In the first part of John 5, we see Jesus answering the question, “Just who do you think you are?” As the chapter begins, we find a multitude of invalids—blind, lame, and paralyzed—lying around the Pool of Bethesda, hoping that the spring water or artesian well will bring them back to health.
But one man seems to have lost all hope. He has been an invalid for thirty-eight years. And he had no hope, until Jesus passed his way. “Do you want to be healed?” Jesus asked him. The man can only complain that he has no one to help him into the water. “Get up, take up your bed, and walk,” Jesus commands him. And he does it. Just like that!
Strength comes into his legs. He stands, picks up his mat, and begins to walk, carrying his mat. One problem, though. That day was the Sabbath. The Jews had added all kinds of rules to the Law of God. According to these rabbis, you were not allowed to carry things on the Sabbath. Never mind that you were healed and for the first time in 38 years were able to walk. What? You were healed? On the Sabbath? Who did that?
The man did not know. Jesus had withdrawn from the crowd, but later he found that man and warned him not to sin any more, because the consequences of sin are far worse than 38 years of lying on a mat.
Now this man was not the most agreeable creature on the planet. Rather than moving on in his new life, having seen Jesus, he goes back to the Jewish authorities and rats on him. Not that Jesus avoided conflict at all costs. I have the feeling that Jesus chose to heal this particular man and that particular day—the Sabbath—because he had something he wanted to say to the Jewish authorities.
John, the writer of this Gospel, tells us in John 5:16, “And this was why the Jews were persecuting Jesus, because he was doing these things on the Sabbath.”
Jesus’ response was short but full of impact and meaning: “My Father is always working, and so am I” (Joh 5:17 NLT).
We could have missed the importance of that response had it not been for John. John tells us exactly what Jesus mean by that and how and why it angered the Jewish authorities. John explains, “So the Jewish leaders tried all the harder to find a way to kill him. For he not only broke the Sabbath (NLT), he was even calling God his own Father, making himself equal with God” (Joh 5:18 ESV).
So in response to the question, “Just who do you think you are, healing people on the Sabbath?” Jesus responds, “I am God. My Father continues to work, and so do I.”
We must always remember that John is writing with purpose. He is out to accomplish something with this Gospel. He has not simply collected stories about Jesus and his miracles in order to write a bestseller. John’s purpose is much more profound, and we do not have to guess at his purpose for he very clearly tells us near the end of his Gospel:
Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; 31 but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name (John 20:30-31 ESV).
In this statement of purpose, we note that John does not even use the word miracle; he uses the word “signs” because the works of Jesus are signs pointing to who he is. If you have not guessed it by now, this book is all about Jesus. That does not mean that this book tells us everything there is to know about Jesus. John tells us at the very end of his book, that if everything that Jesus did were written, the world could not contain all the books. But when I say that this book is all about Jesus, I mean that Jesus is the one subject that John is writing about.
John tells us that Jesus did many other signs that are not written in the book. That means that this is a selective Gospel. John included certain signs and left out others. He did so because of his purpose.
He also tells us that Jesus did the signs in the presence of the disciples. That means that this is not only a selective Gospel, it is also an attested Gospel. Jesus did not simply convince people with flowery speech and persuasive words that he could perform miracles. He did the signs in the presence of his disciples. Changing the water into wine, healing the nobleman’s son, healing the lame man, feeding more than five thousand men with five loaves and two fish, healing the blind man, and raising Lazarus from the dead, all these signs were performed in the presence of many eyewitnesses. This is an attested Gospel.
It is also an evangelistic gospel. John writes these things so that you might believe. He writes to convince us of something. He is addressing our minds as well as our hearts. He wants us to think clearly and to understand the meaning of the signs that Jesus performed. And he wants us to believe.
But what is it that he wants us to believe? A lot of people talk about the importance of belief, but do not think that it matters much what you believe, as long as you believe. John is clear about this. He writes these signs so that we may believe something specific: he wants to convince us that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God.
This is vitally important, for John tells us that this is the way to eternal life.
So John is writing about Jesus with an eye on us, his readers. He wants to lead us to a living faith in Jesus Christ, the Son of God.
John’s Explanations and Comments
John frequently explains things to us his readers to make sure that we get the point. Theologians have found well over one hundred such comments in the Gospel of John. He interprets Hebrew or Aramaic terms, telling us that Rabbi means teacher, that Messiah means Christ, or that Cephas means Peter.
When Jesus challenges the Jewish authorities to destroy the temple and in three days he will raise it up, John tells us that Jesus was not speaking about the building in Jerusalem, but about his own body.
When the Samaritan woman asks Jesus how it is that he, a Jew, asks for a drink from her, a woman of Samaria, John explains that the Jews have no dealings with Samaritans.
Now in chapter five, John explains why the Jewish authorities were persecuting Jesus: he was doing these works on the Sabbath when they thought that no one should work.
But it was Jesus’ response that threw more fuel on the fire. Did the Jewish authorities have a problem with him healing a lame man on the Sabbath? Jesus responds, “My Father is always at his work to this very day, and I, too, am working” (Joh 5:17 NIVO).
John had told us in verse 16 that the Jewish authorities were persecuting Jesus because he was doing these things on the Sabbath, but now they are ready to kill him! In verse 18, John writes these words, “For this reason the Jews tried all the harder to kill him…” Why? “…He was even calling God his own Father, making himself equal with God.”
This is not simply what the Jewish authorities thought. This is not some misunderstanding. John is once again showing us what we are to understand and believe about Jesus: he is equal with God.
More than Matthew, Mark, and Luke, which are called the Synoptic Gospels, because they share more or less the same perspective on Jesus — more than them, John tells us why the Jewish authorities wanted to kill Jesus: they wanted to kill him because he claimed to be equal with God.
The Jews were expecting a Messiah, but they thought that he would be merely human. They failed to understand what John says at the beginning of his Gospel, that the Word was God, and that the Word became flesh, that is to say that God became man.
Now that is quite the opposite of the false notion that men can become gods. That is not taught anywhere in the Bible. God became man, and forever, Jesus Christ the man, will be both God and man. We read 1 Timothy 2:5 that “There is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus.”
This man Christ Jesus is God in the flesh. And the Jewish authorities were not only persecuting him for doing works on the Sabbath, but they were now planning to kill him because “he was even calling God his own Father, making himself equal with God.” When John writes that we must believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God in order to have eternal life, he means that we must believe that Jesus is equal with God. Every time Jesus uses the phrase “My Father,” he is claiming equality with God. Every time he calls himself the Son, he claims to be equal with God.
So in answer to the question, “Jesus, who do you think you are to be healing people on the Sabbath?” Jesus answers, “I am equal with God. My Father is always working, and so am I.”
What Right Do you Have?
The next question is, “Jesus, what right do you have?”
In verses 19-29, Jesus tells us his rights. And what he claims here is astonishingly more than just the right to heal someone on the Sabbath.
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. 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, just as they honor the Father. Whoever does not honor the Son does not honor the Father who sent him. 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. 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 (John 5:19-29 ESV).
The Son has the right to do whatever the Father does (5:19-20).
That’s what Jesus says in 5:17, “My Father is always at his work to this very day, and I, too, am working.” As the Son of the Father, Jesus does only what he sees his Father doing, but he does everything his Father does, because his Father shows him everything that he is doing.
Here we come face to face with the mystery of the Trinity. We see both equality between the Father and Son, for John just explained, that in calling God his own Father, Jesus was making himself equal with God.
Yet, there is distinction in the persons of the Deity: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Jesus precedes his explanation with the formula, “Truly, truly.” In the original Greek, it is simply, “Amen, amen.” This underlines the importance of what he says: “the Son can do nothing by himself.” Constantly the Scriptures make a distinction between the persons of the Godhead. Everywhere we look there are interactions and transactions between the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. The Father sent the Son. The Son returns to the Father. The Son prays to the Father. The Father speaks to the Son. The Son asks the Father to send another Helper, the Holy Spirit. The Father and the Son send the Holy Spirit. Jesus ascends to the Father and receives the gift of the promised Holy Spirit and pours out the Holy Spirit on the Day of Pentecost. Our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus. We are to make disciples of all peoples everywhere in the name (singular) of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit (Matthew 28:19-20). The apostolic blessing at the end of 2 Corinthians is “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit, be with you all.”
This equality between the three persons of the one true God is called the ontological Trinity. Ontology has to do with being. It has to do with what God is in and of Himself. In and of themselves, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit are equal and they are each fully God. The Father is fully God. The Son is fully God. The Holy Spirit is fully God. Yet, the Bible everywhere insists that there is only one God. There are no other gods. When the Word became flesh, God became man, but no man will ever become a god.
In calling God his own Father, Jesus was making himself equal with God. That is part of the ontological Trinity.
But there is also the “economic or functional Trinity.” It has to do with function and divine order and how the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit work together as one. In saying that, I do not wish to imply that it could be any other way. They are one in essence and one in knowledge, power, and will. While the Son of God is equal with God, as Son of the Father, he is completely obedient to the Father. So Jesus explains that “he can do nothing of his own accord, but only what he sees the Father doing.” He never acts independently. The Apostle Paul explains it this way, “Though he was God, he did not think of equality with God as something to cling to” (Philippians 2:6). He became obedient unto death, even the death on the cross.
So the Son is equal to the Father, but obedient to the Father. “Whatever the Father does, the Son also does” (John 5:19 NLT). How is it that the Son does everything that the Father does? In verse 20, Jesus explains “For the Father loves the Son, and shows Him all things that He Himself is doing; and the Father will show Him greater works than these, so that you will marvel” (Joh 5:20 NAU).
This is what a Father-Son relationship should look like. The Father loves the Son and shows him everything that he is doing so that the Son may do it as well.
Jesus, what right do you have? I have the right to do whatever my Father is doing because He loves me and shows me everything that He is doing
The Son has the right to give life to whom he will.
What right do you have, Jesus? Jesus replies, “The Son have the right to give life to whom I will.”
Jesus had healed the lame man at the Pool of Bethesda and in a sense, had raised him up. But he claims that he will do even greater things. Things like what? Things like raising the dead. “Just as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, even so the Son also gives life to whom He wishes.”
In chapter 11, Jesus will do exactly that. Lazarus has been dead and in the tomb for four days, but Jesus has come to manifest the glory of God. Standing before the tomb, he cries out, “Lazarus, come out!” The next words in 11:44 are riveting: “The man who had died came out, his hands and feet found with linen strips, and his face wrapped with a cloth. Jesus said to them, ‘Unbind him, and let him go.’” Jesus gave life to Lazarus.
Who has the right to give life? God. The Jewish authorities understood this. In the Old Testament, Namaan the Syrian was an officer in the Syrian army, but he had leprosy. He also had a house girl from Israel. She told him about Elisha, a prophet of God, who could heal his leprosy. So the king of Syria wrote a letter to the king of Israel, but the letter was not very clear. It read, “When this letter reaches you, know that I have sent to you Naaman my servant, that you may cure him of his leprosy” (2 Kings 5:6). The King of Israel thought that the king of Syria was seeking a quarrel with him. So “when the king of Israel read the letter, he tore his clothes and said, “Am I God, to kill and to make alive, that this man sends word to me to cure a man of his leprosy?…” (2 Kings 5:7 ESV).
Note the words, “Am I God, to kill and to make alive…?” The Jewish authorities knew that it was God’s right to give life. Jesus was claiming that divine right.
The Son gives life to whom he will. But the life that he is talking about is much more than physical life. After Lazarus was raised from the dead, the Jewish authorities began plotting how they would kill him! Lazarus died and was raised, but he would die again! Jesus came to give us so much more than physical life; he came to raise us to eternal life.
Eternal life? What is that? It is more than just living and never dying. It is a personal knowledge of the One who is the source of life. Jesus defines it in John 17:3,
“And this is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent” (John 17:3 ESV).
This is what Jesus is talking about in verse 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 (John 5:25 ESV).
He says that the hour is now here. Have you heard his voice calling you to life? Or are you still dead? The Bible says that we were dead in our trespasses and sins, but God made us alive together with Christ (Ephesians 2:1, 5). Has that happened to you yet? Have you heard his voice?
Have you received eternal life from Christ? This is personal knowledge of God and fellowship with Him. It is a love relationship that cannot be interrupted by even death itself. “I am sure,” says the Apostle Paul, “that neither life nor death… will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:38-39).
If you have received the life that Christ came to give, death itself will not be able to interrupt your communion and fellowship with God. You pass from this life into the literal presence of God.
Jesus has the right to give life to whom he will.
Jesus, what right do you have?
The Son has the right to judge all men (5:22).
This is a remarkable statement: “The Father judges no one, but has given all judgment to the Son” (5:22). We often thing of God as the Judge, and He is. Abraham calls him “the Judge of all the earth” (Genesis 18:25). But it turns out that the judge of all the earth is the Son. The Father has given all judgment to the Son.
Verse 27 explains, “And he has given him authority to execute judgment, because he is the Son of Man” (John 5:27 ESV).
“Because he is the Son of Man!” What does this mean? It means that he is the Word become flesh. He is the God-man. He became man that he might taste death for us (Hebrew 2:9). He was made like us in every respect, and was tempted in every respect as we are, yet without sin (Hebrew 4:15). Having become man, he knows man and is in the perfect position to judge man. Therefore, the Father has given him authority to judge everyone because he is the Son of Man.
When will this happen? Soon enough! The hour is coming!
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 (John 5:28-29 ESV).
Notice how Jesus contrasts the call to life now with future judgment. In verse 25 he says that “an hour is coming and is now here.” But in verse 28, he simply says that “an hour is coming.” It is not now here; it is still future
Again in verse 25 he says that it is now that the dead will hear his voice and live. He is talking about his right to give spiritual life to whom he will. But in verse 28, he uses a different phrase to speak of the dead: “all who are in the tombs.” He is speaking of those who are literally, physically dead. An hour is coming, he says, when they will hear his voice and come out. This is the literal future resurrection of all the dead. “All who are in their tombs,” he says, “will hear his voice and come out.” But they will not all receive the same judgment. There are two types of resurrection: the resurrection of life and the resurrection of judgment. “All who are in the tombs will ear his voice and come out, those who have done good to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil to the resurrection of judgment.”
Have you heard his voice? If you hear his voice now, your resurrection will be a resurrection of life, but if you do not hear his voice now, you will hear it later, and your resurrection will be one of judgment.
The Son has the right to judge all men because he is the Son of Man.
Jesus, what right do you have?
The Son is to be honored as the Father is honored (5:23).
The Father “has given all judgment to the Son that all may honor the Son…” We honor judges. If you are in a court of law in the United States of America, you will address the judge as “Your Honor.” If you live in a Commonwealth nation or a nation formerly belonging to the Commonwealth, you may address the judge as “Your Worship.”
You honor the judge because you know that he can decide your fate. The Father has given all judgment to the Son not only because he is the Son of Man, but also so that all will honor his Son just as they honor the Father.
Jesus says that we must honor the Son just as we honor the Father. That means that the Son is to receive the same honor as the Father. Since the Son is equal with God, we must worship the Son just as we worship the Father.
- When the Father brought his firstborn into the world, he said, “Let all God’s angels worship him” (Hebrews 1:6).
- The wise men fell down and worshiped him (Matthew 2:11).
- When Jesus came walking on the water, “those in the boat worshiped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God” (Matthew 14:33).
- The blind man who was healed in John 9 said, “Lord, I believe,” and he worshiped him (John 9:38).
- Seeing the resurrected Christ, his disciples worshiped him (Matthew 28:17).
“[R]eligions such as Judaism and Islam that consider Jesus merely a great prophet do not represent the truth about God, because they fail to worship and honor Jesus” (ESVSB on John 5:23).
Jesus goes on to say, “Whoever does not honor the Son does not honor the Father who sent him.”
Some are confused about the identity of Christ. They believe that he claimed identity with God as one person. He did not. He made a distinction between himself and his Father. In this passage, Jesus said that the Son can do nothing of his own accord, but only what he sees the Father doing. We see elsewhere that he distinguished his knowledge from the Father’s knowledge when he said “concerning” the day and hour of his return, “no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father only” (Matthew 24:36 ESV).
Christ distinguished his will from the Father’s will when he prayed, “Not my will, but yours be done.”
He even distinguished his presence from his Father’s presence when he prayed, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me.” Jesus is equal with God, but he is not the same person.
Others put all the emphasis on the Father. They say that Jehovah God is the Almighty God, but that we must not honor the Son as we do the Father. They say that we must not worship the Son as we do the Father. But Jesus says that unless we honor the Son as we do the Father, we have dishonored the Father who sent the Son. Jesus is not inferior to God. He is equal with God.
Have you heard his voice, calling you from death to life? Are you ready to meet the judge, the Lord Jesus Christ? Do you worship and honor Jesus? Do you, as Thomas later did, worship Jesus as your Lord and your God?
Since Jesus is equal with God, he has all the rights of God.
- The Son has the right to do whatever the Father does.
- The Son has the right the give life to whom he will.
- The Son has the right to judge all men.
- The Son has the right to be honored as the Father is honored.
See also “Gospel of John”:
- The only true God and Jesus Christ whom he sent
- John 12:01-19, “The Triumphal Entry in the Shadow of the Cross”
- John 11:01-45, “When God Is Late”
- John 10:30-42, “Jesus, the Most Controversial Person in History”
- John 10:22-30, “Missing the Obvious: Jesus is the Christ”
- John 10:07-21, “The Good Shepherd, Part 2”
- John 10:01-06, “The Good Shepherd, Part 1”
- John 09:01-41, “Blind Man Seeing, Seeing Men Blind”
- John 08:48-59, “Who Does Jesus Make Himself Out To Be?”
- John 08:31-47, “Children of God, or Sons of Satan?”