John 5:17 – But Jesus answered them, “My Father is working until now and I am working.”
As you may recall from our introduction to the gospel of John, we noted that many of the truths presented in this book can be easily understood/grasped by new believers. But at the same time, these concepts also have very deep, far reaching implications ready to be discovered by mature believers.
The remainder of John chapter five contains these types of truths. I hope that you will carefully read and make time to meditate on the concepts revealed in today’s post. If you are willing to do so, I believe you will become better acquainted with Jesus. Let’s begin.
Our prior post examined the work of Jesus as he healed the paralytic at the pool of Bethesda. We saw that this was an illustration of mankind being infected with the deadly disease of sin. We had no cure for this disease; no way to free ourselves from spiritual death. But, hallelujah, Jesus does! Through his shed blood and great mercy, he has provided spiritual life for each individual who wants to be healed from sin.
We also learned that Jesus performed this miracle on the Sabbath. This fact caused a lot of consternation among the Jewish leaders, because they considered this healing to be a violation of the Sabbath law.
No doubt the religious leaders were wondering exactly who or what Jesus was. Was he a trouble maker, a heretic or a false Messiah? Was he a peculiar new prophet? Was God really speaking through him? Should he be embraced or confronted? Supported or opposed?
On one hand, the religious leaders cannot deny that he has performed multiple miracles, which can only be done by God. They cannot deny that he teaches with authority and great crowds are embracing his doctrine.
But on the other hand, he refuses to be bound by their religious traditions or their interpretation of the law. He challenges their authority and their doctrine. He does not fit their pattern of what the Messiah should be.
In the midst of their confusion, one point remains crystal clear. The Pharisees and Sadducees had to make a decision about Jesus. They could no longer ignore him, his actions or his teaching because he was turning the religious world upside down! They must decide to be for Jesus or against him.
In the remainder of John chapter five, Jesus gives the Pharisees and Sadducees a clear picture of exactly who he is. He unveils the will and character of Father God to them. He offers them insight into some deep spiritual truths.
He gives them a number of proofs which prove that he is the Son of God/part of the Godhead or Trinity; he is divine. Jesus also gives them several proofs that as God, he is Lord of the Sabbath.
As the spiritual leaders of the nation, this was information the Pharisees and Sadducees should have been ready to receive, examine and evaluate. It was their duty to impartially consider the facts before them, comparing it to the truth that had already been revealed. Had they done so, they would have concluded that Jesus was indeed the Son of God, the promised Messiah.
But of course, we know they did not. They chose to remain spiritually blind. But thankfully, we don’t have to make the same choice. The truths presented to the Jewish leaders have been recorded by John. It is now our privilege to examine them, and make our own decision regarding Jesus!
The first revelation that Jesus gives them is this: ‘My Father is working until now, and I am working’.
In other words, God ceased creating on the seventh day but he never stopped working – even on the Sabbath:
- God still makes the sun rise and set (Genesis 8:22).
- He still brings out the constellations at night (Job 9:7-10).
- He still and causes growth in the grass, trees, crops etc (Deuteronomy 11:14, Jeremiah 5:4).
- God is still bringing babies into the world and calling believers home to heaven, seven days a week (Psalms 137:16).
In short, He continuously governs and actively sustains creation 24/7. This includes moving forward with his eternal plans and purposes, like sending his Son into the world to redeem it.
Are you comforted by the fact that God is sustaining the world? That should give you peace in the midst of the storms of life. For even more comforting facts, read Psalms 139.
How does this fit in with the Sabbath? While the law required creation to rest on the Sabbath, God is not bound by the law or by the tradition of man or by time itself – he is eternally free to act at any point. He can and does work outside of our concept of time.
Now that we have a better understanding of what Jesus meant when he said ‘the Father is working until now and I am working’, let’s discuss the reaction of the religious leaders to this truth.
By calling God his Father, Jesus claims unity and equality with God. Thus, Jesus reveals that He is not just an ordinary prophet or a teacher – he is much, much more! He is the Messiah, the Deliverer, the Lion of Judah, the Redeemer that had been promised since the fall of man (Genesis 3:15).
Furthermore, because Jesus is unified with God/part of the Trinity, He was also present with God during the creative process (John 1:1-3). In fact, nothing that was created was made without him. This reveals/proves that Jesus is equal in nature and power with the Father. Just as God the Father continues to sustain and uphold all life on earth, so too does Jesus:
Hebrews 1:3 – He [Jesus] is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power…
Secondly, since Jesus is one with God (John 10:30), Jesus claims the same exemption from the law which God had. In other words, the Sabbath law which did not bind God did not bind him either (Luke 6:5).
This meant that Jesus had the right to do as he wished on the Sabbath; He could impose or repeal laws in the same manner as God the Father. He had the divine right and authority to tell the healed paralytic to carry his mat on the Sabbath. He has in NO WAY violated the law, because he is divine and he is doing divine work at the behest of the Father; he is constantly working to save the lost and further the kingdom of heaven (Mark 2:28).
[As a side note, there was also the issue of the Jews twisting the observance of the Sabbath. While they condemned Jesus for healing on the Sabbath (they considered it work), they were all in favor of work that would benefit them, such as rescuing one of their animals on the Sabbath.]
The Jews simply refused to even consider the truth of this statement. In their eyes, the statement of Jesus was utter blasphemy which was punishable by death (Leviticus 24:16).
John 5:18 – 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 the Jewish leaders chose to reject the truth that Jesus presented to them. In fact, his revelation enraged them even more.
What about us? What are some principles we can find in this passage? What can we find to meditate on this week that will bring us reassurance and strengthen our faith?
For starters, we need to stand up for the truth of the gospel knowing that evil men and women will lash out against us and probably accuse us unjustly. That is what happened to Jesus and we can expect some of the same treatment (John 15:20). This exact thing is happening more and more in our current cultural and political environment. We can find examples of it nearly every day. But we don’t need to fear or be ashamed of the gospel. As we stand in faith, God will be glorified and he will draw sinners to himself.
It also reminds us that many people rejected the truth which Jesus presented to them. We can expect nothing different; not everyone will embrace the gospel message we share with them. Nevertheless, we must continue to sow and water the seeds of the gospel and rely on Holy Spirit to bring forth the fruit. Don’t give up if you don’t win someone to Christ every time!
The world around us seems very chaotic right now and it is no secret that our nation is divided. But even in the midst of that, we can have peace knowing that God is working. Nothing is happening that he is not acutely aware of; let’s continue to put our trust in him.
Isaiah 43:2 – When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overflow you: when you walk through the fire, you shall not be burned; neither shall the flame scorch you.
Now is the time for us to increase our faith in him. Now is the time to declare that his will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Now is the time to pray, like never before. Now is the time to stand firm and let our light shine before the world.
John 5:19 – So Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of his own accord, but only what he sees the Father doing. For whatever the Father does, the Son does likewise.”
Having stated the extent of his authority, Jesus now proceeds to reveal its source and nature.
Jesus begins with a statement of the role/position of the Son. The Son, who Jesus has just confirmed to be equal to the Father, does nothing independently or in a state of rivalry with the Father. Because of the union between the Father and the Son, the Son only does that which is commanded by the Father; everything the Son does is in accordance with the nature and will of God. The Father and Son (and Spirit) are in a state of complete unity, alike in existence and action.
Accordingly, the Son only does what he sees the Father doing. This extends to all actions of God including the works of creation and providence, in making laws, and in governing the universe.
Furthermore, since the Son is doing whatever (or all) the Father is doing, then he too must be almighty, omniscient, omnipotent and infinitely perfect. In short, he MUST be God.
What did this mean to the Jewish leaders back in the day of Christ?
Simply put, Jesus is demonstrating the relationship between God the Father and the Son (himself). They are unified in all respects. So if the Jews continue to deny, condemn or object to the miracles of Jesus, they would actually be fighting against God himself. They cannot claim to honor God while despising Jesus. Yet, this is exactly what the Jewish leaders determined to do – the continued to claim God as their Father, while rejecting the ministry of Jesus.
This is the same kind of heresy that is often found in false religions. They claim to be following God, but they assign Jesus to the role of a mere prophet or messenger. They put him on the same level as many of their own earthly prophets, denying his divinity.
Of course we recognize God as the Trinity – Father, Son and Holy Spirit. The works of the Trinity are never divided; they are always in perfect unison. Yet, at the same time, they are also distinct. For this reason, we often ascribe some of the workings of God to the Father (such as creation and providence), some to the Son (such as redemption) and some to Holy Spirit (such as sanctification). The Trinity is a mystery we could meditate on for a lifetime!
John 5:20 – “For the Father loves the Son and shows him all that he himself is doing. And greater works than these will he show him, so that you may marvel.”
The Father loves the Son – The world in general and many of the Jews specifically hated Christ. We saw the beginning of this hatred right here in the gospel of John, when Jesus left Judea for Galilee (John 4:1-3). This rejection and hatred was prophesied long ago in the book of Isaiah:
Isaiah 49:7 – Thus says the LORD, the Redeemer of Israel, and his Holy One, to him whom man despises, to him whom the nation abhors, to a servant of rulers, Kings shall see and arise, princes also shall worship, because of the LORD who is faithful, and the Holy One of Israel, and he has chosen you.
Though Jesus was hated by mankind, his Father loved him. God loves Jesus because of their eternal relationship and also as the Messiah sent by him into the world to finish the work that was assigned to him.
Shows him all that he himself is doing – Father God does not conceal anything from his Son Jesus. The Father shows/reveals all of his plans in making and ruling the world so that Jesus the Son can take appropriate actions in forming and creating the church.
Likewise, Holy Spirit will take appropriate actions to see that the will of God is accomplished on earth. This is another example of distinction in the Godhead/Trinity, as well as unity of action between them which result from a unity of their natures, wills and love.
This shows a significant difference between Jesus and human prophets. The prophets only ever knew the tiniest fraction of the workings/plans/purposes of God. The vast majority of what God was doing was hidden from their understanding. But it was never hidden from Jesus, because he is the Son.
Here is something to meditate on – the bible speaks of the church ruling and reigning with Christ. In order to do that, we too would need to know his plans and purposes. What is God speaking to you in this age?
And what about eternity? What do you suppose God has planned for his bride (the church) in the ages to come? What plans do you think he has for you personally?
Greater works than these/that you may marvel – The miracle referred to here was the healing of the paralytic at the pool of Bethesda (and proof of authority over the Law). As we have discussed, this was a profound miracle done by the hand of God; no mortal man could have helped the paralytic. But this was only the smallest sample of what God has in store for mankind.
Jesus will demonstrate works of greater power than the curing of the paralytic. For instance, he will raise people from the dead, both physically and spiritually.
John 5:21 – “For as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, so also the Son gives life to whom he will.”
Anybody can kill someone; no special power is required to do so. People have been killing each other since Cain and Abel. But bringing people back to life is another story entirely! That is a power attributable only to God.
In the Old Testament, two instances are recorded in which a prophet of God brings someone back to life. The first was when God used Elijah to raise the son of the widow of Zarephath (I Kings 17:8-24). The second was when God used Elisha to raise the son of the Shunamite woman (II Kings 4:32-3).
The Jews never doubted that God alone had the power to raise people from the dead.
Jesus demonstrates that power when he too raises people from the dead. But he will not do so as a mere instrument of God’s will and power as Elijah and Elisha did. Jesus raises people to life in the same way God does – by wielding the same authority and power according to his own will. Again, the logical conclusion is that he must be divine; he is equal with God.
But that’s not all! Jesus will do a work far, far, far greater work than just restoring physical life to Lazarus and others. He will ‘give life’ or quicken infinite numbers of people (including you and me) from spiritual death, demonstrating once again that he is God. He is the Messiah. He literally couldn’t be anyone else! (How could the Pharisees be so blind to the truth?)
John 5:22-23 – “The Father judges no one, but has given all judgment to the Son, that all may honor the Son, just as they honor the Father. Whoever does not honor the Son does not honor the Father who sent him.”
Jesus says that the Father has given him sole authority to exercise judgment in regards to mankind. This is an office reserved exclusively for the Son; Neither the Father nor Holy Spirit pronounces judgment.
The power of judging the world implies the ability to search/know the heart of man, as well as omniscience to understand the motives of the heart. This is work that only a divine being can accomplish. Once again, the Jews are left to draw the only possible conclusion – Jesus is divine. As the Son, he is equal to the Father.
And once again they are warned that rejection of Jesus is also a rejection of God the Father.
John 5:23 – …that all may honor the Son, just as they honor the Father. Whoever does not honor the Son does not honor the Father who sent him.”
What does it mean to honor someone? To honor someone is to hold them in high estimation, to respect, praise and venerate them; to obey them. Honor can be paid in words, actions and the attitude within our hearts.
We honor Jesus when we ascribe to him the same level of honor, power and authority that we give to God the Father.
The converse is also true – the person who does not honor Jesus in the same manner as Father God does not truly believe on him, regardless of what he or she may say. Such a person is in operating in disobedience to God.
Now, if the Son is to be honored just as the Father is, then the Son should be worshiped and praised. But to worship any creature or any thing other than God is idolatry. So if Jesus receives praise and worship from us, then once again, he MUST be God. Otherwise, he would be a false god, just like Baal.
It is astonishing that the Jewish leaders could continue to hate and reject Jesus after so many convincing proofs that he was the Son of God and the Messiah of the world.
Yet, perhaps we should not be too surprised because many people in our own generation reject him also.
John 5:24 – “Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life. He does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life.”
The repeated use of ‘truly’ alerts the reader that a deeper spiritual truth is about to be revealed. This truth refers back to the phrase ‘the Son gives life to whom he will’, in verse 21. When reading that phrase, one might be tempted to conclude that Jesus picks and chooses who he will give eternal life to. But here Jesus explains that is not the case!
Jesus offers salvation to all men; indeed it is the will of God that none should perish but that ALL people should be saved (I Timothy 3:2-5). The gift of eternal life is not limited by God; it is limited by human receptivity. All who both believe and hear will receive eternal life. Those who do not believe and chose not to hear will die in sin, even though Jesus freely offers them forgiveness. God allows each one of us to choose either life or death.
‘Hear’ is one of the key words in this verse. It does not refer to the physical act of listening to words. It refers to receiving a concept or principle (the gospel) in a proper manner, to let it make an impression on the mind, to let it affect or change the heart. The word ‘hear’ is often used this way in the scriptures (Matthew 11:15, John 8:47, Acts 3:23, etc). The gospel will be preached in all the world, but not every person will ‘hear’ or receive it.
Hearing is linked to believing. One must believe that Father God sent his Son Jesus to redeem us from sin:
John 3:17 – For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved.
Again, we see the unity of the Father and Son (and Spirit). The Son’s word is the revelation of the Father. He that hears this word believes not on Jesus only, but on the Father who sent him.
At the same time, faith in God is only possible through forgiveness of sin by the blood of Jesus; faith in the blood of Jesus is only possible by the conviction of Holy Spirit. Therefore, eternal life is only possible by the unified working of the entire Trinity or Godhead.
Furthermore, Jesus makes it very clear in this verse that those who believe on him have eternal life. This promise is in the present tense – you have that eternal life right now. It is not something that you will be given in the future; you received it as soon as you were brought into relationship/communion with God, the source of all life.
The one who posses eternal life does not come into judgment because there can be no condemnation for him. He cannot be separated from God. He has already passed from a state of death in sin to a state of life in Christ. All that remains is for that life to develop in eternity.
Let me offer you some encouragement:
As we mentioned in this post, God is not bound by law or tradition or by time. Yet he does bind himself to something – his word! (Meditate on that!) God tells us through the prophet Jeremiah that he always watches over his word to perform it (Jeremiah 1:12).
If you are not in the habit of ‘praying the word’ or claiming the promises of the bible for yourself and your family, I strongly encourage you to start doing so!
Let me offer you some relief:
Some of the concepts we studied in this post are, well, hard to comprehend. But that’s okay. All Christians are at different levels of maturity and understanding. Holy Spirit works with each one of us on an individual basis to take us into deeper levels of understanding. So don’t feel inadequate if you didn’t understand it all. Just hang in there and keep studying with Holy Spirit!
Let me offer you some strength:
God is working – right now – in your life! Sometimes we get caught up in our problems and trials and we don’t think they will ever end. But if we examine our past, we find that is not true!
Review your own personal history right now. I bet you will see that God has been working in your life all along, even when you didn’t see it. He certainly uses different situations in life to mature you spiritually or draw you closer to him, but in the end he always brings you through! Let his presence strengthen you right now, in the midst of your situation.