Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Giving Life to the Dead (John 5:25-30)


I suppose sooner or later in everyone’s life, they wrestle with the question, “Is there life beyond death?” It is an age-old question. Most biblical scholars seem to agree that the Book of Job is the oldest writing in our Bibles. Though the events of the first half of Genesis pre-date the events of Job, they were not recorded in writing until the time of Moses, whereas Job seems to have been written long before Moses’ day. And, in Job, we find the suffering patriarch wrestling with the question, “If a man dies, will he live again?” (Job 14:14). I remember the first time I wrestled with that question. Somehow, I had avoided it for the first 18 years of my life. But, in the summer following my high school graduation, my grandmother died, and my cousins and I were pallbearers at her funeral. It was the first funeral I had ever attended, and it was the closest that death had ever struck me. I distinctly remember the sound of the mausoleum vault closing, and as it echoed I was perplexed with mixture of despair, fear, and curiosity. The questions that kept bouncing around in my head were, “Now what? Is that the end, or is there something more?” God used those questions and emotions that I wrestled with to draw me to Himself. And it was there I found the answers in His Word. I found that not only is there life after death, but there is also a death before death. I was afraid of what would happen when I died, all the while not knowing that I was already dead and in need of being brought to life by Jesus. So, these are the kinds of things that Jesus is talking about here in this brief text today. He is talking about His power to give life to the dead.

I. Jesus has the power to give life to the spiritually dead. (vv25-26)

Many of you have undoubtedly noticed that there is a craze going around about zombies. What is a zombie? Well, in popular folklore, a zombie is a dead body that has been enlivened by a mystical or paranormal power. In short, zombies are the semi-living, walking dead, or the “undead” as they are commonly called. Walk into any bookstore, and you will find titles like The Zombie Survival Guide or Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. In the toy aisle of your local big box store, you will find a whole line of “Monster High” dolls. Movies, TV shows, and video games commonly feature human beings pitted against hordes of the undead, and on a somewhat regular basis, otherwise mainstream news outlets report stories dealing with the fears of a zombie apocalypse. In fact, in September of this year, the Centers for Disease Control launched a campaign to prepare citizens for a zombie apocalypse, and just a couple of weeks ago in San Diego, United States Navy and Marine personnel engaged in zombie apocalypse training exercises.[1] Now, admittedly, those training exercises and the CDC campaign were promoted with tongue-in-cheek, suggesting that if you are prepared for a zombie apocalypse, you will be well prepared for any sort of emergency that may arise.[2] But they are capitalizing on the popularity of the zombie meme in contemporary popular culture. It’s all kind of foolish, don’t you think? This idea that we can be invaded by multitudes of walking, undead corpses? Well, what if I told you that I believe you are already surrounded by walking corpses? You might want to call in some professionals to evaluate my mental well-being. But in a very real and spiritual sense, we are surrounded by the living dead: spiritual zombies.

Notice in verse 25 that Jesus says, “An hour is coming and now is, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God and those who hear will live.” Now, notice the phrase “and now is.” Jesus is talking about something that is taking place, not in the future (though it will happen then as well, for He says “an hour is coming”), but it is happening in the present, at the time of His earthly ministry. The dead are able to hear His voice and those who hear will live. Now, we know that Jesus did in fact raise the dead to life on a few occasions: Lazarus (John 11:1-44), the son of the widow at Nain (Luke 7:11-17); and Jairus’s daughter (Matthew 9:18-26). Aside from these three, we do not know how many others experienced this unusual and temporary deliverance from death. That doesn’t seem to be what He is speaking of here. Notice that here, in the present tense, Jesus speaks of giving life to the dead, but it is not universal in effect. Though He says that the time now is when “the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God,” He seems to indicate that not all will hear, and thus not all will receive life. Contrast this with verse 28. There, we do not find any mention of a present work, only future; and those who are described as “dead” in verse 25 are contrasted with those who are described as “in the tombs” in verse 28. In the present state, in verse 25, not all receive life; whereas in verse 28, in the future, all who are in the tombs will hear His voice and come forth. So it seems that Jesus is saying that not all who are dead are in the tombs. There are some others who are dead outside of the tomb, and if they will hear His voice, they will receive life. So, what is going on here?

The dead that Jesus is describing in verse 25 are what I would call “the living dead,” these spiritual zombies who are walking around in human bodies, but who are dead spiritually. Who are they? Well, in fact, every member of the human race is born in this condition, and a good plenty remain that way. Turn over to Ephesians 2:1, and let’s look at this for a moment. Here Paul says, “And you were dead in your trespasses and sins.” He does not say, “You were sick,” or “you were disabled,” or “you were a little unwell.” He says, “You were dead.” You remember that God told Adam that in the day that he ate of the forbidden fruit, he would surely die. Now physically, Adam did not die that day. Sin brought about a condition in him that would ultimately lead to an eventual physical death. But immediately, at the very moment of his sin, he died spiritually. And the terminal disease of sin has been spread to all of humanity; thus, we are all born dead in the spiritual sense, and we are all susceptible to physical death – we live in dying bodies with dead spirits – because of the effect of sin on the human race. So, Romans 5:12 says, “Therefore, just as through one man sin entered into the world, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men, because all sinned.” So, what is the natural condition of a human being? Dead and dying; spiritually dead and physically dying because of sin.

Now, you might say, “But I feel pretty good. I don’t feel dead.” A couple of weeks ago I was engaged in the first battle of annual war on leaves in my yard. And in the course of the battle, I was attacked by a multitude of yellowjackets. So, I went to the store to find something to deal with the yellowjacket problem, and I found this can of Raid that was supposed to do the trick. It said, “Raid Kills Bugs Dead.” That’s good. I wanted to kill them. And I wanted to kill them dead. So I sprayed the whole can into their nest. The next day I went out, and those yellowjackets were still swarming all over the place. It occurred to me that if that Raid had indeed killed the yellowjackets, it had not killed them dead. There must have been some kind of live kind of killing that the Raid had accomplished. When I think about that, I am reminded of how sin works in us. It kills us. But we are still buzzing around, aren’t we? Sin kills us, but it has not yet killed us dead. There’s some kind of live kind of killing that sin is accomplishing in us. But it will kill us dead eventually. Before that physical death occurs, however, we are spiritually dead in sin.

What does spiritual death look like? Notice how Paul describes it in Ephesians 2:2. He says that these spiritual zombies “walk according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air (that’s Satan), of the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience.” So, their lives are characterized by an enslavement to worldly values that are disobedient to will and Word of God, and which are dictated by Satan himself. Then in verse 3, he says that spiritual zombies live in the lusts of their flesh, indulging in the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and by nature they are children of wrath. They live under the condemnation of God because they serve their own warped desires as a god. To be spiritually dead is “to be insensible to the things of God and totally unable to respond to Him.”[3] That part of our being that communicates and interacts with God is dead within us from birth.

But notice the most amazing thing about this passage. Paul says in verse 1, “you were dead.” That’s past tense. In verse 3 he says that we formerly lived this way. So how did we go from being spiritual zombies to being spiritually alive? Paul says it this way in verses 4 and 5 of Ephesians 2: “But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved).” What is he saying? He’s saying exactly what Jesus is saying back in our text in John 5. The hour is coming, and Jesus says that hour is already here, when those who are dead – these spiritual zombies – will hear the voice of the Son of God. And when they hear His voice, He brings them to life. We are transformed from spiritual death to spiritual life by the effectual call of Christ through the Gospel. The voice of Christ comes breaking into the life of spiritually dead person like “a kind of summons from the King of the universe, and it has such power that it brings about the response that it asks for in people’s hearts. … This calling has the capacity to draw us out of the kingdom of darkness and bring us into God’s kingdom.”[4] It raises us up from spiritual death and makes us finally spiritually alive. And that happened to you the moment you heard and believed the promise of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. You were made alive in Him. We call it being born again.

Now, how is it that the Son, the Lord Jesus can give life? He says in verse 26 that it is because He has life in Himself. You see, our lives are “derived.” Most immediately, our lives our derived from the lives of our parents, who “gave life” (for lack of a better word) to us through procreation. But more ultimately, all human life is derived from God, who created humanity, who gave life to man, and with it the ability to procreate, and who upholds and sustains human life through His providential care. Thus, when Job was presented with the news that his children had died, he responded, “the Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away. Blessed be the name of the Lord.” And concerning that response, the Bible says, “Through all this, Job did not sin nor did he blame God” (Job 1:21-22). Job understood that human life is a derived life. But when it comes to the life that is in Jesus, it is not derived in any way. He has life in Himself. His is self-existent, and the life that He has, He is able to impart to others.

But what are we to make of the idea here in verse 26 that the life that Jesus has in Himself was given to Him by the Father? Admittedly, this is a complicated and mysterious truth, bound up in the infinite mystery of the Trinity. But the idea here seems to have something to do with the condescension of the Son in the incarnation as He took upon Himself human flesh and a human nature. Philippians 2:6-8 describes it this way: “although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself….” Theologians refer to this as the kenosis, a Greek word that means “emptying.” Christ emptied Himself of His divine glory and power to become a man. But it was pleasing to the Father that Christ should retain some of His divine attributes even as He condescended to human nature. And one of these attributes was the power to have life in Himself and the power to grant that life to others. Thus, we read in John 1:4 that in Him (in Christ, the Living Word of God) was life, and the life was the Light of men.” The Father was pleased to grant the Son to retain His self-existent nature – this life-in-Himself, which He has the power to give to the spiritually dead who hear and respond in faith to the call of His voice in the proclamation of the Gospel. Jesus says in John 10:27-28, “My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me; and I give eternal life to them, and they will never perish; and no one will snatch them out of My hand.” When we were dead in our trespasses and sins, the voice of Christ came flooding in and brought life to those spiritually dead who heard His voice in the Gospel and turned in faith to receive Him as Lord and Savior. The hour is coming, Jesus says, and now is. If you are spiritually dead, having never turned in faith to the Lord Jesus, then He is calling out to you even today to announce that through His sinless life, His sacrificial death for your sins, and His glorious resurrection, your sins can be washed away and you can have life – eternal and abundant – beginning even in this very moment. The spiritual life that Jesus gives to the spiritually dead here and now foreshadows a coming day, yet future, which is described in the following verses.

II. Jesus has the authority to raise and judge the entire human race

Donia and I have been married for 15 years. For the first six years of our marriage, we lived beside of a cemetery; and for the last 7 years of our marriage we’ve lived beside of another cemetery. People often ask us, “What’s it like living beside of a graveyard?” Well, we don’t have to worry about noisy or nosey neighbors, so it really has some significant advantages. There’s not a lot of activity in most graveyards. But that won’t always be true. There is a day coming, the Lord Jesus says, in which there will be a great upheaval in every cemetery in the world. That day remains in the future. Unlike verse 25, there is no present tense component of this promise. How far in the future will this event occur? We don’t know. But we do know that every day that elapses brings us one day closer. In the previous section we were talking about the spiritual dead – those spiritual zombies who are walking around among us every day. But now we are talking about the physical dead – they are in the tombs. And one day, “all who are in the tombs will hear His voice, and will come forth.” The same voice that brings life to the spiritually dead here and now will call the dead to rise from their tombs and stand face to face before Him. Thus Job said, “I know that my Redeemer lives, and that at the last He will take His stand on the earth. Even after my skin is destroyed, yet from my flesh I shall see God” (Job 19:25-26).

For at least 350 years, and probably much longer than that, as Christians gather to bury their dead, words similar to this are spoken: “we commit this body to the ground; earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust; in the sure and certain hope of the resurrection from the dead unto eternal life, through our Lord Jesus Christ.” This wording originates in the Anglican Book of Common Prayer from 1662, but certainly the ideas that these words express are rooted in the Word of God itself. No matter the circumstances or the degree of sorrow in my heart over the death of a loved one, when I officiate at the graveside of a believer, I find tremendous joy as I utter the words, “sure and certain hope of the Resurrection.” Folks, I really believe that, and I hope you do too! For the believer in Jesus Christ, death is not the end. We are confident by faith that the day is coming when the soul of our departed loved one, who is already with the Lord, will be reunited with a risen and glorified body! Through our Lord Jesus Christ, we have a sure and certain hope of resurrection from the dead unto eternal life! There is no greater comfort a grieving Christian can know that this!

However, what we do not often express verbally at the graveside is that there is also a sure and certain promise of resurrection for those who do not know the Lord Jesus Christ. There is no hope and comfort in that promise. Though the unbeliever has the promise of resurrection and conscious existence beyond death, it is not a joyous existence in the glorious presence of Christ in heaven. It is a perpetual, eternal existence of judgment and condemnation. It seems odd to even call it life. It is at best a mere existence in the most agonizing of conditions. But it is a real, conscious, and unending existence, and that is a sure and certain promise made by none other than the Lord Jesus Himself. Therefore, we can believe it, and as He says in verse 28, we must not marvel at the truthfulness of these words.

When all who are in the tombs come forth in response to the voice of Christ, there will be a great separating of humanity. Now, this text really says nothing about chronology or time. There are other texts in Scripture that seem to indicate that the resurrection of the righteous dead will occur long before the resurrection of the unrighteous dead. This text does not contradict that. It merely asserts that all humanity – saved and unsaved; righteous and unrighteous – will be raised will be separated into two populations. Jesus says here that those who “did the good deeds” will be raised “to a resurrection of life.” It would be easy to mistakenly infer that Jesus is saying here that people will earn eternal life on the basis of their works, but that is most definitely NOT what He is saying. The Bible makes abundantly clear from cover to cover that works do not and cannot save human beings, for as spiritually dead people we are unable to do anything in our own power to bring pleasure to God, and our so-called righteousness is nothing but filthy rags in His sight. So, how then will those who did the good deeds be raised to a resurrection of life? We must rely on the whole context of Scripture to understand this. In John 6:28, the people asked Jesus, “What shall we do, so that we may work the works of God?” He responded (6:29) by saying, “This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He has sent.” What is the “good deed” that leads to the resurrection of life? It is believing on the Lord Jesus Christ! It is not a doing of something, but the receiving of something that has been done for you! It is the receiving of Christ as Lord and Savior on the basis of His sinless life, the death He died in your place for your sins, and the power of His resurrection. And when a person has received Him, they are transformed from spiritual death to spiritual life here and now, and will eventually be raised to eternal life with Him in the glory of heaven. The validity of this person’s faith in Christ is demonstrated by perseverance in a God-glorifying of righteous living, not done in an effort to earn salvation; but done as an overflowing of His life within us. These deeds are not the working of our own power to appease God; they are the outworking of the indwelling Christ within us. As Paul said in Galatians 2:20, “I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God who loved me and gave Himself up for me.” So the good deeds that lead to a resurrection of life are not even our own. We merely receive and appropriate for ourselves what Christ has done for us, and He lives and works through us those deeds that demonstrate that our relationship with Him is real and viable. Works do not make a person a Christian, but they can and should reveal whether or not a person is a genuine Christian, and not merely one who calls himself or herself Christian.

Apart from life in Him, the best that we can do is sin. Sin so totally corrupts the spiritually dead person that our self-instigated acts of righteousness amount only to unrighteousness. Thus, Jesus says that those who committed the evil deeds – that is, they did not believe upon Christ; they did not receive spiritual life in their state of spiritual death; they do not have Christ in them as the hope of glory – these will be raised, but not to eternal life with Him. These will be raised to a resurrection of judgment. The word also means condemnation. It describes the eternal, conscious existence which is separated from Him in hell, where for all eternity the condemnation of our sins is experienced moment by moment.

For a multitude of people, this message is now and always has been a highly offensive message. Christians who proclaim this truth are called judgmental and narrow-minded. It is often said that Christians do not reflect the nature of Christ in making statements like this, but I remind you that these are the words of Jesus Himself. He has been granted the authority by His Father to execute judgment, and the judgment is based on human response to Him as Lord and as Savior of the world. Verse 27 says that the Father has given Him this prerogative “because He is the Son of Man.” We’ve discussed this title before many times, and noted that it is the favorite title that Jesus uses to refer to Himself. In fact, no one else ever calls Him this; He alone uses the title, and more often than any other title, to refer to Himself. It is rooted in the messianic announcement of Daniel 7:13-14, in which we read that the Son of Man will receive from the Ancient of Days an everlasting dominion and kingdom which will never pass away. This is a vivid picture of the authority that is granted to God the Son by God the Father. Because the Son is the eternal God, and has been invested by the Father with this authority, and because He has become man and lived in perfect obedience to His Father’s will, He has demonstrated His authority to judge all humanity. Though some will object that this judgment is unfair, that all humanity should be saved or perish on the basis of Christ, and Him alone, Jesus says in verse 30 that His judgment is just. It is based on the will of His Father, who sent Him for this mission and purpose. Peter announced in Acts 10:42-43 that Christ has “ordered us to preach to the people, and solemnly to testify that this is the One who has been appointed by God as Judge of the living and the dead,” for “through His name everyone who believes in Him receives forgiveness of sins.”

Thus, by the Lord Jesus’ very own words, we have the sure and certain promise that there is a life that exists beyond death. All who are in the tombs will come forth. Those who have received life in His name have been cleansed of sin and covered in His righteousness. Our sins have been dealt with fully and finally in Christ crucified. He died to bear the wrath of our sin, that we might be brought forth from death into life – a spiritual quickening of our dead spirit that we might know the abundant life Christ offers to us here and now, and the physical life of resurrected glory after death has done its best to destroy us. In Christ we overwhelmingly conquer sin and death and hell, and are raised to a life that shall never end. But for those who do not experience the gift of His salvation which transforms us from death to life, eternity shall hold for them no hope or comfort – only the conscious experience of eternal torment, separated from Him in the despair and agony of hell. That reality can lead you to live in fear and dread, wondering against all odds how you will fare on the day of resurrection and judgment. Or, this promise can beckon you to call out to Him and know the glory of being raised from spiritual death to spiritual life here and now. He calls out to you even in the state of spiritual death. And so it is for good reason that the warning is given to us in Hebrews 4:7, saying that God has fixed a certain day and called it “Today,” saying, “Today if you hear His voice, do not harden your hearts.”  His voice comes to you through message of His death and resurrection for your sin and for your salvation, saying as it were, “Awake sleeper, and arise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you” (Eph 5:14).

If today you are a spiritual zombie – a dead spirit walking around in a living body – hear the voice of the Son of God calling and turn to Him and live. Then you will know the sure and certain hope of the resurrection from death unto life eternal through Jesus Christ our Lord. And if you have already experienced that transformation from death to life in your spirit, live in the hope and glory of it. Show those around you who are dead what it really means to live by resting in Him and allowing His life to break forth into the world through you. The world may not always like what they see of Him in you, but fear not. The worst that this world can do to you is kill you. But take courage, Christ has overcome the world, and He has overcome death, and He will call you forth from the tomb and you will rise to life eternal with Him. 





[1] http://news.yahoo.com/no-prank-halloween-us-military-forces-train-zombie-162141684.html. Accessed November 8, 2012.
[2] http://www.cdc.gov/phpr/zombies.htm. Accessed November 8, 2012.
[3] John MacArthur, John 1-11 (MacArthur New Testament Commentary; Chicago: Moody, 2006), 196-7.
[4] Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1994), 692.

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