Summary: A large share of the population, and even of Christians, believe that Jesus was not God incarnate, but a mere man. In John 5, Jesus answers those accusing Him of blasphemy with a claim of divinity that leaves no room for that belief.
I) The divinity of Jesus is a fundamental and essential tenet of Christianity. It is also one of the most difficult aspects of Christianity for the world to accept.
A) A survey conducted in 2020 by Ligonier Ministries found that 52 percent of U.S. adults believe that Jesus is not God. Not only does this present an obstacle in evangelizing, but this worldly view has also heavily influenced many who call themselves believers. The same survey showed that nearly one third of evangelical Christians believe that Jesus is not God.
B) Dan Brown’s thriller novel The Da Vinci Code gives us a clear example of this line of reasoning. Here is a conversation from the book in which Sir Teabing discusses the 4th-century Council of Nicea. "'My dear,' Teabing declared, 'until that moment in history [the Council of Nicea], Jesus was viewed by His followers as a mortal prophet, a great and powerful man, but a man nonetheless. A mortal.' 'Not the Son of God?' 'Right,' Teabing said. 'Jesus’ establishment as "the Son of God” was officially proposed and voted on by the Council of Nicaea.' 'Hold on! You’re saying that Jesus’ divinity was the result of a vote?' 'A relatively close vote at that,' Teabing added."
Like Dan Brown’s characters, many would have us to understand that the early Christians did not believe that Jesus was divine, and that it was only much later that believers declared Him to be so.
C) Of course, the apostle John wrote his gospel largely to answer this very question, as he clearly states near the end of the book. In John 20:30-31 he says, “And truly Jesus did many other signs in the presence of His disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in His name” [NKJV].
And in the 5th chapter of his gospel John presents one of his many proofs of Christ’s divinity.
II) John 5:1-18 The Events
A) In the first nine verses of John 5, John describes Jesus’ healing of an invalid man who had been sick for 38 years. Read John 5:1-9. “5:1 After this there was a feast of the Jews, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. 5:2 Now there is in Jerusalem by the Sheep Gate a pool, which is called in Hebrew, Bethesda, having five porches. 5:3 In these lay a great multitude of sick people, blind, lame, paralyzed, waiting for the moving of the water. 5:4 For an angel went down at a certain time into the pool and stirred up the water; then whoever stepped in first, after the stirring of the water, was made well of whatever disease he had. 5:5 Now a certain man was there who had an infirmity thirty-eight years. 5:6 When Jesus saw him lying there, and knew that he already had been in that condition a long time, He said to him, ‘Do you want to be made well?’ 5:7 The sick man answered Him, ‘Sir, I have no man to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up; but while I am coming, another steps down before me.’ 5:8 Jesus said to him, ‘Rise, take up your bed and walk.’ 5:9 And immediately the man was made well, took up his bed, and walked. And that day was the Sabbath.”
B) The fact that this was done upon the Sabbath became the first objection of the Jews. In verse 16, John says, “For this reason the Jews persecuted Jesus, and sought to kill Him, because He had done these things on the Sabbath.” Jesus’ answer in verse 17 did nothing to defuse the situation. “But Jesus answered them, ‘My Father has been working until now, and I have been working’” [John 5:17].
Jesus points out that though God took the Sabbath rest from His work of creation, God never ceases His work of preservation and redemption, and neither would Jesus. If that were not true, the Jew would not have been able to expect God to be able to respond to a prayer for help on the Sabbath.
C) But the Jews noticed that Jesus did not say “your Father” or “our Father,” but “My Father.” They rightly understood that Jesus was claiming a special relationship to God, and they took exception with that as well. John 5:18 reads, “Therefore the Jews sought all the more to kill Him, because He not only broke the Sabbath, but also said that God was His Father, making Himself equal with God.” Now they accused Him of blasphemy as well as breaking the Sabbath.
III) John 5:19-29 Jesus’ Claim of Divinity
A) Accused of claiming to be deity, not merely a child of God as was every faithful Jew, but THE divine Son of God, Jesus in essence answers, “Yep! I sure am!” He does so by making a number of startling claims.