30 By myself I can do nothing; I judge only as I hear, and my judgment is just, for I seek not to please myself but him who sent me.
Testimonies About Jesus
31 "If I testify about myself, my testimony is not true. 32 There is another who testifies in my favor, and I know that his testimony about me is true.
33 "You have sent to John and he has testified to the truth. 34 Not that I accept human testimony; but I mention it that you may be saved. 35 John was a lamp that burned and gave light, and you chose for a time to enjoy his light.
36 "I have testimony weightier than that of John. For the works that the Father has given me to finish—the very works that I am doing—testify that the Father has sent me. 37 And the Father who sent me has himself testified concerning me. You have never heard his voice nor seen his form, 38 nor does his word dwell in you, for you do not believe the one he sent.
Many years back I was still trying to decide where I wanted to go to college. Mind you, I didn't use the kind of criterion that normal people should use like the academic strength of the university or the reputation of the professors. No, I was judging solely on where I thought I might like to play basketball. So, I went and visited a college in Indiana to meet the coach and the players. I took a friend with me who was also out of high school and was considering going to college somewhere, although she wasn't really considering that college in Indiana as her first choice. We were in the gym warming up and playing around a little bit, and the fact was, I was a decent player, but she was a phenomenal women's player. She could, in fact, hold her own with most guy players. As we were shooting around, the women's coach walked through and saw her playing. She immediately began to come over and recruit my friend. She asked her all kinds of questions and began to judge whether or not she could play for that school. Eventually she offered her a full scholarship on the spot. What was interesting is that the coach thought all along that she was judging my friend and giving her an opportunity to possibly come to that school. What was really happening, though, was that the whole time she was really judging the coach and the school to see if they would match up to her expectations. In reality, they needed her a lot more than she needed them. They thought the issue was whether or not my friend measured up, but in the end, she decided that they did not measure up.
Throughout his Gospel, John almost seems to be presenting a court case of sorts. The Jewish leaders certainly thought that when they went to confront Jesus, they were in the position of judging Jesus. They wanted to determine who he was, what he thought he was doing, and whether he was the sort of Messiah that they were waiting for. In fact, John has recorded all of these events in such a way that we too can evaluate who Jesus is and come to believe that he is the Son of God (20:31). What we will find out, though, is the same surprising truth that Jesus hints at here to the Jewish leaders. All the while that they think they are judging him, it is Jesus' words that are really judging them. This is the startling reality. Jesus is not really the one on trial, we all are.
The concept of witnesses was very important to the Jewish culture. Old Testament passages like Deuteronomy 17:6 and 19:15 laid out clearly the need for two or three witnesses in order to establish something as true or someone as trustworthy. If someone were claiming to be something or someone important, they needed to have another witness. Going simply by their own word would just not be acceptable. Jesus knows this which is why he says that if all he can muster up is testimony about himself, then everyone can rest assured that his testimony is not true. This is an interesting concept that should not be overlooked in our day. Nearly every major religion or Christian offshoot such as Islam, Jehovah's Witnesses, or the Mormon church are all belief systems that are established by one witness making claims about their own revelation. They have no way to verify whether their claims of Godly revelation are authentic or not.
With Jesus, however, that is not the case. He did not expect anyone to take his own testimony alone, nor does he try to give one without verification. Although, since everything Jesus says and does is the will of the Father, if he would have offered a self-testimony, then we can know that it would have come from God. There is another who testifies in his favor. At first glance, it might appear that Jesus is referring, in verse 32, to John, but verse 34 makes it clear that that is not the case. Jesus' other witness is none other than his Father. It is quite likely that Jesus refers to his baptism with John with this. John's Gospel seems to assume that his readers are already familiar with what happened at that baptism and so merely alludes to the fact that God declared that Jesus was His beloved Son with whom He was well pleased. Since Jesus was claiming to perfectly represent the will of the Father, his witness would only be true if it was supported by the Father. The moment of his baptism was just such an occasion.
When it comes down to it, the testimony of the Father is the only that he cares about. Solely for the benefit of the Jews who did not receive this witness or would have a difficult time comprehending it, though he mentions that they did have another witness, a powerful human witness so that they would have no excuse. John was a powerful prophet that was sent to them by God and he also testified to the truth. Jesus didn't himself base his convictions or the truth of his message on the human testimony of John, but John's witness could lead them down the path to find the testimony that really mattered, that of the Father. If they would but only listen to John's testimony, they would truly find the way as some of John's disciples already had.
John was, after all, a lamp. Jesus uses the past tense in verse 35 which might indicate that John was already in prison or dead. Ultimately, however, the point was that John's witness was temporary. John was a lamp but was not the light himself. Lamps in Jesus day didn't burn indefinitely the way they do today. They burned for a short time and then went out. John was a lamp that burned for a short time to show people the way. He pointed down the right path but people didn't like the path he was illuminating. Many of them liked the idea of having a genuine Old Testament style prophet among them during their lifetimes, but they didn't like the direction that he was pointing to.
John's testimony would hopefully point them down the road of salvation, but it was simply a pointer. The truly weighty testimony came from God. But in verse 36 Jesus says that that testimony is the works that he was doing? Isn't this him testifying to himself? How could his works be considered the testimony of the Father? Because the works that he was doing were works that only the Father could do. He was, after all, the apprentice Son, doing exactly what he had seen the Father doing. The works that Jesus were doing were not something that an ordinary human could do on their own volition. They were the works that the Father had given him to do. He was bringing about the signs of the new creation, something that only God could do. One need only look at what someone is doing to see where it is that they are truly coming from. When people saw Jesus doing the works of heaven on earth, then it stands to reason that Jesus had come from the very presence of the Father.
Jesus knows that he has come from the Father and that the Father has testified concerning him because he is the one that has heard God's voice. He has seen his form. God's word does dwell in him. Jesus is not worried by the lack of support or the opposition of humans because he has the witness of the Father. Despite the witness of the Father, the Jews will in large part reject it. They have never heard God's voice as Moses had (Ex. 33:11), but they have failed to be true followers of Moses. They had never seen the form of God as Jacob had (Gen. 32:30-31) but they have failed to be true descendants of Jacob. They do not have God's word dwelling in them the way the Psalmist did (Ps. 119:11), but they have failed to be true followers of the word. For all of these reasons they do not believe the one that was sent by the Father. They have, in nearly every respect, failed to be true Israelites, but John points out once again, that Jesus has. He is the true Israel.
It all comes down to the fact that Jesus was sent by the Father and does exactly what the Father wants him to do. He can do nothing by himself. He has come to bring the judgment of the word of the Father and to please him. All along, the Jewish leaders thought that they were judging the veracity of Jesus, and they certainly do need to make a decision whether they will believe in him or not, but in reality, they were not the ones doing the real judging. The Son was the one that has come in judgment. He is the one that will carry out God's work and His just judgment (v. 30). Jesus is not the one that is really on trial here. God has already spoken and vindicated him. The ones listening to Jesus' words and witnessing his works but are rejecting him are the ones that are on trial. We are the ones that will have to answer according to his word. The question for us is when the time comes will we accept the testimony of the Father through the life of the son or will we be like Belshazzar in Daniel 5, having been weighed, measured, and found wanting?
We can often approach the word of God as though the role of judge belongs to us. Will we follow this aspect of God's word or obey that part? Has God made a good enough case in our minds to be worthy of being followed? The reality, however, is that we are the ones on trial. What will you do with the word of God? Do you obey it or do you weigh it like it's evidence in a case in which you are the judge?