Last month we studied the events at Bethesda which set the background to a triple utterance of "Verily, verily" by the Lord Jesus. Life and health had been restored to the impotent man whose own efforts to reach the pool a type of true Sabbath rest were never going to succeed. Overshadowed by the five porches typical of the demands of the law in the Pentateuch the wretched man could see the goal of his feeble efforts but never reach it. So the nation, totally unable to keep the law and come into its blessing because of the weakness of the flesh, will only find true Sabbath rest by submission to, and belief in, the Person and work of the Lord Jesus Christ.
When accused of breaking the Sabbath, the Lord Jesus said that His Father did not cease His work on the Sabbath, and neither would He. This explicit claim to equality with the Father enraged the Jews and, in response, the Lord Jesus pronounced three solemn statements, each beginning with the authoritative "Verily, verily". In the first and last statements He speaks in the third person, explaining the relationship of the Father and the Son and the total harmony of their activity. In the second statement the Lord speaks in the first person, leaving no doubt at all as to His claim to essential deity and equality with the Father. In all three statements two great facts are emphasised: the Son can impart life to whomsoever He will, and all judgment is committed to the Son. The Giver of life has authority to say to the impotent man, "Rise, take up thy bed, and walk" (v.8); the Judge has authority to say to the man, "Behold, thou art made whole: sin no more, lest a worse thing come unto thee" (v.14).
Life, judgment, and honour (vv.19-23)
In response to the Jews enraged accusation that He was "making himself equal with God" (v.18), the Lord speaks of the relationship between the Father and the Son. His opening words are really a statement of principle, that true sonship always displays the character of the Father. "The Son can do nothing of himself, but what he seeth the Father do: for what things soever he doeth, these also doeth the Son likewise" (v.19). The Jews claim in John 8 that they had Abraham to their father was met with the Lords stinging rebuke that "Ye are of your father the devil, and the lusts of your father ye will do" (8.44). They may well claim natural lineage from Abraham, but that did not constitute them his sons. They did not display the character of faithful Abraham but the character of their true spiritual father, the devil. Deeds, therefore, are an evidence of sonship. The deeds of the Lord Jesus were never isolated from the will and design of the Father, and He never once acted in independence of the Father. He had demonstrated His power to impart life, and His authority in judgment, actions which His critics had no hesitation in attributing to God alone. Since His deeds were in harmony with those of the Father, He must be the Son of God and His claim to equality absolutely true.
The accusation of His enemies implied that the Lord was setting Himself forth as a rival to God, not only equal but independent. Thus the Saviour states that, far from the Father seeing rivalry in the Son, He loves Him and delights to show Him all that He is doing. That which the Father designs and wills the Son perfectly executes for the glory of the Father. The Father, in return, gives an increasing display of His glory through the works of the Son, and deeds far greater in scope and power than the healing of the impotent man would yet be witnessed by an unbelieving people.
The purpose of the Father is very clear and provides one of the greatest statements in Scripture of the essential deity and co-equality of the Son with the Father, "That all men should honour the Son, even as they honour the Father. He that honoureth not the Son honoureth not the Father which hath sent him" (v.23). If the Jews would make the Lord Jesus an impostor and an upstart, the Father declares His love for Him by showing Him all His purpose, committing all judgment to Him, and demanding that the Son is honoured even as He, the Father, is honoured. Those who profess to honour God yet speak disparagingly of the Lord Jesus are wicked, and the very One they traduce is the One who will judge them in a coming day.
Life, judgment, and hearing (v.24)
We now come to one of the best-known and best-loved gospel verses in the Bible. It explains how a person may know to which of the two groups, the living or the judged, he belongs. How wonderfully precious it is! He who heareth, and believeth, hath life. There it is! From the lips of the Saviour Himself comes the assurance that the one who hears and believes is passed from death unto life. This lovely verse combines with the previous section to provide one of the many instances in the New Testament where the twin truths of divine sovereignty and human responsibility are placed by the Holy Spirit side by side on the sacred page.
Verse 21 is a statement of sovereignty in the matter of life being bestowed on sinners dead in trespasses and sins: "the Son quickeneth whom he will". The exercise of that will is never random or capricious, but always in accordance with the will of the Father. To those who are "Elect according to the foreknowledge of God the Father" (1 Pet 1.2) the Son wills to give life, thus executing the purpose of the Father in absolute harmony with His will. Upon those who have not that life He will ultimately execute judgment. If that were the only side of the matter the gospel would be a message of fatalism rather than faith. However, right next to this clear statement of sovereignty is the second "Verily, verily" of the Lord in this discourse. If a statement of His sovereignty merits "Verily, verily", so does a statement of mans free will to hear and believe. Both truths have the "Verily, verily" of the Lord Jesus and are therefore of equal weight. Read the words again, redolent with the grace and mercy of a God who delights to save: "Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that heareth my word, and believeth on him that sent me, hath everlasting life, and shall not come into condemnation; but is passed from death unto life".
Life, judgment, and the hour (vv.25-29)
In His third solemn statement of truth, the Lord Jesus speaks about two distinct periods of time: the first, "The hour is coming, and now is" (v.25); the second, "the hour is coming" (v.28). The first period had already commenced by the time the Saviour uttered these words, and it has continued for the best part of 2,000 years. It is the time in which the spiritually dead heard the voice of the Son of God whilst He was on earth and, since His return to glory and the coming into the world of the Holy Spirit, the dead have heard His voice through the preaching of "the gospel of God Concerning his Son Jesus Christ our Lord" (Rom 1.1,3). The delightfully succinct assurance given by the Son of God is "they that hear shall live".
The long period of this life-giving ministry will one day end, however, and the hour spoken of in v.28 will come. In that hour His voice will not be for the spiritually dead, but for the physically dead. It must be remembered that, at the time when the Lord Jesus said these things, the divine programme of selective resurrections had not been revealed. The Old Testament saints were persuaded that there would be distinction as to the groups raised from the dead (just and unjust), but they did not know of the distinction in time concerning the resurrection of these groups. It is through the New Testament Scriptures that we understand there are distinct programmes for the Jew, the Gentile, and the church of God. Each programme involves a resurrection as it is brought to fruition. For the church there is the selective resurrection of believers who "sleep in Jesus" (1 Thess 4.14); for the Jew there is the resurrection of Old Testament saints together with the tribulation martyrs at the manifestation of the Lord Jesus when He comes to reign in glory (Dan 12.13; Rev 20.6); for the Gentile nations there is the resurrection at the end of time, when those who are raised will appear before the Great White Throne (Rev 20.11-13).
Those who hear and believe have life. Those who reject life from the Son of God will be judged by the Son of Man. The threefold "Verily, verily" from the Lord Jesus is solemn indeed.
To be continued.