The human brain is incredibly complex. Like a super-computer, it controls
all the functions of the body. Certainly, when other parts of the body, such as the
heart, do not function as they should the brain is also affected. Should the heart
stop altogether the brain begins to die, and the process can produce strange
effects, which can be remembered when the heart is restarted by resuscitation.
Recently there has been a lot of interest in what people remember of the times when their heart stopped and they have almost died. An investigation is planned to try and discover more. Will this help us understand what happens when we die? Sadly, the money will be wasted. For those whose hearts have stopped have not died. Not yet.
For a person to die their brain must also cease to function. When that happens it is impossible to restart the heart. The Bible records nine distinct accounts of men and women who died but were subsequently raised from the dead. A careful examination of the Bible accounts tells us all we need to know about what death is like. It is very instructive to look at the records.
Elijah the Prophet
The first record of anyone being raised from death is during the work of Elijah the prophet. During a famine in Israel, Elijah was staying with a widow in Zarephath a village then in the north of Israel, in what is now known as Lebanon.
When the son of the widow died, she felt it was in some way connected with Elijah’s visit. The dead son’s body was taken to his own room, and whilst praying to Yahweh God, Elijah stretched himself over the body of the boy. We are then told that God heard Elijah’s prayer and the boy revived. There follows the touching account of Elijah taking the boy to his mother. The record tells us:
“Then the woman said to Elijah, ‘Now by this I know that you are a man of God, and that the word of Yahweh in your mouth is truth’ ” (1 Kings 17:24)
There is no record of what the boy himself said. If the Bible is a true account of these miraculous happenings, as indeed it is, we can be sure that nothing of consequence was said by the first person ever to be raised from death. Evidently, there was nothing worth recording for future generations.
Elisha the Prophet
The next record of resurrection in the Bible is a similar account in the time of Elisha, the prophet who succeeded Elijah. It is found in chapter 4 of the Second Book of Kings. Elisha had stayed with a woman and her husband in Shunem. Later, whilst their son was out in the fields with his father he apparently caught sunstroke and died. At the time, Elisha was over 20 miles away at Mount Carmel, a long journey for the distressed mother. But she made it with determination.
The boy had been an unexpected arrival to older parents, bringing an added happiness to their home, and now he was gone. So, his mother travelled to find the prophet. At first Elisha sent his servant back to Shunem with detailed instructions of what was to be done when he arrived. Presumably the servant was younger and would travel faster; but that was to no avail.
It was not until Elisha himself arrived and virtually repeated the prayerful process used by Elijah that the boy came back to life. The joy must have been immense, but no words of the boy or his mother are recorded, only Elisha’s rather terse command to “Pick up your son”, and the fact that the lad sneezed seven times (2 Kings 4:35,36).
The third account of resurrection followed Elisha’s death. His grave was close at hand when the mourners spotted a marauding band of raiders from Moab, and hurriedly bundled another corpse into Elisha’s grave, upon which the dead man “revived and stood on his feet” (2 Kings 13:21).
This time we know nothing more of the man, not his name nor where he lived; and there is certainly no record of anything at all that he said. Once again, the Bible is telling us that he had nothing important to say, or it would have been recorded.
Jesus Raises the Dead
There are three accounts of resurrections performed by the Lord Jesus. Two are recorded by the gospel writer Luke, who presumably was the one referred to as the “beloved physician”. We might expect him to have a particular interest in the way the Lord Jesus could achieve what doctors could not. And he is known as a very careful observer of detail, which he accurately records.
- The first account concerns the raising of a widow’s son in a little village called Nain. Read the account with particular care and you will note that the funeral party were taking the body to be buried when the Lord Jesus intervened. Luke tells us that the young man sat up and began to speak, but he does not tell us anything that he said (Luke 7:15). Clearly there was nothing that Luke, who carefully traced these events and was guided by the Holy Spirit, felt worth recording.
- A little later the Lord Jesus raised the daughter of Jairus, a ruler of the local synagogue. Jairus had a difficult task finding the Lord Jesus and getting back through the crowds to his home. When he did so his daughter, gravely ill when he left, had died. Moments later the Lord Jesus raised her but, again, nothing is recorded of what the young girl said. The only record is the command by Jesus that she should be given something to eat.
- John’s account of the raising of Jesus’ friend Lazarus, there is a lengthy record of several conversations which took place before they went to Lazarus’ grave.
Lazarus had been buried four days previously (see John chapter 11). At Jesus’ insistence they took away the stone which had closed the tomb and John is careful to record the prayer which the Lord Jesus prayed to his Heavenly Father, followed by the simple command, “Lazarus, come forth.” Lazarus emerged from the tomb but, apart from the Lord’s brief instruction to remove the grave clothes, nothing else is recorded. Even though Lazarus features in the narrative on a later occasion, still nothing is said of his post-death ‘experiences’.
The same is true later when the apostle Peter is instrumental in raising Tabitha – sometimes called Dorcas – nor when the apostle Paul raised a young man called Eutychus. Neither, it would seem, had anything to say.
It would seem that dead men, and women – those who really are dead – tell no tales, even when they are raised to life again. Scripture is totally silent on what it is like to be dead. It all goes to confirm what the Bible says elsewhere, that:
“in death there is no remembrance of You; In the grave who will give You thanks?” (Psalm 6:5).
They said nothing because they had no recollection of the period when they had ceased to exist.
Yet One More
That is not quite all. Of the nine who are specifically identified in the Bible as having been raised from death, we have so far looked only at eight.
The ninth is the Lord Jesus himself, and he was the only one who had anything to say after his resurrection. In fact, he had very much to say, which is clearly recorded for us. He was raised from the dead on the third day after his crucifixion, so he was dead for three days.
Significantly he has nothing to say about those three days; he, too, is silent about the time in the grave. Instead his focus and concentration is entirely on what now lay ahead for him and his disciples. For example:
When he had said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord. Then Jesus said to them again, “Peace to you! As the Father has sent me, I also send you” (John 20:20-21).
Not surprisingly, the disciples were glad because their Lord was alive, and they now focused their whole attention on what he wanted them to do. It was not a time for looking back, but for looking forward, to what would need to be done when the Lord Jesus was directing operations from heaven. From that exalted position, the Lord Jesus conveyed a revelation to his followers in all ages, which included this declaration:
“Do not be afraid; I am the First and the Last. I am he who lives, and was dead, and behold, I am alive forevermore. Amen. And I have the keys of Hades and of Death” (Revelation 1:17,18).
The Bible is quite clear all the way through. Death is just that, total oblivion. The hope of the believer in the Lord Jesus is to be raised from the dead, when He returns.