Jesus is on trial. The religious leaders have accused him of breaking the Sabbath law and of blasphemy. They want to kill him. So they ask him to provide authentication of the authority by which he broke the law. The religious leaders don’t believe Jesus had any authority.
The crowd watching feels the tension in the air. It’s ominous. They’ve seen this play out many times in the past. When the religious leaders make such serious accusations as they’re making against Jesus, things do not go well for the accused. Jesus makes the risky decision to represent himself in this makeshift trial. What does he say in his defense? Look at John chapter 5, verse 31.
“If I testify about myself, my testimony is not valid.”
In fact, the Old Testament Mosaic Law says in Deuteronomy 19:15 that in a court of law, one witness is not enough to prove a case. You need two or three witnesses. So here is Jesus, giving a kind of call back to the OT Law. One witness is not enough. Furthermore, one’s own testimony in one’s own defense is very suspect. Of course Jesus is going to say, “I have the authority of God on my side.” But the religious leaders wouldn’t accept his own testimony about his authority.
This is why it is very sketchy to testify on your own behalf in any court of law. You are not credible to defend yourself, because you are likely to lie to clear your name. You need others to testify on your behalf, and it is especially helpful if you have eyewitness testimony and expert testimony. You need credible witnesses. And the more the better. He can say all he wants about himself, but what he needs are other witnesses to come forward and vouch for him. Will anyone?
Look at verse 32. “There is another who testifies in my favor, and I know that his testimony about me is valid.”
Now we’re getting somewhere. Jesus calls his first witness. Who is it?
In verses 33-35, Jesus declares, “You have sent to John and he has testified to the truth. Not that I accept human testimony; but I mention it that you may be saved. John was a lamp that burned and gave light, and you chose for a time to enjoy his light.”
The first witness called to the stand is John. Jesus is referring to John the Baptist, who had said some pretty revealing things about Jesus. We know he is referring to John the Baptist, because Jesus says, “you sent to John.” When I first read that, I thought it must have a typo. “Sent to John”? Did Jesus really mean to say, “sent TO John”? Yes. If you scan back to John 1, verse 19, we read that the religious leaders sent a delegation to John, asking him who he was. He responds to them that he is neither the Christ, nor Elijah or the Prophet promised by Moses. Instead, John tells them, he is the forerunner, prophesied in Isaiah 40:3, who would prepare the way for the Messiah.
A few verses later in John chapter 1, verse 29, we read, “The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him and said, ‘Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!’” Soon after that in chapter 1, verse 34, John says, “I have seen and I testify that this is the Son of God.”
To what degree the religious leaders held John the Baptist’s testimony in high regard, we don’t know. The people sure did. The crowds flocked to John. So while Jesus’ calling of John to the stand to testify probably didn’t influence the opinions of the leaders, Jesus was likely doing well with the people.
But back in John 5, notice what Jesus says in verse 33. Jesus wants people to be saved. Whether people in the crowd or religious leaders, Jesus wants everyone to be saved. He is saying, “Remember what John said. Me working on the Sabbath is not about me making a big name for myself, or me getting rich. I am continuing the mission that John started, a mission through which God wants people to be saved from condemnation. If you support John, you can support me too.”
But notice that while Jesus believes John is a credible witness, he admits that there are better witnesses. John is human, and we humans err. So look at verse 36, where Jesus says, “I have testimony weightier than that of John.”
Who will Jesus call to the stand now? Who is his second witness? Weightier testimony than John?
In the next post, we’ll find out who or what Jesus is referring to.