We are in a section of John’s gospel where Jesus is proving that he is God. Jesus healed a disabled man on the Sabbath. When questioned as to why he would break the Sabbath law, Jesus responded that the Father works on the Sabbath and therefore he must also work on the Sabbath because he is God. The rest of the fifth chapter is Jesus’ testimony that he is God. Jesus showed that he is equal to the Father in person, works, power, judgment, and honor. Further, Jesus has the power to determine who will be given life and who will be raised to life or raised to judgment. Jesus rounds out his argument for his deity by presenting witnesses to his Godhood.
As Jesus begins, Jesus teaches that what he is doing is not as some kind of renegade. The Father and the Son are one. There is one God. So Jesus says that what he does and the judgment he gives is the judgment of the Father because he hears the Father and seeks the will of the Father. But Jesus also recognizes that his audience will not accept his testimony without witnesses. The Law of Moses called for one’s testimony to be concerning a crime committed validated by two or three witnesses (Numbers 35:30; Deuteronomy 17:6; 19:15). So Jesus does not need to provide any witnesses. Jesus has not committed a crime. But Jesus is going to offer witnesses so that his testimony will not be rejected.
John, The Unneeded Witness (5:33-35)
The Jewish leaders had sent messengers to John (which we read in John 1:19) to learn about who John was. Listen to what John described himself as. “I am the voice of the one crying in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way of the Lord,’ as the prophet Isaiah said.” (John 1:23) John gave his testimony. John was preparing the way for whom? He was preparing the way for the coming of the Lord! Then John pointed to Jesus repeatedly and said that he is the one. He is the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. The Lord has come. John gave his testimony to Jesus being the Lord. But listen to Jesus in verse 34. Jesus does not need to rely on the testimony of humans. John gave his witness about Jesus but this is not the testimony that Jesus relies on. Jesus brings us John to teach the people that John was right. You should have listened to John! He came preaching about me so that you would be saved. John warned you to repent because the ax was laid at the root of the tree. You should have listened to John and made yourselves ready for my arrival. John was not the true light, but he was a bearer of the light. He was a burning and shining lamp showing the way to Jesus. This imagery comes from Psalm 132:17 where God says he has prepared a lamp for his anointed. Jesus is the anointed and John is the lamp. Now here is the problem. The people rejoiced in his light for a while. The implication is that they then stopped listening and following John. The rejoicing was temporary. People were excited about John’s message concerning the coming of Jesus. But then they stopped rejoicing. How this can be true of us! We rejoice in the message of the gospel only to go back to our own way soon after that. We rejoice in the forgiveness of sins as we come to Jesus. But then we stop rejoicing. We stop giving thanks. We stop caring about the Lord and we go back to who we were before, doing what we are doing before.
APPLICATION: What will you give thanks for this Thanksgiving? Will you give thanks to God for God? Will you count your spiritual blessings that we have received in the heavenly places (cf. Ephesians 1)? Do not lose your joy. Do not stop rejoicing about what the Lord has done for you. Do not return to your old life because your joy has worn off. Keep pressing into Jesus. Keep drawing closer to him.
Jesus’ Works Are A Witness (5:36)
The testimony that Jesus has is far greater than the words and testimony of John. Jesus says that the works that he is doing bears witness that the Father has sent him. This is a point that we noted at the very beginning of our study of this gospel. John is recording the signs that Jesus did. John chooses seven signs, each of which prove that Jesus is God because Jesus is doing the things we see God doing previously in the scriptures. Jesus is doing the works of God proving that he is God. No one can do what he is doing unless he was God. Look at what Jesus did! How can we not see that he is the Lord?
The Father’s Witness (5:37-38)
The second witness Jesus calls to the stand is God the Father himself. In verse 37 Jesus says that the Father has also given his witness concerning him. Now we would expect Jesus to explain how the Father has given his testimony. But Jesus does not explain that. John has already recorded the testimony of the Father concerning Jesus. Turn to John 1:32-34 and notice that the proof is found in the baptism of Jesus. The Holy Spirit and the Father both give their testimony that Jesus is the Son of God. The Spirit hovering over Jesus at the baptism and the words of the Father that this is his beloved Son bear witness. But Jesus does not make any of these points right here. Listen to what Jesus says instead.
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. (John 5:37–38 ESV)
Now, this is a serious blasting of the Jewish leaders. Despite his opponents’ claim to know God through the Torah, Jesus denies that they truly know God. At Sinai Israel saw the greatness of God’s glory and their ears heard the glory of his voice (Exodus 24:11; Deut 4:12, 36; 5:24). Thus Jesus denies that those who reject him ever truly accepted the revelation of the Torah at Sinai either. Old Testament figures who heard the voice of God include Noah, Abraham, Jacob, Moses, Samuel, Elijah, and Isaiah all “saw” or “heard” God in one sense or another. Though not seeing God directly, Israel received the law at Sinai and accepted it from God’s servant Moses. Therefore Israel claimed to have heard him, seen his form, and had the law abiding in them. Jesus said that none of that is true because they are rejecting him. Now the Jews are rejecting greater revelation from an even greater messenger. They do not know God because they do not know Jesus. If God’s word was in them they would have accepted Jesus.
The Scriptures’ Witness (5:39-44)
In fact, listen to what Jesus says in verse 39. The scriptures bear witness to Jesus. The scriptures in Jesus’ day are what we call the Old Testament. Everything from Genesis to Malachi bears witness to Jesus. Sometimes people wonder why we study the Old Testament. People think it is too hard. People think it is too boring. People think it is irrelevant. Not only did God say that those are his words breathed out on a page so will listen to it, but Jesus says that those books speak about him! What scriptures did first century Christians have to learn about Jesus? They had Genesis through Malachi! They came to know about who Jesus is, what he would do, and their place in God’s scheme by reading Genesis through Malachi. If we want to get to know Jesus, we need to read the Old Testament because those books testify about Jesus. One reason we do not know our Lord and why we remain weak Christians is because we do not know the whole of scriptures. Isaiah said he saw the Lord. John tells us that Isaiah saw the Son of God and spoke about him (John 12:41). Isaiah saw the Christ and wrote about him. So we come along and decide to ignore the Old Testament and wonder why we can’t figure God’s word out. Every book is speaking about Jesus. Jesus says that you can read the scriptures all that you want to, but if you do not see Jesus in the scriptures, then you are not going to find life. Jesus says if you read the scriptures and do not see Jesus, you are not reading it right! When Jesus is rejected, then all of the scriptures are rejecting, including the books from Genesis to Malachi, because they all speak of Jesus.
Worse, we do what these Jewish leaders did. We search the scriptures, but we do not read the scriptures for what they say. We turn the scriptures into a doctrine finding mission. We memorize places where baptism is taught or where we are commanded to assembly together. We know the places to turn to so we can have an argument with people who disagree with us. But we do not read and breathe in the scriptures to find life. We study what we think we need to know. We try to boil down the scriptures to simple statements and memorized cliches. We need to read the scriptures to get to know Jesus. We do not need to read the scriptures to prove what we have always known or see what we have always seen or confirm what we already believe. These leaders are criticized for how they are searching the scriptures. There is a wrong way to read the Bible. Read to learn about your God and let his word transform your life.
Notice how Jesus proceeds further with this. Jesus declares that he is not interested in receiving their approval. Jesus is not going to change what he is doing to satisfy the expectations of the religious leaders. They are going to accept other people who come in their own name because they will do what the people want. But the people will not accept, give glory, or love Jesus because he did not come to run in a popularity contest. He came in the name of the Father and does what the Father has given him to do. In fact, Jesus says they cannot believe because they are more concerned about receiving the glory of people rather than the glory that comes from God.
APPLICATION: Another reason we fail at drawing closer to God and belonging to Jesus is because we are more interested in the glory from people rather than the glory of God. We cannot concern ourselves with what others expect of God. We need to do what God expects of us. Too often we are seeking the approval of our families, friends, and community and we are not considering or seeking the approval of God. Who are we trying to please when we make decisions? Too often we can become so focused on being people pleasers, not realizing that trying to please people often keeps us from pleasing God. The will of God and what others want us to do often conflict.
Moses’ Witness (5:45-47)
Jesus concludes with the witness of Moses. Moses is the accuser of these people for not accepting Jesus as God because if they believed Moses they would have believed Jesus. Moses and the Law pointed to Jesus. This is a weighty statement because throughout Israel’s history it was Moses who interceded on behalf of the people. Consider how many times Moses averted God’s wrath by pleading on behalf of Israel. They had pinned their hopes on Moses, not on the One Moses wrote about. Instead of receiving glory before God they would receive condemnation and their hope would be in vain. The need to listen to Moses sets the tone for the upcoming chapter about the manna which came from heaven.
The witnesses have been presented. Jesus is God according to John the Baptizer, according to his own miraculous works, according to the Father, according to the scriptures, and according to Moses. We must search all of the scriptures, not just the New Testament, and find Jesus to which all of Gods’ word pointed. Then with open hearts we see the glory of God, not the glory of people, so that we will believe in Jesus and put our hope in him. He is the giver of life and his very words will give life to those who hear him and obey. Today is the day to accept Jesus as the Lord and submit to his words to receive life.