I’ve got a friend who has an extraordinary memory and finds himself in the weirdest situations, which makes it hard to ignore wild claims he makes. But nine times out of ten, when his comments come without any further corroboration, it may be worth taking them with a pinch of salt.
A decent body of evidence
That was the attitude which the ancient world adopted. Several witnesses were called upon to corroborate a claim – at least 2 witnesses needed to confirm an allegation. And it’s that kind of context that Jesus was speaking into at the end of John 5.
Jesus had just made an extraordinary claim. If it was untrue, it was about as horrendous a claim as He could have made: His claim to be God.
Such a claim wouldn’t have been well received at the best of times – especially if it comes unsubstantiated. Indeed, that’s exactly what Jesus acknowledged:
If I alone bear witness about myself, my testimony is not true. There is another who bears witness about me, and I know that the testimony that he bears about me is true.
Knowing the need for verification, Jesus called on witnesses to back up his own testimony. The first was John the Baptist.
You sent to John, and he has borne witness to the truth (v33)
We’ve met John the Baptist a few times in the book already1, and here he was raised as an example of someone with faithful testimony about Jesus – someone who (as we have seen) backed up Jesus’ testimony.
Nonetheless, John the Baptist wasn’t the key witness (v34).
But 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. And the Father who sent me has himself borne witness about me. (vv36-37a)
Jesus called on the greatest witness of all: God the Father. Jesus didn’t just make the divine claim; He said that the One person capable of providing authoritative back-up does exactly that. God the Father Himself backs up Jesus’ claims. Most explicitly, He did so by giving Jesus the divine works that He had been carrying out – the very works we saw earlier in the chapter.
Giving themselves away
But the Father’s witness also comes in the form of His words, the Scriptures, which the audience knew all too well. The Old Testament was the part of the Bible which the Jews listening to this conversation would have known inside-out. And yet Jesus had another devastating blow to cast against them.
His voice you have never heard, his form you have never seen, and you do not have his word abiding in you for you do not believe the one whom he has sent. You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me. (vv37b-39)
Jesus’ penetrating diagnosis was made emphatically in these verses. The rejection Jesus received was not for lack of evidence, but in spite of the evidence; not because the Jews knew the Scriptures but because they didn’t listen to them. It wasn’t because of earnest spirituality (v42); they didn’t even believe the Scriptures they claimed to rest on (vv46-47). Rather, they were seeking approval from each other instead of from God (v44).
Clarity amidst the fog
And so suddenly we’re starting to see the answer to our important question. Why did the Bible-experts of Jesus’ day – those who knew the Scriptures and saw the miracles – choose to reject their King? Should their rejection cause us to doubt His claims?
No. Jesus’ claim was unequivocally a claim to be God. He proved it, He backed it up … and there’s more to come later in these chapters. And though it happened 2000 years ago, His challenge continues to ring through to today. How will you respond to Jesus’ claims?
In the face of doubters, there’s much reason to be reticent. There’s an inevitable uncertainty that comes from running against the grain. But Jesus joins the chorus of history in identifying Himself as God. Most significant of all, He stands in front of His Father whose affirming testimony sanctions everything Jesus claims. In the end, scepticism about Jesus’ identity reveals much more about the sceptic than it does about Jesus.
If you believe in Him, you’re in the right place. And if you don’t, the encouragement is to engage the evidence. So often Christians are accused of taking a blind leap in the dark. Actually, the invitation isn’t to shutdown your brain but switch it on. Jesus claims that His words stand up to scrutiny – and He invites you to see for yourself. Dare you keep reading?
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.