The question was on everybody’s mind. It was talked about over every dinner table. Who is this Jesus? Herod asked it, Pilate asked it, even Jesus himself asked his disciples, “Who do people say the Son of Man is?” And of course, the answers varied: Those in Galilee who had watched him grew up saw him only as Jesus, the carpenter’s son. Many who stood in the crowds and watched him heal disease and cast out demons said he was a miracle worker. Some thought he was a reincarnation of John the Baptist or Elijah or Jeremiah or one of the prophets. Peter nailed it on the head when he proclaimed, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”
To the Pharisees, Jesus was a nuisance and an irritant, who became more and more dangerous with every miracle he performed. And what angered them most was that he so often did them on the Sabbath.
Earlier in chapter 5, when Jesus healed the lame man at the Pool of Siloam, the Pharisees were outraged that the healed man was carrying his mat on the Sabbath. The man later learned that Jesus was the one who healed him and immediately went to the authorities to tell them who to blame.
And then in verse 16 John writes, So, because Jesus was doing these things on the Sabbath, the Jews persecuted him. The grammar of the passage tells us this wasn’t the first time Jesus had done this and that he regularly healed people on the Sabbath. In fact, in the Gospels, Jesus will intentionally violate their Sabbath rules on eight occasions.
And it wasn’t because of coincidence or accident or ignorance. Jesus chose this arena of confrontation in order to bring into sharp focus the disparity between God’s intention for the Law and man’s misuse of it. In Mark 2, Jesus responded back to their accusations: “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. So the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath.” (Mk 2:27-28)
God had created the Sabbath as a blessing to man, to give him time to rest from his labor – a time to worship God and reflect on his glory. But the Jews had turned it into a straightjacket of restrictions to keep man from violating a rule of law. In the Mishnah, which was the authoritative rabbinic commentary on the law, there were 39 categories of Sabbath law and under those categories were over 600 separate detailed rules governing every imaginable activity. Sabbath keeping was unbelievably complex and restrictive and any violation brought condemnation.
The issue for Jesus is not that the Sabbath laws were too restrictive, but that they exhibited the wrong understanding of the Law and the wrong attitude toward God altogether.
And so, notice that Jesus does not engage the Pharisees in a debate over Sabbath law, but on the nature of God: Jesus said to them, “My Father is always at his work to this very day, and I, too, am working.”
God completed his creation in six days and he rested (Shabbat). But he continues to work within his creation – he is not an absentee Father, but one who is intimately aware and fully involved.
This statement further enrages the Pharisees: 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.
You see, the import of what Jesus says is not lost on them. Jesus called God his Father. The Jews did not think of God as a personal father, but father in the sense of creator and founder (like George Washington is called the father of our nation). But when Jesus called God “Father” it was personal and intimate. 122 times in the Gospel, Jesus calls God “Father” and the implications were clear. The Pharisees understood exactly what Jesus was implying: he was even calling God his own Father, making himself equal with God. There is incredible irony in their accusation – if only they realized the truth of what they were accusing him of.
Later in chapter 10, the Jews will take up stones to kill him, and they say, “we are stoning you… for blasphemy, because you, a mere man, claim to be God.” (Jn 10:33)
Back to our beginning question, “who is this Jesus?” Jesus claims to be God – not similar to God, not that he imitates God, but that he is God. In chapter 14, Jesus will say, “If you have seen me, you have seen the Father.” In chapter 10 he will claim, “I and the Father are one.”
Here in chapter 5, Jesus will describe this relationship between he and the Father:
“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. 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. 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. Moreover, the Father judges no one, but has entrusted all judgment to the Son, 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. “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. 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. For as the Father has life in himself, so he has granted the Son to have life in himself. And he has given him authority to judge because he is the Son of Man. Do not be amazed at this, for a time is coming when all who are in their graves will hear his voice and come out—those who have done good will rise to live, and those who have done evil will rise to be condemned. 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.” (Jn 5:19-28)
Jesus does two things here: First, he describes the intimate relationship between himself and the Father.
There is complete trust and submission on the part of the son: “The Son can do nothing by himself.” And there is absolute trust and love on the part of the Father: “For the Father loves the Son and shows him all he does.”
They never act independently from each other, but in perfect harmony and unity of thought and action. The union is absolute – not just in certain particulars or in certain remarkable actions, but in everything, the Father and Son are one.
The second thing Jesus does is talk about the prerogatives of God that he uniquely possesses:
1) The Son gives life (vs 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.
We will see this demonstrated in very tangible ways as Jesus brings back to life Jairus’ daughter, the son of the widow of Nain, and Lazarus. But we will also see this life bestowed on numerous others as they, in the words of Jesus, cross over from death to life.
You see, Jesus’ purpose wasn’t just to extend the earthly years of a few individuals, but to give eternal life to everybody who is lost and dying in sin. When a person is raised to walk in new life in Jesus, it is at that point that he has crossed over from death to life. While he will eventually face the death of his physical body, he will continue to live eternally – a life that began the moment he was born again in Jesus.
So, when Jesus says the Son gives life, he gives real life.
2) The second divine prerogative is that God has entrusted all judgment to the Son (vs 22) - Moreover, the Father judges no one, but has entrusted all judgment to the Son.
Let’s make sure we understand the difference between judgment and condemnation. In John 3:17, Jesus said that God did not send him to condemn the world. Judgment is applying truth to a situation. [Picture – plumb line] Amos described it as a plumb line: This is what he showed me: The Lord was standing by a wall that had been built true to plumb, with a plumb line in his hand. And the LORD asked me, “What do you see, Amos?” “A plumb line,” I replied. Then the Lord said, “Look, I am setting a plumb line among my people Israel; I will spare them no longer.” (Amos 7:7-8)
Jesus is that perfect plumb line. His perfect life is absolute, and as Paul says, “we all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” Judgment overlays the truth against our lives. And when Jesus does that we see just how out of plumb we are. Our sins are shown in obvious clarity. When we see those sins as God sees them, when we see ourselves in light of the truth of Jesus, we can do one of two things: we can flee back into the darkness and live in denial and lostness, or we can come to the light and receive forgiveness and grace. Jesus did not come to condemn us but to give us the opportunity to choose condemnation or justification.
In Acts 17, Paul will stand on the Areopagus in Athens and proclaim, “In the past God overlooked such ignorance, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent. For he has set a day when he will judge the world with justice by the man he has appointed. He has given proof of this to all men by raising him from the dead.” (Acts 17:30-31)
3) The third divine prerogative that belongs to Jesus is honor (vs 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.
Honor isn’t just a word describing preferential treatment and special feelings. This honor that belongs both to the Father and the Son is the acknowledgment of absolute sovereignty and lordship. Paul will write to the Philippians, Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (Phil 2:9-11)
In the book of Revelation, John will describe the heavenly throne room scene: Then I saw a Lamb, looking as if it had been slain, standing in the center of the throne, encircled by the four living creatures and the elders. He had seven horns and seven eyes, which are the seven spirits of God sent out into all the earth. He came and took the scroll from the right hand of him who sat on the throne. And when he had taken it, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb. Each one had a harp and they were holding golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints. And they sang a new song: “You are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals, because you were slain, and with your blood you purchased men for God from every tribe and language and people and nation. You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to serve our God, and they will reign on the earth.” Then I looked and heard the voice of many angels, numbering thousands upon thousands, and ten thousand times ten thousand. They encircled the throne and the living creatures and the elders. In a loud voice they sang: “Worthy is the Lamb, who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength and honor and glory and praise!” Then I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and on the sea, and all that is in them, singing: “To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be praise and honor and glory and power, for ever and ever!” The four living creatures said, “Amen,” and the elders fell down and worshiped. (Rev 5:6-14)
Jesus is worthy of honor because he is the one who defeated Satan by his death on the cross and purchased us from sin through his blood that he shed for us. When we make Jesus our Lord we are exalting him to the highest place in our lives and bowing down to his authority and priority over every moment, every thought, every action in our lives.
If you, like the Pharisees, go away unconvinced of the claim of Jesus to be God – if you still see him as merely a good man, a divine person, a moral teacher, you are throwing out the very reason he came – to save us from our sin. As even the Pharisees themselves asked, “Who alone but God can forgive sin?” Exactly. If Jesus is not God, we are still lost in our sin.
But if you believe Jesus is who he claims to be, that demands a response. If Jesus is God, and you believe he came to give you eternal life, then what other response could you make than to come to him in trust and obedience?