Jesus made the incredible claim that He was equal to God Himself (John 5:1–29). Such an assertion could be verified only through additional witnesses, so our Lord presented several witnesses to His claims including the Father, John the Baptist, and Jesus’ own miracles (vv. 30–36). However, these were not the only witnesses to Jesus, as we learn in today’s passage.
These witnesses—particularly the witness of the Father—should have sufficed for the Jewish leaders who opposed our Savior. Ironically, however, the Jewish religious authorities who prized their ability to discern the witness of God actually missed His witness regarding Christ. In fact, these leaders did not hear God’s voice or perceive His form in Jesus, nor did they receive the testimony God gave through the One He sent to reveal Himself most fully to His people (vv. 37–38). But their failure to recognize the Father’s testimony was not due to a lack of study. They searched the Scriptures to find eternal life, but they missed it because they refused to come to Jesus (vv. 39–40).
First-century Jews, particularly the religious leaders, were devoted to the Scriptures. They pored over the text diligently, and Jesus never castigated them for laziness in study. The problem was in how they studied the Bible. Many Jews thought the mere study of Scripture would be rewarded with eternal life, but the study of Scripture cannot produce eternal life when study is pursued as its own end. We can find eternal life in the Scriptures only when we allow the Scriptures to direct us to Christ, the font of life (14:6). If we refuse to be guided in such a way, we will be handed over to error. This is similar to what Paul describes in Romans 1:18–32. When we suppress the truth, the Lord keeps us from finding it and even gives us over to falsehood.
Jesus did not say these things about His opponents because He was seeking honor from them and they refused it. He said them in order to point out that His opponents falsely claimed to love the glory of God and to be searching for His will. In fact, they had all the testimony to Christ that they needed in the Scriptures, including the writings of Moses (Genesis–Deuteronomy). If they would have read the Scriptures looking for God and His truth, they would have seen that the whole scope of the old covenant revelation reveals the person and work of the Messiah (vv. 41–46). But if Moses, whom they claimed to love, could not convince them because of their unwillingness to believe, nothing could.