With perfect humility Jesus points out that it is not he that witnesses to himself (5.31); indeed he does not accept the witness of a human being (5.34). In this passage the word ‘witness’ comes again and again, showing how the witness to Jesus comes from a variety of sources.
a) The Father (5.32, 37)
In John’s Gospel the intimate relationship between the Father and the Son is strongly emphasised. Jesus has not come down to earth of his own volition, bur rather in obedience to the Father who sent him. Likewise he does not need to witness concerning his own identity and saving mission, for the Father himself bears that witness. Is Jesus thinking of the voice from heaven at his baptism? In witnessing to Jesus as his Son the Father will use the various other means of witness which are outlined in this passage. But sadly the Jewish leaders never heard God the Father’s voice or saw his form (5.37) – does this refer to Jesus as God’s word and God incarnate?
b) John the Baptist (5.33/34)
Jesus’ audience had chosen for a while to follow in the light which shone out from John, whose witness to Jesus burned brightly like a lamp at night. Jesus points out that John had witnessed to the truth – a clear parallel with the witness of the Father which, Jesus says, is true. Repeatedly in John’s Gospel we note the emphasis on truth, a necessary corrective in those days and again also in our 21st century so-called ‘post-truth society’. In coming to Jesus we begin to find genuine truth, for he is the way, the truth and the life (John 14.6).
c) Jesus’ works (5.36)
Normally Jesus shows some hesitation towards people who believe because of his miraculous signs, but now he declares that his works witness to him that the Father has sent him (5.36). He is not an impostor who has come on his own initiative. Jesus evidently thinks here of his works as a composite whole together, for witnesses/testifies is in the singular while “works” is plural. One miracle after another plus all his other works add to each other to give a true witness. This witness affirms that Jesus was indeed in glory eternally with his Father and has been sent by the Father into this world to bring new life to us.
d) The Scriptures (5.39/40 and 45-47)
Orthodox Jews have always believed strongly in the Scriptures as God’s revealed life-giving Word. As a consequence they “diligently study the Scriptures” – what a wonderful testimony! How one wishes that this were equally true of Christians! The lack of such diligent study leads often to a weaker faith which can easily over-emphasise some aspects of our faith to the neglect of other essentials. As Christians we need to return to a strong practice of regular disciplined Bible study and exposition.
But such study must follow the Scriptures’ witness to Jesus. The Word of God is given to us in order to point us to Jesus. Jesus is the key focus of the Bible. As a consequence of our Bible study we need therefore to ‘come to Jesus to have life’ (5.40).
Although people are rejecting these various witnesses, Jesus states that he will never accuse them before the Father (5.45). Sadly he observes that Moses is the accuser. Jesus’ audience have placed their whole hope on Moses and their study of Torah/the Law of God. Moses’ writings testify to Jesus and point to him. Study of Torah and the Bible should therefore clearly lead to faith in Jesus, but Jesus’ tragic accusation echoes down through history even to our present age – ‘since you do not believe what Moses wrote, how are you going to believe what I say?’ (5.47).
We gain from this passage the clear impression that Jesus never doubts who he truly is, how he was with the Father in glory and was sent into this world by the Father. With the perfect witness of the Father, John the Baptist, the biblical Scriptures and his own works he feels no need of any merely human testimony or support. In contrast we all still need the acceptance and appreciation of those around us. How heart-warming it is when our family show how highly they esteem us! Likewise we feel encouraged when our leaders and others thank us warmly for what we do. But ultimately we too depend on the eternal reality that because of Jesus we are loved, accepted and appreciated by God the Father himself. Like Jesus, we therefore also have no need to strive for the plaudits of other people. We can rest in the assured confidence of God’s love and approval.