By Samuel M. Frost, Th.M.
John 11.25-26 reads as follows: Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and I am the life. The one who is believing in me, though he die, he will live again. Everyone who is living and believing in me shall never die in the age. Are you believing this?”
First off, we need to look at the grammatical aspects (syntax). The first sentence is emphatic, “I” used with the predicate “I am” in the Present Indicative. The articles (“the”) equally place emphasis on what Jesus is saying he “is”. He is “the resurrection” and he is “the life.” John’s Gospel places great stress on “life” in his Gospel. Jesus is not “just” spiritual life, or physical life, or the life of God’s creation. He is all of those. He is the “source” of all life, whether it be a bird flying in the noon wind, or a leaflet sprouting anew. This is an astounding statement and claim. It is exhaustive of all that these terms mean. Jesus is the author of life and as such, gives life.
The second sentence is what we call a ‘conditional clause.’ The first verb is a participle in the Present Active form. A participle is a verbal adjective describing a subject. In this case, a believer. The person who is believing. The “time” of the participle is determined by the context, not the form. It is plain that Jesus is speaking of those who are currently believing, or whoever, past, present or future, can be described as a “believing one”. “In me” is the object in who this action of believing is directed. Everyone believes in something or someone, but not everyone believes in Jesus.
The conditional part starts (Protasis) with “though he die”. Here the Subjunctive Mood is used in the Aorist form. The Greek has kan, which is a combination of the conjunction, kai, and ean (if, though, when, even if, even though). The condition is that even if a person dies (as a matter of fact), they will live again. The final (Apodosis) part is Future Indicative. This is a typical form of a condition stated with a future result. The person that believes in Jesus, though he will die indeed, will certainly live again. The verb “live” or “live again” is implied by the Protasis which states that he or she will die. Another more modern way of saying this is, “in spite of the fact that you will die, you will live again afterwards.” In the manner that a person “dies” (which is, in this case, actual death) will be the manner in which a person “will live” (will be raised from the death they died). It makes no sense to interpret “die” as physical death, but the Future “will live” as current spiritual life.
Broadening the range of those who are believing, John wrote “whosoever lives” or all who live, anyone who is a living one. This is the Present participle form we have already seen above for the one who believes. Added to this by the conjunction, kai, is the same form above for a “believing one”. Whoever is a living being and is a believing one at that shall not ever die, or shall never die. The Greek here is a strong double-negative, hence the translation “never”. It is emphatic. To conclude, Jesus asks in essence whether or not Martha is a believing one. “Do you believe this?” “Are you a believer in what I am saying to you?”
With syntax, we may also note the placement of the words in the written text. “Believing” (the verb is, pisteuo) occurs in two forms. The first is in the participle form which is used twice. The second is in the Present Active Indicative used once at the end, “do you believe?” We may infer from this that John’s emphasis is on belief, or in what (or who) one believes. In fact, the condition of living again and never dying is based in what (or who) a person believes. It’s important to get that right!
Also to be noted is that we see what is called a Chiasm. Spotting this may help in defining what Jesus means by these words. The chiastic structure is formed by placing “believing” and “living again” in the first part followed by “living and believing”. Thus, “believing” (A) and “living again” (B); “living” (B`) and “believing” (A`). ABB`A`. This is a classic and often used literary unit. There is also “die” (A) and “never die” (A`).
The second part of dissecting any given passage in the Scriptures (or in any literary work for that matter) is to note the context. In this passage, the context is the death of Lazarus, the despair of Martha, and the proclamation of Jesus in light of this. Lazarus was a true believer in Jesus, as was Martha. Martha expresses her faith in saying, “I know he will live again in the resurrection in the last day”. This is an extraordinary phrasing on John’s part. “I know he will live again (anistemi in the Future Indicative, literally, stand again) in the resurrection (anastasis) in the last day.” Jesus then says, “I am the Anastasis.” That there is to be “the resurrection” in the last day is made plain in John 6.39-ff, where Jesus states that all shall be raised. The same participlian form “the one who believes” (6.40) is promised to be resurrected “in the last day”. Martha is affirming what she heard the Master already teach. Since Lazarus was dead, he would stand again in the resurrection in the last day because he believed when he was living.
The context, then, should inform us as to the meaning of these words before us. Jesus, in fact, said to Martha, “Your brother will rise again” (11.23). These were words of comfort. When informed that Lazarus was ill, Jesus replied, “this illness is not for the purpose of death (pros thanaton), but for the glory of God” (11.4). Later, Jesus realized that Lazarus had “fallen asleep” (11.11), a euphemism for the recline of the dead body, or “laying to rest” of the body. “Lazarus is dead” (where the verb, apothnesko is used). We can be informed from the context, then, that “die” in the phrase “though he die” means actual death.
When Jesus said he is The Resurrection and the The Life and that the death of Lazarus was not for death (though death happened), but for the glory of God, the raising of Lazarus from the dead is meant to illustrate the power of Jesus to the glory of his father. Jesus had not yet died, either, but yet had power to raise the dead. In the exchange with Martha, however, it is “the resurrection in the last day” that comes into focus. The resurrection of Lazarus, which was now to occur, was not “the last day”. “All” that are given to the Son shall be raised on that day (6.39). Lazarus’ resurrection, then, is meant to illustrate something else. We may also note that Lazarus had been dead for four days (11.17). He was not “raised” in his final or last day (some think the resurrection occurs when a person dies and their soul goes to heaven. But, that is not what resurrection means). Lazarus will be raised with the “all” who are given to the Son “in the last day”, and clearly, the day that Jesus raised him was not that day. Martha affirmed such. Jesus acknowledges her faith (belief) and proclaims to her, “I am the resurrection, Martha.”
We are now prepared for the final analysis of our passage. Speaking to Martha, Jesus said, ‘those who believe me in, that is, believe in me before they die (like Lazarus here before us), even though they die, will live again. Whoever is now living and believes in me before they die, they, when raised again, shall not ever die, ever. Do you believe in this, Martha?’ We know the answer.
Believing must occur before a person dies. It is no contention that “though he dies” means actual death. The Future Indicative “he will live” refers to the anastasis (stand again) which will happen “in the last day.” This is made plain in the chiasm that “will live again” (Future) is followed by the Present participle, “the one who is living”. The Present participle for those who now believe is the same application to those presently alive before they die. “The one who lives” is contrasted with “though he die”. Right now, as living ones, be also believing ones and if you are believing ones, though you will die (and not be “living” any more), you will be raised and live again and you will never die again. Unlike Lazarus who, even though raised from the dead, died again later on (and this is the point), there is coming the time, the last day, when I will raise up those who believed in me before they died, and these shall not ever die again. If you believe in Jesus, you believe in the Resurrection, the One who will raise the dead unto immortal life, eternal life. When asked if Martha believed this, she answers, “Yes, Lord! I have believed and still do (Perfect Indicative of pisteuo) that you are Messiah, the Son of God, the Coming One who comes (Present participle) in the world.”
The contrast in this passage is on those “living” (“the living”) and the fact that Lazarus is not living. “Lazarus is dead.” Yet, because we know that Lazarus was a “believer” he is promised to be raised “in the last day” together with “all those who believe in me.” Martha affirms this doctrine. This affirmation – her faith in the Messiah, the Coming One (who has come and is before her) – is displayed in what she knows Jesus will do (raise the dead in the last day). Since she is utterly convinced that He is the One who will do this in the last day, then he can demonstrate even raising Lazarus from the dead, even though such a miracle is temporary, for Lazarus will die again. “Even now (nun) I know that God will give you whatever you ask” (11.22). Before the time of the last day when the dead are raised, even now – before that time – Jesus can raise Lazarus so that they may be with him among “the living” for a little more time. More or less, Martha is saying, “I know that he will be raised to immortality in the last day, but can I see him again right now, because I know who you are, and what you can do, and what you will do on the last day.” Martha’s faith is wondrous.
John has given us a glimpse of what resurrection is. “Do not marvel at this, for an hour is coming when all who are in the tombs will hear his voice” (5.28). When? “In the last day” (6.39-ff). Thus, before that hour comes, the “living and believing”, those who not just live their lives until death, but who live their lives believing in Him, will also die. But, they will be raised immortal. If “living” means bodily life in the here and now, then bodily life is what is to be expected when finally raised to life immortal.