The Dead are Raised!

It’s Kampala, Uganda, 2003. A short-term missions’ team from Cheltenham Elim find themselves attending a Muslim funeral. A man had died that very morning. The young, female evangelist seizes the opportunity to share the word of God to a crowd of hundreds. Later that day, much of this same crowd arrive again for a Gospel meeting. Many respond to the message of Jesus. It’s revival! The team are left praying with those at the front long into the darkened night. Everyone is excited, ecstatic, amazed! All except the local Pastor. “I’m disappointed,” he confides honestly to the stunned preacher the following day. “Why did you not raise the man from the dead?”

Clearly, this Ugandan Pastor lived in a different ‘world’ to that of his English visitors. Attending one of his leadership meetings earlier that week, the team heard him actively discouraging local Ministers from bringing back people from the dead “if they’re too old…” It’s probably quite a while since you heard that in your housegroup. So what does the Bible have to say about resurrection – miraculously raising corpses from the dead – and to what degree should it be a regular feature of the seeker-friendly Sunday morning All Age Family Service?

Reflecting on the history of God’s people, the writer to the Hebrews says, “Women received their dead raised to life again. Others were tortured, not accepting deliverance, that they might obtain a better resurrection” (Hebrews 11:35). The women referenced here are probably the two Old Testament grieving mothers who called upon the prophet’s help. Elijah lay upon the body of the widow’s son at Zarephath three times and prayed for his life to return (1 Kings 17:17-24), while Elisha saw the resurrection of the Shunammite woman’s son (2 Kings 4:18-37). Resurrection became something of Elisha’s legacy, especially when a dead body touched his own decaying bones and was raised back to life (2 Kings 13:20-21).

This most miraculous of signs continued, of course, through Jesus Christ. Resurrection and life was on His agenda. Christ woke up the dead daughter of the Synagogue ruler (Matthew 9:18-26); raised the widow’s son at Nain (Luke 7:11-17); and somewhat rewrote the Order of Service at Lazarus’ funeral (John 11:1-44). Shortly after modelling this, Jesus commissioned the Twelve to do the same. “As you go, proclaim the Kingdom is near. is message: ‘The kingdom of heaven has come near.’ Heal the sick, raise the dead…” (Matthew 10:7-8). And they did. The Gospels record that they were “healing people everywhere” (Luke 9:6). Over the crucifixion weekend, not only did Jesus arise but there was a mysterious resurrection of “many holy people” (Matthew 27:52-53). The first Easter, it seems, was a great time to be deceased.

While raising the dead is not specifically included among the ‘Great Commission’ miracles of Mark 16:15-20, it is clear that the early church continued to do so. The promise of Christ: “You shall do greater things!” was in their hearts and hands. Remembering the model of Jesus, Peter brings Tabitha back from the dead (Acts 9:36-42); recalling Elijah, Paul wraps himself around the body of Eutychus (Acts 20:7-12); the poor man had died from the affects of an especially long sermon. Many wonder if Paul himself experienced revival from death during an assault at Lystra (Acts 14:19-20; 2 Corinthians 12:2-4).

After the canon of Scripture closed, church history continued to record accounts, albeit unsubstantiated, of men and women who returned to life after prayer. Augustine, North Africa, is reported to have witnessed two resurrections within four days; a man and his sister, in 242 AD. Those who have documented the life of Smith Wigglesworth believe he raised no less than fourteen people from the dead. Called to a house where a five-year old boy lay in a coffin, Wigglesworth reportedly stood the dead boy up in the corner and commanded death to release him, which it promptly did. He famously raised his own wife Polly from the dead too. He recalled, “God gave her back to me. Her breath came again into her… She said, ‘Smith – the Lord wants me.’” He kissed her and said, “Goodbye for the present” and she was gone.

These kinds of testimonies were common during the Pentecostal revival. In an early edition of ‘Confidence Magazine’ (June 1908), the editor notes: “Miss Sisson told of healings in China. How prayer was made… for a dead man some distance away in another village. The breath at once began to return to his body… his resurrection was the means of the conversion of others.” These flame carriers rightly understood that this miracle could be used to convince and convert the sceptical. In the Congo, a grieving man brought the corpse of his fiancé, dead four days, to the small and stuffy worship hall of Brother Alexander. He called upon those present to worship the Lord, and twenty minutes later the woman had revived and joined the congregation in the praise of God. It’s recorded that everyone fled for their lives! Of this incident, Reinhard Bonnke noted, “Missionaries with all their training and sophistication had failed to achieve in a hundred years what was now being accomplished by an indigenous man who believed that Jesus still performed miracles!”

Perhaps the most prolific of the contemporary resurrections are those where the deceased is able to recall something of their journey on the other side of death. That’s the amazing thing about Tabitha, or Lazarus, or the young man from Nain. They keep very silent. Lazarus could have done the conference circuit but he keeps mum. We should probably be suspicious when a preacher goes to heaven too much, especially if he needs a book deal. Paul said that his heavenly visit was unspeakable (2 Corinthians 12:4). The man who has seen eternity will not be the same.

How true this is of Ian McCormack, often called ‘The Jellyfish Man.’ Stung a number of times by a deadly box jellyfish off the island of Mauritius, Ian believes he began to die in the back of an ambulance. Confronted by a vision of his Christian mother praying for him, he is challenged by the Lord to seek forgiveness and to forgive others. The testimony includes jaw-dropping details of heaven and hell, but its emphasis is always on Ian’s personal meeting with Almighty God. It is not possible to tire of hearing the story, immersed with Scriptural truths and he is, quite simply, a man who has returned from the Presence of the Glory and left a footprint there.

Equally well known is the story of Nigerian Pastor Daniel Ekechukwu, from November 2001. Killed in a car crash, with a death certificate as souvenir, Daniel was miraculously revived in one of Reinhard Bonnke’s meetings. It is claimed he had been dead for twenty-eight hours. This testimony also features Daniel’s afterlife story: glimpses of angels, streets of gold, heavenly dwellings and visions of hell. Not all have appreciated the Arminian perspective of the vision – the angel challenges Daniel about a recent marital argument, threatening a place in hell for this preacher – but few can deny its ability to inspire faith and to grip all those who have seen the story on DVD. It would seem that this kind of miracle continues to occur through the Bonnke ministry. Daniel Kolenda, an associate evangelist, testified recently that he had witnessed a three-year-old boy raised from the dead.

So with Christ in the resurrection business, and encouraging His followers to do the same, we return to our earlier question. Do we have carte blanche authority today to enter graveyards and mortuaries and order the dead back to this world? Experientially, it would seem not. How then can we know if we should pray along these lines? Perhaps the Bible gives us one or two hints. First of all, it is interesting that many, though not all, of those brought back from the dead are young. This might be a helpful piece of criteria when considering whether or not to give raising the dead ‘a bit of a go.’ There are social concern considerations too. Christ often healed to enable people to go back to work and in Bible times, widows needed the financial help of their sons. Another common factor is the stubborn, God-inspired faith of the living not to let go of the dead. In her book, Jean Darnell tells of how she lost her mother at the age of fifteen. She refused to accept it and writes that, after fervent prayer, her mother returned. Pastor Yonggi Cho also claims he witnessed the resurrection of his son, Samuel. After many hours of prayer, Cho commanded his son to return, which he did, recounting stories of being carried by Christ back into his lifeless body.

In “Come Holy Spirit,” David Pytches offers some brief advice to Anglican clergy on raising the dead by collating the occasions in Scripture where it occurred. He writes,

1. Pray. You may need a word from the Lord to proceed.
2. Remove ‘unbelief’ or ‘excessive emotion.’ Repentance may also be necessary.
3. Give the word of command and act in faith.
4. Expect the miracle to lead others to Jesus.

Of course, all of these resurrections, ancient and modern, are in fact temporary. Jairus’ daughter may well have lived a full and happy life, gone to college and excelled, but she died later. Eutychus died again too, tasting only briefly the “powers of the coming age” (Hebrews 6:5). One day, Christian newspapers will carry the obituary of ‘Jellyfish Man’ and he won’t return again. Only one man, Jesus, was raised to life and lives forever, at least for now. Like many of the wonders bestowed by the Holy Spirit today, they are just a foretaste of that which is to come. Paul described the ultimate resurrection body of the believer as eternal, incorruptible, and glorious (1 Corinthians 15:42-44). The writer to the Hebrews knew this too, even daring to call it the “better resurrection” (Hebrews 11:35). It must be okay for people to die in Christ and stay that way. Our glorious hope goes beyond the grave.

Late last year, I was invited to visit the home of a senior aged lady who was very ill. Her prognosis was terminal and she had asked for someone to pray with her for a miracle. At her bedside I asked her if she wanted to be healed or wanted to ‘go home’ to heaven. Thinking of her recently departed husband, her eyes lit up as she made her request. How wonderful it would be to go to heaven! We committed her to God’s care and she was blessed. She never asked for healing again, and died a few weeks’ later. At the funeral, the Baptist Pastor commented that he had never seen anyone so peaceful in the last weeks of life. Not so sensational, of course, but it seems there is such a thing as a “better resurrection.” Now, in the inexpressible presence of Christ and of her loved ones, I’m not sure she’s aching to get back to Essex. What do you think?

Originally published in RE Magazine, April 2011

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