John 5:17
But Jesus answered them, My Father works till now, and I work.
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(17) My Father worketh hitherto (or, up to this moment).—They charge Him with breaking the law of God. His answer to this charge is that His action was the result of His Sonship and unity with that God. The very idea of God implied action. This was familiar to the thought of the day. Comp., e.g., in the contemporary Philo, “God never ceases working; but as to burn is the property of fire, and to be cold is the property of snow, thus also to work is the property of God, and much the more, inasmuch as He is the origin of action for all others” (Legis Allegor. i. 3. See the whole section. The English reader will find it in Bohn’s Ed., vol i., p. 53). The rest on the seventh day was the completion of the works of creation (see this stated emphatically in Genesis 2:2-3). It was not, it could not be, a cessation in divine work, or in the flow of divine energy. That knew nor day nor night, nor summer nor winter, nor Sabbath nor Jubilee. For man, and animal, and tree, and field, this alternation of a time of production and a time of reception was needed, but God was the ever-constant source of energy and life for all in heaven and earth and sea. The power going forth to heal that sufferer was the same power which sustained them in well-being. The strength which passed through his half-dead frame, and bade it live, was the same which every Sabbath morning awoke them from death’s image, sleep, and would awake from death itself (John 5:21). The sun shone, and fruitful showers fell, and flower burst its bud, and harvest ripened, and they themselves, in energy of life, had grown on every day alike. God ever worketh up to this present moment. That God is also Father. The Son, therefore, worketh in the same way. This poor sufferer, lying helpless, is of the same human nature with the Son of God. He has in faith and hope made himself receptive of the divine energy, and that energy which can know no Sabbath, but is ever going forth to every heart that can receive it, hath made him whole.



John 5:17 - John 5:27

‘The Jews’ were up in arms because Jesus had delivered a man from thirty-eight years of misery. They had no human sympathies for the sufferer, whom hope deferred had made sick and hopeless, but they shuddered at the breach of the Sabbath. ‘Sacrifice’ was more important in their view than ‘mercy.’ They did not acknowledge that the miracle proved Christ’s Messiahship, but they were quite sure that doing it on the Sabbath proved His wickedness. How formalism twists men’s judgments of the relative magnitude of form and spirit!

Jesus’ vindication of His action roused them still farther, for He put it on a ground which seemed to them nothing short of blasphemy: ‘My Father worketh even until now, and I work.’ They fastened on one point in that great saying, namely, that it claimed Sonship in a special sense, and vindicated His right to disregard the Sabbath law on that ground. God’s rest is not inaction. ‘Preservation is a continual creation.’ All being subsists because God is ever working. The Son co-operates with the Father, and for Him, as for the Father, the Sabbath law does not apply. The charge of breaking the Sabbath fades into insignificance before the sin, in the objectors’ eyes, of making such claims. Therefore our Lord proceeds to expand and justify them.

He makes, first, a general statement in John 5:19 - John 5:20, in which He sets forth the relation involved in the very idea of Fatherhood and Sonship. He, as perfect Son of God, is perfectly one with the Father in will and act, and so knit to Him in sympathy that a self-originated action is impossible, not by reason of defect of power, but by reason of unity of being. That perfect unity is expressed negatively {‘can do nothing’} and then positively {‘doeth likewise’}. But it is not manifest in actions alone, but has its deep roots in the perfect love which flows ever from each to each, and in the Father’s perfect communication to the Son, and the Son’s perfect reception from the Father. Jesus claimed to stand in such a relation to the Father that He was able to do whatsoever the Father did, and ‘in like manner’ as the Father did it; that He was the unique object of the Father’s love, and capable of receiving complete communications as to ‘all things that Himself doeth’; that He lived in such complete unity with the Father that His every act was the result of it, and that no trace of self-will had ever tinged His perfect spirit. What man has ever made such claims and not been treated as insane? He makes them, and likewise says that He is ‘lowly of heart’; and the world listens, if not believing, at any rate reverent, as in the presence of the best man that ever lived. Strange goodness, to claim such divine prerogatives, unless the claim is valid!

It is expanded in John 5:21 - John 5:23 into two great classes of works, which Jesus says that He does. Both are distinctively divine works. To give life and to judge the world are equally beyond human power; they are equally His actions. These are the ‘greater works’ which He foretells in John 5:20, and they are greater than the miracle of healing which had originated the whole conversation. To give life at first, and to give it again to the dead, and not only to revivify, but to raise them, are plainly competent to no power short of the divine; and here Jesus calmly claims them.

That tremendous claim is here made in the widest sense, including both the corporeally and the spiritually dead, who are afterwards treated of separately. The Son is the fountain of life in all the aspects of that wide-reaching word; and He ‘quickeneth whom He will,’ as He had spontaneously healed the impotent man. Does that assertion contradict the other, just before it, that He does nothing of Himself? No; for His will, while His, is ever harmonious with the Father’s, just as His love, which is ever coincident with the Father’s. Does that assertion imply His arbitrary pleasure, or make man’s will a cipher? No; for His will is guided by righteous love, and wills to quicken those who comply with His conditions. But the assertion does declare that His will to quicken is omnipotent, and that His voice can pierce ‘the dull, cold ear of death,’ and bring back the soul to the empty house of this tabernacle, or rouse the spirit ‘dead in trespasses.’

The other divine prerogative of judging is inseparable from that of revivifying, and in regard to it Christ’s claim is still higher, for He says that it is wholly vested in Him as Son. The idea of judgment here, like that of quickening, with which it is associated, is to be taken in its more general sense {‘all judgment’} , and therefore as including both the present judgment, for which Jesus said that He was come into the world, and which men pass on themselves by the very fact of their attitude to Him and His Gospel, and also the future final judgment, which manifests character and determines destiny. Both these has the Father given into the hands of the Son.

The purpose, so far as men are concerned, of the Son’s investiture, with these solemn prerogatives, is that He may receive universal divine honour. A narrower purpose was stated in John 5:20, where the persons seeing His works are only His then audience, and the effect sought to be produced is merely ‘marvel.’ But wonder is meant to lead on to recognition of the meaning of His power, and of the mystery of His person, and that, again, to rendering to Him precisely the same honour as is due to the Father. No more unmistakable demand for worship, no more emphatic assertion of divinity, can be made than lie in these words. To worship Christ does not intercept the honour due to God; to worship the Son is to worship the Father; and no man honours the Father who sent Him who does not honour the Son whom He has sent.

In John 5:24 - John 5:27 the two related prerogatives are presented in their spiritual aspect, while in the later verses of the chapter the resurrection and quickening of the literally dead are dealt with. Mark the significant new term introduced in John 5:24, ‘He that believeth.’ That spiritual resurrection from the death of sin and self is wrought on ‘whom He will,’ but He wills that it shall be wrought on them who believe. Similarly, in John 5:25, it is ‘they that hear’ who ‘shall live.’ It must be so, for there is no other way by which life from Him, who is the Life, can pass into and quicken us than by our opening our hearts by faith for its inflow. The mysteries of the Son’s divinity and of His imparted life are deep, but the condition of receiving that life is plain. If we will trust Jesus, we shall live; if not, we are dead. Trusting Him is trusting the Father that sent Him, and that Father becomes accessible to our trust when we ‘hear’ Christ’s ‘word.’

The effects of faith are immediate, and the poor present may be enriched and clothed in celestial light for each of us, if we will. For Jesus does not point first to the mysteries of the resurrection of the dead, and the tremendous solemnities of the final judgment, but to what we may each enter upon at any moment. The believing man ‘hath eternal life,’ and ‘cometh not into judgment.’ That life is not reserved to be entered on in the blessed future, but is a present possession. True, it will blossom into unexampled nobleness when it is transported into its native country, like some exotic in our colder climates if it were carried back to the tropics. But it is a present possession, and heaven is not different in kind from the Christian life on earth, but differs mainly in degree and in circumstances. And he that has the life here and now is, by its moulding of his outward life, preserved from the sins which would bring him into judgment, and the merciful judgment to which he is still subject is that for which his truest self longs. And that blessed condition carries in it the pledge that, at the last great day, which is to others a ‘day of wrath, a dreadful day,’ he whom Christ has quickened by His own indwelling life shall have ‘boldness before Him.’

Obviously, in these verses the present effects of faith are in view, since Jesus emphatically declares that the ‘hour now is’ when they can be realised. Once more He states in the strongest terms, and as the reason for the assurance that faith secures to us life, His possession of the two divine prerogatives of quickening and judging. What a paradox it is to say that it is ‘given’ to Him to have ‘life in Himself’! And when was that gift given? In the depths of eternity.

He ‘sits on no precarious throne, nor borrows leave to be,’ and hence He can impart life and lose none. Inseparably connected with that given, and yet self-inherent, life, is the capacity for executing judgment which belongs to Him as ‘a Son of man.’ It has been as ‘the Son’ of the Father that it has been considered, in the previous verses, as belonging to Him; but now it is as a true man that He is fitted to bear, and actually is clothed with, that judicial power. No doubt He is Judge of all, because by His incarnation and earthly life He presents to all the offer of eternal life, by their attitude to which offer men are judged. But the connection of thought seems rather to be that Christ’s Manhood, inextricably intertwined with His divinity, is equally needed with the latter to constitute Him our Judge. He ‘knoweth our frame,’ from the inside, as it were, and the participation in our nature which fits Him to ‘be a merciful and faithful High Priest’ also fits Him to be the Judge of mankind.John 5:17-20. Jesus answered — “By the Jews, who in the preceding verses are said to have persecuted Jesus, we are to understand the rulers, as appears from John 5:33, where Jesus, speaking to the persons who sought to kill him, (John 5:18,) says unto them, Ye sent unto John, and he bare witness unto the truth. But the messengers that were sent to John were priests and Levites, (John 1:19,) persons of character who would not have undertaken the office, unless by the appointment of the rulers, called on that occasion, as well as here, the Jews. Hence the apology which Jesus now made for himself is such as was proper to be pronounced before the most capable judges; for it is the most regular defence of his character and mission that is anywhere to be found in the gospels, comprehending the principal arguments in behalf of both, setting them forth with the greatest strength of reason, clearness of method, and conciseness of expression.” — Macknight. My Father worketh hitherto — From the beginning of the creation till now he hath been working without intermission, particularly in doing good to men by his unwearied providence. For on the sabbath day, as well as on other days, through the invisible operation of his almighty power, he supports the whole frame of nature, and carries on the motions of the heavens, upon which the vicissitudes of day and night, and of the seasons depend, so necessary to the production of food, with the other means of life. And I work — I imitate my Father, and work also continually. This is the proposition which is explained from John 5:19-30, and confirmed and vindicated in the 31st and following verses. As the Jews built their observation of the sabbath upon God’s having rested thereon from the works of creation, this argument was decisive: nevertheless, the apology offended them exceedingly, and they sought the more to kill him, because he not only had broken the sabbath — Which they were confident he had done; but said also, that God was his Father — Greek, Πατερα ιδιον, his own proper Father, as the expression signifies; his Father in so peculiar and appropriating a sense as, in effect, to make himself equal with God; and therefore asserting that he acted like God, and arguing his own right to work on the sabbath day from God’s working upon it. Since the whole nation of the Jews thought God to be their Father, (John 8:41,) they would not have accounted it blasphemy in Christ to have called God his Father, had they not interpreted it in so high and appropriating a sense. The conclusion which they drew from his words, our Lord did not deny, but showed that in all things he acted agreeably to the will of God, and that he was equal in power to God, doing whatever he saw the Father do, an honour which flowed to him from the immense love of the Father. The expression, the Son can do nothing of himself, manifests, not his imperfection, but his glory, for it implies his eternal, intimate, indissoluble unity with the Father. Hence it is absolutely impossible that the Son should judge, will, testify, or teach any thing, without the Father, John 5:30, &c.; John 6:38; John 7:16 : or that he should be known or believed on separately from the Father. And he here defends his doing good every day without intermission, by the example of his Father, from which he cannot depart. For the Father loveth the Son — Namely, with a peculiar, an infinite love; and showeth him all things that himself doeth — A proof of the most intimate unity; his most secret counsels lie open to the Son: and he will show him — By doing them; greater works than these — Which he has hitherto performed; will enable him to do greater miracles than any he has done hitherto; that ye may marvel — Which though they may not convince, will certainly astonish you, and make it impossible for you to gainsay him, at least, with any show of reason. Thus they marvelled, and were astonished, when he raised Lazarus, and when they were compelled to witness the awful prodigies that attended his death.5:17-23 The Divine power of the miracle proved Jesus to be the Son of God, and he declared that he worked with, and like unto his Father, as he saw good. These ancient enemies of Christ understood him, and became more violent, charging him not only with sabbath-breaking, but blasphemy, in calling God his own Father, and making himself equal with God. But all things now, and at the final judgment, are committed to the Son, purposely that all men might honour the Son, as they honour the Father; and every one who does not thus honour the Son, whatever he may think or pretend, does not honour the Father who sent him.My Father - God.

Worketh hitherto - Worketh "until now," or until this time. God has not ceased to work on the Sabbath. He makes the sun to rise; He rolls the stars; He causes the grass, the tree, the flower to grow. He has not suspended His operations on the Sabbath, and the obligation to "rest" on the Sabbath does not extend to Him. He created the world in six days, and ceased the work of creation; but He has not ceased to govern it, and to carry forward, by His providence, His great plans on the Sabbath.

And I work - "As God does good on that day; as he is not bound by the law which requires his creatures to rest on that day, so "I" do the same. The law on that subject may be dispensed with, also, in my case, for the Son of man is Lord of the Sabbath." In this reply it is implied that he was equal with God from two circumstances:

1. Because he called God his Father, John 5:18.

2. Because he claimed the same exemption from law which God did, asserting that the law of the Sabbath did not bind him or his Father, thus showing that he had a right to impose and repeal laws in the same manner as God. He that has a right to do this must be God.

17, 18. My Father worketh hitherto and I work—The "I" is emphatic; "The creative and conservative activity of My Father has known no sabbath-cessation from the beginning until now, and that is the law of My working." We read of no objection they made to Christ, as to what he had done, only that they persecuted him, which they might do without speaking to him: but it should seem by what we read in this verse, that some of the Jews had objected to him his violation of the sabbath (as they thought); yet, as we before noted, answered (in the dialect of the gospel) doth often signify no more than the beginning of a discourse upon some proper occasion offered. Our Saviour defends himself from the example of his Father, in the remembrance of whose resting from his work of creation on the seventh day from the beginning of the creation, the Jews kept their sabbath; who, though he rested from his work of creation, yet hitherto

worketh, as well on the sabbath day as any other day, by his preservation of created beings: so (saith he) I, who am the Son of this Father, also work; upholding all things by the word of my power, Hebrews 1:3. So that works of Divine Providence are lawful on the sabbath day; such was this. I work no other way than my Father still worketh, though he rested on the seventh day from the creation. But Jesus answered them,.... Being convened before them, and charged by them with the violation of the sabbath, he vindicated himself in the following manner, saying;

my Father worketh hitherto: he who is my Father, not by creation, or adoption, but by nature, though he ended all his work on the seventh day, and rested from what he had done; yet he did not cease from working at all, but has continued to work ever since, on sabbath days, as well as on other days; in upholding and governing the world, in continuing the species of beings, and all creatures in their being; in providing for them, and in dispensing the bounties of his providence to them; in causing his sun to shine, and showers of rain to descend on the earth; and in taking care of, and protecting even the meanest of his creatures: and much more men; and still more his own people:

and I work; or "also I work"; as the Syriac and Arabic version reads; i.e. in conjunction with him, as a co-efficient cause in the works of providence, in the government of the world, in upholding all things in it, in bearing up the pillars of the earth, in holding things together, and sustaining all creatures: or I also work in imitation of him, in doing good both to the bodies and souls of men on the sabbath day, being the Lord of it: I do but what my Father does, and therefore, as he is not to be blamed for his works on that day, as none will say he is, no more am I. So Philo the Jew says (b),

"God never ceases to work; but as it is the property of fire to burn, and of snow to cool, so of God to work.''

And what most men call fortune, he calls the divine Logos, or word, to whom he ascribes all the affairs of providence (c).

(b) Leg. Ailegor. l. 1. p. 41. (c) Quod Deus sit Immutab. p. 318.

{3} But Jesus answered them, My Father worketh hitherto, and I work.

(3) The work of God was never the breach of the sabbath, and the works of Christ are the works of the Father, both because they are one God, and also because the Father does not work except in the Son.

John 5:17. In some informal way these accusations were brought to the ears of Jesus, and His defence was: Ὁ πατήρ μουἐργάζομαι. “My Father until now works, and I work”; as if the work of the Father had not come to an end on the seventh day, but continued until the present hour. Nay, as if the characteristic of the Father were just this, that He works. Philo perceived the same truth; παύεται οὐδέποτε ποιῶν ὁ θεὸς ἀλλʼ ὥσπερ ἴδιον τὸ καίειν πυρὸς καὶ χίονος τὸ ψύχειν, οὕτω καὶ Θεοῦ τὸ ποιεῖν. God never stops working, for as it is the property of fire to burn and of snow to be cold so of God to work (De allegor., ii. See Schoettgen in loc.). Jesus means them to apprehend that there is no Sabbath, such as they suppose, with God, and that this healing of the impotent was God’s work. The Father does not rest from doing good on the Sabbath day, and I as the Father’s hand also do good on the Sabbath. In charging Him with breaking the Sabbath (John 5:18), it was God they charged with breaking it. But this exasperated them the more “because He not only was annulling (ἔλυε, ‘laws, as having binding force, are likened to bonds, hence λύειν is to annul, subvert, deprive of authority,’ Thayer) the Sabbath, but also said that God was His own Father, making Himself equal to God”. The Jews found in ὁ πατήρ μου (John 5:17) and the implication in κἀγὼ ἐργάζομαι a claim to some peculiar and exclusive (ἴδιον) sonship on the part of Jesus; that He claimed to be Son of God not in the sense in which other men are, but in a sense which involved equality with God. Starting from this, Jesus took occasion to unfold His relation to the Father so far as it concerned men to know it.

The passage 19–30 divides itself thus: John 5:19-20 exhibit the ground of the Son’s activity in the Father’s activity and love for the Son; John 5:21-23, the works given by the Father to the Son are, generally, life-giving and judging; John 5:24-27, these works in the spiritual sphere; John 5:28-29, in the physical sphere; and John 5:30, reaffirmation of unity with the Father.17–47. The Discourse on the Son as the Source of Life

17. answered them] This was how He met their constant persecution. The discourse which follows (see introductory note to chap. 3) may be thus analysed. (S. p. 106.) It has two main divisions—I. The prerogatives of the Son of God (John 5:17-30). II. The unbelief of the Jews (John 5:31-47). These two are subdivided as follows: I. 1. Defence of healing on the Sabbath based on the relation of the Son to the Father (John 5:17-18). 2. Intimacy of the Son with the Father further enforced (John 5:19-20). 3. This intimacy proved by the twofold power committed to the Son (a) of communicating spiritual life (John 5:21-27), (b) of raising the dead (John 5:28-29). 4. The Son’s qualification for these high powers is the perfect harmony of His Will with that of the Father (John 5:30). II. 1. The Son’s claims rest not on His testimony alone, nor on that of John, but on that of the Father (John 5:31-35). 2. The Father’s testimony is evident (a) in the works assigned to the Son (John 5:36), (b) in the revelation which the Jews reject (John 5:37-40). 3. Not that the Son needs honour from men, who are too worldly to receive Him (John 5:41-44). 4. Their appeal to Moses is vain; his writings condemn them.

17–30. The Prerogatives and Powers of the Son of God

17, 18. Defence of healing on the Sabbath based on the relation of the Son to the Father.

My Father worketh hitherto, &c.] Or, My Father is working even until now; I am working also. From the Creation up to this moment God has been ceaselessly working for man’s salvation. From such activity there is no rest, no Sabbath: for mere cessation from activity is not of the essence of the Sabbath; and to cease to do good is not to keep the Sabbath but to sin. Sabbaths have never hindered the Father’s work; they must not hinder the Son’s. Elsewhere (Mark 2:27) Christ says that the Sabbath is a blessing not a burden; it was made for man, not man for it. Here He takes far higher ground for Himself. He is equal to the Father, and does what the Father does. Mark 2:28 helps to connect the two positions. If the Sabbath is subject to man, much more to the Son of Man, who is equal to the Father.John 5:17. Ὁ Πατήρ μου, My Father) In what sense Jesus said, My Father, even the Jews themselves understood better than the Photinians: John 5:18, “The Jews sought to kill Him, because—He said that God was His Father, making Himself equal with God.” Here is set down the main point of the discourses of Jesus, which John subsequently records: and especially those statements are to be observed, which Jesus sometimes of His own accord has put forth as a kind of text to the fuller discourses which follow; for instance, ch. John 6:27, “Labour—for that meat which endureth unto everlasting life, which the Son of man shall give unto you;” John 7:37, “If any man thirst, let him come unto Me and drink;” John 8:12, “I am the light of the world.”—ἕως ἄρτι, hitherto) all along from creation, without any Sabbath intermission. For He is not bound by the Sabbath: He lacks not perpetual rest. If He were not to work, where would be the Sabbath itself?—ἐργάζεται, worketh) An excellent speech as to the Divine works.—κἀλώ, and I) The Father works not without the Son: the Son not without the Father: John 5:19, “The Son can do nothing of Himself, but what He seeth the Father do.” It is this proposition that is explained from John 5:19-30 (whence John 5:19 is repeated at John 5:30, “I can of mine own self do nothing”), and is confirmed and vindicated, John 5:31, etc.Verses 17, 18. -

(a) The claim of special relation with the Father. Verse 17. - But Jesus answered them (ἀπεκρίνατο; here and ver. 19 are the only places where the author uses this aorist, My Father worketh hitherto; i.e. until now; has not, has never, ceased from working. Some critics, eager for disparaging comment, have said "this is point blank denial of the sabbath rest of the Creator as exhibited in Genesis 1, 2, and Exodus 20. But, on the contrary, it is the true exposition of those grand utterances. God through his Logos, the Father through his Son, did bring his strictly creative works to an end with the six days; but then he entered on the seventh day, the rest of his preserving, protective, reproductive energy; then he began to pursue his redeeming and quickening operations in all regions of his dominion. My Father worketh, energizes, until now. His "rest" is an infinite activity of wisdom and power, of righteousness and mercy. The true sabbath is this rest of God. Man has to enter into this rest, and cooperate with and utterly abandon himself to the will of God. Sabbath keeping is the great symbol of such entire satisfaction with God. The activities from which man has to cease on the holy day are man's own, man's self-centred labours; but he, too, may combine the highest activity with profound repose. "My Father worketh until now, and I work - I, who am his Instrument, his Word, his Manifestation, his Messenger, abstaining from all mere self-originated, self-poised, self-centering toil, I work with him for him. I work obviously and visibly that you may see for yourselves what he has ever been doing silently and unobserved." Philo had said ('Leg. All.,' 1:3) "that God never ceases to create, nor takes a holiday from his works;" and the author of the Epistle to the Hebrews

(4) had grasped, as an echo of Christ's own teaching, the perpetuity of Divine rest through all the ages of work; but the naked thought here soars far above them both. The dawning of every clay, the opening of the flowers, the flowing of the rivers, the sustenance of vegetable, animal, and human life, reveal through every moment of the agelong sabbath rest, and on every sabbath day, his intense and constant activity. Worketh

The discussion turned on work on the Sabbath. The Father's work in maintaining and redeeming the world has continued from the creation until the present moment (ἕως ἄρτι): until now, not interrupted by the Sabbath.

And I work (κἀγὼ ἐργάζομαι)

Or, I also work. The two clauses are coordinated. The relation, as Meyer observes, is not that of imitation, or example, but of equality of will and procedure. Jesus does not violate the divine ideal of the Sabbath by His holy activity on that day. "Man's true rest is not a rest from human, earthly labor, but a rest for divine, heavenly labor. Thus the merely negative, traditional observance of the Sabbath is placed in sharp contrast with the positive, final fulfillment of spiritual service, for which it was a preparation" (Westcott).

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