Jesus on Trial — John 5:41-47

This week we’ve been looking at Jesus on trial in John chapter 5. Jesus gets himself into trouble by healing a lame man on the Sabbath, and then telling him to pick up and carry his mat – both of which were prohibited on the day of rest. In his defence, he says “My Father is always at his work to this very day, and I too am working.” This gets him into more hot water, adding the even more serious charge of blasphemy. Jesus firstly outlines his defence: he’s not setting himself up as a rival god. On the contrary, he’s learned alongside the Father like a son learning the family business, and has come as his authorised representative to do his work. He then musters an impressive array of witnesses to back up this claim: John the Baptist, the miracles he was performing, and even the Father himself through the Hebrew Scriptures.

All that’s left to do is file the counter-charge.

The counter-charge

You see, unlike in a modern courtroom, ancient trials could end up with a person other than the accused being convicted. These days if the defence manages to give enough evidence to suggest that someone else committed the crime, then a whole new trial would have to be launched in order to convict that person. But in Jesus’ day, the witnesses or the accusers could just as easily end up being the ones convicted by the evidence. And this is how John describes it here.

Following on from yesterday, we see the first charge against the Jewish leaders is that they should have known. They possessed the Scriptures which pointed to Jesus, but to no avail:

5:39-40 You study the Scriptures diligently because you think that in them you have eternal life. These are the very Scriptures that testify about me, yet you refuse to come to me to have life.

Next, he points out their hypocrisy. They’re prepared to accept other messengers on face value without any evidence, as long as they bring the kind of message they want to hear. But they reject Jesus even though he comes with the Father’s full authority and evidence to back up his claim – because (as we saw earlier this week) the message was a threat to their self-rule.

41 “I do not accept glory from human beings, but I know you. I know that you do not have the love of God in your hearts. I have come in my Father’s name, and you do not accept me; but if someone else comes in his own name, you will accept him. How can you believe since you accept glory from one another but do not seek the glory that comes from the only God?

Don’t you find this is still sometimes the case? People will be credulous or accepting about all sorts of things, yet require a much higher standard of proof when it comes to Jesus – refusing to believe in the face of the evidence.

Jesus then brings the accusation home, effectively charging the Jewish leaders with rejecting God’s word:

5:45-7 ‘But do not think I will accuse you before the Father. Your accuser is Moses, on whom your hopes are set. If you believed Moses, you would believe me, for he wrote about me. But since you do not believe what he wrote, how are you going to believe what I say?’

Moses, the most revered figure in Judaism and considered to be the author of the Torah – the first five books of our Old Testament – Jesus says even he pointed forward to Jesus. They are without excuse. In accusing Jesus they end up condemning themselves.

We need to be careful when we put Jesus on trial. He claimed to speak for God. The evidence – well, in my judgement, it proves it beyond reasonable doubt. But having heard Jesus’ claim and having seen the evidence – if we continue to prosecute Jesus, we’re on dangerous ground. Because if what he claims is true, then we end up being the one on trial. Ultimately it’s not Jesus that has to answer to the court – at least, to the one court that counts. It’s us. How have we responded to Jesus, the one who was sent by God the Father?

To think about

If for you, the jury is still out on that question – don’t deliberate too long.  As Jesus said earlier in the chapter:

5:25 ‘I tell you the truth, a time is coming and has now come when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God and those who hear will live.’

And if you’re already a believer, and you’re called upon to testify, then be diligent in presenting the evidence. Know it well so you can explain it to others. And gently but firmly, press for a verdict. Because ultimately it’s not Jesus who’s on trial, it’s us.

2 thoughts on “Jesus on Trial — John 5:41-47

  1. This brings to mind the whole question of who has the onus of proof. In apologetics, is it the Christian who has the burden of proof or the sceptic who accuses the Christian of poor evidence. If I present a case using internal evidence from a gospel and say something like: “the explanation offered by the eyewitness author here of what Jesus meant in this story should be accepted unless sufficient alternative evidence is provided”. Is the burden of proof now on the sceptic to provide satisfactory evidence sufficient to contradict the eye witness’s claim or is the burden of proof still on the Christian presenting an affirmative case to provide further data?
    I’m still waking up but to summarise I am asking= is the Christian always on trial in needing to defend their case by providing more and more evidence or is there a place to say to someone, unless you can prove I am wrong by providing sufficient counter evidence than my case stands unimpeded?

    1. Not quite sure precisely what you’re asking. There’s no independent umpire to appeal to in apologetic debates, but you seem to be asking for a video referral. It’s really down to the unique dialogue you’re having, and what your dialogue partner is prepared to believe. I don’t think there’s one right answer to this that transcends the particular conversation you’re in at a particular time. If you introduce e.g. internal evidence, I’d always try to back it up with reasons for trusting that evidence, rather than just leave it as “in the absence of any alternatives, this stands unchallenged.”

Post responses and questions

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s