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JESUS: THE RESURRECTION AND THE LIFE
by Greg Williamson (c) 2003, 2007
ILLUSTRATION
The First to See Jesus
 

A nine-year-old who had leukemia was given six months to live. When the doctor broke the news to her parents outside her hospital room, the youngster overheard the doctor's words. But it did not become obvious until later that she knew about her condition.

To everyone's surprise, her faith in Christ gave her an attitude of victory. She talked freely about her death with anticipation in her voice. As she grew weaker, it seemed that her joy became more radiant.

One day before she sank into a final coma, she said to her family, "I am going to be the first to see Jesus! What would you like me to tell Him for you?" [1]

For the believer in Jesus Christ, death leads to transformation, not termination. Why? Because Jesus himself is the resurrection and the life.

In John 11 we find the story of Jesus raising his friend, Lazarus, back to life. Lazarus had fallen ill, but Jesus intentionally waited until he had died before going to him. By the time Jesus arrived, Lazarus had been dead for four days. A popular belief at the time was that a person's spirit "hovered over the dead body until the fourth day," by which time, of course, decomposition would have set in. [2] By waiting as he did, Jesus proved beyond the shadow of a doubt that raising Lazarus back to life "involved resurrection, not resuscitation" [3]

Upon his arrival, Jesus is greeted by Lazarus's more aggressive sister, Martha, who is grieved and somewhat indignant that Jesus did not come sooner so as to heal her brother and thus spare him from death.

 

Martha: "Lord, if You had been here, my brother would not have died. Even now I know that whatever You ask of God, God will give You."

Jesus: "Your brother will rise again."

Martha: "I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day."

Jesus: "I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in Me will live even if he dies, and everyone who lives and believes in Me will never die. Do you believe this?"

Martha: "Yes, Lord; I have believed that You are the Christ, the Son of God, even He who comes into the world." (see John 11:21-27)

Notice how Martha's words to Jesus "express both a repressed reproach and a persistent faith. She was disappointed that Jesus had not responded to her first news of Lazarus's illness, but that did not lead her to break her relationship with him." [4] While Martha certainly did not expect Jesus to restore Lazarus to life then and there, she did believe that Jesus enjoyed a special relationship with God and hence could "bring some good from this sad event." [5] For his part, Jesus responded not with a rebuke, but with "majestic and comforting" assurance. [6] As one translation renders it: "Jesus told her, 'Your brother will rise again.' 'Yes,' Martha said, 'when everyone else rises, on resurrection day.' Jesus told her, 'I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die like everyone else, will live again. They are given eternal life for believing in me and will never perish. ... '" (John 11:23-26, NLT).

Like other Jews of her day, Martha believed in a resurrection of the righteous at the end of time. But since no one four days dead had ever been brought back to life, she could not fathom the idea that Jesus would or could restore her brother then and there. However, at the heart of her natural misunderstanding remained a rock-solid conviction that Jesus was exactly who he claimed to be: the promised Deliver of God's people.

Jesus' encounter with Martha offers two very comforting truths regarding life and death: 1) Jesus is the resurrection, and 2) Jesus is the life. These truths can provide tremendous peace and assurance for anyone who has lost a Christian loved one, as well as for any believer in Christ facing death.

1. The first comforting truth regarding life and death is that Jesus is the resurrection.
A. Explanation

"I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in Me will live even if he dies, and everyone who lives and believes in Me will never die."

This is the fifth of the seven "I am" sayings recorded in John's gospel (6:35: "I am the bread of life"; 8:12: "I am the light of the world"; 10:9: "I am the door"; 10:11: "I am the good shepherd"; 11:25: "I am the resurrection and the life"; 14:6: "I am the way, and the truth, and the life"; 15:5: "I am the vine"). Each saying or statement sets misunderstanding and/or inadequate belief over against genuine commitment to the person of Christ. [7] Here in John 11:25, Jesus declares that he is the resurrection and the life. 

In the New Testament (NT), the word "resurrection" is derived from a Greek word (anistemi) meaning "to stand up or to make to stand up." [8] Within the context of physiological processes and states, "resurrection" means "to come back to life after having once died." [9] The Bible uses the word "resurrection" to describe three different events: 1) the miracle of a dead person being brought back to life, 2) the resurrection of Jesus Christ (most often), and 3) the raising of every person at the end of time for the final judgment. [10] While both the Old and New Testaments include examples of dead people being brought back to life, some prefer to speak of these as resuscitations, since those who were raised to life eventually died again. As with most biblical teaching, the idea of resurrection developed over time. "Just prior to the [Babylonian] exile [in the OT], an eschatological emphasis instilled by prophetic preaching imparted a growing concern for individuals. The result was a heightened awareness of the afterlife." [11] By the time Jesus arrived on the scene, the idea of resurrection was well defined. Jesus himself raised to life no less than three people: Jairus's daughter (Mark 5), the widow's son (Luke 7), and Lazarus (John 11). These, in turn, can be seen both as a preview of Jesus' own resurrection and as proof positive of his power over death. [12]

What did Jesus mean when he told Martha he is the resurrection? Jesus was saying that all those who die physically as believers in Jesus will one day be raised back to (glorified) physical life so as to spend all of eternity with him. What's more, the fact that every true believer has already experienced a type of spiritual resurrection (=  has been born again), his/her life "does not end at death, but continues eternally as an endless life of fellowship with God." [13] Death has no ultimate claim on the disciple of Jesus, because Jesus is himself the resurrection. Proof of Jesus' claim can be found in his raising Lazarus from the dead, and the fellowship he and Lazarus enjoyed thereafter is a foretaste of what awaits all who die as believers in Christ.

It is important to note Christ's assertion that he is himself the resurrection. This claim speaks volumes regarding both Jesus' true identity and God's intended destiny for humankind. "The words I am are very significant. … He does not say, I raise the dead; I perform the resurrection; but I am the resurrection, In His own person, representing humanity, He exhibits man as immortal, but immortal only through union with Him" [14] While the Christian faith includes many indispensable doctrines, at the very core of our faith is a person -- the Lord Jesus Christ. This fact should offer tremendous comfort to any believer facing death for, as Warren Wiersbe puts it, "When you are sick, you want a doctor and not a medical book or a formula. When you are being sued, you want a lawyer and not a law book. Likewise, when you face your last enemy, death, you want the Saviour and not a doctrine written in a book." [15]

B. Illustration
Of Death And Birth
 

It seems to me that a good analogy for death is birth.

The child, before birth, must certainly feel secure and safe. The environment, however limited, is  warm and comfortable. The unborn infant knows what to count on in its existence. Birth must seem like death to the child, being thrust in such a traumatic way out of the comfortable and known.

We would say to the child, if it were possible, that it is all a part of the plan. We would assure the child that there was even more love, and even grander existence awaiting him/her than could be imagined. We would say, "You can't believe the world that awaits!" But we cannot give those encouraging words. The child must pass through before finding out.

Death is like that. We have to leave all that we have known. There has been security in our existence, in spite of its limitations. We know what we can count on. Death takes us from the comfort and safety, ending the only life we can imagine.

For the person of God, however, there is awaiting an even greater existence. There is more love and the possibility of service and life than is beyond our imagination. It is all a part of the plan. God would say to us, "You can't believe the world that awaits!" [16]

No one escapes death. If we live long enough, all of us will die. For the sincere, committed follower of Jesus Christ, however, death is not the end but, rather, a new beginning. Because of what Christ has done for us, and what God promises to do to us, death can be seen simply as a doorway leading into an infinitely better existence.

C. Argumentation
 

"For just as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, even so the Son also gives life to whom He wishes. ... 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. 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. For just as the Father has life in Himself, even so He gave to the Son also to have life in Himself; and He gave Him authority to execute judgment ... Do not marvel at this; for an hour is coming, in which all who are in the tombs will hear His voice, and will come forth; those who did the good deeds to a resurrection of life, those who committed the evil deeds to a resurrection of judgment." (John 5:21-29)

Matthew Henry offers the following insightful commentary on these verses:

 
... [T]here are ... two resurrections performed by [Jesus'] powerful word, both which are here spoken of:

First, A resurrection that now is (John 5:29), a resurrection from the death of sin to the life of righteousness, by the power of Christ's grace. ... Note

  1. Sinners are spiritually dead, destitute of spiritual life, sense, strength, and motion, dead to God, miserable, but neither sensible of their misery nor able to help themselves out of it.
  2. The conversion of a soul to God is its resurrection from death to life; then it begins to live when it begins to live to God, to breathe after him, and move towards him.

  3. It is by the voice of the Son of God that souls are raised to spiritual life; it is wrought by his power, and that power conveyed and communicated by his word: The dead shall hear, shall be made to hear, to understand, receive, and believe, the voice of the Son of God, to hear it as his voice; then the Spirit by it gives life ...

  4. The voice of Christ must be heard by us, that we may live by it. They that hear, and attend to what they hear, shall live.

Secondly, A resurrection yet to come ...
  1. They that have done good shall come forth to the resurrection of life; they shall live again, to live for ever. Whatever name men are called by, or whatever plausible profession they make, it will be well in the great day with those only that have done good, have done that which is pleasing to God and profitable to others. The resurrection of the body will be a resurrection of life to all those, and those only, that have been sincere and constant in doing good. ...

  2. They that have done evil to the resurrection of damnation; they shall live again, to be for ever dying. ... They shall come forth to be publicly convicted of rebellion against God, and publicly condemned to everlasting punishment; to be sentenced to it, and immediately sent to it without reprieve. [17]

D. Application
As J. Vernon McGee points out, it actually requires less faith to believe in a distant, future resurrection than it does to live a life of committed trust in Jesus here and now.

 

Martha believed in a resurrection. But listen, it makes less demand upon faith to believe that in a future day we shall receive glorified bodies than it does to rest now on the assurance that they that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength. It is easier to believe that the Lord is coming and the dead will be raised than it is to believe that tomorrow I can live for God. It is so easy to comfort people who are mourning and say, "Well, you’ll see your loved ones someday." That doesn’t take much faith. It takes a lot of faith to say, "I have just lost my loved one but I am comforted with the assurance that God is with me and He does all things well." [18]

2. The second comforting truth regarding life and death is that Jesus is the life.
A. Explanation
"I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in Me will live even if he dies, and everyone who lives and believes in Me will never die."

"Life" (Greek zōē) is the opposite of death. To be alive is to breathe, to move, to think, to act. But there is a much higher type of life which the Bible refers to as "eternal" or "everlasting" life. Eternal life is not simply life without end, but rather it is the highest quality of life that involves fellowship with God and which begins the instant a person is spiritually born anew into God's family. Hence Jesus' declaration: "Eternal life is to know you, the only true God, and to know Jesus Christ, the one you sent" (John 17:3, CEV). And as the apostle Paul understood it, "life" means "something other than mere physical existence; it refers to a unique quality of life which comes through faith in and union with Christ ... [and "eternal life" refers to] a life qualitatively different from life as it is presently known, a life bestowed by God as part of the age to come." [19]

What did Jesus mean when he told Martha he is the life? Jesus was saying that physical death will not separate the true believer from his source of true and lasting life, Jesus Christ. As one source puts it: "The believer's death shall be swallowed up in life, and his life shall never sink into death. … The temporary separation of soul and body is here regarded as not even interrupting, much less impairing, the new and everlasting life imparted by Jesus to His believing people." [20] As someone has wisely noted: "Death is not extinguishing the light; it is only putting out the lamp because the Dawn has come." [21]

B. Illustration
 

The famed evangelist, Dwight L. Moody, once remarked in a sermon:

"Some day you will read in the papers that D. L. Moody of East Northfield is dead. Don't you believe a word of it. At that moment I shall be more alive than now. I shall have gone up higher, that is all -- out of this old clay tenement into a house that is immortal; a body that death cannot touch, that sin cannot taint, a body fashioned like unto His glorious body. That which is born of the flesh may die. That which is born of the spirit will live forever." [22]

For the believer in Christ, death means transformation, not termination.

C. Argumentation
Death essentially means separation, and the Bible speaks of both a physical death and a spiritual death. Physical death means the separation of the material and immaterial parts of the body, whereas spiritual death is "man's natural alienation from God, his lack of responsiveness to God, or his hostility to God, because of sin (Gn. 2:17; Mt. 8:22; Jn. 5:24–25; 8:21, 24; Rom. 6:23; Eph. 2:1; Jas. 5:20; Jude 12; Rev. 3:1)." [23] Thus it should come as no surprise that the "new life Jesus offers to believers" is both spiritual and physical: spiritually, it means being born again here and now; physically, it refers to the "bodily resurrection to life in the age to come." [24]

As one source puts it:

 

In the end God will eliminate death from his world, swallowing up the great swallower once and for all (Is 25:6–8). This conquest of death is not strictly a future event however. It began with Jesus, who conquered sin when he satisfied God's righteous requirements and died a sacrificial death for sinners (Rom 5:12–21). He then conquered death when he rose from the  grave  on the third day (Rom 6:9–10), destroying in the process the power of  Satan, who uses the fear of death as a weapon against humankind (Heb 2:14–15). Jesus' resurrection guarantees the future resurrection of his people (1 Cor 15:12–28) … With the hope of the resurrection to sustain him, the apostle Paul viewed death as a defeated foe (1 Cor 15:55–57; 2 Tim 1:10) that cannot separate God's people from his love (Rom 8:38–39) or his presence (Phil 1:21–23). Through saving faith in Jesus they have already passed from death to life (Jn 5:24–27). [25]

D. Application
Renowned Bible teacher Warren Wiersbe sees the events surrounding the raising of Lazarus "in the light of God's love."

  • Jesus' receiving of the sisters' message is love hearing.
  • Jesus' decision to postpone his visit to Bethany is love waiting.
  • Jesus' returning to Judea is love risking.
  • Jesus' words to the sisters is love comforting.
  • Jesus' tears is love weeping.
  • Jesus' raising Lazarus back to life is love serving.

While we may not be able to raise a dead person back to life, every Christian can and should be a channel through which God's love hears, waits, risks, comforts, weeps, and serves. [26]

ILLUSTRATION
 

Reading Your Own Obituary

It is possible to live under a delusion. You think you are kind, considerate and gracious, when you are really not. You think you are building positive values into your children, but, if you could check with them 20 years later, you really did not. What if you could read your own obituary? How do people really see you? Here is the story of a man who did.

One morning in 1888, Alfred Nobel, inventor of dynamite, awoke to read his own obituary. The obituary was printed as result of a simple journalistic error. You see, it was Alfred's brother that had died and the reporter carelessly reported the death of the wrong brother.

Any man would be disturbed under the circumstances, but to Alfred the shock was overwhelming because he saw himself as the world saw him. The "Dynamite King," the great industrialist who had made an immense fortune from explosives. This, as far as the general public was concerned, was the entire purpose of Alfred's life. None of his true intentions to break down the barriers that separated men and ideas for peace were recognized or given serious consideration. He was simply a merchant of death. And for that alone he would be remembered.

As he read the obituary with horror, he resolved to make clear to the world the true meaning and purpose of his life. This could be done through the final disposition of his fortune. His last will and testament would be the expression of his life's ideals and ultimately would be why we would remember him. The result was the most valuable of prizes given to those who had done the most for the cause of world peace. It is called today the "Nobel Peace Prize."

You may think you are a kind, thoughtful, gracious person. But what if today you read your own obituary? You are a businessman, what would your employees write? You are a professional person, what would your clients say? You are a parent, what would your children write? You are a preacher, teacher, whatever, what would those who listen to you say? Since we cannot read our obituary, let us rewrite it. Starting today. [27]

Why do people die? The short answer: Sin. As the Bible puts it, "Adam sinned, and that sin brought death into the world. Now everyone has sinned, and so everyone must die" (Romans 5:12, CEV). What is the cure for sin and its partner, death? The short answer: Jesus. As the Bible puts it, "But Christ has been raised to life! And he makes us certain that others will also be raised to life. Just as we will die because of Adam, we will be raised to life because of Christ. Adam brought death to all of us, and Christ will bring life to all of us" (1 Corinthians 15:20-22, CEV).

"The believer may die, as Lazarus had done, but by Christ’s power will live, i.e., experience resurrection. But even more important is the possession of eternal life gained through faith in Christ. Those who have this life can never die in the sense of being separated from the source of life." [28] In other words, the eternal life God offers begins this side of the grave, right here and now, for anyone who will fully commit him- or herself to Jesus Christ. How will you know if you possess this new life? Answer: You will start rewriting your obituary.

How is all this possible? All this is possible because -- and only because -- Jesus is the resurrection and the life.


SOURCES
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Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible
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Dictionary of Paul and His Letters
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Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament: Based on Semantic Domains
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