Those So-Called "Contradictory" Passages
John 5:28,29--A Universal Judgment Day?
This study would not be complete without an examination of certain passages which are understood by some as teaching a theory different from the Pre-Millennial position. Two principal passages will be examined very briefly.
Our Lord has been interpreted as teaching that there will be a universal judgment day when all, both the wicked and the righteous, will be raised. As proof of this proposition reference is made to John 5:28,29:1 Corinthians 15:23, 24-Proof of No Millennium?
Marvel not at this: for the hour cometh, in which all that are in the tombs 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 judgment.
Emphasis is laid upon the word "hour" in this passage; hence it is believed that in one hour of sixty minutes all the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God and will be raised for judgment. Is such the teaching of this passage?
In order to understand the full import of these verses under consideration, it becomes necessary for us to look at the occasion which gave rise to the message recorded in John 5. According to vss. 1-9, the Lord Jesus healed a crippled man who was waiting for the stirring of the waters of the pool of Bethesda. Jesus said to him, "Arise, take up thy bed, and walk" (vs. 8). Christ commanded him to do that which he could not possibly have done by his own strength. Our Lord's commands are His enablings. With this command went forth the strength which empowered the man to execute it. He heard the audible tones of our Lord and at the same time, by faith, appropriated the message. Acting upon the spoken word, he arose in the power which Christ supplied and walked. His faith made him whole.
The Jews objected to Christ's healing on the Sabbath day. According to their theology He had violated the law prohibiting work on the Sabbath. His disregard for their conception of Sabbath work was to them a guarantee that He was not a man of God.
A little later in the Temple the healed man brought the Jews to Jesus and identified Him as the one who had cured him. They began to persecute Jesus and to debate with Him concerning His good deed for the impotent man.
It is natural that the occasion which gave rise to the discussion would be reflected in the choice of words and phraseology used in it. Hence we hear Jesus saying, vs. 24: "Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that heareth my word, and believeth him that sent me, hath eternal life, and cometh not into judgment, but hath passed out of death into life." The man had heard Jesus speak and believed Him; hence he acted according to his faith and was healed.
In the same manner the one who hears the word of the Lord Jesus and believes the one who sent Him--that is, God--has eternal life, a present possession and not a prospect of it. This statement is confirmed by the last clause of the verse: "but hath passed out of death into life." The significance of the perfect tense in this clause confirms the statement that the believer has, at the present time, eternal life. Having by faith received this life, he has already passed out of death into this condition of life.
The negative side of this proposition is likewise stated in the words, "and cometh not into judgment." This statement assumes the believer that he will not be brought into judgment for trial. Sentence was passed upon him at Calvary in the person of the Lord Jesus Christ who became his substitute.
The promises contained in vs. 24 are made a little more definite in the following verses. "Verily, verily, I say unto you, The hour cometh, and now is, when the dead shall hear the voice of the Son of God; and they that hear shall live." The reader is to note the expression, "The hour cometh, and now is." This statement shows that the Lord was not speaking about some future time of resurrection but the present time. This same expression is found in ch. 4, vss. 23, 24: "But the hour cometh, and now is, when the true worshippers shall worship the Father in spirit and truth: for such doth the Father seek to be his worshippers, God is a Spirit: and they that worship him must worship in spirit and truth."
In view of these two statements we see that the expression "hour" indicates the present dispensation. During this age "the dead shall hear the voice of the Son of God; and they that hear shall live." Since Jesus was talking about the present era and the preaching of the Gospel to those who are dead (in sin), we may be certain that He was not using the word "live" in the sense of a physical resurrection. Undoubtedly He was speaking of the impartation of the divine life which He communicates to those who accept Him.
In vss. 26 and 27 Christ explained the basis for this assertion: "For as the Father hath life in himself, even so gave he to the Son also to have life in himself: and he gave him authority to execute judgment, because he is a son of man."
In this passage Jesus was thinking of Himself as "a son of man," and was ignoring the fact that He was God in human form. The Jews were simply thinking of and dealing with Him as a man. Taking their estimate of Him, Jesus declared that the Father had communicated to Him the same kind of life which the Father possesses--namely, eternal, self-existing life. Therefore he, as a son of man, can communicate the same kind of life to those who hear His words and who accept them.
Thus in vss. 24-27 our Lord was speaking of the impartation of the new life to the believer. As stated above, the choice of His phraseology was determined by circumstances connected with the miracle which had just been performed.
Jesus followed this explanation concerning spiritual matters with the exhortation, "Marvel not at this" (vs. 28). At what? According to John's usage and the flow of thought, this sentence refers to the new life imparted to the believer. As explained in vs. 24, however, the reception of this new life and power is the guarantee and pledge of exemption from future judgment and also of a resurrection into life. Therefore Jesus said, "Marvel not at this" for I am going to tell you about the future resurrection of all the dead, "for the hour cometh, in which all that are in the tombs 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 judgment."
The Son of man has power not only to impart spiritual life to the believers at the present time but also has authority and power to bring all the dead back to life again, "for the hour cometh, in which all that are in the tombs shall hear his voice, and shall come forth."
Are we to understand from this passage that all who are in the tombs will come forth within the period of sixty minutes? Is this a prediction of a general judgment into which all, both the wicked and the righteous, will be brought?
The question just asked can be answered only by the proper understanding of the word hour. We have already seen in John 4:23 that this word is used as a synonym for the entire Christian dispensation. This fact is clearly seen by the context in which it appears. In 5:25 we learned that "hour" likewise was used as a synonym for the entire Christian era. From these two examples we see that this word can refer to a long period of time. If this is the significance in these two instances, it is possible that such may be its meaning in vs. 28. We should not resort, however, to this meaning unless there is a warrant for our doing so.
Applying our fundamental rule of interpreting all language according to the literal, usual meaning, we would understand the word "hour" in this passage to indicate a period of sixty minutes, but we are also to remember it may mean a period of time, such as the Christian dispensation. We must select that significance which accords with all the facts, not only of this one context but also of all Scripture teaching.
As we have already seen in Rev. 20, John taught that at the second coming of our Lord for His saints the dead in Christ shall be raised. When He resumes His journey all the way to the earth and mounts the throne of David, He establishes His reign of righteousness which will endure for one thousand years. At the conclusion of that period Satan, who is bound at the beginning of the Millennium, is unloosed for a little time during which he will stir up rebellion against Christ. These revolting peoples will be destroyed by miraculous fire coming down out of Heaven. Then Satan will be cast into the lake of fire where the beast and the false prophet are.
Following this, the judgment of the Great White Throne is to be established, before which all of the wicked dead will be brought for the pronouncement of sentence (vss. 11-15). According to the narrative, therefore, there will be two resurrections: one before the thousand years and one following it. This position is confirmed by Rev. 20:5: "The rest of the dead lived not until the thousand years should be finished. This is the first resurrection."
Since Rev. 20 teaches two resurrections separated by a thousand-year interval, we must select that interpretation of John 5:28,29 which accords with this passage. In the light of this fact then we say the period called "hour" in John 5:28 can cover at least as long a period as it does in John 4:23 and 5:25. We are logically forced to the conclusion that the resurrection unto life mentioned by Jesus is that which precedes the thousand years and the resurrection of condemnation that which follows the Millennium.
A second passage that is very frequently cited as proof that when our Lord returns He delivers up the kingdom to God the Father is 1 Cor. 15:23,24. The conclusion from this misinterpretation of the passage is that there will be no Millennial reign of Christ when He returns. It becomes necessary, therefore, for us to investigate this passage.
For since by man came death, by man came also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive. But each in his own order: Christ the first fruits; then they that are Christ's, at his coming. Then cometh the end, when he shall deliver up the kingdom to God, even the Father; when he shall have abolished all rule and all authority and power. For he must reign, till he hath put all his enemies under his feet. The last enemy that shall be abolished is death. For, he put all things in subjection under his feet. But when he saith, All things are put in subjection, it is evident that he is excepted who did subject all things unto him. And when all things have been subjected unto him, then shall the Son also himself be subjected to him that did subject all things unto him, that God may be all in all (vss. 21-28).
The heart of this great passage is found in vss. 23 and 24. In vs. 21 Paul showed that by Adam's transgression sin entered the world and caused death. In the same manner by the one act of righteousness of our Lord Jesus Christ resurrection from the dead has been made possible. Adam's sin brought universal death; Christ's act of obedience brought universal resurrection. These facts are further set forth by Paul in vs. 22.
In vs. 23 he shows the order of the resurrection: "Christ the first-fruits." Our Lord's triumph over death occurred over nineteen hundred years ago. The second installment of the resurrection will be "they that are Christ's, at his coming."
According to vs. 24, "Then cometh the end, when he shall deliver up the kingdom to God, even the Father ..." Let us notice that in vs. 23 Paul speaks of Christ's resurrection and follows that statement by "then they that are Christ's, at his coming." The adverb "then" covers, as we know, a period of over nineteen hundred years. About this position there can be no dispute. But what is the significance of "then" found in vs. 24? If the first "then" covers over nineteen hundred years, is it not logical for us to believe that the second "then" may cover as long a period of time? This question demands an affirmative answer.
Since we have learned from the book of Revelation that our Lord reigns upon earth a thousand years when He returns, then we must interpret this passage in harmony with the teaching of chapter 20. Therefore we are forced, without any equivocation, to the conclusion that the word "then" in vs. 24 covers the great Millennial Era.
That the Greek adverb translated "then" in these instances indicates an enumeration of events is clear from the statement which Thayer makes: "As in classic Greek, it stands in enumeration, to mark a sequence depending either on temporal succession, as Mark 4:28 ...; 1 Cor. 15:5-7 ...; 1 Cor. 15:24 ...; 1 Tim. 2:13; or on the nature of the things enumerated, 1 Cor. 12:28." An examination of the passages referred to by Thayer shows conclusively that the adverb in the original language used here, together with its strengthened form which appears in vs. 24, is employed for enumeration of events either in temporal sequence or on the basis of the natural importance.
Since this passage must harmonize with all others and since Rev. 20 teaches that there will be two resurrections separated by a period of a thousand years during which our Lord reigns upon the earth, we must interpret this passage in harmony with the other revelation. With the facts in mind which I have just stated it is clearly seen that there is perfect agreement between this passage and the teaching of our Lord concerning His Millennial reign as set forth in Matt. 25:31-46.
In this chapter we have seen, therefore, that when our Lord returns in glory He will sit upon His mighty throne and separate the living nations who survive the Great Tribulation. Those put upon His right hand and represented by the sheep are the ones who have been very kind to His brethren. Their feelings and actions towards His people are simply an index revealing their attitude toward Christ. They will see that He is the Son of God and Saviour of the world and accept Him. To them He will give life eternal. They will reign with Him during this thousand-year period of a glorious, righteous rule over the earth.
But the wicked, represented by the goats, will go off into everlasting punishment. That this punishment is everlasting has been proved by the meaning of the word aionios (forever), applied to God and to Christ. Without doubt, in view of all the facts there is such an institution as eternal punishment. Though this doctrine is distasteful to the majority of people and though we cannot understand all of its implications, the one who knows God and who loves His Word must accept this teaching and await the future to understand all the particulars.