Posts Tagged ‘Jesus’ opponents’

We are jumping right back into the middle of a really intense encounter between Jesus and his opponents. As we saw last week it is actually a trial scene, at least an informal one.

In the Jewish legal system anyone can bring charges and they have accused Jesus of two things: 1) breaking the law by healing on the Sabbath and 2) making himself equal to God, which is blasphemy, and carries with it the death penalty. Jesus defends himself by claiming to be God’s unique agent who only does what his Father, who sent him, told him to do. (For more see – Why Jesus can heal on the Sabbath). 

Well, Jewish trials were based on testimonies, not investigative or detective work. And the one who had the most impressive or honorable witnesses usually won. And so in our passage today Jesus seeks to lay out the positive case for who he is through the use of testimonies.

Testimonies to Jesus

31If I alone bear witness about myself, my testimony is not deemed true. 32There is another who bears witness about me, and I know that the testimony that he bears about me is true.”

Jesus’ testimony refers to what he has just said about himself in vs. 19-30 regarding who he is and his relationship with the Father. He understands that they don’t accept his words as valid testimony (although they should since he is not an ordinary person 8:13-18).

But the Father bears witness to him. This is what Jesus means when he says “there is another who bears witness about me.” (The present tense here excludes this from referring to John’s witness which is all in the past tense below)

And he presents this as coming through three different avenues, in accordance with the Mosaic Law that says, “A matter must be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses” – Deuteronomy 19:15 (NIV).

1) The testimony of John the Baptist. 33You sent to John, and he has borne witness to the truth. 34Not that the testimony that I receive is from man, but I say these things so that you may be saved. 35He was a burning and shining lamp, and you were willing to rejoice for a while in his light.”

Jesus appeals to John for two reasons: 1) God sent John and spoke through him (1:6). And 2) they themselves went to hear John’s testimony, giving credit to it. They had some openness to John for a time, so Jesus is saying, “remember his testimony to me.”

John told them that the Messiah was in their midst. And he testified to Jesus’ exalted status. He called Jesus the “Son of God” (1:34). And he said, “after me comes a man who ranks before me, because he was before me” (1:30). Even though John was older than Jesus, the Son of God existed before John.

Jesus himself doesn’t need John’s witness because he knows who he is apart from this. But he hopes they will listen to him.

(That this is all in the past tense seems to indicate that John is either in prison or more likely already dead.)

2) The testimony of Jesus’ works. 36But the testimony that I have is greater than that of John. For the works that the Father has given me to accomplish, the very works that I am doing, bear witness about me that the Father has sent me.”

Works here refer to the miracles and healings that he is doing in their midst, and has just done in healing the man who couldn’t walk for 38 years. (Jesus’ “works” can be more broadly construed, as in 5:20 where it has to do with Jesus’ role on the final day in giving life and judging. But here seems to be focused on his signs, as in 9:3) (See 10:37-38; 14:11 for the witness function of his signs)

As the man born blind, but later healed by Jesus says in 9:32-34, “Never since the world began has it been heard that anyone opened the eyes of a man born blind. If this man were not from God, he could do nothing.” And as Jesus himself says in 15:24 he does “works that no one else did.” These testify to who Jesus is. 

3) The witness of the Father’s word. 37And the Father who sent me has himself borne witness about me.”

This refers to the witness of the Scriptures as we will see in a minute (below v. 39, 46-47). (This is not a new witness of the Father, but it is a testimony that he “has” borne to Jesus.) 

But first let’s note that all three of these testimonies establish that the Father sent Jesus – vs. 36, 37, 38; they establish Jesus’ point about who he is; he is God’s authorized agent.

Next Jesus says more about this last witness of Scripture, but he does so in the context of making –

Countercharges against his opponents

In a Jewish legal context, unlike our own, the one who began as a defendant can become a prosecutor of his accusers and successfully bring charges against them. And this is what Jesus does in this section; he turns the tables on his opponents.

Talking about Scripture he says, “His voice you have never heard, his form you have never seen, 38and you do not have his word abiding in you, for you do not believe the one whom he has sent.”

When he speaks of God’s voice and form he is talking about the giving of the Law or Scripture at Mt. Sinai. When God gave the Law the children of Israel heard God’s voice as a trumpet sound, and they saw him as a thick cloud with smoke and fire – Exodus 19:9-11; 16-20 (They didn’t see God’s form per se – Deuteronomy 4:12, but a visible manifestation in fire – 4:36; or his glory –  5:24).

But his opponents have neither heard nor seen God. They haven’t truly received God’s word.It is not abiding in them.

And he knows this by their outward actions – they do not receive “the one whom he has sent;” God’s Word in human form (1:1; 14).

39You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me, 40yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life.” “Search” refers to diligent Scripture study, in this case of the Hebrew Bible or the Old Testament. And there is no doubt that his opponents studied the Scriptures carefully.

But they have missed the central point of Scripture. They have a wrong focus and so they have missed the witness of the Scriptures to Jesus, which is the central point.

Here’s an example of this witness, from just before in John 5:27,  Jesus identifies himself as the Son of man spoken of in Daniel 7:13-14 who receives dominion and glory on the final day.

Although they hope that by studying the Scriptures they will  have life, they will not, since they have missed the point; they have missed Jesus who is the one who gives life.

And then we come to their core problem. “41I do not receive glory from people. 42But I know that you do not have the love of God within you. 43I have come in my Father’s name, and you do not receive me. If another comes in his own name, you will receive him. 44How can you believe, when you receive glory from one another and do not seek the glory that comes from the only God?”

In contrast to Jesus, who doesn’t care at all about human praise but only seeks after God and loves God, they do not love God, but do care about human praise.

As was the custom in that day there was great regard for teachers – with various honors, rank and titles given to them. Jesus is saying that they are more than happy to accept these fellow teachers who come in their own name and they will exchange praise with one another. But when God’s unique agent comes, in the Father’s name, they reject him. Why? Because their desire is for human glory and not the glory of the one God. Their pride keeps them from listening to Jesus as he challenges them and corrects their understanding of Scripture. (See Matthew 23 for a similar critique.)

(The phrase in v. 44, “the only God” is a statement of the Shema that there is only one God – Deuteronomy 6:4. So whatever we say about the relationship of the Father and the Son, there is still only one God)

Then the focus comes back to Scripture. 45Do not think that I will accuse you to the Father. There is one who accuses you: Moses, on whom you have set your hope. 46If you believed Moses, you would believe me; for he wrote of me. 47But if you do not believe his writings, how will you believe my words?”

They have missed the witness of Moses to Jesus. A specific example of this comes from Deuteronomy 18:15-18. Here the Lord says to Moses, “I will raise up for them a prophet like you . . . and I will put my words in his mouth and he shall speak to them all that I command him. And whoever does not listen to my words that he shall speak in my name, I myself will require it of him.” God spoke through Moses of sending an agent like Moses, who would speak God’s words and the fate of all would rest on their listening to him.

Although they hope that Moses will defend them on the final day (his role as the intercessor for Israel in Scripture was thought to continue), he will actually accuse them. For he himself wrote of Jesus. But they have not truly believed Moses, which leads them to reject Jesus.

(Notice the correspondence between the Father’s “word” 5:38 and “my words” in 5:47 [an inclusion] as well as how the subtext of Deuteronomy 18:18-19 uses the phrase “my words” for God’s words. Also notice the agency language of this subtext,  including coming “in my name.”)

 A summary of Jesus’ charges:

1. They have not truly received or believed God’s word in Scripture  and Moses.

2. They have missed the point of Scripture and Moses, which is Jesus.

3. Their hearts are focused on seeking after human glory, so they receive those who come in their own name.

4. And this pride leads them to reject God’s promised agent, Jesus, who comes in the Father’s name. They think they know the Scriptures and won’t listen to him.

And in rejecting Jesus they show that they have (or already had) rejected God. Because to reject an agent is to reject the one who sent him.

Some challenges for us

Do you accept who Jesus claims to be? As we saw last week, he is God’s agent. He only does and says what the Father tells him to do and say. He is the one who fully and truly reveals God (1:18). And he is testified to by John the Baptist; the works of Jesus recorded for us; and the word of the Father in the Scriptures.

Do you accept him for who he is? And if so, do you live your life like this is true, according to his words and example? This is the true test of what you believe about Jesus.

Don’t miss the point of Scripture. You can know everything there is to know of the details of Scripture – it background, various theories of composition, what this or that scholar says about any topic – but still miss the point and find no life.

Jesus is the point of Scripture. The Old Testament points to him, which is what Jesus is talking about, and now the New Testament presents him and points back to him. And it is when we see and know Jesus in the Scriptures that we find the life that the Scriptures can give.

Beware of teachers who seek human glory. Those who are seeking human praise are too proud to truly hear and receive from God. They are busy hearing and receiving praise from others.

Whether it is in popular Christian culture with teachers exalting themselves in various ways, or in Academia with its culture of giving and exchanging glory with one another with various ranks and titles – these are not the teachers to listen to. Look for teachers who love God and seeks after the glory that comes from God alone.  They are the humble ones that labor seeking no recognition. These are the ones who receive from God and can teach you the word.

Let’s learn from Jesus’ love for his enemies. They are actively seeking to kill him, making capital charges against him. But he shows his love for them. He certainly speaks the truth to them, calling out their sin. But he does this out of love. In 5:34 he says, “but I say these things so that you may be saved.” Wow! They are trying to kill him and he is trying to bless them with salvation.

May we also love our enemies, even when they make wrongful charges against us and seek to harm us.

William Higgins


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