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Bible Commentaries

Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers
John 11



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(a) Lazarus restored to life (John 11:1-46).

( α) The journey to Bethany. Sleep and death (John 11:1-16).

( β) The interview with Martha. The Resurrection and the Life (John 11:17-27).

( γ) The interview with Mary. Sorrow and love (John 11:28-38).

( δ) The open sepulchre. The corruptible and incorruption (John 11:39-46).]

Verse 1

(1) Now a certain man was sick.—This is connected with the preceding narrative to introduce the reason for our Lord’s leaving His retirement to go again into the neighbourhood of Jerusalem.

Named Lazarus, of Bethany.—For the name “Lazarus,” comp. Note on Luke 16:20, where it occurs as the solitary instance of a name in our Lord’s parables. It will be seen from the Chronological Harmony of the Gospels, p. 36, that the parable was closely connected with the miracle in order of time. It is in every way probable that the form in which the truths of the world beyond the grave there took shape was suggested by the incidents which are here recorded. See also the suggestion that this Lazarus may have been identical with the young man that had great possessions, in Notes on Matthew 19:16 et seq. The induction rests upon an enumeration of instances which makes it at least probable in a high degree.

“Bethany,” too, is familiar to us from the earlier Gospels (Matthew 21:17; Matthew 26:6; Mark 11:12; Mark 14:3; Luke 19:29; Luke 24:50). The modern name, El-Azirieh, or El-Lazirieh, connects it with the events of this chapter, being formed from El-Azir, the Arabic form of the name Lazarus. It is a poor village on the eastern slope of the Mount of Olives, about two miles from Jerusalem (John 11:18).

The town of Mary and her sister Martha.—Better, the village . . . (Comp. Luke 10:38.) This is the general meaning of the Greek word, which is distinguished from that for “city” or “town,” as in Matthew 9:35; Matthew 10:11; but John uses it in John 7:42 for Bethlehem. For the relative position of Mary and Martha, comp. Notes on Luke 10:38-42. The younger sister is here mentioned first as the better known from the events related in John 11:2. Lazarus was probably younger than his sisters (John 12:2). The village was known, then, in the circles of the first disciples, as the village of Mary and Martha, by way of distinction from the “Bethany beyond Jordan”; and the distinction is marked here on account of the paragraph at the end of the preceding chapter. (See John 1:28.)

Verse 2

(2) It was that Mary which anointed the Lord.—Comp. Notes on Matthew 26:6 et seq., and Mark 14:3 et seq. John himself relates the anointing in John 12:3 et seq. Here he simply mentions it as distinguishing Mary from others of the same name. and assumes it as a well-known incident which had been, as Christ declared it should be, “told for a memorial of her wheresoever the gospel had been preached” (Matthew 26:13). Still, the other Evangelists had not told the name, and St. John, when the name first occurs in his narrative, connects it with the person whose deed of love was known to all.

There is no sufficient reason for identifying Mary of Bethany with the “woman which was a sinner” (see Notes on Luke 7:37 et seq.), or for identifying either with Mary Magdalene.

This verse should not be placed in parenthesis, as in our version. It is immediately connected with the verse which precedes, as well as with that which follows.

Verse 3

(3) Therefore his sisters sent unto him.—Better, The sisters therefore sent unto Him—i.e., because of the fact of the illness, which has been repeated at the close of the last verse, and also because of the intimacy between our Lord and this family, of which the anointing was a proof. (Comp. John 11:5.)

Lord, behold, he whom thou lovest is sick.—The words are given in the touching simplicity of the message just as they were sent by the sorrowing sisters. They feel that the sad news needs no addition, and that there is no necessity for a prayer for help. Weakness, conscious of strength which loves, needs but to utter itself. (Comp. John 11:21.)

Verse 4

(4) When Jesus heard that, he said.—These words are not simply an answer sent to the sisters, but the uttered thought which arose in our Lord’s mind as He heard that Lazarus was ill, and were spoken in the presence of the disciples who were with Him, and doubtless in that of the messengers also.

This sickness is not unto death—i.e., “will not issue in death: will not have death as its final result.” (Comp. John 11:11; John 11:14. and John 8:51.)

But for the glory of God—i.e., “the furtherance and accomplishment of the glory of God.”

That the Son of God might be glorified thereby.—This furtherance of the glory of God with the purpose of glorifying the Son carries us back, as all the expositors note, to the oneness of the work of the Father and Son which has been made prominent in our Lord’s words. (Comp. John 10:38, and references in Note there.) But the words seem to carry us forwards as well as backwards. In the next chapter (John 11:23) our Lord says. “The hour is come that the Son of Man should be glorified,” and the reference is to His death. Is that thought absent from the words here? The sickness of Lazarus would not indeed issue in death, though it would end in what men call death, and would be the immediate cause leading to the death of the Son of Man. The one would be as a sleep from which he would awake, the other should be the glorifying the Son of God, which would issue in the life of the world.

“Thereby” is probably to be interpreted “by means of the illness,” not “by means of the glory.”

This verse should be compared with John 9:3. Here, as there, part of the meaning is that the glory of God would be effected in the person of him upon whom the miracle would be wrought. It was a spiritual crisis in the case of the man born blind. It cannot have been otherwise in the case of Lazarus.

Verse 5

(5) Now Jesus loved Martha.—It is not easy to see the connection of this verse with that which precedes, or with that which immediately follows. The fact of His abiding two days where He was, seems indeed opposed to the thought of His special love for the family. The most probable explanation is that which connects John 11:5-7 together, and makes the love the motive for going into Judæa again.

The word rendered “loved” here is different from that in John 11:3. There the word signifies the love of tender affection; here the word, means the love of chosen friendship. (Comp. John 20:2; John 21:15 et seq.) The difference here is not to be explained, as it frequently has been, by the difference in the persons who were the objects of the love; but by the difference of the persons whose words we read. In the language of the sisters, whose hearts are moved by the brother’s illness, the word of fullest emotion is natural. In the language of the Evangelist the other word is no less so.

It will be observed that in this verse, as in John 11:19 et seq., Martha takes the first place as the elder sister.

Verse 6

(6) When he had heard therefore.—Better, When He heard therefore . . .

He abode two days still.—It is usual to explain this delay as caused by His wish to test the faith of the sisters, or by the nature of the work which He was then doing, and was unwilling to leave. But the first reason passes over the fact that their faith had been shown in their message to Him; and the second postulates His presence at Bethany as necessary for the restoration of Lazarus. (Comp. John 4:49-50.) A juster view is that which remembers the principle which He had taught at the first miracle (John 2:4), that the hours of His work were marked out by signs that He alone could read, but that every hour had its work, and every work its hour. (Comp. John 11:4; John 11:9, and John 9:3-4.)

A comparison with John 11:11 makes it certain that Lazarus was dead before they set out for Judæa, but he was living when the words of John 11:4 were spoken. The fact of death may have determined the hour of their departure.

Verse 7

(7) Let us go into Judæa again.—He does not mark out the place more definitely, and the word “again” recalls the dangers from which they had escaped at the close of their last visit to Jerusalem.

Verse 8

(8) Master, the Jews of late sought to stone thee.—Better, Rabbi, the Jews were just now seeking to stone Thee. (Comp. Notes on John 1:39; John 10:31.) They think of the danger to Him, and are not without thought of the danger to themselves (John 11:16). It shows that the hatred of the Jews had now made it unsafe for our Lord and His disciples to be within their reach. The impression we derive from this verse is that the retirement into Gaulonitis had been of no long duration, when the message from Bethany came to interrupt it.

Verse 9

(9) Are there not twelve hours in the day?—Or more exactly, Are not the hours of the day twelve? They had expressed their fears that danger and death would be the result of going into Judæa. His answer would say that the darkness of the night which they dreaded could not come yet. The natural night would come not until its appointed hour, until the twelve hours of the day had run their course. The day of His life is marked out by limits no less sure. The night indeed cometh, but it is as yet full day, and in that day He and they must do the work which is appointed of the Father. (Comp. John 11:6; and Notes on John 2:4; John 7:30; John 8:20; John 9:4; John 12:27; John 17:1.)

Incidentally these words bear on the question of St. John’s method of counting the hours of the day, and support the view which from other passages seems quite evident that he follows the ordinary Babylonian numeration. (Comp. Notes on John 1:40; John 4:6; John 4:52; John 19:14.)

Because he seeth the light of this world—i.e., the natural light of the sun. While the earth is illumined by it, men follow the course of their work without danger of stumbling. In the application to their own position, the truth holds good. The day of His work is illumined by the light of heaven, and for Him and them there is safety.

Verse 10

(10) But if a man walk in the night . . .—He passes in this verse from the material to the spiritual truth. This first clause still holds of the natural night, and the danger to men who walk in it, but it holds, too, of the darkness in which men walk who do not see, as He is seeing, the light of heaven falling upon the moral path. In the second clause the moral truth is expressed with a prominence which excludes the other.

Because there is no light in him.—The light is now not that “of this world,” but that which is within man.

Verse 11

(11) Our friend Lazarus sleepeth.—Better, Our friend Lazarus is fallen asleep. They had probably understood the words of John 11:4 to express that the illness was not mortal, and that Lazarus would recover. They have seen, therefore, no reason for facing the danger of Judæa (John 11:7-8). He now supplies that reason, and for the first time speaks of going to the family at Bethany.

His words “our friend” gently remind them that Lazarus was their friend as well as His, for they as well as He had probably been welcome guests in the well-known house.

The fact of our Lord’s knowledge of the death of Lazarus is stated by St. John without any explanation. Prom his point of view it could need none. He who needed not that any should testify of man, because of His own self-knowledge of what was in man (John 2:25), needed not that any should testify of what had passed in the chamber of His friend.

For the idea of sleep as the image of death, comp. Notes on John 8:51, Matthew 9:24, and 1 Thessalonians 4:14. It is not unfrequent in other passages of both the Old and New Testaments, and, from the time of Homer downwards, poets have spoken of sleep and death as twin-sisters.

Verse 12

(12) Then said his disciples.—Better, Therefore . . . Their remark immediately arises out of what our Lord has said. They are glad to catch at any reason for not going to Judæa.

If he sleep, he shall do well.—More exactly, If he be fallen asleep, he shall be saved. There could be, therefore, no reason for His going, as the disease had passed the crisis. Sleep is given by the Rabbis as one of six favourable symptoms, and that it is so is a common-place in authors of all periods. From the apparent suddenness of the attack, and rapidity of the progress of the disease, it would seem to have been the “great fever” which was common in Palestine (comp. John 4:52, and especially Note on Luke 4:38), and in which sleep would be the sign that the fever had ceased.

Verse 13

(13) They thought that he had spoken of taking of rest in sleep.—These words forbid the thought that they really understood that Lazarus was dead, but did not wish to seem to know it. Three of them, indeed, had heard our Lord apply the word “sleep” to death before (Matthew 9:24), but this instance of misunderstanding on their part takes its place with others of a like kind, as showing that the surface meaning of words was that which naturally suggested itself to them. (Comp. Matthew 16:6-12, and Luke 22:38) It is not likely that all “the three” were present during this interview. If it took place at Tellanihje, then the nearness of Bethsaida and the other towns of Galilee may have led some of the Twelve to visit their old homes. (Comp. John 1:28; John 1:48 et seq.) We can hardly imagine that Peter was present without taking a prominent part in the conversation, or that Thomas would have been in his presence the representative speaker (John 11:16). His absence may be taken as one of the reasons why the account of the miracle which follows is absent from St. Mark’s Gospel, which is, like St. John’s, the Gospel of an eye-witness. (Comp. Introduction to St. Mark, p. 189, and Excursus E: The Omission of the Raising of Lazarus, in the Synoptic Gospels.)

Verse 14

(14) Lazarus is dead.—The words of deeper truth, “Our friend Lazarus is fallen asleep,” have conveyed no true meaning to their minds. He uses words, therefore, which fall short of that truth, but are the only words which they can understand.

Verse 15

(15) And I am glad for your sakes that I was not there.—The words are at first sound startling, as following immediately upon the plain statement, “Lazarus is dead.” The utterance is not of sorrow, but of joy; but the joy is not at the fact of death, but at the fact that He was not there. Had He been there, Lazarus would not have died (John 11:21; John 11:32), and his recovery would have added to the work of healing. There is the assured consciousness of power over death itself, which sees as present all that is to follow, and sees in the strengthening of their faith ground for joy.

To the intent ye may believe.—They were already disciples, but this sign would be to them the vehicle of a higher spiritual truth, and the growth of their spiritual life would be such that it may be regarded as a new act of faith. (Comp. Note on John 2:11.)

Nevertheless let us go unto him.—The thought of the final issue of the sleep brings the whole future before the mind. But for this, His presence is needed at Bethany, and He abruptly breaks off this conversation about it, by what is at once a resolution and a summons to go there.

Verse 16

(16) Then (or, better, therefore) said Thomas, which is called Didymus.—The second of these names is the Greek translation of the first, which is Hebrew. Both mean “twin.” Both are found together again in John 20:24; John 21:2. Comp. Notes on the Catalogues of the Apostles in Matthew 10:3, Mark 3:18, Luke 6:15, in all of which he is coupled with Matthew, whose twin-brother he possibly was; and in Acts 1:13, where he is coupled with Philip. The name belonged probably to his childhood, and we are wholly without the knowledge which can explain it. The various theories which attempt to do so, from the statement of the Apostolical Constitutions that he had a twin sister Lydia, to the view that the name was given by our Lord to signify his double or halting spiritual nature, are never more than, and are sometimes much less than, elaborate guesses. We may well believe that the name is due to the fact that he was a twin, but of whom it is of no importance that we should know, and it is quite certain that we cannot know.

And yet Peter, John, and Judas, are the only Apostles whose characters we know as well. This is owing to three incidents preserved to us by St. John—the present passage, John 14:5, and John 20:24 et seq. We have before us here a man looking at events from a mind full of the darkest apprehension. He is without hope that a return to Judæa can have any but one issue for his Master. The night is so clearly seen that the brightness of day is obscured. But with all this there is the full love of a devoted disciple, who will follow his Master even unto death.

Verse 17

(17) Then when Jesus came—i.e., to the neighbourhood of Bethany. He did not at once enter the village itself (John 11:20; John 11:30).

He found that he had lain in the grave four days already.—The Jewish custom was to bury on the day of death. (Comp. Acts 5:6-10.) The whole tone of the narrative places the time of death at the point indicated by the summons to go into Judæa, in John 11:7 (see Note there). Counting the parts of the days on which they set out and on which they arrived as included in the four days, in accordance with the Jewish method, we have two whole days and parts of two other days spent upon the journey. There is no indication that they halted on the way, but everything suggests rather that they went as quickly as possible. The common view, which supposes the place where John was baptising to have been on the southern Jordan, cannot be made consistent with this long journey; and it is usual to assume that Lazarus died on the day that the message reached the Lord, that after his death our Lord remained two days where He was, and that the fourth day was occupied on the journey to Bethany. It is believed that the meaning of the narrative is brought out more fully by the interpretation which has been followed above, and that the four days for the journey is perfectly natural on the supposition which has been adopted, that the journey was from Tellanihje, which was north of the Sea of Galilee.

Verse 18

(18) Bethany was nigh unto Jerusalem.—This way of speaking of places in the past tense is not found in the other Gospels. (Comp., in this Gospel, John 18:1; John 19:41; and, on the other hand, Note on John 5:2.) The explanation may be that from St. John’s point of view, writing after the destruction of Jerusalem, the buildings and gardens could no longer be described as still existing.

About fifteen furlongs off.—The Greek stadium which is here rendered “furlong” was 606¾ English feet. The distance was, then, as the margin gives it, not much short of two English miles. This is mentioned to account for the fact stated in the following verse, that many of the Jews came to comfort Martha and Mary.

Verse 19

(19) And many of the Jews came to Martha and Mary.—Better, and many of the Jews had come . . .—They had come before our Lord’s arrival. The word “Jews” is to be understood in St. John’s general sense (comp. Note on John 1:19) of those opposed to our Lord, who had lately sought to stone Him (John 10:31), and afterwards to take Him by force (John 10:39). The family at Bethany was one of position and substance (comp. Notes on Matthew 26:6-13; Mark 14:3-9), and they would naturally have had many friends among the higher rank of the Jews. Another reading, which has considerable authority, is “had come to the women with Martha and Mary,” or “to Martha and Mary and their friends.”

To comfort them concerning their brother.—The days of mourning were usually thirty, which were divided into (1) three days of weeping; (2) seven days of lamentation; (3) twenty days of sorrow. This fourth day after the death was the first of the seven days of lamentation. Lightfoot has collected, in a long note on this text, quotations from the Rabbis illustrating the mourning customs, and giving examples of the words used.

Verse 20

(20) Then Martha, as soon as she heard that Jesus was coming . . .—This is partly to be explained from the position in which they stood towards Him, and partly from the fact of the presence of the Jews at the house. She goes forth to meet Him in a place where she can speak her heart’s thoughts, apart from the oppressive ceremonial of the formal lamentation, and where He would not be exposed to a renewal of the attempts against His life.

But Mary sat still in the house.—Better, without the word in italics, but Mary was sitting in the house. The characteristics of the two sisters, which we find in Luke 10:38 (see Note there), are strikingly preserved in this narrative. The clause describes precisely the position of the mourner, who sat on or near the ground, while those who came to lament with her sat around. (Comp. Job 2:13-13.)

Verse 21

(21) Lord, if thou hadst been here, my brother had not died.—We have exactly the same words spoken by Mary in John 11:32. They are the utterance of the thought which had already been expressed in their message (John 11:3), and had, we may think, been spoken more than once by the sisters to each other. These sisters are among the many who had received our Lord in the fulness of a true faith, of whom the Gospel narrative tells us nothing, or gives us, as here, but a passing glimpse. Their belief is stated in the definiteness of full conviction; but they, like the courtier, connect the power to save with the bodily presence of our Lord. (Comp. John 4:49.)

Verse 22

(22) But I know, that even now, whatsoever thou wilt ask of God . . .—The words express a half-formed hope, which she dare not utter, perhaps dare not even think, that her brother may be restored to life again. She had heard probably of the young maid whose body was reanimated by the life which had but just left it (comp. Mark 5:35 et seq.; Luke 8:41-42), and of the young man whose body was being carried to the grave, when at His command it was restored living to the widowed mother. (Comp. Luke 7:11 et seq.) Her brother had been the friend of Jesus; they had all trusted in His power and His love. Words had come to them from Him telling that this sickness should not issue in death, but that it should further God’s glory and glorify the Son. And now He is Himself present. His words cannot fail, and He Himself cannot be there without a purpose. She dare not say more; but she rests in this, that there is unity of power and will between Him and the Father. Whatsoever He asks, God will give.

Verse 23

(23) Thy brother shall rise again.—These words, spoken as they were by our Lord after the purpose of His journey, as expressed in John 11:11, and immediately before the accomplishment of it, cannot be taken to exclude the restoration of Lazarus to physical life. At the same time, the form of the words clearly point, as Martha understood them to point, to “the resurrection at the last day.” They are chosen for this very purpose; to lead her from the passionate longing for her brother’s restoration, and from a vague thought of the Lord’s power and will to restore him, to a wider and truer conception of what life really is, and to a realisation of the truth that for a true believer in Him there can be no such thing as death. This “sign,” like every other, is to be no mere wonder, nor is it to be limited to our restored life. It is to lead to the spiritual truth which is signified; and is to be for them and for mankind the true conquest of death by Life.

Verse 24

(24) I know that he shall rise again in the resurrection . . .—Her answer expresses something of disappointment. Her whole heart had been fixed on one thought, and in all that had passed her hopes had found a support which seemed to warrant the hope for its accomplishment. She is now reminded of a general truth which she had rested in before, but this does not satisfy the expectation she had formed now. We have all felt something of her disappointment as we have stood beside the sepulchre. We have known, with a knowledge more full than hers, that “he shall rise again in the resurrection at the last day;” but this knowledge has often had little power to remove the deep sorrow of the heart. We conquer the pagan thought “lost for ever”; but we are often conquered by the thought “lost for the present.”

For the thought of the resurrection, comp. Notes on John 5:29 and Luke 14:14. The Pharisees expected the resurrection of the just to accompany the Messianic advent. (Comp. Daniel 12:2 and 2 Maccabees 7:9.) Still, the answer is in advance of that which we should expect, as compared with the dimness which rests upon even the fullest expression with regard to the resurrection in the Old Testament, and is to be traced to earlier lessons she had received from Him who is teaching her now.

Verse 25

(25) I am the resurrection, and the life.—She has spoken of the resurrection as a truth which she believes, and as an event in the far-off future, so remote from the present life indeed, as to be powerless to comfort her now. The two first words of His answer, expressed in the fulness of emphasis, teach her that the resurrection is to be thought of as His person, and that it is to be thought of as actually present. “I,”—his words mean—“and none beside Me, am the Resurrection. I am the Resurrection—a. present life, and not simply a life in the remoteness of the last day.” In the same sense in which He has declared Himself to be the Water of Life and the Bread of Life, supplying in Himself every need of spiritual thirst and spiritual hunger, He declares Himself to be the Resurrection, revealing in His own person all that men had ever thought and hoped of a future life, being Himself the power which shall raise them at the last day, and could therefore raise them now. This is because He is also “the Life,” and therefore every one in communion

He that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live.—Better, though he have died . . . She thinks and speaks of Lazarus as dead. He asserts that in the true thought of the spiritual life the fact of physical death does not interrupt that life.

Verse 25-26

The Resurrection and the Life

Jesus said unto her, I am the resurrection, and the life: he that believeth on me, though he die, yet shall he live: and whosoever liveth and believeth on me shall never die.—John 11:25-26.

In order to appreciate the significance of these words, “I am the resurrection, and the life,” let us look at the conditions under which they were spoken.

The revelation was granted to Martha, the bereaved sister, whose cheerful round of domestic activities was suddenly arrested and her heart torn open to its depths—depths hitherto perhaps unsounded—by the thunder-stroke of death. Our Lord uttered His greatest sayings often to very commonplace people. He spoke to Martha not as He might have spoken in an hour of serene communion with some elect and lofty spirit, but as to any of ourselves, to our common human heart chastened by bereavement, awed and awakened by the visitation of death.

Martha’s grief was intensified by the fact that Lazarus was cut off in the midst of his days, his task unfinished, his goal unreached. Of all the perplexing problems of the grave this seemed one of the hardest. Why did it claim the man who had just come to the perfection of his powers and was abler than ever he was to perform his task? It was lonely to be without her brother, it was chilling to think of his loneliness; but these griefs came home with double poignancy when she thought that he had not lived out half his days, and might still have been with them.

Once more, it seemed an accident that he died. To Martha it seemed cruel—so often He was with them—that Jesus should not be there when He was most needed. Oh, why did it happen that the Lord was not there? It might so easily have been otherwise; and the thought added to her grief.

But at last word was brought of a Visitor welcome above all others; Jesus who had been so strangely long in coming was in Bethany at last. Martha met Him with a cry that was half faith and half despair—“Lord, if thou hadst been here, my brother had not died,” and she was answered by the quiet words, “Thy brother shall rise again.” I think her heart must have been for the moment chilled. Was the Master then going to offer the mere conventional consolation that every visitor of these past days had offered, until she was more than weary of it? “I know,” she said—and you can hear an undertone of disappointment and rebellion in the words—“I know that he shall rise again in the resurrection at the last day.”

She knew that her brother would rise again. But, like the Jews of her time, even like most Christians now, who inherit their resurrection doctrine more from the Jews than from Christ, Martha thought only of a grand and general resurrection-day far distant. Long ere that day she would be with her brother in the supposed place of expectant souls, waiting till the buried body should be raised and given back.

And then came the great words that have pealed through the ages, weighty with the Divine power which so soon sets its seal upon them, gentle with the human sympathy which meant them for healing to broken hearts: “I am the resurrection, and the life: he that believeth on me, though he die, yet shall he live: and whosoever liveth and believeth on me shall never die.”

A double consciousness spoke in these words: Our Lord knew that He was standing near the grave of a dead disciple: He felt perhaps even more vividly that He was standing in the midst of a dead world. He spoke these words with reference to the occasion He was then dealing with; yet there was a larger meaning in them, and the meaning that was for the moment was only a fragment of their infinite truth.

We are arrested by—

I. The immediate Occasion of the Words.

II. Their eternal Application.


The Immediate Occasion

“I am the resurrection, and the life.”

1. The promise.—Martha had expressed her faith in the common doctrine of the resurrection at the last day. Christ neither denies it nor assents to it, but passes over it as if it had little power to assuage the actual suffering of death. If it be true, it is a far-off event, ages hence, at the last day; it hardly touches the present fact of death. It has nothing definite, immediate, or specially consolatory in its character, being simply an affirmation of future existence. So little power had it that Martha did not think of it till led to it by Christ’s question. She doubtless shared the vague belief of the Jews, that “her brother would ascend some time or other on angels’ wings into a place somewhere above the stars”; but how could that comfort her? She could not bridge the gulf of time and space between herself and that event. She could get from it no assurance that her brother would ever be known by her; that the ties sundered by death would ever be joined again. There her brother lay in the tomb, dead, fast passing to corruption, soon to become as the dust of the earth, and there he would lie for ages, dead. She herself would soon die and lie beside him, and sleep the long sleep of utter forgetfulness. What comfort is there here for yearning human love that longs for nearness and response?

Martha regarded the resurrection in the last day not necessarily as a spiritual fact or as one having a spiritual bearing, but as a mere matter of destiny like birth and death, a distant mysterious event. Christ draws it near, takes it out of time, vitalizes it, puts it into the category of faith, and connects it with Himself.

(1) “I am the resurrection, and the life.” For belief in some future great event, Jesus substitutes belief in His own person. It is as if He had said to Martha, “Your faith is not settled on its proper object; you are clinging to a doctrinal truth instead of leaning on a living person; you are thinking of an event, something in the distant future; you should think of me. I am the resurrection, and the life. It is not of the rising of the dead at the last day that you should think; that is indeed something to look forward to, but I am the resurrection in my own person; it is not apart from me.” Christ draws her eyes away from one reality to another and a greater—from the grim fact of death to the greater fact of His own person and power and love; He confronts her with this dilemma—she must pronounce either death or Himself to be the greater reality!

There is a wide difference between belief in a doctrine and trust in a person. We can believe a doctrine but we cannot trust it. We can grasp it with our minds, but it makes no appeal to our hearts; like Martha, we may believe in the resurrection without believing in Him who is the resurrection and the life. This is a mistake we often make. We believe in the abstract doctrine and forget the living Person. Half our Christian faith is assent to various propositions instead of trust in a personal Redeemer, who is Himself the substance and explanation of them all. “I,” said Jesus, “I am the resurrection, and the life.”1 [Note: D. Fairweather, Bound in the Spirit, 304.]

(2) “I am the resurrection, and the life.” In turning Martha’s attention to Himself, Jesus substitutes a present for a future object of trust, a living object for a dead. Martha can think only of that remote time when she and her brother will be reunited. Jesus says, I am the resurrection, and the life, here and now. In Me the dead live. It is not as if Lazarus had gone to nothingness. He has passed away indeed from you, but to Me he lives, for I am the life, and in Me the dead live.

The intention of our Lord was plainly to make an immediate comfort out of what is generally held to be a prospective joy. People commonly explain the passage still as belonging to a period which is yet to come. They understand it to mean that, when Christ shall appear again, there will be a resurrection, and that then the dead shall live. Doubtless this is in the words. But is this all? Is this the first and chief meaning? No, Christ was decidedly and definitely leading the woman’s mind away from what she felt would be to what then actually was. “Martha saith unto him, I know that he shall rise again in the resurrection at the last day. Jesus said unto her, I am the resurrection, and the life: he that believeth on me, though he die, yet shall he live: and whosoever liveth and believeth on me shall never die.”

A gentleman stepping into a poor woman’s house saw framed and glazed upon the wall a French note for a thousand francs. He said to the old folks, “How came you by this?” They informed him that a poor French soldier had been taken in by them and nursed until he died, and when he was dying he had given them that little picture as a memorial of him. They thought it such a pretty souvenir that they had framed it, and there it was adorning the cottage wall. They were greatly surprised when they were told that it was worth a sum which would be quite a little fortune for them if they would but turn it into money. They had done as Martha did when she took the words, “Thy brother shall rise again,” and put round about them this handsome frame, “in the resurrection at the last day.”1 [Note: C. H. Spurgeon.]

(3) “I am the resurrection, and the life.” In some of the Old Testament psalms this idea is brought out with wonderful clearness, and through what we must call sheer faith. The Old Testament saints knew nothing of Him who is the resurrection and the life, and the grave was to most of them only a place of gloom; but occasionally we come across a Psalm like the sixteenth, where the writer protests against the idea of death separating him from God. “Thou wilt not leave thy pious one to see the pit,” he says; “thou wilt not leave my soul in Sheol.” He feels in his veins the new life God has given him, feels that he is in union with God, and that such a union must for ever abide uninterrupted even by death. So also taught Jesus. “I am the resurrection,” He said, “and the life.” He that believeth on me, though he die, yet shall he live, because he who is united to Me, he in whom I live, can never in any sense die, for I am the life. That which we call death will be his lot; but life, true life, life which is union with God, life in which Christ lives, is independent of death.

Death had not sundered Lazarus from Jesus; through resurrection it had brought him nearer in reverential love. It had not divided him from his sisters; it had made the ties of affection more strong and holy than they had ever been before. It had not quenched one faculty of his being; for to him every power of sight, and speech, and hearing would be more sacred and noble than they were in his former life. In one word Christ showed this—that there was in him a life that rendered death only the gateway through which it rose into life more perfect, and holy, and free.

At an open-air service in Delhi, held in a Chamar’s (bootmaker’s) courtyard, another missionary and I had both spoken on faith as a condition of eternal life. When I had finished, a Chamar, who had been working away at his trade all the time, though evidently listening and thinking as well, remarked, “How do you make out that Christians do not die? Those about here do; and as far as I see, peoples of all religions die. Why, even Brahmans die.”

A student-evangelist was with us, and he gave this reply:—“Brother! (let Westerns note how friendly and familiar Eastern preachers are!) you know the Delhi Fort?”

Of course he did! Every Delhi man is proud of that most striking feature of his city, with its high walls of red sandstone glistening in the sun, and its magnificent towering gateways which lead into the city.

Said the preacher, “I want you to imagine for the moment that it has but one exit, the famous Lahore Gate.

In the old days, the great Emperor of India lived inside the Fort, in the Marble Palace, still to be seen, a palace of exquisite beauty and glittering splendour. When the Emperor came forth into the city, as for example he did every Friday to visit the Great Mosque for prayer, he came out at that Lahore Gate in all his glory, and crowds witnessed the Royal spectacle.

In the same Fort was the State Prison with its dungeons of horror, and in them lay the prisoners condemned to death, till the day of execution, when they too passed forth through that same Gate, and crowds witnessed their shame and despair.

This world in which we live is like that Fort, and for all of us there is the one exit, the Gate of Death.

They who accept Christ as their Saviour pass out as ‘Kings and Priests’ to glory and honour, and they who accept Him not, go forth to dishonour and death.”

“Bravo!” exclaimed the heathen listeners. “Well answered.”1 [Note: Stephen Sylvester Thomas.]

2. The fulfilment of the promise.—Nowhere do we so come to the limit and end of our power as at the door of a vault; nowhere is the weakness of man so keenly felt. There is the clay, but who shall find the spirit that dwelt in it? Jesus has no such sense of weakness. Believing in the fatherly and undying love of the Eternal God, He knows that death cannot harm, still less destroy, the children of God.

“God is not the God of dead beings but of living beings, for all live unto him.” All do not live to us; to us the dead are dead, but to God the dead are living; all live unto Him; as He sees men there are none dead. In proof of this, witness the resurrection of Lazarus. What was that miracle? Merely this: God making the dead, but really living, Lazarus visible to us. To Christ Himself Lazarus was alive; to his sisters he was dead. Christ comforted them by showing them he was alive. He called the soul back to the old frame it had worn and so made Lazarus visible again. He had not been dead. Jesus spoke to him. He had a secret of communication which we have not, and having the secret He called back the soul to the old body, that He might for ever prove to us that our beloved dead are in reality alive. We have but lost the means of communication. Christ asked Lazarus to come forth and show himself that we might be assured of this truth. “I am the resurrection, and the life.”1 [Note: D. Fairweather.]

When the chemist has produced in his laboratory a certain desired and attested scientific result, when he has mastered the secret of some new process in nature and exhibited the product in a single sample, the problem is solved, the result is guaranteed. He may now set up his factory and invest his capital, and invite the co-operation of wealth and labour, and build up a vast collective industry with full assurance of faith upon the evidence gathered from his crucible, upon the security afforded by the laws of nature that what they have once allowed and yielded, they will always yield to the action of the same cause; and there lies in his hand the power to do a million times what he has actually effected once. The raising of Lazarus was a prompt and a majestic verification on the part of the Lord Jesus Christ of His claim to be the destined Raiser of the dead, a pledge and earnest of all that was to follow.2 [Note: G. G. Findlay, The Things Above, 149.]


The Eternal Application

The miraculous resurrection of Lazarus was simply a symbol of a far more important truth than the mere restoration of an earthly life conveys. It was a visual illustration of a fact which is too inward and subtle to come under the eye of observers at all. If, as indeed we are bound to do, we strive to set before ourselves with vivid particularity the various emotions which are crowded into the narrative—the bitter regret for help unbrought, the sudden awakening of vague hope, the mysterious grief of the Lord Himself, the awful suspense before the opened grave—it must be that we may the better realize that Truth which calms and satisfies them all. The miracle is nothing more than a translation of an eternal lesson into an outward and intelligible form. The command of sovereign power, “Lazarus come forth,” is but one partial and transitory fulfilment of the absolute and unchanging gospel, “I am the resurrection, and the life.”

i. I am the Resurrection, and the Life

1. “I am the resurrection, and the life.”—“I am” in point of time, and also in respect of essential being.

(1) In point of time.—Christ does not think of immortality as we do. The thought of immortality is with Him involved in, and absorbed by, the idea of life. Life is a present thing and its continuance a matter of course. When life is full, and abundant, and glad, the present is enough, and past and future are unthought of. It is life, therefore, rather than immortality that Christ speaks of; a present not a future good; an expansion of the nature now, which necessarily carries with it the idea of permanence.

It is the devastating mistake of ages of imperfect faith that the emphasis and crisis of life is carried forward into the next world, robbing this of its dignity, disrobing this of its loftiest motives, cheapening by withholding from it its proper fruitions. There is no juster word used among men than “probation,” and none more perverted. Life is indeed probation, but the judgment that decides is in perpetual session; not for one moment is it adjourned; every hour it renders the awards that angels fulfil; daily and forever does the Christ of humanity judge according to the deeds done in this present life of humanity, and send to right or left hand destinies. There is no day of eternity more august than that which now is. There is nothing in the way of consequence to be awaited that is not now acting, no sweetness that may not now be tasted, no bitterness that is not now felt. What comes after will be but the increment of what now is, for even now we are in the eternal world. The Kingdom of heaven has come and is ever coming; its powers and processes, its rewards and punishments are to-day in full activity, mounting into ever higher expression, but never more real in one moment of time than in another.1 [Note: T. T. Munger, The Freedom of Faith, 285.]

In deserts of the Holy Land I strayed,

Where Christ once lived, but seems to live no more,

On Lebanon my lonely home I made,

I heard the wind among the cedars roar,

And saw, far off, the Great Sea’s solemn shore:

“But ’tis a dreary wilderness,” I said,

Now the prophetic spirit hence has fled:

Then, from a convent in the vale, I heard,

Slow-chanted forth, the everlasting Word,

Saying “I am he that liveth, and was dead,

And lo! I am alive for evermore.”

Then forth upon my pilgrimage I fare,

Resolved to find and praise Him everywhere.1 [Note: J. Gostick.]

(2) In essence.—And so we come to the second chief thought suggested by the words: “I am.” The resurrection and the life are not simply through Christ but in Christ. “I am,” He said—not I promise, or I bring, or I accomplish—“I am the resurrection, and the life.” And when we fix our attention upon the words from this point of view, we see at once that they include deeper mysteries than we can at present fathom, that they open out glimpses of some more sublime form of being than we can at present apprehend, that they gather up in one final utterance to the world what had been said before darkly and partially of the union of the believer with his Lord and of the consequences which proceed from it. But though we can perhaps do no more, it is well that we should at least devoutly recognize that we do stand here in the face of a great mystery, which if indistinct from excess of glory, yet even now ennobles, consecrates, transfigures life; which does even now help us to feel where is the answer to difficulties which our own age has first been called to meet; which gives a vital reality to much of the language of Holy Scripture that we are tempted to treat as purely metaphorical.

Whenever the Lord says, “I am,” He speaks as ideal Man, as the Life, holding the power of Self-manifestation. What we see in Him is potentially in us, or we could not see it in Him. We may say we are what He is, because He is the representative of the true Man in every man. By His Incarnation this was brought into our consciousness. All are in Him by virtue of their Being, but He makes us aware of what we are. He who comes into this external relationship with us is He who is also the substance of our Being. He is the expression of the hidden Being of all, and the Promise also that each shall rise into the full consciousness of their Being, and be able to say, as did Jesus when on earth: “I and the Father are One Thing.”2 [Note: R. W. Corbet, Letters from a Mystic of the Present Day, 111.]

2. “I am the resurrection.”—Christ is the Resurrection inasmuch as He rose again from the dead, and, further, because He has the power to raise us up also.

(1) Christ Himself died and rose again. He alone is the true pattern of the resurrection, “the Firstborn,” as St. Paul and St. John style Him, “out of the dead.” In this highest sense He not only effects but He is the Resurrection. He was this inwardly, in His own spirit and consciousness. Jesus described Himself, while on earth in mortal flesh, as “the Son of man which is in heaven.” His eye pierced the veils of sense. The Father was in Him and He in the Father. But outwardly, as well as inwardly, Christ is the pattern of our risen life. Dying a little while after He uttered these words, Jesus Christ appeared to His disciples an embodied resurrection, as if made man over again and more worthily, Firstborn of the “sons of the resurrection.” He was the same, yet mysteriously and loftily transformed.

We all know the effects of the Renaissance upon the modern world. Renaissance is re-birth, regeneration, resurrection if you like. The intellectual forces of the Middle Ages had spent themselves; the greater part of Europe was lying in a sleep which might almost be described as death. But when Constantinople was captured by the Turks, many Greek scholars who had been working there had to flee to the shores of Italy, bringing with them Homer and Sophocles, Aristotle and Plato, the forgotten science and art and scholarship of the ancient world. And almost at the same time a new world of unexplored territory was revealed by explorers like Cabot and Columbus. And the result was the awakening of Europe from its death-like sleep, and the stirring of a new life that is not exhausted yet. These men, exiled scholars and brave explorers, were the Renaissance; they were the resurrection and the life of European learning, because it was through them and their labours that the quickening came. Now, what these men did intellectually for Europe at one period, Christ came to do morally and spiritually for the world for all time.1 [Note: J. M. E. Ross, The Self-Portraiture of Jesus, 133.]

(2) But Christ not only died and rose again; He has the power, in the fullest sense of the word, to make us do likewise. “Though he die,” He says, “yet shall he live.”

Did not Christ then really die, and do we not all die, even if we believe in Him? In one sense Christ did die. He suffered this housing of the soul to be torn away, the tabernacle to be taken down, but He will not call it death. It does not touch the life; that flows on, an unbroken current, and rises into greater fulness. And so Christ says that those who believe in Him, and die in this sense, do not really die; though dead, they live.

Physical death is not the termination of human life. The grim fact touches only the surface life, and has nothing to do with the essential, personal being. He that believes on Jesus, and he only, truly lives, and his union with Jesus secures his possession of that eternal life, which victoriously persists through the apparent, superficial change which men call death. Nothing dies but the death which surrounds the faithful soul. For it to die is to live more fully, more triumphantly, more blessedly. So though the act of physical death remains, its whole character is changed.

The grave of Albrecht Dürer, the great painter, is in the cemetery of his native city, Nuremberg. On his tombstone they have put the word Emigravit—he has emigrated.

I do hear

From the revolving year

A voice which cries:

“All dies;

Lo, how all dies! O seer,

And all things too arise:

All dies, and all is born;

But each resurgent morn, behold, more near the Perfect Morn.”1 [Note: Francis Thompson, “The Night of Forebeing.”]

3. I am the life.—There is more in our Lord’s words than a mere guarantee to His people of a life of some sort beyond the grave. To Christ and His Apostles, life is not a matter of mere duration; in their rich and inspiring conception the thought of quality is far more prominent than the thought of duration. God had created mankind for life—the life that is life indeed. But man had, in a most real sense, chosen death instead of life, and had made of his world a sepulchre. And now into this world of death there came this Saviour sent down from God, trampling death in all its forms under foot from the beginning of His victorious career.

It marked a new epoch in the faith in immortality when the Son of Man stood in the midst of men and said: “I am the resurrection, and the life; he that believeth on me, though he die, yet shall he live: and whosoever liveth and believeth on me shall never die.” And did He not prove the mighty utterance? Whatever He touched received life. He touched dead eyes, and they saw. He touched dead ears, and they heard. He touched the fatal disease, and life sprang back into the distempered veins. He touched the dead body on the bier, and it awakened from the sleep of death. He went into the grave Himself, and with resurrection power left it empty on the third day.

ii. Whosoever liveth and believeth

Christ, being the life, promises that “whosoever liveth … shall never die.”

1. Whosoever liveth.—We must be alive in order to know what deathlessness is. We must begin to live as a soul, and not as an animal, if we want to be rid of the fear of death and the doubt of immortality. The way out of the doubts and fears which oppress us is not altogether by the gate of knowledge or of logic, but by the avenues of the spirit. To those who already share the Divine life the terrors of death are abolished. Its inevitable wrench to the spirit is mostly overcome, and its change no more than from life to life. If we are acquainted with our soul, if we have learned to live already with the immortal part of us, and to take pleasure in the things that minister to the life of that part of us, we shall not deem it such a lonesome, blank, and unbearable thing to go away with our own self, our real self, even out of this body into some other. But we must be something more than “dead in trespasses and sins,” something more than choked with “the cares of this world and the deceitfulness of riches,” before this thought can be realized in us. He whose real life consists not “in the abundance of the things which he possesseth”; he whose spirit is sustained and fed by streams of love; he who lives in faith on all the Divine things; he who works out his faith in pure conduct, exalted aims, unselfish purposes, affectionate service to others,—that man does not die in death. Death only sets free for larger activity the soul which has already begun its undying developments.

To live is not to be gay or idle or restless. Frivolity, inactivity, and aimlessness seem equally remote from the true idea of living, I should say that we live only so far as we cultivate all our faculties, and improve all our advantages for God’s glory. The means of living will then be our own endowments, whether of talent or influence; the aim of living, the good of men; the motive of living, the love of God. I do not say that these ideas are to enter prominently into every detail of life, any more than that in every movement we must be distinctly conscious of the vital principle physically; but just as this must necessarily exist before we can take one step, so the whole groundwork of our inner life must be these feelings to which I have alluded.1 [Note: Life and Letters of Brooke Foss Westcott, i. 145.]

The Bishop of Caledonia had opened a Mission on the Skeena river, which he and his wife had carried on for a year. Then a Missionary and his wife were left in charge. And now let us hear the Bishop’s own words. He says—“They recoiled from the horrors of savage life, and to our great surprise, at the end of one year, suddenly appeared at my house on the coast en route to England. It was too late to find a clergyman to succeed him, and a long winter’s break would probably ruin the work and prospects. Before they had been in my house an hour, I had a volunteer. It was my wife. She said, ‘Let me go, I will hold it together until you find somebody else.’ ‘Do you mean it?’ I asked. ‘Yes!’ ‘Then wait till morning, and we will discuss it.’ Early in the morning, being pressed for an answer, I said ‘Yes.’

“It was difficult to get a crew to face a November ‘Skeena,’ which freezes in hummocks from end to end; but that same day, with a year’s provisions, we started.… It was a dismal journey for both of us, camping and sleeping on the snow being the least of the discomforts. At the end of fifteen days we arrived, and packed the provisions in the little log house. I offered my crew an extra pound a-piece if they would delay their return but a single day, but nothing would induce them to wait, lest the river would freeze. So I left her behind among Indians and miners, the only white woman within one hundred and seventy miles, and the first to ascend the river. The isolation was complete. Events forced me to visit England, but I had returned before she knew that I had left the diocese, and travelled fourteen thousand miles.… At the end of a year I had found an excellent man for the new Mission so that I was able to fetch away my wife. The miners said she was the best Missionary they ever had, and the Indians call her ‘Mother’ to this day. It was a hard time. Her entire household consisted of two Indian schoolboys.”

Foil’d by our fellow-men, depress’d, outworn,

We leave the brutal world to take its way,

And “Patience! in another life,” we say,

“The world shall be thrust down, and we up-borne.”

And will not, then, the immortal armies scorn

The world’s poor, routed leavings? or will they,

Who fail’d under the heat of this life’s day,

Support the fervours of the heavenly morn?

No, no! the energy of life may be

Kept on after the grave, but not begun;

And he who flagg’d not in the earthly strife,

From strength to strength advancing—only he,

His soul well-knit, and all his battles won,

Mounts, and that hardly, to eternal life.1 [Note: Matthew Arnold.]

2. He shall never die.—The quality of this life has a direct bearing on its survival beyond the grave. When God so raises the soul of man to the level of His own holy and loving life, will He allow death to destroy His handiwork? Imagine an artist carving a statue. He has chosen rare and costly materials. He has provided delicate tools. He spends long years in bringing the work to perfection. Do you think that when his purpose is almost complete he will summon his servant and bid him break the work in pieces? Imagine a master training a servant. He is very thorough, very patient, very loving. He treats the servant as a son and not as a slave. And he is well repaid by the response the servant gives: the blunders are almost past; the faults are almost conquered; there is a co-operation of sympathy and of intelligence that is almost perfect. Do you think he will then cast his servant aside like some worn-out tool? Yet that is what happens if God trains the souls of men and bestows His best gifts upon them to make them His true children, and then refuses to dower them with immortality. Christ spends Himself, He gives Himself to raise men from spiritual death to spiritual life. Will He do the greater miracle and not do the less? Will He lose His own work when it is almost complete? It is unthinkable. There is deepest reason in His words, “Because I live, ye shall live also”; there is unanswerable logic in the contention that when Christ has made men sharers of His holiness, He will make them sharers of His immortality as well.

In Jesus Christ the believer has an enriched spiritual experience, a more intense consciousness of union with the Divine life. The sense of spiritual renewal in Christ is in many ways a new spiritual experience for the world. God has come nearer to men in the Son of Man. Already in union with Christ there is the experience of a spiritual resurrection, which must imply the fuller I resurrection of the complete life. For “if any man be in Christ Jesus, he is a new creature. Old things have passed away. Behold, all things have become new.” We already feel the life of Christ coursing even in our mortal body. It is not we that live, but Christ liveth in us. We are conscious of having “risen with him,” and we know that when Christ, who is our life, shall appear, then shall we also appear with Him in glory.

Be assured, come what come will,

What once lives never dies—what here attains

To a beginning, has no end, still gains

And never loses aught.1 [Note: Browning, Parleyings with Certain People.]

3. “He that believeth on me”—“Whosoever believeth on me.”—Christ asks us to believe in Him, but not without first giving us a proof of His belief in us. “I came that they may have life,” He said. That life was His life; He felt it in Himself, felt its infinity. And as He came, He saw the men that He was coming to; He saw all that was base about them, saw how superficial and how shallow they were. He saw them filled with sin through the love of sin, and yet He said, “I am coming to give Myself through the love of Me, to give them Myself deeper and deeper, little by little, until they shall have received Me perfectly.” Look what a faith in the possibilities of human nature the Incarnation implied! The faith of Christ in man—that is what is written in the Incarnation. The faith of Christ in us—that is what is written in the visit of Christ to us, when, coming and standing directly across our path of wickedness and death, He says to us calmly and surely, “I am come that you might have life, the life of holiness which is by love of Me.”

Such life, now abundant and evermore abiding, Christ affords to all who believe on Him. But how is it that believing on Christ thus puts us beyond the reach and power of death? The entire truth that Christ had in mind was this: that faith in Himself, by its own law, works away from death towards life. For Christ is life; to believe on a person is to become like that person, or one with him. Hence, to believe on Christ the Life is to become a sharer with Him in whatever He is, therefore in His life. We are told that Christ could not be holden of death; faith in Him works towards the same freedom.

The assimilating power of faith, that is, the power of faith to make those who believe like that in which they believe, is a recognized principle. The whole nature follows the faith, and gravitates towards its object. A moulding process goes on; faith is the workman and the object of faith is the pattern. Starting within, down amongst the desires and affections, it works outward, till the external man becomes in form, feature, and expression like the absorbing object. We meet men every day in whose faces we see avarice, lust, or conceit, as plainly as if it were imprinted on their foreheads. They have so long thought and felt under the power of these qualities that they are made over into their image. A man who worships money comes to wear the likeness of a money-worshipper down to the tips of his fingers; his eyes and nose and the very posture of his figure bear witness to the transforming power of faith. The Hindu who worships Brahma sleeping on the stars in immovable calm gets to wear a fixed expression. The mediæval saints who spent days and nights in contemplation of the crucifix, came to show the very lineaments of the man of sorrows, as art had depicted them, and sometimes, it is said, the very marks of His torture in their own bodies. It is a principle wonderful in its method and power. We are all passing into the likeness of that in which we believe. There is no need that men should be labelled, or that they should make confession with their lips. Very early the faith hangs out a label, and soon the whole man becomes a confession of its truth. You have but to look, and you will see here a voluptuary, there a sluggard; here a miser, there a scholar; here a bigot, there a sceptic; here a thinker, there a fool; here a cruel, unjust man, there one kind, generous, true; here one base throughout, there one radiant with purity. It is wonderful, this power of faith, first moulding, then revealing. It is the power of love directed by will, which together makes up faith; and as it works out so it works within, shaping all things there in like manner. It is by this principle that Christ unites men to Himself.1 [Note: T. T. Munger, The Freedom of Faith, 281.]

Therefore to whom turn I but to Thee, the ineffable Name?

Builder and maker, Thou, of houses not made with hands!

What, have fear of change from Thee who art ever the same?

Doubt that Thy power can fill the heart that Thy power expands?

There shall never be one lost good! What was, shall live as before;

The evil is null, is nought, is silence implying sound;

What was good, shall be good, with, for evil, so much good more;

On the earth the broken arcs; in the heaven, a perfect round.2 [Note: Browning, Abt Vogler.]

The Resurrection and the Life


Adams (J. C.), The Leisure of God, 129.

Alford (H.), Quebec Chapel Sermons, i. 285.

Atwool (H. C.), At His Feet, 107.

Bickersteth (C.), The Gospel of Incarnate Love, 172.

Brookfield (W. H.), Sermons, 117.

Brooks (P.), The More Abundant Life, 36.

Campbell (R. J.), The Song of Ages, 239.

Dawson (W. J.), The Evangelistic Note, 273.

Drummond (R. J.), Faith’s Perplexities, 195.

Fairweather (D.), Bound in the Spirit, 295.

Findlay (G.), The Things Above, 141.

Horton (R. F.), The Teaching of Jesus, 267.

Hull (E. L.), Sermons at King’s Lynn, i. 1.

Ingram (A. F. W.), The Gospel in Action, 232.

Learmount (J.), Thirty Chats with Young Folks, 22.

Little (W. J. K.), Labour and Sorrow, 158.

McClelland (T. C.), The Mind of Christ, 133.

Maclaren (A.), Expositions: Esther, Job, etc., 43.

Maclaren (A.), Expositions: John ix.–xiv., 81.

Manning (H. E.), Sermons, iv. 342, 356.

Munger (T. T.), The Freedom of Faith, 273.

New (C.), Sermons in Hastings, 169.

Ritchie (D. L.), Peace the Umpire, 54.

Ross (J. M. E.), The Self-Portraiture of Jesus, 123.

Snell (B. J.), Sermons on Immortality, 56.

Spurgeon (C. H.), Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit, xxvi. (1880) No. 1568; xxx. (1884) No. 1799.

Thomas (J.), The Mysteries of Grace, 243.

Vaughan (J.), Sermons in Christ Church, Brighton, ii. 106.

Westcott (B. F.), The Revelation of the Father, 91.

Whiton (J. M.), Beyond the Shadow, 31.

Williams (T. Ll.), “Thy Kingdom Come,” 59.

Christian World Pulpit, xliii. 72 (Pierson); lxvii. 377 (Ingram).

Church of England Pulpit, xlv. 205, xlix. 15 (Headley); lvii. 210 (Hitchcock).

Clergyman’s Magazine, 3rd Ser., xiii. 291.

Verse 26

(26) And whosoever liveth and believeth in me.—This is to be understood of the physical life answering to “though he have died” of the last verse.

Shall never die.—Comp. especially Note on John 8:51. He shall by no means die for ever. Not through the infinite course of ages shall there be that which makes for him the sting of death. The fact of what we call physical death is not denied, but in the fulness of the thought of life it is regarded as the passage to a new and higher life.

Verse 27

(27) She saith unto him, Yea, Lord.—This is her assent to the question He asked. She believed all that He had told her. It is not that she expresses her belief, in answer to His question, in the remainder of this verse. The answer is simply “Yea, Lord.” Then she proceeds to give the foundation on which that answer rested.

I believe that thou art the Christ.—The word means, “I have believed, and do now;” “I have convinced myself, and do believe.” But this being so, convinced that He is the Messiah, she has in that conviction the ground for believing all that He has now taught her of Resurrection and Life.

Verse 28

(28) And called Mary her sister secretly.—It was done secretly to avoid attracting the notice of the Jews who were with her (John 11:19; John 11:31). This, we have seen (John 11:20), accounts for the fact that our Lord did not Himself go to the house. That the care was not unnecessary is seen from John 11:46.

The Master is come (better, is here), and calleth for thee.—The word here rendered “Master” is not the Hebrew Rabbi (comp. Note on John 1:38), but the Greek word answering to our “Teacher.” (Comp. John 13:13-14.) He is not named, but Mary at once knows who is intended. (Comp. Mark 14:14.) Perhaps the name was that by which they usually spoke of Him who had been their Teacher. We are not told that our Lord sent for Mary, but we must assume that Martha conveyed the message which she herself had heard.

Verse 29

(29) She arose quickly.—She was sitting in the house (John 11:20), after the manner of mourners. The news she now hears tells her that their true Comforter was at hand, and she at once goes forth to meet Him.

Verse 30

(30) Now Jesus was not yet come into the town.—Better, as before, into the village (John 11:1).

Where Martha met him.—Comp. John 11:20.

Verse 31

(31) And comforted her.—Better, were comforting her—i.e., were engaged in the prescribed ceremonial of those who were called comforters.

Saying, She goeth unto the grave to weep there.—The better reading is, thinking, She goeth . . . The practice was and is common among the Orientals, as well as among other nations.

Their following her, defeats the object Martha had in view in calling her secretly. We may say, also, that it defeated our Lord’s object in remaining outside the village; but this is not inconsistent with His knowing that it would be so.

Verse 32

(32) Lord, if thou hadst been here.—The words are precisely the same as those which Martha had uttered (John 11:21). She adds no more. It may be that she was prevented doing so by the presence of the Jews; but the next verse suggests rather that her emotion was too powerful for words, and that the only possible language was that of a suppliant lying at His feet and weeping.

Verse 33

(33) He groaned in the spirit, and was troubled.—The word rendered “groaned” occurs, besides in this verse and John 11:38, three times in the New Testament; in Matthew 9:30 (“and Jesus straitly charged them”); Mark 1:43 (“and He straitly charged him”); and Mark 14:5 (“and they murmured against her”). Comp. Notes at these places. The original meaning of the word is “to snort, as of horses.” Passing to the moral sense, it expresses disturbance of the mind—vehement agitation. This may express itself in sharp admonition, in words of anger against a person, or in a physical shudder, answering to the intensity of the emotion. In each of the passages in the earlier Gospels the word is accompanied by an object upon which the feeling is directed. In the present context it does not go beyond the subject of the feeling. Here it is “in the spirit” (comp. John 13:21); and in John 11:38 it is “in Himself.” Both mean the same thing; and point to the inner moral depth of His righteous indignation; the object of it, however, is not expressed.

For the rendering “and was troubled” the margin gives, as the exact force of the Greek, “and He troubled Himself”; and this is to be preferred. These words do not express the inner emotion; for that has been expressed in the strong words which have gone before. They point rather to the physical movement which accompanied the emotion, and made known to others the indignation which was excited in His own spirit. The force of the whole sentence would require, in English, some such rendering as “He was indignant in the spirit, and caused Himself to shudder.”

Very different views have been put forth as to the cause of this intensity of emotion in our Lord. The cause supplied by the text is that He saw Mary lying at His feet weeping; and the Jews also weeping which came with her. Real sorrow, which calls forth all His sympathy, is accompanied by the mockery of sorrow, which can shed tears for the brother, whom they afterwards seek to kill (John 12:10)! These Jews are those who had sought to stone their Teacher, and had resolved to cut off from all religious and social intercourse every one who acknowledged Him as the Messiah! With hearts full of hatred they can profess to be comforters, and can mingle their tears with hers. The severest words that fell from the lips of Christ were those which denounced the hypocrisy of priests, Pharisees, and scribes. It is this hypocrisy which now stirs in His spirit an anger so intense that it causes nerve and muscle and limb to tremble beneath its force.

Verse 34

(34) Where have ye laid him?—The question is directed, of course, to the sisters. This is further shown by the answer, “Lord, come and see.” Both question and answer are expressed in the shortest form. Grief speaks in the fewest possible words.

Verse 35

(35) Jesus wept.—The word is different from that which is used to express weeping in John 11:33; but this latter is used of our Lord in Luke 19:41. The present word means not the cry of lamentation nor the wail of excessive grief, but the calm shedding of tears. They are on the way to the sepulchre, near to which they have now arrived. He is conscious of the power which He is about to exercise, and that the first result will be the glory of God (John 11:4); but He is conscious also of the suffering hearts near Him, and the sympathy with human sorrow is no less part of His nature than the union with divine strength. Men have wondered to find in the Gospel which opens with the express declaration of the divinity of our Lord, and at a moment when that divinity was about to receive its fullest manifestation, these words, which point them still to human weakness. But the central thought of St. John’s Gospel is “The Word was made flesh,” and He is for us the Resurrection and the Life, because He has been manifested to us, not as an abstraction which the intellect only could receive, but as a person, living a human life, and knowing its sorrows, whom the heart can grasp and love. A “God in tears” has provoked the smile of the stoic and the scorn of the unbeliever; but Christianity is not a gospel of self-sufficiency, and its message is not merely to the human intellect. It is salvation for the whole man and for every man; and the sorrowing heart of humanity has never seen more clearly the divinity of the Son of Man than when it has seen His glory shining through His human tears.

Verse 36

(36) Then said the Jews—i.e., part of them. (See the next verse.) The term “Jews” is repeated with a frequency (John 11:31; John 11:33) which makes prominent their hostile position.

Behold how he loved him!—Or, more exactly, how He used to love him. The word used is the strong word for love which the sisters had themselves used in John 11:3. “How He must have loved him,” they think, “during his life, if He thus sheds tears for him after his death!”

Verse 37

(37) And some of them said.—Better, But some of them said—i.e., another party of the Jews, differing from those mentioned in the last verse.

Could not this man, which opened the eyes of the blind . .?—They refer to the greatest miracle which had taken place within the limits of their own knowledge. The other miracles of raising the dead they must have heard of, but had not believed. What they think of here is not raising the dead, but the possibility of preventing death; and their question is meant to imply that He could not have prevented this death. If He could, surely He would have done so for one whom He had loved, and would have come at once, instead of waiting until death had taken place. The inference they would draw is that, after all, the present failure is a proof that He did not open the eyes of the blind.

Verse 38

(38) Jesus therefore again groaning in himself.—See Note on John 11:33. Their evil thoughts, expressed in John 11:37, are the cause of this new emotion of anger.

Cometh to the grave.—Comp. John 11:31. Here, as there, it would be better to render it sepulchre. The same word occurs again in John 12:17; John 19:41-42; John 20:1-11.

It was a cave, and a stone lay upon it.—The sepulchres were dug in the rock, either vertically, with an entrance from above (comp. Note on Luke 11:44), or horizontally, with an entrance from the side, and were frequently adaptations of natural caves. (Comp. Note on Matthew 27:60.) Such sepulchres remain to the present day, and travellers are shown one which is said to be that of Lazarus. The entrance is from above it by twenty-six steps; and this must have been so, if we press the words “lay upon it.” The original words, however, may certainly apply to the horizontal slab which closes the entrance to the sepulchre; and the identification of this particular sepulchre is to be received with caution. The tact of the body being laid in a sepulchre agrees with the general tone of the narrative that the family was one of substance.

Verse 39

(39) Martha, the sister of him that was dead.—This fact of close relationship is mentioned again to account for her remark. We know, from the whole narrative, that she was his sister; but this verse would say, not simply that Martha spoke, but that that in Martha which was sister to him who was dead spoke. She thinks that the form of him she loved has now passed to corruption; she cannot bear that her own eyes or the eyes of others should see it.

For he hath been dead four days.—The word “dead” is not expressed in the Greek, which says literally, for he hath been of the fourth day; and the thought is rather of the sepulchre than of death—“for he hath been in the sepulchre four days.” (Comp. John 11:17.) The body had been embalmed (John 11:44); but the manner of the Jews was to embalm only with spice, and to wrap in linen clothes (John 19:40-42), and there is no evidence that they at any time followed the Egyptian method of embalming. The only instance of Jewish embalming mentioned in the Old Testament is that of Asa (2 Chronicles 16:14).

The fact that the body had been in the sepulcher four days is given by the sister as a proof that decomposition must have taken place, and expositors have generally assumed that it was so. This is, however, not stated in the text, and the assumption is opposed by the fact that there was an interval during which the sepulchre was open, and Jesus prayed to the Father (John 11:41-42).

Verse 40

(40) If thou wouldest believe, thou shouldest see the glory of God.—He takes her back to the promise which she had heard from the messengers (John 11:4), and which had led to her brightest hopes, and reminds her too of His own teaching and her own faith (John 11:21-27). Her last remark had more of the human and less of the divine than was contained in her earliest words (John 11:22). Then her faith had reached “whatsoever Thou shalt ask”; and later she had accepted the truth, “He that believeth in Me, though he have died, yet shall he live.” “Let her hold fast to this faith,” His words would now say, in a gentleness that is yet not wholly without rebuke, “and she shall see the glory of God.” By this more is meant than the restoration of Lazarus to physical life. That was seen by those who did not believe; for her it should be a sign, teaching that He is the Resurrection and the Life.

Verse 41

(41) Then they took away the stone.—This could be done without difficulty, for it would be nothing more than a rough slab placed at the entrance of the cave, to prevent the approach of jackals or other beasts of prey.

From the place where the dead was laid is omitted by all the better MSS. It is an unnecessary gloss, to explain what stone is meant.

And Jesus lifted up his eyes, and said . . .—His attitude, as well as His words, is meant to express that the work which He is about to do, is one of the works from His Father.

I thank thee that thou hast heard me.—Better, I thank Thee that Thou didst hear Me; the time referred to being that of the offering of the prayer. Of this we have no notice. It was the will of the Son expressing itself in moral harmony with the will of the Father. “I seek not Mine own will, but the will of the Father which hath sent Me” (John 5:30; comp. John 12:27-28), and therefore in the expression receiving the answer. The promise of John 11:4 was the utterance of the divine will to the disciples and the messengers, and we are, it may be, to think of that moment as the time of its realisation by the Son.

This thanksgiving for the answer to His prayer has been uttered aloud in the presence of the multitude. The verse which follows was spoken to prevent a misunderstanding on the part of the disciples and in all times.

Verse 42

(42) And I knew that thou hearest me always.—The meaning depends upon the emphatic position of the pronoun, “I, for My part, knew.” “It is not for My own sake that I speak these words.” This union of the will of the Father and the Son, by which every prayer of the Son was an expression of the will of the Father, and every work of the Father was in harmony with the will of the Son, was not exceptional, but the law of His human life. There is ever the consciousness, “I and My Father are one” (John 10:30).

But because of the people which stand by I said it.—Better, because of the multitude. He had before instructed the disciples and the sisters. He would instruct the multitude also, so that to them this “miracle” may be more than a wonder, and may teach them that He is sent of God. (Comp. Notes on John 9:29; John 9:31; John 10:21.)

That which He said must be the words “I thank Thee that Thou hast heard Me.” Some have referred them to the words of John 11:4, but this is in itself improbable, and is besides excluded by the reference to the multitude.

That they may believe that thou hast sent me.—The pronoun is again emphatic. His words mean “That Thou and none beside Thee.” They had ascribed the sight given to the blind to deceit, or the work of a demon. This sign is preceded by a thanksgiving to the God of heaven in the presence of them all. It is a solemn appeal, proving His divinity at once by the confidence in which He utters it, and by the answer which Heaven gives to it.

Verse 43

(43) He cried with a loud voice.—Comp. John 5:25; John 5:28, and Notes there. These verses lead to the opinion that it was at the moment of the cry, and not before, as some have thought, that life returned. This is the only passage where the word rendered “cried” is used of our Lord. (Comp. Matthew 12:19.) It occurs again in this Gospel in John 12:13; John 18:40; John 19:6; John 19:12; John 19:15.

Lazarus, come forth.—He addresses him as we should address a friend whom we wished to arouse from sleep, by his name, the most familiar of all sounds, and marking his personality. (Comp. John 20:16.) Literally, the Greek means, Lazarus, Hither, out! and contains no verb. There is a fitness in them as addressed to one already lying in the sepulchre. Comp. “Young man, I say unto thee, Arise” (Luke 7:15), and “Maid, arise” (Luke 8:54).

Verse 44

(44) And he that was dead came forth.—“Wonder at a wonder within a wonder!” is Basil’s comment on these words; and many of the older expositors regard the power to move, when bound hand and foot, as itself a miracle. But this seems not to be necessary, and if not necessary, is not to be resorted to. (Comp. Note on John 6:21.) The grave-clothes may have been bound round the limbs separately, as in the Egyptian mummies, and this would not prevent motion; or (and this is more probable) the body may have been “wrapped in a linen cloth,” which encompassed the whole, except the head (Matthew 27:59), but still left motion possible. The word rendered “grave-clothes” is used nowhere in the New Testament except in this passage. It means properly the bands or straps by which the linen sheet was fastened to the body, and which kept the spice from falling out. (Comp. John 19:40.) We find it used elsewhere for straps and thongs generally. They were made of rushes, linen,, and other materials. The word is used once in the Greek of the Old Testament, where it means the belts by which beds are girded (Proverbs 7:16).

And his face was bound about with a napkin.—For the word “napkin,” comp. Note on Luke 19:20. It means here the cloth placed round the forehead and under the chin, but probably not covering the face.

Loose him, and let him go.—This command is in itself strong proof that the earlier part of the verse is not to be interpreted as a narrative of miraculous incidents.

Verse 45

(45) Then many of the Jews which came to-Mary, and had seen . . .—Better, Many therefore of the Jews, which had come to Mary and seen . . . The comma should be placed after the word Jews. The Greek cannot mean, “Then many of the Jews, i.e., of those which came to Mary.” It must mean, “Many therefore of the Jews, i.e., all those which had come to Mary.” The miracle is so utterly beyond all their conceptions that it carries conviction to every heart, and leaves no further possibility of doubt. They are called those “which had come to Mary,” because they had remained with her after Martha had gone to meet our Lord, and had followed her when she herself went.

Verse 46

(46) But some of them went their ways to the Pharisees—i.e., necessarily, some of those who had been with Mary, and had seen the things which Jesus did, and had believed. But why did they then go and tell the Pharisees? It is contrary to their position as believers to think that they did this as informers against Jesus. What they have seen has carried conviction to their own minds, and they report it to the Pharisees, either as a proof that He really was the Messiah, or in any case to demand from them a judgment on the facts which they report.

Verse 47


(b) The council of the Jews. The decree of death against the Giver of Life (John 11:47-53).

(c) The withdrawal to Ephraim. Many seek for Jesus (John 11:54-57).

(d) The supper at Bethany. Mary, Judas, the chief priests (love, selfishness, hatred) (John 12:1-11).

(e) The entry into Jerusalem. The King and His people (John 11:12-19).

(f) The wider kingdom (John 11:20-36).

Certain Greeks would see Jesus. The firstfruits of the West (John 11:20-22).

The seed and the harvest. Life in death (John 11:23-26).

(f) The wider kingdom (continued).

The world-wide attraction of the Cross. Light in darkness (John 11:27-36).

(g) The final issue of the unbelief of the Jews.

( α) The writer’s own judgment (John 11:37-43)—

On no-faith (John 11:37-41);

On half-faith (John 11:42-43).

( β) The Judgment of Jesus (John 11:44-50).

The rejection of light (John 11:46); love (“that I might save the world,” John 11:47); truth (John 11:49); life (John 11:50).]

(47) Then gathered the chief priests and the Pharisees a council.—Matters have reached too serious a stage for them to allow further delay. Opponents have become believers; enemies have become friends; and there are men of their own rank, and men with whom they had taken counsel against Him, who have now believed. The Pharisees go in their difficulty to the chief priests, who were for the most part Sadducees, and they together summon a meeting of the Sanhedrin.

What do we? for this man doeth many miracles.—The note of interrogation may be placed in the middle or at the end of the clause. The latter suits better the energy of their language. “What do we, seeing that this Man doeth many miracles?” They accept the testimony of the Jews who have come to them, and cannot longer throw doubt upon His miracles. The question is asked in the present tense; it is not a matter for future action. “What are we doing, seeing what this Man is doing?” They feel that they have been inactive but too long, while He has been daily gaining influence. The form of their question is a strange contradiction; they cannot but admit that He doeth many signs, and yet their pride will call Him by no name but the contemptuous “this Man!”

Verse 48

(48) If we let him thus alone, all men will believe on him.—He who but a short time since had escaped from their stones and violence, and had retired to Bethany, was now within two miles of Jerusalem. One work had carried conviction to the minds of all who had seen it, though many of them were of their own party. Another such miracle in the city itself would carry conviction, they think, to the minds of all.

And the Romans shall come and take away both our place and nation.—The dread of the Roman power must have been constantly present to the Jews of that generation. They had seen Archelaus deposed, and a Roman procurator had come to carry into effect the enrolment decreed by Augustus (Luke 2:1). Pontius Pilate had suppressed outbreaks by violence in the Temple itself. There had been tumults in connection with the Corban money and with Barabbas. The Temple mountain was the site of the Roman fortress Antonia, and this dread power may at any moment destroy the national life, which only existed on sufferance.

The attempts to prove that “our place” can mean “the Temple” must now be given up; and if we attach a local meaning to the word we must understand it of Jerusalem. It may, however, be questioned whether the word has any local signification here. Like our words “standing,” and “place,” and “position,” it certainly may have a moral sense, and New Testament examples of this usage are frequent. (See Acts 1:25; Romans 15:23; 1 Corinthians 14:16; Hebrews 12:17.) It is suggested that this sense is more in harmony with the feeling of the Pharisees. They possessed no local power; and the city could not be taken away from them more entirely than it already was. Their existence as rulers depended upon the Mosaic law and upon the services of the Temple. Round these centres they had gathered human tradition and ordinance, to which they clung because they only could interpret them, and they only could use the vast powers which were thus exercised over men. The Law had become practically an intricate system of tradition, and the Temple-service had become practically an intricate system of ritual. With this the Roman empire, following its usual policy, had not interfered, and the Jewish hierarchy had become the centre and the rulers of the national life. But in direct opposition to both of them had been the work and teaching of Christ. He had sought to establish for law and service the simplicity of their first spiritual principles. His spiritual teaching was a cutting to the very root of their whole being. If all the people believed on Him their raison d’être would be gone, and the Romans would no longer suffer an imperium in imperio, which they now allowed because it swayed the masses of the people. They would take both their position, and with it the rank which they still claimed as a nation.

The emphatic position of the word “our” should be noted, and also that “place and nation” are linked together as one complex thought attached to it.

Verse 49

(49) And one of them, named Caiaphas.—Comp. Notes on Matthew 26:3; Luke 3:2. His proper name was Joseph, and the name Caiaphas is the Syriac form of Cephas. He, like Peter, took the name of “Rockman,” as a title to indicate his work! For the succession of high priests at this time, see Jos. Ant. xviii. 2, § 2. Caiaphas himself was priest from A.D. 26-36.

Being the high priest that same year.—The words occur again in John 11:51 and in John 18:13. They are used with a solemnity of meaning to express “that fatal and decisive year.”

Ye know nothing at all.—There had probably been various suggestions made by different members of the Sanhedrin which seemed to him to miss the mark, or to fall short of the one means which would have a successful issue.

Verse 50

(50) Nor consider that it is expedient for us . . .—This remarkable counsel has linked itself in St. John’s thoughts with the name of Caiaphas. He quotes it again in John 18:14.

Should die for the people, and that the whole nation . . .—Different words are used here in the Greek, as in the English. The former word represents the theocratic people, those who were united together as the servants of God; the latter word is that which is used in John 11:48, and represents the political nation as one of the nations of the earth.

Verse 51

(51) And this spake he not of himself.—There is a moral beauty in the Words, in spite of the diabolical intent with which they are uttered; and St. John adds the explanation that they had an origin higher than him who spake them. Writing after the events, he has seen them fulfilled, and regards them as an unconscious prophecy. Like another Balaam, Caiaphas was the oracle or God in spite of himself, and there is in his words a meaning far beyond any that he had intended.

Being high priest that year, he prophesied that Jesus should die for that nation.—He stood, therefore, in a relation which made him the official representative of God to the people, and gave him an official capacity to convey God’s truth. This was represented in the days of Samuel by the Urim and Thummim; and John, himself a Jew, still thinks of the high priest’s breast as bearing the oracle which declared the will of God, whatever unworthy human thoughts may have filled the heart beneath. It may be that another reference to the high priest’s office is present in these thrice-written words. It was the high priest’s duty to “enter within the veil,” and “make an atonement for the children of Israel for all their sins once a year” (Leviticus 16). In that year the veil was rent, and the first step taken by which the holy place was destroyed, and the high priest’s office ceased to exist. With the destruction of the holy place the Jewish day of Atonement lost its significance, but the high priest that year, by his counsel and action in the Sanhedrin, was causing the sacrifice which should be presented by another high priest, in the Holy of Holies as an Atonement for the world—“Christ being come an high priest of good things to come, by a greater and more perfect tabernacle, not made with hands, that is to say, not of this building; neither by the blood of goats and calves, but by His own blood He entered in once into the holy place, having obtained eternal redemption” (Hebrews 9:11-12).

Verse 52

(52) And not for that nation only.—Caiaphas had said “die for the people,” using the word which meant the people of the Jews. St. John said, “die for that nation,” using the wider word which meant the nation as one of the nations of the earth. He now passes to a wider meaning still. He has lived to see a partial fulfilment of the ingathering of the “other sheep” of John 10:16, and he thinks of that death as for God’s children in all nations, who shall be one flock under one shepherd.

Verse 53

(53) Then from that day forth they took! counsel . . .—On that day, then, the Sanhedrin officially decreed His death. The remaining question was how they could carry out this decree without exciting a popular tumult, or bringing themselves into collision with the Romans. (Comp. Note on Matthew 26:4.)

Verse 54

(54) Jesus therefore walked no more openly among the Jews.—He had heard of the decree of the Sanhedrin which had been publicly made known (John 11:57), and therefore avoided persons who would have carried it into effect.

“The Jews” are, as before, the hostile party. The passage is a good illustration of St. John’s use of the term, for He was of course among Jews, in the ordinary meaning of the word, during the sojourn at Ephraim. (Comp. Note on John 1:19.)

But went thence unto a country near to the wilderness.—All the better MSS. read “unto the country . . .” as in contrast to the city, Jerusalem, where “the Jews” dwelt. He went from Bethany, when He had heard of what had taken place at Jerusalem, “into the country.” This is further defined as “near to the wilderness,” and then the name of the city is given.

Into a city called Ephraim.—The position of this “city” is not known. The MSS. spell it variously as Ephraim, Ephrem, Ephram, and Ephratha. Eusebius and Jerome both assumed it to be the same place as Ephron, but differed as to its position, the former fixing it at eight, and the latter at twenty miles, north-east from Jerusalem. Both would place it, therefore, in Judæa; and this agrees with its position “near to the wilderness,” for the desert of Judæa extended nearly as far as Jericho. In 2 Chronicles 13:19, we have an Ephrain or Ephron (according to the written text and the LXX.) in connection with the neighbourhood of Bethel. This is mentioned by Josephus (Wars, iv. 9, § 9), and is near to the wilderness of Bethaven. It is possibly the place named here; but a Jew would naturally use the phrase, “the wilderness,” to mean the desert of Judæa. Dr. Robinson would identify Ephraim and Ephron with Ophrah (Joshua 18:23; 1 Samuel 17:23), and fix the locality at the modern el-Taiyibeh, four or five miles east from Bethel, and sixteen from Jerusalem, which would agree roughly with the position assigned by Jerome. We must be content to leave the matter in this uncertainty. (Comp. Note on Luke 17:11.)

Verse 55

(55) And the Jews’ passover was nigh at hand.—Comp. Notes on John 2:13; John 6:4.

Out of the country.—Not the country near Ephraim, but the country generally, as opposed to the city.

To purify themselves.—The Law ordained no special purifications before the Passover, but on the general principle of ceremonial cleanness, a large number of pilgrims would necessarily go up before the feast to observe the legal rites and offer the required sacrifices. The time required varied from one to six days. (Comp. Genesis 35:2; Exodus 19:10-11; Numbers 9:10; 2 Chronicles 30:17-18; and Notes on John 18:28, and Acts 21:24; Acts 21:26; Acts 24:18.)

Verse 56

(56) Then sought they for Jesus, and spake . . .—The words imply a continuance of seeking and speaking. They describe the scene as it took place ay after day as they stood in the Temple courts. They had heard rumours of recent events in the various parts from which they had come. Many of them had seen and heard Him at earlier feasts at Jerusalem, and they wonder whether He will come to the Passover, or whether the decree of the Jews will deter Him.

What think ye, that he will not come to the feast?—The words contain two questions: What think ye? That He will not come to the feast? He has not been seen in any of the caravans, and the place of His retirement is not known to them. They ask the question one of another; but the tone of doubt is prevalent.

Verse 57

(57) Now both the chief priests and the Pharisees.—If the word rendered “both” is regarded as part of the text, it would connect this verse with the fact that the people sought for Jesus—“They on the one hand sought and asked questions about Him; but besides this, the chief priests and the Pharisees had given commandment . . .” But the great majority of the best MSS. omit the word, and we must therefore read, Now the chief priests and the Pharisees had given commandment . . . The words are an explanation of their question—“Will He come in the face of this commandment? “Their resolve to take Him has been arrived at as the result of their counsel (John 11:53).


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Bibliography Information
Ellicott, Charles John. "Commentary on John 11:4". "Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers". 1905.

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Sunday, October 25th, 2020
the Week of Proper 25 / Ordinary 30
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