Rev. VanOverloop is pastor of Byron Center Protestant Reformed Church in Byron Center, Michigan.
“Jesus said unto her, I am the resurrection, and the life: he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live: and whosoever liveth and believeth in me shall never die. Believest thou this?”
John 11:25, 26
In this event, which took place just a few months before Jesus’ own death and resurrection, we find the Savior descending into the depths of our misery, sorrow, and death, and then ascending to the heights of resurrection—His and ours. The reality of Good Friday and of Easter are both present in this incident in Jesus’ life.
Lazarus, whom Jesus loved (John 11:3), died (John 11:14). His death brought great sorrow to his sisters, Martha and Mary. Their grief was the occasion for many people to visit with them in order “to comfort them concerning their brother” (John 11:19).
Jesus joined these beloved sisters in facing the reality of death. Physical death is the cause of greatest sorrow because it brings a forceful end to earthly existence as well as all earthly relationships. When those relationships are close and intimate, then the fear and pain of death is indeed great! Also, physical death is ugly and repulsive, especially at the grave. Further, death is frightening because of “the power of death, that is, the devil,” so that man lives his life in the “fear of death” and “subject to bondage” (Heb. 2:14, 15). And, most importantly, death is horribly frightening because it is the “wages of sin” (Rom. 6:23). Death is not natural but is divine punishment of sin, the revelation of God’s judgment on sin.
When Jesus met Martha and then Mary He identified with the sorrow of the grieving sisters. He saw their grief and knew its depths. When He met them, He grieved with them in their loss. Jesus, better than anyone else, knew death as divine punishment of sin. No one present there could know as He knew. He saw death in the fullness of its reality. And as He meets Martha and Mary He is almost silent as He, as a member of the body, suffers when another member suffers. He has care for the other members (I Cor. 12:25, 26).
But Jesus is more than just another member of the body. He stands, over against death, as “the resurrection and the life.”
Jesus declares that He is the resurrection. He is the power to conquer and defeat this killing enemy. He is the power to reverse death’s power to corrupt and destroy the body by raising that same body out of the grave, changing it from corruptible to incorruptible, from mortal into immortality, fit for heaven. The resurrection means that He is the power to give to that body a life that will never perish, a life that abides forever in glory. Jesus declares that He is the power of victory and hope, the power of comfort, joy, and peace. When Jesus declared Himself to be the resurrection, then He was anticipating His own resurrection, and therefore the resurrection of all those given Him of the Father, which resurrection would be typified in the resurrection of Lazarus.
Jesus is the resurrection and the life. He does not merely possess the power. Nor is it true that He will be the resurrection and the life when He ascends into heaven and returns in power and glory. At the very moment that He stood with Mary and Martha before the open grave of Lazarus, He was the resurrection and the life.
Jesus is the resurrection because He is the life. The power of the resurrection is His because He is the life. In Him is the power to raise the dead because in Him is the power of life. What does it mean that He is the life? Two things. First, Jesus is the Living One. This is because Jesus is God. When Jesus uses the expression “I am” in John’s narrative of the gospel, He is declaring His essential deity as God the Son. Life for Jesus, as well as life in God, is spiritual fellowship. Life is God living His covenant life within Himself. Jesus is this life. And, second, Jesus is saving life. The life that He gives to sinners delivers them from the penalty and power of sin and death, and it brings them into spiritual fellowship with God. Jesus is life to His people because God appointed Him to give saving life to them—to give them life with Himself.
Then, because Jesus is the life, He is the resurrection. The living Jesus is the power over death and the power to raise up from death. Jesus is the power to raise Himself out of death. He saw His own future resurrection before He died. He will die, but He will also rise again from the dead. Of both He had frequently told His disciples. He will rise from the dead because He is, in Himself, the resurrection and the life.
When Jesus says these words He is also speaking about the resurrection of His people. Lazarus is dead, but Jesus is the power to raise him from the dead.
Martha spoke of her belief and hope that Lazarus would “rise again in the resurrection at the last day” (John 11:24). But she was not seeing Jesus’ power and victory at that moment. Her expression of faith was in response to Jesus’ telling her, “Thy brother shall rise again.” So when Jesus responds to her by declaring Himself to be “the resurrection and the life,” He wants Martha to see that He is the power over the death that took away her brother’s earthly life, separated him from her, and is presently working on his body in the grave. He desires her to know that all who believe in Jesus, even though they may die in the earthly sense, shall live. And all who believe in Jesus will never die.
This truth is proven by the miracle.
As the Great Shepherd caring for His grieving sheep, Jesus demonstrated to Martha and to Mary (and to all who believe) that He is the resurrection and the life. First He showed that He was touched with the feeling of our infirmities. With them He faced death, in all its powerful reality, at the open, stinking grave. He groaned and was troubled. He, more than any other human, saw the horrible effects of sin. He wept, demonstrating that He knows experientially the sorrow and fear of death. He entered into our death in every way, even in seeing a loved one die and be buried. In whatever circumstances we stand, Jesus stood. And it is from that position that He declares that because He is the resurrection and the life, “thy brother shall rise again.”
This truth is grasped only by faith in Jesus. “He that believethin me, though he were dead, yet shall he live.” Faith in Jesus is the way this great and blessed promise is received and enjoyed while we are yet walking through the valley of the shadow of death. This faith is an on-going gift of God that begins in the first resurrection—regeneration. The heart of the sinner is made alive by the Spirit of this One who is the resurrection and the life. The heart is made alive to God and to spiritual things, including the truth that Jesus is the resurrection and the life.
Those who believe in Jesus shall never die. The heart that is raised spiritually shall never die. Physical death does not kill that raised heart. And at physical death the soul also rises and lives in conscious glory with Christ. And when Jesus returns, then the bodies of the elect will be raised unto “the resurrection of life” (John 5:29). There is no death for the child of God who lives in Christ. This is the power of life that Christ gives as the resurrection and the life.
So, “believest thou this?” Martha, as a hurting believer, needed her faith in Jesus to be strengthened in the midst of the grief of death. She, and we, are to focus, not on death, but on Him who is the resurrection and the life. See death, but see it as it is used by Him who is the resurrection and the life.
Do you believe this? Believe and rejoice!