“But Jesus answered them, Up to now, my Father is working, and I also work. For this reason, the Jews then wanted all the more to kill him, because not only was he breaking the Sabbath but he was also calling God his own Father, making himself equal with God” (Jn. 5:17-18).
The last part of John 5:18, above, has never made sense to me. I never have been able to understand why John says Jesus was claiming to be equal with God just because Jesus referred to God as his Father (in verse 17). After all, God had sometimes called Himself the father of His Old Testament people long before Jesus came. For example, in Malachi 1:6, God asked His people why they did not respect Him: “If I be a father, where is my honor?” And Isaiah cried out to God on behalf of us Gentiles who in the future would believe, “Doubtless, you are our father, though Abraham be ignorant of us, and Israel acknowledge us not. You, O Lord, are our father, our redeemer; your name is from everlasting” (63:16). Do those verses imply that either the Gentiles who believe in Christ or the Israelites who lived under the Law are equal with God? Of course not. Then why would John have written that Jesus was claiming to be equal with God by calling God his Father?
Consider what Jesus said in the next verse: “Truly, truly, I tell you the Son can do nothing of himself except what he sees the Father do.” Does that sound as if Jesus is making himself equal with God? Moreover, in the verses that follow, Jesus makes many statements that show he did not think he was equal with God:
verse 20 For the Father delights in the Son and shows him everything that He Himself is doing, and greater works than these will He show him that will make you marvel.
verse 22 The Father judges no one, but has committed all judgment to the Son
verse 23 so that all should honor the Son just as they honor the Father. He who doesn’t honor the Son doesn’t honor the Father who sent him.
verse 26 For just as the Father has life in Himself, so He has also given the Son life in himself,
verse 27 and He has given him authority to exercise judgment because he is the Son of man.
verse 30 Of myself, I can do nothing. As I hear, I judge, and my judgment is just because I’m not seeking my own will but the will of the Father who sent me.
verse 31 If I bear witness of myself, my witness isn’t true.
verse 32 There’s another who bears witness of me, and I know that the witness He bears of me is true.
verse 36 But I have the witness greater than John. For the works that my Father gave me to complete, the very works that I’m doing, bear witness of me, that the Father sent me.
verse 37 And the Father who sent me has Himself borne me witness.
verse 38 And you don’t have His word abiding in you because you don’t trust the one He sent.
verse 43 I have come in my Father’s name and you don’t receive me
verse 45 Don’t think that I will accuse you before the Father; the one who accuses you is Moses, in whom you put your hope.
Jesus is not equal with God. No one is. So then, how could John have written that by calling God his Father, Jesus was making that claim?
The answer, I think, is that John was not saying Jesus was making that claim but that the Jews thought he was. Therefore, in my translation, I am considering adding a clarifying phrase, as here:
“But Jesus answered them, Up to now, my Father is working, and I also work. For this reason, the Jews then wanted all the more to kill him, because, they said, not only was he breaking the Sabbath but he was also calling God his own Father, making himself equal with God.”
Now, that I can understand. Evil men, influenced by spirits of envy and strife, have always twisted the words of good men to promote themselves and condemn the upright. The Bible states that Pontius Pilate discerned that the Jews were bringing Jesus to him for crucifixion because they envied him. And after all these years, I think I have finally discerned that, from that same envy and strife, the Jews were twisting Jesus’ words to mean something he never even thought; namely, that he was equal with God. When one young man flattered Jesus by calling him, “good master”, Jesus stopped him cold. He said to the surprised youth, “Why do you call me good? There is none good but God.”
That is the real Jesus. That is the way Jesus feels now, and has always felt. The fact that evil men tried to make it appear as if Jesus was puffing himself up to be equal with God is only to be expected. They are still around, and they are still doing as they have always done to those who really do love God and seek to honor none but Him.