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.