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John 5

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24 "Truly, truly I say to you, he who hears My word, and believes Him who sent me, has eternal life, and does not come into judgment, but has passed out of death into life.

 

Commentary No less grand or sobering than what Jesus has already said, is the proclamation that not only does Jesus give life "to whom He wills," but that the life He gives is eternal life, and it begins for the believer immediately upon hearing Jesus' words and believing the Father who has sent Him.  "Hears" in this context means "accepts as true; believes."  Jesus speaks the words that the Father gives Him (8:26) and does the works the Father shows Him (verse 19); therefore, those who believe the Son believe the Father, and those who honor the Son honor the Father.

The Son mediates the Father to us in all things, not least of which is His active role in salvation.  That He is an active participant, and not merely a passive "conduit" through which the Father acts in the world, is seen by Jesus' statement that He gives life "to whom He wills" and that He, not the Father, is the ultimate Judge of humanity. Of course, since His will perfectly matches the will of the Father, the Son and the Father act as One (along with the "Spirit of Truth" who convicts the world of sin, righteousness and judgment [14:17; 16:8]) to bring regeneration, justification, and salvation to the believer, and just judgment to the unbeliever.  As John elsewhere makes clear:

God has given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son.  He who has the Son has the life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have the life. (1 John 5:12).

One of the striking features of this verse is the present tense "has" (see Grammatical Analysis, below).  Salvation begins for the believer at the moment of belief.  The believer receives eternal life and is not judged because he hears and believes.  He has passed from spiritual death to spiritual life through no 'works' of his own, but through the will of Christ alone.  The believer is assured of her salvation, for she at the moment of belief, no longer comes under God's wrath and condemnation, but has at once and completely passed from spiritual death to eternal life.

The Son is the arbiter of destiny. The determination of this destiny is immediate: "Whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be condemned." Eternal life becomes the possession of the believer at the moment of acceptance; the future judgment will only confirm what has already taken place. The assurance of salvation does not begin at death or at a future judgment. "He has crossed over" is in the perfect tense, which indicates an accomplished transit and a settled state (EBC).

Since Jesus has the unity and divine prerogatives mentioned in verses 19-23, to trust His message and His Father is to have in the present time eternal life (cf. 3:36). No judgment will come in the future (he will not be condemned [cf. 3:18; Rom. 6:13; 8:1] because he has already passed from one realmdeathinto anotherlife [cf. Eph. 2:1, 5]). Only once elsewhere (in 1 John 3:14) is the phrase "passed from death to life" used (BKC).

Grammatical Analysis ecei zwhn aiwnion...alla metabebhken ek tou qanatou eiV thn zwhn

ECHEI ZHN AIWNION...ALLA METABEBKEN EK TOU THANATOU EIS TN ZN

Has life eternal...but has crossed over out of death into [the] life.

 

ECHEI is the present indicative active form of the verb ECHW, "to have, to hold, to possess" (Friberg).  The present indicative asserts something which is occurring while the speaker is speaking.  The active voice indicates that the action is being accomplished by the subject of the sentence - in this case, "he who hears...and believes..."  Thus, hearing and believing bring eternal life immediately, thereby avoiding judgment and spiritual death.

Hath eternal life (echei zen ainion). Has now this spiritual life which is endless. See 3:36. In verses 24, 25 Jesus speaks of spiritual life and spiritual death. In this passage (verses 21-29) Jesus speaks now of physical life and death, now of spiritual, and one must notice carefully the quick transition (RWP).

METABEBHKEN is the perfect indicative active form of METABAINW, "to leave, move, go, cross over" (Friberg).  The indicative mood heightens the temporal aspect of the present tense verb.  Context will dictate whether the completeness of action or the finished results are emphasized.  In this verse, either or both connotations are possible.

Other Veiws Considered

Jehovah's Witnesses

objection:  The Watchtower writes:

[Jesus] is the appointed Judge into whose hands all judgment is committed, so that he judiciously administers his ransom benefits to individuals among mankind according to their worthiness to live under his kinship (John 5:22-27) (Aid, p. 924).

The Watchtower thus reads this verse and the surrounding context in such as way as to suggest that membership in Christ's Kingdom is based - at least in part - on the "worthiness" of the believer.  The Watchtower teaches a complex eschatology, in which two classes of believers receive different resurrections.  The so-called "Anointed class" of believers receive the "first" or "earlier" resurrection; they have a "heavenly call," and thus receive spiritual bodies for their new lives in Heaven with Christ.  The "Anointed" are restricted to 144,000 believers.  The remaining group of believers - the "other sheep" (which includes virtually all Witnesses alive today) - will be part of the second resurrection.  They will receive physical bodies for their new lives in an Earthly Paradise.  There, they will labor for Christ and the Anointed during Christ's millennial reign, following which, if they are obedient, they may receive eternal life (see Aid, pp. 1393 ff.).

Thus, the Watchtower teaches that only those "other sheep" who demonstrate their "worthiness" during the Millennium to live under Christ's kingship will receive eternal life.  In fairness, the Watchtower does not base its teaching on this passage alone.  However, it appeals to this passage to help explain it:

"The hour is coming, and now is, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God and those who have given heed (literally, word for word, "the (ones) having heard") will live."  (vs. 25, The Kingdom Interlinear Translation of the Greek Scriptures).  This indicates that he was speaking, not merely to someone audibly hearing his voice, but, rather, of the ones "having heard," namely, those who, after hearing, accept as true what they hear.  The terms "hear" and "listen" are used very frequently in the Bible with the meaning of "give heed" or "obey" (see OBEDIENCE).  Those who prove to be obedient will live.  (Compare the use of the same Greek term (akouo), "To hear or to listen" as John 6:60; 8:43; 47; 10:3, 27.)  They are judged, not on what they did before hearing his voice, but what they did after hearing it. (IBID, p. 1397).

Response:  Though AKOUW can have the connotation "to obey," and it is certainly incumbent upon believers to be doers, not merely hearers of His word (cf., James 1:22), the context here and in the verses the Watchtower cites stresses "belief."  Indeed, in each, a form of the word "believe" occurs in the immediate context, while the word "obey" does not.  Thus, the primary emphasis is upon hearing and believing - though obedience will follow any true conversion to belief in God and His Son.

The Watchtower emphasizes obedience, here, to support its teaching that those who return to life in the second resurrection must demonstrate their obedience during the Millennial reign of Christ to achieve eternal life.  However, the point must be stressed that there in nothing in this passage - nor indeed elsewhere in Scripture - that explicitly states that some believers will be resurrected to a heavenly call, while others must "prove to be obedient."

Further, the Watchtower says that those who "hear" Christ's words will be "judged, not on what they did before hearing his voice, but what they did after hearing it."  For Witnesses, the deeds they do after hearing Christ's words entail not only what they do in this life, but also what they may do following their resurrection, but prior to the ultimate judgment in which Christ will determine who has proven "obedient."  Since it has just defined "judgment" as "a judgment of condemnation" (IBID), the Watchtower means that some of those who "hear" Christ's Words and believe in His Father, but do not "prove to be obedient," will be denied eternal life.  In explaining its view of "passing over from death to life," the Watchtower writes:  "[God] has raised them up out of spiritual death and gave them hope of eternal life (1 Pet. 4:3-6)" (IBID, p. 1399, emphasis added).  

This teaching is simply not supported in this verse, for here, Jesus assures us that if we "hear" and "believe," we will gain eternal life and will not "come into judgment."  There is no mention of "hope," here, but of assurance - and a wonderful assurance it is!  This verse promises believers that they have already passed over from death to life - and while this means in one sense a spiritual rebirth in our present life, the context also requires eternal life to be in view as well.

While the Watchtower may point to other passages that use the phrase "hope of eternal life," (cf., Titus 3:7), it does not occur in this context, nor in 1 Peter 4:3-6.  The word "hope" in the context of the resurrection and eternal life means more than saying, "I hope it doesn't rain tomorrow."  Christian hope is faith in the promises of God - as believers, we "hope in our Lord" (1 Thessalonians 1:3); we "hope in the promise" (Acts 26:6); we "hope for righteousness" even as we "await righteousness" (Galatians 5:5).  The Apostle Paul tells us that our hope is grounded in the Gospel (Colossian 1:23).  Thus, by faith, we "hope" in the promises of God, and by God's great power and grace, we have assurance that He will keep his promises to us - not least of which, is the true "hope" of eternal life, which comes by faith in Christ's words and in the Father who sent Him.

But when the kindness of God our Savior and His love for mankind appeared, He save us, not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness, but according to His mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit, whom He poured out upon us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, that being justified by His grace we might be made heirs according to the hope of eternal life (Titus 3:4-7).

We are saved and made heirs of eternal life, not by deeds or any righteousness of our own (for we have none!), but only through God's mercy.  Is obedience a "deed?"  Does it impute to us righteousness?  Only God is righteous, and by believing in our righteous Savior, our sins are placed upon Him, and He places His righteousness on us - not that we become righteous in our own right, but God sees us as righteous, because we are covered by Jesus' atoning sacrifice.  Our hope is grounded in the Gospel, which contains the assuring words of Christ - "he who hears My word, and believes Him who sent me, has eternal life, and does not come into judgment, but has passed out of death into life."

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