Editor’s note: The purpose of this series is to help our readers think through what the deity of Christ and it’s importance to the Christian faith.

the-deity-of-ChristJesus the Resurrection and the Life

Jesus is the master minister, and his purpose all along has been to strengthen the faith of his disciples through Lazarus’s death. The first to benefit was Martha, who wisely raced to meet him as he arrived. With this in mind, Jesus continued with the fifth of the seven “I am” statements of the Gospel of John. Seven times, Jesus uses the great “I am” name of the Lord to reveal the greatest truths of salvation. “I am the bread of life,” he told the hungry crowd in John 6 “I am the light of the world.” When those false shepherds, the Pharisees, cast one of Christ’s sheep out from the synagogue, Jesus replied in John 10:9, “I am the door. If anyone enters by me, he will be saved” (John 10:9), and “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep” (John 10:11). Now, at the scene of Lazarus’ death, he gives this staggering revelation to grieving Martha. John 11:25-26, “Jesus said to her, “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?””

These are among the most precious and important words to ever fall from Jesus’ lips. J.C. Ryle comments that Jesus tells Martha that He is not merely a human teacher of the resurrection, but the Divine Author of all resurrection, whether spiritual or physical, and the Root and Fountain of all life.”[i]

There are questions about how to take Jesus’ statement, especially since in verse 25 he asserts that those who believe in him will live, even though they die, while verse 26 says that believers will never die. The best way to understand this is that Jesus first identifies himself as the source of resurrection and life. He next explains his resurrection, following his death, and then he treats the eternal life that follows the resurrection. We might say that Jesus lays out resurrection life at the beginning in himself; in the middle, after death; and then at the end, in a life that will never again experience death, forever, and ever.

First, Jesus reveals himself as the source of “the resurrection and the life.” We may hope in the resurrection because Jesus himself has entered into death and risen from the grave. “The whole human race is plunged into death,” writes John Calvin. “Therefore, no man will possess life unless he is first risen from the dead. Hence Christ teaches that He is the beginning of life.”[ii]  To believe in Jesus is to receive the benefit not only of his life and death, but also of his resurrection; from him through faith. Christians are entered into glory through the light of his open tomb. John 14:19, “Because I live you will also live.”

If the resurrection’s beginning and source rests with Jesus Himself—with His divine person and saving work—then the middle of Christ’s resurrection promise deals with His answer to death. John 11:25, “Whoever believes in me, though he died, yet shall he live.” Here is the answer—the only true answer—to the problem of death. By trusting in Jesus, we gain the promise of resurrection life. “Your brother will rise again” (John 11:23), he told Martha, and so he says of all who believe.

Some argue that Jesus is speaking here of spiritual death, not physical death, an analogy that the New Testament certainly makes. But Jesus here speaks of believers who die, and the context strongly favors a reference to physical death. J.C. Ryle explains, “As surely as I, the Head, have life, and cannot be kept a prisoner by the grave, so surely all my members, believing in Me, shall live also.”[iii]

Jesus’ second statement elaborates on the resurrection He gives, and the third statement refers to the life that believers gain from Him. John 11:26, “Everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die.” This is the end awaiting all who trust in Jesus Christ, a life that will never end: Jesus adds, literally, that we “will never die forever.” Benjamin B. Warfield writes, “Whatever death is, and all that death is.. that is what we shall be saved from in this salvation. And whatever life is, and all that life is… that is what we shall be saved to in this salvation.”[iv]

Resurrection Life

The Gospel of John is sometimes called the Gospel of Belief. And if there is one place above all where this Gospel most powerfully summons us to faith in Jesus Christ, it might be here. Can there be a greater reason to believe on Jesus than His claim to hold the key to the problem of death? Jesus promises life: abundant life, and eternal life. And within a handful of days after this promise, He himself would prove His claims and seal his promises by rising from the grave in resurrection power. Jesus proclaims, “I am the resurrection and the life” (John 11:25). This means that Jesus gives the meaning of life and the answer to death. He promises, “Wgowever believes in me” will live even though he dies. And “everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die” (John 11:26).

No wonder, then, that Jesus concluded the encounter with Martha by asking the all-important question, “Do you believe this?” It is still the all-important question, the great question confronting everyone who hears his words even today. How you answer this one question determines nothing less than the great question of life and the unavoidable question of death.

Indeed, to believe in Jesus is to start living this resurrection life even now. We do not have to wait until we die to receive new life from Christ; his resurrection begins in us the moment we believe. This was Paul’s explanation of what it means to enter into new life through faith in Christ. Ephesians 2:1, 4-5, “And you were dead in the trespasses and sins.  But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved.” This is the gift that God offers to anyone who will come in faith to Jesus. Those who believe in Him are freed from the power of death even before they die, and they receive his never-ending life even now, to life in this world as those who have everything to gain and nothing to lose.

This is what Tokichi Ishii learned after two women came to his prison cell to talk about Jesus Christ. He had an almost unparalleled criminal record, having murdered men, women, and children in the most brutal was, and was awaiting his just execution. As the Christian women spoke, Tokichi glowered at them like a savage animal. Eventually, they gave up trying to talk with him, but they left a Bible in his cell. He picked it up and began to read. And he kept reading. He could not put it down. Finally, he came to the point in the Gospel where Jesus, hanging on the cross, spoke aloud: “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34). Tokichi later recalled, “I stopped. I was stabbed to the heart, as if pierced by a five-inch nail. Shall I call it the love of Christ? Shall I call it His compassion? I do not know what to call it. I only know that I believed, and my hardness of heart was changed.”[v]

Believing in Jesus, through the word of his gospel, Tokichi Ishii received the beginning of resurrection life. Later, the jailer came to lead him to the scaffold. “He found, not the hardened, surely brute he had expected, but a smiling radiant man, for the murder had been born again. Literally, Christ brought Tokichi Ishii to life.”[vi]  And by believing in Jesus, though he died, yet he will forever live.

In every kind of prison that since and device, whether pleasure of pain, pride or despair, and with the threat of death facing even man, woman, and child, Jesus offers the same to everyone who believes. “I am the resurrection and the life,” he declares. And he asks, “Do you believe this?”

[i] J.C. Ryle, Expository thoughts on the Gospels: John, 3 vols. (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 1999), 2:297

[ii] John Calvin, New Testament Commentaries, trans. T.H.:. Parker, 12 vols. (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1959), 5:8

[iii] Ryle, John, 2:298

[iv] Benjamin B. Warfield, The Saviour of the World (1916; rep., Edinburg: Banner of Truth, 1991), 47.

[v] Barclay, John 2:109.

[vi] Ibid.