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Controversy of John 5:16-19, does Jesus claim to be God?

Updated on January 23, 2014
Father and Son work together as one
Father and Son work together as one | Source

Controversy in the Bible

Who Jesus is, is very important to me. As I resume my Bible study in John chapter 5, I realize that I am about to dive into a controversial passage. These verses have been used by Christians to show that Jesus is God, and by others to prove that he is not.

John 5:16 - 19

"So, because Jesus was doing these things on the Sabbath, the Jews persecuted him. Jesus said to them, "My Father is always at his work to this very day, and I, too, am working." For this reason the Jews tried all the harder to kill him; not only was he breaking the Sabbath, but he was even calling God his own Father, making himself equal with God."

Exodus 35:2

"For six days work may be done, but on the seventh day you shall have a holy day, a sabbath of complete rest to the LORD; whoever does any work on it shall be put to death."

Is Jesus God?

It was the Sabbath, a very important day to the Jews. God commanded them to rest on the Sabbath and set it aside as holy to Him. Death was the penalty for working on this special day. Keeping this commandment was important to them, and whole books were written to help them define work. The Pharisees knew the regulations well, but it was impossible to follow them all. On this day, Jesus was visiting the pool of Bethesda. He chose a man lying there and healed him of his disease. This infuriated the religious Jews; for healing was definitely not permitted on the Sabbath. They confronted Jesus and persecuted him for working on the Sabbath. His answer angered them even more.

“My father is always at his work to this very day, and I, too, am working.”

By this statement, the Jews understood that Jesus was claiming to be equal to God. This was even more horrifying than breaking the Sabbath. They tried even harder to have him killed. Jesus had more to say.

Jesus does Nothing by Himself

“I tell you the truth, the Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does.”

A friend of mine, who is not a Christian, looks to these verses as proof that Jesus is not God, or even equal to him. She points out that Jesus doesn’t actually say that he is God in his statement. In fact, she believes he is claiming not to be equal to God when he says that he can’t do anything by himself.

Jesus is Equal to God

I have a different view. First, I think that Jesus is using the exact words needed to show his audience who he really is. He knows that they will understand that he is claiming to be God by calling him “Father”. We see this confirmed a bit later in this gospel. John 10:33 – “We are not stoning you for any of these,” (miracles) replied the Jews, “but for blasphemy, because you, a mere man, claim to be God.” Jesus said nothing without a purpose. His words were understood exactly as he intended them to be.

I also believe these verses give us a glimpse of the perfect unity between the Father and the Son. I think that it would show inequality between the two if Jesus could do things the Father couldn’t do. Then he would be either greater than the Father, or sinful. Which I think goes against pretty much everybody’s beliefs.

What is the Trinity?

It might be helpful to stop a moment and define the trinity here. To believe in the Holy Trinity means that we believe that God is one in essence and being who exists in three equal persons, each with their own unique roll. It is with perfect unity that each individual member of the trinity works and interacts together. Therefore, I believe that Jesus is saying: God works on the Sabbath – I am equal to God – so I work on the Sabbath. Not only is he claiming to be equal to the Father, but he is also showing them that he is not working outside of God’s blessing. They work together equally as one.

Read more on Jesus' claim to be God and how he demonstrates his unity with the Father by continuing to the next hub - Jesus demonstrates his unity with the Father in John 5:19 - 23.


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