The Claims and Credentials of the Son
Topic: Gospels Passage: John 5:19–5:47
“THE CLAIMS AND CREDENTIALS OF THE SON”
“Who’s in charge here?” Most of us have probably found ourselves asking or at least wondering that very thing when we stand in long lines at the DMV or sit at a restaurant table waiting for a server to take our order. There may have been other times while on the phone with credit card companies or insurance firms when we have grown exasperated and insisted on speaking with a “responsible person,” that one individual who might be able to give us a satisfactory explanation.
The list of similar illustrations could go on. What it all boils down to is a matter of authority...to the person “in charge.”
When Harry Truman was President, he had a sign on his desk which read, “The buck stops here.” It was intended to convey that he wasn’t the type of leader who merely “passed the buck” when tough decisions needed to be made. He wanted it made clear to his staffers, as well as his political opponents and everyone else, that he was “in charge” and “the final authority” of the office he represented.
As followers of Jesus Christ, the question of ultimate authority has been settled for us. Of course, others do not hold to that same belief. In fact, many vociferously—and some even violently—object to such a claim. To ascribe authority to Jesus and to yield ourselves to that authority is to declare Him as “Lord.” And that just won’t do in the minds of many. And yet that is precisely what He requires—indeed demands—of us all.
But let’s be clear. It is not our ascription or recognition of Him as “Lord” that makes Him so. Jesus Christ is “Lord,” purely by virtue of who He is.
As we return to the 5th chapter of John’s Gospel this morning, the subject of authority is the basis for Jesus’ extended monologue found in verses 19 through 47. It is a discourse that has grown out of the first eighteen verses of this chapter, where we have the account of Jesus’ healing the lame man. It was the third of Jesus’ major “signs” thus far recorded by John, and the one that incited the Jewish religious leaders to the point plotting His death (cf. John 5:18).
Aware of their wicked plans, our Lord took the occasion to fan the flames of controversy in which He not only challenged their authority of these religious leaders, but raised the level of His own personal authority to that of God. Just think of that for a moment. How might you have reacted to someone declaring publicly to be the very incarnation of Deity?
Had anyone else burst upon the scene and made such bold proclamations, he would have been labeled a madman and whisked him away as a public nuisance. But Jesus’ circumstances were a bit more complicated for His critics to deal with than that. Even skeptics said of Him, “No one ever spoke like this man!” (John 7:46), and “No one can do these signs...unless God is with him” (John 3:2).
But as we discover many times in John’s Gospel, the recognition of and reaction to Jesus’ uniqueness did not automatically lead to acknowledging Him as Lord and Savior. Thus, this lengthy section contains some valuable lessons for those who do not yet realize the One that Jesus Christ is the One who is truly “in charge.”
In building the case for Christ’s ultimate authority, John employs Jesus’ own words in presenting...
The assertions of the Son (5:19-29).
Let’s look together at verses 19 through 29:
19 So Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of his own accord, but only what he sees the Father doing. For whatever the Father does, that the Son does likewise. 20 For the Father loves the Son and shows him all that he himself is doing. And greater works than these will he show him, so that you may marvel. 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.
Three times in these verses do we find Jesus saying, “Truly, truly, I say to you.” If my count is correct, there are nineteen times in John’s Gospel when Jesus introduces a statement with those words. “I tell you the truth,” Jesus repeatedly insists. In the section before us, there are two major areas in which He maintains for Himself authority that no one else can lay claim to.
First of all, in verses 19 through 21, He claims authority to grant life. Keep in mind that Jesus is making this claim in the aftermath of the events that have just taken place at the Pool of Bethesda with the healing of the invalid. The animosity and anger on the part of the religious leaders began over Jesus’ having healed the man of the Sabbath. But their anger grew to bitter hatred and murderous thoughts when He referred to God as “My Father” and understood that He was declaring Himself to be “equal with God” (cf. John 5:18).
They understood the meaning and intent of His controversial assertion, and now here He is assuring them that their assumptions of Him were correct. “Whatever the Father does, that the Son does likewise,” He said. And what’s more, as verse 20 adds, even “greater works” were yet to come...greater than the healing of a man who had lived as a cripple for most, if not all, of his life. Indeed, he assures them, they would “marvel” at such works.
What can be greater than restoring health to atrophied limbs? How about bringing the dead back to life! Look again at verse 21: “For as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, so also the Son gives life to whom he will.” In Old Testament times, through both Elijah (cf. 1 Kings 17:17-22) and Elisha (cf. 2 Kings 4:32-35), God had been pleased to raise the dead. But centuries had passed and nothing even resembling the restoration of life to a dead corpse had been reported. But now, standing before them—in their very presence—was One who purported to be able to do what the great prophets before Him had done.
Throughout His earthly ministry, we read of at least three occasions when Jesus actually did raise the dead (cf. Luke 7:11-15, 8:41-55), the most memorable being when He called His friend Lazarus out of the tomb where he had lain for several days (cf. John 11:1-44). But the greatest miracle of resurrection took place when, after being nailed to a cross, Jesus raised Himself from the dead, precisely as He had predicted He would (cf. John 2:19, Mark 8:31).
Because Jesus now lives, every follower of His will rise again to live as well. Although it is true that “eternal life” has already begun for those who have committed themselves to Him, its ultimate realization will occur on that day when the graves will be opened and we will be raised to live with Him—in His glorified presence—never to die again. We can now only imagine what an amazing day that will be.
But that day will not be a day of great rejoicing for all. That is because, even though the Son in sovereign in granting life, He also claims to have authority to execute judgment upon those who refuse to submit to Him. We see this in verses 22 through 30, where no fewer than six times the word “judge” or “judgment” is mentioned.
From verse 22 we learn that The Father...has committed all judgment to the Son.” He goes on to explain in the next verse that to dishonor the Son is to dishonor the Father in whose name He was sent. And then He makes this strikingly bold statement in verse 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.” What an astounding promise! To favorably respond to the message of Jesus is akin to “crossing over” from the realm of death to the kingdom of life. Praise the Lord!
But what about those who do not believe? Verses 25 through 29 describe that same blessed “hour” in which believers will be raised to life as one of impending doom and “judgment” for those who have not heard the voice of the Son and heeded His call. The contrast could not be any more stark. In a very real sense, God’s condemnation presently—at this very hour!—rests upon those who reject or neglect Him. Did not Jesus say, “The hour is coming, and is now (already) here”?
Verses 28 and 29 tell us that a day of resurrection awaits us “all.” There is a conscious existence that awaits everyone of us—believer and unbeliever alike—when we breathe our last breath in this life and close our eyes in death. Death does not mean the cessation of consciousness. Jesus put it this way: “An hour is coming when all who are in the tombs will hear 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.”
The Bible is clear in stating that “judgment” is always based on “works.” The question is “whose works.” Let me assure you that your “works” will never be good enough to get you to heaven. That is because even your “best works” are “like a polluted garment” (cf. Isaiah 64:6). Titus 3:5-7 reminds the followers of Christ that “He saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.” It is because of the sacrificial death of Jesus—and its appropriation by those who believe—that the “authority to execute judgment” has been given to Jesus.
It is only those “works” of Jesus that avail for us. Nothing else will do...absolutely nothing. His sinless life and His substitutionary death were for the sole purpose of creating a people for the sake of His name. In verses 19 through 29, Jesus makes exclusive claim to be able to grant life or to execute “judgment” with whomever He pleases.
Those are bold assertions for anyone to make. So, does Jesus have any reliable witnesses that will support such claims? That brings us to the rest of the chapter, verses 30 through 47, where we hear of...
The attestations to the Son (5:30-47).
To “attest” to something means to bear witness to its veracity or truth. Throughout this passage, Jesus repeatedly states that everything He does is subject to the will of the Father. Both His words and His works are according to the providential plan of God. We find that point being made at the beginning of verse 30, where He says, “I can do nothing on my own.” This isn’t meant to imply that Christ was in anyway less than omnipotent, but rather to say that He never did anything that was independent or outside of His Father’s will.
In support of this claim, Jesus “the Judge” puts Himself on trial. In His defense, He calls several witnesses to the stand to offer “testimony” on His behalf. Let’s read this section, and see if we are able to identify those witnesses. Beginning at verse 30:
30 “I can do nothing on my own. As I hear, I judge, and my judgment is just, because I seek not my own will but the will of him who sent me. 31 If I alone bear witness about myself, my testimony is not true. 32 There is another who bears witness about me, and I know that the testimony that he bears about me is true. 33 You sent to John, and he has borne witness to the truth. 34 Not that the testimony that I receive is from man, but I say these things so that you may be saved. 35 He was a burning and shining lamp, and you were willing to rejoice for a while in his light. 36 But the testimony that I have is greater than that of John. For the works that the Father has given me to accomplish, the very works that I am doing, bear witness about me that the Father has sent me. 37 And the Father who sent me has himself borne witness about me. His voice you have never heard, his form you have never seen, 38 and you do not have his word abiding in you, for you do not believe the one whom he has sent, 39 You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me, 40 yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life. 41 I do not receive glory from people. 42 But I know that you do not have the love of God within you. 43 I have come in my Father’s name, and you do not receive me. If another comes in his own name, you will receive him. 44 How can you believe, when you receive glory from one another and do not seek the glory that comes from the only God? 45 Do not think that I will accuse you to the Father. There is one who accuses you: Moses, on whom you have set your hope. 46 For if you believed Moses, you would believe me; for he wrote of me. 47 But if you do not believe his writings, how will you believe my words?”
The first to testify is the witness of the Son Himself. With regard to the matter of rendering the judicial verdict spoken of in the preceding verses, Jesus here declares that His “judgment is just.” He acts not on His own initiative but according with “the will” of the Father who had sent Him. Although never had another spoken truth to the degree that Jesus spoke it, He admits in verse 31 that no human court of law would consider the “testimony” of a defendant by itself to be sufficient in declaring an “innocent” verdict. When He says that His “testimony is not true,” He is simply saying that, by itself, it would not be deemed to be “legally valid.”
Keep in mind, two charges were being brought against Jesus, and both were serious offenses. He was accused of not only violating a Sabbath-command, but of committing blasphemy...a charge that carried with it the death penalty according to Old Testament Law (cf. Leviticus 24:10-16). Nevertheless, the truth of Jesus stood secure because, as verse 32 insists, it had the indisputable “testimony” of God behind it.
Therefore, Jesus calls His next witness to the stand in verses 33 through 35. It is the witness of John the Baptist. John had burst onto the stage of history after four hundred years of “silence,” where there had been no fresh, clear voice from God. His arrival aroused public interest and prepared the way for the appearance of the long-awaited Messiah-King. John, too, had “ruffled the feathers” of the religious elite, but nothing like Jesus was now doing. John had been “a burning and shining lamp.” As John the writer has told us earlier, “He was not the light, but came to bear witness about the light” (John 1:8). And he had carried out his mission well. He had pointed others to Jesus, “the true light” (cf. John 1:9) and urged them to follow Him.
As great as John was—and our Lord even declared him so (cf. Matthew 11:11)—no man’s “testimony” was sufficient to provide Jesus the witness He deserved. If people were to be “saved,” and that is Jesus’ stated intention at the end of verse 34, then further evidence awaited presentation.
The next “testimony” to be offered was the witness of Jesus’ works...or wht John repeatedly refers to as His “signs.” The healing of the lame man was but the most recent. There had been others, and there would be more. In verse 36, Jesus said, “But the testimony that I have is greater than that of John. For the works that the Father has given me to accomplish, the very works that I am doing, bear witness about me that the Father has sent me.”
As we have noted since the beginning of this series, the writer John consistently refers to the miraculous deeds of Jesus as “signs.” “Signs” “signify” something “significant.” In other words, there was a purpose behind every “sign” or miracle that Jesus did. These acts, which all defied natural explanations, were intended to authenticate Jesus as the fulfillment of the many Old Testament prophecies concerning the Messiah...that One whom God had promised to send.
And that brings us to the fourth of Jesus’ witnesses. In verses 37 through 39, we find the witness of the Father. We read, “And the Father who sent me has himself borne witness about me. His voice you have never heard, his form you have never seen, and you do not have his word abiding in you, for you do not believe the one whom he has sent.” In calling His Father to the stand, Jesus is able to level a three-fold charge against His accusers. Moving from “defense” to “offense,” He lobs three stunning words of condemnation toward the very ones who were in the process of putting Him on trial.
In the first place, He charges them with never really hearing the “voice” of God. He is probably speaking figuratively here, but it is possible that they were absent on the day of Jesus’ public baptism when Heaven spoke and God declared of Him, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased” (Matthew 3:17). Or if they were there, they were spiritually deaf to the line of Divine communication...too preoccupied with their own personal interests and affairs. The bottom line is, these professional religionists were completely “out of touch” with God.
Secondly, Jesus charges them with not having seen the “form” of God. Again, the language is figurative. The meaning was that, despite all of their theological training and degrees, they never really got it. Like many today, they knew a lot about God, but they didn’t know God.
And then thirdly, Jesus charges them with never having really apppropriated God’s Word. They had gotten into the Holy Scriptures, but the Word of God had never gotten into them. If it had, they would have recognized Jesus as the long-anticipated One. Before their very eyes He was fulfilling the dozens of Messianic predictions given by God to His prophets throughout the centuries. His accusers—despite their flowing and ornate robes and phylacteries—were, as He would later refer to them, “blind guides” of others (cf. Matthew 23:34).
And that brings us to the final witness that Jesus would call, the witness of the Scriptures. This accusation would have hit them like “a punch in the gut.” Look carefully again at verses 39 through 47, where Jesus says, “You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me, yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life. I do not receive glory from people. But I know that you do not have the love of God within you. I have come in my Father’s name, and you do not receive me. If another comes in his own name, you will receive him. How can you believe, when you receive glory from one another and do not seek the glory that comes from the only God? Do not think that I will accuse you to the Father. There is one who accuses you: Moses, on whom you have set your hope. For if you believed Moses, you would believe me; for he wrote of me. But if you do not believe his writings, how will you believe my words?”
These words were addressed to the most highly esteemed religious scholars of the day. They knew the Old Testament Scriptures like the back of their hands. They could quote it from memory and offer commentary on every passage. But like so many today, they missed the main message. “You search the Scriptures because you think in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me.” “About me”!
There is nothing intrinsically life-giving about studying the Bible if one fails to discern its true content and purpose. That was Jesus’ point in calling the witness of the Scriptures to affirm His true identity. It is the record of Scripture—the Bible—that bears witness to Him!
One of my favorite passages of Scripture is found near the end of Luke’s Gospel, where the resurrected Christ is walking along the road to Emmaus with two men whose eyes were prevented from recognizing Him. As they walked and talked together, it is said that “Beginning with Moses and the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself” (Luke 24:27). Shortly thereafter, while reflecting upon the One in whose presence they had been, these two men said to one another, “Did not our hearts burn within us while he talked to us on the road, while he opened to us the Scriptures?” (Luke 24:32). The Scriptures bear testimony to Jesus...in fact, they are all about Him!
Here in our closing verses, Jesus is bringing a strong and powerful indictment against His accusers:
- verse 40: “You refuse to come to me that you may have life.
- verse 42: “You do not have the love of God within you.”
- verse 43: “You do not receive me.”
- verse 44: “You...do not seek the glory that comes from the only God.”
Those who were on the receiving end of these condemning words were filled with indignation when they heard them...just as you and I tend to be when the Scriptures expose our half-heartedness and our hypocrisy. How defensive we can become when the Lord calls us to “Humble (ourselves)...under the mighty hand of God” (cf. 1 Peter 5:6). But the failure to do so places us at great peril.
This passage ends with a twist of justifiable irony. The very Scriptures misused by those who charged Jesus with being a Law-breaker and blasphemer were now being correctly applied by Him to accuse His accusers! No one had read and studied the Law of Moses as they had, but notice how Jesus picks up their own “weapon” and aims it at them. Beginning in verse 45, we read, “There is one who accuses you: Moses, on whom you have set your hope. For if you believed Moses, you would believe me; for he wrote of me. But if you do not believe his writings, how will you believe my words?”
The writings of Moses and the words of Jesus are so closely linked that they have identical authority. They are related in such a way that to believe one is to believe the other, and to reject one is to reject the other. It cannot be otherwise, because as Jesus testified in the Sermon on the Mount, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them” (Matthew 5:17). And fulfill them He did...down to the very “jot and tittle.”
On that final day—a day of which I am convinced most of us choose not to give very much thought to—these religious leaders will not be the only ones who will face “judgment” for claiming to “believe” a message that had never really gripped their hearts. There is much broader warning being sounded here...a warning to us all.
The Scriptures frequently call us all to self-examination (cf. 1 Corinthians 11:28, 2 Corinthians 13:5, 2 Peter 1:10-11, et al). How long has it been since you have last taken inventory of your spiritual life...your personal and practical relationship with the Lord? Is there sufficient observable evidence in your life to support your claim for being a Christian?
Although we are a few weeks removed from our time in John 2, the paragraph at the end of that chapter continues to hang like an ominous cloud over today’s local church. It was there that we encountered these words after Jesus had cleansed the Temple: “Now when he was in Jerusalem at the Passover Feast, many believed in his name when they saw the signs that he was doing. But Jesus on his part did not entrust himself to them, because he knew all people and needed no one to bear witness about man, for he himself knew what was in man” (John 2:23-25).
Does it give you pause to consider that the omniscient Christ knows all about you...all about us? In the monologue of Jesus that we have considered this morning, Jesus has not only laid out for us His claims and credentials, but He has exposed the darkened hearts of the Jewish religious leaders...those who were the most trusted and highly respected biblical scholars of His day. But ike King Belshazzar and his people in the Book of Daniel, they had been “weighed in the balances and found wanting” (cf. Daniel 5:24-28). May nothing similar ever be said of us.
Jesus had testified in verse 24, “Whoever hears my word and believes in him who sent me has eternal life.” But when that litmus test was applied to these religious leaders, it was exposed that they did “not believe” (verse 38), and instead were subjects of His “judgment.”
They would end up killing Jesus, but not even His death would be the final answer. Their refusal to “believe” Him and submit to His sovereign authority would result in their eternal condemnation.
Jesus Christ will one day return “to judge the living and the dead” (cf. Acts 10:42, 2 Timothy 4:1). Every opposing voice will be silenced, every enemy will be vanquished, and He will usher in His eternal Kingdom. And those who are His will with Him “reign forever and ever” (cf. Revelation 22:5).
Let’s bow our heads. And as we do, I want to ask you three introspective questions that grow out of this passage and are intended to probe your spiritual awareness. I’ll pause after each one in order to give you a few seconds to consider:
- First, do you know God?
- Second, do you honor God?
- Third, do you love God?
You can test yourself as to whether you know God, honor God, and love God, but asking yourself a fourth question, “who is Jesus Christ?’ Anyone who answers those first three questions in the affirmative apart from acknowledging Jesus Christ as the crucified and risen Savior and submitting to His authority as Lord is making a false claim. The measure of all true knowing God, honoring God, and loving God is in knowing, honoring, and loving Jesus for who He really is.
He has made the claims, and He has the credentials to support those claims. Therefore, Jesus this morning says to us as church members and Bible readers, “You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me.”