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Bible Commentaries

F. B. Hole's Old and New Testament Commentary

John 5



Other Authors
Verses 1-47

BUT FIRST WE are brought back again to Jerusalem that we may consider a third sign that He gave in the healing of the impotent man at Bethesda. The Jew reading this Gospel might say, “Well we are as a nation sick to the point of death, and need life; but we have the law. Ought we not to find healing there.” The third sign furnishes us with a reply to this.

A way of blessing was brought within man’s reach by the law of Moses. Only one thing was necessary on man’s part, but that one thing was wholly lacking. It demanded that he should have power to avail himself of the benefit provided. The case of the impotent man by the pool aptly sets forth the state in which every man lies, if tested by the law. Sin has destroyed our power to do the necessary thing which the law demands. This was so obvious in the case of the man that he made no reference to his own powers, which had vanished, but only acknowledged that no one was available to do for him what he could not do himself. “I have no man,” said he.

Yet by his confession he acknowledged his desire to be made whole, and complete soundness was granted to him at once by the word of the Lord. What the law could not do for him, inasmuch as it was weak through the impotence of his flesh, was accomplished in an instant as the work of the Son of God, now present on earth. The man was able not only to walk but also to carry the bed which formerly had witnessed to his helplessness. The Lord bade him do this though it was the Sabbath.

The law of the Sabbath was very strict. All kinds of work were prohibited, even to picking up sticks and lighting a fire. The Jews therefore were up in arms at once when they saw the man carrying his bed. He had however a ready and sufficient answer. The Man who had healed him had told him to do it; and a little later he was able to name that Man—Jesus. Their zeal for the Sabbath was such that from that moment He became the Object of their hatred and persecution.

The Lord uttered no word of apology or even explanation; He simply asserted that which cut at the root of this legal institution. Under the law of Moses the Sabbath was instituted as a sign between Jehovah and Israel, as is made clear in Exodus 31:12-17, though it was based upon His rest when creation was finished. As far as it concerned Himself Jesus brushed it aside. Since the creation had been invaded by sin His Father was working not resting, and He was working in communion with His Father, and not keeping Sabbaths as linked up with them.

This pointed declaration stirred up the Jews to murderous hatred for the two reasons stated in verse John 5:18. He had broken the sign of the covenant in which they boasted, and He had coupled with His action the assertion that God was His Father; thus claiming equality with God. Verse John 5:18, be it noted, is John’s explanation of why the Jews sought to kill Him, and not his record of the explanation furnished by the Jews—though of course it may have been the explanation which they gave. It is therefore the comment of the Holy Spirit through John, and proves that in the Sonship of our Lord there is no thought of any kind of inferiority to the Father. On the contrary it is the assertion of equality.

The answer Jesus gave to their murderous hatred, in verse John 5:19, is very striking. The Son, who was here in Manhood, had taken the place of carrying out in perfection all the Father’s will and work. Hence He could do nothing “of Himself,” as originating it independently of the Father: but rather He acted in all things as directed and ordered of the Father. But this is intended to conduct us, we believe, to the still deeper truth that this necessity was rooted in His perfect oneness with the Father. Though Man He was so wholly and perfectly and altogether in the unity of the Godhead that it was impossible for Him to act apart from the Father. In that sense, “The Son can do nothing of Himself;” and therefore this saying far from being any confession of impotence or even inferiority is an assertion of His unqualified Deity.

“The Father loveth the Son.” These five words occur as the statement of the Evangelist at the end of John 3:1-36. They now occur in verse John 5:20 as the voice of Jesus Himself. The Son, now on earth in Manhood, was in full cognizance of all the Father’s actings, and was to engage in works greater than any yet manifested. He would act as the Giver of life and as the Executor of judgment. To quicken is to give life; and in this the Son acts according to His sovereign will, though of course His will is ever in complete harmony with the Father’s will.

Raising the dead and quickening are distinguished in verse John 5:21. The wicked dead are to be raised, but it is not said that they will be quickened. Again, quickening takes place when resurrection is not in question, as verse John 5:25 shows. The Son will raise the dead, as He states in verses John 5:28-29, but the point in verse John 5:21 is that He gives life just as the Father does. In the opening verses of the Gospel we viewed Him as having life inherently, and as displaying that life so that it should be the light of men. Here we go a step further: He is the Giver of life to others. In this He acts with the Father.

But in the matter of judgment He acts for the Father, as verse John 5:22 states. There are things which the Son disclaims, such as the fixing and revealing of “times and seasons,” as we see in Acts 1:7, Mark 13:32; here we find that the Father disclaims all judgment, committing it into the hands of the Son. These facts, however, must not be used in any way to detract from the honour and glory of either Father or Son. This is specially pointed out as regards the Son in verse John 5:23, inasmuch as the fact of His assuming Manhood lays Him open to unwarranted depreciation in the minds of those who neither understand nor love Him. He will be honoured by all in the hour of judgment; and not to honour Him today is to dishonour the Father who sent Him. The Father evidently will accept no honour save that in which the Son is honoured conjointly.

In this wonderful discourse the Lord made three statements on which He laid special emphasis, expressed by the words “Verily, verily.” In verse John 5:19 He emphasized His essential oneness with the Father in all His works, as we have seen. In verse John 5:24 the emphasis again lies on His connection with the Father. As the Word became flesh He was the sent One of the Father, and in His word the Father was made known. So He did not just say, “He that heareth My word and believeth it,” but, “believeth on Him that sent Me.” We believe on the Father through the word of the Son; so that presently Peter writes to saints, “who by Him do believe in God” (1 Peter 1:21). Now here He announced that such simple hearing of faith produced three amazing results: the possession of life eternal; preservation from judgment; passage out of death into life.

How many ten thousand times has this great verse been used to bring light and assurance to the souls of anxious and enquiring sinners! May it yet be used many thousand times more! The authoritative assurance it breathes lies on the very face of it. We are well rewarded, however, when we look a little more closely into its depths. The Son gives life to whom He will and He executes all judgment. He speaks the life-giving word which conducts the soul in faith to God, and at once the life is ours and into the judgment we shall never come. We have become the subjects of the first of those greater works of which He has spoken, and into the second we never enter. He laid emphasis on the positive side by speaking of life in a twofold way. It is not only that which the believer possesses, but that also into which he passes out of the realm of death.

If we speak of life as connected with this lower creation, we deal with something which defies our analysis and definitions, yet obviously the word on our lips has more senses than one. We contemplate, for instance, not only the vital spark in man or beast but also the conditions needed for that spark to exist. There is no fish life without water; no human life without air. Even so there is no spiritual and eternal life without the knowledge of God; and no knowledge of God without the revelation which reaches us in the word of the Sent One and the faith which receives it. Because of this, we believe, Jesus spoke not only of the believer having eternal life but of his passing out of that spiritual death which is marked by utter ignorance of God into the realm of life which is filled with the light of the knowledge of the Father. No wonder He laid such emphasis on this wonderful statement.

And in the next verse He emphasized the further statement that a period of time was then dawning in which this great life-giving work of His would specially be carried on. In this verse we view the work more from the side of His own sovereign action, and faith is not specially mentioned, though of course no one does “hear the voice of the Son of God” apart from faith. This “hour” has lasted till the present moment, and through the centuries multitudes have heard the voices of the preachers of the word without hearing His voice in the word. Only those who have heard His voice have lived. They have lived because, as the next verse tells us, the Son now come forth in Manhood, has life in Himself, as given of the Father. Life was in Him essentially, for the statement, “In Him was life” (John 1:4), is connected with His eternal existence, and His incarnation is not mentioned till verse John 5:14; but here we see that in Manhood the Son is given of the Father as the Fountain Head of eternal life for men. We possess it derivatively, whereas only that which is possessed inherently and essentially can be communicated to others. This great life-giving work is His alone and now is the time of His so acting. In the deep-seated silence of innumerable hearts His voice has sounded: they have heard and lived. We must not invert the order of the words, as some have been inclined to do. It is not, “they that live shall hear,” but, “they that hear shall live.”

But further, the Son of God is also the Son of Man, and so He is not only the Fountain of life but also the authoritative Judge of all. As Son of Man He was to be “lifted up” as under man’s judgment. Presently we shall hear the people saying, “How sayest Thou, The Son of Man must be lifted up?

Who is this Son of Man?” (John 12:34). Well, in the coming day they will know who He is to their irretrievable ruin! Though at first sight it seems most marvellous that all judgment should be vested in A MAN, yet we are not to marvel. Another hour will strike when the voice of the Son of Man will be heard, and this not only by some but by all—whether good or evil.

Only those who heard the voice of the Son of God and lived had the power to do good. The life expressed itself in the good, as its product and proof. The rest simply did evil. The voice of the Son of Man will lift out of the grave all without exception, for there is a resurrection of judgment as well as a resurrection of life. They are distinguished here, though we have to go to other scriptures to discover that a wide interval of time separates them. Both however are in the future, for the words, “and now is,” do not occur in this connection. The words in verses John 5:22, John 5:24, John 5:27, John 5:29, translated variously, judgment, condemnation, damnation, are fundamentally the same. It is well to bear this in mind.

But though all judgment is in His hands, He does not even in this act independently or apart from the Father. Having taken up Manhood, He does not leave the place He has taken but carries it out in perfection. Had He said, “My judgment is just; because I am the Word who became flesh,” He would have stated what is absolutely true; but He based the assertion on this— “because I seek not mine own will, but the will of the Father which hath sent Me.” All judgment may safely be committed into the hands of a Man of this order, and in this sense He said, “I can of mine own self do nothing.”

In Matthew 20:23, Jesus uttered the actual words, “Not mine to give.” In Mark 13:32, He said in effect, “Not mine to know.” Here He says in effect, “Not mine to do.” All three statements are made in view of the lowly place of dependence which He took for the glory of the Godhead and our salvation, and they do not in the least militate against His supreme place in the unity of the Godhead. They show us something of what is meant by His making Himself “of no reputation,” or, “emptying Himself,” according to Philippians 2:1-30, and thus we get a glimpse of the true “kenosis” of which the Scripture speaks, and we find it far removed from the evil “kenosis theory” formulated by unbelieving theologians, which attributes fallibility and error to our Lord.

The truth was that, though Himself so great, He was here wholly for the will of the Father, and all His judgments were according to the Father’s thoughts. Even as regards witness to Himself all was left in the Father’s hands. It is customary among men to advertise themselves, but thus it was not with Him.

The first witness, John, was just a man. Jesus needed no such testimony, yet He mentioned it, if thereby some might listen and be saved. In verses John 5:33-35, Jesus is really bearing witness to John, who had borne witness to the truth as a burning and a shining lamp. John’s witness was marked by both warmth and light, yet he was only a lamp—for that is the word the Lord used—whilst Jesus was the true light, like the sun shining in its strength. Now the sun needs no witness from a mere lamp, even though it burns and shines.

The works, which the Father had given Jesus to finish, were like beams of light thrown off by the sun; they were a greater witness to Him than anything that John could say. They were so obviously Divine that they proved Him to be the Sent One of the Father. And then, in the third place, the Father Himself had borne witness to Him—notably at the time of John’s baptism—but they, being utterly carnal, had no appreciation of it. They wanted something which would appeal to their natural powers of sight or hearing, and knew nothing of that word of the Father, which brings spiritual illumination.

Lastly, there were the Holy Writings. These did indeed testify of Him, and they searched them. They thought they had eternal life in the Scriptures, but Christ is the Giver of it, and to Him they would not come. If by searching the Scriptures men are conducted to Christ, then indeed they have eternal life through the Scriptures, otherwise they merely gain knowledge of a technical, theological sort and remain in spiritual death. These words are most illuminating as to what the true function of Scripture is.

The Lord proceeded to show that He thoroughly knew His opponents. He was here in His Father’s name, and hence the honour and glory that man can offer was nothing to Him. They had nothing of the love of God in them, and hence were greedy for honour, one of another, instead of seeking that which comes from God. In their minds they glorified men, and this was as ever an effectual barrier to faith, and they could not believe. Jesus came in His Father’s name; which means He was seeking His Father’s glory. All that was foreign to them, and they refused Him. Another would come in his own name, and therefore seeking his own glory; that would exactly suit them and they would receive him. In these words the Lord predicted the coming of antichrist, in whom the false glory of man will reach its climax.

In these words also were exposed the evil motives lying deep in the hearts of His opponents, yet He was not their accuser. Moses was that through the law that had been given by him. They boasted in Moses, because they felt that great man conferred some honour upon themselves, but they did not really believe him. Had they done so they would have received Christ. Verse John 5:39 applies to all Old Testament scriptures: they “testify of Me.” Verse John 5:46 alludes specifically to the early books written by Moses; and he “wrote of Me.” This, then, is the key which unlocks all the Old Testament—the main theme is the Christ, who was to come.

The way in which the Lord linked His words with Moses’ writings is very striking. If men refuse the earlier testimony through the servant, they will not receive the Son, when He speaks. And so indeed it is. The men today, who disbelieve the books of Moses and even deny his authorship, do not believe the words of Jesus. This is perfectly clear, inasmuch as He endorses here the very thing they deny. We must make our choice between the rationalistic modernists and Christ. They have stepped into the shoes of His Jewish opponents: that is all. The two questions, “How can ye believe?” and, “How shall ye believe?” are very striking. As the love of God is in us, as the glory of man fades in our eyes, we shall accept and believe the Holy Writings, and they will lead us in faith to Christ.


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These files are public domain.
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Bibliography Information
Hole, Frank Binford. "Commentary on John 5:4". "F. B. Hole's Old and New Testament Commentary". 1947.

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