After chapters of debates, clues and mystery – Jesus just comes out and demands that we take him seriously. If He’s right, then you should listen to Him.
5:16 The following scene represents an informal interrogation; describing this as a “court scene” seems overblown. John 5:16 marks the beginning of more overt, active hostility against Jesus. John 5:18 says that the Jews were seeking to kill Jesus, though the exact form of persecution is not mentioned. The Jews’ initial indignation toward the healed man (5:10) now has been transferred to Jesus. 5:17 Jesus’ answer in 5:17 becomes the foundation for 5:19–47.46 The introductory “truly, truly, I say to you” signals a significant pronouncement. Jesus’ address of God as his “Father” is striking. It would have been highly unusual for a Jew of that day to address God simply as “my Father” without some qualifying phrase such as “in heaven” in order to avoid undue familiarity. The Jews’ response in the next verse confirms the perceived inappropriateness of Jesus’ terminology. According to Jesus, God his “Father” has “always been at his work to this very day”. According to Gen. 2:2–3, God rested on the seventh day of creation. But if God observes the Sabbath, who sustains the universe? The consensus among Jewish rabbis was that God does indeed work constantly, but that this does not amount to him breaking the Sabbath. Since the entire universe is his domain, he cannot be charged with transporting an object from one domain to another; and God lifts nothing to a height greater than himself.
Jesus now adds that he, too, is working. He could have objected to the (inaccurate) Jewish interpretation of the OT Sabbath command that prohibited work normally done on the other six days of the week. These regulations (which referred to regular work) hardly applied to the man’s picking up his mat after a miracle cure. But rather than taking this approach, Jesus places his own activity on the Sabbath plainly on the same level as that of God the Creator. If God is above Sabbath regulations, so is Jesus. 5:18 John 5:18 contains the first reference in this Gospel to the plot to kill Jesus.
-Andreas J. Köstenberger
Jesus’ remarkable claims in this chapter lead us to a line of thinking that has to do not with ethics but with theology proper. Too often Jesus is described in the church or in the world as simply a nice man. Some may call him a charismatic teacher, and some may elevate him to a dispenser of religious wisdom or a prophet. One scholar sees him as a “peasant rebel” offering a “brokerless kingdom of God” to the world. Some prefer to see in him a model of the spiritual life. The trouble with these descriptions is that they omit a key ingredient to the New Testament’s message about Jesus.
Jesus Christ makes ultimate claims for himself in the Gospels. Nowhere is this more obvious than in John 5. It is not simply that Jesus is doing the Father’s business that makes him unique; it is that Jesus has a relationship with the Father that goes beyond anything humanity has seen before. John reaches for language to express this (sonship, agency), but in the end he is uncompromising. In one of the climaxes of Jesus’ farewell, Jesus remarks to Philip, “Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father” (14:9).
But to make an absolute claim about Jesus is to invite precisely the thing that John 5 describes: persecution. A strong witness to Jesus… necessarily offends. This is as true today as it has ever been. We live in a world of pluralism and tolerance that exerts enormous pressure on us to refine away the distinctives of our faith that might offend. We will hear: It is fine to make Jesus one way to God, but do not make him The Way. It is fine to affirm Jesus as one version of the truth, but make no claim that he is The Truth against which all other truths must be weighed.
In a pluralistic society it is a truism that absolute claims to religious truth will lead to certain conflict. More precisely, the “higher” my claims for Christ—that is, the more I affirm his divinity, his exclusive relationship with God—the more separation and alienation I will feel. It is foolish to think I can have it otherwise. Jesus was judged as a blasphemer, the incriminating designation of someone who trampled on pure religious truth. Jesus was crucified for the strength of his disclosure about himself. But the same is true of Jesus’ followers as well as the church of John that cherished (and lived out) this chapter.
John 5 poses a terrible question for me: Am I willing to be labeled as a blasphemer to the religious canons of my day when my hour comes? Is my church equipped to do this? Are we ready to be judged and expelled, to experience social shame and public damning in the name of religion because we are holding on to an absolute faith in Jesus, the Son of God? -Gary Burge
24. He that heareth my word. Here is described the way and manner of honouring God, that no one may think that it consists solely in any outward performance, or in frivolous ceremonies. For the doctrine of the Gospel seems as a sceptre to Christ, by which he governs believers whom the Father has made his subjects. And this definition is eminently worthy of notice. Nothing is more common than a false profession of Christianity;… But here Christ demands from us no other honour than to obey his Gospel. Hence it follows, that all the honour which hypocrites bestow on Christ is but the kiss of Judas, by which he betrayed his Lord. Though they may a hundred times call him King, yet they deprive him of his kingdom and of all power, when they do not exercise faith in the Gospel.
– John Calvin