It is quite weighty to brothers and sisters of other faiths to assert that Jesus Christ has power over life and death. The Incarnated Lord Jesus described Himself in various ways. This was to make His followers to truly know Him fully. In the Gospel according to St John, there are seven of such. (1). Bread of Life (John 6:35-51); (2) Light of the world (John 8:12; 9:5); (3) Door of the Sheep (John 10:7-9); (4) the Good Shepherd (John 10:7-9); (5) Resurrection and Life (11:25); (6) Way, Truth and Life (John 14:S6); and (7) True Vine (John 15:1-6). Today’s meditation shall be mainly on the subject of life, as emphasised in John 11:25-26.
Jesus said to Martha, “I am the Resurrection and the Life. He who believes in Me will live, even though he dies; and whosoever lives and believes in Me will never die. Do you believe this?” The believer’s answer to Jesus’ question is a key to their faith and salvation. It is our prayer that we believe this! And that many who do not believe shall be brought to this faith in Christ’s mercy.
Death is one of the most dreaded human phenomenon. It is a major theme in existential theology and philosophy. The meaningfulness or meaninglessness of life is paradoxically tied to how we conceive death. The reality and certitude of death have never been an issue of doubt, though the use and significance of death remain a mystery to us mortals. Jean Paul-Sartre thinks death signifies the meaninglessness of human life and existence; it tells of the nothingness of life. “What must be noted first is the absurd character of death,” Sartre asserts.
But another philosopher, Martin Heidegger, position on death, as a human reality, is totally antithetical to Sartre’s pessimistic view about it. As a Christian philosopher, Heidegger viewed death positively. He felt that “the moment a man is born, he lives towards death, and each person has their death to die alone. Nobody can die your death for you. Human life is ‘deathwards.’ Heidegger pointed out that death makes man aware of his singularity, his individuality and his uniqueness. Death, in Heideggerian existentialism, imposes upon us our finitude and possibilities. Death tells us that life is brief. Consequently, we should put haste into our human calls and challenges. Heidegger puts his view powerfully by saying, “death becomes the meaning of life as the resolved chord is the meaning of the melody.”
The message Christ is passing to believers, in John 11:25-26 as in elsewhere, is that it is in His Being that human life can ultimately have meaning. Outside the Being of Christ Jesus human life is meaningless. Believers are therefore called to live in, through and for Him. To die in Christ is to live. In order to achieve this, believers are called to fulfil Christian conditions that are necessary for the attainment of eternal life such as to: follow Christ (John 6:37, 44, 45, 65); eat Christ’s flesh and drink his blood (John 6:50-51, 53, 58); have knowledge and fear of God (John 17:2-3); forsake the world (Matthew 19:27-29); live right with God by forsaking sin (Romans 5:21; Revelation 2:7); believe and obey the gospel (John 3:15-19); obey God’s commandments (Matthew 19:17) and many more.
When preachers talk about heaven and paradise they are actually referring to the Life that has consumed death. “And this is the testimony, that God gave us eternal life, and this life is in His Son. He who has the Son has life; and he who has not the Son of God has not life” (1 John 5:11-12). And this is how St John puts it in the Gospel he wrote, “he who believes in the Son has eternal life; he who does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God rest upon him” (John 3:36). And to believe in Jesus is simply to have faith in Him and obey Him. A life of faith and obedience secure life eternal for believers.
Thus far, our exposition shows that Jesus Christ did not come, or rightly, Jesus was not given to the world by God (John 3:16) in order to bring death. He rather brought life. Death is an option the unbeliever has chosen. It is a consequence of the ‘wrath of God.’ Perhaps a better way of putting this is to say that ultimately, in Christian eschatology, there shall be those who will live for ever and those who will be put into a permanent ‘second death.’ Without going into the contentious hermeneutics of the millennial – premillennialism, postmillennialism and amillennialism – we read how the Bible records the question of choosing between Life (Jesus Christ) and death, “Then I saw thrones, and seated on them were those to whom judgment was committed. And also I saw souls of those who had been beheaded for their testimony to Jesus and for the word of God, and who had not worshipped the beast or its image and had not received its mark on their foreheads or their hands. They came to life, and reigned with Christ for a thousand years. The rest of the dead did not come to life until the thousand years were ended. This is the first resurrection. Blessed and holy is he who shares in the first resurrection! Over such the second death has no power, but they shall be priest of God and of Christ, and they shall reign with him a thousand years.”
In Christ Jesus, believers are called and elevated unto a higher platform. “But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people, that you may declare the wonderful deeds of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvellous light. Once you were no people but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy but now you have received mercy” (1 Peter 2:9-10).
Be blessed and Shalom.
The Rev’d Dr Karo Ogbinaka, an Anglican priest of the Diocese of Lagos West, lectures at the Department of Philosophy, University of Lagos. He is a member of the editorial board of The Trumpet