Matters of Life and Death

In our first article of this series (PSI vol. 64 no.1, February 2009) focusing on the signs of John’s Gospel we observed that of the three Greek words (dumamis, power; teras, wonders; and semeion, signs) used in the Gospels to describe the wondrous deeds of the Lord Jesus, John predominantly employs semeion, meaning sign. He thus indicates the significance, or teaching intended, of those acts that underline Christ’s deity. We also noted that the eight signs included by John are recorded and arranged in the form of an introversion, i.e., the first corresponds with the eighth, the second with the seventh, etc., thus making four pairs.

In this second article we look at the second and the seventh of these signs and discover that they are linked by matters of life and death. The official’s son was at the point of death, John 4. 47, while Lazarus had been dead four days, John 11. 39. Death speaks of the destitution of Israel’s national life, but in God’s eternal purposes there will be a ‘resurrection’. Ezekiel chapter 37 verses 1-14 tells of a valley of dry bones, on which God will breathe to make those dry bones live. Note also Hosea chapter 13 verse 14, ‘I will ransom them from the power of the grave; I will redeem them from death’. In these two signs Christ clearly demonstrates His authority over ‘the king of terrors', Job 18. 14.

At the point of death,

John 4. 46-54

The official’s son in this incident had reached the point of no return – the point of death. Human resources had failed to effect a cure and, humanly speaking, there was no hope! In scripture, death is described as an enemy – it will be the last of our enemies to be destroyed. By nature we are dead in trepassess and sins, Eph. 2. 1. In reality, ours is a living death – we are alive physically, but dead spiritually; alive to the things in the world around us, the temporal things of time and sense, but dead to God Himself and the things of God, the unseen, eternal things.

It is said that death is the great leveller. Some people may live much longer or shorter than others, but whatever they have achieved or may achieve, sooner or later everyone must die. Sir Winston Churchill, in his radio tribute to King George VI said, ‘During these last months the King walked with death, as if death were a companion, an acquaintance whom he recognized and did not fear. In the end death came as a friend and after a happy day … he fell asleep, as every man who strives to fear God and nothing else in the world may do’.

On the other hand, Napoleon Bonaparte said, ‘I die before my time; and my body will be given back to earth to become the food of worms. Such is the fate that awaits the great Napoleon’! May our sentiments rather be those of Job, ‘I know that my Redeemer lives … and after my skin has been thus destroyed, yet in my flesh I shall see God’, Job 19. 25-26.

Distance is no problem to the Lord Jesus. He just spoke the word in Capernaum and it took immediate effect in Cana, some fifteen miles away. He can still deal with the deadly plague of sin wherever and whenever. Do we have a close relative about whom we should be telling the Lord of life?

Dead four days,

John 11. 1-46; 12. 1-2

If it was almost too late for the official’s son, then it certainly seemed far too late for Lazarus – he had been dead for four days.

Is death, separation or annihilation? We need to ask a further question, ‘What is man?’ Unlike other creatures, man was created in the image of God, in God’s likeness. What does that mean? God is Spirit and He has given man a ‘spirit-nature’. Scripture distinguishes for us that man is much more than a physical body, rather he is a tri-partite being, 1 Thess. 5. 22-23.

Body with which he is worldconscious
Soul with which he is self-conscious
Spirit with which (potentially) he is God-conscious

The body will die, but the soul and spirit are indestructible. To Solomon it was revealed that God ‘has put eternity into man’s heart’, Eccles. 3. 11. God created man for eternity and made him in the image of His own immortality, with the potential to live forever. Although He gave man almost unlimited choice of action, He stipulated one prohibition, Gen. 2. 17, ‘Of the tree of knowledge of good and evil, thou dost not eat of it, for in the day of thine eating of it – dying thou dost die’ YLT. Man’s physical and spiritual death were thus envisaged! We know that man disobeyed God and suffered the consequences, so he started to die physically, an irreversible process; and immediately he died spiritually – fellowship with God was severed. Although he remained a human being, every part of him was alienated or separated from God, but he was not annihilated.

When Lazarus died physically, his soul and spirit were separated from his body – his body was separated from his relatives and friends. That physical state is an illustration of spiritual reality. Sin has cut us off from spiritual relationship with God and Christ. We have already noted the tragic distinction made in Ephesians chapter 2 verse 1. We need to be ‘made … alive together with Christ’, Eph. 2. 5.

Martha and Mary expressed their thought that it was too late to do anything about Lazarus’ death, even for Jesus, John 11. 21, 32. But He took the opportunity to state that He is the very embodiment of resurrection and life, vv. 25-26. His breach of orthodoxy and His authoritative command, vv. 39, 43, led directly to Lazarus’ astonishing resurrection, though sadly, only to die again later. What of Jesus’ claim, ‘Everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die’, v. 26? The obvious thought would be that true believers, still alive when He comes again, will never die physically. But there is also the possible connotation that true believers will never die spiritually.

The words of CHARLES WESLEY still ring true today.

He speaks and, listening to His voice,
New life the dead receive,
The mournful, broken hearts rejoice,
The humble poor believe.

We do well to kindly remind unsaved friends, contacts and relatives that though death is a biological event, it also has a theological meaning. Death is not the end; it is separation, not annihilation. People may be dead and buried, but they are not dead and gone. From the least to the greatest, all will rise. Multitudes ‘who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt, Dan. 12. 2; cf. also John 5. 28-29. Jesus Himself clearly indicated that there is life beyond the grave, to be spent in one of only two eternal destinies, see Luke 16. 19-31. May people be warned and prepared for that awesome future.

To be continued