What does it mean to be "equal with God" in John 5:18?
John 5:18 (ESV):
''This was why the Jews were seeking all the more to kill him,
because not only was he breaking the Sabbath, but he was even calling
God his own Father, making himself equal with God'' (John 5:18 ESV).
Equality with God (in doing good works)
The context tells us what ''equality with God'' means. In John 5:18, the Jews wanted to stone Jesus because they believed Jesus broke the sabbath just because he healed the sick man. Verse 16 said ''the Jews were persecuting Jesus, because he was doing these things (i.e. healing the sick) on the Sabbath''. But this wasn't the only reason why the Jews wanted to stone Jesus. The other reason actually made the Jews to seek ''all the more to kill him'' and that's ''calling God his own father'' meaning ''making himself equal with God''.
When Jesus calls God his ''own Father'': The corollary of God being Jesus’ ''own father'' is that Jesus is God’s ‘own son’’. One of the earliest N.T. text indeed spoke of Jesus as God’s ‘’own son’’ (Grk. idiou huiou Romans 8:32 ). In the context, Jesus was claiming to be "the son" (Grk. ho huios) (v. 19) of his "own father" (Grk. patera idion) and "the son of man" (Grk. huios anthropou) (v. 27).
In just one verse earlier (v. 17), Jesus did call God ''
my father'' (Grk. ho pater mou) and said that his father was ''
working until now'' (Grk. heos arti egazetai) and he (Jesus) himself was also working: ''
and I am working '' (Grk. kargo ergazomai). Jesus was claiming to be equal with God in doing good works (in context, the works were specifically referring to the healing of the sick man on sabbath).
In Luke 6:34, the Greek word isos refer to ''the same thing'' (i.e. referring to the same ''amount'' in context). in John 5:18, the Greek word isos refer to ''the same thing'' (i.e. the same works) which the Father and the Son do.
Jesus was not doing it alone. Jesus was ''[doing] the same thing [i.e. breaking the Sabbath, by healing the sick man] with God''. The Jews couldn't accept the words of Jesus because according to Jesus, he was not alone doing the works but that God himself was working (i.e. by healing the sick man, which was for the Jews, it meant breaking the sabbath) (v.17) and that he (Jesus) cannot do the works (i.e. healing the sick man/ break the sabbath) unless he sees the Father himself does it (v.19). The Jews saw it as Jesus speaking evil of God (i.e. blasphemy) that is why they sought all the more to kill Jesus.
Based on verse 19, Jesus claimed that he was able to do ‘’nothing’’ (Greek: ouden) about the Sabbath. He wasn’t changing the Sabbath, adding his own ideas to it. Jesus was merely obeying the sabbath ‘’in the same way’’ (Greek: homoia) or in the original way it was given by God.
''So Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of his own accord, but only what he sees the Father doing. For whatever the Father does, that the Son does likewise.'' (John 5:19 ESV)
Jesus believed that the Father himself would have broken the sabbath [of the current Jewish understanding]. Jesus was explaining that what he had done (i.e. healing the sick on a sabbath day) was something God himself would do if God were in such a scenario. This is why Jesus claimed that he could not have broken it (i.e. i myself can do nothing). Breaking the sabbath wasn’t something Jesus could have done without a basis. Jesus explained that he could not have done it if he didn’t see God himself doing it. God is doing good on sabbath days. This is what God showed Jesus and this is what Jesus will do. And this is what Jesus had done on the sabbath day.
Jesus did break the sabbath, the sabbath which the Jews themselves knew, not the sabbath which God himself knew. God knows exactly what the sabbath truly means. The sabbath wasn’t what the Jews think that it really was. Jesus was doing good on a sabbath day. That’s not breaking the sabbath but fulfilling it. For Jesus, the sabbath is not only a rest day but also a day to do good deeds.
John 5:1-19 (ESV):
5 After this there was a feast of the Jews, and Jesus went up to
Jerusalem. 2 Now there is in Jerusalem by the Sheep Gate a pool, in
Aramaic[a] called Bethesda,[b] which has five roofed colonnades. 3 In
these lay a multitude of invalids—blind, lame, and paralyzed.[c] 5
One man was there who had been an invalid for thirty-eight years. 6
When Jesus saw him lying there and knew that he had already been there
a long time, he said to him, “Do you want to be healed?” 7 The
sick man answered him, “Sir, I have no one to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up, and while I am going another steps down
before me.” 8 Jesus said to him, “Get up, take up your bed, and walk.”
9 And at once the man was healed, and he took up his bed and
walked.Now that day was the Sabbath. 10 So the Jews[d] said to the
man who had been healed, “It is the Sabbath, and it is not
lawful for you to take up your bed.” 11 But he answered them, “The man
who healed me, that man said to me, ‘Take up your bed, and walk.’”
12 They asked him, “Who is the man who said to you, ‘Take up your bed
and walk’?” 13 Now the man who had been healed did not know who it
was, for Jesus had withdrawn, as there was a crowd in the place. 14
Afterward Jesus found him in the temple and said to him, “See, you are
well! Sin no more, that nothing worse may happen to you.” 15 The man
went away and told the Jews that it was Jesus who had healed him.
16 And this was why the Jews were persecuting Jesus, because he was
doing these things on the Sabbath. 17 But Jesus answered them, “My
Father is working until now, and I am working.” 18 This was why the
Jews were seeking all the more to kill him, because not only was he
breaking the Sabbath, but he was even calling God his own Father,
making himself equal with God. 19 So Jesus said to them, “Truly,
truly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of his own accord, but
only what he sees the Father doing. For whatever the Father[e]
does, that the Son does likewise. 20 For the Father loves the Son and shows him all that he himself is doing. And greater
works than these will he show him, so that you may marvel.
Jesus talked more about his equality with God in other areas in the subsequent verses (5:19-30).
Not only did Jesus doing the same thing with God (i.e. healing the sick on sabbath) in 5:1-7, 5:19 but he also will be doing the same thing (i.e. greater works, raising the dead and judging all men ) with God in 5:19-30.
Equality with God (in raising the dead)
Jesus will resurrect the dead just as (i.e. equally as/ precisely the same way as) God will do it (5:21).
For as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, so also the Son
gives life to whom he will.'' (John 5:21 ESV)
Equality with God (in receiving honor from everyone)
''All'' (Grk. pantes) will honor the Son ''just as'' (Grk. kathos, meaning, ''equally as/ precisely the same way as'') they honor the Father (v. 23). Verse 23 uses the phrase "for this reason" (Grk. hina), showing the reason why everyone will honor the Son and that's because the Son has been given ''all judgment'' (i.e. all of what the Father himself opined in righteousness) according to verse 22. The Father himself ''judges no one'' (v. 22a). Jesus is also the "the Son of Man" (Grk. huios anthropou) (v. 27b) in addition to being "the Son" (Grk. ho huios) (v. 19) of his "own father" (Grk. patera idion) (v. 18). The reason why the Father gave to the Son the authority to ''execute judgment'' (5:27a) is because Jesus is the Son of Man (v. 27b). In judging all men, Jesus does the judging by means of reporting what God the Father himself had told him (''As I hear, I judge'', v. 30). This is similar to what a prophet does. A prophet reports what God has told him.
''For the Father judges no one, but has given all judgment to the Son,
that all may honor the Son, just as they honor the Father. Whoever
does not honor the Son does not honor the Father who sent him. And he
has given him authority to execute judgment, because he is the Son of
Man.I can do nothing on my own. As I hear, I judge, and my judgment is
just, because I seek not my own will but the will of him who sent
me.'' (John 5:22-23, 5:27, 5:30 ESV)
In ancient Jewish literature, ''the son of man'' (Aramaic: bar enosh) refers to one who is a human being.
A “son of man” is, of course, an idiomatic way of designating a human being in ancient Semitic languages (Hebrew & Aramaic), and “sons of man” the plural equivalent. (source)
In Daniel 7:13-14, a divine figure (a celestial being, not a human being) was described as ''One Like a Son of Man''. Some ancient Jews deemed this divine figure as the translated patriarch, Enoch. They had this speculation that the Enoch had been transformed into an angel, was named ''The Lesser YHWH'', sat on the throne of God in heaven, and became the one who will execute all judgment in behalf of God (source).
Another ancient Jewish tradition was preserved in the Greek translation of the Hebrew bible (in the Old Greek (OG), not the Septuagint (LXX) that the divine Son of Man in Daniel 7:13-14 was God's very own theophany ('' the one like the Son of Man, coming ''as the Ancient of Days''). (source)
Another Jewish traditon was contemporary to the apostles and that's Philo's the concept of the Logos (source). Philo followed an ancient tradition of God having two divine powers: (1) the creative power, and the (2) ruling power. For the former, Philo refers to as ''God'' (Grk. theos) and for the latter, Philo referred to as ''Lord'' (Grk. Kyrios) which was both exemplified by the Logos of God. This Logos was the ''second God'' and as such its associated with the other Jewish tradition of the ''second Power'' ( = ''the second Yahweh'') which was referring to the divine Son of Man. Under the concept of the Logos, Yahweh is seen as totally transcended and does not do things directly but does everything through the Logos. This concept was also found in John. The prologue of John introduced Jesus as the Logos through whom God does everything. In John 5, God the Father judges ''no one'' ( recall that under the Logos concept, Yahweh is seen as totally transcended and does not do things directly) but gave it all to the Son, the Son himself will execute the judgment (here the Son was seen as the Logos through whom the Father had given the activity of judging).
In the Hebrew bible and other ancient Jewish texts, the term ''son of God'' was used both to angels and humans. The Qumran Jews who wrote the Dead Sea Scrolls (circa 300 B.C.E. - 1st century C.E.) believed that that Yahweh is the father of all gods. This posits that all gods were the ''sons of God'', God being the ''Most High'' (Deuteronomy 32:8 , Psalm 82:6 DSS). These gods were the angels as seen in the Septuagint (Deuteronomy 32:8 LXX). The Dead Sea Scrolls and the Septuagint were both very ancient, older than the Masoretic text but the latter agreed with the former in Psalm 82:1, 82:6 in having the ''gods'' as the ''sons of the Most High'. This shows that the original Israelites believed in lesser gods with Yahweh being the high god. The concept of the high god and lesser gods were ubiquitous in the Ancient Near East (ANE) where Israel also existed (source).
The other Jewish meaning of ''son of God'' refers to a human being. To call a man God's son is to believe that he's ''righteous'' (source). In John 8:42, the Jews said they had one father who was God and that they were not illegitimate children. The same concept was applicable to John 5:18 because based on the context, Jesus was claiming to be the ''son of man'' (Greek: bar enosh) in the sense of ''human being'' who was 'God's son'' (i.e. righteous) imitating what his own father (i.e. God) was doing i.e. good works (v. 19). However, Jesus used the articular huios (Grk. ho huios) which meant that Jesus was not merely speaking of himself as one of the sons of God (one of the righteous people) but specifically as ''the Righteous One'' (cf. 1 John 2:1). This showed that Jesus was claiming to be the Anointed One (''The Messiah'') in John 5:18. The other meaning of ''son of God'' (its meaning in association with being a divine being) is also applicable in John 5:18 because ''the son of man'' being linked to ''the Logos was God'' in John's prologue (1:1-3). Recall that in ancient Jewish understanding, being the Son of Man was also referring to a divine being: 'The Second YHWH'', which was in turn related to the Jewish Logos concept, the Logos being ''the Second God'' and being ''God'' in Philo. Scholars call the unifying concepts of the Son of Man being the Lesser Yahweh/Second Yahweh and the Logos being the Second God as ''Second Power'' (source).
According to the context (John 5:1-17, 5:19), Jesus was ''equal with God [in doing good works on Sabbath] in John 5:18. This is the reason why the Jews wanted to kill Jesus. It's because Jesus is placing himself on the same capabilities as God, i.e. to do what God can do, as the unique Son of God (John 3:16) and as the incarnate Divine Word (John 1:1, 1:14).
Jesus talked more about his equality with God in other areas in the subsequent verses (5:19-30). Not only did Jesus doing the same thing with God (i.e. healing the sick on sabbath) in 5:1-7, 5:19 but he also will be doing the same thing (i.e. greater works, raising the dead and judging all men ) with God in 5:19-30.
In verse 20, Jesus Christ said that God the Father shows the Son everything he is doing which logically entails that the Son does everything in the same way (Grk. homoios) God the Father does everything, based on verse 19.
In verse 20, Jesus also said that God the Father will show greater works than these (i.e. the healing of the sick man sabbath). In the context, the greater works refers to the (i) raising the dead, (5:21, 5:25, 5:26, 5:28) and (ii) judging all men (5:22, 5:23, 5:27, 5:30). And both are equally mentioned in 5:29.
In John 5, Jesus was equal with God in all these areas because of his unique sonship:
(1) Jesus is the human Messiah (''The Son'') who imitates the good things God the Father does (v. 19).
(2) Jesus was the divine Messiah (''The Son of Man'') whose function as judge (vv. 22, 27, 30) reflect also his identity as the totally divine Logos (John 1:1-3, 1:17-18). This showed us that in the latter part of the first century C.E., Jesus was already deemed as eternally divine.
The Gospel of John seemed to adopt the other variant of Jewish tradition about the Son of Man (identifying him as the Ancient of Days i.e. God himself, not as Enoch) since a totally divine Logos in John 1:1-3 required a consistent identification of a totally divine Son of Man in 5:17-30.
Truly, Jesus is the ''only son of his kind'' (Grk. monogenes huios John 3:16, 18) as no other son is like Jesus in being both the Son of God and divine Son of Man simultaneously.