This is the will of Him who sent Me, that of all that He has given Me I lose nothing, but raise it up on the last day. For this is the will of My Father, that everyone who beholds the Son and believes in Him will have eternal life, and I Myself will raise him up on the last day. John 6:39-40 NASB
I love what Jesus does here — he declares his victory over a foe and doesn’t even give him the courtesy of a name. He simply steps around him without any acknowledgement and declares life. Identity is in a name. It is in being recognized that we are who we are. Even so Jesus focuses on two powerful messages in this conversation: he gives us life that never ends, and he will raise us up on the last day. What audacious claims! How do I reconcile his promise of living forever with our experiences today? We all die. We often fight a brutal fight with sickness, accident, old age and still lose to death. Jesus is addressing death in two moments: both in the present in our current conflict, and in the future, proclaiming a life in a new reality, a new “normal” without death. But these words don’t fully impact me until I purposefully connect the dots with our reality today. To me Death has a name, a forceful name that I cannot ignore.
Death has deeply impacted my psyche and written his affect on my and other’s lives in so many ways. As a child it is emotionally impacting to see my first pet die. Even a goldfish. Or the bird I see lying on the ground. When I was little and my Grandpa Joe died, it was hard to process what it meant. Another time when I was five years old I went to visit my good neighbor Etta who was always willing to talk with me, yet this time she asked me to leave because the ambulance driver was taking away her husband, for good, I later discovered. I won’t see these loved ones again? It just feels wrong! My most primitive instinct is to live. Growing up, it is difficult to extract or identify the “fear of death” in everything I learned because it was the foundation, the unspoken premise of much of what I was taught. From where I played (in the street), to how I played (so I would not be injured), and how I treated others (if I hit my sister, don’t I know that dad would kill me?!) the recognition of death is woven through everything. Choices I make daily, unconsciously, give a nod to Death and my instinctual desire to avoid my inevitable encounter with him. Jesus’ idea of life without death is truly mind-altering. In a similar way if I were asked to consider life without time, or without the obligation to be in a physical body, or without the law of gravity, or without the autonomic nervous system (and I had to deliberately choose to exercise my heart to keep it beating) — the very core of my thinking or the paradigm from which I live would be affected.
Life is accessed through the door of faith
Even today, Jesus’ words seem like a stretch. To understand them I must mix what I read with faith. Like lifting weights at the gymn gives my body more capacity, so also exercising my faith makes me more able to receive the weighty words Jesus spoke. Without connecting Jesus’ promise with faith, it makes my eyes turn glassy, my gaze distant, and my heart and mind are unaffected. “On the last day…” is a promise deferred. It’s delayed to a time that my mind cannot wrap its arms around. How does that help me now, let alone feed me? In effect Jesus is saying, “It’s coming. Today, death is a reality, but don’t be stumbled, tomorrow it won’t be.” One thing for certain, the promises that require believing rarely raise goosebumps of excitement on the natural man. I must always deliberately mix Jesus’ words with faith. A “today faith” — an abiding in a place of unshakable, unstumbled belief that opens the eyes of my heart to see his kingdom in this moment. All roads to the kingdom are paved in believing and trusting. And they lead through the toll booth of Christ. The kingdom is now… not some undefined future. It almost feels like he’s pleading, “listen to me, I will raise you up!” And through repetition, will stick?
Jesus is the new normal
Death is a reality. That sounds like a pretty stupid thing to say. It is all we have known while living on planet earth. Life as man knows it ends. The mortality rate of humans is nearly 99.999% with only two biblical exceptions. Even then, Enoch and Elijah did not remain on terra fima for us to gawk at. The entire cycle of life as we know it and see it is: life, growth, seed, death, then new life again. Rinse. Repeat. Yet the interruption to that cycle, the victory over Death, the new standard, is speaking to them now in person! It’s one thing for a Father to tell the kids, “someday we will go to Disneyland,” and it’s quite another to say it with tickets in the pocket and car waiting in the front driveway. You can almost feel the emotion, the excitement in Christ’s voice. For four thousand years men have been subject to death, but Christ is the ticket! It’s in our hand.
For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ all will be made alive. 1 Corinthians 15:22
The transition to this new kingdom reality will not feel clean. Even if I have super-faith, it’s hard to wrap my mind around what a life without death looks like. It is fundamentally a shift in operations — just like when you move to a new home and must meet the neighbors, find new grocery stores, familiarize yourself with the house’s personality and creaking at night. Or like changing schools, getting a new teacher, new classmates, new subjects to study. Or when you marry and the next morning you wake up next to your life-long companion and wonder what you have just done! The reality of deathlessness is mind-altering. Since Jesus spoke those words, there have been 2,000 years of not very clean transition. Yet, the change appeared with Jesus. A specific point in history. Christ raised Tabitha (Mk 5:39-42) and Lazarus (John 11:41-44) and he himself was raised (Mtt 28:1-6) – the first fruits of all his family of which I am a member (1 Corinthians 15:20). If that was not enough, he gave his disciples authority to raise the dead as well (Matthew 10:8). But his words here remain “I myself will raise him up…” There is a day coming when it will be complete. So, if he’s demonstrated his authority over death, why do we need to wait? Why is life (or deathlessness) deferred?
Death is an enemy
Paul calls him the “last enemy” to be destroyed. (1 Corinthians 15:26). He was the first enemy to be given authority over man (Genesis 2:17). Death is real. He has a name. And when his horrible reign has ended he is disposed of in the fire with his teammate, Hell (Rev 20:14). They are the third and fourth that are tossed into the lake of fire as soon as it is open for business — following only the Beast and False Prophet (in Revelation). In the garden he took ownership of the keys to the car of life which were violently snatched out of Adam’s hands.
Before death, God intended man to live without regard for time in his body. I’m not entirely sure what that would have looked like, but it was a possibility. There simply wouldn’t be an end point. Even after the sentence of death in Genesis 3, the life span of man after the fall was nearly 1,000 years. This changed dramatically after the flood — which makes me think something was tweaked in the physical environment on the earth that narrowed our natural life. Originally, our cells would simply regenerate and self-heal. The coding in our DNA compelled us toward life. And it still does, but not entirely now. Age produces decay. Something changed. Our earthly bodies and our environment now reflect the heavenly reality of a newly realized death sentence. We have all sorts of bastardized DNA in our bodies, each declaring all manner of sickness and disease with one goal: to rob life from me. Uncle Charlie, Aunt Freda, Grandpa Griswald, and mom and dad all contributed their particular strain of evil to this grand DNA re-coding project.
Now there is a refreshed DNA recoding project in my body. And Christ made the outcome clear: Life! My new birth isn’t just a clever mental game to re-align me with a new spiritual objective in my life. It is a real, earth-shaking, foundation-altering, physical reality. The fallen coding in my DNA that my parents, grandparents, and ancestors passed on to me — ends here. Death is defeated. Jesus gave this promise to the children of God. He demonstrated what it looked like. He made the payment. He himself was raised and sits as a testimony to my future. And he tells us of the time it will be the new “normal.” Until that day, the kingdom suffers violence, and the violent among us take it by force. By choice. By faith.
Giving death a moment to speak
Until now, I have spent very little time thinking about death. Life is about what is, not what is not. Life is being present, alive, fully engaged, bursting with goodness and creativity, friendship and love. When I have lost a friend or loved one, I think about my loss, our loss, and move on. I personally haven’t considered my encounter with Death. And like anything I haven’t contemplated, my faith about ceasing-to-be-on-earth are not well-formed. Death is frightening. His boastful prospects are not my future, so why would I want to listen? Yet recently I have many loved ones going through that frightful stare-down with this adversary. When death takes someone, it’s not just the one that he takes, but he takes a piece of something bigger. We are interconnected in a marvelous and frightening way. Just like when I play the wooden block game Jengo. It starts with the blocks stacked and interconnected in a tower and each player in turn takes out a piece with the goal of keeping the tower from falling. Finally, one piece is removed that brings the remaining blocks crashing down. This is what death is doing to the structure of our lives. Which piece or person does he finally remove from my life before the tower comes crumbling down? Although fear makes me want close my eyes and bury my head in my pillow, pull over the covers and wait for it to pass, there is something deeply emboldening about Jesus’ words. Embracing his victory allows me to put on new confidence, even a sense of invincibility. So now, instead of turning away from my foe, I look at him, acknowledge his boastful claims, and reconcile them with Jesus’ words:
Death says to me, “You have failed. Made the wrong choices. You’re guilty of sin. The penalty for sin in death is just. It was sanctioned by heaven’s courts. God himself. And by the way, I really do have authority over your body. Your future is the grave. Dust. An untimely death. Embarrassment. Exposure. Isolation. Loneliness. I have killed good DNA and replaced it with the bad. Now you are afflicted with ugliness instead of beauty. Limping and limitation instead of fierceness and boundarylessness. Although there are dreams and gifts planted within you —breadcrumbs of the divine — they are aborted. You may see them, but you will never realize them. Dashed hope. Failed efforts. In fact, the shorter your life the better. God allowed it, don’t you see that? It’s because he wanted the world to be rid of you. It couldn’t bear you very long — even now, 70-90 years are way too many. It gives you the false sense that you actually have time to accomplish something. That you actually have meaning, blah! Thankfully, I have friends: Toil, Hardship, War, Murder, Barrenness, Difficulty, Unloved, they all keep you distracted enough. You don’t have much time to consider your dreams. And even if you do, I’ll bring other friends to disrupt your sleep. No need to dream all those illusions.”
My reply? “Christ.”
But now, Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits [the forerunner, the example, the first of the many that will follow] of those who are asleep. 1 Corinthians 15:20
The timing of God
One thing that distinguishes God from his creation is time. On earth one thing follows another. In heaven, things aren’t quite so linear. In fact here in John 6, Jesus has not even died yet, but he’s already leveraging the purchase price he will pay for my life and telling his followers about it — before he actually tendered his physical life as the payment. He’s operating outside the linear. That is where faith must operate. His intent, promise, and devotion, combined with a word from God are just as powerful for Adam and David as they are for Christ, and me today. Stepping into Christ is stepping into timelessness.
My natural body = time. My rebirthed body = timeless.
I see Jesus operating in this new zone of forgiveness, redemption, and the payment for sin. Sin and evil has qualified me for death; the goodness, love, and sacrifice of Christ now qualifies me for life. The payment has been made and the benefit may be withdrawn — sometimes even today, as we see Christ did in so many instances. I wonder, why some may be raised now, and others not? Since Christ clearly demonstrated a victory over death, why can’t I count on it today? I may never understand. But the word of God is clear: there is a time — in the future — when the transaction is fully complete.
Death is an ugly enemy, and it feels wrong to say this, but I must become comfortable with the fact that today my path to life is through through him. One day this will change. But not today. It is so humbling to go through the process of death. So inglorious. Rarely pretty. Whether a fateful splat in an accident, or a long battle with disease — it’s just bad. Shutting down the life in my body and yielding to death, seems so wrong. Yet, however it comes, it is the threshhold to the next. Despite death, my heart cannot be separated from my Father’s, just like the fusion of metals in the heat. I am bound to life! Nothing can separate me from the love of God — even if for a moment I must concede to what happens in my body. The sooner I accept this, the sooner I will be at peace with whatever guillotine the adversary uses. Not a hair from my head is uncounted, nor a bird falls without him knowing it. If I cling to life in this body like it’s my last stop in life, I’m abandoning the peace he offers for a battle he has already won. I was thinking this morning of a story by Madeleine L’engle about her husband Hugh who was diagnosed with cancer and starting to see the symptoms which affected his normally joyful, playful countenance. The family thrust him into aggressive cancer treatment. It caused nausea, weakness, dependency, disconnect, struggle, hair loss, and so many other horrible side effects. Ultimately the disease took him. Although there was a chance the treatment would work and family based their hope on this treatment, it simply extended the battle into months of pain. So I wonder, which is worse, the sickness or the cure? Would they have been remiss to avoid the fight? And if one makes it through such harshness, what type of life is left to live? Would it be wrong to fold the sword on top of my own chest, bow my head and acknowledge the inevitable… on my terms? Courage and life may manifest in many different ways — and it’s a deeply personal choice with today’s hope-filled medicine.
The sting of death
When I consider the real struggle with death, the thing that worries me the most is the accusation of me being inconsequential and not living my dreams. Purpose, gifts, vision, a goal are all seeds for a life that was never intended to end. Yet what makes me put all my eggs in one basket — the basket of this body? If it falls off the table, what do I have? What about those with childhood diseases? Or those who died in service to their community or country? Or those taken from freak accidents or premeditated murders? There is a real future and a real hope in the kingdom of heaven. And just because I cannot see beyond the veil of this current life, the darkness of my understanding does not mean there is no life after death. Unfortunately, it’s not provable. I have never been there. But there is someone who has and He’s returned and says it’s true. And my Father says it’s true —in no uncertain terms.
The kingdom deposits God has made in my life are without regret. He planted them knowing full well the continuity of my life beyond my earthly body. My life being cut short is not a limiter. Those dreams and ambitions may be fulfilled in this body and in my new body which is coming, whether or not I am able to get over the hump which I cannot see beyond. What Jesus is saying here is profound and the although the water of understanding must sit on the callous ground of my flesh until it is slowly absorbed and nourishes, once the realization of his declaration goes in deeply, it is life changing. He’s telling me something very real. I have been looking at death through the eyes of fallen man. A grief-riddled response actually seems selfish and misinformed. “But I can’t talk to my dad any longer!” Who told me that? I must allow my core beliefs to be changed by Jesus’ words.
Our life after death
I’m aware that my time in my body offers me a unique ability to transact in my world. Now. And I fully desire to engage every day with all of my heart. Yet, one thing that frightens me about death is that I will be disengaged with life. I will miss opportunity. Since my only frame of reference is life in this body, I jump to all sorts of conclusions about what happens when my body returns to dust. The reality is, my role simply changes. There is an accounting all men must make for their deeds and words while in the body, and I fully understand how that may strike fear in the heart of man — especially when he has not lived in the context of being accountable for his thoughts and deeds — but the accounting for the children of God is pretty straightforward: I have failed and Jesus has paid for my failure. I am immersed in the grace of God. If I want credit for my good, then I must equally take credit for my bad. So the accounting is simple, it relies on grace which I am still trying to comprehend. But just like Jesus went away and is alive, I will be as well. To be in the body is to be constrained by earth’s laws of physics. When I’m released, there is no such constraint. When my body stops living, I am not dead, rather, my container is simply not here (or asleep, as Jesus said). I’m convinced that the life Jesus has for me and all of his brothers and sisters will not be missed because of death. He came to give us not just life, but abundant life! In fact, when he first appears, Paul makes it clear that those who have fallen asleep in him are raised first, then those who are alive and remain (1 Thessalonians 4:15-17). Why? So we may be encouraged. Recognize that departing and all of its worldly grief is temporary. We are NOT without hope. None of his kids will be excluded from the front row seat of the incredible life about to engulf our planet. Because I have a passion for how things wrap up on this earth in the coming days, I’m aware there are many significant events that will occur. Whether I’m on earth in my body, or not, I will be fully engaged with Christ in all that is about to take place.
The last day is closer than I may think
One of the most compelling things Jesus said over and over was that in him there was life — particularly here in John 6. If we believe in him we would never die. But here in John he makes the point of saying: “I will raise him up on the last day.” This is not a consolation promise. “Oh sorry, you missed 2000 years of life because of these weak and wobbly bodies.” He promises that although the timing is yet to come, the death of my body is NOT the end of the story. There will be a second act (and probably a third and a fourth). And I am convinced from a timing perspective, it is nearly upon us. Eschatology (or the study of the last days) can be a controversial topic. Every few years someone claims a date of Christ’s return and the day comes and goes with only a laugh from those looking on. The world and even the church roll their eyes wanting to avoid all discussion about his return, particularly the timing. I get it, yet he will return. He promised it. The day will come. So how can I say it’s closer than I may think? For one, it’s been nearly 2,000 years since he said he would return — so logically, we are closer to that date. Much closer than when the disciples first heard the promise. When I look at all the prophetic indicators, there is a season in which the church may discern it is near. One of the duties of the Holy Spirit is that he would disclose to us things to come. When Jesus first walked in Galilee, it had been nearly 4,000 years since Adam heard the promise of his coming. The Pharisees were just as dismissive of the actual coming of the Christ then, as we are about his second coming today. Yet Jesus expected them to see the signs of the season.
And He was also saying to the crowds, “When you see a cloud rising in the west, immediately you say, ‘A shower is coming,’ and so it turns out. And when you see a south wind blowing, you say, ‘It will be a hot day,’ and it turns out that way. You hypocrites! You know how to analyze the appearance of the earth and the sky, but why do you not analyze this present time? Luke 12:54-56 NASB
So, just like we see the summer heat end and the cool fall breeze approach, we know a change is at hand. When all the dogs and birds in the neighborhood are quiet, there is something different going on. This is a deep topic and I don’t want to oversimplify it. Yet… when he comes, it will be significant just like the crescendo at the end of a symphony, a movie plot that has unfolded, the burst of blooms in your garden, the sunset before the night. There are things which point to the timing of the sons of God. The purpose of God in this creation may be seen in the church — the people of God. We are the object of his affection. And the sons and daughters of God are nearly ready. Ready for a wedding. Ready for a position and place in the heavens with Christ. Ready to believe and live our true identity. This makes me so incredibly excited. I think of those who die in Christ now… whatever state you are in will not last long. And what about those that are alive and remain until he comes? Neither of us will miss a thing! I’m convinced of it by the Spirit. Oh to shed this narrow, dark thinking about death. He is life and we have his life and promise of immortality within us!
“The last day” sounds very final and concluding. Yet it is still a day to be lived in! The days of creation ended on the sixth. The last day was a day of rest. The seventh and last was an opportunity to joy in the work of the previous six. When we reach that day, whether we are alive and remain, or are raised as he promised, it will be a period of rest, refreshing, and joy. It will be a good day. And it will be an opportunity to continue to live and pursue the dreams, ambitions, and promises he’s planted within.
One thing certain about Death. He will die. One thing certain about those in Christ, we will live. Forever. Let’s start today.