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Bible Commentaries
John 5

Benson's Commentary of the Old and New TestamentsBenson's Commentary

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A.M. 4035. A.D. 31.

(1,) Christ goes up to a feast at Jerusalem, and there cures a poor impotent man at the pool of Bethesda, John 5:1-9 .

(2,) The Jews quarrel with him for doing it on the sabbath day, John 5:10-16 .

(3,) Christ vindicates himself by asserting his authority as Son of God and Mediator, John 5:17-30 .

(4,) Having declared to the Jews the dignity of his person, office, and character, he proceeds to prove his divine mission by the testimony of John the Baptist, of his own miracles, of his Father, and of the scriptures of the Old Testament, John 5:32-39 .

(5,) He condemns the Jews for their unbelief, pride, and readiness to receive impostors, John 5:40-47 .

Verse 1

John 5:1. After this there was a feast Greek, η εορτη , the feast; of the Jews This, in all probability, was the feast of the passover; because that solemnity was called the feast, by way of eminence, (Matthew 27:15; Mark 15:6;) and because immediately after it, we find the disciples on the sabbath in the fields, rubbing the ears, probably of barley, a kind of grain which was always fit for reaping at the passover. It is generally thought this was the second passover that Christ attended after the commencement of his public ministry.

Verses 2-4

John 5:2-4. Now there is at Jerusalem The Syriac seems to have read, ην , there was, as it is rendered in that version in the past time. Cyril, Chrysostom, and Theophylact favour this reading, as also does Nonnus. “If tolerably supported,” says Dr. Campbell, “it would be accounted preferable, as this gospel was written after the destruction of Jerusalem.” But if Jerusalem was destroyed, as it probably was, when St. John wrote this, it does not follow that the pool and its porticoes were destroyed also. The pool, or what is said to be it, is shown to travellers at the present time. By the sheep-market a pool Or, by the sheep-gate, as Dr. Campbell renders επι τη προβατικη , observing, however, that there is nothing in the Greek which answers to either gate or market; but the word used being an adjective, requires some such addition to complete the sense: and we have good evidence that one of the gates of Jerusalem was called the sheep-gate. See Nehemiah 3:32; Nehemiah 12:39. But we have no evidence that any place there was called the sheep-market. The word κολυμβηθρα , here rendered a pool, signifies a place to swim in. Doddridge, Macknight, Campbell, and many other learned men, understand by it, a bath, like those near Jericho, where Aristobulus was drowned by Herod’s order, as he was swimming. Called in the Hebrew tongue, Bethesda That is, the house of mercy; having five porticoes Piazzas, or covered walks, being a most agreeable and salutary building in those warm climates, where excessive heat was not only troublesome, but prejudicial to health. Probably the basin had five sides. In these lay a great multitude of impotent folk The water being highly esteemed on account of some medicinal virtues which attended it, and the benefit many had received by bathing in it: waiting for the moving of the water For an extraordinary commotion to be caused in it. For an angel went down at a certain season Or, as some understand κατα καιρον , at that season, the season of the feast, mentioned John 5:1, confining the miracle of the pool to this particular feast. For, since the evangelist does not say that the waters of this pool had their healing quality at any other feast, we are at liberty to make what supposition seems to us most probable. Perhaps the silence of Philo and Josephus upon this miracle may induce some to think that it happened only at one passover. For though many infirm people lay in these porticoes, if the angel, as is probable, descended frequently during that solemnity, the miracle would be no sooner known than multitudes would come and wait at the pool, to be cured by the moving waters. However, if the number of the sick, collected together on this occasion, and the phrase κατα καιρον , rendered, at a certain season, shall incline any to believe that these waters had a healing quality at other passovers also, the silence of the writers before mentioned needs not to be much regarded, it being well known that they have omitted much greater transactions, which they had as good an opportunity to know; namely, that multitude and variety of miracles which our Lord performed in the course of his ministry. See Macknight. As the word rendered angel means also messenger, and is frequently used of any messenger whatever, Dr. Hammond conjectures, that not an angel of God, but an officer, sent by the priests and rulers at a certain time to stir up the waters of this pool, is here intended; and that the warm entrails of animals, which he supposed were cast into it to be washed, communicated this healing virtue to it. But surely all the circumstances of this history, as Dr. Whitby justly observes, render this hypothesis highly improbable. For how is it likely, 1st, That this should be a natural means of curing all sorts of diseased persons, without exception, the blind, the halt, and the withered?

2d, That it should only cure the person that stepped in first, though he might be followed by others the same instant; for how should the natural virtue of this pool, impregnated with the warm entrails of so many sacrifices, extend itself only to one ? Man 1:3 d, That it should do this only at one time of the year, namely, at the feast of passover; for this was done, not at several times, but only at a certain time, or season, or at that time, or season. And, lastly, the very foundation of this conjecture is taken away by that observation of Dr. Lightfoot, that there was a laver in the temple for the washing of those entrails, and so they were not likely to be washed in this pool. It is further to be observed, that these waters of Siloam were a type of the kingdom of David, according to Isaiah 8:6; and of Christ, according to Joh 12:3 of the same prophet; whence Siloam is interpreted sent, by this evangelist, John 9:7. To this type of the Messiah, God might therefore give this virtue about that time, to prepare the Jews to receive his advent, who was sent to them; and, at the same time, when a fountain was to be opened for sin and for uncleanness, (Zechariah 13:1,) he might communicate this virtue to this pool, as a prefiguration of it: whence, as Tertullian observes, “the virtue of this pool then ceased, when they, persisting in their infidelity, rejected our Saviour.” And this might be one reason why the Jewish writers are so silent as to its virtue, because, by its signification, it related to Christ, and by this miracle confirmed his doctrine. “That the waters of Bethesda,” says Dr. Macknight, “should at this time have obtained a miraculous healing quality, was, without doubt, in honour of the personal appearance of the Son of God on earth. Perhaps it was intended to show that Ezekiel’s vision of waters, (Ezekiel 47:1; Ezekiel 47:7,) issuing out of the sanctuary, was about to be fulfilled; of which waters it is said, (John 5:9,) They shall be healed, and every thing shall live whither the river cometh.

Verses 5-6

John 5:5-6. A certain man was there Among the crowds which now lay in the porticoes of Bethesda, was one who had an infirmity A weakness, as the word ασθενεια means; thirty and eight years He had probably lost the use of his limbs, at least, on one side, by a paralytic stroke. It is a great affliction to have the body so disabled, that instead of being the soul’s instrument, it is become, even in the affairs of this life, its burden. What reason many of us have to thank God for bodily health and strength, to use them for him, and to sympathize with those who are deprived of them, and especially with those, who, like this afflicted man, have been deprived of them for many years! This poor man had been in a state of great weakness, attended, doubtless, frequently with much pain, longer than most persons live. Shall we complain of one or two, or a few wearisome nights, or some short fits of affliction or pain, who, perhaps, for many years, have scarce known what it has been to be a day ill, when many others, holier than we, have scarce known what it has been to be a day well? When Jesus saw him lie Singling him out from the rest, and fixing his eyes upon him; he saith unto him With great compassion; Wilt thou be made whole? The length and greatness of this man’s affliction, well known to Jesus, as is here observed, together with his poverty, (John 5:7,) were sufficient reasons for his making choice of him to experience the mercy of his healing power, a power infinitely superior to the virtue of the waters, while he let the rest remain in their affliction. Our Lord seems to have asked this afflicted man the above-mentioned question, to give him an opportunity of declaring his case in the hearing of the multitude: because such a declaration would tend to make the miracle more conspicuous, and to awaken the attention of the inhabitants of the Jewish capital to the evidence he was daily giving of his divine mission.

Verse 7

John 5:7. The impotent man answered, I have no man I am poor as well as lame, and unable to hire any one to put me into the pool when the water is troubled, and I have neither friend nor relation to do this kind office for me. He seems to consider Christ’s question as implying an imputation of carelessness and neglect in him, and, therefore, gives the reason why he was not made whole, notwithstanding his desire. While I am coming, another steppeth down before me He signifies that he had made many efforts to get into the pool, but hitherto without success, one or another always preventing him; and none having the charity to say, Your case is worse than mine; do you go in now, and I will stay till the next time; for the old maxim is but too true, Every one for himself. Observe, reader, how mildly this man speaks of the unkindness of those about him, making no peevish reflections on any one. As we should be thankful for the least kindness, so we should be patient under the greatest contempts: and whatever cause we may think we have for resentment, yet we should take care that our expressions be always calm. And observe further, to his praise, that though he had waited so long in vain, yet still he continued lying by the pool side, hoping that some time or other help would come.

Verse 8

John 5:8. Jesus saith, Rise, take up thy bed, and walk A strange command to be given to an impotent man, that had been long disabled; but this divine word was to be the vehicle of a divine power; it was a command to the disease to be gone, to nature to be strong. But it is expressed as a command to him to exert himself. He must rise and walk, that is, attempt to do so, and, in the essay, he shall receive strength. Thus the conversion of a sinner is the cure of a chronical disease, and is ordinarily effected by the word, a word of command; arise and walk; turn and live; make ye a new heart: but this no more supposes a power in us to obey such commands, without the grace of God, than these words of Christ supposed such a power in the impotent man. But if he had not attempted to help himself, he would not have been cured, but must have borne the blame of his continuing to be weak and helpless. Christ commanded him to take up his bed, 1st, That it might be evident a perfect cure was wrought, and that miraculously; for the man did not recover strength by degrees, but from the extremity of weakness, he suddenly stepped into the highest degree of bodily strength; so that he was able to carry as great a load as any porter, who had been as long used to carry burdens as he had been unaccustomed to any thing of the kind. 2d, Christ intended hereby to proclaim the cure, and make it public: for as it was the sabbath day, by carrying a burden through the streets he made himself very remarkable, and every one would inquire why he did it, by which means the notice of the miracle would spread, to the honour of God. 3d, Christ intended thus to witness against the traditions of the elders, who had stretched the law of the sabbath beyond its intention; and likewise to show, that he was Lord of the sabbath, and had power to make what alterations he pleased respecting it, and to overrule the law. The case may be such, that it may become a work of necessity, or mercy, to carry a bed on the sabbath day; but here it was more; it was a work of piety, being designed purely for the glory of God. 4th, He meant hereby to try the faith and obedience of his patient, who, by carrying his bed, would publicly expose himself to the censure of the ecclesiastical court, and become liable, at least, to be scourged in the synagogue. Now will he venture to subject himself to this reproach and suffering in obedience to Christ? Yes, he will. Those that have been healed by Christ’s word, ought to be ruled by his word, whatever it may cost them.

Verses 9-11

John 5:9-11. And immediately the man was made whole A divine power going along with the command of Christ. What a joyful surprise was this to the poor cripple, to find himself, all of a sudden, so easy, so strong, so able to help himself! What a new world was he in, in an instant! Reader, nothing is too hard for Christ to do! And took up his bed, and walked Finding himself whole, he did not object against his Deliverer’s command, though contrary to the precepts of the doctors. He rose up immediately, and, by carrying away his bed with uncommon vigour, showed the greatness and perfection of his cure, not caring who blamed him, or threatened him for doing it. Thus the proof of our spiritual cure is our rising and walking. Hath Christ healed our spiritual diseases? Let us go whithersoever he sends us, and take up and bear whatever he is pleased to lay upon us, and walk before him. And the same day was the sabbath That is, Either the first holy convocation in the feast of unleavened bread, that is, the morrow after the passover solemnity, which was one of the greatest sabbaths, (John 19:31,) or the ordinary sabbath happening on the passover week, and consequently the day on which the disciples plucked the ears of corn, as mentioned Matthew 12:1-8. The Jews Who saw him pass along the streets in this manner; said, It is the sabbath day, it is not lawful to carry thy bed How is it, then, that thou art so presumptuous as to profane this holy day? It does not appear whether they who thus spoke were magistrates, who had power to punish him, or common people, who could only inform against him; but thus far was commendable, that while they knew not by what authority he did it, they were jealous for the honour of the sabbath, and could not, without concern, see it profaned; like Nehemiah 13:17. He answered, He that made me whole He that with a word restored my strength in an instant; said unto me, Take up thy bed, &c. As if he had said, I do not do this in contempt of the law and the sabbath, but in obedience to one who, by making me whole, hath given an undeniable proof that he is greater than either. He that could work such a miracle as to heal me in a moment of an inveterate disease, doubtless might give me such a command as to carry my bed; he that could overrule the powers of nature, might doubtless overrule a positive law, especially in an instance not of the essence of the law; he that was so kind as to make me whole, would not be so unkind as to bid me do what was sinful. Christ, by curing another paralytic, proved his power to forgive sins; here to give law: if his pardons are valid, his edicts are so, and his miracles prove both.

Verses 12-13

John 5:12-13. Then asked they, What man is that, &c. Dropping all mention of the cure, they only fix on what seemed liable to exception. They do not ask, Who made thee well? but, Who bade thee take up this bed on the sabbath day? that is, as they interpreted it, Who bade thee profane the sabbath? Though he had just told them it was the author of his cure that gave him that command; for all that they proposed was, not to hear of any good that had been done to engage their admiration and applause; but to lay hold on some occasion to find fault, to gratify the pride and malice of a censorious temper. And he that was healed wist not Did not know at that time; who it was That had cured him; for Jesus had conveyed himself away Greek, εξενευσεν , had slipped away. The word, as Casaubon observes, is an elegant metaphor borrowed from swimming, and well expresses the easy, unobserved manner in which Christ, as it were, glided through the multitude, leaving no trace behind of the way he had taken.

Verses 14-16

John 5:14-16. Afterward, Jesus findeth him in the temple The same day, probably, in which he was healed, whither, it is likely, he had repaired to return thanks to God for his signal recovery. Thus, when God has, at any time, restored us to our health, we ought to attend him with solemn praises; and the sooner the better; while the sense of the mercy is fresh in our minds. Jesus, happening to be now in the temple, and meeting with the man, that he might render the mercy he had conferred on him complete, takes this opportunity to put him in mind of his having brought the distemper upon himself by his wicked courses; and said, Behold, thou art made whole By the singular mercy of God, thou art now restored to health and vigour; sin no more Guard against all known sin; lest a worse thing come unto thee Lest some heavier judgment should be inflicted on thee: for the deliverance thou hast now received would be a dreadful aggravation of any future guilt thou mightest contract. The man Having received information from those that stood by who it was that spoke to him, and knowing him to be the person to whom he was indebted for his cure; departed From the temple; and told the Jews Who had before examined him, that it was Jesus who had made him whole, expecting, no doubt, by this discovery, to have procured him that honour and respect which were due to so much power and goodness. And therefore did the Jews persecute Jesus One would have expected, that as soon as the man who had been thus miraculously healed had published the name of his benefactor, crowds would have immediately thronged about Jesus to have heard the words of his mouth, and to have received the blessings of his gospel. But, instead of this, behold the malignity of our fallen nature, and force of stubborn prejudice! They surround him with a hostile intent; they even conspire against his life; and, for an imagined transgression in point of ceremony, would have put out this Light of Israel. Let us not wonder, then, if our good be evil spoken of; if even candour, benevolence, and usefulness, do not disarm the enmity of those who have been taught to prefer sacrifice to mercy; and who, dis-relishing the genuine gospel, naturally seek to slander and persecute the professors, and especially the defenders of it.

Verses 17-20

John 5:17-20. Jesus answered “By the Jews, who in the preceding verses are said to have persecuted Jesus, we are to understand the rulers, as appears from John 5:33, where Jesus, speaking to the persons who sought to kill him, (John 5:18,) says unto them, Ye sent unto John, and he bare witness unto the truth. But the messengers that were sent to John were priests and Levites, (John 1:19,) persons of character who would not have undertaken the office, unless by the appointment of the rulers, called on that occasion, as well as here, the Jews. Hence the apology which Jesus now made for himself is such as was proper to be pronounced before the most capable judges; for it is the most regular defence of his character and mission that is anywhere to be found in the gospels, comprehending the principal arguments in behalf of both, setting them forth with the greatest strength of reason, clearness of method, and conciseness of expression.” Macknight. My Father worketh hitherto From the beginning of the creation till now he hath been working without intermission, particularly in doing good to men by his unwearied providence. For on the sabbath day, as well as on other days, through the invisible operation of his almighty power, he supports the whole frame of nature, and carries on the motions of the heavens, upon which the vicissitudes of day and night, and of the seasons depend, so necessary to the production of food, with the other means of life. And I work I imitate my Father, and work also continually. This is the proposition which is explained from John 5:19-30, and confirmed and vindicated in the 31st and following verses. As the Jews built their observation of the sabbath upon God’s having rested thereon from the works of creation, this argument was decisive: nevertheless, the apology offended them exceedingly, and they sought the more to kill him, because he not only had broken the sabbath Which they were confident he had done; but said also, that God was his Father Greek, Πατερα ιδιον , his own proper Father, as the expression signifies; his Father in so peculiar and appropriating a sense as, in effect, to make himself equal with God; and therefore asserting that he acted like God, and arguing his own right to work on the sabbath day from God’s working upon it. Since the whole nation of the Jews thought God to be their Father, (John 8:41,) they would not have accounted it blasphemy in Christ to have called God his Father, had they not interpreted it in so high and appropriating a sense. The conclusion which they drew from his words, our Lord did not deny, but showed that in all things he acted agreeably to the will of God, and that he was equal in power to God, doing whatever he saw the Father do, an honour which flowed to him from the immense love of the Father. The expression, the Son can do nothing of himself, manifests, not his imperfection, but his glory, for it implies his eternal, intimate, indissoluble unity with the Father. Hence it is absolutely impossible that the Son should judge, will, testify, or teach any thing, without the Father, John 5:30, &c.; John 6:38; John 7:16: or that he should be known or believed on separately from the Father. And he here defends his doing good every day without intermission, by the example of his Father, from which he cannot depart. For the Father loveth the Son Namely, with a peculiar, an infinite love; and showeth him all things that himself doeth A proof of the most intimate unity; his most secret counsels lie open to the Son: and he will show him By doing them; greater works than these Which he has hitherto performed; will enable him to do greater miracles than any he has done hitherto; that ye may marvel Which though they may not convince, will certainly astonish you, and make it impossible for you to gainsay him, at least, with any show of reason. Thus they marvelled, and were astonished, when he raised Lazarus, and when they were compelled to witness the awful prodigies that attended his death.

Verses 21-23

John 5:21-23. For as the Father raiseth up the dead, &c. Here he declares what are those greater works, namely, raising the dead and judging the world. These two, quickening and judging, are proposed, John 5:21-22. The acquittal of believers, which presupposes judgment, is treated of in John 5:24; the quickening some of the dead, John 5:25; and the general resurrection, John 5:28. For the Father judgeth no man Without the Son; but he doth judge by that man whom he hath ordained, Acts 17:31. That all men should honour the Son, even as they honour the Father Honour him as the Maker, Upholder, Redeemer, Saviour, Governor, and Judge of the world, and that either willingly, by yielding to him the homage of faith, love, and obedience, and so escaping condemnation, and attaining eternal life; or unwillingly, and so feeling the wrath of the Judge. This demonstrates the equality, or sameness, rather, of the Godhead of the Son and the Father. If our Lord were God only by office, or investiture, and not in the unity of the divine essence, he would not be honoured even as, that is, with the same honour as that wherewith the Father is honoured. He that honoureth not the Son With the same equal honour, greatly dishonoureth the Father which sent him.

Verses 24-30

John 5:24-30. Verily, he that heareth my word, &c., hath everlasting life Such a person is already entitled to it, yea, it is already begun in his soul, and he shall shortly possess it in its full perfection: and shall not come into condemnation For any former offences; but is passed from death unto life That is, from that state of spiritual death, or of alienation from the life of God, (see Ephesians 4:18,) in which men naturally are, to spiritual life and felicity, in union and communion with God. Verily, verily, I say unto you I renew the important declaration in the strongest terms; the hour is coming, and now is That is, it is just at hand; when the dead shall hear the voice of the Son of God Within the space of a few months some dead bodies shall be raised to life by the word of his power. See Mark 5:41; Luke 7:14; John 11:43; and Matthew 27:52-53. Or rather, he meant, that many souls then dead in sin, should be quickened by his grace, and made spiritually alive. For as the Father hath life in himself Originally and essentially; so hath he given to the Son In order to these purposes of glorious and divine operation; to have life in himself To be communicated unto whomsoever he will. Hence the apostle ( 1Co 15:45 ) terms the second Adam, a quickening spirit: and hath given him authority Not only to quicken men now, but also to execute final judgment; because he is the Son of man Because he humbled himself so low as to become the Son of man, the Father conferred on him the high honour and glorious power of judging men and angels, that is, exalted the human nature, united to the divine, to this dignity and authority, Philippians 2:9-11. Marvel not at this, the hour is coming, in which all that are in the graves shall hear his voice, &c.

“Be not surprised at my saying, the Son of man has power to raise a few particular persons from the dead. There is a far greater power committed to him, even that of raising all men at the last day, and of judging and rewarding them according to their works.” I can of my own self do nothing Now in this judgment I will not act absolutely or arbitrarily, but according to the laws of equity, unalterably established by my Father; so that I shall not act therein so properly by my own, as by my Father’s authority. As I hear I judge In allusion to human courts, where the judges found their sentences upon the testimony of witnesses, and the laws of the country. Yet the expression by no means implies that our Lord, at the great day, shall receive information from any one whatsoever, concerning the persons he is to judge. Having been himself privy to their actions, he needs no evidence, but knows all things that ever were thought, said, or done by mankind, from the beginning to the end of time, fully and certainly. And my judgment is just Not only because it is thus a judgment according to truth and equity, but likewise, because I seek not my own will, but the will of my Father, &c. I have no interest to pursue, no inclination to fulfil, different from that of my Father.

Verses 31-35

John 5:31-35. If I bear witness of myself my witness is not true Heylin and Wesley read, is not valid; Doddridge, is not [ to be admitted as ] true; and Campbell, is not to be regarded; observing, “In every country, where there are standing laws, and a regular constitution, there is what is called a forensic, or judicial use of certain words, which differs considerably from familiar use.” Thus the word δικαιος , rendered a just person, (Matthew 27:24,) seems to mean no more than, not guilty of the crime charged. “The like holds of the word αληθης , (here rendered true,) which, when used in reference to the procedure in judicatories, denotes, not what is in itself true, but what is proved, or what is accounted legal proof. Thus it is said, that a man’s testimony of himself is not true. A man may certainly give a true testimony of himself; but, in law, it is not evidence; and is therefore held as untrue. This sense of the word often occurs in this gospel.” As if he had said, I have certainly entered a very high claim, and asserted my dignity in very strong terms, but I do not require any man to believe me merely on the authority of my own testimony. There is another that beareth witness of me A person of undoubted reputation and veracity. He refers to the testimony of John, given him in the hearing of their own deputies. But at the same time he observed, that the truth of his mission did not depend on human testimony, though it was given by one who was a burning and shining light, and in whom they greatly rejoiced, because the prophetic spirit, which had so long ceased, seemed to be again revived in him. For he proceeds; But I receive not Or, I have no need to receive; testimony from man: but these things Concerning John, whom ye yourselves reverence; I say, that ye may be saved Namely, from that destruction which John foretold would be the portion of those who should reject me. So really and seriously did Christ will their salvation. Yet they were not saved. Most, if not all of them, died in their sins. He was a burning and a shining light Inwardly burning with love and zeal; outwardly shining with all holiness. Some infer from this expression that the Baptist was now dead; yet he does not seem to have been killed till a little before the third passover. The reason is, the miracle of the loaves, performed in the desert of Bethsaida immediately after word was brought of John’s death, is said to have happened a little before that feast, John 6:4. If so, our Lord’s meaning is, that John was a burning and a shining light, not while he lay in prison, but while his ministry lasted; for during his imprisonment his light may be said to have been extinguished. Accordingly it is added, And ye were willing for a season Προς ωραν , for an hour; to rejoice in his light Ye hearkened to him with great pleasure, till his credit was impaired in your estimation by his imprisonment. Or the meaning may be, that they did not continue long to manifest that regard for his preaching, which, at his first appearance, they seemed to promise; because his doctrine was too strict and severe to be approved of, or endured long by so carnal and worldly-minded a people.

Verses 36-38

John 5:36-38. But I have greater witness than that of John The testimony of one who has infinitely greater authority and power than he; for the works which the Father hath given me to finish The miracles which he hath commissioned me to perform; bear witness of me In a manner most convincing to every unprejudiced mind; that the Father hath sent me As his Ambassador to men, with full authority to reveal his will. And the Father himself hath borne witness of me And that in the most public manner, namely, at my baptism. Ye have neither heard his voice, &c. As if he had said, I speak not of my supposed father, Joseph. Ye are utter strangers to him of whom I speak. Or, You show yourselves to be as ignorant of him as men are of a person they never either saw or heard. Bishop Pearce considers the clause as a parenthesis, and thinks the sense, in connection with what precedes and follows, is, “Not that my Father ever appeared visibly, or spake audibly to any of you; but he did it by the mouths of his prophets.” To their testimony, however, he had lately added his own voice from heaven. But the sense in which Dr. Whitby takes the words, seems to connect them more naturally with the preceding verse: thus, “Nor are you to expect that the Father should testify of me otherwise than by his works, for that which was granted to your fathers belongs not to you, namely, to see his glory and hear his voice out of the midst of the fire. And have not his word abiding in you You do not show a due regard even to those sacred oracles, which you acknowledge to be divine; either you do not cordially believe them, or they have not that influence upon your spirit and conduct which, in all reason, they ought to have.” The scriptures of the Old Testament, if they had understood, believed, and laid them to heart as they ought to have done, would, doubtless, have disposed them to receive Christ. But this revelation of the divine will was not in them. It was among them, in their country, in their hands, but not in their hearts; they beheld it with their eyes, and it sounded in their ears; but it did not rule in their souls. But how did it appear that they had not the word of God abiding in them? it appeared by their not believing and receiving him whom God had sent. There was so much said in the Old Testament concerning Christ, to direct people when and where to look for him, and so to facilitate the discovery of him, that if they had duly considered those things, they could not have avoided the conviction that Jesus was the Christ, and that he was sent of God; so that their not believing in him, and receiving his doctrine, was a certain sign that the word of God did not abide in them. Observe, reader, 1st, The indwelling of the Word and Spirit, or grace of God in us, is best tried and known by the effects which it produces: particularly by our receiving whom and what he sends, the messengers, the commands, the threatenings, the promises, the providences, which he sends; and especially Christ whom he has sent. 2d, If his word abide in us, if we converse with it by frequent meditation, consult it upon every occasion, and conform to it in our conversation, we shall then readily receive the testimony of the Father concerning Christ, and therefore shall believe in and receive him in all the characters and offices which he sustains, and in which he is offered to us in the gospel.

Verses 39-40

John 5:39-40. Search the Scriptures Because the Jews were exceedingly averse to acknowledge Jesus for their Messiah, notwithstanding that the evidences of his mission were so unexceptionable, he appeals, lastly, to their own scriptures, which, for further proof, and their full satisfaction, he desires them to search, because these writings, as they justly supposed, contained the knowledge of eternal life, and of the way leading to it, and therefore the knowledge of the Messiah. As if he had said, I can with confidence refer you to them, knowing that they confirm my pretensions in the most ample manner, the characters of the Messiah pointed out by them, being all fulfilled in my person. It must be observed that the word ερευνατε , here rendered imperatively, search, may with equal propriety be translated as Le Clerc, L’Enfant, Vitringa, Raphelius, &c., contend it ought to be, in the present tense, ye search, the ambiguity of the word justifying either translation. If thus rendered, the sense of the passage will be; Ye search the Scriptures, because in them ye think ye have eternal life, or, infallible directions from God, concerning the true way of obtaining it. Now they testify of me; yet, or, nevertheless, ye will not come to me that ye might have life. Dr. Doddridge, who reads the clause in that manner, observes, he thinks the following words, which express their high opinion of the Scriptures, rather suit this translation than the common one, and that it is exceeding probable that, at a time when the Pharisees were so impatient of the Roman yoke, they would with great diligence search the sacred oracles for predictions relating to the Messiah; though it is too plain they had an unhappy bias on their minds, which prevented the good effects which might have been expected from that inquiry, had it been impartial. It must be observed, however, that Origen, Chrysostom, and Austin, confirm our version, which certainly is fully as agreeable to the scope of the passage; for having told them that they would find abundant evidence of his mission in the Scriptures, he observed, that their want of faith was not owing to any deficiency in the proofs of his mission, but to the wickedness and obstinacy of their own dispositions. It is justly observed by Grotius, on the word ερευνατε , search, or, ye search, that it does not merely mean to read, but to weigh and consider with an attentive mind, as it is taken John 7:52, where the Jews bid Nicodemus search and look; and 1 Peter 1:10-11, where we read of the ancient prophets inquiring and searching diligently, respecting the salvation to be received through the Messiah, and the time of its manifestation, of which they had prophesied. The expression means the same with that used Acts 17:11, namely, ανακρινειν τας γραφας , where we read of the Jews at Berea searching the Scriptures daily, to know whether the things declared to them by Paul and Silas really accorded with those divine oracles or not. For in them ye think Or rather, as δοκειτε evidently means, ye know, or, are assured; ye have eternal life Ye know they show you the way to eternal life; and these very Scriptures testify of me, and of the necessity of believing in, receiving and obeying me, in order thereto. And yet, such is the obstinacy of your hearts, that, notwithstanding you profess so great a regard for them, ye will not come to me Will not believe in, and make application to me; that ye may have life Even that eternal life which they direct you to seek, and assure you may be obtained in this way; but you rather choose to die under the force of your inveterate prejudices. It is justly observed by Dr. Whitby here, that if the Jews were justified in supposing that the doctrine of eternal life was contained in the scriptures of the Old Testament, and that they, by searching, might find it there, it must be to them a sufficient rule of faith and practice: but that, if in this they erred, it behooved Christ to correct in them an error so pernicious.

Verses 41-43

John 5:41-43. I receive not honour from men I need it not; I seek it not from you for my own sake. As if he had said, Though I speak of your coming to me as necessary in order to your salvation, it is not out of an ambition of drawing multitudes after me, who may approve and applaud my teaching; for the whole of my conduct proves that I seek not the praise of men. But I say it out of a tender regard for your salvation and reformation; for I know you I am fully acquainted with the state of your minds, and the conduct of your lives; that ye have not the love of God in you That, notwithstanding the distinguished profession of piety which you make, you are destitute of that great and only principle of true religion, the love of God: For I am come in my Father’s name With evident credentials from him; and yet ye receive me not Which, if you had really loved him, you would undoubtedly have done: if another shall come in his own name Without such credentials, and without any commission from God; him ye will receive Provided he assume the majesty of a king, and promise you temporal wealth, power, and glory. Of this infatuation the Jews gave many proofs during their wars with the Romans, and a little before the destruction of Jerusalem. For then many impostors arose, pretending to be the Messiah, and promising them deliverance, by which, although they wrought no miracles, yet they drew great multitudes after them, as their own historian, Josephus, informs us; and met with a much better reception, even from the Pharisees and rulers, than Christ did, notwithstanding all his miracles. And no doubt Christ meant to include these, and all who appeared while the sanhedrim existed.

Verse 44

John 5:44. How can ye believe which receive honour one of another That is, while ye seek the praise of men, rather than the praise of God? In other words, “How can such persons as you believe in me, whose character and station are entirely different from what you have all along told the people the Scriptures teach concerning the Messiah? This confession of your own ignorance is not to be expected from you, who, in all your actions, seek the praise of men, (Matthew 23:5,) and not the praise of God, which is the only true praise, and is to be obtained by a steady regard to truth and virtue, in opposition to all earthly passions whatever.” Thus our Lord shows, that “their infidelity was owing, in a great measure, to their pride. They who had all along preached glorious things concerning the empire and grandeur of the Messiah, would not ascribe that august character to a mere teacher, who was destitute even of the ordinary advantages of birth, fortune, and erudition; because it would have been such a confession of ignorance and unskilfulness in the Scriptures, as must have exposed them to the contempt of those whom they had misled.” Macknight.

Verse 45

John 5:45. Do not think that I only will accuse you to the Father Our Lord proceeds to caution them against supposing, “that in rejecting him they sinned against no person but him, and that he alone would accuse them to the Father for their infidelity; for that Moses, in whose laws they trusted to have salvation, was likewise dishonoured by it, inasmuch as he wrote of him, namely, under the names of the Seed of Abraham; Shiloh; and a Prophet like to himself whom God would raise up unto them from among their brethren, and whom he commanded them to hear. Wherefore, seeing they refused to believe in him, Moses would accuse them as guilty of disbelieving his writings.” “This,” says Dr. Doddridge, “is one of the most expressive passages that can be imagined, in which Moses, their great lawgiver, is represented as looking down with indignation upon these elders, who gloried in being the most distinguished of his disciples; and seeing how injuriously they treated Jesus, the great Prophet, turning himself to God with a severe accusation against them, and urging his own predictions as an aggravation of their inexcusable infidelity.” For had ye believed Moses Had ye believed his writings, which are daily read in your synagogues; you would have believed me For these writings describe me not by types and figures only, but by particular and direct prophecies. See the margin. But if ye believe not his writings Which it is plain from your conduct that you do not, though they are daily in your hands, and you strenuously assert their divine authority; how shall ye believe my words I have no reason to be surprised that you do not credit me upon my own testimony. Thus Jesus asserted his own personal dignity, as the Son of God and Judge of the world, at the same time that he proposed the evidences of his mission from God with such strength of reason, perspicuity, and brevity, as are unequalled.

Bibliographical Information
Benson, Joseph. "Commentary on John 5". Benson's Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/rbc/john-5.html. 1857.
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