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F. Jesus’ second visit to Jerusalem ch. 5
"In chapters 1-4 the subject is described from the standpoint of a spectator, ab extra, and we are thus enabled to see something of the impression created on others by our Lord as He deals with individuals in Jerusalem, Samaria, and Galilee. When, however, we turn to chapters 5-10, we cannot but be conscious of a change of standpoint, for we see Christ as it were from within, from His own point of view, in all the glory of His self-conscious personal revelation. In each chapter He is seen to concentrate attention on Himself in various aspects, and men are enabled to see something of what He claims to be in relation to God and man." [Note: W. H. Griffith Thomas, "The Plan of the Fourth Gospel," Bibliotheca Sacra 125:500 (October-December 1968):319.]
Until now John presented Jesus dealing with individuals almost exclusively. This continues, but now he tells the reader that conflict arose with the Pharisees. John thus introduced another theme beside faith, namely, unbelief and opposition by Israel’s religious leaders. The first two signs that John recorded were done privately, but the next two were public. Furthermore, Jesus did the miracle recorded in chapter 5 on the Sabbath day, which drew the attention and opposition of the Pharisees. Reactions to Jesus among the Jews moved from reservation (e.g., John 3:1-15) to outright hostility. Chapters 5-10 trace the development of this antagonism. However the main emphasis in the section is what Jesus revealed about Himself through His actions and His words.
"Chapters v and vi should probably be grouped together as a single section. They are connected by a common theme, which may be described as the nature and causes of Israel’s lack of faith in Jesus. Chapter v is concerned with the form which this unbelief took among the Jews at Jerusalem, and chapter vi with the expression of it by the peasants in Galilee." [Note: Tasker, p. 84.]
In chapter 5, opposition to Jesus began with objection to His healing on the Sabbath. This led to Jesus explaining His relationship to the Father.
Some time later Jesus returned to Jerusalem to celebrate one of the Jewish feasts and to use that occasion to minister. John did not specify which feast it was. Elsewhere in his Gospel when John identified the feast in view he did so because the events and teaching that followed had relevance to that particular feast (cf. John 2:13; John 6:4; John 7:2; John 10:22; John 11:55). Here they did not. Consequently the identity of the feast is unimportant for the interpretation of the text. Hoehner favored one of the three pilgrim feasts that the Mosaic Law required Jewish males to attend: Passover, Pentecost, or Tabernacles. He preferred the last of these though conceded that certain identification is probably impossible. [Note: Hoehner, pp. 58-59.] John probably just mentioned the feast to explain Jesus’ return to and presence in Jerusalem.
1. The third sign: healing the paralytic 5:1-9
This third sign in John’s Gospel signaled Jesus’ identity and created controversy that followed. Particularly it testified to Jesus’ authority over time. [Note: Tenney, John: The Gospel. . ., p. 312.]
John frequently used the "historic (dramatic) present" tense to describe past events. Therefore this verse does not prove that he wrote his Gospel before the fall of Jerusalem. Wallace is one scholar who believed that it does prove this. [Note: Wallace, p. 531.] He pointed out that the equative verb estin, used here, nowhere else in the New Testament is clearly a historical present. Perhaps this is the one place where it is.
The Sheep Gate was evidently a gate in the north part of Jerusalem’s wall just west of its northeast corner (cf. Nehemiah 3:1; Nehemiah 3:32; Nehemiah 12:39). Various Greek manuscripts refer to this pool as Bethesda, Bethsaida, Bethzatha, and Belzetha, but the first name is probably the correct one. It means "house of outpouring" or perhaps "house of mercy." [Note: See the map "Jerusalem in New Testament Times" at the end of these notes.] The modern name is St. Anne’s pool. Evidently there were two pools with a covered colonnade or portico on all four sides of the complex and a fifth colonnade that separated the two pools. [Note: J. Wilkinson, Jerusalem as Jesus knew it: Archaeology as Evidence, pp. 95-104.]
Many disabled people used to lie in these porticoes because of the healing properties in the water.
This section of the text has doubtful authenticity. No Greek manuscript before A.D. 400 contains these words. [Note: Blum, p. 289; Tenney, "John," p. 62.] Evidently scribes added these statements later to explain the troubling of the waters that occurred periodically (John 5:7). [Note: For defense of the authenticity of John 5:4, see Zane C. Hodges, "The Angel at Bethesda-John 5:4," Bibliotheca Sacra 136:541 (January-March 1979):25-39.] However these scribal explanations seem superstitious. They appear to have been common in Jesus’ day. A more probable explanation for the troubling of the water is the presence of springs that occasionally gushed water into the pools below the surface of the water. [Note: Carson, The Gospel . . ., p. 242.] Probably the (warm?) water had a high mineral content that had medicinal benefits for people suffering from muscle and joint ailments.
This man’s sickness appears to have been paralysis resulting in inability to walk at least (John 5:7) that seems to have been a result of sin (John 5:14). Perhaps a severe arthritic condition complicated his ailment. John’s reference to the length of his illness seems to be just to document its seriousness and the man’s hopeless condition. Some commentators tried to find symbolic significance in the 38 years, but that seems unwarranted to me. For example, 38 years recalls the period during which the Israelites wandered in the wilderness following their rebellion at Kadesh-barnea before they entered the Promised Land.
Jesus could have learned about the man’s condition from others, or John may have written what he did to impress his readers with Jesus’ supernatural knowledge. In Capernaum Jesus healed another paralytic lowered through the roof in front of him (Mark 2:1-12), but at Bethesda He reached out to the man as one among many invalids. Jesus’ question may have probed the man to discover if he had a desire for healing. Some people are perfectly content to remain in their miserable condition (cf. John 3:19-20). Jesus apparently only delivered people who wanted His help. Evidently this is the only person He healed this day even though there were many more whom He could have healed (John 5:3; cf. Acts 3:2). He only saves people who want salvation and whom He sovereignly chooses to save (cf. John 6:37).
Obviously the paralytic believed that only the first person to enter the water after its stirring would experience healing. This was probably the popular idea that arose from superstition. The man’s statement that he had no one to help him appears to have been a veiled request that Jesus would volunteer to be that helper. The invalid had the desire for healing but not the means to obtain it.
"We must feel that, while faith was commonly the prerequisite of healing, it was not absolutely necessary. Jesus is not limited by human frailty as he works the works of God." [Note: Morris, p. 269.]
Jesus’ words healed the man (cf. John 5:25; John 5:28-29; John 11:43). They also instructed him (cf. Mark 2:11). Obviously Jesus had given him enough strength, as well as health, to carry his light mat.
The invalid experienced healing immediately. Jesus did instantly what God normally does slowly. When the man walked away carrying his mat, he testified to his healing. Normally we cannot immediately use muscles that we have not used for a long time because they atrophy, but this man had the full use of his muscles instantaneously. The prophets had predicted that when Messiah came He would heal the lame (Isaiah 35:1-7). Here was proof for all Jerusalem to see that Messiah had appeared. He had healed a man whom sickness had bound for 38 years.
By carrying his pallet on the Sabbath the man triggered a controversy. By commanding him to do so Jesus was responsible for the situation that followed. Indeed He deliberately created it. This probably explains in part why Jesus healed this particular man.
According to the prevailing Jewish interpretation of the law, it was not legitimate to carry anything from one place to another on the Sabbath (cf. Nehemiah 13:15; Jeremiah 17:21-27). Doing so constituted a capital offense that could result in stoning. The rabbis allowed for exceptional cases such as moving a lame person for compassionate reasons. [Note: Mishnah Sabbath 7:2; 10:5.] God’s intent in the fourth commandment was to free people from having to work to earn a living for one day out of seven (Exodus 20:9-11; Deuteronomy 5:12-15). Therefore this healed paralytic was not breaking the intent of the law, but he was violating the rabbinic interpretation of it.
2. The antagonism of the Jewish authorities 5:10-18
More than once Jesus used His Sabbath activities to make the Jews consider who He was (cf. Matthew 12:1-14; Mark 2:23 to Mark 3:6; Luke 13:10-17; Luke 14:1-6). Here He wanted them to realize that He had the right to work on the Sabbath as His Father did. This is the first open hostility to Jesus that John recorded.
The healed man passed the responsibility for his disobeying the rabbis’ rule off by blaming Jesus. This was no way to express gratitude for what Jesus had done for him (cf. John 5:15). He probably feared for his life. The Jewish leaders wanted to know who had dared to contradict the accepted meaning of the fourth commandment. In their eyes He was a worse offender than the man who had carried his pallet.
Significantly, they did not show any interest in the man’s well condition. It should have identified the Messiah to them, but they saw the Healer as simply an offender.
The man did not know who Jesus was. This indicates that it was not his faith that had elicited the healing as much as God’s grace reaching out to a needy person. Jesus had slipped away probably to avoid premature confrontation (cf. John 6:15; John 8:59; John 10:39; John 12:36).
It is not at all clear whether this man believed on Jesus. We do not know either if he sought a closer relationship with Jesus following his healing. Many people accept God’s gifts but ignore the giver. Some experience miracles but do not go to heaven. Apparently it was not the reaction of this man that John wanted to emphasize but the lesson on the importance of believing in Him that Jesus used the occasion of this healing to teach.
Sometime shortly after that Jesus found the man in the temple precincts that stood south of the Bethesda Pool in Jerusalem. Evidently Jesus had been looking for him. He warned the man not to use his healing as an opportunity to participate in sin. If he did, worse consequences than his former ailment would befall him (cf. Acts 5:1-11; 1 Corinthians 11:30; 1 John 5:16). He may have had eternal damnation as well as immediate consequences in mind since the man showed no evidence of possessing eternal life. Certainly not everyone whom Jesus healed experienced regeneration. Jesus’ point was that the man should regard his new health as an opportunity to make a new break with sin (cf. Galatians 5:13).
The man did not seem to have wanted to glorify Jesus by telling the authorities about Him. He knew that they wanted to find Jesus because they considered Him a lawbreaker. Clearly the ungrateful man wanted to save his own skin by implicating Jesus. He did not appreciate Jesus’ warning (John 5:14). It is possible that the man was simply stupid. However the evidence seems to point more convincingly to a hard heart rather than to a hard head.
"The lame man is an example of someone who responded inappropriately to Jesus’ signs. . . . Thus he ’represents those whom even the signs cannot lead to authentic faith.’" [Note: Howard, p. 72. His quotation is from R. Alan Culpepper, Anatomy of the Four Gospel: A Study in Literary Design, p. 138.]
"These things" seem to refer to Jesus’ acts of healing the man and commanding him to take up his mat and walk. Rather than worshipping Him, or at least considering His claims, the Jewish authorities persecuted Jesus for doing what they considered to be work on the Sabbath. Their persecution initially took the form of verbal opposition, as the following verses clarify.
Jesus defended Himself by stating that He was doing God’s work. The rabbis regarded God as working on the Sabbath by simply maintaining the universe and continuing to impart life. They did not accuse Him of violating the Sabbath. [Note: Carson, The Gospel . . ., p. 247.] Jesus, too, viewed God as constantly at work. Jesus claimed to be doing what God did. God did not suspend His activities on the Sabbath and neither did Jesus.
This was a virtual claim to deity. Jesus was claiming that His relationship to the law was the same as God’s, not the same as man’s. Moreover by speaking of God as "My Father" Jesus was claiming a relationship with Him that was unique from that of the Jews corporately. The work that Jesus had done was the same kind as the Father’s work. He provided deliverance and a new life for the paralyzed man as the Father provides salvation for those whom sin has bound. Obviously Jesus was arguing differently here than in the instances of Sabbath controversy that the Synoptics record.
"The most notable feature about Jesus in the Fourth Gospel . . . is the control He displayed over all persons and situations." [Note: Tom Thatcher, "Jesus, Judas, and Peter: Character by Contrast in the Fourth Gospel," Bibliotheca Sacra 153:612 (October-December 1996):448.]
The Jewish leaders did not miss the force of what Jesus was claiming, namely, equality with the Father. Liberal interpreters who say that Jesus never claimed to be God have a difficult time with this passage. John here noted that these Jews had already been trying to do away with Him. These claims increased their efforts.
To the contemporary western mind the idea of "son" connotes a different person, but the ancient eastern mind thought of a "son" as the extension of his father. The word connoted identification with rather than difference from. The ancients considered a good son as one who followed in his father’s footsteps exactly.
Jesus was equal with God in His essence. Both the Father and the Son are deity. However Jesus was not equal with the Father in His subsistence. The Son was subordinate to the Father in this respect. This distinction is one that the Jewish leaders struggled with and that Jesus proceeded to clarify partially.
"It would seem that in their eyes God could exalt a man to be as God, but whoever made himself as God called down divine retribution on himself. They saw Jesus in the latter category." [Note: Beasley-Murray, p. 75.]
The emphasis in this section of the text is on Jesus being an extension of His Father and the legitimacy of His continuing His Father’s work even on the Sabbath.
Jesus introduced his reply with another solemn affirmation. He began by assuring the Jewish leaders that He was not claiming independence from the Father. He was definitely subordinate to Him, and He followed the Father’s lead (cf. John 4:34; John 5:30; John 8:28; John 12:50; John 15:10; Luke 5:17). Jesus described His relationship to the Father as similar to that of a son growing up in a household who learns a trade from his father while remaining submissive to him. The Son of God receives authority from the Father, obeys Him, and executes His will. Jesus would have to be God to do this perfectly. It was also impossible for the Son to act independently or to set Himself against the Father as against another God.
"Equality of nature, identity of objective, and subordination of will are interrelated in Christ. John presents him as the Son, not as the slave, of God, yet as the perfect agent of the divine purpose and the complete revelation of the divine nature." [Note: Tenney, "John," p. 64.]
"Some have mistakenly said that Jesus was here disclaiming equality with the Father. On the contrary, the whole context argues the opposite (John 5:18, . . . John 5:23; John 5:26). Our Lord is simply saying that He and the Father work together (cp. John 5:17)." [Note: The New Scofield . . ., p. 1130.]
3. The Son’s equality with the Father 5:19-29
The preceding controversy resulted in Jesus clarifying His relationship to His Father further. Jesus proceeded to reply to His enemies’ charge that He was not equal with God the Father. This is the most thoroughgoing statement of Jesus’ unity with the Father, divine commission, authority, and proof of Messiahship in the Gospels. Jesus moved from clarifying His relationship to the Father to explaining His function as the judge of humanity to citing the witnesses that established His claims. [Note: See Stephen S. Kim, "The Christological and Eschatological Significance of Jesus’ Miracle in John 5," Bibliotheca Sacra 165:660 (October-December 2008):413-24.]
Jesus next clarified how He could do whatever the Father does. He could do so because the Father loves the Son (cf. John 3:36). Moreover the Father shows the Son whatever the Father does. Continuous disclosure indicates love. The greater works than "these" (i.e., the healing of a paralytic and commanding him to carry his mat on the Sabbath) include giving life to the dead (John 5:21) and pronouncing final judgment (John 5:22). Part of the purpose of these greater works was to face His critics with His divine authority so they would consider His claims.
The fact that the Father discloses all He does to the Son and the Son does whatever the Father does is clear from the Son’s giving life to the dead. The Jews acknowledged that only God could raise the dead (2 Kings 5:7; Ezekiel 37:13). This involves overcoming the forces of sin and death. Jesus claimed that authority now, and He demonstrated it later (John 11:41-44). His healings were a lesser demonstration of the same power. The Son’s will is so identical to the Father’s that His choices reflect the Father’s will. Eternal spiritual life and resurrected physical life are both in view.
This verse probably explains the former one rather than restating it, which the NIV translation implies. The roles of the Father and the Son are parallel in John 5:21, but there is a distinction between them in this verse. The Father and the Son both give life, but the Father has committed all judgment to the Son (cf. Acts 17:31).
"This was something new to Jews. They held that the Father was the Judge of all people [cf. Genesis 18:25], and they expected to stand before him at the last day." [Note: Morris, p. 279.]
The Son’s giving life is in preparation for His judging. Judgment here probably includes discriminating as well as announcing final condemnation. This verse clarifies the roles of the Father and the Son whereas John 3:17 deals with the primary purpose of the Son’s incarnation.
The reason for this delegation is that all may honor the Son as they honor the Father. Subordination usually results in less honor. The Father has guaranteed that the Son will receive equal honor with Himself by committing the role of judging entirely to Him. Therefore failure to honor the Son reflects failure to honor the Father. Conversely honoring the Son honors the Father (cf. Philippians 2:9-11). God will not share His honor with another (Isaiah 42:8; Isaiah 42:10-12). Consequently for Him to share His honor with the Son must mean that the Son and the Father are one in essence.
"The ’religious’ people who say that they worship God, but who deny the deity of Christ, have neither the Father nor the Son!" [Note: Wiersbe, 1:306.]
These people include Muslims, Jews, Mormons, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and Unitarian Universalists, if they believe what their churches teach.
Jesus proceeded to develop one idea from the preceding argument more fully. He introduced it with a solemn affirmation. Jesus said that He gave life to whomever He pleased (John 5:21). He now described these people as those who hear His word and believe the Father. They will not experience condemnation (cf. John 3:18; Romans 6:14; Romans 8:1) but begin already to experience eternal life (cf. John 3:36; Ephesians 2:1; Ephesians 2:5). "Realized eschatology" is the aspect of future conditions that exist already in the present. In this case it refers to the believer’s possession of eternal life already. Beasley-Murray called this verse "the strongest affirmation of realized eschatology applied to the believer in the NT." [Note: Beasley-Murray, p. 76. See Harris, pp. 235-37, for a discussion of realized eschatology in John’s Gospel.] People pass from one realm to another the moment they believe (cf. 1 John 3:14)
Jesus’ word had brought new life to the paralytic (John 5:8). His word will also bring eternal life or eternal death to everyone. His word is the same as the Father’s word since the Son only says what the Father gives Him to say (John 5:19). Jesus specified the Father as the object of faith because He had just explained that the Son mediates everything from the Father, not because Jesus is an inappropriate object of faith (cf. John 3:16; John 14:1). The Son represents the Father to humankind, so when we place faith in the Son we are placing it in the Father as well.
Therefore the believer’s basis of eternal security and his or her assurance of eternal life both rest on the promise of the Son.
"To have eternal life now is to be secure throughout eternity.
"The words of this verse should not be taken simply as a statement of fact. They are that. Anyone who hears and believes has eternal life. But the words also constitute an invitation, a challenge. They are a call to hear Christ and to take the step of faith." [Note: Morris, p. 280.]
Jesus continued to describe what believers will experience in the future fully that they already experience now in measure (cf. John 4:23), namely, resurrection life. We will experience it in the future physically, but we experience it now spiritually (cf. Romans 6:13). Jesus’ word gives believers spiritual life now, and it will raise the dead in the future (cf. John 5:28-29; John 11:43).
This verse explains how Jesus can do these things. He can do them because He has life resident within Himself. He is self-existent whereas humans receive their life from Him, the source of life. This quality of the Son is another that came to Him by the Father’s good pleasure before Creation (cf. John 5:22; John 1:4).
Similarly God has given the Son authority to judge (John 5:21-22). Jesus revealed an additional reason for this here. It is because Jesus is "Son of Man" (Daniel 7:13-14). He is the Anointed One whom God has sent, but He is also fully human. Jesus can judge humanity because He belongs to it and understands it (cf. Hebrews 2:17). The absence of a definite article before the title stresses the quality of Jesus as "Son of Man" (cf. Hebrews 1:2). [Note: H. E. Dana and Julius R. Mantey, A Manual Grammar of the Greek New Testament, p. 149.]
Jesus urged His hearers not to marvel that it would be His voice that would summon the dead eventually (cf. John 11:43). All the dead will hear the Son of Man’s voice in the future calling them forth to judgment. Believers are those who do good, which involves believing on the Son (John 6:29; cf. John 3:21). Theirs will be a resurrection resulting in eternal life. Those who do evil by not believing on the Son (John 3:36; cf. John 3:19) will experience eternal condemnation following their resurrection. As always, judgment is on the basis of works.
Another view is that only unbelievers are in view in both descriptions. [Note: Barrett, p. 263.] However believers and unbelievers have both been prominent throughout the foregoing discussion. [Note: See also Zane C. Hodges, "Those Who Have Done Good-John 5:28-29," Bibliotheca Sacra 136:542 (April-June 1979):158-66.]
Jesus spoke of three different resurrections in this passage: the dead in sin who rise to new life spiritually (John 5:24-25), the physical resurrection of believers (John 5:25; John 5:28-29), and the physical resurrection of unbelievers (John 5:28-29).
This verse is transitional. It concludes Jesus’ explanation of the Son’s equality with the Father (John 5:19-29), and it introduces His clarification of the Father’s testimony about the Son (John 5:31-47). Some translations consider it the conclusion of the preceding pericope (e.g., NIV), and others take it as the beginning of the next one (e.g., NASB).
Jesus’ point was that He could not do anything independent of the Father because of His submission to Him. His judgment is the result of listening to His Father. His judgment is just because the desire for self-glory does not taint it. The Son’s will is totally to advance the Father’s will.
4. The Father’s witness to the Song of Solomon 5:30-47
Jesus now returned to develop a theme that He had introduced previously, namely, the Father’s testimony to the Son (John 5:19-20). Jesus proceeded to cite five witnesses to His identity, all of which came from the Father, since the Jews had questioned His authority.
"The train of argument in this section is like a court scene, reminiscent of the trial scenes in the OT, when witnesses are summoned by Yahweh to testify on behalf of the gods of the nations in the face of the manifest truth of the only God, whose witnesses his people are (see esp. Isaiah 43:8-13; Isaiah 44:6-11)." [Note: Beasley-Murray, pp. 77-78.]
Jesus had said that the Son can do nothing independently of the Father (John 5:19; John 5:30). That includes even bearing witness. Jesus did not mean that if He said anything about Himself it must be false, though apparently some of the Jews thought He meant that (cf. John 8:13). He meant that the truthfulness of His claims about Himself did not rest on His own testimony exclusively. Jesus had said that He only said and did what the Father said and did. Therefore Jesus’ witness about Himself must reflect the Father’s witness about Him. The "another" that bore witness about Jesus was the Father. Jesus was not speaking of the Father’s witness as essentially different from His own witness. He viewed His own witness as simply an extension of the Father’s witness since He always faithfully represented the Father’s will. [Note: See Tenney, "Topics from . . .," pp. 229-41, "The Meaning of ’Witness’ in John."]
Some students of John’s Gospel have thought that Jesus contradicted what He said here in John 8:14, but there He was speaking about His personal knowledge as the basis for His testimony about Himself. Here He was speaking about the Father’s witness to His identity.
"The witness of the Father may not be acceptable to the Jews; it may not even be recognized by them. But it is enough for Jesus. He knows that this witness is ’true.’ . . . It is the witness of the Father and nothing else that brings conviction to him." [Note: Morris, p. 288.]
Jesus knew that His critics would not accept the Father’s witness to His identity even though Jesus claimed that His words accurately represented the Father’s will. He could not prove this claim to their satisfaction. Therefore He cited another human witness who testified about Jesus’ identity, namely, John the Baptist. John came into the world to bear witness to the light (John 1:7). Moreover he had borne witness about Jesus to the Jews who had come from Jerusalem to ask who He was (John 1:19-28). Furthermore he had identified Jesus publicly as the Lamb of God (John 1:29-34). John had truly testified that Jesus was the divine Messiah (cf. John 1:40-41).
However, Jesus did not need and did not accept human testimony to establish His identity in His own mind. All the witness He needed was the Father’s. He only mentioned John the Baptist’s witness to establish His identity in His hearers’ minds that they might believe on Him and obtain salvation.
Jesus again gave a brief evaluation of John the Baptist’s ministry. Evidently John’s public ministry had ended by this time since Jesus spoke of his witness as past. John was not the true light (Gr. phos, John 1:8-9), but he was a lamp (Gr. lychnos) that bore witness (cf. Psalms 132:17; 2 Corinthians 4:6-7). John’s ministry had caused considerable messianic excitement. Unfortunately most of John’s hearers only chose to follow his teaching temporarily (John 2:23-25). When Jesus appeared, they did not follow Him. Thus John’s witness to Jesus’ identity was true, but it had little continuing impact.
Jesus had weightier evidence of His identity than John’s witness. It came from His Father and took several forms. The first of these forms was the works (Gr. erga, not "work," NIV) that Jesus performed (cf. John 10:25; John 14:11). These works included all of Jesus’ activities, including His miracles, His life of perfect obedience, and His work of redemption on the cross. Miracles alone did not prove Jesus’ deity since Moses, Elijah, and Elisha had done miracles too. All that Jesus did was simply an extension of the Father’s work (John 5:19-30). Once we understand the Father Son relationship we can see that all that Jesus said and did was what the Father said and did.
Another witness to Jesus’ identity was the Father’s witness apart from Jesus’ works. The form that this witness took as Jesus thought of it is not clear. Perhaps He meant the witness that the Father had given at His baptism. However, John did not narrate that event in this Gospel, though he recorded John the Baptist’s witness of it (cf. John 1:32-34). Probably Jesus meant the Father’s total witness to Jesus including Old Testament prophecies, prophetic events and institutions, including His witness at Jesus’ baptism. He probably meant all of God’s anticipatory revelation about Jesus (cf. Hebrews 1:1). [Note: Lightfoot, pp. 146-47.] Jesus probably did not mean the Father’s witness through the Old Testament exclusively since He mentioned that later (John 5:39). Another improbable meaning is the internal witness of the Spirit (John 6:45; 1 John 5:9-12). That idea seems too far removed from the present context.
In spite of the Father’s witness Jesus’ hearers had not heard it because of their unbelief. Unlike Moses and Jacob they had neither heard God’s voice nor seen Him (Exodus 33:11; Genesis 32:30-31) even though Jesus’ words were the Father’s words and those who saw Jesus had virtually seen God (John 3:34; John 14:9-10; John 17:8). Furthermore God’s word did not abide in them, as it had in Joshua and the psalmist (cf. Joshua 1:8-9; Psalms 119:11). Jesus was the living Word of God, and these Jews had little time for Him. The Jewish authorities had not grasped the significance of God’s previous testimony concerning the Son, which Jesus summarized here as threefold evidence. Jesus may have been implying that His critics were not true Israelites. They had not done what their forefather had done even though Jesus was a clearer revelation of God than the patriarchs had.
Even though the Jews diligently sought God in the pages of their Scriptures they failed to recognize Jesus for who He was. The Greek verb translated "search" could be an imperative (AV) or an indicative (NASB, NIV). The context favors the indicative mood. The Jewish leaders of Jesus’ day were serious students of the Old Testament, but they studied it for the wrong reason, namely, to earn eternal life through their effort (cf. Romans 7:10; Galatians 3:21).
"After the destruction of the temple of Solomon in 586 B.C., the Jewish scholars of the Exile substituted the study of the Law for the observance of the temple ritual and sacrifices. They pored over the OT, endeavoring to extract the fullest possible meaning from its words, because they believed that the very study itself would bring them life." [Note: Tenney, "John," p. 68.]
The study of Scripture had become an end in itself rather than a way of getting to know God better. Their failure to recognize Jesus as the Messiah testified to their lack of perceiving the true message of Scripture (cf. John 1:45; John 2:22; John 3:10; John 5:45-46; John 20:9; 2 Corinthians 3:15). Life comes through Jesus, not through Bible study (John 5:21; John 5:26; cf. John 1:4; Romans 10:4), even though it is through Bible study that one comes to know Jesus. As John the Baptist, the Old Testament pointed away from itself to Jesus.
Jesus did not appeal to the testimony of humans to determine His own identity (John 5:35) nor did he receive the praise (Gr. doxa) of people for this purpose. Jesus’ criticisms of His hearers did not arise from wounded pride. He said what He did to win the Father’s praise, not man’s. Jesus’ critics, in contrast, behaved to receive praise from one another (cf. John 5:44). Jesus knew them well, but they did not know Him. Love for God did not motivate them as it did Him.
"The Jews worked out their pattern of religion and tried to fit God into it. They did not seek first the way of God and then try to model their religious practices on it. They succumbed to the perennial temptation of religious people." [Note: Morris, p. 294.]
These critics failed to come to Jesus for life (John 5:40) also because they refused to acknowledge that He had come from the Father. In rejecting Jesus they had rejected the Father’s ambassador who had come in His name and, therefore, the Father Himself. If they had known and loved the Father, they would have recognized Jesus’ similarity to the Father. Having rejected the true Messiah the religious leaders would follow false messiahs. Rejection of what is true always makes one susceptible to counterfeits (cf. Luke 23:18-23).
Jesus’ critics could not believe on Him because they preferred the praise of men to the praise of God. They consistently chose what was popular over what was true. In contrast, Jesus lived solely for God’s glory and did not pander to the praise of people (cf. Romans 2:29).
These critics’ most severe indictment would not come from Jesus but from Moses whom they so strongly professed to follow but did not. Moses never taught that the Law was an end in itself. He pointed the people to the coming Prophet and urged them to listen to Him (Deuteronomy 18:15-19). They had refused to do this. Moreover these Jews had broken the law that Moses had urged them to follow. Furthermore Jesus’ primary function was to save, not to judge (John 3:17). The Jews typically hoped that they could earn salvation by keeping the Law and believed that their relationship to it as Jews gave them a special advantage with God. They had set their hope on Moses in that respect. They foolishly hoped in Moses rather than in the One to whom Moses pointed. If they had paid attention to Moses, they would have felt conviction for their sin and would have been eager to receive the Savior. If they had really believed Moses, they would also have believed Jesus.
Jesus’ critics did not believe Moses’ writings or they would have accepted Jesus. Since they rejected Moses’ writings it was natural that they would reject Jesus’ words. Both men spoke the words of God, who was their authority. The Jews rejection of Moses’ writings was essentially a rejection of God’s Word. Jesus believed that Moses wrote the Torah (Pentateuch), something many critical scholars deny.
This discourse constituted a condemnation of Jesus’ critics and an invitation to believe on Him. Jesus cited much testimony that God the Father had given that identified Jesus as the divine Messiah. These witnesses were, beside God the Father, John the Baptist, all of Jesus’ works, all that the Father had previously revealed that pointed to Jesus, the Old Testament, and specifically the witness of Moses in the Torah (Pentateuch).
John omitted many events in the life of Jesus that the Synoptic evangelists recorded as happening between John 5:47; John 6:1. These include the resumption of Jesus’ Galilean ministry (Matthew 5-7; Matthew 8:5-13; Matthew 8:18; Matthew 8:23-34; Matthew 9:18-35; Matthew 10:1 to Matthew 13:53; Matthew 14:1-12; Mark 2:23 to Mark 6:30; Luke 6:1 to Luke 9:10 a).
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Constable, Thomas. DD. "Commentary on John 5". "Dr. Constable's Expository Notes". https://www.studylight.org/
Second Sunday after Epiphany