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John 5:39, 40 says,
39 You search [ereunao] the scriptures, because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is these that bear witness of Me; 40 and you are unwilling to come to Me, that you may have life.
The religious leaders had all memorized the Torah. They rose to prominence because they had studied the law in submission to a rabbi who taught them. The word ereunao means “to search, examine, investigate.” Dr. Bullinger defines it, “to search as a lion or (as a) hound tracks by the scent.” No one could doubt their diligence in that matter.
They believed that the Scriptures held the key to aionian life, “Life in The Age.” Jesus did not dispute this belief, nor did He doubt their diligence. The irony is that in spite of their diligence in looking for a messiah to deliver them, they still missed Him when He arrived on the scene. Jesus did not meet their expectations, partly because they did not understand that the Messiah was to come twice. Each appearance was to have a distinct purpose, as prophesied in the law of the two birds (Lev. 14:4) and the two goats (Lev. 16:5).
Certainly, the rabbis had already disputed among themselves whether He would come as Messiah ben Judah or as Messiah ben Joseph. The rabbis had debated that issue for a long time already. Some argued that the Messiah had to be of Judah in order to be the Son of David. Others argued that the Messiah had to be the heir of Joseph’s birthright. But they all thought that He would come to overthrow the Romans and subject the nations for the enrichment of the Jews, making them a privileged people.
Jesus did indeed come the first time as Messiah ben Judah, for He was born in the tribe of Judah of the house of David. Interestingly enough, by law he was also the son of Joseph, although this was only a partial fulfillment of his status as Messiah ben Joseph. It is only in His second coming that Christ will be of Joseph with His robe dipped in blood (Gen. 37:31; Rev. 19:13). Only then will He reunite the scepter and the birthright, being the rightful Heir of both.
A world-wide blindness began to cover the earth when Adam sinned and when God cursed the ground for his sake (Gen. 3:17). Many years later, Israel as a whole (all the tribes) received a second layer of blindness when they refused to hear God at Mount Horeb (Exodus 20:18-21). The earlier blindness was imposed upon all but a remnant as the result of Adam’s sin; the later blindness was imposed as the result of Israel’s rejection of the word of God.
I have found from personal experience that any time a man rejects a portion of the word of God, he becomes blinded in that area. Broadly speaking, the church’s rejection of the law of God has been the source of its own blindness. In rejecting the law, the church entered into the same curse of blindness that the Israelites experienced at Mount Horeb. For this reason, the majority have had little or no revelation of the law, and this deficiency has handicapped them from a greater understanding of the New Testament and of prophecy in general.
While we recognize the sovereignty of God in this matter, we also see how blindness has real causes, and that its effects may span many generations. The worst part of it is that those who are blind do not often see their own condition. Hence, in Matt. 6:23 Jesus says, “If therefore the light that is in you is darkness, how great is the darkness!” In other words, if we think we see, when in fact we are walking in darkness, we will not even know that there is a problem.
This was the condition of the religious leaders in Jesus’ day. Having studied the Scriptures all of their lives, the thought that they might be walking in darkness was unbelievable to them. Yet in the big picture, we must always defer to the sovereignty of God and understand His plan. If God had removed the blindness from these religious leaders, they never would have crucified the Messiah. How then would He pay for the sin of the world?
Blindness was not God’s will (thelema), but it was certainly part of His plan (boulema). I explained the difference in my book, The Problem of Evil, chapter 4. While God holds men responsible on their level, God also holds Himself responsible for His actions that are done according to His sovereign will. Therefore, He judges mankind and holds them accountable for their evil deeds (John 5:29; Rev. 20:12, 13); but because He is the Creator who owns and is responsible for all that He has created, He must also save all of mankind in the end.
We must view the blind religious leaders of Jewry in that context. In fact, we should view the entire world in that context.
Ironically, the religious leaders were blind and walked in darkness, and so all of their study of the Scriptures failed to open their eyes to recognize the Light of the world who stood before them and manifested the works of God in the earth. Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea were the two exceptions—a remnant in their day.
In John 5:41, 42 Jesus continues to speak to the religious leaders who had rejected Him, saying,
41 I do not receive glory from men; 42 but I know you, that you do not have the love [agape] of God in yourselves.
The day will come when Jesus will indeed receive glory from all men. He will be glorified fully when His glory fills the whole earth, as He vowed to Moses in Num. 14:21. When every tongue professes Christ, it will be “to the glory of God the Father.” In other words, when all men bow to Him and profess Him, then He will receive glory from men. Being glorified by men will be the result of their seeing the glory of God through the success of His sovereign power.
Jesus also recognized that the religious leaders did not possess “the love of God.” The Greek word is agape, and it is different from phileo, “brotherly love.” These Jews could reach the level of brotherly love, which is based upon equal justice, but the love of God set a standard that was beyond their comprehension. The love of God is defined in Rom. 5:7, 8,
7 For one will hardly die for a righteous man; though perhaps for the good man someone would dare even to die. 8 But God demonstrates His own love [agape] toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.
Verse 10 goes on to explain that God reconciled us “while we were enemies.” He did not wait until we became good, nor did He wait until we did anything at all. He took the initiative by Himself, and then “gave us the ministry of reconciliation” (2 Cor. 5:18, 19). Our ministry, Paul says, is to convey to all of God’s enemies “that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them.”
As ambassadors of Christ, our message is not to frighten the world with threats of hellfire if they do not submit to Christ. Neither is it a message of condemnation in any form. It is a message of what Christ has already done for His enemies, because the love of God is defined in terms of being willing to die for enemies who still hate God. In other words, God does not consider the world to be His enemy any longer. It is only the world that hates God and is in need of being informed otherwise. That is our job as ambassadors.
By setting forth the love of God in Rom. 5:7-10, Paul lays the foundations for his doctrine in Rom. 5:18 about the justification of all men. Those who do not comprehend the love of God will not be able to understand how God could save all mankind.
Jesus said further in John 5:43, 44,
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 you do not seek the glory that is from the one and only God?
A name is an expression of one’s nature. All of the names of God throughout Scripture are various expressions of the divine nature. For Jesus to come in His Father’s name is more than just being a divine Agent. It is also to manifest the same nature as the One who sent Him. Jesus was talking about the love of God in the previous verse. Jesus was love personified, which was soon to be proven by His willingness to die for His enemies—the very men who reviled Him, accused Him falsely, beat Him, and crucified Him.
Most men, however, lacking such divine love, could only “receive” messiahs who came in their own name (nature). They came to kill their enemies, the Romans, believing that this was the virtue that a messiah ought to manifest. Hence, there have been many messiahs over the centuries. There is a historical study of these by Jerry Rabow entitled, 50 Jewish Messiahs.
Jesus implied in John 5:44 that those who “receive glory from one another” are unable to believe (or have faith in) the true Messiah. Such people value reputation among their peers more than what God thinks of them. When God began to work with me on a new level in 1981, the first thing He did was to strip me of all reputation. That was a bitter experience at the time, but yet I recognized that it was God’s way of forcing me to die to the past life in order to raise me up as a new man in an entirely new type of ministry.
Jesus had to face the loss of reputation on a cosmic scale. He too ate the bitter herbs of the Passover meal in order to bring us out of Egypt—the bondage of sin and death.
John 5:45-47 concludes,
45 Do not think that I will accuse you before the Father; the one who accuses you is Moses, in whom you have set your hope. 46 For if you believed Moses, you would have believed Me; for he wrote of Me. 47 But if you do not believe his writings, how will you believe My words?
As a representative of the law, Moses is the accuser, for he was responsible to give the law but the people gave the law only lip service. When men had a dispute in those days, they had the right to seek out an unbiased judge in whom both parties had confidence. Jesus recognized that the religious leaders had great confidence in Moses, and none of them would have disputed his authority to judge righteously.
Hence, it is as if the Jews had agreed to have Moses judge the dispute between them and to let him determine whether Jesus’ words were true or not. It was universally accepted in Judaism that Moses prophesied of the Messiah. God told Moses in Deut. 18:18, 19,
18 I will raise up a prophet from among their countrymen like you, and I will put My words in his mouth, and he shall speak to them all that I command him. 19 And it shall come about that whoever will not listen to My words which he shall speak in My name, I Myself will require it of him.
Jesus came speaking the words of God, and God said that He would judge those who refused to hear His words. This was a well-known messianic prophecy, and so it appears that Jesus had this passage in mind when He spoke these warnings. More than that, if we do not believe the writings of Moses (the Torah, or Law), we will not truly believe Jesus’ words either.
The blindness of Israel prevented them from hearing the words of God at Mount Horeb. The Ten Commandments were enough to make them afraid of hearing His words. So they refused to hear the rest of the law, sending Moses up the Mount to hear and to tell them second-hand what God had said. The law thus remained on tablets, whereas it ought to have been written on their hearts.
This ends the commentary on the third sign in the Gospel of John. The third sign focuses primarily upon the nature of God, while its corresponding sign, the sixth sign, enlarges upon the blindness of the people. When Jesus healed the blind man (John 9:7), He prophesied of the day when blindness itself will be removed from the earth. All physical blindness will cease, but more importantly, all spiritual blindness too will be removed. When it is removed, all men will be able to receive the words of Jesus and recognize them as the words of His heavenly Father.