Back from the Dead? Heard It Before.

The Bible, history books, and newspapers are full of resurrection stories. But something different happened at Jesus’ tomb. /

“Her skin had already started hardening, her hands and toes were curling up, they were already drawn,” Tim Thomas told the Charleston Daily Mail in 2009. "There was no life there."

Val Thomas, 59, had collapsed earlier at home. She then had three cardiac arrests within 24 hours. Tim said doctors told him his mom now had “no pulse, no blood pressure, no brain frequency.” In fact, she’d shown no brain activity for the last 17 hours.

"We just prayed and prayed and prayed,” he told the paper. "And I came to the conclusion she wasn't going to make it. I was given confirmation from God to take her off [the ventilator]. My pastor said the same thing. I felt a sense of peace that I made the right decision. I knew where my mom was going.”

Val was taken off life support. And as the nurses removed the tubes, she moved her arm. Then her foot. Then she coughed. Then she started talking. And asking for her son.

“My whole family gives God all the glory,” Tim told the local reporter. “I hope and pray that over this there will be many souls touched."

Tony Yahle doesn’t remember dying and coming back to life in August 2013. “I went to bed [and] woke up five days later in the hospital,” he told reporters. But his son remembers it.

Even after the 37-year-old mechanic’s heart stopped, doctors worked for 45 minutes to revive him. Finally, they pronounced him dead and a doctor went to inform the family.

When the doctor came into the room, Tony’s 17-year-old son, Lawrence, was praying. After doctors told him his father was dead, he slammed his fist into the wall. Then he straightened himself up, went to his father’s room, pointed at the corpse and shouted, “Dad, you're not going to die today!”

Tony’s heart restarted.

“It’s kind of funny,” he later told Decision magazine. “We’re usually very quiet people [who] sit in the back row in church. . . . [But we’re the] ones God chose to make the most noise.”

It’s actually kind of easy to believe in resurrection, at least in someone coming back to life, isn’t it? In saints’ hagiographies, raising the dead is a big deal. But it’s also pretty common. Try to find a hagiography without a resurrection. It’s awfully hard. Read a dictionary of saints and you’ll start with St. Anastasius, who was a heathen when St. Julian raised him from the dead. Anastasius “told such a mournful tale about the way to Hell as never came to man before nor after since.” He converted to Christianity, the story goes, and was martyred with Julian around A.D. 311.

A few pages later you’ll read about St. Archelides, who came to life for the span of one sentence, settling a dispute between his fellows over whether his mother could be buried next to him even though she was a woman. (She could, for the record.)

Hundreds of resurrection stories later, as you near the final pages, you’ll encounter St. Winifred, beheaded around 650 by the son of a prince for spurning him. She was reportedly raised to life by the prayers of her uncle, St. Beuno.

Want only the resurrection stories? Track down Albert J. Hebert’s extremely credulous Saints Who Raised the Dead: True Stories of 400 Resurrection Miracles, in which even the most unreliable hagiographic accounts of resurrections by Patrick, Joan of Arc, Francis of Paola, Stanislaus of Krakow, and other saints are treated authentically.

I’m skeptical of most of these stories, as I am of several of the more dramatic resurrection claims I’ve been sent while overseeing Christianity Today’s news functions. But I’m not dismissive of the phenomenon in total. It’s hard to say something never happens when my Bible says it did.

The Bible is full of stories about the dead coming back to life. Elijah prays to God to bring a boy back from the dead, and God does it. Elisha does the same thing: prays to God to bring a boy back from the dead, and God does it. Even Elisha’s bones bring someone back from the dead. Peter brings Dorcas back from the dead. Paul brings Eutychus back from the dead. Jesus brings the daughter of Jairus back from the dead. And then of course there’s Lazarus and the “many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep” that were raised at Jesus’ crucifixion (Matt. 27:52–53).

Jesus’ resurrection isn’t just one important resurrection story among several in the Bible. He’s the first of a new kind of resurrection. Which may be why everyone seems to be so confused when they meet the resurrected Christ. Remember: Jesus’ disciples had seen people come back from the dead before. They had seen Jesus raise Jairus’s daughter. They knew Lazarus personally. But Jesus coming back? That was different. His resurrection was not like the others. Examine, for example, the attention John’s gospel gives to the difference between Lazarus coming out of the tomb bound in his burial clothes and Jesus leaving the tomb with his “linen cloths lying there, and the face cloth . . . folded up in a place by itself.”

Jesus reveals the key difference outside Lazarus’s tomb. “Your brother will rise again,” he told Martha.

Martha said to him, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.”

Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; and whoever lives by believing in me will never die. Do you believe this?”

She replied, “I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, who is to come into the world” (John 11:23–27). Martha’s declaration of Jesus’ identity is dramatic. But at the same time, it seems she doesn’t believe that Jesus is going to raise her brother from the dead right then and there.

What’s important isn’t that Jesus really did raise Lazarus right then and there. It’s that Jesus suddenly changed resurrection from a what-and-when question to a who question. He changed it from a passive verb—someone was raised from the dead—to an active and personal noun. I AM the Resurrection.

We’re still waiting for the resurrection on the last day; that’s our future hope. But he is that resurrection. Right now. Acting. Saving. Redeeming. Setting things right. Remaking creation into something better than ever. In starting a new, spirit-powered creation made from the dust of this first, fallen creation—like a stalk of wheat made from a cracked kernel—Jesus’ body is where it starts. He is the firstborn of all creation, and the firstfruits of the new creation, the firstborn from the dead.

And even if, like the disciples, we’ve seen people rise from the dead, we haven’t seen anything like his resurrection, which carries all to glory.

Ted Olsen is co-editor of The Behemoth. Parts of this article earlier appeared at the Christian History blog.

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Also in this Issue

Issue 19 / April 2, 2015
  1. Editors’ Note
  2. Seeds—Small and Mighty

    They’ve done nothing less than transform the planet. /

  3. Why Jesus Used Bad Science

    When God humbled himself, his intellect was not exempt. /

  4. Good Friday

    ‘A horror of great darkness at broad noon— I, only I.’ /

  5. Wonder on the Web

    Links to amazing stuff /

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