Posts Tagged ‘Trial of Jesus’

Last week we covered the healing of the man who couldn’t walk. In an amazing display of power, Jesus healed him. But he did so on the Sabbath. And when the authorities found the man who had been healed, he turned Jesus in. This story sets up what we are looking at today, which begins with –

An overview of the prosecution and Jesus’ defense – 5:16-18

16And this was why the Jews were persecuting Jesus, because he was doing these things on the Sabbath.”

The Jews here interpret Jesus’ healing as work and therefore forbidden on the Sabbath. To save a life was allowed, but if the healing could wait until after the Sabbath, it should wait (see Luke 13:14)

The phrase “doing these things” indicates that Jesus has healed on the Sabbath more than once, although John hasn’t narrated this.

Persecuting can also be translated “prosecuting.” And indeed, this is a trial scene. An informal one, but still the beginnings of Jesus’ later, formal trial.

In a Jewish setting anyone could act as a prosecutor. If the Law was being violated you bring charges against the person by confronting them. This is what is going on here. The case would be decided by witnesses both for or against the defendant – eventually before a judge. (Ben Witherington)

17But Jesus answered them, ‘My Father is working until now, and I am working.’”

“Answered,” both here and in v. 19 can have legal overtones (it is in the middle voice). Jesus is giving a defense to charges made against him. Jesus appeals to common agreement among Jews that God works on the Sabbath. He rested after creation, but continues to sustain the creation. Among other things, since people are born on the Sabbath and only God can give life, God gives life on the Sabbath. And also since people die on the Sabbath and only God attends to their fate, God exercises judgment on the Sabbath.(Raymond Brown)

In this case Jesus has given life on the Sabbath. But he is applying a justification for divine work, to himself. “My Father is working until now, and I am working.” This raises deeper issues about his relationship to God.

18This was why the Jews were seeking all the more to kill him, because not only was he breaking the Sabbath, but he was even calling God his own Father, making himself equal with God.”

So now there are two charges against Jesus . According to them 1) he is breaking the Sabbath, and 2) he is making himself equal to God, grasping after God’s role and glory – which is blasphemy (10:33). [Again, in terms of the first charge, Jesus often contradicted the traditions of the Elders (Mark 7) but he does not break the Sabbath. He is not a Mosaic law breaker or sinner (8:46); he does not annul the Law (10:35)].

The latter charge they see as confirmed in that he calls God “his own Father.” He is claiming a unique relationship with God, which is, in their view, inappropriate.

Jesus’ detailed defense – 5:19-30

This is an amazing speech by Jesus. From the handout you can see its parallelism and symmetry. But also there is an intricate intertwining of themes, as well as an astonishing concision – saying so, so much, in so few words. We will go through by theme, not verse by verse. Let’s begin with the second charge having to do with Jesus’ relationship with the Father because this one explains the first, his work on the Sabbath.

One way to say it, is that Jesus is God’s unique agent. An agent is an authorized representative who speaks for and carries out the sender’s will. In Jewish thought “a person’s agent is as himself.” (See m. Ber. 5.5). So he is to be accorded the honor that is due to the sender. To accept an agent is to accept the sender and to reject the agent is to reject the sender. Often the eldest son would act as a father’s agent, for instance in various business transactions.

That Jesus is God’s agent shows up in a number of ways here: In the Father, Son language in this passage; in that Jesus is sent by the Father (v. 23; 24; v. 30); in the note that those who reject the Son reject the Father (v. 23); and in the phrase the Son of Man (v. 27) who is God’s agent of judgment and rule on the final day in Daniel 7:13-14.

And it is clear in that the Father gives or delegates to the Son his own powers or tasks. And these are the very ones talked about above, that God does on the Sabbath:

  • The Son gives life. v. 26 – “For as the Father has life in himself, so he has granted the Son also to have life in himself.” And as v. 21 says, “the Son gives life to whom he will.”
  • The Son exercises judgment. v. 26 – “and he (the Father) has given him (the Son) authority to execute judgment.”

And both of these powers are exercised now and on the final day. In terms of now Jesus says in v. 24 “Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life. He does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life.” This is referring to receiving eternal life and salvation now by faith. [Jesus judges now (and on the Sabbath) in that when people reject him they are judged – John 3:18-21.]

In terms of the future Jesus says in vs. 28-29 – “ . . . an hour is coming when all who are in the tombs will hear his voice and come out, those who have done good to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil to the resurrection of judgment.” This is talking about the final day.

(This picture of an apparently simultaneous resurrection of the good and evil is in accord with Daniel 12:2.) (Also v. 25 should be taken as a reference to the final day. This has to do with all the dead coming alive, not some who hear and believe. The phrase “is now here” refers to his soon coming death and resurrection which is the beginning of the final day. So it is brought near.) 

And Jesus testifies that he is a good and faithful agent, or Son of his Father.

– With regard to healing or giving life he says in v. 19 – “. . . the Son can do nothing of his own accord, but only what he sees the Father doing. For whatever the Father does, that the Son does likewise.”

– And with regard to judging he says in v. 30 – “I can do nothing on my own. As I hear, I judge, and my judgment is just, because I seek not my own will but the will of him who sent me.”

In v. 20 Jesus says, “the Father loves the Son and shows him all that he himself is doing.” This is a continuous revelation of the Father’s will to him, so there is no danger that he is out of touch with God. He is the ultimate agent and Son, fully obedient to the mission he has been sent to fulfill.

So Jesus doesn’t make himself God. He is not exalting himself or grasping after a status. He is rather completely subordinate to the Father only doing what he says, and receiving what the Father gives him in terms of giving life and judging. But precisely by being subordinate, he becomes equal to God by being and doing what only God is and does. Because it is the Father’s will to make him equal.

In answer to the charge: He does not make himself anything. It is the Father who makes him equal. The Son subordinates himself to the Father, but the Father lifts the Son up. So, if you think about it, Jesus is both subordinate to the Father and equal with the Father at the same time, the first by his own doing, the second by the Father’s doing.

Jesus doesn’t dishonor God in is claims about his relationship with the Father. Rather they dishonor God in rejecting him. As he says in v. 23 – “Whoever does not honor the Son does not honor the Father who sent him.” They are rejecting God’s authorized agent, which is a rejection of him.

[Also in v. 23 we learn that the Father’s purpose is “that all may honor the Son, just as they honor the Father.” Notice the “just as.” We are to honor and worship the Son just as we honor and worship the Father. This is part of how the Father raises up and exalts the Son as his equal.]

Then we come to the first charge and Jesus’ healing on the Sabbath. In John 7:21-23 Jesus refers back to this same miracle and defends it by saying that making a person whole on the Sabbath is lawful. (It is in keeping with the allowance of circumcision on the Sabbath. If you can make one member of the body whole on the Sabbath, why not the whole person?)

But here his defense is clearly focused on his identity; who he is. Jesus is God’s authorized agent; He is God’s Son. And so just as God gives life on the Sabbath, Jesus also gives life on the Sabbath.

As v. 19 says, speaking of the healing, “The Son can nothing of his own accord, but only what he sees the Father doing. For whatever the Father does, that the Son does likewise.” In other words, it was the Father’s will to heal this man and so Jesus, as God’s agent, healed him.

And as he says in v. 20 they will marvel at greater works than a healing on the Sabbath. He says in v. 28 “do not marvel at this,” marvel that the Son will one day raise the dead. Yes, as God’s agent he told one man to rise up and walk, but on the final day, as God’s agent, he will raise all the dead.

To those who can accept and believe that Jesus is God’s agent, then all this makes perfect sense. For the Jewish leaders who did not accept this, Jesus comes across as a lawbreaker and a blasphemer. As we will see next time, Jesus puts forward his positive case in vs. 31-47, as well as bringing counter charges against his opponents.

Let’s end today with – 

Some challenges for us

1. Do you accept that Jesus is God’s agent? Almost everybody likes Jesus.. But they usually pick and choose what they like and then fill the rest in with what they think is right. A little of Jesus and then a little (or a lot) of what I think is right.

But Jesus is claiming here to be the authorized representative of God. What he says is what the Father says. What he does is what the Father does. There is no separation between Jesus and the Father. As John 1:18 says, “No one has ever seen God; It is God the beloved (the Son) who is at the Father’s side, who has made him known.”

Do you accept Jesus’ claim to fully and perfectly make know the Father? And then do you live your life  by his words and example?

2. Have you received the life that Jesus gives? Jesus said in v. 24,  “whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life. He does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life.” You can receive, right now, the life that Jesus gives. It is not something that comes later. Jesus gives eternal life now by faith. Do you believe? Will you receive the gift that the Father gives through his Son?

3. Are you ready for the final day? As Jesus said, the day is coming “when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live” (v. 25). Indeed “all who are in the tombs will hear his voice and come out, those who have done good to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil to the resurrection of judgment” (vs. 28-29).

We will be judged by our deed. This is the consistent teaching of Scripture. That’s because our deeds truly reveal what is in our hearts, whether we have faith in God and have been transformed by his gift of grace and life. Will you be raised to the resurrection of life?

William Higgins

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