Bodily Resurrections in the Old Testament
A closer look at the ministries of Elijah, Elisha, and Jesus
There are three stories in the Old Testament in which people rise bodily from the dead. To be clear, these bodies are not raised to a glorified and immortal state, but these individuals nevertheless return to earthly life.
These three stories occur in the ministries of Elijah and Elisha. The relevant passages are 1 Kings 17, 2 Kings 4, and 2 Kings 13. Let’s think about each one.
First, in 1 Kings 17, Elijah raised a widow’s son. Elijah “stretched himself upon the child three times and cried to the LORD, ‘O LORD my God, let this child’s life come into him again’” (1 Kings 17:21). The child’s life returned (17:22). Then Elijah brought the child down to the mother and delivered him to her (17:23).
Second, in 2 Kings 4, Elisha raised the son of a Shunammite woman. Elisha, like Elijah, stretched himself upon the child (2 Kings 4:34). The child’s life returned (4:34–35).
Third, in 2 Kings 13, Elisha’s bones resulted in the resurrection of a body. Elisha himself had died, but when a dead body landed on the area where Elisha had been buried, the thrown body “revived and stood on his feet” (2 Kings 13:21).
These three stories (in 1 Kings 17, 2 Kings 4, and 2 Kings 13) are the only Old Testament accounts of the dead coming back to life. One resurrection is associated with Elijah and two with Elisha.
How many resurrection accounts do the Gospels associate with Jesus before the cross? Not one, not two, but three.
First, in Mark 5, Jesus raised a young girl. He went to her home, took her by the hand, and said, “Little girl, I say to you, arise,” and the girl sat up (Mark 5:41).
Second, in Luke 7, Jesus raised a widow’s son. The funeral was in procession when Jesus approached the bier (where the boy’s body lay) and said, “Young man, I say to you, arise” (Luke 7:14). The boy sat up, began to speak, and Jesus gave him to the mother (7:15).
Third, in John 11, Jesus raised Lazarus. After Lazarus had been dead multiple days, Jesus arrived and wept (John 11:35). He went to Lazarus’s tomb and cried out, “Lazarus, come out” (11:44). And Lazarus did as he was told.
In these three Gospel accounts, we notice that Jesus raised a young girl, a young boy, and an adult man. He performed more resurrections than Elijah and more resurrections than Elisha. And because these Old Testament prophets were the only ones reported to bring the dead back to life, their accounts are worth comparing to the Gospel accounts of Jesus’s dead-raising deeds.
Did you notice that in the ministry of Elijah and in the ministry of Jesus, there are accounts of a widow’s son being brought back to life? These stories are in 1 Kings 17 and Luke 7. And upon closer inspection, there are at least seven points of connection between them.
There is the death of a mother’s son (1 Kings 17:17; Luke 7:12).
The mother is a widow (1 Kings 17:17; Luke 7:12).
The miracle-worker makes contact with the son’s body (1 Kings 17:21; Luke 7:14).
The miracle-worker calls for life to return to the son’s body (1 Kings 17:21; Luke 7:14).
The son’s life returns (1 Kings 17:22; Luke 7:15).
The miracle-worker gives the child to the mother (1 Kings 17:23; Luke 7:15).
A declaration is made about the miracle-worker’s authority (1 Kings 17:24; Luke 7:16).
When we read the accounts of Jesus raising people from the dead, we are meant to think about the ministries of Elijah and Elisha who also raised the dead. In particular, the account of Luke 7 recalls (through at least seven correspondences) the story in 1 Kings 17. As we look at these Old and New Testament accounts, we see that Jesus’s ministry was greater than that of Elijah and Elisha.
Neither Elijah nor Elisha claimed to be the source of such power and life. They were prophets whom the Lord used in miraculous ways. What makes Jesus’s ministry different is a claim like John 11:25: “I am the resurrection and the life.” Never spoke a man like this before.