Interpretation 5


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  Copyright © 2001 Jeanie C. Crain
Last modified: March, 2002

    I n looking at John 5, it may help to look back at the first four chapters. John's argument has run that the Word was in the beginning with God, and, in fact, was God. This Word creates:: all things were made through him and without him was not anything made that was made. John continues, in him was life, and that life was the light of men. John identifies life and light; unfortunately, the world knows not that light which overcomes darkness. John 3. 19 explains why: men love darkness rather than light. Only belief will allow individuals to become children of God. These children of God are born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God. For the world to be born of God, it was necessary that the Word become flesh (1.14). While the law has come from Moses, grace comes from Jesus Christ. Why? No one has seen God, and so God must be known through the Son, the Word in flesh. John explains that John the Baptist's baptism with water reveals Christ to Israel. Clearly contrasted then are water (1.31) and spirit (1. 35), the law of Moses (1.17) and Christ (1.17). The use of Israel begins to evoke what will be continued as a reference to Jacob in Nathaniel, an Israelite without guile. The reader recalls that Jacob, renamed Israel, has been a character of deceit. Nathaniel recognizes the Word as the "Son of God, King of Israel" (1.49). This is followed by a reference to Jacob's vision of a ladder reaching from heaven to earth: "51 And he said to him, "Truly, truly, I say to you, you will see heaven opened, and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of man." Can one doubt John's conscious use of metaphor and image to argue for Jesus as God's revelation to humankind, surpassing that of Eden and physical creation, Moses and law, the old Israel by a new Israel?

One begins to understand why the wedding in Cana must follow this announcement of the Word made flesh. In the presence of God, Word made flesh, the immediate revelation must be preferred to all that has come before: "10 and said to him, "Every man serves the good wine first; and when men have drunk freely, then the poor wine; but you have kept the good wine until now."  Indeed, Eden, Moses and the law, old Israel are but water compared to this heady "good wine." The logic builds; with the Passover at hand, Jesus sets about to demonstrate David's temple as inferior to the temple God prefers; one will recall that David was told that God had never, since the beginning of time, lived in or needed a house: 

14 In the temple he found those who were selling oxen and sheep and pigeons, and the money-changers at their business.15 And making a whip of cords, he drove them all, with the sheep and oxen, out of the temple; and he poured out the coins of the money-changers and overturned their tables.16 And he told those who sold the pigeons, "Take these things away; you shall not make my Father's house a house of trade."17 His disciples remembered that it was written, "Zeal for thy house will consume me."18 The Jews then said to him, "What sign have you to show us for doing this?"19 Jesus answered them, "Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up."

Jesus, without being understood, points to his own body as the temple of God; recall that John has presented Jesus as the Word in flesh.

    When in John 3, Jesus encounters Nicodemus, the distinction between the earthly and heavenly has already been made to the reader/listener. The reader knows the Word has become flesh and that children of God are born, not of blood, nor will of flesh, nor will of man, but God. Nicodemus is told he must be born again, a truth consistent with the logic of John's developing argument. Nicodemus, though, like everyman, must come to understand that spirit is spirit and flesh is flesh (3.6). The difficulty is clear: misunderstanding easily exists on the physical level: "12 If I have told you earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you heavenly things? The One who clearly understands the heavenly is the one who has both ascended and descended. Only the Son of Man identified as the Word has accomplished this complete mediation between the two realms. The words the Word utters come from God. Does Nicodemus understand "16 For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life"?

    In John 4, the past and present connect in Jacob's well and the "living water" offered by the Word. With connotations rooted within the old, Jesus describes the living water as a "spring of water welling up to eternal life" (4.14). Of course, Jesus has necessarily gone by way of Samaria in order that some might believe, and by believing, find eternal life. At first, the woman of Samaria fails to understand who it is before her and what it is he offers. She points to the tradition of Jacob: "12 Are you greater than our father Jacob, who gave us the well, and drank from it himself, and his sons, and his cattle?" She further questions that a Jew would talk to a Samaritan woman, then as he talks to her, asks to be given the water so that she no longer has to come to the well to draw. At this point, as  customary with John, Jesus reveals to the woman that he knows her and her heart before she tells it to him by telling her she has had five husbands and the one she now lives with is not her own. She now concedes Jesus must be a prophet to know what he does. The controversy she worries about now is the place of worship, whether Jerusalem or Mount Gerizim, where the Samaritan temple has stood. Jesus tells her the place is worship is not primarily important but that the means of worship "in spirit and truth" (23). More than prophet, the woman now entertains the notion of messiahship, and Jesus reveals his identity: 

25 The woman said to him, "I know that Messiah is coming (he who is called Christ); when he comes, he will show us all things."26 Jesus said to her, "I who speak to you am he."

More than the synoptic gospels, the theologian John forthrightly identifies Jesus, consistently revealing Jesus as the Christ of Christianity. Once revealed in John 4,  the Divine Son must be concerned about the will of God and the harvest:

34 Jesus said to them, "My food is to do the will of him who sent me, and to accomplish his work.35 Do you not say, `There are yet four months, then comes the harvest'? I tell you, lift up your eyes, and see how the fields are already white for harvest.36 He who reaps receives wages, and gathers fruit for eternal life, so that sower and reaper may rejoice together.37 For here the saying holds true, `One sows and another reaps.'38 I sent you to reap that for which you did not labor; others have labored, and you have entered into their labor."

Many more Samaritans come to believe as the result of what they have heard. 

    Chapter four ends with a second sign performed by Jesus: as before water has been changed to wine, now death is changed to life. An official from Capernaum begs that his son, at the point of death, be healed. Jesus simply tells him his son will live, and the official believes and goes his way. The miracle is confirmed: "52 So he asked them the hour when he began to mend, and they said to him, "Yesterday at the seventh hour the fever left him." As a common refrain in John, as a result the works of Christ, the official and his household believes.

    In chapter five, controversy breaks out about work being done on the Sabbath. The reader notes that Jesus, once again, comes to Jerusalem at a festival. John does not identify this festival, and scholarship differs in identifying it. Consider the Net Bible:

2tn (5:1) The textual variants eJorthv or hJ eJorthv (Jeorth or Jh Jeorth , "a feast" or "the feast") may not appear significant at first, but to insert the article would almost certainly demand a reference to the Jewish Passover. Externally this problem is difficult to decide, but it is probably better to read the word eJorthv as anarthrous in agreement with NA27 and UBS4, and thus a reference to a feast other than the Passover. The incidental note in 5:3, that the sick were lying outside in the porticoes of the pool, makes Passover an unlikely time because it fell toward the end of winter and the weather would not have been warm. L. Morris (John [NICNT], 299, n. 6) thinks it impossible to identity the feast with certainty.
sn (5:1) A Jewish feast. Jews were obligated to go up to Jerusalem for 3 major annual feasts: Passover, Pentecost, and Tabernacles. If the first is probably ruled out because of the time of year, the last is not as likely because it forms the central setting for chap. 7 (where there are many indications in the context that Tabernacles is the feast in view.) This leaves the feast of Pentecost, which at some point prior to this time in Jewish tradition (as reflected in Jewish intertestamental literature and later post-Christian rabbinic writings) became identified with the giving of the law to Moses on Mount Sinai. Such an association might explain Jesus' reference to Moses in 5:45-46. This is uncertain, however. The only really important fact for the author is that the healing was done on a Sabbath. This is what provoked the controversy with the Jewish authorities recorded in 5:16-47.
3tn (5:2) Reg

The Fourfold Gospel argues otherwise:

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5:1 After these things there was a feast of the Jews1; and Jesus went up to Jerusalem.

JESUS HEALS ON THE SABBATH DAY AND DEFENDS HIS ACT. (At Feast-time at Jerusalem, probably the Passover.) John 5:1-47

1. After these things there was a feast of the Jews. Though every feast in the Jewish calendar has found some one to advocate its claim to be this unnamed feast, yet the vast majority of commentators choose either the feast of Purim, which came in March, or the Passover, which came in April. Older commentators pretty unanimously regarded it as the Passover, while the later school favor the feast of Purim (John 4:35) locates Jesus in Samaria in December, and John 6:4 finds him on the shores of Galilee just before a Passover. If, then, this was the feast of Purim, the Passover of John 6:4 was the "second" in Jesus' ministry, and that ministry lasted but two years and a fraction. But if the feast here mentioned was a Passover, then the one at John 6:4 would be the "third" Passover, and the ministry of Jesus lasted three years and a fraction. Since, then, the length of Jesus' ministry is largely to be determined by what the feast was, it becomes important for us to fix the feast, if possible.

That it was "not" Purim the following arguments may be urged. (1) Purim was not a Mosaic feast, but one established by human laws; hence Jesus would not be "likely" to observe it. True, we find him at the feast of Dedication which was also of human origin, but he did not "go up" to attend it; he appears to have attended because he was already in Jerusalem (John 10:22).; John (2); John Here; John the; John pregnant; John juxtaposition of "feast" and "went up" indicates that Jesus was "drawn" to Jerusalem by this feast, but Purim was celebrated by the Jews everywhere, and did not require that any one should go to Jerusalem, as did the three great festivals--Passover, Pentecost, and Tabernacles. (3) It was kept in a boisterous, riotous manner, and was therefore not such a feast as Jesus would honor. (4) It came early in the year, when the weather was too rigorous and inclement for sick people to frequent porticoes. (5) It did not include a Sabbath Day. (6) As Purim was just a month before the Passover, Jesus would hardly have returned to Galilee before the Passover (John 6:4) unless he intended to miss the Passover, which he would hardly do for the sake of attending Purim in Jerusalem.

Those contending that it was "not" the Passover, present several arguments, which we note and answer as follows: (1) Since John gives the name of other Passovers, he would have named this also, had it been one. But the conclusion is inferential, and not logical; and the answer is to be twofold: First, perhaps John did give the name by prefixing the article to it, and calling it "the feast", for being the oldest-- older than the law and the Sabbath--and most important of all feasts, it was rightly called by pre-eminence "the feast". Since the Sinaitic manuscript gives the article, and calls it "the feast", the manuscript authority for and against this reading is pretty evenly balanced. Second, if John did not name it, there is probably this reason for his silence. Where he names the feast elsewhere it is thought that the incidents narrated take color from, or have some references to, the particular festal occasion which is named; but here there is no such local color, and failure to name the feast prevents mistaken attempts to find such local color. (2) Again it is objected that if this is a different Passover from John 6:4; then John skips a year in the life of Jesus. He probably does so skip, and this is not strange when the supplemental nature of his Gospel is considered.

In favor of its being the Passover we submit two points: (1) Daniel seems to forecast the ministry of the Messiah as lasting one-half week of years (Daniel 9:27). (2) It fits better in the chronological arrangement, for in the next scene we find the disciples plucking grain, and the Sabbath question is still at full heat. But the harvest season opens with the Passover.

The Intervarsity Commentary  adds the following:

Many scholars think the order of chapters 5 and 6 should be reversed since 6:1 assumes Jesus is in Galilee, but chapter 5 is set in Jerusalem. There is, however, no reason to doubt that Jesus moved around in this fashion. The vague expression "after these things" (meta tauta, 5:1; 6:1) suggests that although John is giving us a sequence of events, he is not concerned with giving us a detailed itinerary (cf. Carson 1991: 267). Furthermore, shifting the chapters would destroy the thematic development, for chapter 5 is linked to the initial stories, which have revealed God's glory and the conflict that is now evoked. The healing of the man by the pool (5:1-15) reveals the glory at its brightest and triggers the conflict (5:16-18) that will dominate the rest of the story. The challenge of the Jewish opponents leads to Jesus' keynote address (5:19-30), a statement by Jesus that is fundamental to understanding him and all of his activity. Then follows a series of confirming witnesses (5:31-40) and Jesus' condemning accusation of his opponents (5:41-47).

The thematic controversy clearly stands out as work on the Sabbath, but with respect to the above, John indicates a Passover in chapter 2 (first), in chapter 6 (second), and in chapter 11 (third). The unknown festival would then be prior to Passover (April), leaving the Festival of Booths, Dedication, and Purim. Pentecost (seven weeks after Passover) would seem to be too early given the context: Passover (2.23), Unknown Feast (5.1), Passover (6.4), Festival of Booths (7.1), and Dedication (10.22), Passover (11.55). John, thus, invokes three Passovers, the Festival of Booths and Dedication being listed before the third, and before the second, only a feast.

Halley's Bible Handbook considers the Passover critical for establishing the ministry of Jesus:

(459)As for the Duration of His (Jesus’) Public Life: three Passovers are mentioned: when he Cleansed the Temple (John 2:13); when He fed the 5,000 (John 6:4); and when He was Crucified (Luke 22:15). If the "Feast" in John 5:1 was a Passover, as is commonly supposed, that would make four Passovers, with three full years between the first and the fourth. If it was some other feast, coming in between Passovers, then there were only three Passovers, with two years between the first and third. Thus the duration of Jesus’ Public Ministry was either about 3-1/2 years or about 2-1/2 years. Prevailing opinion favors 3-1/2 years."

 That Jesus Heals on the Sabbath generates the evolving controversy:

5 After this there was a festival of the Jews, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. 2 Now in Jerusalem by the Sheep Gate there is a pool, called in Hebrew † Beth-zatha, † which has five porticoes.  3 In these lay many invalids—blind, lame, and paralyzed. †  5 One man was there who had been ill for thirty-eight years.  6 When Jesus saw him lying there and knew that he had been there a long time, he said to him, “Do you want to be made well?”  7 The sick man answered him, “Sir, I have no one to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up; and while I am making my way, someone else steps down ahead of me.”  8 Jesus said to him, “Stand up, take your mat and walk.”  9 At once the man was made well, and he took up his mat and began to walk. Now that day was a Sabbath.  10 So the Jews said to the man who had been cured, “It is the Sabbath; it is not lawful for you to carry your mat.”  11 But he answered them, “The man who made me well said to me, ‘Take up your mat and walk.’ ”  12 They asked him, “Who is the man who said to you, ‘Take it up and walk’?”  13 Now the man who had been healed did not know who it was, for Jesus had disappeared in † the crowd that was there.  14 Later Jesus found him in the temple and said to him, “See, you have been made well! Do not sin any more, so that nothing worse happens to you.”  15 The man went away and told the Jews that it was Jesus who had made him well.  16 Therefore the Jews started persecuting Jesus, because he was doing such things on the Sabbath.  17 But Jesus answered them, “My Father is still working, and I also am working.”  18 For this reason the Jews were seeking all the more to kill him, because he was not only breaking the Sabbath, but was also calling God his own Father, thereby making himself equal to God.

Is it merely ironic that chapter four of John ends with urgency for laborers entering into the work of achieving the Kingdom of God while chapter five begins with a controversy about working on the Sabbath?  No, John, the consummate structuralist,:  still talks about the harvest and the work to be done.  If, in fact, the wedding in Cana inaugurates the new messianic age, then Sabbath has become Sunday, and legalistic concerns no longer apply. John rules out any passive understanding of God’s spiritual work as ever resting.  The only rest, in fact, to be achieved is the rest provided in the Kingdom. Perhaps the key verse is the following: “17 But Jesus answered them, "My Father is working still, and I am working."

How long after Cana does the Bethzatha healing occur? What is the feast in Jerusalem alluded to?  In both cases, uncertainty exists. Edersheim points to John’s theological purpose and to the Judean ministry and opposition to it:

The journey of Christ to that Feast and its results are not mentioned in the Synoptic Gospels, because that Judean ministry which, if the illustration be lawful, was the historical thread on which St. John strung his record of what the Word spake, lay, in great measure, beyond their historical standpoint. Besides, this and similar events belonged, indeed, to that grand Self-Manifestation of Christ, with the corresponding growth of opposition consequent upon it, which it was the object of the Fourth Gospel to set forth; but it led to no permanent results, and so was outside the scope of the more popular, pragmatic record, which the other Gospels has in view…

John reveals Jesus’ fate, the required crucifixion, as the direct outcome of his mission and his opposition to old Judaism: 16 “And this was why the Jews persecuted Jesus, because he did this on the Sabbath.” Importantly Edersheim notes, Jesus is alone, his disciples having gone to their own homes; the feast thus marks the beginning of the public ministry of Christ:

 This more public activity commenced with the return of Jesus from 'the Unknown Feast' in Jerusalem. There He had, in answer to the challenge of the Jewish authorities, for the first time set forth His Messianic claims in all their fullness. And there, also, He had for the first time encountered that active persecution unto death, of which Golgotha was the logical outcome.

The reader should note that the Gospel of John, written as a manifesto of Christ-ianity, consistently opposes old to new, Moses to Jesus (thus, law to grace), and localized temple to universal temple in a way argues a superior revelation, not necessarily the anti-semitism of which John is often labeled.

John narrates his story quickly:

5 One man was there who had been ill for thirty-eight years.  6 When Jesus saw him lying there and knew that he had been there a long time, he said to him, “Do you want to be made well?”  7 The sick man answered him, “Sir, I have no one to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up; and while I am making my way, someone else steps down ahead of me.”  8 Jesus said to him, “Stand up, take your mat and walk.”  9 At once the man was made well, and he took up his mat and began to walk.

The reader should note that the pool, no doubt, attracts  the sick and suffering, a crowd greater than the opportunity to enter into the healing water bubbling from an underground spring or water believed to heal at the touch of an angel.  Bethesda itself means "House of Mercy." As legend has it, this man, sick for thirty-eight years, has managed to get to the pool but has no one to place him in the waters.  Emphasis upon action occasioned by genuine belief results in a command: “stand up; walk.” Iimmediately,“the man was made well, and he took up his mat and began to walk.” John illustrates once again Jesus' divine intuition: "When Jesus saw him lying, and knew that he had been now a long time. By divine intuition, just as he also knew the lives of Nathanael and the Samaritan woman at Jacob's well."

   Anyone reading John even superficially understands quickly that John consistently contrasts the physical and spiritual. Ironically, once again, on a physical level, interpreters have sometimes mistaken the physical activity on the Sabbath for spiritual activity and Divine right to this activity. Consider the following more carefully understood explanation:

* Said unto him that was cured, It is the sabbath, and it is not lawful for thee to take up thy bed. They would have cited in proof of their assertion Exodus 31:13; Numbers 15:35; Jeremiah 17:21-23; Nehemiah 13:19. Alford and Schaff both assert that the man broke the Mosaic law; but this position is not well taken. Jesus would not have ordered the sabbath to be broken, for he came to fulfill and not to break the law (Matthew 5:17). At no time did he break the sabbath or countenance its violation, as some able thinkers are erroneously led to suppose. In this case a man lying on his bed, away from home, is suddenly healed. Under such circumstances "Jewish tradition" said that he must either spend the rest of the day watching his bed, or else he must go off and leave it to be stolen. But He who rightfully interpreted the law of his own devising, and who knew that "the sabbath was made for man, and not man for the sabbath" (Mark 2:27), ordered the healed one to carry his bed along home with him. The modern notions that this constituted a breach of the Mosaic sabbath doubtless arose from the nature of the accompanying justification given by Jesus, which fails to assert that the law has not been broken, but seems almost to admit that it has. Nothing, however, can be argued against Jesus on this score. A man may be able to justify an act in a dozen different ways, and may choose to rest content in justifying himself in only one way. Such is the case here. Elsewhere we shall find that Jesus was careful to show that his sabbatic actions were strictly legal; but in this case, that he might bring his divine claims plainly before the rulers, he ignored the question as to the human legality of his act that he might present without confusion its divine legality. Hence he used only one order or method of justification; viz.: an appeal to his divine rights as exhibited in the habits of his Father. It was the divine and not the human in Jesus which wrought this miracle, so Jesus causes the whole controversy to turn on the divine rights, that he may use the occasion for an elaborate discussion of his divine claims and the proofs by which they are sustained.

The Fourfold Gospel concludes quite appropriately that "They were more concerned about the law than about mercy."

            What happens next in John should not come as a surprise; the event is explained theologically.  In explanation of the narrative, we learn that the healed man has gone to the temple and that the healing has occurred on the Sabbath.  As a result of the obvious changed condition, religious authorities question the work accomplished on this day strictly prohibiting activity, to the point of the ridiculous.  Observation allows no common sense for the good accomplished in this act: that a man has been healed, that he can now walk:

Therefore the Jews started persecuting Jesus, because he was doing such things on the Sabbath.  17 But Jesus answered them, “My Father is still working, and 

11      also am working.”  18 For this reason the Jews were seeking all the more to kill him, because he was not only breaking the Sabbath, but was also calling God his own Father, thereby making himself equal to God.

Two reasons explain the beginning persecution of Jesus, this man from Galilee: he has violated the Sabbath and called God his Father.  What really happens in John is what has already been remarked earlier: Logos becomes flesh! God is not afar off, unknowable by man, without properties, without name.  He is the Father. The rub for both Jew and Greek becomes the decisive bridging of  the great divide between God and mortal  in the God-man.

For John, Jesus of Galilee uniquely manifests God, becoming the Divine embodied. What this means immediately becomes John’s theology. The transition makes by the statement, “My Father is still working, and I also am working.” The Net Bible explains:

In the commandment (Exod 20:11) it is explained that "In six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth...and rested on the seventh day; therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy." Philo, based on the LXX translation of Exod 20:11, denied outright that God had ever ceased his creative activity. And when Rabban Gamaliel II, R. Joshua, R. Eleazar ben Azariah, and R. Akiba were in Rome, c. A.D. 95, they gave as a rebuttal to sectarian arguments evidence that God might do as he willed in the world without breaking the Sabbath because the entire world was his private residence. So even the rabbis realized that God did not really cease to work on the Sabbath: Divine providence remained active on the Sabbath, otherwise, all nature and life would cease to exist. As regards men, divine activity was visible in two ways: men were born and men died on the Sabbath. Since only God could give life and only God could deal with the fate of the dead in judgment, this meant God was active on the Sabbath. This seems to be the background for Jesus' words in 5:17. He justified his work of healing on the Sabbath by reminding the Jewish authorities that they admitted God worked on the Sabbath. This explains the violence of the reaction. The Sabbath privilege was peculiar to God, and no one was equal to God. In claiming the right to work even as his Father worked, Jesus was claiming a divine prerogative. He was literally making himself equal to God, as 5:18 goes on to state explicitly for the benefit of the reader who might not have made the connection.30tn (5:18) Grk "the Jews." See the note on the phrase "Jewish authorities" in v. 10.

The rest of John 5:

19 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 he 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, that you may marvel.

21 For as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, so also the Son gives life to whom he will.

22 The Father judges no one, but has given all judgment to the Son, 23 that all may honor the Son, even as they honor the Father. He who does not honor the Son does not honor the Father who sent him. 24 Truly, truly, I say to you, he who 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, the hour is coming, and now is, 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 has given him authority to execute judgment, because he is the Son of man. 28 Do not marvel at this; for the hour is coming when all who are in the tombs will hear his voice \29 and come forth, those who have done good, to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil, to the resurrection of judgment. 30 "I can do nothing on my own authority; 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. 31 If I bear witness to myself, my testimony is not true; 32 there is another who bears witness to me, and I know that the testimony which he bears to me is true. 33 You sent to John, and he has borne witness to the truth. 34 Not that the testimony which I receive is from man; but I say this that you may be saved. 35 He was a burning and shining lamp, and you were willing to rejoice for a while in his light. 36 But the testimony which I have is greater than that of John; for the works which the Father has granted me to accomplish, these very works which I am doing, bear me witness that the Father has sent me. 37 And the Father who sent me has himself borne witness to 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 him whom he has sent. 39 You search the scriptures, because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness to me; 40 yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life. 41 I do not receive glory from men. 42 But I know that you have not 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, him you will receive. 44 How can you believe, who receive glory from one another and do not seek the glory that comes from the only God? 45 Do not think that I shall accuse you to the Father; it is Moses who accuses you, on whom you set your hope. 46 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?"

A simple but complex theology evolves: the Son completes the work of the Father, with the granting of physical life having its purpose in the growth into spiritual life:

34tn (5:19) Grk "that one"; the referent (the Father) has been specified in the translation for clarity.

35sn (5:19) What works does the Son do likewise? The same that the Father does--and the same that the rabbis recognized as legitimate works of God on the Sabbath (see note on working in v. 17). (1) Jesus grants life (just as the Father grants life) on the Sabbath. But as the Father gives physical life on the Sabbath, so the Son grants spiritual life (John 5:21; note the "greater things" mentioned in v. 20). (2) Jesus judges, and yet, later, Jesus will remind followers that he judges no one, having come to provide salvation, but in the Christian mode, the crucifixion itself judges; Jesus (determines the destiny of people) on the Sabbath, just as the Father judges those who die on the Sabbath, because the Father has granted authority to the Son to judge (John 5:22-23). But this is not all. Not only has this power been granted to Jesus in the present; it will be his in the future as well. In v. 28 there is a reference not to spiritually dead (only) but also physically dead. At their resurrection they respond to the Son as well (Net Bible).  

In a consistent pattern, John theologizes, and the Fourfold Gospel rightly sees his Christology:

Jesus therefore answered and said unto them. His answer is a connected address, the theme being his own character, mission, authority, and credentials as the Son of God. It is the Christology of Jesus, and instead of being a retraction of the claim to divinity which the Jews accused him of making, it is a complete and amplified reassertion of it...

More fully, the Christology delineates the relation of Jesus to the Father and the relations of man to Jesus:

Jesus first declares his relations to the Father (John 5:19-23), which are set forth in four divisions, each of which is introduced by the word "for"; viz.: (1) Unity of action (John 5:19). (2) Unity of love, counsel, and plan (John 5:20). (3) Unity of life-impartation (John 5:21). (4) Unity in judgment, resulting in unity of honor. (John 5:22,23). This last division formed a turning-point in the discourse. Since there is there unity of honor, it is important that men should honor Jesus, and also otherwise sustain right relationships to him, and Jesus therefore, to enlighten the Jews as to their duty toward him, proceeds to set forth his relations to men (John 5:23-30), which he also gives in four divisions, closely correlative to his four statements as to the Father, thus: (1) Right to receive divine honor from men (John 5:23). (2) Authority to execute life and death judgment over men (John 5:24). (3) Power of life-impartation as to men, and that both spiritually and literally (John 5:25-29). (4) All Jesus' relationships to man to be sustained and executed according to the will and plan or mission of God (John 5:30). But since all these various relationships grow out of his divine nature, Jesus next submits the credentials which establish his claim to such a nature (John 5:31-39). There also are given in four divisions; namely: (1) Testimony of the Baptist (John 5:31-35). (2) Jesus' own works and ministry (John 5:36). (3) Testimony of the Father (John 5:37). (4) Testimony of Scripture (John 5:38,39). Or we may regard Jesus as asserting that the Father testifies to the Son's divinity in four different ways; that is,

"God is properly the sole and original testifier, and all others are his signature and seals."

Jesus’ understanding of Jewish authorities penetrates its emphasis upon the external receiving “glory from men” and misunderstanding and misapplication of the law and Moses, whom Jesus reminds them, “wrote of me.”

Alfred Edersheim captures the sad irony of a people focused on religion but ignoring suffering humanity:

 With all reverence, we can in some measure understand, what feelings must have stirred the heart of Jesus, in view of this suffering, waiting 'great multitude.' Why, indeed, did He go into those five porches, since He had neither disease to cure, nor cry for help and come to Him from those who looked for relief to far other means? Not, surely, from curiosity. But as one longs to escape from the stifling atmosphere of a scene of worldly pomp, with its glitter and unreality, into the clearness of the evening-air, so our Lord may have longed to pass from the glitter and unreality of those who held rule in the Temple, or who occupied the seat of Moses in their Academies, to what was the atmosphere of His Life on earth, His real Work, among that suffering, ignorant multitude, which, in its sorrow, raised a piteous, longing cry for help where it had been misdirected to seek it.

 And thus we can here also perceive the deep internal connection between Christ's miracle of healing 'the impotent man' and the address of mingled sadness and severity, [a St. John v. 17-47.] in which He afterwards set before the Masters in Israel the one truth fundamental in all things. We have only, so to speak, to reverse the formal order and succession of that discourse, to gain an insight into what prompted Jesus to go to Bethesda, and by His power to perform this healing. [1 Such a logical inversion seems necessary in passing from the objective to the subjective.] He had been in the Temple at the Feast; He had necessarily been in contact, it could not be otherwise, when in the Temple, with the great ones of Israel. What a stifling atmosphere there of glitter and unreality! What had He in common with those who 'received glory one of another, and the glory which cometh from the One only God' they sought not? [b ver. 44.] How could such men believe? The first meaning, and the object of His Life and Work, was as entirely different from their aims and perceptions, as were the respective springs of their inner being. They clung and appealed to Moses; to Moses, whose successors they claimed to be, let them go! [c vv. 45-47.] Their elaborate searching and sifting of the Law in hope that, by a subtle analysis of its every particle and letter, by inferences from, and a careful drawing of a prohibitive hedge around, its letter, they would possess themselves of eternal life, [d ver. 39.] what did it all come to? Utterly self-deceived, and far from the truth in their elaborate attempts to outdo each other in local ingenuity, they would, while rejecting the Messiah sent from God, at last become the victims of a coarse Messianic impostor. [e vv. 40-43.] And even in the present, what was it all? Only the letter, the outward! All the lessons of their past miraculous history had been utterly lost on them. What had there been of the merely outward in its miracles and revelations? [f ver. 37.] It had been the witness of the Father; but this was the very element which, amidst their handling of the external form, they perceived not. Nay, not only the unheard Voice of the Father, but also the heard voice of the Prophets, a voice which they might have heard even in John the Baptist. They heard, but did not perceive it, just as, in increasing measure, Christ's sayings and doings, and the Father and His testimony, were not perceived. And so all hastened on to the judgment of final unbelief, irretrievable loss, and self-caused condemnation. [a vv. 30-38.] It was all utterly mistaken; utter, and, alas! guilty perversion, their elaborate trifling with the most sacred things, while around them were suffering, perishing men, stretching 'lame hands' into emptiness, and wailing out their mistaken hopes into the eternal silence.

One follows the logic from verse to verse. The Son performs the Father's will (19), the Father loves the Son and the Son, the Father; both raise the dead and give life (21,22); those who hear his word live (24). From this logic evolves a theology of judgment: the Father judges no one, but has given judgment to the Son (22); God has given authority for judgment to the Son (27). That judgment includes a resurrection to life and a resurrection to judgment (29). The judgment is the will of the Father (30). Jesus has come in the Father's name (43), seeking the Father's glory (43) rather than the glory of men. Those listening do not hear the voice of the Father(37), do not believe the Son (38), and refuse to come to Jesus and life (40). Love of the Father necessarily would manifest itself as receiving the Father's Son (43). Yet Jesus himself accuses no one; rather, they are accused by Moses who wrote of Jesus. From all this follows:

But he will not be their accuser before God. They will be judged in the end by the light they have embraced, Moses, on whom your hopes are set (5:45). Here again is a great blow to their identity. Jesus has undercut the views they hold of themselves as zealous for God and loyal to his revelation. Now he says Moses will be their accuser, though they have believed that Moses would be their intercessor, as he had in the past (Ex 32:30-32; Num 21:7). God had used Moses as a witness against the people in the past (Deut 31:19-29), and this role will be fulfilled and expanded. In his witness to the Christ, Moses is a witness against the Jewish opponents' rejection of Jesus (5:46). Indeed, John makes a point of countering every Scripture-based argument made against Jesus with counterarguments from Scripture (cf. Whitacre 1982:25-39). Thus, despite their claims, they do not really believe Moses. If they are not open to Moses, whom they desire to honor, how much less will they be able to put faith in Jesus (5:47)! Here it is clearly taught that an understanding of the Old Testament which is not centered in Jesus Christ is a deficient understanding (vv. 46-47). Once again, we see people honor someone as a teacher yet reject his teaching (cf. comments on 3:2, 26).

     Having pointed to the complexity of John's theology, demonstrated superbly in John 1 in the theology of the Logos, one can hardly leave John 5 without some discussion of the legal requirements for bearing witness and what this means for Christian monotheism.  One must begin by asking, If Jesus is who he says he is, the Son of God, then what testimony of him is legal? Jesus invokes four witnesses: the Father, the Baptist, his own works, and his own words and Scripture. Consider the predicament; what must be the valid witness has already been denied:

Such were the expectations, but whom could Jesus call as a witness to his deity? Only the Father, the Spirit and he himself really knew who he was. The Spirit is the Spirit of truth (16:13) and does indeed bear witness (see 16:8-11; 1 Jn 5:6), but he had not yet been given (Jn 7:39). The Son is truth (14:6), and his testimony about himself is true (8:14), but testimony about himself would not be valid (alethes, "true").

It would not be valid in the eyes of Jewish legal procedure, but on a deeper level it would not be valid if Jesus were acting on his own. The Son only speaks what he hears from the Father, and thus his testimony of himself is only true as it is in conjunction with the Father's bearing witness (8:14, 18). If his testimony were "self-prompted" (Westcott 1908:1:197) it would not be valid. Jesus is equal with God, but again we see that the Father is distinct from the Son, for the Father is another (5:32; cf. comment on 1:1). So really there is only one witness who is qualified, namely the Father. And it is only the testimony of this witness that Jesus cares about (5:32, 34, 37). He points his opponents to several witnesses but, as we will see, these are all really expressions of the one valid witness, the Father (cf. Brown 1966:227). Only God, and those whom he uses, can testify to God.

Note the Trinity in the above: Father, Son, Spirit. Note, too, the Spirit or Advocate has not yet been given. Without the Father's witness, what remains is John the Baptist, Jesus' acts and words, and the Scripture. Ironically, all are being denied:

Jesus then speaks of the Father's own testimony (5:37). It is not clear what he is referring to, but most likely he is continuing to develop the Father's testimony evident in his own activity. Now his words, as well as his works, are in view (8:37-38; cf. von Wahlde 1981:386-94). Jesus does the works of God and speaks only what he hears from God, so those who have seen him have seen the Father (14:8-11). If one can see and hear Jesus and not recognize him as God's Son, then it is evident that this person has never seen nor heard the true God (5:38).

Jesus' condemnation of the opponents cuts to the heart of their own identity (5:37). Both rabbinic and mystical strands of Judaism are judged at this point. Whatever they have heard or seen, whether in Scripture or in visions, it has not been revelation of the true God, or at least has not really benefited them, for they do not recognize the truth himself when he stands before them. By saying that they do not have God's word dwelling in them Jesus is denying they have a relationship with God. They need to come to him to have life, yet they are refusing to do so (5:40). Their problem is a matter of their own will. They are being given a chance to enter into life, but by rejecting it they condemn themselves. Here is an affirmation of Jesus' earlier claim to be the giver of life (5:21) as well as an example of his judgment (5:22). In their rejection of Jesus they stand self-condemned; they are not on the side of truth (cf. 18:37).

This is again high Christology: 

. Jesus is the Word, the point of reference for all the words of Scripture. The importance of the Scripture is here affirmed, but Scripture is presented as a means to an end, as a witness to Jesus the Christ. For the New Testament authors, Jesus is the key to the interpretation of the Old Testament, and our passage affirms they got this view from Jesus himself (cf. Lk 24:25-27, 44-45; Dodd 1952:109-10).

Finally, John's theology points to a fullness of prophecy and Scripture incompletely understood even to this day:

1. For he wrote of me. Jesus was the essential subject of the law and prophets (Luke 24:27,44-46; Romans 16:25,26). The phrase "wrote concerning me" is not to be restricted to (Deuteronomy 18:15-18). Moses wrote symbolically of Jesus through his entire work, as Bengel tersely puts it,


The Epistle to the Hebrews is a partial elaboration of the Christology of Moses. But there is doubtless a depth of meaning in the Pentateuch which has never yet been fully fathomed, for there is a fullness of Scripture greatly exceeding the popular conception. Moreover, the Old and New Testaments are so linked together that to reject one is eventually to reject the other, or to read it with veiled eyes (2 Corinthians 3:15).

5:47 But if ye believe not his writings