The I AM Statements in John: I AM the Resurrection and the Life

Power Personified (John 11:25)

With this “I AM,” Jesus of Nazareth permanently changed the biblical narrative on resurrection. Linking Himself with what His disciples already knew, He not only paved the way for the fine-tuning of resurrection doctrine but, as Carson writes, “Jesus’ concern is to divert Martha’s focus from an abstract belief in what takes place on the last day, to a personalized belief in Him who alone can provide it.”[1] Now, instead of resurrection being only a concept that gave national and personal hope for the future (cf. Eze 37:11; Isa 26:19; Dan 12:2), it is inseparably tied to the One through whom all of God’s program becomes reality. He who had the firstborn status over all creation would soon become firstborn in the resurrection, “that he might have the first place in all things” (Col 1:18 JND).

However impressive the events at Bethany were, we know Lazarus was not the first person raised from the dead in the Scriptures. Elijah’s widow of Zarephath (1Ki 17:17-22) and the Shunamite woman in the days of Elisha (2 Ki 4:18-37) both experienced the bitter grief of losing a son. In each case, Jehovah raised their dead ones through the physical touch of the prophets. Another reviving took place in the tomb of the prophet Elisha as a dead man came into contact with the bones of the prophet and stood on his feet (13:20,21). Even in the life of the Lord Jesus, there had been two miraculous raisings already. Jairus’ daughter and the son of the widow of Nain were both lifeless until the touch of the gracious Life Giver restored them to their loved ones with rejoicing (Mar 5:41; Luk 7:14). Furthermore, after this, there would be three more resurrections within the lifetime of these disciples (Mat 27:50-53; Act 9:40; 20:10).

But Lazarus’ graveside triumph differs from all that came before. It involves many similar elements with an important distinction: this time physical touch will not be involved in releasing divine power. Here, His word is the only compelling force, displaying His authority over death. This miracle illustrates the Lord’s words in chapter 5, where He boldly states that even those in the graves would eventually hear His voice and “come forth” (vv28-29). That declaration is now displayed in this miracle. The dead cannot resist His word; they must come forth. So, here we have the pattern for resurrections to come; His personal presence and His authoritative word are both involved in bringing forth the dead.

In the resurrection chapter of 1 Corinthians, Paul addresses the Sadducee types by laying out the consequences of their false teaching. “If Christ be not raised, your faith is vain; ye are yet in your sins” (15:17).[2] The contrasting value of the gospel would then be summed up in the phrase “now is Christ risen” (v20). Paul then builds on this to clarify that every single person who has ever died will be physically and bodily raised from the dead.

Drawing on the third of Israel’s annual Feasts of Jehovah, he insists that Christ is the Firstfruits in resurrection, first in both character and sequence of many to come. He was honing the teaching that he already alluded to in the book of Acts when he said, “There shall be a resurrection of the dead, both of the just and unjust” (24:15). Of course, that line of doctrine was based on the words of Daniel (Dan 12:2) and the Lord Jesus Himself (Joh 5:29). Now, Paul reiterates that order: Christ first, they which are Christ’s at His coming, and then the end where death itself shall be destroyed.

This now provides a framework to understand resurrection prophetically. While a comprehensive study is not our goal, a three-part summary of future resurrection is worth considering in context and order.

Christ was raised from among the dead ones first. In a body called a “body of glory” (Php 3:21 JND), He forms the prototype for future resurrection.

“They that are Christ’s” are next, rounding out the resurrection of life (1Co 15:23) or, as Revelation 20 calls it, “the first resurrection.” Remembering the distinction between the phrases “in Christ” (the Church) and “are Christ’s” (all believers), we note that this event takes place in two stages. First, the events of 1 Thessalonians 4 occur before the Tribulation, when the Lord Himself descends and, through the power of His shout, the dead in Christ rise, and then the living saints are changed and caught up (1Co 15:51). Next, at the end of the Tribulation, The King of Kings and Lord of Lords comes to conquer His enemies and set up His kingdom. At that time, the Old Testament saints and those believers who died during the Tribulation will be raised. We marvel as we see that the effective power to achieve His royal purpose is a sword coming out of His mouth (Rev 19:15). His word will accomplish this resurrection also.

Next, Paul mentions “the end,” taking us beyond the kingdom to the inauguration of the eternal state (1Co 15:24). As the redeemed are set to enjoy the new heaven and the new earth, the Lord must first deal with the dead who fit Paul’s description of “the unjust.” The great white throne judgment accomplishes this. The one personally present to judge the dead is The Lord Jesus Christ Himself, and it can be assumed that each of the dead is summoned to the throne and hurled into the fiery lake by the same word that brought Lazarus from the tomb.

These events are sobering, but they perfectly follow the precedent of John 11. That day the Lord was present, His shout was heard, and the dead came out to meet Him face to face. In a coming day, unjust sinners will come out of their graves to stand before His face. Though we are told that Abraham saw Christ’s day and “was glad,” imagine how glad he will be when he sees Christ’s face! And, of course, we who form the Church look forward to the Rapture, where in changed bodies we will view The Great “I AM” face to face.

What a day that will be when my JesusI shall see;
When I look upon His face, the One who saved me by His grace.[3]

[1] D.A. Carson, The Gospel According to John (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1991), 412.

[2] Bible quotations in this article are from the KJV unless otherwise noted.

[3] James Hill (1930-2018)