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

Section 6.3: Jesus Answers His Accusers: Witnesses to Jesus and his work (Jn 5.31-47


In this section we return to the Elder's theme of witness, which he used in earlier discussions of John the Baptist in chapters 1 and 3, and alluded to indirectly in chapter 4. Although there has been no obvert critique by Jesus' opponents in chapter 5 based on the charge that he offered only his own testimony as witness to his claims, such an understood criticism is implied by this section. John's Jesus begins by repudiating the idea that he bears witness to himself, since that would mean an untrue witness. Instead he says that there is another who bears witness to him, and that he knows that witness is true. Lest anyone think this other witness is John the Baptist, he specifically rules that out: his opponents may seek human validation for Jesus and his claims by consulting John, but Jesus himself does not seek out human witnesses. He has a better witness than John the Baptist in the deeds that he has been given to do and in the Father who sent him. Jesus also claims that the Scriptures themselves bear witness to him. But still his opponents, the religious leaders in Jerusalem, don't want to come to him to have life.

In the final verses, Jesus deals more fully with the witness of Scripture and the implications of rejecting it. He also contrasts it strongly with honour -- that is, esteem or good repute -- that might be based on human witness. Jesus does not accept human witness but the fact that his opponents do and therefore sought out John the Baptist's witness causes him to accuse them of lacking the love of God in themselves. He calls on them to accept honour from God instead of one another and implores them to turn to Moses and his writings, the Scriptures.

In verse 45 Jesus returns to an idea that had been planted in the reader's mind back in chapter 3. There immediately after the well-known v16 ('For God so loved the world', etc), Jesus adds in verse 17 'For God did not send the Son into the world to bring the world to judgment; but so that the world might be saved by him'. In the same way in this discourse Jesus repudiates the idea that he is the agent of judgement by rejecting the notion that he might be an accuser of his opponents. Jesus is here among human beings not to accuse or to judge them but to bring the love of the Father to them.

Jesus has offered three witnesses that have nothing to do with the witness of a human being: his actions, the one who sent him, and the Scriptures. He also asserts that the rejection of these witnesses led to an inability to have life. It is better to see Jesus' words here as pleading rather than angry or condemnatory. The purpose of the discourses, whether in the circumstances in which the Elder positions them in Jesus' public life or those in which the later hearer or reader of the gospel encounters them, is to persuade and invite, to bring men and women into relationship with Jesus and the Father who sent him, through the witnesses that he offered in his lifetime to his contemporaries and those offered afterwards by disciples like the Elder.

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