“Jesus said to them, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of his own accord, but only what he sees the Father doing. For whatever the Father does, that the Son does likewise’ ” (v. 19).
When the religious leaders of Jesus’ day perceived that our Lord was claiming to be equal to God, Jesus did not correct them. Instead, He claimed deity for Himself more forthrightly. Christ assumed to Himself the same right to labor on the Sabbath that God has (John 5:17), but our Lord explained that the Father and Son are not doing two different things. No, Father and Son are so unified that they do the very same work.
This is what we learn from today’s passage. The Son does only what the Father does (v. 19). Just as the Father gives life to the dead, so the Son gives life to the dead (v. 21). The Father has given all judgment to the Son, such that the Father judges no one (v. 22). The sense here is not that the Father is completely absent from judging; rather, the Son’s decisions are so identical with the Father’s that the Son’s decisions are the very same decisions as the Father’s.
Today’s passage is one of the key texts for the Trinitarian doctrine of inseparable operations. The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit act as a unified whole in everything that They do with respect to creation. This working is not like that of a committee that is trying to achieve a common goal but that assigns different responsibilities to each committee member. No, what the Father does is what the Son does is what the Spirit does. Note that we can distinguish the persons in each work; each person performs the one and same work, but He does so according to His own personal property. The Father does the work in a manner fitting to His being eternally unbegotten. The Son does the work in a manner fitting to His being begotten of the Father. The Spirit does the work in a manner fitting to His eternally proceeding from the Father and the Son. But it is the same work. Another way of stating this is to say that every work of God is from the Father, through the Son, in the Holy Spirit. Salvation, for example, comes to us from the Father through the mediation of the Son in the power of the Holy Spirit.
This is some profound theology, but it is the ancient confession of the universal church, and it is a necessary conclusion from texts such as today’s passage. Only God can fully understand Himself, so if the Father reveals Himself fully to the Son (v. 20), the Son must be fully God and able to do exactly what the Father does. Augustine of Hippo says in a sermon on John 5:19 that the Father does “every work whatsoever by the Son; so that not any works are done by the Father without the Son, or by the Son without the Father.”
Coram DeoLiving before the face of God
Because we are not God, we can never achieve the same kind of unity with our Creator that Jesus has. Nevertheless, we can bring our wills and desires in line with His, just as the Son wants to do only what the Father does. We bring our wills and desires in line with the Father’s through prayer, repenting of sin, and asking God to give us a heart that wants to do only what He calls us in His Word to do.