Resurrection Now and Not Yet — The Unfolding of Biblical Eschatology
One of John’s few explicitly eschatological passages is found in chapter 5. The occasion is the healing of a lame man at the pool of Bethesda on a Sabbath. Because Jesus heals the man on a Sabbath, the Jews persecute him (5:16). Jesus then says to them, “My Father is working until now, and I am working” (v. 17). The response infuriates the Jewish leaders even more because “not only was he breaking the Sabbath, but he was even calling God his own Father, making himself equal with God” (v. 18). Jesus then says, “Truly, truly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of his own accord, but only what he sees the Father doing. For whatever the Father does, that the Son does likewise. For the Father loves the Son and shows him all that he himself is doing. And greater works than these will he show him, so that you may marvel” (vv. 19–20). As Barrett explains, Jesus’ point here is that he is what he is “only in humble obedience to and complete dependence upon the Father.”i
Jesus then says, “For as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, so also the Son gives life to whom he will. The Father judges no one, but has given all judgment to the Son, that all may honor the Son, just as they honor the Father” (vv. 21–23). While the Father is the source of life and judgment, he has delegated to the Son the authority to raise the dead and to judge. Jesus continues, “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” (v. 24). Carson rightly observes, that this “is perhaps the strongest affirmation of inaugurated eschatology in the Fourth Gospel”ii The emphasis here is clearly on that which is already true of the believer. He already has eternal life. He has already passed from death to life. In other words, he has already been spiritually resurrected.
Spiritual resurrection is the subject of the following verse, as Jesus continues his discourse, “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” (v. 25). The coming “hour” is the eschatological future age. However, because the Messiah who raises the dead is now here, the eschatological age has already been inaugurated.iii Jesus says that hour is coming “and now is” (kai nun estin). He is referring, therefore, to the life that is given now to the spiritually dead. Barrett explains, “That the dead referred to in this verse are not the physically dead is confirmed by the fact that they are not (like those of v. 28) said to be in the tombs; the aorist participle suggests those who at the time of writing have been vivified by the word of Christ.”iv The resurrection life of the future age reaches back into the present and is available now to the spiritually dead.v Believers now receive a foretaste of the resurrection life that they will experience in fullness on the last day.
Jesus says, “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” (vv. 26–27). Here there is a possible allusion to Daniel 7:13–14, the Old Testament prophecy in which all authority is given to the Son of Man. Jesus continues, “Do not marvel at this, for an hour is coming when all who are in the tombs will hear his voice and come out, those who have done good to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil to the resurrection of judgment” (vv. 28–29). Unlike verse 25, which speaks of present spiritual resurrection, verses 28–29 speak of the future bodily resurrection of the dead.vi
It is important to note, as Keener explains, that the future form of verse 28 (“an hour is coming”) does not include the present (“and is now here”) that is found in verse 25. In other words, John does not teach a completely realized eschatology.vii Beasley-Murray helpfully summarizes the teaching of these verses:
The spiritually dead who “hear” the voice of the Son of God in the days of their flesh and are raised by him to life will hear that voice again, calling them to enter upon the fullness of resurrection life for the kingdom of glory. Similarly those who are deaf to the voice of the Son of God in life must in the end respond to that voice, and rise to hear the word of condemnation pronounced upon them.viii
The relationship between present and future eschatology is nowhere more intricately connected than it is here in these verses. The resurrection life of the age to come is experienced in part now by believers. They are no longer spiritually dead. Their bodies, however, will die. But on the last day, they will experience the fullness of resurrection life when the voice of God calls them from the grave and their corruptible bodies are raised incorruptible (cf. 1 Cor. 15:35–49).
i C.K. Barrett, The Gospel According to St John (London: SPCK, 1960), 214.
ii D.A. Carson, The Gospel According to John (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1991), 256; cf. George R. Beasley-Murray, John, 2d ed. (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1999), 76.
iii Cf. Beasley-Murray, John, 76.
iv Barrett, Gospel According to St John, 218.
v Cf. George E. Ladd, A Theology of the New Testament, rev. ed. (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1993), 341; Carson, Gospel According to John, 256.
vi Barrett, Gospel According to St John, 219; Raymond E. Brown, The Gospel According to John I-XII (New York: Doubleday, 1966), 218–21; F.F. Bruce, The Gospel of John (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1983), 131–33; Carson, Gospel According to John, 258.
vii Craig S. Keener, The Gospel of John: A Commentary (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 2003), 1:654–55.
viii Beasley-Murray, John, 77.