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Tuesday, May 21st, 2024
the Week of Proper 2 / Ordinary 7
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Bible Commentaries
John 5

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Like practically all of John, this chapter is a narrative of proof that Jesus is equal to God. Here, the proof is that of the healing of a long-time cripple at the pool of Bethesda on a sabbath day; following which, Jesus gave an organized testimony of his oneness with God and of his being the Messiah. Discounting his own witness to that effect, for the moment only, he appealed to the witness of the Father himself, the witness of his mighty works, and the testimony of the sacred Scriptures. This sign is the third in the great series of seven.

Verse 1


After these things there was a feast of the Jews; and Jesus went up to Jerusalem.

So much depends upon the meaning of "a feast of the Jews" in this verse that controversy has raged over it for centuries, the importance of it lying in this, that if the Passover is meant, then the ministry of Christ would be calculated at about three and one-half years; but if some lesser feast was meant then his ministry could be calculated as much shorter.

The feast of the Jews … is the reading of many ancient manuscripts (English Revised Version, margin), which, if allowed, would make this almost certainly the Passover. Without further attention to the extensive arguments of scholars on this, we shall construe it as a reference to the Passover, primarily because this would favor the longer ministry of Christ, and because it was the only feast of the Jews having sufficient importance to have demanded the presence of Jesus so soon after he had left Judaea. It is considered no great difficulty that John would have called so important a feast "a feast," since, writing so long afterward, he might quite accurately have so described it. The most convincing argument to this writer is by Trench:

If this feast of the Jews was a Passover, then St. John will make mention of four Passovers, namely, this one, and in John 2:13; John 6:4, and the last. Thus, we shall arrive at the three and one half years, the half of a "week of years" for the length of Christ’s ministry, which many, not altogether unreasonably, have thought they found designated beforehand for it in the prophecies (Daniel 9:27).(F1)

There are many things in the New Testament which cannot be determined except in the light of the Old Testament, as in the case of the piercing of Jesus’ feet. Certainly, light from the Old Testament on the question before us is more dependable than fallible human opinion.

Verse 2

Now there is in Jerusalem by the sheep gate a pool which is called in Hebrew Bethesda, having five porches.

There is … The present tense in this has led to the supposition that John was written before the destruction of Jerusalem; but it may be explained (1) by the pool’s still being there after the ruin of the city, or (2) by the apostle’s vivid memory of it leading to his use of the present tense, speaking of it as what he was actually seeing in retrospect.

By the sheep gate … The word "gate" is not in the text and was supplied by the translators. The gate was near the temple and was the portal through which the animals were brought to the sacrifices.

Having five porches … These were colonnaded areas, partially open, under which people could take refuge from rain or strong sunlight. They were ornamental, making this a highly decorated and popular pool; but, for all its reputation, it had not cured the cripple. Hunter tells us that "In 1931-1932, excavators laid bare 100 yards north of the temple what is almost certainly the long lost pool of Bethesda."(F2) Hunter’s thoughts on why this healing at Bethesda was made one of John’s seven signs are interesting:

Possibly because it involved his favorite symbol of water. The water of the pool, though it seemed to offer healing (newness of life), had yet failed to cure a man crippled for thirty-eight years. In the light of the Prologue and the preceding chapters (the water and wine of Cana, the new water which Jesus offered the woman of Samaria), we are perhaps meant to think of "the law given through Moses" and its failure to give life. Over against it, in this miracle, stands the life-giving word of Christ.(F3)

Of John’s seven signs, the third and the sixth occurred at the pools of Bethesda and Siloam; the first was changing water into wine; and the fifth was walking on the water. In addition, John’s "born of water" and "living water" of chapters three and four, make it clear that the apostle did remarkably stress "water" in his Gospel. There is also the "blood and water" of the crucifixion (John 19:34).

Verse 3

In these lay a multitude of them that were sick, blind, halt, and withered.

In these … that is, in the five porches of the pool. This pool was a popular health resort similar to such places all over the world, from Hot Springs, Arkansas, and Mineral Wells, Texas, to Bath in Somerset, England, where the father of King Lear was reputed to have been healed of leprosy.(F4)

Verse 4

Waiting for the moving of the water: for an angel of the Lord went down at certain seasons into the pool, and troubled the water: whosoever then first after the troubling of the water entered in was made whole, with whatsoever disease he was holden.

Upon what would appear to be sufficient critical grounds, these words have been removed from the English Revised Version (1885); but it is well that they have been retained in the margin, because they explain the common conviction regarding the pool which resulted in its popularity. It would be no great thing to stumble at if indeed it was part of John’s Gospel. Whatever healing ever occurred there would thus have been attributed to the power of an angel of the Lord, and what would be so unreasonable about that? The healing qualities of the waters at Hot Springs, for example; are they any less of God and his angels, merely because our chemists have analyzed them? Is there not here a tracing back to their true source phenomena which men are so ready to ascribe to secondary sources? Is not all healing of God; and do not the Scriptures teach that God’s angels are servants sent forth to do service for them that shall be the heirs of salvation? (Hebrews 1:14).

The spurious nature of the words here cited, however, is not to be denied. They were probably added by some scribe at a very early date to explain what was meant by the cripple’s having no one to help him get into the water at the propitious moment. If there had been any virtue in the waters of the pool, it seems highly incredible that they should have been efficacious only at indeterminate intervals, only for such a short while, and, even then, only for the person who got into them first. The cripple of this narrative had surely found them without any value to himself.

Verse 5

And a certain man was there, who had been thirty and eight years in his infirmity.

The text does not say that he had been at the pool so long, but that his disease was of such lengthy duration. The Lord’s attribution of his condition to the man’s sin suggests that he had acquired the malady in his youth.

Verse 6

When Jesus saw him lying, and knew that he had been a long time in that case, he saith unto him, Wouldest thou be made whole?

The omniscience of Jesus is again evident. The Lord did not need to inquire concerning the man’s condition, its cause, or its duration, but knew all that inherently.

Wouldest thou be made whole …? This was an offer of the Lord to heal the man, but the form of the question implied that the desire to be made whole was prerequisite to his healing. There was a recognition here of the fact, known to every physician, that certain persons, long invalid, finding it more satisfactory to rely totally upon the services of others than to assume any burden themselves, do not really desire to get well. What is true physically is likewise true spiritually, i.e., that the will to be made whole sometimes subsides or disappears from the heart of the sinner. Regarding this, Howard noted that:

His real difficulty lies precisely here (and so it is with us). We hear his promises, and our hearts run out to claim them; and we believe that we mean what we say. Yet this has happened time on time, and with some of us far longer than thirty-eight years, and this is all that has come of it. And why? Because we really do not want what we say we want and think that we want. "Men often mistake their imagination for their heart; and they believe they are converted as soon as they think of being converted."(F5)

Verse 7

The sick man answered him, 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.

The sick man was not offended by the Lord’s question, and his reply bears the interpretation that it was not want of will but want of ability that had frustrated him until that time.

Verse 8

Jesus saith unto him, Arise, take up they bed and walk.

The bed was likely a type of portable pallet, much like a camp bed, or the bedroll that cowboys carried on their saddles; but even so mild a burden could not have been lifted and carried by an invalid. This sign, like all the others, was accomplished by fiat; there was no "mumbo jumbo," waving of the arms, or shoutings and incantations. Jesus commanded, and it was done.

Verse 9

And straightway the man was made whole, and took up his bed and walked.

Every soul has the power to do what Jesus commands, granted only that there is the will to obey him. The man was made whole at a word from Jesus; and the man’s response was prompt and obedient. What if he had said, "Look, Lord, I do feel a lot better; and, later on, if I still feel this way, I’ll try to do what you said"? Who can doubt that such a response would have forfeited his blessing?

Verse 10

Now it was the sabbath on that day. So the Jews said unto him that was cured, It is the sabbath, and it is not lawful for thee to take up thy bed.

Christ had chosen deliberately to do such a deed on the sabbath as a platform from which to call attention to his authority and power, and also for the purpose of exposing the ridiculous extensions and additions to God’s sabbath regulations which had been so mercilessly bound upon the people by their priests. Regarding the question if Jesus did or did not break the sabbath, it must be answered unequivocally that he did not break it. There are three legitimate grounds upon which all alleged guilt of Jesus in breaking the sabbath is totally removed. Thus: (1) It was well known among the Jews that a prophet might, for cause, set aside the sabbath; as the Prophet like unto Moses, Jesus had every right to do so; (2) as God incarnate, Christ had total authority, even referring to himself once as "Lord of the sabbath" (Matthew 12:8); and (3) the Lord’s actions often referred to as breaking the sabbath, such as this man’s carrying his bed, constituted no violation whatever of God’s true law regarding sabbath observance, but only violated the hair-splitting interpretations of it so dear to the Pharisees.

Strong disagreement is registered here with that school of expositors who make the Lord’s actions, here or anywhere else a violation of God’s sabbath laws. See a full discussion of this in my Commentary on Matthew, Matthew 12. As Barnes said:

The Jews extended the obligation of the sabbath beyond what was intended … observed it superstitiously, and Jesus took every opportunity to convince them of their error … This method he took to show them what the law of God really permitted on that day, and that works of necessity and mercy were lawful.(F6)

Also, Hendriksen, quoting Jeremiah 17:19-27 and Nehemiah 13:15, usually cited by those who would make this cripple’s carrying his pallet a violation of the sabbath, noted that:

In these passages, the reference is clearly to that type of burden-bearing which was connected with the performance of ordinary labor for gain, with trading and marketing. By forbidding a cured man to pick up his mat, as if that were comparable to a burden that he was carrying to the market-place in order to sell it at a profit, they were making a caricature of the law of God.(F7)

The divine law also permitted the securing of one’s property as Barnes noted in the above reference; and the carrying of his bed was necessary to that. If he had walked off and left it, it would have deprived him of it; and the Master’s blessing would have been partially nullified. But, as Jesus noted on another occasion, the healing and rescue of a beast which had fallen into a ditch was freely allowed by those hypocrites as legitimate on the sabbath day; but the Christ of glory they accused of breaking the sabbath by healing a man, born in the image of God, on the sabbath day! Their error was great indeed, but it is no greater than that of modern commentators who denominate the Lord a sabbath-breaker, basing their allegation on the testimony of those hypocrites who first accused him of it! Not a jot or a tittle of the law did Jesus ever break.

The Jews … who accused Jesus here were the Sanhedrinists, the ruling hierarchy of priests, including the Pharisees and the Sadducees, as well as all the leading persons of that class in the city. The words should not be read racially, for that is not the way John used them.

Verse 11

But he answered them, He that made me whole, the same said unto me, Take up, thy bed and walk.

There is a sharp distinction between the question of the priests who spoke only of the man’s taking up his bed, but saying nothing of his being healed, and this answer of the healed man which confronted them dramatically with the wonder itself, namely, that he, a cripple for thirty-eight years, had been endowed with the power to do such a thing. With that clear understanding which belongs to all unsophisticated persons, the former cripple had already made the deduction that one with the authority to heal him surely had the power also to command him to take up his bed and walk. What a shame that the priests were so self-blinded that they could not see so plain a thing as that.

Verse 12

They asked him, Who is the man that said unto thee, Take up thy bed and walk?

An astounding wonder had occurred in the presence of a multitude; but those priests were not concerned with it. One of their petty little hair-splitting regulations had been violated, and that was all they cared about. Therefore, they ignored the healing and inquired only of him who had commanded to take up and walk. How nearly incredible it seems that such obduracy should have been in them that were the rulers of Israel.

Verse 13

But he that was healed knew not who it was; for Jesus had conveyed himself away, a multitude being in the place.

We may not suppose that the cured man merely walked away without inquiring of the one who had healed him, for the initiative in their being separated is here attributed to Jesus. Due to the great throng, it was easy for Jesus just to disappear in the crowd. The man picked up his roll, looked around, but Jesus was nowhere to be seen.

Verse 14

Afterward Jesus findeth him in the temple, and saith unto him, Behold, thou art made whole; sin no more, lest a worse thing befall thee.

This explains the reason for Jesus’ disappearance. He wanted a private interview with that man, sparing him the humiliation of having his sinful life exposed before all, a thing that would have been far less effective in the former cripple’s case than what happened privately in the temple. Perhaps the man had gone there to praise God for his healing, but this is not stated.

Sin no more … This shows that sin was connected with the infirmity which had so long debilitated the cripple. There is indeed a connection between sin and suffering. In fact all human sorrows and sufferings, even death itself, head up at last in the fountainhead of the sin of Adam. This is far from teaching that all sickness or suffering is specifically related to the sin of the sufferer. Jesus himself stressed (John 9:3) that the blindness of the man he healed was not related to either his or his parents’ sins. Nevertheless, an incredible amount of the world’s woe is merely the sins af men returned at last upon their own heads. Trench expressed it thus:

As some eagle pierced with a shaft leathered from its own wing, so many a sufferer, even in this present time, sees and is compelled to acknowledge that his own sin fledged the arrow, which has pierced him and brought him down.(F8)

Lest a worse thing befall thee … What could be worse than being an invalid for thirty-eight years? The fate of unbelievers is worse. Also, there is a temporal application as well; because there is no condition of human wretchedness so bad that further sin might not aggravate and increase it.

Verse 15

The man went away and told the Jews that it was Jesus who had made him whole.

What is to be made of this? Can it be that a man so blessed of the Lord would deliberately have identified him to his bitterest enemies with any view of helping them in their persecution of the Saviour? Against such a view is the fact that he spoke of Jesus’ making him "whole," a word the Pharisees did not wish to hear. He might have hoped to encourage a better attitude of the priests toward Jesus; but whatever his purpose was in this identification, the immediate result was an intensification of the efforts against Jesus.

Verse 16

And for this cause the Jew’s persecuted Jesus, because he did these things on the sabbath.

Those zealots who had made the word of God of none effect by their tradition were adamant in their refusal to allow the slightest possibility of any error on their own part. Their foolish and unscriptural sabbath regulations were so dear to them that they would crucify the Christ of glory rather than yield on the tiniest iota of their conceited interpretations. Note: John did not say here that Jesus broke the sabbath but that he "did these things," a far different thing from breaking the sabbath.

Verse 17

But Jesus answered them, My Father worketh even until now, and I work.

My Father … Jesus here, as usually, affirmed the unique relationship between himself and God. He taught the disciples to pray "Our Father," but many times used "My Father" in his own reference to God. Jesus’ argument here is that such an interpretation as the priests insisted upon would make God himself a sabbath-breaker! Does God not heal on the sabbath? Is not the maintenance of the universe a work of God going on every second of time, sabbath days and all? These are the implications of Jesus’ words, "My Father worketh hitherto." Also, it should be noted that Jesus here, by the use of the first person possessive, "My Father," and by his statement that he also works (on the sabbath day) claimed equality with God, a claim made more dogmatically later on in the interview, but clearly visible here also.

And I work … By this, Jesus affirmed that he was doing exactly what God was doing. The Father had never ceased to work in the support and maintenance of all things, and therefore the Lord was in full character with the Father when he healed a man on the sabbath day. Furthermore, no sabbath regulation of any divine sanction had ever forbidden such an act.

Verse 18

For this cause therefore the Jews sought the more to kill him, because he not only broke the sabbath, but also called God his own Father, making himself equal to God.

He not only broke the sabbath … is the allegation of the priests, not the statement of the apostle John. See under preceding verse.

Making himself equal to God … How strange it is that some can read the New Testament and then deny that Jesus claimed to be God. Even his enemies knew full well the implication of his words. Also, it was exactly upon this claim, which they construed as blasphemy, that they based their demands of Pilate that he be crucified (John 19:7). These two verses (John 5:17-18) are among the most important in Scripture, especially as they relate to the heresy of Arius (died 336 A.D.) and Sabellius (circa 230 A.D.), the former teaching that Christ was a created being, and the latter affirming that God, the Holy Spirit, and Christ are identical, and that Jesus was not God come in the flesh. As Trench wrote:

Other passages may contain as important witness against Arian, other against the Sabellian, departure from the truth; but this upon both sides plants the pillars of the faith.(F9)

This open break between Jesus and the ruling hierarchy was sharp and irrevocable; and, fittingly, Jesus spoke upon this occasion at some length to his enemies in a vain effort to persuade them of the truth of his words and of his claim to be the Messiah. The rest of this chapter is taken up with this overwhelming testimony of the Lord Jesus concerning himself.

Verse 19

Jesus therefore answered and said unto them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, The Son can do nothing of himself, but what he seeth the Father doing: for whatsoever things he doeth, these the Son also doeth in like manner.

In the words of Hovey, the action of Jesus here was:

To convince his foes, if they will suffer themselves to be convinced that his action has been in harmony with the will of God. In doing this, he is not called upon to emphasize his personal distinction from the Father (that was admitted by his accusers), or to insist directly on his equality with the Father (for to do that would be to confirm their impression that he was a blasphemer), but rather, without denying either of these, to convince them, if possible, of his absolute unity with the Father in action.(F10)

All the actions of Jesus were in complete harmony with God’s will; neither is the Son of God capable of doing anything contrary to it.

The Son can do nothing of himself … This stresses the obvious truth that no mere man could have healed the cripple, demanding the deduction that Jesus displayed the power of God in doing so great a wonder.

But what he seeth the Father doing … The divine insight of Jesus Christ is evident in this. He was not an observer, merely, of mortal deeds alone; but he beheld supernaturally all the works of God.

These the Son also doeth in like manner … Jesus’ actions were in full harmony with God’s actions, not only regarding their quality, but with reference to the manner of their being done. Jesus’ words here are nearly the equivalent to the deduction of Nicodemus, "No man can do the signs which thou doest except God be with him" (John 3:2).

Verse 20

For the Father loveth the Son, and showeth him all things that himself doeth; and greater works than these will he show him, that ye may marvel.

The Father loveth the Son … This fact should have been known to the priests, for God had so declared it vocally at Jesus’ baptism.

And showeth him all things that himself doeth … It would be difficult to imagine a more powerful claim to deity than this. As Barnes wrote:

From apostles, prophets, and philosophers, no small part of the doings of God are concealed. From the Son, nothing is hid. And, as God shows him all that is done, he must be possessed of omniscience, for to no finite mind could be imparted a knowledge of all the works of God.(F11)

Greater works … By this, Jesus meant that the Pharisees had by no means seen the exhaustion of his mighty powers. In the very next verse, he indicated that he would even raise the dead.

Verse 21

For as the Father raiseth the dead and giveth them life, even so the Son also giveth life to whom he will.

By this bold word Jesus sought to compel his foes to make a deduction which they should already have made, namely, that a being with the power to do what Jesus had just done possessed also the power to raise the dead. These words of Christ were fulfilled in the raising of Lazarus; and, in context: these words amount to a promise that Jesus would indeed raise the dead before the very eyes of his enemies. These words also have a spiritual application that Jesus stressed a little later (John 5:25).

Verse 22

For neither doth the Father judge any man, but he hath given all judgment unto the Son.

This is not a contradiction of John 1:17 f; for, in that place, the thing refuted by Christ was the false expectation that the Messiah would execute a military and political judgment against the Gentiles; and, with reference to that kind of judgment, Jesus came not to judge but to save. The judgment in view here is the eternal judgment, which God has made the exclusive province of the Son of God, all judgment having been placed in his hands. Here Christ plainly told his enemies that they were in the presence of the Judge who would judge them in the last day.

Verse 23

That all may honor the Son, even as they honor the Father.

No stronger statement of the deity of Christ appears in Scripture. How is God honored? By the soul’s purest adoration and worship. That is the way Christ should be honored. These words are equivalent to Jesus’ saying, "I am God and am entitled to all the honor belonging to the Father?"

Verse 24

Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that heareth my word, and believeth him that sent me, hath eternal life, and cometh not into judgment, but hath passed out of death into life.

Heareth my word and believeth him that sent me … Hearing and believing Christ’s word are equivalent to believing God who sent him. Believing Jesus is believing God! Thus, here is another skillful advocacy of his deity.

Hath eternal life … This focuses upon the true mission of our Lord’s coming into the world, to bring men eternal life. The Pharisees, had they been the type of persons who are interested in such a blessing, might have been convinced by such a promise; but they were too busy with their earthly concerns to pay any attention to the great hope held out in these words. Eternal life is here spoken of as a present possession of the recipient; but that present possession must be understood as a title deed in the form of God’s own promise of a state of bliss following the resurrection of the dead. Such an inheritance, though in a sense only prospective, creates such a profound change in the life of the possessor, coloring his entire life, transforming even sorrows and hardships, and providing the motivation of a higher life-style — so vast a change, in fact, that, in the sense intended here, the believer truly HAS eternal life.

Cometh not into judgment … This is the secret of how eternal life is made available to human beings. The great corollary underlying the promise of eternal life is that so great a blessing is inseparable from absolute perfection and holiness. It is inconceivable that God would perpetuate throughout eternity anything imperfect or unholy; and this clause furnishes the clue to the manner in which absolute perfection and holiness can become actual qualifies of them that are destined to eternal life. If people should come into judgment in their own names, standing in their righteousness alone, pleading their own identity and worthiness, none shall be able to stand. Every person who ever lived will fail in such a judgment as that — hence the profound promise of Jesus here that the saved "cometh not into judgment!"

How can this be? Will not God judge of all men? Yes, of course; but those who believe and are baptized into Christ, and continue to be united with him, being found at last "in him" those persons shall not come into judgment in their own identity at all, but AS CHRIST! No one shall ever be saved upon the basis of his own personal merit or righteousness; but in Christ, and as Christ, all who are truly united with the Lord shall be saved, the grounds of their justification and redemption being nothing less than the perfect faith and obedience of the Son of God himself. See full discussion of this in my Commentary on Romans, pp. 108-111.

But hath passed out of death into life … Not having perfect identity with Christ, in Christ, and as Christ is a state of death; because, apart from Christ, the entire race of men is in a state of utmost condemnation. On the other hand, eternal life is in Christ. Thus, the soul that receives Jesus Christ as Lord passes out of death into life.

Verse 25

Verily, verily, The hour cometh, and now is, when the dead shall hear the voice of the Son of God; and they that hear shall live.

The three verses, of which this is the center, are among the most instructive in the whole word of God. There can be nothing less than the first resurrection, as the contrast of it with the final resurrection in the next verse proves. This is a spiritual rekindling of life, and that a physical resurrection from the grave. Significantly, the Lord announced that the spiritual resurrection was then in progress, that the Son of God is the author of it, that his word is the means of it, and that as his word was received or rejected men would or would not have a part in it. What a terrible warning to those foes who at that very moment were rejecting his word, not allowing even for a moment his true interpretation of God’s sabbath law, but plotting to maintain their own ridiculous interpretations. Further, by rejecting Jesus’ word in such a subordinate area as the sabbath regulations, the priests were light years away from receiving the profound teachings recorded in this paragraph. They would remain in a state of spiritual death, and the voice of the Lord of life would sound in vain upon the stopped ears of that evil company. Jesus saw all that; and the thought must have come to him: "Very well, my voice calling men to spiritual resurrection you will not hear; but I shall speak again on another occasion (that of the final judgment), and then you will hear!" In fact, such is the thought expressed later (John 5:28).

Verse 26

For as the Father hath life in himself, even so gave he to the Son also to have life in himself.

The Pharisees had already decided to kill Jesus (John 5:18) and were diligently seeking some means of carrying out their plans; and, in that context, these words carry the weight of John 10:17-18, where Jesus plainly said they would not be able to murder him, but that he would lay down his own life and take it up again. Jesus affirmed here that the Son is co-equal with God in the possession of life in himself.

Verse 27

And he gave him authority to execute judgment, because he is a Son of man.

Authority … is the great word with reference to Christ. None of the apostles failed to be impressed with it. Matthew summarized it in Jesus own words as "all authority in heaven and upon earth" (Matthew 28:18).

Because he is a Son of man … God would not judge the intelligent creation whom he fashioned in his own image, until first he himself had become a man in the person of the Son, in order that his judgment would therefore be more merciful, righteous, and just.

Verses 28-29

Marvel not at this: for the hour cometh, in which all that are in the tombs 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 judgment.

In John 5:21, earlier, Jesus had claimed power to raise the dead; but his statement there fell a little short of declaring emphatically that he would indeed do so (although it was clearly implied). These words, however, dogmatically declare that Christ will raise all of the dead on earth, that the dead of all the ages will respond to his voice, and that Christ will judge them and assign the eternal destiny for both the good and the evil.

In John 5:20, Jesus had said "that ye may marvel," in his words with the priests; but that was not a reference to the final judgment in view here, being rather a prophecy of the raising of Lazarus.

Come forth … These are the words addressed to Lazarus (John 11:43) and show that Jesus had fully decided this early in his ministry to perform just such a wonder, in order to confront the unbelieving hierarchy in Jerusalem with a sign so absolutely beyond the power of any man that their unbelief of it would be utterly inexcusable. The sign when it came should not have been understood as an isolated wonder; because any power that could raise a man dead and buried four days can only be identified with God. Jesus made certain that even his enemies would have every opportunity to understand such an awesome sign in its proper relevance to his own eternal power and Godhead.

The priestly community in Jerusalem ignored and belittled the healing of a man crippled for thirty-eight years; and, if Christ’s miracles had terminated there, infidelity might have contrived some plausible basis of unbelief. Therefore Christ hurled a challenge in the face of his enemies by promising to raise the dead to life again; but even that, when it occurred, did not convince them, for their error was not a matter of intelligence or reason, but the error of a wicked heart.

Resurrection of judgment … For discussion of the eternal judgment and the final punishment of the wicked, see my Commentary on Matthew, Matthew 12:41-42; Matthew 25:29-41. In the teachings of Christ, one great assize is always in view. There will be a simultaneous judgment of all creation at a time already appointed, when absolute justice tempered with mercy for those in Christ shall be executed upon all. That Jesus referred to such a judgment here is implicit in the mention of the general resurrection that shall accompany it, as well as in the statement of the diverse destinies of the good and the bad. Such a concept is inherent in two indisputable facts of the spiritual world: (1) the eternal righteousness of God, and (2) the immortality of the soul. Given those two basic conceptions, and the necessity of judgment, reward, and punishment is demanded. Mortal life alone cannot provide adequate rewards for the righteous, nor deserved punishment for the wicked. Even such a thing as sanity on man’s part must depend finally upon the assurance that God is righteous and that he will do what is right for every soul ever born on earth, and that even so small a thing as a cup of cold water given in the name of Jesus shall not lose its reward — and that means judgment.

These verses contain a tremendous witness of himself, spoken by Jesus in such a way as to demand their acceptance by men; but the Master saw that the Sanhedrinists and their followers were adamant in their rejection of all that he was declaring, despite the signs he did. Such a rejection Jesus met by a change of tactic, and thus he at once marshaled other witnesses upon his own behalf.

Verse 30

I can of myself do nothing: as I hear, I judge: and my judgment is righteous; because I seek not mine own will, but the will of him that sent me. If I bear witness of myself, my witness is not true.

Here Jesus changed his approach to the closed minds of the priests, still trying to induce them to believe.

I can of myself do nothing … These words have a double application: (1) I see that nothing I can say will have any weight with you, and (2) my signs should be interpreted by you as revealing that myself alone, apart from God, could never have done such a thing as cure the invalid.

My judgment is righteous … is the equivalent of "My witness of myself is absolutely true, because I am doing the will of God who sent me."

If I bear witness of myself, my witness is not true … This means, "But you are rejecting my witness of myself because I am the one witnessing." It is as if Jesus had said, "Oh yes, I read what you are thinking, namely, that if I bear witness of myself, my witness is not true." Thus this verse is a line of the conversation which the Pharisees did not utter, but which Jesus read out of their hearts. Without for a moment yielding any of the authority of his own witness, the Lord immediately marshaled other witnesses. It is as if he said, "Well, all right, since you reject my witness because I gave it, we shall call other witnesses. The first to be called was God himself. See under John 8:13.

Verse 32

It is another that beareth witness of me; and I know that the witness he witnesseth of me is true.

God was here referred to as "another witness," thus revealing a personal distinction between Jesus Christ and God. Equal to God, Jesus is; the same person as God, Jesus is not.

Verse 33

Ye have sent unto John, and he hath borne witness unto the truth.

This has led some to suppose that the witness in the preceding verse is John the Baptist and not the Father; but the very next words of Christ reveal that this reference to John is parenthetical, introduced for possible benefit to Jesus’ hearers, but not as that witness of himself needed or received in this context, because it was "from men."

Ye have sent unto John … refers to the deputation (John 1:19) sent out by the priests and to the positive witness of Christ which was borne by the great herald (John 1:19-35; John 3:23-36). The hierarchy should have believed John’s witness: (1) that Jesus is the Christ; (2) that Jesus is the Messiah; (3) that Jesus is the Bridegroom; and (4) that Jesus is the Lamb of God that taketh away the sin of the world. Also John declared that "He that believeth on the Son hath eternal life; but he that obeyeth not the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abideth on him" (John 3:36). This passing reference to John’s witness, however, is parenthetical.

Verse 34

But the witness which I receive is not from man: howbeit I say these things that ye might be saved.

From man … Thus John the Baptist was not the witness Christ here called on his own behalf. The Saviour did not appeal to human testimony at all.

That ye might be saved … This explains the reason for the parenthetical statement regarding John, whose witness was indeed mighty and should have been received by the priests. The witness of the great Herald was for the benefit of Israel, and for that purpose Jesus repeated it here; but his office of Messiah rested upon more solid testimony than that of any man.

Verse 35

He was the lamp which burneth and shineth; and ye were willing to rejoice for a season in his light.

He was … suggests that at this time John had already been cast into prison.

Ye were willing … shows that what willingness they had shown at first no longer existed. There is a subtle but powerful argument here which meant, "Look, you wrongfully changed your position regarding John the Baptist."

Lamp … light … A lamp in not a light, but the bearer of light; but we may not make too much of this metaphor, since Jesus himself is called the "Lamp" of the eternal city by this same author (Revelation 21:23).

Verse 36

But the witness that I have is greater than that of John; for the works the Father hath given me to accomplish, the very works that I do bear witness of me, that the Father hath sent me.

John performed no miracle; and there was a strong opinion within the very group Jesus was addressing, an opinion stated by Nicodemus that "We know that no man can do the signs thou doest, except God be with him" (John 3:2). Also, God had spoken out of heaven in broad open daylight in the presence of thousands saying, "This is my beloved Son." The works of Jesus, empowered by God, were the most fantastically powerful deeds ever done on earth, nor has there ever been any successful denial that such world-shaking signs were literally and actually done by him. Feeding a multitude, walking on the sea, raising the dead again, and again, and again — all men, like Nicodemus, should know that only God could have done such things.

Verse 37

And the Father that sent me, he hath borne witness of me. Ye have neither heard his voice at any time, nor seen his form.

Another phase of the Father’s witness regarded the Son of God himself, standing bodily before their eyes. His very presence on earth was a witness from God. Here was the Seed of woman, promised from the gates of Paradise; here was one whose birth was announced by the angels of God, one whom the sword of Herod could not slay, one whose life was sinless, perfect, and beautiful, one who spake as never man spoke, one whose questions as a twelve-year-old confounded the mightiest doctors of religion, and one whose delivery into the world had been since the days of Abraham the sole purpose of God’s patient forbearance with the chosen people. Jesus’ very person, in the full glory of his perfection, was truly the Father’s witness of himself.

Ye have neither heard his voice … seen his form … How blind they were and deaf, that, in the presence of Christ himself, they could hear nothing but the voice of their own prejudice and see nothing but a contradiction of their picayune sabbath rules. How insensitive are all who will not believe in Jesus!

Verse 38

And ye have not this word abiding in you: for whom he sent, ye believe not.

In the chapter heading, mention was made of the three witnesses of Christ presented here; but, in the ultimate sense, they are but one witness, that of God. Its three phases are: (1) the works given of the Father to Jesus, (2) the person of the Son himself, and (3) the sacred Scriptures themselves also of God. This verse introduces the third phase of the Father’s witness, that of the Holy Scriptures.

Verse 39

Ye search the Scriptures, because ye think that in them ye have eternal life; and these are they which bear witness of me.

Ye search the Scriptures … is not a command for his hearers so to do, but a recognition of their familiarity with the Old Testament. The significance of this is seen in the preceding verse, where it was stated that these learned leaders did not have God’s word in them at all, in spite of the fact that they were in a sense familiar with it. If they had known God’s word, they would have recognized and received the true Word of God in Jesus Christ. God’s holy revelation, however the Jewish rulers might have been familiar with the syllables of it, simply had no place at all in their hearts. For a full study of the witness of the Jewish Scriptures to the Lord Jesus Christ, see my Commentary on Romans, p. 106.


The paradox of knowing the Scriptures and yet not knowing them still exists; and it is therefore imperative for all men to take heed to know the word of the Lord truly. Knowing the common traditions with reference to it is not enough. Simply knowing what is written without believing cannot avail. Familiarity with sacred words may exist in a foul and degenerate heart. Those people to whom Jesus spoke these teachings had perverted their knowledge of the word of God in such a manner as to remove all true knowledge of it. And how had they done so?

1. They had made the word of God of none effect by their traditions; and a perfect example of that was in the episode here under study, these men having substituted their own petty and ridiculous rules in the place of God’s true sabbath law.

2. They had also changed the meaning of the words God had given them. God had promised a Messiah whose paradoxical qualities of glory and humiliation should have been sufficient to identify him when he came; but the hierarchy promptly projected two Messiahs, making one of them the lowly and suffering priest, and the other the mighty conqueror who would chase the Romans and restore the Solomonic empire.

3. They rejected out of hand many of the plainest prophecies, especially those projecting the call of the Gentiles to salvation (Romans 9:25-29). No exhaustive treatment of so vast a subject is in order here; but this is enough to show that true knowledge of God’s word is a far different thing from familiarity with Scriptural texts.

There are one-third of one thousand (!) specific promises in the Old Testament pointing to the unerring identification of Jesus of Nazareth as the Christ of glory; but these searchers (!) disbelieved, perverted, and rejected the last one of them. In spite of that, the Old Testament still bears witness of Jesus Christ across centuries and millenniums of time; and those Old Testament Scriptures are far more than enough to convince any unbiased person who will take the trouble to know them, that Jesus Christ is indeed the Christ and Saviour of all the world.

Verse 40

And ye will not come to me that ye may have life.

Spoken with infinite sorrow, these words are the summary of the interview thus far. No doubt, as he said on another occasion, he marveled at their unbelief; but there was an excellent underlying reason for the unbelief before him, and Christ moved at once to a withering attack upon their consummate wickedness.

Verses 41-42

I receive not glory from men. But I know you, that ye have not the love of God in yourselves.

Here the Lord dealt with the reason for this clash with the leaders. First, he disposed of the reason which they would probably have given, and which Jesus knew to be in their hearts. If asked to explain the conflict, they might have responded in the manner suggested by Hendriksen:

He is irked because we criticized him for breaking the sabbath and for implying that he is equal to God; if we had only praised him for what he did to the man in the pool, he would have been satisfied.(F12)

To their evil thoughts, Jesus replied that he would not even receive as valid the praise of any unbeliever. He revealed that he was not the slightest concerned with getting glory from men. The trouble was not the wounded vanity of Jesus but the lack of the love of God in the hearts of wicked men.

Ye have not the love of God in yourselves … This lack of the love of God in their hearts was the inherent cause of their rejection of Jesus. It was the same thing that caused many af them not to confess him, even though they believed on him (John 12:42); and even after they were absolutely certain that he was the long-awaited Messiah, they would not obey him: because "They loved the glory that is of men more than the glory that is of God."

Verse 43

I am come in my Father’s name, and ye receive me not; if another shall come in his own name, him will ye receive.

The very oneness of Jesus with God was repugnant to men who did not love God, and it is still true. Jesus’ life of humility, purity, justice, love, and meekness infuriated and disgusted the proud, arrogant, selfish and lustful rulers of Israel. He was an unbearable contradiction of their life-style, and they hated him to death.

If another shall come in his own name … such a person would be like themselves, full of pride, arrogance, and conceit; and such a leader would be acceptable to them, as being like them and one of them. Jesus was not thus, but demanded of the noblest of them (as in the case of Nicodemus) an utterly new life.

Scores of pretenders to Messianic glory have arisen since Christ; and, as Hovey noted:

The Jews who were ready to imbrue their hands in the blood of Christ, were just the men to be blinded by the flatteries and taken by the schemes of audacious pretenders to Messianic dignity.(F13)

Also, it should be noted that Jesus’ prophecy of false Messiahs was literally fulfilled.

This prophecy was fulfilled over and over again. One false Messiah was Theudas; another was Judas of Galilee (Acts 5:36-37). Then came Barkochba (132-135 A.D.) …. There have been several score of others since their day …. All of these presented themselves without proper credentials; they came "in their own name"(F14)

Worldly and unspiritual men have no trouble entering into the plans and affections of men of the world.

Verse 44

How can ye believe, who receive glory one of another, and the glory that cometh from the only God ye seek not?

This says that the Sanhedrinists could not believe in Jesus because it would have made them unpopular with their peer group. They were primarily in love with themselves; and their society was founded upon mutual flattery, mutual deceit, and mutual glory reflected among themselves. The Saviour of all men was "persona non grata" in such a society.

Exactly the same blight rests upon Christianity today in the destructive and sinful theology which has been received and promulgated in some high intellectual circles. Think of the unpopularity that would descend upon any of the radical critics who might openly confess that the Bible is nothing less than the word of God. Of this very Gospel, throughout the first third of the present century, there were few notable exceptions among the so-called higher critics who dared to support the opinion that John was written in the first century. Why? It was popular to ascribe it to a falsarius in the second or third century; and what scholar was there who desired to be unpopular among the "leading lights" of his age? Many of such cowards, who probably knew better, are now in their graves; and it turns out from the discovery of the Rylands fragment and from other discoveries of archaeology that the book of John was, after all, certainly written before the end of the first century. But what of those whose voices so stridently opposed such a view only a few years ago? This is another warning against subscribing to any view of sacred things purely upon the basis of the reputation of its advocates. As Hengstenberg said:

Receiving honor from man has a deep place in our theology. This theology is extremely anxious not to break with the spirit of the age, but to be in accord with it. This is the worm which is gnawing it, the curse which is resting upon it.(F15)

Verse 45

Think not that I will accuse you to the Father: there is one that accuseth you, even Moses, on whom ye have set your hope.

Our Lord here emphasized his true character as the judge of all men, declining any function of the prosecuting attorney. Christ is eternally the Advocate in the presence of the Father; but he is not the accuser of men; he is their defender, provided only that they will come unto him and rely upon his righteousness to save them.

Tragically, the Jews Christ addressed were trusting for salvation in the law of Moses, blissfully ignorant of the law’s total ineffectiveness to save anyone. Any person, breaking the tiniest of its regulations, was in total condemnation without recourse. It provided no means of forgiveness, no indwelling of the Holy Spirit, and there was a continual remembrance of sin in it; and the foolish notion of the leaders of Israel that their strictness in keeping some of the law’s externals could entitle them to eternal life is among the most pathetic delusions of all time.

Verse 46

For if ye believed Moses, ye would believe me; for he wrote of me. But if ye believe not his writings, how shall ye believe my words?

How strange that those leaders, thinking so strongly that they had eternal life through Moses, were actually unbelievers of the writings of the great lawgiver. Such is the deceptiveness of sin, that persons who truly imagine themselves to be believers are in fact no such thing! It is possible that Christ had in mind here the great prophecies of Genesis 3:15 and Deuteronomy 18:15-19; but there were many prophecies in "Moses," a word signifying the entire Pentateuch, regarding Christ. As Hovey said: "This is a perfectly clear testimony on the part of Christ to a Messianic element in the Pentateuch, as well as to the Mosaic authorship of the same."(F16)

The significance of the testimony of Christ here is great. God is the author of the Old Testament, no less than of the New Testament; and there is no way by which a true believer in Christ can avoid full acceptance of God’s word as revealed in the Old Testament. It is true now, as it was then, that if men will not believe Moses, they will not believe Christ either.


Jesus’ words here addressed to his enemies are among the most profound and instructive in holy writ. There is a perfection of detail, a perfect fitting together of diverse and complicated elements, a subtle and far-reaching connection with all that came afterward in John, a relevance to the situation wherein the words were spoken, and such an amazing applicability of every word to the problem confronted, and such an overpowering logic and unity of the whole passage, that any notion of such a passage’s having been produced by an impostor is absolutely untenable.

Philip Schaff said of this passage:

This discourse is truly wonderful for depth and simplicity and boldness. As uttered by the holy Son, it must have astounded "the Jews," holding them spellbound with awe. It is so characteristic, grand, pointed, and telling, that the idea of an invention is preposterous.(F17)

Likewise, Godet wrote:

The principal theme is exactly pertinent to the occasion. The secondary ideas subordinate themselves logically to this theme. Not a detail is inconsistent with the whole; and the application is solemn and impressive, as it ought to be, in such a situation. It stamps the whole discourse with the seal of reality.(F18)

After such a presentation of the truth to Jesus’ enemies, one may only marvel that hardened men could have continued in their rejection of the Holy Saviour and have gone forward with their plans to murder him (John 5:18).

In this chapter, there is a subtle but magnificent progression toward the climax of raising Lazarus from the dead. It is revealed herein that Christ had in mind to do "greater things" than healing the invalid (John 5:30), a clear prediction of raising the dead. Jesus declared the fact of his having life in himself, spoke of himself as the source and authority of the spiritual resurrection, and flatly announced himself as the causative force of the final resurrection of all the dead. And, in all of this magnificent progression beginning with the healing of the invalid, and then moving steadily and logically from that event: (1) to the promise of "greater works," (2) to the promise that his foes would marvel at it, (3) to the teaching of a great spiritual resurrection, (4) and to the announcement of himself as having authority and power over the final resurrection and judgment of the last day — in all of these things, there is a dramatic and constant movement toward the tomb of Lazarus and the event af Jesus’ raising him from the dead, and of which event this chapter is a necessary prelude.

Allegations to the effect that there is no progression in John are grounded in a lack of perception.

Bibliographical Information
Coffman, James Burton. "Commentary on John 5". "Coffman's Commentaries on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/bcc/john-5.html. Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. 1983-1999.
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