"Do not be amazed at this, for a time is coming ...” (John 5:28-29)

"Do not be amazed at this, for a time is coming when all who are in their graves will hear His voice and come out - those who have done good will rise to live, and those who have done evil will rise to be condemned.” (John 5:28-29)

Was Jesus speaking about the second coming?

This statement by Jesus has often been used to promote erroneous concepts of the "second coming" and "judgment day" by sectarian organizations and their teachers.

Yet these words are clear. Jesus is saying that "all who are in their graves will hear His voice and come out." Doesn't this sound like the rising of people out of their graves when they hear the voice of God?

Then he says that "those who have done good will rise and live" and "those who have done evil will rise to be condemned." Isn't this pretty clear that people will be rising out of their graves and according to whether they were good or bad they will have life or condemnation?

What else could he have meant? And do people really remain in their graves despite the body becoming decomposed?

And what if a person dies by drowning and is not recovered, or otherwise the body isn't buried after death? What happens to those people who have no "graves" to "rise up" from?

What happens when the body dies?

When the physical body dies, the body begins to immediately decompose. Within years, the flesh decomposes, and within decades, the bones complete their decomposition in most cases. In normal soil, the physical body has disappeared and become soil within 25-50 years.

Where is the person then? If the body has decomposed there is nowhere for the person to be. If we are assuming that each of us is the body, that would mean that when the body decomposed, we would decompose. This would mean that everyone who has been buried over the centuries where the body is decomposed would be gone. Who is Jesus referring to then?

Were there graves during Jesus' time?

Furthermore, during Jesus' time, dead bodies were not buried in graves. Typically the family would put the dead body into a cave dug into rock. There the body would decomposed, leaving the bones. Then the bones would be put in a box called an ossuary.

Those who did not have families to put their bodies into tombs would be tossed into a pit with many other dead bodies. Then dirt would be thrown over the pit over time.

This means there were no graves during the time that Jesus was supposed to have said this. Could this be a translation error?

The Greek word that is translated to "graves" is μνημεῖον (mnēmeion). This means, according to the lexicon, "any visible object for preserving or recalling the memory of any person or thing." This has been interpreted to typically mean, a sepulchre or a tomb. But if we are speaking of an object meant for recalling the memory of a person, then that person is no longer in that object. It is an object that helps people remember the person. Why?

Because the person is gone. If it is to memorialize their passing, then the person has passed. They are gone.

In other words, Jesus did not say that people would be physically waiting in their graves. There were no graves back then, and the Greek word is not describing a grave where a person is still awaiting their rise at the second coming.

When the physical body dies, the spiritual individual (soul) who has been operating that body leaves. Each body maintains a spiritual individual who operates that physical body much as a person operates an automobile. And just as a person steps out of the car after it stops running, the spiritual individual will leave the body once it dies.

Is Jesus using a metaphor?

Since there is no one waiting in their grave or tomb, we must assume that Jesus is speaking allegorically. We find this same type of allegory elsewhere:

"I tell you the truth, a time is coming and has now come when the dead will hear the voice of the son of God and those who hear will live." (John 5:25)
“Follow me, and let the dead bury their own dead.” (Matt. 8:22)
In both of these verses, Jesus is not speaking of those who are physically dead. How can a physically dead person bury a dead body? And how can a physically dead person hear? Jesus is speaking allegorically as he refers to being "dead." He is talking about those who are living lives without love of God, which he considers life.

How can a physical body that has decomposed (including the ears) hear a voice?

What does Jesus mean by "come out"?

Jesus is not supposing that decomposed dead bodies will be physically coming out of their graves - even if there were graves back then. Those decomposed bodies would have turned to dust by then. What will be rising then? A shovel-full of dirt?

Rather, Jesus is speaking metaphorically, of the soul or spirit-person leaving the body. What "comes out" of the body at the time of death is the spirit-person. The soul "passes away" at the time of death.

This is the concept of "come out" stated by Jesus. The spirit-person or soul will "come out" of the body at the time of death.

What does Jesus mean by "a time is coming"?

Sectarian interpreters have speculated that Jesus is referring to some time in the distant future (at least 2,000 years later because it hasn't happened yet) when the end of the world would come and Jesus would return. That is the assumed "second coming."

Has it happened yet? No. Has that kept many sectarian teachers in predicting the end of the world through the centuries? No.

Rather, Jesus is speaking metaphorically about the time of death, which happens to each of us individually. Each of us will have a unique time of death. At that time, we - the soul or spirit-person - will leave the physical body.

This is the concept of "a time is coming." Jesus is stating that "a time is coming" for each of us, where our physical body will die and we - the soul or spirit-person - will "come out" of the body and "rise."

What about the 'end of the world' predictions?

Consider only a small list of those so-called Christian teachers and organizations that have inaccurately predicted the arrival of the end of the world and the second coming over the centuries:
  • Hilary of Poitiers: 365 AD (the date predicted)
  • Saint Martin of Tours: 375 to 400 AD
  • Sextus Julius Africanus: 500 AD
  • Gerard of Poehlde: 1147 AD
  • John of Toledo: 1179 AD
  • Joachim of Fiore: 1205 AD
  • Pope Innocent III: 1284 AD
  • Melchior Hoffman: 1533 AD
  • Benjamin Keach (Baptist): 1689 AD
  • William Whitson: 1736 AD
  • The Shakers (Ann Lee): 1792 AD
  • Charles Wesley (Methodist): 1794 AD
  • Margaret McDonald: 1830 AD
  • Joseph Smith (Mormon): 1832 and 1891 AD
  • William Miller (Millerites): 1843 and 1844 AD
  • Ellen White (Seven Day Adventists): 1850, 1856 and "early 1900s" AD
  • Mother Shipton: 1881 AD
  • Watchtower Bible and Tract Society (Jehovah's Witnesses): 1914, 1915, 1918, 1920, 1925, 1941, 1975, 1994 and others more recent.
Yes, all of these teachers and their organizations have lied to their followers and tricked them into joining their cult out of fear that they may be left behind when Jesus comes again and "judgment day" is upon us. This is quite simply a crime against humanity. Innocent people were fooled at the hands of unscrupulous people whose objectives were to self-promote themselves and/or their organization.

Didn't Jesus call out such charlatans?

Jesus himself described his feeling towards the charlatans listed above, who have falsely predicted the end of the world, and thus falsely interpreted Jesus' teachings:
“Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will come to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles? Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!” (Matt. 7:21-23)
Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name?" This is very clear that those who use Jesus' name to spread all kinds of predictions (prophecy) about the future, and make up fictional events such as the end of the world and physical second coming are, as Jesus puts it, simply "evildoers."

And what is "evil?" Evil is acting selfishly. Evil is acting on one's own behalf, rather than on God's behalf. Evil means ignoring the existence of the Supreme Being and seeing ourselves as the supreme being. It means feeling that doing our will is the most important.

Jesus wants us to do God's will, not our own will. This and only this will help us grow spiritually and make us happy, and alive.

What is judgment day?

How a person lived their physical life - how much spiritual growth we made - is judged upon the death of the body. This has been explained by many verses in scripture. This is the real "judgment day," and the moment that Jesus speaks of here. When our physical body dies, we leave it. We are then faced with God and/or His servants, who replay for us the major events of our physical lives.

Once our lives are flashed back, we then have to reckon with the consequences of the decisions and actions of our physical lifetime, and how much we grew spiritually. This determines where we go after this point.

This process is not only scripturally supported, but it is supported scientifically by clinical death and near death experiences. Over and over, people have described, once their bodies were resuscitated from being clinically dead, this experience of having their lives flashed back and being judged by God and/or one of His servants. Those who have followed Jesus' teachings will often describe facing Jesus.

Will the 'second coming' occur?

As for the concept of the "second coming," this also can occur at death, for those who have actually followed the teachings of Jesus, and used their lives in the service of God.

This is mirrored by the concept of being born again. Being born again is the same as having a change of heart. This means putting God in the center of our lives. Whether we are in a physical body or out of it, being born again is a second coming because we are connected with the Supreme Being: We are born again into our spiritual lives.

As described above, those who have sincerely followed Jesus (and not simply exploited his teachings for their own purposes), and have devoted their lives to the service of God ("those who have done good"), will meet up with Jesus at the time of death. This is the result of being born again.

Such a meeting is the "second coming" according to Jesus' teachings. Here Jesus, God's representative, will help guide them back to the spiritual world, where they will "hear His voice" and resume their original relationship (of loving service) with God.