“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. Do you believe this?” (John 11:25–26)
A few days ago we laid the body of my wife’s grandfather in the ground outside the little brick church in the cornfields where he attended all 97 years of his life. I was given the profound honor of preaching at his funeral. And the words of John 11:25–26 were my text.
I chose them because Jesus said them to Martha when Lazarus lay dead in his tomb. And I was to stand behind the old pulpit in front of a full casket.
A corpse is a fierce reality. It demands that we explain these claims of Jesus — perhaps the most incredible ever spoken by a credible human being in all of history.
What does Jesus mean that he is “the resurrection and the life”? Why is it only for those who believe? And how can one die and never die?
“I am the resurrection and the life.”
To understand why Jesus gave himself this strange name, we must go back to the horror that occurred in Eden.
God had warned Adam and Eve that if they ate from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil they would die (Genesis 2:17). But the devil-serpent told Eve that God was a liar. They would not die. They would become like God (Genesis 3:4–5)! And they believed him and ate (Genesis 3:6–7).
Do you see what happened? As long as Adam and Eve believed God, they would have life — abundant life, full of the joy of sweet fellowship with their Father. Trusting God with all their heart would have protected them.
But when they listened to a deceiver and trusted in their own understanding (Proverbs 3:5), it opened to them a world of horror. Their eyes, and the eyes of all of us descendants, were opened to evil and blinding complexities that none of us have the capacity to grasp. Fear and self-worship turned us pathologically selfish. We became susceptible to all sorts of deception.
And God pronounced a curse on them that we who sin like them have inherited (Genesis 3:17–19). Death entered the human experience and with it all sorts of affliction and trouble.
When Jesus said, “I am the resurrection and the life,” what he meant was that he had come to reverse this curse. “For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive” (1 Corinthians 15:22). Jesus came to bear “our sins in his body on the tree that we might live to righteousness” (1 Peter 2:24). “The wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord” (Romans 6:23).
But Jesus only reverses the curse for all who will believe in him. That’s why he says…
“Whoever believes in me, though he dies, yet shall he live.”
Why is believing so crucial to Jesus? Because the fall of Adam and Eve was the failure to believe in God. “They exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever” (Romans 1:25). This is a dishonoring, a treason of such magnitude that a holy God cannot tolerate and be righteous. Such guilt must receive its just penalty.
But “God so loved the world that he gave his only Son that whoever believes in him will not perish, but have eternal life” (John 3:16). Jesus pays the penalty for this treason by bearing the curse (Galatians 3:13) for everyone who will trust his word over Satan’s or their own understanding. And everyone who believes in him will be raised from the dead just as Jesus was resurrected (1 Corinthians 15:52–53). And more than that…
“Whoever lives and believes in me shall never die.”
Now wait. Isn’t this just double-talk? How can you die and never die?
Here’s what I believe Jesus means. Everything that has been subject to the curse of the fall will die. The old must pass away (2 Corinthians 5:17). “That which is born of the flesh is flesh” (John 3:6). Our bodies and the sinful nature woven into them will die (except for those who are alive at Jesus’s return [1 Corinthians 15:51]) because Jesus is delivering us from sin as well as death (Romans 8:2). “Who will deliver me from the body of this death?” Jesus (Romans 7:24–25)!
But “that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.” When a person believes in Jesus they are “born again” (John 3:3). To this believer he says I am in you and you are in me (John 14:20). And nothing that is united to the Resurrection and the Life can die. The newborn spirit, what Paul calls the “inner self” (2 Corinthians 4:16) does not die when the outer self dies. This is why Paul says that to “be away from the body” is to be “at home with the Lord” (2 Corinthians 5:8).
That which is born of the Spirit does not die when that which is born of the flesh dies.
“Do you believe this?”
This was the question Jesus asked Martha in the face of Lazarus’s death. It rang in our ears as we buried Grandpa Wally.
It is the most important question you will ever answer. For John the Baptist said, “Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him” (John 3:36).
Jesus has come to reverse the curse of death. And this free gift is yours if you will believe in him. You will live though you die, you will be raised, and you will never die.