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Gems in the Gospel of John

Part 23: John 5:25 & 28

Now and then

These verses appear at first glance to be about us – our chances to cross over from death to life but the true focus is on Jesus.

Here they are: verse 25 says, “Very truly I tell you, a time is coming and has now come when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God and those who hear will live.”

And verse 28 says, “a time is coming when all who are in their graves will hear his voice and come out—those who have done what is good will rise to live, and those who have done what is evil will rise to be condemned. The first of these verse is about a time and the time is now; the second is about a time and the time is sometime in the future.

Two things are in common between these two verses:

1. It is fundamentally important to hear the voice of Jesus

2. Those that do, will live.

Bearing in mind those two similarities let’s look at them in more detail and see what the differences are.

The first of them starts with ‘very truly’, which is literally ‘Amen, amen’ and it means ‘I am going to say something particularly important so listen closely … ‘; so listen we must!

It goes on to talk about the dead – who will hear his voice now, which is a bit of a puzzle. To make any sense at all it must mean those who are spiritually dead but physically alive. So it is of direct relevance to us. If we hear the voice of Jesus, here and now, we have crossed over from death to life. John is using the word ‘life’, as he does elsewhere, to mean a full, proper, well lived life, not the shabby imitation of proper living that so many people strive after with drink, or drugs, or excitement, or ever new experiences and, of course, lots of money. John has already told us “In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind” (John 1: 4); he will go on to remind us that Jesus said, “I am the way and the truth and the life” (John 14: 6); later he calls Jesus the ‘Word of life’ (1 John 1: 1) .

We, you and I, if we have believed in the Father God by hearing the voice of Jesus, have been given the supreme gift of eternal life. WOW! This is not something that we shall be presented with once we die physically; it is something we have and should be enjoying right now. Are you? We are back to the idea of membership of the Kingdom, something we have been given the passport to and are to enjoy even now.

And now to our second verse: number 28. Here it is again, together with the following verse: “Do not be amazed at this, for a time is coming when all who are in their graves will hear his voice and come out—those who have done what is good will rise to live, and those who have done what is evil will rise to be condemned.”

We are clearly into the future now. The Greek that the NIV has translated as ‘will rise to live’ actually uses the word for resurrection so should more literally be ‘come forth to a resurrection to life’ and similarly ‘to death’ in the following phrase. There was a growing expectation amongst the Jews of those days of a resurrection based on passages like this from Ezekiel 37, “the Sovereign Lord says: My people, I am going to open your graves and bring you up from them; I will bring you back to the land of Israel. … I will open your graves and bring you up from them. I will put my Spirit in you and you will live.” But what they expected was a general resurrection; not that one man would be resurrected ahead of everyone else as Jesus was. The other thing they very definitely did not expect was that this would happen, ‘when all who are in their graves will hear his voice’; the voice of Jesus that is.

All this must be enormously encouraging for us, and also enormously challenging because it tells us that we shall at that final day be judged by what we have done since we set out to follow Jesus – good or evil. But that is not the purpose of these verses, which is to explain more about the supreme position of Jesus. He is now the touchstone of all those who would seek a new and much better way of living. He is the one who will eventually have the responsibility of sorting out those who have done good from those who have not.

What exactly happens to those who have received the gift of grace but have subsequently failed to live up to what should follow from that is never made completely clear in the Bible. C.S. Lewis, in his pictorial representation of the moment of final judgment, has it that all who could not meet the eyes of the Christ figure – disappeared into his huge black shadow and were never seen again. He adds ‘I don’t know what became of them’ and that is probably as good a way of looking at it as any.

Jesus, Jesus, Jesus. He is the giver of life now and the judge of the ages later, ‘that in everything he might have the supremacy.’

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