Thursday, July 15, 2021

John 5:19-47

John 5:19–47: The Authority of the Son, Witnesses to Jesus


Another dense passage from John. It’s just a speech from Jesus, so rather than giving a recap of it here, it can be more easily read as a whole on Bible Gateway.


As I go through this passage chunk by chunk I won’t bother including all of the links back to Bible Gateway for each part, as I usually do. But I’ll quote part of the passage, then give my thoughts.

The Father and the Son

Jesus starts off the passage illustrating the relationship between the Father and the Son.

The Son’s Obedience of the Father

So Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of his own accord, but only what he sees the Father doing. For whatever the Father does, that the Son does likewise. For the Father loves the Son and shows him all that he himself is doing. And greater works than these will he show him, so that you may marvel." (verses 19–20)

Jesus is re-emphasizing the point about Him being God’s Son, and the Son having equality with the Father. He actually emphasizes it in both directions:

  • “the Son can do nothing of his own accord, but only what he sees the Father doing” – not only does the Son obey the Father, he obeys the Father so perfectly that he can’t not obey the Father. The Son does nothing unless it’s the will of the Father.
    • There’s a sub-point here that the Son sees what the Father is doing. Jesus, as the Son of God, has more access to the Father, more perfect knowledge of the Father’s will, than anyone. The last part—the Father showing the Son all that He does—re-emphasizes this point.
  • “For whatever the Father does, that the Son does likewise” – there’s nothing the Father does that the Son doesn’t do.

Adding all of this up, the Son obeys the Father, and He obeys Him perfectly. But there is also a level of access between the Son and the Father unmatched by anyone in history.


“For as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, so also the Son gives life to whom he will. For the Father judges no one, but has given all judgment to the Son, that all may honor the Son, just as they honor the Father. Whoever does not honor the Son does not honor the Father who sent him.” (verses 21–23)

These verses tell us that the task of judging has been allocated to the Son; the Father doesn’t do the judging, the Son does. Preachers sometimes make mention of the fact that nobody in the Bible talks more about Hell than Jesus does, but this passage tells us why Jesus puts so much emphasis on Hell: He’s the one who’s tasked with judging people, so He’s more aware of the dangers of Hell than anyone else! He talks so much about Hell because He wants to warn us away from it.

Jesus also mentions that the reason why He’s responsible for judging is “[so] that all may honor the Son, just as they honor the Father.” Interestingly, modern-day Westerners tend to think the opposite: “We honour Jesus because He preaches love and forgiveness without being too ‘preachy’”—except that the reality is that Westerners don’t honour Jesus (despite claiming to), and part of the reason they don’t is that they misunderstand His message: Jesus provides love and forgiveness, but He preaches repentance and submission to God. If more Westerners understood that about Jesus, they would (counter-intuitively) honour Him more. They might not believe Him, they might not obey or submit to Him, but they also wouldn’t water him down the way we’ve watered Him down in the West.

Almost incidentally, it’s not just the Son we dishonour when we water Him down, either: When we don’t honour the Son, we don’t honour the Father who sent Him. It’s a package deal.

Eternal Life

Jesus now focuses on eternal life, which is something more than just “being alive.”

Life Through the Son

“Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life. He does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life.” (verse 24)

This verse sums up Jesus’ ministry: He came so that whoever hears His Word, and believes [in] Him, will have eternal life. Those of us who do believe in Him won’t come into judgement; we’ve passed from death to life. Of course, there’s a sense in which we’re just like everyone else: we’re born as babies, live some amount of “life,” and then die, just like all humans always do. But there’s another sense in which we have a second birth, come into eternal life, and will live forever in communion with God.

An Hour [was] Coming

“Truly, truly, I say to you, an hour is coming, and is now here, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live. For as the Father has life in himself, so he has granted the Son also to have life in himself. And he has given him authority to execute judgment, because he is the Son of Man. Do not marvel at this, for an hour is coming when all who are in the tombs will hear his voice and come out, those who have done good to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil to the resurrection of judgment.” (verses 25–29)

I don’t believe Jesus is talking about the final judgement here; I think He’s talking about the dead who would have died before His death on the cross. The people who’d never heard of Christ because they lived before He did, yet were children of God nonetheless.

We shouldn’t take this to mean that everyone who ever does will have a retroactive opportunity to believe in Jesus; this was a one time event in the history of the world, which took place between the time that Jesus died and the time that He rose again. Jesus said that “an hour is coming, and is now here,” but then He rose from the dead. It’s now our job, as Christians, to spread the Gospel.

Jesus the Judge

“I can do nothing on my own. As I hear, I judge, and my judgment is just, because I seek not my own will but the will of him who sent me. If I alone bear witness about myself, my testimony is not true. There is another who bears witness about me, and I know that the testimony that he bears about me is true." (verses 30–32)

Although Jesus, the Son, is the judge (as mentioned earlier), he’s not just going off and doing whatever he wants, separate from the Father. To believe that the Son and the Father are disconnected like that would be to disregard everything Jesus has said so far in this passage about His relationship with the Father—i.e. that the two are inseparable.

But as the Son is seeking the Father’s will, the Father is also bearing witness about the Son. Jesus’ listeners had multiple reasons to listen to his words; not just because of the words themselves, but because the Father was literally telling them: “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased” (Matthew 3:17).

John the Baptist also Testified About the Son

“You sent to John, and he has borne witness to the truth. Not that the testimony that I receive is from man, but I say these things so that you may be saved. He was a burning and shining lamp, and you were willing to rejoice for a while in his light.” (verses 33–35)

In addition to the Father testifying about the Son, John the Baptist has been testifying about Him too! Does God the Son need this kind of human testimony? Not really, in a sense; but Jesus does recognize that having testimony from multiple sources would help his listeners.

… But the Father’s Testimony is Weightier

“But the testimony that I have is greater than that of John. For the works that the Father has given me to accomplish, the very works that I am doing, bear witness about me that the Father has sent me. And the Father who sent me has himself borne witness about me.” (verses 36–37a)

Although John the Baptist’s testimony might have helped some of Jesus’ contemporaries believe, Jesus re-emphasizes that the testimony coming from God the Father is greater than the testimony from John. Not only the “works” Jesus is doing—I’d especially include the miracles as “works,” but frankly, everything Jesus said and did would have testified to the fact that he was holy and sinless, which would be a form of testimony about who he was—but God the Father also testified about Jesus, at his baptism. John didn’t record this incident, but it’s covered in Matthew 3 and also in Mark 1.

You Don’t Have the Love of God In You

“His voice you have never heard, his form you have never seen, and you do not have his word abiding in you, for you do not believe the one whom he has sent. You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me, yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life. I do not receive glory from people. But I know that you do not have the love of God within you.” (verses 37b–42)

Jesus has summarized a number of different ways he’s been testified about, but obviously a lot of people still don’t believe that testimony—they don’t believe he is who he says he is. Sometimes there’s a tendency for us to think that people are not believing because of a lack of information; if they’d heard the Gospel, maybe they’d believe. And yes, maybe they would—but maybe they wouldn’t. For a lot of people, lack of belief—lack of faith in Jesus—is not because they don’t know, or even because of a lack of evidence, it’s because they don’t want to believe.

The example I always go back to is the Israelites at the foot of Mount Sinai, making the golden calf. God has just spoken to them not too long ago, with a voice that they could hear, something no other God has ever done—and something even the real God has hardly ever done in the history of the world—and He has delivered to them the Ten Commandments. They were so awed by this event that they’ve pleaded with Moses not to let God talk to them anymore, so Moses has gone up onto Mount Sinai so that God can deliver additional laws to him. He—God—is right there. They can literally see Him, as smoke covering the mountain. Want to see God? Just look over in that direction—there He is! And at the base of that mountain, with the HOLY LORD right there in sight, they decide to create the golden calf, breaking the very first two commandments He gave them, and worship it, and call it a god. Call this barbaric if you wish—I don’t necessarily agree, I think we all have idols that take the place of God, but I recognize that we don’t form physical idols and worship them anymore—but don’t lose sight of the fact that knowledge of God, even proof of God, doesn’t necessarily lead to worship of or submission to Him.

Which brings us to Jesus’ points here, to the religious leaders:

  • They have neither heard His voice nor seen His form. They are claiming to be able to interpret God’s word and His will, but they don’t know Him well enough to do so.
  • They do not have His words abiding in them—which I think the religious leaders probably would have found insulting. All they do is study the Scriptures. So how can he claim that they don’t have God’s words abiding in them? Because they don’t believe the one He has sent.
  • Expanding on that point even further: Yes, they do search the Scriptures, believing that they will find eternal life there, but it is those very Scriptures that bear witness about Jesus, the Son of God.
    • Do the Scriptures contain enough detail for the religious leaders to have properly understood everything about who the Messiah would be, or what He would do? No, not at all. The day before I wrote this post I had a side conversation with my pastor about what the Jews of Jesus’ day believed about “the Prophet” vs. “Elijah” vs. “the Messiah,” and I honestly don’t blame them for being confused about these three people who seemed to be called out in the Old Testament who, in retrospect, turned out to just be two people rather than three. But Jesus isn’t calling them out for getting the details wrong, he’s calling them out for an unwillingness to believe. Jesus’ own disciples didn’t understand everything about who He was or what He was about to do, at this point, but they still had faith in Him, and trusted Him even without those details.
      • Side note: new Christians, illiterate Christians (who aren’t able to study the Bible as they’d like), and others who won’t have opportunities to really, really dig into the Scriptures, can also have faith in Jesus, even without perfect knowledge.
  • But despite studying the Scriptures, which point to the Messiah/Prophet, the religious leaders refuse to come to Jesus for life. Why? Probably a number of reasons:
    • They don’t want to give up their earthly power. The system is currently set up in such a way that they have power and authority; if Jesus is truly the Son of God, it would be kind of hard to try and assert authority over Him!
    • Like all other humans, they don’t want to submit to God. They think they are submitting to Him, because they’re following The Rules (and teaching others to do so), but following rules and regulations don’t equate to submission to God. Submission to God requires not just a person’s deeds, but that person’s heart. As Jesus pointed out in the Sermon on the Mount, it’s not good enough to refrain from killing people, you also have to have a heart devoid of hate; it’s not good enough to refrain from committing adultery, you also have to have a heart devoid of lust.
  • Not that Jesus wants or needs glory from people, however, their lack of belief indicates that they don’t actually have the love of God within them.

Believing Human Testimony Instead of God’s Testimony

“I have come in my Father’s name, and you do not receive me. If another comes in his own name, you will receive him. How can you believe, when you receive glory from one another and do not seek the glory that comes from the only God?” (verses 43–44)

Jesus is testifying about who God is, and what God wants. The best person to bring such testimony about God would be someone who actually comes from God—better yet, someone who is God (i.e. “in my Father’s name”). That’s who Jesus is. Yet the religious leaders won’t receive him. They’ll receive people who don’t even claim to be from God in the first place, but they won’t receive someone who does claim to be from God, and who has various forms of testimony and evidence pointing to that fact.

So how can they expect to believe, when they don’t look to the right sources?

Moses Accuses You

“Do not think that I will accuse you to the Father. There is one who accuses you: Moses, on whom you have set your hope. For if you believed Moses, you would believe me; for he wrote of me. But if you do not believe his writings, how will you believe my words?” (verses 45–47)

All that being said, Jesus isn’t even the one who “accuses” the religious leaders to the Father. He doesn’t have to; they claim to follow Moses, yet they don’t believe Moses’ writings, so if anyone is going to accuse them to the Father, it would be Moses.

It reiterates the previous point: it’s not always a lack of knowledge that prevents people from believing, sometimes it’s that people don’t want to believe. The religious leaders of Jesus’ day aren’t non-believers because they don’t know, they’re refusing to believe despite the information they already have.

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