23 Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.” 24 Martha said to him, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.” 25 Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, 26 and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?” 27 She said to him, “Yes, Lord; I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who is coming into the world.”—John 11:23–27
Signs signify. John wrote this gospel, highlighting particular signs so that what was signified thereby would be believed. “Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name” (John 20:30–31). What is signified by this specific sign is that Jesus is the Resurrection and the Life. By belief, the life that you have is the life that is in Jesus. Believing that Jesus is the Christ means believing that He is the Resurrection and the Life and receiving that life. This sign is for faith in Jesus as the Christ who is the Resurrection and the Life.
“Your brother will rise again,” Jesus tells Martha. D.A. Carson says this is a “masterpiece of planned ambiguity.” This is not a conventional comforting condolence, though it is easily mistaken as such. In a time of grief 1 Thessalonians 4:13–18 gives us not only some of the most comforting words for the bereaved, but commanded words to share with those who have lost one in Christ.
“But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope. For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep. For this we declare to you by a word from the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord. Therefore encourage [NASB “comfort”] one another with these words.”
Martha takes Jesus’ words just as such words of comfort. They are not. Jesus is telling her that the future hope is about to be demonstrated in the here and now. Martha again replies with an answer of faith (v. 24). She believes in the resurrection on the last day. Jesus says to her, “I am the resurrection and the life.” Jesus hasn’t come to simply give her the comfort of truth. He has come to be the truth that comforts. This sign is pointing to the bigger reality of the resurrection on the last day. But, as a sign, that future reality is present. The resurrection that is to be on the last day, is a resurrection in Jesus. The Resurrection is present with Martha.
Here is how present resurrection is with not only Martha, but with anyone who believes in Jesus: “Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die” (vv. 25b–26a). If you believe in Jesus, you live even though you die. If you believe in Jesus, you live such that you never die. Jesus again and again has said that whoever believes in Him has eternal life (3:26; 5:24; 6:47). This is because Jesus is the Resurrection and the Life. Those who believe in Christ are in union with Christ. They have died in Christ and they have risen a new creation. When the spiritually dead believe, they have risen with resurrection life.
Saints, you already have this resurrection life. Jesus who is the Resurrection and the Life is present with you. Though you die, you shall life. Those who live in Christ, shall never die. You already possess a life that death cannot touch, for death has already touched it and lost. You possess a life from the other side of death. A life that undid death.
Jesus here directs Martha’s faith away from focusing on an abstract doctrine to focusing on Himself as the embodiment of that doctrine. Doctrine is precious and true, but don’t treat doctrines as truths that float out there, independent of the being and work of Christ. It is as though the wire connections of Martha’s faith are weak. There are gaps. The sparks of faith are jumping, but Jesus is working to clamp Martha’s faith directly onto Him. Believe doctrine, but believe your doctrine in Christ. It is not faith in the doctrine of Christ that saves, but faith in the Christ of that true doctrine that saves.