When Martha went to meet Jesus, after her brother, Lazarus, has died, she told Jesus that she believed confidently in the general resurrection of all people. Martha’s faith in resurrection is similar to many people today, who believe confidently in life after death. Jesus’ response is confusing and challenging. I read his words at the start of every funeral service and the confusion is highlighted for clarity:
Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. (John 11:25)
How can someone die and never die? This is confusing.
The confusion exists when we assume that there is only one kind of death. But death is multi-layered in scripture. Death can be mortal, spiritual and judicial. We all die mortally, when our bodies grow frail and die. Death is spiritual, all people are dead in sins and must brought to life in Christ (Ephesians 2). Death is also judicial. God announced a the death sentence to Adam should he disobey the law (Genesis 2:17) and so on the day of judgement, the punishment for sin is “second death.” Paul writes that the wages of sin is death but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus. (Romans 6:23) and all who live without acknowledging God deserve to die (Romans 1:32). In both cases, Paul refers to judicial death as the punishment for sin, second death.
The confusion is resolved when the first death which Jesus speaks to Martha about is mortal death, which Lazarus had suffered. Those who believe in Christ will live after they die mortally. The second reference to death is spiritual and judicial. Those who believe in Christ are alive, spiritually and eternally, and in him they will not face the judicial second death, so never die, spiritually nor judicially.
The challenge is simple. Believe in Jesus and you will live even though you die and you will never face spiritual or judicial death. Don’t believe and you will be judged, with second death so ask Jesus for spiritual life.