“Soar Like Eagles” The Gospel of John #8 – Equality With God! John 5:19-47

23 Feb

Jesus was “crossing the Rubicon”!

As I approach our text, I am reminded of a story circulating among the outdoor types, which goes something like this. In the mountains of the Northwest, a man was sitting beside a campfire while he roasted some kind of bird over the fire with eager anticipation. About this time, a forest ranger came upon the camp and asked the camper what he was preparing for dinner. The camper replied that it was a seagull. A frown came over the ranger’s face as he informed this fellow that it was against the law to kill that particular bird, and that he would have to give him a citation.

The camper responded by telling the ranger how he had lost his way and had consumed all of his food. In desperation, he had managed to kill this seagull to maintain his strength. After listening sympathetically, the forest ranger told the fellow he would let him go this time with just a warning, and the camper thanked the ranger profusely. Just as the ranger was about to leave, he asked the camper, “Just out of curiosity, what does seagull taste like?” Thinking for a moment, the camper responded, “Well, I would place it somewhere between a spotted owl and a bald eagle.”

Needless to say, this camper’s words got him into even more trouble. He would have been better off not to say anything at all.

Some may think our Lord’s words in our text are something like this camper’s statement. At the outset, Jesus is deemed guilty of breaking the Sabbath, and of instructing the healed paralytic to do likewise. But after our Lord defends His actions to the Jewish authorities,[1] He is considered guilty of an even greater offense—claiming to be equal with God.

Our text is our Lord’s response to the accusations made against Him. Some may be tempted to think it is less than spectacular, for no debate is actually recorded, and there is no interchange between our Lord and the Jewish authorities. Only our Lord’s words are recorded.[2] Our text contains a three-fold use of the (King James) expression, “Verily, verily, I say unto you …” (verses 19, 24, 25).[3] Surely this tells us that the words spoken here are vitally important, both to be heard and to be heeded.

Listen to what others have said about our text:

“Nowhere else in the Gospels do we find our Lord making such a formal, systematic, orderly, regular statement of His own unity with the Father, His divine commission and authority, and the proofs of His Messiahship, as we find in this discourse” (Ryle).[4]

Ryle adds: ‘To me it seems one of the deepest things in the Bible.’ Similarly Phillips in his translation inserts a sub-heading ‘Jesus makes His tremendous claim.’[5]

It is, as Barclay says, ‘an act of the most extraordinary and unique courage … He must have known that to speak like this was to court death. It is His claim to be King; and He knew well that the man who listened to words like this had only two alternatives—the listener must either accept Jesus as the Son of God, or he must hate Him as a blasphemer and seek to destroy Him. There is hardly any passage where Jesus appeals for men’s love and defies men’s hatred as He does here.’[6]

Our Lord’s words are a bold stroke. If Jesus wishes to avoid trouble with the Jews, this is the time for Him to deny, to “clarify,” or to minimize, His previous claim to be equal with God. Instead, He makes His claim even more emphatically.

This is one of the great texts in the Gospel of John and in the entire New Testament. The truths set down here are the very foundation of the gospel and of our faith.

By 49 B.C., Julius Caesar had become the most powerful man in Rome. For two years he had been away from the city, fighting warring tribes and demonstrating his tremendous skills as a general and an administrator. Much to the dismay of his political opponents, his time in Gaul had only made Caesar more powerful back in Rome.

When Caesar was ordered home by the Roman Senate, he became aware that his enemies were trying to destroy him. To return home he would have to cross the Rubicon River and leave his loyal army behind. For years that river had served as an absolute boundary, beyond which a general could not bring his army.

Because his enemies would be allowed to keep their armies, Caesar knew that to enter Rome alone would be walking into a death sentence. Consequently, he made the bold decision to bring his army across the Rubicon and with him to Rome!

When word arrived in the city that Caesar had “crossed the Rubicon,” everyone knew that civil war had begun. He was acting in defiance of the Roman Senate, and his enemies quickly fled the city. Within two months, Julius Caesar had crushed all opposition and had all of Italy under his power.

Because of this story, “crossing the Rubicon” is an expression used even today to describe a decision that cannot be revoked or a decisive action that cannot be changed. We must not skip this section in our haste to find another narrative section, because something of critical importance was happening here: Jesus was “crossing the Rubicon”!

  Preceding Christ’s remarkable of verses 17-18 was the miraculous healing of a man who had been sick for 38 years! But the Jews’ reactions scandalized His merciful act because it took place on the Sabbath. In His response, Jesus claims equality with the Father and incurs a whirlwind of religious wrath!

This is the first of the long discourses of this gospel. When we read passages like this we must remember that John is not seeking so much to give us the words that Jesus spoke as the things which Jesus meant. He was writing around 100 A.D., so he had some 70 years to think about Jesus and the wonderful things which Jesus said.

  1. He claimed to be Equal with God. (5:19-21)

Throughout the passage, Jesus never refers to God generically as our Father. It is always MY Father or the Father. Instead of denying their accusation, He endorsed it!  If today a man made this kind of a claim, we would conclude that he was joking or mentally disturbed. Jesus was certainly not insane, and neither was He a liar!

* Jesus claimed to be one with His Father in His works— (“I’m the giver of life” vs. 19-20).

“Jesus gave them this answer: “I tell you the truth, the Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does. {20} For the Father loves the Son and shows him all he does. Yes, to your amazement he will show him even greater things than these.”

Here we come to the first of the long discourses of the Fourth Gospel.  When we read passages like this we must remember that John is not seeking so much to give us the words that Jesus spoke as the things which Jesus meant.  He was writing somewhere round about a.d. 100.  For seventy years he had thought about Jesus and the wonderful things which Jesus had said. 

* Jesus claimed to be equal with the Father in executing judgment—(“I am the final judge” vs. 21, 26).

“For 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.  {26} For as the Father has life in himself, so he has granted the Son to have life in himself.”

To orthodox Jew, Jehovah God was “the Judge of all the earth” (Gen. 18:25); and no one dared to apply that august title to himself. But Jesus did! By claiming to be the Judge, He claimed to be God.

Most people mistakenly believe that God the Father is the final judge of mankind. But this verse, along with several others, indicates that Jesus will be the judge:

Acts 10:42: “He commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one whom God appointed as judge of the living and the dead.”

2 Corinthians 5:11: “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive what is due him for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad.”

 * Jesus claimed to be equal to the Father in honor—(vs. 22-23).

 “Moreover, the Father judges no one, but has entrusted all judgment to the Son, {23} that all may honor the Son just as they honor the Father. He who does not honor the Son does not honor the Father, who sent him…. {27} And he has given him authority to judge because he is the Son of Man.”

He claimed that there are valid witnesses who support His claim to Deity (5:30-47).

Jesus calls six witnesses to testify on His behalf.  We might seek to put these verses in a courtroom scene…Jesus, in essence, is on trial…but really it’s the hearers who are on trial!

The word “witness” is a key word in John’s gospel; it is used 47 times. Jesus did bear witness to Himself but He knew they would not accept it; so He called in other witnesses.


By myself I can do nothing; I judge only as I hear, and my judgment is just, for I seek not to please myself but him who sent me. {31} “If I testify about myself, my testimony is not valid.”


“There is another who testifies in my favor, and I know that his testimony about me is valid. {33} “You have sent to John and he has testified to the truth. {34} Not that I accept human testimony; but I mention it that you may be saved. {35} John was a lamp that burned and gave light, and you chose for a time to enjoy his light.


“I have testimony weightier than that of John. For the very work that the Father has given me to finish, and which I am doing, testifies that the Father has sent me.”

Remember Nicodemus in John 3:2? “He came to Jesus at night and said, “Rabbi, we know you are a teacher who has come from God. For no one could perform the miraculous signs you are doing if God were not with him.”

Remember the brothers of our Lord in John 7:3? “Jesus’ brothers said to him, “You ought to leave here and go to Judea, so that your disciples may see the miracles you do.”

Remember the Jewish leaders in Acts 4:16 when describing the apostles? “What are we going to do with these men?” they asked. “Everybody living in Jerusalem knows they have done an outstanding miracle, and we cannot deny it.”

Jesus had used His works to convince the disciples of John the Baptist, who had been put in prison. Matthew 11:1-6: “After Jesus had finished instructing his twelve disciples, he went on from there to teach and preach in the towns of Galilee. {2} When John heard in prison what Christ was doing, he sent his disciples {3} to ask him, “Are you the one who was to come, or should we expect someone else?” {4} Jesus replied, “Go back and report to John what you hear and see: {5} The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is preached to the poor. {6} Blessed is the man who does not fall away on account of me.”


“And the Father who sent me has himself testified concerning me. You have never heard his voice nor seen his form, {38} nor does his word dwell in you, for you do not believe the one he sent.”

Verse 37 is a connecting verse between Jesus’ miracles (vs. 36) and the scriptures (vs. 38-39). The direct testimony of the Father is referred to here, and it’s unsure if Jesus was talking about the three voices from heaven:

– at the baptism of Jesus (Matt. 3:17; Mark 1:11; Luke 3:22)

– at the transfiguration (Matt. 17:5-6; Mark 9:7; Luke 9:35)

– after the triumphal entry (John 12:28)

The gospel of John does not even give two of them!…and verse 37 says that “you have never heard his voice nor seen his form.”


“You diligently study the Scriptures because you think that by them you possess eternal life. These are the Scriptures that testify about me, {40} yet you refuse to come to me to have life. {41} “I do not accept praise from men, {42} but I know you. I know that you do not have the love of God in your hearts. {43} I have come in my Father’s name, and you do not accept me; but if someone else comes in his own name, you will accept him. {44} How can you believe if you accept praise from one another, yet make no effort to obtain the praise that comes from the only God ?”

At least 18 unmistakable references to the Old Testament are found in John. There is little doubt that Christ was coming and that He had now come.

The practice of the Jews at that time was to study each word minutely, and to build absurd mystical and allegorical interpretations around those word studies. As a result, they rejected the Messiah, because their minds were made up as to what the Messiah must be before they read the Scriptures

   They were BIBLIOTRISTS (Bible worshippers)! They worshipped the words of the Bible, but not the Christ of the Bible.


“But do not think I will accuse you before the Father. Your accuser is Moses, on whom your hopes are set. {46} If you believed Moses, you would believe me, for he wrote about me. {47} But since you do not believe what he wrote, how are you going to believe what I say?””

* There are two more witnesses which we have, which were not available for the Jews.

– the Holy Spirit (15:26) dwelling within each Christian

– the witness of individual apostles (15:27), who would be ready to speak on His behalf only after being empowered by the Holy Spirit (Acts 1:8)

Certainly, today, we are without excuse!

[1] In the Greek text, John simply refers to these folks as “the Jews.” From the context, we would infer they are the “Jewish religious authorities.”

[2] This is not at all to suggest that the Jews said nothing. It is to say that John did not find their words profitable for us, and thus included only our Lord’s words.

[3] In the NET Bible this expression is rendered, “I tell you the solemn truth.”

[4] Leon Morris, The Gospel According to John (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1971), p. 311.

[5] Morris, p. 311, fn. 52.

[6] Morris, p. 311, fn. 53.

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Posted by on February 23, 2017 in Gospel of John


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