The God-man or a Madman?

You can’t be neutral when it comes to Jesus. He doesn’t give you that luxury. If you really listen to what he says, you either need to believe that he is the Preeminent Son of God and worship him, or you need to get as far away from him as you can. He demands a hot or cold response and spews anything lukewarm (Revelation 3:15–16).

The Shocking Claims of Jesus

In John chapter 5, Jesus throws down the gauntlet. First, he healed a man who had been disabled for 38 years. On the Sabbath (verse 9). On purpose. Then when the Jewish leaders objected, Jesus didn’t even attempt to correct their faulty interpretation of Sabbath work, as he did at other times (see Luke 14:1–6). Instead, he responded with this provocative statement: “My Father is working until now, and I am working.”

This would have drawn audible gasps. And the leaders correctly understood Jesus’s point: he really was “making himself equal with God” (verse 18). This declaration, on top of the Sabbath healing, fueled the execution talk among the leaders.

Now, that isn’t the most shocking part of the chapter. After all, the Law of Moses did make both Sabbath breaking (Exodus 35:2) and blasphemy (Leviticus 24:16) capital crimes. So any Jew who took God’s word seriously had to ponder the death penalty when evaluating Jesus’s claims.

No, the most shocking things are what Jesus said next. I’ll list them and restate them for you so you can feel the audacity of his claims. Jesus claimed:

  • That he was “the Son,” possessing a unique relationship with the Father (vv. 17, 19),
  • That he was able to “see” the Father (v. 19),
  • That everything Jesus did was exactly what the Father was doing (v. 19),
  • That Jesus’s works were themselves the Father’s works (v. 19),
  • That, therefore, the Sabbath healing of the man was a work of the Father (vv. 17, 19),
  • That the Father had a unique love for his Son, Jesus (v. 20),
  • That the Father showed Jesus everything that the Father was doing (v. 20),
  • That the Father would show Jesus, and do through Jesus, greater works than the disabled man’s healing (v. 20),
  • That Jesus had the same power as the Father to raise the dead and give them life (v. 21),
  • That Jesus had the authority to give this life to whomever he willed (v. 21),
  • That the Father had entrusted all eternal judgment of human beings to Jesus (v. 22),
  • That Jesus was due the same honor from all humans that was due the Father (v. 23),
  • That to dishonor Jesus was to dishonor the Father (v. 23),
  • That whoever believed what Jesus said de facto believed the Father (v. 24),
  • That whoever believed Jesus had eternal life and would escape divine judgment (v. 24),
  • That Jesus would someday resurrect from the dead all human beings who had ever lived and judge them (vv. 25–29),
  • That Jesus possessed the same divine, self-sustaining life as the Father had (v. 26),
  • That Jesus was the “Son of Man” (v. 27), the person Daniel prophesied about in Daniel 7:13–14,
  • That Jesus’s judgment and the Father’s judgment were the same (v. 30),
  • That the Scriptures testified to who Jesus was (v. 39),
  • And that Moses wrote about Jesus (likely in Deuteronomy 18:15) (v. 46).

See and Savor the Sovereignty in These Statements

In making these claims, Jesus knew what was at stake. He knew the Law and he knew the leaders. Jesus was leaving the leaders only two options: believe him or kill him. And in doing this, he was exercising divine wisdom that would have been inscrutable to any of his hearers at the time. Can you see the divine sovereignty at work in Jesus’s statements, the same sovereign orchestration that we frequently see throughout the Scriptures?

  • Everyone who chose to believe Jesus would accomplish the Father’s will by honoring the Son and therefore would receive eternal life (John 5:22–24);

  • Everyone who chose not to believe Jesus would accomplish the Father’s will by killing the Son so that the once-for-all atoning sacrifice would be made for those who believed (Hebrews 7:27, 9:26, John 3:16), resulting in believers being justly delivered from judgment (John 5:24), and unbelievers being justly delivered to judgment (John 5:29).

That’s a reason to stop and worship.

Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways! . . . For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen. (Romans 11:33, 36)

“Who Do You Say That I Am”

In making the claims Jesus does in John 5, Jesus draws for us a line in the sand. We must choose sides. As C.S. Lewis famously wrote,

A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic—on a level with the man who says he is a poached egg—or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God: or else a madman or something worse. You can shut Him up for a fool, you can spit at Him and kill Him as a demon; or you can fall at His feet and call Him Lord and God. But let us not come with any patronising nonsense about His being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to. (Mere Christianity, 52)

No, he did not. He has preserved his audacious claims in Scripture. And to each of us who reads or hears them, Jesus poses the same question he posed to his disciples: “Who do you say that I am?” (Luke 9:20).