A man walks into a graveyard several days after a funeral and makes a bold declaration.
‘I am the resurrection and the life’, He says, ‘whoever believes in me will live even though he dies, and whoever lives and believes in me will never die.’
Either the man is crazy not to mention spectacularly insensitive to the bereaved family who are present or He knows something they don’t or could it be that He might even have some mysterious power to help ease their grief?
Well before anyone can do anything the man steps forward to the tomb and addresses the deceased by name. It’s not a sentimental funeral speech, it’s a direct command - ‘Lazarus, come out!’ and at the voice of Jesus of Nazareth the tomb opens and the dead man comes back to life and is restored to his amazed and very much delighted family.
So Jesus would appear to be who He claims to be, the Son of God with unique authority over life and death. What did He say again?
Two things. He said, ‘I am the resurrection…whoever believes in me will live
even though he dies’ This refers to the body. He also said, ‘I am the life…whoever lives and believes in me will never die.’ This refers to the soul.
Lazarus’ soul had departed and his dead body had been respectfully buried. Jesus called his soul back and gave a new measure of life and health to his body.
Some time later Jesus Himself was killed but three days later appeared alive and subsequently ascended to glory at God the Father’s side. We assume Lazarus died again but Jesus lives on, the ‘firstfruits’ or prototype of the resurrection He promises to all who trust and follow Him and look forward to His return. Our Saviour has us covered, body and soul, forever!
The Apostle Paul spells out this unique hope given to Christians in several of his New Testament letters. Philippians was written from prison. The Apostle had already suffered persecution for the Gospel and knew he might soon be executed. As he thinks about his own death he is remarkably positive. ‘For me, to live is Christ,’ he writes, ‘to die is gain!’ and then adds, ‘I desire to depart and be with Christ which is far better…’
The Apostle Peter says something similar in his second letter referring to his body like a ‘tent’ from which he will soon depart. Neither man seems afraid at the thought of death, their body ceasing to breathe and function. They seem to be actually looking forward to their soul living on consciously and being with Jesus where He presently is in heaven. We’re reminded of how Jesus comforted His disciples at the Last Supper, ‘I’m going to prepare a place for you…that you also may be where I am. In my Father’s house there are many dwellings!’
Quite rightly Christians are comforted in bereavement or when facing the end of our life on earth with this promise of our souls being comforted and secure in heaven. But that’s not the end of the story. The salvation Jesus died and rose to bring us is bigger, greater, much more complete than that!
Paul continues in Philippians, saying he longs to participate in resurrection when Jesus returns in glory. He says Jesus has universal power to ‘transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like His glorious body.’ Christians can look forward not just to our souls going to heaven when we die, but our bodies being raised when Christ returns.
Paul devotes a whole chapter to this in 1 Corinthians 15. He says just as we have inherited the likeness of Adam in that we have disobeyed God and experience weakness, frustration, sickness and death as a consequence, Christians are destined to ‘bear the likeness of the man from heaven’ – Jesus! He anticipates how our bodies will somehow be raised imperishable, glorious and powerful like His!
When Jesus appeared to His disciples after His resurrection He was, as we say ‘the same only different’. They recognised Him, could touch Him and hear His voice and even see the scars of the nails in His hands and feet. Yet this risen body was renewed in power, never to suffer weakness or death again. It’s something of that glory our Master promises to share with us!
Even if we’re still alive when Jesus returns to bring this present age to an end, it will be no problem to Him to change us ‘in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet’ even as His angels gather us to Him.
Paul sums it up beautifully in 1 Thessalonians where he writes, ‘The Lord Himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. After that, we who are alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever. Therefore encourage each other with these words.’
Let’s encourage each other! Our present sufferings and frustrations will end. Our souls will be comforted with Jesus in heaven. And when He returns to earth in majesty His people will share His resurrection. No more virus or disease, no more disability, no more mental pain or disorder. All will be made good as we share paradise restored with Him.
No one or nothing else can offer anything close to this, only Jesus. Praise His name!