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Jesus raises Lazarus
John Chapter 11, verses 1-3
Now a man named Lazarus was sick. He was from Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. This Mary, whose brother Lazarus now lay sick, was the same one who poured perfume on the Lord and wiped his feet with her hair. So the sisters sent word to Jesus, “Lord, the one you love is sick.”
Jesus stayed in Bethany (near Jerusalem) on occasion, and we know Mary and Martha well from the gospel of Luke (10:38-42). This is the first time Scripture mentions their brother Lazarus, however. John would report later on Mary anointing Jesus (12:3), but his readers would recognize the reference here from the other gospels.
When Lazarus became deathly ill, Mary and Martha sent word to Jesus, no doubt expecting he would help. The simple message was, “Lord, the one you love is sick.” The Greek word used for “love”was one that stressed the friendship between the two. “Jesus, your good friend is sick.” It was, implicitly, a simple prayer: “Jesus, we have a problem. We know you will help us.”
John Chapter 11, verses 4-8
When he heard this, Jesus said, “This sickness will not end in death. No, it is for God’s glory so that God’s Son may be glorified through it.” Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. when he heard that Lazarus was sick, he stayed where he was two more days.
Then he said to his disciples, “Let us go back to Judea.”
“But Rabbi,” they said, “a short while ago the Jews tried to stone you, and yet you are going back there?”
When Jesus heard the message, he reacted in a seemingly strange way. He appeared nonchalant. This sickness was not meant to end in death, he assured them. He didn’t say Lazarus wouldn’t die, just that his death was not to be the end result of the matter.
Rather, the sickness was to serve a divine purpose. It was intended for the glory of God, so that his Son might be glorified through it. It’s hard to know how the disciples must have felt about those words. Was Jesus going to heal Lazarus from a distance as he had done for others?
In case his readers would misunderstand, John assured them that Jesus loved the two sisters and Lazarus. This time the Greek word for “love,” agape, meant more than “was friends with.” Agape is the godly love that understands those loved, cares for them, and acts in their favor. Nevertheless, Jesus waited for two days after hearing the news, even though he was one to three days away from Bethany.
The disciples, however, were less surprised by the delay than by Jesus’ directive after the two days: “Let us go back to Judea.” They were quick to remind him that the hostile Jews wanted to stone him. “And you want to go back there?” they asked in disbelief.
In all this Jesus was preparing both for the glory that would come from raising Lazarus and for the time of his sacrifice at Calvary.
John Chapter 11, verses 9-10
Jesus answered, “Are there not twelve hours of daylight? A man who walks by day will not stumble, for he sees by this world’s light. It is when he walks by night that he stumbles, for he has no light.”
Jesus was following the timetable of his Father. His time would come no sooner than the allotted hours of his day and could be extended no later. Neither the enemies’ plots nor the disciples’ precautions would change that. So, with daylight running out, Jesus had to go to Jerusalem. If not, he would miss his destination—he would stumble.
Although Jesus’ words here answered the disciples’ question about why they were going, we can see other symbolism too. Jesus at the beginning of this gospel was already identified as “the light of men” (1:4). Those, then, who walk with Jesus walk in the day, and his light keeps them from stumbling. But those who walk in the night, in the darkness of sin, stumble because they do not have the light of Jesus in them.
We have no indication that the disciples understood what Jesus meant here. Most likely they were puzzled by his actions and by his response to their concerns.
John Chapter 11, verses 11-16
After he had said this, he went on to tell them, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep; but I am going there to wake him up.”
His disciples replied, “Lord, if he sleeps, he will get better.” Jesus had been speaking of his death, but his disciples thought he meant natural sleep.
So then he told them plainly, “Lazarus is dead, and for your sake I am glad I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him.”
Then Thomas (called Didymus) said to the rest of the disciples, “Let us also go, that we may die with him.”
Following his symbolic lesson on walking in the daylight hours, Jesus spoke more pointedly. “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep; but I am going there to wake him up.”
But the disciples didn’t know that Jesus spoke about Lazarus’ death. They thought it was good for Lazarus to sleep. The rest would help him recover from his illness.
So then Jesus told them directly, “Lazarus is dead.” His idea of awakening him, however, gave a preview of what Jesus planned to do, just as his words now gave a hint of why they delayed going to Bethany. He not only waited for the proper time in the Father’s plan, but he also did what was in the best interests of his disciples. By not being there to prevent Lazarus’ death, he set the scene to strengthen the disciples’ faith still more. And he would be showing them shortly before his own death that he had the power to raise the dead to life—even after the body had begun to decay.
But now Thomas, who has become well known to us as “the doubter” after Jesus’ resurrection (20:24-29), revealed another side. Was it devotion and courage or a touch of pessimism and cynicism? We can’t be sure. But based on the known threats to Jesus’ life and Jesus’ own predictions of his death (Mark 8:31,32), Thomas clearly feared Jesus could be killed in Judea. Since the disciples’ warning (verse 8) apparently didn’t faze Jesus, Thomas said, “Let’s go along, then, even if we all die and join Lazarus.”
Thomas’ two names (Thomas in Aramaic and Didymus in Greek) both mean “twin.” Again John felt a need to translate for gentile readers.
John Chapter 11, verses 17-20
On his arrival, Jesus found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb for four days. Bethany was less than two miles from Jerusalem, and many Jews had come to Martha and Mary to comfort them in the loss of their brother. When Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went out to meet him, but Mary stayed at home.
The trip took a long time: at least a day for the messenger and then as long for Jesus, plus Jesus’ two-day delay. So Lazarus not only died, but he lay in the grave four days by the time Jesus arrived. Many Jews were still coming from nearby Jerusalem to pay their respects and comfort the grieving sisters. As was the custom, the relatives mourned the death and revisited the tomb for seven days, during which time others came to give their support.
Martha heard Jesus was approaching and ran to meet him. Mary, apparently unaware of his coming, stayed at home.
John Chapter 11, verses 21-24
“Lord,” Martha said to Jesus, “if you had been here, my brother would not have died. But I know that even now God will give you whatever you ask.”
Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.”
Martha answered, “I know he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day.”
Even in her grief, Martha expressed faith and hope. She had no doubts that Jesus could have and would have healed Lazarus, if Jesus had arrived in time. Even then she knew that Jesus could help. She knew that whatever Jesus asked God, God would give him.
What did she want or expect Jesus to ask God? She wasn’t entirely clear. Jesus gave her hope, but she wasn’t sure exactly what to hope for.
“Your brother will rise again,” Jesus assured Martha, but she didn’t think he meant that day, by a miracle. She thought Jesus meant the resurrection of the dead on the Last Day, of which she may have heard Jesus talk in the past. So she also confessed her faith that Lazarus would rise on the Last Day.
John Chapter 11, verses 25-27
Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?”
“Yes, Lord,” she told him, “I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who was to come into the world.”
Each believer has eternal life from Jesus (3:16) before the Last Day. Jesus’ response to Martha was another I AM passage. The resurrection and the life reside in Jesus as the I AM, Yahweh. His response also told Martha what he intended to do for Lazarus, although she was slow to see it.
Jesus’ words spoke the eternal truth that has soothed many a troubled heart at a deathbed, during a funeral, at a gravesite. Whoever believes in Jesus—even though death makes its unwelcome visit—will live. Whoever lives by faith in Jesus will never die. The life we have in Christ survives death and the grave. Physical death does not separate us from God and his Son. We are alive with him forever and will at the last be restored body and soul to enjoy the glories of his heaven.
“Do you believe this?” Jesus asked Martha. For those who remember Martha only for her shortsightedness when Jesus visited her home another time (Luke 10:40,41), Martha’s confession may be a surprise. Her words are a model for us to emulate yet today.
Martha said emphatically, yes, she believed, and she identified Jesus as the object of her faith. She believed he was the Christ. She believed he was the Son of God. She believed he was the one who was to come into the world. She was confessing Jesus as the Savior sent from heaven. Such faith gave her the life that overcomes death.
“Do you believe this?” Jesus’ question probes the heart of every suffering human being. Blessed are those who can answer as Martha did.
John Chapter 11, verses 28-37
And after she had said this, she went back and called her sister Mary aside. “The Teacher is here,” she said, “and is asking for you.” When Mary heard this, she got up quickly and went to him. Now Jesus had not yet entered the village, but was still at the place where Martha had met him. When the Jews who had been with Mary in the house, comforting her, noticed how quickly she got up and went out, they followed her, supposing she was going to the tomb to mourn there.
When Mary reached the place where Jesus was and saw him, she fell at his feet and said, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.”
When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come along with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in spirit and troubled. “Where have you laid him?” he asked.
“Come and see, Lord,” they replied.
Then the Jews said, “See how he loved him!”
But some of them said, “Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?”
It was time to let Mary know too that Jesus had come. Martha spoke to her in secret: “The Teacher is here . . . and is asking for you.” Mary didn’t waste a moment. She got up quickly and went to Jesus, who was waiting outside the village, where Martha had met him.
When Mary reached Jesus, she fell at his feet in worship and expressed the same faith and confidence in Jesus as Martha had earlier. Undoubtedly the sisters had said to each other when Lazarus died, “If Jesus had been here, he would have healed Lazarus”—or words to that effect.
Mary was openly weeping, as were those who came with her. Jesus was filled with indignation and visibly agitated. The Scriptures seldom show us such deep emotions in Jesus. But Jesus cared. His close friend, Lazarus, lay dead in a grave. His sisters were grieving. Even the hope of the resurrection, as Martha had expressed it, did not prevent crying. God had not created us to die as Lazarus had. Physical death is a cruel and sad result of sin. That result was painfully evident here, causing the worst kind of suffering. The entire scene troubled Jesus.
“Where have you laid him?” Jesus asked. They brought him to the gravesite.
Then Jesus wept silently. The Greek word used here for weeping was different from the one used regarding Mary and the others. Their weeping was that associated with mourning and was usually open and unabashed. Jesus, we are told, shed tears, but the word used doesn’t imply the same outward display. He wept for his friends. When we read the words today, we can imagine a sympathetic tear also for us. Then too we can imagine a sad tear for each person who does not see Jesus as the resurrection and the life.
The Jews saw the tears and concluded he wept for Lazarus: a close friend weeping at the grave. But, knowing what Jesus was about to do, we know his tears meant much more. Some of the Jews showed a sense of frustration with Jesus. He had given sight to a hopelessly blind man. Why couldn’t he have healed Lazarus and kept him from dying?
Perhaps faith was flickering in the hearts of some and they spoke out of confusion. Others may have shut out faith and said the same words in mockery.
John Chapter 11, verses 38-40
Jesus, once more deeply moved, came to the tomb. It was a cave with a stone laid across the entrance. “Take away 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?”
Again Jesus, knowing the hearts of all and seeing sin’s destruction, was filled with indignation as he approached the tomb, a cave with a stone sealing the entryway. Jesus ordered the people there to remove the stone, but Martha, failing to apply the lesson Jesus taught her earlier (verses 23-26), objected. “He already stinks,” she warned. “It has been four days.”
So Jesus reminded Martha of his earlier promise, alluding no doubt to the words he spoke when the messenger told him of Lazarus’ illness (verse 4). It’s safe to assume Jesus spoke them to the messenger, who brought the word directly back to the sisters. Lazarus’ illness would not end in death. It was for God’s glory.
Jesus called for them to believe his promise and lift the stone from the tomb.
John Chapter 11, verses 41-44
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.”
Jesus looked heavenward and attempted to turn the thoughts of the onlookers heavenward. With them listening, Jesus thanked his heavenly Father for listening to him. He didn’t have to speak the words, because he and the Father were one, in perfect harmony with each other. The Father always heard the Son, and the Son knew it.
But Jesus spoke for the benefit of the others there. People had questioned whether Jesus was really sent from the Father as he had said. They doubted that he was the promised Messiah. They wondered how he could call God his Father. So now they had only to hear him call to the Father and see the ensuing miracle to know Jesus’ claims were true.
Then Jesus called out loudly for Lazarus to come forth, and Lazarus did, still wrapped in his grave clothes. Jesus told the people to loose Lazarus and let him go on his way. The miracle was done. Jesus, the Word, in whom is life, gave life with a word. He raised the man who had been dead and buried for four days.
The Pharisees plot to kill Jesus
John Chapter 11, verses 45-48
Therefore many of the Jews who had come to visit Mary, and had seen what Jesus did, put their faith in him. But some of them went to the Pharisees and told them what Jesus had done. Then the chief priests and the Pharisees called a meeting of the Sanhedrin.
“What are we accomplishing?” they asked. “Here is this man performing many miraculous signs. If we let him go on like this, everyone will believe in him, and then the Romans will come and take away both our place and our nation.”
What Jesus prayed for happened. Many of the Jews who saw what Jesus did believed in him. God was glorified. But some of the Jews apparently didn’t know what to think. They reported the event to the Pharisees, most of whom were Jesus’ enemies.
The Pharisees contacted the chief priests, who convened the Jewish high court, the Sanhedrin. The active high priest for the year presided. Although subject to the Romans, the court held a great deal of authority, but they could not execute a criminal. In this case, the Pharisees apparently met with them.
The members of the court were riled up over Jesus and at a loss about what to do. They saw him as a threat to their security. They did not deny Jesus did miraculous signs. But instead of believing in him, they wanted him out of the way.
The court reasoned that if they didn’t intervene, soon Jesus would have virtually everyone believing in him, which by itself would diminish their authority. But, worse yet, if the people followed Jesus as their leader, the Romans would come and punish them. They could lose everything.
The expression “take away our place” apparently referred to the temple or else to Jerusalem. It might also have meant the court’s place as ruler of the Jews.
John Chapter 11, verses 49-52
Then one of them, named Caiaphas, who was high priest that year, spoke up, “You know nothing at all! You do not realize that it is better for you that one man die for the people than that the whole nation perish.”
He did not say this on his own, but as high priest that year he prophesied that Jesus would die for the Jewish nation, and not only for that nation but also for the scattered children of God, to bring them together and make them one.
Caiaphas, the high priest in authority, spoke up. He explained that it was expedient to get rid of Jesus. Better that one man die than all of them. His concern was political, but God made his words prophetic. He wanted to preserve a nation on earth, which was destroyed 40 years later anyway. Jesus, Caiaphas’ intended victim, came to establish a nation that can never be destroyed namely, the nation of God’s children found everywhere in all times.
Jesus would die as a sacrifice for everyone in the world so that all who believe in him are made one in his holy church. Caiaphas, meanwhile, sought only to head off a disastrous rebellion.
John Chapter 11, verses 53-54
So from that day on they plotted to take his life.
Therefore Jesus no longer moved about publicly among the Jews. Instead he withdrew to a region near the desert, to a village called Ephraim, where he stayed with his disciples.
Caiaphas carried the day with the Sanhedrin, and the stage was set for the passion plot that was soon to unfold. Still, the hostile Jews could not succeed in killing Jesus until God’s timetable allowed it, so Jesus got out of their way. He went to Ephraim, a village thought to be in the wilderness of northern Judea (also identified with Ophrah, near Bethel in the hill country east of the Jordan).
John Chapter 11, verses 55-57
When it was almost time for the Jewish Passover, many went up from the country to Jerusalem for their ceremonial cleansing before the Passover. They kept looking for Jesus, and as they stood in the temple area they asked one another, “What do you think? Isn’t he coming to the Feast at all?” But the chief priests and Pharisees had given orders that if anyone found out where Jesus was, he should report it so that they might arrest him.
As the Passover drew near, people started coming to Jerusalem to prepare themselves for it. The “ceremonial cleansing” probably included washing their clothes, abstaining from sex (Exodus 19:10-15), and avoiding anything, like a dead body, that would make them unclean (Numbers 9:9-14).
But their thoughts seemed to be more on Jesus than on the upcoming festival. They realized how tense the situation had become. They knew the chief priests and the Pharisees had given orders that anyone seeing Jesus should report him. They knew the leaders wanted to arrest him and kill him. They asked one another: “What do you think? Jesus won’t come to the feast, will he?”