Victory Over Death

11 Soon afterward he went to a town called Nain, and his disciples and a great crowd went with him. 12 As he drew near to the gate of the town, behold, a man who had died was being carried out, the only son of his mother, and she was a widow, and a considerable crowd from the town was with her. 13 And when the Lord saw her, he had compassion on her and said to her, “Do not weep.” 14 Then he came up and touched the bier, and the bearers stood still. And he said, “Young man, I say to you, arise.” 15 And the dead man sat up and began to speak, and Jesus gave him to his mother. 16 Fear seized them all, and they glorified God, saying, “A great prophet has arisen among us!” and “God has visited his people!” 17 And this report about him spread through the whole of Judea and all the surrounding country. Luke 7:11-17 ESV

After healing the centurion’s servant in Capernaum, Jesus made His way to the town of Nain on the northern slope of Mount Morah. Nain was located across the Jezreel Valley, just six miles from Nazareth where Jesus was raised. As Jesus and His disciples arrived at the gate of the town they encountered a funeral procession. Many of the townspeople were accompanying the grieving mother as she prepared to bury her only son. Because she was a widow, her son’s death had left her on her own with no one to help provide for her physical and financial needs. Her prospects of surviving as a widow were grim and that’s one of the reasons God warned the people of Israel to protect and provide for widows and orphans.

“You must not exploit a widow or an orphan. If you exploit them in any way and they cry out to me, then I will certainly hear their cry. My anger will blaze against you, and I will kill you with the sword. Then your wives will be widows and your children fatherless. – Exodus 22:22-24 NLT

As the Son of God, Jesus shared His Father’s love and concern for the weak, defenseless, poor, and helpless.

The Lord protects the foreigners among us.
    He cares for the orphans and widows. – Psalm 146:9 NLT

The sight of the grieving mother stirred the heart of Jesus. It seems that He knew exactly what was going on and, moved with compassion, He spoke to the woman.

“Do not weep.” – Luke 7:13 ESV

There is no reason to believe that this grieving woman knew who Jesus was. She was distraught and overcome with sorrow at the death of her son, and a complete stranger suddenly addressed her and told her not to cry. But before she could question this unknown man’s identity or sanity, He stunned the crowd by reaching out and touching the pallet on which the body of the woman’s son was being carried. This unexpected action on the part of Jesus shocked the men who were carrying the pallet, causing them to stop dead in their tracks. What Jesus had just done was totally unacceptable behavior. According to the Mosaic Law, by touching the funeral bier, Jesus had just rendered Himself ceremonially unclean for a period of seven days. He had willingly and publicly violated the law of God. But Luke provides a subtle but significant insight into what was going on. In verse 13, he describes Jesus as “the Lord.” This is the first time in Luke’s gospel that he refers to Jesus with that title but he will use it often from this point forward.

The Greek word Luke used was kyrios, and it refers to a master or someone in authority. It was a title of reverence that was used by the Jews to refer to God Almighty. But Luke was applying it to Jesus. And years later, Peter would pick up that same term when addressing the Jews who had gathered to hear him speak after the miraculous events surrounding the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost.

“Let all the house of Israel therefore know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified.” – Acts 2:36 ESV

Luke is subtly revealing that the one who addressed the woman and touched the funeral bier was none other than the Lord, the God of Israel. Jesus was the God-man, “the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation” (Colossians 1:15 ESV). As the apostle John put it: “No one has ever seen God, but the one and only Son, who is Himself God and is at the Father’s side, has made Him known” (John 1:18 BSB).

Jesus was God incarnate, God in human flesh. And when He reached out and touched the dead man’s funeral bier, He was expressing the compassion of God and demonstrating His authority as the Son of God. As the stunned crowd looked on in silence, Jesus spoke.

“Young man, I say to you, arise.” – Luke 7:14 ESV

The location of this event is significant and far from coincidental. Luke provides us with no explanation as to why Jesus decided to leave Capernaum and travel to Nain. But it’s important to recognize that, just south of Nain, on the opposite side of Mount Moreh, was the town of Shunem. Centuries earlier, in that small and insignificant town, a similar death-to-life miracle had taken place. The prophet Elisha had been summoned by another mother whose child had suddenly become ill. But by the time he arrived in Shunem, the boy was dead.

When Elisha arrived at the house, there was the child lying dead on his bed. He went in by himself and closed the door. Then he prayed to the Lord. He got up on the bed and spread his body out over the boy; he put his mouth on the boy’s mouth, his eyes over the boy’s eyes, and the palms of his hands against the boy’s palms. As he bent down across him, the boy’s skin grew warm. Elisha went back and walked around in the house. Then he got up on the bed again and bent down over him. The child sneezed seven times and opened his eyes. Elisha called to Gehazi and said, “Get the Shunammite woman.” So he did so and she came to him. He said to her, “Take your son.” She came in, fell at his feet, and bowed down. Then she picked up her son and left. – 2 Kings 4:32-37 NLT

It’s unclear whether anyone in Nain made the connection between Jesus’ healing of the widow’s son and Elisha’s healing of the Shunnamite woman’s son. But it seems clear that Luke understood the significance and similarity of these two miraculous events. Jesus, as the Son of God, displayed far greater power than the prophet of God. As Luke will reveal, Jesus simply spoke and the young man was immediately restored to life.

And the dead man sat up and began to speak, and Jesus gave him to his mother. – Luke 7:15 ESV

Elisha’s miracle was no less amazing, but it was not immediate and required that he call upon “the Lord” (2 Kings 4:33 ESV). Jesus was the Lord. He spoke and the dead man came to life because, according to the apostle John, He is the author of all life.

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men. – John 1:1-4 ESV

With his raising of the widow’s Son, Jesus demonstrated His power over death and His authority to bestow life on whoever He so chooses. It’s interesting to note that, nearly three years later, when Jesus was preparing to raise Lazarus from the dead, Jesus told the dead man’s sister, “I am the resurrection and the life. Anyone who believes in me will live, even after dying. Everyone who lives in me and believes in me will never ever die” (John 11:25-26 NLT). Then He asked her, “Do you believe this, Martha?” (Luke 11:26 NLT).

With His raising of the widow’s son, Jesus was letting His newly chosen disciples know that He was far more than what they had been expecting. He was the Messiah, but He had come to conquer sin and death, not the Romans. He had come to deliver humanity from the inescapable and inevitable death sentence placed upon it for their rebellion against a holy God. The apostle Paul would later tell his young disciple, Timothy:

He has broken the power of death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel! – 2 Timothy 1:10 NLT

And Jesus would later tell His disciples, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one can come to the Father except through me” (John 14:6 NLT). He is the source of eternal life and He proved it by miraculously restoring a dead man to life with nothing but a word from His lips. And Luke records that “Fear seized them all, and they glorified God” (Luke 7:16 ESV). They were blown away by what they had witnessed and immediately assumed that Jesus was a prophet of God. They had been privileged to see the power of God exhibited through a man of God. But little did they know that they were actually in the presence of God Himself. When they declared, “God has visited his people!” (Luke 7:16 ESV), they were saying far more than they realized. They were testifying to the validity of John’s statement regarding Jesus and His incarnation.

…the Word became human and made his home among us. He was full of unfailing love and faithfulness. And we have seen his glory, the glory of the Father’s one and only Son. – John 1:14 NLT

And the news of this amazing miracle spread like wildfire. Jesus’ reputation grew exponentially and with it, the anger and resentment of the Jewish religious leaders. News of this latest inexplicable episode would reach their ears and their hatred for Jesus would explode. And they would not be satisfied until the one who raised the dead to life was dead Himself.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson