John 11:21-27 – Resurrection in the Kingdom of God

In the past few weeks we have seen how John 11 addresses Love, Death, and Grief in the Kingdom of God.
• Today, we come face to face with Resurrection in the Kingdom of God.
• And it is here that we not only come face to face with how transformative Jesus’ ministry was in this regard.
• But we also encounter a powerful apologetic for the Resurrection of Jesus.


John 11:21–27 (ESV) — 21 Martha said to Jesus, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. 22 But even now I know that whatever you ask from God, God will give you.” 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.”

In order to get at what is going on in this exchange between Jesus and Martha, we need to get at the background.
When Martha says, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day”, what is she referring to?
• We can suggest that whatever else she was saying, she was probably affirming Jesus’ own teaching on the subject thus far (John 6:44; 54).
• And when asked in vs. 26 if she believed Jesus’ words about Himself concerning the resurrection, her response betrays her ignorance of the nature of Kingdom Resurrection.
    o She didn’t yet have the foundation to properly understand what she was just told.
    o Her Jewish heritage had not prepared her for Jesus’ response.
    o So she answered as best as she could with what Kostenberger suggests is a creedal response.
    o Yet as correct as her answer was, it was still missing a piece of the puzzle.
• So in answering this question, we will be able to appreciate all the more Jesus’ answer, “I am the resurrection and the life” and how it unexpectedly complements, for the believing Jew, Martha’s vs. 27 response.
• The sources for all of the following background info are N.T. Wright’s lectures found at www.ntwrightpage.com and his book, The Resurrection of the Son of God.

What Does Resurrection Mean?
• First, we need to define resurrection.
• “Resurrection means bodily life after ‘life after death’, or, if you prefer, bodily life after the state of ‘death’” – N.T. Wright.
• What happened to Elijah and Enoch, for example, is not resurrection because they did not die.
• And what happened to Enoch and Elijah was something the Jew did not “expect to happen again” – N.T. Wright.
• Resurrection is what happens only to people who are “at present dead” – N.T. Wright.

Does the OT speak of resurrection?
• “Nobody doubts that the Old Testament speaks of the resurrection of the dead” – N.T. Wright.
• However, it is something that is “deeply asleep, only to be woken by echoes from later times and texts” – N.T. Wright.
• In other words, there just isn’t a lot of OT info on resurrection.
• And where the OT does speak of a bodily resurrection it appears late.
• In fact, most of the sources for what we know about Jewish views of bodily resurrection are from post-biblical literature such as the Mishnah, Talmud, The Wisdom literature and from communities like Qumran – N.T. Wright.
• This is why it is said that the OT itself, “is not particularly concerned with life after death at all, still less with resurrection” – N.T. Wright

What is the foundation of OT bodily resurrection?
• The foundation appears to be the hope for the restoration of Israel from exile.
• In the OT the life of Israel is associated with the land, AND the death of Israel is associated with exile.
• Land is life – Exile is death

So, allusions to a bodily resurrection were expressed in the context of the death of exile and an expectation for:
Restoration – the restoration of Israel as a nation
Return – the return of Israel to its land from its exile in Babylon.
• Ezekiel 37:12 (ESV) — 12 Therefore prophesy, and say to them, Thus says the Lord GOD: Behold, I will open your graves and raise you from your graves, O my people. And I will bring you into the land of Israel.
• This is why in the OT, “The nation and land of the present world were far more important than what happened to an individual beyond the grave” – N.T. Wright.
• And so the hope of Israel was that, though individual would die, “YHWH’s purposes [for Israel], however, would go forwards, and would be fulfilled in their time” – N.T. Wright.

Why is this foundation important – Root of Hope?
• “This explicit link of life with the land and death with exile, coupled with the promise of restoration the other side of exile, is one of the forgotten roots of the fully developed hope of ancient Israel. The dead might be asleep; they might be almost nothing at all; but hope lived on within the covenant and promise of YHWH” – N.T. Wright.
• The “roots of the fully developed hope” easily accommodated a developing view of bodily resurrection.
• And these roots “could well have been read within post-biblical Judaism” as having undertones of a bodily resurrection – N.T. Wright.

Where does the OT speak of a bodily Resurrection?
• As mentioned earlier, Jewish resurrection was fleshed out mainly in the 2nd temple post-biblical texts.
• But there are some OT verses that speak of a bodily resurrection.
• The most obvious are Isaiah 26:19, Hosea 13:14, and Daniel 12:2-3.
• Isaiah 26:19 (ESV) — 19 Your dead shall live; their bodies shall rise. You who dwell in the dust, awake and sing for joy! For your dew is a dew of light, and the earth will give birth to the dead.
• Daniel 12:2–3 (ESV) — 2 And many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt. 3 And those who are wise shall shine like the brightness of the sky above; and those who turn many to righteousness, like the stars forever and ever.
• Hosea 13:14 (ESV) — 14 Shall I ransom them from the power of Sheol? Shall I redeem them from Death? O Death, where are your plagues? O Sheol, where is your sting? Compassion is hidden from my eyes.

What do these verses say about a bodily resurrection?
• (1) The expectation expressed in the resurrection language was at a minimum that God “will reverse the actions of the wicked pagans, and raise the martyrs, and the teachers who kept Israel on course, to a glorious life” – N.T. Wright.
• (2) God will also, “raise their persecutors to a new existence: instead of remaining in the decent obscurity of Sheol or ‘the dust’, they will face perpetual public obloquy [public disgrace]” – N.T. Wright.
• (3) And specifically for Daniel 12, “the resurrection of God’s people (at least in the persons of the martyrs, seen as representing the nation) is the form that national restoration takes. This is the real end of the deepest exile of all” – N.T. Wright.
• (4) Finally, in these texts the “hope for nation, family and land joins up with the emerging belief in the creator’s faithfulness even beyond the grave” – N.T. Wright.

BTW – “However concrete the reference in any of the passages [to a bodily resurrection], there is no doubt that even in such cases the overarching context is that of the hope of the nation for national restoration and resettlement in the land” – N.T. Wright.

So taking into account these OT verses and the post-biblical literature, what was the resurrection view of Martha when she said “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day”?
• For, as we have said, it is in answering this question that we can fully appreciate what Jesus was doing when He said, “I am the resurrection and the life”.

This is what we know about Martha’s [Jews’] view of resurrection at the time of Jesus:
• (1) Jews “ultimate hope was [not] the resurrection of the body” – N.T. Wright.
• (2) “There were no traditions about a Messiah being raised to life”
    o “There was hope for a resurrection”
    o “There was hope for a Messiah”
    o But the two never intersect
    o There weren’t even “traditions about prophets being raised to new bodily life”
• (3) There was no concept of a resurrection split in two.
    o For the Jew, “resurrection [was] a single all-embracing moment, not a matter of one person being raised ahead of everybody else” – N.T. Wright.
• (4) Life after death was as a disembodied spirit in “some kind” of intermediate state.
    o In the “hand of the creator god”
    o “In paradise”
    o In “some kind of Sheol”
• (5) Vindication of the Messiah would come through the exaltation and restoration of Israel.
• (6) The Jewish view of resurrection was all over the map.
    o Wright’s book spends literally hundreds of pages examining these differences.
    o The variety of Christian views on Jesus’ Second Coming are a possible parallel here – Premillenial, Amillenial, Postmillenial, Dispensation Premillenial, Pre-Tribulation, Post-Tribulation, etc.

The book of Acts has two great examples of the Jewish views of resurrection:
(1) Acts 23:6–9 (ESV) — 6 Now when Paul perceived that one part were Sadducees and the other Pharisees, he cried out in the council, “Br`others, I am a Pharisee, a son of Pharisees. It is with respect to the hope and the resurrection of the dead that I am on trial.” 7 And when he had said this, a dissension arose between the Pharisees and the Sadducees, and the assembly was divided. 8 For the Sadducees say that there is no resurrection, nor angel, nor spirit, but the Pharisees acknowledge them all. 9 Then a great clamor arose, and some of the scribes of the Pharisees’ party stood up and contended sharply, “We find nothing wrong in this man. What if a spirit or an angel spoke to him?”

Sadducees believed in neither (vs. 8):
• (1) Life after ‘life after death’ (resurrection) – “there is no resurrection
• (2) ‘Life after death’ – “nor angel, nor spirit
• And this view, by the way, was the conservative view at the time.
• This is because resurrection and ‘life after death’, as we have said, were not to be found in the Torah and the earlier OT books.
• That is to say that most of the influential texts on these subjects were very recent and were outside the OT canon.

Pharisees and most Jews believed in (vs. 8):
• Both (1) and (2) above.
• Specifically, after death, the righteous Jew lived as a disembodied “spirit” or “angel”.
• And then ‘The Resurrection’, “will take place at a future date when all the righteous dead are raised to share God’s new world” – N.T. Wright.
• “They do not suppose for a moment that Paul has actually been a witness of the resurrection itself; that is out of the question as far as they are concerned” – N.T. Wright.
• This is why they suggest that Jesus presented Himself to Paul during the disembodied intermediate state as “a spirit or an angel”.
• Had Jesus been bodily resurrected, all the righteous Jews from Israel’s history would have also been resurrected and Israel’s glory would have been restored.

(2) Acts 12:13–15 (ESV) — 13 And when he knocked at the door of the gateway, a servant girl named Rhoda came to answer. 14 Recognizing Peter’s voice, in her joy she did not open the gate but ran in and reported that Peter was standing at the gate. 15 They said to her, “You are out of your mind.” But she kept insisting that it was so, and they kept saying, “It is his angel!
• The background from our resurrection discussion and Acts 23 also sheds light on the above text.
• Peter had been captured and many were praying for him at Mary's, the mother of John’s house.
• After Peter’s escape, he too went to the house.
• Rhoda recognized Peter at the gate by his voice.
• So she ran and told the others that Peter was “standing at the gate”.
• Understanding her implication that Peter was actually there, “They said to her, ‘You are out of your mind’”.
• Clearly, they assumed Peter was killed by Herod just as James was in Acts 12:2.
• Therefore, just as the Pharisees thought, if anyone was there it was Peter’s disembodied “angel”.
• For as we saw with the Pharisees, it couldn’t be Peter’s resurrected body, or all the righteous of Israel would be resurrected and Israel’s glory restored.

Back to John 11:
So when Martha responded to Jesus’ proposition, “Your brother will rise again” (vs. 23), with the statement, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day” (vs. 24) we can now see what she meant.
• And it was not at all what Jesus meant and what He was about to demonstrate with Lazarus and Himself.
• The resurrection was and would be unlike anything she imagined.
• Let’s see why.

So, when Jesus said, “I am the resurrection and the life”, what was He saying about Resurrection in the Kingdom of God?
• (1) Resurrection in Jesus Christ is our ultimate hope.
• (2) The Messiah is the Resurrection.
    o The hope of the Messiah intersected with the hope of Resurrection.
    o And, “Nobody put those two hopes together until the early Christians did so” – N.T. Wright.
• (3) Resurrection is in two phases.
    o Kingdom Resurrection held that there were “two phases: first the Messiah, then at his coming all his people” – N.T. Wright.
• (4) Life after death is in heaven in the presence of God (before resurrection – our life after ‘life after death’).
    o We are immortal for all eternity – not an angelic or spiritual being having life “by the creative power of YHWH” – N.T. Wright.
• (5) Jesus as Messiah was vindicated through His resurrection.
• (6) Resurrection in the Kingdom of God had a “precise shape and content” – N.T. Wright.
    o It is an act of “new creation, accomplished by the Holy Spirit.”
    o It involves new, glorified bodies – “not be a simple return to the same sort of body as before”
    o It will involve the creation of a new heaven and new earth in which are resurrected selves will live for eternity.

BTW - There will come a day when the Christian view of the Second Coming will also have “a precise shape and content”.
• And that day will be when Jesus actually does return.
• Just as Jesus’ Resurrection accounts for the clarity on resurrection, so His Second Coming will have the effect of bringing clarity to all the “millenials”.

Resurrection in the Kingdom of God was “a sudden and dramatic mutation from within the Jewish worldview” – N.T. Wright
• It “burst the boundaries” of Jewish views of resurrection – N.T. Wright.
• In fact, Martha and the Jew’s beliefs about life after death, “and resurrection in particular, had not prepared them” for Resurrection in the Kingdom of God – N.T. Wright
• So, given the differences between Martha’s Jewish view and Jesus’ Kingdom view of resurrection, we can see why her answer in John 11:27 seemed a bit disjointed.

Jewish vs. Christian Resurrection

Furthermore, Jesus words, “I am the resurrection and the life”, are also radical in the following ways:
• It’s a radical claim against both the orthodoxy of the Sadducees and the enlightenment of the Pharisees and the other Jews of which Martha was a part.
• Resurrection was here and now in Jesus – “I am the resurrection and the life”.
• Resurrection would bring life after ‘life after death’ and Jesus, the Messiah, would be the first and Lazarus was the preview.
• Resurrection, shockingly, would be as much about the individual as it was about Israel’s exaltation.

Apologetical Significance:
The historian has to account for the above 6 differences between OT and Kingdom Resurrection.
How did they arise?
What accounts for them?

Additionally, the historian also has to contend with the following:
• Jesus’ Death
• Jesus’ Burial
• Empty Tomb
• Jesus Appearances (1 Cor. 15) to Multiple Witnesses (some hostile – Paul and James)
    o Embarrassing Witnesses - women
• Conversion of Enemy – Paul
• Conversion of Skeptic – James
• Context of Jewish Messianic Expectations and Jesus
• Belief of disciples that Jesus was raised from the dead

The historical sciences make deductions based on a principle call the “the inference to the best explanation”:
• Many infer that some of the following ad hoc explanations are the best.
    o Jesus didn’t really die.
    o He was given something that knocked Him out.
    o The women went to the wrong tomb.
    o The disciples merely had hallucinations.
    o The disciples were in such shock over Jesus’ death, they dealt with it by concocting His resurrection.
    o The resurrection accounts were written in later.

However none of these are a best explanation because not one or even two of them account for all that needs to be accounted for.