Can Death Be Defeated?
DID you ever consider the impact that Jesus Christ made on human history? The very calendar that most persons in the Western world use is based on the year he was thought to have been born. As The World Book Encyclopedia observes: “Dates before that year are listed as B.C., or before Christ. Dates after that year are listed as A.D., or anno Domini (in the year of our Lord).”
Why is Jesus so famous? For one thing, because of the wonderful miracles he performed in the district of Galilee. This region lay in the northern part of what is the present-day Republic of Israel. Concerning this district the first-century Jewish historian Flavius Josephus wrote: The “soil is universally rich and fruitful, and full of the plantations of trees of all sorts . . . Moreover, the cities lie here very thick.” In fact, he claimed, “there are two hundred and forty cities and villages in Galilee.”a
It was among these many cities and villages that Jesus Christ preached and performed his astounding miracles. Although the Bible record mentions only a few of these cities by name, Jesus got around to many of them, for the inspired account says of his preaching in that area: “Jesus set out on a tour of all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues and preaching the good news of the kingdom and curing every sort of disease and every sort of infirmity.”—Matt. 9:35.
Many of the Galileans to whom Jesus preached knew him, for he had been raised right in their midst—in the little village of Nazareth, which lay in the hills some 18 milesb southwest of the Sea of Galilee.
JESUS’ VISIT TO NAIN
It was in 31 C.E., during the second year of Jesus’ ministry, that the widow’s son died in the city of Nain. This city was only about five or six miles southeast of Nazareth, the village where Jesus had taken up residence. At the time of the young man’s death, Jesus was preaching around the north shore of the Sea of Galilee, where he had just given his famous Sermon on the Mount.
The Bible says that Jesus, on finishing this sermon, “entered into Capernaum.” While there in that seacoast city, he healed the slave of an army officer. “Closely following this [or, as some ancient manuscripts say, “On the following day”] he traveled to a city called Nain, and his disciples and a great crowd were traveling with him.”—Luke 7:1-11, New World Translation, 1971 edition, footnote.
This trip southwest from Capernaum to Nain was about 20 miles, a good day’s journey even for people used to traveling on foot. Jesus and his band crossed the valley and approached the entrance of this city. Then, the account tells us, “as he got near the gate of the city, why, look! there was a dead man being carried out, the only-begotten son of his mother. Besides, she was a widow. A considerable crowd from the city was also with her. And when the Lord caught sight of her, he was moved with pity for her.”—Luke 7:12, 13.
Regarding this encounter, Arthur P. Stanley, who visited this location during the last century, wrote in his book Sinai and Palestine: “On the northern slope . . . is the ruined village of Nain. . . . One entrance alone it could have had, that which opens on the rough hill side in its downward slope to the plain. It must have been in this steep descent, as, according to Eastern custom, they ‘carried out the dead man,’ that ‘nigh to the gate’ of the village the bier was stopped. . . . It is a spot which has no peculiarity of feature to fix it on the memory; but, in the authenticity of its claims, and the narrow compass within which we have to look for the touching incident, it may rank amongst the most interesting points of the scenery of the Gospel narrative.”
Another 19th-century visitor to this place, J. W. McGarvey, wrote in his book Lands of the Bible: “Nain is perched on a bench, with a steep slope of about 60 feet descending to the plain just north of it. The road from the north approaches it by a narrow valley at its western end, and beyond this are some rock-cut sepulchres . . . As Jesus approached the gate of the town, coming from the direction of Capernaum, where he was the previous day, the procession bearing the son of the widow was going out toward this burying-place, and thus they happened to meet.”
AN AMAZING MIRACLE
On meeting the mourning crowd and the grief-stricken woman, Jesus was moved with pity for her. His heart was touched by her extreme sadness. So with tenderness, and yet with a firmness that imparted confidence, he said to her: “Stop weeping.” His manner and action arrested the crowd’s attention, so that when ‘he approached and touched the bier, the bearers stood still.’ All must have wondered what Jesus was going to do.
It is true that more than a year earlier, in the village of Cana, some miles to the north, Jesus had turned water into wine at a wedding feast. And it is also true, as some of the mourners might have heard reported, that Jesus had miraculously healed persons of diseases in other cities and villages not far away. But as far as the inspired Bible record indicates, never had Jesus raised anyone from the dead. Could he do such a thing?
Addressing the corpse, Jesus commanded: “Young man, I say to you, Get up!” And marvel of marvels! “The dead man sat up and started to speak, and he gave him to his mother.”
What a remarkable thing! Imagine how that woman must have felt. How would you feel? What does a person say under such circumstances? ‘Thank you for resurrecting my son’? Words would seem so inadequate to express gratitude for such an act. A miracle indeed!
“Now fear seized them all, and they began to glorify God, saying: ‘A great prophet has been raised up among us,’ and, ‘God has turned his attention to his people.’ And this news concerning him spread out into all Judea and all the surrounding country.” Obviously Jesus was a great prophet from God.—Luke 7:13-17.
THE PROMISED MIRACLE WORKER?
Fifteen centuries earlier, the prophet Moses had performed amazing miracles by God’s power, even parting the Red Sea to allow the entire Israelite nation to pass through dry-shod. But a greater miracle-working prophet was prophesied to come. Said Moses under inspiration of God: “A prophet from your own midst, from your brothers, like me, is what Jehovah your God will raise up for you—to him you people should listen.” (Deut. 18:15) Therefore, in the first century the question was: ‘Is this Jesus of Nazareth the prophet of God that was foretold to come?’
John the Baptizer believed that Jesus was this One. He had seen God’s spirit descend upon Jesus after he baptized him in the Jordan River nearly two years before. (John 1:32-34) Now John was in jail, having been imprisoned by Herod Antipas about a year before this for exposing that one’s adulterous relationship with his brother’s wife.
So it was there in prison that “John’s disciples reported to him about all these things,” especially about the raising of the widow’s son. On hearing this report, “John summoned a certain two of his disciples and sent them to the Lord to say: ‘Are you the Coming One or are we to expect a different one?’”—Luke 7:18, 19; Matt. 11:2, 3.
It is not that John doubted that Jesus was the promised prophet. But after hearing this remarkable report about the widow’s son being restored to life, he wanted a verbal statement directly from Jesus as to his Messianic identity. John had wondered if there was to be another one coming, a successor, as it were, who would complete the fulfillment of all the things that were foretold to be accomplished by God’s Messiah.
So when the two disciples of John reached Jesus and made John’s request to him, the account says: “In that hour [Jesus] cured many of sicknesses and grievous diseases and wicked spirits, and granted many blind persons the favor of seeing. Hence in answer he said to the two: ‘Go your way, report to John what you saw and heard: the blind are receiving sight, the lame are walking, the lepers are being cleansed and the deaf are hearing, the dead are being raised up, the poor are being told the good news. And happy is he who has not stumbled over me.’”—Luke 7:20-23.
Certainly this report was encouraging to John. It was confirmative proof that Jesus was indeed performing the remarkable works that would distinguish the prophet foretold by Moses. Never before had there been such a demonstration of miraculous powers by a man! So John, despite his being left in prison, had the assurance that Jesus was the one and only prophet who fulfilled what Moses had foretold.
There is no question about it. Even death can really be defeated, as in the case of the dead son of the widow of Nain!
a Wars of the Jews, Book 3, chapter 3, paragraph 2; Life of Flavius Josephus, paragraph 45.
b One mile = 1.6 kilometers.