The giver of life, John 5:19-29
17th Mar 2019
We believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life. This familiar line from the Nicene Creed springs to mind. Although the Holy Spirit is not mentioned here, I am reminded of 16:13-15. When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth; for he will not speak on his own but will speak whatever he hears. He will take what is mine and declare it to you.
This passage (5:19-29) follows the healing of the man at a pool in Jerusalem. The Jews objected, not only because Jesus had done this on the Sabbath, but also because of his reply. ‘Whatever the Father does, the Son does likewise’. They rightly understood this as a claim to equality with God. Here Jesus explains he is what he is only through humble obedience to and complete dependence on the Father.
We are told ‘The Father loves the Son’ (5:19). As Tom Smail writes, there is no equivalent statement that the Father loves the Spirit. The Spirit is how the Father communicates his love. ‘God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit’ (Romans 5:5). Eastern and western Christians have long discussed whether the Spirit proceeds from the Father or from the Father and the Son (filioque). The best of both views says the Spirit flows from the Father through the Son.
As the Father gives life, so also the Son gives life. Jesus says, ‘anyone who hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life’ (5:24). This is John’s main theme. God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that all who believe may have eternal life (3:16), which is knowing the Father and the Son (17:3) indwelling through the Spirit (14:15-17,23).
But what about those who never had the opportunity to hear and believe? Perhaps this passage offers an answer. Jesus says, ‘the hour is coming, and is now here, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live’ (5:25).
William Barclay explains the creedal clause ‘he descended into hell’, is about Sheol, which is not hell, but the land of the dead. Perhaps Jesus did not only go to the place of the dead, he also preached the gospel to those who were there (1 Peter 4:6).
Could this be the ‘great deed’ the 14th century mystic, Julian of Norwich refers to, by which the Holy Trinity shall make all things well?
Tom Wright suggests that 5:29 is about judgement rather than condemnation. It is good news, not bad. The one through whom God’s justice will come is not a vengeful tyrant but Jesus, who loved sinners and died for them.
Jürgen Moltmann sees God sending the Spirit from the Father through the Son into this world, so that this world should not perish but live. The Holy Spirit is the revelation of God’s affirmation of life.
Believe in the Lord, the giver of Life!