How many people were raised from the dead in the Bible?The Bible records several instances of people being literally, physically raised from the dead and many more instances of people being metaphorically brought from death to life. There are three instances in the Old Testament, three cases during Jesus' ministry, and three occurrences after Jesus' death of literal, physical, bodily resurrection.
The first bodily resurrection from the dead is recorded in 1 Kings 17:17–24. The prophet Elijah was staying in the house of a widow and her son in the town of Zarephath during a drought and famine. During that time, the young man became ill and died. So Elijah cried out to the LORD. "And the LORD listened to the voice of Elijah. And the life of the child came into him again, and he revived" (1 Kings 17:22). It is clear that God Himself restored the life of the young man and it resulted in an increased faith of his mother. She declared, "Now I know that you are a man of God, and that the word of the LORD in your mouth is truth" (1 Kings 17:24).
The next resurrection occurred in Shunem with Elijah's successor, Elisha, as recorded in 2 Kings 4:18–37. The young man (whose birth had earlier been predicted by Elisha) was working out in the fields when he fell ill. By noon that day, he had died. His mother quickly sought out the prophet and begged him to come to her house to help her son. Elisha "went in and shut the door behind the two of them and prayed to the LORD" (2 Kings 4:33). The young man's life was restored and his mother continued to live out her faith by acting in accordance to God's word through the prophet Elisha (2 Kings 8:1–2).
The final bodily resurrection in the Old Testament occurred after Elisha's death. Elisha's body was buried in a graveyard. When grave diggers were handling another dead man's body, a band of Moabites invaded and attacked the area. The grave diggers threw that man's body into Elisha's grave "and as soon as the man touched the bones of Elisha, he revived and stood on his feet" (2 Kings 13:21).
The first time Jesus raised a person from the dead is recorded in Luke 7:12–17. As he approached the town of Nain, a funeral procession for a widow's only son was on its way out. "And when the Lord saw her, he had compassion on her and said to her, 'Do not weep.' Then he came up and touched the bier, and the bearers stood still. And he said, 'Young man, I say to you, arise!' And the dead man sat up and began to speak, and Jesus gave him to his mother" (Luke 7:13–15). The crowd's reaction was increased faith. "Fear seized them all, and they glorified God, saying, 'A great prophet has arisen among us!' and 'God has visited his people!'" (Luke 7:16).
The second occurrence of Jesus raising a person from the dead is when He healed the daughter of a ruler of the synagogue as recorded in Luke 8:41–56. This synagogue official, Jairus, came to Jesus and implored Him to save his twelve year old ailing daughter. On their way to Jairus's house, he was informed, "Your daughter is dead; do not trouble the Teacher any more" (Luke 8:49). Jesus encouraged Jairus, "Do not fear; only believe, and she will be well" (Luke 8:50). When they arrived at the house, Jesus took her by the hand, her spirit returned, and her parents were amazed.
The final resurrection Jesus performed during His ministry was for His friend Lazarus of Bethany as recorded in John 11:1–45. When Lazarus fell ill, Jesus was summoned to heal him, but He stayed where He was two days longer before traveling to Bethany. By that time, Lazarus had died and been laid in a tomb. Jesus requested that the stone at the tomb's entrance be removed. When Martha protested that there would be a stench, Jesus replied, "Did I not tell you that if you believed you would see the glory of God?" (John 11:40). Jesus then prayed and commanded Lazarus to come out. Lazarus exited the tomb alive, and "Many of the Jews therefore, who had come with Mary and had seen what [Jesus] did, believed in him" (John 11:45).
When Jesus' ministry was complete, He uttered "It is finished" and gave up His spirit, dying on the cross (John 19:30). He was buried, but "he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures" (1 Corinthians 15:4). "God raised him up, loosing the pangs of death, because it was not possible for him to be held by it" (Acts 2:24). Jesus was bodily resurrected from the dead and appeared in this resurrected form to many believers including "to more than five hundred brothers at one time" (1 Corinthians 15:6). God's raising of Jesus affirms our faith. Paul argued, "if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins" (1 Corinthians 15:17). But Jesus was resurrected, and we can trust "God raised the Lord and will also raise us up by his power" (1 Corinthians 6:14). This resurrection power was displayed with the first instance of bodily resurrection after Jesus' death.
In Matthew 27:52–53, it is recorded: "The tombs also were opened. And many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised, and coming out of the tombs after his resurrection they went into the holy city and appeared to many." People who had trusted in God and in Jesus were raised from the dead to bear witness in Jerusalem to the fact that Jesus was the Messiah. "When the centurion and those who were with him, keeping watch over Jesus, saw the earthquake and what took place, they were filled with awe and said, 'Truly this was the Son of God!'" (Matthew 27:54). These resurrections served to increase the faith of these onlookers in such a way that they would fear God and trust in Jesus.
The second resurrection after Jesus' ministry happened in Joppa and is recorded in Acts 9:36–43. A believer named Dorcas, also called Tabitha, became ill and died. Because she had performed many acts of charity and helped many widows, the community summoned Peter and mourned greatly. "But Peter put them all outside, and knelt down and prayed; and turning to the body he said, 'Tabitha, arise.' And she opened her eyes, and when she saw Peter she sat up" (Acts 9:40). "It became known throughout all Joppa, and many believed in the Lord" (Acts 9:42). Faith throughout Joppa increased because of this miracle as God received the glory.
The third and final resurrection in the New Testament occurred in Troas and is recorded in Acts 20:9–12. Paul was preaching late into the night in a crowded upper room when a young man named Eutychus "being overcome by sleep, he fell down from the third story and was taken up dead" (Acts 20:9). Paul went down, bent over him, and took him up in his arms. "And they took the youth away alive, and were not a little comforted" (Acts 20:12). Eutychus's life was restored and his presence became a great comfort to the believers in Troas as Paul departed for the other destinations of his ministry.
The Old Testament has two recorded bodily resurrections with the involvement of two prophets, Elijah and Elisha, and one God seems to have done without a human mediator, though using Elisha's bones. The New Testament has two resurrections with the involvement of two apostles, Peter and Paul, and one God did Himself with the saints. These instances surround three resurrections Jesus performed during His ministry followed by God raising Jesus from the dead. But truly the Bible is filled with myriad examples of people being brought from death to life.
Examples include: Adam and Eve being exiled to death from the garden but promised life in future offspring (Genesis 3:15, 20); Noah and his family being shut in the ark and passing through the waters of death to receive God's blessing (Genesis 9:1); Abraham and Sarah having no children at an advanced age so close to death, but going on to birth Isaac (Hebrews 11:12); Isaac nearly being sacrificed on Mount Moriah, but being substituted out for a ram (Hebrews 11:17–19); Jacob being reunited with his son Joseph after thinking he had died years earlier (Genesis 46:29–30); Moses fleeing Egypt after killing an Egyptian and facing the death penalty only to return alive to free his people (Exodus 4:19); the Israelites being trapped between the Red Sea and Pharaoh's advancing army believing they would die, only to pass across safely on dry ground (Exodus 14:11–12, 30–31); David pursued by his murderous enemies later becoming a victorious king (Psalm 18:5); Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego thrown into a fiery furnace that took the lives of the guards, coming out unscathed (Daniel 3:27); Daniel cast into the lion's den only to exit unharmed (Daniel 6:22); Jonah thrown into deathly waters, swallowed into a tomb-like stomach, only to be returned to dry ground alive on the third day (Jonah 2:7, 10). Time and again, people were as good as dead, but God intervened and brought new life.
This metaphorical transition from death to life happens with every Christian. Paul explained to the Colossians that in Christ, you "having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith in the powerful working of God, who raised him from the dead. And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands" (Colossians 2:12–14). Every person stands condemned to death (Romans 6:23; John 3:18), but through faith in Jesus Christ, new life is bestowed (Ephesians 2:4–5).
While spiritual resurrection is a reality now, the Bible also promises a future physical resurrection as well. Paul wrote to the Thessalonian church, "for the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first" (1 Thessalonians 4:16). He also wrote to the Corinthians "in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed" (1 Corinthians 15:52). Thus physical bodily resurrection is a future reality for all who have died to themselves and been made alive to living for God through His indwelling Holy Spirit (Romans 8:11).
The recorded bodily resurrections in the Bible are proof of God's future plan to raise all believers from the dead, and also act as physical representations of the spiritual reality of God's work in the hearts of those who belong to Him (John 5:24; Romans 6:4, 13).
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