John 5:35 – “He was a burning and shining lamp, and you were willing to rejoice for a while in his light.”
Jesus has revealed to the Jewish leaders that he is the Messiah or the Son of Man.
As we pointed out before, Jewish Law required two witnesses in order to accept something as truth. God the Father was the second witness who confirmed that Jesus was the Son:
- He confirmed it with an audible voice at the baptism of Jesus.
- He confirmed it by working miracles through Jesus.
- He confirmed it through the Holy Scriptures which had been given hundreds of years before (this is a topic Jesus is about to discuss).
Although it is hard to fathom, the religious leaders rejected these proofs.
But Jesus does not give up on them. Because he wants them to find salvation, he redirects them to the witness of John the Baptist. Obviously, no human testimony could be as trustworthy as Father God, but as we saw in our last lesson, John was still a reliable witness. If the Pharisees and Sadducees will impartially consider John’s testimony, it will lead them to confirm Jesus as the Christ, which in turn will lead them to salvation. In the first chapter of this gospel, John describes Jesus as the true light that comes into the world (John 1:1-9). Jesus even refers to himself as the light of the world (John 8:12, John 9:5).
When Jesus is referred to as the light, it is the same Greek word commonly applied to the sun, which is the only source of light for our world. Without that light, everything in the natural realm would be dead. This is a fitting metaphor because Jesus is the only source of light in the spiritual realm. Without him, we would all be spiritually dead.
John the Baptist, however, is a lesser form of light – he is described by Jesus as a lamp. Although much, much dimmer than the sun, lamps provide light which help people see the way. Back in the days of Christ, it was common practice to refer to teachers as lamps or ‘lamps of the law’ because their wisdom and knowledge illuminated the way to God.
In his role as a spiritual lamp to Israel, John was burning and shining. In other words, he was not dim or shadowy. He never altered the truth to keep people from being offended. He was a good teacher; his doctrines were clear, distinct and consistent.
Jesus declares that for a short time the leaders of Israel willingly/voluntarily went to hear the preaching of John in the wilderness (Matthew 3:7) and they ‘rejoiced’ in his doctrine. In other words, they acknowledged and accepted John as a prophet. They were full of joy and delight that John had been appointed to introduce the Messiah.
But all that changed when the leaders found out that John’s testimony identified Jesus of Nazareth as the Messiah.
Because that testimony did not line up with their own opinions, their attitude toward John grew cold and hostile; they began to actively oppose him and his message.
John 5:36 – “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.”
Every Jew correctly believed that only God could perform miracles. Because Jesus could perform miracles in his own power, this was proof that he was in unity with Father God and that he himself was divine.
This is in contrast to the miracles later performed by the apostles, which were NOT done in their own power, but by the power of Jesus:
Acts 3:12, 16 – And when Peter saw it, he answered unto the people, You men of Israel, why marvel you at this? Or why look you so earnestly on us, as though by our own power or holiness we had made this man to walk? …through faith in his [Jesus] name … this man strong, whom you see and know: yea, the faith which is by him has given him this perfect soundness in the presence of you all.
The religious leaders had just discovered the healing of the paralytic at the Pool of Bethesda. Had they been honest and impartial, they would have admitted that nothing less than the unlimited power and love of God could have instantly healed that man. What was impossible with man, Jesus was able to instantly do with only his spoken word. This miracle (and others like it) provided irrefutable proof that Jesus is the Messiah, sent from God the Father.
And if Jesus is the Messiah, then his teaching and doctrine must be correct. In cases where the doctrine of Jesus was different from the traditions of the elders, the traditions must be rejected. In cases where the doctrine of Jesus was different from the Pharisee’s interpretation of the law, their interpretations of the law must be rejected.
Jesus came to fulfill or complete the law and usher in the gospel age. In order to receive salvation, the Jews had to embrace the gospel message. Jesus was giving them every proof imaginable in order to open their eyes to this spiritual truth.
It should also be noted that the working of miracles was not the only work which Father God had assigned to the Son; Jesus is doing the ‘works’ [pleural] the Father assigned to him. It was also his work to fulfill the law, publish the gospel, show us the Father and eventually lay down his life for us. By doing the collective works of the Father, Jesus proves he is the Messiah.
John 5:37-38 – “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.”
Jesus has revealed himself to the Jews as the Messiah, the Son of Man. In so doing, he has claimed divinity, making himself equal with God. Although Jesus has provided clear evidence of his claims, they have rejected the confirming testimony offered on his behalf.
The Jews have now placed themselves in very desperate situation – they have deceived themselves into believing they are the people of God, but they have rejected the Messiah God sent to save them.
But Jesus loves them so much, he won’t give up on them. He now reaches out to them through a severe chastisement of their unbelief and self imposed spiritual blindness. He plainly tells them that they are rejecting the testimony of the very God they claim as their Father!
When Jesus says that the Father ‘has himself borne witness about me’, our minds naturally tend to the recent events of that day – particularly the baptism of Jesus. While that is a true witness, Jesus is talking about something else here. He is stressing to the Jews that the revelation of God about his identity actually extends over the whole duration of all previous revelation.
As we mentioned before, the revelation of the Messiah began in the Garden of Eden:
Genesis 3:15 – And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her seed; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.
Every single revelation of the Messiah between this promise in Genesis and the words spoken at the baptism of Jesus by John (Matthew 3:17) pointed to/testified about the Messiah and what he would be like. Anyone who was earnestly looking for the truth would have recognized Jesus, just like the disciples did.
The Jewish religious leaders, however, were refusing to ‘hear’ God.
In this situation, the word ‘hear’ is not used in the basic sense of auditory function as in God speaking to them with his voice (although that did happen to those who were at the baptism).
Jesus uses the concept of hearing (his voice you have not heard) as he frequently does during his earthly ministry – to reflect spiritual understanding, acceptance and obedience to the commands of God (Matthew 11:15, Mark 4:9, etc).
Likewise, the concept of not ‘seeing’ God (his form you have never seen), refers to the refusal of the Jews to understand, accept and obey the commands of God which were clearly manifested to them.
Sadly, the Jews had a long history of refusing to see or hear God.
Ezekiel 12:2 – Son of man, you dwell in the midst of a rebellious house, who have eyes to see, and see not; they have ears to hear, and hear not: for they are a rebellious house.
By refusing to hear or see the truth revealed in the Law and the Prophets, they have cut themselves off from God and their only means of salvation/everlasting life.
John 5:39-40 – “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.”
The word translated ‘search’ means to seek diligently or anxiously. It is typically applied to miners, who search for precious metals. They search anxiously and intensely because they understand the value of the metal they search for.
In the same way, the Jews had indeed searched the Law and the Prophets, or what we know as the Old Testament. They were anxiously and intensely looking for the way to eternal life; they wanted to be reconciled to God.
So far, so good… the Jews were looking in the right place for the truth. All throughout the scriptures God left a testimony/witness to the Messiah he was going to send. The scriptures predict his coming, the manner of his life and death, that he will be a future king and many other things (Isaiah 53, Daniel 9:26-27, 1 Peter 1:10-11, Luke 24:27, etc).
And all of these scriptures lead to one inescapable conclusion – Jesus is the Messiah!
So, those who are diligently searching for the Messiah will find evidence or confirmation of him in the scriptures. The Messiah will in turn lead them into eternal life through the gospel. Thus, the scriptures certainly do contain eternal life, by pointing the way to Jesus.
But those who choose not to hear or see will miss the witness of God. They, like the Jewish leaders, will reject the gospel of Jesus, which effectively cuts them off from the ONLY source of eternal life.
This is a point that we never want to lose sight of – Jesus is the way, the truth and the life; no one comes to the Father except through him. Only He can save us (John 14:6, Acts 4:10-12).
The world is confused on this point. They want to promote coexistence or the idea that all religions lead to God by different paths. Like the Jews of that day, they are looking for any other way to be reconciled to God EXCEPT through Christ. But until they reach out to him, they will never find eternal life.
John 5:41 – “I do not receive glory from people.”
The Jewish leaders themselves were very desirous to have the glory of the common people. Many of the things they did such as public prayers, giving of alms, having long fringes on their garments, sitting at the places of honor at feasts, etc, were all designed to earn them the glory of men.
So naturally, when Jesus says he is the only way to the Father, these wicked men will surmise that Jesus is just like them – he is out to gain glory for himself from the common people. But as we know, nothing could be further from the truth.
Jesus never sought worldly pomp and glory for himself. He charged those he cured not to make him known and withdrew from those who wanted to make him king. He was always humble and meek; he received far more dishonor/disgrace than honor/glory during his incarnation.
John 5:42 – “But I know that you do not have the love of God within you.”
The Jews professed to have a sincere love for God and thought they proved it by their zeal for the law, the temple and the Sabbath.
But Jesus charges them with being void of love for God. And they prove his point when they reject him as Messiah. If they had a true love for God, they would love his Son and do everything in their power to obey him because love and obedience go hand-in-hand:
John 14:21 – He that has my commandments, and keeps them, he it is that loves me: and he that loves me shall be loved of my Father, and I will love him, and will manifest myself to him.
Furthermore, Jesus knows they do not have the love of God because he can search their hearts (Revelation 2:23, Jeremiah 17:10, Psalms 44:21). The common people thought the Pharisees and Sadducees were very devout men, but Jesus can see straight through all the pretences, facades and disguises that masked the evil within their hearts.
John 5:43 – “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.”
False Christs come in their own name, for their own honor and they engage in war against earthly enemies. But the true Messiah came to bring honor and glory to his Father and to wage war against sin.
This is yet another proof that the Jews do not love God. They were willing to embrace and follow after any and every false prophet who fit their opinion of who the Messiah should be – an earthly King and warrior who would free them from Rome and/or grant them secular riches and honor. But they rejected the true Messiah who faithfully discharges the duties given to him by God the Father.
John 5:44 – “How can you believe, when you receive glory from one another and do not seek the glory that comes from the only God?”
The religious leaders had one major obstacle to receiving Jesus as the Messiah and finding salvation. The obstacle was a toxic combination of pride, vanity and ambition. They thrived on the praise of men; all of their hopes and dreams were rooted in the honors of this life.
If Jesus had presented himself to them with earthly glory and splendor such as wealth, political influence, a good family heritage, military prowess, etc, the religious leaders would have welcomed him with open arms. In that scenario, they would have received honor for being a part of his ministry.
But Jesus came ‘lowly, riding on a donkey’ (Zechariah 9:9). He was humble and of a lowly rank in the world. He was only interested in pleasing his Father; he had no ambition or desire for his own glory. Anyone who chose to follow him had to adopt the same standards.
Consequently, in order for the religious leaders to acknowledge Jesus as the Christ, they must forfeit the praises of the multitude. They must renounce their own ambitions for Israel to defeat Rome. They must swallow their own pride and admit that some of their teachings were wrong; they would need to fully accept the teaching of Jesus. They would need to ‘take up their cross’ and follow Christ in seeking honor from God alone and not man.
Until this toxic obstacle is removed, they cannot and will not believe in Jesus because a proud/ambitious heart will never bow to the humble terms of the gospel message.
The good news is that the obstacle is present because of man’s will, not his ability. In other words, worldly pride remains as long as men cling to it. But everyone has the ability or option to let pride go and submit themselves to the gospel and thus inherit eternal life.
Even though many religious leaders of that day continued to hold onto their pride, there were also those who renounced it and found salvation through Christ. They made the decision to seek glory from God, not men. This is the only kind of honor and glory that lasts forever.
John 5:45 – “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.”
Jesus is the savior and judge of the world, not its accuser. Nevertheless, the unbelieving Jews will be accused before God – by Moses. This is ironic because the Jews actually preferred and trusted in Moses over Jesus:
John 9:28-29 – Then they reviled him, and said, You are his [Jesus] disciple; but we are Moses’ disciples. We know that God spoke unto Moses: as for this fellow, we know not from where he is.
On what grounds can Moses accuse the unbelieving Jews?
The law, which all Jews held as sacred, was given to the Jews through Moses (John 1:17) and by it they believed they would find salvation. Had they truly ‘heard’ and obeyed it (and the other writings of Moses), they would have discovered that the whole of the ceremonial law pointed to Jesus as the Messiah – he is the fulfillment of the law and the cornerstone of the gospel.
While the Jews cling to Moses as their spiritual leader, they refuse to ‘hear’ what he reveals about Jesus as Messiah; they are choosing to be spiritually blind. The decision to intentionally disregard the testimony/witness/word of Moses is the basis on which Moses can accuse them before God.
John 5:46-47 – “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?”
The writings of Moses pointed to Jesus as the salvation of the world in a multitude of symbols and figures. These are found all through the Old Testament in the history of the patriarchs, the ceremonial law and the sacrificial system.
These writings were shadowy representations of the birth, life, sufferings, death and resurrection of Jesus, Savior and Redeemer of the world. Besides all this, the Jews also received numerous other prophetic words relating to the Messiah.
In addition, Moses gave them rules to use in distinguishing a true prophet from a false one (Deuteronomy 13:1-3, Deuteronomy 18:15-22, etc). If they would have applied these rules to Jesus, they would have proved him to be a true prophet of God.
Now, if the Jews will not believe the writings of Moses, whom they held in the highest honor, why would they believe the words of Jesus, whom they despised?
Let me offer you some encouragement:
The Jews of that day are not the only group of people to disregard the law of God (the Bible), when it disagrees with their own views and desires.
There is a little bit of this tendency in all of us. For instance, when God says to honor your parents, that doesn’t apply if you have bad parents, right? Or when God says to love your neighbor, that doesn’t apply if your neighbor is an idiot, right?
You get the idea! I encourage all of us to examine our own lives. We should ask Holy Spirit to reveal areas in our life in which we have disregarded the commands of God because it doesn’t line up with our own views and opinions.
Let me offer you some relief and strength:
Jesus referred to John the Baptist as a lamp. But a lamp back in that day was very different than what we have now. Their version of a lamp was like a bowl of oil with a wick. In order for the lamp to keep burning, you had to routinely replenish the oil.
In the scriptures, oil is often used to symbolically represent the person and work of Holy Spirit.
So how brightly is your spiritual lamp burning? Are you spiritually ‘running on empty’ and maybe trying to accomplish spiritual things in your own strength? If so, you need to get refilled by Holy Spirit!
I recommend turning off your phone, your music, your computer and your TV. Spend some quiet time with Holy Spirit and the word of God. Soon, your spiritual strength will be renewed!