Jesus Identifies Himself as God’s Equal – John 5:14-18

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).

Jesus Heals a Lame Man on the Sabbath – John 5:1-13

Starting in John chapter 5, the apostle records a series of confrontations between Jesus and the Jewish religious leaders centered around the shocking claims of Jesus.  His claim to be the Son of God, His claim to be an equal of God, and His claim to be the only Way to eternal life flies in the face of the Messianic expectations of both the religious leaders and the common folk of Jesus’ day.  It is during these confrontations that we learn many things about Jesus Christ, His nature and His work.

As we cover John chapters 5 through 7 over the next several weeks, we will follow a verse-by-verse format where the biblical text is included in red letters in the post (not to be confused with the typical red letters only for the words of Jesus).  My running commentary will be included in black text in and among the Scripture passage.

John 5:1 After these things there was a feast of the Jews, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. 2 Now there is in Jerusalem by the sheep gate a pool, which is called in Hebrew Bethesda, having five porticoes. 3 In these lay a multitude of those who were sick, blind, lame, and withered, [waiting for the moving of the waters; 4 for an angel of the Lord went down at certain seasons into the pool and stirred up the water; whoever then first, after the stirring up of the water, stepped in was made well from whatever disease with which he was afflicted.] (Verse 3b and 4 are not included in some ancient texts, but the lame man’s answer to Jesus in verse 7 suggests this miraculous stirring of the waters actually happened from time to time.)

5 A man was there who had been ill for thirty-eight years. (We assume with some form of paralysis based on his answer to Jesus’ question.) 6 When Jesus saw him lying there, and knew that he had already been a long time in that condition, He said to him, “Do you wish to get well ?” (This may seem like a rhetorical question on Jesus’ part, but He commonly asked it of the sick.  I think it is to allow the person to express their faith with a “Yes” answer.  After all, on many occasions, Jesus said to those he had just healed, “Your faith has made you well.”  In the same manner, our faith in Jesus is an important ingredient in our salvation as we will see throughout these chapters.)

7 The sick man answered Him, “Sir, I have no man to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up, but while I am coming, another steps down before me.” (Somewhere in the man’s answer is a “Yes” based on what Jesus says next.) 8 Jesus said to him, “Get up, pick up your pallet and walk.” 9 Immediately the man became well, and picked up his pallet and began to walk. (Jesus healed the man on the spot and the man responded by obeying Jesus’ command and picked up his pallet – basically a sleeping mat – and walked away.) 

Now it was the Sabbath on that day. (The fact that it was the Sabbath sets the stage for the confrontation that is to come.) 10 So the Jews were saying to the man who was cured, “It is the Sabbath, and it is not permissible for you to carry your pallet.” (According to Jewish tradition, it was unlawful to carry furniture outside your house on the Sabbath, and a sleeping mat was considered furniture) 11 But he answered them, “He who made me well was the one who said to me, ‘Pick up your pallet and walk.’ “ (In this short answer it is unclear if the man was just reporting the facts, or trying to shift the blame to the one who commanded him to take up his sleeping mat, or if the fellow is actually making a statement that I have amazingly just been healed and the command of the one who healed me trumps your lifeless tradition.  At any rate, the man appears to be off the hook as the focus changes to, “Who is the one who gave this command?”) 12 They asked him, “Who is the man who said to you, ‘Pick up your pallet and walk ‘?” 13 But the man who was healed did not know who it was, for Jesus had slipped away while there was a crowd in that place.

There is a pause in the story here as we wait for the healer to be identified.  Will Jesus be found out and confronted?  And will He be on the hot seat for His healing work on the Sabbath?  We will find out next time.

Is Jesus the Only Way?

As you may recall, we started this series of posts with an empathetic ear to those calling for a more open, welcoming, and accepting church body.  I personally think a wider welcome in our churches is a good thing, but there is one point where the road narrows dramatically.  The road to salvation is very narrow, passing through the death and resurrection of one man, Jesus Christ.

The reason this is so important is because we have a generation coming up that has been raised on salad bar religion.  They have been taught to pick and choose their truth from a variety of religious traditions.  And in this setting, the idea that Jesus is the only way comes across as too narrow, too intolerant, and too divisive.  While criticism about our generational issues is something we need to honestly consider, we cannot bow to any criticism of this core truth:  Jesus is the only way to heaven.

Over the next several posts we are going to dive into the middle chapters of the gospel of John to discover the claims of Jesus regarding this issue.  Many today believe a misconception that Jesus never said He was the Son of God, or never said He was the only way to salvation.  As we will see going forward, that is just not true.  Jesus’ Christ claims, His Son of God claims, His Messiah claims all point to His death, burial, and resurrection as being the only way to heaven.  His divinity claims and His exclusive promise that all who believe in Him will have eternal life are critical to our gospel message.

In the introduction to his gospel, the apostle John presents Jesus as the divine Son of God from the outset.  “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God…And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we saw His glory, glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth” (Jn 1:1,14).  This is followed by the testimony of several eyewitnesses.  John the Baptist said of Jesus, “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (Jn 1:29), and “I myself have seen, and have testified that this is the Son of God” (Jn 1:34).  Andrew, later in chapter one, identified Jesus as “The Messiah” (Jn 1:41).  And Nathaniel addressed Jesus with, “Rabbi, You are the Son of God; You are the King of Israel.”  So many divinity titles and this just in chapter one!

The testimony of these eyewitnesses is powerful, but what did Jesus say about Himself?  We will begin to answer that question with a visit to John chapter 5 and the Pool of Bethesda.