One literary device used to great effect in biblical narratives is recurring themes, or the repetition of similar events, to highlight significant points. In the gospel of John, we find the story of the resurrection of Lazarus of Bethany which foreshadows Jesus’ resurrection: We see the image of Lazarus coming forth from the tomb.
However, Lazarus was not the only person Jesus raised from the dead. Mark chapter 5 relates a similar account in which Jesus raised a young girl from the dead, and in Luke 7:11-16 Jesus raised a man from the dead who was the only son of a widow.
The three accounts of resurrection that we find in the gospels (prior to Christ's) teach us something about ourselves and our desire to get free from the bonds of the curse. They make us hungry for a life in which death can be defeated; we can imagine our loved ones being spared pain and death and being allowed to remain here with us. The stories show us the ripeness of the possibility of new life.
But just as the sacrificial system of the Old Testament provided temporary atonement, the three resurrections of ordinary individuals provided only temporary relief from death- it would eventually catch up with them again. Instead these resurrections serve as a kind of prelude to Jesus' resurrection. Christ was the last and greatest sacrifice, and His was the last and greatest resurrection in the gospels, which delivered the ultimate promise of life and broke the barrier that caused the other resurrections to fall short. Christ's resurrection meant immortality: The promise of blessed and endless life.
The meaning of life and death occupies the thoughts of practically every person, and something in our souls pricks up at the idea of immortality. The story of Lazarus's resurrection alone resonates with us to such a degree that it has become central in many literary works. (Perhaps most notably, the story of Lazarus’s resurrection plays a central role in Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment.) But we also find this idea in Greek mythology, and countless works of contemporary and pop fiction also play with immortality and resurrection, or other means of “cheating death.”
Our immortal souls crave eternity, and the stories of resurrection arrest our attention and whet our appetites for everlasting life. In Christ's resurrection the thirst for life that is in each of us could finally and thoroughly be quenched with the hope of heaven. Suddenly the miracle was not just for a few individuals but for all who trust in Him, and it provided a permanent answer to the problem of death.
The artful repetition of the varying resurrection stories in the gospels effectively captures our imaginations and leads us to the comfort and peace that can be found in trusting Jesus who has met the deepest need of humanity.