John 11:23-27 I am the Resurrection and the Life
John 11 is well-known for the amazing miracle of the resurrection of Lazarus from the dead, but what is the significance of this amazing miracle? As John makes clear at the end of his gospel, all of the signs and wonders of Jesus that he records are for the purpose of making clear who this Jesus is (see John 20:31)
So Jesus’ conversation with Martha in these verses is extremely important for understanding the significance of Lazarus’ resurrection. Let’s dive in and meditate on this short, but profound conversation.
First of all when Jesus says in v. 23, “your brother will rise again,” he doesn’t just make Lazarus’ resurrection a possibility, contingent on someone’s faith or action. It is a bare statement of fact… of his intention to raise Lazarus: “Your brother will rise again.”
Martha’s reply affirms her belief in the bodily resurrection at the end of time. The pharisees believed in this, but it would be interesting to research what they actually believed about this resurrection. Was it a resurrection only for the faithful, or of all people to judgment? Whatever it was, it is apparent that Martha’s affirmation refers to something other than what Jesus is referring to. For Martha, “the resurrection” is an event, but according to Jesus, “resurrection” is a person who is standing before her!
Jesus immediately explains the sense in which he is “the resurrection.” His statement that follows has two parts:
“He who believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live”
“Everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die.”
“He who believes in me, though he die…” parallels, “Everyone who lives and believes in me.”
Both are referring to those who believe in Jesus, but in the first statement, the believer in Jesus dies, presumably physically, like Lazarus. In the second statement, the believer in Jesus lives, again presumably physically. So we have 1) a believer in Jesus who dies physically and 2) a believer in Jesus who lives physically.
Jesus says of the believer who dies physically, “yet shall he live.” And he says of the believer who is still alive physically, that he, “shall never die.” This final part of the two declarations is referring to the spiritual life or death of the believer. In the first case, Jesus is saying that for the one who believes in him, physical death is not the end. Such a one will yet live. And in the second case, he is saying that for the believer in him who has not died physically, that one shall never die spiritually.
Both statements are ways of expressing the reality that the life that Jesus gives is an indestructible spiritual life that cannot be touched by physical death. There is therefore hope for the believer who has died physically (and for those who grieve that one), as well as hope for those believers who have not yet died physically. Both will receive eternal life.
Jesus, as “the resurrection and the life” is not just the dispenser of this eternal life, as if it were a commodity that he doled out, but he is the source of this life. He is the life. As John says later in his epistle, “God gave us eternal life, and this life is in his son.” (1 John 5:11) We don’t believe in Jesus therefore, in the sense that we believe he is able to give eternal life, but rather we believe in Jesus in the sense of entrusting ourselves to him such that he becomes our life. We don’t receive eternal life as something separate from Christ that he gives us, nor do we receive it as something alongside Christ that he gives us as he comes to us, but rather we receive eternal life in Christ, as we receive him. He is life, and to receive him is to receive the life that is in him. (see also John 5:21, 25–29; 6:39–40, 20:31)
So when Jesus says, “Do you believe this?” that question takes on additional meaning in light of what he has just said about belief in him. Granted, one could make the argument that it is possible to believe Jesus’ affirmation without believing in Jesus and receiving the life, but one could also argue that it is not possible to truly believe what Jesus is saying here without also believing in him. If one is not willing to entrust himself to Jesus, then he shows by that unwillingness his unbelief in the truth of Jesus’ affirmation.
It would be possible for anyone hearing what Jesus is saying to Martha here to understand his words only in a physical material sense. It might appear that Jesus is saying that belief in him will result in that person being brought back to life after death at some point, perhaps at the end-time resurrection, and that Jesus is also saying that the one who believes in him will never die physically. Such a claim would be hard to believe, even though it could be understood that way.
But it is significant that Martha does not reply to Jesus’ statement with an affirmation of her belief in something that Jesus might do, but rather with a statement of her believe in who Jesus is. I believe this points to the fact that Martha was expressing a belief that was of the nature of a personal entrusting of herself to Jesus. She may have not even fully understood his statement, but she nevertheless expressed her confidence in him as being the anointed Son of God.
Martha’s expression, “…who is coming into the world” shows that she is relating what she confesses here about Jesus to the prophecies that such a one would come.
There is no indication here that Martha had any expectation of what Jesus might do (or not do) next. Lazarus’ physical resurrection is not related at all to this declaration on Martha’s part. To the contrary, Martha’s confession of faith in Jesus is actually the more eternally significant event in this chapter, of which Lazarus’ physical resurrection is simply a confirming sign!! Martha, according to Jesus’ own promise made in vs. 25-26 receives eternal life in Jesus as she puts her faith in him. All Lazarus receives is a temporary restoration of his physical life! But Lazarus’ resurrection from the dead is a picture of the spiritual life that Jesus has just promised to Martha