SESSION EIGHT: LIFE THROUGH THE SON (JOHN 5:16-30)
INTRO: As you get older, do you find yourself becoming more, or less, like your parents? Why?
- What was the result for Jesus of healing the invalid (vv. 1-15)?
- How did his response to the Jewish leaders only heighten their opposition? Why would Jesus do this?
- In what ways is Jesus equal with the Father (vv. 26-27)? What terms are used to show the kind of relationship between the two?
- What claims does Jesus make about himself in verse 24? What is the promise?
- What happens to those who hear and believe (vv. 24-30)? To those who do not?
- How would you describe the business that God the Father and God the Son are in?
- If you had to explain to someone what verse 24 means in your own words, how would you put it?
- In your own spiritual journey, when did you come to understand this truth? How did it affect your self-image? Your lifestyle? Your life goals?
TAKEAWAY: What is your greatest takeaway from this passage? What specific life changes do you need to make? How will you hold yourself accountable?
COMMENTARY: LIFE THROUGH THE SON (JOHN 5:16-30)
In our previous lesson we learned about a miraculous healing of a man crippled for 38 years. Jesus had resurrected a man to enjoy a new lease on life. He was no longer crippled. He was no longer doomed to a life of poverty. He was no longer captive to superstitious beliefs about water percolating and healings he could never enjoy. He was liberated from his past to walk, run, dance, leap and travel.
In a practical way, the man was transformed from death to life.
It's why Jesus cautioned this ex-paralytic, who he found sacrificing at the temple, to "stop sinning or something worse" would happen to him (v. 14). What could possibly be worse than being crippled for nearly four decades? Perhaps to be crippled again? Or to be excommunicated from his religion? Or perhaps death itself? That is likely what Jesus meant. The worst thing, after all, for every human is death. No one can escape it. Paul wrote the Romans that we "have all sinned and fallen short of God's glory" (Romans 3:23). In other words, we have earned death. It's the wages we're paid for not meeting God's holy standard of perfection (Romans 6:23). As Jesus did with Nicodemus and the Samaritan woman, he wanted his disciples to know what on earth is he was doing. All these early stories lead to this theological moment. Jeus is bringing a "new wine" (life) through a "new birth" and "living water."
John wrote his gospel decades after Jesus lived. He's the last biographer on Jesus' ministry. He had likely heard (and read) what Matthew, Mark and Luke penned. John wanted to tell different stories and reveal deeper truths. He didn't want to simply report what Jesus said, but also reveal what Jesus meant. In many ways, this brief interlude of deep theology centers the entire gospel of John. This interlude is summarized in John 5:24: “Very truly I tell you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be judged but has crossed over from death to life."
As we study this passage, it's important to think beyond what it sounds to us--to our 21st century western minds. We must consider what first-century Jews thought when they heard Jesus' words. They had their own theological background and clearly understood his words. They caught the code phrases. They recognized the imagery. The picked up on the nuances. In reality, a first-century Jew listening to Jesus say what he said would be utterly shocked for three reasons:
- Jesus claimed he was the "Son of Man" (John 5:27). He embraced a messianic title prophesied by Daniel.
- Daniel 7:13-14: “In my [Daniel's] vision at night I looked, and there before me was one like a son of man, coming with the clouds of heaven. He approached the Ancient of Days and was led into his presence. He was given authority, glory and sovereign power; all nations and peoples of every language worshiped him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away, and his kingdom is one that will never be destroyed.
- In Daniel 7, the prophet foresaw the coming world kingdoms, beginning with Babylon (lion). He saw the rise of Medo-Persia (bear), Greece (leopard) and Rome (indescribable iron beast). He also sees a time of judgment when the "son of man" is "given authority, glory and sovereign" power to rule an eternal kingdom. Daniel 7 is a parallel passage to a similar prophecy in Daniel 2 where a giant statue with a golden head (Babylon), silver chest (Medo-Persia), bronze stomach (Greece) and iron legs (Rome) will be smashed at the base by a tiny stone (Messiah) who grows a "mountain" (new spiritual kingdom). Daniel 7 is simply more precise. In fact, each prophecy in Daniel will get more and more specific, helping us to understand the whole.
- In Daniel 7:8 it mentions this fourth beast (Rome) had ten horns (kings or emperors) and that three would be uprooted and another (or 11th emperor) would "speak boastfully" and "wage war against the holy people." This is precisely what happened in the first century. Daniel described eleven Roman emperors from Augustus to Domitian. The three "uprooted" were three emperors (non-Julian) Galba, Otho and Vitellius who all ruled for less than a year after Nero's suicide in 68 AD. Daniel focused, however, on one particular emperor who proved arrogant and a persecutor of both the Jews and the early church. There's only one emperor who fits that description: Nero (54-68 AD). Nero waged war against God's holy people (Jews and Christians). He was brutal, psychotic and created much fear. He became such a problem that his own people--and the Roman Senate--declared him an "enemy of the state" and condemned him to death. That's when Nero chose suicide. In Daniel 7:25 the prophecy stated the "holy people" would be "delivered into his [Nero's] hand" for "time, times and half a time." That's code language. It's literally one (time) plus two (times) plus half of one (half a time). One plus two plus a half equals 3.5. Three and a half years. In Revelation this same period is also described as 1,260 days (Rev 11:3, 12:6) or 42 months long (Rev 11:2).What does this three and a half year period have to do with Nero?In AD 66 Nero launched an attack upon the nation of Israel to exterminate them. At the same time, Nero also went after Christians (particularly in Rome). Nero's Roman armies swept through Palestine, slaughtering hundreds of thousands of Jews. It was a bloodbath that the ancient historian Josephus recorded. Did you know more Jews died in this Roman-Jewish war, per capita, than were killed by Hitler in the holocaust? It's true. In AD 70 Rome finally broke into Jerusalem to destroy the temple and turn the city to rubble. How long was this Roman-Jewish War? It lasted from 66-70 AD. Three and a half years ("time, times and half a time").
- The good news is God was working a better plan. Jesus even said so in John 5:17. God is always working! And in Daniel 7, just as the "holy people" were on the verge of defeat and extinction (Daniel 7:21), God (the "Ancient of Days") stepped in and "pronounced judgment" in favor of his people--Jews and Christians (Daniel 7:22). That is WHEN the kingdoms of this world were delivered to God and a new SPIRITUAL KINGDOM (with Jesus as King) began to rule the world forever more. Future kings and kingdoms would rise and fall, but GOD'S KINGDOM would continue to operate with "sovereignty, power and greatness (Daniel 7:27)."
- The Jews in Jesus' day were very aware of this Daniel prophecy. They were waiting for the "Son of Man" (Messiah) to appear. Jesus claimed to be that "Son of Man" (Messiah) and this was a shocking statement, especially to the religious leaders. They did not expect a Messiah who would openly break the Sabbath, confront their religiosity nor condemn their hypocrisy.
- Jesus showed he was the "Son of Man" and Messiah by healing a crippled man. This was a messianic act. Isaiah prophesied, in the new kingdom, the "lame man [would] leap like a deer" (Isaiah 35:6). Jeremiah wrote the blind and lame would be gathered back in the messianic age (Jeremiah 31:8-9). Throughout Jesus' ministry he'd do works associated with the predicted Messiah. He'd turn water into wine. Walk on water. Cast out demons. Raise the dead.
- Jesus said a "time was coming" when the dead would "hear his voice and live." This is also predicted prophecy that hearkened back to Daniel.
- Daniel 12:1-4: “At that time Michael, the great prince who protects your people, will arise. There will be a time of distress such as has not happened from the beginning of nations until then. But at that time your people—everyone whose name is found written in the book—will be delivered. Multitudes who sleep in the dust of the earth will awake: some to everlasting life, others to shame and everlasting contempt. Those who are wise will shine like the brightness of the heavens, and those who lead many to righteousness, like the stars for ever and ever. But you, Daniel, roll up and seal the words of the scroll until the time of the end. Many will go here and there to increase knowledge.”
- "At that time" gives us a historical time stamp. In Daniel 11, the prophet foretells about various "kings" from the north and south--in the Persian and Greek kingdoms--who war against each other. In Daniel 11:36-45 there's a reference to a "king who exalts himself." There is speculation on who this king is, but it's likely this is King Herod. There are several clues that imply Herod, including vv. 44-45: But reports from the east and the north will alarm him, and he will set out in a great rage to destroy and annihilate many. He will pitch his royal tents between the seas at the beautiful holy mountain. Yet he will come to his end, and no one will help him." These two verses basically describe Herod's reaction to the wisemen at Jesus' birth and the fact he had his own palace in Jerusalem ("the beautiful holy mountain"). Daniel 12 picks up where Herod leaves off. "At that time" is framed to the first century A.D. during the time of the Roman emperors. Daniel 2:44 gives the same time stamp for this coming Messianic Kingdom: “In the time of those kings (fourth empire, [Roman] emperors), the God of heaven will set up a kingdom that will never be destroyed, nor will it be left to another people. It will crush all those kingdoms and bring them to an end, but it will itself endure forever.
- Daniel was curious of this prophecy about the "time of the end" (12:4). He wanted to understand "how long" this "time of distress" would be for the Jews. Remember, Daniel wrote towards the end of the Jews' 70-year captivity. Shortly, Ezra and Nehemiah, and many Jews were allowed to return "home" to Jerusalem. Now an angel is telling Daniel that "his people" (the Jews) faced another tribulation in the future even worse than being taken captive by Babylon. He was told this "distress" would last for a "time, times and half a time" when the "power of the holy people is broken" (12:7). We've that heard phrase before, in Daniel 7. It's connected to the "coming of the Son of Man" and God's judgment against the kingdoms of this world. It's a connective idea we must not overlook.
- Daniel continued to ask for clarification. He was eventually given a rather specific predicted timeline: “From the time that the daily sacrifice is abolished and the abomination that causes desolation is set up, there will be 1,290 days. Blessed is the one who waits for and reaches the end of the 1,335 days (Daniel 12:11-12)." This is a rather specific and literal time frame. But, again, its three and a half years in length...plus an additional 45 days tacked on for those "blessed" to persevere through it. Many Bible scholars connect this prophecy, as well as the one in Daniel 7, with the destruction of Jerusalem (AD 70). It's the most natural and clearest reading. In AD 66, when Rome went to war against the Jews, the priests in Jerusalem ceased their "daily sacrifice" for the emperor. Three years later, on April 14, 70 AD, Rome attacked Jerusalem directly during its Passover festival. For half a year the battle raged. In early August, the Romans broke into the temple and burned it to the ground (that's when "power of the holy people was broken"). With their temple gone and city in ruins, it was just a mop up operation from that point. In fact, 45 days later in September 70, the job was complete. Daniel not only predicted the destruction of Jerusalem but gave the historic timeline!
- But don't miss the good news: The prophecy also stated "at that time" Daniel and his people would "awake" to "life" (12:2). It's a RESURRECTION prophecy. And Daniel revealed not only the timing but the result. Consequently, when Jesus said, "Very truly I tell you, 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," these Jews connected it to Daniel's prophecy. Jesus not only stated that Daniel's final prophecy was coming, but he also affirmed that it's happening now. It's the beginning of the end. Daniel's "time of the end" (not the end of time, mind you) was when God judged Israel's "power," the Messiah came to "set up his eternal kingdom"...and the faithful (Old Covenant) dead were resurrected to live forever. It was the end of God's dealings with a physical, often sinful nation (Israel). "The end" was the end of the Old (Abrahamic) Covenant.
For Jesus to speak like this required great courage. These were extraordinary claims. And it's no wonder the Jewish leaders wanted to kill him (John 5:18). Jesus claimed God was his Father. He claimed to be equal with God. And He claimed to be One who would raise the dead. These were, indeed, outlandish claims. As C.S. Lewis noted, the only person who would make such statements had to be either a LIAR or a LUNATIC or LORD.
The rest of John 5 carries testimonies about Jesus. John the Baptist testified. The works of the Father have testified (and will continue to testify). Even God himself has testified. In fact, Jesus pointed out that God's Word (including Daniel) testified that He is WHO He said He is. He fingered the religious leaders as people who "study the Scriptures" but yet "refuse to come to [Jesus] for eternal life." They said they believed Moses and yet didn't believe what Moses wrote that testified to Jesus as Messiah.
One final thought: this passage in John 5 (and its connections to Daniel 7 and 12) will rattle a lot of our accepted "end time" theology. That's okay. It's rattled mine too. The popular end-time views propagate a narrative that Daniel's prophecies about resurrection, kingdom and the final acts of the Messiah are still in the future. And yet I have grown to believe, as have many Bible scholars, that there is more eschatological significance to the destruction of the temple and Jerusalem in 70 AD than we have previously understood. Prior to Catholic "end time" theology in the fourth century, nearly all commentators on these biblical passages connected them to the destruction of Jerusalem.
And don't forget that Jesus also prophesied about the coming fall of Jerusalem and how "at that time" he would come to judge, redeem and set up his eternal kingdom (Matthew 24, Mark 13, Luke 21). In Matthew's version the disciples are impressed by the sight of the temple and Jesus prophesied it will be utterly destroyed (Matthew 24:1-2). The disciples then want to know THE "sign of his coming AND the end of the age (v. 3)." They clearly connected Jesus' return with an "end" (as every ancient Jew would!). And that's where we miss the point. The Jews of Jesus' day understood the "end" lingo. But most Bible interpreters and Christians today believe the "end of the age" is the END OF TIME. But Jesus doesn't say that. Daniel doesn't say that either. Neither prophesied about the end of time but rather a TIME OF THE END. In all three versions of Jesus' "little apocalypse," he outlined various "signs of the end" but only in Luke's version do we clearly see THE SIGN: “When you see Jerusalem being surrounded by armies, you will know that its desolation is near (21:20)."
It's the END of the Old Covenant. God is done with faithless, physical Israel. He's done with a tabernacle and temple living quarters. He's done with the sacrificial system. The "power of the holy people" was their Abrahamic covenant with God. They were God's chosen people. But now God was bringing a new covenant through His Son Jesus (Hebrews 8). This "time of the END" began with Jesus' Messianic ministry. At the cross Jesus became the ETERNAL sacrificial Lamb. His resurrection, three days later, was proof He was indeed that "life-giving" Messiah. But Jesus still has work to do to "prepare a place" for us (John 14:3). But he told his followers not to worry. He'd be back SOON...in their generation...to be with them. Every New Testament author spoke to Jesus' coming as "soon" (Romans 16:20; Hebrews 8:13; Revelation 22:12), "near" (Romans 13:11; James 5:8; 1 Peter 4:7; Revelation 1:3) or "short" (1 Cor 7:29). They also stated clearly their first-century generation was in "these last days" (Hebrews 1:2); James 5:3). John claimed that it was the "last hour" (1 John 2:18).
It's why this passage is John 5 is so interesting. It's a MESSIANIC and RESURRECTION passage. Jesus has brought the "new wine" and taught about the "new birth" and "living water." He's already resurrected a dead-end, forgotten cripple to live a new life. He's interacted with religious elite Nicodemus and a Samaritan woman outcast. John was building an argument that Jesus is the Way, Truth and Life (John 14:6).
Ultimately what passages, like John 5:16-30 and Daniel 7 and 12, do is create a deeper respect and humility for God's Word. Sometimes the simplest interpretations produce more complex and difficult questions, especially if they run counter to our previous learnings. Anyone who seeks to understand the Word of God must begin the journey with an open mind and a humble heart.
It's truly how we discover LIFE IN THE SON.
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