Lazarus, Sleep, and Death
“Our friend Lazarus sleeps, but I go to wake him up” (John 11:11). You know this story and understand what Jesus meant, but His disciples failed to comprehend it. Lazarus was so sick that his sisters, Mary and Martha, sent word to Jesus. Judging by their words which both of them spoke—“Lord, if you had been here my brother would not have died”—the message was sent as a plea to Jesus to come to heal him.
Jesus was not in Judea but likely in Galilee, many miles away. However, Jesus did not immediately rush to go to Bethany. He waited two days before even starting His journey. Obviously the disciples knew of the message and said to Jesus, “Lord, if he sleeps he will get well.” They did not know that Jesus was speaking of the sleep of death.
The comparison between sleep and death can bring so much comfort to us. It should not surprise us that our God devoted an entire chapter in the Bible to help us see the parallel. Our view of death is changed when we compare it to sleep.
Sleep is peaceful and not painful. While, as death approaches our bodies may be filled with pain, there comes that time when there is a release and the transition takes place. Think about how this parallels sleep. We may toss and turn as we lie down, but ultimately the time comes when we lay aside all that troubles us and fall asleep, leaving all those troubles behind. Throughout His life Jesus had fallen asleep and on the cross He “slept” again, leaving all troubles behind when He said, “Father into your hands I commit My spirit.” There is a peace that comes when we sleep and there is the final peace which comes when we die.
There is hope in sleep and there is hope in death. Why do we set an alarm each evening? Because we have an expectation of waking up. The same is true in death, for we expect to literally hear Jesus’ voice to awaken us, based upon what He said to His disciples: “The hour is coming in which all that are in the graves will hear His voice and come forth” (John 5:28-29).
As a child the first prayer I learned was this prayer. “Now I lay me down to sleep. I pray the Lord my soul to keep. If I should die before I wake, I pray the Lord my soul to take.” I thank God that my mom and dad taught this to me, but my understanding is so much deeper now. I then understood about laying down to sleep, but I was not able to grasp all that is involved in asking Him to take my soul in death. I did not know about the angels who took another Lazarus to Abraham’s bosom (Luke 16:22). I did not fear going to sleep, nor do I need to fear death.
There are so many other parallels between sleep and dying. Think about them. It will change your view of death.