In the words he is reported to have spoken in John 5:19-24, Jesus utilizes a curious teaching technique. He refers to himself in the third person, using the circumlocution “the Son”.

The passage takes on added power and clarity if the indirect use of “the Son” is replaced using the first person.

Jesus said to them, ‘Very truly, I tell you, I can do nothing on my own, but only what I see the Father doing; for whatever the Father does, I do likewise. The Father loves me and shows me all that he himself is doing; and he will show me greater works than these, so that you will be astonished. Indeed, just as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, so also I give life to whomsoever I wish. The Father judges no one but has given all judgement to me, so that all may honour me just as they honour the Father. Anyone who does not honour me does not honour the Father who sent me. Very truly, I tell you, anyone who hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life, and does not come under judgement, but has passed from death to life. (John 5:19-24)

What happens if we take these words Jesus is said to have used to speak about himself, and apply them to followers of Jesus?

This practice is not as radical as it might at first appear. In John chapter 8, Jesus refers to himself as “the light of the world.”

Again Jesus spoke to them, saying, ‘I am the light of the world.’ (John 8:12)

In Matthew’s Gospel Jesus uses exactly the same metaphor to speak about his disciples,

‘You are the light of the world.’ (Matthew 5:14)

As Jesus is, so are his followers.

Later in John’s Gospel Jesus will say to his followers,

Very truly, I tell you, the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these, because I am going to the Father. (John 14:12)

This sounds not much different from,

‘Very truly, I tell you, I can do nothing on my own, but only what I see the Father doing; for whatever the Father does, I do likewise. (John 5:19)

John 5:19 also carries strong resonance with Jesus’ statement to his followers,

I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing. (John 15:5)

And Jesus’ words,

The Father judges no one but has given all judgement to me, so that all may honour me just as they honour the Father (John 5:22),

resonates with Paul’s bold suggestion in I Corinthians,

Do you not know that the saints will judge the world? And if the world is to be judged by you, are you incompetent to try trivial cases? (I Corinthians 6:2)

What I am suggesting here is that the distance between Jesus and the follower of Jesus may not be as great as we have traditionally been led to believe.

It may be that in John 5 Jesus, or John the Gospel writer, used the indirect “the Son” (which is only capitalized in translation, not in the original) in order to imply that the statements were not to be viewed as applying solely to the person of Jesus. It may be that some of the things Jesus said about himself, might also be said of his followers.

So, how does it sound to read John 5:19-24 as if it were addressed to followers of Jesus?

Jesus said to them, ‘Very truly, I tell you, you can do nothing on your own, but only what you see the Father doing; for whatever the Father does, you do likewise. The Father loves you and shows you all that he himself is doing; and he will show you greater works than these, so that you will be astonished. Indeed, just as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, so also you give life to whomsoever you wish. The Father judges no one but has given all judgement to you, so that all may honour you just as they honour the Father. Anyone who does not honour you does not honour the Father who sent you. Very truly, I tell you, anyone who hears your word and believes him who sent you has eternal life, and does not come under judgement, but has passed from death to life. (John 5:19-24)

After his resurrection, Jesus said to the disciples,

‘Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.’ When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.’ (John 20:21-23)

The follower is sent into the world just as Jesus was sent into the world. Followers are to judge the world just as Jesus judged the world. The disciples of Jesus are to be the light of the world, just as Jesus was the light of the world.

Paul encouraged the Corinthian Christians to view themselves as bearing the fullness of God within themselves and within their community. He drew a direct connection between the living presence of God and the gathered followers of Christ.

do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, which you have from God. (I Corinthians 6:19)we have this treasure in clay jars, so that it may be made clear that this extraordinary power belongs to God and does not come from us. (II Corinthians 4:7)

you are the body of Christ and individually members of it. (I Corinthians 12:27)

I have never felt entirely comfortable with the often quoted words of Teresa of Avila. But, understood in the light of this reading of John 5:19-24, they offer a powerful vision of the exalted call entrusted to the followers of Jesus.

Teresa of Avila (1515–1582)

Christ Has No Body

Christ has no body but yours,
No hands, no feet on earth but yours,
Yours are the eyes with which he looks
Compassion on this world,
Yours are the feet with which he walks to do good,
Yours are the hands, with which he blesses all the world.
Yours are the hands, yours are the feet,
Yours are the eyes, you are his body.
Christ has no body now but yours,
No hands, no feet on earth but yours,
Yours are the eyes with which he looks
compassion on this world.
Christ has no body now on earth but yours.

What Jesus was called and commissioned to do, his followers are called and commissioned to do. Wherever faithful followers of Jesus are gathered, Jesus is bodily present and active as he was in the historical event of the incarnation of Christ.