Death obeys Jesus (Luke 7:11-17)

Funerals today were not that different from funerals in the ancient world. The essential elements are the same. There is a dead body that is being carried to a grave. The life of a loved one has ended, and there is no bringing them back. Everyone understands the rules. You can weep and you can wail, or you can suffer silently as you grieve the death of this person who was so recently alive and full of life and who is now cold and silent as a stone, but there is nothing that you can do to remove death from the scene. Death has again stolen from you another of life’s traveling companions. That is just the way it is at funerals. Well, at most funerals. Unless Jesus happens to be passing by.

In the seventh chapter of the gospel of Luke we read of a funeral procession coming out of the city of Nain. It is like every other funeral, because there is a corpse and there is a crowd of mourners walking beside the corpse. In the funerals of two thousand years ago, the coffin was carried by a group of bearers, much as pallbearers carry coffins today, and so the coffin of a young man was being carried out of the city. The dead man was the only begotten son of his mother and she was a widow (Luke 7:12), and so this funeral is marked by an extra degree of sadness, as this widow is now alone in the world. Other than this greater sadness, this is a very ordinary funeral.

Meanwhile, Jesus and His disciples have just arrived in Nain, accompanied by a large crowd, and the Lord approaches the funeral procession. “He felt compassion for her (the widow), and said to her, ‘Do not weep (7:13).’” The Son of God is not stoic or emotionless or distant from those who suffer, but He feels their pain. Jesus knows the damage that sin has done to the world and He feels compassion for human misery and sadness. As any caring Rabbi would do, He comforts those who mourn. So, He said, “Do not weep.”

But Jesus is no ordinary Rabbi whose comfort is limited to compassion.

And He came up and touched the coffin, and the bearers came to a halt. And He said, “Young man, I say to you, arise!” – Luke 7:14

The crowd had been hushed as Jesus had approached the coffin, wondering what He was going to do. Then Jesus had spoken to the dead man as if he were someone who could respond. The crowd was confused, and His disciples were probably embarrassed. “Jesus, the young man is dead. Imagine the pain You are inflicting on his mother.”

“Young man, I say to you, ARISE!”

The corpse sat up and began to speak. – Luke 7:15

At Jesus’ command, he who was dead came back to life. “And Jesus gave him back to his mother.” Jesus’ compassion for the woman was demonstrated in a miraculous act.

REFLECTIONS ON THE STORY

The miracle Jesus performed is so spectacular that it is hard to put into words. How can we get our mind around this event? Imagine being there and witnessing this in person. A dead man who is the subject of the funeral procession is raised to life and begins once again to speak to his mother. It would almost be terrifying to see this. “Fear gripped them all, and they began glorifying God, saying, ‘God has visited His people (Luke 7:16)!’” What can we learn from this event?

First, Jesus displays His deity by speaking the corpse back into life. We see that, when Jesus raises the dead to physical life, it is to demonstrate that He is God in human flesh. This miracle was done for the same reason all His miracles were done, to demonstrate that He is the divine Son of God.

Second, we see from this miracle that death is subject to the Lord Jesus Christ, and because death is subject to Him, when Jesus commands, death must obey. Here, Jesus commanded the dead man to arise, but that meant that He also commanded death to release its grip on the man. At His command, Jesus has authority to remove physical death. Jesus is Lord over death, which means that He is Lord over my death, and He is Lord over your death. Death cannot act except at Jesus’ command. Therefore, Jesus is the one who will determine when death comes to me.

Finally, in this instance with the corpse in Nain we have a foretaste of what will happen on the last day at the end of the age, when instead of a funeral procession it will be a glorious Resurrection. On that day, “all who are in the tombs will hear His voice (the voice of the Son of Man) and will come forth (John 5:28-29).” Instead of rising to die again, all disciples of Jesus will rise to a resurrection of life (John 5:29). This body of our humble state will be transformed into the body of the glorious Lord Jesus (Philippians 3:20-21) and we will rise to meet the Lord in the air (1 Thessalonians 4:17). On that day, Jesus will speak, and we will all rise.

“My people, I say to you, ARISE!”

SDG                 rmb                 5/25/2021

Lessons on the Resurrection from John 5:28-29

This post is an excerpt from my upcoming book, The Last Act of the Drama: A guide to the end-times, which I plan to self-publish in July. rmb

We will consider the larger context of John 5:26-29:

25 Truly, truly, I say to you, an hour is coming and now is, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live. 26 For just as the Father has life in Himself, even so He gave to the Son also to have life in Himself; 27 and He gave Him authority to execute judgment, because He is the Son of Man. 28 Do not marvel at this; for an hour is coming, in which all who are in the tombs will hear His voice29 and will come forth; those who did the good deeds to a resurrection of life, those who committed the evil deeds to a resurrection of judgment.

            OVERVIEW OF THE PASSAGE: These verses give us a condensed picture of both of Christ’s advents. John 5:25-26 are about Christ’s first advent and 5:28-29 are about His coming in glory. Also, in a sense, this entire passage is about resurrection. John 5:25-26 is about spiritual resurrection. It is about passing from spiritual death to spiritual life, as in John 5:24. These two verses are about being spiritually “born again (John 3:3, 5).” In 5:25-26, Jesus speaks figuratively of time (“an hour is coming, and now is”), life, and death. “Spiritual resurrection” will occur not only during Jesus’ earthly ministry, but it will explode and reach to all the Gentiles with the commissioning of the church (Matthew 28:19-20). “Spiritual resurrection,” which is eternal life, is the whole purpose of the gospel of John (see John 20:31).

THE PHYSICAL RESURRECTION

But Jesus also teaches about a physical resurrection in John 5:28-29. Here, our Lord speaks literally about time (“an hour is coming”), life, and death. In John 5:28, “an hour is coming” is to be understood literally. There is coming a moment in time on the last day (John 6:39, 40, 44, 54; 11:24; etc.) when the Son of Man will utter His voice and all the tombs will be emptied. Then the physical resurrection will occur and all those who are physically dead will come forth, “those who did the good deeds to a resurrection of life, and those who committed the evil deeds to a resurrection of judgment (5:29).” This teaching is consistent with the rest of the New Testament. The righteous will be raised to glory, and the unrighteous will be judged and condemned.

From Jesus’ teaching about the Resurrection on the last day in John 5:28-29, there are several truths that we can see:

  1. In terms of who is resurrected, Jesus makes no distinction between people on any basis. There is nothing conditional about this event. ALL who are in the tombs will hear and will come forth. The good, the bad, and the ugly. If you are “in the tomb” (meaning “if you have physically died”) when Jesus utters His voice on the last day, you qualify. You will “hear His voice and come forth.”
  2. The passage (John 5:28-29) makes clear that the Resurrection is a single, sudden event that occurs on the last day. When Jesus utters His voice, all the dead will immediately arise. In John 11:43-44, Jesus called Lazarus out of the tomb. “Lazarus, come forth,” and the man who had died came forth immediately. Just so, at the Resurrection, Jesus will utter His voice and all those who are in the tombs will immediately come forth.
  3. While Jesus makes no distinction in who will be resurrected (“ALL who are in the tombs will come forth”) in this single event, He does make a radical distinction in the destination of those who are resurrected based on their works while they were alive, either to a resurrection of life or to a resurrection of judgment. The righteous will be raised to glory, and the unrighteous will be judged and condemned.
  4. NOTE: In John 5:28-29, Jesus does not teach about those who are physically alive when the Son of Man calls with His voice, but only about those who are physically dead when He returns. Teaching about “we who are alive and remain (1 Thessalonians 4:17)” is covered in numerous other New Testament passages (upcoming article “The Resurrection of the living” will be another excerpt from the upcoming book).

SDG                 rmb                 5/3/2021