Zombies in the Bible? Part 1

Title: Zombies In the Bible?

Text: Matthew 27:50-53, 28:5-7, John 11:38-44, 28:5-7, 1 John 3:2, 1 Corinthians 15:42-44

Time: March 11th, 2013

It seems like today in popular culture so-called zombies are all the rage, especially among the young, but also in the general adult population. What is a zombie? Basically a creature that has died and come back to life as a cross between the living and the dead – or as it’s popular to call them, the un-dead. Why are zombies so popular? Well, they’ve been somewhat popular in science fiction movies for at least the last thirty years, but they’ve really become popular with hit television shows such as The Walking Dead.  I remember watching a classic zombie movie at least thirty years ago as a youngster called Night Of The Living Dead, which was really my first exposure to the zombie motif. I never really got into the horror movie genre, but I’ve been aware of it for decades. Now with the popularity of zombies increasing, I thought I’d talk about them in respect to the Bible. Does the Bible describe zombies? For some people, even the question is ridiculous, but if we review certain passages in the Bible we’ll find that it isn’t a silly question. In fact, there’s one passage in particular in the New Testament gospel accounts that raises the possibility of zombies that I’d like to look at today. It’s a passage related to the Easter theme I’ve been dealing with; it describes what happened shortly after Christ died on the cross. “And when Jesus had cried out (on the cross) again in a loud voice, he gave up his spirit. At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. The earth shook and the rocks split. The tombs broke open and the bodies of many holy people who had died were raised to life. They came out of the tombs and after Jesus’ resurrection they went into the holy city and appeared to many people,” Matthew 27:50-53. Now certainly this is a very strange passage; most people have never heard of it. Today, I’ll talk about this verse and also take a look at some others that are related to it. The question of zombies might seem far-fetched, even preposterous. But when you think about it, it’s not that outrageous. Consider the fact that in the African-Caribbean religion of Voodoo it’s widely known that there exists such a thing as a zombie trance, where a person enters a state of being whereby he or she is mentally and emotionally absent all the while the body is active. Voodoo claims that zombies are real. Are they? It’s hard to say off hand. Who knows what the mind and body are capable of. Modern science, especially medical knowledge, has increased exponentially over the last century, but we don’t know everything about their workings. Let’s look at what the Bible says about zombies.

First, does the Bible really give a description of zombie activity? Matthew 27:50-53, And when Jesus had cried out (on the cross) again in a loud voice, he gave up his spirit. At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. The earth shook and the rocks split. The tombs broke open and the bodies of many holy people who had died were raised to life. They came out of the tombs and after Jesus’ resurrection they went into the holy city and appeared to many people.” Now the passage, like I said before, is very strange. It isn’t really talked about a lot in churches, I think basically because, for example, where do you go with such a verse? We simply don’t know very much about the details of what happened here, so it’s hard to develop any further. But also, it sort of takes away from or robs the death of Christ, the profound and important meaning of it, to talk much of or give any kind of special attention to the fact that after the moment of Jesus’ death, some graves split open and dead people came back to life. And I don’t want to take away from Christ’s death on the cross in order to explain something that, perhaps, is unexplainable. But because it’s in the Bible and it’s so mysterious, I’d like to at least try to understand what’s happening here. The text says that something happened after Christ died, namely, that there was an earthquake, graves opened up and the bodies of many holy people were raised to life. Notice it says their bodies were raised to life. Interesting, because that’s just what happens, apparently, according to the zombie scenario – a dead person’s body comes back to life absent their will, emotions or intellect. In other words, to put it bluntly, “the lights are on, but nobody’s home.” The body is reanimated, but the human part is apparently lacking. Also, it looks like from the passage that they wandered around the graveyard a couple of days until Easter morning, resurrection day, then they went into the city of Jerusalem. Very strange. Also supporting the zombie thesis is the fact that they must not have eaten for those few days. But if they were really back to real life, wouldn’t they have gone into town to get something to eat? Unless, of course, they were still dead, and their bodies weren’t in a normal living state, i.e., zombie. The problem in interpreting a very strange verse like this is that we’re tempted to read into it out own understanding, for example, of zombies, based on popular culture’s imagination. Does the description really support a case for real, authentic zombies? I don’t think so, even though it’s an interesting thought. Let me explain why I don’t think it’s talking about real zombies.

Second, is the case Lazarus in the New Testament an example of zombie activity? John 11:38-44, “Jesus, once more deeply moved, came to the tomb. It was a cave with a stone laid across the entrance. ‘Take way the stone,’ he said. ‘But, Lord,’ said Martha, the sister of the dead man, ‘by this time there is a bad odor, for he has been there four days.’ Then Jesus said, ‘Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?’ So they took away the stone. Then Jesus looked up and said, ‘Father, I thank you that you have heard me. I knew that you always hear me, but I said this for the benefit of the people standing here, that they may believe that you sent me.’ When he had said this, Jesus called in a loud voice, ‘Lazarus, come out!’ The dead man came out, his hands and feet wrapped with strips of linen, and a cloth around his face. Jesus said to them, ‘Take off the grave clothes and let him go.’” Based on this prior description, based on precedent, we must conclude that what happened to those dead people in the previous verse was similar to what happened here to Lazarus – they were raised to full life, just like they were alive before they died; they were not raised as zombies. Lazarus had been dead four days, he was wrapped and buried, but then God the Father raised him from the dead to life through the prayer of Jesus. In the same way, those holy men and women in the graveyard at the time of Christ’s death were raised by God the Father to life once again also. How? Well, there must have been some power, some supernatural energy, some force that was released when Christ died. We know that the sky grew dark, the earth shook, and the curtain in the Temple tore in half. Some other things must have taken place as well, including the local cemetery tombs splitting open, and most miraculously, some of the dead coming back to life. Why aren’t these people talked about more than just one verse in the New Testament gospel accounts? Again, I think it’s because the Christian church didn’t and still doesn’t want to take away from the significance of what happened to Christ on the cross. Good Friday is to be remembered for Christ’s death for us sinners, not for a strange and mysterious thing that happened as a consequence. In other words, some strange power was unleashed and strange things happened as a result of Christ’s death. Let’s not focus on the strange things, let’s focus on Christ. But as far as what happened to the people who were raised from the dead to life on Good Friday, I think the best explanation is that they followed the pattern of Lazarus; in other words, they weren’t zombies, as we might imagine today.

Third, is the resurrection of Jesus different from the resurrection of Lazarus? Matthew 28:5-7, “The angel said to the women, ‘Do not be afraid, for I know that you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. He is not here; he has risen, just as he said. Come and see the place where he lay. Then go quickly and tell his disciples: He is risen from the dead and is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him. Now I have told you.’” Now what a lot of people, even Christians, don’t seem to realize is that Jesus rose differently from the dead than did Lazarus. Yes, they both rose bodily from the dead. But Jesus rose in a resurrected spiritual body, while Lazarus – as far as we can tell – simply rose in the same kind of state that he had been in before his death. Also, the saints who rose to life on Good Friday in the cemetery near Jerusalem, they also rose simply to their previous state of life. But in the case of Jesus, he rose bodily from the grave in a spiritual solid body. It’s clear that Jesus didn’t rise merely in spirit, like for example, the false cult Jehovah’s Witnesses believe. “While they were still talking about this, Jesus himself stood among them and said to them, ‘Peace be with you.’ They were startled and frightened, thinking they saw a ghost. He said to them, ‘Why are you troubled and why do doubts rise in your minds? Look at my hands and my feet. It is I myself! Touch me and see; a ghost does not have flesh and bones, as you see I have,’” Luke 24:36-39. So he wasn’t just a spirit, but he also wasn’t just like he was before. In another instance, Jesus appeared to some other followers, and it says, “When he was at table with them, he took bread, gave thanks, broke it and began to give it to them. Then their eyes were opened and they recognized him, and he disappeared from their sight,” Luke 24:30-31. So here’s an instance where a solid, physical body suddenly disappeared or dematerialized. That’s not something a normal, physical, material body can do, so it must be that Jesus was raised to life bodily, but somewhat different than before. He was capable of all his physical functions as before. For example, he could eat in his resurrected state. “Jesus said to them, ‘Bring some of the fish you have just caught.’ Simon Peter climbed aboard and dragged the net ashore. It was full of large fish, 153, but even with so many the net was not torn. Jesus said to them, ‘Come and have breakfast.’ None of the disciples dared ask him, Who are you? They knew it was the Lord. Jesus came, took the bread and gave it to them, and did the same with the fish. This was now the third time Jesus appeared to his disciples after he was raised from the dead,” John 21:10-14. So presumably, Jesus could also eat food, just as before.

Now the pattern of Jesus’ resurrection is the pattern for our own bodily resurrection eventually, not that we will immediately come back to life on earth after we die, but in the next life we will not only be spiritual but in some sense a bodily existence as well. This isn’t entirely clear, but it’s what the Bible teaches. 1 John 3:2 teaches, “Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when he (Jesus) appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is.” And the Apostle Paul teaches, “So will it be with the resurrection of the dead. The body that is sown is perishable, it is raised imperishable; it is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory; it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body . . . ,” 1 Corinthians 15:42-44. So then, Jesus was raised bodily in a spiritual body; it had physical, material qualities, but it possessed an imperishable quality. It couldn’t ever again die or be destroyed. That’s how we’ll raise again in the future. At death our body will perish for now, but our spirit will live on. Then, eventually at some future date, we’ll once again have a body, only it will be imperishable, like Christ’s after his resurrection. Now all of this may seem confusing to us now, but when it all happens it will feel natural. We don’t ever have to worry about coming back as zombies. I remember a character in the TV series The Walking Dead once said, “Jesus talked about resurrection, but I didn’t think he had zombies in mind.” Well, he doesn’t have zombies in mind. There is nothing in the Bible that describes zombies. Every individual that is resurrected is either raised temporarily to his former state of being, like Lazarus, or raised bodily in a new spiritual state, like Christ himself. There won’t ever be anyone or anything like a zombie unless scientists create something like it, like a Frankenstein-like creature. Let’s hope and pray they don’t. Is it possible for a real zombie to exist? Like I said, it might be possible for science to re-animate a dead body to something like life, but it’s nothing that God has planned for anyone. We don’t have to worry about zombies or anything like them, unless man does something stupid with technology and produces one. God has a good plan for men and women in the future, not a zombie apocalypse. If we put our trust in Jesus Christ, if we surrender our lives to him, he’ll lead us into a glorious future. We have nothing to fear. Have you given your life over to Jesus? Have you put your future in his hands? If not, why don’t you do so today?

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