Sam: Did you hear that Bethel Church is praying for the 2-year-old daughter of one of their worship leaders to be raised back to life? She died a few days ago and they are praying for the little girl to be resurrected. Can you believe that insanity?
Me: I can believe it. And I love it! I am so inspired by their faith and courage. I only wish I would be able to have the same boldness to take that kind of risk for the sake of the name of Jesus if I were in that situation.
Sam: What? Are you crazy? You actually believe we should be praying to raise the dead?
Me: In certain situations, yes. And, technically, what we’re talking about is resuscitation. Theologians usually reserve the word resurrection for what will happen at the end of all things when we get a resurrected and glorified body. To delineate this from when a person comes back to life after being dead, they use the word resuscitation. Lazarus was resuscitated. He was dead and was raised back to life in his earthly body, but he eventually died again (John 11). In common vernacular, resuscitation is what EMT people do through CPR before a person is dead. This is why some people prefer the term resurrection because it is a little clearer to the average church goer. But in theological terms, resuscitation is when a person has died, then they come back to life in their earthly bodies.
Sam: But that was like a one time thing right?
Me: Actually, no. Jesus resuscitated/resurrected Lazarus, the little 12 year old girl (Mark 5:40-42), and the young man during his own funeral in the town of Nain (Luke 7:11-17). He was following in the tradition of and improving upon the resuscitations/resurrections performed by the prophets Elijah (in 1 Kings 17:22) and Elisha (in 2 Kings 4:34-35 & 13:20-21).
Not only that, but the early church performed resuscitations/resurrections as well. Tabitha (also called Dorcus) was raised back to life by the power of God through Peter (Acts 9:36-42), and Eutychus was raised back to life by power of God through Paul (Acts 20:7-12).
Sam: But I thought that when a person dies, it was the sovereign will of God. Isn’t it just a person’s “time” when they die?
Me: I used to think that too. But with that thinking, the stories of resuscitation/resurrection in the New Testament make no sense. If it was the little girl’s “time” to die because of the sovereign will of God, why then did Jesus bring her back to life? This would seem to imply some conflict between Jesus’s actions and the will of God. Yet, we know Jesus only did the Father’s will.
Likewise, if it was just Tabitha’s “time,” if it was God’s sovereign will that she died, why did Peter pray that she be raised to life? Further, why did God then answer Peter’s prayer and bring her back to life? Or what about Eutychus? Was it God’s sovereign will that he fall out of a window and die while listening to a sermon from Paul? Is that what we are to believe? Clearly, Paul did not believe that or he wouldn’t have prayed for him to be raised back to life.
From these situations in the New Testament we learn that sometimes people die before their time and that Jesus has authority even over death.
Sam: So are you saying that sometimes people die before they are supposed to?
Me: Yep. Tabitha in Acts 9 died before her time. Eutychus in Acts 20 died before his time. Lazarus in John 11 died before his time. The young man in Nain died before his time. Jesus has authority over death, and He gives that authority to His disciples to be used for His glory.
On a number of occasions, I have cast out of a person a demonic spirit of death. The assignment of a spirit of death on a person is to bring all forms of death into that person’s life. And sometimes that demonic assignment tries to bring about an early death. On more than one occasion, I’ve tried to cast out a spirit of death only to have it fight hard to stay. It’s a stubborn demon and doesn’t want to let go of the person to whom it is assigned.
I believe that sometimes people die, not because it is their “time,” but because the enemy is trying to take them out early. In the end, Jesus wins anyway because, as believers, we get to spend eternity in heaven. But the enemy is actively trying to take pieces of the Kingdom of God off the chessboard because he doesn’t want God’s Kingdom to come on earth as it is in heaven. After all, Jesus told us, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy…“(John 10:10).
Sam: Wait, wait, wait! This is nuts. Are you serious? How are we supposed to know if a person died because it was their time or because of the enemy attacking them?
Me: Great question, Sam. How did Jesus know to raise some from the dead but not all? How did Peter and Paul know to pray to raise some but not all? They didn’t pray to raise everyone who died. They only did this occasionally. How did they know?
The answer is not formulaic, though we love formulas in western Christianity. Jesus was in constant communication with the Father so that He could execute the perfect will of the Father. Peter and Paul were checking in with the Holy Spirit for discernment and guidance. And so, we must do the same. The truth is, we don’t know. When a person dies, we have to ask the Lord what to do next. But in the range of options of “what to do next,” we need to have the option of praying to raise the dead.
Sam: But why?
Me: Because Jesus commanded it. When Jesus sent out His disciples, He commanded them, “As you go, proclaim this message: ‘The kingdom of heaven has come near.’ Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those who have leprosy, drive out demons. Freely you have received; freely give” (Matthew 10:7-8).
Then before ascending into heaven, Jesus told his disciples, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you“(Matthew 28:18-20). In other words, Jesus commanded them to heal the sick, raise the dead, and drive out demons. Then, before He leaves, He tells them to teach the next generations of disciples “everything I have commanded you.” This includes healing the sick, raising the dead and casting out demons.
Based on the book of Acts, that is exactly what they did. We see the early church heal the sick, raise the dead, and cast out demons. Just because the American church has such little faith that we struggle with these realities doesn’t mean we aren’t still commanded to do them.
Sam: Okay, okay. First, doesn’t praying to raise the dead disrupt the grieving process? Isn’t that unhealthy for grieving parents? Secondly, do we have any evidence that God is still raising the dead today?
Me: As to the first question, the parents will be grieving the loss of their child for the rest of their lives. Is it too much to ask to wait for a few days in an atmosphere of faith and hope, trusting Jesus with whatever the outcome might be? The Bethel people have buried plenty of people. They’ve done lots of funerals. They are not denying reality. They have faced the fact that the child is dead. They are not praying for healing. They are praying for resurrection, which means they are owning the reality that she is dead. But they are also trusting that God is a God of miracles, that Jesus has authority over death, and that biblically, in certain situations, the church has a mandate to pray for the dead to come back to life.
All of that said, it must be done lovingly and carefully. Just as praying for the sick must be done with love and care, so too must praying for resurrection. It should not be done for every death, and it should never be forced on any family. But when parents ask you to join them in prayer for their child to come back to life, that is not the time for speculations about God’s sovereignty. It’s a time to get on your knees next to the parents and believe in resurrection.
Sam: But what about my second question? Does it even still happen? Do we have any reason to believe God still does this?
Me: Yes, Sam, it is happening today all over the world. Story after story of resurrection are coming out of Iris Global’s ministry in Mozambique. And before we doubt these stories because they are coming from Africa, we need to check our xenophobia and cultural prejudices at the door. They know what death is. They have hospitals, doctors, and morgues. They also have seen people who had been dead for days sit straight up in the morgue. Heidi Baker and Supresa Sithole have seen resurrections in their ministry over and over again. David Hogan of Freedom Ministries has also seen resurrections in his ministry in Mexico. It’s not hypothetical. It’s happening in the global church today!
But if your skepticism or cultural prejudices are still getting the best of you, a notable resurrection happened here in the U.S. a few years ago in St. Charles, Missouri. They made a movie about it called Breakthrough. John, who was 14, was trapped under a lake for 15 minutes. Then paramedics and ER doctors tried unsuccessfully to resuscitate him for 43 minutes. This is medical record. Medically, there is no coming back from this. Yet, when his mom came in and prayed for him to come back to life, he did. His heart, which had not been beating for roughly an hour, suddenly started, not because of a defibrillator but because of prayer. Roughly 48 hours later, he was awake and answering questions.
Again, Jesus has authority over death, and part of our inheritance in the Kingdom is that we get to share in that authority because we are in Christ.
Sam: But why would God bring some back and not others?
Me: Sam, the answer to that question is way above my pay grade. But I am encouraged by the true testimony of Joanne Moody (watch her full testimony on YouTube here). She was dying on an operating table after years of having debilitating chronic pain, and she felt her spirit release from her body. She floated above her body and saw what was happening around her. Then Jesus entered the room. And He told her, “I have heard your cries and I know full well your pain. You can go with Me now, or you can stay, for the prayers of the saints have given you a choice.”
In other words, so many people were praying for her that God was going to give her a choice to go back into her body or to go to be with Jesus in heaven. Everything in her wanted to go be with Jesus. She wanted to be done with the chronic pain. Yet, in her heart, she remembered her son. Her love for him took over and in her heart she knew she had to go back. Jesus read her heart and responded by saying, “It is as you wish, child.” And with that, she was sent back into her body.
So I believe that, sometimes, the prayers of brothers and sisters in Christ give us a choice. I don’t know how it all works, but I believe that Joanne Moody’s testimony reveals that sometimes our prayers for resurrection give that dead person a choice as to whether they will stay with Jesus or return to their body. It is Jesus’s prerogative to give us these kinds of choices. But our prayers do matter. Our prayers do impact things in the spirit realm even when we can’t see their effect (read Daniel 10:12-14 if you struggle to believe the truth of this).
Sam: So, now are you going to pray for resurrection for everyone who dies?
Me: No. That’s not what we see in the New Testament. But I hope to be the kind of pastor who will believe that Jesus has authority even over death, and that if I am led by the Spirit to pray for someone to be raised from the dead, I will do it in obedience.
My prediction is that years from now Bethel will be seen as a church that pioneered radical faith. More and more resurrections will happen in the U.S., and people will look back in awe that Bethel was willing to believe even when most of the anemic American church was not.
Count me among those who are willing to look foolish if it means taking Jesus at His word.