The Defeat of Death

Christ’s power over death is proven by His glorious resurrection. His power over death was the ground upon which faith and confidence in Jesus are established, both then and now. On three distinct occasions preceding His resurrection (possibly more–Lk. 7:22) His power over death is displayed and the defeat of death presaged. Let us briefly look at each instance in order to establish a foundation for the reality of the resurrection of Christ.

John 11 details the marvelous story of Lazarus, the brother of Mary and Martha, and a beloved friend of the Lord. While away from Bethany, immersed in His work, Jesus receives word that Lazarus is sick. The illness contracted by Lazarus was serious, so much so, his family sent word to Jesus to hasten to help, even though it was a two-day journey for Jesus to Bethany. In speaking of this sickness Jesus said, “This sickness is not unto death, but for the glory of God, that the Son of God might be glorified thereby” (v. 4). This appears to be an enigmatic statement. Lazarus was so seriously ill his family felt Jesus must be informed and His help sought, yet Jesus says it “is not unto death.”  Anyone who is seriously ill understands the solemn reality of death. However, in this instance, this illness, although it takes the life of Lazarus, was not for the purpose of death, but rather for “the glory of God, that the Son of God might be glorified thereby” Jesus knew beforehand the ultimate outcome of this grave scenario.

Jesus informs the disciples that Lazarus is sleeping. Thinking of bodily rest, they misinterpret The Lord’s words. It does the body well to rest and they were content for Lazarus to receive his portion. So Jesus is forced to be blunt with the disciples: He tells them “Lazarus is dead.” (v.14). Still wrapped in their carnal thinking they missed the true intentions of their Lord. Jesus tells them, “Our friend Lazarus sleepeth; but I go, that I may awake him out of sleep” (v. 11). Even after the plain remark declaring Lazarus’ death they did not understand what Jesus was about to do.

One point, which is often overlooked, should capture our attention. When one analyzes the timing of the events a noteworthy lesson can be gained. A little analysis shows that about the time word reaches Jesus, Lazarus dies. After Jesus receives the news, “he abode two days still in the same place where he was.” (v. 6). It was also a two day journey back to Bethany. For we read in verse 17, “he found that he had lain in the grave four days already.” When Jesus tells them to remove the stone Maratha was concerned for, “by this time he stinketh: for he hath been dead four days.” (v. 39). Historically, there was a rabbinical tradition about the dead. D. A. Carson records, “…there are sources attesting the rabbinic belief that the soul hovers over the body of the deceased person for the first three days, ‘intending to re-enter it, but as soon as it sees its appearance change’, i.e. that decomposition has set in, it departs. At that point death is irreversible.” Regardless the truthfulness of this view, the fact that some believed such an idea, elevates the raising of Lazarus to a unique level of wonder.

Martha’s reaction also underscores the reality of Lazarus’ death. Probably due to her deep grief, Martha misunderstood Jesus’ remark when He said, “Thy brother shall rise again” (v. 23). Martha thought he was referring to the general resurrection: “Martha said to Him, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day” (v. 24). Then, Jesus tells them to remove the stone, and Martha became concerned that the public would see and smell the decomposing body of her brother. Pointing out the importance of recognizing the death of Lazarus, Daniel King notes,

John places emphasis upon the certainty and actuality of the death of Lazarus. He was not only dead, but he had been in the tomb for four days. His body had already begun to deteriorate, and so if the sepulcher was opened the odor would be obvious at once. As the sister of the deceased, she did not want his memory to be desecrated by this invasion of his privacy. The circumstances of this miracle made it impossible to attack on the basis of the type of evidence present at his death.

Jesus, calling to remembrance His earlier statement, puts the event in focus,

“Jesus saith unto her, “Said I not unto thee, that, if thou wouldest believe, thou shouldest see the glory of God?’ Then they took away the stone from the place where the dead was laid. And Jesus lifted up his eyes, and said, ‘Father, I thank thee that thou hast heard me. And I knew that thou hearest me always: but because of the people which stand by I said it, that they may believe that thou hast sent me.’ And when he thus had spoken, he cried with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come forth.” And he that was dead came forth, bound hand and foot with graveclothes: and his face was bound about with a napkin. Jesus saith unto them, ‘Loose him, and let him go’” (vv. 40-44).

Through the power of His spoken word, in a loud voice, Jesus says, “come forth”. With that cry, Lazarus, who has been dead for four days, comes back to life.

Jarius Daughter
The story of Jarius’ daughter is found in Matthew 9:18-26, Mark 5:21-43 and Luke 8:40-56. Jarius was a ruler of the synagogue, probably the synagogue in Capernaum. This was a prestigious position and indicates Jairus was an important man in the community. As pointed out by Heibert, he would have been “responsible for the arrangement for the various parts of the synagogue worship service.”

Jarius sought out Jesus and “besought him greatly.” The term besought is defined by Thayer as, “to beg, entreat, beseech.” It was the condition of his daughter than led to him seek Jesus and beg for His help. For his daughter, “lieth at the point of death.” (v. 23). A father’s love for his little daughter compelled him to exhaust all options in finding help. He willingly left his daughter’s side, even as she hovered at the point of death, to seek out Jesus. Jesus agrees to go, however something happens along the way—Jesus is touched. He stops His progress toward Jairus’ house and asks who touched Him. The delay must have been frustrating for Jarius, for time was of the essence, and his little girl needed of the healing hand of the Master.

The delay proved to be everything Jairus had feared it would be, for someone comes from Jarius’ house declaring, “Thy daughter is dead: why troublest thou the Master any further?” (v. 35). Hope died with the damsel and there is no need to trouble Jesus any further. In regards to saving the girl, Carl Johnson writes, “The messengers who have come from Jarius’ house have evidently given up all hope of saving the girl and have concluded that any further disturbance of Jesus is futile. This statement is also evidence that the power to raise the dead has not yet been attributed to Jesus. There has been only one instance of Jesus’ raising the dead prior to this time, and it has not been in the Capernaum district (Lk 7:11 ff).”

Mark chapters 4 and 5 are powerfully unique. The display of power by Jesus recorded in these chapters will forever be etched on the minds of His disciples. If they doubted who Jesus was or did not have a proper understanding of Him, they would fully comprehend who He is by the time these events are completed. In 4:35-41, Jesus displays His power over nature by calming the storm; 5:1-20 displays His power over the demonic realm by casting out Legion (many demons); now Jesus is showing His power over life, health and death. He healed the woman with an issue of blood (5:25-34), but most significantly He is going to the home of Jarius to raise his daughter back to life.

Jesus found a chaotic scene upon arriving: weeping and wailing and shedding of tears for the loss of a young girl. Jesus has everyone put out—only the parents with Peter, James and John are allowed to go in where the body lies. Jesus says, “Talitha cumi; which is, being interpreted, Damsel, I say unto thee, arise.”  (v. 41). Heibert states, “The impact, both for the girl and the witnesses, was immediate. For the Lord of life, there was no struggle to overcome death such as the prophets of old experienced.” Upon the power of His spoken word the young girl immediately gets up. Jesus proves He is Master and Lord over life by raising this damsel from the dead.

Widows Son at Nain
Making His way to the city of Nain, Jesus is confronted with a funeral procession. Friends and family are bearing the body of a young man to the tombs. This was the only child of a certain woman, and to complicate matters she was a widow. Life for a widowed woman with no family would have been extremely difficult during this time. Thus, when Jesus saw her, “he had compassion on her, and said unto her, ‘Weep not’ ” (v. 13). Jesus characteristically had empathy and pity for this woman. Upon comforting this woman Jesus “…came and touched the bier: and they that bare him stood still. And he said, ‘Young man, I say unto thee, Arise’ “ (v. 14). Upon the powerful words of Jesus this man “that was dead sat up, and began to speak. And he delivered him to his mother” (v. 15). Once again, Jesus speaks with authority and the dead respond to His command. As this boy sets up he begins to speak, thus no doubt exists that he is alive again! It is the sheer power of Jesus on display over death itself!

The stories of Lazarus, Jarius’ daughter. and the widow’s son at Nain, show the power of Jesus Christ over death. Jesus does not just claim to have power over death: He proves He does with a mighty demonstrations, restoring three individuals to life. In all three cases, Jesus was moved with sympathy toward those who lost love ones. However, in the process, Jesus accomplishes something else—they could “see the glory of God” (Jn. 11:40). More importantly, Jesus lays a foundation, one which, because of His display of power over death, provides confidence in His own resurrection. When the angel proclaimed, “Why seek ye the living among the dead? He is not here, but is risen: remember how he spake unto you when he was yet in Galilee” (Lk 24:5-6), there was no reason to doubt the authority of Jesus to conquer death.


Article by: Brad Shockley