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Easter [2004]: Your Coming Resurrection (John 5:28-29)

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April 11, 2004

Easter Message:

A legend tells about a rich man who had a foolish servant. One day, the master became exasperated and said, “You’ve got to be the stupidest fellow I’ve ever known. I want you to take this staff and carry it with you everywhere you go. If you ever meet a man more stupid than you are, give him the staff.” The servant took the staff. He met some pretty stupid men, but he wasn’t sure if they were more stupid than he was so he kept the staff.

Then, one day he was called back to the castle and ushered into the master’s bedroom. The master said, “I’m going on a long journey.” The servant asked, “When will you be back?” The master replied that he would never return from this journey. The servant said, “Well, sir, do you have everything prepared for this journey?” The master said, “No, I’ve not made much preparation for it.”

The servant asked, “Could you have made preparation? Could you have sent something on?” The master said, “Yes, I guess I’ve had a lifetime to do that, but I was just too busy with other things.” The servant went on, “Then you won’t be back to the castle, to the lands, to the animals…?” The master said, “No, I won’t be back to any of it.” Then the servant took the staff that he had carried for many years and said to the master, “Here, you take the staff. I finally met a man who is more stupid than I.”

George Bernard Shaw had it right when he observed, “The statistics on death are quite impressive: one out of one people die.” In light of the certainty of death, you would think that everyone would be very concerned to prepare for the journey. And yet many push it out of their minds and focus on other things that really won’t matter on the day of death.

Easter Sunday is about the resurrection of Jesus, which brings hope. The message of the resurrection is that Jesus has conquered death and that in Him, we can have hope beyond the grave. But hope, to be valid, must be true hope. If hope is based on wishful thinking, it is worthless. If a doctor gives a cancer patient a sugar-coated pill with the promise that it is a miracle-drug that will cure him, the patient may have hope for a while, but it’s false hope, based on a lie. Genuine hope must be based on truth.

To offer true hope to you today, I must tell the truth, that the bodily resurrection of Jesus does not mean hope for all people. It offers hope to all who respond in repentance and faith in Him. But it brings ultimate despair to those who refuse to submit to Him, because Jesus plainly taught that He is not only the risen Savior, but also the risen Judge. Our text shows that…

Because Jesus is risen as both Savior and Judge, we all shall be raised, either to eternal life or to eternal judgment.

If anyone can speak with authority about life beyond the grave and God’s judgment, it is Jesus Christ. He claimed to be sent from God the Father and to be one in essence with the Father. Either He is God in human flesh, or else He is a first-class liar!

In John 5:19-47, Jesus makes clear, unmistakable claims to deity. John prefaces the discourse (5:18) by reporting that “the Jews were seeking all the more to kill Him, because He not only was breaking the Sabbath, but also was calling God His own Father, making Himself equal with God.” Rather than saying, “You guys misunderstood; I didn’t mean to make Myself equal with God,” Jesus reinforced their perception with many bold claims that would be blasphemous in the mouth of anyone other than God.

He claimed to do everything that He saw the Father doing (5:19)! He claimed that the Father showed the Son all that He is doing (5:20)! He claimed to have the power and authority to give life to whomever He wishes (5:21)! He claimed that the Father had given all authority to judge to the Son (5:22)! He claimed that all will honor the Son even as they honor the Father (5:23)!

As if these claims were not stupendous enough, Jesus continued, “he who hears My word, and believes in Him who sent Me, has eternal life, and does not come into judgment, but has passed out of death into life” (5:24). Underscoring with “Truly, truly” the importance and truth of His words, Jesus piles on another remarkable claim: “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” (5:25). He is talking here about giving spiritual life to those who are spiritually dead. He explains further, “For just as the Father has life in Himself, even so He gave to the Son also to have life in Himself; and He gave Him authority to execute judgment, because He is the Son of Man” (5:26-27). Jesus was claiming that He inherently had the ability, not only to raise the dead physically (as He did with Lazarus, John 11:43-44), but also to impart spiritual life to the spiritually dead.

What mere man could make such claims? Even if Jesus were, as the Jehovah’s Witnesses claim, the first and greatest of all created beings, He would have been blaspheming to make such claims to deity, if He were not fully God!

When Jesus was on this earth, He did not walk around with a halo hovering over His head. His face did not radiate glory, except once at His transfiguration. His contemporaries knew Him as a carpenter, the son of Joseph and Mary. There were rumors that He wasn’t really Joseph’s son, but that He had been conceived out of wedlock (John 8:41). But they did not look on Jesus and automatically think, “Here is the Messiah, God in human flesh!” He looked like a normal man. He didn’t fit their idea of what Messiah would look like. And so when they heard this carpenter turned self-proclaimed rabbi make these claims, they were astounded.

So, while they were visibly shocked at the claims that He had just made, Jesus said, “Do not marvel at this” (5:28). Then He tells them another astonishing truth: A day yet future will come when He will speak and everyone who has ever died will come forth, some to a resurrection of life, but others to a resurrection of judgment. Having looked at the context, I want to focus on verses 28 & 29, which imply one truth and state another. They imply that…

1. Jesus is risen from the dead as both Savior and Judge.

If Jesus died and is still dead, then His claim was false. A dead man could not speak someday in the future so that every dead person in history would hear his voice and come forth from the tombs! Since we know that Jesus did in fact die, His claims here, if true, assume that He would be raised from the dead.

But, how can we know that Jesus’ claims were true? How can we know that He really is the risen Savior and Judge of all, and not just a man with delusions of grandeur? We would be here for hours if we examined all the evidence. Books have been written to substantiate the claims of Christ and the historicity of the resurrection (see Josh McDowell, Evidence That Demands a Verdict [Campus Crusade for Christ, 1972], vol. 1, chapter 10). If you have never done so, begin by reading the gospel accounts. They represent straightforward firsthand reports of Jesus’ life and ministry. You will find differences in the various accounts that are difficult to harmonize at points. But these very differences show that the authors were not in collusion to make up a fable. They were reporting events based on eyewitness testimony.

The eyewitnesses all report that the tomb was empty. There are three possibilities: the disciples stole the body, their enemies stole it, or Jesus was raised from the dead. If the Roman soldiers had taken the body, they could have made a lot of money by producing it when the disciples started proclaiming the resurrection. If the Jewish leaders had taken the body, they would have produced it and put a stop to the disciples’ claims, especially when they saw thousands of Jews believing the apostles’ message. If the disciples had stolen the body, they would not have devoted the rest of their lives to something that they knew to be a hoax, especially when they suffered persecution and even martyrdom on account of their testimony. None of them became rich or famous in their time through proclaiming the resurrection. If they knew it to be a false story, they would have quietly slipped out of town and returned to their old occupations.

If the resurrection were a cover-up, concocted by eleven desperate men, it would have been exposed. Charles Colson, who went to prison over the Watergate scandal, has a chapter in Loving God ([Zondervan], pp. 61-70) titled, “Watergate and the Resurrection.” He tells how difficult it was to keep the Watergate cover-up intact. He points out that even though no one’s life was at stake, “Yet after just a few weeks the natural human instinct for self-preservation was so overwhelming that the conspirators, one by one, deserted their leader, walked away from their cause, turned their backs on the power, prestige, and privileges” (p. 67).

Applying this to Jesus’ resurrection, Colson concludes, “Take it from one who was inside the Watergate web looking out, who saw firsthand how vulnerable a cover-up is: Nothing less than a witness as awesome as the resurrected Christ could have caused those men to maintain to their dying whispers that Jesus is alive and Lord” (p. 69).

Keep in mind that none of the disciples were expecting a resurrection. At first, they hid in secret, afraid for their own lives. But they were all transformed into bold witnesses who proclaimed the resurrection of Jesus in the same town where He had been murdered, to the very people who had murdered Him. You can’t explain their transformation by wish fulfillment or group psychology. When you consider the character of the witnesses and the variety and number of the witnesses, the only viable conclusion is that they are telling the truth. Jesus is risen!

I don’t have time to consider other facts, such as the testimony about the grave clothes, the sealed stone, other remarkable details of the accounts, and the many fulfilled prophecies that surround Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection. Add to this the conversion of the apostle Paul (Acts 9, 22, 26), and his contention that the entire Christian faith rests on the fact of Jesus’ bodily resurrection (1 Cor. 15:1-19). Paul was transformed and suffered for the sake of Christ because he was convinced that Jesus rose from the dead.

In addition to this evidence, consider the person of Jesus Christ Himself. As you read the gospels, you do not get the impression that He was a religious charlatan. His words and life have the ring of integrity and truth. Even those who disagreed with Him could not find consistent grounds on which to convict Him of wrong. As C. S. Lewis and others have pointed out, to believe that Jesus was only a great religious and moral teacher, but not God, is not an option. The claims we have already considered here in John 5 are those that no mere man could make. Jesus was either a liar, a lunatic, or He is Lord of all, as He claimed. But no one could say what He said and be merely a great teacher.

The fact that Jesus is risen as both Savior and Judge has implications for all of us, as stated directly in the text:

2. We all shall be raised, either to eternal life or to eternal judgment.

“An hour is coming, in which all who are in the tombs will hear His voice, and will come forth” (5:28-29). This resurrection is yet future and physical (as “tombs” shows), in contrast to the spiritual resurrection that Jesus spoke of in 5:25, “which now is.” Either this future resurrection is certain or Jesus lied. God has fixed the hour. The clock is ticking. You may not believe it, but your not believing it doesn’t make it false. Jesus’ words imply three facts:

A. There is a future bodily resurrection of every person.

Jesus said, “All who are in the tombs will hear His voice, and will come forth.” No exceptions! What a staggering claim! Of all the billions who have ever lived, Jesus says that all will come out of the grave at the sound of His voice. This includes everyone who lived before Christ and those who have lived since. It includes all Asians, Europeans, Africans, and North and South Americans. It includes every conceivable form of death. None will be missing at this great roll call. You and I could go into cemeteries and shout at the top of our voices until they hauled us away to the mental hospital, and not one body would arise. But Jesus will one day speak and all the dead will be raised from the tombs!

Jesus is plainly teaching that this life is not the end of our existence. Either there is life beyond the grave for every person or Jesus is wrong. And this life beyond the grave is not just for the righteous. He says that both those who did good and those who did evil will be raised. The teaching that the wicked will be annihilated is emotionally appealing, but it contradicts Jesus’ teaching. They will be raised for judgment and then “go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life” (Matt. 25:46). If eternal life is forever, then so is eternal punishment.

Again, we know that Jesus’ words are true because He is risen from the dead. Everything hinges on that fact. Also, although the ungodly refused to respond to Christ’s voice in this life, this will be a command that they cannot refuse. It will not be an invitation, where you can choose not to attend. It is a mandatory summons from the Lord of the universe. Everyone will be there!

B. This future resurrection divides all people into two, and only two, categories.

Jesus describes these categories as, “those who did the good deeds,” and “those who committed the evil deeds.” Most of us would be more comfortable if Jesus had said, “Those who were pretty good” and “those who weren’t so good.” I could then compare myself with murderers, thieves, child molesters, and other wicked people and conclude, “I’m in the pretty good group, because I’ve never done those evil things!”

But Jesus didn’t say that. He divided everyone into two opposite groups: those who did the good deeds, and those who did evil deeds. There is no group for those who were pretty good, with an occasional slip up; or, those who were pretty bad, although once in a while, they did good things.

What does Jesus mean? Why does He say this? Leon Morris (The Gospel According to John [Eerdmans], pp. 321-322) explains,

Judgment, as always in Scripture, is on the basis of works…. This does not mean that salvation is on the basis of good works, for this very Gospel makes it plain over and over again that men enter eternal life when they believe on Jesus Christ. But the lives they live form the test of the faith they profess. This is the uniform testimony of Scripture. Salvation is by grace and it is received through faith. Judgment is based on men’s works.

John 3:19-21 sheds further insight on this:

This is the judgment, that the Light has come into the world, and men loved the darkness rather than the Light, for their deeds were evil. For everyone who does evil hates the Light, and does not come to the Light for fear that his deeds will be exposed. But he who practices the truth comes to the Light, so that his deeds may be manifested as having been wrought in God.

The only deeds that are truly good in God’s sight are those that come from Him. The Bible testifies concerning the human race apart from Jesus Christ, “There is none righteous, not even one; there is none who understands, there is none who seeks for God; all have turned aside, together they have become useless; there is none who does good, there is not even one” (Rom. 3:10-12). Even the good deeds of the believer are tainted by sin, because who can say, “I love God with all my heart, and I love my neighbor as much as I love myself”? So there has never been an entirely pure and perfect deed.

Thus for our works to be counted as good in God’s sight, we must come as sinners to the Light and allow Him to expose the evil in our hearts. We must trust in Jesus, who bore our sin on the cross, and be clothed with His perfect righteousness. We must trust His blood to cleanse our consciences from dead works so that we can serve the living God (Heb. 9:14). The only good deeds in God’s sight are those done from a heart that has been cleansed through faith in Christ. Those who believe in Christ are quick to acknowledge that He is the source of any good deeds that they may do. God gets all the glory for our salvation, including any good deeds, because He prepared them for us beforehand (Eph. 2:10).

Thus, Jesus’ words here show that there is a future resurrection for every person that will divide everyone into two categories.

C. A person’s eternal destiny hinges on his present response to Jesus Christ.

There will not be any opportunity for repentance after death. Death will not change a person’s character. The good tree bears good fruit in this life; the bad tree bears bad fruit. How can we, who by nature are corrupt at the very root, become good trees? Jesus says that the one who has heard His word and believed in the Father who sent Jesus has (as a present possession) eternal life (5:24). Have you heard Jesus as the way, the truth and the life? Have you abandoned all trust in your own righteousness and trusted in Jesus alone as your only hope for heaven? If so, you have eternal life.

John Calvin (Calvin’s Commentaries [Baker], pp. 209-210) comments on 5:29, “For without the pardon which God grants to those who believe in Him, there never was a man in the world of whom we can say that he has lived well; nor is there even a single work that will be reckoned altogether good, unless God pardon the sins which belong to it, for all are imperfect and corrupted.” He goes on to refute the Roman Catholic error that we gain eternal life through the merit of our works. Then he concludes (ibid., p. 210), “And indeed we do not deny that the faith which justifies us is accompanied by an earnest desire to live well and righteously; but we only maintain that our confidence cannot rest on any thing else than on the mercy of God alone.”


And so each of us needs to ask, “Is my hope of heaven based solely on the fact that God sent Jesus to pay the penalty for my sins, and that He raised Him from the dead? Because He has cleansed my heart through His mercy, do I now desire to live in a manner that is pleasing to Him?”

Maybe you have heard the expression, “going first class on the Titanic.” It describes those who foolishly devote themselves to seeking after pleasure in this life only. This world and all who live for it are headed for judgment. Going first class on a ship that is certain to go down is not wise!

Jesus said, “Do not work for the food which perishes, but for the food which endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you, for on Him the Father, God, has set His seal” (John 6:27). Again, what an astounding claim! Jesus offers to give eternal life to those who seek it. The day is coming when you will be raised, either to life or to judgment. In light of who Jesus is, if I may speak plainly, you would be stupid to live for this life, but to neglect the free gift that will prepare you for the life to come.

Discussion Questions

  1. Why is it vital to insist that Christianity rests on the fact of Jesus’ resurrection, rather than on subjective experience?
  2. Some say that we should not talk to unbelievers about God’s judgment, but only about His love. Why is this in error?
  3. Explain from the context of John 5 why verses 28 & 29 do not teach salvation by works.
  4. Why is belief in Jesus’ deity essential for salvation?

Copyright, Steven J. Cole, 2004, All Rights Reserved.

Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture Quotations are from the New American Standard Bible, Updated Edition © The Lockman Foundation

Related Topics: Easter, Resurrection, Soteriology (Salvation)