I Am the Resurrection and the Life

We love our conveniences and because they can be largely attributed to scientific progress, science has become the new priesthood. Yet their prevailing consensus for man’s destiny is a bleak one, death is final. The Bible tells a different story. Jesus Christ conquered death.  John’s gospel is unique in its theological discourse on the deity of Jesus Christ. Seven times Jesus is recorded as saying “I am” attached to a metaphor (Jn. 6:35, 8:12, 10:9, 10:11, 11:25, 14:6, 15:5). These seven statements provide a unique window in which to view the person of Jesus. The words “I am”, ego eimi in Greek, had an unambiguous connotation to Jesus’ first century Jewish audience. When Moses first encountered Yahweh in the burning bush, he was given a mission to bring his people out of Egypt. Moses balked asking God, “who he would say had sent him?” God said to Moses, “I am who I am.” And he said, “Say this to the people of Israel, ‘I am has sent me to you’ ” (Ex 3:14).  The “I am” statements by Jesus are nothing short of a claim to be that voice in the bush. Fortunately, whenever modern higher criticism casts doubt upon Jesus’ claim to divinity, the Pharisees faithfully come to the rescue. For they had no doubts that Jesus was claiming to be the “I am” of the Torah. This is beyond question as they subsequently attempt to stone him for blasphemy (Jn. 5:17-18, 8:58-59). Of the famous seven “I am” statements found in the gospel of John, I believe the fifth, “I am the resurrection and the life” is the most explicit proclamation of Jesus’ power and deity.

The context of this astonishing statement is last of the great sign miracles discussed in the fourth gospel, near the end of Jesus public ministry. We learn that Jesus friend Lazarus is ill. The home of Lazarus was in Bethany, near Jerusalem (Jn. 11:1, 30; 12:1), located south east of the Mount of Olives.[1] Jesus was a close friend of the family. Mary, the sister of Lazarus, is identified as the one who anointed the Lord and wiped his feet with her hair (cf. Jn.12:3). This unforgettable act will be retold in eternity as both Mark (Mk.14:9) and Matthew (Mat.26:13) immortalize.[2] In fact, Jesus was likely a frequent guest (Matt. 21:17; Lk. 10:38–41; Jn. 11:17). The sister’s message, “Lord, he whom you love is ill” also reveals the close relationship. It employed the word phileo meaning “to love as friend.”[3] His personal affection for the family was shared, evidenced when speaking to the disciples Jesus also called Lazarus “our friend” (Jn.11:11).

In light of Jesus close relationship and the urgency of the request, Jesus’ response seems all the more perplexing at first. They were at least a day’s journey from Bethany and the disciples, like the sisters, were afraid that Lazarus might die. Dr. Towns thinks that perhaps Lazarus had already expired by the time Jesus received the message.[4] The sequence of events does make it likely.  Jesus foreshadows the imminent miracle when he replies that the end result would not be what it appeared. He said, “This sickness will not end in death”, rather that God would “be glorified” (Jn. 11:4). This seems alien to our human experience because of our temporal perspective. We are bound in time. In contrast, God as an eternal omniscient spirit has providentially ordained events and circumstances apart from our ability to perceive or conceive. Pointing to this reality, Jesus had made a similar comment concerning the blind man he previously healed.  When he was asked whose sin had caused the man’s disability, Jesus answered, “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him” (Jn 9:3). Indeed, it seems as if at times God wants to remove all plausible deniability to a sign miracle. For instance, before calling down fire from heaven, Elijah had the priests of Baal pour water on the firewood (1 Ki. 18:33).  For this reason, instead of rushing to Lazarus’ side, Jesus stayed where he was for two days longer.

Jesus then tells the disciples that Lazarus has merely fallen asleep and that he is going to waken him. Obtuse as ever, they reply, “he will recover” (Jn.11:12).  Finally Jesus drops the euphemism and tells them “plainly,” or “with boldness” (Greek parrēsia̧), that Lazarus is dead (Jn.11:15). Driving divine providence home, Jesus says he is actually glad he was not there so that they would believe. Death is the great unknown and arguably the primal fuel for all human anxiety. Morris writes, “As far as men were concerned, the position of Lazarus, who had been in the grave four days, was hopeless.”[5] Even more, Jesus wants to risk stoning by going the way of Jerusalem. I sometimes think that Thomas was the scientist of the group because he is famous for demanding to see the evidence for himself. In step with his skeptical predisposition, he speaks for the hopelessness of the natural man’s temperament when he laments, “Let us also go, that we may die with him” (Jn.11:16).

Jesus finally arrives only to find a scene of mourning and sorrow. I believe Jesus tears (Jn. 11:25) are really over the general state of unbelief he encounters even amongst his closest friends. By this point, it had been four days since Lazarus died. To bolster my argument that God seeks to dispel plausible deniability, I contend the four days were by skillful design:

There was a well-known Jewish belief (attested from about a.d. 200) that the soul of a dead person remained in the vicinity of the body “hoping to reenter it” for three days, but once decomposition set in, the soul departed. John wants us to know clearly that Lazarus is truly dead and that the miracle of Jesus cannot be construed as a resuscitation.[6]

Martha went out to meet Jesus and bemoaned his delayed arrival. When Jesus replied that Lazarus would rise, she acknowledges that she is a believer in the ultimate resurrection on the last day. This alludes to the fact the Jews really did not have a category for individual resurrections. The Jewish doctrine was largely based on the general resurrection of the dead in Daniel 12:2, which we now know occurs after the Parousia and is expounded on in Revelation chapter 20. It is at this point that Jesus delivers the great statement, “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?” (Jn 11:25-26).  Dr. Towns writes that, “Martha had expressed her faith in the resurrection as a principle, but Jesus now reveals the resurrection as a person.”[7] Even more, Jesus is not only pointing to his own future resurrection but also to his deity, for he even claims to be life itself. Never disappointing, Jesus delivers Lazarus, grave clothes and all, providing evidence that death is not final. A truth he expands upon and confirms with his own triumph over the grave.

The hopeless absurdity of modern man is best encapsulated by the belief that death is the cessation of being. The scientific consensus is one of philosophical naturalism and materialistic reductionism. We humans are merely bodies and brains, the products of random unguided forces. If it’s true there is necessarily no real meaning or ultimate significance to life and certainly no final justice. Despite this pathetic flee from ultimate accountability, I believe most people intuitively know better. It is only by burying oneself under heaps of rationalistic denial and Darwinian obfuscations that one arrives at such a pitiful worldview. Our thought life and nightly excursions into the dream state speak to a deeper metaphysical truth, even to children. Science is still mystified by the life force albeit all of its fortuitous accomplishments. We have a sense of our immaterial self which is greater than unintentional chemical reactions. This is only adequately explained by the idea that we spiritual beings having a material experience. Genesis records, “then the Lord God formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature” (Ge 2:7).  Life is breathed by God. Jesus’ fifth “I am” statement is a claim to be one and the same.


[1]Moisés Silva and Merrill Chapin Tenney, The Zondervan Encyclopedia of the Bible, Volume 3, H-L, (Grand Rapids, MI: The Zondervan Corporation, 2009), 1009.

[2]Gerald L. Borchert, vol. 25A, John 1-11, electronic ed., Logos Library System; The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 2001, c1996), 349.

[3] Elmer Towns. The Gospel of John: Believe and Live. (Chattanooga, TN: AMG Publishers, 2002), 106.

[4] Towns, John, 106.

[5] Leon Morris. Jesus is the Christ: Studies in the Theology of John. (Grand Rapids MH: Eerdman’s Publishing Co., 1989), 38.

[6]Gary M. Burge, The NIV Application Commentary: John (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 2000), 315.

[7] Towns, John, 109.

About Cris Putnam
Logos Apologia is the ministry of Cris D. Putnam. The mission of Logos Apologia is to show that logic, science, history and faith are complementary, not contradictory and to bring that life-changing truth to everybody who wants to know.

Comments

  1. Bob Caravan says:

    Death where art though sting?

Speak Your Mind