I was at church one day in Russellville and a man who was well regarded by the rest of the congregation wanted to take me to breakfast. I went and, as is often the case, he had ulterior motives. He wanted to talk with me about who he thought Jesus was. I was not surprised by what he said, but I was surprised that he was the one saying it. Much of what he had to say was exactly what you would expect to hear from a Jehovah’s Witness, not a Southern Baptist. He had a wrong understanding of who Jesus is.

Church history is a massive help to understanding theology today. The biblical maxim, “there is nothing new under the sun” applies as much to theological heresy as it does to anything else. There is nothing new that arises. It seems that we have modern rehashes of the old thoughts. Jehovah’s Witnesses aren’t much different than Arian heresy of the late 200’s early 300’s. Both believe that Jesus was not equal to God, nor was he God. Other heresies have come and gone, and many of them have to do with the nature of Christ. And now, maybe even someone in here, many people don’t have a right understanding of who Jesus is.

C.S. Lewis rightly stated that Jesus left no room for misunderstanding him. Jesus is either Lord or he is a lunatic or liar because he definitely claimed to be God. We will see this from our text today, John 5.

The Healing

Jesus is, like many other people, at a feast. We are not told which one, but it was one that was in Jerusalem. So it was Booths, Passover, or Pentecost. We don’t know for sure but it is likely Booths. The context really doesn’t matter a whole lot, that’s why there aren’t any details given. What matters is the day that Jesus does the miracle and the response to it.

“After this there was a feast of the Jews, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. Now there is in Jerusalem by the Sheep Gate a pool, in Aramaic called Bethesda, which has five roofed colonnades. In these lay a multitude of invalids—blind, lame, and paralyzed. One man was there who had been an invalid for thirty-eight years. When Jesus saw him lying there and knew that he had already been there a long time, he said to him, “Do you want to be healed?” The sick man answered him, “Sir, I have no one to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up, and while I am going another steps down before me.” Jesus said to him, “Get up, take up your bed, and walk.” And at once the man was healed, and he took up his bed and walked.”

This was an ancient pool that was used for water collection, but in Jesus’ day it was used for ritual bathing. The twin pools were fed by the large reservoirs of water called Solomon’s pools and was probably fed by intermittent springs that caused disturbances in the water. The water had redness to it which many people believed was a sign of its having healing properties. We now believe that iron and salt caused the redness. The point is though that many needy people believed that there was healing in these waters. And here we find that it was that they believed an angel would turn the waters and they would be healed.

It is, as mentioned earlier, very likely that these disturbances were caused by intermittent springs. So, this guy was lying there believing that if he could just be in the water when the angel stirred it that he would be healed. And, the funny thing is that this guy never shows any faith or trust in Christ before Jesus heals him. He is lying on the ground when Jesus says “Do you want to be healed?”

This seems to me to be an insensitive question. He is lying there with other people who want nothing more than to be healed and Jesus asks “Do you want to be healed?”. He’s been invalid for 38 years, how do you think he’ll answer this question?

Then, Jesus chooses this one sick person out of all the sick people near the pool and he heals him. The choice to heal this person is sovereign. It is Christ’s alone. There is no reason in this passage given for the choice. No one near the pool had more faith than the other. This man asks for Jesus to put him in the pool not for Jesus to heal him, yet Jesus heals him. The sovereign initiative is with Christ and Christ alone. There is very little information given concerning this choice.

The exact disease is not given; just that it hindered this man’s movement. Believing that the first person to get in the pool would get healed, he asked Jesus to take him. Jesus does not even respond to this. He says, “Get up, take up your bed, and walk.” At once the man is healed. He then took up his bed and walked away. Simply by the word of Christ was this man healed. He then rolled up his straw mat and like any well person would do, he carried it on his shoulder.

This is unlike many of the other healings in the New Testament. Generally, there is some sort of teaching associated with the healing. They are often enacted parables like the healing in John 4, but here nothing of that sort is given. The healing itself does not teach us about faith because there was no true faith in Christ found in this man before he was healed. The teaching in this passage is all about the events that take place after.

Jesus Is Equal With God (Vv. 9b-18)

Now that day was the Sabbath. So the Jews said to the man who had been healed, “It is the Sabbath, and it is not lawful for you to take up your bed.” But he answered them, “The man who healed me, that mad said to me, ‘Take up your bed, and walk.’” They asked him, “Who is the man who said to you, ‘Take up your bed and walk’?” Now the man who had been healed did not know who it was, for Jesus had withdrawn, as there was a crowd in the place. Afterward, Jesus found him in the temple and said to him, “See, you are well! Sin no more, that nothing worse may happen to you.” The man went away and told the Jews that it was Jesus who had healed him. And this was why the Jews were persecuting Jesus, because he was doing these things on the Sabbath. But Jesus answered them, “My Father is working until now, and I am working.”

This was why the Jews were seeking all the more to kill him, because not only was he breaking the Sabbath, but he was even calling God his own Father, making himself equal with God.” (John 5:9-13 ESV)

The main topic of discussion is drawn quickly into view with the realization that this healing occurred on the Sabbath. It sets up a confrontation between Jesus and religious leaders.

The days were counted from dusk to dusk, so from sundown on Friday evening to sundown on Saturday evening it was the Sabbath. Work had to stop on that day. God rested after six days of labor after creating the world. The seventh day, the day that God rested is the day that people were to rest. This was in place before the Ten Commandments (Exodus 16:22) and was one of the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20:8, Deuteronomy 5:12-15). Keeping the Sabbath was seen as a test of faithfulness to God’s Laws (Nehemiah 9:14; Isaiah 56:2-6).

The keeping of the Sabbath was very much a part of Hebrew life. The synagogue leader would go to a high roof in his village and blow the shafar, which is a ram’s horn. When this happened all work was to stop in the fields. A second blow of the horn meant that all commercial activity should cease. A third blow of the shafar meant that all household work would cease. At this point the Sabbath candles should be lit. (J.W. 4:582, Mishnah, Hullin 1:7). This happening on the Sabbath is a huge deal.

Within the Scriptures there is very little about the strict rules of the Sabbath. In Exodus 16:29 the people are told “stay where you are” and not to carry things from place to place in Jeremiah 17:22. Agricultural and commercial work was to cease as well (Nehemiah 13:15), but beyond this, there is little said about the actual observance of the Sabbath. Outside of the Scriptures, however, there is much written. The Jewish Book of Jubilees written in 150 BC states,

“For instance, the following were prohibited: preparing food, drawing water, riding an animal, having sex, sailing a boat, or building a fire. Intentional violations of Sabbath incurred the death penalty. Accidental violations required a special sin offering at the temple. It is hard to know how often these punishments were enforced or for that matter how someone judged their intentions.”—Gary M. Burge, Jesus and the Jewish Festivals, p. 41

Gary M. Burge discussing the Sabbath rules in the Mishnah says,

“Here we find an entire tractate devoted to Sabbath. Guidance is given about how to light candles, how to heat food if a stove has residual heat, how to cover food, and even how to go outside. Chapter 7 is well-known because in it we find the thirty-nine classes of prohibited work. Among them: sowing, ploughing, baking, washing wool, making beds, sewing two stitches, pulling something down, building something up, striking a hammer, and carrying something from one domain to another.”—Gary M. Burge, Jesus and the Jewish Festivals, p.41

Travel was also prohibited on the Sabbath. Rules governed how far a person could travel. You were allowed 2,000 cubits, or about a half-mile. This distance was based on Joshua 3:4, even though the passage has nothing to do with Sabbath movement and everything to do with how close people were to be to the arc of the covenant. This led to new rules called concerning “domiciles”. You could place your stuff somewhere and it counted as a temporary home so that you could move another 2,000 cubits.

So, when the Jews said to the man who had been healed, “It’s the Sabbath, and it is not lawful for you to take up your bed.” They really meant it. He had traveled further than the allotted 2,000 cubits on the Sabbath. So he answered them and told them that someone healed him and that person told him to do what he was doing. It is not Jesus who is stopped here for breaking the Sabbath, but the man carrying his mat. There really isn’t anything in Scripture that would prohibit this action, but he is breaking the additional rules that exist outside of Scripture. When they do he blames Jesus for it. This concerns the authorities about what Jesus is doing and telling people to do. It’s all about breaking the Sabbath’s extra-biblical rules.

The man who had been healed did not know who it was because Jesus had withdrawn into the crowd of people. But afterward, Jesus found him in the temple and said to him, “See, you are well! Sin no more, that nothing worse may happen to you.” Personal sin seems to be the reason for this person’s suffering; it is the only one like it in the Book of John. The other healings in John are simply about bringing glory to God. The reality is of this whole event is that we are not given many details. He simply goes away and tells the Jews that it was Jesus who healed him.

He showed no faith in Christ before the healing. He asked Jesus to put him in the pool and Jesus healed him. Then afterward he does something treacherous by telling the authorities that Jesus healed him when it was obvious that they would not be happy with him. And this was why the Jews were angry with Jesus. It is very likely that this event kicks off the great animosity that existed between Jesus and the Jewish leaders. And Jesus’ answer to them did not temper matters any at all. “My Father is working until now, and I am working.”

This answer may not seem like much at all, but within it is the sum and substance of the entire conversation. It was understood that God was always at work. Even on the Sabbath God was holding the Universe together and everyone knew this fact. By saying that His Father is working and He is too means that Jesus is not claiming to not break the Sabbath. He is claiming that the same factors that justify God’s continuous work, even on the Sabbath, apply to him as well. As DA Carson rightly points out,

“For this self-defense to be valid, the same factors that apply to God must apply to Jesus: either He is above the law given to mere mortals, or, if He operates within the Law, it is because the entire Universe is His.”—Carson, The Gospel According to John,  p. 247

Notice also something else very significant; Jesus uses “My Father” in such a way that denotes a unique Father-Son relationship that only He had. In one sentence Jesus revealed who he was to these people. He was a uniquely the Son of God who was Himself, God.

Jesus claimed equality with God. He is not some great man who was just a prophet or preacher. He is God and He has come to give life. In John 1 we saw that Jesus came from Heaven to Earth, that He was God and was with God and He came to live a perfect life on our behalf, die on a cross in our place, and rise from the dead completely accomplishing salvation. God has come to us and brought salvation to us. Trust in Him.

This also means that He is worthy of all of our reverence and worship. Jesus is God the Son, Creator of Heaven and Earth. We are to love, honor and trust in Him. This was not the response of anyone in this passage. The treacherous man that he healed told the Jewish leaders of Jesus’ Sabbath work and the Jewish leaders themselves were angered, wanting to kill him. They understood that Jesus was calling himself God, John tells us as much here. And this is the reason that they wanted to kill him.

Jesus Is One With God (Vv. 19-20)

Not only did Jesus claim to have this special relationship with God and that he was God, but he also claimed perfect union with him.

“So Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of his own accord, but only what he sees the Father doing. For whatever the Father does, that the Son does likewise. For the Father loves the Son and shows him all that he himself is doing. And greater works than these will he show him, so that you may marvel.” (John 5:19-20)

Perfect unity, perfect harmony, this is what we mean when we say that God is Triune. Here we see it exemplified in the relationship between the Father and Son. The Father and the Son are in complete unison in all that they do.

Are the Father and the Son separate persons? Yes, absolutely they are. But, they are united in their being. This is how it is with the entire Trinity. This is how things have always been.

Everything here speaks of God’s unity. Jesus doesn’t do anything of his own initiative, or apart from the Father. By the way, that would include the Sabbath event in question. The Son does whatever the Father does. And it is out of this tremendous love between the Father and the Son that this work takes place. And it will move beyond this. There are coming greater works, “so that you may marvel”

The greater works that come will be due to the divine work of God the Father and God the Son. We know from the rest of the Scriptures that the Holy Spirit is also just as close and just as divine.

At the Creation of the world, we read that the Spirit of God hovered over the primordial creation as God the Father’s plan was put into action. We find out from both John and Paul that the person of the Trinity doing the actual physical act of creating was God the Son. The entire Trinity is there working in complete unity and harmony.

In salvation, it is much the same. We have already read that the Father sent the Son into the world in John 3:16. The Son accomplished salvation for us through his life, death, and resurrection. And the Holy Spirit works to cause us to see the Kingdom of God in John 3:1-8.

There is great comfort in knowing that God is working in complete unity and harmony. My salvation is accomplished and secured due to the glorious work of our Triune God. This work he will surely bring to completion because of the great and glorious relationship between Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Three persons, one divine being accomplishing greater works than these Jewish leaders could imagine.

Jesus Is Sovereign (Vv. 21-29)

If I put myself into this conversation I begin to see why the Jewish leaders are getting angrier and angrier. Jesus is not letting this go; in fact, he is picking up speed here as this conversation is nearing its end.

“For as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, so also the Son gives life to whom he will. For the Father judges no one, but has given all judgment to the Son, that all may honor the Son, just as they honor the Father. Whoever does not honor the Son does not honor the Father who sent him. Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life. He does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life.

Truly, truly, I say to you, an hour is coming, and is now here, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live. For as the Father has life in himself, so he has granted the Son also to have life in himself. And he has given him authority to execute judgment, because he is the Son of Man. Do not marvel at this, for an hour is coming when all who are in tombs will hear his voice and come out, those who have done good to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil to the resurrection of judgment.” (John 5:25-29)

Working in complete and total harmony with the Father, the Son is Sovereign both in salvation and condemnation. To say that God is sovereign is to say that he is king and in complete control. In the same way that God the Father chooses who to give life to, Jesus does the same. Life is found in him and he gives it as he wills. Jesus is sovereign in giving life.

Jesus is also sovereign in meting out judgment. The time is coming when God will judge the living and the dead, and what person of the Trinity will be sitting behind the bench? God the Son in full accordance with God the Father and God the Holy Spirit will be handing out the perfect justice of God.

Life is found in Christ, he has accomplished salvation for us and he gives life as he wills in perfect accordance with the Father and the Holy Spirit. Life is found in “himself”. Those who trust in Christ will find life in Him in abundance. But it is not so for those who do not honor the Son.

Those who do not honor the Son, those who do not trust in him meet his sovereign wrath and justice. The dead will rise one day and it will be the Son who is the Sovereign Judge.

This is a reminder of both the grace and justice of our Lord. Jesus came the first time to suffer and save; he will come again to conquer and to damn. Those who do not bow the knee to Christ in this life will bow to his awesome power and might in the judgment as they bear the weight of the full justice of Christ.

Our Baptist senses begin to tingle here because John seems to place eternal life on whether or not we have been good or not. But I believe Jesus is just restating something he has already said. John says that the good receive life while the bad receive judgment (John 5:29). Jesus has already said that to honor the Father honors the Son. He also said that those who believe in the Son have eternal life. So, Jesus defines here what is good and bad. The good trust in Christ and receive eternal life. The bad reject him and receive his wrath and justice.

Jesus closes here by stating again the great unity that he has with the Father.

“I can do nothing on my own. As I hear, I judge, and my judgment is just, because I seek not my own will but the will of him who sent me.” (John 5:30 ESV)

God the Son is perfectly Sovereign, but he does not act on his own. He acts in perfect harmony and unity with the Father.

It is easy for us to get into this pattern of thinking that insists that God the Father is angry and so God the Son comes down to save us from the wrath of God the Father. This is not really the way things work. God the Father is angered by sin, but so is the Son and the Holy Spirit. Jesus did come to Earth to pay the punishment owed to God, but the punishment was owed to the entire Godhead. Jesus did come to Earth to pay for our sin, but it was part of the eternal counsel of God that this would happen. God loved the world and gave his Son (John 3:16).

God Himself Testifies To Jesus Being God (Vv. 31-45)

Listeners may not have thought that they could be angered anymore by Jesus’ words. But things get crazier now at the end of Jesus’ discourse. While the Religious Leaders are angry about Jesus’ Sabbath behavior, he continues to give them reasons why it is okay for him not to be treated like everyone else. He has claimed to be God. He has claimed to be one with God, doing the works of God. He has claimed complete sovereignty over all things. Now, Jesus claims that this is the plain truth because God has testified to these things being so.

These people are ready to kill Jesus for breaking these Sabbath rules. Jesus’ response is not an apology, it’s not to back down, and it’s to tell everyone who he is. He is God, Lord of the Sabbath and God has testified to this fact. He calls on God as a witness in the case against him.

“If I alone bear witness about myself, my testimony is not true. There is another who bears witness about me, and I know that the testimony that he bears about me is true. You sent to John, and he has borne witness to the truth. Not that the testimony I receive is from man, but I say these things so that you may be saved. He was a burning and shining lamp, and you were willing to rejoice for a while in his light. But the testimony that I have is greater than that of John. For the works that the Father has given me to accomplish, the very works that I am doing, bear witness about me that the Father has sent me. And the Father who sent me has himself borne witness about me. His voice you have never heard, his form you have never seen, and you do not have his word abiding in you, for you do not believe the one whom he has sent. You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me, yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life. I do not receive glory from people. But I know that you do not have the love of God within you. I have come in my Father’s name and you do not receive me. If another comes in his own name, you will receive him. How can you believe, when you receive glory from one another and do not seek the glory that comes from the only God? Do not think that I will accuse you to the Father. There is one who accuses you: Moses, on whom you have set your hope. For if you believed Moses, you would believe me; for he wrote of me. But if you do not believe his writings, how will you believe my words?”” (John 5:31-45 ESV)

What a scathing indictment upon those who are present! John the Baptist had already come and declared that Jesus was “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29), but Jesus has the testimony of someone greater corroborating everything that he says: God.

God the Father has given him glorious works to accomplish in their midst testify to the deity of Christ (John 5:36). Think back to the beginning of the Book of John until now. Jesus has already turned water into wine in John 2. He also healed the Roman Official’s Son in John 4:40-54. And now he is being harassed for his apparent Sabbath breaking for healing this man at the Sheep Gate. All of these glorious things were to testify to something. They were to testify to the fact that Jesus is “the Christ the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.” (John 20:31 ESV). The very works that Jesus does are signs that point out that Jesus is exactly who he says that he is. And many more signs are coming. Many more mighty works of God will testify to Jesus being the Christ to prove that Jesus is “the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.”

To make matters even more scathing, God has testified to Jesus already in the Scriptures that they hold so dear. They think that eternal life is found in God’s Word, to this they are correct. But the reason eternal life can be found in the Scriptures is because the Scriptures point to Jesus who has life in himself.

Jesus already told Nathanael that he was the true Jacob’s ladder, salvation would come through him. He has already stated that he was the true temple. True worship of God would be in Christ, the True Temple. Jesus turned a lot of water into a lot of wine, which was a sign of the time of Messiah when wine would flow in abundance (Isaiah 55:1; Jeremiah 31:12; Joel 2:24; Joel 3:18; Amos 9:13-14). The time of Messiah is here and Jesus has proven that the Old Testament testifies to him. He is the Messiah. He is the Lamb of God who saves from sin. He is God the Son. Everything that Jesus has done and is written in God’s Word testifies to this fact.

I get a little nervous when people talk about how much they know about a subject because they learned it from a Jewish Scholar. As smart as that Jewish Scholar is he misses the main point of the Scriptures in the same way that these Religious Leaders did. Jesus is the main point. They loved Moses and thought that they found life in his words, but Moses told them about Jesus. The writings of Moses (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy) testify to who Jesus is. It is Moses who will accuse those listening who reject Christ.

Jesus has come and brought eternal life. He is God the Son perfectly united to the Father sovereignly bringing life in himself. If we turn to him then we will have eternal life. But if we reject him we will stand condemned before God. God and His Word testify to our great and glorious Lord and we are to trust in Him.


The Sabbath, instituted in the Old Testament, is a divine foreshadowing of something greater. The Sabbath was a day of rest. And we find here that if we trust in the Lord of the Sabbath we will have eternal rest in him forever.

God the Son has come and achieved eternal life on our behalf. Turn from ruling your own life and trust in Him. And you will become a partaker of his great and glorious eternal Sabbath.


Here is a link to the night’s presentation. 


R. Dwain Minor