I thank thee, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that thou hast hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to babes; yea, Father, for such was thy gracious will.
Listen to Him!(Mark 9:7)
He who loves his life loses it, and he who hates his life in this world will keep it for life eternal.Jesus, John 12:25
The words of Jesus' reveal that in his mind, and so in the mind of God, there is an absolute either/or relationship between heaven and earth. It is applicable to fathers, masters, treasures and to the renderings we make of ourselves and of our possessions. These happen to be major constituents of the life of every person. From "fathers" we derive our identities, our national status, and our lineage – thus establishing who we are in the world. Whom we serve establishes the major dedication of life. What we treasure establishes our lifelong value systems and dictates life's major decisions, and to whom we render our very selves establishes the object of our love and devotion. Of what, more than these, can life consist? So, Jesus encompasses everything in a single all embracing either/or: life itself.
Can there be any mistaking the meaning of this utterance?
He who loves his life loses it, and he who hates his life in this world will keep it for life eternal (John 12:25).Absolutely everything hinges on our attitude to life! He stated it concisely and simply. This is the definitive statement, to man, of the key to eternal life – In the words of the only eternal God. The precept is universal, including everyone on earth. It allows for absolutely no exceptions, beginning as it does with the words, "He who." There are none of the complications that would arise had he said instead "Some who" or "Most of those who" or "All except." No one can misunderstand it.
Now, since it is all inclusive, it must include Jesus. Indeed, it is coincident with events leading to the end of his life on earth that he uttered these words. First he stated the truth, then he immediately applied it to everyone. Next, he proceeded to exemplify its correct application by applying it to himself. It is helpful here to repeat the utterance with its context:
And Jesus answered them, The hour has come for the son of man to be glorified. Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. He who loves his life loses it, and he who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life. If anyone serves me, he must follow me; and where I am, there shall my servant be also; if anyone serves me, the Father will honor him (John 12:23-26).So, the hour has come. Jesus, like a grain of wheat, is about to fall into the earth and die so that he does not remain alone. This saying presupposes the resurrection to glory, which is the focus of his attention. We know this because of the way he identified the hour. He did not say, "The hour has come for me to die" although, from a human point of view, it had. In his mind, it was the hour to be glorified and that he did say.
Then he uttered another absolutely all-inclusive statement:If anyone serves me, he must follow me (John 12:26).This saying parallels the synoptic utterance,
If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me (Matthew 16:24; Mark 8:34; 10:21; Luke 9:23).How severe! How hard it is for us, who are prone to avoiding crosses, to accept this as applying to ourselves. But look at the wonderful promise:"If anyone serves me, the Father will honor him (John 12:26).There are only two options: love and hate. There is therefore no provision for a neutral attitude to life in this world. It is the nature of things. If we love our lives, we will lose them. Only by hating them can we save them. Someone will say, "Suppose I love my life only a little, so long as it is not more than I love God?" There can be only one reply to this: Look at the Word:
He who loves his life, loses it.
Or did it read, "He who loves his life only a little will keep it for eternal life?"
A truly marvelous thing about the Logos (Greek for "word" and used here to designated all words of God spoken by Jesus) is that it is so concise that it is not possible to misunderstand it. Oh, sure, there are many to whom it means something else. They think he surely didn't mean that we must hate our lives to acquire eternal life, but that is precisely what he said. Such persons are only believing what they want to believe. As for the Word, they haven't heard it.
Jesus was not content to say only, "He who loves his life loses it." although that is sufficiently clear. But he presented the truth from its other side also, leaving no grounds at all for erroneous implications:"He who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life (John 12:25).Then, to avoid any misconceptions of what he meant by the word "life," he concisely defined it as "life in this world" as distinguished from "eternal life." Then, at the end, to forestall any confusion over what he meant by loving and hating life, he made himself an example of the hatred of life by laying his life down at the cross. Finally, to rule out any thought that they crucified him against his will, he said also:"No man takes my life away from me; I lay it down of myself (John 10:17,18).There can be no doubts about this. His death on the cross was his doing, an event that he controlled from beginning to end. It served a two-fold purpose. First, it was essential to his glorification that he hate his life in this world. Since there are no exceptions, the principle applied to him the same as to others. Second, by displaying his hatred of life so dramatically, and so publicly, he insured that his testimony to the hatred of life would stand forever.
He did it for himself, but not for himself only. He also did it so that we might see and understand and follow suit. It was so that he might not remain alone as the harvest of the world, but that he might be the first born from the dead.
If he had loved his life, he would have saved it, for it was within his power to do so. But then he would have lost the life eternal. By losing his life through delivering it up upon the cross, he saved it and established for his followers the supreme example of the hatred of life. A synoptic version of this teaching is precisely in this save/lose terminology:For whoever would save his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake, he will save it (Luke 9:24).His life in the world ended and was therefore temporal. Therefore, the life which one is to hate is life in time, or temporal life as distinguished from eternal life in glory. On the one hand there is then temporal life in this world, and on the other hand there is the option of eternal life in glory. Since it is the former that must be hated to acquire the latter, it was necessary that Jesus come to the earth to show life hatred to us who are in the life of this world. So, he has confronted us again with the same heaven/earth dichotomy as in the previously considered utterances. Now, the location becomes the critical consideration. Life in this world is life on earth and, if we love it, we will lose it. We keep it only by hating it – but then it becomes life eternal, life in the heavenly glory with the Father and in his house. As life on earth there is no means by which we can save it. We are again confronting the same absolute either/or: heaven or earth! "Life" is the comprehensive term, and one displays the utmost hatred of it by laying it down for the sake of life eternal.
However, the other utterances also exemplify life hatred in its application to selected aspects of life. Refusing to call any man "Father" is to hate that relationship and to deny the man the place he cherishes. It is the proper and acceptable response to another utterance of Jesus that is even more specific:If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple. Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me, cannot be my disciple (Luke 14:26-27).To deny servitude to any earthly master is to deny him (or it) the normally expected domination, and that, too, is the hatred of life. This is most obvious when the earthly master is the state. Then, the denial of servitude is the denial of that allegiance that the state anticipates from all born within its domain. However, one who serves God does not render to the state what bears God's image and inscription – that is, one's very self! Despising earthly values, or treasures, is also surely an act of hatred for life in this world, which depends for its day-to-day sustenance upon such things.
What of exaltation among men? What wrong can there be in seeking good reputation among one's fellows? Precisely this: the striving for exaltation among men is the practice of those who devote themselves to this life. This is the utmost love of life.
All who seek the glory of this world, and thus spurn the glory of God, are captive to it. We all have this thirst for glory and it is legitimate. We are not to be blamed for it, seeing that we are born with eternity in our hearts. We do ourselves a terrible wrong, however, when we shortchange this thirst with a quaff of the ale of the glory of this age. We are again considering the inevitable either/or: If we seek the glory of men – we will forfeit the eternal glory. If we so love this life that we endeavor to garnish it with more and more glory, of the fading variety, we will lose it all. Jesus set the proper example for us in his earthly sojourn, affirming it with the words:"I receive not glory (honor) from men (John 5:41).Jesus delivered these utterances to men on earth, having come from heaven for this sole purpose. They are keys to the understanding of his whole message, and in them we have two mutually exclusive and inimical alternatives. We cannot avoid the choice, because between them they are all comprehensive.
To the left stands life in this world with all its appurtenances, including parentage, possessions, nation, status, service, commitment, and the glory of this age. To the right eternal life beckons, with its Father in heaven, its eternal glory, rewards, status, and treasures. This decision confronts us while we are in the midst of the temporal experience. It comes when we have been here for so long during the growing-up process that we have thoroughly conformed. We have attached all our hopes and dreams to temporal aspirations. Therefore, the failure to choose eternity results in the choice, by default, of time. Even if we are never aware that there is an alternative to the life on earth, we have by default chosen it because that is all we know. In our darkness, it is all that we have. So, in one way or another, the choice is inevitable.
The terminology of the utterances defines the two alternatives with great clarity. There is the human father, the human ruler, the earthly treasure, the temporal life, and the human status. That is all one option. The other option comes to us as a heavenly Father, a heavenly treasure, heavenly allegiance, eternal rewards, and life eternal, of which all transcend the temporal experience.
The inimical nature of the alternatives forbids any dual commitment. If we choose the heavenly Father, we call no man on earth father. If we choose the heavenly treasure, we seek no earthly one. If we serve him who has the heavenly authority, whose image we bear, we serve not the state. If we seek heaven's esteem we will neither seek nor receive human honors. If we dedicate ourselves to eternal life, life in time will be hated. If we are not of this world, the world will hate us; but if we are of this world, the world will love its own.
There is no clearer statement of the qualifications for eternal salvation than this utterance regarding life. There is no valid hope of eternal glory for those who choose to continue to love life in this world. They are to lose it. They will keep it for life eternal only if they hate it.
It cannot be rationally denied that, according to Jesus, life in this world and life eternal are mutually inimical alternatives. We will inevitably love one, and hate the other, or hate one and love the other. We are reluctant to believe this. In Christendom, it is the calculated strategy to oppose Jesus by affirming the compatibility of the two, in direct opposition to the Word of God. A prime illustration of this strategy is the commitment to "God and country," to which most citizens subscribe due to life-long indoctrination. This exposure begins in the cradle and becomes so much a part of us that we cannot entertain the thought that it is a contradiction – that a commitment to one's country is treason to God! The beauty of the Anthem is ringing in our ears! The Scout pledges are deeply ingrained! Also, we understand aright that God created the world. How then can it be in total enmity with him? It seems a poor creator who only creates an enemy!
Organized religion is a barrier to the perception of this Truth. Catholicism long ago concocted a marriage of convenience with the state and the world. It has since consistently engaged in a cover-up of the significance of the utterances of Jesus. The reformers (Luther, for example) opened the Word to everyone but shepherded our attention toward Paul and away from Jesus, with the same result. The utterances of Jesus have baffled the theologians who devote their intellectual resources to the task of explaining how Jesus could not have meant what he said.
Jesus hated his life on earth and his words and deeds bore a consistent testimony to this fact. But we must understand that he came into the world for the specific purpose of bearing witness to the Truth. Therefore, he could not relinquish his hold on life until the witness was complete. He was aware that his "hour" for glorification was before him and that he must preserve his life until that moment. Otherwise, he would abort his mission.
THE PROTECTION OF LIFE
When the devil tempted him to cast himself down from the pinnacle of the temple, it was a subtle temptation to commit suicide. But this was not the focus of the temptation. Satan was appealing to the desire for temporal glory as he reinforced the temptation with the words, " . . . it is written, 'He will give his angels charge of you,' and 'On their hands they will bear you up, lest you strike your foot against a stone'" (Psalm 91:12). To be caught in mid-air by the angels! What a powerful public proof of his messiahship! What glory it would bring to his life! Had he cast himself down, and had no angels appeared (suicide), Satan would have triumphed in that the world would never have heard his words. Ah, but if the angels had appeared, what a glorious moment in the history of man that would have been! Yet Satan would have triumphed again because Jesus would have been yielding to the love of life by seeking to enhance it.
In either case Jesus would have been testing the promises of God and transgressing the commandment, "Thou shalt not tempt the Lord thy God" (Matthew 4:7; Luke 4:12). As one who was disobedient to the commandment, he would have been a sinner like all the rest of us, and so would have brought himself under condemnation. It was therefore necessary that he turn a deaf ear to this temptation and that he remain in this life until he had deposited the Logos in the earth. Thus Satan hoped not only to destroy the man, but also to captivate the soul. The world would interpret the event as the suicide of a desperate or deranged man.
Jesus not only overcame this temptation, but he continued to protect his life from other threats until he had fulfilled his purpose. When the enraged citizens of his home town sought to cast him off a cliff, he escaped their hands (Luke 4:28-30). When his siblings sought to persuade him to go to Jerusalem, where they knew the Jews were seeking him to kill him, he responded, "My hour has not yet come" (John 7:6). Later he did go, but privately, to protect his life until he had finished his work. As the months of testimony passed and his earthly mission was approaching its conclusion, the Pharisees took counsel how to put him to death (Matthew 27:1; John 11:53). Again Jesus protected himself in that "he no longer went about openly among the Jews" (John 11:54). Yet in all this he displayed his hatred of life by the speed with which he finished his testimony. What might have required thirty-six years, he did in thirty-six months or less as he sought a quick end to the business. He desired only to return to the Father in heaven. So the time came quickly when he addressed himself to the Father in prayer, saying:Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son that the Son may glorify you, since you have given him power over all flesh, to give eternal life to all whom you have given him. And this is eternal life, that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent. I glorified you on earth, having accomplished the work which you gave me to do; and now, Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory which I had with you before the world was made (John 17:1-5).Such was the grand destiny to which he aspired! This is not all! Wonderful news of the Gospel! For, according to Jesus, this same destiny lies in wait for all who follow him in the way:If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me, that where I am, there may my servant be also (Matthew 16:24; Mark 8:34; Luke 9:23).So, Jesus preserved his life until he had finished his work on earth, but he also displayed his hatred for it. He refused to become concerned about tomorrow, and never invested any energy in the task of laying up a supply to meet tomorrow's need. He knew that the Father was perfectly capable of providing for him from day to day. Nothing and no one threatened him, and he never for a moment considered any retaliatory measures against his enemies to make his life secure. He never said or did anything to advance his reputation among men and thereby taste the glory of this world. He explained this by saying,I receive not glory from men (John 5:41).Although his wonderful works elicited adulation from the poor and the lame, he did them only out of compassion. Never for an instant did he seek the glory of men. He denied any semblance of identity with the people of the world among whom he had his earthly origins. This began at home where he refused to acknowledge Mary as mother, Joseph as father, or his siblings as brothers and sisters. This practice extended to the national level where, as we have already seen, he refused the sonship of either David or Abraham (Luke 20:41-44; John 8:58). He offered no allegiance or service to his state and refused to make any commitment to Caesar. His only master was his Father, and to him alone did he offer service. With his hope steadfastly set upon the glory of the Father, he absolutely refused to accumulate earthly treasure. Finally, when he had finished his work, he laid down his life on the cross. This was the ultimate demonstration of life hatred. It was also necessary to his repossession of the life of eternal glory. Throughout all, he counseled those who would be his followers to hold to the same course by following him in the Way. In finally evaluating the Father's love for him, Jesus gave a single reason for it, saying:
For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life in order that I may take it up again (John 10:17).The Fathers' love depended upon his laying down his life that he might raise it up as life eternal. Had he sought to save his life after the completion of his mission he would have been lost as surely as any other person!
We find Jesus' heavy emphasis on the hatred of life in all four gospels, where he stated it several ways. Here is a listing of the primary utterances:
He who finds his life will lose it, and he who loses his life for my sake will find it (10:39).
For whoever would save his life will lose it; and whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel's will save it (Mark 8:35).From Luke:
For whoever would save his life will lose it; and whoever loses his life for my sake, he will save it (Luke 9:24).
Whoever seeks to gain his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life will preserve it (Luke 17:33).And finally, again, from John:
He who loves his life loses it, and he who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life (John 12.25).These are all very similar statements. Although some are plainly duplicate accounts of the same utterance, evidently Jesus voiced this theme repeatedly. Matthew recorded it twice, while Luke recorded it no less than three times as utterances from different occasions, and all the gospel writers were careful to include it.
The meaning of these utterances is simple. Whoever is to participate in the blessed estate of eternal life must view his life in this world of time as totally expendable. Anyone who wishes to attain to eternal life must hate temporal life. Everything depends on one's attitude to life. It is unrealistic to anticipate the best of both worlds. The prospect of temporal woe must be accepted by anyone who would qualify for the eternal blessing. Whoever receives blessings from this life and responds by loving it has received his reward; there is nothing good to follow. As though in a tug of war, time and eternity strain at each of us, pulling in opposite directions and holding us in tension until we make the choice. Yes, the choice is ours to make, and we will go whichever way we ourselves decide. What must be emphasized repeatedly is the exclusiveness of the two appeals. There is a categorical decision to be made – a choice of eternal consequences. It is a decision against this life, while yet in it, to lay hold of that one before entering it. In their appeals to us, it is earth against heaven, time against eternity, stuff against spirit. Heaven never bestows her favors on earth's darlings, so the choice is both mandatory and inevitable.
Like two suitors competing for the hand of the same maiden, these court us each in its own way. Heaven presents the grand promise of an unseen eternity through Christ, while earth points to the immediacy of its favors. The gist of the maiden's decision is this: whether to accept the offer of immediate tangible benefits that will grow stale and pass away, or to join in matrimony with a promise of surpassing, but unseen, treasure that will never pass away. Earth entices: "My beloved, a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush." "No," says heaven; "Two in the bush which never die are worth far more than an in-hand bird doomed to perish." The earth pushes its case: "You have never seen the bush with two birds nor has anyone else. If you spurn me you will have given up this stately bird of mine for nothing!" "But of this you may be sure," responds heaven, "No one can deny that the bird in the hand will shortly perish. What will you have then?" Recall that Jesus said:
Thou fool, this night shall your soul be required of you. Whose then will these things be (Luke 12:20)?These utterances have been called paradoxical, and superficially they have such an appearance. It is not so. Each one is a simple statement of a profound truth, without any element of paradox! Jesus said:
He who finds his life will lose it (Matthew 10:39).It is fact, not paradox.
Jesus said also:
Whoever would save his life will lose it (Matthew 16:25).It is fact, not paradox.
Again Jesus said:
Anyone who comes to me and does not hate his own life cannot be my disciple (Luke 14:26).It is fact, not paradox.
Jesus said yet again:
Whoever seeks to gain his life will lose it (Luke 17:33).It is fact, not paradox.
Finally, Jesus also said:
He who loves his life, loses it (John 12:27).It is fact, not paradox!
The word "paradox," so often heard in seminary classrooms and from pulpits and Sunday School lecterns, is nothing more than a smoke screen that the preachers throw out to discourage quests for the truth of the matter. Many will object to this, saying "Everyone knows what a good thing it is to love life!" Not so . . . not according to Jesus of Nazareth. To him, this is the root of condemnation. Away, then, with the evil idea of paradox applied to these sayings.
Two different kinds of life are under consideration:
temporal life and eternal life, and to love one is to hate the other! This
is the fundamental principle of the doctrine of Christ. He never ceased
to communicate it to the world, even to his last moments on the cross. There,
he gave the supreme demonstration of it by displaying hatred for his earthly
life. He also found yet another way to illustrate it, using the dispositions
of the two others who were crucified with him. Both were cardinal sinners
guilty of weighty crimes and both justly condemned before the law of man.
There was absolutely nothing in their experience to justify any distinction
between them. Yet Jesus, speaking to them for eternity, accepted one and
ignored the other (Luke 23:32-43). Why? Was it because one was penitent and
the other only fearful? No, not at all; both had a measure of fear and repentance
and both sought help and consolation. If one were more penitent than the
other, as the record suggests, it was because he realized the hatred of life
in the hour of his death. Simply put, one sought to save his life, crying
out to Jesus: "If you are the Christ, save yourself and us!" Jesus evaluated
this plea according to his earlier utterance:
The result was that Jesus ignored him because the saving of his life was his concern. This man definitely knew how to love his life as he sought a way to preserve it.
The other man was not similarly concerned. Hating his life in the moment of its greatest danger, he laid it down readily. I do not mean that he was unconcerned, but that he directed his concern to a different object when he cried out to his companion. He acknowledged personal sin and guilt and then addressed Jesus: "Lord, remember me when you come into your kingly power." This was a plea to which Jesus could respond gladly, and he did so in the light of his other utterance:
He who hates his life in this world will keep it for life eternal (John 12:25).Jesus replied:
Truly I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise (Luke 23:43).The essential difference between these two men was their attitudes to life during the short time preceding and continuing to their deaths. One sought to save his life, and he lost it. The other, hating his life in the world and desiring to be rid of it, concerned himself only with the life that is to come. He hated his life for the sake of the life eternal.
The dying sinner who repented of his love of life was far more righteous than Peter. The latter had lived with the Truth for years and had made a firm commitment to the hatred of life. He had said to Jesus, "Lord, I am ready to go with you to prison and to death" (Luke 22:33). But he marched to a different drummer when the threat of sharing in the crucifixion of Jesus hovered near. When identified as a disciple, he cried out, "I do not know the man" (Matthew 26:72)! There is a lesson in Peter's example for all who have heard the Truth and have made a commitment: we are wise not to become cocksure about our attitude to life. While one may consciously make a decision to hate life in the world, the contrary attitude may yet be the master of the heart and, "As a man thinketh in his heart, so is he" (Proverbs 23:7). When Christ returns to receive his followers unto himself and to put an end to earth and history, it will be as when ". . . the flood came and destroyed them all" (Luke 17:27). On that day, the attitude to life of each will settle his or her eternal destiny. Wherever you are, if you rush to save your life or your treasure you will lose everything. But all who commit themselves to eternity will reach out eagerly to grasp eternal glory!
Jesus has forewarned us about that day, saying:
On that day, let him who is on the housetop, with his goods in the house, not come down to take them away; and likewise let him who is in the field not turn back. Remember Lot's wife. Whoever seeks to gain his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life will preserve it. I tell you, in that night there will be two men in one bed; one will be taken and the other left. There will be two women grinding together; one will be taken and the other left (Luke 17:31-36).Do not confuse this with the utterance about the "desolating sacrilege" (Matthew 24:15; Mark 13:14). The latter does not refer to the Day of the Coming of the Son of Man, but to the impending destruction of Jerusalem, "when you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies" (Luke 21:20). This latter utterance instructs the disciples to flee to the mountains. This flight will be necessary for the few witnesses then alive because, like Jesus, they must preserve their lives until they have completed their testimony. This utterance undoubtedly refers to the destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans about 70 AD, and it would be no benefit to the cause of Christ for his followers to perish with the Jews at the hands of the Romans. Ah, but when the earth begins to shake and the fire begins to fall, those who rush into the house to snatch up their treasures and run with them to the caves and rocks of the earth will lose their lives because, and only because, they attempted to save them. All these will remain for destruction and judgment, but whoever opens arms and heart to the earnest expectation of the everlasting glory "will be taken."
Truly, truly, I say to you, he who hears my word and believes him who sent me, has eternal life; he does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life (John 5:24).Ordinary understanding presupposes that death follows life; one is born, lives, and then comes death. Not so with Jesus, who brings unique insight to bear on an old idea. In his mind, and therefore also in the mind of the Father, life does not precede death – it follows it! The above utterance illustrates this sequence. It is typical of Jesus thus not only to broach new ideas, but also to turn things in reverse to what we ordinarily think. Therefore, with Jesus, one passes not from life to death, but from death to life. Furthermore, since the life of which he speaks is everlasting, that is the end of the matter. Jesus has revealed that each has a destiny. We are moving forward to a new experience out of an old experience that we will never repeat. We are not on a cyclic journey through various orders of being and back – but we move on, progressively, never to return. The thing that the children of God are moving toward is life with the Father in glory. This is the "eternal life" of Jesus. It follows that, in the mind of Jesus, death is ever upon us.
What men have here that they call life is, in reality, death. It is a cruel deception that foists upon us the universal delusion that we are alive. In Truth, we experience death constantly, every day. So, when Jesus observed people engaged in their daily activities, following the course of this world, he surveyed death, not life, and he labeled it as such.
Two examples of specific incidents come to mind. In the first he confronted the Pharisees with this scathing rebuke:
You are like whitewashed tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful, but within are full of dead men's bones and all uncleanness (Matthew 23:27).He saw their physical bodies and interpreted them as tombs! Nothing more than the vessels of death! They thought of themselves as very much alive, but to him, their bones were dead men's bones.
The second example was when a would-be disciple approached him wishing to follow him, but who wanted to go first and bury his father. Jesus replied:
Let the dead bury the dead (Matthew 8:22).He made no fundamental distinction between those in need of burial and those accustomed to minister to that need! All belong to the category of the dead. Continuing from the words already quoted, He said:
Truly, truly, I say to you, the hour is coming, and now is, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live (John 5:25).By the words, "and now is," he revealed that he was speaking to the dead whenever he addressed the multitudes in that long ago time. The "hour" began then, and it yet continues, when his words go forth across the earth to the dead. The fact is fearsome but the promise is glorious: "Those who hear will live" (John 5:25).
Clearly, Jesus' conceptions of death and life differ radically from the generally accepted ideas. We think that we are alive; he states that we are dead. We think that our lives will end with death; he proclaims that our deaths may end with life – if we hear his words.
What does he mean by "the dead?" We have heard of the parent who has been offended by the conduct of a son or daughter and who cries out in anger, "Go from here and never darken my door again! To me you are henceforth dead." This, to Jesus, is exactly the significance of death. "The dead" are those who so offend the Father in heaven that he declares them to be dead. There is a difference, though, for the proclamation fails to settle the destiny of the child when the parent is human. But when God is the Father, and we are the children, our fates are sealed. When the father is the creator whose purpose in creating is aborted by the creature, then a mysterious and hidden change occurs in the status of the creatures. They were to have been his children but instead are forever separated from the Father. That separation is death. So, death does not imply a termination of being, but a dreadful and eternally permanent separation from the giver of life.
That being so, "life" in the utterances of Jesus must mean the initiation of an everlasting union with the Father, which is "eternal life." We who are in this world are dead, but he permits us to continue our being in hope that we will hear the Word of Christ and repent.
Those who hear will live (John 5:25).This is the only escape from death and it must be seized while we are yet in this world. Otherwise, death is an absolutely permanent state.
Two more words must be introduced here to provide a firm basis of understanding this truth. One is "sin." The other is "love." First, consider sin. The scriptures elsewhere tell us that sin is the transgression of the law" (I John 3:4). With this in mind, continue to the following utterance of Jesus: And behold, a lawyer stood up to put him to the test saying, "Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life" (Luke 10:25)?
He said to him,
What is written in the law? How do you read (Luke 10:26)?And he answered, "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself." And he said to him,
You have answered right; do this, and you will live (Luke 10:28).Sin, in its essence, is then the transgression of the law – of this law that, according to Jesus, is the essence of the law. It is failure to love God with all our being – with everything that we are and have. But love, the second word with which we need to deal, is a unifying and joining force; when it is genuine, nothing can overcome it. When it is the love of God, we want to be joined with him in his presence and glory forever; but then we do not want to remain trapped in time. This implies that we hate our "lives" in this world! That, of course, is exactly what Jesus has told us. If I love God or anyone or anything else, I reach out in my heart to him, her, or it. I yearn to be with Him, her, or it . . . in the very presence and not separated by anything. But we are here, and God is in his glory. If we want to remain here, what does that mean? It means that we love life on earth because we do not wish to leave it. It also means that we do not love God, regardless of what we may say. We would want to go to him if we did. Failing thus to love the Father, we abide in death, not having heard or received the Word of Christ. We are transgressors of the first and Great Commandment! We have transgressed the law of the love of God, which is the essence of divine law. This is the sin that issues in death wages, for we cannot enter into life with God when we do not love him with our whole being. This is not the result of judicial decree. It is simply because we do not want to, and he will not drag us, screaming and kicking, into his glory. So we remain in death until that love consumes us – because death is our choice!
We stand apart from God, and therefore dead, until we put on the love that binds us together. Therefore, love is the force that issues in life. When our love truly binds us to God the Father, we are in Truth joined with him in life everlasting.
Sin, seen in this light of Jesus, is simply the temporal orientation of love. A person who loves his or her life in the world is both dead and sinful because of the orientation of love. Alternatively, a person who loves God the Father with his or her whole being abides in life. This is the righteousness of Christ. This person desires only to be with the Father. It follows that this person hates, or wishes to separate from, his or her life in this world. It is very simple, isn't it? Consider also how marvelously, yes, perfectly, consistent Jesus is in all his utterances!
One may very well be a good person from every human point of view – altruistic, humanitarian, charitable, considerate, honest, industrious. Yet if one also retains the love of life, all is vain. All the deeds are good, but the whole life is a sin because it is rooted in the love of life in this world. Such a person is lost to God, and in need of redemption, because the reason to exist is null and void.
Jesus calls that thing "death" that we call "life." Then what we call "death" also must be viewed differently by him. When his friend, Lazarus, "died," he did not announce it by saying "Lazarus is dead." Instead, he said to the disciples:
Our friend, Lazarus, has fallen asleep (John 11:11).Then the disciples, uncomprehending, replied, "Lord, if he is sleeping, he is getting well" (John 11:12). He responded to their blindness by descending to their level of comprehension, and said,
Lazarus is dead (John 11:14)!Yet Lazarus was indeed "getting well." To Jesus, the experience which men call "death" is, for the children of God, only a welcome rest between temporal and eternal experience. It is sleep. It is not death in any sense because even in this sleep one remains in union with the Father, much as the sleeping baby on its mothers bosom is in union with the mother.
A ruler once came to Jesus with the plea: "My daughter has just died; but come and lay your hand on her, and she will live" (Matthew 9:18). Jesus rose and followed him, with his disciples. When he came to the rulers house and saw the flute players, and the crowd making a tumult, he said:
Depart; for the girl is not dead but sleeping (Matthew 9:24).They laughed at him. Then they put the crowd outside and he went in and took her by the hand, and the girl arose.
Reading the Gospels from a purely human point of view, one could easily conclude that Jesus had a morbid obsession with death. He looked to the hour, he strained forward to the time when he would say, "And now, Father, I am coming to you." But no. This was an obsession with life, not death! He displayed this "obsession" in many other sayings, such as the following:
I am the bread of life (John 6:35,48).
I came that you may have life, and have it more abundantly (John 10:10).
Because I live, you shall live also (John 14:19).Failing to comprehend Jesus' conception of life, people usually take this to mean a promise of adding to the luster of the earthly experience. But Jesus was thinking of the union with God the Father in Glory, which we must "die" to realize. That is the only abundant life, and he came to show, and to be, the way to its realization. In reality, his promise of abundant life is a detriment to life in this world, and he recognized this in many utterances, as follows:
The way that leads to life is hard, and few there be that find it (Matthew 7:14).
Marvel not if the world hate you, for you know that it hated me before it hated you (John 15:8).
Men will hate you and cast out your name as evil on account of the Son of Man (Luke 6:22).Nothing can be more heinous to the mind of Christ and of God than preaching in his name that Godliness is worldly gain. It is a priceless gain, but it costs one everything. Jesus said it:
Whosoever does not forsake all that he has cannot be my disciple (Luke 14:33).That which seemed a death wish as Jesus and his disciples marched to the cross and to martyrdom was not such at all. It only seems so to those of us who have refused the enlightenment that Jesus introduced into the world by his Word and Way. They were all motivated by the very opposite of a death wish – that is, a life wish. They were persuaded that only by following Jesus was it possible for anyone to receive the life that is life indeed. They went to martyrdom because they turned against the tide of the pseudo life that has overwhelmed the world, a tide that is contrary both to good common sense and to the doctrine that we have in the utterances of Jesus.
Deep in our hearts, every one of us knows better than we speak or practice. The eternal God created us, so that in our hearts we are eternal beings. Yes, we have eternity in our hearts! There are no exceptions. Therefore we are always forlorn and despairing when we seriously think about life from the merely human point of view. We know that it must end, and we cannot adapt ourselves to the idea of the cessation of being. So, powered by the drive for eternal experience, we foolishly strive to postpone the dread encounter. We strive to extend our longevity on the earth while knowing, deep within, the futility of it all. It is because we refuse to comprehend that our commitment to life is in Truth a commitment unto death. That thing that the world has taught us to fear and to hate more than anything else is, in Truth, the only access to the life our inmost being craves.
The life wish of every person is an eternal life wish. It can never be satisfied by temporal experience. Yet we persistently, stubbornly, blindly, go on striving vainly to satisfy it by the earthly experience of death that is death indeed. I mean, by our temporal separation from the God who is the source of true life. What a deadly self deception!
It was necessary to the purpose of God that we have our being after this manner, but it does not follow that we are doomed to an infinite succession of generations of frustrated life preservers. It is not unreasonable to think that this cycle of evolutionary self preservation has an end. We generally agree that it had a beginning, and as our generation is the first to learn, it also must have an end when the Sun burns up its nuclear fuel. That is, if another disaster does not overtake the earth long before that distant event. All the cycles of nature end after making their contributions to ultimate destiny. The earth will cease its cycles about the sun. Long before that, the life sustaining water will cease its cycle of "ocean-sky-rainfall-river-ocean." Before that, many other life cycles will cease, having fulfilled the purposes of the creator. It is as though the cycles were, like wheels, rolling on toward the fulfillment of the purposes of God and bearing upon their axles the vehicles of the children of God, conveying them all into his ultimate presence.
Look at illustrations closer to our immediate experience. Consider the infant. Daily it rises, totters, and falls. Again and again, day after day and week after week, it rises, totters, and falls. Until one day the cycle ends when it rises and walks, taking its first steps into the world. We knew all along that it would happen in its time. We understood that all the rising, tottering, and falling was to this end, that the whole series of cycles might culminate in the ability to walk.
The athlete attempts repeatedly to vault over the highest pole. He backs off, he runs, he vaults, he dislodges the pole, he falls. Back off, run, vault, hit pole, fall; back off, run, vault, hit pole, fall; back off, run, vault, hit pole, fall; thus the cycle repeats until, at last, over the pole he gracefully sails! The cycle is broken when he achieves his purpose. Likewise, the evolutionary cycle of the generations of life preservers is broken when they vault over the "pole" and sail gracefully into the glorious liberty of the children of God! At that point the whole purpose of the evolutionary process is fulfilled. And when the purpose is fulfilled, the process is ended. Thus all temporal cycles will be broken when the full number of the children of God has entered his kingdom.
Jesus once told a parable in which these cycles are implicit:
The kingdom of God is as if a man should scatter seed upon the ground, and should sleep and rise night and day, and the seed should sprout and grow, he knows not how. The earth produces of itself, first the blade, then the ear, then the full grain in the ear. But when the grain is ripe, at once he puts in the sickle, because the harvest has come (Mark 4:26-29).He sleeps and rises, night and day, as the cycle repeats itself. Likewise the growing seedlings experience the continuing cycles of night and day. But something else is also happening. Slowly, almost imperceptibly, there is growth – he knows not how. Eventually the desired end is attained – the seedlings grow up and the harvest comes. Likewise the evolutionary cycles will end when the harvest has come! This harvest is the sole goal and purpose of creation – that it might produce the children of God for his glory (Isaiah 43:5-7).