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“Our friend Lazarus is fallen asleep; but I go that I may awake him out of sleep” (John 11:11). (Quotations are from the American Standard Version, ASV, 1901, except as noted.)
The Bible points us to the one great hope for the world: the resurrection of the dead. It tells us of the vitally-important resurrection of Jesus Christ, but also of the raising of eight others from the dead.
All three cases of people returning from the dead in the Old Testament relate to Elijah and his successor, Elisha. “No one hath ascended into heaven, but he that descended out of heaven, even the Son of man” (John 3:13), but Elijah’s life was terminated by a tornado to typify those faithful who later would receive a heavenly nature — Jesus Christ and his faithful Church. After Elisha assisted Elijah to the end of Elijah’s life, Elisha continued working on earth. So also there are those who help the faithful of today for as long as the Church remains. As Elisha then did about twice as many miracles as Elijah; after the Church is complete and resurrected, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, David, Daniel and many others will be resurrected on earth and restore a resurrected world back to the perfection lost in Eden (Hebrews 11:4-39).
We can know these resurrections1 were only temporary, and not part of the resurrection promised for all mankind, because none of those resurrected is still alive today.
Elijah (God is Jehovah)
Ahab, King of the ten-tribe kingdom of Israel, married Jezebel from the Canaanite city of Sidon, built a temple and altar to Baal, and sinned worse than all the kings before him. God then announced through Elijah that there would be no rain in Israel until Elijah called for it. There was then no rain for 3½ years (Luke 4:25, James 5:17). During the drought God sent Elijah to Zarephath, which was ruled by Jezebel’s home city of Sidon, to be fed by a widow there. Her jar of meal and cruse of oil did not run out during all that time.
(1) Some may prefer to call them “resuscitations,” as they did not grant an opportunity for eternal life; and so reserve the word “resurrection” for the coming age, when eternal life may result. However, H. C. Hoskier in 1929 published a complete collation of then known Revelation manuscripts (mss.), showing 69 mss. omitting, and 112 mss. inserting, “The rest of the dead lived not until the thousand years were finished” (the oldest form of the insertion, supported by three mss.) in one of at least five forms in Revelation 20:5.
The only pre-Constantine evidence is Victorinus of Petau, ca. AD 300, who omitted it, though a century later Jerome claimed he included it! The earliest Greek manuscript of this chapter — Sinaiticus of the mid 4th century — omits it, as does the earliest Aramaic/Syriac, syr(ph). The earlier forms of both Aecumenius text and Majority text (Koine) also omit it.
Without this sentence, there seems to be no motivation for limiting the understanding of “resurrection” to exclude ones which were not unto eternal life. John 11:24-25 seems to make resurrection and life related but distinct. Yet, let each student of Scripture use terminology according to his best understanding.
Later on in the drought, her son fell sick and stopped breathing. Elijah laid the child upon his own bed, stretched himself upon him and cried, “O Jehovah my God, Let, I pray thee, the boy’s soul return upon his midst!”(2 God then did as Elijah asked, “and he revived.” God’s purpose was achieved when the widow said to Elijah, “Now I know that thou art a man of God, and that the word of Jehovah in thy mouth is truth” (1 Kings 17:17-24).
Elijah raising the widow’s son foreshadowed the Times of Restitution, in which Jesus Christ and his faithful Church will resurrect and restore the world of mankind to perfection.(3)
Elisha (God is salvation)
A great woman at Shunem (in the upper Jezreel Valley) fed Elisha a meal each time he passed through, and then she and her aged husband also built a small place for him at the wall of the city. But she had no children. Elisha promised that she and her husband would have a son twelve months later, and it came to pass.
When the son was grown, he went out during harvest and took ill before his father (likely of a sunstroke). His mother held him on her lap until he died at noon. Then she took the body and laid it on Elisha’s bed (perhaps recalling Elijah and the widow’s son). She then went to Elisha at Mt. Carmel (20-30 miles to the northwest). Elisha’s servant was able to do nothing, but Elisha followed soon after and stretched himself upon the child and gave him mouth-to-mouth resuscitation (2 Kings 4:17-37).
(2) Translated quite literally. Rotherham says, “O Yahweh, my God! Let the life [soul] of this boy, I pray thee, come again within him.” NEB comparably well says, “O LORD my God, let the breath of life, I pray thee, return to the body of this child.” (Noth- ing suggests that the soul had been anywhere else, or that it was then still in existence. John A. Meggison comments, “Nephesh, breath, the only thing going out of a man at death and which by re-entering gives life. In Job 27:3, he says the Spirit of God was in his nostrils.”)
(3) Or possibly, we may note that the boy was raised during the 3½ years, which time is 42 months, and 1260 days (compare Revelation 11:3,6, 12:6,14, 13:5). If 1260 “days” is taken to be AD 539 to 1799, then the revival of the boy might suggest the Reformation, beginning about AD 1517. (The initiation of Papal reign rose over the period 538-540, and it was terminated by France during a period of 1798-1800.) One editor suggests this miracle typifies Jesus’ miracles in his first advent, while Elisha’s miracles typify the kingdom miracles.
This incident of raising the dead would also foreshadow the Times of Restitution, in which fleshly Israel and the world will be restored to life. (This incident focuses attention on one who had no expectation of being taken up. Such a group would include Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, etc.)
One more incident involved Elisha, though it was after he died. Moab was invading Israel about the beginning of the year (in Israel, probably about Nisan 1, in the beginning of Spring; unlike the Autumn Tishri 1 New Year reckoning in Judah). As the grave diggers were burying a man who had just died, they saw a band of Moabite soldiers headed their way; so they hastily put the body into the sepulcher of Elisha. But when the dead man “touched the bones of Elisha, he revived, and stood up on his feet” (2 Kings 13:21).
Jesus (Jehovah is Salvation)
Jesus may have been going from Capernaum to Jerusalem for one of the three mandatory feasts (Leviticus 23) when he and his disciples and a great multitude of others came to Nain. Jesus encountered a widow whose only son had died, and he had compassion on her. When he touched the coffin, the pallbearers stopped. “Young man, I say unto thee, Arise. And he that was dead sat up, and began to speak. And he gave him to his mother. And fear took hold on all: and they glorified God” (Luke 7:11-15).
Also early in Jesus’ ministry, Jesus and the disciples returned across the Sea of Galilee, probably to Capernaum. An honorable ruler of the local synagogue, Jairus, had only one child, a 12 year old daughter who was dying. As he came to ask Jesus’ help, others told him that his daughter had just died. “But Jesus hearing it, answered him, Fear not: only believe, and she shall be made whole [healthy]. And when he came to the house … he said, Weep not; for she is not dead, but sleepeth … he, taking her by the hand, called, saying, Maiden, arise. And her spirit [breath] returned, and she rose up immediately: and he commanded that something be given her to eat” (Luke 8:41-56).
Late in Jesus’ ministry was the raising of Lazarus, a younger brother to Martha and Mary. When Jesus heard Lazarus was ill, he delayed to arrive until Lazarus had been in the tomb four days. Martha at her finest confessed, “I know that he shall rise again in the resurrection in the last day.” Jesus then thanked God his Father, and called, “Lazarus, come forth.”
(This miracle was so widely witnessed, that the jealous chief priests sought to slay both Jesus and Lazarus.) But what could they gratefully do for Jesus, the son of God? Weeks later, when Jesus returned, Mary anointed him with a perfume worth a year’s wages for a day laborer(4) (John 12:2,5).
After Jesus was crucified, was raised by his Father, and ascended to Him, Peter and Paul each raised one from the dead. In the city of Joppa, Tabitha (whose name in Greek was Dorcas, meaning Gazelle) had made many clothes for others, including the poor, but she fell sick and died. They called for Peter, then about fifteen miles away, and he came promptly. Peter asked the others to leave the room, prayed, and said, “Tabitha, arise” (similar to Jesus’ words to Jairus’ daughter, Talitha, arise; or Maiden, arise). Then she sat up, and he “raised her up; and calling the saints and widows, he presented her alive. And it became known throughout all Joppa: and many believed on the Lord” (Acts 9:36-42).
When Paul was at Troas, the evening before his planned departure, he spoke until midnight, until a young man, Eutychus, sitting in an open third-story window, fell asleep, fell out and died. Paul stretched himself out upon the boy and he revived (5) (Acts 20:7-12).
Jesus alone was resurrected to eternal life. These other incidents of raising the dead confirm to this world that the object of Jesus and his faithful Church is ultimately the resurrection of the world in Christ’s thousand-year kingdom.
(4) Even a year’s wages, perhaps $30,000 today, would seem a pittance, compared to modern operating room and hospital charges, if such a life restoring operation could even be performed!
(5) He who has the keys of death and of Hades (Rev- elation 1:18) had given Peter the keys of the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 16:18-19) to open the heavenly calling to the Jews at Pentecost and to the Gentiles beginning with Cornelius (and perhaps to the Samaritans between times). That Paul also raised one from the dead (perhaps a Gentile lad), would seem to confirm him as the apostle who replaced Judas Iscariot.
The healing of the Centurion’s bond servant was not a resurrection, as the servant “was sick and at the point of death,” but not dead (Luke 7:2-10).
The earthquake at Jesus’ crucifixion is understood by some to be a resurrection without hands, however premature. But a literal rendering of Matthew 27:50-52 (RVIC) makes that unnecessary: “And Jesus cried again with a loud voice, and gave up his breath … and the earth did quake; and the rocks were rent; and the tombs were opened; and many bodies of the saints that had fallen asleep were awakened; and coming forth out of the tombs after his resurrection they entered into the holy city and appeared unto many.”
The only resurrection mentioned here is that of Jesus. The disciples, who had not stayed awake one hour, were hiding and asleep in the cemetery and were awakened by the earthquake. After Jesus’ resurrection and ascension they “returned to Jerusalem with great joy: and were continually in the temple blessing God” (Luke 24:52-53).
Both Old and New Testaments give us examples of resurrection that point us to the object of Jesus’ sacrifice: the resurrection of the whole world in the Kingdom of Christ. If we do not tell the world of the hope of the resurrection, who else can? Kindly and humbly, let us speak up!