John 5:28 “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. 30 By myself I can do nothing; I judge only as I hear, and my judgment is just, for I seek not to please myself but him who sent me.
Jesus has been elaborating on the nature of his relationship with his Father; and in particular, the way in which the Father shares his ‘work’ with his Son. Just as the Father– the Creator of all– has authority over life and death, such that he raises the dead and gives them life, so also this authority is given to Jesus (v21-22). Resurrection and Judgment therefore belong to Jesus. We don’t yet see this, but they are under his control.
For this reason, Jesus prepares us for the fact that a time is coming when he will call the dead from their graves and judge them according to their deeds. Somewhat surprisingly to modern evangelicals, it seems that Jesus will judge on basis of what we have done: those who have done good will live, those who have done evil will be condemned (v29).
This idea of Judgement ‘according to works’ does not subvert the Bible’s teaching that ‘salvation is by grace alone, through faith alone’. Just as Jesus teaches in the parable of the sheep and the goats (Matt 25:41-46), the works of a person demonstrate the authenticity of their faith. The faith that saves is truly revealed in acts of righteousness, compassion and love. And so, even though Jesus will ultimately judge on the basis of our faith in him, that faith will be easily discerned by the kind of life it produces in us.
Jesus’ words here lead me to ponder one more thing about resurrection. He says that “a time is coming when all who are in their graves will hear his voice and come out…” I can’t help wondering about the dead who, at the time of Jesus’ own death, rose from their graves and went into Jerusalem to appear to certain people (see Matt 27:51-53). The gospel writers give no commentary about the significance or scope of this event, other than to say that it happened. In concert with the rending of the temple curtain from top to bottom, this was a sign that Jesus’ death was no ordinary event. Somehow the resurrection life of the new creation was now breaking in to the present.
It seems to me that this ‘one-off’ super-natural event foreshadows a greater day, when Jesus will again speak to the dead, and all will rise from their graves and face their final judgment– some to condemnation and others to eternal life.
Lord Jesus, please prepare me now for that great day. And in your mercy, please prepare [insert name] for that day also. Amen.