"Come and See": A Web Commentary on the Gospel of John: Section 6

Section 6.2: Jesus Answers His Accusers: The Son and the Father (Jn 5.19-30)


This discourse develops in two parts: first a discussion of the Father and the Son, and how the Son knows to do the Father's works. It addresses indirectly the objection of Jesus' opponents at the end of Jn 5.2-18 that he is making himself equal to God. The second part addresses the implied objection that Jesus is the only witness for his claims about himself. In it Jesus offers several witnesses, including Scripture itself.

In these verses, John's Jesus begins by framing an argument based upon the rabbinic understanding of God's work as it continued even upon the Sabbath. People were born and died even on Sabbath so, since God alone gives life and God alone judges the dead, this fact indicates God's on-going work on the Sabbath. That work of life and of judgement, Jesus is saying, is precisely what he has learned from watching his Father -- his Father has shown him those works and in fact entrusted his sovereign power of judgement to the Son. This places Jesus' claim to a unique relationship with God upon stronger ground. And it saves that claim from the appearance of arrogance.

For Jesus has not arrogated some special status to himself but only made explicit the relationship he shares by his loving dependence upon the Father. As Son he has learned what the Father shows him in love and in his signs he exercised the authority of life and of judgement in love to honor the Father. Jesus works the works of God because he is uniquely in relationship with God.

That relationship has an effect on anyone who listens to Jesus' word and enters a trust relationship with Jesus' Father, described in v24 as 'the one who sent me'. It will carry them from death to life, just as the Son's voice will carry the dead into life on the day of judgement, in accordance with their deeds in life. Key in these verses (24-9) is the idea of having life intrinsically: the Father has life 'in himself', and thus the Father is able to give life to mortals. We've already been told that the Son shares the Father's work of life, and so now we learn in v26 that the Son has received the ability to have life 'in himself' as well.

Only God has life intrinsically, rather than as a gift from without. Just as in the Prologue John described the Word as being 'near God' and indeed as God, so here John has shown that the Son shares in the divine life and sovereign authority of the Father. Both could be called God, although John did not directly state that here. Perhaps John has structured this part of the discourse (vv 19-29) as a series of third-person statements as a rhetorical device, so that Jesus did not speak about himself and the Father directly here. Then in v30, still trying to persuade his hearers that his claims were not blasphemous, John's Jesus closed this section by returning to the first person. That verse so clearly matched with what has already been said about the Son and his relationship with the Father, that Jesus' claim is clear. But what is also clear is that Jesus' actions are never solely his own. Because he seeks the will of the one who sent him, he cannot act on his own. Having established these points, John turned to the question of witness: what witnesses had Jesus offered for his claims?

This section is built around two double-Amen sayings in vv24 and 25, which speak to the works of judgement and life, respectively. It seems likely that such sayings represent a core of remembered sayings now surrounded by a structure of Johannine development. It is also possible that, as Brown suggested on the basis of previous analyses by CH Dodd and P Gätcher, the opening verses (19-20) contain a parable about a son learning a skill from his father, used and adapted to make Jesus' point about his relationship with the Father (See Brown 1966 pp 218-19, 230.).

[[See Bauckham 2007 ch 11 important re debates on relation betw Jesus and the Father in chs 5, 8, & 10--use in all 3]]

For this section, see Brown 1966 pp 214-21 (though I would disagree about the second division being a doublet of the first), Bauckham 2007 pp 237-43, esp 242-3; [[GET OTHER REFS]].

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