It started like a pretty ordinary day for the guy in John 5.
He was sat there by the pool – perhaps under one of the five roofed colonnades mentioned in v21. He was presumably minding his own business. Whatever he was doing, I imagine he expected pretty little.
After all, we were thirty eight years into this illness. And day has carried on after day. He wasn’t expecting much to change.
Then, all of a sudden, a man – Jesus – appears with perhaps the most unexpected question you could imagine: “Do you want to be healed?”
Of course he does! But alas, the only way he knows how is to get into the pool while the water is stirred up, and being paralysed, he is unable to get into the pool before someone else does.
Quite what all that is supposed to mean, we don’t seem to get told. All that is clear is Jesus’ response. “Rise, take up your bed, and walk!” (v8).
And so he did.
A storm in a teacup
Well, if the movement of the pool’s water seemed like an impressive feat, then wait until you see the storm the arose out of the miracle Jesus performed. Because instead of focusing on the incredible kindness Jesus had shown this individual, or the power He exhibited by raising this man, the Jews2 decided to object to the day of the week. Jesus had performed this sign on a Saturday – the holy day, the Sabbath.
Yet Jesus apparently decided to make things worse. No, not ‘worse’. He decided to make things clearer. Because so far they could have simply thought He was a great man – perhaps even the Messiah – doing great works on the Sabbath. And Jesus wanted them to know that He was claiming more than that.
My Father is working until now, and I am working. (v17)
The Jews understood the claim immediately. Jesus was claiming that His authority to heal on the Sabbath came from his equal authority with God. And they were furious.
“I am God…”
Jesus responded to their outrage with an extended explanation. And His answer claimed nothing less than the authority of God.
Not that Jesus is a rival to God. The beginning of His answer seemed determined to show that they have an equality of purpose (v19). But as Jesus denied independence from the Father, He nonetheless demonstrated that He has the same authority – doing everything the Father does (vv19-20).
And notice the particular works that Jesus spoke of:
For as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, so also the Son gives life to whom he will. The Father judges no one, but has given all judgement to the Son (vv21-22)
And again later on:
Truly, truly, I say to you, an hour is coming, and is now here, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live … Do not marvel at this, for 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 judgement. (v25, vv28-29)
Jesus described the works He was doing, and described works of giving life and judgement. The works that He described were divine works – works that only God can do. Indeed, He even went as far as to say the very purpose was for Him to get as much honour as the Father (v23). There really isn’t any question about Jesus’ claim: He claimed to be God.
Words, words, words
It might seem like this is a bit of a puzzling proof. While the Jews were doubting Jesus’ identity, He drew attention to works that He hadn’t yet done (v20): raising to life, and giving judgement.
But, in fact, Jesus had already started to give us a picture of these works. Notice the way that Jesus described His work as speaking3 – that the miracle of life, and of judgement, comes from hearing the voice of Jesus. It’s a theme that will become profoundly significant in John’s account as a whole, and which we’ve already started to consider in John 4. And now, as Jesus described His work as one of raising people to life by His words, we’re reminded of the miracle that we just saw. Jesus spoke to the paralysed man, and he was raised.
Jesus claimed to be God. And he demonstrated it by His exclusive, divine works: works of speaking words that bring life and judgement.
To some of the people reading this, I’m aware that this might not prove to you that Jesus is God. But I hope it’s clear that He was claiming it. In a society that seems to have been misled into thinking He claimed something less, this chapter is the clearest in the whole Bible about His claims about Himself. He claimed to be God. The question we’re left to think about it how He proved it – and for that, the rest of these chapters4 will be very useful.
But for those of us who are in the habit of defending His divinity, I wonder if these verses nonetheless challenge our definition of what it means for Him to be God. We will rightly recognise that His divine nature imposes upon us significant obligations – not least, our worship. We’re right to recognise that He is powerful, gracious and merciful. We’re right to stand in awe of Him. But let us also recognise that He claims authority for giving life and judgement.
That’s not a hard claim for us to assent to, but there are all sorts of ways in which we implicitly deny it. When we doubt that our friends truly need Jesus – when we doubt that they need to hear His words, when we think that they might be saved some other way – we’re denying Jesus something that He said was integral to His identity as God.
And when we deny Jesus His role as judge, when we claim that He is full of love to the exclusion of His love of justice, then we deny Him the authority to execute judgement which Jesus claims is evidence of His divinity.
So when this chapter feels like it’s good news for Jehovah’s witnesses, Muslims and atheists to pay attention to (and it is!) let’s not forget that it’s important for us too.
Jesus claimed to be God.
Jesus claimed to be God. And yet the people who should have accepted that didn’t accept it. In fact, they chose to kill Him (v18). As I’ve mentioned elsewhere, that’s a huge problem. Why didn’t they accept their own God? Well for that, we need to read on.
More on John’s gospel will be published each Wednesday evening, with a bonus blog article thrown in on most weeks at some point before the next Wednesday. Feel free to share posts using the buttons below, and you can subscribe to the blog by using the sign-up form on the right.
- ‘Now there is in Jerusalem by the Sheep Gate a pool, in Aramaic called Bethesda, which has five roofed colonnades.’ Whatever a roofed colonnade is… ↩
- Notice the footnote in the ESV – we’re probably talking about the religious leaders, not just the locals ↩
- v24, v25, v28 ↩
- John 5-10 forms a unit in John’s gospel – so please do read on ↩