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Where was Lazarus?
“Our friend Lazarus sleepeth…Loose him, and let him go.” (John 11:11-46)
You are familiar with the story of Lazarus’ death and resurrection recorded in John 11. Without question, this mighty display of our Savior’s eternal Godhead was intended by our God to give us pictures of two things. It was, I am sure, intended to show us a picture of the spiritual resurrection of God’s elect in the new birth by the effectual call and irresistible grace of God our Savior (Ephesians 2:1-7; Revelation 20:6). And Lazarus’ death and resurrection pictured the death and resurrection of God’s elect with Christ. But, have you ever considered this: — Between the time that he died and the time that he was raised from the dead by our blessed Savior, where was he? During those four days that his body slept in the earth, where was he?
When this miracle had been performed many of the Jews, seeing “the things which Jesus did, believed on him.” Others believed not, but were only hardened in their enmity and opposition to the Savior. The same is true throughout the ages. To many the works of Christ and the power of his grace, when declared by the gospel are, by the blessing of God, a sweet savor of life unto life. To others, the word of grace is a savor of death unto death. Oh, may God the Holy Spirit make his Word a sweet savor of life to you who read these lines, for Christ’s sake!
Let me say just a few things about Lazarus. First, it should be noted that we are not told in the Scriptures that he ever said anything about the state of his soul while his body was in the grave. In fact, we are told nothing more about him at all, except that he was among those who sat with the Savior at the table in John 12. Lazarus’ silence and the silence of Scripture about his experience should not surprise us. If Paul could not utter words to describe his experience (which was apparently the same as Lazarus’), and could not tell us the things he saw in heaven, it is not surprising that Lazarus said nothing about what he saw in heaven. I see Divine wisdom in that fact. It is ever the tendency of man to sensationalize everything, especially the supernatural, unexplainable interventions of God. Therefore our God wisely draws a curtain over his most remarkable works. And those who experience them consider them too precious, too sacred, too heavenly to talk about. Those who have experienced anything like a miraculous work of God have very little to say about it.
It is also remarkable that the Scriptures tell us absolutely nothing about the feelings of Martha and Mary after Lazarus was raised from the dead. What joy they must have experienced! What gratitude they must have expressed! What humiliation they must have felt because of their unbelief! Yet, we read nothing of these things. The Lord God, in infinite wisdom, draws a curtain over them, while at the same time giving us a clear picture of their sorrow and grief. The fact is, affliction and sorrow are more profitable for study and meditation than joy.
Yet, the resurrection of Lazarus was one of the most unmistakable and unquestionable revelations of our Savior’s eternal Godhead recorded in Holy Scripture. If he could raise a man to life who had been dead for four days, truly he is God with whom “all things are possible.” He who is God our Savior can raise dead sinners to life, no matter how corrupt they are. And he will raise us up from the grave at his glorious second advent. The voice that called Lazarus from the tomb will, at the last day, call the bodies of his sleeping saints from their graves! Yes, “the dead shall hear the voice of the Son of man, and they that hear shall live” (John 5:25).
Now, let me give you some of my thoughts about dying. I say, “my thoughts,” but were they only my thoughts they would not be worth anything. These are my thoughts only because God the Holy Spirit has shown them to me in the Book of God and sealed them to my heart. I pray that he will do the same for you.
I write not as a brave man, or as a holy man, but simply as a saved man, as a believing man. Trusting Christ, who alone is all my salvation, I am hopeful that when he comes to receive me unto himself, “when the Master of the house cometh, at even, or at midnight, or at the cockcrowing, or in the morning,” like Mary, I shall rise quickly at the well-known voice of my Beloved and rejoice when it is said, “The Master is come and calleth for thee.”
I fully realize that the things I have to say in this study cannot be understood any who do not know our God. Of all spiritual things, these are most spiritual. And the natural man, no matter how brilliant and well-educated he may be, simply cannot know them. They are spiritually discerned (1 Corinthians 2:9-12).
First, the Scriptures tell us much about the bodies of God’s saints, when the soul is separated from the body in death. Death is for the believer is a temporary separation of our souls from our bodies, but not the least separation of us from our Savior.
That everlasting union that is ours with Christ is an indissolvable, indestructible union. That is the basis and security of every blessing we enjoy in time and in eternity. The Scriptures clearly show us that the separation we experience in death of our souls from our bodies does not separate either the soul or the body of the redeemed from the Redeemer.
Christ’s people are as truly his people in death as they are in life. Our union with him is the same. And our interest in him is the same, because he is “the same, yesterday, and today, and forever.” God’s covenant and promise do not rot with our bodies in the grave. Indeed, the decay of our bodies as they return to dust, is ordered by God’s covenant and promise to give occasion for the greater manifestation of Christ’s glory and our everlasting blessedness with him in the resurrection.
The separation we must sustain in death, the separation of our souls from our bodies, shall be but a brief separation, a brief separation that shall be everlastingly compensated by our Lord in the resurrection (Romans 14:8; 1 Corinthians 3:22). When our Lord Jesus revealed himself to Moses in the burning bush, he revealed himself as the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the God not of the dead, but of the living (Exodus 3:6). Then, after hundreds of years, he stated exactly the same thing, asserting plainly that though the patriarchs had long ago died in the flesh, they were not at all separated from him (Luke 20:37-38). And he declares that this is also an assertion of the fact of the resurrection.
The separation of the soul from the body at death makes no separation of either body or soul from Christ. When our Lord Jesus said, “our friend Lazarus sleepeth,” and the Scriptures speak of God’s saints sleeping in Christ, there is nothing said about soul sleep. The sleep of God’s saints in death refers to their bodies in the grave, sleeping in Christ as they sleep in the earth. And the sleeping bodies of God’s saints, “them which sleep in Jesus,” he will awake out of sleep (1 Thessalonians 4:14; Romans 8:11).
Far too little has been said and written about the sleeping of our bodies in the arms of our Redeemer. It is a sweet sleep. There is nothing evil connected with it. It is a good, sweet, unspeakably blessed sleep! Be sure you understand this. Both our bodies and our souls are the objects of Christ’s mercy, love, and grace. He has redeemed both my body and my soul. My body is as precious to him as my soul. It is his purchased possession, which is yet to be redeemed (delivered from the consequences of sin) in the resurrection (Ephesians 1:14; 4:30).
Both my body and my soul are the objects Christ’s love, and his purchased possession by blood redemption. Yet the conflicts between them are such as produce an unceasing warfare. From the moment of the new birth unto the moment that the Lord undresses the body for death. — “The flesh lusteth against the spirit; and the spirit against the flesh, and these are contrary the one to the other: so that ye cannot do the things that ye would” (Galatians 5:17).
In this body we groan for life. I see nothing but sin in every fiber of my being, and behold what I am in this body of flesh with horror and abhorrence. The leprosy of my body of flesh is loathsome (Job 42:6; Isaiah 6:5; Romans 7:18). Not until I drop this robe of flesh in death, not until my soul is separated from this body, will I be freed from the body of inbred, indwelling corruption and the groaning of my soul, longing for that freedom (2 Corinthians 5:4). Then the very being of sin in this body of flesh will be over forever! No hiding place shall then be found for that loathsome thing now burrowed so deeply in my nature that it corrupts everything about me. The vile cesspool of iniquity, all original and actual corruption, shall be dried up and emptied forever!
I feel the blessedness of this in my soul. The anticipation of it is joyous. The hour rapidly advances when I shall never speak another idle word, never have another vile thought, and never again hurt and injure anyone or anything, when I shall at last cease from sin!
Though I know that the whole troop of iniquity will pursue me, like the Egyptian army pursued Israel to the borders of the sea, yet I know also that the new and living way the Lord there opened for his people has been, and is, and will be opened for my salvation. Death ends the warfare. It is written, “The Egyptians whom ye have seen to day, ye shall see them again no more for ever” (Exodus 14:13). Child of God, inconceivable blessedness shall be ours immediately in the temporary separation of soul and body!
But there is something even more wonderful to contemplate. The separation of our souls from our bodies is a means ordained by our God by which our Lord Jesus Christ shall be seen most glorious and triumphant. This shall be the culminating point to crown all. It is in the dust of his saints, that the Lord has laid the foundation for manifesting the special conquests of his Almighty arm, in raising us up to glory.
God’s glory is the first and ultimate end of all things. The whole purpose, counsel, will, and pleasure of the Triune God, for which he created all things and sustains all things is the manifestation of “the glory of his grace” (Ephesians 1:5-7; Proverbs 16:4; Isaiah 43:21; Romans 11:36; Revelation 4:11). It was for this purpose, — that God might be visibly glorified before wondering worlds, visibly glorified in his saints, — that the Son of God assumed our nature, redeemed us, and shall come again to gather his saints unto himself (John 1:14; 2 Thessalonians 1:7-10).
What can be more suitable and right than that he, who was “crucified through weakness,” should alone possess the glory of raising the dead? Our bodies must sleep in the dust until that great day for the express purpose of our Lord Jesus Christ being exalted and glorified as our Redemption and our Resurrection! The temporary separation of soul and body of God’s elect at death was and is, in the appointment of God, primarily and above every other consideration, for the personal glory of Christ, and secondarily and subordinately, for our everlasting happiness and bliss.
Where was Lazarus for those four days? — He was with the Lord, awaiting a greater display of the Lord’s glory than had yet been displayed in the earth.
What great and marvelous acts of Almighty power shall be executed by our glorious Savior in that great day of God! Try to imagine the nations sleeping in the dust and the sea, which at his call shall then give up their dead.
All who trust Christ alone as Savior and Lord have the assurance of God’s own Word that at that glorious day, when Christ shall come “to be glorified in his saints, and admired in all that believe,” they shall be found among the blessed “dead which die in the Lord.” Let us therefore await with holy joy and expectation the hour of God’s appointment, when by death the separation soul and body shall take place. By this means he makes us ready for Christ’s coming, for his triumph and glory.
Are the personal triumphs of Christ to be manifested before the assembled creation of God in that day? Is the dust of God’s saints the preparatory means for the greater display of Christ’s power and glory? Does this temporary separation of my soul and body give occasion for my God and Savior to get glory by me? If so, then it cannot be doubted that death is for us a blessing to be anticipated, not a curse to dread.
Surely salvation in Christ is worth living for; and the personal glory of Christ in raising me from the dust is worth dying for. May God give me grace, with increasing rapture of soul, to anticipate the time of my appointed departure. It shall be nothing more and nothing less than my body falling asleep in my Savior’s arms at night to be awakened by him in his likeness in the morning.
If a young lady goes to bed tonight, joyfully anticipating that tomorrow she will be married to the man she loves, anticipating the day she has planned for a long time, anticipating that which she ardently desires, she will go to bed with excitement, such excitement that she can hardly sleep. But, oh how sweet her sleep will be, because the morning will bring for her a greatly desired new beginning of life.
Shall not the children of God, heirs of his kingdom, lay down in like manner in the sleep which is to be followed by the resurrection morning, that morning which will open into endless glory? — The interval between death and the resurrection shall be but the sweet rest of a brief night. No wonder Paul calls this our “blessed hope.” The fulfillment of it shall be eternally blessed beyond imagination. Christ will, at his second coming, “change our vile body, that it may be fashioned like unto his glorious body, according to the working whereby he is able even to subdue all things unto himself” (Philippians 3: 21)
The Soul Departed
Now, let’s look at the state of the soul while separated from the body. It must be acknowledged that we know very little of the world of the redeemed in heaven. We are, in this present, mortal state incapable of knowing much about it. It is impossible for any of us to form any adequate apprehension of heaven’s glory. Yet, God the Holy Spirit has graciously given us love tokens in his Word of the world to come, by which he draws the hearts of chosen, redeemed, saved sinners to Christ in heaven.
Regarding the immediate effect of our souls being temporarily separated from our bodies at death, we have little information, but the little we have is more precious than mountains of gold. There are some things we know. The body returns to the earth for an appointed time; but the soul lives on in another, higher, more spiritual form of life than we can now imagine. We know that “to be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord.” This we know by the testimony of Holy Scripture and by the testimony of Scripture being stamped upon our hearts by grace (Ecclesiastes 12:6-7; 2 Corinthians 5:1-9).
As soon as my soul is separated from my body, I shall be with the Lord in heaven, in a body, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. We are not told and cannot imagine what that form is, but it shall be a body, a house suitable to our souls in that blessed state. In the moment of separation, we shall not be found naked, “but clothed upon that mortality might be swallowed up of life.” The Lord Jesus said to the dying thief on the cross, “Today, shalt thou be with me in Paradise.” And Stephen, in his dying moments, when beholding with an eye of faith our all-glorious Christ on the right hand of the throne, cried out, “Lord Jesus receive my spirit” (Acts 7:55-58). While the body sweetly sleeps in the earth, in the arms of Jesus, until the resurrection morning, the soul is with the Lord. In the conscious assurance of this Paul said, “For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain” (Philippians 1: 22).
Freed of Self
In that moment, we shall at once be rid of and forever freed from self, self love and all that selfishness of character which our spirits are encased in in the flesh, freed from that self love we can never subdue while living in this form. Everything we now enjoy, even of a spiritual nature, is tinged with self. If we meditate upon the glories of our God as he reveals himself to us in Christ, if we enjoy seasons of sweet communion with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ by some renewed revelation from him, if we give thanks to God for his grace or for some special manifestation of grace, self, self love, and self interests corrupt all our thoughts. In heaven, that shall cease to be! There all selfishness is lost in the love of God, for what he is in himself independent of all that he is to us and all that he has done for us. This is what Paul speaks of in Romans 5, after declaring the unspeakable blessedness of being reconciled to God by the death of his Son; and much more being reconciled and saved by his life, he adds, “and not only so, but we also joy in God, through our Lord Jesus Christ” (Romans 5:10-11).
To “joy in God” (Father, Son, and Holy Ghost), as God, through our Lord Jesus Christ is a far higher degree of blessedness than all the gifts we can receive from him here. There we shall joy in him, the source of all joy. There self is lost and done away in him. And this is the immediate effect of the soul being temporarily separated from the body.
Face to Face
As soon as my soul is separated from my body, I shall behold my all-glorious Savior face to face, in open and clear vision, with nothing between my soul and my Savior. That sums up everything I can conceive of blessedness. This is what our Savior desires, indescribably more than we do (John 17:24). The thought is rapturous!
Beholding him in all the beauties and glories of his infinite Being is infinitely more than all the benefits we derive from him. We shall be swallowed up and absorbed with beholding him (1 John 3:1-2). While we are everlastingly and unremittingly engaged in beholding him, all other things will occupy our minds no more. Nothing else will crowd into our hearts. There will be room for nothing but him, and more of him!
The Lord God once hung a star in the sky that arrested the attention of the whole world. It was a bright, glorious star. No one could take his eyes off of it. But that star simply pointed to the place where Christ could be found. Just try to imagine what it will be like, not to see his star, but to see him face to face, who is “the brightness of his Father’s glory, and the express image of his person!” That is the immediate and everlasting experience of every saved sinner, as soon as he falls asleep in his Savior’s arms and the spirit enters ‘‘into the joy of his Lord.”
This separation of body and soul is but a brief, temporary separation. The body sleeps in Jesus; and the soul lives during the time of separation in the unceasing enjoyment of the presence of Christ. But, soon, the morning of the resurrection shall come, and the Son of God “shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God.” Then there shall be a glorious reunion of soul and body, not for me only, not for you only, but for the whole election of grace. All the bodies of all the sleeping saints shall be raised at once, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye! All shall at once be united to Christ, the glorious Head of the body, united without the possibility of separation forever, to Christ and to each other!
What will be the joy of the bride in that hour! What will be the triumphs of our Bridegroom, the Lord Jesus Christ himself, when he shall come, “to be glorified in his saints, and admired in all that believe!” Imagination fails to form the least idea of what must be the feeling in that reunion of soul and body. The two parts of self, separated in a moment of sorrow, bereavement, and death, shall meet and be forever united in the joy and glory of the Lord!
The cold, clammy sweat of death on the body, in which the soul left it, shall be changed into all the warmth of life and immortality! The body, sunk in weakness, shall be raised in power! It was sown a natural body. It shall be raised a spiritual body! The soul shall come down from above with Christ and in the power of Christ, perfumed out of the ivory palaces; and the body shall rise to meet the soul, now by Christ changed from a vile body to a glorified body, as much prepared and as fully qualified for the everlasting enjoyment of Christ as the soul! That shall be what Paul calls “the redemption of the purchased possession.” Then Christ shall present us, body and soul, “faultless before the presence of his glory with exceeding joy!”
He who redeemed my soul, at his own appointed time, regenerated my soul. And my body is no less precious to him than my soul. He who redeemed my body as his purchased possession shall, at the divinely appointed time, regenerate my body, too, with life everlasting!
These have been the thoughts and meditations of my heart for many years, without significant interruption. Needless to say, I’ve been enjoying life more fully than ever! I pray that I will never have these thoughts far from my mind, that I may continually look for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ unto eternal life, crying to the Lord Jesus with his Bride of old, “Until the day break, and the shadows flee away, turn my Beloved, and be thou like a roe, or a young hart, upon the mountains of Bether” (Song of Solomon 2:17).
“I would not have you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning them which are asleep, that ye sorrow not, even as others which have no hope. For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so them also which sleep in Jesus will God bring with him. For this we say unto you by the word of the Lord, that we which are alive and remain unto the coming of the Lord shall not prevent them which are asleep. For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first: Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord. Wherefore comfort one another with these words.” (1 Thessalonians 4:13-18)
May God the Holy Spirit seal his Word to our hearts, giving us faith in Christ and enabling us from this day forward to live in the blessed hope of God’s boundless, free, eternal grace in Christ!