Notes on John 5:19-24

John 5:19‑24  •  8 min. read  •  grade level: 8
The Lord takes up the unbelieving rejection of His person and rings out the truth which puts all in its place. “Jesus then answered and said to them, Verily, verily I say to you, the Son can do nothing of himself unless he see the Father doing something; for whatever things he doeth, these also the Son doeth in like manner.” (Ver. 19.) It is the expression of the entire exclusion of a will separate from God the Father. He speaks of Himself as man on earth, yet God withal: the especial topic of our Gospel. He was here displaying God, whom otherwise no man had seen or could see; and He displayed Him as Father, however dull even disciples might be to discern it till redemption removed the veil from the eyes and sense of guilt from the conscience, and the love that gave Him to effect it was apprehended by the heart. Hut He had deigned to take the place of man, without forfeiting for a moment His divine nature and rights: and as such He disclaims the least shade of self-exaltation, or independence of His Father. This flesh cannot understand now more than then; and as then it led the Jews to repudiate the Son, so now in Christendom largely to the open denial of His divine glory or to the practical humanizing of Him. Hence the effort of so many to get rid of such a symbol as the Athanasian creed, and the otiose acquiescence of far more who believe in Him no more than they. The truth is that scripture goes beyond any creed that ever was framed in the maintenance of His honor, and this not only in the doctrine of His inspired servants, but in their report of His own words as here. Besides however being the Eternal, God over all, blessed forever, He speaks of Himself as in this world a man, yet the Son, and as such only doing what He sees the Father do: anything else would not be to declare Him. And for this He was here. Yet so truly is He divine that whatever things the Father does, these also does the Son likewise. He is the image of the invisible God, and alone competent to show the Father. How perfect the conjoint working of the Father and the Son! So we learn here, as in John 10 their unity. It is not only that the Son does whatever the Father may, but in like manner. How blessed their communion!
But the ground the Lord lays is also to be considered. “For the Father loveth the Son and showeth him all things which he himself doeth; and he will show him greater works than these that ye may wonder.” (Ver. 20.) Truly the persons in the Godhead are real, if anything is; and as the divine nature is morally perfect, the affections that reign are not less. The joint working of the Father and the Son our blessed Lord explains by the Father loving the Son and showing Him all that He Himself does; nay, He lets them know as He knew Himself that greater works would be shown Him by the Father, as the latter part of this Gospel testifies, “that ye may wonder” He does not say believe, for He speaks, not of grace, but of power displayed in testimony to the Jews, the effect of which would be not the faith which honors God, but the amazement which is the frequent and stupid companion of incredulity.
The Lord next singles out the immense miracle of resurrection. “For even as the Father raiseth the dead and quickeneth, so the Son also quickeneth whom he will; for not even the Father judgeth any one, but hath given all the judgment to the Son; that all may honor the Son even as they honor the Father. He that honoureth not the Son honoureth not the Father that sent him.” (Ver. 21-23.) There can be no doubt that giving life to the dead befits and characterizes God; but if the Father does so, no less does the Son, and this not as an instrument but sovereignly: the Son also quickeneth whom He will. He is a divine person as truly as the Father, in full right and power. But more: He alone judges. Judgment as a whole and in all its forms is committed to the Son by the Father who judges none, with the express aim that all should honor the Son even as they honor the Father. And so it really is; for they honor not the Father but do Him despite who honor not His sent One, the Son. It is the Son on whom by the Father's pleasure it devolves to judge; but we shall find that there is a moral reason for this which appears afterward. As it is, we learn that the Son quickens in communion with the Father, and that He only judges. Thus is His honor secured from all men, who are either quickened or judged.
But how can a soul know that he is quickened and shall not be judged? He who reveals the portion that belongs to some and awaits the rest has not left in obscurity or doubt that which is so all-important; He has told out what so deeply concerns every child of man. Only unbelief need or can be uncertain, though it indeed should not be, for its sorrowful end is too plain to others if not to itself. Defying God, it must be judged by Him whom it can no longer dishonor. What on the other hand can be more graciously distinct than the portion our Lord warrants to faith? “Verily, verily, I say to you, that he that heareth my word and believeth him that sent me hath life eternal and cometh not into judgment, but is passed out of death into life.”
(Ver. 24.) It was no question of the law, but of hearing Christ's word, of believing (not in God in any sense, as the Authorized Version conveys, but) Him that sent Christ, believing His testimony. For this had He sent His Son that He might give eternal life. He therefore that believed Him “hath life eternal.” It is a present gift of God and possession of the believer, to be enjoyed perfectly in heaven doubtless, but none the less truly given now and exercised here where Christ then was.
But there is more than the actual communication of a new life by faith, a life of Which Christ, not Adam, is the source and character; he who has it does not come into judgment (κρίσιν). The English Testament has “condemnation;” but the Lord says more than this: the believer “cometh not into judgment.” He will be manifested before Christ's tribunal; he will give account of all done in the body; but he does not, if Christ is to be believed, come into judgment. He will never be put on his trial to see whether he is to be lost or not. Strange notion! after it may be in the separate state, departing “to be with Christ, which is far better,” certainly after being changed into the likeness of His glory, to be judged. No! such an idea is theology, the universal doctrine of Christendom, Protestant or Popish Arminian or Calvinist; but it is directly in collision with the plain and sure words of Christ.
All the great English translations are wrong here, Wiclif, Tyndal, Cramer, and Geneva, with the Authorized Version. Singular to say, the Rhemish version alone is right, in this following the Vulgate: a mere accident, I presume, for none are so distant from the truth conveyed by their own translation, from the apprehension of exemption from judgment, as Romish doctors. And none are so unfaithful in the next clause, for they actually make the Lord seem to say “shall pass from death into life.1“ He really said ἀλλὰ μεταβέβηκεν ἐκ τ. θ. εἰς τ. ζ. “but is passed (the present result of a past act) out of death unto life.” Here the Protestant versions are right, Wiclif feeble, the Rhemish false. And there is not even the excuse of the Vulgate, which reads “transiit.” Possibly they read “transiet:” but if so, it was an error which some copies of the Latin would have corrected, if they ignored the inspired original.
However this be, the truth set forth by our Savior is of all moment: would that every believer knew it and rejoiced in it with simplicity and in its fullness, as this one verse presents it. It is Christ's word that is heard in divinely given faith, and this quickens the soul: no thought here or any where else of any such virtue in an administered ordinance. But faith does not slight His judgment; on the contrary the believer bows to it morally in His word now, receives God's testimony to His Son, and is phased from death unto life.