John chapter 5 ends with Jesus main question of the resistant unbelievers, the Pharisees. The main question.
How is it possible for you to believe [how can you learn to believe], you who are content to seek and receive praise and honor and glory from one another, and yet do not seek the praise and honor and glory which come from Him Who alone is God?” (John 5:44, AMP).
This chapter begins with Jesus going to Jerusalem for a Jewish festival. While in the city, He noticed a man at the pool of Bethesda, which means “mercy,” who was lying on a pallet waiting for the angel of God to stir the curative waters. In this way, we hear from Jesus regarding who He is and what His purpose is. In this chapter, Jesus moved from one witness/testimony to another and ended with a searching question to the religious leaders.
Jesus’ encounter with the sick man began with Him noticing the man and asking him, “Do you want to become well?” (vs.6, AMP). We notice that the man did not answer that question but answered with a reason why he had not become well. He replied with a statement of disbelief in his ability to get to the curative waters because no one helped him. Jesus did not ask why he was not well. He knew why the man was sick and what kept him from being well. Jesus asked if he wanted to become well. After the man’s response, Jesus commanded strongly, “Get up! Pick up your bed (mat) and walk!” (vs.8). Jesus left him with no excuse but unbelief. The man chose to believe, get up, and walk. Jesus walked off after that and the man did not know Jesus performed the miracle. The previously ill man encountered Jesus again in the temple a while later (vs. 14). The man identified Jesus. Jesus told the man, “See, you are well! Stop sinning or something worse may happen to you.” Jesus knew this man, though the man did not recognize Jesus as the Son of God. After the second encounter, the man may have begun wondering more about Jesus. What is more important is that, with Jesus’ second comment to the man, we see the possibility that the man was ill because of God’s disciplining him for some sin in the past. Jesus, by making the man well, showed that He has the power to judge, give mercy, and offer pardon. Jesus also stated a warning to the man.
The Pharisees entered the scene after the man was healed by Jesus. Notice they did not ask who made him well. Instead they confronted the man about his working on the Sabbath by carrying his mat. They chose not to confront the man about his healing, a miracle, but about his working, a man-made rule. The man then passed the blame for his “working” on the Sabbath back to the unknown man. The man did not declare the miracle of his health either. It was only after he learned of Jesus’ name that he told the Pharisees who made him well. The man was no longer thinking in terms of blaming someone since Jesus approached him about his sin. This man now admitted that Jesus healed him.
After this healing and admission that Jesus was the One who did it, the Pharisees were more determined to persecute and kill Jesus because He was “working” (healing) on the Sabbath (vs. 16). This feels a bit of an extreme reaction for just healing someone. These Pharisees were brewing over something far bigger than this issue. The next encounters with the Pharisees show us their hearts and minds. In verse 18, John tells us that they were willing to kill Jesus. He was working on the Sabbath and He was making Himself out to be equal with God, to be God’s Son. Verses 19 and 20 state that Jesus can only do what the Father does, as He learns from the Father. Jesus even went so far as to say He would do even great work so they (the people) would marvel. He was able to do this because He and the Father are one and love each other. The next statement by Jesus irritated the Pharisees more. Jesus said that just as the Father gives life to the dead, so the Son gives life to whomever He wills. Jesus was claiming power over life and death. (The Pharisees only heard the literal side of this.). Jesus next stated that the Father does not judge, but Jesus has the sole responsibility to judge. There are three things Jesus has already said to the Pharisees: 1) Jesus is equal to the Father because Jesus is the Son; 2) Jesus has power over life and death; and 3) Jesus has the sole responsibility of judging people.
Why are these three facets of Jesus’ so difficult for the Pharisees? Let us start with the first one. Jesus equating Himself with the Father, that He is the Son and has the same power and authority, was difficult for them because that meant the Pharisees would have to honor and praise Jesus, this man from Galilee. Remember, it was said that no good thing came from Galilee . (John 1:46). They looked down on people from Galilee. In actual fact, they looked down on anyone who was not a Pharisee and they built themselves up. They did not want someone to usurp their power and authority. If they recognized Jesus as being special, then they would have to honor and praise Him, which meant they would get less praise and would not be the leader of the Jewish people. That just could not be.
Second, Jesus statement that He has power over life and death was significant because it definitely showed His authority is from God. Who, in their knowledge, could bring someone back from the dead except God? This was testified in Ezekiel with the valley of dry bones returning to life. It also occurred when God created Adam and Eve; He formed them out of nothing, ex nihilo, and blew His breath, His Spirit, into them. Here Christ goes farther than the Pharisees were willing to understand. Jesus said that He will give them Life, eternal life. For this to occur, that meant Jesus has to be the Messiah, the Savior, because the Pharisees knew that no one would have eternal life until the Messiah came. This they did not want to acknowledge for the same reason as number one above. Also, they did not want to recognize it because it meant they had to acknowledge that Jesus is what He stated next, the judge of mankind.
For people to have eternal life through Jesus, they must pass through judgment by Jesus. Jesus stated in verse 27 that God gave Him the sole task of judgment. If the person believed Jesus is the Son of God, then he or she would have forgiveness for their sins and eternal life in heaven. If, however, they did not believe Jesus is God’s Son, then they would also have eternity, but one of unforgiveness, one of eternal punishment. Jesus is the judge. He has provided the forgiveness for sins to those who believe He is the Son of God. For those who do not believe, there is no forgiveness of sin and they cannot be in the presence of God for eternity. They must go to eternal hell.
These three things Jesus brought immediately to the attention of the Pharisees. Jesus did not dance around the topic. He was pointed with them. The question though is why does He do it this way. Well, the reason is Jesus knows the urgency of people needing to believe He is God’s Son. He stated it Himself in verse 34, “I simply mention all these things in order that you may be saved.” (AMP). In just 15 verses, Jesus made it plain so they could not say they did not know. What is difficult comes next; they chose not to believe. In verse 31, Jesus stated, “If I alone testify in My behalf, My testimony is not valid and cannot be worth anything.”
From this statement by Jesus, He set forth how they can know He is who He says He is. Also from this statement, He put holes into their faith in themselves and humanity. Jesus gave four ways people could know He is the Son of God: through John the Baptist’s testimony, through Jesus’ works, through the Father, and through Scriptures. Jesus went from least important to most important. Basically, Jesus told them to put less weight on the testimony of man and the works/signs of which they hear and put more weight on what the Father and Scripture say. This will be a common theme throughout John’s writing.
First, John states in verses 33-35 that John the Baptist was the voice in the wilderness. Jesus called John the Baptist a lamp in the wilderness in whose shine they delighted (AMP). Jesus stated that their faith should not rest on the testimony of a mere man.
Secondly, Jesus said that the works to which the Father called Him are witness to who He is. He said that this witness was greater than that of a man, even John the Baptist (vs. 36). The testimony of man is good and Jesus encouraged us to go and preach the Gospel in Matthew 28. Even better is witnessing the signs that Jesus performs. These signs point to something, as all signs point to something. That something is Someone, Jesus Christ.
Third, the testimony of the Father is even greater than the signs, because the Son can only do what He has seen the Father do (vs.19). Jesus said,
And the Father Who sent Me has Himself testified concerning Me. Not one of you has ever given ear to His voice or seen His form. And you have not His word living in your hearts, because you do not believe and adhere to and trust in and rely on Him Whom He has sent. (vv.37-38, AMP)
Jesus basically stated that the Father told mankind about Jesus, His Son, but because they did not hear the Father and they did not have His Word living in their hearts, they did not believe in whom He has sent, Jesus. I am sure this came as a slap to their faces. Jesus was saying they, the Jewish religious leaders (Pharisees) did not know Yahweh or His Word. They did not have His Word in their hearts. When we jump to verse 42, Jesus told them they do not have the love of God in them. This most likely was an affront to their sense of esteem as religious leaders and as men who are supposed to be part of the chosen children of God. No wonder they wanted to kill Jesus. He was attacking their faith, their personal integrity, and worth.
The fourth testimony comes through Scripture. Jesus said they pore over Scripture as if it will give them eternal life, when it is those Scriptures that testify about Him. The Scriptures speak of the Messiah as being the One who brings eternal life. The Scriptures cannot give eternal life. Isaiah, Moses, and David, as well as others of Old Testament times, prophesied of the Messiah’s coming to earth and in what manner. They also spoke of what He would do and how the people would know it was Him. The Pharisees chose not to acknowledge these or that they pointed to Jesus. Instead, they would rather have been seen poring over the Scriptures.
From this point in John 5, Jesus pointedly showed that Jesus did not come in His own name, but in the Father, nor did He do miracles in His own power, but the Father’s. The Pharisees and other people chose not to believe He is the Son. Yet, if another man arrived talking about himself and touting his abilities, the Pharisees and people believed him and flocked to hear and see him. Jesus told them that their seeing him showed they accepted and approved him, but they would not approve Jesus who is witnessed of and testified to in these four ways, not by Himself. Jesus said then, “How is it possible for you to believe; you who receive praise and honor and glory from one another, and yet do not seek the praise and honor and glory which come from Him who alone is God?” (vs.44, AMP). How will you be able to believe if you do not trust the testimony of these four witnesses, but will trust the testimony of a person for himself? What will it take for you to believe that I am God’s Son? If they would not believe in the Son, then they knew from the Scripture that Moses would judge them. Moses believed that Jesus would come. Why could they not? It would be Moses who judges their unbelief because they did not believe his testimony either. (See Genesis 3:5, 12:3, Deuteronomy 18:15.) By their not believing Jesus is the Messiah, they were not believing Moses whom they hold up as their standard. It will be Moses who will accuse them. If they cannot believe the man who testified to them, who led them out of Egypt, who spoke with God for them, and who brought the Ten Commandments to them, how would they believe Jesus with all those witnesses?
It all comes back to that one verse. Verse 34 brings it all back to the main point. Jesus says, “I simply mention all these things in order that you may be saved.” Jesus, like the Father, does not want anyone to be lost to eternal hell. He made each of us so we could be in relationship with Him. He desires to have a relationship with us. Yahweh provided a way for us to return to Him through the life, death, and resurrection of His Son, Jesus. Through the witness of these four, Jesus tells us three things about Himself: 1) Jesus is equal to the Father because Jesus is the Son; 2) Jesus has power over life and death; and 3) Jesus has the sole responsibility of judging people. The question comes to each of us in Jesus’ own words in verse 44, “How is it possible for you to believe?” (AMP). What will it take for you to believe?