We continue with a study of John 5, which is absent in its entirety from the three-year Lectionary — the readings for public worship in Catholic and mainline Protestant churches.

If you’ve read the past two entries — the healing at Bethesda and the first part of Jesus’s explanation to the Jews as to His identity — you can see that leaving this chapter out of public worship is a sin of omission.  It’s startling that many Christians around the world do not hear this read at some point in church on Sunday.  This makes John 5 part of my ongoing series, Forbidden Bible Verses, which are equally essential to our understanding of the Bible.

In today’s passage, Jesus continues explaining His relationship to God the Father.  The Jews are taken aback, angry and firmer in their resolve to see Him put to death.

Today’s reading is from the King James Version with commentary from Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

John 5:24-30

24Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that heareth my word, and believeth on him that sent me, hath everlasting life, and shall not come into condemnation; but is passed from death unto life.

 25Verily, verily, I say unto you, The hour is coming, and now is, when the dead shall hear the voice of the Son of God: and they that hear shall live.

 26For as the Father hath life in himself; so hath he given to the Son to have life in himself;

 27And hath given him authority to execute judgment also, because he is the Son of man.

 28Marvel not at this: for the hour is coming, in the which all that are in the graves shall hear his voice,

 29And shall come forth; they that have done good, unto the resurrection of life; and they that have done evil, unto the resurrection of damnation.

 30I can of mine own self do nothing: as I hear, I judge: and my judgment is just; because I seek not mine own will, but the will of the Father which hath sent me.


When we left off last week, we read Jesus’s instructive warning (verse 23) that those who do not honour God the Son dishonour God the Father.  By extension, those who dishonour God the Father are condemned to eternal death.

In verse 24, Jesus says that those who hear His words and believe in God the Father — ‘him that sent me’ — will have eternal life.  There is more to hearing than being within audible distance; the word as used here encompasses a heeding, an understanding and a desire to act upon these words.

Recall that in last week’s reading, Jesus explained His perfect oneness with His Father.  God loved Jesus and showed Him the things He can and must do — these are the same things that God Himself does (verses 19 and 20).  Jesus brings the dead to new life (verse 21).  Jesus judges the same way that His father does (verse 22).  Therefore — those who reject Jesus, reject God the Father (verse 23).

Now, Jesus goes further, upsetting the Jews further.  In verse 25, He says that the dead — the spiritually dead, that is — will hear the voice of the Son of God.  Those who hear that voice and believe in Him will inherit eternal life.  What a mystifying statement for them to hear, especially with the words ‘the hour is coming and now is’.

That hour is occurring as Jesus speaks to them and as he addressed the healed man from Bethesda in the temple. Only then could that man realise that it was Jesus who was speaking to him.  That hour would also come for others, not only during His lifetime. It is also ever-present in ours and has been since Christ came to Earth.

Jesus repeats what He said earlier.  Neither the Jews nor we can hear these words often enough.  We forget them.  We rationalise Jesus’s life, we forget He is the Son of God, we discount that God the Father sent Him especially to us as our only Mediator and Advocate.  I’ve been guilty of this myself in the past.  And, amazingly, few people — a number of clergy included — will actively talk us out of it.  Whoa.  In fact, laypeople are more likely to point out the error and the danger of persisting in it.

In verse 26, Jesus states that as God the Father has life, so He gave God the Son life.  And Jesus is the Son of God.  Jesus continues by saying (verse 27) that God has given Him authority to execute judgment because He, Jesus, is ‘the Son of man’.  What of ‘the Son of Man’ and the use of the word ‘given’ in these verses?  This is the type of wording that atheists and agnostics enjoy parsing with believers.  This is worth at least an afternoon of discussion.  So, let’s see what John MacArthur has to say on the subject:

Now I want to show you an interesting thought in verse 26. You’ll notice the word “given.” It says, “So hath He given to the Son.” Now some people have brought up the question: this proves that the inferiority of Jesus, see, because the Father had to give Him life. The Father had it, He gave it to Christ.

Wait a minute, I want to back up a little bit on that one because in John 1:4 it says, “In Him was life.” Nobody gave it to Him then. You say, “Well, why here?” Just this distinction, and mark this in your mind, in Christ’s humiliation when He came to earth, you realize, of course, that He set aside all of His attributes and He became a man. And He only used those attributes which God’s will desired that He use as a manNow in His glory, in His glorification in heaven, He knew that. In His humiliation, He set those aside and operated only on the basis of those things that God desired Him to use. And what He’s saying here is this, I have come in humiliation as a man and even as a man, God has granted Me the right to use My life-giving power. That’s what He’s saying. He’s not saying I have something now I didn’t have, He’s saying I have the right from God, God has given Me to use this life-giving power even now. And true, He did use it …

And again, verse 27 is kind of a little bridge here and I want to comment on that at this point before we go any further into physical resurrection. He introduces the subject of physical resurrection by these words, “And hath given unto Him,” again, Christ already had this authority, He already had the authority to execute judgment, but God granted Him the expression of it in His humiliation, given Him authority to execute judgment also “because He is the Son of Man.” Now that’s kind of an interesting statement. Why judgment because He’s the Son of Man? Why does He call Him in His judgment character the Son of Man and in His life-giving character the Son of God as in verse 25? Why the distinction in titles?

there are probably infinite number of possibilities. But one that seems perhaps likely to me, He is called the Son of God in His life-giving power in verse 25 because this is a divine act, right? A man is going along in spiritual death, it is a divine intervening miracle to reach down and make him alive. That’s a divine miracle. That demands deity. That demands divine heavenly intervention to shatter the bonds of death and make him alive. So He’s called the Son of God.

But, on the other hand, judgment does not demand divine intervention in total, at least in one aspect. And I’ll show you what I mean. He is called in verse 27 the Son of Man connected with His judgment work. Why? Because really judgment is the natural course of sin. God doesn’t have to break in, does He? God doesn’t have to become divinely involved in judgment … Judgment in this world…this world is built on a moral basis, you break God’s law, God doesn’t have to come down and kill you, you’ll take care of yourself. The soul that sinneth, it shall die. It doesn’t say it’s killed by God. It shall die. It doesn’t say if you commit sin God kills you. It says the wages of sin is death. And so, I think in a sense, the Son of God is used in terms of a divine power to resurrect and it’s shown how important that is by contrasting it with the Son of Man.

But there’s got to be another point here, too. Because it says He executes judgment because He’s the Son of Man. And I think here’s this point, I think that God in all of His justice and fairness has judged man on the basis of man. In other words, Christ knows us, doesn’t He? No man can ever say, “Well, God, it’s a pretty dirty trick for You sitting up there in Your holy heaven to be telling us how to live down here. Why don’t You come and find out what it’s like?” Want to know something? He’s been here. He knows what it’s like. And so the judgment of God is based on the judgment of God who became a man. And that’s why I see the character of Christ as the Son of Man in connection with His judgment. He judges us fairly, doesn’t He, because He knows us. As the Son of Man, He judged man with a perfect knowledge of the justice that was due man.

In verse 28, Jesus speaks of the resurrection, the ‘hour’ when the dead shall hear His voice.  As most people were buried and as Jews understood sheol — grave — to be the state of the dead, they would have understood what He meant.  Matthew Henry elaborates:

Who shall be raised: All that are in the graves, all that have died from the beginning of time, and all that shall die to the end of time. It was said (Dan. 12:2), Many shall arise; Christ here tells us that those many shall be all; all must appear before the Judge, and therefore all must be raised; every person, and the whole of every person; every soul shall return to its body, and every bone to its bone …

How they shall be raised. Two things are here told us:-(a.) The efficient of this resurrection: They shall hear his voice; that is, he shall cause them to hear it, as Lazarus was made to hear that word, Come forth; a divine power shall go along with the voice, to put life into them, and enable them to obey it.

To what they shall be raised; to a different state of happiness or misery, according to their different character; to a state of retribution, according to what they did in the state of probation [earthly life].

Indeed, Jesus makes the distinction of eternal life (reward) and eternal damnation (punishment) in verse 29.  This brings us to another present-day disagreement which atheists and agnostics have with Christians.  ‘I’m good, therefore, I shall enjoy a good afterlife, if there is one.’  Or, where there is no honour of Christ Jesus, ‘I believe in God and I’ve been good, so I’ll go to heaven.’  The Bible — both Old and New Testaments — tell us that we can accomplish no good under our own power but only through God’s grace.  Those who belong to Reformed churches often use ‘through God’s grace’ in their writings and conversation.  This is why.  Isaiah 64:6 best illustrates it and is often cited:

But we are all as an unclean [thing], and all our righteousnesses [are] as filthy rags; and we all do fade as a leaf; and our iniquities, like the wind, have taken us away.

For those who are wondering, ‘filthy rags’ refer to used menstrual cloths.  And we know how unclean menstruating women were considered to be under Mosaic Law.

Now, taking this concept of all our good works being as filth before the eyes of God, John MacArthur explains what verse 29 means:

Christ is simply saying here those who buy excellent things give evidence that they belong to Christ shall inherit the resurrection of life. And those who have done evil and that’s ta phaulos, the worthless things, the meaningless things shall inherit the resurrection of damnation. Christ is not saying you’re saved by works, please. But in order to make a contrast between the believer and the unbeliever, He has to make it on the basis of works. You can’t contrast believers’ faith with unbeliever’s faith, can you? Unbelievers don’t have any faith. You can’t contrast believers’ life with unbelievers’ life, cause unbelievers are dead. The only place where you can make a comparison is on the basis of their acts or their deeds or their works. And so He’s saying those who by faith in Christ have been able to do the excellent things shall inherit the resurrection of life. Those who by virtue of sin and death continue to do the worthless things shall inherit a resurrection of damnation.

In verse 30 Jesus says He judges nothing of His own will but that of His Father’s.  As He ‘hears’ — meaning from God — so He (Jesus) executes judgment.  He says this judgment not only aligns with His Father’s but is fair and equitable to mankind, those whom He will judge.  Therefore, we should avoid condemning or downplaying God’s judgments as ‘cruel’ or ‘temporary’ when Jesus tells us not only here but elsewhere in the New Testament that they are anything but.

Next week: John 5:31-47