A Series of Answers to Common Questions
Jesus says he can do nothing by himself, but can only do and judge according to what God commands (cf. John 5:19, 30). How can Jesus be God when he denies being all-powerful?
The above question ignores the immediate context of the statements and misunderstands the doctrine of the Trinity. According to Trinitarian teaching the three eternal, Divine Persons of God do nothing independently, but work in perfect unity. Statements like the above only reinforce the historic Trinitarian belief that the one blessed and holy God exists as three distinct Persons who always work in perfect accord, never acting independently from one another.
A careful analysis of the context of John 5 actually supports this position and shows that the Lord Jesus wasnt denying his perfect Deity. Christ was simply stating the obvious reality of the Trinity, that the Persons of the Godhead cannot act apart from one another. They can only and always work in perfect accord with each other.
We provide an exegesis of the chapter in order to highlight this biblical truth.
"Now there is in Jerusalem by the Sheep Gate a pool, in Aramaic called Bethesda, which has five roofed colonnades. In these lay a multitude of invalids--blind, lame, and paralyzed. One man was there who had been an invalid for thirty-eight years. When Jesus saw him lying there and knew that he had already been there a long time, he said to him, Do you want to be healed? The sick man answered him, Sir, I have no one to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up, and while I am going another steps down before me. Jesus said to him, Get up, take up your bed, and walk. And at once the man was healed, and he took up his bed and walked. Now that day was the Sabbath. So the Jews said to the man who had been healed, It is the Sabbath, and it is not lawful for you to take up your bed. But he answered them, The man who healed me, that man said to me, 'Take up your bed, and walk." They asked him, Who is the man who said to you, "Take up your bed and walk"? Now the man who had been healed did not know who it was, for Jesus had withdrawn, as there was a crowd in the place. Afterward Jesus found him in the temple and said to him, See, you are well! Sin no more, that nothing worse may happen to you. The man went away and told the Jews that it was Jesus who had healed him. And this was why the Jews were persecuting Jesus, because he was doing these things on the Sabbath. But Jesus answered them, MY Father is working until now, AND I AM WORKING. This was why the Jews were seeking all the more to kill him, because not only was he breaking the Sabbath, but he was even calling God his own Father, making himself equal with God." John 5:1-18
The Jews complain that Jesus was violating the Sabbath by healing a man on that day. Christ justifies his working on this particular day by pointing to the fact that God his Father doesnt cease to work on the Sabbath, and since he is Gods Son he too has the right to work on that same day. In other words, Jesus is claiming to have the same divine right, the same divine prerogative, to work on the Sabbath like God does since he is his Son. Basically, Jesus is claiming to be equal to God by arguing that just as God is not bound to keep the Sabbath restrictions neither is the Son under any obligation to do so. The Son has the same sovereign right to work on the Sabbath day that his Father has. After all, Christ did call himself the very Lord, the Sovereign, of the Sabbath:
"I tell you, something greater than the temple is here. And if you had known what this means, I desire mercy, and not sacrifice, you would not have condemned the guiltless. For the Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath." Matthew 12:6-8
"So Jesus said to them, Truly, truly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of his own accord, but only what he sees the Father doing. For WHATEVER the Father does, THAT THE SON DOES LIKEWISE. For the Father loves the Son and shows him all that he himself is doing. And greater works than these will he show him, so that you may marvel. For as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, SO ALSO THE SON GIVES LIFE TO WHOM HE WILL." John 5:19-21
Here, Jesus explains what he means that he can do nothing on his own initiative. He cannot act independently from the Father since he is in perfect union with him. Yet because Jesus is God in essence he is capable of doing everything that the Father himself does, such as give life to whomever desires. Since the Father does what God alone can do, for Christ to say he can do everything that the Father does means that Jesus is (or at least is claiming to be) God Almighty!
Even the claim that he can do nothing on his own is an astonishing statement in itself. Finite, imperfect creatures can never make such a claim since it is rather obvious that we humans do a lot of things that God wouldnt do nor desires for us to do, i.e. lying, stealing, murder etc. Nor can any creature say he can only do whatever God does.
"Truly, truly, I say to you, an hour is coming, and is now here, when the dead will hear THE VOICE OF THE SON OF GOD, and those who hear will live. For as the Father has life in himself, so he has granted THE SON ALSO TO HAVE LIFE IN HIMSELF." John 5:25-26
"Do not marvel at this, for an hour is coming when all who are in the graves will hear HIS VOICE and come out, those who have done good to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil to the resurrection of judgment." John 5:28-29
In these passages Jesus reiterates the point which he made earlier, namely that he is able to do whatever the Father can do. Jesus expressly states that he has the power to resurrect the dead both spiritually and physically. The dead, according to Jesus, will hear his voice and come out of their graves, something which the Holy Scriptures say God alone can and does perform:
"See now that I, even I, am he, and there is no god beside me; I kill and I make alive; I wound and I heal; and there is none that can deliver out of my hand." Deuteronomy 32:39
"The LORD kills and brings to life; he brings down to Sheol (the grave) and raises up." 1 Samuel 2:6
"On this mountain the LORD of hosts will make for all peoples a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wine, of rich food full of marrow, of aged wine well refined. And he will swallow up on this mountain the covering that is cast over all peoples, the veil that is spread over all nations. He will swallow up death forever; and the Lord GOD will wipe away tears from all faces, and the reproach of his people he will take away from all the earth, for the LORD has spoken. It will be said on that day, Behold, this is our God; we have waited for him, that he might save us. This is the LORD; we have waited for him; let us be glad and rejoice in his salvation." Isaiah 25:6-9
"Therefore prophesy, and say to them, Thus says the Lord GOD: Behold, I will open your graves and raise you from your graves, O my people. And I will bring you into the land of Israel. And you shall know that I am the LORD, when I open your graves, and raise you from your graves, O my people. And I will put my Spirit within you, and you shall live, and I will place you in your own land. Then you shall know that I am the LORD; I have spoken, and I will do it, declares the LORD." Ezekiel 37:12-14
Christ also asserts that he is self-existent, that he has life within himself, which implies that he needs nothing outside of his own Being to sustain him, much like the Father. Again, Jesus claims something that no creature, no finite mortal can ever say.
"The Father judges no one, but has given all judgment to the Son, that all may honor the Son, JUST AS they honor the Father. Whoever does not honor the Son does not honor the Father who sent him." John 5:22-23
"And he has given him authority to execute judgment, because he is the Son of Man." John 5:27
The Lord Jesus refers to himself as both the Son of Man and Judge of all. Christ is obviously identifying himself as that Son of Man whom the prophet Daniel had seen by revelation:
"I saw in the night visions, and behold, with the clouds of heaven there came one like a son of man, and he came to the Ancient of Days and was presented before him. And to him was given dominion and glory and a kingdom, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve him; his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom one that shall not be destroyed." Daniel 7:13-14
Thus, Jesus is the Son of Man who rules over all creation in an eternal kingdom, and is the One who determines the eternal destiny of all creatures on the Day of Judgment. Yet according to the Hebrew Bible it is Yahweh who judges the nations:
"For behold, in those days and at that time, when I restore the fortunes of Judah and Jerusalem, I will gather all the nations and bring them down to the Valley of Jehoshaphat (literally, "Yahweh judges"). And I will enter into judgment with them there, on behalf of my people and my heritage Israel, because they have scattered them among the nations and have divided up my land, and have cast lots for my people, and have traded a boy for a prostitute, and have sold a girl for wine and have drunk it Hasten and come, all you surrounding nations, and gather yourselves there. Bring down your warriors, O LORD. Let the nations stir themselves up and come up to the Valley of Jehoshaphat; for there I will sit to judge all the surrounding nations." Joel 3:1-3, 11-12
Jesus does what the OT prophets say Yahweh will do, which shows that Jesus is identifying himself as Yahweh God!
The Lord Jesus claims that the reason why all judgment has been given to him is so that everyone may honor him just as they honor the Father, a truly remarkable claim. The implication of Jesus words is that all must worship him as God since the way in which true believers honor the Father is by giving him the worship which God alone deserves:
"But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him. God is Spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth." John 4:23-24
Pay careful attention to Jesus words since he does not say to honor him as a prophet, or to give him the honor that one would give to parents etc. He says that men must give him the very same honor that they give to the Father, an honor which God alone deserves and which no creature can ever receive. Christ again makes a rather explicit claim to Deity, that since he is the Divine Son he is deserving of the very same worship and reverence that God alone receives.
We turn to the final text that we wish to discuss:
"Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever hears MY WORD and believes him who sent me has eternal life. He does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life." John 5:24
The Lord assures all those who hear his words that whoever accepts them and believes that the Father sent him shall never be condemned but shall have eternal life, a point which Jesus repeats quite often:
"Jesus said to them, I am the bread of life; whoever comes TO ME shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst. But I said to you that you have seen me and yet do not believe. All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I WILL NEVER CAST OUT. FOR I HAVE COME DOWN FROM HEAVEN, not to do my own will but the will of him who sent me. And this is the will of him who sent me, THAT I SHOULD LOSE NOTHING OF ALL THAT HE HAS GIVEN ME, but RAISE IT UP on the last day. For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, AND I WILL RAISE HIM UP on the last day." John 6:35-40
Jesus gives a personal guarantee to everyone coming to him in true faith that he will never cast him or her away but will give him or her eternal life. The Lord Jesus says he has the power to sustain and raise up all true believers on the last day, another explicit claim to Deity.
To summarize our analysis of the context, the Lord Jesus quite clearly and explicitly affirms his absolute Deity and that he is coequal to the Father in essence. His statements that he does nothing on his own initiative simply mean, within the immediate context, that Christ does nothing independently from God. As a member of the glorious and blessed Triune Godhead, Christ always and only works in perfect union with the other Divine Persons, something that Jesus says is also the case with the Holy Spirit:
"When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come." John 16:13
Hence, far from disproving the Deity of Christ, both John 5:19 and 30 actually reinforce the historic Christian view that the three blessed and Divine Persons of God exist in perfect, inseparable unity.
Amen. We exalt, praise, love, adore and worship you, O most blessed and glorious Trinity! You alone are God and you alone do we worship forever and ever. Amen.
A Series of Answers to Common Questions
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