Meditating on Great Themes in John: 15. The Identity of Jesus
John 8:13,14 The Pharisees challenged him, “Here you are, appearing as your own witness; your testimony is not valid.” Jesus answered, “Even if I testify on my own behalf, my testimony is valid, for I know where I came from and where I am going.
There are, I conclude, two major overriding themes that come through in John that we have seen so far. We have focused on one – the transforming power of Jesus – but have not really covered the other, which in some ways is more important – the identity of Jesus. We did comment briefly in an earlier study about the number of times the word ‘testify’ comes up in John. It is a word used about giving evidence about a person, to identify them and what they have done, a word used in connection with court cases where there is serious work being done to establish the truth.
Jesus has just said, in the temple precincts, “I am the light of the world.” (Jn 8:12) This upsets the contentious Pharisees who basically say, you can’t be a witness in your own defence, your testimony is not valid. The Law required two witnesses (Deut 17:6) and of course Jesus knew this. Earlier he had said, “If I testify about myself, my testimony is not valid.” (Jn 5:31) That’s all right, he went on to say, “There is another who testifies in my favor, and I know that his testimony about me is valid,“ (Jn 5:32) and then he refers to John the Baptist: “You have sent to John and he has testified to the truth.” (5:33)
But he doesn’t rely on that (v.34,35) and goes on, “I have testimony weightier than that of John. For the very work that the Father has given me to finish, and which I am doing, testifies that the Father has sent me. And the Father who sent me has himself testified concerning me.” (Jn 5:36,37) i.e. his works testify to who he is and indeed back at his baptism the voice of the Father had also testified to who he was (Mt 3:17)
Now to back that up, as the conversation in chapter 8 proceeds, Jesus declares, “In your own Law it is written that the testimony of two men is valid. I am one who testifies for myself; my other witness is the Father, who sent me.” (8:17,18) Again he makes it very clear that God is his witness.
A little later in the conversation they demand, “Who are you?” (v.25) and Jesus replies, “Just what I have been claiming all along,” and adds “But he who sent me is reliable, and what I have heard from him I tell the world.” (v.26) and then John adds, “They did not understand that he was telling them about his Father.” (v.27) Jesus adds, “When you have lifted up the Son of Man, then you will know that I am the one I claim to be and that I do nothing on my own but speak just what the Father has taught me. The one who sent me is with me; he has not left me alone, for I always do what pleases him.” (v.28,29)
This is one of those three occasions that Jesus refers to himself being lifted up (see Jn 3:14, 8:28 and 12:32,34) He is, I believe, also ‘lifted up’ three times – to death on the Cross, in the resurrection, and in the ascension. All three have something vital to say about him – the Cross is where our sins were carried, his resurrection affirms who he is, and his ascension is the way to him being seated at the Father’s right hand where he now reigns. These three testify to who he is.
Peter, preaching under the anointing of the Spirit on the Day of Pentecost, declared, “listen to this: Jesus of Nazareth was a man accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders and signs, which God did among you through him, as you yourselves know.” (Acts 2:22) In other words the miraculous signs (the miracles) that the Father enabled him to perform accredit who Jesus is. When he was preaching to the gentiles in the house of Cornelius he preached, “You know what has happened throughout Judea, beginning in Galilee after the baptism that John preached– how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and power, and how he went around doing good and healing all who were under the power of the devil, because God was with him. “We are witnesses of everything he did in the country of the Jews and in Jerusalem.” (Acts 10:37-39) It was the same message – the works of God testify to who Jesus is.
The word ‘testify’ is found 12 times in John’s Gospel and 3 times in his first letter. John is a witness and wants to shout it from the rooftops. In his final teaching to the apostles before going to the Cross, Jesus taught them, “When the Counselor comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who goes out from the Father, he will testify about me. And you also must testify, for you have been with me from the beginning.” (Jn 15:26,27) Today there are three witnesses to Jesus, the Son of God – the Holy Spirit, the Bible and Christians. All we have to do is point people back to the Gospels and say, “This is the one who calls you to follow him and allow him to be Lord of your life.” The records are quite clear and show very clearly just who Jesus is.