Jesus Says the Dead Will Hear Unto Spiritual Life

, posted by Ben Henshaw

I want to recommend Chris Chapman’s article available at SEA called, The Extent of Spiritual Death.

Chapman’s article does an excellent job of demonstrating from Scripture that the spiritual death described in the Bible does not warrant the Calvinist spin that equates spiritual death with the inability of a physical corpse to act in any way. However, his article doesn’t go far enough with regards to a key passage in John 5.

Chapman recounts how Calvinists will often use the Biblical narrative of Lazarus as an example of a corpse having no choice but to come alive when Christ calls, apart from any response of faith. Likewise, Calvinists will often use the illustration of a preacher in a morgue preaching to a bunch of lifeless corpses. They reason that none of the dead bodies in the morgue can hear or respond to the preacher until they are first made alive.

In addressing the Calvinist use of the Lazarus narrative, Chapman rightly notes that Jesus is speaking of physical resurrection in John 11 just as He did in John 5:25-29. Unfortunately, he fails to make the very important point that John 5:25 has reference not only to a future resurrection, but to the present spiritual resurrection of those who are hearing Christ’s voice in faith. This simple observation destroys the Calvinist insistence that those who are dead in sin are as unable to hear as a lifeless corpse. The implications Calvinists draw from the Lazarus narrative and the analogy of the preacher in the morgue are plainly at odds with the words of Jesus in John 5:25,

“Truly, truly, I say to you, an hour is coming and now is, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live.” (NASB, emphasis mine)

Jesus makes it clear that the time when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God unto life is “now.” How does this happen? It happens through faith in Christ,

“Truly, truly, I say to you, he who hears My word, and believes Him who sent Me, has eternal life, and does not come into judgment, but has passed out of death into life.” (John 5:24, NASB, emphasis mine)

Here Jesus plainly describes the initial movement from spiritual death to spiritual life. The one who hears the words of Jesus in faith (i.e. receives them through faith) passes from spiritual death to spiritual life. This clearly marks the transition from death to life and that is a perfect description of what constitutes regeneration. Regeneration is the beginning of spiritual life, and is thereby marked by the initial transition from death to life.

In the oft repeated Calvinist analogy of the preacher in the Morgue, Calvinists insist that one cannot hear or respond to Christ or the gospel until that person is first given spiritual life. This claim is in obvious and stark contrast to what Jesus says in John 5. Jesus tells us that the spiritually “dead” will “hear” unto “life”, and this hearing unto life is the result of faith (verse 24). It is the “hearing of faith” that Paul describes in Galatians by which we receive the Spirit of life (Gal. 3:2, 5, 14, cf. Romans 8:1-12).

So Jesus tells us that the “dead” will “hear” (in faith) unto “life” and the Calvinist tells us that only those who are already regenerated can “hear” unto faith. Jesus says that hearing and faith come before life and Calvinism says that life comes before hearing and faith. Calvinists say that the “dead” cannot possibly hear anything, just like a lifeless physical corpse. Jesus tells us that the “dead” can hear (as God enables them), and this hearing by faith is what moves those who hear from the realm of spiritual death to the realm of spiritual life.

Chapman rightly points out that Jesus is speaking about a future physical resurrection in verses 28-29. In these verses Jesus speaks only of “an hour that is coming”, but in verses 24 and 25, Jesus speaks of an hour that is coming and “now is.” The Jews should not marvel at the authority and power of Jesus’ claim that His words can give spiritual life to those who hear and receive those words in faith (vv. 24, 25), since Jesus has the ultimate authority to judge all of mankind when He calls them out of the grave at the end of time (vv. 27-29).

Jesus is here building on the theme of His authority and power given to Him by the Father. The Father gives Jesus the power and authority to give life to whom He wishes (vs. 21). Jesus makes it clear in verses 24 and 25 that the Father and Jesus wish to give life to believers, those who hear and receive Christ’s words in faith. Spiritually dead unbelievers become spiritually alive by becoming believers (vs. 24). The only way for the spiritually dead to receive the life that Jesus has authority to grant them is to hear His words by faith (vv. 24, 25).

Jesus then moves from this authority and power given to Him by the Father to the authority and power given Him by the Father to resurrect and judge all of mankind, both believers and unbelievers. This authority and power given Him by the Father reinforces Jesus’ central theme in His teaching (and John’s central theme in his gospel) that He belongs to the Father and is from the Father, and “…the Father has placed into the Son’s hands the entire question of human life and death. It is with the Son we all must deal.” [1] The Jews who suppose themselves to have a special relationship with the Father are actually opposing the Father and proving that that they do not know the Father when they oppose Jesus, the perfect expression and revelation of the Father (verses 36-47, cf. John 6:35-58; 8:31-59; 10:24-38).

The difference is clear. In verses 24, 25, Jesus speaks of an hour that is present as well as future. In verses 27-29 Jesus speaks only of an hour that is future. In verses 24 and 25, Jesus is speaking of spiritual life given to believers. In verses 27-29, Jesus is speaking of resurrection life that will be given to both believers and unbelievers when all of mankind is called out of the grave by God’s appointed judge, the Son of Man (cf. vs. 22). Therefore, one cannot discount the reality of the spiritually dead hearing and receiving spiritual life by faith in John 5:24 and 25 by appealing to verses 27-29.

Conclusion: The Bible everywhere declares that spiritual life is received by faith. The Bible nowhere states that spiritual life of any sort is granted prior to faith as Calvinists claim. The Calvinist appeal to passages which refer to spiritual death is erroneous in that they draw conclusions from those passages that the passages simply do not teach [2]. Nowhere is spiritual death or man’s deadness in sin described in terms of the inability of a physical corpse to do anything (like hear or respond in faith) as portrayed in the Calvinist morgue analogy. Rather, Jesus flatly contradicts such an interpretation when He declares that the spiritually “dead” will “hear” unto spiritual life.


[1] Joseph Dongell, John: A Commentary for Bible Students, page 93

[2] These passages actually work against the Calvinist claims. Ephesians and Colossians both represent spiritual life as being received upon our being united with Christ (Ephesians 2:4-7; Col. 2:13), and we come to be joined to Christ by faith (Eph. 1:13). Ephesians further states that all of the spiritual blessings (Eph. 1:3) that are in Christ, including redemption and regeneration, are received “by grace, through faith” (2:8). Colossians makes the same point, describing our spiritual resurrection as resulting from “faith in the power of God” (Col. 2:11, 12). Likewise, Paul makes it clear that the Spirit of life is received by “the hearing of faith” (Gal. 3:2, 5, 14, cf. Romans 8:11). Paul also tells us that the righteousness of justification brings spiritual life and we know that justification is “by faith” (Romans 5:17, 18, 21; 8:10; Rom. 4; Gal. 3:21-24). We become children of God through faith (John 1:12; Gal. 3:26). All the promises of the new covenant, including new spiritual life, are received by faith as well (Gal. 3:14-22). Many similar passages could be cited. Truly, the Biblical evidence against the Calvinist claims that new spiritual life precedes faith is overwhelming. Perhaps this is why some Calvinist are now moving away from this claim, just as four point Calvinists have rejected the doctrine of limited atonement due to the overwhelming Biblical evidence against it and in support of unlimited atonement.


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