Seven times Jesus used the Greek form of the words I AM, the same name God gave to Moses, calling Himself I AM that I AM (Exodus 3:14). In John chapter eleven, Christ said that He is the I AM along with the words Resurrection and the Life, the One who is the conqueror over death itself. After hearing that His friend Lazarus was very sick, Jesus spoke to His disciples that they were going up to Jerusalem to wake him:
11After he had said this, he went on to tell them, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep; but I am going there to wake him up.” 12His disciples replied, “Lord, if he sleeps, he will get better.” 13Jesus had been speaking of his death, but his disciples thought he meant natural sleep. 14So then he told them plainly, “Lazarus is dead, 15and for your sake I am glad I was not there, so that you may believe (John 11:11-15). Here’s the conversation when they arrived at the home of Lazarus:
21“Lord,” Martha said to Jesus, “if you had been here, my brother would not have died. 22But I know that even now God will give you whatever you ask.” 23Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.” 24Martha answered, “I know he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day.” 25Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; 26and whoever lives by believing in me will never die. Do you believe this?” 27“Yes, Lord,” she replied, “I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, who is to come into the world” (John 11:21-27).
Jesus used the term "fallen asleep" (v. 11) to describe the death of a believer. It is the separation of the soul and spirit from the body. The body is in the grave asleep, but the spirit, the invisible part of us that is the real 'us,' goes to be with the Lord. When the Jews were stoning Stephen for preaching Christ, this first martyr saw the Lord Jesus standing at the right-hand side of God the Father (Acts 7:56). Then the Scripture says that "Stephen fell asleep" (Acts 7:60). His body was in a pile of stones, but the Lord Jesus stood from His normal seated position at the right side of the Father to receive the spirit of Stephen to Himself. Also, when Jesus went to the home of Jairus to raise his daughter from death, He said to the mourners: “Stop wailing,” Jesus said. “She is not dead but asleep” (Luke 8:52). When the Lord called her back from the dead, the Scripture says that “her spirit returned” (Luke 8:55). If her spirit returned, where had her spirit been? She had been with the Father, even while her body was in the physical realm before Jesus. This thought of physical death for a believer as being but the sleep of the body, Paul the apostle wrote:
He died for us so that, whether we are awake or asleep, we may live together with him (1 Thessalonians 5:10, emphasis mine).
Even when a believer's body is dead (asleep), we will be very much alive and living with Christ. Paul writes in another place about this topic:
22If I am to go on living in the body, this will mean fruitful labor for me. Yet what shall I choose? I do not know! 23I am torn between the two: I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far; 24but it is more necessary for you that I remain in the body (Philippians 1:22-24).
Paul said that he desired to depart and be with Christ. If he believed he would be unconscious, it would not be "better by far." No, Paul believed that he would be with Christ the instant he died. Jesus said, “whoever lives by believing in me will never die” (John 11:26). Death is but the sleep of the body. This attitude of faith in Christ will prepare us to be ready for anything. Jesus, the Son of the Living God, has conquered death for us and as us. There should be no fear of death for the believer in Christ. Keith Thomas
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