White Horse Inn Modern Reformation

Yesterday, I Was Dead

Published Friday, April 2, 2021 By Andrew J. Miller

“Yesterday I was dead, and today, I live.” Only a select few can say this, Jesus Christ being eminent among them. In fact, Jesus went one step further, declaring in Revelation 1:18: “I died, and behold I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of Death and Hades.”

Only a few others in history could look back at the calendar and speak of days they were dead. For example, we may imagine the scene of 2 Kings 13 and relish the truth that God has a habit of crashing funerals.

Death Interrupted: 2 Kings 13

It was a spring day like any other—the landscape slightly less brown, tufts of green peeking up from place to place—when the funeral paused. Tears were shed, words were said, and the graveside service was interrupted by whispers, pointing, people gesturing to one another, then full-fledged panic. Those same Moabite raiders were back again to take Israel’s resources. Everyone’s life was at risk. The funeral had to be abandoned as the people fled to safety. 2 Kings 13:21 reports that they threw the body into the grave of Elisha, the late prophet of the LORD who in many ways had exceeded even the greatness of Elijah. Then something amazing happened. The text tells us:

So Elisha died, and they buried him. Now bands of Moabites used to invade the land in the spring of the year. And as a man was being buried, behold, a marauding band was seen and the man was thrown into the grave of Elisha, and as soon as the man touched the bones of Elisha, he revived and stood on his feet. 

The surprise of the marauding Moabite band was abruptly and shockingly surpassed by the sudden resurrection of the dead man whose body touched the bones of Elisha. Just imagine it—one minute you are holding a funeral, and the next, you are speaking with the man who had died!

Elisha himself, a man continually on his knees asking for God to work, would have surely been the first to say that the surpassing power belonged not to him, but to the God who raises the dead (2 Cor. 4:7). God raised this man from the dead at his funeral through even the most tenuous union with Elisha. So why did he do it?

The next verses of 2 Kings 13 tell us that the people endured foreign oppression, “But the LORD was gracious to them and had compassion on them, and he turned toward them, because of his covenant with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and would not destroy them, nor has he cast them from his presence until now” (13:23). Soon, the earthly hopes of Israel would die, and God would “throw” them out of the Promised Land, just as the man was “thrown” into the grave of Elisha. They would be “cast out” of the land, exiled, but even there, the LORD could bring life. It was a lesson reinforced later by the prophet Ezekiel when God’s Spirit resurrected a valley of dry bones, a representation of the people.

The lesson, in other words, was not that we should reverence religious relics, but trust in the God of resurrection. As the people went into the darkest of times, even the tremendous grief described in the book of Lamentations, the godly remnant would have a “living hope” that no one could take away from them (1 Pet. 1:3). They would know that God gives life even amid death. There is no pit so deep and dark that God cannot bring light.

Death Interrupted Again: Lazarus

Another example of a person who could say, “Yesterday, I was dead,” is, of course, Lazarus. When Jesus’ friend Lazarus died, the Savior prompted his grieving friend Martha to see the one who stood before her more clearly—the one in whom resurrection comes (John 11:25-26): “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?”

Arriving at Lazarus’ tomb, Jesus was deeply moved—the text emphasizes this. Not only did Jesus weep with those who were weeping, but the word used, “deeply troubled” (ἐμβριμάομαι), conveys hostility (Jn. 11:38). Why was Jesus so troubled when he knew he would raise Lazarus? What was he so hostile toward? Clearly, he was not hostile to the tears and weeping of Mary and the Jews; he wept with them.

Jesus was hostile towards suffering and death, to the cause of Lazarus’s death and the cause of human death in its totality: sin. His whole mission was to bring life; he is the one who destroys the power and sting of death and sin.

People talk about the “military-industrial complex,” that is, war, soldiers, guns, politicians, etc., bundled up. Jesus was hostile to and mourning over the whole “sin-and-death complex,” the misery of sin, the reality of death, and the great cost of overcoming them. Indeed, Lazarus’ tomb presented Jesus with a picture of what laid ahead for him—the cross, death. John 11 presents Jesus as the one who does battle with death. John Calvin suggests that Jesus came to Lazarus’ funeral not as a spectator, but as “a champion preparing for the contest…The violent tyranny of death, which he had to conquer, is placed before his eyes” in the death of Lazarus.

So, as a foretaste of his defeat of death after the cross, Jesus spoke, and Lazarus rose from the dead.

Death Interrupted Finally: Jesus

There were certainly other people who received earthly resurrection at the hands of Elijah, Elisha, Jesus, and the Apostles, but the greatest resurrection in history was the resurrection of the Son of God himself. The Westminster Larger Catechism exults in the tremendous significance of Jesus’ resurrection:

whereby he declared himself to be the Son of God, to have satisfied divine justice, to have vanquished death, and him that had power of it, and to be Lord of quick and dead: all which he did as a public person, the head of his church, for their justification, quickening in grace, support against enemies, and to assure them of their resurrection from the dead at the last day.

Q&A 52

In his resurrection, Christ “vanquished death,” a truth he emphasized in Revelation 1:18: “I died, and behold I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of Death and Hades.” As Romans 6:9 puts it, “We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him.”

“Yesterday I was dead, and today, I live.” Even though only a few can say this of earthly life, the amazing reality is that every believer can also say it truthfully. Whether it was yesterday, or ten years ago, you can say that previously you were “dead in sins and trespasses in which you once walked…But God…made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved—and raised us up with him” (Eph. 2:2-6).

Believers were once blind, but now see, being raised to newness of life by the Spirit. We were spiritually dead though we lived. Yet, God spoke, and new life the dead received:

Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life. He does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life. Truly, truly, I say to you, an hour is coming, and is now here, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live.

John 5:24-25

Having passed from death to life through faith in Jesus, we can each say: “Yesterday I was dead, and today, I live.” As G.K. Chesterton wrote, “my name is Lazarus and I live.”

Death Interrupted: You

This spiritual life that God has breathed into each of us means that “if anyone is in Christ, new creation” (2 Cor. 5:17); even now, resurrection is not just a far-off eschatological hope, but truly determinative of life today. Peter reveled in this in 1 Peter 1:3:

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead…

God caused us to be “born again” to “living hope” and this blessing was accomplished in the resurrection of Jesus Christ. There is no living hope without Jesus’ resurrection, only a dead hope. Not only that, it is a living hope because it empowers the one who has it to thankful obedience to God. This hope, a sure confidence that you will rise from the dead and be with God in heaven forever, energizes you. Your hope gives meaning and joy to life.

God continues to disrupt funerals. We grieve, but not without this living hope. “…you may not grieve as others do who have no hope,” 1 Thessalonians 4:13-14 says, “For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep.” As one poet rejoiced, “the Resurrection, / A heart’s-clarion! Away grief’s gasping, | joyless days, dejection.”

Can you truthfully say, “Yesterday I was dead, and today, I live”? If so, give thanks to God for his inexpressible gift (2 Cor. 9:15)! You have something far better than that hopeless mantra of so many today: “Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die” (1 Cor. 15:32; Isa. 22:13).[1] We joyfully eat and drink at the Lord’s Supper, for today and always we live through the indestructible life of Christ. Daily we humbly “rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead” (2 Corinthians 1:9). We sing, now and forever, with our resurrected Savior, rejoicing that what is true of him is now true of us in union with him: “I died, and behold I am alive forevermore…”

Andrew J. Miller is the pastor of Bethel Reformed Presbyterian Church (O.P.C.) in Fredericksburg, VA. He writes occasionally for Modern Reformation, Ref21, and on his website (thegospel.rocks).


[1] “‘Eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we die’ is a sham. The alternative is not a refusal to eat, drink or be merry. That would be ingratitude. Instead, with the resurrected Jesus we sing out, ‘Let us eat, drink, and be merry, for yesterday we were dead.’” Russell Moore, Tempted and Tried, 74-75

  • Andrew J. Miller


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