After healing a centurion in Capernaum, Jesus traveled about twenty miles southwest to the village of Nain, where he encountered a funeral procession. Though the time isn’t specified, it was likely near evening. Funeral processions typically took place at the end of the same day the deceased had passed, to avoid decay. The body was covered with a cloth and traditionally placed on a burial plank. Then the procession would exit the city and head toward a cemetery outside the city walls.
This funeral was for the only son of a widow. Being a widow was hard enough, but being a childless widow triggered shame and isolation. She had quickly fallen to the lowest rung of the social ladder. Her society wasn’t typically kind toward widows, especially ones who had no one to provide for them. One could say both the son and his mother faced different types of death that day—one physical, the other social.
Jesus saw the situation and was filled with compassion. Going up to her, he told her, “Do not weep” (Luke 7:13). Then Jesus commanded, “Young man, I say to you, arise” (7:14). The man sat up, began to talk, and was restored to his mother. In this singular act, both son and mother received life. The people responded with fear that led to glorifying God: “‘A great prophet has arisen among us!’
and ‘God has visited his people!’” (7:16).
To the onlookers, Jesus was a prophet sent from God, reminiscent of the great Old Testament prophets—for this was not the first time a woman’s son had been raised to life. The prophet Elijah, through the power of God, raised the son of the widow of Zarephath during a terrible drought (1 Kings 17). His predecessor Elisha raised the son of a wealthy Shunammite woman (2 Kings 4).
The idea that God “has visited his people” refers to his “gracious activity for his people as he utilizes his power on their behalf.”3 God still graces us with his visitation. Perhaps you may not know how you are going to pay your grocery bill this month or how to get out of a tricky legal situation. Maybe a friend destroyed your reputation by spreading malicious lies. No matter what dire circumstances occur in our lives, we can rest assured that God walks beside us and works on our behalf—even when he shows up in ways we don’t expect.
Jesus’s actions sparked questions about his true identity. The people of Nain began to recognize Jesus’s authority and power that day. After all, nothing shows the extent of one’s authority quite like the ability to raise the dead. But he was more than just a great prophet. Jesus was and is God the Son. Though the people had yet to fully realize who Jesus was, they had received an incredible window into the ultimate truth—death cannot defeat Jesus, nor his people.