14 May 2024

The implications of being God’s son.

John 5.17-23.

After Jesus cured some guy at a pool, the Judeans objected because he’d done so on sabbath. Now in the synoptic gospels, Jesus’s defense was usually along the lines of, “Curing the sick is a good deed, and doing good deeds on sabbath doesn’t violate the Law.” In John however, his defense is entirely different:

John 5.17-18 KWL
17 Jesus answers them, “Even today, my Father works.
And I work.”
18 So this is why the Judeans are seeking all the more to kill him:
Not only is Jesus loosening sabbath custom,
but he’s saying God is his own father,
making himself equal to God.

Y’see, there’s a really profound legal concept embedded in Jesus’s statement, “My Father worketh hitherto, and I work.” Jn 5.17 KJV It’s something you’re gonna miss if you don’t understand how adoption in the Roman Empire worked. Instead you’re gonna wind up making the foolish assumption many an Evangelical has: They think Jesus told the Judeans, “God’s not bound by your customs and Law, and neither am I.” Therefore he can break the Law. With impunity. Kinda like they do.

If Jesus is claiming he has the almighty prerogative to do as he pleases, including break whatever commands he wished, then Jesus could sin like crazy. It’s why lawless Christians love this interpretation—it gives them license to sin like crazy. Grace forgives everything, right? So let’s get nuts!

It turns Jesus into a major jerk—which is an obvious sign that’s not what he meant. If any interpretation of God violates his character, it’s wrong. It’s based on our bad attitudes, not his.

Jesus isn’t claiming he can do as he pleases. He’s claiming he does as the Father does. And the Father is benevolent, kind, generous, compassionate, forgiving. He does good deeds every day of the week, sabbath included. Ever been sick, and got well on a Saturday morning? Looks like God cured you on sabbath too.

Likewise Jesus is kind. His goal is always to demonstrate his Father’s love, and in so doing reveal who the Father is, and the sort of kingdom the Father’s given him to rule. Bear that in mind whenever you read the gospels.

Okay, on to what Jesus actually means. And why it outraged the Judeans.

Roman relationships between fathers and sons.

By the first century, Judeans had been exposed to Greco-Roman culture for more than 400 years. Stands to reason a large number of Roman beliefs and practices—those which didn’t violate the Law anyway, and thereby offend Pharisees—had leaked into Judean culture. Hebrew patriarchal culture had in many areas been superseded by Roman patriarchal culture.

And one of the areas was that adult sons were considered equal, in legal status, to their fathers. They had command of the family property, same as the father. They had command of the slaves and employees, same as the father. They had full access to the family money, same as the father. They were equal to their fathers. Which came in really handy when the father died; there was no doubt who led the family, because he’d already been leading the family, along with his father.

No doubt you know of sons who are entirely unlike their fathers, and whom their fathers should never, ever trust with the family money! The Romans knew of such sons too. And when a Roman father had an untrustworthy son like this, rather than have him killed, he simply wouldn’t adopt him. Roman adoption is not the same as American adoption, where you make someone a legal family member; Roman adoption has to do with patriarchy and who runs the family. When a father stood up his biological son, his nephew, his cousin, one of his favorite slaves, or some trustworthy friend, before everyone and publicly declared, “This is my beloved son; listen to him!” (sound familiar?) this meant this person was now equal to the father. Romans even gave these adoptees their name.

So Jesus isn’t saying, “I can cure on sabbath because God authorized it,” nor “I can cure on sabbath because phooey on your sabbath customs.” He’s saying, “I can cure on sabbath because I’m legally equal to YHWH.”

Yeah. That’s a big, big deal. If any American pastor or politician claimed it, you know everybody but his most fervent worshipers would immediately recognize it as blasphemy. The Judeans felt the very same way—even though, in Jesus’s case, ’cause he’s YHWH, it’s actually true.

And rather than back away from this idea, Jesus doubles down. Not only is the LORD his legitimate, literal Father, Lk 1.35 but you know how God’s gonna raise the dead 2Co 1.9 and judge the world Ps 96.13 when the End comes? Yeah… guess who he’s delegated all that to?

The proof of it comes from the fact Jesus can cure the sick. The Son doesn’t go outside the Father’s will; he doesn’t wanna. So the reason Jesus can cure the sick is because he sees the Father cure the sick; the reason he cures the sick on sabbath is because sick people do recover on sabbath, same as any other day of the week—and if the Father didn’t approve of any such thing, why would that happen? Why would the Holy Spirit grant Jesus the power to cure on sabbath?

John 5.19-20 KWL
19 So in reply, Jesus told them, “Amen amen!
I promise you the Son can’t do anything by himself
unless he might see what the Father does:
Whatever the Father might do,
the Son likewise does those things.
20 For the Father loves the Son
and shows him everything he does,
and he’ll show him even greater works than these
so you might wonder at them.”

If the Judeans thought Jesus curing the sick and throwing out demons was astounding, they ain’t seen nothing yet. They’re gonna see Jesus feed thousands. They’re gonna see him raise the dead.

And really, no Christian has yet seen everything Jesus can do. You realize at his second coming, Jesus is gonna raise billions from the dead? The world population is gonna take a serious uptick.

He can do it because his Father can do it. He may have limited his power when he become human, but through the Holy Spirit he still has full access to all God’s power. And really, depowered or not, Jesus has a lot more power than most people imagine he does. Even most Christians.

The Son judges the world. Better recognize!

There’s not a lot in the Old Testament about how the afterlife and resurrection work. The OT only contains hints. Hints which Pharisees used to extrapolate their beliefs; hints which Christians likewise use to extrapolate our beliefs, which is why there’s so much ridiculous Christian mythology about heaven and hell and the End Times—and so very little of it is truly biblical, and does a shoddy job of reflecting God’s character.

The truly biblical stuff about the End comes from Jesus-statements in the New Testament; what there are of ’em. Jesus prefers to be vague and mysterious, ’cause he wants us to focus on the now, not the future. To care for the needy and lost and suffering now, not stockpile treasures in our End Times bunkers. You can kinda tell which Christians are following Jesus, and which Christians are indulging their fears, by the actions they take. By their fruit.

The Pharisees of Judea figured at the end of their age—at the resurrection of the dead—God sorts us into chosen people and rejected people, saved and unsaved, those who go into eternal life and those who don’t. That’s what seems to be consistent with all the “Day of the LORD” stuff we see in the Old Testament; the dead rise, then get judged.

But in this passage, Jesus says the Father delegated that judgment to him.

John 5.21-23 KWL
21 “For just as the Father raises up the dead and makes them live,
likewise the Son makes live whomever he wants.
22 For the Father doesn’t judge anyone;
instead he gave all judgment to the Son
23 so everyone might value the Son
just as they value the Father.
Not valuing the Son
devalues the Father who sends him.”

This is another big deal. As big as claiming he’s equal to the Father; as big as identifying himself as king of God’s kingdom. You thought God the Father was gonna judge the world? Nope; it’s God the Son. And if you ever imagined you could achieve heaven by doing an end-run around Jesus, it’s never gonna happen. He’s our judge. Ignore the judge, and you’ve offended the Father who gave him the job.

Yeah, I know how a lot of evangelists like to depict our final judgment. There’s the Father seated on a big white throne, doing all the judging, with Satan as prosecutor and Jesus as our defense attorney. Or, if it’s happening after Satan got thrown into hell, there is no prosecutor; there’s instead an wrathful God who’d totally smite us if he didn’t love his Son so much. And lucky for us the Son’s on our side—if we repent and say the sinner’s prayer right this minute.

It’s more rubbish Christian mythology. There’s no trial. Jesus isn’t our judge like we see in an American courtroom; he’s our judge like we’d see in a Roman one. Which, to be honest, was a totally unfair, largely rigged system, where you were already deemed guilty or innocent before you set foot in the room, and all that was left was sentencing. But Jesus is a good judge, who judges fairly and graciously. We’re still guilty before we set foot in the room… but if we accepted the Son and his atonement, we’re saved; and if we reject him, we’re not.

Those who stand up and object, “But Lord…” Mt 7.22 won’t do so during any trial, but after sentence is passed. And Jesus isn’t taking appeals. You chose your path long before he put you on it.

The evangelists like to claim God’s gonna inventory our whole lives at the End—so stop sinning, ’cause Judgment Day is gonna be so embarrassing. But the idea of going through every single sin we Christians have ever committed, violates who God is. Love doesn’t keep track of wrongdoing! 1Co 13.5 God forgave all that stuff long ago. There is no inventory. Just grace.

All this authority, Jesus says, is because the Father wants humanity to respect the Son. The Son isn’t any minor figure or lesser being; some great moral teacher but nothing more. Nor even a lesser god. Jesus is the God, the same God as the Father, and the king of God’s kingdom. He deserves nothing less than the same honor, respect, and glory we rightly give the Father.