The life-giving Son (John 5.19-30)
As we saw in our last blog, John is strongly emphasizing Jesus’ gift of LIFE to those who believe in him and follow him. Now again Jesus’ teaching is added to the healing of the man by the Bethesda pool in order that Jesus’ miracle and his word together may declare this new life. Our passage in this blog follows from the accusation against Jesus that he was “calling God his own Father, making himself equal with God” (5.18). Jesus’ response divides naturally into three sections, each of which is introduced by the impressive “Truly, truly I say unto you” (5.19, 24 and 25).
1. Like any father and son (5.19-23)
In every normal father-son relationship a son depends on his father’s example, learning from and copying what the father does. As a carpenter’s son Jesus will surely have learned the trade from watching Joseph at work. Likewise Jesus will have learned from the work of his heavenly Father. It was common in Israel to call God ‘Israel’s Father’ and the Old Testament frequently refers to Israel as the children of God. Jesus therefore seems to counter the Jewish leaders’ accusation by suggesting that they too as God’s children should surely be following God’s example and doing what God does. A good father loves his children and delights to show them what he does (5.20). So likewise God as a father loves his son and delights to show him all he does.
Jesus now declares that his Father raises the dead and gives them life. So likewise the Son also gives life (5.21) – in healing the man who had been sick for 38 years Jesus was giving him the abundance of new life. Is Jesus now already moving beyond just talking generally about everyday father-son relationships? Is he beginning to refer to himself in his special relationship with his Father in glory? So he continues by affirming that the Father also entrusts the judgement to his Son, so that all may glorify and honour the Son (5.22/23). If we honour the Son, we also thus honour the Father. And if we fail to honour the Son, we likewise fail to honour the Father. God and Jesus, his Son, are inseparably linked together. Father and Son are one.
As a missionary among Muslims in South Thailand I shall never forget one man who was converted while in prison and then he started a coffee shop when he came out of prison. In his somewhat uneducated way he told all his customers that they needed to get right with Jesus because Jesus would be their judge. Tragically after some months of witnessing in this way he was murdered, but his witness to Jesus as our judge will not have been in vain.
2. Life and deliverance (5.24)
Now it is abundantly clear that Jesus is no longer talking in general terms about sons, but is teaching specifically about himself as the Son of God. This one verse contains in a nutshell the fundamental message of Jesus’ teaching in this whole section of John’s Gospel. All who are hearing Jesus’ words and are believing in the Father who sent Jesus to earth have (not just ‘will have’ in the future!) eternal life and they are not coming into judgement. They have passed from death into life.
So life without faith in Jesus is described as ‘death’ and is clearly contrasted with true life. Life, abundant life and eternal life lie at the very heart of John’s message concerning the purpose and ministry of Jesus. In John forgiveness of sin and the redeeming work of Jesus on our behalf is not emphasised – that is more in accordance with Paul’s thinking. For John life takes central place in the good news/gospel of Jesus. Jesus’ gift of eternal life also means that we no longer have to suffer the gloom of daily life without the glorious good news of abundant and eternal life in Jesus. And finally too we avoid the horror of condemnation at the final judgement.
3. The source of life (5.25-30)
The final judgement is coming and the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God. And those who truly hear Jesus’ message will escape the judgement and will be granted the fullness of life. The ultimate source of that life is from God himself. The Father has life in himself (5.26) and equally the Father has granted the reality of life to the Son. Like the Father therefore the Son also has life in himself. In the judgement the Son gives his life to those who hear his word and do good, but he also condemns those who have done evil. Finally Jesus gives us this reassurance that his judgement is entirely just and is not given merely to please himself.
The practice of just judgement lies at the heart of any good society – and, in contrast, a corrupt or self-pleasing judicial system will inevitably lead to severe suffering in the whole nation. We need constantly to pray that the judicial system in our nation will remain incorrupt and independent of government or other social groupings. In Indonesia we saw the fearful consequences of the judges being open to bribery and also to government pressure.