John 5 is probably not a chapter that many believers turn to when they think about how they should evangelize people. A close look at the passage, however, reveals that it is a very valuable account from which we should learn how we are to evangelize sinners.
Many points establish the vital evangelistic importance of John 5. First, a direct statement from Jesus shows that it is an account of His evangelizing sinners: “But I receive not testimony from man: but these things I say, that ye might be saved” (John 5:34). We, therefore, must learn from this passage how we are to be like Jesus in evangelizing sinners.
Second, a comparison of John 5 with John 3 and John 4, two texts which typically receive far more attention than John 5 does in discussions about key evangelistic texts, brings out the importance of John 5. The evangelistic account in John 5 (5:1-47 [47 verses]) is more than twice the length of the Nicodemus account (John 3:1-21 [21 verses]) and five verses longer than the Samaritan woman account (John 4:1-42 [42 verses]). If, then, we consider John 3 and 4 as significant for our learning to evangelize sinners the way Jesus did, we should much more consider John 5 to be so.
Third, John 5 shows that Jesus emphasized His agency in His witness to an extent that is widely lacking in the evangelistic practices of our day. In addition to two direct statements of His inability to do anything “of Himself” (John 5:19, 30), Jesus stressed that He was sent by the Father (John 5:23, 24, 30, 36, 37, 38), that He was given His authority by the Father (John 5:22, 27), and that He had come in His Father’s name (John 5:43). Thus, He communicated His agency at least eleven times in His evangelistic witness on this occasion!
We must, therefore, learn from Jesus Himself that evangelizing sinners properly does not consist only of testifying to His deity. A proper evangelistic witness stresses both His deity and His agency.
Fourth, Jesus specifically emphasized His judicial agency as part of the truth that these sinners were to believe in order to be saved. He did so by His juxtaposing key statements: (1) He highlighted that their right response to God’s doxological purpose (John 5:23a) for giving all judgment to the Son (John 5:22) would be to honor the Son even as they honored the Father (John 5:23b) and that their failing to respond in that way would be to dishonor the Father (John 5:23c); (2) He then solemnly declared that believing His message, which included that vital teaching about the doxological purpose of God for making Jesus His judicial agent, was how they would have everlasting life and not come into condemnation (John 5:24)!
Jesus, therefore, evangelized these sinners by underscoring to them His judicial agency as part of what He said to them so that they would be saved (John 5:34). Believers must learn from Jesus to include testimony to His judicial agency as part of their evangelistic witness to sinners (cf. Acts 10:42; 17:31; Rom. 2:16).
Fifth, Jesus testified at length to His central role in bringing about the future bodily resurrection of the dead (John 5:25-29). When we evangelize sinners, we thus should not just talk about Jesus’ bodily resurrection from the dead.
Rather, we should also tell them that Jesus will bring about the bodily resurrection of all the dead (John 5:28) to either life (John 5:29a) or damnation (John 5:29b). Based on that fact, we should then urge them to come to Him, so that they may have eternal life (John 5:40).
Sixth, even though the sinners whom Jesus was testifying to were seeking to kill Him (John 5:16), Jesus still evangelized them by confronting them directly with hard truths about themselves that they needed to hear in order to be saved. He informed them that they were not rightly related to His Father because they did not have His word abiding in them (John 5:38). He revealed that they did not have the love of God in them (John 5:42).
Jesus exposed the reality that their receiving honor from one another and not seeking the honor that only God can provide made them unable to believe what they needed to believe in order to be saved (John 5:44). He even challenged them that their trust in Moses was not what it needed to be because they did not really believe what Moses said as they should have (John 5:45b-47).
We must learn from Jesus to confront people in a similar manner with the truths that they really need to hear to be saved. We must also learn from Him to persist in evangelizing hardened people, as God providentially provides us opportunities to do so.
Given the many vital truths that John 5 reveals about how Jesus evangelized sinners, every believer should carefully learn from John 5 how he is to be like Him in evangelizing sinners.