“The Son can do nothing by himself” – meaning?

When Jesus said (in good old King James language) in John 5:30 that “I can of mine own self do nothing,” I always thought he was referring to his helplessness, or admitting he didn’t have the strength or ability to fulfill God’s will on his own.

That isn’t what Jesus was saying, though. In context he’s showing the Jews he wasn’t acting on his own. Everything he did was completely in tune with his Father, and that’s why they could trust him.

He gave several examples. He never sought to do his own will, for instance, only his Father’s will (verse 30). He only did what he saw his Father do (verse 19). His judgement was his Father’s judgement (verses 30), his powers were his Father’s powers (verse 21) and his Father never questioned his judgement, either (verse 22). The Jews could rest assured, then, that Jesus wasn’t acting by himself, or doing his own thing. He simply couldn’t, and wouldn’t, do that. “The Son can do nothing by himself,” verse 19, meaning he would never act on his own.

Jesus gave more examples, too. What he spoke were his Father’s words (John 12:49), what he did were his Father’s works (John 14:10), and what he taught was his Father’s doctrine (John 7:16). He never did anything of himself. It always had the Father’s full authority and backing. There was power and authority behind his words, then, when he said, in John 5:24, “whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be condemned; he has crossed over from death to life.”

Jesus didn’t shy away from the fact that he had extraordinary powers. He could give eternal life “to whom he is pleased to give it.” verse 21, he’d been entrusted with “all judgement,” verse 22, he had “life in himself,” verse 26, and it’s his voice we hear if we wish to live for ever, verse 25.

These were incredible claims Jesus was making, which, understandably, the Jews were having trouble accepting. It sounded like he was saying he was God. But that’s not what Jesus was saying. He said “I can of myself do nothing.” In other words, he wasn’t setting himself up as God, or setting himself up as a great authority, or acting on his own. Absolutely not; everything he did came from the Father. It had his Father’s approval, the Father’s backing and the Father’s authority behind it. Jesus would never step outside his Father’s wishes.

Everything he did was his Father’s doing. That’s why they could trust him, and so can we.

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