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Bible Commentaries

Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers

John 11

Introduction

XI.

[(3) LIFE, TRUTH, LIGHT, AND LOVE ‘MORE FULLY MANIFESTED. CORRESPONDING INCREASE OF THE UNBELIEF OF THE JEWS (John 11:1 to John 12:50).

(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 Himi.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 deathi.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 Godi.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 worldi.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 camei.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.)

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 2Ma. 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 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 heri.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 Jewsi.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 saidi.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 Phariseesi.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

[(3) LIFE, TRUTH, LIGHT, AND LOVE MORE FULLY MANIFESTED. CORRESPONDING INCREASE OF THE UNBELIEF OF THE JEWS (continued).

(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 16:0). 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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Bibliographical Information
Ellicott, Charles John. "Commentary on John 11". "Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/ebc/john-11.html. 1905.