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The Witness of the Father and the Son for Jesus the Messiah

By Edited Jun 30, 2016 0 0


In our examination of the witnesses of Jesus the Messiah, two other witnesses are Jesus Himself and God the Father. On several occasions, Jesus offered testimony of Himself. He knew where He had been and where He was going, even though His opponents thought otherwise. Jesus spoke of Himself as a witness to Nicodemus, when He healed the man infirm thirty-eight years, and in several conversations with the religious leaders. Closely related, in fact, intertwined with the testimony of Jesus, was the testimony of the Father. The Son did everything He saw the Father doing, and nothing He did was apart from the will of the Father. Several times Jesus spoke of the Father as a witness to His messianic claims and mission. There are four ways the Father testified on behalf of Jesus the Messiah: through John the Baptist, who saw the Spirit anointing Jesus; through the signs or works of Jesus; through the words and teachings of Jesus; and through the Old Testament.

At the time of Jesus, the role of individual testimony was vitally important for a variety of reasons. Often, a personal witness was crucial for civil or legal authorities to determine if events had occurred. “The eye-witness, by virtue of his knowledge, can remove all doubt about matters to which others have no access.” [1] Methods to record events were non-existent in the first century, so the veracity of someone who was there at the scene was essential. The cultural aspect of honor and shame was also strongly affiliated with witness testimony. “While ancient Greek and Roman courts gave great credence to arguments of probability, nonetheless, witnesses often proved essential for demonstrating a case. When honorable men testified, people listened; but if the case went against them, and their testimony was deemed false, they lost honor.” [2] An individual giving true testimony would receive honor while someone who spoke falsely would receive shame with all of the cultural import of this stigma. According to the Ten Commandments and Mosaic Law, the importance of truthful testimony was essential, as can be seen in Exodus 20:16, Numbers 35:20, Deuteronomy 17:6-7, and 19:15-19.

These verses illustrate the importance, both positive and negative, of those who see the event in question and the precautions taken about providing testimony. Josephus notes the critical importance of multiple witnesses in Antiquities of the Jews: “But let not a single witness be credited, but three, or two at the least, and those such whose testimony is confirmed by their good lives.” [3] Proverbs 25:18 also explains the danger of a false witness. As these verses indicate, the application of Judaic justice at the time of Jesus focused more on the testimony of witnesses rather than statements from the defendant. The religious leaders and Pharisees took this approach to determine the claims of Jesus. When Jesus was brought before Annas, the High Priest, He twice challenged the authorities to produce witnesses to testify against Him.

John 18:19-23 The high priest, therefore, questioned Jesus about His disciples and His teaching. (20) Jesus answered him, “I have spoken openly to the world; I always taught in synagogues, and in the temple, where all the Jews come together; and I spoke nothing in secret. (21) Why do you question Me? Question those who have heard what I speak to them; behold, these know what I said.” (22) And when He had said this, one of the officers standing by gave Jesus a blow saying, “Is that the way You answer the high priest?” (23) Jesus answered him, “If I have spoken wrongly, bear witness of the wrong; but if rightly, why do you strike Me?”

In the first Gospel, Jesus first spoke as a witness when He was with Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews who came to learn more about Him. In the course of the conversation, Jesus spoke of ‘We’ being witnesses and how ‘you people,’ referring to the Jews, did not recognize the witness of Jesus and the Father.

John 3:11 “Truly, truly, I say to you, We speak in that which We know and bear witness of that which was have seen and you people do not receive Our witness.”

This ruler of the Jews came to Jesus with respect; however he was ignorant of the true nature of Jesus. Nicodemus was a Pharisee and a member of the ruling body. In every way, Nicodemus represented the devout, intellectual, religious, God-fearing Jew. The Apostle John may have revealed the perspective of Nicodemus when he referred to Jesus not needing witness concerning man and in the very next verse referring to Nicodemus as a man.

John 2:24-3:1 But Jesus, on His part, was not entrusting Himself to them, for He knew all men, (25) and because He did not need any one to bear witness concerning man for He Himself knew what was in man. (1) Now there was a man of the Pharisees, named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews.

When Nicodemus commented that “we” know “You,” Jesus, “are from God,” he expressed the view of a group of Jews, not just himself. This plural reference was probably to the Sanhedrin. This indicates that, at least at this point in the ministry of Jesus, the verdict by the Jewish religious leaders was still in the development phase. Later the opposition would harden toward Jesus to the point of persecution.

Despite the respectful greeting (3:1-2) spoken by Nicodemus, kind words spoken, and hints of faith, Jesus saw the superficiality of the Jewish ruler and startled the Pharisee with His insight and teaching (3:3-9). That Jesus asked Nicodemus why he did not understand such things (3:10) only emphasized his confusion. Jesus again explained that He was telling the truth, which meant what He said was not so much truthful but reliable. Similar, the statement by Nicodemus, “we know that You have come from God,” later in the conversation Jesus told Nicodemus ‘We’ bear witness to what We have seen and you, in the plural voice, do not receive. The plural ‘you’ refers not only to Nicodemus but also to the Jews as a group. Jesus probably deliberately spoke of the witnesses like the words of Nicodemus to make His point. Despite the witnesses, Nicodemus did not accept Jesus at this point, although later he assisted in the burial of Jesus, indicating his likely status as a believer.

In the conversation with Nicodemus, why did Jesus use the plural voice to refer to those offering testimony? He may have only been referring to Himself. It could have been a reference to the disciples who were surely present with Jesus when Nicodemus came to visit with Him. However, it is unlikely He meant the disciples since they had not yet witnessed the events that Jesus described to Nicodemus. Jesus could also have been referring to John the Baptist. John had seen the Spirit descending as a dove to rest upon Jesus and, according to another gospel account, heard a voice from heaven expressing satisfaction with Jesus. At this point in the gospel, John the Baptist was still baptizing as well as telling others about the Messiah. Another possibility is that Jesus could have been referring to the Father, as He did in several other instances when He spoke on the subject. The fact of the matter is the identity of the second witness to whom Jesus refers is unknown.

The next passage in this gospel where Jesus spoke of Himself and the Father being witnesses is in the fifth chapter after Jesus healed the man who had been infirm for thirty-eight years. After the healing, Jesus instructed the man to take up his pallet and walk. The Pharisees noticed the man carrying a pallet and questioned why he was working on the Sabbath. He responded that the man who had healed him told him to take up his pallet and walk. Jesus found the man later in the Temple, and he, now knowing his benefactor, went to the Pharisees and told them Jesus healed him. Soon after that, the Pharisees confronted Jesus because He healed on the Sabbath. In the course of the conversation, the topic of authority and witnesses arose, and Jesus revealed to His detractors both His and His Father’s testimony.

John 5:31-32“If I (Jesus) alone bear witness of Myself, My testimony is not true. 
(32) There is another who bears witness of Me, and I know that the testimony that He (Father) bears of Me is true.”

Jesus referred to the Father as a witness, although He did not identify Him. Despite not identifying Him, Jesus knew His testimony was true. “This sentence states in principle everything upon which Jesus rests His claim to credibility. In contrast to His own witness, it is the witness of ‘another’. [4] Some translations have the end of verse thirty-one to read “not true,” which, while technically accurate, is a poor translation. A better way to express the idea would be to say “not valid,” which is more appropriate. In this conversation with the Pharisees, Jesus said His testimony was valid because of the other individual whom He had not yet identified. In this confrontation, Jesus was citing Mosaic Law.

In the original construction of the Greek, the condition, “if I alone bear witness of Myself,” is false, and the testimony, “which He bears of Me,” is true. Accordingly, Jesus claimed His testimony was valid because the Father supported it and because of His oneness with the Father. It is unclear exactly what He meant by this statement, but He was likely referring to the activities of the Father in support of His ministry. Most commentators agree with this premise; for example, Borchert comments, “the ‘another’ of verse thirty-two assumes that in everything Jesus has done, the Father has been active.” [5] Jesus knew where He came from and where He was going, and He did not speak of His volition. Note in these statements, Jesus did not claim the Father as an independent witness. He claimed His words and deeds verified the testimony of the Father. “This is precisely what ensures that Jesus is not simply testifying about Himself. In this context, the Father’s witness is for others only indirectly, i.e., through Jesus, who speaks and does what his Father wishes.” [6] This divine knowledge ensured Jesus was not simply testifying for Himself. “The witness of the Father may not be acceptable to the Jews; it may not even be recognized by them. But it is enough for Jesus.” [7]

Jesus then suggested that the Jews, if they were unwilling to accept His or His Father’s testimony, refer to what they heard from John the Baptist.

John 5:33-35 “You have sent to John, and he has borne witness to the truth. (34) But the witness that I receive is not from man, but I say these things, that you may be saved. (35) He was the lamp that was burning and was shining, and you were willing to rejoice for a while in his light.”

By instructing the Jews to recall the testimony of John the Baptist, Jesus made them focus on the testimony of the Father since the Baptizer testified—as a very credible witness—to the baptism of Jesus and how the Spirit came down like a dove and remained upon Him. Jesus urged His detractors to receive the testimony of John the Baptist, not so much that what he said was, in fact, the truth, but rather to accept Jesus as the Messiah. Apparently the Jews had rejoiced in the proclamation of the Baptizer, but their expectations and preconceived ideas prevented them from recognizing or accepting Jesus as the fulfillment of John’s announcement.

The next time Jesus referred to a witness was when He called upon the testimony of both Himself and the Father in the eighth chapter of John following His encounter with the Pharisees concerning the woman caught in adultery and their attempt to confound Jesus or trap Him concerning Mosaic Law. After dealing with the situation, Jesus spoke of judging as the Pharisees had wanted Him to do when they brought the woman before Him.

John 8:16-19But even if I (Jesus) do judge, My judgment is true; for I am not alone in it, but I and He who sent Me. (17) Even in your law it has been written, that the testimony of two men is true. (18) I am He who bears witness of Myself and the Father, who sent Me bears witness of Me.” (19) And so they were saying to Him, “Where is Your Father?” Jesus answered, “You know neither Me nor My Father; if you knew Me, you would know My Father also.”

Immediately after Jesus told the woman to depart and sin no more, He made another messianic claim that He was the light of the world, and those who follow Him would have the light of life. The Pharisees challenged Him and said His words were of Himself and were therefore not true. Like other instances of John’s use of “true,” a better translation for true in this passage is “valid.”

Jesus responded to the criticism (8:14), saying that even if He did speak for Himself, His words were valid because He knew where He came from and where He was going, whereas the Pharisees had not a clue. “He declares his testimony to be true for the simple reason it states the facts. That this testimony of his must be accepted as legally competent is because it is corroborated by a second unimpeachable witness, namely the Father.” [8] After explaining how He was a true or valid witness of Himself, Jesus explained Himself and how His judgment was unlike the judgment of the Pharisees (8:15) for they were unaware of the spiritual aspect of the situation. This was because His judgment was not according to the flesh. The Pharisees judged Jesus according to human standards and could not help but be imperfect and incomplete. “In other words, if this was only a matter of something within the framework of human experience and apprehension, then the rabbinic maxim would hold true and would be useful. But regarding knowing God, only God can testify. In this case, God the Son is bearing witness, both to Himself and to God the Father and the testimony should be accepted because of these unique circumstances.” [9] To evaluate spiritual matters using worldly standards is a recipe for failure. Jesus then revealed how He was not there to judge (8:16) in the way the Pharisees defined the term, but rather to save, and His judgment was markedly different from that of the Pharisees.

Jesus insisted (8:17-18) to the Pharisees that He had the mandatory testimony of two. He used the ego eimi (I am) argument to argue His witness was valid in addition to the witness of the Father. Jesus could use the “I am” argument because He knew Himself and the Father. Because Jesus was with the Father, He was in compliance with Mosaic Law, which requires two persons to attest to the truthfulness of a given matter (Deuteronomy 17:6-7, 19:15-16). As Schnackenburg notes, the Pharisees were seeking human witnesses to whom they could listen, compare testimony, and possibly question, but the witnesses of Jesus, to their dismay, formally satisfied Judaic judicial requirements of the testimony of two witnesses but did not satisfy their demands. The words of Jesus in this passage are in the continual action tense, and the witness of the Father is also continual action. If what Jesus said was true about His relationship with the Father, then their two distinct witnesses were more than sufficient because of the nature of the Father. Unlike His earlier encounter with His critics, Jesus did not utilize the words of John the Baptist because the religious leaders had apparently chosen to reject or deprecate his testimony.

In this conversation, Jesus applied the argument from the lesser to the greater. Jesus essentially stated that under the Mosaic Law, if two men testified to an event and the judge accepted their words as truthful, how much more should they accept as truthful the testimony of Jesus and the Father? For if the testimony of two men could condemn another to death, what should be the result of the testimony of the Messiah and the Father? The witness of Jesus and the Father was superior to the testimony of men. “The reasoning is this: surely if this rule holds with respect to men, it holds even more with respect to God.” [10]

The response of the Pharisees was to ask about the Father (8:19). Jesus’ terse reply was they could not know the Father because the only way to the Father was through Jesus. At this point in the confrontation, the Pharisees were not listening, and Jesus was speaking to deaf ears. John’s gospel implies the Pharisees were judging by human standards, and, in contrast, Jesus “passes judgment in keeping with reality, because he does so in oneness with the Father. He judges simply by revealing the truth and pointing out one’s distance from that truth.” [11] Had they recognized Jesus for who He was, they would have also known the Father because to know Jesus is to know the Father. Jesus is the revelation of the Father. That it is only in the Son that the Father is revealed is a fundamental doctrine of the fourth gospel. If they had truly come to know Jesus and accepted His witness, they would have also known the Father, and the testimony of both would be valid in their view.



Copyright 2016 © Craig B. Manning. All Rights Reserved.



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