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Bible Commentaries
John 11

Cambridge Greek Testament Commentary for Schools and CollegesCambridge Greek Testament Commentary

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Verses 1-99

Chap. 11. Christ is Love illustrated by a Sign

Christ’s love for His friends brings about His own death. Expressions of affection and tenderness abound in the chapter; comp. vv . 3, 5, 11, 15, 35, 36.

We have now reached ‘the culminating point of the miraculous activity of our Lord’, and at the same time the ‘crucial question’ of this Gospel the Raising of Lazarus. Various objections have been urged against it, and through it against the Fourth Gospel as a whole. The principal objections require notice. They are based (1) on the extraordinary character of the miracle itself; (2) on the silence of the Synoptists; (3) on the fact that in spite of what is narrated vv . 47 53, no mention is made of the miracle in the accusation and condemnation of Jesus.

(1) The extraordinary character of the miracle “has been exaggerated by looking at it in the light of modern ideas. To us the raising of the dead stands apart from other miracles in a class by itself as peculiarly unexampled and incredible. But it was not so regarded at the time when the Gospel was written … In the Synoptists the answer that Jesus gives to the disciples of John groups together every class of miracle, the raising of the dead amongst them, without distinction. Similar narratives in the Synoptists, in the Acts, and in the Old Testament, are given without any special relief or emphasis,” S. p. 186.

And surely this ancient view is both more reverent and more philosophical than the modern one. Only from a purely human standpoint can one miracle be regarded as more wonderful, i.e. more difficult of performance, than another. To Omnipotence all miracles, as indeed all works, are equal: distinctions of difficult and easy as applied to the Almighty are meaningless.

(2) It is certainly surprising that the Synoptists do not mention this miracle, all the more so because S. John tells us that it was the proximate cause of Christ’s arrest and condemnation. But this surprising circumstance has been exaggerated. It seems too much to say that “it must always remain a mystery why this miracle, transcending as it does all other miracles which the Lord wrought, … should have been passed over by the three earlier Evangelists”. Two considerations go a long way towards explaining the mystery. (i) “We are accustomed to regard the Synoptic Gospels as three; but in the outline and by far the greater part of their narrative they are virtually one. The groundwork of them all is supplied by a single document, that document itself a compilation, and (as there is ample evidence to show) a very fragmentary one .” S. p. 185. That a fragmentary document or tradition should omit important facts is not surprising: that three writers, making use of this defective evidence, should not even in this very important instance supply the deficiency, is not more than surprising. And the second consideration greatly diminishes our surprise. (ii) The Synoptists, until they reach the last Passover, omit almost all events in or about Jerusalem: the ministry in Galilee is their province. Therefore “we cannot be surprised that they should omit an event which is placed at Bethany.” S. p. 186. The omission of this raising by the Synoptists is very little more strange than the omission of the other raisings by John. Each side keeps to its own scheme of narration.

To explain that the Synoptists were silent in order not to draw attention, and perhaps persecution (12:10, 11), on Lazarus and his sisters, whereas when S. John wrote they were dead (just as S. John alone records that it was S. Peter who cut off the High Priest’s servant’s ear), is not very satisfactory. There is no evidence that Lazarus and his sisters were living when the first Gospel was written, still less when S. Luke wrote. And if they were alive, were the chief priests alive, and their animosity still alive also? The explanation is less easy than the difficulty.

(3) This last objection really tells in favour of the narrative. The hierarchy would have stood self-condemned if they had made His raising the dead a formal charge against Christ. The disciples had fled, and could not urge the miracle in His favour; and Christ Himself would not break the majestic silence which He maintained before His accusers to mention such a detail.

There are those who assume that miracles are impossible, and that no amount of evidence can render a miracle credible. This miracle is therefore dismissed, and we are to believe either (1) Lazarus was only apparently dead , i.e. that Christ was an impostor and S. John a dupe or an accomplice; or that (2) the parable of Lazarus and Dives has been transformed into a miracle; or that (3) the narrative is a myth , or (4) an allegory . (1) and (2) only need to be stated: of (3) and (4) we may say with Meyer, “No narrative of the N.T. bears so completely the stamp of being the very opposite of a later invention.… And what an incredible height of art in the allegorical construction of history must we ascribe to the composer!” Instead of an historical miracle we have a literary miracle of the second century. Contrast this chapter with the miracles of the Apocryphal Gospels, and it will seem impossible that both can have come from the same source. To tear out this or any other page from S. John, and retain the rest, is quite inadmissible. “The Gospel is like that sacred coat ‘without seam woven from the top throughout:’ it is either all real and true or all fictitious and illusory; and the latter alternative is, I cannot but think, more difficult to accept than the miracle.” S. p. 188.

1 33. The Prelude to the Sign

1. Now a certain man was sick ] Note once more the touching simplicity of the narrative. ‘Now’ should perhaps be ‘but,’ though the Greek particle may mean either. Here it introduces a contrast to what precedes. Christ went into Peraea for retirement, but the sickness of Lazarus interrupted it.

named Lazarus ] The theory that this narrative is a parable transformed into a miracle possibly represents something like the reverse of the fact. The parable of Dives and Lazarus was apparently spoken about this time, i.e. between the Feast of Dedication and the last Passover, and it may possibly have been suggested by this miracle. In no other parable does Christ introduce a proper name. Some would identify Lazarus of Bethany with the rich young ruler (Matthew 19:16 ; Mark 10:17 ; Luke 18:18 ), and also with the young man clad in a linen cloth who followed Jesus in the Garden after the disciples had fled (Mark 14:51 ; see note there). The name Lazarus is an abbreviated Greek form of Eleazar = ‘God is my help.’ It is commonly assumed without much evidence that he was younger than his sisters: S. Luke’s silence about him (10:38, 39) agrees well with this.

Bethany ] A small village on the S. E. slope of the Mount of Olives, about two miles from Jerusalem (see on Matthew 21:9 ).

the town of Mary ] Better, of the village of Mary . The same word is used of Bethlehem (7:42) and in conjunction with ‘towns’ or ‘cities’ (Luke 13:22 ), It is an elastic word; but its general meaning is ‘village’ rather than anything larger. Mary is here mentioned first, although apparently the younger sister (Luke 10:28 ), because the incident mentioned in the next verse had made her better known. They would seem to have been people of position from the village being described as their abode (to distinguish it from the other Bethany in Peraea, to which Christ had just gone). The guests at the funeral ( vv . 31, 45), the feast, the family burying-place ( v . 38), and Mary’s costly offering (12:2, 3), point in the same direction.

2. It was that Mary which anointed ] This of course does not necessarily imply that the anointing had already taken place, as those who identify Mary with the ‘sinner’ of Luke 7:37 would insist: it merely implies that when S. John wrote, this fact was well known about her, as Christ had promised should be the case (Matthew 26:13 ). S. John tells two facts omitted in the earlier Gospels; (1) that the village of Martha and Mary was Bethany, (2) that the anointing at Bethany was Mary’s act. The identification of Mary of Bethany with the prostitute of Luke 7:0 is altogether at variance with what S. Luke and S. John tell us of her character. Nor is there any sufficient reason for identifying either of them with Mary Magdalene. Mary of Bethany, Mary of Magdala, and the ‘sinner’ of Luke 7:0 are three distinct persons.

3. Therefore his sisters sent ] This shews that v . 2 ought not to be made a parenthesis: ‘therefore’ refers to the previous statement. Because of the intimacy, which every one who knew of the anointing would understand, the sisters sent. Note that they are not further described; S. John has said enough to tell his readers who are meant: but would not a forger have introduced them with more description?

he whom thou lovest is sick ] Exquisite in its tender simplicity. The message implies a belief that Christ could, and probably would, heal a dangerous sickness. See on v . 5.

4. is not unto death ] i.e. is not to have death as its final result. Christ foresaw both the death and the resurrection, and (as so often) uttered words which His disciples did not understand at the time, but recognised in their proper meaning after what He indicated had taken place. Comp. 2:22, 12:16, 21:23.

might be glorified ] In two ways; because the miracle (1) would lead many to believe that He was the Messiah; (2) would bring about His death. ‘Being glorified’ is a frequent expression in this Gospel for Christ’s Death regarded as the mode of His return to glory (7:39, 12:16, 23, 13:31, 32); and this glorification of the Son involves the glory of the Father (5:23, 10:30, 38). Comp. 9:3; in the Divine counsels the purpose of the man’s blindness and of Lazarus’ sickness is the glory of God.

We ought perhaps to connect the special meaning of ‘glorified’ with the first clause: ‘This sickness is to have for its final issue, not the temporal death of an individual, but the eternal life of all mankind.’

It is worth noting that both the first and the last of the seven miracles of the ministry recorded by S. John are declared to be manifestations of glory (2:11, 11:4, 40) and confirmations of faith (2:11, 11:15).

thereby ] Both in the English and in the Greek this is ambiguous: it may refer either to the sickness or the glory. The former is correct.

5. Now Jesus loved Martha ] The English Version loses much here, and still more in 21:15 17, by using the same word ‘love’ to translate two different Greek words: nor can the loss be remedied satisfactorily. The word used in v . 3, philein (Lat. amare ), denotes a passionate, emotional warmth, which loves and cares not to ask why; the affection of lovers, parents, and the like. The word used here agapân , (Lat. diligere ), denotes a calm, discriminating attachment, which loves because of the excellence of the loved object; the affection of friends. Philein is the stronger, but less reasoning; agapân the more earnest, but less intense. The sisters naturally use the more emotional word, describing their own feeling towards their brother; the Evangelist equally naturally uses the loftier and less impulsive word. The fact that the sisters are here included is not the reason for the change of expression.

Martha, and her sister, and Lazarus ] The names are probably in order of age. This and v . 19 confirm what is almost certain from Luke 10:38 , that Martha is the elder sister.

6. When he had heard therefore ] Omit ‘had.’ The connexion is a little difficult. ‘Therefore’ after the statement in v . 5 prepares us for ‘He set out immediately,’ but instead of that we have the reverse. ‘Therefore,’ however, really leads on to v . 7, and consequently there should be only a semicolon at the end of v . 6. When, therefore, He heard that he is sick, then indeed He abode two days in the place where He was; then after this He saith , &c. The question why Christ remained the two days is futile: such was the Divine Will with regard to the mode of working this miracle and to His Messianic work generally. His life was a perfect fulfilment of the Preacher’s rule; ‘To everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose under heaven’ (Ecclesiastes 3:1 ; comp. v . 9, 2:4). There was a Divine plan, in conformity with which He worked.

7. Let us go into Judea again ] The again refers us back to 10:40. His using the general term, Judæa, instead of Bethany leads to the disciples’ reply. Judaea was associated with hostility, Bethany with love and friendship.

8. Master, the Jews of late sought to stone thee ] Better, Rabbi (see on 4:31) just now the Jews were seeking to stone Thee (10:31) and art Thou going thither again? ‘Again’ is emphatic.

9. Are there not twelve hours in the day ] As so often, Christ gives no direct answer to the question asked, but a general principle, involving the answer to the question. Comp. 2:6, 19, 3:5, 10, 4:13, 21, 6:32, 52, 8:7, 25, 54, 10:25. The meaning seems to be, ‘Are there not twelve working-hours in which a man may labour without fear of stumbling? I have not yet reached the end of My working-day, and so can safely continue the work I came to do. The night cometh, when I can no longer work; but it has not yet come.’ Comp. 9:4. Thus it is practically equivalent to ‘Mine hour is not yet come;’ it is still safe for Him to work: but the figure here adopted is of wider application, and contains a moral for the disciples and all Christians as well as an application to Christ. The expression throws no light on S. John’s method of reckoning time. See on 19:14.

the light of this world ] The sun.

10. he stumbleth ] Christ’s night came when His hour came (17:1). Then the powers of darkness prevailed (Luke 22:53 ) and His enemies became a stumblingblock in His path, bringing His work to a close (19:30). The word for ‘stumble’ means literally to ‘knock the foot against’ something.

there is no light in him ] Rather, the light is not in him . This shews that the meaning has slid from the literal to the figurative. ‘The light’ in v . 9 is the physical light in the heavens; here it is the spiritual light in the heart.

11. and after that ] and after this . These words indicate a pause in the narrative.

Our friend Lazarus sleepeth ] Better, Lazarus our friend is fallen asleep , or, is gone to rest . Sleep as an image of death is common from the dawn of literature; but the Gospel has raised the expression from a figure to a fact. Comp. Matthew 27:52 ; Acts 7:50 , Acts 7:13 :36; 1 Corinthians 7:39 , 1 Corinthians 7:11 :30, 1 Corinthians 7:15 :6, 1 Corinthians 7:18 ; 1 Thessalonians 4:13 ; 2 Peter 3:4 . The thoroughly Christian term ‘cemetery’ (= sleeping-place) in the sense of a place of repose for the dead comes from the same Greek root. The exact time of Lazarus’ death cannot be determined, for we do not know how long Christ took in reaching Bethany. Christ calls him ‘ our friend,’ as claiming the sympathy of the disciples, who had shewn unwillingness to return to Judæa.

that I may awake him ] This shews that no messenger has come to announce the death. Christ sees the death as He foresees the resurrection: comp. v . 4.

12. Then said his disciples ] Better, Therefore said the disciples to Him . They catch at any chance of escape from the dreaded journey.

if he sleeps he shall do well ] Better, if he be fallen asleep , he shall be saved , will be cured. Probably they thought that Christ meant to go and cure Lazarus ( v . 37, comp. 9:3); and here they infer from his sleeping that he will recover without Christ’s aid: consequently Christ need not go. They are too full of anxiety to notice Christ’s significant words ‘I go, that I may awake him,’ whereas the rendering in our Bible reads like an expostulation against waking him, as if it meant ‘a sick man should not be disturbed.’ For other instances in which the disciples grossly misunderstand Christ, see 4:33, 14:5, 8, 22; Matthew 16:7 ; and comp. 3:4, 9, 4:11, 15, 6:34, 52, 7:35, 8:22, 33, 52. This candour in declaring their own failings adds to our confidence in the veracity of the Evangelists. It is urged that the misunderstanding here is too gross to be probable: but they had not unnaturally understood Christ Himself to nave declared that Lazarus would not die ( v . 4); this being so, they could not easily suppose that by sleep He meant death. Moreover, when men’s minds are on the stretch the strangest misapprehensions become possible.

13. Howbeit Jesus spake ] Or, Now Jesus had spoken .

had spoken ] spake .

taking of rest in sleep ] The word here translated ‘taking of rest’ corresponds to ‘sleepeth’ or ‘is gone to rest’ in v . 11, and ‘to sleep’ in v . 12. The word translated ‘awake him out of sleep’ in v . 11 is a compound of the word here rendered, ‘sleep.’

14. Then said Jesus ] ‘Then’ here, as in Romans 6:21 , is made to cover two Greek words, ‘then’ of time, and ‘then’ of consequence: translate, Then therefore said Jesus .

plainly ] Without metaphor: see on 7:4 and 10:24.

15. I am glad ] Christ rejoices, not at his friend’s death, but at His own absence from the scene, for the disciples’ sake. Had He been there, Lazarus would not have died, and the disciples would have lost this great sign of His Messiahship.

to the intent ye may believe ] S. John’s favourite construction, indicating the Divine purpose: see on 9:2, 3. Would any forger have written this? Would it not seem utterly improbable that at the close of His ministry Christ should still be working in order that Apostles might believe? Yet S. John, who heard the words, records them, and he knew from sad experience (Mark 14:50 , Mark 14:16 :11; Luke 24:11 , Luke 24:21 ) that this work was not superfluous. Just before the trial of faith which His Passion and Death would bring to them, His disciples had need of all the help and strength that He could give. See on 2:11.

nevertheless let us go ] He breaks off suddenly.

16. Then said ] Therefore said .

Thomas, which is called Didymus ] S. John thrice (20:24, 21:2) reminds his readers that Thomas is the same as he whom Gentile Christians called Didymus. Thomas is Hebrew, Didymus is Greek, for a twin. In all probability he was a twin, possibly of S. Matthew, with whom he is coupled in all three lists of the Apostles in the Gospels: in the Acts he is coupled with S. Philip. That S. Thomas received his name from Christ (as Simon was called Peter, and the sons of Zebedee Boanerges) in consequence of his character, is pure conjecture. But the coincidence between the name and his twin-mindedness (James 1:8 , James 4:8 ) is remarkable. “In him the twins, unbelief and faith, were contending with one another for mastery, as Esau and Jacob in Rebecca’s womb” (Trench). It is from S. John that we know his character: in the Synoptists and the Acts he is a mere name (see on 1:41). He seems to have combined devotion to Christ with a tendency to see the dark side of everything. S. John’s care in distinguishing him by his Gentile name adds point to the argument derived from his never distinguishing John as the Baptist (see on 1:6).

fellow-disciples ] The word occurs here only. It has been remarked that S. Thomas would scarcely have taken the lead in this way had S. Peter been present, and that had S. Peter been there he would probably have appeared in the previous dialogue. If he was absent, we have an additional reason for the absence of this miracle from S. Mark’s Gospel, the Gospel of S. Peter, and undoubtedly the representative of the oldest form of the Synoptic narrative.

die with him ] Of course with Christ ( v . 8). It is strange that any should understand it of Lazarus. They could not die with him, for he was dead already, and S. Thomas knew this ( v . 14).

17. Then when Jesus came ] Better, When therefore Jesus came , not to the house, nor to Bethany, but to the vicinity ( vv . 20, 30). In v . 16 also ‘then’ should be therefore , S. John’s favourite particle to express a sequence in fact.

he found ] i.e. on enquiry. It would seem as if Christ’s miraculous power of knowing without the ordinary means of information was not in constant activity, but like His other miraculous powers was employed only on fitting occasions. It was necessary to His work that He should know of Lazarus’ death; it was not necessary that He should know how long he had been buried, nor where he had been buried ( v . 34). Comp. 1:48, 4:18. Similarly, Peter’s prison-gate opens ‘of its own accord;’ Mary’s house-door does not (Acts 12:10-16 ).

in the grave ] Or, in the sepulchre . Our translators use three different English words for the same Greek word; ‘grave’ in this chapter 5:28; Matthew 27:52 , &c.; ‘tomb’ Matthew 8:28 ; Mark 5:2 , Mark 5:6 :29, &c.; ‘sepulchre’ of Christ’s resting-place. ‘Sepulchre’ would be best in all cases. Another Greek word for ‘tomb’ used by S. Matthew only is rendered ‘tomb’ 23:29, and ‘sepulchre’ 23:27, 27:61, 64, 66, 28:1.

four days ] No doubt he had been buried the day he died, as is usual in hot climates where decomposition is rapid; moreover, he had died of a malignant disease, probably a fever. Jehu ordered Jezebel to be buried a few hours after death (2 Kings 9:34 ); Ananias and Sapphira were buried at once (Acts 5:6 , Acts 5:10 ). If Christ started just after Lazarus died, as seems probable, the journey had occupied four days. This fits in well with the conclusion that Bethabara or Bethany was in the north of Palestine, possibly a little south of the Sea of Galilee; near Galilee it must have been (comp. 1:28, 29, 43). But on the other hand Lazarus may have died soon after Christ heard of his illness; in which case the journey occupied barely two days.

18. Now Bethany was nigh unto Jerusalem ] The ‘was’ need not imply that when S. John wrote Bethany had been destroyed, but this is the more probable meaning; especially as no other Evangelist speaks of places in the past tense, and S. John does not always do so. The inference is that he wrote after the destruction of Jerusalem; and that what was destroyed in the siege he speaks of in the past tense; e.g . Bethany (here), the garden of Gethsemane (18:1), Joseph’s garden (19:41) what was not destroyed, in the present tense; e.g . Bethesda ( v . 2, where see note).

about fifteen furlongs ] Literally, about fifteen stades . A Greek stade Isaiah 18:0 yards less than an English furlong; but the translation is sufficiently accurate, like ‘firkin’ (2:6). This distance, therefore, was under two miles, and is mentioned to account for the many Jews who came to condole with the sisters.

19. many of the Jews came to Martha and Mary ] Better, many from among the Jews had come , &c. The received text with some good authorities has ‘had come to Martha and Mary and their friends,’ but this is not the best-attested reading. ‘The Jews’ here, as usual, means Christ’s opponents; they would come mostly, if not entirely, from Jerusalem.

to comfort them ] It was part of the Jewish ceremonial of mourning that many (ten at least) should come and condole. Genesis 27:35 ; comp. 2 Samuel 12:17 ; Job 2:11 . It is said that the usual period of mourning was thirty days; three of weeping, seven of lamentation, twenty of sorrow. But the instances in Scripture vary: Jacob, seventy days with an additional seven (Genesis 50:3 , Genesis 50:10 ); Aaron and Moses, thirty days (Numbers 20:29 ; Deuteronomy 34:8 ); Saul and Judith, seven days (1 Samuel 28:13 ; Jude 1:16 :24; comp. Ecclus. 22:12; 2 Esdr. 5:20). Josephus tells us that Archelaus mourned for his father seven days, and the Jews for himself, thirty days ( B. J . ii. i. 1; iii. ix. 5). The Mishna prescribes seven days for near relations.

20. Then Martha ] Or, Martha , therefore . Information would be brought to her as the elder sister and (apparently) mistress of the house (Luke 10:38 ). She as usual takes the lead in entertaining, and Mary shrinks from it. “One most remarkable feature in the history is the coincidence between the characters of Mary and Martha as depicted here and in S. Luke.” S. p. 185. It is incredible that this coincidence should be either fortuitous or designed. It is much easier to believe that both Gospels give us facts about real persons. Christ is unwilling to mingle at once in the crowd of mourners, and halts outside the village.

Jesus was coming ] Rather, Jesus is coming , probably the very words of the message. Perhaps they were still on the look-out for His arrival, although they supposed that it was too late for His coming to avail anything.

Mary sat still in the house ] Or, was sitting in the house: the attitude of sorrow and meditation (Job 2:13 ). She does not know of Christ’s approach ( vv . 28, 29): Martha, in discharging the duties of hospitality to fresh arrivals, would be more likely to hear of it.

21. if thou hadst been here ] Not a reproach, however gentle (she does not say ‘hadst Thou come ’), but an expression of deep regret. This thought had naturally been often in the sisters’ minds during the last four days (comp. v . 32). They believe that Christ could and would have healed Lazarus: their faith and hope are not yet equal to anticipating His raising him from the dead. The gradual progress of Martha’s faith is very true to life, and reminds us of similar development in the woman of Samaria (4:19) and the man born blind (9:11), though she starts at a more advanced stage than they do. If all these three narratives are late fictions, we have three masterpieces of psychological study, as miraculous in the literature of the second century as would be a Gothic cathedral in the architecture of that age. For the construction comp. 4:10, 14:28.

22. But I know, that even now ] ‘But’ must be omitted on critical grounds; and the text should run, and now (that he is dead) I know that , &c. She believes that had Christ been there, He could have healed Lazarus by His own power (comp. 4:47), and that now His prayer may prevail with God to raise him from the dead. She has yet to learn that Christ’s bodily presence is not necessary, and that He can raise the dead by His own power. He gradually leads her faith onwards to higher truth.

whatsoever thou wilt ask ] She uses a word more appropriate to human prayer, ‘to ask for oneself ’ (comp. 14:13, 14, 15:7, 16, 16:23, 26), not used by Christ of His own prayers or by the Evangelists of Christ’s prayers (contrast 14:16, 16:26, 17:9, 15, 20; Matthew 26:36 , Matthew 26:39 , Matthew 26:42 , Matthew 26:44 ; Luke 22:32 ). She thus incidentally shews her imperfect idea of His relation to God.

23. shall rise again ] He uses an ambiguous expression as an exercise of her faith. Some think that these words contain no allusion to the immediate restoration of Lazarus, and that Martha ( v . 24) understands them rightly. More probably Christ includes the immediate restoration of Lazarus, but she does not venture to do so, and rejects the allusion to the final Resurrection as poor consolation.

24. I know that he shall rise again ] This conviction was probably in advance of average Jewish belief on the subject. The O.T. declarations as to a resurrection are so scanty and obscure, that the Sadducees could deny the doctrine, and the Pharisees had to resort to oral tradition to maintain it (see on Mark 12:18 ; Acts 23:8 ).

the last day ] See on 6:39.

25. I am the resurrection, and the life ] He draws her from her selfish grief to Himself. There is no need for Him to pray as man to God ( v . 22); He (and none else) is the Resurrection and the Life. There is no need to look forward to the last day; He is (not ‘will be’) the Resurrection and the Life. Comp. 14:6; Colossians 3:4 . In what follows, the first part shews how He is the Resurrection, the second how He is the Life. ‘He that believeth in Me, even if he shall have died (physically), shall live (eternally). And every one that liveth (physically) and believeth in Me, shall never die (eternally).’

26. shall never die ] See on 8:51; the form of expression is the same; ‘shall assuredly never die.’

Believest thou this? ] A searching question, suddenly put. She answers with confidence, and gives the ground of her confidence.

27. I believe ] Literally, I have believed , i.e. I have convinced myself and do believe .

that thou art the Christ ] She cannot have known the full import of her confession. With the Apostles she shared her countrymen’s imperfect views of the character and office of the Messiah. See on 9:38.

which should come ] Literally, that cometh . Comp. 6:14; Matthew 11:3 ; Luke 7:19 ; Deuteronomy 18:15 . She believes that He has the powers mentioned in vv . 25, 26, because He is the Messiah. How these powers will affect her own case she does not know, but with a vague hope of comfort in store for them all she returns to the house. See on 1:9 and 18:37.

28. secretly ] Because she knew that some of Christ’s enemies were among the guests ( vv . 19, 31). ‘Secretly’ belongs to ‘saying,’ not to ‘called.’

The Master is come ] Or, The Teacher is come . It is not the Hebrew word ‘Rabbi’ that is here used, as in 1:50, 3:2, 26, 4:31, 6:25, 9:2; but the Greek word given in 1:39 as the translation of ‘Rabbi,’ and in 20:16 as the translation of ‘Rabboni,’ and used by Christ (3:10) of Nicodemus. Comp. 13:13, 14; Mark 14:14 . Martha avoids using His name for fear of being overheard.

29. she arose quickly ] As was natural in one so fond of sitting at Jesus’ feet.

30. into the town ] Or, into the village ; see on v . 1. By remaining outside He would be able to say what He wished to say to the sisters without fear of interruption.

was in that place ] was still in that place.

31. followed her, saying ] For ‘saying’ read with the best authorities, thinking . Their following interferes with the privacy at which Martha had aimed.

to weep there ] The word rendered ‘weep’ here and in v . 33, as distinct from the one used in v . 35, indicates a loud expression of grief; wailing and crying, not merely shedding of tears.

32. Then when Mary ] Mary therefore when .

she fell down at his feet ] Nothing of the kind is reported of Martha, v . 21. Here again the difference of character between the two sisters appears.

Lord, if thou hadst been here ] The same words as those of Martha, v . 21. No doubt the sisters had expressed this thought to one another often in the last few days. Mary’s emotion is too strong for her; she can say no more than this; contrast v . 22. The Jews coming up prevent further conversation. For the construction comp. 4:10, 14:28.

33 44. The Sign

33. weeping … weeping ] The repetition is for emphasis, and to point a contrast which is the key to the passage.

he groaned in the spirit ] Better, He was angered in the spirit . The word translated ‘groaned’ occurs five times in N.T.; here, v . 38; Matthew 9:30 ; Mark 1:43 , Mark 14:5 (see notes in each place). In all cases, as in classical Greek and in the LXX., it expresses not sorrow but indignation or severity. It means (1) literally, of animals, ‘to snort, growl;’ then metaphorically (2) ‘to be very angry or indignant;’ (3) ‘to command sternly, under threat of displeasure.’ What was He angered at? Some translate ‘ at His spirit,’ and explain ( α ) that He was indignant at the human emotion which overcame Him: which is out of harmony with all that we know about the human nature of Christ. Others, retaining ‘ in His spirit,’ explain ( β ) that He was indignant ‘at the unbelief of the Jews and perhaps of the sisters:’ but of this there is no hint in the context Others again, ( γ ) that it was ‘at the sight of the momentary triumph of evil, as death, … which was here shewn under circumstances of the deepest pathos:’ but we nowhere else find the Lord shewing anger at the physical consequences of sin. It seems better to fall back on the contrast pointed out in the last note. He was indignant at seeing the hypocritical and sentimental lamentations of His enemies the Jews mingling with the heartfelt lamentations of His loving friend Mary (comp. 12:10): hypocrisy ever roused His anger.

was troubled ] The margin is better; He troubled Himself , i.e. agitated Himself, allowed His emotion to become evident by external movement such as a shudder.

34. Where have ye laid him? ] This question is against the supposition, based on v . 31, that the place where Jesus halted outside the village was close to the grave.

They say unto him ] ‘They’ are the two sisters: on both sides “grief speaks in the fewest possible words.”

35. Jesus wept ] Or, shed tears . The word occurs nowhere else in N.T.; it expresses less loud lamentation than the word used in vv . 31, 33. He sheds tears on His way to their brother’s grave, not because He is ignorant or doubtful of what is coming, but because He cannot but sympathize with the intensity of His friends’ grief. “The intense humanity attributed to Jesus, His affection, His visible suffering, the effort with which He collects Himself, are all strong marks of authenticity, and the more so because they might be thought to conflict with the doctrine of the prologue. But this is but one more proof how little that doctrine has disturbed the Evangelist’s true historic recollection.” S. pp. 186, 7.

36. Then said … loved him ] Here, as in vv . 12, 14, 16, 17, 20, 21, 31, 32, 41, 45, 47, 53, 56, ‘then’ should rather be therefore , as rightly given in vv . 3, 33, 38, 54: it is S. John’s favourite particle in all these verses. Both the verbs here are imperfects; ‘ kept saying,’ ‘ used to love.’ What follows shews that this remark was not made by all the Jews. The word for ‘love’ is the more passionate word used in v . 3 by the sisters, not the higher word used in v . 5 by the Evangelist.

37. And some of them ] Better, But some of them , in contrast to those who speak in v . 36, who are not unfriendly, while these sneer. The drift of this remark is ‘He weeps; but why did He not come in time to save His friend? Because He knew that He could not. And if He could not, did he really open the eyes of the blind?’ They use the death of Lazarus as an argument to throw fresh doubt on the miracle which had so baffled them at Jerusalem. Their reference to the man born blind instead of to the widow’s son, or Jairus’ daughter, has been used as an objection to the truth of this narrative. It is really a strong confirmation of its truth. An inventor would almost certainly have preferred more obvious parallels. But these Jews of course did not believe in those raisings of the dead: they much more naturally refer to a reputed miracle within their own experience. Moreover they are not hinting at raising the dead, but urging that if Jesus could work miracles He ought to have prevented, Lazarus from dying.

should not have died ] Rather, should not die .

38. groaning in himself ] See on v . 33. This shews that ‘ in His spirit’ not ‘ at His spirit’ is the right translation there. Their sneering scepticism rouses His indignation afresh.

to the grave ] See on v . 17. Insert now before ‘it was a cave.’ The having a private burying-place indicates that the family was well off. The large attendance of mourners and the very precious ointment (12:3) point to the same fact.

upon it ] The Greek may mean ‘against it,’ so that an excavation in the side of a rock or mound is not excluded. What is now shewn as the sepulchre of Lazarus is an excavation in the ground with steps down to it. The stone would keep out beasts of prey.

39. the sister of him that was dead ] Not inserted gratuitously. It was because she was his sister that she could not bear to see him or allow him to be seen disfigured by corruption. The remark comes much more naturally from the practical Martha than from the reserved and retiring Mary. There is nothing to indicate that she was mistaken; though some would have it that the miracle had begun from Lazarus’ death, and that the corpse had been preserved from decomposition.

he hath been dead four days ] Literally, he is of the fourth day .

40. Said I not ] Apparently a reference to vv . 25, 26, and to the reply to the messenger, v . 4: on both occasions more perhaps was said than is recorded. See notes on v . 4.

41. from the place where the dead was laid ] These words, are omitted by an overwhelming number of authorities. They are a needless explanation added by a later hand.

And Jesus lift ] The verb is identical with that translated ‘took away’ in the preceding clause. Both should be translated alike; moreover, ‘and’ should be ‘but.’ They lifted therefore the stone . But Jesus lifted His eyes upwards .

Father, I thank thee ] Jesus thanks the Father as a public acknowledgment that the Son can do ‘nothing of Himself,’ but that the power which He is about to exhibit is from the Father (5:19 26).

that thou hast heard ] Better, that Thou didst hear . The prayer to which this refers is not recorded.

42. And I knew ] Better, But I knew , ‘I’ being very emphatic. This verse is added to prevent misunderstanding: no one must suppose from this act of thanksgiving that there are any prayers of the Son which the Father does not hear.

I said it ] i.e. I said the words ‘I thank Thee, &c.’

that thou hast sent me ] Or, didst send Me . ‘Thou’ is emphatic; ‘Thou and no one else.’

43. cried ] The Greek word (rare in N.T. except in this Gospel) is nowhere else used of Christ. It is elsewhere used of the shout of a multitude; 12:13, 18:40, 19:6, (12), 15. Comp. Matthew 12:19 ; Acts 22:23 . This loud cry was perhaps the result of strong emotion, or in order that the whole multitude might hear. It is natural to regard it as the direct means of the miracle, awakening the dead: though some would have it that ‘I thank Thee’ implies that Lazarus is already alive and needs only to be called forth.

44. came forth ] It is safest not to regard this as an additional miracle. The winding-sheet may have been loosely tied round him, or each limb may have been swathed separately: in Egyptian mummies sometimes every finger is kept distinct.

graveclothes ] The Greek word occurs here only in N.T. Comp. Proverbs 7:16 . It means the bandages which kept the sheet and the spices round the body. Nothing is said about the usual spices (19:40) here; and Martha’s remark ( v . 39) rather implies that there had been no embalming. If Lazarus died of a malignant disease he would be buried as quickly as possible.

face ] The Greek word occurs in N.T. only here, 7:24, and Revelation 1:16 : one of the small indications of a common authorship (see on 15:20 and 19:37).

napkin ] A Latin word is used meaning literally ‘a sweat-cloth.’ It occurs 20:7; Luke 19:20 ; Acts 19:12 . Here the cloth bound under the chin to keep the lower jaw from falling is probably meant. These details shew the eyewitness.

let him go ] The expression is identical with ‘let these go their way’ (18:8); and perhaps ‘let him go his way’ would be better here. Lazarus is to be allowed to retire out of the way of harmful excitement and idle curiosity.

The reserve of the Gospel narrative here is evidence of its truth, and is in marked contrast to the myths about others who are said to have returned from the grave. Lazarus makes no revelations as to the unseen world. The traditions about him have no historic value: but one mentioned by Trench ( Miracles , p. 425) is worth remembering. It is said that the first question which he asked Christ after being restored to life was whether he must die again; and being told that he must, he was never more seen to smile.

45 57. Opposite Results of the Sign

45. Then many of the Jews ] The English Version is here misleading, owing to inaccuracy and bad punctuation. It should run thus: Many therefore of the Jews , even they that came to Mary and beheld that which He did (see on 6:14). The Jews who witnessed the miracle all believed: ‘of the Jews’ means of the Jews generally.

But some of them went ] Some of the Jews generally, not of those who saw and believed, went and told the Pharisees; with what intention is not clear, but probably not out of malignity. Perhaps to convince the Pharisees, or to seek an authoritative solution of their own perplexity, or as feeling that the recognised leaders of the people ought to know the whole case. The bad result of their mission has made some too hastily conclude that their intention was bad, and that therefore they could not be included in those who believed.

47. a council ] They summon a meeting of the Sanhedrin. Even the adversaries of Jesus are being converted, and something decisive must be done. The crisis unites religious opponents. The chief priests, who were mostly Sadducees, act in concert with the Pharisees; jealous ecclesiastics with religious fanatics (comp. 7:32, 45, 18:3).

What do we? ] Implying that something must be done.

this man ] Contemptuous, as in 9:16, 24; comp. 7:49.

doeth many miracles ] It is no longer possible to deny the fact of the signs. Instead of asking themselves what these ‘signs’ must mean, their only thought is how to prevent others from drawing the obvious conclusion.

48. the Romans will come ] They do not inquire whether He is or is not the Messiah; they look solely to the consequences of admitting that He is. “The Sanhedrin, especially the Pharisaic section of it, was a national and patriotic body. It was the inheritor and guardian of the Rabbinical theories as to the Messiah. There can have been no class in the nation in which these were so inveterately ingrained, and therefore none that was so little accessible to the teaching of Jesus. It was from first to last unintelligible to them. It seemed to abandon all the national hopes and privileges, and to make it a sin to defend them. If it were successful, it seemed as if it must leave the field open to the Romans … It is rarely in ancient literature that we find a highly complicated situation so well understood and described.” S. pp. 188, 189. This last remark is eminently true of the whole narrative portion of the Fourth Gospel.

our place and nation ] ‘Our’ is very emphatic; both our place and our nation. ‘Place’ is perhaps best understood of Jerusalem, the seat of the Sanhedrin, and the abode of the bulk of the hierarchy. Other interpretations are (1) the Temple, comp. 2 Mac. 5:19; (2) the whole land; so that the expression means ‘our land and people,’ which is illogical: the land may be taken from the people, or the people from the land, but how can both be taken away? (3) ‘position, raison d’être .’ In any case the sentiment is parallel to that of Demetrius, and his fellow-craftsmen (Acts 19:27 ). They profess to be very zealous for religion, but cannot conceal their interested motives.

49. Caiaphas ] This was a surname; ‘who was called Caiaphas’ Matthew 26:3 (where see note on the Sanhedrin). His original name was Joseph. Caiaphas is either the Syriac form of Cephas, a ‘rock,’ or, according to another derivation, means ‘depression.’ The highpriesthood had long since ceased to descend from father to son. Pilate’s predecessor, Valerius Gratus, had deposed Annas and set up in succession Ismael, Eleazar (son of Annas), Simon, and Joseph Caiaphas (son-in-law of Annas); Caiaphas held the office from a. d. 18 to 36, when he was deposed by Vitellius. Annas in spite of his deposition was still regarded as in some sense high-priest (18:13; Luke 3:2 ; Acts 4:6 ), possibly as president of the Sanhedrin (Acts 5:21 , Acts 5:27 , Acts 5:7 :1, Acts 5:9 :1, Acts 5:2 , Acts 5:22 :5, Acts 5:23 :2, Acts 5:4 , Acts 5:24 :1). Caiaphas is not president here, or he would not be spoken of merely as ‘one of them.’

that same year ] This has been urged as an objection, as if the Evangelist ignorantly supposed that the highpriesthood was an annual office, a mistake which would go far to prove that the Evangelist was not a Jew, and therefore not S. John. But there is no ‘same’ in the Greek (comp. 1:33, 4:53, 5:9, 11), and ‘that year’ means ‘that notable and fatal year.’ The same expression recurs v . 51 and 18:13. Even if there were not this obvious meaning for ‘that year,’ the frequent changes in the office at this period would fully explain the insertion without the notion of an annual change being implied. There had been some twenty or thirty high-priests in S. John’s lifetime.

Ye know nothing at all ] An inference from their asking ‘What do we?’ It was quite obvious what they must do. The ‘ye’ is contemptuously emphatic. The resolute but unscrupulous character of the man is evident.

50. expedient for us ] For us members of the Sanhedrin. But the better reading gives, for you half-hearted Pharisees.

that one man ] Literally, in order that one man ; S. John’s favourite particle pointing to the Divine purpose: comp. 4:34, 36, 6:29, 50, 9:2, 3, 39, 12:23, and especially 16:7.

the people ] The Jews as a theocratic community ( laos ).

the whole nation ] The Jews as one of the nations of the earth ( ethnos ). Comp. Luke 7:5 ; Acts 10:22 . The same word in the plural, ‘the nations,’ means the Gentiles.

51. not of himself ] Like Saul, Caiaphas is a prophet in spite of himself.

being high priest ] None but a Jew would be likely to know of the old Jewish belief that the high-priest by means of the Urim and Thummim was the mouth-piece of the Divine oracle. The Urim and Thummim had been lost, and the high-priest’s office had been shorn of much of its glory, but the remembrance of his prophetical gift did not become quite extinct (Hosea 3:4 ); and ‘in that fatal year’ S. John might well believe that the gift would be restored.

52. not for that nation only ] S. John purposely uses the word which describes the Jews merely as one of the nations of the earth distinct from the Gentiles. Of course we are not to understand that Caiaphas had any thought of the gracious meaning contained in his infamous advice.

gather together in one ] Comp. 17:21: for ‘in one’ read into one .

53. Then from that day ] Therefore for ‘then’ is the more important here to bring out the meaning that it was in consequence of Caiaphas’ suggestion that the Sanhedrin practically if not formally pronounced sentence of death. The question remained how to get the sentence executed.

54. therefore ] The decree of the Sanhedrin for His apprehension had been published ( v . 57); the sentence of death was probably a secret among themselves.

openly ] Comp. 7:10. He withdraws from all intercourse with His adversaries.

went thence unto a country ] Departed thence into the country .

the wilderness ] The desert of Judæa, which extended to the confines of Jericho, would naturally be meant by ‘ the wilderness.’

Ephraim ] This place cannot be identified with certainty. Eusebius makes it eight miles, Jerome twenty miles, N.E. of Jerusalem: both make it the same as Ephron. If the Ephraim of 2 Chronicles 13:19 and Josephus ( B. J . iv. ix. 9) be meant, the wilderness would be that of Bethaven.

55. And the Jews’ passover ] Now the passover of the Jews . See notes on 2:13 and 6:4.

to purify themselves ] (Acts 21:24 .) Again we have evidence that the Evangelist is a Jew. No purifications are ordered by the Law as a preparation for the Passover. But to be ceremonially unclean was to be excluded (18:28); hence it was customary for those who were so to go up to Jerusalem in good time so as to be declared clean before the Feast began.

56. sought … spake ] Both verbs are in the imperfect of what went on continually. There are two questions in their words; ‘What think ye? that He certainly will not come to the Feast.’

57. Now both the chief priests , &c.] Omit ‘both.’ The word is wanting in authority, and even if it were genuine it would not mean ‘both’ but ‘moreover.’ The verse explains why the people doubted His coming to the feast. Note that once more the Sadducaean hierarchy takes the lead. Comp. v . 47, 12:10, 18:3, 35, 19:6, 15, 21. In the history of the Passion the Pharisees are mentioned only once (Matthew 27:62 ), and then, as here, after the chief priests.

a commandment ] The better reading is, commands , which has been made singular because only one command is mentioned. Comp. our phrase ‘to give orders.’

that ] Literally, in order that (see on v . 50).

“We are not told how long our Lord stayed at Ephraim. If we are to put faith in the tradition in the Talmud, and in the inferences which Dr Caspari draws from it, an actual verdict of death was passed at the recent meeting of the Sanhedrin, and was only waiting for its execution until an opportunity offered, and the legal period for the production of witnesses in the defence had expired. This would make the interval between the retreat to Ephraim and the Passover coincide more or less nearly with the forty days allowed. The data, however, are not such as we can build on confidently.” S. p. 191. So that once more we have an interval of uncertain amount. See the introductory note to chapter 6 and the note on 6:1.

Bibliographical Information
"Commentary on John 11". "Cambridge Greek Testament for Schools and Colleges". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/cgt/john-11.html. 1896.
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