John 5 — Jesus openly declares he is the Son of God — LeGrand Baker

We know that Jesus is the Christ, but when did he claim that about himself?

That is a very important question, for if Jesus had not vigorously made that claim about himself, we would not be justified in making it for him. That is not only true about the Savior, but it is also true about the prophets.

I once heard a Mormon scholar criticize the members of the church because we call Joseph Smith “the Prophet.” He argued that other people are simply called by their last name, like Washington, Jefferson, and others. So, he said, since Joseph Smith never called himself “the Prophet,” we should not impose that title on him. Years later, I discovered that the scholar was wrong.

When I was doing the research for my book, Murder of the Mormon Prophet, my student assistants read every newspaper (that was available on microfilm) published in the United States between November 1843 and November 1844, and copied every article about the Mormons. Then I read and analyzed all of those articles. One of the things that surprised me was that in papers published all over America, Joseph Smith was sometimes referred to, not by name, but simply as “the Mormon Prophet.” That was what Joseph called himself so that was the title by which he was known.

There is a famous story about Joseph’s first coming to Kirtland. He walked into Newell K. Whitney’s store, extended his hand and introduced himself, “I am Joseph the Prophet, You’ve prayed me here; now what do you want of me?” {1}

That kind of assertiveness was even more true of the Savior. Jesus did not just go about doing good and let others guess who he was. Rather, he frequently and vigorously declared himself to be the Son of God. Much of the gospel of John is devoted to showing and validating those claims, but they do not surface publically until chapter 5.

John’s gospel is a carefully crafted testimony built upon a biography, rather than a biography that incidentally bears testimony. By ‘carefully crafted’ I mean that it says all that it needs to say and in the order it needs to say them. A random order would have neither served the purposes nor had the power that John clearly intended.

John the Beloved begins his gospel with the testimony of John the Baptist.

1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.
………………..
14 And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth.
15 John bare witness of him, and cried, saying, This was he of whom I [John the Baptist] spake, He that cometh after me is preferred before me: for he was before me.
16 And of his fulness have all we received, and grace for grace.
17 For the law was given by Moses, but grace and truth came by Jesus Christ.
18 No man hath seen God at any time; the only begotten Son, which is in the bosom of the Father, he hath declared him. (John 1:1-18)
[JST John 1:19 And no man hath seen God at any time, except he hath borne record of the Son; for except it is through him no man can be saved.]

Thereafter, the gospel shows that Jesus identified himself to others in a very systematic and purposeful way. He first told his family and close friends about himself, then when he was ready, he dramatically made himself known to the Jewish people and their leaders.

Jesus’s semi-private early ministry began with John’s testimony of Jesus’s baptism.

29 The next day John seeth Jesus coming unto him, and saith, Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world.
30 This is he of whom I said, After me cometh a man which is preferred before me: for he was before me.
31 And I knew him not [JST: “I knew him”]: but that he should be made manifest to Israel, therefore am I come baptizing with water.
32 And John bare record, saying, I saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and it abode upon him.
33 And I knew him not [JST: “I knew him”]: but he that sent me to baptize with water, the same said unto me, Upon whom thou shalt see the Spirit descending, and remaining on him, the same is he which baptizeth with the Holy Ghost.
34 And I saw, and bare record that this is the Son of God.

Jesus chose the first of his Apostles from among John’s followers. Then he chose others, one was Nathanael who declared he knew that Jesus was the Son of God and the rightful king of Israel.

47 Jesus saw Nathanael coming to him, and saith of him, Behold an Israelite indeed, in whom is no guile!
48 Nathanael saith unto him, Whence knowest thou me? Jesus answered and said unto him, Before that Philip called thee, when thou wast under the fig tree, I saw thee.
49 Nathanael answered and saith unto him, Rabbi, thou art the Son of God; thou art the King of Israel.
50 Jesus answered and said unto him, Because I said unto thee, I saw thee under the fig tree, believest thou? thou shalt see greater things than these.
51 And he saith unto him, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Hereafter ye shall see heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of man (John 1:47-51).

In the next chapter Jesus is shown to be the creator-God, having power over the elements, when he turned water to wine at the marriage in Cana. But that story also tells of Jesus’s early reluctance to show the world who he was.

Then John reports Jesus’s private conversation with Nicodemus who became his trusted friend. Near the end of that conversation Jesus explained his Sonship to his new friend.

14 And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up:
15 That whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have eternal life.
16 For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.
17 For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved.
18 He that believeth on him is not condemned: but he that believeth not is condemned already, because he hath not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God (John 3:14-18).

John the Baptist’s testimony is again reiterated in chapter 3 when some of his disciples complained that Jesus was attracting a greater following than John. When we think of him, we often think of the man in camel hair who had the Aaronic Priesthood. So it is easy for us to overlook the power of John’s testimony, but Jesus understood who John was and the importance of his message.

26 A prophet? Yea, I say unto you, and much more than a prophet.
27 This is he, of whom it is written, Behold, I send my messenger before thy face, which shall prepare thy way before thee.
28 For I say unto you, Among those that are born of women there is not a greater prophet than John the Baptist: but he that is least in the kingdom of God is greater than he (Luke 7:26-6).

There is no greater prophet than John the Baptist! That statement is difficult to grasp until we remember that the beginning of John’s gospel, and the beginning of Section 93, are both John the Baptist’s testimony of Jehovah/Jesus. John the Baptist’s testimony is almost always centered on the Savior’s premortal power and glory as the Only Begotten Son of God.

25 Then there arose a question between some of John’s disciples and the Jews about purifying.
26 And they came unto John, and said unto him, Rabbi, he that was with thee beyond Jordan, to whom thou barest witness, behold, the same baptizeth, and all men come to him.
27 John answered and said, A man can receive nothing, except it be given him from heaven.
28 Ye yourselves bear me witness, that I said, I am not the Christ, but that I am sent before him.
29 He that hath the bride is the bridegroom: but the friend of the bridegroom, which standeth and heareth him, rejoiceth greatly because of the bridegroom’s voice: this my joy therefore is fulfilled.
30 He must increase, but I must decrease.
31 He that cometh from above is above all: he that is of the earth is earthly, and speaketh of the earth: he that cometh from heaven is above all.
32 And what he hath seen and heard, that he testifieth; and no man receiveth his testimony.
33 He that hath received his testimony hath set to his seal that God is true.
34 For he whom God hath sent speaketh the words of God: for God giveth not the Spirit by measure unto him.
35 The Father loveth the Son, and hath given all things into his hand.
36 He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life: and he that believeth not the Son shall not see life; but the wrath of God abideth on him (John 3:25-36).

Then the gospel tells of another private conversation with the Samaritan woman where Jesus tells her who he is:

25 The woman saith unto him, I know that Messias cometh, which is called Christ: when he is come, he will tell us all things.
26 Jesus saith unto her, I that speak unto thee am he. (John 4:25-26).

In all of this, John has introduced us to Jesus as Jehovah/Jesus/Messiah, and rightful Priest and King of Israel. However, during this time, while Jesus was privately establishing his position among his friends and a few followers, he had not gone public about who he was, as John explained:

23 Now when he was in Jerusalem at the passover, in the feast day, many believed in his name, when they saw the miracles which he did.
24 But Jesus did not commit himself unto them, because he knew all men,
25 And needed not that any should testify of man: for he knew what was in man (John 2:23-25).

But now, in chapter 5, Jesus announces himself to the public, and in a very dramatic way—one that challenges the traditions, and therefore the authoritarian religious beliefs of the Jewish leaders, as well as the legitimacy of their political authority.

Traditions, like prejudices, are very convenient for those who use them, because both traditions and prejudices preclude the necessity of intelligent, analytical thought. Traditions are a cultural language—a form of speech and actions within a culture that is always an unknown code to those who do not know the culture. (That is one of the reasons it is difficult for us to read the Bible. We do not know its cultural language. That is also why it is important that the ancient Israelite temple drama gives us the key to the code language of the book of Mormon.)

In human cultures and sub-cultures there are two kinds of sins. The first are those that would actually hurt one’s soul (theft, lying, murder), and are usually defined and punishable by law. The second group of sins are those that do no damage to one’s soul but violate cultural norms (not wearing traditional clothes, eating meat or other taboo foods, living a different lifestyle, reading and teaching from the wrong books). If one is going to be stoned (ancient Israel), or burned to the stake (medieval Europe), or ostracized from acceptable society (present day), it will usually be because of cultural—not real—sins. Cultural sins often bring on the most severe retaliation, as in this instance when Jesus went to a pool in Jerusalem and did a very good/bad thing. He healed a man, making the man physically whole—but he did it in violation of the Jewish cultural norms and his crime was punishable by death. As John explains, “therefore did the Jews persecute Jesus, and sought to slay him, because he had done these things on the sabbath day.”

So in this story, Jesus is about to openly declare himself and by doing so will challenge the very foundation of the Jewish leaders religious prestige and political authority. As their tensions in this conversation escalate, “the Jews sought the more to kill him, because he not only had broken the sabbath, but said also that God was his Father, making himself equal with God.” This is the story as John tells it.

5 And a certain man was there, which had an infirmity thirty and eight years.
6 When Jesus saw him lie, and knew that he had been now a long time in that case, he saith unto him, Wilt thou be made whole?
7 The impotent man answered him, Sir, I have no man, when the water is troubled, to put me into the pool: but while I am coming, another steppeth down before me.
8 Jesus saith unto him, Rise, take up thy bed, and walk.
9 And immediately the man was made whole, and took up his bed, and walked: and on the same day was the sabbath (John 5:5-9).
……………..
15 The man departed, and told the Jews that it was Jesus, which had made him whole.
16 And therefore did the Jews persecute Jesus, and sought to slay him, because he had done these things on the sabbath day.
17 But Jesus answered them, My Father worketh hitherto, and I work.
18 Therefore the Jews sought the more to kill him, because he not only had broken the sabbath, but said also that God was his Father, making himself equal with God.
19 Then answered Jesus and said unto them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, The Son can do nothing of himself, but what he seeth the Father do: for what things soever he doeth, these also doeth the Son likewise.
20 For the Father loveth the Son, and sheweth him all things that himself doeth: and he will shew him greater works than these, that ye may marvel.
21 For as the Father raiseth up the dead, and quickeneth them; even so the Son quickeneth whom he will.
22 For the Father judgeth no man, but hath committed all judgment unto the Son:
23 That all men should honour the Son, even as they honour the Father. He that honoureth not the Son honoureth not the Father which hath sent him.
24 Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that heareth my word, and believeth on him that sent me, hath everlasting life, and shall not come into condemnation; but is passed from death unto life.
25 Verily, verily, I say unto you, The hour is coming, and now is, when the dead shall hear the voice of the Son of God: and they that hear shall live.
26 For as the Father hath life in himself; so hath he given to the Son to have life in himself;
27 And hath given him authority to execute judgment also, because he is the Son of man.
28 Marvel not at this: for the hour is coming, in the which all that are in the graves shall hear his voice,
29 And shall come forth; they that have done good, unto the resurrection of life; and they that have done evil, unto the resurrection of damnation.
30 I can of mine own self do nothing: as I hear, I judge: and my judgment is just; because I seek not mine own will, but the will of the Father which hath sent me.
31 If I bear witness of myself, my witness is not true.
32 There is another that beareth witness of me; and I know that the witness which he witnesseth of me is true.
33 Ye sent unto John, and he bare witness unto the truth.
34 But I receive not testimony from man: but these things I say, that ye might be saved.
35 He was a burning and a shining light: and ye were willing for a season to rejoice in his light.
36 But I have greater witness than that of John: for the works which the Father hath given me to finish, the same works that I do, bear witness of me, that the Father hath sent me.
37 And the Father himself, which hath sent me, hath borne witness of me. Ye have neither heard his voice at any time, nor seen his shape.
38 And ye have not his word abiding in you: for whom he hath sent, him ye believe not.
39 Search the scriptures; for in them ye think ye have eternal life: and they are they which testify of me.
40 And ye will not come to me, that ye might have life.
41 I receive not honour from men.
42 But I know you, that ye have not the love of God in you.
43 I am come in my Father’s name, and ye receive me not: if another shall come in his own name, him ye will receive.
44 How can ye believe, which receive honour one of another, and seek not the honour that cometh from God only?
45 Do not think that I will accuse you to the Father: there is one that accuseth you, even Moses, in whom ye trust.
46 For had ye believed Moses, ye would have believed me: for he wrote of me.
47 But if ye believe not his writings, how shall ye believe my words? (John 5:5-47 )

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FOOTNOTE

{1} Andrew Jensen, Latter-day Saint Biographical Encyclopedia (Salt Lake City, Andrew Jensen Historical Company, 1901), 1:223.

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