In “if he has fallen asleep…” Jefferson Vann contrasts Jesus’ view of death with that of Thomas.
John 11:11-16 (JDV)
John 11:11 He said these words, and afterwards he told them, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep, but I’m proceeding to wake him up.”
John 11:12 That is why the disciples said to him, “Lord, if he has fallen asleep, he will be rescued.”
John 11:13 But Jesus had been speaking about his death, yet they thought he was speaking about the resting of sleep.
John 11:14 So Jesus then told them plainly, “Lazarus died.
John 11:15 I rejoice for you that I wasn’t there so that you may trust. But let’s go to him.”
John 11:16 Then Thomas (the one called “Twin”) said to his fellow disciples, “Let’s go too so that we may die with him.”
if he has fallen asleep…
The disciples (excluding Thomas) thought Lazarus was on the mend, because if he had fallen asleep, there was a chance for him to pull through — to be rescued from his illness.
Thomas’ words are the words of someone who has given up all hope. He discovered that Lazarus has died, and so he now thinks there is no use to travel back to that dangerous territory. He’s gone, and if we go there, we will probably join him. Death is the end game.
Jesus’ words are the words of someone who sees death entirely differently. He does not deny the reality of death. He does not claim that Lazarus is still alive – somewhere nice. No, Jesus rejoices because, unlike Thomas, he sees the possibility of rescue after death. Death is sleep, and someone sleeping can be woken up. The dead can be raised.
Lord, thank you for the promise of rescue we have in you. Thank you that death is not the end.
For more on the sleep of death, see: