Raising of Lazarus: Jesus as Resurrection & Life, Israel’s Restoration
John 11. In this chapter we have fresh glories of the Son brought forward. We see His perfection as a man, touched with the feelings of our infirmities. All though we read of “Jesus”, the loving, compassionate, gentle Savior. Then, we have His zeal for the glory of God. He put the Father’s glory above every other goal. Finally, we see His personal, divine glory displayed in raising Lazarus from the dead! It was the Father’s answer to the Son’s rejection on earth. The Father saw that it was time for His Son’s glory to be declared; but the Son would not assert it of His own accord. What perfection!
John 11 – 12 really form one continuous subject. Up to this point we have seen a great deal of the rejection of Christ by the Jews, concluding with the announcement that His true sheep will hear His voice. In these two chapters we have a little company of those who love the Shepherd, and hear His voice. Bethany figures strongly in these two chapters; the little town and the home of Mary, Martha, and Lazarus, where Jesus just seemed to feel at home. Each time He would journey to Jerusalem, He would stop there and receive refreshment on His journey. In ch.12 we learn that His final journey to Jerusalem was no exception. Bethany means “house of figs” or “house of dates”, and spiritually it was a place where the Lord could always find a little fruit. Here in ch.11 we see that the sheep are troubled by the effects of sin, and we see the Shepherd’s care for His sheep in sympathizing with their grief, before He took away the cause of it with His power. The Shepherd is able to deal with not only the wolf and the stranger, but also with the trials and cares of this life. Yet the hatred of the Jews is no less in these chapters. The more Jesus’ glory shone forth, the more their hatred grew. We get the Lord glorified in three ways:
- As Son of God in the raising of Lazarus (John 11:4, 42)
- As Son of David (King of Israel) at the Triumphal entry into Jerusalem (John 12:13)
- As Son of Man when sought by Greeks at the Feast (John 12:23)
- Setting: The Lord Delays His Departure for Bethany, Lazarus Dies (11:1-16)
- Conversation With Mary and Martha (11:17-32)
- Raising of Lazarus (11:33-44)
- The Sanhedrin’s Plot to Kill Jesus (11:45-54)
- Setting: The Public’s Excitement in Regard to Jesus Approaching Passover (11:55-57)
Setting: The Lord Delays His Departure for Bethany, Lazarus Dies (11:1-16)
The Sickness of Lazarus (vv.1-4)
1 Now there was a certain man sick, Lazarus of Bethany, of the village of Mary and Martha her sister. v.1 The town of Bethany may have been famous for many natural reasons, but it was known to God by the sheep who lived there! How precious; “the village of Mary and Martha her sister”. As we already mentioned, Bethany means “house of figs” or “house of dates”, and spiritually it was a place where the Lord could always find a little fruit. The Lord often stopped there on His journeys for refreshment, and He loved these three dearly. Now sickness had invaded their home, and Lazarus was gravely ill. Lazarus is an interesting character. We never read one word that he spoke, and yet his troubled life brought tremendous glory to God by the miracle Jesus did in it. Lazarus is known as a friend of Jesus, and one who sat at the table with Him.
2 It was the Mary who anointed the Lord with ointment and wiped his feet with her hair, whose brother Lazarus was sick. v.2 John the Evangelist assumes that the reader is already familiar with an incident from the earlier accounts (Matt. 26:9, Mark 14:3), John of course writing much later than the other evangelists. John will write of the event in the next chapter (John 12:2). The Lord is outside of time… He inhabits eternity! Even though this event occurs in ch.12, it is mentioned here because Mary’s selfless expression of worship is what Jesus connected her with morally, in answer to Matt. 26:13.
3 The sisters therefore sent to him, saying, Lord, behold, he whom thou lovest is sick. v.3 These sisters went to the right Person. How different from the woman in Luke 8 who had spent all her living upon physicians to no avail, before coming to the Lord. Of course, there is nothing wrong with using doctors, per the Lord’s own words (Matt. 9:12), but our faith ought to be in the Lord and not the physicians. Notice how sweetly the sisters word their brief message. They do not tell the Lord what to do (e.g. “Lord, heal our brother”), rather they simply tell Him what had happened, and they rest in His love. They do not even use their brother’s name, but simply refer to him as “he whom thou lovest”. What an example this is! We should view one another and pray for one another as he or she whom the Lord loves. They do not even appeal on the basis of their own needs (e.g. “Lord, behold, he whom we love is sick”), nor on the grounds of their love for the Lord (e.g. “Lord, we who love you and have done you many kindnesses, now have a need”), but simply raise before the Lord in prayer the the object of the Lord’s own affections.
4 But when Jesus heard it, he said, This sickness is not unto death, but for the glory of God, that the Son of God may be glorified by it. v.4 The Lord’s response is interesting. Every trial the Lord allows in our life is an opportunity to bring glory to God. The trial might end in death, but it is “not unto death”, meaning that there is a higher purpose to it. Death is not the end in view. Ultimately, the Son of God would be glorified when His life-giving power was exercised to raise Lazarus from the dead (see John 5:28-29). Resurrection power is the ultimate proof that Jesus was the Son of God (Rom. 1:4). The Lord had raised others from the dead: the son of the widow of Nain (Luke 7:11), and the ruler’s daughter (Matt. 9:23), but both were in the north of the land… this miracle was done on the very doorstep of Jerusalem. Also, this resurrection was after four days, when bodily decomposition had taken place. The only possible explanation for the events of this chapter is that God had visited His people in the Person of His Son.
The Lord’s Delayed Departure (vv.5-10)
5 Now Jesus loved Martha, and her sister, and Lazarus. v.5 The word used here by Spirit is ‘agápe’ love, compared to ‘phileo’ love in the message of the two sisters (v.3). The Lord’s love for us is always deeper than our love for Him! What a comfort. Also, it does not say the Lord loved “the three”, but it lists each one! His love for us is individual and special.
6 When therefore he heard, He is sick, he remained two days then in the place where he was. v.6 This seems like a very strange response for the Lord. It says that “when he had heard, ‘He is sick’, he remained two days more.” It sounds like Jesus was waiting for Lazarus to die! That is true. Our human minds struggle with the notion that the Creator of the universe could love us, and though He has all power at His disposal, would then leave us in our sickness and trial. The answer is in v.4. Our minds do not rise up to the purpose of a sovereign God, who allows evil temporarily that His glory might shine forth in brighter splendor. His love for Mary, Martha, and Lazarus caused the Lord to delay His departure. His love is wiser than we can ever understand. This is the answer to the philosophical “problem of evil”.
7 Then after this he says to his disciples, Let us go into Judaea again. 8 The disciples say to him, Rabbi, even but now the Jews sought to stone thee, and goest thou thither again? 9 Jesus answered, Are there not twelve hours in the day? If any one walk in the day, he does not stumble, because he sees the light of this world; v.9 john reckons time as the romans…
10 but if any one walk in the night, he stumbles, because the light is not in him.
The Death of Lazarus (vv.11-16)
11 These things said he; and after this he says to them, Lazarus, our friend, is fallen asleep, but I go that I may awake him out of sleep. 12 The disciples therefore said to him, Lord, if he be fallen asleep, he will get well. 13 But Jesus spoke of his death, but “they” thought that he spoke of the rest of sleep. 14 Jesus therefore then said to them plainly, Lazarus has died. 15 And I rejoice on your account that I was not there, in order that ye may believe. But let us go to him. 16 Thomas therefore, called Didymus, said to his fellow disciples, Let “us” also go, that we may die with him.
Conversation With Mary and Martha (11:17-32)
The Lord’s Arrival in Bethany (vv.17-19)
17 Jesus therefore on arriving found him to have been four days already in the tomb. 18 Now Bethany was near Jerusalem, about fifteen stadia off, 19 and many of the Jews came to Martha and Mary, that they might console them concerning their brother.
Conversation with Martha (vv.20-27)
20 Martha then, when she heard Jesus is coming, went to meet him; but Mary sat in the house. 21 Martha therefore said to Jesus, Lord, if thou hadst been here, my brother had not died; 22 but even now I know, that whatsoever thou shalt ask of God, God will give thee. 23 Jesus says to her, Thy brother shall rise again. 24 Martha says to him, I know that he will rise again in the resurrection in the last day. 25 Jesus said to her, I am the resurrection and the life: he that believes on me, though he have died, shall live; 26 and every one who lives and believes on me shall never die. Believest thou this? 27 She says to him, Yea, Lord; I believe that thou art the Christ, the Son of God, who should come into the world.
Conversation with Mary (vv.28-32)
28 And having said this, she went away and called her sister Mary secretly, saying, The teacher is come and calls thee. 29 She, when she heard that, rises up quickly and comes to him. 30 Now Jesus had not yet come into the village, but was in the place where Martha came to meet him. 31 The Jews therefore who were with her in the house and consoling her, seeing Mary that she rose up quickly and went out, followed her, saying, She goes to the tomb, that she may weep there. 32 Mary therefore, when she came where Jesus was, seeing him, fell at his feet, saying to him, Lord, if thou hadst been here, my brother had not died.
Three times at the Feet of Jesus. Three times throughout the gospels we find Mary of Bethany at the feet of Jesus. Each time there is a little different emphasis.
- In Luke 10:39 we have Mary at Jesus’ feet as a learner. Each time Jesus would go to Jerusalem, He would stop at Bethany and enjoy the company of Mary, Martha, and Lazarus. There He would teach them divine things, and Mary had the “better part” of sitting at His feet to learn.
- In John 11:32 we have Mary at Jesus’ feet as a pray-er, or supplicant. When overcome with grief, she falls at the feet of her Lord, and without complaining, acknowledges His absolute power over all circumstances, and places herself and her happiness in His capable hands.
- In John 12:3 we have Mary at Jesus’ feet as a worshiper. This is pictured by her anointing His feet with precious spikenard. What the Lord values most is our worship. But we will never be a worshipper until we have sat first at Jesus’ feet as a learner, then as a pray-er.
Together, these three occasions at the feet of Jesus picture the place of the assembly. We ought to be gathered at the feet of Jesus to hear His word (the reading meeting), to bring our cares and needs before Him (the prayer meeting), and to worship collectively (the breaking of bread).
Raising of Lazarus (11:33-44)
33 Jesus therefore, when he saw her weeping, and the Jews who came with her weeping, was deeply moved in spirit, and was troubled, 34 and said, Where have ye put him? They say to him, Lord, come and see. 35 Jesus wept. 36 The Jews therefore said, Behold how he loved him! 37 And some of them said, Could not this man, who has opened the eyes of the blind man, have caused that this man also should not have died? 38 Jesus therefore, again deeply moved in himself, comes to the tomb. Now it was a cave, and a stone lay upon it. 39 Jesus says, Take away the stone. Martha, the sister of the dead, says to him, Lord, he stinks already, for he is four days there. 40 Jesus says to her, Did I not say to thee, that if thou shouldest believe, thou shouldest see the glory of God? 41 They took therefore the stone away. And Jesus lifted up his eyes on high and said, Father, I thank thee that thou hast heard me; 42 but I knew that thou always hearest me; but on account of the crowd who stand around I have said it, that they may believe that thou hast sent me. 43 And having said this, he cried with a loud voice, Lazarus, come forth. 44 And the dead came forth, bound feet and hands with graveclothes, and his face was bound round with a handkerchief. Jesus says to them, Loose him and let him go.
The Sanhedrin’s Plot to Kill Jesus (11:45-54)
45 Many therefore of the Jews who came to Mary and saw what he had done, believed on him; 46 but some of them went to the Pharisees and told them what Jesus had done. 47 The chief priests, therefore, and the Pharisees gathered a council, and said, What do we? for this man does many signs. 48 If we let him thus alone, all will believe on him, and the Romans will come and take away both our place and our nation. 49 But a certain one of them, Caiaphas, being high priest that year, said to them, Ye know nothing 50 nor consider that it is profitable for you that one man die for the people, and not that the whole nation perish. 51 But this he did not say of himself; but, being high priest that year, prophesied that Jesus was going to die for the nation; 52 and not for the nation only, but that he should also gather together into one the children of God who were scattered abroad. 53 From that day therefore they took counsel that they might kill him. 54 Jesus therefore walked no longer openly among the Jews, but went away thence into the country near the desert, to a city called Ephraim, and there he sojourned with the disciples.
Setting: The Public’s Excitement in Regard to Jesus Approaching Passover (11:55-57)
55 But the passover of the Jews was near, and many went up to Jerusalem out of the country before the passover, that they might purify themselves. vv.55 (one for each year of public ministry – John 2:13; 6:4; 11:55).
56 They sought therefore Jesus, and said among themselves, standing in the temple, What do ye think? that he will not come to the feast? 57 Now the chief priests and the Pharisees had given commandment that if any one knew where he was, he should make it known, that they might take him.