John 8:51 (New Living Translation)
"I tell you the truth, anyone who obeys my teaching will never die!
'you will never taste death' April 11, 2009
Truly, truly, I say to you,
if anyone keeps my word,
he will never taste death.
-Jesus, John 8:51
Well thats certainly a nice sentiment. Of course its not really true, I mean everyone dies, right? Since the time when Jesus rose from the dead, everyone who has lived, died, and everyone who has died, stayed dead.
Well, maybe it has some kind of nice but smaller metaphorical meaning. Perhaps Jesus is saying that those who keep his word will not experience terrible tragedy. That has a nice comforting ring to it we all want to believe that if we obey Jesus (or at least do our best) we will be protected from the bad things of life. Unfortunately that belief system breaks down quickly when you meet people who love God, follow Jesus more closely that you could ever hope to, and yet experience great pain and suffering. Besides, Jesus himself said that in this life you will have great troubles and trials.
So much for the sentimentality.
Then what could Jesus possibly mean by such a bald statement as if anyone keeps my word, he will never taste death?
I think that just maybe Jesus means this: if anyone keeps his word, they will never taste death.
The Apostle Paul seemed to accept this train of thought when he wrote to Timothy near the end of his life about our Savior Christ Jesus, who abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel (2 Ti 1:10).
You will never taste death. Jesus has abolished death. Maybe we should talk about what death really means.
Before our first parents rebelled against God, he warned them against it, saying in that day, you will surely die. They doubted Gods goodness towards them, rebelled, and that very day they died. Well, kind of. They remained as living beings in their same bodies, but something had changed. Where once they walked with their Creator in the cool of the garden, now they had been cast out. Where once they had been at peace with one another and the earth, they were now at odds. Where a day before the living spirit of God followed through them giving them eternal life, they were cut off from him.
They had suffered a death worse than the physical dissolution of ones body an eternal kind of death. This is what scripture calls being under the curse. And so death reigned from the time of Adam.
Human beings were created by God to know him, to be like him, to be filled with love, to be without flaw, to reign with him over the earth. We were made to live a heavenly eternal kind of life, a life infused with the very nature of God Himself. Having lost that, we live here in death.
What then does physical death mean to those living in spiritual death? If we live apart from the spirit, all we have is the physical. If that is lost, then we are lost. Whether we think our soul disappears into mist or sinks to some shadowy region, death is the worst possible thing that could happen to us.
In the midst of a world living in death, Jesus came and said, Truly, truly I say to you, if anyone keeps my word, he will never taste death.
Dallas Willard draws this out in The Divine Conspiracy:
Once we have grasped our situation in Gods full world, the startling disregard Jesus and the New Testament writers had for physical death suddenly makes sense. Paul bluntly states, as we have just seen, that Jesus abolished death simply did away with it. Nothing like what is usually understood as death will happen to those who have entered his life. (p84)
Disregard for physical death yes, thats an accurate depiction of the attitudes of Jesus, the Apostles, the church fathers, and Christians throughout the ages. Its not the disregard of one who commits suicide, who has nothing more to lose, but the disregard of one who has everything and knows they cannot lose it.
What God has offered us in Christ is not just a nice way to live, and not just fire insurance to get us out of hell. He is offering us LIFE: a reversal of the curse, a remaking of our souls, an infusion of his eternal kind of life into our dead souls. Those who are in Christ are living souls, infused by the power and spirit of God.
Eternal life isnt about floating around on clouds with harps, its about our selves being receptacles of the divine (p14). Eternal life is something that can begin now and will never end. This new life can never die, because it is of the nature of God himself. The new life we live in Christ can never and will never die. The dissolution of these bodies will in no way bring any kind of death that matters for much (though scripture also teaches that souls apart from the body long to be clothed with their new tents resurrected to new physical bodies that are better fitted for our new God-filled souls check out 2 Cor 5).
Listen to Jesus teaching these truths in a poignant situation, speaking to a close friend whose brother has just passed on.
Martha said to Jesus, Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. But even now I know that whatever you ask from God, God will give you. Jesus said to her, Your brother will rise again. Martha said to him, I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day. 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. Do you believe this? She said to him, Yes, Lord; I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who is coming into the world. (John 11:21-27)
Jesus was about to give a great sign of his divinity and of the coming of the kingdom by literally raising Marthas brother Lazarus from the grave. But something even more important would occurred, for Lazarus would come to believe in Jesus, and he would live, and never die. Like the resurrection of Jesus himself, this return to life is a great sign to us of the greater coming to life of our souls spiritual rebirth with Gods own life, which can never die.
Speaking to the crowds, Jesus taught that they could have eternal life, right then and there, and move over from death into life. The time had come, the first Easter was drawing near, and the living dead crowded around Jesus were listening to the voice of the Son of God.
Im telling the honest truth, Im saying to you that the one who is hearing my word and believing the one who sent me has eternal life right now and is not going into condemnation, but has passed from death into life. Im telling the honest truth, Im saying to you that an hour is coming and now its here, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God and those who have heard will live.
(John 5:23-25. My translation, sorry if its a bit choppy.)
Picture Jesus talking to the crowd. He points to one man living in death, then to another. Hes surrounded by the dead. As he speaks, they recognize his voice as the Son of God, they believe, and the eternal life sparks into a flame within them. Though they may die, they will never taste death.
Praise be to God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, who brought light and life to a dead world, who called people from every nation, tribe and tongue to be washed clean and filled with their eternal kind of life. Hallelujah to the one who has defeated the grave!
For we will never taste death.