Jesus, the Judge and Life-Giver
Well, here we are on the last Sunday of 2018. This is a time of year when many of us are thinking about just that: time. We remember this year that was past, and look ahead to the year that’s still to come.
As we come to the end of 2018, I wonder how many of us are thinking about more than just the end of 2018. I wonder how many of us are thinking about the end of everything. “The end of the world,” as you might put it.
2018 has been another hard and tense year for planet earth. You might remember that last January, the group of scientists who oversee the Doomsday Clock moved the time forward to two minutes to midnight. 11:58. That’s a symbolic number, and it shows how relatively close they think we are to a global man-made catastrophe, like a nuclear war for example.
11:58 is as close to midnight as the clock has ever been. It’s the same spot it was at in 1953 during the height of the Cold War. Since then it’s backed off at times. But according to the experts, right now planet Earth is a dangerous place to live, and might not be all that far away from some form of an apocalypse.
As Christians, as 2018 comes to a close, we have reason to be thinking about the end of all things as we know them. Because, Doomsday Clock or not, we believe that God has told us that world history is moving towards a definite conclusion, a date known by Him on which this present age of human history will come to an end. And after that, a completely different kind of history will begin. The Age to Come, when God’s kingdom finally arrives here on earth in its fullness as it is in heaven.
And as we leave 2018 behind and move into 2019, that means we are one year closer to this appointment with divine destiny. We’re one year closer to the kingdom come.
And that’s what we’re going to be talking about this morning, as we make our final stop in this part of our series. We’ve been exploring how Jesus is the main character in the story of the Bible, and today we’re going to be seeing how Jesus is the main character of the end of the story. How Jesus Christ will be the central actor when this age comes to an end and the Age to Come begins. Today we are going to be exploring how Jesus is the Judge and Life-Giver of the Age to Come.
We’re going to be spending some time in John chapter 5, which we just read, and in which Jesus explains these things for us. But in order to understand John 5, we need to go back to the Old Testament and refresh ourselves on how the Jewish people generally thought about these things. What were their expectations for the last days, the end of this age? And how does that help us understand Jesus’ words in John 5?
And we’re going to try to answer those questions by reading a couple of passages from the book of Daniel.
Daniel 7: Judgement Day and the Son of Man
Our first stop is Daniel 7. In that chapter, Daniel is given a vision that represents the unfolding of human history in this present age. He sees four beasts, who we later learn represent four king or kingdoms (Daniel 7:17). The fourth beast is more terrifying than all of the others, and it grows a horn out of it’s head which has a mouth which speaks “great things” (Daniel 7:8). And this horn persecutes the people of God (v. 21). We later learn this horn represents a specific king (v. 24).
And then we read, beginning in Daniel 7 verse 9, “As I looked, thrones were placed, and the Ancient of Days took his seat; his clothing was white as snow, and the hair of his head like pure wool; his throne was fiery flames; its wheels were burning fire. A stream of fire issued and came out from before him; a thousand thousands served him, and ten thousand times ten thousand stood before him; the court sat in judgment, and the books were opened. I looked then because of the sound of the great words that the horn was speaking. And as I looked, the beast was killed, and its body destroyed and given over to be burned with fire” (Daniel 7:9–11).
The picture here is of Judgement Day. God sitting in judgement. And He passes judgement on this beast, this kingdom and it’s king, and it is destroyed.
And then we read, in verse 13, “I saw in the night visions, and behold, with the clouds of heaven there came one like a son of man, and he came to the Ancient of Days and was presented before him. And to him was given dominion and glory and a kingdom, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve him; his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom one that shall not be destroyed” (Daniel 7:13–14).
Now when Daniel says “I saw in the night visions,” it might sound like that first vision has come to an end, and a new vision has begun. But if you read the rest of the chapter, it’s clear that this vision of the Son of Man is a continuation of what went before.
And so the picture that emerges is that there are these four kingdoms. And the fourth kingdom has one specific king who harms and persecutes the people of God. But then God will sit in judgement, and destroy this final kingdom, and then give all authority and kingship into the hands of this Son of Man. And so after this final judgement, the Messiah reigns forever with His saints (Daniel 7:17-27, cf. Daniel 2:31-45).
And so this is a basic understanding of how the Jewish people understood how history was going to unfold and how the Age to Come was going to begin.
Daniel 12: The Resurrection
But there’s more to this picture. And we’ll see some of this if we turn to the last chapters in Daniel.
In Daniel 11, we read about a person, a king, who sounds an awful lot like the “horn” from chapter 7. He speaks astonishing things against God (Daniel 11:36) and persecutes God’s people (Daniel 11:41). And then we read this in chapter 12, beginning in verse 1:
“At that time shall arise Michael, the great prince who has charge of your people. And there shall be a time of trouble, such as never has been since there was a nation till that time. But at that time your people shall be delivered, everyone whose name shall be found written in the book. And many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt. And those who are wise shall shine like the brightness of the sky above; and those who turn many to righteousness, like the stars forever and ever” (Daniel 12:1–3).
These verses give us a different perspective on the final judgement. In chapter 7 we read about books that were opened and kings and kingdoms being judged. Here in chapter 12, it’s individual people who are being judged.
And then we read something totally new and unexpected in verse 2: “And many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt” (Daniel 12:2). Alongside of the final judgement will be a resurrection from the dead. People who have died are going to be raised to life.
And some of those who are resurrected will be given everlasting life. They will be the ones who get to share in the Age to Come. Others will be given shame and everlasting contempt, which has the idea of eternal punishment.
This passage is the clearest place in the Old Testament where a resurrection from the dead is spoken of. And it adds a really important piece to this sketch of the end times. Because it tells us that we each have the opportunity to share in the Age to Come, regardless of when we live for die. But in order to receive this eternal life, we need to pass the final judgement. We need to be found righteous in the courtroom of heaven. And if that doesn’t happen, then we don’t get eternal life: we’ll be sent away to eternal punishment.
And so it goes without saying that these realities shaped the hopes of the people of Jesus’ day. They thought and wrote and talked a lot about these things. And it really framed the way that they lived. People wanted to life good and righteous lives, so that they would be declared righteous in the courtroom of heaven in the final judgement, so that they would be rewarded with eternal life and get to share in the Age to Come. That was their hope. Be righteous so I can receive eternal life.
“Whatever the Father Does”
With this sketch in the back of our minds, we can turn now to John chapter 5, and hear Jesus talk to the Jewish religious leaders about these things.
The context of John 5 is really interesting. Because it doesn’t begin as a discussion about the last things. It begins as a discussion about the Sabbath. Jesus had healed a man on the Sabbath, and the religious leaders said: “You can’t do that! That’s working on the Sabbath.”
So Jesus explains why it’s ok for Him to heal on the Sabbath. He says that He is allowed to work on the Sabbath because God works on the Sabbath, and He is the Son of God, and so He can do whatever God does (John 5:17). That’s what He says in verse 19: “whatever the Father does, that the Son does likewise” (John 5:19).
And then He says, in verse 20: “And greater works than these will he show him, so that you may marvel” (John 5:20). In other words, making a lame man walk is just the beginning. The Son of God is going to do greater works than this, works that only God can do, and you will marvel.
So what are these greater works that the Son of God is going to do?
Verse 21: “For as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, so also the Son gives life to whom he will” (John 5:21). What’s greater than making a lame man walk? Giving a dead man life. And Jesus, the Son of God, is going to do this.
Now when you hear about Jesus giving life to the dead, what do you think about? Maybe the story of Lazarus?
Lazarus does fit into this. But the question we need to ask is: what would the Jewish people listening to Jesus have thought when He started talking about raising the dead? And the answer is that they would have been thinking about the resurrection from the dead that will happen when this age comes to an end. The resurrection that Daniel talked about.
And Jesus is saying that as the Son of God, He is the one that will be doing that. He is the one who will be giving life in that age-to-come resurrection.
And that’s what He confirms for us in verses 28-29: “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” (John 5:28–29).
Jesus is basically quoting Daniel 12:2, putting it in slightly different words. And he’s saying: I’m going to be the one doing this. I will be the one calling forth the dead from their graves. And I will be the one giving eternal life to those who deserve it.
Now you’ll remember that in Daniel, the resurrection from the dead is connected to the last judgement. And so it’s not a surprise that in verse 22, Jesus moves right from resurrection to the idea of judgement. And what He says is stunning: “For the Father judges no one, but has given all judgment to the Son” (John 5:22).
Jesus is not just the life-giver. He is the judge. He does not just raise from the dead and give eternal life; He is the one who evaluates people and determines who gets eternal life and who does not.
He makes this even more clear in verse 27: “And he [God the Father] has given him [God the Son] authority to execute judgment, because he is the Son of Man” (John 5:27).
Do you remember the Son of Man from Daniel’s dream? The one who approaches the Ancient of Days, and who is given an eternal kingdom that will never pass away or be destroyed?
Jesus says, I am He. I am the Son of Man. I’m the eternal, divine king. And I’ve been given authority by the Father to execute judgement. He has appointed me the judge and the life-giver.
This Begins Now
So Jesus has taken this in a direction nobody was expecting. It started with the Sabbath, and now Jesus has just informed his critics that He is the one who will be deciding their eternal destiny when the Age to Come dawns. He really turned the tables on them, didn’t He?
But Jesus goes even further here. Because what He tells us next is that all of this work of judgement and life-giving is not something He is just going to do at the end of this age. They don’t need to wait for the fullness of the Age to Come to witness Him doing His work of judging and resurrecting. Because this work had already begun.
And we see this in the this mind-boggling “truly, truly” statement in verse 24: “Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life” (John 5:24).
Just stop there for now and listen to what Jesus is saying. Whoever hears his word today and believes the God who sent him “has eternal life.”
Those are revolutionary words for two reasons. First, because Jesus says that eternal life is given to those who believe. Not to those who work. Not to those who keep the law perfectly. No, eternal life will be given to those who hear His word and believe.
That’s the gospel. We are saved by grace through faith. Not by works.
But the second shocking thing that Jesus says here is that whoever believes “has eternal life.” Everybody hearing Jesus would have expected Him to say, “will have eternal life, in the Age to Come.”
But no, Jesus does not say that. He says that those who believe have eternal life. Today. Now. That thing that you were waiting for and hoping to get then, you get now.
But how can that happen? How can you receive eternal life before the final judgement? You can hear someone saying, “It doesn’t work that way. You only get eternal life if you pass the final judgement and God looks at your whole life and declares you to be righteous.”
But listen to what Jesus says: “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” (John 5:24).
It’s hard for us to wrap our heads around how big and how revolutionary this statement would have sounded to Jesus’ first hearers.
Those who hear and believe the words of Christ are given eternal life now because they have skipped over Judgement Day. They do “not come into judgement.” Judgement Day does not apply to them.
It’s like they’ve been picked up, carried past the events of Judgement Day, and dropped on the other side with all the rewards of a righteous standing with God.
They’ve already “passed from death to life.” They are already living in the Age to Come. Even though their bodies have not been resurrected, their souls have been. And they are already experiencing the eternal life of the Age to Come in their souls.
That is what Jesus is getting at in verse 25: “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” (John 5:25).
That hour is coming in terms of our bodies. But the hour is now here in terms of our souls. When we hear and believe the words of Christ, this has happened to us.
How Is This Possible?
Now there’s still some questions that need to be answered here. How is this even possible? How can certain people be exempt from Judgement Day? How can God reward you for living a righteous life if you haven’t lived your whole life yet?
And friends, the answer to these questions is the cross of Jesus Christ. Because on the cross, Jesus took our place, and He endured Judgement Day for us.
You’ll remember we read that as Jesus hung on the cross, the sun went dark, and the earth shook, and some people were resurrected from the dead (Matthew 27:45, 51-52). Those were not just random events. Those were events that the Old Testament connects with the Day of the Lord, when God would come and judge sin.
And so we should understand that when Jesus died on the cross, that was our Judgement Day. Jesus stepped into our place and bore the judgement of God for us. “The Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all” (Isaiah 53:6).
So we’re not exempt from Judgement Day. It’s just that Jesus took our Judgement Day instead of us.
And so God can count us righteous before our lives are over because Jesus already paid for all of our unrighteousness.
And, because Jesus is righteous, and God counts us righteous in Jesus. Do you remember this idea from Philippians 3? Jesus is like a team captain, who scores all the goals singlehandedly, and then his each person on his team gets to wear the championship ring. Jesus was righteous for us, and God counts us righteous, gives us the status of righteousness, in Him. It’s what the New Testament calls “justification.”
2 Corinthians 5:21 sums this up for us when it says, “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”
So for all of you who trust in Jesus, Judgement Day is not a future event you need to be scared of. It’s a past event you can look back on. And because of the work of Jesus on the cross, you’re been dropped on the other side of Judgement Day. You’ve already received the passing grade, you’ve already been declared righteous, and you’re already enjoying eternal life.
The Main Character, First to Last
Now next week, when we kick off the third and final leg of our series, we’re going to come back to these ideas and talk in more depth about what they mean for us. Because there’s a lot more we need to see in terms of the way that these truths should impact how we see ourselves and understand our place in the story.
But today, I want to end by turning our eyes on Jesus. Jesus, the Son of God, the one who performs the last-days, age-to-come works of judgement and resurrection. Jesus, the one who lives a righteous life on behalf of His people, the one who steps in and endures Judgement Day for them, so that they can be forgiven and justified in Him and already begin to enjoy the benefits of the Age to Come.
Now here’s what’s so significant for us to pay attention to here. For the past several weeks we’ve been hearing about Jesus being the main character of the story of the Bible. How he fulfills these different roles that are spoken of.
And for most of these roles—the offspring of Abraham, the son of David—many people thought that it would be a man who comes and fulfills this role. David was a man, his son would be a man. Abraham was a man, his son would be a man.
But here in John 5, Jesus claims that to fulfill these roles that only God can fill. Judgement and life-giving were God’s work, and only God could do them. And that’s really what Jesus is demonstrating here: as the Son of God, He is God.
And so I trust you’re seeing how Jesus, being fully God and fully man, is the only person who can be the main character of the Bible. He does what men should have done but failed to do, and He does what only God can do.
From the very beginning of human history, He holds the centre stage. And that position continues into the Age to Come, as He is the one holding the keys to that age. He is the one who decides who gets to receive the reward of eternal life, and He is the one who gives that reward out.
So I hope you’re seeing the supremacy of Jesus. This really is all about Him, in ways bigger than we ever could have imagined.
So let’s take that home with us today. That Jesus is the main character. Which means that we are not. This story is not about you. The life that you’re living is not about you. We are all just supporting characters in the biggest story ever told. From first to last, it’s always been about the main character, Jesus Christ.
And that’s a truth that has a million practical applications. You want to see a difference in the way you act, the way you feel? Embrace the truth that your life is not about you but is one part of a big story that’s all about Jesus. Embrace the truth that the purpose of your life is to make Jesus look good. Embrace 1 Corinthians 10:31: “So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God” (1 Corinthians 10:31). Embrace 1 Peter 4:11—“that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 4:11). And go looking for ways to live that out, to make that happen.
And here’s where we’re going to end this morning. I want us to end by being amazed. Because one of the things that makes this main character so amazing is how much love he shows to the supporting characters.
How we all start off as villains in the story, but how He pursues us and dies for us and shares His reward with us and gives us more than we ever could have dreamed to imagine, let alone ask.
And that’s where we’re going to end. “And Can it Be?” How can all of this even be true? But it is.