We have been talking about the Higher Christian Life for quite some time. And today, we will discover Jesus pointing to this manner of life, the “abundant life” as He called it in John 10:10, while He was trying to encourage Martha at the tomb of her brother, Lazarus. Do you remember the story? If so, we will see Jesus offering us a life truly worth living and not one of mere existence, of just being alive. It’s the difference between experiencing an exhilarating life of wonder and joy or an artificially sustained life, like a comatose patient on life support. One is truly living, the other is just being alive— barely.
Let me elaborate.
When Jesus received word of Lazarus’ illness, He waited two more days before heading to Bethany (John 11:6). But by that time, it was too late, four days too late (John 11:17). Lazarus had died and was already buried. For Lazarus’ sisters, all hope of a healing was gone, buried just like their brother. For them, Jesus arrived late, the curtain had closed, and their hope was as lifeless as their brother.
Both Mary and Martha were in mourning. When Martha heard Jesus had finally arrived, she ran to meet Him and uttered the pain she held in her heart. She said, almost like an accusation, “Lord, if You had been here, my brother would not have died” (John 11:21). Jesus, trying to encourage her, said, “Your brother will rise again.” But unable to see the big picture, Martha responded, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection at the last days” (John 11:23-24). It was almost like she was saying, “But what help is that to me now? I know I will see him in heaven, but I need to see him now. And if You would have been here, this would not have happened.”
It was at this point Jesus spoke these life-changing words.
“I am the resurrection and the life. He who believe in Me, thought he may die, he shall live. And whoever lives and believes in Me shall never die. Do you believe this?” – John 11:25-26.
Great question for each of us as well. Do we believe His words? And if so, what does He mean by live? Does it mean a longevity of years, like “eternal life” (John 3:15) or “everlasting life” (John 3:16)? Or could it also mean something else?
Let’s look at the three times in His statement that Jesus uses the words life, live, and lives, and see if we can discover something wonderful about the resurrected life He offers.
In Jesus’ words to Martha, He purposely used two different Greek words for life and live. They are zōḗ and záō and they each reveal a different dimension of the life He offers each of us. Let’s look at the definition of these two words:
First, zōḗ. The word zōḗ refers to “physical life and existence as opposed to death and nonexistence.” It is the most common word for life and conveys what we assume today when we think of eternal life— life that does not end. Yet, it says little about the quality of that life, only that life exists.
Next, the word záō means “to live, to pass one’s life, to live in a certain way or manner.” This word reveals more about the type of life one leads than the fact they will live forever or have life. But it also means “to live unto God and be devoted to Him, to live a life characteristic of a resurrected life.” And, by implication, to “live and prosper, to be blessed, and to live satisfied in Him.” Or, as we would call it, to live the Higher Christian Life or the “abundant life” Jesus promised (John 10:10).
With this background, let’s look at the words of Jesus one more time.
“I am the resurrection and the life (zōē). He who believes in Me, though he may die, he shall live (záō). And whoever lives (záō) and believes in Me shall never die. Do you believe this?”
Do you see the specific choice of words Jesus used to convey this truth to Martha, and to us? Consider the statement one more time.
“I am (present tense, currently and forever) the resurrection and the life (zōē – physical life, as opposed to death). He who believes in Me, though he may die, he shall live (záō – the manner of life, the resurrected life, the abundant life, the Higher Christian Life). And whoever lives (záō – the manner of life, the resurrected life, the abundant life, the Higher Christian Life) and believes in Me shall never die. Do you believe this?”
Even here, at the tomb of Lazarus, Jesus is pointing to a life that knows no bounds and is available to all who are in Him. Currently, forever, He is our resurrection. Jesus, by His simple breath and nature, can bring to life— not just any life, but an abundant life, an overcoming life— that which sin and neglect have destroyed. He said, “Behold, I make all things new” (Rev. 21:5), which includes you and me.
There is so much more we have to say about these small Greek words and the profound meaning they have for us in our quest for the Higher Christian Life. So join us as we learn more about Jesus, the “Resurrection and the Life” who is beyond what we can ask or even conceive in our mind (Eph. 3:20). And let’s experience the “abundant life” found only in Him, together.