Abraham Kuyper, in his masterful Work of the Holy Spirit, made a fascinating observation about the power that Jesus had over the dead in the three resurrection accounts listed in the Gospels. He wrote:
There is, in the miracles of Christ, in raising the dead, a perceptible increase of power: first, the raising up of one just dead (the daughter of Jairus), then, of one about to be buried (the son of the widow of Nain), and lastly, of one already decomposing (Lazarus)1
Jairus’ daughter (Lk. 8:41-56) died when Jesus was going to her. The widow’s son (Lk. 7:11-17) was being carried out in funeral procession; and Lazarus (Jn. 11) was dead for four days. No amount of time was an obstacle to the Savior’s power.
Even more astonishing than the fact that Jesus’ power is not limited by how long someone had been dead is the fact that His power is not limited by His own death. In John 10:17-18 our Lord declared, “Therefore My Father loves Me, because I lay down My life that I may take it again. No one takes it from Me, but I lay it down of Myself. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again. This command I have received from My Father. Jesus tells us plainly that He raised Himself from the dead. The Scriptures also teach that the Father and the Spirit (Rom. 8:11; 1 Peter 3:18) raised Jesus from the dead, but the point is that Jesus, as the Son of God, is one with the Father and Spirit. Having all power, Jesus conquered the grave by His own death and resurrection. As insurmountable an obstacle death is to men, it is no match for Jesus. He entered into hand to hand combat with death in His own death, and came out victorious in His own resurrection. This insures that He will raise up all those who are united to Him by faith on the last day.
The apostle Paul, in Ephesians 1:19-20 prayed that believers would–in the here and now–know “the exceeding greatness of His power toward us who believe, according to the working of His mighty power which He worked in Christ when He raised Him from the dead and seated Him at His right hand.” The power of God is presently at work in believers. It is that power by which the sinner has been brought from death to life spiritually, and by which we are being strengthened in our inner man every day. This has massive implications for our Christian walk. When we feel defeated by sin, we must remember that we have the resurrection power of Jesus at our disposal. We must plead with God for a manifestation of that power in our putting sin to death. The power of sin was broken at the cross, and it is continually being defeated by the Spirit’s power.
The Scriptures highlighted how long the three people that Jesus raised from the dead had been dead so that we might see that He had absolute power over death. Then Jesus conquered death by His own death, and raised Himself from the dead (John 10:17-18). In all these ways, He was teaching us to know that He alone has absolute power over death–and, that the same power is at work in us by faith in Him.
1. Abraham Kuyper The Work of the Holy Spirit (New York and London: Funk and Wagnalls, 1900) p. 134