After performing the miracle of the healing of the lame man, Jesus made the unmistakable claim that He is equal with the Father (5:17-23). He followed up that claim up by revealing the authoritative voice He has in raising up the dead (5:24-29). As He ends this discourse with the Jewish leaders, Jesus provides a number of witnesses that testify to the validity of His claims. A witness is one who is able to provide testimony or evidence concerning the matter of interest. Witnesses are important for us today if we want to verify or establish the truth in a particular matter. When there is only one witness the situation can become one person’s word against an others. So in this passage we see Jesus making use of the Old Testament practice of establishing truth on the account of two or three witnesses (Num. 35:30; Deut. 17:6; 19:15). This practice was also strongly a part of Jewish tradition. In verses 30-32, Jesus makes the point that He and the Father are in perfect harmony and do not operate independently of one another. Certainly, Jesus’ own personal claims made in the preceding verses are sufficient (cf. John 8:14, 17-18). The fact that He provides additional witnesses to His claims is for the sake of His listeners. Note that His primary witness is the Father (5:32, 37, cf. 1 John 5:9). The Father provides testimony by means of three witnesses. The witnesses specified in this passage bear testimony of the Lord Jesus Christ’s true identity and therefore expose the guilt of those who reject Him. This is no ordinary line up of witnesses – these are authoritative witnesses.
Sermon Summary: In this message we will consider three witnesses that testify to the fact that Jesus is God
WITNESS 1: JOHN THE BAPTIST (5:33-35) The first witness Jesus provides is John the Baptist. Jesus reminds the religious leaders that when they interrogated John concerning his identity (cf. 1:19-28), he bore “witness to the truth” (5:33). John the Baptist did not have an identity problem. He knew who he was and who Jesus was. On another occasion, John the Baptist reminded his disciples, “You yourselves bear me witness, that I said, ‘I am not the Christ, but I have been sent before him’” (3:28). John the Baptist was clear on the fact that he was not the Messiah. He rightly understood that he was “the voice of one crying in the wilderness” (1:23). The testimony of John the Baptist is not necessary in-order to prove Jesus’ claim concerning His true identity. This witness was provided for the benefit of His listeners. If they listen to and believe the message of John the Baptist they will be saved. This first witness certainly testifies to who Jesus is, but it also provides an opportunity for those listening to repent, believe and be saved (5:34). Jesus reminds these leaders concerning John the Baptist, “He was a burning and shining lamp, and you were willing to rejoice for a while in his light” (5:35). At the time in which Jesus spoke these words, it is likely that John the Baptist was either in prison or dead (as indicated by the past tense “was”). His point is that his listeners were only attracted to John the Baptist during his popularity, but their fascination was short lived because they rejected the message. WITNESS 2: THE MIRACALES (5:36) The second witness that testifies to the fact that Jesus is God is His miracles. He says, “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” (5:36). The “works” that Jesus mentions here are His miracles. The miracles performed by Jesus were acts that were designed to authenticate His claims. They were not performed so as to bring attention to the miracle itself; rather they proved that Jesus is the Son of God by confirming His claims to be true. Though He performed many miracles, John records seven in this gospel account. In his purpose statement at the end of the book John writes, “Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name” (John 20:30-31). The “works” performed by Jesus functioned as a witness crying out with the testimony, “Jesus is God”. Later on in the gospel, the Jewish leaders ask Jesus to speak plainly concerning His identity, among many things this is what He said, “If I am not doing the works of my Father, then do not believe me; but if I do them, even though you do not believe me, believe the works, that you may know and understand that the Father is in me and I am in the Father” (10:37-38) Despite the clear testimony of the miracles, they rejected Him. Note, their rejection wasn’t over the reality of the miracles; it was a rejection Jesus Himself. WITNESS 3: THE SCRIPTURES (5:37-40) The third witness that testifies to the fact that Jesus is God is the Father through the Scriptures. This is the most important and authoritative witness. Jesus said,
“And the Father who sent me has himself borne witness about me. 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” (5:37-38).
Remember that Jesus is talking to the religious leaders. They studied the Scriptures and were highly esteemed by many. Yet Jesus says, “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” (5:37b-38). The focus here is not on hearing the audible voice of God, but rather on not hearing Him in the communication of Scripture. They had the truth, but did not know the truth. Imagine you are invited to attend a very special event. You get the address; you look it up in your map, spend hours carefully studying all the fine details in the map and off you go. However, after all that effort in studying the map and the time spent travelling, you are told that you are going to the wrong destination. Why? Despite your diligent study, you missed the most important thing, the correct route! This sounds bizarre right? Sadly, this is an illustration of the way many people study their Bibles. Sure, they read it, know many facts, and have a head full of knowledge. However, they have missed the main thing. John 5:39-40 contains a sad tragedy. Jesus was speaking to a group of religious leaders who spent hours upon hours studying the Scriptures, yet it had been a complete waste of time. In what way was it a waste of time? Through their study of the Scriptures they obtained many facts and even thought that they had eternal life. Then suddenly Jesus says to them, “You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me, yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life” (John 5:39-40). What was their problem? They were heading to the wrong destination because they were on the wrong route. They studied line upon line, precept upon precept and failed to see that the Scriptures point to Christ. Concerning our Lord’s words in this text JC Ryle comments,
“His words show the important truth which too many are apt to overlook, that every part of our Bibles is meant to teach us about Christ. Christ is not merely in the Gospels and Epistles. Christ is to be found directly and indirectly in the Law, the Psalms, and the Prophets. In the promises to Adam, Abraham, Moses, and David,—in the types and emblems of the ceremonial law,—in the predictions of Isaiah and the other prophets,—Jesus, the Messiah, is everywhere to be found in the Old Testament” (JC Ryle, Expository Thoughts on the Gospels – John).
This teaches us an important lesson. Having lots of knowledge about the Bible has no eternal benefit. Now, don’t think that being lazy concerning the study of Scripture is any better! The point I’m raising is that if you are going to read the Scriptures, read with the view of seeing Christ. The Scriptures point to Christ (Luke 24:27, 45), and in Him alone is the only way in which we will receive eternal life (John 14:6). CONCLUSION Jesus has provided an amazing line up of witnesses that testify to the fact that He is God. However, despite this clear testimony the religious leaders rejected Him (5:40). With all this evidence, why did they reject Him and what will be the outcome? Why is it that people today are rejecting Christ? The Cause of their Rejection: Conceit (5:41-44) The reason why these Jewish leaders rejected the solid testimonies concerning the identity of Jesus was their pride. This is also the same reason why people reject Christ today. The Jewish leaders were conceited which is demonstrated by the fact that they chased after popularity and things that feed their own egos. These were the guys that popularized selfies in the first century. They were interested in things that made them look good. Paul warns us that this will be a characteristic of the last days (2 Tim. 3:2). The Consequences of their Rejection: Condemnation (5:45-47) The outcome of their rejection is condemnation. These religious leaders read and studied the books of Moses (Genesis-Deuteronomy). So much so that they admired Moses and even set their hope on him. However, they failed to see that the one they admired was actually writing about Christ. In the last Day of Judgment, what they thought was their ally will be their accuser. Jesus is God. This is proven by His own claims and by the testimony of three powerful witnesses. If you are not submitting yourself to His Lordship, it is not due to a lack of evidence. The issue is with your rebellion.