Death and resurrection

For many people, death seems final - a complete end. However, several religions teach that there is life after death. Some also believe in reincarnation, which results in humans being re-born again and again into this world, but in different bodily forms. The Bible also describes a number of examples of resurrection, when someone dies and is later brought back to life. The word ‘resurrection' means ‘rising again'. Its use in literature is seen in the novel Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte. The single Latin word ‘Resurgam', meaning ‘I shall arise', is placed on the tombstone of the devout young Christian, Helen Burns.

Death and resurrection in the New Testament

The Gospels claim that Jesus restored several people to life. They included the son of a widow (Luke 7:11-15), the daughter of Jairus, ruler of the synagogue, and Jesus' friend Lazarus, brother of Martha and Mary of Bethany. The story of Lazarus is given in great detail. When told by Jesus that Lazarus would rise again, Martha expresses the view that ‘he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day' (John 11:24). Jesus replied, ‘I am the resurrection and the life. Lazarus raisedHe who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die' (John 11:25-26). Although Martha points out that Lazarus had been dead for four days, Jesus tells her to believe; he then calls ‘Lazarus, come out!' Lazarus emerges from the tomb, still wrapped in the grave-clothes in which he had been buried.

The Resurrection of Jesus

New Testament writers state that Jesus paid the penalty for the sins of humankind when he was put to death on the cross, but that he came back to life again when he rose from the dead three days later. Christians celebrate these events at Easter. (Easter eggs symbolise the new life that comes from a seemingly dead-looking egg.)

The Christian belief in the resurrection of Jesus is based on the accounts recorded in all four Gospels. John, for example, records how, after finding the empty tomb, Mary Magdalene met a figure who spoke to her. At first she did not recognize him, but then realized it was Jesus. Later Jesus appeared to other disciples, and ate food with them (recorded in the gospel of John in chapters 20 and 21). Doubting ThomasThe disciple Thomas, at first reluctant to believe that Jesus had risen from the dead, since he was not there when the risen Christ appeared to the other disciples, was later convinced when Jesus appeared and showed the physical signs of his crucifixion (John 20:24-28). Other people met Jesus walking towards the town of Emmaus, and only recognized him when he broke bread at supper, reminiscent of what he had done on the night before his crucifixion (Luke 24:28-31). See Big ideas: Last supper, communion, eucharist, mass.

The resurrection of Jesus is presented as unique because it was ‘permanent' whereas those he had restored to life earlier, such as Lazarus, would in time face death again. Jesus' resurrection also offered the hope of life after death to all who believe in him (see Big ideas: Redemption, salvation).

Related topics

Big ideas: Last Supper, communion, eucharist, mass; Redemption, salvation

Other cultural references

Brontë's Jane Eyre

Rowling's Harry Potter, The Deathly Hallows

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