It’s been said that the only certainties in life are death and taxes. Given an opportunity, Jesus refused to overturn taxation and so we turn our focus to death. Jesus’ claims about and interaction with death are spectacular and most certainly worthy of closer exegesis.
Jesus’ victory over death at His resurrection is at the very heart of Christianity. Paul writes to the Corinthian church, “And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins (1 Corinthian 15:17).” So important is this miraculous event that without it, there is no Christianity. And not only does Jesus come back from the grave, He makes a spectacular claim in John’s gospel.
“I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. – John 11:25-26
Life is an interesting concept in the gospel of John, and in the New Testament at large. John is the one who coins the term born again, or at least quotes Jesus’ use of it.
“Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God… Unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.” – John 3:3,5-6
God promised Adam in Eden that in the day he ate of the forbidden fruit he would die. And in the day he ate that fruit, he was promised an eventual termination to his earthly existence and cast out of the garden, separated from God by an angel with a flaming sword. Adam died spiritually that day, and his death has been inherited by all his descendants.
Jesus brings in Himself a life that no human had experienced since Adam. It’s a life that overlays physical life and can only be attained during it, but is not itself physical or fleshly. First we are born, then in Christ we are born again. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Jesus says these words to a woman mourning the death of her brother. Jesus didn’t rebuke Lazarus. His death was not an indictment of his love for Jesus or his faith.
Paul teaches that physical death is the final enemy Jesus will conquer (1 Corinthians 15:22-28), and this is an eschatological reality- that is, a truth regarding the end of all things. There will come a time in which bodies will never fail, but not yet. The spiritual life Jesus gives now to His followers will be perfected with physical eternal life at His second coming.
When the life Jesus brings is fulfilled, both spiritually and physically, we will experience Jesus the resurrection.
For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive. But each in his own order: Christ the first fruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ. – 1 Corinthians 15:22-23
Then I saw thrones, and seated on them were those to whom the authority to judge was committed. Also I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded for the testimony of Jesus and for the word of God, and those who had not worshiped the beast or its image and had not received its mark on their foreheads or their hands. They came to life and reigned with Christ for a thousand years… This is the first resurrection. – Revelation 20:4-5
Eternal life isn’t something purely spiritual, but will be physical as well. We were made created by God with flesh and spirit, and will be redeemed as such. Martha understands this and so she says to Jesus, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.”
But then something surprising happens: Jesus raises Lazarus that very day. It’s a twist in the story absolutely nobody saw coming. Martha and Mary, for all their faith in Jesus, had no expectation of having dinner with their brother. Jesus flips the script and astounds everyone, and many believe (John 11:45). The resurrection of Lazarus inspires such faith and devotion in Jesus that His opponents conspire to re-kill Lazarus to stem the tide.
The Resurrection and The Life is a spiritual and eschatological reality, but Jesus occasionally gives a taste, a free sample, that we may believe. Lazarus is not the norm, nor is there any promise of physical resurrection to believers before the second coming of Christ. The New Testament only records four other instances, not including the resurrection of Jesus: A widow’s son (Luke 7:11-16), Jairus’ daughter (Luke 8:49-56), Dorcas (Acts 9:36-43), and Eutychus (Acts 20:7-12). In contrast, Jesus and the apostles heal the sick quite liberally.
But there is a much more ubiquitous foretaste of resurrection in the New Testament, one available to all believers.
We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. – Romans 6:4-5
How do we respond to The Resurrection and The Life? By partaking in the institution of baptism. All who profess faith in Christ are invited to taste and to participate in the resurrection of Christ in rising up from the waters of baptism. When we witness this sacred ritual, let us remember the promise of Jesus and worship the Lord who is our resurrection and our life.
For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. – John 6:40