: they venerated the name of Moses above almost all of their national heroes. They would have been ready to die for what Moses taught. And yet here is the Son of God solemnly declaring that these Jews did not believe Moses, and furnishing proof by showing that if they had really believed Moses’ writings they had believed in Christ, of whom Moses wrote. How terribly deceptive is the human heart! "There is a way that seemeth right unto a man, but the end thereof are the ways of death" (Proverbs 14:12 ). O, dear reader, make certain that you believe, really, savingly believe on the Son of God.
"But if ye believe not his writings, how shall ye believe my words?" (John 5:47 ). How this exposes the "Higher Critics!" If they believe not the writings of Moses, no matter what their ecclesiastical connections or religious professions, it is sure proof that they are unsaved men men who have not believed in Christ. The Old Testament Scriptures are of equal authority with the teaching of Christ: they are equally the Word of God.
Let the following questions be studied for the next lesson:
1. What do the opening words of verse 1 denote?
2. In what respects is verse 2 repeated today?
3. What is the significance of verse 4 coming just before the feeding of the multitude?
4. How may we apply to ourselves Christ’s questions in verse 5?
5. Wherein do Philip and Andrew represent us? verses 7-9.
6. What are the spiritual lessons suggested by verse 11?
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Pink, A.W. "Commentary on John 5". "Pink's Commentary on John and Hebrews". https://www.studylight.org/
Second Sunday after Epiphany