(John 5:17-18 ESV) 17 But Jesus answered them, “My Father is working until now, and I am working.” 18 This was why the Jews were seeking all the more to kill him, because not only was he breaking the Sabbath, but he was even calling God his own Father, making himself equal with God.
The Jews, of course, considered God their father. But Jesus was claiming a unique relationship with God. His argument is that if God can work on Saturday, so can I. He made himself equal with God.
In a world where a picking up sticks on Saturday was punishable by death, claiming to be co-equal with God — blasphemy in the minds of the Jewish authorities — was to court execution. It was a profoundly courageous claim.
In the Synoptic Gospels, Jesus defends healing on the Sabbath based on compassion for the hurt — the ox-in-the-ditch argument. But Jesus doesn’t argue legalities or hermeneutics. Rather, he claims the divine prerogative of God himself to work to uphold the universe and do good on the Sabbath.
This is more than a claim to Divinity. For Christians, it’s an example to be followed. God is also our father. And we should do what we see God doing — helping the just and the unjust.
(John 5:19-20 ESV) 19 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. 20 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.
“Truly, truly,” or “Verily, verily” in the KJV, indicates that Jesus is being particularly serious. The word shares its root with “truth,” a major theme in John. The “verily” statements of Jesus in John are of particular import in understanding the Gospel.
Jesus says, “I’m merely doing what I see my Father do.” How can that be wrong?
(John 5:21 ESV) 21 “For as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, so also the Son gives life to whom he will.
Oh, wow! Jesus now claims the power to resurrect the dead! (This sets up the raising of Lazarus later in John.) Jesus’ point is not merely that he can do miracles (he’s already done that), but that he has the power of God himself to decide whom to resurrect and whom not to. This is true, of course, but guaranteed to lead to arrest and execution.
And how on earth would Jesus prove such a claim?
(John 5:22-23 ESV) 22 “The Father judges no one, but has given all judgment to the Son, 23 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.
This is a very important passage. You cannot honor God unless you also honor the Son. Period. Therefore, those who do not accept Jesus are damned.
This passage refutes all claims of “available light” and universalism. And it explains why God-fearing Gentiles and the many Jews who worshiped God had to accept Jesus to be saved. Nothing else makes sense of Acts. Nothing else makes sense of the New Testament.
If you reject Jesus, then you’ve rejected God because God reveals his true nature in Jesus. If you don’t see God in Jesus, you don’t see God at all. You might worship a human construct called “God,” but you don’t worship the God of heaven.
(John 5:24-27 ESV) 24 “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.
25 “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. 26 For as the Father has life in himself, so he has granted the Son also to have life in himself. 27 And he has given him authority to execute judgment, because he is the Son of Man.
To hear Jesus’ words is to believe not only Jesus but also God.
Jesus prophesies that the resurrection yet to come will be only for those “who hear,” that is, who believe in Jesus.
In v. 27, Jesus claims to the “Son of Man,” which is a reference to —
(Dan 7:13-14 ESV) 13 “I saw in the night visions, and behold, with the clouds of heaven there came one like a son of man, and he came to the Ancient of Days and was presented before him. 14 And to him was given dominion and glory and a kingdom, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve him; his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom one that shall not be destroyed.”
To this point, Jesus had used the term ambiguously, but in context, he is clearly referring to one “like a son of man” of Dan 7:13.
(John 5:28-29 ESV) 28 “Do not marvel at this, for an hour is coming when all who are in the tombs will hear his voice 29 and come out, those who have done good to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil to the resurrection of judgment.
This sounds like works salvation, ripped out of context; but in context, Jesus clearly equates faith with “done good” and a lack of faith with “done evil.” Paul speaks in the same terms throughout Romans. You see, it’s only those with faith who are credited with enough good to be saved. Without faith, we are all evil.
(John 5:30 ESV) 30 “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.
Although Jesus makes himself equal with God in one sense, he is clear that he does not act independently or at cross purposes with God. In fact, he submits to God the Father. There is no other way that Jesus could be “just.”
“Just” translates dikiaos, having as its primary meaning “righteous,” an adjective repeatedly applied to God by the Prophets and referring to being true to God’s covenant with his people. Jesus is, of course, himself the fulfillment of God’s promises to Israel to save them by faith.
(John 5:31-34 ESV) 31 “If I alone bear witness about myself, my testimony is not true. 32 There is another who bears witness about me, and I know that the testimony that he bears about me is true. 33 You sent to John, and he has borne witness to the truth. 34 Not that the testimony that I receive is from man, but I say these things so that you may be saved.
Having made these audacious claims, Jesus points out that John the Baptist had already made the same claims about Jesus. Jesus’ authority does not depend on John’s words or on their acceptance, but he wants to convince his listeners by reminding them of John’s testimony, so that they may be saved.
(John 5:35-36 ESV) 35 “He was a burning and shining lamp, and you were willing to rejoice for a while in his light. 36 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.
Jesus points out that John was widely accepted by the Jews — even many of those in authority — but John had a temporary ministry, pointing toward someone greater.
Jesus then points out that miracles he does are God’s own testimony about him. He is proving himself to be the Messiah, not merely by John’s testimony, as weighty as that was, but by the evidence of his miracles.
(John 5:37-38 ESV) 37 “And the Father who sent me has himself borne witness about me. His voice you have never heard, his form you have never seen, 38 and you do not have his word abiding in you, for you do not believe the one whom he has sent.
Jesus, of course, has heard God’s voice and seen his form. However, the leaders of the Jews at Sinai did indeed hear and see at Sinai (Exo 24:9-11). And Jesus is declaring that today’s leaders, by being in Jesus’ presence, are privileged to hear God’s voice and to see his form — in Jesus. And yet they do not believe.
Why not? Why not believe when you’ve seen the miracles with your own eyes? And heard John’s testimony with your own ears? Why refuse? Jesus explains that they “do not have [God's] word living in [them].” They’d not truly understood the scriptures. They weren’t open to the activity of God’s Spirit.
(John 5:39-40 ESV) 39 You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me, 40 yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life.
Notice Jesus’ point: It’s not enough to know your Bible. If you don’t find Jesus there, you’re wasting your time. If you’re looking for rules about whether to heal on the Sabbath rather than for God himself and his Kingdom and his Messiah, you’ve missed the point.
The Sabbath is not God. It points to God. It points to heaven. It is given for man, to give him rest. It’s a command of compassion, not merely a rule to be kept to show how well you keep rules. And sometimes we let the rules get between us and God, rather than finding the God the rules point us toward. And if we don’t know God, we’ll misunderstand his rules every single time.
(John 5:41-43 ESV) 41 “I do not receive glory from people. 42 But I know that you do not have the love of God within you. 43 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.
The real testimony about Jesus is not whether the religious authorities approve him but what God himself says about him — through John the Baptist and through the miracles.
The Jews were deeply religious people, but Jesus says they do not love God. They would have disagreed, of course, but Jesus’ point is that if you truly love God, then you’ll know God well enough to recognize him in the flesh.
Thus, again, Jesus insists that faith in Jesus is essential to love God. Miss Jesus and you miss God.
He prophesies, however, that the Jews would accept false Messiahs, and indeed, they did.
(John 5:44 ESV) 44 “How can you believe, when you receive glory from one another and do not seek the glory that comes from the only God?
Let me say this in contemporary Church of Christ terms: If you are more concerned about what your sister congregations say about you than what God says about you, you do not believe. If you are more concerned with whether you get to speak at someone’s lectureship than whether you speak the whole counsel of God, you do not believe. You cannot seek the approval of man — even religious leaders — and God. You cannot have both.
(John 5:45-47 ESV) 45 “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. 46 For if you believed Moses, you would believe me; for he wrote of me. 47 But if you do not believe his writings, how will you believe my words?”
Finally, Jesus declares that Moses himself prophesied about the Messiah. Therefore, you cannot claim the approval of Moses while rejecting God’s Messiah.