Saturday, February 26, 2011

John 5:26: Life in Himself

Although in its most basic teachings the scriptures can be understood even by children it is likewise true that the wisdom it contains is inexhaustible. Under the influence of the Holy Spirit the writers of scripture make short pointed statements with absolutely profound implications with amazing frequency. The evidence of this can easily be seen by the fact that philosophers, theologians, and teachers often write hundreds or even thousands of pages describing or explaining a few biblical verses and still fall short of capturing all of the implications contained in them.

I find that quite often the most profound insights are to be found in the very verses that we tend to rush through. The more I read the scriptures the more I am confronted with short unassuming verses that upon further reflection contain such profound truths that they stand themselves as testimonies to the greatness, awesomeness, and incomprehensibility of God. One such verse is John 5:26.

“For as the Father has life in himself, so he has granted the Son also to have life in himself.” –ESV

The context of this statement is amazingly rich. There is an explanation of the relationship between the Father and Son and how both life and judgment are related to that particular relationship as it is expanded to include those in the world through the ministry of Jesus. Unfortunately, I do not have the time to develop all of those ideas here but verse 26 is one of those verses that we might read many times before realizing the profoundness of the statement. It is given as an explanation for the statement in verse 25, “…an 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.” and is related to the ability of the Son to exercise the divine prerogative of giving life. It is then followed by the statement in verse 27 that the Father has also given to the Son the authority to execute judgment.

Think about what this statement is saying for a moment. First, the Father has life in Himself. In what sense does the Father have life in Himself? He is the great I AM the self-existent eternal being who IS. Life, or existence, is therefore an essential attribute of the Father. He cannot not have life in Himself because He is the creator, the ultimate source of all life, He is LIFE. The verse in its context is also related to His ability to confer that life which is in Himself to creatures. The “stuff” of life finds it origin in Him and He has the power to animate creatures.

The verse then goes on to say “so He has granted the Son also to have life in Himself” but in what sense can this statement be understood? The Son, after all is not a creature but is Himself divine. The language in the verse itself alludes to a distinction between Christ and creatures because like the Father He is said to have life “in Himself”. Had the verse simply said that the Father granted life to the Son then, as the Arian heretics argued, Jesus would be a contingent being. Had the verse simply said that the Father has life within Himself and the Son has life within Himself it might be easier to understand though it would likely raise other questions. In what sense, however, can eternal self existence be granted? If Jesus has life “in Himself” and He is also eternally self-existent then how can it be granted to Him?

It seems to me that since Jesus necessarily has life in Himself then there could never be a time prior to this grant. It must be an eternal grant. If the Father has eternally granted to the Son life in Himself then perhaps the meaning of this verse has more to do with the relationship within the Godhead than to the particular eternality of existence of either the Father or Son. This granting might be a functional rather than an existential grant meaning that Christ is eternally the Son and His authority to give of the life within Himself is eternally submissive to the prerogative of the Father, who out of His love for the Son grants to Him the same authority. I think an argument could be made from the overall context of John 5 that this is the case. It is an expression of the absolute harmony and love between the Father and Son that results in the exercise of both love and judgment in the world as the Son bears witness to the Father. Jesus is THE LIFE in the sense that not only does He as God have life in Himself eternally but that He grants it to those who believe thus reconciling them to the Father.

The love (and granting of prerogatives) expressed between the persons of the Trinity are the internal relations of a single being. This is why if one rejects the Son they also reject the Father. Just thinking of the implications of this verse is enough to keep us busy for years marveling at the awesomeness of God. If we begin to understand the relationship between the Father and Son expressed in John 5 then we should hardly be able to read the following words from chapter 17 without being overwhelmed.

 [20]“I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, [21] that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. [22] The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, [23] I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me.
(John 17:20-23 ESV)

That such promises should be extended to rebellious and wretched sinners is virtually incomprehensible. Through His grace and as a result of the love He has within Himself we are saved. Praise God from whom all blessings flow, praise Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.

1 comment:

  1. So far this is the best commentary on this specific verse that I have read. I have looked at approximately 30 different commentaries on this verse.