John, Chapter Five
Now, lest I should lose my way, I want to recap what this study is about. Conventional theology looks at John the Baptist’s announcement, “Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world,” as pertaining to Jesus being a guilt offering enabling God to forgive errant humanity. Mankind’s salvation, therefore, lay in Jesus’ sacrificial death on the cross to pay mankind’s debt, to appease God’s anger, or to do whatever is demanded by the theology currently in vogue. But, as I have discovered, if I take the understanding that John the Baptist is announcing the Pascal Lamb rather than a guilt offering, a different picture emerges. Since most of the major events throughout the book of John are ascribed to the time of celebrating the Passover, I feel such a look is not only justified, but demanded.
The “different picture” begins with John setting the stage for the Baptist’s revelation. We are introduced to one named the Word in whom is the life that is the light of men. We are given a glimpse of the Word’s power and purpose. John then brings his prologue to a sharp focus, “And the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us.”
I have stated that the effective agent, causing the angel of death to pass over the households of the Israelites, was the life of the lamb, i.e. its blood, painted on the door post. This is entirely consistent with what the writer has been portraying so far in the book of John. In parts one, two, and three I have looked at material from chapters one, three, and four. Chapter five continues in this same vein, which I am taking up here.
The text opens with the statement, “After these things there was a feast of the Jews; and Jesus went up to Jerusalem.” The marginal note in my New American Standard Bible states, “Many good manuscripts read, the feast, i.e. the Passover.” OK, so we can say that it is possible, perhaps probable, that the following events take place during Passover. The ideas presented here are very much in line with what I have been discussing to date. However, this time around, the writer brings in something new to the discussion, or at least if not new, now explicitly stated. Lets follow the narrative.
Jesus is in Jerusalem on the Sabbath, where he encounters a man who has been sick for 38 years. Jesus heals the man and bids him to take up his pallet and walk. Because it was the Sabbath, the Jewish authorities raised a fuss about this healed man carrying his pallet. When they found out that it was Jesus who had healed the man and bidden him to carry away his pallet, they felt they had reason to persecute Jesus. Jesus answered them saying, “My Father is working until now, and I Myself am working.” (John 5:17)
This forms the background for Jesus’ lecture, if you will, that follows (see verses 19 through 47). He begins with the assertion that the son can do nothing of himself unless it is something he sees the father doing: a basic precept of education and growth. “For whatever the Father does, these things the Son also does in like manner.” (verse 19)
We now come again to the Passover theme, but this time with an added dimension. In the historical account, the angel of death was caused to pass over the house with the lamb’s life painted on the door post. Here, Jesus states, “For just as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, even so the Son also gives life to whom He wishes…Truly, truly, I say to you, he who hears My word, and believes Him who sent Me, has eternal life, and does not come into judgment, but has passed out of death into life…an hour is coming and now is, when the dead shall hear the voice of the Son of God; and those who hear shall live.“(verses 21, 24, 25) No longer is it a matter of deflecting the angel of death, but now we are caused to pass from death death to life by hearing the voice of the Son and believing to the point of acting in accordance with what the Son tells us. Whereas all those who were involved in that first Passover died, whoever participates in this Passover has eternal life.
What, then, does this do to our understanding of man’s salvation? Look again at the statement from the Evangelical Pastor I quoted in part two of this series:
Salvation is the result of confessing one’s belief that Jesus is the Son of God, that He died so that our sins are forgiven, thereby reconciling us to God, the Father. We believe, we confess, that’s it. Salvation resides in Jesus plus nothing. That is, we need nothing except to believe in Jesus Christ and our fellowship with God is restored. What follows is an intimate life with God forever. If hearing His voice is a necessary condition of salvation, then the Jesus plus nothing statement becomes Jesus plus something, i.e. hearing His voice.
By looking at the book of John through the lens of Passover, we see that the writer’s consistent message is that life, not death, is the agent of salvation. We receive that life by hearing the Word through his light within ourselves.
For those who would attempt to gain salvation through their own efforts, the message from the book of John is that such is impossible. We can appropriate the Lamb’s clothing by killing the Lamb, but we cannot create the Lamb’s life for ourselves. The Serpent’s temptation in the Garden of Eden was, “You can live in your own image, you don’t need the image and life of God.” That recipe is just as false today as it was then. Life comes only by hearing and following the word of Christ spoken within us by his light. Following the light, we come to be clothed by the life.
The writer is quite explicit and unequivocal “The hour is coming and now is, when the dead shall hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live” as the Revised Standard Version renders it. This runs counter to much of modern practice as it did of the Jewish practice. Jesus told the Jews, and it applies just as much to today as it did then,
You search the scriptures, because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness to me; yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life. (see verses 39-40) How can you believe, who receive glory from one another and do not seek the glory that comes from the only God? Do not think that I shall accuse you to the Father; it is Moses who accuses you, on whom you set your hope. If you believed Moses, you would believe me, for he wrote of me. But if you do not believe his writings, how will you believe my words? (verses 44-47)
What is it that Moses wrote, to which Jesus is referring?
And thou shalt remember all the way which the LORD thy God led thee these forty years in the wilderness, to humble thee, and to prove thee, to know what was in thine heart, whether thou wouldest keep his commandments, or no. And he humbled thee, and suffered thee to hunger, and fed thee with manna, which thou knewest not, neither did thy fathers know; that he might make thee know that man doth not live by bread only, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of the LORD doth man live. (Deut. 8:2-3)
The LORD thy God will raise up unto thee a Prophet from the midst of thee, of thy brethren, like unto me; unto him ye shall hearken; according to all that thou desiredst of the LORD thy God in Horeb in the day of the assembly, saying, Let me not hear again the voice of the LORD my God, neither let me see this great fire any more, that I die not. And the LORD said unto me, They have well spoken that which they have spoken. I will raise them up a Prophet from among their brethren, like unto thee, and will put my words in his mouth; and he shall speak unto them all that I shall command him. And it shall come to pass, that whosoever will not hearken unto my words which he shall speak in my name, I will require it of him. (Deut 18:15-19)
These two passages we will take up in the next section.