Four Witnesses for Jesus
JOHN 5:31-39
Prepared by Dr. John E. Marshall

John 5:31-32 “If I bear witness of myself, my witness is not true. There is another that beareth witness of me, and I know that the witness which he witnesseth of me is true.

Leaders who draw attention to themselves had better have good credentials. They will be closely scrutinized.

This was especially true of anyone who made a claim of importance in Jesus’ day. His culture forbade a person to recommend himself for leadership. Others had to speak as witnesses on his behalf.

This emphasis on validation was integral to Hebrew life and was important in Scripture. According to the Bible, in any legal proceeding, the testimony of one witness was not enough to prove the case, for good or bad.

“At the mouth of two witnesses, or three witnesses, shall he that is worthy of death be put to death; but at the mouth of one witness he shall not be put to death” (Deuteronomy 17:6).

Paul threatened to come rebuke the believers at Corinth, and wrote, “This is the third time I am coming to you. In the mouth of two or three witnesses shall every word be established” (2 Corinthians 13:1).

Paul advised Timothy, “Against an elder receive not an accusation, but before two or three witnesses” (I Timothy 5:19).

Jesus taught the use of witnesses to settle disagreements and grievances. “If he will not hear thee, then take with thee one or two more, that in the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established” (Matthew 18:16).

Witnesses were important to the Jews in confirming or denying a person’s claims. Realizing this, Jesus pointed to four witnesses to substantiate His own Person and ministry.

John 5:33-35 “Ye sent unto John, and he bare witness unto the truth. But I receive not testimony from man: but these things I say, that ye might be saved. He was a burning and a shining light: and ye were willing for a season to rejoice in his light.”

First, Jesus mentioned the witness of John. Everyone knew the Baptist.

The religious leaders had enjoyed John until he challenged them to repent. They received his sermons as entertainment, but never really took him seriously.

Jesus thus needed more than only John’s witness. Since not everyone had accepted John’s message, his witness alone would not suffice. Fortunately, Jesus had more witnesses than just one man’s testimony.

John 5:36 “But I have greater witness than that of John: for the works which the Father hath given me to finish, the same works that I do, bear witness of me, that the Father hath sent me.”

Second, Jesus mentioned His works as a witness. It could not be denied that Jesus did miraculous works. In fact, this dialogue was precipitated by His healing a man who had been lame 38 years.

Jesus mentioned His miraculous works, not due to pride in Himself, but to verify the power of God was working in, and flowing through, Him. The mighty works pointed to Another beyond Jesus.

John 5:37-38 “And the Father himself, which hath sent me, hath borne witness of me. Ye have neither heard his voice at any time, or seen his shape. And ye have not his word abiding in you: for whom he hath sent, him ye believe not.”

Third, Jesus said the Father was a witness. This is a strong claim by Jesus. Being a witness commits a person. When a person steps in the witness box, he or she no longer has freedom of choice, but must come down on one side of the issue or the other.

The Father did this with regard to Jesus. He committed Himself to Jesus and bore witness to the Son.

God the Father still witnesses for Christ in people’s hearts. For the lost, this process is called conviction. For the saved, this is called communion.

“He that believeth on the Son of God hath this witness in himself” (I John 5:10). “The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God” (Romans 8:16).

God the Father confronts people, showing them Christ is the lovely, wise One. This comes not by study or calculation, but is a direct dealing with sinners by the Father.

Stoics said the highest kind of knowledge came not by thought, but by what they called “arresting impressions.” We can use this phrase to describe God’s witness-bearing on Jesus’ behalf.

His convictions and impressions capture people, seizing them as if someone were laying an arresting hand on their shoulder. The Father witnesses of the Son.

John 5:39 “Search the Scriptures; for in them ye think ye have eternal life and they are they which testify of me.”

Fourth, Jesus used the Bible as a witness. The Pharisees, Scribes, Sadducees, and other religious leaders of Jesus’ day were the best technical Bible students the world ever produced, yet they rejected Christ.

They had the right book, and took infinite pains with it, but still missed the point. How could this happen? What went wrong?

First, they did not have God’s Word abiding in them (v. 38). There was nothing in these men to which the Bible could speak. We must be a walking Bible ourselves before we can understand God’s written Bible.

We get out of the Bible what we bring to it. The Word of God is like a mirror (James 1:23). It reflects the onlooker. If we are content with our spiritual condition, Scripture’s arrows are dulled.

If we want to be changed, the Bible will change us. When we come to Holy Writ expecting God to speak to us, we will find in it “mystery of kinship” (Parker).

We should search the Scriptures as we search a closet; not to take an inventory of it, but to find in it something fit to wear.

Second, they studied Scripture the wrong way. The religious leaders read the Bible with a closed mind. For them, Scripture was not an aid for finding God, but a tool to support their own arguments.

The Pharisees did not really love God. They loved their own ideas about God (Barclay). It is still a danger that people will use the Bible more to prove their beliefs than to test their beliefs.

Third, they mistakenly regarded God as mainly a writer, not a doer. They worshiped His words, yet ignored what He was trying to do with His words in the world. The leaders felt the more one knew about Scripture the holier he was.

Scripture does not give life, but points to Him who alone can give life to us. Since the leaders missed this fact, they did not recognize Christ when He came.

Pride of religion is terribly devastating. Few things are worse. It crucified Jesus.

What is the result of all this witness-bearing on behalf of Christ? Why was Jesus so exacting? Verse 34 gives the reason, “that ye might be saved.”

Jesus loved even His bitterest enemies and wanted to see them saved. He came to seek and save sinners, and still does.