Last week we discussed the startling and remarkable way love is expressed in the Kingdom of God.
• Jesus taught us that beholding the glory of God is a priority for the expression of love in the Kingdom.
• Beholding God’s glory takes precedent over our desire to avoid death, pain and grief.
• And this is why he waited 2 days after hearing of Lazarus’ illness.
• Today, Jesus continues His Kingdom education by redefining death.
• We will see that Jesus has at least two comments to make concerning death in the Kingdom of God.
1) DEATH WILL NOT COME IN THE “DAY”
John 11:7–10 (ESV) — 7 Then after this he said to the disciples, “Let us go to Judea again.” 8 The disciples said to him, “Rabbi, the Jews were just now seeking to stone you, and are you going there again?” 9 Jesus answered, “Are there not twelve hours in the day? If anyone walks in the day, he does not stumble, because he sees the light of this world. 10 But if anyone walks in the night, he stumbles, because the light is not in him.”
Our text today starts with a concern over death.
• The disciples don’t think Jesus should return to the area around Jerusalem because the Jews are “seeking to stone” Him.
• And it is His answer to their concern that provides us with the first way He addressed death in the Kingdom.
• BTW – I like that in a context where Jesus was laying the groundwork to challenge their very notion of death, they express fear of the very thing He seeks to challenge – good timing.
Death is in God’s Timing:
So the first way Jesus addressed death in the Kingdom of God was to tell the disciples that His death is in God’s timing.
• He did this by saying “If anyone walks in the day, he does not stumble, because he sees the light of this world. (vs. 9)”
• Jesus intent here, all agree, is to convey the same meaning to be found in the following passages of John.
• John 9:4–5 (ESV) — 4 We must work the works of him who sent me while it is day; night is coming, when no one can work. 5 As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.”
• John 7:6 (ESV) — 6 Jesus said to them, “My time has not yet come, but your time is always here.
• John 7:8 (ESV) — 8 You go up to the feast. I am not going up to this feast, for my time has not yet fully come.”
• John 7:30 (ESV) — 30 So they were seeking to arrest him, but no one laid a hand on him, because his hour had not yet come.
Jesus’ appointed time to die on the cross was set by His Father, not by the mobs in Judea.
• Jesus wanted the disciples to know this.
• Death comes only at God’s appointed time – no sooner or no later.
However, we must be clear that He is not telling them that the night will not come.
• He will die and they will die.
• John 12:27 (ESV) — 27 “Now is my soul troubled. And what shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’? But for this purpose I have come to this hour.
• However, this death will be much different than what they conceive.
And this leads us to the second way he addressed death in the Kingdom of God.
2) DEATH IS NOT WHAT YOU THINK
John 11:11–16 (ESV) — 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, 15 and for your sake I am glad that I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him.” 16 So Thomas, called the Twin, said to his fellow disciples, “Let us also go, that we may die with him.”
Why did Jesus describe death as a sleep from which Lazarus will awaken?
• What was Jesus trying to convey?
• To answer that and to appreciate the second way Jesus addressed death in the Kingdom of God, we need to get at some background on the Hebrew view of death.
• Because it is this view that Jesus was about to profoundly change.
Death in the OT:
Death in the OT can be said to have 3 general meanings (AYBD).
• (1) a “metaphor for those things which detract from life as Yahweh intends it”
• (2) “as a ‘power’ in opposition to the created order”
• (3) “for biological cessation”
• Number (1) is spiritually related; number (2) can be both spiritually and physically related; number (3) is physically related.
With regards to (3), “biological cessation” the following can be said:
• “Belief in a substantial, meaningful existence after death is a relatively late development in the history of Israelite religion. The usual view expressed in the biblical books is that, upon death, one’s shade descends to Sheol, where one remains forever, cut off from God’s presence” – AYBD.
• This slow change from “forever” dead to “meaningful existence” was a somewhat of a sequential process, though the views did coexist.
• N.T. Wright puts this process as follows, “absence of hope beyond death; hope for blissful life after death; hope for new bodily life after ‘life after death’” – N.T. Wright.
• We will briefly describe some of the specific OT views of (3), “biological cessation”.
Death as Sleep:
The phrase “fallen asleep” was a Hebrew way of speaking of physical death, number (3) from above – Beasely-Murray.
• 1 Kings 2:10 (ESV) — 10 Then David slept with his fathers and was buried in the city of David.
• Psalm 13:3 (ESV) — 3 Consider and answer me, O LORD my God; light up my eyes, lest I sleep the sleep of death,
• It is for this reason that, as we will see shortly, Jesus’ characterization of death as a sleep would not have been unusual, but describing it as a sleep from which Lazarus would awake would have been.
Death is Permanent:
We also need to know that with respect to physical death (3), no one was immune and it was considered to be a permanent condition – not something that one would awake from as Jesus told us in vs. 11.
• 2 Samuel 14:14a (ESV) — 14 We must all die; we are like water spilled on the ground, which cannot be gathered up again.
• Psalm 6:5 (ESV) — 5 For in death there is no remembrance of you; in Sheol who will give you praise?
• Psalm 115:17 (ESV) — 17 The dead do not praise the LORD, nor do any who go down into silence.
• Job 14:11–12 (ESV) — 11 As waters fail from a lake and a river wastes away and dries up, 12 so a man lies down and rises not again; till the heavens are no more he will not awake or be roused out of his sleep.
o Elijah was the exception – 2 Kings 2:11.
o And the boy brought back to life by Elisha was also an exception, but we can assume he ultimately did not escape death – 2 Kings 4:35.
That biological death was considered as something permanent by the Jews is also seen in Mark.
• Mark 5:39–40 (ESV) — 39 And when he had entered, he said to them, “Why are you making a commotion and weeping? The child is not dead but sleeping.” 40 And they laughed at him. But he put them all outside and took the child’s father and mother and those who were with him and went in where the child was.
• BTW – though Daniel 12:2 reflects a different meaning, one more in line with the view Jesus was about to reveal, it had not yet “seized the minds of the people” – Beasely-Murray.
Death is Corruption:
And as conveyed by numbers (1) and (2) from above, the disobedience in the Garden of Eden that led to death, “detracted from life as Yahweh intended and it” corrupted the “created order”.
• This corruption manifested itself as both physical death, as we have just seen and spiritual death for all of humanity.
• Athanasius put it this way, “men began to die, and corruption ran riot among them and held sway over them”.
Paul gives us an example of the “corruption ran riot” due to death.
• Romans 1:28–32 (ESV) — 28 And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done. 29 They were filled with all manner of unrighteousness, evil, covetousness, malice. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, maliciousness. They are gossips, 30 slanderers, haters of God, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, 31 foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless. 32 Though they know God’s righteous decree that those who practice such things deserve to die, they not only do them but give approval to those who practice them.
Death and Corruption did not Glorify God:
Finally, we have to realize the problem corruption and its death caused for the purpose of life and creation – the glorification of God we spoke of last week.
• This purpose is not just a NT theme.
• In fact, “The most significant theme for Israel was the understanding that life provided an opportunity for the individual and community to praise Yahweh. Praise of God was the sign of life” – AYBD.
• Those engulfed by corruption and its death could not praise God, and thus could not participate in this “most significant theme” – AYBD.
• The consequences of death and corruption are one of the reasons that for the Jew, it was a profound blessing to have a long life and many children.
• Thus, it was unthinkable that even the “Holy One”, who we know from Paul to be Jesus, would taste death.
• Psalm 16:10 (ESV) — 10 For you will not abandon my soul to Sheol, or let your holy one see corruption.
So now that we have an idea about the notions of death Jesus was confronting, we can appreciate and get at what He was doing.
Death Redefined in the Kingdom of God:
In telling the disciples that He will awaken Lazarus from death, Jesus is both:
• (1) Departing radically from the typical view of death
• (2) And pointing to Himself as the reason why
It departs radically because Jesus is now saying that death is a sleep, but one “from which they shall be awakened through Jesus” – Beasely-Murray.
• In other words, death is not permanent!
• He makes this claim in verse 11 when He says that He will “awaken him” (Lazarus) from death.
• And by His own resurrection He demonstrates forever that death is dead.
It points to Himself because He is about to claim and then demonstrate that He is “the resurrection and the life” (vs. 25).
• And it is He, in union with the Father (John 11:41-43), that will shortly raise Lazarus from the dead.
• He will do so in public with the spoken word of God so that all can see and hear.
• John 11:41–43 (ESV) — 41 So they took away the stone. And Jesus lifted up his eyes and said, “Father, I thank you that you have heard me. 42 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.” 43 When he had said these things, he cried out with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out.”
And this redefining of death in the Kingdom of God is why Jesus tells the disciples in verse 4 that an illness that led to death is in fact an “illness [that] does not lead to death”.
• And why he says in John 8:52, “If anyone keeps my word, he will never taste death”.
• Believers will never be deprived of the presence of Jesus Christ.
• We will never taste death, because we will be full and satisfied in the glory and eternity of Jesus Christ.
And importantly, Jesus shows us in verse 15 with His words, “for your sake”, that Kingdom Love and Kingdom Death intersect.
• In teaching, and shortly in demonstrating, that death is not permanent, Jesus is loving the disciples, Martha, Mary and Lazarus with Kingdom Love.
• He is pointing all of them to the glory and power of the Father as manifested in the Son to defeat death!
• What could be a higher expression of love than to show the disciples that through the Father-ordained ministry of the Son, death is defeated.
• What a glorious victory to behold; what a marvelous love to receive!
But there is more!
• Jesus was not only telling them that the corruption and permanency of death was about to be defeated, but that death itself would soon be, in complete opposition to its prior status, an occasion to praise God!
• As we just saw, those engulfed by corruption and death, could not praise and glorify God.
• The very things we were created to do.
• But now, through death, Jesus would demonstrate His victory via the resurrection over it and thereby vindicate His Father-ordained misery.
• He would overturn death’s permanency.
• He would cleanse death’s corruption.
• He would restore the created order and His intent for creation.
• Athanasius put like this, “The renewal of creation [would be] wrought by the self-same Word Who made it in the beginning”.
• This would enable us to praise and glorify God for eternity.
And it is this view of death that Jesus wants the disciples to “believe” when He says, “and for your sake I am glad that I was not there, so that you may believe”.
• Not just because it is truth, but in order that they may also be prepared for Jesus’ coming death.
Paul put the Jesus’ Kingdom view of death this way:
• 1 Corinthians 15:51–55 (ESV) — 51 Behold! I tell you a mystery. We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, 52 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. 53 For this perishable body must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body must put on immortality. 54 When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written: “Death is swallowed up in victory.” 55 “O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?”
Lessons for Us:
• Finally, Thomas’ words, “Let us also go, that we may die with him” (vs. 16), seem to demonstrate that Jesus’ teaching is taking hold.
• D.A. Carson characterizes Thomas’ words as reflecting “raw devotion and courage”.
• And as such, they are a challenge to us all.
• Mark puts the challenge to us this way:
• Mark 8:34 (ESV) — 34 And calling the crowd to him with his disciples, he said to them, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.
• Because as Jesus as just shown, death is defeated and not to be feared.