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John 5:1. After these things there was a feast of the Jews; and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. No more is said as to the visit to Galilee than what we find in John 4:43-54. We are taken at once to the close of the visit, when Jesus went up again to Jerusalem. The occasion of His going up was the occurrence of a festival. Contrary to his wont, the Evangelist says nothing of the nature of the festival, merely adding (as in John 2:13, John 7:2, etc.) the words ‘Of the Jews.’ It is quite impossible here to examine the attempts which have been made to give more precision to this statement. Not a few Greek manuscripts and other authorities endeavour to remove the difficulty by inserting the article, and reading ‘the feast of the Jews,’ an expression usually thought to mean the Passover. The weight of evidence, however, is distinctly in favour of reading ‘a feast;’ and we may safely say that with this reading the Passover cannot be intended. Were it possible to believe that the great national festival is spoken of, the consequences would be important. In that case four Passovers would be mentioned in this Gospel (John 2:13; John 5:1, John 6:4, John 18:28); and of one whole year of our Lord’s public ministry the only record preserved would be that contained in the chapter before us. The critical evidence, however, sets the discussion at rest so far as the Passover is concerned, and we have only to inquire which of the remaining festivals best suits the few statements of the Evangelist bearing on this part of the history. Our two landmarks are John 4:35 and John 6:4. The former verse assigns the journey through Samaria to the month of December, the latter shows that the events recorded in chap. 6 took place in March or April; hence, in all probability, the festival of chap. John 5:1 falls within the three or four months between these limits. If so, the feasts of Pentecost (about May), Tabernacles (September or October), and the Dedication of the Temple (December) are at once excluded; and no other feast remains except that of Purim, which fell about a month earlier than the Passover. This feast, therefore, is now generally believed to be the one referred to here. The objections are perhaps not insurmountable. It is said that our Lord would hardly go up to Jerusalem for Purim. As to this, however, we are clearly unable to judge; in many ways unknown to us, that feast may have furnished a fitting occasion for His visit. Its human origin would not be an obstacle (comp. chap. John 10:22), nor would its national and patriotic character. It is true that there were abuses in the celebration of Purim, and that excess and licence seem to have been common. Still we cannot doubt that many devout Israelites would be occupied with thankful recollection of the wonderful deliverance of their nation commemorated by the feast, rather than with revelry and boisterous mirth. One other objection may be noticed. The feast of Purim was not allowed to fall on a Sabbath, and hence, it is argued, cannot be thought of here. But nothing in the chapter leads necessarily to the supposition that the Sabbath on which the miracle was wrought was the day of the feast. The feast was the occasion of our Lord’s going up to Jerusalem: the Sabbath may have fallen soon after His arrival in the city; more than this we have no right to say. If therefore we look at the historical course of the narrative, it would seem that, of the solutions hitherto offered, that which fixes upon Purim as the feast referred to in the text is the most probable. But there is another question of great importance, which must not be overlooked. Why did John, whose custom it is to mark very clearly the festivals of which he speaks (see John 2:13; John 2:23, John 6:4, John 7:2, John 10:22, John 11:55, John 12:1; John 13:1, John 18:39, John 19:14), write so indefinitely here? The feast before us is the only one in the whole Gospel on which a doubt can rest. We may well ask the reason of this, and the only reply which it seems possible to give is that the indefiniteness is the result of design. The Evangelist omits the name of the feast, that the reader may not attach to it a significance which was not intended. To John, through clearness of insight, not from power of fancy, every action of his Master was fraught with deep significance; and no one who receives the Lord Jesus as he received Him can hesitate to admit in all His words and deeds a fulness of meaning, a perfection of fitness, immeasurably beyond what can be attributed to the highest of human prophets. Our Lord’s relation to the whole Jewish economy is never absent from John’s thought. Jesus enters the Jewish temple (chap. 14 ): His own words can be understood by those only who recognise that He Himself is the true Temple of God. The ordained festivals of the nation find their fulfilment in Him. Never, we may say, is any festival named in this Gospel in connection with our Lord, without an intention on the writer’s part that we should see the truth which he saw, and behold in it a type of his Master or His work. If this be true, the indefiniteness of the language here is designed to prevent our resting on the thought of this particular festival as fulfilled in Jesus, and to lead to the concentration of our attention on the Sabbath shortly to be mentioned, which in this chapter has an importance altogether exceptional. Were it possible to think that the ‘feast’ referred to was the Sabbath itself, all difficulties would be at once removed.
With the beginning of this chapter we enter upon the fourth and leading division of the Gospel, extending to the close of chap. 12 . Its object is to set Jesus forth in the height of His conflict with ignorance and error and sin. More particularly, the Redeemer appears throughout it in the light in which He had already been presented in the Prologue, as the culminating-point and fulfilment of all previous revelations of God, whether in the Old Testament or in nature. In chap. 5 He is the fulfilment of the Sabbath, the greatest of all the institutions given through Moses. The subordinate parts of the first section of the chap. are ( 1 ) John 5:1-9, the account of the miracle at the pool of Bethesda; ( 2 ) John 5:10-18, the opposition of the Jews, leading to the proclamation of the great truths contained in the second section.
John 5:2. Now there is at Jerusalem by the sheep-pool the pool which is surnamed in the Hebrew tongue Bethesda, having five porticos. The use of the present tense, there is, may seem to indicate that the pool still remained after the destruction of Jerusalem; unless indeed we adopt the opinion that, as John in all probability committed to writing very early his recollections of his Lord’s discourses and works, an incidental mark of his practice is left us in this verse. The translation of the words that follow is much disputed. The Greek word for ‘pool’ may be written in two ways. That which is usually adopted gives the meaning, ‘there is by the sheep ....a pool, that which is surnamed,’ etc.; and the question is how the ellipsis is to be filled up. There is no authority for supplying ‘market,’ as is done in the Authorised Version; and that method of supplying the blank is now generally abandoned. The idea of most writers on the Gospel is that the ‘sheep-gate’ (Nehemiah 3:1; Nehemiah 3:32; Nehemiah 12:39) is intended, but we have found no example of a similar omission of the word ‘gate.’ We are thus led to examine the other mode of writing the Greek word ‘pool,’ from which results the translation, ‘there is by the sheep-pool the pool that is surnamed;’ and to this rendering of the sentence there appears to be no valid objection It may, indeed, seem strange that the situation of the pool called Bethesda should be defined by its proximity to another pool about which no information is preserved; but it must be remembered that in questions relating to the topography of Jerusalem arguments from the silence of historians are not worth much. Early Christian writers also (Eusebius and Jerome) do actually speak of a sheep-pool in Jerusalem in connection with this passage. Ammonius tells us that the pool was so called from the habit of gathering together there the sheep that were to be sacrificed for the feast: similarly Theodore of Mopsuestia. And it is very interesting to notice that an early traveller in the Holy Land (about the first half of the fourth century) speaks of ‘ twin pools in Jerusalem, having five porticos.’ We conclude therefore that John defines the position of the pool with which the following narrative is connected by its nearness to another pool, probably of larger size, and at that time well known as the ‘sheep-pool.’ It is remarkable that of the other pool the proper name is not mentioned, but only a Hebrew or Syro-Chaldaic second name or surname. What this name is and what it signifies can hardly be determined with certainty, as several forms of the name are given in Greek manuscripts and other authorities. If we assume that Bethesda is the true form, the most probable explanation is ‘House of grace.’ It is easy to see that such a name might naturally arise, and might indeed become the common appellation amongst those who associated a beneficent healing power with the waters of the pool; and it is also easy to understand how it was the second name that lingered in John’s thought, a name which to him bore a high significance, recalling the ‘grace’ which came through Jesus Christ (John 1:17), and of which a wonderful manifestation was made at this very spot. The pool called Bethesda had five porticos; probably it was five-sided, and surrounded by an arched verandah or colonnade, closed in on the outward side. The hot springs of Tiberias are so surrounded at this day, and it is at least possible that the style of architecture may be traditional.
John 5:3. In these lay a multitude of sick folk, of blind, halt, withered. Under the shelter of these porticos many such were laid day after day. The general term ‘sick folk’ receives its explanation afterwards as consisting of those who were blind, or lame, or whose bodies or limbs were wasted. The omission of the remaining words of John 5:3 and of the whole of John 5:4 is supported by a weight of authority which it is impossible to set aside. The addition belongs, however, to a very early date, for its contents are clearly referred to by Tertullian early in the third century. It is evidently an explanatory comment first written in the margin by those who saw that the words of John 5:7 imply incidents or opinions of which the narrative as it stands gives no account. The well-intentioned gloss was not long in finding its way into the text; and, once there, it gave the weight of the apostle’s sanction to a statement which really represents only the popular belief. It will be seen that, when the unauthorised addition is removed, there is nothing in the text to support the impression that wonderful cures were actually wrought. The phenomena are those of an intermittent spring; and the various circumstances described, the concourse of sick, the eager expectation, the implicit faith in the healing virtue of the waters and in the recurring supernatural agency, find too many parallels in history to make it necessary to suppose that there was any supernatural virtue in the pool. It may be observed that the ordinary translation of the added words is not quite correct. The angel’s visit was not looked for ‘at a certain season’ (as if after some fixed and regular interval), but ‘at seasons,’ from time to time.
John 5:5. And a certain man was there, which had been thirty and eight years in his sickness. This sufferer (apparently one of the ‘withered,’ though not altogether destitute of the power of motion) had endured thirty-eight years of weakness. How long he had been wont to resort to Bethesda we cannot tell: it may have been only for days or even hours.
John 5:6. Jesus seeing him lying there, and perceiving that he hath been now a long time in that case, saith unto him, Wilt thou be made whole? The first movement is altogether on the side of Jesus: comp. John 5:21 (‘whom He will’). His knowledge of the case is by direct intuition (comp. John 2:25), not, as we believe, the result of inquiry. In Matthew 8:2 the leper’s words to Jesus were, ‘Lord, if Thou wilt, Thou canst make me clean,’ and the answer was, ‘I will.’ Here the address of Jesus contains His ‘I will,’ for His question to the man is ‘Dost thou will? if thou dost I do also.’ Jesus has the will to heal him: does he answer this with a corresponding will, or is he like those to whom Jesus would have given life, but who ‘would’ not come to Him? (John 5:40). It will be observed that there is no broad separation made between bodily and spiritual healing. The man certainly understood the former, but we cannot limit the meaning of Christ’s words by the apprehension of those to whom He speaks, and the subsequent narrative seems to imply more than the restoration of bodily health.
John 5:7. The sick man answered him, Sir, I have no man, when the water hath been troubled, to put me into the pool: but while I am coming, another steppeth down before me. The man does not give a direct answer to the question ‘Wilt thou?’ but the answer sought is implied. He had the will, but he had not the power to do what he believed must be done before healing could be obtained. The very extremity of his need rendered unavailing his repeated efforts to be the first to reach the waters when the mysterious troubling had taken place. He had no friend to help, to hurry him to the pool at the moment when the waters were thought to have received their healing power.
John 5:8. Jesus saith unto him, Rise, take up thy bed, and walk. The cure is performed in the most simple and direct manner. It is not said that Jesus laid His hands on him (Luke 13:13), or that He touched him. He speaks: the man hears the voice of the Son of God and lives (John 5:25; John 5:28-29).
John 5:9. And immediately the man was made whole, and took up his bed, and walked. The result is described in words which are a simple echo of the command. Whilst they testify the power of the healing word, they also bring into view the man’s ‘will’ and ‘faith,’ as shown in his immediate readiness to obey the command of Jesus. Immediately he was made whole, and took up his bed (the mattress which, laid upon the ground, had formed his bed), and walked.
And it was the sabbath on that day. The verses which follow show how important is this notice. As Jesus chose out this one sick man to be the object of His grace, so He of set purpose chose the sabbath day for the performance of the miracle.
John 5:10. The Jews therefore said unto him that was cured, It is the sabbath day, and it is not lawful for thee to take up the bed. The Jews some of the rulers of the people (see note on John 1:19) who had not been present at the miracle met the man as he departed carrying his bed. As guardians of the law they challenge him, and condemn the bearing of burdens on the sabbath. It is very important for us to determine whether in so doing they were right or wrong. Were they faithfully carrying out the letter of the law of Moses, or were they enforcing one of those traditions by which they destroyed its spirit? We have no hesitation in adopting the former view. The question must be decided apart from the miracle, of which at this moment the Jews seem to have had no knowledge. It is true that, even had it been known by them, their judgment would not have been altered; they would have equally condemned the healing on the sabbath (see Luke 13:14), since there had been no question of life and death. When, too, they afterwards hear what has been done (John 5:11) there is no change in their tone and spirit; and our Lord’s own reference to this miracle (chap. John 7:23) seems to show that, so far from convincing them, it had roused their special indignation. But at the point of time now before us the lawfulness of healing on the sabbath was not in question. They met a man carrying his bed in the streets of Jerusalem on the sacred day. The law of Moses forbade any work on that day; and the special enactments in the Pentateuch (the command to kindle no fire, Exodus 35:3, and the judgment on the man who gathered sticks, Numbers 15:35) show how this law was to be interpreted. In Jeremiah 17:21-23, moreover (comp. Nehemiah 13:19), this very act, the bearing of burdens, is explicitly condemned. What could they do but condemn it? Would the same act be regarded otherwise in England at the present hour? One other consideration remains, and it is decisive. Our Lord’s answer to the Jews (John 5:17) makes no reference to their casuistical distinctions or to traditions by which the law was overlaid. It differs altogether in tone and spirit from the reproofs which we read in Luke 13:15; Luke 14:5. Had their objection lain against the healing, we cannot doubt that they would have brought on themselves the like rebuke: here however they were right in holding the man’s action, so far as they understood it at the moment, to be an infraction of their law.
John 5:11. But he answered them, He that made me whole, the same said unto me, Take up thy bed, and walk. Whether the man knew the Rabbinical saying that a prophet’s command to transgress the letter of the law was to be obeyed, save in the case of idolatry, may be doubted; but the impression made on him by the majesty of Jesus was sufficient to guide his answer. Divine power had healed him: a command from One who wielded such power could not transgress the law of God.
John 5:12. They asked him, Who is the man which said unto thee, Take up, and walk? The mention of the cure has no effect in leading them to suspend their judgment. It would indeed present to them a new transgression of the law; but they content themselves with passing it by, and laying stress on what they consider an undeniable breach of the very letter of the commandment. This complete indifference to the work of mercy plainly illustrates the hard-hearted malice of ‘the Jews.’
John 5:13. But he that was healed wist not who it was. We need not wonder that this man, unable to move from place to place, perhaps only recently come to Jerusalem, had no previous knowledge of Jesus.
For Jesus withdrew himself, a multitude being in that place. After his cure, too, he could hear nothing of his benefactor, for, to avoid the recognition and enthusiasm of the multitude (comp. chap. John 6:15), Jesus withdrew, literally ‘slipped aside,’ became suddenly lost to sight. Here, as always, the ‘multitude’ or mass of the people is to be carefully distinguished from ‘the Jews.’ The conflict between Jesus and the Jews has begun: all His actions deepen their hatred against Him. The ‘multitude,’ on the other hand, is the object of His compassion: from time to time they follow Him eagerly, however slight may be their knowledge of His true teaching and aims (John 6:2; John 6:15). In subsequent chapters we shall often have to call attention to the contrast between ‘the Jews’ and the ‘multitude;’ and it will be seen that some passages are almost inexplicable unless this most important distinction is kept clearly in view.
John 5:14. After these things Jesus findeth him in the temple courts. Some time afterwards, probably not on the same day, the man is found in the temple courts. There is no reason to doubt that he had gone there for purposes of devotion, having recognised the Divine deliverance. Throughout the narrative he stands in strong contrast with the Jews, resembling in thi s the blind man of whom we read in chap. 9 .
And said unto him, Behold, thou hast been made whole: sin no longer, that some worse thing come not unto thee. The words of Jesus imply much more than the general connection of sin and suffering; they show that in this case the sickness had in some way been the result and the punishment of sin. Yet sorer judgment will follow a return to the life of sin (Matthew 12:45).
John 5:15. The man went away, and told the Jews that it was Jesus which had made him whole. The Jews asked who had commanded him to take up his bed. The man’s reply, given as soon as he had learnt the name of his Deliverer, was that Jesus had made him whole. The careful variation in the expression seems to repel the supposition that he gave the information through ingratitude or in treachery. Probably his motive was a sense of duty to those who, whatever might be their spirit, were constituted authorities who had a right to be satisfied as to all breaches of the law, with whom also would rest the decision whether he must bring a sin-offering to atone for his violation of the sabbath. Whilst, however, this may have been the man’s motive, we can hardly doubt that John (who here uses a word, ‘declared,’ which with him often has a solemn significance) sees in the act a Divine mission. In his eyes the man is for the moment a prophet of the Most High, a messenger of warning, to the guilty Jews.
John 5:16. And for this cause did the Jews persecute Jesus, because he did these things on the sabbath day. The man whose cure had been the occasion of the action taken by the Jews now passes from view. For the second time Jesus and ‘the Jews’ are brought face to face. He had appeared in the temple (John 2:14) to put an end to the abuses they bad permitted or fostered, and to vindicate the holiness of His Father’s house. Then He offered Himself to Israel as the Son of God; He declared Himself the antitype of their temple, the idea of which (as God’s dwelling-place) had its fulfilment in Himself alone. As by supernatural influence on those who trafficked in the Holy Place He had then challenged the attention of the rulers of Israel, so now by a wonderful sign He fixed on Himself the eyes of all (John 7:21). This time it is not on the temple that He lays His hand, but on the law, the cherished commandment of the sabbath. It is not as one who with authority checks abuses which none could defend, though from them many derived gain,’ that our Lord now appears in Jerusalem: He comes as one who claims to be above the law, having the right, as Lawgiver, to set aside its letter. As the temple had its idea fulfilled in Himself, so was it with the sabbath. As to the Son of God God’s house belonged, so to the Son of God belonged that Rest of God of which the sabbath was a type; and the sabbath cannot be broken by the Son of God. This is the light in which the following verses teach us to regard the whole narrative. The choice of the sabbath day for the miracle is the kernel of the paragraph. Had the Jews been teachable and free from prejudice, had they taken the miracle as the starting-point of their reasonings, they would have been prepared for hearing the ground of the claims of Jesus thus to regulate their law. ‘How can a man that is a sinner do such miracles?’ (John 9:16) was in truth a convincing argument, and by yielding to its force they would have been led to Jesus as humble seekers after truth. But because He ‘did these things,’ wrought such works and showed that He would persevere with them, they became and continued to be His persecutors.
John 5:17. But he answered them, My Father worketh until now: I also work. In three different ways does our Lord rebut the charge which His foes so often brought against Him, that He broke the sabbath. At one time He showed that it was not the law but the vain tradition that He set aside (Matthew 12:11; Luke 13:15; Luke 14:5); at another He declared Himself as the Son of man Lord of the sabbath, and taught that the law of the sabbath must be determined from its aim and object (Mark 2:27-28); here only does He take even higher ground. God rested from His works of creation on the seventh day; this day was hallowed and set apart for man’s rest from labour, a rest which was the shadow of the rest of God, and which was designed to remove from man everything that might hinder him from entering in spirit into that fellowship with God which is perfect rest. From the creation to this very moment the Father hath been working; in His very rest upholding all things by the word of His power, providing all things for His creatures, working out the purpose of His love in their redemption. ‘My Father worketh until now,’ with no pause or intermission: ‘I also work.’ He who can thus call God His Father finds in the works of His Father the law of His own works. No works of the Father can interrupt the sabbath rest: no works of the Son on earth can break the sabbath law. The 19 th and 20 th verses more fully explain what is expressed in these majestic words.
John 5:18. 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 with God. The Jews do not fail to see that the argument rested on the first words, ‘My Father.’ He who could thus speak, and who justified His works by the works of God, was calling God His own Father in the highest sense which these words can bear, and was claiming equality with God. It has been objected that, though the brief assertion of John 5:17 does really imply all this, it is not probable that so momentous an inference would have been drawn from words so few. But it is sufficient to reply that, whilst John gives to us the exact substance of the words of Jesus and the impression which they made upon the hearers, we have no reason to suppose that all the words spoken are recorded. The meaning which we gather from those that stand written before us probably could not be conveyed by spoken words without repetition and enlargement. The thought of the condensation which must have taken place in the record of these discourses of our Lord is that which fully justifies the devout reader’s effort to catch every shade of meaning and follow every turn of expression. The answer Jesus has given does but repel the Jews. We are told what the persecution of John 5:16 meant, even then they had sought His life, for now they sought the more to kill Him. From this point onwards we have the conflict that nothing could reconcile, the enmity of the Jews which would not and could not rest until they had compassed the death of Him who had come to save them.
John 5:19. Jesus therefore answered and said unto them. We have already found Jesus replying to those who did not receive His utterance of a truth by a repeated and more emphatic declaration of the very truth which they rejected (see John 3:5). So it is here. He had been accused of blasphemy in calling God ‘His own Father’ and making Himself equal with God. He solemnly reiterates His claim, and expresses with greater force the unity of His working with the working of God His Father.
Verily, verily, I say unto you, The Son can of himself do nothing save what he seeth the Father doing: for what things soever he doeth, these things the Son also in like manner doeth. The connection of this verse with the preceding is of itself sufficient to preclude the interpretation which some have given, that it has reference to the perfect obedience of the Son of man rather than to the essential oneness of the Son of God with the Father. The last words of the verse express the general positive truth that all the Father’s works are done by the Son, and done by Him in like manner, while the mystery contained in them is not greater than that which is inherent in every statement relating to the Trinity. Anticipating for a moment what will meet us in later parts of the discourse, and remembering that human words can only be approximations to the truth, we may say that it is the Son’s part to make the Father’s works take the shape of actual realities among men. The Father’s working and the Son’s working are thus not two different workings, and they are not a working of the same thing twice. They are related to each other as the ideal to the phenomenal, as the thought to the word. The Father does not work actually; He works always through the Son. The Son does not work ideally; He works always from the Father. But God is always working; therefore the Son is always working; and the works of the Father are the works of the Son, distinct, yet one and the same. From this positive truth follows the denial which comes earlier in the verse. The Jews had denounced Jesus as a blasphemer, had thought that He was placing Himself in awful opposition to God. This is impossible, for the Son can do nothing of Himself; severance from the Father in action is impossible, how much more contrariety of action! The Son can do nothing of Himself, can indeed do nothing save what He seeth the Father doing. (The remarks on ‘save’ made above, see chap. John 3:13, are exactly applicable here. See also chap. John 15:4, which closely resembles this verse in mode of expression.) The subordination of the Son, which subsists together with perfect unity, is expressed in the former half of the verse by the ‘seeing,’ in the latter by the order of the clauses. The whole verse is a translation of the truth expressed in the Prologue (John 5:1; John 5:18).
The performance of the miracle of healing on the sabbath had roused the active opposition of the Jews to Jesus, and that again had led to the great declaration contained in John 5:17, in which Jesus announces His equality with God. This announcement only excites the Jews to greater rage; and Jesus is thus led, according to His custom in this Gospel, to present in still fuller and more forcible terms the truth by which their anger and opposition had been aroused. The discourse may be divided into three subordinate parts ( 1 ) John 5:19-29, where, with a thrice repeated ‘Verily, verily’(the progress of the thought is pointed out in the Exposition), Jesus speaks of Himself as the Worker of the Father’s works, the Revealer of the Father’s glory; ( 2 ) John 5:30, a verse at once summing up what has preceded from John 5:19, and introducing the remainder of the discourse; ( 3 ) John 5:31-47, where Jesus passes from the ‘greater works’ that He does to the witness borne to Him by the Father, pointing out at the same time the true nature of the evil principles within the Jews which prevented their receiving that witness.
John 5:20. For the Father loveth the Son, and sheweth him all things that himself doeth. The relation of the Son’s acts to those of the Father has been connected with the figure of ‘seeing:’ the converse is here presented, as ‘showing.’ The Father ‘showeth’ what Himself doeth; the Son ‘seeth.’ The principle of the relation between the Father and the Son, out of which this communion springs, is ‘love,’ an eternal and continuous and infinite love, the source of an eternal and continuous and perfect communion. The same English words have occurred before, in chap. John 3:35; but the original expression is not the same. We shall have occasion in several passages to notice the two Greek words in question, which, as a rule, must be rendered by the same English word, ‘love.’ Starting from the use of the words between man and man, we may say that the one ( Φίλίω ) denotes rather the tender emotional affection, that the other ( άγαπάω ) is never dissociated from intellectual preference, esteem, choice. The one term is not necessarily stronger than the other. The latter may be more exalted, as implying the result of intelligence and knowledge; the former may be more expressive, as implying a closer bond and a warmer feeling. The first word is most in place when the two who are united by love stand more nearly on the same level, the second is commonly used when there is disparity. The former occurs thirteen times only in this Gospel; once of the Father’s love towards the Son (here), and once of His consequent love to those who love the Son (John 16:27); three times of the love of Jesus towards His disciples, and six times of their love to Him; the other two passages are John 12:25 (‘he that loveth his life’) and John 15:19 (‘the world would love its own’). It does not occur in John’s Epistles, and twice only in the Apocalypse (Revelation 3:19, Revelation 22:15). On the other hand, the latter word occurs no fewer than thirty-seven times in John’s Gospel and thirty times in his Epistles. In the Gospel it is used seven times of the love between the Father and the Son; once of the love of God to the world (John 3:16), and three times of the Father’s love to those who are Christ’s; eleven times of the love of Jesus towards His own nine times of their love towards Him, and four times of the mutual love of the disciples. In the remaining passages (John 3:19 and John 12:43) it denotes preference or choice. The fitness of the employment of the two words is very clear in almost all these instances. The first class is that with which we are now concerned, both words being used to denote the love existing between the Father and the Son. The particular passages will be noticed as they occur, but the verse before us and John 3:35 are sufficient to show clearly the general principle ruling this whole class. Here, as the context brings into relief the essential relation between the Son and the Father, that word is chosen which most befits the unity of their Being. In John 3:35, again, the context fixes our attention on Him whom God hath ‘sent:’ not the essence but the work of the Son is the leading thought, not the Word ‘in the beginning with God, but the Only-begotten Son given that the world might be saved: the other word, therefore, is there used.
And he will shew him greater works than these. The word ‘showeth’ in the first part of the verse includes all time: here the future tense is used, not as pointing to a change in the relation of the Son to the Father, as if the ‘showing’ and the ‘seeing’ would in the future grow in completeness and intensity, but only because the eternal purpose of the Father for mankind is fulfilled in time, and because the Saviour is looking at successive stages of His work, as developed in human history. The ‘greater works’ must not be understood to mean simply greater acts, more wonderful miracles, all that we commonly understand by the miracles of Jesus being rather comprehended under the word ‘these.’ Further, our Lord does not say ‘greater works than this ‘miracle, but greater works than ‘these:’ and lastly, to compare one of the Saviour’s miraculous deeds with another, to divide them into greater and less, is altogether foreign to the spirit of the Gospels. The key to the meaning of the ‘greater works’ is given by the following verses; they include the raising of the dead, the giving of life, the judgment.
That ye may marvel. The design of these greater works, of this higher and more complete manifestation of Jesus, is ‘that ye may marvel.’ ‘Ye,’ as throughout this discourse, is an address to those who opposed Him, who ‘would not come’ to Him, who refused to believe His words. The meaning of ‘marvel,’ therefore, does not differ from that which we observed in chap. John 3:7: it is not the wonder of admiration and faith, but the marvelling of astonishment and awe.
John 5:21. For even as the Father raiseth up the dead and maketh to live, so the Son also maketh to live whom he will. This verse begins the explanation of the ‘greater works’ which the Father ‘will show’ unto the Son. In speaking of these, however, the present not the future tense is used, for some of them are even now present in their beginnings, though future in their complete manifestation. The first example of these works of the Father, which ‘the Son also doeth in like manner,’ is raising up the dead and making to live. Are the words to be understood in their ordinary sense, or are they figurative? This question can only be answered from the context. On one side John 5:25 is decisive, death being there used of a spiritual state, and not with a physical reference only. On the other hand, John 5:28 unquestionably speaks of the raising of the dead out of their graves. As, therefore, the verses which follow John 5:21 certainly contain an expansion and exposition of the first words of the discourse (John 5:17; John 5:19-21), the general terms of John 5:21 must be employed in their widest sense, including both a physical and a spiritual resurrection and gift of life. This is the more natural, as the miracle of healing has been the fountain of the discourse, and we have seen that in such miracles of our Lord the physical and spiritual worlds are in a remarkable way brought together. The work spoken of is divided into two parts, the raising and the giving of life. The former word ‘raising’ is that used in John 5:8 (‘Rise’), and is the first part of the command which then gave life. It is the word rendered ‘awake’ in Ephesians 5:14, a passage which the verse before us at once recalls. Whether used literally or in reference to a spiritual resurrection, it denotes the first step in the process of ‘making to live.’ Either word might stand by itself to indicate the work: neither in 2 Corinthians 1:9, ‘God which raiseth the dead,’ nor in Romans 4:17, ‘God who maketh the dead to live,’ is an imperfect act described. But the description is more vivid here, as we see first the transition and then the completed gift. In the language of this Gospel, ‘life’ has so deep a significance that ‘maketh to live’ must not be limited to the initial ‘quickening,’ it is the whole communication of the fulness of life. If this view be correct, we can find no difficulty in the omission of the word ‘raiseth’ in the second half of the verse. Once mentioned, it presents the work of giving life so vividly, that afterwards the one word ‘maketh-to-live’ is sufficient to bear all the meaning. So in John 5:8 and John 5:11. The command to the sick man had been, ‘Rise and . . . walk:’ when the result is described and the command related by him who has been healed, nothing is said of the arising, for it is included in the gift of life. God ‘maketh alive’ (Deuteronomy 32:39; 1 Samuel 2:6): ‘God hath given to us eternal life’ (1 John 5:11). However understood, whether physically or spiritually, this is the work of the Father; both in the physical and in the spiritual sense, it is also, we now learn, the work of the Son. In one respect the later part of the verse is not less but more detailed than the earlier. No one can doubt that ‘whom He will’ lies implicitly in the first words, but the thought is expressed in regard to the Son only; and the best illustration of it as applied to Him is given by the narrative itself. Amongst the crowd of sick Jesus chose out one especially wretched and consciously helpless, and bestowed on him the free gift of life. So (Matthew 11:25) the wise and prudent are passed by, and babes are the objects of the Fathers merciful will. The Son’s will is the manifestation of the Father’s purpose. There is no suggestion of an absolute decree. The cure of the sick man was to a certain extent dependent on his own will: ‘Hast thou a will to be made whole?’ (John 5:6). The same will to be quickened is necessary to all to whom the will to quicken on the part of the Son extends. What is the source of the will in them is a question not raised: enough that the light appears, and they are attracted to the light and open their hearts to receive it.
John 5:22. For moreover the Father judgeth no one, but hath given all judgment unto the Son. This verse must be taken in connection with John 5:19, ‘The Son can of Himself do nothing save what He seeth the Father doing.’ By thus connecting the two verses, it becomes plain that our Lord does not assert that judgment is not in a certain sense exercised by the Father, but that the Father has not reserved judgment to Himself, that with all other things, it too is given unto the Son. The Father showeth the Son all things that Himself doeth: from this complete manifestation nothing is excepted, not even that final arbitrament which is the prerogative of the Supreme. Hence there is no contradiction between this verse and John 5:30 below, where Jesus says, ‘I can of mine own self do nothing; as I hear, I judge;’ nor will John 8:50 present any difficulty. By ‘judgment,’ as in chap. John 3:17-19, we must certainly understand a judgment that issues in condemnation: the parallelism between John 3:18, ‘He that believeth in Him is not judged,’ and John 5:24, ‘He that heareth my word and believeth Him that sent me hath eternal life, and cometh not into judgment,’ is remarkably close. All judgment future and present, the final award with all that foreshadows it, the Father hath given, by a bestowal which can never be revoked, unto the Son. The connection between the John 5:22 and the John 5:21 verses is now plain. The Son maketh to live whom He will; but there are some on whom He does not bestow life (compare John 5:40); them therefore He judges, He condemns, for not even is this Divine prerogative withholden from Him; nay, all judgment hath been given unto the Son.
John 5:23. That all may honour the Son even as they honour the Father. These words express the purpose of the Father in giving all judgment to the Son. They remind us of the closing words of John 5:20, which also express His purpose, but there is a significant difference between the two verses. There we read ‘that ye may marvel,’ here ‘that all may honour:’ there it is the confusion and amazement of foes, here it is the honour rendered by all whether foes or friends. It is true, indeed, that the ‘judgment’ of John 5:22 implies condemnation, and that, by consequence, this verse might seem to relate to foes only and not obedient subjects in the kingdom of God. But the ‘all’ is rightly introduced, for when judgment has compelled the honour of unwilling adoration, much more may it be expected that willing hearts will see the unity of the Father and the Son, and will honour the Son even as they honour the Father.
He that honoureth not the Son, honoureth not the Father which sent him. It was in their zeal for the honour of the Father, as they supposed, that the Jews refused to honour Him who was God’s Son. But so truly one are the Father and the Son, that all who dishonour the Son dishonour the Father. The Father orders all things as the does that He whom He sent into the world may receive equal honour with Himself; and all who refuse honour to the Son resist the Father’s purpose. Similar words are found in one of the earlier Gospels (Luke 10:16), yet no teaching is more characteristic of the fourth.
John 5:24. Verily, verily, I say unto you. The second ‘Verily, verily,’ introducing the second step in the argument.
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. This verse has a close connection with the last, the words ‘Him that sent me’ taking up the similar words in John 5:23; and those who by hearing Christ’s words give honour to the Father being set over against those who were there spoken of as dishonouring the Father. But the verse has also a very important connection with the three preceding verses. They have stated the work of the Son as it has been given Him by the Father; this states the same work in its effect upon believers. The comparison of the terms employed in the several verses is very instructive, and the advance from a principle asserted of the Son to the same principle viewed in its application to men is most perceptible. The Son maketh to live the dead, even those whom He will (John 5:21): he that heareth His word hath eternal life, and hath passed out of his state of death into life (John 5:24). All judgment is given unto the Son (John 5:22): into this judgment he that believeth does not come (John 5:24). There is special significance in the words ‘believeth Him that sent me:’ our Lord does not say ‘believeth in Him,’ for that which He has in view is the acceptance of God’s testimony concerning the Son (1 John 5:10). Such hearing and believing imply the full acceptance of Christ, and thus lead directly to that ‘believing in the Son’ which (chap. John 3:36) gives the present possession of eternal life. The believer has passed into a state to which judgment does not apply; he has received into himself that word which (chap. John 12:48) will at the last day judge all who reject it. Believing in Christ, he has life in Him, and to all that are in Christ Jesus there is no condemnation (Romans 8:1).
John 5:25. Verily, verily, I say unto you. The third ‘Verily, verily,’ introducing the third step in the argument.
An hour cometh, and now is, when the dead shall hear the voice of the Son of God: and they that have heard shall live. What was said of John 5:24 applies here also; for this verse has a direct connection with that which precedes it (‘heareth my word’ rises into ‘shall hear the voice of the Son of God’); and yet a still more important link unites it with the opening words of the discourse, especially with John 5:20, ‘He will show Him greater works.’ In the 21 st and 22 d verses, these works are looked at in their own nature as done by the Son; in the 24 th verse, they are looked at in their effect on the believer. Now, the ‘will show’ is brought into prominence, for it is of the historical fulfilment of those words that the verse before us speaks. ‘An hour cometh’ when the Son’s power to give life to the dead (John 5:21) shall be manifested. Of the two spheres in which this power is exercised this verse has in view one only; the ‘dead’ are those who are spiritually dead. In regard to these alone could it be said that the hour has already begun (‘an hour cometh, and now is’) , or would the limitation in the last words be in place, ‘ they that have heard shall live.’ The general meaning therefore is the same as that of the last verse; but, as it is to ‘the dead’ that the Son speaks, we here read of ‘the voice’ and not ‘the word.’ In saying ‘the voice of the Son of God,’ Jesus recalls to our thought all the majesty of His first words (John 5:11; John 5:17; John 5:19).
John 5:26. For even as the Father hath life in himself; so gave he to the Son also to have life in himself. The dead shall hear the voice of the Son and live, for the Son hath life and can impart life. This is the connection between John 5:25-26. The Father who is the primal fountain of life gave to the Son to have life in Himself. As in John 5:19-21, that which belongs to the Father and that which belongs to the Son are designated by the same words, while the subordination expressed in John 5:19-20, by the figurative words ‘showing’ and ‘seeing,’ is here (as in John 5:22) expressed by the word ‘gave.’ It is therefore the essential nature of the Son that is spoken of, and not His work in redemption. ‘To have life in Himself’ is the loftiest expression that can be used: the unchangeable possession of life exactly similar and parallel to that of the Father, such possession as enables Him to be the Giver of life to others, belongs to the Son.
John 5:27. And he gave him authority to execute judgment, because he is a son of man. The Son ‘maketh to live,’ but He maketh to live ‘whom He will’(John 5:21), or (as we read in John 5:25), He giveth life to those who have heard His voice, and not to all. Where, then, He is not the Giver of life, He is necessarily the Judge. The one thought involves the other, both in John 5:21-22, and here. The Father who gave to the Son the possession of life gave Him judgment also. This we read in the 22 d verse, but the truth now wears a new form; for, although the word ‘gave’ is repeated in John 5:27, it is in relation to a gift and a sphere altogether different from those of which the 26 th verse speaks. There the essential attributes of the Son are before us, including the prerogatives of the Word made flesh: here we read of a gift which belongs to time and not eternity, a gift which the Son receives ‘because He is a son of man.’ The former verses that speak of giving life and of judging (John 5:21-22) may have an extent of application of which we know nothing; this verse relates to the judgment of men by One who is very man. Such is the force of the words ‘a son of man.’ In every other passage of this Gospel it is ‘ the Son of man’ of whom we read: here only, and in Revelation 1:13; Revelation 14:14, is the definite article wanting. No expression brings out so strongly the possession of actual human nature, and for this purpose it is employed. God’s will is to judge the world by ‘a man whom He ordained’ (Acts 17:31); and the verse before us, though comprehending much more than the last judgment, seems, as may be inferred from the peculiarity of the expression ‘execute’ or ‘perform judgment’ (literally ‘do judgment’), and from the presence of this thought in the immediate context (John 5:28-29), to look especially towards the final scene. But the judgment is one that issues in condemnation, and it is the Father’s will that ‘a son of man’ shall pronounce the sentence, as one who has taken on Himself human nature in all its reality and completeness, in all its faculties, affections, and feelings. Because He has done so, He is fitted to be a Judge of men, and to draw from the consciences of the guilty an acknowledgment of the righteousness of their doom. As the Son of God having life in Himself, He gives life, and those who are united to Him by faith have possession of a life that is divine. But as a son of man He judges; as One who has been in the same position with those standing at His bar, as One who has fought the same battle and endured the same trials as they. Thus they behold in their Judge One who entirely knows them; His sentence finds an echo in their heart; and they are speechless. Thus it is that judgment becomes really judgment, and not merely he infliction of punishment by resistless power.
John 5:28. Marvel not at this. Jesus has been speaking of works at which they may well marvel (John 5:20); but great as these may be, there is yet a greater.
Because an hour cometh, in the which all that are in the graves shall hear his voice. That the future alone is spoken of is clear from the omission of the words ‘and now is’ found in John 5:25. The resurrection is not spiritual and figurative, for the words are ‘all that are in the graves, ‘not’ all that have heard,’ shall go forth, not ‘shall live.’ The consummation of the work of Jesus is the general resurrection both of the righteous and the wicked. Now all shall hear His voice, to which before (John 5:25) some only had given heed. All shall go forth, but not all to a resurrection of life.
John 5:29. And they that have done good shall go forth unto a resurrection of life; but they that have committed evil unto a resurrection of judgment. Those who have committed evil, whose deeds have not been the abiding fruit and work of the truth, but merely the repeated manifestation of evil in its vanity and worthlessness (see John 3:20), shall go forth to a resurrection to which belongs abiding judgment. And these alone come into judgment (compare John 5:24). As in John 3:18 it is said that ‘he that believeth in Him is not judged,’ so here, ‘they that have done good shall go forth unto a resurrection of life.’ The difference between the two passages is, that in the one the faith is named; in the other, the works which are the expression of the life that follows faith, the abiding fruit of faith. It will be observed that the expressions ‘resurrection of life’ and resurrection of judgment denote states, not acts, of resurrection. No general judgment, therefore, is here mentioned: all that is spoken of is a general resurrection, on the part of some to a continuing life, of others to a continuing judgment.
John 5:30. I can of mine own self do nothing: as I hear, I judge: and my judgment is just. This verse is the dividing line of the discourse, belonging at once to both parts, summing up (to a certain extent) what has gone before, leading on to the new subject which occupies the remainder of the chapter. The last word spoken was ‘judgment.’ Jesus now returns to it, and it is not strange that He should do so. He is speaking in the presence of the Jews, His determined foes, who refuse life, whom He judges and cannot but judge. Hence this lingering on judgment, and the recurrence to the first thought of the discourse (John 5:19), so as to show that this judgment is not of Himself, but belongs both to the Father and to the Son. The figure of John 5:19 is changed. There ‘seeing ‘was the word chosen, as most in harmony with the general thought of works done; here it is of judging that Jesus speaks, and hence the same thought of communion with the Father is best expressed by ‘hearing.’ One characteristic of this verse is so marked as of itself to prove that the verse is closely related to those which follow. From the beginning of the discourse (John 5:19) Jesus has spoken of the Father and the Son. Now He directly fixes the eyes of His hearers upon Himself (‘I can,’ ‘I hear,’ ‘I judge’); and this mode of speech is retained to the very end of the chapter.
Because I seek not mine own will, but the will of him that sent me. That His works have not been and cannot be against the authority and will of God, Jesus has shown by pointing out their essential unity with those of the Father (John 5:19). That the judgment He must pass is just, He has shown by the same proof, ‘as hear I judge.’ But a second proof is now given, or rather (perhaps) a second aspect of the same truth is brought into relief, that thus His words of rebuke and warning may be more effectually addressed to the Jews. His action is never separate from that of the Father, there can be no variance: His will is ever the will of His Father, there can be no self-seeking. It was because the opposite spirit dwelt and reigned in the Jews that they were rejecting Him, and bringing judgment on themselves. The transition to the first person, ‘I,’ ‘my,’ suggests an objection that would arise in the minds of the Jews. This is met in the verse that follows.
John 5:31. If I bear witness concerning myself, my witness is not true. The word ‘I’ is emphatic, ‘if it is I that bear witness.’ The words plainly mean ‘I and I alone,’ for no one is discredited because he testifies to himself, although he is not credited if no other witness appears on his behalf. The Jews may have understood Jesus to mean: If I have no other witness to testify concerning me, my testimony cannot claim to be received. But there is more in His words. In the consciousness of oneness with the Father, He would say that if it were possible that His own witness should stand alone, unaccompanied by that of the Father, it would be self-convicted, would not be true: He, in making the assertion, would be false, for He is one with the Father, and His statement, as that of one who was false, would be false also. He must therefore show that the witness He bore to Himself was really borne to Him by the Father: the Father’s witness even the Jews will acknowledge to be true. To this, therefore, He proceeds.
John 5:32. It is another that beareth witness concerning me. Not ‘There is another,’ as if He would merely cite an additional witness. He would lay the whole stress of the witnessing upon this ‘other witness.’ This witness is the Father, not John the Baptist, who is mentioned in the next verse only that it may be shown that his testimony is not that on which Jesus relies.
And I know that the witness which he witnesseth concerning me is true. These words are not said in attestation of the Father’s truth, a point admitted by all: they are the utterance of the Son’s profound consciousness of His own dignity and union with the Father.
John 5:33. Ye have sent unto John, and he hath borne witness unto the truth. As if He said: Had I not this all-sufficient witness, were it possible for me to appeal to any human witness, I might rest on your own act. Ye yourselves have made appeal to John, and he hath borne witness to the truth (chap. John 1:19-27). Your mission and his answer are unalterable and abiding facts, which press upon you still and cannot be set aside. What he attested is the truth. Jesus does not say ‘hath borne witness to me,’ perhaps because that to which John bore witness was only a revelation from God (compare chap. John 1:34), a declaration of the truth which he had received from God; perhaps because the whole lesson of this passage is that there is only one real witness to Jesus, even the Father speaking in the Son and drawing out the answer of the heart to Him.
John 5:34. But not from a man do I receive the witness. Great as was the witness of this greatest of prophets, yet John was only a man, and his witness therefore is not the real testimony to Jesus; it is a higher which is given Him, and which He receives (comp. John 5:36). Hence the definite article before ‘witness.’
Howbeit these things I say that ye may be saved. Insufficient as was John’s testimony for the production of faith in its deepest and truest sense, yet Jesus had referred to it, recognising its value as part of the Divine arrangements for leading men to Himself. It ought to have brought them to Jesus: and then, as they listened to His own word, the true and complete witness would have been given. The following words set forth more fully the true position of the Baptist, in his value and in his imperfection.
John 5:35. He was the lamp that burneth and shineth. John’s great work had been to bear witness of Jesus, to point to Him. By a sudden transition this is expressed very beautifully in a figure. As the Psalmist said of God’s word that it was a lamp unto his feet and a light unto his path (Psalms 119:105), showing him the right path preserving his feet from wandering, so does Jesus represent John’s mission here. The lamp been supplied with oil and has been lighted for a special purpose; it is not self-luminous, shining because it is its nature to give light. The lamp too burns as it shines; its light is transitory, and may well be so, because in proportion as its purpose is accomplished may the light diminish: when its end is answered, the lamp may be extinguished (comp. John 3:30).
And ye desired for a season to exult in his light. Alas! for them the lamp failed to fulfil its purpose. Instead of learning the way to Jesus by its means, they thought only of the light itself. No doubt this light was beautiful and attractive, but it had been designed only to guide to Him who would prove ‘the true light’ unto all that followed Him (chap. John 1:9, John 8:12). The Jews are evidently censured, but not (as some maintain) because they had exulted instead of mourning. There had been no call to mourning. The very exhortation to repentance, to prepare for the coming of Him for whom Israel had long waited, contained in it glad tidings of great joy.’ The transient acceptance of John himself, instead of the acceptance of his message in its true and permanent significance, is the fault for which the Jews are here condemned.
John 5:36. But the witness that I have is greater than that of John. Our Lord does not say ‘ 1 have greater witness than that of John,’ as if He was about to specify additional testimony of greater weight than the Baptist’s. No, that testimony to the truth was good, was useful (John 5:33-34), but ‘the witness’ which He has the only witness to which He appeals belongs altogether to another order, not human, but Divine. Other witness may prepare the heart, external testimony may point the way, but there is only one evidence offered by Jesus Himself.
For the works that the Father hath given me to accomplish, the very works that I do, bear witness concerning me, that the Father hath sent me. The evidence is works that the Father hath given Him to accomplish; and these works are His evidence, not as external evidence merely, but because, as expressive of the Father in Him, they appeal to that inner light in men which ought to have led men to recognise the Father in the Son. Of these ‘works’ miracles are one part, but not the whole. In two other passages our Lord uses similar language to this, speaking of the ‘accomplishment’ of the work of the Father (chap. John 4:34) or of the work which the Father hath given Him to do (chap. John 17:4); and in both the work is more than miracles. True, we read in these of ‘the work,’ not ‘the works,’ but the difference is not essential: the many works are the many portions of the one work. Nor need we go beyond this discourse itself to see that the very widest meaning must be assigned to ‘works.’ The keynote is struck by John 5:17, which speaks of the ‘working’ of the Father and the Son; and in John 5:20 we read of the ‘greater works’ which the Father will show unto the Son. The ‘works’ then here denote all that has been referred to in earlier verses (John 5:20-30), whether present or future, the works of quickening, raising, judging, all that the Son does and will do until the purpose of the Father is accomplished and the redemptive work complete. These works, being manifestations of His own nature, are essentially different from all external testimony whatever. Such as they are, they have been ‘given’ Him by the Father to accomplish: they are described not as a charge but as a gift (as in John 5:22; John 5:26-27): and they are the very works which He is now doing and habitually does. Special significance attaches to these added words, ‘the very works that I do,’ for they show that the witness given by the Father to the Son is given in ‘works’ now presented to their view. Every word and every deed of Jesus is, as a work, bearing testimony to the truth that the Father hath sent Him; for, where the heart of the beholder is prepared, every work reveals the presence of the Father, and is manifestly a work of God.
John 5:37. And the Father which sent me, he hath home witness concerning me. As if Jesus said: And thus, in the abiding gift of the ‘works,’ it is the Father that sent me that hath borne witness of me. ‘Hath borne witness’ corresponds with ‘hath given;’ each points to the continued possession of a gift bestowed, the Father’s abiding presence with Him whom He ‘sent ‘and’ sealed (chap. John 6:27). Hence we must not suppose that a new witness of the Father direct (as some say), in contrast with the ‘mediate’ testimony of the works is here intended. If the ‘works’ include the whole manifestation of the Son, the whole of the tokens of the Father’s presence in Him and with Him, they are no ‘mediate’ testimony; no testimony can be more direct.
Never have ye either heard a voice of him or seen a form of him. The Father has borne witness, but they have not known His presence. In the words of Jesus He has spoken, and the ear not closed through wilfulness and unbelief would have recognised the voice of God. In the actions and the whole life of Jesus He has manifested Himself, and the spiritual eye, the man ‘pure in heart,’ would have ‘seen God.’ It had been otherwise with ‘the Jews.’ Whilst our Lord had been working in their midst they had heard no voice of the Father, they had seen no form of Him. This was a proof that they had never received in their hearts God’s revelation of Himself. Had they done so, had they (to use our Lord’s figurative language, no doubt suggested by the thought of the words which He had spoken and the miracles which He had shown to them) ever been acquainted with the Father’s voice, they would have recognised it when Jesus spoke: had the eyes of their understanding ever been enlightened so as to see God, they would have seen the Father manifested in their very presence in His Son. What is in these two clauses couched in figurative terms the next clause expresses clearly.
John 5:38. And ye have not his word abiding in you; because whom he sent, him ye believe not. ‘Word’ here must not be understood as directly signifying the Scriptures of the Old Testament: it is rather the substance of God’s whole revelation of Himself, however and wherever made. This revelation received into a believing heart becomes God’s word in the man, and to this word answers The Word, in whom God has perfectly revealed Himself (compare Hebrews 1:1-2). By all previous teaching concerning Himself God has prepared the way for man’s reception of His Son. He who did not recognise the Son as the Sent of God, showed by this very sign that the preparatory work had not been effected in him, that he had not God’s word abiding in his heart. So in the next chapter Jesus teaches that ‘every one that hath heard from the Father, and hath learned, cometh unto Him’ (chap. John 6:45). The refusal therefore of the Jews to believe Him, that is, to accept His claims, is of itself a proof that they have had no spiritual aptitude for discerning the presence and the revelation of God. It will be seen that, as in the first clause of John 5:37 we cannot accept the view that a new witness is introduced, different from the works, so here we cannot believe that the ‘voice,’ ‘form,’ and ‘word’ are to be limited to the manifestation of God in the Scriptures of the Old Testament. No doubt this is the most prominent and important part of our Lord’s meaning, but we must not exclude God’s revelation of Himself in providence and in the heart of man, for in all things He had pointed to His Son.
It should be mentioned that some have supposed the clause ‘never have ye heard a voice of Him’ to refer to the voice of God at the Baptism of our Lord. But such an interpretation is surely impossible. The tone of the two verses here is one of reproach; but that voice was not intended for the ears of the Jews, and their failure to hear it was no matter of rebuke. This explanation, too, would not diminish but increase the difficulty of the words ‘or seen a form of Him,’ words startling to every Israelite (compare Deuteronomy 4:12), and, we believe, only to be accounted for when regarded as closely connected with and suggested by the words and deeds of Jesus.
John 5:39. Ye search the Scriptures. The link connecting this verse with the last is the mention of God’s ‘word.’ We have seen that our Lord had referred in a marked though not an exclusive manner to the Scriptures. To the Jews indeed it might seem that He intended to speak of these alone; and that He should deny Jews the glory which they esteemed most highly, by declaring that they had not God’s ‘word abiding in them, would arouse their wonder and their wrath. Now, therefore, Jesus allows them the praise that was their due, but shows also that the very possession of which they boasted had been so used by them as to increase their condemnation. Because ye think that in them ye have eternal life: and it is they which bear witness concerning me
John 5:40. And ye will not come to me, that ye may have life. The Jews did search the sacred writings, to do so was their honour and their pride. Their own belief was that in possessing them they possessed eternal life; as one of their greatest teachers said, He who has gotten to himself words of the Law has gotten to himself the life of the world to come. But these very Scriptures were the writings that bore witness concerning Jesus (see the note on John 5:38). Had they entered into their spirit, they would have joyfully welcomed Him; yet they refused to come (it was not their will to come, see John 5:6) to Him for life. Such is the general meaning of the verses. The Jews had used the witness of the Scriptures as they had dealt with that given by the Baptist (John 5:35). What was designed as a means had been made by them an end; what should have led them to Christ detained them from Him. In a certain sense the Scriptures did contain eternal life, in that they bore witness of Him who was the true bestower of this gift; but as long as men busied themselves with the words of Scripture to the neglect of its purpose, believing that the former would give all they needed and sought, the Scriptures themselves kept them back from life. It is a little difficult to decide what is the reason for the emphasis which in the original is laid on ‘ye’ ( ‘ye think that,’ etc.). The meaning may be: ye yourselves set such honour on the Scriptures that ye think eternal life is found in them. In this case an argument is founded on their own admissions. Or our Lord may intend to refer to this doctrine respecting the Scripture as their belief only not the truth, not His teaching; ye think that in the Scriptures ye have eternal life, but it is not truly so, eternal life is given by me alone. The latter meaning seems most in harmony with the context. So understood, the words do indeed rebuke that view of Scripture which rests everything on the letter, and also the inconsistency between the reverence which the Jews paid to the sacred writings and their neglect of the purpose they were designed to serve; but to the Scriptures the highest honour is assigned, for Jesus says, ‘it is they which bear witness concerning me.’ When thus interpreted in the sense in which it appears necessary to understand them, the words of John 5:39 supply a lesson almost the opposite of that usually drawn from them. While they exalt instead of depreciating the Scriptures, their main object is to warn us against putting them into an undue position, or supposing that they are more than a guide to Him in whom alone life is to be gained (comp. John 6:63). The ordinary rendering of the first word (‘Search ‘for ‘Ye search’) seems altogether inconsistent with the course of thought in these verses.
John 5:41. Glory from men I receive not. The last nine verses have been an expansion of John 5:31; this verse goes back to the 30 th, in which Jesus first contrasts His spirit with theirs, His devotion to the Father’s will with their self-seeking. The rest of the chapter is a development of this thought. Yet there is no abrupt break at John 5:40. Jesus has been speaking of the refusal of the Jews to ‘believe ‘Him and ‘come to’ Him as the sufficient and certain evidence of the evil of their hearts. But in so speaking He is not aiming at His own honour, or seeking fame from men. In every claim for Himself He seeks His Father’s glory; and the possession of that spirit is the test of the truth and righteousness which are well-pleasing to the Father: see chap. John 7:18, John 12:43.
John 5:42. But I know you, that ye have not the love of God in you. I know, that is, I have discerned you, I have read your hearts. Love to God is the foundation of the spirit of self-sacrifice, through which a man seeks not his own but the Father’s will. When love to God rules, therefore, the guiding principle is not the desire after glory from men. The Jews whom our Lord was addressing believed themselves zealous for God; but in the very service which they offered Him they were guilty of self-seeking. They valued themselves on what they presented to Him, and yet they presented not that which most of all He sought, the love in which self is lost. What striking words are those of this verse to address to men who spent their days in searching the Scriptures and in honouring the divinely-appointed institutions of the Law! Their error was that they had not entered into the spirit of these things, had not seen why God had given them, had not therefore understood that glorious righteousness of God in the presence of which man feels himself to be nothing. They had thought that to God these things were an object in themselves. They had brought God down to the level of caring for that in caring for which as his highest good a man feels himself exalted and glorified.
John 5:43. I am come in my Father’s name, and ye receive me not. Referring everything to His Father’s power and presence, in everything doing His Father’s will and not His own, at all times seeking His Father’s glory, Jesus came ‘in His Father’s name.’ Because that was His spirit, they did not receive Him.
If another shall come in his own name, him ye will receive. So far has self-seeking gone with them, that they can understand no other course of action than that which is animated by this principle. If a man come in the opposite spirit to that displayed by Jesus, setting forth himself alone, seeking his own ends, and guided by no will but his own, though all under the guise of promoting the glory of God, such a man they will be able to understand. They will sympathize with his motives, will even enthusiastically embrace his cause. The other course they cannot comprehend; so far as they do understand it, it is a constant reproach to them. This is a terrible description of those who were then the rulers of ‘God’s people Israel: ‘but, alas! the words apply with perfect fitness to the spirit which in every age of the history of Christ’s Church has contended against God whilst professing to do Him service; which in every age has tried to stop the progress of truth, sometimes without, at other times within, the Church, as truth has striven to pierce through forms that, once good, have with the course of time stiffened into the rigidity of death. Nothing can save from that spirit but the higher and nobler spirit breathing in the words, ‘glory from man I receive not.’
John 5:44. How can ye believe, receiving glory one of another? As in the preceding verses, the word receive is to be understood as implying a desire and a ‘seeking’ on their part. Such love of honour from men is altogether inconsistent with the ‘believing’ of which our Lord speaks. He is not referring to a merely intellectual act, but to an act which is also moral, not to believing an assertion, but to believing in Him. Where there is self-seeking there can be no true faith.
And the glory that is from the only God ye seek not. They who thus sought glory from men sought not glory from ‘the only God.’ The Jews were the champions of the doctrine of the unity of God, and, in the very pursuits and aims which our Lord condemns, persuaded themselves that they sought the glory of God and merited reward. But with such aims it was impossible to please Him, and thus they missed the recompense which comes from ‘the only God,’ who is the ‘only’ dispenser of true glory.
John 5:45. Do not think that I will accuse you to the Father: there is one that accuseth you, even Moses, in whom ye have placed your hope. These words do not diminish, but increase the severity of our Lord’s condemning words. Their objects of trust have been successively taken away. They have the Scriptures, but they have so used them as to miss their whole design; they are rejecting Him of whom they witness, and are offering to God a labour and a zeal which have no value in His sight. The chief tenet in their faith is that ‘God is one’ (Deuteronomy 6:4; James 2:19); but, in the absence of the ‘love of God’ from their hearts, their zeal for orthodox faith has not gained for them the ‘glory that is from the only God.’ There has been more, however, than misuse and loss. Their very lawgiver Moses, in whom they had set their hope, is already their accuser before God. No further accusation is needed. No more crushing blow could be given to their pride. Moses their accuser before God! Yet it was so. When we refuse to enter into all the parts of God’s plan, the very parts of it for whose sake our refusal is given, and whose honour we imagine we are maintaining, turn round upon us and disown our aid.
John 5:46. For if ye believed Moses, ye would believe me: for he wrote concerning me. Our Lord, no doubt, refers in part to special predictions (such as that of Deuteronomy 18:15; Deuteronomy 18:18); but more especially He refers to the whole revelation contained in the books of Moses, and by parity of reasoning to the whole Old Testament the Scriptures of John 5:39. In all the revelation given through him Moses wrote concerning Jesus. His great purpose was to prepare the way for the true Prophet and Priest and King of Israel. Christ was ‘the end of the law.’ Had, therefore, the Jews ‘believed Moses,’ that is, accepted his witness in its true character, and entered into its spirit, they would have been led by that preparatory prophetic teaching to believe the Christ of whom Moses wrote.
John 5:47. But if ye believe not his writings, how will ye believe my words? if however they did not truly believe the written word, which was constantly in their hands, which was the object of so much reverence, which, as written, could be studied again and again for the removal of every difficulty and the investigation of every claim, then might it well be expected that they would refuse to receive the words which Jesus spoke.
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Schaff, Philip. "Commentary on John 5". "Schaff's Popular Commentary on the New Testament". https://www.studylight.org/
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