John 5 begins with the fairly familiar story of Jesus healing the paralyzed man by the pool on the Sabbath, incurring the wrath of the Jews. During their persecution of him, Jesus has a number of interesting things to say:
- He and his Father have both been working. What’s especially interesting is the inference the Jews draw: that in making this declaration, he had made himself equal with God.
- The Son can’t do anything but what he sees the Father do.
- The Father himself judges no one, but leaves the judging to the Son (this is a function of his being the Son of Man), and to dishonour the Son is to dishonour the father.
- The Son only has life in himself because the Father grants it, whereas the Father has life in Himself.
- The works that the Father gives to the Son are what bears witness that the Father has sent the Son.
- In some sense the Jews are guilty – accused by Moses, no less – of not seeking the glory (or honour) that comes only from God. The opposite is the case with Jesus, who actively seeks God’s glory.
- Jesus can do nothing of himself: the soundness of his judgement derives from the will of the Father.
This chapter serves as something of an exposition of what the relation of Father/Son cashes out to. In broad strokes, it could be said that the only function Jesus has is to do what the Father wants him to do. Going further, it may even be implied that Jesus doesn’t even have a ‘will’ of his own because of the extent to which he depends on the Father’s will. Earlier in John 4, Jesus says that his bread is to do the will of his Father, and with the food-language coupled to the will-language here, it would appear that the will of the Father is for Jesus is almost an animating force. So fully submitted to the will of the Father is the Son that doing the Father’s will is what keeps him alive – the only purpose the Son has is to serve as the agent that accomplishes the will of the Father. Submission seems to not go far enough in categorizing the relation between the Father and Son here.
‘Work’ seems to be the main theme of this chapter; it’s the declaration of working with the Father that makes the Jews want to kill Jesus. As noted above, an aspect of the work for which the son was sent was judging, and in John 5:28 Jesus refers to Daniel 12:2, connecting this verse to his own work of judging. Interestingly, Jesus appears totally unconcerned with whether or not the Jews believe that he is in fact sent from the Father – he has his job and works to do, and it falls on the Jews for not believing either Jesus, the witness of the Father/his works, and Moses. What’s interesting is that though Jesus is here to judge, he’s not going to accuse the Jews to the Father; this is Moses’s job.
The brief take on John 5 by S.A. Cummins in Theological Interpretation of the New Testament, where his works ‘enable him as Son to reveal the Father in new, authoritative and life giving ways’ (p. 67) seems to not really be validated by the text itself, which largely focuses on the extent to which it is the Son who is witnessed to and revealed by God and in his works. Brandon Crowe thinks that verses 39 and 45-47 call for faith, but that doesn’t seem textually supported either, since these verses show Christ not calling for his persecutors to have faith but rather issuing a judgement of condemnation, not dissimilar from the sort of judgement issued in verse 22.