08.05.03 Lk. 7:11-17 Nain A.D. 28
WIDOW’S ONLY SON RAISED FROM DEATH.
11 Soon afterward He was on His way to a town called Nain. His disciples and a large crowd were traveling with Him. 12 Just as He neared the gate of the town, a dead man was being carried out. He was his mother’s only son, and she was a widow. A large crowd from the city was also with her. 13 When the Lord saw her, He had compassion on her and said, “Don’t cry.” 14 Then He came up and touched the open coffin, and the pallbearers stopped. And He said, “Young man, I tell you, get up!”
15 The dead man sat up and began to speak, and Jesus gave him to his mother. 16 Then fear came over everyone, and they glorified God, saying, “A great prophet has risen among us,” and “God has visited His people.” 17 This report about Him went throughout Judea and all the vicinity.
Jesus and His group of followers left Capernaum and walked some twenty-five miles to the southwest, to the northern slope of a mountain commonly called the “Little Hermon,” or “Mount Moreh.” There was the poor miserable village of Nain, whose name means the beautiful, where they met a grieving widow who had lost her only son – an occasion that was especially devastating for two reasons.
- The death of her only son meant that she would live the rest of her life in dire poverty.
- More significant than that was the extinction of her family. The raising of a young man to life, as profound as that was, was insignificant in comparison to the restoration of a first century family. The continuation of a family in the Old Testament, as well as in the times of Christ, was considered nearly sacred. The significance and the sacredness of the family as portrayed in the Old and New Testaments appear to be without parallel in modern English or in Western culture.
Because of the extremely high view of the family in the Bible, when a young man got married he was exempt from military obligations in his first year of marriage. He was given the opportunity to see his firstborn and, hence, the continuation of his family. Therefore, this miracle not only touched upon the core of a broken heart in the most dire of times, but also upon the most sacred of all institutions.
News of the profound miracle at Nain spread like wildfire and quickly captured the attention of everyone including the temple elite. It was the first of three death-to-life miracles performed by Jesus. When Jesus saw the funeral procession, as was the custom, they expected Him to join the family in mourning. According to the Talmud,
Rahaba said in the name of Rabbi Judah: “Whoever sees a corpse on the way to burial and does not accompany it comes under the head of he that mocks the poor and blasphemes his Maker” (cf. Prov. 19:17).
Babylonian Talmud, Berakoth 18a-b
Jesus shared in the sorrow of the family. As stated, proper protocol required a passer-by to join the grieving family in their loss, even if they were unknown to him. Therefore, culturally speaking, for Jesus to have avoided the grieving procession would have been considered a supreme insult. But He was not about to see the son get buried or a family destroyed.
“Gate of the town.” Some students have concluded that because there was a gate, there must have been a city wall. Not so. The phrase simply means the entrance of the village. An example is found in Deuteronomy 22:22-24. The context of the Mosaic passage pertains to the punishment of an adulterous couple where verse 24 states they must be stoned to death at the town gate. At the time Moses wrote this passage, the Hebrew children (later called “Jews”) were wandering nomads living in tents and obviously did not have fortified stone walls around their camps. Furthermore, no archaeological evidence of a protective wall has ever been found at the archaeological site of Nain. Therefore, obviously Luke referred to the entrance of the village.
“Touched the open coffin.” The “bier” or “coffin,” was not a closed wooden box as is common in western culture today, but a litter (similar to a platform) upon which the shrouded body was laid. This custom has not changed. In the Palestinian communities today this custom continues and has been occasionally shown on Western television. Jews in the first century had very strict laws concerning ritual purity. At the time of Jesus, if anyone touched the litter (coffin), that person would have been considered defiled and would have had to undergo the ritual purification. However, Jesus came along, touched the coffin, and was not defiled but the dead boy was returned to life. Jesus demonstrated His authority over death and life, and that action was a demonstration of His Deity!
The miracle at Nain had a clear resemblance to the miracle of Elijah (1 Kg. 17:17-24), who raised the son of a Shutamite woman from the dead. That event took place at ancient Shutam, or Shunem, today known as Solani. Some scholars believe ancient Shutam was on the opposite side of the same hill, while others believe Nain was in the same general location as Shutam. Regardless, the imagery was noticed by everybody. This demonstrated the equality of Jesus with Elijah, and eventually, He would perform miracles greater than all previous prophets combined.
There is an observation to be considered concerning the miracles of centuries past and those of Jesus. The prophets of old were instruments of God’s miracles only after agonies of supplication, wrestling in prayer, and finally, laying prostrate upon the dead body. Jesus, in contrast, calmly and with authority spoke only a few words. This miracle would identify Him as being the Messiah and a report of the account would be passed on to John the Baptist. It is interesting to note that, while the Baptist was functioning as Elijah, he did not raise anyone from the dead. However, Jesus did so with a reflection upon Elijah’s miracle and with unheard of power unlike anyone else in Jewish history. Could these people judge for themselves that “God had visited His people?”
“A great prophet has risen among us,” What the crowd really said was “A great prophet has again risen among us.” News of this event spread like wildfire prompting people to bring their sick to be healed by Jesus. This in turn gave opportunity for Jesus to teach them in the ways of the Kingdom of God – that is, God’s rule in their lives.
However, the term “great prophet” has a significant implication beyond its literal translation, implying Jesus was the greatest prophet (Gk. prophetes) of all time and who came after four centuries of prophetic silence. The Jewish people had long been waiting for a messiah, and it was believed that he would identify himself by the performance of three kinds of miracles that eluded the rabbis over the centuries. These became known as “messianic miracles.” When these were first performed by Jesus, the people were stunned and referred to Him as a “great prophet,” as they could not believe that their expectation had been fulfilled. Their problem was that Jesus looked like an ordinary person and did not match their preconceived idea of what the messiah would look like.
. Geikie, The Life and Works of Christ. 2:112.
. The other two were the daughter of Jairus before her funeral (Mk. 5:35-43), and in Bethany when Jesus raised Lazarus four days after his funeral (Jn. 11:11-44).
. Liefeld, “Luke.” 8:899.
. Halakah, SBK 1:479ff. See Appendix 26.
. Pentecost, The Words and Works of Jesus Christ. (Video “C”).
. Liefeld, “Luke.” 8:899.
. Brown, “Prophet.” 3:74-92; But prophetic silence does not mean that God was not influential among His people.
. For a description of the three messianic miracles, see 06.03.08.Q1, 06.03.08.Q2, 06.01.03, John 4:25 as well as the related video link 06.03.08.V. See also Fruchtenbaum, Messianic Miracles. 4.
. Research on the “Messianic Miracles” is credited to Dr. Arnold Fruchtenbaum, a Messianic scholar and director of Ariel Ministries of San Antonio, Texas. For further study, see Arnold G. Fruchtenbaum, Messianic Miracles. Tustin, CA: Ariel Ministries, 1983. See also http://ariel.org/. Retrieved September 26, 2013. See also 06.03.08.V, 06.01.03 as well as the comparison of Dead Sea Scroll fragments 4Q278 and 4Q521 with Luke 4:16-30 at 06.02.02; Fischer, The Gospels in Their Jewish Context. (Lecture on CD/MP3). Week 10, Session 2.