Jesus, Powerful to Raise & Judge the Dead
Passage: John 5:19–5:29
Sermon on John 5:19-29 by Bret Rogers, Pastor
Delivered on Sunday, June 2, 2013
Another Display of Jesus' Person & Jesus' Mission
The last time we were together, we got another glimpse of Jesus’ glory as the only Son of God. Based on what he did and what he said, we encountered Jesus through the word and saw that he is truly glorious. Jesus encountered a man in Jerusalem who had been lame for thirty-eight years and he healed him with a word: “Get up,” Jesus said, “take up your bed and walk.” John then tells us in verse 9, “And at once the man was healed, and he took up his bed and walked.” Just like the other miracles in the Gospel of John, the healing of the lame man was meant to point the people to Jesus’ identity and mission. The miracles were never ends in themselves, but always the manifestation of Jesus’ glory observed in his person and his mission. The miracles Jesus performed and the way he talked about them were always God’s way of saying to the world, “This is who my Son is and this is why he has come.”
So, the healing of the lame man on the Sabbath served the same purpose. The healing of the lame man on the Sabbath revealed Jesus’ mission—in that God sent him into the world to bring us eternal rest from sickness and sin—and it revealed Jesus’ person—in that Jesus himself was equal with God. That’s what the healing on the Sabbath and the controversy over the Sabbath displayed about Jesus’ glory in verses 1-18: Jesus has come to restore our restful fellowship with God, which was broken at the Rebellion in the Garden—that’s his mission—and Jesus himself is God—that’s his person. And the point of it all is, “Believe this about him and you will gain eternal life.” That’s why these words exist: “These things are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name” (20:31). But, not everyone believes Jesus. Not everyone embraces his person and mission. In fact, many of his own people—the Jews—were seeking to kill him. That’s where we left off in verse 18: “This was why the Jews were seeking all the more to kill him, because not only was he breaking the Sabbath, but he was even calling God his own Father, making himself equal with God.” So, “Not only do we disapprove of the way your mission is playing itself out on the Sabbath, Jesus, but we also think you’re a blasphemer by calling God your own Father.”
Jesus’ words in verses 19-29 answer the Jews’ opposition to his person and mission—and in so doing provide an answer to the whole world’s opposition to his person and mission, including the three Mormon girls who stopped by my house a few weeks ago denying that Jesus was one with the Father, including the Islamic Associations of Fort Worth and Tarrant County who see Jesus as no more than a prophet, including the neighbors you’ve spoken with who refuse to worship Jesus as God. Jesus words clarify all the more that the Jews’ accusations of blasphemy—not to mention their desires to kill him—are misguided and rebellious. It’s not wrong for Jesus to call God his own Father, nor is Jesus wrong for making himself equal with God, because that is who he is. He is the eternal Son of God, of one substance with his Father, always doing his Father’s work, and who has appeared in the flesh to complete it for our eternal good. That’s his message in verses 19-29. Jesus shows the Jews his identity with God and his work as God—and we see it unfold in at least three ways.
1. Jesus' Sonship Reveals that Jesus' Work Is God's Work
First, Jesus’ sonship—that is, his relationship with his Father—reveals that Jesus’ work is God’s work. The Jews had a major problem with what Jesus said back in verse 17 in response to their bitterness over him healing a man on the Sabbath: “My Father is working until now, and I am working.” They interpreted that to mean that Jesus was making himself equal with God. And so Jesus fleshes out his point a bit further for them in verse 19, lest there be any misunderstanding—meaning, “Let’s be sure the offense taken is on the right grounds.” These Jews have read their Bibles. They know Deut 6:4: “Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one.” They know from the first two commandments that they must not have or worship any gods other than Yahweh (Exod 20:2-6). Only Yahweh is the Creator and sole sovereign Ruler over all things. There is but one God in the universe. By making himself equal with God, is Jesus then undermining the monotheism of the entire Bible? By saying “my Father is working until now, and I am working,” is it Jesus’ point to say there is more than one God?
Verses 19-20 clarify that’s not the case at all. You’ve only heard Jesus rightly if you understand him to be saying that the one and only God affirmed throughout the entire Bible accommodates Father relating to Son. That is to say, the relationship of Jesus as Son to his Father is integral—fundamental, important, essential, necessary—to who the one true God is. So, if you understand Jesus to be making himself equal with God—verse 18—let’s be sure you understand that he’s not saying he’s a second God alongside his Father, but that he is the Son who relates to his Father within the one Godhead. While being a distinct person from the Father within the Godhead, Jesus still shares the divine essence with the Father—just as we saw in 1:1. And this is how that relationship plays out as God—Father and Son—works for your redemption. Read it with me in verse 19: “Truly, truly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of his own accord [that is, on his own initiative], but only what he sees the Father doing. For whatever the Father does, that the Son does likewise.”
So, just because he’s equal with God doesn’t mean that Jesus does whatever he wants—like healing a man—whenever he wants—like healing a man on the Sabbath—as if he’s somehow independent from another who is God, namely his Father. Rather, his equality with God as Son means he can only do what he sees the Father doing. It is part of his person, part of who he is as Son to do what his Father does. And he doesn’t mean that in the sense of mere imitation of his Father, like when we think of an earthly son doing what his earthly daddy has shown him. The relationship between the divine Father and the divine Son totally transcends human relationships, since the Son’s knowledge of the Father’s will is always immediate and infinitely exhaustive and completely understood and flawlessly executed. Jesus is making a point about how his divine nature and identity as Son always and forever functions in submission to his Father’s will: “whatever the Father does, that the Son does likewise.”
Now, that alone would imply Jesus is God—since only a person who is divine would be able to do whatever the Father does—but Jesus goes on to answer how he knows what the Father is doing to begin with. Verse 20, “For the Father loves the Son and shows him all that he himself is doing.” Jesus is pressing the issue of his divinity even further by saying that he shares a love-relationship with the Father unlike anyone else. This is more than God showing a prophet a few things about his saving purposes. This is Jesus sharing in the eternal, uncreated love and immediate self-disclosure of the Godhead. God’s love and affection for his Son is eternal; it never had a beginning because his Son never had a beginning. His love for us had a beginning when he chose to love us rebellious as we are. Not so with the Son. His Son has been the eternal object of his affections, because everything about his Son has forever been infinitely lovely, infinitely holy, and infinitely wonderful. And from within that eternal, uncreated love-relationship flows the immediate self-disclosure of the Father’s will to the Son and the perfect execution of that will by the Son, infinitely.
That’s true in creation—“[the Word] was in the beginning with God [and] all things were made through him” (1:2-3)—and that’s true in redemption—“the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth” (1:14). The ministry of Jesus of Nazareth is the invisible God revealed in human flesh for our eternal salvation. When we look at Jesus’ works—like the miracle in Cana, or the cleansing of the temple, or the pursuit of a Samaritan woman, or the healing of a lame man—we’re looking at God’s work—not just in the sense that Jesus is God’s agent who carries out God’s work, but in the sense that he works as God. And later, when we come to the cross where Jesus will suffer in our place and die for our sins under the eternal wrath of his Father, we’re looking at God’s work. We are looking at the extent to which the entire Godhead is willing to love sinful people—the Father sending, the Son coming, and the Spirit strengthening; the Father giving up his Son, the Son laying down his life, and the Spirit raising him from the dead.
That means your salvation, brothers and sisters, flows out of the eternal love-relationship between the Father and the Son in the Godhead and finds its completion in the unswerving, perfect obedience of the Son to his Father unto death on a cross and victory over the grave—nothing lacking in the Father’s love for you; no miscommunications between the Father and the Son in planning and executing your deliverance; not one thing did the Son overlook when he took on your sins in his death; and zero “oopsy-daisies” with your eternal life right now! Preach that to yourself when the days of doubts attack your soul and your obedience to God seems so fickle and your faith so small. You have on your side a divine Father who works for your redemption and a divine Son who does whatever the Father does—everything being achieved perfectly for your eternal good. The Father and Son are one in purpose in obtaining our salvation, meaning that none of the Son’s work on our behalf is ever lacking in what we need in order to obtain fellowship with God. Jesus’ relationship with his Father reveals that Jesus’ work is God’s work.
2. Jesus' Authority Reveals the Jesus' Honor Is God's Honor
Second, Jesus’ authority reveals that Jesus’ honor is God’s honor. The second half of verse 20 tells us that the Father will show his Son greater works than the works the Jews had just seen Jesus perform—like the healing of the lame man and the other things Jesus was doing on the Sabbath (5:16). The Father will show the Son greater things than these, so that the Jews would marvel. Then he tells us what he means by these “greater things” in verses 21-23, “For as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, so also the Son gives life to whom he will. [For] the Father judges no one, but has given all judgment to the Son.” So what are the “greater things” that the Father discloses to the Son and that the Son is then to perform? We just saw two of them: Jesus gives life to whom he will and Jesus executes final judgment; and they’re both related to each other. If you have authority and power to give life, then that means you have authority and power to judge the dead as well. Only God possesses the authority and power to raise and judge the dead in the Old Testament. Both rights belong exclusively to God.
It was Yahweh, who—in the beginning—breathed into a man’s nostrils, giving him the breath of life (Gen 2:7); and it would be Yahweh, who—in the end—would reveal himself as Lord of all by opening the graves and giving life to his people (Ezek 37:13). Moreover, it is Lord God who sits enthroned forever; he has established his throne for justice, and he judges the world with righteousness; he judges the peoples with uprightness (Ps 9:6-7). The remnant in Israel would sing, “Let the heavens be glad, and let the earth rejoice; let the sea roar, and all that fills it; let the field exult, and everything in it! Then shall all the trees of the forest sing for joy before the Lord, for he comes, for he comes to judge the earth. He will judge the world in righteousness, and the peoples in his faithfulness” (Ps 96:11-13).
And still Jesus is rather forthright in saying the authority to give life and judge the dead also belong to him. He even repeats it in verses 26-27 making his assertions even more pointed. Verse 26, “As the Father has life in himself, so he has granted the Son also to have life in himself.” And he’s not talking about gaining life as a human being at his incarnation; Jesus just declared that he’s self-existent just like his Father. His having life in himself never had a beginning—even though it’s granted to him. The Son has life in himself (1:4). Verse 27, “The [Father] has given [the Son] authority to execute judgment, because he is the Son of Man.” That’s a title from the vision of Dan 7:13, where we see the divine son of man coming with the clouds of heaven and approaching the Ancient of Days in the courtroom of heaven. And Dan 7:14 says that “to [this son of man] was given dominion and glory and a kingdom, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve him.” To say that the Ancient of Days has given you authority to execute judgment is absolutely ludicrous—unless you are truly God’s Son. The Father has entrusted final judgment to Jesus altogether, exactly what we see in Rev 20:11 with the great white throne, when earth and sky flee away from the presence of Jesus who sits on the throne to judge the dead, both great and small.
That’s a glimpse at Jesus’ authority. The purpose of him having such authority is spelled out in verse 23—namely, “that all [people] may honor the Son, just as they honor the Father. Whoever does not honor the Son does not honor the Father who sent him.” Do you see the connection? Jesus’ authority to raise and judge the dead means that he’s worthy of the same honor that belongs to God himself. That doesn’t mean that by receiving honor, Jesus somehow steals honor from his Father; it means that honoring the Son is what honors the Father. Or, the way Paul puts it in Phil 2:9-11: “God [the Father] has highly exalted [Jesus] and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord [there’s the Son’s honor], to the glory of God the Father [there’s the Father’s honor].”
The Offense of Jesus' Words
Jesus’ words to the Jews are just as offensive today in our pluralistic culture, full of people who simply want the claims of their religion to "coexist" with the claims of Christ. Jesus’ point of application at the end of verse 23 is really relevant not only for your own soul finding eternal life, but also for everyone still needing him for eternal life. “Whoever does not honor the Son does not honor the Father who sent him.” That’s a really solid foundation for your feet, brothers and sisters going on Mission Utah. When your Mormon neighbors are attempting to skirt the issues about Jesus, or other skilled Mormon apologists are sinking you in philosophical objections to the Trinity, or you’ve just never encountered people interpreting the Bible differently than Christians, this is a great rock for your feet: “Whoever does not honor the Son [and he’s clear what kind of honor he’s talking about—the esteeming of Jesus as God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God, begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father] does not honor the Father who sent him.”
That’s a safe place of discernment when you’re bringing the gospel into the lives of others—always coming back to the question, “Is what they’re saying honoring Jesus as God?” If it doesn’t, they do not honor God—no matter how many times they say God in their sentences and no matter what religious background they claim. Jesus is worthy of our worship and adoration and praise, because he has authority to give life and execute final judgment. He’s not a mere man for us to sit back and toy with what we do and don’t like about him. We bow at his feet or we perish.
C. S. Lewis: Liar, Lunatic, or Lord
C. S. Lewis got it right when he wrote of how foolish it is when people say, “I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept his claim to be God.” Lewis says, “That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic—on a level with the man who says he’s a poached egg—or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was and is, the Son of God: or else a madman or something worse. You can shut him up for a fool, you can spit at Him and kill Him as a demon; or you can fall at His feet and call Him Lord and God. But let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about His being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to” (Mere Christianity in Signature Classics, p. 36). We honor Jesus as God or we perish.
3. Jesus' Word Gives Eternal Life to Dead People Even Before Judgment Day
That actually leads us right in to the third way Jesus reveals his divine nature and identity with God, namely, Jesus’ word gives eternal life to dead people even before Judgment Day. If our first and second points revealed that Jesus is God’s divine Son who completes God’s work with total authority and all power, then it shouldn’t surprise us that Jesus has the ability to clear us from eternal condemnation and make us sharers in the life of the age to come now. That’s stated very plainly in verse 24: “Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me [Do you see how he equated those two things: whoever hears my word—in a saving sense—and whoever believes him who sent me—that’s the Father—those two things are equivalent. Hearing Jesus’ word is the same as hearing God’s word.] has eternal life. He does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life.”
Here’s the situation apart from Christ. Because of our sin against God—our ungrateful hearts, our complaining, our lustful thoughts, our bending of the truth, our divisive tongues, our fist-shaking at God—because of our sin, we are spiritually dead to life with God and the only thing that awaits us is eternal death under God’s wrath on the Last Day. Verses 28-29 promise that a day is coming “when all who are in the tombs will hear Jesus’ voice and come out, those who have done good to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil to the resurrection of judgment.” God will raise all of us and judge us according to our works. That doesn’t mean salvation is by works; it means that our works will confirm on the Last Day whether we enjoyed salvation by faith before the Last Day. For the believer in Christ, his works will confirm that he was saved by grace. He came to the light that it may be clearly seen that his works have been carried out in God (3:21). They are good works insofar as they bear witness to Christ living within a person by faith. These people will rise to the resurrection of life. That means they will enjoy fellowship with God in the age to come.
For those who rejected Christ, their works will confirm that they never knew God. They hated the light and did not come to the light lest their works should be exposed [as evil works] (3:20). Instead of their works serving to vindicate them on the Last Day as belonging to Christ; these people’s works will only condemn them. They will rise to the resurrection of judgment, which Rev 20:14 calls “the second death,” being thrown into the lake of fire. That means that were you to ignore Jesus’ voice, were you to continue in unbelief—treasuring your sin more than you treasure God in Christ—your entire life—all your labors and investments and relationships and hobbies and noble goals—would only amount to a waiting room for condemnation. In other words, apart from a relationship with Christ, your life is characterized by death. Regardless of how many laughs you have, death looms over you and will consume you on the last day with eternal torment.
But this is why Jesus came for us. Jesus came that you might escape that death now. That’s why he says in verse 25, “Truly, truly, I say to you, an hour is coming, and is now here, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live.” He’s not talking about bodies rising from the dead in verse 25. He is talking about bodies rising from the dead in verse 28. But, in verse 25, he’s saying that the same authority and power that’s in his voice to raise dead bodies on the Last Day is the same authority and power in his voice to give spiritually dead people life before the Last Day. How can he do that? Because he is God who has come in the flesh to bring us the life we’ve always needed with God. The hour is coming, and is now here.
His cross is just over the horizon, where he will remove the sting of death forever, which is sin. His resurrection will follow, where he will conquer the grave and vindicate all who give themselves to Jesus. By saying “an hour is coming, and is now here,” Jesus is telling us that we need not—and better not—wait for the resurrection. He’s already on his way to the cross to die for the sins of the world, rise from the dead, and usher in the new age of the Spirit when Christ gathers people from all nations for eternal life. What he will achieve in his mission to the cross is so sure, so certain, that it’s as good as done. “An hour is coming, and is now here [in the person of Jesus], when the dead [like all of us] will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live”—meaning that in hearing the voice of God’s Son and believing the Father has sent him for our salvation, we experience the life of the age to come now. We don’t experience that life in its fullness of course—with our new bodies in a new world with no temptations or evil desires present. That’s coming with the resurrection of life. But what we do experience now is a life acquitted of all my guilt before God; a life of permanent safety from God’s wrath since we know all of it was absorbed in the cross; a life that’s freed from the powerful grip of sin and now empowered by grace; a life filled with fellowship with God and his people who bear the fruit of the Holy Spirit; a life of daily being transformed into the perfect image of Christ and patient, loving, compassionate discipline from a Father fighting for our blamelessness on the Last Day. That’s what Jesus means by passing from death to life. Out of the death separating us from God and into the life of fellowship with him.
For those of you hearing his voice for the first time, cast yourself upon Jesus that you might pass from death to life. Believe that the Father sent his Son to die for your sins and to rise again for your life, and you will be saved from the resurrection of judgment, making the rest of your days—not a waiting room for condemnation—but a dressing room that will give way to a wedding feast. Any one of us members would love to listen to you and walk with you until you know this life in Christ.
For those of you who know his voice already, you too cast yourself upon Jesus again and again that you might continue to know the life he offers until he comes again. We even have opportunity to do that now through the Lord’s Supper. So take full advantage of this time not merely to remember your sins, but to remember the only Son from the Father who came and died for your sin and is worthy of all your worship. And then eat and drink not full of fear, but full of gladness of heart for the Father and Son working perfectly for your eternal life.
More in The Gospel According to John
May 24, 2015Eyewitness Testimony to the Greatness of Jesus
May 17, 2015Loving Jesus & Feeding His People at All Costs
May 10, 2015Believing the Apostle's Testimony When Not Seeing Jesus