"Marvel not at this: for the hour is coming when all who are in their 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 to resurrection of damnation."—John 5:28-29.
This resurrection is a moral awakening, and not the final, literal resurrection, as is evident from its phraseology. All men do not participate in it. Only "those that have done good," and "those that have done evil" come forth to "life" or to "damnation." Such a resurrection would not include more than half of the human race; infants, dying without ever having done good or evil would not rise. Such a resurrection would leave countless millions in their graves. This demonstrates that the final resurrection is not here referred to.
What sort of a resurrection did Jesus here teach? The context shows. He had just cured the impotent man at the pool of Bethesda, and declared that he had derived his power from God. "For as the Father raiseth up the dead and quickeneth them, even so the son quickeneth whom he will," and he then continues to talk of a moral quickening or spiritual resurrection, then about occurring: "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." That is, the resurrection he was referring to had taken place with some who were then living on earth. And he then adds: verses 25-27—"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. For as the Father hath life in himself; so hath he given to the Son to have life in himself; and hath given him authority to execute judgment also, because he is the Son of Man ."-John 5:25-27
The "Damnation" in 5: 29, is the same Greek word that is translated "condemnation" in the 24th, and "judgment" in the 27th. Jesus was repeating the substance of Daniel, 12:2, "And many of them that sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting contempt;" words that are fulfilled in Eph. 2:1, "and you hath he quickened, who were dead in trespasses and in sin."
It was a moral awakening that occurred in consequence of the annunciation of Christianity, which this language announces. Those who were quickened into a perception of the truth, and disregarded the heavenly message, experienced a resurrection from their death in trespasses and sins, but it was to condemnation, and thus to the "second death".
Says Dr. George Campbell, a learned "orthodox" divine, in his "Notes" on the Four Gospels, vol. ii. p. 113:
"The word anastasin, or rather the phrase anastasis tou nekron, is indeed the common term by which the resurrection, properly so called, is denominated in the New Testament. Yet, this is neither the only nor the primitive import of the word anastasis; it denotes simply being raised from inactivity to action, or from obscurity to eminence, or a return to such a state after an interruption. The verb anastemi, has the like latitude of signification; and both words are used in this extent by the writers of the New Testament, as well as by the LXX. Agreeably, therefore, to the original import, rising from a seat, is properly termed anastasis; so is waking out of sleep, or promotion from an inferior condition."
This is the sense in which the prophet speaks:
"Therefore prophesy and say unto them, Thus saith the Lord God: Behold, O my people, I will open your graves, and bring you into the land of Israel. And ye shall know that I am the Lord, when I have opened your graves, O my people, and brought you up out of our graves; and shall put my spirit in you, and ye shall live, and I shall place you in your own land: then shall ye know that I the Lord have spoken it, and performed it, saith the Lord."—Ezek. 37:12-14.
And the poet enforces the same idea:
"But when the Gospel comes, It sheds diviner light, It calls dead sinners from their tombs, And gives the blind their sight."
But beyond the final resurrection there is no condemnation. All are then "made alive in Christ," (1 Cor. 15.) and are "equal to the angels, and are the children of "God," (Luke 20:36, Mark 12:25) The language in John 5:27-29 had its fulfillment in this world, in our Savior's day, in the moral awakening he caused.
The absurdity of the popular view will be seen when we observe that it makes all men saved, and at the same time all men damned forever. Apply it to all who have reached accountability, and it will be seen that as all have "done good" all will be forever happy, and as all have "done evil"—for "no man liveth and sinneth not," all must be forever unhappy. Observe, it says nothing of those who, having done evil, repent, but the damnation is for all who have done evil. But if we give the word its proper meaning, we find no difficulty, for each evil act can receive its proper condemnation, and then be followed by salvation.
Lightfoot observes: "These words might also be applied to a spiritual resurrection, as were the former, (and so, coming out of graves meaneth, Ezek, 37:12) the words of the verse following being only translated and glossed thus: and they shall come forth, they that do good, after they hear his voice in the gospel, to the resurrection of life; and they that do evil, after they hear the gospel, unto the resurrection of damnation. But they are more generally understood of the general resurrection," etc.—Harm. Evang Part III. John 5:28
The resurrection to damnation was a moral awakening, and not the final resurrection, and the word damnation wherever used, has precisely the same meaning as condemnation, with no reference whatever to the duration of the condition thus designated.
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