Jesus IS Everlasting Life

I preached about Lazarus during Lent, as the lectionary suggests.  But I have always felt that this text deserves some attention during the Easter (REBOOT) season.  So here is the exegetical material I prepared and used in preparation for the sermon I preached on John 11: 1-44.  After you read this, you might want to go back and listen to the sermon I preached based on this study.  I will post a link near the end of this post.

In recent posts we have looked at the Fourth Gospel and learned that Jesus gives freedom from sin’s enslavement, the gift of spiritual sight, as well as abundant life.  In this post we discover that Jesus greatest gift – a gift he doesn’t just GIVE us, but actually embodies, is that of “everlasting life.”

Our society has a tremendous preoccupation with the subject of “life after death.”  As a matter of fact, as I was thinking about this blog, I noticed that several television talk shows were featuring programs devoted to “near-death experiences.”  Our absorption with this subject is understandable.  We are afraid of death, and we want to know if there is something beyond this mortal life.

Throughout the centuries, members of the Christian church have looked to the story of Lazarus’ resurrection as a symbol of hope that there is, indeed, a hereafter for those who have faith.  As we examine this story, however, I’d like for us to take a different approach.  Rather than thinking about “life after death,” I would like for us to consider the implications of “life in Christ.”

Lazarus’ death

In an indirect plea for help, Mary and Martha send word to Jesus that their brother, Lazarus, is very ill.  Rather than responding immediately to their petition, Jesus states that Lazarus’ illness is “not unto death” (11:4a).  Once again, we need to remember that the Gospel of John is rich in symbolism.  Of course, Lazarus’ illness was deadly in the physical sense – after all, he died.  What I believe this gospel is attempting to communicate is that there is something much worse than the cessation of physical life, and that is the curse of eternal death.

The only illness which can lead to “eternal death” is the sickness of unbelief.  The theology of the Gospel of John makes it clear that nothing can cause a person greater harm than the refusal to believe in the revelation of God which has come to us through Jesus Christ.

Jesus said that the illness of Lazarus was for “the glory of God, that the son of God may be glorified by means of it” (11:4b).  These words are very similar to those spoken by Jesus concerning the man born blind (9:3).  How can “the glory of God” be manifested in the illness and death of Lazarus?  There are perhaps three ways.

First of all, there is the immediate reference to the miracle of Lazarus’ resurrection.  A second reference might be the glory associated with the crucifixion.  In this gospel, the greatest glorification of Jesus comes when He is lifted upon the cross in order to reveal the depth of God’s love for humankind.  A final reference might be that the resurrection of Lazarus was actually a sign which foreshadowed the resurrection of Jesus.

A few days later, when Jesus informed the disciples of His decision to travel to Bethany, He told them that Lazarus had “fallen asleep” (11:11).  The disciples once again misunderstood the symbolic meaning of Jesus’ words. They thought Lazarus was “taking a rest” (11:13) and would no longer need their help in recovery. 

Bill Hull points out that the disciples may have spoken more truth than they realized.  “In the presence of Jesus,” Hull says, “death is but a refreshing interlude from whose terrors one may be delivered” (Broadman’s Commentary, Vol. 9, p. 313).  Jesus clarified His statement by telling the disciples plainly that their friend Lazarus was dead.  If the travel plans didn’t make sense when they thought Lazarus was just sleeping, can you imagine how confusing they were at this point?   Why should the disciples put themselves at risk for a dead man?  What more could be done?

Jesus’ response indicates that the disciples were in for a shock.  What would happen in the next few days would do more to strengthen their faith than if He had been present to heal Lazarus before his passing away.

“I am the resurrection” 

When Jesus arrived in Bethany, the first thing he discovered was that Lazarus has already been dead four days.  Popular rabbinical tradition held that the spirit of a person hovered over the body for three days until the first signs of decay appeared, then it departed (Word Biblical Commentary, Vol. 36, p. 189).  By stating that Lazarus had already been dead four days, the evangelist is revealing the magnitude of the miracle which is about to take place.

Bethany was about two miles from Jerusalem.  Since such a large group of mourners had come from Jerusalem to console Mary and Martha, we can assume that his family had some type of power and prominence in the city.  Even though we don’t know the identity of these mourners, we do know that they must have had some contact with the religious elite in Jerusalem since they reported the actions of Jesus to the Pharisees upon their return to the city (11:46).

As Jesus approached the house, Martha went out to meet Him.  Her response to the approaching Jesus is typical for one who had been experiencing grief and sorrow.  She seems a little angry that Jesus hadn’t arrived sooner to heal her brother.  Even in her anger and grief, Martha was still expressing some faith.  She believed that Jesus could have made a difference if He had been present.  Even though Lazarus was now dead and buried, Martha still believed that the prayers of Jesus could bring powerful results.  She affirms her faith in Jesus (11:22).  Martha’s expression of faith prompts Jesus to assure her that Lazarus would experience resurrection.
Such an expression was a common phrase of consolation offered to those who were in sorrow.  It represented the idea that in the last days all those who were righteous would experience resurrection (Interpreter’s Bible, Vol. 8, p. 644).  Martha expressed agreement with this belief.  She, too, believed that her brother would “rise again” at the end of time (11:24).  Like most faithful Jews, Martha was expectantly waiting for the arrival of the Messiah and the institution of God’s reign in the world.

Over and over again in this gospel, we have seen how Jesus is portrayed by the Evangelist as being the fulfillment of all the Jewish messianic expectations.  He has revealed Himself as “the light of the world” (8:12), the “door” to a relationship with God (10:7), and the “good shepherd,” who dies for the sheep (10:11).  Now we hear the most amazing claim of all.  No longer must God’s faithful people wait until “the last day” to experience resurrection.  That day already exists here and now.  Jesus says “I am the resurrection and the life” (11:25).

Resurrection reality

Resurrection is no longer a future event.  With the Advent of Jesus, resurrection becomes a present reality.  We don’t have to wait until the end of time to know everlasting life.  Jesus says that “resurrection and life” are a present reality in Him.   All the hopes and dreams of those who looked forward to the coming of the Messiah and the advent of God’s reign were now fulfilled.  With this claim, Jesus summed up all of His prior teaching and preaching.

To appropriate this gift of everlasting life, a person must have faith.  The one who believes in Jesus may temporarily experience a physical death but they will never die a spiritual death (11:25).  For this reason, Jesus asks Martha, “Do you believe?”

This is the question which we all must face.  If we respond with an affirmation of faith and trust, we shall begin a relationship with the one who is the very essence of life and who has given us all life.  If we respond in disbelief, this gospel makes it clear that we miss out of the experience of the life Jesus has given us.  

How have you responded?

Jesus has not asked Martha to accept certain factual information or adhere to any propositional truths.  What He has asked her is whether she is willing to place her trust and hope in Him as the source of her very being.  Martha’s response is one of faith.  She offers more than a simple “yes.”  Instead, she confesses to believe that Jesus is the “Christ, the son of God, He who is coming into the world (11:27).  Even though she may not understand all of the implications of such a confession, she has still placed her personal faith in Jesus. 

The raising of Lazarus

Once again, the magnitude of the miracle is emphasized as we are reminded of the fact that Lazarus has been dead four days.  By this time, his body has certainly begun to decay, and Martha is understandably upset that Jesus has commanded that the stone be removed from the tomb.  The fact that Jesus would challenge death, even after it had been given the opportunity to decompose a body, illustrates the point that Jesus is the Lord over death.

It is obvious that Martha had not understood the implications of her earlier confession; else she would not have questioned Jesus’ command concerning the stone.  Jesus offered her calm words of assurance by telling her that if she would “believe” she would see the “glory of God” (11:40).  This phrase echoes the earlier words of Jesus to the disciples (11:4).  The entire narrative, therefore, is placed within the context of the “glory of God” which is revealed through Jesus Christ.  The death and resurrection of Lazarus are important only in that they foreshadow the death and resurrection of Jesus.

The opening words of Jesus in His prayer by the graveside indicate that He had already offered a prayer concerning Lazarus.  Rather than make any request concerning Lazarus, Jesus simply thanked God for having already answered his prayer.

It is interesting to note that in this entire narrative, the actual raising of Lazarus is not the most significant aspect.  Jesus avoids the appearance of any magical incantations or the image that He is some type of miracle worker.  His only action was to call out to Lazarus to come forth from the grave.  In this, He revealed that Jesus had complete authority over life and death.  The focus is not on the miracle but rather on what the miracle illustrates concerning the identity of Jesus, and the importance of faith in Him. 

The dominant theme of this story is that Jesus is in His very being the essence of eternal life.  Furthermore, one need not wait until the “last days” to experience that “life” because it becomes the immediate possession of those who have faith.  In other words, the hope of the resurrection is that God can give us “everlasting life” right now, if we are willing to have faith.  When we read the story of Lazarus, it serves as a symbol or a sign that strengthens our faith in the living, loving and life-giving God.


1) Jesus said, “Whoever lives and believes in me shall never die” (11:26).  What does it mean to believe in Jesus?  How does a person live in Jesus?

2) How could some people have witnessed this miracle and yet still choose not to believe in Jesus (see 11:45-46).

3) What do we learn about prayer in the life of Jesus, as we study this narrative?  How might this story affect our theology of prayer?

4) What part do we play in the life-giving ministry of Jesus Christ (see 11:44)?

The sermon I preached on this text during Lent is available to hear when you click this link. 


Beasley-Murray, George.  “John.”  Word Biblical Commentary, Vol. 36. 
Waco:  Word Books, 1987.

Howard, Wilbert F.  “The Gospel According to St. John,” 
The Interpreter’s Bible, Vol. 8.  New York:  Abingdon-Cokesbury Press, 1970.

Hull, William E.  “John,” Broadman Bible Commentary, Vol. 9
Nashville:  Broadman Press, 1970.

Kreider, Alan.  “Salty Discipleship,” The Other Side, March/April 1989, 34-37.

Schweizer, Eduard.  The Good News According to Matthew.  Trans. David E. Green.
Atlanta:  John Knox Press, 1975.

Stagg, Frank.  “Matthew,” Broadman Bible Commentary, Vol. 8.
Nashville:  Broadman Press, 1970.

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