Jesus Is Equal to God in His Honor
“so that all will honor the Son even as they honor the Father. He who does not honor the Son does not honor the Father who sent Him. 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.” (5:23–24)
The Father’s purpose in entrusting all His works and judgment to Jesus is so that all will honor the Son even as they honor the Father. It is only fitting that those equal in nature (vv. 17–18), works (vv. 19–20), power and sovereignty (v. 21), and judgment (v. 22) would be accorded equal honor. The Father’s honor is not diminished by the honor paid to Christ; on the contrary, it is enhanced.
Although the unbelieving Jews thought they were truly worshiping God while rejecting His Son (cf. 16:2), such was not the case, for he who does not honor the Son does not honor the Father who sent Him. This was an astounding claim on Jesus’ part, as D. A. Carson notes:
In a theistic universe, such a statement belongs to one who is himself to be addressed as God (cf. 20:28), or to stark insanity. The one who utters such things is to be dismissed with pity or scorn, or worshipped as Lord. If with much current scholarship we retreat to seeing in such material less the claims of the Son than the beliefs and witness of the Evangelist and his church, the same options confront us. Either John is supremely deluded and must be dismissed as a fool, or his witness is true and Jesus is to be ascribed the honours due God alone. There is no rational middle ground. (The Gospel According to John, The Pillar New Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1991), 255).
When He was asked, “What shall we do, so that we may work the works of God?” Jesus answered, “This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He has sent” (6:28–29). “He who hates Me,” He warned, “hates My Father also” (15:23). Those who refuse to honor the Son while claiming to honor the Father are actually self-deceived. John Heading writes,
It is not up to a man to decide that he will honour the One or the Other; it is either both or neither. In religious circles, it is too easy for unbelief to contemplate God but not the Son. Knowledge of One implies knowledge of the Other (John 8:19); hatred of One implies hatred of the Other (15:23); denial of the One implies denial of the Other (1 John 2:23). (What the Bible Teaches: John [Kilmarnock, Scotland: John Ritchie, 1988), 93)
That the Father and the Son are to be afforded equal honor forcefully asserts Christ’s deity and equality with God, who declared through the prophet Isaiah, “I will not give My glory to another” (Isa. 42:8; 48:11). Yet, the Father has commanded that all will honor the Son. In Philippians 2:9–11 Paul wrote,
For this reason also, God highly exalted Him, and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee will bow, of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and that every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
Willingly or unwillingly, everyone will eventually obey the Father’s command to honor Jesus Christ.
Jesus closed this section of His discourse by reaffirming His authority to give eternal life to whomever He desires. The Lord underscored the statement’s monumental significance by introducing it with the solemn formula amēn, amēn (truly, truly). He identified those who receive eternal life as those who hear His word (or message) and believe the Father who sent Him. As always in the Scriptures, divine sovereignty in salvation is not apart from human responsibility to repent and believe the gospel. The blessed promise to those who believe is that they do not come into judgment, but have passed out of death into life. As Paul wrote to the Romans, “There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Rom. 8:1).
The claims of Jesus Christ confront everyone, forcing all to make a decision either for or against Him. There is no neutral ground, for as Jesus said, “He who is not with Me is against Me; and he who does not gather with Me, scatters” (Luke 11:23). Those who accept Him for who He is, God incarnate in human flesh, will be saved from their sins through Him (Matt. 1:21; 1 Tim. 1:15; Heb. 7:25). But those who believe Him to be anything other than who He truly is will one day face His judgment (John 3:18; 9:39; 12:47–48; 16:8–9; Acts 10:38–42; 17:31; 2 Tim. 4:1).
Possessing Eternity in Time
“I tell you the truth, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be condemned; he has crossed over from death to life. I tell you the truth, a time is coming and has now come when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God and those who hear will live. For as the Father has life in himself, so he has granted the Son to have life in himself. And he has given him authority to judge because he is the Son of Man.”
If we are to judge by television shows today—which, incidentally, is not a bad way of judging what is on most people’s minds most of the time—then certainly many people are concerned about life. One of the most popular programs ever to appear on television is This Is Your Life. One of the great afternoon moneymakers is Love of Life. Even the commercials get into the act when they argue, “You’ve got a lot to live,” and then offer something to help you live it better.
A concern with life and its qualities is basic to men. Unfortunately, the promises being offered in our day for an abundance of life are inadequate, and even the best of these solutions fades into insignificance when compared to the great offer of life that is presented to us by the Lord Jesus Christ.
Apparently matters were not so different in the past either, for men and women were just as concerned with life then as now. This state of affairs undoubtedly led John, the author of the fourth Gospel, to speak of life and of Jesus as the source of life many times. For instance, in the opening verses of the letter he wrote, “In him was life, and that life was the light of men” (1:4). In the third chapter he records the conversation with Nicodemus about the new birth. This is a discussion of life. In speaking to the Samaritan woman Jesus offers “living water.” The theme occurs again and again in each of the great discourses. Finally, in the first of the two conclusions to John’s Gospel, occurring in chapter 20, the author of the Gospel writes, “Jesus did many other miraculous signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name” (vv. 30–31). According to this last verse, the desire to see all men enter into the life of God was one of John’s main purposes in writing. It is also one aspect—and from one point of view even the major aspect—of Christ’s coming to earth to save men.
This theme is discussed at some length in the verses that are now before us, verses 24–29 from the fifth chapter of John. In discussing life these verses take us through the entire scope of the believer’s experience with the Lord. First, in verse 24, Jesus is quoted as saying that God gives life initially; that is, God acts first in placing spiritual life within the individual whom he is drawing to himself. Second, verses 25 and 26 say that in this present time, after we have become Christians, God gives abundance of life through Christ Jesus. Third, verses 28 and 29 speak of a special manifestation of that life in the resurrection of our bodies. These verses deal with a divine life that God gives freely, and they teach that it is possible to live that life now.
The Gift of Life
The first point of these verses, then, is that the possession of divine life begins with God’s action rather than man’s. In other words, life is not a reward for believing. It is the other way around. Life comes first; a person believes afterward. He believes because God has first placed his life within him. The verse says, “I tell you the truth, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be condemned; he has crossed over from death to life” (v. 24).
I must admit, of course, that many preachers have taken this verse in the other sense. They have taught that the phrases represent a temporal sequence so that a person must first hear and believe, then, as a result of his believing, come into the possession of life. This is not right. In the first place, no sequence is involved at all. In John’s vocabulary “hearing” is the same thing as “believing.” It means to hear with the heart. The point of these two phrases is that hearing the words of Christ and believing God are identical. This is even the main point of the discourse.
Second, the tense of the verb “have” is present rather than future. If the possession of eternal life were the result of believing, then the verse should have a future verb. It should say, “Whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me will have eternal life.” Actually, the present tense of the verb is used to indicate that the one who believes does so because he already has the life of God within him.
A chapter later Jesus expresses precisely the same teaching negatively when he says, “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him” (6:44).
The third and conclusive reason for taking John 5:24 in the sense I have been indicating is that this is the teaching of the Word of God as a whole. Take the case of Abraham, as an example. What did God do when he called Abraham? Did he look down from heaven and say, “Let’s see now, perhaps I can find a man who has a little bit of goodness in him, perhaps a little bit of faith. Can I find something to work with? Ah, yes, there’s a person who has something. Abraham! He has faith. I’ll start with him.” Not at all! The Word of God tells us that Abraham was no different from the rest of his contemporaries (Josh. 24:2). They were devil worshipers. So it was an act of pure grace when God called one man out of the rest. Not one of the people then living in Ur of the Chaldees knew anything about the true God. But God came to Abraham in such a blaze of glory, as Stephen relates (Acts 7:2), that Abraham immediately obeyed the divine call. God always comes first, and when he comes to a person, that person follows.
Unfortunately, while it is true that many persons will admit this in the case of others, there will always be some who will seek an exception for themselves. This was true in Jesus’ day, as in ours. In Jesus’ day the argument went like this. “Granted,” his opponents would say, “that Abraham was called when he was a devil worshiper and had nothing in himself to commend him to God! Granted that truth. But how does it follow from this that the same is true for those of us who are Abraham’s descendants? Certainly our descent counts for something.” When this objection was raised, Jesus answered it by pointing out that God is concerned with spiritual rather than physical descent. Thus, while it is true that those who argued this way may have been descendants of Abraham physically, it was just as obvious that they had not descended from him spiritually, for all of Abraham’s spiritual children would believe in Jesus. He concluded, “If God were your Father, you would love me, for I came from God and now am here.… You belong to your father, the devil” (8:42, 44). Where does spiritual descent come from? The only answer is that it comes directly from God.
We see this in the case of Abraham’s immediate descendants. The Jews were claiming to have a special position with God because they were descended from Abraham, but they had overlooked the fact that Abraham had given life to more than one son. Isaac was the child of promise. But before Isaac there had been Ishmael. What about him? Clearly God had chosen Isaac, thereby demonstrating that he is the sole source of life and that he does not choose to impart that life to everyone.
There might have been some—there undoubtedly were in Paul’s day—who would have argued that God made his choice on the basis of the worthiness or unworthiness of the mother. They would have pointed out with great glee that although both Isaac and Ishmael were sons of Abraham, only Isaac was Abraham’s son by Sarah. The other—they would have said it with contempt—was the son of the Egyptian slave girl Hagar.
Is that the reason for God’s choice? We have only to pass down to the next generation to see the answer, for when God makes his next choice he makes it between two brothers, born of the same Jewish mother. And, lest anyone try to introduce the question of age as a factor, he sees to it that the two boys are twins. Moreover, just to make sure that no one can argue that the choice was made on the basis of the moral character of the sons, God announces his choice when they are still in the womb; in other words, before either Esau or Jacob had a chance to do anything that was good or evil.
Once again the choice lay entirely in the heart of God. God gives blessing to whom he chooses. He gives life to whom he chooses. There is just no possible human way of accounting for his ways.
Here is the way Paul presents the argument in Romans 9:
It is not as though God’s word had failed. For not all who are descended from Israel are Israel. Nor because they are his descendants are they all Abraham’s children. On the contrary, “It is through Isaac that your offspring will be reckoned.” In other words, it is not the natural children who are God’s children, but it is the children of the promise who are regarded as Abraham’s offspring. For this was how the promise was stated: “At the appointed time I will return, and Sarah will have a son.”
Not only that, but Rebekah’s children had one and the same father, our father Isaac. Yet, before the twins were born or had done anything good or bad—in order that God’s purpose in election might stand: not by works but by him who calls—she was told, “The older will serve the younger.” Just as it is written: “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.”
Moreover, this is the way God always works. When did God call Moses? The answer is, when Moses was merely a baby floating in a basket on the waters of the Nile. When did God choose John the Baptist to have faith in himself and eventually to be the forerunner of the Messiah? The answer is, before he was born, as was announced both to his mother Elizabeth and to Mary, the mother of the Lord. When did Christ call most of his disciples? When they had first come seeking him? No, rather when they were fishermen practicing their trade. That is the way he calls you. God calls through different means, of course. It is often through preaching. Sometimes it is through the life or witness of a Christian friend. Sometimes he uses a radio program or a book. But whatever the means, the point is that God calls first. What is more, he places the new spiritual life within the individual so that, being awakened to the call of eternity, the one who is the object of that call can hear him and respond, believing.
We must not think, of course, that this initial call of God is the whole story. There is also the present life of the believer and the life of the resurrection, which is future. Jesus goes on to speak of these two further aspects of life in the verse following the one we have been studying.
Verses 25 and 26 declare, “I tell you the truth, a time is coming and has now come when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God and those who hear will live. For as the Father has life in himself, so he has granted the Son to have life in himself.” Here the reference to the “dead” is to those who are spiritually dead, as in the verse that goes before. But the verb that introduces the word “life” is future, rather than present. This means that in this verse Jesus has in view the increasingly abundant present life of the one who believes in him. The order is this. First, God plants his life within the one whom he desires to become his child. Second, because of the new life within, the child now hears the Word of God and believes. Third, the child increasingly enters into the experience of that life by believing. So Jesus is saying, “The one whom I have called is to live now in an abundant way.”
Is your life abundant? It is possible to be a Christian and miss the abundant life; many do. Still, it is your privilege to enter into it increasingly as you permit Jesus to change your life daily.
Finally, in verses that we are going to return to more extensively in our next study, Jesus also speaks of future life, referring to the resurrection. He has spoken of the initial gift of life, in which a person becomes a believer. He has spoken of life in the present. Now he turns to the future. “Marvel not at this; for the hour is coming, in 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” (vv. 28–29). According to these verses, the life that is given in the moment of spiritual regeneration will have its true end only in the total entrance into life through the resurrection.
What is the life that we who believe in the Lord Jesus Christ possess? It is the life of God himself. Peter tells us that we may “participate in the divine nature” (2 Peter 1:4). Therefore, that life is as eternal and indestructible as God himself. It will go on forever; and it will not be an eternally wretched and debased existence, as our lives would be if we were left to ourselves, but rather the continually entering into that life that possesses all the qualities of God.
Some have imagined that this life is not everlasting. Some have imagined that it is not eternal. But if that can be so, then words have no meaning and the Word of God is meaningless. If eternal life can be lost, it is not eternal. If it can be taken from us, it is not eternal. If we can renounce it so that it no longer belongs to us, it is not eternal. Is God changeable? Certainly not! Then his gifts cannot be withdrawn. The Bible says, “God’s gifts and his call are irrevocable” (Rom. 11:29). If God had given us ten years’ life, then that life could not be lost before the end of the ten years. If he had given us one thousand years’ life, then that life could not be lost before the end of the one thousand years. In the same way, if he has given us eternal life, then that life is eternal life. We can be certain that it will lead straight on to the moment of our own physical resurrection … and beyond.
24 Once again Jesus prefaces an important truth with his characteristic “I tell you the truth.” As in the other locations, it does not stem from fear that the hearer might think that Jesus is not telling the truth. Rather, it is a rhetorical way of underscoring the crucial importance of the pronouncement that will follow. Jesus has just spoken of his role in judgment; now he explains how not to be condemned. To be set free from condemnation and enter into eternal life requires that a person hear the message that Jesus brings and believe in the one who sent him. In John’s language, hearing and believing are not so much two separate steps as they are a single act of obedience. Barrett, 261, notes that “akouein [GK 201] is used, as shama [GK 10725] is often used in the Old Testament, with the meaning ‘to hear and do,’ ‘to be obedient.’ ” As Jesus spoke a word and an invalid who lay helpless by the pool of Bethesda rose and walked away, now he speaks a word and spiritual invalids who respond in faith rise up and enter into “eternal life.”
The message that Jesus brought centers in the redemptive love of God the Father. To learn of the Father who longs for the return of the prodigal and to return in faith to that intimate relationship abandoned by Adam is to “cross over from death to life.” The verb (metabainō, GK 3553) may be used to indicate a change of residence (BDAG, 638; cf. Lk 10:7). Jesus is saying that those who hear and believe have by that response left their former residence in the realm of death and moved to a new home in the sphere of life. The perfect tense of the verb indicates that the change of quarters has already been made. Believers are enjoying eternal life right now. This is the strongest statement of “realized eschatology” found in the NT. Those who have eternal life will “not be condemned.” They will “not come into judgment” (NASB; eis krisin [GK 3213] ouk erchetai [GK 2262]) because that question has been settled forever on the cross.
24 The unity of the Father and the Son is seen also in the way people are saved. This very important saying is introduced with the emphatic “I tell you the truth” (see on 1:51). The person who receives the blessing is the one who hears Christ and believes the Father, in itself a striking way of affirming the unity between the two. “Word,” as often in the New Testament, stands for the whole message of Jesus. “Believes him who sent me” is unusual. It is more common to have a reference to believing “in” than simply to believing, in the sense of giving credence to, accepting as true. And it is more usual to have Christ as the object of faith than the Father. Yet the form of the expression here is important. All those who believe the Father, who really believe the Father, accept Christ. It is not possible to believe what the Father says and to turn away from the Son. The theme of this whole passage is the unity of the Father and the Son. Consequently it is natural to refer faith to the Father, the ultimate Object, with whom the Son is one (see further Additional Note E, pp. 296–98). Anyone who gives heed to the Son and the Father in this way “has” eternal life. The life is that person’s present possession. For “eternal life” see on 1:4; 3:15. The implications of the present possession of eternal life are brought out in the assurance that its possessor “will not be condemned” or, more accurately, “does not come into judgment.” This is the usual Johannine thought that judgment takes place here and now. People who accept the way of darkness and evil have already been judged. Their judgment lies in that very fact. So with those who have eternal life. Their vindication is present in the here and now. They have already passed right out of the state of death, and have come into life. Though this is a present state it has future implications. Those who do not come into judgment will not come into judgment on the last great day either (Moffatt translates with a future: “he will incur no sentence of judgment”). The saying points to their permanent safety. To have eternal life now is to be secure throughout eternity.
The words of this verse should not be taken simply as a statement of fact. They are that. Anyone who hears and believes has eternal life. But the words also constitute an invitation, a challenge. They are a call to hear Christ and to take the step of faith.
24 Again (as in v. 19) Jesus uses the “Amen, amen” formula to highlight what he will say next. Here, as in 3:3 and 5, two such pronouncements follow in quick succession and with similar meaning (vv. 24 and 25). The first of these drops “the Son” as a self-designation and shifts back to the “I” of verse 17. Jesus accents the solemn declaration, “I say to you,” by referring to “my word,” and to the necessity of “hearing.” It is as if he repeated the “Amen, amen” formula in bold italics, adding a kind of Johannine equivalent to another common Gospel formula, “Whoever has ears to hear, let him hear.” This is what the pronouncement does for “the Jews” to whom Jesus is speaking.
For the Gospel’s reader it does more, identifying Jesus’ “word” (logos) as first of all a life-giving word, not a word of judgment. It is familiar ground, for the implied reader knows that Jesus is himself “the Word” (1:1, 14), and that “In him was life” (1:4). While this is the first time Jesus has referred to “my word,” the expression echoes earlier references to “the word Jesus spoke” (2:22), and to “his word” (in contrast to the Samaritan woman’s, 4:41). “My word” does not of course mean Jesus’ word in distinction from the Father’s, for John’s testimony was that “the one God sent speaks the words of God” (3:34). On the contrary, the appropriate response of “the person who hears my word,” Jesus says, is not to believe him, but to “believe the One who sent me.”45 The presumption is that God is speaking through Jesus. To believe Jesus is to believe God, or as he put it a moment before, to honor the Son is to honor “the Father who sent him” (v. 23). The reader now learns that Jesus’ “word” is the means by which he “brings to life those he wants” (v. 21). Whoever “hears” the Son’s word and “believes” the Father “has eternal life” as a present possession, and consequently “does not come into judgment.” Here, as in Jesus’ conversation with Nicodemus, “life” and “judgment” are mutually exclusive realities (see 3:16–18). The point is not that those who believe are already judged and acquitted, and thereby granted eternal life. Rather, those who “have life” escape judgment altogether, while those who “come into judgment” do not have life. Moreover, those who “hear” and “believe” do not have to wait for some future “life after death,” but have already “passed47 from death into life” (see also 1 Jn 3:14). There is indeed “life after death,” but “life” in this instance is present, while “death” belongs to the past. This is the first mention of “death” in John’s Gospel. “Death” is presumed to be the situation in which people in the world find themselves by default, apart from the “light” that comes in the person of Jesus. Up to now it has been called “darkness” (see 1:5; 3:19), the opposite of “light”—just as “death” is the opposite of “life.” The author and his readers both know that “the light is shining in the darkness” already, and that “the darkness did not overtake it” (1:5; see also 1 Jn 2:8). They know that death’s power is broken for those who believe, and that they themselves have “passed from death into life.” The characteristically Johannine promise of “eternal life” here and now is for them, outside and beyond the story, not for Jesus’ accusers within the story, who know none of these things and have no way of comprehending what Jesus is saying. Quite conspicuously, he does not say to them, “If you hear my word and believe,” but “the person who hears my word and believes,” looking beyond them to a more receptive audience typified by the readers of the Gospel.50
 MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (2006). John 1–11 (pp. 190–191). Chicago: Moody Press.
 Boice, J. M. (2005). The Gospel of John: an expositional commentary (pp. 391–396). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books.
 Mounce, R. H. (2007). John. In T. Longman III & D. E. Garland (Eds.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Luke–Acts (Revised Edition) (Vol. 10, pp. 428–429). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.
 Morris, L. (1995). The Gospel according to John (pp. 279–280). Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.
 Michaels, J. R. (2010). The Gospel of John (pp. 314–316). Grand Rapids, MI; Cambridge, UK: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company.