The Eternal Question

Posted: February 16, 2015 in John
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John 5:24-30, “The Eternal Question”

Where happens when we die?  Where do we go?  Do we go anywhere at all, or do our bodies simply rot and decompose?  That’s one of the most common questions people face.  Virtually every religion attempts to address this is some way.  Even true history with Biblical Christianity doesn’t get past the third chapter of Genesis without dealing with the issue of life and death.  No doubt it’s something that is on our minds.

It’s a question all of us need to address, and we’re the only ones who can do it for ourselves.  When the moment comes that we finally take our last breath (and that moment WILL come), it’s not going to matter what our parents believed, or our spouse, or anyone else…it will matter what we personally believed.  What is it YOU believe?  Is there any way of knowing?

The issue of eternal life is a major theme in the book of John.  In 1:4, John already declares that Jesus (as the Word) has life in Himself, which is the light of men – and John closes out the book expressly telling the reader that he wrote the book so that we might believe that “Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in His name.” (Jn 20:31)

That’s a pretty lofty goal.  But eternity is a pretty lofty thing.  Eternity is a long time, after all.  We’re talking about the infinite, and it’s no wonder our minds fail to grasp it.  Today we think of a long life being 80-90 years, and we’re amazed at those who live beyond 100 – but what is 100 years in comparison to 1000?  1,000,000?  One quadrillion?  The mind boggles!  God endures for eon after eon, and He has created us to do the same with Him.

So what happens?  Obviously not every question about eternity can be answered, but the question OF eternity can.  And that’s what Jesus does in this part of Chapter 5.  As God the Son, Jesus speaks on the issue of His authority as God, and that includes His right to judge where men and women will spend their eternities.  Will it be in life, or in condemnation?  Jesus has the right to say, and Jesus tells us how we can know for certain.

If it seems like a pretty big topic, that’s because it is.  Contextually, Jesus is defending Himself to the Jewish authorities who were seeking to kill Him.  He had twice offended them: first, by healing a man upon the Sabbath (which they viewed as breaking the Jewish covenant with God, but Jesus rightly saw as the goodness of God & His true Sabbath rest being displayed).  And secondly, by making Himself equal with God.  If the first hadn’t angered the authorities enough, the second really hacked them off! 

Basically, Jesus had personally claimed the Almighty Creator God as His personal Father.  Because His Father was working, He as the Son would do the same things as His Father & work, as well.  This infuriated the Jews & they correctly understood Jesus to be making a claim of deity.  If He could do the same things as God and have the same rights as God, then that meant Jesus must think that He’s God.  (And He DOES, because He IS.)

Jesus didn’t back down from the claim earlier, and neither does He do so here.  In fact, He goes farther with it telling the Jews who attempted to judge Him that He Himself will be their Judge in eternity.  God the Father gave the Son the right to judge all mankind, and Jesus is the Son of God.

What we believe about Jesus has eternal impact.  Where will you spend your eternity?  What we believe makes all the difference.

John 5:24–30
24 “Most assuredly, I say to you, he who hears My word and believes in Him who sent Me has everlasting life, and shall not come into judgment, but has passed from death into life.

  1. Most assuredly,” literally = “Amen, amen.”  The double-use is unique to John’s gospel, and it seems to be his way of showing Jesus highlighting something.  The other gospels show Jesus using the single “Amen” (usually translated “truly” or “verily”), which serve basically the same purpose, but John’s usage is definitely set apart.  This shows a declaration based upon Jesus’ own authority.  Jesus is not referring back to the law, nor to the rabbis, nor to any other tradition or appeal to authority; the only authority Jesus to which appeals is His own.  What He says is absolute truth.
    1. This in itself is fairly brazen!  After all, who can speak with THAT level of authority?  None other but God…and that’s the point.  Jesus IS God, and He doesn’t back away from that claim in the slightest.  Back in vs. 19, Jesus used the “Amen, Amen” directly in response to the Jewish accusation of blasphemy, and He uses it again here.  Jesus is not going to apologize for claiming to be God; it would only be wrong if it was false, but it’s the absolute truth.
    2. Our culture gets uncomfortable with this level of certainty, with rare exceptions.  Especially in matters of religion or the conscience.  People will often say, “I’m glad that’s true for you; it’s just not true for me.”  Like beauty, they believe that truth is in the eye of the beholder.  Of course, that just doesn’t hold with reality.  Some things are just facts, whether or not we believe them.  Preferences vary from person to person; facts do not.  My idea of relaxation might be different from yours – but that’s a preference.  A fact is 2 + 2 = 4, or that George Washington was the 1st president.  Those things are absolute truths, no matter what we believe about them.  It’s the same way with Jesus’ claim to deity.  Jesus IS God.  Specifically, Jesus is the eternal Son of God, the 2nd Person of the Trinity, as revealed in the pages of the Bible.  That’s not an issue of preference; that’s a statement of fact.  Whether or not we want to believe it might be preferential, but the truth of the matter is not.
    3. Here’s the thing: Jesus WANTS us to know the facts and believe it about Him.  That’s why He made the definitive statements He did.  That’s why He performed the miracles He worked, and publicly rose from the dead.  So many people call out to God in prayer, saying “Show yourself to me!  Let me know you really exist!”  God DID.  God showed Himself in Jesus Christ.  All we need to do is look at what He has already revealed about Himself, and believe it.
  2. There are two double-amen declarations in our text.  Declaration #1 is about the person who receives eternal life.  There’s much here…let’s break it down:
  3. Everlasting life” is a reality.  Notice Jesus doesn’t build an argument for it; He just asserts the truth of it.  Obviously the Jews who whom Jesus was speaking already believed in eternity (for the most part, especially if they were of the party of the Pharisees), so Jesus didn’t need to try to debate it for them.  But the existence of the afterlife is simply a foregone conclusion for Jesus.  It’s not a question of “if there is an afterlife,” but “of what sort of afterlife” people will face.  As God, Jesus is the highest possible authority on the matter – if anyone would know, He would! 
  4. There are two conditions for receiving everlasting life: (1) hearing Jesus’ word, and (2) believing in the One who sent Jesus.  On the first point, obviously we must hear the gospel in order to respond to it.  (That’s one of the reason evangelism & missions are so important!  As Paul wrote to the Romans, “how shall they hear in Him of whom they have not heard?  And how shall they hear without a preacher?” Rom 10:14)  Jesus has to be proclaimed to people, and in this particular case His actions spoke for themselves.  He directly claimed to be God, and His miracles demonstrated the truth of it.  So the Jews (and people today) heard the truth, but now they needed to do something with that truth. 
  5. That’s where the second part comes in – they must believe.  It’s not enough to hear the gospel; we’ve got to believe it.  Many people hear the gospel, and they could tell you all kinds of facts about Jesus.  They celebrate Christmas and Easter, go to church a few times a year, and even put a bit of money into the offering.  But they don’t believe.  Without faith in the word that is preached, then the words are just words.  We must believe the word that is preached about Jesus in order to be saved.  We need to place our whole trust in Him, truly entrusting ourselves TO Him as the God who died for our sins upon the cross and rose from the grave. 
    1. Specifically, we need to “believe in Him who sent” Jesus.  Although it might seem like an unusual way to put it, this goes straight to the heart of the gospel.  This isn’t just a generic belief in a generic God; this is specific to the mission and purpose of Jesus.  God the Father sent Jesus His Son into the world to save us.  If we don’t believe the relationship between Father and Son, and the mission that the Father had for the Son, then we’ve missed the whole point.  What was the mission?  The most famous verse in the book of John put it this way: John 3:16, "For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life." . Today, you need to ask yourself if YOU believe.
  6. So that’s how someone receives everlasting life.  What did they have prior to that?  Death – judgment.  The person was already in death – Jesus said that they “passed from death into life.”  Death was the starting point, and was what they passed from.  Yet what IS death in regards to eternity?  It’s not simply passing out of existence; it’s “judgment.”  Without belief in Jesus, all people will be judged.  What that looks like is something Jesus addresses a few verses later.

25 Most assuredly, I say to you, the hour is coming, and now is, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God; and those who hear will live.

  1. Declaration #2: the reality of the resurrection.  In regards to the question: “What happens when we die?” one thing that is certainly going to happen is that our bodies will not always remain in the grave.  There is a day and hour coming when the dead will rise.  Jesus is going to explain more about this in a minute, but for now notice how it all takes place: “when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God.”  The Son of God has all the power of God, for in His voice is the authority to give life to the dead (something that Jesus will specifically explain in vs 26).  Just as God spoke the world into existence, so does the Son of God speak life into individuals.  AND…Jesus is the “Son of God.”  In vs. 24, Jesus said the person who heard His words, and believed in the One who sent Him was given eternal life, and now it is those who hear the voice of the Son of God who live.  Who is this Son of God?  None other than Jesus.  Not only does Jesus not back down from His claim of deity – He embraces it.  This is who He is.  This is what the Bible clearly proclaims about Him.  Those who try to say that the Bible never claims that Jesus is God either (1) have never read the Bible for themselves and are ignorant as to what it says, (2) have become so ingrained against the truth that they cannot recognize it, or (3) are intentionally lying about it.  There is simply no getting around Jesus’ claim to be fully God.  It is either the truth, or it’s not, but we have to deal with His claim for what it is.
    1. BTW – it’s the truth!  The proof is in His own resurrection from the dead.
  2. There is something truly glorious about all of this: it has already begun.  “The hour is coming, and now is”  Eternal life is not something that the believer in Christ awaits in the future; it’s something that has already begun.  The moment you turned away from your sin and put your faith in Christ asking Him to forgive you was the moment you began your eternal life.  The Holy Spirit of God gave you a brand-new birth, and you became a brand-new creation.  This life we now live is something that will never end.  Our bodies may die, but that’s only temporary.  We’ll get new ones in the physical resurrection.  It’s this new birth that Jesus seems to refer to, when He says that the hour is now that the dead will live.  Remember in vs. 24, all men are already dead until they come to faith in Christ, and that’s when they pass from death to life.  In vs. 25, Jesus uses the truth of the physical resurrection to paint the same picture.  What is true physically in the future is true spiritually in the present.
  3. Jesus makes a pretty big claim regarding His deity here!  He goes on to explain what it all means in the next few verses…

26 For as the Father has life in Himself, so He has granted the Son to have life in Himself, 27 and has given Him authority to execute judgment also, because He is the Son of Man.

  1. 1st claim to deity: the attributes of God.  The Father has life in Himself; the Son has life in Himself.  All that needed to take place during the week of creation was for God to speak, and things came into existence.  God breathed into Adam, and he became a man.  All things that live received their lives from a single source: God.  Only God Himself didn’t need to be given life because He is the very source of life.  When people talk about the origins of the universe, we eventually have to talk about the “first cause.”  Something has to start something else into motion, life has to come from life, etc.  A frog cannot be born out of a rock; it doesn’t work that way.  This is where atheistic Darwinists struggle, because they have to assume a point that something came out of nothing, and that life came from non-life.  It goes against the very core of everything that is observable science, yet they have no other explanation.  The Biblical truth has no such problem.  Life came from God, and God is self-existent.  God has no first-cause; He simply IS.  He has no creator because He is the Creator.  If God had to be brought into existence by something else, He would be less than truly God.  It is a massive claim to be sure, but that is the claim of the Bible (and the evidence is all around us as we seek the handiwork of His creation).  All of this goes straight to what Jesus is saying here.  God (as the first cause) “has life in Himself.”  Likewise, the Son has “life in Himself,” something the Father granted Him to have.  How this “grant” works is a mystery to be sure, but what is definitely clear is that the Son has the same power of self-existence and life that God the Father has.
    1. How does that all relate back to what Jesus has taught about everlasting life and the resurrection?  Because the Son has life in Himself, the Son has life to give.  This is not something that we can find in any other source.  To get the right item, you have to go to the right source.  You don’t go to your accountant to get a prescription when you’re sick.  You have to go to the right source, or you won’t find what you’re looking for.  If you’re looking for life, there is only one Person who has the ability to grant it: Jesus.  No other prophet has life in himself.  No other teacher or philosophy has life in itself.  Only Jesus has life in Himself, thus only Jesus can give life.  That’s why those who hear His words and believe are the ones granted everlasting life.
  2. 2nd claim to deity: the authority of God. The Father has right to judge; the Son has right to judge.  The Creator God has authority over all things, simply by virtue of the fact that He created them.  The same cannot be said of others.  Even the most hardened skeptic understands that not everyone has the right to judge. We say “Who died and made you king?”  In God’s case, He has always BEEN the King (even if we don’t recognize Him as such).  This right to judge that is inherently held by God the Father is given to the Son.  Again, we cannot say how or when it all happened, but in the infinite counsels of God & inner workings of the Trinity, God the Father granted God the Son all the authority to execute judgment as He sees fit.  All of what Jesus is saying here goes back to what He was saying in verses 21-22, where “the Son gives life to whom He will,” and that the Father “has committed all judgment to the Son.”  Jesus has all the power, attributes, and authority as God because He IS God.
  3. Why specifically will the Son judge?  Because the Son of God is the Son of Man. Although Jesus has used both titles for Himself, this seems to be the first time He uses them interchangeably.  In vs. 25 He refers to Himself as the Son of God; in vs. 27 that same Son of God is the Son of Man.  Once more, this is a direct statement of His deity, and all of the authority He has been given to judge all of mankind.  Daniel 7:13–14, "(13) “I was watching in the night visions, And behold, One like the Son of Man, Coming with the clouds of heaven! He came to the Ancient of Days, And they brought Him near before Him. (14) Then to Him was given dominion and glory and a kingdom, That all peoples, nations, and languages should serve Him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion, Which shall not pass away, And His kingdom the one Which shall not be destroyed." .  This is the King of kings, coming with all power, authority, and might – this is the One who will reign over all the nations and has the right to judge the living and the dead.
    1. And here is the amazing thing: we’ve been given Him the opportunity to know Him now.  The Son of God did not have to be revealed to us in humility and love when God sent Jesus to the world.  Jesus did not have to be born in Bethlehem, and live among us, demonstrating His compassion and mercy.  He could have come once: only as the Judge and Conquering King.  It would have been perfectly right for Him to do so, and if every single human perished in our sin, it would be fully deserved.  But that’s not what God did.  God loved us, and demonstrated His grace and mercy and compassion.  Jesus has the right to judge, but His great desire is to grant forgiveness and life.

28 Do not marvel at this; for the hour is coming in which all who are in the graves will hear His voice 29 and come forth—those who have done good, to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil, to the resurrection of condemnation.

  1. Don’t marvel at this.  Easier said than done. J  How can we NOT marvel at the wonder of the Son of God?  Of course, Jesus was still speaking to the Jews, and He is telling them not to marvel at His teaching that the Son of God has all of the attributes and authority as God.  This is what the Scripture has always taught.  Also, they should not marvel or be confused about the future resurrection.  Again, this is something that the Scripture taught in the past, though they may not have understood it.
  2. What does Jesus want us to know about the resurrection?  First, it’s universal.  “All who are in the graves will hear His voice and come forth…” All people will be raised.  It doesn’t matter if you didn’t believe in the resurrection, or if you held to a different faith, or if you held to no faith whatsoever – there is coming a day when you will physically stand before God and see Jesus face to face.  Sometimes people say “all roads lead to God,” and that much is true.  Not all roads lead to heaven and eternal life, but everyone in all of history will one day see God.  The voice of Jesus will call out, and all who are in the graves will come out of them.
    1. BTW – is Jesus saying that only people who are in graves will be raised?  What happens to people whose bodies have long-since decomposed?  Or buried at the bottom of the sea – or cremated, etc?  The God who created Adam from the dust surely has no difficulty in resurrecting our destroyed bodies from the dust.  “In the graves” is just an expression to refer to those who are dead.  How/if we are buried places no restrictions on what Jesus can and will do in the resurrection.
  3. Second, it’s specific.  All people will be raised, but not all people will be raised in the same event.  There are two resurrections mentioned here: “life” & “condemnation.”  Again, this was something written of in the Old Testament Scriptures: Daniel 12:1–2, "(1) “At that time Michael shall stand up, The great prince who stands watch over the sons of your people; And there shall be a time of trouble, Such as never was since there was a nation, Even to that time. And at that time your people shall be delivered, Every one who is found written in the book. (2) And many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, Some to everlasting life, Some to shame and everlasting contempt." . The context is regarding the Great Tribulation, during which Satan and his forces (led by Antichrist and the false prophet) will attempt to exterminate the nation of Israel (who at that point will have come to full saving faith in Christ, along with many Gentile people).  It will be a time of great trouble, but there is also great hope.  Those who die will not remain dead; they will be raised.  And just as Jesus teaches in John 5, there are two resurrections: one to life, and one to condemnation.  Those who have faith in Jesus will receive the life that He has in Himself to give, and those who do not will receive the judgment that He has been authorized to pour out.
    1. Question: How does this fit with Revelation and Paul?  People often get confused in these sorts of issues, because we start to wonder how many resurrections there are, how it all fits together with the Rapture, etc.  It actually fits together very well.  Revelation 20:5 speaks of the “first resurrection,” in which the saints of God participate, and then describes what can only be a second resurrection in 20:13 when the dead from all over the earth are raised to stand before Jesus at the Great White Throne judgment.  The first seems to be the resurrection of life, while the second is the resurrection of condemnation.  Objection: but what about Paul and the rapture? Isn’t there a resurrection at that time as well?  Answer: Yes…and this is one that seems to take place long before the resurrection described in Revelation 20. 1 Thessalonians 4:15–17, "(15) For this we say to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive and remain until the coming of the Lord will by no means precede those who are asleep. (16) For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. (17) Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And thus we shall always be with the Lord." .  So are there two resurrections, or three?  Biblically speaking, there are two – with the 1st resurrection being stretched out over time.  The resurrection of life includes those raised at the initial calling of Jesus and rapture, as well as the saints of God raised at the end of the Great Tribulation.  BTW – there’s no avoiding the fact that this particular resurrection is stretched out, because technically it was begun by Jesus in His resurrection.  He is the firstfruits of those raised from the dead, so it started with Him, and will not end until the event in Revelation 20.  Obviously these are things that well-meaning Christians disagree upon, and there is little here that is absolutely essential to our salvation in Christ. 
    2. Notice what this does with the doctrine of annihilation: it annihilates it.  Those who believe in annihilation believe that eternity is only given to those who receive eternal life, and that those are sent to hell do not physically last for eternity in hell, but are wiped out of existence.  For them, “eternal punishment” in death is to be eternally annihilated.  There are well-meaning born-again Christians to hold to this viewpoint, but the weight of the Bible is against them.  There is only one type of resurrected body spoken of in Scripture: a body that physically lasts for all eternity.  Those who are raised in the resurrection of condemnation still face an eternal future; only it’s a future of hopelessness and death.  (That’s not what God desires for you!  Hell was not created for humans, but for demons.  No human has to go to hell.  Jesus died for that specific reason.)
  4. What is the determining factor between them?  Whether we’ve done “good” or “evil.”  Is Jesus saying we can earn our salvation?  Not at all.  Take it all in context.  In 5:24, Jesus specifically declared who are the ones that receive everlasting life: those who hear His word and believe in Him.  That IS the good work mentioned here.  As Jesus will teach in the next chapter: “This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He sent.” (Jn 6:29)

30 I can of Myself do nothing. As I hear, I judge; and My judgment is righteous, because I do not seek My own will but the will of the Father who sent Me.

  1. Sums it all up.  The life the Son gives or the judgment the Son proclaims is not random or an act of usurped authority.  This is what He was given to do by the Father.  The Son does the will of the Father, and nothing else.  The Jewish authorities may have thought that Jesus was taking something to Himself that He wasn’t supposed to.  By accusing Him of blasphemy, they were saying Jesus didn’t have the right to do these things.  Yet Jesus was only doing what He had been sent to do.  Jesus wasn’t asserting His own will, nor was He claiming to be something He was not.  He was perfectly in the will of God, and perfectly carrying out the will of God.  He did that not only in His earthly ministry, but would do it at the future resurrection and judgment as well.
  2. Notice the Son is perfectly submitted to the Father, while being totally equal with Him.  Jesus has the same essential attributes as the Father – He has the same power and authority as the Father – yet He humbly and willingly submits to the Father.  Jesus is preeminent above all, but He has no oversized ego.  We’d expect that of men.  The more power we give to men, the more they want to take to themselves.  It’s become a cliché to say “power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.”  That true with all except Jesus.  The all-powerful Son of God willingly restrains His power except under the direction of His Heavenly Father.
  3. Notice also the switch between the 1st and 3rd Person.  Jesus has taught about the Son of God/Son of Man and the life & judgment that comes through Him, and Jesus claims that judgment for Himself.  If it hadn’t been clear so far, it ought to be clear now: Jesus IS the Son of God.
    1. So what does that tell us?  We need to believe in Jesus, the Son of God!

Conclusion:
There’s no doubt that some of this is pretty heavy stuff.  Not only does Jesus force the Jews (and us) into dealing with the claim that He is God Himself, but how we deal with that claim makes all the difference on where we spend eternity.  There is a resurrection coming, and it’s coming to everyone.  Which resurrection we experience then depends on what we do with Jesus now.  Will we hear His words and believe His sending?  Jesus has been given the right to hand out life and judgment; in Him is all the authority of God.

It sounds all rather stark, but there is wonderfully good news in this.  Jesus wants to give us life.  Jesus wants us to be in the resurrection of life, not the resurrection of judgment.  Jesus wanted the Jews who were listening to Him to be in the resurrection of life.  Think about it: why else would He be telling them about it?  If Jesus was simply ready to throw down fire and brimstone & cast them all into hell, He didn’t have to give them any warning.  They had already condemned themselves in their sin, and they were only piling up sin on top of sin in their desire to kill Him.  Yet Jesus is patiently and mercifully telling them the truth.  He’s telling each of His persecutors how even they could be saved if they but heard His words and believed that He was sent by God.

How can we know the compassion of God?  Because God showed up.  Jesus came, and He told us the truth, so that we would put our faith in Him and be saved.  Will we hear Him?  Will we place all of our hope in Him?

If all your hope is in Jesus, then He is all you need. 

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