On the Gospel of John 5

John 5  •  18 min. read  •  grade level: 8
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There still remained amongst the Jews some fragments of the ancient blessing: " I am Jehovah that healeth thee "; and by the administration of angels, a general principle of the ways of God among this people. It was but little, but a sign that God had not entirely abandoned His people; there were still cures in the pool of Bethesda; he who was the first to throw himself into it, when the angel troubled the water, was healed. The man who thus went into the water showed faith in the intervention of God, and the desire to profit by it. But the history recorded for us in chapter 5 leads us to a far greater power, and to far more important principles.
A poor paralytic man was there, in the midst of all these infirm people who were lying in the porches of the pool; Jesus comes there. What is presented in Him has a double character; He is the answer in power to all need, and He also gives life.
There were needs in Israel at that time, needs of the soul, as well as of the body, and a consciousness of these needs. The Lord could say, " Come unto me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest." The poor paralytic man is the type and figure of this. In order that the object of the blessings which were enjoyed under the law should be able to profit by them, he must have power in himself. Whether it be to have righteousness according to the law, or whether to enjoy other blessings, there must be, in the man who wished to possess them, a subjective state fitted for this; there must be power in man. The paralytic man's disease had deprived him of that power which was necessary in order to profit by the means of healing. It is the same thing as to sin. The blessings and means which the law offers, demand strength in man. The desire to be healed is supposed-" Wilt thou be made whole? " The Lord puts the question thus. Power was wanting, as in Rom. 7, to will was present. Jesus brings with Him the power that heals; the good which He does, does not demand power in us. It was when we were deprived of all strength that His grace acted. (See Rom. 5:66For when we were yet without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly. (Romans 5:6).) In John, we must remember, it is a question of life; even when he speaks of the cross, it is for eternal life, not for pardon.
Jesus then comes: power is in what He says; it accompanies His word-and the man is healed. Now that day was the sabbath. God's rest is the portion of His people; the sabbath was thus the sign of the covenant made with Israel; Ex. 31:1313Speak thou also unto the children of Israel, saying, Verily my sabbaths ye shall keep: for it is a sign between me and you throughout your generations; that ye may know that I am the Lord that doth sanctify you. (Exodus 31:13); Ezek. 20:1212Moreover also I gave them my sabbaths, to be a sign between me and them, that they might know that I am the Lord that sanctify them. (Ezekiel 20:12). The sabbath was the rest of the first creation, and of the first covenant, which depended upon the responsibility of man, and upon his strength to accomplish that which it demanded of him: " Do this, and thou shalt live." It was for man to act in order to get blessing. Here all is changed. God could not rest where sin was, where misery was; His holiness and His love made the thing equally impossible. Corruption, depravity, the horrors that sin produced, did not make of such a scene the scene of God's rest, of which the sabbath was the expression and the figure, but upon the principle of obligation and law. But before the law even, the sabbath had been instituted as the rest of the old creation. The law imposed it, but man never entered into it, and a ruined creation was not God's rest, and did not give rest to man's troubled spirit. But God, if He could not rest, could work in grace: and this is the answer, infinitely beautiful, and beautiful because it is true, that the Savior makes to the accusation of the Jews. It was the judgment of the entire old creation, but it said that since the fall, the grace of Him who was now fully revealed, the Father, in the coming of the Son, was working, to quicken and bless, at the work of the new creation (viewed in its moral aspect); for everywhere here it is this side, not the outward manifestation in result that we find. " My Father worketh hitherto, and I work." Unless it be in His infinite essence, God has no rest: infinite blessing! grace without measure! God acts, He works now. When He shall have rest as to His operations, we shall have it with Him, and in the knowledge of the Father and the Son. God will rest in His love, in the blessing which surrounds Him in the glory of the Son, in the accomplishment of His counsels, in the eternal blessedness of which He is the center and source.
We shall now see what this work is which the Father and the Son are doing, for it is of them that he speaks, of these names which John always uses in speaking of the operations of grace. He says, indeed, that God so loved-which is the source and foundation of all; there the Son of man and the Son of God, and God Himself, are introduced as source and foundation of all blessing but when the subject is the operations of grace, in John, we always find the Father and the Son.
The Jews understood perfectly the position which Jesus took, and sought to kill Him. The Lord does not refuse this position which the apostle John recognizes as His (for in verse 18 it is John who speaks); but He puts everything in its place. All that the Father does, He does it; but it is not as another, a second and independent authority, that He acts. He does that which the Father does, and He does nothing else: He acts in agreement with the Father, and moved by the same thought as He, and He does all things that the Father does. But having taken the form of a servant, He does not leave it, and whilst declaring Himself one with the Father (for before Abraham was He was the " I AM "), He receives all, in the position He has taken, in these operations of grace, and in their fruits in glory, from the Father's hand. This is striking in this Gospel, where the divine side of His Person is more fully brought out than in the others, although it be not more definitely affirmed. We find constantly that when He speaks of being on the same footing as His Father, He places Himself, nevertheless, ever upon the ground of receiving all from Him.
Jesus then goes on here to the work which, in fact, was being accomplished, and is being still accomplished, whether by the Father, or by the Son only, and He does all that the Father does. There is one work which He does as Son of man, and which the Father does not. " Father " is the name of grace and relationship; " Son of man," that of conferred authority. If the Father and the Son work, it is a work of grace that is in question. But the Father has not been humbled; He remains in the unchangeable glory of the Godhead. All judgment is committed to the Son, so that those who shall have despised Him, will be compelled to recognize Him by this means.
But let us take the instructions of the passage in their order. The Son does more than heal; " for as the Father raiseth up the dead, and quickeneth them, even so the Son quickeneth whom he will. For the Father judgeth no man, but hath committed all judgment unto the Son: that all men should honor the Son even as they honor the Father. He that honoureth not the Son, honoureth not the Father which hath sent him " (v. 21-23). Thus the Son's glory is maintained in a twofold manner, in that like the Father He quickens, and this we can understand, for we are in relation with the Father and the Son, as partaking of the divine life; then by judgment, for the Father judgeth no man, but hath committed all judgment to the Son, that all may honor Him. Those who are quickened, honor Him with all their heart, and with goodwill; those who do not believe, judgment will compel to honor Him, in spite of themselves.
To which of these two classes do I belong? The 24th verse furnishes us with the answer to this question-a simple, complete answer, and full of precious light. " Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that heareth my word, and believeth him that sent me, hath everlasting life, and shall not come into judgment, but is passed from death unto life." The word of Christ is that which is presented to the soul, to bring the glad tidings of grace: the effect produced, where this word is received, is faith in the Father as having sent His Son. But He who thus believes in the Father as sending His Son, grace and truth thus come in Him, has eternal life. That is one side of the answer; he who believes is quickened. We have seen that this is one means of ensuring the Son's glory: the other means is not mixed up with this one. If Christ has quickened, it is not to put His work to the test of judgment; that is impossible: Christ would judge His own work, and would call in question its efficacy; and who is the judge? The consequence is evident: the other means of ensuring Christ's glory is not employed; he who has received life does not come into judgment. I limit myself to what the passage before us says; otherwise we should remember that He who sits as Judge is the same One who bore the sins of all those who believe. But John does not treat this side of the subject: to judge him who believes, would be to call in question the quickening work of Christ, and that of the Father also.
Here is what is precise and formal as to the two things by which the Son is glorified; that is, the quickening of souls, and judgment; the first which He accomplishes, in common with the Father; the second, which is entrusted to Him alone, because He is the Son of man..
This is not all that is said here. He who has eternal life is " passed from death unto life." It was not a cure: the soul had been spiritually dead, separated from God, dead in its trespasses and sins, and it has come out of that state of death by the quickening power of the Savior. It is not merely that, being quickened, it escapes the consequences of its responsibility when the day of judgment shall come: the Lord has taken the other means, in grace, of glorifying Himself with regard to it. The soul was already dead: it is the teaching of the Epistle to the Ephesians: a new creation. The unrepentant sinner will come into judgment, if he who is under grace escapes it. But we are all dead now; it is the state of us all already: we are dead as regards God, without a single sentiment which answers to what He is, or to His call, and if it were a question merely of that which is found in man, it would be impossible to awaken any. But God communicates life, and the soul passes from death unto life. It is a new creation; we become partakers of the divine nature. At the same time it ever remains true that we shall give account of ourselves to God, that we shall all be manifested before the judgment-seat of Christ; but it is not a question there, for us who believe, of any judgment as to our acceptance. We are in the glory, like Christ, when we get there; Christ Himself will have come in person to seek us, that we may be there, and He will have changed the body of our humiliation into conformity to His body of glory.
Let us continue to study our chapter. The Father quickens; the Son also quickens and judges. The hour was coming, and had then already come, when it would not only be the Messiah, Jehovah Himself, who would heal the sick in Israel, in keeping with the promises and prophecies given to Israel according to the government and discipline of God in the midst of His people, working a cure which might give place to a more severe discipline; but from this time quickening power and eternal life in the Person of the Son, who revealed the Father in grace, were come, so that the dead should hear the voice of the Son of God, and those that should hear it should live (v. 25). This was the great proclamation as to life: it was there, and as the Father had life in Himself, He had given to His Son, a Man upon earth, to have life in Himself-a divine prerogative, but here found in a Man, come in grace upon earth.
I have already noticed that, while showing us in Christ things which belong to God only, and that absolutely, in the Gospel of John, the Son, having become Man and Servant, never leaves the position of receiving everything. He has received authority also to execute judgment, because He was the Son of man. But one might be judged upon earth, and in fact the living will be judged there.
There still remains an important part of His power which belongs to the teaching of this chapter: the dead shall rise again, and, according to that which has already been declared in verse 24, life and judgment are not mingled here. Men were not to marvel that the souls who should hear His voice would live by the spiritual life which He could communicate: the hour was coming (and that hour was not yet come, and is not yet come) when all those who are in the graves shall hear His voice, and shall come forth.... It is no longer here, " those who shall hear shall live," but all shall hear, and shall come forth; • those who have done well to the resurrection of life, those who have done evil to the resurrection of judgment.
Notice carefully, that, although the judgment assigns to each one his place according to his works, it is not the judgment that separates the risen; the resurrection itself makes the separation. Those who have done well have not part in the same resurrection as those who have done evil. He does not here speak of the interval of time which separates the resurrection of the one from the resurrection of the other; that must be sought in the revelation that God gives of the dispensations. Here it is a question of the essence of things: there is a resurrection, which is that of the just, called thus; and another resurrection, distinct from the former, a resurrection of judgment, in which the living, glorified in the first, do not participate. Sometimes, indeed, a difficulty has been raised as to the word, " hour," which is employed here, but it is a poor argument, for the same expression is found again in verse 25, which presents to us as an " hour," a space of time which has lasted nearly two thousand years, and which comprises two distinct states of things-one in which Christ upon earth acts personally, and the other, in which Christ glorified acts by the Spirit. These two epochs, nevertheless, make up but one " hour," from the point of view in the passage; it is the same thing here. The first hour is the period during which Christ quickens souls; the other hour, the period of verse 28, is that during which Christ raises bodies. This is quite simple; one of these hours, as I have said, has already lasted more than eighteen centuries.
Having declared these great truths, which reach to the end of God's ways with men, in His Person, as to life, and as to judgment, Christ goes back to the great principle which was at the very beginning of His discourse; that is, that He could do nothing as an independent Person from the Father. If it had been otherwise, it would have been, indeed, the denial of that bond between Him and the Father in which they were one, and which was found in everything, with this additional fact, that He had the form of a servant, of One sent by the Father. He did nothing of His own will: according as He heard, He judged, and His judgment was just, for He sought not His own will in anything, but that of the Father who had sent Him (v. 30). No selfish motive whatever was to be found in His manner of viewing things, but the judgment which He formed, whatever it might be, flowed from the communications that the Father made to Him: this was divine perfection. He acted as Man, and as sent, but He did so according to the immutable perfection of God, not of Himself as a Man, which would not even have been human perfection, but forgetfulness of Him whose Servant He had become. Still, it was as Son of man, in this title of glory as of grace, of Him who had been humbled, that He executed judgment with authority.
The rest of the chapter treats of the question of man's responsibility as to life, as that which precedes presented to us the sovereign grace that gives life. Divine life was present in the Person of Jesus, and God had vouchsafed four testimonies to men that it was there: the testimony of John Baptist; the works which the Father had given Him to do; the Father Himself; and the Scriptures. They had been glad to rejoice in John the Baptist for a time, for the people held him to be a prophet. Now John had borne a clear testimony to the Lord on the part of God. Then the works of Jesus were an unexceptionable testimony that the Father had sent Him: the Father had given Him these works to do, and He did them. The Father Himself also had borne witness to Him: the multitude had thought they heard thunder; but His word did not dwell in them, for they believed not Him whom He had sent. Finally, they had got the Scriptures; they boasted of this, they thought to find eternal life in them; and what they did was to bear witness to Christ, to Jesus, who was there before their eyes. The Life was there, living before them; they had these testimonies, but they would not come to Him, that they might have life. The life was there, but they would not profit by it (v. 40). It was not that the Lord sought glory from men; but He knew them, and knew that they had not the love of God in them. He was come in His Father's name, revealing what He was; they would not receive Him, alas! because He revealed Him perfectly. Another should come in his own name, with human pretensions, and adapted to man's heart, not to God's heart, him they would receive (v. 43). Terrible prophecy of that which shall happen to the people, as a consequence of their rejection of Jesus, and of the motives which impelled them to reject Him. The Antichrist will deceive them in the last days, because he will come with pretensions and motives adapted to the heart and desires of carnal men; the Jews will give themselves up to his deceptions and pretensions. The state of their souls hindered them from receiving the truth; they sought to receive honor and esteem from men, not the honor which comes from God alone. They were not following the path of faith, but quite the contrary; not that the Lord would accuse them before the Father: Moses, in whom they boasted, sufficed for that. He, in whom they placed their confidence, bore the most explicit testimony to the Lord. If they had believed Moses, they would have believed Jesus also: Moses had written of Him.
It is important to remark one or two things here: first of all, the clear testimony which the Lord bears to the writings of Moses; the writings were the writings of Moses; he had written concerning Christ. That which he had written was the word of God; one must believe what he said. More, that which is written is authority pre-eminently, as Peter says:
No prophecy of scripture "; and Paul, " Every scripture is inspired of God." Besides, it is evident that if men ought to believe in what Moses had written of Christ so many centuries before His coming, that which Moses wrote was divinely inspired. It is evident that what Jesus said had divine authority; but as to the form of communication, the Lord attaches more importance to that which was written, than to that which was communicated by the living voice: God had deposited it there for all times-a very important testimony for these days of infidelity.