When you know who you are and what your purpose is, you can remain steady under a barrage of criticism. Every person will experience criticism, especially those who are doing something of significance and Jesus was certainly no exception.
The background to this discourse between Jesus and the religious leaders is the healing of the man at the pool of Bethesda on the Sabbath day. Since Jesus commanded the man to ‘pick up his mat and walk,’ the religious leaders became antagonistic toward Jesus because in their minds he was violating their oral tradition. They had thirty-nine regulations regarding how the Sabbath day was to be kept holy. The problem was that these Jewish leaders’ interpretation was impeding God’s intention for the Sabbath. Many of Jesus’ miracles occurred on the Sabbath and became an opportunity for Jesus to address an incorrect understanding regarding the nature and purpose of God.
So, because Jesus was doing these things on the Sabbath, the Jewish leaders began to persecute him.
In his defense Jesus said to them, ‘My Father is always at his work to this very day, and I too am working.’[i]
John is using this context to show the true nature of Jesus. These incidents in John’s gospel are more than just some powerful theology lessons, but are practical examples that we can learn from in the manner that Jesus answered his critics. How can we overcome the critics in our lives? What can we learn about the nature and purpose of Jesus? What can we learn about God’s purposes for the Sabbath? When we understand who we are and what our purpose is, we can continue to do what needs to be done despite the critics and challenges in our lives.
In this miracle and the discussion that followed, Jesus reveals who he is and how he was bringing glory to the Father. Jesus not only was revealing the nature of the Father to that generation, but to each succeeding one. In John 5:17-30, we discover three things that reveal Jesus’ identity through his actions and words, which is the means of overcoming the critics in your life. These texts may be some of the most powerful arguments for revealing the nature of Jesus as God.
THE FIRST THINGS THAT REVEALS JESUS’ IDENTITY AND PURPOSE IS HIS ACTION IN OBEDIENCE TO THE FATHER
The Son is showing His love to the Father by doing what the Father does. Obedience is the manifestation of a child’s love toward their parent. Jesus now uses that as one of his arguments in healing on the Sabbath. He was simply doing what His Father was doing. He was walking in perfect obedience only doing and saying what the Father wanted done. What can we learn from Jesus? We need to learn to walk in obedience to God’s word and His ways. We can only do that as we yield to Him with our lives and learn of His ways.
A. Jesus’ argument toward his behavior regarding the Sabbath.
When Jesus’ attitude to the Sabbath was challenged in Galilee, he appealed to the purpose for which the day was given: ‘The sabbath was made for man, not man for the sabbath; so the Son of Man is lord even of the sabbath (Mark 2:27). Here, in Jerusalem, he invokes another principle, one which exercised the minds of many rabbis. Did God keep his own laws? In particular, did he keep the sabbath law? But how could he, since plainly his providential care over his creation was unceasing?[ii]
In other words, God never sleeps nor slumbers. He is attentive to our world and our lives. Even though we read from Genesis that after creating the universe, God rested on the seventh day, but in another sense, God is always at work caring for His creation. Let me summarize F. F. Bruce’s explanation. In the book of Hebrews, the argument is made that God rested after He created the world. Yet in another sense, God’s creation has never come to an end, it is still in being. We know for a fact that the universe is still expanding. The rest that the writer is discussing in the book of Hebrews is the rest from human striving to please God. We come to faith in Christ, and from that place of rest, God empowers us to do ‘good works.’
The point that Jesus is making is different in that although God is resting, He continues to do His work. That is why Jesus is working on the Sabbath.
He [Jesus] justifies his action on the ground that he is but following his Father’s example.[iii]
Not only are the religious leaders angry because of what Jesus had done, but His argument and identification with God as his father now brings a deeper level of hostility.
B. Jesus argues that his actions stems from his unique relationship with the Father.
Immediately the Jewish authorities recognized in Jesus’ defense that he was making himself equal to the Father.
For this reason they tried all the more to kill him; not only was he breaking the Sabbath, but he was even calling God his own Father, making himself equal with God.[iv]
Even Jesus’ use of my Father adds to the pointedness of what he is saying. In corporate worship Jews sometimes spoke of God as ‘our Father,’ but the individual way Jesus spoke of God as his own father displayed the unique Father-Son relationship Jesus claimed as his own.[v]
Jesus gave them this answer: ‘Very truly I tell you, 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.[vi]
What is Jesus saying? Simply that he is only doing what the Father does. This act of healing on the Sabbath is the desire of the Father for the person who has been paralyzed for years to be whole. As a perfect Son he is only acting in compliance with the Father’s desire.
Perfect Sonship involved perfect identity of will and action with the Father.[vii]
It follows that separate, self-determined action would be a denial of his sonship. …it also constitutes another oblique [not direct] claim to deity; for the only one who could conceivably do whatever the Father does must be as great as the Father, as divine as the Father.[viii]
Jesus explains that the reason why he healed this man on the Sabbath was that it was God’s will borne out of God’s compassion for the needs of humanity. It was also an expression of the love the Father has for the Son.
For the Father loves the Son and shows him all he does. Yes, and he will show him even greater works than these, so that you will be amazed.[ix]
Here we see that what Jesus is doing is only what the Father is showing Jesus and it is being done in order to point people to who Jesus really is, the beloved Son of the Father.
We could say it this way: while the religious leaders were upset, what they were really witnessing was the work of God, as shown to the Son by the Father.
If the Father out of love for his Son shows him all he does, and the Son in consequence out of love for his Father obeys him perfectly and does whatever the Father does, such that people observe the Son and wonder at what he does, then two important truths follow: (1) The Son by his obedience to his Father is acting in such a way that he is revealing the Father, doing the Father’s deeds, performing the Father’s will. … (2) This marvelous disclosure of the nature and character of God utterly depends, in the first instance, not on God’s love of us, but on the love of
the Father for the Son and on the love of the Son for the Father.[x]
What can we learn from Jesus’ obedience to God, the Father? That as we do God’s will in our lives, we are revealing the Father to those around us.
The idea of being amazed by the greater works that the Father shows the Son is not to impress but rather to reveal the nature of who Jesus is.
And now his defence has scandalized them more than his original action had done, he goes on to assure them that, because he is the Son, he has authority to perform much greater works than that one, as he perceives the Father’s will and gives effect to it. If what he has done already has taken them by surprise, what they have yet to see will give them real cause for wonder.[xi]
What are we to learn from this narrative by John? We are to understand that Jesus is unique in his relationship to the Father. If you are equal to God, then you are God. Though there is only one God, we understand that there are different persons in the nature of God. We learn that we can misunderstand and abuse what God intends for good and censor people, and become critical of others, restricting them from experiencing God’s grace. When we become like Jesus, we act in step with the Father by doing His will, which is living a life of obedience.
THE SECOND THING THAT REVEALS JESUS’ IDENTITY AND HIS PURPOSE IS TO GIVE LIFE
The Jewish people believed, and rightly so, that only God had inherent life within Himself. John records for us that Jesus declared his amazing purpose in coming.
The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.[xii]
Here we see the purpose of Jesus in coming to earth two thousand years ago. He came to give us life, eternal life.
Human beings, in common with all other living things, do not possess life-in-themselves; their life is derived from God, the source and stay of all life.[xiii]
For just as the Father raises the dead and give them life, even so the Son gives life to whom he is pleased to give it.[xiv]
In making this claim, that the Father raises the dead and gives life, Jesus is saying that He also gives life and is able to raise the dead and thereby in-effect is stating that He is God.
It is not only that eternal life is granted to those who believe in him (cf. John 3:15, 16, 36); it is that he exercises the divine prerogative of imparting this life.[xv]
How does this eternal life happen in our lives? It is when we respond in faith to Jesus’ words and believe in Him and in the Father that we experience this new spiritual life here described as eternal life. Eternal life is not just forever life but is a certain quality of life. It is a life where God’s Spirit now comes and lives within us creating a new heart with new desires and new outcomes in our lives. The result of this life is that we experience God’s love, joy, peace, forbearance (we are not easily offended, able to endure difficult people), kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. We start a journey with God toward becoming the person God designed us to be, which is like Himself.
Very truly I tell you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be judged but has crossed over from death to life.
Very truly I tell you, a time is coming and has now come when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God and those who hear it will live.
For as the Father has life in himself, so he has granted the Son also to have life in himself.[xvi]
Who are the dead that Jesus is talking about here? He is speaking about those who are spiritually dead because of their sins. Paul described it this way in his letter to the Ephesians:
As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient.[xvii]
And should it be asked how the dead can be expected to hear, another Hebrew prophet will help us answer the question. When Ezekiel was commanded to prophesy to the most unpromising congregation that ever a preacher faced, ‘O dry bones, hear the word of the LORD (Ezek. 37:4)’, it was the breath of God entering into them that enabled them to respond. It is the same Spirit who now enables the spiritually dead to hear the voice of the Son of God and enter into life.[xviii]
The idea of hearing is to act in obedience to what Jesus is saying. Many people heard Jesus speak but it did not change their lives. Only those who, by the work of the Holy Spirit in their hearts, were convicted and acted in obedience experienced that change in their state where they crossed over from death to life. The outcome is a changed life. What was true then is still true today. When we hear God’s word speaking to our hearts and we respond, this spiritual and supernatural life is the outcome.
THE THIRD THING THAT REVEALS JESUS’ IDENTITY AND PURPOSE IS HIS AUTHORITY TO JUDGE
God has been judging men and nations since the beginning of time. The bible speaks of ‘the Day of the Lord, which is a day of judgment. There is an understanding that a final judgment at the end of this present evil age will occur before the beginning of the ‘new age.’ Jesus explains that all judgment has been given to him, alone. The fact that Jesus has been given this authority is another expression that He is God.
Moreover, the Father judges no one, but has entrusted all judgment to the Son, that all my honor the Son just as they honor the Father. Whoever does not honor the Son does not honor the Father, who sent him.[xix]
A. The reason Jesus is entrusted with all judgment.
We read that all judgment is now been given to Jesus, in order that he will be honored. The fact that the Father desires Jesus to be honored is another significant point in this revelation of who Jesus is. God will not share his glory with anyone, yet, Jesus shares the glory with the Father because He is God.
The Jews were right in detecting that Jesus was making himself equal with God (vv. 17-18). But this does not diminish God. Indeed, the glorification of the Son is precisely what glorifies the Father, just as in Philippians 2:9-11, where at the name of Jesus every knee bows and every tongue confesses that Jesus Christ is Lord, and all this is to the glory of God the Father.[xx]
And he has given him authority to judge because he is the Son of Man.[xxi]
Here is another expression and imagery of God. Jesus on this occasion and also before the Sanhedrin used this title is taken from Daniel’s vision of ‘The Son of Man’ coming to judge the world, and immediately there was a violent response as they realized the biblical picture of God coming in judgment. The name Son of Man is taken from Daniel 7:13-14 and is a picture of Jesus coming back to earth to judge.
In my vision at night I looked, and there before me was one like a son of man, coming with the clouds of heaven. He approached the Ancient of Days and was led into his presence.
He was given authority, glory and sovereign power; all nations and peoples of every language worshiped him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away, and his kingdom is one that will never be destroyed.[xxii]
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 what is good will rise to live, and those who have done what is 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.[xxiii]
The reason why all judgment can be entrusted to Jesus is that he will only do what the Father desires. There is such a union between the Father and the Son that God’s will is executed perfectly. What we often fail to understand is that judgment is also an expression of Divine love, as what is injustice is now held accountable.
What is ironic is that if Jesus has life inherent within himself, and the authority to judge has been entrusted to him, them as God, he can do what needs to be done in showing compassion on the Sabbath.
The point is that if Jesus has authority to raise the dead at the last day of this era, then how much more, does he have authority to heal on the Sabbath, the last day of the week.[xxiv]
Resurrection and judgment are in fact the final things with which men and women are confronted in Jesus. This is why His revelation of God is so determinative for mankind. His first coming in human flesh is indirectly a coming in judgment, for it inevitably separates believers from unbelievers. The former [believers] pass over at once from spiritual death to eternal life. So Jesus can say not only that ‘the hour is coming’, but that it ‘now is’ when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live.’ Jesus has been given this divine gift of eternal life to bestow upon others.[xxv]
Think of what is being said here. Jesus even now is speaking his words to us, and if we respond to them, we also can experience this spiritual, eternal life that delivers us from spiritual death, which is simply being separated from God. We can experience God’s life, His Spirit coming into our innermost being and having a relationship with us.
Jesus makes the most challenging remarks to his critics. To dishonor the Son is to dishonor the Father. To reject the Son is to reject the Father. These religious leaders believed that they were honoring God, but in reality were actually dishonoring Him because of their criticism and rejection of the Jesus, God’s Son.
Jesus responded to his critics out of his identity and purpose. The same is true for each of us. Do we know who we are? Once we understand that we are God’s children living to fulfill our Father’s purpose, we can be empowered to overcome our critics. John is telling us that Jesus is God. He is the One who gives us eternal life. He is the One who will judge our lives based on our response to Him and how that response has shaped our lives.
[i] John 5:16-17, The New International Version of the Bible, Zondervan, 2011.
[ii] F. F. Bruce, The Gospel of John, (Grand Rapids, Mi: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1983), 126-27.
[iii] Ibid, 127.
[iv] John 5:18.
[v] D. A. Carson, The Gospel According to John, The Pillar New Testament Commentary, (Grand Rapids, Mi: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1991), 249.
[vi] John 5:19.
[vii] B. F. Westcott, The Gospel According to St. John: The Greek Text with Introduction and Notes, Vol, 1, 189, as quoted by D. A. Carson, The Gospel According to John, 251.
[viii] D. A. Carson, The Gospel According to John, 251.
[ix] John 5:20.
[x] D. A. Carson, The Gospel According to John, 251-52.
[xi] F. F. Bruce, The Gospel of John, 129.
[xii] John 10:10.
[xiii] F. F. Bruce, The Gospel of John, 132.
[xiv] John 5:21.
[xv] F. F. Bruce, The Gospel of John, 129.
[xvi] John 5:24-26.
[xvii] Ephesians 2:1-2.
[xviii] F. F. Bruce, The Gospel of John, 131.
[xix] John 5:22-23.
[xx] D. A. Carson, The Gospel According to John, 255.
[xxi] John 5:27.
[xxii] Daniel 7:13-14.
[xxiii] John 5:28-30.
[xxiv] Craig S. Keener, The Gospel of John, Vol. 1 (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2003), 651.
[xxv] R. V. G. Tasker, John, TNTC, (Grand Rapids, Mi: William Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1960), 88.