John (Part 15): The Sabbath Discourse – Part 2 (Ch 5:24 – 5:47)
The whole next section of verses 24 through 30 provides support to the life granted on the basis of faith in Jesus. The whole hangs neatly on the skeleton of two resurrections. Again, Jesus is not changing subjects. Remember that we are in the middle of Jesus’ reply to the Jews who had accused him of breaking the Sabbath and, by doing so intentionally (5:17), making himself equal with God. In the first section of his reply, Jesus explained that, contrary to their accusation, he did place himself in a dependent position to God. He characterized it by way of cultural connection to a father/son relationship in which he, as son, obediently followed the father’s lead. And by way of the analogy, Jesus revealed the actual work that the Father was passing to him, the Son—the gifting of life. According to our definitions from last time, life is relationship with God. Death is separation from God. The Sabbath is rest in the relationship with God. Therefore, bringing someone from death to life is a Sabbath activity—an activity yielding the result of Sabbath fulfillment. So, Jesus’ discussion of two resurrections is a discussion of two Sabbaths to which he brings us.
These two Sabbaths parallel the two fulfillments we discussed last time. We saw a Sabbath in the fulfillment of OT revelational preparation for Christ’s rescue. And we saw a Sabbath for NC hope in the ultimate ushering in of all creation’s resurrection when Christ returns. Jesus begins with the first in verse 24, emphatically stating that those who hear him and believe will pass from death to life. This is not speaking about a physical death to life change, but rather a spiritual death to life resurrection. Notice that in verse 25 Jesus insisted that the hour was not only coming, but, he says, “is now here.” This resurrection, then, cannot be referring to an end of the age resurrection, but rather one that occurs now—every time a person believes in Christ.
In verse 28, Jesus spoke of the second resurrection—the one at the end of the age. There he told them that a time is coming when all who are in the graves (physical death) will come out to physically resurrected life (relationship with God) or to face everlasting judgment in death.
These two resurrections in this Gospel of John seem to parallel the two John discusses in his Revelation. There in chapter 20:4b-5 he speaks of people coming to life and reigning with the Messiah for a thousand years (that is, a long period that has a definite conclusion, which parallels our current age). Later in the chapter with references in verse 7 and 12, we read of the second, physical resurrection when those who are in the graves will come forth to either be welcomed into resurrection bliss or condemned to eternal separation.
Back in John’s Gospel, we read in verse 26 that the Father has life in himself. We could wonder if that speaks of mere existence if not for our previous definition. Life, remember, is relationship with God. The Father having life within himself tells us that he has life within the fellowship relationship of the Trinity. Jesus goes on to say that the Father has granted to the Son to have life in himself. In other words, Jesus has relationship with God based on his holy, perfect character. Then verse 27 moves a step further. Just as the Father granted the Son life, so now does the Son grant life (judge) others. This is the judgment first spoken of in 5:21-22. The Son grants relationship with God to those who believe.
The final section of this discourse (and this chapter) begins with a discussion of the witnesses to Jesus. Because he is being accused of covenant violation by the Jews, Jesus employs the legal procedure of calling witnesses. He calls two. Many commentators say four are identified. Some say three. But when we get down to those on whom Jesus relies for support, we find only two. Mention is made of John the Baptist. John B is even noted for providing witness to the truth. But Jesus rejects his testimony for this particular support. He rejects it because he is going to claim only that which comes from God—that which the Jews should (in covenant relationship) believe. Verse 36 identifies the first witness—the works that the Father gave him to do. We have already seen these works as testimony. His work of healing the man on a Sabbath testified to the rest and life in him.
The second witness many may understand as the Father, but I think it is more specific than that. Verse 37 plainly says that the Father testified about Jesus. But notice the specifics in how Jesus elaborates on that. The Father has testified in word—through the Scriptures. And that word is now in Jesus himself. The two witnesses, then, are the works and the words of God. The previous portion of the discourse is actually divided into these two sections. Verses 19-23 spoke of Jesus performing the works of the Father. In verses 24-30 we find resurrection life given in response to hearing the voice of the Son.
But note that verse 37b tells us that the Jews had not received the testimony from either. They hadn’t seen his form (works). They hadn’t heard his voice (words). And therefore, without receiving these two that testify of him, they have rejected Jesus.
Indeed, verses 38 through 47 finish the point of the Jews rejecting both Father and Son. Notice the chiasm coming to that conclusion.
A – (5:38) They reject God’s word in Jesus
B – (5:39-40) Scriptures witness to Jesus
C – (5:41) Jesus doesn’t receive glory from people
D – (5:42a) Jesus knows them
E – (5:42b) They do not love God
E1 – (5:43a) Jesus comes on the Father’s behalf
D1 – (5:43b) They do not receive Jesus
C1 – (5:44) They receive glory from one another
B1 – (5:45-46) Moses testifies to Jesus
A1 – (5:47) They reject God’s word in Moses
Before we move on to the next section in the Gospel of John, we need to pause to address a theme that has particular relevance to a doctrine working its way through the current conservative evangelical landscape. This is the doctrine labeled the eternal subordination of the Son. More than any other writer, John presents Jesus as one who, as in this passage, understands himself as being subordinate to the Father—and this is not even the clearest passage in John concerning that. Jesus states in the clearest of terms in chapter 14:28, “The Father is greater than I.” But Google that statement on the internet and you’ll find almost everyone agreeing that Jesus says this because of his human condition. In Hebrews we read he was made lower than angels; in Philippians we read that he humbled and emptied himself; in Galatians we read that he was born under the Law. Even basic biblical knowledge that tells us humankind is subordinate to God should lead us to conclude that Jesus in his full humanity was, then, also subordinate to God. So that’s not the issue.
The issue is whether Jesus in his deity is subordinate to the Father, was always subordinate to the Father, and will always be subordinate to the Father. So we need to consider the Trinity.
The early church (meaning the first few hundred years) struggled with and ironed out certain doctrines that we consider at the very core of a right understanding of Christianity. One of those doctrines is the Trinity. Christianity came out of the monotheistic religion of Judaism. In exalting Christ was Christianity arguing for multiple Gods? Some people thought so. Arius, for whom we label the doctrine Arianism, taught that there was only one God. Jesus was created (begotten of God) and elevated to a god albeit subordinate to that of God the Father. And certainly those passages in John help to support a less-than-the-Father consideration of him. Now one of the basic reasons that the concept of a single God is so important is that multiple gods who are equal in power and authority is a logical inconsistency. Suppose we had two gods of infinite power. The definition of infinite is without limit. But god A’s infinite power would necessarily be limited by god B if god B’s power were truly infinite. But as soon as god A’s infinite power is now defined with a limit because of god B, A in no longer infinite. Thus, again you would logically be left with only one infinite being. Arius thought he solved the problem by considering the Son as a lesser god—the same theological practice as that of the Jehovah’s Witnesses today. But the notion was labeled heresy back in Nicaea in 325 and then later again at the council of Constantinople in 381. It was labeled heresy because the Bible shouts out that Jesus is God.
And I think that Kinship Theology helps us see the necessity for more than one God. In Kinship Theology, God determines to create for the purpose of everlasting love relationship with his image bearers. It is, in fact, in order to have relationship that these creatures must be image bearers. For a true relationship to exist, the parties must be able to relate to the “who” of each other. We could not have relationship with God were we not to understand anything about God. So God made us image bearers to understand his image. Truth, goodness, and beauty are sourced in God—they exist completely within the very nature or essence of God. We were made as image bearers to understand truth, recognize goodness, and perceive beauty—all qualities of apprehension for the purpose of knowing God. We also image God in the embrace and expression of that truth, goodness, and beauty through faith, hope, and love. So these six characteristics are our image—our reflection—of who God is, given to us so that we may relate to him.
But let’s take the focus off ourselves as image bearers and look then at the One whose image we bear. Truth, goodness, beauty, faith, hope, and love exist in God, but here is where the conversation gets difficult for a monotheist. While truth, goodness, and beauty exist as the very nature of God, how does God both embrace and express these qualities through faith, hope, and love. Specifically, for example, how does (or did) a monotheistic God—existing before time, space, and any of creation—express love? We have previously defined love as the selfless expression of truth, goodness, and beauty for the benefit of the one to whom those qualities are expressed. If no one else is around to whom these qualities may be expressed, does that mean at that time God was not love. Well, in a strictly monotheistic setting, that’s exactly what you’d have to suppose, and that again presents a logical inconsistency. God necessarily must be multiple if God is, in fact, love as the Bible claims (1 John 4:8, 16).
So, we are left then with a logical necessity that God be one and a logical necessity that God be multiple. You cannot be strictly monotheistic and believe all the Bible has to say about God. You cannot be strictly polytheistic and believe all the Bible has to say about God. And thus, became identified at Nicaea (and more thoroughly defined in Constantinople), the concept of the Trinity—one in essence and three in persons. The idea was opposed to the Sabellians—those with a modalistic view of God (only one God who acts in different roles [Father, Son, Spirit] at different times)—and opposed to Arians—those who understood three gods of differing hierarchical rank. This view of the Trinity was even further delineated in the writings of Augustine and through the church ages including the Reformation, so that it has come to us as the traditional, orthodox view of Christendom. Among Christians, then, of the last several hundred years, there hasn’t been much debate about it…until now.
In the last forty to fifty years with increasing strength, questions have been raised about the intra-relationship in the Trinity. The question that leads to the instability may be this: how do we distinguish or differentiate the persons of the Trinity? We believe they are of one essence. Therefore they are all equally the source of and infinite in truth, goodness, and beauty. We tell the difference between the Three Musketeers because Athos is more intellectual, Portho is brash and vain, Aramis is religious (sort of). We distinguish by their qualities, but with the Trinity, they are all equal in essence. They also don’t look different; they are all Spirit. How do we differentiate? Augustine tried to help. He said we distinguish in three ways. One is simply by identity: they are Father, Son, and Spirit—the Father is not the Son or Spirit; the Son is not Father or Spirit; and the Spirit is not the Father or Son. We also differentiate by origin. The Son is begotten of the Father (and since he was begotten of the Father before time began, he is considered eternally begotten or eternally generated from the Father). This is different from being created. The Son always was; he is just understood as eternally generating from the Father. (Augustine also helped us stop trying to understand this by saying that the generation of the Son is incomprehensible. Okay, well, that explains it. So, then, let’s go on.) The Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father (John 15:26). So both seem to find source in the Father, yet are still the same in essence. Finally, Augustine said that although the three work inseparably in creation, redemption, and providence, yet the Son’s role in redemption is distinct and the Spirit’s role in guidance is distinct.
Augustine was careful to insist on the equality of the three, and not simply giving them equal rank, but understanding the equality in their union of being.
In the last 30-40-50 years, some theologians have begun to see an inequality in the Trinity. Although they insist that the three are equal in essence and power, they take the ideas of origin and mission to insist on hierarchy within the Trinity. The Father, though equal to the others, plays the role of commander authority. The Son takes the role of obediently submitting to the Father’s commands. These roles, the subordinationists claim, have nothing to do with equality of being, but only hierarchy in action.
Two things must be pondered. The first is why this insistence now at this time when the church has been quiet about it for hundreds of years. Second, is this claim consistent with what we know about God?
The reason for the insistence on hierarchy within the Trinity at this time has everything to do with the current biblical egalitarian shift. You will find that all those who insist on the eternal subordination of the Son—this eternal role-playing of hierarchy within the Trinity—to be patriarchal complementarians—those who insist on hierarchy within the church and home based on gender. The subordinationists, then, appeal to differentiation in the Trinity. How do we know differences at all? Well they are called Father and Son, thus showing authority and subordination. The Son’s generation is from the Father, thus showing subordination. And the mission of the Son on earth is characterized by the Father’s direction, thus showing authority and subordination.
The argument is then made that the Trinity has eternal hierarchy and the Trinity is the model for the church and home. Therefore to deny hierarchy in the home and church, is in effect denying differentiation in the Trinity and consequently an embrace of modalism.
Let’s leave off for the moment the battle of church and home and stick to the discussion of the Trinity. Is it true that hierarchy must necessarily exist in the Trinity, and is it true that the Bible shows us hierarchy within the Trinity?