Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet he shall live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?” –John 11:25–26
Sometimes it is the case that when a loved one passes away, the family calls together the entire family. It is common, if he is not already there, to call the pastor. What I do when I get there, whether the loved one is dying or is already dead, is to open up the Bible and read. I might read a number of different passages, but two I always read. One is Psalm 23, which reminds us of Jesus’ statement, “I am the Good Shepherd.” Psalm 23 speaks of the shepherd’s care for his sheep throughout their lives. Another passage I turn to is John 11. After I read this passage, if there are young grandchildren around, I explain to them what it means that Jesus is the resurrection and the life.
We are up to our fifth of seven meditations on the “I am” statements of Christ. This time we look to that great I AM who said, “I am the resurrection and the life.”
What It Means
This passage begins with some of the most comforting words spoken by our Savior. “Jesus said to her, ‘I am the resurrection and the life.’” However, these words are comforting because of the context in which they are spoken. Jesus had three very close friends who were siblings. Lazarus was the brother and Mary and Martha were the sisters. They were a wealthy family who lived in Bethany, near Jerusalem. Mary and Martha sent word to Jesus that Lazarus was sick. In verse 3 the statement is, “Lord, the one you love is sick.” Jesus had a deep love for this family.
When Jesus received news of this serious illness, Jesus knew what was to take place. The glory of God will be revealed in the events of that week. Jesus decides to go to Bethany, even though the disciples warned him not to go, because the Jews tried to kill Jesus near there. Jesus was resolved to go because he was going to wake up Lazarus, who had fallen asleep. This phrase is used many times hereafter in the New Testament to refer to believers who die. The reason to use this phrase is because of what Jesus is going to reveal in this text.
When Jesus neared Bethany, he found out that Lazarus had been in the tomb dead for four days. When he got near, Martha went out to meet him (for context, read John 11:20–26). In response, Martha confessed her faith in Christ. Then Jesus sent for Mary, and when she arrived, she was weeping along with the other mourners. She fell at his feet and said, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” Then something happened. In verse 33 it says Jesus was moved in spirit and troubled. The result is that he wept. We have a Savior who can sympathize with us in our weaknesses. It is a very emotional scene. Jesus comes to the tomb, and at first Martha objected because it would stink . . . the body would have already begun to decompose. Nevertheless, the stone is removed; Jesus prays to God and then tells Lazarus to come out. The one who would in a short time go the cross and the grave and also would be resurrected, performs here the greatest of miracles in his ministry up until this point. He raises Lazarus from the dead. In this context he says, “I am the resurrection and the life.”
Essentially there are two I am statements in our text: I am the resurrection, and I am the life. Christ proclaims this and then explains what they mean (read the rest of verse 25). When the subject of the resurrection first was brought up by Jesus, Martha thought that Jesus was speaking of the resurrection at the last day. Though this is true, he is speaking primarily about the spiritual resurrection today. What Lazarus is about to become is the ultimate visual aid of the great teacher. We might die in order to live.
Humans are, by nature, dead. This is what Scripture clearly teaches. Remember Genesis 8. Before and after the flood, man’s heart was only evil continually. In speaking of the new life in Christ, Ephesians 2 says that while we were dead in trespasses and sins, Christ made us alive. By nature we are dead. The first resurrection, the resurrection of which Jesus speaks, takes place when we believe. “He who believes in me will live, even though he dies.” Jesus here is changing Martha’s outlook on the situation.
In response to the question of why is Christ the resurrection, John Calvin says, “Because by His Spirit he regenerates the children of Adam, who had been alienated from God by sin, so that they begin to live a new life.” In order to be resurrected, you must be dead, and contrary to what most Arminian churches teach, we are not born sick, we are born dead. For Christ to say, “I am the resurrection” was in light of Lazarus’s death, not Lazarus’s sickness.
Our Savior continues and explains what it means that he is the life. “And whoever lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?” When a Christian is spiritually brought to life, he will never die again. Oh, to be sure, his body might die, but it also will be raised again. His soul will live forevermore in fellowship with God. This second phrase confirms the first. What is the best evidence you have been resurrected? You are alive.
When we die now in this life, our body goes to the ground and our soul goes to heaven. It is conscious, fully sanctified, and in the presence of God. This time is called the intermediate state. We are awaiting the final state, where body will be resurrected and united to soul and will be transformed like Christ’s glorious body to inhabit the new earth. This is what Martha first had in mind in verse 24. But Jesus isn’t talking about the final resurrection. He is saying that he himself is the resurrection and the life. To partake of what Christ is doing happens by faith. “Do you believe this?”
As we think about this, we might wonder why Jesus took so long to go to Bethany. After all, Mary and Martha, women he loved, and the other mourners had four days of utter grief and sorrow. Why did he delay so long? This is what Jesus was getting at in verse 4 and verse 15.
There would be no doubting that Lazarus was dead. Jesus was going to do something no one else could do. Why would he do it? To glorify God by testifying to the fact that he is the Christ, the Messiah, the Great I AM. This now is the third time Jesus spoke an I am statement in the presence of a miracle. He was the bread of life after he fed the five thousand. He was the light of the world after he healed the man born blind. Now he is the resurrection and the life as he raises Lazarus from the dead. The implications of the others was if you believe, you won’t be hungry, you won’t be in the dark, but now, you will not die.
Why It Is True
For us to read John 11 two thousand years after the cross, we can understand it more fully. Jesus speaks with authority given by the Father, for what he has accomplished and what he will accomplish. He speaks as one who has died, he raises Lazarus as one who was raised, and speaks of one who has eternal life while yet living on earth. This is how sure the redemption secured in Jesus was. With that said, we still must ask how it is that Jesus is the resurrection and the life.
For Jesus to be the resurrection, he must defeat death. This is precisely what he did. When Jesus breathed his last upon the cross, in the eyes of Satan, it must have been the great victory. But it wasn’t a victory for Satan, because three days later something happened: the resurrection on Easter morning. This is why we worship on Sunday . . . it is resurrection day. When Christ was raised, he was raised victoriously over Satan. “Sin’s bonds severed, we’re delivered; Christ has bruised the serpent’s head; death no longer is the stronger; Hell itself is captive led. Christ has risen from death’s prison; O’er the tomb He light has shed” (Psalter Hymnal #361, verse 3). empty grave is guarantee of our resurrection, both in this life and in the life to come. Our catechism says that we are already now resurrected to a new life. This is because Christ defeated that ancient enemy: death!
Romans 5 says that we are raised up with Christ. First Peter 1:23 says that “we have been born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable.” Christ is the firstfruits of our glorious resurrection. What this means is that since Christ was raised, through union with him, we are guaranteed to be raised.
This is what Colossians 3:1–4 is getting at. Colossians 3:3 says, “For you died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.” Focus your mind for a moment on the idea of our life being hidden with Christ. It is no longer we who live, but Christ who lives in us. I explained to my catechism students this week that we are dying. The outward body is slowly dying away, but the inward man is being renewed. We are like a cut flower. A cut flower flourishes for a week or two and then it is thrown into the garbage. This is kind of depressing and sad, if it was not for the fact that Jesus said, “I am the resurrection and the life.” Our natural life is being eclipsed by the spiritual life.
Why It Matters
The glorious truth and comforting fact that Jesus is the great I Am, who makes a claim to divinity when he says, “I am,” is also the resurrection and the life. If we don’t see how this connects to our lives, there is a danger to leave it out there as just a nice teaching. It isn’t just a nice teaching. It is a life-changing teaching. Let me give you four reasons why.
First, this matters because you will die. Today it might seem that you are full of life. Maybe you have your whole life ahead of you. Or maybe you are at midlife. But maybe you are not. Maybe your life is at its end and you don’t realize it yet. Death can be scary, and it is no respecter of persons. If the Lord delays his return, we will die. What will happen to you when you die? This all depends how you answer Jesus’ question to Martha. Do you believe this? Not just do you believe that this is true, but do you believe this is true for you? Is your life now hidden with Christ; is he your life?
Second, our loved ones will die. The older we get, the more this is the case. My great-grandma told me one time when she was in her mid-nineties that just about everyone she knew when she was a little girl is now dead. Those close to us, whom we love, will also die, and it will hurt. Certainly, there are many reading this who are hurting and grieving, sometimes in silence. It is okay to grieve, but remember, we can grieve as those who have hope, because Jesus said, “I am the resurrection and the life.” That cemetery you may visit from time to time is not a final resting place. It is merely a waiting room, waiting for the Lord’s return. The soul, the mind, the essence of our loved ones, if they died as believers, are with the Lord. They are asleep in Jesus. Death has been defeated. That sting of death has been removed. Calvin says, “What is still more, death itself is a sort of emancipation from the bondage of death.”
As Mary and Martha weep, we see Jesus also weep. Martha wanted Lazarus to be alive. Jesus speaks about a better life, a spiritual life, one in which, if you live it, you will never die. And yet, the pain of death is still real. This is what happens when we love people. The only consolation as we walk through the valley of the shadow of death is that Jesus is the resurrection and the life. Weeping is for a night, but joy comes in the morning.
To an unbeliever, this is nonsense. Death is the grim reaper. It is final. The idea of robbing death of its power is preposterous. It is by faith alone that these truths can be grasped. This is why Jesus asked Martha, “Do you believe this?” Because faith makes all the difference.
Third, this is important because of Christ’s statement and the comfort it affords when death looks us in the face. We do not have to fear death or life. We can be those who live assured. Don’t mix this up with cocksureness, arrogance, or fatalism (whatever will be will be). It has simply been called Calvinism in the past, but we can merely refer to this form of life as a trust in God in light of his providence. When you sing a song like “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God,” you can do so almost with a clenched fist. “And though this world with devils filled, should threaten to undo us, we will not fear for God has willed, his truth to triumph through us. The prince of darkness, we tremble not for him, his rage we can endure, for lo his doom is sure, one little word shall fell him.” To overemphasize the triumphant life is not helpful. You have to fight in this life, because your enemies never stop attacking us. Live with fortitude, strength, courage in the Lord.
And last, the fact that Jesus called himself the resurrection and the life points us both to this life and the life to come. Let us not seek to escape this life and run off and hide in a corner with our Bibles until Jesus returns. Let us also remember there is something more than this. We are called here. After we die, we will be called out of this life, but we are not dead yet. As we live, serve the Lord. When you come before God in prayer at night, let it be found that you have been busy in the work of the Lord. Work out your salvation with fear and trembling, awaiting the appearing of the Lord in glory. We will be resurrected when Christ returns, but also, already now, we are raised up to a new life.
In the midst of death, sorrow, and weeping, Jesus said, ”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. Do you believe this?” Let us confess, “Yes, Lord, I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God.”
Rev. Steve Swets
is the pastor of Rehoboth United Reformed Church in Hamilton, ON.