4 April 2014

John 5:17-30

“Anyone who hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and does not come under judgement, but has passed from death to life,” (v. 24)


Our passage continues the account in verses 1-16 of the healing of a disabled man at the pool of Bethzatha. As regularly happens in John's Gospel Jesus' action provokes controversy with the religious authorities. Initially the issue is that Jesus and the man he has healed have broken the Sabbath, but Jesus' reply provokes a greater storm, for he justifies his action, not only by appealing to God's continuing activity but by referring to God as his Father, which his accusers interpret as a claim to be equal to God.

The Sabbath law rested on Genesis 2:2 and Exodus 20:11, where God is said to have rested on the seventh day after the work of creation. But it was acknowledged that this was not a total rest, for without God's continuing activity the created world would collapse. Jesus appeals to this and makes it the model for his own work. The main part of our reading clarifies what this means.

Jesus is not a rival God. He acts only in obedience to his Father, which means that his activity reveals the Father's nature and will. The passage then explores what this means in terms of giving life. The healing of the man at the pool is a kind of parable of this, but what is in mind is life at two levels, life beyond death (resurrection at the last day, or even before - as with Lazarus in chapter 11) but also eternal life, available here and now in response to Jesus and transcending day-to-day existence.

Our reading also refers to judgement. Such references sometimes seem contradictory in John's Gospel. Jesus does not come to condemn but to bring life. But those who refuse him are self-condemned and cannot share the life he brings.

To Ponder

  • What place, if any, should there be for talk of judgement in presenting the Christian message to unbelievers?
  • What, for you, do the words 'eternal life' suggest?

Bible notes author

The Revd Brian Beck

Brian Beck is a Methodist minister, now retired, and a former president and secretary of the Methodist Conference. A large part of his ministry has been spent in theological education, both in Limuru, Kenya, and in Cambridge, England..