THE GOSPEL ACCORDING TO JOHN
CHAPTER 5:
OPPOSITION TO THE SON OF GOD IN JERUSALEM

"And for this very reason there is also a word of the Savior to prepare us for that day, in these words: 'Be ready and watch, for He comes at an hour you do not know.'  For, according to the blessed Paul: 'We must all stand before the judgment-seat of Christ, that each one may receive according as he has done in the body, whether it be good or bad.'"
-St. Athanasius, Incarnation of the Word, 56.5, 4th century

"How then shall they confess the Lord unless they first search the Scriptures which are written concerning Him?  And the disciples say that they have found Him, 'of whom Moses and the Prophets did write.'  And what is the Law to the Sadducees if they receive not the Prophets?  For God who gave the Law, Himself promised in the Law that He would raise up Prophets also, so that the same is Lord both of the Law and of the Prophets, and he that denies the one must of necessity deny the other also.  And again, what is the Old Testament to the Jews unless they acknowledge the Lord whose coming was expected according to it?  For had they believed the writings of Moses, they would have believed the words of the Lord; for He said, 'He wrote of Me.'"
–St. Athanasius, To the Bishops of Egypt, 4th century

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BOOK 3 – OPPOSITION TO THE SON OF GOD 5:1-12:50

JUDEA - JERUSALEM

 U      F I.   OPPOSITION IN JERUSALEM 5:1-47
 N      E (pool of Bethesda, Jerusalem)

 

 N      A               A.  SIGN #3 – Jesus heals the paralytic man 5:1-9
 A      S               B.  Jesus' homily/ Jews of Jerusalem reject Christ 5:10-47
 M      T 1. Greater than John the Baptist 5:31-40
 E
 D
2.  Unbelief of the Jews

5: 41-47

Please read John 5:1-9, The Second Feast at Jerusalem and the First Opposition to Jesus:

1 After this there was a Jewish festival, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem.  2 Now in Jerusalem next to the Sheep Pool there is a pool called Bethesda in Hebrew, which has five porticos; 3 and under these were crowds of sick people, blind, lamb, paralyzed.  4 One man there had an illness which had lasted thirty-eight years, and when Jesus saw him lying there and knew he had been in that condition for a long time, he said, 'Do you want to be well again?'  7 'Sir,' replied the sick man.  'I have no one to put me into the pool when the water is disturbed; and while I am still on the way, someone else gets down there before me.'  8 Jesus said, 'Get up, pick up your sleeping-mat and walk around.'  9 The man was cured at once, and he picked up his mat and started to walk around.

John 5:1: After this there was a Jewish festival, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem.

One always travels "up" to Jerusalem since the holy city is located in the mountains approximately 2,600 feet above sea level.  John does not give us any information to help us identify this feast.  Most scholars believe it is the Feast of Weeks which was called Shavuot in Hebrew but was called the Feast of Pentecost [50th day in Greek, pentekoste] in the 1st century AD because it came 50 days after the Feast of Firstfruits.  Like the feasts of Unleavened Bread and The Feast of Tabernacles, the Feast of Weeks is a "pilgrim feast" that requires the attendance of all men of the Covenant:  Three times a year you will hold a festival in my honor. You will observe the feast of Unleavened Bread.  For seven days you will eat unleavened bread, as I have commanded you, at the appointed time in the month of Abib, [Nisan]  for in that month you came out of Egypt.  No one will appear before me empty-handed.  You will also observe the feast of Harvest, of the first-fruits of your labors in sowing the fields [Pentecost is the feast of the wheat harvest], and the feast of Ingathering, at the end of the year, once you have brought the fruits of your labors in from the fields [the grape harvest is the final harvest of the year].  Three times a year all your menfolk will appear before Lord Yahweh. Exodus 23:14-17 (please consult the document The Seven Sacred Feasts of the Old Covenant in the Charts and Handouts section).

I am in the minority of scholars when I suggest this is the Feast of Tabernacles.  The reason I lean in favor of that particular pilgrim feast is because John's Gospel seems to count the years of Jesus' ministry by the feast of Passover/Unleavened Bread, at the beginning of the liturgical year in March/April, and the Feast of Tabernacles, at the end of each liturgical year in September/October (please consult the study outline to observe the way the Gospel is formed around these feasts). The next chapter identifies the feast following this unnamed feast as the Passover [John 6:4], the feast that follows Tabernacles in the liturgical calendar.  Another reason why I do not believe this is The Feast of Weeks/Pentecost is because that feast only lasted one day and always fell on a Sunday.  We are told in 5:10 that the day Jesus performed this "sign" is the Sabbath, which is Saturday.  The Feast of Weeks always feel on a Sunday, the first day of the Jewish week.  Please read Leviticus 23:9-22

According to the Law of the Covenant the Feast of Firstfruits, which celebrated the giving of the first of the barley harvest and which commemorated the crossing of the Red Sea, always fell on the day after the first Sabbath of Passover/Unleavened Bread feast week [see Leviticus 23:11, and 15 and the Chart on The Sacred Feasts of the Old Covenant].  The Sabbath is a Saturday, therefore the Feast of Firstfruits always fell on the day after the Sabbath which is a Sunday. Then the day for the celebration of the Feast of Weeks/Pentecost came seven weeks later and on the fifty day after Firstfruits that feast was celebrated. Pentecost celebrated the giving of the Law at Sinai and the first offering to God of the wheat harvest; see Leviticus 23:15-16.  Like the Feast of Firstfruits in the offering of the first of the barley harvest, this feast was established to always fall on a Sunday.  In ancient times there was no zero place value so one began counting from the first day as day #1.  Since Pentecost was a one day feast and it always fell on a Sunday, it cannot be the feast in chapter 5 which clearly falls on a Sabbath, a Saturday.  The Feast of Tabernacles lasted 8 days and therefore a Sabbath was always part of that celebration.  You should note that today the Jews no longer celebrate the Feast of Firstfruits and therefore they now count from the first day of Unleavened Bread fifty days to find the count of days for the Feast of Weeks.  This counting ensures that this feast day changes the day of celebration every year no longer falling on Sunday.  Today the Jews have erased in their tradition the connection that existed between Jesus' resurrection on the Sunday of the Feast of Firstfruits (see Colossians 1:15-20) and the descent of the Holy Spirit on Sunday, the Feast of Pentecost!  The 1st century AD historian Flavius Josephus notes this change in the Jewish calendar of feast:  And truly he did not speak falsely in saying so; for the festival, which we call Pentecost, did then fall out to be the next day to the Sabbath...(The Antiquities of the Jews, Book 13.8.4 (252).

I also think that the sign of the healing waters of the pool of Bethesda is a clue that links this event in chapter 5 to the Feast of Tabernacles.  The Feast of Tabernacles is a feast of "Light" and "Water."  It is a feast of "Light" as a sign reminiscent of the descent of the Shekinah glory [the presence of God] in Solomon's day and looked forward to the return of the Shekinah in the days of the Messiah and "Water" as a sign the Spirit and of God's grace: Why do they call it 'the house of drawing'? Because there they draw the Holy Spirit" [Genesis, Rabbinical notes 70.1] and Why is the name of it called, the drawing out of water?  Because of the pouring out of the Holy Spirit according to what is said: 'With joy shall ye draw water out of the wells of salvation.' [Ruth, Rabbinical notes 4:7].  We will see the importance of these symbols in the celebration of the Feast of Tabernacles in Jesus' discourse in chapter 7.

John 5:2-4 Now in Jerusalem next to the Sheep Pool there is a pool called Bethesda in Hebrew which has five porticos; and under these were crowds of sick people, blind, lame, paralyzed.

Some ancient MSS (hand written manuscripts) add ..crowds of sick people, blind, lame, paralyzed, waiting for the water to move; for at intervals the angel of the Lord came down into the pool, and the water was disturbed, and the first person to enter the water after this disturbance was cured of any ailment from which he was suffering.  This passage is assigned as a footnote in most Bible translations because it does not appear in the most important Greek codices [unbound pages, the precursor to our modern books] and papyri scrolls, nor does it appear in many ancient translations but St. Jerome who translated from the oldest Greek and Hebrew texts he could find in the late 4th century, included this passage in his Vulgate Latin translation and St. John Chrysostom also included this passage.  St. John wrote An angel came down and troubled the water, and endued it with a healing power, that the Jews might learn that much more could the Lord of Angels heal the diseases of the soul.  Yet as here it was not simply the nature of the water that healed, (for then this would have always taken place,) but water joined to the operation of the Angel; so in our case, it is not merely the water that works, but when it has received the grace of the Spirit, then it puts away all our sins.

In chapters 3-4 we had the themes of "new birth" and healing of the soul through "water and the spirit." Now John leads us to the "healing waters" of the famous pools of Bethesda.  This pool, located on the outskirts of Jerusalem, was also called the "Probatic Pool" because it was beside the Probatic Gate also called the Sheep gate (see Nehemiah 3:1-32 and 12:39).  It was only through this gate that the animals, which were approved for the sacrifices in the Temple, entered the city.  [Other ancient authorities render the word Bethesda as "Bethsaida, or Belsetha, or the most favored by scholars today, Bethzatha].  This pool was destroyed when the Roman Army leveled the city in 70AD, but John's detailed description of the pool was dramatically corroborated by archaeologists in the 1890's when the pool was not rediscovered in Jerusalem.  Excavated out of rock, the pool was discovered to have a large rectangle surrounded by four galleries with a fifth dividing the rectangle into two pools.  It has 5 porticos just as John described it in his Gospel.  Identification of the name of the pool was later made possible by the reference in the Copper Scroll of the Dead Sea Scrolls [column 11, line 12] to Bet esdatain (in the plural probably because there were 2 basins). Before the discovery of the Copper Scroll it was thought Bethesda meant "place or house of mercy" but the reference to this pool in the Copper Scroll seems to indicate the meaning is "place of flowing" which would be a link to the encounter with the Samaritan woman.  Scholars have suggested that "Bethesda may be an accurate Greek rendition of the singular form of the name whereas Bezatha [or Bethzatha] is a rendition of the Aramaic emphatic plural of the name Bet Esdata.  Josephus in his history The Jewish War [2.15.5] speaks of a quarter of the city called Bezetha near the northeast corner of the Temple area and Bishop Eusebius writes in Onomasticon (58:21-26) of the pool of Bezatha. Most scholars accept that the Hebrew name of the pool and the area of the city was, as testified to by the Copper Scroll in Hebrew, Bet Esda, "place of flowing" or "the place of drawing."  [Note: some sources report that Bethesda was used as a pagan healing pool until the second destruction of Jerusalem in 135AD but these sources are confusing Bethesda with the pool of Siloam, see Isaiah 8:6, John 9:7 &11, also associated with healing powers].

It is interesting that John clearly states that there "is a pool called Bethesda" using the present tense.  Scholars who support and dating of this Gospel prior to the destruction of Jerusalem in 70AD use this verse as evidence of this earlier dating since the pools no longer existed after that date. If he was writing after the destruction of Jerusalem, which was the end of the world for the Old Covenant, these scholars argue John would have noted that this pool used to be there before the destruction, but instead he clearly uses the present tense telling us the pools still exist at the time of the writing of his Gospel

St. John Chrysostom taught that the pool of Bethesda was a symbol of the promise of Christian Baptism, but like so many Old Covenant symbols and institutions it was incomplete.  This ancient healing pool only cured physical ailments and only cured one person now and then. But Baptism, St. John assures us, heals the soul and is available to everyone who comes to Christ in faith.  However, St. John reminds us, in both cases, in Baptism and at the pool of Bethesda, God's power is shown through the natural element of water! [Homilies on St. John, 36, 1].

John 5:5-9 One man there had an illness which had lasted thirty-eight years, and when Jesus saw him lying there and knew he had been in that condition for a long time, he said, 'Do you want to be well again?' 'Sir,' replied the sick man. 'I have no one to put me into the pool when the water is disturbed; and while I am still on the way, someone else gets down there before me.'  Jesus said, 'Get up, pick up your sleeping-mat and walk around.'  The man was cured at once, and he picked up his mat and started to walk around.

Question: Why would Jesus ask a man who is so obviously suffering if he wants to be healed?

Answer: Jesus will connect the man's suffering to sin in verse 14. The man must sincerely want to be healed just as all of us must make a sincere act of contrition in our desire to be healed of sin through the sacrament of Reconciliation.

Question: Why do you think John mentions that the man had been ill 38 years?  What significance does this number of years have in the history of Israel?  Hint: see Numbers 13:25-14:11 and Deuteronomy 2:14

Answer:  Numbers chapter 13 at a place called Kadesh Barnea Yahweh commands Moses to send out men, one from each tribe, to reconnoiter the land of Canaan in preparation for the Israelite invasion.  When they returned 40 days later only Joshua [Hosea] of the tribe of Ephraim and Caleb of the tribe of Judah believed they could conquer the land; the others had no faith that God would help them conquer the land.  The people of Israel, accepting the discouraging report of the 10, cried out against Yahweh and threatened to depose Moses and Aaron in order to return to Egypt. As punishment for their lack of faith and their open rebellion Yahweh condemned Israel to wander forty years, one year for each day the 12 men had reconnoitered the land, until every man of that generation had died except Joshua and Caleb.  When they came to the boundary of the country of Moab on the eastern side of the Jordan River 38 years had passed and all the men of the first generation had died except Joshua and Caleb: And so we crossed the Wadi Zered.  From Kadesh-Barnea to the crossing of the Wadi Zered our wanderings had taken 38 years; as a result of which the entire generation of those of age to bear arms had been eliminated, as Yahweh had sworn to them. The man by the Bethesda pool suffered 38 years due to some unspecified sin (see verse 14), which is known to Jesus, becomes a comparison to the suffering of the Children of Israel for 38 years in the wilderness because of their sin. In both cases, in spite of their sins, God did not abandon them.  After the time of their penitence, God gave the children of Israel Joshua [Yehoshua = Jesus] to lead them into the Promised Land.  Jesus, the new Joshua, will heal the man who is a symbol of the paralyzed nation, and He will heal Israel and lead the Old Covenant Church to a new beginning if she will not be rebellious as she was before when God was prepared to lead her into the Promised Land.  This is Jesus' 3rd "sign."

In his notes that accompany the St. Ignatius Bible study of John's Gospel Dr. Scott Hahn reminds the Bible student that the supernatural meaning underneath the natural meaning is the greater meaning.  He also comments that the deception of the 10 spies of imperfect faith who led Israel into rebellion against God and refused the gift of the Promised Land would have resonated with 1st century Christians.  They saw the 10 unbelieving spies who deceived the people as symbolic of the 1st century Jews who rejected Christ as the Messiah and who were deceiving the Old Covenant Church and leading them into rebellion against Christ and the New Covenant Church.

Please read John 5:10-18: 10 Now that day happened to be the Sabbath, so the Jews said to the man who had been cured, 'It is the Sabbath; you are not allowed to carry your sleeping mat.'  11 He replied, 'But the man who cured me told me, "Pick up your mat and walk around."'  12 They asked, 'Who is the man who said to you, "Pick up your mat and walk around"?'  13 The man had no idea who it was, since Jesus had disappeared, as the place was crowded.  14 After a while Jesus met him in the Temple and said, 'Now you are well again, do not sin anymore, or something worse may happen to you.'  15 The man went back and told the Jews that it was Jesus who had cured him.  16 It was because he did things like this on the Sabbath that the Jews began to harass Jesus.  17 His answer to them was, 'My Father still goes on working, and I am at work, too.'  18 But that only made the Jews even more intent on killing him, because not only was he breaking the Sabbath, but he spoke of God as his own Father and so made himself God's equal.

John 5:10-13 "Now that day happened to be the Sabbath, so the Jews said to the man who had been cured, 'It is the Sabbath; you are not allowed to carry your sleeping mat.'  He replied, 'But the man who cured me told me, 'Pick up your mat and walk around.'  They asked, 'Who is the man who said to you, 'Pick up your mat and walk around'?  The man had no idea who it was, since Jesus had disappeared as the place was crowded.

Question: On what day does this 3rd sign occur?

Answer: On the Sabbath, this is the 7th day.

Question: How does this information link us to the 2nd sign and the first sign?

Answer: The royal official's son was healed at the 7th hour and the sign at Cana was the 7th day counting from 1:29 as day 2.  7 is the number symbolic of spiritual perfection.  The healing of the royal official's son shows Jesus' power over suffering and death and that He is transforming believers into a New Creation.  Now this healing on the 7th day of a Jew suffering from sin that the Old Covenant cannot remove (there was no forgiveness for mortal sin, only for unintentional sin see Numbers 15:27-31) signifies that the imperfect Old Covenant will be transformed into a New Covenant where Jesus, in His perfection, will offer complete healing and restoration.

John 5:13: The man had no idea who it was, since Jesus had disappeared, as the place was crowded. St Cyril of Jerusalem in his homily on "The Healing of the Paralytic" taught that Jesus withdrew into the crowd, shunning praise, to teach us to serve God out of love and not to seek worldly recognition.  When we receive earthly acknowledgement for a good work we have already received our reward that could have been given to us in heaven. "Be careful not to parade your uprightness in public to attract attention; otherwise you will lose all reward from your Father in heaven"  [St Cyril's homily on the Paralytic, 16].

Question: Why were the Jews disturbed that Jesus told the man to rise and walk with his sleeping-mat?  See Exodus 31:12-14, and Jeremiah 31:12-13.

Answer: According to the Law of the Sinai Covenant no work was to be done on the Sabbath.  Jewish theologians taught that God rested on the 7th day of creation [Genesis 2:1-3], therefore they observed Sabbath was the human counterpart of this divine "rest."

Question: Is Jesus rejecting the Old Covenant Sabbath?  If not, why does He seem to be in violation of the Law?  See John 9:16 and Matthew chapter 12

Answer: He is not in violation of the Law.  Jesus is demonstration the real meaning of the Sabbath. It is His teaching that we are expected to refrain from the material and from sinful works on the Sabbath.  The priests still perform their duties on the Sabbath.  People are born and people die on the Sabbath.  Since only God has the power over life and death it follows, therefore, that God still "works" on the Sabbath.  The concept of entering into "God's rest" is our communion with the Father on the Sabbath in which we lay aside our labor and worship God because that is the way we express our faith that He will supply us with our needs.  But the real significance of the Sabbath is for God to manifest Himself in our lives and for us to reflect His love by doing acts of mercy in the lives of others, even when we see that need on the new Covenant Sabbath, the Lord's Day.

John 5:14-16: After a while Jesus met him in the Temple and said, 'Now you are well again, do not sin any more, or something worse may happen to you.'  The man went back and told the Jews that it was Jesus who had cured him.  It was because he did things like this on the Sabbath they the Jews began to harass Jesus.

Question:  What was the "something worse" than suffering for 38 years?  What does Jesus mean by this warning?>

Answer: To neglect the inner, spiritual healing is to risk something worse than his disease.  The risk is his immortal soul.

In the case of this individual his sin was linked to his suffering.  Old Covenant believers thought every physical ailment was the result of some sin committed by the individual or by his parents [see Psalms 107:17 and John 9:1-3].  Jesus clearly taught that this was not always the case as in His response to His disciples in John 9:3 shows: "Rabbi who sinned, this man or his parents, that he should have been born blind?'  "Neither he nor his parents sinned,' Jesus answered, 'he was born blind so that the works of God might be revealed in him.'"  Jesus warns the man he healed at Bethesda that his cure is a gift from God that must be accompanied by a conversion of heart [Matthew 9:2-8]. This 3rd sign is, therefore, a sign of the spiritual resurrection promised in the New Covenant.

John 5:17-18 His answer to them was, 'My Father still goes on working, and I am at work, too.'  But that only made the Jews even more intent on killing him, because not only was he breaking the Sabbath, but he spoke of God as his own Father and so made himself God's equal.

Putting his answer in human terms his audience can understand, Jesus compares Himself to a son who imitates his father to learn his father's trade skills. Jesus is the apprentice of Yahweh, learning by observation and imitation the skills of the Father and by obedience to all He hears from the Father (5:19-21).

In Matthew chapter 12 Jesus addresses this same issue of the Sabbath restrictions where he reminds those who condemn Him for breaking the Sabbath of the story in 1 Samuel where David and his men, when being pursued by Saul, were allowed to eat the Bread of the Presence in the Tabernacle and then added ...have you not read in the Law how the priests in the Temple profane the Sabbath and are guiltless...  Jesus' point is that those who have been anointed by God are not bound by the Sabbath restrictions because they are fulfilling the will of God.

Question: What statement does Jesus make in verse 17 that enrages the Jews to the point that they conspire to kill Him?

Answer: By calling God His Father Jesus is claiming the status of divine son-ship for Himself.  He is declaring Himself equal with God for although the Son is less than the Father in His humanity (John 14:28) He is equal to God the Father in His divinity (John 10:33). CCC# 253-54

Please read John 5:19-24:  19 To this Jesus replied: 'In all truth I tell you, by himself the Son can do nothing; he can do only what he sees the Father doing: and whatever the Father does the Son does too.  20 For the Father loves the Son and shows him everything he himself does, and he will show him even greater things than these, works that will astonish you.  21 Thus, as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, so the Son gives life to anyone he chooses; 22 for the Father judges no one; he has entrusted all judgment to the Son, 23 so that all may honor the Son as they honor the Father.  Whoever refuses honor to the Son refuses honor to the Father who sent him.  24 In all truth I tell you, whoever listens to my words, and believes in the one who sent me, has eternal life; without being brought to judgment such a person has passed from death to life.

John 5:19-20: To this Jesus replied: 'In all truth [amen, amen] I tell you, by himself the Son can do nothing; he can do only what he sees the Father doing: and whatever the Father does the Son does too.  For the Father loves the Son and shows him everything he himself does, and he will show him even greater things than these, works that will astonish you.

This dialogue in verses 19-47 is the most complete explanation of God the Son's relationship to God the Father in the Gospels.  Jesus' dialogue is divided into two parts:

he can only do what he sees the Father doing..,  St. Thomas Aquinas cautions that the Son does not imitate the Father in the same way a disciple imitates Jesus.  Jesus used the word "sees" because men come to understand things through their senses, like the sense of sight.  Instead the Son is showing that the Father's powers are communicated to the Son in all power through all eternity [St. Thomas Aquinas: Commentary on St. John].

John 5:21-23 Thus, as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, so the Son gives life to anyone he chooses; for the Father judges no one; he has entrusted all judgment to the Son, so that all may honor the Son as they honor the Father.  Whoever refuses honor to the Son refuses honor to the Father who sent him.

In verse 21 Jesus is talking about the nature of the works that He has seen the Father do and which He is doing.  They are the same works that, according to Jewish theology, it was proper for the Father to do on the Sabbath.  There are two "works" mentioned in these verses.

Question: What is the first work that Jesus does following the Father's example?  How does that work relate to the "signs" of the healing of the son of the royal official and the healing of the man who was paralyzed 38 years?

Answer: Giving life.  Now we can understand the reason that Jesus gave life to the royal official's son.  It was a "sign" of the life from above that He can truly give because the Father has empowered Him to give life.  The connection between the healing of the paralyzed man and the order to stop sinning (in vs. 14) is the connection between the greater, eternal death that sin can bring and Jesus' power over sin to forgive and grant life. 

Question:  What does Jesus' warning to the man mean to us?

Answer: Then as well as now, the only threat to the kind of life that Jesus can bring the world is sin.  ...Sin has a double consequence.  Grave sin [mortal] deprives us of communion with God and therefore makes us incapable of eternal life, the privation of which is called the "eternal punishment" of sin.  On the other hand every sin, even venial, entails an unhealthy attachment to creatures, which must be purified either here on earth, or after death in the state called Purgatory.  This purification frees one from what is called the "temporal punishment" of sin. See CCC# 1472; also see # 1473.

Question: What is the second "work" and to whom has the Father given the power to judge man?

Answer: The second of the works (verses 22-23) is the power to judge sin.  This power belongs to the Son.  The power over life and death is the power of Christ the judge.  Jesus is the supreme judge of the Last Days [John 5:36-40; Matthew 25:31-46; and Romans 2:5-10]. 

Question: For each of us where does the struggle over life and death begin?

Answer: It begins in this life with the choice one makes with respect to belief in Jesus Christ.

Question: Who are the "dead" who are referred to in verse 21? What is the "death" we must fear?

Answer: The spiritually dead.

John 5:24 In all truth [amen, amen] I tell you, whoever listens to my words, and believes in the one who sent me, has eternal life; without being brought to judgment such a person has passed from death to life.

This is the second double amen of this dialogue. 

Question: What does "from death to life" mean?

Answer: Under the Old Covenant the penalty for disobedience was to be condemned to the curses of the Covenant [see Genesis 3:14-16, the curse on man and the serpent, and Deuteronomy 30: 15-20 the curse on Israel as God's Covenant people if she broke the Sinai Covenant].  The earth was already under the curse from the original fall of Adam and Eve but now through Christ we are provided a spiritual transfer from the curses of the Covenant with Adam and the curses of the Sinai Covenant to the blessings of the New Covenant in Christ which were enumerated by Jesus in the Sermon of the Mount [Matthew chapter 5].  Christ has rescued us from the fallen family of Adam and He has reinstated us in the divine family of God the Father [See: Ephesians2:1-5; Romans 5:12-21; CCC# 580, 1470].  He is able to do this because the Father has turned over to Him the power of salvlific judgment, which in the Old Covenant is the prerogative of Yahweh.  This power that the Father has given the Son should cause men to honor the Son and to recognize His relation to the Father. But this power to judge also has a negative side.

Question: The positive side of Jesus' power to judge is the judgment on behalf of those who believe in Him and receive the gift of salvation. What is the negative side of Jesus' power to judge?

Answer: His judgment is at the same time a condemnation of those who refuse the Son sent by the Father. Verse 24 reemphasizes the eschatological message of this Gospel: Judgment, condemnation, passing from death to life (vs. 24) are all part of that "hour", which Jesus tells them in this discourse, is now here. 

Question: What message does this verse carry to us who read it in the Bible today?

Answer: In the Anchor Bible Commentary on John's Gospel, Father Brown writes: "Just as the royal official listened to Jesus' word and believed in it, thus receiving the life of his son (4:50), so also those who stand before Jesus and hear his words in the discourse of chapter 5 have the opportunity to receive life.  These words are the source of life for those who are spiritually dead." [Anchor Bible –St. John, page 219]. 

Please read John 5:25-30: 25 In all truth I tell you, the hour is coming–indeed it is already here–when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and all who hear it will live.  26 For as the Father has life in himself, so he has granted the Son also to have life in himself; 27 and, because he is the Son of man, has granted him power to give judgment.  28 Do not be surprised at this, for the hour is coming when the dead will leave their graves at the sound of his voice: 29 those who did good will come forth to life; and those who did evil will come forth to judgment. 30 By myself I can do nothing; I can judge only as I am told to judge, and my judging is just, because I seek to do not my own will but the will of him who sent me.

John 5:25-27 In all truth I tell you, the hour is coming–indeed it has already here–when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and all who hear it will live.  For as the Father has life in himself so he has granted the Son also to have life in himself; and because he is the Son of man, has granted him power to give judgment.

This is the third double "amen" in this dialogue.  This is the 4th time Jesus has referred to Himself as "the Son of Man". 12 times the title "Son of Man" will be used to refer to Christ in this Gospel [1:51; 3:13; 3:14; 5:27, 6:27; 6:53; 6:62; 8:28; 12:23; 12:34 (twice); 13:31] and Jesus will refer to Himself 10 times by this same title, "the Son of Man." Each time this title is used it refers back to the vision of Daniel 7:13-14, a vision of the Messiah as the Kingly judge of all nations: I was gazing into the visions of the night, when I saw, coming on the clouds of heaven, as it were a Son of Man.  He came to the One most venerable and was led into his presence.  On him was conferred rule, honor and kingship, and all peoples, nations and languages became his servants.  His rule is an everlasting rule which will never pass away, and his kingship will never come to an end.

for the Father has life in himself..  God the Father existed before all things; therefore, He is the first link in the chain of life.  The Father's capacity to give life is shared by the Son who receives life from the Father and gives that supernatural life to the world through the sacraments [John 6:53, 10:10].

Question: Who has been given the power to give judgment = absolute authority over life and death?

Answer: The Son has been given authority by the Father to "judge the living and the dead" [Nicene Creed] and to decide each man and woman's eternal destiny [Matthew 25:31-46; Acts 10:42 and CCC# 679].

Question: What is it that the dead will hear that calls them back to life?

Answer: The voice of Jesus the Messiah.  We will address that call in the discussion of the next few verses. 

John 5:28-31 Do not be surprised at this, for the hour is coming when the dead will leave their graves at the sound of his voice: those who did good will come forth to life; and those who did evil will come forth to judgment.  By myself I can do nothing; I can judge only as I am told to judge, and my judging is just, because I seek to do not my own will but the will of him who sent me.

the hour is coming...  This is the second time that phrase is used in this dialogue [5:25 and 28].  Up to this point "the hour" has been referenced five times.   The "coming hour" will be mentioned 14 times in John's Gospel [2 times 7, double perfection].  See the chart in chapter 2. There are two dimensions to the "hour" of Jesus.  One meaning is connected to the historical life of Jesus and the other to the liturgical life of His Bride, the Church.  The Ignatius Study Bible has a very good commentary on the significance of the "hour" of Jesus on page 26.  I will attempt to summarize that teaching.

I. The Historical Hour: The first importance of "the hour" is that it points in this Gospel and the Synoptic Gospels to the climax of Jesus' earthly ministry, to the appointed time of His Passion and glorification.  Before the appointed "hour", set by the Father, the attempts of Jesus' enemies to harm Him have all been in vain because "His hour has not yet come" [7:30; 8:20].  The countdown of that hour, the point at which the clock starts ticking, is at the start of Passion week when Jesus rides into Jerusalem on the day the Passover lambs are selected for the sacrifice [Palm Sunday].  In John's Gospel "the hour" of Christ's humiliation and death on the cross is "the hour of his exaltation that becomes the source of everlasting life for the world."  [Ignatius study Bible page 26].

II. The Liturgical Hour: Christ's "hour" reaches beyond the historical events of His Passion and glorification and into the liturgical commemoration of these events as they are reenacted in the life of His Church.  Biblical scholars point to several passages in sacred Scripture that illustrate the connection of His "hour' with Christian worship:

  1. John 2:4, at the wedding at Cana Jesus responds with His mother's request for additional wine for the wedding feast with the response "My hour has not yet come", suggesting that when the hour does come He will provide that "best wine" of the wedding feast in abundance. Christian scholars down through the centuries have always seen this statement as a reference to the ordinary wine that becomes the perfect blood of Christ in holy Eucharist when "he pours Himself into the Eucharistic cup under the visible sign of wine." [St. Ignatius Study Bible –the Gospel of John page 26].

  2. John 4:21-23 in the encounter with the Samaritan woman Jesus insists that his coming "hour" is associated with worship that is superior to any previously know worship including the Jews' worship under the Old Covenant in the Temple in Jerusalem and the Samaritan's imperfect worship at Mt. Gerizim.

  3. John 5:25-29 in our current passage where Jesus announces his "hour" as the time when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of Man and will be resurrected to judgment.  In the reading of the Gospel and other Biblical passages in the Liturgy of the Word at Mass we continue to hear the "voice" of the Son of Man speak to us and to awaken our souls.

  4. John 12:20-24 in which Christ's final "hour" will bring in a harvest of souls from every nation on earth because Jesus, like a grain of wheat the dies and is buried in the earth only to rise again to new life, will give that gift of new life to Israel and every nation on earth.  It is His Church who continues to sow the seed and reap the harvest of souls: 4:37-38 "I sent you to reap a harvest you have not labored for..." and Matthew 28:19-20 "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.  Go therefore and make disciples of all nations; baptize them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teach them to observe all the commands I gave you.  And look, I am with you always; yes to the end of time."

The gift to the Father of the sacrifice of Christ on the cross cannot be divided from the sacramental gift of Christ to His Church in divine Liturgy.  "This was recognized in the early Church, where the "hour" of Jesus referred not only to his suffering and death, but as in the ancient liturgies of St. James and St. Mark, the expression "this hour" referred to the re-presentation of the Passion in the Eucharistic celebration." [Ignatius Study Bible page 26].

Returning to John 5:28-31:

Question: See verse 28Are you surprised that Christ will raise both the righteous and the wicked?  Why will both be raised?

Answer: Christ has been given the power and authority to raise all from death, both the saints and the sinners [see Acts 24:15].  This future event at the End of Time was prophesized by the prophets Daniel [Daniel 12:2] and Ezekiel [Ezekiel 37:1-4] as well as by St. Paul in 1 Thessalonians 4:16. In Daniel's vision he sees the final separation of the righteous and the unrighteous once their bodies have been awakened from death.  Ezekiel, who is called the "son of man" by God has a vision where he is commanded to speak to piles of bones and when he speaks flesh is joined to the bones and the bodies rise and are made to live again.  The prophet Ezekiel is unique among all the prophets in the title God give him: "son of man".  This is the title Jesus will use for Himself.  Jesus is the supernatural Son of Man [John 5:27] whose voice [5:25] raises the dead from their graves [5:28] and who will separate "those who come forth to life" everlasting and those who "come forth to Judgment" eternally. See John 15:29 and CCC# 997-1001

St. Athanasius writes "And for this very reason there is also a word of the Savior to prepare us for that day, in these words: 'Be ready and watch, for He comes at an hour you do not know.'  For, according to the blessed Paul: 'We must all stand before the judgment-seat of Christ, that each one may receive according as he has done in the body, whether it be good or bad.'" Incarnation of the Word, 56.5 [Athanasius quoting Matthew 24:42 and 2 Corinthians 5:10 & Romans 14:10, 4th century AD]

The Catechism offers a very clear teaching on the resurrection of the dead and the "hour" of our judgment: CCC #1038 "The resurrection of all the dead, 'of both the just and the unjust,' will precede the Last Judgment.  This will be the hour when all who are in the tombs will hear [the Son of man's] voice and come forth, those who have done good, to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil, to the resurrection of judgment.'  Then Christ will come 'in his glory, and all the angels with him...Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate them one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, and he will place the sheep at his right hand but the goats at the left...And they will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into internal life."  Scripture quotes = Acts 24:15; John 5:28-29; Matthew 25:32, 46].

Please read John 5:31-38: 31 Were I to testify on my own behalf, my testimony would not be true; 32 but there is another witness who speaks on my behalf, and I know that his testimony is true.  33 You sent messengers to John, and he gave his testimony to the truth'34 not that I depend on human testimony; no, it is for your salvation that I mention it.  35 John was a lamp lit and shining and for a time you were content to enjoy the light that he gave.  36 But my testimony is greater than John's: the deeds my Father has given me to perform, these same deeds of mine testify that the Father has sent me.  37 Besides, the Father who sent me bears witness to me himself.  You have never heard his voice, you have never seen his shape, and his word finds no home in you because you do not believe in the one whom he has sent. 

John 5:31-32 Were I to testify on my own behalf, my testimony would not be true; but there is another witness who speaks on my behalf, and I know that his testimony is true.

Question: Who is this witness?

Answer: The Father.

John 5:33-38 You sent messengers to John, and he gave his testimony to the truth–not that I depend on human testimony; no, it is for your salvation that I mention it. John was a lamp lit and shining and for a time you were content to enjoy the light that he gave.  But my testimony is greater than John's: the deeds my Father has given me to perform, these same deeds of mine testify that the Father has sent me. Besides, the Father who sent me bears witness to me himself.  You have never heard his voice, you have never seen his shape, and his word finds no home in you because you do not believe in the one whom he has sent.

Question: The Jewish legal tradition required that a claim to be substantiated in court must be substantiated by 2-3 witnesses [Deuteronomy 19:15].  In verses 31-46 what 5 witnesses does Jesus list, beyond the legal requirements?

Answer:

  1. John the Baptist (5:33)
  2. The deeds He works (5:36)
  3. the Father (5:37)
  4. the Scriptures (5:39)
  5. Moses (5:46)

John 5:35 John (the Baptist) was a lamp lit and shining...

Question: What was the purpose of John's ministry and how can it be compared to a lamp?

Answer: John the Baptist's ministry was to light the way for the Old Covenant Church to see and accept Jesus as the promised Messiah (John 1:31).  He came in the spirit of Elijah who was described in similar terms in Ecclesiasticus/Ben Sira 48:10, Then the prophet Elijah arose like a fire, his word flaring like a torch.

Question: Notice that John is a lamp that is lit; he is not "the Light."  What is the difference?

Answer: The Baptist did not shine like Jesus of his own light but as a lamp he is powered through a source and that source is Christ.

Please read John 5:39-47  39 You pore over the Scriptures, believing that in them you can find eternal life; it is these Scriptures that testify to me, 40 and yet you refuse to come to me to receive life!  41 Human glory means nothing to me.  42 Besides, I know you too well: you have no love of God in you.  43 I have come in the name of my Father and you refuse to accept me; if someone else would come in his own name you would accept him.  44 How can you believe, since you look to each other for glory and are not concerned with the glory that comes from the one God?  45 Do not imagine that I am going to accuse you before the Father: you have placed your hopes on Moses, and Moses will be the one who accuses you.  46 If you really believed in him you would believe in me too, since it was about me that he was writing; 47 but if you will not believe what he wrote, how can you believe what I say?

John 5:39-40 You pore over the scriptures, believing that in them you can find eternal life; it is these scriptures that testify to me, and yet you refuse to come to me to receive life!

Question: Can you recall when Jesus has used sacred Scripture to teach that He has come to fulfill those prophecies? 

Answer: Throughout the Gospels, the Book of Acts, and the letters of St. Paul and the other Holy Spirit inspired authors Old Testament texts are continually used as testimony of Jesus as the promised Messiah.  Some examples found in the first four chapters of the Gospel of Matthew:

St. Peter used Old Testament Scripture in his great homily at Pentecost in Acts chapter 2 to teach the crowds that Jesus was the Messiah.  It is truly as St. Jerome taught: To be ignorant of Scripture is to be ignorant of Christ.  After His resurrection Jesus taught the Church by using sacred Scripture:

It is as wrong for our Protestant brothers and sisters to teach "sola Scriptura" –Scripture alone, as it is for Catholics to only teach "sola" Tradition and ignore the teaching of sacred Scripture that was written by the Holy Spirit solely for our instruction and enlightenment; for as Jesus taught in John 5:39: 'it is these Scriptures that testify to me'.[New Jerusalem translation]

John 5:41-45 Human glory means nothing to me.  Besides, I know you too well: you have no love of God in you.  I have come in the name of my Father and you refuse to accept me; if someone else should come in his own name you would accept him.  How can you believe, since you look to each other for glory and are not concerned with the glory that comes from the one God?  Do not imagine that I am going to accuse you before the Father: you have placed your hopes on Moses, and Moses will be the one who accuses you.

Question: We should not loose sight of to whom Jesus addresses these words.  Who is it he speaks to in such strong, condemning words?  See verse 18

Answer: The Jews of Jerusalem who are hostile to Jesus and who are in authority over of the Old Covenant Church.

Jesus' statement about these men is especially hard...they were leading the people astray in their opposition to the Son of God. 

Question: Jesus identifies three obstacles preventing His hearers from recognizing that He is the Messiah and Son of God, what are the three obstacles?

Answer: 1) their lack of love of God, 2) their striving after human glory, and 3) their prejudiced interpretation of sacred Scripture.

Jesus' statement in verse 43 that they would readily accept other Messiahs is prophetic.  When the Jewish revolt began in 66AD three men emerged as leaders, each one claimed to be the Messiah and various Pharisees and other Old Covenant Church authorities broke into factions that acknowledged each of these men as the Messiah. The outcome was devastating for Judea.  Not only were they fighting the Romans, but also they were fighting among themselves.

Question: In verse 45 who is it, according to Jesus, who will accuse the false members of the Old Covenant Church (a true Jew/Israelite believes in Jesus) at the final Day of Judgment and who will judge them? Hint: see Matthew 19:28 and Luke 22:30

Answer: Moses will accuse them in the role of the persecuting attorney in the heavenly court but the 12 Apostles will sit in judgment on the 12 tribes of Israel.

Question: Why is it fruitless for them to place their hopes in Moses? Hint: see Romans 3:19-4:17

Answer:  The Jews place all their hopes of redemption on the Law of Moses but it will be the Law that will condemn them: Now we are well aware that whatever the Law says is said for those who are subject to the Law, so that every month may be silence, and the whole world brought under the judgment of God.  So then, no human being can be found upright at the tribunal of God by keeping the Law; all that the Law does is to tell us what is sinful. Romans 3:19-20.

John 5:46-47 If you really believed in him you would believe me too, since it was about me that he was writing; but if you will not believe what he wrote, how can you believe what I say?

Today many modern scholars believe that the first books of the Bible were not written down until the 6th century BC and therefore were not written by Moses.  However, in John 5:46 Jesus testifies that Moses was the sacred inspired author of the Pentateuch, which the Jews called the Torah, "the teaching," and that it was Moses "wrote down" the inspired Scripture which testified of Him.  In the Pentateuch Moses prophesized the Messiah would come as a Redeemer [Genesis 3:15]; a universal king [Genesis 49:10] and as a prophet like himself [Deuteronomy 18:15-19].  In this passage Jesus is specifically referring to the prophecy of "The Prophet" in Deuteronomy 18:15-19, the same passage indicated by the Samaritan woman [the Samaritans only had the first 5 books of Moses in their canon].  See the chart "Evidence of Moses as the Inspired Writer of the Pentateuch in Scripture" in the Charts section.

Question: What challenge does Jesus make to His audience in John 5:47?

Answer: If they cannot believe what Moses wrote, how can they believe what He says?  This same challenge is there for us today.  If you can deny the truth of some of Sacred Scripture, then how can you believe any of it?  This is why the Catechism teaches that Sacred Scripture is written without error, that is not to say that copies of the Sacred text may not contain scribal errors; man is fallible, but God is not and the doctrine of Sacred Scripture is as true to us today as when it was written [see CCC# 106-7].

St. Athanasius Bishop of Alexandria, Egypt, writing in the 4th century AD, summarizes the main point of John chapter 5 when he writes: The Son of God is sent by the Father to become the Son of man, to restore the sons and daughters of God. [Athanasius: Selected Works and Letters].

In chapter 5 Jesus is teaching us how essential the Father-Son relationship of Jesus and the Father is for our own salvation.  Jesus, the Son of God, becomes the "Son of Man" of Daniel's vision so that sons and daughters of men can become through their rebirth in Baptism, the sons and daughters of God! 

Resources used in this chapter:

  1. St. Ignatius Study Bible
  2. Anchor Bible Commentary: The Gospel According to John
  3. Homilies on the Gospel of St. John, John Chrysostom
  4. Catechism of the Catholic Church
  5. Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers: Athanasius: Selected Works and Letters
  6. St. Thomas Aquinas: Commentary on St. John
  7. Navarre Bible Commentary – St. John
  8. Vincent's Word Studies in the New Testament
  9. The Feasts of the Lord, Kevin Howard, Marvin Rosenthal, (Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1997).

Catechism References for Chapter 5

5:1

583*

5:27

679*

5:10

575*

5:28-29

1038

5:14

583*

5:29

998

5:16-18

594*, 574*, 589*

5:30

859, 2824*

5:19

859, 1063*

5:33

719*

5:22

679

5:36

548*, 582*

5:24-25

1470, 994*, 635

5:39

702*

5:26

612*, 679*

5:;46

702*

 

Michal Hunt, Copyright © 1998 Agape Bible Study. Permissions All Rights Reserved.