“Most assuredly, I say to you, he who hears My word and believes in Him who sent Me has everlasting life, and shall not come into judgment, but has passed from death into life.” (John 5:24)
In this story (John 5), the Jewish leaders are persecuting Jesus for healing a crippled man (vv. 16–23). They hated Him first of all because he had healed the man on the Sabbath (vv. 1–15).
These religious hypocrites cared nothing for the man who had suffered thirty-eight years of infirmity. All they cared for was the subjection of the people to their arbitrary rules and regulations. Sounds like some of our churches today, doesn’t it?
But secondly, they hated Him because He claimed equality with God (vv. 17–18). He spent some time speaking to them of His sympathy and union with the Father’s desire to save men from death and judgment and bring them into life. He concluded by saying that to receive the Son was to receive the Father, and to reject the Son was also to reject the Father (v. 23).
All of this leads to the conclusion in our key verse (v. 24), declaring that people’s response to Jesus is a matter of life and death, not just here and now, but eternally. Sin demands judgment from a holy God, and the only way to escape that judgment is by Jesus Christ bearing our judgment for us. That He has already done for the whole world.
“God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not imputing their sins to them …for He [God the Father] made Him [Jesus Christ] to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.” (2 Corinthians 5:19, 21)
But God will not impose deliverance on any man; each must choose to receive Christ in faith or to reject Him and face the final judgment (vv. 25–27). It will be Jesus Christ, the One who died for our sins, who will be the advocate and justifier of all who believe in Him, and He will be the judge of all who reject Him in unbelief.
In vv. 28–29, Jesus speaks of the resurrection unto life and the resurrection unto judgment. The determining factor, He says, is between “those who have done good … and those who have done evil.” A misreading of His meaning leads many to conclude that good deeds are what save us. Let us look into what Jesus considered a good work:
“Then they said to Him, ‘What shall we do, that we may work the works of God?’ Jesus answered and said to them, ‘This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He sent.’” (John 6:28–29)
The work here is not the act of believing, which is apart from works (Rom. 4:5; Eph. 2:9), but rather is done by “Him whom He sent.” Jesus Christ came into the world to die on the cross for the sins of mankind. In order to emphasize that this was the only work required, and that it was God—not man—who accomplished it, He then followed up with two amazing promises:
“I am the bread of life. He who comes to Me shall never hunger,
and he who believes in Me shall never thirst.” (John 6:35)
“All that the Father give Me will come to Me, and the one who comes to Me
I will by no means cast out.” (John 6:37)
“Assuredly, I say to you, unless you are converted and become as little children, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven.” Matthew 18:3
All little children begin the learning process in life the same way. They learn by faith. Because they know that they don’t know, they are humble. They have never seen an elephant, or a whale, but if you show them a picture book, they learn to identify whatever they are shown. If they are told, “This is an elephant,” they don’t argue and say, “No, I think that is a chicken.” They believe what they are told because it is in their child-like nature to trust.
Only as we grow do we begin to assume a level of knowledge, based on what we have learned by faith. As adults we turn more and more to reason (rationalism) and science (empiricism), where we learn by trial and error. Gradually, we begin to turn away from the faith we had as little children.
Here, Jesus is telling His disciples that they need to “turn around, go back” to being like little children. They need to come to Him in simple, child-like faith if they would enter into His heavenly kingdom. The same point was made on another occasion (Mark 10:13–16). When we return to the simplicity of child-like faith, we come to Jesus through His Word in humility. And Peter, the leader of the disciple band, assures us “God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble” (1 Pet. 5:5b). It is time for us to turn back to the simplicity and humility of little children and hear the voice of our heavenly Father!