Continuing the story in John 5:14, Afterward Jesus found him (the man whom He had healed by the pool) in the temple and said to him, “Behold, you have become well; do not sin anymore, so that nothing worse happens to you.” 15 The man went away, and told the Jews that it was Jesus who had made him well. (Now that the healer – the one whose command contradicted the Sabbath rules – has been identified, the focus of the Jews turns to Jesus.) 16 For this reason the Jews were persecuting Jesus, because He was doing these things on the Sabbath. (We are left without much explanation of how the Jewish leaders went from questioning the man who was healed to now persecuting Jesus in such a short span of time, but the bottom line in verse 16 is that the Jews were upset with the “work” Jesus did on the Sabbath. Rather then just leave it at that, Jesus takes the point of their persecution as a launching pad for His revelation of who He is. His discourse lasts the rest of chapter 5.)
17 But He answered them, “My Father is working until now, and I Myself am working.” (In the opening salvo of His response, it is as if Jesus is saying, “You are worried about my Sabbath work? Here is something even more mind-bending for you. You say that I should not be doing the healing work I am doing on the Sabbath. Did you know God Himself is working on the Sabbath? He is working on the Sabbath because He has never stopped working. And, oh by the way, did you catch that I called God my Father. So what I am saying is that God my Father is always working and am only following His example in the healing work I am doing on the Sabbath.”)
Now to bring God into the equation and say, “I can work on the Sabbath because I am only following God’s example” would have been bad enough, but Jesus went so far as to say that the God who is working on the Sabbath is His very Father!
This leads to two charges against Jesus. The first charge concerns His work on the Sabbath and the second, the greater charge, is His claiming equality with God. His actual answer in verse 17 may seem short to us, but Jesus obviously said enough for the Jews to get the point and clearly understand what He is saying. Because the very next verse sums up their reaction. 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.
To the Greek mind, equality with God was no big deal. They had gods all over the place, and they were mostly just super-powered human forms. But to the Jewish mind, the line between human and divine was very clear. And rightfully so. The entire Old Testament is built on monotheism. The entire Old Testament is built on the concept that the God we worship is holy, unique, the one and only. That is why Jesus’ claims to be equal with God stirred such a violent reaction on the part of the Jewish establishment.
Did Jesus ever really claim to be the Son of God or claim equality with God? Not only do we find it in Jesus’ own words, but the reaction of the Jewish religious leaders makes it clear. Jesus claimed to be the Son of God, “making Himself equal with God” (Jn 5:18).