Rev. Haak is pastor of Bethel Protestant Reformed Church in Elk Grove Village, Illinios.
The wonderful miracle of the healing of the impotent man by the pool of Bethesda serves the Lord’s purpose of being the occasion for this deep and profound passage on the deity of Jesus. The miracle had been performed on the Sabbath day, and in Jerusalem, exactly so that Jesus could assert before the Jews His own divine nature and unity of essence with the Father. Aware that the Jews are seeking His life, our Lord will leave Judea, but not without testifying of His unique Sonship to the Father, and thus showing that this assertion was the heart of the reason for the Jews’ opposition to Christ.
We saw in our last study that the Jews correctly interpreted Christ’s words in verse 17 to mean that He claimed equality with God. When Jesus said, “My Father . . . and I,” the Jews had immediately understood that He claimed deity in the highest possible sense. They therefore considered Him to be worthy of death. Now if that was not what Jesus meant, He could have denied that such was the implication of His words and that they were mistaken. But He does not. Rather, He now goes on to explain and expand upon what had been implied in the statement He had made. The heart of this discourse is, therefore, the explanation of the truth of our Lord’s essential equality with God.
Our Lord begins the sermon by declaring that the Father and the Son never act or will independently of each other. Both in counsel and inaction they are the same. Both Father and Son work in the very same manner, by the exercise of the same power, and for the furtherance of the same ends.
Further, the works that they perform are greater than that simply of the healing of the lame man. The Son also performs the divine works ‘of quickening the dead (something which is the sole prerogative of the Creator God, see Heb. l:l-3), judging men in the sense of assigning to men their eternal destiny, and raising the bodies of all men from the grave. Who but the all-wise, almighty, all-just God can do such things? Yet all these works are performed by the Father through the Son. Not only does the Son perform divine works, but He also receives divine honors (worship) and possesses the divine virtue of independency.
Jesus then goes on (v. 31) to give the fourfold witness to His Sonship. This witness begins with the Father (the voice heard at His baptism), it continues with John the Baptist, it is heard in the works which Jesus performs, and last of all is declared with authority in all the Scriptures. A plain and overwhelming witness is borne to Him, all of which the Jews had willfully rejected.
It is then that the accused becomes the accuser. He who had been accused as the Sabbath-breaker now rises to condemn these Jews for their unbelief and refusal to come to Him. He tells them that they have not the love of God in them, nor His Word abiding in them. Even though they said they reverenced the Scriptures and Moses, they did not believe the Scriptures or Moses but followed their own thoughts and fancies. They were all busy seeking the honor that comes from men and not from God. For this reason they would not receive Him who came in the name of the Father’s will. And thus their condemnation is that they have rejected the witness borne to Him and would not come to Him that they might have life.
As we study these words of the Lord, let us remember that He, the person of the Son of God, who even now sits at God’s right hand, speaks these words to us. It is through faith, the gift of God, that these Scriptures speak to us of His true and only Sonship to the Father. Believing these words we have everlasting life (I John 4:15).
I. The defense of Christ’s essential unity (equality) with the Father (w. 19-30).
A. The Son never acts in separation from the Father, but shares the purpose and power of the Father (w. 19, 20).
B. The Son performs divine acts.
1. Regeneration of the dead (w. 21-25).
2. Judgment of men (w. 22, 27, 30). 3. Salvation of men by the speaking of His voice (v. 24).
4. Resurrection of all that are in the graves (w. 28, 29).
C. The Son receives divine honors (v. 23).
D. The Son has divine attributes—Self-sufficiency, independency (v. 26).
II. The witness that is borne to the Son (w. 31-39).
A. His own witness (v. 31).
B. The Father in Heaven (w. 32, 37, 38).
C. John the Baptist (w. 33-35).
D. The works that Jesus performs (v. 36).
E. The Scriptures (v. 39).
III. Jesus accuses the Jews of their willful rejection of Him (w. 40-47).
A. They will not come to Him because they have not the love of God in them (w. 40-42).
B. They do not receive him as He comes in the Father’s name because they seek honor of one another and not of God (w. 43, 44).
C. They do not believe the testimony of Moses concerning Him and thus will not receive Jesus’ words either (w. 45-47).
1: Background Study Aids: Belgic Confession, Art. 10;Reformed Dogmatics, pages 342-348.
2. Questions over the whole passage:
a. Show from this passage that Jesus’ equality with God is not in the sense that He is a god equal to God, but that the equality is a unity of being or essence.
b. Show that Christ gives to Himself in this passage divine attributes, works, and honors. Make a list of them.
c. Discuss this proposition: The healing of the man at the pool of Bethesda was wholly a secondary matter. It was arranged and intended by Christ to bring about this public testimony of His true and only Sonship to the Father.
3. How do verses 19 and 20 show that the Father and the Son never work separately from one another but rather by the same power and out of the same purpose?
4. What is the meaning of verse 20: “greater works than these”? Greater than what works? What are these greater works which will be shown?
5. Does the quickening of the dead refer only to the final resurrection of the body, or can it refer also to the spiritual quickening of regeneration?
6. May we substitute the word “worship” for “honor” in verse 23? See John 20:28.
7. Why does the Father commit all judgment to the Son (w. 22, 27)? Why is it fitting and proper that the “Son of man” be the one who executes the judgment of God?
8. In what way does verse 24 show the equality of Jesus with God?
9. Explain the significance of the fact that the Son has life in Himself (v. 26).
10. How are we to understand the resurrection of the evil ones? With what body do they come forth?
11. Explain verse 31. Does Jesus mean that He may not witness to Himself concerning who He is?
12. List the four witnesses to Christ’s divinity given in verses 32- 39.
13. Do you sense in this passage a transition from the Lord’s defense of His divinity to the Lord’s offensive against the Jews for their hardness and unbelief? Where does the transition begin?
14. Verse 40 has been used as support for the well-meant offer of salvation, namely, that God intends that all who hear the gospel might believe and have life in His Son. Respond to this. What is meant by the words: “that ye might have life”?
15. What was the great obstacle in the way of their receiving one who came to them in the name of the Father (v. 44)?
16. How will Moses accuse them to the Father (v. 45)? In what sense could it be said that they trusted in Moses? Where and how did Moses write of Christ?
17. Show from verse 47 that our faith in Christ as the divine Son of God must be and can only be based on the truth of the inspiration of the Scriptures. Or: Can faith in the deity of Christ be maintained if one denies the inspiration and infallibility of the Bible?