The Story of Lazarus: Resurrected or Fixed?

In John 11 we find the story of the death of Lazarus.  Lazarus was the brother of Mary and Martha, and all were friends of Jesus.  Lazarus fell mortally ill.  We are not told what type of illness.  In an attempt to help their brother, the sisters sent word to Jesus of Lazarus’ illness.  Jesus was in Judea, keeping his distance for the time being from the Jewish leadership.  Mary, Martha and Lazarus lived just outside of Jerusalem.

Time was of the essence, but Jesus delayed His departure for two days.  He told his disciples, “This sickness will not end in death.”  A true statement, though Lazarus would literally die and be dead for four days.  Jesus allows the death to happen to demonstrate His power over death and His compassion for all of us with respect to our eventual death.

Jesus told his disciples, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep.”  They, naturally, assume Jesus was using the word sleep in the usual sense, but He was not.  Lazarus had died.  Why did Jesus and later Paul refer to death as sleep?  They want to save the word “death” to describe eternal exile from God.  The choice of sleep has lead to some confusion, though.  When we naturally sleep, we enter an altered state of brain activity.  We are not inanimate.  When we die, we may be unaware of the state and surroundings of our bodies, but we are very much aware and animated.  Our awareness will be of wherever our soul happens to be.  So where was Lazarus?

Lazarus was not having your typical near death experience.  He was dead for four days.  Still, as a pre-resurrection of Jesus person, I would expect that he was experiencing what every righteous, Old Testament person experienced–which is not Heaven but a part of Sheol.A Word You May Not Know: Sheol  As Lazarus is summoned from the grave, it would be easy to say that Jesus resurrected him; but that would not be technically correct.  As with people who have Near Death Experiences, Lazarus was temporarily fixed and revivified by Jesus.  Resurrection is something much bigger.

When Jesus comes out of the tomb after three days, He is resurrected.  His body is more than just alive again.  He has the full remake that humans have been promised by God:  no more sickness, aging, pain, death or whatever.  A new set of capabilities and less limitations can be expected as well.

The best modern medicine and even future science can hope to do for you is fix you.  That isn’t so special.  We look forward to being resurrected.  Resurrection may not even use that much, if anything, of your earthly remains.  It will be uniquely you, but cleansed of sin and the curse and perfected.

Lazarus would have to die again.  In fact, some conjecture suggests that Lazarus might have made it on a hit list.  His existence would have made him unpopular with Jesus’ enemies.  Now Lazarus is in Heaven.  Jesus has cleared the way.  Lazarus still waits for the resurrection.  It is something to which to look forward.  The Resurrection of the Body

Can You Tell a Person’s Destiny?

Knowing what happened to somebody who died, or knowing what will likely happen to somebody when they die are two pieces of information we can greatly desire.  Sometimes you want to know because you care.  Sometimes you want to know because you want to minister to them appropriately.  Sometimes that knowledge would help you to grieve.

But can you know?  Jesus urges us not to judge in Matthew 7:1.  This command is especially relevant here, because there are many factors that could lead to the wrong conclusion.  Here are a few:

One cannot determine a person’s eternal destiny based on how they died.  It is common to view a peaceful death that is well anticipated as a superior sign over a violent, unexpected death.  But the cause of death says nothing about a person’s eternal destiny.  Jesus confronted this popular misperception when a tower that was under construction collapsed.  People concluded that the workers who died must have been worse “sinners” than others.  Jesus put us all in the same boat.

Nor can we conclude anything based on experiences as one dies.  Some have visions of Heaven.  Some express nothing at all.  My own mother had the experience of “falling” as she was dying.  Sheol isn’t actually down and Heaven is actually up.  So experiences of going up or down are just caused by the failing of the brain.  In my next blog entry, I plan to start to address Near Death Experiences.  While both experiences of Sheol and experiences of Heaven occur, also in the mix are intentional deceptions by Satan.

One cannot make an absolute judgment based on behavior.  When we are connected to Jesus and saved from our sins the Holy Spirit does change us for the good.  This change of qualities and increase in love should be observable.  But even saved people continue to struggle with sinful nature.  As such, the progress of our sanctification (being made into somebody good in our actions) can be slowed with periods of digression along the way.  Don’t get sucked into the “good enough” evaluation.  We are not saved by our deeds.  We are saved by Christ’s deeds.  While good works are valuable, they are neither the source of salvation nor a trustworthy way to evaluate whether somebody is saved.

One cannot make an absolute judgment based on whether a person’s faith is unwavering.  Ephesians 2:8 says we are saved by grace through faith.  This sentence uses the word “faith” to describe a connection that God makes between us and Jesus.  That type of “faith” can produce the “faith” that is certainty in what is unseen but promised by God.

Many solid disciples of Jesus can have frightening doubts as they approach death.  It is common.  You are not saved by your certainty.  You are saved by Jesus.  So do not get sucked into the “faith enough” evaluation either.  Comfort a dying person who is afraid.  Don’t beat them into believing better as if that were possible to do.

In the end, judgment is God’s business alone. Our ministry to the dying should be one of sharing and reaffirming God’s promises of grace.  Our “self-evaluation” can be this simple three-question quiz: 1.  Did Jesus really die and rise again?  Yes or no. 2.  Did God promise eternal life to all who call on Jesus?  Yes or no. 3  Is God a liar?   If you can answer yes, yes, no, it is because God chose you and gave you those answers.

Any other circumstantial evidence should kept at arm’s length.  It probably doesn’t mean anything.