Meditating on Great Themes in John: 18. Resurrection and the Life
John 11:25,26 Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die.
We said earlier in this series that one of the great overriding themes in John is the transforming power of Jesus Christ. Very briefly we mentioned that in reference to Jesus speaking about his own resurrection (Jn 2:19,21) when he said, “Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days.” But the temple he had spoken of was his body.” The whole subject of his resurrection power is now presented to us head on in his words and deeds in respect of Lazarus.
The start of the story seems strange at first sight. Lazarus is ill and his sisters send for Jesus (Jn 11:1-3) but when Jesus receives the message he purposely stays where he is for another two days (v.4-6). Eventually he tells the disciples they are going back to Judea to ‘wake him up’ actually meaning to revive him from death (v.11,13).
By the time they get to Bethany Lazarus has been dead and buried four days (v.17). When she hears Jesus is coming, Martha goes out to meet him and when she greets him it seems a greeting with faith in it: “Lord,” Martha said to Jesus, “if you had been here, my brother would not have died. But I know that even now God will give you whatever you ask.” (v.21,22) Jesus reassures her, “Your brother will rise again.” (v.23) to which she replies, “I know he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day.” (v.24) She simply states what good Jewish teaching taught, that we will all rise on the last day to face the Lord. If her previous greeting had been one of faith it seems she dare not quite go as far as to say, “Yes, you can bring him back now.”
It is in this context that Jesus then made the next of his ‘I Am’ statements: “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die.” (v.25,26) After this he presses her, “Do you believe this?” (v.26b) to which she replies, “Yes, Lord, I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who was to come into the world.” (v.27) Excellent!
To cut a long story short, Jesus then goes on and with a word of command raises Lazarus from the dead. And so we have word and action together. What do they mean? Well very obviously we see that Jesus doesn’t only have the power to change water into wine, a little bread into much bread, heal from a distance and heal the long-term sick, he can even raise people from the dead, people who have been well and truly dead for at least four days. This is power and authority beyond anything ever seen in a human being before or since.
So what did Jesus actually mean by the words, “I am the resurrection and the life.”? (v.25) Well we must take his own explanatory words. First, “He who believes in me will live, even though he dies,” i.e. if we believe in Jesus even though we pass through death we will live. There is no time element in this and so it seems to imply that we will go on living even as we apparently pass through death. On the other side we will be alive. We don’t have to wait for some end time resurrection. This seems confirmed by what he then says, “and whoever lives and believes in me will never die,” (v.26) saying the same thing but in different words.
It thus seems that Jesus means, I am the cause and the means for you to have eternal life and never die. Yes, there will be an end time resurrection when all come before the Lord, but before that believers will be resurrected in the sense that they will rise up the other side of death and continue living in heaven. Eternal life is conveyed at the moment of new birth. Jesus had previously said, “Truly, truly, I say to you, the hour is coming, and now is, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live.” (Jn 5:25) Life comes with his word just as it did with Lazarus. When we are born again, he speaks the word and we receive eternal life at that moment, a life source (his Spirit) that ensures that even though our body will one day cease operating our soul and spirit will continue living in eternity.
In the Synoptics there are references to “inheriting” eternal life. We inherit it the moment we come to Christ and are ‘born again’ (Jn 3:3) or ‘converted’ (Acts 15:3) and we will realise it in reality as we pass through the experience of death and find ourselves alive with Him on the other side of that experience. We will not have to wait but it will be there as a steady, continuous flow of life of the soul. “Today you will be with me in paradise,” Jesus told the thief on the cross. (Lk 23:43)
The fact of the resurrection being applied to us, is the first part of Jesus claim but he also added, “and the life.” There is a life to be lived out both here now and on into eternity. For the moment we live it through a material body but in the same way that Jesus’ resurrected body seem to have different characteristics, so will our ‘spiritual body’, as the apostle Paul put it: “it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body.” (1 Cor 15:44) As theologian-author Tom Wright puts it, ‘That is what Paul means by the ‘spiritual body’, not a body made out of non-physical spirit, but a physical body animated by the spirit, a spirit-driven body if you like, still what we would call physical but differently animated. And the point about this body is that, whereas the present flesh and blood are corruptible, doomed to decay and die, the new body will be incorruptible.’
It is in this ‘body’ that we will live in eternity. It is an experience of which we are told little in the Bible only that it is real and that it is with God and that it is good. That is the life that Jesus gives us having ‘raised’ us from ‘death’. This is our destiny. We will go on to consider ‘the life’ more in a later study.