I Am the Resurrection

The Gospel of John is famous for the "I Am" statements of Jesus. Throughout the Gospel there are seven "I Am" statements in addition to Jesus saying "before Abraham was I Am." (John 8:58). Today I want to focus on the "I Am" statement that Jesus makes in John 11. There are two reasons I want to look at this. The first is simply do to the fact that I recently went through this passage in my yearly Bible reading plan. Secondly, I believe that Jesus reveals something in this "I Am" statement that is woefully misunderstood and misrepresented by many modern Christians.

The Text: John 11:17-27

 

[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.” [24] Martha said to him, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.” [25] Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, [26] and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?” [27] She said to him, “Yes, Lord; I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who is coming into the world.”

Context

At this point in the gospel of John Jesus has begun his confrontation with the pharisees, scribes, and other rulers in Israel. He had recently left the region of Judea to avoid further conflict and is now returning to go to Jerusalem for the Passover feast. News had come to Jesus and his disciples that Lazarus had fallen ill and then again that Lazarus had died. Jesus tells his disciples that they will now go to see Lazarus and his sisters Mary and Martha. The response of the disciples is one of fear believing that they will be killed if they return to Jerusalem.

Not Missing the Point

Having set up the context a little we see in the text that Jesus is confronted with Lazarus' sister Martha before he reaches Bethany. Martha states that Lazarus would not have died if Jesus would have been there to heal him of his illness. Jesus' response is that Lazarus will "rise again."

At this point we should note that the Jewish people believed in a final resurrection from the dead at the end of history (except the sadducees who Jesus confronts in the Gospels). Martha's response to Jesus' words is not an entirely surprising one. Martha believed that everyone would rise in the resurrection at the last day and she thought Jesus was alluding to this. Jesus responds to Martha by telling her the he is the resurrection.

It is this point that is often misunderstood and sentimentalized in our day. The problem with our sentimentalization of Jesus being the resurrection is that we completely miss out on a crucial theme in the New Testament. The theme is that the "New Heavens and New Earth" or the "New Creation" has already been inaugurated in Jesus. The Jewish people (for the most part) had a concept for a restoration of all things at the end of history (like we modern/western Christians do). The New Testament teaches that this restoration actually begins in Jesus' resurrection and then is to go forth throughout the world through his church.

It is this theme that Jesus is getting at here in John 11. Rather than explaining to Martha that he was planning on resuscitating Lazarus and that he wasn't talking about the "resurrection" he tells her that all these restorative miracles (wine, healings, etc.) are effects of the resurrection world (the New Heavens and New Earth) because that is who he is. The resurrection isn't an event (per se) it is a person, Jesus.

When this "I Am" saying is sentimentalized and we gloss over it as if Jesus is simply saying that he won't stay dead we miss out on the cosmic implications of his life and resurrection. When Jesus rose from the grave in the resurrection he inaugurated the New Creation and then commissioned his church to go forth and do the work of ushering in and expanding this new world order (the new world order of King Jesus who is now ascended and ruling). By simply viewing the resurrection as a far past reality and/or a far future reality we will ignore the reality that the resurrection ushered in a new world order that we currently inhabit. By ignoring this we will find that we are not following the commission that Jesus gave to his church.

When Jesus said that He is the resurrection and then goes about to raise Lazarus from the dead we should understand that the eschatological qualities of the world to come were breaking into the world of first-century Palestine because of the presence of Jesus, who is the resurrection. As the body of Christ, the church should look to emulate Jesus' model. If Jesus is the resurrection and we are his body then we should look to see the ways in which we can expand the world of the resurrection in the worlds that we inhabit.

Food for thought.

Michael

Michael lives with his wife (Caroline) and dog (Beau) in Athens, GA where he teaches history and economics to high schoolers. Michael enjoys reading, watching soccer, drinking bourbon, and taking walks with his wife and dog.