The Jewish Promise of Resurrection

In a Phoenician town called Zarephath, the prophet Elijah was in the home of a widow whose son fell sick and died. Elijah fervently prayed, “O Lᴏʀᴅ my God, I pray, let this child’s soul come back to him” (1 Ki. 17:21). God answered, and the boy returned from the dead.

His grateful mother declared, “Now by this I know that you are a man of God, and that the word of the Lᴏʀᴅ in your mouth is the truth” (v. 24).

At this time of year when we celebrate Jesus’ resurrection from the dead, we sometimes tend to forget that the promise of bodily resurrection is Jewish and that the Jewish Bible records several instances of how God demonstrated His great power to raise the dead.

In a village called Shunem, the son of a prominent woman died. She sought the prophet Elisha’s help. He came and zealously prayed to the Lord, who brought the child back to life. The mother fell at Elisha’s feet and “bowed to the ground; then she picked up her son and went out” (2 Ki. 4:37).

The Hebrew Scriptures even record a somewhat unintentional resurrection. When the bearers of a corpse saw a gang of Moabites, they hastily threw the body into Elisha’s tomb. When the corpse touched the prophet’s bones, “he revived and stood on his feet” (13:21). The event encouraged the king of Israel in his upcoming war against Syria.

The great prophet Isaiah declared,

Your dead shall live; together with my dead body they shall arise. Awake and sing, you who dwell in dust; for your dew is like the dew of herbs, and the earth shall cast out the dead (Isa. 26:19).

And an ancient Jewish prayer reads like this:

Thou, Lord, art mighty to all eternity, Thou raisest the dead, Thou art mighty to save. In kindness He satisfieth the living, in great pity He raiseth the dead; He upholdeth those that fall; He healeth the sick, and setteth free them that are bound; He will manifest his faithfulness to those who sleep in the dust. Who is like the Lord of might, and who is like Thee, Thou King, Who killest and makest alive, and causest salvation to spring forth? Faithful art Thou to restore life to the dead; blessed be the Lord Who restorest life to the dead.1

The Jewish Talmud views the “revival of the dead” as the prerogative of God alone (Talmud Taanith 2a, on Ezek. 37:13). Consequently, when Jesus raised a widow’s son (Lk. 7:11–15), the daughter of Jairus (8:41–42, 49–55), and Lazarus (Jn. 11:1–44), He demonstrated His deity.

He demonstrated it again when He arose from the dead, as He had promised: “But after I have been raised, I will go before you to Galilee” (Mt. 26:32; Mk. 14:28).

Atheists may sneer and skeptics may doubt. But the Jewish promise of resurrection is one of the greatest that God has given to humanity because it guarantees eternal life to all who believe Jesus’ words: “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me, though he may die, he shall live” (Jn 11:25). And “because I live, you will live also” (14:19).

ENDNOTE
  1. Alfred Edersheim, History of the Jewish Nation After the Destruction of Jerusalem Under Titus (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1979), 340.

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