07.01.06 Jn. 5:31-47
DISCUSSION OF FOUR AUTHORITIES / WITNESSES TO JESUS
31 “If I testify about Myself, My testimony is not valid. 32 There is Another who testifies about Me, and I know that the testimony He gives about Me is valid. 33 You have sent messengers to John, and he has testified to the truth. 34 I don’t receive man’s testimony, but I say these things so that you may be saved. 35 John was a burning and shining lamp, and for a time you were willing to enjoy his light.
36 “But I have a greater testimony than John’s because of the works that the Father has given Me to accomplish. These very works I am doing testify about Me that the Father has sent Me. 37 The Father who sent Me has Himself testified about Me. You have not heard His voice at any time, and you haven’t seen His form. 38 You don’t have His word living in you, because you don’t believe the One He sent. 39 You pour over the Scriptures because you think you have eternal life in them, yet they testify about Me. 40 And you are not willing to come to Me so that you may have life.
41 “I do not accept glory from men, 42 but I know you — that you have no love for God within you. 43 I have come in My Father’s name, yet you don’t accept Me. If someone else comes in his own name, you will accept him. 44 How can you believe? While accepting glory from one another, you don’t seek the glory that comes from the only God. 45 Do not think that I will accuse you to the Father. Your accuser is Moses, on whom you have set your hope. 46 For if you believed Moses, you would believe Me, because he wrote about Me. 47 But if you don’t believe his writings, how will you believe My words?”
In this passage Jesus informed His challengers that:
- They did not have the love of God in their hearts.
- They pursued honor from the crowds and from each other.
- Because they chose to honor each other, they likewise refused to honor God.
What was obvious to everyone was that Jesus spoke the truth and exposed the sins of the religious leaders. When He said that Moses was their accuser, He had reference to the Mosaic passages in Genesis 49:10, Numbers 24:17, and Deuteronomy 18:15-18. If they were truly as faithful to the laws and teachings of Moses as they claimed, then they would have recognized their error. They refused to consider that Moses spoke of Jesus because they had their own agenda.
“My testimony is not valid … because he wrote about Me.” Why would the testimony of Jesus not be valid? He followed the Old Testament laws in every detail. If He spoke only of Himself, and was the only witness to His words and works, then He would be in violation of Deuteronomy, that reads,
The one condemned to die is to be executed on the testimony of two or three witnesses. No one is to be executed on the testimony of a single witness.
A minimum of two witnesses was standard practice in Jewish law. For a capital punishment case, two witnesses were needed to condemn a man to death. To identify the beginning of the Sabbath, two or three medium-sized stars had to be seen in the sky to announce the end of sixth day and the beginning of the seventh. The Deuteronomy passage was the standard of law for making decisions in all aspects of Jewish society and for biblical interpretation. For this reason, Jesus made a point to present witnesses on His behalf. He presented four points, more than was needed. The witnesses to His Messiahship and testimony were:
- John the Baptist (Jn. 5:33),
- His works (Jn. 5:36),
- The Father, Who had spoken audibly at His Baptism (Jn. 5:37), and
- The Scriptures (Jn. 5:39) because He fulfilled the Hebrew prophecies.
But the Oral Law stated that a man was not to be believed if he was speaking about himself. Even the Greeks said that a person could not present evidence that would support self-interest.
“John was a burning and shining lamp.” The past-tense of the statement is clear evidence that the ministry of John the Baptist to be the revealer of truth was over. It is assumed that by now he was either in prison or martyred.
“If you believed Moses.” The statement obviously implies they did not obey Moses, although they claimed to do so. In Jewish thinking, “belief” exists only when there is obedience to what is believed. Transposed to today, if one says “I believe in Jesus” and does not do what Jesus says, he has made a false statement concerning his belief. To “believe” or to “love” Jesus carries the requirement to be obedient to His principles of life. “Belief” and “love” when related to God are always associated with obedience to Him.
The fourth law of the Decalogue is the law of the Sabbath. On this day, all Jews were expected to rest from their weekly activities. Because the Oral Law essentially placed a protective theological “fence” around the Torah, it had many restrictions that would have to be broken before the commandment would be broken. In Aboth 1:1 there is an interesting statement that clearly defines the purpose of the Oral Law.
Moses received the Torah at Sinai and handed it on to Joshua, Joshua to elders, and elders to prophets. And the prophets handed it on to the men of the Great Synagogue. They said three things: Be prudent in judgment. Raise up many disciples. Make a fence around the Torah.
Mishnah, Aboth 1:1
However, the legalistic attitude cannot be totally attributed to the Jewish leadership because even Moses said that anyone who gathered sticks for firewood on the Sabbath deserved stoning (Num. 15:32-36). Therefore, if gathering firewood on the Sabbath deserved stoning, why not for gathering some grain for food or for some other reason?
As previously stated, they held the common opinion that because they had broken the Sabbath laws in the past, God permitted Solomon’s temple to be destroyed and their forefathers taken into captivity in Babylon (605-586 B.C.). They obviously did not want another occurrence of this punishment (2 Ch. 36:20-21). For this reason they were extremely dogmatic about their oral laws, which included highly restrictive Sabbath rules. Their intent was that if anyone broke the Oral Laws, or the “fence,” that surrounded the Written Law, the person could be punished before the Sabbath and other Mosaic Laws were broken. Therefore, the land would be saved from God’s anger. Although the maximum punishment of breaking the Sabbath was death by stoning, it was never practiced or Jesus would have been executed on these charges. While the intent was good, its application became extremely oppressive and idolatrous. The major problem was that these Oral laws were held in higher authority than the Mosaic Law, and this led to conflicts with Jesus.
Coupled with the extreme intent to maintain the proverbial “fence” around the Torah, the religious leaders had also become arrogant, wealthy, and smug in their lifestyle. They became blind to the needs of the common people whom they served. Yet amazingly, they did realize that the single issue of life was more important than Sabbath rules. In the event there was an urgency to save a life, the Sabbath rules were set aside. They had little disagreement on this matter, but their attitude was completely different concerning a sick or disabled person. In such a case they believed that the healer should wait until sunset, when the Sabbath was over, and then perform the healing.
When God created the world, He rested on the seventh day (Gen. 2:2). This was a rest from His “creative work.” However, He never rested from His “work of providence,” meaning work in the lives of man, or maintaining the creation on the Sabbath or any other day. If God had rested from His work of providence, the universe would dissolve into nothingness as it once was. Therefore, it is generally agreed among theologians that the work of providence continues as an activity of God.
Finally, this study is focused on the various issues that shaped the ministry environment of Jesus and, therefore, does not dwell on the theological subjects. However, some basic theological issues cannot be avoided. In the passage (John 5) that follows, John sets forth the divine nature and office of Jesus in relation to God the Father. For a clearer understanding of the gospel writer’s message, note the following distinctions:
- God is His Father and He is the Son of God in such a high and incommunicable sense, that Jesus is equal with the Father in nature (Jn. 5:18);
- Jesus enjoys the Father’s perfect love and knows all His counsels (Jn. 5:20);
- Jesus performs all the works that His father performs (Jn. 5:19-21);
- Jesus has life in Himself as the Father has it, and gives it to whom He will (Jn. 5:21, 26)
- He claims equal honor with the Father (Jn. 5:23) and
- He raises the dead and judges them (Jn. 5:21-22; 24-29).
As the Son of God on earth, Jesus always acts in subordination to the will of the Father.
- He has not come on His own accord, but His Father sent Him (Jn. 5:23, ff);
- The Father has appointed Him to do certain works and miracles (Jn. 5:20, 22, 26)
- Jesus can do nothing by His own accord, but must function in accordance to His Father’s will (Jn. 5:19, 39)
- The Father, who sent Jesus, bears witness to Him by the works that He (the Father) has given Him to do (Jn. 5:36) and by the Scriptures of the Old Testament (Jn. 5:39, 45-47).
It is as the Son of man – the Word made flesh – who not only redeems, but also judges men (Jn. 5:27). Jesus has …
- Equality with the Father in nature.
- Submission to the Father in office,
- Union with human nature in the work of redeeming and judging men,
- And in all these, perfect union with the Father in counsel and will.
Not only did the Jewish leaders reject the God – Jesus relationship, but the early church had struggles with it, as well. Gentiles, coming from various pagan religions, were equally challenged.
. Concerning Jesus in the Old Testament and eternity past, see 04.01.01 and the related video link.
. The Jewish people observed the biblical tradition that the day begins at sunset, not midnight or sunrise.
. Barclay, “John.” 1:195.
. See video 02.02.16.V by Messianic Rabbi John Fischer who discusses the term “fence around the Torah” from a first century Jewish perspective.
. Mishnah, Sanhedrin 7.4.
. Bruce, Jesus Past. 28.