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Bible Commentaries

Expository Notes of Dr. Thomas Constable
John 11

 

 

Other Authors
Verse 1-2

"Lazarus" probably is a variant of "Eleazar" meaning "God helps." [Note: Brown, 1:422.] The Synoptic writers did not mention him, which is probably why John described him as Mary and Martha"s brother. These sisters appear in John"s Gospel for the first time here, but they appear in all the Synoptics that preceded the fourth Gospel (cf. Matthew 26:6-12; Mark 14:3-9; Luke 10:38-42).

The Bethany in view is the one almost two miles east of Jerusalem ( John 11:18), not the one in Perea to which the writer referred earlier ( John 1:28). John"s further description of Mary in John 11:2 alludes to the event he would narrate in John 12:1-8. Perhaps he believed that his original readers would have heard of this incident already (cf. Matthew 26:6-12; Mark 14:3-9), or he may have just been tying his two references to Mary together.


Verses 1-16

Lazarus" death11:1-16

In this pericope John stressed Jesus" deliberate purpose in allowing Lazarus to die and the reality of his death.


Verses 1-44

1. The seventh sign: raising Lazarus11:1-44

Jesus had presented Himself as the Water of Life, the Bread of Life, and the Light of Life. Now He revealed Himself as the resurrection and the life. This was the seventh and last of Jesus" miraculous signs that John recorded, and it was the most powerful revelation of His true identity. [Note: See Edersheim, 2:308.] It shows Jesus" authority over humankind"s greatest and last enemy: death. Some scholars view Jesus" resurrection as one of His signs. Others prefer to view it as in a different class from the miracles that Jesus performed while He was living on the earth. I favor the second option.

"The claim of Jesus to be working in complete and conscious union with His Father led the Jews to attempt unsuccessfully to stone Him [ John 10:31]. But it was His claim to bestow upon believers the gift of eternal life by raising them from spiritual death which led, according to the Johannine narrative, to His crucifixion [ John 11:53]." [Note: Tasker, p137.]

"Physical death is the divine object lesson of what sin does in the spiritual realm. As physical death ends life and separates people, so spiritual death is the separation of people from God and the loss of life which is in God ( John 1:4). Jesus has come so that people may live full lives ( John 10:10)." [Note: Blum, p312.]


Verse 3

The title "Lord" (Gr. kyrie) was respectful and did not necessarily imply belief in Jesus" deity. Obviously Jesus had had considerable contact with Lazarus and his two sisters, so much so that the women could appeal to Jesus" filial love (Gr. phileis) for their brother when they urged Him to come. They also believed that Jesus could help their brother by healing him (cf. John 11:21; Psalm 50:15). They must have realized that Jesus was in danger anywhere near Jerusalem ( John 11:8).


Verse 4

Jesus meant that Lazarus would not die in the final sense, though this sickness did prove fatal. His immediate death would result in resurrection and the revelation of Jesus as God"s Son (cf. John 9:3). In this Gospel, God"s "glory" is usually a reference to His self-revelation rather than the praise that comes to Him (cf. John 1:14-18; John 5:23; John 12:28; John 17:4). [Note: Carson, The Gospel . . ., p406.] Ironically this miracle displayed Jesus" identity as God"s Song of Solomon , but it also led to His death that was the ultimate manifestation of His identity and glory.


Verse 5-6

John dispelled any doubt about Jesus" true love (Gr. agape) for this family. His delay did not show disinterest but divine purpose (cf. John 2:4; John 7:3-10).


Verse 7-8

Jesus" decision to return to the Jerusalem area in Judea seemed foolhardy to the disciples who reminded Him that the Jews there had recently tried to stone Him ( John 10:31; John 10:39). They obviously did not yet appreciate the Father"s protection of His Son until His appointed hour or the inevitability of Jesus" death.


Verse 9-10

The Jews and the Romans commonly regarded the daylight hours as12and the nighttime hours as the other12. Literally Jesus was referring to the daylight hours. Metaphorically the daylight hours represented the Father"s will. Jesus was safe as long as He did the Father"s will. For the disciples, as long as they continued to follow Jesus, the Light of the World, they would not stumble. Walking in the night pictures behaving without divine illumination or authorization. Living in the realm of darkness (i.e, evil) is dangerous (cf. 1 John 1:6).

"When there is darkness in the soul, then we will stumble indeed." [Note: Morris, p481.]


Verses 11-13

Jesus explained further why He needed to go to Bethany. Sleep was a common Old Testament metaphor for death (e.g, someone "slept with his fathers;" cf. Mark 5:39). However the idea that people would awake from this sleep, while revealed in the Old Testament ( Daniel 12:2), was not the common perception of the outcome of death. Normally people thought of those who fell asleep in death as staying asleep. Thus the disciples" confusion is understandable as is John"s clarification of Jesus" meaning. The New Testament writers commonly referred to death as sleep for the Christian because our resurrection to life is a prominent revelation and is sure (cf. Acts 7:60; 1 Corinthians 15:20; 1 Corinthians 15:51; 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18). That Jesus was not teaching soul sleep should be clear from Luke 16:19-31.

The doctrine of soul sleep is the teaching that at death the soul, specifically the immaterial part of Prayer of Manasseh , becomes unconscious until the resurrection of the body. The story of the rich man and Lazarus in Luke 16 shows that people are conscious after death and before their resurrection.


Verse 14-15

Apparently Jesus was glad that He had not been present when Lazarus died because the disciples would learn a strong lesson from his resurrection that would increase their faith. The sign that Lazarus" death made possible would be the clearest demonstration of Jesus" identity so far and would convince many people that He was God"s Son.


Verse 16

This is the first reference in the Gospels to Thomas saying something. John described this member of the Twelve ( Matthew 10:3; Mark 3:18; Luke 6:15; Acts 1:13) further as the one called the twin. The name "Thomas" evidently comes from the Hebrew tom and the Aramaic toma both of which mean twin. "Didymus" is the Greek equivalent of "twin." We do not know for sure who Thomas" twin brother or sister may have been. Usually Peter was the spokesman for the Twelve, but here, as later, John presented Thomas as speaking out (cf. John 14:5; John 20:24-29; John 21:2).

"We do not know whose twin he was, but there are times when all of us seem to be his twin when we consider our unbelief and depressed feelings!" [Note: Wiersbe, 1:335.]

Most Christians tend to think of Thomas as a doubter because of His unwillingness to believe in Jesus later ( John 20:24-29). However here his devotion to Jesus and his courage stand out. He did not understand how safe the disciples would be going up to Bethany since they were with Jesus who was walking in obedience to His Father ( John 11:9-10). He did not understand that the death that Jesus would die was a death that His disciples could not participate in with Him (cf. John 1:29; John 1:36). Nevertheless he spoke better than he knew. John probably recorded his exhortation because it was a call to disciples to take up their cross and follow Jesus (cf. John 12:25; Mark 8:34; 2 Corinthians 4:10).


Verse 17

There is some evidence that the later Jewish rabbis believed that the spirit of a person who had died lingered over the corpse for three days or until decomposition of the body had begun. They believed that the spirit then abandoned the body because any hope of resuscitation was gone. They apparently felt that there was still hope that the person might revive during the first three days after death. Other scholars question whether this is what the Jews believed as early as this event. [Note: Carson, The Gospel . . ., p411.] In either case the fact that Jesus raised Lazarus after he had been dead for four days would have left no question that Jesus had truly raised the dead. Customarily the Jews buried a corpse the same day the person died due to the warm climate and the relatively rapid rate of decay it caused (cf. Acts 5:5-6; Acts 5:10). [Note: Edersheim, 2:315.]

"Not only the rich, but even those moderately well-to-do, had tombs of their own, which probably were acquired and prepared long before they were needed, and treated and inherited as private and personal property. In such caves, or rock-hewn tombs, the bodies were laid, having been anointed with many spices, with myrtle, aloes, and, at a later period, also with hyssop, rose-oil, and rose-water." [Note: Ibid, 2:318.]

It is impossible to reconstruct an exact timetable of events day by day, though most commentators offered their views all of which involve some speculation. We do not know exactly how long it took the messenger to reach Jesus or how long Lazarus lived after the messenger came and told Jesus that Lazarus was dying ( John 11:3). We do not know how long it took Jesus to reach Bethany of Judea from where He was either.

". . . it was the practice to visit the grave, especially during the first three days." [Note: Ibid, 2:323.]


Verses 17-29

The revelation of the resurrection and the life11:17-29

The scene now shifts from the region near Bethany of Perea ( John 1:28; John 10:40) to the Bethany in Judea. Both towns became sites where people believed on Jesus.


Verse 18-19

Bethany was about15 stadia (approximately one and three-quarters miles) east of Jerusalem. John implied that many family friends came from Jerusalem to console Mary and Martha. Prolonged grieving often lasting several days was customary in the ancient Near East. [Note: Cf. ibid, 2:320-21.] Therefore many people from Jerusalem either witnessed or heard about Jesus" miracle.


Verse 20

This picture of Martha as the activist and Mary as the more passive of the two sisters harmonizes with Luke"s presentation of them ( Luke 10:38-42).


Verse 21-22

Martha addressed Jesus respectfully but probably not reverentially as "Lord." Some readers of the story have interpreted John 11:21 as containing a rebuke, but Martha"s words there do not necessarily imply criticism. At least they convey Martha"s grief and her confidence in Jesus" power to heal people. In view of John 11:24; John 11:39, John 11:22 probably does not mean that Martha believed that Jesus could raise Lazarus back to life. More likely Martha was reaffirming her confidence in Him that her loss had not shaken. Her words in both verses expressed what many others who had faith in Jesus believed.


Verse 23-24

Jesus" response was also typical of Him. His words had an obvious literal meaning, but they were truer than anyone present realized at the moment. Jesus offered Martha comfort based on the Old Testament assurance that God would resurrect believers ( Isaiah 26:19; Daniel 12:2; cf. John 5:28-29). Martha, as the Pharisees, believed this Old Testament Revelation , though the Sadducees did not (cf. Acts 23:7-8). The "last day" refers to the end of the present age as the Jews viewed history, namely, just before Messiah would inaugurate the new kingdom age (cf. John 6:39-40; John 6:44; John 6:54; John 12:48).

"When we find ourselves confronted by disease, disappointment, delay, and even death, our only encouragement is the Word of God." [Note: Wiersbe, 1:334.]


Verse 25

Jesus proceeded to make another of His "I am" claims. He meant that He would personally effect resurrection and provide eternal life (cf. John 5:21; John 5:25-29). He wanted Martha to think about the Person who would do the resurrecting rather than the event. Jesus raises people to life just as He satisfies people as bread and Isaiah , therefore, the essential element in resurrection. Without Him there is no resurrection or life. This was really a double claim. Jesus meant that He was the resurrection and He was the life. This is clear because He dealt with the two concepts of resurrection and life separately in the discussion that followed.

Whoever believes in Jesus will live spiritually and eternally even though he or she dies physically (cf. John 5:21). Jesus imparts eternal life to those who believe in Him. He is the life in the sense that He is its source and benefactor. Whereas He will effect resurrection for those who believe and die physically, He bestows eternal life and it begins for the believer before he or she dies physically.

"When you are sick, you want a doctor and not a medical book or a formula. When you are being sued, you want a lawyer and not a law book. Likewise, when you face your last enemy, death, you want the Savior and not a doctrine written in a book. In Jesus Christ, every doctrine is made personal ( 1 Corinthians 1:30)." [Note: Ibid, 1:336.]


Verse 26

Furthermore every living person who believes in Jesus will not experience eternal spiritual death. This is another promise of salvation but also of eternal security.

Jesus then asked Martha to affirm her faith in Him as the One who will raise the dead and who now gives eternal life. He was questioning her faith in Him, not her faith in doctrines. She had already expressed her faith in the doctrine of the resurrection ( John 11:24).


Verse 27

Martha confessed that she did indeed believe that Jesus was the resurrection and the life. Her answer focused on His person, not just on the teachings of Judaism (cf. John 20:28; John 20:30-31). That she truly understood and believed what Jesus revealed about Himself is clear from her reply. She correctly concluded that if Jesus was the One who would raise the dead and impart spiritual life He must be the Messiah. She clarified that what she meant by "Messiah" was not the popular idea of a revolutionary leader but the biblical revelation of a God-man whom God promised to send from heaven (cf. John 1:9; John 1:49; John 6:14). This saving faith rested on facts about Jesus that were true but went on to place personal trust in Him to fulfill His claims.

Martha"s confession of faith is a high point in the fourth Gospel, as Peter"s was in the first Gospel (cf. Matthew 16:16). This is the clearest expression of saving faith thus far in this book. Doubtless John recorded it because it advances his major purpose of convincing his readers that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, so they might obtain eternal life by believing in Him ( John 20:31).


Verse 28

Martha"s reaction is another good model. Having come to faith in Jesus herself she proceeded to bring others to Him knowing that He could help them too (cf. John 1:40-45; John 4:28-29). As Andrew had done ( John 1:41-42), Martha brought her sibling to the Savior. She described Jesus to her sister as they both had known Him best. She did it secretly to enable Mary to meet with Jesus privately. Jesus had expressed interest in Mary coming to Him, and Martha became the agent who brought her to Him. Rabbis did not normally initiate contact with women, but Jesus was no ordinary rabbi.


Verse 29

Mary responded to Jesus" invitation to come to Him. This does not mean she became a believer in Him then. Nevertheless it seems clear that she did trust in Him at some time, as Martha did (cf. Matthew 26:6-12; Mark 14:3-9).


Verses 30-32

Mary"s physical response to Jesus was more emotional than Martha"s had been, perhaps reflecting her temperament. Again we find Mary at Jesus" feet (cf. Luke 10:39). Her words were identical to Martha"s ( John 11:21). She met Jesus in a public place whereas Martha had talked with Him privately. This probably accounts in part for Jesus" different responses to the two women.

"Mary is found three times in the Gospel record, and each time she is at the feet of Jesus ( Luke 10:39; John 11:32; John 12:3). She sat at His feet and listened to His word; she fell at His feet and poured out her sorrow; and she came to His feet to given Him her praise and worship. Mary"s only recorded words in the Gospels are given in John 11:32, and they echo what Martha had already said ( John 11:21)." [Note: Ibid.]


Verses 30-37

The revelation of Jesus" compassion11:30-37

The emphasis in this pericope is on Jesus" compassion in the face of sin"s consequences.


Verse 33

The phrase "deeply moved" translates the Greek word enebrimesato. It invariably describes an angry, outraged, and indignant attitude (cf. John 11:38; Matthew 9:30; Mark 1:43; Mark 14:5). These emotions mingled in Jesus" spirit as He contemplated the situation before Him. John also described Jesus as "troubled" (Gr. etaraxen). This is another strong verb that describes emotional turmoil (cf. John 5:7; John 12:27; John 13:21; John 14:1; John 14:27). Jesus was angry, but at what? The context provides some help in identifying the cause of His anger.

Evidently as Jesus viewed the misery that death inflicts on humans and the loved ones of those who die He thought of its cause: sin. Many of the Jews present had come from Jerusalem where Jesus had encountered stubborn unbelief. The sin of unbelief resulted in spiritual death, the source of eternal grief and mourning. Probably Jesus felt angry because He was face to face with the consequences of sin and particularly unbelief.

Other explanations for Jesus" anger are that Jesus resented being forced to do a miracle. [Note: Barrett, p399.] However, Jesus had waited to go to Bethany so He could perform a miracle ( John 11:11). Another idea is that Jesus believed the Jews" mourning was hypocritical, but there is nothing in the text that indicates that the mourners were insincere. Others believe that John meant that Jesus was profoundly moved by these events, particularly the attitude of the mourners who failed to understand His person. [Note: Morris, p494.]


Verse 34-35

Jesus wept (Gr. dakryo, lit. shed tears; cf. Isaiah 53:3). His weeping doubtless expressed outwardly the sorrow that contemplation of sin and its consequences produced in His heart. Jesus" tears are proof of His compassion for fallen humanity (cf. Luke 19:41). He could not have been weeping over the loss of His friend Lazarus since He was about to restore him to life. Likewise it is unlikely that He was just weeping compassionately with Martha and Mary since He was about to turn their grief into rejoicing. Nevertheless empathy undoubtedly played some part in Jesus" weeping.

Martha had just testified to Jesus" deity ( John 11:27), and now Jesus" tears witnessed to His humanity.


Verse 36-37

The Jewish onlookers interpreted Jesus" angry tears in two ways. They took them as evidence of Jesus" great love for Lazarus. They did reflect that, but not as the Jews thought. Jesus was not weeping because death had separated Him from His friend. The Jews also concluded that Jesus" tears reflected the grief He felt over His apparent inability to prevent Lazarus from dying. This deduction revealed unbelief as well as ignorance of Jesus" person. Jesus" healing of the man born blind had occurred several months earlier, but it had obviously made a strong impression on the people living in Jerusalem since they referred to it now.


Verse 38

Jesus again felt the same angry emotion as He approached Lazarus" tomb (cf. John 11:33). Tombs cut into the limestone hillsides of that area were common. Today several similar caves are visible to everyone. Normally a large round stone sealed the entrance against animals and curious individuals.


Verses 38-44

Lazarus" resurrection11:38-44

Jesus proceeded to vindicate His claim that He was the One who would raise the dead and provide life ( John 11:25).


Verse 39

Even though Martha had confessed her belief that Jesus would raise the dead she did not understand that Jesus planned to raise her brother immediately. Jesus had given her no reason to hope that He would. The Jews customarily wrapped the bodies of their dead in cloth and added spices to counteract the odors that decomposition produced. They did not embalm them as thoroughly as the Egyptians did. [Note: Sanders, p274 , footnote1.]

Interestingly Martha did not appeal to Jesus on the basis of the ritual uncleanness that contact with a dead body would create for the Jews. Perhaps she had learned that ritual uncleanness was not something that bothered Jesus. Her concern was a practical one in harmony with her personality as the Gospel writers presented it.


Verse 40-41

Jesus" reply summarized what He had said to Martha earlier ( John 11:23-26). He viewed raising someone to life as an act that glorified God by revealing His Son. Martha"s willingness to allow the removal of the stone testified to her confidence in Jesus. When the stone was away from the tomb"s entrance, every eye must have been on Jesus to see what He would do.


Verse 41-42

Jesus addressed God in prayer characteristically as His Father. He spoke as though the raising of Lazarus was something that the Father had already decreed, which was true (cf. John 11:11). His prayer was not a request for Lazarus" resurrection. Such a prayer would have glorified the Father. It was rather a prayer of thanksgiving for what the Father would shortly do. It had the effect of focusing attention on the Son as God"s agent in performing the miracle. Jesus" prayer had the effect also of drawing the onlookers into His intimate relationship with the Father and proving that He really did do nothing independently of the Father (cf. John 5:19-47).

Jesus" public prayer here is a good reminder that all leaders in public prayer should take those present into account when they pray. We should do so not by "playing to the gallery" (cf. Matthew 6:5) but by voicing prayers that are appropriate in view of who is present.


Verse 43-44

The dead heard the voice of the Son of God and lived, as Jesus had predicted ( John 5:25; John 5:28-29). If Jesus had not specified Lazarus by name, every dead person might have arisen at His command. Jesus probably cried out loudly to make clear that this resurrection was not an act of magic. Wizards typically muttered their incantations and spells quietly (cf. Isaiah 8:19). [Note: Morris, p498.] Furthermore such a loud command emphasized Jesus" authority.

The Jews did not wrap their dead so tightly in their grave clothes that Lazarus would have had difficulty doing what John wrote that he did.

"The corpse was customarily laid on a sheet of linen, wide enough to envelop the body completely and more than twice the length of the corpse. The body was so placed on the sheet that the feet were at one end, and then the sheet was drawn over the head and back down to the feet. The feet were bound at the ankles, and the arms were tied to the body with linen strips. The face was bound with another cloth ... Jesus" body was apparently prepared for burial in the same way (cf. John 19:40; John 20:5; John 20:7). A person so bound could hop and shuffle, but scarcely walk." [Note: Carson, The Gospel . . ., pp418-19.]

While there are similarities between Lazarus and Jesus" resurrections, we must also remember their significant differences. Lazarus came to life only to die again later, as a mortal, whereas Jesus arose never to die again, as immortal. Lazarus arose with the same physical body that went into his tomb, but Jesus arose with a spiritual body that could pass through solid objects ( 1 Corinthians 15). Thus Lazarus" resurrection was only a pale anticipation of the resurrection of Jesus that was to come. Nevertheless it was the greatest of Jesus" signs.

"If Jesus Christ can do nothing about death, then whatever else He can do amounts to nothing [cf. 1 Corinthians 15:19]." [Note: Wiersbe, 1:334.]

This miracle illustrated Jesus" ability to empower people with new life (cf. John 14:6). He had previously raised the widow of Nain"s son ( Luke 7:15) and Jairus" daughter ( Matthew 9:25; Mark 5:42; Luke 8:55) back to life, but Lazarus had been dead four days. There could now be no doubt about Jesus" ability to raise the dead. Physically He will do this for everyone at the resurrections yet future. He will raise Christians at the Rapture ( 1 Thessalonians 4:16), Old Testament and Tribulation saints at the Second Coming ( Daniel 12:2; Revelation 20:4; Revelation 20:6), and unbelievers at the end of the Millennium ( Revelation 20:5). Spiritually Jesus gives life to all who believe on Him the moment they trust in Him ( John 5:24).

"In some respects the story of Martha and Mary prepares the reader for the challenge to believe in Jesus" death, burial, and resurrection. His intentional delay also reveals that God often uses suffering as an opportunity for divine intervention, even though it is difficult in such situations to believe." [Note: Howard, p77.]

"Just as the preincarnate Word gave physical life and light to humankind in creation ( John 1:2), so Jesus as the Word Incarnate gives spiritual life and light to people who believe in Him." [Note: Harris, p178.]

There are many questions that John"s account of this miracle leaves unanswered that tantalize our imaginations, such as what Lazarus reported to his friends. These things the evangelist deliberately avoided to focus the reader"s attention on Jesus.

"The miracle of raising Lazarus from the dead authenticated Jesus" authority to grant eternal life to those who believe in Him. In raising Lazarus from the dead, Jesus was also demonstrating the validity of His own claims that He would rise again, and that He had the power and authority to do so. This miracle also illustrates Jesus" claims that He will raise people at the eschatological resurrection." [Note: Stephen S. Kim, "The Significance of Jesus" Raising Lazarus from the Dead in John 11 ," Bibliotheca Sacra168:669 (January-March2011):62.]


Verse 45-46

The popular response11:45-46

Even this most powerful miracle failed to convince many that Jesus was God"s Son. Many who had come to console Mary believed on Him, but the depth of their faith undoubtedly varied. A faith based on miracles is not the strongest faith, but John viewed it as better than no faith at all (cf. John 2:23). [Note: Morris, p500.] John"s reference to Mary rather than to Martha and Mary may imply that these people had greater affection for Mary. Alternatively they may have viewed her as needing more emotional support than her sister (cf. John 11:19). Other observers of this miracle went to the Pharisees. The contrast suggests that they disbelieved and went to inform the Pharisees so these leaders would take action against Jesus.


Verses 45-57

2. The responses to the raising of Lazarus11:45-57

Again Jesus" words and works divided the Jews (cf. John 6:14-15; John 7:10-13; John 7:45-52; John 10:19-21).


Verse 47-48

John"s "Therefore" or "Then" ties this paragraph directly to what precedes in a cause and effect relationship. The chief priests, who were mostly Sadducees, and the Pharisees, who were mostly scribes, assembled for an official meeting. The chief priests dominated the Sanhedrin, but the Pharisees were a powerful minority. The third and smallest group in the Sanhedrin was the elders, who were landed aristocrats who had mixed theological views.

The Sanhedrin members felt that they had to take some decisive action against Jesus because the more miracles He performed the greater His popular following grew. Ever more of the Jews were concluding that Jesus was the Messiah. Their present tactics against Jesus needed adjusting or He might destroy them.

It is interesting that they admitted privately that Jesus had performed many signs, though publicly they had earlier asked Him to produce some to prove His claims ( John 2:18; John 6:30). Someone in the Sanhedrin, perhaps Nicodemus, must have reported this confession of their selfish reasons for killing Jesus to the disciples later.

"It has always been the case that those whose minds are made up to oppose what Christ stands for will not be convinced by any amount of evidence." [Note: Ibid, p502.]

The reference to "our place" was probably to the position of authority they occupied. A popular uprising resulting from the Jews" belief that Israel"s political deliverer had appeared might bring the Romans down hard on Israel"s leaders and strip them of their power. These rulers viewed Israel as their nation rather than God"s nation, and they did not want to lose control of it or their prestige as its leaders (cf. King Saul). No one mentioned the welfare of the people in such an event (cf. John 10:8).

"The rich man in hades had argued, "If one went unto them from the dead, they will repent" ( Luke 16:30. Lazarus came back from the dead, and the officials wanted to kill him!" [Note: Wiersbe, 1:338.]


Verses 47-53

The official response11:47-53

The raising of Lazarus convinced Israel"s leaders that they had to take more drastic action against Jesus. John recorded this decision as the high point of Israel"s official rejection of God"s Son so far. This decision led directly to Jesus" arrest and crucifixion.


Verse 49

Caiaphas" remarks reflect the frenzy that characterized this meeting. He addressed his colleagues rather unflatteringly as ignoramuses. Caiaphas had received his office of high priest from the Romans in A.D18. His father-in-law Annas had preceded him in the office, and Annas continued to exercise considerable influence. However it was Caiaphas who had the official power at this time.

John"s reference to "that year" ( John 11:49) was probably with the year of Jesus" death in mind (cf. John 11:51; John 18:13). Another possibility is that John may have been hinting at the tenuous nature of the high priestly office in those days when Rome arbitrarily deposed and appointed leaders with little warning. [Note: J. B. Lightfoot, Biblical Essays, pp28-29.] Caiaphas" insulting statement to his fellow Sanhedrin members, "You know nothing at all!" presents him as a rude boor.


Verse 50

Caiaphas solution to the problem that Jesus posed was to get rid of Him-permanently. He seems to have felt impatient with His fellow rulers for hesitating to take this brutal step. He viewed Jesus" death as a sacrifice that was necessary for the welfare of the nation, by which he meant its leaders. Jesus" sacrificial death was precisely God"s intention though for a different reason. Caiaphas viewed Jesus as a scapegoat whose sacrifice would guarantee the life of Israel"s leaders. God viewed Jesus as a lamb who would die to guarantee the life of believers. Ironically Jesus" death would condemn these unbelieving leaders, not save them. Moreover it did not save them from losing their power to the Romans who dismantled the Sanhedrin when they destroyed the city in the war of A.D66-70.


Verse 51-52

John interpreted Caiaphas" words for his readers. He viewed Caiaphas" statement as a prophecy. He spoke God"s will as the high priest even though he did not realize he was doing so. Caiaphas" motive was, of course, completely contrary to God"s will, but God overruled to accomplish His will through the high priest"s selfish advice.

Caiaphas unconsciously prophesied that Jesus would die as a substitute for the Israelite nation (cf. Isaiah 53:8). The outcome of His death would be the uniting of God"s children scattered abroad, non-members of Israel as well as Jews, into one body, namely, the church (cf. John 4:42; John 10:16; Ephesians 2:14-18; Ephesians 3:6; 1 Peter 2:9). Ultimately it would unite Jewish and Gentile believers in the messianic kingdom (cf. Isaiah 43:5; Ezekiel 34:12).


Verse 53

The result of this apparently formal meeting was the Sanhedrin"s official decision to kill Jesus. This decision constituted another climax in the ongoing opposition against Jesus that John traced in this Gospel (cf. Matthew 26:3-4). Obviously the trials of Jesus before the high priests and the Sanhedrin were simply formalities designed to give the appearance of justice. The leaders had already tried Jesus and sentenced Him to die (cf. Mark 14:1-2). All that remained was to decide when and how to execute His sentence.

John did not record Jesus" trial before Caiaphas and the Sanhedrin, as the Synoptic writers did. This may have been the meeting of the Sanhedrin that he viewed as the real trial of Jesus.


Verse 54

Jesus may have learned of the Sanhedrin"s decision from a sympathetic member such as Nicodemus. He withdrew to a private place and no longer ministered publicly. The town of Ephraim may have been Old Testament Ephron about four miles northeast of Bethel and twelve miles from Jerusalem ( 2 Chronicles 13:19). However, this location would not have removed Him very far from Jerusalem. The only two wildernesses mentioned in the Gospels are the wilderness of Judea, south and east of Jerusalem, and the wilderness north of Perea, where John baptized. The second of these two sites seems to be the more probably place of Jesus" retreat. [Note: See Edersheim, 2:127.]


Verses 54-57

Jesus" reaction11:54-57

This pericope summarizes the situation at this stage of Jesus" ministry. The leaders had determined to kill Him, and Jesus withdrew to the town of Ephraim.


Verse 55

This is the third and final Passover that John mentioned in his Gospel (cf. John 2:13; John 6:4) and probably the fourth one during Jesus" public ministry. John mentioned the first, third, and fourth of these. [Note: Hoehner, p143.] The Mosaic Law required that the Jews who had become ritually unclean had to purify themselves for one week before participating in this feast ( Numbers 9:6-14). Therefore many of them went to Jerusalem at least one week before the feast began to undergo purification.


Verse 56

These pilgrims wondered if Jesus would attend that Passover since official antagonism against Him was common knowledge ( John 11:57; cf. John 7:11). He habitually attended the required feasts and taught in the temple while He was in Jerusalem. However, there had been unsuccessful attempts to stone Him there, so many people wondered whether He would appear at this feast.


Verse 57

There was a warrant out for Jesus" arrest. The reader can hardly miss the point that Israel"s leaders had deliberately rejected their Messiah.

 


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Bibliography Information
Constable, Thomas. DD. "Commentary on John 11:4". "Expository Notes of Dr. Thomas Constable". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/dcc/john-11.html. 2012.

Lectionary Calendar
Friday, August 23rd, 2019
the Week of Proper 15 / Ordinary 20
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