Passing Over from Death to Life
“The hour is coming in which all those in the memorial tombs will hear his voice and come out, those who did good things to a resurrection of life, those who practiced vile things to a resurrection of judgement.”—John 5:28, 29.
1, 2. (a) How did Saul of Tarsus get to appear before the Roman court in Caesarea? (b) What did he make the real point under dispute, and how?
IN A Roman court in southwest Asia nineteen hundred years ago a man stood accused by people of his own Jewish race. He was Saul of the city of Tarsus in Asia Minor. By Roman soldiers he had been rescued from a violent mob in the temple of Jerusalem and also from the hands of brawling judges in the Supreme Sánhedrin of Jerusalem. Eleven days after being rescued from the confused Sánhedrin he stood before the Roman Governor Felix in the seacoast city of Caesarea to disprove what his accusers had just said. In the course of his defense Saul said words that have comforted countless millions all around the earth. Those words have also been quoted very frequently, because they set out powerfully the hope of a resurrection of the dead. Making the resurrection of the dead the real point under dispute, Saul said to the court:
2 “I have hope toward God, which hope these men themselves also entertain, that there is going to be a resurrection of both the righteous and the unrighteous. . . . let the men here say for themselves what wrong they found as I stood before the Sánhedrin, except with respect to this one utterance which I cried out while standing among them, ‘Over the resurrection of the dead I am today being judged before you!’”—Acts 24:15-21.
3, 4. (a) How had Saul become the apostle Paul? (b) How was Paul’s hope of a resurrection of the dead guaranteed?
3 What a hope that is, that “there is going to be a resurrection of both the righteous and the unrighteous”! That hope was really guaranteed by means of Saul’s spiritual Leader, Jesus Christ, who himself had been resurrected from the dead. Saul personally had met him in a miraculous way, to get instructions as to his future course in life. Saul at once became a footstep follower of the resurrected Jesus Christ and was later made an apostle of Christ, his name being changed from Saul to Paul. In arguing that the resurrection of Jesus Christ has made possible the “resurrection of both the righteous and the unrighteous,” this apostle Paul wrote:
4 “For if the dead are not to be raised up, neither has Christ been raised up. Further, if Christ has not been raised up, your faith is useless; you are yet in your sins. . . . However, now Christ has been raised up from the dead, the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep in death.”—1 Cor. 15:16-20.
5. How, before the Supreme Court of Athens, Greece, did Paul point out what was the purpose of God?
5 Having a judgment day in view for all mankind, God raised up his Son Jesus Christ from the dead. The apostle Paul pointed out that purpose of God in these words before the Supreme Court in Athens, Greece: “He has set a day in which he purposes to judge the inhabited earth in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed, and he has furnished a guarantee to all men in that he has resurrected him from the dead.”—Acts 17:22-31.
6. How did the apostle Peter, also at Caesarea, point to the future judgeship of Jesus Christ?
6 In a private home in Caesarea Paul’s fellow apostle Peter also pointed to the future judgeship of Jesus Christ when he said to Italian Centurion Cornelius: “God raised this One up on the third day and granted him to become manifest, not to all the people, but to witnesses appointed beforehand by God, to us, who ate and drank with him after his rising from the dead. Also, he ordered us to preach to the people and to give a thorough witness that this is the One decreed by God to be judge of the living and the dead. To him all the prophets bear witness, that everyone putting faith in him gets forgiveness of sins through his name.”—Acts 10:40-43.
7. (a) Who is the Supreme Judge, and why did he appoint another judge over humankind? (b) In harmony with this, what purpose does the resurrection of the dead serve?
7 Almighty God, who raised his Son Jesus Christ from a martyr’s death, is the great Supreme Judge of heaven and earth. We read, in Hebrews 12:23, that he is “God the Judge of all.” God has the right to appoint other judges, and he appointed his Son Jesus Christ to be the future judge of all mankind because he had died sacrificially for them. When he was a man here on earth, Jesus Christ called attention to his heavenly Father’s appointment of him to be judge of humankind. He pointed out that there was going to be a judgment day in which he would serve as the judge appointed by God his Father, even though it required a resurrection of the dead for him to hold court and carry out this judgment work toward all. Hence the resurrecting of both the righteous and the unrighteous was just a means to that end.
8. Following up Jesus’ miracle at the pool of Bethzátha, why did the Jews accuse him of being a lawbreaker and a blasphemer?
8 At the pool of Bethzátha Jesus had instantaneously healed a Jewish man who had been lying sick for thirty-eight years. Since Jesus had done this good work with God’s help on the Jewish Sabbath day, they persecuted him. In answer Jesus said: “My Father has kept working until now, and I keep working.” The criticizing Jews found fault with those words, for we read: “On this account, indeed, the Jews began seeking all the more to kill him, because not only was he breaking the Sabbath but he was also calling God his own Father, making himself equal to God.” Or, as another translation puts his words, “making himself equal with the deity.”—John 5:17, 18, NW; The New Testament—An Expanded Translation (Wuest).
A FIGURATIVE RESURRECTION NOW
9, 10. What did Jesus then say that called attention to his being appointed to be a judge under God?
9 It was in this connection that Jesus called attention to his being appointed to be a judge under God. The account of this as given by Jesus’ apostle John the son of Zebedee says:
10 “Therefore, in answer, Jesus went on to say to them: ‘Most truly I say to you, The Son cannot do a single thing of his own initiative, but only what he beholds the Father doing. For whatever things that One does, these things the Son also does in like manner. For the Father has affection for the Son and shows him all the things he himself does, and he will show him works greater than these, in order that you may marvel. For just as the Father raises the dead up and makes them alive, so the Son also makes those alive whom he wants to. [Why?] For the Father judges no one at all, but he has committed all the judging to the Son, in order that all may honor the Son just as they honor the Father. He that does not honor the Son does not honor the Father who sent him. Most truly I say to you, He that hears my word and believes him that sent me has everlasting life, and he does not come into judgment but has passed over from death to life.’”—John 5:19-24.
11. How had God raised up dead persons before our Common Era, and what resurrection did he perform in the year 33 C.E.?
11 Prior to Jesus, by means of holy prophets God had raised up dead persons, for instance, the sons of two mothers. Concerning this we read, in Hebrews 11:35: “Women received their dead by resurrection.” Now, in a matter of two years after Jesus spoke the words in John 5:19-24, the time came for God to raise up his own Son Jesus Christ from the dead, on the sixteenth day of the Jewish lunar month of Nisan in the year 33 of our Common Era.
12. At the resurrection of his Son Jesus Christ, what power did God give him and what was he then able to do, as he said above?
12 By this resurrection God made his Son Jesus Christ alive forevermore in heaven, by clothing him with immortality and incorruptibility as a spirit Son of God. (Rev. 1:5, 18; 1 Pet. 3:18, 19) It was then that God gave life-giving power to his Son, so that he was able to make alive those whom he wanted to make alive, thus opening up the way for them to live forever in God’s coming righteous order of things. In that way the Son would copy his heavenly Father by doing all the things that the Father shows him are to be done in behalf of dead mankind. These future works of the Son of God will be greater than those he did when he was on earth, greater than when he healed the man who lay sick for thirty-eight years. That is why God the heavenly Father appointed him to be a judge.
13. (a) With regard to greatness, how do God and his Son stand toward each other? (b) Why should we honor the Son just as we do honor the Father?
13 The Sender is greater than the one sent. Jesus himself said that. (John 13:16) God the Greater sent the Son the Lesser, for which reason Jesus also said: “The Father is greater than I am.” (John 14:28) The Father the Greater appointed the Son the Lesser to be a judge, committing all the judging with reference to mankind to the Son, who died sacrificially for them. If we humans respect the Father’s power to appoint, we ought to honor the one whom he appoints as judge. Just as we should honor God the Father who is “the Judge of all,” so we should honor the Son whom he appoints to judge mankind. Certainly if we do not honor the Son as God’s appointed judge, we do not honor God the Father who clothed his Son with judicial power. We cannot claim to honor God the Father and at the same time rightly ignore the Son as judge.
14. (a) What depends upon our thus rendering honor? (b) After hearing Jesus’ words, upon whom must we believe for life?
14 Our everlasting life depends on our thus honoring the Son as judge in the same way as we honor the heavenly “Father who sent him.” Today, by means of John’s written account in the Holy Bible, we are hearing Jesus’ words in this regard. If, after thus hearing, we do as Jesus said, namely, ‘believe on him that sent me,’ we shall have everlasting life. This life we shall enjoy in God’s promised righteous order of things under his kingdom.
15. From what and to what does a hearer and believer pass over?
15 Note the remarkable thing about those who thus have everlasting life because they hear Jesus’ words with faith and obedience and then believe on the Father who sent him. Jesus says about each one of such: “He does not come into judgment but has passed over from death to life.” (John 5:24) There is a special spiritual sense in which such a hearer and believer passes over from death to life now during this present time of believing.
16. What did Jesus place as an opposite of one’s passing over from death to life, and of what kind is this?
16 Let us note here that Jesus places the word “judgment” as an opposite to one’s having “passed over from death to life.” In view of that fact it is evident that the word “judgment” as here used by Jesus means a contrary judgment, a condemnatory judgment, a sentencing of a person to endless death. This explains why the Bible translation by Dr. James Moffatt says: “He will incur no sentence of judgment, he has already passed from death across to life.” Also, away back in the year 1611 the Authorized Version Bible as approved by King James of England said: “He . . . shall not come into condemnation; but is passed from death unto life.”a
17 Nineteen hundred years ago when Jesus Christ spoke those meaningful words he was speaking particularly of the congregation of believers whom God the heavenly Father was to take out from among men to become associate judges with Jesus Christ in the heavens. It was with reference to this congregation of associate judges that Jesus said to his apostles: “Truly I say to you, In the re-creation, when the Son of man sits down upon his glorious throne, you who have followed me will also yourselves sit upon twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. And everyone that has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or lands for the sake of my name will receive many times more and will inherit everlasting life.” (Matt. 19:27-29) There will, of course, be more than twelve associate judges of Jesus Christ in his heavenly kingdom.
18. Whom will the whole congregation of judges judge, and how does Paul refer to this fact in 1 Corinthians 6:2?
18 The whole congregation of associates will judge many more than the literal twelve tribes of Israel. Under the Superior Judge Jesus Christ they will judge all mankind, the living and the dead. On this point the apostle Paul wrote to the congregation: “Do you not know that the holy ones will judge the world? And if the world is to be judged by you, are you unfit to try very trivial matters” now? (1 Cor. 6:2) Thus the associate judges will be many.
19 However, we here return to a consideration of Jesus’ words spoken to the Jews who wanted to kill him for seemingly being a Sabbath breaker and a blasphemer who made himself equal to God. After speaking about escaping judgment and passing over from death to life, Jesus pointed out that the time for this remarkable thing was then at hand. He said: “Most truly I say to you, The hour is coming, and it is now,b when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God and those who have given heed will live.”—John 5:25.
20 Who are these dead ones who hear the voice of the Son of God and who, on giving heed to it, live now? Very plainly they are not persons already dead in the graves. This could not be so, because Jesus said that the hour when such dead would hear his voice and would live because of giving heed was not only coming but “it is now.” That is, at the time that Jesus spoke. Those who “live” now were people on earth once dead in a spiritual sense, in a figurative way, not in actual graves. At that time when Jesus spoke, all mankind were under the condemnation of death before God the Judge of all. To such kind of spiritually dead persons Jesus must have referred when he said to the Jewish son who wanted to go home first to bury his father: “Keep following me, and let the dead bury their dead.” (Matt. 8:21, 22) The Jew should let his spiritually dead relatives bury his father when he was physically dead and ready for the grave. By following Jesus he would be on the way to eternal life and not be among the spiritually dead who were condemned before God.
21 Those who become Christians with a true belief were once among the spiritually dead people of the world. The apostle Paul reminded the congregation of this fact, saying: “It is you God made alive though you were dead in your trespasses and sins, in which you at one time walked according to the system of things of this world. . . . But God, who is rich in mercy, for his great love with which he loved us, made us alive together with the Christ, even when we were dead in trespasses—by undeserved kindness you have been saved—and he raised us up together and seated us together in the heavenly places in union with Christ Jesus.”—Eph. 2:1, 2, 4-6.
22 Thus because of their no longer walking in trespasses and sins against God, he lifted his condemnation from them since they had faith in Christ. He raised them up out of spiritual death and gave them hope of everlasting life in his coming new order.
23. (a) How have the “dead” heard the voice of God’s Son since? (b) How does 1 Peter 4:5, 6 show who such “dead” are?
23 When Jesus was present as a man on earth, the Jews heard his voice directly. By giving heed to what he had to say they could get onto the way to everlasting life now. But after he died and was resurrected and he finally ascended back to heaven, they could hear the “voice of the Son of God” only indirectly. How? By hearing his teachings preached or by reading what he preached and taught. The apostle Peter had in mind such spiritually dead persons who heard the good news about Jesus by means of preachers, when Peter wrote: “These people will render an account to the one ready to judge those living and those dead. In fact, for this purpose the good news was declared also to the dead, that they might be judged as to the flesh from the standpoint of men but might live as to the spirit from the standpoint of God.”—1 Pet. 4:5, 6.
24. How are such “dead” ones made to live from God’s standpoint?
24 By accepting the good news and walking according to it, they become spiritually alive from God’s standpoint. By means of his life-imparting spirit God raises them up out of their spiritually dead, condemned state and activates them to follow in the footsteps of the Son of man, Jesus Christ.
25. (a) Into what do those passing over from the one state to the other not come? (b) According to John what quality do they exercise in proof of having passed over from death to life?
25 Since they have been relieved of the condemnation, they do not “come into judgment” but become persons who have “passed over from death to life,” as Jesus previously said. (John 5:24) This transfer from deadness in trespasses and sins to spiritual life is described by the apostle John in these words: “Do not marvel, brothers, that the world hates you. We know we have passed over from death to life, because we love the brothers. He who does not love remains in death. Everyone who hates his brother is a manslayer, and you know that no manslayer has everlasting life remaining in him.” That his Christian brothers might continue to prove worthy of everlasting life in God’s new order of things, John adds: “Little children, let us love, neither in word nor with the tongue, but in deed and truth.”—1 John 3:13-15, 18.
26. What does such love move them to do, and hence from whose standpoint are they alive?
26 Such love is a fruitage of God’s spirit with such Christians, and it moves them to obey God’s commandments. As 1 John 5:3 reminds us: “This is what the love of God means, that we observe his commandments; and yet his commandments are not burdensome.” Those who keep God’s commandments as applying to Christ’s followers are really alive from God’s standpoint, spiritually alive now.
“Verse 24. . . . The [making alive] is accomplished in him, he has eternal life (Joh 3:15), that is, the highest spiritual life, which, upon his entrance into the Messiah’s kingdom, reaches its consummation in glorious Messianic [life]. He has, in that he is become a believer, passed from spiritual death . . . into eternal life (the life par excellence), and cometh not into (condemnatory, compare Joh 3:18) judgment, because he has already attained unto that life. The result of this is: [death he will by no means see], Joh 8:51. On the perfect [he has passed over] see Joh 3:18; 1 John 3:14.”
The italicized words enclosed with parentheses or with brackets in the above quotation are an English translation of Greek words used by Doctor Meyer.
b The words “and it is now” are not found in the original text of the Fourth Century Sinaitic Greek manuscript. Yet they are found in the Third Century papyrus manuscript known as Papyrus Bodmer II, the Fourth Century Vatican No. 1209 Manuscript, the Fifth Century Alexandrine manuscript, the Latin Vulgate, etc. Hence we must consider the words as part of the original text.