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John 5:31-37 by Robert Dean
Series:John (1998)
Duration:50 mins 44 secs

The Witnesses to Jesus' Deity
John 5:31-37
John Lesson #43
March 28, 1999

John 5:31 NASB "If I {alone} testify about Myself, My testimony is not true." From verse 31 onwards Jesus is going to validate His claims. The word "alone" here is not in the original Greek. At first glance this verse looks as if Jesus is saying that if He testifies about Himself (which is what He has just done) His testimony is false. He has just claimed to be God and if He is God He is veracity, absolute truth. So that is not what it means.

The verse begins with a third class condition in the Greek. A third class condition is almost like a pure condition where the condition is uncertain of fulfillment: maybe yes, maybe no. So He is using the 3rd class condition here and is saying: "If (maybe I will, maybe I won't) I bear witness of myself my testimony is not true." The word for "witness" is martureo and is the basic word for giving a legal testimony or witness. We find this word scattered throughout rhe Gospel of John. It is a fundamental theme in John's presentation of the Gospel. Remember that John is writing this Gospel "that you may know" with absolute unqualified certainty that Jesus is the Christ, the Messiah, and "that by believing you might have life through His name." When he begins that verse he says, "These are written, and "these" refers to the signs that are mentioned. John mentions eight signs, including the resurrection, in the Gospel of John. He is building a case. In order to validate the claims he is going to call various witnesses. Most of the witnesses are found in chapter five.

The doctrine of the witnesses in John

1)  Martureo denotes the affirmation or attestation of some person or event which might be the object of skepticism or antagonism.

2)  This word came to designate the summary of the apologetic teaching that John is advancing in defence of Jesus and His work.

3)  It doesn't refer primarily to the corroboration of His historical existence, or that He did what He did. But John is going to validate that He is who he claimed to be and that He performed what He claimed to perform: that He is the Son of God and that He died on the cross as a substitute for out sins.

4)  John marshals seven witnesses and five are mentioned in chapter five. The only two witnesses in John that are left out of this chapter are the witness of the Holy Spirit, which is mentioned later, and the witness of people like the woman at the well and the disciples.

5)  There is the witness of the Father.

6)  Jesus' own witness of Himself.

7)  The witness of John the Baptist. He goes to John the Baptist merely as a concession to the finitude of His audience.

8)  His miracles, the works of Jesus.

9)  The witness of the Scripture.

When Jesus says, "If I {alone} testify about Myself, My testimony is not true," don't jump the gun and jump to conclusions here that Jesus is referencing the Mosaic Law. Deuteronomy 17:6 NASB "On the evidence of two witnesses or three witnesses, he who is to die shall be put to death; he shall not be put to death on the evidence of one witness." It is a very important principle that was brought against somebody had to be validated by at least two witnesses. This is reconfirmed in 2 Corinthians 13:1.

In John chapter eight there is an apparent contradiction. John 8:14 NASB "Jesus answered and said to them, 'Even if I testify about Myself, My testimony is true, for I know where I came from and where I am going; but you do not know where I come from or where I am going'." We have to look at the Greek on this because we don't get the real thrust of what Jesus is saying in our English. In John chapter five He uses a third class condition and in John chapter eight He uses a first class condition. He uses a 1st class condition but He uses the conjunction kai [kai] and it is a concessive nuance. It should be translated, "And even though I witness concerning Myself." The sense of what He is saying is, "And even if I am the only one who witnesses concerning Myself, because I am the ultimate reference point in the universe, I am God and I am truth and I am the Light of the World." To what does the Light of the world appeal to for its validation? There is nothing higher. To whom is God going to refer? There is no outside standard for God to refer to.

This is important because when we sit down with an unbeliever and we explain the deity of Christ we are asked: How do you know this is true? We are making a statement here on the basis of Scripture that Jesus is God. The unbeliever, however, is operating on human viewpoint autonomous reason.  His concept of truth, of proof, of validation, of knowledge is all based on human viewpoint autonomous concepts of reason. Whereas you are approaching the gospel from divine viewpoint, from what the Scripture says. Now the Scripture says that if Jesus is who He claims to be and He is God, then God by virtue of His very nature is absolute truth. God is the standard of truth. One the unbeliever wants is some autonomous independent standard of truth that we can both appeal to. But if you really believe God is the absolute standard of truth then there is no autonomous concept or category called truth that you can appeal to. He is the ultimate reference point in the universe. As soon as you get caught in that trap of trying to prove the Scriptures on the basis of human viewpoint concepts what you are doing is saying that you are going to prove the truth of Scripture on the basis of a false system of knowledge, and you have already lost the battle. You are going to use human viewpoint reasoning and a human viewpoint concept of truth and a human viewpoint concept of proof to try to demonstrate absolute truth. Jesus is going to show us that we don't have to do that. The issue isn't that complicated; the issue is going to be very, very simple.

In John chapter eight Jesus is saying, Even if I am the only one who is witnessing to myself, my witness is true. He is answering a different question and it is in a different context than John five. In John five Jesus has been saying, "I can't do anything independent of the Father. What the Father does, I do. What the Father tells me to do, I do. I am in equality with God but I am not independent of God; I am not doing it my way, I'm doing it God's way." So when it comes to verse 31 He says, "If I bear witness of myself apart from the Father, My witness isn't true." The context bears this out.

John 5:32 NASB "There is another [of the same kind] who testifies of Me, and I know that the testimony which He gives about Me is true." Then He is going to enter into a parenthetical argument from verse 33 through 36 where He talks about John the Baptist. But then in verse 37 He comes back and says: "And the Father who sent Me, He has testified of Me." So the witness He is talking about that validates Him in verse 32 is the Father.

Human viewpoint thinking is going to say this is a circular argument, but the problem is that if Jesus is who He claims to be, what do we expect? If Jesus is God and He is the ultimate reference point of the universe we expect Him top appeal to Himself as the ultimate reference point of the universe. If Jesus had appealed to autonomous reason to validate the fact that He is God, that if He did what some people think this passage is doing and he appealed to John the Baptist, the creature, as His ultimate validation, He wouldn't who he claimed to be. If Jesus is who He claims to be, which is the ultimate standard of truth in the universe then he can't appeal to anything other than Himself to prove it. So the way Jesus handles the argument proves who He is. It is not circular, it is what we expect of Him if He is who he claims to be.

What Jesus is saying is, If I try to prove myself independent of the Father then I have invalidated Myself. I have to remain in this position of subordination to the Father. The implication is that if we try to prove Christianity in a non-Scriptural way, just as if Jesus tried to prove His deity in a non-biblical way he would have invalidated His claim, then our proofs are invalid and not Scripture. We can't let the unbeliever who is operating on an autonomous rationalism and empiricism or idealism, or any other pagan system of thought define the terms and the issues for us. He has to march on God's agenda and not on his agenda. So we have to controls the terms and definitions of the conversation. Remember, he can be negative and reject the whole thing, and that is his decision. Truth, authority, and the issues like the heathen, don't go there; like suffering, don't go there. They don't have the capacity. Remember 1 Corinthians 2:14, the natural man cannot receive the things of the Spirit of God. We can't prove Christianity true on the basis of human viewpoint concepts of proof or truth or their values and concepts of absolutes.

John 5:32 NASB "There is another who testifies of Me, and I know that the testimony which He gives about Me is true." So He goes to John the Baptist. This is really a temporary concession to the creatureness of His audience. He is not appealing to John the Baptist to validate His claims to deity, because notice in verse 34 He says, "But the testimony which I receive is not from man, but I say these things so that you may be saved." In other words, this witness of John is not My validation.

John 5:33 NASB "You have sent to John, and he has testified to the truth." The Greek word there is apostelo [a)postelw], the verbal form of the noun apostolos [a)postoloj], and it means to send out an official commission. They sent out to investigate John. John gave testimony to the absolute truth. [34] "But the testimony which I receive is not from man, but I say these things so that you may be saved." So the witness that He has is not ultimately dependent on man, it is based on His self-authenticating witnessing. The Word of God is what it is and it has a self-authenticating validation to it. 

Luke 16, the rich man and Lazarus. Luke 16:28 NASB "for I have five brothers—in order that he may warn them, so that they will not also come to this place of torment." In other words, if they has empirical data verifying the gospel, if they just see him come back to life they will believe and avoid this. Empiricism! "But Abraham said, 'They have Moses and the Prophets; let them hear them.'" That is our normal thing, if we can just prove the gospel to people, give them that empirical data, show them the empty tomb, etc. If you don't accept the validation of Scripture which is the voice of God and carries its own authentication with it, it doesn't matter how much you see, how much you reason, autonomous, independent empiricism and rationalism will never get you there; Now matter how much they experience a resurrected person who comes back and says, This is what happened. The ultimate issue isn't experience or reason; the issue is the witness of the Scriptures.

John 5:35 NASB "He was the lamp that was burning and was shining and you were willing to rejoice for a while in his light." The lamp has to borrow its energy, its light, its fuel source from somewhere else. Jesus is the Light; John was the lamp. John was the reflection, he was the creature, he was dependent upon the light. The people who went out to hear his ministry were only superficially positive. Sometimes they were positive at the gospel, but once they started hearing the real content of his message they left him. Human viewpoint wants the power without the content, but in Christianity the power is the content. It is the message: "For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation. It is the Word of God that is alive and powerful. It is the content of the gospel and the message of spiritual life and spiritual growth doctrine that provides the message, the way to be saved, to grow spiritually and to solve problems. Healings and miracles don't do it, it is content that does it. "…and you were willing to rejoice for a while in his light." They were likes moths who were attracted to the flame but they didn't want the flame, they just wanted all the stimulation and excitement. They didn't want the content.

John 5:36 NASB "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." His witness was greater than that of John, greater than any validation that we can come up with. You can marshal all of the facts of evidence—evidence is one thing, truth is another; don't confuse the two—the ultimate truth of Christianity is in the self-authenticating message of the Word of God. The miracles that Jesus did demonstrated His own deity, that He was God.

John 5:37 NASB "And the Father who sent Me, He has testified of Me. You have neither heard His voice at any time nor seen His form." This was a slap in the face to the Pharisees. The Exodus generation were whiners and complainers and losers, but they had heard the voice of God. The Pharisees weren't even that good!

John 5:38 NASB "You do not have His word abiding in you, for you do not believe Him whom He sent." Now He is going to shift and talk about the witness of the Scripture, the self-authenticating validation of the Scripture. It doesn't need to appeal to some other source for truth because it is absolute truth.