Rev. Haak is pastor of Georgetown Protestant Reformed Church in Hudsonville, Michigan and radio pastor of the Reformed Witness Hour. This article was aired on April 15, 2001.
All of us, at one time or another, have experienced one of the most sobering acts for mortal men and women: entering into a cemetery. Perhaps it was when you stood by the graveside of your loved one and saw the coffin poised over the open grave, soon to be lowered and covered with the earth. Maybe it was when you went to visit the grave of your father, your mother, brother, husband, or dear friend, and you stood in tears as memories came alive. Or maybe you have walked in old cemeteries, gravestones dating back hundreds of years, people swallowed up in forgetfulness—veterans, children who died in infancy, mothers in childbirth, young girls in an outbreak of cholera, young men in war. Each grave bears witness to the truth that the devil is a liar, for he said, “Ye shall not surely die.” Each grave proves God’s word, “Dust thou art, and to dust shalt thou return.” Each grave speaks to us, “You, too, must die.”
But we know something about the grave that unbelief cannot know. The grave has no victory. Death is swallowed up in victory. We know, by faith, that to die in the Lord means that we shall live with Him in glory: “Blessed are the dead that die in the Lord” (Rev. 14:13). And we know that our bodies shall arise from the grave and be made like unto His most glorious body, according to the power whereby He is able to subdue all things unto Himself (Phil. 3:21).
On this resurrection Sabbath, I call your attention to the Lord’s words in John 5:28 and 29: “Marvel not at this: for the hour is coming, in the which all that are in the graves 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 damnation.” Jesus speaks of the coming hour of resurrection. He speaks of the most momentous, awesome, marvelous moment in history when, at the end of the world, He returns to pass a final judgment. He will stand on the earth and He will speak. And all who are in the graves shall come forth—every grave, every human being since Adam died.
Billions of men and women, boys and girls, infants, those whose bodies long ago dissolved into the dust, those consumed by fire, drowned in the sea, or lost in the war—all will hear His voice and come forth to be judged in the body and to hear His verdict of life or damnation, Paradise or hell, the joy of Father’s house or the lake of fire and brimstone.
You will be there! Whether you live to that day or whether you die before He returns, your body, though it be buried, and your soul as it is returned to God who gives it, whether death comes normally to you in old age and you pass away in sleep, or it comes through pain or cancer, drowning or car crash, you will be there. You will hear His voice and you will come forth.
Do you belong to this Savior, by faith? Do you confess this mighty Son of God? Is your hope fixed on Him? Does He, even now, live in you, and are the fruits of that to be seen in your life in repentance, love, and obedience? Are you ready to die today, to be with Him? For you there is, this day, a word from Christ’s own mouth so wonderful, so powerful, so glorious. The hour is coming in which He will raise up your body to life eternal.
When we look carefully at the passage, we learn that Jesus is talking about two divine works that He performs: spiritual resurrection and physical resurrection. In this chapter (John 5), Jesus answers the hatred and the unbelief of the Jews. He had healed a man on the Sabbath day and defended it on the basis of the fact that He is equal to God. “My Father worketh hitherto, and I work.” He means that, as God the Father is busy every day in the work of salvation, so, as God the Son, He is busy constantly in the same work. That this is the meaning, namely, that Jesus defended His healing on the Sabbath on the ground of His being equal to the Father, is plain from how the Jews reacted. The Jews, we read, sought the more to kill Him, because He had not only broken the Sabbath, but said that God was His Father, making Himself equal with God. Then, in verse 19, the Lord begins to show that He is indeed equal to God and that He does the works of God. He says that there is perfect unity and concord between the Father and Himself. Together they work as one. The work in which both the Father and the Son are engaged is especially the work of resurrection, verse 21: “For as the Father raiseth up the dead, and quickeneth them (makes them alive); even so the Son quickeneth whom he will.”
Jesus is saying to the Jews, “You marvel at My healing of a man on the Sabbath? There is a greater work than this in which I am engaged. I raise the dead. I make them alive. I am the One who does not simply heal a lame man. I am the One who makes dead sinners alive spiritually— whomsoever I will. I perform this, as does My Father.”
Then the Lord goes on to explain this wonderful work of spiritual resurrection. He says that this takes place now, in the present time (v. 24). “Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that heareth my word, and believeth on him that sent me, hath everlasting life, and shall not come into condemnation; but is passed from death unto life.” Verse 25, “Verily, verily, I say unto you, The hour is coming, and now is, when the dead shall hear the voice of the Son of God: and they that hear shall live.” Right now, and continuing on into the future, there is this resurrection—a passing from death to life, that is, a bringing of the heart to faith in Me, a lifting up of the soul from condemnation and an inserting of everlasting life into the heart. This, too, He says, is done by the voice of the Son of man.
Beloved in the Lord, and all who hear, Jesus is speaking of regeneration: to be born again; to be taken, by the grace of God, out of the spiritual death into which we were born in this life, and to be given the everlasting life of Jesus Christ—a work that Jesus says He does by His voice when He speaks powerfully through His Spirit, saying your very name, saying, “Dead sinner, Awake, and believe in Me.”
The Lord says, “Don’t marvel at this. Don’t be taken aback and say, ‘Incredible! Can’t be! What do you make yourself out to be?’ Don’t marvel at this,” says Jesus, “for the hour is coming in which all that are in the grave shall hear My voice and come forth.”
What is the Lord saying? He is saying this. “Are you amazed over the fact that I heal a lame man on the Sabbath? That bothers you, O Jews? You think that is incredible? Listen to this: I make alive whomsoever I will by My very voice, spiritually alive from the death of sin. And if that sounds astounding and you are taken aback by it, then hear this word. An hour is coming in which I will speak and all the graves will burst open and the bodies in them will come forth by My power.”
Understand: Jesus Christ, risen from the dead, is the living One. Verse 26, “For as the Father hath life in himself; so hath he given to the Son to have life in himself.” The risen Jesus is not given life. He is life. And as the living Son of God, His work is resurrection—to bring life out of death—right now, spiritually. Through the Word of the gospel and by the Spirit we are born again. By the mighty quickening Spirit we are given His life whereby we believe in Him.
Still more, He shall make alive our physical bodies on the day of the resurrection. Why, He says, should you marvel at the stupendous reality that every grave shall be opened—from Adam even unto the last hour? Do not marvel at this! I have the power right now to make alive. And I have made alive all who believe. They have passed from death to life.
The grave to us seems to have the victory. It seems to come out on the top. It cannot be beaten. Has anyone since Adam beaten the grave? Yes! We celebrate today. Our Lord Jesus Christ is risen from the dead. The mighty Son of God, the sin-bearer, He lives as the representative of all of God’s children.
Jesus, God’s Son in the flesh, is risen. He shall speak. As the risen Son of God, we are told inRevelation 1, He holds the keys of life and death, heaven and hell. By His voice, by His mighty power, as the living Son of God, He shall speak. The One who once spoke at the grave of Lazarus: “Lazarus, come forth”; the One who once said to a leper, “I will. Be thou clean”—that One shall stand before the grave and speak and all shall come forth.
Do not be astonished. Do not stand in unbelief. The hour is coming when the risen Lord shall open the graves. All who have died shall come forth.
Whatever division or classification men and women may have makes no difference. Whether they are white or black, Asian or Indian; whether they lived in ancient, medieval, or modern times; whether they were good or evil, that is, believer or unbeliever, elect or reprobate— all shall be raised. You see, it makes no difference that unbelief says, “I don’t want anything to do with Jesus. I don’t believe that He existed. I deny that He is the only Savior.” It makes no difference that unbelievers rail against Him. They must stand before Him. All must face Him, for He is mighty God, the Son of God. You see once again the truth that man is in the hands of God and not God in man’s hands. All that have lived, all that have done good and all that have done evil—the resurrection shall be a resurrection of all. We shall all be raised.
With what kind of body, do you ask, shall we be raised? The Lord says, there shall be a resurrection of damnation for those who have done evil, for those who believed not in the Son of God. The resurrection of damnation means that one shall be damned also in his body, to all that sin deserves. He shall be sent, both body and soul, at that time, to the place where the worm dieth not and the fire is not quenched. Those were the words of Jesus. The Lord is saying that the wicked, the impenitent, and the unbelieving sinner shall be raised in a body in which he shall suffer the anguish and the torments, the fire, of hell.
Now I tremble. There is nothing so serious as the state of your soul before God. Repent and flee from this just and holy wrath. In the book of Revelation (14:10, 11), we read this of those who would worship the beast and receive his mark, that is, of those who would deny this Lord Jesus Christ and would live for themselves: “The same shall drink of the wine of the wrath of God, which is poured out without mixture into the cup of his indignation; and he shall be tormented with fire and brimstone in the presence of the holy angels, and in the presence of the Lamb: And the smoke of their torment ascendeth up forever and ever: and they have no rest day nor night.” This is no fable. This is God’s Word. The wages of sin is death. Do you see the importance of bowing before the Word of God?
For the believer, the Lord says there shall be a resurrection unto life. That means that our resurrected bodies will be fitted for eternal life. They shall be raised with eternal life within them. The immortality of Jesus Christ shall be given to our bodies. A resurrection of life! No more sin, no more tears, no more sorrow, no more pain, no more toil, no more weariness. But life! All the joy and the love of God will pulsate also through our bodies, even as the blood now flows through them. Now we have a perishing life. We are weak, and in our very cells and blood, death flows right now. But then eternal life shall course through my veins. With my eyes I shall see Him. With my mind I will know Him even as He knows me.
Believest thou this? That is always the question with which we are left as we stand before the resurrection gospel. It was the question the Lord put to Martha after He told her that He was the resurrection and the life and that whosoever believed in Him, though he were dead, yet shall he live. And whosoever liveth and believeth in Him shall never die. Then the Lord said, “Martha, believest thou this? Martha, the faith I have given to you, that faith must declare itself. It cannot sit there mum and silent.” Jesus declares that this is certain. Do not marvel at this.
The hour is coming when all who are in the grave shall hear My voice and they shall come forth! I am the living One, says Jesus Christ. Right now I live. There is no uncertainty in these words. There is not a hint, not a shred, of doubt. This is no dream. This is no fond wish. This is no religious folklore. This is not something that the disciples conjured up and is come down to us by tradition. The Christian faith does not take a place today among other, false religions. This does not say that as other cultures and other people have had their ideas of the afterlife, now the Christians have their ideas too. Oh, no. This is truth. These are the words of God’s Son, risen from the dead. He that heareth My words, said Jesus, and believeth in them, hath life. This is to be embraced and believed because it is the testimony of God’s dear Son John 12:47, 48: “… he that rejecteth me, and receiveth not my words, hath one that judgeth him: the words that I have spoken, the same shall judge him in the last day.”
Now hear the word: the hour is coming. Every believer knows that. The hour of the resurrection of the body is coming. We know that by the wonder of spiritual rebirth today. We know that because through faith we experience that we have passed from death to life. Now we know also that the body, purchased by Jesus Christ through His suffering on the cross, shall be raised. The body is not a plaything of sin. The body is not for the entertainments of evil. The body that you have, believer, is for heaven. You will live now as one whose hope is fixed and whose faith is sure. I know that I shall not be left forgotten in the grave. I know that I shall see Him for myself. And although worms destroy this my body, yet in my flesh shall I see God.
On this resurrection day, the first day of the week in which He broke down death’s door, we hear His voice. Do you hear it? No, not some mystical, eerie voice in the wind. But you hear it, do you not, in the Scriptures, in the preaching of this Word, in the depth of your soul, where He alone can enter? A living word, which He speaks as the Lord who has conquered sin and the grave, the word that He says, “Because I live, ye shall live also.”
And one day you will hear Him with your ears as you hear my voice. Those ears shall hear His voice. Think of it. I hear Him by faith right now. I hear Him at the moment of death when He says, “Come away with me, My beloved. The Father’s house is prepared for you.” But in the grave, when the body awakes, we will hear Him, and we will come out of the grave. And He will say our name: “Lazarus, come forth.”
As for me, I will behold Thy face in righteousness. I shall be satisfied when I awake with Thy likeness.