3 October 2022

'Very truly I tell you': the authority of Jesus

Bible study by Lieutenant Nathan Loxley

Lieutenant Nathan Loxley highlights the truth at the heart of Jesus’ ministry.

Key text

When we read our study passage and the surrounding verses, it might seem as though Jesus is actively looking for trouble – that he is a provocateur in the most extreme sense of the word.

Such a persona might appeal to our Salvation Army identity – we play a good game in holy stubbornness. But let’s not get carried away. Jesus’ actions on the Sabbath were not to look for a fight. As we read in verse 19, he was simply being led by the Father: ‘Very truly I tell you, the Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does.’

Why did Jesus heal on the Sabbath? (See the start of the chapter.) Maybe it was in line with his published values. For example, when, during public worship in the synagogue at Nazareth, Jesus read Isaiah’s prophecy of God’s anointed bringing sight to the blind and liberty for the captive, he concluded with: ‘Today this Scripture is fulfilled in your hearing’ (Luke 4:21). Perhaps it was because healing is part of God’s mission. Maybe Jesus was simply overcome with compassion.

These are all good answers for making an apologetic, but they still feel somewhat lacking. The passage clearly leads us to the true answer through his repeated phrase: ‘Very truly I tell you.’

‘Very truly I tell you’ is a literary device used by John as his equivalent of highlighting, underlining and circling the words that follow. In this passage, John uses this phrase three times and no one is to miss it.

A photo of the Bible open at John 5 with the words 'Very truly I tell you' highlighted

John 5:24

'Very truly I tell you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be judged but has crossed over from death to life.'

Read the passage

The first time is in verse 19, where Jesus explains that his ministry is all about a step-by-step obedience of the Father. This in-sync relationship even leads Jesus to individual people at specific times. More bloated definitions of mission might have some benefit, but step-by-step obedience is what is required, nothing more and nothing less.

When we stray away from the model Jesus offers in John 5:16–30, we run the risk of trying to do too much and burning out or falling for the temptation of working from our own strength and ideas. This results in a pale imitation of what God offers us.

Pause and reflect

  • How do we listen to God’s leadings throughout each day?
  • To what extent do we ask him to lead us, or do we ask him to bless our own ideas?

The second time, Jesus highlights that new life is found in him and his teachings: ‘Very truly I tell you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life’ (v24).

The Greek word for ‘believes’ is pisteúō. It speaks of more than just believing in Jesus, but actively committing one’s trust to him. The Pharisees did not doubt Jesus’ ability to heal, but they rejected his claims of equality with the Father and they refused to put their trust in him. Jesus makes it clear that to reject him is to reject the Father and to accept the Son is to accept the Father also.

Pause and reflect

  • Do you commit your trust to God?
  • Are you currently experiencing the new life that Jesus freely offers to us in these verses?

The third time Jesus says ‘very truly I tell you’ is a reminder of his authority: ‘Very truly I tell you, a time is coming and has now come when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God and those who hear will live’ (v25).

Jesus is under attack from the Pharisees but his authority greatly outweighed theirs. When we step out in mission we should also expect some challengers but, in this verse, we have a great reminder that we sit under the authority of Christ. This can be a great encouragement and can also inform how we act and how we pray.

Pause and reflect

  • What difference does Christ’s authority make to us?
  • Are there any fellow Christians you can think of whom you could message and encourage today?

These three ‘very truly’s show us the journey of Jesus’ ministry. First, that his earthly ministry was fuelled by his being one with the Father and following the Father’s leadings. Second, that hearing and believing Jesus are key to our salvation. Third, Jesus points to his ministry to those who were already dead and his authority to return in the future as the judge of all.

John wanted to make this clear to those who first heard his Gospel. What message will you share today?

Bible study by

Nathan Loxley

Lieutenant Nathan Loxley

Corps Officer, St Ives

Let's pray

Lord Jesus Christ, help us to show your love. We want to accomplish your will for our lives in this way and pray that you will equip us to be your people.


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