The world detests the message that Jesus is the Judge. Sadly, many believers also may often have a mindset that views the truth of Jesus as the Judge as “the bad news.” Is the truth of Jesus as the Judge “the bad news”? If so, how is it bad news and for whom?
John 5 is a key passage in the Gospels that emphasizes the truth of Jesus as the Judge. A close examination of this passage provides a clear answer to our question.
The Primary Truth about Jesus in John 5
John 5 records at length Jesus’ interaction with an impotent man and certain Jews in Jerusalem. Jesus healed the man on the Sabbath. He did so as the Son of Man with the authority to forgive sins on the earth.
Observing the man who was healed carrying his bed on the Sabbath, the Jews confronted him about his actions, which they regarded as unlawful (5:9-10). The man defended himself by saying that the One who had healed him also ordered him to take up his bed and walk (5:11). The Jews inquired who it was that directed him to do so (5:12).
The man did not know who it was because Jesus had left the location (5:13). Later, Jesus found him in the temple and sternly charged him, “Behold, you are made whole: sin no more, lest a worse thing come to you” (5:14). The man left and informed the Jews that Jesus had made him whole (5:15). The Jews, therefore, persecuted Jesus and sought to kill him (5:16, 18) because He healed the man on the Sabbath and because they rejected His saying that God was His own Father (5:17-18).
The entire conflict between these Jews and Jesus concerned what was and was not lawful to do on the Sabbath. The Jews judged Jesus as a lawbreaker and wanted to kill Him for what they regarded as His unlawful actions and for His stupendous assertion that they regarded as His making Himself equal with God (5:18).
Jesus’ response to them comprises one of the lengthiest records of His words (5:17; 19-47; 30 verses). The great length of direct discourse by Jesus that John records here stresses this passage greatly.
In effect, Jesus defended Himself before these Jews by making known that His actions were not unlawful because He is the One to whom the Father has given all judgment (5:22, 27). As the God-appointed Judge, He is thus the Lawgiver who decides what is and is not lawful.
Seen in this light, the entire passage (5:1-47) is primarily about Jesus as the God-appointed Judge. His explicit statement that what He said to these Jews was so that they might be saved (5:34) shows that this passage is an evangelistic account. Jesus’ profound emphasis on His judicial agency (explicit statements in 5:22, 27, 30; contextually throughout the passage) in His evangelizing these hostile Jews shows that Jesus held that His judicial agency was the central truth that He wanted them to receive in order that they might be saved (5:24).
John 5 Illumines What the Good News Is in Act 10
This analysis of John 5 provides help for us to rightly interpret Peter’s climactic statement at Gentecost that stated that Jesus is the One appointed by God as the Judge of the living and the dead (Acts 10:42). Far from being the bad news to the Jews (John 5) and to the people at Gentecost (Acts 10), the truth of Jesus as God’s judicial agent was the central truth that sinners had to hear and receive at these occasions to be saved.
How can this possibly be? A closer look at Jesus’ words to the Jews reveals just how this was the case.
The God-Appointed Judge Who Raises People to Eternal Life!
In brief, Jesus emphatically and repeatedly asserted His judicial agency with great solemnity (“Verily, verily”; three times, John 5:19, 24, 25). As part of His explanation of His judicial agency, He taught that an hour is coming when all who are in the graves would hear His voice as the Son of Man to whom the Father has given authority to execute judgment (5:27-28). Those who would hear His voice would come forth to one of two fates: a resurrection of life or a resurrection of damnation (5:29).
Jesus thus taught that He as the God-appointed Judge is the One who would raise all dead people and that they would thereafter enter into their eternal destiny (5:25-29). The ones that had done good would enter into the resurrection of life; the ones who had done evil would enter into damnation (5:29). He closed this section of His witness to them by yet another explicit statement of His judicial agency by saying that He could not do anything of His own self; as He had heard of the Father, He did (5:30a). He added that His judgment was just because He did not seek His own will, but the will of the Father who had sent Him (5:30b).
With this teaching, Jesus made known that He as the God-appointed Judge would decide the fates of all dead people. Some He would raise to eternal life and the others He would raise to eternal damnation. His judicial agency, therefore, is only “bad news” to those who have done evil and die refusing to repent of their sins and believe in Him.
For those who have done evil and then repent of their rejection of Jesus’ equality with God by believing in Jesus as the One whom the Father sent with all authority to execute judgment, His judicial agency is the greatest good news that they could possibly hear. He is the Judge who will raise everyone one day and give eternal life to those who do good by hearing His word and believing on Him who sent Him to be that Judge (5:24)! To do so is to do good because they thereby honor the Son even as the Father, which is the purpose of the Father’s giving all judgment to the Son (5:22-23).
They will not enter into condemnation because He as the Judge will not condemn them (5:24). They have passed from death to life (5:24) because He as the Judge has already quickened them (cf. 5:21) and will one day assuredly raise all of them who die to the resurrection of life (5:29).
The Good News of the God-Appointed Judge Who Saves Those Who Repent and Believe in Him!
Based on this analysis, we understand that Jesus as God’s judicial agent is not “the bad news of Jesus Christ” to sinners who repent and believe the good news that He is the One to whom the Father has given all judgment. His judicial agency is the central truth that both Jesus and Peter gave to sinners that they might be saved in the two accounts treated above.
The Jews rejected His judicial agency and were not saved. The lost people at Gentecost believed in Him as that God-appointed Judge (Acts 10:42) and were therefore forgiven their sins by Him (Acts 10:43). They were saved by believing in the name of the One whom the Father sent as the Son of God (John 5:25), the Son (5:26), and the Son of Man (5:27), His judicial agent (5:22, 27, 30)!
By virtue of the judicial authority that the Father has given Him (5:22, 27, 30), Jesus gives eternal life to as many as the Father has given Him (17:2). He does so for those who believe that He died for their sins and that God raised Him from the dead (1 Cor. 15:3-5; Rom. 10:9-10). Hear His own words about His judicial agency, acknowledge that you have done evil and are repenting, believe on the Father who sent Him with all judicial authority, and you will have everlasting life! You will never come into condemnation; you will have passed from death to life!
As the Son of Man, He has the judicial authority to forgive your sins (Luke 5:24; cf. Acts 7:56-60; 10:42-43) and to give you eternal life (John 5:24-29). He will save you by doing these things and much more (Heb. 7:25; 1 John 2:1). Believe the good news of Jesus Christ that includes the glorious truth that He is the God-appointed Judge and you will be saved!