One of the greatest public miracles Jesus ever performed was the act of raising back to life a dead man named Lazarus. Jesus’s miracles were evidences of His deity but they were never random events: they taught spiritual realities we need to pay close attention to. The resurrection of Lazarus is one such example.
The background to this miracle is detailed in chapter 11 of John’s Gospel: following a sudden illness, Lazarus, a close friend of Jesus, died. Lazarus’s sisters experienced the inevitable onset of grief and loss, their sadness deepened by the fact that Jesus, despite being contacted, had not appeared in time to prevent this death.
Death is inescapable. No advancements in medical science will ever overcome this reality. The Bible insists that it is appointed to each one of us to die, for all human beings, including Christians, are subject to physical death (Hebrews 9:27).
The reaction of Jesus on receiving a call for help, however, changes our whole outlook on death. Despite His special friendship with the family, He intentionally delayed responding to this summons by two more days (John 11:6); He was going to use this opportunity to demonstrate to everyone God’s power over death.
Before travelling to Lazarus’s hometown, Jesus already knew that Lazarus was dead (John 11:14). His verdict on the situation was simply that ‘our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep, but I am going there to awaken him’ (John 11:11, NET). Lazarus’ physical death did not mean the end of his existence. This is an important truth. We will all continue to exist after physical death as we each have a soul which is eternal.
The Bible makes clear that death is not the end of the road. Indeed, in the Bible the term ‘death’ actually speaks of separation. When we die, our eternally existent soul is separated from our mortal body. Devoid of that fundamental pre-requisite for physical life, the human corpse remains in the grave in what the Bible describes as a state of sleep, to be awakened in a future day (Acts 24:15).
Eventually, Jesus arrived at the village of Bethany near Jerusalem to witness the scene of grief. Since the eastern custom was for burial on the day of death, Lazarus had now been in the grave four days. Jesus was met by one of Lazarus’s sisters, Martha, who expressed her consuming thought: ‘Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died’ (John 11:21). Jesus’s absence had caused pain, but His presence would soon bring comfort.
In a much greater sense the principle is still true today. If we have not yet accepted Jesus personally as Saviour and Lord then we remain distant from God, heading for eternal isolation from the One who is the source of all goodness and life. To die without having accepted the eternal life that Jesus alone can give means suffering eternal separation and punishment in the place called hell and subsequently the lake of fire. The Bible describes this as spiritual death, not just for our body, but also for our soul. This diagnosis is far more distressing than Martha’s temporary grief.
Jesus illustrated His true identity by making the extraordinary statement to Martha that ‘your brother will come back to life again’ (John 11:23, NET). This claim appeared so bold that she interpreted His words in the light of a future day of judgment when every person would be raised to stand before God (John 5:28,29).
A future resurrection will certainly be universal; however, two groups of people will arise from death, and their final destinations will be very different. Those with saving faith in the Lord Jesus Christ will be raised with glorified bodies that will never die again, to experience continued eternal life in heaven, a place of unending joy and bliss. Those without saving faith will be raised with bodies that will be condemned to eternal torment (Daniel 12:2, Revelation 20:15, Matthew 10:28). This is very sobering but we must remember the tremendous offer of eternal life is available to every single person in this life.
Jesus’s response, teaches us that, as God, He can confer physical and spiritual life when He chooses. Jesus said to Martha, ‘I am the resurrection and the life’ (John 11:25). This exclusive claim means that He alone can restore and sustain life. After all, He is the source of all life (John 1:3,4). As you read this, remember that you are alive only because God has given you physical life.
Jesus then said, ‘whoever believes in Me, though he die, yet shall he live and everyone who lives and believes in Me shall never die’ (John 11:25,26). The moment people truly express faith in Jesus as Saviour, they receive new spiritual life and enter into a transformed relationship with God (John 3:16,36); even physical death is no barrier to the uninterrupted continuation of this.
Someone has said that death for the Christian is ‘the door into the presence of God’. The Christian needs no longer fear physical death because it becomes a stepping stone from time into a never-ending life found in Jesus Christ as our Saviour and not as our Judge. Christ alone has the power and authority to overturn permanently the effects of death.
The validation of Jesus’s claim to be the source of life and resurrection, to hold such power over death, was undeniably displayed when He went to the tomb of Lazarus and, remarkably, in the presence of many witnesses, restored him to life. Amazingly, He accomplished this by shouting out a simple command: ‘Lazarus, come out’ (John 11:43, ESV). Lazarus was resurrected to enjoy an extended period of life on this earth but one day he would physically die again.
Lazarus’s resurrection back to physical life was not a staged resuscitation of a dying man on an ambulance gurney but a genuine restoration of a man four days dead. It was not only a particularly famous miracle, but also a picture of the future resurrection to eternal life awaiting all who believe in Jesus as the Son of God. Time is no barrier to Jesus’ power to raise the dead, whether days or centuries have passed.
For many of the onlookers who ‘had seen the things Jesus did’ (John 11:45), this miraculous sign elicited faith in Him. On the other hand, others continued to reject and dismiss Him.
Can dead people be raised back to life? The answer is yes they can.
Given that, one day, you too will personally be resurrected to either a state of life or death for all of eternity, what then is your response to Jesus, the One who is ‘the resurrection and the life’?