(John 11:26) . . .everyone that is living and exercises faith in me will never die at all. Do you believe this?. . .
Jesus spoke these words on the occasion of the resurrection of Lazarus. Since everyone who exercised faith in him at that time did die, his words may seem odd to the modern-day reader. Was he saying this in anticipation of what would happen to those who, during the last days, exercised faith in him and therefore lived through Armageddon? Given the context, it seems hard to accept that. Did Martha, upon hearing these words, think, he doesn’t mean everyone who is living now of course, but rather everyone who is alive when the end of the system of things come?
I don’t think so. So what could he have meant?
The fact is he uses the present tense of the verb “to be” in making this expression. He does the same thing at Matthew 22:32 where we read:
(Matthew 22:32) . . .‘I am the God of Abraham and the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob’? He is the God, not of the dead, but of the living.”
His sole argument that the Bible teaches the resurrection of the dead is the verb tense used in the Hebrew. If this were a fallacious argument, the unbelieving Sadducees would have been all over it, like money lenders after a rolling coin. Yet they were silent, indicating he had them dead to rights. If Jehovah is the God of the long deceased Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, then they must be alive to him, though dead to the rest of humanity. Jehovah’s viewpoint is the only one that really counts, of course.
Is this the sense in which he expresses himself to Martha at John 11:26?
It seems noteworthy that Jesus introduces some new terminology regarding death in the same chapter of John. In verse 11 he says, “Lazarus our friend has gone to rest, but I am journeying there to awaken him from sleep.” The disciples did not understand his meaning, indicating that this was a new application of this term. He had to pointedly tell them in verse 14 that “Lazarus has died”.
The fact that this new term did eventually enter the Christian vernacular is evident by its use at 1 Corinthians 15:6, 20. The phrase used in both verses is, “fallen asleep [in death]”. Since we use square brackets in the NWT to indicate words that have been added for clarification, it is clear that in the original Greek phrase, “fallen asleep”, sufficed to indicate the death of a faithful Christian.
One who is asleep is not really dead, because a sleeping man can be woken up. The phrase, “fallen asleep” to indicate one has died, is only used in the Bible to refer to faithful servants. Since Jesus’ words to Martha were uttered within the same context of the resurrection of Lazarus, it seems logical to conclude that the literal death of someone who exercises faith in Jesus differs from the death of those who do not. From Jehovah’s point of view, such a faithful Christian never dies at all, but is merely asleep. That would indicate that the life to which he awakens is the real life, everlasting life, to which Paul refers at 1 Timothy 6:12, 19. He does not come back to some conditional day of Judgment during which he is still dead to Jehovah. That would seem to be a contradiction of what is stated in Scripture about the state of these faithful ones who have fallen asleep.
This might help clarify the confusing verse found it Revelation 20:5 which reads, “(The rest of the dead did not come to life until the thousand years were ended.)” We understand this to refer to coming to life as Jehovah views life. Adam died the day he sinned, though he continued living for over 900 years. But from Jehovah’s viewpoint he was dead. Those of the unrighteous who are resurrected during the thousand years are dead from Jehovah’s viewpoint, until the thousand years have ended. This would seem to indicate that they do not achieve life even at the end of the thousand years when presumably they have reached perfection. It is only after undergoing the final test and proving their faithfulness that Jehovah can then grant them life from his point of view.
How can we equate this with what happens to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob? If they are alive in Jehovah’s eyes even now, are they alive upon their resurrection in the New World? Their faith under test, along with the tested faith of all Christians in Jesus Christ, places them in the category of those will never die at all.
We like to differentiate between Christians on the basis of the reward that they receive, whether to a heavenly calling or an earthly paradise. However the distinction between those who are dead and those who are alive is made on the basis of faith, not on one’s destination.
If this is the case, it also helps clarify the conundrum we create by saying that the goats of Jesus’ parable found at Matthew 25:31-46 go off into everlasting destruction yet the sheep only go off into a chance for everlasting life if they remain faithful for the thousand years and beyond. The parable says the sheep, the righteous ones, get everlasting life right away. Their reward is no more conditional than is the condemnation of the unrighteous, the goats.
If this is the case, then how do we understand Rev. 20:4, 6 which speaks of those of the first resurrection ruling as kings and priests for a thousand years?
I’d like to throw something out there now for further comment. What if there is an earthly counterpart to this group. The 144,000 rule in heaven, but what if the reference to “princes” found at Isaiah 32:1,2 applies to the resurrection of the righteous. What is described in those verses corresponds to both the roles of a king and a priest. Those that are of the resurrection of the unrighteous will not be ministered to (a priestly function) nor ruled by (a princely function) materialized spirit creatures, but by faithful humans.
If this is the case, then it allows us to look at John 5:29 without engaging in any verb tense gymnastics.
(John 5:29) . . .those who did good things to a resurrection of life, those who practiced vile things to a resurrection of judgment.
“Judgment” does not imply condemnation. Judgment means that the one being judged may experience one of two outcomes: exoneration or condemnation.
There are two resurrections: one of the righteous and another of the unrighteous. If the righteous “never die at all” but have only fallen asleep and are awakened to the “real life”, then they are the ones who did good things who come back to a resurrection of life.
The unrighteous did not do good things, but vile things. They are resurrected to judgment. They are still dead in Jehovah’s eyes. They are only judged worthy of life after the thousand years have ended and their faith has been proven by test; or they are judged as worthy of the second death should they fail that test of faith.
Does this not harmonize with everything we’ve covered on this topic? Does it not also allow us to take the Bible at its word without superimposing some convoluted interpretation that has Jesus looking backward from some distant future so that we can explain why he’s using the past tense?
As always, we welcome any comments that will better our understanding of the possible application of these Scriptures.
I can’t fault your reasoning on this one. To me that harmonizes a number of previously difficult scriptures. Very nice article. Thanks Meleti.