The Four Witnesses

John 5:32‑40  •  7 min. read  •  grade level: 10
The Lord Jesus, as a Divine Person, was His own adequate witness: “Though I bear record of myself,” He says, “yet is my record true” (John 8:1414Jesus answered and said unto them, Though I bear record of myself, yet my record is true: for I know whence I came, and whither I go; but ye cannot tell whence I come, and whither I go. (John 8:14)). But here He presses on the Jews the important fact that, apart from His own, the testimony to His paramount and exclusive claims is fourfold. In truth, it was not possible that the testimony to Christ should proceed from Himself alone. The record of such as could produce no corroborative witness must be, He tells us in this chapter, self-condemning. And then the blessed Lord informs His hearers who His witnesses are. First the Baptist, then the supreme testimony of the Father, thirdly the Son's works, and lastly the scriptures—the three last, needless to say, unfaltering; the first marked by the short-coming inseparable from men. But this was at a later day, when John the Baptist apparently yielded for a moment to the depressing influences of his prison-house, and sent his disciples to ask Jesus if He really were the Messiah.
This seems indubitable, and the words of our Lord in reply, “Go and tell John,” do not bear out the surmise of some that he sent his disciples to Christ for their sakes alone. Yet had his testimony been most clear and cogent, befitting one who was a burning and a shining lamp, as the Lord (reversing the position, and bearing witness to His “Messenger”) calls John in this chapter. “Behold the Lamb of God that taketh away the sin of the world.” “Behold the Lamb of God” (John 1:2929The next day John seeth Jesus coming unto him, and saith, Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world. (John 1:29) & 36). Is it not striking that the one who was sent in Elijah's spirit and power, in a spirit of judgment and condemnation of evil, should be the first to point to the Lamb of God as the Sin-bearer? So it was “one of the seven angels that had the seven vials full of the seven last plagues” that showed to another John the bride, the Lamb's wife. So the Christ, the King of Judah, came “meek, and sitting upon an ass, and upon a colt the foal of an ass “: there is, as one has said, “the meekness of the Lion of Judah, and the wrath of the slain Lamb.”
Next comes the greater witness of the Father, notably evidenced at our Lord's baptism, where indeed we see the three Persons of the Trinity manifested, and likewise at a later day on the Mount of Transfiguration, when a voice came from the excellent glory, “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased; hear ye him.” But no doubt our Lord was alluding to His baptism on this occasion. It was not the last voice from heaven to sustain Him for we read in chapter xii. of this Gospel how there came an answer to His cry that the Father would glorify His name. That cry was answered; the immediately preceding one, “Father, save me from this hour,” was, one might almost say, recalled by the Holy Sufferer; and so the Father witnesses.
The works constitute the third witness, or “signs,” as they are so habitually called in John's Gospel. And this naturally links them with testimony. Jesus did a beginning of “signs” in Cana of Galilee, and manifested forth His glory. The other words, used in scripture to describe our Savior's mighty works, viz, “wonders,” and “powers,” point to certain essential characteristics of His operation. It is natural that He whose very name is “Wonderful” (Isa. 9:66For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace. (Isaiah 9:6)) should do “wonders;” as also that “power” should proceed from Him who is the Mighty God, as we read in the same passage of the great evangelical prophet. When Christ speaks of “virtue” going out of Him, in the case of the woman with the issue of blood, the word in the Greek means “power” (Nvaptc). It is not the same word as in Matt. 28:1818And Jesus came and spake unto them, saying, All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth. (Matthew 28:18), “All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth.” There it should be “authority.” So likewise in John 1:1212But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name: (John 1:12), “To them gave he authority", or title, &c.
But though our Lord's works be both “powers” and “wonders,” neither of these characteristics seems to be what the Holy Ghost would bring most prominently before the believer's mind, but rather that they be regarded as “signs” (σημεῖα). The Latin-English word “miracle,” as is obvious, directs attention more to their strangeness and surprising character, and it is somewhat unfortunate that Christ's works should be habitually designated by so inadequate a term.
It is interesting too, and somewhat confirmatory of the above reflections, that when the Holy Spirit characterizes the evil works and miracles of antichrist, they are called “lying wonders” (2 Thessalonians 9), though “signs” is also among the designations. More corroborative is the verse, “all the world wondered after the Beast.” At any rate, though Christ's works are sometimes called “signs” alone, and “powers” alone, they are never called “wonders” alone. “Signs” then they are preeminently, signs of the presence of One greater than Moses, greater than Solomon, and greater than the temple. They were the suited, appointed, and inalienable concomitants of the Incarnation.
Here a wide vista opens out, for all those works of beneficent healing (two only of Christ's miracles were destructive, of the fruitless fig tree, and of the unclean swine, for which there were wise and right reasons—contrast the many judicial miracles of Moses) have each their special place in setting forth the varied glories and the different aspects of the work of the Divine Redeemer. And they are living now.
Lastly, we have the testimony of the scriptures. At a later day the Lord, unto the favored two who journeyed to Emmaus, expounded in all the scriptures the things concerning Himself. “All things had to be fulfilled that were written in the law of Moses, and in the prophets, and in the Psalms” concerning Himself. We, happily, need no assurance that so it is, and that both in O.T. and in N. T., implicitly or explicitly, all points to Christ-sacrifice and sacred vessel, an Abel, an Isaac, and a David. In short, the scriptures testify of Him, and, as the Lord bore witness to John the Baptist (who ought even to have borne unwavering witness to Him), so He vindicates the holy scriptures with the finality of His word. The Pharisees admitted they told of eternal life, yet neglected them in all but a superficial and mechanical interest. It was but an otiose acceptance, not an honest belief. Had they believed Moses, they must have believed Christ and believed in Him too, which is a further thing.
Moderns (sad to say, but alas! the too notorious fact) are bolder than the Jews; for they (professing Christians) deny that the Bible contains words of eternal life. The spirit of criticism has become a craze, almost a mania of unbelief. There is legitimate criticism, no doubt; but how little of this latter-day variety is such? It was strikingly remarked in a recent defense of God's word, that no spirit is more unlike the spirit of the Bible than the modern critical spirit. This witness is true. The critics seem incapable of seizing the vital force and divine beauty of the scriptures. But it is strikingly in accord with what is written, that the “natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God.... because they are spiritually discerned” (1 Cor. 2:1414But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned. (1 Corinthians 2:14)). Meanwhile the hungry sheep are not fed, while those who take the place of teachers, if not shepherds, would reduce God's word to the level of a literary phenomenon. But, as was finely said by a preacher recently deceased, “Jesus is not a phenomenon; He is bread: Christ is not a curiosity; He gives the water of life.” And in the scriptures alone is the truth concerning Him, and they, not the church, nor the creeds (useful as these may be when sound), are the sole and authoritative standard. Thus as they have a double function (for directly they do bear witness to the Christ), they also contain the record of His wonderful “signs,” and of the supreme testimony of the Father. “Him hath God the Father sealed” (John 6:2727Labor not for the meat which perisheth, but for that meat which endureth unto everlasting life, which the Son of man shall give unto you: for him hath God the Father sealed. (John 6:27)). R. B.