[A]. LET’S OPEN UP THE SUBJECT
I think we will begin today with two N.T. passages of great importance, written by Paul to the Corinthians, in regard to the Rapture of the Church and the resurrection of the body.
1Cor. 15:14-15, “And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is vain. Your faith also is vain. Moreover we are even found to be false witnesses of God because we witnessed against God that He raised Christ whom He did not raise, if in fact the dead are not raised.”
1Cor. 15:17-19, “And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is worthless. You are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If we have hoped in Christ in this life only, we are of all men most to be pitied.”
I have selected three crucial statements from these passages (underlined). The world’s perspective: For the first, what are you doing here today listening to a speaker from Australia raving on? You may as well be out eating, drinking and making merry, for tomorrow you die. For the second, you believe in a fairytale. You might as well believe in Santa Claus who has for you a great reception in the universe – somewhere – and all the gifts you’d ever want stored up for you. For the third, if your Christianity is all bound up with a lifestyle just for this temporary world only, you are to be pitied, more than any other people.
[B]. THE SETTING FOR THIS GREAT “I AM.” Our subject is “I AM THE RESURRECTION AND THE LIFE.” Let us see how this unfolded in John’s Gospel.
There was a tender relationship between Jesus and this family in Bethany – Lazarus, Mary and Martha. Follow with me from chapter 11 of John. In verse 1 we have the fact that Lazarus became sick, seriously so, I would say; and in verse 3 the sisters sent word to Jesus. When we are not able to solve our own dilemma, we try to find someone who can help us, and who better than Jesus. Now, you would think that because of the close relationship with the three precious friends in Bethany to Jesus, then Jesus would have hurried away to their assistance.
But in verses 5 and 6, we notice an attitude from Jesus that might not have been ours. 5 “Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus, 6 So, when he heard that Lazarus was ill, he stayed two days longer in the place where he was.“ We would not have behaved that way; it would have received top priority. But Jesus had already said in verse 4, “But when Jesus heard it, he said, ‘This illness does not lead to death. It is for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it.‘”
He had a higher plan, and God’s ways are not our ways. You know, there are times when God tests our faith, and it is not to give you stress, but it is for the glory of God; and in the end, your relationship with the Lord, is strengthened.
You may have heard the story before, but a man was to view a large, magnificent tapestry of great value. When he arrived, the tapestry had been moved, and all He could see were threads, and tied off knots, and a general disarray of jumbled, colored strands, all of which made no sense to him. Then the organizers moved the tapestry into the viewing position and turned it around. There before him was the excellence people had mentioned. Often, we only see the back of God’s weaving – we see our problems and the untidiness and difficulties. God sees the other side, the magnificence that Christ is weaving in our lives.
There is a very revealing example of dull minds in this story, then, as we follow it in these verses: 11 “After saying these things, he said to them, ‘Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep, but I go to awaken him.’ 12 The disciples said to him, ‘Lord, if he has fallen asleep, he will recover.’ 13 Now Jesus had spoken of his death, but they thought that he meant taking rest in sleep. 14 Then Jesus told them plainly, ‘Lazarus has died.‘”
Don’t you find that over and over again, God must speak plainly to us, because we are so devoid of understanding a lot of the time? We do need continual educating, but we have the best schoolbook in the world – the living and inspired word of God. That begs the questions – How do we rate as dependable students? Are we rather slack about our studies?
[C]. THE DEVELOPMENT. We take up the account again when Jesus had arrived in Bethany with His disciples – 17 “Now when Jesus came, he found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb four days. 18 Bethany was near Jerusalem, about two miles off, 19 and many of the Jews had come to Martha and Mary to console them concerning their brother. 20 So when Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went and met him, but Mary remained seated in the house. 21 Martha said to Jesus, ‘Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. 22 But even now I know that whatever you ask from God, God will give you.’ 23 Jesus said to her, ‘Your brother will rise again.‘”
You must note the contrast here. Mary remained in the house in her usual quietness, but Martha, always busy, rushed out to Jesus. Her faith was such that she believed Jesus could have healed Lazarus when he was dying. That would have been some days earlier, but she could not stretch that faith to Lazarus being raised there and then by the Lord. Martha knew Lazarus would rise in the resurrection at the appropriate time – just not then. It was at this crucial point that the great resurrection statement was spoken by the Lord. 25 “Jesus said to her, ‘I am the Resurrection and the Life. Whoever believes in Me, though he dies, yet shall he live, 26 and everyone who lives and believes in Me shall never die. Do you believe this?‘”
All these I AMs are powerful, but this one is so comforting. All the I AMs are essential, but this one contains the hope of the Church. Jesus is The Resurrection and The Life. Without Him there is nothing. We used to sing the hymn, “I Serve a Risen Saviour; He’s in the World today.” A risen Saviour, not a dead and buried one. In the resurrection He demonstrates that death is defeated. Death no longer has control over you. “O, death, where is your sting?” “Death is swallowed up in victory.”
You will notice here also that Jesus claimed to be The Life. That greatest of all I AMs – “I am the Way, the Truth and the Life” speaks of life as well, so is there a difference in these two uses of ‘the Life’? I believe there is, for the life of John 14 has a double application to current everlasting live, and the spiritual life lived through the Holy Spirit in our lives; but the life of John 11 is life in resurrected glory, or the life in full revelation when we meet the Lord face to face. Raised to eternal life, in a glorified body we all receive at the Rapture. “Face to face with Christ my Saviour; Face to face, what will it be? When in rapture I behold Him; Jesus Christ who died for me.”
Now, what happens to a Christian when he dies? Well, Paul said “To be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord.” Instantaneous. There is no mystery in that, for Paul speaks plainly. “Where I am, there you shall be also” – the truth from John 14:3, “And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself that where I am, there you may be also.”
Stephen prayed at his martyrdom, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” Upon death, our spirits go to be with the Lord, but our bodies wait until the resurrection at the Rapture. We shall have a body like unto His glorious body. At Bethany, we had the great declaration of the Resurrection and the Life, but it was followed by some precious clarification the Lord gave. Jesus said that the one believing on (actually “in”) Him “shall live, even if he dies.” Our present eternal life is not affected by physical death. Then He went on to say, “and everyone who lives and believes in Me shall never die.” Death there, of course, is not physical death, but spiritual death. “Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures” (1 Cor 15:3-4).
In that wonderful John passage where Jesus is speaking to Martha, He asked her in verse 26, “Do you believe this?” I want to ask you this, today, – Do you know for a certainty that Jesus is your Saviour; that you have been born again; and that by believing in Christ, you have eternal life? If not, then make that decision to give your life today to the Saviour.
[D]. LET’S GET MORE SPECIFIC. What are the ramifications for us, because of the fact that Christ is the Resurrection and the Life? Indeed, what are the ramifications for the Body of Christ? In the Lord Jesus Christ being the Head of the Church; and like all good Heads and Leaders and Generals, He leads the way, often by example.
(1). Christ is the Grain of Wheat. Let us look at an important statement the Lord made when certain Greek proselytes asked if they could see Jesus.
John 12:23 “And Jesus answered them saying, ‘The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.'” (We might examine what “to be glorified” means. Just briefly, it means the path through the cross, to the grave, and then in glorious resurrection – it was that path of obedience that glorified the Father. It was in Peter’s Pentecost address that he said to those gathered, Acts 2:36 “Therefore let all the house of Israel know for certain that God has made Him both Lord and Christ – this Jesus whom you crucified.”
Now when was Jesus made Lord and Christ? Well, we all know He has always been Lord and Christ. But in a very specific way, as a public declaration to the world, the Father established Him in His distinct offices as Lord and Christ. This has happened through the resurrection. He rose from the grave.
John 10:17-18 “For this reason the Father loves Me because I lay down My life that I may take it again. No one has taken it away from Me, but I lay it down on My own initiative. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again. This commandment I received from My Father.”
The Lord of the cross is the Lord of resurrection. In fact, Paul writes of this establishment also to the Romans. Rom. 1:4 “Jesus Christ our Lord who was declared the Son of God with power according to the Spirit of holiness by the resurrection from the dead.” We see Jesus declared as Son of God with authority (with the whole power of God). The resurrection of Christ is vital for all authority, for all Names, for all life.
Let us continue this passage from John 12:24-25, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains by itself alone, but if it dies it bears much fruit. He who loves his life loses it, and he who hates his life in this world shall keep it to life eternal.” In these verses, the Lord speaks of a universal principle of farming, but in fact, the application is to Himself. As part of His glorification, He was the grain of wheat that died to itself; but in doing so, He has produced a magnificent harvest. He could have kept His own life, and that would have remained as a singular existence; but in dying, then the triumph of resurrection, and the subsequential springing up of new life has produced much fruit.
(2). Christ is the First fruits of the Resurrection. This is vitally important and is part of the victory won through Calvary. Let me tell you that no human being today, in heaven or earth, has a resurrected body except the Lord Jesus Christ, the God-Man. Not even those Christians today in heaven have a resurrected body. Their spirits are there with the Lord; but like us, they are waiting for that day to come. We are going to have a look at this in more detail.
Firstly, in essence, death still has victory over the human race. Sin brings about death, and kills the body. I want to say that this is the earthly order. The spiritual order is different. I want you to regard this in the same way we do with the description of the Second Coming in Revelation 19. Jesus comes as King of kings and Lord of lords; and when His rule is set up, then indeed He will be installed King of kings and Lord of lords over all former human government. Today He IS totally King and Lord, but it appears not to operate in our world. It may appear that death is not defeated, but it is.
I want us to look at these verses, a wonderful description of the Rapture when the Lord comes back for His Bride. 1Cor 15:52-56, “in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet, for the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed. This perishable must put on the imperishable, and this mortal must put on immortality, but when this perishable will have put on the imperishable, and this mortal will have put on immortality, then will come about the saying that is written, ‘Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?’ The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law.”
Those whose bodies have perished, and those whose bodies are mortal (but wasting away) will one day put on imperishable and immortal bodies. They are our resurrection bodies. Earlier in this chapter, Paul explained that further:
1Cor 15:39-44, “All flesh is not the same flesh, but there is one flesh of men, and another flesh of beasts, and another flesh of birds, and another of fish…. So also is the resurrection of the dead [speaking of our sinful bodies]. It is sown a perishable body; it is raised an imperishable body. It is sown in dishonour; it is raised in glory. It is sown in weakness; it is raised in power. It is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body.”
Yes, we all have natural bodies (or we had them if we are in heaven right now), but we will one day have spiritual bodies.
Number 2 we had earlier is, “Christ is the First fruits of the Resurrection.” To conclude Point 2, we look at where this verse occurs:
1Cor 15:20-23, “But now Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who are asleep. Since by a man came death, by a man also came the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ all shall be made alive, 23 but each in his own order: Christ the first fruits; after that those who are Christ’s at His coming.”
The Lord is the trailblazer, the One who went before, and paved the way to heaven. This passage sets Him forth as the First Fruits of the Resurrection. He is THE Resurrection and THE Life, but He is also the First Fruits. In that passage, note carefully, especially in verse 23, that Christ is the First Fruits, and after that, all those who belong to Christ. BUT at His coming, that is, at the rapture, all the redeemed of all ages will put on the new, resurrected, spiritual bodies. That is why no human being today in earth or heaven has a resurrected body. It will happen at His coming for His own, His precious Bride, because He is the First Fruits.
(3). Resurrection Support in the Scriptures.
(a). O.T. The resurrection of the body is not merely a N.T. concept. God had reinforced it in the O.T. Take, for example, this Hebrews verse Heb. 11:35, “Women received back their dead by resurrection; and others were tortured, not accepting their release, in order that they might obtain a better resurrection.”
Then we have this: Acts 2:29-32, “Brethren, I may confidently say to you regarding the patriarch David that he both died and was buried, and his tomb is with us to this day. And so, because he was a prophet and knew that God had sworn to him with an oath to seat one of his descendants upon his throne, he [David, the prophet] looked ahead and spoke of the resurrection of the Christ, that He was neither abandoned to Hades, nor did His flesh suffer decay. This Jesus God raised up again, to which we are all witnesses.”
(b). Of course, the whole of the N.T., as well as the Old, stands or falls on the resurrection of Jesus Christ. The Resurrection of Christ is well attested – prophesied by David (did you realize David was also a prophet?) and witnessed to by all His disciples. Added to that, we have Saul of Tarsus who saw Him on the Damascus Road. And later on, Paul wrote in 1Cor. 15:3-6, “I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures [These are the O.T. scriptures], and that He appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. After that He appeared to more than five hundred brethren at one time, most of whom remain until now, but some have fallen asleep.”
(4). The New, Spiritual, Resurrected Body. What about those resurrected bodies? What will we do with them? We can safely conclude that the resurrected body will be glorious. Phil. 20-21, “But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself.”
We know the Lord went through closed doors. This next passage tells us that we do not marry – maybe a relief to some? Luke 20:35-36, “But those who are considered worthy to attain to that age and the resurrection from the dead, neither marry nor are given in marriage, for neither can they die anymore, for they are like angels, and are sons of God, being sons of the resurrection.” Other than that, no one knows, and it will be a glorious revelation.
(5). The Available Dynamic of the Resurrection. Out of death, comes life. Out of the cross, comes the resurrection. Through the resurrection, comes life, but not just ordinary life. It is abundant life. It is the life that is fully energized by the power of the resurrection. Christ lives in you with all the power of the Holy Spirit to be the living sons of the living God.
Phil. 3:10-12, 10 “(that I may know Him) (and the power of His resurrection) (and the fellowship of His sufferings), (being conformed to His death); 11 in order that I may attain to the resurrection from the dead. 12 Not that I have already obtained it or have already become perfect, but I press on in order that I may lay hold of that for which also I was laid hold of by Christ Jesus.”
Verse 10 (above) contains four aspects to which the Apostle wanted to attain. May I be frank with you all – these 4 goals are exactly what each of us ought to desire in our time on earth. The lazy Christian and the careless Christian will never hear the Lord’s commendation of “Well done, you good and faithful servant.” These four goals are giants of the Christian walk – knowing Christ in a close and personal way; suffering, or being set aside by the world in rejection and persecution; molded by the Holy Spirit into the death of Christ so we know obedience and sacrifice.
However, it also says, “(and the power of His resurrection).” This Greek word “dunamos” you have heard before, but the real power of the resurrection is seen in transformation of lives and actions. It was the dynamic of the resurrection that enabled Peter to stand before the crowd and confront them with the death of their Messiah in Acts 2, and Paul to stand boldly before governors and rulers to proclaim Christ. It is all the power for holy living and endurance. It is going forth in the power of God under the authority of God. And, you know what? It is available for every born-again saint, not for any special class.
In verse 11, Paul looked forward to the resurrection of the body. He wrote to Timothy: 2Tim. 4:8, “In the future there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day, and not only to me, but also to all who have loved His appearing.”
[E]. RETURNING TO BETHANY
Back to that family at Bethany. We see that straight after that momentous statement from Jesus, He calls for Mary: 28 “When she had said this, she went and called her sister Mary, saying in private, ‘The Teacher is here and is calling for you.’ …. 32 Now when Mary came to where Jesus was and saw him, she fell at his feet, saying to him, ‘Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.’ 33 When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in his spirit and greatly troubled.”
Look at reasons for this – Jesus was perfect man with the emotions of a pure heart. He felt the pain of others and sympathized with their sorrow and tragedies. His humanity was tested on many points, but He had a perfect balance of the two natures.
Some verses later on, we read that Jesus wept when shown Lazarus’s tomb. Does He know your sadness and your grief, and your failures, and your losses? He certainly does, and He has a ministry to address that. Heb. 2:17, “Therefore, He had to be made like His brethren in all things, that He might become a merciful and faithful high priest in things pertaining to God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people.” And Heb. 4:15, “For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin.” And Rom. 8:34, “Who is the one who condemns? Christ Jesus is He who died, yes, rather who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who also intercedes for us.”
I think also He was deeply moved by seeing death, for what sin had done; for sin leads to death. Maybe He wept for their unbelief there at Bethany, for He knew that many in that assembled group would not continue with Him. He knew the hardness of people’s hearts.
Then comes the victory, as the One who is the Resurrection and the Life demonstrated His authority over death. John 11: 43-44, “When he had said these things, he cried out with a loud voice, ‘Lazarus, come out.’ The man who had died came out, his hands and feet bound with linen strips, and his face wrapped with a cloth. Jesus said to them, ‘Unbind him, and let him go.'”
Then He used His authority as the Resurrection and the Life. The God who spoke the worlds into being, spoke for the raising of a dead one from death. So it shall be at His coming again.