Bible Study Commentary on Jesus the Great I AM
I AM the Resurrection and the Life P2 - The conqueror of death and our future hope
By I Gordon
The last enemy to be destroyed is death. (1 Corinthians 15:26)1
We have before us today a very light topic... Death! Well, that's part of it but not the main focus so allow me to start again. We have before us today, He who is the resurrection and the life - the One who has conquered death for all. Last time we looked at the first part of the story of Lazarus' resurrection and saw that it was here that Jesus made His wonderful pronouncement saying 'I AM the resurrection and the life!' We saw how this statement has both a present and a future reality. Last time we focused more on the present day reality that Jesus wants all to grasp - that He is life itself, He is the I AM - present tense. As we saw it was this 'present day' aspect that Martha didn't really see. She saw what was to come but not what Jesus could and would do right then and there. No one is recorded as having died in Jesus' presence, or as someone once said, Jesus never preached any funeral sermons! He is life itself.
Today we will carry on from where we left off focusing more on the future aspect - what 'the resurrection and the life' means for our future. As we go through the second half of this great story about Lazarus we'll see it points to some important themes like Jesus' resurrection, His victory over death, and what that means for every believer at the end of this age. Lazarus' resurrection is a pointer to the far greater resurrection of all believers. The Lord promised it, His power enables it and I believe it. It will happen. So let's start close to where we left off last time.
What Martha knew and why
John 11:21-24 Lord, Martha said to Jesus, "if you had been here, my brother would not have died. (22) But I know that even now God will give you whatever you ask." (23) Jesus said to her, "Your brother will rise again." (24) Martha answered, "I know he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day."
Let's look at this passage in terms of what Martha knew about the resurrection and the life. When Jesus said that 'Your brother will rise' her thoughts immediately went to the end of the age. 'I know he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day' she said. She was confident and had a sure hope about this event that will happen 'at the last day'. Probably, if pressed any further, she wouldn't have been able to say much else. You see, while the Old Testament does speak of the coming resurrection, it is left until the time of Jesus and the Apostles where true light was shone upon what will happen on that day. But there are three common passages in the Old Testament that shine some light on the subject which Martha would have been familiar with. Here is one of those examples.
An Old Testament example - Job's progressive revelation on death and what happens next!
So let's go to someone who thought a lot about death. Not because he really wanted to but because his situation unfortunately made this thought and prospect very real to him. And that's our good friend Job. As you probably know, the outlook for Job was dark. His friends basically said all his troubles were his own fault. His own dear wife suggested that he 'curse God and die' (Job 2:9) Job himself wished he had never been born. But... but... but thank God that is not where it ends. Let's look at an early thought of Job's concerning his life and death.
Job 10:18-22 Why then did you bring me out of the womb? I wish I had died before any eye saw me. (19) If only I had never come into being, or had been carried straight from the womb to the grave! (20) Are not my few days almost over? Turn away from me so I can have a moment's joy (21) before I go to the place of no return, to the land of gloom and deep shadow, (22) to the land of deepest night, of deep shadow and disorder, where even the light is like darkness."
Right... so... feeling encouraged? Here Job speaks of death as the place of no return, of gloom and of deepest darkness. This is the unfortunate situation for the unbeliever but what of a believer like Job was? Is death gloom or gladness? Darkness or light? What is it that is talking here? Most likely it's his boils and the loss of all his children that are speaking here. It is tremendous pain both physically and emotionally that is speaking. Yet light starts to break through as you move through this book.
Job 14:10-15 "But man dies and lies prostrate. Man expires, and where is he? (11) "As water evaporates from the sea, And a river becomes parched and dried up, (12) So man lies down and does not rise. Until the heavens are no longer, He will not awake nor be aroused out of his sleep... "If a man dies, will he live again? All the days of my struggle I will wait Until my change comes. (15) "You will call, and I will answer You; You will long for the work of Your hands.
Most of humanity tries to keep themself numb to the thought of what happens after death. But given Job's situation, this was a question that was front and center! On the one hand, it seems that a man dies and is no more. Where is he? Nobody knows. He lies down and does not rise. But then he asks the all important question - 'If a man dies, will he live again?' That is the question that every soul needs to ponder and answer. Without a future resurrection, life is ultimately meaningless. About three weeks ago the well known physicist and cosmologist Stephen Hawking died. I was reading an article shortly after his death about why he wouldn't be in heaven. To quote the article, "For him, there absolutely is no god, no heaven, and definitely no afterlife."
"I regard the brain as a computer which will stop working when its components fail," he told the Guardian. "There is no heaven or afterlife for broken down computers; that is a fairy story for people afraid of the dark."
I felt sad when I read that. I can tell you that one second after he died he will no longer believe his own words and, most unfortunate of all, he will now be the one afraid of the dark. Now this tired old slow single core processor of mine probably wouldn't understand his physics and cosmology theories. They would be over my head. I scrapped through some University Physics papers but certainly nothing to boast about! Yet, when I read his statement that there is no God or afterlife because the brain is just a computer whose components have failed, and that there is no afterlife for broken down computers, one simple obvious question came to mind - 'So who made the brain?' If the brain is simply a computer whose components eventually fail, who made it? Because, I studied computer architecture at University and have been a software developer for the last 23 years and I can tell you that no computer invented itself. Every computer has one or more architects for all the different components that make up its parts. Computer hardware has architects and designers. Software has coders. This is so clear and evident to even the simplest among us that some of the so-called greatest minds can't see it. Or, more accurately, don't want to see it.
So Job asked the telling question -'If a man dies will he live again?' And then, in a beautiful little statement that I love, he gives his first glimpse of a future post-death hope - 'You will call and I will answer you. You will long for the work of your hands'. You will call and I will answer you. I love that .Like Jesus calling out 'Lazarus, come forth' even death itself couldn't stop life! And Lazarus responded! Like Jesus' call to the aged John on the island of Patmos saying 'Come up here' and immediately John responded and was before the throne of God! And why? Because Jesus 'longs for the work of His hands'. We are His workmanship! Job's revelation of the resurrection isn't complete though. He has another wonderful insight still to come.
Job 19:25-27 "As for me, I know that my Redeemer lives, And at the last He will take His stand on the earth. (26) "Even after my skin is destroyed, Yet from my flesh I shall see God; (27) Whom I myself shall behold, And whom my eyes will see and not another. My heart faints within me!
That is amazing. Remember, most scholars believe that Job is the oldest book in the Bible yet in contains wonderful revelation about the very end. Job knew that
1. There was a Redeemer.
2. There was an end of the age
3. At this end this Redeemer would literally stand on the earth and
4, At that time, even though his flesh had long long ago been food for worms, yet in his flesh He would see God. R.e.s.u.r.r.e.c.t.i.o.n! Amazing!
So getting back to our main story, Martha would have known this. She could confidently say that 'I know my brother will rise again at the end of the age'. It was here in Jewish thought even if its finer details still awaited the New Testament revelation. So let's continue in John 11.
Look again at this great promise
John 11:25-27 Jesus said to her, "I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in Me will live even if he dies, (26) and everyone who lives and believes in Me will never die. Do you believe this?" (27) She *said to Him, "Yes, Lord; I have believed that You are the Christ, the Son of God, even He who comes into the world."
Jesus said 'He who believes in me is alive and well spiritually even though he dies physically; and whoever has my life, through believing in Me, will never die spiritually.' A wonderful promise. But there is more to this than I had previously considered. Some believe that Jesus was looking down through the age when He made this statement... right up until His return. Some believe there are two different groups of believers addressed here. Group one is for the vast majority of believers throughout this age of grace who have died physically. They are alive and well even though they have died. The second promise addresses those that are alive at the end of this age when He returns. They shall never see death - any type of death! So we could paraphrase it as:
"I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live even if he dies physically in this age. And everyone who is alive at my return and believes in Me will never die physically or spiritually."
You may not have thought about death very much yet. I guess there is an age when this starts to occur more frequently. Quite possibly you've thought more about the rapture. Your hope is in the 'upper-taker' not the 'under-taker'! Either way, because of Jesus' resurrection, those that are in Him have His life and that life cannot die or end. Our hope is not in vain! But to that I should add that Jesus' words offer no hope to those that do not believe. They will not pass from death to life. If you are only born once (just a physical birth), you die twice (physically and spiritually). If you are born twice (physically and spiritually) you will only die once (physically). And if you are a believer at the time of the Lord's return you will never see physical or spiritual death!
What wonderful promises these are! I read recently the testimony of an African Muslin who came to the Lord over verses such as this. He had sought peace and comfort within Islam but found none. Did you know that even Muhammad, the prophet of Islam, didn't know whether he would make it to heaven or not? The Muslim can never really be sure. The closest to being sure is to die in Jihad. To blow yourself and others up to please Allah. Crazy... But our Muslin friend read this passage and others like it... and oh the contrast. What assurance! What hope! And He became a Christian. What amazing hope this promise gives. I've been to two funerals recently. Both were elderly women. Both died of cancer. One was a believer who looked forward to heaven and spoke of it regularly. Her funeral was filled with hope and songs like 'Amazing Grace how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me.' The other was of a unbeliever. There was no mention of God. No hope of what is to come. Her parting song was Frank Sinatra's 'I did it my way'. Doing it your way isn't something to be proud of. The vast majority on this earth do it 'there way'. How about the Lord's way? A wise king once said 'There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way of death.'
The deep disturbance of Jesus
John 11:32-38 Therefore, when Mary came where Jesus was, she saw Him, and fell at His feet, saying to Him, "Lord, if You had been here, my brother would not have died." (33) When Jesus therefore saw her weeping, and the Jews who came with her also weeping, He was deeply moved in spirit and was troubled, (34) and said, "Where have you laid him?" They *said to Him, "Lord, come and see." (35) Jesus wept. (36) So the Jews were saying, "See how He loved him!" (37) But some of them said, "Could not this man, who opened the eyes of the blind man, have kept this man also from dying?" (38) So Jesus, again being deeply moved within, *came to the tomb. Now it was a cave, and a stone was lying against it.
Now, as we mentioned last time, Jesus knew from the very start what He was going to do in this situation. He purposely delayed His coming so that Lazarus would die. It would take death for this wonderful miracle to be seen which gave tremendous evidence that He was who He said He was - the I AM. The One who holds the power of life and death. So He always knew that He was going to raise Lazarus from the dead and that all would end well. And yet, at the same time, these verses tell us that there is something stirring deep within the spirit of Jesus. When He saw their weeping He was 'deeply moved in spirit and was troubled'. When He went to the tomb we read the same thing again, that He was 'deeply moved within'. What's going on? Some Bible teachers say that He was angry at their unbelief but that doesn't do justice I believe, to the Lord or to the context of this story. If He was angry with them would He weep with them? No... I believe something deeper was going on.
The word translated 'deeply moved' is a little difficult to translate. It is only used in 4 other places in the New Testament. It does have the thought of anger or intense agitation. But what was He angry at? It is useful to see how this Greek word is used outside of the Bible. There we find it is used of the snorting of horses as they line up before going into battle. I believe that gives us a better glimpse into what was going on in the heart and mind of Jesus at this time. On the one hand I believe He was looking back... all the way back to the Garden. He was deeply stirred by the sin, suffering and death that had entered into the world. All the pain, all the hurt, all the injustice, all the grief... He had seen it all. He identified with Mary and Martha over their grief and loss. Jesus wept. It is the shortest verse in the New Testament but it says more than enough. So on the one hand He was looking back... but on the other He was looking forward. Being deeply stirred or agitated within, He was like a horse snorting before going into battle. He knew what raising Lazarus meant. He knew it sealed the deal on His own death (of which Lazarus' resurrection was but a picture2 .) He knew what He was soon to face where He Himself would go down into death to defeat death once and for all!
And that is what He did. Death, the Bible says, is the last enemy. It is an enemy3 . It has been this mystery that has held people in fear all their lives. It is a great curtain or veil that no one has been able to peak behind to see what is there. In many countries and cultures people do their best to appease the 'gods' because of this fear of death. Death is an enemy. But death had never tried to hold Him who is LIFE before!
Hebrews 2:14-15 Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might destroy him who holds the power of death--that is, the devil-- (15) and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death.
2 Timothy 1:9-10 ...This grace was given us in Christ Jesus before the beginning of time, but it has now been revealed through the appearing of our Savior, Christ Jesus, who has destroyed death and has brought life and immortality to light through the gospel.
This is a wonderful verse and there are two things that immediately jump out:
Jesus 'destroyed' death for the believer. He destroyed it. That is emphatic. It no longer holds power or fear over one who believes in the Lord. Yes, our physical bodies still age... your skin sags, your hair greys (or fails out), your sight blurs, your hearing fades, your legs shake, your memory... argh... sorry forgot what I was going to say there. Anyway, what was I talking about? Oh yeah... our beautiful bodies are in a process of breaking down. BUT, but but but... death has lost its sting. Jesus said 'He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever believes in me will never die.'
Jesus and His Apostles 'brought life and immortality to light through the gospel'. The Old Testament had a few references to the future resurrection from the dead (specifically Job 19:25-26, Isa 26:19-20, Dan 12:1-3) but the light and detail on the subject awaited the Messiah. It is with the gospel that light in shone on eternal life and immorality and demonstrated through the victory that Jesus had over death in His resurrection.
So why was Jesus deeply moved and troubled? The death and resurrection of Lazarus sealed the deal and pointed to His own coming battle and victory, over death. Like a horse snorting before the coming battle Jesus knew what was soon coming. But this also points to how His victory and resurrection, will also be played out in the life of every believer when He returns. Let's close with that.
Just as well He said 'Lazarus'!
John 11:38-44 Jesus, once more deeply moved, came to the tomb. It was a cave with a stone laid across the entrance. (39) Take away the stone, he said. "But, Lord," said Martha, the sister of the dead man, "by this time there is a bad odor, for he has been there four days." (40) Then Jesus said, "Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?" (41) So they took away the stone. Then Jesus looked up and said, "Father, I thank you that you have heard me. (42) I knew that you always hear me, but I said this for the benefit of the people standing here, that they may believe that you sent me." (43) When he had said this, Jesus called in a loud voice, "Lazarus, come out!" (44) The dead man came out, his hands and feet wrapped with strips of linen, and a cloth around his face. Jesus said to them, "Take off the grave clothes and let him go."
With very little fanfare and no showmanship, Jesus calls for Lazarus to come forth in a simple prayer for the benefit of those around. Now remember... Lazarus had been death four days. John MacArthur writes (and this comes with a very very serious warning... don't read this quote if you are about to have lunch, have just had lunch, thinking about yesterday's lunch or are squeamish in any shape or form)... Argh, naaa, just read it!
"What happens in four days? The Jews did not embalm. The Jews did nothing to stop the decay. They wrapped the body and sprinkled spices on it to mitigate the smell. That's it. Here's what happens in four days, pretty grisly stuff. The heart has stopped beating. The body cells are then deprived of oxygen, and they begin to die. Blood drains from throughout the circulatory system and pools in the low places. Muscles begin to stiffen in what is known commonly by the Latin, rigor mortis. That sets in after three hours. By 24 hours, the body has lost all its heat. The muscles then lose their rigor mortis in 36 hours, and by 72 hours rigor mortis has vanished. All stiffness is gone and the body is soft. Looking a little bit deeper, as cells begin to die, bacteria go to work. Your body is filled with bacteria, but that's another subject. The bacteria in the body of a dead person begin to attack, breaking the cells down. The decomposing tissue takes on a horrific look and smell and emits green liquids by the 72nd hour. The tissue releases hydrogen sulfide and methane as well as other gases. A horrible smell is emitted. Insects and animals will consume parts of the body if they can get at it. Meet Lazarus. That's the condition he's in when Jesus arrives."
In other words, you have 100 trillion little bacteria microbes in your gut alone. You feed them. You house them. Free board. And are they thankful? No they are not! As soon as you stop feeding them they turn on you, literally, and start feeding on you! Charming...bacteria these days... so ungrateful... and even after all those decades of free food and board! Well this was Lazarus and as Martha so eloquently put it" 'Lord, by this time he stinketh!' He has already started to decompose. He is a mess. Even if you could put life back in his body, he would NOT be a sight to behold! Yet the power of Jesus can call him forth, and call him forth well and whole! He isn't resurrected looking like he should be on the set of a zombie apocalypse movie. He is well. Glowing even. Skin, muscles, tissues, organs... all well and whole. That is the power of our Lord. Of course when Jesus does it next time at the rapture, He isn't just reinstating this body back to its former glory (whenever that was!) No, His power means that He will change our body to be like unto His resurrected, cannot die, cannot get sick, cannot grow old, cannot sin, glorious body! What a day that will be!
The second point here is that, as many others have pointed out, it was a good thing that Jesus said 'Lazarus, come forth' and not just a loud 'Come forth!' Then you would have had all sorts or people in the area coming back from the dead. But at His return, it says He will come with a trumpet blast and a loud command, and that command will be to all believers, both alive and asleep at that time. And all will be changed and 'so we will be with the Lord forever.' (1 Thes 4:17)
So what are the take-aways from this message?
As far back as Job mankind has pondered the questions 'when a man dies where is he?' and 'if a man dies, will he live again?' We are far more than just some worn out computer that has failed. Death, for the unbeliever, is a time of deep darkness with no way out as Job said. But 'the gospel brought life and immortality to light.' Believers have this wonderful promise and assurance (not found in other religions such as Islam) that though our bodies die physically, our spirit is alive with the life of the Lord!
We also saw that Jesus was deeply moved within as He contemplated what it would take to overcome all the sin, suffering and grief that has come into this world through the fall. He also knew the battle that He Himself would soon face. But death couldn't hold our Lord down and the One who said 'I am the resurrection and the life' also dwells within believers and guarantees our life after death and future resurrection as well.
The power and fear of death that grips so many has been destroyed. Yes our bodies still age and die but, as Jesus said, 'he who believes in Me will live even if he dies'. And there is coming a generation of believers who will not even have to die! All believers shall be changed to be like Him.
Wouldn't it be incredible to be in that generation that meets the 'upper-taker' and not the 'under-taker'!
For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes
also through a man.
For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive. (1 Corinthians 15:21-22)
And as J. Vernon McGee writes: 'I'll be glad when we get rid of that fellow!' ↩
There is coming a day where the graves of those who have died in the Lord will be opened and death will not be able to hold them down anymore than it could Lazarus or Jesus Himself. It happened in a limited sense at Jesus' own resurrection where others were raised from the dead and were seen in the city. And it will happen en masse when the trumpet sounds and the command is given. I can't help but think of my Dad and Grandma who are with the Lord and what a day of reunion that will be! ↩
At the end of Pilgrim's Progress, as Christian faces the great river that is death, John Bunyan writes: "Now between them and the gate was a river, but there was no bridge to go over, and the river was very deep. At the sight of this river, the pilgrims were stunned. Then the men who went with them said, “You must go through the river or you cannot enter into the City at the gate.” The pilgrims then began to inquire if there were no other way to the gate, to which they answered, “Yes, but there have only been two, Enoch and Elijah, permitted to tread that path since the foundation of the world. And no one else will be permitted to go that way until the last trumpet shall sound." All must go through this river EXCEPT those alive at the return of the Lord! But for believers it has lost its sting and is a gateway to our real life. ↩