Lord of the Dead

Article by

Founder & Teacher, desiringGod.org

“To this end Christ died and lived again, that he might be Lord both of the dead and of the living” (Romans 14:9). Jesus is Lord of the dead. That’s like saying President Reagan is Commander-in-Chief of all the soldiers in Arlington National Cemetery. Not a very impressive army. Not a very significant office of leadership.

I just looked down at the back of my hand. If I stretch my fingers straight out the skin on the back of my hand wrinkles, and the creases that connect the pores with diamond shapes are deeper than they were a year ago. This reminds me that I will not always be alive. I will be dead one of these days. Jesus is my Lord now and he will be my Lord then.

What does this mean?

It was Holy Week when the Sadducees put Jesus to the test (see Matthew 22:23–33 for the following account). Sadducees don’t believe in resurrection. So they try to make the belief look ridiculous: A woman has seven husbands, one after the other as each dies. Whose wife will she be in the resurrection? Ha ha ha.

Jesus doesn’t laugh. He says: You flunk, because you don’t know the Bible or the power of God. The Sadducees put much less stock in the prophets than they did in the five books of Moses. Daniel, for example, must have gotten carried away when he wrote that “many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt” (Daniel 12:2). And Isaiah must have let his mind wander when he said, “Your dead shall live; their bodies shall rise. You who dwell in the dust, awake and sing for joy!” (Isaiah 26:19). The Sadducees preferred the sturdy, down-to-earth Moses. He never said anything about resurrection.

So Jesus agrees to play on their court. He says, “Have you not read in the book of Moses, in the passage about the bush, how God spoke to him, ‘I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’? He is not the God of the dead, but of the living” (Mark 12:26–27). You flunk. The point is not that God said, “I am the God of Abraham.” The Sadducees would know that’s just playing with words. The point is that God said, “I am the God of Abraham.” The assumption is: If God is your God, then there is so much power working for you that you can never be robbed of life.

But now back to Jesus who is Lord of the dead. Isn’t it strange that Jesus should say, God is not the God of the dead, but Paul should say, Jesus is Lord of the dead? It’s not so strange if we let the word of Jesus help us interpret the word of Paul. If God cannot be God of the dead, then Jesus cannot be Lord of the dead. That is, he cannot rule over people who stay in the grave. Those whom he rules live! If Jesus is Lord of the dead, they are not dead! If God is the God of Abraham, Abraham is not dead!

As my hand gets more and more wrinkled, in this I hope: Jesus is Lord of the dead. And therefore they are not dead. For this he died and lived again. “Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live” (John 11:25). Praise the Lord! The Lord of the dead who are not dead!