The concept of a new beginning has been part of John's agenda since the beginning of chapter 2. In the account of the water turned to wine in 2:1-11 Jesus was the new wine replacing the old systems of Judaism. In the cleansing of the temple in 2:13-22 Jesus introduced the new Messianic age with himself as the new temple for worship. In the dialog with Nicodemus in 3:1-21 the entrance to the kingdom of God is brought about by the new birth. In the dialog with the Samaritan woman in 4:4-42 Jesus describes the new worship in Spirit and truth. The overarching theme is that Jesus replaces Judaism.
John 4:43-5:47 - The Life-Giving Word
The section on new beginnings comes to a close in 4:42. The next major section of John consists of 4:46-5:47. C. H. Dodd identifies the life-giving word as the theme of this section. The section is unusual in that it contains two of the three healing miracles mentioned in the gospel of John.
The section begins with a transitional paragraph in 4:43-45. The healing of the official's son appears in 4:46-54. The healing at the Pool and a Sabbath controversy occupy 5:1-18. In both healing miracles it is the word of Jesus that initiates the healing. In typical Johannine fashion these miracles are followed by a discourse discussing the meaning of the miracles. John 5:19-47 deal with the work of God and the testimony about Jesus. Verses 19-30 form the first part of the discourse. They focus on the life-giving word of Jesus as the means by which God accomplishes His work.
John 4:43-45 - A Transitional Paragraph
The transition from the discourse with the Samaritan woman and the healing of the official's son appears in verses 43-45. These verses accomplish a simple geographical transition. Verse 43 describes the resumption of Jesus' journey to Galilee. The beginning of that journey had been described in 4:3. After the dialog with the Samaritan woman the journey is resumed in verse 43. Verse 45 describes Jesus' arrival in Galilee and his welcome by the Galileans who had seen his work in Jerusalem. When verse 46 places Jesus in Cana of Galilee he had completed a full circle. From Cana in chapter 2 Jesus had gone to Jerusalem and now has returned to Cana again.
The problem in these verses is the fact that verse 44 and verse 45 describe two different kinds of reaction to Jesus. In verse 44 Jesus states that a prophet has no honor in his own country. Based on our knowledge from the Synoptic gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke) we would draw the implication that Galilee does not properly honor him. Yet verse 45 states that the Galileans welcomed Jesus because of all the things that they had seen him do in Jerusalem.
This apparent contradiction has been explained in several ways. Some suggest that John actually viewed Judea as the true home of Jesus. Although Jesus had been rejected in Judea (the point of verse 44), at least the Galileans accepted him (the point of verse 45). However, this is an unlikely explanation. It is hard to imagine that John would not have known that Galilee was Jesus' home. It is much more likely that John wants us to recognize that the Galileans welcome of Jesus was not the kind of honor Jesus deserved. Their welcome appears to be based on their enthusiasm for the signs performed by Jesus while he was in Jerusalem (see commentary on Luke 4:14-21 and Luke 4:21-30). Such interest in Jesus shows less than adequate understanding of both his power and his purpose. In fact, the story of the official's son represents a Galilean with an inadequate understanding of Jesus. As Raymond Brown notes, "Jesus will lead the man to a deeper understanding of his function as the giver of life."
John 4:46-54 - Healing the Official's Son
John draws our attention at the beginning (v. 46) and the end (v. 54) of this story to the fact that this event takes place at Cana where the water had been turned to wine. There are interesting structural similarities between this story and the story of the water turned to wine in chapter 2. In both, Jesus has just returned to Galilee from Judea, a request is made of him, Jesus appears to refuse the request, the request is intensified, the request is granted in a mysterious way, and a group of people comes to believe in Jesus.
There are several similarities between this healing of the official's son and the healing of the centurion's servant described in Matthew 8:5-13 and Luke 7:1-10. In all three accounts the official is from Capernaum. In all three a person of rank asks a favor of Jesus. Matthew and Luke specify the official as a centurion and thus a Roman soldier and thus a Gentile. The Greek word used in John 4:46 is a general term describing someone associated with a kingdom. It could mean a petty king or, more likely, an officer of a king. Matthew and Luke describe the sick boy as a slave or a servant of the centurion while John describes him as a son. The Greek word, pais, can be used to refer to either a servant or a son. If the officer referred to the sick lad as his pais the same story could have ended up in the different gospels with son in one gospel and servant in the others. In all three gospels the issue of healing is evaded by something else Jesus says or does. In all three a second, more urgent, request is made for healing. Finally, in all three accounts, the healing is done at a distance and confirmed when the officer returned to his home.
The similarities and differences create a difficult problem for scholarly analysis. Is it more likely that two separate but similar incident happened? Or it is more likely that there was only one such healing described in different ways by John and the Synoptic gospels? Though the differences point toward two healings most scholars are convinced by the similarities John and the Synoptics are describing the same event from different perspectives (see The Synoptic Problem).
Some of the unique features of John's account of the healing of the official's son do, in fact, reflect theological concerns of the fourth gospel. Verse 48 is an implied rebuke for excessive interest in miracles. "Unless you see signs and wonders you certainly do not believe!" As we read the English text we tend to assume that the "you" is the official who is being rebuked. However, the Greek text has the plural form of you. "Unless you people see signs and wonders . . .." The official is a representative of the Galileans of verses 44-45 who welcome Jesus but do not properly honor him. It is clear that the official and the Galileans are interested in Jesus for what they can get out of him. Further, John is interested in people believing in Jesus without seeing what they can get out of him. In John 20:29 Jesus responds to Thomas by saying, "Blessed are those who, although they do not see, believe."
In fact the officer here is forced to believe without seeing. When rebuked by Jesus he responds with a more urgent plea for his son. Jesus responded only with a word, "Go, your son lives." The official believes the word and departs. On the return journey he is met by his servants who report to him that his son's recovery began at the same hour that Jesus spoke the word.
Verse 53 makes an interesting comment. It states that when the official knew that the hour of recovery and the hour of the word of Jesus matched he believed and his whole house. Is this not merely a repetition of the statement in verse 50 that he believed? Not quite. The official had come to Jesus believing in the signs of Jesus. After the rebuke he believed the word of Jesus. Finally, after the healing, he and his house believed. The absolute statement, "he believed, and his whole house," is a typical formula in early Christianity to describe a person's conversion to Christian faith. As had been the case with the turning of water into wine and with the cleansing of the temple, the result of the healing of the official's son was faith in Christ himself.
In conclusion, John describes this healing as the second sign that Jesus had done after coming from Judea to Galilee. Thus for John this healing was a pointer to truth deeper than mere historical fact. Jesus himself, not his miracles and not even his word, is the source of life and the object of true faith. Such an insight prepares the way for the healing at the pool in chapter 5.
John 5:1-9 - The Healing At the Pool
The scene almost instantly changes back to Jerusalem in 5:1. Though a healing miracle is described it is quite different from that recorded in 4:46-54. That very important word for John, "believe," does not appear at all in this healing story. Rather the issue focuses on Sabbath observance and ultimately on who Jesus really is.
John gives more attention to the Jewish festivals than any other gospel. He specifically identified Passover as the festival in 2:13; 6:4; 11:55; 12:1; and 13:1. The feast of Tabernacles in mentioned in 7:2. The Festival of Dedication (Hanukkah) is mentioned in 10:22. It is surprising that John gives no hint as to which festival provides the occasion for Jesus trip to Jerusalem here in verse 1. Passover, Pentecost, and Tabernacles are all suggested as the festival. However, since John gives no clues we must leave the issue unresolved.
There is another question that cannot be answered with certainty. The Hebrew name of the pool is spelled in widely varying ways in different manuscripts. Betzata, Bezata, Betzatha, Beizeta, Bethsaida and Bethesda all appear in some manuscripts. Archaeologists have discovered a pool matching the description of having five porticoes just north of the temple area. Their discovery suggests that Bethseda is the correct name.
One difficulty does have a fairly clear answer. Verse 4 appears in none of the major early manuscripts. The evidence of the manuscripts available to us suggests that it was added several hundred years after John wrote the gospel to explain verse 7. Since it was not part of the original we don't know much about the expectations of healing for people waiting at the pool. John is less interested in the details of how other people were healed at the pool. He is interested in focusing our attention on Jesus.
A number of things are clear and are instructive for us. In contrast to the previous miracle, Jesus sought out this man and initiated the conversation that led to healing. For many of us the best things God has done for us were not the result of our prayers or seeking. Rather we were surprised by joy when God came to us unexpectedly and we discovered the bounty of his love. It is clear that this fellow was neither quick to catch on nor properly appreciative of the intervention of Jesus. In verse 7 he appears as a chronic complainer. In verse 11 he is so unexcited about being healed that he tells the Jews that it's not his fault he was breaking the Sabbath. Verse 13 reveals that he had not even found out Jesus' name after being healed. In verse 15 he ungratefully turns Jesus into the Jewish authorities. Fine thanks! We could be even more indignant against him if he were not so much like us. But God's work in our lives does not depend on our worthiness. This man teaches us again the meaning of grace.
While this story does not use the word "believe" that has been so important thus far in John, it is dependent on the flip side of faith, that being obedience. The climax of the healing comes in verses 8-9. Three commands are given in verse 8: 1) arise, 2) take up your bed," and 3) walk. Verse 9 records the fulfillment and obedience of the commands. 1) He became well, 2) took his bed, and 3) walked. Without using the words "believe" or "faith" John makes clear two things. The man really did "believe" and the evidence of believing is obeying.
John 5:10-18 - A Sabbath Controversy
The last part of verse 9 turns our attention to John's real agenda in the story of the healing at the pool. Jesus accomplished this miracle on the Sabbath. Verses 10-12 unfold in the manner of a rabbinic debate. Verse 10 states the rabbinic ruling that carrying a mat violated the Sabbath law of the Old Testament. The man's response in verse 11 is simply to quote Jesus. "The man who healed me said, 'Take up your bed and walk'." Rabbinic disputation was conducted by quoting different authorities against each other. The man was saying, "You say no. Rabbi Jesus (whose name the man didn't know) said yes." At that point the identity of Jesus became important! Who is this rival rabbi handing down a competing interpretation of the Law? From John's perspective this is a wonderful setup. If the Jews want to know Jesus' identity, then John will move the dialog to Jesus "real" identity.
When the man who was healed found Jesus one more theological issue is brought in. Jesus warned the fellow to sin no more or something worse would happen to him. This raises an important question. Did Jesus believe that the man's illness was a result of his sin or that future sin would be punished by illness? The Jewish view held that sickness was caused by sin. This view is expressed in John 9:2. There Jesus rejected that view. Here Jesus' view is not clear. What is clear that Jesus wanted the man to sin no more. This is the same response Jesus gave the woman taken in adultery (John 8:11).
Verse 16 indicates that Jewish persecution began as a result of Jesus' ministry on the Sabbath. The issue of Sabbath observance was an on-going debate between Judaism and Jesus and his followers. Following another Sabbath controversy Jesus had remarked in Mark 2:28, "The son of man is Lord of the Sabbath." However, the debate is quickly enlarged in our passage to include the identity of Jesus in verses 17-18. It is the identity of Jesus that is crucial for Christians, not matters of legalistic interpretation. As John observed in verse 18, it was the presentation of Jesus as equal to God that the Jews could not handle.
The issue of Sabbath observance and the equality of Jesus and God the Father were matters of fierce debate between Christians and Jews at the time John wrote his gospel. John 5:1-18 was much more than just information about Jesus' life and ministry to the first readers of John's gospel. These verses instructed them on the Christian position on Sabbath and the identity of Jesus. Their most important function for us is also to show us how Christian faith deals with Law and with Christ. Our faith is not only that Jesus was equal to and is God. That very faith also enables us to follow Jesus when he breaks through the details of the Law to accomplish God's original purposes for the Law.
It is the revelation of Jesus as God's Son in our hearts that enables him to break through the patterns and traditions that have grown up through many years of our being the lord of our own lives. If he were simply another prophet we could argue with him. But when we see him for who he really is we can no longer argue. We can only submit and obey or reject him.
John 5:19-47 - Jesus And The Father
The two healings of John 4:46-54 and 5:1-9 and the following Sabbath controversy in 5:10-18 have brought the nature and identity of Jesus to a climax. From the beginning of John's portrait of the earthly Jesus, revealed to us in 1:19 ff, the description of Jesus has become increasingly forceful. He is greater than John the Baptist; he is the Lamb of God, the Messiah and the Son of God. Finally, 5:18 notes that the effect of all of this is that Jesus was making himself equal to God. Certainly within the historical ministry of Jesus such a claim was intolerable to Judaism. Even in the evangelistic purposes of the Fourth Gospel in a Hellenistic world such a claim must be clarified and defined. So it is that 5:19-47 attempt to delineate the relationship of Jesus and the Father.
The passage may be divided into three sections: verses 19-30, verses 31-40, and verses 41-47. Verses 19-30 drives home the unity of action of Jesus and the Father. In particular these verses describe Jesus as having the authority to give life and to execute judgment delegated to him from the Father. The role of Jesus having been sent by the Father is emphasized. Verses 31-40 focus on witnesses to Jesus. John the Baptist, miracles, and even the Old Testament are summoned as witnesses to Jesus. However, the Jews were able to become involved with these witnesses without ever moving beyond the witness to the one witnessed to. Finally, Judaism is confronted with the witness of God himself to Jesus. At this point it is no longer possible to become involved in the witness and avoid the one to whom witness was being given.
Verses 41-47 sums up the section. The Jews are portrayed as completely separated from God and unable to believe. Jesus, on the other hand, represents true love of God and receives his glory from God alone. The upshot of it all is that Moses, on whom Jewish hopes are pinned, witnesses to Christ. If Moses' witness is not accepted, there is little probability that the Jews could be persuaded of the genuineness of Jesus' relationship with the Father.
John 5:19-30 - Jesus: Delegate of the Father
Verses 19-30 begin Jesus' response to the accusation of the Jews in verse 18 that he was making himself equal to God. Within the framework of Jewish monotheism such a claim was unacceptable. Jesus' response clarifies the nature of his relationship to God. His response would have been offensive to Judaism because he did claim unity with the Father. Modern day Christians may also be surprised at the degree to which Jesus clearly distinguished himself from the Father.
Verses 19-20 give a general comment describing the relationship of Jesus and the Father. First, the Son does nothing on his own initiative. He does only what he sees the Father doing. Secondly, the Father is actively involved in showing the Son what He is doing. Thus the Son's imitation of the Father is not based on partial knowledge. The Son does all that the Father would have done and he does it because the Father has taken the initiative to reveal everything to the Son. Further, the Jews haven't yet seen all that Jesus will do because God is not finished revealing His works to the Son.
To say that Jesus acts only on the initiative of God is another way of saying that Jesus was completely obedient to God. He did not do what he wanted to do but only what the Father wanted done. This is complete alignment to the will of God. The strong New Testament emphasis on the obedience of Jesus to the Father is not widely acknowledged in Christian circles today. But if the sonship of Jesus was expressed in terms of obedience to the Father then surely the sonship of believers today must express itself in obedience. One of the earliest hymn writers in Christianity noted that the exaltation of Jesus came about because he was obedient unto death, even death on a cross (Phil. 2:6-11).
This obedience took place within an environment of love. Jesus' obedience to the Father was not the grim determination of fulfilling legal obligation but the joyous and trusting response to a Father's love. In fact, that is the only true obedience, a fact that many of us need to learn. Fulfilling the demands of the law just to make heaven is not really obedience; it is the buying of one's ticket. True obedience is the free response to love.
Verses 21-22 describe the delegation of the power of life; and the right of judgment to Jesus. As verse 21 noted these were the acknowledged prerogatives of God. The Old Testament affirmed that the gift of life and true judgment belonged to God and to God alone. Thus we can see Jesus here affirming his unity with the Father by claiming the right to give life and to judge. The delegation of these prerogatives is complete for verse 21 states that he gives life to those whom he wills. God is not having Jesus do the preliminary work, and then checking up on him. Rather, the authority is put completely into Jesus' hands.
The purpose of this delegation of authority from the Father to Jesus is not to get God out of some work. Rather, verse 23 affirms that the purpose of the Father delegating authority to Jesus is so that equal honor would be given to Jesus. In fact refusal to honor Jesus constitutes refusal to honor the Father.
The double "amens" that begin verses 24 and 25 mark them as particularly significant statements. The terms "hear" and "believe" appear for the first time in this section. It is quite likely that when he uses "hear" here, John is thinking in Hebrew, in which the word "hear" is also the word for "obey." Thus verse 24 lays out the dual conditions of obeying the word of Christ and trusting in the Father as requisite for eternal life. The Greek tense of both expressions suggests continuousness. The person who is constantly obeying the word of Christ and who is continually trusting the Father is possessing eternal life. Judgment does not await such a person because that person has passed from death to life. This phrase demonstrates John's understanding of eternal life as a present reality. The Greek tense for the word "passed" indicates that the transfer from death to life has already taken place and now the believer is living with the results of that change. Thus, for the person who is believing and obeying, death and judgment are not matters of concern.
Verse 25 expands upon this idea. It speaks of an hour in which the dead will hear the voice of Christ, and those who hear will live. Again, the concept is that of obedience. Those who obey the voice of Christ will live. John appears to be playing with words at this point. The time of such an event is future and yet present. The dead are those who presently have not believed and obeyed - what we might call the spiritually dead. The time in which spiritually dead can obey and trust is now. (Cf. 2 Cor. 6:2) However, John constructs the sentence so that we recognize that in the future the (physically) dead will hear the voice of Christ and will be raised to life.
Verses 26-30 essentially repeat the themes that have already appeared in this section. Raymond Brown notes the following similarities between verses 19-25 and verses 26-30.
Verse 30 functions as a summary of the previous verses. It also introduces verses 31-38.
Study Questions for Reflection and Discussion
These readings and study questions are in preparation for next week's lesson.
As you begin each day pray that the Lord will speak to you through His Word and that the Holy Spirit will make the Word meaningful to you.
First Day: Read the notes on John 4:43-5:29. Look up the Scripture references given.
1. Identify one or two new insights that were meaningful to you.
2. Select a truth for which you see a personal application in your own life. Describe how it would apply to you.
3. Is your obedience to God a joyful and trusting response to a Father's love or grim obedience? Ask the Lord to pour His love out on you in a way that will help you joyfully obey.
Second Day: Read John 5:19-47. Now focus on John 5:31-38.
1. What or who is described as providing testimony about Jesus?
2. What was John's testimony to the truth about Jesus? You may want to re-read John 1:6-8, 19-35; 3:25-30.
3. Jesus said that the Father testified in His (Jesus') behalf. If God were to testify about you what kind of things do you think He might say? What can you do to give God a better testimony about you?
Day Three: Read John 5:19-47. Focus in on John 5:39-47.
1. What did the Jews believe they would find in Scripture? What do Christians find in Scripture?
2. Why do you think Jesus said that the Jews did not have the love of God in them?
3. What hindrances to belief does Jesus discuss here? What do you think are the major hindrances to belief today? How have you overcome them?
Day Four: Read John 6:1-25. Now focus in on John 6:1-15.
1. Who is the audience that listens to and observes Jesus in chapter 6?
2. Read Matthew 14:13-21; Mark 6:30-44; and Luke 9:12-17. What are the similarities and differences between the account in John and the accounts in the other gospels?
3. Verse 14 says that the crowd called Jesus "the prophet who was coming into the world." If Deuteronomy 18:15-22 describes this prophet, what did the crowd see in Jesus that fulfilled the passage from Deuteronomy?
Day Five: Read John 6:1-25. Focus again on John 6:1-15.
1. In what ways is the generosity of Jesus demonstrated in verses 1-15?
2. How does the feeding of the 5000 show the superiority of Jesus over Moses?
3. Read 2 Kings 4:42-44. What are the similarities and differences between that story and Jesus' feeding the 5000? What does it say about Jesus?
Day Six: Read John 6:1-25. Now focus in on John 6:16-25.
1. Why were the disciples frightened (verse 19) at the sight of Jesus?
2. How are verses 16-21 similar to the story of the crossing of the Red Sea as described in Exodus 14?
3. What storms of life are you struggling with? How would it help you for Jesus to come and say, "I AM is here, do not be afraid"?