“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) 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 tobelieve 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.
What characterizes the redemption of Christ holds true for the redemption of the believer. As the justification, adoption, sanctification, and glorification of the former take place by and at his resurrection, so the justification, adoption, sanctification, and glorification of the latter take place in his having been raised with Christ, that is, in his having been united to Christ as resurrected.
This means, then, that despite a surface appearance to the contrary, Paul does not view the justification, adoption, sanctification, and glorification of the believer as separate, distinct acts but as different facets or aspects of the one act of incorporation with the resurrected Christ.
–Richard B. Gaffin, Jr., Resurrection and Redemption: A Study in Paul’s Soteriology (P&R, 1987), 130-31
(HT: Dane Ortlund)
- A saviour who can never die again. ”For we know that Christ being raised from the dead will never die again.“ Romans 6:9
- Repentance. ”The God of our fathers raised Jesus, whom you killed by hanging him on a tree. God exalted him at his right hand as Leader and Savior, to give repentance to Israel.” Acts 5:31
- New birth. ”By his great mercy we have been born anew to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.” 1 Peter 1:3
- Forgiveness of sin. ”If Christ has not been raised, your hope is futile and you are still in your sins.“ 1 Corinthians 15:17
- The Holy Spirit. ”This Jesus God raised up, and of that we are all witnesses. Being therefore exalted at the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, he has poured out this which you see and hear.” Acts 2:32–33
- No condemnation for the elect. ”Who is to condemn? It is Christ Jesus who died, yes, who was raised from the dead, who is at the right hand of God.”Romans 8:34
- The Lord’s personal fellowship and protection. ”Lo, I am with you always, to the close of the age.” Matthew 28:20
- Proof of coming judgment. ”God has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed, and of this he has given assurance to all men by raising him from the dead.“ Acts 17:31
- Salvation from the future wrath of God. ”We wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead, Jesus who delivers us from the wrath to come.” 1 Thessalonians 1:10; Romans 5:10
- Our own resurrection from the dead. “We know that he who raised the Lord Jesus will raise us also with Jesus and bring us with you into his presence.” 2 Corinthians 4:14; Romans 6:4; 8:11; 1 Corinthians 6:14; 15:20
By Matthew Barrett:
Too often in our churches the resurrection of Christ is a doctrine of secondary importance. It is neglected and forgotten until Easter comes around each year. The same disregard for the resurrection is seen in how we share the gospel. Christians tend to share the gospel as if Jesus died on the cross and that is the end of the story. We make a zip line from the crucifixion to “repent and believe,” contrary to the example Peter sets for us in Acts 2:22-24 and 4:26. The cross is central to our salvation, but what God accomplished there is incomplete unless the tomb is empty on Sunday morning. Therefore, the resurrection of Christ is vital “for us and our salvation” (to borrow from the Nicene Creed). But how exactly?
Our Regeneration Is Grounded in the Resurrection of Christ
Have you ever read the resurrection narratives and said, “Praise God! Because Christ has risen I am born again!” I know I haven’t. But if we truly understand the implications of Christ’s resurrection for our salvation, the new birth would be the first place to turn. Scripture teaches that our new birth—God’s supernatural, monergistic act whereby the Spirit makes us a new creature in Christ, replacing our heart of stone with a heart of flesh—is only possible because Jesus is risen.
Consider two passages. According to Peter, God has “caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead” (1 Pet 1:3). The same God who raised Christ from the grave has also raised us from spiritual death to spiritual life. And the apostle Paul says that while we were dead in our trespasses and sins, God, being rich in mercy, “made us alive together with Christ” and “raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus” (Eph 2:5-6; cf. Col 3:1).
Because God has raised Christ from the dead, he can make us alive together with Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit. Christ’s resurrection life is the very basis and means by which we are born again.
Our Justification Is Grounded in the Resurrection of Christ
Those who believe in the God who raised Christ from the dead are counted righteous. As Paul says in Romans 4:23-25, like Abraham we are counted righteous, for we believe in him “who raised from the dead Jesus our Lord, who was delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification.” By raising Jesus from the dead, God approved the work of Christ on the cross for our sins. God declared his Son’s work complete! The penalty for our sin has been paid, and no guilt remains. As Wayne Grudem explains:
When the Father in essence said to Christ, “All the penalty for sins has been paid and I find you not guilty but righteous in my sight,” he was thereby making the declaration that would also apply to us once we trusted in Christ for salvation. In this way Christ’s resurrection also gave final proof that he had earned our justification (Systematic Theology).
Jonathan Edwards also states the matter precisely:
For if Christ were not risen, it would be evidence that God was not yet satisfied for [our] sins. Now the resurrection is God declaring his satisfaction; he thereby declared that it was enough; Christ was thereby released from his work; Christ, as he was Mediator, is thereby justified (Miscellanies, Vol. 13, 227).
In other words, if God did not raise Christ from the dead, he would essentially be saying, “I am not satisfied with your atoning work on behalf of sinners.” If this were the case, we would still be dead in our sins, as Paul says in 1 Corinthians 15:17. And if we are still dead in our sins then we stand guilty before a holy God, unjustified and condemned. It is hard to improve upon the words of Martyn Lloyd-Jones:
If it is not a fact that Christ literally rose from the grave, then you are still guilty before God. Your punishment has not been borne, yours sins have not been dealt with, you are yet in your sins. It matters that much: without the Resurrection you have no standing at all (The Assurance of Our Salvation, 492).
Our Sanctification Is Grounded in the Resurrection of Christ
In Romans 6, Paul explains that we can “walk in newness of life” because Christ was raised from the dead. We are not to continue in sin, for how, as Paul asked, “can we who died to sin still live in it?” We have been baptized into the death of Christ so that “just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life” (Rom 6:3-4). But Paul is not finished. He has much more to say about the resurrection and our sanctification.
For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. For one who has died has been set free from sin. Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him. For the death he died he died to sin, once for all, but the life he lives he lives to God. So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus (Rom 6:5-12).
Paul’s last two sentences are especially powerful. As Christians, we are united to Christ. Christ died to sin, and so also must we consider ourselves dead to sin. But Christ also came back to life. The life he lives he lives to God. Therefore, as those who are in Christ, we are alive to God. No longer are we to walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit. Our old, unbelieving, sinful, condemned self has been crucified with Christ. And now that we are new creatures, we are no longer enslaved to sin, but by the power of the Spirit are able to walk in this newness of life.
None of this, however, is possible if Christ remains in the tomb. His resurrection is our victory over the reign of sin. Only because he has risen do we have the assurance, the confidence, and the ability to now walk in godliness. In this light, therefore, Paul’s admonition is all the more convicting:
If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory (Col 3:1-4).
The Climax of Redemptive History
Richard Gaffin once wrote that not only is the resurrection of Christ the pivotal factor in Paul’s soteriology, the “climax of the redemptive history of Christ,” but it is also that “from which the individual believer’s experience of redemption derives in its specific and distinguishing character and in all aspects of its inexhaustible fullness” (Resurrection and Redemption, 135).
I couldn’t agree more. If we miss the importance of Christ’s resurrection for our salvation, then we have, as Sinclair Ferguson observes, misunderstood the gospel, severing our salvation from the lordship of Christ (Resurrection and Redemption, 6). How unthinkable this must be for the Christian who, as Calvin explains, believes that “our whole salvation and all its parts are comprehended in Christ” (Institutes II.16.19).
Matthew Barrett (Ph.D., The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary) is the founder and executive editor of Credo Magazine. Barrett has contributed book reviews and articles to various academic journals. He is married to Elizabeth and they have two daughters, Cassandra and Georgia. He is a member of Clifton Baptist Church in Louisville, Kentucky.
At its core, the gospel is Jesus as the substitute for sinners. We could summarize the whole by saying that in his life Jesus lives in perfect submission to the will of God and he fulfills his righteous standard (the law). In his death on the cross he quenches God’s wrath against sin, satisfying the sovereign demand for justice. In his resurrection he is victorious over sin and death. All of this is done on behalf of sinners in need of redemption and offered to all who believe. This is therefore very ‘good news.’
Jesus’ life is good news, for his obedience to the Father and fulfillment of the law is for us. While we as sinners fail to keep the law, Jesus was perfectly faithful. Jesus’ death is good news because his death was a payment for our sin, and by it we are cleansed from our guilt and released from condemnation. Jesus’ resurrection is good news because his victory over death is ours and through it we look forward to a resurrection of our own.
— Joe Thorn - Note To Self
(HT: Of First Importance)
The following excerpt is from: Tempted and Tried: Temptation and the Triumph of Christ by Russell Moore (Crossway, 2011). The quote is worthy of a slow and careful read (from pages 124-125). My thanks to Tony Reinke for this:
Part of the curse Jesus would bear for us on Golgotha was the taunting and testing by God’s enemies. As he drowned in his own blood, the spectators yelled words quite similar to those of Satan in the desert: “Let the Christ, the King of Israel, come down now from the cross that we may see and believe” (Mark 15:32). But he didn’t jump down. He didn’t ascend to the skies. He just writhed there. And, after it all, the bloated corpse of Jesus hit the ground as he was pulled off the stake, spattering warm blood and water on the faces of the crowd.
That night the religious leaders probably read Deuteronomy 21 to their families, warning them about the curse of God on those who are “hanged on a tree.” Fathers probably told their sons, “Watch out that you don’t ever wind up like him.” Those Roman soldiers probably went home and washed the blood of Jesus from under their fingernails and played with their children in front of the fire before dozing off. This was just one more insurrectionist they had pulled off a cross, one in a line of them dotting the roadside. And this one (what was his name? Joshua?) was just decaying meat now, no threat to the empire at all.
That corpse of Jesus just lay there in the silences of that cave. By all appearances it had been tested and tried, and found wanting. If you’d been there to pull open his bruised eyelids, matted together with mottled blood, you would have looked into blank holes. If you’d lifted his arm, you would have felt no resistance. You would have heard only the thud as it hit the table when you let it go. You might have walked away from that morbid scene muttering to yourself, “The wages of sin is death.”
But sometime before dawn on a Sunday morning, a spike-torn hand twitched. A blood-crusted eyelid opened. The breath of God came blowing into that cave, and a new creation flashed into reality….
From Herman Ridderbos’s classic book Paul: An Outline of His Theology, page 57:
Paul’s kerygma [message] of the great time of salvation that has dawned in Christ is above all determined by Christ’s death and resurrection. It is in them that the present aeon has lost its power and hold on the children of Adam and that the new things have come. For this reason, too, the entire unfolding of the salvation that has dawned with Christ again and again harks back to his death and resurrection, because all the facets in which this salvation appears and all the names by which it is described are ultimately nothing other than the unfolding of what this all-important breakthrough of life in death, of the kingdom of God in this present world, contains within itself. Here all lines come together, and from hence the whole Pauline proclamation of redemption can be described in its unity and coherence. Paul’s preaching, so we have seen, is “eschatology,” because it is preaching the fulfilling redemptive work of God in Christ. We might be able to delimit this further, to a certain extent schematically, by speaking of Paul’s “resurrection-eschatology.” For it is in Christ’s death and subsequent resurrection that the mystery of the redemptive plan of God has manifested itself in its true character and that the new creation has come to light.
(HT: Tony Reinke)
“If Jesus had not been raised, none of the following things, listed in order of their appearance in Acts, would have been possible:
- The sending of the Spirit (Acts 2:33)
- Physical healings (Acts 3:15–16)
- The conversion of sinners (Acts 3:26)
- Salvation by union with Jesus (Acts 4:11–12)
- Jesus’ role as the leader of his church (Acts 5:30–31; 9)
- Forgiveness of sins (Acts 5:30–31)
- Comfort for the dying (Acts 7)
- The commissioning of gospel messengers (Acts 9; 10:42)
- Freedom from the penalty and power of sin (Acts 13:37–39)
- Assurance that the gospel is true (Acts 17:31)
- Our own resurrection (Acts 17:31)
- Jesus’ future judgment of this world (Acts 17:31)
In summary, because of his life, death, and resurrection, Jesus has brought God close to us.”
— Adrian Warnock
Raised with Christ (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2010), 114
(HT: Of First Importance)
[T]he resurrection of Christ represents the justification and vindication of believers. Since Christ bore the consequences of sin on behalf of his people on the cross, his resurrection was God’s declaration of both his and his people’s righteousness. The great and complex event of Christ’s death and resurrection constitutes the basis for the positive verdict of justification for all who are in union with him through faith. In the death of Christ, the trespasses of his people were punished; in the resurrection of Christ, the justification of his people was declared. The justification of believers occurs by virtue of their participation in the reality of Christ’s death and resurrection on their behalf.
–Cornelis Venema, The Gospel of Free Acceptance in Christ: An Assessment of the Reformation and New Perspectives on Paul (Banner of Truth 2006), 44
(HT: Dane Ortlund)
For Mel and James.
“In order to grow in Christlikeness, we’ve got to intentionally apply the gospel to everything we are and everything we long to do. We’re not to sever our obedience from [Christ's] perfect sinlessness nor disconnect our mortal life from his resurrected life. We’ve got to understand ourselves in the light of our new identity, seeing ourselves as we truly are: sinful and flawed, loved and welcomed. Only these gospel realities have enough power to engender faith, kill idolatry, produce character change, and motivate faithful obedience.” – Elyse Fitzpatrick, Because He Loves Me
(HT: Todd Pruitt)
“The atoning death of Christ, and that alone, has presented sinners as righteous in God’s sight; the Lord Jesus has paid the full penalty of their sins, and clothed them with His perfect righteousness before the judgment seat of God.
But Christ has done for Christians even far more than that. He has given to them not only a new and right relation to God, but a new life in God’s presence for evermore. He has saved them from the power as well as from the guilt of sin.
The New Testament does not end with the death of Christ; it does not end with the triumphant words of Jesus on the Cross, “It is finished.” The death was followed by the resurrection, and the resurrection like the death was for our sakes.
Jesus rose from the dead into a new life of glory and power, and into that life He brings those for whom He died. The Christian, on the basis of Christ’s redeeming work, not only has died unto sin, but also lives unto God.”
—J. Gresham Machen, Christianity & Liberalism
(HT: Of First Importance)
“In our vision of ultimate reality, who is occupying the throne today? Are we authentic New Testament Christians, whose vision is filled with Christ crucified, risen and reigning? Is guilt still reigning, and death? Or is grace reigning, and life?
To be sure, sin and Satan may seem to be reigning still, since many continue to bow down to them. But their reign is an illusion, a bluff. For at the cross they were decisively defeated, dethroned and disarmed.
Now Christ reigns, exalted to the Father’s right hand, with all things under his feet, welcoming the nations, and waiting for his remaining enemies to be made his footstool.”
—John Stott, The Message of Romans (Downers Grove, Ill: InterVarsity Press, 1994), 162
(HT: Of First Importance)
“By contrast, the first two greatest commands—to love God with heart and soul and mind and strength, and our neighbor as ourselves—do not constitute the gospel, or any part of it. We may well argue that when the gospel is faithfully declared and rightly received, it will result in human beings more closely aligned to these two commands. But they are not the gospel. Similarly, the gospel is not receiving Christ or believing in him, or being converted, or joining a church; it is not the practice of discipleship. Once again, the gospel faithfully declared and rightly received will result in people receiving Christ, believing in Christ, being converted, and joining a local church; but such steps are not the gospel.
The Bible can exhort those who trust the living God to be concerned with issues of social justice (Isa 2; Amos); it can tell new covenant believers to do good to all human beings, especially to those of the household of faith (Gal 6); it exhorts us to remember the poor and to ask, not “Who is my neighbor?” but “Whom am I serving as neighbor?” We may even argue that some such list of moral commitments is a necessary consequence of the gospel. But it is not the gospel. We may preach through the list, reminding people that the Bible is concerned to tell us not only what to believe but how to live. But we may not preach through that list and claim it encapsulates the gospel.
The gospel is what God has done, supremely in Christ, and especially focused on his cross and resurrection.
Failure to distinguish between the gospel and all the effects of the gospel tends, on the long haul, to replace the good news as to what God has done with a moralism that is finally without the power and the glory of Christ crucified, resurrected, ascended, and reigning.”
D.A. Carson, Themelios, 34.1
(HT: John Fonville)
This is excellent from Ray Ortlund:
Some Christians seem “all certainty.” Maybe it makes them feel heroic, standing against the tide. They see too few gray areas. Everything is a federal case. They have a fundamentalist mindset.
Other Christians seem “all openness.” Maybe it makes them feel humble and cool. They see too few black-and-white areas. They’re giving away the store. They have a liberal mindset — though they may demonstrate a surprising certainty against certainty.
The Bible is our authority as we sort out what deserves certainty and what deserves openness. 1 Corinthians 15:1-4 defines the gospel of Christ crucified for our sins, Christ buried and Christ risen again on the third day, according to the Scriptures, as “of first importance.” Here is the center of our certainty.
From that “of first importance” theological address, we move out toward the whole range of theological and practical questions asking for our attention. The more clearly our logic connects with that center, the more certain and the less open we should be. The further our thinking extrapolates from that center, the less certain and the more open we should be.
When a question cannot be addressed by a clear appeal to the Bible, our conclusions should be all the more modest.
The gospel requires us to have high expectations of one another on biblically central doctrines and strategies, and it cautions us to be more relaxed with one another the further we have to move out from the center.
A church or movement may desire, for its own reasons, to define secondary and tertiary doctrines and strategies as important expectations within their own ministry. That’s okay. But then it’s helpful to say, “We know this isn’t a dividing line for Christian oneness. It’s just a decision we’ve made for ourselves, because we think it will help us in our situation. We realize that other Christians will see it differently, and that’s cool.”
May we become more certain where we’ve been too open and more open where we’ve been too certain, according to Scripture alone. And where it seems helpful to provide further definition on our own authority, may we do so with candor and humility but without apology.
The BBC has produced an excellent documentary about Michael Ward’s discovery of a ‘secret code’ hidden beneath the narrative of the Narnia Chronicles by CS Lewis. Ward’s book is called, Planet Narnia: The Seven Heavens in the Imagination of C. S. Lewis. The documentary is a fascinating story about Lewis’ love and expertise of medieval cosmology and Ward’s tying this to the ultimate reason behind the Chronicles. The result is a God-glorifying testimony to the order and grandeur of creation. Lewis’ aim! There are some great interviews at the end with Christian scientists, and a wonderful conclusion centred on the resurrection of Jesus as the beginning of the new creation.
You can watch the BBC program here on BBCi, available for one week.
This week’s sermon from John Piper: “I Have Seen the Lord“
A generation ago, resurrection was the crux of Christian faith. If you believed Jesus was raised, you were a Christian. If you didn’t accept the resurrection, you essentially abandoned the rest of the faith.
But the idols are different today. The idol of modernistic certainty is giving way to the idol of subjective usefulness. “If believing in the resurrection is beneficial for you, then fine; just don’t push it on me.”
But the gospel cuts against the grains of both modern and postmodern thinking. The resurrection is more than a historical question and its implications will one day matter to you, whether you feel the personal relevance today or not.
God designed that we would “see” the truth of the resurrection 20 centuries later through the inspired testimony of those who talked to, touched, and interacted with the resurrected Jesus. Their witness in the New Testament becomes a kind of window through which, by faith and the help of the Holy Spirit, we are able to see the resurrected Jesus—and join with Mary on Easter Sunday in saying, “I have seen the Lord.”
(HT: David Mathis)
Stuart Townend’s – See what a morning.