The Hour Has Come
Imiss the bells. Through all of my years of school we had bells. When a class ended, there were bells to let us know. Then, after I graduated from the Seminary and went back to summer school, there were no bells. And I found that unsettling. I relied on those bells to tell me that the time had come. The hour had come for me to pack up my books and move onto the next class. That’s what Jesus is doing in these words. In his own way he is ringing a bell. He is letting us know that we need to be ready for something far more important than getting our books packed for the next class. In John 5 we read: “25 Very truly I tell you, 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. 26 For as the Father has life in himself, so he has granted the Son also to have life in himself. 27 And he has given him authority to judge because he is the Son of Man.” (John 5:25–27 NIV11-GKE)
The hour has come. That’s what Jesus tells us. The hour has come for the dead to be clothed with flesh and blood. Any day now, indeed, any moment now, Jesus could come for Judgment Day. And on that day Jesus will give the dead life. And they will rise with brand new, perfect bodies. Most likely, this is not the first time you have heard this. But it is easy for us to fall into temptation when it comes to this fact. First, we can fall into temptation by forgetting this fact. When a person dies—whoever it is, there is this huge push and impulse to make everything better. And so, it is very easy for us to fall into the same pattern the world does when it comes to speaking about those who have died. It is easy to say, “They have gone to a better place.” But my dear friends in Christ, we know what that better place is. That better place is heaven. But maybe what is even easier to forget is that when that loved one who believes in Jesus dies they are with Jesus, but as Jesus reminds us here, that isn’t the end of the journey. On Judgment Day every believer will live. Each believer will get their bodies back. Yes, it’s true that when we die, as Christians, our souls return to our Creator. But our great temptation to sin is to forget what will happen to our bodies. At every committal service we say those words, “Ashes to ashes, dust to dust. We commit these earthly remains to the ground in the sure and certain hope of eternal life.” Notice the point: We get our bodies back.
What follows after this is the proof. How do we know that we will get our bodies back? What Jesus says here is a little shocking, if you think about it. We would have expected him to say that you can be sure that we will get our bodies back because the Son of God is in charge and in control. But that’s not what Jesus says. He says that God gave life to the Son. The Son gives life to whomever he wants. And the reason he can do this is that he is the Son of Man. In other words, every part of you and every particle in you Jesus will keep track of. And the reason he can keep track of humans so very well is that he is one. When you lay your loved one to rest in the ground there are those doubts and fears. But these words fill us with such comfort and hope. For that loved one who believed in Jesus will not only be with Jesus when he or she dies. That person will also be clothed with a brand new version of their body. And this is true and you can count on it because Jesus isn’t just the Son of God. He is also the son of Man.
The hour has come for us to recognize that the dead will live. We will live in heaven clothed with brand new bodies. But there’s more: “28 “Do not be amazed at this, for a time is coming when all who are in their graves will hear his voice 29 and come out—those who have done what is good will rise to live, and those who have done what is evil will rise to be condemned.” (John 5:28–29 NIV11-GKE)
Every year on Holy Trinity Sunday we all say these words together: Those who have done good will enter eternal life, but those who have done evil will go into eternal fire. I remember a lady in a congregation I was in who flat out told me that she refused to say that part of the creed. All the rest of the creed was fine. But that part obviously was wrong. And she asked me how that error was allowed to stand there in the creed. I told her that if she had a problem with those words in the Athanasian Creed, then she would really have a problem with John 5. For here in these words Jesus says that those who do good will rise and live; and those who do evil will rise and be judged. How do we make sense of this, since we know that we cannot do good works to earn our way into heaven. First of all, we take scripture in context. Jesus says that those who do good will be in heaven. But notice what he doesn’t say. He does not say, how. How is it that a sinful person who comes into the world as an enemy of God can do good works? The answer is that each of us cannot. But what happens? Jesus comes to us through his word and creates faith in our hearts. And with this gift of faith there is a new person inside of us alongside the old. And this new person does good works, not to get heaven, but instead, out of thankfulness because he already has heaven. As Jesus tells us in John 14, a good tree produces good fruit.
So, first, Christians are able to do good works. For Jesus has promised that we will be able to. But these good works don’t get us to heaven or any closer to heaven. That is Jesus’ work, not ours. But the second key to understanding these words is what Jesus says about unbelievers. Unbelievers too will rise on the last day. But they will rise to be judged, not to live in heaven. Why is this the case? They will rise to be judged because they practiced evil.1 Notice, a different word is used. It’s not “do” evil. Instead, it’s “practice” evil. They planned to sin. They wanted to sin. When they were given the opportunity to repent, they refused. Their sin had become their god, not the Son of Man.
By contrast then, this invites us to repent. This invites us to repent of the times we have forgotten that at any time Jesus could come to judge the living and the dead. This invites us to repent of the times we forgot that it’s not just our souls that will be with Jesus, but on Judgment Day, our bodies too will be reunited with our bodies forever.
The hour has come when the dead will live. We will live clothed with perfect flesh and blood. And we have proof of this because Jesus, who was and is flesh and blood, will put every part and every particle back together on Judgment Day. And not only will we live clothed with perfect bodies. We will also live clothed with perfect works. What an amazing truth, that on Judgment Day Jesus will list and itemize all of the good works we have done. He was the one who died for our sins. He was the one who gave us faith to be able to do good works. He was the one who gave us so many choices in our lives to pick between one good work and another. And on the last day he will highlight them for the world to see. For all our sins will not only be forgiven. They will also be forgotten. The hour has come when the dead will live. We will live clothed with perfect bodies. And we will live clothed with perfect works. Amen.
1 “ⲡⲣⲁⲝⲁⲛⲧⲉⲥ” (John 5:29 GNT-ALEX)