NOTE: I haven’t bulleted these points. These are my raw notes for the lesson just FYI. I apologize if they are a little longer than usual for that reason.
5:16-17 And this was why the Jews were persecuting Jesus, because he was doing these things on the Sabbath. But Jesus answered them, “My Father is working until now, and I am working.”
This fifth chapter shows us a little glimpse into the waves Christ was making (or beginning to make) in and amongst the religious establishment. The story highlights one of their biggest frustrations with Jesus – His work of healing on the Sabbath.
Obviously there are no words recorded from the Pharisees that Jesus is “answering” here, but we must suppose that He is replying to their beef that He “worked” on the Sabbath.
Carson notes that four of the leading Rabbis (including Gamaliel II) had concluded that God always works, indeed He never rests from His upholding the universe. “Whether he breaks the Sabbath or not, God works continuously: all were agreed on that point. Assuming it, Jesus applies it to himself.” He goes on to say that Jesus didn’t argue here that the Jews were misinterpreting the nature of the command not to work on the Sabbath, but instead “Jesus insists that whatever factors justify God’s continuous work from creation on also justify his (making himself equal with God).”
This also shows us the second reason why the Pharisees would have hated and persecuted Jesus – namely that He made Himself out to be equal with God.
Calvin expands on this thought and explains how (given that Jesus was equal with God) the Sabbath work would not have constituted work in the way we think of it – or at least how we think we ought to “keep” the Sabbath. He says:
“…keeping of the Sabbath is so far from interrupting or hindering the works of God, that, on the contrary, it gives way to them alone. For why does the Law enjoin men to abstain from their own works, but in order to keep all their senses free and occupied for considering the works of God? Consequently, he who does not, on the Sabbath, allow a free course and reign to the works of God, is not only a false expounder of the Law, but wickedly overturns it.
“If it be objected, that the example of God is held out to men, that they may rest on the seventh day, the answer is easy. Men are not conformed to God in this respect, that He ceased to work, but by abstaining from the troublesome actions of this world and aspiring to the heavenly rest. The Sabbath or rest of God, 101 therefore, is not idleness, but true perfection, which brings along with it a calm state of peace. Nor is this inconsistent with what Moses says, that God put an end to his works, (Genesis 2:2;) for he means that, after having completed the formation of the world, God consecrated that day, that men might employ it in meditating on his works. Yet He did not cease to sustain by this power the world which he had made, to govern it by his wisdom, to support it by his goodness, and to regulate all things according to his pleasure, both in heaven and on earth. In six days, therefore, the creation of the world was completed, but the administration of it is still continued, and God incessantly worketh in maintaining and preserving the order of it; as Paul informs us, that in him we live, and move, and are, (Acts 17:28;) and David informs us, that all things stand so long as the Spirit of God upholds them, and that they fail as soon as he withdraws his support, (Psalm 104:29.) Nor is it only by a general Providence that the Lord maintains the world which He has created, but He arranges and regulates every part of it, and more especially, by his protection, he keeps and guards believers whom he has received under his care and guardianship.”
The Jews definitely would have been aware of what Jesus was saying. They would have understood Him to have been claiming that God was His Father. Kostenberger says that this probably (incorrectly) violated their sense of strict monotheism because they probably thought of what Jesus was saying here at to some kind of dualism – like both the father and son were gods, and not simply once essence.
5:18 This 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.
This claim of deity enraged the Pharisees, and their reaction was fierce. They wanted to put Jesus to death.
I heard a theologian/pastor (I think on the Case for Faith) once say that he was listening to a friend talk about why Jesus could possibly have had such a short ministry. The reaction of this theologian was surprise, and he said, in affect, “I can’t believe He lasted 3 years!” And this is because Jesus was claiming something that no other man had claimed among the Jews prior to Him. Was He mad? Was He out of His mind? What do you say? If He was, then there’s no use studying the words of a madman.
5:19 So Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, 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.
This tells us something of the mystery of how the Trinity works. We can hardly grasp what it means. We try to scratch the surface and come up woefully short. But we know that Christ isn’t saying that He is merely a robot just doing whatever the Father says. As Boice says, “…the mind of the Father and the mind of the Son are united. We must not think that when Jesus claimed to be able to do nothing, except what He saw the Father doing, He was saying He was something like a Robot, a zombi, who carried out the directives of the Father without thinking. This is not at all what He was saying. Christ is a person. He has a personality, including an intellect and feelings. He faced temptations, real temptations. There were discouragements. Nevertheless, in nothing did He ever disobey His Father. He obeyed Him, and obeyed Him willingly.”
So the Lord Jesus Christ had the same mind as the Father, they were united in their thinking. But He was also fully human, and He bent His human will to match His divine will. There was no sin in Him – He obeyed flawlessly and He calls us to obedience as well. Boice continues, “This is what He wants you to do, in one sense, or rather what He enables you to do when He saves you. The trouble with us is that we are the opposite of Jesus Christ at this point. We are not interested in obeying God. We are interested in doing our own thing. We want to run our own lives. We want to be “god” to ourselves. Jesus was not like that, for everything He did He did out of love for God and out of obedience to Him.”
It is hard to add much to that! But I know that this verse holds a great depth that cannot be plumed by the human mind. How shall we ever know the mystery of the Trinity? It is a wondrous thing to ponder that mind and work and love of Christ.
5:20 For the Father loves the Son and shows him all that he himself is doing. And greater works than these will he show him, so that you may marvel.
Marveling has to do with worship. When we marvel, we are basically giving glory or a sort to the man who did the great deed. Such is the result of miracles in the ministry of Christ. But the greatest miracle of all is that which Christ describes in the next few verses – He gives us life out of death. No man can do this. Only God the creator of the universe can do it. So this verse is a setup for verse 21.
5:21 For as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, so also the Son gives life to whom he will.
In the first part of this verse we learn that Jesus has life giving power in Him – no other creature has this. That’s why we say He was “begotten” because He wasn’t created. A critical part of Christology is understanding the significance of His equality with God the Father, as well as the way in which He came into the world – He was begotten by the Holy Spirit.
I was talking with Kate last night, and one of the things that hit me in our conversation was how men of religion often leave out the work of the Spirit in the course of things. They see a man who was a rebel or a vile sinner and then they a change when he becomes a Christian. We ask: what can account for the change? We should ask: WHO can account for the change. That “who” is the Holy Spirit, and that same life giving power we find in the Spirit who quickens men was also found in Jesus Christ when He walked upon the earth.
In the second part of the verse we read that the Son gives life to “whom he will.” The verse necessitates two things. 1. That He gives life to certain people and not others. 2. He discriminates based on His will. This means that he necessarily doesn’t give life to some and does give life to others. It also means that those who get life get it because He willed that you get it. This presents us with a problem for some in the church because it seems to indicate that He chooses – and their argument is normally that “God doesn’t choose arbitrarily who will get life and who won’t.” But that’s not what this verse seems to indicate is it. There’s nothing arbitrary about it – the choice is based on His “will.” His will is whatever pleases Him.
As Ryle says, “life is the highest and greatest gift that can be bestowed. It is precisely the thing that man, with all his cleverness, can neither give to the work of his hands, nor restore when taken away. But life, we are told, is in the lands of the Lord Jesus, to bestow and give at His discretion.”
5:22 The Father judges no one, but has given all judgment to the Son,
Ryle says, “All power and authority over the world is committed to Christ’s hands. He is the King and Judge of mankind. Before Him every knee shall bow, and every tongue confess that He is Lord. He that was once despised and rejected of men, condemned and crucified as a malefactor, shall one day hold a great assize, and judge the world (Rom. 2:16).”
We often think of Christ as the great lover of our souls – and so He is. But what we often forget is how all things are committed into His hands. In the glory of our personal relationship with Him, let us not forget with whom we are conversing: the Lord of all mankind, of all creation, the creator of all and the judge of all.
5:23 that all may honor the Son, just as they honor the Father. Whoever does not honor the Son does not honor the Father who sent him.
In this verse Jesus says that He is not only equal if character and power with the Father, but He is equally worthy of praise and worship. Not only because of what He has done for us (for that comes in the next verse) but because He is the divine Being. He is God. He has all authority.