Give Us That Bread!

22 On the next day the crowd that remained on the other side of the sea saw that there had been only one boat there, and that Jesus had not entered the boat with his disciples, but that his disciples had gone away alone. 23 Other boats from Tiberias came near the place where they had eaten the bread after the Lord had given thanks. 24 So when the crowd saw that Jesus was not there, nor his disciples, they themselves got into the boats and went to Capernaum, seeking Jesus.

25 When they found him on the other side of the sea, they said to him, “Rabbi, when did you come here?” 26 Jesus answered them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, you are seeking me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves. 27 Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you. For on him God the Father has set his seal.” 28 Then they said to him, “What must we do, to be doing the works of God?” 29 Jesus answered them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.” 30 So they said to him, “Then what sign do you do, that we may see and believe you? What work do you perform? 31 Our fathers ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written, ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat.’” 32 Jesus then said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, it was not Moses who gave you the bread from heaven, but my Father gives you the true bread from heaven. 33 For the bread of God is he who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.” 34 They said to him, “Sir, give us this bread always.” – John 6:22-34 ESV

After having blown the minds of His disciples by walking on the water of the Sea of Galilee in the middle of a storm, Jesus returned with His astonished followers to Capernaum. What happened next is only recorded by John. Matthew and Mark both describe Jesus as traveling to a place called Gennesaret where He performed additional miracles. But only John provides the details concerning Jesus’ discourse on the bread of life. As has been stated before, John is less interested in providing an accurate moment-by-moment timeline than he is in linking together those key events in the life of Jesus that demonstrate His deity.

As we will see, John’s inclusion of this particular event provides a unifying link for all that John as described in the last five chapters. In chapter two, John recounted the story of Jesus turning ordinary water into extraordinary wine. He went on to describe Jesus cleansing the temple and referring to His own body as the temple that will be destroyed and raised up three days later. In chapter three, John provided a first-hand account of Jesus’ late-night conversation with the Pharisee, Nicodemus. The theme was the need for belief in the one “who descended from heaven, the Son of Man” (John 3:13, but who would also “be lifted up be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life” (John 3:14-15 ESV).

In that same chapter, John provided the testimony of John the Baptist concerning Jesus. He too described Jesus as “He who comes from heaven” and “is above all” (John 3:31 ESV). John the Baptist assured his disciples that Jesus was the one whom God and who “utters the words of God” (John 3:34 ESV).

In chapter four, John told the story of Jesus meeting the Samaritan woman at the well of Jacob. In that story, Jesus offered to give His unlikely conversation partner the gift of “living water,” assuring her that “whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again” (John 4:14 ESV). He went on to describe this water as the source of eternal life.

“The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life…” – John 4:14 ESV

John went on to record the exchange between Jesus and His disciples when they returned to the well with food and were surprised to see their teacher talking to a Samaritan woman. When the offered Jesus food, He responded, “I have food to eat that you do not know about” (John 4:32 ESV). And Jesus went on to clarify what He had said. “My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to accomplish his work” (John 4:34 ESV).

In chapter five, Jesus continued to assert that He was working in conjunction with and under the full authority of His Heavenly Father.

My Father is working until now, and I am working.” – John 5:17 ESV

Everything Jesus did was a demonstration of His divine mandate as the Son of God. But He wasn’t just a man sent by God, He was God in human flesh, and He shared the same power and authority over life and death as His Heavenly Father.

“For as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, so also the Son gives life to whom he will.” – John 5:21 ESV

And Jesus boldly proclaimed to the religious leaders, “Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life” (John 5:24 ESV).

Of course, chapter six contains the story of Jesus feeding the multitude with nothing more than five loaves and two fish. And it had all begun with an innocent but revealing question from Philip: “Where are we to buy bread, so that these people may eat?” (John 6:5 ESV). Like the other disciples, Philip saw a physical need that was beyond their capacity to meet. But Jesus saw an opportunity to demonstrate His power over the physical realm so that they might believe in His authority to offer spiritual sustenance to all those in need.

Which brings us to today’s passage. Jesus had returned to Capernaum, but before long, He found Himself surrounded by a crowd of people who have traveled all the way from Bethsaida just to find Him. These were the very same people who had benefited from His miracle the day before by having eaten their fill of the loaves and fishes He had multiplied in their sight. Now, they had come seeking to find the one who had met their needs so dramatically and completely.

But Jesus saw through their motives and accused them of having purely selfish and physical motives.

“Truly, truly, I say to you, you are seeking me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves. – John 6:26 ESV

They saw Jesus as little more than an unlimited source of food. They had traveled all the way from Bethsaida to Capernaum in hopes of finding Jesus and receiving a second free meal. But Jesus revealed that they had expended a lot of effort in search of the wrong thing.

“Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you.” – John 6:27 ESV

They were driven by temporal desires that were purely physical in nature. They were hoping to get a free meal but failed to understand that Jesus had come to provide freedom from sin. When Jesus had offered the Samaritan woman a source of water that would allow her to never thirst again, she had responded, “Sir, give me this water, so that I will not be thirsty or have to come here to draw water” (John 4:15 ESV). Like the crowd from Bethsaida, she had missed the point. Her mind was fixed on the physical world.

When Jesus told His eager audience, “Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures to eternal life,” they misunderstood His meaning. He was speaking in spiritual terms, but their growling stomachs made it impossible for them focus. They wanted to know what they needed to do to get their hands on bread that never would never get stale or grow moldy.

“What must we do, to be doing the works of God?” – John 6:28 ESV

All they wanted to know was what they needed to do to get their needs met. What was God going to require of them? What rules or regulations would they have to keep in order to get what they wanted from Him? And Jesus took advantage of their eager desire to do something by outlining the only “work” God required of them.

This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.” – John 6:29 ESV

And this is where John provides a less-than-flattering glimpse into their hearts. Jesus has told them that they must believe in Him. So, they demand that He provide Him with a sign worthy of their belief. And, just in case Jesus might not have something in mind, they give Him a suggestion.

“Show us a miraculous sign if you want us to believe in you. What can you do? After all, our ancestors ate manna while they journeyed through the wilderness! The Scriptures say, ‘Moses gave them bread from heaven to eat.’” – John 6:3-31 NLT

They had already seen Jesus perform a sign worthy of their belief. In fact, after Jesus had fed them the day before, they had exclaimed, “This is indeed the Prophet who is to come into the world!” (John 6:14 ESV). But now, they were demanding more of the same. And they weren’t interested in a miracle to encourage their belief. They were looking for a miracle to fill their stomachs. Moses had provided the Israelites an endless supply of manna, so couldn’t Jesus do the same? 

These people had seen Jesus feed more than 10,000 people with nothing more than a few loaves of bread and a couple of fishes. So, it should be no problem for Him to conjure up a daily supply of endless bread to meet their physical needs. And, should He be willing to do so, that will guarantee their belief in Him.

But Jesus pointed out the flaw in their thinking. First of all, Moses had not been the one to provide the Israelites with manna. It had been God. And now, God was offering them a completely different kind of bread that would result in eternal life.

“I tell you the truth, Moses didn’t give you bread from heaven. My Father did. And now he offers you the true bread from heaven. – John 6:32 NLT

The manna, while divinely provided, was temporary in nature. It was meant to meet the needs of that day. They were forbidden to hoard it or to store it. If they did, it would rot (Exodus 16:19-20). And each day, when their hunger returned, they were required to gather more to meet their need. But Jesus reveals that He came to offer them something far more satisfying than earthly bread to meet physical needs.

“The true bread of God is the one who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.” – John 6:33 NLT

These very same people had eaten their fill the day before. They had been fed by the hand of the Son of God, but the food they received was temporary in nature. It could only satisfy for the moment. When they woke the next morning, their hunger had returned. Their previously filled stomachs were once again empty. And they had gone in search of more. And when Jesus offered them true bread from heaven, they had quickly begged, “Sir…give us that bread every day” (John 6:34 NLT).

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Hardened Hearts

16 When evening came, his disciples went down to the sea, 17 got into a boat, and started across the sea to Capernaum. It was now dark, and Jesus had not yet come to them. 18 The sea became rough because a strong wind was blowing. 19 When they had rowed about three or four miles, they saw Jesus walking on the sea and coming near the boat, and they were frightened. 20 But he said to them, “It is I; do not be afraid.” 21 Then they were glad to take him into the boat, and immediately the boat was at the land to which they were going. – John 6:16-21 ESV

According to the gospel accounts of Matthew and Mark, after Jesus performed the miracle of the feeding of the 5,000, He told the disciples to travel by boat to the city of Bethsaida, located on the northeastern shore of the Sea of Galilee. He told Him He would join them there after he had dismissed the crowds. But Jesus delayed His departure until that evening because He went needed time alone with His Heavenly Father.

So, once again, the scene is set for yet another display of His divine glory. The disciples had just witnessed the power and authority of Jesus as He miraculously transformed five loaves of bread and two small fish into a feast that fed 5,000 men, plus their wives and children. Everyone ate as much as they liked and yet, the disciples collected 12 baskets full of uneaten leftovers.

This incredible demonstration of Jesus’ power brings to mind the words of Paul, written to the church in Ephesus.

Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen. – Ephesians 3:20-21 ESV

God’s power is unlimited and He had displayed that power through the hands of His own Son. Jesus had taken the bread and fish, miraculously multiplying what had been deemed insufficient by the disciples and turning it into abundantly more than anyone in the crowd could have ever imagined. In doing so, Jesus demonstrated the kind of power at His disposal. But His actions were also meant to encourage the disciples and let them know that, as His followers, they would have access to that same divine power.

It seems that the disciples had followed Jesus’ instructions and had sailed to Bethsaida. But when Jesus failed to show up, they decided to sail on the Capernaum, assuming that Jesus would meet them there. But Matthew indicates that things did not go well for them. By the time Jesus arrived in Bethsaida, it was somewhere between 3:00 and 6:00 o’clock in the morning, and the disciples were caught in a storm.

…but the boat by this time was a long way from the land, beaten by the waves, for the wind was against them. – Matthew 14:24 ESV

Due to the strong wind, the disciples had only made it about three miles, and they were struggling to make any further headway. There is no indication that they were in fear for their lives. Many of the disciples were seasoned fishermen and they would have been very familiar with these kinds of storms, which were a common occurrence on the Sea of Galilee. But they would have rarely traveled by boat after dark. It seems likely that they were tired, having just recently returned from the mission Jesus had sent them on, and from the long day of feeding the 5,000. They were probably a bit put out with Jesus for having delayed their departure by not showing up when He said He would.

So, in the midst of their difficulties on the lake, they were shocked to see what looked like a ghost, walking on the water towards them. Matthew indicates that “they were terrified, and said, ‘It is a ghost!’” (Matthew 14:26 ESV). And Mark adds that “they all saw him and were terrified” (Mark 6:50 ESV). Whether it was due to the darkness or the wind and the blowing mist, they were unable to recognize Jesus. This boat-full of grown men responded like a group of frightened adolescent girls.

But despite the roar of the wind and the cries of the disciples, Jesus spoke and they were able to hear Him.

“It is I; do not be afraid.” – John 6:20 ESV

Once again, this scene brings to mind the 23rd Psalm. The feeding of the 5,000 was a demonstration of Jesus, the Good Shepherd, caring for His helpless sheep.

The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.
   He makes me lie down in green pastures.
He leads me beside still waters.
   He restores my soul.
He leads me in paths of righteousness
    for his name’s sake. – Psalm 23:1-3 ESV

Jesus had demonstrated His compassion for the people by meeting their physical need for food. He had restored their physical stamina by feeding their bodies. But He had come to do so much more.

And now, we see His disciples, caught in a storm and struggling to make their way to safety. They were expending great amounts of energy but were making little progress. And there were probably a few of the disciples who wondered if they would make it Capernaum at all. And this is where David’s psalm comes in.

Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
    I will fear no evil,
for you are with me;
    your rod and your staff,
    they comfort me. – Psalm 23:4 ESV

Jesus spoke into the chaos of their situation, and He simply stated, “It is I.” But Jesus was doing so much more than announcing Himself to His disciples. In a sense, He was indicating to His disciples that the entire circumstance in which they found themselves was His doing. It was all part of His plan for further demonstrating to them His divine power and authority. In spite of what they saw and were experiencing, He was still Jesus, the Son of God, and the Savior of the world.

And Mark indicates that as soon as Jesus spoke to them, He got into the boat, and the wind immediately ceased. His very presence calmed the storm. And then Mark adds, “and they were utterly astounded” (Mark 6:51 ESV).

If you recall, the disciples had displayed no reaction to Jesus’ miraculous feeding of the 5,000. None of the gospels indicate any kind of response on the part of the disciples after having witnessed this incredible demonstration of Jesus’ power and authority. The crowd had reacted with awe and wonder, declaring their belief that Jesus must be the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy spoken by Moses (Deuteronomy 18:15 ESV).

“This is indeed the Prophet who is to come into the world!” – John 6:14 ESV

But the disciples appeared to remain strangely silent. And Mark provides some insight into what was going on.

And they were utterly astounded, for they did not understand about the loaves, but their hearts were hardened. – Mark 6:51-52 ESV

These men were completely blown away by what they had just witnessed. They had just witnessed Jesus doing the impossible, by walking on water and defying the laws of nature. But Mark indicates that their astonishment was due to the fact that they had not understood what Jesus had done earlier that day. In His miracle of the loaves and fishes, Jesus had already demonstrated His power over nature. As the Son of God and the co-creator of the universe, Jesus held absolute authority over the entire creative order.

And what is amazing about this entire story is that the disciples had already been eyewitnesses to Jesus’ power over the wind and waves. Mark and Matthew both record an earlier occasion in which Jesus and the disciples were caught in a severe storm on the Sea of Galilee. As the storm raged, Jesus slept. But the disciples, in fear for their lives, had awakened Jesus, demanding that He do something to save them. And He had responded to their fear by rebuking the winds and waves and calming the storm. And the disciples, awed by what they had just witnessed, stated, “What sort of man is this, that even winds and sea obey him?” (Matthew 8:27 ESV).

And yet, here they were on the same sea, facing similar circumstances, and they still could not understand what sort of man Jesus truly was. Mark indicates that their hearts were hardened. They were not yet capable of seeing and understanding the true nature of Jesus’ identity. Yes, they had seen Him turn water into wine. They had witnessed Him perform signs and wonders. They had watched Him feed more than 10,000 people with nothing more than five loaves of bread and two small fish. Now, they had just seen Him walk on water. But while they were shocked by all that they had seen, their hearts were still hardened by disbelief. They just couldn’t bring themselves to see Jesus for who He truly was.

John indicates that they were simply relieved to have Jesus back in the boat with them.

…they were glad to take him into the boat, and immediately the boat was at the land to which they were going. – John 6:21 ESV

With Jesus in the boat, things were back to normal. The wind had died down and they found themselves back in the safe and more familiar surroundings of Capernaum. But little did they know that their lessons were far from over. Jesus was far from done when it came to teaching His disciples about His identity and preparing them for their ultimate role as His apostles. They had much to learn and Jesus was going to continue softening their hearts and enlightening their minds so that they would be ready for the task that lie ahead.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Not Enough

1 After this Jesus went away to the other side of the Sea of Galilee, which is the Sea of Tiberias. And a large crowd was following him, because they saw the signs that he was doing on the sick. Jesus went up on the mountain, and there he sat down with his disciples. Now the Passover, the feast of the Jews, was at hand. Lifting up his eyes, then, and seeing that a large crowd was coming toward him, Jesus said to Philip, “Where are we to buy bread, so that these people may eat?” He said this to test him, for he himself knew what he would do. Philip answered him, “Two hundred denarii worth of bread would not be enough for each of them to get a little.” One of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, said to him, “There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish, but what are they for so many?” 10 Jesus said, “Have the people sit down.” Now there was much grass in the place. So the men sat down, about five thousand in number. 11 Jesus then took the loaves, and when he had given thanks, he distributed them to those who were seated. So also the fish, as much as they wanted. 12 And when they had eaten their fill, he told his disciples, “Gather up the leftover fragments, that nothing may be lost.” 13 So they gathered them up and filled twelve baskets with fragments from the five barley loaves left by those who had eaten. 14 When the people saw the sign that he had done, they said, “This is indeed the Prophet who is to come into the world!”

15 Perceiving then that they were about to come and take him by force to make him king, Jesus withdrew again to the mountain by himself. – John 6:1-15 ESV

After recording Jesus’ less-than-flattering address to the religious leaders, John picks up the story with Jesus leaving Jerusalem and traveling back to the region of Galilee. As is clear from a reading of the other gospels, John chooses to skip a lot of other important events in Jesus’ life and picks up his narrative with the miracle of the feeding of the 5,000. It was not that John was unaware of these other details of Jesus’ life because he would have been an eyewitness to all of them. It is that he was purposefully piecing together key events that provided further evidence to support his theme of Jesus’ deity. For John, the whole point of his gospel was to prove that Jesus was the Word of God made flesh.

the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. – John 1:14 ESV

Throughout his gospel, John concentrates his attention on those events surrounding the life of Jesus that help support his thesis. He intentionally chooses the stories that he feels best illustrate the point he is trying to make. John is not so much interested in providing a day-by-day account of the life of Jesus as he is in demonstrating and proving the deity of Jesus.

So, he picks up the story with Jesus arriving at “the other side of the Sea of Galilee” (John 6:1 ESV). We know from Luke’s gospel that the scene for this miracle was near a town called Bethsaida, located on the northeastern shore of the Sea of Galilee (Luke 9:10). According to Matthew’s account, upon hearing the news of John the Baptist’s beheading by Herod, Jesus “withdrew from there in a boat to a desolate place by himself” (Matthew 14:13 ESV). But when He returned to shore, Jesus found a large crowd had gathered to see Him. Mark adds that Jesus viewed the crowd as “sheep without a shepherd” (Mark 6:34 ESV) and His compassion led Him to heal many of those who were sick among them. According to John, Jesus’ actions attracted an even larger crowd, filled with people from the neighboring towns who were anxious to see this miracle worker for themselves. 

John describes Jesus gathering His 12 disciples and taking them to the crest of a local hillside. They had just returned from their first official missionary assignment (Mark 6:30-32; Luke 9:10) and Jesus knew they needed rest and a time to debrief from their experience.

The scene is set. John the Baptist is dead. The disciples of Jesus have returned from their assignment, tired and hungry, but anxious to share about all the miracles they had performed (Luke 9:6). A large crowd has gathered, drawn by news of the miracles of Jesus. And John adds the somewhat random note that the Feast of the Passover was just around the corner. That reference will become more important as his story unfolds.

John, in his recollection of the day’s events, describes Jesus as turning to Philip and asking, “Where are we to buy bread, so that these people may eat?” (John 6:5 ESV). None of the other gospel accounts include this conversation between Jesus and Philip. It may be that John was the only one of the disciples who overheard this exchange. It is significant because Philip was the only disciple who was from Bethsaida (John 1:44). He would have had firsthand knowledge of the area and known where bread could be purchased. But John indicates that Jesus’ question was really just a test.

Philip and his companions had just returned from the assignment given to them by Jesus, and Luke provides the instructions they had received.

One day Jesus called together his twelve disciples and gave them power and authority to cast out all demons and to heal all diseases. Then he sent them out to tell everyone about the Kingdom of God and to heal the sick. “Take nothing for your journey,” he instructed them. “Don’t take a walking stick, a traveler’s bag, food, money, or even a change of clothes. Wherever you go, stay in the same house until you leave town. And if a town refuses to welcome you, shake its dust from your feet as you leave to show that you have abandoned those people to their fate.”– Luke 9:1-5 ESV

And Luke adds that they had followed Jesus’ instructions, traveling from village to village, “preaching the Good News and healing the sick” (Luke 9:6 ESV). These men had been given “power and authority” by Jesus so that they had been able to cast out demons and heal the sick, just as He did. And when they returned to Jesus, they told Him all that they had done.

Now, Jesus gave His disciples a test. He wanted to see how they were going to handle this particular moment in time. Had their faith been strengthened by their recent experience? Did they believe that the power and authority given to them by Jesus was enough to handle any circumstance they might encounter?  Jesus wasn’t interested in knowing whether Philip had a source for the purchase of bread. He wanted to know if His disciples were convinced that He was the source of all things. He had given them power and authority, and they had seen it in action. But now, when faced with what appeared to be an overwhelming physical problem, would their faith fail them?

Philip’s response to Jesus’ question provides the answer:

“Two hundred denarii worth of bread would not be enough for each of them to get a little.” – John 6:7 ESV

From Philip’s perspective, the problem was greater than their capacity to solve it. There were just too many people to feed. And Andrew reveals just how dire the situation really was: “There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish, but what are they for so many?” (John 6:9 ESV). The other gospel writers indicate that the disciples concluded that the best solution was to let the people fend for themselves.

“…send the crowds away to go into the villages and buy food for themselves.” – Matthew 14:15 ESV

“Send them away to go into the surrounding countryside and villages and buy themselves something to eat.” – Mark 6:36 ESVC

“Send the crowd away to go into the surrounding villages and countryside to find lodging and get provisions, for we are here in a desolate place.” – Luke 9:12 ESV

They failed the test. Their personal experience wielding the power and authority given to them by Jesus had been real, but its effect had been shortlived. They were unable to look at their current situation and see that the solution was well within their reach. But Jesus knew that nothing was impossible. So, He instructed the disciples to gather the crowd (the sheep without a shepherd) and seat them on the grassy hillside. Then John records that Jesus “took the loaves, and when he had given thanks, he distributed them to those who were seated. So also the fish, as much as they wanted” (John 6:11 ESV).

Jesus, with the power and authority given to Him by God the Father, fed the sheep. He shepherded the flock of God, miraculously meeting their need in full. This amazing event should bring to mind the 23rd Psalm.

The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.
    He makes me lie down in green pastures.
He leads me beside still waters.
    He restores my soul.
He leads me in paths of righteousness
    for his name’s sake. – Psalm 23:1-3 ESV

John points out that the people “ate their fill.” They were completely satisfied. No one went without and there was no one who failed to have their need fully met. The Shepherd fully satisfied the needs of His flock. In fact, there were 12 baskets of leftovers gathered by the disciples. Each of them held in his hands a basket full of tangible proof that with the Lord as their shepherd, they would never have a single unmet need.

But it is interesting to note that John describes the reaction of the people, but not of the disciples.

“This is indeed the Prophet who is to come into the world!” – John 6:14 ESV

The people were amazed by what they had seen and experienced. But John portrays the disciples as strangely silent. Jesus had just displayed His divine power and authority yet again, yet the disciples had nothing to say. But the people were ready to crown Jesus as their king. And John concludes the story with a telling comment:

Perceiving then that they were about to come and take him by force to make him king, Jesus withdrew again to the mountain by himself. – John 6:15 ESV

Jesus withdrew. He left the crowds and His disciples behind, choosing instead to seek time alone. And Mark tells us that Jesus went up on the mountain to pray” (Mark 6:46 ESV). Escaping the craving crowds and His disconcerted disciples, Jesus sought the companionship of His Heavenly Father. The Son of God returned to the source of His power and authority, seeking to hear from the one who knew Him best.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

How Can You Believe?

37 And the Father who sent me has himself borne witness about me. His voice you have never heard, his form you have never seen, 38 and you do not have his word abiding in you, for you do not believe the one whom he has sent. 39 You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me, 40 yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life. 41 I do not receive glory from people. 42 But I know that you do not have the love of God within you. 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. 44 How can you believe, when you receive glory from one another and do not seek the glory that comes from the only God? 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. 46 For if you believed Moses, you would believe me; for he wrote of me. 47 But if you do not believe his writings, how will you believe my words?” – John 5:37-47 ESV

As the Son of God, Jesus had every right to stand in judgment of the Pharisees and Sadducees. Their rejection of Him was baseless because they had been given more than enough evidence to prove His identity. And, one of the primary pieces of evidence was to be found in the Hebrew scriptures, where the prophecies concerning the coming Messiah clearly pointed to Jesus as their fulfillment.

The men whom Jesus addressed were avid students of the Old Testament Scriptures and their familiarity with the many Messianic passages found there should have given them special insight into all that was happening right in front of them. Of all people, they should have recognized that Jesus was the one for whom they had long been waiting. But these men, like every Jew before them, had misread and misinterpreted these prophecies and had created a narrative concerning the Messiah that focused solely on His role as a conquering king and their political savior. They tended to ignore all the passages that pointed to the Messiah’s role as the suffering servant.

In his gospel, Luke records the moment when the recently resurrected Jesus appeared to His grieving disciples as they huddled together in a room somewhere in Jerusalem. Upon seeing Jesus, the disciples “stood there in disbelief, filled with joy and wonder” (Luke 24:41 NLT). But then Jesus spoke to them and what He had to say reveals a great deal about the blind ignorance and stubborn resistance of the Jewish religious leaders.

“When I was with you before, I told you that everything written about me in the law of Moses and the prophets and in the Psalms must be fulfilled.” Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures. And he said, “Yes, it was written long ago that the Messiah would suffer and die and rise from the dead on the third day. It was also written that this message would be proclaimed in the authority of his name to all the nations, beginning in Jerusalem: ‘There is forgiveness of sins for all who repent.’ You are witnesses of all these things.” – Luke 24:44-48 NLT

The Pharisees and Sadducees had missed all of this. They were not expecting a Messiah who would suffer and die and rise from the dead on the third day. And they had no desire for such a Messiah. And, as far as repentance for the forgiveness of sins, they had no need for that either. They considered themselves to be fully righteous because of their faithful adherence to the Mosaic law so, they had no need to repent and required no one to save them from their sins.

But these men, while familiar with the written word of God, were oblivious to the testimony of God found there. God had spoken through the men who had penned the Old Testament books. He had revealed the truth regarding His Son’s coming and yet, these religious leaders had failed to recognize the voice of God. And Jesus issues a stinging condemnation concerning them: “you do not have his message in your hearts, because you do not believe me—the one he sent to you” (John 5:38 NLT).

The Pharisees and Sadducees had a love affair with the Scriptures. They revered them and dedicated their lives to studying them. Jesus even admitted as much. 

“You search the Scriptures because you think they give you eternal life. But the Scriptures point to me! Yet you refuse to come to me to receive this life.” – John 5:39-40 NLT

They spent countless hours pouring over the Scriptures, seeking to know the key to eternal life. They were desperate to know what God required of them so that they might keep God’s law and earn their way into His eternal kingdom. Their incessant need to “search” the Scriptures was based on their fear that they might overlook a commandment and fail in their quest for righteousness. It’s interesting to note that their obsession with the law caused them to seek the opinion of Jesus. On one occasion, they came to Him, asking, “Teacher, which is the most important commandment in the law of Moses?” (Matthew 22:36 NLT). They had prioritized the commands of God, giving some higher priority than others. This way, they could concentrate their efforts on keeping the more important laws.

And Jesus had responded to their question by saying, “You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment” (Matthew 22:37-38 NLT).

In a sense, Jesus was accusing these men of loving the Scriptures more than they loved God. They were more concerned about discovering the laws they needed to keep in order to be deemed righteous by God than they were in loving and listening to God.

As Jesus continued His indictment of these pious religious leaders, He told them that He had no need of their approval or official sanctioning of His ministry.

Your approval means nothing to me, because I know you don’t have God’s love within you.” – John 5:41-42 NLT

What a slap in the face this must have been to these prideful men. They considered themselves to be the spiritual elite of Israel, yet Jesus was accusing them of having no love for God. Even worse, He was inferring that God’s love was not within them. In his first epistle, John would later pen the following words of warning:

Do not love this world nor the things it offers you, for when you love the world, you do not have the love of the Father in you. For the world offers only a craving for physical pleasure, a craving for everything we see, and pride in our achievements and possessions. These are not from the Father, but are from this world. And this world is fading away, along with everything that people crave. But anyone who does what pleases God will live forever. – 1 John 2:15-17 NLT

John had learned a great deal from observing Jesus’ many encounters with the Pharisees and Sadducees. At one time, he would have revered these men as icons of virtue and examples of spiritual sophistication. But he had discovered the truth that they were nothing more than hypocrites who loved the praise of men more than they loved God. They put more value in their own achievements than they did in the words and works of God.

So, when Jesus appeared claiming to be the Son of God sent to do the will of God, they refused to hear what He had to say.

“For I have come to you in my Father’s name, and you have rejected me.” – John 5:43 NLT

Because they had no real understanding of who God was, they were incapable of recognizing His Son. Their concept of God was skewed. Their understanding of righteousness was flawed. Their thinking concerning salvation was totally works-based and, therefore, inaccurate. That is why John the Baptist came preaching a message of repentance. He had repeatedly proclaimed, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matthew 3:2 ESV). And the Greek word that is translated “repent” literally means “to change one’s mind for better.” It carries the idea of a radical change of mindset. John the Baptist was calling the people to rethink everything they believed concerning God, the kingdom, salvation, and righteousness. These were not what they seemed to be. Their understanding of God’s redemptive plan was inaccurate and insufficient.

With the arrival of Jesus, the truth of God concerning the salvation of mankind had become visible and knowable. But to believe in Jesus as the Savior of the world, the Jews were going to have to repent or radically change their way of thinking. They were going to have to listen to what Jesus had to say because He was the living Word of God. And even Moses had predicted that this day would come. He had foretold of a future prophet would come in the name of the Lord. And He would have a message for the people of God that came directly from the mouth of God.

“The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among your fellow Israelites. You must listen to him. – Deuteronomy 18:15 NLT

I will raise up a prophet like you from among their fellow Israelites. I will put my words in his mouth, and he will tell the people everything I command him. I will personally deal with anyone who will not listen to the messages the prophet proclaims on my behalf.” – Deuteronomy 18:18-19 NLT

The Pharisees and Sadducees would have been very familiar with the words of Moses. And Jesus infers that they would have placed their hopes in the promises expressed by Moses. But they refused to recognize Jesus as the very fulfillment of those promises.

“But since you don’t believe what he wrote, how will you believe what I say?” – John 5:47 NLT

It all boiled down to belief. They refused to believe the words of the prophets. Which means they failed to believe the testimony of God. And that resulted in their refusal to accept the words and the works of Jesus, the Son of God. They found it impossible to repent of their preconceived notions regarding God, sin, righteousness, and salvation. Their minds were set. Their belief system was firmly in place and nothing was going to change their way of thinking. Not even the Son of God.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Proof Positive

30 “I can do nothing on my own. As I hear, I judge, and my judgment is just, because I seek not my own will but the will of him who sent me. 31 If I alone bear witness about myself, my testimony is not true. 32 There is another who bears witness about me, and I know that the testimony that he bears about me is true. 33 You sent to John, and he has borne witness to the truth. 34 Not that the testimony that I receive is from man, but I say these things so that you may be saved. 35 He was a burning and shining lamp, and you were willing to rejoice for a while in his light. 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. – John 5:30-36 ESV

Despite what the religious leaders believed, Jesus was not some independent agent acting on his own behalf. He was the Son of God and had been sent on a divinely-sanctioned mission by His Heavenly Father. All that He said and did was in keeping with and in full submission to the will of the Father. In fact, Jesus has already stated that, “the Son can do nothing of his own accord, but only what he sees the Father doing” (John 5:19 ESV).

Now, He repeats that same thought but ties it to His claim to have God-given authority to act as judge over mankind.

I can do nothing on my own. As I hear, I judge, and my judgment is just, because I seek not my own will but the will of him who sent me.” (John 5:30 ESV).

As the Son of God, Jesus was operating under the authority of His Heavenly Father. Though a co-equal with God, Jesus had willingly submitted Himself to do His Father’s will. He had come to earth, taken on human flesh, and was doing and saying only what His Father had instructed Him to do. And part of the responsibility God had given His Son was to judge or discern between those who truly believed in Him and those who were standing in opposition to His ministry and mission. Because of His direct access to the Father, Jesus knew exactly what God knew and was able to pass judgment on the words and actions of others.

It was His relationship with the Father that gave Jesus the authority for all that He said and did. And Jesus made it clear that without His Father’s approval, His claims would be of no value. Anyone could say they had been sent by God, but only Jesus could back up His words with tangible proof.

“If I alone bear witness about myself, my testimony is not true. There is another who bears witness about me, and I know that the testimony that he bears about me is true.” – John 5:31-32 ESV

The very fact that Jesus could cause a paralyzed man to walk was evidence of God’s power over His life. Every miraculous sign He performed was further proof that He had God’s divine seal of approval over His ministry. It is highly likely that the religious leaders had heard the rumors concerning Jesus’ baptism by John the Baptist. Some of them may have been there to witness what had happened. Matthew records in his gospel that when Jesus had come up out of the water “the heavens were opened to him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming to rest on him; and behold, a voice from heaven said, ‘This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased’” (Matthew 3:16-17 ESV).

It is not clear whether anyone else heard the testimony of God that day, but Jesus did. He knew who He was and what He had been sent to do. And all that He did from that point forward was in keeping with the will of His Father.

Jesus reminds the religious leaders that they had sent a team of priests and Levites to interrogate John the Baptist in order to determine who he was and what he was up to in the wilderness. They had heard the rumors that he might be the long-awaited Messiah. And when these men had confronted John the Baptist and demanded to know who he was, he had been very blunt in his reponse.

He confessed, and did not deny, but confessed, “I am not the Christ.” And they asked him, “What then? Are you Elijah?” He said, “I am not.” “Are you the Prophet?” And he answered, “No.” So they said to him, “Who are you? We need to give an answer to those who sent us. What do you say about yourself?” He said, “I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way of the Lord,’ as the prophet Isaiah said.” – John 1:20-23 ESV

Even John had witnessed to the fact that he was only the forerunner for the one who was to come. His job had been to prepare the way for someone greater and more significant than himself. And he had told his interrogators: “I baptize with water, but among you stands one you do not know, even he who comes after me, the strap of whose sandal I am not worthy to untie” (John 1:26-27 ESV).

And Jesus accuses the religious leaders of having been caught up in the fervor and excitement surrounding John the Baptist’s ministry. His declaration that the kingdom of God was near at hand had gotten their attention. So much so, that some of them had shown up at the Jordan River to watch John baptize. They were curious and wanted to make sure they were not missing out on something important. But John had seen them in the crowd and called them out.

But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to his baptism, he said to them, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? – Matthew 3:7 ESV

They had heard the testimony of John and seen the crowds of people seeking baptism for the repentance of their sins, but they had still refused to believe. And John had warned these self-righteous men that they would face certain judgment at the hands of the one who was to come.

“I baptize you with water for repentance, but he who is coming after me is mightier than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor and gather his wheat into the barn, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.” – Matthew 3:11-12 ESV

John the Baptist had been painfully clear in his testimony regarding Jesus. He had held nothing back, declaring in no uncertain terms that the Messiah had come and the judgment had begun.

But Jesus admits that John’s testimony, while true, was superseded by a greater and more compelling testimony: The evidence of His divinity as revealed by His miracles.

“…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.” – John 5:36 ESV

But there is more to Jesus’ statement than His claim to perform supernatural signs and wonders. There had been others in Israel’s history who had been given the divine ability to do miraculous signs, including Moses, Elijah, and Elisha. The miracles Jesus performed were just a portion of the “work” that He did. Every aspect of His earthly life was a witness to His divine calling and commission. His life of perfect obedience gave evidence of who He was. His powerful words, spoken with an authority the people had never heard before (John 7:46), were further proof of His identity.

This entire scene portrays the conflict between Jesus, the Son of God, and the religious leaders of His day. These men were experts in the law and avid students of the Hebrew scriptures. They were knowledgable and well-informed. If anyone should have understood the identity of the coming Messiah, it should have been them. But here was the Messiah standing right in front of them, but they were blind to the reality of His identity and stubbornly resistant to any evidence that might support His claim to be the anointed one of God.

And Jesus is about to use His God-given authority as the judge of all mankind to condemn them for their willful refusal to accept the overwhelming evidence of His identity. They were without excuse and their fate was sealed. It was just as Jesus had told Nicodemus, another curious but unconvinced member of the Pharisees.

God sent his Son into the world not to judge the world, but to save the world through him. There is no judgment against anyone who believes in him. But anyone who does not believe in him has already been judged for not believing in God’s one and only Son.” – John 3:17-18 NLT

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Believe It Or Not

25 “Truly, truly, I say to you, an hour is coming, and is now here, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live. 26 For as the Father has life in himself, so he has granted the Son also to have life in himself. 27 And he has given him authority to execute judgment, because he is the Son of Man. 28 Do not marvel at this, for an hour is coming when all who are in the tombs will hear his voice 29 and come out, those who have done good to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil to the resurrection of judgment. – John 5:25-29 ESV

The Jewish leaders have deemed Jesus as worthy of death. His claim of equality with God has left them no other choice. According to the law, He has blasphemed and the prescribed penalty for that crime was death. But Jesus, fully aware of their plans for Him, has decided to address their concern by further emphasizing His claim to be the Son of God. Even when facing the threat of death, He refuses to deny His identity. In fact, Jesus only escalates the tension between He and His adversaries by establishing Himself as the judge of all mankind.

For the Father judges no one, but has given all judgment to the Son…” – John 4:22 ESV

To the Pharisees and Sadducees, this bold claim would have sounded not only blasphemous but highly offensive. Who was this uneducated Rabbi from Nazareth to think that He could stand in judgment over them? They represented the religious elite of Israel and considered themselves to be the epitome of righteousness and holiness. Yet, here was Jesus telling them that He, not God, would be their ultimate judge and the determiner of their eternal fate.

“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.” – John 5:24 ESV

It seems quite apparent that the Pharisees and Sadducees failed to understand the nature of Jesus’ claim. And all His talk about future judgment and eternal life would have caused a major rift within their ranks. These two religious sects, while united in their hatred of Jesus, were divided over several key doctrines, and one of them was the idea of the bodily resurrection of the dead. The Sadducees rejected this doctrine along with the concept of any kind of afterlife. They preferred to believe that, upon death, the soul simply perished. But the Pharisees fully embraced the idea of an afterlife that would be preceded by a physical resurrection of the body and include a judgment by God that would be followed by either reward or punishment according to the deeds done in this life.

So, you can imagine how the words of Jesus must have created an uncomfortable tension between these two disparate factions within His audience. For the Sadducees, just the mention of eternal life would have left them shaking their heads in disbelief and disgust. But the Pharisees, while fully on board with the idea of an afterlife and a future judgment, would have been appalled by Jesus’ claim that He would be their judge.

And Jesus refuses to let up. He continues to expand on this controversial topic, throwing additional fuel on the fire of their anger.

“Truly, truly, I say to you, an hour is coming, and is now here, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live.” – John 5:25 ESV

With this statement, Jesus brings the timeline back into the present. With the minds of the Pharisees and Sadducees firmly fixed on the idea of the resurrection and the future judgment, Jesus adroitly shifts the focus to the here-and-now. He is letting them know that the key to securing a reward in the future judgment is to be found in the present. While the Pharisees were convinced that their acts of righteousness were enough to secure their eternal state in God’s kingdom, Jesus is debunking that myth.

He had come to bring new life to the spiritually dead. All who stood in His presence that day were dead in their trespasses and sins, including the Pharisees and Sadducees (Ephesians 2:5; Colossians 2:13). They were totally incapable of earning their way into God’s good graces because, according to the prophet Isaiah, all their works were no better than filthy rags in the eyes of God (Isaiah 64:6 ESV).

But Jesus is announcing that the spiritually dead can receive new life in this life, if they will only “hear the voice of the Son of God.” He promises that all who hear and believe will live. This claim would have been radical and heretical to the Pharisees. That Jesus would dare to hold the key to eternal life was one thing, but for Him to seemingly negate the need for doing works of righteousness to earn that reward was unthinkable and unacceptable.

But as difficult as it was for them to accept Jesus’ claim, He assures them that this was all part of the Father’s plan. God had granted His Son the divine authority to bestow the gift of eternal life.

“For as the Father has life in himself, so he has granted the Son also to have life in himself.” – John 5:26 ESV

Later on in his gospel, John records the words of Jesus, when He claims to be the door through which all must go if they want to find access to the Father and enjoy the promise of abundant life.

“I am the door. If anyone enters by me, he will be saved and will go in and out and find pasture. The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.” – John 10:9-10 ESV

The key to eternal life is to be found in this life, but only through belief in the giver of life. John opened up his gospel with the bold claim concerning Jesus:

In him was life, and the life was the light of men. – John 1:4 ESV

And John went on to declare that “to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God” (John 1:12 ESV).

According to Jesus, the Father has not only given Him the authority to bestow eternal life but to also execute future judgment.

“And he has given him authority to execute judgment, because he is the Son of Man.” – John 5:27 ESV

Jesus has the right to execute judgment, not just because He is the Son of God, but because He is the Son of Man. Jesus was God incarnate, deity in the form of humanity. The Son of God had humbled Himself by becoming one of us and choosing to dwell among us. And He would live His earthly life in complete obedience to His Heavenly Father, without sin and in full compliance with every command given by God to Moses. And it would be His sinless perfection that made Him the acceptable sacrifice to pay for the sins of men. That is why John the Baptist had referred to Jesus as “the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29 ESV).

Jesus would eventually “give his life as a ransom for many” (Matthew 20:28 ESV). He would pour out His blood “as a sacrifice to forgive the sins of many” (Matthew 26:28 NLT). And because He would willingly give His life as payment for the sins of man, He would become the ultimate judge of all mankind. And the future judgment that all mankind must face will be based on belief in Jesus’ death and resurrection. That is the point Jesus had tried to make with Nicodemus.

“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.” – John 3:16-18 ESV

The key to eternal life is to believe in Jesus as the giver of life. It is to believe that His sacrificial death satisfied the just demands of a holy God and paid in full the debt owed by the sinner. But that belief must take place in this life. The guarantee of eternal life comes when we place our faith in Jesus in this life. And Jesus assures the confused and consternated religious leaders standing before Him that there will be a resurrection of the dead and a future judgment.

“Do not marvel at this, for an hour is coming when all who are in the tombs will hear his voice and come out, those who have done good to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil to the resurrection of judgment.” – John 5:28-29 ESV

But the key to earning entrance into the Kingdom of God will be based on belief in the Son of God. This final statement from Jesus could easily leave the impression that He is tying eternal life to good works. After all, He seems to state that eternal life is reserved for “those who have done good.” But Jesus will later clarify the only “work” that will earn anyone entrance into God’s Kingdom.

This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.” – John 6:29 ESV

Belief. It’s as simple as that. But for the Pharisees and Sadducees, the content of this message from Jesus was anything but simple and it would prove far from acceptable. And Jesus, aware of their stubborn refusal to believe in who He is and what He is claiming to offer, will go on to expose them for their disbelief and inform them of their future fate.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

The Son Gives Life

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, that the Son does likewise. 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. 21 For as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, so also the Son gives life to whom he will. 22 For the Father judges no one, but has given all judgment to the Son, 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. 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.” John 5:19-24 ESV

John made it quite clear that the Jewish leaders took a strong exception to Jesus healing on the Sabbath. And when Jesus had deemed His actions as acceptable because He was doing the work of God, His Father, they had become infuriated.

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. – John 5:18 ESV

Now, John records Jesus’ bold response to these powerful and potentially dangerous adversaries. Jesus was fully aware of their desire to put Him to death, but He was undeterred in proclaiming His claim of divinity which gave Him full authority to do the things He did. Even when faced with the threat of death, Jesus refuses to back down. In fact, in the short span of 11 verses, Jesus mentions God as His Father eight times, and He refers to Himself as the Son of God 10 times. He ups the ante and heightens the tension by repeatedly declaring His unique relationship with God.

Throughout John’s gospel, he records Jesus explaining His co-equal, yet subordinate relationship with His Heavenly Father. At one point, Jesus declared, “The Father and I are one” (John 10:39 NLT). But, at the same time, He clarified that their unity was marked by a willing submission on His part to the Father’s will.

“My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to accomplish his work. – John 4:34 ESV

“I can do nothing on my own. As I hear, I judge, and my judgment is just, because I seek not my own will but the will of him who sent me. – John 5:30 ESV

So Jesus said to them, “When you have lifted up the Son of Man, then you will know that I am he, and that I do nothing on my own authority, but speak just as the Father taught me. And he who sent me is with me. He has not left me alone, for I always do the things that are pleasing to him.” – John 8:28-29 ESV

“For I have not spoken on my own authority, but the Father who sent me has himself given me a commandment—what to say and what to speak. And I know that his commandment is eternal life. What I say, therefore, I say as the Father has told me.” – John 12:49-50 ESV

“If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love.” – John 15:10 ESV

Jesus had a role to play. He had been given a divine assignment from the Father and He was in complete agreement with it, willingly accepting His part in God’s redemptive plan for mankind. Jesus declared Himself to be one with God, acting and speaking in perfect union with His Father’s wishes. He was not being forced to do what He did. He was a son and not a slave.

Jesus boldly proclaimed that His miracles were nothing more than earthly expressions of His Heavenly Father’s will. He was simply manifesting on earth the very same things God did from His throne in heaven. God had been performing signs and wonders for centuries. He had been healing the lame and even raising the dead long before His Son took on human flesh. And, according to the apostle Paul, Jesus, in His pre-incarnate state, had been integral in the divine

He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. – Colossians 1:15-16 ESV

And Paul went on to explain that Jesus not only took part in the creation of the world, but He became the fullness of God in human flesh so that He might reconcile and restore the sin-damaged world.

For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven… – Colossians 1:19-20 ESV

And because Jesus is doing only what He sees His Father doing, He cannot be in violation of God’s law. Every miracle Jesus performed was in keeping with the wishes of His Heavenly Father. And Jesus let the Jewish leaders know that there were far greater miracles to come.

“And greater works than these will he show him, so that you may marvel. – John 5:20 ESV

In essence, Jesus was telling them that they hadn’t seen anything yet. A paralyzed man walking would be nothing when compared to the future signs and wonders God had in store. This is likely a reference to the resurrection. Remember, in verse 18, John made reference to the intentions of the religious leaders to kill Jesus. And eventually, they would succeed in accomplishing their goal, convincing the Romans to put Jesus to death for claiming to be the Son of God. But the death of Jesus would be followed by the greatest and most important miracle of all: The resurrection of the Son by the Father.

And this seems to be the point Jesus is trying to make in verse 21.

“For as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, so also the Son gives life to whom he will.” – John 5:21 ESV

It will be the death and resurrection of Jesus that makes possible the gift of eternal life. That is the point Jesus made to Nicodemus when He said, “And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life” (John 3:14 ESV).

Jesus had been sent by the Father to restore to life the spiritually dead. But in order to do so, Jesus would have to die in their place. And the Father, who “raises the dead and gives them life,” would give His Son new life, declaring that His the sacrifice of His life was fully acceptable and a worthy offering for the sins of men.

It is likely that none of this made any sense to the Pharisees and Sadducees in Jesus’ audience. Even His disciples would have found these words difficult to comprehend. And the next statement from the lips of Jesus would have further confused the disciples and infuriated the religious leaders.

“For 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.” – John 5:22-23 ESV

Jesus was claiming to be the judge of all mankind, and this would not have sat well with His opponents. According to their Scriptures, God alone was the judge of the whole earth (Genesis 18:25). What they heard Jesus saying was that He was their judge. They would one day answer to Him. And they were right in their assessment of His claim. Every Jew believed in a final judgment day when they would stand before God. They fully expected their works to be judged one day by the Almighty, but it was totally unthinkable and unacceptable to consider that this Jew from Nazareth would be the one to whom they owed their entrance into the Kingdom of Heaven.

But Jesus tries to explain that their judgment has already taken place. They stood before God as condemned because as the apostle Paul declared, “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23 ESV). And to make matters worse, Paul informed the Jews that “by works of the law no human being will be justified in his [God’s] sight” (Romans 3:20 ESV).

Those self-righteous, self-assured Pharisees and Sadducees could not believe their ears. They were convinced that they were deserving of entrance into the eternal kingdom because of their good deeds. They prided themselves in their rule-keeping and zealous adherence to all the commands, including those ordained by God and the ones they had made up themselves. Yet, Jesus is informing them that they have already been judged and stand justly condemned. But if they will listen to what He has to say and believe His claim to be the Son of God and their Savior from sin, they can pass from death to life. They can have the assurance of their future resurrection from the dead.

“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.” – John 5:24 ESV

But all of this was more than they could handle. When they looked at Jesus they saw nothing more than a threat to the status quo. He was a thorn in their sides, a deranged individual who had delusions of grandeur and was proving to be a dangerous and divisive distraction. In their minds, He was a lunatic who was in league with the devil and in need of immediate elimination. But the truth is, they were blind to the truth. They loved the darkness rather than the light. And, as a result, they would continue in their quest to put to death the very one who could give them eternal life.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Working On the Sabbath

13 Now the man who had been healed did not know who it was, for Jesus had withdrawn, as there was a crowd in the place. 14 Afterward Jesus found him in the temple and said to him, “See, you are well! Sin no more, that nothing worse may happen to you.” 15 The man went away and told the Jews that it was Jesus who had healed him. 16 And this was why the Jews were persecuting Jesus, because he was doing these things on the Sabbath. 17 But Jesus answered them, “My Father is working until now, and I am working.”

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. John 5:13-18 ESV

A man, who had been paralyzed for 38 years, suddenly found himself physically whole and able to walk. In a rather bizarre encounter by the Pool of Bethesda, a complete stranger had approached him and asked if he wished to be healed. This rather blunt question had only reminded the man of his complete inability to enter the pool when the waters were stirred. He was an invalid, with no one to assist him in his time of need. But to his complete surprise, the stranger demanded. “Get up, take up your bed, and walk” (John 5:8 ESV). And John records that “at once the man was healed, and he took up his bed and walked” (John 5:8 ESV).   

One of the significant facts concerning this story is that the man who was restored to health was totally ignorant of the identity of the one who had healed him. He had no idea who Jesus was and, from John’s description of the event, it would appear that the man didn’t really care. His only concern was that he had once been lame but now he could walk.

And when the Pharisees confronted him for carrying his bedroll and breaking the prohibition against doing work on the Sabbath, he had blamed the stranger.

But he answered them, “The man who healed me, that man said to me, ‘Take up your bed, and walk.’ – John 5:11 ESV

In a sense, the man was excusing his actions by saying, “I was just doing what I was told to do.” And when the religious leaders demanded to know the name of the one who had told him to violate the Sabbath, the man pleaded ignorance. Jesus had simply disappeared into the crowd, having never identified Himself to the man.

This entire miracle appears to have been done in secret. No one seems to have witnessed what had taken place. The religious leaders make no reference to the healing. John mentions no reaction from the crowd. And the man who was healed had no idea that he had just met the Messiah.

While the miracle had been significant, John’s real emphasis seems to be that it had occurred on the Sabbath. This entire encounter has less to do with belief or faith than it has to do with Jesus’ divine authority. By healing the man’s long-term illness, Jesus displayed His authority over the physical world. But by performing this miracle on the Sabbath, Jesus proved His divine authority over even the law. Jesus was not in violation of the law because, as God, He was its author. He knew the true intent behind each commandment found in the law. And while the religious leaders were guilty of turning God’s law into a legalistic and restrictive set of regulations based on their own interpretations, the Son of God was fully aware of its original meaning and purpose.

Jesus would later condemn the religious leaders of Israel for demanding strict adherence to the law while neglecting and ignoring the very heart behind the law.

“What sorrow awaits you teachers of religious law and you Pharisees. Hypocrites! For you are careful to tithe even the tiniest income from your herb gardens, but you ignore the more important aspects of the law—justice, mercy, and faith. You should tithe, yes, but do not neglect the more important things.” – Matthew 23:23 NLT

The religious leaders had made the law all about earning favor with God through outward expressions of obedience. But, in doing so, they had missed the point. As the apostle Paul later pointed out, the law had been given not just to regulate man’s behavior, but to expose his problem with sin.

Why then was the law given? It was added because of transgressions… – Galatians 3:19 BSB

Therefore no one will be justified in His sight by works of the law. For the law merely brings awareness of sin. – Romans 3:20 BSB

This entire encounter between Jesus and the paralyzed man had been intended as a lesson about sin and man’s need of a Savior. Remember, when Jesus had first found the man, he had been lying by the pool, paralyzed and totally incapable of bringing about his own healing. His illness had left him incapacitated and unable to follow the rules required to experience the healing qualities found in the waters of the pool. He needed help. And Jesus had appeared on the scene, offering him the help he so desperately needed. But notice that Jesus did not help the man get into the pool. The water would not be the source of the man’s healing. It would come from Jesus Himself.

And when Jesus later encountered the man in the temple, Jesus gave him some interesting instructions.

“Look, you have become well. Don’t sin any more, lest anything worse happen to you.” – John 5:14 NET

Jesus seems to link the man’s illness to sin. But this doesn’t necessarily mean that Jesus was inferring that the man had been paralyzed as a form of divine punishment for some past sin he had committed. Jesus’ point seems to be that a life of sin has consequences. The very existence of sickness, disease, and suffering in the world is due to the pervasive presence of sin. And by demanding that the man abstain from committing any further sins, Jesus was requiring the impossible. This unredeemed man could no more refrain from sinning than he could have helped himself enter the waters of the Pool of Bethesda. He was in need of a Savior.

While this man had been freed from his physical paralysis, he still remained spiritually paralyzed by the debilitating presence of sin. He could walk, but he still lacked the capacity to walk in newness of life. He remained condemned by sin, even though he had met “the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29 ESV).

This man seems to have been completely satisfied with what He had received from Jesus: His physical healing. He shows no interest in who Jesus was or how He had pulled off his healing. Receiving the ability to walk had been his life-long dream. It had been the reason for his presence at the Pool of Bethesda that day. Yet, while he had received his heart’s desire, he was still missing what he really needed: Salvation from sin and release from the condemnation of death.

Eventually, the man discovered Jesus’ name and reported it to the religious authorities. And John makes it clear that these men had no interest in the miracle Jesus had performed. The man’s healing meant nothing to them. They were only concerned with the fact that Jesus had violated the Sabbath prohibition against work. From their legalistic perspective, He was nothing more than a common law-breaker.

But Jesus answered them, “My Father is working until now, and I am working.” – John 5:17 ESV

This rather enigmatic statement from Jesus did nothing to pacify their anger with Him. It only infuriated them further. In their minds, by declaring Himself to be the Son of God, Jesus was claiming to be divine. And that was the unpardonable sin of blasphemy, a crime worthy of death.

Yet, Jesus was simply stating that His actions were in keeping with the will of God. He was only doing what He had been sent to do. To the Pharisees, the Sabbath was all about rest or cessation from work. But for Jesus, even the Sabbath was a day reserved for doing the will and the work of God. There was no rest when it came to accomplishing God’s plan of redemption. The original intent of the Sabbath had been to remind the people of Israel of their complete dependence upon God. By taking one day out of seven and ceasing from any form of labor, they would recognize that God was their provider. He would meet all their needs, even when they were restricted from providing any assistance.

But the Jews had turned the day of rest into a day of duty and a form of works. Rather than resting in the providence and provision of God, they put their hope in their ability to “work” at resting. By fastidiously keeping God’s command to cease from all labor on the Sabbath, they were earning their way into His good graces. They were not looking to God to provide for their needs. They were depending upon their own acts of righteousness as demonstrated by their strict, over-the-top adherence to His law.

And sadly, John reveals that the religious leaders failed to recognize that the Lord of Sabbath was standing in their midst. They firmly and angrily rejected Jesus’ claim to be on equal standing with God. And their frustration with Jesus turned into a firm resolve to see Him put to death.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Lord of the Sabbath

1 After this there was a feast of the Jews, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem.

Now there is in Jerusalem by the Sheep Gate a pool, in Aramaic called Bethesda, which has five roofed colonnades. In these lay a multitude of invalids—blind, lame, and paralyzed. One man was there who had been an invalid for thirty-eight years. When Jesus saw him lying there and knew that he had already been there a long time, he said to him, “Do you want to be healed?” The sick man answered him, “Sir, I have no one to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up, and while I am going another steps down before me.” Jesus said to him, “Get up, take up your bed, and walk.” And at once the man was healed, and he took up his bed and walked.

Now that day was the Sabbath. 10 So the Jews said to the man who had been healed, “It is the Sabbath, and it is not lawful for you to take up your bed.” 11 But he answered them, “The man who healed me, that man said to me, ‘Take up your bed, and walk.’ 12 They asked him, “Who is the man who said to you, ‘Take up your bed and walk’?” John 5:1-12 ESV

With the opening of chapter 5, John begins to explore the growing tension between Jesus and the religious authorities. While the meeting between Jesus and Nicodemus, a Pharisees himself, had been somewhat controversial, it had remained cordial. But with Jesus’ return to Jerusalem, the anger and resentment of the Pharisees and Sadduccees will become increasingly more evident and intense.

John will not abandon the theme of belief that has characterized the first four chapters, but he will now juxtapose it with the growing unbelief of the religious elite of Israel. In a sense, John will use the Pharisees and Sadduccees as a counterpoint to Jesus. These men were to have been the shepherds of Israel, leading the people to the truth of God’s Word and exemplifying a life of obedience. But as John will point out, their legalistic, rule-keeping mindset and arrogant self-righteousness stand in stark contrast to Jesus’ commitment to put the will of God above all else.  

“For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will but the will of him who sent me. And this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day. For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.” – John 6:38-40 ESV

Jesus was on a mission and He would not allow anything or anyone to hinder Him fulfilling the role assigned to Him by His Heavenly Father. He had divine authority to do the things He did. As the Son of God, Jesus did not need the permission of the legal or religious authorities because He was acting on behalf of God Almighty. The will of God superseded that of all other human authorities and allowed Jesus to perform signs and wonders that appeared to contradict the laws of nature and violate the rules of men.

After His brief excursion into the northern region of Galilee, Jesus made a second trip to Jerusalem in order to attend yet another Jewish festival. There were three annual feasts that all Jewish males were required to attend: Passover, Pentecost, and Tabernacles. In recounting this particular story, John leaves the name of the festival out, evidently deeming it as irrelevant to the point he was trying to make.

But John was quite specific when describing the location for this event. The context was critical to understanding what is going on in the story. Jesus arrived at the Pool of Bethesda, just outside the walls of the temple compound. This was a well-known and well-trafficked spot in Jerusalem because the waters of the spring-fed pool were believed to have healing qualities. The setting is key to understanding what is about to take place. As John stated in verse 3, the pool was a magnet for the “blind, lame, and paralyzed.” They all made their way to the pool each day in the hopes that the miraculous powers of the water might make them whole.

While John pointed out that “a multitude of invalids” surrounded the pool, he focused his attention on one particular man whose paralytic condition had persisted for 38 years. It is not clear whether this man had been coming to the pool for nearly four decades or if this was his first time to seek help from its healing waters. But John’s emphasis on the length of time is meant to accentuate the hopelessness of the man’s plight. And Jesus, upon seeing the man, was immediately aware of the decades-long nature of his condition, which makes the question He asks sound so unnecessary and out-of-place.

“Do you want to be healed?” – John 5:6 ESV

Of course, he did. What kind of question is that to ask at a time like this? This poor man had somehow made it all the way to the pool, in spite of his paralysis. He would not have been lying beside the waters if he had not wanted to experience healing.

John does not explain why Jesus chose to single out this one man. There were obviously others at the pool that day, and each and every one of them was there hoping for the same thing: Healing. But Jesus chose to speak to this man. And in response to Jesus’ question, the man explained his plight.

Sir, I have no one to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up, and while I am going another steps down before me.” – John 4:7 ESV

His problem was not a lack of desire, but it was a lack of opportunity and capacity. His paralysis made it physically impossible for him to pursuit healing. His very condition proved to be a barrier to ever seeing his greatest desire fulfilled. Evidently, the pool’s healing powers were only available when the water was “stirred up.” It was only at that particular moment that a miracle could be expected, but it was reserved for the one who entered the water first. And this man, completely incapacitated by his illness and without anyone to assist him, was left to watch and wait, helplessly and hopelessly.

The description of the man’s plight is meant to stir the heart of the reader. But it is also meant to reveal the spiritual condition of each and every human being as they stand in need of healing but without the means by which to avail themselves of it. The healing waters were within this man’s reach, but he lacked the power to enter them. In a sense, he couldn’t heal himself. He needed help. And this is where Jesus stepped in.

Jesus said to him, “Get up, take up your bed, and walk.” And at once the man was healed, and he took up his bed and walked. – John 5:8-9 ESV

With a word, Jesus provided what the man lacked: The power to change. In a split second, this hopeless, helpless, bed-ridden paralytic was transformed into a completely healthy and whole specimen of a man. And no waters were necessary. Jesus spoke and the man walked.

But right when the story should be taking a decidedly upbeat turn, John reveals an underlying tension. He rather abruptly states, “Now that day was the Sabbath” (John 5:9 ESV). Rather than mentioning the celebration that would have followed such a miraculous moment, John simply points out that this had all taken place on the Sabbath. It was a holy day and, as such, it was to have been a day of rest. 

This significant detail is meant to point out the seeming problem with what Jesus said to the man and all that followed. Jesus specifically instructed the man to take up his bed and walk. He could have just told him to walk. Why was it necessary for him to gather up his bedroll? Because it was the Sabbath. Jesus knew exactly what day it was and His instructions to the man were given with that knowledge in mind. And His words produced the desired results. Yes, the man was healed, but not only that, the Pharisees were incensed. These religious rule-keepers witnessed the man carrying his bed and immediately confronted him for his blatant violation of the Sabbath law.

“It is the Sabbath, and it is not lawful for you to take up your bed.” – John 5:10 ESV

It is not clear whether these men had witnessed the healing, but even if they had, they were more concerned with what they saw as a flagrant disregard for the Mosaic Law.

The man, unaware of who Jesus was, told the religious leaders that he was simply obeying the words of the one who had healed him. But they still demanded to know the identity of this Sabbath law-breaker.

Jesus had specifically chosen the Sabbath day to perform this miracle. And His instructions to the lame man had been very precise. This entire scene was designed to set up a contrast between Jesus, the Son of God, and the religious leaders of Israel. He was their Messiah, sent from God to deliver the people from their bondage to sin and death. And as the Savior of the world, He had divine authority to accomplish the will of His Father. But for the religious leaders, their sacred rules and regulations were more important than the will of God. In their minds, adherence to the Sabbath blinded them to the presence of their Savior.

Yet, Jesus would later inform the Pharisees, “the Son of Man is Lord, even over the Sabbath!” (Matthew 12:8 NLT). This was all about authority and authenticity. Jesus was the Son of God and the long-awaited Messiah. And His audacious decision to heal on the Sabbath was proof of His deity and His divine authority.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

The Man Believed the Word

46 So he came again to Cana in Galilee, where he had made the water wine. And at Capernaum there was an official whose son was ill. 47 When this man heard that Jesus had come from Judea to Galilee, he went to him and asked him to come down and heal his son, for he was at the point of death. 48 So Jesus said to him, “Unless you see signs and wonders you will not believe.” 49 The official said to him, “Sir, come down before my child dies.” 50 Jesus said to him, “Go; your son will live.” The man believed the word that Jesus spoke to him and went on his way. 51 As he was going down, his servants met him and told him that his son was recovering. 52 So he asked them the hour when he began to get better, and they said to him, “Yesterday at the seventh hour the fever left him.” 53 The father knew that was the hour when Jesus had said to him, “Your son will live.” And he himself believed, and all his household. 54 This was now the second sign that Jesus did when he had come from Judea to Galilee. – John 4:46-54 ESV

After their two-day, unplanned stopover in Samaria, Jesus and His disciples left for the northern region of Galilee. He did so, in spite of the popular proverb He had quoted to His disciples: “a prophet has no honor in his own hometown” (John 4:44 ESV). Jesus was returning to Galilee, but He made His way to Cana, rather than His own hometown of Nazareth. He returned to the scene of His first miracle, where He had turned the water into wine.

In verse 45, John indicates that Jesus received a warm welcome in Galilee because many of the people had been eyewitnesses to the signs He had performed in Jerusalem during the Feast of Passover. With this reference to Jesus’ signs, John provides a link back to the miracle performed at the wedding feast in Cana. While the guests at the feast had no idea that Jesus had transformed ordinary water into wine, His disciples were fully aware of what had transpired.

This, the first of his signs, Jesus did at Cana in Galilee, and manifested his glory. And his disciples believed in him. – John 2:11 ESV

And when Jesus had gone on to perform additional signs in Jerusalem during the Passover festival, John records, “many believed in his name when they saw the signs that he was doing” (John 2:23 ESV).

The basis for their belief was the nature of the miraculous signs Jesus performed. And John makes it clear that the warm reception Jesus received in Galilee was due to “all that he had done in Jerusalem” (John 4:45 ESV). They too were attracted to and enamored by the miracles of Jesus. And His reputation as a miracle worker was spreading rapidly throughout all Israel. Which sets up the next encounter Jesus will experience.

While in Cana, Jesus received a visit from an unnamed government official who came seeking healing for his deathly-ill son. While we know little about this man, it is likely that he was a Jew who was in the employment of Herod Antipas, the unofficial “king” of the Jews, appointed by the Romans. This distraught father had made the 13-mile journey from Capernaum to Cana in the hopes that he could convince Jesus to return with him and heal his son.

But this man’s impassioned plea for help was met with what a somewhat caustic response from Jesus.

“Unless you see signs and wonders you will not believe.” – John 4:48 ESV

While it is unclear in our English translation, Jesus used the plural pronoun “you,” indicating that His comment was aimed at the Jewish people. Their belief in Him was fickle and focused solely on His ability to entertain them with His supernatural miracles. They loved the idea of a miracle-working Messiah. But Jesus had made it clear to Nicodemus that the key to eternal life was to believe in Him, not just the miracles He performed.

“Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.” – John 3:18 ESV

They were believing in the miracle-performing reputation of Jesus, but not in the name of Jesus. It was not enough that He came declaring Himself to be the Son of God. They needed proof. They demanded signs. And the apostle Paul would later condemn his own people for their stubborn refusal to acknowledge the greatest sign ever given that proved the deity of Jesus.

Since God in his wisdom saw to it that the world would never know him through human wisdom, he has used our foolish preaching to save those who believe. It is foolish to the Jews, who ask for signs from heaven. And it is foolish to the Greeks, who seek human wisdom. So when we preach that Christ was crucified, the Jews are offended and the Gentiles say it’s all nonsense. – 1 Corinthians 1:21-23 NLT

Undeterred by the seeming slight from Jesus, the desperate father begged Jesus to come to Capernaum and heal his son before it was too late. He was running out of time. His son was at death’s door and they still had a 13-mile journey ahead of them. If only he could get Jesus to agree to accompany him back to Capernaum, there might still be a chance that his son could live.

And Jesus answered the man’s impassioned plea with the simple response, “Go; your son will live” (John 4:50 ESV). On that matter-of-fact statement from the lips of Jesus, the official “believed what Jesus said and started home” (John 4:50 NLT). He didn’t argue. He didn’t continue to plead with Jesus to come with him. He simply turned and began the 13-mile return trip home – believing the words of Jesus. No sign. No miracle. No proof.

The belief this man exhibited was of a different sort that those in Cana who believed because of the signs Jesus had performed in Jerusalem. It stood in stark contrast to the belief of Jesus’ disciples which had been based on His ability to turn water into wine. This man had believed the words of Jesus. And this distinction is significant. It brings to mind the testimony of God Himself, spoken at the baptism of Jesus.

“This is my Son, my Chosen One; listen to him! – Luke 9:35 ESV

The Jews were enamored by the works of Jesus but they refused to listen to His words. As long as He kept performing miracles, they kept believing, but that belief was misplaced. They were so busy seeking a sign, that they missed the Savior.

Later on in his gospel, John records the words of Jesus declaring the divine origin of His message.

“For I have not spoken on my own authority, but the Father who sent me has himself given me a commandment—what to say and what to speak.” – John 12:49 ESV

And this was not the first time Jesus had claimed His words to be divinely inspired and spoken on behalf of His heavenly Father.

“My teaching is not mine, but his who sent me. If anyone’s will is to do God’s will, he will know whether the teaching is from God or whether I am speaking on my own authority. – John 7:16-17 ESV

The people should have been listening to the words of Jesus, but they were too busy focusing their attention on the works of Jesus. And with their obsession over His miracles, they were missing the meat of His message.

“Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own authority, but the Father who dwells in me does his works. Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me, or else believe on account of the works themselves.” –  John 14:10-11 ESV

In a sense, Jesus was stating that there were two sources of belief: His miracles or His message. But the truest form of belief was to receive the words of Jesus as the words of God because He spoke as God. And Jesus went on to assure His disciples that they too would go on to perform miracles and signs.

Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes in me will also do the works that I do; and greater works than these will he do, because I am going to the Father. Whatever you ask in my name, this I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If you ask me anything in my name, I will do it.” – John 14:12-13 ESV

Their ability to perform miracles would be based on their belief in Him and who He claimed to be. He was the Son of God and had the full authority of God to share His power with those who placed their faith in Him.

John’s entire gospel is focused on the divinity of Jesus. He is declaring the divine Sonship of Jesus and providing indisputable proof that this Rabbi from Nazareth was indeed who He claimed to be: The Son of God and the Savior of the world.

And as further evidence of Jesus’ deity, John describes the scene that took place when the father ran into his servants on his way home. They met him alone the way with the good news that “his son was alive and well” (John 4:51 NLT). And when the father asked at what time his son had begun to improve, he was told, “Yesterday afternoon at one o’clock his fever suddenly disappeared!” (John 4:52 NLT). And John closes his account with the following words:

Then the father realized that that was the very time Jesus had told him, “Your son will live.” And he and his entire household believed in Jesus. – John 4:53 NLT

When Jesus had said, “Your son will live,” the man had taken Him at His word and headed home. Now, he received confirmation that His faith had been rewarded. His son was well. Jesus had spoken, the man had believed, and his son had been healed. But notice how John ends this story with the words, “he and his entire household believed in Jesus.”

Their belief was not in the miracle but in the one who had spoken the miracle into existence. They believed in Jesus. Their faith was not focused on the healing of their family member. It was directed at the one who spoke with the authority of God.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson