The Trial of Doubt and Denial: Jesus and His Witnesses


John_5_WitnessHave you ever experienced a season of doubt? It is an exhausting experience to doubt some crucial and fundamental truths in the faith and in life. If you have ever experienced this, then you know how easy it can be to go from being confused about a certain doctrine or even something as small as a certain verse or passage to having doubts about bigger doctrines. These doubts can escalate even to the point of questioning the truth and validity of Christianity. For a believer who knows that if Christianity is true and Jesus is who he said he was that the faith is worth defending to no end and Jesus is worth both living and dying for, doubt can be a debilitating demon. And although doubting one’s salvation can be very depressing, doubting the identity of Jesus, which is the crux of Christianity, is far worse.

How can we cope with this doubt? How can we be freed from these crucial questions? It may be that some of us never are totally freed from the infiltration of doubt–at least in this age. However, the way to flee doubt is to run to arms of truth. In court, the truth is sought after. And truth is determined, however imperfectly, primarily on the basis of evidence and the testimonies from witnesses. The claims of either a defendant or a plaintiff must be validated by the word of witnesses as well as evidence of his claim. In John 5 we see Jesus making self-attestations to his identity as God and Messiah. These are huge claims and if they are true have wide-reaching and eternal implications for every human. But are these claims valid? When doubt creeps in our minds, it is important to ground our faith in a valid and absolute truth. The defeat of doubt is found in the unshakeable and unquestionable truth of Jesus and the many witnesses who vouch for the God-man’s claim of being the rightful Savior-Judge of the earth (John 5:28-29).

Though these witnesses do provide a source of comfort for those who struggle with doubt, Jesus has a more direct purpose in bringing out these witnesses. Jesus is has indicted the Jews for not believing in him and for receiving glory from man (vv. 38, 44). These Jews were seeking honor and approval from men rather than from God. This kind of self-exalting vision makes one blind to the truth of Christ Jesus. In this chapter, Jesus places the entire world on trial and brings many witnesses to bear testimony to his claim against those who oppose him–that he indeed is the Christ, the Son of God.

The Claim

In John chapters two, four, and five, the beloved disciple records some miraculous signs that Jesus was performing. We have seen Jesus thus far in the Gospel of John turning water into wine, healing an official’s son, and healing a sick man at the pool of Bethseda. This last healing that is recorded in John 5:1-9 had an added element to it. This sign was not only noticeable and awesome because it was God-like. This sign was particularly awesome and jaw-dropping because it was performed on the Sabbath. Jesus goes from showing himself to be at least a prophet of God as he demonstrated penetrating and encompassing knowledge and power, to showing himself to be equal with God.

This is an extreme escalation and one that the Jewish leaders considered blasphemous. After healing a man on the Sabbath, which was considered blasphemy in and of itself, John tells us that Jesus was “calling God his own Father, making himself equal with God” (John 5:18). Because of this true claim, “the Jews were seeking all the more to kill him” (v. 18). Because nobody who is not truly God that makes this kind of claim is blasphemous and deserving of punishment, even death. In fact, the only way someone would ever claim to be equal with God in this highly religious Jewish culture in a Roman occupied territory is if that someone were absolutely insane—unless of course the claim was true.

The Opposition

However, in light of this opposition from the Jewish ruling authorities (and really for anybody then and now) Jesus emphasizes his unity with the Father by saying that he only does what he sees the Father doing, which is remarkable (vv. 19-20). Salvation and judgment belong to the Son, for just as the Father “raises the dead and gives them life, so also the Son gives life to whom he will” (v. 21). Jesus continues to expound upon his divine authority as he makes a radical statement: “The Father judges no one, but has given all judgment to the Son” (v. 22). This is radical because judgment is the exclusive prerogative of God (Deut. 32:39). In light of opposition that wanted to see Jesus killed as a blasphemous criminal, Jesus claims divinity by saying that final judgment of sin and sinners belongs to him! This Jesus is not just any prophet. This Jesus, the carpenter’s son and the Creator’s Son, is God. A quick implication of this is that there is no such thing as nominal adherence to Jesus. There is no neutral position when it comes to following Jesus. You either oppose Jesus or follow/submit to him.

The Trial

So far in John 5, Jesus has performed a miraculous God-like sign on the Sabbath and caused opposition to himself by claiming that he had equality with God. John 5 is all about Jesus’ claim to divinity. It is important to note that in John 5:18, the apostle tells us that it was Jesus himself making these claims to deity. However, in verse 31 Jesus makes an initial statement that stacks all the cards in his favor against the religious opposition of the Jewish authorities. Jesus said, “If I alone bear witness about myself, my testimony is not true.” Jesus is keeping with the Old Testament teaching concerning the need for multiple witnesses. This is seen in Deuteronomy 17:6 regarding the trial of someone accused of abominable worship: “On the evidence of two witnesses or of three witnesses the one who is to die shall be put to death; a person shall not be put to death on the evidence of one witness” (cf. Deut. 19:15; Num. 35:30). In other words, Jesus is saying that it isn’t just him that attests to who he is as Messiah and God. The rest of this chapter is written by John with the purpose of demonstrating Jesus’ innocence and the world’s guilt. Those who oppose Jesus are clearly wrong, not only based on Jesus’ self-attestation, but also on the testimony of multiple other witnesses.

This in no way implies that Jesus’ testimony in and of itself is untrue or not enough to be believed on its own. However, we can believe Jesus’ claim to deity with confidence because of the testimonies of multiple witnesses. The more witnesses, the more assurance we can have of the claim.

The Witnesses

So who are these witnesses? Jesus said there are four witnesses to his authority, deity, and Messianic identity. Be sure to understand that these are witnesses to the truth. These witnesses do not give the claim truth. The deity and Messianic identity of Jesus is an existential reality and an absolute truth. These witnesses give testimonies to this reality. Allow these witnesses to encourage your faith.

1. John the Baptist

“You sent to John, and he has borne witness to the truth. Not that the testimony I receive is from man, but I say these things so that you may be saved. He was a burning and shining lamp… (vv. 33-35; cf. John. 1:7-8, 15, 19, 32-34; 3:26)

2. Jesus’ Own Works

“But the testimony that I have is greater than that of John. For the works that the Father has given me to accomplish, the very works that I am doing, bear witness about me that the Father has sent me” (v. 36).

3. God the Father

“And the Father who sent me has himself borne witness about me. His voice you have never heard, his form you have never seen, and you do not have his word abiding in you, for you do not believe the one whom he has sent” (vv. 37-38; cf. John 8:18).

4. The Scriptures

“You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me, yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life” (vv. 39-40).

5. Moses

“Do not think that I will accuse you to the Father. There is one who accuses you: Moses, on whom you have set your hope. For 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?” (vv. 45-47) 

Fight Doubt and Flee Denial

If you find yourself in opposition to Jesus, this is clear evidence on the testimonies of multiple witnesses that Jesus is who he said he was. And if doubt creeps into your mind about Jesus’ radical claims concerning himself, know that Jesus’ deity and identity as the Christ are built on the multiple truthful testimonies of John the Baptist, God the Father, the works of Jesus, the Scriptures, and Moses. If you deny who Jesus is, know that you are doing so despite the throng of witnesses in his corner. If you doubt or deny Jesus, it is you and your disbelieving mind that is on trial. You have been barraged with witnesses. The world that opposes Christ is found guilty in this setting and the only hope is in repentance, belief, and submission to the One whom these witnesses testify. Flee denial of Jesus’ deity by submitting to who he is.

In light of your doubt, let the confidence that comes from multiple witnesses to Jesus’ authority, deity, and Messianic identity as Savior-Judge ground you in your faith in Christ and set in stone for your life a resolve to give your life for the sake of Christ and his gospel. Allow the words of Jesus in his brief trial motif to comfort you amid your doubt. Jesus is God. Jesus is Savior. Jesus is Judge. Trust this on the testimony of Jesus himself, John the Baptist, God the Father, the works of Jesus, the Bible, and Moses. Fight doubt in pursuit of truth.

 

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