Dear Church Family,
In our sermon this past Sunday from John 5:19-47, we examined this extended discourse – or speech – in which Jesus teaches us some very important things about who He is. Ultimately, the main point – the personal claim for which the Jews sought to kill Him – was that He, as the Son of God, is equal with God the Father (John 5:17-18).
The Authority of the Son of God to give life and to judge (Present and Future)
In keeping with this bold claim to be equal with God, Jesus taught how He has the authority to give life (John 5:21 – “For just as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, even so the Son also gives life to whom He wishes) and to judge or condemn (John 5:22 – “For not even the Father judges anyone, but He has given all judgment to the Son”). What’s truly fascinating (perhaps surprising, but reassuring) about what Jesus says about His authority to give life and His authority to judge is the timing.
Jesus speaks of two kinds of judgment: the present personal judgment and the future universal judgment. Regarding the present judgment, “an hour is coming and now is,” says Jesus, “when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live” (John 5:25). Regarding the future judgment, “an hour is coming,” says Jesus, “in which all who are in the tombs will hear His voice and will come forth” to either the resurrection of life or the resurrection of judgment (John 5:28-29).
Though, Jesus speaks of two judgments, we should not think of them as completely separate or disconnected. Indeed, the present judgment of Christ ensures the outcome of the future judgment of Christ. The person who does not believe in the name of the only begotten Son of God is judged already and will not see life; however, He who believes in the Son is not judged and has eternal life (John 3:18, 36). And, these who believe in the Son will be raised up on the last day – the day Christ’s return (John 6:40).
This is a brief summary of some of the things that we learned about the authority and power of the Son of God in the sermon this past Sunday. These teachings of Jesus, though, got me to thinking about the book of Revelation and what is taught in that book concerning the “first resurrection” and the “second death.”
The First Resurrection and the Second Death
Consider the beatitude of Revelation 20:6 – “Blessed and holy is the one who has a part in the first resurrection; over these the second death has no power, but they will be priests of God and of Christ and will reign with Him for a thousand years.”
Apparently, the first resurrection gives protection from the second death. But what precisely do these phrases refer to? Well, the second death is explicitly defined for us in other places in the book of Revelation. The second death refers the final judgment, condemnation, and consignment to hell – the lake of fire (Revelation 20:14; 21:8).
Concerning the first resurrection, we are told in the letter to the church in Smyrna that “He who overcomes will not be hurt by the second death” (Revelation 2:11). Here, the language of “he who overcomes” is used in a similar way as “the one who has a part in the first resurrection” is used in Revelation 20:6 – as protection from the second death. So, while the second death refers to final condemnation and consignment to hell, the first resurrection refers to becoming an overcomer by believing in Jesus as the Son of God and Savior of sinners (1 John 5:4-5).
Simply put, by believing and trusting in the Lord Jesus Christ, we partake in the first resurrection – we are spiritually born again (John 3:3; 1 Peter 1:3). And, by partaking in the first resurrection, we are protected from the second death – the condemnation of the final judgment has no power over us.
This is the good news and the enduring hope of the one who belongs to Christ. Consider the implications of a verse which we referenced above (John 3:18): “He who believes in Him is not judged; he who does not believe has been judged already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.”
Apart from faith in Jesus Christ as the Son of God, men and women stand already judged. But those who believe in the name of the only begotten Son of God are not judged; they are given new life – the first resurrection! Thus, their destiny is secure. “I am the resurrection and the life,” says Jesus, “He who believes in Me will live even if he dies, and everyone who lives and believes in Me will never die” (John 11:25).
What a wondrous thing it is to be a Christian! Let us praise God for His glorious grace!
The Lord be with you!
- Pastor Peter M. Dietsch