Criswell Theological Review 3.1 (1988) 79-99.
Copyright © 1988 by The
ESCHATOLOGY IN JOHN'S GOSPEL
W. ROBERT COOK
It would seem that the subject, "Eschatology in John's Gospel," is so
straightforward as to allow us to get on immediately with the study.
Certainly there is general agreement about what document is in view
under the title "John's Gospel." At this point, however, any agreement
ends. Traditional study of eschatology has recognized that there are
two sets of last things (e@sxata) which the Bible addresses: individual
eschatology and corporate eschatology (e.g., the parousia, the tribula-
tion, the millennial kingdom, etc.). The first category of information
relates to matters of personal destiny, while the second deals more
with God's future plans for the world in general. In practice, however,
attention seems to be given to one or the other in theological writing
rather than to both. Further, there is no agreement as to whether
eschatology should be limited simply to "last things" in a quantitative
sense, that is, strictly to end-time things, or whether it is to be
understood as predominantly "realized," that is, relating more to this
age than to the age yet to come.
A balanced view which takes all of the biblical data into con-
sideration, will need to give place to all these elements. There is much
relating to both individual destiny and the future of
and the nations. There is an emphasis upon both this age and the age
to come with interplay between the two. Eschatology must be viewed
as having strongly qualitative overtones as well as quantitative ones.1
1 W. Robert Cook, Systematic Theology in Outline Form (
Baptist, 1981) 719.
80 CRISWELL THEOLOGICAL REVIEW
Eschatology does indeed deal with last things since it has to do with the
consummation of the old order, the bringing to an end of that which has
never had God's approval. It also deals with ultimate things since it has
to do with the establishment of that which God has always intended.2
The question that must now be considered is how eschatological
teaching is set forth in the fourth gospel.
II. A Summary of the "Critical Problems"
To announce a subject such as "Eschatology in John's Gospel" at
this juncture in NT studies is to evoke the consideration of names such
as C. H. Dodd, R. Bultmann, J. A. T. Robinson, and R. Schnacken-
burg. These men have, and to some extent continue, to set the direc-
tion for the discussion of this subject. They have made eschatology
key to the understanding of the Gospel of John so that G. E. Ladd
could say, "The question of the eschatological teaching of the Fourth
Gospel brings the entire Johannine problem into sharp focus."3
The "problem" to which Ladd refers is the apparent discontinuity
between the eschatology of the Synoptic Jesus and the eschatology of
the Johannine Jesus. How can we account for great difference between
apocalyptic emphasis on the
the contemporary emphasis upon eternal life immediately received
through faith in Jesus Christ in John? It is held by many scholars that
these messages are so disparate that they could not have come directly
from the mouth of the same person. Were there indeed two schools of
eschatological thought, one futuristic and one realized, which vied for
ascendancy in the early church? Did the latter eventually supplant the
former and, if so, why? Did Jesus set forth one line of thinking and
editors (redactors) set forth another or are both representative of the
thinking of differing groups of his followers? In any case, no matter
which explanation is offered, it would be held that the evangelist who
gave the record (in this case John), a later redactor, or a circle of
disciples whose views are being expressed, was honestly intending to
represent the meaning of what Jesus said and did for the believing
community. Since, as is widely acknowledged, the gospel writers had
access to and utilized a variety of traditions or sources, it is to be
expected that somewhat different emphases would evidence them-
selves. Dodd, for example, formulates the question, "To what extent
and under what conditions may the Fourth Gospel be used as a
2 Ibid., 720.
3 G. E. Ladd, A Theology of the New Testament (
Cook: ESCHATOLOGY IN JOHN'S GOSPEL 81
document for the historian in that sense?"4 That is, how may it be
used to determine how things actually happened? He goes on to state,
The answer to the question depends upon the sources of informa-
tion which were at the disposal of the evangelist, if we assume. ..that
he intended to record that which happened, however free he may have
felt to modify the factual record in order to bring out the meaning.5
In order to illustrate how two of the major shapers of thought on
Johannine eschatology answer these prior questions we will consider
statements from Dodd and Bultmann.
In commenting on John 14:2-3 regarding Jesus' promise to his
disciples that he will come again Dodd writes:
By now it is surely clear that the 'return' of Christ is to be under-
stood in a sense different from that of popular Christian eschatology. It
means that after the death of Jesus, and because of it, His followers will
enter into union with Him as their living Lord, and through Him with the
Father, and so enter eternal life. That is what He meant when He said, 'I
will come again and receive you to myself, that where I am you too may
be' (cf. also xvii. 24). This is the true 'epiphany,' and it is essentially an
epiphany of the love of God, as the evangelist has set forth clearly and
emphatically in xiv. 21-4.6
It is no wonder that Robinson, in noting Dodd's earlier views on
Johannine eschatology, characterizes it as "quasi-Platonic mysticism."7
This line of thinking is predicated on Dodd's view that John, in
contrast to the synoptic writers, set forth a realized eschatology.8 "He
believed that Jesus' message was the proclamation of the inbreaking
of the eternal into the temporal world. . . . Jesus indeed used apoca-
lyptic language to describe this event, but it was only a symbolic way
of describing the otherness--the transcendental character of the king-
dom of God."9
Robinson suggests that earlier in his writing Dodd accounted for
this change from the futuristic view of the synoptists by viewing it as
a later corrective "when the primitive apocalyptic expectation reached
a point at which no literal fulfillment could be looked for. . . ."10 Later
4 C. H. Dodd, The Interpretation of the Fourth Gospel
6 Dodd, Interpretation, 405.
7 J. A. T. Robinson, The Priority of John (London: SCM, 1985) 339. See also,
9 Ladd, Theology, 300.
8 Dodd, Interpretation, 447.
9 Ladd, Theology, 299.
10 Robinson, Priority, 339.
82 CRISWELL THEOLOGICAL REVIEW
on he explained the difference on the basis of a separate oral tradition
which was uninfluenced by the Synoptic tradition.11
Bultmann, on the other hand, takes quite another approach. Like
Dodd he sees heavy gnostic influence in the Fourth Gospel. John,
however, uses these mythological ideas to his own ends which are
basically existential. Commenting on some of the dualistic motifs as
he sees them in the gospel he says,
They all derive their meaning from the search for human existence--for
"life" as "life eternal"--and denote the double possibility of human
existence: to exist either from God or from man himself. . . . Each man
is, or once was, confronted with deciding for or against God; and he is
confronted anew with this decision by the revelation of God in Jesus.
The cosmological dualism of Gnosticism has become in John a dualism
Regarding such Johannine titles for Jesus Christ as "savior of the
world," "Messiah," "Son of God," and "Son of Man" he states, "What
is expressed by all these titles is that Jesus is the eschatological salva-
tion bringer, that his coming is the eschatological event."13 His evalua-
tion of John's record about Peter (1:42), Nathaniel (1:47-48), and the
Samaritan woman is that ". . . to the evangelist these stories taken
from tradition are symbolic pictures which indicate that the believer
feels himself searched and known by God and that his own existence
is exposed by the encounters with the Revealer."14
A specific example of his existentialization of Johannine escha-
tology may be seen as he coalesces resurrection promises with parou-
sia promises, with promises of the coming of the Holy Spirit. He
states that " . . . for John, Easter, Pentecost, and the parousia are not
three separate events, but one and the same." He then concludes, "But
the one event that is meant by all these is not an external occurrence,
but an inner one: the victory which Jesus wins when faith arises in
man by the overcoming of the offense that Jesus is to him."15
It is not that Bultmann denies the presence in John of what he
would call a "popular" eschatological note. For him the most obvious
is in John 5:28-29 where a belief in a future bodily resurrection is
found. Since in his mind this is anomalous with the preceding material
11 Dodd, Interpretation, 444-53. cr. Robinson, Priority, 340.
12 R. Bultmann, Theology of the New Testament (2 vols;
Scribner's Sons, 1951-55) 2.20-21.
13 Bultmann, Theology, 37.
14 Ibid., 42.
15 Ibid., 57.
Cook: ESCHATOLOGY IN JOHN'S GOSPEL 83
of this section of chap five, he attributes it to a redactor. Commenting
on this passage he writes:
In any case vv. 28f. have been added by the editor, in an attempt to
reconcile the dangerous statements in vv. 24f. with traditional escha-
tology. Both the source and the Evangelist see this eschatological event
in the present proclamation of the word of Jesus. Yet the popular
eschatology, which is so radically swept aside by such a view, is rein-
stated again in vv. 28f. The editor corrects the Evangelist by this simple
addition, so that it is difficult to say how he thought the statements in
vv. 24f. could be reconciled with it.16
Subsequent writers have variously agreed with, disagreed with or
modified Dodd and Bultmann. Robinson, arguing for the priority of
John and consequently, for an earlier date than is usually allowed,17
holds that John represents an early source which reflects Jesus' view
of eschatology. We could refer to it as a thorough-going realized
eschatology. He believes, on the basis of John 17:24, that John (Jesus)
refers " . . . to the resurrection as inaugurating the parousia."18 Schnack-
enburg, on the other hand, while not dogmatic about it seems to favor
the idea that certain eschatological elements in John's Gospel are the
work of a redactor.19 "Does this mean that the redaction has intro-
duced an idea rejected by the evangelist? Did the evangelist deny the
common faith of the primitive Church in the end of events?" Having
raised these questions, he answers, "There are no compelling reasons
for this constantly reiterated idea. . . . "20 He challenges Bultmann's
existential approach as too radical, opts for a realized eschatology that
is compatible with "expectations for the future," and finally seems to
advocate that John” . . . is concerned more with the existential situa-
tion and the ultimate fate of the individual."21 In light of this analysis,
he concludes that "the idea of the parousia recedes; entry into the
heavenly world to see Jesus' glory (17:24) is more important and, to
some extent, takes over the function of completion which had pre-
viously been attributed to the parousia and the events of the end,"22
16 R. Bultmann, The Gospel of John (Westminster: Philadelphia, 1971) 261. See
also Bultmann, Theology, 39.
17 See his entire volume The Priority of John, and especially such statements as
found on pp. 33-35.
18 Robinson, Priority, 341, n. 139.
19 R. Schnackenburg, The Gospel According to St. John (3
Seabury, 1980-82) 2.114-16.
21 Ibid., 431, 432, 435.
22 Ibid., 435.
84 CRISWELL THEOLOGICAL REVIEW
R. Brown proposes as a "workable hypothesis" the idea that
"within Jesus' Own message there was a tension between realized and
final eschatology. In his ministry the reign of God was making itself
manifest among men; and yet, as heir of an apocalyptic tradition,
Jesus also spoke of a final manifestation of divine power yet to
come."23 He later affirms that "apocalyptic eschatology" was indeed a
theme " . . . found in Jesus' own preaching," although he is also sure
that the two eschatological themes were not in the original edition of
the Gospel.24 He offers two cautions regarding such a redaction. First,
we must not view the redactor as a censor " . . . but rather one who
preserved J ohannine material. . . ." Second, we should not view the
redaction as " . . . an attempt to make the Gospel more orthodox and
acceptable to the Church." He was rather concerned". . . to preserve
Johannine material that would have otherwise been lost" and to assure
that the realized eschatology of the Gospel not " . . . crowd out the
expectation of the second coming. . . ."25
L. Goppelt, a significant critic of Bultmann, was himself difficult
to categorize in terms of his position on NT theology. While acknowl-
edging that his position was " . . . by and large an independent one,"
J. Alsup associated him most closely with the "salvation-history school
of thought."26 Goppelt seems to have stated his own view in general
terms, at least, when he wrote, "In the opinion of this writer, however,
the New Testament did not understand salvation history as a plan of
universal history in the sense of Irenaeus, but only as the interrelation
of promise and fulfilhnent."27
Goppelt addresses the problem of Johannine eschatology by using
John 5:20b-30 as a paradigm. As have so many others, he initially
notes the apparent tension between " . . . statements that speak of the
full realization of salvation in the present for believers (vv. 20-27)
right alongside others that. . . . combine the realization of salvation
with the parousia (vv. 28f.)."28 He then proceeds to address this
tension with a series of five observations with a view to clarification.29
1) One way to account for the tension is to opt for Bultmann's
proposal that a redactor inserted items about primitive Christian
23 R. E. Brown, The Gospel According to John (2 yoIs; Garden City, N.Y.:
Doubleday, 1966) I.CXIX.
24 Brown, John I, CXXl.
26 L. Goppelt, Theology of the New Testament (2 vols;
1981-82) l.xv and 2.xiii.
27 Goppelt, Theology, 1.280.
28 Ibid., 2.303.
29 Ibid., 2.303-305.
Cook: ESCHATOLOGY IN JOHN'S GOSPEL 85
eschatology in order to make the Gospel acceptable to the church.
2) On the basis of stylistic and terminological analysis as well as on
the basis of content he rejects Bultmann's hypothesis. 3) He then
denies that John 5:28-29 set forth popular primitive Christian escha-
tology. It is his contention that "these verses did not speak about a
general resurrection to judgment, but about a differentiated resurrec-
tion!"30 This represents apostolic, not popular eschatology. 4) This
differentiation between a resurrection to life or to judgment is based
upon the presupposition of a prior decision of belief or unbelief in
Jesus Christ during this life. (The text, rather than speaking of faith or
unbelief, speaks of doing good or evil. This should be understood as
apocalyptic language for doing truth or error [3:20f.]. Doing truth is
equated in 6:29 with faith in Jesus Christ.) "Thus 5:29 said: The kind
of future, concrete resurrection for the individual, depended on faith
or disbelief in Jesus."31 The issue that remains is the harmonization of
5:24-27 and 5:28-29. Is there any place (need) for an eschatology of
the future (bodily resurrection) when the eschatology of the present is
so complete and final (present possession of eternal life and no pros-
pect of judgment for the believing)? Goppelt's answer is in the affirma-
tive since "according to vv. 28f. the decision had already been made
so that from the very beginning the resurrection had a different-
character; through it would only be carried out what had previously
been given." "Thus vv. 28f. announced an hour in which Jesus' word
would bring about concretely and ultimately that which it accom-
plished now for faith in secret, namely, life or judgment."32
In light of this review of critical theories regarding the Johannine
eschatology, what then may we conclude? First of all, from John
5:24-29 alone (and there is much more evidence than this throughout
the Gospel) it is inescapable that there are two dimensions to John's
eschatology. Beginning with Dodd, they have often been labeled
"realized" and "futuristic."33 Cautions have been raised regarding the
use of "realized," however, which are most valid. S. Smalley suggests
that "because of its ambiguity, the term 'realized'--although con-
venient--is probably best avoided, except when it is intended to
signify the rigorous view that there is no future tense to salvation."34
A. Hoekema thoughtfully notes:
30 Ibid., 2.304.
32 Ibid., 2.304-5.
33 See e.g., Ladd, Theology, 306.
34 S. S. Smalley, John: Evangelist and Interpreter (Nashville: Nelson, 1978)
n. 313, 236.
86 CRISWELL THEOLOGICAL REVIEW
Since. . . there remain many eschatological events that have not yet been
realized, and since the New Testament clearly speaks of a future as well
as a present eschatology, I prefer to speak of "inaugurated" rather than
"realized" eschatology. The advantage of this term is that it does full
justice to the fact that the great eschatological incision into history has
already been made, while it does not take out a further development of
eschatology in the future. "Inaugurated eschatology" implies that escha-
tology has indeed begun, but is by no means finished.35
Others prefer to refer to the tension between the "already ful-
filled" and the "not yet completed"36 or to the overlapping of this age
with the age to come.37
Secondly, I would agree with Ladd that there is no conflict
between these two dimensions, even though a genuine tension may
exist.38 As was noted in earlier discussion, Goppelt has provided a
most plausible resolution of any apparent contradiction. Or, as Ladd
states, "This recognition of judgment as a present spiritual reality by
no means permits us to evacuate the eschatological judgment of its
content."39 It would appear, from our consideration of this text in
John 5 and from the study of other texts, to be noted later that the
dimensions of time and eternity parallel one another, with the two
spheres of reality periodically intersecting, or at least becoming tan-
gent to each other. Some eschatological matters are both now and
then with emphasis upon the 'now' in biblical revelation (e.g., eternal
life; death). Others seem to impinge on both now and then with
emphasis upon "then" (e.g., Christ's return; resurrection). Yet others
seem to be quite equally related to both "now" and "then" (e.g.,
This last suggestion touches upon another aspect of Johannine
style that must be understood if we are to understand adequately his
eschatology. Ladd refers to it as "eschatological structure."40 He sees
in John a twofold division, one vertical (above and below) and the
other horizontal (present and future).41 While in some cases John
views these as one or the other, they are often presented as inter-
penetrating one another. For example, heaven is often seen as bearing
35 A. A. Hoekema, The Bible and the Future (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans: 1979)
17-18. See also J. A. T. Robinson, Jesus and His Coming (New York: Abingdon, 1957)
170; n. 2, 178 and Priority, 340.
36 O. CulImann, Salvation in History (New York: Harper and Row, 1967) 172;
37 Ladd, Theology, 308.
38 Ibid., 306.
39 Ibid., 307.
40 Ibid., 302.
41 For extended discussion, see Ibid., 229-36. See also D. Guthrie, New Testament
Theology (Downer's Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 1981) 799.
Cook: ESCHATOLOGY IN JOHN'S GOSPEL 87
on the here and now, not simply on the there and then (e.g., 1:51;
3:27). Likewise, eternal life is rightly viewed as "life of the age to
come" 42 while being something to be experienced here and now
(5:24). This eternal life is based upon a birth "from above"43 which
one to "see the
III. A Consideration of the Textual Data
It is with the persuasion that the Gospel of John was written by
one hand, the apostle John, with a cohesive view of eschatology that
we now come to a consideration of the textual data. The Gospel deals
with at least six eschatological themes (death, heaven, judgment,
resurrection, eternal life, and Christ's return; other possible eschato-
logical themes with which he deals, but which will not be discussed
below, are Messiah [Christ], Kingdom, and salvation). These six
themes are found in 16 of the 21 chapters (1, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11,
12, 13, 14, 16, 17, 21) with the emphasis falling in chaps 3, 5, 6, 8, 11
and 12. In addition, there are perhaps eight other important texts not
found in the six key chapters. Recognizing that some texts may be
interpreted somewhat differently by different theologians, my analysis
turned up 34 references to death, 26 to heaven, 21 to judgment, 18 to
eternal life and four to Christ's return. The following discussion will
deal with the six key chapters and the eight significant texts as they
pertain to the six selected themes.
One more observation of significance needs to be made before an
analysis of the text is undertaken. For all practical purposes the
eschatological instruction found in John's Gospel comes from Jesus'
lips. The only exceptions to this are one occasion when instruction
from John the Baptist is recorded in 3:27-36, a brief response of Peter
to our Lord's instruction in 6:36, Martha's comment about resurrection
in the last day in 11:24, and John's own editorial comments in 12:1, 9,
17 and 21:23.
Death is presented by John as being related to the present and/or
the future and as being physical. or spiritual. Spiritual death is the'
present condition of those who fail to heed the word of the Son of
God and who do not believe the Father's witness regarding His Son
42 C. K. Barrett, The Gospel According to
See also L. Morris, The Gospel According
to John (
43 W. Robert Cook, Theology of John (
Morris, John, 212-13.
88 CRISWELL THEOLOCICAL REVIEW
(5:24). On the other hand, the one who keeps the Son's word will
never experience spiritual death (8:51). Despite the seeming finality
physical death, already during Jesus' earthly ministry the dead heard
his voice and came to life (5:25). Perhaps the most dramatic instance
of this is found in John 11. The death of Lazarus is described by
Christ as sleep (11:11, 13-14), while his awakening from this sleep of
death is called a resurrection from "the dead" (which apparently is an
identifiable group) (12:1, 9, 17). The picture seems to be that the dead
are those who may be awakened whenever Christ chooses to do so
(11:11), and when so awakened they are restored to life (11:44). Thus,
in a yet future day the dead ("all who are in the tombs") will respond
to his voice (5:28-29).
Physical and spiritual death should never be confused, nor should
physical and spiritual (eternal) life (6:49-50, 58). Eating the bread
from heaven (Jesus Christ) will keep one from spiritual death and, in
turn, provide eternal life (6:58). Apart from believing in Jesus as the
saving Son of God, people will die (experience physical death at the
end of this life) in their sins (in a state of spiritual death) (3:21, 24). On
the other hand, to believe in Christ is to live spiritually even though
one dies physically, and to live and believe in him is to enter a
situation where one will never die spiritually (11:25-26).
Most of John's record of truth about eternal life relates it to the
present. It is viewed as involving an immediately realizable promise
and as being antithetical to perishing (3:16). The one who receives
eternal life is described as one who is saved or delivered from judg-
ment (3:17-19; 5:24) since Jesus assures that person that they will
never perish and that no one can remove them from his care (10:28).
This long-range care and protection, which is available as a gift from
Jesus Christ (10:28), comes in the form of nourishment which lasts,
rather than that which spoils like bread (6:27). Eternal life is received
by believing in God's unique Son (3:15-16; 6:47; 20:31). The believing
by which it is appropriated has disobedience to the Son as its antithe-
sis, that is, eternal life is received by obedience to the Son, namely the
obedience of faith (3:36). Jesus elaborates upon this concept in 5:24
where he declares that the receiving of eternal life relates to the
hearing of his word. As Barrett notes, "a]kou<ein is used, as fmw is often
used in the Old Testament, with the meaning ‘to hear and do,’ ‘to be
obedient.’”44, 45 But not only must one obey the Son's word, they must
44 Barrett, John, 261.
45 Note also the etymological relationship between a]lpi>w, hear, and u[pakou<w.
Cook: ESCHATOLOGY IN JOHN'S GOSPEL 89
also believe the Father's witness about the Son in the Scriptures, for
therein is the Son found (5:39-40). Because of this Jesus can sub-
sequently state that eternal life is found in the Father's commandment
This line of reasoning naturally leads to the question as to what
the connection is between eternal life and Father/Son. Jesus antici-
pates this question on two separate occasions. The Father "has life in
himself," and is, he is uncaused and independent, and since the Son is
of the same essence as the Father (fully and truly God) he partakes of
the same quality (5:26). Further, as the Son partakes of the Father's
life, so we, as we appropriate him, partake of his life (6:57).
There is also a "not yet" or future dimension to John's presenta-
tion of eternal life laid alongside the "already" dimension. In 6:40,
53-54 Jesus makes a connection between eternal life (spiritual) and
resurrection life (physical). He makes a most heartening and, by its
nature, absolute promise to the believer by declaring, on the one
hand, that it is God's will that everyone who believes in the Son have
eternal life, and, on the other hand, that he (the Son) will bodily raise
such a one in the last day. If anyone eats the living bread, which is
Jesus, now he will live from now on (6:51, 58).
In the paragraph John 5:19-29 we find three of our Lord's "truly,
truly" statements. In the first (19-23) and third (25-29) significant
resurrection truth is given. Initially, Jesus claims for himself power
and authority in the areas of resurrection and life-giving that is parallel
to that of the Father (21). While the second half of the statement
repeats only the lifegiving part of the first, omitting the resurrection, it
should be viewed as elliptical. This is demonstrated by the unmistak-
able attributing of resurrection to the Son of Man in vv 28-29. It is
further supported by the fact that life would not be given to those not
raised. This is a remarkable and noteworthy claim.
It is in the third "truly, truly" statement, however, that the more
extended statements are found. Herein he makes two distinct yet
complementary assertions about resurrection. The first relates to the
"already" and anticipates the "not yet," while the second forecasts the
"not yet" with more specificity.
Currently, during Jesus' earthly ministry ("now"), the dead heard
the voice of the Son of God and those who heard lived (25). The
traditional wisdom on this statement is that this is an extension of the
statement of v 24 about passing out of death into spirituallife.46 This
46 Out of over 25 commentators on this verse consulted, all but two, including this
writer himself, have stated in print that this is a reference to spiritual death and spiritual
90 CRISWELL THEOLOGICAL REVIEW
interpretation is based upon 1) the fact that "life" and "death" in v 24
are spiritual quantities and the assumption that v 25 merely extends
this truth in spiritual resurrection language; and, 2) the presence of
"and now is" in v 25 in contrast to its absence in v 28. It is generally
assumed that since physical resurrection is not going on "now" it is
patently obvious that it must be spiritual life/death in view.
Only two commentators were found who even acknowledge the
possibility of an alternate explanation of the passage and neither of
them made an attempt to defend or champion it.47 This alternative
interpretation, which I would propose for serious consideration, is
that as with vv 28 and 29 so here physical resurrection is in view. This
proposal is supported by two lines of argument which, if sustaining,
lead to a third. 1) The use of "truly, truly" in both vv 24 and 25 argues
for some shift in subject matter. L. Morris acknowledges that these
words seem "to indicate a new start,"48 although he does not follow
through on this line of thought. If the "truly, truly" of v 19 introduces
a set of eschatological subjects (resurrection, life-giving, judgment--
vv 19-23), and if the "truly, truly" of v 24 relates these items to the
spiritual realm ("eternal life"), then the "truly, truly" of v 25 may be
understood as introducing several verses which relate the same themes
to the physical realm. 2) It seems to be begging the question to
automatically relate "and now is" to the spiritual realm. If "an hour is
coming" may refer to Jesus' earthly ministry (cf. 4:23), so "now" may,
as well. In light of the context, it does not at all seem to be stretching
the text to see this as a reference to his miraculous ministry of raising
the dead (Lazarus, 1:1-12:1; Jairus' daughter, Mark 5:22-23, 35-43;
Luke 8:40-42, 49-50; widow-of-Nain's son, Luke 7:11-17).49 This inter-
pretation is further sustained when the contrast between "the dead"
life (see e.g., H. Alford, The Greek Testament (London: Rivingtons, 1874) 1.748;
Barrett, St. John, 262; Brown, John, 1.215; F. F. Bruce, The Gospel of John (Grand
Rapids: Eerdmans, 1983) 131; Cook, John, 219; Dodd, Fourth Gospel, 364; W. Hen-
dricksen, Exposition of the Gospel According to John (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1953) 199;
Hoekema, Future, 240; Ladd, Theology, 305; Morris, John, 318). Bultmann, John, 259
existential experience and life as existential authenticity.
47 M. C. Tenney, "The Gospel of John," The Expositor's Bible Commentary
(Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1981) ix, 65 and B. F. Westcott, The Gospel According to
48 Ibid., 317.
49 Some have claimed that these were not dead and that these actions could not
have been resurrections. The texts themselves lay such contentions to rest. The state-
ments about "sleep" and death made by Jesus about Jairus' daughter are clarified in his
explanations to the disciples concerning Lazarus, together with John's editorial com-
ment, in 11:11-15.
Cook: ESCHATOLOGY IN JOHN'S GOSPEL 91
who hear Jesus' quickening voice (25) and "all" the dead who hear his
voice (28) is noted. During his earthly ministry only some of the dead
heard; in the eschaton "all" will hear. 3) If these arguments have
credibility, then a third may be offered. This interpretation yields a
tighter line of reasoning as John develops his case. Not only was there
an inauguration of the life and judgment of the age to come during
our Lord's earthly life (24), there was also an inauguration of the
resurrection that relates to the age to come (25). Thus, we see in a
relatively small way during his earthly ministry a foreshadowing of
the power of the kingdom yet to come.
The idea introduced in v 25 is continued in vv 28-29 and here it
clearly relates to the "not yet." The dead will rise from the tombs at
Jesus' call. Some will rise to life and others to condemnation, which
resurrections are related to "good" or "evil" deeds, respectively. This
passage raises two theological problems which call for our attention.
First, in the majority of cases it is assumed by the commentators that
this is a reference to a general end-time resurrection.50 Since I have
addressed this issue elsewhere,51 I will merely summarize the support
for it here together with reasons for its limitations as a preferred
interpretation. As a general principle it may be noted that much of the
argumentation for a general resurrection is based upon 1) the claim
that John 5:28-29 makes no temporal distinction between the two
resurrections noted and 2) a rejection of premillennial interpretation
of Rev 20:1-6. Since the idea of a "differentiated resurrection"52 in
5:28-29 is played down or overlooked in amillennial and postmillen-
nial thought, the parallel between this passage and Paul's series of
resurrection distinctions (orders) in 1 Cor 15:20-24 is usually not ac-
knowledged. There, as Goppelt points out, "Paul differentiated. . . a
first from a second resurrection."53 The same differentiation is called
for in Rev 20:4-6 but the most obvious sense of the passage is not
accepted by these writers. They argue variously, but basically their
contention is that the 1000 years which separates the resurrections is to
be viewed figuratively and that the first resurrection is spiritual.
It is our contention that the most natural way to take all of the
pertinent texts leads to the conclusion that the resurrection of life and
50 To their credit, Hoekema, Future, 239ff. and Hendricksen, John, 199ff., offer
extended discussion of their belief in one final general resurrection as an attempted
rebuttal of premillennial teaching that the end-time resurrections are separated in time
as well as participants.
51 Cook, The Theology of John, 219-20, 228-29; Cook, Systematic Theology, 760-
52 Goppelt, Theology, 2.304.
92 CRISWELL THEOLOGICAL REVIEW
the resurrection of judgment are not only related to two distinct
groups of people (believers and unbelievers), but at two distinct times
(before and after the millennial reign of Jesus Christ).
The second theological problem is expressed well by Goppelt
when he writes, "Surprisingly enough, of course, John 5:29 made the
resurrection of life dependent not upon faith but upon doing good."54
Is this the introduction of a works-salvation in contradiction to other
NT teaching? The answer is an emphatic no. "The discriminating
factor [rather than the determinative factor in this resurrection] will
be good deeds as over against worthless . . . deeds (cf. Dan 12:2; Acts
24:15), which factor John indicates elsewhere as an external indicator
of a man's either having been declared righteous by God or being of
the devil (1 John 3:7-8)."55 Goppelt argues convincingly that the doing
of good or evil may be translated into "faith or disbelief." He further
notes that this differentiation "presupposed that the decision [of belief
or unbelief ] had already been made prior to the resurrection and
would not first come in the judgment of the world. At that point, what
now was already reality for faith would only become apparent."56
While the passage in John five juxtaposes both "already" and "not
yet" aspects of resurrection, the remaining two passages deal with
these aspects separately. In 6:39-40, 44 and 54 future resurrection is in
view. Jesus speaks four times of resurrection "at the last day" (NIV).57
Bultmann has attempted to account for this clear indication of belief
in a future eschatology by making such phrases to be the result of
ecclesiastical redaction. Barrett is certainly correct, however, when he
states that " . . . there is no ground for thinking of them as anything
other than a genuine part of John's thought and they must be inter-
preted as such."58 This future resurrection is said to be God's will
(6:39-40); it involves the saints viewed both collectively (39) and
individually (40); and it will include those whom the Father has given
to and drawn to the Son who consequently have eternal life. "The end
of the work of God, as regards man, is the glorification of his restored
and sanctified nature--body, soul, and spirit--in eternity. Without
this, salvation and restitution would be incomplete. The adoption
cannot be consummated without the redemption of the body."59
55 Cook, John, 219-20.
56 Goppelt, Ibid.
57 The translation of Ev as "at" by the NIV rather than "on" as by the NASB is
more felicitous. It is an era (the eschaton) in God's purposes rather than a calendar day
that is in view. Compare the use of "hour" in 5:25 and 28.
59 Alford, Greek Testament 1.763.
Cook: ESCHATOLOGY IN JOHN'S GOSPEL 93
The last resurrection passage (11:23-26,43-44; 12:1) relates to the
"already" since it was a part of our Lord's miraculous earthly ministry.
While Martha confessed belief in the end time resurrection (11:24)
Jesus assures her that Lazarus will rise from the dead (11:23) and then
proceeds to raise him that very day (11:43-44). Before he does so,
however, he extends to her and to all who believe in him a remarkable
promise. The promise is not, however, merely resurrection and life.
He declares that he is' resurrection and life. Thus, faith in him, that is,
receiving him, is to receive the one who is resurrection and life.
Therefore, the one who believes in him will have a life that carries
him beyond death. It is the life of the age to come that he will receive
now and have forever. Further, he will never die with regard to the
age to come (11:25-26).
Information on heaven as found in John's Gospel is contained in
two kinds of passages. There are those in which the term "heaven" or
some cognate thereof are used, and those which use alternate terms
such as "above," "my Father's house," "a place for you," and so forth.
A survey of the several passages gives unmistakable evidence that
Jesus, from whom most of the information comes, John the Baptist,
and John the apostle believed that heaven was a real place in an
unidentified, but definite location which has immediate bearing upon
and provides future hope for the believer's life.
There is a distinct and no less real category of reality and truth
associated with heaven in contrast to the realities and truths of earth
(3:12). Advantage and success in this life ultimately comes from
heaven, which is to say that it comes from God (3:27). Christ, who is
from heaven, for this reason transcends all others (3:31). Jesus' Father
is the provider of genuine nourishment from heaven (6:31-32), which
bread from heaven provides eternal life (6:33) and is equated by Jesus
with himself (6:38). When eaten, this bread precludes death, has a
living quality of its own, and came down out of heaven to bring the
life of the age to come into the present (6:50-51, 58). This picture of
heavenly bread being made available in an earthly setting is most
instructive. "When John 6:48, which refers to the 'bread of life,' and
6:51, which refers to the 'living bread,' are compared, the truth of the
passage is illuminated. The first phrase refers to that which the bread
does; that is, it supplies life to the eater. The second phrase gives an
active quality of the bread itself; it is self-perpetuating. Thus, the
whole picture is of a source of life that is never used up."60
60 Cook, John, 114.
94 CRISWELL THEOLOGICAL REVIEW
The preceding passages, in which the term "heaven" occurs, all
seem to focus on bringing heaven to bear upon present earthly life.
The remaining passages move the focus to the future. First of all,
heaven is described as that which is "above" rather than "below," and
that which is contrasted with "this world" as being "not of this world"
(8:23).61 Being born "from above"62 is essential to seeing the Kingdom
of God (3:3, 7), while those who are lost in sin cannot come to this
place which is "above" (8:21-23). Even the believing cannot go to this
place until the divine timetable calls for it (13:33, 36).
In 8:27 (cf. v 23) John draws a connection between heaven
"above" and the Father. Then, in chaps 14 and 16, he develops this
idea more fully. Going to heaven is described as going "to the Father"
(14:12, 28; 16:7, 10, 17, 28), and heaven itself is called both "my
Father's house" and "a place for you" (14:2-3). The only other occur-
rence of "my Father's house" in John's Gospel is in 2:16 when Jesus is
referring to the temple. There may well be an intended connection
between the two phrases by way of contrast. The earthly temple did
not have "many" rooms, but few, and there was not place for all of
the Father's children, but only for the high priest. This imagery is
carried into the book of Hebrews (e.g., 9:24-25) and, more signifi-
cantly, into Revelation in the description of the New Jerusalem
(21:3, 7, 22).
The Father's house is said to contain many "rooms" or permanent
residences which he went to prepare for the rest of the Father's
children (14:2). Some, appealing to the usage of µova in certain
passages of classical literature, have seen this term as setting forth "the
contrasted notion of repose and progress"63 which others have firmly
and effectively rejected.64
The word mo<nai (dwelling places)65 puts emphasis upon the permanence
of these dwellings, while the plural number shows that individual provi-
sion will be made for all the Father's children. It must not be over-
looked, however, that they are all together in one place. Thus the picture
is of each child having a suite of rooms in the Father's house. All will be
with the Father, enjoying His hospitality and sharing His love.66
Jesus promised that upon going to the Father he would send the
Spirit to meet the believers' intermediate needs (16:7, 13) until they
61 In John 3:31 John the Baptist equates "above" with "heaven."
62 For a discussion of the meaning of a@nwqen see Morris, John, 213 and Cook,
65 mo<nai is cognate to me<nw, abide or dwell.
66 Cook, John 229-30.
Cook: ESCHATOLOGY IN JOHN'S GOSPEL 95
themselves would go to the Father and thus be with Christ and
behold his glory (17:24). In going to the Father, Jesus would leave the
world (16:28) and thus be beyond further tangible human contact
(16:10) but not beyond effective human communication in prayer
As John reports on the subject of judgment, there are several
introductory observations to note. 1) While he sometimes relates it to
the "already" alone (3:36; 9:39; 17:12), and other times to the "not yet"
only (5:29; 10:28), most of his information shows an interrelation
between the present and future aspects of judgment (3:16-19; 5:22-
24, 27; 5:30; 8:15-16; 12:31; 12:47-48). In his reporting he uses two
basic sets of terms: a) kri<nw and cognates based on a root meaning
separation, usually translated as judge or judgment, and in many cases
meaning condemn or condemnation; b) a]po<llumi and cognates which
basically means perish and is rightly understood as being the opposite
of being saved or receiving eternal life.57 3) The information on
judgment seems to fall into three groupings: that which highlights the
Judge, that which highlights the judged, and that which highlights the
standard of judgment. The following discussion will follow these
latter three categories.
First of all, concerning the Judge, Jesus teaches that by his first
coming men and women are divided or separated. In recognizing this
principle we discover that all judgment is not negative. It is with
a view to sight for some and blindness for others (9:39). His presence
brings judgment in this sense. While he did not come to judge but
to save, his coming brought judgment (3:17-18; 12:47). As Barrett
In different passages in John it is said that Jesus acts as judge (5:22, 27;
8.16, 26), and that he does not judge (3.17; 8.15). It is hardly credible that
John should have been unaware of this apparent contradiction, or that it
should have been undesigned. It appears in Paul (cf. e.g., Rom. 8:33ff.
with 2 Cor. 5.10). The meaning in both Paul and John is that justification
and condemnation are opposite sides of the same process; to refuse the
justifying love of God in Christ is to incur judgment.68
He further teaches concerning himself as Judge that the Father
gave him authority to exercise judgment (both present and future)
67 Although there are still those who will argue that "perish" means extinction, it is
quite widely acknowledged that it refers to an eternal condition of punishment and
separation from God (see e.g., A. Oepke, "a]po<llumi, a]pw<leia," TDNT I (1964) 396-97).
96 CRISWELL THEOLOGICAL REVIEW
because he is Son of Man (5:27), that is because, as described in Dan
7:13-14, he is qualified. His judgment is just because he seeks the
Father's rather than his own will (5:30). As he points out, in contrast to
those who judge by human standards he judges no one this way.
When he does judge (whether now or in the future) his judgment is
true69 because it involves both himself and the Father, the setter of
universal standards of truth.
Secondly, John presents judgment as it relates to the judged.
From a positive standpoint Jesus promises that his sheep will never
perish (10:28), a very emphatic statement which allows for no excep-
tions.70 This promise of deliverance from perdition is reinforced by
his keeping of his disciples during his earthly ministry (17:12). The
way this promise of deliverance from judgment/perishing may be
avoided is by believing in God's only Son (3:16; 5:24).
On the negative side, Jesus' death was a judgment on the world
and its ruler (Satan) (12:31-33). This is true because rejection of the
Son brings immediate and lasting judgment. Although perishing is an
eschatological concept, it is viewed here (3:16) as that which one
begins to experience by not believing. This is spelled out in very
specific language in 3:18 where we are told that the one who does not
believe . . stands condemned already."71 The coming of the Son into
the world was like the coming of light into darkness, however, because
their deeds are evil, this coming became a judgment (3:19). Not to
believe in the one who came to die and provide eternal life is to
continue under God's wrath, for his wrath remains on the one who
does not obey (believe in) his Son (3:36). Then, finally, there will be a
condemnation resurrection (5:29), that is, one that will inaugurate
ete.rnal punishment in the lake of fire (Rev 20:12-15).
Finally, he has something to say about the standard of judgment.
What will be the basis for determining whether one is condemned or
acquitted at the last day? lt will be the message72 which Jesus spoke
(12:47-48). Since v 47 states that Jesus will not judge the one who
69 It is difficult to detennine whether "true" should be understood here as accurate
(more the sense of a]lhqh<j than a]lhqino<j) or authentic.
70 Cook, John, 96. See also Morris, John, 521, n. 72.
71 The perfect tense of the verb describes a past action, the issue of which
72 There seems to be a designed contrast between his words or sayings (r[hma<twn,
12:47) and his word of message (lo<goj, 12:48). The former, when not kept, were not an
occasion for judgment, while the latter will judge those who reject him. The larger
collective truth, conveyed part by part in the individual sayings, is that for which
mankind is accountable. “The 'sayings' are all bound up in one great message (lo<goj),
and felt in its entirety” (Westcott,
Cook: ESCHATOLOGY IN JOHN'S GOSPEL 97
does not keep his words, there seems to be a conflict with v 48, but a
more careful observation of the text will resolve this apparent tension.
There is a progression from "sayings" to "message" (see n. 72) and
from "hearing and not keeping" to "rejecting." When the one becomes
the other, judgment ensues. Not keeping his words will not bring his
judgment now, but it will assure judgment in the last day. Jesus'
message will be either an instrument of deliverance or condemnation.
Of the several references in John's Gospel to the "coming" of
Jesus there is a good possibility that it is used in more than one sense.
It is generally conceded that 14:2-3 and 21:22-23 refer to the parousia,
although sometimes it is maintained that more than this is in view.73
On the other hand, 14:28 and 16:16-22 may well refer to his return to
the disciples from death by way of resurrection. Barrett speaks of
"studied ambiguity" and states,
For example, the sayings about coming and going can be interpreted
throughout of the departure and return of Jesus in his death and resur-
rection; but they can equally well be interpreted of his departure to the
Father at the ascension and of his return at the parousia. By this ambi-
guity John means to convey that the death and resurrection were them-
selves eschatological events which both prefigured and anticipated the
Guthrie reaches a similar but more guarded conclusion. He suggests
that "all Jesus' sayings in John about his parousia are capable of
another interpretation, but there seem to be insufficient grounds for
excluding the possibility that a future coming of an apocalyptic type
Granting that the 14:25 and 16:16-22 passages are ambiguous, it is
nonetheless our contention that 14:2-3 and 21:22-23 are altogether
singular in intended meaning. In 14:2-3 Jesus speaks of returning to
his Father's house (heaven, cf. Ps 33:13-14, which is the New Jeru-
quently, at an undisclosed time he will return to take believers to
himself in order that they may be where he is. There are several
striking features about these passages, some of which argue strongly
for this to be a reference to the parousia as over against some other
75 Guthrie, Theology, 8O1.
76 See earlier discussion on pp. 24-25 and Cook, John, 239-41.
98 CRISWELL THEOLOGICAL REVIEW
coming. First of all, he uses the present tense, "I am coming." "Where.
a future verb form is expected he uses a present tense to indicate the
certainty of his return, and by adding 'again' he suggests another time
(not 'times') than the first."77
Westcott is most certainly wrong in seeing the present tense as
signifying continual comings (B. F. Westcott, The Gospel According to
As Blass and Debrunner note, "In confident assertions regarding the
future, a vivid realistic present may be used for the future" (F. Blass and
A. Debrunner, A Greek Grammar of the New Testament and Other
Early Christian Literature, p. 168). Similarly, N. Turner writes, "Con-
cerning the Futuristic use of the Present, Moulton suggested that these
presents differed from the future tense 'mainly in the tone of assurance
which is imparted'; they are confident assertions intended to arrest atten-
tion with a vivid and realistic tone or else with imminent fulfillment in
mind. . . . It is oracular sometimes in class[ical] Greek (e.g., Hdt 8, 140)
and so it is not surprising that it is used so much in the NT of the Coming
One, with the verb e@rxomai" (J. H. Moulton, A Grammar of New
Testament Greek, 3:63).78
Secondly, upon his return he speaks of taking the believer "where"
The use of o!pou (where) shows that this is not a reference to such a
coming as Pentecost. Other commentators associate this passage with the
idea of Christ's coming for His own when we die, but then we go to
Him. In John 14:23 Jesus uses the same verb [e@rxomai] in the future tense
to refer to a time when believers will be indwelt by Father and Son and
also uses mo<nh (abode) for the only other time in the New Testament. A
comparison of the two passages shows that 14:23 refers to the Godhead
coming to the believer, whereas 14:3 speaks of Christ coming for him.
John 14:23 is fulfilled in this age and John 14:3 in the age to come.79
Thirdly, the use of the second person plural pronouns must be
noted. Referring to D. E. Aune's The Cultic Setting of Realized
Eschatology in Early Christianity (Leiden: Brill, 1972), po 129, Guthrie
notes that he "reckons that if the second person plural pronouns are
taken seriously, In. 14:3 must refer to a future and final coming of
Jesus and cannot refer to what he calls 'an individualized Parousia."'80
77 Cook, John, 230.
78 Ibid., n. 32.
79 Ibid., n. 33.
80 Guthrie, Theology, 80l, n. 41.
Cook: ESCHATOLOGY IN JOHN'S GOSPEL 99
When allowed to speak for itself, the text of John's Gospel has a
significant eschatological message for the church. There is no question
that it is multi-dimensional in that it speaks to both the "already" and
the "not yet" of Christian revelation. It also includes reference to both
I the above and the below, the heavenly and the earthly. Further, John
points out the implications of eschatological truth for both the believ-
ing and the unbelieving. One may reject the implications of eschato-
logical truth, but that person may not escape its ultimate realities.
Eschatological truth in John is basically Christological. For the
most part it issues from Jesus' teaching and, to a large degree, focuses
upon him. Whether the subject be death, heaven, judgment, eternal
life, resurrection, or Christ's return, he is directly involved.
Finally, eschatological truth in the Gospel of John is preeminently
practical. It is immediate and fundamental, bearing on everyday life.
The possession of eternal life transforms this life and the life to come
from mere existence to ultimate meaning and significance (12:25). The
haunting and destructive fear of both physical and spiritual death are
remedied in Jesus Christ (5:24; 11:25-26). Death will not have the final
say because he will raise each one who believes in him (6:39-40, 44).
Hope, which provides life with perspective and focus, is ours in the
anticipation of being with him and beholding his glory in heaven
(14:3; 17:24). God's wrath (judgment) is the assured but not necessary
anticipation of all who reject Christ (3:36). His return offers relief to
the troubled and faint of heart (14:1-3).
As John records elsewhere in response to our Lord's promise, “I
am coming soon," so we repeat with the church through the ages,
"Come, Lord, Jesus" (Rev 22:20).
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