“If I testify about myself, my testimony is not valid. There is another who testifies in my favor, and I know that his testimony about me is valid.
“You have sent to John and he has testified to the truth. Not that I accept human testimony; but I mention it that you may be saved. John was a lamp that burned and gave light, and you chose for a time to enjoy his light.
“I have testimony weightier than that of John. For the very work that the Father has given me to finish, and which I am doing, testifies that the Father has sent me. And the Father who sent me has himself testified concerning me. You have never heard his voice nor seen his form, nor does his word dwell in you, for you do not believe the one he sent. You diligently study the Scriptures because you think that by them you possess eternal life. These are the Scriptures that testify about me, yet you refuse to come to me to have life.
“I do not accept praise from men, but I know you. I know that you do not have the love of God in your hearts. I have come in my Father’s name, and you do not accept me; but if someone else comes in his own name, you will accept him. How can you believe if you accept praise from one another, yet make no effort to obtain the praise that comes from the only God?
“But do not think I will accuse you before the Father. Your accuser is Moses, on whom your hopes are set. If you believed Moses, you would believe me, for he wrote about me. But since you do not believe what he wrote, how are you going to believe what I say?”
John 5:31-47 (NIV)
The Jews were persecuting Jesus because, in their opinion, He had broken the law by healing the man at the pool of Bethesda on the Sabbath day. The Ten Commandments, given by Moses on Mt. Sinai, outlawed doing work on the Sabbath, but the Jewish teachers had surrounded this simple requirement with literally hundreds and thousands of auxiliary rules, outlining exactly what was and what was not covered by that law. For example, they determined that walking more than the totally arbitrary distance of 2/5 of mile (each way) would be considered work, so they had people carefully measure any distance they had to walk on the Sabbath. And healing was definitely considered work (even though divine healing was never forbidden by God, no matter what the day). And so they considered Jesus a law breaker of the worst sort: someone who not only broke the Sabbath regulations, but who also encouraged others to do so as well.
Jesus claimed that He operated under a higher authority than these rules established, not by God, but by generations of Rabbis down through the centuries (Cf., Luke 6:5). But they wouldn’t accept His authority based on His own word. Actually, this is entirely reasonable. Anyone could claim that they had been sent by God – in fact, they still do today, and we consider people naïve who simply buy that person’s claim without some pretty convincing proof (especially if that person’s teachings go against conventional wisdom!).
Jesus understood that His testimony about Himself is not legally valid. But that’s okay, because He had an abundance of additional testimony that they Pharisees were very well aware of:
- First, the testimony of John the Baptizer. When the priests and Levites were sent to find out who John was, he clearly testified that he was not the Messiah, or the Prophet, or Elijah. Instead he testified boldly about the one who was to follow him, who WAS in fact the long-expected Messiah, for Whom he had come to prepare the way. And the very next day, he specifically identified Jesus as He passed by as the Messiah. (John 1:19-34)
- Next was the work that Jesus had been sent to do, the miracles and healings, which were very well known by those who were questioning Him. His healings were famous all over the country, and had quickly persuaded one of their number, Nicodemus, that Jesus had come directly from God, because “no one could perform the miraculous signs you are doing if God were not with him.” (John 3:2) By the way, it’s more than just a little ironic that the very healing for which He was being persecuted, was itself a sign to these leaders that He actually was from God. Nobody else in all history had ever been able to instantly heal an invalid who had been that way for 38 years! In addition to His healings, His teachings were also renowned, with His words having such a powerful ring of truth that all who heard Him were convinced that He was from God.
- Finally, God Himself testified to Jesus’ identity and authority through the words of Scripture. It is estimated that there are more than 400 direct prophecies about the Messiah that Jesus directly fulfilled. There are many more that are less clear, but that also seem to point directly to the life, ministry, death, and resurrection of Jesus. And the teachers of the Law knew these “Messianic Scriptures” backward and forwards; they were waiting for the Messiah, and wanted to be able to recognize Him when He arrived. The sad fact is that, even though Jesus was in the process of fulfilling prophecy after prophecy, directly in accordance with the Scriptures, those who knew them best were unwilling to receive Him, because He didn’t match the template that they had built up through their traditions. They had built a picture of the Messiah based on their own desires and ideas instead of just receiving what God had written. And, since they wouldn’t even accept the Scriptures about the Messiah that Jesus was fulfilling to the letter, there was no chance that they were going to accept Jesus Himself.
Jesus was accused by these leaders of breaking one of the Ten Commandments. But, in the process of making these accusations, His accusers were actually breaking way more than that. Jesus’ seeming disregard for their traditions and beliefs were actually turning their hearts to hatred of Him, and to plotting His murder (Commandment 6, Exodus 20:13; cf., Matthew 5:21–22) And this hatred was going to eventually lead them to jealousy of Jesus’ popularity (Commandment 10, Exodus 20:17; cf., Mark 15:10), and giving false testimony against Jesus (Commandment 9, Exodus 20:16; cf., Matthew 26:59-60). But their hatred of Jesus and all that He stood for blinded them to their own sinful hearts and actions.
Today there are still those who will not receive Jesus for Who He is; who accuse Jesus of being a mere sinful man, just like any other. A good man, or a great teacher, but still sinful, still fallible, still simply human in every way. They will not accept the clear testimony of Scripture, so they end up groping in the dark after a definition of Jesus that somehow satisfies their own traditions and beliefs. And in the process, they end up losing their souls in a deep morass of sin, denying the only one who can draw them out, clean them up, and present them pure and bright and holy before the God of the universe.