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Bible Commentaries

Dummelow's Commentary on the Bible

John 11

Verses 1-57

Christ the Resurrection and the Life

1-44. The raising of Lazarus. The last and greatest of the seven ’signs’ recorded in this Gospel is related with such photographic minuteness of detail, that it is clear that the evangelist was present. Three points about it are specially noteworthy: (1) that it was a physical miracle, which no ingenuity can reduce to a case of faith-healing; (2) that it was definitely worked to produce faith in Christ (John 11:42); (3) that more than any other miracle it was performed under test conditions;—the object of it was really dead (John 11:39), and hostile witnesses were present (John 11:42). Its spiritual meaning is given in John 11:25, ’I am the resurrection, and the life.’ The raising of Lazarus to corporeal life is to the evangelist a token and pledge that the worker of it can raise the dead soul to spiritual life, and endue it with a blessed immortality. The publicity and notoriety of this miracle explain the warm welcome which Jesus received from the inhabitants of Jerusalem at His triumphal entry on Palm Sunday. The synoptists mention the welcome (Matthew 21:8-11), but say nothing of its cause. Various reasons are alleged for the omission of this miracle by the synoptists. Some say that when they wrote, Lazarus and his family were still alive, and did not desire to be made the objects of public curiosity. More probably it was omitted as belonging to the Judæan ministry, which (for whatever reason) the synoptists did not undertake to record.

1. Lazarus] i.e. Eleazar, ’God is my help,’ a man of good social position, probably a son or near relative of Simon the Leper (Matthew 26:6); not to be identified with the beggar Lazarus of the parable. Bethany] a village at the Mount of Olives, a little less than 2 m. from Jerusalem, now called El ’Azerîyeh, ’the place of Lazarus.’ Mary.. Martha] St. John supposes that they are known to his readers from St. Luke’s narrative (Luke 10:38). The circumstances of the family, and the characters of the sisters in the two Gospels are quite in agreement.

2. St. John assumes that the fact of the anointing is already known in a general way from the synoptists (see Matthew 26:6; Mark 14:3, and cp. Luke 7:36), but since their narratives are somewhat obscure and confusing, he intends to give later on (John 12:1.) a more accurate account.

3. Lovest] The love which Christ bore to the whole human race did not prevent Him from forming special friendships.

4. Not unto death] i.e. not unto permanent death. But for the glory of God, etc.] Lazarus was allowed to die that God might be glorified by his resurrection. So the blind man was born blind that God might be glorified by his eyes being miraculously opened (John 9:3).

6. Two days] Our Lord waited two days, (1) that the death of Lazarus might be an indisputable fact: cp. John 11:39; (2) that there might be time for a competent number of witnesses to assemble: cp. John 11:42. There is a seeming want of tenderness to the sisters in allowing Lazarus to die, and then making them wait four days for the miracle; but wider interests than those of a single family were involved. Moreover, the delay was the means of testing and strengthening the sisters’ faith: cp. John 11:22, John 11:27, John 11:32.

9, 10. Our Lord’s allegorical answer means, ’The allotted time of My ministry is not yet finished, therefore I shall be safe in Judæa, and so will you. But when My allotted time has elapsed, then I shall be in danger of death, and you also.’

9. The light] i.e. the sun.

11. Sleepeth] because Lazarus was soon to be awakened as from sleep: cp. Mark 5:39.

15. A secondary object of the miracle was the strengthening of the disciples’ faith.

16. Didymus] i.e. ’twin,’ is the correct translation of the Aramaic ’Thomas.’ Perhaps he was twin brother of Matthew with whom he is coupled (Matthew 10:3; Mark 3:18; Luke 6:15). He here figures as the pessimist of the apostolic circle; in John 20 as the sceptic. Yet his love and devotion to our Lord are undoubted. Die] because of the danger in Judæa.

17. The grave] RV ’the tomb.’ In Palestine burial took place on the day of death. The possession of a private tomb by the family of Lazarus is an indication of wealth. The poor were buried in cemeteries (2 Kings 23:6).

19. Visits of condolence were paid with great ceremony for seven days after a death.

20. Sat still] RV ’still sat.’ Sitting was the attitude of grief. ’After the body is carried out of the house, all chairs and couches are reversed, and the mourners sit on the ground on a low stool.’

22. Even now] marvellous faith under the circumstances. She believes that Jesus can raise Lazarus, but dare not express the hope that He will.

24. A belief in a future resurrection was at this period professed by all pious Jews, and was not peculiar to the Pharisees. The expression ’the Last Day’ is peculiar to St. John.

25. I am the resurrection, and the life] These solemn words, which are used most appropriately in the Burial Service, not only refer to the raising of Lazarus to a natural life, but indicate that Christ is also the author of the resurrection to eternal life. He that believeth] The words apply primarily to Lazarus. Lazarus was a believer in Christ. Lazarus was dead. And because Lazarus was a believer, he was about to be raised from the dead. His resurrection was a token and pledge of the resurrection of all believers.

26. Shall never die] because death to Christians is not really death. Death did not break the living union between the soul of Lazarus and His Redeemer, nor will it break that of other believers. ’The souls of the righteous are in the hand of God; there shall no torment touch them.’

27. The Son of God] When used, as here, as a popular title of the Messiah, this expression implies a special nearness to God, but not necessarily actual divinity. Which should come] RV ’even he that cometh.’ ’He that cometh’ was a common title of the Messiah: cp. John 6:14; Matthew 11:3.

31. For three days the mourners used to visit the grave, believing that the soul hovered round, fain to re-enter and reanimate its fleshly tenement. On the fourth day, it was thought, the soul departed and decomposition began.

33. He groaned] i.e. He sorrowed in sympathy with the mourners. But RM ’He was moved with indignation,’ i.e. at the havoc wrought by death in thus cutting off a young life. Our Lord regarded not only sin, but also disease and death, as part of that kingdom of Satan which He came to destroy. Their dominion over the human race filled Him with acute distress. In the spirit] i.e. in His human spirit. The Gospels assign to Jesus, as perfect man, both ’soul’ and ’spirit.’ And was troubled] The RM more correctly renders ’and troubled Himself.’ Christ was not subject to human emotions, as we are, against His will. Out of sympathy with mankind He condescended to feel them.

35. Jesus wept] An exquisitely human touch, showing that the evangelist, with all his insistence upon Christ’s divinity, has a firm grasp of His true humanity. Contrast with the sympathetic tears of Jesus the Stoic ideal of indifference to human emotion. In Jesus the strength of a man was united to the tenderness of a woman. Men may learn from this that there is nothing unmanly in tears. Some think that Jesus wept because He was about to summon back a soul from the felicity of Paradise to the strife and sorrow of this mortal state.

37. Could not this man] Probably a hostile criticism, imputing to Jesus lack of love or lack of power.

38. A stone lay upon it] which implies that it was an underground vault, or, ’a stone lay against it’ (RV), which implies that it was a cavern hewn in the side of a hill. The tomb now called that of Lazarus ’is a deep vault like a cellar, excavated in the limestone rock in the middle of the village, to which there is a descent by 26 steps.’

39. Martha thinks that Jesus wishes to take a last look at His friend, and she seeks to dissuade Him, fearing that, putrefaction having already begun, the corpse will present a fearful spectacle. The apparent failure, for the moment, of her half-formed faith is true to life.

41, 42. This prayer of Jesus is remarkable, for, (1) He thanks God beforehand for the miracle, as if it had already been performed; (2) contrary to His usual practice, He offers the miracle as a proof of His divine mission, and that to unbelievers.

41. Hast heard me] RV ’heardest me,’ viz. four days ago in Peræa, when I prayed that Lazarus might be raised to life.

42. I said it] viz. that Thou didst hear My prayer that Lazarus might be raised.

44. Came forth] doubtless with difficulty, his legs being bound together by grave-clothes. Hence the command ’Loose him.’ It is possible, however, that the legs of Lazarus were swathed separately after the Egyptian manner.

45, 46. The Gk., interpreted strictly, means that all the Jews who were present believed, and that some of them went, apparently in good faith, to the Pharisees, hoping to convince them. Perhaps they expected that such a miracle would receive favourable consideration from those who were the special champions of the doctrine of the Resurrection. They certainly reported the miracle as a fact: see John 11:47.

47-53. A meeting of the Sanhedrin against Jesus. As in the synoptics, the chief priests, i.e. the Sadducees, take a more prominent part than the Pharisees in compassing the death of Jesus. Similarly in the Acts it is mainly the Sadducees who are hostile to the infant Church. The hostility of the Sadducees was due not so much to dislike of the doctrine of the Resurrection, as to selfish and political motives: see John 11:48.

47. What do we?] i.e. Why are we doing nothing?

48. The Romans shall come] They feared that Jesus would be proclaimed king by the people, and that the Romans would thereupon inflict summary judgment upon the nation. Our place and nation] i.e. our position in the State, and the very existence of the nation. Others understand ’our place’ to be Jerusalem (cp. 2 Maccabees 3:18-30), or the Temple (cp. Acts 6:14; Acts 2 Maccabees 5:19).

49. Caiaphas] In full Joseph C, a Sadducee. See on Matthew 26:3. That same year] i.e. high priest in that memorable year in which Jesus was crucified. The expression does not imply that the high-priesthood was an annual office. Ye know nothing] see John 18:14. Caiaphas speaks somewhat contemptuously of the Pharisees—’You Pharisees have no policy to offer. We Sadducees have a very definite one. Jesus must die, in our interests, and yours, and in the interests of the national existence.’

51, 52. Of old the high priest had declared the divine will by Urim and Thummim (Exodus 28:30, etc.). The prophetic power, long withdrawn, is restored for a moment, just as the Levitical priesthood was about to be abolished by the one offering of Christ upon the cross. Die for (i.e. on behalf of) that nation] The high priest unwittingly proclaimed Jesus as the true paschal lamb, whose blood would atone for the sins of the world. By sacrificing Jesus he brought about a blessing of which he never dreamed (the remission of sins), and compassed for the nation the very evil which he sought to avert (the loss of national existence).

52. In (RV ’into’) one] i.e. into one Church. The children of God] i.e. the Gentiles. Scattered abroad] The unity of the human race has been destroyed by sin. The death of Christ, by abolishing sin, reëstablishes its unity.

54-57. Retirement to Ephraim. Attitude of the multitudes at Jerusalem. Suppressed excitement.

54. To avoid the snares of His enemies, and to secure a short season of undisturbed communion with His disciples, Jesus retires to Ephraim, perhaps Ephrain or Ephron (2 Chronicles 13:19), or Ophrah (1 Samuel 13:17).

55. To purify themselves] No man could eat the Passover while ceremonially unclean (see John 18:28; Numbers 9:10; 2 Chronicles 30:17), hence the Passover pilgrims assembled in Jerusalem some time beforehand to purify themselves by ablutions, shaving the head, and sacrifice. In some cases the process lasted a week.

57. Jesus was still too popular to be taken publicly.

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Bibliographical Information
Dummelow, John. "Commentary on John 11". "Dummelow's Commentary on the Bible". 1909.