The Father judges no one, but has given all judgment to the Son, (John 5:22)
Jesus now moves from asserting that he has authority to give life to whom he desires to give it, to claiming that he has authority to Judge. By this point the Jews must be standing their with their jaws
dropped, looking at each other in utter shock. Jesus Christ is now claiming for himself the other work that all the Jews agreed God did on the Sabbath: passing judgment. People died on the Sabbath day, and of course death is a clear evidence of God’s judgment upon the human race. So Jesus is claiming that the Father has given him authority to raise the dead and authority to execute judgment. So who does this guy think he is, God?! But wait, Jesus’ claims get even more incredible!
…that all may honor the Son, just as they honor the Father. Whoever does not honor the Son does not honor the Father who sent him. (John 5:23)
Why did the Father entrust all judgment to the Son? In order that all will honor the Son just as they honor the Father. Imagine this statement as it is heard by a Jewish person of the first century. To tell them that they must honor this human being standing in front of them in the same way that they honor God would be shocking. But this is exactly the claim that Jesus is making. He is saying that the same honor that is given to God the Father should also be given to Him! Then He adds insult to injury here by making the further claim that if one does not honor the Son, then they don’t honor the Father. Where does this leave all of the other major world religions like Islam and Buddhism? The religion of Islam claims to be the most honoring to the One True God, but at the same time they label Jesus a simply a great prophet, in the same line as all the other prophets. They certainly would not attribute to Jesus same divine power and prerogative that God has. This verse leaves them in the position that they are not honoring God at all in all their prayers or their worship because they do not honor Jesus of Nazareth as they honor God. This is a scandalous thing to say in our culture of tolerance and acceptance of the religion of others, but Jesus Christ makes the clear statement here: no matter what relationship you claim to have with God, if you don’t honor Jesus Christ in the same way you honor God, your religion is false.
Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life. He does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life. (John 5:24)
This verse is crucial for understanding the main point of this exegesis, that Jesus Christ connects his power and authority to physically raise the dead with his power and authority to impart spiritual life to dead sinners. And don’t lose sight of the fact that all of these words of Jesus are an extended explanation of His healing of the man by the pool. Notice the two things required for attaining eternal life: you must hear the words of Jesus and believe in him who sent Jesus. If one hears and believes, he will not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life. So from the human side of the equation, one must hear and believe. Many at this point, with a more “man-centered” view of salvation would say, “See, Jesus makes it clear that we have to hear and believe in him to be saved. It is primarily about our response to Jesus that saves us. Jesus provides all with the opportunity to be saved and we have to exercise our ability to hear and believe in him”. But does this section of John’s Gospel back up this claim? No. This would be like saying, “The paralyzed man had to exercise his ability to get up and walk in order to be healed by Jesus”. Does that sound correct? Or is it the case that Jesus first gave the paralyzed man the ability to get up and walk, then the man actually got up and walked? Furthermore, did Jesus give all the “multitude” of people laying by the pool the opportunity to get up and walk if they responded to him, or did he give that ability to that specific man and no one else? What if one of the other paralyzed men overheard Jesus saying to that man, “Get up”? Would he then be able to get up just because he heard Jesus say that? No. Jesus would have to give the man’s limbs the ability to respond to his command, as he did in the case of the one who he actually healed.
This line of thinking becomes even clearer when you move the situation from a paralyzed man to a dead man, which is where Jesus takes it when he talks about “hearing” his voice. Can a dead man “hear” anything? And once again, notice that Jesus has moved the discussion from the physical healing of the man by the pool to a discussion of eternal life and judgment. And verse 14 makes this connection more explicit when Jesus confronts the man that his real problem is his sin.
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. (John 5:25)
Now Jesus expands upon what he said in the previous verse about those who “hear his words” and believe. He now speaks of the dead who will hear his voice and those who hear will live. Why does Jesus use this imagery? Because he is pointing out the disconnect between a corpse and the working of an eardrum. Can a dead corpse hear anything? Of course not. So why would Jesus make the statement that a dead person will hear his voice? For the same reason that he would tell a paralyzed man to get up and walk: because he has the power to impart the ability for a dead person to hear his voice, just as he had the ability to impart to a paralyzed man the ability to walk. And don’t lose the connection between this verse and verse 21, where Jesus already told us that he has the power to give life to whom he desires to give it. And notice carefully when the dead will hear his voice, it is both “coming” and “is now here”. As we move through this text, it becomes clear the time that is “coming” is the final judgment. But what about the fact that Jesus says this time is also “now here”? Matthew Henry has an interesting comment on the phrase, “and is now here”.
I rather understand it (the phrase “and now is”) of the power of the doctrine of Christ, for the recovering and quickening of those that were dead in trespasses and sins, Eph. 2:1. The hour was coming when dead souls should be made alive by the preaching of the gospel, and a spirit of life from God accompanying it: nay, it then was, while Christ was upon earth…it is to be applied to all the wonderful success of the gospel, among both Jews and Gentiles; an hour which still is, and is still coming, till all the elect be effectually called. Note, (1.) Sinners are spiritually dead, destitute of spiritual life, sense, strength, and motion, dead to God, miserable, but neither sensible of their misery nor able to help themselves out of it. (2.) The conversion of a soul to God is its resurrection from death to life; then it begins to live when it begins to live to God, to breathe after him, and move towards him. (3.) It is by the voice of the Son of God that souls are raised to spiritual life; it is wrought by his power, and that power conveyed and communicated by his word: The dead shall hear, shall be made to hear, to understand, receive, and believe, the voice of the Son of God, to hear it as his voice; then the Spirit by it gives life, otherwise the letter kills. (4.) The voice of Christ must be heard by us, that we may live by it. They that hear, and attend to what they hear, shall live. Hear and your soul shall live, Isa. 55:3. 4
Matthew Henry understood this verse to refer to the present and continuing ministry of Jesus Christ to raise those who are spiritually dead to spiritual life. Jesus’ voice will be heard by the dead, and those dead who hear will live. And once again, in order for a dead person to have the ability to hear, they must first be given the ability to hear. By definition, a dead person cannot hear anything because their eardrums are not receiving any life and thereby do not function. In the same way, by definition a paralyzed person’s limbs do not work because they are not receiving the proper signals from the nervous system. That is why the man healed by the pool could not obey the command of Jesus to get up and walk, unless Jesus first gave him ability to walk. Can a dead person hear the voice of one speaking to them? No. Unless there is a supernatural power outside of them which enables them to hear.
Let’s summarize the main point of verses 24-25 for one moment, because many times we miss the flow of thought. Remember, in verse 24 Jesus spoke of those who “hear” and “believe” in His word, and those who do this go from being under judgment and death, into life. We could say that those who remain under judgment are those who do not “hear” or “believe” and they are in a state of death. Then our current verse explains the way that those who are in a state of “death”, which means that one is not hearing or believing in the word of Christ, comes to be raised to spiritual life. And what does our current verse say? It is the powerful and life-giving voice of the Son of God which raises the spiritually dead to life. This raising of the spiritually dead is what results in hearing and believing in the Son of God. Now many would object to this by saying, “No, these verses mean that we have to respond to Jesus Christ by believing in him in order to then get spiritual life. It is our response to the voice of the Son of God which results in our being raised to spiritual life”. If a person made this assertion, it would put them in the strange predicament. If they wanted to remain consistent they would also have to say, “The paralyzed man has to respond to Jesus by getting up and walking before he can have health restored to his limbs”. Or, “The dead man has to first respond to Jesus’ voice by hearing it and getting up out of the grave before he can have life”. Will they affirm these statements? I doubt it.
For as the Father has life in himself, so he has granted the Son also to have life in himself. And he has given him authority to execute judgment, because he is the Son of Man.(John 5:26-27)
Jesus continues to give further explanation of why it is that he has the power and ability to raise dead sinners to life by his word. The Father’s life that he has in himself has been granted to the Son. This life in the Son gives him the power to raise the dead. Notice once again the connection between the Father and the Son, that they share the prerogative on being able to give life to the dead. And don’t forget that this continues to be Jesus’ explanation to the Jewish leaders of why he is faultless in his healing activity on the Sabbath day. These words of Jesus must have been totally blasphemous to the Jewish leaders, who were hearing the man, Jesus of Nazareth claim that he had the same power to impart life as God the Father, the Creator of the universe.
And to take it a step further, he claims to have the authority to execute judgment. Jesus Christ is making the claim that God has given to him the authority to judge the human race. Imagine a person walking up to you today and saying: “I have the authority to raise dead people to life and judge the human race”. You would probably this is person was either a lunatic who needed to go to a psychiatric hospital, or a liar who was purposely trying to deceive you. But this is exactly what Jesus Christ claimed when he walked this earth.
Although this is not the main point of this exegesis, it is worth looking into for a moment. There are many people in America who, if you asked them what they thought about Jesus would say, “I think he was a good moral teacher, and that is all”. But do the four gospels really allow us to hold that this is all Jesus claimed to be was a good moral teacher?” Not at all. Jesus certainly was nothing less than a teachers of morals, but he was so much more than that. Furthermore, one cannot consistently hold to the idea that Jesus was a good moral teacher, because he said things that we would not equate with a good teacher in our day. C.S. Lewis has a well known quote in his book Mere Christianity about this very issue:
“Yet (and this is the strange, significant thing) even His enemies, when they read the Gospels, do not usually get the impression of silliness and conceit. Still less do unprejudiced readers. Christ says that He is ‘humble and meek’ and we believe Him; not noticing that, if He were merely a man, humility and meekness are the very last characteristics we could attribute to some of His sayings.
“I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: ‘I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept His claim to be God.’ 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 is 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 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 patronising nonsense about His being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to.”
What Lewis said applies to the text we are currently studying. Jesus did not leave room for the Jewish leaders to see him as merely a great prophet, a moral teacher, or a political messiah. Instead, he tells them that God is his Father, that he does what he sees the Father doing, that all must honor him as they honor the Father, that he has the power to give life, raise from the grave and execute judgment. Is this something that a mere man has the power to do? Certainly not in the context of the Old Testament understanding. But if Jesus Christ is indeed the eternal Word of God, the second person of the Trinity, come in the flesh, then by all means he has the right and authority to make these claims. (John 1:1-18)
What about the second part of this verse where Jesus says God has given him authority to judge because he is “the son of man”? What is this a reference to? I think this is a clear reference to Daniel 7:13-14: “I saw in the night visions, and behold, with the clouds of heaven there came one like a son of man, and he came to the Ancient of Days and was presented before him. 14 And to him was given dominion and glory and a kingdom, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve him; his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom one that shall not be destroyed.” (Dan 7:13-14) This was a text that was discussed amongst the Jews as to what its possible meaning could be. Who is this one “like a son of man”, who is given dominion, glory and a kingdom? Is this a mere human being? Is it the Messiah. It seems that Jesus is applying this text to himself and showing that he has the authority to Judge because it has been given to him by the Father.
Do not marvel at this, for an hour is coming when all who are in the tombs will hear his voice 29 and come out, those who have done good to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil to the resurrection of judgment. (John 5:28-29)
Jesus now explains what this final judgment will look like. In verse 25 Jesus had spoken of both a time that “is now here” that the dead will here the voice of the Son of God, and also a time that “is coming” where the dead will hear His voice. Here he is talking about the time to come where all the dead will come out of their tombs to face judgment. Notice the basis of the final judgment. It is those who “have done good” who will rise to a resurrection of life, but those who “have done evil” will rise to a resurrection of judgment. What does this mean? Is Jesus teaching that salvation is based on works? Yes. That may shock some of you reading this, but let me explain. God is Holy and we must be able to present to him a life of perfectly good works in order to be accepted by Him. He can’t accept anything less than perfection, or that would stain His Holy character. The question is, how will you be able to present a life of good to him? There are only two ways: you can attempt to obey him through your own works and efforts and hope they will be good enough, or you can cling to the works of Jesus Christ. The only ones who will rise to a resurrection of life are those who “have done good”, not in themselves, because they are not capable of obeying God, but who are found in Christ, not having a righteousness of their own based upon the law, but a righteousness that come from God and is by faith. (Phil. 3:9)
I hope that this essay has began to show you that a consistent understanding of this text leads to the conclusion that Jesus is connecting his power to bring healing to the limbs of a paralyzed man, and his ability to impart spiritual life to dead sinners. The main point I want you to come away with is that we are dead sinners by nature who are unable to hear the voice of the Son of God. Like the paralyzed man laying by the pool, we have no ability in ourselves to obey the command of Jesus to get up and walk. In the same way, we have no ability to obey the command to repent and believe in the gospel. What must first take place in order for us to be able to obey this command is the sovereign and regenerating power of Jesus Christ to give life to whom he desires to give it. The consistent exegesis of this text results in a simple conclusion: Regeneration precedes faith. We are lying here dead in our sins like the man was lying helplessly in his paralysis. Unless the Son of God comes to us and impart spiritual life to us as he imparted physical healing to that man, we will never be able to rise out of our sin and unbelief. And remember, if Jesus chooses to not give us life, and leave us to perish in our sins and go to hell for all eternity, we have no basis to complain because we are only getting what we deserve for our rebellion and sin. Cry out for Jesus to raise you from the dead and give you spiritual life!
4 Matthew Henry’s commentary on John 5:17-30. Accessed on Bibleworks 8