Criswell Theological Review 3.1 (1988) 79-99.

            Copyright © 1988 by The Criswell College. Cited with permission.    








                                      W. ROBERT COOK

                                        Western Seminary

                                       Portland, OR 97215




                                           I. Introduction


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

revelation relating to both individual destiny and the future of Israel

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 (Portland: Western

Baptist, 1981) 719.



            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

the apocalyptic emphasis on the kingdom of God in the synoptics and

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 (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans,

1974) 298.

               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 (London/New York:

Cambridge University, 1953) 447.

            5 Ibid.

            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.



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

            of decision.12


            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; New York: Charles

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 vols; New York:

Seabury, 1980-82) 2.114-16.

            20 Schnackenburg, St. John, 116.

            21 Ibid., 431, 432, 435.

            22 Ibid., 435.



            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.

            25 Ibid.

            26 L. Goppelt, Theology of the New Testament (2 vols; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans,

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.

            31 Ibid.

            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.




            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

enables one to "see the Kingdom of God" already in this life (3:3).


                        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 St. John (2nd ed.; London: SPCK, 1978)

214-15. See also L. Morris, The Gospel According to John (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans,

1971) 227.

            43 W. Robert Cook, Theology of John (Chicago: Moody, 179) 85-86. See also

Morris, John, 212-13.



(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).


Eternal Life

            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




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

and Schnackenburg, St. John, 2.109, 3.428 understand death as a lack of authentic

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

St. John (London: John Murray, 1876) 87.

            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.

            53 Ibid.




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


            54 Ibid.

            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.

            58 Barrett, St. John, 294.

            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.




            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,

John, 85-86.

            63 Westcott, St. John, 200.

            64 Barrett, St. John, 456-57; Morris, John, 638-39.

            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).

            68 Barrett, St. John, 434.



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

remains true.

            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),

delivered and felt in its entirety” (Westcott, St. John, 187).

            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.


Christ's return         

            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

            final events.74


            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

is intended."75

            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-

salem)76 where he will prepare dwelling places for his own. Subse-

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


            73 Barrett, St. John, 457; Westcott, St. John, 201.

            74 Barrett, St. John, 491.

            75 Guthrie, Theology, 8O1.

            76 See earlier discussion on pp. 24-25 and Cook, John, 239-41.



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

            St. John: The Authorized Version with Introduction and Notes, p. 201).

            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"

he is.

                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


                                                IV. Conclusion


            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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