Life after death

Outside of the twelve apostles that were Jesus’ constant companions during his three year ministry on earth, there are only a few people mentioned in the Bible that were close to him. One family in particular is mentioned in John’s gospel as being among Jesus’ closest friends. John tells us, “Now a certain man was ill, Lazarus of Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. It was Mary who anointed the Lord with ointment and wiped his feet with her hair, whose brother Lazarus was ill. So the sisters sent to him, saying, Lord, he whom you love is ill” (John 11:1-3). The love that Jesus had for Lazarus came from his heart and had to do with a personal attachment that had been formed between the two men. The Greek word that is translated love, phileo (ful-ehˊ-o) represents “tender affection” (G5368). John went on to say, “Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. So, when he heard that Lazarus was ill, he stayed two days longer in the place where he was. Then after this he said to the disciples, ‘Let us go to Judea again.’ The disciples said to him, ‘Rabbi, the Jews were just now seeking to stone you, and are you going there again?’” (John 11:5-8). The Greek word that John used in this instance that is translated love is agapao (ag-ap-ahˊ-o). The distinction between the two kinds of love that Jesus had for Mary and Martha and their brother Lazarus are more evident in Jesus’ conversation with Peter after he had denied the Lord (John 21:15-17). The context itself indicates that agapao, which is used in the first two questions that Jesus asked Peter, suggests the ‘love’ that values and esteems (cf. Revelation 12:11). It is an unselfish ‘love,’ ready to serve. The use of phileo in Peter’s answers and the Lord’s third question, conveys the thought of cherishing the Object above all else, of manifesting an affection characterized by constancy, from the motive of the highest veneration” (G5368). It was a deliberate assent of Jesus’ will as a matter of principle, duty and propriety rather than a desire to preserve Lazarus’ life that caused Jesus to respond to Mary and Martha’s request for him go to Judea in spite of the risk that it imposed to his own life. Jesus told his disciples, “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” (John 11:4).

Jesus explained Lazarus’ situation to his disciples in John 11:11-16. It states:

After saying these things, he said to them, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep, but I go to awaken him.” The disciples said to him, “Lord, if he has fallen asleep, he will recover.” Now Jesus had spoken of his death, but they thought that he meant taking rest in sleep. Then Jesus told them plainly, “Lazarus has died, and for your sake I am glad that I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him.” So Thomas, called the Twin, said to his fellow disciples, “Let us also go, that we may die with him.”

Jesus compared Lazarus’ death to falling asleep in order to make it clear to his disciples that Lazarus had not gone beyond a point of no return. The Greek word that is translated death in John 11:13, thanatos (thanˊ-at-os) “has the basic meaning of separation of the soul (the spiritual part of man) from the body (the material part), the latter ceasing to function and turning to dust…Death is the opposite of life; it never denotes nonexistence. As spiritual life is conscious existence in communion with God, so spiritual death is conscious existence in separation from God” (G2288).

The thing that Jesus wanted his disciples to believe was that physical death does not separate us from God. The Apostle Paul said of God’s everlasting love, “For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:38). Jesus told his disciples that he was glad that he was not there when Lazarus died, “so that you may believe” (John 11:15). The Greek word that is translated believe, pisteuo (pist-yooˊ-o) means “to have faith” (G4100). Hebrews 11:1 tells us that “faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” When we are convicted of things not seen, we are either shown to be wrong, convinced of our error or given proof that we are right (G1650). Faith enables us to have an accurate perception of what is going on in the spiritual realm.

When Jesus arrived in Bethany, John tells us:

Martha said to Jesus, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. But even now I know that whatever you ask from God, God will give you.” Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.” Martha said to him, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.” Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?” She said to him, “Yes, Lord; I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who is coming into the world.” (John 11:21-27)

Martha’s attention was focused on the fact that her brother’s physical life had been cut short and she expressed her disappointment that Jesus hadn’t done something about it. Jesus redirected Martha’s attention to the eternal state of her brother’s soul. Jesus told Martha, “Your brother will rise again” (John 11:23), meaning that Lazarus was born again and therefore, would experience a restoration of his physical life at some point in the future (G450). Martha acknowledged this when she said, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day” (John 11:24), but Jesus wanted Martha to realize that Lazarus was still living, even though he wasn’t physically present with them.

Luke’s gospel contains a story that Jesus told to illustrate life after death. It states:

“There was a rich man who was clothed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day. And at his gate was laid a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores, who desired to be fed with what fell from the rich man’s table. Moreover, even the dogs came and licked his sores. The poor man died and was carried by the angels to Abraham’s side. The rich man also died and was buried, and in Hades, being in torment, he lifted up his eyes and saw Abraham far off and Lazarus at his side. And he called out, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus to dip the end of his finger in water and cool my tongue, for I am in anguish in this flame.’ But Abraham said, ‘Child, remember that you in your lifetime received your good things, and Lazarus in like manner bad things; but now he is comforted here, and you are in anguish. And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been fixed, in order that those who would pass from here to you may not be able, and none may cross from there to us.’ And he said, ‘Then I beg you, father, to send him to my father’s house— for I have five brothers—so that he may warn them, lest they also come into this place of torment.’ But Abraham said, ‘They have Moses and the Prophets; let them hear them.’ And he said, ‘No, father Abraham, but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.’ He said to him, ‘If they do not hear Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead.’” (16:19-31)

The place that Jesus described, Hades was known as the place of punishment, the abode or world of the dead. “According to the notions of the Hebrews, hades was a vast subterranean receptacle where the souls of the dead existed in a separate state until the resurrection of their bodies. The region of the blessed during this interval, the inferior paradise, they supposed to be in the upper part of this receptacle; while beneath was the abyss or Gehenna” (G86). When Jesus was dying on the cross, he told the criminal hanging next to him who asked to be remembered when he came into his kingdom, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise” (Luke 23:42-43). After he was resurrected, Jesus ascended into heaven (Luke 24:51) and shortly before his death, Jesus assured his disciples that they would eventually join him there. Jesus said, “If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also” (John 14:2-3).

In Jesus’ story, the rich man asked Abraham to send Lazarus to his brothers to warn them about the torment they were going to experience in Hades. “Abraham said, ‘They have Moses and the Prophets; let them hear them.’ And he said, ‘No, father Abraham, but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.’ He said to him, ‘If they do not hear Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead’” (Luke 16:30-31). In this statement, Jesus made it clear that hearing, or you might say paying attention to what God says, is a prerequisite of faith. Paul told the Romans, “So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ” (Romans 10:17). The Greek word that is translated convinced, peitho (piˊ-tho) “in the active voice, signifies ‘to apply persuasion, to prevail upon or win over, to persuade’ bringing about a change of mind by the influence of reason or moral considerations…It also means ‘to persuade, to win over,’ in the passive and middle voices, ‘to be persuaded, to listen to, to obey’” (G3982). Believing in God and trusting in God are not exactly the same things. When Jesus said, “Whoever believes in me though he die, yet shall he live” (John 11:25), he used the Greek word pisteuo. “Peitho and pisteuo, ‘to trust,’ are closely related etymologically; the difference in meaning is that the former implies obedience that is produced by the latter, cf. Hebrews 3:18-19, where the disobedience of the Israelites is said to be the evidence of their unbelief. Faith is of the heart, invisible to men; obedience is of the conduct and may be observed. When a man obeys God he gives the only possible evidence that in his heart he believes God. Of course it is persuasion of the truth that results in faith (we believe because we are persuaded that the thing is true, a thing does not become true because it is believed), but peitho, in New Testament suggests an actual and outward result of the inward persuasion and consequent faith” (G3982).

Jesus told Martha, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die” and then, he asked her, “Do you believe this?” (John 11:25-26). Martha believed that Jesus was the Messiah, but she hadn’t yet gone so far as to put her trust in him. Jesus dealt with this issue when he instructed Martha to have the stone taken away from her brother’s tomb. John 11:38-44 states:

Then Jesus, deeply moved again, came to the tomb. It was a cave, and a stone lay against it. Jesus said, “Take away the stone.” Martha, the sister of the dead man, said to him, “Lord, by this time there will be an odor, for he has been dead four days.” Jesus said to her, “Did I not tell you that if you believed you would see the glory of God?” So they took away the stone. And Jesus lifted up his eyes and said, “Father, I thank you that you have heard me. I knew that you always hear me, but I said this on account of the people standing around, that they may believe that you sent me.” 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.”

Jesus used the Greek word pisteuo when he told Martha that if she believed, she would see the glory of God (John 11:40) indicating that Martha may not have actually been saved prior to her brother’s death. Martha knew in her head that Jesus was the Messiah (John 11:27), but might not yet have been persuaded to the point that she had actually put her trust in him for salvation.

John tells us that before Jesus commanded Lazarus to come out of the grave, “he lifted up his eyes and said, ‘Father, I thank you that you have heard me. I knew that you always hear me, but I said this on account of the people standing around, that they may believe that you sent me’” (John 11:41-42). What was going on between Jesus and his Father was a visible display of their cooperative effort to persuade the people standing around that Jesus was in fact “the resurrection and the life” (John 11:25) and because of that, even though Lazarus was physically dead, he was spiritually still alive. It seems that Jesus’ ability to raise Lazarus from the dead was somehow being hindered by the unbelief of the people standing around. It’s possible that belief and unbelief are somewhat like opposing forces that compete against each other to determine the outcome of a situation. When Jesus told a man that wanted him to cast a demonic spirit out of his son, “All things are possible for one who believes” (Mark 9:23), the man responded, “I believe; help my unbelief!” (Mark 9:24). The Greek word that is translated help, boetheo (bo-ay-thehˊ-o) means “to aid or relieve” (G997). The boy’s father had faith (I believe), but his unbelief was counteracting it and needed to be dealt with in order for Jesus to heal his son.

One of the biggest hindrances to the Jews accepting Jesus as their Savior was that they didn’t understand how things worked in the spiritual realm and therefore, couldn’t comprehend how a person could be “born again” (John 3:3-4). Jesus told a man named Nicodemus, “That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’ The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit” (John 3:6-8). Jesus indicated that the sound of the wind is evidence of its presence. Even though it’s invisible, wind exists and can be detected by its sound. When God the Father testified to Jesus’ identity, he did so with his voice. Matthew 3:16-17 states, “And when Jesus was baptized, immediately he went up from the water, and behold, the heavens were opened to him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming to rest on him; and behold a voice from heaven said, ‘This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.’” Likewise, at Jesus’ transfiguration, Matthew indicated “a bright cloud overshadowed them, and a voice from the cloud said, ‘This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him’” (Matthew 17:5).

Jesus referred to himself as the good shepherd and told the Jews, “The sheep hear his voice, and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes before them, and the sheep follow him, for they know his voice. A stranger they will not follow, but they will flee from him, for they do not know the voice of strangers” (John 10:3-5). Jesus’ emphasis of the sheep knowing the shepherd by his voice suggests that spiritual connections are formed through vocal interaction. Jesus often used the statement, “He who has ears, let him hear” (Matthew 13:43) to draw attention to the spiritual truths in his lessons and distinguished believers from unbelieves by stating, “Whoever is of God hears the words of God. The reason why you do not hear them is that you are not of God” (John 8:47). The Greek word that is translated words, rhema (hrayˊ-mah) refers particularly to “a word as uttered by a living voice; a saying, speech, or discourse” (G4487).

After Jesus instructed Martha to take the stone away from Lazarus’ tomb, John tells us:

So they took away the stone. And Jesus lifted up his eyes and said, “Father, I thank you that you have heard me. I knew that you always hear me, but I said this on account of the people standing around, that they may believe that you sent me.” (John 11:41-42).

Jesus wanted everyone to know that God could see and hear what was going on at Lazarus’ tomb. By looking up to heaven and praying out loud to his Father, Jesus shifted the focus of everyone’s attention to what was going on in the spiritual realm. John went on to say:

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.” (John 11:43-44)

Lazarus’ response to Jesus’ command demonstrated that he was able to hear what he said to him. It seems likely that Jesus intentionally used a voice command to bring Lazarus back from the dead to show everyone that even though he had died, Lazarus was still spiritually connected to Jesus. Before they left for Bethany, Jesus told his disciples, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep, but I go to awaken him” (John 11:11). Jesus was speaking in a figurative sense when he said he was going to wake Lazarus up, but when Jesus cried out to him with a loud voice (John 11:43) Lazarus was not actually dead; his soul was just temporarily separated from his body.

Life after death

Paul’s summary of the gospel in 1 Corinthians 15 concluded with an identification of the ultimate reason for believing in Christ. He stated, “But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain” (1 Corinthians 15:13-14, ESV). Paul went on to say, “If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most miserable” (1 Corinthians 15:19). Life after death was a key issue in Paul’s gospel message. His primary concern was a misconception that death marked the end of physical life. The Greek word translated resurrection, anastasis means literally “to cause to stand up on one’s feet again” (G386). Paul made it clear that physical death was a temporary state of human existence that would eventually be eliminated. He said about Jesus’ triumph over death, “For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death” (1 Corinthians 15:25-26, ESV).

Paul used the analogy of a seed to explain the difference between our natural and spiritual bodies and stated, “Someone will say, ‘How are the dead raised? What kind of bodies will they have?’ What a foolish question! When you plant a seed, it must die before it starts new life. When you put it in the earth, you are not planting the body which it will become. You put in only a seed. It is God Who gives it a body just as He wants it to have. Each kind of seed becomes a different kind of body.” (1 Corinthians 15:35-38, NLV). Paul likened the transformation that occurs when a seed is changed into a plant to what happens when our natural bodies are resurrected. Paul pointed out that our resurrected bodies will have an unending existence (1 Corinthians 15:42). and then he stated, “I tell you this, brothers: flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable” (1 Corinthians 15:50, ESV)

Paul’s description of the resurrection of the dead was framed in the context of a mystery or a divine revelation that can only be understood with the help of the Holy Spirit (G3466). He said, “Behold! I tell you a mystery. We shall not all sleep, but we shall be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and we shall be changed” (1 Corinthians 15:51-52). The Greek term Paul used that is translated sleep, koimao (koy-mah’-o) means “to put to sleep” and refers to the phase of sleep when you are still fully conscious (G2837). Koimao is used figuratively to represent the death of Christians because there is no loss of consciousness when our spirits are temporarily separated from our human bodies. Paul concluded his discussion of life after death by connecting the resurrection of the dead with Isaiah’s prophecy about God’s completed work of salvation (Isaiah 25:8). He stated, “‘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. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Corinthians 15:54-57 ESV).

Unbelief

 

At the close of Jesus’ ministry, the Apostle John summarized his accomplishments by saying, “But though he had done so many miracles before them, yet they believed not on him” (John 12:37). The primary cause of the Jews unbelief appeared to be their concern for other things that they thought were more important. John said, “For they loved the praise of men more than the praise of God” (John 12:43). Jesus’ parable of the sower revealed a deeper problem that was evident during his ministry. Using the analogy of seeds being sown on different types of soil, Jesus showed that the words he spoke about God’s eternal kingdom were not received because “the cares of the world, and the deceitfulness of riches choke the word, and it proves unfruitful” (Matthew 13:22, ESV).

Jesus identified some extenuating circumstances that may have been preventing the Jews from recognizing him as their Messiah. He said, “And in them is fulfilled the prophecy of Esaias, which saith, By hearing ye shall hear and shall not understand; and seeing ye shall see, and shall not perceive: for this people’s heart is waxed gross, and their ears are dull of hearing, and their eyes they have closed; lest at any time they should see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and should understand with their heart, and should be converted, and I should heal them” (Matthew 13:14-15). The primary issue that Jesus was pointing out was that the Jews were content with their situation. They didn’t want their lives to be disrupted by his radical teaching.

The central point of Jesus’ ministry was his death and resurrection. Just before he raised Lazarus from the dead, Jesus told his sister Martha, “I am the resurrection, and the life: he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live: and whosoever liveth and believeth in me shall never die” and then he asked her, “Believest thou this?” (John 11:25-26). Martha’s response showed that she had a limited understanding of what Jesus was talking about. She said to him, “Yea, Lord: I believe that thou art the Christ, the Son of God, which should come into the world” (John 11:27). Martha’s acknowledgement of Jesus’ identity, but avoidance of the topic of his resurrection probably meant that she wasn’t convinced at that point that life after death was possible.

Jesus warned his twelve apostles repeatedly that he was going to be put to death, and yet, after he was crucified, they didn’t expect him to come back to life as he had promised. Mark reported that after Jesus “appeared in another form unto two of them, as they walked, and went into the country. And they went and told it unto the residue: neither believed they them. Afterward he appeared unto the eleven as they sat at meat, and upbraided them with their unbelief and hardness of heart, because they believed not them which had seen him after he was risen” (Mark 16:12-14). In other words, in spite of eye witness accounts, Jesus’ apostles actually refused to believe that he was alive until they saw him themselves.

Jesus said of himself, “I am come a light into the world, that whosoever believeth on me should not abide in darkness” (John 12:46). The Greek phrase Jesus used that is translated “abide in darkness” meno en skotia could mean to live in obscurity (G3306/G1722/G4653). What Jesus may have been trying to say was that belief in him would bring meaning or purpose to life, an understanding of what life was really all about. With that in mind, it seems likely that the reason the majority of the Jews’ were trapped in a state of unbelief was because they had already established a relationship with God and already knew about his plan for the world. In their case it wasn’t a matter of knowing too little, but of knowing too much.

The hour

Jesus described his appointment with death as an opportunity for his divine character to be manifested to the world. He told his disciples, “The hour is come, that the Son of man should be glorified” (John 12:23). Even though he knew he would be brutally murdered, Jesus thought of his death as a necessary part of God’s plan of salvation. He said, “Verily, verily, I say unto you, Except a corn of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abideth alone: but if it die, it bringeth forth much fruit” (John 12:24). The picture Jesus created of a seed being planted in the ground portrayed his death as a source of new life. The reason Jesus said the seed would abide alone unless it died was to convey the point that his sinless life entitled him to entrance into heaven, but there would be no one there with him unless he paid the penalty for the sins of everyone else.

Jesus told his disciples, “He that loveth his life shall lose it; and he that hateth his life in this world shall keep it unto life eternal” (John 12:25). Jesus’ message was probably intended to motivate his followers to make a sacrifice similar to his own. The idea that they would lose their life by trying to hang on to it, was Jesus’ way of saying that the temporal pleasures of this world were incomparable to what they had to look forward to in heaven. Jesus knew it wouldn’t be easy for his disciples to continue believing in him after he was crucified, but wanted them to understand that his only purpose in coming to this world was to make a way for them to be with him later. He said, “Now is my soul troubled; and what shall I say? Father save me from this hour: but for this cause I came to this hour” (John 12:27).

The hour Jesus referred to was the appointed time for him to leave Earth and return to his Father in heaven (John 13:1). So that his disciples would know that there was no mistake in what was happening, Jesus said:

“Father, glorify your name.” Then a voice came from heaven: “I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again.” The crowd that stood there and heard it said that it had thundered. Others said, “An angel spoke to him.” Jesus answered, “This voice has come for your sake, not mine. Now is the judgment of this world; now will the ruler of this world be case out. And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” He said this to show by what kind of death he was going to die.(John 12:28-33)

Jesus’ intention in dying for the sins of the world was not to bring glory to himself. His identification with God was specifically linked to the glorification of his Father. “As the glory of God is the revelation and manifestation of all that He has and is,” so Jesus’ life was a “Self-revelation” in which God manifested all the goodness that he wanted to give to the world (G1392). It was because Jesus willingly gave up his life on Earth that he was able to picture the hour of his death as a seed being planted in the ground. The fruit that he expected to come from it was human immortality.

Ambition

James and John were one of two sets of brothers that were included in Jesus’ twelve member exclusive team of evangelists. Jesus told these men, “in the regeneration, when the Son of man shall sit in the throne of his glory, ye also shall sit upon twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel” (Matthew 19:28). James and John were often singled out and given special privileges such as witnessing Jesus’ transfiguration (Matthew 17:1) and the raising of Jairus’ daughter from the dead (Mark 5:37). In his list of the twelve apostles, Mark said of these two men, “And James the son of Zebedee, and John the brother of James; (and he surnamed them Boanerges, which is, The sons of thunder:). The name Boanerges could also be translated sons of commotion (G993), but in its original form, the word Jesus used stood for violent anger or rage (H7266). It is likely that James and John had a reputation for losing their tempers and may have been raised in a home where violence was used to discipline them.

One of the few incidents of conflict among Jesus’ twelve apostles is recorded in Mark 9:33-34 where it says, “And he came to Capernaum: and being in the house he asked them, What was it that ye disputed among yourselves by the way? But they held their peace: for by the way they had disputed among themselves, who should be the greatest.” James and John took this conflict one step farther when they approached Jesus and asked him to give them the seats next to his in his throne room (Mark 10:37). James and John’s ambition appeared to be driven by a desire to be equal with Jesus (Mark 10:38-39). Jesus told them, “Ye shall drink indeed of my cup. and be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with: but to sit on my right hand, and on my left, in not mine to give, but it shall be given to them for whom it is prepared by my Father” (Matthew 20:23). The Greek word translated prepared, hetoimazo (het-oy-mad´-zo) means to prepare or make ready (G2090). Hetoimazo refers to those things which are ordained by God, such as future positions of authority.

Jesus told his disciples, “In my Father’s house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you” (John 14:2). The word Jesus used that is translated prepare in this verse is also hetoimazo. The Greek word translated place, topos suggests that Jesus is building his kingdom based on our prayers or requests for occupancy in a particular spot that might be available (G5117). In this sense, you could say that Jesus is currently taking reservations and assigning spots to believers inside his Father’s house. James and John’s request may not have been all that unreasonable, but it was determined that their ambition to be seated next to Jesus was not at his discretion. Jesus revealed that the top spots in his kingdom were reserved for God’s elect and said, “whosoever will be great among you let him be your minister; and whosoever will be chief among you, let him be your servant: even as the Son of man came not to be ministered unto but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many” (Matthew 20:26-28).

The Greek word translated minister in the phrase “let him be your minister” (Matthew 20:26) is diakonos (dee-ak´-on-os). Diakonos refers to “an attendant that is (generally) a waiter (at a table or in other menial duties)” (G1249). This term is used specifically in reference to a Christian teacher or pastor who is technically supposed to be a deacon or deaconess. Jesus identified himself as a minister and stated the purpose of his service was to “give his life a ransom for many” (Matthew 20:28). In other words, the job Jesus was assigned by his Father was to die for the sins of the world. This was the position God prepared for him and the reason Jesus would be located at the head of the table or in the top spot in God’s eternal kingdom. When Jesus asked James and John, “Are ye able to drink of the cup that I drink of, and to be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with?” (Matthew 20:22), he may have been asking them if they were willing to make the same kind of sacrifice that he was expected to. When they responded, “We are able” (Matthew 20:22) James and John were basically volunteering to become martyrs.

Faith in action

Jesus’ departure from the world presented a problem for his ministry to be carried on because his followers were used to him doing most of the work. As his death approached, Jesus began to prepare his disciples to continue on without  him. One of the significant issues was performing miracles. Jesus taught that faith in him was the key to receiving God’s power. In addition to that, Jesus said, “If ye have faith as a grain of mustard seed, ye shall say unto this mountain, Remove hence to yonder place; and it shall remove; and nothing shall be impossible unto you” (Matthew 17:20).

Jesus taught his disciples that unbelief was the opposite of faith (Matthew 17:17) and warned them that their exposure to false teaching had damaged their ability to trust him and would therefore, hinder their spiritual growth (Matthew 17:20). Jesus used the limited time he had on Earth to correct doctrinal errors in the Jews’ belief system and taught his disciples the truth about God’s kingdom. On at least one occasion, Jesus gave his disciples an opportunity to exercise their faith by sending them out to minister on their own (Luke 10:17).

When Jesus was told that his friend Lazarus was sick, he intentionally waited two days to go to his home in Bethany (John 11:6), “Then after that saith he to his disciples, Let us go into Judea again” (John 11:7). Jesus already knew Lazarus was dead (John 11:14), so there was no need for him to go right away, but there was also no need for him to wait two days if his plan was to raise Lazarus from the dead. The delay in Jesus’ departure was probably due to everyone’s expectation that he would fix things for Martha and Mary, rather than them doing something about it on their own.

As soon as Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went to meet him. “Then said Martha unto Jesus, Lord, if thou hadst been here, my brother had not died” (John 11:21). Essentially, what Martha was saying was that it was Jesus’ fault that Lazarus had died. She was blaming him for not being there. Jesus’ response was meant to ignite Martha’s faith. “Jesus saith unto her, Thy brother shall rise again. Martha saith unto him, I know that he shall rise again in the resurrection at the last day” (John 11:23-24). Martha knew Lazarus was saved and was a believer herself, but she wasn’t using her faith to deal with her difficult circumstance.

Jesus refreshed Martha’s faith by giving her a quick lesson on the topic of life after death:

Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whosoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?” She said to him, “Yes, Lord; I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who is coming into the world.” (ESV)

What Jesus wanted Martha to understand was that her brother Lazarus was still alive, he just wasn’t living in his body. Apparently, Martha didn’t fully grasp the concept of life after death, but she did believe Jesus was who he claimed to be, Israel’s Messiah.

When they arrived at Lazarus’ grave, which was a cave with a stone blocking the entrance, “Jesus said, Take away the stone” (John 11:39, ESV). Martha’s reaction revealed the barrier to her belief. “Martha, the sister of the dead man, said to him, ‘Lord, by this time there will be an odor, for he has been dead four days.’ Jesus said to her, ‘did I not tell you that if you believed you would see the glory of God?'” (John 11:39-40, ESV). Jesus’ statement showed there was an element of Martha’s faith that was missing. She was not willing to do what he told her to. In order to be truly committed to Christ, Martha had to act, she had to demonstrate her faith through obedience.

After the stone was removed, Jesus “cried with a loud voice, Lazarus come forth” (John 11:43). Another way of saying this would be, Lazarus, get out here! When Jesus commanded Lazarus to come forth, he was not calling him back from the dead. It is likely that Lazarus had already been revived by God at the time the stone was rolled away from his grave. The reason why Jesus cried out with a loud voice was so that everyone would know he wasn’t calling Lazarus out of the grave; he wanted him to come out of the cave. The miracle of Lazarus’ resurrection was not the result of Jesus’ supernatural ability to bring him back to life. It was the result of Martha’s faith filled obedience to roll away the stone.

Lazarus

Lazarus was the only man outside of Jesus’ intimate circle of disciples that was referred to as his friend. Because of their personal relationship, it says in John 11:3, “Therefore his sisters sent unto him saying, Lord, behold, he whom thou lovest is sick.” The Greek word translated lovest, phileo (fil-eh´-o) means to “have affection for (denoting personal attachment, as a matter of sentiment or feeling)” (G5368). Jesus’ attachment to Lazarus may have been a result of them spending a lot of time together, but it could also be that Jesus’ feelings stemmed from his compassion toward this man’s unfortunate circumstances. Lazarus lived in the town of Bethany, a short distance from Jerusalem where the cost of living was likely very high. There is no indication that Lazarus was married or had any other family members besides his two sisters Martha and Mary, who also appeared to be unmarried. It is possible Lazarus was about the same age as Jesus and had never been married because he was too poor to support a family.

When Jesus heard that Lazarus was sick, he told his disciples, “This sickness is not unto death, but for the glory of God, that the Son of God might be glorified thereby” (John 11:4). The Greek terms translated glory and glorified have to do with the reputation Jesus gained through his self-manifestation (G1391/1392). In other words, how people interpreted his actions. It says in John 11:5-6, “Now Jesus loved Martha, and her sister, and Lazarus. When he had heard therefore that he was sick, he abode two days still in the same place where he was.” Jesus’ reaction to the situation showed that he was in complete control of his behavior in spite of his feelings about what was going on. Jesus knew Lazarus was already dead (John 11:14), therefore, he refrained from going to Jerusalem because it wasn’t necessary for him to be there right away. The problem was that Jesus’ presence in the city would have ignited the wrath of the Jews that had already tried to stone him (John 10:31). He may have avoided this by waiting to go to Bethany until after Lazarus’ burial.

The key to understanding Jesus’ decision to go to Bethany in spite of the danger that awaited him was his determination to do the will of his Father. We know it was God’s will for Jesus to raise Lazarus from the dead because he stated “This sickness is not unto death, but for the glory of God” (John 11:4), but in order for him to do God’s will, Jesus had to put his own life at risk. Jesus’ motivation for doing what was expected of him was likely the love he felt for not only Lazarus, but also for his sisters Martha and Mary. When John stated that Jesus loved Martha, Mary, and Lazarus (John 11:5), he wasn’t talking about the same kind of love that Martha and Mary identified when they asked Jesus to come to Bethany (John 11:2). John used the Greek word agapao (ag-ap-ah´-o)which is an expression of God’s love. “In respect of agapao as used of God, it expresses the deep and constant love and interest of a perfect Being towards entirely unworthy objects, producing and fostering a reverential love in them towards the Giver, a practical love towards those who are partakers of the same, and a desire to help others seek the Giver” (G25).

Jesus’ disciples expected him to be killed when he returned to the area in and around Jerusalem (John 11:16). Their trip toward Jerusalem had already been filled with numerous warnings of Jesus’ imminent death (Matthew 20:18, Mark 10:33). When Jesus told his disciples that Lazarus was dead, he added, “And I am glad for your sakes that I was not there, to the intent ye may believe; nevertheless let us go unto him” (John 11:15). Jesus’ miracle of raising Lazarus from the dead was likely meant to be a preview of his own resurrection in order to demonstrate his power over the grave. Jesus wanted his disciples and everyone else to know that he had the ability to bring someone back to life that had been dead for several days.

Justification

One of the advantages God built into his plan of salvation was a provision for all sinners to be acquitted of every charge brought against them when God judges the world. In other words, by their admission of personal wrong doing, sinners are by default guilty, but through the justification provided them, they are declared innocent by God (1344). In order to qualify for this justification, a person must believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and accept his payment of their debt to God through his death on the cross. Once justification takes place, the sinner is awarded eternal life and entrance into God’s kingdom. The believer’s one-way ticket to heaven can only be redeemed on an individual basis and is thought to be irrevocable after salvation has been received.

As the Savior of the World, Jesus was given authority over demonic forces and enabled to accomplish certain tasks on earth that no mortal man was able to. For instance, Jesus rebuked a devil that possessed a lunatic boy and caused him to depart from him (Matthew 17:18) and he restored the sight of a man born blind (John 9:7). In addition to the many miracles he performed, Jesus also taught his followers about the kingdom of heaven and forgave the sins of people considered to be hardened criminals (John 8:11). In preparation for his departure, Jesus sent out seventy of his disciples to spread the good news that Israel’s Messiah had arrived. After they returned, the disciples reported, “Lord, even the devils are subject unto us through thy name” (Luke 10:17).

Jesus’ disciples didn’t seem to understand the significance of the justification that he was making available to everyone. Although they had the power to perform miracles because of Jesus’ authority in the spiritual realm, the primary purpose of justification was so that people could go to heaven when they died. Jesus explained, “I  beheld Satan as lightning fall from heaven. Behold, I give unto you power to tread on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy: and nothing shall be any means hurt you. Notwithstanding in this rejoice not, that the spirits are subject unto you; but rather rejoice, because your names are written in heaven” (Luke 10:18-20). The book of life that Jesus referred to is a permanent record of each person’s salvation (Revelation 3:5).

Following Jesus’ interaction with his disciples, a lawyer asked him the question, “Master, what shall I do to inherit eternal life” (Luke 10:25). Essentially, what this man was asking was how he could get to heaven without being justified by Jesus. The lawyer understood God’s commandments and thought he had lived according to them. He basically stated that he needed to love God and his neighbor as himself (Luke 10:27). It says in Luke 10:29, “But he, willing to justify himself, said unto Jesus, And who is my neighbor?” (Luke 10:29). Jesus used the parable of the good Samaritan (Luke 10:30-35) to show this man that it wasn’t enough for him to just refrain from harming others, he needed to demonstrate his love to anyone in need in order to earn his own way into heaven.

The good shepherd

Jesus often used parables and analogies to describe the kingdom of heaven to those that wanted to know about the spiritual life that awaited them after their physical death. One of the ways Jesus portrayed himself in the believer’s journey to heaven was a shepherd caring for his flock of sheep. Perhaps, the most famous psalm written by King David was Psalm 23 which stated, “The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want, he maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters” (Psalm 23:1-2). The role of the shepherd was to protect and guide his sheep along a pathway that was usually predetermined in order to keep them safe and well fed. When Jesus referred to himself as the “good shepherd” (John 10:11), he meant that he was perfectly suited for or well adapted to the circumstances of a shepherd (2570). The reason why that was true was because Jesus made it as easy as he possibly could for believers to go to heaven by making it a free gift that one could obtain simply by believing that he was who he said he was, the Savior of the World. Essentially, you could say that Jesus paved our way to heaven through his death on the cross.

Jesus’ statement, “I am the door of the sheep” (John 10:7), was a reference to the gate that had to be passed through in order for a sheep to enter the sheepfold, a place for him to rest at night. Jesus went on to say, “I am the door: by me if any man enter in, he shall be saved, and shall go in and out, and find pasture” (John 10:9). The connection between entering the sheepfold and being saved was evident in the purpose of the sheepfold, to keep the sheep from the death they would certainly face if they were to be left out in the open, unattended overnight. Jesus depicted Satan as a thief that wanted to steal, kill, and destroy his flock of sheep (John 10:10). In order to drive home the point that Satan would stop at nothing to damage God’s kingdom, Jesus said, “I am the good shepherd; the good shepherd giveth his life for the sheep” (John 10:11). Jesus also stated that his death was a voluntary act that he was predestined for. He said, “Therefore doth my Father love me, because I lay down my life, that I might take it again. No man taketh it from me, but I lay it down of myself. I have power to lay it down and I have power to take it again. This commandment have I received of my Father” (John 10:17-18).

An aspect of Jesus’ analogy that may have been difficult for his listeners to grasp was the reference he made to his sheep hearing and knowing him by his voice (John 10:3-4). In the same way that someone today might be labeled crazy if he said he had heard God speak to him, the people that lived in Jesus’ time didn’t expect God to speak to them directly. Up to that point, God had always spoken to his people through prophets who were considered to be his spokespersons or quite literally his mouthpieces (5030). Something that Jesus made clear was that his voice was a unique identifier that made it possible for his followers to distinguish him from strangers (John 10:5), and more specifically, to prevent believers from being influenced by satanic forces that might try to lead them astray (John 10:8). Jesus’ primary goal as the good shepherd was to protect his sheep from anything that might harm them. One thing that made Jesus more than just a good shepherd was his ability to fulfill every spiritual need of those that chose to follow him. Jesus said, “I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly” (John 10:10). The Greek word translated abundantly, perissos can mean to go beyond or exceed (4053). In other words, the life Jesus gives us exceeds our expectations.

Misunderstanding

After his lesson about the bread of life (John 6:22-59), many of Jesus’ disciples “went back, and walked no more with him” (John 6:66), probably due to a misunderstanding of what he meant by eating his flesh and drinking his blood in order to have eternal life. From a physical standpoint, what Jesus said made absolutely no sense. It was only from a spiritual perspective that his teaching was understandable. Jesus’ concluding statement more than likely left the crowd of people gathered around him perplexed and dismayed by the possibility that they could receive eternal life through an act of cannibalism. Jesus said, “He that eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, dwelleth in me, and I in him. As the living Father hath sent me, and I live by my Father: so he that eateth me, even he shall live by me. This is that bread which came down from heaven: not as your fathers did eat manna, and are dead: he that eateth of this bread shall live for ever” (John 6:56-58).

Jesus’ reference to the manna that was eaten while the Israelites wandered in the desert was probably a clue to the type of spiritual food he was prepared to give his followers. Manna was an unknown substance that appeared out of nowhere every morning except on the Sabbath (Exodus 16:15). The Hebrew word translated manna, man (mawn) literally means “a whatness” (4478). In other words, there was no name for it. The terms flesh and blood are what we typically use to refer to a real or live person. Someone might say of a movie star, “I saw him in the flesh,” meaning, I saw him offscreen or as he is in his normal day to day existence. The expression “flesh and blood” is also used to refer to someone in your family, especially someone who is related by blood rather than marriage. Therefore, Jesus’ portrayal of himself as the bread of life must have had something to do with having a spiritual connection or relationship with God while living on earth.

In order to further illustrate his point, Jesus said, “It is the spirit that quickeneth; the flesh profiteth nothing: the words that I speak unto you, they are spirit, and they are life. But there are some of you that believe not” (John 6:63-64). The Greek word translated quickeneth, zoopoieo (dzo-op-oy-eh’-o) means to revitalize or to make alive again (2227). Later, Jesus asked his twelve apostles privately if they wanted to go away, or in essence, distance themselves from his unorthodox teaching. “Then Simon Peter answered him, Lord, to whom shall we go? thou hast the words of eternal life. And we believe and are sure that thou art that Christ, the Son of the living God” (John 6:68-69). Peter’s response showed that he was willing to believe what Jesus said, even if there was still some misunderstanding about it. In other words, like the manna the Israelites ate in the desert, Peter didn’t need to know what “the bread of life” was in order to benefit from it. He believed Jesus was who he said he was and was able to do what he said he could, give Peter eternal life.