How do you deal with the difficulties of John 5:25-29?

Question: : John 5:25-29 reads, “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. 26For as the Father has life in himself, so he has granted the Son also to have life in himself. 27And he has given him authority to execute judgment, because he is the Son of Man. 28Do not marvel at this, for an hour is coming when all who are in the tombs will hear his voice 29and come out, those who have done good to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil to the resurrection of judgment.” Here are my questions:

1. Does v.25 refer to pre-incarnation believers in God who have died anticipating the Messiah? Or does it refer to all dead people? Is there significance in the verb “hear” being used twice? What is the status of pre-incarnation believers? (Gen 15:6?). We figured it referenced believers and shows the breadth of His grace. Did they believe in Jesus even if they didn’t know His name?

2. Does v. 29 advocate a works based salvation?

3. The title Son of Man is confusing/intriguing. What comments can you give about this?

Answer: Great questions. Here are my answers:

1. I believe this refers to all the dead. Those who died before Christ believed in the promise of God as it was explained up to that point. Abraham believed God’s promise concerning his offspring becoming numerous and possessing the land, later Israelites believed the promise of the kingdom being ruled by David and his offspring, etc. All the focus on the promise was that God would restore the kingdom through the offspring of the woman (Genesis 3:15). Once Jesus came the focus of the promise is on the Offspring of the woman who has come and has restored the kingdom in principle and is restoring it in fact, as well. Faith has always been the basis of salvation, never works. I don’t really know the significance of the word “hear” in this passage.

2. Verse 29 does not advocate works salvation but the characteristics of those who have salvation. This is an aspect of the doctrine of the perseverance of the saints. Genuine believers will persevere in good works. Hebrews 12 says no one can see God without holiness. This probably does not mean just legal right standing with God (justification) but some measure of right living (sanctification). This is because God produces this kind of life in those who belong to Him (1 John says His “seed” is in us and we cannot continue in sin, 3:9). Paul says in Romans 2:13, “It is not those who hear the law who are righteous in God’s sight, but it is those who obey the law who will be declared righteous.” Paul obviously doesn’t believe that works of the Law save us, but must mean, rather, that the characteristic of the true believer is that he or she does obey the law. This does not mean perfect obedience, but rather a growing conformity to God’s character that God is working in us (Philippians 2:12,13).

3. Jesus probably used the title “Son of Man” because it was confusing/intriguing. He did not want to prematurely raise the resistance there would have been to calling himself the Son of God or the Messiah. The term was used frequently in the Old Testament for a prophet (see Ezekiel). But it was also used of the divine character who receives the kingdom from the Ancient of Days in Daniel 7:13,14. To those who came to know Him it became obvious after his resurrection that Jesus was divine, not just human, God, not just Man. He wasn’t merely a prophet. But before that it could be interpreted according to the framework of the person listening.

Randall Johnson

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