David Guzik's Commentary on the Bible
John 11 - JESUS RAISES LAZARUS FROM THE DEAD
A. The death of Lazarus.
1. (John 11:1-3) A request is brought to Jesus.
Now a certain man was sick, Lazarus of Bethany, the town of Mary and her sister Martha. It was that Mary who anointed the Lord with fragrant oil and wiped His feet with her hair, whose brother Lazarus was sick. Therefore the sisters sent to Him, saying, “Lord, behold, he whom You love is sick.”
a. Mary . . . her sister Martha . . . brother Lazarus: Jesus had a close relationship with this family, and it was expected that if He miraculously met the needs of so many others, He would meet their need also.
b. Lord, behold, he whom You love is sick: They do not state their request, but they do not need to. Where there is a true bond of love, there is no need to request a favor; it is enough to make the need known.
2. (John 11:4-6) Jesus responds with a delay.
When Jesus heard that, He said, “This sickness is not unto death, but for the glory of God, that the Son of God may be glorified through it.” Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. So, when He heard that he was sick, He stayed two more days in the place where He was.
a. This sickness is not unto death: Lazarus was already dead when Jesus said this; but He knew the end result of this would be the glory of God, not death.
b. He stayed two more days: In John’s gospel, there are three times when someone near and dear to Jesus makes a request of Him (the other two are His mother at Cana, and His brothers on their way to Jerusalem). In each of these three cases, Jesus responded in the same way.
i. He first refused to grant their request, then He fulfilled it after asserting that He does things according to the timing and will of God, not man.
ii. Through His actions, Jesus demonstrated that His delays were not denials. They would bring greater glory to God.
3. (John 11:7-10) Jesus courageously decides to go to Judea and Jerusalem.
Then after this He said to the disciples, “Let us go to Judea again.” The disciples said to Him, “Rabbi, lately the Jews sought to stone You, and are You going there again?” Jesus answered, “Are there not twelve hours in the day? If anyone walks in the day, he does not stumble, because he sees the light of this world. But if one walks in the night, he stumbles, because the light is not in him.”
a. Let us go to Judea again: Jesus could have raised Lazarus from a distance. But Jesus was willing to go to Judea and minister to Lazarus and his family, even though it was dangerous to go there. Jesus walked in the confidence of someone who really trusts God.
b. Are there not twelve hours in the day? Jesus’ disciples were shocked that He would return to the region of Judea when He was a wanted man there. But Jesus makes it clear that He still has work to do. The twelve hours probably refer to the time allotted by the Father for Jesus’ earthly ministry.
c. If anyone walks in the day, he does not stumble: During these hours no harm could come to Jesus and the disciples, but now they must work before the night of Jesus’ passion.
4. (John 11:11-15) Jesus tells them plainly of Lazarus’ death.
These things He said, and after that He said to them, “Our friend Lazarus sleeps, but I go that I may wake him up.” Then His disciples said, “Lord, if he sleeps he will get well.” However, Jesus spoke of his death, but they thought that He was speaking about taking rest in sleep. Then Jesus said to them plainly, “Lazarus is dead. And I am glad for your sakes that I was not there, that you may believe. Nevertheless let us go to him.”
a. Lazarus is dead. And I am glad: Jesus could be glad, even in the death of a dear friend, because He was certain of the outcome.
5. (John 11:16) Thomas’ bold faith.
Then Thomas, who is called the Twin, said to his fellow disciples, “Let us also go, that we may die with Him.”
a. Let us also go, that we may die with Him: Thomas expresses what it means to be a disciple of Jesus. He is willing to go with Jesus, even if it means dying with Him. Thomas may not have understood it at the time, but we can know today that if we die with Him we will surely be raised and be glorified with Him.
i. Thomas, like the other disciples, didn’t understand all that Jesus said or meant. But what he did know was enough to make him willing to die with and for Jesus. “Here is a sufficient rule to walk by, whether our faith be dim or clear; namely, sheer loyalty.” (Loyd)
b. Thomas, who is called the Twin: Church tradition says that Thomas was called “The Twin” because he looked like Jesus, putting him at special risk. If any among the disciples of Jesus were potential targets of persecution, it would be the one who looked like Jesus.
B. Jesus meets with Martha and Mary.
1. (John 11:17-22) Martha greets Jesus as He comes to Bethany.
So when Jesus came, He found that he had already been in the tomb four days. Now Bethany was near Jerusalem, about two miles away. And many of the Jews had joined the women around Martha and Mary, to comfort them concerning their brother. Then Martha, as soon as she heard that Jesus was coming, went and met Him, but Mary was sitting in the house. Then Martha said to Jesus, “Lord, if You had been here, my brother would not have died. But even now I know that whatever You ask of God, God will give You.”
a. He had already been in the tomb four days: Why did He wait four days? Jesus did this in light of the Jewish superstition of that day that said a soul stays near the grave for three days, hoping to return to the body. Therefore, it was accepted that after four days there was absolutely no hope of resuscitation.
b. Lord, if You had been here, my brother would not have died: Martha plainly states her disappointment in Jesus’ late arrival. Even if she doesn’t show total confidence in Jesus at this point, her honesty with Jesus is refreshing.
c. Even now I know that whatever You ask of God, God will give You: Martha isn’t confident that Jesus will raise her brother, rather she says that she still believes in Him despite the disappointment. Can we say the same thing?
2. (John 11:23-27) I am the resurrection and the life.
Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.” Martha said to Him, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day.” Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me, though he may die, he shall live. And whoever lives and believes in Me shall never die. Do you believe this?” She said to Him, “Yes, Lord, I believe that You are the Christ, the Son of God, who is to come into the world.”
a. I am the resurrection and the life: With this statement, Jesus overthrows everything thing we know about the law of entropy and the way things work in this world. For a long, long time, death has ruled over men like a tyrant. This is not the land of the living, but the land of the dying.
i. Humorists and philosophers have understood the basic fear of death, and the basic dilemma of death. “Neither in the hearts of men nor in the manners of society will there be a lasting peace until we outlaw death.” (Albert Camus) “I don’t want to achieve immortality through my work. I want to achieve it through not dying.” (Woody Allen)
b. He who believes in Me, though he may day, he shall live: Jesus is the champion over death. While the ancients feared death, the Christian can only fear dying. The believer will never die, but simply make an instant transition from an old life to a new life.
i. Think about how grand the claim of Jesus is here. I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me, though he may die, he shall live. Who but God could possibly say such things?
c. Do you believe this? Jesus challenges Martha not to debate or intellectual assent, but to belief.
3. (John 11:28-32) Mary’s regret.
And when she had said these things, she went her way and secretly called Mary her sister, saying, “The Teacher has come and is calling for you.” As soon as she heard that, she arose quickly and came to Him. Now Jesus had not yet come into the town, but was in the place where Martha met Him. Then the Jews who were with her in the house, and comforting her, when they saw that Mary rose up quickly and went out, followed her, saying, “She is going to the tomb to weep there.” Then, when Mary came where Jesus was, and saw Him, she fell down at His feet, saying to Him, “Lord, if You had been here, my brother would not have died.”
a. Lord, if You had been here, my brother would not have died: Lazarus had two sisters, Mary and Martha. Martha has already spoken to Jesus regarding the death of Lazarus, but now Mary speaks for the first time. Her words are remarkably similar to what Martha told Jesus (John 11:21).
b. My brother would not have died: This is one of the places in the Bible where we wish we could hear the tone of voice and see the expressions on the face. This could be a noble statement of faith, saying that if Jesus were here they have no doubt at all that He would have healed Lazarus. On the other hand, it can be seen as a criticism of what seemed to be the tardiness of Jesus.
C. Lazarus is raised.
1. (John 11:33-38 a) A deeply moved Jesus comes to the tomb.
Therefore, when Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who came with her weeping, He groaned in the spirit and was troubled. And He said, “Where have you laid him?” They said to Him, “Lord, come and see.” Jesus wept. Then the Jews said, “See how He loved him!” And some of them said, “Could not this Man, who opened the eyes of the blind, also have kept this man from dying?” Then Jesus, again groaning in Himself, came to the tomb.
a. He groaned in the spirit and was troubled: Coming to the scene of Lazarus’ tomb, Jesus intensely groaned in the spirit. In the ancient Greek, this literally means “to snort like a horse,” implying anger and indignation.
i. It means that Jesus wasn’t so much sad at the scene surrounding the tomb of Lazarus. It’s more accurate to say that Jesus was angry. Jesus is angry and troubled at the ravages of the great enemy of man: death. He won’t settle for this domination of death much longer.
ii. But, “Christ does not come to the sepulchre as an idle spectator, but like a wrestler preparing for the contest. Therefore no wonder that He groans again, for the violent tyranny of death which He had to overcome stands before His eyes.” (Calvin)
b. Jesus saw her weeping . . . Jesus wept: The contrast between the tears of Mary and Martha and the tears of Jesus is insightful. Weeping (the word used for Mary in John 11:33) is a word that describes loud wailing. Wept (the word to describe Jesus’ expression of grief in John 11:35) is another word that indicates a quiet weeping. Jesus is greatly moved, but not out of control.
c. Jesus wept: This shows that Jesus is not unfeeling, nor stoic, but with strong feeling He prepares to strike a blow against death, the enemy of God and man. Jesus is a passionate enemy of death.
i. To the mind of the ancient Greek, the primary characteristic of God was apatheia: the total inability to feel any emotion whatsoever. The Greeks believed in an isolated, passionless, and compassionless God. That isn’t the God of the Bible. That isn’t the God who is really there.
2. (John 11:38-40) Jesus commands the stone to be removed.
It was a cave, and a stone lay against it. Jesus said, “Take away the stone.” Martha, the sister of him who was dead, said to Him, “Lord, by this time there is a stench, for he has been dead four days.” Jesus said to her, “Did I not say to you that if you would believe you would see the glory of God?”
a. Take away the stone: Everybody thought this was a strange thing for Jesus to ask. After all, Martha knew Lord, by this time he stinketh (King James Version). People probably thought that Jesus was so taken with grief that He wanted one last look at His dear friend Lazarus.
b. By this time there is a stench: In any case, the condition of the body provides an irrefutable confirmation of Lazarus’ dead state.
c. If you would believe you would see the glory of God: Jesus is fully capable of this miracle without the belief of the Martha or Mary. But if they would not believe, then they would never see the glory of God. They could see the end results and be happy in that, but they would miss the glory of working together with God in the accomplishing of His plan.
3. (John 11:41-44) Jesus raises Lazarus from the dead.
Then they took away the stone from the place where the dead man was lying. And Jesus lifted up His eyes and said, “Father, I thank You that You have heard Me. And I know that You always hear Me, but because of the people who are standing by I said this, that they may believe that You sent Me.” Now when He had said these things, He cried with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come forth!” And he who had died came out bound hand and foot with graveclothes, and his face was wrapped with a cloth. Jesus said to them, “Loose him, and let him go.”
a. He cried with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come forth!” Jesus simply calls forth; others whom God used to raise dead bodies in the Scriptures often used far more elaborate procedures
b. Lazarus, come forth! Jesus speaks to a dead body as if Lazarus lived, because He is God, who gives life to the dead and calls those things which do not exist as though they did (Romans 4:17).
i. This is how Jesus can call forth the person dead and defeated in sin and deception to a new life in Him. He is still calling the dead forth from their tombs today!
c. And he who had died came out: Jesus fought death at Lazarus’ tomb, and plundered the grave, serving it notice that shortly He would completely conquer it. This was “coming attraction” for what would happen at the empty tomb of Jesus.
d. His face was wrapped with a cloth: Lazarus was not resurrected, but resuscitated. He arose bound in grave-clothes, for he would need them again; Jesus left His grave-clothes behind in His tomb, never again having need of them.
e. Jesus said to them, “Loose him, and let him go.” Jesus did not miraculously whisk the grave-clothes off of Lazarus, but He asked attendants to do so. He did what only God could do, and looked for men’s cooperation for the completion of Lazarus’ deliverance.
D. Two reactions.
1. (John 11:45) The reaction of faith: many of the Jews . . . believed in Him.
Then many of the Jews who had come to Mary, and had seen the things Jesus did, believed in Him.
a. Many of the Jews . . . had seen the things Jesus did, believe in him: This was undeniably an impressive work of God, and for many it helped them put their trust in who Jesus said He was by seeing what He did.
2. (John 11:46-57) The reaction of unbelief.
But some of them went away to the Pharisees and told them the things Jesus did. Then the chief priests and the Pharisees gathered a council and said, “What shall we do? For this Man works many signs. If we let Him alone like this, everyone will believe in Him, and the Romans will come and take away both our place and nation.” And one of them, Caiaphas, being high priest that year, said to them, “You know nothing at all, nor do you consider that it is expedient for us that one man should die for the people, and not that the whole nation should perish.” Now this he did not say on his own authority; but being high priest that year he prophesied that Jesus would die for the nation, and not for that nation only, but also that He would gather together in one the children of God who were scattered abroad. Then, from that day on, they plotted to put Him to death. Therefore Jesus no longer walked openly among the Jews, but went from there into the country near the wilderness, to a city called Ephraim, and there remained with His disciples. And the Passover of the Jews was near, and many went from the country up to Jerusalem before the Passover, to purify themselves. Then they sought Jesus, and spoke among themselves as they stood in the temple, “What do you think; that He will not come to the feast?” Now both the chief priests and the Pharisees had given a command, that if anyone knew where He was, he should report it, that they might seize Him.
a. Everyone will believe in Him, and the Romans will come and take away our . . . place: Their fears revealed a complete misunderstanding of the motives of Jesus, who had no political ambition, whatsoever.
b. The Romans will come and take away both our place and nation: In ironic fact, this rejection of Jesus resulted in the political ruin and ultimate destruction of the nation.
c. It is expedient for us that one man should die for the people, and not that the whole nation should perish: Caiaphas gives an unconscious and involuntary prophecy, but it is attributed to the office, not the man (being high priest that year he prophesied).
d. Then from that day on they plotted to put Him to death: Before, it was mostly lesser religious officials who wanted Jesus dead. But now, the men with real political power have decided to murder Jesus. The time is short until the end - or, the beginning, if you will.
e. Therefore Jesus no longer walked openly among the Jews: Again, Jesus did not do this out of fear, but because His hour had not yet come (as in John 7:30). The hour had not yet come, but it was soon to come.
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