“I tell you the truth, whoever hears My word and believes Him who sent Me has eternal life and will not be condemned; he has crossed over from death to life. I tell you the truth, 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. For as the father has life in Himself, so He has granted the Son to have life in Himself. And He has given Him authority to judge because He is the Son of Man. 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 good will rise to live, and those who have done evil will rise to be condemned.”
William Hendriksen in his tremendously helpful commentary on the Gospel of John (Banner of Truth Trust, 1961, pp. 199-200) gives some intriguing thoughts on these verses. He makes a comparison between John’s thought here and his thought in the Book of Revelation 20: 4-6, 11ff which seems to make reference to a first and a second resurrection. To be redeemed in Revelation twenty is something which is reserved for those whose names are written in the Lamb’s Book of Life. Hendriksen sees in john chapter 5:24-29 something similar. To look carefully at these verses we see that John is describing a judgement which is taking place as the Jews respond to the awesome claims which Jesus has made regarding Himself. Jesus even exercises authority over the Sabbath Law and makes the claim, John tells us repeatedly, that He is in fact equal with God. The Jewish leaders reject Jesus’ claims and begin to pursue a policy of persecuting and condemning Him to death. They gather evidence against Him. Jesus responds by defending Himself and outlining the nature of the evidence. His claim is to be evaluated as one of two things. It is either a preposterous claim, of a man claiming that He is in fact God. If this is the case then Jesus deserved to be condemned under the Law of Moses. Or it is a truthful claim. Jesus is who He claims to be and as a result He is worthy of our worship. The question that this poses for us is to decide just what we believe about the LORD Jesus Christ. Is He God or is He not?
For the Jewish leaders the question was to be answered in the negative. They would pursue Him until they arrested Him and put Him to death on the cross. For Jesus the question was to be answered in another way. Is He doing what God the Father has said He would do? Were the works that Jesus was doing the works that the Scriptures said the Messiah would do when He came? Jesus only deserves judgement if He is not who He claims to be. Jesus takes the evidence even further because He points out that ultimately only the judgement will reveal the truth. If He is standing there as the Judge on that day then it will have revealed His authority to do all that He has done. The message of the Scripture is that not only is Jesus the One who judges us; He is also the sacrifice of atonement by which we are delivered from that judgement.
What then does our text tell us? In verses 24-27 it points out that a time is coming, which has in fact already arrived in which all who hear His voice believingly will be made alive. In Ephesians 2:4ff the Apostle Paul writes about this with these powerful words. “But because of His great love for us, god who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions – it is by grace you have been saved.” Those who are in Christ right now through faith in His Name have been born again to a new life. They have passed from death to life spiritually and consequently they are enjoying a foretaste of the eternal life which has been given to us in the cross of Christ. Our names have been written in the Lamb’s Book of Life. We therefore know that we will be rejoicing in the presence of the LORD our God for all of eternity. John takes us further however because he tells us in verses 28-29 that a physical resurrection is going to take place. A time is coming. Notice the change in the wording here from that of verse 25. The LORD will call and the dead will be raised for judgement. Those who have been redeemed, those that John calls those who have done good will be raised to life. Those who have done evil, rejecting the Son of God and therefore remaining in their sin will be raised unto condemnation. At the heart of this Judgement is a crucified and resurrected judge. The deciding point is whether your name is written in the Lamb’s Book of Life.
John 5 is a chapter in which every individual is subjected to an evaluation. This is the test; do you hear and recognise the voice of the Lamb? That is the only way in which you can overcome at the Day of Judgement. What do you believe about the LORD Jesus Christ?