Can We Raise the Dead Like Jesus Did? by Stephen Tan for The Gospel Coalition
In John’s Gospel, Jesus performs a series of signs to show that he is Israel’s long-awaited Messiah. In John 11, he performs the climactic sign, raising to life his friend Lazarus, who had been dead and buried four days. In the context of this miraculous sign, Jesus proclaims: “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me, even if he dies, will live. Everyone who lives and believes in me will never die” (v. 25).
What about Christians today, though? Can we raise the dead like Jesus and certain apostles did? Some Pentecostals would say yes. That Peter and Paul did it indicates this miracle isn’t restricted to Jesus alone. Cessationists, on the other hand, would say no: Peter and Paul were apostles, and the ability to raise the dead ceased after the apostolic era.
This subject has become increasingly popular in recent years thanks to the worldwide influence of Bill Johnson and Bethel Church in Redding, California. As Johnson writes in his Manifesto for a Normal Christian Life:
People often come to me and ask me to pray for them, that they would discover God’s will for their life. I already know God’s will for their life—heal the sick, raise the dead, cast out devils, cleanse lepers.
But does Jesus really expect believers to raise the dead as part of “normal Christian life”?
Two Unhelpful Responses
There are two unhelpful responses to this question, from my perspective as someone who believes God still works miracles through his people. The first is a cynical cessationism. Some cessationists deny any possibility of someone being miraculously raised in response to fervent and faithful prayer.
In his two-volume Miracles: The Credibility of the New Testament Accounts, Craig Keener meticulously records accounts of resurrection in response to prayer throughout church history and today. He provides accounts from Irenaeus, Augustine, Benedict, Francis Xavier, and John Wesley, as well as numerous contemporary accounts from Africa, Asia, Latin America, and occasionally the West. He also recounts a personal resurrection (his wife’s sister) and many examples from physicians who could medically verify the person was dead before raising them to life by prayer. Keener uses the language of “resuscitation” to refer to those who rise from the dead but will eventually die at the end of their life.