2.8 John -- Life and Judgment
Jn 5:19-31, Jn 5:39-40. Because Jesus healed a man on the Sabbath, he got into an argument with hardliners who believed that God"s Spirit would not perform miracles on the Sabbath. Jesus made the following statements:
"For just as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, even so the Son gives life to whom he is pleased to give it. Moreover, the Father judges no one, but has entrusted all judgment to the Son, that all may honor the Son just as they honor the Father. He who does not honor the Son does not honor the Father, who sent him...."
"I tell you the truth, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be condemned; he has crossed over from death to life. I tell you the truth, a time is coming and has now come 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 to have life in himself. And he has given him authority to judge because he is the Son of Man" (Jn 5:21-27)
This is very significant for several reasons. First of all, Jesus is telling us that he himself has the power of life and of judgment. Moses never had such authority. Since only God Himself is Self-existent and morally infallible, Jesus is claiming divine attributes. He was not merely a moral teacher, God's steward on earth, or a perfect man. More than these, he is saying he is of like essence to the Father. Second, Jesus has not seized these powers, which Satan attempted to do and was rebuked, but they were bestowed on him by God: "as the Father has life in himself, so he has granted the Son to have life in himself. And he has given him authority to judge...." Note that this is the exact opposite of an earthly ruler who seeks his own advancement, whether by sword or by votes. There is no element of self-serving or careerism in Jesus' exercise of his office.
Third, he repeats the open-ended "whoever": whoever hears and believes God has eternal life. This is a restatement of Jn 3:16and Jn 3:36, which we discussed above. Jesus literally was making it possible for the Gentiles to skip the entire previous revelation of God in the Old Testament, and to receive eternal life purely on the basis of hearing, believing and acting on the teaching of Jesus alone. This was revolutionary -- but what was of great joy to the Gentiles was abhorrent to traditionalist Jews. No wonder they accused him of blasphemy.
Fourth, Jesus places himself in relation to the Old Covenant:
"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" (Jn 5:39-40).
This is another extraordinary statement, which revalues the sacred Tanakh, the written voice of God. Jesus does not denigrate either these writings, nor the study of them. But -- they themselves do not have the power to give life. Bible study, memorization, meditation are only a means to an end. Their only value is to lead the seeker to the Life-giver, to God the Father and to Jesus. A rabbi expounds the Scriptures for the benefit of his students/congregants, and in so doing he makes himself subject to the writings. He may exegete, he may interpret, he may explain, he may exhort -- but it is all a matter of application of the text. Jesus reverses the relationship of rabbi and writing: it is Scripture that bears witness to Jesus, to his coming, his role in history, to his divine status. Scripture is a witness to the source of life, it leads the reader to Jesus. This is another attribute of divinity, that sets Jesus apart from the entire Old Covenant. All of it -- prophecy, history, doctrine, sacrificial rituals, songs of praise -- was preparatory to his coming among mankind, it was all a precursor, a warmup to the main event. Like John the Baptist, the Old Covenant "was not the light, [it] came only as a witness to the light" (Jn 1:8). But it was extremely hard for one who was raised within the confines of the holy Tanakh to suddenly grasp that its teaching was fulfilled in one's own lifetime, in the person of a man who stood before him; that the holy Scriptures were only pointers, and the man whom they pointed to had now arrived and claimed his allegiance.