JOHN, Part 15

John 5:31—47

To the Jewish leaders who heard Jesus, His claims espoused throughout chapter 5 must have sounded audacious to be sure.  Jesus had claimed equality with God; that the two were united in both substance and purpose.  He also claimed that spiritual life was found in only one place:  Himself.  These claims, of course, could not be accepted by the religious leaders; it was His word against theirs.  Because His authority was questioned, Jesus, in this section of chapter 5, enumerated witnesses to vouch for the veracity of His claims.

1.  Legal challenge met, verses 31, 32

If I testify about myself, my testimony is not valid. There is another who testifies in my favor, and I know that his testimony about me is valid.

Jesus is applying a Biblical principle in His defense:

But if he will not listen, take one or two others along, so that ‘every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.’  (Matthew 18:16)

These sense of verse 1 is that Jesus is admitting His testimony would not be sufficient in a court of law; therefore He will offer more testimonies as prescribed by the Mosaic Law (see Deuteronomy 17:16 and 19:15).

We should not interpret Jesus as saying that His testimony about Himself was untrue or that His words carried no authority.  Just as in previous verses where Jesus admitted His total dependence on God the Father was the result of His own self-limitation when He came to earth and took upon Himself our humanity, so He is seen in verse 31 condescending to use the Law of man in addition to His own word about Himself.  In other words, Jesus’ testimony was not valid in terms of Jewish Law, so Jesus would abide by their own Law.

The exact meaning of verse 32 is unclear.  Jesus could be referring to God the Father or John the Baptist.  The word matryron (testifies) is in the present tense, indicating a continual, non-stop, uninterrupted action.  It is hard to apply that to John the Baptist, especially since in the next verse the perfect tense (memartyreken) of the same verb is used of the Baptist.   It seems that, while Jesus refers to John the Baptist in the next two verses, here is mentioned a higher Witness, not a human witness, but a second Witness, nonetheless.

2.  Witness #1—John the Baptist, verses 33—35

You have sent to John and he has testified to the truth.  Not that I accept human testimony; but I mention it that you may be saved. John was a lamp that burned and gave light, and you chose for a time to enjoy his light.

After briefly referring to God the Father, Jesus speaks about the first witness, John the Baptist.  The reference is to the testimony of the Baptist back in 1:19—28, which he had given to a delegation sent to him.  John the Baptist’s words about Jesus were powerful and taken seriously, as he himself was taken very seriously for a time.  We forget that before he was beheaded, the Baptist had a massive following; people hung on his every word about the Messiah.  The Jewish religious leaders and the Roman political establishment so feared this man, they were forced to take his life to silence the seditious words of what they considered either a religious heretic or a political rabble-rouser.

Jesus appeals here to John the Baptist’s testimony, not because the Lord needed a mere human being’s testimony about Himself, but to stress to the religious leaders that what the Baptist said about Him was true and that many, many people believed him.

The phrase, you chose for a time to enjoy his light, simply means that even these Jews listened to and accepted the Baptist’s words about the Messiah. If they could believe the testimony of the man John, how could they not accept the words of the Son of God?

What is interesting about the general attitude toward John the Baptist is that it is so similar to that of Jesus.  Those who were familiar with the preaching of John the Baptist vacillated between first accepting him and then turning against him when his call to repentance became far to inconvenient for them.  This is precisely the effect the words of Jesus had and continues to have on people.  People are touched with the Gospel of love; they love Jesus’ messages of compassion and acceptance.  But when Jesus’ word calls for repentance and choosing between the old way of life and His new life, they resist and balk and turn away.

3.  Witness #2—God the Father, verses 36—40

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.  And the Father who sent me has himself testified concerning me. You have never heard his voice nor seen his form, nor does his word dwell in you, for you do not believe the one he sent.  You diligently study the Scriptures because you think that by them you possess eternal life. These are the Scriptures that testify about me, yet you refuse to come to me to have life.

There are actually two witnesses in paragraph; the works Jesus performed and God the Father, the first is connected to and cannot be separated from the latter.

When John uses the word “work” (Greek erga), he is referring to the miracles Jesus performed, including the healing of the man at the pool.  These amazing works could not be duplicated by priests or holy men, so they revealed something of Jesus’ divine nature.   These works, while they don’t produce faith in a person’s heart, and while they are not as important as the words of the Lord, could not be ignored for they strengthened and confirmed faith.  Remember what Nicodemus said to Jesus—

For no one could perform the miraculous signs you are doing if God were not with him.  (John 3:2b)

Later on, Jesus told His questioners—

The miracles I do in my Father’s name speak for me.  (John 10:25b)

Even though Jesus never performed a miracle to draw attention to Himself, He believed they were valid proofs of His claims.  In John’s Gospel, there are a total of seven such works:

  • Turing the water into wine, 2:1—11
  • Healing of the official’s son, 4:43—54
  • Healing of the paralytic, 5:1—15
  • Feeding of the multitude, 6:1—14
  • Walking on water, 6:16—21
  • Curing the blind man, 9:1—41
  • Resurrection of Lazarus, 11:1—44

Each of these “miracles” was not an end in itself.  They all demonstrated something amazing about Jesus:  His uncanny ability to confront any need in life, meeting it fully and satisfactorily.

The testimony of God the Father may be distinguished from the works of Jesus, though He is connected to them.  Apart from the works Jesus saw His Father doing and that He subsequently did, how did the Father bear witness about the Son?  John doesn’t elaborate at all, though we know that at His baptism, God the Father spoke from heaven (Mark 1:11).  Perhaps Jesus is also referring to the inner witness of the Father in the hearts of believers (1 John 5:9—10).  However, the context of this passage seems to indicate that Jesus is referring to the testimony of the Father throughout the Scriptures.

To the Jews, a voice from heaven would have been testimony enough.  Yet they disregarded it.  They also disregarded the voice of God in their very own Scriptures.  The Jews were truly “blind guides,” blind to any reality that challenged the reality they created in their own minds.

Jesus’ indictment of the Jews is pointed.  These holy men studied the Scriptures and read its truths, yet understood nothing of what they read.  That is the point of verse 39.  Despite how it sounds in the KJV, Jesus was not urging them to search the Scriptures; He is telling them that despite their search of the Scriptures, they came up wanting.  If someone has claimed to read and study the Scriptures but has not found Jesus, they have wasted their time.

In light of verse 40, what Jesus had just said takes on a whole new meaning, for in back of the Jews “not seeing,” not hearing,” and “not believing” is the simply the hardness of the heart—

[Y]ou refuse to come to me to have life.

As John Heywood put it in 1546,

There are none so blind as those who will not see. The most deluded people are those who choose to ignore what they already know.

4.  No love for God, anywhere, verses 41—44

I do not accept praise from men, but I know you.  I know that you do not have the love of God in your hearts.  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.  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?

The amazing thing about the Scriptures is that they are full of God’s truth and reveal His glory.  While no self-respecting Jew could disagree with this, the Jews of Jesus’ day were literally incapable of both interpreting and applying the Scriptures correctly.

Though Jesus did not run around yearning for the praise of man, He knew the hearts of every man, and He knew that because the they did not give praise and glory to Him, ignorance abounded in their hearts.   There was not an ounce of love for God to be found in their hearts, for if the Jews loved God, they would have loved His Son.

What is truly sad about these Jews was that while they stubbornly refused to accept Jesus as Messiah, they apparently had no problem accepting other men as their Messiah.  Verse 43 may be considered a small prophecy which was fulfilled time and again in Hebrew history.  The false Messiah’s included such notable men as:

  • Theudas, who was a follower of Paul and who Josephus wrote about, saying that he was able to sway many people with his messianic claims (Acts 5:36).
  • Judas of Galilee, was a zealot and led a mass revolt against the high Roman taxes.  He was yet another messianic claimant mentioned in Acts  5:37.
  • Bar Kochba, or Simon Bar Kochba, led a Jewish revolt in 132-135 A.D.  He convinced many that he was the messiah, although he eventually disappointed his followers, who started to refer to this would-be messiah as Bar Kosiva, or Son of a Lie.

How sad it is that so many Jews were so quick to support so many mere men in their messianic ambitions but ignored the true Messiah when He appeared in their midst.  There have been many, many men accepted as messiah, with the final one will be the Antichrist, 2 Thessalonians 2:8—10.

These Jews to whom Jesus was speaking were incapable of belief and therefore incapable of rendering proper praise to God.  The very name Jew, coming from Judah, means praise.  These people, with the right name and going through the right actions were, in effect, were wasting their time and effort.  A true Jew, wrote Paul in Romans 2:29, is one whose praise is of God, not of men.

5.  Reverence for the wrong people, verses 45-47

But do not think I will accuse you before the Father. Your accuser is Moses, on whom your hopes are set. If you believed Moses, you would believe me, for he wrote about me. But since you do not believe what he wrote, how are you going to believe what I say?

Moses was highly revered by the Jews.  The people would never do anything that knowingly went against his teachings.  Jesus has just rebuked them in the strongest terms possible, but He is not quite finished yet.  Jesus, the Son of God, would not need to bring any charges against these Jews, because their very own precious and beloved Moses would do just that!   But did Moses write about Jesus?

In fact, the Pentateuch, the first five books of the Old Testament, are called the Books of Moses, and Jesus is all over them. Consider:

  • Genesis 3:15
  • Genesis 9:26
  • Genesis 22:18
  • Numbers 24:17
  • Deuteronomy 18:15—18

But the entire Pentateuch points forward to Christ, as does the whole Old Testament, and properly understood without any kind of bias; these Jews would have seen Him.  Christ is revealed in four ways throughout the Old Testament:

  • Historically.  Time and again the enemies of God and His people tried to make it impossible for the Messiah to come from the Hebrew people by seeking to eradicate the Hebrews from the face of the earth.
  • Typologically.  Throughout the Books of Moses there are foreshadows of Him and His work.  For example, the design of and furnishings in the Tabernacle all point to Christ.  The water that came from the smitten rock, the Passover, the lamb and other sacrifices, the serpent lifted up in the wilderness, Melchizedek, Adam, David, and Solomon, all are types and shadows of Christ found throughout the writings of Moses.
  • Psychologically.  During the entire OT dispensation, including the Pentateuch, one truth continually surfaces:  man cannot save himself no matter how closely he tries to follow the law.  It is not within man himself to save himself, try as he may.  The OT makes it plain that man needs a Power outside himself to save him.
  • Prophetically.  The Pentateuch contains prophecies that are fulfilled in the coming of Christ.

Finally, Jesus ends His talk with these Jews with a rhetorical question:

But since you do not believe what he wrote, how are you going to believe what I say?  (verse 47)

This question is unanswerable.  The Jews denied the writings of Moses by their actions and attitudes; therefore there was no way they would listen to anything Jesus had to say.  The words of the OT and the words of Jesus go hand-in-hand.

(c)  2010 WitzEnd

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