Wilbur Smith once wrote, “It is time to come face to face with the fact that God is righteous, that God’s laws are righteous, that God demands righteousness, that God has sent his righteous Son to save us, and that an hour is coming when men are going to stand before this righteous Judge, and unless they have repented and believed, be condemned for their own deliberately unrighteous life.”
The realities of the future resurrection and judgment show the need of saving faith in Jesus Christ for everyone. Those realities to come show that need for entire reliance on him for eternal life and wholehearted submission to God’s anointed King who will also eventually be the Judge of each one of us. Far too often, due to our foolish complacency in our reasonably happy and affluent life, it takes a crisis in our lives to bring a person to the end of himself or herself and see his or her need of Christ. Yet far beyond the crises that come in our lives, there yet remains that final crisis which is coming to the whole world. That will be the time of the final miracle of the Son of God in his Messianic mission, and that will be the crisis which will decide the final destiny of all. The final miracle of the resurrection of all mankind for judgment before Jesus Christ personally is the final crisis that awaits each one of us, and it is a final crisis which is reason in itself to make known the gospel of saving faith in Christ to everyone.
Jesus explained this at length during his earthly teaching ministry in the Temple at Jerusalem. He had healed a paralyzed man on the Jewish Sabbath by the pool of Bethzatha – or Bethesda – there seems to have been a bit of confusion and several attempted corrections in the manuscripts since it had been first written. While there are several plausible locations that the miracle of healing took place, the result for this one was that the Jewish religious leaders in Jerusalem started to give Jesus a really hard time over it. It’s hard to say what exactly they were doing at this point, but they were known for plots against him, slanders against him, and trying to trick him and trap him throughout his earthly ministry, and what was happening seems to have been some kind of escalation of that kind of treatment after this miracle. Jesus used this time to explain more of his identity as the Son of God and how that miracle of healing pointed forward to an even greater miracle that would happen by his own command.
“Jesus, then, answered them and said, ‘Most assuredly I say to you, that the Son is unable to do anything from himself except for what he sees the Father doing; for whatever he does, the Son does the same things in the same way. Because the Father loves the Son and shows him everything that he is doing, he will show him greater works than these, so that you may be astonished. For just as the Father raises the dead and gives life to them, so also the Son gives life to whomever he wishes. For the Father judges no one, but has given all judgment to the Son, so that all may honor the Son as they honor the Father. Most assuredly I say to you that everyone who hears my word and believes in the One who sent me has eternal life, and that person will not come into judgment but has already passed from death to life. Most assuredly I say to you that an hour is coming and now already is when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God and those who hear will live. For just as the Father has life in himself, so also he has granted to the Son to have life in himself; and he has given him authority to judge, because he is the Son of Man. Don’t be amazed at this, because an hour is coming when all who are in their graves will will hear his voice, and will come forth: those who have done good to the resurrection of life, and those who have done wicked to the resurrection of judgment’” (John 5:19-29, Dale’s sight translation).
The miracles of Jesus are the unique revelation of his unique nature. Those miracles which amazed the spectators and confounded his enemies and detractors were the expression of who he is. They express how no one has been nor ever can be anything like him and they establish him as more than a teller of interesting stories. They establish him as the one who has no parallel in our history.
The miracles of Jesus point to his unique identity as the Son of God. That identity is shared with no one ever who has lived on this earth in the same way that it was true and is true of Jesus. His Sonship was and is unique, and it was not something that someone else made up later and applied to him. Rather, it rests in the miracles which he performed and his own explanations which he made of his miracles during his own ministry. Moreover, this wasn’t simply something that he disclosed to simply the select few of his disciples, but something that he explained as well to those who treated him with hostility, and something he showed before a hostile world.
In verses 19-23, Jesus starts one of those big conversations and extended teachings which often followed his stunning actions. In fact, stunning, prophetic teaching following stunning actions is one of the patterns of the gospel of John, in each of the chapters from 2 through 9. His jaw dropping miracles were followed by jaw dropping statements. These conversations, then, are the stunning explanations of the stunning actions he delivered continuously throughout his earthly life and ministry. In this case, he was expanding on an earlier, briefer explanation of why he had healed on the Sabbath, and it always ticked them off when he did that. At first it sounds like he’s starting a parable about a father and a son but his hearers clearly understand that he’s talking about himself as the Son of God, and they give him a very rough time about it. In fact, the word that John uses to describe how they treated him was that they persecuted him. He is making a claim about God as his Father, equality with God and the personal authority to act as God in performing an act of healing on the Sabbath. He does not deny the charge that he was making God his Father. At this time, as well as many other times throughout the gospels, he had a perfect opportunity to correct this misconception if he in fact in any way considered it a misconception. But not only does he not deny it, but he goes on further, to deliver an even deeper explanation of his divine nature to a hostile and rejecting crowd. His explanation of himself in the third person, as the Son who sees and acts with the Father in what he does in itself was a stunner. This brief but stupendous explanation definitely shows that Jesus could easily give an answer to his questioners far greater than any of them could ever completely grasp, and which could often confuse and even gall them for a long time afterwards. In fact, the memory of this explanation continued to rankle his hearers for months afterwards, as can be ascertained from later indications in the gospel of John (7:23, 9:16).
So as Jesus starts his explanation, it sounds a little like he’s starting a parable about a father and a son, until it becomes clear that he’s talking about himself as the Son and God as his Father. He’s explaining that something that was revealed in the Old Testament to his ancestor David about the Messiah, how God would be his Father and the Messiah would be his Son was more than the divine patronage that the kings of David’s line in the Old Testament had experienced. He’s explaining that the Son of God as applied to himself as the Messiah was not a kind of of adoption but rather it was true of his nature as the eternal Son of God. He was explaining that his relation with God the Father as the Son means that he lived continually in the relation of love with the Father and the revelation of the nature of the Father, and it even went into acting as one with the Father in what he did – and that extended to the miracle which they had seen, and would extend to even greater miracles to come. And if that wasn’t enough, he went on to give them some more chunks of truth that they would find hard to digest. He didn’t use any large words – just an analogy to a father and a son. He didn’t engage in any deep philosophical discussion with explorations and refutations of alternative points of view – but simply explained a miracle.
The parable, then, that happened in this situation wasn’t what sounded like the beginning of a parable about a father and a son working together, but rather the miracle itself, where Jesus commanded a helpless man to get up and walk. The healing itself was a parable, and it looked forward to the coming resurrection and judgment. Most likely some in the hostile crowd knew about Daniel 12:2-3, which talked about resurrection, and it was already known to all of them that Jesus had already said, “Rise” to a prostrate and helpless man – and he rose and walked. And Jesus was saying to them that he would be the one would be giving resurrection life to the dead and then serving as the judge of all. And the conclusion to this was not that he was committing blasphemy as if he were a mere man making himself to be equal to God by calling God his Father, but that the miracle pointed to the logical conclusion that they all were called by God himself through the miracle to honor him as the Son of God as they claimed to honor the God he called his Father. And in this as previously, Jesus was on solid scriptural ground, as placing himself in the place of the Son that everyone was called to honor in Psalm 2:8. These are the kinds of statements that could send the guards of the Temple who were sent to arrest him back in open mouthed astonishment that, “No one ever spoke like him!”
The stupendous claims about himself and the deeds which backed them up are the reason why the church has said that Jesus Christ is the Son of God. They are the reason why his Sonship is totally unique and different than any other way in which those words can be understood of anyone else. And this is why it is necessary to take Jesus Christ with the utmost seriousness, as God the Son, who came, acted and spoke with the glory, power and authority of God. All that he said and did that was set down for us was in full accord with God the Father, and the revelation of that ultimate, special, unique relationship that those words mean. This is why believers have been so careful to understand and explain as clearly and carefully as possible over the years his unique nature as the Son of God who is one with God the Father. Over the centuries it has been and will always be necessary to make clear what it means for Jesus to be the Son of God from all eternity. In the Heidelberg Catechism, for example, question 33 gives this question and answer: “Why is he called God’s only begotten Son, since we also are God’s children? Because Christ alone is God’s own eternal Son, whereas we are accepted for his sake as children of God by grace.” And even more, as the ministry of Jesus went on, it became apparent that he brought a fuller and deeper revelation, hinted at as early in the scriptures as Genesis 1:2, that the one God not only revealed himself in two divine Persons, the Father and the Son, but in a third as well, the Holy Spirit – but that revelation would receive the fuller explanation on the night of his betrayal, during his last teaching session with his disciples, in John 14, 15 and 16.
And this, then, is the stupendous thing about the life, ministry, death and resurrection of Jesus, that he came not just to give us some stories and a few moralisms. He was God the Son and showed us what God was like in person, and he came to provide the way for us to enter into that personal relationship with us so that we could know the love of God personally. And this means that these statements which we may term doctrinal and theological are not mere theory, notions or opinions that we take up when we call ourselves Christians and sing our hymns. These are statements about the reality of the God whose universe we live in and who has come to us in Jesus Christ.
Jesus was thus saying that when he said, “Rise up,” to a paralyzed and helpless man, he was making the deep theological point that he was doing it in the will and with the full cooperation of God the Father, and that it was in fact together their doing. And he was using this heavy theology, a brief and pungent explanation that strained the very limits of human language, to explain himself to some people who were giving him a very hard time over what he had already said and done. There was no hint of any kind of apologies or excuses in what he said, for being sorry about their feeling angry over what he had done. How in the world could or should the Son of God apologize to any human being for speaking and acting in full cooperation with God the Father? And even more, he presented what he had done as not being about the need of the paralyzed man, but about the nature of the person who told him to rise up and walk. With our modern addiction to easy, pat answers and formulas in our churches and our ‘me’ centered songs and sermons about my experiences, my feelings and my blessings, Jesus shows us that what matters is not about us but about who the Son of God is, and what he has done. And when we lose that focus on Jesus we lose the whole point of what it means to be a Christian and our worship comes down to little more than gushing out of our current emotional state or striving after a desired emotional state.
So Jesus’s identity as the unique Son of God means that he deserves unique honor as the Son of God. The reality which was shown in his life and ministry, the miracles which really happened to real people, the real teaching which was heard by real people who were often astonished, sometimes offended, and sometimes left scratching their heads, was a revelation that called for an appropriate response to the Son of God. And the honor that he expected as the Son of God was simply to be heard and believed and obeyed. So consider a more down to earth example of what this entails for us. The owner of a a big electronics firm once told his personnel director, “My son will be graduating from college soon and needing a job. He’s going to be your new assistant, but he’s not to be shown any favoritism. Treat him just as you would any other son of mine.”
So, when we understand from the gospels what it means for Jesus to be the unique Son of God, in a way in which no other human being can ever claim, this means that we are bound by the unbreakable chains of an eternal reality to give him the honor due to him as the Son of God, and give him the honor of being heard above everything and everyone else, believed in and trusted above everything and everyone else, and followed and obeyed above everything and everyone else. As we go further in to what Jesus is saying here, we will find out more of what this means for us in the here and now.
In verse 24, Jesus starts out another statement with that phrase, “Truly, truly I say to you . . .” If it may not be trite to paraphrase this as Jesus saying to us, in effect, “Underline this! Highlight this!”, we certainly should pay very close attention to his emphasis on the next statement. So, to those who were hearing him he made still another stupendous statement about what he came to offer them in his life and ministry. And again, the honor that he sought from them was simply to be heard and believed. He offered them pardon before the trial, in eternal life now and the certainty of not coming into judgment, the ultimate sentence from the ultimate Judge at the ultimate courtroom. His description of this was that the person who gave him the honor he came to give would have already passed from death to life. This is in one verse what it means to have saving faith in the Son of God, and it shows that in what he had done and what he was now saying that his goal was not to bring them to astonishment, shock and awe. Rather, he was calling them to saving faith, to receive eternal life by faith in himself. Note that his call was not for tolerance, not for sharing possessions, not even for baptism. His call was simply for them to take that step of saving faith, and that step would be giving him the honor that God the Father would honor with eternal life.
Many can remember the tremendous scene toward the end of the movie Chariots of Fire, where the great American runner Jackson Sholz supposedly gave Eric Liddell the quotation of scripture, of God’s statement that he would honor those who honored him. Jackson Sholz was still alive at the time of the movie, and he denied that it was he that had done that, but certainly someone did. And that is the kind of thing that Jesus is saying here also. As the Son of God, God would honor with eternal life those who honored him with hearing and believing.
So Jesus here was explaining saving faith, and this is characteristic of many of the conversations from the gospel of John. This accounts for many of the differences between the gospel of John and the other three canonical gospels: the other gospels contained a great deal of material, such as the Sermon on the Mount, which was meant for those who had already become the disciples of Jesus. But the gospel of John contains many of the conversations which Jesus had with people who were not yet disciples, in which he explained further and deeper what it meant to have faith in himself. The revelation of what saving faith is was not the invention of the apostles, not even of the apostle Paul, nor of an institutional church hierarchy after the death of Jesus, but what Jesus himself repeatedly explained throughout his earthly ministry. Certainly after his resurrection and ascension, after the day of Pentecost, the transmission of the gospel came through apostolic preaching, but the origin of the gospel and saving faith came from Jesus. And although this was characteristic of the gospel of John, it is by no means foreign to the other gospels, to the Jesus who came from Galilee proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom and telling people, “The kingdom of God has arrived; repent and believe in the good news!” (Mark 1:14-15). And again, this whole explanation of the miracle with a story contradicts the post modern cliché that Jesus was just a teller of stories; but the gospel truth is rather that he told whatever stories he told to explain what faith in himself means and to bring others to that point of faith in himself.
The eternal stakes of faith in Jesus Christ are firmly based in his own explanations of saving faith. Think of that: the person who has trusted in Jesus Christ, believed in him as the unique and eternal Son of God, has eternal life and has passed from death to life. It may seem to be too easy, but it is what God has done through Jesus Christ to make salvation, eternal life, within the grasp of every human being. Professing Christians over the years have often tried to dumb down or trivialize these eternal stakes to just having church membership or a religious reputation or going through the motions of simply repeating a prayer and undergoing baptism. Certainly church membership and undergoing baptism can follow saving faith as a real expression of the reception of eternal life by those who have put their faith in Christ. But Jesus himself did not express receiving or having eternal life as being reducible to any of these outward acts. Rather, his own words declare the reception of eternal life to be through hearing the Son of God and coming to faith in him.
And so what Jesus said about believing in him means that person has received eternal life and has passed from death to life corrects so many of the confused ideas of confused Christians. Even further, what Jesus said about having eternal life and not coming into judgment furnishes a welcome correction of so many of the religious ideas and notions that people throughout the world have had now and in the past. It contradicts, for instance, the later ideas of Gnosticism, which started up over a century later, and preyed upon naïve Christians who were told that Jesus wasn’t enough, that there needed to be this extra gnosis, this extra knowledge that certain whacky, excommunicated teachers could give them – which turned out to be a whacky song and dance built up on tidbits of Greek philosophy and mythology and highly embellished by some people with overactive imaginations. Moreover, Jesus contradicts the idea of purgatory also, when he says that by faith in him there will be no future condemnation, and that the person who trusts in him has eternal life now. The idea that there is some purgatory for anyone does not come from the Old or New Testaments. Rather, Jesus puts the issue simply at trust in him determining whether a person goes to an eternity of shame apart from God or glory in the presence of God.
What Jesus said about believing in him means that person has received eternal life and has passed from death to life contradicts and corrects many of the ideas of what people have thought may happen after death. For instance, what Jesus said also contradicts the ideas of reincarnation – rebirth, as some Hindus put it – and the cycle of 64,000,000 rebirths which Hinduism says are necessary to escape the cycle of rebirths, which they say are necessary because of karma of previous lives. Rather, Jesus says that hearing him and believing his Word is enough, and that no special teaching is necessary, and no cycle of millions of rebirths and karma is necessary. So Jesus brings freedom from this onerous teaching and guides to the truth of what he offers in eternal life in the gospel: not continuation in some altered form and identity over thousands of rebirths, but coming to resurrection life as the same person in a body radically changed in life and power, to be like his own resurrection body.
So this is why we say that Jesus Christ is the Son of God in our preaching and teaching. It is not a statement made upon the basis of no evidence or against the evidence; that is not scriptural faith but ignorant credulity. Rather it is that the explanation that Jesus gives is in the scripture for who he is and what he has done is what we have found to be the best explanation of the evidence of history, and that in our age also it still calls for the response of faith. What Jesus has revealed to us throughout his life, ministry, death and resurrection about himself, as he did in a stupendously brief claim after a stupendously awesome act of healing, shows how stupendous his gospel really is. It reminds us that his gospel is not kid’s stuff, childish make-believe, and not something for the ignorant and weak to use for false and naïve comfort in the hardships of life. It shows us how much we lose when we try to downplay it and dumb it down to self help, trite phrases and bumper sticker formulas and reduce the glory of the gospel of Christ to a series of religious tips and tricks. It shows us how much we lose when we sidestep these kinds of passages in the preaching and teaching of our churches because they are so heavy and significant. But we do not do anyone any kind of favor by doing anything less than honoring the Son of God as we read, meditate on, preach and teach on the Biblical passages about the unique nature of the Son of God and the nature of saving faith.
Even more, the strong truth of the Son of God, being one with God the Father, and the source and foundation of eternal life, needs also to penetrate and saturate our praise, worship and prayers and our evangelism as well, with crystal clarity. We do no one any kind of favor by trivializing, paraphrasing, over explaining, soft pedaling, hinting or obliquely alluding to these truths in what we sing, preach, pray and share. True gospel belief in the Son of God, from the authority of the Son of God, is the most serious and significant step that anyone can take. And because it is from the authority of the Son of God, it is not open to speculative addition, subtraction or modification by any human being in any age – and certainly there will always be a challenge in every generation when someone wants to try to bring it down to what he or she thinks will make it easier or more appealing to someone else. But ultimately, it is impossible to combine or compare the Jesus of the scriptures, the unique Son of God, with anyone else, and his message of eternal life by faith in himself with anything else. And ultimately, we will find that every step we take to make Jesus palatable to the petulant and impatient people of our age is a step away from the truth of the words, deeds and person of the Jesus of the scriptures.
It is at this point that Christian preaching and teaching loses its relevance when it loses its eternal perspective and significance. Not too long ago I went back to reading over some of the writings of the apostolic fathers, who were the first generation of Christian leaders after the apostles, from about A.D. 100 or so to about A.D. 175. I was immediately struck by the emphasis in such writings as I and II Clement to the future resurrection and judgment and the incentive to godly and virtuous living for Christ that this means. But what is the emphasis in so much preaching and teaching today? Having a happy family and learning tools and techniques to get well adjusted – in other words, following Christ as simply being another form of self help to build a personal utopia in this age. What reason, then, would there be for anyone to continue on in following Christ if they find that for some reason the tools, techniques and formulas don’t work in their situation or that they can’t find their way to the happy Christian family in this life? What reason, then, would anyone find to follow Christ if what they find being preached and taught inside the church is pretty much the self help of the world without Christ, when they pretty much can find the same thing elsewhere without the strong moral demands of following Christ?
In addition, we need to recognize that many of those who may seem to have dropped out from church may never have come to the realization of the eternal stakes and consequences of faith in Christ and the authority of the person who spelled them out. If all that they saw was a way to a happy life now, then they missed the entire point of why Jesus came, lived, died and rose again. And if that was all that they saw, then maybe they never really had saving faith in the first place, since they never gave Jesus the full honor as the eternal Son of God who came from the Father, but rather treated him only as an ancient self help guru and his church as a religious kind of human potential movement. It’s at that point, when anyone considers letting go of Christian belief because of disappointment in people or the formulas, to consider what Peter asked Jesus, “Lord, to whom else would we go? You have the words of eternal life, and we have come to believe and to know that you are the Holy One of God” (John 6:69).
But Jesus does not leave the matter at that; he goes on to give a more thorough and direct statement of the future that his miracle points forward to. That is a future which too often people nowadays often do not realize, understand or clearly recognize, even if they claim to be believers in Jesus. It is the future which those who take a piecemeal, pick and choose, bits and pieces approach to the scriptures often miss, because they look for what they find emotionally appealing or sentimentally reassuring.
The ultimate truth about the future which Jesus reveals is this: the future belongs to the Son of God. With his words he takes ownership of the ultimate fate of everyone and claims the accountability of everyone who has ever lived to himself alone. These words by themselves are either the most amazing truths or among the most deluded fabrications of a shockingly diseased mind possible. Jesus has not left us the alternative with these words of just taking him as a teacher of mildly helpful aphorisms. Someone who would claim this kind of power and authority to himself must be either the eternal Son of God himself, to whom they rightly belong, or someone who is not to be taken seriously in anything else that he would say.
In verses 25-27, Jesus continues to make some shocking claims about himself: “Most assuredly I say to you that an hour is coming and now already is when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God and those who hear will live. For just as the Father has life in himself, so also he has granted to the Son to have life in himself; and he has given him authority to judge, because he is the Son of Man.” It is clear by the reaction of those around him that they understood that he was not referring to anyone else besides himself with what he said. And certainly he did not offer any correction to them if he did not intend that these words be understood about himself. He claimed for himself the titles of Son of God and Son of Man within the space of several short sentences. And in this short utterance he claimed for himself the role of God’s agent for the resurrection and judgment of all mankind. And in one short utterance he brought together two strands of Old Testament prophecy and pointed them back to himself.
The first strand of Old Testament prophecy that Jesus takes and points to himself is from Daniel 12:1-2: “And at that time shall Michael stand up, the great prince which standeth for the children of thy people: and there shall be a time of trouble, such as never was since there was a nation even to that same time: and at that time thy people shall be delivered, every one that shall be found written in the book. And many of them that sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt.” This passage is the clearest prophecy of the resurrection of the dead in the Old Testament. And Jesus brings this up to point out that the voice which will be calling forth the dead from their graves to judgment and their ultimate fate will be his. He has already claimed for himself the title of Son of God, and in the healing of the paralyzed man he has already showed how his word alone was sufficient to make a helpless man rise to his feet. His justification for doing that miracle in the way that he did it was his claim to be the Son of God.
So then, Jesus takes the further step of making the shocking claim that the voice which will raise the dead in the future will be his own. Those who were around him, for the most part, did not have a problem with believing that there would be a future resurrection. The influence of the Pharisees, who taught the resurrection of the dead, had influenced many, many more than that of the Sadducees, who denied a future resurrection. What was not merely controversial but utterly unprecedented was that there was someone who had been raised in their utterly monotheistic culture and taught in their utterly monotheistic synagogues who was claiming the power in himself to fulfill this prophecy. This was far beyond any claims to be able to do something showy or ostensibly magical like the levitation of an unsuspecting person. Rather, he was making right in front of them the claim that he was able and was actually going to raise from the dead by a single utterance everyone who had ever lived and died.
Then Jesus goes on to the next shocker. He backtracks within the book of Daniel to grab another strand of Old Testament prophecy and apply it to himself. The next strand of Old Testament prophecy that he grabs is Daniel 7:13-14, and he applies it to himself: “I saw in the night visions, and, behold, one like the Son of man came with the clouds of heaven, and came to the Ancient of days, and they brought him near before him. And there was given him dominion, and glory, and a kingdom, that all people, nations, and languages, should serve him: his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom that which shall not be destroyed.”
This is the ‘Son of Man’ passage, and it demonstrates that Jesus clearly wanted those who heard him to understand that he was claiming to be the Son of Man from the book of Daniel. In the other three New Testament gospels it is a way in which Jesus often referred to himself, and by his reference here to the Son of Man passage he makes it clear that he was using it in a way that wasn’t simply some weird circumlocution to refer back to himself, that when he spoke of the Son of Man, he wasn’t simply saying, ‘Just little old me.’ It wasn’t common in the days of Jesus to understand the Son of Man as the Messianic king of Old Testament prophecy, but here Jesus endorses that connection. And even more, his claim is that the Son of Man who brings the kingdom of God is the one who will call forth the resurrection and judgment, and that he is standing right there and declaring to them who he is and what he will do.
So here we will pause and allow all this to sink in, and then to consider its significance for us today. Note that Jesus stood his claims upon Old Testament prophecy regularly, consistently and without apology. His constant explanation of Old Testament prophecy, and his connection of one passage with another and expansion of Old Testament prophecy upon his own authority shows unclouded intelligence of the Son of God and his own unparalleled knowledge of the Old Testament. The use of the Old Testament throughout his ministry was his endorsement of its authority and eternal validity and application. So then, the acceptance of the authority of Jesus is the acceptance of the authority of the Old Testament. Because of Jesus, the Old Testament and its prophecies cannot be dismissed as the moldy old ravings of old men stuck in a patriarchal culture. Rather, because of Jesus we understand the Old Testament to be the instruction guide to the people of God of the greatest blessing of God in the Messiah and the future of all mankind as wrapped up in his chosen King. Even more, it shows the eternal plan and patience of God that he would take a man by the name of Abram, call him Abraham, and then bring forth a people that would be the people of the Messiah. The Old Testament itself is the demonstration that the preparation of the coming of the Messiah was all part of God’s plan, the whole counsel of God from all eternity.
So here too, in these claims of personal authority and in these claims of his personal fulfillment of the Old Testament, as he tells the world of the final miracle of his Messianic office, we see Jesus standing in the office of the ultimate and final Prophet as he states what he will do in his office as the coming King. In this short statement of the Apostles’ Creed the professing church week by week mentions the final miracle of the Son of God: ‘From whence he shall come to judge the quick and the dead . . .” So then, the question comes down to each one of us -– do you really believe what is a regular part of the confession of orthodox faith handed down? And when in the Apostles’ Creed we say that we believe “. . . and the life everlasting . . .” do we mean when we say these words that they reflect the scriptural teaching of the resurrection to life and do they reflect our personal acceptance of the scriptural teaching from the words of Jesus Christ? Or are they – as I am afraid that I think that they are for many who attend church around the world — just phrases that we repeat mindlessly just to get some kind of emotional buzz, by hearing and repeating something familiar, like some sort of Christian mantra? So if they are something that we say that we really don’t mean just to get some comfort by repeating some familiar words, then all the more reason for us to consider what Jesus is here saying about himself.
But finally Jesus brings home the zinger at the conclusion of what he said there in that day in Jerusalem. The zinger, in what it meant for them and also what it means for each one of us takes us far beyond what we think of ourselves, what others may say to us and far beyond our ideas and the standards of those around us. It takes us beyond the common tendency of human spiritual blindness to give ourselves too much credit for being good enough and points us rather to what it takes to be prepared for the time when Jesus shows up to perform his final miracle.
So Jesus goes on and brings home the conclusion of all that he has said to those who were hearing him: “Don’t be amazed at this, because an hour is coming when all who are in their graves will will hear his voice, and will come forth: those who have done good to the resurrection of life, and those who have done wicked to the resurrection of judgment.” It’s a fool’s quest to contradict Jesus, but it’s hard not to be amazed at what he is saying! But I think that the point that he is making is that our amazement at what he has said is not to drive us to suspend our belief and acceptance of what he is saying. It can be human nature to dismiss truth just because it does not fit our preconceived ideas or our personal orthodoxy. It is amazing contemplate these things and to imagine based upon scripture what they will be when they come to pass, but our imagination and amazement must not lead us to incredulity and unbelief. But the emphasis of Jesus is that the first thing that dead people will hear is the voice of the Son of God, his own voice, the man standing before them. His voice will be the voice that calls all the dead back to life. His claim is then that he would decide the final fate of all after they have come back to life. He would be the one that would bring life and judgment to them, in his eternal being as the the Son of God and his heavenly office as the Son of Man that had been predicted by Daniel the prophet.
Note that Jesus said all these things in the context of what we could call a small group evangelistic dialogue. He was speaking to a small group about eternal matters. Here he shows us more about what it really means to have an evangelistic dialogue with a small group. It often seems that our generation has been spending too much time in John 4 and has been hearing too much about the woman at the well in current preaching and teaching and not enough in the other evangelistic dialogues of Jesus. I think that we’ve not heard enough preaching and teaching this passage in John 5, or for that matter, John 3 or any of the other evangelistic teaching sessions and dialogue of John 6-10. Our generation has too often treated the conversation with the Samaritan woman as if it were the only one on one evangelistic conversation he ever had, or maybe we’ve also focused some attention on the conversation with the rich young ruler when someone wants to sneak in a plug for the redistribution of wealth. But this passage shows that Jesus was very ready to tell people about his identity as the eternal Son of God, the Messiah, base that upon his miracles, tell them of eternal realities of sin and judgment, and then to call them to a repentance and faith in himself.
So not only would Jesus tell people about the eternal consequences of the person and authority of himself during his ministry, he also based the revelation of his person and authority upon his own exegesis of the Old Testament. The apostles themselves would later do the same thing during their own ministry, as they followed the example of Jesus. In this case it’s likely that those who heard Jesus would have had a reaction of would have provoked ‘I never made that connection’ among his hearers of Daniel 12 on the resurrection and Daniel 7 on the coming of the Son of Man. Further reflection on what Jesus said would have brought them to the realization that ‘He’s right!’. In other words, Jesus did not base his claims just upon his own stupendous authority and miracles but also upon his own explanations of the Old Testament, and with this the apostles also followed his example. So then, Jesus’s own example here shows how he is treating those who were hearing him as adults who were capable of witnessing what he said and did and comparing them to the Old Testament revelation. He was not simply expecting them to accept things just on the basis that he was saying them – though no one else in history could have ever had that expectation – but to see the consistency between himself and the revelation of the Old Testament.
So, when Jesus talked about the coming resurrection, he was not telling them anything new. He was giving them a deeper explanation about a future event but something that most of those who heard him probably already believed would happen. Belief in the resurrection was quite common in Judaism at the time of Jesus. It was the belief of the Pharisees, as blurted out by Paul in funny moment in Acts 23:6. During his earthly ministry Jesus usually didn’t debate the reality of the coming resurrection, except in an exchange with the Sadducees in Matthew 26:4-6. But most of what is revealed in the New Testament about the resurrection and the final state of mankind actually comes from Jesus himself, especially ab0ut the resurrection of judgment.
So what Jesus says here is his declaration of the final, ultimate miracle of the Son of God. the eternal state of mankind, every person who has ever lived, is resurrection to one of two states, to eternal life or to eternal death. Jesus makes his statement on the ultimate consequences for those who have done good and for those who have done evil. The challenge is not to inject our own ideas of what is good and bad here, who are evil people and who are good people, since our own ideas tend to be quite self centered and childish – often not much more than the ‘goodie’ and ‘baddie’ language of the preschooler. Rather, the challenge is to understand what Jesus means by those who have done good and those who have done evil from the standpoint of what he had just said and the standpoint of what he has said throughout the whole gospel of John.
S0 let’s consider what Jesus meant by life and judgment, by going good or doing evil. Those were never anything that he ever soft-pedaled – and certainly we are never going to be any nicer or more loving than Jesus if we soft-pedal those huge, significant truths. But here in this very passage we can find that what he meant simply by what he has already said. The good thing that he means is honoring him as the Son of God by faith in him; the evil thing which he means is rejection of him and his salvation. This is entirely consistent with his other statements such as John 3:16-18, and the statement of John 3:36 in prior context of the gospel, and the later statements in John 6, 7 and 8. So the good which Jesus seeks first of all is the acceptance of him by faith as the Messiah, as the eternal Son of God, and the salvation which he has brought. And the evil which he says leads to judgment is the rejection of himself as the Messiah and the claims he meant for himself. This is the gospel, the good news from Jesus on that answers the ultimate questions of life. Certainly not everyone liked his good news then, and not everyone likes his good news now. But he provides the only answers which stand up in the light of eternity.
So then, finding such words about the resurrection to life and the resurrection to judgment in the mouth of Jesus across the gospels lends credence that the teaching about eternal judgment – hell – that this teaching certainly did not come from nor was it dependent upon the apostle Paul – whom some critics ignorantly try to disparage with the origin of the teaching about eternal life and eternal judgment. It furthermore discredits the claim that the parts of the gospel that these critics find unappealing come from Paul – rather from Jesus who is standing on the prophecy from the Old Testament which they despise also. But with the awareness of the reality of progressive revelation in the scriptures – that some realities are revealed gradually through a number of God’s spokesmen over many years – the doctrines of eternal life and eternal judgment come into clarity. In fact, the doctrines of heaven and hell and the consequences of faith in or rejection of Jesus in the New Testament stand pretty much the same even if a person ignores all that the letters of Paul have to say on the subject.
Again, it’s not loving but it is ultimately dishonest to downplay the real eternal consequences of faith in Jesus or to downplay the real eternal consequences of rejection of faith in the eternal Son of God. Perhaps this may have come as a reaction against unloving, strident and scary ways of preaching and teaching the realities of heaven and hell that happened in the church over the years. I suspect that more often it’s the personal arrogance of some professed believers who have become embarrassed at the gospel of Jesus Christ and who are trying to posture a kind of worldly pseudo-sophistication and intellectualism. But downplaying the eternal consequences it’s only unloving if you consider the claims of Jesus to be false in the first place. It means that you’re taking that side of the world that rejected Jesus and disdained contemned his words.
But even more then, the suggestion needs to be made – as lovingly as possible — that for some people, the offense at these statements of Jesus and attempts to downplay or ignore them in witness may itself be evidence of an unregenerate heart. I would never bring this to anyone as a dogmatic declaration of the state of his or her heart. Rather, there’s a real question of the reality of regeneration to be put where the witness of the scriptures rings clear and yet there is still tremendous internal and external resistance to the truth of the gospel of Jesus, his identity and the eternal consequences of acceptance of the truth. The challenge then means for that person to look into these things part of the habits of an adult faith, which is based upon first hand convictions from examining the scriptures, not upon family pressure, hand me down slogans and sound bites. And this grounded, adult faith will then give us the perspective to stand outside the hip, the trendy, the pseudo sophistication of this world, and to live beyond the desire to be ‘radical’ or ‘extreme’ because it makes us feel cool and superior.
A. W. Tozer once said something to the effect that God put the preacher in the pulpit not to ask questions but to answer them. Here, in this passage, perhaps more than anywhere else in scripture, Jesus addresses the ultimate questions all in one place. We can reduce the ultimate questions of life to the four questions that Billy Graham sought to address in his evangelistic ministry:
- “Who am I?”
- “Where did I come from?”
- “Where am I going?”
- “Is there any meaning to my life?”
So when Jesus said certainly contradicts much in this age. He certainly contradicts atheism – the assertion that there is no God – and scientism – the assertion that science is the ultimate guide to truth — and materialism – the assertion that material reality is all that there is. He also contradicts philosophical and nihilistic Buddhism as being fundamentally wrong in their ultimate authority and worldview, however moralistic they may be at times. They may be attractive in the West as a kind of moralism and often pseudo-spirituality. But with regard to their ultimate basis and their understanding of the ultimate consequences of life, Jesus himself contradicts them all with his assertion that the dead will rise to either eternal life or eternal judgment.
But what many people may not notice, even those who may attend or be a part of the church, is that Jesus’s assertion of the resurrection to life or judgment contradicts spiritism as well. There has been a seeming resurgence in interest in what scripture calls necromancy, ghosts and ghosthunting in the past few years in the United States like I have not seen since the early 1970s. That resurgence shows how unsatisfying to the human heart the assertion is that this life is all that is. But Jesus’s words assert that the fate of the dead is not to be disembodied spirits and ghosts but rather the resurrection to life or judgment. But it is also far too left unsaid lately in the modern evangelical church that this resurgence and undue curiosity leads to the demonic, and in this modern evangelical churches are repeating the mistakes of the mainline churches of the past. In the 1960s and the early 1970s I can personally remember how the mainline churches were often horribly undiscerning on this, often syncretistic in trying to combine the occult and superficial Christianity. For instance, I personally first came into contact with séances at a church camp from a mainline denomination from the son of a pastor of a mainline church back in the 1960s.
In addition, the declaration of Jesus about the resurrection to life and to judgment also contradicts the beliefs in reincarnation and Karma which have entered the belief systems of many from a very watered down Hinduism. It is noteworthy that the the popular belief in Karma bears no resemblance to the 40,000,000 rebirths of orthodox Hinduism. For some people, though, a belief in Karma is often a kind of shorthand for consequences and retribution in this life, which they received from the impeccable spiritual authority of John Lennon and the Beatles during their flirtation with Eastern mysticism (sarcasm intended). But this belief also receives direct contradiction from but the Jesus who lived in Palestine in orthodox Judaism, and his assertion means that that each of us has one life, that all will not be punished or rewarded in this life, but some will wait until his return to the resurrection to life and judgment.
Again, it needs to be noted that professed Christians tend to fall into these ‘ism’s and that people tend not to be converted to Christ from them unless the truth of the ultimate revelation of God in Jesus and the ultimate state of each of us is not made clear. When things like the statements of Jesus on the resurrection to life and to judgment are not a regular part of the preaching and teaching of the modern evangelical church, people get fuzzy and foolish on the eternal destinies of men and women around them. They tend to mix pagan ideas with shallow and unscriptural notions of the eternal state of men and women upon death. This becomes a severe problem when so much preaching and teaching stays in the shallow end of the pool, and when the public preaching and teaching ministry of the church ignores or dumbs down these incredibly significant eternal realities. Many people may come to a church out of curiosity, entertainment or to find quick fixes for personal dissatisfactions and problems. But they will quickly get bored with the Christianized self help and pop psychology when the world without Christ offers so much of it without the strong moral demands of Christ. The result may be when the disappointment comes with our Christianized self help and entertainment a type of moralistic cynicism and nihilism.
But even among these casual and occasional church attenders, God has set eternity in their hearts – instincts to want more than the comfy family and sexual satisfaction in a wonderful marriage. Unless the preaching and teaching addresses and addresses regularly ultimate questions, people become more and more dissatisfied. They lose the awareness of the deep and ultimate realities of the faith and this leads to a loss of growth in spiritual maturity. This likely has a lot to do with the shocking laziness after God, insensitivity to fellow believers in Christ and for the need of the world at large among so many professed believers and still so many pastors still tend to trot out the same ‘marriage, family, financial responsibility and sex’ sermons and teachings over and over again and keep on embellishing them with stories about their own families, and their congregations which are led down this path tend to become the seed sown upon thorny ground. But when Jesus speaks to us about the eternal realities, and his words permeate the preaching and teaching of the church, the foundational truths tend to keep believers safe and properly directed and grounded in the truth of God in this world.
Finally, words of Jesus about the resurrection to life and the resurrection to judgment should be the ultimate buzzkill to any utopian fantasies that may ever infiltrate the church of Jesus Christ and the imaginations of professed believers. Taking up the false mission of Karl Marx – “I’m out to change my world” — is missing the whole point. In our age, very selective citations of the gospels and the New Testament – these hoary interpretations of old mainline nineteenth century liberalism, which have long since been refuted exegetically, long since been bypassed by believers from not so long ago who saw through their falseness to the message of the New Testament – have been brought back to influence the shallow, superficial and spiritually immature and possibly unconverted people in our churches who have come to think that it’s chic and cool to be radical. (The truth is that his sheep hear his voice – they don’t go looking for the voices of this world in his words.) The challenge is then to read all the red lettered sections, not just a couple of them, and you’ll find that eternal realities such as the resurrection to life and the resurrection to judgment was much more the emphasis of Jesus than anything close to warmed over Marxism of the 1960s counterculture and mainline churches. And you’ll find that the writings of the apostles, including the much maligned Paul, are much more faithful to the message of Jesus than those who brazenly asserted that they knew what Jesus meant better than the apostles. But then again, it was always one of the problems of the very characteristic of the mainline churches in the 1960s and early 1970s, that they tended to major on the very minor portions of what Jesus said to come up with very twisted ideas. But the challenge remains to actually read the New Testament and don’t blindly accept the moldy old statements stolen from long dead 19th century ‘higher’ critics, and you’ll find that Jesus takes the ultimate and final responsibility to change our world: “See! I am making everything new!” (Revelation 21:5).
The shocking claim of Jesus Christ himself is that he personally is the Son of God and the Son of God mentioned in the Old Testament, and his personal power and authority will one day bring about the resurrection of the dead and the judgment of every person who has ever lived. This final miracle of the Son of God is the ultimate hope in this world for the final and eternal victory of the infinite goodness of God and the ultimate justice of God. But his final miracle would be preceded by his walking up the hill of Golgotha outside the wall of Jerusalem to suffer and die by crucifixion, and by this he would pay the price for to provide eternal forgiveness and eternal life for anyone who ever lived. Moreover, he preceded his final miracle by the miracle of his own resurrection, by being the first one raised from the dead as the portent of the final resurrection of all. And his resurrection to life preceded the next miracle of his ascension to the ultimate authority in heaven and on earth, where he offers to those in this world the first of eternal life if they will repent and trust in him. Therefore, since he has already given notice to this world far in advance of his final miracle, submission to him as Lord and trusting in him as Savior to receive his gift of eternal life is the preparation he has already called for.