(Part 6 of a series – my thoughts on some of the unusual ways that Jesus describes Himself. I have not researched how theologians think about these passages, but their influence may appear implicitly nevertheless since I have attended church for years, heard a lot of preaching, and read a lot. If a citation is needed, I’m happy to insert it and will do so honestly if I am aware one is needed.)
“I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die.” John 11:25-26
Resurrection is a return to life. Literally translated from the original Latin, it means “returning to a state of being above the ground upright.” The Greek word used in the passage, according to the Blue Letter Bible study tool, is anastasis, which evidently means “standing again in life” or “standing up”. Literally put, the word is typically used to refer to a bodily return to living, the way that Jesus returned to life in the Gospels and the way that Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead (11:43).
The way that Jesus was raised from the dead was truly miraculous for many reasons. Aside from the mere fact that resurrection is not something that really ever occurs outside of the Bible, one other reason I see is that resurrection seems to typically be accomplished in the Bible by a different agent – meaning, it is not done by the person who is dead. In John 11, Jesus is the acting agent who raises Lazarus from the dead and in Luke 8:54-55 Jesus is the acting agent who raises a girl back to life. He is demonstrating His authority over dead as God incarnate and His being the source of life. But when Jesus is resurrected, the words used in the passages that describe His resurrection along with the language He uses in predicting His resurrection are often in an active voice. “On the third day he will rise again” (Luke 18:33),“Three days later He will rise” (Mark 10:34) and “He is not here; He has risen, just as He said” (Matthew 28:6) and “He has risen!” (Mark 16:6) and “He has risen!” (Luke 24:6) and “This is what is written: The Christ will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day” (Luke 24:44). This collection of passages indicates that He is the one doing the rising – acting it out, and causing it to occur. The odd thing I noticed, and maybe it’s a translation thing and maybe not, but Matthew 20:19 says “On the third day he will be raised to life”. This seems to be suggesting that another agent is also doing the acting (“he will be raised”). On its face, this seems contradictory until we remember that Jesus said “I and the Father are one” (John 10:30). So while God exists in two persons in this scene – Father and Son – it is God who is doing the acting of raising God from the dead. This could not possibly occur unless Jesus was who He said He is – the Son of God, the Christ, who is one with the Father. God can raise anybody who is not God back to life, but only God can raise Himself back to life.
However, the ‘resurrection and the life’ that Jesus mentions in this passage is not strictly a physical life (although we do have evidence from Revelations that it ultimately leads to a new physical life) but a spiritual life. The Greek word used for ‘life’ in this passage is “zoe”, which always refers to a spiritual aspect of life. So for Jesus to say that He is the resurrection and the life, and “He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die”, Jesus is indicating that while physical death is inevitable for us all (even the young girl and Lazarus, both raised by Jesus, eventually died again) it does not represent the end for those who place their hope and faith in Christ. Instead, while the body may perish the spirit lives on, and has life in abundance forever in the presence of the God of the living.
But we are promised a physical resurrection to life too. In 1 Corinthians 15:35-56, we read Paul’s exhortation to the church in Corinth that if Christ had not risen, then their faith was futile, but since Christ IS risen their faith is well-placed and will be fruitful in the end when the dead are raised with Christ. Jesus was raised in a physical body – He ate with his disciples (John 21, Luke 24:42-43) and let Thomas put his fingers into His hands (John 20:27). But He also had a spiritual, glorified body – evident when He was able to pass through locked doors (John 20) and rise into the sky before the eyes of a crowd (Acts 1:9). Similarly will our bodies be both physical and spiritual. Paul describes them as being imperishable (1 Cor. 15:42), glorious, and powerful (v.43). While we should not misconstrue this to indicate that we will be glorified as Christ was glorified, it does seem that our new bodies will be much better than our current ones.
Revelation 21 and 22 describe a new city, a new Jerusalem, where the people of God will live. A physical city, with walls and gates decorated with jewels and precious metals, descending from heaven to a new Earth. In this city, God’s people live in the light of the Lord (21:23). The glory of God illuminates the city and is the light of the world (v.24). Inside the city was the tree of life, first mentioned in Genesis 3:22 as being capable of allowing those who eat of it to have eternal life. The tree of life in the new Jerusalem is described as producing fruit every month as a crop, implying that it will be eaten. Eating food and needing light to walk suggest that we will be physical beings.
And so it is – the promise of God in Revelation 21:7: “He who overcomes will inherit all this, and I will be his God and he will be my son.” Those who give themselves to God and begin a new way of life here, they shall be given a renewed life in the hereafter, living in the light of the Glorious One!