“Jesus said… ‘I am the resurrection and the life.
Anyone who believes in Me will live, even if they die.’”
The searching question which we eventually ask is – what will happen when I die? Beginning with the Lord’s first century disciples, that answer lost its “sting” and became deeply appreciated. Paul could therefore say with conviction, “…for me to die is gain.” (Philippians 1:21) As a background for this question and other subjects like it, remember that Jesus declared, “…the words that I speak unto you are spirit, and they are life.” (John 6:63) Understanding this single foundational principle about the His verbal statements will literally burst open the doors of our Scriptural understanding!
A well-known example of Jesus speaking about death took place when Mary and Martha, the sisters of Jesus’ close friend, Lazarus, realized that he was terminally ill. Because of their urgent concern, they immediately sent a messenger to the Lord (see John 11:1-3). They greatly hoped that their Master could arrive in time to lay His hands on their brother. They knew that Jesus had the power to heal him, so their faith was strong!
Soon after Jesus’ arrival at Lazarus’ burial site, He explained to Martha, “I am the resurrection and the life. Anyone who believes in Me will live, even if they die.” (John 11:25)
When Jesus heard that Lazarus was sick He explained, “…this sickness will not end in death but is for the glory of God…” (John 11:4b) Then, He intentionally remained for two additional days in the place where He and the 12 were staying. Later, when the time was right, He said, “Let’s go back to Judea.” “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep, but I’m on My way to wake him up.” (John 11:7c; 11:11b)
Notice that the Lord was fully aware that Lazarus had died. Also consider the fact that He already knew that He would bring him back to life. Not understanding what Jesus meant when he used the word asleep – His disciples responded, “Lord, if he has fallen asleep, he will get well … Jesus, however, was speaking about his death, but they thought He was speaking about natural sleep…so He told them plainly, “Lazarus has died.” (John 11:12-14)
No prophet, priest, or physician has ever related to death in the amazing way that Jesus did. Why? Simply because no one else in history ever had His authority (see John 10:18)!
Because Jesus has the same power over life as His heavenly Father (see John 5:26), He also has power over death. He therefore can uniquely describe death as – sleeping! This is important because when we physically fall asleep, we never know how much time has passed. Death resembles that passive state. Why? Because the moment we die we literally step out of this world’s temporary solar based time – into the timelessness of eternity. God’s Word explains that afterlife is the spiritual dimension where time no longer – exists!
Expressed another way, there is no “tick, tock” at all in eternity. Pause to quietly consider – outside of earthly time – Our Creator lives as, I AM, in the eternal now! His timelessness is why we experience Him as “The Alpha and the Omega…” (see Revelation 1:8; 21:6; and 22:13).
The Lord Jesus’ statements about physical death, the end of time, and His impending return must always be understood in the context of eternity. Stop to remember that to our Maker (see John 11:1-5) who was, is, and will always be – a thousand years passes like one day (see 2 Peter 3:8). This is why centuries, as we count them, have no major significance. What actually matters about our existence – is His eternal existence – and completing His Great Commission! He explained this urgency when saying, “And this gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.” (Matthew 24:14)
The first century Christians understood that being absent from their physical bodies actually meant being present with their Lord (see 2 Corinthians 5:6-10). To teach His disciples concerning death and the reality that spiritually it is no more than sleeping, Jesus publicly awakened Lazarus. This took place after four days of normal human decay while he was still wrapped with linen in his tomb. The Lord used their close friendship to deepen His disciples understanding. He therefore said, “I’m glad for you that I wasn’t there so that you may believe…” (John 11:15)
As Lazarus was brought back to life at Jesus’ command, so will all of history’s redeemed family when He returns. The Bible says, “For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who remain, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord.” (1 Thessalonians 4:16-17) When this occurs, just like having been physically asleep, no one will be aware of how much earthly time has passed.
When the Apostle John was guided to write the book of Revelation, he heard God’s angel declare “…time shall be no more.” (Revelation 10:6) This is the profound truth that God is seeking to teach us. This is also what Jesus was declaring about Himself in reference to the timelessness of eternity when He said, “…I am the Beginning and the End, the First and the Last.” (Revelation 22:13)
As believers, when we awaken after death, we will already be in the presence of our Lord! Remember what He said to the repentant believer on the cross, “…Today you will be with Me in paradise.” (Luke 23:43) We know that Jesus was speaking spiritually because of what Peter was later inspired to write. When our Savior died, earthly time continued to pass, but He went to preach to the multitude of sinners in their spiritual prison. The Bible says,
“For Christ also suffered for sins once for all,
the righteous for the unrighteous,
that He might bring you to God,
after being put to death in the fleshly realm
but made alive in the spiritual realm.
In that state He also went and made a proclamation
to the spirits in prison who in the past were disobedient…”
(1 Peter 3:18-20)
This is referring to those in Noah’s day and the many others who had already lived and were being held until God’s end time judgement.
We believe Jesus visited Sheol because countless lost sinners would be facing divine judgement (see Hebrews 9:27) without having had the opportunity to hear and respond to the Good News of salvation. (see 1 Peter 3:18-20) To amplify this, Peter explained, “For the gospel has for this purpose even been preached to those who are dead, that … they may live in the spirit according to the will of God.” (1 Peter 4:6)
Our loving Father sent His Son to proclaim His message about salvation to both the living and the dead but Jesus had to first die and spiritually become our sin (see 2 Corinthians 5:21). Remember that, “The Lord is not slow in keeping His promise, as some understand slowness. Instead, He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9).
In summary, our Lord explained to Martha, “…he who believes in Me will live even if he dies…” Then, He asked her, “Do you believe this?” and she replied, “Yes, Lord; I believe that You are the Christ, the Son of God…” (John 11:25, 26b-27)
When believers fall asleep in death, it amounts to nothing more than a timely shift of dimensions. We will immediately be awakened at Jesus’ Second Coming. This will include all of history’s many generations of believing first and second covenant Hebrews plus billions of Christians. To deepen our understanding of prophesy and time, the Lord spoke about Himself saying, “Then will appear the sign of the Son of Man in heaven. And then all the peoples of the earth will mourn when they see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven, with power and great glory. And He will send His angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather His elect from the four winds, from one end of the heavens to the other.” (Matthew 24:30-31) This describes all those who have chosen to believe.
Moments later He also declared, “Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will not pass away.” (Matthew 24:35)
For our understanding about the 2nd coming – the first generation of believers who died and entered eternity more than two millennium ago will immediately see the Lord Jesus’ promised arrival at the exact same time – as the last living generation!
This reality about death is the mystery that was revealed in the New Testament. For those who are numbered among Jesus’ great multitude of disciples, death will be a joy and have “…no sting” (1 Corinthians 15:55)! In that awareness Paul wrote, “For me… to die is gain.” (Philippians 1:21)
By Billie Hanks Jr.