The Confession of the Son of God (5:1–8:11)

B. The identity of (the Son of) God: Jesus responds to the opposition (5:19–47);

Jesus is intimately connected to the Father. Nowhere else in the Gospels do we find our Lord making such statements of His own unity with the Father, his divine commission and authority, and the proof of his messiahship, as we find in this discourse.

  1. Like Father, like Son (5:19–24);
  2. Life and judgment of the Son (5:25–29);
  3. Witnesses to the Son (5:30–47);
    a). The insufficiency of Jesus’ witness (5:30–32);
    b). The witness of John the Baptist (5:33–35);
    c). The witness of the works of Jesus (5:36);
    d). The witness of the Father (5:37–38);
    e). The witness of the scripture (5:39–40);
    f). The insufficiency of human recognition (5:41–47)


This Jesus’ monologue expands the meaning of his words in verse 17 and shows in what sense he claims to be equal with God. Jesus as the unique Son acts in submission to the Father - there is no independent action on his part. It is for the Father to initiate; it is for the Son to obey. It is for the Father to show the Son what to do; it is for the Son to follow the Father’s example.

Some discerned here an analogy from Jesus’ own boyhood experience in the carpenter’s workshop, when he learned to imitate the things he saw Joseph doing, thus serving his apprenticeship against the day when he in his turn would be the carpenter of Nazareth.

The activity which originates with the Father, is then manifested in the Son.

If some draw here an idea that the Son is limited, then in this case the Father must also be limited - think about the Arian heresy.

John 1:18 - Only the Son sees the Father - is now complemented with this statement: the Son sees what the Father is doing and imitates the Father.

Here, we find the agreement of actions, wills, and purposes between the Father and the Son.


In John 3:35 we also have “The Father loves the Son”. There the verb was “agapao”, here it is “phileo”. Both are in the present active indicative thus pointing to the fact that (1) the action of the verb is perform by the subject - the Father and it is a statement about reality. The Father’s love for the Son is continual - habitual.

In 3:16 - Love is the unseen motivation behind all God’s actions for the world, now it is also included in the relations between the persons of God.

The Son’s love for the Father is unfolded in John 14:31, where the obedient love leads the Son from the upper room to the garden, and to the cross.

The Jews were scandalised that Jesus’ performed ‘a work’ on the sabbath. Jesus said that as the Father continues to work on the sabbath, so does he. But, now he adds that God has still work to do - “greater works than these”.

There is no possibility to disassociate the works of Jesus from the works of the Father. The work of the Father is to be done by the Son.


What was believed about God is being impressed as equally true about Jesus (cf. Deut 32:39; 1 Sam 2:6; 2 Kings 5:7). Jesus’ statement goes beyond what Elijah and Elisha did, as God’s instruments. They brought the dead back to this life. Jesus speaks about giving life of the age to come - life that can never end (cf. 20:31).

That Jesus has the authority of giving life to whom he wills shows that a certain amount of autonomy belongs to the Son. The Son is free in his selection - reflected in his selection of one sick man out of great multitude (cf. John 5:6).


In Gen 18:25, God is the Judge of all the earth. Here, Jesus declares that the Son is the judge, because the Father has given to him all the judgement. Notice again, the unity between the Father and the Son - their participation in the work of redemption.

Two prerogatives of the Son immediately strike us: (1) the raiser of the death (5:21) and (2) the judge of all. We also notice the ‘trust’ that the Father placed in his Son - the Father placed the authority to execute the final judgement within the Son’s sole jurisdiction and does not exercise it himself.

Although in 3:17, we read that God did not send his Son to judge the world, but Jesus’ coming into the world has begun the judgement (3:18).


The reason for this authority given to the Son is that all may honour the Son, as they honour the Father. We see it in Phil 2:9–11, where Christ receives honour that belong to the God of Israel alone (cf. Is 45:22–23). But when Christ receives such honour the glory of God is not diminished, because he receives it “to the glory of God the Father” (Phil 2:11). When the Son is exalted, the Father is glorified.

Moreover, what is at stake here is not just correct understanding of Jesus, but also correct understanding of the Father. To get Jesus wrong is to get God (the Father) wrong, for God is fully presented / revealed by the Son. Thus, again we have the insight into the Holy Trinity.


How does the Son impart life? By his ‘word’, for the word which he speaks is spoken not by his own authority but by the Father’s. To pay head to the word spoken by the Son is to give credence to the Father who commissioned him and in whose name he speaks. This ‘word’ is the Son’s whole message to the world.

The incident of the cripple at the pool of Bethesda is a ‘sign’ of this truth. As he received bodily healing through the enabling word of Christ, so it is through his word that men and women receive life (on the spiritual level).

Here, we see again the unity of the Son and the Father. Who has eternal life? Who does not come into the judgement? Who passed out of death into life? The one “who hears” Jesus’ word and “believes” in the Father who sent Jesus.

How about those who reject Jesus’ word? The judgement is reserved for them (cf. 3:18).

For the first time, we have the word “death” appear in the Gospel and it serves to qualify the states of those already described as “darkness” (1:5; 3:19).


It seems that a new section begins here with the double “amen”. (In 5:24 - the double “amen” ended previous section).

Apart from him in whom alone resides that life which is the light of men, we are dead. When he comes and speaks his life-giving word, those who hear it are raised from spiritual death.

In him is the fulfilment of the words of Is 55:3. But, how can dead hear? Read Ezek 37:4. There was the breath/spirit of God entering into the dry bones that enable them to hear. It is the same Spirit who now enables the spiritually dead to hear the voice of the Son of God and enter into life.

As we saw in 4:23, an “hour” is simultaneously “coming” and “now is”. How is the possible? Some say that an overlap between God’s time (beyond time) and humanity’s time (linear time) takes place. Or, future breaking into the present.

Future is what Jesus is announcing, that the dead “will hear … and live”. The overlap between present and future is centralised upon Jesus, the Word, whose “word” gives life. God speaks, and the restoration happens - like in the case of the crippled man.

It is also noteworthy to realise that Jesus refers to himself as “the Son of God” in contrast to his preferred title, the Son of Man. But that is the aim of the Gospel - to believe that Jesus is “the Son of God” (20:31).


“Life” is the possession of God (cf. Gen 2:7; Deut 30:20; Job 10:12; 33:4; Ps 16:11; 36:9). Only God the Father, unbegotten and uncreated, inherently possesses life-in-himself.

The Father has given to the Son also to have life in himself. Again we see the dependance of the Son upon the Father. To the Son alone, who is begotten but not created, has the Father imparted his own prerogative to have life-in-himself.

Everything else, including human beings, derive life from God - we do not possess life-in-ourselves.

This explains why the Son is able to raise the dead (5:25). Moreover, as 1:4 assessed - this bestowing of having life-in-himself by the Father to the Son - happened before time and space. The moment the Son was begotten, the moment he was given to have life-in-himself. Then the Son reveals that life to men and women (cf. 1 John 1:2).

However, this basic word - “life” - also includes some mystery. We are not told exactly what the term means. But just as Jesus reveals the Father, so also does he make known and make possible life. All mystery regarding this life finds their answer in Jesus.


The Father has not only given “life” to the Son but has also given him “authority to execute judgement”. As 5:26 was commenting on 5:21, so this verse is referring to 5:22. Life and judgment belong to and are made manifest in the Son.

The reason for this authority is that he “is Son of Man”. The term is without an article - the same term without an article appears in Daniel 7:13 LXX. There to “Son of Man” is given universal and everlasting dominion by the Ancient of Days (Dan 7:13–14).

It is this OT passage that lies behind Jesus’ use of the term “Son of Man”. Moreover, further on in Daniel we also have the theme of judgement Daniel 12:1–2. There, those who avoid judgement will be those whose name will be written in the book.

Jesus does not come to condemn the world but to save it. But the effect of his coming is the judgement of those who will not receive him.


This verse will be demonstrated visibly when Jesus calls the dead man Lazarus out of the tomb (11:43).

Some understood the term “all who are in the tombs” as referring to “spiritual death”.

The fact that here and now the dead come to life as they hear the voice of the Son of God is the guarantee that his voice will raise the dead at the last day.


People will come out of their tombs “to resurrection of life” and “to resurrection of judgement”.

Here, the final decision is based on the quality of life in this life: (1) those who did good things, and (2) those who practiced evil.

Those who have done good things are those who have come to the light; those who practiced evil things are those who loved the darkness more than light, for their works were evil (John 3:19–21). The former group have eternal life already; the others are ‘condemned already’ (3:18).

Notice it can happen because of the voice of the “Son of Man”.

Those in the graves will respond to the voice “and come out”, proving that the life they possess (present and past) belong to the one who speaks. This is followed by the declaration of one of two resurrections, proving that the authority to judge them also belongs to the one who speaks.

The one through whom all came into existence (1:3) is also the one through whom all shall come to the resurrected status.


This verse begins a new section.

In 5:20, the Son does nothing on his own initiative; he follows the Father’s example. The same affirmation is related here with special reference to the work of judgement: the judgement pronounced by the Son is the judgement which he has first heard passed by the Father.

Such judgement cannot be other than just, for it is that searching and unerring judgement carried out by the light when it shines into the darkness and shows everything up for what it really is.

To give effect to the Father’s will was the Son’s lifelong food and drink (cf. John 4:34; 6:38). Because this is his unchanging principle of action, he can safely leave his vindication in the Father’s hands.


The topic of witness was first introduced in John 1:7.

If Jesus’ claims were made without the Father’s authority, there would be no obligation on his hearers to accept them. For this discussion see John 8:13, 14, 18.

Jesus’ testimony is always confirmed by the Father.


The ‘other’ who bears testimony of him in this verse is probably the Father: the other forms of testimony will follow.

5:33–35 - John the Baptist;
5:36 - the works of Jesus;
5:37–38 - The Father;
5:39–40 - the scripture.

Jesus ‘knows’ that the Father is ‘true’ (or sufficient) just as he knows that the Father’s commandment is eternal life (John 12:50).


Jesus refers here to John 1:19–28. John pointed to the Coming One whose way he was preparing, and later he pointed to Jesus as the Coming One (John 1:29–34).

Jesus did not rely on human testimony to confirm his claims; but John’s testimony was important because those who recognised him as a messenger of God and accepted his testimony could be led to Jesus and thus be saved.

In John 1:8 - John was not the light; he came to bear testimony of the light. And so he was a lamp - one that burned brightly and illuminated all around. The purpose of a lamp is to show the light - and that what John did.

Many of John’s hearers were attracted to his message about the coming of the Coming One and the new age. But instead of taking urgent action while John’s lamp still burned, they procrastinated, and then the lamp was removed.

They rejoiced in the witness of John and missed entirely the object of his witness - Jesus.


One of the ways in which the Father testified to the Son was in the works which he gave the Son to do (cf. 5:19,20). By doing these works, Jesus showed himself to be the Son of God.

The individual works were the signs he performed in front of the people - those who had eyes to see could realise that he was indeed sent by the Father (cf. John 3:2). The last words spoken by Jesus was “it is accomplished” (19:30).


The testimony referred here can refer particularly to Jesus’ baptism (Mk 1:10–11).

John who participated in this event only saw the descent of the dove (John 1:32–34). Thus, Jesus says that none of his hearers had received such audible or visible communication of the Father’s testimony to the Son.

Not only they did not see the Father’s face and hear his voice, but also God’s word does not remain in them. This is a strong rebuke of their negative response to Jesus.


Jesus rebukes his listeners for not recognising him as the subject matter of their own Scriptures. The present-tense verb “search” could be an imperative, but the context demands a rebuke, not a command.

The verb “search” itself implies keen scrutiny, tracking down the message of the Scriptures - perhaps a technical rabbinic term for professional biblical study and exposition. They know where to look, but do not know for whom to look.

Their goal was eternal life, but they could not grasp that that life could be received only through him to whom the scriptures bore witness (cf. 2 Tim 3:15).

In rabbinic literature it is said, that the study of the holy law is the way to the life of the age to come; the NT affirms that this life is found in him who “is the end of the law” (cf. Rom 10:4).

By refusing to come to him, the people to whom Jesus was speaking missed the life which they sought.


The “signs” which Jesus performed manifested his glory (2:11). In particular, the ‘sign’ at the pool of Bethesda manifested his glory as life-giver and judge. But, it seems that they do not see it that way.

Someone would be tempted to comply with their expectations and act to gain their glory, praise, and recognition. But why should Jesus seek such honour as they could give, when by doing the Father’s will he could have the glory which the Father bestows? (Cf. 1:14).


“I know you” - perhaps in the sense of John 2:25.

“The love of God” here probably means their love for God. Had there been any love for God in their hearts, it would have manifested itself by their acceptance of the one who came to them in the name of God.

See 1 John 5:3, and the chief among his commandments is this - 1 John 3:23.


An outstanding fulfilment of this statement came about in AD 132, when Simeon ben Kosebah claimed to be the Messiah of David’s line, and led a revolt agains Rome. His claim was supported by Akiba, the most eminent rabbi of that time, who hailed Simeon as the ‘star out of Jacob’ (Num 24:17). But, the whole adventure ended in terrible disaster for the Jews.

It is tragic that Jesus who comes in Father’s name is not accepted, but false messiahs who come in their own names are often welcome by the public.


Some commentators translate the beginning of this verse as: “how can you (even) begin to believe?”, because of the aorist form of the verb “believe”.

It seems that to admit the claims of Jesus it would make them to lose face in front of their own peers. This is summed up in John 12:43.

Rather than embracing God alone, humanity has embraced itself - a condition of darkness and wrong perception of reality. This statement is a good definition of sin: the only thing they “recognise” or find worthy is themselves.


Denying “the Only God” is not merely a betrayal of Jewish monotheism but also a betrayal of Moses.

Thus in the divine court, Moses will be their chief prosecutor, whom they held in such high regard.

By describing Moses as the one in whom they have placed “hope” or “confidence”, Jesus is challenging their object of “faith”. In whom or what have they put their faith? Themselves , their religious tradition, their forefathers?

Faith is central to the message of the Gospel of John (20:31). In challenging their faith, Christ is declaring himself to be the necessary object of their faith.


Torah, or the five Books of Moses was and is held in the highest esteem among all the books of the OT. But these, like other scriptures, bore witness to Christ. Moses “wrote” about Jesus.

If their devotion to Moses and his writings was more than lip-devotion, they would accept his testimony about Jesus. But their rejection of Jesus reveals that at heart they do not accept the testimony of Moses or the prophets.

A specific OT passage is not in view here; rather Jesus is declaring himself to be the ultimate and fullest subject matter of the OT - the end or aim of the Law.


The testimony of Moses and Jesus are so closely interrelated that to believe one is to believe the other; and to refuse one is to refuse the other.

As long as the Jews do not understand that the Scriptures of Moses taught the same faith that Jesus demands of them, he would always remain to them ‘a stranger’.

A good commentary on this verse is Luke 16:31.

The conflict between Jesus and the religious establishment in Jerusalem begun in this chapter with his claim to be the Son of God, continues to be waged with increasing intensity throughout the Gospel until it reaches its climax in the passion narrative (John 19:7).

Home | Previous | Next