The Witnesses to the Deity of Jesus

John 5:31-47

By Greg Wright

Preached at Grace Baptist on April 5, 2009


I. Introduction

Good morning and welcome to Grace Baptist Church. During the 1980s and the early 1990s Nan and I lived in the metropolitan area of Winston-Salem, North Carolina. One of our favorite places to visit there was Old Salem, which is a restored Moravian village. Next to Old Salem is a cemetery called God’s Acre, and that is where many of the old Moravians were buried. Some of the grave markers go back hundreds of years. When I worked in Winston-Salem, sometimes I would walk down to the cemetery during my lunch breaks. I would look at some of the epitaphs on the tomb stones. One of the things that amazed me was how many of the epitaphs said “Trust God.” Those people and their families could have put all kinds of personal affirmations and accomplishments on those epitaphs, but instead, they pointed away from themselves and pointed to God. This was their message. This was the witness of people who had lived through all kinds of trials and circumstances. At the end of their days they wanted to bear witness to this one thing – that we should trust God.

I took their testimony to heart, and their witness helped to sustain me in the midst of the challenges I would face in the years ahead. It is very important that we listen to the right witnesses. As we come to the end of John 5, Jesus is trying to convince the Jews of His deity, and as He makes His case He mentions four witnesses:

1.     The witness of John the Baptist.

2.     The witness of the works of Christ.

3.     The witness of the Father.

4.     The witness of scripture.

As you know from church history, the Pharisees rejected the evidence that revealed that Jesus was the Messiah. They saw the miracles; they heard the testimony of John the Baptist; they read the scriptures; and they heard from Christ, Himself; yet, they refused to believe. They ignored the evidence that was clearly accessible  through the four witnesses. Of course, the Pharisees were spiritually blind, but not all spiritual blindness is the same. There is a big difference between being unable to understand the truth and being unwilling to understand the truth. They were unwilling. They would not acknowledge what their very eyes were telling them. They were truly hostile to the gospel.

God holds people accountable for rejecting the truth, and God is especially hard on people who are unwilling to receive the truth when that truth has been authenticated and confirmed through miracles. Consider Matthew 11:20-24:

Then He [Jesus] began to denounce the cities in which most of His miracles were done, because they did not repent. "Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the miracles had occurred in Tyre and Sidon which occurred in you, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes. "Nevertheless I say to you, it will be more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon in the day of judgment than for you. And you, Capernaum, will not be exalted to heaven, will you? You will descend to Hades; for if the miracles had occurred in Sodom which occurred in you, it would have remained to this day. Nevertheless I say to you that it will be more tolerable for the land of Sodom in the day of judgment, than for you."

I am sad to say that most Americans have refused to believe the four witnesses. How do you think God will deal with our fellow Americans who refuse to submit to Christ: we who have had such a rich gospel heritage, we who have had more spiritual resources at our fingertips than any people in history? We get an idea of how God might someday deal with us through the way God dealt with the unbelieving Israelites who had just come out of Egypt.

Numbers chapters 13 and 14 tell one of the saddest stories in the Bible. It is the story of a people who believed the wrong witnesses and perished. The Jews had escaped Egypt, and now they were in the wilderness of Paran, which is south of Judah, west of Edom, and north of Sinai. They were right on the verge of entering the Promised Land. In preparation, in Numbers 13:2 God told Moses to send twelve spies into the Promised Land, so he did.

These spies would serve as witnesses to the quality of the land and the strength of the people who lived there. The spies returned with pomegranates, figs, and an enormous cluster of grapes, testifying in Numbers 13:27, “[This land] certainly does flow with milk and honey, and this is its fruit.”

But what they had to say about the people was not as encouraging. In Numbers 13:28-29 they said, “Nevertheless, the people who live in the land are strong, and the cities are fortified and very large; and moreover, we saw the descendants of Anak there. Amalek is living in the land of the Negev and the Hittites and the Jebusites and the Amorites are living in the hill country, and the Canaanites are living by the sea and by the side of the Jordan.”

There must have been quite an uproar among the people, because at this point Caleb had to quiet the people down. After the people were quiet, Moses confidently declared, “We should by all means go up and take possession of it, for we shall surely overcome it.”

But then, in Numbers 13:31-33 ten of the spies began to argue against Moses saying:

We are not able to go up against the people, for they are too strong for us. So they gave out to the sons of Israel a bad report of the land which they had spied out, saying, the land through which we have gone, in spying it out, is a land that devours its inhabitants; and all the people whom we saw in it are men of great size. There also we saw the Nephilim (the sons of Anak are part of the Nephilim); and we became like grasshoppers in our own sight, and so we were in their sight.

In Numbers 14:1-10 we read what followed:

Then all the congregation lifted up their voices and cried, and the people wept that night. All the sons of Israel grumbled against Moses and Aaron; and the whole congregation said to them, "Would that we had died in the land of Egypt! Or would that we had died in this wilderness! Why is the LORD bringing us into this land, to fall by the sword? Our wives and our little ones will become plunder; would it not be better for us to return to Egypt?" So they said to one another, "Let us appoint a leader and return to Egypt.” Then Moses and Aaron fell on their faces in the presence of all the assembly of the congregation of the sons of Israel. Joshua the son of Nun and Caleb the son of Jephunneh, of those who had spied out the land, tore their clothes; and they spoke to all the congregation of the sons of Israel, saying, "The land which we passed through to spy out is an exceedingly good land. If the LORD is pleased with us, then He will bring us into this land and give it to us—a land which flows with milk and honey. Only do not rebel against the LORD; and do not fear the people of the land, for they will be our prey. Their protection has been removed from them, and the LORD is with us; do not fear them." But all the congregation said to stone them with stones. Then the glory of the LORD appeared in the tent of meeting to all the sons of Israel.

What follows in Numbers 14:11-19 is the beautiful story of Moses interceding for the people, in which Moses becomes a picture of the future intercessory work of Christ. Moses pleads with God on their behalf.

God does pardon them with respect to immediate judgment – that is, He does not immediately kill them – but He does not let the adults escape the consequences of their actions. In Numbers 14:22-23 God says:

Surely all the men who have seen My glory and My signs which I performed in Egypt and in the wilderness, yet have put Me to the test these ten times and have not listened to My voice, shall by no means see the land which I swore to their fathers, nor shall any of those who spurned Me see it.

Then in Numbers 14:26-35 God lays out the details of the consequences of their rebellion. They would remain in the wilderness for forty more years, and during that time, everyone who at the time of the rebellion had been age twenty or older would die.

What did the children of Israel do wrong to deserve such a severe punishment? They had refused to listen to four Old Testament witnesses. Four witnesses, who are they?

We find them in Numbers 14:22:

1.     The glory of God shining in their very presence.

2.     The testimony of God via the signs, plagues, and miracles God had performed in Egypt and in the wilderness.

3.     The testimonies of two of the spies: Joshua and Caleb.

4.     The testimonies of their leaders: Moses and Aaron.

Not only did they reject the true witnesses, they listened to the wrong witnesses, and based on the testimony of those wrong witnesses they distrusted God. Yes, I am calling the spies witnesses. They were witnesses to the quality of the land and the strength of its present inhabitants. But they were also witnesses to something else. They were witnesses to the faithfulness of God from the very first plague that fell upon Egypt up to that very moment. They had seen God destroy Pharaoh’s army, they had seen the parting of the Red Sea, they had seen water brought forth from a rock, and they had seen quail brought down out of the sky and more.

Yet, they were so distrusting of God that they were more willing to return to the predictable oppression of Pharaoh than to begin the journey of faith in the conquest of the Promised Land.

Many are listening to the wrong witnesses today. They have read the creation account, but they prefer to believe the witness of Darwin. They have read the gospels, but they prefer to believe what they hear on the History Channel, and they lay hold of the blasphemies that spew out of the mouths of the people from the so-called Jesus Seminar and from secular religion departments of universities. No longer trusting the scriptures, people build their hopes on sentiment and Oprah.

Who are you believing today? Are you believing Jesus?  Do you trust the scriptures? In John 5:34 Jesus says, “I say these things that you might be saved.” Jesus is setting forth witnesses not to condemn you but to change your mind. The heart of our Savior is summarized in John 20:30-31 where we read:

Many other signs Jesus also performed in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these have been written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing you may have life in His name.

We are getting ready to read what Jesus has to say about these four witnesses, and it is my prayer that you will not only hear these words but believe them.

So if you are not there already, please turn to John 5:31-47:

If I alone testify about Myself, My testimony is not true. There is another who testifies of Me, and I know that the testimony which He gives about Me is true. You have sent to John, and he has testified to the truth. But the testimony which I receive is not from man, but I say these things so that you may be saved. He was the lamp that was burning and was shining and you were willing to rejoice for a while in his light. But the testimony which I have is greater than the testimony of John; for the works which the Father has given Me to accomplish—the very works that I do—testify about Me, that the Father has sent Me. And the Father who sent Me, He has testified of Me. You have neither heard His voice at any time nor seen His form. You do not have His word abiding in you, for you do not believe Him whom He sent. You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; it is these that testify about Me; and you are unwilling to come to Me so that you may have life. I do not receive glory from men; but I know you, that you do not have the love of God in yourselves. I have come in My Father's name, and you do not receive Me; if another comes in his own name, you will receive him. How can you believe, when you receive glory from one another and you do not seek the glory that is from the one and only God? Do not think that I will accuse you before the Father; the one who accuses you is Moses, in whom you have set your hope. For if you believed Moses, you would believe Me, for he wrote about Me. But if you do not believe his writings, how will you believe My words?

We now proceed to hear from the four witnesses and to consider the consequences of rejecting them. Again, the four witnesses are:

1.     The witness of John the Baptist

2.     The witness of the works of Christ

3.     The witness of the Father

4.     The witness of the scriptures

II. The Four Witnesses

In verse 31 Jesus begins to introduce His witnesses by saying, “If I alone bear witness of Myself, My testimony is not true.” He was most likely thinking of Deuteronomy 19:15 where two or three witnesses were required to confirm a matter.

Then Jesus mentions the witness who is superior to all other witnesses. In verse 32 He says, “There is another who bears witness of Me, and I know that the testimony which He bears of Me is true.” Here Jesus is speaking of His Father. That Jesus is, here, speaking of the Father and not of John the Baptist is clear from the beginning of verse 36 where Jesus says, “But the witness which I have is greater than that of John.”

A. The Witness of John the Baptist.

Nevertheless, Jesus acknowledges the influence of John the Baptist in verses 33 through 35 saying, “You have sent to John, and he has testified to the truth. But the testimony which I receive is not from man, but I say these things so that you may be saved. He was the lamp that was burning and was shining and you were willing to rejoice for a while in his light.”

The importance of John the Baptist is seen as early as John 1:6-8 were we read, “There came a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came as a witness, to testify about the Light, so that all might believe through him. He was not the Light, but he came to testify about the Light.”

The emergence of John the Baptist, an event that was attended by many miracles, as we have discussed in previous sermons, was an answer to a prophecy in Isaiah 40:3, which the King James Version translates as “The voice of him that crieth in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the LORD, make straight in the desert a highway for our God.” In John 1:23 John the Baptist tells the Pharisees that he is that voice. Then in John 1:34 John the Baptist says regarding Jesus, “I have seen and bear witness that this is the Son of God.” The main thing John had seen is described in Matthew 3:16-17 where we read, “After being baptized, Jesus came up immediately from the water; and behold, the heavens were opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending as a dove and lighting on Him, and behold, a voice out of the heavens said, ‘This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well-pleased.’” John the Baptist was a witness of this event and many other things.

B. The Witness of the Works of Christ.

John the Baptist was sent by the Father. But Christ makes his case by placing more stress on the works that He did through the Father than on John the Baptist’s testimony. In verse 36 Jesus says, “The witness which I have is greater than that of John; for the works which the Father has given Me to accomplish, the works that I do, bear witness of Me, that the Father has sent Me.”

To see the nature of these works we look back to John 5:19-20 where Jesus says:

Truly, truly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of Himself, unless it is something He sees the Father doing; for whatever the Father does, these things the Son also does in like manner. For the Father loves the Son, and shows Him all things that He Himself is doing; and the Father will show Him greater works than these, so that you will marvel.

Here Jesus describes how He submits to the loving leadership of His Father in all the works that He does. Some of the works that Jesus does in the Gospel of John are called the seven signs, where each work serves as a unique sign of His divinity.

In John 2:1-11 Jesus accomplishes His first sign, wherein He turns water to wine. In this, He shows His creative power over all of nature.

In John 4:43-54 Jesus accomplishes His second sign, wherein He heals the official’s son. This sign demonstrates Jesus’ authority to give and restore life.

In John 5:1-15 Jesus accomplishes His third sign, wherein He heals a man who has been lame for thirty-eight years. Jesus uses this opportunity to reveal that He is the Father’s co-worker.

In John 6:1-15 and 25-29 Jesus accomplishes His fourth sign, wherein He feeds 5,000 people. The point of that demonstration is to show that Jesus is the life-giving bread from heaven.

In John 6:16-21 Jesus accomplishes His fifth sign, wherein He walks on water. The point of that demonstration is to prove that He is the divine I AM.

In John 9 Jesus accomplishes His sixth sign, wherein He heals the blind man, a man who had been blind from birth. Jesus uses His interaction with the Pharisees regarding this healing to reveal the reality of spiritual blindness and to point to Himself as the giver of spiritual life.

Finally, we have the seventh sign, which we find in John 11:1-44, where Jesus raises Lazarus from the dead. This sign reveals that Jesus is the resurrection and the life.

More miracles could be mentioned if we opened up Matthew, Mark, or Luke. But these works suffice to show that the Father was working with the Son, bringing these works about in order to demonstrate the deity of Jesus.

C. The Witness of the Father.

While the works Jesus did were an indirect way in which the Father witnessed to His deity, Jesus goes on to mention a more direct witness of the Father. In John 5:37-38 Jesus says, “The Father who sent Me, He has borne witness of Me. You have neither heard His voice at any time, nor seen His form. And you do not have His word abiding in you, for you do not believe Him whom He sent.”

No one has seen the Father. Regarding those instances in the Old Testament where people had visions of God, that was the Son, not the Father. No one can see the Father and live. In John 1:18 we read, “No man has seen God at any time; the only begotten God, who is in the bosom of the Father, He has explained Him.”

Part of the reason Jesus came was to make the Father known to us. So it is that in John 14:8 when Phillip says, “Lord, show us the Father, and it is enough for us,” Jesus tells Phillip that He should have been able to see the Father in the Son.

In John 14:9-11 Jesus answers:

Have I been so long with you, and yet you have not come to know Me, Philip? He who has seen Me has seen the Father; how can you say, 'Show us the Father'? Do you not believe that I am in the Father, and the Father is in Me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on My own initiative, but the Father abiding in Me does His works. Believe Me that I am in the Father and the Father is in Me; otherwise believe because of the works themselves.

People do not physically see the Father, but when Jesus was on this earth they could see the glory of the Father through the divine power and character of Jesus, in whom, as we find in Colossians 2:9, “All the fullness of the deity dwells in bodily form.” In this way, believers could see the Father through Jesus, but the Pharisees could not. They were spiritually blind.

They were also spiritually deaf. Jesus tells the Pharisees that they have not heard His voice at any time. In John 3:11-13 Jesus tells Nicodemus, “Truly, truly, I say to you, we speak of what we know and testify of what we have seen, and you do not accept our testimony. If I told you earthly things and you do not believe, how will you believe if I tell you heavenly things? No one has ascended into heaven, but He who descended from heaven: the Son of Man.”

In John 10:25-30 Jesus goes on to explain why some cannot hear the Father:

Jesus answered them, "I told you, and you do not believe; the works that I do in My Father's name, these testify of Me. But you do not believe because you are not of My sheep. My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me; and I give eternal life to them, and they will never perish; and no one will snatch them out of My hand. My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all; and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father's hand. I and the Father are one ."

Jesus and the Father are one. To not hear the voice of the Son is to not hear the voice of the Father. The Pharisees could not perceive the voice of the Father, because they were not Jesus’ sheep. Nevertheless the Father speaks through the Son, bearing witness of the Son.

D. The Witness of the Scriptures.

Another way the Father speaks is through the scriptures, but the Pharisees do not find the deity of Jesus there either. In John 5:39 Jesus says, “You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; it is these that testify about Me.”

Many prophecies were not fulfilled until Jesus was crucified and resurrected from the dead. But there were other prophecies that the Pharisees should have understood to be speaking of Jesus. Had they been willing to pursue the matter, they would have found that Jesus was born in Bethlehem, as we find in Micah 5:21, “But as for you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, too little to be among the clans of Judah, from you One will go forth for Me to be ruler in Israel. His goings forth are from long ago, from the days of eternity.”

The Pharisees at least knew what Moses had said in Deuteronomy 18:15, “The LORD your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you, from your countrymen, you shall listen to him.”

Many prophets would arise after Moses, but as the giver of the law Moses would remain the preeminent prophet, preeminent, that is, until Christ was brought forth, as we read in John 1:17, “For the Law was given through Moses; grace and truth were realized through Jesus Christ.”

III. The Rejection of the Four Witnesses

Those are the four witnesses:

1.     You have heard the witness of John the Baptist, the man who was sent ahead of Jesus to announce Him, the man who baptized Jesus, the man who saw the Holy Spirit descend upon Him like a dove, the man who heard the voice of the Father say “This is my beloved Son,” indeed, the man whose very upbringing seems to have been designed to make him the most trustworthy human witness in the history of mankind.

2.     You have heard the witness of the works of Christ, works that were beyond illusion, works that were beyond fabrication, works that were impossible outside of the power of God.

3.     You have heard the witness of the Father, for the glory and character of the Father are revealed through Jesus.

4.     You have heard even more of the witness of the scriptures than the Pharisees heard. Psalm 22 and Isaiah 53, passages from the Old Testament, so thoroughly describe unique features of our Lord’s crucifixion that no other explanation is possible outside of Divine Providence.

Furthermore, from the story in Numbers 13-14 you know what happens when you refuse to heed the right witnesses – you wind up listening to the wrong witnesses. And as a result of listening to them, you do not enter the Promised Land; you do not go to heaven. Jesus identified three things, in particular, that happen when you when you choose the wrong witnesses:

1.     You submit to the wrong lord;

2.     You live for the wrong goals;

3.     And you rely on the wrong hope.

First, you submit to the wrong lord. Verse 43 says, “I have come in My Father’s name, and you do not receive Me; if another shall come in his own name, you will receive him.”

When the spies gave a bad report of the Promised Land, the people were ready to reject the true God for Pharaoh, for in Numbers 14:4 we read, “So they said to one another, ‘Let us appoint a leader and return to Egypt.’” They feared the inhabitants of the promised land more than they feared the true God.

In the Pharisees day they would continue to prefer the wrong leader. When Jesus healed Lazarus it was crystal clear who Jesus was. But the Pharisees and Sadducees feared the Romans more than they feared the true God.

After Christ, many would come in their own names, claiming to be the Messiah. The Pharisees would follow them with disastrous consequences for the nation.

Second, if you choose the wrong witnesses you will live for the wrong goals. In verse 44 Jesus says, “How can you believe, when you receive glory from one another, and you do not seek the glory that is from the one and only God?”

They were interested in the approval of the people, but they were not interested in the approval that only God can give. They were committed to looking holy on the outside, but on the inside their hearts were hard.

Obviously, this was a searing accusation against the scribes and Pharisees. But I ask you, do you do something similar? Do you content yourselves with your reputations in the community, your reputations in your professions, your reputations in civic organizations, and your reputations among church people, all the while knowing that on the inside you are estranged from God? Are you listening to those wrong witnesses, witnesses who think that a good reputation will usher you into the Promised Land. If so, you are living for the wrong goals?

Third, if you listen to the wrong witnesses you will rely on the wrong hope. The Pharisees were relying on their law-keeping to fit them for heaven. Little did they understand that one day the law would be used to condemn them for not turning to Jesus and to accuse them for not fully complying with the law. Jesus described their false security in verses 45 through 47:

Do not think that I will accuse you before the Father; the one who accuses you is Moses, in whom you have set your hope. For if you believed Moses, you would believe Me, for he wrote about Me. But if you do not believe his writings, how will you believe My words?

If Moses were to make his case against the scribes and Pharisees, he would probably sound the way Paul sounded in Romans 2:17-24:

But if you bear the name "Jew" and rely upon the Law and boast in God, and know His will and approve the things that are essential, being instructed out of the Law, and are confident that you yourself are a guide to the blind, a light to those who are in darkness, a corrector of the foolish, a teacher of the immature, having in the Law the embodiment of knowledge and of the truth, you, therefore, who teach another, do you not teach yourself? You who preach that one shall not steal, do you steal? You who say that one should not commit adultery, do you commit adultery? You who abhor idols, do you rob temples? You who boast in the Law, through your breaking the Law, do you dishonor God? For "THE NAME OF GOD IS BLASPHEMED AMONG THE GENTILES BECAUSE OF YOU," just as it is written.

What false witness are you relying on today? Many out in the world say there are many ways to God, but in John 14:6 Jesus says, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me.” Christianity is unapologetically exclusive. It is the only true way to God.

Many people believe that everyone who dies goes to heaven. But Hebrews 9:27 says that after we die judgment comes.

So which witnesses are you going to believe? And don’t think that you do not have to make a choice. John 3:36 says that unbelievers are already under the wrath of God.

What will you believe? Will you believe John the Baptist, the works of Jesus, the words of the Father, and the scriptures, or will you believe the false witnesses of this world?

Let us pray: Dear heavenly Father, I pray that you will adorn this word with your power, that many might repent and believe the gospel. Amen.