July 8, 2005

From the Editor Emeritus / John F. Fink

Jesus in the Gospels: The Son of God

See John, Chapter 5

John’s Gospel depicts Jesus as traveling to Jerusalem more often than do the other Gospels, almost always for one of the great Jewish feasts, as a good Jew should do. During one of those visits (probably Pentecost), he cured a paralytic by a large pool known as Bethesda. Once again, as if deliberately to rouse Jewish indignation, he did it on a Sabbath.

He got the reaction he expected. Not only did he cure on the Sabbath, but he told the cured man to pick up his mat—more work on the Sabbath. The Pharisees were furious, both at the man for carrying his mat and at Jesus for curing him. How dare he break the Sabbath!

Jesus’ answer must have really startled them: “My Father is at work until now, so I am at work.” Philo and some rabbis insisted that God’s providence remains active on the Sabbath, keeping things in existence, giving life in birth and taking it away in death. Jesus here claimed the same authority to work, making him equal to God.

This is some defense! If Sabbath-breaking wasn’t bad enough, he now claimed that God was his Father—clear blasphemy, a far worse offense! Jesus continued with a lengthy discourse in which he explained his relationship with his Father. He explicitly called himself “the Son of God” (verse 25).

He told his listeners that he did everything the same way his Father did and, therefore, all should honor the Son just as they did the Father. In fact, he said, if you don’t honor the Son you don’t honor the Father “who sent him.”

Two distinct persons are clearly involved here—the Father and the Son. Jesus said that they are equal, which obviously meant that he, too, is God. To the Jews listening to him, that meant that Jesus was asserting that there were two Gods. Later he would say, “The Father and I are one” (Jn 10:30), but for now he only claimed to be equal to his Father.

In his discourse, Jesus said that the Father sent him into the world to accomplish certain works. What works? Two in particular: First, to give eternal life to anyone who “hears my words and believes in the one who sent me.” Second, “to exercise judgment” over the dead.

Jesus said that the dead will rise from their tombs: “Those who have done good deeds to the resurrection of life, but those who have done wicked deeds to the resurrection of condemnation.” We will be judged, he clearly said, by our deeds.

Then Jesus said something that really puzzled the Jewish scribes. He said that the Scriptures testified on his behalf and “Moses wrote about me.” The chapter ends at that point, but perhaps we can imagine some of the Jews going home and searching their scriptures to see where they might find even hinted at the possibility that God had a Son. They wouldn’t have found it in their Scriptures. There is only one God. †


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