Lesson from Lazarus
Lazarus had been dead four days when Jesus shouted, “Come out”. Still wrapped in grave cloths, he got up and stumbled out of the burial chamber alive and well. Not only did Christ prove he had power over life and death, he also illustrated an important step in God’s plan to save mankind.
Unfortunately, the significance of this event, found in the eleventh Chapter of the Gospel of John, is not widely understood.
Shortly after this event Christ himself was killed and also resurrected. His resurrection, as a spirit being, instilled the hope of eternal life in all who have since been called to salvation. Lazarus on the other hand, was not resurrected as a spirit being, he was only restored to his former mortal state. What many don’t realise is that Lazarus’ resurrection actually provides hope for the rest of mankind who have not yet been called to salvation.
God “desires all men to be saved” (I Timothy 2:4), and is “not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance” (II Peter 3:9). However, not every one is called to salvation during this lifetime, only those whom God specifically draws (John 6:44, 65). Millions, if not billions, have been blinded to the truth and have never known the true God (Romans 11:7-8). They have not repented, been baptised in the name of Jesus Christ and received God’s Holy Spirit, which are fundamental prerequisites for receiving the gift of eternal life (Acts 2:38-39, Romans 6:23).
To fulfil His desire that all be saved, God has made provision for those who have not been called in this age. He will not let them perish forever, without the opportunity of salvation. If Christ can restore life to the dead as he demonstrated with Lazarus (John 11:1-43), then he can restore those who have died so they can be offered salvation. This is not advocating a second chance at salvation - for those who people who have been spiritually blinded, it will be their first and only chance.
Christ did say that there will be a resurrection of the dead at a future time (John 6:39-40). Paul, too, confirmed this (I Corinthians 15:20-23, I Thessalonians 4:13-18). Martha said “I know that he (Lazarus) will rise again in the resurrection at the last day” (John 11:24). Earlier Christ had said of this future event - “Do not marvel at this: for the hour is coming in which all who are in the grave will hear his voice and come forth” (John 5:28). He clearly implies that the dead are still in the grave until the time of their resurrection.
Yet contrary to the teaching of Christ and his Apostles, many believe differently. Upon death, they say their ‘soul’ departs from the body and continues to live a conscious existence in heaven, hell or some other place.
This concept implies that man already has immortality. If this is the case then there is no need for a future resurrection!
According to the Bible – immortality (eternal life) isn't something that is inherent in us – it is something we must seek it from God (Romans 2:7). Eternal life is a gift to those He has called – it is not something we are born with (John 17:2).
Christ strongly rebuked the Sadducees for not believing in the resurrection. He said – “You are mistaken, not knowing the scriptures nor the power of God.” (Matthew 22:23, 29-32). Resurrecting Lazarus from the grave four days after he died aptly demonstrated the power of God. Anyone whose teaching negates the need for a resurrection deserves the same rebuke.
It doesn’t take much research to confirm that the ‘immortal soul’ theory is not biblically supported. Expressions like ‘living soul’ and ‘living creature’, found in Genesis, are translations of the Hebrew word nephesh. Both nephesh and its Greek equivalent psuche (used in the New Testament), simply mean a living creature and apply equally to both man or beast (Genesis 2:7, 19 and Revelation 16:3). Ezekiel, the prophet, said - “The soul(nephesh) who sins shall die” (Ezekiel 18:4, 20). If the soul can die then it is not immortal. Those who mistakenly believe that man has an ‘immortal soul’ that does not die, are ignoring what the Bible plainly teaches.
As if Asleep
God created man from the dust of the ground, to which he returns at death - “All go to one place: all are from the dust and all return to dust” (Ecclesiastes 3:20). The Hebrew word sheol and the Greek equivalent hades, (sometimes translated 'hell') simply mean - the grave where all go - both the righteous and the unrighteous.
In the grave there is no consciousness, “for there is no work or device or knowledge or wisdom in the grave” (Ecclesiastes 9:10). Nor is there any memory of God, “For in death there is no remembrance of thee: in the grave who shall give you praise” (Psalm 6:5, also read Psalm 115:17). Paul referred to the dead as if they were asleep awaiting their resurrection (I Thessalonians 4:13-14). Christ also spoke about his friend Lazarus as if he were asleep, knowing full well that he was dead (John 11: 11-14). It is important to understand that the dead remain in the grave as if asleep, until they are resurrected.
Resurrection to life
Christ spoke about two different types of resurrection -“for the hour is coming in which all who are in the graves will hear his voice and come forth – those who have done good, to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil to the resurrection of condemnation” - the word condemnation is better translated as judgement (John 5:28-29, see also Acts 24:15).
Resurrection to life means resurrection to eternal life – an immortal, spiritual existence. Those called to salvation, who have been given God’s Spirit and spent a lifetime overcoming evil, will be resurrected as spirit beings when Christ returns at the end of the age (I Corinthians 15:21-23, 49-54 and also I Thessalonians 4:13-17). The righteous dead are at this time in their graves - they don't live on after death as spirit beings in heaven. Jesus Christ is the only one so far, who has been resurrected to eternal life (John 3:13, I Corinthians 15: 20).
Resurrection to Judgement
But what about the rest of the dead? Instead of being resurrected to eternal life, the rest of the dead who have not repented and been baptised, will later be restored to a mortal - physical - existence just as Lazarus was restored to his former physical state. The majority of mankind, who have never been called to salvation, will be resurrected as physical mortal beings to be given their opportunity of salvation.
This momentous event will occur over one thousand years after Christ returns: “But the rest of the dead lived not again until a thousand years was finished” (Revelation 20:4-5). This is the resurrection to judgement that Christ spoke of: “and those who have done evil [shall come forth] to the resurrection of condemnation [judgement]” (John 5:29 also see Hebrews 9:27).
The prophets of old wrote about this future time when billions upon billions of people will be restored to a physical existence and given the opportunity to be reconciled to God (Daniel 7:9-10, 12:2, Isaiah 26:19, Ezekiel 37:4-14 and Hosea 13:14).
The word judgement does not necessarily mean condemnation - it means a time of testing and proving. During this time the books of the Bible will be opened for their understanding and the Book of Life will also be opened to receive their names (Revelation 20:11-13). They will not have to contend with the direct influence of Satan at that time (Revelation 20:1-3).
When speaking about the last days, the prophet Joel said “In the last days I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh….and it shall come to pass that whoever calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved” (Joel 2:28-32). If they accept what God offers they will not have to die a second time.
Those who reject their calling will die again - with no further opportunity of resurrection. The Book of Revelation indicates that those who willingly choose to reject God will be destroyed. Their bodies will be burned up in the Lake of Fire - a fate prepared for Satan and his demons (Revelation 20:10, 14-15).
They will be ashes under the feet (Malachi 4:1, 3). The second death is permanent – it is eternal death.
Hope for those 'not saved'
The Resurrection of Lazarus’ was not without purpose. It was a dramatic demonstration of Christ’s power over life and death illustrating an important step in God’s plan for the salvation of all mankind.
When Jesus raised Lazarus he was showing the difference between two types of resurrection. His own resurrection to eternal life is that which will be experienced by those called to salvation in this age. But Lazarus’ resurrection to physical life demonstrated how God intends to offer salvation to the rest of humanity. They will be brought back to life one thousand years later, so they, too, can receive their opportunity.
God’s plan of salvation is for all of humanity. Each in their own time will have the opportunity of salvation. Those who have not been called to salvation in this lifetime are not lost! They will get their chance!
What a great and merciful God we have.