If You Believed Moses, You Would Believe Me, for He Wrote of Me

“You sent to John, and he has borne witness to the truth. 34 Not that the testimony that I receive is from man, but I say these things so that you may be saved. 35 He was a burning and shining lamp, and you were willing to rejoice for a while in his light. 36 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. 37 And the Father who sent me has himself borne witness about me. His voice you have never heard, his form you have never seen, 38 and you do not have his word abiding in you, for you do not believe the one whom he has sent. 39 You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me, 40 yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life. 41 I do not receive glory from people. 42 But I know that you do not have the love of God within you. 43 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. 44 How can you believe, when you receive glory from one another and do not seek the glory that comes from the only God? 45 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. 46 For if you believed Moses, you would believe me; for he wrote of me. 47 But if you do not believe his writings, how will you believe my words?

Instead of moving on to chapter 6, I thought we should pause once more in John 5 and focus on something that is massively important for John and the other New Testament writers, namely, the way they viewed the Old Testament Scriptures and how those Scriptures relate to Jesus, and what difference it makes for us. This is a good place for this focus because twice in this passage Jesus says that the Old Testament Scriptures are written about him.

Gentiles Embracing the Jewish Scriptures

Look at John 5:39, “You search the Scriptures,” Jesus says, “because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me.” The word Scriptures here refers to the Jewish Scriptures, what we call the Old Testament, which is another word for Old Covenant. We call it the Old Testament, or Old Covenant, because we believe that the Jewish Messiah has come—namely, Jesus—and by his death and resurrection has inaugurated a New Testament, that is, a New Covenant (Jeremiah 31:31; Luke 22:20; Hebrews 8:13; 12:24; 13:20). So the writings that Jesus authorized through his apostles are included in our Bibles because they summarize the completion of what was promised in the Old Covenant, namely, the New Covenant.

The most decisive thing about this New Covenant is that Jesus, the Jewish Messiah, died for sinners so that both Jews and Gentiles who trust him would become the heirs of the Old Testament promises. Jesus taught this when he said, “I tell you, many will come from east and west [meaning Gentiles] and recline at table with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven, while the sons of the kingdom will be thrown into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth” (Matthew 8:11–12). In other words, Gentiles who believe in Jesus the Messiah are included in the blessing of Abraham. And Jews who don’t believe in Jesus are excluded from the blessings of Abraham.

To Save Both Israel and the World

In other words, any Jew or any Gentile will be an heir of Abraham’s blessing if he believes in Jesus, the Messiah. So Paul says, “Know then that it is those of faith who are the sons of Abraham. . . . If you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise” (Galatians 3:7, 29).

So the entire Old Testament is precious to Christians, because all Christians are counted by God as true Jews—beneficiaries of all the promises made to the covenant people. The Old Testament is precious to Christians because it’s a book about God’s work with Israel in preparation for the Messiah who would come not only to save Israel but to save the world from the power and punishment of sin.

A Lesson Book for the Nations

God promised Abram in Genesis 12:2–3, “I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you . . . and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” And then Paul shows us that this promise is fulfilled in the gospel of Jesus, the Messiah. He says, “The Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, ‘In you shall all the nations be blessed’” (Galatians 3:8).

So we Christians don’t reject the Old Testament just because we have the New Testament. On the contrary, we embrace it as the word of God in preparation for Messiah Jesus, and as the word of God in the ongoing illumination of the meaning of Jesus and his work. The Old Testament is a lesson book for the nations that keeps shedding light on the work of Christ.

The Scriptures Witness to Jesus

Now back to John 5:39: “You search the Scriptures,” Jesus says, “because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me.” So Jesus is saying that the Old Testament, the Jewish Scriptures, our Scriptures, taken as a whole, witness to Jesus.

And verse 46 says it again a little differently: “If you believed Moses [the author of the first five books of the Old Testament] you would believe me; for he wrote of me.” So verse 46 says that Moses wrote about Jesus, and verse 39 says that the Scriptures witness about Jesus.

How Do Scriptures Witness?

Ponder for a moment the implications of saying that the Scriptures “witness” about Jesus. What does the word witness imply? Listen to the way John uses the word. In John 1:34, John the Baptist says, “I have seen and have borne witness that this is the Son of God.” In John 3:11, Jesus says, “We speak of what we know, and bear witness to what we have seen.” John 3:32 says, “He bears witness to what he has seen and heard.” And John 19:35 says, “He who saw it has borne witness.”

So a witness is ordinarily one who has seen something and can witness to what he has seen. A witness gives firsthand evidence. He was there. He doesn’t argue that something happened. He says, I know it happened, I saw it.

God Is the Witness

So what does it mean when John calls the Old Testament Scriptures a witness to Jesus? Since writings can’t see, I take it to mean that “Scriptures” is shorthand for God-who-inspired-the-Scriptures. God saw Jesus and knew Jesus long before Jesus was on the earth. He saw him as his Son in heaven eternally (John 1:1–3), and he saw what his Son would be in history when he came. And because he saw, he could witness.

So when John says about the Scriptures in 5:39, “It is they that bear witness about me,” he means that God knew Jesus perfectly and fully—as it were face to face—and that he inspired these Scriptures, and through the Scriptures revealed Jesus. God said things and did things in the Scriptures which, if we had understood them, would have given us a glimpse of Jesus and would have prepared us to recognize him and receive him when he came.

The Witness of the Scriptures in John’s Gospel

The implications of this for ourselves and for people of other religions are huge. But before I draw out those implications, look with me at how pervasive the Scriptures are in the way John writes his Gospel. Here’s a quick survey to give you a sense of how important the witness of Scripture is for John.

In John 2:17 Jesus drives out the money changers in the Temple, and John quotes Psalm 69:9 and says, “His disciples remembered that it was written, ‘Zeal for your house will consume me.’”

In John 6, Jesus reminded the Jews that their fathers had eaten manna in the wilderness (Exodus 16:15) and then applied it to himself and said, “For the bread of God is he who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world” (John 6:33). So the manna is a pointer, a type of the life and ministry of Jesus.

In John 6:44–45, Jesus teaches that no one comes to him unless the Father draws him. And then explains it in terms of being personally taught by the Father. He refers to Isaiah 54:13, “It is written in the Prophets, ‘And they will all be taught by God.’ Everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to me.” So the prophets point to how people will come to the Messiah, Jesus.

In John 7:38, Jesus compares the Holy Spirit to living water that will flow out of those who believe on him and says that this has all been “said” in the Scriptures: “Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.’” Perhaps he’s referring to Isaiah 58:11—“You shall be like a watered garden, like a spring of water, whose waters do not fail”—and to passages that compare the Holy Spirit to water (e.g., Isaiah 44:3; Ezekiel 36:25–26).

In John 7:42, the enemies of Jesus draw attention to the fact that the Messiah is to be born in Bethlehem, referring to Micah 5:2, because they didn’t think that’s where Jesus was born. But he was, and that too pointed to his truth.

John 10:35 is one of the most important references to the Scriptures in John’s Gospel because after referring to Psalm 82:6, Jesus says, “Scripture cannot be broken.” This is one of the strongest claims for the infallibility and inerrancy of the Bible in all of Scripture.

And it’s not at all out of character. Jesus said in Matthew 5:17–18, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished.” Not the smallest teaching of Scripture will fall the ground. It will all be fulfilled. That was Jesus’ view.

Most Astonishing: John 12

Perhaps the most astonishing statements about the Scriptures in the Gospel of John is John 12:37–41 where John quotes Isaiah 6 (verse 10) which has in it the famous vision of God: “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory!” (Isaiah 6:3). Then John says in John 12:41, “Isaiah said these things because he saw his glory and spoke of him.”

This is simply astonishing. Isaiah is witnessing to the glory of Jesus because when he saw the glory of God revealed from heaven, he was seeing the glory of Jesus. Nothing more sweeping could be said about the way the Old Testament witnesses to Jesus. In essence, John is saying: Where God is manifest in the Old Testament, Jesus is manifest. If you see God at work, you see Jesus at work.

Profoundly Pointing to Jesus in Every Place

This means that the way the Old Testament gets people ready to know Jesus is not merely by specific prophecies that have specific fulfillments in Jesus (like being born in Bethlehem), but far more profoundly, the point is: If you meet God, and know God, and admire God, and trust God, and are shaped by God as he truly reveals himself and his ways in the whole of the Old Testament, then when Jesus comes, you will know him. You will have already known him. He will have so shaped your mind and heart that when he comes in the flesh, there will be no discord, no dissonance, no contradiction between the God you know from the Old Testament and the appearance of God in Jesus. John 12:37–41 is an amazing window onto how Jesus viewed the Jewish Scriptures.

Planned by God and Witnessed in Scripture

Then from chapter 13 to the end of the book, John pours it on to show that almost every detail of Jesus’ redeeming work was planned by God and witnessed in Scripture.

  • “He who ate my bread has lifted his heel against me’” (John 13:18=Psalm 41:9).
  • “They hated me without a cause” (John 15:25=Psalm 35:19).
  • “Not one of them has been lost except the son of destruction, that the Scripture might be fulfilled” (John 17:12=Psalm 109:8).
  • “They divided my garments among them, and for my clothing they cast lots” (John 19:24=Psalm 22:18).
  • “Jesus said (to fulfill the Scripture), ‘I thirst’” (John 19:28=Psalm 69:21).
  • “Not one of his bones will be broken” (John 19:36=Psalm 34:20).
  • “Another Scripture says, ‘They will look on him whom they have pierced’” (John 19:37=Zechariah 12:10).
  • “As yet they did not understand the Scripture, that he must rise from the dead” (John 20:9=Psalm 16:10).

And besides all these explicit quotes from Scripture, John’s Gospel is strewn with indirect allusions to Scripture. So we have indirect allusions, direct quotes to show specific fulfillments, and we have statements, like in chapter 12, that show the whole Old Testament revelation of God is a revelation of Jesus. If we know God as he really is in the Old Testament, we know Jesus.

Huge Implications for the World

I said earlier that the implications of this for ourselves and for people of other religions are huge. Let’s close by looking at three of these.

Here’s the assumption behind these three implications, which are very controversial in a pluralistic, relativistic, religious world like ours. The assumption is that, the God of the Old Testament and the person of Jesus are revealed in Scripture as such a unity (when Isaiah saw the glory of God, he saw the glory of Jesus) that what one makes of either can be tested by what one makes of the other.

John shows us this three times. These are the three implications. Test yourself and test others who claim to know God.

1. Do You Know God?

In John 8:19, Jesus’ adversaries, who claimed to know God, said, “Where is your Father?” And Jesus answered, “You know neither me nor my Father. If you knew me, you would know my Father also.” The fact that these adversaries do not know Jesus—do not perceive his deity or Messiahship or his role as the Suffering Servant (Isaiah 53) shows that they don’t know God. “You know neither me nor my Father.”

2. Do You Honor God?

In John 5:23, Jesus says, “Whoever does not honor the Son does not honor the Father who sent him.” The Father and the Son are revealed in Scripture as such a unity that if you dishonor one, you dishonor the other. If you claim to honor God today but reject Jesus as the divine Son of God and crucified and risen Savior and Messiah, your claim is false, and you do not honor God.

3. Do You Love God?

Jesus said in John 5:42–43, “But I know that you do not have the love of God within you. I have come in my Father’s name, and you do not receive me.” How does Jesus know that they don’t love God? Because they don’t receive Jesus for who he really is, the Son of God.

The Test Is Jesus

In sum then, you can test yourself and others as to whether you know God, or honor God, or love God. And the test is Jesus. Any claim by a Jewish person or a Muslim or a Hindu or a Buddhist or a spiritualist or an animist or a Christian—any claim to know God or honor God or love God while not receiving Christ as the Son of God and the crucified risen Savior is a false claim. The measure of all true knowing God, honoring God, and loving God is knowing, honoring, and loving Jesus for who he really is.

Therefore, Christian—whether Jew or Gentile—embrace your Scriptures. All of them. Both Old Testament and New Testament. Because in them you come to know God for who he really is, and that means coming to know Jesus. For all of them witness to him and speak of him.

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