Why Easter is Jesus not Lazarus
It came up in a question at NWA last week after one of my talks. And it’s important. Because it marks the fundamental difference between what happened to Lazarus and what happened to Jesus. Lazarus was rescusitated, only to die again; Jesus was raised, never to die again. To illustrate, here is the relevant bit from Cross-Examined. Hope it’s helpful.
It is not enough for Jesus simply to have returned to life. If I ran out on to the main road near my home and was knocked down by the Number 60 bus, I hope I would be missed. If I came back to life a few days later, people would no doubt be astounded and also, I hope, pleased! But that would not make me divine. God may well have been involved, and there would be all kinds of explanatory theories, but few (if any) people would spontaneously think I was God incarnate!
Why was it any different with Jesus? The clue comes from the events preceding our respective resurrections. Suppose that before my accident, I had made speciﬁc claims about my identity and future. If I had predicted that I would rise again, everything would then be very different. My resurrection would suddenly take on supreme importance: it would vindicate any other claims that I had made, however preposterous they might ﬁrst have appeared. That is precisely what happened with Jesus. On a number of occasions he speciﬁcally predicted that his death would be followed by a return to life. See, for instance, Mark 8:31; 9:32; 10:33 – 34. When it actually came true all his other claims about himself were thoroughly vindicated. Everything he was seeking to achieve through his death would be endorsed. His mission would truly be seen to be ‘ﬁnished’ when he beat death at its own game by rising back to life.
Human death had never been part of God’s original design for people made in his image. Jesus’ resurrection changed everything. Death has at last been overcome; it no longer has the last word, and life is no longer as meaningless as it sometimes feels. Jesus has been the trailblazer, breaking a way through the ultimate barrier for all time. To grasp precisely what that means, we must distinguish resurrection from resuscitation. It is possible for someone to be at death’s door, and even be deemed dead according to certain medical criteria, but then breathe again. That is resuscitation, because death will still come again. It is as if the person has entered the tunnel of death only to re-emerge through its entrance (Figure A).
The time will inevitably come, however, when they will re-enter it, as death is still the ‘dead end’ that it always was (Figure B). That was true for all the people whom Jesus raised from physical death during his lifetime, including Lazarus in John 11 and Jairus’s daughter in Mark 5. Jesus’ resurrection was fundamentally different: he broke through the tunnel, never to die again. By emerging from the other end he achieved what no-one before or since has ever achieved (Figure C).
Jesus’ resurrection overcame the final consequence of sin, therefore. Paul ties this to the Christian believer in startling ways. He states that those who put their trust in Jesus are united to him. Where he goes, they go. It is as if we are pulled through the tunnel of death by our trailblazer, Jesus. This unity with him is in fact so close that Paul can even talk about us being ‘in Christ’. Our ‘participation’ in him is what gives us our unshakeable confidence: we know that death will not be the end. (Cross-Examined, IVP, 2005, ch9)
Christ is risen!
He is Risen indeed!