For those who were disciples or even just followers of Jesus the hope for an occasional restoration to life was always possible. We find this expectation voiced in the Gospels. Hear the words of Lazarus’ sister: Martha said to Jesus, "Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.”(John 11:21) In this remark the concern is about the current, this temporal life.
Death was still on the horizon.
Image by NoName_13
By Steve Hall
Throughout the Old Testament God makes lots of promises. We hear several divine promises today in the words of Ezekiel. But there were many other promises in the Old Testament: promises to Adam and Eve, to Abraham, to Moses, to King David, to the nation of Israel. Promises sort of float around in a nether world until they are fulfilled. We presume to understand them, to interpret them, to apply them and to recognize their fulfillment. Oh! I thought that was what you meant. We are hopeful about them and skeptical about them. We both believe and doubt in the same thought. And thus it is that we come to the promise of resurrection. Whose? Well, there are a few choices in Scripture. In the first book of Kings we read an account of the Prophet Eli’jah.
And Eli'jah took the child . . . and delivered him to his mother; and Elijah said, "See, your son lives."
(1 Kings 17:23)
The Gospels offer three such incidents.
As he drew near to the gate of the city, behold, a man who had died was being carried out, the only son of his mother, and she was a widow. And he [Jesus] came and touched the bier. And he said, "Young man, I say to you, arise."(Luke 7:13-14)
And when Jesus came to the ruler's house, and saw the flute players, and the crowd making a tumult, he said, "Depart; for the girl is not dead but sleeping." He went in and took her by the hand, and the girl arose. (Matthew 9:23-25)
Then, of course we have Lazarus. He was not like the little girl who was still lying in her own bed. Nor was he like the young man being carried to his tomb. Lazarus was certifiably dead; he had been sealed in the tomb for four days. In each case — the little girl, the young man, Lazarus — the dead returned to life. A wondrous miracle. We rightly marvel at what Jesus has done. But each one returned to the life they knew before — the little girl to her family, the young man to his mother, Lazarus to his friendship with Jesus — and there was a caution to be observed in their return to life. They would still die. Whatever they now possessed would one day depart. Death was in abeyance but it was not gone. Eternity was still beyond reach.
What does it take?
For those who were disciples or even just followers of Jesus the hope for an occasional restoration to life was always possible. We find this expectation voiced in the Gospels. Hear the words of Lazarus’ sister: Martha said to Jesus, "Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.”(John 11:21) In this remark the concern is about the current, this temporal life. Death was still on the horizon.
For those not present at these incidents from Jesus’ life many thoughts were possible. Is he a magician. What sort of subtle deception is this? People have been wrong before, haven’t they? Is this true or just a rumor? Those who were witnesses to any one of these incidents might also have been confused just like the Apostles when Jesus calmed the storm on the Sea of Galilee: What manner of man is this? What’s going on here?
The chief priests, the scribes and the elders who mocked Jesus on the cross — “He saved others; he cannot save himself. He is the King of Israel; let him come down now from the cross, and we will believe in him.” (Matthew 27:42) — were thinking as others who only heard: with Jesus gone these so-called miracles will stop. Their attitude is astounding, following as it did the resurrection of Lazarus; yet it exemplifies Jesus own words from the story of the rich man and Lazarus: “He said to him, 'If they do not hear Moses and the prophets, neither will they be convinced if some one should rise from the dead.'" (Luke 16:31)
The whole of these resurrection/resuscitation incidents are not inimical to the person we know as Jesus in the Gospels. Rather, they are compatible with all other reported wonders. Still, if they stood alone they would leave as thinking as Martha: "Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” We need something more because these life-giving incidents are just that — life-giving. They demonstrate that in Jesus there was and is the power to give life. But it is death that haunts us and, as noted before, death eventually came for all three of these that Jesus raised.
Jesus was taunted, ridiculed while on the cross. “He saved others; he cannot save himself.” But they did not understand. His suffering was not enough. It was not suffering that needed to be overcome, but death. The last enemy to be destroyed is death. (1 Corinthians 15:26) And so, to destroy death he became Obedient unto death, even death on a cross. (Philippians 2:8) Because of this the world is different. But even more important, we are different. The extension or prolonging of this temporal life is no longer a matter of supreme importance.
All of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death?
We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.
For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his.
We know that our former man was crucified with him so that the sinful body might be destroyed, and we might no longer be enslaved to sin.
For he who has died is freed from sin.
But if we have died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with him.