Jesus was condemned by the Pharisees “because He not only was breaking the Sabbath, but also was calling God His own Father, making Himself equal with God” (John 5:18).
That’s a pretty major accusation: the capital crime of blaspheme. During the days of the Roman Empire several of the emperors fancied themselves equal with God. There have been radical religious figures throughout history who have called themselves equal with God. I think I’ve even seen a few people in my day who considered themselves equal to God. However, the truth is that no mere human can ever be equal to God. He is greater than us in every way.
So why did Jesus claim this? Well because Jesus was no “mere human.” Jesus in fact was equal to God. There are many passages we use to illustrate this, but I think Jesus’ response to the accusation is pretty clear. He did not deny it, rather He explained the ways in which He was equal to God.
He begins with an illustration about fathers and sons (John 5:19-20). Children learn what they see from their Father. Jesus was a carpenter; Joseph was a carpenter. Many things I’ve learned only because I saw my father do it. Because fathers love their children, they want to teach them and show them what they are doing. In this way, sons are equal to their fathers. Jesus lists 3 major ways that He is equal to God.
- Giving Life—John 5:21, 26. Both present eternal life and in the final resurrection, Jesus gives life to mankind. He learned this from His Father. Just as God raised the dead and gave them life, Jesus also “gives life to whom He wishes.” Jesus gives eternal life to the one “who hears My word, and believes Him who sent Me” (John 5:24). Jesus is equal to God because they give life.
- Judgment—John 5:22, 27, 30. The Father has always been seen as the Judge, but He “has given all judgment to the Son…He gave Him authority to execute judgment, because He is the Son of Man” (John 5:21, 26). Judgment, which began with the Father has been handed to the Son. The Son judges based on His Father’s will (John 5:30). Jesus’ purpose in coming to earth was not to judge, but to save. But the words He spoke will certainly judge mankind (John 12:48). Jesus is equal to God because He was given judgment.
- Honor—John 5:23. All the honor that God deserves is also deserved by the Son. “All will honor the Son even as they honor the Father” (John 5:23). As the one who gives life and judgment, Jesus is worthy of honor, glory, worship, and praise. Jesus is equal to God because they deserve the same honor.
So, when Jesus was accused of calling Himself “equal with God” (John 5:18), He does not deny it. He explains it. A father gives his son the attributes and abilities that he has learned. God gives Jesus life in Himself to bestow it on whoever He wishes. God gives Jesus the authority to judge mankind. This is so that they will be equal in honor.