The truth presented in John 5:19 is that Jesus perfectly reveals God to us. Jesus says that He only does what He sees the Father doing. In all of the earthly ministry of Jesus, Jesus did nothing that God was not already doing, and which God would not do. Jesus imitates God and only acts in the manner that God would act.
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What does John 5:19 Show Us About the Character of God?
John 5:19. Then Jesus answered and said to them, “Most assuredly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of Himself, but what He sees the Father do; for whatever He does, the Son also does in like manner.
Though one central theme to the New Testament is that Jesus reveals God to us, the Gospel of John stands out as one of the premier books in the New Testament to reveal this theme. The Gospel of John, more than any other New Testament book, seeks to show that Jesus was God incarnate, and therefore, can be trusted when He invites people to believe in Him for eternal life (John 3:16; John 5:24; John 6:47). Throughout the Gospel of John, we see Jesus say over and over again that if people want to know what God is like, all they have to do is look at Him. Jesus reveals God to this world.
It is important to note, however, that when Jesus says this, He is not talking about the physical appearance of God. Since God is “spirit” (John 4:24) He does not have a physical body the way Jesus does. Although Jesus is fully God, this does not mean that God Himself is a Middle-Eastern Jewish man in His mid-thirties, who (likely) has a beard, dark brown hair, and calloused hands from working long days as a carpenter. So while it is true that “God looks just like Jesus,” it is more theologically accurate to say that “God acts just like Jesus.”
This is the truth that Jesus presents in John 5:19. Jesus says that He only does what He sees the Father doing. In all of the earthly ministry of Jesus, Jesus did nothing that God was not already doing, and which God would not do. Jesus imitates God and only acts in the manner that God would act.
It follows similarly, that God does not do anything that Jesus would not do. If Jesus only does what He sees the Father doing, then Jesus always does what the Father is doing. Therefore, whatever the Father does, Jesus also does. And if Jesus does not do something, that is because the Father does not do it either.
So when Jesus refuses to burn down a city because they rejected Him and His message (Luke 9:54-55), this means God would not do such a thing either. When Jesus refuses to condemn sinners, but forgives them instead (Matt 9:5-6; Luke 7:48; 23:34), this reveals that God behaves similarly toward sinners. He also does not condemn, but freely forgives.
When reading Scripture and trying to understand what God might think about a particular subject or how God might behave toward a particular person, it is always helpful to think of Jesus. Consider how Jesus might act in that situation or how Jesus might respond to that person. Once this is understood, you now also know what God thinks or how God would act. Jesus reveals God to us, showing us how God behaves and acts. If you cannot imagine Jesus doing or saying something, then God would not do it or say it either.
What does John 10:30 Show Us About the Character of God?
John 10:30. I and My Father are one.
Not only are actions of Jesus a perfect guide for how God acts, but in John 10:30, Jesus also indicates that He and the Father of one mind and purpose. When Jesus says, “I and my Father are one,” He is not necessarily implying anything about Trinitarian theology (though that is part of it). Instead, Jesus is saying that His goals, values, purpose, mission, and vision are perfectly aligned with those of the Father. They are not at odds with each other in how they think and feel about humanity, sin, or redemption.
This is a significant truth because there have been some in Christianity who argue that the “God of the Old Testament” was a God of law, vengeance, and warfare, who wanted blood sacrifice to appease His wrath and bloody violence against His enemies. But Jesus never reveals any such tendencies in the Gospels, and so some have argued that Jesus reveals a “new” side of God, or a “different” aspect of God than what is revealed in the New Testament.
But if God the Father approached the world through violence and bloodshed, while Jesus approached the world through love and forgiveness, would not these two approaches be at odds with each other? They would. God the Father and Jesus Christ do not play a “Good Cop, Bad Cop” routine with humanity. They are of one mind and purpose, and behave in one way toward humanity, specifically, the way revealed in Jesus. There is no schism in the Godhead; no schizophrenia in the Trinity. God is One, with one mind, goal, and purpose.
What does John 14:9 Show Us About the Character of God?
John 14:9. Jesus said to him, “Have I been with you so long, and yet you have not known Me, Philip? He who has seen Me has seen the Father; so how can you say, ‘Show us the Father’?”
The disciples, just like many followers of Jesus, wanted to know God on a more intimate level. Yet the disciples, just like many followers of Jesus, did not realize that Jesus was fully revealing to them what God was like. So in these final hours with Jesus before He want to His death, the disciples asked Jesus to teach them clearly what God was like, and even show God to them. They wanted to see the glory of God, just as Moses did in Exodus 33:18.
Jesus responds by saying, “Have I been with you so long, and yet you have not known Me, Philip? He who has seen Me has seen the Father.” In other words, Jesus says, “What do you think I’ve been showing you these last three years? I’ve been showing you what God is like. If you have listened to Me, you have been listening to the Father. If you have seen what I do, then you have seen what the Father does. If you want to know what God is like, just look at Me!” It is unclear if the disciples understood these words of Jesus, but it is clear that most Christians today have not yet grasped these shocking words.
The disciples were confused by the words and actions of Jesus, because much of what He said and did failed to match up with what they thought God said and did in the Hebrew Scriptures. Whereas God in the Bible seemed to strike down His enemies and demand that His people separate themselves from sinners, Jesus forgave His enemies and frequently dined with sinners. Whereas God in the Bible seemed to require strict adherence to laws, regulations, and sacrificial systems, Jesus tended to avoid and eschew such things.
So it is understandable that the disciples finally asked Jesus, “When are you going to start doing the things that God does? I mean, you say you are going to show us what God is like, but so far, what you’ve been doing looks almost nothing like the God we though we knew from the Bible.” The words of Jesus are a gentle rebuke and correction to this way of thinking, both to His disciples then and to His followers now. Jesus basically tell them that what they have seen and heard in Him is the true revelation of God, and if it clashes with what they thought God was like, they need to change what they think about God.
During His ministry, Jesus perfectly revealed the Father to them, so if they want to see the Father, they should not begin by looking to the Hebrew Scriptures, but instead begin with looking at Jesus. If they look at Jesus, they will see the Father.
Note carefully what this means. If God truly has a dark and violent side, and this side never appears during the earthly ministry of Jesus, then Jesus would be lying to say that He reveals the Father to us, for Jesus never revealed the “dark side” of God. In this way, we are face with a choice when it comes to what Jesus claims regarding His revelation of God. Either the words of Jesus can be trusted so that God is non-violent just like Jesus, or God does have a violent streak which is not seen in Jesus and therefore, Jesus is lying. The choice is simple. Jesus does not lie; and nor does God.
Jesus is telling the truth about the extent of His revelation of God. He fully reveals God to us. If we want to know what God the Father is like, all we have to do is look at Jesus. Therefore, since Jesus does not reveal a dark and violent streak in God’s nature, this means that God does not have this violent streak.
Once we come to this realization, we are then able to reconsider and re-study the “violent” portrayals of God in the Hebrew Scriptures with new eyes. We do not need to write them off as hopelessly in error, but can instead read them through the lens of the crucified Christ to see what the Hebrew Scripture actually teach about God, about sin, about humanity, and about God’s rescue plan of redemption.
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Aurelio Villasenor says
I love this podcast and these words, but after hearing your lessons I still think back to the lake of fire. From you and Bradly Jersak I have found hope that it is not eternal torment, but even if it’s only temporal destruction it still confuses me after seeing God/Jesus as all forgiving, all merciful, and all graceful. Also, unless something was translated incorrectly, Jesus himself said he was essentially pushing the goats to the lake of fire. Is he speaking symbolically?
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