About 2,000 years ago in a small village outside Jerusalem, two sisters saw their brother become ill and die. Mary and Martha dearly loved their brother Lazarus, so their anguish was great. Their friends and neighbors tried to comfort them but failed. Their sorrow was so great that upon seeing them Jesus was filled with compassion and wept (see John 11:30–35). We can perhaps imagine how Martha felt when the Savior told her, “Thy brother shall rise again” (John 11:23). Her response reflected a certain understanding of the plan of salvation: “I know that he shall rise again in the resurrection at the last day” (John 11:24). The Lord’s answer to Martha emphatically reassured her: “I am the resurrection, and the life: he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live: And whosoever liveth and believeth in me shall never die” (John 11:25–26).
Martha then bore solemn testimony of Him: “I believe that thou art the Christ, the Son of God, which should come into the world” (John 11:27).
Martha’s faith was soon fulfilled as she and Mary were comforted by the power of God made manifest in the raising of their brother from the dead.
On many occasions during His mortal ministry, our Savior took the opportunity to teach about death and resurrection, particularly His own. His words can help us, much as they helped Martha, to cope with the sorrow that comes when a loved one dies. An understanding that the gospel is taught and practiced among our dead, that they too will be resurrected, and that they and we may achieve exaltation can deepen our gratitude for the Savior.
The passing away of someone we love brings sorrow to our souls. We can understand why Martha and Mary wept and lamented the passing of Lazarus. On another occasion, the Savior’s disciples were similarly concerned and wondered what He had meant when He said to them, “A little while, and ye shall not see me: and again, a little while, and ye shall see me … , Because I go to the Father” (John 16:17). The Lord explained that although they would “weep and lament” at His death, their “sorrow [would] be turned into joy” (John 16:20).
The Savior then gave a helpful example of contrasting feelings of sorrow and joy: “A woman when she is in travail hath sorrow, because her hour is come: but as soon as she is delivered of the child, she remembereth no more the anguish, for joy that a man is born into the world” (John 16:21). His disciples, like Mary and Martha, found comfort in the Savior’s words about death and resurrection. We may also find comfort and eventually joy when we understand that death is a necessary step leading to resurrection and eternal life.
A sound knowledge of the great plan of salvation helps mitigate our sorrow. An understanding of immortality and eternal life strengthens our hope in things to come. Martha knew that Lazarus would be resurrected at the last day. This knowledge gave her hope.
But even with this knowledge, we miss our loved ones. The pain is better dealt with when we understand that our Savior has atoned for our sins and was resurrected, that all people will also be resurrected, and that all have the opportunity to attain eternal life.
On one occasion, a Pharisee named Nicodemus approached the Savior at night. Impressed by His miracles, Nicodemus sought words of counsel. Jesus taught the Pharisee that we must be born again. The Savior then prophesied, “As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up” (John 3:14; see also Moses 7:55).
Nicodemus was not the only one to hear the Redeemer repeat such prophecy. Jesus taught His disciples, “The Son of man is delivered into the hands of men, and they shall kill him; and after that he is killed, he shall rise the third day” (Mark 9:31).
During the last week of the Lord’s ministry, He continued to talk about what was about to happen to Him. When Andrew and Philip approached Him concerning some Greeks who wished to see Him, Jesus took the opportunity to teach: “The hour is come, that the Son of man should be glorified. Verily, verily, I say unto you, Except a corn of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abideth alone: but if it die, it bringeth forth much fruit” (John 12:23–24).
The Book of Mormon prophet Abinadi similarly taught: “The grave hath no victory, and the sting of death is swallowed up in Christ. He is the light and the life of the world; yea, a light that is endless, that can never be darkened; yea, and also a life which is endless, that there can be no more death” (Mosiah 16:8–9).
Because of the Savior, we can look forward to a reunion with those who have passed away. We are blessed with the certainty that we will again see them, embrace them, and express to them our love.
The Prophet Joseph Smith explained: “Would you think it strange if I relate what I have seen in vision in relation to this interesting theme? … So plain was the vision, that I actually saw men, before they had ascended from the tomb, as though they were getting up slowly. They took each other by the hand and said to each other, ‘My father, my son, my mother, my daughter, my brother, my sister.’ And when the voice calls for the dead to arise, suppose I am laid by the side of my father, what would be the first joy of my heart? To meet my father, my mother, my brother, my sister; and when they are by my side, I embrace them and they me.”1
The reality of a universal resurrection along with the possibility of exaltation because of our Redeemer’s supernal sacrifice are reason enough to merit our everlasting gratitude. He is the Resurrection and the Life, and we so testify to the world.
The living and dead have the opportunity to hear His voice and live. Those on both sides of the veil must, however, abide by certain conditions to receive all gospel blessings. The Savior explained to Martha one of these conditions: “He that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live: And whosoever liveth and believeth in me shall never die” (John 11:25–26). Having faith in Him is the first principle of the gospel. Such faith moves us to repent and to make and keep covenants with God so that eventually we may have eternal life.
Inasmuch as we obey His commandments and are faithful to our covenants, we are blessed to expect a joyful family reunited and crowned with eternal life. In the words of Jesus Christ: “[The dead] shall come forth; they that have done good, unto the resurrection of life; and they that have done evil, unto the resurrection of damnation” (John 5:29). Regarding this verse, the Prophet Joseph Smith said, “Some shall rise to the everlasting burnings of God; … and some shall rise to the damnation of their own filthiness, which is as exquisite a torment as the lake of fire and brimstone.”2
Repentance is the key to avoiding the “resurrection of damnation.” Sincere repentance activates the great plan of salvation for our good. Our “Redeemer suffered death in the flesh; wherefore he suffered the pain of all men, that all men might repent and come unto him. And he hath risen again from the dead, that he might bring all men unto him, on conditions of repentance” (D&C 18:11–12).
The Lamanite prophet Samuel fully understood the relationship between repentance and a joyful resurrection. Boldly standing upon the wall, he taught:
“The resurrection of Christ redeemeth mankind, yea, even all mankind, and bringeth them back into the presence of the Lord.
“Yea, and it bringeth to pass the condition of repentance, that whosoever repenteth the same is not hewn down and cast into the fire; but whosoever repenteth not is hewn down and cast into the fire” (Hel. 14:17–18).
As we learn the promises regarding resurrection and exaltation, our belief in the Savior and our desire to repent and return to Him grow deeper and stronger.
After the Savior told Martha that He is the Resurrection and the Life, He asked her, “Believeth thou this?” Martha’s response showed great faith: “Yea, Lord: I believe that thou art the Christ, the Son of God, which should come into the world” (John 11:26–27).
We may also ask ourselves: Do I believe Jesus’ words about immortality and eternal life? Do I believe in a happy reunion with my loved ones who have passed away? To the extent that we allow these truths to permeate our lives, we will also respond with great faith and a fortified testimony that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God.
His teachings regarding His own and our death and Resurrection should be engraved upon our hearts. On a certain occasion when His disciples wondered at the mighty power of God found in Him, the Savior said, “Let these sayings sink down into your [hearts]: for the Son of man shall be delivered into the hands of men” (Luke 9:44; see also Joseph Smith Translation, Luke 9:44).
The Prophet Joseph Smith taught: “God has revealed His Son from the heavens and the doctrine of the resurrection also; and we have a knowledge that those we bury here God will bring up again, clothed upon and quickened by the Spirit of the great God. … Let these truths sink down in our hearts, that we may even here begin to enjoy that which shall be in full hereafter.”3
A search of the teachings of our Savior about death and resurrection strengthens our hope in immortality and eternal life. This hope can fill our very hearts with the joy Martha and Mary must have experienced. For the promise of the Savior is: “Thy [loved ones] shall rise again” (John 11:23).