40: The Three Witnesses (John 5:30-47)
40: The Three Witnesses
Jesus has just made some incredible claims about Himself and He knows what would normally come next. The religious leaders would be asking by what authority he is saying these things. So, without waiting for the question, He points his listeners to three witnesses who verify the truth of what Jesus is saying and Who He is. Jesus knows, however, who He is talking to.
“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. So Jesus said to them” (John 5:18-19)
He is speaking to those who have already set their hearts on killing Him. So He speaks to them, not so much to try and convince them of who He is, but to make it clear to them who they are resisting when they resist Jesus. They are not going to listen and Jesus knows that, He says as much in this passage, in fact this is simply going to increase their murderous anger. But there are others listening on the sidelines, there will be many many more who will be “listening” by reading this gospel and Jesus is speaking to them and us too. The claims He makes are astounding. No person, in their right mind would believe Him. Unless they listen to the witnesses. Then maybe they will begin to open their hearts to receive and believe Jesus for who He really is.
This is an interesting approach to reaching people. Full disclosure. Jesus doesn’t try and gently lead people step by step into a gradual revelation of who He is, starting with the easier more palatable truths and then slowly moving onto truths that are more difficult to understand. Maybe He should leave some of the most difficult truths until after people have already made a commitment to love and serve Him?
Jesus, however, is not working off some pre-decided script. He is just saying what His Father tells Him to say and His Father is telling Him to tell the people the way it is, even though they are already dead set against Him and this will only make them more angry.
His disciples are some of the listeners. They will have to stand before King’s and judges and murderous mobs one day. They could be tempted to water down the message to make it more palatable to their listeners. Jesus, though, is showing them how it is done. Simply say what the Father says to say. It doesn’t need to be said angrily or with religious force, but when the Father says “full disclosure” then that is what you do, regardless of the outcome.
Let’s see what the Father tells Jesus to say by working through the passage step by step.
“I can do nothing on my own.” (John 5:30a)
There it is again, Jesus clarifying that the amazing claims He is making about Himself are not for the benefit of His own ego, He knows that even He is powerless by Himself. That is actually an astonishing thing for the “Logos”, by whom all things were created, to say. If Jesus can do “nothing” on His own, why do I think I can? I am plainly the one with the ego problem, not Jesus.
“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.” (John 5:30b)
If Jesus is just speaking what He is being told and judging on the basis of what He is hearing from His Father in heaven, then again there is no personal ambition or agenda that clouds His judgments, they are pure and altogether truthful. He has nothing personal to gain or lose in the judgments that He is making or the words that He is saying.
There is a very helpful key to sound judgment here for all of us who want to grow in wisdom and the capacity to bring life giving words to people. Jesus didn’t judge by what He saw, or what he thought through in His own mind. He judged by what He heard. What senses do we use in judgment? Sight, sometimes smell? Jesus only used His ears. “Father, what do you think about this?” That was His ongoing method of forming judgments about people or situations.
Then Jesus introduces His listeners to the three witnesses, who these people already profess to know and esteem. He starts by referring to the latest witness, whose words will still be freshly resonating in the hearts and minds of the crowd around Him.
“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. You sent to John, and he has borne witness to the truth. Not that the testimony that I receive is from man, but I say these things so that you may be saved. He was a burning and shining lamp, and you were willing to rejoice for a while in his light.” (John 5:31-35)
Jesus doesn’t have a problem being His own witness, it’s the truth after all and He is only saying what His Father is telling Him to say, but He recognizes that His listeners are going to need some objective evidence if they are to truly receive and believe Him. So He points them to John the Baptist. This is interesting because Matthew and Luke in their gospel accounts both mention other supernatural phenomena as “witnesses” to who Jesus is; Angels, a star, the virgin birth. The Apostle John doesn’t mention any of those. Neither does Jesus, in any of the gospels. When it comes to proving His identity, Jesus sticks to things that His listeners had personal experience of, the miracles, the scriptures and John the Baptist.
The Baptist had clearly told the crowds who Jesus was: “Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.” These people had gone to John to ask him who he was and what he was doing, but he wasn’t interested in talking about himself, he wanted to point them to Jesus and he “bore witness to the truth.” Those that listened to John gradually left him to focus their attention on Jesus.
In a world of oil lamps and torches, without electricity, Jesus says that John was a flaming fire, the brightest sort of illumination, lighting up the darkness and the shadows with the truth and pointing people to Jesus. “You liked his light,” Jesus says, although He knew that many of them did not receive or believe what John was saying.
John the Baptist was an incredible witness, but Jesus says He has better:
“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. 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, yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life. I do not receive glory from people. But I know that you do not have the love of God within you. I have come in my Father’s name, and you do not receive me. If another comes in his own name, you will receive him. How can you believe, when you receive glory from one another and do not seek the glory that comes from the only God?” (John 5:36-44)
Jesus’ greatest witness is the Father Himself. He testifies about Jesus in two ways, through works and through the Word, the scriptures.
The Father has given Jesus works that need to be accomplished, a divine “to do” list. Jesus speaks as if He already knows what they are. Those works “bear witness” about Jesus, they show people that Jesus has been sent by His Father. The disciples will also have a divine “to do “ list. Jesus sends them out with clear instructions both before and after His death and resurrection. The book, The Acts of the Apostles is the Holy Spirit showing us how these ordinary men and women went about accomplishing the list that God had given them. The works that they did “bore witness” that they came from the Father and what they were saying about Jesus was true.
God is happy to provide proof of the truth. One way He does that is to give His children works to do that can only be done supernaturally, they can’t be accomplished by any natural human strength, skill or understanding. As His children, when was the last time we asked Him what He has on His “to do” list for us? We might discover that He has set up some amazing opportunities for us that will result in people’s eyes being opened to the truth. If we are just trying to help people into the truth by the use of words, maybe we need to revisit the truth that God empowers His people to do supernatural works to back up our words.
Words, however, as we have already discovered are eternally important. We need to know the truth before it can set us free. So Jesus goes to the second way that the Father bears witness about Him and that is through words, particularly the scriptures. In this context, Jesus is obviously referring to the Old Testament scriptures. Jesus makes the astonishing claim that those scriptures are written to “bear witness” about Him.
He takes it further to claim that they can search the scriptures all they like, but they won’t find life in them unless those words lead the people to Jesus Himself. Therefore, if they refuse to come to Jesus, they will never find the life that they have been searching in the scriptures for.
Some of these listeners will have been “searching the scriptures” since they could first read. They would have read them with hope and longing, expecting the fulness of what those scriptures promise for God’s children, a special relationship with their Father in heaven, a special place, a promised land where all His promises to them are fulfilled, the peace, shalom, wellbeing that comes from the rule of the coming King. The fulfillment of all of those promises stands right in front of them, in the form of this man who, in their eyes, has just undermined those same scriptures by desecrating the Sabbath. They are going to reject Him and, in so doing, will prevent themselves from finding the very things they have given their lives to religiously pursue.
Jesus again drives the point home. He clearly states that the reason they can’t see the fulfillment of the scriptures standing in front of them is because “you do not have the love of God in you.” A reading of the scriptures that has no love of God in it will always tend towards religious judgment. That sort of rigid, ungracious even unkind and harsh understanding of the Word of God not only stops us from seeing Jesus for who He is, it also hinders others from receiving and believing in Jesus too. Their reading of the scriptures did not allow for the healing of a crippled man on the Sabbath, even if he had been suffering for 38 years. There was no love in that scriptural interpretation and so they couldn’t see the King of love when He was working miracles of undeserved kindness right in front of their eyes.
The warning is clear: Beware lovelessness, it is deadly, not just for you but also for those you influence. To be more clear, it is not necessarily lovelessness that is the problem here, these people love some things; themselves, the way they look, the rules and regulations, what they didn’t have was “the love of God within you.”
The Word of God has to be read with the love of God if it is to release the life of God.
Jesus has called on the testimony of the greatest living witness, John the Baptist, then the greatest of all witnesses, His Father and now, to complete His case, He is going to call on the one man who his listeners’ esteem more than any other. Not only does this man testify for Jesus, he also testifies against the very listeners that so admire him.
“Do not think that I will accuse you to the Father. There is one who accuses you: Moses, on whom you have set your hope. For if you believed Moses, you would believe me; for he wrote of me. But if you do not believe his writings, how will you believe my words?” (John 5:30-47)
The religious leaders believed that Moses wrote the first five books of our Old Testament, the Torah. Jesus clearly believed that too and here he is saying that right from the beginning those scriptures point to Him. The Apostle John has already helped us to see where Jesus, the Logos, appears in the creation account of Genesis 1, in the first few verses of this gospel. To continue that theme: In Genesis 3:15 Jesus is the one who will bruise the head of the serpent. In Genesis 4 we are introduced to the concept of a sacrifice that is acceptable to God, “the firstborn of the flock” (Genesis 4:4), pointing to the “Lamb of God” that John the Baptist identified as Jesus. In Genesis 5-9, the ark that saves those who trust and obey God is another pointer to Jesus. So it continues through Moses’ writings: Jesus is the seed of Abraham through Whom all the nations of the earth will be blessed, the substitutionary sacrifice for Isaac, the Gateway of heaven on the earth (Genesis 28:17) that John has already referenced for us when Jesus met Nathaniel in John 1:51.
When you begin to read Moses writings, as with all the Old Testament scriptures, in the light of Jesus, there are references to Him all the way through. Jesus is right, He is the One who makes those scriptures come to life, because ultimately they all point to Him. When the people come before the Lord at Mount Horeb, they ask that the Lord would not speak to them directly because the sound of His voice was so overwhelming to them. So God spoke to them through Moses, but then he prophesied that another would come after him who would be the one who will speak the words of God to them and they needed to make sure that they listened to Him.
“The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you, from your brothers — it is to him you shall listen — just as you desired of the Lord your God at Horeb on the day of the assembly, when you said, ‘Let me not hear again the voice of the Lord my God or see this great fire any more, lest I die.’ And the Lord said to me, ‘They are right in what they have spoken. I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their brothers. And I will put my words in his mouth, and he shall speak to them all that I command him. And whoever will not listen to my words that he shall speak in my name, I myself will require it of him’” (Deuteronomy 18:18-19).
They would have known this scripture and now Jesus is clearly telling them: “I am the One that Moses spoke about. If you don’t listen to and believe Me then you are not listening to and believing Moses. The very words that Moses said, that you say you esteem and believe, accuse you, because you have rejected the One who Moses is talking about.”
Their rejection of Jesus was also their rejection of the entire basis of their Jewish faith and culture. In rejecting Christ, they were also rejecting the culmination and pinnacle of the great line of prophets (John the Baptist), the first great prophet and leader of Israel (Moses) and therefore all the prophets and leaders that existed in between. Even more importantly they were rejecting the scriptures, which they professed to love and adhere to and the Father who authored them all, Who chose them as a people from all the nations of the earth.
Jesus wants them to know that when they reject Him, they are rejecting everything that they themselves profess to hold dear. In rejecting the Messiah, they are turning their back on all that makes them special as the people of God. When they eventually hang Jesus on the cross, they will be crucifying their own inheritance and turning their anger and wrath towards the prophets, Moses, the scriptures and the Father Himself.
Of course, such claims are going to stir up the anger of the religious leaders still further. That is not why Jesus is saying them. Jesus speaks like this because His Father tells Him to. It is His Father that is aggravating the religious leaders, through Jesus and against Jesus. The Father knows where all this is going to lead. It is His Son that is going to have the biggest price to pay as a result of His words. But His Father tells Jesus to speak them anyway, because He is not just revealing the glory and wonder of His great love to the world, He is also revealing the bitterness and rebellion in the hearts of the people towards the God that created them, even the most religious and zealous among us.
It initially appears that Jesus is calling witnesses on His own behalf to testify about Him. Jesus is clear that the witnesses testify about who He really is. But, just as importantly these witnesses are testifying to who the people really are. Those that receive the testimony about themselves, that they are not who they thought they were in that they are actually opposing and rebelling against the very God they think they have a special relationship with, are going to be more likely to receive the Savior that they so desperately need. Those that will not receive the testimony about themselves, will certainly not receive the testimony about Jesus. They are blind to their own state before God and blind to the Son of God who is standing right in front of them.
What Jesus says here is seriously offensive. It appears that the aim of the Father who gave Him the words is just to stir up the murderous anger against Jesus that will eventually take Him to the cross. But Jesus says something else in the middle of the discourse, which points us to a very different motivation: “I say these things so that you may be saved.” (John 5:34)
They are not going to listen and this anger in their hearts will eventually turn into murderous hate and they will shout for His crucifixion. However, after that has passed, they will be faced with more witnesses, simple, honest men and women who will speak of a resurrection of this same Jesus. There will be acts of great power that will point people towards the Father who is enabling them. Maybe then, some of these religious leaders will sit down and quietly think through what has happened. Maybe then the Holy Spirit will take them back to these words. Maybe then, by the grace of God they will begin to piece it all together, from Moses and Genesis 1 all they way to John the Baptist, and the works that witness to the words. Maybe then their hearts will be open to the truth and they will receive and believe the good news of Jesus. Maybe then they will be saved.
It certainly happened for some of them for Luke tells us:
“And the word of God continued to increase, and the number of the disciples multiplied greatly in Jerusalem, and a great many of the priests became obedient to the faith.” (Acts 6:7)
That happened after they had to sit and listen to the testimonies of Peter and John after the miraculous healing of the crippled man at the gate of the temple and stories of people being healed by the apostle’s shadows (Acts 5:15). The witnesses are never going to stop coming forward and maybe, for some of us, the journey takes a lot longer than others to get us to the place where we are finally able to receive and believe the truth.
Jesus’ words aren’t always given to us now to convince us now. Possibly, when we first hear them, they make us very angry. Maybe they sit in the recesses of our minds till some event, or circumstance or person awakens them and we remember. Maybe for some of us it will be on our death beds. In that case, the words that were spoken to us years ago, that we rejected for so long, may yet bring us to salvation. That is Jesus’ hope for all of us. He is saying these things that we might be saved, even if we don’t understand or are even seriously offended with them now.
We already know the Father has not sent Jesus into the world to condemn the world. The aim is to help people see what is in their hearts so that they will be open to receiving and believing the Savior of the World. “I say these things that you might be saved” says Jesus (John 5:34).
It is true that God offends our minds to reveal our hearts, but not so that we should be condemned, His heart is for us to repent and find life.
Maybe some of us find what Jesus or the Bible has to say offensive. We may find some of it very difficult to understand and even more difficult to justify with our human understanding. Could it be that our worldly grasp of what is just and right is blinding our eyes to the truth about the God who wrote it? Are we reading the scriptures in the light of the love of God? Can we see that the scriptures all point us to Jesus and their purpose is so that we might be saved? Are we going to listen to the witnesses who testify against us in order to receive the One who gave Himself for us?
Maybe we have to acknowledge some uncomfortable truths about our ourselves before we can fully receive and believe in this Jesus.
Jesus has not come to condemn us. He has come to give us life. A life really worth living.Posted on: June 22, 2018Peter Todd