Why should anyone believe that Jesus is the Son of God? Why should anyone believe that Jesus is the legitimate Heir of God?
In a lawyerly-like manner, Jesus himself once made a case for why inquirers should accept his potentially blasphemous claim to be the unique Son of God (see John 5:30-40). Since his own assertion was insufficient evidence, Jesus listed four additional witnesses to his claim. His first witness was one of his relatives, a cousin named John. His second witness was — or rather, were — his miraculous deeds. His third witness was his Father, that is, God himself. However, Jesus quickly pointed out that most of his listeners would not and could not ascertain nor receive such testimony, even though it was there and immensely valid. And lastly, Jesus’ fourth stated witness was the Bible, which Jesus refers to as the Scriptures.
Since his claim is so immensely extraordinary, and since many of his listeners would find his claim not just ludicrous but blasphemous, Jesus necessarily appeals to both testimony and evidence. Three of the four witnesses listed by Jesus were directly or indirectly available on the public record. Although God was not directly available to inquirers, Cousin John or his associates were. Multiple witnesses to Jesus’ miraculous deeds were also available for interviews. Even recipients of Jesus’ miracles could be found. And likewise, the Scriptures could be (and should be) readily referenced.
Considered judicially, Jesus was making his case based on three solid pieces of evidence. Jesus had the testimony of a reputable and widely-respected expert witness, who was also a relative. Jesus had the circumstantial evidence of healings and miracles, along with the testimonies of multiple eyewitnesses to those miracles. And Jesus had extensive documentary testimony. If all that evidence aligns and holds true, it makes for a decisive case, to say the least.
Yet my next question will seem something of a non-sequitur. When? When did Jesus make this controversial claim? When did Jesus claim to be the Heir, the Son of God? And when did Jesus present his four witnesses? Did it happen before the cross or after? And the answer: This happened before he was crucified. He made his extraordinary claim during his earthly ministry years. Jesus himself believed and contended that he was the Son of God.
According to John’s Gospel, this is the reason why Jesus was rejected. Jesus got himself in trouble with the Jewish religious authorities exactly because he claimed to be the unique Son of God. One of the reasons the Jewish authorities wanted Jesus dead is because they believed his death would decisively invalidate his grandiose claims. A dead Son of God is no Son of God at all, they reasoned.
But ironically, it was Jesus’ death by crucifixion that forever established his claim to be the Heir to the Throne, the true Son of God. Even in the moment of his death Jesus was recognized as the Son of God (see Mark 15:39).
Therefore, in the Gospel of John, Jesus himself presents four witnesses that establish his claim to be the Son of God. This argument is made before the crucifixion and resurrection. Then after Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection, we again read of three witnesses. The First Epistle of John speaks somewhat mysteriously of three immediate witnesses to Jesus, witnesses who testify that he is the Son of God. Those three witnesses are the Spirit, the Water, and the Blood (see 1 John 5:6-12).
Could it be that the Gospel of John and the First Epistle of John are actually speaking of the same three phenomena, the same three witnesses?
The first witness, the Spirit, corresponds to the Scriptures. Why? The Spirit is the very same Spirit who inspires prophecy and thus the Scriptures — both Old Testament Scriptures and New Testament Scriptures.
The second witness, the water, is surely a reference to baptism. Of course, Cousin John is more commonly known as John the Baptist. He was the one who performed, witnessed, and testified to Jesus’ own baptism. It was at Jesus’ baptism where the Trinity first publicly debuted (see Mark 1:9-11; John 1:29-34). And today, an individual believer’s baptism publicly signifies his or her conversion (or rebirth) and induction into the Church.
And thirdly, there is the blood, which corresponds to the work of Christ. Although it might first seem strange to think of Jesus’ bloody crucifixion as one of his miraculous deeds, it was actually his miraculous work par excellence. The ultimate saving work of Jesus was wrought when he bore our sin in his ghastly execution by crucifixion, and triumphed over the power of death in his glorious resurrection.
Thus the Scriptures, John the Baptist, and Jesus’ own miraculous deeds all once testified that Jesus is the Son of God. Likewise today, the Spirit of Truth, the regenerative Water of Baptism, and the ever-sanctifying Blood of the Lamb continue to testify that Jesus is the Son of God, the rightful Heir to the Heavenly Throne, the King of Kings and Lord of Lords.
But wait — there is one more way to interpret 1 John 5:5-12. The passage can be understood as referring to three revelatory events around the life of Jesus, three times he was clearly said to be the Son of God. The first event was when his mother Mary was informed by an angel that she would have a child, “the Son of the Most High” (see Luke 1:26-45). The second event was when John the Baptist baptized Jesus in the Jordan River, and a voice from Heaven affirmed Jesus as “My Beloved Son” (see Mark 1:9-11). The third event was when a Roman onlooker to Jesus’ final moment was so moved by what he saw that he proclaimed Jesus must be the Son of God (see Matthew 27:54). While there were several other times that Jesus was identified as the Son of God, these three pivotal events fit the criteria of Spirit, water, and blood nicely.
There are three who testify; and these three align and agree (see 1 John 5:7-8).