Read John 5:16–30.
Years ago, I was working as a scriptwriter for a Christian ministry in my area that was developing a new video curriculum. I was invited to meet with the senior leadership of the ministry along with the videography team that had been hired for the shoot.
We had all gathered in a conference room and were waiting for the CEO to arrive. When he did, he didn’t say hello to a soul. He just entered the room grinning at his phone screen and sat down in the chair that had been saved for him at one end of the large oval table. He was watching something, so there was a pregnant silence in the room as we all waited for the man in charge to acknowledge us. When whatever he was watching was over, this CEO lifted his eyes, still grinning. “My son,” he said.
It seems his ten-year-old boy had shot some amateur video the day before. He and his younger brother had made a little movie in their backyard with some of their action figures. Adorable, right? That’s what we thought—but then this CEO turned to the head of the videography team and, with a look of utter seriousness, said, “He’s got real talent, don’t you think?” He didn’t wait for an answer before continuing: “I think the next time we do a video shoot, we should put him behind the camera.”
There was an awkward smile on the face of the videographer as he tried to assess whether or not the CEO was joking. He wasn’t. Finally, one of the producers on the project—a rather brave soul—spoke up. “That is a great video, but y’know… he’s ten, so he might not be ready quite yet.” Undeterred and without ever losing his grimace, the CEO responded, “Yes, but he’s my son.”
In our world, the sons and daughters of the rich and powerful receive privileges the rest of us do not. We understand this implicitly. It’s usually unfair, to say the least, but those blessed with influence and authority often do whatever they can to keep that influence and authority within the family.
As the Son of God, Jesus has His own privileges. So, when certain Jewish leaders confront Him over the healing of a man on the Sabbath, Jesus lets them know exactly what gives Him the right to do what He’s doing. He’s His Father’s Son: “My Father is always at his work to this very day, and I too am working” (John 5:17).
When God gave Moses the Ten Commandments, including the command not to work on the Sabbath, He had said, “For in six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but he rested on the seventh day. Therefore the LORD blessed the seventh day and made it holy” (Exodus 20:11). So the question arose, Does God still rest on the Sabbath? Jewish tradition had concluded that God is always at work, even on the Sabbath, sustaining His creation and guiding the world through His providential hand.
Jesus’ defense, then, is something like, “You already know my Father is working. Why, then, shouldn’t I be at work too?” Jesus is claiming to have the same prerogative to work on the Sabbath as God Himself. The Jewish leaders understand precisely what He’s saying. “For this reason they tried all the more to kill him; not only was he breaking the Sabbath, but he was even calling God his own Father, making himself equal with God” (John 5:18).
I love that Jesus doesn’t stop there. He must have seen clearly how enraged the religious authorities were, but He doesn’t leave well enough alone. He goes on to explain the sort of authority He has been given by the Father.
First, Jesus tells them He isn’t acting on His own. He does only what He sees the Father doing (vv. 19–20). He and the Father are one. There is no disagreement between them. Therefore, it is not an option to disregard the Son if one hopes to please the Father. Of course, Jesus is speaking directly to the hearts of the religious leaders standing before Him, for that is exactly what they want to do—continue on in their false piety and hypocritical devotion to Yahweh while they persecute the Son He sent into the world.
But Jesus goes further still, saying the Father has entrusted the Son with power over life and death (v. 21), as well as the responsibility to judge humanity (vv. 22–23). In the Old Testament, both of these fell under the purview of God alone, and now God has delegated this authority to Jesus of Nazareth. Can’t you just see the steam coming out of the ears of Jewish leaders?
But Jesus has something else to add. It’s like He’s waiting to see if their heads will explode if He offers them more details. This power over life and death is mingled together with, and is inseparable from, the judicial authority God the Father has given to Him: “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” (v. 24).
Yes, there is coming a future resurrection in which every body will rise from its grave—the good and faithful to eternal life, and the wicked to eternal condemnation (see Daniel 12:2). Jesus confirms this as true and even says it will be His voice the dead hear in that moment (John 5:28–29). But He takes things one step further, saying the judgment starts right here and now, and so does the eternal life. We are judged or set free by our response to Jesus and the work He is doing in this world.
Jesus says, “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” (v. 25, emphasis added). Apart from Christ, we are all dead. Yes, we may walk and talk and work and play, but we are nothing more than animated corpses, bound for a future judgment in which we cannot stand. We are guilty, and the punishment is more than any of us can bear. That is why Jesus came—to change our destiny on that final day of judgment but also to give us eternal life in the present.
To the religious leaders, this is a sharp warning. Their hatred of the Son is hatred of the Father. They are dead in their sins, and they are seeking to destroy the only one who can bring them new life (v. 26). This message still stands as a warning to many today. We cannot have the Father without the Son.
But Jesus’ message is also good news for those who can receive it. He says, “Come, follow Me. I have come to heal you, to bring you life and make you whole.” God could have left us dead in our sins, but He loves us, so He sent His Son to set us free. And our freedom begins when we put our trust in Jesus.