Introduction

A cemetery never looked so sublime as when we stood on Mount of Olives one afternoon looking over it across to the Temple Mount in Jerusalem. The Mount of Olives cemetery is believed to be one of the oldest active burial places in the world with at least 150,000 graves. Many more have been destroyed over the centuries. The post exilic prophets Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi are believed to be buried here[1]. This burial ground is a testimony to the Jewish belief of ‘resurrection of the dead’ on the last day when the Messiah comes.

When Jesus and his disciples met Martha at the village gate of Bethany, not too far from Jerusalem, after her brother Lazarus had died, he comforted her with these words: “Your brother will rise again” (John 11:23). These words to Martha’s ears would have been the conventional belief as would be to most Jews who believe in the resurrection hope.

In the synoptic Gospels, we read that Jesus had exposed the bankruptcy of the belief system of the Saduccees who denied resurrection of the dead. Jesus irrefutably argued from OT Scriptures and affirmed the Jewish hope of resurrection of the saints of God. (Matt 22:23-33; Mark 12:18-27; Luke 20:27-40).

Here, Martha’s response, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day” (v.24) thus demonstrates not only her right theology but also the assurance that she herself will participate in that future life of God with her brother. But what she was about to find out and experience in that moment superseded her theology and hope. She was about to meet the very God of the Old Testament who gives life to the lifeless body.

A Note on “I AM” Claims in John

We must grapple with each of the ‘I am’ statements in John’s Gospel in three dimensions. What is the OT backdrop to each of these, both historical and theological? What particular spiritual message does John the author convey to his readers in each statement’s unit (theology of the pericope), and how does each claim contribute to John’s overall purpose in his Gospel, since these claims are unique to John.

Each of the seven ‘I Am’ statements showcases a separate aspect of His deity (cf. 1:1c). Most lists of “I Am” statements in John do not include an eighth one, and there’s an eighth one, perhaps more significant that the familiar seven: “Before Abraham was, I am” (John 8:58). Only this ‘I am” claim occurs without a direct object, like ‘I am the bread of life’ or ‘I am the door.’ It directly proves his deity by virtue of his preincarnate existence (cf. 1:1a), and association with YHWH (cf. 1:1b).

We actually can find the usage of ‘I am’ in the Synoptic Gospels as well; only that they are not grammatically structured with direct objects to complete the answer to what or who Jesus is. The ‘I am’s in the synoptics typically appears as helping verbs, such as “I am able” (Matt 9:28, 26:61) or “I am gentle and lowly” (Matt 11:29). In the Synoptics Jesus never seems to make a claim such as “I am the bread of life” although it appears that the same truths are taught in other literary ways. This fact sets out John’s Gospel in a unique literary kind from the Synoptics.

The Two-fold Assertion

What was Martha to make of Jesus’ assurance: “Your brother will rise again” (v.23) if she already affirmed such a faith system (v.24)? We might ask what is John doing to the readers with how he narrates this magnificent account? Jesus’ assertion to Martha, “I am the resurrection and life…” (v.25) makes known (cf. 1:18, exegeomai, from where we get the word exegesis) that He is “God, the only God who is at the Father’s side” (cf.1:1b). In other words, Martha, and the readers encounter the very God of the Old Testament.

This claim is unique in the list of ‘I Am’ claims because of its two-fold assertion. This two-fold assertion is elucidated by Jesus in the following two statements of v.25b and v.26:  Following C. H Dodd, F. F. Bruce shows how this works: “‘I am the resurrection: he who has faith in me, even if he dies, will live again. I am the life: he who is alive and has faith in me will never die’”.[2]

The ground for resurrection hope is recognizing Jesus as the one who gives life. Jesus as God must always be the object of saving faith.[3] In both these elucidations, “believe me” is emphatic. The believer who entrusts his life in Jesus never really dies, even though he or she may experience the transient ‘sleep’, a term Jesus used in this context (vv. 12-14) which takes on a life of its own in NT Theology (1 Cor. 15:6, 18, 20, 51; 1 Th. 4:13–15; 5:10). “Never die” in the Greek language is the strongest way to emphasize that it is impossible to separate the life of God from a believer which Jesus gives to him or her.

Theological Background of John 11:25

Jesus had already asserted that “as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, so also the Son gives life to whom he will” (John 5:21). The dead will hear the voice of the Son when he calls them back to life because the life that is in the Father is also in the Son (John 5:25-26). This is reiterated in John 6:39-40 as well.

The one who gives life is the creator God who “formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature” (Gen 2:7). John the Gospel writer has a keen interest in showcasing that Jesus is that Creator God of the Old Testament. This is clear in the opening lines of the prologue (John 1:1ff.). “All things were made through him… In him was life…” (vv. 3) cf. Colo 1:16; 1 Cor 8:6; Heb 1:2).

Not only does the prologue contain the creation motif; it has been argued that each of the seven sign-miracles in John recapitulate the creation motifs, i.e., each showcases Jesus as God the creator.[4] The greatness of Jesus in this last[5] sign-miracle is that he is the same (or equal to) the Creator God who formed man out of dust.

This is highliged by the timing of Lazarus’ resurrection. Jesus’ own resurrection was after three days (2:19-22); Lazarus was raised after four days (11:39). That his body has begun to decompose (turning back to dust) is conveyed by Martha’s comment about the possible odor coming out of the grave (v.39). Raising Lazarus is nothing short of God making man out of the dust of the ground!

Apostle John shows how he is working out this motif. Although both Martha and Mary observes that, had Jesus come early, their brother would not have died (see the verbatim statements of both sisters in vv. 21 & 32). Jesus purposefully delayed his visit to Bethany for a reason: “It is for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it” (v.4). Now that opportunity has come: “Did I not tell you that if you believed you would see the glory of God” (v.40).  Verses 4 & 40 thus brackets the narrative point: We glorify God by believing Jesus equal in power to raise the dead. This is the way to experience what even the apostles did: “…we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14 cf. 2 Cor 3:18; 4:4-6).

John 11:25 with its Literary Context

Let us consider briefly how this ‘I Am’ statement serves the larger purpose of John. This is not the last “I am” claims in John (see 14:6; 15:1, 5). But it is located in the context of the last ‘sign’ miracles in John. As the last sign-miracle, we can expect it to be the climatic miracle of all.

It is climatic in terms of the demonstration of Jesus’ ultimate power and authority over death itself; it is also climatic in terms of the different responses it created: in Martha on the one hand, and among the unbelieving Jews on the other. John accomplishes a dual purpose in this narrative unit. John invites the reader with question through Jesus the protagonist: “Do you believe this” (v.26b)? After all, that is John’s purpose of writing: “so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in His name” (20:31). Martha’s response displays that that purpose has been accomplished: “Yes, Lord. I believe you are the Christ, the Son of God, who is coming to the world” (v.27). Of cours,e in the Gospel, apostle Thomas’ response is the ultimate, which is closely tied to John’s purpose statement: “My Lord and my God!” (20:28).

We see the second purpose of the narrative in the way the Jews responded to Lazarus’ resurrection. Jesus’ display of his power and identity as God was the last straw for the Jews: they decide to get rid of Jesus (11:53). They were so unnerved with the outcome of its impact among the populace that they decided to “put Lazarus to death as well, because on account of him many were going away and believing in Jesus” (12:10). Leaving aside the ‘Upper Room” account (chs. 13-17), the next event in John’s narrative is Jesus’ arrest (ch. 18) followed by his trial, crucifixion, and resurrection.

This second purpose is not an accident but the means by which Jesus will obtain the authority to dispense life to those who believe in Him. Jesus had hinted at his death and resurrection when he talked about building the temple in three days (2:19). In John 10:17, Jesus promised that he will lay down his life for his sheep and that he has the power to take it up again. John 13:1 connects Jesus’ “hour to depart out of his world” to his ultimate love for the believing disciples. In the same vein, the high priestly prayer of Jesus anticipates his death by the hand of the Jews and his resurrection as the groud for the resurrection life that he grants to them (John 17:1ff.).

Conclusion

In this short article, we have considered the significance of Jesus’ claim “I am the resurrection and the life” (11:25) against the OT background, within its immediate context and how it contributes to the overall purpose of John’s Gospel. John clearly conveys that without believing Jesus as God who can raise the dead cannot claim to participate in the resurrection life. Believers in Jesus embrace the historical fact of Christ’s resurrection, and entrust their life with Him as the God who will give them that life of God in the present life and one that surpasses the experience of death itself.


[1] Naomi Zevelof, How This Jewish Cemetery in Israel Fixed its Vandalism Problem, Forward.com. Accessed on February 2, 2022. https://forward.com/news/israel/364506/how-this-jewish-cemetery-in-israel-fixed-its-vandalism-problem/

[2] F. F. Bruce, The Gospel of John. Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1983.

[3] See the contrasting account of the Samaritans’s faith with that of Simon the Magus in Acts 8. Luke clearly shows that although Simon believed, his faith did not have Jesus who is behind Philip’s miracles as the object, and hence his doom.

[4] See Alexander R. Gonzales, “A Biblical Theology of Creation: Jesus Presented as Creator in the Seven Signs of John’s Gospel” a draft presented for Bibliotheca Sacra, Dallas Theological Seminary, Dallas, TX.

[5] Some think that there are nine miracles in John including Jesus’ own resurrection, and the phenomenal catch of fish in ch.21.

I am the Resurrection and Life (John 11:25)

Dr. Saji P Thomas


Dr. Saji P. Thomas has been teaching ministry-students and sharing pastoral or other church related ministries in Bangalore since 1990. He teaches Bible exposition and pastoral track courses at ETS. He is the Director for our DMin program as well. He also serves as the Co-pastor at Bethel Baptist Church, Bangalore.


Post navigation


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

%d bloggers like this: