Verily, 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. For as the Father hath life in himself; so hath he given to the Son to have life in himself; and hath given him authority to execute judgment also, because he is the Son of man. Marvel not at this: for the hour is coming, in the which all that are in the graves shall hear his voice, and shall come forth; they that have done good, unto the resurrection of life; and they that have done evil, unto the resurrection of damnation.
We continue to examine our Lord’s words uttered after the healing of the palsied man at the pool of Bethesda. Following that great gospel message of verse 24: “Verily, 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; [or judgment—this is exactly the same Greek word that is translated “damnation” in v. 29 and “judgment” in v. 27], but is passed from death unto life.”
Now in verse 25 our Lord again used that solemn form of address by which He would challenge our most serious attention, “Verily, 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.” He is not speaking in this verse of the physically dead but rather of the spiritually dead, of those who are dead in trespasses and sins. This is true of all men out of Christ, all men who are in Adam by natural generation. Death passed upon all men when Adam sinned. As God looks down upon the race today He sees it as a race of men and women dead to Himself and everything spiritual, and alive to what men call pleasure, alive to their own personal affairs, but with not one pulse-beat toward God—every one dead and utterly helpless, for, of course, a dead man cannot do anything to change his condition. He cannot help himself, and if those dead in trespasses and sin are to live, they must receive life through Another, even our Lord Himself.
“The hour is coming, and now is.” He is introducing this wonderful dispensation of the grace of God. The hour began when He came to earth and has been in progress for over nineteen hundred years—the hour when God is quickening dead souls and bringing men and women to find life in Christ. Millions have heard His voice and repented, and know what it is to have life eternal through receiving that Word.
“The hour is coming, and now is, when the dead shall hear the voice of the Son of God.” That voice is a voice of power. It is a voice that can reach the heart that is utterly dead to everything holy. Remember Lazarus. He was physically dead and Jesus came to that graveside and said, “Roll away the stone.” “But he has been dead four days, and his body has become offensive.” But Jesus commanded them to do as He said, and they did, and He called, “Lazarus, come forth!” (John 11:43), and he came forth. That dead man heard the voice of Jesus because that voice was a life-giving voice.
I had a friend who was deep in sin, dead to God, living in the vilest corruption. One night in Fresno, California, as he passed a little open-air meeting he heard the group singing:
He breaks the power of cancelled sin,
He sets the prisoner free;
His blood can make the foulest clean,
His blood availed for me.
Those words, sung over and over, went right home to his heart, and that man, dead in sin, heard the voice of the Son of God, and that night believed the message and became a new creature in Christ. The old sinful habits that had bound him so long dropped away. He was different because he had heard the voice of the Son of God. I think of another, who came into a meeting a poor drunkard, utterly lost, but he heard someone repeat the words of Christ, “Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (Matt. 11:28). He said, “Is that for me? Is He inviting me to come?” That man was made to live. He never touched a drop of liquor again. He was through, because he had heard the voice of the Son of God. Life is in His word.
“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.” Notice, God does not set people working in order to obtain life. We could do nothing to deserve life, and we cannot please God until we have received it. “The wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life” (Rom. 6:23). We cannot obtain life through subjection to certain religious ordinances or availing ourselves of sacraments. Men do not get life through baptism or the Lord’s Supper, or through doing penance, attending church, or giving money. They receive eternal life through hearing and believing the voice of the Son of God. “Hear, and your soul shall live” (Isa. 55:3). Have you heard that voice? Men turn away from it. Christ is speaking all the time, down through the ages, but many turn away and go on in their sins. They continue in their state of death. But the moment a man hears that voice in the depths of his heart, that moment he receives life. This life is given by the Son of God. He says, “As the Father hath life in himself; so hath he given to the Son to have life in himself; and hath given him authority to execute judgment also, because he is the Son of man” (John 5:26-27).
If men refuse the message of the gospel, if they turn away from the Word of the Son of God and spurn His grace, then the same God, who has made Him a Giver of life to all who believe, has appointed Him as Judge of those who refuse Him, in the last day. The Father has given to the Son to have life in Himself and has given Him the authority to execute judgment. We had something like this in verse 22. There we read, “For the Father judgeth no man, but hath committed all judgment unto the Son.” This gives us to know that the Son is God because Scripture declares that it is God who will judge the world. God will sit upon the Great White Throne and call sinners before Him to answer for the guilt of rejecting the salvation that He has provided, but the person of the Godhead who will appear on that throne will be the Lord Jesus Christ. Men who stand before that throne in their sins will be judged by the Man, Christ Jesus. The Father has given Jesus authority to execute judgment because He is the Son of Man.
When Job was utterly bewildered because of God’s dealings with him, he said, “I look on my right hand and on my left hand, but He is not there. He is not a man as I am, that we might come together in judgment. Neither is there any Daysman that might put His hand upon us both” (see Job 9:32-33; 23:8-9). But that for which Job longed, a man who could represent God to him, is found in the person of our Lord Jesus Christ. He is as truly Man as He is God. “There is… one Mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus” (1 Tim. 2:5). If men refuse to trust that blessed Man, who bore our sins in His own body on the tree, they will be judged according to their works. In order that this might not be, He died on that shameful cross: “He was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed” (Isa. 53:5). If men refuse Him and turn away from Him now, some day they will have to meet Him. Some day they will have to face Him in their sins when it is too late to be saved. He who would have given life will then have to be their Judge.
But now, having spoken of one hour, the hour in which God is quickening dead sinners into life, He goes on to speak of another hour, the hour of the resurrection of dead bodies. For both are found in Scripture. He is quickening those dead in trespasses and sins in this hour. By-and-by He is going to quicken those whose bodies are in their tombs. “The hour is coming, in the which all that are in the graves shall hear his voice, and shall come forth; they that have done good, unto the resurrection of life; and they that have done evil, unto the resurrection of damnation” (John 5:28). “Marvel not at this.” It is as though He said, Do not be surprised that I can quicken dead souls, that I can give eternal life to those who believe. Some day I am going to empty all the graves of earth. There is an hour coming in which all that are in the graves shall hear His voice, and shall come forth. “Well, how can that be?” you say. “Millions, untold millions, have died and their bodies have been dissolved into their chemical parts. How can they come back to life?” Nothing is impossible with God, who created these wonderful bodies. There will be a resurrection, both of the just and the unjust.
Yes, the hour is coming when all that are in the graves shall come forth. Notice that there will be two resurrections. Some people have imagined that both resurrections would take place in the same moment, that the Savior would utter His voice and that all the graves would be emptied at once. This is not exactly what our Lord said. Scripture shows that there will be two resurrections: first, a resurrection unto life, the resurrection of the just. In Revelation 20:6 we read, “Blessed and holy is he that hath part in the first resurrection; on such the second death hath no power, but they shall be priests of God and of Christ, and shall reign with Him a thousand years.” And then we read that after the thousand years are expired there will be the resurrection of the wicked dead, who will stand before the Great White Throne for judgment. Two resurrections, one resurrection to life of the just, and one resurrection to the second death of the unjust. And yet they both take place in one hour? Yes, in one hour.
Remember though, how our Lord used this term. “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.” This hour began when Christ was here on earth and is still in progress. Nineteen hundred years have elapsed, and we are still living in the hour when Christ is quickening dead souls. Then we look on beyond this hour. The hour of resurrection will be at least a thousand years in length. At the beginning of that thousand years the righteous dead will be raised. At the close of the thousand years the wicked dead will be raised. The righteous dead stand before the judgment seat of Christ to be rewarded. The wicked dead rise to stand before the Great White Throne, there to answer for the awful sin of rejecting the Lord Jesus Christ and to be judged for all the sins from which they might have been delivered.
Someone says, “I am a bit perplexed about that twenty-ninth verse. It says, ‘They that have done good, unto the resurrection of life; and they that have done evil, unto the resurrection of damnation.’ Is salvation then after all based on what one does? Are we saved because we do good, and lost because we do evil?” Well, if men persist in their sins they will be judged for their evil doing. All men are lost today not merely because of the sins they have committed but because they have rejected the Lord Jesus Christ. “He that believeth on him is not condemned: but he that believeth not is condemned already, because he hath not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God” (John 3:18). Elsewhere Jesus said the Holy Spirit would come to convict of sin because they believe not in Him. That is the one great damning sin that will ruin your soul for eternity if you persist in it. If you refuse the work of the cross, if you turn away from the One who died upon that tree, then the merits of that work can never be applied to you. In the day of resurrection you will come forth from the tomb as one who has done evil, and you will have to be judged for your sins.
But now, how about the rest? Who are those who have done good or, literally, those who have practiced good? What does He mean by that? Are we saved because of our goodness? We know very well from other Scriptures that salvation is not based on human merit. “By grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: not of works, lest any man should boast” (Eph. 2:8-9). And again we are told, “To him that worketh is the reward not reckoned of grace, but of debt. But to him that worketh not, but believeth on him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness” (Rom. 4:4-5). There is no contradiction. The minute a sinner believes on the Lord Jesus Christ there is a change. That is the outward sign that he is a Christian. Immediately following that verse in Ephesians 2, we read, “For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them” (v. 10). If I tell you I am justified by faith, you cannot see my faith. You have no other way of knowing whether my testimony is true than by watching my life. You wonder if my life corresponds with my testimony. Do I live a Christlike life? And if I do not live such a life, you refuse my testimony. God Himself does not accept any man’s testimony if his life does not correspond. In that day it is those who have practiced good who will be raised and manifested as the children of God.
Let me stress this: just as there are two ways to live, so there are two ways to die; there are two resurrections, and following those two resurrections there are two destinies. Have you received Christ as your Savior? If so, death for you will mean to die in the Lord, and you will be raised in the first resurrection and enter into the blessings of heaven. On the other hand, if you continue to reject Him, then the day will come when you will die in your sins. Those who die in their sins will stand in the judgment and will be left in their sins through all eternity. In order that this might not be, our Lord Jesus Christ came to Calvary and gave Himself a ransom for all, a propitiation for each one who would trust in Him.