Jesus Heals on the Sabbath
Written by Pastor James Dorman
1. Thoughts from John:
John 5:1–47 (NIV84) Some time later, Jesus went up to Jerusalem for a feast of the Jews. 2 Now there is in Jerusalem near the Sheep Gate a pool, which in Aramaic is called Bethesda and which is surrounded by five covered colonnades. 3 Here a great number of disabled people used to lie—the blind, the lame, the paralyzed. 5 One who was there had been an invalid for thirty-eight years. 6 When Jesus saw him lying there and learned that he had been in this condition for a long time, he asked him, “Do you want to get well?”
7 “Sir,” the invalid replied, “I have no one to help me into the pool when the water is stirred. While I am trying to get in, someone else goes down ahead of me.”
8 Then Jesus said to him, “Get up! Pick up your mat and walk.” 9 At once the man was cured; he picked up his mat and walked. The day on which this took place was a Sabbath, 10 and so the Jews said to the man who had been healed, “It is the Sabbath; the law forbids you to carry your mat.”
11 But he replied, “The man who made me well said to me, ‘Pick up your mat and walk.’ ” 12 So they asked him, “Who is this fellow who told you to pick it up and walk?” 13 The man who was healed had no idea who it was, for Jesus had slipped away into the crowd that was there.
14 Later Jesus found him at the temple and said to him, “See, you are well again. Stop sinning or something worse may happen to you.” 15 The man went away and told the Jews that it was Jesus who had made him well.
Life Through the Son
16 So, because Jesus was doing these things on the Sabbath, the Jews persecuted him. 17 Jesus said to them, “My Father is always at his work to this very day, and I, too, am working.” 18 For this reason the Jews tried all the harder to kill him; not only was he breaking the Sabbath, but he was even calling God his own Father, making himself equal with God.
19 Jesus gave them this answer: “I tell you the truth, the Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does. 20 For the Father loves the Son and shows him all he does. Yes, to your amazement he will show him even greater things than these. 21 For just as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, even so the Son gives life to whom he is pleased to give it. 22 Moreover, the Father judges no one, but has entrusted all judgment to the Son, 23 that all may honor the Son just as they honor the Father. He who does not honor the Son does not honor the Father, who sent him.
24 “I tell you the truth, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be condemned; he has crossed over from death to life. 25 I tell you the truth, a time is coming and has now come when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God and those who hear will live. 26 For as the Father has life in himself, so he has granted the Son to have life in himself. 27 And he has given him authority to judge because he is the Son of Man.
28 “Do not be amazed at this, for a time is coming when all who are in their graves will hear his voice 29 and come out—those who have done good will rise to live, and those who have done evil will rise to be condemned. 30 By myself I can do nothing; I judge only as I hear, and my judgment is just, for I seek not to please myself but him who sent me.”
Testimonies About Jesus
31 “If I testify about myself, my testimony is not valid. 32 There is another who testifies in my favor, and I know that his testimony about me is valid.
33 “You have sent to John and he has testified to the truth. 34 Not that I accept human testimony; but I mention it that you may be saved. 35 John was a lamp that burned and gave light, and you chose for a time to enjoy his light.
36 “I have testimony weightier than that of John. For the very work that the Father has given me to finish, and which I am doing, testifies that the Father has sent me. 37 And the Father who sent me has himself testified concerning me. You have never heard his voice nor seen his form, 38 nor does his word dwell in you, for you do not believe the one he sent. 39 You diligently study the Scriptures because you think that by them you possess eternal life. These are the Scriptures that testify about me, 40 yet you refuse to come to me to have life.
41 “I do not accept praise from men, 42 but I know you. I know that you do not have the love of God in your hearts. 43 I have come in my Father’s name, and you do not accept me; but if someone else comes in his own name, you will accept him. 44 How can you believe if you accept praise from one another, yet make no effort to obtain the praise that comes from the only God?
45 “But do not think I will accuse you before the Father. Your accuser is Moses, on whom your hopes are set. 46 If you believed Moses, you would believe me, for he wrote about me. 47 But since you do not believe what he wrote, how are you going to believe what I say?”
2. Passage Outline
“Jesus Heals on the Sabbath”
I. The Healing at Bethsaida (vs. 1-9)
a. Occurs during the Feast (vs. 1)
b. Healing occurs at Bethsaida (vs. 2-5)
c. Jesus heals a lame man (vs. 6-9)
II. Response of the Jews (vs. 10-18)
a. The man is chastised because of carrying his bed on the Sabbath (vs. 10-14a)
b. Jesus commands the man to sin no more (vs. 14b)
c. The man identifies Jesus as the Healer (vs. 15-16)
d. The Jews criticize the Healing (vs. 17)
e. Jesus claims God as His Father (vs. 18)
III. Jesus Responds (vs. 19-47)
a. Jesus Receives His Power from the Father (vs. 19-21)
b. The Father has given Judgment to the Son (vs. 22-24)
c. Jesus tells of Two Resurrections (vs. 25-29)
d. The Father witnesses to the Son (vs. 30-34)
e. This Testimony is greater than John’s (vs. 35-38)
f. Scripture bears witness to Jesus (vs. 39-43)
g. Their Blindness limits their Belief (vs. 44-47)
3. Information to Consider
A. Divine Grace (5:1–9a)
SUPPORTING IDEA: In this third miracle of John’s Gospel, we see proof of Jesus’ deity as he moves from near obscurity to open debate with the religious leaders of Jerusalem about the Sabbath.
5:1–3. As chapter 5 opens, John made a geographical switch from Galilee to Jerusalem and specifically the Pool of Bethesda, a gathering place for invalids. Apparently the pool was located in the northeast corner of the old city. It functioned under considerable local superstition as a place with miraculous healing powers.
John also dropped a vague chronological note when he observed it was feast time. Many interpreters argue this was a second Passover, but Tasker warns, “If we adopt the better-attested reading a feast in v. 1, which now has the additional support of the Bodmer Papyrus, the reference could be to any feast, and there is no need to assume, as many commentators do, that the chapters have been dislocated, and to attempt to restore the ‘original’ order by placing chapter 4 before chapter 5” (Tasker, pp. 84–85).
Many suggestions have been offered as a substitute for the Passover—Pentecost, Purim, Dedication, Trumpets. But two arguments persist: a recognition of this feast as the Passover would stretch the record of John through three and one-half years, a figure commonly preferred by most evangelical Bible scholars for the earthly ministry of Jesus.
Also, it was an important enough feast to draw Jesus back to Jerusalem and we must consider that impact. Borchert indicates that the strong emphasis on Sabbath in this chapter may be the key to recognizing a Passover feast here. He says, “The problem with searching for a name for the unnamed feast is that it involves filling in what is perceived to be a chronological gap in John, failing to realize the theological nature of these festival statements and the cyclical pattern that focuses these chapters on Passover” (Borchert, p. 230).
5:4. The fourth verse has no significant textual support and is therefore omitted by the NIV, although some will be familiar with wording from the KJV describing the angel who would stir up the waters and the hope that the first person in the pool after such a swirling would be healed.
5:5–7. As in Sychar and Cana, Jesus focused on a single individual, this time a man who had been lame for thirty-eight years. He asked the crucial question, Do you want to get well? The man responded by raising the obvious problem. He could not get well because he could not get down to the healing pool fast enough. The man had been an invalid for thirty-eight years. Why did Jesus choose him now, and why him from among all the other disabled people gathered around the pool? The only possible answer is God’s sovereign grace. In the Father’s timing, this was the time, the place, and the way he would heal this man. The length and extent of the man’s illness presented no problem for Jesus.
We tend to think that time produces hopelessness. Surely the longer a person is sick, the less likely that he or she will get well. The longer a person has lived in sin, the less likely that person will come to Christ. We have all the statistics to show that we must win people to Christ when they are young or the chances diminish. The argument is sound on the basis of what we know, bolstered by human experience. But God is the master of difficult situations just like this one. What is humanly impossible, God loves to do. Perhaps Jesus intentionally chose the veteran Bethesda-pool invalid to prove his divine grace. Even today God may choose difficult people through whom he will prove his grace.
5:8–9a. These verses describe the miraculous cure. The original question in verse 6 focused on the man’s infatuation with magical powers and traditional superstition. If the pool had really been God’s healing agent, Jesus could have just helped the man in the water first after the angelic stirring. But the words Get up! Pick up your mat and walk emphasize that Jesus was the source of divine healing, not some kind of wave pool. When you are really sick, miracle is preferable to magic.
We dare not miss the absence of faith here. The man did not ask for help; he showed no faith that John reports; and he did not even know who Jesus was. Contrast this miracle with the royal official’s son in John 4.
|Jesus sought him
|Pleaded for help
|Jesus asked if he wanted help
|Expressed the miracle privately
|Jesus healed publicly
|No sin mentioned
|Jesus mentioned sin
|Man was motivated to believe
|Jesus worked without the man’s belief
Let us notice too that the Lord’s ministry was not primarily social, just as ours is not. He had the power to clean out the entire pool area. Not a single invalid could have survived the power of God. But he healed only one man, and that seems to have been done to form a basis for the message to follow. Throughout this book I will refer to this process as the miracle-message method in which a “selective” miracle lays the groundwork for a sermon. We see it here regarding authority over the Sabbath, in chapter 6 where the feeding of the five thousand forms the basis for the sermon on the bread of life. We also see it in chapter 9 where the healing of the blind man leads to a sermon on spiritual blindness followed by the sermon on the good shepherd in chapter 10, and finally in chapter 11 where the healing of Lazarus leads to a sermon on life.
Hot Springs National Park has warm and relaxing facilities—but no ultimate cure. Yet it has drawn millions to that site. But God does not need “stirring pools” to work in our lives. We do not need crosses around our necks, a saintly figurine on the car dashboard, or even oil on the head for healing. Sometimes God wants us to ask as the royal official did. And sometimes he asks for faith before he acts. But God does not need our help, our permission, or even our faith when he chooses to work in our lives or in the lives of our loved ones.
B. Divine Warning (5:9b–15)
SUPPORTING IDEA: Many times religious tradition and political bureaucracy stand in the way when people need life.
5:9b–10. Jesus performed this miracle on the Sabbath and that became the point of argument in the next four chapters. Why the fuss over a day? Because people want rules, not grace. They want to boast about what they did to earn merit from God. This attitude opposes the gospel. Luke mentioned the Sabbath only nine times in Acts, and not once in connection with Christian worship. But the Pharisees could not get over this hurdle which troubled them during the entire time of Jesus’ life on earth.
This dramatic healing attracted the typical reaction from the Jews—a phrase uncommon to the Synpotics but used seventy times in John, usually to describe religious leaders opposing Christ. The New Testament is not anti-Semitic. Jesus wept over Jerusalem and constantly proclaimed the Gospel to any Jews who would listen. Paul went from synagogue to synagogue offering salvation to his own people first.
The Sabbath, of course, was always the seventh day (and is so today) never the first, though we sometimes incorrectly refer to Sunday in this way. This issue dominates the next four chapters of John as the hypocrisy and formalism of religious observance link the first century with our modern time.
This was no accident—Jesus did not just forget it was Saturday. He was not ignorant of the provision that the rabbis had added to God’s Sabbath law: “Whoever on the Sabbath brings anything in or takes anything out from a public place to a private one, if he has done this inadvertently, he shall sacrifice for his sins; but if willingly, he shall be cut off and shall be stoned.” The scribes had come up with thirty-nine tasks prohibited on the Sabbath. Certainly Jesus knew that healing on the Sabbath would upset the religious leaders. He knew that by commanding the man to carry his mat out of a public place he would anger them even more. So why did he do it? The dialogue rages over the next several chapters, but the central idea has to do with the authority of Jesus as the Son of God.
5:11–13. In these three verses we see how little the man actually knew. This startling stranger had walked into his life, given him back normality in his legs, and then disappeared. The man’s reply to the Jews (doubtless the leaders of the Sanhedrin) reflected his willing obedience, reminiscent of the royal official in chapter 4. The exchange betrayed the Jewish leaders’ shallow understanding of theology; they focused on the carried mat, not the new legs.
Trench pinpoints this significant difference in the brief conversation:
The malignity of the questioners reveals itself in the very shape which their question assumes. They do not take up the poor man’s words on their more favourable side, which would also have been in the more natural: nor ask, “What man is that which made me whole?” But, probably themselves knowing perfectly well, or at least guessing, who his Healer was, they insinuate by the form of their question that He could not be from God who gave a command which they, the interpreters of God’s law, esteemed so grievous an outrage against it. So will they weaken and undermine any influence which Christ may have obtained over this simple man—an influence already manifest in his finding the Lord’s authority sufficient to justify him in the transgression of their commandment (Trench, p. 272).
5:14–15. The innocent response is followed by the final warning—a brief section of a verse which fits significantly into the miracle-message method John records so carefully. Indeed, John 5:14 must be compared theologically with John 9:3. In the first case, one must conclude that the lameness was caused by sin; and in the second, clearly the blindness was not. The Greek text might better be translated, “Give up sinning.” The something worse could refer to a physical illness more burdensome than the one the man had carried for so many years, or it might suggest spiritual disaster, even eternal condemnation. Borchert’s comments are helpful:
In this story Jesus found the man in the temple, a place where in his hopeless state he would have found little welcome but in his healed state was now able to enter. Moreover, Jesus addressed him in his healed state: “Stop sinning or something worse may happen to you” (5:14). These words are not meant to be a cause-and-effect statement related to his sickness or paralysis. Such a direct identification between personal sin and illness, which was proposed by the disciples in the story of the blind man (9:2), was firmly rejected by Jesus (9:3). The statement of cause and effect in this story, therefore, must be taken as referring to the eschatological correlation between sin and judgment that undoubtedly is the meaning of “something worse” in Jesus’ warning to the paralytic (Borchert, p. 235).
Let us not fail to notice that Jesus found him. In our day we talk a great deal about “looking for God” or “finding Jesus” as though the initiative for spiritual contact lies entirely with us. We shall encounter this doctrine several more times in John, but here we take notice of the intentional search by the Savior for a stumbling beggar who had not yet figured out what to do with his new legs.
C. Divine Authority (5:16–23)
SUPPORTING IDEA: Healing on the Sabbath brought persecution, but it also gave Jesus an opportunity to display and explain his authority.
5:16–18. The argument against the healed invalid had to do with his carrying of his mat; now we have advanced to the broader problem of breaking the Sabbath, including work of any kind. Christians worship on the first day because of the resurrection of Jesus on this day. Major New Testament events commonly occurred on the first day—the ascension, the appearances of Christ, the coming of the Spirit at Pentecost, and John’s revelation vision. But none of those carry with them any special behavioral laws.
Christians have almost subconsciously carried over some Sabbath legalism to Sunday. The first day of the week rather than the last day has become the day of rest. There is nothing wrong with that, as long as we do not make one of two errors: a false identification of Sunday as the “Sabbath” with all the legalistic judgmentalism we find attached to it in this chapter; or worshiping in an old-covenant way on Saturday to maintain the Sabbath legalism of the Old Testament.
The words life or live occur eight times in John 5:16–30, but we will deal with that theme in the next section of our study. In this part of the chapter, Jesus called on contemporary religious leaders to accept life through the authority of the Father, through faith in the Father, and by the power the Father gives.
Jesus’ answer to the argumentative Jewish leaders begins the long dialogue about the Father throughout most of this Gospel. The Son emulates the Father by working, and John uses the common Greek word for work, ergozomai. At issue here is the fact that both the Father and the Son have authority over the Sabbath. Furthermore, both have worked together in perfect unity and harmony. It would be impossible for the Son to break the Father’s law—a law never intended to prohibit works of grace and mercy on the Sabbath.
Verse 18 is one of the key phrases of this book, a major foundation stone in John’s theological building. In the last phrase John tells us that Jesus clearly claimed to be equal with God. If one considers Sabbath-breaking a serious offense, claiming equality with God must be rank heresy. But this is one of John’s great themes (10:30), reflecting what he heard Jesus say over and over. Furthermore, the Jews understood precisely what Jesus was claiming and ultimately killed him for it.
Some modern theologians argue that Jesus never claimed deity and was greatly misunderstood, but that is hardly John’s point of view. Veteran theologian Robert Lightner puts it this way: “Christ has existed eternally as the Son of God. Though no specific verse states this truth precisely that way, the evidence pointing in that direction is overwhelming. Whenever the title is used of Him, it speaks of His divine essence. His fierce critics, the Jewish religious leaders, did not fail to make the connection between His repeated claims that God is His Father and His claim for deity, that He is equal with God the Father (John 5:18; 10:30–38; 20:28–31)” (Lightner, p. 61).
5:19–20. The Son of God not only had authority over the Sabbath; this authority was grounded in relationship. As the Lord’s argument unfolds, we learn that people must accept life because he, Jesus, carries the authority of the Father. The equality factor explodes in dimensions the Jews must have found mind-boggling. Jesus, equal in nature with God; his goals, identical with God’s goals; his will, only subordinate so that people through him could see the Father.
Just a few days before writing these words, I played a tennis match with my son, in mixed doubles competition. Since I taught Jeff to play, and since we have been playing together for over twenty years, his game reflects the way I play. He is taller, stronger, and faster, but our strategies seem eerily the same. Normally in men’s doubles I play as his partner and in those matches think only about how we fit together, not about how he plays. Playing as his opponent, however, I try to sense where he will move and hit. I find it surprisingly predictable as I attempt to make up for his speed and strength by thinking what he would do on the basis of what I believe I would do in a similar situation. I suspect he does the same.
That is what Jesus was talking about here. He thinks the Father’s thoughts after him and has already shown the Son all he does, and continues to show him. All the verbs in verse 20 are present tense, indicating ongoing activity. The greater things will be explained in the next section.
5:21–23. Healing a lame man was nothing. The Father has raised the dead and the Son will soon do the same. Indeed, the Father has given judgmental authority to the Son. Anyone who does not recognize that authority in the Son has denied the authority of the Father—the very authority to give life. The phrase who sent him at the end of verse 23 is used by the Lord only of the Father (4:34; 5:24, 30; 6:38–39; 7:16, 28, 33; 8:26, 29; 9:4; 12:44–45; 13:20; 15:21; 16:5).
The impact of all this on traditional religious leaders of the first century must have been staggering, hence the Lord’s introductory phrase “to your amazement” (v. 20). Westcott captures the moment: “The full significance of this claim of Christ to ‘quicken whom He will’ is illustrated by the second of the ‘Shemoneh Esreh,’ the ‘Eighteen [benedictions],’ of the Jewish Prayer Book. It is probable that this thanksgiving was used in substance in the apostolic age: ‘Thou, O Lord, art mighty forever: Thou quickenest the dead: Thou are strong to save. Thou sustainest the living by Thy mercy: Thou quickenest the dead by Thy great compassion. Thou … makest good Thy faithfulness to them that sleep in the dust … Thou art faithful to quicken the dead. Blessed art Thou, O Lord, who quickenest the dead’ ” (Westcott, p. 86).
D. Divine Life (5:24–30)
SUPPORTING IDEA: Life is in the Son, and there is no other way to heaven.
5:24. In the Greek text our verse begins with the words, amen, amen, translated in the familiar KJV with the words “verily, verily.” Actually, this entire equality-with-God section began the same way back in verse 19. The theme of this entire section of John’s Gospel centers in the unity of the Father and the Son. John emphasized that both life and condemnation are present possessions with eternal consequences.
This verse challenges all readers to trust Christ through faith. Let us remember, too, that hearing and believing are almost synonymous in John’s use. The phrase he has crossed over appears in the perfect tense, meaning the actual crossing took place some time in the past, but the result continues to the present. In short, salvation is an accomplished fact and an assured position. Like John 3:16, John 5:24 is pure gospel.
5:25. Verses 25–27 talk about spiritual resurrection, life in the Son through regeneration (2 Cor. 5:17; 1 John 5:11ff.). But I can almost hear someone thinking, “Why wouldn’t this verse refer to the resurrection at the end of time?” The answer lies in the little phrase, and has now come. According to Morris, “This shows that what is primarily in mind is the present giving of life that characterizes the ministry of the Son. In Him the last age is vividly present. Men’s eternal destiny is determined by their attitude to Him. Those who are spiritually dead hear His voice, and those who have heard it live. ‘Hear,’ of course, means ‘Hear with appreciation,’ ‘Take heed’ ” (Morris, p. 318).
This verse also contains the phrase Son of God, so common in our Christian vocabulary that we think it must appear everywhere in the New Testament. But then we think the same thing about the word Christian which only appears three times in Acts. And in the same manner, John uses the Son of God only three times in this Gospel (10:36; 11:4). Actually, it appears two other times in contexts other than the Lord’s direct claim—the Jews’ complaint in 19:7 and John’s purpose statement in 20:31.
So life (zoe) comes through regeneration and a person can claim it now. What is the basis for this broad invitation?
5:26–27. Of all the gifts the Father has given to the Son, eternal life is surely important. Some interpreters believe this life was given after the ascension (Godet), but surely the Son had it eternally and only immortality occurred after his resurrection. John’s point centers in more than just the life Jesus possessed. It includes the life that he passed on to believing humanity. Since the life resides in the Son, John directs others to Jesus for this life.
The word given in this context refers to permission, privilege, and power. The Father appointed the Son to give eternal life to those who believe. During his time on earth, the Christ gave up the independent exercise of his attributes and placed himself under the Father’s direct will. In taking upon himself the position of a human being, Jesus looked to the Father for the authority to give life.
In verse 27 the theme changes to judgmental authority, and “Son of God” of verse 25 now becomes again the Son of Man (see also 1:51; 3:14). In the Old Testament we know that God is the judge of the earth (Gen. 18:25; Judg. 11:27). This makes this passage all the more dramatic.
Some interpreters point out the absence of the definite article in the reference at the end of verse 27, making it read “Son of Man.” Morris disagrees and I concur. He says, “This is Jesus’ favourite self-designation. Moreover it gives an excellent reason for judgment being committed to Him. He is the heavenly figure of Dan. 7:14 to whom is given ‘dominion, and glory, and a kingdom, that all the peoples, nations, and languages should serve Him: His dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and His kingdom that which shall not be destroyed’ ” (Morris, p. 320).
5:28–29. Jesus switched suddenly to physical resurrection and identified a major doctrine of the New Testament—the concept of two resurrections, one for the righteous and one for the wicked. The second resurrection is a resurrection to damnation (Rev. 20:13), but many interpreters believe there are three parts to the first resurrection outlined in Scripture: Christ the firstfruits (1 Cor. 15:20, 23); the saints (church) at the rapture; and Old Testament believers at the beginning of the millennium. Passages like this should lay to rest the false doctrine that death ends all life and essentially serves as a cessation of existence. There will not only be resurrection; resurrection will be followed by judgment.
5:30. Having announced this forthcoming event and the major hope of Israel proclaimed in the Old Testament, Jesus reminded his hearers again that he came only as the Father’s representative. This verse transitions into the next section about testimony and truth.
Borchert pinpoints the issue for our attention: Notice the statements: “By myself,” “I can do nothing,” “I judge,” “I hear,” “my judgment,” “I seek,” “Not to lease myself,” “who sent me.” Here are eight references in English (nine in Greek) to the first-person singular in a brief thirty-word Greek sentence. It is not difficult to recognize the tremendous shift that has occurred in the text. The movement in language should be a signal to interpreters of that change. In accepting his mission (“sent”) as judge, Jesus is portrayed as placing himself on the block of scrutiny for all to examine him. The issue therefore is defined. He claimed to be just, and his defense was that he had not compromised himself by pursuing self-interest. The case was therefore joined: Was he what he claimed to be? That is the question to be answered in the next section” (Borchert, pp. 242–43).
E. Divine Testimony (5:31–40)
SUPPORTING IDEA: Jesus really did not need confirmation from other people, but he provided that evidence to help us gain experiential knowledge of the life that he brings.
5:31–32. Throughout this section the key word testify or testimony appears ten times. And Jesus offered four answers to the unasked question he read in the minds of the Jews: “Who will give evidence of who you are?” Jesus admitted that if his own words represented all he could bring to the witness stand, his accusers would have every reason for their doubt and scorn. Nevertheless, any accused man might speak in his own defense if he wished. That is exactly what Jesus did in verses 17–30.
The resumé has been submitted, and it has come not only with references but with the testimony of another who testifies in my favor. This probably refers to the Father whom Jesus mentioned several times in his own report. The word translated valid means “true.” This mention of the Father at the beginning of the testimony list indicates that Jesus believed all his words and actions were already approved and did not need any further word. As Tasker puts it, the Father “is the only witness in fact whom Jesus regards as important as far as His own vindication is concerned” (Tasker, p. 88).
5:33–35. From the testimony of Jesus we move to the testimony of John the Baptist, the first entry on the resumé. The Greek grammar implies that John the Baptist was the Jews’ own witness, a prophet highly regarded by those who now challenged Jesus’ authority. Human testimony should not be necessary, but since they obviously considered it important, we start with a lamp that burned and gave light. Our first thought here tends to focus on light. This is no doubt an important component of the metaphor. But the word burned may suggest a candle or torch that burned itself out. Devout Jews were happy to see their Elijah, delighted at his message of a coming Messiah. But they cared nothing for what he delivered. Now they are accused of not taking his message seriously.
5:36. The third testimony is the testimony of Jesus’ works which should be even stronger in the eyes of the Jews than the prophecy of John. The word appears in the plural (works), not work as the NIV has it—a term John used frequently to describe Jesus’ miracles (5:20; 9:4; 10:25, 32, 37–38; 14:10–11; 15:24). The word (erga) appears twenty-seven times in this Gospel. Even though faith should never rest in the works alone, those works always attest to Jesus’ character. Furthermore, God was not hesitant to use words to demonstrate his point (Moses’ burning bush; Gideon’s fleece; Elijah’s burning altar).
5:37–38. Having already introduced the Father earlier in this section, Jesus now added him to the resumé, focusing on his will and his word. The idea of a universal fatherhood of God applies only to creation and humanity. When it comes to spiritual sonship, the issue is personal faith. Note how the rejection of Jesus is a “catch twenty-two” kind of problem. These denying Jews never grasped the Father’s testimony about Jesus because they refused Jesus’ testimony about the Father.
5:39–40. The fifth testimony is one you may have in your hands right now—the Scriptures. Some people have quoted this verse as a command: “Search the Scriptures”—but that is not permissible according to the grammar of the text. Jesus essentially told these combatants, “You are serious Bible students and study the Old Testament carefully in order to gain eternal life. Yet you have been unable to see how your Scriptures prophesied my coming and, therefore, refuse the life that I bring.”
An open heart and open eyes will produce an open mind—but we begin with an open Bible. Not superstitious reverence, but practical use. Doubts concerning the Bible’s authenticity are only about two hundred years old. This should tell us something about the moral and spiritual squalor we see in the modern world.
Nevertheless, these passages also remind us that posting the Ten Commandments on the walls of school classrooms will not produce righteousness. The religious legalism of the first century shows us that. These verses also lead into the final section of this chapter. Tenney raises an important flag as we make this transition: “No less than eighteen unmistakable references to the Old Testament occur in the text of John, most of which are given a direct application to Christ, and there are other allusions in addition. If Moses (and the others) wrote of him, then the testimony would have to be admitted by his enemies as incontrovertible” (Tenney, p. 111).
F. Divine Praise (5:41–47)
SUPPORTING IDEA: Biblical praise begins by praising God and seeking praise from him.
5:41–42. The final two paragraphs close the sermon by condemning Jesus’ accusers. The people with whom he spoke had studied the Scriptures for several thousand years. From the writings of Moses to the appearance of the Messiah, they revered God’s writings, but they never understood them. Indeed, if they had grasped only the Pentateuch they would have been ready to receive Jesus as God’s Son and Messiah. They searched to find life and life was in Christ, but they never made the connection. Without the love of God in their hearts, they would be quite willing to accept imposters who claimed only their own testimony and denied Jesus in the face of all the evidence that attested the truth of his message. Verses 41 and 42 remind us of the Lord’s reaction to the “believing” Jews at the end of chapter 2: “But Jesus would not entrust himself to them, for he knew all men. He did not need man’s testimony about man, for he knew what was in a man” (2:24–25).
The word translated in the NIV as praise is doxa, the common Greek word for glory or honor. The word appears three times in four verses, indicating John’s emphasis on the rejection of Christ’s glory by his accusers.
5:43–44. Bogus messiahs had crowded the Jewish scene for at least two hundred years before Christ. Like some modern religious leaders, they drew attention to themselves—an attitude for which Jesus condemned his own disciples (Luke 22:25). And the attitude continued. As Ken Hughes puts it, “Jesus told them that another would come in His name and that they would receive that one. Subsequent historical accounts tell us that no less than sixty-three messianic claimants attracted followers. People followed them because their claims corresponded with the desires of men. They offered easy victory, political power, and material advantage. Christ offered the Cross” (Hughes, p. 112).
So all the mutual glorification omitted serious worship, never finding the praise that comes from the only God. We have no trouble understanding how we must praise God, but how do we receive praise from God? Let us remember the people to whom these remarks were addressed. Pharisees, Sadducees, and Jewish religious leaders of the first century made a big show of public worship, ostentatiously praying and giving in public (Matt. 23:5–7). But the true glory of God was present in Jesus whom they rejected. True glory comes only from God, and this entire discourse has to do with Jesus as the true representative of that glory. In The Everlasting Mercy, Robert Harvey Strachan offers more of the verse from which the initial quotation in this chapter is taken.
A trained mind outs the upright soul,
As Jesus said the trained mind might,
Being wiser than the sons of light,
But trained men’s minds are spread so thin
They let all sorts of darkness in;
Whatever light men find they doubt it,
They love not light but talk about it (Strachan, p. 47).
5:45–47. This entire chapter stems from the issue of Sabbath-breaking that John introduced as early as verses 9–10. Therefore, this question of Mosaic Law both begins and ends the chapter. The Jews were proud of their tradition, their knowledge of Scripture, and certainly proud of Moses. But according to Jesus, they really did not believe Moses. If they had, they would have believed and accepted the Christ of whom Moses wrote. Rejecting Moses therefore, they also rejected Jesus.
We can hardly miss the connection between the writings of Moses in verses 45–47 and the emphasis on Scripture in general in verses 39–40. The only contact these people had with Moses was through the Pentateuch, the section of Scripture that Moses wrote. But how and when did Moses write about Christ? Certainly one possibility is the reference in Deuteronomy 18:15 which John has already used in the discussion of religious leaders with John the Baptist (1:21). In connection with these verses you may want to review the text of Deuteronomy 18:14–22.
Tasker sums up the issue like this: The tragedy however, was that the Jews had regarded the Mosaic ordinances, particularly those relating to animal sacrifice, as ends in themselves; they were not therefore, ready to welcome Him who was not only the supreme revealer of the divine will, the Prophet who was greater than all the prophets, but also the Priest who alone could fully atone for human sin. The law of Moses could not save sinners and give them eternal life; it could only expose their sinfulness. By such exposure Moses prepared the way for the Son of God who made forgiveness a reality and enabled men to receive praise from God. If the Jews, therefore, really believed Moses; if, in other words, they were really longing for divine forgiveness and for eternal life, they would now be believing in Jesus (Tasker, p. 90).
4. Questions to Ponder
1. Why ask so obvious a question? (vs. 6)
2. Why is v. 4 omitted in Harmony and RSV?
3. How did Jesus’ remark make Him equal with God? (vs. 12)
4. Meaning of “hath Eternal Life”? (Vs. 24)
5. How had God become a witness to Jesus? (vs. 37)
6. What is Jesus’ analysis of the causes of their unbelief? (vs. 41-47)
5. Author’s Comments
In verse 6, Jesus asks the question, “Do you want to get well?” It seems like a very easy question for the invalid to answer. In our minds, we automatically think, “Of course the invalid would want to get well – why would anyone want to remain an invalid?” Yet, Jesus still asks this question to those living in our world today, and many are struggling just as hard as the invalid to provide an adequate answer.
Do you want your marriage to be healed? Do you want your eternal destiny to be changed? Do you want freedom from a spiritual stronghold? The questions are limitless and the power for the answers can only come from Jesus.
Whatever the question, let’s respond as the invalid did when he “picked up his mat and walked!” Let’s be sure we receive the same powerful releases and healings in our lives today.
“Do we want to get well?”, of course we do. Let’s respond to Jesus’ request today in the same manner expressed by the Invalid at Bethsaida.
6. Closing Prayer
Thank you so much for the hope You bring to our lives. Regardless of our situation or the circumstances we are facing, knowing Your Holy Spirit indwells us and is empowering us through our challenges brings confidence and joy into our souls.
As we face our daily challenges, may we continue to place our trust in You, Your Son, and the Holy Spirit. May our lives be a testimony to You and may our actions bring glory to You and Your Kingdom!
In Jesus’ Name, AMEN.
7. Answers to “Questions to Ponder”
1. To arouse the man from the apathy of despair. Jesus healed only those men who consented to His healing power. The question would open the door of hope and effort by the man.
2. Because this is probably a margin note added by the scribes during their copying the manuscript. This gradually became incorporated in the text. John had failed to mention the pool had certain medicinal qualities according to tradition.
3. God had established the Sabbath. Man had determined the meaning of keeping the Sabbath holy. Jesus’ command had superseded the Pharisaic law and re-established the law of God.
4. Jesus referring to our spiritual life. Once we have crossed over to His leadership, we will never die for all eternity.
5. (1) at His baptism, the Father had given audible approval; (2) O.T. revelations through the prophets and Scripture; (3) Through the words of the Son and the results of His miraculous ministry.
6. (1) they had no love for God in their hearts; (2) they would not accept Jesus, who had come in His Father’s name, but, would accept one who come in his own name; (3) They desired glory more than truth & honor; (4) they would not believe in the written words of Moses nor in the oral words of Jesus.