- Religion and Philosophy
John's Gospel - a new look no 6 -chapter 5, the Witnesses for Jesus
The four witnesses
John - A New Look - number 6. Chapter 5
1. The next two chapters in the Gospel introduce the reader to the increased conflict that Jesus must have known he would have to face. He had already, at a young age, asked some good questions in the temple in Jerusalem, had confronted the money changers and traders in the temple area and now, as Jesus returns again to Jerusalem, he comes into serious conflict with the religious leaders there. Jesus ignores the protocol of the Pharisees and heals a cripple man at the pool of Bethesda.
2. The account of the healing is interesting for many reasons. The fact that the first person in the pool after an angel stirs the water is healed. This account of the angel is not in the earliest manuscripts. Barclay refers to a description in Josephus of an underground spring that would occasionally bubble up into the pool. The description of the present text conjures up in the mind of the reader a very difficult position for anyone like the cripple to be in. The question Jesus asks is also a strange one: "Do you want to get well?"(5:6)
When a person for 38 years has been dependent on others for everything it becomes a real problem for that person to enter into a new life where that support is no longer perhaps forth coming. An important consideration to make even today before the challenge of a new life in Christianity is to be entered. This is perhaps a question that many who consider being born again into the Christian life and walk in "newness of life" (Romans 6:4) must carefully think about before saying yes.
3.The fact that the Jews were taking notice of what Jesus was doing and their reaction to a healing speaks volumes as to what the traditions about the law had resulted in. John is using this story as the third sign, but at the same time the Jews are gathering evidence to bring against Jesus in the near future. According to John, this disregard of Jesus for the teachings of the Pharisees leads to his persecution by the Jews. (5:16)
4. It must be noted that the law as recorded in the Old Testament did not specify the many rules and regulations that had developed over the years regarding the simple command "to keep the Sabbath holy".(Exodus 20:8) These detailed definitions of work that had been formulated in the Rabbinic Schools over the years were restrictive, and became a burden rather than what it was intended to be - a time of rest from their labours. (see Matthew 12:1ff; 15:1-11)
5. It is interesting to note that in the fourth Gospel Jesus never refers to God as our Father as the other Gospel writers do, but rather as my Father or your Father. This indicates a special relationship that he has with God that goes beyond the one we share with God, and this drove the Jews to distraction. There was no doubt in their minds of what he was claiming for himself.
6. The rest of chapter 5 is the recording of Jesus' answer to the attempts by the Jewish leaders to kill him. (John 5:18). "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 him equal with God." (NIV).
7. He firstly claims that he "can do nothing by himself" but then calls on 5 testimonies as to who he is. He admits that one cannot testify to himself but then calls on his own testimony (5:30,31), the testimony of John the Baptist (5:32-35), the witness of his works (5:36), then to the witness of his Father (5:37,38) and eventually to the witness of the scriptures (5:39-37).
8. It all depends on how receptive the hearers are. The other two witnesses are to come later, namely the Holy Spirit (15:26) and the individual disciples (15:27). But to the Jews no matter what they saw and what evidence they were shown, they refused to listen and see. In the same way many today have made up their minds, "so don't confuse me with the facts!" What a terrible shame resulting in a terrible result. None are so blind as those who refuse to open their eyes and see the beauty of God's love and grace and the rewards that come with it, both now and in eternity.