Rev. Slopsema is pastor of First Protestant Reformed Church in Grand Rapids, Michigan.
“Search the scriptures; for in them ye think ye have eternal life: and they are they which testify of me.”
John 5:39The unbelieving Jews sought to kill Jesus because He had healed a lame man at the pool of Bethesda on the Sabbath.
Jesus responded by pointing out that He was only doing the work of His Father. This made the Jews more determined than ever to kill Jesus. Not only had He, in their estimation, profaned the Sabbath, but He had also claimed equality with God.
So Jesus spoke of the witness that the Father had made concerning Him that verifies who He is and what He claimed for Himself. There was the witness of John the Baptist. There was the witness of the works the Father enabled Him to do. There was the verbal witness of the Father from heaven during Jesus’ ministry. Most important, there was the witness of Scripture.
In connection with the witness of Scripture, Jesus charged the unbelieving Jews, “Search the scriptures; for in them ye think ye have eternal life: and they are they which testify of me.”
This admonition to search the Scriptures is applicable not only to the unbelieving element in the church (and to the world), but also to the believer.
Sad to say, Scripture searching is on the wane.
The Object of This Search
We are called to search the Scriptures.
The Scriptures are the infallibly inspired written Word of God. The Scriptures were written by various men of God over a period of some 1,600 years, beginning with Moses and concluding with the apostle John. These men were so led by the Holy Spirit that what they wrote was the very word of God. This is the testimony of the Scriptures themselves. “All scripture is given by inspiration of God (lit., God-breathed), and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness” (II Tim. 3:16). Because the Scriptures are inspired by God, they are also infallible, i.e., without error.
The Scriptures are of two parts—the Old Testament and the New Testament. The Scriptures to which Jesus referred in His instruction to the Jews were the Old Testament Scriptures. These were the product of His work as the eternal Son of God. The New Testament Scriptures would be written by His direction after His death and resurrection.
These Scriptures in their entirety (Old Testament and New Testament) testify of Jesus and the life eternal that is to be found in Him. Notice how Jesus joined these two together here: “Search the scriptures; for in them ye think ye have eternal life: and they are they which testify of me.”
To understand the testimony of Scripture, we go back to eternity. God has eternally chosen to Himself a people with whom it is His good pleasure to live forever. The life that He has ordained for His people is an intimate life of friendship and fellowship that will not only delight Him but also fill them with the greatest joy possible. This life is an everlasting life, beginning in this life and continuing on into eternity.
It is God’s wisdom to provide this purpose through Jesus Christ. That His people may enjoy life in this highest degree, God determined the fall into sin of the human race through our first father, Adam, and then the salvation of His elect church in Jesus Christ, His Son. He determined to accomplish this great salvation through the incarnation, the atoning death, resurrection, exaltation into heaven, and final return of His Son.
All this God has revealed in the Scriptures.
The main theme of all Scripture is Jesus Christ and the eternal life that is to be found by faith in His death and resurrection.
In fact, all that we need to know to attain this life in Jesus Christ is revealed in Scripture. We are told of the basis for that life—the atoning work of Christ. We are told of the power of that life—the resurrection of Christ. We are told how to lay hold of that life—faith in Jesus Christ. We are told how to live this life in every part of our earthly life. And we are given hope of this life in heavenly glory.
Small wonder that we read in II Timothy 3:16 that all Scripture is profitable. There is no book more profitable than this!
The Meaning of That Search
These Scriptures we are to search.
The word that Jesus uses here was a word that described miners who searched for precious metals, looking anxiously and intently for the bed of ore that was to them of greatest value. It speaks therefore of a diligent, faithful, anxious search for something of greatest importance.
In like manner we are to search the Scriptures. To search the Scriptures means that we study them diligently and intently with a view to understanding the precious testimony they bring of life eternal in Jesus Christ.
The Scriptures certainly are worthy of our search. They are the only revelation of God concerning the life eternal that is in Jesus Christ. What is more important that this? We search the sports page, the financials, the comics, and various text books in college. The testimony of Scripture far exceeds any and all of these for importance and value! Yes, by all means, search the Scriptures.
This search is to be a daily, ongoing search that lasts a lifetime. This is not something we do with any other book. After a time of study we master its message and move on to some other author. But the Scriptures are of divine origin. They are an infinite deep that can profitably be searched out for an entire lifetime and not be exhausted.
This calling comes especially to us as believers.
Jesus called the Jews of His day to search the Scriptures because of their unbelief. Jesus pointed out that the Jews thought that in the Scriptures they had eternal life. The Old Testament Scriptures gave Israel the promise of eternal life with God. They were the seed of Abraham, with whom God had established His covenant. In that covenant God promised them the eternal life of His friendship and fellowship. So the Jews concluded correctly that in these Scriptures they had life.
However, the Jews of Jesus’ day approached the Scriptures in unbelief. They did not see in the Scriptures Jesus, the Mediator, as the One in whom eternal life was to be had as a free gift. They rather read the Scriptures to mean that eternal life was theirs by reason of their being the natural children of Abraham. As the children of Abraham they would receive the prize of eternal life in the way of their own obedience to the law.
This sad error on their part was not because the Scriptures were unclear. It was because of their unbelief that rejected the clear revelation of Scripture.
And so Jesus commanded them to search the Scriptures to find its testimony concerning Himself. Implied was the calling to submit to its clear testimony and believe.
This call comes to all that in unbelief reject the testimony of the Scriptures concerning Jesus Christ and the life God graciously provides in Him.
The call to search the Scriptures comes not just to those walking in unbelief but also to us believers. It comes especially to us believers. As believers we receive as truth the testimony of Scripture concerning Jesus Christ as the only way to eternal life. We also lay hold of Jesus as the Savior, and in Jesus Christ we come to enjoy life with God.
As believers we also must search the Scriptures. We must search the Scriptures so that we grow in grace and knowledge (II Pet. 3:18). We must ever be growing in our knowledge of the wonderful truth of salvation. We must also search the Scriptures so that we can evaluate the many ideas circulating in the world to discern what is true and what is false. This is where the Bereans excelled. In Acts 17:11 we read that the Jews of Berea were more noble than those in Thessalonica. This was because they received the word that Paul brought concerning Jesus with all readiness of mind, and searched the Scriptures daily, whether Paul’s message was true.
Searching the Scriptures is the very nature of one’s faith. True faith leads one to search the Scriptures. It leads him to search the Scriptures in the privacy of his home by himself and with his family. It also leads him to search the Scriptures in the fellowship of the saints with other believers in the church.
Yes, especially to us believers comes the call to search the Scriptures.
The Result of This Search
The result of such searching will be that we have eternal life.
Eternal life is not just reserved for the believer in heaven. It is a life that begins now. The key to having and enjoying this life is faith. By faith we lay hold of Christ to receive the blessings of life.
Searching the Scriptures is an integral part of this faith. Faith does not lay hold of Christ apart from Scripture. Faith lays hold of Christ and the life that is in Christ by searching the Scriptures. Faith also lays hold of Christ by prayer. But it begins with searching the Scriptures.
And the heart of searching the Scriptures is attending to the sound preaching of Scripture. By the preaching we are instructed in the Scriptures. By the preaching we are empowered and led to search the Scriptures in our home and in the communion of the saints.
Let us give diligence to the call to search the Scriptures.
Those who neglect the Scriptures will find they have at best a tenuous hold on Christ and the life that is in Him.
Searching the Scriptures we have the fullness of Jesus Christ and the life that is in Him—now and forever.