It came up in a question at NWA last week after one of my talks. And it’s important. Because it marks the fundamental difference between what happened to Lazarus and what happened to Jesus. Lazarus was rescusitated, only to die again; Jesus was raised, never to die again. To illustrate, here is the relevant bit from Cross-Examined. Hope it’s helpful.
It is not enough for Jesus simply to have returned to life. If I ran out on to the main road near my home and was knocked down by the Number 60 bus, I hope I would be missed. If I came back to life a few days later, people would no doubt be astounded and also, I hope, pleased! But that would not make me divine. God may well have been involved, and there would be all kinds of explanatory theories, but few (if any) people would spontaneously think I was God incarnate!
Why was it any different with Jesus? The clue comes from the events preceding our respective resurrections. Suppose that before my accident, I had made speciﬁc claims about my identity and future. If I had predicted that I would rise again, everything would then be very different. My resurrection would suddenly take on supreme importance: it would vindicate any other claims that I had made, however preposterous they might ﬁrst have appeared. That is precisely what happened with Jesus. On a number of occasions he speciﬁcally predicted that his death would be followed by a return to life. See, for instance, Mark 8:31; 9:32; 10:33 – 34. When it actually came true all his other claims about himself were thoroughly vindicated. Everything he was seeking to achieve through his death would be endorsed. His mission would truly be seen to be ‘ﬁnished’ when he beat death at its own game by rising back to life.
Human death had never been part of God’s original design for people made in his image. Jesus’ resurrection changed everything. Death has at last been overcome; it no longer has the last word, and life is no longer as meaningless as it sometimes feels. Jesus has been the trailblazer, breaking a way through the ultimate barrier for all time. To grasp precisely what that means, we must distinguish resurrection from resuscitation. It is possible for someone to be at death’s door, and even be deemed dead according to certain medical criteria, but then breathe again. That is resuscitation, because death will still come again. It is as if the person has entered the tunnel of death only to re-emerge through its entrance (Figure A).
The time will inevitably come, however, when they will re-enter it, as death is still the ‘dead end’ that it always was (Figure B). That was true for all the people whom Jesus raised from physical death during his lifetime, including Lazarus in John 11 and Jairus’s daughter in Mark 5. Jesus’ resurrection was fundamentally different: he broke through the tunnel, never to die again. By emerging from the other end he achieved what no-one before or since has ever achieved (Figure C).
Jesus’ resurrection overcame the final consequence of sin, therefore. Paul ties this to the Christian believer in startling ways. He states that those who put their trust in Jesus are united to him. Where he goes, they go. It is as if we are pulled through the tunnel of death by our trailblazer, Jesus. This unity with him is in fact so close that Paul can even talk about us being ‘in Christ’. Our ‘participation’ in him is what gives us our unshakeable confidence: we know that death will not be the end. (Cross-Examined, IVP, 2005, ch9)
Christ is risen!
He is Risen indeed!
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How long was Lazarus “dead”?
Good question, Rubten. According to the only account we have of Lazarus’ resuscitation – to use Mark’s word – he was dead for four days by the time Jesus arrived (John 11:17).
I wonder if you’ve happened upon another explanation of Jesus’ two-day delay in coming to Bethany (v. 6). Commentators have often pointed to the contemporary Jewish belief that a dead man’s soul would remain in the body’s vicinity for three days, and that perhaps Jesus deliberately arrived on the fourth day to dispel the notion that Lazarus’ soul had just re-entered his body spontaneously. But I wonder had it had been just a few hours or even a day or two, if more people would have wondered as you seem to do – and forgive me if I’m reading too much into your quotation marks around the word “dead” – whether Lazarus had died at all.
Happy Easter, all.
I have given much thought to this. I will be writing up a new post shortly, probably this weekend about my thoughts on the Lazarus story vs that of the Christ story. I will say, however, I am not a believer and this stinks of mysticism, but I like to explore ideas and especially the idea (as you point out about the soul hanging around for a few days) that it begs for closer review.
Thanks very much for your comments and interest. keep investigating and keep questioning.
So I thought about it. Seems that in order for jesus to be taken seriously he need to overcome the popular belief that the “soul hovers” for three days as you point out. I have done some research and have found that every commentary or scholarship points to this “soul hovering” issue. Seems that jesus waited until the 4th day to perform the miracle. Two things stick out in my mind. If we ONLY had the book of mark to rely on it would seem that the catalyst for the death of christ was raising lazarus from the dead. This is not at all in line with the idea that jesus pissed off the merchants at the temple. Also, the fact that jesus “waited” to walk at most 2 kilometers to wait for lazarus to be dead means he understood the hovering soul idea. Why didn’t this apply to jesus himself? He rose on the 3rd day. Wouldn’t his “soul” still be lingering? Resurection does not seem to be that big a deal back then. I mean, lazarus and the girl…not to mention the resurection of those in matthews account after jesus expired.