Like Father, Like Son

Biblical Truth: Those who truly believe in God also believe in His Son Jesus Christ.

The Father and the Son Cannot Be Separated: John 5:17-23.

[17]  But He answered them, "My Father is working until now, and I Myself am working." [18]  For this reason therefore the Jews were seeking all the more to kill Him, because He not only was breaking the Sabbath, but also was calling God His own Father, making Himself equal with God. [19]  Therefore Jesus answered and was saying to them, "Truly, truly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of Himself, unless it is something He sees the Father doing; for whatever the Father does, these things the Son also does in like manner. [20]  For the Father loves the Son, and shows Him all things that He Himself is doing; and the Father will show Him greater works than these, so that you will marvel.  [21]  For just as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, even so the Son also gives life to whom He wishes.  [22]  For not even the Father judges anyone, but He has given all judgment to the Son,  [23]  so that all will honor the Son even as they honor the Father. He who does not honor the Son does not honor the Father who sent Him.  [NASU]

Jesus’ answer to the Jews identifies Himself with the Father. Since the Father continuously works, even on the Sabbath, even so Jesus continually works. For His self-defense to be valid, the same factors that apply to God must apply to Jesus. Jesus does not here argue, as He might have, that the Jews’ interpretation of the Sabbath was incorrect – e.g. that in the Old Testament the prohibition of work on the Sabbath had reference to work normally done the other six days of the week, and therefore scarcely applied to the situation where a man carried his mat home after a miraculous cure. Instead, Jesus insists that whatever factors justify God’s continuous work from creation on also justify His. Jesus’ opponents instantly grasp the implications of His remark, including the fact that He was calling God His own Father.

The following verses set out some of the parameters by which we may rightly understand that Jesus is equal with God. Jesus is not equal with God as another God or as a competing God. The functional subordination of the Son to the Father, the utter dependence of the Son upon the Father, are about to be explained. The principal thrust of verse 19 is that whatever making Himself equal with God might mean, for Jesus it does not mean complete or even partial independence from the Father. Though He is the unique Son of God, and may truly be called God and take to Himself divine titles and divine rights, yet is He always submissive to the Father. Not only does the Son always do what pleases the Father, but He can do only what He sees His Father doing. The Father initiates, sends, commands, commissions, grants; the Son responds, obeys, performs His Father’s will, receives authority.

The Greek text of verses 19-23 is structured around four “for” statements. The first introduces the last clause of verse 19. The thought runs like this: It is impossible for the Son to take independent, self-determined action that would set Him over against the Father as another God, for all the Son does is both coincident with and co-extensive with all that the Father does. But if this last clause of verse 19 takes the impossibility of the Son operating independently and grounds it in the perfection of Jesus’ sonship, it also constitutes another indirect claim to deity; for the only one who could conceivably do whatever the Father does must be as great as the Father, as divine as the Father.

The second “for” in verse 20 explains how it is that the Son can do whatever the Father does: it is because the Father loves the Son and shows Him all He does. The love of the Father for the Son is displayed in the continuous disclosure of all He does to the Son; the love of the Son for the Father is displayed in the perfect obedience that issues in the cross. The love of the Father and of the Son may be perfectly reciprocal in its purity, but not in the way the love of each is displayed. Two important truths follow: (1) The Son by His obedience to His Father is acting in such a way that He is revealing the Father, doing the Father’s deeds, performing the Father’s will. The Son is exegeting or narrating the Father [John 1:18]. (2) This marvelous disclosure of the nature and character of God utterly depends, in the first instance, not on God’s love of us, but on the love of the Father for the Son and on the love of the Son for the Father. To put the matter another way, if Jesus the Son of God stands with human beings, over against God, in dependence and obedience; He stands with God, over against human beings, in authority and revelation. The very obedience and dependence that characterize Jesus’ utter subordination to the Father are themselves so perfect that all Jesus does is what the Father wills and does, so it is nothing less than the revelation of God.

The third “for” [21] introduces an illustration of the principal truth taught in verses 19-20. That the Son does whatever the Father does, owing to the Father’s perfect self-disclosure to the Son, is nowhere better seen than in the perfect parallelism expressed here: just as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, even so the Son gives life to whom He is pleased to give it. The two clauses of this verse are so parallel that raises the dead must in the first instance refer to the same thing as gives life. Both the miracle of 4:46 and the one in this chapter display Jesus’ power to grant life and strength, to bring wholeness to those at the point of death. If the Son does all that the Father gives Him to do, that work is not merely revelatory and judicial; it is also atoning and quickening. At the same time, Jesus’ authority to give life on the last day cannot be abstracted from the spiritual life He provides immediately to those who hear His word and believe Him. Both are contextually required. That in turn demands that we see in the life the believer may now obtain from Jesus not only a foretaste and an anticipation of the resurrection life to come, but something of its real substance – a downpayment of it.

Verse 22 begins with the last of the four “for” connectives. Verse 22 provides further reason and ground for the great claims of verse 21. The two clauses of verse 22, unlike the pair of clauses in verse 21, are not strictly parallel. In verse 21, just as the Father raises the dead, even so the Son gives life; but in verse 22, the Father judges no one, for the sufficient reason that He has entrusted all judgment to the Son. The roles of Father and Son are parallel in verse 21; there is a distinction introduced in their roles in verse 22, determined by the Father. The flow of thought between the two verses can be put like this: the Father and the Son both enjoy the prerogative of giving life, but the Father has determined that it will not be His direct task to judge anyone, but has instead entrusted all judgment to the Son. Seen in this light, the authority to give resurrection life is the entailment of the authority to judge on the last day. This does not mean Jesus will exercise judgment independently of the Father, for even the judgment He exercises is a reflection of His consistent determination to please the One who sent Him. The reason why the Father has entrusted all judgment to the Son is disclosed in verse 23. The Son is at one with the Father not only in activity but in honor.

The Son Does the Father’s Work: John 5:36-38.

[36]  "But the testimony which I have is greater than the testimony of John; for the works which the Father has given Me to accomplish — the very works that I do — testify about Me, that the Father has sent Me. [37]  And the Father who sent Me, He has testified of Me. You have neither heard His voice at any time nor seen His form. [38]  You do not have His word abiding in you, for you do not believe Him whom He sent. [NASU]

Jesus is saying that if the burden of evidence to support the tremendous claims He has been making exclusively depends on His own self-attestation, His witness must be false. His witness is therefore not simply His own witness; it is the witness of the Father. The Father who testifies in this passage does so for Jesus’ sake, to establish the content of Jesus’ own utterance about Himself. However valuable the testimony of John the Baptist to Jesus before a watching world, Jesus enjoys testimony to His person and mission that is far weightier. The weightier testimony is the witness of the Father, which takes several forms. For a start, the works which the Father has given Jesus to finish and which He is in process of completing, testify that the Father has sent Him. These works include all of Jesus’ ministry, including the signs which point to the climactic work, the work of redemption achieved in the cross and exaltation of the Lamb of God.

Jesus’ indictment of the Jews follows three lines. First, you have never heard Hs voice. Since Jesus speaks the words of God and the Jews do not hear God’s voice in Jesus, it follows that they are not true followers. Second, you have never seen His form. Since Jesus is the very manifestation of God and the Jews do not see God in Jesus, it follows that they are not true Israelites. Third, nor does His word dwell in you. Since Jesus is the very word of God, and the Jews have no time for Him, it follows that they share neither in the experience of nor the blessings of the indwelling word. Failure to believe in Jesus is therefore compelling evidence that, however exacting the scholarship that was studying that revelation, the revelation itself had not been absorbed, understood, obeyed. In verse 38, the conjunction for should therefore be taken as introducing the conclusive evidence in support of the triple indictment, rather than as the cause of their spiritual and moral failure.

God’s Word is About His Son: John 5:39-42,46-47.

[39]  "You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; it is these that testify about Me; [40]  and you are unwilling to come to Me so that you may have life. [41]  I do not receive glory from men;  [42]  but I know you, that you do not have the love of God in yourselves. [46] For if you believed Moses, you would believe Me, for he wrote about Me. [47]  But if you do not believe his writings, how will you believe My words?"  [NASU]

Their tragic failure to grasp God’s truth was nowhere more clearly manifest than in their approach to the Scriptures. Jesus points out that their primary motivation in their diligent study of the Scriptures was the hope of final acceptance by God. By contrast, Jesus insists that there is nothing intrinsically life-giving about studying the Scriptures, if one fails to discern their true content and purpose. By predictive prophecy, by type, by revelatory event and by anticipatory statute, what we call the Old Testament is understood to point to Christ, His ministry, His teaching, His death and resurrection. If therefore some of the Jews refuse to come to Jesus for life, that refusal constitutes evidence that they are not reading their Scriptures as they were meant to be read. Jesus does not accept praise from men, for his single-eyed vision is to do what pleases His Father as His expression of filial love for the Father; but, by contrast with Jesus, his questioners do not love God. Further evidence of their failure is found in their refusal to accept Jesus. Had they truly loved God, they could not have failed to love God’s Son. The chief judgment on those who deny that Jesus is the promised Messiah is not so much that they have no Messiah, but that they follow false messiahs.

Questions for Discussion:

1.      In what areas does Jesus claim to be equal with God the Father?

2.      To bear witness means to testify or declare what one has seen, heard or knows. John uses the verb for witness 33 times and the noun 14 times in his Gospel. We get the English word “martyr” from the Greek word for witness (martus). What does all of this tell you about the importance of and type of witness John has in mind? What is the essence or focus of our witness [5:36-38]? What do you need to do in order to become a more faithful witness?


The Gospel According to John, D. A. Carson, Eerdmans.

The Gospel According to John, Leon Morris, Eerdmans.

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